The Doctrine of Salvation 5
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The Doctrine of Salvation 5
Class Transcript, Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Let us pray. Jesus, we forward to this time when we can look into you. Oh Father, we thank you for the Holy Spirit. And thank you Holy Spirit. I thank you again that you reveal things to us in accordance with our obedience and our submission. Father, thank you for that. Thank you Lord. Thank you that if we don’t understand you it’s because we don’t obey you, not because we don’t have a clear mind or have not read enough scripture. Thank you Father, that as we obey you, you enable us to know you personally, and really, and vividly. Thank you Lord. So we come to you with our minds today and we bring you our obedient hearts and we lay both on the altar and ask you to make yourself real to us so that Jesus may be satisfied with what his death has achieved. Amen.
Dear ones, I thought I’d comment first of all on the assignments and try to clarify the answers for all of us by reference to some of your own papers. Do you remember that the questions occurred on page 124, and it might be good just to open the book there. Page 124 and which are the three points emphasized by our church as to common grace? And obviously, Berkof must be talking about the reformed church and of course they’re the points he emphasizes and we understand that we’re trying to look at it through his eyes as far as we’re able to. And Mary for instance, has the nature of common grace, and the general operations of the Holy Spirit, or the general blessings which God imparts to all man.
So first of all the nature of common grace. Secondly, the means of common grace and the light of God’s general revelation which serves to guide the conscience of the natural mind. Human governments and public opinion are two means. So the means of common grace. Then thirdly, the effects of common grace gives man time for repentance. All men receive numerous undeserved blessings from God and some of you had more or less elaborated on that. But I think most of us found that fairly simple to outline.
Then the second question how do Matthew 21:26 & 46, Mark 14:2 show the restraining influence of public opinion? And I think you could probably have taken it from anyone. I’ve taken Don’s here just because it had a slight slant to it. Mark 14:2, but they said, “Know on the feast day lest here be an uproar of the people.” You remember it was the public opinion business. “One of the ways that the Holy Spirit operates to restrain sin in the world is through public opinion. While this is true throughout the whole world it is especially true where God’s word is known and understood. It is in this reference that the three examples stated above appear. In each case Jesus was under attack from the Pharisees and other members of the non-believing establishment. Jesus spoke of these men as being of their father the devil; John 8:42 & 47. As such they, in serving Satan, wanted to kill Jesus but the Holy Spirit, operating through the common grace principle of public opinion, made these men fear taking action to kill Jesus.”
I would just comment the pretty obvious application that was that was what we were all afraid of in Watergate, that we were beginning to lose the value of public opinion in a nation that even nominally has “in God we trust on its coins”. And I think most of us understand that that’s just a phrase that we use but most of us have felt that even though it isn’t a Christian nation, yet it’s a nation with some kind of Christian principle underlying everything. And I think that’s what we feared, that you remember, when old John Ehrlichman when I think old Sam, uncle Sam said, “I thought that every man’s house was his castle,” and Ehrlichman said, “Oh, don’t you think that’s a bit old fashioned now?” And I think all of us rose against that because we felt, “No, you’re throwing away
something that is a precious molder of our children and that is precious to restrain evil among us,” you know. And so public opinion it can be used to the good, loved ones.
Then I think the problem question was number “c”, and I don’t think there was a great difficulty in the first part Romans 1:24, 26, 28. It seemed to all of us that that was a pretty obvious expression of common grace there where the consequences of sin act to express God’s common grace to all people. So, a person is promiscuous so they experience gonorrhea or venereal disease. That is God’s common grace that expresses itself to everybody. You worry continually, you get ulcers. That is God expressing common grace to all men to show them that this is wrong or that this is not the way you should live.
So I think we had no trouble with Romans 1:26, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” The consequences of sin are common grace that God expresses to everyone. The problem area, I think, was the second one, Hebrews 6:4-6 and maybe you’d look at it. And I think I have it right loved ones, but some of you might see more light than I have on it. But maybe you’d turn to the passage since it was a twisted thing for us. Hebrews 6:4-6 runs, “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to content.”
