Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Does Anyone Deserve Grace?

I think you already know the answer to that question. However, I've recently been discussing this with some friends, mostly in response to the Blaise Pascal quote I included in this post a few days ago. In the midst of some very good and helpful statements, Pascal makes an odd remark: ". . . as so many make themselves unworthy of His mercy . . ." The way this is worded appears to be self-contradictory. If anyone is worthy of mercy, can mercy be called mercy? How does one become worthy of it? How does one make himself unworthy of it? I'm under the impression that ALL are and always will be unworthy of God's mercy, by virtue of sin (no pun intended).

There are several possible explanations for this. The most obvious one is that Pascal wrote in French, so our translation may be flawed. Or perhaps it was a simple mistake on Pascal's part, an oversight. My favorite explanation is what we might call a "reverse Calvinist" argument - "Many" actually means "all" in this context. Perhaps you have a better explanation. From my reading of Pascal's writings, I am assured that he does know quite well what mercy is, and how undeserving of it we are. He's clear on the subject in other places.

Tony Hayling has recently posted a superb article titled "Deserving Grace," which I recommend as an excellent treatment of the topic. I'm not sure what Pascal meant by his phrase, or if I agree with it, but I'm certain of Hayling's words and know they are spot on. Here's the link:

Deserving Grace (Click to view article)

As a convenience, Tony has even recorded the article in an embedded MP3 player. Now that's service!

You can also find some extended Pascal quotes, including the one we are discussing, at this link:


  1. Hey, Derek. I doubt the excerpt is incorrectly translated. Here's my two cents worth.

    I would begin by saying that it's never necessary to say all there is to say about any given truth on any one occasion. I think you made that point well in your comment about the rich young ruler. As you pointed out in your comment, the impact of not saying everything is often profound.

    Second, I would say that Pascal's statement is true enough in its own right. Or to put it another way, what's untrue about the statement, as it stands? What was untrue about Jesus' words to the rich young ruler? I would say, in both cases, nothing.

    Third, I think the truth of Pascal's statement could be illustrated from Romans 1, where Paul describes the downward spiral of those who sin wilfully, and are consequently given over by God to a depraved mind.

    They suppressed the truth (v. 18)...
    "Therefore God gave them up..." (v. 24)
    "For this reason, God gave them up..." (v. 26)
    "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind..." (v. 28)

    Since they sinned so willfully and grievously, they deserved no mercy from God, but only abandonment by Him to their own debased mind. Is that substantially different from saying that "so many make themselves unworthy of His mercy" by their sin, and therefore deserve no mercy? I believe Pascal's point (brilliantly argued, in my opinion) is similar to Paul's.

    Having said all that, I understand the theological reasons for the objections; they just seem unnecessary to me.

    One final note. It's not insignificant that, always staunchly Calvinistic, has the same quote on their website, without offering any caveat or apology for it.

  2. Barry,

    This is an interesting line of thought. Rather than agreeing with one side or the other, I'll let your comment and Tony Hayling's previous comment stand - to some extent - in opposition to one another. I think you both make some worthy and notable points.

    To fully resolve the matter, we would probably need a complete, Biblical definition of mercy from both Hebrew and Greek perspectives, and also some background on Pascal's word for "mercy" as it was used in the French language a few hundred years ago. A French text of the Pensees and several English translations would also help us. Finally, the meaning of Pascal's word for "unworthy" might prove helpful.

    We are dealing with Blaise Pascal here. There's a good chance he was smarter than all three of us combined (no offense intended). He is regarded as one of the most brilliant philosophers in history. He even invented the hydraulic press, without which my field of work could not exist. So I feel somewhat indebted to him.

    Thanks for the comment. I always enjoy hearing from you.

    Grace & peace,

  3. I would say there's a 100% chance Pascal was smarter than the three of us combined!

  4. Ha ha, I can't argue with that. Of course, we all know intelligence does not guarantee adherence to truth (in fact, it's often a stumbling block), but acknowledging Pascal's brilliance does give us pause to consider that he may have been a few steps ahead of us in logic. I once heard someone say, "God only made a few geniuses because He has so little use for them." In Pascal's case, He made very good use.


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