God Is Not Responsible For Sin

The problem of evil is one that every Christian has to face. For the vast majority of professing Christians the idea or belief in free will, at least on the surface, seems to solve the problem of evil.  These Christians are historically known as Arminians, or less charitably, Pelagians, and their argument generally goes something like this; God made man with a free and undetermined will, therefore all men have the natural ability to chose to do either good or evil. God is said to “permit” men to do evil and it is on this basis of their natural ability toward good or evil that God is said to hold men responsible for their choices. If God could be said to determine man’s choices from Adam’s fall to the crucifixion and murder of the Father’s only Son, then man would not be responsible for their sinful actions.  Apart from free will, men would be mere sinners and pawns in God’s hands and God himself would be responsible for their sin. But, what sort of loving “God” would permit men to sin when He has the power to prevent it? Wouldn’t a loving an omnipotent God prevent the Holocaust?  And, even if He can’t control the choices of men and prevent them from doing evil, couldn’t He control the weather and at least see fit to prevent tsunami’s and tornados from wiping out entire villages and towns killing countless innocent men, women and children?  So, while the “free will” argument at first appears to solve the solution of human responsibility, it would also appear to make God a culpable and admittedly impotent third party who has the power and ability to prevent evil but chooses not to.  Hardly what many would consider the Lord God Almighty, much less a God worth worshiping.

Unlike the Arminian, those Christians who have continued in the tradition of the Reformation have historically denied that man’s will is free in the sense of being undetermined or that God somehow passively “permits” evil.  Martin Luther argued that man’s will is born in bondage to sin and death.  Calvin called sin a “contagion” which all men are infected with from the moment of conception and on account of Adam’s first sin imputed to them by ordinary generation. Men aren’t sinners because they sin, they sin because they’re sinners and are born that way.  Further, Reformed men have always confessed that God not only determined Adam’s fall as part of His overall plan or eternal decree, but He also “freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass” (see Westminster Confession chapter 3, Of God’s Eternal Decree).  So far from being some impotent and anemic cosmic bystander, these Christians maintain that God has determined all things to include the Holocaust and killer tsunami’s and tornados. Yet, these Christians also confess that “neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (WCF III:1).

This raises the question; If God has determined all things including the sinful actions of men, wouldn’t that make God the responsible agent and author of sin, WCF III:1 notwithstanding?  Or, to put it another way, How can men be held responsible for their thoughts, words and deeds if God has sovereignly determined them in accordance with his eternal decree?  For generations Reformed Christians have seen this dilemma as a profound mystery.  For theologians like John Frame this is where “faith” comes in as he explains:

[W]e are in a strange state of affairs: we have two propositions (“God is good” and “God foreordains evil”) which we can show to be logically interdependent in one sense; yet we cannot show them to be logically compatible except by an appeal to faith…This balance of interdependence and paradox is in the interest of thinking in submission to Scripture. Scripture must be followed both in its assertions of interdependence and in its refusal to reconcile all doctrines to our satisfaction.

Thus, a paradox remains for us, though by faith we are confident that there is no paradox for God. Faith is basic to the salvation of our knowledge as well as the salvation of our souls.

Tragically, Frame’s answer to this dilemma, or more precisely his non-answer, is all too common and in many Reformed circles this non-answer has even become a mark of Reformed orthodoxy.  The reason for this sad state of affairs falls squarely on the late Cornelius Van Til who publicly excoriated Gordon Clark for even claiming to have solved this problem which “has baffled the greatest theologians in history.” According to Van Til,

Not even Holy Scripture offers a solution. But Dr. Clark asserts unblushingly that for his thinking the problem has ceased to be a problem. Here is something phenomenal. What accounts for it? The most charitable, and no doubt the correct, explanation is that Dr. Clark has come under the spell of rationalism. It is difficult indeed to escape the conclusion that by his refusal to permit the Scriptural teaching of divine sovereignty and the Scriptural teaching of human responsibility to stand alongside each other, and by his claim that he has fully reconciled them with each other before the bar of human reason, Dr. Clark has fallen into the error of rationalism [The Clark-Van Til Controversy, 23].

Now, if you examine Clark’s solution to this problem that “has baffled the greatest theologians in history,” you’ll see that it hinges on how we define responsibility.  According to Clark:

Let us call a man responsible, then, when he may be justly rewarded or punished for his deeds. That is, the man must be answerable to someone, to God, for responsibility implies a superior authority who punishes or rewards.

The first thing to notice is that absent from this definition is any notion of man’s presumed natural ability toward either good or bad.  Not only is a free and undetermined will absent from his definition, but any will at all, God’s or man’s, is eliminated too.  Clark simply avoids the question of man’s will entirely in his definition of responsibility.  Similarly, while God can be said to the ultimate cause of whatsoever comes to pass, even the sins of men, God cannot be said to be responsible for those sins simply because there is no higher authority to whom He must give an answer.

Interestingly, and something that eluded Van Til and his many followers over the years, is that Clark’s answer to this theological dilemma is the same form of argument Paul uses in Romans 9 starting in verse 29:

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Notice, Paul’s hypothetical interlocutor argues in effect: How can I be held responsible for that which God has eternally determined should come to pass according to His sovereign will? I mean, if I can’t resist his will then I can’t be held responsible for my thoughts and actions, right?  It is presumed that for a man to be held responsible requires the freedom, at least to some extent, to have done otherwise. Yet, implied in Paul’s response is that the only thing required for man to be responsible is a superior authority and that authority is God who alone can justly demand a response from his subordinate and sinful creatures.  Conversely, and as we can see from Paul’s “O man who art thou,” man has no authority to demand any response from God for what He has decreed.  God is the potter and man is His clay to do with what He wills.  He hardens the one and has mercy on the other all according to His good pleasure. Or, as the prophet Daniel explains;  “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?'” 

Interestingly, Clark’s answer to the problem of human responsibility and God’s sovereignty rests squarely on the Creator/creature distinction, a distinction that Van Til claimed was central to all theology. Interesting too, and despite Van Til’s protests to the contrary above, Holy Scripture does indeed offer a solution to this problem that “has baffled the greatest theologians in history” and it is a necessary inference drawn from Romans 9.

While I would certainly encourage readers of this blog to study Clark’s answer as he first proposed it in 1932 in his piece, “Determinism and Responsibility,” or as he develops it in chapter five of his book, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (also found in God and Evil: Problem Solved), I would also like to recommend Robert Reymond’s fleshing out of Clark’s solution found in his systematic theology and presented here below.

Why God Is Not the Author or Chargeable Cause of Sin

– Robert Reymondrobertreymond

If God has decreed all that comes to pass, and if God, by his most holy, wise, and powerful providence, governs all his creatures and all their actions in order to accomplish his own holy ends, how is one to understand all this so that God is not made the author of sin and man is left responsible?That anything-good or evil-occurs in God’s universe finds its account… in His positive ordering and active concurrence; while the moral quality of the deed, considered in itself, is rooted in the moral character of the subordinate agent, acting in the circumstances and under the motives operative in each instance . . . Thus all things find their unity in His eternal plan; and not their unity merely; but their justification as well; even the evil, though retaining its quality as evil and hateful to the holy God, and certain to be dealt with as hateful, yet does not occur apart from His provision or against His will, but appears in the world which He has made only as the instrument by which He works the higher good.

Far from God’s decree violating the will of the creature or taking away his lib­erty or contingency; God’s decree established that what they would do they would (normally) do freely (Westminster Confession of Faith, III/i; V/ii,iv). The occur­rence of the word “freely” here may surprise some readers. How can the Reformed Christian speak of man’s “freedom” if God has decreed his every thought and ac­tion? The solution is to be found in the meaning of the word. Reformed theology does not deny that men have wills (that is, choosing minds) or that men exercise their wills countless times a day. To the contrary, Reformed theology happily affirms both of these propositions. What Reformed theology denies is that a man’s will is ever free from God’s decree, his own intellection, limitations, parental training, habits, and (in this life) the power of sin. In sum, there is no such thing as the liberty of indifference; that is, no one’s will is an island unto itself, undetermined or unaffected by anything.

What Reformed theology denies is that a man’s will is ever free from God’s decree, his own intellection, limitations, parental train­ing, habits, and (in this life) the power of sin. In sum, there is no such thing as the liberty of indifference; that is, no one’s will is an island unto itself, undetermined or unaffected by anything.

Furthermore, Reformed theology is not opposed to speaking of man’s “free will, freedom,” or “free agency” (the phrases may be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the writings, for example, of A. A. Hodge, John Murray, and Gordon Clark, whose Reformed convictions are unquestioned), provided the Arminian construction of free will as the liberty of indifference is not placed upon the phrases. According to Reformed theology, if an act is done voluntarily, that is, if it is done spontaneously with no violence being done to the man’s will, then that act is a free act. This is happily acknowledged in order to preclude the conclusions of a Hobbesian or a Skinnerian determinism that would insist that man’s will is mechanistically, genetically, or chemically forced or determined to good or evil by an absolute necessity of nature. What all of this means is this: If at the moment of willing, the man wanted to do the thing being considered for reasons sufficient to him, then Reformed theology declares that he acted freely. There is, Reformed the­ology would affirm in other words, a liberty of spontaneity. It is in this sense that I used the term “freely” earlier. To illustrate: Was Adam aware of God’s prohibition and warning respecting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil at the moment he ate its fruit? Reformed theology says yes. Did Adam have the capacity and power to do God’s preceptive will respecting the fruit? Reformed theology says yes. Did Adam, for reasons sufficient to him, come to the place cognitively where he wanted to eat the fruit? Reformed theology says yes again. (Reformed theology would also insist at this point, over against Arminianism, precisely because Adam had his rea­sons, that he was not exercising an indifferent will.) Was Adam forced to eat the fruit against his will? Reformed theology would say no. Therefore, because Adam acted knowingly, willingly, spontaneously, for reasons sufficient for him, with no violence being done to his will, Reformed theology insists that he was a free agent in his transgression. But if someone should ask: Was Adam totally free from God’s eternal decree, Reformed theology would say, of course not. Could Adam have done differently? Again, from the viewpoint of the divine decree, the answer is no. To answer these questions any other way is simply to nullify the Scripture’s teach­ing to the effect that God, who works everything in conformity with his eternal purpose (Eph. 1:11), purposed before the foundation of the world to save a multi­tude of sinners who would fall in Adam (see Westminster Confession of Faith, V/iv; VI/i; IX /ii). Henry Stob says this succinctly and superbly:

Calvinists are not Afree willists.” They assert indeed that man is free-that he is a moral agent not caught up in the wheel of things or determined by mere natu­ral antecedents. But they apprehend that this is something else than freedom of the will. Man is free, i.e., he can under ordinary circumstances do what he wills to do. But the will is not free, i.e., there is no extra-volitional vantage point from which the will can determine itself. Man’s will responds to his nature, which is what it is by sin or by the sovereign grace of God. All of which leaves responsibility fully grounded, for nothing more is required for holding a man accountable than his acting with the consent of his will, however much this may be determined.

Thus because God decreed that all things would come to pass according to the nature of second causes, which means that in the case of men they would act freely and spontaneously whatever sin they commit proceeds from them and not from God. He does not sin, nor is he the author of sin. Only self-conscious, self-determining, rational second causes sin. For yet a third reason it is clear that God is not the chargeable cause of sin and that man alone is responsible for his sin. This may be shown by a careful analysis of the meaning of and necessary condition for responsibility, a word which every theolo­gian uses but whose meaning very few bother to think much about.

Free will has nothing to do with the establishment of responsibility. What makes a person “responsible” is whether there is a lawgiver over him who has declared that he will require that person to give an account to him for his thoughts, words, and actions.

As the main element of the word suggests, responsibility has reference to the obligation to give a response or an account of one’s actions to a lawgiver. To illus­trate, when a judge hears a case concerning an auto accident involving two cars, he attempts to determine who is “responsible,” that is, which one of the two drivers bears the obligation arising from a traffic violation to give an account to the traffic court. In short, a man is a responsible moral agent if he can and will be required to give an account to a lawgiver for any and all infractions he commits against the law imposed upon him by the lawgiver. Whether or not he has free will in the Arminian sense of that term (the liberty of indifference) is irrelevant to the ques­tion of responsibility. To insist that without free will a man cannot lawfully be held responsible for his sin completely fails to appreciate the meaning of the word. Free will has nothing to do with the establishment of responsibility. What makes a person “responsible” is whether there is a lawgiver over him who has declared that he will require that person to give an account to him for his thoughts, words, and actions. Hence, if the divine Lawgiver determined that he would require every human being to give a personal account to him for his thoughts, words, and actions, then every human being is a “responsible” agent whether free in the Arminian sense or not. In other words, far from God’s sovereignty making human responsibility impossible, it is just because God is their absolute Sovereign that men are accountable to him. If the sovereign God has determined that men shall answer to him for their thoughts, words, and actions, then that determination makes them responsible to him for their thoughts, words, and actions.

A full biblical treatment of all of the grounds of human responsibility would also include treatments of (1) man’s innate knowledge of God’s law and (2) the doctrine of original sin. Men are chargeable causes of the sins they commit if they know to do the good but do not do it, even if they are unable to do it (Luke 12:47; Rom. 8:7). God has also determined that men are responsible for Adam’s sin by the principle of representative headship and legal imputation (Rom. 5:12-19). Clearly, free will is in no sense the precondition of responsibility for imputed sin, but ac­countable to God for Adam’s sin men are nonetheless, Paul teaches. Thus free will in the Arminian sense is not the necessary precondition of a man’s responsibility for his sin. A lawgiver is the necessary precondition of responsibility.

…God is not “responsible” for his thoughts, words and actions because there is no lawgiver over him to whom he is accountable. Contrary to what some might think, he is not obligated to keep the Ten Commandments as the human creature is. The Ten Commandments are his revealed precepts for men. They do not apply to him as the ethical norm by which he is to live.

