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Featured Inability of the Will is Never Literal

Discussion in 'Calvinism & Arminianism Debate' started by Ken Hamrick, Jul 10, 2019.

  1. Ken Hamrick

    Ken Hamrick Member

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    We in the middle watch with dismay as justification for the extremes of one side is claimed to be based on the extremes of the other (in the ongoing Calvinism debate). Why ignore the middle position? There are more than two choices here... The issue of the inability of sinners is one in desperate need of common sense and Biblical clarity, which will provide some common ground for both sides—that is, for those who are willing to open their eyes and consider what the middle has to offer.

    The most clarifying principle in expounding the inability of sinners is that explained by Andrew Fuller[1] (who was prompted by the writings of Jonathan Edwards[2]), to wit, that there is a distinction between natural and moral inability—a distinction that is both Biblical and common in understanding language. A moral inability consists in nothing more than an unwilling heart—unwilling due to its immoral nature—and provides no excuse because it is not absolute but leaves a power remaining to do otherwise (a remaining natural ability). A natural inability is one that cannot be overcome no matter how much one might be willing—it excuses because it is absolute and no power remains to do otherwise.

    Perhaps an easier way to think of this distinction is to keep in mind that terms of inability when applied to the will are always figurative (what Edwards and Fuller called “improper”[3]). If a man is wholly averse to doing a particular thing, even though he has it within his power to do it, and nothing hinders him except his unwillingness, he can within the common rules of language be said to be unable to do it. But since his inability consists only in his unwillingness, it is universally understood that terms of inability in the case are being used figuratively and not literally—figuratively because the man literally has it within his power. If he wanted to do it, nothing stands in his way.

    Fuller explains, “It is common, both in Scripture and in conversation, to speak of a person who is under the influence of an evil bias of heart, as unable to do that which is inconsistent with it.” As an example, Fuller offers Gen. 37:4, in which it is said that Joseph’s brothers “could not speak peaceably” to Joseph. It is universally understood that such an inability was not meant in the literal, natural sense of being absolutely unable—like a mute man being unable to speak anything, but only in the figurative, moral sense of being unable to find it within their hearts to speak peaceably to him. And it is just as universally understood that the former meaning provides an excuse while the latter does not.

    When it comes to the inability of sinners to believe in Christ or do what is right, they cannot find the willingness in their heart, but the ability—in the literal, natural sense of that word—remains just the same, so that they are left without excuse. They are unable to believe, in the figurative, moral sense of that word, just as Joseph’s brothers were unable to speak peaceably to him. This is what Fuller understands in the Bible’s descriptions of sinners as unable to come to Christ. And it fully resolves the seeming tension with the Bible’s description of sinners as unable to come to Christ, as well as the “Divine censure” that attends such an inability.[4]

    Both Calvinists and [Arminians] look for God to “enable” sinners to believe. However, since the inability consists in nothing more than unwillingness, then we in the middle look only for the persuading power of God’s grace at work in the sinner’s life. When the inability is figurative, consisting only in unwillingness, then the enabling would also be figurative, consisting only in changing an unwillingness to a willingness. Of course, all would agree that God has the power to supernaturally make such a change instantaneously; but the real question is, can He effect a change in will without first indwelling and regenerating the man? Like most Middlers, I believe that God is indeed capable, by means of the Holy Spirit, of persuading the lost man to embrace God and His truth through Christ and His cross.

    This dynamic of aversion/persuasion sees salvation as contingent upon the sinner’s decision, and sees unwillingness rather than inability as the impediment to be overcome by God’s grace. No man can come to Christ only because none can come unless they are willing; and none are willing unless they are drawn by God’s gracious persuasions. Sinners are unable to come to Christ only because of their unwillingness and aversion toward God; and it is through the preaching of men and the convictions of the Holy Spirit—in conjunction with the orchestration of life events and circumstances—that sinners are drawn to Christ and persuaded to embrace Him in the full surrender of genuine, repentant faith… The Holy Spirit does play a part in drawing, convicting and persuading men; but ultimately, it remains a persuading and not coercing, so the decision is still freely made, and God still accomplishes His will through—and not in spite of—the will of men. Although God saves through such persuasion, the final outcome as to which persons will be saved is nonetheless certain from eternity past.[5]

    The two sides can indeed meet in the middle, and find both the clarity and the fullness of Biblical ground they’ve been missing.

