Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

Baking Clay Pots – Subtracting Water or Adding Hardness?

October 9, 2009

Louis Ruggiero (aka LouRugg) asked my friend Dr. White:

Oh and by the way, when Turretinfan said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by taking away his common sense, I almost fell off my chair. Did he get that stuff from you, or did he make that one up on his own?

I answer:

One of the problems with the debate is that it does seem that LouRugg, despite apparently working on a book on Calvinism, has some significant gaps in his understanding of Reformed theology. That’s why he was apparently shocked that I didn’t argue that God zapped Pharaoh with hardening rather than withdrawing his blessing from him.

Where did I get the idea from? Well, I got it from Scripture. I got it from the fact that Paul contrasts hardening with mercy just as we might contrast light and darkness. Thus, I drew the inference that God’s hardening of a man is God’s act of not showing him some mercy. In the debate I called this God withholding from Pharaoh “common sense” though others might like the term “common grace.”

The passage in Romans 9 gave me further confirmation of this approach through the analogy of the potter and the clay. As I was thinking about the hardening and the potter, I thought: how does a potter harden a pot? The answer is, at least in part, by baking the pot – removing the water from the clay. The water that provides the softness is removed rather than some additional chemical that causes hardness being added. Now, I know that there are other things that go into the hardening of earthenware vessels, but that aspect is a significant one.

And it is not as though this is just a conclusion to which I arrived, but upon which I am at odds with the Reformed churches. Quite to the contrary, it is the widely held Reformed position. To wit,

John Gill:

God may be said to harden and blind, by denying them that grace which can only cure them of their hardness and blindness, and which he, of his free favour, gives to his chosen ones, (Ezek. 36:26, 27) but is not obliged to give it to any; and because he gives it not, he is said to hide, as he determined to hide, the things of his grace from the wise and prudent, even because it so seemed good in his sight, (Matthew 11:25, 26).

– John Gill, Of the Decree of Rejection

A.W. Pink:

Thus it was with each of us whilst in a state of nature. Sin blinds and hardens, and naught but Divine grace can illumine and soften. Nothing short of the power of the Almighty can pierce the calloused conscience or break the sin-petrified heart.

– A.W. Pink, The Restoration of David

R.L. Dabney:

Again: it is said, Scriptures teach, that the sin of the non–elect was not the ground of their preterition. “In John 10:26, continued unbelief is the consequence, and therefore not the ground of the Pharisees preterition” (Matt. 11:25; Rom. 9:11 18). “God’s will,” they say, “and not the non-sin, is the ground of His purpose to harden.” And “Esau was rejected as much without regard to his evil, as Jacob was elected without regard to his good deeds.” To the first of these points I reply, that the withholding of God’s grace is but the negative occasion of a sinner’s unbelief, just as the absence of the physician from a sick man is the occasion, and not the cause, of His death.

– R.L. Dabney, Predestination

Edward Payson:

The inspired writers teach us, very explicitly, that after a time, God ceases to strive with sinners, and to afford them the assistance of his grace. He gives them up to a blinded mind, a seared conscience, and a hard heart.

– Edward Payson, Sermon 18

John Calvin (who, you will note, suggests that in the case of Pharaoh God not only removed grace but also sent Satan):

3. Ancient writers sometimes manifest a superstitious dread of making a simple confession of the truth in this matter, from a fear of furnishing impiety with a handle for speaking irreverently of the works of God. While I embrace such soberness with all my heart, I cannot see the least danger in simply holding what Scripture delivers. when Augustine was not always free from this superstition, as when he says, that blinding and hardening have respect not to the operation of God, but to prescience (Lib. de Predestina. et Gratia). But this subtilty is repudiated by many passages of Scriptures which clearly show that the divine interference amounts to something more than prescience. And Augustine himself, in his book against Julian, [The French adds, “se retractant de l’autre sentence;” retracting the other sentiment.] contends at length that sins are manifestations not merely of divine permission or patience, but also of divine power, that thus former sins may be punished. In like manner, what is said of permission is too weak to stand. God is very often said to blind and harden the reprobate, to turn their hearts, to incline and impel them, as I have elsewhere fully explained (Book 1 c. 18). The extent of this agency can never be explained by having recourse to prescience or permission. We, therefore, hold that there are two methods in which God may so act. When his light is taken away, nothing remains but blindness and darkness: when his Spirit is taken away, our hearts become hard as stones: when his guidance is withdrawn, we immediately turn from the right path: and hence he is properly said to incline, harden, and blind those whom he deprives of the faculty of seeing, obeying, and rightly executing. The second method, which comes much nearer to the exact meaning of the words, is when executing his judgments by Satan as the minister of his anger, God both directs men’s counsels, and excites their wills, and regulates their efforts as he pleases. Thus when Moses relates that Simon, king of the Amorites, did not give the Israelites a passage, because the Lord 268“had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” he immediately adds the purpose which God had in view—viz. that he might deliver him into their hand (Deut. 2:30). As God had resolved to destroy him, the hardening of his heart was the divine preparation for his ruin.

