15 February 2009

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "The Father's Will," a sermon first published in 1873. We start with the text Spurgeon was preaching from:


"This is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:39-40).

he two phrases set forth the divine side of salvation and the human side of salvation.

You know, beloved friends, that the general custom is, with the various sects of Christians, to take up one part of the Bible and preach that part, and then it is the duty of all divines on that side of the question not to preach anything but that. Or if they find a text that looks in rather a different direction, these gentlemen are expected to twist it round to suit their creed, it being supposed that only one set of truths can possibly be worth defending, it never having entered into the heads of some people that there can be two apparently irreconcilable truths which nevertheless are equally valuable.

Think not that I come here to defend the human side of salvation at the expense of the divine; nor am I desirous to magnify the divine side of it at the expense of the human; rather would I beseech you to look at the two texts which are together before us, and to be prepared to receive both sets of truths. I think it a very dangerous thing to say that the truth lies between the two extremes. It does not: the truth lies in the two, in the comprehension of both; not in taking a part from this and a part from that, toning down one and modulating the other, as is too much the custom, but in believing and giving full expression to everything that God reveals whether we can reconcile the things or not, opening our hearts as children open their understandings to their father's teaching, feeling that if the gospel were such that we could make it into a complete system, we might be quite sure it was not God's gospel, for any system that comes from God must be too grand for the human brain to grasp at one effort; and any path that he takes must extend too far beyond the line of our vision for us to make a nice little map of it, and mark it out in squares.

This world, you know, we can readily enough map. Go and get charts, and you shall find that men of understanding have indicated almost every rock in the sea, almost every hamlet on the land; but they cannot map out the heavens in that way, for albeit that you can buy the celestial atlas, yet as you are well enough aware there is not one in ten thousand of the stars that can possibly be put there; when they are resolved by the telescope they become altogether innumerable, and so far exceed all count that it is impossible for us to reckon them up in order and say, that is the name of this, and this is the name of that. We must leave them: they are beyond us. There are deeps into which we cannot peer; even the strongest glass cannot show us much more than a mere corner of the starry worlds.

Thus too is it with the doctrines of the gospel: they are too bright for our weak eyes, too sublime for our finite minds to scan, save at a humble distance. Be it ours to take all we can of their solemn import, to believe them heartily, accept them gratefully, and then fall down before the Lord, and pour out our very souls in worshipping him.
C. H. Spurgeon


20 comments:

GOODNIGHTSAFEHOME said...

Very enjoyable post. I remember when I forst came into the "Doctrines of Grace" and started handling "God's sovereignty" like a lit stick of dynamite. I was always a little disgusted at other Christians (Calvinists) who were quick to emphasise the responsibility of man, so that it could be balanced. How foolish I was and how wise they were!

Regards,

Tony said...

It's too bad that this one hasn't made it into the archive. I'll have to hunt it down in print.

Dennis Elslager said...

As a believer in all of God's Words I find myself thinking on this subject often. And what comes to my mind is that just as we can not fully explain the doctrine of the Trinity and certainly we can not come up with a good answer on the ever-existing Alpha and Omega God, so it is we are accountable to God for our own doings or lack of them and yet He is completely Sovereign over us all. A mystery we must accept by faith. And I think this may be a reason God has permitted it because His Word does say "without faith it is impossible to please Him..." He is happy with us when we take Him at His Word...Every Word of God! Prov. 30:5-6

Troy said...

When it comes to human responsibility in salvation and God's Sovereignty, I'm not sure why people think that this concept is incapable for humans to fully grasp.

We are responsible because we are volitional creatures enslaved to our sinful nature.

I think the harder question is why we are held accountable for Adam's sin?

Dennis Elslager said...

Troy:
"I'm not sure why people think that this concept is incapable for humans to fully grasp."

If you would like to converse any further about this I would like to hear your views.

I think we can "fully grasp" it by faith alone. If we think we can understand it as God does then I question that.

"We are responsible because we are volitional creatures enslaved to our sinful nature."

To help see God's Sovereignty I have two questions...

1) To what extent are we enslaved to sin and how is this so?

2) How far can our will "volition" go and who placed the limits on it?

I see here that God has Sovereignty over how enslaved we are to our sin or His righteousness as it has to be one or the other and no in between (Rom 6). And our will can go no further than that which God has designed and permitted.

Is 65:1
I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I,’ To a nation which did not call on My name.

As pointed out in the text above "that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life" and with that Joh 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Unless we are given grace from God to repent through seeing and receiving Christ Jesus as our Savior we are bound to the sin which began with Adam.

"I think the harder question is why we are held accountable for Adam's sin?"

Rom 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

And "because all sinned" all are responsible for sin.

Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!

Rom 9:19-21 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 honored use and another for dishonorable use?

I do wish to understand all of this better for myself if any wish to share further. It is a fascinating doctrine of Scripture.

donsands said...

"..even the strongest glass cannot show us much more than a mere corner of the starry worlds."

And even the Hubble with all its spledid photographs of deep space, doesn't scratch the surface really.

