Thesis Thursday

For a special Friday edition of Thesis Thursday, we look at Lecture 36, when we consider the back half of…


Thesis XXII.

In the eighteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a false distinction is made between a person’s being awakened and his being converted; moreover, when a person’s inability to believe is mistaken for his not being permitted to believe.

The so-called Pietists of former times and the preachers of the fanatical sects in our time not only made a false distinction between awakening and conversion and refused to regard those who were awakened as Christians, but they also mistook the inability to believe for not being permitted to believe.

When the Pietists had brought a person to the point where he considered himself a poor, miserable sinner, unable to help himself, and asked his minister what he must now do, the minister did not, like the apostles, answer him: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” but, as a rule, they told him the very opposite. They warned him against believing too soon and against thinking that, after having felt the effects of the Law, he might proceed to believe that his sins had been forgiven. They told him that his contrition must become more perfect, that he must feel contrite, not so much because his sins would call down upon him God’s anger and hurl him into perdition, but because he loved God. Unless he could say that he felt sorry for having angered his merciful Father in heaven, his contrition was declared null and void. He was told that he must feel that God was beginning to be merciful to him; he must get so far that he could hear an inner voice telling him: “Be of good cheer; thy will be forgiven thee; God will be merciful to thee.” He must continue struggling until his agony was over, and having rid himself of the love of sin and having been thoroughly converted, he might begin to take comfort.

Now, this is an awful method. The truth is, we are not to be converted first and after that believe; we are not to have a sensation first that we are in possession of grace; but without any feeling we are first to believe that we have received mercy, and after that will come the feeling of mercy, which God apportions to each according to His grace. Some person are without feeling of grace for along time. They behold nothing but darkness about them; they feel the hardness of their hearts and the powerful stirring and raging of evil, sinful lust within them.. Accordingly, to point a person to the way of salvation, it is not the proper procedure to tell him that, even when he feels himself a poor, lost sinner, he may not yet believe himself saved.

True, no man can produce faith in himself; God must do that. A person may be in such a condition that he cannot believer, and God is not willing to bestow faith on him. A person who still considers himself sound and righteous cannot believe. “The full soul loatheth an honeycomb.” Prov 27, 7. A soul spiritually sated and surfeited tramples on the honeycomb of evangelical consolation.

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4 Responses to Thesis Thursday

  1. RubeRad says:

    My 200th “leavings” in the Outhouse, and I forgot to do it on the right day!

  2. Richard Smith says:

    RubeRad: In the eighteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a false distinction is made between a person’s being awakened and his being converted;

    RS: Perhaps there can be a false distinction, but there can also be a proper distinction. The idea is that a person is awakened to his or her sinful condition. Not all who are awakened to their sinful condition are converted.

    RubeRad: When the Pietists had brought a person to the point where he considered himself a poor, miserable sinner, unable to help himself, and asked his minister what he must now do, the minister did not, like the apostles, answer him: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” but, as a rule, they told him the very opposite.

    RS: II Tim 2:24 “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”

    Let us imagine one who is teaching people the truth. Does this teacher guarantee people that God will grant them repentance to a knowledge of the truth? No, in order to teach the truth this teacher must teach them that God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. But the Greek word for “knowledge” in this case surely means more than that in this context. It is not just knowledge about, but it is more of an accepted knowledge.

    Of course one must believe, but one must believe the truth. But even that is not quite all there is to it because the Greek word for “faith” is translated in Enlgish as “believe” in order to make the reading smoother. So “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” really means “Be faithing on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. But we must note that if one reads it that way, then working up faith is the work of man and God responds by saving the person. As with all the commands of God, a person must see that s/he cannot keep that command apart from repenting from his or her own pride and strength and turn to the Lord who alone can give what is needed to keep that command.

    WCF Chapter X Of Effectual Calling
    I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call,[1] by His Word and Spirit,[2] out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ;[3] enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God,[4] taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh;[5] renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good,[6] and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ:[7] yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.[8]

    II. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man,[9] who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit,[10] he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.[11]

  3. Richard Smith says:

    This is Part II

    WCF: Chapter XIV Of Saving Faith
    I. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls,[1] is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts,[2] and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word,[3] by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.[4]

    Chapter XV Of Repentance unto Life
    I. Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace,[1] the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.[2]

    WSC Q. 29. How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?
    A. We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ, by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit.[83]

    Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
    A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us,[84] and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.[85]

    Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
    A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ,[86] and renewing our wills,[87] he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ,[88] freely offered to us in the gospel.[89]

    Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?
    A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace,[180] whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ,[181] doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God,[182] with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.[183]

    The Westminster Standards do teach us that there needs to be conviction of sin along with grief for sin. If we tell people that they must repent and believe, we must explain to them what repent and believe means and what it takes for those things to happen. That is, after all, what Acts 16 tells us that Paul did after telling the jailor that he must repent and believe (v. 31). Acts 16:32 “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.”

  4. RubeRad says:

    Not all who are awakened to their sinful condition are converted.

    Of course we want to avoid Arminian Prevenient Grace here. I think the confessional distinction is between merely “common operations of the spirit” and effectual calling. Which is maybe like a difference between awareness and conviction.

    But this was actually the topic last week. This lecture was about inability vs impermissibility.

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