Archive for the ‘Monergism’ Category

Interesting Observations from Benedict XVI

April 11, 2012

I am no fan of Benedict XVI. I pray for his salvation, but I fully agree with the Westminster divines about the nature of his office. That said, he made an interesting observation, according to the Vatican Information Service, in his remarks on April 11, 2012, during the morning general audience.

VIS reports:

Benedict XVI explained how on the evening of the day of the Resurrection the disciples were at home behind locked doors, full of fear and doubt at the recollection of the passion of their Lord. “This situation of anguish changed radically when Jesus arrived. He entered through the closed doors, was among them and brought them peace”, peace which “for the community became source of joy, certainty of victory, trusting reliance on God”.

Slightly later on comes the interesting twist:

“Today too the Risen One enters our homes and hearts, although sometimes the doors are closed”, the Pope said, “He enters bringing joy and peace, life and hope, gifts we need for our human and spiritual rebirth”. Only He can put an end to division, enmity, rancour, envy, mistrust and indifference. Only He can give meaning to the lives of those who are weary, sad and without hope.

Here’s the good point, intentional or not. Sometimes – no always – the doors of men’s hearts are closed to the gospel. By nature, we are all children of wrath and haters of God. Yet God is not blocked by closed doors. If He wishes, he can pass through the doors, bringing regeneration.
VIS also describes Benedict XVI as saying:

However, the Lord knew that His followers were still afraid. “For this reason He breathed upon them and regenerated them in His Spirit. This gesture was the sign of the new creation. With the gift of the Holy Spirit which came from the Risen Christ, a new world began”.

There is no indication in the report that Benedict XVI put together the pieces in this way, but it is interesting how the observations he provided so fittingly describe a monergistic description of conversion.

Also interesting are his comments about regeneration occurring in the breathing upon them. One should be careful about reading too much into the English language report of a general audience comment that likely is original in another language, but it is interesting nonetheless. Were the disciples not previously regenerated by baptism? Was their original baptism not sacramental? If not, why not?

The teachings of Benedict XVI during these general audience are “official” teachings in some sense, and are even characterized as “catechesis.” But Roman theology does not – to my knowledge – consider them “infallible” teachings.


Answering Skeptics’ Questions

October 13, 2011

Steve Hays provided concise and useful responses to 22 (he didn’t select the number, I’m not sure the significance of that number to the questioner) questions from skeptics.  They are posted courtesy of



April 12, 2010

Probably most of my readers are already familiar with this site. For those that are not, provides a wealth of theological resources, many hosted and many more linked. It not only has links to countless articles but also to mp3s, if you prefer audio. If you prefer to have theology in print, there is a bookstore (Monergism Books) connected with the site.

Monergism vs. Synergism

October 26, 2008
Top Ten lists are popular these days, and there’s nothing that an apologetic/polemic blog from a Reformed, Puritan, Presbyterian perspective is, if not consumed with being popular (yes, that is tongue in cheek, in case there was any doubt). Thus, without further ado:
Alternative Ways to Express
Monergism vs. Synergism:
10) Theonomy vs. Autonomy

9) God’s Sovereignty vs. Man’s Sovereignty

8) Yielding to God’s Power vs. Wielding the Power of a Demi-God

7) All of God vs. Something Whereof to Boast

6) God Mercying Whom He Wills vs. God Mercying Him Who Wills

5) The Race is not to the Swift vs. The Race is to the Swift

4) Able to Make You Wise Unto Salvation vs. Able to Make You Wise Almost Unto Salvation

3) James 4:12 and 14-15 vs. James 4:13

2) Reformed Theology vs. Trent

1) Thy Will be Done vs. My Will be Done

Remember this, God is all-powerful. It is he who saves, and he does so using the Word of God, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
Romans 10:10-17
10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Praise be to God who has given us His Word!


Deflating Assumptions Regarding Free Will – A Response to Ben Witherington

June 10, 2008

Ben Witherington has written an interesting post on the freedom of God. It actually meshes somewhat with my ongoing discussing with Godismyjudge (Dan) in other posts, and so it is fitting that I respond to some of the issues Ben raises in his article (link to article).

Ben writes: “I take it that the primary attribute of God is not God’s will but rather God’s love, which is a holy love.”

