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Why Are We Alive?

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Lesson 26 of 34
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The Doctrine of Salvation 6




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The Doctrine of Salvation 6

Class Transcript, Rev. Ernest O’Neill

We really need to talk about regeneration itself, but if you would be patient with me, I’d like very briefly to go back to one topic that we dealt with last day in connection with “calling”. And you remember that [Louis] Berkhof pointed out of course, that there was an internal and an external calling. That was his way of putting it. He made the distinction there of course, between a calling that actually resulted in a person becoming a Christian and a calling that was refused by the person.

We ourselves, would probably just say an external calling refers to the physical proclamation of God’s word through KTIS [Minneapolis Christian radio station] or through a preacher and the internal calling we would feel, was something that came into your heart. So we would I think, often say, that two people could hear Jesus was willing to be their Savior but one person would not really hear it and the other would really hear it and would reject it. And I think that’s the distinction we would make between an internal calling and an external calling. Now of course, old Berkhof doesn’t make that distinction. He says, “An internal calling means that the person has heard and received,” and of course he’s trying to make the point that God gives to those whom he decides to save an internal calling whereas he gives to those whom he doesn’t intend to save, an external calling.

Now he does however, loved ones, deal with this question, why does the gospel call – why is it efficacious in some people and it’s – I’m going to have a go at it – inefficacious, but I don’t know what the negative would be. But why is it efficacious in the case of some people and why is it not efficacious in the case of other people? Now, why I wanted to do it with you was, he then deals with the theologians down through history who have expressed separate viewpoints. The first one of course is his archenemy — and I don’t know if we would find ourselves close to Pelagius either — but of course Berkhof takes him as often a paper effigy that he can knock down fast. But he says that Pelagius finds the explanation in the arbitrary will of man. And of course, that’s typical of Berkof to put it that way because he does not believe in the free will of man.

This is, I think, one of the things that we would agree with Pelagius on. We would say, “Yes, that’s why we think it’s efficacious in the case of some people and not efficacious in the case of others.” It’s that arbitrary will of man. It’s that man decides he will receive or reject this call that comes to him. Now, I’ll gladly go back over these dear ones, if you want to, but obviously on the other hand says that no it’s simply due to the sovereign grace of God. The sovereign grace of God.

In other words, God operates his grace in some people so that it cannot be resisted and in others so it can be resisted. And that’s what determines whether a person becomes a Christian or not. In some it cannot be resisted and in some it can be resisted. In other words, you’re getting into just plain predestination and election. We’re dealing with, ”Why is the calling efficacious in some people and why it is not in others?” — and Pelagius answered, “It’s due to the arbitrary will of man.” It’s due to man’s will. He can decide whether to receive the call into himself and to accept it or not. Augustine, on the other hand, said it was due to the sovereign grace of God. That God gave sovereign grace to some people so that they could receive this call and receive Jesus’ Spirit and that could not be resisted. And that’s one of the basic tenants of Augustine’s theology, grace is irresistible, it cannot be resisted.

Now thirdly, Berkof jumps to a semi-Pelagianism. Where we would disagree with Pelagius’ general theory — his general theory was of course, we can save ourselves by our own will power — but where we would disagree with his general theory but perhaps agree with him here, agree that it was due to our free will that we agreed with God’s grace, semi Pelagianism sought to avoid the denial of free will –that is in Augustine. Old Berkof admits that Augustine did deny man’s free will, and tries to avoid too what old Berkof would call Pelagius’ depreciation of divine grace and semi-Pelagianism would say that there are seeds, seeds of God’s life, he would almost say, but seeds of God’s life in man. And then the Holy Spirit would be offered to him in the call of the gospel and he would either accept that and let that come in and join with the seeds of God’s life in man or he would reject it.

