Posted by: davidlarkin | April 13, 2014

Now is the Favorable Time

For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6:2 (ESV)

In the 80s I was attended the Hiding Place Church that met at a middle school next to the Mormon Temple on Santa Monica Boulevard in West LA.  A humble fellowship in the shadow of the proud Mormon showpiece.  I met a middle-aged woman there who was on fire for the Lord.  She was not ashamed of the Gospel, and was a personal evangelist working on the streets of Hollywood with those who the Lord appointed for her to meet.  She told me about a neighbor of hers in her apartment building in Hollywood.  He was a very bright young man in his thirties, she said, who was working in a business where he had great opportunity for material success, he told her.  One night she had the opportunity to share the gospel with him, declaring to him that Jesus died for his sins and rose again, and is alive and ready to save him from his sins, and give him the gift of life eternal, if he will only call on the name of the Lord, repent and ask forgiveness and let Jesus be his Lord and savior.

She told me that he listened intently, and told her that he believed what she said.  He believed that he needed to be saved, and that he wanted to have life after death in heaven.  But, he told her, he was not ready to give his life up.  He wanted to be rich, and he wanted to be able to enjoy the worldly pleasures now.  He said that once he has success, he will get saved.

She was disappointed for him, she said, but she had shared the Gospel, and he had heard it.

The next day, she had been away from her apartment and returned to find an ambulance outside the building.  As she was about to enter the building, the paramedics brought her neighbor out on a stretcher, and put him in the ambulance.  They had put him in a straight jacket, and he was lying on his back with a blank expression on his face.  She asked the paramedic what had happened, and was told that he had lost his mind,  and a neighbor had called the police because of his loud screaming.  He was sedated and taken away.  She said he did not return.  She told me that she saw this as God’s instant judgment on the young man for hearing the gospel, understanding it, and sincerely rejecting it.  The story was chilling because that may have been his last chance for salvation.  As the scripture cited above says, “now is the day of salvation.”

Salvation is the sovereign act of God, not a voluntary choice we can make when it is convenient.

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.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

There may be a point in a man or woman’s rebellion against God where God gives the person up to his or her sins for good.  As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:18-32 (ESV)

Three times Paul writes that “God gave them up,” for the “wrath of God from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  The young man who heard the Gospel from my friend apparently reached his last chance, and God gave him over to a debased mind, in fact, God took his mind away from him, perhaps for good, but arguably, in reaction to his sincere rejection of the truth, that we are sinners, and that we are called to repent:

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NKJV)

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Luke 5:32 (NKJV)

“unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Luke 13:3 & 5 (NKJV)

How long will God wait for a man or woman to repent and call on Him?

And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,  

Hebrews 9:27 (NKJV)

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  If you have not called on the Lord for your salvation, now is the time, and you may pray this prayer to be saved and to obtain the gift of eternal life: 

Dear God in heaven, I come to you in the name of Jesus. I acknowledge to You that I am a sinner, and I am sorry for my sins and the life that I have lived; I need your forgiveness.

I believe that your only begotten Son Jesus Christ shed His precious blood on the cross at Calvary and died for my sins, and I am now willing to turn from my sin.

You said in Your Holy Word, Romans 10:9 that if we confess the Lord our God, that is, if we declare Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, and believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, we shall be saved.

Right now I confess and declare Jesus as the Lord of my soul. With my heart, I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. This very moment I accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior and according to His Word, right now I am saved.

Thank you Jesus for your unlimited grace which has saved me from my sins. I thank you Jesus that your grace never leads to license, but rather it always leads to repentance. Therefore Lord Jesus transform my life so that I may bring glory and honor to you alone and not to myself.

Thank you Jesus for dying for me and giving me eternal life.


If you said that prayer sincerely, and are truly sorry for your prior rejection of God, and sorry for your sins, you have been saved by God.  You have the promise of heaven. You should ask God to help you find a Bible-based church that teaches the word of God and then be baptized.  You can talk directly to the Lord.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)

Posted by: davidlarkin | April 11, 2014

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

“When you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere and all about the rotation of the earth, you may still miss the radiance of the sunset.”

Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925)

Scientists today estimate the adult human body is composed of trillions of cells, upwards of 37.2 trillion.[Source: National Geographic, October 2013]  There are approximately 200 different types of cells all working together expressing themselves as one conscious person.

One of the enduring mysteries of biology is that a variety of specialized cells collaborate in building a body, yet all have an identical genome. Somehow each of the 200 different kinds of cells in the human body — in the brain, liver, bone, heart and many other structures — must be reading off a different set of the hereditary instructions written into the DNA.

The system is something like a play in which all the actors have the same script but are assigned different parts and blocked from even seeing anyone else’s lines. The fertilized egg possesses the first copy of the script; as it divides repeatedly into the 10 trillion cells of the human body, the cells assign themselves to the different roles they will play throughout an individual’s lifetime.

New York Times, February 23, 2009 [Obviously, scientists differ in their estimate of the number of cells in the human body, 10 trillion in this 2009 article and 37 trillion in the 2013 National Geographic article cited above, but qualitatively, there is little difference for purposes of acknowledging the mystery of how billions of individual cells can cooperate to manifest one person]

If you are able to stand back from the massive accumulation of knowledge of the physiology of the human body, the neurons in the brain, the interaction of the billions of cells and their individual differences acting as one person, you cannot miss the glorious mystery and gift of life.  We are a reflection or the image of the incomprehensible God and Creator of the Universe.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Genesis 1:26 (ESV)

then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

Genesis 2:7 (ESV)

We should praise God for the wonder of life and creation and especially for his saving grace as the Scripture teaches:

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!”

Psalm 40:16 (ESV)

For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Hebrews 2:2-4 (ESV)

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NKJV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)

Here is a short prayer of praise for God’s creation and the gift of life:

O Lord and Maker of all things, from whose creative power the first light came forth, who looked upon the world’s first morning and saw that it was good, I praise You for this light that now streams through my windows to rouse me to the life of another day.

I praise You for the life that stirs within me;
I praise you for the bright and beautiful world into which I go;
I praise you for earth, sea and sky – billowing clouds and singing birds;
I praise you for the work You have given me to do;
I praise you for all You have given me to fill my leisure hours;
I praise you for my friends and family;
I praise you for music and books and good company.

John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, 7th Day, Morning

Posted by: davidlarkin | December 14, 2013

New Every Morning

At day’s end, it is often discouraging to reflect on the day’s activities. A sincere review will reveal failings and sinful actions and thoughts. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Romans 7:18-20 (ESV)

It is common, therefore, to find confessions of sin and failures in daily evening devotionals, like John Baillie’s A Diary of Daily Prayer. We can be troubled by the past days misfortunes, sins and errors, and be worried about what will come tomorrow, both leading to sleeplessness and a troubled mind.

Paul McCartney recognized the problem of worry and sleeplessness in the Beatles song from the White Album, “I’m So Tired,” only he appeals to his lover, who is breaking his heart, for peace, as the troubled lovers so generally do, rather than to God:

It’s doing me harm, you know I can’t sleep
I can’t stop my brain, you know it’s three weeks
I’m going insane

You know I’d give you everything I’ve got
For a little peace of mind

Things often seem at their worst when I awake in the middle of the night and my mind is stirred to worry and I can’t stop it, losing sleep. The old saying, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn,” captures that late night worry about my life’s problems, my loved ones, or my work and also that feeling of nebulous doom I sometimes feel when I wake up in the middle of the night, with nothing specific worrying me. See Bob Dylan, “Meet Me in the Morning” and Crosby Stills and Nash, “Long Time Gone.”

It would be nice to have memorized a well-crafted prayer especially for the middle of the night, so I don’t have to muddle along with a sleepy rambling prayer.  I am sure, of course, that the Lord will accept any sincere and humble prayer in my moments of distress. Typically, I appeal to God to stop my brain and give me peace.   This requires trust in His faithfulness.  As I grow older in the Lord, 42 years now, I am more aware of His presence, and more constant in communicating with Him and seeking reconciliation.  As a result, I am able to fall asleep and when I awake in the middle of the night, fall back to sleep easier, although there are occasional times when I have to get up and do some online legal research on a case that is troubling me, which I consider a blessing that the Lord has prompted me to do that work, even in the middle of the night.

The blessing of communicating with God at the end of the day, or even just before the dawn — asking forgiveness, petitioning for peace and for a good day to come — is that the believer can awake with the joy that he has made peace with God and start the day walking in the Spirit as if he were starting anew.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9 (ESV) [See my previous post, A Daily Confession]

When we fall, the Lord is there to lift us up and begin as if anew.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.

Psalm 37:23-24 (ESV)

Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), a Scottish minister, professor at the University of Edinburgh and prolific writer, wrote:

The victorious Christian life is a series of New Beginnings.

The mercies of God are new every morning.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Posted by: davidlarkin | September 21, 2013

A Reader’s Prayer

I am a reader. I have too many books left to read, and more are available to read everyday. When I reached 60 years old, I realized that I would not be able to read all the books that I had hoped to read over the years.

I am grateful to have the time to read and that I am compulsive about making the time to read.

Today, I was reading John Baillie’s A Diary of Daily Prayer, Day 21 morning, and included in that daily devotional was a petition to God for reading guidance that can be used as a prayer on its own. So for dedicated readers who want divine help in choosing what to read for profit or recreation, and in being a better steward of his or her time, I offer this Reader’s Prayer which I adapted from Baillie with modification to include internet reading:

A Reader’s Prayer

Leave me not, O gracious God, in such hours as I may today devote to the reading of books, magazines, internet websites and blogs or newspapers. Guide my mind to choose the right books and, having chosen them, to read them in the right way. When I read for profit, grant that all I read may lead me nearer to you. When I read for recreation, grant that what I read may not lead me away from you. Let all my reading so refresh my mind that I may the more eagerly seek after whatsoever things are pure and fair and true.

Adapted from A Diary of Daily Prayer, Day 21, Morning Prayer by John Baillie

Posted by: davidlarkin | April 20, 2013

A Violent Week

This has been a violent week.  The tragic drama of the Boston Marathon bombing and the gripping manhunt has left us all emotionally exhausted.   What can I write that we all have not thought or experienced about this horrific event.

Closer to home, however, we had a shooting at our office complex on Thursday morning.  I was at the dentist when I received a call from my wife that our office complex was a crime scene, someone had been shot.  Fortunately, my wife and I, who work together at my law office, did not arrive at the office until after the shooting, and were not harmed or in danger.  Nevertheless, I left the dentist immediately and went to meet my wife at the office, where we waited while the police secured the crime scene and took the shooter away.

We heard a report that the criminal attorney in another office, two doors down from us, was involved.  My first thought was that he had been shot by a criminal client.   The criminal lawyer’s father works for him, and had been arrested a few months earlier for pulling a gun on a client, apparently in self-defense, but had not shot the gun.  My wife and I were very uncomfortable having the criminal law practice so close and considered moving, but did not.  Now with this shooting, we were physically and emotionally shocked.

