Results tagged “Reprobation” from Reformation21 Blog

The Face behind Article 17

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I think there is a good case that Peter Martyr Vermigli is the brains behind Article 17 of the Thirty-nine Articles. He was the highly respected and trusted Regis Professor of Divinity at Oxford (1548-1554), and actually wrote a tract on predestination at around the time the Article was being drafted. One can see many similarities between his teaching on the subject and the wording of Article 17.

Indeed, Article 17's opening definition of predestination to life seems to have been substantially lifted from Vermigli's Romans commentary which says, "Predestination is the most wise purpose of God, whereby before all eternity he has constantly decreed to call those he has loved in Christ to the adoption of sons..." (Vermigli, In Episotalm S. Pauli Apostoli ad Romanos, 411 on Romans 9, my translation).

he similarities are striking in the matter of reprobation, which I have been exploring a little here lately. The corresponding definition of reprobation in Vermigli's Loci Communes is:
reprobation is the most wise purpose of God, whereby before all eternity, he has constantly decreed without any injustice, not to have mercy on those whom he has not loved, but has passed over them; that by their just condemnation, he might declare his wrath towards sins, and his glory (Loci Communes, 3.1.15, my translation).
This is "the sentence of God's predestination", the doctrine which is "a most dangerous downfall" to some who have it perpetually before their eyes. The Devil uses it, says Article 17, to thrust those without God's Spirit into desperation and ungodliness.

Reading over Vermigli's Loci Communes, as I have been lately, I think we might even be able to put an actual face to the difficult doctrine -- a man named Francesco Spiera. I will let Vermigli himself tell you the harrowing story, below. But note how similar the language and thought here is to Article 17.
And it is vain that they say that many fall into suspicion of their reprobation: for out of the holy scriptures no man can gather any effectual arguments for his reprobation. And if God will sometimes reveal it by a certain secret judgement, it cannot be made into a general rule.
In our time, indeed, it happened that a certain man in Italy called Francis Spiera inwardly felt that God had imposed this evil upon him. But this in my judgement was done to terrify others. For he, after he had begun to know the truth of the gospel and openly confessed it, was brought to Venice before the Pope's legate and publicly renounced it. Afterward, being stricken with a grievous wound of conscience, he persuaded himself that he had sinned against the Holy Spirit. He was thereby thrown into so great a desperation, that he could not be consoled, though notable and pious men counselled and exhorted him to have a good hope in Christ and his death. He would say that these things were fine to preach to other people, but to him they were pointless: for he could see that he had most certainly sinned against the Holy Ghost, and that there was no remedy left to deliver him from damnation. And so remaining in this desperate state, he died.

God would in this man, by an exceptional and extraordinary dispensation, frighten away others from the like wickedness and impiety. However, this does not happen often, as far as we can gather from history, neither can any man discern this desperation by the holy scriptures. And I am not sure God did this to Spiera, but it was  probably prompted by the Devil (whose bondslave he was, having renounced godliness), so that he might drive him to utter desperation" (Vermigli, Loci Communes. Part 3, chapter 1, section 33 on predestination, my translation).
Elsewhere, Vermigli spoke about, "principles of misery", which he enumerated as "the reprobation of God, the want of God's Spirit, and infidelity. Whoever is subject to these evils, is to be counted altogether miserable and unhappy."

I think it is clearer, with this context and background in mind, that "the sentence of God's predestination" in Article 17 is talking about reprobation -- the thought of which the Devil sometimes misuses (as with Spiera) to cast some people into desperation, so they don't listen to the gospel. We are being told in the Article not to apply reprobation this way; but using the very words and observations of a man who quite firmly believed that the truth of reprobation itself was undeniably scriptural.

In the end, Article 17 is not a theoretical text, dealing in mere dogmatic abstractions. It is rooted in both biblical-theological reflection of a very profound kind and real human experience, even in its teaching on the darker side of predestination.

