Them and Us
By Curtis Pugh
What is the essential, rock-bottom difference between “them” and “us?” By “them” I refer to that whole class of persons who, in one way or another, believe that each human being has a free-will so disconnected from man’s sinful nature that he or she can decide either for or against Christ apart from outside influence. By “us” I refer to those who believe that the whole human race and every part of each man, including the will, has been so evilly affected by the fall of Adam as to be incapable of coming in a saving way to Christ apart from Divine intervention.
I recently stumbled upon a Baptist church website that had the following statement in her confession of faith: “We believe in total depravity, but we do not believe in total inability.” I thought several things about this statement. One of my thoughts was that such a statement was just about the most ignorant thing I had read in a long time. In both error and ridiculousness it ranks right up there with the article that claimed the old Welsh Tract Church was organized without the vote or action of a “mother Church.”
Now I think I know what the author of this confession of faith meant. He meant that while they believed every human being was constituted a sinner by Adam’s sin, they did not believe Adam’s sin had affected their wills. Another thought that sprang into my mind was that I have never read a standard theology book that suggested such a belief. Nor have I read a standard Bible commentary that approached unto such a position. (I am aware that there may be some Johnny-come- lately books on the market that would try to maintain such a position, but these are not regarded by candid people as “standard.”)
Most “evangelical Christians” – even most Baptists – agree with the view that every man is master of his own destiny. That is, they think that every person has a will completely separate from his sinful nature and can come to Christ if he or she wills to do so. I am aware of the popularity of their view, but I am fully convinced that the Bible teaches just the opposite. The Bible teaches that the whole human race was plunged into total ruin at the Fall of Adam. That ruin was so devastatingly complete as to render all the seed of Adam spiritually dead. (See Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13) It is a slander on the nature and character of Jehovah to suggest that He, when referring to the race as being “dead,” meant that mankind was capable of doing something spiritually good and profitable. That which is dead is incapable of “doing” anything! That is so obvious that only a prejudiced mind (or a spiritually dead one) will not admit the truth of the statement.
I should insert here that the same view regarding the will being free is held by the lost world as well as by most of the religious world. Both the world’s ungodly philosophers and the Arminian religionists are in agreement here! That speaks volumes to this writer and I think it should to all thoughtful people. Think of it! Most of the Baptist folk alive in the world today are in agreement with unbelievers as to the condition of mankind. Most Baptists believe about man’s sinful condition exactly what the pagans believe! That has not been the case in much of Baptist history, but it is a sad commentary upon the majority of present day Baptists.
Quite a number of years ago I was scheduled to preach in a certain Baptist Church in the United States. This Church had a reputation of being a sovereign grace landmark missionary Baptist Church. It was listed as such in one of the directories put out at the time. In conversation with the pastor, I was startled and saddened to hear him say something like this: “I just cannot believe that God elected some people to salvation apart from anything that is within them.” Now stay with me. I have not wandered off the track. I am not chasing rabbits here. This pastor held a view quite in agreement with the view of election held by those who believe in free will. Those who support the free will view generally say that God looked down through time and saw that so-and-so would believe and based on that “foreseen faith” God elected that person to salvation. Since the words “election” and “elect” and “chosen” are in the Bible, free-willers have to come up with some kind of explanation for them and so they say that God’s election is based on something good He foresees in those whom He chooses.
I maintain that the person who believes in election based on foreseen faith (or any other imagined goodness in an individual) has not only a problem with what the Bible teaches about election, but he has a far more basic problem in that he does not believe in total depravity. You see, the doctrine of total depravity includes the doctrine of total inability. Paul makes this abundantly clear when he says, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). But more on that subject later! It seems to me that whenever we are involved in a discussion with our “free will” relatives and neighbors on the several facets of sovereign grace, we ought to steer the discussion to foundational matters. We ought to steer the conversation to the subject of total depravity / total inability. We can talk about election, effectual calling, etc., “until we are blue in the face” and not make much headway because we have a far more basic difference.
This whole “free will” system among modern “evangelical Christians” which we call Arminianism, is based upon a false view. Their whole system rests upon man’s ability to come to Christ in a saving way of his own volition, completely apart from Divine intervention. To admit that God must act first in the salvation of an individual requires from the Arminian an admission he cannot give. It requires him to admit that God does not act alike toward all men. It suggests that God might have as His purpose the salvation of only a select number of human beings. Such a thought is repugnant to the free will mind that has been taught that God must act in a way which seems right to men.
The free-will view held by most Baptists today can be summed up in the last verse of the poem INVICTUS by British poet William Ernest Henley. He wrote: It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll . I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
People who cannot add an inch to their stature nor make one hair white or black think they can do what God says they cannot do. They think they are masters of their destiny. They think they can come to Christ and be saved anytime they want to do so – and the popular preachers of our day tell them that this is so – that their own salvation is all up to them. They tell them that if they will take one step toward Christ He will save them!