It turns out that the shooting had nothing to do with the criminal lawyer’s law practice or criminal clients.  The lawyer was the criminal.  He was 48 years old, married with children, and he was having an affair with his office receptionist who was in her twenties.  He was representing her in a paternity action against her ex-boyfriend.

The lawyer  came to the office that morning with his .357 handgun to meet the ex-boyfriend.  The 25-year-old victim was sitting in his car.  The lawyer approached him holding the gun, and ordered him out of the car.  The young man grabbed the barrel of the gun and tried to duck out of the way but the lawyer fired a shot, striking him in the back.  The victim ran to a nearby medical office and collapsed.  He recorded the incident on his cell phone which police recovered at the scene.

After the shooting, the lawyer stood over his victim saying something like, “Do you feel that … that’s you dying boy,” according to court documents.   Others in their office who heard a pop, went out to the parking lot, saw him standing there holding the gun, and called 911.  The lawyer went back to his office and called police to turn himself in.  See news report here.

I first met the lawyer on Tuesday this week in the parking lot where he was arriving with his receptionist.  I suspected they were having an affair because I had seen her driving to work in the morning in the lawyer’s Mercedes and opening the office.  My suspicions were correct, and his adultery was the source of the emotion and evil intent that led to his attempted murder of the young man.

So, this week has been a week of violence for us along with everyone else in America.  Today, April 20, is the 14 year anniversary of another day of violence in America, the Columbine High School massacre.  Reading through the One Year Book of Christian History in my morning devotions, today’s entry was about a young teen, Rachel Scott, who attended Columbine High School in 1999.  Here is the remarkable April 20 entry from the book:


God gave us a glimpse of the future.

RACHEL SCOTT was just eight when her father, Pastor Darrell Scott, walked out on her Beth, leaving her with five children. A year later Rachel’s grandparents helped her mom move to Littleton, Colorado, and buy a home.

When Rachel was twelve, she had a life-changing spiritual encounter.  She later wrote in her Journal, “Everyone was there at the altar, and I felt so drawn to it.  You have to understand that I was so young . . . to be drawn that way, it was nothing short of God . . . .  That night I accepted Jesus into my heart.  I was saved.” From that time on her family saw a spiritual depth beginning to develop in Rachel.

Two years later, Rachel’s mother remarried.  During this difficult adjustment Rachel became increasingly withdrawn and private.  When she was sixteen, her mother gave her a journal, the first of many.  Rachel began to chronicle her spiritual journey and commitment to Christ — a commitment that cost her deeply.  She broke up with the boy she loved in order to keep herself chaste and was rejected by five of her closest friends for talking openly about her faith.  On April 20. 1998,  one year to the day before she died, she wrote these words:  ‘I have no more friends at school.  But you know what . . . it’s all worth it to me . . . . If I have to sacrifice everything I will.”  Rachel had no idea of the sacrifice she would ultimately make.

On April 20, 1999, Rachel sat outside the cafeteria when two troubled students armed with guns came up the stairs at Columbine High School.  They opened fire, hitting her three times.  After leaving to find more victims, they returned to where Rachel lay in pain.  One of them lifted her head by her ponytail and jeered, “Do you believe in God?”  She answered, “Yes.”  He put the gun her temple and killed her.

About a month after Rachel’s funeral, her father received a phone call from a stranger who told him about a dream he had.  As Darrell recalled it, “He dreamed about her eyes and a flow of tears that were watering something that he couldn’t quite see in the dream.  He was adamant about the eyes and tears and wanted to know if that meant anything to me . . . . He told me that dream had haunted him for days, and he knew there was a reason for it.”

Her father had no idea what the dream could mean.  Several days later he picked up Rachel’s backpack from the sheriff s office.  Inside were two journals, one with a bullet hole through it.  He turned to the last page of her most recent diary and was dumbfounded to see a drawing of her eyes with a stream of thirteen tears watering a rose.  The tears appeared to turn into drops of blood as they touched the rose.  The number of tears matched the number of victims at Columbine.  It practically took his breath away to see in Rachel’s final diary exactly what the stranger had described to him a week earlier.

Looking in previous diaries, her parents discovered that same rose drawn a tear before Rachel’s death.  The earlier drawing simply showed the rose with the bloodlike drops, not her eyes or the clear tears, and it showed the rose  growing up out of a columbine plant, the state flower from which Columbine High School got its name.


It was like “Pop, Pop, Pop.”  A Christian couple hid in the bathtub with their dog praying for safety.  Click Here for the video interview by NBC anchor Brian Williams with the Watertown, Massachusetts couple who heard the gun fight between the Boston Marathon terrorists and police taking place in their front yard.

After a week like this, the Apostle Paul’s words are a comforting source of rest.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 [NIV]

Posted by: davidlarkin | April 7, 2013

A Daily Confession

“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” 

Luke 5:32.  

Thus, Jesus summed up his mission to mankind.  He did not come to heal the sick, make the blind see, or make the lame walk.  These were signs of his power and authority.  But he came to lead sinners to repentance, and by believing and repenting, receive the gift of eternal life.

Jesus also came to earth to die for the sins of the redeemed, and those who are redeemed are redeemed through God’s sacrifice of his son.  This was Jesus’ mission for mankind.  Who can understand this?  Fortunately, we are not asked to understand this, but to believe:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 [ESV]

True repentance, however, will not come without belief.  As a Calvinist, I believe that God’s chosen are first regenerated.  We are born again or receive new birth or are reborn from above.  Regeneration is followed, perhaps instantaneously, by faith, which is belief that Jesus is my Lord and that he died for my sins and was raised from the dead, alive today as you or me.  Regeneration and Faith is followed by repentance, again this can be instantaneous.  But it is elementary that you must repent to be saved.  And this is saving faith.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

Titus 3:4-6 [ESV]

But what is it about true belief that leads to repentance?  In our encounter with the holy, with a holy and perfect God of all creation, we recognize that we are sinners who need to be reconciled to a Holy God.  We need forgiveness for sin and we experience the gift of godly sorrow:

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

2 Corinthians 7:10 [NKJ]

Godly sorrow is a gift.  Oswald Chambers has described it wonderfully in one of his daily devotions in the Christian classic, My Utmost for His Highest:

Conviction of sin is best described in the words:

My sins, my sins, my Savior,
How sad on Thee they fall.

Conviction of sin is one of the most uncommon things that ever happens to a person. It is the beginning of an understanding of God. Jesus Christ said that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict people of sin (see John 16:8). And when the Holy Spirit stirs a person’s conscience and brings him into the presence of God, it is not that person’s relationship with others that bothers him but his relationship with God— “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight . . .” (Psalm 51:4). The wonders of conviction of sin, forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven person who is truly holy. He proves he is forgiven by being the opposite of what he was previously, by the grace of God. Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, “I have sinned.” The surest sign that God is at work in his life is when he says that and means it. Anything less is simply sorrow for having made foolish mistakes— a reflex action caused by self-disgust.

The entrance into the kingdom of God is through the sharp, sudden pains of repentance colliding with man’s respectable “goodness.” Then the Holy Spirit, who produces these struggles, begins the formation of the Son of God in the person’s life (see Galatians 4:19). This new life will reveal itself in conscious repentance followed by unconscious holiness, never the other way around. The foundation of Christianity is repentance. Strictly speaking, a person cannot repent when he chooses— repentance is a gift of God. The old Puritans used to pray for “the gift of tears.” If you ever cease to understand the value of repentance, you allow yourself to remain in sin. Examine yourself to see if you have forgotten how to be truly repentant.

Chambers exhorts us to examine ourselves.  He likely means to examine ourselves at least daily.  Repentance is not a one-time initiating event in the life of a Christian.  The great 19th century British preacher Charles Spurgeon put it like this:

Sincere repentance is continual. Believers repent until their dying day. This dropping well is not intermittent. Every other sorrow yields to time, but this dear sorrow grows without growth, and it is so sweet a bitter, that we thank God we are permitted to enjoy and to suffer it until we enter our eternal rest.

Spurgeon on 2 Corinthians 7:10.

After 42 years of Christian life, one would think that I have less sin to confess each day.  However, it seems my sins have not diminished, just changed.  It is like a whack-a-mole game.  You get control of one type of sin, and another one pops up.  A loss of self-control, and angry unnecessary comment, when we notice and remember, needs to be confessed.  I thank God I don’t remember all my failures, and that I remember so few.  Jesus said:

 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’  But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.

Matthew 5:21-22a [NKJV]

Or all of a sudden, my memory punishes me with a thought of the sins of  my youth.  How could I have done that?  And I ask God’s forgiveness, even 45 years after the fact.

There are Scriptures that seem to say once saved, the Christian no longer sins.  For example, from the King James Version:


 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

1 John 3:9 [NKJV]

However, this is mistranslated from the Greek text.  Modern translations recognize that the Greek verbs are referring to continuous sinful conduct.  Here is the recent English Standard Version, a translation whose General Editor is the scholar Wayne Grudem, a conservative reformed Evangelical theologian.

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s[a] seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

1 John 3:9 [ESV]

This conforms to the Scriptural fact that we have a sinful nature which remains in the flesh after salvation, to be wrestled with daily with the help of the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus admonished us:

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41 [ESV]

Further, when he gave us the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus reminded us that we do not cease sinning when we are saved, and that we must ask God’s forgiveness daily.  In addition for thanking God for our daily bread, we pray as well

Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.  And lead us not into temptation.

Luke 11:4 [NIV]

To help me with confession and forgiveness, I have composed a Prayer of Confession that I put on my Amazon kindle which I read in my daily devotions.  My prayer begins with a Scriptural acknowledgement of my sin:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9 [ESV]

Once acknowledged, realizing that we must approach God sincerely and personally, one-on-one, my prayer follows with Scriptural encouragement and further acknowledgement of the privilege of the redeemed in Christ:

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession . . .  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14, 16 [NKJV].

Finally, my prayer ends with a confession, adapted from the Holy Eucharist service in the Anglican/Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, with a pause where I can insert those specific sins that the Holy Spirit brings to my attention and prompts my memory to reveal to me:

I will confess my sins unto Almighty God

Most merciful God,
I confess that I have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what I have done,
and by what I have left undone.

[Specifically, I have . . .]

I have not loved you with my whole heart;
I have not loved my neighbors as myself.
I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on me and forgive me;
that I may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name.


All together now, here is my daily prayer of confession:

A Prayer of Confession

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [1 John 1:8-9]

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession . . . Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [Hebrews 4:14, 16]

I will confess my sins unto Almighty God

Most merciful God,
I confess that I have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what I have done,
and by what I have left undone.

[Specifically, I have . . .]

I have not loved you with my whole heart;
I have not loved my neighbors as myself.
I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on me and forgive me;
that I may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name.