Now I think most of us would feel, “But look, if you’ve tasted the heavenly gift, if you’ve become partakers of the Holy Spirit, if you’ve tasted the goodness of the word of God, surely those are all expressions of special grace. That’s all part of God’s special revelation through the Bible and surely that is not an expression of common grace.” But loved, if you try to twist over in the bed kind of thing and try to imagine old Berkof’s viewpoint then isn’t it true that he would say that if these people are committing apostasy then these people are not of the elect. Because one of his beliefs is that a certain number of people are predestined to accept Jesus and these are the elect and so they cannot commit apostasy.
So would he not say, “Here’s a group of people that have experienced these things but they’re not of the elect and so they are not saved. So they’re ordinary unsaved sinners who will go to hell, yet they have experienced something of the goodness of God’s word, and it has had some ameliorating effect on their lives.” And would he not argue that a person who perhaps receives morality even from God’s word, but does not receive the salvation of their souls, that person is experiencing God’s word from the point of view of common grace? It is common grace to them. It acts upon them in the same restraining way as law and government does, it does not convert them. And so is he not trying to say that the word of God is an expression of special grace to those who believe and are saved. But, to those who do not believe and reject, it still is a kind of restraining influence on them.
Now, would you like to play back to me on that because I think I’m pretty confident of that interpretation? Now Don seemed to almost do better in the explanation of harmonizing both. He said, “God, in operating through common grace must seek to bring all men to repentance and salvation; 2 Peter 3:9. The above passages illustrate this by stating that God gave them up to their own lusts only after through common grace attempting to bring them to repentance.” And all I would push on that there Don is I think you have to elaborate a little that in this case what is special grace to those who would believe that God’s word is in fact just common grace, you see.
So I think special grace would be God’s revelation in his word. Common grace would normally be God’s restraining power coming through government, and police, and conscience, and even the creation.
[Question inaudible 9:52] and particularly considering the word partakers, because that’s really a key word I guess [inaudible 10:10].
I suppose – well, it would be – so you’re saying it’s that so it’s [inaudible 10:44]
The only way I can look at that, particularly the scriptures – well, in the first place I believe in [inaudible 10:50]. If you accept eternal security then you have to say, “Well, then this must mean something else.” [Inaudible 11:03] Judaist for instance, he had all the appearance [inaudible 11:07] and I suppose [inaudible 11:09].
That is kind of the position I think, that Berkof would take Don, the position that you’re taking that that these people therefore cannot have been of the elect because he does believe in eternal security. Just so we clarify the thing, I would not – but I’m happy – I think there are two viewpoints on the thing, but yes Berkof would feel the same way I think and would say therefore, that these people were never really saved. Isn’t that it?
[Question inaudible 11:41]
I think Don, that secretly, he is in favor of the Arminians and he’s trying to destroy all of you who are Catholic. I know it. I know it. That’s why I like the fella because it comes out especially, if we do have time to get onto to today’s business. I think he brings up the difficult areas for his own viewpoint as well. I think he’s very fair about that. I cannot go further on “Attacas.”
[Question inaudible 12:29]
Yes, but I think we’re in danger of misunderstanding the difference between common grace and special grace, or the difference between general revelation which comes through conscience, nature, and history and special revelation which comes through the Bible. I think you have to keep that distinction clear, that this is creation and this is the Bible, and certainly all Christians experience this up here, we experience the benefit of law, conscience, the laws of nature, the laws of the land, it still restricts us and helps us obey God, in a sense, or to counteract the effects of evil, or restrain the effects over evil. But this is normally the Bible and it seems to me what you have to face there — is he’s talking about the Bible revelation here.
I think in Hebrews 6:4-6, I think it’s this one he’s talking about, you see. I don’t think you can say normally that Hebrews 6:4-6 is an expression of this kind of common grace here because this is composed of conscience, the nature, that is the laws of nature and history, providence and past examples of other people. And I think that this is [inaudible 14:54] different thing and this is the one he’s referring to in Hebrews 6:4-6. And I think the difficulty is to show is there a way in which the special grace that comes through the Bible is only special when it effectually saves people? Now, when it doesn’t effectually save them does it then fall into the category of common grace in the same way that these books, the Bible as literature, you know, that reading the Bible as literature would have the same restraining effect on a fellow who is going to steal as maybe a novel about a fellow who is going to steal?