It should now be evident from the above analysis of the precondition of responsibility why God cannot be the chargeable or responsible cause of sin. Men are responsible for their thoughts, words, and actions because there is a Lawgiver over them who will call them to account (Rom. 4;12). But God is not “responsible” for his thoughts, words and actions because there is no lawgiver over him to whom he is accountable. Contrary to what some might think, he is not obligated to keep the Ten Commandments as the human creature is. The Ten Commandments are his revealed precepts for men. They do not apply to him as the ethical norm by which he is to live. He cannot worship another God because there is none. He cannot dis­honor his father and his mother because he has no parents (we are not considering at this moment the Incarnation), he cannot murder because all life is his to do with as he pleases, he cannot steal because everything already belongs to him, he cannot lie because his nature disallows it, he cannot covet anything that does not belong to him because, again, everything is his already And because he is the absolute Sov­ereign over the universe, he cannot be called to account by a more ultimate law­giver (there is no such being) for anything he does or ordains someone else to do. Because he is sovereign, whatever he decrees and whatever he does in accordance with his eternal decree are proper and right just because he is the absolute Sover­eign. Did he decree the horrible crucifixion of Christ? The Bible says he did. Then it was proper and right that he did so. Did he predestine some men in Christ before the foundation of the world to be his sons while he foreordained others to dishonor and wrath for their sins? The Bible says he did. Then it was proper and right that he did so. Did he determine that he would call men to account for their transgressions against him. The Bible says he did. Then it is proper and right that God should re­gard us as the chargeable, responsible causes of our sin.

We have now elucidated the reasons why Reformed theologians believe they can unhesitatingly affirm God’s predestination of all things in general and his sovereignty in salvation in particular and yet deny at the same time that God is the Author of sin and that people have free wills in the Arminian sense of the term. The first is simply the clear biblical teaching (see the many illustrations cited) that God has in fact decreed and is in control of all things but does not sin in doing so. The second is that God ordained that all things would come to pass according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily freely or contingently with no violence being done to the will of the crea­ture. The third is the meaning of responsibility and the clear Reformed perception that divine sovereignty far from being an impediment to human responsibility as the Arminian imagines, is ultimately the necessary precondition for it. – A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, 372-376

About these ads
Explore posts in the same categories: Gordon Clark, Theology

105 Comments on “God Is Not Responsible For Sin”

  1. Roger Says:

    God has also determined that men are responsible for Adam’s sin by the principle of representative headship and legal imputation (Rom. 5:12-19). Clearly, free will is in no sense the precondition of responsibility for imputed sin, but accountable to God for Adam’s sin men are nonetheless, Paul teaches. Thus free will in the Arminian sense is not the necessary precondition of a man’s responsibility for his sin. A lawgiver is the necessary precondition of responsibility.

    I believe this bolsters a point I’ve been making over on the Van Til-Ursinus thread — that man’s so-called “liberty” or “free agency” is also not a necessary component of man’s responsibility before God. That’s not to deny, of course, that we have the power of voluntary choice (or that we choose according to our desires), for we most certainly do. It simply means that God has sovereignly decided to hold us accountable for sin irrespective of our wills altogether. For we are responsible for Adam’s sin — something that we had no say so in whatsoever! We are responsible solely because God has decided to hold us accountable for violating His law period.

    By the way, another excellent series of articles on this topic is Vincent Cheung’s “Author of Sin”. It’s well worth the read…

  2. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    This doesn’t undermine my position for 2 reasons. 1st, I disagree with libertarian free will, the very notion Clark argues against as well. Secondly, believe it or not, I was mindful of Romans 5 the entire time. I almost commented on it in the other thread because nobody brought it up, but I think it merely muddies the waters. I did write this though with that in mind: man is not held accountable for his own actions when there is no liberty to do otherwise (unless a previous action for which he is deemed guilty by God has cost him his liberty. For example, a man in jail who has no liberty to work and pay child support is culpable for neglect when it is his own act of the will that put him in jail). Point being, responsibility is always indexed to an creaturely act.

    The example I gave had to the with the same individual whose personal act led to his own lack of liberty. However, what I worded (in bold) was quite intentional. It was generic enough to refer to a previous act of even another, for which one is deemed responsible. This extends beyond Adam, to even fathers, heads of nations or an bystander to a criminal act.

  3. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    This doesn’t undermine my position for 2 reasons. 1st, I disagree with libertarian free will, the very notion Clark argues against as well. Secondly, believe it or not, I was mindful of Romans 5 the entire time. I almost commented on it in the other thread because nobody brought it up, but I think it merely muddies the waters. I did write this though with that in mind: man is not held accountable for his own actions when there is no liberty to do otherwise (unless a previous action for which he is deemed guilty by God has cost him his liberty. For example, a man in jail who has no liberty to work and pay child support is culpable for neglect when it is his own act of the will that put him in jail). Point being, responsibility is always indexed to an creaturely act.

    The example I gave had to the with the same individual whose personal act led to his own lack of liberty. However, what I worded (in bold) was quite intentional. It was generic enough to refer to a previous act of even another, for which one is deemed responsible. This extends beyond Adam, to even fathers, heads of nations or an bystander to a criminal act.

  4. justbybelief Says:

    “But God is not “responsible” for his thoughts, words and actions because there is no lawgiver over him to whom he is accountable. ”

    This is a tough blow to man’s ego as men like to preside over Him, His Word, and His deeds.

  5. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    You just acknowledge that all choices are according to liberty – i.e. voluntary. You also agree that all choices are accountable to God. Therefore, liberty (per the laws of logic) is a necessary condition for responsible choices in the most literal, logical sense. That’s foundational to what I’ve argued. Accordingly, it’s logically a false dichotomy that would rent asunder God’s say-so from our liberty in the realm of responsibility. That to say, unlike robots God says men are responsible for their choices because they are according to their own desires (even though God determines and ensures those desires and resultant choices obtain, which is a denial of libertarian freedom). So, the next question is how, not whether, the necessary condition of liberty relates to God’s say regarding our degree of responsibility.

    God’s word teaches that I’m more responsible for making biblically informed decisions than my children. I have greater liberty (talents, maturity etc.) in this area, hence my greater responsibility. So, to bring this full circle, all I’m saying is that God’s say-so of how much I’m responsible is informed by His own sense of reason and justice, which so happens to appear most reasonable to us all, lest there would be no rational way to distinguish between degrees of culpability.

    I think what people are trying to guard against is God having to agree with our standards. That of course is wrong. We must conform to His. Having said that, when God’s ways, as they truly are, appear most reasonable to us, it’s not that he is conforming to our standards but that we, created in His likeness and recreated in the image of His Son, are reflecting HIs rational ways.

    I agree with what you said on the other thread. We’ve probably batted this around enough.

    Grace and peace.


  6. Great Post! I recently re-read Clark’s Ch. in the 3Rs book. His solution is stunning in its simplicity and sound logic. Phenomenal work. Clark is the most neglected evangelical theologian of the 20th century and the one who can best help the struggling mystic-driven contemporary church.


  7. Dear Ron:

    – This is a brief note asking for clarification.

    – I am too committed to other things in the next week-and-a-half for a detail discussion.

    1. You wrote (January 26, 2014 at 9:19 pm): “Point being, responsibility is always indexed to an creaturely act.”

    I agree with your statement.

    2. Again, you wrote (January 26, 2014 at 9:19 pm): “I did write this though with that in mind: man is not held accountable for his own actions when there is no liberty to do otherwise (unless a previous action for which he is deemed guilty by God has cost him his liberty. For example, a man in jail who has no liberty to work and pay child support is culpable for neglect when it is his own act of the will that put him in jail).”

    I am asking for clarification for the statement: man is *not* held accountable for his own actions when there is no liberty to do otherwise.

    My understanding is that God will hold us accountable to His laws, whether we have liberty to do otherwise or not.

    I understand that you used “liberty” and “voluntary” as synonym in this context.

    Can you provide Biblical justification for the *not* in “man is not held accountable for his own actions when there is no liberty to do otherwise”.

    The following is a speculation about where the intuition for “man is not held accountable for his own actions when there is no liberty to do otherwise” comes from.

    God’s law is treated as a covenant.

    A covenant is treated as a contract.

    In contemporary contract law, there are five necessary elements for a valid contract:

    (a) Agreement (offer and acceptance).

    (b) Voluntary.

    (c) Consideration.

    (d) Capacity.

    (e) Legality.

    An action that is involuntary violates one of the necessary condition for a valid contract, therefore man is *not* held accountable for the contract (or covenant or God’s law).

    Does the Bible give legitimacy to this kind of intuition and reasoning?

    I understand that in the Bible, we are responsible for the acts that we have committed as “slaves to sin”.

    3. You wrote (January 26, 2014 at 9:52 pm): “You just acknowledge that all choices are according to liberty – i.e. voluntary. You also agree that all choices are accountable to God. Therefore, liberty (per the laws of logic) is a necessary condition for responsible choices in the most literal, logical sense. That’s foundational to what I’ve argued.”

    I do not follow your logic here.

    Can I argue by parity to your argument:

    (a) All choices are according to liberty.

    (b) All choices are accountable to God.

    (c) Therefore, accountability to God is a necessary condition for liberty (or responsible choices).

    Can it be that like ability is logically independent of obligation and responsibility, liberty (or voluntariness of an action) is also logically independent of obligation and responsibility?

    My understanding is that responsibility and obligation are not like a bilateral contract where both parties have made a promise, but a unilateral imposition by God.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  8. Roger Says:

    Can it be that like ability is logically independent of obligation and responsibility, liberty (or voluntariness of an action) is also logically independent of obligation and responsibility? My understanding is that responsibility and obligation are not like a bilateral contract where both parties have made a promise, but a unilateral imposition by God.

    I would say, yes, “liberty (or voluntariness of an action) is also logically independent of obligation and responsibility.” I believe this is proven by two biblical facts:

    (1) God commands men to do things that they are unable to voluntarily comply with – “make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31) and “circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16). These are actions that only God can do.

    (2) God holds all men accountable for “one man’s offense” (Romans 5:16) irrespective of their wills altogether, whether we’re referring to libertarian free-will or the “liberty” of voluntary choice.

    Thus, moral responsibility has to do with whether God has decided to hold us accountable for violating His commands; it has no direct relationship to whether we have the freedom or liberty to obey those commands or not. Yes, God normally takes into account our voluntary choices in either obeying or disobeying His commands. Nevertheless, the voluntary choice itself is not a necessary component of man’s responsibility before God, as the above two points prove.

  9. Roger Says:

    The example I gave had to the with the same individual whose personal act led to his own lack of liberty. However, what I worded (in bold) was quite intentional. It was generic enough to refer to a previous act of even another, for which one is deemed responsible. This extends beyond Adam, to even fathers, heads of nations or an bystander to a criminal act.

    Ron, this does indeed undermine your position. The fact that God holds men accountable for the sinful act of another is proof positive that an act of voluntary choice itself is not a necessary component of our responsibility before God. God wouldn’t be able to hold us accountable for the “previous act of another” if this weren’t the case.

    Grace and peace to you as well…

  10. Roger Says:

    I see no reason why the Robert Reymond quote I cited above wouldn’t be equally valid if reworded to say:

    “God has also determined that men are responsible for Adam’s sin by the principle of representative headship and legal imputation (Rom. 5:12-19). Clearly, voluntary choice of the will is in no sense the precondition of responsibility for imputed sin, but accountable to God for Adam’s sin men are nonetheless, Paul teaches. Thus liberty of the will in the Calvinistic sense is not the necessary precondition of a man’s responsibility for his sin. A lawgiver is the necessary precondition of responsibility.”

  11. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    1. The entire thread was focused on the necessary condition for man to be held responsible for his choices. You claimed responsibility for choice is based upon God’s say so alone, apart from liberty. I have shown from your own premises that such a construct is a false dichotomy because a necessary condition for a choice is that it’s voluntary.

    2. In the case of man’s first sin, again a voluntary act was made. Again, “man is not held accountable for his own actions when there is no liberty to do otherwise (unless a previous action for which he is deemed guilty by God has cost him his liberty.” The point being, there must be a creaturely choice (Adam’s in this case), but again that’s off topic from the heart of our disagreement. This entire discussion, at least all I’ve been interested in, pertains to whether God holds us accountable for our choices strictly on his say-so, or whether we’re held accountable our choices due to a liberty, which informs his say-so. Being held responsible for for Adam’s sin is irrelevant to the question of whether God’s “say so” about culpability for our own personal choices is based upon his divine sense of what sort of liberty we have. Adam’s guilt being ours through identification neither denies nor affirms that question.

  12. Ron Says:

    Benjamin,

    I have no clue what your asking. I’m always up for phone calls. My nickel.

  13. Roger Says:

    Ron, since God holds us accountable for Adam’s sin, an act that our wills were not involved in whatsoever, then it necessarily follows that he holds us accountable apart from our voluntary choice and upon His say so alone. Thus our “liberty” or voluntary choice is not a necessary condition that must be met in order for us to be responsible for sin.

  14. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    That doesn’t address my last summary post. My question to you has to with the necessary conditions of responsibility for our own choices, which you say does not include liberty, yet while affirming that liberty is present in all our choices.

  15. Ron Says:

    Can I argue by parity to your argument:

    (a) All choices are according to liberty.

    (b) All choices are accountable to God.

    (c) Therefore, accountability to God is a necessary condition for liberty (or responsible choices).

    Benjamin,

    No, you may not. I did not argue: all a is b; all a is c; therefore, c is a necessary condition for a. I argued that liberty is a necessary condition for choices. Choices are accountable to God. Therefore, liberty is a necessary condition for choices that are accountable to God. You have your last point backwards I think. I concluded “liberty (per the laws of logic) is a necessary condition for responsible choices” and not, as you wrote “Therefore, accountability to God is a necessary condition for liberty (or responsible choices).”

    As for your previous part, non-volitional actions of the sort I think you have in mind are equivalent to volitional choices – if they are omissions and not physical accidents. Notwithstanding, I think you’re getting rather far afield.

    As for the rationale behind all this, again I appeal to the God taking into account talents at the judgment, portrayed by the difference between a child and an adult who act unwisely, and the widow’s mite vss. the wealthy miser.

  16. Ron Says:

    It’s more than interesting that Clark quotes Gill favorably when Clark writes:

    “That action, he says again, which is voluntarily committed against the law of God is blameworthy, though the will may be influenced and determined to it by the corruption of nature… Thus Gill connects responsibility with volition or will, but the will is not free because the man cannot do otherwise.”

    Clark approvingly references Gill’s view that transgressions are “blameworthy,” but not because they proceed from libertarian free acts but because they are voluntary.

    Clark’s polemic against freedom being necessary for responsibility (i.e. “ought implies can”) was a polemic against libertarian freedom, which we all agree is not necessary for responsibility (in fact it would destroy responsibility!).

