Cork Free Presbyterian Church, 10 Briarscourt (Annex) Shanakiel, Cork, Ireland Pastor: Colin Maxwell. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
THE THREE LEGGED STOOL
Only a fool would think that he can make simple those things which even Peter considered were "hard to be understood" (2 Peter 3:16) Paradoxically, it seems the more we know about the things of God, the more evident it is that we are ignorant. We can only say with Paul: O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33) And yet there are things we can do in order to come to a better understanding of what God has revealed to us. We can study to show ourselves approved…we can meditate upon these things etc., and above all else, cry out to God to send out His light and His truth and let them lead us; This article is an attempt to simplify some matters which some folk find difficult. I sometimes use the illustration of the three legged stool to emphasise the importance of some very fundamental doctrinal truths.
The three legged stool, if probably used and sufficiently strong, will bear your weight. It will prove comfort enough to sit upon and even to stand upon. The secret of its strength lies in the weight being equally set upon each leg as a whole. If one leg is taken away…the whole stool is useless and actually becomes dangerous. So too with the word of God. Over emphasise any doctrine and you are heading for trouble, for although every word of God will ever remain pure (Proverbs 30:6) yet our interpretation of it can become unbalanced and dangerous. Heresy can often be traced back to imbalanced truth. Some of the early heretics so emphasised the humanity of Christ that they denied His deity…others so emphasised his Deity and denied His humanity etc.,
It will greatly help us in our understanding of the Doctrines of Grace in particular, although of the Bible in general, if we keep THREE VITAL MAXIMS in mind when trying to fathom out those deep things of God which He has revealed to us. No amount of simplification will ever help us when we seek to go beyond that which is written. We should not pry into what God has chosen not to reveal to us. These things belong to the Lord - not unto us or our children (Deuteronomy 29:29) Speculation is a dangerous business. Avoid like the plague. Keep the following maxims in mind and use them all together at one and the same time. Never push one to the exclusion of the other. Otherwise your stool will collapse. It is not for us to necessarily reconcile them, when and if a supposed conflict arises. Truth is to be received…not necessarily explained if God has not given an explanation to us.
1) GOD IS ALWAYS SOVEREIGN:
No doctrine is ever to be believed or embraced that knocks God of His throne. Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever… (Psalm 45:6) and any doctrine which impinges upon God's sovereign right to do what He will with His own (Matthew 20:15) is to be repudiated. God owes no man anything and especially the sinner (see next point) who deserves nothing but damnation and hell fire. God has the right to damn us all and His decision to purpose to save some and not all is entirely within His sovereign justice. None can obligate God to anything. One reason why men end up with wrong views on salvation is that they start with man. They START WITH MAN…CONTINUE WITH MAN…AND END WITH MAN. The Bible STARTS, CONTINUES AND ENDS WITH GOD: For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:36) If you want to study the doctrine of salvation from the emphasis of the Bible i.e. God centred…follow throughour studies on the Doctrine of Grace which begin where we ought to begin i.e. with God.
2) MAN IS ALWAYS RESPONSIBILE:
God's sovereignty and man's responsibility always run hand in hand with each other. One never cancels out the other. God is entirely sovereign…man is equally and therefore entirely responsible. To emphasise one at the expense of the other (either way) leads either to Arminianism on one hand or hyper Calvinism on the other. Both are unsatisfactory systems of belief and are to be studiously avoided. Sometimes the Bible narrative emphasises one without mentioning the other. This should not be construed to be at the expense of the other, even if it is not distinctly mentioned. We are expected to compare spiritual things with spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13)
The classic case is that of Judas Iscariot. The following Bible references suffice to tell the whole story:
1) SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN THE LIFE OF JUDAS:
The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. (Proverbs 16:4)
2) RESPONSIBILITY OF MAN IN THE LIFE OF JUDAS:
Judas…saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. (Matthew 27:4)
That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. (Acts 1:25)
… that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Romans 3:19)
3) BOTH ARE EMPHASISED IN THE ONE VERSE:
The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born. (Mark 14:21)
Here we might answer that age old question: Was Judas born to be damned? The answer really is simple: No…he was born to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever AND HE FAILED. God is seen to be sovereign in that He could righteously require Judas to dedicate his life to the things of God. Man is seen to be responsible in that Judas declined to do this, went his own wicked way - God allowing him to free fall in his sin, not making it an necessity but permitting it and taking good from it - and subsequently being punished for his sin. The sin all belongs to Judas…the glory all belongs to God. Can any one show me where I'm wrong in my analysis?