That was the only way I could see it falling and I think Don is saying the same thing except he’s bringing up the difficulty in his own viewpoint that this means if they’re a partaker of the Holy Spirit, how can you be a partaker of the Holy Spirit if you haven’t received? Truly it means at least receiving the Holy Spirit. And truly receiving the Holy Spirit is what it means to be born of God. And of course, your whole position on the eternal security is the person must not have been really saved, otherwise if they were they couldn’t.
[Question inaudible 16:11]
Well, I don’t want to try to save you because I’m against you but I wondered, just as Berkof has been fair, I wondered to be fair can you not – now I think maybe it’s a wee bit weak, but can you not say that this is a hypothetical statement? Is that not the way dear ones, who deal with these difficult verses from the point of view of eternal security deal with them, they say, “Yes, but these are hypothetical instances.” For instance, the warnings that come in Hebrews, you remember, where he [inaudible] he has other warnings in Hebrews that if you fail to enter into the rest you know, yes in 4:7, “Again he sets a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another. So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest.” That these are just warnings and hypothetical statements, you see, that if this were ever to happen, Hebrews 6:4, “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have,” but we’re not saying anybody has, you know.
It’s tricky, but I wonder. But you’re saying that an alternative is to say that a partaker of the Holy Spirit could be one who has experienced the Holy Spirit expressing the beauty of God through nature or the restraining hand of God through love. Yeah. I’m sorry I didn’t want to steamroll you.
[Question inaudible 18:16]
However, maybe pushing back, do you see the distinction, Joyce, that we’re trying to make between – because I think that’s the important thing from the point of view of the particular subject we’re dealing with, there is a distinction between common and special grace, you see.
[Question inaudible 18:52]
But how would you tie that up with Hebrews 6?
[Question inaudible 19:42]
Yes. Well, probably what I was saying is I was taking it for granted that in Verse 5 for instance, “And have tasted the goodness of the word of God,” I was assuming then that that is special – that what he is describing there would normally be regarded by all of us as special grace. When we talk about special grace we’re normally talking about that revelation of God that comes through God’s word and through the Holy Spirit working repentance and conversion in us. And so normally, when we read those verses we’d say, “Those are special grace.” But I think old Berkof is implying, “No, if these people committed apostasy, then I believe in internal security and I believe they were never
really Christians in the first place.
And so what Berkof is saying here is, and that’s Don’s difficultly, the extreme sense of his words. What Berkof thinks is being said here is it’s impossible to restore again to repentance people who have seen some truth and reality in God’s word and have seen some of God’s restraining grace as common grace coming through the Bible, they haven’t really entered into true conversion and regeneration. And if you say, “Why haven’t they?” He’ll say, “Well, they’ve committed apostasy and they couldn’t have because I don’t believe anybody can be a Christian and fall from grace. So they obviously didn’t enter into the truth of God’s word and yet they seemed to have gotten something from it.” And so is he not saying they’ve got from it some of the example maybe that people would get from a good book, or from philosophy, you see?
[Question inaudible 21:53]
That’s good. I’m maybe not seeing it.
[Question inaudible 21:56]
Alright, but I’m pushing on the difficulty, the logical difficulty of what you just stated because then the question should read, “How does Hebrews 4:4-6 prove the withdrawal of common grace?”
[Question inaudible 23:35]
Yes. Moreover, you get into some difficulties with yours because then you might say, “Well, then do you really mean that God withdrew common grace from them? Do you mean that God really gave up on them?” And we would probably say that God keeps on and on as long as they are willing to hear. But still you could say, of course, “Yeah, but they’ve stopped. That’s what apostasy means, they’ve stopped, they’ve blasphemed against the Holy Spirit and they’ve stopped.”