4. In accordance with the former methods it seems to be said,174174 Ezek. 7:26; Psalm 107:40; Job 12:20, 24; Isiah 63:17; Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 10:1; 3:19. “The law shall perish from the priests and counsel from the ancients.” “He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way.” Again “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” These passages rather indicate what men become when God deserts them, than what the nature of his agency is when he works in them. But there are other passages which go farther, such as those concerning the hardening of Pharaoh: “I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” The same thing is afterwards repeated in stronger terms. Did he harden his heart by not softening it? This is, indeed, true; but he did something more: he gave it in charge to Satan to confirm him in his obstinacy. Hence he had previously said, “I am sure he will not let you go.” The people come out of Egypt, and the inhabitants of a hostile region come forth against them. How were they instigated? Moses certainly declares of Sihon, that it was the Lord who “had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” (Deut. 2:30). The Psalmists relating the same history says, “He turned their hearts to hate his people,” (Psalm 105:25). You cannot now say that they stumbled merely because they were deprived of divine counsel. For if they are hardened and turned, they are purposely bent to the very end in view. Moreover, whenever God saw it meet to punish the people for their transgression, in what way did he accomplish his purpose by the reprobate? In such a way as shows that the efficacy of the action was in him, and that they were only ministers. At one time he declares, “that he will lift an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth;” at another, that he will take a net to ensnare them; and at another, that he will be like a hammer to strike them. But he specially declared that he was not inactive among theme when he called Sennacherib an axe, which was formed and destined to be wielded by his own hand.175175 Isa. 5:26; 7:18; Ezek. 12:13; 17:20; Jer. 2:.23; Isa. 10:15. Augustine is not far from the mark when he states the matter thus, That men sin, is attributable to themselves: that in sinning they produce this or that result, is owing to the mighty power of God, who divides the darkness as he pleases (August. de Prædest. Sanct).

5. Moreover, that the ministry of Satan is employed to instigate the reprobate, whenever the Lord, in the course of his providence, has any purpose to accomplish in them, will sufficiently appear from 269a single passage. It is repeatedly said in the First Book of Samuel, that an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, and troubled him (1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10; 19:9). It were impious to apply this to the Holy Spirit. An impure spirit must therefore be called a spirit from the Lord, because completely subservient to his purpose, being more an instrument in acting than a proper agent. We should also add what Paul says, “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth,” (2 Thess. 2:11, 12). But in the same transaction there is always a wide difference between what the Lord does, and what Satan and the ungodly design to do. The wicked instruments which he has under his hand and can turn as he pleases, he makes subservient to his own justice. They, as they are wicked, give effect to the iniquity conceived in their wicked minds. Every thing necessary to vindicate the majesty of God from calumny, and cut off any subterfuge on the part of the ungodly, has already been expounded in the Chapters on Providence (Book 1 Chapter 16–18). Here I only meant to show, in a few words, how Satan reigns in the reprobate, and how God works in both.

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 4

The bottom line, though is that LouRugg should at least have read the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) which states the general Reformed position (the London Baptist Confession saying essentially the same thing):

VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden; from them he not only withholdeth his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had; and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan; whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5, Section 6

While God can send Satan to render us even more obstinate, it is sufficient for God to remove his grace from us. Like the earth that God softens with his showers (Psalm 65:10) or hearts can become instead hard and parched simply by his removal of the water of grace. And he can turn that parched ground into a pool if He wishes as well (Isaiah 35:7), showing mercy on whom he will show mercy and hardening whomsoever he wishes (Exodus 33:19 and Romans 9:15&18).


