Let’s not be spiritually merciless or censure harshly

By Elizabeth Prata

John Owen’s book ‘Indwelling Sin’ is a guide to knowing our enemy, sin. Spiritual pride comes from that place of sin, and Owen’s book talks at length about how to deal with this mortal enemy.

In one section, Owen talks about the hypocrites & the importance of knowing sin’s penchant to puff us up in pride, blinding us to sin’s potency. Owen says that we must always be searching our hearts so as to beat the sin nature down and to walk the path of grace, “that our souls may be humbled”. He offers two methods of soul humbling, 1) In walking with God, and here as he describes:

“2). In walking with others. Being humbled helps to prevent the great evils of judging, spiritual mercilessness, harsh censures, which many have thought themselves entitled to use, even though they have been guilty of greater or worse crimes than those which they have raved against in others. It will produce meekness, compassion, readiness to forgive, willingness to overlook offences; when we consider what is our state, as the apostle plainly declares, Gal. 6:1.”

Our teaching pastor delivered a powerful sermon this past Sunday from John 6 (and other texts) that teach predestination, or the Doctrine of Election. This doctrine usually gets people debating, sometimes the parties even becoming angry and upset.

In small group afterward, I commented that a few days prior to this sermon, I’d listened to Phil Johnson deliver a sermon on election from Acts 27, “The Shipwreck.” Phil is an excellent preacher, and I always enjoy his sermons. He is also an expert on Spurgeon, and he has been given a clear gift of discernment and he spots fads encroaching into evangelicalism well before they arrive. He preaches against fads, and in so doing, continues to draw the clear line between the world and the church. I recommend his sermon The Shipwreck.

Last year he did a guest post at Effectual Grace blog called Is Arminianism Damnable Heresy? Arminianism is described by John Gerstner as

Arminian evangelism rests on profound error: that fallen man is not dead spiritually but only dying. He is therefore supposed to be able to bring about his own new birth by his self-generated faith.

When you hear people say “I have free will to choose Jesus,” or “I decided for Jesus,” you’re hearing Arminian language.

In his Damnable Heresy article, Phil Johnson outlined his stance when debating Arminianism v. Calvinism v. Hyper-Calvinism. His attitude brings us back to the opening words of this essay by John Owen and the ‘great evils of judging, spiritual mercilessness, harsh censures’, especially in debate. Phil Johnson wrote:

Furthermore, I’m not one of those who wears Calvinism like a big chip on his shoulder, daring people to fight with me about it. It’s true that I can get feisty about certain points of doctrine—especially when someone attacks a principle that goes to the heart of the gospel, like substitutionary atonement, or original sin, or justification by faith and the principle of imputed righteousness. When one of those principles is challenged, I’m ready to fight. (And I also don’t mind beating up on whatever happens to be the latest evangelical fad.)

But Calvinism isn’t one of those issues I get worked up and angry about. I’ll discuss it with you, but if you are spoiling for a fight about it, you are likely to find me hard to provoke. I spent too many years as an Arminian myself to pretend that the truth on these issues is easy and obvious.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I do think the truth of God’s sovereignty is clear and ultimately inescapable in Scripture. But it is a difficult truth to come to grips with, so I am sympathetic with those who struggle with it.

That’s a wonderful way to approach it. I’ve seen Phil bear this out, especially on Twitter. He is measured, clear, and patient. I learn a lot by watching mature men of the faith engage in this manner with Christians and non-Christians alike.

After conversion, I read the Bible and saw throughout the Bible God’s sovereignty in electing His own. I knew from my own experience and testimony that I did not choose Jesus. I resisted Him almost unto death. I went kicking and screaming to the cross. I never would have chosen Him unless His irresistible grace converted my heart and nature.

I am an adherent to the doctrines of Grace. The Lord opened my eyes to His sovereign election of His people and I wholeheartedly embraced it by the grace of His Spirit. As sermons like my pastor delivered this past Sunday show, people tend to get heated about the doctrine. I hope that any discussions about this doctrine online or in real life will cause understanding, wonder, and be drenched with grace. I think Iain Murray stated it best and I leave you with it:

The final conclusion has to be that when Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic, when it becomes more concerned with theory than with the salvation of men and women, when acceptance of doctrines seems to become more important than acceptance of Christ, then it is a system going to seed and it will invariably lose its attractive power.

god is sovereign

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