Puritan Gems

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Election and the Myth of Contingent Predestination

"The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!" (Psalm 33:10-12)

"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (Romans 8:29-30)

Predestined and Foreknowledge Correctly Defined

Men will seemingly do anything in order to maintain their liberty; apparently even invent flaws in the Sovereignty of God if necessary. It is common place for Arminians and Pelagians to jump on the word "foreknew" in Romans 8:29, and use it to redefine the word "predestine". They tell us that God's predestination, per this passage, is contingent upon His 'foreknowing' man's choice". Such nonsense requires that,

First, Predestination be redefined. The term Predestined (proorizō προορίζω) is defined as "to limit in advance, that is, predetermine: - determine before, ordain. We are told by those who oppose us that God's predestination is contingent upon man's actions. This, by definition, is not predestination. The terms "predestination" and "contingency" are opposites. Events in history that are "contingent" are not "predestined". "Contingent Predestination" can no more exist than "cold heat" or "dry moisture"."

Second, God's omniscience be denied. God must first learn what choices His creation will make before He decrees anything. Thus God, getting wiser with time, is able to make better decisions based on this newfound knowledge. This can only work one of two ways. Either God "predestines" based on a foreknowledge of some inherent goodness in man that He was previously ignorant of, or else He "predestines" based on some accidental goodness that He was not the author of.

Third, God's omnipotence be denied. Rather than do whatever pleases Him (Psalm 115:3), God is subject to the actions of His own creation, actions that haven't even happened yet. In this case, God "predestines" events that He "foreknew" would happen anyway. Thus, in the end, God really predestines nothing, making His determinate counsel nothing more than a hopeful wish.

Now in case of the term "foreknowledge", it is ALWAYS used in Scripture to refer to persons, never their actions. In Romans 8:29, it is WHOM He foreknew, not what. In Acts 2:23, God's foreknowledge is used in conjunction with His "determinate counsel". The only other occurrences of "foreknowledge" are Romans 11:2 and 1 Peter 1:2, and in both cases, it refers to people, not their foreseen actions. Of course, God does foresee and foreknow our actions, because He predestines and works in them. There in nothing in Scripture that suggests that God predestines based on the foreknowledge of our actions. This is a doctrine built on theological desperation, not sound exegesis. (See August’s blog “Whom He foreknew”).

We need to define our Scriptural words with Scripture, not with Webster's Dictionary. In Scripture, the term "knowledge" is used as a way to express an intimate love or favorable regard. Three times in Genesis 4, we see that a man "knew" his wife, causing her to conceive and bare a son (Genesis 4:1, Genesis 4:17, Genesis 4:25). Surely the term "know" means more than "to be informed about". God told Israel that "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2). Did God not know about other families? Again, "If any man love God, the same is known of Him" (1 Corinthians 8:3). Of course, God knows those who do not love Him as well. When Jesus says to the wicked on the Day of Judgment, "Depart from Me, I never knew you..." (Matthew 7:23), He isn't telling them that He doesn't know who they are, or that He doesn't know anything about them. He is saying to them, "I never loved you with any redeeming love. You are not my sheep, and you shall not be mine. Therefore, depart from me, you who practice lawlessness".

Unconditional Election

Throughout Scripture, we see that God's predestination and election work independent of man's choices, ie. Unconditional Election. In Romans 9:11, God chose Jacob over Esau when "the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand". Ephesians 1:4 says that "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him", not because he foreknew that we would be holy and blameless. Ephesians 1:5 and Ephesians 1:11 agree that we were "predestined... according to the purpose of his will". In 2 Timothy 1:9, He "saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us through Christ Jesus before the world was". The first observation here is that we were saved, not according to our works (or wills), but according to His own purpose and grace". The second observation is that "grace was given us through Christ Jesus before the world was". Therefore, the grace that we have is not the result of foreseen faith, but according to His own purpose before the world was." 2 Thessalonians 2:13 tells us that "God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth". "Belief of the truth" is part of what God chose for us from the beginning. Nothing pertaining to our salvation can be credited to us, "for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). Despite the textual criticism in this passage, "faith" cannot be separated from this "gift of God", and made to stand on it's own. If faith were "of ourselves", then grace would not be a gift, but rather a reward for our faith.