I respond:

The primary attribute of God is being. God is the I AM. All other attributes of God are predicated (logically) on his being. Foremost among God’s attributes are his primary attributes. Among God’s primary attributes are his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Love is not properly a primary attribute of God. God is Love, Scripture tells us, but Love is God acting. Love is transitive, it requires an object. Therefore, Love cannot be a primary attribute of God, with (perhaps) one exception. In God’s wisdom, God loves Himself with a perfect, eternal love. The persons of the Trinity love one another, and have always loved one another. God’s love can be viewed as a secondary attribute of God, proceeding from his wisdom, holiness, goodness, justice, and truth. God deserves His own love, and He properly loves Himself.

Ben states: “I say this because God’s will has primarily to do with his doing, but what is prior to that is God’s being or character, and in my view God’s willing is dependent on his character.”

I don’t have any particular problem with God’s will being viewed as subservient to his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. We can even say that, at least in some instances, God’s love logically precedes an act of God’s will. Thus, for example, our election is motivated by God’s love.

Ben states: “There are certain things which, while theoretically God might be able to do, God would never do because it would be ‘out of character’. For example God is light, and in God is no darkness at all. This I take to mean that God would never do evil nor commit sin. “

Again, this is not particularly objectionable, except for the underlying idea that “theoretically God might be able” to act out of character. I’m not sure what Ben’s trying to do there … perhaps he’s just trying to speak loosely.

Ben continues: “There is supposed to be a reflection of the divine character in us, and indeed in all of creation. This in turn means that God, having set up the universe in a particular way, is not free to be capricious and redefine the meaning of holy in the middle of the game.”

I think this is intended to simply be supporting proof for the idea that God’s nature is holy in a fixed way, and not in a “whatever I happen to do is holy” way. As such, it would not be objectionable. If Ben is trying to suggest that God is stuck with a free choice to create, and that he cannot change the rules of the created order mid-game, then Ben would seem to have a problem with special miracles.

Ben continues: “God has chosen to express the divine nature in a particular way and has chosen to limit himself such that God as well as all of his creation is subject to certain standards of truth, holiness, love, and so on.”

This claim seems to suggest that Ben believes God’s standard of truth, holiness, love, and so on is not intrinsic but voluntary. God chose to define “truth” this way, and now he is stuck with it. This is out of accord with conventional Christian thought on the matter. God’s primary attributes are intrinsic, not voluntary. God is true, because he is God, not because He chooses to be true, or because He has defined truth a certain way. That is not to suggest that there is a category of “truth” that is logically precedent to God, but rather that our very idea of truth comes from God’s own character.

Ben states: “This is a complicated matter, but the bottom line is that once God set up a universe with other free agents other than himself, God is not free to do just anything without violating his revealed character and will.”

Here Ben seems to assume that created agents are “free” in some similar sense to that in which God is free. There is no particular basis for that assumption. Man is (and angels and the animal creation are) “free” in some sense, but calling them “other free agents” raises a number of serious problems, foremost among them being: God is other. God is not a man. God is not part of creation, and although man bears the image of God, God is infinite where man is finite.

Ben states: “This is not an absolute limitation. I am assume God could set up a definition of sin and could violate it, but if God did, he would cease to be the good God of the Bible.”

Unless God’s character is voluntary, or God’s character is not holy, it is an absolute limitation. God cannot sin. That’s intrinsic to God. God would cease to exist if he sinned – therefore God absolutely cannot sin. Also, a just and truthful God cannot call sin good

Ben continues: “[I]t is terribly false to predicate of God sins that he prohibits us from doing, say for example destroying innocent human lives for no good or appropriate reason.”

Our relationship to other humans is necessarily different from God’s relationship to human beings. Thus, it is incorrect to make the comparison between God doing something to His creation and us doing something to God’s creation. God has an owner-chattel relationship to the world (the cattle on a thousand hills are his), whereas we have more of a fraternal relationship – our fellow man is not our creation, but God’s creation: he does not bear our image but God’s image (I am of course leaving out certain human relationships like father-son, master-slave, husband-wife, or king-subject).

Ben continues: “I assume that when human beings were created in the image of God this meant, among other things that Adam had libertarian freedom to either obey God or not.”

This assumption cannot be justified exegetically. Exegetically, the primary characteristic of man that is God’s image is dominion over God’s creation. One might argue that a will is necessary to that end, or even that a free will was part of the package (included with rational thought) that God’s image entails. There is, however, no Scriptural reason to step beyond that and make it a libertarian free will rather than a compatible free will.