Augustine vs. Rome – Definition of Grace

September 16, 2009
Mercy and judgment I will sing to thee, O Lord, for it is only through unmerited mercy that anyone is freed, and only through deserved judgment that anyone is condemned.
(Augustine, On Faith, Hope, & Charity, as provided in Fathers of the Church, Volume 2, p. 447)

The Reformed doctrine of grace, because it is drawn from Scripture, finds resonance in the voice of Augustine, whose love of Scripture lead him to continually study it throughout his life and rely on it as his authority in all matters of doctrine and morals.

Augustine, in the epigraphic quote, does not mention the word “grace” but instead “unmerited mercy.” That is simply an equivalent expression. Grace is unmerited favor from God, with the absence of merit being absolutely definitional to the term grace. While this is well recognized in Reformed theology, it is disputed by the theology of Rome.

The following is “Rome’s position” (footnote 1) regarding merit:

427. What are the goods that we can merit?
Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification and for the attainment of eternal life. Even temporal goods, suitable for us, can be merited in accordance with the plan of God. No one, however, can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion and justification.

Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Question 427 (associated with items 2010-11 and 2027 of the CCC)(emphasis in original)(footnote 2)

The following is one (footnote 3) of Augustine’s comments on grace:

And first of all we must be persuaded how much God has loved us, lest through despair we should not dare to be lifted up to Him. But we needed to be shown what kind of men we were whom He loved, lest being proud as it were of our own merits, we should draw away the more from Him, and fail the more in our own strength. And, therefore, God acted towards us in such a way that we might rather profit by His strength, and so the virtue of charity would be perfected in the weakness of humility. He reveals this in the Psalm, where it is said: “Setting aside, O God, a free rain for thy inheritance, and it was weakened, but thou hast made it perfect.”[Ps. 67:10?] By the free rain he would have us understand nothing else but grace, which was bestowed not on account of our merits but given freely, and for this reason it is called grace. For He have it not because we were worthy, but because He willed it. If we realize this we shall not trust in ourselves, and this is to be made weak. But He Himself perfects us, who also said to the Apostle Paul: “My grace is sufficient for thee, for strength is made perfect in weakness.”[2 Corinthians 12:9] Man had to be persuaded, therefore, how much God loved us, and what kind of men we were whom He loved: how much, that we might not despair, and what kind, that we might not become proud.

– Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 4, Chapter 1, Section 2 (taken from the translation in volume 45 of the Fathers of the Church series)

Notice the key portion of this quotation “By the free rain he would have us understand nothing else but grace, which was bestowed not on account of our merits but given freely, and for this reason it is called grace.”

Here’s an alternative translation, notice what is missing:

We must be persuaded how much God loved us so that we don’t shrink from Him in despair. And we need to be shown also what kind of people we are whom He loved so that we also don’t withdraw from Him out of pride. But He dealt with us so that we could profit from His strength, and, in the weakness of humility, our holiness could be perfected.

One of the Psalms implies this. It says, “Thou, O God, didst send a spontaneous rain, whereby Thou didst make Thine inheritance perfect, when it was weary.” The “spontaneous rain” is grace given freely and not according to merit. He didn’t give it because we were worthy, but because He willed. Knowing this, we shouldn’t trust in ourselves. That is what is meant by being made “weak.”

However, He perfects us and says to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” We, then, must be persuaded how much God loved us and what type of people we were whom He loved. The former is important, lest we despair; the latter, lest we become proud.

Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers, edited by Hudson et al. (presented as transcribed here)

The Schaff collection’s translation has a slightly different wording:

And first we have had to be persuaded how much God loved us, lest from despair we should not dare to look up to Him. And we needed to be shown also what manner of men we are whom He loved, lest being proud, as if of our own merits, we should recede the more from Him, and fail the more in our own strength. And hence He so dealt with us, that we might the rather profit by His strength, and that so in the weakness of humility the virtue of charity might be perfected. And this is intimated in the Psalm, where it is said, “Thou, O God, didst send a spontaneous rain, whereby Thou didst make Thine inheritance perfect, when it was weary.” [Ps. lxviii. 9.—Pluviam voluntariam.] For by “spontaneous rain” nothing else is meant than grace, not rendered to merit, but given freely, [Gratis.] whence also it is called grace; for He gave it, not because we were worthy, but because He willed. And knowing this, we shall not trust in ourselves; and this is to be made “weak.” But He Himself makes us perfect, who says also to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” [2 Cor. xii. 9] Man, then, was to be persuaded how much God loved us, and what manner of men we were whom He loved; the former, lest we should despair; the latter, lest we should be proud.

