I recently came across an article by Scott Christensen that I think summarizes in a succinct and well-reasoned way the biblical relationship between God’s sovereign plan and man’s freedom to choose. Christensen believes that the Bible teaches compatibilism, and in his article he expounds the concept based on a good review of some of the scriptural evidence.
The article is available here (https://www.monergism.com/blog/can-free-will-explain-conversion-sinners) and should be read as a whole by anyone who is confused about or is interested in how to rightly understand what the Bible teaches concerning how God’s sovereignty and man’s free will exist and interact. Too often we are unwilling to take the time to think critically about these kinds of issues – perhaps even fearing that God doesn’t address them in His Word – but we are truly missing out when we do this. God has revealed His truth to us in scripture, and we should eagerly seek it out there, especially as we recall that our charge is to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:12-14 ESV)
Formerly a National Monument, Pinnacles was re-designated a National Park in 2013. My wife and I, together with a couple of our adventurous friends, trekked nearly 12 miles through the park this past weekend, exploring the remains of half an ancient volcano – the other half of which lies more than a hundred miles away.
It is a great park with some fun variety including plenty of trails, a lake, two small caves to explore, plenty of rocks to climb or Boulder, and some verdant wooded areas that make you feel like you’re in Oregon. It is also a release location for the endangered California Condor, one of which we had the privilege to see circling overhead.
I was humbled once again to witness God’s impressive handiwork in nature, and thankful to be able to enjoy it with great friends.
There are many well-known stories of the famous Reformer, but one of my favorites is the incident now commonly known as the Tower experience, where God graciously enlightened Luther to the glorious truth of Romans 1:17.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)
In Luther’s recounting of the incident, his anguish is palpable as he wrestles with the reality that no matter how pious he is, his works can never measure up to the standard of righteousness. How he comes to an understanding of Paul’s teaching of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer is a powerful story indeed:
I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, “the justice of God”, because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against Him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began…” (Titus 1:1-2 ESV)
In his introductory statement to Titus and the rest of the church in Crete, Paul summarizes his Apostolic mission in a beautiful way, and lays out some fundamental principles of the ministry of Church leadership. In verse 1, he states that his Apostolic ministry is “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect” but connects that faith with “knowledge of the truth”. Paul insists that both faith and actual knowledge of the truth go together and must be the teaching focus of pastoral ministry. Faith is not blind nor alone. John Calvin’s understanding of the Greek here connects faith and knowledge even more inseparably by rendering the text “…according to the faith of the elect of God, that is, the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness”.
That the godliness of the elect is the ultimate goal of pastoral ministry is clear. Calvin comments that “he ought to be reckoned a true theologian who edifies consciences in the fear of God”.
Another characteristic of this godliness, rooted in faith and knowledge of the truth, is an eschatological focus. Godliness is enraptured with the “hope of eternal life” (v. 2a), which manifests in a desire to cooperate with Christ’s sanctifying work to “present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish”. (Eph 5:27)
It is a wonderful introduction to Paul’s pastoral charges in this letter, and an enduring challenge to the church today to encourage one another in the faith – rooted in a right understanding of God’s word – and striving after godliness as we look forward to the consummation of all things in Christ.
Thanks to Clayton Campbell for pointing out this hilarious nugget from Samuel Clemens’ autobiography (Vol. 1, pg 204-205):
… And so, by the testimony of instinct, backed by the assertions of Clemenses who said they had examined the records, I have always been obliged to believe that Geoffrey Clement the martyr-maker was an ancestor of mine, and to regard him with favor, and in fact pride. This has not had a good effect upon me, for it has made me vain, and that is a fault. It has made me set myself above people who were less fortunate in their ancestry than I, and has moved me to take them down a peg, upon occasion, and say things to them which hurt them before company.
A case of the kind happened in Berlin several years ago. William Walter Phelps was our Minister at the Emperor’s Court, then, and one evening he had me to dinner to meet Count S., a cabinet minister. This nobleman was of long and illustrious descent. Of course I wanted to let out the fact that I had some ancestors, too; but I did not want to pull them out of their graves by the ears, and I never could seem to get a chance to work them in in a way that would look sufficiently casual. I suppose Phelps was in the same difficulty. In fact he looked distraught, now and then—just as a person looks who wants to uncover an ancestor purely by accident, and cannot think of a way that will seem accidental enough. But at last, after dinner, he made a try. He took us about his drawing-room, showing us the pictures, and finally stopped before a rude and ancient engraving. It was a picture of the court that tried Charles I. There was a pyramid of judges in Puritan slouch hats, and below them three bare-headed secretaries seated at a table. Mr. Phelps put his finger upon one of the three, and said with exulting indifference—
“An ancestor of mine.”
I put my finger on a judge, and retorted with scathing languidness—
“Ancestor of mine. But it is a small matter. I have others.”
It was not noble in me to do it. I have always regretted it since. But it landed him. I wonder how he felt? However, it made no difference in our friendship; which shows that he was fine and high, notwithstanding the humbleness of his origin. And it was also creditable in me, too, that I could overlook it. I made no change in my bearing toward him, but always treated him as an equal.
. . . The evening had its defects; still, I got my ancestor in, and was satisfied.
[T]he narrow man is the man who rejects the other man’s convictions without first endeavoring to understand them, the man who makes no effort to look at things from the other man’s point of view. … The liberal preacher says to the conservative party [evangelically] in the Church: “Let us unite in the same congregation, since of course doctrinal differences are trifles”. But it is the very essence of “conservatism” in the Church to regard doctrinal differences as no trifles but as the matters of supreme moment. … [T]o suppose that a man can believe that the eternal Son of God really bore the guilt of men’s sins on the Cross and at the same time regard that belief as a “trifle” without bearing upon the welfare of men’s souls – that is very narrow and absurd.
My Wednesday morning study group concluded Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism” this morning, and I am so thankful for the insights and lessons learned through studying/discussing this book. It was first published in 1923 and its concise discourses are astonishingly relevant to what is going on in evangelicalism and the visible church today. Highly recommended reading.