Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Free Grace

Tim Challies has posted a brief quote from John Newton. What is your take? Do you see this as still relevant in the Church today and what forces would you consider at odds with the doctrine of free grace and justification by faith?


Daniel said...

Newton's discernment holds true.

Just for the record, when Newton says "free grace" it isn't to be confused with the stuff that the "free gracers" are peddling today. Newton was a Calvinist, and as such he would have condemned what passes for "free grace" in some camps today.

Nevertheless, the doctrines of grace abound wherever true grace abounds, and sad and powerless counterfeits abound wherever grace is lacking.

Jim said...

Daniel, exactly what do you see as the differences between the two types of free grace you are describing?

It seems to me that any attempt by man to add to the simple elements of grace and faith bring about exactly what Newton described, the replacement of a living and vibrant fruitful life with that of a dominantly reasoning and anthrophilosophic wisdom.

Or simply put; a christian philosophy that places more emphasis on the doing of righteousness than the abiding in Christ as our life supply.

Jim said...

By the way Daniel, thanks for your continued visitations over to my most infrequent blog.


Daniel said...

Jim, the former preached the same gospel we find in scripture - that faith begins includes a repentance that God enables - being more than an intellectual assent, but the latter teaches that faith can be had in a repentance-free vacuum, apart from any conversion or change of heart whatsoever. I suppose would be the most obvious distinction.

Jim, I stop in because I know you love the Lord.

Jim said...

Thanks Daniel, you could be right about the differences, I didn't really see that in Newton's quote. Perhaps just as deadly as faith apart from repentance is religious activity apart from the Spirit's anointing.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Too bad Newton was so keen on legalistic Calvinism.

Newton was actually uncertain whether or not he was among the elect. Tragic.

God Bless


Daniel said...


Uncertainty in such matters comes from a failure to look to Christ for assurance, a weakness that is by no means limited to, or even a tenet of, Calvinism. Calvinism does not teach one to look to his or her own Calvinism for assurance - it teaches one to look to Christ.

The witness of the Holy Spirit is our assurance, not our theology.

I am curious. Are you suggesting that [1] Newton never experienced assurance, or [2] are you saying that there was a time or times in his life when he did not feel assurance, or [3] are you saying that this lack of assurance characterized his faith? Both the former and latter would be tragic indeed regardless of the man's theology, but if be the second case, mentioning it would seem intentionally misleading and perhaps even inappropriately scandalous. I wouldn't mind more clarification on this one point. Was Newton always as you described, or did he come to be assured at some point? Perhaps you could just give me a link and save yourself the footwork. I am not trying to pin you down here, I am honestly curious.

Intellectualism can drive both good and bad theology - but ultimately having it drive good theology is no more assuring than having it drive bad theology.

Which is to say that anyone who frets about whether or not they are elect is looking in the wrong place for assurance. Such an error is not a function of their theology, it is a function of their nature that looks to works (such as having a right intellectual persuasion) to propitiate God, rather than coming to Christ through trusting Him to be who He said He was, and to do what He said He would do.

Daniel said...

Jim - I wasn't suggesting that Newton was guarding the truth against an error that wasn't going to show up for another 200 years! :-)

We shouldn't be surprised therefore that Newton wasn't making the distinction I made. I made the point only because the language used by Newton ("free grace") has been hijacked by men like Ryrie and Hodges to give a name to their railing against the idea that repentance plays any part in the atonement.

That repentance has always played a part in the atonement is plain enough (c.f. Leviticus 23:28-30) - anyone who fails to afflict his soul on the day of atonement is not one of God's people.

So I wasn't suggesting that Newton was making the point, I was pointing out that we should be on guard because some have the unfortunate habit of taking words such as Newton's out of antiquity and use them to prop up their own, novel theology by giving the impression that their novel ideas can be found in orthodox antiquity. The external nomenclature may be similar, but the ideas these words represent are as different as night and day. What Newton calls free grace, is nothing at all like what Hodges and his ilk call "free grace."

I didn't see the distinction I was making as being part of what Newton was saying (nor should anyone see that since the distinction I was making isn't there), rather I saw that some might take advantage of Newton's language and try and press it into their theological mold. It seemed good therefore to pour water on that before someone tried to kindle it.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

I agree with Daniel. His use of "free grace" is likely synonymous with Calvinism. Ironic.

Jim said...

Matthew, I find it hard to believe that Newton really struggled over his salvation, considering his dramatic conversion and subsequent songs he wrote, the most famous being "Amazing Grace". To me that eptimizes the most profound and basic truth of salvation, that being the free grace bestowed upon us by God's love.