Ben states: “It is not appropriate to judge this matter on the basis of the attributes of fallen human beings who indeed in various ways can be said to be in bondage to sin or addicted to sinful behaviors. No the question is, how did God make us in the first place, and how in Christ does God restore us in Christ as we are renewed in the image of Christ? Does grace restore the power of contrary choice in redemption or not?”

Ben here seems to be confused about his categories. The distinction between the will bound by sin and the will freed by grace is not the difference between no free will and free will. It is, instead, a change in the character of the man. A fallen man sins constantly, but freely. He sins in accordance with his fallen nature. A regenerate man does good freely.

Suggesting that the ability to do both good and evil is what characterizes free will creates some serious problems. First, it creates the problem that fallen man would not have a free will. This would tend to wreak havoc on libertarian views of the responsibility of fallen man. If man has no free will, he would seem to be unable to sin (if, as it is claimed, sin requires a free will). On the other hand, and secondly, God is unable to sin. Thus, if free will requires the ability both to sin and to do good, God does not have free will, in which case the “image of God ” assumption (made without warrant by Ben above) is logically inconsistent.

Ben: “Of course much depends on one’s view of grace. Some people think grace works rather like an escalator– it does all the heavy lifting and we are just along for the ride. I disagree with this. Grace is not irresistible, it is rather a form of enablement from a gracious God which gives us a further chance to freely love and obey God. In other words, we must indeed work out our salvation with fear and trembling, God’s grace does not do it all for us and in spite of us.”

Of course, we would reject the elevator analogy in favor of the Lazarus analogy. Grace is irresistible because, well, how is a dead man going to fight resuscitation? It’s irresistible because it circumvents man’s will – not because it drags man kicking and screaming up to heaven.

Ben: “Another of the major issues which affects this discussion is the nature of love. Now I understand love to be something that is the most personal act of either God or human beings.”

It is interesting that Hen here seems to acknowledge love is action. As such, it is not a primary attribute of God, just as “willing” (being an action) is not a primary attribute of God. I, of course, would not limit love to God and man, but extend it to other creatures at least including angels, and more than likely including animals. Numerous dog owners can testify to the apparent love of their pets. Furthermore, mother birds and bears are notorious for their love for their offspring and their zeal in sacrificing themselves for them. But that is tangential.

Calling something the “most personal act” is a bit vacuous. How does one compare the personality of actions? The words seem to be designed to laud love (and who but the strongest cynics among us could oppose the praise of love), but the words don’t seem to convey anything particular.

Furthermore, love can be totally impersonal. In fact, sadly, the love of God as portrayed in the popular media these days is mostly impersonal: “God loves you,” we read, and maybe even, “You are special to God,” but the same is true (according to these sources) of each and every person. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that this converts to “God loves everybody,” and “you are as special to God as the next person.” This sort of promiscuous love is the kind of love we often have to our neighbors in the next country. We do not know any of them personally, but we love them all and wish them well.

Ben states: “And furthermore it is the most free and freeing act of all beings.”

If it is free in the sense of voluntary, then the will takes logical precedence over love, which seems contrary to Ben’s thesis. If it is free in some other sense, then the connection to the rest of the post doesn’t seem very clear.

Furthermore, we can say from experience and Scripture that human love is not free, in the sense of voluntary. Men and women fall in love – often without any apparent control over their love. Furthermore, trying to make oneself love something one detests is, at least for most, a hopeless task. Finally, getting back to Scripture, we find that human love has causes: for example, we love God because He first loved us.

Calling love “freeing” is also somewhat odd. Love unites. It united David and Jonathon. It united John and Jesus. Love unites us to Christ. It is binding. A man’s love for his wife binds him to a life of her service. A woman’s love for her husband binds her to a life of obedience. A dog’s love of his master binds him to the household more tightly than any chain.

Ben continues: “It must be freely given and freely received.”

As to “received” this is plainly wrong. We can love our enemies, and they will receive our love either passively or with hostility. If one imagines the non-Calvinist view of salvation, God’s love for mankind is likewise not always freely received, but received either passively or hostilely.

To suggest that love must be “freely” given is a bit misleading. One cannot coerce love – because that is not how love works. On the other hand, love can be obtained: it can be caused. Heroes like David earn the love of the nation. Young men attempt to perform their own heroics, whether it be flowers, poetry, or athletic feats of prowess to win the love of their heart’s desire.

