John Broadus on Sovereign Grace and Human Freedom

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john broadus

The following material was taken from the handwritten notes of an unpublished manuscript by John A. Broadus, The Pauline System of Doctrine (no. 11” Box 19, Broadus papers)

[John A. Broadus (1827-1895) served as The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s first professor of New Testament interpretation and homiletics and was the institution’s second president.]

The terms employed in the New Testament in reference to the doctrine of election are borrowed from the Old Testament and transferred to the new dispensation. God has made the old covenant with the Jewish people. They were his chosen people (Deut 7:7). But the old covenant is related to the new, as the shadow to the substance, as the promise to the fulfillment. From the human race, alienated from God by sin, and fallen into the power of Satan, God is selecting a new people, to be peculiar to himself, a people to be purified by the blood of Christ, a consecrated priestly people to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The others are unchosen, are under the power of Satan, the prince of this world, and, with him, under condemnation.

If anyone is disposed to think from such passages as Romans 9:11-22, where Paul asserts the unconditional will of an Almighty Creator, that he viewed man as a mere tool and involuntary machine, he should remember that though the apostle affirms God’s rights of creation to be unconditional, he yet, as will appear from other places, regards man as created with such power of volition as renders them free and responsible. In the passage before us Paul affirms, in opposition to objections, that the decrees of God are independent of the doings of men, and that redemption and salvation are bestowed upon men as a gratuity, not as account of the merit of the worker.

We are here brought into contact with that question which has occasioned so much discussion and perplexity;–that which relates to grace and freedom. And on this men have erred either in embracing fatalism or in wholly denying the sovereignty of God, accordingly as they have given greater or less prominence to facts and arguments in themselves true. An impartial and honest survey of the dictates of reason, as well as of Scripture, will forbid our denying the freedom of men, on the one hand, and or rejecting the doctrine of the divine sovereignty, on the other. If both are true, we must seek conciliation.

If, after all our efforts, we find we cannot reconcile them, let us not reject them. Truth is consistent though we may not be able to demonstrate its consistency. The writer is very far from denying that there is any metaphysical method of demonstrating the consistency of the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God in relation to the will and work of men and the doctrine of human freedom and responsibility. He is free to confess, however, that he is ignorant of any such method. He thinks, however, and will endeavor, in what follows, to show that they are not practically incompatible and that the New Testament so represents them.

We have already seen that Paul did not attempt to reconcile them on speculative, abstract principles, but taking for granted the facts which imply the truth of both, he rebuked the vain mortal who would call his maker to account. So as in the other writings of the New Testament while all merit of works is denied of anyone, yet those who receive and embrace the offered grace, are represented as doing so freely and of their own choice; and those who reject it, do so because of their own obstinacy, and are guilty of bringing misery upon themselves, and deservedly fall under the justice of God, because they would not give heed to the truth (Rom 2:9, John 3:36).

While this rebellion is, in some sense, according to God’s own plan and appointment (Rom 11:32, 1 Pet 2:8) it is imputed to men as their own sin (Rom 2:9). Christ weeps over the inhabitants of Jerusalem because they would not hearken to his voice. Here he so expresses himself that we must not understand him as saying, that they must ascribe all the consequences of their refusing to hear to themselves. In John 16:9, unbelief is called “sin.” In the parable of the lost son, his conversion is expressed by the words “he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17), language which, in the most natural way, expresses the idea of human freedom.

Indeed the call of the Baptist, “repentance,” and all the subsequent discourses of every evangelist and apostle (Acts 3:19, 14:15, Eph 5:14), and also the exhortation of the apostles to Christians themselves, express sometimes in an imperative, sometimes in a persuasive manner, to live worthy of their calling (Eph 4:1, 17, Col 2:6, 3:16, Phil 1:21 Thess 2:12, 2 Tim 2:10 and Heb), all these set forth the matter in quite a different light from that which regards man as an involuntary machine of an almighty Superior. On the other hand, as the passages already quoted on the doctrine of election show, grace and salvation are represented as the work of God, not of men. It is God (Phil 1:16, 2:19) who has begun a good work in Christians, who works in them to will and to perform and who establishes and keeps them from the evil one.

The experience and feelings of Christians accord with both these views; and as soon as we separate them, and oppose them, the one against the other, our mere abstract reasoning, our speculative metaphysics, will betray us into one of two systems, both alike partial– that of mere necessity, or that of mere freedom. But while in speculation the opposition between these two systems seems irreconcilable, they actually combine in the facts of experience, nay, even become identical. For, as Jeremy Taylor has said, “the highest necessity and the highest liberty are one and the same.” God himself is the most absolutely necessary being and yet the most absolutely free being.

So of men: their moral acts and character approximate absolute necessity and absolute freedom in the same ratio, viz: in proportion as they are holy. Their conversion and sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit and is at the same time, a work of their own. And when men turn their thoughts towards truth and goodness, their own freedom unites with the divine mercy, nay is identified with it. Human volition does not act upon what is spiritually good and true without the divine influence, and the divine influence operates in man only through the human agency.

Just so, our own minds and wills operate in unison with the minds and will of other human beings wherever they exert any influence upon us, though their influence, like themselves, is finite, limited, and hence sometimes unsuccessful, while God’s, like himself, is infinite and prevailing. Every Christian acknowledges the divine influence, of which he is conscience, to be a gift of grace, and feels entirely dependent, for spiritual life, upon God. This is acknowledged and established, an election of grace, while, at the same time, the Christian is conscious of freedom. And this consciousness of freedom establishes human responsibility, and demolishes that fatalism which regards man as a mere machine and seeks to excuse his sinfulness.

By |March 3rd, 2015|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today