    But as we see from Clark’s quote, not only did Clark not deny that we are blameworthy for our choices because they are voluntary; he positively affirmed this ethical principle. God’s sense of justice as it relates to blameworthiness is inexorably tied to voluntary choices, in contrast to libertarian free choices, underscoring that (i) God is not capricious in his dealings and (ii) it is to argue by false-dichotomy to pit (a) God’s say so as the source of man’s accountability against (b) man’s liberty to choose. God’s say so is informed by God’s knowledge of man’s liberty.

  17. Ron Says:

    Roger,
    Maybe my interacting with a couple of your quotes might clear the air a bit.

    If God had decided not to hold us accountable for violating His commands, then we would not be responsible – despite the fact that we voluntarily chose to sin or act in accordance with our desires.

    Given Jesus’ high priestly prayer, if there was another way for transgressions to be overlooked, then the cup of wrath would have passed. The cup of wrath did not pass. Therefore, God could not have “decided not to hold us accountable for violating his commands.” Consequently, this hypothetical of yours is not available for God, which makes it a non-possibility. It’s not possible, therefore, that God not hold us responsible for our volitional acts. Yet that impossible premise of yours is key to your thesis – that God holds us responsible for our choices “irrespective of our wills altogether”:

    It simply means that God has sovereignly decided to hold us accountable for sin irrespective of our wills altogether

    .

    It is fallacious to argue from our responsibility for Adam’s sin to the conclusion that our responsibility for our own volitional sins is “irrespective of our wills altogether.” That we can be held accountable for Adam’s voluntary act does not logically imply that we are not held responsible for our acts because they are voluntary.

    You commit that exact same informaly fallacy here:

    Thus, moral responsibility has to do with whether God has decided to hold us accountable for violating His commands [examples given: regenerate yourself and Adam’s sin]; it has no direct relationship to whether we have the freedom or liberty to obey those commands or not. Yes, God normally takes into account our voluntary choices in either obeying or disobeying His commands. Nevertheless, the voluntary choice itself is not a necessary component of man’s responsibility before God, as the above two points prove.

    Again, it’s fallacious to conclude that we are responsible for our own acts “irrespective of our wills altogether” based upon our being guilty in Adam for his transgression.

    I don’t know what more I can say. I even dug out a direct quote from Clark wherein he approves of Gill’s indexing of blameworthiness to liberty.


  18. Dear Ron:

    – I am spending more time on this discussion than I can afford, but it is an interesting one. : – )

    1. Let’s review the logic of the discussion.

    The claim at issue as you stated it is (January 27, 2014 at 7:57 am):

    “The entire thread was focused on the necessary condition for man to be held responsible for *his choices*.”

    Then you follow-up with these two statements (January 27, 2014 at 7:57 am):

    “You claimed responsibility for choice is based upon God’s say so alone, apart from liberty. I have shown from your own premises that such a construct is a false dichotomy because a necessary condition for a choice is that it’s voluntary.”

    There are at least two different claims and arguments going on in this discussion:

    Argument 1:

    (a) God hold human persons responsible for all their choices.

    (b) All human choices are voluntary.

    (c) Therefore, God hold human persons responsible for all their voluntary choices.

    Argument 2:

    (a) God only hold human persons responsible for their choices.

    (b) All human choices are voluntary.

    (c) Therefore, God only hold human persons for their voluntary choices.

    2. If I am not mistaken, when you see the issue as “[t]he entire thread was focused on the necessary condition for man to be held responsible for *his choices*”, you and Roger do not have the same issue in mind.

    Argument 1 may or may not be sound, but it does not exhaust what God holds human persons responsible for.

    Roger’s examples of (Deuteronomy 10:16), (Ezekiel 18:31) and (Romans 5:16) effectively demonstrates that.

    Besides holding human persons for all their voluntary choices, God also holds human persons for that which they have no choice and cannot possibly do.

    This makes the analysis of what God holds human person responsible for, resorting to voluntary choices only, an *incomplete analysis*.

    If as Roger agrees and I suspect, voluntary choices are logically independent of obligation and responsibility, then again it trivially follows that voluntary choices are logically consistent with obligation and responsibility.

    So the disagreement is not on these points: whether choices are voluntary or whether God holds humans for their voluntary choices.

    I understand Roger to be arguing against Argument 2.

    I understand that you are *not* arguing for the claim:

    “God *only* holds human persons responsible for their voluntary choices.”

    For if you do, then we do have a real disagreement.

    3. I have my doubts about analyzing liberty by voluntariness only.

    Man in sin is not at liberty; yet his choice in sin is voluntary.

    Does that not follow that there is something wrong with analyzing liberty by voluntariness only?

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  19. Ron Says:

    You’re tracking, I think, only in so much that argument 2 is not mine. Argument 1 is closer, but as put forth it’s rather uninteresting as it doesn’t address why liberty is germane. So, it’s not mine either because I’ve shown why it is germane. In any case, please look at my last couple of posts to Roger if you want to get where I’m coming from. He has on more than one occasion dismissed the voluntary nature of choice as irrelevant to responsibility. He even did this by asserting that God could, if he wanted, not hold us accountable for our choices, which as I showed is impossible per John 17 and the cup passing if there was another way. This bald assertion I’m reading over and over again even flies in the face of Clark’s use of Gill, let alone the examples of the poor widow and the rich greedy man, along with the infant vs the wise man.

    This is not all that complex so don’t make it harder than it is. The degree God holds us responsible for our own choices is a function of the liberties he has ordained for us apart from our lack of ability to choose other than we do. You and Roger deny this basis tenet of liberty as it relates to responsibility, which is a denial of the principle of talents we find in the gospels, and some being beaten with more stripes… and don’t be many masters in James….

  20. Ron Says:

    Man in sin is not at liberty; yet his choice in sin is voluntary.

    Ben,

    That statement of yours is iconic in that it shows very clearly that the terms in this discussion have not been internalized, even after all this time. Liberty, as it has been defined throughout this discussion(!), is the ability to choose according to one’s desires or intentions. When you say that “Man in sin is not at liberty” you have something quite different in mind. Perhaps you have moral ability in mind but who knows? The material point is this discussion has no chance of progressing given the difference in our taxonomy if nothing else.

  21. Sean Gerety Says:

    It simply means that God has sovereignly decided to hold us accountable for sin irrespective of our wills altogether.

    I don’t think this is quite right in that obviously He holds us accountable for our sins, no? Even the pagan without the Law have the law written on their hearts and they stands convicted by it. While responsibility requires a sovereign or higher authority to whom we must give an account, that account has to be in regards to something. Men are certainly accountable for their free choices even if those choices could not be other than what God has decreed. Therefore, while responsibility doesn’t require a libertarian free will only a sovereign, I wouldn’t say it is irrespective of our wills altogether. I mean, when we sin we choose to do it don’t we? God holds us accountable for the things we have done that are not in conformity with his law otherwise Jesus would have died for nothing.


  22. On a side note, you miss-spelled Arminian in the opening of the article. Excellent post. Although I have not read Cheung’s article recently, as I remember it Cheung denies the position of the WCF and makes God the author of sin. That clearly is not the case. God cannot sin and therefore man is the author of his own sin.

    Robert Reymond’s explanation is cogent and well said. I have his systematic theology, too. One disagreement I have with Reymond is his acceptance of common grace. Otherwise, his systematic theology is one of the best I have read among recent Calvinist scholars.

    Charlie

  23. Sean Gerety Says:

    This is not all that complex so don’t make it harder than it is. The degree God holds us responsible for our own choices is a function of the liberties he has ordained for us apart from our lack of ability to choose other than we do.

    I think liberties is probably a poor choice of words . . . or perhaps a confusing one. Gifts maybe. I was also thinking in terms of knowledge. Certainly the Jews who had the law were more culpable than the pagans who didn’t even though all have fallen short of the law’s demands. A pastor has more responsibility than a pew-on, etc.

  24. Ron Says:

    Sean,

    Thanks for chiming in on “irrespective…”

    As for the other, I’m heavily steeped in Edwards’, which is why I use “liberty” but I understand your point. In my defense, on the other thread I did define liberty and underscored that it is the ability to choose as we desire, all the time distinguishing it from libertarian freedom, the ability to choose with equal ease between alternatives, which we don’t have.

    In any case, I hate to see what I call high-Calvinists, those Calvinists that don’t shy away from the doctrine of reprobation or hide behind paradoxes on this matter disagree on whether our choices are accountable to the Sovereign precisely because they are voluntary etc. To deny this, I think, is to affirm a Hobbsian view of choices and make God out to be capricious.

    I believe it’s time to put this one to rest. I’m sure we all have better things to do. :)


  25. Dear Ron:

    1. Correction:

    Man in sin is not at liberty; yet his choice in sin is voluntary.

    should be:

    Man in sin is not at liberty; yet his choices in sin are voluntary.

    2. Your wrote (January 27, 2014 at 2:13 pm); “That statement of yours is iconic in that it shows very clearly that the terms in this discussion have not been internalized, even after all this time.”

    The way we define our terms and frame the issues reflect our understandings and prejudices.

    They also slanted the discussion in a certain direction.

    In trying to understand what you mean, I will use your own definitions.

    In challenging your claims, I may or may not dispute your definitions.

    It is obvious that I do not understand the terms and frame the issues as you do.

    I am primary interested in interpreting the Bible.

    In Biblical interpretation, pride of place and foundational are grammatical-historical interpretation.

    But conceptual analysis of the terms used in the Bible is also a form of Biblical interpretation.

    So we test our definition of terms and framing of issues against the Bible to see if they are adequate to the Bible.

    3. Take the claim “man in sin is not at liberty.”

    Test it against Bible passages to see if it is adequate.

    (Romans 6:12-14 ESV): “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

    (Romans 6:15-19 ESV): “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”

    (Romans 6:20-23 ESV): “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    I wonder what kind liberty does a person who is a slave to sin possess.

    I wonder what kind of liberty a person who is a slave to righteousness possesses.

    I also wonder what “[f]or when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness” means.

    4. In the same spirit of testing our definition of terms and framing of issues against the Bible, Roger cited (Deuteronomy 10:16), (Ezekiel 18:31) and (Romans 5:16).

    Did the Bible passages Roger cited shows that using voluntary choices alone to analyze all that God holds human person responsible for is an incomplete analysis?

    I believe so.

    But do you agree?

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  26. Ron Says:

    Hi Charlie,

    If Cheung referred to God as the author of sin, I can only imagine it’s because God has authored all of history, which includes sin. It’s not to impugn sin to God.

    If one dare defend the necessity of the will (especially in the context of the prelapsarian state), which is the only option aside from pure contingency, it is often alleged that he has denied the Reformed confessions while making God out to be the “the author of sin”, a term that is rarely defined by those who employ it most. :)

    Our Lord taught us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” What does such a petition presuppose? It presupposes “that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations.” (Westminster Larger Catechism: answer 195)

    Certainly the Catechism does not contradict Scripture where it states: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” James 1:13, 14

    Reformed balance:

    We must do justice to both truths. Although God is not a tempter, he nonetheless, according to the counsel of his own will, sovereignly upholds, directs and disposes all creatures, actions and things, to the end that even his people may be assaulted, foiled and even led captive by temptations, precisely as God has determined, for his own glory and our profit.

    Matthew 4:1 couldn’t be more explicit: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.”

    Consider John Frame at his best, “[Permits] is the preferred term in Arminian theology, in which it amounts to a denial that God causes sin. For the Arminian, God does not cause sin; he only permits it. Reformed theologians have also used the term, but they have insisted that God permission of sin is no less efficacious than his ordination of good.” John Frame (p. 177 The Doctrine of God)

  27. Roger Says:

    Sean wrote:

    While responsibility requires a sovereign or higher authority to whom we must give an account, that account has to be in regards to something. Men are certainly accountable for their free choices even if those choices could not be other than what God has decreed. Therefore, while responsibility doesn’t require a libertarian free will only a sovereign, I wouldn’t say it is irrespective of our wills altogether. I mean, when we sin we choose to do it don’t we? God holds us accountable for the things we have done that are not in conformity with his law otherwise Jesus would have died for nothing.

    When I said that we’re responsible for sin “irrespective of our wills altogether,” I didn’t mean that God never takes into account our voluntary sins when He judges us, for He most certainly does. I only meant that our “liberty” (or voluntary choice) is logically independent of our obligation and responsibility before God. In other words, while it may be consistent with our responsibility before God, it’s not a necessary precondition for responsibility. If we can show even a single instance where God holds us accountable for sin apart from our personal voluntary choice, then this point is proven. And we have more than a single instance:

    (1) God commands men to do things that they are unable to voluntarily comply with – “make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31) and “circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16). These are actions that only God can do. We can’t voluntarily choose to do them even if we wanted to.

    (2) God holds all men accountable for “one man’s offense” (Romans 5:16) irrespective of their wills altogether, whether we’re referring to libertarian free-will or the “liberty” of voluntary choice. None of us personally chose to sin in Adam; yet we are responsible for his sin nonetheless.

    Thus, moral responsibility has to do with whether God has decided to hold us accountable for violating His commands; it has no direct relationship to whether we have the freedom or liberty to obey those commands or not. Yes, God normally takes into account our voluntary choices in either obeying or disobeying His commands. Nevertheless, the voluntary choice itself is not a necessary precondition of our responsibility before God, as the above two points prove.

  28. Roger Says:

    Charlie wrote:

    Although I have not read Cheung’s article recently, as I remember it Cheung denies the position of the WCF and makes God the author of sin. That clearly is not the case. God cannot sin and therefore man is the author of his own sin.

    While Cheung most definitely and unashamedly calls God the “author of sin,” I don’t believe he’s denying the position of the WCF. The WCF uses the phrase “author of sin” to deny that God Himself is guilty of sin, while affirming that He is the metaphysical cause of all sin. Cheung is using the phrase “author of sin” to affirm that God is the direct metaphysical cause of all sin, while denying that this makes Him in any way guilty of sin:

    When Reformed Christians are questioned on whether God is the “author of sin,” they are too quick to say, “No, God is not the author of sin.” And then they twist and turn and writhe on the floor, trying to give man some power of “self-determination,” and some kind of freedom that in their minds would render man culpable, and yet still leave God with total sovereignty.

    On the other hand, when someone alleges that my view of divine sovereignty makes God the author of sin, my reaction is “So what?” Those who oppose me stupidly chant, “But he makes God the author of sin, he makes God the author of sin.” However, a description does not amount to an argument or objection, and I have never come across a decent explanation as to what is wrong with God being the author of sin in any theological or philosophical work written by anybody from any perspective.

