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I love the story Cornelius Van Til tells about  hearing an Arminian preach (sorry, can't remember where).  The Arminian likened salvation to a bus driver coming into town and preaching in the public square through a megaphone, "I'm off to Fort Knox where there's gold enough for everyone.  Whomsoever wishes may come aboard my bus and we'll receive the gold together."

I'm trying to remember the details - it's a while since I heard the lecture.  But as I remember it Van Til went up to the preacher afterwards and thanked him for a brilliant illustration.  "I'd make only one change to it," he said.

"Instead of pulling up at the town square, I'd have him preaching at the cemetary."

Evangelism is basically Ezekiel 37 - prophesying to dry bones.  The people are dead.  Whomsoever may come.  But the star of the show is the Spirit, giving life through the word.

0 thoughts on “Whomsoever

  1. James

    While I don't doubt that the story is true, the preacher's sermon is not a good presentation of Arminian theology.

    Actually, Van Til's altered version fits perfectly with Arminian theology. Not that he wouldn't differ with classical Arminianism, but my point is that the differences are not well shown in this illustration.

    Arminians also believe that sinners are dead in tresspasses, unable by their own ability to respond to the gospel, and even unable to know that they are dead. The difference (in relation to this illustration) is that Arminians believe the Spirit's awakening grace to be resistible. So the corpses could resist the Spirit and remain in their graves, if we had to push the illustration to show the difference.

  2. Ed Eubanks

    James, that's good clarification-- and a good reminder of why we ("Reformed" types) consider true Arminian theology to be semi-Pelagian, not wholly Pelagian (for Pelagius disputed the doctrine of sin as we know it, as well).

    Unfortunately for true Arminians: many today are teaching an outright Pelagian perspective and billing it as Arminianism, so much so that most would assume that the two are one and the same.

  3. Glen

    Hi James - welcome to the blog. As Ed has said - very good clarification. And I'm glad the dead-ness of the hearer is assumed for the classical Arminian.

    And yes indeed, I is the real crunch point.

  4. Heather

    I don't choke nearly as much on the concept that grace is "resistible" as I do on the idea that the Lord would bother to give spiritual life to someone and place the seal of His Spirit on their hearts only to snatch it back away if it turns out they don't live a holy enough lifestyle.

    Abortion is wicked man's invention that destroys and perverts the picture of what God does when He begins His work in a believer's heart.

  5. John B

    Hi Ed, I see it here also to be very much like you've described; Wesleyan tradition with Finneyite theology.

    John Wesley's "The Doctrine of Original Sin" is a brilliant work. Like Augustine, he recognizes the necessity of God's prevenient grace. But where Augustine sees this as particular and irresistible, Wesley says that it's universal and resistible.

    The parallels are amazing between Wesley's thought and theosis in the Eastern church as especially evident with the Hesychasts. Semi-pelagianism is biblically orthodox; but not so for Pelagianism, which denies Original Sin.

  6. Moore to ponder

    I agree with this statement: "But the star of the show is the Spirit, giving life through the word." The first thing that should come to one's mind in response to it is this: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen."

    After reading this I started thinking about evangelism, and many images came to my mind. Then I asked myself "But what does the Bible say on the subject?", so I looked the word up in my Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. I wasn't surprised when I saw that it was not there, but the words "evangelist" and "evangelists" were there. There were two verses where the singular word was used and only one where the plural word was used. All three verses had "2099" in the right margin. I looked it up and it basically said "a preacher of the gospel" and referred me to "2097" which basically said "to announce good news, bring glad tidings, preach the gospel etc. Here are two verses where they are used below.

    "But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry." 2Timothy 4:5
    "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;" Ephesians 4:11

    I am not skilled at looking things up in Greek and in Hebrew. Did I misunderstand?

    Any work that man does can in no way compare to the works the Spirit performs. Evangelism in no way can compare to regeneration. John the Baptist even said that he must decrease. In spite of that fact, I have to pause and consider these words:

    "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!" Isaiah 52:7

    Is this not a description of evangelism? It is possible that I missed the point of this entry, but I would think evangelism should not be played down.

  7. James

    Thanks for the charitable exchanges on the matters at hand.

    Ed, though many people consider Arminianism semi-Pelagian (and no doubt many popular Arminain preachers are preaching a semi-Pelagian or Pelagian gospel), there is a further distinction between semi-Pelagianism and classical Arminianism. Semi-Pelagians embrace a version of original sin which leaves room for a "natural" ability to respond to God, whereas Arminians ascribe any such ability wholly to grace.

    I'm not meaning to split hairs here, but I'm an Arminian who considers semi-Pelagianism a heresy, so I obviously resist the label! But I'm also quite sympathetic to reformed concerns, so I probably don't speak for mainstream Arminianism.

    I wish Arminians in general would take original sin and total depravity more seriously, and would teach it clearly from the pulpit. I certainly didn't understand depravity until I read the Reformers in seminary! The doctrine of sin I was taught was very shallow. But, when I went back and read Wesley I realized there was much more agreement there than I thought. I think it often gets lost in the polemics. And I think later Wesleyans were influenced by nutjobs like Finney and drifted into dangerous territory.

    I enjoy reading the blog, Glen. Thanks for the depth of substance you put into your posts.

  8. Ed Eubanks

    Hi Moore,

    You're right that the word "evangelism" (or a Greek version of it) doesn't appear in the Bible. Our English word "evangelism" is a derivative of the Greek word "euangelion" (or more pheonetically, "you-ang-el-ee-on") which means simply, "good news". That word is based on a root with a prefix-- the root is the word for (and where we get our English word) "angel" -- for the angels were "messengers" (lit. "word-bringers"), and the prefix adds a "good" ascription to it, making it "good news".

    The root of that word could be used as a verb ("to proclaim good news") or in a variation of a noun ("one who proclaims good news"-- in other words, an evangelist).

    The biblical idea of evangelism is therefore as you have already said: the proclamation of "good news". The Isaiah passage that you quoted is something of an early declaration of this function. A related one comes in Romans 10, even quoting that Isaiah passage.

    A related requirement/command to evangelism is that of "making disciples" (which is to say, "to teach"); but that is related to what appears to be a somewhat different manner and/or context. I find it very helpful, however, to think about evangelism as "pre-conversion discipleship".

    Another related idea is that of a "ready defense" that Peter speaks of in his first letter (chapter 3)-- though this is getting closer to what we might call "apologetics" in today's language.

  9. Ed Eubanks

    James, thanks for the further clarification. That's helpful (at least with regard to your perspective). I confess I'm not well-versed in Arminian teachings, nor do I spend a lot of time reading/researching them; however, I am surprised by what you say about "natural ability to respond" and the semi-Pelagian differences. I have not heard that refuted/rejected by Arminians before. Is it possible that (using your words) "mainstream Arminianism" would part with you on that point?

  10. James

    Hi Ed. Well, when I say "classical Arminian" I mean Arminius and Wesley, and others who've upheld their views on this, but often "mainstream" (popular) Arminian teaching doesn't follow its sources on this point. If you read the foundational theology here it is clear, there is no natural ability to respond to God.

    Here's a bit from Charles Wesley that affirms what I'm talking about with respect to the unregenerate, and the fact that they are completely helpless and not even aware of their sinnership:

    "Full of all diseases as he is, he fancies himself in perfect health. Fast bound in misery and iron, he dreams that he is at liberty. he says, "Peace! Peace!" while the devil, as "a strong, man armed," is in full possession of his soul. he sleeps on still and takes his rest, though hell is moved from beneath to meet him; though the pit from whence there is no return hath opened its mouth to swallow him up. A fire is kindled around him, yet he knoweth it not; yea, it burns him, yet he lays it not to heart.

    By one who sleeps, we are, therefore, to understand (and would to God we might all understand it!) a sinner satisfied in his sins; contented to remain in his fallen state, to live and die without the image of God; one who is ignorant both of his disease, and of the only remedy for it; one who never was warned, or never regarded the warning voice of God, "to flee from the wrath to come;" one that never yet saw he was in danger of hell-fire, or cried out in the earnestness of his soul, "What must I do to be saved?"

    From "Awake Thou that Sleepest"

    Sorry if I don't respond further but I'm headed out for a few hours.

  11. Moore to ponder

    Thank you Ed. That was helpful. I especially liked this idea:

    "I find it very helpful, however, to think about evangelism as “pre-conversion discipleship”.

    That is a great thought!

  12. Heather

    John B said:

    John Wesley’s “The Doctrine of Original Sin” is a brilliant work. Like Augustine, he recognizes the necessity of God’s prevenient grace. But where Augustine sees this as particular and irresistible, Wesley says that it’s universal and resistible.

    Is it possible that both views could be true?

  13. John B

    Hi Heather,

    For me, that's a fence too great to straddle, though I think it would be nice if I could. But I'm thoroughly western and embrace the Augustinian hermeneutic.

    There's much in Wesleyanism that's edifying. Charles' hymns and retention of the liturgy is just to name a couple. But although they emerged from the western church, their hermeneutic is more like that of the Eastern church, especially with respect to their view of redemption. So they're in good company there and firmly grounded in the Great Tradition. But I stand under Augustine and regard him to have rightly explained the Apostolic teaching.

    To relate this to the discussion on the Piper thread, Augustine is [Law/holiness > Gospel/love] and Wesley is [Law/holiness > Gospel/love > Law/holiness]. But having been set free from my own righteousness keeping, I don't want to go back there again!

    Wesleyans rightly have prior claim to Charles and his wonderful hymns, but they graciously allow us to borrow him. But we have one of our own Augustinian hymnists, John Newton, who wrote:

    Let us wonder; grace and justice/
    Join and point to mercy’s store;/
    When through grace in Christ our trust is,/
    Justice smiles and asks no more:/
    He Who washed us with His blood/
    Has secured our way to God.

  14. John Ljungberg

    Hi Glen!
    At first my flesh finds this very disturbing, but at the end of the day - is there any greater encouragement for evangelism?! Pressure off - just preach it!

  15. Heather

    John B,

    You said: For me, that’s a fence too great to straddle, though I think it would be nice if I could.

    I appreciate your response and do understand how certain aspects of the two views are irreconcilable. For instance, the Law-Gospel whirlpool of Wesleyanism also disturbs me tremendously.

    There does seem to be room in Scripture for God's grace and forgiveness to be both particular/irresistible and universal/resistible, though.

  16. Ephrem Hagos


    Today's opportunity cost of ignoring the epicenter of Christ's perfect and transfigurative death, as "finished" on the cross (Matt. 27: 50-56; John 19: 30-38), first applied on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and faithfully replicated over and over again in apostolic times (1 Cor. 1: 18-31; 2: 1-6, etc.), is unacceptably high!!

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