So in other words, semi-Pelagianism tended to say, man would cooperate with the Spirit of God that was already in him in some sense. I would just point out to you, if you don’t see it already, that of course in Berkof’s mind, this is a more acceptable thing than this because he would say, “Well this at least allows for the origin of salvation to be due to the seeds of God’s life in man himself, the Holy Spirit.” Now he would of course, say that that isn’t acceptable because he would define total depravity that we men and woman are in because we have rejected God, he would define that as excluding any possibilities of the seed of God’s life being in man already. But still, that’s how he would talk about semi Pelagianism.

He would say the Roman Catholic Church really kind of followed a kind of semi-Pelagianism. They would say that it is due to the fact that there is some grace in man — and I don’t want to tie the thing down tighter than it can be tied down — but that there is a prevenient grace. ”Venit” in Latin is “come” and “pre” is “before” — a coming before grace. There is a prevenient grace in every man and then the Holy Spirit comes down and appeals to that prevenient grace and man himself, by his willpower, can allow the Holy Spirit in or not.

Now I’d ask you just at the risk of being redundant about it, I’d ask you to see the difference between four [statements in the study] and one. One, the emphasis of Pelagius was, “No, the man can decide himself to follow God without any work being done in his heart.” Where semi Pelagianism says, “No, God has to do some kind of work in man’s heart, otherwise there’s nothing for the Holy Spirit to appeal to but that man himself has the freedom to let that grow or to kill it.” And the Roman Catholic Church tended to follow the same principle, that none of us would feel a drawing towards God at all if the grace of God’s Holy Spirit was not in some sense working in us and that it was up to us whether we allowed the Holy Spirit to come in and kind of fertilize that seed, or refused to allow him to come in.

[Question inaudible 9:29]

(You better get in here Kathy so that I get my commercial in fast.) I think those of us, Catholics and Irish Protestants, who would believe in prevenient grace would believe yes, that we would – I think, I would interpret there is a light that lightens every man that cometh into the world. I would interpret that as being one of the verses that indicates that because of Jesus’ death for all mankind, there comes to all mankind something of the Holy Spirit that is drawing them towards God all through their lives.

Now, it would be a resistible thing. I would not feel it, that it is an irresistible thing, but it is a drawing and that without that we would not understand anything of the gospel that was preached to us. So I can see what Berkof is saying when he says there is a total depravity in us and unless

there is something in us that God can appeal to, there can be no link up between us and God. But I think those of us who believe in prevenient grace would believe that because of Jesus’ death on the cross, God was able to put the prevenient grace coming before grace into us so that when the Holy Spirit came to us we had something in us that responded and reacted. I don’t think that’s the only way to define it at all. You could say with Eric Sauer, that we have the remains of God’s image within us so even though we are not children of God we still have some kind of desire to be like God. That’s why most people, when they hear a Christian described as he really is, would sense, “Yeah, I would like to be like that.”

Most of us, even non-Christians, when we hear about the possibility of being free from bad temper would say, “Yeah, I’d like to be like that.” So you could explain this prevenient grace simply in terms of the remains of God’s imagine which we all have. So Sauer I think, puts it that there is a permanent image of God that we all still retain and there is a temporary image of God that can be erased. But Joyce, I’m sure I’m not getting his titles, but do you happen to remember Sauer in “Dawn of World Redemption” talks about the image of God that cannot be erased?

For instance, there is in all of us, a sense that we should exercise authority. That’s what often makes a mess of a marriage because one or other wants to exercise authority over the other person. So there’s a desire for authority. There’s a desire for wholeness that is the basis of all educational theories. Now, these are all part of the image of God that remains with us, the mind, the emotions, the will, are all part of that and those are temporary. So you could say that the prevenient grace is also expressed in the remnants of God’s image that still remains. Conscience would be part of that.

Now if I could just outline loved ones, and then you could push me on the details and I think I could attempt to explain them. Martin Luther, said that the gospel call came always in an efficacious way, so it was always efficacious. That is, it always got home to a person fully what they ought to know because it was always efficacious because it came with the Holy Spirit. And whenever there was any real call that came to man, it was efficacious in so far as it got the message home to man and the only reason that the result did not come about was that man put a stumbling block in the way. In other words, old Luther was really trying to point to the fact that it was man’s free will that prevented the seed growing up and bringing forth fruit. It was man put a stumbling block to prevent the results that would normally follow from an efficacious call.

