"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « A Caveat Against Unsound Doctrines - Excerpt | Main | Urgent Morse Code Message »


    There is no doubt that Dr. R.C. Sproul is a highly trained theologian. One of the many things I appreciate about him is his ability to simplify issues without distorting them. Very few people are able to accomplish this as well as he does.

    If you have ever been to a Ligonier Ministries Conference, you will know that one of the highlights is when Dr. R. C. Sproul (either alone or with an expert panel alongside him) has a Question and Answer session. Usually the questions relate to the theme of the Conference and the answers given are often extremely helpful and insightful.

    In a recent CD release called "Ask R.C." (from Ligonier Ministries), Dr. R. C. Sproul fielded questions and provided answers on a wide range of biblical and theological issues. One of the questions concerned the doctrine of purgatory and I have transcribed the verbal interchange below. - JS

    Questioner: Could you explain the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory and whether or not it is a truthful doctrine?

    R.C. - Thank you for that. I will try to deal with that as briefly as I can and I want to be accurate with it. The doctrine of purgatory is an integral doctrine to the Roman Catholic understanding of redemption has been modified just in the last year or so with respect to infants but purgatory is defined by Rome as a purging place. It is a place where the vast majority of even professing Christians go upon their death. As recently as the Roman Catholic Catechism, the Church declares that if a person dies with any spot or blemish or stain on their soul – any impurity – instead of going directly to heaven they must first go to this place of purging which is this intermediate state between earth and heaven. And in purgatory, which is not hell, it is not a place of the punitive wrath of God, but it is a place for the corrective wrath of God (as it were), where the sanctifying process is continued through the crucible of fire (as it were).

    Now in purgatory, as I said, the vast majority of people experience this time; they may be there for two weeks or they may be there for two hundred million years – in fact at the heart of the controversy in the 16th century Reformation had to do with the sale of indulgences, and on the external situation there, particularly in Germany when Tetzel was selling the indulgences to the peasants, he distorted seriously the Roman doctrine. The Roman Catholic Church has held for many, many centuries that the grace of justification is infused into a person at baptism, and that that grace of justification remains intact until or unless a person commits a mortal sin. That mortal sin is called mortal because it is so serious that it destroys the justifying grace in the soul. And so a person who commits mortal sin, in other words, has to be re-justified, brought anew into a state of grace. In the 16th century, the Council of Trent declared that the sacrament of penance is the second plank of justification for those who have made shipwreck of their souls.

    That is why today in the Roman Catholic Church if a communicate member of the Church commits a mortal sin (and there are many of those as defined by the Church) they are required to come to confession because confession is an integral part of the sacrament of penance. They are not required to be baptized again, but in order to be restored to a state of grace they have to go through this second plank, which is the sacrament of penance, and there are several aspects to that sacrament, the final aspect being the making of works of satisfaction. Those works of satisfaction may include alms giving. And so the Church said in the 16th Century, when they were trying to build St. Peter’s Basilica there in Rome, that if people out of a true heart and a true penitent spirit donated to the Church (gave alms to the Church) that would get for them indulgences. And again, that is what was being distorted by this local peddler who was trying to sell salvation and was saying “you want to get your parents or grand parents out of purgatory, let me give you a ticket for that, you put your coins in the kettle.. as often as a coin in the coffer rings a soul from purgatory springs.”

    Again that was a distortion, but what was not a distortion was that the Roman Catholic Church then and now still has the concept of indulgences, where the Church which has the power of the keys, has the power to shorted a person’s sentence or duration in purgatory and getting them into heaven sooner.

    Again, if you’ve been to Rome, if you’ve been to the Lateran Church there where the sacred stairs are there, besides that staircase there is a bulletin on the wall that tells you exactly how many indulgences you can gain today by going up that set of stairs on your knees and reciting the our Father, the hail Mary, and so on. So that the doctrine of purgatory is still integral to the Catholic Church, even though the doctrine of limbo with respect to infants who die without baptism has been modified recently.

