Recently, Dr. James White has been interacting quite a bit with Dr. Ken Wilson’s book (and dissertation) regarding Augustine’s “conversion” to a predestinarian. As I have been reading much of Augustine’s work lately as well as other Church Fathers, I felt that I should enter this discussion with a layman’s perspective. Since Dr. Wilson’s dissertation is available to freely view most of it on Google Books, as linked above, I will use that as my source.
I would like to begin my engagement with Dr. Ken Wilson’s dissertation by looking at his brief comments on the letter of Clement to the Corinthian Church from the end of the first century. The entire letter is available online, and I actually read through it again two nights ago. Dr. Wilson has a section in his dissertation regarding the historical support for a “traditional free choice” viewpoint from the early church, specifically AD 95-215. He begins that with a look at some examples of an emphasis on the free will of man in Clement’s letter (Some people, such as Dr. Wilson will refer to it as “First Clement”. However, it is likely the only letter by Clement in existence as the others probably were not actually written by Clement or even from his time.). Here is what Dr. Wilson had to say in this section about Clement.
Discussion of Clement’s Letter to the Corinthians
First of all, allow me to emphasize that the “Earliest Author” cited as supporting “Traditional Free Choice” is an example that Dr. Wilson can only use to demonstrate by implication that we have libertarian free will. What follows are only examples of Clement stirring the affections of the Corinthians to do good. The implication, as seen by Dr. Wilson, is that this earliest author outside of the New Testament is an advocate of libertarian free will rather than one who would emphasize God’s sovereignty as it pertains to our salvation.
Clement’s Implicit Statements Regarding Man’s Free Choice
Let us begin by simply reading each of these sections that Dr. Wilson has cited. I have emphasized some relevant statements with bold.
Regarding this first passage, Dr. Wilson has asserted that it demonstrates that “Humanity’s creation in God’s image provided current opportunity for moral behavior”.
Above all, with His holy and undefiled hands He formed man, the most excellent [of His creatures], and truly great through the understanding given him — the express likeness of His own image. For thus says God: Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness. So God made man; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:26-27 Having thus finished all these things, He approved them, and blessed them, and said, Increase and multiply. Genesis 1:28 We see, then, how all righteous men have been adorned with good works, and how the Lord Himself, adorning Himself with His works, rejoiced. Having therefore such an example, let us without delay accede to His will, and let us work the work of righteousness with our whole strength.
1 Clem 33.4-8
To sum up what he stated in his dissertation, being created in God’s image also allowed the rebels to use their desires to conform to God’s desires. Since God has libertarian free will, then the freedom of our will must be free to the extent that God’s is. Wilson stated that this was a “rhetorical strategy” that could only work if there was still free choice available to man. Then in support of that he cited the following 3 passages in Clement.
“Repent, O house of Israel, of your iniquity.” Ezekiel 18:30 Say to the children of my people, Though your sins reach from earth to heaven, and though they be redder Isaiah 1:18 than scarlet, and blacker than sack-cloth, yet if you turn to me with your whole heart, and say, Father! I will listen to you, as to a holy people.
1 Clem. 8.2
On account of his hospitality and godliness, Lot was saved out of Sodom when all the country round was punished by means of fire and brimstone, the Lord thus making it manifest that He does not forsake those that hope in Him, but gives up such as depart from Him to punishment and torture.
1 Clem. 11.1
The all-merciful and beneficent Father has bowels [of compassion] towards those that fear Him, and kindly and lovingly bestows His favours upon those who come to Him with a simple mind.
1 Clem. 23.1
He would finally cite the following passage as demonstrating Clement’s interpretation of James 4:6 where we read that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Dr. Wilson states that this means God does not give grace unconditionally (I presume that he is referring to “Unconditional Election” to a degree here) but only to those who humble themselves. Let it be noted that the above statement about God’s grace being given conditionally is not something that Clement stated.
“For God,” [says the Scripture], “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words.
1 Clem. 30.2-3
His final citation is here where Clement “simultaneously emphasizes God’s sovereignty.”
Having then this hope, let our souls be bound to Him who is faithful in His promises, and just in His judgments. He who has commanded us not to lie, shall much more Himself not lie; for nothing is impossible with God, except to lie. Let His faith therefore be stirred up again within us, and let us consider that all things are near unto Him. By the word of His might He established all things, and by His word He can overthrow them. “Who shall say unto Him, What have you done? Or, Who shall resist the power of His strength?” When, and as He pleases, He will do all things, and none of the things determined by Him shall pass away. Matthew 24:35 All things are open before Him, and nothing can be hidden from His counsel. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handy-work. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. And there are no words or speeches of which the voices are not heard.” Psalm 19:1-4
1 Clem. 27
Much ink has been spilled over the centuries in discussing how God uses, as one of His means, the encouragement and exhortation in Scripture to guide His people. That we should see at any point in church history a pastor, elder, bishop, or even layman quoting scripture that refers to imperatives God has given us should not surprise anyone. No predestinarian has ever been offended by Scripture’s many exhortations to us that we should live rightly, be humble, or turn to God from our sins. We are strongly on the side of Clement here.
However, one will often find that proponents of “traditional” soteriology will be hesitant to speak of the “number of the elect”. But Clement often spoke of that – he even would speak of “the computed number of His elect”! I wonder if we would ever hear Dr. Wilson or Leighton Flowers speak about a “number of God’s elect”? But I digress.
Clement’s Purpose for Writing His Letter
One of my primary reasons for this post is to point out that Clement was not writing a systematic treatise on the free will of man and how it relates to God’s sovereignty. He was writing to encourage a group of schismatics whose conduct was “utterly abhorrent to the elect of God”. Clement would also spend a good deal of time discussing the examples of others from the Bible as they lived their lives of faith. He uses examples from men and women from Hebrews 11 as well as New Testament believers. Furthermore, no author that we are aware of has written a full treatise on free will before Augustine did so early in his writing career, prior to the turn of the 5th Century. To say that Augustine was the first to write a full work on Predestination may be true, but using equal scales there was likewise no full work dedicated to free will.
Some More Explicit Statements of Clement Regarding Salvation and The Elect
Next, I would like to emphasize a few other statements from Clement’s Letter that stood out to me as I read through it the other night.
If you are an advocate of libertarian free will and you are honest with yourself, would you speak of the “number of God’s elect” – or better yet, have you spoken like this as Clement was so eager to do in the first century?
Day and night you were anxious for the whole brotherhood, that the number of God’s elect might be saved with mercy and a good conscience.
Desiring, therefore, that all His beloved should be partakers of repentance, He has, by His almighty will, established [these declarations].
God is truly almighty in his governance over the affairs of the universe, days and nights, seasons, and even the provision of food for man and beast!
The heavens, revolving under His government, are subject to Him in peace. Day and night run the course appointed by Him, in no wise hindering each other. The sun and moon, with the companies of the stars, roll on in harmony according to His command, within their prescribed limits, and without any deviation. The fruitful earth, according to His will, brings forth food in abundance, at the proper seasons, for man and beast and all the living beings upon it, never hesitating, nor changing any of the ordinances which He has fixed.
Clement tells the Corinthian church that they should stand their ground where God has placed them and that they should go on to “offend” those who are causing sedition.
Let us reflect how near He is, and that none of the thoughts or reasonings in which we engage are hid from Him. It is right, therefore, that we should not leave the post which His will has assigned us.
The great heroes of the faith that Clement discussed, as well as us, were highly honored “through the operation of His will”. And all called by God’s will are justified by faith and not “ourselves”, our wisdom, understanding, godliness, or any good works!
All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
The eyes of our hearts are opened (Ephesians 1:18) and our understanding blossoms to marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). By Jesus, God willed that we should taste these things!
By Him we behold, as in a glass, His immaculate and most excellent visage. By Him are the eyes of our hearts opened. By Him our foolish and darkened understanding blossoms up anew towards His marvellous light. By Him the Lord has willed that we should taste of immortal knowledge.
If we are to believe that when Clement stirred up the believers in Corinth to good works that the implicit logical consequence must only be libertarian free will, then how much more sure can we be by the explicit statements relating God’s will to our calling, justification, and opening of the eyes of our hearts that Clement understood believers are predestined and elected by God? Regarding Clement, the onus is still on Dr. Wilson to prove that Clement was an adherent to “traditional” libertarian free will. By simply looking at the actual writing of Clement, there would be more data demonstrating that he was on the “traditional” belief in election as it relates to God’s purpose of salvation.
Finally, to wrap this up with a bow, I want to point out something else related to the context of the last citation from Clement above. I would note that if you look at the contexts of the two verses quoted by Clement (Ephesians 1:18 and 1 Peter 2:9), you will see the great predestination and election passage in Ephesians 1 and that Peter talked of us being a chosen race. When the earliest example of “traditional” free choice uses Ephesians 1 and 1 Peter 2:9 to support that “the Lord has willed” our salvation, you should probably take pause to consider whether he would actually support the position you are advocating.Tags: chrisw-kenwilson