10 August, 2019

RE: “An offer is not ‘mockery’ ... for man has only a ‘moral’ inability, not a ‘physical’ inability”

“It is claimed by some that one of the reasons the gospel shouldn’t be spoken of as an ‘offer’ is that if salvation is an ‘offer,’ there must be left in the sinner, to whom the offer is made, the power to accept the offer. ‘For,’ it is said, ‘to offer anything to one whom we know cannot accept it is mere mockery.’
However, here are some thoughts of mine to respond to that argument:
If a man is known to be a sociopath (someone who can feel no remorse or repentance) and he has committed some crime against you, would it be wrong to offer him a reprieve on condition of him being sorry?—even though you know he is incapable? There is a massive fundamental difference between moral inability and physical inability. Truly it mocks someone who has his hands and feet tied to leave his prison cell. But to offer someone to leave their cell who is incapable of so doing because he has a stubborn unconquerable desire to stay there in protest of some cause is no mockery of that man. Though both be ‘incapable,’ they are so for very different reasons. The offer to one is a mockery, but not so to the other.”

A RESPONSE BY MR. HUGH L. WILLIAMS (former editor of the British Reformed Journal):

First of all, we must beware of being led in to conduct an argument wholly on the premises of our interlocutor. He is evidently either an outright Arminian/Pelagian or a modern “quasi-Calvinist”—i.e. one who has, via the influence of modern evangelicalism, nineteenth century revivalism,  Scots “marrowism”  and French seventeenth century Amyraldianism,  incorporated certain Arminian presuppositions into the logic of his theology, a process which produces the dialectical tension theology of modern Calvinism.   In line with this he has produced this concocted story of two putative individuals as a tool to “prove” his point.  

And his point is, obviously, to affirm that true gospel preaching is paralleled in its logical structure by the presuppositions that underly his concocted story.

Truly, only the word of God is the only legitimate foundation for theological reasoning.   And we must derive our understanding of what the gospel is from the word of God alone.  This, our interlocutor has apparently at least, not done. It looks as if he has just presumed that what he has picked up from modern “evangelical/Calvinist” sources is correct, and proceeded accordingly.  I suppose one cannot blame him entirely for this. 

So what is the WHOLE truth about the gospel? What does the Scripture say the gospel is?

It is nothing less than FOOLISHNESS to the sinner!!!!

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are FOOLISHNESS unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish FOOLISHNESS; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:18).

“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the FOOLISHNESS of preaching to save them that believe” (I Cor. 1:21).

“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks FOOLISHNESS” (I Cor. 1:23).

This point is further emphasised in Scripture when the apostle points out that all men in their natural state are “dead” in sin.

“And you hath the quickened, who were DEAD in trespasses and sins …” (Eph. 2:1)

“Even when we were DEAD in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved) …” (Eph. 2:5).

“And you, being DEAD in your sins …” (Col. 1:13).

“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt SURELY DIE” (Gen. 2:17).

Notice that these scriptures run counter to the whole ethos of our interlocutor’s argument.  But over the years, I have found that 1) amongst Arminian evangelicals, they do not take “dead” to mean really dead, and 2) amongst Calvinist evangelicals, one encounters the “common grace” doctrine, which, they aver, is “preparation” for the gospel (e.g. Van Til, et al). Either one of these two ways of interpretation mitigates the import of “dead in trespasses and sins” as taught clearly in the Scriptures.  And thus our interlocutor presents us with two examples of putative characters that are not really “dead” in trespasses and sins, as examples of sinners under moral suasion of some kind that parallels the gospel “offer.”

The texts cited above apply to every human individual without exception.  By nature, all are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

This applies to sociopaths, criminals of all types, and of course, to “righteous” people as well, as the natural man’s righteousness is a criminal pharisaism at best.   Thus St. Paul:

“As it is written (quoting from Psalm 14:3) there is none righteous, no not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are altogether become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10-12).

