Warfield’s Critique of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s He That Is Spiritual

The following article by B. B. Warfield in 1918 is just one indication that the Reformed had many problems with dispensational theology, and that the perfectionistic ten­dency of dispensational thought is not my ima­gi­nation. The article is taken out of Bibliotheca Sacra, which jour­nal was at Princeton when Dr. Warfield wrote but now, iron­ically, is at Dallas Theological Seminary. The article is a critique of the still popular book by Lewis Chafer, He That Is Spiritual. We turn now to the great prince of Princeton, B. B. Warfield. All emphasis is his.

Mr. Chafer is in the unfortunate and, one would think, very uncomfort­able, condition of having two in­con­sistent systems of religion strugg­ling together in his mind. He was bred an Evangelical, and, as a minis­ter of the Presbyterian Church, South, stands committed to Evange­licalism of the purest water. But he has been long associated in his work with a coterie of “Evangel­ists” and “Bible Teachers,” among whom there flourishes that curious religious sys­tem (at once curi­ously pre­tentious and curiously shallow) which the Higher Life leaders of the middle of the last century brought into vogue; and he has not been immune to its in­fection. These two religious systems are quite in­compatible. The one is the product of the Protestant Refor­mation and knows no determining power in the reli­gious life but the grace of God; the other comes straight from the laboratory of John Wesley, and in all its forms―modi­fications and mitigations alike―re­mains incur­ably Arminian, subjecting all grac­ious work­ings of God to human deter­mining. The two can unite as little as fire and water.

Mr. Chafer makes use of all the jargon of the Higher Life teachers. In him, too, we hear of two kinds of Christians, whom he designates re­spec­tively “carnal men” and “spir­itual men,” on the basis of a mis­reading of 1 Cor. 2:9ff (pp. 8, 109, 146); and we are told that the pas­sage from the one to the other is at our option, whenever we care to “claim” the higher de­gree “by faith” (p. 146). With him, too, thus, the en­joy­ment of every blessing is sus­pended on our “claiming it” (p. 129). We hear here, too, of “letting” God (p. 84), and, indeed, we almost hear of “engaging” the Spirit (as we en­gage, say, a carpenter) to do work for us (p. 94); and we do explicitly hear of “making it pos­sible for God” to do things (p. 148),―a quite ter­ri­ble expression. Of course, we hear re­peatedly of the duty and efficacy of “yielding”―and the act of “yielding ourselves” is quite in the custom­ary manner discriminated from “consecrating” ourselves (p. 84), and we are told, as usual, that by it the gate is open­ed into the di­vinely appointed path (pp. 91, 49). The quietistic phrase, “not by trying but by a right adjust­ment,” meets us (p. 39), and naturally such current terms as “known sin” (p. 62), “moment by moment tri­umph” (pp. 34, 60), “the life that is Christ” (p. 31), “unbroken walk in the Spirit” (pp. 53, 113), “unbroken victory” (p. 96), even Pearsall Smith’s fa­mous “at once”: “the Christian may realize at once the heavenly virtues of Christ” (p. 39, the italics his). It is a mat­ter of course after this that we are told that it is not necessary for Christians to sin (p. 125)―the em­phasis repeatedly thrown on the word “necessary” lead­ing us to wonder whether Mr. Chafer re­members that, ac­cording to the Confession of Faith to which, as a Pres­byterian minister, he gives his adhe­sion, it is in the strictest sense of the term not nec­essary for anybody to sin, even for the “natural man” (ix, I).

Although he thus serves himself with their vocabu­lary, and therefore of course repeats the main sub­stance of their teaching, there are lengths, neverthe­less, to which Mr. Chafer will not go with his Higher Life friends. He quite decidedly repels, for example, the expectation of repe­titions of the “Pentecostal manife­stations” (p.47), and this is the more notable because in his exposi­tions of certain passages in which the charismatic Spirit is spoken of he has missed that fact, to the con­fusion of his doctrine of the Spirit’s modes of action. With equal decisiveness he repels “such man-made, unbiblical terms as ‘second blessing’, ‘a second work of grace’, ‘the higher life’, and vari­ous phrases used in the perverted state­ments of the doctrines of sancti­fication and perfection” (pp. 31, 33), including such phrases as “entire sanctification” and “sinless perfec­tion” (pp. 107, 139). He is hewing here, however, to a rather narrow line, for he does teach that there are two kinds of Christians, the “car­nal” and the “spiritual”; and he does teach that it is quite unneces­sary for spiritual men to sin and that the way is fully open to them to live a life of unbro­ken victory if they choose to do so.

