Once again, my comments are interspersed between Phil Johnson’s comments.
Does God’s Sovereignty Mean He Makes People Evil? by Phil Johnson
A fellow who espouses hyper-Calvinism wrote me to argue that there is no such thing as “common grace.” He insisted that God’s “apparent goodness” to the reprobate has no other purpose than to increase their condemnation. He was convinced that God is as active in making the reprobate wicked as He is in conforming the elect to the image of Christ. And for “proof,” he cited Romans 5:20: “The law entered that the offense might abound.”
My view, of course, is different from his.
So let’s think through some of these issues carefully. Consider, first of all, that the law has the effect of provoking sin in the elect as well as the reprobate. Even the apostle Paul testified that the tenth commandment stirred up all manner of coveting in his heart (Romans 7:8). He went on to explain in verse 13 that this is because the law was given to make sin appear exceedingly sinful. In other words, the law makes sin abound in order to confront us with the reality and magnitude of our sin.
C-Dunc: “Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). The reality and magnitude of sin is that it is the sting of death. Because of the sin of Adam imputed, all men are born dead spiritually. They are SO dead that they need to be made spiritually alive through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Of course, all whom Jesus Christ was raised on behalf of will be raised up to new life in Christ at some point in time before they die. I’m not sure exactly what kind of Calvinist Johnson is, but I do know that he would adhere to the blasphemy that at least in *some sense* Christ died and was raised up on behalf of those who go to hell. To say that Christ was resurrected on behalf of those who are in hell is to deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“Because if you confess the Lord Jesus with your mouth, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Many false religionists quote verses like Romans 10:9 and try to use it against us by showing us how simple and easy to understand the gospel is, while we are allegedly making it too difficult. I would point out to them that the Mormons profess to believe Romans 10:9, are they therefore saved? And not only that, but I would also point out that the various Arminians and Calvinists out there do NOT believe in their hearts that God raised Christ from the dead. Their demonic doctrine that asserts that God raised Christ from the dead on behalf of those who will remain dead indefinitely, is a denial that God actually raised Christ from the dead. There can be no separation between the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and those whom He regenerates by that power. If those whom He represented are not raised, then neither is He raised.
“Because of this, ‘it was also counted to him for righteousness.’ But it was not written for him only, that it was counted to him, but also on account of us, to whom it is about to be counted, to the ones believing on Him who has raised our Lord Jesus from the dead, who was delivered because of our deviations, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:22-25).
Now there are certain Calvinists who do not believe like Johnson (and Dabney, Hodge, Shedd, Calvin). They are of the John Owen variety who do not adhere to any sort dualistic view of the atonement. But even then, John Owen believed that Christ was raised in order to enable the elect to meet conditions for their justification.
As for the power of sin being the law: The holy, just,and good (Romans 7:12) law of God locks men up in the cage of condemnation by the power of omnipotent justice (1 Corinthians 15:56). As Galatians 3:24 says, the law is a teacher to show us that we cannot meet the perfect standard of that law, and to rest in a Substitute who did meet that perfect standard on our behalf. And since the power of sin is the law, Christ met that standard by obeying and dying in our place so that “the righteous demand of the Law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:4). Those for whom Christ did NOT die will, while they live on the earth, remain under the *power of sin* since they had NOT a Substitute to fulfill the *law* on their behalf. And thus, those (like A.A. Hodge) who would have the law removed out of the way of all men do not understand the magnitude of sin, nor the magnitude of what it takes to answer the demands of God’s law and justice.
But that is ultimately a gracious purpose, and the second half of Romans 5:20 makes that point inescapable: “The law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” So the exacerbating of sin is not an end in itself. God’s ultimate purpose, and that which He delights in, is not the sin, but the superabounding grace.
C-Dunc: Johnson believes in a Calvinist version of universal atonement, so where’s the “superabounding” grace? It’s not there. Because of Adam’s sin imputed, all those whom he represented are born dead in sin and condemned. The Bible teaches that the sin of Adam demanded death to all whom he represented; and so, how much more will the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ demand life for all whom He represented. In the view of those like Phil Johnson however, the grace is NOT superabounding, and thus it is not a matter of “how much more.” For to Johnson and company, many for whom Christ allegedly obeyed for, will not be justified.
In sum, Johnson’s view is that the righteousness of Christ does NOT demand life for all whom He represented, and thus the “superabounding” grace that Phil mentions must be the kind that is no longer grace (Romans 11:6) and also fails to save.
