Irenaeus On Election and Free Will

This is a series that will be updated periodically that captures the early church views on free will and election. In part 1 we looked at some statements regarding Irenaeus’ views on free will and election. Some time ago we also examined the Rule of Faith (orthodoxy) held by Irenaus.

saint_irenaeus_oflyonsBefore looking at what else Irenaeus has to say, let’s take a look at what Charles Spurgeon has to say regarding this topic from his sermon titled “Election“. First he asserts that should one look through the doctrine of the ancients they would struggle to find those who did not hold to his views on election:

Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in the doctrine of free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there a heretic of no very honourable character might rise up and call me brother. But taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren—I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church.

Irenaeus may take offense to being called a heretic. And as we look at the early believers in Jesus Christ we will find that prior to Augustine we are not going to find many confessing as Spurgeon does.

Charles Spurgeon captures the Reformed view on how man can be saved  in his Exposition of the Doctrines of Grace:

I do know that the appointment of God extendeth to all things; but I stand not in this pulpit, nor in any other, to lay the damnation of any man anywhere but upon himself. If he be lost, damnation is all of man; but, if he be saved, still salvation is all of God.

Irenaeus agrees that salvation is totally of God. Man was in need of rescue and only God’s provision was able to save. The gospel according to Irenaeus from the Proof of Apostolic Teaching is that we are saved by faith and not works.

35. … For Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. In like manner we also are justified by faith in God: for the just shall live by faith. Now not by the law is the promise to Abraham, but by faith: for Abraham was justified by faith: and for a righteous man the law is not made. In like manner we also are justified not by the law, but by faith, which is witnessed to in the law and in the prophets, whom the Word of God presents to us.

and this faith is in the death and resurrection of Jesus:

41. … to those who thus believed in and loved the Lord, and continued in holiness and righteousness and patient endurance, the God of all had promised to grant eternal life by the resurrection of the dead; through Him who died and rose again, Jesus Christ, to whom He has delivered over the kingdom of all existing things, and the rule of quick and dead, and also the judgment.

Irenaeus would also agree that if a person is lost it is because they are a sinner who chose not to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. In Against Heresies Book IV.39.3 he writes that

Those persons, therefore, who have apostatized from the light given by the Father, and transgressed the law of liberty, have done so through their own fault, since they have been created free agents, and possessed of power over themselves.

However, while accepting that the provision for salvation was all of God, the actual decision to accept this gift by faith is a choice that man must make. And that is where the two would differ. When we go looking among these ancients for the doctrine of election we are looking for what was articulated by Spurgeon:

“But,” say others, “God elected them on the foresight of their faith.” Now, God gives faith, therefore he could not have elected them on account of faith, which he foresaw. … That would be talking nonsense. In like manner to say that God elected men because he foresaw they would have faith, which is salvation in the germ, would be too absurd for us to listen to for a moment. Faith is the gift of God.

In the Reformed view, a person can not place their faith in Jesus without first being regenerated. This is in contrast to Irenaeus’ views regarding the free will decision made by those who accept Christ (wheat) and those who reject Him (chaff). Writing in Against Heresies Book IV.4.3, we learn:

“For the day of the Lord cometh as a burning furnace, and all sinners shall be stubble, they who do evil things, and the day shall burn them up” (Malachi 4:1). Now, who this Lord is that brings such a day about, John the Baptist points out, when he says of Christ, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire, having His fan in His hand to cleanse His floor; and He will gather His fruit into the garner, but the chaff He will burn up with unquenchable fire.” For He who makes the chaff and He who makes the wheat are not different persons, but one and the same, who judges them, that is, separates them. But the wheat and the chaff, being inanimate and irrational, have been made such by nature.

But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect like to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself the cause to himself, that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.

Pointing to that future day when the Lord will judge all people, Irenaeus points out that it is the same God who judges and saves all people. This was a point of contention as heretics under Marcion claimed one god judged and another god saved (Against Heresies III.25.2,3). He also asserts that God has given to each person a free will so that they are the cause of whether they are wheat (chose to place their faith in Christ) or chaff (chose not to have faith in Christ).