Mr. Chafer opens his book with an exposition of the closing verses of the second and the opening verses of the third chapters of 1 Corinthians. Here he finds three classes of men contrasted, the “natural” or unre­gen­erate man, and the “carnal” and “spir­itual” men, both of whom are re­gen­erated, but the latter of whom lives on a higher plane. “There are two great spiri­tual changes which are possible to human experience,” he writes (p.8),―“the change from the ‘natural’ man to the saved man, and the change from the ‘carnal’ man to the ‘spiritual’ man. The former is divinely accom­plished when there is real faith in Christ; the latter is accomplished when there is a real ad­justment to the Spirit. The ‘spir­itual’ man is the divine ideal in life and ministry, in power with God and man, in unbro­ken fellowship and blessing.” This teaching is indi­stin­guishable from what is ordinarily understood by the doctrine of a “se­cond blessing,” “a second work of grace,” “the higher life.” The subsequent expositions only make the matter clearer. In them the changes are rung on the double salvation, on the one hand from the penalty of sin, on the other from the power of sin―“salvation into safety” and “salva­tion into sanctity” (p. 109). And the book closes with a long-drawn-out analogy between these two salvations. This “analogy” is announced with this statement: “The Bible treats our deliverance from the bond servitude to sin as a dis­tinct form of salva­tion and there is an analogy between this and the more familiar aspect of salvation which is from the guilt and penalty of sin” (p. 141). It ends with this fuller summary: “There are a multitude of sin­ners for whom Christ has died who are not now saved. On the divine side everything has been provided, and they have only to enter by faith into His sav­ing grace as it is for them in Christ Jesus. Just so, there are a multi­tude of saints whose sin nature has been per­fectly judged and every pro­vision made on the divine side for a life of victory and glory to God who are not now realizing a life of vic­tory. They have only to en­ter by faith into the saving grace from the power and dominion of sin. . . . Sin­ners are not saved until they trust the Savior, and saints are not vic­torious until they trust the Deli­verer. God has made this possible through the cross of His Son. Sal­vation from the power of sin must be claimed by faith” (p. 146). No doubt what we are first led to say of this is the quin­tes­sence of Arminianism. God saves no one―He only makes sal­vation possible for men. Whether it be­comes actual or not depends ab­solutely on their act. It is only by their act that it is made possible for God to save them. But it is equally true that here is the quin­tessence of the Higher Life teaching, which merely emphasizes that part of this Arminian scheme which re­fers to the specific matter of sanctifi­cation. “What He provides and be­stows is in the fullest divine per­fection; but our adjustment is human and therefore sub­ject to constant improvement. The fact of our possi­ble deliverance, which depends on Him alone, does not change. We will have as much at any time as we make it pos­sible for Him to bestow” (p. 148).