– Augustine, On the Trinity, Book 4, Chapter 1, Section 2 (taken from the translation in NPNF1-03)(footnotes presented within brackets) Essentially the same translation may be found in The Works of Aurelius Augustine, a New Translation, Volume 7 (link)

Notice, however, that while this is a different wording, it is the same concept: “For by “spontaneous rain” nothing else is meant than grace, not rendered to merit, but given freely, whence also it is called grace; for He gave it, not because we were worthy, but because He willed.”

This is not an isolated instance of this definition of grace for Augustine, he says much the same thing in his work, On Grace and Free Will:

When God says, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,” [Zech. i. 3.] one of these clauses—that which invites our return to God—evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace. Here, possibly, the Pelagians think they have a justification for their opinion which they so prominently advance, that God’s grace is given according to our merits. In the East, indeed, that is to say, in the province of Palestine, in which is the city of Jerusalem, Pelagius, when examined in person by the bishop, [See On the Proceedings of Pelagius, above, ch. xiv. (30–37).] did not venture to affirm this. For it happened that among the objections which were brought up against him, this in particular was objected, that he maintained that the grace of God was given according to our merits,—an opinion which was so diverse from catholic doctrine, and so hostile to the grace of Christ, that unless he had anathematized it, as laid to his charge, he himself must have been anathematized on its account. He pronounced, indeed, the required anathema upon the dogma, but how insincerely his later books plainly show; for in them he maintains absolutely no other opinion than that the grace of God is given according to our merits. Such passages do they collect out of the Scriptures,—like the one which I just now quoted, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,”—as if it were owing to the merit of our turning to God that His grace were given us, wherein He Himself even turns unto us. Now the persons who hold this opinion fail to observe that, unless our turning to God were itself God’s gift, it would not be said to Him in prayer, “Turn us again, O God of hosts;” [Ps. lxxx. 7.] and, “Thou, O God, wilt turn and quicken us;” [Ps. lxxxv. 6.] and again, “Turn us, O God of our salvation,” [Ps. lxxxv. 4.] —with other passages of similar import, too numerous to mention here. For, with respect to our coming unto Christ, what else does it mean than our being turned to Him by believing? And yet He says: “No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” [John vi. 65.]

– Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 10 (Section V in the Latin)(footnotes placed into brackets)

Notice that Augustine places essentially the Roman view in the mouth of Pelagius: “God’s grace is given according to our merits.”

And again:

Here surely is at fault the vain reasoning of those who defend the foreknowledge of God in opposition to His grace, and with this view declare that we were chosen before the foundation of the world, [Eph. i. 4.] because God foreknew that we should be good, but not that He Himself would make us good. So says not He, who declares, “Ye have not chosen me.” For had He chosen us on the ground that He foreknew that we should be good, then would He also have foreknown that we would not be the first to make choice of Him. For in no other way could we possibly be good: unless, forsooth, one could be called good who has never made good his choice. What was it then that He chose in those who were not good? For they were not chosen because of their goodness, inasmuch as they could not be good without being chosen. Otherwise grace is no more grace, if we maintain the priority of merit. Such, certainly, is the election of grace, whereof the apostle says: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace.” To which he adds: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.” [Rom. xi. 5, 6.] Listen, thou ungrateful one, listen: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Not that thou mayest say, I am chosen because I already believed. For if thou wert believing in Him, then hadst thou already chosen Him. But listen: “Ye have not chosen me.” Not that thou mayest say, Before I believed I was already doing good works, and therefore was I chosen. For what good work can be prior to faith, when the apostle says, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin”? [Rom. xiv. 23.] What, then, are we to say on hearing such words, “Ye have not chosen me,” but that we were evil, and were chosen in order that we might be good through the grace of Him who chose us? For it is not by grace, if merit preceded: but it is of grace: and therefore that grace did not find, but effected the merit.

– Augustine, Tractate 86 on the Gospel of John, Section 2 (footnotes placed in brackets)

The key sentence in the above quotation is: “Otherwise grace is no more grace, if we maintain the priority of merit.” Rome’s view, which permits grace to be on the priority of merit calls something grace that is not grace.