    Now, the question of the biblical basis of it, that is also been a matter of serious dispute. One of the most important texts that the Roman Catholic Church appeals to, I believe is in one of the books of the Maccabees, where it talks about praying for the dead, and yet in the canonical Scriptures that we recognize (as Protestants), we do not see prayers for the dead advocated. You have that somewhat cryptic statement about baptisms for the dead that Paul speaks of to the Corinthians that the Mormons practice, but apart from that there’s really not much of a biblical foundation for purgatory. We are told that it is appointed for man to die once and then the judgment. The Protestants view is that there is no intermediate state whereby somebody can improve their condition after this life. If they are not ready to go to heaven now they won’t ever be. Again the whole difference between the doctrine of justification is that the Protestant view which was recovered by Luther is that the moment a person puts their trust (true faith) in Jesus Christ, at that moment they have passed from death to life and their passing into heaven is a matter of certainty. They still go through the whole process of sanctification in this world, but when they die they will receive the benefits of the justification that they experience the moment they put their trust in Christ. Those who are justified (right now) have peace with God and access into His presence.

    And so that point of purgatory is a cardinal point of tension (I don’t mean any pun there) – a serious point of tension historic Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church.

    Posted by John Samson on January 13, 2011 10:49 PM


    What is the Protestant belief as to what happens to a baby or young child who dies and has not had the opportunity to hear the Word and believe in Jesus Christ?
    Thank you.

    I think most believe that babies go straight to heaven.

    Some Protestant believe that there is an age of accountability and after this age the child has to believe on his own.

    But according to Unconditional Election and Particular Redemption the baby or young child gets no special treatment and some will end up in heaven and some will end up in hell.

    One more thing,

    Another view is that in order to be saved in accordance with Rom 10:9-10 you need to hear the gospel if not you are lost and without hope, since the babies or young children have not heard the gospel they all will end up in hell.

    I also think that according to your sensibilities or church traditions you will believe one of these views but the bible doesn't say one way or another on the condition of the baby or young child's soul if they have never heard the gospel.

    What of miscarriages or, by congenital defect, the fetus is not viable?

    To me, this is the fundamental problem with the doctrine of original sin. If God is utmostly just, then God would be reticent to have not included within the Bible some consolation, or even a painful answer, to what happens to the unborn who aren't viable. This also begs the question of when is a soul imparted into a human.


    Really? You sit as Judge over God, putting Him in the dock, demanding that He answers your questions?

    He has revealed many things, but indeed there are some things that He has not revealed (Deut 29:29). However, He has revealed enough for us to trust Him in matters which are His secrets. As Abraham said, "shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Certainly He will.

    You deny original sin (something God has made clear in Scripture) because God has not answered all your queries.

    My advice.. when the true Judge comes to take His place in the courtroom, dont be found sitting in His chair.


    I don't purport to "sit as Judge over God," nor do "[put] Him in the dock." It is quite the contrary. I "sit as Judge" over this debate. It doesn't take a theology degree to enter into this discourse, nor does it take belief. My question remains completely unanswered, and for that bit of sleight of hand I would commend you (aside from how blatant it was). Would you or anyone else like to answer the only question that I formally posed? For reiteration, I'll copypasta: "What of miscarriages or, by congenital defect, the fetus is not viable?"

    Thanks in advance.


    I am not sure of any real debate on the matter of original sin in that I am not aware of Bible believers who deny it as it is a concept clearly found in Scripture. Obviously you deny original sin, but exactly why you do so I dont know, other than the fact that it seems God owes you an explanation and you believe you cannnot embrace it while questions remain.

    My point is that God has made certain things clear, such as the concept of original sin (Romans 5) and who are you to deny it because you have unanswered questions?

    To be honest, I am not even sure I understand your question. If in fact, life begins at conception, every personality (even in miscarriages and every other case)belongs to God and is in the hands of God, and He will be just in all judgments made on the matter.

