Calvinism claims men are totally depraved in that they have no ability to respond to God unless and until God regenerates them or gives them spiritual life to THEN be able to repent and believe and be converted or saved. It is one thing to claim “no man come to God unless the Spirit draw him” and claim the necessity for regeneration for man’s response to God. It is also one thing to claim the necessity for God’s drawing in revelation and reconciliation and it is another to claim that man has the innate ability in and of himself to “come to God on his own.” All too often, these scenarios get easily lumped together as if they are mutually synonymous when they obviously are not.
Consider Jesus’ dialogue with the crowd of people who followed Him and His discussion that followed with His disciples in Matthew 13.
In verse 1, a “great crowd of people gathered together to listen to Him”. One would have to understand the vast majority of these people needed to be saved. Even though they were Jews, they were not all “the elect” in the Calvinist sense. At best, there were “the elect” in this crowd along with the “non-elect.” One must also remember that Jesus is laying the foundation for the gospel message and seeking to establish His authority as the Messiah for He has not yet gone to the cross nor is He addressing that aspect of His coming at this point. However, He does make some interesting comments that are significantly relevant to the discussion of total depravity and inability as posited in Calvinism.
In verses 3 through 8, Jesus gives the crowd a parable; He gives to them an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. He uses an agricultural story as a setting for His parable of the sower who went out to sow seed. His story will contain some aspects that will be easily understood and then some that will not be so obvious. One obvious aspect would be the purpose of the sower who goes out to sow and that is the necessity of the harvest. Anyone who goes out to sow seed does so with a harvest in mind; otherwise there is no reason to sow seed in the first place.
Calvinists will argue this sowing is tantamount to what they call a “general call.” They will argue the necessity of sowing the seed of the gospel because no one knows who is and is not the elect and no one knows who will and will not respond to the gospel message and be saved. This is an accurate statement. While it is true that this parable deals primarily with the ground that the seed falls on, it must be understood that without the sower who goes out to sow there is no opportunity for a harvest. The same is true in the spiritual realm as well; if the gospel is not proclaimed, then there is no possibility of a spiritual harvest for “there is no other name under heaven whereby men may be saved.” Every believer has a mandate to go and sow.
Everyone listening to this earthly story being told by Jesus will understand the different places scattered seed will fall. They will be familiar with the hard, packed ground; they will relate to the stony ground as well as the ground that is covered in thorns and weeds and they will understand that the importance of that seed falling on fertile soil that has the best chance of producing a harvest. As Jesus finishes His story, He gives them a mandate in verse 9: 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” This is a command for the crowd to consider what He has just said and then respond to it.
Calvinism will argue that there is a general call that is available to all men and then there is a special call of God where salvation is concerned that is given to a select group they call “the elect.” They will contend there is God’s general will that all men would repent but there is also this hidden will that God has that extends some special call for a select group to repent and these are those who will do so and be saved. This latter group is represented by the good soil that Jesus is talking about in this parable.
What is obvious at this point to anyone is the fact that some seed falls on bad ground and there is no growth nor is there any real potential for a harvest. The application that is not so obvious is what are the determining factors illustrated by the different types of ground and possibly even the implication of where the seed falls. What do the different types of ground represent and who is responsible for where what seed falls where? Remember one thing.
In a story there are obvious implications that are necessarily applicable but there may be aspects that are applicable to the story but not necessarily applicable to the implications being employed. A great example might be the human characteristics given to God. While references to God’s hands and His eyes for example may be used to talk about His activity in the world, there are certain aspects and limitations that apply physically that do not apply to God. There is always the caution to read enough into the illustration and then not read too much unto it as well. This may well explain the disciples’ question in verse 10: “Why do You speak to them in parables?” They no doubt were confused themselves and they knew the crowd would be.
Jesus answers His disciples. He tells them in verse 11, “It has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” This is an interesting answer. One might argue, “Here is Scriptural justification for the concept for total depravity and inability. Obviously it is God who has given this ‘special grace to understand the mysteries of the kingdom that He has not given to others’.” If Jesus had stopped there, one might find that argument valid. However, Jesus did not stop there. He went on to explain why they had been given the ability to understand the “mysteries of the kingdom” while others had not.
