Sunday, February 03, 2008

The anachronisms of the Neo-Amyraldians

I would move on to other things soon, but just to note that one thing I have consistently seen in the quotes of the Reformers, Puritans and other great Calvinists thinkers of the past as provided by the Neo-Amyraldians is their consistent anachronisms. It seems that anytime words like 'common grace', 'offer', 'desire salvation of all' and others like them are mentioned by these ancient Reformed divines, then automatically the doctrine of 'common salvific grace' and the 'well-meant sincere offer' must be taught by these great Christian leaders. What has been notably absent from all these is the ability to interpret such phrases in their contexts and within the framework as believed by most if not all of these giants — Covenantal Theology, with its idea of the collective. As someone who has read the interactions of the Reformed Baptist apologist Dr. James R. White with RC apologists on the topic of the writings of the early Church Fathers, it seems more often than not that the same Roman Catholic tactic of reading modern concepts into words and phrases that was adopted in modern times to bear that modern concept, but which meant something different for the ancient writers, are used by the Neo-Amyraldians to prop up their case.

I would like to look at a few more quotes from Tony Byrne's blog where anachronism is almost always constantly surfacing, and more specifically with regards to two of his more recent posts with regards to John Bunyan, who was a Particular Baptist (ie not a Presbyterian, and Credobaptist).

In this post, Bunyan on General Love and Grace, Byrne makes the point that

Note the association in Bunyan between "general love," "general grace and mercy," and "blessings." He does not think there is a general mercy but no general grace. Further, he does not believe there is a general grace but no general love. In his view, general love is manifested in general grace and mercy, and the example of the "blessings" that Ishmael received in Genesis 17 are given as an example of all of these things.

Of course, what all of this have to do with 'common salvific grace' is beyond me. What Bunyan is here doing in his writings (or preachings?) is using theological imprecise terms to prove that for God's love and grace to the elect to be seen as special, some must need be reprobate and therefore not given the special love and grace of God. Bunyan in proving this uses terms like 'universal love', 'general love', 'general mercy', but that does not mean that he agrees with the modern connotations of these terms. Most definitely, to think that just because Bunyan uses such terms, which can only prove the biblical concept of 'common providential grace', to infer that Bunyan believes in 'common salvific grace' is to import a foreign interpretation into what he is teaching.

Secondly, Bunyan uses the term 'common grace', and Byrne immediately pounces on it as it he has just gotten the Holy Grail. Unfortunately for him, the context does not support the interpretation of this meaning 'common salvific grace'. The context is with regards to Church membership and the idea of the Visible and the Invisible Church, as a look at the section in its context would show. Bunyan's idea of "common grace" therefore is a grace which extend to the Visible Church collectively, whether those who are in it are elect or reprobates is immaterial, definitely not some prototype of 'common salvific grace'!

The next post to look at is one entitled John Bunyan (1628-1688) on God's Grace, Goodness, Offers and Saving Will. As per his norm, Byrne highlighted all the words that he thinks promotes 'common salvific grace' or the 'well-meant offer' in yellow. However, looking at the context of the quote from Bunyan, does Bunyan actually believes in 'common salvific grace'? I contend not. All the highlighted parts should be read together in their contexts to establish what Bunyan means by what he says, not just isolated as phrases and infused with established modern meanings. The entire quotation by Bunyan proves only that the offer of the Gospel is not proffered only to the elect but to all, such that even the reprobates could take it if they are able to (but of course they are unable to). As Bunyan states later, he says that "there is a difference between his withholding further grace, and of hindering men from closing with the grace at present offered". In this sense therefore, Bunyan states that for God's interaction with the reprobate, he withholds further grace, which is obviously referring to salvific grace. However, God does not "hinder men from closing with the grace at present offered", which just means that with the grace given to even the reprobates, God would not prevent them from being saved if they are able to use this grace to bring themselves unto salvation (but of course they are unable to). What is damaging to the Neo-Amyraldian case is this following quote from Bunyan:

But I say, as I have also said already, there is a great difference between his being willing to save them, through their complying with these his reasonable terms, and his being resolved to save them, whether they, as men, will close therewith, or no; so only he saveth the elect themselves, ... (Bold added)

As it can be seen, Bunyan here states that if God resolves (wills) to save them, then the proper objects of such a resolve must be only the elect. So therefore, Bunyan DOES not believe in God having any form of intent of saving the reprobate ('common salvific grace'). All of the talk about offer to the reprobate, grace given to them etc. are Bunyan using theological imprecise (even incorrect) terms to express something very true, which is that God will NOT hinder the reprobates from saving themselves IF they are able to do so. In more theological precise terms, God does not actively reprobate sinners, nor does He prohibit them from being offered the Gospel.

From these two posts, it can be seen that Byrne engages in lots of anachronisms. In fact, since his blog is only on this one topic, and he quotes many different Reformers, Puritans and other Calvinists, it is highly probable that almost all of them are anachronistic as well. We have already seen quite a number of them, and also a few committed by the so-called 'Moderate Calvinist' Calvin and Calvinism blog in a recent post. With the exception of modern Calvinists such as John Murray, Cornelius Van Till, John Frame etc., none of them seems to be teaching the concept of 'common salvific grace' or the 'well-meant offer of the Gospel' as formulated by Murray and Stonehouse. As such, it can be seen that it has not been proven that historic non-Amyraldian Calvinism believed in anything resembling the irrational Neo-Amyraldism of modern times, and with this, I conclude.

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