    (Also posted here).
    [1] Andrew Fuller, “The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation,” The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, (Harrisonburg: Sprinkle, 1988), vol. II.
    [2] Jonathan Edwards, “A Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that FREEDOM OF WILL, Which is Supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003/1834), Vol. 1.
    [3] Fuller, “Reply to Philanthropos,” Complete Works, vol. II, states:
    […] when the terms cannot, inability, &c. are used in these connexions, they are used not in a proper, but in a figurative sense; that they do not express the state of a person hindered by something extraneous to his own will, but denote what we usually mean by the phrase cannot find in his heart; […]
    Edwards, “Freedom of Will,” p. 11, states:
    But it must be observed concerning moral Inability, in each kind of it, that the word Inability is used in a sense very diverse from its original import. The word signifies only a natural Inability, in the proper use of it; and is applied to such cases only wherein a present will or inclination to the thing, with respect to which a person is said to be unable, is supposable. It cannot be truly said, according to the ordinary use of language, that a malicious man, let him be never so malicious, cannot hold his hand from striking, or that he is not able to show his neighbor kindness; or that a drunkard, let his appetite be never so strong, cannot keep the cup from his mouth. In the strictest propriety of speech, a man has a thing in his power, if he has it in his choice, or at his election: and a man cannot be truly said to be unable to do a thing, when he can do it if he will. It is improperly said, that a person cannot perform those external actions, which are dependent on the act of the Will, and which would be easily performed, if the act of the Will were present. […] it is in some respect more improperly said, that he is unable to exert the acts of the Will themselves; because it is more evidently false, with respect to these, that he cannot if he will: for to say so, is a downright contradiction; it is to say, he cannot will, if he does will. […] Therefore, in these things, to ascribe a non-performance to the want of power or ability, is not just; because the thing wanting is not a being able, but a being willing.
    [4] Adapted from “Unwillingness & Inability: A Summary of Andrew Fuller’s Solution,” accessed at https://sbcopenforum.com/2014/12/29/unwillingness-inability-a-summary-of-andrew-fullers-solution/
    [5] Adapted from “Compatibilism: A More Immanent Grace”, accessed at http://sbcvoices.com/compatibilism-a-more-immanent-grace-by-ken-hamrick/
     
  2. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
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    What the middle has to offer is a complete lack of biblical clarity on an issue that has been contested by the Church since at least the time of Augustine.

    While your citing of Fuller is interesting it is lacking in scriptural support. You write, "Both Calvinists and [Arminians] look for God to “enable” sinners to believe. However, since the inability consists in nothing more than unwillingness, then we in the middle look only for the persuading power of God’s grace at work in the sinner’s life." The Calvinist position does not start with unwillingness, it starts with a literal inability. When sin entered into the human race it fundamentally changed the nature of mankind. The issue is theological, not philosophical. The issue is one of status (dead in trespasses and sins), not behavioral (unwilling to come). I can provide a litany of scriptural support for the Calvinist argument but that case has already been made ad infinitum, ad nauseam on this board. Many of my esteemed Arminian brethren will provide a similar argument in refutation of the so-called middle position.

    What you really need to do is provide an exhaustive biblical case for your view. At the end that is the only thing that really counts.
     
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  3. Ken Hamrick

    Ken Hamrick Member

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    You say that the "Calvinist" position starts with literal inability; yet, both Edwards and Fuller claim themselves to be Calvinists, and are heralded as great Calvinists by many Reformed theologians today. As both Edwards and Fuller have shown, Calvinism works fine without a literal inability. Most, however, have seemed to ignore or 'reinterpret' them on this point.

    Nevertheless, you telling me this: "I can provide a litany of scriptural support for the Calvinist argument but that case has already been made ad infinitum, ad nauseam on this board," is a dodge. Nearly every discussion on this or any other Calvinism v. Arminianism forum is a discussion of cases that have "already been made ad infinitum, ad nauseam on this board." Pardon me, but I've looked through some of the history here, and I'm not seeing a lot of debate regarding the middle position. So I contend that it is time for this one.

    As for sinners being dead in trespasses and sins, the spiritual death of sinners is a literal condition of being spiritually disunited from God--alienated from the only Source of spiritual life instead of being in spiritual union with Him as we were created to be. When we are saved, and the Holy Spirit indwells us, we are brought to spiritual life again--Christ restoring what sin has destroyed. Being spiritually dead, Biblically speaking, is never inanimation or a metaphor for the inactivity of a corpse. Death is separation of the spirit from the body, just as spiritual death is separation of the spirit from God.

    Scripture is the standard of truth. We do agree on that. But your Calvinism rests much more on philosophy than you have acknowledged.
     
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  4. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
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    Just do a search of the past threads on this board about Calvinism and you will get up with enough hits to last you a few months. If you want, do a search using my screen name and you will get your answer. But something tells me you really do not want that, do you?

    Then go ahead and make a biblical case for it. Do not expect me to engage in your philosophical argumentation. And in the end, there is no such thing as a middle position. There is Monergism and then there Synergism. Not everything is a binary choice but on this issue there is. So, what you really want to argue is for a nuanced Synergism position.

    You keep telling yourself that.
     
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  5. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
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    Actually, this thread is probably better engaged by some of the more patient Calvinist member's of this board like @Dave Gilbert @agedman @davidtaylorjr @atpollard. They may have the endurance for what is probably going to be an exhausting discussion.
     