Love has to come from the heart to be love, but the heart can be changed. God himself declares:

Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.

Ben states: “It cannot be coerced, co-opted, manipulated, and it most certainly does not work in an impersonal manner, like say the way iron filings are attracted to a magnet.”

Ah, but – in some senses – love does work that way. One need only look to Holywood for examples. Physical beauty (found so abundantly there) is one of the principle causes for people falling in love. The number of beloved stars in Hollywood, drawing adorers like so many iron filings is numerous. That is not to say that it is mechanical – surely not. Each person reacts differently to different stars – and some are hardly influenced at all by a pretty face or well-developed musculature.

Now, again, love must come from the heart. Man has little ability to influence the heart. Nevertheless, the common wisdom: “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” applies to love as well. That is one reason you see so many followers of preachers of joviality: preachers who do not present the uncomfortable truth of sin and coming judgment to their hearers. People have itching ears: scratch them and you will win their hearts.

Advertisers are well aware of this. Look at so many ad campaigns. Normally they will not tell you directly that men who refuse to wear their perfume du jour are simpleminded losers, but rather that those who use their products are sophisticated chick-magnets. They do not wish to offend but woo their listenres.

Those who love the products because of the advertising have been successfully manipulated, perhaps for their own good – but certainly for the financial benefit of the company who paid for the advertising.

Successful advertising, however, knows its limitations. It cannot directly change man’s hearts: it can only act on what exists there. Thus, knowledge of human nature is key to the success of advertising.

God is not limited to these crude tricks and external manipulations. God is able to change the heart. In regeneration, by grace God changes the character of man, from one who loves sin to one who loves God. This fundamental change in man’s nature produces his love of God and trust in Christ.

Ben: “God is not a magnet, and he does not treat his creatures in an impersonal way that makes their behavior inevitable, and if he did, it would cease to be personal and loving behavior on our part for sure.”

First, such a picture is a non-Calvinist picture we frequently see. We hear the verse about Jesus drawing all men to himself portrayed as though he drew each and every man to himself impersonally. We reject this as clearly improper.

Second, nevertheless God does draw men to himself. They are actually drawn. God draws certain men (by the work of Christ on the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts) from all nations to himself. These surely come. That’s deeply personal: it’s targeted, individual, and done with the eternal good of the person in mind.

The idea that it ceases to be personal and loving behavior on our part “for sure” seems simply to be Ben’s own view, motivated by his philosophical assumptions. It would not be loving behavior if it did not come from the heart: but it does. It comes from a changed heart. Thus, we reject Ben’s criticism as unfounded.

Ben finally concludes with a point that is, intellectually speaking, suicide to his position:

Ethics in the Bible are largely what are called virtue ethics. … Now virtue ethics require that a person has the capacity to be virtuous, by which I mean, the person has the capacity to either freely behave in this way or not. Otherwise there is nothing virtuous about the behavior. The flight or flight pure instinct of a deer, for example, is not an example of making a conscious choice to “do the right thing”. I am utterly convinced that the Bible calls us to be virtuous beings, or as Paul suggests in Phil. 4 to be creatures who can not merely reflect on what is noble and excellent, but seek and attempt to do it. The commands to love as we are loved, to forgive as we are forgiven, and so on, presuppose that grace actually enables us to freely attempt to imitate Christ and do what he commands us to do, at least approximately. God is an ethical being and he wants Christians to reflect the highest and best behavior a human being can muster. Indeed, he commands us to do it, but as Augustine says, God gives what he commands, he enables us to believe and behave as we ought to do.

The intellectually suicidal aspect of this argument may not be immediately apparent. The problem is that if “virtue” required the ability to do the unvirtuous, then God’s sinless perfection is not virtuous, because it is impossible for God to lie, impossible for him to sin, and so forth. Furthermore, likewise assuming that Ben acknowledges that there will naturally be no sin in heaven, such sinless perfection again would not be “virtuous” because there would no longer be the ability to sin. This is enough to sink the “virtue ethics” battleship.

But not only is this absurd as to its consequence with respect to God, it is absurd in application. We view God as more virtuous than any of his creation, and he is the least able to sin. We view those in whose hearts God has greatly worked, who strongly hate sin, and yet who may nevertheless occasionally sin to be more virtuous than those who are relatively indifferent to God’s law, but do the same sins. Therefore, our intuition and common sense weigh in against the idea of “virtue” ethics as framed by the libertarian free will advocate. So, along with the battleship, a libertarian free will advocate loses his entire armada when he seeks to argue for “virtue ethics.”

