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If you would like a brief but very good summary of the doctrines of grace, I would recommend very strongly the first several chapters of J. Gresham Machen’s little book A Christian View of Man. This little Banner of Truth publication is swimming with lucid explanations of difficult Bible doctrines.* If anything, the book well demonstrates that Calvinism embraces a kind of “compatibilism.”**

As I said a couple days ago, the book is actually a series of lectures Machen gave  for some radio addresses “shortly before he departed this life on January 1, 1937.” I have been restraining myself not to cite him endlessly (actually, there is a real temptation to quote the entire book). But here, sample Machen’s explanation of how the believer should think about God’s choosing some and not others, and extolling the wonders of grace:

[B]ecause we do not know what the reason is for God’s choice of some and His passing by of others, that does not mean that there is no reason. As a matter of fact, there is without doubt an altogether good and sufficient reason. We can be perfectly sure of that. God never acts in arbitrary fashion; He acts always in accordance with infinite wisdom; all His acts are directed to infinitely high and worthy ends. We must just trust Him for that. We do not know why God has acted thus and not otherwise, but we know the One who knows and we rest in His infinite justice and goodness and wisdom.

I think the Christian man glories in his ignorance of God’s counsels at this point. He rejoices that he does not know. The hymns of the evangelical church are full of the celebrations of the wonder of God’s grace. It is such a strange, such an utterly mysterious thing that God should extend His mercy to such sinners as we are. We deserved nothing but His wrath and curse. It would have been completely just if we had been lost as others are lost; it is a supreme wonder that we are saved. We cannot see why it is; we could not possibly believe it unless it were written so plainly in God’s Word. We can only rest in it as a supreme mystery of grace (pp. 70-71).


*Unfortunately, Machen does espouse a version of theist evolution later in the book.

**What I don’t mean by “compatibilism” is this: sometimes one runs into those believers who “see both” doctrines in Scripture, and don’t want to come down on either side of the coin. But it does seem that there are a couple of very important questions that can be answered either positively or negatively which pushes one into an espousal of either a “Calvinistic” or “Arminian” scheme. In other words, I’m skeptical whether there really is such a “middle ground.” One of these questions, for example, is the definition of foreknowledge. If “foreknowledge” means that God looks down the corridors of time and knows those who will choose him, then it is necessary (it seems to me) for that individual (generally speaking) to be  a ‘Arminian’ of some kind. If “foreknowledge” means God foreordained certain persons to become Christians (you know, like all the Scriptures say he does 😉 ), then you must nearly necessarily be a ‘Calvinist’ of some kind. I’m just not sure how you can wiggle out of it. But perhaps one of you can try to explain it to me. Either way, what I mean by “compatibilism” is that God has decreed “whatsoever comes to pass”, is not the author of sin, and that people make real choices for which they are responsible.