Posted by Andrew Webb
Per Lane’s request, I am moving three of my posts from the comments section to the main page, this will be the first. I should apologize to Greenbaggins readers in advance that while I will make an honest effort to answer questions I’m probably not going to be able to engage in nearly as much debate as some of the other posters here. I have never been able to write concisely and quickly, and with pastoral ministry and my own blog (plus another blog for deployed soldiers, sailors, & airmen I hope to start this week) to look after I just don’t have enough time.
Regarding the parable of the soils, and indeed John 15, and everyone else who appeared to “believe” for a while, the consensus amongst the Reformed has ever been that the belief expressed by those that fall away was never true saving faith but only a mere belief involving knowledge and assent, but not love and trust. The fact that Jesus does not consent to be united to these unregenerated “fair-weather believers” is clear from the scripture:
John 2:23-25 “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”
Regarding these “believers” Calvin comments: “And, therefore, when we speak generally about faith, let us know that there is a kind of faith which is perceived by the understanding only, and afterwards quickly disappears, because it is not fixed in the heart; and that is the faith which James calls dead; but true faith always depends on the Spirit of regeneration, (James 2:17, 20, 26.) … The Evangelist rather means, in my opinion, that Christ did not reckon them to be genuine disciples, but despised them as volatile and unsteady. It is a passage which ought to be carefully observed, that not all who profess to be Christ’s followers are such in his estimation.”
While the FV men describe apostates as people who have been genuinely united to Christ who do not persevere but fall away Calvin counters that they were never truly united to Christ because this cannot occur without effectual calling and regeneration and the regenerate, always persevere:
“By saying, They went out from us, he means that they had previously occupied a place in the Church, and were counted among the number of the godly. He, however, denies that they were of them, though they had assumed the name of believers, as chaff though mixed with wheat on the same floor cannot yet be deemed wheat. For if they had been of us. He plainly declares that those who fell away had never been members of the Church. And doubtless the seal of God, under which he keeps his own, remains sure, as Paul says, (2 Timothy 2:19.) But here arises a difficulty, for it happens that many who seemed to have embraced Christ, often fall away. To this I answer, that there are three sorts of those who profess the Gospel; there are those who feign piety, while a bad conscience reproves them within; the hypocrisy of others is more deceptive, who not only seek to disguise themselves before men, but also dazzle their own eyes, so that they seem to themselves to worship God aright; the third are those who have the living root of faith, and carry a testimony of their own adoption firmly fixed in their hearts. The two first have no stability; of the last John speaks, when he says, that it is impossible that they should be separated from the Church, for the seal which God’s Spirit engraves on their hearts cannot be obliterated; the incorruptible seed, which has struck roots, cannot be pulled up or destroyed. He does not speak here of the constancy of men, but of God, whose election must be ratified. He does not then, without reason declare, that where the calling of God is effectual, perseverance would be certain. He, in short, means that they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it.”
The FV problem isn’t semantic, it is fundamental and strikes at the heart of the Reformed concept of the Ordo. In Reformed theology, no one genuinely united to Christ can be cut off, in Arminianism they can, and in the FV they can. Let’s not forget that Jacobus Arminius and his followers called themselves Reformed as well. Arminius and his disciple Episcopus were both teachers at the Reformed seminary at Leyden. They always saw themselves as bringing further reformation to the Reformed Church in Holland by bringing them to a more perfect understanding of Scripture. They also argued for their liberty to teach the “truth”, while making it quite clear that once their views became the majority the old views would have to go, in other words “tolerate us until we are strong enough to force you out.” Generally speaking, all of the movements that have introduced error into Reformed denominations have taken the same tack saying that they were arguing for greater fidelity to scripture, greater love to the brethren, a broader and more catholic Christianity, and anti-sectarianism (sound familiar?)
For instance, the gradual introduction of Arminianism, Neo-Nomianism, and eventually Arianism were the forces that destroyed the English Presbyterians (who after the Restoration were all known as Dissenters) in the 17th century. The introduction of those elements was opposed by what would have been called the “TRs” of their own day who argued for fidelity to the confessions and the discipline of those introducing error. Those advocating “tolerance” for the errorists of their own time argued in the manner of the following quote by John Taylor of Norwhich. It could have been lifted from any one of the modern pleas to tolerate the FV all one has to do is replace “Dissenter” with “PCA”:
“If the Dissenters stand firm on liberty and love… if they refuse all party schemes and stand upon the basis of universal Christianity; if they allow the free study of the Bible and encourage the labors of their honest and learned men; if they are steadfastly determined to establish their faith, practice, and worship on the Word of God alone, as it shall from time to time be made known to them… then they will act to their own true principles… But if ever they abandon liberty and love; they stiffly adhere to party names and schemes; if they discourage the honest and learned men that would throw in more light and truth among them, they will become weak and dwindle into nothing.”
Errorists always make out they are doing the Reformed world a service and bringing us greater reformation. You’d think after over 300 years of the same approach we’d learn to say “No thanks” to old errors in new clothes.