[Question inaudible 24:08]
Yes. But again, in respect to this question, all you’re saying is this passage proves the withdrawal of common grace it doesn’t prove common grace. Yes. I think you have to take it from Berkof’s viewpoint and see that for him there is a sense in which people can appear to really understand and really take part in God’s word and yet it never really has touched their spirits and they really never are saved. And so for them, the Bible is primarily of value as a moral book and therefore it’s an expression of God’s common grace. I would hold that at all but I would see why one would hold it.
[Question inaudible 25:48]
I really think loved ones, I think you know, some of you may think, “Oh we’re twisting around to see old Berkof’s viewpoint,” but I really think it’s good. I think it’ll be good as Don shares and we go back and forward to when we come to the eternal security viewpoint. I think it’ll be good to just – it makes you think and I think we should all be open. I would say Don, to make you feel comfortable, I would say more our eternal security. Well, I don’t know but I would say a number of us have been brought up to believe in eternal security and I’m probably just a miserable Wesleyan but I’m going to be in the minority.
Now loved ones, does anyone else have anything to share on the questions? Then I did try to – it seems to me, I think I’ve found what I’m supposed to do with the assignments now because I thought for a while am I supposed to tell everybody what good writers they are. I’m obviously not. My job is to share your insights with the class. It seems to me that’s my value instead of passing all the papers around, I’m supposed to choose the ones that have something that may be of value to you.
I can’t get out of a British habit. In Britain, that is not a bad mark, but it’s I’m with you and I can’t get out of it. I know it’s a checkmark in American education, but it means I’m with you. Yeah. Carol, I suggest you look at Kathy’s elaboration of the first point because the first question, the first answer was right, but I suggest you [inaudible 27:54]. There was a misunderstanding, Mary Jean, on the Arminian viewpoint and Berkof’s viewpoint and I don’t blame you too much if you don’t understand my comment, I’ll readily explain it afterwards and Al [inaudible 28:13] and Marianne, and Brian.
Since we spent quite a bit on discussing it loved ones, I won’t comment on the papers any further than that. I think that I could deal in the 15 minutes in some effective way with the subject which is calling in general and external calling. And I think that we are all probably in the same viewpoint here because probably though we will differ on other things, I think on that problem we are all in the same boat. That is, we would not take Berkof’s position. I don’t know if we’re all in the same position in regard to the elect, but I think we maybe are. And of course, it’s this question here that I’ll explain more fully. Predestination is that some are predestined to be saved and will be saved because God has determined it and some will not. But the elect is what we come up against in this whole business of calling in general and external calling.
And I would just highlight the problem and the difference between – I would think, it’s the difference between all of us and Berkof. If I say to you that, you remember the three points that we began with, that God’s will was that we would receive the Holy Spirit, that we refuse to receive him, as a result of that we developed a selfish will that made it impossible for us to obey God even though we wanted to and then God put us into Jesus and crucified us with him and destroyed that selfish will so that we could be free to obey him. As a result of that, we had the opportunity to accept.
Now Berkof of course, would not believe that we have the opportunity to accept or reject. Berkof would say that this I agree with. What you say here I agree with but, I tell you that this was all done not for all but was done only for the elect. That is, it was done only for those people whom God predestined would accept this provision that he has made. And that’s where you see, he gets into this business of the importance of calling. Because he would say, “How are people going to know about this and how are the elect going to be led to accept it?” Well he would say, “All people are going to know about it through calling in general. God calls to all men and tells them about this provision he has made. That is what calling in general and external calling is about. God calls to all men.” But then he would say, “There is an effectual calling,” which he deals with next day, “There is an effectual calling. That is there is a special calling that comes to the elect and it is a calling that cannot be resisted. And so he gives to the elect and effectual calling that they cannot help accepting.”
Now, so that you understand what Berkof is trying, I think, to defend and the attribute of God that he derives this kind of theology from, is the emphasis on God’s sovereignty, you see. He is anxious to show that you cannot frustrate God’s will, that God is sovereign of the universe, and God is all powerful and he can bring about what he wants. And so Berkof wants to try to avoid the position
that whatever we want to call ourselves, or whatever I want to call myself, but people like me would say, “Yes, you can frustrate God’s will.” Berkof would say, “No, that takes away from the sovereignty of God.” I think our job here is to respect and see what truth there is in his view and come to a point of truth ourselves and see that probably in his extreme emphasis there is a truth that we need to hold onto, and maybe in my extreme emphasis, there is a truth that we ought to hold onto.