Posted by: davidlarkin | June 2, 2012

The Holy Spirit and Divine Action in the Material World

Christians believe that God works in the world, that He interacts with the world and with us, that He is a physical causal influence on events in the material world. Divine action in the world may be general or special. God can be said to act generally through the regular structures of the world, matter and the laws of nature, which God created and sustains. This General Divine Action (GDA) parallels and is the means of General Revelation, that God reveals himself in nature. As poet Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote –

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

from Hopkins’ poem, God’s Grandeur

And as David wrote in Psalm 19:1 (NIV):

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.   

Thus, God reveals himself generally in nature through General Divine Action.

I have written in a prior post about the constant work of God in holding the material universe together.  God is the essence, the active power of the forces that we describe as doing that, namely, the physical forces including gravity, and the strong and weak forces that hold the repellent subatomic particles together. See What is a Force?

Theologically, the constant holding of the universe together, the divine order manifested in His laws of nature set in motion by God, the prime mover, at the moment of creation, would be the work of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus or the Word of God.

In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
. . .
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 14 (NIV)

Speaking of our Lord Jesus, Paul writes:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things,and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:17 (NIV)

We believe in this divine activity despite our simultaneous acceptance of a theoretical scheme of natural laws which on a physical level, science tells us, determine physical events, subject to an underlying and inherent modern indeterminacy: events occurring as a matter of an ambiguous and uncertain probability labelled as quantum or chaos. Clearly, there is room for God to work in a quantum world or an unknowable chaos of events beyond or hidden from observation. Contemporary theologians speculate about this locus for the interactive Special Divine Action sometimes referred to as “SDA.” This special or particular divine action parallels the special revelation of God’s redemptive plan revealed in the Scriptures, as general revelation is God revealing Himself in nature through general divine action.

God may be interacting as well in the internal world of the mind, moving our spirit to make choices, or gain wisdom in our subjective minds or souls. We believe that God is interacting with us and with our minds, hopefully influencing somehow our desires and choices.  He carries out his will with particularity through particular or special divine action.  With the source or physical locale, if any, of the human consciousness unknown to science and philosophy, what is referred to as the hard problem of consciousness, faith stands firm in our Christian experience of the interaction of God with us in our subjective worlds of our minds.  In faith, we rely on God to give us wisdom, to lead us, protect us and provide for us. We pray for these blessings. In our desire to carry out the will of God, in faith we look for signs, or simply trust that he is with us as we make our choices and walk as strangers in a strange land. The material comfort we enjoy can make it a challenge to remember that we are not of this world. We need to be reminded. Here, the Apostle Peter admonishes us:

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

1 Peter 1:17 (NIV)

With the faith that God is acting in the World, the Hebrews used the Urim and Thummin, some device of randomness used for making decisions and determining the will of God, like an oracle, where God guides the random process to deliver a message.

Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the LORD. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD

Exodus 28:30 (NIV)

After Jesus was crucified and Judas Iscariot had committed suicide in shame, the Apostles were short one of the twelve. They decided to choose a successor by casting lots, allowing God to intercede in the action of a seemingly random act, as Aaron did with the Urim and Thummin, telling the Apostles who His choice was to succeed Judas:

(With the reward he got for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

“For,” said Peter, “it is written in the book of Psalms,

‘May his place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in it,’
‘May another take his place of leadership.’

Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Acts 1:18-26 (NIV)

This practice of choosing a successor to the Apostles by casting lots continues today in the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt:

On the day of his consecration the Patriarch Elect of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt is traditionally led to the cathedral having spent the previous night in chains keeping vigil by the dead body of his predecessor.  When he arrives at the cathedral he is taken to the altar and stands between the bishops as his deed of election is read aloud to the congregation:

We besought the Spotless Trinity with a pure heart and an upright faith to
reveal unto us him who (was) worthy of this meditation … Therefore, by an
election from above’ and by the w’orking of the Holy Spirit and by the assent
and conviction of us all, it was revealed unto us to have regard unto N for the
Apostolic Throne of the divinely-prophetic Mark.

What is particularly interesting is the procedure adopted by the Copts to manifest most reliably God’s choice and revelation of their new Pope the election from above and working of the Holy Spirit is invoked by means of a wry ancient tradition.  In the election of their sixty-fifth Pope, HH Shenute II (1032-1046): the Copts adopted a process analogous to the Nestorian custom of choosing their patriarch by means of picking lots.  Throughout the next nine hundred years this process was only used occasionally until it became accepted as the standard method of selection in the twentieth century with the election of the patriarch, HH Shenouda III, on 31 October 1971.

HH Pope Shenouela III was chosen by the process of al-Qur’ah al-Haykaliyya, which literally means “the choice of God from the Altar.”  The names of the final three candidates for election are written on identical slips of paper and placed into a sealed box.  During the Mass a very young boy is selected from the congregation.  He is blindfolded and the priest opens the box.  As the congregation pray the Lord’s Prayer and chant “Lord have mercy” the boy chooses one of the slips inside.  The name picked is that of the new Patriarch.

Of course there are certain things we can say about how God brings about this revelation.  Central to the modern Coptic ceremony is the belief that God helps to form the intentions of all of those involved in the selection of the three names that will be written on the lots and many intercessionary prayers are made to ask for God’s guidance in this matter.  In the ceremony of the young boy choosing the slip there are two further implicit statements about God — both of which have Biblical parallels: that God has knowledge of the configuration of the slips in the box and knows which slip has which name written upon it: and that God can make his specific intention known to the mind of one child who then chooses in accordance with that intention without himself knowing which slip to choose.  Both of these are essential claims about the extent of God’s knowledge of the natural world — the exact configuration of the slips in the box, and the nature of the boy’s thought processes.  The latter element also includes a claim that God is capable of acting in the world on the level of human mental processes and accordingly instigates the child’s movements.

A strong element of the selection of the Coptic Patriarch is that God is capable of guiding a chance-like process and has knowledge of how to effect that process in a suitable way to select a desired result.  Put another way, God acts with intention to determine an otherwise random selection by virtue of knowledge and foresight of the implications of that determination.  .  .  .

[emphasis added) Nicholas Saunders, Divine Action & Modern Science, p. 1-4.

The special work of God interacting in the world as demonstrated by the reliance on the work of God to do the choosing of the new Coptic Pope is generally considered by Christians to be the ministry and work of the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that sees the pieces of paper in the box, sees the particular names on the box, and who guides the boy, through interaction with his mind and nervous system to act in just the right way to pick the Pope, according to the will of God:

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:27 (NIV)

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived” —
the things God has prepared for those who love him —
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 2:9-11 (NIV)

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come to us after His resurrection and glorification.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 14:26 (NIV)

Then, in John 16:5-14, Jesus further describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit when He comes:

“Now I am going to him who sent me,yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.

This past Sunday was Pentecost — the Old Testament Feast of Weeks or Feast of the Harvest:

Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain.  Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God . . . .

Deuteronomy 16:9-10

The Holy Spirit followed Jesus as promised, entering the World in a spectacular way. In the Book of Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2, the Jews are gathered in Jerusalem from the diaspora to celebrate Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the believers as tongues of fire upon their heads:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.</strong

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.  When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language.  Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Acts 2:1-1-12

What this meant was that the Holy Spirit had come as promised, and Galileans miraculously speaking in foreign languages was a sign of his coming. As Peter told them:

“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
. . .
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.
. . .
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord(AU) and Christ.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Acts 2:14-24, 32-33, 36-41 (NIV)

William Barclay wrote this wonderful prayer for Whitsunday, the Anglican name for Pentecost Sunday, the day the Holy Spirit came as promised.  The prayer is a petition to the Holy Spirit (1) for guidance in making decisions in order to act in accordance with God’s will through the inspiration and special divine interaction of the Holy Spirit with our minds, the first half of the prayer, and then (2) for a clean heart, for wisdom, beauty, usefulness, and light to learn from the Word and express the fruits of the Spirit in our lives:

O God. our Father, give us your Holy Spirit in our hearts
and in our minds that we may ever choose aright.

Give us your Holy Spirit that we may know.

which way to choose. and which way to refuse;
which choice to make and which choice to reject;
which course of action to take. and which course
of action to avoid.

Give us your Holy Spirit.

to enlighten our minds.
to see what we ought to do;
to strengthen our wills.
to choose the right course of action.
and to abide by it;
to empower our lives.
to follow the right way to the end.

Give us your Holy Spirit.

to cleanse our minds of all evil and impure thoughts;
to fill our hearts with all lovely and noble desires;
to make our lives

wise with knowledge.
beautiful with love.
useful with service.

Give us your Holy Spirit.

to light up the pages of your Book for us;
to teach us for what we ought to pray;
to enrich our lives with the fruit which only he can

Grant us all this for your love’s sake. Amen

William Barclay, Prayers for the Christian Year 1965.

With prayers like this, we can walk in the Spirit in faith without relying on flipping a coin, or rolling the dice, or casting lots to make our way each day.  We then hope to see the fruits of the Spirit in our lives:

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23a (NIV)

Ecclesia semper reformanda est

This is Part 2 of a series of posts on Annihilationism, the Christian doctrine that the eternal destiny of lost souls is eternal death, annihilation, after the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. This doctrine is contrary to the traditional orthodox position that lost souls consciously suffer eternal torment in hell fire, which I will refer to as “Traditionalism” and those who subscribe to the doctrine as “Traditionalists.” Part 1 of this series on annihilationism is found here on my blog.

As I previously contended in Part 1, Annihilationism is supported by Scripture, and the traditional doctrine of conscious eternal torment is not supported by Scripture, despite more than 17 centuries of acceptance of Traditionalist doctrine as orthodox. Traditionalism relies on the premise that the soul is immortal, a doctrine that is not found in Scripture. In fact, the Bible teaches that the soul is not immortal.  This post will further discuss the false doctrine of the immortal soul, the foundation upon which the doctrine of conscious eternal torment of the lost rests.  I will begin with some review of the Annihilationist doctrine as discussed in my prior post. The annihilationism is coupled with conditional immortality. Immortality is the gift of eternal life given to those who believe which is conditioned on election.

As I wrote in Part 1, the Biblical support for the Annihilationist view begins in Genesis, Chapter 3.

And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

Genesis 3:22-23 (New International Version 1984)

Whether you understand this passage and the Genesis creation story as literal history, or as a true myth provided by God as revelation of the fallen nature of humankind, or consider the Bible to be just an ancient text, in this passage God banishes mankind from the Garden of Eden expressly so that we cannot live forever. Sin entered the world accompanied by death.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (New International Version 1984)

Who gets eternal life?  Those who believe in Jesus Our Lord!  John affirms the gift of immortality to those who believe in this familiar passage:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

John 3:16 (King James Version)

Here, those who do not believe “perish.” The primary meaning of “perish” is to die. However, when a Traditionalist reads this, he or she substitutes “. . . should not suffer eternal torment in hell” for “. . . should not die.” In discussing this passage with a Christian friend, my wife asked her what the word “perish” meant. Without hesitation, her friend responded, “Eternal torment in hell.” If the word “perish” is used anywhere else to describe what happened to someone, in the newspaper describing a house fire, or an auto accident, we think “death”, the cessation of life. But we have been brainwashed to read “eternal torment in hell” whenever a Bible verse is referring to the fate of the lost, whether death, destruction, perish, or eternal punishment or destiny.