Those are such good words from Charles Spurgeon. Thanks.


"I do wish to understand all of this better for myself..."

Me too.

I like to look at our Lord's words in Matthew 11:25-29 when thinking of these two truths.
Jesus says no one can know God unless He wills to reveal God. Jesus also says, "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden.." And that's everyone.
So we can be humbled that the only way we came to know God is through Christ's will to reveal Him to us, and we must do no less then Christ and call all people everywhere to come to Christ, for the forgiveness of sin.

Troy said...

Dennis,

We can fully grasp this according to the info that God has revealed to us in scripture, according to the flesh and it's limits only, faith is needed to believe it, spiritually we will see after we are glorified.

you said:

1) To what extent are we enslaved to sin and how is this so?

2) How far can our will "volition" go and who placed the limits on it?

1. we are completely enslaved, to the core of our nature, because we sin and because scripture says so.

2. it is unlimited in the flesh for even God said in Genesis 11:6
"And the Lord said, Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them."

spiritually, we are dead and separated from God and can do nothing, as for evil it is unlimited, Hitler, Dahmer, etc ...

The point is that it seems obvious to me why we are responsible and I see no tension in relation to God's Sovereignty in salvation because If you look at what scripture says about human nature and the total inability of man to come to God with out God's help, it's not hard to see how it works,

So when the scriptures say that we are by nature children of wrath, spiritually dead, cannot know the things of the spirit, are not subject to the law of God, our carnal minds are at enmity with God, slaves to sin, we cannot change our nature, separated from God, cannot please God, none understands, none seek after God, etc …

This mean that our choices are in line with these definitions of our will. So if left to our selves we would by our nature reject God and never come to Him.

So then salvation is wholly of God, if God does not open our eyes we will never see. The unregenerate cannot have faith or the ability to believe.

So in my eye's it's not hard to understand human responsibility and God's Sovereignty.
Like I said, The hard part is how Adam's sin is passed on to us. Yes we are responsible because we sin, but Adam sinned and that was passed on to us at conception, why?
In other words, if Adam's sin did not pass on to us how would God make His Attributes known?

CR said...

This is what I love about Charles Spurgeon. He took what the whole Bible said at face value. Divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Beautiful and biblical.

Dennis Elslager said...

Troy,
I am glad you continued this conversation. It seems to me that we are in agreement regarding the matter of "Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility". Except I must say that I do not understand this enough to say that I "fully grasp" it other than the fact that I am at peace with it knowing He understands how this works out.

I think of how far God has permitted and inspired mankind to comprehend matters of mathematics, science, and other avenues of knowledge and understanding in this world. Some people have been gifted to see into some of the depths of these things but no one has comprehended all of it while living on the earth. As the Scriptures say "...I am fearfully and wonderfully made" and the final words of God spoken to Job in Job helps keep things in perspective.

When I realize that even the intelligence of the most intelligent man on earth today is counted as nothing in God's eyes and I also ponder that even"if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Then I hear that I "may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge..." It comes to me that "knowledge puffs up but love edifies". It is so hard for us humans to accept that knowing means nothing unless the knowledge is a tool used by God through us to share the light of the Gospel to others that "God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will."

All other knowledge -outside of knowing Christ and the Truth- may be temporarily useful but irrelevant to eternity if it does not in some way assist us in God's plan and Divine Work for the Salvation of souls. Knowing the depths of "Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility" is fascinating to think about and I love to ponder it but it is not necessary for me to have full comprehension of this in order for me to trust God and take Him at His Word in it.

As donsands quoted "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden.." so knowledge -even if it is of Scripture- can be heavy to us and weigh us down if it is outside of the Love of God in Christ. To me, freedom is knowing that God is Sovereign and through this gives me grace to uphold my human responsibility and as I abide in Him He bears fruit through me for His glory and purpose. And when I don't bear fruit He chastens me and prunes me until I do. For even "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself."

I did not mean for this comment to be so long but to add to it I find the topic of "why we are held accountable for Adam's sin?" another interesting thing to ponder the understanding of according to Scripture. Do you have further thoughts on this which you could share or are you looking for others to bring in some words? I honestly can't say I have thought on this much but maybe I have without realizing it, I don't know.

Mike Riccardi said...

Yes we are responsible because we sin, but Adam sinned and that was passed on to us at conception, why?
In other words, if Adam's sin did not pass on to us how would God make His Attributes known?


Troy,

I would say that you have your answer right there.

Dennis Elslager said...

"In other words, if Adam's sin did not pass on to us how would God make His Attributes known?"

If I am deviating from the purpose of the original post here, please forgive me and pass on this, but does anyone wish to expound on this connection of how the Attributes of God explain why Adam's sin was passed onto us? I am interested in hearing this.

Mike Riccardi said...

Dennis,

If we get very ultimate, we can simply say that God has ordained that all things be -- even evil/sin -- to fulfill is ultimate purpose that the riches of His glory be made known among the vessels of mercy.