Reprobation Clarification

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There has been some interesting discussion in various places generated by my previous posts on reprobation. That's good. It's hard to talk about, but important to do so. Rather than repeat myself ad nauseum in those discussions, it's probably useful if I here make a number of clarifications about the subject. Here's my starting 11 anyway, of things to reject:

1. I don't think Article 17 of the 39 Articles teaches double predestination in an exhaustive sense. My point is that it does deliberately and explicitly acknowledge the darker side of "the sentence of God's predestination" and teaches us how not to apply and preach that. It doesn't say much more, and those of us who interpret it this way are not claiming it does -- though other parts of the Anglican formularies do say more (as does the Bible). It certainly cannot be said to be silent on the issue or to teach against it. That would be odd, since Article 17 may well have been drafted by Peter Martyr Vermigli, who was a strong double predestinarian (like a good many Anglican Reformers in the sixteenth century).

2. I don't think God is the author of sin. I've never met or read anyone who does. But somehow this charge of blasphemy keeps being thrown out at anyone who even dares mention this subject, as if it were a potent knock-down one-liner. Everyone from Augustine to Ratramnus to whoever always points out that twofold predestination does not mean God compels us to sin or is the author of wickedness.

3. I don't think predestination and reprobation are exact equivalents. There is some asymmetry involved, of course! No one deserves predestination to life, for example, but everyone reprobated receives an impeccably just judgment for their sins. If anyone says they are two sides of the same coin, that wouldn't mean they are exact symmetrical equivalents either -- the two sides of a coin usually have some differences, I think, even if they do come inseparably together.

4. I'm not incapable of understanding nuances and distinctions. Sometimes they are helpful in summarising the witness of scripture. But sometimes, the distinctions human interpreters make are only nominal or semantic. Frequently they have no scriptural justification or warrant and often defy common sense or logic. Which is a problem. Also, sometimes it is possible to make a distinction (such as, between positive and negative reprobation) but without denying either, or thinking that they are actually separable. There are probably other things in theology which we think of as distinct but inseparable, aren't there?

5. I'm not more interested in tradition and church history than the Bible, nor do I give it any authority over God's word. That's why I looked at six or seven Bible references in my first post, even though I was only responding to what I considered a misinterpretation of a 16th century text. If Article 17 taught triple predestination or quadruple predestination or something, I'd consider myself under no obligation to believe it unless I could be satisfied it was biblical first and foremost. Reprobation is so often assumed to be just a "logical deduction." Or an imposition onto Christianity by overly philosophical or emotionless minds. But it's not without biblical justification, whatever unfounded things may be said about the people who hold to it.

6. I am not hoping to encourage Anglicans to sign up to the Westminster Confession.

7. I never mentioned Calvin.

8. I'm not a supralapsarian. Or an Islamic fatalist.

9. I do not find it uninteresting that people who reject the usefulness of systematic theology and logic in favour of a form of atomised sola exegesis fundamentalism are so often the ones who start appealing at this point to some pretty fine distinctions and taxonomies of causation, to avoid any taint of the dreaded "double predestination." Now why is that?

10. It has not gone unnoticed, and is fascinating, that many who want to deny that God has any role in reprobation essentially make predestination and foreknowledge the same thing in this regard. Isn't that what Pelagius does in his Romans commentary? Also, I have always wondered if saying that God's foreknowledge of someone's sins is the cause or motive of his reprobation of them doesn't actually imperil divine simplicity and immutability. I think I may have read this in Ratramnus or Gottschalk or Remigius. But here we go again, getting into that systematic stuff...

11. Finally, I didn't bring this up because I have an axe to grind on the subject. I didn't start it! I was merely responding to what I saw as a misunderstanding of the Thirty-nine Articles propagated by someone else, a misunderstanding I thought I had adequately corrected in a couple of places in my published works. That someone is my friend, incidentally, and we are on very good terms despite not necessarily agreeing on everything. That's healthy isn't it? Though friendships can be strained by sporting events, and at least one antipodean friend has threatened to unfriend me after I might have mentioned somewhere the recent utter collapse of the Australian cricket team... Better stop there then...

Lee Gatiss is not quite done with this theological subject yet...

The pastoral use of reprobation

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If I may be permitted one final thought (for now) on this difficult doctrine of reprobation, it is vital that we do not treat it lightly but use it well. All scripture and doctrine is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training us in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). The pastoral imperative when considering this darker side of predestination is important to keep in mind. I have already mentioned one way in which we are not to apply this doctrine.

