Watson: On Responding to the Gospel (Part 2)


Richard Watson explores what makes the difference between those who accept the Gospel and those who reject it. See part 1 here.

By User:Mattes (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By User:Mattes (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the last post we concluded with the question – what grace, if any, was given to an individual who rejected the Gospel? The following three options were given by Watson:

  1. no grace was given.
  2. grace sufficient to be saved was given.
  3. grace that was insufficient to be saved was given.

Watson continues by evaluating the impact of each answer.

Sufficient Grace was given

If the second be offered as the answer, then both in the case of the non-elect man who finally rejects Christ, and that of the elect man, who rejects him for a great part of his life, the saving grace of God must be allowed so to work as to be capable of counteraction, and effectual resistance.

If sufficient grace is given to those who reject the Gospel as well as those who accept it then ‘the difference between the two men consists … in the use of grace’. However, the Reformed view rejects that notion that the difference between the converted and the unconverted is found in the use of the sufficient grace by the individual. This leaves the Reformer with the option that a person does not actually exercise faith and repentance because God does this for them.

the difference between the two consists in the use of grace

… and when they say, “it is God which maketh them to differ,” they say in fact, that it is God that not only gives sufficient grace to each; but uses that grace for them.

For if it be allowed that sufficient grace for repentance and faith is given to each, then the true difference between them is, that one repents, and the other does not repent; the one believes, and the other does not believe: if, therefore, this difference is to be attributed to God directly, then the act of repenting, and the act of believing, are both the acts of GOD. If they hesitate to avow this, for it is an absurdity, then either they must give up the question as totally useless to them, or else take the other side of the alternative, that to all who reject the Gospel, sufficient grace to receive it is not given.

Either no grace or insufficient grace was given

If no grace was given to the unconverted:

then not only are the non-elect left without any visitations of grace throughout life; but the elect also are left without them, until the moment of their effectual calling.

And if insufficient grace was given:

[then] the grace of God must be allowed so to influence as to be designedly insufficient for the ends for which it is given; that is, it is given for no saving end at all, either as to the non-elect, or as to the elect all the time they remain in a state of actual alienation from Christ.

For if an insufficient degree of grace is bestowed, when a sufficient degree might have been imparted, then there must have been a reason for restraining the degree of grace to an insufficient measure; which reason could only be, that it might be insufficient, and therefore not saving.

Watson argues that in the case of (1) or (3) there was no saving purpose of God in dealing with the individual whether He gave some grace or none at all. Should either of these answers be given, one could also inquire as to how the Gospel could be a sincere and valid offer such that “whomsoever will may come” when God purposefully does not give the grace necessary and sufficient for a person to truly respond with repentance and faith.

The Scripture treats all men to whom the Gospel is preached as endowed with power, not indeed from themselves, but from the grace of God, to “turn at his reproof;” to come at his “call;” to embrace his “grace;” but they have no capacity for any of these acts, if either of these opinions be true: and thus the word of GOD is contradicted.

The dilemma

If the Reformer returns the answer that either no or insufficient grace was given to the individual that rejected the Gospel then we must again ask what makes the difference? Both individuals are equally in need of salvation and equally incapable of responding to the Gospel without the provision of sufficient and necessary grace.The Calvinist focuses on the individual who accepts the Gospel and asserts that the only difference between this person and the one who rejects the Gospel was God. God gave the one who accepted the Gospel (the elect) sufficient grace.

Watson suggests that it is just as valid to focus on the individual who rejects the Gospel and ask what is the difference between this person and the one who accepted the Gospel. His conclusion is that the only difference is God in this case as well.

They may say, it is true, when they take the man who embraces the Gospel, “Who maketh him to differ but God, who gives this sufficient grace to him?” but then we have an equal right to take the man who rejects the Gospel, and ask, “Who maketh him to differ” from the man that embraces it?

