UNREGENERATE MAN IS TOTALLY DEAD, NOT “MOSTLY DEAD.”

 

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And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:1-10

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The following video illustrates a common evangelism error among Pelagians, Socinians, most Arminians, many Semi-Pelagians, and innumerous misguided American Evangelicals. These well-meaning men seek assistance of the “Miracle Man” (someone with effective technique and spiritual gifts) to revive their dear friend from the dead …

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In the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church Semi-Pelagianism is defined this way:

The name given to doctrines upheld in the fifth century by a group of theologians who, while not denying the necessity of grace for salvation, maintained that the first step toward the Christian life are ordinarily taken by the power of human will and God’s grace supervenes later.

 

Semi-Pelagianism is a synergistic soteriological system and states that man cooperates with the grace that God gives before his conversion. In disagreement with Augustine (and more importantly the Apostle Paul) man is conjectured to have the power to choose grace. The disagreement theologically between Augustine of Hippo and John Cassian is choosing Monergism or Synergism. The Semi-Pelagians, in a desperate attempt to align themselves theologically with Christ’s and Paul’s clear teaching on the sinfulness of man, wrote that man is not dead in his natural state, merely he sick or mostly dead, and he needed some form of grace or help from God as a prerequisite for salvation.

 

As Philip Schaff summarizes in his History of the Christian Church (Vol. III, pg. 861):

In opposition to both systems (Augustinianism and Pelagianism), Cassian taught that the divine image and human freedom in man were not completely in bondage, but were only weakened by the fall; in other words, that man is merely sick, but not dead, that he cannot indeed help himself, but that he can desire the help of a physician, and either accept or refuse it when offered, and that he must cooperate with the grace of God in his salvation.

 

In response to Augustine’s teaching on predestination and irresistible grace, Semi-Pelagians argued that God chose some men to salvation based on a decision that He had foreseen in man, and that a person had the power to resist God’s Spirit and grace when offered to him. Semi-Pelagianism makes the mistake of interpreting Romans 8:28-29 based on a foreseen faith, as well as misunderstanding the primacy of regeneration before a person’s faith. The two theological issues here are:

 

First, the extent man is dead when Paul uses the phrase “dead in trespasses and sins” in Ephesians 2:1-3, and how these dead men are incapable to seek after God and His grace as sinners. Paul teaches in Romans 3:9-23: “…All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…”

 

Second, does regeneration precede (as well as include the gift of) our faith as Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:4-10 and as Jesus says clearly in John 6:44? Or does our faith precede our regeneration (as the Semi-Pelagians teach)?

 

Even though man is fallen and sick, the Semi-Pelagians say, he still has an island of righteousness somewhere deep within him so as he is still capable in choosing the help of God. To agree with classical predestinationism (because this was the official position of the Church at this time and a clear teaching in the writings of Paul) the Semi-Pelagians stated that God had prescience (or foreknowledge), of who would choose this grace, and that God on this basis would regenerate or justify these sinners. In other words, the Semi-Pelagians would not have wholly denied predestination, they would have merely redefined it to be God foreseeing one’s faith, then predestinating them to life.

 

Conversely the historic view of the church has been summarized in the Westiminster Confession of Faith:

 

CHAPTER 6: Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment Thereof …

  1. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit (GEN 3:13).This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory (ROM 11:32).
  2. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God (GEN 3:6; ECC 7:29; ROM 3:23 ), and so became dead in sin (GEN 2:17; EPH 2:1), and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body (TIT 1:15; GEN 6:5; JER 17:9; ROM 3:10) .
  3. They being the root of all mankind (GEN 1:27; 2:16; ACT 17:26; ROM 5:12f) , the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation (PSA 51:5; GEN 5:3; JOB 14:4).
  4. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good (ROM 5:6; ROM 8:7; ROM 7:18; COL 1:21), and wholly inclined to all evil (GEN 6:5; 8:21; ROM 3:10), do proceed all actual transgressions (JAM 1:14-15; EPH 2:2; MAT 15:19).
  5. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated (1 JO 1:8f; ROM 7:14-23; JAM 3:2; PRO 20:9; ECC 7:20); and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin (ROM 7:5-8; GAL 5:17).
  6. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto (1 JO 3:4), doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner (ROM 2:15; ROM 3:9, 19), whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God (EPH 2:3), and curse of the law (GAL 3:10), and so made subject to death (ROM 6:23), with all miseries spiritual (EPH 4:18), temporal (ROM 8:20), and eternal (MAT 25:41; 2 TH 1:9).