And yet again:

He commendeth the grace whereby He calleth according to His own purpose. Of which purpose the apostle says, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to those who are called according to the purpose of God,” [Rom. viii. 28.] to wit, the purpose of Him that calleth, not of those who are called; which is put still more clearly in another place in this way, “Labor together in the gospel according to the power of God, who saveth us and calleth us with His holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace.” [2 Tim. i. 8, 9.] For if our thoughts turn to the nature wherein we have been created, inasmuch as we were all created by the Truth, who is there that is not of the truth? But it is not all to whom it is given of the truth to hear, that is, to obey the truth, and to believe in the truth; while in no case certainly is there any preceding of merit, lest grace should cease to be grace. For had He said, Every one that heareth my voice is of the truth, then it would be supposed that he was declared to be of the truth because he conforms to the truth; it is not this, however, that He says, but, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” And in this way he is not of the truth simply because he heareth His voice; but only on this account he heareth, because he is of the truth, that is, because this is a gift bestowed on him of the truth. And what else is this, but that by Christ’s gracious bestowal he believeth on Christ?

– Augustine, Tractate 115 on the Gospel of John, Section 4 (footnotes placed in brackets)

In the above quotation, we see the similar expression: “while in no case certainly is there any preceding of merit, lest grace should cease to be grace.”

Still further:

Now this election the Apostle demonstrating to be, not of merits going before in good works, but election of grace, saith thus: “And in this time a remnant by election of grace is saved. But if by grace, then is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.” [Rom. xi. 5, 6] This is election of grace; that is, election in which through the grace of God men are elected: this, I say, is election of grace which goes before all good merits of men. For if it be to any good merits that it is given, then is it no more gratuitously given, but is paid as a debt, and consequently is not truly called grace; where “reward,” as the same Apostle saith, “is not imputed as grace, but as debt.” [Rom. iv. 4] Whereas if, that it may be true grace, that is, gratuitous, it find nothing in man to which it is due of merit, (which thing is well understood in that saying, “Thou wilt save them for nothing,” [Psalm lvi. 7, Lat. and LXX. ὑπšρ τοῦ μηθενὸς σὡσεις αὐτούς. But Heb. and E.V. “shall they escape by iniquity?”]) then assuredly itself gives the merits, not to merits is given. Consequently it goes before even faith, from which it is that all good works begin. “For the just,” as is written, “shall live by faith.” [Habak. ii. 4] But, moreover, grace not only assists the just, but also justifies the ungodly. And therefore even when it does aid the just and seems to be rendered to his merits, not even then does it cease to be grace, because that which it aids it did itself bestow. With a view therefore to this grace, which precedes all good merits of man, not only was Christ put to death by the ungodly, but “died for the ungodly.” [Rom. v. 6] And ere that He died, He elected the Apostles, not of course then just, but to be justified: to whom He saith, “I have chosen you out of the world.” For to whom He said, “Ye are not of the world,” and then, lest they should account themselves never to have been of the world, presently added, “But I have chosen you out of the world;” assuredly that they should not be of the world was by His own election of them conferred upon them. Wherefore, if it had been through their own righteousness, not through His grace, that they were elected, they would not have been chosen out of the world, because they would already not be of the world if already they were just. And again, if the reason why they were elected was, that they were already just, they had already first chosen the Lord. For who can be righteous but by choosing righteousness? “But the end of the law is Christ, for righteousness is to every one that believeth. [Rom. x. 4] Who is made unto us wisdom of God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” [1 Cor. i. 30, 31] He then is Himself our righteousness.

– Augustine, On Patience, Section 17 (footnotes placed in brackets)

Again note Augustine’s explanation: “For if it be to any good merits that it is given, then is it no more gratuitously given, but is paid as a debt, and consequently is not truly called grace … .”