Many evangelical Christians (to use a politically correct term) have a picture in their minds of poor, lost men and women who, if they only knew that they were lost and understood that God loves them – why these folk would come a running to Christ. They think that there are unregenerate persons who because of something in them are earnestly searching and seeking Christ. In answer to this view I call attention briefly to the story Jesus told of the lost sheep. “How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray” (Matt . 18:12, 13). That lost sheep was not seeking the shepherd! It was the shepherd who sought his lost sheep! And it is the true Shepherd, Christ, who seeks His own sheep! If we will keep in our minds this simple story from the lips of our Savior we will begin to be several steps down the road to understanding how God saves sinners.
Not only does the Bible teach us that lost sheep do not seek the shepherd, the Word of God says: “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). Now either lost men seek after God or they do not. The Bible says they do not! So get rid of the mental picture of poor, lost humanity seeking after God! Poor, lost humanity may seek after the perceived benefits and blessing that God bestows on His true children, but they do not seek after God. Whatever other motives men may have for claiming to be Christians, no one is ever born again (regenerated) because they have been seeking Christ. The soul that seeks after Christ does so because of a sovereign work of God in him and not vice versa. By vice versa I mean that the sovereign work of the new birth (regeneration) is not brought about by anything that man does. To believe otherwise is to get the cart before the horse.
This truth is further made clear by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He said: “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). There are two words sometimes used mistakenly by Americans. The two words are “may” and “can.” “May” as in “May I go?” means “Do I have permission to go?” “Can” as in “Can I go?” means “Do I have the ability to go?” The verse last quoted says “can” – “No man CAN come to me…” (Emph. C. P.). The meaning of the Lord Jesus is that no man has the ability to come to Him unless and until the Father draws him. He cannot do it! Let us do a little word study: The Greek word translated “draw” in John 6:44 is the same word used of the disciples dragging a net full of fishes to the shore. See John 21:6 and 11. It is the same Greek word used of Peter pulling his sword out of its sheath. See John 18:10. It is also used of the Jews forcibly removing Paul from the temple in Jerusalem. See Acts 21:30.
Now the testimony of the original language is clear: the word translated “draw” in our verse ( John 6:44) means to drag – to move something by use of superior strength. Some use of force or power is indicated. And so Jesus is properly understood as saying that no one has the ability to come to Him in a saving way unless and until the Father uses superior power to cause that man to come to Christ. You may not like my theology on this point and you may argue with me, but you cannot argue with the meaning of the word Jesus used – and I think He knew what word to use in describing what was necessary for a man to be saved. Jesus said that it is impossible for a lost person to come to Him unless the Father uses His strength to cause and enable that man to come.
In addition, Jesus said that all those whom the Father brings to the Son will be resurrected by the Son. So it just does not work to try to evade the truth of this verse by saying that God only attempts to draw all men to Christ. If you say that, you must be willing to say that all men will experience a blessed resurrection at the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ because God tried to draw all men. But that is not true. Only some will be resurrected and these are those whom the Father chose to draw savingly to Christ. Therefore coming to Christ is according to the will of God and not according to the will of man which always acts in accordance with the sin nature, except God be pleased to give a new nature in regeneration.
Jesus restates His teaching in John 6:65 where He says, “…Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” Evangelical Christians and many Baptists raise objections to the teaching of these verses because they see in them this truth: God does not draw all men to Christ. They see that the Father does not give all men the ability to come to Christ. They see that if these verses are true, God is selective in whom He saves – and to “them” this is terrible. But those of “us” who know that “The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Pro 16:4) have no problem with God doing what He wills with His own! We rejoice at the grace of God best owed upon us unworthy sinners. We understand that being dead in trespasses and sins, if God had not drawn us to Christ we would never have come. We have seen ourselves and know something of our desperately wicked hearts ( Jer. 17:9). We know we would not have come unless it had been given to us by the Father. And we rejoice to know that if it be wise in the eyes of our Heavenly Father to save our kindred and loved one, He is well a?le to do it. Their salvation does not depend upon us nor the persuasiveness of our arguments or those gimmicks often resorted to by many modern churches. “… Salvation is of the LORD” ( Jonah 2:9).
Generally, those who believe that lost men are the masters of their fate – that their free-will can act apart from their sinful nature – believe that if men can be made to understand their need to come to Christ they will do so. So they resort to such things as emotionally-charged preaching or miracle services or gospel-rock or southern-gospel or such things as the “Jesus Film.” Sometimes they equate saving faith with mere intellectual assent. The Campbellites do this, teaching that faith precedes repentance while the Bible always puts repentance ahead of faith. In doing this they equate faith with mental agreement with Bible facts. (This is not the gravest of Campbellite errors, for they do not believe that naked faith justifies a man at all. They put regeneration in the waters of baptism.) But while they believe these things, we believe that the unsaved man cannot receive or understand the Word of God. Therefore we do not depend on emotionally charged meetings or theatricals or musicals to save. Why do we believe that lost men cannot receive or understand the Bible? Because the Bible says: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). This verse clearly says that not only do men reject the Word of God because it is foolishness to them, but that they “can-not” (there’s that lack-of-ability word, again) – they cannot know or understand the Bible in a spiritually profitable way. It takes more than just the Word of God to regenerate a man. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit (See John 3:6).