Besides, those who reject faith as being a gift from God have no explanation for where faith comes from. Why is it that "not all have faith" (2 Thessalonians 3:2)? If it be attributed to "free will", and we grant that all men have the same "free will", then either 1.) All men would have the same faith, or 2.) Those who were able to obtain faith of their own resources have some inherent quality (wisdom, righteousness, etc.) in them that faithless men do not have. The first case, as 2 Thessalonians 3:2 points out, is unscriptural, as well as refuted by common observation. In the second case, since wisdom (James 1:5; James 3:17) and righteousness (Romans 5:17; Romans 10:3) are themselves gifts from God, we are right back where we started, with Unconditional election. According to Isaiah 43:10, we are chosen that we may believe, not on any condition that we do believe, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake." (Philippians 1:29).

It has been suggested by some that the phrase "in Him" in Ephesians 1:4 refers to the position of believers who exercise their "free-will" prior to being chosen, rather then the result of being chosen. This holds no water, for we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, long before we had any will whatsoever. Jesus was very clear that no one could come to Him unless it was granted to him by the Father (John 6:65). Therefore, in order to be "in Him", we must first have it granted to us "by Him", for "of him are ye in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Election or Ratification?

There are clear definitions to words in Scripture. The Arminians, Pelagians, Open Theists, and the like are stuck with the task of having to redefine words in order to make their theology work, such as "predestined", as I showed above. Another word that must be redefined is "election" (eklogē εκλογή). It is defined as "(divine) selection (abstractly or concretely): - chosen, election." It is no coincidence that the saints in Scripture are referred to as the "elect" of God (Matthew 24:22, Matthew 24:24, Matthew 24:31, Romans 8:33). Furthermore, it is written that this election is independent of man's choices, and is accomplished so "that the purpose of God according to election might stand" (Romans 9:11). Election means what it says, that God "elects" (chooses) the brethren beloved of God (1 Thessalonians 1:4). Those who oppose the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace will say that election, like predestination, is based on a "foreknowledge" of faith. This, by definition, is not election, but more akin to ratification. In this view, salvation falls into the frail hands of man, and if certain people make the correct decision, God comes along and puts His stamp of approval (ratifies) their choice. However, according to Scripture, "...many are called, but few chosen." (Matthew 22:14). Salvation is God's choice, for "God chooses his own heritage" (Psalm 33:12). As a result, "as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). He foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified His elect (Romans 8:28-30). God did not appoint His elect to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9). He chose His elect in Him before the foundation of the world, predestined them to adoption as sons, according to the good pleasure of His will (Ephesians 1:4-5). We were predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). He 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 given to us in Christ Jesus before time began (2 Timothy 1:9). God does not leave the "choice" of salvation to man, but "God from the beginning chose us for salvation" (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). In the end, those who are with Him are "called, chosen, and faithful" (Revelations 17:14). (By the way, the greek word for "church" [ekklēsia εκκλησία] literally means "the called out ones".)

Pharaoh vs. Paul

“For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.” (Romans 9:17-18)

"And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus: for behold, he prayeth; and he hath seen a man named Ananias coming in, and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight. But Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard from many of this man, how much evil he did to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call upon thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake." (Acts 9:11-16)

"This is a true saying, and by all means worthy to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Timothy 1:15)

In these passages, we have a lost sinner in Pharaoh and a saved sinner in Paul. We must ask, what made the difference? What was it that allowed Saul of Tarsus, the chief of sinners, to obtain mercy from God, while Pharaoh was rejected? The answer must come from Scripture itself, not our emotions. Certainly, it cannot be some inherent righteousness in Saul, nor can it rightly be said that Pharaoh was a worse or more obstinate sinner than Paul, for Paul was the chief of sinners.