Further still:

Read with a little more attention its exposition in the treatise of the blessed martyr Cyprian, which he wrote concerning this matter, the title of which is, On the Lord’s Prayer; and see how many years ago, and what sort of an antidote was prepared against those poisons which the Pelagians were one day to use. For there are three points, as you know, which the catholic Church chiefly maintains against them. One of these is, that the grace of God is not given according to our merits; because even every one of the merits of the righteous is God’s gift, and is conferred by God’s grace. The second is, that no one lives in this corruptible body, however righteous he may be, without sins of some kind. The third is, that man is born obnoxious to the first man’s sin, and bound by the chain of condemnation, unless the guilt which is contracted by generation be loosed by regeneration. Of these three points, that which I have placed last is the only one that is not treated of in the above-named book of the glorious martyr; but of the two others the discourse there is of such perspicuity, that the above-named heretics, modern enemies of the grace of Christ, are found to have been convicted long before they were born. Among these merits of the saints, then, which are no merits unless they are the gifts of God, he says that perseverance also is God’s gift, in these words: “We say, ‘Hallowed be Thy name;’ not that we ask for God that He may be hallowed by our prayers, but that we beseech of Him that His name may be hallowed in us. But by whom is God sanctified, since He Himself sanctifies? Well, because He says, Be ye holy because I also am holy, we ask and entreat that we, who were sanctified in baptism, may persevere in that which we have begun to be.” [Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer; see The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. v. p. 450.] And a little after, still arguing about that self-same matter, and teaching that we entreat perseverance from the Lord, which we could in no wise rightly and truly do unless it were His gift, he says: “We pray that this sanctification may abide in us; and because our Lord and Judge warns the man that was healed and quickened by Him to sin no more, lest a worse thing happen unto him, we make this supplication in our constant prayers; we ask this, day and night, that the sanctification and quickening which is received from the grace of God may be preserved by His protection.” [Cyprian, On the Lord’s Prayer, as above.] That teacher, therefore, understands that we are asking from Him for perseverance in sanctification, that is, that we should persevere in sanctification, when we who are sanctified say, “Hallowed be Thy name.” For what else is it to ask for what we have already received, than that it be given to us also not to cease from its possession? As, therefore, the saint, when he asks God that he may be holy, is certainly asking that he may continue to be holy, so certainly the chaste person also, when he asks that he may be chaste, the continent that he may be continent, the righteous that he may be righteous, the pious that he may be pious, and the like,—which things, against the Pelagians, we maintain to be God’s gifts,—are asking, without doubt, that they may persevere in those good things which they have acknowledged that they have received. And if they receive this, assuredly they also receive perseverance itself, the great gift of God, whereby His other gifts are preserved.

– Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, Chapter 4 (Section II in the Latin)(footnotes placed in brackets)

Notice how in the above quotation, Augustine speaks exactly contrary to the Roman catechism. He declares that “perseverance in sanctification” is gracious and (consequently) not on account of merit. I don’t expect anyone to agree with Augustine’s definition of grace, simply because Augustine said it. Read Scripture (as Augustine would have wanted you to do) and see for yourself whether Augustine or the Roman Catholic Church is right about this issue.

Augustine tells us where he gets his ideas about grace: “From these and similar passages of Scripture, we gather the proof that God’s grace is not given according to our merits.” (Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 13, (Section 6 in the Latin)) So, search the Scriptures and see whether these things be as we have told you. Scripture is what proved it to us and to Augustine, perhaps it will prove it to you as well, dear reader, if you do not already agree.


Footnote 1: “Official” in the sense of being a public teaching in an official document. The document itself, however, like the overwhelming majority of documents in Catholicism, does not purport to be infallible.

Footnote 2: Note that this compendium serves to explain how simultaneously Rome claims: “Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” (CCC1996) If that statement were taken by itself, Rome would sound nearly orthodox in its theology of grace. The fact of the matter, however, is that such a definition is applied exclusively to what Rome calls “initial grace.”

Footnote 3: Augustine’s works are massive and imposing. I don’t make this blog post out to be the last scholarly word on the subject. Perhaps I’ve missed something in my reading of Augustine that ends up undoing the force of the material he provides here.

There is One Mediator and Only One Mediator

October 16, 2008

In a recent blog post (link), Dave Armstrong (a lay advocate of Catholicism) has made the remarkable argument that “there is one mediator” in 1 Timothy 2:5 does not rule out what Dave calls “mini-mediators.” Dave doesn’t comment on whether “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD,” rules out mini-Jehovahs or whether “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, ” rules out mini-Lords, mini-faiths, and mini-baptisms.

