by John G. Reisinger
There are basically only two religions in the world. One says, “IF YOU WILL do such and such, God will graciously bestow His blessing upon you.” The thousand and one varieties of this religion differ only on what the “such and such” is that you must be willing to do. One variety says bathe in a sacred river, another bids you kiss the sacred rock located in the holy city, still another says be baptized or some similar rite, and in distinctly evangelical circles this religion emphasizes, “IF YOU WILL OPEN YOUR HEART, THEN GOD . . .”
Notice carefully the three key words IF YOU WILL.
(1) God’s forgiveness is possible IF …..
(2) God’s forgiveness is possible if YOU…
(3) God’s forgiveness is possible if you WILL. . . .
The ultimate success or failure of this religion is determined solely by the will of man. Everything depends on an “if,” and on “you,” and on “your willingness” to do your part. Redemption is always CONDITIONAL since it depends on man’s cooperation for success. The great work of salvation is not actually accomplished until God can find someone who is willing to “cooperate with Him.” Our forefathers called this “if you will” system the “religion of works.” It was also called “Arminianism” and “semi-Pelagianism” since these were the men who originally caused division in the church by introducing this error of free will. Regardless of the name attached to it by friend or foe, the distinguishing marks are always the same — the IF, the YOU, and YOUR WILL are the decisive factors that make the plan of salvation work.
This religion offers a wonderful plan of salvation that is able to do mighty things if YOU WILL ONLY LET IT. The God of this free will religion can only desire and offer to save sinners. He is helpless to secure, by His own power, what He longs to do. The goal of redemption cannot be reached unless man, of his own free will, chooses to permit God to accomplish His purposes.
The false religion of free will, or works, is based upon several unbiblical doctrines. The most basic of these is THE UNIVERSAL AND INDISCRIMINATE REDEMPTIVE LOVE OF GOD. God is said to love all men in the same way and to the same degree. He loved Judas the same as Peter, Esau like Jacob, and the goats as much as the sheep. Since His love is universal then the greatest gift of His love, Jesus Christ His Son, must have been given to provide a universal atonement, meaning for every individual without exception, in His death. The objects of the Son’s atonement must be equal to the objects of the Father’s love, so both must include every man. If the Father loves all men equally, and the Son redeemed every man without exception, it follows that the Holy Spirit must convict every man or else the Trinity is not working together toward the same end in the task of redeeming lost men.
It should be amply clear that this religion of works, or free will, based on a universal love and universal atonement, makes God’s whole scheme of redemption depend on man for its success. God’s love will prevail IF MAN will let it. Christ’s atonement will actually redeem only IF MAN will let it. The Holy Spirit will apply redemption’s purchased benefits IF MAN will allow Him. No wonder C. H. Spurgeon, that great soul winner, called free will “utter nonsense,” and universal atonement a “monstrous doctrine akin to blasphemy.”
Now the second religion is the message of the Bible. It is the gospel of FREE GRACE. It does not look to God for the PROVISION and then turn to man for the POWER, but it boldly proclaims that the same sovereign grace that planned salvation for helpless sinners also furnishes them with the ability to desire and receive it. This second religion not only starts at a different place, it works on a different principle, and moves toward a different goal. In short, it is a totally different religion. The religion based on free will (Arminianism – If you will …), and that based of free grace (Calvinism — God makes us willing …) are two very distinct and opposite religions that differ on every theological point at which they meet.
Any individual who piously says, “It is really not important, it is merely a question of EMPHASIS,” is either deliberately dishonest or completely ignorant of Bible doctrine in church history. The Synod of Dort and the Council of Trent clarified forever the vital importance of the issue once and for all time. I challenge any man to read Dr. J. I. Packer’s introduction to the DEATH OF DEATH IN THE DEATH OF CHRIST by John Owen, and then talk about emphasis. Packer clearly shows that free will and free grace are totally different religions, and furthermore, that they are irreconcilable enemies.
WHO WEARS THE CROWN?
As you can see, the real battle ground is the nature of man, and the prize to be won is the Crown of Credit for making redemption’s plan actually work. Is free grace, given sovereignly by the Father, the decisive factor that causes the elect to believe in the first place, or is man’s will, exercised sovereignly by the individual, the decisive factor that causes God to choose these whom He “foresees” are willing to believe? Who wins the right to wear the crown of glory, God or man? And by what power was that right won — free will or free grace?
The basic difference between these two opposing religions can also be summed up by asking another question, a question vitally related to the first one. Instead of asking how any man can perish, and being told that, “the man would not do his part which was to simply believe,” we now ask, “Why are SOME men saved?” How is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s work able to succeed in some cases but not in others? The religion of free will humbly (?) answers that “MAN MADE IT ALL POSSIBLE BY BEING WILLING TO OPEN HIS HEART AND GIVE GOD A CHANCE!” It does not matter if we are speaking of those who perish or those who are saved, we always come back to that IF YOU WILL.
Actually, the gospel based on free will can never be more than a gospel of mere POSSIBILITY. It is a plan of redemption that cannot truly redeem by its own power, but can only effect real salvation when it finds someone who make themselves willing to do “their part.” It is not a question of whether a man must, or does, become willing before he can be saved, we all believe that, but WHO AND WHAT POWER makes the sinner willing? Does man, of himself, choose to become willing, or does God, by His sovereign power, make His elect willing “in the day of His power” (Ps. 110:3)? It seems both logical and judicially necessary to crown with glory the individual who made the plan of salvation actually work, and the free willer does not hesitate to reach for the crown and place it on the head of the sovereign and free will of man.
Some folks may feel we are laboring this point to an extreme, but actually this is the heart of the matter. Who really deserves all the glory for man’s salvation? It cannot be both God and man, nor can it be, as many would imply, half and half. Either God saves sinners by “making them willing in the day of His power,” or they save themselves by making themselves willing in the “day of their free will decision.”
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