We mustn't censor out parts of the Bible, of course, and just pick the bits we like. As Martin Luther rightly said, 
Truth and doctrine must be preached always, openly, and constantly, and never accommodated or concealed... If, therefore, God has willed that such things should be openly spoken of and published abroad without regard to the consequences, who are you to forbid it? (LW 33:56, 59)
But he also very wisely said this, when he spoke of Jesus' own reaction to the eternal decree not to save everyone:
It is likewise the part of this incarnate God to weep, wail, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, when the will of the Divine Majesty purposely abandons and reprobates some to perish. And it is not for us to ask why he does so, but to stand in awe of God who both can do and wills to do such things. (LW 33:146)
It is no laughing matter, but a sombre and sobering truth which should have an emotional impact on us.

The Synod of Dort (1618-1619) is perhaps most famous for its pronouncements on this sort of issue. Those who have never read its "canons" might assume they are harsh cannonballs full of strident dogma. But since they were written by theologians who were pastors (and pastors who were theologians) they have an eminently pastoral edge to them. This paragraph (Canons 1.16) especially, on the right use of the doctrine of reprobation, is crucial to ponder on this literally awe-inspiring truth of scripture:
Those who do not yet actively experience within themselves a living faith in Christ or an assured confidence of heart, peace of conscience, a zeal for childlike obedience, and a glorying in God through Christ, but who nevertheless use the means by which God has promised to work these things in us -- such people ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to count themselves among the reprobate; rather they ought to continue diligently in the use of the means, to desire fervently a time of more abundant grace, and to wait for it in reverence and humility.
If you are regularly attending a Bible teaching church, but are not yet committed to Christ with all your heart and soul, or feel you lack assurance -- talk of this doctrine shouldn't terrify you. Don't think of yourself as one of the damned, but diligently desire God's grace and ask him for it.
On the other hand, those who seriously desire to turn to God, to be pleasing to him alone, and to be delivered from the body of death, but are not yet able to make such progress along the way of godliness and faith as they would like -- such people ought much less to stand in fear of the teaching concerning reprobation, since our merciful God has promised that he will not snuff out a smouldering wick and that he will not break a bruised reed.
If you are trying to please God and follow Jesus but don't feel you're doing very well at it -- don't let this doctrine frighten you either. Rather, trust in God's tender mercy and fan into flame what little faith you have.
However, those who have forgotten God and their Saviour Jesus Christ and have abandoned themselves wholly to the cares of the world and the pleasures of the flesh -- such people have every reason to stand in fear of this teaching, as long as they do not seriously turn to God.
But if you are one of those who has fully embraced the ways of the world and spends their time and money pursuing their own pleasure and security above all... if you have forgotten Jesus and don't even pretend to follow him -- then be afraid. You have every reason, while in that state, to tremble at the thought and mention of God's sovereignty. Repent and believe, before it is too late.

In one of my former posts on the darker side of predestination, I quoted the great Anglican scholar J.B. Mozley. He said, "There is no real distinction between abandoning men to a certain state, of which punishment will be the consequence, and ordaining them to that punishment."

I must say, I have always found it hard to disagree with that biblically. Perhaps it is because I am a bit simplistic and not nuanced enough. But essentially, it seems to me that if God doesn't choose someone, he has decided not to choose them. It's not an accident. Yes, their sin has something to do with it. But so does God's will, in some way, because he is sovereign and doesn't just let things slip. I find this logic hard to evade, and can't at the moment see a scriptural rationale for avoiding or softening it.

Turns out, I'm not the only one though. Speaking of someone who said they only believed in a one-sided predestination (to life) and that others were merely left in their own sin, a great man once said:
You believe he hath absolutely decreed not to save them; and what is this but decreeing to damn them? It is, in effect, neither more not less; it comes to the same thing; for if you are dead, and altogether unable to make yourself alive, then, if God has absolutely decreed he will make only others alive, and not you, he hath absolutely decreed your everlasting death; you are absolutely consigned to damnation. So then, though you use softer words than some, you mean the self-same thing; and God's decree concerning the election of grace, according to your account of it, amounts to neither more nor less than what others call God's decree of reprobation. Call it therefore by whatever name you please, election, preterition, predestination, or reprobation, it comes in the end to the same thing.
Ah, I do love that sermon on "Free Grace" by John Wesley...

Lee Gatiss is the author of Strangely Warmed: Whitefield, Toplady, Simeon and Wesley's Arminian Campaigns (2015)

Reprobate Anglicans

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Continuing to ponder the idea that God appointed some to everlasting life and others to a different fate. Is this really a genuinely Anglican idea, as my previous posts about the dark side of predestination and the way not to apply reprobation have asserted?