    Do you deny this? If so, why?

    If not, why then deny original sin?

    Thanks for the continued delay of an answer, John. I'll give you the courtesy of an answer, though, along with a detailed explanation of my original question.

    I can believe or deny anything I wish simply because I have free will. I'm nobody in particular, but I am fairly certain that I do have either a free will or a very close approximation, which allows me to perform the aforementioned act.

    On to my question. I am referring to miscarriages (which occur when the pregnant female's body rejects the embryo, attacking it, and ejects it from the mother's body) and fetuses that are not viable (medical terminology for "they have no ability to live"). The question proper references these two cases and implicitly asks, where do these critters go to: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, otherwise, or do they simply cease to exist. Alles klar?


    There has been no delay. I have answered your question, just not according to your satisfaction. The answer is GOD WILL BE JUST.

    In that God has not deemed it necessary to specifically answer this question in Scripture, I leave the whole matter in His capable hands. That is the Bible answer. Silence on the matter is an answer. Just as He never revealed to Job the reasons for his trials, God has deemed it unnecessary to answer this question for us. I think this is a test of our hearts to see if we will believe what He HAS revealed, or attempt to put God in the dock for not revealing the answer, which as I say, I believe you are doing, despite your denials.

    Again I ask, do you deny that God will be just in the matter? If so, why?

    If not, why then deny original sin?

    I see. But why can't the test of our belief lies not in when embryos, fetuses, or babies die, and not when we ourselves die? It's sort of high-stakes, but definitely a test?

    The matter about God being just, is simply that: the definition of just. Surely we, as humans, only attempt to approximate God's perfect justice (and indeed we have worked hard to do so). And when we will put to death someone who was mentally handicapped (severely), and was completely unable to realize the fact that he was committing murder, what, exactly, is justice?


    God will be just and be seen to be so, for everything He does proceeds from His holy and just character, and this is our great consolation as Christians.

    "The secret things belong to the Lord our God and the things He has revealed belong to us and to our children forever..." Deut. 29:29.

    God holds each of us accountable to believe the things He has revealed and to trust Him on matters He has not. My confidence and comfort in all of life, death and all such questions is this - God's word is true in all it states and God has revealed more than enough for me to feel I can trust Him over things He has chosen not to reveal.

    He is God, I am not. He is always just and true. God will never be unjust. The Judge of all the earth will do right.

    I agree with Mohler (except in his very Baptist opinion on baptism).

    Hello, all!

    I think one area of the post that I would call to question would be to take one step back from the concept of purgatory and to ask if it is biblical to pray for the dead. Before beginning to discuss whether or not purgatory is biblical, one would have to ask if praying for the dead is biblical. As far as I know, nearly all denominations of the Protestant branch of Christianity don't feel it neccessary or biblical to do so.

    Two related passages from which it can be strongly suggested is 2 Tim. 1:16-18 and 2 Tim 4:19.

    2 Timothy 1:16-18 (RSV) May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiph'orus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, [17] but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me -- [18] may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day -- and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.


    2 Timothy 4:19 Greet Prisca and Aq'uila, and the household of Onesiph'orus.

    The question that I have to ask here is "Is Onesiphorus dead or alive?"

    In the comments section of the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible the author notes "some commentators ifer that Onesiphorus died before 2 Timothy was written, since (1) Paul does not indicate that Onesiphorus is with him any longer; (2) he prays that the Lord will grant him mercy at the final Judgement (1:18); and (3) he asks Timothy to greet the household of Onesiphorus, but not Onesiphorus himself (4:19). If, in fact, Onesiphorus had died before Paul wrote this letter, then the apostle's prayer in 1:18 would be an early example of the Christian practice of praying for the dead."

