Vol.XX No.VII Pg.7
September 1983

?You Know What?

Robert F. Turner

Bro. Turner

From History of the Reformation by Merle D'Aubigne, Bk. 5, Ch. 4, read his account of a debate between Eck (Roman Catholic) and Carlstadt (Protestant). D'Aubigne favored Carlstadt.


"Man's will, before his conversion," said Carlstadt, "can perform no good work: every good work comes entirely and exclusively from God who gives man first the will to do, and then the power of accomplishment." This truth had been proclaimed by the Scripture, which says: "It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure;" and by Saint Augustine, who, in his dispute with the Pelagians, had enunciated it in nearly the same terms...Now there is in man a natural opposition to God — an opposition that the unaided strength of man cannot surmount. He has neither the will nor the power to overcome it. This must therefore be affected by the Divine will...

"I acknowledge," said Eck, "that the first impulse in man's conversion proceeds from God, and that the will of man in this instance is entirely passive." Thus far the two parties were agreed. "I acknowledge," said Carlstadt, "that after this first impulse which proceeds from God, something must come on the part of man, — something that St. Paul denominates will, and which the fathers entitle consent." Here again they were both agreed: but from this point they diverged. "This consent of man," said Eck, "comes partly from our natural will, and partly from God's grace." "No," said Carlstadt; "God must entirely create this will in man."

---------------------- The basic issue is "free will" (so poorly understood today); and how this affects the nature of "conversion." Honestly, do you agree with Eck, the Catholic, or with Carlstadt, the Protestant; or with neither? And what is your "Bible" explanation?

Note that both men agreed that man was so depraved before his conversion he could do "no good work." The issue then becomes: does God affect man directly and immediately, or intermediately (through media of the word and human facilities)? If by "first impulse" (par. 2) both mean. God's love and preparation for man's redemption (Christ's sacrifice and the inspired gospel message) we are "with" them. But we deny a depravity that erases man's capacity to receive truth; and we believe the unconverted man's will can be changed by the inspired word of God (His instrument), no other or direct Divine influence being needed.

Augustine (an earlier Catholic theologian) and Carlstadt say, "No, God must entirely create this will in man" — and cite Phil. 2:13. We believe that passage recognizes the moral influence of God on saints (as Satan affects children of disobedience, Eph. 2:2) without negating individual responsibility. "Work out your own salvation" clearly calls for human response. God works to the end that we choose, and we work to obey Him. The inspired verse itself (Phil. 2:12-13) is an excellent example of how God works to bring about obedient saints.

If we made greater effort to grasp such basic matters we would not be so confused by today's "spirit" issues.