This is the 6th installment of the Adventure of the Elected Man.
You can read the first installment here.
“You notice many things amiss with your own doctrine, yet it surprises me that these paradoxes do not cause you to go back to the Scriptures and rethink your creed.”, Holmes said.
“Now, it is one thing to refute another man’s doctrine, but a very different matter to establish your own view. It is very easy to knock over one man’s hypothesis concerning these truths, not quite so easy to make your own stand on a firm footing.”, Spurgeon challenged.
I could see that Holmes was in his element as he grinned and rubbed his hands together.
“We both affirm election. But if you would but shift your vantage point, you might see that the facts you claim are so obvious, could take on a whole new meaning. When you observe election you imagine an eternal decree whereby God chooses unconditionally. When I observe election I deduce an eternal decree that was made unconditionally and freely by God to choose based on a condition.”
“If God chose to dispense grace based on anything good in man, why we would all be left unchosen. God is sovereign and He does as He wills and givest no account of the matters. To make election conditional is to rob God of His sovereignty. By what means do you bind God such that He cannot give grace to any He chooses, which is within His absolute right?” Spurgeon asked.
“I do not bind God nor limit His sovereignty. Salvation is conditional, is it not?”, Holmes did not wait for an answer but continued his discourse. “Of course it is, for we read ‘believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved’. The condition is faith. Now, if salvation is based on the condition of faith, then election to salvation must also be based on this same condition. God, as sovereign, has made an unalterable decree. That decree was to offer salvation through faith, and it can be summarized in these words: he that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned. In this one decree we have joined together both election and reprobation. This decree was made by God, who as you say was well within His rights to do so.”, Holmes replied.
“In this we will find agreement, that faith is the great instrument of salvation. Scripture clearly teaches us – ‘thy faith hath saved thee’. Furthermore, we both accept the truth that God has a right to choose the way of salvation as He pleases, and that He has indeed chosen that men should be saved, not by their works, but by their faith in his dear Son. This is God’s sovereign determination and there shall be no exception.”
Holmes nodded in agreement with all that Spurgeon had said, so our guest continued to speak. “But election is the sovereign and unchanging decree of God to bestow grace on whom He chooses. It has nothing to do with any original goodness in man, not even faith.”
Pressing his point on election, Spurgeon asked: “How do you propose God is able to elect people based on faith if this was done before the foundation of the world? People have not even been created yet. It must be clear to the master detective that these people could not exercise faith and thus conclude that there can be no condition upon which election is made.”
“Do you deny that God is omniscient or that He is eternal?”, Holmes quiped with a grin, them proceeded to answer the question. “God elected them on the foresight of their faith. God is not limited by time. God can see all the events that will ever occur at once. How else could He call Christ the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world when He would not be slain until thousands of years after the world was created? How else could He give such clear visions of the future to the prophets? Now, when God elected us before creation, Scripture says that we are ‘chosen in Christ’. How can we be chosen in Christ if election occurred before the Son was sent into the world as Savior? And on what condition does the Scripture teach that men are placed in Christ? Is it not by grace and through faith?”
“Election based on foresight of faith! A singular idea indeed!”, Spurgeon exclaimed. “Nonsense. Imagine twenty beggars in the street. If I determine to give one of them a shilling; will any one say that I chose him to have the shilling, because I foresaw that he would have it? Again, that would be talking nonsense. In like manner to say that God elected men because he foresaw they would have faith, would be too absurd for us to listen to for a moment. Faith is the gift of God. He gives faith to those He intended to give it to. He could foreknow that He would give faith and to whom He would give it, but that could never be the reason He gives it. No! Faith cannot be the cause by which God elects men because it is His gift to them.”
“Ah, Spurgeon, here is another point on which we differ.”, Holmes suggested. “What is faith? Is it not the conviction and assurance of God carrying out His promises. Faith believes Christ. Faith has confidence in Christ. Faith relies on Christ. This is saving faith. Not that faith saves for it is Christ in the truest sense that saves and to whom all glory belongs.But without faith in Him no one is saved. Now you see this saving faith as a gift, I see it rather as a choice or response to the gift of salvation in Christ. It is a person choosing to receive the gift.”
“Salvation is all by grace, the grace of God alone.”, Spurgeon countered. “Now that salvation is through faith I will not deny, but man cannot keep the decree and exercise faith securing for himself salvation. That is why God gives faith. And the giving of faith makes salvation all of grace.”
“Faith is a choice, not a gift. Man is free to make choices, for God created him as a morale agent. It is upon this fact that we base the idea of responsibility. Now when man is presented with the sincere offer of good news and an invitation to come, he must choose between accepting the message by faith and coming to Jesus or rejecting the message and remaining in a state of unbelief.”, Holmes explained.
“You would imagine that if God gave salvation to any he would wait until he found them earnestly seeking him and exercising faith. You would imagine that God in the highest heavens would say, ‘I have mercies, but I will leave men alone, and when they feel their need of these mercies and seek me diligently with their whole heart, and come to Me by faith, then will I bless them, but not before.’ My dear Holmes, God saith no such thing. Men do not seek God first; God seeks them first! Your faith will not be the cause of your salvation, but rather the effect of your having been saved by the grace that God has given to you.”, said Spurgeon.