Now then he does John Calvin, and you can guess what he says about Calvin because it’s his own viewpoint really. He says that God determines in which lives the Word will be efficacious. So, why is it efficacious in some and not efficacious in others? Calvin determines in whose life it will bring forth. So the answer is predestination and election. He predestines some people to receive the Word and to respond to it and others are not of the elect and they are predestined by God not to receive it. If you’d like me to read it exactly so that you understand the words he puts it in, “According to Calvin the gospel call is not in itself effective but is made efficacious by the operation of the Holy Spirit when he savingly applies the Word to the heart of man and it is so applied only in the hearts and lives of the elect. Thus the salvation of man remains the work of God from the very beginning. God by his saving grace not only enables but causes man to heed the gospel call unto salvation.”

And then Berkhof tackles these miserable people and of course, in his old happy-go-lucky emotive way says, “The Arminians who are not satisfied with this position but virtually turned back to the semi-Pelagianism, the old fashioned creatures, turned back to the semi-Pelagianism of the Roman

Catholic Church.” Which is fair because I make my cracks about Berkhof. So we all do the same. We talk in terms of where we see it from. But, Arminians took this position of semi-Pelagianism, the heart of which loved ones, is that it is really up to man’s free will whether he accepts or rejects, but that even the first drawing towards God is a universal gift given to all by the Holy Spirit. The first drawing of all men is due to prevenient working of the Holy Spirit. And this, I think, is the thing that Berkhof is trying to guard us against. I think loved ones, that you really need to take the fella very seriously in what he is pushing for, because what he’s pushing against is raw Pelagianism.

Raw Pelagianism is, “I’m okay. You’re okay.” Raw Pelagianism is the power of positive thinking. Raw Pelagianism is, “You can be like God if you just exercise your will enough.” You really have to be careful every time you get into techniques, be it [Bill Gother’s technique, or Watchman Nee’s technique, or somebody else’s technique. Every time you get into techniques, you’re on the borderline of Pelagianism. You’re on the borderline of saying you can do it – if you try hard enough, you can do it with or without God’s Spirit.

Now maybe I should read what he says, “According to them, the universal proclamation of the gospel is accompanied by universal sufficient grace.” And see, that’s what I would have said, “A light that lightens every man, a universal sufficient grace, gracious assistance actually and universally bestowed sufficient to enable all men if they choose to attain to the full possession of spiritual blessings and ultimately to salvation”. Of course, he says the work of salvation is once more made dependent on man. And of course, I would answer yes, but only partially dependent on man.

Loved ones, I think I could symbolize the thing for you in terms that I think are used at the end of Sunday evening’s question time. It seems to me the issue is, do you have manual steering on your automobile, or it seems to me power-assisted steering, or do you have a computer that directs the computerized steering that directs the whole operation through a robot from some central headquarters? And I would think – I’m purposely exaggerating it to try to show you the drift — I would think that Berkhof’s position tends to be closer to that, you see, and Calvin. I would say that there you have to put the Catholic Church, to a certain extent, in regard to this business of free will, you have to put Luther, and you’d put probably the Arminians in there. You put very many of us, I think, in there. I don’t know, we might put everybody in this room in there, but I’m not sure.

Here you would put, “I’m okay, you’re okay.” All psychological techniques, you see. Power of positive thinking, you’d put that in there, and I think it is very important to see what Berkhof is trying to guard against. He’s trying to guard against a gospel that is simply encouraging people to try harder and telling them that the reason you’re not saved is because you’re not trying hard enough, or you’re not willing powerfully enough. And of course, we all know that that drives people to despair. And it seems to me that it’s important for us to see that danger because only if we all see it can God really keep us right ourselves.

I think I’ll stop so you can at least push some things.