    Marcus Dods (1834-1909: Free Church of Scotland) provides several reasons of plausibility that this was indeed a prayer for a dead man:

    Certainly the balance of probability is decidedly in favour of the view that Onesiphorus was already dead when Paul wrote these words. There is not only the fact that he here speaks of “the house of Onesiphorus” in connection with the present, and of Onesiphorus himself only in connection with the past: there is also the still more marked fact that in the final salutations, while greetings are sent to Prisca and Aquila, and from Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, yet it is once more “the house of Onesiphorus” and not Onesiphorus himself who is saluted. This language is thoroughly intelligible, if Onesiphorus was no longer alive, but had a wife and children who were still living at Ephesus, but it is not easy to explain this reference in two places to the household of Onesiphorus, if he himself was still alive. In all the other cases the individual and not the household is mentioned. . . .

    There is also the character of the Apostle’s prayer. Why does he confine his desires respecting the requital of Onesiphorus’ kindness to the day of judgment? Why does he not also pray that he may be requited in this life? . . . This again is thoroughly intelligible, if Onesiphorus is already dead. It is much less intelligible if he is still alive. It seems, therefore, to be scarcely too much to say that there is no serious reason for questioning the now widely accepted view that at the time when St. Paul wrote these words Onesiphorus was among the departed.

    With regard to the second point there seems to be equal absence of serious reasons for doubting that the words in question constitute a prayer. . . . we have a prayer that the Judge at the last day will remember those good deeds of Onesiphorus, which the Apostle has been unable to repay, and will place them to his account. Paul cannot requite them, but he prays that God will do so by showing mercy upon him at the last day.

    (Marcus Dods, Robert Alexander Watson, Frederic William Farrar, An Exposition on the Bible: a series of expositions covering all the books of the Old and New Testament, Volume 6 [Hartford, Conn.: S.S. Scranton Co., 1903, p. 464)

    Dods (or whoever wrote this particular section) goes on to say there are different kinds of prayer for the dead, and that the passage doesn’t necessarily sanction all of them, but his essential point is in agreement with the way I have argued this. He says (p. 465):

    This passage may be quoted as reasonable evidence that the death of a person does not extinguish our right or duty to pray for him . . . but this passage proves no more than that some kinds of intercession for the dead are allowable . . .

    I think in asking ourselves whether this is an example of an apostle praying for the dead, we can better evaluate whether there is a biblical foundation on which the doctrine of purgatory is real. Without this question as a foundation, the whole doctrine may be abandoned entirely, but with it answered in the affirmative we would have to ask ourselves what further conclusions this may lead to.

    Sorry about the length of the post. Thank you for your timing in reading it, and I look forward to hearing what you have to say about it.

    Calvinists believe God has already picked some for heaven others for hell before they were born. So being a baby means nothing to a Calvinist. Matter of fact having children as a Calvinist means you helped put people in hell. Glad to not be a Calvinist!


    If you are not a Calvinist, perhaps you are an Arminian. If so, you have the same "problem" as despite all the "wooing" and "drawing" attempts of God, He still knows (because He knows the future) that all attempts will fail for some, and they will inevitably end up in hell. The other alternative is a heresy known as "open theism" which tries to get round the issue of people being predestined to hell by denying God's exhaustive foreknowledge altogether.

    All Bible believing Christians would affirm that God knows the end from the beginning and therefore has exhaustive knowledge of the future. Therefore, He creates people whom He knows will end up in hell. There is no way to avoid this conclusion.


    It has been six plus years since your post, so maybe you're not around to even read this, but I post this to at least show my appreciation of your post.

    I was just googling around for commentary on 2 Tim 1:18, a passage R.C. Sproul himself may have overlooked according to the original article so generously offered by John. Thank you, John.

    As I grow in my relationship with God one thing I keep working on is not putting him in a box and telling others how I think he should institute his justice. In other words, if this teaching on Purgatory is true--and it looks like it can be now that you add 2 Tim 4:19 into the mix--then this is something we should consider wrestling with for the sake of just souls who died by the grace of the blood of the cross, but for whatever reason may still need a final purification before full entrance into Heaven.

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