Romans 9:18 gives us the answer. God has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. His election is unconditional, as we saw with Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:11). God's purpose for raising up Pharaoh was to show His power by destroying him (Romans 9:17), where as Paul was chosen to bear the Lord's name to gentiles and kings (Acts 9:15). Each man served God's purpose.

The Scriptures plainly tell us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that He could lay His hand on (judge) Egypt.

“And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not heed you, so that I may lay My hand on Egypt and bring My armies and My people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.” (Exodus 7:3-4)

It does not say that God “allowed” Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened. It says that God hardened it (and it says it on several occasions). Yet, Pharaoh was responsible for his wickedness. The Scriptures tell us that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. But that doesn't answer the most important question. Could Pharaoh have repented and overcome God’s hardening of His heart? How?

“The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1)

“The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.” (Proverbs 16:4)

As John Newton used to say, “…the Lord must have loved me before I was born, or else He would not have seen anything in me to love afterwards.”

The Immutability of God and His Decree

“I am the LORD, I change not,” (Malachi 3:6). This attribute of God, clearly stated in the Scriptures, has been challenged in some newer movements such as Open Theism, a heretical belief that God leaves future events "open" and dependent on human actions. (The title of Charles Hartshorne’s book “Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes” tells you all you need to know about this nonsense). This is easily refuted by Scripture. The God of the Bible has already declared "the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure,” (Isaiah 46:10).1 “As I have purposed, so shall it stand,” (Isaiah 14:24). God is "the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). “But He is unique, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does.” (Job 23:13). “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” (Psalm 119:89).

Use of this Doctrine

David Chilton explains, "The Biblical doctrine of predestination, when rightly understood, should not be a source of fear for the Christian; rather, it is a source of comfort and assurance. The opposite of the doctrine of predestination is not freedom, but meaninglessness; if the smallest details of our lives are not part of the Plan of God, if they are not created facts with a divinely determined significance, then they can have no meaning at all. They cannot be "working together for good." But the Christian who understands the truth of God's sovereignty is assured thereby that nothing in his life is without meaning and purpose — that God has ordained all things for His glory and for our ultimate good. This means that even our sufferings are part of a consistent Plan; that when we are opposed, we need not fear that God has abandoned us. We can be secure in the knowledge that, since we have been "called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28), all things in our life are a necessary aspect of that purpose. Martin Luther said: "It is, then, fundamentally necessary and wholesome for Christians to know that God foreknows nothing contingently, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His own immutable, eternal and infallible will. . . . For the Christian's chief and only comfort in adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings all things to pass immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, altered or impeded."2


1.) God "repents" and seems to "change” His mind in Scripture.

There are some who would object to God's immutability based on a few incidents where God did seem to "change His mind". In Genesis 6:6, it reads, "And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." It must be noted that it does not say that God changed His mind, but that it "repented" or "sorrowed" the Lord (nâcham נחם). This is known as an anthropopathism, where God attributes human emotion or action to Himself to accommodate our limited understanding. God describes Himself as having eyes, ears, and hands, yet God is a Spirit (John 4:24) and has no body (Luke 24:39). He speaks of Himself as "waking" (Psalm 78:65), as "rising early" (Jeremiah 7:13); yet He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). In this same way, God can be said to "repent" or be "sorrowed", when in fact, "“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19). If we are to use Genesis 6:6 as a case where God "changes his mind", we are faced with the monstrous absurdity that God made a mistake, was taken by surprise at man's wickedness, and had to resort to the flood as "Plan B" in order to correct the mistake.

Another related objection is the 15 years that God added to Hezekiah's life (2 Kings 20:1-6). Again, this whole episode was part of God's eternal, immutable secret counsel, for "in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them." (Psalm 139:16). At this point, I must point out that the Open Theist view that God can change His mind is a death blow to Arminian foreknowledge. Arminians and Pelagians insist that God "foreknows" all of men's actions, and establishes His decrees based on that foreknowledge. Yet, if God changed His mind about Hezekiah's days based on Hezekiah's prayer, then God apparently didn't foreknow that Hezekiah didn't really want to die. Based on this new information, God then was able to make a better decision and give Hezekiah the extra 15 years. (Most "Open Theists" will support what I just wrote wholeheartedly!!!)

