Tag Archive | Theology

A Short Response to the Arminian Doctrine of Prevenient Grace …

by John Hendryx

The term “prevenient grace” – a distinctly Arminian doctrine – refers to a universal grace which precedes and enables the first stirrings of a good will or inclination toward God and it explains the extent or degree to which the Holy Spirit influences a person prior to their coming to faith in Christ. The Arminian, together with the Calvinist, affirms total human moral inability and utter helplessness of the natural man in spiritual matters and the absolute necessity for supernatural prevenient grace if there is to be any right response to the gospel. Like Calvinists, Arminians agree that, apart from an act of grace on God’s part, no one would willingly come to Christ. This point is important to distinguish so as to not confuse Classical Arminianism with either Finneyism or Semi-Pelagianism, which both reject the need for prevenient grace. So Christ’s redemption is universal in a provisional sense but conditional as to its application to any individual, i.e. those who do not resist the grace offered to them through the cross and the gospel. Prevenient grace, according to Arminians, convicts, calls (outwardly), enlightens and enables before conversion and makes conversion and faith possible. While Calvinists believe the inward call to the elect is irrevocable and effectually brings sinners to faith in Christ, the Arminian, on the other hand understand God’s grace as ultimately resistible. In short, they affirm that prevenient grace, which is given to all men at some point in their life, temporarily brings the sinner out of his/her condition of total depravity and puts them in a neutral state of free will wherein the natural man can either accept or reject Christ…


Casting out the Spirits of the Dead

Rev. Matthew Winzer on what the classical world understood “casting out demons” to be:

The assumption that Jews and Christians understood the Scriptures as we understand them is not warranted from the evidence. Josephus: “those called demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive, and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them.” The Editor notes, “We also may hence learn the true notion Josephus had of demons and demoniacs, exactly like that of the Jews and Christians in the New Testament and the first four centuries.” Justin: “let these persuade you that even after death souls are in a state of sensation; and those who are seized and cast about by the spirits of the dead, whom all call dæmoniacs or madmen; and what you repute as oracles, both of Amphilochus, Dodana, Pytho, and as many other such as exist.” Justin’s Apology argues that the gods of the nations were the product of these demons. When the early church fathers spoke of casting out demons they meant the casting out of the spirits of the dead.

When it is accepted that “demons” are associated with fallen angels (devils), the ideas of “demon possession” and “casting out demons” are understood to be an accommodation to the way the people thought about these things. The Gospels must be understood to be speaking by way of accommodation. Otherwise one will be led to adopt all kinds of crude and ridiculous notions.

https://puritanboard.com/threads/ghosts-spirits-demons.84279/page-2, Comment 58

The Speech Appeareth Parabolical

I never knew this was a parable:

Matthew 12:43-45: When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

Matthew Poole’s Commentary on Matthew 12:43-45:

The speech appeareth parabolical, the persons concerned in it are expressed in the last words, the men of that wicked generation. The text is thought to be well expounded by Peter, 2 Peter 2:20, If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. Our Lord here compares the Jews to a man out of whom the unclean spirit was gone. The devil is called the unclean spirit, both in regard of his own impure nature, and because his work is to tempt men to sin, which is spiritual filthiness. The Jews were a people holy to the Lord, a people distinguished from pagans by a visible profession; so as the devil in a great measure had left them. Now, saith he, the devil is an unquiet spirit, and findeth no rest if he cannot be doing mischief to men. For the phrase, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, we must know, that in parabolical speeches we must not make a severe scrutiny upon every phrase. Dry places are for the most part places least inhabited, for want of the conveniences of water. The devil cannot be at rest where he hath no mischief to do to men.

Source: https://puritanboard.com/threads/ghosts-spirits-demons.84279/page-2, Comment 39

David Dickson in loc.:

The last answer serveth to shew them their own miserable condition, and that by a parable of a supposed case of Satan’s being cast out of a man, in respect of one sort of possession, and coming back unto a worse and more dangerous sort of possession: The scope of the parable is, to shew, that this people by their refusing to receive the grace of God, and to believe in Christ, were in a seven-fold worse condition, than if the Gospel had never been preached unto them: for Christ by his doctrine had made them see the only true way of righteousness and eternal life, and so in regard of the refutation of their former error, and removing the ignorance wherein they did formerly lie, Satan was in some sort cast out: but in respect of their not receiving Jesus Christ, and his grace, to dwell in their hearts by faith, the devil had gotten a seven-fold stronger possession of them now than before.

Source: https://puritanboard.com/threads/ghosts-spirits-demons.84279/page-2, Comment 40

Matthew Henry in loc.:

Now Christ represents the people of the Jews…

(3.) As a generation that were resolved to continue in the possession, and under the power, of Satan, notwithstanding all the methods that were used to dispossess him and rescue them. They are compared to one out of whom the devil is gone, but returns with double force, Matthew 12:43-45. The devil is here called the unclean spirit, for he has lost all his purity, and delights in and promotes all manner of impurity among men.

Source: https://puritanboard.com/threads/ghosts-spirits-demons.84279/page-2, Comment 41

The Westminster Annotation in loc.:

V. 43. When the unclean spirit] Luke 11.24. He could as easily have said, The devil will more and more violently carry you into greater sins, until at last he destroy you: But he useth this parabolical admonition, that the penitent might learn caution, and the rest be less exasperated against him.