[Question Inaudible 21:36]

I’m not saying, Joyce, that Luther would find himself along with the Catholics in regards to salvation by works, I’m just talking about the pure theoretical doctrine of people like [inaudible 21:53] on the question of, “Why is God’s call accepted by some people and not by others?” That’s

all.

[Question Inaudible 22:06]

Mary Jean, you understand?

[Question Inaudible 22:09]

It seems to me they would believe, and I use the word that old Berkhof used, you know, which wasn’t fair of him, he tricked me into it also because he used the word efficacious up here. Why is it efficacious meaning why does it in some people the call achieve the end for which it was sent, that is save people? He used it again with Luther where he said, “It’s always efficacious.” Luther simply means, Ken, it always comes home as true. It comes home as true. It’s up to men then to decide whether they accept it or not, but Luther would have said that it always comes home as true.

Now, I think, first of all, I really cannot honestly be sure that Berkhof is being fair to Luther there. I don’t know that Luther would always say that, but I think, speaking for ourselves, I think we would say, Ken, that often a person can listen to KTIS and listen again, and again, and again, and they do not hear the call. They hear some fella saying that they should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and they shall be saved and they don’t hear the call except with their ears. In other words, I think we would say that often the call does not come home as true to people. But at the same time, often it does come home to some people as true and they reject it. And I would think that most, and that’s why I question old Berkhof on Luther if he’s really being fair, here are his words so that Lutherans like Joyce can hear him: “Luther developed the idea that while the law worked repentance, the gospel call carried with it the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is in the Word and therefore the call is in itself always sufficient and in its intention.” That’s the tricky thing, always efficacious in its intention, always efficacious. “The reason why this call does not always affect the desired and intended result lies in the fact that men in many cases places a stumble block in the way so that after all, the result is determined by the negative attitude of man.”

Now, I think that Berkhof gives us the out there where he says that it’s always sufficient and in its intention always efficacious. In other words, he’s trying to point out that Luther believed that God never sent the call forward to a man without really wanting and intending it to be accepted. Whereas he would suggest that maybe Calvin would say the call is sometimes sent to some people and God really doesn’t intend it to be accepted by them in that case.

So that’s why, loved ones, I thought that it made it clearer if we lumped us all together just in regards to this business of when the call is accepted and when rejected. If we lump together three, four, five, and seven and we said that all of those people would stand more or less in the same position, that is, we have free will to accept or reject and yet at the first drawing of all men is due to prevenient working of the Holy Spirit. I think what Berkhof is trying to point out is that if our spirits are dead then how can they ever receive anything from God’s Spirit unless he, in some sense, gives a desire in our spirits for his Spirit? And I think that’s what we would try to guard against in whatever you would like to call it, semi-Pelagianism or Arminianism. We would try to say, “Yes, you’re right, because of the death of Christ on the cross there is a light that lightens every man that cometh into the world.” You can define part of it as conscience, but you also have to define part of it as that seeming desire to worship that is in all men and that [inaudible 26:44] to God which would tie up of course, with the verse, John 6:44), “No one can come to me unless the

Father who sent me draws him.” You see, that would be a very strong verse for Berkhof and for Calvinism and for predestination. If you don’t give some meaning to that verse then you’re left with predestination. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”

[Question inaudible 27:16]

Acts 13:48? I mean, I can’t answer it Kathy, I don’t know what the word “ordained” means. “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the Word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” I can’t explain it. I’ll have a shot after I see the Greek, but I mean, at this point I don’t know, “And as many as were ordained to external life believed.”

[Question inaudible 28:11]

No, I can’t.

[Question inaudible 28:25]

Don, that came up in our doctrine of Christ. It must have been doctrine of Christ last – I don’t know how I fit it in there – doctrine of God, no it came up in our doctrine of God that there were obviously two views on the fact that God was able to know what had happened beforehand. Either that there simply was a foreknowledge that God expressed, as you say in prophecy, and that kind of thing, and also – so he could have expressed it in prophecy but that he could also express it in foreseeing what would take place in someone’s life which I think is maybe what you were pointing to, the possibility therefore of him looking down and seeing that this person would receive him, and therefore, ordaining him or foreordaining him to receive him. And then there was this predestination that did not depend on foreseeing at all what a man would do but just predestined him directly.

