It is commonly acknowledged that some persons who come under the preaching of the word do not have the ability to believe. We confess, and I would hope that others do so too, that unless God first prepare one’s heart to believe he cannot and will not believe in the name of Jesus; unless God first open one’s eyes and give him the power to perceive spiritual things, he will not see the things of the Kingdom of Heaven. Without that prior work of God in a person, one is still in his sin, under the power of the Prince of the Air, still walking in spiritual oneness with the children of disobedience. Therefore, to explain why some persons do not believe, even though they have many times heard the word preached, we point to their depravity or inability to believe. That inability we describe as the “bondage of the will”, and “the darkness of mind”. Scripture depicts man’s spiritual inability in other expressions such as; “dead in sin”, “the carnal mind is enmity against God”, “the imaginations of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”, and that “none seek after God”.
To give this explanation for the “foolishness” of the unbeliever’s sin in the rejection of the truth of the cross of Christ is all well and good.
But it is not enough. We have only pointed to man’s spiritual inability to be well pleasing unto God and to one’s inability to enter the straight gate. The question still remains: Why do not all men receive from God the ability to come in faith to Christ? Our explanation is, I believe incomplete. We must say something more to explain why some persist in the foolishness of rejecting the Cross of Christ; not only inability to believe but also that these same persons have not the right to believe.
The first proposition is then that some persons who hear the preaching of the word do not have the right to believe. The second proposition is that they who have not the right to believe do not receive, therefore, the ability. The converse of these propositions is also true: Some men do have the right to believe though they are of themselves unable to believe as all the others; and, secondly, they that have the right to believe shall also in god’s time receive the ability to believe and confess Christ Jesus as their personal Savior.
You say, “incredible!” I am not all surprised that you are shocked. We have been told either explicitly or implicitly by an “evangelical” press that everyone has a chance to be saved. There is that word wide, ubiquitous, nearly unanimous idea that there need not be “any Christless grave”. Thousands of “preachers” declare a god who wants, intends, and who has done all he could to save the individual, but that now “it is up to you” to make Jesus your lord. Salvation is available to all and everyone is able of himself to accept Jesus…if only he can be persuaded to do so. This doctrinal position is the constant, noisy refrain of popular hymns, Pentecostal rock, radio sermons, T.V. religious addresses, and the thoughtless comments of the ordinary churchgoer. This incessant barrage of Arminian theology has an effect upon us, it rubs off. We become accustomed to hearing it, singing it, and before long we are inclined, even tempted, to defend it as being biblical theology. Therefore, your shock and incredulity was expected, when you read from the pen of a minister of the gospel of grace, that some men not only do not have the ability to believe but, worse, they do not even have the right to believe.
My intent is not to shock you. Rather I desire to stimulate you to contemplate the meaning that exists between one’s “justification”, and his “regeneration”. Think about it! Justification implies that “right” to believe and regeneration posits the “ability” to believe. To think into and spiritually appropriate the truth concerning the relationship between justification and regeneration will be well worth the effort, for then we will not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. We will be able to stand in an evil day.
First of all, then, we should discuss this matter of “right” or justification. And in the second place, we will take up the term “ability” or regeneration.
What do I mean, you ask, by the term “right”? By it is simply meant the legal prerogative, or privilege, to do something. To us an example for clarification: John, the son of Mr. A., has the right, the privilege, to go in and out of the home of Mr. A., by virtue of the fact that John is Mr. A.’s son. The multitude of other kids that live on the same street as does John, do not have the legal right, privilege to barrage in Mr. A.’s home; Mr. A. simply shuts the door in the face of all those who might presume to enter, for they have not the legal right to enter and they have not that right because they are not the sons and daughters of Mr. A.
If we apply this figure, briefly, it should be obvious that no man by nature has the legal right to enter the Father’s house and enjoy His communion and fellowship. No one by nature has the right to believe. Man fell into sin, rebelled against God, and became thereby guilty according to the verdict of the Judge of all. To be guilty is to be worthy of death. The day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt die. And die we did under the judgment and condemnation of God. Death is this, that one legally is worthy of Hell, and ethically he is given over to the power of Satan, who held the power of death. (Heb. 2:14) Legally man’s rightful place by nature is under the power and dominion of sin and Satan, ever worthy of everlasting damnation in Hell. Because of man’s sin and guilt, he had no right to the fellowship of god or to His favor. A sad state. Man’s state by nature is that he is guilty. He possesses no right to Heaven, but is only worthy of Hell. We brought all this upon ourselves by our deliberate disobedience.