When Mr. Chafer repels the doc­trine of “sinless perfection” he means, first of all, that our sinful na­tures are not eradicated. Entering the old controversy waged among per­fec­tionists between the “Eradication­ists” and “Suppressionists,” he ranges himself with the latter―only preferring to use the word “control.” “The divine method of dealing with the sin nature in the believer is by direct and unceasing control over that nature by the indwelling Spirit” (p. 134). One would think that this would yield at least a sinless­ness of conduct; but that is to forget that, after all, in this scheme the divine action waits on man’s. “The Bible teaches that, while the divine provision is one of perfection of life, the human appro­priation is al­ways faulty and there­fore the results are imperfect at best” (p. 157). God’s provisions only make it possible for us to live without sinning. The result is there­fore only that we are under no necessity of sinning. But whether we shall sin or not is our own affair. “His provisions are always perfect, but our appropria­tion is always im­perfect.” “What He provides and be­stows is in the fullest divine per­fection, but our ad­justment is hu­man…. The fact of our possible deliv­erance, which depends on Him alone, does not change. We will have as much at any time as we make it possible for Him to bestow” (pp. 148, 149). Thus it comes about that we can be told that “the child of God and citizen of heaven may live a superhuman life, in harmony with his heavenly calling by an unbroken walk in the Spirit”―that “the Christian may realize at once the heavenly vir­tues of Christ” (p. 39); and that, in point of fact, he does nothing of the kind, that “all Christians do sin” (p. 111). A possibility of not sinning which is unillustrated by a single example and will never be il­lustrated by a single example is, of course, a mere post­ulate extorted by a theory. It is without practi­cal significance. A universal effect is not accounted for by its possibility.

Mr. Chafer conducts his discussion of these “two general theories as to the divine method of dealing with the sin nature in believers” on the presumption that “both theories can­not be true, for they are contra­dictory” (p. 135). “The two theories are irrec­oncil­able,” he says (p. 139). “We are either to be de­liver­ed by the abrupt removal of all tendency to sin, and so no longer need the en­abling power of God to com­bat the power of sin, or we are to be de­livered by the imme­di­ate and constant power of the indwelling Spirit.” This irreducible “either/or” is un­justified. In point of fact, both “eradication” and “control” are true. God delivers us from our sinful nature, not indeed by “a­brupt­ly” but by progressively eradicating it, and mean­while controlling it. For the new nature which God gives us is not an absolutely new somewhat, alien to our personality, inserted into us, but our old nature itself remade―a veritable recreation, or making of all things new. Mr. Chafer is quite wrong when he says: “Salvation is not a so-called ‘change of heart.’ It is not a transformation of the old: it is a regener­ation, or creation, of something wholly new, which is pos­sessed in conjunction with the old so long as we are in the body” (p. 113). That this furnishes out each Christ­ian with two conflicting natures does not appall him. He says, quite calm­ly: “The unregenerate have but one nature, while the regenerate have two” (p. 116). He does not seem to see that thus the man is not saved at all: a different, newly created, man is substituted for him. When the old man is got rid of―and that the old man has to be ultimately got rid of he does not doubt―the saved man that is left is not at all the old man that was to be saved, but a new man that has never needed any saving.

It is a temptation to a virtuoso in the interpreta­tion of Scripture to show his mettle on hard places and in startling places. Mr. Chafer has not been superior to this temptation. Take but one example. “All Christ­ian love,” he tells us (p. 40) “according to the Scrip­tures, is distinctly a manifestation of divine love through the human heart”―a quite un­justified asser­tion. But Mr. Chafer is ready with an illustra­tion. “A statement of this is found,” he de­clares, “at Rom. 5:5, ‘because the love of God is shed abroad (lit., gush­es forth) in our hearts by (pro­duced, or caused by) the Holy Spirit, which is given unto us.’“ Then he com­ments as follows: “This is not the working of human affection; it is rather the direct manifesta­tion of the ‘love of God’ passing through the heart of the believer out from the indwelling Spirit. It is the reali­zation of the last petition of the High Priestly prayer of our Lord: ‘That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them’ (John 17:26). It is simply God’s love work­ing in and through the believer. It could not be human­ly produced, or even imitated, and it of necessity goes out to the objects of divine af­fection and grace, ra­ther than to the objects of human desire. A human heart cannot produce divine love, but it can experience it. To have a heart that feels the compassion of God is to drink of the wine of heaven.” All this bizarre doctrine of the transference of God’s love, in the sense of His active power of lov­ing, to us, so that it works out from us again as new centres, is extracted from Paul’s simple statement that by the Holy Spirit which God has given us His love to us is made richly real to our apprehension! Among the par­en­thetical phi­lological comments which Mr. Chafer has inserted into his quotation of the text, it is a pity that he did not include one not­ing that “ekcheo” is not “eischeo,” and that Paul would no doubt have used “eischeo” had he meant to convey that idea.