[Question inaudible 30:11]

Yes, yes, that’s right I agree with that. Knowing the agony and pain that was going to come to him if he made free will agents, if he made agents, that yes he did. I agree.

[Question inaudible 30:57]

Especially when you think of our own lives, and if you knew what your own life was going to be like, maybe you wouldn’t be so willing to face it. But he knew not only what one life was going to be like but all the lives throughout the universe, and yet was prepared to go through it.

[Question inaudible 31:27]

That’s why it seems to me so important that we try to break some of the very narrow self-contained rooms that churches and theologians have got themselves into and that we here have a beautiful opportunity. We don’t need to defend any church. We don’t need to defend any denomination or any view. We have a beautiful opportunity to gather the riches from all viewpoints and insights, and really appreciate the greatness of the Father. And it seems to me, sometimes as I read old Berkhof, I think, “Ah, he’s so different from what I think that it is. It’s just terrible.” But it’s really good because it does force us to see some of the riches — that foreknowledge that God does foreknow. And yet you can foreknow without having made it to be so [inaudible 32:49].

[Question inaudible 32:50]

I mean, Kathy, that would in some sense, in other words it seems to me what I think we all kind of know what Don has just said but creation takes place at this point. Well, the Father conceived of creating us at that point and then, this is ridiculous because you’re talking about an infinite mind that thought of it all in one moment. But then he conceived of creation at that point and he conceived of the fall at that point, and he conceived of the cross, the lamb slain from before the foundation of the world at that point. And then he conceived of who would be born, and who would die, and who would accept, and who would reject at that point. And then at that point, he ordained them to life in the light of that, or to death, and then he made the world at that point. But that presumably be the way that you would apply that to foreknowledge. Now, that’s a possibility.

[Question inaudible 34:15]

There’s no question, Al, that what the reformers like Berkhof are fighting to preserve is that it is all of God. It is of God. It is of his grace, and his love, and that it is not of man at all. Unquestionably. And I think that’s what we need to be seeing, what are they trying to get out? What are they trying to guard against? What have they to say to us about this?

[Question inaudible 35:16]

I’m trying to get into that reward syndrome that you’re talking about. I probably can only see it this way, that here I am and here is my dad. And on my birthday he is offering me a bicycle and I have the ability to say yes or no. And if I receive the bicycle, I’ll be able to ride around, do all kinds of things. If I receive the Holy Spirit all kinds of things will be possible — but it will be because of my Father’s gift to me. But I suppose that’s what I’m fighting for. I’m fighting for that little yes or no there.

Now, if you were to say to me, “Is God rewarding your yes by giving you a bicycle?” I would say no, he’s offered me the bicycle and I have to decide whether I will receive it or not. And if you then say to me, “But did you not win the bicycle of your merit of giving an affirmative answer?” Most human beings would immediately answer, “No, no. Saying yes to a gift, there’s no merit in that. It’s maybe good sense or anything else but it’s not merit.”

I think I have trouble reducing man’s response to anything less than that. Then I don’t see where you keep me out of God’s will. I would say God’s arbitrary will. But Berkhof would say God’s sovereign will.

[Question inaudible 37:22]

I would just tie it down that it’s the Holy Spirit. That God is offering us the Holy Spirit and that we did our best to make it impossible for him to give it to us by rebelling against him and developing a selfish will that could not have handled it. But even he has taken that selfish will and crossed it out and he’s saying, “No. Now, I’m giving you another chance. Now your selfish will is taken care of on the cross. Now will you accept what I have done for you and will you receive my Holy Spirit?”