To this they cannot reply that he maketh himself to differ; for that which they here lay down is, that he has either no grace at all imparted to him to enable him to act as the other; or, what amounts to the same thing, no sufficient degree of it to produce a true faith; that he never had that grace; that he is, and always must remain, as destitute of it as when he was born. He does not, therefore, make himself to differ from the man who embraces the Gospel; for he has no power to imitate his example, and to make himself equal with him; and the only answer to our question is, “that it is God who maketh him to differ from the other,” by withholding that grace by which alone he could be prevented from rejecting the Gospel; and this, so far from “settling the whole controversy,” is the very point in debate.

Thus the answer to the question – what makes the difference when a person accepts the Gospel, is God. And the answer to the question – what makes the difference when a person rejects the Gospel, is God.

Watson then goes to show the dilemma that this produces for the Calvinist.

This dilemma, … for if sufficiency of grace be allowed to the unconverted then the Calvinists make the acts of grace, as well as the gift of grace itself [repentance and faith] to be the work of God in the elect:

if sufficiency of grace is denied, then the unbelief and condemnation of the wicked are not from themselves, but from God.

Dealing with the Dilemma: Calvin

Some Reformers, including Calvin himself (Institutes Chap 23), accept the logical consequence that God is the difference maker for both those who do and those who not accept the Gospel.

Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an invidious charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated. This they do ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation. God is said to set apart those whom he adopts for salvation. … Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children.

and in Institutes Chapter 24:

Among a hundred to whom the same discourse is delivered, twenty, perhaps, receive it with the prompt obedience of faith; the others set no value upon it, or deride, or spurn, or abominate it. If it is said that this diversity is owing to the malice and perversity of the latter, the answer is not satisfactory: for the same wickedness would possess the minds of the former, did not God in his goodness correct it. And hence we will always be entangled until we call in the aid of Paul’s question, “Who maketh thee to differ?” (1 Cor. 4:7), intimating that some excel others, not by their own virtue, but by the mere favour of God.

Why, then, while bestowing grace on the one, does he pass by the other? … Wherefore, let us not decline to say with Augustine, “God could change the will of the wicked into good, because he is omnipotent. Clearly he could. Why, then, does he not do it? Because he is unwilling. Why he is unwilling remains with himself,”

Dealing with the Dilemma: Spurgeon

For other Reformers the idea that God is the only difference maker regarding the fate of those who perish is not acceptable. Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon Jacob & Esau, taught:

Why does God hate any man? I defy anyone to give any answer but this, because that man deserves it; no reply but that can ever be true. There are some who answer, divine sovereignty; but I challenge them to look that doctrine in the face. Do you believe that God created man and arbitrarily, sovereignly—it is the same thing—created that man, with no other intention, than that of damning him? Made him, and yet, for no other reason than that of destroying him for ever? Well, if you can believe it, I pity you, that is all I can say: you deserve pity, that you should think so meanly of God, whose mercy endureth for ever.

Spurgeon lives with the tension explaining that the answer why God loves one and hates the other cannot be answered the same way.

You are quite right when you say the reason why God loves a man, is because God does do so; there is no reason in the man. But do not give the same answer as to why God hates a man.

Dealing with the Dilemma: Watson
Richard Watson resolves the dilemma concluding that God gives a person the sufficient and necessary grace enabling them to respond and thus holding them responsible for their response:

It follows, then, that the doctrine of the impartation of grace to the unconverted, in a sufficient degree to enable them to embrace the Gospel, must be admitted; and with this doctrine comes in that of a power in man to use, or to spurn this heavenly gift and gracious assistance:

in other words, a power of willing to come to Christ, even when men do not come; a power of considering their ways, and turning to the Lord, when they do not consider them, and turn to him; a power of praying, when they do not pray; and a power of believing, when they do not believe: powers all of grace; all the results of the work of the Spirit in the heart; but powers to be exerted by man, since it is man, and not God, who wills, and turns, and prays, and believes, while the influence under which this is done is from the grace of GOD alone.

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