It is an axiom in American culture that politics and religion are not to be discussed. These subjects are deemed too controversial, and only create division and strife. There are many antidotal testimonials to the validity of this axiom. However, the Christian is compelled to preach the gospel, and share the full counsel of God with others. Jesus said to His followers, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” (Matt. 28:19) Paul said, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27)
Any time the discussion of religion is broached, sooner or later, the subject of predestination is brought forth. The Biblical teaching on predestination alarms many, but it fascinates the mind, and stimulates thinking.
When the history of this subject is considered, it is discovered that every generation of Christians, and every great theologian has had to address the question, “Does God predetermine the fate of individuals so that they are saved, or damned?” Inquiring minds want to know. The answer forms a great divide in Christendom. On one side of the divide are those who believe that God does determine the salvation, or damnation of every soul. On the other side of the divide are those who exalt the will of man to the point that the individual determines their eternal destiny. No one is chosen by God until the person has first chosen God on the basis of their own free will.
No matter which side of the issue a person embraces, caution must be taken when arguing for a particular position in order not to distort the truth, or cause unnecessary hostility to the gospel. Predestination can be a difficult doctrine because of the many great issues that arise from it. Therefore, somber caution must be given to its study.
In addition, an extra measure of love and grace must be given to others when this doctrine is studied. Not everyone will come easily, or quickly, to the depths of divine revelation. And, for others, the doctrine will remain a great and fearful mystery.
Some of the anger, by those who reject the doctrine of predestination, stems from a desire to protect the integrity of God. They do not want God to be charged with being an arbitrary deity, or mean and unloving. Others reject the doctrine of predestination because they have not thought deeply about the matter. Their God is too small. Their God is reduced to the image of themselves as a parent. Since they would not love three of their children and hate the other two, neither will God. God is made after their image.
Because of the strong emotions associated with the subject of predestination, patience is needed during any discussion. Most importantly of all, when an appeal is made to Scripture, the text needs to be opened and read aloud, and together, with the surrounding context. So many points of argument allude to the Scriptures, which remain closed. No, the Bible must be opened. Chapter and verse must be appealed to, and properly exegeted for any point presented.
By way of introduction, there is no one doctrine of predestination. So many people have written about the topic, over so many centuries, that there is today a wide variety of positions which can be taken on this teaching. The various positions on predestination are reflected in the Confessions of Faith found in the different denominations.
An Ambivalent Position
2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Man’s Free Will is implied in Section 4, while God’s sovereignty is asserted in Section 5.
Section 4. On Salvation. Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.
Section 5. On Grace. Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility. All true believers endure to the end.
A Positive Affirmation
Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. Chapter 3. Of God’s Decree.
Paragraph 1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree.
Paragraph 2. Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath He not decreed anything, because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
Paragraph 3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of His glorious justice.
Paragraph 4. These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
Paragraph 5. Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving Him thereunto.
Paragraph 6. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so He hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto; wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
Paragraph 7. The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in His Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.
A Non-Denial Denial
The Arminian View.
John Wesley argued that predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge, not His will. Like It is argued that God corporately predestines all those who respond in faith to salvation, and by foreknowledge He knows who will respond. His foreknowledge does not cause their response.
Regulating predestination to God’s foreknowledge and not His decretive will, does not resolve the issue, for the question arises as to how God foreknows an event. Does God look down the corridors of time and come into knowledge? That is open theism, which means that God does not know all things, but must come into knowledge. The Bible says in Acts 15:18, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts 15:18) What is certain in the universe is what God foreordains will come to pass.
Nevertheless, the point is made. There are a variety of positions on the subject of predestination. What is most important to try and discern is the Biblical doctrine of predestination. The Bible clearly has something to say. A good place to begin is with Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: 2 Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,” (Eph. 1:1-5) “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” (Eph. 1:11-12)
The word predestination is a Biblical word, and so should not be reacted against, and yet it often is. One reason some speak against the doctrine of predestination is because of a theological bias, of which there are three general categories: Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Augustinianism.
In the fourth century, the church went through a tremendous struggle over various doctrinal issues. Defending the faith was St. Augustine. His chief opponent was a monk named Pelagius. One of their debates centered on how much of the grace of God was needed for salvation. Pelagius was of the opinion that no grace was needed. Man was totally free, in and of himself, to either receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, or, to reject Him totally. The grace of God might assist a person to be saved, but it is in no way necessary. Man, in his natural state, has the capacity to keep the commandments of God to such a degree to be redeemed without any divine help.