To sum up, to preach the true biblical gospel to sinners is like standing and preaching in a cemetery.  Or a mortuary. In human terms, it can only add up to foolishness.  One sees a parallel to this in the narrative concerning Lazarus in St. John chap. 11.  After being informed of His friend’s mortal sickness, the Lord delays His going to the sufferer (v. 6).  By verse 14, the Lord states plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”   On arrival eventually at the tomb, He is advised concerning the dead Lazarus that “by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.”  No doubt about it, therefore, Lazarus was absolutely dead.  In verse 43 the Lord performs an act that can only be described as foolishness from a human standpoint …. He addresses Himself to the dead man!  “Lazarus, come forth.”   And (v. 44) “he that was dead came forth …”

How?  By the sheer power of God operating directly on the corpse and returning the living soul to inhabit it. And that divine power operated in conjunction with and in harmony with the spoken word of Christ.       

Now the gospel preaching is like to this. The preacher in the pulpit sounds in the ear-drums of the listeners, and there is no response at best; a negative hostility at worst.  They are dead, spiritually, and “by now they stinketh.” But under the sovereign hand of God, in His good time, by His will, various ones suddenly leap into spiritual life!  So it is exemplified in Scripture in Acts 16:14, when “a certain woman named Lydia … whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”  An extensive array of Scriptures ramify this. Here are a few examples:

“The hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment” (II Chron. 30:12).
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).

“Quicken us (make us alive), and we will call on thy name” (Ps. 80:18).

“Quicken me after thy loving-kindness, so shall I keep this testimony of thy mouth” (Ps. 119:36).

“When he the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

“We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true” (I John 5:20).

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh,  and I will give you an heart of flesh; and I will put my Spirit within you , and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezek. 36:26).


It remains but to dismantle the misleading underpinning and logic of our interlocutor’s concocted story.

First, concerning the sociopath.  The whole point of our interlocutor in his wheeling out of this concocted story is obviously because he thinks it logically parallels the “gospel offer.”  In his mind it looks strongly that, a priori, he has a “Free-willist,” or, at least, Quasi-Arminian notion of what the gospel is, and what the actual state of a sinner really is. Why do I say “quasi-Arminian”?   Because this is the state of things in modern “Calvinist” circles: they have blended an Arminian doctrine into Calvinism.  In so doing, they create a “tension”—a dialectic tension—in their gospel.  From the Amyraldians of France (1620’s to 1690 approx,) through the “marrow” theology of Scots Calvinism, and via some of the theologising of Jonathan Edwards, the notion was imported into mainstream Calvinism of there being a fundamental distinction to be drawn between “natural” or “physical ability”  and “moral ability.”  Our interlocutor has veered into this dialectic swamp, particularly in the latter half of his contention with reference to the “man in the cell” with the “stubborn unconquerable desire to stay there in protest” etc.

But let us deal with the “sociopath” first.  “Would it be wrong to offer him a reprieve on condition of him being sorry?”

YES. Absolutely wrong!  Most probably, if not certainly, it is that the sociopath will have the wit to assure you that he does feel sorry, and then, on account of that, he will assure you that he appreciates your offer and would be delighted to take it up … and walk free!  The phrase, “Even though you know he is incapable of feeling remorse or repentance,” is a massive and presumptive error, for the following reasons:

1) It implies a trust in modern humanistic criminal psychology, giving tacit assent to the notion that a modern psychiatrist can at least see into the human mind and brain as well as the Almighty can.  In turn, this indicates that our interlocutor has, at the very least, a superficial appreciation of modern clinical psychiatry, and the multiple of different hypotheses that the “scientists” argue over concerning this realm.  The fact is that, humanly speaking, nobody knows if a “psychopath” is incapable of feeling such affections.  Indeed, the great argument in “mind science,” at the moment, is “What is the true nature of consciousness?”  If he will profess to be sorry, how would anyone discern this as being sincere or not?  But the point is that the sociopath will give every appearance of being “capable” if he knows it is to his advantage to do so.  He will doubtless have learned long enough before “never to look a gift horse in the mouth.” 

