We ourselves think that this doctrine is contrary to Holy Scripture, but whether it is expedient to condemn it in these our canons needs great deliberation. On the contrary, it would appear
1. That Augustine, Prosper and the other Fathers who propounded the doctrine of absolute predestination and who opposed the Pelagians, seem to have conceded that certain of those who are not predestined can attain the state of regeneration and justification. Indeed, they use this very argument as an illustration of the deep mystery of predestination; which cannot be unknown to those who have even a modest acquaintance with their writings.
2. That we ought not without grave cause to give offence to the Lutheran churches, who in this matter, it is clear, think differently.
3. That (which is of greater significance) in the Reformed churches themselves, any learned and saintly men who are at one with us in defending absolute predestination, nevertheless think that certain of those who are truly regenerated and justified, are able to fall from that state and to perish and that this happens eventually to all those, whom God has not ordained in the decree of election infallibly to eternal life.
Finally we cannot deny that there are some places in Scripture which apparently support this opinion, and which have persuaded learned and pious men, not without a great probability.
This quotation (SOURCE) is making the rounds among what some people will surely regard as “the usual suspects.” I want to comment on this in relationship to the so-called “Federal Vision” which is being trumpeted abroad as a PCA-version of heffelumps and woozles.
What is significant here is that many will (I prophesy) claim that this is the “Federal Vision.” This is the great error from which we must save the PCA. But it is clearly exactly what all the “Federal Visionists” in the PCA and elsewhere have precisely denied. For instance, here is Rich Lusk from when he was a PCA minister and an assistant at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church:
Are you saying there is NO difference at all between the covenant member who will persevere to the end and the covenant member who will apostatize?
No. God certainly knows (and decreed) the difference, and systematic theologians should make this difference a part of their theology. But from our creaturely, covenantal point of view (which we should not apologize for!), there is no perceptible difference (e.g., Saul and David look alike in the early phases of their careers; Judas looked like the other disciples for a time). No appeal to the decree can be allowed to soften or undercut this covenantal perspective on our salvation. It is only as history is lived, as God’s plan unfolds, that we come to know who will persevere and who won’t. In the meantime, we are to do what was described in the handout above and demonstrated throughout Paul’s epistles – treat all covenant members as elect, but also warn them of the dangers of apostasy.The language of the Bible forces us to acknowledge a great deal of mystery here. For example, the same terminology that describes the Spirit coming (literally, “rushing”) upon Saul in 1 Sam. 10:6 is used when the Spirit comes upon David (1 Sam. 16:13), Gideon (Jdg. 6:34), Jephthah (Jdg. 11:29), and Samson (Jdg. 14:6, 9; 15:14). But in four of these five cases (David, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson), the man in question was clearly regenerated and saved by the Spirit’s work (cf. Heb. 11:32). This means that at the outset of Saul’s career, the biblical narrative itself draws no distinction between his initial experience of the Spirit and the experience of those who would enter into final salvation. Saul’s apostasy was not due to any lack in God’s grace given to him, but was his own fault. While God no doubt predestined Saul’s apostasy (since he foreordains all that comes to pass), God was not the Author of Saul’s apostasy (cf. WCF 3.1). Saul received the same initial covenantal grace that David, Gideon, and other saved men received, though God withheld from him continuance in that grace. At the same time, his failure to persevere was due to his own rebellion. Herein lies the great mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility (cf. WCF 3.1, 8).
While we as Calvinists like to make a sharp distinction between genuine regeneration and the common operations of the Spirit, we should be willing to recognize that this distinction does not enter into many biblical passages. Instead, we need to be willing to speak of the undifferentiated grace of God (or the generic, unspecified grace of God). For example, in Heb. 6:4-5, some Reformed theologians try to draw subtle distinctions, showing highly refined psychological differences between the blessings listed, which do not secure eternal salvation, and true regeneration, which does issue forth in final salvation. But it is highly unlikely the writer had such distinctions in view, for at least two reasons. For one thing, it is by no means certain that those who have received the blessings listed in 6:4-5 will fall away. The writer merely holds it out as a possibility, a danger they must beware of. In fact, he expects these people to persevere (6:9).
But if the blessings catalogued are less than regeneration, and these people might persevere after all, we are put in the awkward position of saying that non-regenerate persons persevered to the end (cf. 2 Cor. 6:1)! Second, the illustration immediately following the warning, in 6:7-8, indicates these people have received some kind of new life. Otherwise the plant metaphor makes no sense. The question raised does not concern the nature of grace received in the past (real regeneration vs. merely common operations of the Spirit), but whether or not the one who has received grace will persevere into the future. Thus, the solution to Heb. 6 is not developing two different psychologies of conversion, one for the truly regenerate and one for the future apostate, and then introspecting to see which kind of grace one has received. Rather, the solution is to turn away from ourselves, and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1ff). This is the ‘secret’ to persevering (and to assurance).
Despite the fact that I have been promoting this for over four years, and it directly contradicts the “catholic” position advocated by the British Calvinists, this position will be ascribe to Rich Lusk, me, Steve Wilkins, Doug Wilson, and others.
And it is a rather revealing phenomenon. It is not enough, now, to simply affirm special grace only for those chosen by God for eternal life, in contrast with Augustine. Rather, one must not even appear to have anything pastoral in common with Augustine. Isn’t that Guy Waters’ repeated accusation? Not that anyone has denied a tenet of Calvinist orthodoxy, but that they have “practically” denied the doctrine by allowing that Paul addresses his Christians as brothers and warns them against falling into unbelief. Anyone who thinks there is a better way of pastoral encouragement than this is now heterodox by the new Church of EP&EPO (Experiential Pietism and Experiential Pietists Only).
This entire brutal crusade is such an obvious attempt to take a tiny sect of experientialism–a late bloomer even within the Westminster tradition–and drive out anyone who dares point to another way. And it is being done openly.