John 3:16 is clearly referring to eternal destiny of the believer, eternal life, and clearly should be read as referring also to the eternal destiny of the unbeliever; he or she will “perish”, will die.

You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.

John 11:50 (NIV)

In fact, the Traditionalist makes this substitution for all of the references to the “death”, “destruction”, and eternal “punishment” of the lost souls. It should be obvious that cessation of existence forever is an eternal punishment, but Christians tend to ignore this because of the strength of Traditionalism in the Christian Church and in our Western culture.  Capital punishment is the most serious punishment that we have in our human system of justice, and the Bible authorizes this punishment beginning in the Old Testament proportional system of punishment summarized in the well-known Biblical passage:

But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Exodus 21:23-24 (NIV).  In order to accept the doctrine of eternal torment, the Christian must be able to accept the justice of eternal suffering in hell, conscious suffering forever, as justified by a temporal life of sin on earth which may be as short as a moment, if you believe that unbaptized infants go to hell, or 13 years for a teenager who dies an accidental death without a saving faith in Christ.

John Furniss was a 19th Century Roman Catholic priest who was known for his ministry to children.  In a book authorized by the Roman Catholic Church, Furniss mercilessly describes the fate of the child who dies without baptism, condemned by original sin:

“The fifth dungeon is the red-hot oven. The little child is in the red-hot oven. Hear how it screams to come out; see how it turns and twists itself in the fire. It beats its head against the roof of the oven. It stamps its little feet on the floor. God was very good to this little child. Very likely God saw it would get worse and worse, and would never repent, and so it would have to be punished more severely in hell. So God, in his mercy, called it out of the world in early childhood.”

quoted in Henry Constable 1868 – Duration and Nature of Future Punishment, pp. 141-142.  To write this, Furniss or anyone would have to overlook the barbaric injustice, and rely on some mysterious divine judgment that could justify such disproportionate and clearly sadistic punishment to an innocent infant without rational conciousness.  God gave us our conscience and moral sense.  Why would He have us believe that He would do this to an infant who dies without grace?

Henry Constable was an Anglican minister who wrote a definitive argument for Annihilationism in his 1868 book — the entire book in pdf is available here:  Henry Constable 1868 – Duration and Nature of Future Punishment.  The recent theologians who have argued for Annihilationism are indebted to Constable, including Edward Fudge, whose exhaustive 466 page study of the doctrine of eternal punishment, originally published 1982, examines Biblical references from Genesis to Revelation, and extra-Biblical references as well from the period between the Old and New Testament to look at what people at the time of Jesus thought about eternal destiny, arguing persuasively against the Traditionalist dogma of eternal conscious torment in hell, The Fire that Consumes.  As I wrote in Part 1, in reading Fudge’s book, I was surprised to find that F.F. Bruce, a prominent mainstream Evangelical historian/scholar, wrote the Foreward, commending Fudge’s work, claiming himself to be agnostic like C.S. Lewis on the question of eternal torment versus annihilation.  I highly recommend both Constable’s and Fudge’s books.  I also recommend Glenn People’s excellent paper, Why I Am an Annihilationist  which is among his work on annihilationism and other theological and philosophical subjects found on his blog.

For the Traditionalist, not only does the lost person suffer incredible torment forever for his temporal sins and inherited fallen nature, but the elect, the chosen ones, saved by the mercy of God, are supposed to rejoice.  Here, Jonathan Edwards describes what the saints in heaven will experience looking upon lost souls suffering torment in hell:

Every time they look upon the damned, it will excite in them a lively and admiring sense of the grace of God…The view of the misery of the damned will double the ardor of the love and gratitude of the saints in heaven.

Jonathan Edwards, “The Eternity of Hell Torments,” IV.

As Evangelical theologian and scholar Clark Pinnock, an Annihilationist, has described this unfathomable eternal schadenfreude as follows:

Not only is it God’s pleasure so to torture the wicked everlastingly, but it will be the happiness of the saints to see and know this is being faithfully done. It would not be unfair to picture the traditional doctrine in this way: just as one can imagine certain people watching a cat trapped in a microwave oven squirming in agony and taking delight in it, so the saints in heaven will, according to Edwards, experience the torments of the damned with pleasure and satisfaction.

Pinnock – The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent [Original Paper], p. 6 [First published in Criswell Theological Review: 4.2 (1990), 243-259]. Pinnock’s paper is the best short defense of Annihilationism I have read, and I recommend it highly.  I rely on it extensively in this post.

How can this be?  I cannot imagine feeling such joy, or being changed so that I put natural affection and empathy aside to experience “joy” at such eternal suffering.  If you believe that the lost souls suffer eternal torment in hell, it is apparently logically necessary (and psychologically necessary as well, to avoid cognitive dissonance), to also believe that the sanctified soul in heaven must rejoice in the sufferings of the lost because the Christian believes that there is no sorrow in heaven.   Surely, even if you are a Traditionalist and believe this is a Biblical doctrine, if you are honest and have any sense of empathy or pity or mercy, you must admit that this is a miserable doctrine to attribute to the loving God that we find in the Bible, regardless of His wrath and hatred of sin which offends His pure and holy nature.  As Pinnock further writes:

Let me say at the outset that I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine, a theological and moral enormity, a bad doctrine of the tradition which needs to be changed. How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon His creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself. How can we possibly preach that God has so arranged things that a number of His creatures (perhaps a large number predestined to that fate) will undergo (in a state of complete consciousness) physical and mental agony through unending time? Is this not a most disturbing concept which needs some second thoughts? Surely the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is no fiend; torturing people without end is not what our God does. Does the one who told us to love our enemies intend to wreak vengeance on His own enemies for all eternity? As H. Küng appropriately asks, “What would we think of a human being who satisfied his thirst for revenge so implacably and insatiably?”

Pinnock – The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent [Original Paper], p. 8.

I reviewed arguments for Annihilationism in my first post on the subject.  Now I want to concentrate on the foundation of the Traditionalist doctrine — the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.  The Bible says there is one who is immortal, God.

God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal . . . . 

1 Timothy 6:15-16 (NIV)

Paul clearly tells us that the gift of eternal life clothes us mortals with immortality.

To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.

Romans 2:7 (NIV) and further, describing the believer’s transformation, clothed with the gift of eternal life, Paul writes:

 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. . . . For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

1 Corinthians 15:52-54 (NIV)

Immortality is the gift of eternal life given to those who believe, not to those who are damned.  And yet, in order for souls to suffer eternal torment they must also be given eternal life.  If lost souls literally suffer torment in fires of hell, then, as Glenn Peoples puts it, either the lost must be given an infinite mass in order to be consumed in fire forever, or God must constantly regenerate the resurrected body cast into hell as it is consumed by the eternal fires of hell moment by moment forever. The honest traditionalist admits that the lost soul must also be given immortality in order to suffer in hell for forever, even though there is no Biblical support for a gift of eternal life to the lost, only to the saved.

Pinnock sums up succinctly as follows:

Belief in the immortality of the soul has long attached itself to Christian theology. J. Maritain, for example, states: “The human soul cannot die. Once it exists, it cannot disappear; it will necessarily exist forever and endure without end.”18 To this we must say, with all due respect, that the Bible teaches no such thing. The soul is not an immortal substance that has to be placed somewhere if it rejects God. The Bible states that God alone has immortality (1 Tim. 6:16) and that everlasting life is something God gives to humanity by grace (1 Cor. 15:51-55). Eternal life is not something we possess by any natural right according to Scripture. Immortality is not inherent in human beings. We are dependent on God for what happens to us after death. Rather than speaking of immortal souls, the Bible refers to resurrected bodies, to persons being reconstituted through the power of God (Phil. 3:20). In a word, Jesus Christ “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).

Pinnock – The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent [Original Paper], p. 14.

How did this happen?  As Constable and others have written, in the 3rd century, the Christian Church incorporated the Greek concept of the immortal soul into the theology of eternal destiny.  Augustine was the Church father who is most responsible for the adoption of the immortality of the soul, and the consequent doctrine of eternal torment.  In his theology, Augustine adopted the Platonic belief of the immortality of the soul, though he did not believe in the Platonic belief in the preexistence of the soul.  According to Peter Brown, writing in Augustine of Hippoin the period just before Augustine’s conversion to Christianity and his baptism in 387, Augustine absorbed himself in the writings of the neo-Platonists where he learned his Platonism.  Plato’s own writings were not available to him then.  In that same year of his baptism, Augustine published a series of “sketches” titled On the Immortality of the Soul.   There, Augustine argues for the immortality of the soul from reason, not from Scripture.  For Augustine, the soul is the Platonic form of the body, the eternal idea derived from God, the Supreme Good, and the body is animated by the soul. The body gets is form and its life from the soul which is derived from God, the Supreme Good.  As such, the soul is immortal.  Augustine reaches this conclusion by arguing that the soul and reason are inseparable because he also has found that the mind and reason co-exist and that the soul and the mind are one.  He concludes:

Consequently, if, as we said above, the soul is a subject in which reason is inseparably (by that necessity also which it is shown to be in the subject), neither can their be any soul except a living soul, nor can reason be in a soul without life, and reason is immortal; hence the soul is immortal.

A Christian relying on revelation in Scripture could easily call this nonsense, but this is Augustine, and apparently, the Church has not been interested in tracing his belief in the immortality of the soul.  This immortality comes to us living in our body on this earth in this life through our soul.  Plato equated the form of the Good, the ultimate form, with God, and Augustine does as well, for example, in Chapter XV of On the Immortality of the Soul, Augustine writes:

The soul is prior to the body in connection with those supreme and eternal principles which survive unchangeably and are not contained in space; and the soul’s connection is not only prior but also greater; as much prior as it is nearer, and for the same reason as much greater as it is better than body.  And this nearness is not in place but in the order of nature.  According to this order it is understood that the supreme essence bestows form upon the body through the soul by which it exists in whatever degree it does exist.  Therefore, the body subsists through the soul, and it exists to the extent that it is animated, whether universally, as the world, or particularly, as some animal or other within the world.

This is philosophy.  It is not theology.  There are no citations to Scripture supporting the immortality of the soul in Augustine’s On the Immortality of the Soul.  The soul is immortal for philosophical reasons, based on a Platonic idea of God.

Later in life, Augustine wrote a masterpiece, the City of God, comparing the world with the kingdom of God using the analogy of two cities (from which my blog gets its name).  In the City of God, Augustine is arguing against annihilationists of his time who believed that the lost, those who die without Christ, do not live forever in torment in hell.  Without any reference to Scripture regarding the immortality of the soul, which is unusual for the mature Augustine, Augustine refuted the annihilationist by assuming the soul’s immortality as follows:

The soul gives life to the body by its presence: it rules the body; and this soul itself can suffer pain, while incapable of death. Here we have found something which feels pain and yet is immortal. This property, which now, as we know, belongs to the souls of all men, will at that time belong to the bodies of the damned.

