March 13, 2013
iii. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.
Can the natural man choose Christ apart from the enabling of the Holy Spirit? Putting the question in a different way, which comes first, faith or regeneration? Is the will of man capable of believing the gospel, capable of inclining itself to choose to come to Jesus Christ? The Divines, following Augustine, Luther, and Calvin answered in the negative. More provocatively, we could suggest that they were simply yielding to what Jesus said in John 6:65: "No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father," or 6:44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him."
Arminians agree with this practically - after all, no one ever says to God, "I am thanking myself for salvation; after all, I made a free and good choice." Even Arminius himself agreed that God makes us able and added that the natural man needs to cooperate with this enabling of God. But in the end, human ability is not wholly lost in this way of thinking.
Reformed theology insists that the natural man, while free to determine choices according to his fallen nature, he is not free to choose all possible moral choices. His nature predisposes him to choose in accord with his idol-producing mind. Not only is the natural man unable to convert himself, he is not able to "prepare" himself for conversion. In the 1570's, some were advocating that an unregenerate sinner could prepare himself for the grace of regeneration by considering his sins in the light of God's law. By careful self-examination, the sinner could and ought to stir himself up to loathe his own sinfulness and to desire mercy and, by a judicious use of means (especially attendance upon the preaching of the gospel), he could put himself in the position of being a likely candidate for the new birth. This view undermines the gospel and the Divines insistently excluded any such possibility.