2) It is wilful presumptuousness to even consider offering “forgiveness” to anyone, whether they are “psychopaths” or not. The Scriptures are insistent: Only God can forgive sin.  And God forgives sin via ONE WAY ONLY—through the cross of Jesus Christ … in that Christ actually bears the punishments due to sinners.  In this, God’s holy law and righteousness is maintained AND God is able to blot out the sins of His elect people for whom Christ died.
Now in such a case in a purely human context, many Christians, upon suffering criminal hurt from a malfeasant, have deployed “personal forgiveness” toward their malefactor.   This may, or may not, according to circumstance, be a good thing.  But such a Christian has no moral right on the grounds of exercising his personal forgiveness to waiver the legal case against the malefactor, because the latter’s action was a crime against the criminal code of the land, and worse, the law of God. To the rigours of that code he must be bound, otherwise the obvious conclusion that criminals (and the general public) would draw from this is that there are circumstances (of high moral rectitude) in which criminals should be let off!  And Christians have a Christian duty to uphold the rule of law at all times where the law is righteous.  Their personal attitude to the indicated malfeasant can be one of compassion, pity, and forgiveness, but the law of the land is something else, and unless there are other morally mitigating factors present in any such instance—such as extreme poverty, or desperation on the part of the malfeasant—the Christian should pursue the fulfilment of justice irrespective of his own personal stance vis a vis the indicted criminal.
One cannot parallel this kind of forgiveness with that proclaimed in the gospel! (which is what our interlocutor is trying to do!)   In the gospel, forgiveness of our sins is dependent on the bearing of the punishment by our Redeemer. Because sin is primarily sin against God, and only secondarily against created individuals.   Only God can forgive sins against God, and His mode of effecting this is via the bearing of the due punishment in and by His only-begotten Son.  

3) It has quite nonchalantly set aside the biblical teaching that all sinners are actually like the putative “psychopath” in our interlocutor’s story—HEARTS OF STONE vis a vis Christ and God (e.g. Ezek. 36:26). Hearts of stone, like as the heart of a Gestapo chief, or the most murderous and evil of criminals.  All of us the same …. If push were to come to shove, there is no natural man or woman who ever existed who could not be brought forth in the full fruition of their inward sins …. and the best of us would shock those who know us ….. “Fancy HIM doing a thing like that …. etc.” Did not even the redeemed and godly personage of King David commit adultery … and then arrange for the contrived death (i.e., murder) of the woman’s husband, in order to obviate charges of adultery?   Let there be no illusions about it … If King David could fall victim to such atrocious actions, then,

So could I!

So could you!

So could our interlocutor!

Thus even Christians are bidden to “crucify the flesh and its lusts” …  May we all bow our heads in humility at this fact!

Now the scriptural specification of “what is the gospel” is indicated clearly enough in the Scriptures, and in the various doctrinal standards of the Reformation churches.  It is not an “offer” of a “let-off,” or a presenting of Christ as if He were an object of vendition.  It is a “presentation-call-command” to be sounded out to all men.  And this is the miracle of it: in that “presentation-call-command” there is intrinsically nothing that will succeed in redeeming anyone without the accompanying work of the Holy Spirit “opening the heart” of a hearer.  The gospel preaching is called, by St. Paul, in terms of it being “foolishness”!!!!  Why? because it is aimed at dead beings!   Such can be illustrated by the Lord’s commandment “Lazarus, come forth”!  Well Lazarus was dead, was he not?   Yet he heard, and came forth.  How?  By the direct action upon his being by the Holy Spirit in conjunction with Christ’s spoken command.  And thus the new birth is effectuated under the sound of Christ’s call and commandment in the gospel.

This is why little concocted stories used as insinuating “proofs,” such as our interlocutor uses, can never be a true illustration of the true biblical gospel.  And Arminianism lurks under Calvinistic camouflage here … The stories carry an under-carrying gentle hint, if not an overt implication, that the individual sinner is not actually “totally dead in trespasses and sins.”

This leads on to the second part of our interlocutor’s argument: the “stubborn man.”

Here again, there is illicit doctrinal cargo being smuggled into the situation of the argument.  Theological contraband!

