Friday, August 28, 2009

He Performs What Is Appointed For Me: Some Thoughts on Predestination

Jeremy Andress, 2009

Upon crossing paths with the ninth chapter of Romans, a Bible study group decided to just skip ahead to the less controversial more “practical” chapters -- leaving behind “He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” I have a few thoughts on this matter I wish to convey to my fellow Christians. It is not my intention that this article be an exhaustive defense of the doctrine of predestination; for throughout the two millennia of Christian church history there are ample books by competent churchmen that have successfully defended the doctrine. Nor am I writing a new and enlightened explanation of the doctrine. This will be apparent as you continue. It is my prayer that Christians are encouraged to examine the doctrine, and instead of bypassing this difficult and important subject they come to an understanding of predestination grounded firmly in Scripture. This will only result from the intimate study of the Word of God. Essential doctrines, wrote B. B. Warfield, “stand at the root of the Christian life . . . [it is] the duty as well as the right of the Christian man to study them, to seek to understand them in themselves and in their relations, to attempt to state them with accuracy and to adjust their statement with the whole body of known truth” (Warfield 24). Pray with the psalmist:

Make me know Your ways, O LORD;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation.
-- Psalm 25:4, 5

We are not only directed to study the Scriptures, but also to defend the faith. Whether you’re dealing with the infallibility of Scripture, the Trinity, original sin, the virgin birth, the divinity of Christ, the nature or extent of the atonement, the resurrection, the sacraments, etc, know that all Christian doctrines are controversial. If we stand firm on the fundamental doctrines of our faith we will be in the midst of controversy. Should we stand firm? J. Gresham Machen wrote: “The type of religion which . . . shrinks from ‘controversial’ matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight” (Machen 1-2). Upon the text of 1 Thess.5:21, J. C. Ryle wrote that each Christian “must do their part in contending for the truth. Each should work, and each should pray, and each should labour as if the preservation of the pure Gospel depended upon himself or herself and upon no one else at all. . . . If we would hold fast that which is good, we must not tolerate or countenance any doctrine that is not the pure doctrine of Christ’s Gospel. . . . . There is an intolerance which is downright praiseworthy: that is the intolerance of false teaching in the pulpit” (Ryle). True love for God, wrote Thomas Watson, “infuses a spirit of gallantry and fortitude into a Christian. He that loves God will stand up in His cause, and be an advocate for Him” (Watson 57). I encourage you not to avoid those doctrinal subjects that are difficult to understand or controversial. Instead, stand firm upon the Rock of our Salvation. Stand vigilantly and hold fast “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, is an underpinning and primary doctrine of the Protestant Reformation. It is a fundamental of our faith. William Ames wrote in 1623: “All things necessary to salvation are contained in the Scriptures and also those things necessary for the instruction and edification of the church . . . Therefore, Scripture is not a partial but a perfect rule of faith and morals. And no observance can be continually and everywhere necessary in the church of God, on the basis of any tradition or other authority, unless it is contained in the Scriptures” (Ames 187). In addition to Scripture being the only guide to our Christian life, each and every Scripture is inspired by God and has been given to us for our instruction in doctrine and practice: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

It is our responsibility and privilege to understand what has been revealed in Scripture. However, there are secrets or mysteries which God has not unveiled to us: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us” (Deut. 29:29). Undoubtedly, there are aspects of predestination that are reserved within the mind of God alone. But does Scripture reveal something of predestination? Certainly, numerous Scriptures speak of God, for His own glorious purpose, choosing (or electing) specific people to everlasting life before the world was even created: “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16); “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44); “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9); “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13); God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9); “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48); “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love: He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the kind intention of His will . . . we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:4-12); “And we know that God causes all things to work for good for those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. . . these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and those whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30). And of course there’s Romans 9:11-24:

“[T]hough the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to his choice would stand, not because of works but of Him who calls . . . Just as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. . . . . I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. . . . So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this’, will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”

Therefore, based upon the Word of God, election is defined as “the eternal and unchangeable decree of God, by which he has graciously decreed to convert some to Christ, to preserve them in faith, and repentance, and through him to bestow upon them eternal life” (Ursinus 297).

