<< previous (2:345) next (2:347) >>

p501 [G Biava] [From the Italian.] DEAR BROTHER, - I am much pleased with the article on free will; I do not find that there is much to add to it. All depends on the depth of the conviction that we have of our sinful condition; and security and joy depend on it likewise. Lost and saved answer the one to the other: our condition in the old man, and our condition in Christ. But in the reasoning of Arminians there is a totally false principle, namely that our responsibility depends on our power. If I have lent £100,000 to any one, and he has squandered it all, certainly he is not able to pay, but has his responsibility come to an end with his ability? Certainly not. Responsibility depends on the right of the person who has lent it to him, not on the ability of the one who has wrongfully wasted the money. If man can make use of his free will, it must be either to keep the law, or to receive Christ. Salvation is not by the law: if righteousness had come, or could come by the law, Christ has died in vain. But it is said expressly that the flesh "is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." The conscience indeed owns that the law is righteous and good: to be subject to it and to keep it, is quite another thing. Even if "to will is present" the man is a slave, and the doing does not follow. But the will is not there: the approval of the conscience, as has been already said, but not the will; the latter desires to be independent of God. Does the law accept such a disposition? Free - yes from God's side; but man desires to be free, that is to be able to do his own will. But this is not obedience. The law requires obedience; "The mind of the flesh is enmity against God." A heathen could say, Video meliora proboque; deteriora sequor ('I see and approve the good; I follow the evil'). All men have a conscience, the knowledge of good and evil, since the fall; they know how to distinguish, but that says nothing as to the will; so that since the law demands obedience, and the flesh cannot be subject, to receive the law is in fact an impossibility - not that God hinders him, as I have already said, but because man does not wish it. Further, the law forbids lust, but fallen man has lust in his flesh; and it is in this way that the apostle knew sin. Man must lose his nature before being disposed to obey the law: it is therefore necessary to be born again. Now man cannot give himself divine and eternal life. Why then the law? In order that the offence might abound; by the law sin becomes "exceeding sinful"; "the law works" the righteous "wrath" of God against us - not the fear of God in us; it does not give a new life, and that which we have is enmity against God. Man in the flesh cannot receive the law into his heart.

Is it true, then, that he can receive Christ? Here all is grace. We have already quoted the passages. Those have received Him who were "born, not … of the will of man, but of God." If the mind of the flesh is enmity against God, then the more God is manifested the greater the enmity will be. Likewise the presence of God in Christ showed this; They have both seen and hated both me and my Father." He came, and there was none to receive Him; He testified, and there was none to receive His testimony. Man in the flesh cannot see beauty in Christ, any more than keep the law. Can the flesh receive Christ - find its pleasure in the Son of God? Then it is no longer the flesh; it has the mind of the Father Himself. If there is anything there but the flesh, then the man is already born of God, since that which is born of the flesh is flesh. If the flesh can find its pleasure in Christ, the flesh possesses the most excellent thing that is to be found, not only upon earth, but in heaven itself; it finds its pleasure where the Father finds His: it would not be necessary to be born of God; the most excellent thing that he possesses now, through grace, as a Christian, he possessed already before receiving life, in receiving Christ. The certainty of salvation is gone at the same time: if salvation is the fruit of my own will, it depends upon it; if it can be thus easily produced, it cannot be said, "Because I live, ye shall live also."

I do not send this as an article. If there are thoughts of which you can make use, do so, but I think your article is sufficient. … It is said that faith is but the hand that receives salvation, but what disposes us to offer the hand? It is the grace that works in us. I rejoice greatly at the good news of Italy.

Pau, May 9th.