Thursday, May 2, 2013
Thoughts On Acts 17:30-31
Elder C.H. Cayce, probably the foremost pioneer of the modern time salvation paradigm, stated of the Apostle Paul’s preaching to the idol-worshipping Greeks at Athens (Acts 17:22-34): “Paul is here preaching to a people who are the offspring of God--born of God--a people who have been worshipping God ignorantly, having an altar erected to the unknown God. They are commanded to turn away from their ignorant or idolatrous worship, and all those who are born of God, the offspring of God everywhere, who are engaged in such worship are commanded to repent. There is nothing in this text for the unregenerate. It is to the children of God who are engaging in false worship, and it is the duty of the ministry to admonish all such persons to repent, turn away from it and worship the Lord as directed in His word." This is a horrible take on the narrative, one which is sadly repeated by some today. His conclusions were all wrong, because his starting point was wrong. Cayce disagreed with Elder James Oliphant on the passage, who rightly understood that the “offspring of God” was a reference to all mankind as God’s creatures, and not exclusively the regenerate elect (see here). This of course fit perfectly well with his soteriological scheme. Interpreting the passage this way, he was allowed to deny the existence of duty-faith and could claim that gospel exhortations are to be addressed only to the regenerate elect. Having then adopted a system which said the post-regeneration experience had no bearing on salvation, all of a sudden, God’s requirement of repentance becomes no requirement at all. It is optional for the elect to repent, but not essential. Notwithstanding the absurdity of this conclusion, the greater question is not whether the Athenians were already saved or not, but whether the text has eternal or only temporal implications. If Cayce and those of like mind are correct in saying that Paul is only suggesting that a temporal salvation is available for those “unconverted regenerates” who choose to repent of their sins, then what we should see is the Apostle Paul threatening the people with a temporal judgment upon their failure to do so. Instead, we read: “Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (v.31).” If the judgment threatened upon failure to repent is eternal, then the repentance Paul mentions must be connected to the salvation which delivers a person from that day. Now what salvation is it which will rescue a person from God’s wrath on the day of judgment? An eternal one or a temporal one? What change in a person’s life rescues him from the judgment of God revealed on that day? Going from death in sins to a life in Christ, or a hypothetical regenerated yet unconverted state to a converted one? Indeed, what class of people will be standing on that day? The regenerate and the unregenerate, or (to use the spin created by Cayce), the regenerate who repented and the regenerate who did not? Will God pronounce eternal woe upon those regenerate souls who failed to save themselves with a time salvation? Will God declare temporal judgment on his elect on that day, or is there a temporal day of judgment which Paul has in mind? On these issues, let our moderns answer. If Cayce and his fellow heretics will admit that the judgment mentioned in v.31 is eternal, then they are faced with a major problem as repentance is here demonstrated as a necessary ingredient for salvation. The usual escape at such places in the Bible is to reduce the requirement to be something of a subconscious nature. Such argumentation fails in this place, for the repentance spoken of is evangelical, and thus cognitive. In one sense, however, it does not matter if we decide if the Athenians were already regenerated or not. The job of the gospel proclaimer is not to busy himself with figuring out who is saved and not saved. He is to launch out into the deep, spreading the seed, letting if fall where it may. If he sees anyone who is engaged in sin, he is to exhort them to repentance. If that person is already regenerated, his words will contribute to that soul attaining to final salvation. If he is unregenerate, with God’s blessings it will be the means of their original conversion. The problem with Cayce and many of like mind is in thinking that if a person is already regenerated, that this does away with the necessity of continued gospel exhortations and warnings. It doesn’t. Men must still go on to final salvation, proving themselves not false professors. The unguarded expression “once saved, always saved”, however, together with a denial of perseverance has probably contributed not a little to this problem of viewing regeneration as the only sine qua non of salvation.