Apologetics, Biblical Doctrines, Calvinism, Faith, Salvation & Justification, Theology

Two Views on a “Wicked Heresy”

Before his death in 1980 at the age of 85, Dr. John R. Rice was one of America’s premier Fundamentalist evangelist in the 20th century. As a prolific author, and gifted speaker, Dr. Rice accomplished much for the kingdom of God. He touched my life personally, for I grew up attending Galilean Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, which Dr. Rice founded. Separation from the world, and soul winning efforts, were emphasized. Revival services were often scheduled, and Dr. Rice would come to speak. I esteem and admired Dr. Rice, and thank the Lord for his books, and passion to see people saved.

However, Dr. Rice did have a strong theological bias against those who believe in the doctrines of grace, such as Charles H. Spurgeon. Dr. Rice was emotionally committed to attacking Calvinism whenever possible. He used his Christian newspaper, the Sword of the Lord, as a sharp instrument to attack the Calvinist point of view. The irony, is that Dr. Rice often printed sermons by Charles Spurgeon, though Dr. Rice was prone to edit Spurgeon’s strong support of the doctrines of God’s divine sovereignty.

Concerning salvation, Calvinist, such as Spurgeon, and Arminians, such as Dr. Rice, disagree on a core concept. Spurgeon preached that salvation is, “all of grace.” Dr. Rice believed that man could, indeed, man must co-operate with God in order to be saved.

In the July 27, 2018, issue of the Sword of the Lord, the current editor ran an article by Dr. Rice, “BIBLE TRUTH: Total Inability, a Calvinist Folly.” Summarizing his position, Dr. Rice stated in conclusion, “Calvin’s doctrine that a sinner cannot co-operate with God – be saved – is wicked heresy.”

Is Dr. Rice correct? Is Calvinism a “wicked heresy”, or, should the charge of a “wicked teaching” be reversed, and applied to those who believe that man can effect his own salvation because he co-operates with God. God does something, man does something, and salvation is the result. Theologically the question is formulated this way: “Is salvation synergistic, or monergistic?”

The word “monergism” is formed from a combination of a prefix and a root word. The prefix, “mono,” is used in English to speak of that which is single, or alone. The root comes from the verb meaning, “to work.” In contrast, synergism has as its prefix, syn, from a Greek word meaning, “with.” So, does God work alone in the saving of a soul, or does God work with man to save? For Arminians, an appeal to Ephesians 2:8-9 or Philippians 2:13 is of no avail. They are committed to man doing something in order to be saved. Arminians insist that, in the final analysis, salvation is man’s ultimate choice based on his free will. Man can choose to co-operate with God. Man can choose not to co-operate with God. Man becomes his own savior, logically, since he, with his free will, provides the determining factor.

As thoughtful Christians consider the issue of men co-operating with God in order to effect their salvation, I thought it might be helpful to read what Charles Spurgeon would say to all of the Arminians in the world. A portion of Mr. Spurgeon’s sermon on, “The Necessity of the Spirit’s Work,” might prove helpful.

The New Park Street Pulpit
“The Necessity of the Spirit’s Work”
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, May 8th, 1859, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

“And I will put my Spirit within you.”—Ezekiel, 36:27.

The miracles of Christ are remarkable for one fact, namely, none of them are unnecessary. The pretended miracles of Mahomet, and of the Church of Rome, even if they had been miracles, would have been pieces of folly. Suppose that Saint Denis had walked with his head in his hand after it had been cut off, what practical purpose would have been subserved thereby? He would certainly have been quite as well in his grave, for any practical good he would have conferred on men.

The miracles of Christ were never unnecessary. They are not freaks of power; they are displays of power it is true, but they all have a practical end. The same thing may be said of the promises of God. We have not one promise in the Scripture which may be regarded as a mere freak of grace.

As every miracle was necessary, absolutely necessary, so is every promise that is given in the Word of God. And hence from the text that is before us, may I draw, and I think very conclusively, the argument, that if God in his covenant made with his people has promised to put his Spirit within them, it must be absolutely necessary that this promise should have been made, and it must be absolutely necessary also to our salvation that every one of us should receive the Spirit of God. This shall be the subject of this morning’s discourse. I shall not hope to make it very interesting, except to those who are anxiously longing to know the way of salvation.

We start, then, by laying down this proposition—that the work of the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary to us, if we would be saved.