But that’s the problem. Now, would anybody like to question me on the problem, because I think you need to understand the problem if we’re to do this in any kind of efficient way in the few minutes we have left. Alright loved ones, I will, if I have time, go through the different conceptions that he talks about. It might be good to go through those first and then – well, no loved ones, I’d like to share some of the scriptures so that you have something to study yourselves.
Berkof of course, points out that there is “calling”. Acts 16:14, and we could look it up later, but it’s in Lydia, you know, that there is a call to her when she first hears of the provision that God has made, and then she accepts it. So there’s a calling that I think we all would agree precedes conversion. And then, he comes to what he talks about as “external calling”. That he puts under calling in general then he talks about external calling. There’s a calling that comes to everybody and that is not accepted. He gives various instances and this is I think, where he is just very fair even though, as Don pointed out, brings up problems I think for his own viewpoint.
These are all instances which kind of, of course, if I was dirty enough to say it and I’m dirty enough to say it, which kind of backs the argument for man’s free, will you see, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.” And he would say here’s a general calling that goes to everybody and yet it is implied that some will be saved and some will not and that’s an example of external calling. Now he’s not dealing with anything but man’s freewill in this situation.
Matthew 22:2-14. I’d point out again, just to keep it in your mind, that his viewpoint is you see, that this kind of thing would not be possible. It’s not possible for God to call somebody and really want them to come and them not be able to come. He says, “No, God must have an external calling that comes to many people who are not predestined to accept him.” Whereas of course, I would say, no this is just proof that God calls all men but not all men answer.
Luke 14:16-24 is another example of God calling, some accepting, some rejecting. John 3:36, he introduces this so you know his exact words. Other passages speak explicitly of a rejection of the gospel: John 3:36, Act 13:46. Still others speak of the terrible sin of unbelief in a way that clearly shows it was committed by some. Then he gives these examples, Matthew 10:15. All of which show that some people have the gospel presented to them but they rejected it.
Now I personally would have no trouble with it, I’d just say, “Yes, they have free will. That proves they have free will.” Now he would on the other hand say, “No, God is a sovereign God. Man cannot frustrate God’s will so this, you see, is purely an external calling. What God does is he gives to some an external calling and to some he gives an effectual calling.”
Now, he is a dear fellow you know, because he does bring up the issues himself. Here are some of the problems that he comes into. He says, “Even in the present day we occasionally meet with opposition on this point,” that is opposition in his own reformed church. “It is said that such a general invitation and offer is inconsistent with the doctrine of predestination and of particular
atonement. Doctrines in which it is thought the preachers should take a starting point.” So he puts the difficulty you see, “Why does God call these people at all if actually he has already predestined some to accept and some to reject?” And he says, “Some people oppose this even inside the reform church.” And he says, “Moreover, it is,” – well that’s his point and then he goes on to one of the problems.
He says, “You must see that this external calling is real,” and this is what he says, “It is a bonafide calling. The external calling is a calling in good faith. A calling that is seriously meant.” You see, that’s the difficulty that we would all have, “Well, how can God seriously mean it if he really knows some of these people are not going to accept it? Why does he bother wasting his breath as it were?” “It is not an invitation coupled with the hope that it will not be accepted.” And of course, we tend to say, “Well now, how can you say that? If God knows that these people will not accept it why does he do it at all?” Then he goes on, “When God calls the sinner to accept Christ by faith he earnestly desires this.” Well, I think we can kind of see that. “And when he promises those who repent and believe eternal life, his promise is dependable.”