Obviously, this is nonsense. It was God's "revealed will" that changed, not His mind, for "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” (Acts 15:18). If God already knows all His works from the beginning of the world, he has no need to ever change His mind. Why would He, since "his way is perfect" (Psalm 18:30)? Perfection cannot be impr0ved on. “For the LORD of hosts has purposed, And who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, And who will turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27). "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? (Romans 11:34)? Let the opposition continue to speak of this god who has everchanging, open decrees. In the end, “The counsel of the LORD stands for ever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” (Psalm 33:11).

2.) Does God elect arbitrarily? If not, what is the basis for His election?

That’s a good question. The answer is, “We don’t know”. The Bible never tells us why God predestines the sinful acts of the wicked, nor does it tell us on what basis He predestines and elects, other than "the good pleasure of his will" (Ephesians 1:5). Oceans of scholarly ink have been wasted in an effort to describe the secret things that belong to the Lord (Deuteronomy 29:29). All we know for sure, according to the Scriptures, is that God does predestine, and that He does so independent of man’s choices (for He did so before man ever had a choice). Romans 9:23 gives us a possible glimpse as to why God creates “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”, “that he might declare the riches of his glory upon the vessels of mercy, which he hath prepared unto glory”. This seems to be validated in His words to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." (Romans 9:17). In the end, God has one main goal and purpose, and that is to glorify Himself. God gets glory out of the salvation of His people, and He gets glory out of the destruction of the wicked.

3.) It is unfair of God to predestine men to Hell.

This objection overlooks Original Sin and man's inherent guilt3, and with the Doctrine of Predestination being plainly taught in Scripture, this objection ignores Scripture and appeals to emotion and human standards of fairness. The last thing that any human would ever truly want to do is appeal to God's "fairness" and "justice". If God were to merely operate in the realm of fairness, then no one would be saved. God could wipe out the entire human race and send everyone to Hell, and be totally fair in doing so. Mercy is the opposite of "fairness". Mercy, by definition, means that God does not give us what we deserve. Is God unfair? He sent Jesus to die for my sins. There has never been anything more "unfair" than that.

Besides, the Arminian god is not immune to similar criticism. After all, in Arminian theology, God "foreknows" who will reject Him and end up in Hell, yet He still chooses to create them anyway. Why? How is this any less objectionable then predestination? We have Jesus' own words that it is better for such a man to have never been born (Matthew 26:24). In the end, "our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased". (Psalm 115:3). This is God's "job description".

4.) Election makes coming to Christ futile.

Unfortunately, the Doctrine of Election is portrayed as a negative, when it is actually a positive. Oh dear friend, election does not keep souls from turning to God. Rather, it is our own deceitful and desperately wicked hearts that keep us from God. Election does not make coming to Christ futile. Election makes coming to Christ possible. No truly penitent sinner has ever been turned away from Christ because of election. Without election, there would be no truly penitent sinners.

For further study, I would suggest reading the following books:

Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Loraine Boettner
Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
Chosen by God by R. C. Sproul

Another Valuable resource is the DVD Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism. Highly recommended.


1 Compare this Scripture with Corvinus’s statement that “God doth not always foresee the event of what he intendeth.”

2 David Chilton, “Days of Vengeance: An Exposition on the Book of Revelation” p.100

3 Most people who call themselves Arminians today are surprised by the fact that classical Arminian scholars, agreeing with Pelagius, denied the doctrine of Original Sin. Corvinus claimed, “It is absurd that by one man’s disobedience many should be made actually disobedient,” thus a direct challenge to that authority of Romans 5:18-19. Venator says, ““Infants are simply in that estate in which Adam was before his fall”. The Doctrine of Original Sin is plainly taught in Scripture (Psalm 51:5; Psalm 58:3).

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