God is glorified most fully as a result of all of His attributes being made known to His creatures (specifically, His elect; i.e., the vessels of mercy). Such attributes as grace, mercy, wrath, and justice could not be appreciated without the ordination of sin. There'd be no sinners to be gracious to, no mercy to have, no wrath to be exercise, and no abberation of justice to maintain.

Some helpful resources:
- Is God Less Gloroius Because He Ordained that Evil Be?, by John Piper
- The End for Which God Created the World, by Jonathan Edwards. (Book starts on p. 125 of the document, p. 117 of the PDF.)

Dennis Elslager said...

I need to ask a further question.

First of all I believe it is Scriptural to say as Augustine did in his confessions "You have created man but not the sin in man". It is my understanding that in the fundamentals of the reformed circle it is believed that Lucifer as well as Adam and Eve had (until they sinned) a free will which was not previously subject to the bondage of sin and that it was not of God's perfect will to have them originate sin. Is this understood right or am I missing something here?

If someone will answer I would like to go on here hoping to gain better understanding.

Thanks for thinking this through with me.

Dennis Elslager said...

BTW, Mike, thank you for the references. I will be looking into them right away. I do listen to John Piper's teachings quite a bit on MP3 and hope to find these in this sort.
I work with my hands many hours of the day and I am a slow reader so these MP3's help me greatly.

Johnny Dialectic said...

"It is my understanding that in the fundamentals of the reformed circle it is believed that Lucifer as well as Adam and Eve had (until they sinned) a free will which was not previously subject to the bondage of sin and that it was not of God's perfect will to have them originate sin."

Whatever the "circle," your understanding is correct biblically.

Derek Ashton said...

These are great words from Spurgeon, and we who are of a theological mindset should pay heed to this humble genius. What do we call it when two TRUTHS are apparently irreconcilable? I call it a case of "paradox," difficult as that word is for some. And why can't these TRUTHS be fully reconciled in our minds? Spurgeon hits it on the head: we are creatures, we are fallen, and we are weak. So, how should we respond? Spurgeon gets it right again: we should simply fall down adoring before the Lord. Does not God use these means for our humbling? Does He not use this to reveal His infinite glory? It is only our pride that fights back and says, "I HAVE TO understand it." There is only one mind in all the universe that can make total sense of God's ways - the mind that conceived them in the first place.

It was precisely this line of reasoning from the mouth of a godly preacher that led me out of the jaws of Arminianism and made a Calvinist of me. You might say I was irresistibly drawn. God be praised!

Mike Riccardi said...

Hey Dennis,

Yeah, I'm sorry that I wasn't more clear about my not believing that God is the efficient cause of evil. I don't think God tempts any man to sin, nor do I think He forces them.

However, I do believe that God is the ultimate cause of all things.

As to your question about God's perfect will, I suppose it depends on your definition. Piper also has an article (search for it on DesiringGod.org) called, "Are There Two Wills in God?" where he makes a distinction between God's 'volitional' will and His 'decretive' will. God's decretive will has behind it the notion that all that God wills comes to pass by His decree (Is 46:9-11, Eph 1:11-12, Ps 33:11). He has decreed all things before time began, and so nothing happens outside of His will.

But then there's that pesky issue of things happening that God prohibits. We call that His volitional will, which is what I think you're calling His perfect will. So, for example, God does not actively delight in the death of the wicked (volitional), but indeed the wicked do perish (decretive), and not apart from the will of God.

So back to the point. Satan, Adam, and Eve rebelled according to their own free will, and within the bounds of the predetermined decree of God.

Dennis Elslager said...

A quote from Calvin regarding De 29:29...


"God indeed retains to Himself secret things, which it neither concerns nor profits us to know, and which surpass our comprehension; but these things, which He has declared to us, belong to us and to our children." It is a remarkable passage, and especially deserving of our observation, for by it audacity and excessive curiosity are condemned, whilst pious minds are aroused to be zealous in seeking instruction. We know how anxious men are to understand things, the knowledge of which is altogether unprofitable, and even the investigation of them injurious.

If it is not profitable for me to pursue understanding of what I've been asking about here then I must repent of wanting to know more. But if anyone sees that God has granted us better understanding through His Word then I am all ears.

It is my desire to know the Person of God as much as He has willed so that when I am asked by unbelievers "what does this means?" I will have a well thought out response for my faith. Maybe through siting what Calvin has said here I have answered some of my own questions above. What do you think?

Pr 15:28 The heart of the righteous {A} ponders how to answer,..

1Pet 3:15...but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;

Mike Riccardi said...

I don't think you're overstepping at all. They are transcendent things, the fullness and implications of such things which are more glorious than we can imagine, but if we can arrive at the knowledge of these things through the Spirit-illuminated Word of God, then how can we say these are the secret things?

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. -- 1Cor 2:12

Tartanarmy said...

"Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden.." And that's everyone.

-----------------------------------
Does that mean "everyone" is laboring and heavy laden, or is it everyone that God grants repentance to will labor and become heavy laden?

Just wondering what thoughts are here.

Mark