Source: https://puritanboard.com/threads/ghosts-spirits-demons.84279/page-2, Comment 42


The “Demonic” is not “Devilish”

I have been reading about the Reformed view of demons, etc. owing to a recent-ish Puritan Board discussion on the topic.  Readers of the initial discussion were referred to another thread which contained some interesting statements. Here is Rev. Matthew Winzer on the meaning of “demonic” in scripture:

The NT itself never connects the “demonic” with the devil and his angels. As far as the NT is concerned, the “demonic” refers to a physical and emotional evil, not to a moral one. A specific interpretation unites them and identifies them as one, but there is nothing in the Gospel accounts to warrant such a conclusion. The same false identification is often made in relation to Mary Magdalene and the harlot because of an unwarranted assumption that “demons” were connected with moral evil.

https://puritanboard.com/threads/ghosts-spirits-demons.84279/page-3, Comment 62

Not a Radical Political Agenda

From a Puritan Board discussion on why the Apostle Paul didn’t command Philemon to immediately release Onesimus as a slave:

Bill the Baptist (Comment 2):

People have often criticized Paul for not explicitly insisting on the release of Onesimus, but if you read carefully, you will see that what Paul suggests is far more radical. Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus as a true brother in Christ, which if he were to actually do, would very naturally make it impossible to continue to enslave him. Paul understands that the hearts of men cannot be changed by law, but only through the gospel.

Alan D. Strange (Comment 3):

While it is true that Christ and the apostles did not abolish slavery, it is also the case that the consequences of the gospel would tend to ameliorate if not eliminate such (seen in Paul’s letter to Philemon).[1]

Had Christ or Paul ordered the end of all slavery, it would have rendered the gospel revolutionary and made its central concern social, political and economic equity. If Paul, for instance, had simply commanded Philemon to free Onesimus and not suggested that he be emancipated as a consequence of the new relationship that they sustained in the gospel, Christians would have viewed such an apostolic command as binding, necessitating the abolition of slavery immediately everywhere. This would have obscured the true spiritual message of the gospel—salvation in Christ to all that believe on Him—and have rendered the Christian faith another competing, indeed radical political agenda, especially in the Greco-Roman world, with so much of the population in slavery. The New Testament contains no explicit commands to abolish slavery—though it prohibits man-stealing (I Timothy 1:10) and thus proscribes American slavery—leaving it to the outworking of the gospel to address such in the Greco-Roman world of its day.[2]

[1] As seen in the practices of Christians in the early church, in A. J. Harrill The Manumission of Slaves in Early Christianity. (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr/Siebeck, 1995). Though opposition to slavery itself, as opposed merely to slavery’s abuses, was long in coming, as seen in Trevor Dennis, “Man Beyond Price: Gregory of Nyssa and Slavery,” in Heaven and Earth: Essex Essays in Theology and Ethics, ed. Andrew Linzey and Peter J. Wexler (Worthing, West Sussex: Churchman Publishing Limited, 1986), it was Christianity, or Christendom, at least in part, that brought slavery to an effective end between the fourth and tenth centuries, with serfdom developing in seignorialism and feudalism subsequent to slavery’s diminution.

[2] Though Kyle Harper, in Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275-425 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), showed that slavery lasted deep into the Christian era, in his most recent book, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2013), he shows that Christianity’s strict moral code was particularly sympathetic to the sexual exploitation of the slave. So Christianity played an important role in reforming and ultimately ending ancient slavery.

The True Hermeneutic of the Church

Contra_Mundum on the Puritan Board:

We would expect the Bible itself to contain further directions, hints, and clues as to growing in appreciation of its message. As a complex book, there could be doubts as to its overall coherence. This raises the question of how the Bible was put together; is it a haphazard collection, more a product of time and accident? Or is it a deliberate collection, brought together on some principle of unity (even if one does not grasp it)? If one has found (has been given) an accurate orientation to it, then its coherence seems to show itself effortlessly in major things; and rewards further investigation on more obscure/minor things.

One of the major helps to judging the overall coherence of the Bible (developing a faithful hermeneutic) is finding how later human authors within the Bible express their understanding of previous revelation. Later OT writers express an “authoritative” interpretation of previous writers, beginning with Moses. We take it on faith (again, as a presupposition) that any purported prophet of a later era, who spoke “not according to this word,” was regarded by believers and preservers of the sacred text as unreliable. His word was not preserved, nor included in the growth of the canon.

This idea is extended into the NT/Apostolic age. Jesus’ interpretation is definitive, he is the Prophet par excellence, the One Moses commanded Israel not to miss or despise. He explained the OT entirely in reference to himself as the Chief Fulfillment. And so also labor the apostles to express the same in their Acts and epistles. The hermeneutic of the apostles becomes the true hermeneutic of the church. It gains an early, almost childlike expression in “the rule of faith,” the so-called “Apostles’ Creed.” This is the lens by which the Bible is to be interpreted, and the Bible is the judge of the church’s teaching.

Source: https://puritanboard.com/threads/the-church-precedes-scripture-pedagogically.95743/, Comment 3

This is Trusting

Hugh Binning, Works, p. 429:

The soul of a believer should be constant and fixed in the consideration of God, till he be wholly engaged to admiration and wondering. “O Lord, how excellent is thy name,” Ps. 8:1; “and who is like unto thee?” You all say that you believe in God, and know his power, – you know he is good, he is merciful, just, long-suffering, faithful, &c. But what is all this knowledge but ignorance, and your light darkness, when it doth not press you to put your trust in his name? You know; nay, but you consider not what you know. This is trusting, when the mind is stayed on what it knoweth, when all the scattered thoughts and affections are called home, and united in one, to be exercised about this comprehensive object, “the Lord our God.”

Source: https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/this-is-trusting.89926/