Friday, August 7, 2009

Helm's Defense, Part I-B: Augustine and the "Merits of Faith"

I’m back to continue my evaluation of Paul Helm’s chapter on the “Classical Calvinist Doctrine of God” in the book, “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views,” edited by Bruce Ware.

I will now pick up where I left off. In the last post, Augustine wrote to Simplicianus of Romans 9. He writes further:

“But the question is whether faith merits a man’s justification, whether the MERITS OF FAITH do not precede the mercy of God; OR WHETHER, in fact, FAITH ITSELF IS TO BE NUMBERED AMONG THE GIFTS OF GRACE. Notice that in this passage when he said, ‘Not of works,’ he [Paul] did not say, ‘but of FAITH it was said to her, the elder shall serve the younger.’ No, he said, ‘but of him that calleth.’ NO ONE BELIEVES WHO IS NOT CALLED. God calls in his mercy, and not as rewarding the MERITS OF FAITH. The merits of faith follow his calling rather than precede it. SO GRACE COMES BEFORE ALL MERITS. Christ died for the ungodly. The younger received the promise that the elder should serve him from him that calleth and not from any meritorious works of his own. The Scripture ‘Jacob have I loved’ is true, but it was of God who called and not of Jacob’s righteous works” (Augustine, in his letter to Simplician, from “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God,” page 10).

There is one phrase that stands out to me in Augustine’s quote above: “THE MERITS OF FAITH.” With this phrase, Augustine makes the statement that modern Calvinists make—that faith is a work. Whether it is implied or stated, modern-day Calvinists, when the Arminian says that the call involves faith, will respond with the remark I was told by a Calvinist once: but the text says “before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad.” So whether or not Calvinists will own up to their problem, in their minds at least, they label faith as a work. I have written posts here at the Center for Theological Studies that testify to the fact that Scripture distinguishes between faith and work. The two are not the same…
But Augustine says something that I think is worth examining:

“No one believes who is not called. God calls in his mercy, and not as rewarding the merits of faith. The merits of faith follow his calling rather than precede it. SO GRACE COMES BEFORE ALL MERITS.”

I wouldn’t call faith a “merit,” but I do agree that grace must come before anything. This is, in fact, what the Bible teaches:

8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

It is “by grace” that we are saved; we must first have the grace of God before we can even approach the throne in faith. Without the UNMERITED FAVOR of God, our faith would do nothing.

But the next question becomes, what about grace? Is this grace given to everyone, or a select few? And this is where Calvinists and Arminians “draw the line in the sand” and take sides.

As a classical Arminian, I’m gonna say that God gives grace (as well as faith) to all.

For the grace of God has appeared, with salvation for all people… (Titus 2:11, HCSB)

Since the grace of God brings salvation, and salvation has come for “all people,” then the grace of God is for ALL PEOPLE! God’s unmerited favor has come to all people, because all people died in Adam (but can be made alive in Christ—Rom. 5).
And regarding faith, we have Romans 12:

Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith (I) to each one. (Romans 12:3b, HCSB)

Everyone has a measure of faith; no one is left out. This means, that, everyone has both grace and faith. And all of salvation (both grace and faith) comes from God: “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Augustine is right when he says that “no one believes who is not called.” Well, the Lord extends the invitation to all:

28 "Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (W) 29 All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, (X) because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. (Y) 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-29, HCSB)

In the parable of the friend at the wedding banquet (Matthew 22), we find that “many” were chosen:

8 "Then he told his slaves, 'The banquet is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. (E) 9 Therefore, go to where the roads exit the city and invite everyone you find to the banquet. (F) ' 10 So those slaves went out on the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding banquet was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:8-10, HCSB)

Here, “the many” were “everyone you find,” everyone the servants could find. No one was excluded: “both evil and good” were invited to the banquet. The Lord calls EVERYONE, but not everyone responds in faith.

God does indeed call first; but there is no “merit of faith”; faith is not a work, as James 2 tells us. It is easy to see Augustine’s error: he, like modern-day Calvinists, equate faith and works. But I’ll tell you one thing: whether or not faith is a work can be debated by some; but if the Lord has told me in His Word that I HAVE TO BELIEVE, then whether faith is a work or not means nothing at all.

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