The world’s different Christian religions, including most of the Baptists, believe that there is something that a lost person can do to acquire God’s favor. Thus they call on unregenerate men to pray, to open their heart’s door, to receive Christ, to believe, to call on the name of the Lord, to be baptized, and perhaps other things. They tell their hearers that God commands one or more of these things and that in this way they will please God. I remind you of a verse quoted earlier: the Bible says of the unregenerate man that, “… they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). There’s that lack-of-ability word “can-not” again! So, what will you do, unregenerate person, that will please God and cause His grace and favor to be extended to you in salvation? Will you exercise your free will? That will not please Him. Will you pray? That will not please Him. The Bible says that “… the plowing of the wicked, is sin” (Prov. 21:4). If an activity as wholesome and innocent as plowing a field is sin for a wicked person, what can you do to please God? The answer is nothing.
Now we have not presented all the Scriptures that bear on the subject of man’s total depravity / total inability, but these we believe are sufficient for this present article for there is another aspect of this subject that we think needs to be explored. The “them” of this article (freewillers) think they are more evangelistic than those of “us” who are convinced of man’s inability to freely exercise his will and come to Christ on his own. They think they have a better gospel message than we have. But I submit that in reality, their doctrine breeds complacency and calms the hearts of lost sinners who ought to be properly grieved and agitated upon hearing the real teaching of the Word of God.
Let me illustrate what I am saying this way. Picture in your mind’s eye a room with six men seated around a poker table. It is their regular, Friday night (illegal) high-stakes poker game. They have all they need in that room, having enjoyed a large supper earlier. The door is locked and they are secure from outside interference. The local authorities have been bribed and will not raid the place. All is going along well until someone says, “I smell smoke.” Nobody is upset at the statement. Each man knows that he has a key to the door in his pocket. He can escape, if necessary, whenever he chooses. After a few minutes, someone else says, “Hey, I smell smoke too.” Each man reaches into his pocket and feels his key. There is no need to panic. He is secure in knowing that he can exercise his will and leave when he sees a need to do so. The ability to escape IF there really is a fire is within his reach. Although he feels a little nudge of concern, he does nothing until, suddenly, he finds that he cannot make it to the door because of the heat, flames and smoke. It is too late and the men perish.
So it is with the “free-will” view. The natural man thinks he is able to come to Christ anytime and in any way that he wants to come. His ideas are reinforced by free-will preachers who tell him he can come to Christ all on his own. All he needs do is make a decision for Christ. The popular doctrine is decisional regeneration. What is taught by “them” (free-willers) is that when they believe, the Holy Spirit will regenerate them. The cause of their new birth is seen to be their own will. In opposition to their view, those of “us” who believe free-will is a myth, tell people that the new birth (regeneration) is a work of the Spirit and has nothing to do with the will of the unsaved man. For proof, among other verses, we cite John 1:13 which tells us the reason some people received (welcomed) Christ when He was on earth by saying, “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” The reason they received Christ was not their wills but God’s will. It is difficult to imagine how God could have shown that salvation is according to His will in any clearer fashion than this verse.
So we conclude this piece by asking, “What is the fundamental difference between “them” and “us?” While we differ on the doctrine of election, particular redemption, effectual calling and perseverance of saints, our basic, fundamental, essential difference is the doctrine of total depravity which includes the doctrine of total inability. They deny this doctrine. We affirm it.
Perhaps I should also say that all of “us” – contrary to “them” once believed and perhaps even taught the free-will view. Spurgeon is credited as having said, “All men are by nature born Ariminians” (free-willers). Such persons as advocate man’s having a will capable of acting contrary to his sinful nature maintain the same view of the human will as the world and its pagan religions hold. But then there is “us.” We see in the Word of God another and contrary doctrine than that held by “them.” We see a sovereign God who, in spite of man’s total inability to come to Christ, has chosen some to be His own. These He brings to Christ not with brute physical force, but by working in them, regenerating them so that they are enabled to willingly come to Christ trusting Him and His finished work on behalf of His sheep. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” ( John 10:11). We did not make ourselves “sheep,” but rather were chosen by the Father in Christ for Paul wrote, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world…” (Eph. 1:4). May God grant that many of “them” may come to be among “us” – for the glory of Jesus Christ!
Grace Bible Baptist Church
26080 Wax Road
Denham Springs, LA 70726