    The truth is that, whether or not God is the author of sin, there is no biblical or rational problem with him being the author of sin. For it to be a problem, it must make some point of Christianity false, or contradict some passage of Scripture. But if God is the author of sin, how does it make Christianity false? One must construct an argument showing this by citing established premises that necessarily lead to the conclusion that Christianity would be false if God is the author of sin. What is this argument? And what passage of Scripture does it contradict? You can cite any passage you want, but you have to show that it necessarily applies to the question and makes it impossible for God to be the author of sin. Where is this passage of Scripture?

    Cheung then goes on to write:

    That is, if God directly causes you to sin, it indeed makes him the “author” of sin, but the “sinner” or “wrongdoer” is still you. Since sin is the transgression of divine law, for God to be a sinner or wrongdoer in this case, he must decree a moral law that forbids himself to be the author of sin, and then when he acts as the author of sin anyway, he becomes a sinner or wrongdoer. Unless this happens, for God to be the author of sin does not make him a sinner or wrongdoer. The terms “author,” “sinner,” “wrongdoer,” and “tempter” are precise – at least precise enough to be distinguished from one another, and for God to be the “author” of sin says nothing about whether he is also a “sinner,” “wrongdoer,” or a “tempter.” And for one not to be a wrongdoer by definition means that he has not done wrong. Therefore, even if God is the author of sin, it does not automatically follow that there is anything wrong with it, or that he is a wrongdoer.

    However, this is not to distance God from evil, for to “author” the sin implies far more control over the sinner and the sin than to merely tempt. Whereas the devil (or a person’s lust) may be the tempter, and the person might be the sinner, it is God who directly and completely controls both the tempter and the sinner, and the relationship between them. And although God is not himself the tempter, he deliberately and sovereignly sends evil spirits to tempt (1 Kings 22:19–23) and to torment (1 Samuel 16:14–23, 18:10, 19:9). But in all of this, God is righteous by definition.

  29. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    I hope this post is good news for you.

    I couldn’t agree more that condemnation doesn’t presuppose personal transgression any more than our righteousness in Christ presupposes personal righteousness. So, I welcome your understanding of Romans five.

    Now regarding this point of yours:

    If we can show even a single instance where God holds us accountable for sin apart from our personal voluntary choice, then this point is proven.

    My question is can anyone show a single instance where God holds men accountable for choices that are not voluntary, or according to one’s ability to choose what he wants? Maybe I misunderstood but it still seems to me you made your point in spades when you said that men wouldn’t be responsible for their choices if God so willed. That line of reasoning does not seem to be an argument that points so much to Romans five but rather to an all-encompassing thesis that suggests that God judges men irrespective of their choices, even their own choices if God so chooses. You’re taking that to the superlative might have overstated what you really think. At least I hope so. We all make unguarded statements; I’m sure I did in this discussion. As you, I’m after understanding and certainly not wanting to hold a man to his literal words or my unyielding interpretation of them. We all must refine our positions as the conversation progresses into more detail. That’s just in the nature of things. As I said earlier, I’m not sure we disagree on the matter of concern to me, that God’s say-so regarding our personal choices is informed by his sense of God-given talents, maturity, opportunity and all the rest – which does not include any alleged ability to choose contrary to how He has determined.

    (1) God commands men to do things that they are unable to voluntarily comply with – “make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31) and “circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16). These are actions that only God can do. We can’t voluntarily choose to do them even if we wanted to.

    My brother, we’re simply going to have to agree to disagree on the exegesis of those sorts of verses. Exegetically I find the prima facie interpretation of such commands, indeed any commands for that matter, presupposing the engagement of the human will, a kind of “Do this or refuse to do this… Choose this day whom you will serve.” Or as one commentator put it – repent, change our mind, change our ways, etc. That seems very consistent with all the prophets who called God’s covenant people to prepare themselves and turn to the Lord. It’s a matter of the will, which of course must be changed by the monergistic work of the Spirit, but that which we’ll be held accountable for is not “did you regenerate yourself?” but rather “did you repent, believe and obey the Lord?” Whereas you prefer to interpret the command as “Do this, even though I, God myself, cannot cause you to do this.” I simply can’t go there as there seems no precedence for that sort of exegesis. I don’t think those sorts of verses require such an interpretation and I’m quite certain I’ve never heard anyone teach that God will hold man responsible for not regenerating himself.

    I’m very comfortable believing that at the final judgment God will do no other than call men to give an account for their thoughts, words, and deeds so they might receive from God according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil. I don’t believe he will judge man for not being regenerate any more than he will judge them for not being glorified. He will judge them according to their works and the intents of their hearts – their wills. But, I cannot put into that mix God requiring men to change their ontology; yet I do most firmly believe that God will hold men accountable for living according to that change of ontology, which only God can effect in man.

    So, we agree on Romans five. We disagree on God’s alleged call upon men to regenerate themselves, and I hope, most of all, that we agree that God judges our choices according to the our liberty – our ability to do as we want, which takes into account talents, maturity, etc. etc. etc.

    Grace and peace.

  30. Roger Says:

    Ron wrote:

    As I said earlier, I’m not sure we disagree on the matter of concern to me, that God’s say-so regarding our personal choices is informed by his sense of God-given talents, maturity, opportunity and all the rest – which does not include any alleged ability to choose contrary to how He has determined.

    Yes, I agree that God holds us accountable for our own personal voluntary sinful choices (even though He directly causes both our sinful desires and the resultant sinful actions that we commit). I also agree that some of our voluntary sinful choices are of greater severity and worthy of greater punishment than others. Scripture clearly teaches those points. I never intended to say otherwise, and I apologize if I wasn’t clear enough about that in my earlier responses.

    My question is can anyone show a single instance where God holds men accountable for choices that are not voluntary, or according to one’s ability to choose what he wants?

    Isn’t that precisely what Romans 5 teaches? Granted, Adam was held accountable for his own voluntary choice to violate God’s command, but the rest of us are held accountable for that sin apart from our own voluntary choice or ability to choose what we want. That’s been my point all along in saying that individual voluntary choice is consistent with responsibility, but not a necessary precondition of responsibility before God. Even infants, who haven’t personally chosen to violate any of God’s commands, are held accountable to God for sin.

    Maybe I misunderstood but it still seems to me you made your point in spades when you said that men wouldn’t be responsible for their choices if God so willed. That line of reasoning does not seem to be an argument that points so much to Romans five but rather to an all-encompassing thesis that suggests that God judges men irrespective of their choices, even their own choices if God so chooses.

    That was merely a hypothetical that was meant to emphasize a crucial point – that God’s decree to hold us accountable for violating His law is the only reason why we are responsible for sin. If He had not decreed to hold us accountable, then we would not be responsible for sin regardless of whether we had “compatibilistic liberty” or “libertarian free-will.”

    It wasn’t meant to deny that we in fact have “compatibilistic liberty” or make choices according to our desires (I had already agreed to that point). Nor was it meant to imply that God could actually not hold us accountable for sin. I thought that would be obvious and wouldn’t have to be spelled out. In fact, since God is eternal and immutable, it’s impossible that He could have decreed anything other than what He decreed and is revealed in Scripture.

    My brother, we’re simply going to have to agree to disagree on the exegesis of those sorts of verses.

    That’s fine. I had already conceded that your interpretation of those verses was possible in an earlier post, and the point I’ve been trying to make doesn’t hinge on them being taken at face value. You make some good points in your comments and may be correct, so I won’t press that point any further.

    Grace and peace to you as well, brother!

  31. Sean Gerety Says:

    Thus, moral responsibility has to do with whether God has decided to hold us accountable for violating His commands; it has no direct relationship to whether we have the freedom or liberty to obey those commands or not. Yes, God normally takes into account our voluntary choices in either obeying or disobeying His commands. Nevertheless, the voluntary choice itself is not a necessary precondition of our responsibility before God, as the above two points prove.

    I don’t disagree, but not doing as we ought is still a choice. Saying we can’t do as we ought, just as Paul’s hypothetical antagonist says above, is no excuse. Even Adam’s sin was the result of a voluntary choice and part of the punishment for that first sin was imputed to his posterity. I think the point is that to be held responsible means we’re held responsible for something. I don’t think Ron or anyone else, much less Clark per the above citation regarding Gill, is suggesting that a command to do this or that implies any ability to do this or that. That’s the logical error made by Arminians and Pelagians (which is the same form of error made by all defenders of the WMO).

    FWIW, in his commentary of the WCF IX (On Free Will) Clark makes a convincing case that knowledge is the basis for responsibility, not ability or free will. I would think commands from Ezekiel and Deuteronomy you cite above should drive us to our knees. Frankly, I think all the commands in Scripture should drive us to our knees and lead us to one conclusion that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).

  32. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    This is really getting somewhere, for which I am grateful. Just one point of clarification might be in order but it’s not essential as it is a matter of semantics more than anything.

    I wrote: My question is can anyone show a single instance where God holds men accountable for choices that are not voluntary, or according to one’s ability to choose what he wants

    You responded:

    Isn’t that precisely what Romans 5 teaches? Granted, Adam was held accountable for his own voluntary choice to violate God’s command, but the rest of us are held accountable for that sin apart from our own voluntary choice or ability to choose what we want.

    Yes, God holds us responsible for Adam’s sin apart from our making a voluntary choice (or any choice), but what I was driving at – or trying to anyway, was whether God ever holds us accountable for choices we make that are not voluntary? In other words, I was trying to ask this: “Does God hold us accountable for choices that are not voluntary?” I was not asking this: “Does God hold us accountable for sin apart from our own voluntary choice…?” In the former a personal choice is made – it’s just not voluntary; whereas in the latter scenario a personal choice would not be made. From what you’re writing, we agree that the answer is “no” to the one I was trying to ask. (After establishing that all our choices are both accountable and voluntary, I was going to move onto the relationship between voluntary and accountability, which we’ve exhausted, though I’d like to read Clark on this regarding knowledge. Sean, if you’re following is his commentary on the Confession still in print?)

    On a related matter though distinct from all that, it’s significant I think that although we are accountable for Adam’s sin apart from out choice, our accountability can be indexed to a voluntary act just the same – the voluntary act of our federal head. Aside from the regeneration view that has been posited, our guilt is always associated with willful acts, whether ours or Adam’s.

    Couple of sundry thoughts…

    Protestants have typically considered our sin nature, or concupiscence, sin, whereas Romanism does not. The rotten tree is sinful, not just the fruit it bears. This is another instance of our guilt being indexed to the act of another. That can be a big pill to swallow, and one to bring us to our knees as Sean wrote.

    Lastly, it occurred to me after writing my previous post that because God imputes to us Christ’s perfect righteousness and obedience to the law, the basis of that forensic verdict might lend credibility to our not being held accountable for regeneration because regeneration is not imputed to a sinner in order to declare him righteous. No need to comment – just some rhetorical food for thought.

    Anyway, please accept my sincerest thank for your patience in all of this and most of all my sincerest apologies for not behaving better throughout. I so hate my sin but rejoice in God’s forbearance with me.

    Unworthy but His,

    Ron


  33. Dear Roger, Ron and Sean:

    I am very excited by what emerge from this discussion. : – )

    Thesis: Voluntary choice is logically independent of our obligation and responsibility before God.

    If this thesis holds up to further scrutiny, then it is a substantial result.

    If this thesis is right, then a lot of discussions by theologians and philosophers on this topic are on the wrong track.

    Sincerely,

    Benjamin

  34. justbybelief Says:

    “…to our not being held accountable for regeneration because regeneration…”

    More food for thought…

    Aren’t we responsible for EVERYTHING lost in the fall including rejecting God’s presence with and within us–which guilt comes to us by way of Adam?

    “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge…” Romans 1:28

    Eric

  35. James Says:

    Great discussion – and Ron’s challenge still remains (see below), but this:

    “But as we see from Clark’s quote, not only did Clark not deny that we are blameworthy for our choices because they are voluntary; he positively affirmed this ethical principle.”

    No. Sorry.

    *Clark* nowhere says/argues that *because* choices are voluntary they are blameworthy (he actually later argues that they are blameworthy because they transgress God’s Law). Now maybe what you say above is true of *Gill* (and I’m not even sure about that) but you can’t impute that to Clark without understanding why he favorably quoted Gill in the first place. As a matter of fact, the context in that section wherein Clark quotes Gill is to the end of showing how calvinism can establish a compatibilism between determinism and *liberty* – and he cites Gill to *that* end (“by these phrases Gill shows that the term freely is consistent with immutable determinism……In opposing the materialistic philosophy of Thomas Hobbes”, “We say that the will is free from a necessity of coaction and force and from a physical necessity of nature, such that as by which the sun, moon, and stars move in their course” etc..). His conclusion to that section wherein he quotes Gill I have posted on the other thread, but is easily replicated:

    “the Liberty that the Westminster Confession ascribes to the will is a liberty from compulsion, coaction, or force of inanimate objects; it is not a liberty from the power of God”.
    And again
    “Choice and necessity are therefore not incompatible”.

    Just because he favorably quotes Gill to a certain end does not mean he adopts another end or that you can force him to that end.

    Again, in the book, after an interlude on “Ignorance”, *then* Clark moves into a discussion of *responsibility* wherein not only does he not quote Gill (he does quote Calvin favorably I must say), but in no wise says or argues what you say he “positively affirmed”.

    But all that aside, I think your strongest point is this (and to make it even stronger, I conjoined it with Clark’s conclusion on the other thread, as well as anticipating the move from an individual’s own actions to actions done by a representative in order to accommodate infants who die in the womb who have not personally transgressed):

    “liberty is a necessary condition for responsibility. What that means is whenever responsibility obtains, liberty is present in that state of affairs.”

    This is quite a challenge (again, leaving aside fsa the Scriptures I brought forward on that thread and yes even my own favorable quote from Gill) – but first I’d just like to make explicit what’s implicit (at least from the standpoint I have just outlined):

    liberty is a necessary condition for responsibility. What that means is whenever responsibility obtains, an action obtains. But whenever an action obtains, liberty is present in that state of affairs.”

    Now perhaps that needs to be fleshed out further, but it needs careful consideration, at least I think so

    Thanks,

  36. Ron Says:

    James,

    I disagree. I imagine others here do too.

  37. Ron Says:

    Eric,

    If we’re responsible for everything lost in the fall, then that would only bolster my point. Regeneration wasn’t lost in the fall, therefore, we wouldn’t be responsible for regeneration on those terms.

  38. justbybelief Says:

    Ron,

    “If we’re responsible for everything lost in the fall, then that would only bolster my point.”