Moreover, even while the law is provoking us to rebellion, the Lord through common grace usually restrains sinners—including the reprobate—from giving full expression to their sin (cf. Genesis 20:6; Romans 2:14-15).
C-Dunc: Let’s take a look at Genesis 20:6 (vv. 1-6 for context):
“And Abraham pulled up stakes from there to the land of the Negeb, and lived between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. And Abraham said with regards to his wife Sarah, She is my sister. And Abimelech the king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, Behold, you are about to die because of the woman you have taken, she being married to a husband. And Abimelech had not come near her. And he said, O Lord, will You slay even a righteous nation? And did he not say to me, She is my sister? And she, even she herself said, He is my brother. In the honor of my heart and the purity of my hands I have done this. And God said to him
in a dream, Yes, I know that you did this in the honor of your heart, and I also withheld you from sinning against Me. On account of this I did not allow you to touch her” (Genesis 20:1-6).
In Phil’s car analogy, God would allegedly allow Abimelech to touch Sarah by “letting go of the wheel” and the natural inclination of the “Abimelechian car” would be to drift into the left lane (i.e., to touch Sarah). Anyways, there are passages that say that God “allowed all the nations to go in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). Those who are allowed to go their own way are obviously under God’s wrath. Is God’s wrath active or passive? Of course it’s active. I think it is clear from the many passages that teach God’s active causation, that passages like Genesis 20:6 and Acts 14:16 are to be taken anthropopathically.
“Shall the axe glorify itself over him chopping with it? Or shall the saw magnify itself over him moving it? As if a rod could wave those who lift it. As if a staff could raise what is not wood!” (Isaiah 10:15)
Of course, you should read the whole of Isaiah 10 to see what God is doing with the axe and staff or saw. So here are some questions: What is a more accurate description, Phil Johnson’s car, or an axe? Can an axe be left to itself and still swing? Can an axe be permitted to swing and if so, is it chopping down trees by itself? I think it is clear: Johnson and his Calvinist and Arminian friends in their evil actions are vainly magnifying themselves over Him moving them.
So it is my conviction that the overall effect of common grace on the reprobate will be to decrease their condemnation, not increase it. But what about the potter-clay analogy in Romans 9? my hyper-calvinist correspondent wondered.
We need to think that through carefully, too. The potter starts with a lump of clay — something inherently filthy and base, with hardening properties already defining its very nature. So the clay is analogous to fallen humanity — useless for anything at all except in the hands of the heavenly Potter.
C-Dunc: If the clay is analogous to fallen humanity–and thus already fallen — then there wouldn’t be the objection “why did You make me like this?” But even if I concede that it is fallen humanity (I do not concede this), then there is still the question of WHO MADE the clay with its inherently filthy and base properties? For Johnson, the clay gave itself those base properties. Paul’s position is that the Potter MAKES the dishonorable vessels. Phil Johnson’s position is that the dishonorable vessels MAKE THEMSELVES.
Left alone, clay will harden into something permanently worthless. But when a skilled potter applies His work to that amorphous lump of filthy clay, he always makes it useful. He improves the clay-lump into something that can be employed for good purposes.
C-Dunc: And left alone, an axe will chop all by itself (Isaiah 10). If one objects and says that man is much more than an axe and clay; then I would say that God likewise, is much, much more than a Potter or a Woodsman.
In fact, God’s agency in hardening Pharaoh’s heart is exactly like the agency of the sun in hardening clay. The sun is in no way tainted or influenced by its contact with the clay; but the clay is profoundly affected by the sun’s rays.
C-Dunc: Well, the sun is not passively hardening the clay is it? I don’t think it is. So yes Phil, God is hardening the clay and the clay is in fact, profoundly affected by God’s active hardening. God is not tainted by His active hardening of clay. The clay cannot say “why does He yet find fault?” even though so it is so profoundly affected by His hardening that it cannot resist.
Furthermore, the property that gives clay its hardness is a property that belongs to the clay, not the sun. Want proof? Put a block of ice in the sun and see what happens to that. It will melt rather than harden. So the property that leads to the hardening of clay is something in the clay. Left to itself the clay will harden with or without exposure to the sun’s bright light. The sun merely accelerates the natural process.
C-Dunc: God hardens man and causes man to sin. And it is man who is sinning, not God. In causing a man to lie for example, God is not the one telling the lie, the man is telling the lie. To actively cause the lie is not to tell the lie, contrary to Johnson and company.