Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Reformed View of Sanctification: Is It Arminian?

"As, however, the effects produced transcend the efficiency of our fallen nature, and are due to the agency of the Spirit, sanctification does not cease to be supernatural, or a work of grace, because the soul is active and cooperating in the process."  -- Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology. 


There seems to be some confusion about whether or not the Reformed position advocates a "synergistic" view of sanctification. This is a complicated question to answer and the many directions the response could go would lead to an extended article. Be that as it may, I did survey a few systematic theology texts from the Reformed tradition, including Louis Berkhof's fine work.

Although I disagree with the terminology used, it would appear that a great many Reformed theologians advocate the view that sanctification is "synergistic" and that the converted elect individual "cooperates" with the grace of God in the process of growth in Christ, faith, knowledge, and practical holiness.  I should also point out that all of these theologians, including Berkhof, are careful to refute the idea that sanctification is mere moralism or simply the result of human efforts, personal strivings, or changing oneself.  Rather the Reformed position is that sanctification is a supernatural gift and work of God.  It is literally God working in the believer by His grace.  The point of saying that sanctification requires cooperation is not to assert Pelagianism or Arminianism but to emphasize that, as free moral agents, born again Christians are fully accountable and responsible for the choices they make in the Christian life.  Charles Hodge exemplifies this view here:

It is a Supernatural Work.

    In representing, in accordance with Scripture, sanctification as a supernatural work, or as a work of grace, the Church intends to deny the Pelagian or Rationalistic doctrine which confounds it with mere moral reformation. It not unfrequently happens that men who have been immoral in their lives, change their whole course of living. They become outwardly correct in their deportment, temperate, pure, honest, and benevolent. This is a great and praiseworthy change. It is in a high degree beneficial to the subject of it, and to all with whom he is connected. It may be produced by different causes, by the force of conscience and by a regard for the authority of God and a dread of his disapprobation, or by a regard to the good opinion of men, or by the mere force of an enlightened regard to one's own interest. But whatever may be the proximate cause of such reformation, it falls very far short of sanctification. The two things differ in nature as much as a clean heart from clean clothes. Such external reformation may leave a man's inward character in the sight of God unchanged. He may remain destitute of love to God, of faith in Christ, and of all holy exercises or affections. 

    Nor is sanctification to be confounded with the effects of moral culture or discipline. It is very possible, as experience proves, by careful moral training, by keeping the young from all contaminating influences, and by bringing them under the forming influences of right principles and good associates, to preserve them from much of the evil of the world, and to render them like the young man in the Gospel whom Jesus loved. Such training is not to be undervalued. It is enjoined in the Word of God. It cannot, however, change the nature. It cannot impart life. A faultless statue fashioned out of pure marble in all its beauty, is far below a living man. 

    The word supernatural, as before said, is used in two senses. First, for that which is above nature, and by nature is meant everything out of God. An effect, therefore, is said to be supernatural, in the production of which nature exercises no efficiency. But secondly, the word is often used to mark the distinction between the providential efficiency of God operating according to fixed laws, and the voluntary agency of the Holy Spirit. The Bible makes a wide distinction between the providence of God and the operations of his grace. The difference between the two is, in some respects, analogous to that between the efficiency of a law, or of a uniformly acting force, and the agency of a person. The one is ordered, the other is exercised from time to time, the Spirit distributing his gifts to every one severally as He wills. In the providential agency of God, the effects produced never transcend the power of second causes as upheld and guided by Him; whereas the effects produced by the Spirit do transcend the power of second causes. The effect is due neither to the power of the truth, nor to that of the rational subject in whom the effect is produced. It is due to the power of God over and above the power of the second causes concerned. The effects of grace, or fruits of the Spirit, are above the sphere of the natural; they belong to the supernatural. The mere power of truth, argument, motive, persuasion, or eloquence cannot produce repentance, faith, or holiness of heart and life. Nor can these effects be produced by the power of the will, or by all the resources of man, however protracted or skilful in their application. They are the gifts of God, the fruits of the Spirit. Paul may plant and Apollos water, but it is God who gives the increase. 

    In this latter sense of the word supernatural, the cooperation of second causes is not excluded. When Christ opened the eyes of the blind no second cause interposed between his volition and the effect. But men work out their own salvation, while it is God who worketh in them to will and to do, according to his own good pleasure. In the work of regeneration, the soul is passive. It cannot cooperate in the communication of spiritual life. But in conversion, repentance, faith, and growth in grace, all its powers are called into exercise. As, however, the effects produced transcend the efficiency of our fallen nature, and are due to the agency of the Spirit, sanctification does not cease to be supernatural, or a work of grace, because the soul is active and cooperating in the process.

Charles Hodge - Soteriology - Part 3 - Chapter 18 - Sanctification

I conclude, therefore, that those who accuse Reformed theologians of Arminianism when they emphasize our cooperation in the process of sanctification are perhaps using melodramatic exaggeration to create a straw man argument.  Charles Hodge could hardly be called  an Arminian.  Explained in this way, the doctrine of God's absolute providence and predestination in His decrees is not refuted but simply explicated in a way that does not remove human accountability.  Compatibilism is not Arminianism.  On the contrary, compatibilism is a legitimate way of explaining the relationship between God's sovereignty and human responsibility, whether we are speaking about the reprobate or the elect.  I myself lean toward a more hard determinist view but that would not refute the idea that human agents are fully accountable for their own moral choices.

Given the extended explanations given in most of the Reformed systematic theologies I consulted, I conclude that this is not Arminianism injected into the Reformed view.  I say that because of the many qualifications and distinctions offered.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism says:

35. What is sanctification?
Answer: Sanctification is the work of God's free grace,1 whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God,2 and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.3
See also: WCF 13.1 | WLC 75

1 2 Thess. 2:13
2 Eph. 4:23,24
3 Rom. 6:4,6; Rom. 8:1

Addendum:  The reason this is not Arminianism is that Hodge's definition of supernatural does not exclude the "cooperation of second causes" with the supernatural gift of God which transcends the mere "natural" powers of the human will.  This is also in line with the Westminster Confession:

Chapter 3: Of God's Eternal Decree
1. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:1 yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,2 nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.3
See also: WLC 12 | WSC 7

2. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly;1 yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.2

Westminster Shorter Catechism: 

11. What are the works of providence?
Answer: God's works of providence are his most holy,1 wise,2 and powerful preserving3 and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.4
See also: WCF 5.1 | WLC 18

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