How then, the question arises, can anyone obtain the right to the fellowship of god, to His grace and favor? The answer is that we can obtain this right only through Jesus Christ. Christ died, having taken upon Himself the curse which was rightfully ours to bear. By His death Christ Jesus removed all the sin and guilt of His people, the sheep, whom the Father had given to Him. Because of the merits of Jesus’ obedient sacrifice, “the ones given Him by the Father”, and they alone, are no longer guilty sinners. Not only is their guilt removed, but the righteousness of god is merited for them and legally given or imputed to them. The depraved sinner, elect in Christ, is declared righteous, pronounced innocent by the Judge. The Holy One justifies the ungodly! (Rom. 4:5) The declaration of the Judge, that the sheep “chosen to salvation” are justified by the atoning death of the “Faithful Shepherd”, is a public declaration, for the resurrection of Christ is the declaration. The judicial opinion and declaration of the Judge, was written indelibly upon the parchment of history. The resurrection of Christ is that historical event, which constitutes the irrevocable declaration of God that all the ones elected in Christ are righteous, justified before His holy eyes. (Rom. 4:25) Therefore the elect, redeemed by Christ and justified by His death, who have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, they alone have the right to believe. The right to enter through Christ into the conscious possession of the realities of the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. To the sheep Christ calls efficaciously; come unto me, follow me, take up your cross, enter into the joy of the salvation prepared for you. Those persons for whom Christ died, they have the right to enter the Father’s house, for they are cleansed and redeemed by the blood of the cross. To enter that house of the Father, the believer must enter at the door which is Christ. The elect have the right to believe in Christ, to press through the straight gate, to enter the sanctuary of God through the veil. That right has been freely given them out of mere grace and on the basis of the merits of Christ Jesus alone.
But what about those persons for whom Christ did not die? (Or did Christ die for all men, individually considered?) the point is that all those persons who are not the Shepherd’s sheep (John 10:26), all who are the “world” of John 17:9, all they who are appointed unto stumbling (I Peter 2:8-9), all those who are not chosen in Christ from before the foundations of the world…they are still in their sin, guilty before God. Christ did not atone for them. They have not satisfied the justice of God re their sin and guilt. Therefore, they as guilty sinners will be justly cast into Hell. They have not the right to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The right to believe has not been merited for them. And they cannot merit it for themselves.
The atoning death of Christ is particular or limited to the elect alone, according to the sovereign good pleasure of God. Tulip!
The fact whether one has the right to believe, or if he has not the right to believe is revealed by the imparting of the ability to believe or by the withholding of these blessings.
Why do some receive the ability to believe and others do not? Why do some repent from sin and believe the gospel of Christ? Why do others persist ethically in the love of sin, the love of the lie and immorality? Why the actual distinction, which is visible to all? Few there be that walk along the narrow path. How is it to be explained, believer, that you do not walk with the “children of disobedience?”
Some persons repent from their sin, because the gift of repentance, the ability to repent, was given them. (Acts 11:17-18) Some believe, because the ability to believe, the gift of faith was freely given them. (Eph. 2:8) Some are given the ability to repent and believe; while others are left in their own inability or unwillingness to repent and to believe. If faith, the love of the truth, and repentance are foreign to man’s sinful depraved nature, then the presence and activity of these things in any individual man must be ascribed to the sovereign, gracious, almighty work of the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
The ability to believe and repent is given in regeneration. Regeneration is the imparting of the life of Christ to the elect, in himself dead sinner. But God through the Spirit of Christ does not regenerate persons arbitrarily. God does not send forth the Spirit of His Son into the hearts of men “without rhyme or reason”. God regenerates, gives the ability to repent and believe only to those for whom Christ has merited these blessings. The ability to believe is given to those only who have the right to believe according to the meritorious death of Christ. (Gal. 4:4-6)
Right and ability to believe are inseparable. It is impossible to separate justification from regeneration and sanctification. To those for whom Christ has merited the right to salvation, as righteous in Him, the exalted Christ also graciously and infallibly imparts that salvation. Those whom Christ hath redeemed and who have been declared righteous in Christ by God, they are given the ability to come in faith through Christ unto God the Father. Why? Because Christ merited the right to these gifts of salvation for them.
The one that continues to love the way of sin, who stops up his ears to the pure preaching of the word (Act 7:57), who is disobedient and despises the blood of the cross, is thereby revealing the depraved thoughts of his heart, his unwillingness and inability to believe. The gifts of repentance and faith have been withheld from such a person because Christ did not merit the right to them by his death for these persons. They have not the right to believe.
Some person, the elect, have the right to believe merited for them by Christ, in whom they are justified; therefore, the ability to believe and even the act of faith is given them by the Spirit of Christ.
Others, reprobate persons, have not the right to believe and therefore are left in their depravity and ability only to sin and increase their debt before God. They receive not the ability to believe in the name of Jesus.
Every believer asks this question: Why have I been given a place in Father’s house, the Church of Christ, and not the many others? The elect in Christ are distinguished by the out-pouring of the grace, mercy and love of God upon them, who has mercy on whom He will have mercy.