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For further reading:

 

Excerpted from Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Vol. II, p 542)

 

This question lies between us and the Romanists, Socinians, Remonstrants and other offshoots of the Pelagians and Semipelagians who, not to injure or remove the free will of man in calling, maintain that it has a certain cooperation (synergeian) and concourse with the grace of God. Hence they are called Synergists.

 

The question does not concern the second stage of conversion in which it is certain that man is not merely passive, but cooperates with God (or rather operates under him). Indeed he actually believes and converts himself to God; while being acted upon, he acts; and being regenerated and moved by God, he moves himself to the exercise of the new life. Rather the question concerns the first moment when he is converted and receives new life by regeneration. We contend that he is merely passive in this, as a receiving subject and not as an act­ing principle.

 

Again, the question is not whether man is able to convert himself without grace. The Romanists acknowledge the necessity of a certain prevenient and ex­citing grace; nor would anyone dare to assert this, unless he wholly denied the taint of original sin. Rather the question is whether he is able to cooperate with that exciting grace.

 

The question is not whether any dispositions are necessary in man by which he may be prepared for conversion. We confess that in spiritual no less than in natural generation, we reach spiritual birth by many preceding opera­tions and that God (who wills to perform that work in man not by violent seizures, or enthusiastical movements, but in a way suitable to our nature; and who carries it on not in one moment, but successively and by degrees) uses various dispositions by which man is little by little prepared for the reception of saving grace (at least in ordinary calling). Thus there are various acts antecedent to conversion and, as it were, steps to the thing (gradus ad rem) before he is brought to the state of regeneration, either external, which can be done by man (such as to enter a church, to hear the word and the like), or internal, which are excited by grace in the hearts of those not yet converted (such as the reception and apprehension of the presented word, a knowledge of the divine will, a cer­tain sense of sin, the fear of punishment and a desire of deliverance). Rather the question is whether in the very moment of conversion and as to the steps of the thing (gradus rei), man has anything from himself with which he can cooperate with efficacious grace so that the work can be ascribed not only to grace, but also to free will excited by grace. This the Romanists and other Pelagianizers affirm; we deny it with the orthodox. The latter recognize no efficient cause properly so called other than God himself regenerating or the Spirit of regeneration. And they make man to be regenerated the merely passive subject of the regenerating Spirit and of the new qualities infused by him (although after the new qualities have already been infused, he holds himself as the free active instrument of his own actions).

 

The Socinians (who with Pelagius deny original sin propagated in us by impure generation and assert that whatever depravity or taint is in us is contracted by frequent acts of sin and a certain custom of sinning) recognize no other regeneration than a change of a depraved custom and life and a reformation according to the doctrine of Christ (as Socinus, De Baptismo aquae Disputatio [1613] and Smalcius, De Christo vero et Naturali Dei Filio 2 [1616], pp. 13-18 define it). Therefore according to this, they hold that even in the first moment, man cooperates with God.

 

As to the Romanists, the Council of Trent clearly expresses its own opinion: “If anyone says that the free will of man moved and excited by God cooperates not at all, by assenting to God exciting and calling, by which it disposes and prepares itself for obtaining the grace of justification and cannot dissent if it wishes, but as an inanimate something does not act at all and is merely passive, let him be anathema” (Session 6, Canon 4, “Concerning Justification,” Schroeder, pp. 42-43). So too Tirinus: “To be excited, drawn, invited by God, is not free to me, for they are the motions sent to us immediately from God alone. Still I am free to consent or not to consent to him exciting and to follow or not to follow him drawing and exercising suasion” (Theologicae elenchticae . . . controversiarum fidei, Cont. 14, no. 4 [1648], p. 152).

 

However because our adversaries frequently distinguish grace into “exciting and assisting, operating and cooperating, prevenient and subsequent,” we must before all things ascertain in what sense it can either be admitted or ought to be rejected. If by exciting, operating and prevenient grace, they understand the first movement of efficacious grace by which we are excited from the death of sin to a new life and really converted before any cooperation and concourse of our will; and by assisting, cooperating, and subsequent, its second movement, which is cooperated with by the converted and assists them to act, we would readily admit this distinction. For we see that Augustine often employed it: “We read of both in the sacred writings, both his mercy goes before me and it follows me; it goes before the one unwilling that he may will successfully” (Enchiridion 9 [32] [FC 3:397; PL 40.248]). And in the same place, he tells us that it was rightly said by the apostle: “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy, so that the whole is due to God, who both prepares a good will of man to be assisted and assists it when prepared” (ibid.). “That we may, therefore, will, he operates without us; when, however, we will, and so will as to do, he cooperates with us; still without him either operating that we may will or cooperating when we will, we have no ability to do the good works of piety” (On Grace and Free WiU 33 [17] [NPNF1, 5:458; PL 44.901]). But it is employed in a different sense by them, so that by exciting, prevenient and operating, they mean only sufficient grace acting by illumination and moral suasion (which does not subject the free will to itself so as to efficaciously incline and determine it to acting, but is subjected to the free will so that it is always in its power to receive or reject that grace; to consent to or dissent from it), and by cooperating grace, that which cooperates with the yet unconverted will, and with which in turn the will not as yet converted cooperates. Bellarmine plainly intimates this when he says, “He calls all that they may come to him, not that they can come by the powers of nature alone, but to put them in mind that they should cooperate with prevenient grace” (“De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio,” 2.3 Opera [1858], 4:300). The Synergists openly acknowledge this; cf. Jansen, “De gratia Christi salvatoris,” 4 in Augustinus (1640/1964), pp.393-485, who treats this argument fully and shows how far they recede from the opinion of Augustine (who also uses this distinction).

 

However, we more fitly distinguish the grace of God, not into “grace giv­ing to the grateful” or “making grateful” (to wit, the gratuitous love of God by which he follows us in Christ and to which we hold ourselves objectively); but “given to the grateful” (which embraces all saving benefits flowing into us from him gratuitously, giving as from a most copious fountain. Such grace inheres in us, into first that by which we are efficaciously called from a state of sin and brought into a state of grace (which is well called prevenient and operating, but in a sounder sense than by the Romanists) and second that by which being already converted we are strengthened and directed in the state of grace (which is appropriately called in an orthodox sense cooperating and subsequent).

 

These points being fixed, we proceed to confirm our opinion and build it up on four principal arguments. The first is drawn from the greatness of our corruption, which excludes all cooperation on our part. We are by nature sinners and children of wrath, nothing but flesh, whose imagination is evil even from infancy (Jn. 3:6; Eph. 2:3; Gen. 6:5); who cannot even think anything good of ourselves (2 Cor. 3:5); dead in sins (Eph. 2:1); bearing a stony heart (Ezk. 36:26) and in general laboring under a total impotence to good (Rom. 5:6). Therefore we can neither cooperate nor dispose ourselves to conversion.

 

By the nature of regeneration; since this is a change or renovation of nature, it ought to be the work of God alone and not of man. Both because that regeneration is simply impossible for man (1 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:7; Jer. 13:23) and because as in the beginning he alone created man after his image, so in it he alone can reform him (Col. 3:10). And as in natural generation, chil­dren cannot beget themselves, or contribute anything to their birth, but are merely passive, so in supernatural regeneration no one can regenerate himself, but it is the work of our heavenly Father alone. Hence it is everywhere taken away from man and ascribed to God (Ps. 100:3; Jn. 1:12, 13; Jam. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23; Jn. 3:5, 6; Tit. 3:5).

 

By the infinity of power required in it; it is a work of divine omnipotence, which on this account belongs to God alone and cannot be ascribed to the finite human will as its proper cause. Hence it is called a “creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) and a “resurrection” (Col. 2:12), which can admit of no cooperation (synergeian) anymore than they who are created and raised can cooperate in their own creation and resurrection.

 

By the absurdities attending it; on this supposition, the glory of conversion is divided between the creature and the Creator and man would have in himself matter for glorying because he had made himself to and would possess something which he had not received. The falsity of this, however, the apostle Paul often and expressly testifies (1 Cor. 4:7; Eph. 2:8, 9; Rom. 3:27; 4:1, 2).

 

First Corinthians 15:10 does not help the Synergists.