Augustine, City of God, Book 21, Chapter 3, Penguin Books (2003), Trans. Henry Bettenson (1972).

Interestingly, early Church father and theologian Origen also assumed the Greek idea of the immortality of the soul and further adopted the Platonic belief in the preexistence of the soul.  However, because Origen believe that Scripture teaches that God eventually eradicates evil, and death and hell, Origen taught that the souls in hell eventually were saved, adopting a universalist position on salvation.

Constable describes the contradictory positions that resulted from Augustine and Origen’s belief in the immortality of the soul:

Before the preaching of the Gospel, the highest order of heathen philosophy had framed for its satisfaction a theory of the immortality of the soul. While the great mass of mankind had absolutely no hope of any future life; and while far the greater number of philosophers taught that death was for all an eternal sleep; there were “high spirits of old” that strained their eyes to see beyond the clouds of time the dawning of immortality. Unable, as we are able, to connect it with God as its source, and with his promise as their assurance, they framed the idea of an immortality self-existing in the human soul.  Egypt, the prolific mother of religious error, appears, from the best authorities in our hands, to have been the source of this idea. But it was extracted from the tombs and the hieroglyphics of Egyptian priests by the brilliant and restless curiosity of Greece. Socrates, and his great pupil, Plato, presented it to the human mind wherever the Grecian intellect penetrated, and the tongue of Greece was known.  Cicero recommended the theory of the Academy to his contemporaries in his “Tusculan Questions.” They did not indeed teach it at all consistently, nor do they appear themselves to have relied with any firmness on its reality.  It was with them a great hope fitfully entertained, rather than a sober conviction. “I have perused Plato,” Cicero sadly complains, “with the greatest diligence and exactness, over and over again; but know not how it is, whilst I read him I am convinced; when I lay the book aside and begin to consider by myself of the soul’s immortality, all the conviction instantly ceases. It is indeed doubtful whether any of the great minds of antiquity in their esoteric or inner faith held more than the tenet of Buddhism, which teaches that the soul, originally derived from Deity, is at length to be re-absorbed and lost in Deity again:

“That each, who seems a separate whole
Should move his rounds, and fusing all
The skirts of self again, should fail,
Remerging in the general Soul.”—TENNYSON.

5. However this may be, those of whom we speak presented to the common mind an idea not so vague as this. The conception of it kindled their imagination, and the discussion of it afforded a theme for their logical powers. According to it, the soul was possessed of an inherent immortality. It had no beginning and could have no end. What was true of one soul was equally true of all souls, good or bad. They must live somewhere, be it in Tartarus, or Cocytus, in Pyriphlegethon, or the happy abodes of the purified. This idea, sublime for a heathen, passed readily and early into the theology of the Christian Church. Philosophers, converted to Christianity, brought with them into their new service too much of their ancient learning. Heedless of Paul’s warning voice against philosophy in general, they considered that a considerable portion at least of Plato’s philosophy must be exempted from the apostolic condemnation. We find accordingly the Platonic philosophy of the soul’s immortality running through and blending with the theological reasoning of Athenagoras and Tertullian, of Origen and Augustine.  Teachers who should have consulted only the oracles of God, leaving behind them their heathen lore as Moses left behind him the learning of Egypt, supplemented those living oracles with theories drawn from a brilliant Greek philosophy, which was in its turn suggested by the priest-craft taught in Egyptian temples. Their theory was that the life of the wicked must be as eternal as the life of those here redeemed and brought to Christ, because every soul of man was immortal.

6. A moment’s reflection will show us that a dogma of this kind could not remain idle. It must influence irresistibly in one direction or another this whole question of future punishment. It must mould the entire doctrine of the Church upon the subject.  According as men connected it with one truth of Scripture or another, it must give rise to two opposite schools of thought. Connect the immortality of the soul with the scriptural  doctrine of the eternity of punishment, and you inevitably create the dogma of eternal life in misery, i.e. of Augustine’s hell. Connect it with another great truth of Scripture, the final extinction of evil and restitution of all things, and you as inevitably create Origen’s Universal Restoration. For each of these opposing theories there is exactly the same amount of proof, viz.:—Plato’s dogma and a dogma of the Bible; and if Plato’s dogma could be proved to be a scriptural doctrine, then, by every law of logic, Scripture would be found supporting two contradictory theories, or, in other words, would itself destroy all its claims to authority.

7. Accordingly, this philosophical idea of Plato is found influencing most powerfully and most unfairly the interpretation of Scripture from the second century down to our own time. An example of this will probably show this more forcibly than any words of ours. Tertullian is commenting upon our Lord’s teaching in Luke xix. 10: “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” (Vulgate, quod perierat). No one knew better than Tertullian the primary and proper meaning of the Latin verb pereo, and that it meant, “to vanish,” “to die,” “to perish,” “to be annihilated.”  Why would he not attach this meaning to it when he was commenting upon the text of the Latin version? Here is his own account:  “We, however, so understand the soul’s immortality as to believe it lost, not in the sense of destruction, but of punishment, that is, in hell. And if this is the case, then it is not the soul which salvation will affect, since it is ‘safe’ already in its own nature by reason of its immortality; but rather the flesh, which, as all readily allow, is subject to destruction.”  Such was the influence upon the interpretation of Scripture which his theory of the soul forced upon Tertullian. It led him to deny to the terms of God’s word what he knew to be their primary and proper meaning, and to affirm that the salvation of our Lord had no relation to the human soul, but only to the bodies of men! A similar influence this theory has had upon theologians down to the present day.

[footnotes omitted]  Henry Constable 1868 – Duration and Nature of Future Punishment, pp. 14-19.

There are several passages of Scripture that Traditionalists use as proof texts that have been discussed by the prominent scholars who believe Annihilationism is supported by Scripture, including John Stott in “Essentials”  See  john-stott-discusses-hell.  Clark Pinnock discusses the passages that support Annihilationism followed by the passages cited by Traditionalists in the previously cited article, which since this is a blog, is worth citing in its entirety as follows:


What I want to do is what I am assured cannot be done, namely, to show that the Bible does not teach Augustine’s version of the doctrine of hell.  Almost all who defend his view admit that the idea of everlasting torment is a genuinely awful concept, but they go on to defend it anyway on the assumption that it is nevertheless mandatory scriptural truth (much as a strict Calvinist argues in defense of his doctrine of the sovereign reprobation of the nonelect—recall Calvin’s reference to “the horrible decree”).  They tell us that they do not like the doctrine any more than anyone else but have to espouse it because it is a biblical idea and they have no choice but to uphold it. They make it sound like the infallibility of the Bible were at stake. Let us ask then whether the traditional doctrine of hell is biblically and theologically sound. In my view it is not.

1. The strong impression the Bible creates in this reader with regard to the fate of the finally impenitent wicked is a vivid sense of their final and irreversible destruction. The language and imagery used by Scripture is so powerful in this regard that it is remarkable more theologians have not picked up on it. The Bible repeatedly uses the language of death, destruction, ruin, and perishing when speaking of the fate of the wicked.  It uses the imagery of fire consuming (not torturing) what is thrown into it. The images of fire and destruction together strongly suggest annihilation rather than unending torture. It creates the impression that eternal punishment refers to a divine judgment whose results cannot be reversed rather than to the experience of being tormented forever.

Frankly it is a little annoying to be told again and again by the defenders of everlasting torment that there is no biblical case for the annihilation of the wicked. A. Pink, for instance, calls the position an absurdity, while W. Hendriksen says he is aghast that anyone would argue otherwise than for hell as everlasting torment; and Packer attributes the position to sentimentality, not to any scriptural ground. But is it not really quite the other way around? Does the burden of proof not rest with the traditionalists to explain why the strong impression of the destruction of the wicked which the Bible gives its readers should not just be believed?

A brief overview of the Bible will show what I am driving at. The Old Testament gives us a clear picture of the destruction of the wicked (perhaps because it is more oriented to this world than the next) and supplies the basic imagery of divine judgment for the New Testament as well. Consider Psalm 37 where we read that the wicked fade like grass and wither like the herb (v. 2), that they will be cut off and be no more (vv. 9, 10), that they will perish and vanish like smoke (v. 20), and be altogether destroyed (v. 38). Listen to this oracle from the prophet Malachi: “For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch” (4:1). The message is plain—the finally impenitent wicked will perish and be no more.

Turning to the New Testament, Jesus’ teaching about the afterlife is sketchy in matters of detail. While he certainly referred to a destiny beyond the grave either of bliss or woe, he did not bother to give us a clear conception of it. He was not a systematic theologian but a preacher more concerned with the importance of a decision here and now than with speculations about the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell. At the same time Jesus said things which support the impression the Old Testament gives us.

He presented God’s judgment as the destruction of the wicked. He said that God could and perhaps would destroy body and soul in hell, if He must (Matt. 10:28). Jesus’ words are reminiscent of John the Baptist’s when he said that the wicked are like dry wood about to be thrown into the fire and like chaff to be burned in the unquenchable fire (Matt. 3:10, 12). He warned that the wicked will be cast away into hell like so much rejected garbage into the Gehenna of fire (5:30), an allusion to the valley outside Jerusalem where sacrifices were once offered to Moloch (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6), and possibly the place where garbage actually smoldered and burned in Jesus’ day. Our Lord said that the wicked will be burned up there just like weeds when thrown into the fire (13:30, 42, 49, 50). The impression is a very strong one that the impenitent wicked can expect to be destroyed.

The Apostle Paul communicates the same thing, plainly thinking of divine judgment as the destruction of the wicked. He writes of everlasting destruction which will come upon the wicked (2 Thes. 1:9). He warns that the wicked will reap corruption (Gal. 6:8). He states that God will destroy the wicked (1 Cor. 3:17; Phil. 1:28). He speaks of their fate as a death they deserve to die (Rom. 1:32) and which is the wages of their sins (6:23). About the wicked, he states plainly and concisely: “Their end is destruction” (Phil. 3:19).

It is no different in the other New Testament books. Peter speaks of “the fire which has been kept until the day of judgment and the destruction of ungodly men” (2 Pet. 3:7). The author to the Hebrews speaks of the wicked who shrink back and are destroyed (Heb. 10:39). Peter says that false teachers who deny the Lord who bought them will bring upon themselves “swift destruction” (2 Pet. 2:1, 3). They will resemble the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which were “condemned to extinction” (2:6). They will perish like the ancient world perished when deluged in the great Flood (3:6, 7). Jude also points to Sodom as an analogy to God’s judgment, being the city which underwent “a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). Similarly, the Apocalypse of John speaks of the lake of fire consuming the wicked and of the second death (Rev. 20:14, 15).

