“For according to Arminius, though God did heartily desire the conversion of such a man, and offered him al the meanes of Grace that could be, yet it is stil in the free choise of his wil to convert, or not to convert; Their onely answer here is, that seeing God hath made a Decree, that man shal be a free Agent, though he doe most earnestly desire the conversion of such and such men, yet because he cannot disannul his Decree, he doth, and must leave it to the liberty of the Creature to doe contrary to even that himselfe desires. BUT WHAT IS THIS ELSSE BUT TO PUT GOD INTO SUCH STREIGHTS AS DARIUS WAS IN, WHO WOULD FAINE HAVE SAVED DANIEL, BUT BECAUSE OF HIS DECREE HE COULD NOT?...[W]hat is this else but to attribute griefe unto God, and so to detract from his Blessednesse?” (John Preston, “Plenitudo Fontis,” pp. 9-10; quoted by Jonathan Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” page 129).
In my last post, I focused a great deal on what Preston had to say regarding Arminius’s theology. He accuses Arminius of “limiting” God’s power and ability to achieve His purposes. I denied that this is what Arminius’s theology is actually doing and stated that God refusing to do contradictions is rather a good thing---the fact that “He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) shows how dependable and trustworthy our God really is. The fact that He never changes is reassuring for us believers who live in an uncertain world where everything changes around us all the time. Even the psalmist wrote, “Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas” (Psalm 46:2, Holman Christian Standard Bible). And why would the writer not fear? Because “God is our refuge and strength, a helper WHO IS ALWAYS FOUND in times of trouble” (Ps. 46:1). Because God is always a refuge for His own, His children know what to do when trouble hits---that is, run to the Lord, whose name is a strong tower.
In today’s post, I wanna focus on Preston’s theological hypocrisy---that is, I wanna spend time looking at Preston’s own words to show that his theology places God in as “unpopular” a light as he believed Arminius’s theology does. Truth be told, he also “limits” God in his theology as well.
Jonathan Moore writes:
“Although he [Preston] attacks Arminius for detracting from God’s blessedness by implying a frustrated will in God, Preston, INCONSISTENTLY or otherwise, IS FOUND DOING THE VERY SAME THING. He states that ‘Christ offers himselfe, we make offer of him, when we preach the Gospell, in the Sacrament he is offered, he is made like a common dole, all may come that will, and certainly all that hunger doe come.’ However, some do not respond to this offer, and to such Preston says, referring to Matthew 23:37, ‘thou art one of them, whom he would gather, and THOU WILT NOT.’...the reprobate within the visible church who reject the free offer ‘take the grace of God in vain’ by ‘FRUSTRATING THE END of’ the ‘manifestion’ of God’s riches” (Jonathan D. Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology.” Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans, 2007, page 134).
Look at Preston’s words. The reprobate in the church who rejects Christ is guilty of “frustrating the end” or frustrating the goal of God’s riches of mercy. But, didn’t he say, “What is this else but to PUT GOD INTO SUCH STREIGHTS AS DARIUS WAS IN, WHO WOULD FAINE HAVE SAVED DANIEL, BUT BECAUSE OF HIS DECREE HE COULD NOT?” (quoted by Jonathan D. Moore, page 129) Didn’t he say in the quote from page 134 above that “thou art one of them, whom HE WOULD GATHER, and THOU WILT NOT”? In the Arminian system, God cannot “force” a person to be saved; but isn’t God limited as well in that sense in Preston’s theology (“he would gather, and thou wilt not”)?
In either the Arminian system or Preston’s, God still cannot coerce a person into receiving Christ. While He can certainly draw them and compel them to come to Him, He can do nothing more. Preston’s theology, in some way, becomes an indirectly “Arminian” theology, whether he realized it or not.
“When we preach the Gospell, and offer Christ, we are friends of the Bridegroom: our businesse is, to present you as a pure Virgin of Christ...Christ comes and tels a man, I will have thee...I am willing to marry thee. When this is done on the holy Ghosts part, & WE ON OUR PART COME TO RESOLVE TO TAKE HIM, now the match is made betweene us, and this is faith indeed’” (quoted by Jonathan D. Moore, page 135; John Preston, “The Breast-plate,” I:197-198).
