Reformed Articles

Why I’m a Wesleyan

This post was originally published on this site

i) Before getting to my main point, BW3 makes two claims that lie in tension with each other: we can’t be more loving than God, and love must be freely given and freely received. Yet it’s child’s play to come up with examples in human affairs where our love isn’t limited by the receptivity of the beloved. Take an autistic child who lacks the capacity to reciprocate parental love. Or a baby. Or a teenage drug addict who resents his parents’ interventions. Or a senile parent who can’t grasp how grown children are acting in their parent’s best interests. Or a patient in a coma. 

It’s funny how Arminians make blanket claims about the nature of love (“freely received”) as if that’s self-evident. They make no effort to consider the most obvious counterexamples to their sweeping overgeneralizations. 

ii) In addition, BW3 is selective about the divine attributes. He acts like God’s nature is to be loving, which overrides divine justice. 

Moving onto the main point, he says:

What’s the relationship between faith and works? According to the Calvinistic message, we are saved by grace through faith alone, and our actions have nothing to do with it–either before or during conversion or afterwards. Our behavior is not what it’s about–it’s about what we believe. 

It’s a strange thing to me about Calvinistic theology that they talk so much about sovereign grace, and yet at the end of the day they don’t believe the grace of God can dramatically transform a person beyond conversion. 

i) It’s fascinating that BW3, who’s 67, who’s said so much over the years in objection to Calvinism, is so woefully uninformed about the position he presumes to critique. To begin with, the Reformed formulation is not that we’re “saved by grace through faith alone,” but that we’re saved by grace alone and justified by faith alone. BW3 collapses some crucial distinctions.

ii) Saving faith includes sanctifying grace. Regeneration and sanctification are transformative facets of grace. Consider John Owen’s classic treatise on the mortification of sin:

Or consider this summary exposition of Reformed sanctification:

(1) The soul after regeneration continues dependent upon the constant gracious operations of the Holy Spirit, but is, through grace, able to co-operate with them.

(2) The sanctifying operations of the Spirit are supernatural, and yet effected in connection with and through the instrumentality of means: the means of sanctification being either internal, such as faith and the co-operation of the regenerated will with grace, or external, such as the word of God, sacraments, prayer, Christian fellowship, and the providential discipline of our heavenly Father.

(3) In this process the Spirit gradually completes the work of moral purification commenced in regeneration. The work has two sides: (a) the cleansing of the soul from sin and emancipation from its power, and (b) the development of the implanted principle of spiritual life and infused habits of grace, until the subject comes to the stature of perfect manhood in Christ. Its effect is spiritually and morally to transform the whole man, intellect, affections, and will, soul, and body.

(4) The work proceeds with various degrees of thoroughness during life, but is never consummated in absolute moral perfection until the subject passes into glory.

“Sanctification,” A. A. Hodge,  revised by B.B. Warfield.

And a more detailed exposition:

1. IT IS A SUPERNATURAL WORK OF GOD. Some have the mistaken notion that sanctification consists merely in the drawing out of the new life, implanted in the soul by regeneration, in a persuasive way by presenting motives to the will. But this is not true. It consists fundamentally and primarily in a divine operation in the soul, whereby the holy disposition born in regeneration is strengthened and its holy exercises are increased. It is essentially a work of God, though in so far as He employs means, man can and is expected to co-operate by the proper use of these means. Scripture clearly exhibits the supernatural character of sanctification in several ways. It describes it as a work of God, I Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20,21, as a fruit of the union of life with Jesus Christ, John 15:4; Gal. 2:20; 4:19, as a work that is wrought in man from within and which for that very reason cannot be a work of man, Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:11, and speaks of its manifestation in Christian virtues as the work of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22. It should never be represented as a merely natural process in the spiritual development of man, nor brought down to the level of a mere human achievement, as is done in a great deal of modern liberal theology.

2. IT CONSISTS OF TWO PARTS. The two parts of sanctification are represented in Scripture as:

a. The mortification of the old man, the body of sin. This Scriptural term denotes that act of God whereby the pollution and corruption of human nature that results from sin is gradually removed. It is often represented in the Bible as the crucifying of the old man, and is thus connected with the death of Christ on the cross. The old man is human nature in so far as it is controlled by sin, Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24. In the context of the passage of Galatians Paul contrasts the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit, and then says: “And they who are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.” This means that in their case the Spirit has gained predominance.

b. The quickening of the new man, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. While the former part of sanctification is negative in character, this is positive. It is that act of God whereby the holy disposition of the soul is strengthened, holy exercises are increased, and thus a new course of life engendered and promoted. The old structure of sin is gradually torn down, and a new structure of God is reared in its stead. These two parts of sanctification are not successive but contemporaneous. Thank God, the gradual erection of the new building need not wait until the old one is completely demolished. If it had to wait for that, it could never begin in this life. With the gradual dissolution of the old the new makes its appearance. It is like the airing of a house filled with pestiferous odors. As the old air is drawn out, the new rushes in. This positive side of sanctification is often called “a being raised together with Christ,” Rom. 6:4,5; Col. 2:12; 3:1,2. The new life to which it leads is called “a life unto God,” Rom. 6:11; Gal. 2:19.

3. IT AFFECTS THE WHOLE MAN: BODY AND SOUL; INTELLECT, AFFECTIONS AND WILL. This follows from the nature of the case, because sanctification takes place in the inner life of man, in the heart, and this cannot be changed without changing the whole organism of man. If the inner man is changed, there is bound to be change also in the periphery of life. Moreover, Scripture clearly and explicitly teaches that it affects both body and soul, I Thess. 5:23; II Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:12; I Cor. 6:15,20. The body comes into consideration here as the organ or instrument of the sinful soul, through which the sinful inclinations and habits and passions express themselves. The sanctification of the body takes place especially in the crisis of death and in the resurrection of the dead. Finally, it also appears from Scripture that sanctification affects all the powers or faculties of the soul: the understanding, Jer. 31:34; John 6:45; — the will, Ezek. 36:25-27; Phil. 2:13; — the passions, Gal. 5:24; — and the conscience, Tit. 1:15; Heb. 9:14.

4. IT IS A WORK OF GOD IN WHICH BELIEVERS CO-OPERATE. When it is said that man takes part in the work of sanctification, this does not mean that man is an independent agent in the work, so as to make it partly the work of God and partly the work of man; but merely, that God effects the work in part through the instrumentality of man as a rational being, by requiring of him prayerful and intelligent co-operation with the Spirit. That man must co-operate with the Spirit of God follows: (a) from the repeated warnings against evils and temptations, which clearly imply that man must be active in avoiding the pitfalls of life, Rom. 12:9,16,17; I Cor. 6:9,10; Gal. 5:16-23; and (b) from the constant exhortations to holy living. These imply that the believer must be diligent in the employment of the means at his command for the moral and spiritual improvement of his life, Micah 6:8; John 15:2,8,16; Rom. 8:12,13; 12:1,2,17; Gal. 6:7,8,15.

Sanctification and good works are most intimately related. Just as the old life expresses itself in works of evil, so the new life, that originates in regeneration and is promoted and strengthened in sanctification, naturally manifests itself in good works. These may be called the fruits of sanctification, and as such come into consideration here. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology