Meditations on God’s Providence (14)
The Hard Road from Revulsion to Embrace (3)
To begin, it must be openly admitted that the doctrine of predestination does take the issue of salvation outside the scope of human free will. There will be no argument here seeking to obscure or soften this fact. There is, though, the secondary issue of human exercise of their free wills as they go through life. Here I will argue for free will’s continued existence, and for its value in God’s economy.
With regard to the removal of our wills from the issue of our salvation, much is often made of this consequence’s unfairness to us. However, perhaps we Christians should consider more carefully, ponder more seriously the consequences of the opposite view for Christ and His Cross. Doing so sheds an entirely different light on the situation.
If our salvation is dependent on our wills in any way, then it must be the case that Christ has left something unfinished in His work on our behalf. That is, it is as if Christ has carried a heavy load a great distance for us, but we somehow must make the effort to move it across the finish line. We can use any language to describe this work of ours, but it will always come back to the insufficiency of Christ’s work on our behalf, because, if there is anything that we must add then Christ has left something undone.
Stibbs has said it well.
The faith of the individual must be seen as having no value in itself, but as discovering value wholly and solely through movement towards and committal to Christ. It must be seen as simply a means of finding all one’s hope outside oneself in the person and work of another; and not in any sense an originating cause or objective ground of justification. For true faith is active only in the man who is wholly occupied with Christ; its practice means that every blessing is received from another. For this reason faith is exclusive and intolerant of company; it is only truly present when any and every contribution towards his salvation on the part of the believer or on the part of the Church is absolutely and unequivocally shut out. Justification must be seen and received as a blessing dependent wholly and exclusively on Christ alone, on what he is and what he has done—a blessing enjoyed simply through being joined directly to him, through finding one’s all in him, through drawing one’s all from him, without the interposition of any other mediator or mediating channel whatever.
So, when we insist on a theology that allows our wills a role in salvation we simultaneously are insisting that Christ’s work on the Cross be considered insufficient.
Martin Luther put it bluntly:
If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.
Is this what we, as followers of Christ, desire to do to Him (as if we could)? Put that way, most would say no. So, if the Scriptures appear to take all ground away for our own contribution to salvation, as they do, then perhaps we should embrace as opposed to reject.
Jonathan Edwards (a strong supporter of Calvinist theology) is best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But he nonetheless has written words about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ that shine wonderful light on His perfect love, his all-sufficient work on our behalf.
And here is not only infinite strength and infinite worthiness, but infinite condescension, and love and mercy, as great as power and dignity. If you are a poor, distressed sinner, whose heart is ready to sink for fear that God never will have mercy on you, you need not be afraid to go to Christ, for fear that he is either unable or unwilling to help you. Here is a strong foundation, and an inexhaustible treasure, to answer the necessities of your poor soul, and here is infinite grace and gentleness to invite and embolden a poor, unworthy, fearful soul to come to it. If Christ accepts of you, you need not fear but that you will be safe, for he is a strong Lion for your defense. And if you come, you need not fear but that you shall be accepted; for he is like a Lamb to all that come to him, and receives then with infinite grace and tenderness. It is true he has awful majesty, he is the great God, and infinitely high above you; but there is this to encourage and embolden the poor sinner, that Christ is man as well as God; he is a creature, as well as the Creator, and he is the most humble and lowly in heart of any creature in heaven or earth. This may well make the poor unworthy creature bold in coming to him. You need not hesitate one moment; but may run to him, and cast yourself upon him. You will certainly be graciously and meekly received by him. Though he is a lion, he will only be a lion to your enemies, but he will be a lamb to you. It could not have been conceived, had it not been so in the person of Christ, that there could have been so much in any Savior, that is inviting and tending to encourage sinners to trust in him. Whatever your circumstances are, you need not be afraid to come to such a Savior as this. Be you never so wicked a creature, here is worthiness enough; be you never so poor, and mean, and ignorant a creature, there is no danger of being despised, for though he be so much greater than you, he is also immensely more humble than you. Any one of you that is a father or mother, will not despise one of your own children that comes to you in distress: much less danger is there of Christ’s despising you, if you in your heart come to him.
 Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was a preacher, theologian, and missionary to Native Americans. Edwards “is widely acknowledged to be America’s most important and original philosophical theologian,” and one of America’s greatest intellectuals. Edwards’s theological work is very broad in scope, but he is often associated with his defense of Reformed theology, the metaphysics of theological determinism, and the Puritan heritage. Edwards played a critical role in shaping the First Great Awakening, and oversaw some of the first fires of revival in 1733-1735 at his church in Northampton, Massachusetts.