Naturally, he also doesn’t comment on whether “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble,” rules out mini-Gods. I suppose that he might be excused from these oversights with respect to other uses of “one” in Scripture except that the verse in question does not say only “there is one mediator” but also “there is one God” – in fact the quotation, “There is one mediator,” requires one to omit “One God, and” in the usual translation of the text:

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

Dave also doesn’t comment on the fact that the term “mediator” is only ever used of Jesus in the New Testament (see post-script below for more discussion on this). That’s true whether we speak of the English word for mediator in KJV, the Latin word for mediator in the Vulgate, or the Greek word for mediator in the original. Instead of dealing with these troubling details, Dave waves his hand and claims that Scriptures teach the concept of mini-mediators. Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to guess that Dave cannot find the term “mini-mediator” in Scripture either. Instead, he declares that:

1) When Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 9:22 of “by all means sav[ing] some” – that means Paul is a “mini-mediator”;

2) When Paul speaks in 1 Timothy 4:16 of “sav[ing] both yourself and your hearers” – that means Timothy is going to be a “mini-mediator”;

3) When Paul speaks in Philippians 2:12-13 of “work[ing] out your own salvation” – that means the Philippians are going to be “mini-mediators”;

4) When Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 4:15 of “all things [being] for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God” – that means that Paul is a “mini-mediator”;

5) When Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:2 of “the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward” – that means Paul is a “mini-mediator”;

6) When Paul speaks in Ephesians 4:29 of the words from the Ephesians mouths “minister[ing] grace unto the hearers” – that means the Ephesians will be “mini-mediators”;

7) When Peter speaks in 1 Peter 4:8-10 of “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” – that means that the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia are going to be “mini-mediators”;

8) When John speaks in Revelation 1:4-5 of “the seven spirits who are before his throne” – that means that angels are going to be “mini-mediators”;

9) Whenever Paul or anyone else uses the phrase “grace to you” or the like – that means that the person using the phrase is acting as a “mini-mediator.”

There a number of significant problems with Dave’s methodology. For one thing, Dave more or less simply assumes in each case that the activity involved is somehow a “mini” form of what Christ does as mediator. Another problem is that in order for Dave’s overall argument to work, Dave essentially has to reduce Jesus’ mediatorial role to that of being a grace conduit, with God (the Father) being the source and believers (or all men – one is not really sure whether Dave applies a “prevenient grace” concept here) being the recipients. There are other problems to be sure. For example, the idea that the “seven spirits who are before [God’s] throne” are consequently to be implicated in mediation is particularly far-fetched. But the two I’ve identified above may be viewed as the primary problems.

What is the cause of Dave’s problems in this regard? Dave simply doesn’t seem to understand the role of the mediator. The mediator is not simply a grace conduit. The mediator is the person who reconciles two. As Scripture says,

Galatians 3:20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

The mediator stands between two parties and reconciles them together. Thus, for example, the LXX uses this same word for mediator in Job 9:33, where the text says:

Job 9:33 Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, [that] might lay his hand upon us both. (KJV)

Job 9:33 “There is no umpire between us, Who may lay his hand upon us both. (NASB)

Jesus is that one person who reconciles God and man. Jesus does that job and does it completely, leaving no room for a “mini-mediator.” Part of that role, moreover, is the role of being the sole object of faith. That’s how Galatians connects Jesus’ role as mediator to the relation between God and man:

Galatians 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

It is by faith in the mediator that we obtain the blessing. There is no mention in Scripture of salvation by faith in any lesser or “mini” mediator – but only by faith in Christ. There is no salvation by faith in the church, in the saints, or in Mary: there is only one mediator: Jesus Christ. The same point is being made in 1 Timothy 2, in which what is well pleasing to God is that men believe on his son – the one mediator between God and man.

But an even stronger point is made in the Epistle to the Hebrews. In chapter 8, Christ is portrayed as performing the mediatorial role by serving as the high priest of the “better covenant” – by which it is meant that he is the one who offers up the sacrifice to God. After all, it is the sacrifice that reconciles us to God. Hebrews 12 makes the same connection, but more loosely.

It is, however, in Hebrews 9 that we find the clear exposition of what it means for Christ to be the mediator:

Hebrews 9:15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

Christ’s role as mediator is a priestly role. He is the sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and he is the priest that offers the sacrifice. He is the Lamb and the one who offers the Lamb. He offers it specifically for “they which are called,” and do so that they will receive the promise of heaven. Christ mediates the new covenant. He is the one mediator of it.

Paul explicitly disclaims any such role:

1 Corinthians 1:13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?

Furthermore, though he Paul would like to take on such a role, he implicitly acknowledges that he cannot:

Romans 9:3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

Similarly, Moses’ attempt to be the mediator between God and Israel was rejected by God:

Exodus 32:31-33
31And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. 32Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin–; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. 33And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.