The issue of whether a “conscious choice” is made to do right or wrong is certainly an aggravating factor, but perhaps it is not the only factor. Recall that Jesus said that lusting after a woman is sinful, and yet many will confess that such lust springs forth unconsciously.

Ben states: “I[n] short, the discussion of the freedom of human beings should never be undertaken in isolation from the discussion of the freedom of God, and the ways God has chosen to limit himself in order to allow us to be beings with a limited measure of freedom, and so a small reflection of the divine character.”

But recall above, that the idea that libertarian free will is a “reflection of the divine character” was simply Ben’s assumption above. One does not get that from the Creation account or from the banishment of Cain. One simply does not get that from Scripture. One brings it in eisegetically from one’s philosophical attachment to the idea.

It then displays a most turgescent attitude to demand that such an idea be constantly brought into the discussion of the freedom of human beings. Surely we would agree that man’s freedom must be understood in the context of God’s freedom, but we must not confuse the Potter with the clay. He does whatsoever He pleases: we must do as He pleases. We serve Him and exist at his whim, as it were. If God did not will our continued existence, we would vanish.

Ben claims: “Here we must return at the end of this discussion to the matter of God’s will and knowledge. Notice how in Rom. 9-11 God foreknows things that he did not will, for example the apostasy of Israel and the rejection of its savior by most early Jews. God not only did not will this, it breaks his heart in the same way it breaks Paul.”

But this claim is not exegetically supported. In that very passage God affirms that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. There is no mention of God being broken hearted, and not the least reason to suppose that the apostasy of Israel and rejection of the savior was not in God’s will. Indeed, to the contrary, Scripture explains that it was God’s will:

Romans 11:8 (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.

Ben concludes: “What this tells me is that Calvin was wrong about the relationship between God’s will and God’s knowledge. God does not merely know it because he wills it.”

Ben really hasn’t made a connection in his post to support that conclusion.

Ben continues: “There is some other relationship between knowing and willing in God and they are not inexorably linked.”

Again, Ben has not made the necessary connection to support this claim.

Ben states: “At the end of the day I believe whole heartedly in what John 3.16-17 says, God loves the whole fallen world, and Jesus died for the sins of all human beings as 1 Tim. 2 also says.”

Neither of those is actually what the verses say. John 3:16-17 displays God’s love for “the world” by pointing to his action for “all the believers” (John 3:16). In the unrelated passage of 1 Timothy 2, Paul exhorts Timothy to pray for “all men” (listing various categories of men) because this is agreeable with God’s will, which we understand to mean that men of all sorts (even politicians) will be saved.

Ben claims: “This in turn means there are other agents in play in the matter of redemption, human agents who can either positively or negatively respond to the Gospel, and the eternal lostness of some is in no way willed or destined by God.”

Ben’s argument, however, is contradicted by the plain assertion of God’s monergistic role in Scripture. God claims that salvation is of the Lord, and that those whom the Father has given to the Son will come to him. Furthermore, God declares that he will both have mercy on whom he will, but also that God will harden whom he will. God does not have to wait at man’s beck and call. Rather, the Shepherd calls his sheep, and the sheep hear his voice.

Furthermore, it should be plain that is only by converting the personal love of God into an impersonal love (by misapplication of John 3:16-17 and 1 Timothy 2) and by forcing his assumption of libertarian free will into the discussion that Ben arrives at this conclusion in the first place. Since he’s not obtained his conclusions from Scripture but by imposition on Scripture, we don’t have any reason to accept his conclusions. They are warrantless, and do not commend themselves to our belief.

Ben continues: “Were the matter otherwise, our God cease to be a good God, by God’s own definition of goodness.”

Ben makes that claim, but he has not given any reason for us to accept that claim. In fact, Scripture contradicts it. Doesn’t the potter have power over the clay to make of the lump a vessel for destruction? Can we really try to claim that a potter has that power, but God (our creator) does not have a similar power over us? If we do, we simply find ourselves arguing with Scripture: which is never a good place to be.

Ben wraps up with two parting sentences: “One final reminder– as the prophets told us God requires of us that we reflect the divine character– to do justice to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.”