At the very least it should be obvious to any impartial reader that the Bible may legitimately be read to teach the final destruction of the wicked without difficulty. I am not making it up. It is not wishful thinking. It is simply a natural interpretation of Scripture on the subject of divine judgment. I think it is outrageous for traditionalists to say that a biblical basis for the destruction of the wicked is lacking. What is in short supply are texts supporting the traditional view.

2. Some advocates prefer to call their position conditional immortality rather than annihilationism because it sounds more positive to the ear. Underlying the doctrine of annihilation, after all, is a belief in conditional immortality, the understanding that our immortality is not a natural attribute of humankind but God’s gift. This is clearly an important issue in our discussion because belief in the natural immortality of the soul which is so widely held by Christians, although stemming more from Plato than the Bible, really drives the traditional doctrine of hell more than exegesis does. Consider the logic: if souls must live forever because they are naturally immortal, the lake of fire must be their home forever and cannot be their destruction. In the same way, the second death would have to be a process of everlasting dying and not a termination of existence which is impossible. I am convinced that the hellenistic belief in the immortality of the soul has done more than anything else (specifically more than the Bible) to give credibility to the doctrine of the everlasting conscious punishment of the wicked. This belief, not holy Scripture, is what gives this doctrine the credibility it does not deserve.

Belief in the immortality of the soul has long attached itself to Christian theology. J. Maritain, for example, states: “The human soul cannot die. Once it exists, it cannot disappear; it will necessarily exist forever and endure without end.”18 To this we must say, with all due respect, that the Bible teaches no such thing. The soul is not an immortal substance that has to be placed somewhere if it rejects God. The Bible states that God alone has immortality (1 Tim. 6:16) and that everlasting life is something God gives to humanity by grace (1 Cor. 15:51-55).  Eternal life is not something we possess by any natural right according to Scripture. Immortality is not inherent in human beings. We are dependent on God for what happens to us after death. Rather than speaking of immortal souls, the Bible refers to resurrected bodies, to persons being reconstituted through the power of God (Phil. 3:20). In a word, Jesus Christ “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).19

The Greek doctrine of immortality has affected theology unduly on this point. It is one of several examples where there has been an undue hellenization of Christian doctrine. The idea of souls being naturally immortal is not a biblical one, and the effect of believing it stretches the experience of death and destruction in Gehenna into endless torment. If souls are immortal, then either all souls will be saved (which is unscriptural universalism) or else hell must be everlasting torment. There is no other possibility since annihilation is ruled out from the start. This is how the traditional view of hell got constructed: add a belief in divine judgment after death (scriptural) to a belief in the immortality of the soul (unscriptural), and you have Augustine’s terrible doctrine.

Nevertheless, I do not call my position conditional immortality. It is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition of my view. Conditional immortality has to be true for a negative reason—to make the destruction of the wicked conceivable, but it does not positively establish annihilation simply because it would still be possible that God might give the wicked everlasting life and condemn them to spend it in everlasting torment.  Conditional immortality then, while necessary to belief in annihilation, does not prove that annihilation is true. The key issue remains my first argument: the Scriptures suggest the destruction of the wicked.

3. As I intimated earlier, everlasting torment is intolerable from a moral point of view because it makes God into a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for victims whom He does not even allow to die. How is one to worship or imitate such a cruel and merciless God? The idea of everlasting torment (especially if it is linked to soteriological predestination) raises the problem of evil to impossible dimensions. A. Flew was quite right (I think) to say that, if Christians want to hold that God created some people to be tortured in hell forever, then the apologetic task in relation to theodicy is just hopeless.  Stott seems to agree: “I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain.”  I even wonder what atrocities have been committed by those who have believed in a God who tortures His enemies?

Naturally, various attempts have been made by the traditionalists to hide the gruesome problem. C. Hodge and B.B. Warfield, for example, make use of postmillennial eschatology to argue that very few persons (relatively speaking) will go to hell anyway. Presumably we do not need to worry much if only a negligible number is tormented while a numerical majority is saved. Such a calculus, however, achieves little: first, because few today would accept the postmillennial premise to begin with, and second, because the tens of millions still suffering everlasting torture even under their scenario are tens of millions too many.

Alternatively it is common to try to hide the moral problem by redefining hell. C.S. Lewis tries this when he pictures hell in The Great Divorce as almost pleasant, if a little gray, being the kind of place from which one can take day trips on the bus into heaven and return again to meet with the theological society which meets regularly in hell.  This resembles Sartre’s picture of hell in No Exit as consisting of being cooped up with the other people forever. In these terms, hell is nasty and inconvenient, but certainly no lake of fire. Thus by sheer speculation the biblical warnings are emasculated and the moral problem dealt with by fancy footwork devoid of exegesis. The fact is that the biblical warnings spell a terrible destruction awaiting the impenitent wicked, and if hell is everlasting there is no way to make it other than endless torture. I understand why traditionalists want to take the hell out of hell, but it should not be permitted, because it breaks the concentration and prevents people from seeing the need for theological renewal on this point.

4. The need to correct the traditional doctrine of hell also rests upon considerations of the divine justice. What purpose of God would be served by the unending torture of the wicked except sheer vengeance and vindictiveness? Such a fate would spell endless and totally unredemptive suffering, punishment just for its own sake. Even the plagues of Egypt were intended to be redemptive for those who would respond to the warnings.  But unending torment would be the kind of utterly pointless and wasted suffering which could never lead to anything good beyond it.  Furthermore, it would amount to inflicting infinite suffering upon those who have committed finite sins. It would go far beyond an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. There would be a serious disproportion between sins committed in time and the suffering experienced forever. The fact that sin has been committed against an infinite God does not make the sin infinite. The chief point is that eternal torment serves no purpose and exhibits a vindictiveness out of keeping with the love of God revealed in the gospel. We should listen to H. Küng:

Even apart from the image of a truly merciless God that contradicts
everything we can assume from what Jesus says of the Father of the lost,
can we be surprised at a time when retributive punishments without an
opportunity of probation are being increasingly abandoned in education
and penal justice that the idea not only of a lifelong, but even eternal
punishment of body and soul, seems to many people absolutely monstrous?

5. Finally, from a metaphysical point of view, everlasting torment gives the clear picture of an unending cosmological dualism. Heaven and hell just go on existing alongside each other forever. But how can this be if God is to be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28) and if God is making “all things new” (Rev. 21:5)? It just does not add up right. Stott asks: “How can God in any meaningful sense be called ‘everything to everybody’ while an unspecified number of people still continue in rebellion against him and under his judgment?” It would make better sense metaphysically (as well as biblically, morally, and justicewise) if hell meant destruction and the wicked were no more. Otherwise the disloyal opposition would eternally exist alongside God in a corner of unredeemed reality in the new creation.

6. Nevertheless, the reader may be asking, have I not forgotten something important? What about the texts which have always been taken to support the doctrine of everlasting conscious torment? In regard to them I would say that their number is very small. The texts which can be taken to teach this doctrine are few in number and capable of being fairly interpreted in harmony with the majority of verses which teach the destruction of the wicked. I deal with these “difficult” texts in the way that biblical inerrantists or high Calvinists deal with the difficult passages they face.

(1) “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).  This imagery is taken from Isaiah 66:24 where the dead bodies of God’s enemies are being eaten by maggots and burned up. It is safe to say there is not a hint of everlasting suffering in the verse. The fire and the worm destroy the dead bodies; they do not torment them. The fire will be quenched only when the job is finished, not before. The tradition simply misreads the verse.

(2) “They will go away into eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46). I admit that the interpretation of everlasting, conscious torment can be read out of this verse if one wishes to do so. Such a meaning is not at all impossible from the wording, especially if one smuggles the term “conscious” into it as is very common.26 But there are considerations which would bring the meaning more into line with what I judge to be the larger body of evidence. Jesus does not define the nature of eternal life or eternal death in this text. He just says there will be two destinies and leaves it there. One is free to interpret it to mean either everlasting conscious torment or irreversible destruction. The text allows for both possibilities and only teaches explicitly the finality of the judgment itself, not its nature.  Therefore, one’s interpretation of this verse in respect to our subject here will depend upon other considerations. In the light of what has been said so far, I think it is better and wiser to read the text as teaching annihilation.

(3) But did not the rich man suffer torment in the flames in a famous parable of Jesus? (Luke 16:23ff.). Yes, this is part of the Jewish imagery Jesus uses. But one should keep two things in mind here: first, the mention of Abraham’s bosom (v. 22) should alert us to the fact that we are dealing with imagery, not literal description; and second (and more importantly), the story refers to the intermediate state between death and the resurrection and is not really relevant to our subject. This point should not be missed given the fact that the passage is used regularly (and erroneously) in the traditionalist literature to describe hell, not the intermediate state.

(4) But what about those passages in the book of the Revelation of John which speak of Satan, the false prophet, the beast, and certain evildoers being tormented in fire and brimstone (Rev. 14:11; 20:10)? Only in the first case (14:11) are human beings at all in view, and it is likely that what is being described is the moment of their judgment, not their everlasting condition, with the smoke going up forever being the testimony to their final destruction. In the other verse (20:10), it is the Devil, the beast, and the false prophet who are the only ones present, and they cannot be equated with ordinary human beings, however we should understand their nature. John’s point seems to be that everything which has rebelled against God will come to an absolute end. As Caird comments: “John believed that, if at the end there should be any who remained impervious to the grace and love of God, they would be thrown, with Death and Hades, into the lake of fire which is the second death, i.e. extinction and total oblivion.” I think it would be fair to say that the biblical basis for the traditional view of hell has been greatly exaggerated.

Positively I am contending that Scripture and theology give solid support to the doctrine of the annihilation of the wicked. The case is impressive if not quite unambiguous, and the traditional view looks less likely in comparison with it. Yet I would not say that either side wins the argument hands down largely because the Bible does not seem concerned to deal with this question as precisely as we want it to. But it is amusing to hear traditionalists claiming that they alone hold to the infallibility of the Bible as illustrated by their holding to everlasting torment of the wicked.  Their position is in fact very weakly established biblically.

[footnotes omitted] Pinnock – The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent [Original Paper], p. 11-19.

In conclusion, the Traditionalist doctrine, that the lost suffer conscious eternal torment in hell, relies on a false doctrine of the immortality of the soul.  Scripture strongly supports the Annihilationist doctrine.   In his paper, Clark Pinnock has strong initial words expressing his outrage at the defenders of the Traditionalists who argue that the Annihilationist position is grounded in secular sympathy for the lost.  His words are worth pondering:

How should I begin? Shall I treat the subject in the calm way one would when dealing with another issue? Would it be right to pretend to be calm when I am not? To begin calmly would not really communicate a full account of my response. I do not feel calm about the traditional doctrine of hell, and so I will not pretend. Indeed, how can anyone with the milk of human kindness in him remain calm contemplating such an idea as this? Now I realize that in admitting this I am playing into the hands of the critics, when I admit how disturbed the doctrine makes me. They will be able to say that I have adopted arguments on the basis of sentimentality and a subjective sense of moral outrage. In a recent paper, J.I. Packer has said that he dislikes the idea which critics of everlasting conscious punishment seem to have of their moral superiority, when it is not spiritual sensitivity, he says, but secular sentimentalism which motivates them (referring in the context to none other than his esteemed evangelical and Anglican colleague J. Stott).  Nonetheless, I will take the risk of beginning at the point of my outrage and hope people will hear me and not put it down to sentimentality. To such a charge I would reply: if it is sentimentality which drives me, what drives my opponent? Is it hard-heartedness and the desire for eternal retribution? Such recriminations will get us nowhere fast.