When the Scriptures are opened, and a philosophical construct is set aside, it seems that Pelagius is obviously wrong. Man cannot be justified by good works, such as keeping the Law. “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Gal. 2:16)
Nevertheless, Pelagius was confident that God would not give men any commandment that could not be obeyed. To do so would be unjust and unfair. It would make a mockery of man’s humanity and a travesty of divine justice. By insisting on the innate goodness of man, Pelagianism has given to the world Pessimism, Liberalism, Anti-nominalism, and Nihilism, for time has proven that man cannot help himself apart from redeeming grace. Pelagianism was an early form of what the modern world now knows as Humanism.
In contrast, Augustine stressed the absolute dependence of the Fallen sinner on the grace of God for the soul’s salvation. Scripturally, Augustine was on solid ground. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10) Pelagianism was viewed by Augustine, not simply as a nuance of Christian thought, but as an abdication of Christian thought. Pelagius was viewed as a heretic, referring to a person in extreme error.
When the Reformation began, a form of Semi-Pelagianism emerged in the person of Jacobus Arminius. Arminius, like Pelagius, believed in the free will of man, but unlike Pelagius, Arminius agreed that God’s grace is needed if a soul is ever to be saved. However, core to the belief of Arminius was that man could, of his own free will, believe in Jesus Christ as personal Saviour, or reject Him, therefore making salvation, in its final form, a work of man’s free will.
This position is embraced by most of Christendom today. Generally speaking, Catholics, and the majority of Protestants, unite to affirm their belief in the free will of man, while given token acknowledgment to some form of God’s grace. However, salvation is based upon man’s decision. When the gospel is preached it is the hour of decision. Man must do something in order to be saved. Man must co-operate with, and assent to that grace of God, before God will save him. The determining factor in salvation is man, not God. Semi-Pelagianism, and thus Arminianism, affirms that while a person cannot be saved apart from grace, in the final analysis, it is up to man to either co-operate with God, or reject God’s grace. That becomes the determination of man’s salvation.
Opposed to Arminius, and therefore to Semi-Pelagianism, was John Calvin who embraced the Augustinian position that man was so seriously flawed in the Fall that he lost his free will, and became enslaved to the law of sin and death. In his natural state, man has no ability to seek after God, let alone save himself. Man needs a saviour, and that saviour is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Calvinism, which is simply Augustinianism, insists that man is totally dependent upon the grace of God, even in his initial response to the gospel. This utter dependence upon God and God’s grace is rooted in the fact that the Bible portrays the natural man as being deaf, blind, and dead.
Blind men do not see the light of the glorious gospel. Deaf men cannot hear the gracious gospel invitation. And dead men have no appetite for the Manna from heaven, or the ability to seek after God. Man cannot co-operate with God, for dead men do not move. Man must be regenerated, or given life, in grace, by the Holy Spirit, which is why the Scriptures state, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;” (Eph. 2:1)
Any discussion of predestination must take into consideration the natural state of the sinner in the sight of God. In order to understand predestination, a person must decide if they embrace Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, or Augustinism.
Christian leaders, who have been greatly used of God, have embraced both sides of this issue.
Erasmus St. Thomas Aquinas
Jacobus Arminius Francis Shaffer
John Wesley Martin Luther
Charles Finney John Calvin
These are important names in Church history. In modern times, Billy Graham would be a prime example for the Semi-Pelagian position, while Charles Spurgeon and R. C. Sproul were devout advocate of Augustinianism. The greatest American theologian, Jonathan Edwards was also an Augustinian.
Because the greatest theologians in Church history have embraced Augustinism, out of respect for them, if nothing else, a closer look should be taken at the doctrine of predestination. The word predestination is made up of a prefix, and a root. The prefix means, before. The root refers to a destination, or the place to which a person is going.
The doctrine of predestination proper addresses the question of a person’s ultimate destination, heaven, or hell. Is a person to be in a state of salvation, or a state of damnation? When was this final destiny determined? By whom? To what degree is God involved in the ultimate outcome of our lives?
Ironically, both Semi-Pelagians and Augustinians agree that predestination is something that God does for predestination have to do with God’s choice. Both also agree that God’s makes that choice before we are born, and even before the foundation of the world. The critical question to address is this. “On what basis does God choose to save anyone before the foundation of the world?” Is God’s choice based upon foreknowledge, whereby He looks down the corridors of time and sees which way a person’s volition will go, positively, or negatively? Or, Is God’s choice based upon God’s sovereignty, and the good pleasure of His will, regardless of man’s choice? That is the question to be answered from Scripture.