Furthermore, the epistle to the Hebrews explains that such a role is an impossibility:

Hebrews 10:9-14
9Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. 14For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.

Notice the key here: by one offering Christ has once for all sanctified and perfected us. There is no room for mini-mediators, because this mediator has done it all. It is finished. There is nothing left to mediate: God’s wrath against us is appeased in Christ, and consequently we have no need of a further mediator, whether “mini-” or “co-” as some advocates of Catholicism have attempted to suggest.

This is the understanding of Christ’s mediatorial role that is missing from Dave’s post – that leads to his confused claims that somehow these instrumental means whereby men are saved (such as the preaching of the Gospel in items (1), (2), and (4)-(7) above) are the role of the mediator.

Instead, Dave’s concept of mediation is asking God for more grace for people (in an interesting, but largely irrelevant tangent, Dave seems to be under the misapprehension that the Protestant Reformed position on the definition of “grace” is the main view out there). Of course, that is not what Jesus does as mediator of the new covenant, as we have discussed above.

The actions of believers in wishing grace of God on others, or in seeking to bring that about by preaching the gospel or by repentance, faith, and new obedience are in an entirely different category. The mediating of Christ is done: He has sat down at the right hand of God:

Hebrews 1:13 But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool?

As it is sung:

Psalm 110

A Psalm of David

1 The Lord did say unto my Lord,
Sit thou at my right hand,
Until I make thy foes a stool,
whereon thy feet may stand.

2 The Lord shall out of Zion send
the rod of thy great pow’r:
In midst of all thine enemies
be thou the governor.

3 A willing people in thy day
of pow’r shall come to thee,
In holy beauties from morn’s womb;
thy youth like dew shall be.

4 The Lord himself hath made an oath,
and will repent him never,
Of th’ order of Melchisedec
thou art a priest for ever.

5 The glorious and mighty Lord,
that sits at thy right hand,
Shall, in his day of wrath, strike through
kings that do him withstand.

6 He shall among the heathen judge,
he shall with bodies dead
The places fill: o’er many lands
he wound shall ev’ry head.

7 The brook that runneth in the way
with drink shall him supply;
And, for this cause, in triumph he
shall lift his head on high.

No, Jesus is not simply the central distribution point of “grace” (the view of grace in Catholicism, of course, being different from that in Biblical theology) as Dave seems to think (“Jesus is ultimately the mediator of grace. It all comes through Him. But He also clearly uses human beings to distribute the grace, as these passages establish beyond any doubt.”) but Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life:

John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

What’s being described there is not Jesus’ role as example (though he is an example) or his role as preacher (though he is a preacher) but instead Jesus’ role the one who obtains a heavenly place for his people.

John 14:1-4
1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.

The persevering reader who has made it this far may be interested in reading more about the implications of Jesus’ having prepared mansions for us, which I’ve discussed in a previous article (link).

Perhaps someone will ask – do not we ourselves intercede to God for our fellow believers and for the lost? In doing so, are we not in some sense mediators? I cannot think of a better response than that given by Charles Hodge (link to selection from Hodge). The short answer is – no, we are not. We simply intercede in the sense of praying for the person. We are not mediators – we do not reconcile God to man.

In summary, recall that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 We are not mini-mediators, but spokesmen: declaring the good news so that men who were spiritually dead may live. 1 Peter 4:6


P.S. One kind reader has noted that some people believe that the term for mediator in English, Latin, and Greek is used in Galatians 3:19-20 and refers in that place to Moses. While I would disagree that the term used there refers to Moses, it is mostly a moot point, since (if it refers to Moses) it would relate to Moses’ role as law-giver. Furthermore, if it were the case that the mediator in verses 19-20 were Moses, the context (“herefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” vs. 24) would lead us to recognize that Moses foreshadowed Christ (cf. Acts 3:22 For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.) the one mediator of the New Covenant. Nevertheless, since verse 19 refers to “angels” (plural), it seems better to refer the term “mediator” in verse 19 either directly to the promised Messaiah or to the Messiah as portrayed by the Old Testament priesthood.

Psalm 103

April 26, 2008

For those who enjoy music – for those who are merry – for who simply wish to worship God – here’s a beautiful rendition of Psalm 103 – feel free to sing along:

Bless God and don’t forget his grace!


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