Jesus said, “12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” Verse 12 offers some interesting commentary on Jesus’ illustration. What does He mean when He says, “For whoever has, to him more will be given”? In looking at the context, one would have to conclude that He is saying, “For whoever has ‘understanding’ more understanding will be given to him.” “Those who do not have an accurate understanding will lose out altogether.” This is an interesting perspective for it certainly brings to light the command He gave to the people as He finished the parable for “those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” The question at this point still remains; is God responsible for those who have “ears to hear” or are men responsible for their response to what they hear? Calvinism stands on the former while others will argue, the thrust of Scripture stands on the latter. At this point in Matthew 13, both positions can be substantiated.
Verse 13 begins to shed some light on Jesus’ position. He told His disciples, “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” One could argue that Jesus was saying He intentionally used parables so that they would continue to not understand or it could be argued that He was using a simple illustration that everyone SHOULD have been able to understand but they refused to accept the obvious meaning of the message and so they did not understand. In the former example, they were confused because Jesus did not want them to understand and in the latter, they failed to understand because they did not want to accept what He was saying. The latter explanation would seem to be the better interpretation for if He did not want them to understand the parable, which is a simple story to illustrate a spiritual principle, then it would stand to reason He would have simply NOT have given the story at all. If He does not want them to understand it, then there is no reason to tell the simple story in the first place. After all, the whole purpose for sowing seed is to reap a harvest! If Jesus had no intention of them understanding the story then it could be argued that He would have been guilty of the very lesson He was communicating in the first place.
Jesus is going to use an Old Testament prophesy from Isaiah to explain why some do not understand. This reference is a very interesting one. He will quote Isaiah 6:9-10. He said, “‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive;” obviously, Jesus was drawing their attention to the prophecy that would foretell of the people’s refusal to understand or accept the Messiah when He finally came. This is where Jesus’ use of the Old Testament sheds some serious light on the issue of total depravity as presented by Calvinism. Listen to what Isaiah wrote and Jesus quoted: “15 for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should (or would) heal them.”
The hearts of the people “have grown dull.” That is an interesting statement. The hearts of the people had “grown dull” because some of them were represented by the different kinds of soil. The differing types of soil represent different responses to the truths found in the Word of God. The hearts of the people had grown dull because their ears became hard of hearing and notice this next statement: “their eyes THEY HAVE CLOSED.” God is not responsible for those who refuse to hear Him! The people who closed their eyes are responsible for their own understanding or lack thereof! Their refusal to see and to hear is the reason they have not understood! The whole purpose of Isaiah’s prophesy was to point the children of Israel to Jesus! Again, the sole purpose of the Scripture was to produce a harvest; Isaiah’s prophesy was to point people to Jesus but God was saying through him many would refuse to see and refuse to hear and therefore fail to understand the significance of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus continues, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; 17 for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Understand something. Jesus is not commending them for their understanding because God had given it to them and not to others, He is commending them for listening to Jesus’ Words and accepting them as truth and seeing the things He did and accepting the significance of those things. That is what Jesus told the disciples of John when they came asking, “Are You the One who is to come or should we seek another?” in Matthew 11:3.”4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5 The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Jesus’ final statement to the disciples of John lends credence to the importance of an individual’s response to Him and His ministry. This statement makes no sense in a total depravity/inability setting.
Jesus’ explanation of the different types of soil in verses 18-23 highlights the response of those who hear the Word of God. This is the clear implication of Jesus’ explanation. Each response builds until the final response, which is understood to be the expected response of all who hear. This is why Jesus told the crowd, : 9 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Revelation and reconciliation demand a response. Verse 23, “But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
Jesus shares the parable of the wheat and the tares and then the parable of the mustard seed. Both of these parables deal with the acceptance of Jesus’ teaching among the people. There is the parable of the hidden treasure and then the parable of the hidden pearl. In these latest two parables, a reward awaits the one who is willing to sell all he has to secure the prized possession. Once again, it is the responsibility of the hearer of the Word of God to see its value and do whatever it takes to hold onto that truth. The parable of the dragnet echoes the parable of the wheat and the tares; there is a day that is coming when the unrighteous will be separated from the righteous and those who do not believe will be separated from those who do believe.
In verses 53-58, Jesus is rejected at Nazareth. After all the words of warning to see the things Jesus has been doing and to listen to the things He has been teaching and comparing them to the Word of God found in the Old Testament prophesies, most refused to see Him as the long awaited Messiah who had come to usher in this new kingdom God had promised.
The truth of this passage is this; the message is clear. This message has been revealed to all who are willing to listen to it and consider the merits of it in light of the Word of God that has given to men so that they might believe it and be saved by it.
“Blessed is the one who is not offended because of Me.”