Monday, June 8, 2009

The Master's Response to Calvinism

“As to perseverance, it would undoubtedly have been regarded as the gratuitous gift of God, had not the very pernicious error prevailed, that it is bestowed in proportion to human merit, according to the reception which each individual gives to the first grace. This having given rise to the idea that it was entirely in our own power to receive or reject the offered grace of God, that idea is no sooner exploded than the error founded on it must fall. The error, indeed, is twofold. For, besides teaching that our gratitude for the first grace and our legitimate use of it is rewarded by subsequent supplies of grace, its abettors add that, after this, GRACE DOES NOT OPERATE ALONE, but only COOPERATES with ourselves. As to the former, we must hold that the Lord, while he daily enriches his servants, and loads them with new gifts of his grace, because he approves of and takes pleasure in the work which he has begun, finds that in them which he may follow up with larger measures of grace. To this effect are the sentences, ‘To him that has shall be given.’ ‘Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things’ (Matt. 25:21. 23. 29; Luke 19: 17, 26). But here two precautions are necessary. It must not be said that the legitimate use of the first grace is rewarded by subsequent measures of grace,as if man RENDERED THE GRACE OF GOD EFFECTUAL BY HIS OWN INDUSTRY, nor must it be thought that there is any such remuneration as to make it cease to be the gratuitous grace of God. I ADMIT, THEN, THAT BELIEVERS MAY EXPECT AS A BLESSING FROM GOD, THAT THE BETTER THE USE THEY MAKE OF PREVIOUS, THE LARGER THE SUPPLIES THEY WILL RECEIVE OF FUTURE GRACE; but I say that even this use is of the Lord, and that this remuneration is bestowed freely of mere good will” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” pages 186-187).

Calvin writes these words regarding the subject of perseverance—the endurance of the believer. In the above quote, Calvin references Matthew 25. Second, Calvin’s words in large print show us that even Calvin believed that God rewards the work of humans. Where Calvin differed from Arminius is that Calvin would attract the work of the person to the Spirit, whereas Arminius would attach the work to the move of the Spirit, in addition to the person EMBRACING the Holy Spirit and His work (with little to no resistance).

Let’s investigate Matthew 25 to see what it can tell us about man and God.
Matthew 25 is about a master who travels to a faraway country. While He’s gone, he gives a certain amount to each of his three servants. They’re supposed to be working to make money for their master. However, at some point, the master returns:
“Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.” (Matt. 25:19, New American Standard Bible).

The time finally came for the servants to “give an account” of what they had done with the talents.

As the text shows us, the one with five talents gained five more (vv.20-21) and the servant with two talents gained two more (vv.22-23); but things didn’t go so well for the servant with only one talent:

“ ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.” (Matt. 25:24-25, NASB).

How does the Master respond?

“ ‘You WICKED, LAZY slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gathered where I scattered no seed. THEN YOU OUGHT TO HAVE PUT MY MONEY IN THE BANK, AND ON MY ARRIVAL I WOULD HAVE RECEIVED MY MONEY BACK WITH INTEREST” (Matt. 25:26-27, NASB).

The lazy servant gives an excuse that he thinks will get him acquitted before the Master; instead, the excuse brings greater wrath on the servant. The Master tells him that if he believed what he CLAIMED to believe, then his actions would have demonstrated his belief. Faith is more than lip service—for ACTIONS speak louder than words.

The lazy servant here seems to be very much similar to the typical modern-day belief of Calvinism. The view itself says that, since God controls everything, all of life is PREDETERMINED, even believers, and that we have no need to show concern towards anything! This is a dangerous view, for, like the lazy servant, we too will give an account for what we’ve done with the grace of God. Even though the man with one talent was a servant of the Master, the Master disowned him when He returned:

“Throw out the WORTHLESS slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be WEEPING and GNASHING OF TEETH” (Matt. 25:30, NASB).

This servant goes where all the other wicked people go: to Hell, a place that burns FOREVER. I know this because the same description is used for “the wicked” in Matthew 13:

“So it will be at the end of the age’ the angels will come forth and TAKE OUT THE WICKED FROM AMONG THE RIGHTEOUS, and will throw them into the FURNACE OF FIRE; in that place THERE WILL BE WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH” (Matt. 13:47-50, NASB).

In the verses above, however, we notice that the wicked will be separated “from among the righteous.” In Matthew 25, the wicked servant (who was also called “LAZY”) was separated from the other two servants who were called “good and faithful” servants.

1 Peter 4 gives us the same instruction as the Lord Jesus gave the disciples:

“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another AS GOOD STEWARDS OF THE MANIFOLD GRACE OF GOD” (1 Peter 4:10, NASB).

The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates the Greek word “oikonomi,” translated here as “stewards,” as “managers.”

What is a “steward”? According to Merriam-Webster, the word means the following:

“An employee on a ship, airplane, bus, or train who manages the provisioning of food and attends passengers; one appointed to supervise the provisions and distribution of food and drink in an institution.”

Another definition I found interesting was the following:

“one who actively DIRECT affairs: MANAGER.”

It seems that Merriam-Webster matches the Holman Christian translation—a steward is a “manager.” We have been appointed by God to EMPLOY, or use the grace God has given us, to serve the body of Christ. This doesn’t take away from God’s ownership—rather, we use the grace of God wisely BECAUSE WE RECOGNIZE THAT IT COMES FROM GOD.

We’ve already read 1 Peter 4:10. But now, take a look at verse 11. I think this verse gives the end to the Calvinist-Arminian debate:

“Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the UTTERANCES OF GOD; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving BY THE STRENGTH WHICH GOD SUPPLIES…”

Why should we use God’s grace as though God Himself is using His grace?

“SO THAT IN ALL THINGS GOD MAY BE GLORIFIED THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11, NASB)

The purpose of using God’s grace to us in a godly manner, a way pleasing to Him, is to give glory to God. When we misuse God’s grace, we bring dishonor to the One who gave the grace to us.

Go back to John Calvin’s quote. He said, “it must [not] be thought that there is any such remuneration as to make it CEASE TO BE THE GRATUITOUS GRACE OF GOD.” The problem I have with this is that, while man does receive a blessing for how he uses God’s grace, this does NOTHING to take away from God. As 1 Peter 4 above showed us, using God’s grace wisely brings glory to Him, not take glory or steal glory from Him.

Calvin wants to point everything to God; and I see no problem with his view of God. God is the One who gives all things, and all good blessings come from God (James 1). However, God’s glory does not cancel out my decision of how to use God’s grace. The wicked servant of Matthew 25 misused God’s grace and only brought shame and honor on Himself—when the Lord returned, he took the talent from the man and gave it to the one who had ten talents, while also throwing the wicked servant into Hell.

There is always the goodness of God. But there is also my responsibility as well. 1 Peter 4 said that the one who serves is to do so “as one who is serving BY THE STRENGTH WHICH GOD SUPPLIES.” Why does God supply the strength, if God is going to also USE THE GRACE for me? Evidently, God gave the grace and the strength to me for a reason. And, since He’s given me all I need to persevere, the ball is then placed in my court. I now have to run until the end, determined to press on until I reach eternal life.

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