14 thoughts on “Irenaeus On Election and Free Will

    • Paul,
      if you are being banned for defending the faith and debating the issues related to Calvinism/Arminianism then maybe that forum is not the right place to be having that discussion. Especially if you and others are doing it in a gentle and fair way.

      I did swing by the forums, but don’t have the time to really engage in them at this time. If you want help it would be helpful if you asked specific questions or directed people to various posts on this site that may deal with the topic.


      • Thanks Mike

        A post above says “In the Reformed view, a person can not place their faith in Jesus without first being regenerated.” This is one of the hotly contested issues on CF – Soteriology. Even to the point where new Christians start to lose their new found faith due to the doubts being broadcast by Calvinists.

        Evangelist efforts are being snookered by this forum. This is why we need people to engage on this forum. Defenders of the true faith. All is asked is for maybe a couple of hours a week. Nothing more.

  1. Just as an example of what we are up against. Here is a post from one of CF’s cheif noise generator.

    “Posted by nobdysfool
    To me, it has just become an exciting, fun challenge. I honed my Calvinist teeth in Free Republic, where there was a time when the Religion Forum was a rollicking, free-for-all, a regular punch-fest.

    I learned how to take it, and how to give it. I learned how to insult someone subtly, how to read someone’s pedigree nicely, and how to cut to the heart of a matter. As I said, it was a verbal punch-fest, so these wimps in Soteriology wouldn’t have lasted a day there. I can’t use but maybe 20% of the methods I learned, or I would be perma-banned in less than a day. As it is, I have had action against me by the mods here, some deserved, and some not.”

    This site is damaging Christians faith, particularly young Christians. Please help us.

      • An assault in progress…
        An assault in progress…

        by nobdysfool

        It seems that the anti-Calvinists have decided to launch an all-out assault on Calvinists in the Soteriology forum. Many of us Calvinists have decided to just sit back and let them run with it for a while, and true to form, they have begun making fools out of themselves. They are trying to bait and goad the Calvinists, in the hopes that they can report us and remove some of us from the field. In that, they are failing miserably. The sheer amount of misinformation displayed is staggering!

        It seems obvious to me that so much misinformation about Calvinism is being promoted because Calvinist theology is a true threat to the status quo of many churches in America, as well as the UK, Canada, and even Australia. And yet the predominate theological understanding of Christians in China, is Calvinist. China is a field ripe for harvest, there is a real hunger there, and the Calvinist teachings have taken root and have grown very quickly in China and the Far East.

        So much for the claim by these yobs in the forum that Calvinism is a failed, false theology. They simply do not know what they’re talking about. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be comical….

    • Do you have a link to that supposed quote? I’ve seen it several times, attributed to Nobdysfool, but in searching the forum, it doesn’t seem to exist. I’m beginning to think it was made up to cast doubt on him.

      • Hunsinger

        Thanks for visiting the blog.

        I assume you are asking Paul, the person who posted it, however given that these comments were made years ago I am doubtful you will get a response. As you can tell from the comments I tried to distance myself from the exchange between Paul and nobdysfool. I will just add that based on the brief exchange here, that nobdysfool could perhaps find better ways to communicate his points then calling people “snarky ignorant yobs”.

  2. nobdysfool

    To me, it has just become an exciting, fun challenge.

    I am going to assume the statement attributed to you above is accurate. Like you I enjoy discussing theological issues and examining them in light of other views. However, part of the challenge is trying to present our differing views with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16). Most of us (including me) who have engaged in these discussions have posted and phrased things in a manner that is not keeping with Peter’s admonition. When forums become “punch-fests” than it is likely people are not engaged in learning and understanding each others views and have lost sight of the fact that they are talking to fellow believers.


  3. I’m not the same Paul that commented above, and I know I’m commenting an an almost-three-year-old post. I was referred here by a more recent post. I mentioned on the other post how I love Irenaeus. Spurgeon, though, puzzles me. I’d heard such great things about him, and even some great things from him, and then I finally bought a book of his called _The Power of the Holy Spirit_. I was stunned because it was nothing but a proclamation of Calvinism declaring that all real acts of God had been done by men who believe in Calvinism. How can a man be so blind as to thing the pre-Nicene Christians were Calvinist yet be of such positive influence in his own century? God’s ways are truly mysterious.

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