The first commentary on the Thirty-nine Articles by Thomas Rogers seems to indicate so. In The English Creed (1585), page 60, he writes (with Yoda-like grammar), "Err therefore doe they which stand in opinion that some are appointed to be saved, yet none to be damned." His later A Treatise upon sundry matters contained in the Thirty-nine Articles (1658), page 65, adds a condemnation of those who say "no certain company be foredestined unto eternal condemnation."

He was not alone in holding this view of course. In reply to an attack by a Portuguese Roman Catholic named Osorious on the English creed (i.e. the Articles), the famous John Fox and a certain Mr Haddon, wrote this:
For whereas that most sacred purpose of the divine predestination and reprobation doth issue and spring from out the only will of God, being indeed most unsearchable, yet most righteous; and whereas, also, men are first fashioned in the same will, as in God's workshop, to be either vessels of wrath, or vessels of mercy, before that any lenity or mercy do appear to be extended towards any of them from God; by what means then will Osorius affirm that the defence of justice consisteth wholly in mercy, and that there be no vessels of wrath, but such as will not be vessels of mercy? I do answer that this is true that no man perisheth at all, but whoso perisheth by his own procurement and default," nevertheless, "as he is a judge he doth punish sinners indeed; but as he is a creator he doth fashion his creatures according to his will, even as the potter doth fashion his pots."  Haddon & Fox Against Osorius. (originally, 1563). (See Thomas R. Jones, An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles by the Reformers (1849), page 105.)
Haddon and Fox oppose the view that there are only "vessels of mercy" and those who themselves decide not to be. They oppose that by saying that predestination and reprobation can both be traced back to God's will. God's will, not their own, makes people vessels of mercy or vessels of wrath. It is true, they affirm, that all who perish do so because of their sin, in a sense. But in an ultimate sense, God fashions things as he wills.

There was a dispute in Cambridge about these issues in the 1590s. There were virulent sermons against Calvin, Beza, Vermigli, and Zanchius, and especially their doctrines of election. In response, the co-called Lambeth Articles were drawn up by the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and endorsed by both archbishops, and others, in 1595. They clarified that Anglican doctrine was Reformed and, more specifically, that, "1. God from eternity has predestined some men to life, and reprobated some to death." Note the subject of that sentence. They added that, "4. Those not predestined to salvation are inevitably condemned on account of their sins." God predestines and reprobates, the latter on account of sin, the former on account of grace alone.

The Anglican worthies who were sent by King James I to attend the Synod of Dort in 1618 were far from severe or hyper-calvinists, as my previous interlocutor Dr Jensen will no doubt admit (their minority opinion on the matter of "limited atonement" being of particular interest to some of our mutual friends in Sydney). They did however pronounce it an erroneous opinion that predestination to life was "the whole and entire decree of predestination." The fact that some are severed from others by the decree is a key part of it according to scripture, they said.

On reprobation, the British divines at Dort -- who clearly were unafraid to disagree with a majority view, if they felt scripture or their confession called them to -- declared that "non-election, we avow to be grounded upon the most free will of God." They cite Romans 9 and John 10:26 ("you do not believe because you are not my sheep"). All lie in sin and are equally undeserving. God decides to save some, and decides not to save others. They are damned and predestinated to damnation in consideration of their sin. Reprobation is the negation of election and sets down "the immutable will of God, by which he hath decreed not to take pity of that person, whom he passeth by, so farre forth as to bestow upon him eternall life." As they conclude, "The Apostle fetcheth this preterition, or non-election, from the mere will of God." (See Anthony Milton (ed.), The British Delegation and the Synod of Dort, pages 230, 238-239, 241, 242-243.)

So nothing that I have affirmed about "the sentence of God's predestination" against the reprobate is un-Anglican. It is embedded in the first generations of Reformation Anglican writing on the subject, as well as being part of an international Reformed consensus at that formative time.

I know there are subtle distinctions at play in the way some people talk about this subject. And perhaps I am too much of a dullard and a historian to really understand the philosophical elegancies of systematics. But as the great Anglican scholar J.B. Mozley puts it in his Treatise on the Augustinian doctrine of Predestination (1883), page 392, "There is no real distinction between abandoning men to a certain state, of which punishment will be the consequence, and ordaining them to that punishment."