This, of course, is a red herring. The verse says:

Micah 6:8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

We all accept this to be true. Furthermore, we acknowledge that in doing so we are being good, and goodness is a primary attribute of God. From none of that do the conclusions claimed above by Ben follow.

Ben finally states: “What God requires of us, he enables us to do, so that in small measure we may reflect the virtuous and free character of our God.”

It’s unclear whether Ben here refers to regenerated man or unregenerate man. Regardless, it is not a general proposition that God enables man to do as God requires of man. In fact, there is a clear and indisputable testimony to the contrary: Pharaoh. God commanded Pharaoh to let the people go, and God hardened Pharaoh’s heart

Exodus 7:13 And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.

That should give us pause. God is just and God is merciful. God is not only just, and God is not only merciful. God is the Most Exalted, He is the Almighty.

As Scripture says:

But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. (Psalm 115:3)

Let us praise him saying, “But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and for evermore. Praise the LORD.” (Psalm 115:18)


The Real Turretin on: Saving Grace

March 11, 2008

Standing Solus Christus has provided another transcription from the writings of the real Turretin, this time on saving grace: a grace that operates monergistically to save man, including man’s free will. (link)

As Wise as Sheep

February 17, 2008

Sheep are not wise. It is no great compliment to be called a sheep. Nevertheless, in Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, Christ proclaimed the parable of the Shepherd and the sheepfold, in which he compared us to sheep, and Himself to the Shepherd.

John 9:35-10:29
35Jesus heard that they had cast him [the man who was born blind, whom Jesus miraculously healed] out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
36He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
37And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
38And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.
39And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.
40And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?
41Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. 1Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 4And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 5And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
6This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. 7Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. 9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 10The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.
14I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 15As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. 17Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. 18No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
19There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. 20And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him?
21Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?
22And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. 23And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. 24Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
25Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. 26But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. 27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

There are many things that can be gleaned from the passage. One is the fact that Jesus is divine. If we were going to emphasize that, we’d continue down the passage, for Jesus is shortly afterward explicitly accused of blasphemy.

In this post, though, we are going to focus on the soteriological aspects of the passage. The sheep are the elect, those who will be saved from judgment on judgment day. We know this because Christ says “I give unto them eternal life.”

1. Once a Sheep, Always a Sheep

This would seem to be an obvious fact from the nature of things. Sheep do not change their species. Sheep do not become goats, they do not become wolves, they do not become dogs. A wolf may slip in disguised as a sheep or a goat may get caught up in a sheep stampede. But a sheep is a sheep, and a non-sheep is not a sheep. There is no more saddening condemnation to hear than to hear: “ye are not of my sheep” from the mouth of God. On the other hand, to know that one is a sheep is the most encouraging thing we can know. We know that the sheep will never stop being a sheep, because Christ says: “they shall never perish.”

2. Once a Sheep of Christ’s, Always a Sheep of Christ’s

Again, this would seem to be an obvious fact. Christ is God. He cannot be robbed by thieves. No one is stronger than God to be able wrestle sheep away from him. Furthermore, sheep are not self-determiners of their ownership. No one asks a sheep for his permission to own the sheep. A sheep cannot decide to become someone else’s sheep. A sheep can wander off from the flock, but the Shepherd will bring him back. Furthermore, Christ explains this in the passage above: “neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (and likewise, “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all.”)

3. The Sheep Come Because they are Sheep

Some people have suggested that people become sheep because they come. This is absurd. Sheep are sheep before they come. A lost sheep is a sheep. A sheep cannot hear his master’s voice, unless he is a sheep. This also leads us to the second suggestion we sometimes hear: that a sheep become’s Christ’s by hearing his voice.

But that is not how ownership of sheep works. Furthermore, that’s not how the matter is described in the passage. Instead, the passage states: “the sheep follow him: for they know his voice, and a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.” You see, there is a reason why the sheep follow the shepherd and not a stranger, it is because they know his voice. They follow the shepherd because they are his sheep, not the other way around.

4. The Sheep are Called Particularly

It is often overlooked that the sheep are not called en masse. One sees people discussing the passage as though the Shepherd is standing out in a huge field of sheep yelling, “Here Sheep!” That fits with the mistaken view above that sheep become sheep (or Christ’s sheep) by coming. That’s not the picture here. The picture here is Christ calling his sheep particularly, individually, by name: “he calleth his own sheep by name,” “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep.”