    Maybe so.

    “Regeneration wasn’t lost in the fall, therefore, we wouldn’t be responsible for regeneration on those terms.”

    What is regeneration? If I’ve read you correctly and as you say, it is God’s indwelling us, a condition Adam enjoyed from creation which he rejected for his sin. In passing and in my mind, it makes his sin seem that much more heinous,

    “…in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die,”

    that is, be separated from God. From that first condition in Adam of, “not like[ing] to retain God in their[/his] knowledge…,” we do the same.

    Isn’t this what Jesus came to do–restore everything lost in Adam?

    Anyway, just some thoughts.

    Eric

  39. Roger Says:

    Ron wrote:

    Yes, God holds us responsible for Adam’s sin apart from our making a voluntary choice (or any choice), but what I was driving at – or trying to anyway, was whether God ever holds us accountable for choices we make that are not voluntary? In other words, I was trying to ask this: “Does God hold us accountable for choices that are not voluntary?” I was not asking this: “Does God hold us accountable for sin apart from our own voluntary choice…?” In the former a personal choice is made – it’s just not voluntary; whereas in the latter scenario a personal choice would not be made. From what you’re writing, we agree that the answer is “no” to the one I was trying to ask.

    Correct, we agree that God does not hold us accountable for choices that are not voluntary. Having said that though, I’m not sure what an involuntary choice would be. Even choices that are made under the threat of force or compulsion are still “voluntary” in the sense that the demand can be refused. For example, “Publicly deny Jesus or you’ll be tortured and executed!” If we decide to publicly deny Jesus under such a circumstance, we’ve still made a voluntary choice – for we could have chosen not to comply with the demand and be tortured and executed. So every choice we make is voluntary when you get right down to it. Or am I still missing something?

    On a related matter though distinct from all that, it’s significant I think that although we are accountable for Adam’s sin apart from out choice, our accountability can be indexed to a voluntary act just the same – the voluntary act of our federal head. Aside from the regeneration view that has been posited, our guilt is always associated with willful acts, whether ours or Adam’s.

    I agree. And regarding the “regeneration view,” it all depends on whether the verses in question are meant to be taken literally or metaphorically for repentance. I don’t think an iron-clad case can be made either way. If they are meant to be taken literally, then God indeed holds us accountable even when we are incapable of complying with His commands. But if they are meant to be taken metaphorically, then it appears to be true that “our guilt is always associated with willful acts, whether ours or Adam’s.”

    Lastly, it occurred to me after writing my previous post that because God imputes to us Christ’s perfect righteousness and obedience to the law, the basis of that forensic verdict might lend credibility to our not being held accountable for regeneration because regeneration is not imputed to a sinner in order to declare him righteous.

    Yes, that’s a good point, and adds credibility to taking the verses in question metaphorically.

    Anyway, please accept my sincerest thank for your patience in all of this and most of all my sincerest apologies for not behaving better throughout. I so hate my sin but rejoice in God’s forbearance with me.

    Your apology is gladly accepted. I know that I’ve been guilty of the same sort of thing in the past. That’s why we all need Christ! I’m just glad that our debate didn’t continue to devolve and turn nasty…

    Grace and peace!

  40. Roger Says:

    Benjamin wrote:

    Thesis: Voluntary choice is logically independent of our obligation and responsibility before God.

    If this thesis holds up to further scrutiny, then it is a substantial result.

    If this thesis is right, then a lot of discussions by theologians and philosophers on this topic are on the wrong track.

    I think that’s correct. However, if verses such as Ezekiel 18:31 and Deuteronomy 10:16 are meant to be taken metaphorically for repentance (the view I’m leaning more towards at this point in the discussion), then the thesis might need the following clarification: Our personal voluntary choice is logically independent of our obligation and responsibility before God.

  41. Roger Says:

    I should have added the following in bold:

    Our personal voluntary choice is logically independent of our obligation and responsibility before God. That keeps the gist of the thesis intact, while still leaving room for the guilt of Adam’s voluntary choice to sin being imputed to us.

  42. Ron Says:

    Having said that though, I’m not sure what an involuntary choice would be.

    Roger,

    I agree with you, there are no involuntary choices. I also agree with you that it’s wrong to talk about choices under coercion or duress as being involuntary. At the time it seemed that you agreed that all voluntary choices were accountable to God, but I wasn’t hearing that all choices without remainder were accountable.So, block by block I tried making the point that indeed all choices are accountable to God by asking whether you thought there were involuntary choices that weren’t accountable to God. I was smoking out any notion that some sort of choice might not be accountable to God.

    Clear as mud, right?

  43. Ron Says:

    Our personal voluntary choice is logically independent of our obligation and responsibility before God. That keeps the gist of the thesis intact, while still leaving room for the guilt of Adam’s voluntary choice to sin being imputed to us.

    Roger,

    Is this so? Although our obligation and responsibility before God is logically independent of our personal voluntary choice (Romans 5), does that imply that our personal voluntary choices are logically independent of our obligation and responsibility before God? (This sentiment that you have been putting forth is the main reason for the query regarding involuntary choices.)

    In other words, voluntary choice is a sufficient condition for responsibility whereas responsibility is not a sufficient condition for choice. Accordingly, I think it’s incorrect to say that our voluntary choice is logically independent of our responsibility since wherever a choice exists responsibility logically obtains whereas the reverse is not true.

    Thanks,

    Ron

  44. Ron Says:

    Hi Eric,

    Adam wasn’t regenerate before the fall. Only people in need of redemption does God regenerate. Also, regenerate people cannot fall to a place of enmity with God; yet Adam did, showing that he wasn’t regenerate. Adam was created in a state of innocence but not regenerated by the Holy Spirit. He had no need, for he wasn’t yet fallen.

  45. Roger Says:

    Although our obligation and responsibility before God is logically independent of our personal voluntary choice (Romans 5), does that imply that our personal voluntary choices are logically independent of our obligation and responsibility before God?

    Yes, “our obligation and responsibility before God is logically independent of our personal voluntary choice (Romans 5)” is what I was trying to convey…I must be tired this morning!

  46. Ron Says:

    Coffee! :)

  47. justbybelief Says:

    Ron,

    I admit that there are implications to our position after the fall as compared to before and vise versa, but…

    “Adam wasn’t regenerate before the fall.”

    However, when Adam rejected God for his sin, he lost the indwelling Spirit. The promise of God in Redemption is God indwelling His people again.

    As stated before, Christ recovered what Adam lost.

    Eric

  48. justbybelief Says:

    I guess the meat of it is this: Was Adam indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and is this a state which God intended all along.

  49. Ron Says:

    No, he wasn’t. He had no such advantage. He was in a state of primitive integrity. Although Adam was made in God’s own image in knowledge, righteousness and holiness (even with the law written on his heart), he was not regenerate.

  50. justbybelief Says:

    I think this particular issue hinges on this question primarily. I’m not willing to say, yet, if ever, that Adam was not indwelt by God.

  51. James Says:

    Hi Ron,

    hey, when you wrote this were you reporting your own view? –

    “In other words, voluntary choice is a sufficient condition for responsibility whereas responsibility is not a sufficient condition for choice. Accordingly, I think it’s incorrect to say that our voluntary choice is logically independent of our responsibility since wherever a choice exists responsibility logically obtains whereas the reverse is not true.”

    I ask because this is the exact opposite and, further, a denial (“the reverse is not true”), of what you said previously, viz,

    “liberty (ie voluntary choice) is a necessary condition for responsibility. What that means is whenever responsibility obtains, liberty (voluntary choice) is present in that state of affairs.”

    Not sure, but just in case, I’d say stick with the latter not the former – why? The former’s way too easy to refute. Clark points out that not all voluntary actions are morally significant – “many perplexing problems are not problems of Christian morality. In God’s sight it is morally indifferent whether one eats pork or is a vegetarian. We may read the Wall Street Journal, but we do not consult the Bible in deciding which stock to buy or sell. To vacation in Europe or the Canadian Rockiescan perfectly well be decided by tossing a coin. These are not moral decisions.”
    And grant that all those decisions are voluntary, it follows that
    voluntary choice is not a sufficient condition for responsibility.

    Thanks,

  52. Ron Says:

    James,

    The context of the latter was a personal choice. At least that is how I contextualized it.

    Now you say this, which is my position stated more fully, is easy to refute:

    “In other words, voluntary choice is a sufficient condition for responsibility whereas responsibility is not a sufficient condition for choice. Accordingly, I think it’s incorrect to say that our voluntary choice is logically independent of our responsibility since wherever a choice exists responsibility logically obtains whereas the reverse is not true.”

    You may think if you want that choosing to feed your children donuts every night or a more balanced meal is of no moral quality but you’re wrong, and so is Clark if he thought that all choices aren’t morally relevant. We’re judged according to motive and wisdom. If we’re reading the Times while we should be doing something else in God’s mind has moral significance.

  53. Ron Says:

    If I continue reading the Wall Street Journal after my child falls down the stairs and injures herself, is the choice to continue reading the paper of no moral accountability? If I invest my entire life’s earnings in a speculative penny stock, is God neutral on the matter? If I go to Europe on vacation and in the process go into such debt that my house gets foreclose on, is God indifferent?

  54. James Says:

    Roger – Hi – you are doing a great job,

    but I feel the need to clarify something:

    you wrote,
    “And regarding the “regeneration view,” it all depends on whether the verses in question are meant to be taken literally or metaphorically for repentance.”

    The whole point of the “regeneration view” is that the verses are to be taken for *regeneration*, not repentance. Regeneration and repentance are not the same thing. Clark says (Predestination): “As for regeneration, man takes no part at all. He does nothing. God does something to him. Human will has no role at all. In the cases of faith and repentance, man indeed does something.” etc…

    you wrote,

    “If they are meant to be taken literally,”

    No, the references to washing in Is 1:16 and Jeremiah 4:14 are not to be taken literally, they are indeed metaphorical, and given that, you need to know what the metaphor refers to – to which Clark provides the answer: the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Spirit.

    Thanks,

  55. Ron Says:

    James,

    You quote Clark as if he was God.

  56. James Says:

    Ron
    which of God’s laws did you break when writing that absurd reply?
    And don’t say your decision to write and post wasn’t voluntary.

  57. Ron Says:

    I don’t believe I broke a law, James. But I do know my choice was accountable to God.

  58. James Says:

    Which of God’s Laws were you held accountable to in deciding to post your comment?

  59. Ron Says:

    James,

    If you’d consider the 10:17 post you might appreciate that God holds us accountable for more than the mere external adherence to the commandments. Again, wisdom and motive counts in God’s courts.

    Moreover, I addressed your examples of reading the paper, taking a trip and picking stocks, showing how all those matters are moral in nature. Furthermore, all choices violate the first commandment to some degree, or don’t you think that all our choices are tainted with sin? Maybe you disagree with the Westminster standards where it points out that neglecting anything due God is a violation of the first commandment. Isn’t even eating and drinking or whatever we do to be unto his glory, in perfect thanks and with perfect praise? Is my choice to be interacting with you rather than doing something else absolutely pure as He is pure? Am I not commanded to be perfect, as He is perfect? No James, you have a very distorted view of sin – it’s actually rather legalistic and not according to Christ’s teachings I fear.

    Grace and peace,

    Ron

  60. Roger Says:

    No, the references to washing in Is 1:16 and Jeremiah 4:14 are not to be taken literally, they are indeed metaphorical, and given that, you need to know what the metaphor refers to – to which Clark provides the answer: the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Spirit.

    Hi James,

    I was actually referring to “circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16) and “make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31) when I wrote “literally,” not Isaiah 1:16 and Jeremiah 4:14. Nevertheless, you are correct. I wasn’t being technically correct when I wrote that. Both phrases are “metaphorical,” regardless of whether they refer to repentance or regeneration. When I wrote “literally” I meant to convey “in the usual sense,” since I believe phrases like these usually refer to regeneration in Scripture (at least that’s normally how I take them). Rephrased, this is what I should have written:

    And regarding the “regeneration view,” it all depends on whether the verses in question are meant to be taken as metaphors for regeneration or repentance. I don’t think an iron-clad case can be made either way. If they are meant to be taken for regeneration, then God indeed holds us accountable even when we are incapable of complying with His commands. But if they are meant to be taken for repentance, then it appears to be true that “our guilt is always associated with willful acts, whether ours or Adam’s.”

    Is that clearer? I can’t believe some of the dumb mistakes I’ve made in my posts lately! I really appreciate you guys for pointing them out, as I hate to be imprecise.

    By the way, in support of my statement, “I don’t think an iron-clad case can be made either way,” at least two great commentators interpret these verses differently. John Calvin sees them as referring to repentance, while John Gill sees them as referring to regeneration:

    “But, because hitherto they had repaid His kindnesses with ingratitude, at the same time, he enjoins them to amend their conduct… There were also other objects in circumcision, but here reference is only made to newness of life, or repentance (resipiscentia).” (Calvin, Deuteronomy 10:16)

    “Ezekiel again exhorts the people to leave off complaining, and to acknowledge that there is no remedy for their evils but to be reconciled to God.” (Calvin, Ezekiel 18:31)

    “Content not yourselves with, nor put your confidence in outward circumcision of the flesh, but be concerned for the circumcision of the heart…and which though it is the work of God, and he only can do it and has promised it, yet such an exhortation is made to bring men to a sense of their need of it, and of the importance of it, and to show how agreeable it is to the Lord, and so to stir them up to seek unto him for it; see Deuteronomy 30:6.” (Gill, Deuteronomy 10:16)

    and make you a new heart and a new spirit; which the Lord elsewhere promises to give, and he does give to his own elect; (See Gill on Ezekiel 11:19); and if here to be understood of a regenerated heart and spirit, in which are new principles of light, life, and love, grace and holiness, it will not prove that it is in the power of man to make himself such a heart and spirit; since from God’s command, to man’s power, is no argument; and the design of the exhortation is to convince men of their want of such a heart; of the importance of it: and which, through the efficacious grace of God, may be a means of his people having it, seeing he has in covenant promised it to them.” (Gill, Ezekiel 18:31)

  61. Roger Says:

    Speaking of being imprecise, I left off part of the Calvin quote!

    “Ezekiel again exhorts the people to leave off complaining, and to acknowledge that there is no remedy for their evils but to be reconciled to God. But that cannot be done unless they repent.” (Calvin, Ezekiel 18:31)

  62. James Says:

    Roger – Thanks

    Indeed, Clark says “the figurative expression of circumcising the heart very probably does not refer to regeneration…” Of course he does also say that it possibly could.