According to Preston, the Holy Ghost woos men and women, and then “we on our part” make a decision to come to Christ. Wait a minute, though! Doesn’t the Lord “irresistibly” draw some to Himself? According to Moore,
“Despite his hypothetical universalism...Preston describes the gospel promise in STRICTLY PARTICULAR TERMS. This is because PRESTON IS STILL DESIROUS TO DEFEND THE ‘IRRESISTIBLE WORKING’ OF ‘quickning Grace.’ Indeed, in the face of a rising Arminianism, Preston, in his treatise ‘Irresistiblenesse of converting Grace,’ goes so far as to say that in one sense ‘QUICKNING GRACE’ IS NOT EVEN ‘OFFERED TO ANY, BUT THOSE IN WHOM IT IS EFFECTUALL’” (Moore, 128; John Preston, “Irresistiblenesse of Converting Grace,” page 14).
The question for you, the readership, is this: how can man be responsible for failing to come to Christ if Christ draws people to Himself by “irresistible” grace?
Here’s a syllogism:
Premise #1: God draws people by irresistible grace.
Premise #2: Irresistible grace is grace that cannot be resisted.
Premise #3: No human is able to fight against such magnetic grace.
Conclusion: Those who come to Christ are “made willing” by irresistible grace.
If no human can fight irresistible grace, and God only draws some with this kind of grace, then how could the others be responsible for a grace that was never extended to them? There is only responsibility for such stubborn persons IF grace itself can be resisted, and is only “enabling” grace, not “enforcing” grace. Once again, Preston’s theology is inconsistent.
Before I continue, let me just state that no proper theology can have a grace that is BOTH irresistible and resistible at the same time. This is why believers once resisted the grace of God before salvation, and in many ways, continue to resist the grace of God in our moments of temptation and sin. While we are being daily conformed to the image of God’s Son, we still battle our human depravity, like it or not; and our human depravity influences us at times to resist God’s work in our lives. If grace were truly irresistible, sin would not be sin (rather, it would be annihilated).
In another place, Preston uses the imagery of Christ knocking on the door in Revelation 3:20---
“God awakens sinners, but what kinde of awakening is it? With such awakening that they fall asleep againe. God may send many messengers of wrath to knocke at the doore of their hearts, which perhaps disquiets and troubles them a little, but they returne to their rest againe. And this God may not onely doe outwardly, but he may cast many sparkes of his displeasure into their hearts, which may there lye glowing for a time, but they last not, they goe out in the end. And this is the condition of most men” (Moore, 136-137; John Preston, “Saints Qualification,” I:22).
But notice what he says about God and the work of the Spirit:
“But when ‘wee cannot deny his knocking at our doores, and yet wee will not come in,’ then in his wrath he will destroy such, saying ‘I WOULD HAVE PURGED THEE, and THOU WOULDEST NOT BE PURGED, therefore thou shalt never be purged till my wrath light on thee.’ It is then that ‘GOD WITH-DRAWES FROM A MAN HIS SPIRIT AND SPECIALL PROVIDENCE, BECAUSE HE LOATHES HIM’” (Moore, 137; John Preston, “Saints Qualification, I:21; this is Preston’s own translation of Ezekiel 24:13).
In Preston’s own words, God knocks at the door of every human heart; but when the person refuses to open up their heart and accept Christ, God “withdraws His Spirit...because He loathes him.” Preston makes God sound here as if He gets very angry and hurt when someone does not receive Him. Jonathan Moore says it best when he writes:
“While loathing the god of the Arminians, therefore, Preston was not afraid of almost giving THE DISTINCT IMPRESSION OF A FRUSTRATED WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT” (Moore, pp. 137-138).
To sum up John Preston: on one hand he could say “the heart of every man by nature is so shut up against Christ...unless God himselfe shake off the bolts, and open the gates...we will not admit him, but keepe him out” (Moore, 138; Preston, “The Breast-plate,” I:160); but then, he could turn around and say, “open thy heart and let him in” and think nothing of it (Preston, “Riches of Mercy, pg. 177; Moore, 138).
I think Preston has shown us contradictory theology at its best. When one examines his theology, he seems to be an English Arminian who wanted to hang on to Calvinism in any form. What is most appalling about Preston’s theology is that it still exists today in four-point Calvinist and Molinist systems. Take Molinism, for example: it desires to have a genuine universal atonement, but it also includes a predetermined “unconditional” election. How there can be a genuine atonement with a cold hard predetermined election is anyone’s guess...
There is more on John Preston to come.