Pinnock – The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent [Original Paper], p. 7-8.

Our God is a loving God, who shows mercy to us who believe as a matter of grace alone.  In addition to conforming to Scripture, it is fitting that a righteous judge whose nature is love would justly punish the lost after the first death, and then end their existence in the second death, rather than punish with conscious excruciating pain forever.

I conclude with a video of a lecture by Edward Fudge on “Three Views of Hell.”


For reference, Part 1 of my discussion of the doctrine of conscious eternal torment of the lost in hell and Annihiliationism is found by clicking here.

Posted by: davidlarkin | April 15, 2012

Susan Larkin’s Testimony

Here is the testimony of my wife, Susan Osborn Larkin:

I want to give a little background, before I tell what the Lord did with my life. I am an only child, my mother took her own life when I was 3. She had several miscarriages after I was born and I was told later that she was very depressed. I grew up believing she had died of pneumonia, I was told that by my aunt, but I found out the truth when I was about 16 from my father. I myself had 4 miscarriages after our son was born so I can relate to her grief and sorrow in that respect. I only have two memories of my mother, one is of her taking me to church and I also remember the song “Jesus Loves Me” from that time in my life. So I have hope that I may meet her one day in heaven.

Barely a year after she died, my father married a woman he had known in medical school named Dorothy. She was recently divorced from a man who had been unfaithful to her. As a result, she had been excommunicated from the Catholic church and she was a very angry and bitter person. My stepmother did not like children and particularly did not like me…I was little and looked like my mother whom she had known – secretary to the dean of the medical school they went to – and my father loved me, that was enough for her.

As soon as I was old enough, around 6, she started sending me away. I really grew up in summer camp, boarding school and with relatives, anywhere but home. One of the strongest childhood memories I have was of being homesick for a home that didn’t really exist. I wanted to go home, but then I would get there and it would be just awful. But mostly, I was just terribly lonely. My dad loved me, but I never got to spend enough time with him.

Although I spent many years in Catholic boarding school, we never went to church and there was virtually no mention of God in our home, other than profanity. The nuns always tried to get me to be baptized and become a Catholic. We used to collect dimes to “buy a pagan baby” in Africa and what that meant was to buy a baptism for them and the joke was always we are saving the dimes for Suzie.

My sense was if you were white, well off and Catholic you could go to heaven, but I felt a sense of hypocrisy which I didn’t understand at the time and I just didn’t quite believe them. I wanted to belong and I tried but I just couldn’t believe what they did. They were absolutely in love with Mary. We were always supposed to be ‘Mary-like”, not a bad thing – they stressed modesty and reverence. But we should have been Christ-like.

After 10 really turbulent years, my father divorced my stepmother when I was in high school and he immediately remarried a nurse he met at work. My new stepmother, Dale, was 9 years older than I, so I was 15, she was 24 and he was 49. When he first brought her home, she was so young, I thought she was supposed to be a friend for me. Dad, I have friends and they’re way cooler than her! It was a very peculiar situation, but over the years she and I have grown very close; she is the only mother I have ever known and she has always loved me, both for my father’s sake and for my own and she is very precious to me. And by the way, God did a healing work in my spirit and I have been able to truly forgive Dorothy for the heartache and rejection of those early years. I understand her better as an adult than I did as a child, among other things she was an alcoholic, so that explains a lot I didn’t understand then.

After high school I started college but I dropped out and I spent the next 20 years or so moving from job to job, boyfriend to boyfriend, city to city. I had some interesting adventures. I lived in a hippie commune in the Haight Ashbury. Lived on a pot farm one summer. I worked as a flight attendant for an international airline for five years. I traveled all over the world. I went everywhere I ever dreamed of and places that never crossed my mind. I worked in the television and film industry for about five years after that. I was in a terrific car accident at one point, in which neither I nor my passenger were injured, but I was sued and that was a interesting and horrible experience. So interesting that I went to paralegal school which I found fascinating and I worked for some lawyers after that.

When I was about 36, I was living in the small town in northern California that I grew up in, Carmel, kind of an artist colony, tourist destination, but also a retirement community. I had an apartment, a job, a cat and a pretty empty life. About that time, two things happened to begin to change the course of my life. I had spent the weekend in the Bay Area with a good friend I had flown with and partied and carried on with for years and she had recently gotten married. My job had sent me to Bali for 3 weeks and I missed her wedding, so I went to see her after I returned. I was really impressed with how well marriage suited her. She had been such a wild woman. She was calm and happy and sober and that made a huge impression on me. It crossed my mind to reconsider never getting married because I had decided a long time before-when I was 11 or 12 – never to get married or have children. (You would have to have really known my stepmother.) I had just so rarely seen a long-lasting marriage that was happy.

So I was thinking about marriage. The other thing that came to my mind about that time was that I needed some sort of a “spiritual life”. I had no idea what I meant by that, I was thinking maybe Buddhism, something to do with “inner harmony” or peace, maybe the ‘supernatural’. I just didn’t want anything that was going to take up too much time or make me change in any way.

About 2 weeks later I ran into a man named David whom I had met several times before. The first time I was having lunch with my stepmother Dale, he was introducing himself to everyone in this little café and asking people to vote for him, he was running for city council. I read later in our little town paper, the Carmel Pinecone, he was a lawyer from LA. And I thought ugh! I’ll never vote for him and I didn’t. It turns out I actually married him, but I didn’t vote for him.

But I saw him at my work one day and we started talking. We actually intersected outside my building, I was walking home for lunch and he walked with me. It was a Wednesday and he asked me to go to church with him that night. I thought, this is really strange, not dinner or cocktails or the movies, but church? People go to church at night? Why?? I hadn’t been on a date in a long time and I thought well, either he is weird or he’s special but I said I would go. He made it clear he was a Christian and he got saved reading the Bible in college.

And what do you know? The pastor was teaching on sin that night, I remember it was the gospel of John. I was positive that everyone in that whole church knew who the sinner was that he was talking about. I felt as if there was a spotlight on me, not knowing the first thing about the Holy Spirit and how He works. I remember the pastor saying that God does not grade sin like humans do, in other words that some are severe and others are not so bad. He said that you either live your life in God’s will or your own, that there was no fence to sit on.

He specifically talked about some activities and behaviors that God calls sins which I considered at that point in my life a form of entertainment…sleeping with people you weren’t married to, drug and alcohol use (abuse), gossip and backbiting, things I had done for years and so did almost everyone else I knew. I almost always felt bad after I had done these things, but just kept doing them anyway time and time again.

But the pastor’s words from the Bible rang true like nothing I had ever heard and were such a comfort to me. I found out that there was a way to live and feel good about yourself and know what was right and why. After the service, I told David I don’t know if you are going to come back on Sunday, but I am definitely going to be here. He said he would bring me back.

I told you my mother had taken her own life when I was three. My father had killed himself when I was 28. It was absolutely the shock of my life. I loved my father completely and after that I had periods of severe depression and I was troubled with suicidal tendencies for years. I sometimes felt as if I couldn’t control them. I didn’t want to die, but I often didn’t want to live either. It was an emotional burden that I always carried with me. I always thought when things got rough, well if your parents can just check out and leave you, why not? One counselor I did talk to helped me to understand it a little, he said if someone you loved had been murdered, you might feel like killing someone, you identify with their experience – it made sense at the time. About a week after I met David and had been to church twice, the thoughts of suicide were overpowering. I had actually scheduled an appointment with a psychologist.

I saw this woman and she said how horrible it all was that my parents both killed themselves and how I would have to be in therapy for at least a year, and there was no assurance that she could help me but it was just so depressing. So afterward I went by Dave’s office and immediately he asked what was wrong with me. I just met him and I really wanted him to like me and I didn’t want him to know how messed up I was, but I just felt drawn there, so I told him all about it and he asked if I had ever prayed about it.

Well, of course not. This wasn’t a problem for God, this was my problem. He had to run the universe. What could God do or what would He do? I really didn’t know who God was. The only prayers I knew were Our Father and Hail Mary and I was pretty sure that wasn’t what I needed.

Since I was so upset and didn’t know what else to do I went home. I had never prayed anything but emergency prayers in my life, you know, God pleeeeeease don’t let this airplane fall out of the sky, I had had a couple of close calls, one in a jungle in Africa and believe me, I was praying. Or God, if you get me this job, I promise I will do something, not do something. I truly did not know how to talk to God but I remember saying, “You know how terrible I feel and I don’t want to die and I don’t want to live like this any more. Please help me”.

The Lord spoke to my heart for the first time I ever really heard Him. His message was clear and unmistakable, in words I heard in my brain not in my ears. These are the exact words He said, “Forgive those people. Don’t look behind yourself at them, look ahead to Me.” Instead of the suicide thing that is what filled my brain! I almost fell over, I could not believe that God Himself had a message for me. I was surprised to know I needed to forgive my parents, but I immediately did. The Lord delivered me at that moment 24 years ago and I never felt suicidal again. I didn’t even know the Lord but I was already experiencing His power. He was “calling me out of darkness into His marvelous light”.

After that 1st Bible study, I kept asking Dave questions. I wanted a rational intellectual explanation about God and why someone ought to make a commitment to follow Him. So he always would point me to a Scripture, give me a tape (he had 100′s of them, it seemed, one for every question) or give me a book that I could find answers in, but he never tried to convince me himself. About 2 weeks after that first night at church, I committed my life to the Lord. I confessed that I was a sinner in need of a Savior and asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life. I have joy on earth in place of the emptiness and loneliness of all those years and I know for certain I have the promise of heaven. One of my favorite scriptures is from Isaiah, also found in Romans 10 – “I was found by those who did not seek me, I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” So true in my life!

I have two dear younger cousins who are Christians who had prayed for me for a long time. When I called the older sister Jenny to tell her I was saved, we were weeping with joy. She said, “I prayed for you and my brother for ten years and you were both saved the same year. You were on my ‘impossible list’, but God doesn’t have an impossible list!” So I want to encourage you to continue to pray for that impossible person, because He saved even me! Don’t give up!

I said I lived in the Haight, I had been a flower child in the late 60′s and all that goes with it, and I do mean all. I changed my wardrobe – I wasn’t still wearing the leather dresses and embroidered everything, but that’s about all. I had quit drinking and smoking cigarettes and using other drugs when I met David because I knew he didn’t like those things but I had never promised the Lord that I would quit doing it.