 

Paul treats of his own ministry, not of conversion. He refers all the success of the work, not to himself, but to grace. Paul does not say that grace had labored with him that he might come with it into a fellowship of praise and of labor; but on the contrary, he refers to that which he had said concerning himself—that he had labored more than all (by which epanorthosis he wishes to give the entire praise to the grace which was with him). On this account, the words he charis tou theou he syn emoi are not to be rendered (with the Vulgate) “the grace of God with me” (supply “wrought,” as a Lapide and Tirinus hold), but “the grace of God, which is with me” (which the force of the article intimates to signify that what­ever labor he performed, he wished to be ascribed not to himself, but to the grace of God which was with him).

 

It is one thing to speak of the cooperation of men with God in the work of ministry; another of their cooperation in the work of conversion. In the former sense, they are called “co-workers with God” (synergoi theou, 2 Cor. 6:1; 1 Cor.3:9) because God uses their labors and ministry in preaching the gospel and edifying the church, although in the bestowal of life and blessings and increase God has no co-worker (synergon, 1 Cor. 3:9*). But in the latter sense, no one can be called a fellow worker with God in the first stage of conversion, in which the power to believe is given unto us.

 

When the Spirit is said “to help our infirmities” (Rom. 8:26), it does not refer to those about to be converted, but to converts and believers whose infirmities the Spirit assists, especially when he intercedes for them and teaches them to pray (not knowing how). If men are said to be assisted by God, it must not be referred to the first and prevenient grace by which they are converted, but to the concomitant by which, when converted, they are bound to promote and work out their own salvation.

 

It is one thing for man to have a free will; another to be able to cooperate with grace through his free will. We do not deny that man when first converted has free will, otherwise he would not even be a man. But we deny that he can cooper­ate with God or hold himself indifferent to the receiving or rejecting of his grace.

 

Although man cannot cooperate with God calling, it does not follow either that all diligence and zeal in the exercise and cherishing of faith is taken away or that the precepts and promises have no place; or that they are not to be praised who will to believe and repent and that they do not sin who are unwilling. (1) The diligence and zeal of man do not pertain to man’s cooperating with God when he is first converted; but that, excited and converted by God, he may act and work out his own salvation. (2) The precepts and promises are rules of duty, not a measure of strength and no faculty is derived from the precept or strength from duty. For God most wisely admonishes man both of his duty and impotence by his commands and employs them as means to bring about what he commands.

 

Although in his regeneration man preexists (which cannot be said of natural generation), he exists as the passive subject of another’s operation, not as the principle of his own operation. And if he puts forth vital acts, they belong to the natural and animal life, not to the spiritual life of grace (in respect of which he is said to be wholly dead).

 

So far is the will of man from being injured by the grace of God (the cooperation of man having been excluded) that it is the rather made perfect when delivered from the bondage of sin into the liberty of grace (God, who made the will, not taking away its nature and mode of acting, but confirming it). Nor (unless absurdly) is it said to be turned into a log, since it is not only the rational (logikon) subject (which is capacious and conscious of grace), but also the living and moral instrument (which God uses to perfect actual conversion in him)—either of which cannot be said of a log.

 

Although the Holy Spirit is repeatedly promised and given also to believers now renewed and converted (as to the progress and increase of regenerating grace [Lk. 11:13; Jn. 7:38, 39] to promote and perfect the good work which began in them; or to the confirmation and sealing of the same grace even unto the day of redemption and as to the gift of consolation, referred to in Eph. 1:13, 14), it does not follow that it is not also given to the unrenewed for regeneration, as the Spirit of regeneration and illumination. Yea, since regeneration cannot be pro- duced except by the Spirit (Jn. 3:5, 6), who is the author of our spiritual life (Gal. 5:25), it is supposed necessarily to be given.

 

The actual mortification of the old and the vivification of the new man, consisting in the laying aside of vices and the emendation of life and morals (to which man cooperates), follows indeed habitual regeneration as its proper fruit (Gal. 5:22, 23; Col. 3:5) and cannot be separated from it. Still it is distinguished from it as the effect from the cause and an act from a habit (Eph. 2:10; Rom. 6:4; Ezk. 36:26; Jer. 32:39). For we are made new creatures by God that we may thus walk in newness of life.

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