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  6. Dave Gilbert

    Dave Gilbert Well-Known Member

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    I like Edwards, but if he taught "human responsibility" anywhere near what Fuller did, then I disagree with him.
    To me, Fuller was wrong, and the non-elect have no "duty" to "exercise faith" nor to believe the Gospel.
    I'll qualify this if or when I address it further.

    To my understanding, the gospel was never intended for God's enemies, only His children.
     
    #6 Dave Gilbert, Jul 10, 2019
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  7. Dave Gilbert

    Dave Gilbert Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the vote of confidence. :)

    While I'd probably like to address this sooner, I'm not completely up on Fuller...so I'd need to take a look at his teachings before I get into this.

    *EDIT*
    Then again, maybe not.

    I think the Scriptures should be enough.:Cool
     
    #7 Dave Gilbert, Jul 10, 2019
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  8. Dave Gilbert

    Dave Gilbert Well-Known Member

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    Ken,
    Simply put, please show me the Scriptures that tell us that all men are responsible to obey the Gospel.

    With respect, I'm not talking about repentance, I'm talking about God actually holding someone fully responsible for rejecting His Son as their Saviour.
    As an added caveat, I'd like to see Scriptures that speak with reference to the Gentiles, not Israel...who I'm convinced is responsible for rejecting Him as not only their Lord, but as their national Saviour.
     
  9. Ken Hamrick

    Ken Hamrick Member

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    Hello, Dave Gilbert. I look forward to a discussion with someone both patient and capable enough to want to take a look at Fuller's teachings. I'm a patient man myself, except when it comes to cheap dismissals. You might find it helpful to look up my past threads here, too.
     
  10. Ken Hamrick

    Ken Hamrick Member

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    I must wait until tomorrow night to return...
     
  11. Iconoclast

    Iconoclast Well-Known Member
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  12. Dave Gilbert

    Dave Gilbert Well-Known Member

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    Respectfuly,
    I have no intention to dismiss anyone on this board, "cheaply.":)

    I think that what you will find, is that I am always willing to answer, from the Scriptures and to the best of my ability, why I hold to the positions that I do and what I find to be incorrect about other positions.

    Until later, then.
     
    #12 Dave Gilbert, Jul 10, 2019
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  13. tyndale1946

    tyndale1946 Well-Known Member
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  14. kyredneck

    kyredneck Well-Known Member
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    If one's soteriology does not begin with the natural man's complete incapacity to please God, it's a lost cause to argue with them about the deeper things.
     
    #14 kyredneck, Jul 10, 2019
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  15. Dave Gilbert

    Dave Gilbert Well-Known Member

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    I think it's both.

    For example, consider Romans 1:18-32 and Romans 3:10-18...
    To me, these speak to a will that is not just neutral, but has grown to the point of having an attitude and a behavior that is against God while being simultaneously ( spiritually ) dead ( stuck ) in trespasses and sins ( Ephesians 2:1-5 ).

    Throw in John 3:19-20, and I see that mankind, apart from being born again and made righteous in Jesus Christ, is completely unwilling, to the point of hatred, to come to Christ ..."lest" his deeds be "reproved" or corrected. Here I see the "light " as being Jesus Christ, the Light of the world ( John 8:12 )...so, the unrighteous or wicked, from God's viewpoint, hate the "Light" and will not come to Him.
    Add to this, condemning statements like these ( Proverbs 29:27, Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:9, John 7:7, John 15:18, John 15:23, John 17:14, 1 John 3:13 ), and I think it can be shown that man is not simply dead towards God, but rebelliously in love with sin, and has a negative disposition towards his Creator.

    So, "dead" in trespasses and sins means more then just "neutrally" dead...it can mean "slightly against" all the way to "positively hostile", at least to me.
    In other words, mankind starts out life, not with our backs towards Him, but with our "backsides" towards Him.:Sick

    From my perspective, this fierce resistance, spiritually, is why the Lord says, " No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day" ( John 6:44 )

    Further support:
    Part of the believer's endurance in trials and tribulations is in suffering persecution...which it has been given to us ( Philippians 1:29 ) to endure.
    That persecution is due to the world's hatred of our Saviour, Jesus Christ...not just their ambivalence.

    As God, and as our Creator ( John 1:1-3 ), He is hated according to Romans 1:30 and others that I believe I have shown above, while anyone associated with Him is hated as well:

    Amos 5:10
    Psalms 34:21
    Proverbs 29:10
    Proverbs 29:27


    May God bless you richly, sir.:)
     
    #15 Dave Gilbert, Jul 10, 2019
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  16. Reformed

    Reformed Well-Known Member
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    Dave, he meant me. I dismissed him purposefully. That is why I made an appeal to some of the more patient Calvinists. Have fun!

    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk
     
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  17. Ken Hamrick

    Ken Hamrick Member

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  18. Iconoclast

    Iconoclast Well-Known Member
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  19. Ken Hamrick

    Ken Hamrick Member

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    Okay, then. Agreed.
     
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  20. 37818

    37818 Well-Known Member

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    What is the middle position of Romans 3:11 for Psalms 14:2?
     
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