This is the 5th installment of the Adventure of the Elected Man.
You can read the first installment here.
Holmes turned to me and asked, “Watson, you know my methods, apply them. How do you see the paradox proposed by our guest?”
Having served in Afghanistan during the Second Anglo-Afghan War, I had certainly dealt with many pressure filled situations. However, seeing the Prince of Preachers and the Master Detective both looking at me and waiting for my answer I began to feel a bit uncomfortable in my chair.
“Well”, I began, “this is an interesting discussion. And I must admit it has perplexed me. We started with the fact that before God even formed the world He determined to save some people out of all the people that would ever exist. And this choice to save some people and not others was based on His purposeful choice that did not take into account anything about the person being chosen. Not even whether they would respond in faith to the Gospel”. I looked to Spurgeon for confirmation. His head nod signaled his agreement so I continued, “The people chosen by God for eternal life are given a gift of grace that enables them to respond in faith.Those who were not chosen are not given this gracious gift but are still held responsible for rejecting Jesus despite it being impossible for them to do so without God’s aid.”
“Well done my dear Watson!” exclaimed Holmes with a triumphant look on his face.
Encouraged by my friend I continued to express my thoughts. “It seems to me, drawing on my own field of expertise, that this would be like a doctor who is tending to a patient. This patient is delirious with fever and has sustained injuries such that he can neither move his arms nor his legs. The doctor, grieved by the patient’s condition, desires to help him get well. Diagnosing the situation, the doctor informs the patient that taking the medicine he offers is his only chance to live. He then places on the nightstand a glass of water and a bottle of pills. As the doctor leaves the room to see to his other patients he implores the patient to take the medicine. How can the patient be responsible for not taking this medicine?”
“If a person cannot come to God then a person is not responsible for coming to God. That is a common objection”, Spurgeon, having listened patiently, offered. “But it fails to understand that the inability lies not in thy physical nature but in thy depraved moral nature. Your illustration fails to take into account the patient’s will. He would not take the medicine offered even if his arms were whole and healthy because he would not want to take it.”
Seeing my puzzled look, Spurgeon continued “The powerlessness lies in the fact that you have no will to come. If thou wert but once willing thou wouldst lack no power. There is the point—there is the point! Thou art not willing, nor wilt thou ever be, till grace make thee willing. When once a man is made willing in the day of God’s power, he is made able also. God saves men by grace, and if men perish they perish justly by their own fault.”
“Unwilling. Unable. The manner in which you seek to explain it matters little, a person has neither the will nor the power to come to Christ without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. I do not see how they can be thus held responsible for failing to come”, I replied rubbing my temples.
“Ah, but who is to blame because a person is not willing to be saved? Now that is an interesting question.”, Holmes interjected.
Spurgeon quickly reiterated his point, “None but the person is at fault. Was there ever a man who had a sincere will to be saved in God’s way who was denied salvation? No, no, a thousand times NO. You may think it is unjust that some should be lost while others are saved. You tell me, if God has chosen some men to eternal life, that he has been unjust. I ask you to prove it. The burden of the proof lies with you. For I would have you remember that none merited eternal life at all. When a person perishes it is because they are so wedded to their lusts and so fond of sin that they refuse to repent and come that they may be saved. Did God cause them to sin. God forbid, for He is not the author of sin.God has nothing to do with their condemnation, except as the Judge sentencing the criminal. Those that perish do so in their sins, deservedly and justly condemned.”
“I am not asking whether a person is justly condemned. That all men are sinners deserving to perish is not in question. The question is, why is it that a person is not saved? Where I disagree with you is that God would be the ultimate cause of those who are lost. For that is the only conclusion that I can come to, based on election as you have described it. A person is not saved because God has chosen to withhold the Divine Cause. This is an argument another Watson made, and I commend his Institutes to you.”.
“Holmes, I never said such a thing as to blame God for the condition of the lost. I give God all the glory for every soul that is saved, but I won’t have it that God is to blame for any man that is damned. That teaching I cannot understand and my soul revolts at the idea.”
“Yet that is the conclusion that any reasonable person would come to. Can any person be saved who is not elect?”, Holmes asked Spurgeon.
“And why not?”
“I can tell you the reason. It is sovereign grace. There is nothing in any person that could make God love him; there is everything about him that might have made God hate him. But it was because God was infinitely gracious and sovereign in his dispensation of this grace, that he chooses some. Is He therefore to be accused of injustice because He gives to some infinitely more than they merit? If He gives his favors according to his own sovereign will, who is he that shall find fault?”
“And of those who are numbered among the unelect, can any of these ever be saved?”
“And why not?”
“Why does God pass over any man and choose not to give His grace? 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? Well, if you can believe that, I pity you, that you should think so meanly of God, whose mercy endureth for ever.”
I jumped into the discussion adding, “Hold on. You seem to want it both ways. But you must know that if God fixed a decree that some are saved then in that same decree it is implied that these others are damned. Profess openly what you truly hold. For if God chooses some then He clearly did not choose others.”
“Watson, do you judge your Maker?”, Spurgeon countered.
“The question is why do the unelect perish? Is it not because God has not chosen him before the foundation of the world. Is it not because an unchangeable irresistible decree standeth between this person and the very possibility of salvation. Come now and find out how to split the hair between God choosing some to eternal destruction and God bypassing them. In either case God is withholding the grace that alone could prevent them from destruction.”, I argued.
“I always like to know when there is a discussion, what is the fact. And the fact stands that God works in one heart and does not work in another. Do you not see that God does not treat every man alike? Why some men are born kings and some are born beggars. Some are born with gigantic minds and some verge on being an idiot. Why is this? Do you murmur at God for it? No, you say it is a fact, and there is no good in murmuring.”, Spurgeon protested. “That fact stands the God saves man by grace, and all men that perish they perish justly by their own fault.”
“How do you reconcile these two doctrines?”, Holmes asked.
“Now that these things seem to be inconsistent and contradictory to us I readily admit. But we are dealing with undeniable truths. You can alter an opinion or even a doctrine but you cannot alter a fact. What is the use of kicking against facts? These facts are both in God’s Word, and I shall not attempt to reconcile them. If you show me that they are enemies, then I will reconcile them.”
“I have learned in my line of work,”, Holmes explained, “that when a fact appears to be opposed to a long train of deductions it invariably proves to be capable of bearing some other interpretation. Things may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”
[to be continued]
[Spurgeon’s remarks are quoted and based on the sermons “Sovereign Grace and Man’s Responsibility“, “Election and Holiness“, and “Jacob and Esau“. Some of Holmes arguments are based on John Welsey’s “Predestination Calmly Considered” and Richard Watson’s “Theological Institutes Vol 2”]