5. The Sheep will be Saved

There is no doubt, no uncertainty about sheep of Christ’s that are still outside the fold. Christ declares the certainty of their salvation. This conflicts both with an open theistic view of God, and with a universalistic intent theory of the atonement. Christ aim is to save the sheep (“My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all”) and he will save the sheep (“other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice”).

6. The Sheep are Given to the Shepherd and the Shepherd for the Sheep

The Shepherd’s duty is to save the sheep. Christ states: “Them also I must bring.” Likewise, He states “My Father, which gave them to me.” They are his sheep, with Him leading the way: “when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him.” And furthermore, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” We can also see the same thing negatively put here: “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not.”

7. The Sheep are the Blind that Now See, the Others Think they See, but do not

Recall how this passage begins. The man born blind is healed, so that he sees and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Pharisees do not see, and mockingly ask whether they are blind. Jesus tells them in essence that if they realized they were blind, they would be given sight, but since they think they see, they remain dead in sins.

8. What do the Sheep do right?

– the sheep hear his voice
– the sheep follow him: for they know his voice
– a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
– the sheep did not hear them.
– they shall hear my voice;
– My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me

9. Why don’t others do the same?

“But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.”

10. Conclusion

That’s the simple truth of monergistic salvation. The sheep do hear and follow, but they do so because they are the sheep. The others do not, because they are not Christ’s sheep. Christ is our Good Shepherd, who was prophesied by Jacob:

Genesis 49:24 “…from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:”

David also prophesied of Jesus in Psalm 23:

Psalm 23:1 (A Psalm of David.) The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

(Its worth noting as an aside against the Ebionites that this is Jesus being referred to as Jehovah.)

Asaph likewise prophesied of Jesus in Psalm 80:

Psalm 80:1 (To the chief Musician upon Shoshannimeduth, A Psalm of Asaph.) Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.

Isaiah, that great prophet of God, likewise prophesied:

Isaiah 40:10-11
10Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. 11He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

(again, Jesus is identified with Jehovah)

The weeping prophet, Jeremiah prophesied the same thing:

Jeremiah 31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock.

Ezekiel also:

Ezekiel 34:12 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.

It is this Shepherd whom John and the other evangelists preach to you, and which confirmed by the other Scriptures:

Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Let us give thanks unto the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the Sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant,


Monergism vs. Synergism Debate

February 16, 2008

As a followup to the post below, I should point out that my Monergism vs. Synergism debate with Matt Shapman from BeyondFundamentalism has been put on indefinite hold (due to his lack of availability for the debate). If someone would like to take his place, please let me know.

Monergism vs. Synergism Discussion

February 16, 2008

In the video below, Dr. James White discusses monergist salvation with a synergist.

I mostly agree with Dr. White’s answers. However, as to the answer regarding the burning house, I’d have something else to say.

The analogy about the burning house is inaccurate, because the synergist does not assert that total passivity is the way that man is rescued from sin. Instead, the synergist asserts that man cooperates with God in order to be saved.

In other words, the situation is more like people hearing the voice of the fire marshall sounding through the smoky haze and some carefully follow his instructions and escape, and others ignore his instructions and perish.

Still, one might ask, do those who escape have any ground for boasting?

The intuitive answer is “no,” but it is important to understand why that is.

Imagine there is no fire marshall at all. Some manage to escape the fire by strenuously exerting themselves to escape the blaze, and others die because they make bad attempts.

No, again, one might, do those who escape have any ground for boasting?

I still think the intuitive answer is “no,” even though in this instance their salvation from the fire is entirely their own work. We wouldn’t think people who bragged about how they escaped when others perished to be very nice people.

So, perhaps that’s not quite what we mean by boasting. In other words, maybe what we mean by boasting is having any part in the credit for our salvation. In the last case, the escapees clearly can take credit. They used their wits or their muscles, or just their bravery to escape the fire.

But when we then reflect that back to the middle analogy where people cooperate with the fire marshall, we see that again those who are saved are those who are more obedient, more attentive, or have the good judgment to listen when others try to find their own way out. While they cannot take all the credit for their escape, it is a difference between them and the others that is the critical reason why they are saved and the others are not.

Even so in synergistic salvation. In synergistic salvation, man gets some of the credit, because man does some of the work. This detracts from the glory of God and contradicts Scripture. The former reason is enough to make the doctrine suspect, but the latter is the reason we reject synergism.

Scripture says:

Romans 3:24-28
24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Praise be to the God who Justifies!


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