    As for “make a new heart” in Ezekiel 18:31, Clark interprets in light of Ezekiel 11:19 (divine heart transplant), Ezekiel 36:25-27, and Ezekiel 37, viz, “But now to chapter 18 itself. Verse 31 says, “Make you a new heart”. Does this mean that God does not make and implant the new heart? We have seen that such cannot be the case.”

    Have a great night,

  63. Roger Says:

    Getting back to the main point of this blog post – that God is not responsible for sin – Vincent Cheung makes some excellent observations:

    When a person refuses to accept that God would decree and create evil, it implies that he finds something wrong with God decreeing and creating evil. What is the standard of right and wrong by which this person judges God’s actions? If there is a moral standard superior to God, to which God himself is accountable and by which God himself is judged, then this “God” is not God at all, but this higher standard would be God. But the Christian concept of God refers to the highest being and standard, so there is nothing higher. If there is something higher than the “God” that a person argues against, then this person is not referring to the Christian God. There is no standard higher than God to which God himself is accountable and by which God himself is judged. Therefore, it is impossible to accuse God of doing anything morally wrong.

    Jesus says that only God is good (Luke 18:19), so that all “goodness” in other things can only be derived. God’s nature defines goodness itself, and since he “does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17), he is the sole and constant standard of goodness. No matter how moral I am, one cannot consider me the objective standard of goodness, because even the word “moral” is meaningless unless it is used relative to God’s character. That is, how “moral” a person is refers to the degree of conformity of his character to God’s character. To the degree that a person thinks and acts in accordance with God’s nature and commands, he is moral. Otherwise, there is no moral difference between altruism and selfishness; virtue and vice are meaningless concepts; rape and murder are not crimes, but amoral events.

    There is no standard of goodness or righteousness apart from God to judge what he says and does; rather, whatever he says and does is a revelation of the standard of goodness and righteousness. Since God calls himself good, and since God has defined goodness for us by revealing his nature and commands, evil is thus defined as anything that is contrary to his nature and commands. Since God is good, and since he is the only definition of goodness, it is also good that he decreed and caused the existence of evil. There is no standard of good and evil by which we can denounce his decree and action as wrong or evil. This does not mean that evil is good – that would be a contradiction – but it means that God’s decree and causation of evil are good.

    Hebrews 6:13 says, “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself.” There is no one to hold God accountable, and no one can drag God to a court to press charges against him. No one judges God, but every person is judged by him.

    Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer him one time out of a thousand. His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed? He moves mountains without their knowing it and overturns them in his anger. He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble. He speaks to the sun and it does not shine; he seals off the light of the stars. He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south. He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him. If he snatches away, who can stop him? Who can say to him, “What are you doing?” (Job 9:3-12)

    “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.” Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (Job 40:2-8)

    Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, “What are you making?” Does your work say, “He has no hands?” Woe to him who says to his father, “What have you begotten?” or to his mother, “What have you brought to birth?” This is what the LORD says – the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? (Isaiah 45:9-11)

    Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

    Since we derive our very concept and definition of goodness from God, to accuse him of evil would be to say that good is evil, which is a contradiction. Therefore, men cannot say, “Because God is good (according to our false standard of goodness), he must not and would not do this or that.” Instead, we must say, “Because God is good (according to his own standard of good, which is the only true standard of good), if he does this or that, then it must be good.” Thus if God has decreed and caused evil, then while evil is evil, it must be good that he has decreed and caused evil. (Vincent Cheung, “The Problem of Evil”)

  64. James Says:

    Hi All –
    I would like to make good (finally) on an answer to all the things that have come up in these conversations with Ron et al.. In doing so, I will try to answer from a “Clarkian” perspective.

    First, Clark would not say that things are ‘moral in nature’. Morality (oughtness, right and wrong) has to do with the Laws/Commands that God has chosen to hold us accountable to alone. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God. Can there be any sin, where there is no law? No; “for where there is no law there is no transgression,” Rom. 4:15. “The reason we object to stealing or to any other sin is that we have learned that it is contrary to God’s ordinance. We must learn God’s plan first and develop our morality afterward. We must adjust our ethics to our theology, not vice versa. We must argue, not from our moral standards to the truth of the Bible, but from the truth of the Bible to the morality it upholds”.

    One example was “posting a comment” – the desire to post, the voluntary decision to post, and the act of posting. Is there any Law in the Bible concerning these? No. Therefore, from a Clarkian perspective this is not a moral decision.

    Drinking was mentioned as well. What about the desire, the voluntary decision and the act of drinking water? Is there a law in the Bible concerning that? Again, there is not. Where there is no law there is no transgression. Christ himself got thirsty and drank water did he not? Of course he did. Sometimes he chose not to drink water. Christ was just like us in all things except he never sinned. If drinking or not drinking water was actually a violation of the First commandment (or of any commandment for that matter), then Jesus would not have done either – but he did both. The choice to drink water or not is not a matter of sin – is not a moral issue – precisely because there is no law concerning it – not even the First commandment. And this goes for ‘posting a comment as well’.

    But wait James–not so fast. Aren’t you forgetting that Jesus was perfect and we are not? So our drinking is ‘tainted with sin’, our righteousness is as filthy rags, and didn’t even Clark agree that the sinful man could never please God such that even the plowing of the wicked was sin? Yes this is true. As a matter of fact just a few pages before the quote I adduced previously wherein Clark said that certain acts were not moral issues, he indeed says something like that. Can these thoughts be reconciled? Yes they can.

    Consider in the phrase ‘the plowing of the wicked is sin’ – we have the word sin. That means there is a transgression of the law involved. Now is it that plowing is a sin? No. There is no law concerning plowing. The phrase also says *of the wicked*. What is it about the wicked that there’d be a transgression of the Law such that their plowing is said to be sinful even though there is no Law concerning plowing?

    The answer is this: the natural/carnal mind is enmity against God.
    “This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.” In reference to this quote from the Westminster Confession, Clark says “…we must insist that voluntary transgression is not the only form of sin. Sin is any want of conformity to the Law of God. This means that our inborn depravity is itself sin. Sin is as much a state or character as it is an act.” Now, following Ron, I propose that this spiritual state (enmity) is precisely a violation of the first commandment.

    Armed with the distinction aforementioned, we can now address the issues. Although plowing is not a sin – there is no Law – yet because of their spiritual state which is a violation of the first commandment, the plowing of the wicked can be said to be sinful. God does not hold them accountable for plowing or not plowing. He holds them accountable for their spiritual state even as they plow, or drink water, or post comments. We must keep in mind the distinction and that the spiritual state accompanies decisions which may be or may not be moral decisions.

    Again, posting or not posting a comment (or the thought/desire/choice/act of posting or not posting) is not a moral issue since there is no law regarding it. But the person who posts or not has an imperfect spiritual state. God does not hold the person accountable for the posting or not posting, but he holds them responsible for their state which violates the first commandment.
    A person who commits (or even thinks to commit) adultery is held accountable by God for his spiritual state (1st commandment), *and* also for the act of adultery since indeed it does violate the 7th commandment.

    It follows that Clark can maintain that certain voluntary decisions are not morally relevant because there’s no law concerning them, and that the actors in such decisions violate the first commandment due to their spiritual state. In God’s sight it is morally indifferent whether one eats pork or is a vegetarian or whether one posts or not, or whether one drinks water or not or vacations in Europe or not. These are not moral decisions. There is no law for these. However, the spiritual state of the person is such that God holds them accountable for that state (to the first commandment).

    So, not only can we make sense of Clark as above, we can also make sense of something that was said to be against “God’s sense of justice” – for example God can upbraid us for adultery which is a violation of the 7th commandment, viz, “stop/put an end to your adulteries”, it is also well within that “sense” for God to upbraid us in reference to our spiritual state which violates the 1st commandment, viz, “go wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, make you a new heart and soul”. But can the leopard change his spots? Who can say, I have made my heart clean? Oughtness does not imply ability. And as Sean noted –God holds us responsible to his Law for *something* whether that something is someone else’s act (imputation), our own act, or our spiritual state.

    Finally, two things can now be said:
    Liberty/Voluntary choice is not a sufficient condition for responsibility. There is no law for drinking water or posting a comment and where there is no law there is no transgression – these are not moral decisions.
    Liberty/ Voluntary choice is not a necessary condition for responsibility. There is also our spiritual state for which we are held accountable for as well.

    So what is the necessary and sufficient condition for responsibility for us? God’s holding us accountable to the Laws He sees fit to hold us accountable to for whatever he decides to hold us accountable for.

    Thanks,


  65. Reblogged this on The Sovereign Logos and commented:
    Sean Gerety, Robert Reymond, and Gordon Clark provide readers with an excellent summary of how God’s sovereignty is fully compatible with man’s responsibility for sin, and how the common Arminian concept of free will does not even play a part in the process.

  66. Denson Dube Says:

    @James,
    Thank you for the clarity with which you put the matter in this last post. This post is worth more than all the heat that was generated(with little light if I may add) by all other posts before it.Thank you James. God bless you.

  67. Roger Says:

    Hi James,

    I only now read your latest post (I’ve been preoccupied with other things for the past week or so), and I agree that it’s very well thought out, clear, and precise. At the moment, I can’t see anything that I disagree with. It would be nice if Ron could interact with your thoughts though, so we can see what he thinks about them…

  68. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    The remnant of inward depravity, which is concupiscence, is indeed sin but man’s ontology is not all that makes man’s plowing tainted with sin.

    The very reasons why a man plows are tainted with sin, but those reasons are not his depraved nature; rather they proceed from that nature. If he plows for prideful reasons then the hidden sin is pride, which not adequately addressed merely by saying man is accountable for his ontology. If his hidden sin is greed, then that is a different sin yet it proceeds from the same mind that is at enmity with God. So, when man is accountable for how he plows he is not accountable merely for his acts and nature but those varying affections that proceed from that nature.Those affections come under the law. There is good reason that the WLC has much to say about the sins that come under each commandment.

    I find it rather simplistic to say plowing has no moral quality to it if for no other reason than it reduces morality to a legalistic, formal notion of physical acts alone, which would undermine the relevant moral distinction between premeditated acts and those same acts done by accident. A man who brushes up a woman in a crowd by accident and another who does so with impure motive perform the same act but God, not being a legalist, is concerned with the intentions of the heart. He’s not merely interested in the act and the fallen nature. Doesn’t the Sermon on the Mount teach as much?

    So, the manner in which we eat and drink goes beyond eating, drinking and ontology. Is our eating and drinking performed in gratitude? Does it possess an awe of God’s good providence that brings food to the table through unfathomable intricacy?

    I would hope that this is agreeable to all.

  69. Roger Says:

    Hi Ron,

    You’re making some good distinctions that I definitely agree with. Scripture plainly teaches, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). But it still seems that certain choices are indeed amoral in and of themselves. For instance, if a believer is eating with the proper thankfulness to God for His provision, then how would his choice of vanilla over chocolate ice cream be in any way a moral volition? I just don’t see it. Moreover, if an unbeliever chooses vanilla over chocolate ice cream, it wouldn’t be his particular choice of vanilla itself that is sinful, but rather his lack of belief and failure to give God the glory that is sinful. No?

  70. Roger Says:

    By the way, I believe James is making the same type of distinction here that I made in previous post (correct me if I’m wrong James).

    It follows that Clark can maintain that certain voluntary decisions are not morally relevant because there’s no law concerning them, and that the actors in such decisions violate the first commandment due to their spiritual state. In God’s sight it is morally indifferent whether one eats pork or is a vegetarian or whether one posts or not, or whether one drinks water or not or vacations in Europe or not. These are not moral decisions. There is no law for these. However, the spiritual state of the person is such that God holds them accountable for that state (to the first commandment).

  71. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    Again, I find that approach very simplistic and terribly misleading as it abstracts physical actions from context and motive. It abstracts the action of x from all that is entailed in any choice of x, and then defines the action as the choice. That’s equivocation. Let me try to unpack this further.

    Sins of omission always can entail choices to do something, which some would consider “morally neutral.” The act of reading the paper is considered “neutral” by some. However, to read the paper is not the same thing as the choice to read the paper. The act of reading the paper while remaining indoors is one category of thing, but the choice to read the paper indoors while a woman within your hearing is screaming rape outside is quite another. It entails guilt. The guilt would come under the heading of protecting life and dignity at all cost, etc. Yet the choice of reading indoors is morally neutral, or so it’s said.

    What is being missed is that choices include motives that have context; they’re not just actions. Accordingly, what’s going on here is that some are abstracting the physical act of choices from the metaphysical motive for choices and then identifying the physical acts as the choices in toto. That’s equivocation and legalistic. To miss that point is to miss the point. The physical act is not a sufficient condition for a choice to obtain. So, to discuss the moral neutrality of reading the paper is not the same thing as discussing the choice of reading the paper. Far from it in fact.

    Now then, if you go back and read the trail you’ll find some troubling remarks because this distinction is not being made. Furthermore, when I spoke of motive the rejoinder was indexed to the fallen state of man, which completely misses the mark; concupiscence is not the same thing as the intentions that proceed from man’s fallen state (which in turn trigger the action component of any choice.)

    All that to say, there is no neutrality. It’s a myth. All choices are morally relevant because all choices involve not just man’s moral state and action but intentions of the heart. Does the one who chooses pork sin because he has not been liberated by faith from a faulty view of the OT? Should he be on a vegetable budget and not spend so much money on tenderloin? Did the man consider whether he was taking the last scoop of chocolate?

  72. James Says:

    Hi All – thanks for the conversation. All credit to Clark who pointed these things out many moons ago. I am writing this in a hurry so please bear with me,

    To be honest gang I see no reason now for adversarial stances – why not be constructive and flesh out in a constructive manner what Clark has laid out? So that’s why I really take Ron’s latest emails as constructive and instructive and fleshing out some of the details that can be incorporated into Clark’s understanding of the situation.

    But having said that, allow me this quick defense: I surmise that none of what Ron has been saying undermines or rebuts what I posted before. If you will notice I indeed included thoughts desires choices in my previous email – hardly a simplistic abstraction. Anyway, all such things including the overt physical act itself come from the fallen mind. If now we’re to include motives, reasons, intentions, and affections so be it. Good stuff.