A haunting ambiguity is thrust upon Mr. Chafer’s whole teaching by his hospitable entertainment of con­tradictory systems of thought. There is a passage near the beginning of his book, not well expressed it is true, but thoroughly sound in its fun­damental concep­tion, in which ex­pression is given to a primary prin­ciple of the Evangelical system, which, had validity been given to it, would have preserved Mr. Chafer from his regrettable dalliance with the Higher Life formu­las. “In the Bible,” he writes, “the divine offer and condition for the cure of sin in an unsaved person is crystallized in­to the one word ‘believe’; for the for­giveness of sin with the unsaved is only offered as an indivisible part of the whole divine work of sal­vation. The saving work of God in­cludes many mighty undertak­ings other than the forgiveness of sin, and sal­vation depends only upon believing. It is not possible to sep­arate some one issue from the whole work of His sav­ing grace, such as forgiveness, and claim this apart from the indivisible whole. It is, therefore, a grevi­ous error to direct an unsaved person to seek forgive­ness of his sins as a separate issue. A sinner minus his sins would not be a Christ­ian; for salvation is more than sub­traction, it is addition. ‘I give unto them eternal life.’ Thus the sin question with the unsaved will be cured as a part of, but never sepa­rate from, the whole divine work of salvation, and this sal­vation de­pends upon believing” (p. 62). If this pas­sage means anything, it means that salvation is a unit, and that he who is invited to Jesus Christ by faith re­ceives in Him not only just­ification―salva­tion from the penal­ty of sin―but also sancti­fication―salva­tion from the power of sin―both “safety” and “sanc­ti­ty.” These things cannot be sep­arated, and it is a grie­vous er­ror to teach that a true believer in Christ can stop short in “carnality,” and, though hav­ing the Spirit with him and in him, not have Him upon him―to use a not very lucid play upon prepositions in which Mr. Chafer in­dulges. In his attempt to teach this, Mr. Chafer is betrayed (p. 29) into drawing out a long list of char­acteristics of the two classes of Christians, in which he assigns to the lower class practically all the marks of the unregenerate man. Sal­vation is a process; as Mr. Chafer loyally teaches, the flesh continues in the regenerate man and strives against the Spirit―he is to be com­mended for pre­serving even to the Seventh Chapter of Romans its true reference―but the remain­ders of the flesh in the Christian do not con­stitute his characteristic. He is in the Spirit and is walk­ing, with however halting steps, by the Spirit; and it is to all Christians, not to some, that the great pro­mise is given, “Sin shall not have dominion over you,” and the great assurance is added, “Because ye are not under the law but under grace.” He who be­lieves in Jesus Christ is under grace, and his whole course, in its pro­cess and in its issue alike, is determined by grace, and therefore, having been predestined to be con­formed to the image of God’s Son, he is surely being con­formed to that image, God Himself seeing to it that he is not only called and justified but also glorified. You may find Christ­ians at every stage of this pro­cess, for it is a process through which all must pass; but you will find none who will not in God’s own good time and way pass through every stage of it. There are not two kinds of Chris­tians, although there are Christians at every conceiv­able stage of advancement towards the one goal to which all are bound and at which all shall ar­rive.

One thought on “Warfield’s Critique of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s He That Is Spiritual

  1. I felt in all fairness to Lewis Sperry Chafer his rebuttle to the review of his book by the great theologian the late Dr. B .B. Warfield should be placed here regardless if we believe he is right or wrong. That way there is no mistaken impression that Lewis Sperry Chafer did not answer Dr. Warfield.

    ” The Christian will always be filled while he is making the work of the Holy Spirit possible in his life ”

    In a review of the first edition of this book, which appeared in The Princeton Theological Review for April, 1919, the reviewer, Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield, D.D. , objects to this statement, and to all similar teachings in this book. This teaching, he points out, ” subjects the gracious working of God to human determination. ” Is this teaching Biblical ?