But yet you see in [inaudible 39:46] he would say, “But he knows they’re not going to repent and believe.” “This follows from the very nature, from the veracity of God. It is blasphemous to think that God would be guilty of equivocation and deception. That he would say one thing and mean another. That he would earnestly plead with a sinner to repent and to believe unto salvation and at the same time not desire it in any sense of the word.” Well you see, I don’t think we question that. I think we would say, “Yes, we can see what you’re saying, that God is calling all men to repent and he really wants them to repent and if they would repent then he would offer them salvation.” But we say, “God knows fine well they’re not going to repent so is he not mocking them, you see?” Well, of course, that’s the problem he gets into.
Then he comes into the objections. “One objection from what I just said about a bonafide calling, is derived from the veracity of God. It is said that according to this doctrine he offers the forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those for whom he has not intended these gifts.” You see, he puts the objection himself, “It is said that here God is offering eternal life for the people for whom he has not intended them. It need not be denied that there is a real difficulty at this point, but this is the difficulty with which we are always confronted when we seek to harmonize the decretive and perceptive will of God. A difficulty which even the objectors cannot solve and often simply [inaudible 41:06]. Well dear love him. He’s just saying, “This is a difficult and I don’t see a way out.” Of course I, as a happy free-willer would say, “Well, why not believe in free will?” But you know, he is a wise man and obviously he has other things.
Alright, number two, “A second objection is derived from the spiritual inability of man. Man as he is by nature cannot believe and repent and therefore it looks like mockery to ask this often. But in connection with this objection we should remember that in the last analysis,” and dear love him, he seems to back off there, “In the last analysis man’s inability in spiritual things is rooted in his unwillingness to serve God.” And he seems to be saying, you know, he seems to back into free will.
So I think we can see loved ones, that his belief in external calling is made necessary by the fact that he believes God has already chosen out the elect, And so, he has to start out this business of, “Then there is in the New Testament a calling that man rejects. But that’s not possible in my theology,” he says so he has to make a distinction between external calling and effectual calling and that’s where the problem comes from.
Now loved ones, it’s six o’clock — that’s been hard for you because it’s a heavy subject, but does anyone want to ask any questions that would enable me to maybe clarify [inaudible 42:34]?
[Question inaudible 42:35]
You’re right Ken. He would say that common grace is just external calling. It is the Bible coming to people and being rejected, so it is common grace. It would be that issue that we were on in Hebrews, that external calling is a calling that isn’t effective and therefore comes to people that are not of the elect and yet the external calling, it’s still calling. It means the proclamation of the truths of the gospel and that kind of thing. But it’s coming and it’s being rejected so therefore in that case it is common grace.
So the word of God, when it comes to a person and actually saves them and they are of the elect, he would say that’s effectual calling and that’s special grace. But when the word of God comes to a person and they’re not of the elect and they’re not saved then that’s external calling and is an example of common grace.
Now loved ones, I think probably all of us, probably including Don, I think all of us would believe that we are all called and it is up to man’s freewill to decide whether he will accept or reject. So just to help you so that we may not – we don’t end up branding us all, these things are all different you see. I mean, one can believe in eternal security without believing in predestination or the elect. I think we would all probably here, indeed as you see Billy Graham would be a Calvinist and would reckon by many people to be probably, well a strong Calvinist as the word goes here in 20th Century western civilization and yet obviously he does not believe that here is just the elect that will accept. He again and again offers, you know, to all whosoever will may come.
Now loved ones, is there anyone who doesn’t see – we of course, have no trouble – for us calling is essential because it’s a free will matter, you see. And if you say to us, “Well how is this applied? How is this made known to people?” It’s made known to people by the proclamation of the gospel and by general calling to all people and those who receive are accepted and are saved, and those who reject are not accepted and are condemned. So for us there’s no big problem in calling but for a person who does believe in predestination and the elect, then there is a problem and you have to make this distinction here.
Why it’s good for us to bend around, you may say, “Oh why bother? Why bother taking us through this?” We wouldn’t see the issue at all. I would just present it in my happy free will way and would say, “Well obviously, how are people going to find out about Jesus’ death for them?” Well it’s going to come through preaching and that’s what happens. We preach and those who receive by their free wills are saved, those who reject are not.
I should keep quiet long enough for anybody to speak. If it helps you .