“Now, I admit that man in his natural state does not possess the ability to exercise saving faith.”, Holmes acknowledged. “God must give grace prior to the choice being made. This prevenient grace enables a person to have both the freedom and the ability to choose. Now, keep in mind that this gift of grace is not faith, nor does it cause faith in the person. It is a gift that makes faith possible without causing faith to be an inevitable result. A person must still choose. A person must choose between life and death, between a blessing and a curse, whether to walk down the narrow path or the wide path. They must accept by faith the forgiveness and freedom God offers in Christ or reject His Son and accept the condemnation that awaits them.”, Holmes offered.
“But is it not all idle talk, even to consider for a single moment the absurd idea that man can fetter his Maker. You speak as if God must be the slave of men. Shall the purpose of the Eternal be left contingent on the will of man? Shall man be really his Maker’s master? Shall free-will take the place of the divine energy? Shall man take the throne of God, and set aside as he pleases all the purposes of Jehovah—compelling him by merit to choose him? I will have none of it.”, Spurgeon prodded, having construed all that Holmes said as a rejection of the sovereignty of God.
“Interesting!”, Holmes mused. “Your theology allows for man’s free will and choice without denying sovereignty when it comes to evil. A fact that you cannot deny for do you not hold that God is not the author of evil, nor can He be charged with sins which are committed. I merely extend this ability to freely choosing to the realm of salvation as well to the areas of sin and evil. If faith is not a choice how else can the gospel be a sincere offer? How else can Scripture say God desires all to be saved when not all are saved? Faith as a choice, enabled by grace, removes these paradoxes.”
“Never yet did a man believe in Jesus with the faith here intended, except the Holy Spirit led him to do so. He has wrought all our works in us, and our faith too.”, Spurgeon said. “You go back to the old Romish idea and talk about anything in man that could have moved the mercy of God. Merit, on the one hand, is impossible; and even if we did possess it, it could not be possible that we could possess it in such a degree as to merit the gift of Christ.”
“But Spurgeon”, Holmes explained, “even the Scripture plainly indicates that salvation is of faith so that it might be of grace. Surely you can see that faith – even as a free will response – cannot be considered a work that merits salvation. Consider your illustration of the beggar. When a gentleman sees the plight of the man and offers him a shilling, which is gladly accepted and pocketed by the poor soul do we say – ‘the beggar has worked hard and earned that coin’. No! Foolishness. We say that the gentleman was kind to offer a gift and the beggar wise in accepting it. No one would equate the acceptance of the coins with merit or as something worth boasting about.”
“Faith is not meritorious because it is a gift. Faith, wherever it exists, is in every case, without exception, the gift of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Faith is not possible in human nature till it is renewed. When faith exists it is not the cause but rather the proof that a person has been regenerated and saved.”, said Spurgeon.
Spurgeon continued, “I do not believe only what I can reconcile, but rather I trust the very words of Scripture. Lay aside your prejudices: listen calmly, listen dispassionately: hear what Scripture says. Do not be ashamed to learn, and to cast aside your old doctrines and views, but to take up that which you may more plainly see to be in the Word of God even if it appears to be inconsistent and contradictory.”
Wrapping up the discussion, Spurgeon added, “I will not attempt to prove my doctrine further nor defend God against the charges of injustice. He does not need me too. When we turn from the simple teaching of the Bible and trust our own imagination we find ourselves standing where there is no sure footing. The truth is, neither you nor I have any right to want to know more about election than what God tells us. That is enough for us. Or it should be. If it were worth while for us to know more, God would have revealed more. If we add our own vague notions to the revealed truth then we are sure to go wrong. I leave you with this – does the clay have the right to question the potter?”
At this question, Holmes laughed to such a degree that both Spurgeon and I felt he may very well have lost his mind. When Holmes had regained some composure he offered an explanation.
“I had no idea I entertained divinity this afternoon. Spurgeon, my good friend you did well to warn me of pride when we began this conversation but even I do not have the hubris to equate myself with the Maker.”
Spurgeon rose from his seat and thundered – “Holmes I made no such claim and you know it. I fear your demand for a self-consistent creed and your process of theory-making to find elusive consistency is an expensive folly that may have cost you your sanity.”
Still barely in control, Holmes motioned for Spurgeon to sit. After letting us know he really was fine and had all of his most amazing wits about him, he continued. “Spurgeon, throughout our discussion I always held this thought, that we are each pieces of clay examining the words of our Potter and trying our best to understand them. Trust me, it is not God or His word that I question but merely some of your interpretations of what He has revealed.”
[Spurgeon’s remarks are quoted and based on the sermons “Sovereign Grace and Man’s Responsibility“, “Election“, “Election and Holiness“, “Saving Faith“, “Faith and Regeneration“, “Salvation by Knowing the Truth“, 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”]