I also had another bad habit that I hadn’t quit and that was soap operas. Don’t take this wrong if you watch soaps, some things are okay for some people that aren’t for others. I had gotten hooked on them many years earlier living with a roommate who watched them. Later I worked on some soaps and I actually met Nicki and Victor and Ashley and some of the others. If you are smiling, you know who they are. I would tape 3 or 4 soaps every day and watch them at night. If you are unfamiliar with this particular bad habit, I suppose it is similar to pornography, it can be very addictive. Maybe not wrong for everyone, but not good for me as a new believer.

So one morning I was getting ready for work and all of a sudden I had this terrible pain in my stomach. I was in my kitchen and I doubled over. I was standing in front of the refrigerator and when I opened my eyes I saw this magnet “The Young and the Restless”. I knew the Lord was telling me it was time to give it up. I went to the VCR and took the tape out and promised Him I would not entertain myself with tv shows, movies, magazines and things like that that were ungodly. With His grace, I have been faithful to that promise for the most part.  The pain began to subside and as I walked back to the other room, it suddenly came again. Much more painful, like I had swallowed acid. If I had not been a believer I would have dialed 911, but I began to pray instead for relief. I lay on the bed curled up and the Lord began to remind me of many of the times and people I had had the opportunity to be a good example to and I was not. He reminded me of people I had totally forgotten and things I had done. He spoke to my heart that when I put the name of Christ over my own, I had a commission to be His representative on earth. He took away the desire that day and delivered me.

A lot of other things happened during that time. I had a back injury 15 or more years earlier and it caused a lot of pain, particularly while sitting. Every Sunday at the end of the service our pastor read from James 5:14, If any man is sick …. he should be anointed with oil, and the elders will pray for him. I had been going to a chiropractor for the pain for years, but every Sunday when he read that I could sense the spirit of God urging me to go forward. For some reason, I just wouldn’t do it. Self conscious, embarrassed, I don’t know.

After months, finally one Sunday I went forward. I told the two elders why I was there and they asked if I believed that God could heal. Of course I did. They asked if I had faith for God to heal me. I did not and I said so. They said, well, that’s all right because we do, very enthusiastic, very confident, I’m thinking, yeah right. As they prayed I thought I sensed a warmth flowing through my body, but I convinced myself that it was my imagination. However, that particular pain left that day and I am sure that chiropractor wondered what happened to me, but I never needed him again. I do have some back problems. I found out I have spina bifida, scoliosis, bone spurs, some fused discs, arthritis and of course I still have damage from that injury, but that particular pain, pain from sitting, they prayed for went away.

David and I dated for about a year and he (finally) asked me to marry him, about a year after we had met. The Lord directed us to move to Arizona after the wedding in 21 yrs ago this past December and we spent the first night here in a hotel. We went to bed and I couldn’t sleep. I was seized with the most paralyzing fear. I had left my home, my family, friends, church, pastor, job, town and moved to this place –I remember he said the Phoenix area was 400 square miles and that terrified me, my home town city limits are one square mile–I didn’t know anyone here.

I just said what have I done? Who will be my friend? The room was absolutely pitch black and at that very moment I had a vision of Jesus. His eyes were looking right at me, His hair and skin and robe were luminous golden silver light and He spoke to me, not out loud, but He said, “Don’t be afraid. I will be your Friend.” Immediately the fear was replaced with the most incredible peace and I went to sleep. (I know this was a miracle because I couldn’t see anything with out my contacts and I could see Him perfectly.) He truly has been my Friend and has blessed me with many others over the years here.

The same month we got married, I became pregnant which was such a surprise and blessing. I guess it always is, but I was almost 40 and didn’t know if I could become a mother so that was a joy and still is. I once told David that people told me when they heard this story they were surprised that God delivered me so quickly in so many ways when they had struggled for years with some of the same things, quitting smoking for example. He replied, “Well, Susan, when I met you I had walked with the Lord for 20 years. I prayed for God to send to send me a wife for 8 years – not a girlfriend, a wife. He had to bring you to a level of faith quickly in order for us to be equally yoked. I couldn’t wait another 8 years for you to grow up spiritually so we could be married!”

I thought I would close by telling you the first time I gave my testimony and why, because it is kind of interesting and we have time. We were in a little church in Tempe, I had been a Christian for about 2 years, we had a newborn baby. The pastor said a lady was going to start a prison ministry and she wanted to tell us about it and see who wanted to help her. I thought, “That’s nice, crooks. No thanks.” And I really wasn’t listening to her at all, but the whole time she was speaking, the Lord was speaking to me “Susan, I want you to go. Susan, I want you to give your testimony.” And I was saying “No, no, no, no!” I don’t remember hearing a word she said, just this dialog in my head with the Lord. So afterward I went up to her and said, “God wants me to go jail with you.” – with a major attitude, and she was so excited, oh that’s great, praise God. So we went 1 Friday night a month, we took the church band, my husband played electric guitar and after several months of ministry, I did have the chance to share the story you just read.

But the interesting thing is the work he did in my heart the first night. We sang a song, “Change my heart oh God, make it ever true, change my heart o God, let me be like you.” And he showed me, basically told me there is no difference between you and them, just a blue suit – you’re on one side of the door and they’re on the other. I’m the One who decides who is where. Plenty of things you have done that could put you in one of those seats, sister. And it really did change my heart. But the sweetest thing would happen after service. We would sit in groups with the women and pray with them. It would absolutely break your heart. “Pray that my child would send me a postcard, I haven’t heard from him in 3 years.” “ Pray that my mother won’t die before I get out.” “ Pray that my daughter will forgive me.” So that prison ministry that I dreaded became the thing I looked forward to the most and the chance to tell them my story helped them to trust me.

Joel 2:25 says the Lord will redeem the years the locusts have eaten and he was so merciful to bless me, in spite of my rejection of Him for all that time, I feel like the locusts didn’t just eat those years, but I fed my life to them.

So the Lord has blessed me with a wonderful stepmother in place of the mother I never had, her husband, my stepfather who I love dearly, the husband I never wanted, the child I never dreamed of and now I have a step-sister and step-brother, 4 sister in laws, 3 brother in laws – 1 is in heaven already, he got saved the day he died, lots of nieces and nephews, truly a big family, and of course, all the brothers and sisters in Christ and many other dear and wonderful friends. Not only that, I have four children in heaven waiting to meet me. God is so good!

Posted by: davidlarkin | April 15, 2012

Why Must God’s Saving Grace be Irresistible?

Why do Calvinists believe that God’s saving grace is irresistible?  Simply, if God’s saving grace was not irresistible, no one would be saved.  The Calvinist or Reformed Christian believes that Scripture teaches that the natural fallen man is dead in his sins.  The natural man is without  the ability to discern spiritual things, let alone choose to believe and trust in the Lord Jesus, to believe that He died for our sins, was raised from the grave on the third day, and is alive today preparing a place for us in the heavenly realms.  Even godly sorrow, necessary for true repentance, is not natural and requires the grace of God.

Thus, Calvinists believe that salvation is entirely a sovereign work of God.  Hence God’s sovereign election of those sinners to whom he shows His mercy and extends His grace is necessary that anyone be saved.  Salvation is solely a work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of men and women whose minds have been blinded to the truth:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV)

But without reading what John Calvin wrote, from the way Calvin is referred to in the history books, and commonly referred to in the public sphere, one could conclude that Calvinism is uniquely Calvin’s own doctrine of grace, somehow different from what the Bible teaches.

Hardly.  Calvin relies on Holy Scripture, Paul primarily, and Augustine’s anti-Pelagian writings (in which Augustine also relies on Paul), when he develops his argument for sovereign election of the saints, God’s chosen elect.  In this selection from Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (trans. Henry Beveridge), Chapter 34 from Book Three, Chapter 2, “Of Faith. The Definition of It. Its Peculiarities.“, Calvin explains how and why the work of the Holy Spirit is necessary for us to receive saving faith.

34. But as Paul argues, “What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God,” (1 Cor. 2:11). If in regard to divine truth we hesitate even as to those things which we see with the bodily eye, how can we be firm and steadfast in regard to those divine promises which neither the eye sees nor the mind comprehends? Here human discernment is so defective and lost, that the first step of advancement in the school of Christ is to renounce it (Mt. 11:25; Luke 10:21). Like a veil interposed, it prevents us from beholding divine masteries, which are revealed only to babes. “Flesh and blood” does not reveal them (Mt. 16:17). “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned,” (I Cor. 2:14). The supplies of the Holy Spirit are therefore necessary, or rather his agency is here the only strength. “For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34); but “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God,” (1 Cor. 2:10). Thus it is that we attain to the mind of Christ: “No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” “Every man therefore that has heard, and learned of the Father, cometh unto me. Not that any man has seen the Father, save he which is of God, he has seen the Father,” (John 6:44, 45, 46). Therefore, as we cannot possibly come to Christ unless drawn by the Spirit, so when we are drawn we are both in mind and spirit exalted far above our own understanding. For the soul, when illumined by him, receives as it were a new eye, enabling it to contemplate heavenly mysteries, by the splendor of which it was previously dazzled. And thus, indeed, it is only when the human intellect is irradiated by the light of the Holy Spirit that it begins to have a taste of those things which pertain to the kingdom of God; previously it was too stupid and senseless to have any relish for them. Hence our Savior, when clearly declaring the mysteries of the kingdom to the two disciples, makes no impression till he opens their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:27, 45). Hence also, though he had taught the Apostles with his own divine lips, it was still necessary to send the Spirit of truth to instill into their minds the same doctrine which they had heard with their ears. The word is, in regard to those to whom it is preached, like the sun which shines upon all, but is of no use to the blind. In this matter we are all naturally blind; and hence the word cannot penetrate our mind unless the Spirit, that internal teacher, by his enlightening power make an entrance for it.

[emphasis added]

This is only one of many arguments Calvin makes with Scripture as his proof in his Institutes to explain why salvation is entirely the work of God.  It is odd to me that salvation, as entirely the work of God, is identified with Calvin, or Augustine, rather than Paul, when it is Paul who wrote:

 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-12 (NIV), and

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love  he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace  that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 

Ephesians 1:3-8 (NIV)

No one can understand why God saves some and others are condemned to die in their sin.  We can only testify to the truth as we are commanded to do, and let the Holy Spirit carry out the plan.  Nevertheless, it is wrong for anyone, even those who believe, to resist the truth revealed in Scripture because an imperfect human reason and moral sense cannot understand the ways of God, the Creator of the Universe, and his righteousness and justice.   As Paul bluntly says:

But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

Romans 9:20-21 (NIV).

We can only bow our heads and humbly acknowledge his glory, thankful that He chose us, and pray for the salvation of those we love, or rather, those who the Spirit leads us to pray for, including those who seem impossible to love.

 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! 
   How unsearchable his judgments, 
   and his paths beyond tracing out! 
 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? 
   Or who has been his counselor?” 
 “Who has ever given to God, 
   that God should repay him?” 
 For from him and through him and to him are all things. 
   To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36 (NIV) (Doxology)

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