Here the presupposition is that the stubborn man is “morally unable,” though physically “able” to accept the proffered release.  And our interlocutor emphasises the distinction that must be held between “morally unable” and “physically unable.”  This is a mealy-mouthed distinction.  It carries the underlying insinuation that whilst a man can be excused for being “physically incapable,” he cannot escape responsibility for being “morally incapable.”  The question arises: “Does ‘incapable’ mean exactly the same thing in both instances?”  If it does, then “moral incapability” is as binding as “physical incapability.” If not, then there is equivocation of language hidden in the proposition, making it invalid. And those who wish to use this argument are thrust into equivocation if they aim to gain any logical mileage from it.  The truth is that the sinner is totally bound in trespasses and sins—morally, spiritually, and physically. And he is in that situation by virtue of his original sin in Adam. In scriptural fact, it was the “moral” lapse of Adam that precipitated not only the “moral” inability, but also all the consequent “physical” inabilities as well.  “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Adam sinned himself, and the race, into “moral” and “physical” inability.

It is sheer folly to parallel this concocted story with the notion of a gospel “offer.”  In the Gospel, God expresses His Will of Precept—that is to say, His minimum and righteous demand on every sinner.  No sinner has a right to be a sinner. And God would be less than God were He to suspend His Will of Precept, which is the minimum standard for every human being.

Well, as the Scriptures (some of which are cited above) abundantly testify, we are all, are we not, stubborn men?  Hearts of stone vis a vis God?  And fanatical in defence of our stubbornness to the extent of denying God’s righteous claims on us? And thereby expressing at least tacitly, if not consciously, endorsement of the wicked acts of Judas and the Authorities of his day in the crucifixion of the Lord?

Behold modern mankind … 2000 years on … By their life-walk, they “crucify” the Lord Jesus and expel Him right out of their consciousness!   And the Scriptures are adamant: the sinner is in bondage to his sin …. he cannot escape from his condition!   Yet, he is responsible for that condition in that he is, by nature, an endorser of Adam’s first sin, which was the first deposition of God from the human psyche.

At this juncture, our interlocutor has tripped over his own logic. He has reasoned that if the “stubborn sinner” is really responsible for his condition, it is therefore reasonable logic to morally engage with him, because his bondage in sin renders him “morally incapable,” in distinction to “physically incapable.”  This is to dodge the real issue: that the stony heart is absolutely dead and hostile to God, is in actual fact an enemy of God, and has not the slightest ability nor desire to alter itself. In other words, the stony heart is actually more INCAPABLE of repentance than is a cripple of walking—for a cripple would likely have an earnest desire to walk, hence he regrets his inability.  But the stony heart has no regrets. Rather, it glories in its inability, if anything, to the extent that, in persecuting God’s people, they are convinced that they are doing the Almighty a favour!  (Cf. John 16:2).

To quote our interlocutor :

“There is a massive fundamental difference between moral inability and physical inability. Truly it mocks someone who has his hands and feet tied to leave his prison cell. But to offer someone to leave their cell who is incapable of so doing because he has a stubborn unconquerable desire to stay there in protest of some cause is no mockery of that man. Though both be incapable, they are so for very different reasons. The offer to one is a mockery but not so the other.”

Yes, there is a “massive fundamental difference between moral inability and physical inability.”  But what is this difference? Our interlocutor seemingly tacitly assumes that “moral” inability is somehow not so binding as the “physical” type, in that he suggests that “offers” can be reasonably proposed to it.  But it is the reverse of this that is true. Witness the Scripture below:

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him. Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14).

Once again, this text applies to every human individual without exception.  By nature, all are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph.2:1; Rom. 3:10-12).

The fact is that the “moral inability” is not only more binding than “physical inability,” but it is actually “blinding” as well.  More: it is actually seriously deleteriously “mutative” of the sinner’s being, heart and soul.  Let loose over a lifetime, it can and does entwine a man in such depths of moral turpitude that are only generally openly seen in the likes of the worst of criminals.

But let me actually quote an “Arminian” here, who nevertheless was evidently able to see into this more accurately than our interlocutor … one Charles Wesley …

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night …”

Wesley went on to express what brought the answer to his condition …. Was it some offer?  Some bargain?

“Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light,
My chains fell off, MY HEART WAS FREE
I rose, went forth, and followed THEE.”

And this change is brought about, not by the MOCKERY of some 
“offer,” but by the FOOLISHNESS of preaching!  

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