As he goes on, on the next page, "I see no substantial difference between the Augustinian and Thomist, and the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. S. Augustine and Calvin alike hold an eternal Divine decree, which, antecedently to all action, separates one portion of mankind from another, and ordains one to everlasting life and the other to everlasting punishment."

I confess that I find that intellectually satisfying and historically compelling, as well as most in accordance with scripture as I currently understand it. I also think it is authentically Anglican and thoroughly evangelical, and while I fully understand some may not like it and want to disagree, I can't see that it should be dismissed with irrelevant epithets such as "overly neat" or "unfeelingly dogmatic."

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society, adjunct lecturer at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and Research Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa at the University of the Free State, South Africa

How not to apply reprobation

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In my former article on The darker side of predestination, I spoke about how Article 17 of The Thirty-nine Articles is not entirely limited to talking about the positive aspects of that doctrine. It does indeed mention "the sentence of predestination", the flip side of the coin, as do other Anglican formularies. Article 17 teaches that reprobation cannot be used as an excuse for immorality, not that there is no such thing as reprobation.

This reading is confirmed I think by a passage in Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's proposed canon law reform, the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum. There, he writes, 
On the fringe of the church there are many who live in a wild and dissolute way, who when they get interested in the subject, being dissipated by excess and completely cut off from the Spirit of Christ, always toss predestination and rejection, or (as they usually call it), reprobation, into their speech, arguing that since God by his eternal counsel has already determined something, both concerning salvation and destruction, they have some excuse for their wrongdoings and crimes and all manner of evil. And when pastors upbraid their dissipated and disgraceful life, they blame God's will for their crimes and by that defence consider that the reprimands of admonitions are wasted... Wherefore everyone must be warned by us that in undertaking actions they should not rely on the decrees of predestination, but adapt their entire way of life to the laws of God, and contemplate that both promises to the good as well as threats to the bad are generally set forth to him in the Holy Scriptures.
In other words, one may be reprobate, but one is not to assume this in deciding how to live. All the more so, since "the decrees of predestination are unknown to us," as the 1553 edition of Article 17 says. Interesting use of the plural "decrees" there.

Rather, we are to obey the warnings of Scripture and trust the promises. As Article 17 says, "in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared to us in the Word of God." So we are not to base our rejection of God on a presumption that he has not chosen us. Scripture, when it speaks of reprobation, does not apply it in this manner.

So preachers should simply declare the promises of God for forgiveness as applicable to all those who repent and believe. Just because we don't preach reprobation to people as an excuse for them to sin, that does not mean there is no such thing as reprobation.

I love the way Article 17 tells us that believers should not recoil from this doctrine of predestination as "too complicated" or "too divisive" or "too mysterious", but meditate on it as "full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort" for believers. It leads to godliness and love for God. We can and should focus on that, as a much needed gospel comfort. But that doesn't mean we should dismiss as "scant" the references to another aspect of this doctrine.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society, adjunct lecturer at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and Research Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa at the University of the Free State, South Africa


I was interested to see that TGC have launched in Australia. I hope and pray it will be a great support and encouragement to gospel-minded people down under.

On their shiney new website, there is an article posted two days ago on the great Anglican theologian, W.H. Griffith Thomas by my friend and birthday buddy, Michael Jensen.

One of the things Griffith Thomas says, and which for some reason Michael chose to zero in on in his summary of the man, is that there is no mention of the darker side of predestination in the Anglican formularies. Or as WHGT put it when commenting on Article 17 of The Thirty-nine Articles, "There is no reference to Reprobation or Preterition, neither of which is part of the Church of England doctrine."

Now, I don't especially like talking about this sort of thing. It can be difficult pastorally, and you always have to hedge everything around with qualifications and asides to guard against misunderstandings. And there isn't a consensus even amongst the more Reformed type of evangelicals about how precisely to formulate this sort of thing. So it isn't something I personally would choose to bring up if I was trying to build a coalition around central gospel truths. I would pass over it.