3) SALVATION IS ALWAYS BY FREE: GRACE:
This follows on from the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. If salvation is by anything other than free grace, as stated in Ephesians 2:8-9/Titus 3:5 etc., then God is under an obligation and therefore less than sovereign. God cannot be obligated to His creatures, especially (as stated above) if they are sinful. Sin has caused us to forfeit any claims upon God. Whatever we might have said as creatures is now silenced because we are sinful creatures. Just to be out of hell is an unmeasured mercy. Just to be offered the gospel freely and the opportunity to be saved is an unmeasured mercy. Sin has rendered man unable to lay hold on eternal life. He is distinctly said to be without strength (Romans 5:6) - the "physical" equivalent to the "economic" portrayal of one being bankrupt (a term often used by Calvinist and non Calvinist evangelists alike) In the non elect, God simply does not venture to them that saving grace that enables them to overcome the sinful bent of their hearts and minds (1 Corinthians 2:14) but leaves them to their chosen sin (as with Judas above) Here again is God's sovereignty ("He leaves them…) and man's responsibility (…to their chosen sin.") Both are true. We repeat again… neither is to be emphasised at the expense of the other.
This being so…where God does intervene with salvation, this must be viewed as being the work of His grace. Although God does not believe or repent for the sinner…the sinner believes and the sinner repents… yet even these acts are according to the saving grace of God. Therefore it is said to be the goodness of God that led us to repentance (Romans 2:4) - God have granted it to us (Acts 11:18) - and we are distinctly said to have believed through grace (Acts 18:27) Once - according to John 5:40 - I would not come that I might have life (man's responsibility) but God worked in me both to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13) and so I was willing in the day of His power (Psalm 110:3)
This theology - which is far removed from the man based theology of the non Calvinist - has several advantages:
1) IT GIVES GOD THE GLORY: (1 Corinthians 1:31)
2) IT FORBIDS MAN TO GLORY, APART FROM IN GOD: (Galatians 6:14) There ought never to be any proud Calvinists! If there are - they are being false to their profession. An abuse of a doctrine does not negate it.
3) IT DOES NOT REMOVE RESPONSIBILITY FROM MAN: If this removed, you are looking at hyper Calvinism which true Calvinists loathe as much as anyone else.
4) IT DRIVES MEN TO GOD: It is true that the sinner will abuse the doctrine and make it into an excuse - but then… the sinner's excuses come quick and fast anyway (Luke 14:18) - but the awakened soul will flee to God and cry for mercy. The man in Mark 9:24 certainly provides a good example: I believe; help thou my unbelief. Here is a balanced man.
5) IT AFFORDS THE GREATEST COMFORT AND ASSURANCE:
Where man has room to congratulate himself on his general ability to believe etc., then surely he must worry regarding his general ability to undo the work of grace. If he can freely will himself into Christ (in the non Calvinist sense)…then he can just as freely will himself out of it. The rank Arminian is being entirely consistent on this matter. Those who leave God standing like a kind of butler waiting on the sinner, but who believe in eternal security are not. The saint is not less free than the sinner. If my salvation is tied in to the eternal decree (God's Sovereignty) then I have every reason to do those things essential to my spirituality (Man's Responsibility) knowing that they cannot fail!
I hope we haven't lost you in this explanation. If so, read it over again and let it sink in. This is balanced truth. It keeps both God and man in sight, glorifying God and exhorting and encouraging the sinner. If you want anything clarified…feel free to email me although my time to enter into prolonged debates is greatly limited. I pastor a small church and have an active outreach ministry which must take priority. If you feel you must raise some objection…go back to the Judas Iscariot scenario mentioned above and show me where I am wrong.
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