While unswervingly declaring and thankfully accepting what has been revealed to us about predestination, we must nevertheless be cautious that we don’t inquire beyond what has been revealed in Scripture: “The preaching of election,” wrote Cornelis P. Venema, “must be carefully disciplined by the Word of God, declaring neither more nor less than God has been pleased to reveal to us . . . . we are not to pry ‘inquisitively’ into the subject of election beyond the limits of Scriptural revelation” (Venema 30-31). Upon this caution John Calvin explains further:

“The subject of predestination, which in itself is attended with considerable difficulty, is rendered very perplexed, and hence perilous by human curiosity . . . when they inquire into predestination, let them remember that they are penetrating into the recesses of the divine wisdom . . . For it is not right that man should with impunity pry into things which the Lord has been pleased to conceal within himself . . . Those secrets of his will, which he has seen meet to manifest, are revealed in his word -- revealed insofar as he knew to be conductive to our interest and welfare . . . Let it, therefore, be our first principle that to desire any other knowledge of predestination than that which is expounded by the word of God, is no less infatuated than to walk where there is no path, or to seek light in darkness. . . . There are others who, when they would cure this disease, recommend that the subject of predestination should scarcely if ever be mentioned . . . in order to keep the legitimate course in this matter, we must return to the word of God, in which we are furnished with the right rule of understanding. For Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which nothing useful and necessary to be known has been omitted, so nothing is taught but what it is of importance to know. Everything, therefore, delivered in Scripture on the subject of predestination, we must beware of keeping from the faithful . . . allow the Christian to unlock his mind and ears to all the words of God which are addressed to him, provided he do it with this moderation, i.e., that whenever the Lord shuts his sacred mouth, he also desists from inquiry. . . . This is clearly expressed by Moses in a few words, ‘The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever’ (Deut. 29:29) . . . I wish it to be received as a general rule, that the secret things of God are not to be scrutinized, and those which he has revealed are not to be overlooked, lest we may on the one hand, be chargeable to curiosity, and, on the other with ingratitude” (Calvin 607 – 609).

Nothing taught in Scripture is unnecessary to our growth in Christ. But what is the practical value of the doctrine of predestination? To answer this it must first be established that doctrine and practice are inextricable. “[D]octrine is the very base of the practical life,” wrote Arthur W. Pink, “There is an inseparable connection between belief and practice. . . The relation between Divine truth and Christian character is that of cause to effect” (Pink 261). Machen wrote that “the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life . . . but a way of life founded upon a message. . . . In other words it was based upon doctrine. . . . Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first” (Machen 21, 23). “The assertion often heard in our day, that Christianity is not a doctrine but a life, may have a rather pious sound . . . but is after all a dangerous falsehood” wrote Louis Berkhof. He continues: “Participation in the life of Christianity is everywhere in the New Testament made conditional on faith in Christ as He has revealed Himself, and this naturally includes knowledge of the redemptive facts recorded in Scripture. Christians must have a proper understanding of the significance of these facts. . . .They who minimize the significance of the truth, and therefore ignore and neglect it, will finally come to the discovery that they have very little Christianity left” (Berkhof 28-29). What about predestination? What is its value as a doctrine? I return to the words of A. W. Pink:

“The doctrine of God’s sovereignty [which includes predestination] then is no mere metaphysical dogma which is devoid of practical value, but is one that is calculated to produce a powerful effect upon Christian character and the daily walk. . . . [It] is a Divine cordial to refresh our spirits. It is designed and adapted to mould the affections of the heart and to give a right direction to conduct. It produces gratitude in prosperity and patience in adversity. It affords comfort for the present and a sense of security respecting the unknown future. . . . it ascribes to God . . .the glory which is His due, and places the creature in his proper place before Him – in the dust” (Pink 263-264).

The doctrine of predestination, wrote R. L. Dabney “exalts God, his power, his sovereign, unbought love and mercy. . . [It] humbles man in the dust. . . while it lays man’s pride low, [it] gives him an anchor of hope, sure and steadfast, drawing him to heaven; for his hope is founded not in the weakness, folly, and fickleness of his human will, but in the eternal love, wisdom, and power of almighty God” (Dabney 79-80 ). Our salvation is secure. Charles Hodge wrote, “the plan of God cannot fail; those whom He has called into this state of reconciliation . . . He will certainly bring to the glory He has prepared for his people” (Hodge 257). Let us draw comfort and assurance from knowing that we have “been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” Let us boldly declare with Job the absolute sovereignty of God: “what His soul desires, that He does. For He performs what is appointed for me” (Job 23:13, 14).

Sola Dei Gloria.
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