All that being said, it is a little disconcerting to read this sort of thing, and to be told that "there are scant Scriptures that might be said to teach a doctrine of reprobation." OK, so Article 17 does not explicitly cite:
1 Peter 2:8, "[those who do not believe] stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do."
2 Peter 2:12, "But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction."
Jude 4, "certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."
Revelation 17:8, "the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world..."
But in such scriptures, the doctrine of reprobation does seem to many interpreters to surface in a most remarkable way. If it doesn't, if there is some other explanation for what these verses say, then perhaps we ought to be educated on that, rather than them simply being dismissed as "scant." They are, after all, about as scant as the number of verses directly addressing practising homosexuality, or whether you should marry a non-Christian.

We don't usually accept the argument that "where number of verses addressing a subject is small, dismiss the doctrine," or call it "mysterious," or say there is "no reference" to it. After all, how many times does God need to say something for us to listen?

As a mere historian, I think it is only fair to point out that Article 17 does actually speak of "the sentence of predestination." This "sentence" leads those without the Holy Spirit into desperation and ungodly living. This can only be a reference to that aspect of predestination which is directed against the non-elect, can't it?

The positive side of the doctrine is stated in the Articles using a clear allusion to Romans 9:23 "vessels made to honour". When you look that up, as all contextual exegetes like to do, it doesn't take long to notice that it is immediately preceded by a contrasting mention of "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Romans 9:22). Did I mention Romans 9 earlier? Maybe not, but again, it is another place where many commentators have seen the darker side of predestination being addressed, i.e. "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction...?" Romans 9:13 doesn't say, "Jacob I loved."

It simply won't do to say that there is "no reference" to the flip side of this sweet doctrine. I know some people are offended by it. So did the English Reformers. There is an official Anglican Homily about that, "An Information of them which take Offence at certain Places of Holy Scripture." (The Homilies are officially recognised as having a certain authority in Anglicanism, by Articles 11 and 35.) This teaches us to have a "reverend estimation of God's word." And in part 2 of that homily, we are taught that, "Christ Jesus is a fall to the reprobate, which yet perish through their own default; so is his word, yea, the whole book of God, a cause of damnation unto them."

You might say this is simply affirming that sinners are damned by their own fault. That, as Griffith Thomas puts it "it is not God's doing." But it seems to me that it mentions God's word also being "a cause of damnation" there. Or did I misunderstand? I'm not quite convinced with Michael Jensen that "if we are condemned, it is our fault entire." I suspect there is more to it than simply us opposing his will (as if that could trump God's will). 2 Corinthians 4:3 also mentions another agency involved in the perishing of unbelievers.

There's also the lesser-read "Homily for Rogation Week" (Part 1). Here, we are also informed that God "may do what liketh him, and none can resist him. For he worketh all things in his secret judgment to his own pleasure, yea, even the wicked to damnation." God is involved somehow even in this darker side of things, it seems to say here. That even alludes to Proverbs 16:4 (another of those scant scriptures I forgot to list earlier).

I agree with Michael, that "There is much more of value in the work of Griffith Thomas." There is a great deal of useful stuff in the work of this great dispensationalist, premillennialist Anglican of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for those seeking to build a coalition around the gospel. Indeed, his portrait graces the walls of the Church Society office, and his commentary on the Articles is a Church Society publication. I just wish that we had learned more in Dr Jensen's article about some of the valuable things in his work, rather than this much more questionable aspect of his output.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society, adjunct lecturer at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and Research Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa at the University of the Free State, South Africa

In scholastic theological discourse, 'moral suasion' and 'physical influence' represent two different ways of getting someone to do something. If my goal were, say, getting my four-year-old daughter to the dinner table, I might employ 'moral suasion' by promising her that she'd find her favorite dish when she arrived there, or by simply threatening her with consequences for refusing to follow my instructions to cease and desist from playing and join us for supper. I might, alternatively, employ 'physical influence' by simply picking her up, compliant or not, and carrying her to the table.

This distinction finds expression, among other places, in the Synod of Dort's explanation for how God brings his elect to faith and repentance. "God," the Canons of Dort argue, "not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to [the elect] outwardly, ... [but] also penetrates into the inmost being, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. God infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant."

The Divines at Dort described God's act of 'physical influence' upon the will in such terms to counter semi-Pelagians who professed that divine grace precedes every positive movement of the human will towards salvation, but -- when pressed -- were forced to admit that by 'grace' all they really meant was God inviting, threatening, pleading with, and otherwise attempting to suade [sic] sinners to embrace the Gospel. The underlying assumption of such persons was that sinners retain sufficient freedom of the will to respond positively to the Gospel when it is properly set before them. Grace in such a semi-Pelagian scheme need not entail any actual influence upon the will, and -- correspondingly -- remains something which can be resisted by those whom it confronts.