    The Scripture gives unquestionable emphasis to the sovereignity of God. God has perfectly determined what will be, and His determined purpose will be realized, for it is impossible that God should ever be either surprised or disappointed. So, also , there is equal emphasis in the Scriptures upon the fact that lying between these two undiminished aspects of His sovereignity- His eternal purpose and its perfect realization- He has permitted sufficient latitude for some exercise of the human will. In so doing, His determined ends are in no way jeopardized. There is difficulty here, but what, in Scripture, is difficult for the finite mind to harmonize, is doubtless harmonized in the mind of God.

    Though it is revealed that God must impart the moving, enabling grace whereby one may believe unto salvation ( John 6:44, cf. 12:32 ) , or whereby one may yield into spiritual life ( Philippians 2:13 ) , it is as clearly revealed that, within His sovereign purpose and power, God has everywhere conditioned both salvation and the spiritual life upon these human conditions. Both believing and yielding are presented as injuctions. The fact that ” No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him ” is invariably true, yet it is equally true that some resourcefulness of the human will, though it be divinely enabled, is appealed to by the words, ” Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. ” So, again : ” This is the will of God, even your sanctification, ” is a revelation which is invariably true; yet it is equally true that the believer’s will is appealed to when he is besought to ” yield himself unto God . ” One aspect of this truth without the other will lead, in the one case, to fatalism, wherein there is no room for petition in prayer, no motive for the wooing of God’s love, no ground for condemnation, no occasion for evangelistic appeal, and no meaning to much of Scripture: in the other case, it will lead to the dethroning of God. Though the will be moved upon by the enabling power of God, spirituality, according to God’s Word, is made to depend upon that divinely enabled choice; Romans 12:1,2 ; Galations 5:16; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19; 1 John 1:9 being sufficient evidence. Men are said to be ” condemned ” ” because they have not believed ” ( John 3:18 ) , and sin will reign in the Christian’s life unless appeal is heeded : ” Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body. ” To state that spirituality is made possible, on the human side, by well-defined human acts and attitudes may seem ” a quite terrible expression ” ( to quote the reviewer ) as viewed by an abitrary theological theory; however, it is evidently Biblical.

    The same reviwer objects to the teaching that there is any sudden change possible from the carnal state to the spiritual state. To quote: ” He who believes in Jesus is under grace, and his whole course, in its process and in its issue alike, is determined by grace, and therefore, having been predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, he is surely being conformed to that image, God Himself seeing to it that he not only called and justified but also glorified. You may find Christians at every stage of this process, for it is a process through which all must pass; but you will find none who will not in God’s own good time and way pass through every stage of it. There are not two kinds of Christians, although there are Christians at every conceivable stage of advancement towards the one goal to which all are bound and at which all shall arrive. ”

    Doubtless there are varying degrees of carnality as there are varying degrees of spirituality, but the positive denial of the statement that there are two well-defined classes of believers- ” carnal ” and ” spiritual ” – would be better supported by conclusive exposition of a large body of Scripture in which this two-fold classification of Christians seems to be taught.

    In this reviewer’s mind, the change from carnality to spirituality is evidently confused with Christian growth. Christian growth is undoubtedly a process of development under the determined purpose of God which will end, with the certainty of the Infinite, in a complete likeness to Christ; but spirituality is the present state of blessing and power of the believer who, at the same time, may be very immature. A Christian can and should be spiritual from the moment he is saved. Spirituality, which is the unhindered manifestations of the Spirit in life, is provided to the full for all believers who ” confess ” their sins, ” yield ” to God, and ” walk not after flesh, but after the Spirit. ” When these conditions are complied with, the results are immediate; for no process is indicated. Jacob, an Old Testament type, was completely changed in one night.

    Christian experience bears infailing testimony to two outstanding facts: ( 1 ) There is an abrupt change from carnal to the spiritual when the Biblical conditions are met. And ( 2 ) there is an abrupt lose of spiritual blessing whenever there has been yielding to sin. ( He That Is Spiritual A Classical Study Of The Biblical Doctrine Of Spiritualty by Lewis Sperry Chafer , pg. 67-68

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