In endeavoring to prove this, I would first of all make the remark that this is very manifest if we remember what man is by nature. Some say that man may of himself attain unto salvation—that if he hear the Word, it is in his power to receive it, to believe it, and to have a saving change worked in him by it.

To this we reply, you do not know what man is by nature, otherwise you would never have ventured upon such an assertion. Holy Scripture tells us that man by nature is dead in trespasses and sins. It does not say that he is sick, that he is faint, that he has grown callous, and hardened, and seared, but it says he is absolutely dead. Whatever that term “death” means in connection with the body, that it means in connection with man’s soul, viewing it in its relation to spiritual things.

When the body is dead it is powerless; it is unable to do anything for itself; and when the soul of man is dead, in a spiritual sense, it must be, if there is any meaning in the figure, utterly and entirely powerless, and unable to do anything of itself or for itself. When ye shall see dead men raising themselves from their graves, when ye shall see them unwinding their own sheets, opening their own coffin-lids, and walking down our streets alive and animate, as the result of their own power, then perhaps ye may believe that souls that are dead in sin may turn to God, may recreate their own natures, and may make themselves heirs of heaven, though before they were heirs of wrath. But mark, not till then.

The drift of the gospel is, that man is dead in sin, and that divine life is God’s gift; and you must go contrary to the whole of that drift, before you can suppose a man is brought to know and love Christ, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit finds men as destitute of spiritual life as Ezekiel’s dry bones; he brings bone to bone, and fits the skeleton together, and then he comes from the four winds and breathes into the slain, and they live, and stand upon their feet, an exceeding great army, and worship God. But apart from that, apart from the vivifying influence of the Spirit of God, men’s souls must lie in the valley of dry bones, dead, and dead forever.

But Scripture does not only tell us that man is dead in sin; it tells us something worse than this, namely, that he is utterly and entirely averse to everything that is good and right. “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”—Romans 8:7.—Turn to all the Scripture through, and you find continually the will of man described as being contrary to the things of God.

What said Christ in that text so often quoted by the Arminian to disprove the very doctrine which it clearly states? What did Christ say to those who imagined that men would come without divine influence? He said, first, “No man can come unto me except the Father which hath sent me draw him;” but he said something more strong—”Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” No man will come.

Here lies the deadly mischief; not only that he is powerless to do good, but that he is powerful enough to do that which is wrong, and that his will is desperately set against every thing that is right. Go, Armenian, and tell your hearers that they will come if they please, but know that your Redeemer looks you in the face, and tells you that you are uttering a lie. Men will not come. They never will come of themselves.

You cannot induce them to come; you cannot force them to come by all your thunders, nor can you entice them to come by all your invitations. They will not come unto Christ, that they may have life. Until the Spirit draw them, come they neither will, nor can.

Hence, then, from the fact that man’s nature is hostile to the divine Spirit, that he hates grace, that he despises the way in which grace is brought to him, that it is contrary to his own proud nature to stoop to receive salvation by the deeds of another—hence it is necessary that the Spirit of God should operate to change the will, to correct the bias of the heart, to set man in a right track, and then give him strength to run in it.

Oh! If ye read man and understand him, ye cannot help being sound on the point of the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work. It has been well remarked by a great writer, that he never knew a man who held any great theological error, who did not also hold a doctrine which diminished the depravity of man.

The Armenian says man is fallen, it is true, but then he has power of will left, and that will is free; he can raise himself. He diminishes the desperate character of the fall of man. On the other hand, the Antinomian says, man cannot do any thing, but that he is not at all responsible, and is not bound to do it, it is not his duty to believe, it is not his duty to repent. Thus, you see, he also diminishes the sinfulness of man; and has not right views of the fall. But once get the correct view, that man is utterly fallen, powerless, guilty, defiled, lost, condemned, and you must be sound on all points of the great gospel of Jesus Christ.

Once believe man to be what Scripture says he is—once believe his heart to be depraved, his affections perverted, his understanding darkened, his will perverse, and you must hold that if such a wretch as that be saved, it must be the work of the Spirit of God, and of the Spirit of God alone.”

The question returns. “Was Dr. Rice correct when he wrote that Calvinist proclaim a ‘wicked heresy’”? Or, “Is the Arminian really the one guilty of proclaiming a wicked error?”

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