Though Luther never employs the exact terms I've outlined above ('moral suasion' vs. 'physical influence'), I believe this distinction lies at the heart of the difference he posits, in his Bondage of the Will, between God's work of regenerating those whom ultimately believe and God's work of hardening those whom ultimately perish in unbelief.

So enslaved, in Luther's perspective, is every human person's will to that human person's sinful nature -- i.e., so enslaved is every person's will to sin (cf. John 8.34) -- that Luther, though admitting that people sin freely and under no compulsion, is reluctant to attribute 'free choice' to sinners at all. For sinners to exercise faith in Christ, then, requires a divine act of physical influence upon their wills. "The ungodly does not come even when he hears the Word [moral suasion], unless the Father draws and teaches him inwardly [physical influence], which He does by pouring out the Spirit. There is then another 'drawing' [namely, one of physical influence] than the one that takes place outwardly [i.e., that of moral suasion]; for then" -- that is, when God employs his Spirit to bring someone to faith -- "Christ is [so] set forth... that a man is rapt away to Christ with the sweetest rapture, and rather yields passively to God's speaking, teaching, and drawing than seeks and runs himself."

For Luther, as for the Divines at Dort, 'moral suasion' and 'physical influence' coincide in the work of regeneration -- "it has thus pleased God to impart the Spirit, not without the Word, but through the Word" -- but the latter is utterly indispensable to any right response to the Gospel. Elsewhere Luther describes this "inward" work of God upon the will thus: "If God works in us, the will is changed, and being gently breathed upon by the Spirit of God, it again wills and acts from pure willingness and inclination and of its own accord, ... willing and delighting in and loving the good just as before it willed and delighted in and loved evil."

But Luther employs decidedly different language when he discusses God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart (and the hearts of all who die in final unbelief) in Exodus 9:12 (cf. Romans 9:17-18): "[God] provoked [Pharaoh] and increased the hardness and stubbornness of his heart by thrusting at him through the word of Moses, who threatened to take away his kingdom and withdraw the people from his tyranny, without giving him the Spirit inwardly but permitting his ungodly corrupt nature under the rule of Satan to catch fire, flare up, rage, and run riot with a kind of contemptuous self-confidence."

In other words, God hardened Pharaoh's heart through an act of 'moral suasion' alone. God confronted Pharaoh with a word which required Pharaoh to give up something he held dear, and in so doing provoked Pharaoh to cling more tightly to that very thing. Luther again explains: "It is thus [God] hardens Pharaoh, when he presents to his ungodly and evil will a word... which that will hates -- owing of course to its inborn defect and natural corruption. And since God does not change it inwardly by his Spirit, but keeps on presenting and obtruding his words... from without, ... the result is that Pharaoh is puffed up and exalted by his own imagined greatness, ... and is thus hardened and then more and more provoked and exasperated the more Moses presses and threatens him."

Thus God "hardens" all who are exposed to the Word without a corresponding work of God's Spirit to bring them to faith and repentance: "This provocation of the ungodly, when God says or does to them the opposite of what they wish, is itself their hardening or worsening. For not only are they in themselves averse through the very corruption of their nature, but they become all the more averse and are made much worse when their aversion is resisted or thwarted." In Luther's judgment the Gospel proves the ultimate "provocation of the ungodly," because it calls sinners to abandon their most prized possession -- their own self-righteousness.

This basic difference between God's act of hardening (through 'moral suasion') and God's act of softening (through 'moral suasion' and 'physical influence') human hearts should be carefully noted. It reminds us, among other things, that God is not the author of corrupt nature or sinful human acts as such. If, in fact, God hardened human hearts in some way analogous to how he softens them -- by an act of physical influence upon them -- Scripture's claim that God is "too pure" even to "look upon sin" (much less to be the culpable cause of sin) might seem to ring hollow. Persons who, like the Divines at Dort, accept with Luther the biblical truth that God has in fact predestined some (undeserving) sinners to eternal life (accomplishing their salvation in time) and predestined other (deserving) sinners to eternal death (accomplishing, in a fundamentally different way, there condemnation in time) would do well to articulate the difference in how God ultimately achieves those respective ends with as much precision and care as Luther.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.