[Question inaudible 38:12]

Now of course, what Berkhof is saying – I don’t know what he’d say to the yes or no because it seems to me always when he defines this, the Pelagian, or the semi-Pelagian, or the Arminian, or the western Arminian, he’s never stating the position that I feel that I hold. He’s never stating anything as minimum as “yes or no”. He always seems to be trying to intimate that the Arminian, or the Pelagian, or the semi-Pelagian thinks he can do something to help it along.

[Question inaudible 38:46]

That’s right Don. That is right. That is exactly it.

[Question inaudible 39:09]

Well, he would hold to all the things that we would say about heaven and hell but he would simply – he would say that hell therefore, in a sense, even glorifies God because it sets forth his righteousness, and his strength and power. It almost sets forth the beauty of heaven by the opposite of hell and he would say – he would probably answer you see, and dear love him he has some big verses if you don’t interpret them inside the context, “Why should the pot say to the potter, ‘You have made me thus?’”

So he would even tackle – if you said, “But what if somebody says, ‘You put me into hell.’” He would say, “Who are you old man to question God?” So he would go probably to that extreme point that the sovereign God is free to do what he wants when he wants and who are we to question? You could say, “Oh, but he’s an unjust God,” but he would probably respond that way, “Who are you old man to question God?” Because old Paul, you remember, comes across that way, doesn’t he in Romans, with the potter, you see?

That’s the thing, it seems to me, loved ones, you have to see that there are very strong verses in scripture. A fella like Berkhof doesn’t get out on a wild limb just for the sake of it. There are strong verses in scripture but you have to determine where is the weight of scripture? Where does the weight of scripture lay? And of course you have to avoid taking an Eve position, “Oh that’s contradiction to scripture.” That’s silly. You have to see you’re dealing with the infinite mind of an infinite Creator dealing with little finite minds using a finite language. He has to, he’s driven into contradictions to bring the whole truth home to us. So, that’s an easy out, you know, the conflict.

[Question inaudible 41:19]

I know it. I’m with you. I agree. I agree. Of course, that’s why – that’s why it behooves us so much to think carefully through what we’re thinking and saying. And I’m glad that some of these issues have come up so that those of us who think we are Pelagians will see in what way we were not Pelagians; those of us who think we’re Calvinists will see in what we were not Calvinists, because I think most of us are a mixture of these things and we need to be very clear where we are.

Loved ones, honestly, I’m against the labels. I really think the labels are bad. That’s why I’m unhappy about – I think we should look at Berkhof with an open mind and even ignore the wee bit of labeling he does and say, “No, no, let’s get beyond it and see what is he saying is true in this situation?” That’s why I’m reluctant to label myself, because I doubt if I am what anybody else thinks a Wesleyan or Arminian is. I, certainly from my studies even of Berkhof over the past few

years, would be much stronger – I wonder how many of people who would say they are Wesleyans or Arminians, would even knock it down to “yes or no”, you know? They might make it more than that. I rather think it’s “yes or no”. I don’t think it’s any stronger than that.

But then I suppose I feel my dear friend Wesley said the same. He said, “Repentance is not a work of man, it’s a work of God that God does in a heart that is willing to repent.” So you cannot produce strong repentance by much crying. Repentance is a gift from God that is given to a will that is willing to say, “yes”. He would go even before repentance. He would say, “Conviction is a work of God’s Spirit.” And then old Wesley would probably go way, way back to prevenient grace and say, “That even from when we were born, there are workings and movements within us that are drawing us towards God in virtue of the fact that Jesus has died.”

[Question inaudible 44:39]

He’d hold with Watchman Nee, and Nee is a Calvinist. At least – he’s not a wild Calvinist, but he’s certainly a Calvinist and he would go with Nee and that’s what kind of encourages me to believe that there’s some truth in it, Al. He would say, “The will of man is a mystery. The will of man is a mystery that the Bible never solves and Jesus himself never solves it. The will of man, the freedom of man’s will to say yes or no is not explained.” He just seems never to go beyond the point where he says, “They will not believe,” or, “If a man will come after me, let him.” But he never seems to give up.

[Question inaudible 45:29]

That’s right. I think so [Audio ends abruptly 46:11]

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