    I will also thank Ron for his concessions:
    “So, when man is accountable for how he plows he is not accountable merely for his acts and nature but those varying affections that proceed from that nature.”

    here Ron concedes that responsibility is more than just voluntary choice – I take this as an affirmation of my second final point in my previous email (choice is not a necessary condition of responsibility).

    “Those affections come under the law.”

    Yes this means that things are not moral in themselves, but only as they relate to God’s Law – and where there is no Law governing an act, a choice, a desire, a reason, an intention, an affection then such is not morally relevant. Christ undoubtedly had desire, reason, choice, intention, affection, etc.. to quench his thirst and choose to drink water – or not – but there is no Law concerning these. If our drinking is tainted with sin then at least Ron ought be thankful that I have provided exactly why this metaphor can be explained in terms of the law, even as he himself alluded (ie the first commandment). To be quite sure I can do Ron one better – even the accidental brushing of a woman by the wicked is sin. Hmm wonder why….

    I take this is an affirmation of my first final point (sufficient condition)
    in my previous email

    So to be more constructive, I will thank Ron for making explicit what Clark says concerning sin as a state but also as a character – And it’s an interesting thing (and is right along with Proverbs) that some persons (their hearts) seem to be given over more to one character than another – some are bent on lying, some laziness, some greed, some pride, etc… but this is just the mind at enmity with God violating the law in some fashion. Good stuff no doubt.

    Thanks to all!

  73. Ron Says:

    James,

    I appreciate the irenic tone of this latest post. Please, however, don’t take any decision not to respond as affirmation of its content. I am unable to chalk up to your hurriedness, which I don’t fault you for, what I believe to be significant misunderstandings and a superficial treatment of the subject matter.

    For efficiency sake, I think its best that I refrain from getting into more detail other than over the phone.

    In His grace,

    Ron

  74. Roger Says:

    Ron, I asked two specific questions, and you didn’t address either one of them in your response. Will you please address the following two questions?

    1) If a believer is eating with the proper thankfulness to God for His provision, then how would his choice of vanilla over chocolate ice cream be in any way a moral volition?

    2) Moreover, if an unbeliever chooses vanilla over chocolate ice cream, it wouldn’t be his particular choice of vanilla itself that is sinful, but rather his lack of belief and failure to give God the glory that is sinful. No?

    By the way, I’m not including within these choices of eating vanilla over chocolate ice cream any notion of “a woman within your hearing screaming rape outside” (or any other sin of omission). And the only “motive” for choosing vanilla over chocolate is that the person likes vanilla more than chocolate. It’s not because he’s trying to steal the last scoop of vanilla from a child’s ice cream cone or anything like that. Those types of additional circumstances have nothing to do with the specific questions that I raised. They are pretty straightforward.

  75. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    I will only go further on the phone. You are missing way too much in posts. Please honor the request or drop it.

  76. Roger Says:

    No, Ron, the only thing I’m “missing” in the above posts is your pointed response to my specific questions. I had no problem comprehending all of the extraneous remarks that you made. They simply didn’t’ address the specific questions that I asked. If you don’t want to respond to my posts anymore, that’s fine with me. But I’d like to address a couple of things you wrote before I drop out of this discussion.

    You said that my approach “abstracts physical actions from context and motive.” No it doesn’t. And you certainly haven’t demonstrated anything of the sort. Indeed, you haven’t even addressed the specific questions I asked. That’s merely a bare assertion on your part.

    The “context” of the first question is a believer eating ice cream while giving proper thanks to the Lord for His provision. The “motive” for the choice of vanilla is his personal preference for vanilla over chocolate ice cream. There’s no sin involved in this choice whatsoever, as no part of the moral law (or any other relevant command) has been violated in choosing one flavor of ice cream over another.

    The “context” of the second question is an unbeliever eating ice cream without giving proper thanks to the Lord for His provision. The “motive” for the choice of vanilla is his personal preference for vanilla over chocolate ice cream. There’s no sin involved in this choice either, as no part of the moral law (or any other relevant command) has been violated in choosing one flavor of ice cream over another. The only sin involves his choice not to give God the glory He’s due for providing the ice cream in the first place, which is a violation of the moral law.

    You also wrote that “all choices are morally relevant because all choices involve not just man’s moral state and action but intentions of the heart.” However, man’s moral state and intentions are only relevant to his moral choices – to his obligation to obey the moral law (or any other relevant command). His moral state and intentions certainly aren’t “morally relevant” to his choice of whether to eat vanilla or chocolate ice cream. To say otherwise is absurd!

    Now, it true that these types of morally neutral choices may involve sin, such as when a man’s choice to eat vanilla ice cream causes him to dismiss the cries of a woman being raped. But that’s only because he’s choosing to eat vanilla ice cream rather than fulfill his moral obligation to help an innocent victim in need. It isn’t his choice to eat vanilla over chocolate ice cream itself that is morally relevant here. You’re comparing apples to oranges with these types of examples.

    In summary, does God hold us accountable for Adam’s sin (a voluntary choice for Adam; involuntary for us)? Yes. Does He hold us accountable for our voluntary choices to disobey his moral law or other applicable commands (e.g., to repent and believe in Christ)? Of course He does. But does He hold us accountable for our voluntary choices that in no way violate His moral law or disobey an otherwise applicable command? Absolutely not! No man is held accountable by God for choosing vanilla over chocolate ice cream, for choosing to shave with a double edged razor over a single edged razor, or for choosing to part his hair on the right instead of the left. Not “all choices are morally relevant,” despite your assertions to the contrary.

    Peace and grace!

  77. Roger Says:

    More straight talk from Vincent Cheung:

    The Bible teaches that God decrees, causes, and controls all things. God’s sovereignty is both exhaustive and effectual. He does not only arrange all things to happen, but he causes all things to happen. This means that he is the author of sin, in the sense that he is the metaphysical cause of thoughts, decisions, actions, and events that he himself has defined as sinful.

    Although the distinction should be obvious, it is important to point out a common confusion. To say that God authors or causes sin is not to say that God commits or morally approves sin, that is, to approve sin in the preceptive sense. The Bible defines sin as the transgression of God law. God has revealed his definition of right and wrong for human thought and behavior, and to do what he forbids, or to fail to do what he commands, is to sin. There is no law that says God must not cause sin; therefore, when God causes sin, he does not commit or morally approve sin. If our doctrine falls short of stating that God ordains and causes sin, then we should admit that we reject the biblical doctrine, that he exercises total power over all things. — Emotional Grenades and Divine Sovereignty

  78. justbybelief Says:

    Good read, Roger.

    He demands us to believe it, and more than that, to like it.

    Awesome!

    And, if we don’t, He commands us to change our minds.

    I suppose this leads us to the conclusion that God ordained the clubbing of baby seals too…wherever, and whenever, it takes place.

    Oh my!

  79. Roger Says:

    Almost everything Vincent Cheung has written is excellent. I’ve read very little that I disagree with. The only thing I can think of is his rejection of the covenant of works, the same as the Protestant Reformed Church does. That seems quite bizarre to me, as the covenant of works is embedded within the very structure of the law itself – “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them…the man who does them shall live by them” (Galatians 3:10-12). This is just a reiteration of the moral law that was imposed upon Adam prior to the Fall. Life for obedience and death for disobedience is the very marrow of the covenant of works, so I can’t figure out why Cheung rejects this…

  80. Ron Says:

    He probably rejects CoW for the same reason I do. CoW implies that Adam could have merited something according to an alleged libertarian freedom. More here.

  81. Ron Says:

    Please note that the CoW and CoL are synonymous with respect to the Westminster standards. That rendering is fine, though Murray opposed the term CoW, preferring CoL. CoW has taken on new meaning through the popularization of Kline and Escondido (implying merit). That, I suspect, could be Vincent’s trouble with the term, which is mine. (See Letham on the the theology of the Divines.)

  82. Stephen Welch Says:

    Sean, thank you for posting these valuable truths that are sadly overlooked in our Pelagian age. I came to the Reformed faith initially having been confronted with this passage from Romans 9. The questions posed by Paul were ones I could not ignore or dismiss. I understood this truth on God’s soverignity and man’s responsibility long before I knew this was an issue among men who professed to be reformed. There is no contradiction or paradox between the two. I appreciate you sharing Dr. Reymond’s work on this very point. I sat under his teaching in seminary and it became even more clear to me. Reymond was very fond of Clark, so his students received a heavy dose of his teaching. If God is the creator and the one who rules over his creatures, where is the dilema? The delema is only in the mind of the creature who rebels against Him. In my mind Clark does more justice to this issue than any other and Dr. Reymond unpacks it even more from a pastoral standpoint.

  83. Roger Says:

    CoW implies that Adam could have merited something according to an alleged libertarian freedom

    No it doesn’t. The covenant of works is simply God’s promise of eternal life to whoever fulfills the law; it doesn’t imply freedom from God’s decree (i.e., libertarian freedom) in any way whatsoever:

    “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So [Jesus] said to him…”if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (Matthew 19:16-17)

    “And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death.” (Romans 7:10)

    “The man who does those things shall live by them.” (Romans 10:5)

    “The man who does them shall live by them.” (Galatians 3:12)

    The promise is plain and straightforward. How else do you suppose that Christ merited eternal life for us, if it wasn’t by keeping the commandments in our stead? The problem isn’t with the law or with God’s promise of life for keeping the law. The problem is that Adam broke the law (as God decreed he would) and brought death and corruption upon all mankind. Thank God that Jesus fulfilled the law for us in the covenant of grace!

  84. Ron Says:

    Again, what he might object to is how people now interpret the Divines’ doctrine of the covenant as meritorious. Such rendering is historically incorrect.

    Moreover, I have spoken to a KEY professor at Escondido and he attributed Adam’s alleged ability to merit glorification to Adam’s “free will.”

  85. Roger Says:

    I have spoken to a KEY professor at Escondido and he attributed Adam’s alleged ability to merit glorification to Adam’s “free will.”

    If that’s the case, then the “KEY” professor at Escondido is dead wrong. The notion of libertarian freedom or “free will” is not a valid implication of the covenant of works, plain and simple.

  86. Roger Says:

    Again, what he might object to is how people now interpret the Divines’ doctrine of the covenant as meritorious. Such rendering is historically incorrect.

    If that’s correct (and I’m hardly convinced that it is), then the Divines were dead wrong. Both Jesus and Paul interpreted Leviticus 18:5 as teaching that perfect obedience to God’s commandments earns or merits justification/eternal life (see Matthew 19:16-17; Luke 10:25-28; Galatians 3:12). Scripture consistently teaches this principle throughout.

    Disobedience to God’s commandments earns condemnation/eternal death:

    “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23)

    And obedience to God’s commandments earns justification/eternal life:

    “…the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans 2:13)

    “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.” (Romans 4:4)

    “For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them.’” (Romans 10:5)

    It’s a matter of simple justice. That’s how the Lord has sovereignly chosen to deal with us in relation to His law. In theological terms it’s called “covenant” or “pactum merit.” Of course, Adam failed, and therefore incurred the covenant curse. Nevertheless, it necessarily follows that if (hypothetically) he would have obeyed God’s commandments and fulfilled the law, Adam would have merited justification/eternal life – the promise of the law demands it. Scripture is perfectly clear on this point.

    Indeed, it is on this very basis – perfect obedience to the law (both active and passive) – that Christ merited justification/eternal life for us in the covenant of grace. He didn’t follow a different moral law with a different standard:

    “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” (Romans 5:18)

    Moreover, this isn’t a novel doctrine out of Escondido. Calvin himself taught the very same thing – that Christ “merited” justification/eternal life for us by His perfect obedience to the law:

    “For we hence infer, that it is from Christ we must seek what the Law would confer on any one who fulfilled it; or, which is the same thing, that by the grace of Christ we obtain what God promised in the Law to our works: ‘If a man do, he shall live in them,’ (Lev. 18:5). This is no less clearly taught in the discourse at Antioch, when Paul declares, ‘That through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,’ (Acts 13:38, 39). For if the observance of the Law is righteousness, who can deny that Christ, by taking this burden upon himself, and reconciling us to God, as if we were the observers of the Law, merited favour for us? Of the same nature is what he afterwards says to the Galatians: ‘God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law,’ (Gal. 4:4, 5). For to what end that subjection, unless that he obtained justification for us by undertaking to perform what we were unable to pay? Hence that imputation of righteousness without works, of which Paul treats (Rom. 4:5), the righteousness found in Christ alone being accepted as if it were ours.” (Institutes 2.17.5)

    Notice that Calvin explicitly teaches that Christ’s obedience to the law “merited favour for us” just as if we were the observers of the law ourselves. And we must now seek from Christ “what the Law would confer on any one who fulfilled it.” This would necessarily include Adam prior to the Fall, as he was under the same law as Christ (see Galatians 4:4-5). The promise of the law has always been the same, whether one has the ability to fulfill it (as Christ did) or not (like the rest of us).

    Finally, the Westminster Standards seem to clearly teach that Christ “merited” justification/eternal life by His obedience to the law. If that’s the case, then I’m not sure how they could have rationally denied that Adam would have likewise “merited” justification/eternal life if he would have obeyed the law – for that’s precisely what the law promises to all who obey its precepts. Or were the Divines simply as confused as many of today’s seminary graduates?

    “Christ maketh intercession, by his appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of his obedience and sacrifice on earth.” (LC 55)

    “…upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ.” (WCF 17.2)

    “…in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace.” (LC 174)

  87. Ron Says:

    Please put forth a deductive argument wherein the conclusion follows from the premises. So far all I’ve read is:

    P1 Jesus the God-man merited salvation for creatures

    Conclusion: God offered a creature an opportunity to merit non-salvific life

    That Calvin rightly recognizes P1 does not an argument make. Several premises are being assumed by your conclusion. To name just a few:

    (i) Creatures can merit something before God

    (ii) Creaturely merit before God is consistent with man’s need of God to cause man to meet the conditions for that which may be merited

    (iii) Creaturely merit before God is consistent with God’s glory

    (iv) That God could merit life for sinners implies that Adam was offered a chance to merit glory as a non-sinner

    Rigorous logic is a great tool for examining the validity of arguments. Whereas merely referencing verses doesn’t justify a premise. There are many steps involved in such an argument that would arrive at your conclusion.

    Aside from not deducing the conclusion from propositions, you have suggested that Adam was offered “justification,” which entails pardon that presupposes sin; yet Adam had not sinned when allegedly offered a chance to “merit” something. So, at the very least the compact was not that of meriting justification. If you wish to dscuss the alleged republication of the covenant under Moses, then we’re left with an “insincere offer” of merit extended to those who already had demerit.

