from Credo: The Magazine
[Editor's Note: As a teaser to the book, we would like to make available Fred Zaspel's preface to Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy, edited by Matthew Barrett and Thomas Nettles (professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).]
A century ago in his Plan of Salvation B.B. Warfield argued powerfully that if a Theist allows the necessary implications of the Theism he has already embraced, he must be a Calvinist. That is to say, soteriological Calvinism is but the implicate, the necessary consequence of Theism. It is simply God being God.
Moreover, soteriological Calvinism is the embodiment of the prophet Jonah’s declaration, “Salvation is of the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9). It is the outworking of the proposition that salvation is God’s doing, that it is his gracious gift to undeserving sinners, and that he saves in such a way that only he receives the glory for it (1 Cor. 1:26-31; Eph. 2:8-10). If we adhere to these propositions we are Calvinists.
Compelling as such reasoning is, of course, we are not left to ground our theology in deductions and logical arguments merely. We embrace soteriological Calvinism, ultimately, because we find it to be taught us in the Scriptures. We fully expect God’s redemptive plan to be in perfect keeping with himself, and such logical consistency is therefore inevitable. But whatever the logical necessities and implications – and for that matter, whatever questions may remain unresolved in our minds and whatever tensions we may feel – at the end of the day we hold these doctrines because we believe them to be Biblical.
But this discussion is important on another level. A right understanding of these issues is not a matter of exegetical faithfulness only. It is a question of gospel faithfulness also. Please understand. I want very much to affirm that my brothers and sisters in Christ who differ with me on these questions are, in fact, my brothers and sisters. We are joined together in the gospel of Christ, and I rejoice in that. And surely we must keep this unity in plain view whenever we pursue this discussion. Yet if our unity is a unity in the gospel, then the closer we come to gospel issues the more important doctrinal accuracy becomes – and the more important it is for us to discuss our differences frankly in attempt to clear them away. And although I am not prepared to say that “the five points” are the gospel, I heartily agree with Charles Spurgeon who described them as the five bright lights that illumine the gospel. And certainly all sides must agree at least that the issues taken up in this book do, in fact, bear immediately on the gospel we all embrace. If this is the case, then each new generation of Christians must feel compelled to seek ever-increasing clarity concerning them.
Further, these doctrines are worship-shaping doctrines. It is important to God that we know that he saves only in such a way that only he receives the glory for it. We sing “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul!” And well we should. And we should sing it out of a deep, felt sense of rescue. Indeed, we are concerned that it is just this notion of salvation as rescue that is absent in so much of contemporary worship. And so, aware of this deficiency, we want to affirm with all our souls that God saves sinners in every sense that Scripture reveals, that it is his salvation from first to last. Recognizing the great truth that God has not only saved us but also that for our joy he has revealed that salvation to us in the sweeping grandeur of his eternal purpose, we want to explore that saving revelation in all its glorious implications. We want to understand the gospel in light of this divine mission of rescue so that our worship of the Triune God may be brought to its full height and that our own joy may be correspondingly deepened. We want to sense the thrill of soteriological particularism that exultingly sings with understanding, “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul!” Or, better, we want with rapturous joy to sing with the apostle John, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called the children of God! And we are!” To worship God in a way that he is deserving, and for the joy of basking in the full sunlight of his saving love, we want not only to discover and believe but also to sing and to proclaim that we who are saved are the objects of a love that was set on us before the world began – indeed, a love that in time overcame our resistance, conquered our enmity, and wooed us to our Redeemer in faith. In short, a love that did for us all that was required of us.
This, in turn, is why (odd as it may seem) we love the doctrine of total depravity and human inability. It is essential to a worship that is worthy of God that we recognize the depths of our lostness. A right understanding of this great divine rescue hinges on it. Similarly, our ability to sing “To the praise of his glorious grace!” turns on our grasp of the divine initiative in salvation and the efficacy of God’s saving grace. The song of the redeemed – “Worthy are you . . . for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God out of every tribe and language and people and nation” – is likewise a song grounded in the notion of substitutional particularism. And for eternity our song of praise to God will be nothing less than one of praise for the triumphant success of his grace that not only taught our hearts to fear and then relieved those fears in Christ, but a grace that infallibly brought us home to glory, according to his purpose. These truths are not mere incidentals. This is the stuff of worship.
These are the reasons for this discussion. And these are the motivations behind the contributors to this book. It is not party spirit but worship. Not personal prejudice but jealousy for God that has grown out of a deep and humbling sense of rescue. They do not mean to say that those who disagree are not Christians. But neither do they mean to say that these issues are therefore unimportant. These issues are essential to a consistent Theism. They are essential to any confession of divine rescue. They are an essential part of the very fabric of the Biblical revelation of divine salvation. They are essential to a right understanding of the gospel. They are essential to a worship that would rightly acknowledge God as the savior of sinners. And they are basic to a realized joy in God’s salvation.
Lost was I and helpless, damnation deserved,Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also the interim Senior Pastor at New Hyde Park Baptist Church on New York’s Long Island, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is also the author of The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law (1991); The Theology of Fulfillment (1994); Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History (1996); New Covenant Theology with Tom Wells (New Covenant Media); The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010); Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Crossway, 2012). Fred is married to Kimberly and they have two grown children, Gina and Jim.
Yet in my proud mind, thought ’twould never be served.
No cares for my God, no concerns for my pride,
My sin I would keep – knew no reason to hide.
But God, rich in mercy and grace all divine
Had chosen to save me, despite my designs.
He said he would love me and make me His son,
For reasons unknown – explanations I’ve none.
To save me He paid such an infinite cost –
His dear Son from glory He sent to my cross!
Laid all my sin on Him and punished Him there,
For me, who for Him would not ever have cared.
Then to me He came, and with o’erwhelming grace
He drew me to Him Who had taken my place.
I saw then in Him the great Savior alone,
Went running to take Him and make Him my own.
He took me, and oh, with what gladness I find –
He loves me and leads me with gentleness kind!
What mercy, what love, and what grace, oh so free!
My God unto thee shall my praise ever be!
(Fred G. Zaspel, 1995)