  88. Stephen Welch Says:

    Roger Mann, I am not sure where you get the idea that the Cov. of Works implies that Adam could have merited a libertarian freedom. This is not what the Westminster Divines believed and certainly not language I have seen from those who affirm the Westminster Standards. The first Adam in his pre-lapsarian state was innocent. He was called to be perfectly obedient to the creator but fell from that state of innocence. If you deny the covenant of works you must deny the 2nd Adam and His perfect righteous as the only merit for the elect. I question your claim that someone from Westminster West attributed the 1st Adam’s merit to his so-called free will.

  89. Stephen Welch Says:

    Roger, thank you for your last few posts on the Cov. of Works. I grow weary of people who claim to be reformed and deny the covenant of works, particularly as it is defined by the Westminster Divines. You cannot have Paul’s great doctrine of the 2 Adams in Romans 5 without understanding the cov. of works and the cov. of grave. As you have so clearly stated it is not that difficult to understand. As Brakel has stated in his great systematic theology a denial of the covenant of works will lead to a faulty view of salvation.

  90. Stephen Welch Says:

    Sean, I made a serious blunder and am not sure how to delete it. In the first of my last two entries made at 12:30 pm I said, “Roger Mann, I am not sure..” I meant to address Ron not Roger. The final entry was correctly addressed to Roger. I am not sure what I was doing, but I am sorry for the error. My apologies to everyone for the confusion. I am with Roger on the points he has made regarding the cov. of works. Thank you.

  91. Ron Says:

    Stephen and Roger,

    So this doesn’t go down a strenuous path, let me offer this follow-up.

    My only point is that to call the terms of the covenant “pactum merit” is to use a novel definition merit that is not in keeping with it’s usual definition. in doing so we are no longer talking about strict merit properly defined, hence the supposed need to speak of pactum merit.

    When God created Adam He blessed him, which presupposes favor not deserved.When Adam obeyed it was due to God’s decree worked out in effectual providence (which is denied by some but thankfully not Roger who embraces a robust doctrine of concurrence.)

    When Adam fell he showed he needed more of that stuff God was granting prior to the fall. Adam needed what only God could effect so that Adam might obey. Accordingly, to call any success “merit” is a misnomer, that’s all anyone is saying when they take issue with the term merit. When God rewards he is merely crowing His own graces. This speaks to His magnanimous condescension, not his owing meritorious reward.

    Simply put, would Adam not needed to have thanked God for enabling him to obey? No, in fact Adam was to be thanking God all along the way for creating and enabling him to be in communion with his Maker.

    This is not to disagree with the strict terms of the covenant (do this and live), but rather to take issue with the terms by which the covenant is portrayed. No more, no less.

  92. Ron Says:

    Try this one instead…

    Stephen and Roger,

    So this doesn’t go down a strenuous path, let me offer this follow-up.

    My only point is that to call the terms of the covenant “pactum merit” is to use a novel definition of merit that is not in keeping with its usual definition. In doing so we are no longer talking about strict merit properly defined; hence the supposed need to speak of pactum merit.

    When God created Adam He blessed him, which presupposes favor undeserved.When Adam obeyed it was due to God’s decree worked out in effectual providence (which is denied by some but thankfully not Roger who embraces a robust doctrine of concurrence).

    When Adam fell he showed he needed more of that stuff God was granting prior to the fall,which presupposes anything but merit. Adam needed what only God could effect so that Adam might obey. Accordingly, to call any success “merit” is a misnomer; that’s all anyone is saying when they take issue with the term. When God rewards he is merely crowing His own graces. This speaks to His magnanimous condescension, not his owing meritorious reward.

    Simply put, would Adam not needed to have thanked God for enabling him to obey? No, in fact Adam was to be thanking God all along the way for creating and enabling him to be in communion with his Maker. Was he to give thanks until he crossed the finish line and then no longer needed to?

    Please note, Brothers, this is not to disagree with the strict terms of the covenant (“do this and live”), but rather to take issue with the terms by which the covenant is portrayed. No more, no less. It’s mostly semantic yet with implications; I just want to avoid avoid grave misunderstanding due to the use of a term defined esoterically.

  93. Stephen Welch Says:

    Thanks, Ron for the discussion. I am not following your argument, so you may have to elaborate a little more. Under the covenant of works there was no merit. God created man in innocence and he bore the mark of God’s image. There was no merit because he had not sinned or disobeyed God. He owed to God perfect and perpetual obedience, which he was required to fulfil. There was no need for grace under the first covenant, because Adam had not lost anything. Adam did receive grace, but only after God in His mercy entered into a new covenant. Some of the arguments you are using are the very ones used by Federal Visionists and frankly used among the Protestant Reformed churches for denying a covenant of works. If one follows closely the argument and language of the Westminster Standards, there is usually no problem.

  94. Stephen Welch Says:

    Hi, Sean. Would you delete my last entry on God Is Not Responsible For Sin. I need to rework my argument and response to Ron. Thank you.

    Blessings,

    Stephen Welch

    On Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 2:11 PM, God’s Hammer

  95. Sean Gerety Says:

    Hi Stephen. Just rework it and repost. I’m sure Ron will appreciate it either way, CoW or not. ;) Besides, I’m not sure which one you would like me to delete.

  96. Ron Says:

    Sure thing, Stephen, happy to elaborate but I’m not sure what you’re not following.

    You wrote that under the covenant of works there was no merit. I agree. Yet you seemed to have congratulated a view that stipulates merit. I also agree with you that there is no problem following the Confession, but some have tried to interpret the Confession as teaching a system of merit. I find that unsustainable both historically and exegetically.

    Rather than saying that my argument in some respect resembles FV, maybe it might be better to tell me what you don’t like about the argument. :)

  97. Ron Says:

    Sean,

    Stephen posted something to Roger that he meant to have addressed to me. There’s probably no reason for Stephen to rework it as it’s clear he intended it for me.

  98. Roger Says:

    Please put forth a deductive argument wherein the conclusion follows from the premises. So far all I’ve read is:

    P1 Jesus the God-man merited salvation for creatures

    Conclusion: God offered a creature an opportunity to merit non-salvific life.

    Ron, the first thing I want to say is that you have a very annoying habit of not interacting with the specific points that I’ve made. This makes it quite difficult to have a fruitful debate with you, as you usually respond with only generalized assertions (like the one quoted above). Why can’t you simply cite a specific point that I’ve made, and then explain why you think it’s wrong? Is that too much to ask?

    Second, in your generalized assertions about my comments, you almost always mischaracterize what I’ve actually written. The above quote is a perfect example. That’s not even close to the argument that I actually made. I honestly didn’t think I needed to break it down into syllogistic form, as the points I was making weren’t that difficult to follow. But at your request, here it goes…

    In the first half of my post, my argument was:

    P1: God’s moral law promises eternal life as a reward for perfect obedience, and threatens eternal death for disobedience.

    P2: Adam was under the moral law.

    Conclusion: Therefore, if Adam would have perfectly obeyed the moral law, he would have been rewarded with eternal life by God. On the basis of God’s covenant promise, he would have merited (i.e., covenant or pactum merit) this reward by his obedience to the moral law. This would have been simple justice on God’s part.

    In the second half of my post, my argument was:

    P1: God’s moral law promises eternal life as a reward for perfect obedience, and threatens eternal death for disobedience.

    P2: Christ was under the moral law.

    Conclusion: Therefore, since Christ in fact perfectly obeyed the moral law, He was rewarded with eternal life by God. On the basis of God’s covenant promise, He in fact merited (i.e., covenant or pactum merit) this reward by his obedience to the moral law. This was simple justice on God’s part.

    Not only are these arguments logically valid, but since the premises are true, they are sound.

    That Calvin rightly recognizes P1 does not an argument make.

    But Calvin didn’t merely recognize P1 (that Jesus merited salvation for creatures), as the emphasized portions of the quotation demonstrated. Once again, you have simply ignored the specific points that I made. Here is what I actually wrote:

    “Notice that Calvin explicitly teaches that Christ’s obedience to the law ‘merited favour for us’ just as if we were the observers of the law ourselves. And we must now seek from Christ ‘what the Law would confer on any one who fulfilled it.’ This would necessarily include Adam prior to the Fall, as he was under the same law as Christ (see Galatians 4:4-5). The promise of the law has always been the same, whether one has the ability to fulfill it (as Christ did) or not (like the rest of us).”

    Several premises are being assumed by your conclusion. To name just a few:

    (i) Creatures can merit something before God

    (ii) Creaturely merit before God is consistent with man’s need of God to cause man to meet the conditions for that which may be merited

    (iii) Creaturely merit before God is consistent with God’s glory

    (iv) That God could merit life for sinners implies that Adam was offered a chance to merit glory as a non-sinner.

    Yes, to all four points, as long as “merit” is defined as covenant or pactum merit as I have done above. It’s simple justice that God would honor His covenant promise to the one who obediently obeys the covenant stipulations of the moral law. And that’s why it can be rightly said that Christ (who was indeed a “man” or “creature” in the Incarnation) “merited” eternal life for us by His obedience to God’s covenant bound moral law. This type of pactum “merit” is the opposite of “grace,” wherein the reward is granted in spite of one’s “demerit” for disobeying the covenant stipulations of the moral law.

    By the way, the fact that God would have had to metaphysically “cause” Adam’s continued obedience to the law in no way negates the fact that he would have “merited” the reward had he remained obedient. God metaphysically “caused” Christ’s continued obedience to the law too (He didn’t obey on the basis of a libertarian human “free-will”). But so what? Are you now going to argue that Christ didn’t “merit” righteousness and eternal life by His obedience because God metaphysically “caused” it? Moreover, God also metaphysically “caused” Adam’s disobedience to the law. Again, so what? Are you now going to argue that Adam wasn’t guilty and in a state of “demerit” for his disobedience because God metaphysically “caused” it? Talk about non-sequiturs…

    Aside from not deducing the conclusion from propositions, you have suggested that Adam was offered “justification,” which entails pardon that presupposes sin; yet Adam had not sinned when allegedly offered a chance to “merit” something. So, at the very least the compact was not that of meriting justification.

    The conclusion of my argument necessarily follows from the premises, as I have demonstrated above. Moreover, the last time I checked, the primary meaning of forensic justification is to “declare righteous.” That doesn’t necessarily entail pardon or presuppose sin at all (it does so only in the case of sinners who have been redeemed). Jesus was declared righteous or just (i.e., justified) on the basis of His obedience to the moral law, just as Adam would have been had he remained obedient. So, yes, the covenant of works held forth the promise of meriting justification and eternal life by obedience to the law, as I have been arguing all along.

  99. Roger Says:

    When God rewards he is merely crowing His own graces. This speaks to His magnanimous condescension, not his owing meritorious reward.

    There’s no doubt that any reward we receive from the Lord, whether on the basis of “works” or “grace,” is due to His magnanimous condescension. But God’s “condescension” is not the same thing as His “grace,” at least when the term is used in reference to the two covenants. Specifically, the very serious problem of characterizing the reward under the covenant of works as God “merely crowning His own graces,” is that it tends to confuse the “covenant of works” with the “covenant of grace.” Under the covenant of grace any rewards that we receive are due solely to God’s grace in spite of our sin and demerit. But under the covenant of works the reward is given on the basis of perfect obedience apart from any sin or demerit. Indeed, it is given on the basis of pactum “merit” for fulfilling the covenant stipulation of perfect obedience to the law. That’s hardly “grace” in its normally understood connotation.

    Simply put, would Adam not needed to have thanked God for enabling him to obey? No, in fact Adam was to be thanking God all along the way for creating and enabling him to be in communion with his Maker. Was he to give thanks until he crossed the finish line and then no longer needed to?

    I’m not sure what your point is here. Christ had to continually thank God for His provision and sustaining power in His life too. But so what? Does this somehow imply that He didn’t properly “merit” justification and eternal life by His obedience to the law? Of course it doesn’t. And neither would it have for Adam. Adam would have still deserved the reward by fulfilling the covenant stipulations, just as Christ did.

    Please note, Brothers, this is not to disagree with the strict terms of the covenant (“do this and live”), but rather to take issue with the terms by which the covenant is portrayed. No more, no less. It’s mostly semantic yet with implications; I just want to avoid avoid grave misunderstanding due to the use of a term defined esoterically.

    The implication of denying “merit” in the covenant of works, and making it an essentially “gracious” covenant, is what we need to be worrying about (as the teachings of Norman Shepherd and the Federal Vision clearly demonstrate). Any misunderstanding of the term “merit” can be easily corrected; denying “merit” or characterizing the prelapsarian state as wholly “gracious” not so much. If history is to be our guide, it’s usually the first step down the road to heresy and a denial of the very gospel itself!

  100. Ron Says:

    Roger,

    We are simply at an impasse (have been for years) not just theologically but over what it means to defend premises and not beg crucial questions.

  101. Roger Says:

    Ron, if we’re at an impasse, then you should have simply dropped out of this debate and moved on to bigger and better things – to an opponent who’s more worthy of your towering intellect and impeccable logic! Rather, you decided to run back to your own blog and talk about me like a dog, completely misrepresent my position, and allow others to blatantly lie about what I’ve said here on this blog. Very honorable indeed! Needless to say, I’ll refrain from dealing with you in the future.

  102. justbybelief Says:

    “The implication of denying “merit” in the covenant of works, and making it an essentially “gracious” covenant, is what we need to be worrying about (as the teachings of Norman Shepherd and the Federal Vision clearly demonstrate).”

    Discernment par excellence!!!

  103. Stephen Welch Says:

    In my last entry that I wanted to delete, I was trying to say that under the covenant of works there was no mediator. God entered into a covenant of Grace after the fall (Gen. 3:15) by providing a mediator. It was by grace that He provided for man by means of this mediator. Under the first covenant man was to attain life by perfect obedience, but there was no grace. The 1st Adam was able to merit for himself life, because he was perfect and righteous. He failed when he sinned and all of humanity fell in Adam and needed a perfect mediator. You will have a faulty view of the covenant of Grace if you have no covenant of works. Ron, I am sorry for the confusion and misspeaking. There is merit under both covenants, but under the second the perfect Adam restores us by His merits alone. I do agree with Roger on this. The Westminster Standards as well as many of the Reformed fathers like Witsius and Brakel affirm this as well. The problem with blogging is you sometimes fail to communicate properly if you are rushed or in a hurry, and I did not properly communicate.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 82 other followers

%d bloggers like this: