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Calvinism Predestination Doctrine

Discussion in 'Confessional, Covenantal, Creedal - Presbyterian' started by RoseCrystal, Jul 28, 2019.

  1. RoseCrystal

    RoseCrystal Active Member Supporter

    Note for Mods: I did originally post this in the "Denomination Specific Theology" section but was advised I'd get a better response in this section. I apologise if I have broken any rules by reposting my question here, please delete the other thread if you need to.

    Hi everyone!

    I recently met a Calvinist and they were talking about their belief in predestination, I didn't really understand the teaching, I should have asked more questions! Anyway it did seem like a very important part of their beliefs. I was hoping there were some Calvinists on here that could offer some insight into the doctrine for me? I'd like to understand from a Calvinist point of view, if someone wouldn't mind explaining it to me, that would be awesome.

    Thanks so much for reading.
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  2. Jonaitis

    Jonaitis Pilgrim

    United States
    Hi RoseCrystal,

    The doctrine of predestination is very controversial around here, but there are some of us who hold to it. We believe that the doctrine is biblical and that it did not originate from John Calvin (as you may assume the name). Why it is called Calvinism has a long history, but one of the reasons is that the famous French Theologian and Protestant Reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564), were one of the first to articulate the doctrine more thoroughly than any other writer before him in his greatest work 'Institutes of the Christian Religion,' one of the first books of systematic theology. In it he systematically wrote the doctrines of the Christian faith there to catechize and teach students of theology the foundation of the faith (originally written in Latin and French), and there he discussed at great length the doctrine of predestination, human responsibility, and divine sovereignty. It was nothing new he taught, but was an great exposition and expansion of what other writers before him briefly touched on, such as Augustine.

    This work alone greatly influenced the direction of the Reformation and the Protestant faith for centuries to come and the denominations that would be produced because of it. After his death, a man by the name of Arminius (1560-1609), a student to such a school of thought, pointed out five principles in his work that he could not agree with, and his followers later developed what was called the Five Articles of Remonstrance (1610). In response, the Reformed/Calvinistic Church wrote up what was called the Canons of Dort (1618-19) to combat the articles with five points in defense of these doctrines with Scripture. The Canons of Dort outline the points in which Calvin believed regarding predestination and election and human responsibility and the like. It is these five points that such become what is now known as the Five Points of Calvinism (or Doctrines of Grace). The term was used for different reasons also, but in today's terms it mostly refers to these five points.

    So to better understand the doctrine of predestination I recommend you read this link to give you an introduction and Scriptural reasoning behind them. It will direct you to another thread on this site where I and others have provided resources to help you understand it.

    Calvinism, What Is It? [Beginner's Resources]
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  3. Radagast

    Radagast comes and goes Supporter

    The doctrine of predestination is also de fide for Catholics. To quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    "Predestination ... taken in its widest meaning, is every Divine decree by which God ... has appointed and ordained from eternity all events occurring in time ...
    Considering that not all men reach their supernatural end in heaven, but that many are eternally lost through their own fault, there must exist a twofold predestination: (a) one to heaven for all those who die in the state of grace; (b) one to the pains of hell for all those who depart in sin or under God's displeasure.
    There are a number of different understandings of predestination. The Calvinist view (which actually comes from Augustine and the Apostle Paul) is quite similar to the Thomist Catholic view, and is summarised by the acronym TULIP:

    Total Depravity or Radical Corruption: people are unable to have saving faith on their own, and none of their own actions gain credit with God.

    Unconditional Election: Consequently, God chooses the elect (those who will be saved) without any conditions (Ephesians 1:4: ... even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world ..., Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.).

    Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption: Christ's redeeming work was intended to save only the elect (He did not try to save everybody and fail).

    Irresistible Grace: when God gives the grace of saving faith, it always overcomes our hardness of heart.

    Perseverance of the Saints: all who were chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given true faith by the Spirit are kept by God from falling away (John 6:37: All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out). This last point, as I understand it, is incompatible with Catholic theology.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2019
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  4. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran Supporter

    There are two things that lead to this, I think.

    The first is an understanding that we are so corrupted by sin that we're unable even to respond to an offer from God unless he's first prepared us. Note that this *doesn't* mean that he forces people either to sin or to follow him. It's just that without his grace there's no realistic possibility of following him. And once he's renewed us to the point where we can respond, why wouldn't we?

    Arminius, and with him many non-Calvinists, actually agreed with much of this. He agreed that without God's grace acting first, there's no way we could respond. However he objected to the logical implication. If anyone renewed by grace would respond to God, then that means that only reason someone would be lost is that God didn't renew them.

    It's obvious why that would be troubling. However Arminius' alternative had troubling implications as well. Since he agreed that we had to be converted by God's grace, but he didn't want to make God responsible for who is saved, he had to say that in addition to be prepared by God's grace, we had to make a free response. Some people did and some didn't.

    Calvinists noted that this introduced a contradiction into the whole system, since Arminius started out by agreeing that if it were up to us, we'd reject God; we need his grace. But in the end Arminius' system made the difference between those who responded and those who didn't something about the people themselves. It appears that some people weren't as helpless as others, since it only took a nudge from God, and they'd complete the work. (There's another logical problem: if God is omnipotent, and he can forsee everything, then he's going to know whether he nudged a given person hard enough or not. So in the end it seems like it's up to God.)

    You often get the impression that Calvinism and Arminianism are the only real options. Calvinists tend to see everyone else either as Arminians or down-right Pelagians (those who think we can be saved on our own without grace). I think in practice a lot of people who think they're Arminians actually aren't. I think they deny the premiss on which Calvin and Arminius agreed: that we're so broken that only God's grace can get us to the point where we can even respond to the Gospel. The problem is that it's not clear how to avoid Pelagianism if you take that road. To avoid the problem I noted above with Arminianism, you may have to reject God's omnipotence.

    Or you can just accept universalism. But then you have all those teachings by Jesus about judgement.

    There's no alternative that is completely attractive and doesn't lead to things that seem unscriptural. Saying that it's all in God's hands seemed best to Calvinists. Indeed one scholar thinks a major motivation for Calvin is that he wanted to be able to say (at least for Christians) that everything we experience is from God, meant for our long-term benefit. It's a bit hard to say that if there are rogue agents out that operating independent of God.

    I've looked at the alternatives pretty carefully. I think the only way to avoid predestination and maintain logic is either to deny God's omnipotence or accept universalism.
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2019
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  5. RoseCrystal

    RoseCrystal Active Member Supporter

    Thank you so much for your replies, this is really helpful
  6. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran Supporter

    It's worth noting that there are a reasonable number of people (though still a small minority) who do to one extent or another deny God's omnipotence. For example, under some theories of time it's not possible in principle for God to know everything that's going to happen.

    There are also people who find universalism acceptable, though again, this is a small minority.

    While they may not intentionally deny omnipotence, I think many Arminians basically assume that the way we respond to God's grace is not something that the logic of omnipotence fully applies to. (I understand that that statement is vague, but I'm not sure I can make it sharper.)

    Martin Luther in his later statements seems to have effectively denied that logic can be depended upon in dealing with God. While agreeing that God's grace is required for us to become Jesus' followers, he refused to draw conclusions on what explains people who don't become followers.

    Later Lutherans seem to agree with Calvinists on how we become Jesus' followers, but they believe that it's possible to fall away by our own free choice. Calvinists think that the logic of God's grace applies just as much to maintaining faith as coming to faith in the first place.
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  7. roman2819

    roman2819 Author, "Understanding Prayer, Faith & God's Will" Supporter

    God knows who will repent, but this does not mean He chose them to do so. Goo calls everyone to repent, and each of us has to respond by repentance in Jesus.

    If we interpret Bible in context, God did not choose individuals to redeem, as some people erroneously claimed. Ephesians chapter 1,2,3 explain predestination in 70 verses: It is corporate predestination, which means God offered redemption to Jews first, and then the Gentiles -- which together means everyone. God offers to redeem all, but in the context of the Scripture, each one must decide whether to repent and turn to Him. Predestination is so misunderstood because people are so awed by words such as "He predestine us" and fail to see context.

    Ephesians was written to Gentile Christians. Speaking as a Jew, Paul identified with his people by using the adverb 'we' and 'us' to say how God first chose the Jews:

    [Eph 1:4-11] just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world ... having been predestined according to the plan of him …. (12) in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, ...(13).. Weren't the Jews the first to hope in Jesus?

    Then when referring to the Gentiles, the apostle used the adverb "you" and "you who were Gentiles":

    And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth …... Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and “uncircumcised” ….. excluded from citizenship in Israel… (Eph 2:13) ..... For He... has made the two groups one... His purpose was... in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross… (3:18)... This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ."

    Before Jesus atonement, the Gentiles did not have access to Jehovah. But after Christ’s atonement, both Jews and Gentiles have access to God. This move has been pre-planned or predestined by God. Predestination just means to pre-plan something. More important is what did God pre-plan?

    We know that initially Israel was the chosen people of God. After Christ's atonement, the apostles initially thought that God chose to save the Jews only. After Peter's vision, however, the Gentiles were allowed to believe too. But as more Gentile Christians started to outnumber the Jewish believers, the Jews resented it and insisted that Gentiles should observe Sabbath and circumcision. Jews also claimed that God had suddenly decided to offer redemption to the Gentiles after Israel rejected Jesus, implying that Gentiles were less favored. Refuting such allegation, Paul said that God does not show favoritism between the circumcised and uncircumcised [Galatians 2:6].

    In Ephesians, the apostle refers to Gentiles as the Elect [Eph 1], thus placing them on equal footing as the Jews (who are chosen). Elect or chosen is a status, it does not mean being chosen to be saved individually.

    In the beginning -- before the foundation of earth -- God chose the Jews, but now the Gentiles are also part of the Elect. "Before the foundation of the earth" just means "initially". It is unfortunate that some people are so awed by the words "before foundation of the earth" and "predestination" because they do not interpret in context.

    In Romans 9:11, God said He loves Jacob and hate Esau. God was referring to these 2 persons only, specifically, so how does this extend to chosen - and not being chosen - of everyone else? How does Romans 9:11 become a blanket statement ??? Seriously.

    In Romans, Paul as a Jew saluted Israel's heritage, but he went on to say the new order is here, things have changed, get used to it.

    Romans 9:18-23: Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth .... " While the Jews were shocked that God offered redemption to Gentiles, Paul said that God could choose to have mercy on Gentiles. It does NOT mean that God has mercy on some particular individuals and choose them. In the larger context of the Scripture, each one has to decide to repent and turn to God.

    "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son... He who predestined, He also justifies" [Romans 8:29] means that God foreknew that He would offer redemption to the Gentiles. Although they used to be considered uncleaned by the Jews, however, after Christ's atonement, the Gentiles can choose to be conformed to Christ. They are also justified by faith in Jesus.

    Also, take note that Jesus during his ministry never spoke about God chose individuals to be redeemed.

    When seen in context, Scripture interprets Scripture well, by itself.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 20, 2019
  8. hedrick

    hedrick Senior Veteran Supporter

    In John he did. Here are some passages from the Synoptics:

    Matthew 22:14 "For many are called, but few are chosen."
    Mark 4:11 and par: “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables"
    Luke 10:20 "Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
    and several occurrences of "elect."

    However none of these is really in the right context. The passages aren't about free will and predestination, and so it'a bit unclear what was being referred to. In Mat 22:14, the few are chosen because of their response. Mark 4:11 is said to his disciples, so it's not clear what the general implication would be. Luke 10:20 doesn't say why the names are written in heaven. It could be because of their faith.

    The parable of the soils, which precedes Mark 4:11, actually suggests a different approach. People respond or don't respond because of their nature. Some are receptive, some are not. I don't think people generally choose their nature, but it's also not said that God decides that certain people should be chosen and others damned.

    ICONO'CLAST Well-Known Member

    The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith

    I was RC. at one time, go to reformed baptist churches now.

    Jn6:37-44 sums it up, along with romans 8:
    29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

    30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
  10. LovesOurLord

    LovesOurLord Member

    United States
    This one was the real sticker for me which is why I had to ultimately reject Arminian doctrine. To place salvation into the hit-and-miss pitches of missionaries and preachers is to be a God that failed. It makes no sense at all.
  11. SeamusDelion

    SeamusDelion Calvinist Supporter

    Predestination is VERY Real. and its more then just "According to His Foreknowledge." It's According to His WILL :

    Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
    Psalm 135:5 For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods.
    Psalm 135:6 Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
    Psalm 135:7 He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
    Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
    Daniel 4:35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
    Acts 4:28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
    Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
    Romans 8:29 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.
    Romans 8:30 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 8:33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
    Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
    Revelation 4:11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

    Malachi 1:2–5 “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob
    3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
    4 If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the LORD of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.’ ”
    5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!”
    John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
    Romans 9:15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
    Romans 9:16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
    1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

    Predestination is God’s predetermination of all things.

    The doctrine of predestination is presented in Scripture in a variety of ways. The biblical writers affirm it frankly, both with the use of the technical terminology (Eph 1:11) and without (Rom 8:28; 11:36). More often, the biblical writers assume the doctrine throughout the biblical narrative as they trace all events, however small, to God. For example, they will say not merely that “it rained” or that “there was a drought,” but that “God sent rain,” or “God withheld rain,” or that “God sent a famine.” So also with regard to a woman’s childbearing—it is God who both opens and closes the womb (Gen 30:2, 22; Ps 127:3; Isa 66). Apart from his will neither hair nor sparrow falls (Matt 10:29–30). The weather (Job 38:26; Ps 135:5–7; Nah 1:3), animal life (Ps 104:21), inanimate objects (Prov 16:33), the hearts of kings (Prov 21:1), the rise and fall of nations (Isa 40:15–17; Dan 2:21; 4:35), and human life with its many intricate affairs (Ps 139:16; Jas 4:15) are all alike, the outworking of his all-inclusive purpose. Most fundamentally for the biblical writers, predestination is a necessary entailment of monotheism. The God who created all things rules over and directs those things to his intended ends. He does not leave his creation to its own outworking (deism), nor is any part of his creation beyond his control (a notion that would place God beneath his creation). God created all things in order to accomplish his own purpose (Rev 4:11; cf. Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11). Moreover, to affirm that God is a personal God is to affirm that what he does he does intentionally. This “intention” is predestination. To say “God” in the sense of biblical monotheism is to say “predestination.”
    Closely related to this is the doctrine of divine sovereignty and the biblical presentation of God as creator-king. By reason of his authority as creator (Ps 24:1), God has rights of ownership over all that is, and by reason of his all-inclusive lordship, his will can never be frustrated. He does all he pleases (Ps 135:5–7), always and without interruption (Dan 4:35). Whatever other powers and authorities exist, they are nonetheless his (1 Chr 29:10–12) and exist to serve his purpose (Rev 4:11).
    Predestination is closely related to the doctrine of election, and salvation is the chief (but not sole) focus of this word in New Testament usage. But the two terms are not exact equivalents. Election is God’s choosing whom he would save (2 Thess 2:13); predestination is God’s decree to secure that end. Moreover, predestination is a broader term that may be used of salvation (Rom 8:28–30; 1 Cor 2:7; Eph 1:5) or of God’s foreordained purposing of all things (Acts 4:28; cf. Ps 139:16; Eph 1:11; 2 Tim 1:9). The doctrine of reprobation, which concerns God’s decree to condemn those whom he has not chosen to save, is also closely related.
    The doctrine of predestination is also tightly related to the doctrine of divine providence. Predestination is God’s intention and decree; providence is the outworking of that intention and decree. God’s decree is one (Job 23:13) and all inclusive (Rom 8:28; Eph 1:11), entailing even the sinful acts of men (Acts 4:28), which he providentially directs to his own praise (Ps 76:10).
    Whether predestination is grounded in God alone or considerations outside of himself is the question that divides orthodox interpreters, all of whom affirm “predestination” (it is a Bible word, after all). Arminians stress human freedom, while Calvinists stress divine freedom. The one side affirms a kind of libertarian human freedom, while the other argues that such an affirmation would render God contingent and subject to his own creation rather than Lord over it. Both sides would affirm some level of mystery, but the contrasting human or divine concerns are given interpretive control.
    Reformed interpreters point out that the biblical writers never mitigate the doctrine of predestination. Rather, they consistently affirm both divine predestination and human responsibility and ground human responsibility in the willful choice of sinners. Sinners are never forced by God to sin but sin willingly and because of their own evil disposition (Jas 1:13–14). God’s all-inclusive decree entails the sinful actions of men, but the blame for sin remains on sinners, who choose sin (Acts 2:23; 4:28). God stands behind all things but not in the same way: he is the immediate cause of good, but sinners are the immediate cause of sin. The Westminster Confession of Faith famously summarizes the matter this way: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established,” (III.1.
    The doctrine of predestination is presented in Scripture as the deepest ground of trust in God. We can trust God precisely because we know that he works all things according to his own purpose and that nothing could ever come to interfere with that purpose. He not only controls but directs all things to his own appointed ends (Ps 76:10; Rom 8:28; Rev 4:11).
  12. SeamusDelion

    SeamusDelion Calvinist Supporter



    By the decrees of God we mean that eternal plan by which God has rendered certain all the events of the universe, past, present, and future. Notice in explanation that:

    (a) The decrees are many only to our finite comprehension; in their own nature they are but one plan, which embraces not only effects but also causes, not only the ends to be secured but also the means needful to secure them.

    In Rom. 8:28—“called according to his purpose”—the many decrees for the salvation of many individuals are represented as forming but one purpose of God. Eph. 1:11—“foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will”—notice again the word “purpose,” in the singular. Eph. 3:11—“according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This one purpose or plan of God includes both means and ends, prayer and its answer, labor and its fruit. Tyrolese proverb: “God has his plan for every man.” Every man, as well as Jean Paul, is “der Einzige”—the unique. There is a single plan which embraces all things; “we use the word ‘decree’ when we think of it partitively” (Pepper). See Hodge, Outlines of Theology, 1st ed., 165; 2d ed., 200—“In fact, no event is isolated—to determine one involves determination of the whole concatenation of causes and effects which constitutes the universe.” The word “plan” is preferable to the word “decrees,” because “plan” excludes the ideas of (1) plurality, (2) short-sightedness, (3) arbitrariness, (4) compulsion.

    (b) The decrees, as the eternal act of an infinitely perfect will, though they have logical relations to each other, have no chronological relation. They are not therefore the result of deliberation, in any sense that implies short-sightedness or hesitancy.

    Logically, in God’s decree the sun precedes the sunlight, and the decree to bring into being a father precedes the decree that there shall be a son. God decrees man before he decrees man’s act; he decrees the creation of man before he decrees man’s existence. But there is no chronological succession. “Counsel” in Eph. 1:11—“the counsel of his will”—means, not deliberation, but wisdom.

    (c) Since the will in which the decrees have their origin is a free will, the decrees are not a merely instinctive or necessary exercise of the divine intelligence or volition, such as pantheism supposes.

    It belongs to the perfection of God that he has a plan, and the best possible plan. Here is no necessity, but only the certainty that infinite wisdom will act wisely. God’s decrees are not God; they are not identical with his essence; they do not flow from his being in the same necessary way in which the eternal son proceeds from the eternal Father. There is free will in God, which acts with infinite certainty, yet without necessity. To call even the decree of salvation necessary is to deny grace, and to make an unfree God. See Dick, Lectures on Theology, 1:355; lect. 34.

    (d) The decrees have reference to things outside of God. God does not decree to be holy, nor to exist as three persons in one essence.

    Decrees are the preparation for external events—the embracing of certain things and acts in a plan. They do not include those processes and operations within the God head which have no reference to the universe.

    (e) The decrees primarily respect the acts of God himself, in Creation, Providence, and Grace; secondarily, the acts of free creatures, which he foresees will result therefrom.

    While we deny the assertion of Whedon, that “the divine plan embraces only divine actions,” we grant that God’s plan has reference primarily to his own actions, and that the sinful acts of men, in particular, are the objects, not of a decree that God will efficiently produce them, but of a decree that God will permit men, in the exercise of their own free will, to produce them.

    (f) The decree to act is not the act. The decrees are an internal exercise and manifestation of the divine attributes, and are not to be confounded with Creation, Providence, and Redemption, which are the execution of the decrees.

    The decrees are the first operation of the attributes, and the first manifestation of personality of which we have any knowledge within the Godhead. They presuppose those essential acts or movements within the divine nature which we call generation and procession. They involve by way of consequence that execution of the decrees which we call Creation, Providence, and Redemption, but they are not to be confounded with either of these.

    (g) The decrees are therefore not addressed to creatures; are not of the nature of statute law; and lay neither compulsion nor obligation upon the wills of men.

    So ordering the universe that men will pursue a given course of action is a very different thing from declaring, ordering, or commanding that they shall. “Our acts are in accordance with the decrees, but not necessarily so—we can do otherwise and often should” (Park). The Frenchman who fell into the water and cried: “I will drown,—no one shall help me!” was very naturally permitted to drown; if he had said: “I shall drown,—no one will help me!” he might perchance have called some f riendly person to his aid.

    (h) All human acts, whether evil or good, enter into the divine plan and so are objects of God’s decrees, although God’s actual agency with regard to the evil is only a permissive agency.

    No decree of God reads: “You shall sin.” For (1) no decree is addressed to you; (2) no decree with respect to you says shall; (3) God cannot cause sin, or decree to cause it. He simply decrees to create, and himself to act, in such away that you will, of your own free choice, commit sin. God determines upon his own acts, foreseeing what the results will be in the free acts of his creatures, and so he determines those results. This permissive decree is the only decree of God with respect to sin. Man of himself is capable of producing sin. Of himself he is not capable of producing holiness. In the production of holiness two powers must concur. God’s will and man’s will, and God’s will must act first. The decree of good, therefore, is not simply a permissive decree, as in the case of evil. God’s decree, in the former case, is a decree to bring to bear positive agencies for its production, such as circumstances, motives, influences of his Spirit. But, in the case of evil, God’s decrees are simply his arrangement that man may do as he pleases, God all the while foreseeing the result.
    Permissive agency should not be confounded with conditional agency, nor permissive decree with conditional decree. God foreordained sin only indirectly. The machine is constructed not for the sake of the friction, but in spite of it. In the parable Mat. 13:24–30, the question “Whence then hath it tares?” is answered, not by saying, “I decreed the tares,” but by saying: “An enemy hath done this.” Yet we must take exception to Principal Fairbairn, Place of Christ in Theology, 456, when he says: “God did not permit sin to be; it is, in its essence, the transgression of his law, and so his only attitude toward it is one of opposition. It is, because man has contradicted and resisted his will.” Here the truth of God’s opposition to sin is stated so sharply as almost to deny the decree of sin in any sense. We maintain that God does decree sin in the sense of embracing in his plan the foreseen transgressions of men, while at the same time we maintain that these foreseen transgressions are chargeable wholly to men and not at all to God.

    (i) While God’s total plan with regard to creatures is called predestination, or foreordination, his purpose so to act that certain will believe and be saved is called election, and his purpose so to act that certain will refuse to believe and be lost is called reprobation. We discuss election and reprobation, in a later chapter, as a part of the Application of Redemption.

    God’s decrees may be divided into decrees with respect to nature, and decrees with respect to moral beings. These last we call foreordination, or predestination; and of these decrees with respect to moral beings there are two kinds, the decree of election, and the decree of reprobation; see our treatment of the doctrine of Election. George Herbert: “We all acknowledge both thy power and love To be exact, transcendent, and divine; Who dost so strongly and so sweetly move, While all things have their will—yet none but thine. For either thy command or thy permission. Lays hands on all; they are thy right and left. The first puts on with speed and expedition; The other curbs sin’s stealing pace and theft. Nothing escapes them both; all must appear And be disposed and dressed and tuned by thee Who sweetly temperest all. If we could hear Thy skill and art, what music it would be!” On the whole doctrine, see Shedd, Presb. and Ref. Rev., Jan. 1890:1–25.
  13. SeamusDelion

    SeamusDelion Calvinist Supporter


    1. From Scripture

    A. The Scriptures declare that all things are included in the divine decrees. B. They declare that special things and events are decreed; as, for example, (a) the stability of the physical universe; (b) the outward circumstances of nations; (c) the length of human life; (d) the mode of our death; (e) the free acts of men, both good acts and evil acts. C. They declare that God has decreed (a) the salvation of believers; (b) the establishment of Christ’s kingdom; (c) the work of Christ and of his people in establishing it.

    A. Is. 14:26, 27—“This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations; for Jehovah of hosts hath purposed … and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” 46:10, 11—“declaring 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 … yes, I have spoken, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed, I will also do it.” Dan. 4:35—“doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” Eph. 1:11—the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will.”
    B. (a) Ps. 119:89–91—“For ever, O Jehovah, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: Thou hast established the earth and it abideth. They abide this day according to thine ordinances; For all things are thy servants.” (b) Acts 17:26—“he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation”; cf. Zech. 6:1—“came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass” = the fixed decrees from which proceed God’s providential dealings? (c) Job 14:5—“Seeing his days are determined, The number of his months is with thee, And thou hast determined his bounds that he cannot pass.” (d) John 21:19—“this he spake, signifying by what manner of death he should glorify God.” (e) Good acts: Is. 44:28—“that saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built; and of the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid”; Eph. 2:10—“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.” Evi1 acts: Gen. 50:20—“as for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it t for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive”; 1 K. 12:15—“So the king hearkened not unto the people, for it was a thing brought about of Jehovah”; 24—“for this thing is of me”; Luke 22:22—“For the Son of man indeed goeth, as it path been determined: but woe unto that man through whom he is betrayed”; Acts 2:23—“him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay”; 4:27, 28—“of a truth in this city against thy holy Servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel foreordained to come to pass”; Rom. 9:17—“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power”; 1 Pet. 2:8—“They stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed”; Rev. 17:17—“For God did put in their hearts to do his mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God should be accomplished.”
    C. (a) 1 Cor. 2:7—“the wisdom which hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory”; Eph. 3:10, 11—“manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 1 is a pæan in praise of God’s decrees. (b) The greatest decree of all is the decree to give the world to Christ. Ps. 2:7, 8—“I will tell of the decree: … I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance”; cf. verse 6—“I have set my king Upon my holy hill of Zion”; 1 Cor. 15:25—“he must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet.” (c) This decree we are to convert into our decree; God’s will is to be executed through our wills. Phil. 2:12, 13—“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.” Rev. 5:1, 7—“I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the back, close sealed with seven seals.… And he [the Lamb] came, and he taketh it out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne”; verse 9—“Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof” = Christ alone has the omniscience to know, and the omnipotence to execute, the divine decrees. When John weeps because there is none in heaven or earth to loose the seals and to read the book of God’s decrees, the Lion of the tribe of Judah prevails to open it. Only Christ conducts the course of history to its appointed end. See A. H. Strong, Christ in Creation, 268–283, on The Decree of God as the Great Encouragement to Missions.
  14. SeamusDelion

    SeamusDelion Calvinist Supporter

    2. From Reason

    (a) From the divine foreknowledge

    Foreknowledge implies fixity, and fixity implies decree.—From eternity God foresaw all the events of the universe as fixed and certain. This fixity and certainty could not have had its ground either in blind fate or in the variable wills of men, since neither of these had an existence. It could have had its ground in nothing outside the divine mind, for in eternity nothing existed besides the divine mind. But for this fixity there must have been a cause; if anything in the future was fixed, something must have fixed it. This fixity could have had its ground only in the plan and purpose of God. In fine, if God foresaw the future as certain, it must have been because there was something in himself which made it certain; or, in other words, because he had decreed it.

    We object therefore to the statement of E. G. Robinson, Christian Theology, 74—“God’s knowledge and God’s purposes both being eternal, one cannot be conceived as the ground of the other, nor can either be predicated to the exclusion of the other as the cause of things, but, correlative and eternal, they must be coëqual quantities in thought.” we reply that while decree does not chronologically precede, it does logically precede, foreknowledge. Foreknowledge is not of possible events, but of what is certain to be. The certainty of future events which God foreknew could have had its ground only in his decree, since he alone existed to be the ground and explanation of this certainty. Events were fixed only because God had fixed them. Shedd, Dogm. Theol., 1:397—“An event must be made certain, before it can be known as a certain event.” Turretin, Inst. Theol., loc. 3, quaes. 12, 18—“Præcipuum fundamentum scientiæ divinæ circa futura contingentia est decretum solum.”

    Decreeing creation implies decreeing the foreseen results of creation.—To meet the objection that God might have foreseen the events of the universe, not because he had decreed each one, but only because he had decreed to create the universe and institute its laws, we may put the argument in another form. In eternity there could have been no cause of the future existence of the universe, outside of God himself, since no being existed but God himself. In eternity God foresaw that the creation of the world and the institution of its laws would make certain its actual history even to the most insignificant details. But God decreed to create and to institute these laws. In so decreeing he necessarily decreed all that was to come. In fine, God foresaw the future events of the universe as certain, because he had decreed to create; but this determination to create involved also a determination of all the actual results of that creation; or, in other words, God decreed those results.

    E. G. Robinson, Christian Theology, 84—“The existence of divine decrees may be inferred from the existence of natural law.” Law = certainty = God’s will. Positivists express great contempt for the doctrine of the eternal purpose of God, yet they consign us to the iron necessity of physical forces and natural laws. Dr. Robinson also points out that decrees are “implied in the prophecies. We cannot conceive that all events should have converged toward the one great event—the death of Christ—without the intervention of an eternal purpose.” E. H. Johnson, Outline Syst. Theol., 2d ed., 251, note—“Reason is confronted by the paradox that the divine decrees are at once absolute and conditional; the resolution of the paradox is that God absolutely decreed a conditional system—a system, however, the workings of which he thoroughly foreknows.” The rough unhewn stone and the statue into which it will be transformed are both and equally included in the plan of the sculptor.

    No undecreed event can be foreseen.—We grant that God decrees primarily and directly his own acts of creation, providence, and grace; but we claim that this involves also a secondary and indirect decreeing of the acts of free creatures which he foresees will result therefrom. There is therefore no such thing in God as scientia media, or knowledge of an event that is to be, though it does not enter into the divine plan; for to say that God foresees an undecreed event, is to say that he views as future an event that is merely possible; or, in other words, that he views an event not as it is.

    We recognize only two kinds of knowledge: (1) Knowledge of undecreed possibles, and (2) foreknowledge of decreed actuals. Scientia media is a supposed intermediate knowledge between these two, namely (3) foreknowledge of undecreed actuals. See further explanations below. We deny the existence of this third sort of knowledge. We hold that sin is decreed in the sense of being rendered certain by God’s determining upon a system in which it was foreseen that sin would exist. The sin of man can be foreknown, while yet God is not the immediate cause of it. God knows possibilities, without having decreed them at all. But God cannot foreknow actualities unless he has by his decree made them to be certainties of the future. He cannot foreknow that which is not there to be foreknown. Royce, World and Individual, 2:374, maintains that God has, not foreknowledge, but only eternal knowledge, of temporal things. But we reply that to foreknow how a moral being will act is no more impossible than to know how a moral being in given circumstances would act.

    Only knowledge of that which is decreed is foreknowledge.—Knowledge of a plan as ideal or possible may precede decree; but knowledge of a plan as actual or fixed must follow decree. Only the latter knowledge is properly foreknowledge. God therefore foresees creation, causes, laws, events, consequences, because he has decreed creation, causes, laws, events, consequences; that is, because he has embraced all these in his plan. The denial of decrees logically involves the denial of God’s foreknowledge of free human actions; and to this Socinians, and some Arminians, are actually led.

    An Arminian example of this denial is found in McCabe, Foreknowledge of God, and Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity. Per contra, see notes on God’s foreknowledge, in this Compendium, pages 283–286. Pepper: “Divine volition stands logically between two divisions and kinds of divine knowledge.” God knew free, human actions as possible, before he decreed them; he knew them as future, because he decreed them. Logically, though not chronologically, decree comes before foreknowledge. When I say, “I know what I will do,” it is evident that I have determined already, and that my knowledge does not prceede determination, but follows it and is based upon it. It is therefore not correct to say that God foreknows his decrees. It is more true to say that he decrees his foreknowledge. He foreknows the future which he has decreed, and he foreknows it because he has decreed it. His decrees are eternal, and nothing that is eternal can be the object of foreknowledge. G. F. Wright, in Bib. Sac., 1877:723—“The knowledge of God comprehended the details and incidents of every possible plan. The choice of a plan made his knowledge determinate as foreknowledge.”
    There are therefore two kinds of divine knowledge: (1) knowledge of what may be—of the possible (scientia simplicis intelligentice); and (2) knowledge of what is, and is to be, because God has decreed it (scientia visionis). Between these two Molina, the Spanish Jesuit, wrongly conceived that there was (3) a middle knowledge of things which were to be, although God had not decreed them (scientia media). This would of course be a knowledge which God derived, not from himself, but from his creatures! See Dick, Theology, 1:351. A. S. Carman: “It is difficult to see how God’s knowledge can be caused from eternity by something that has no existence until a definite point of time.” If it be said that what is to be will be “in the nature of things,” we reply that there is no “nature of things” apart from God, and that the ground of the objective certainty, as well as of the subjective certitude corresponding to it, is to be found only in God himself.
    But God’s decreeing to create, when he foresees that certain free acts of men will follow, is a decreeing of those free acts, in the only sense in which we use the word decreeing, viz., a rendering certain, or embracing in his plan. No Arminian who believes in God’s foreknowledge of free human acts has good reason for denying God’s decrees as thus explained. Surely God did not foreknow that Adam would exist and sin, whether God determined to create him or not. Omniscience, then, becomes foreknowledge only on condition of God’s decree. That God’s foreknowledge of free acts is intuitive does not affect this conclusion. We grant that, while man can predict free action only so far as it is rational (i. e., in the line of previously dominant motive), God can predict free action whether it is rational or not. But even God cannot predict what is not certain to be. God can have intuitive foreknowledge of free human acts only upon condition of his own decree to create; and this decree to create, in foresight of all that will follow, is a decree of what follows. For the Arminian view, see Watson, Institutes, 2:375–398, 422–448. Per contra, see Hill, Divinity, 512–532; Fiske, in Bib. Sac., April, 1862; Bennett Tyler, Memoir and Lectures, 214–254; Edwards the younger, 1:398–420; A. H. Strong, Philosophy and Religion, 98–101.

    (b) From the divine wisdom

    It is the part of wisdom to proceed in every undertaking according to a plan. The greater the undertaking, the more needful a plan. Wisdom, moreover, shows itself in a careful provision for all possible circumstances and emergencies that can arise in the execution of its plan. That many such circumstances and emergencies are uncontemplated and unprovided for in the plans of men, is due only to the limitations of human wisdom. It belongs to infinite wisdom, therefore, not only to have a plan, but to embrace all, even the minutest details, in the plan of the universe.

    No architect would attempt to build a Cologne cathedral without a plan; he would rather, if possible, have a design for every stone. The great painter does not study out his picture as he goes along; the plan is in his mind from the start; preparations for the last effects have to be made from the beginning. So in God’s work every detail is foreseen and provided for; sin and Christ entered into the original plan of the universe. Raymond, Syst. Theol., 2:156, says this implies that God cannot govern the world unless all things be reduced to the condition of machinery; and that it cannot be true, for the reason that God’s government is a government of persons and not of things. But we reply that the wise statesman governs persons and not things, yet just in proportion to his wisdom he conducts his administration according to a preconceived plan. God’s power might, but God’s wisdom would not, govern the universe without embracing all things, even the least human action, in his plan,

    (c) From the divine immutability

    What God does, he always purposed to do. Since with him there is no increase of knowledge or power, such as characterizes finite beings, it follows that what under any given circumstances he permits or does, he must have eternally decreed to permit or do. To suppose that God has a multitude of plans, and that he changes his plan with the exigencies of the situation, is to make him infinitely dependent upon the varying wills of his creatures, and to deny to him one necessary element of perfection, namely, immutability.

    God has been very unworthily compared to a chess-player, who will checkmate his opponent whatever moves he may make (George Harris). So Napoleon is said to have had a number of plans before each battle, and to have betaken himself from one to another as fortune demanded. Not so with God. Job 23:13—“he is in one mind, and who can turn him?” James 1:17—“the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning.” Contrast with this Scripture MoCabe’s statement in his Foreknowledge of God, 62—“This new factor, the godlike liberty of the human will, is capable of thwarting, and in uncounted instances does thwart, the divine will, and compel the great I AM to modify his actions, his purposes, and his plans, in the treatment of individuals and of communities.”

    (d) From the divine benevolence

    The events of the universe, if not determined by the divine decrees, must be determined either by chance or by the wills of creatures. It is contrary to any proper conception of the divine benevolence to suppose that God permits the course of nature and of history, and the ends to which both these are moving, to be determined for myriads of sentient beings by any other force or will than his own. Both reason and revelation, therefore, compel us to accept the doctrine of the Westminster Confession, that “God did from all eternity, by the most just and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”

    It would not be benevolent for God to put out of his own power that which was so essential to the happiness of the universe. Tyler, Memoir and Lectures, 231–243—“The denial of decrees involves denial of the essential attributes of God, such as omnipotence, omniscience, benevolence; exhibits him as a disappointed and unhappy being; implies denial of his universal providence; leads to a denial of the greater part of our own duty of submission; weakens the obligations of gratitude.” We give thanks to God for blessings which come to us through the free acts of others; but unless God has purposed these blessings, we owe our thanks to these others and not to God. Dr. A. J. Gordon said well that a universe without decrees would be as irrational and appalling as would be an express-train driving on in the darkness without headlight or engineer, and with no certainty that the next moment it might not plunge into the abyss. And even Martineau, Study, 2:108, in spite of his denial of God’s foreknowledge of man’s free acts, is compelled to say: “It cannot be left to mere created natures to play unconditionally with the helm of even a single world and steer it uncontrolled into the haven or on to the reefs; and some security must be taken for keeping the deflections within tolerable bounds.” See also Emmons, Works, 4:273–401; and Princeton Essays, 1:57–73.
  15. SeamusDelion

    SeamusDelion Calvinist Supporter


    1. That they are inconsistent with the free agency of man

    To this we reply that:

    A. The objection confounds the decrees with the execution of the decrees. The decrees are, like foreknowledge, an act eternal to the divine nature, and are no more inconsistent with free agency than foreknowledge is. Even foreknowledge of events implies that those events are fixed. If this absolute fixity and foreknowledge is not inconsistent with free agency, much less can that which is more remote from man’s action, namely, the hidden cause of this fixity and foreknowledge—God’s decrees—be inconsistent with free agency. If anything be inconsistent with man’s free agency, it must be, not the decrees themselves, but the execution of the decrees in creation and providence.

    On this objection, see Tyler, Memoir and Lectures, 244–249; Forbes, Predestination and Free will, 3—“All things are predestinated by God, both good and evil, but not prenecessitated, that is, causally preördained by him—unless we would make God the author of sin. Predestination is thus an indifferent word, in so far as the originating author of anything is concerned; God being the originator of good, but the creature, of evil. Predestination therefore means that God included in his plan of the world every act of every creature, good or bad. Some acts he predestined causally, others permissively. The certainty of the fulfilment of all God’s purposes ought to be distinguished from their necessity.” This means simply that God’s decree is not the cause of any act or event. God’s decrees may be executed by the causal efficiency of his creatures, or they may be executed by his own efficiency. In either case it is, if anything, the execution, and not the decree, that is inconsistent with human freedom.

    B. The objection rests upon a false theory of free agency—namely, that free agency implies indeterminateness or uncertainty; in other words, that free agency, cannot coëxist with certainty as to the results of its exercise. But it is necessity, not certainty, with which free agency is inconsistent. Free agency is the power of self-determination in view of motives, or man’s power (a) to chose between motives, and (b) to direct his subsequent activity according to the motive thus chosen. Motives are never a cause, but only an occasion; they influence, but never compel; the man is the cause, and herein is his freedom. But it is also true that man is never in a state of indeterminateness; never acts without motive, or contrary to all motives; there is always a reason why he acts, and herein is his rationality. Now, so far as man acts according to previously dominant motive—see (b) above—we may by knowing his motive predict his action, and our certainty what that action will be in no way affects his freedom. We may even bring motives to bear upon others, the influence of which we foresee, yet those who act upon them may act in perfect freedom. But if man, influenced by man, may still be free, then man, influenced by divinely foreseen motives, may still be free, and the divine decrees, which simply render certain man’s actions, may also be perfectly consistent with man’s freedom.

    We must not assume that decreed ends can be secured only by compulsion. Eternal purposes do not necessitate efficient causation on the part of the purposer. Freedom may be the very means of fulfilling the purpose. E. G. Robinson, Christian Theology, 74—“Absolute certainty of events, which is all that omniscience determines respecting them, is not identical with their necessitation.” John Milton, Christian Doctrine: “Future events which God has foreseen will happen certainly, but not of necessity. They will happen certainly, because the divine prescience will not be deceived; but they will not happen necessarily, because prescience can have no influence on the object foreknown, inasmuch as it is only an intransitive action.”

    There is, however, a smaller class of human actions by which character is changed, rather than expressed, and in which the man acts according to a motive different from that which has previously been dominant—see (a) above. These actions also are foreknown by God, although they cannot be predicted by man. Man’s freedom in them would be inconsistent with God’s decrees, if the previous certainty of their occurrence were, not certainty, but necessity; or, in other words, if God’s decrees were in all cases decrees efficiently to produce the acts of his creatures. But this is not the case. God’s decrees may be executed by man’s free causation, as easily as by God’s; and God’s decreeing this free causation, in decreeing to create a universe of which he foresees that this causation will be a part, in no way interferes with the freedom of such causation, but rather secures and establishes it. Both consciousness and conscience witness that God’s decrees are not executed by laying compulsion upon the free wills of men.

    The farmer who, after hearing a sermon on God’s decrees, took the break-neck road instead of the safe one to his home and broke his wagon in consequence, concluded before the end of his journey that he at any rate had been predestinated to be a fool, and that he had made his calling and election sure. Ladd, Philosophy of Conduct, 146, 187, shows that the will is free, first, by man’s consciousness of ability, and, secondly, by man’s consciousness of imputability. By nature, he is potentially self-determining; as matter of fact, he often becomes self-determining.
    Allen, Religious Progress, 110—“The coming church must embrace the sovereignty of God and the freedom of the will; total depravity and the divinity of human nature; the unity of God and the triune distinctions in the Godhead; gnosticism and agnosticism; the humanity of Christ and his incarnate deity; the freedom of the Christian man and the authority of the church; individualism and solidarity; reason and faith; science and theology; miracle and uniformity of law; culture and piety; the authority of the Bible as the word of God with absolute freedom of Biblical criticism; the gift of administration as in the historic episcopate and the gift of prophecy as the highest sanction of the ministerial commission; the apostolic succession but also the direct and immediate call which knows only the succession of the Holy Ghost.” Without assenting to these latter clauses we may commend the comprehensive spirit of this utterance, especially with reference to the vexed question of the relation of divine sovereignty to human freedom.

    It may aid us, in estimating the force of this objection, to note the four senses in which the term ‘freedom’ may be used. It may be used as equivalent to (1) physical freedom, or absence of outward constraint; (2) formal freedom, or a state of moral indeterminateness; (3) moral freedom, or self-determinateness in view of motives; (4) real freedom, or ability to conform to the divine standard. With the first of these we are not now concerned, since all agree that the decrees lay no outward constraint upon men. Freedom in the second sense has no existence, since all men have character. Free agency, or freedom in the third sense, has just been shown to be consistent with the decrees. Freedom in the fourth sense, or real freedom, is the special gift of God, and is not to be confounded with free agency. The objection mentioned above rests wholly upon the second of these definitions of free agency. This we have shown to be false, and with this the objection itself falls to the ground.

    Ritschl, Justification and Reconciliation, 133–188, gives a good definition of this fourth kind of freedom: “Freedom is self-determination by universal ideals. Limiting our ends to those of family or country is a refined or idealized selfishness. Freedom is self-determination by universal love for man or by the kingdom of God. But the free man must then be dependent on God in everything, because the kingdom of God is a revelation of God.” John Caird, Fundamental Ideas of Christianity, 1:133—“In being determined by God we are self-determined; i. e., determined by nothing alien to us, but by our noblest, truest self. The universal life lives in us. The eternal consciousness becomes our own; for ‘he that abideth in love abideth in God and God abideth in him’ ” (1 John 4:16).
    Moberly, Atonement and Personality, 228—“Free will is not the independence of the creature, but is rather his self-realization in perfect dependence. Freedom is self-identity with goodness. Both goodness and freedom are, in their perfectness, in God. Goodness in a creature is not distinction from, but correspondence with, the goodness of God. Freedom in a creature is correspondence with God’s own self-identity with goodness. It is to realize and to find himself, his true self, in Christ, so that God’s love in us has become a divine response, adequate to, because truly mirroring, God.” G. S. Lee, The Shadow Christ, 32—“The ten commandments could not be chanted. The Israelites sang about Jehovah and what he had done, but they did not sing about what he told them to do, and that is why they never did it. The conception of duty that cannot sing must weep until it learns to sing. This is Hebrew history.”
    “There is a liberty, unsung By poets and by senators unpraised, Which monarchs cannot grant nor all the powers Of earth and hell confederate take away; A liberty which persecution, fraud, Oppressions, prisons, have no power to bind; Which whoso tastes can be enslaved no more. ‘T is liberty of heart, derived from heaven, Bought with his blood who gave it to mankind, And sealed with the same token.” Robert Herrick: “Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take That for a hermitage. If I have freedom in my love, And in my soul am free, Angels alone that soar above Enjoy such liberty.”
    A more full discussion of the doctrine of the Will is given under Anthropology, Vol. II. It is sufficient here to say that the Arminian objections to the decrees arise almost wholly from erroneously conceiving of freedom as the will’s power to decide, in any given case, against its own character and all the motives brought to bear upon it. As we shall hereafter see, this is practically to deny that man has character, or that the will by its right or wrong moral action gives to itself, as well as to the intellect and affections, a permanent bent or predisposition to good or evil. It is to extend the power of contrary choice, a power which belongs, to the sphere of transient volition, over all those permanent states of intellect, affection, and will which we call the moral character, and to say that we can change directly by a single volition that which, as a matter of fact, we can change only indirectly through process and means. Yet even this exaggerated view of freedom would seem not to exclude God’s decrees, or prevent a practical reconciliation of the Arminian and Calvinistic views, so long as the Arminian grants God’s foreknowledge of free human acts, and the Calvinist grants that God’s decree of these acts is not necessarily a decree that God will efficiently produce them. For a close approximation of the two views, see articles by Raymond and by A. A. Hodge, respectively, on the Arminian and the Calvinistic Doctrines of the Will, in McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia, 10:989, 992.
    We therefore hold to the certainty of human action, and so part company with the Arminian. We cannot with Whedon (On the Will), and Hazard (Man a Creative First Cause), attribute to the will the freedom of indifference, or the power to act without motive. We hold with Calderwood, Moral Philosophy, 183, that action without motive, or an act of pure will, is unknown in consciousness (see, however, an inconsistent statement of Calderwood on page 188 of the same work). Every future human act will not only be performed with a motive, but will certainly be one thing rather than another; and God knows what it will be. Whatever may be the method of God’s foreknowledge, and whether it be derived from motives or be intuitive, that foreknowledge presupposes God’s decree to create, and so presupposes the making certain of the free acts that follow creation.
    But this certainty is not necessity. In reconciling God’s decrees with human freedom, we must not go to the other extreme, and reduce human freedom to mere determinism, or the power of the agent to act out his character in the circumstances which environ him. Human action is not simply the expression of previously dominant affections; else neither Satan nor Adam could have fallen, nor could the Christian ever sin. We therefore part company with Jonathan Edwards and his Treatise on the Freedom of the Will, as well as with the younger Edwards (Works, 1:420). Alexander (Moral Science, 107), and Charles Hodge (Syst. Theology, 2:278), all of whom follow Jonathan Edwards in identifying sensibility with the will, in regarding affections as the causes of volitions, and in speaking of the connection between motive and action as a necessary one. We hold, on the contrary, that sensibility and will are two distinct powers, that affections are occasions but never causes of volitions, and that, while motives may infallibly persuade, they never compel the will. The power to make the decision other than it is resides in the will, though it may never be exercised. With Charnock, the Puritan (Attributes, 1:448–450), we say that “man hath a power to do otherwise than that which God foreknows he will do.” Since, then, God’s decrees are not executed by laying compulsion upon human wills, they are not inconsistent with man’s freedom. See Martineau, Study, 2:237, 249, 258, 261; also article by A. H. Strong, on Modified Calvinism, or Remainders of Freedom in Man, in Baptist Review, 1883:219–243; reprinted in the author’s Philosophy and Religion, 114–128.
  16. SeamusDelion

    SeamusDelion Calvinist Supporter

    2. That they take away all motive for human exertion

    To this we reply that:

    (a) They cannot thus influence men, since they are not addressed to men, are not the rule of human action, and become known only after the event. This objection is therefore the mere excuse of indolence and disobedience.

    Men rarely make this excuse in any enterprise in which their hopes and their interests are enlisted. It is mainly in matters of religion that men use the divine decrees as an apology for their sloth and inaction. The passengers on an ocean steamer do not deny their ability to walk to starboard or to larboard, upon the plea that they are being carried to their destination by forces beyond their control. Such a plea would be still more irrational in a case where the passengers’ inaction, as in case of fire, might result in destruction to the ship.

    (b) The objection confounds the decrees of God with fate. But it is to be observed that fate is unintelligent, while the decrees are framed by a personal God in infinite wisdom; fate is indistinguishable from material causation and leaves no room for human freedom, while the decrees exclude all notion of physical necessity; fate embraces no moral ideas or ends, while the decrees make these controlling in the universe.

    North British Rev., April, 1870—“Determinism and predestination spring from premises which lie in quite separate regions of thought. The predestinarian is obliged by his theology to admit the existence of a free will in God, and, as a matter of fact, he does admit it in the devil. But the final consideration which puts a great gulf between the determinist and the predestinarian is this, that the latter asserts the reality of the vulgar notion of moral desert. Even if he were not obliged by his interpretation of Scripture to assert this, he would be obliged to assert it in order to help out his doctrine of eternal reprobation.”
    Hawthorne expressed his belief in human freedom when he said that destiny itself had often been worsted in the attempt to get him out to dinner. Benjamin Franklin, in his Autobiography, quotes the Indian’s excuse for getting drunk: “The Great Spirit made all things for some use, and whatsoever use they were made for, to that use they must be put. The Great Spirit made rum for Indians to get drunk with, and so it must be.” Martha, in Isabel Carnaby, excuses her breaking of dishes by saying: “It seems as if it was to be. It is the thin edge of the wedge that in time will turn again and rend you.” Seminary professor: “Did a man ever die before his time?” Seminary student: “I never knew of such a case.” The decrees of God, considered as God’s all-embracing plan, leave room for human freedom.

    (c) The objection ignores the logical relation between the decree of the end and the decree of the means to secure it. The decrees of God not only ensure the end to be obtained, but they ensure free human action as logically prior thereto. All conflict between the decrees and human exertion must therefore be apparent and not real. Since consciousness and Scripture assure us that free agency exists, it must exist by divine decree; and though we may be ignorant of the method in which the decrees are executed, we have no right to doubt either the decrees or the freedom. They must be held to be consistent, until one of them is proved to be a delusion.

    The man who carries a vase of gold-fish does not prevent the fish from moving unrestrainedly within the vase. The double track of a railway enables a formidable approaching train to slip by without colliding with our own. Our globe takes us with it, as it rushes around the sun, yet we do our ordinary work without interruption. The two movements which at first sight seem inconsistent with each other are really parts of one whole. God’s plan and man’s effort are equally in harmony. Myers, Human Personality, 2:272, speaks of “molecular motion amid molar calm.”
    Dr. Duryea: “The way of life has two fences. There is an Arminian fence to keep us out of Fatalism; and there is a Calvinistic fence to keep us out of Pelagianism. Some good brethren like to walk on the fences. But it is hard in that way to keep one’s balance. And it is needless, for there is plenty of room between the fences. For my part I prefer to walk in the road.” Archibald Alexander’s statement is yet better: “Calvinism is the broadest of systems. It regards the divine sovereignty and the freedom of the human will as the two sides of a roof which come together at a ridgepole above the clouds. Calvinism accepts both truths. A system which denies either one of the two has only half a roof over its head.”
    Spurgeon, Autobiography, 1:176, and The Best Bread, 109—“The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line but two, and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once.… These two facts [of divine sovereignty and of human freedom] are parallel lines; I cannot make them unite, but you cannot make them cross each other.” John A. Broadus: “You can see only two sides of a building at once; if you go around it, you see two different sides, but the first two are hidden. This is true if you are on the ground. But if you get up upon the roof or in a balloon, you can see that there are four sides, and you can see them all together. So our finite minds can take in sovereignty and freedom alternately, but not simultaneously. God from above can see them both, and from heaven we too may be able to look down and see.”

    (d) Since the decrees connect means and ends together, and ends are decreed only as the result of means, they encourage effort instead of discouraging it. Belief in God’s plan that success shall reward toil, incites to courageous and persevering effort. Upon the very ground of God’s decree, the Scripture urges us to the diligent use of means.

    God has decreed the harvest only as the result of man’s labor in sowing and reaping; God decrees wealth to the man who works and saves; so answers are decreed to prayer, and salvation to faith. Compare Paul’s declaration of God’s purpose (Acts 27:22, 24—“there shall be no loss of life among you.… God hath granted thee all them that sail with thee”) with his warning to the centurion and sailors to use the means of safety (verse 31—“Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved”). See also Phil. 2:12, 13—“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure”; Eph. 2:10—“we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them”; Deut. 29:29—“the secret things belong unto Jehovah our God: but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” See Bennet Tyler, Memoir and Lectures, 252–254.
    Ps. 59:10 (A. V.)—“The God of my mercy shall prevent me”—shall anticipate, or go before, me; Is. 65:24—“before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear”; Ps. 23:2—“He leadeth me”; John 10:3—“calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” These texts describe prevenient grace in prayer, in conversion, and in Christian work. Plato called reason and sensibility a mismatched pair, one of which was always getting ahead of the other. Decrees and freedom seem to be mismatched, but they are not so. Even Jonathan Edwards, with his deterministic theory of the will, could, in his sermon on Pressing into the Kingdom, insist on the use of means, and could appeal to men as if they had the power to choose between the motives of self and of God. God’s sovereignty and human freedom are like the positive and the negative poles of the magnet,—they are inseparable from one another, and are both indispensable elements in the attraction of the gospel.
    Peter Damiani, the great monk-cardinal, said that the sin he found it hardest to uproot was his disposition to laughter. The homage paid to asceticism is the homage paid to the conqueror. But not all conquests are worthy of homage. Better the words of Luthar: “If our God may make excellent large pike and good Rhenish wine, I may very well venture to eat and drink. Thou mayest enjoy every pleasure in the world that is not sinful; thy God forbids thee not, but rather wills it. And it is pleasing to the dear God whenever thou rejoicest or laughest from the bottom of thy heart.” But our freedom has its limits. Martha Baker Dunn: “A man fishing for pickerel baits his hook with a live minnow and throws him into the water. The little minnow seems to be swimming gaily at his own free will, but just the moment he attempts to move out of his appointed course he begins to realize that there is a hook in his back. That is what we find out when we try to swim against the stream of God’s decrees.”
  17. SeamusDelion

    SeamusDelion Calvinist Supporter

    3. That they make God the author of sin

    To this we reply:

    (a) They make God, not the author of sin, but the author of free beings who are themselves the authors of sin. God does not decree efficiently to work evil desires or choices in men. He decrees sin only in the sense of decreeing to create and preserve those who will sin; in other words, he decrees to create and preserve human wills which, in their own self-chosen courses, will be and do evil. In all this, man attributes sin to himself and not to God, and God hates, denounces, and punishes sin.

    Joseph’s brethren were none the less wicked for the fact that God meant their conduct to result in good (Gen. 50:20). Pope Leo X and his indulgences brought on the Reformation, but he was none the less guilty. Slaveholders would have been no more excusable, even if they had been able to prove that the negro race was cursed in the curse of Canaan (Gen. 9:25—“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren”). Fitch, in Christian Spectator, 3:601—“There can be and is a purpose of God which is not an efficient purpose. It embraces the voluntary acts of moral beings, without creating those acts by divine efficiency.” See Martineau, Study, 2:107, 136.
    Mat. 26:24—“The Son of man goeth even as it is written of him: but woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had not been born.” It was appointed that Christ should suffer, but that did not make men less free agents, nor diminish the guilt of their treachery and injustice. Robert G. Ingersoll asked: “Why did God create the devil?” We reply that God did not create the devil,—it was the devil who made the devil. God made a holy and free spirit who abused his liberty, himself created sin, and so made himself a devil.
    Pfleiderer, Philos. Religion, 1:299—“Evil has been referred to 1. an extra-divine principle—to one or many evil spirits, or to fate, or to matter—at all events to a principle limiting the divine power; 2. a want or defect in the Deity himself, either his imperfect wisdom or his imperfect goodness; 3. human culpability, either a universal imperfection of human nature, or particular transgressions of the first men.” The third of these explanations is the true one: the first is irrational; the second is blasphemous. Yet this second is the explanation of Omar Khayyám, Rubáiyat, stanzas 80, 81—“Oh Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin Beset the road I was to wander in, Thou wilt not with predestined evil round Enmesh, and then impute my fall to sin. Oh Thou, who man of baser earth didst make, And even with Paradise devise the snake: For all the sin wherewith the face of man Is blackened—man’s forgiveness give—and take!” And David Harum similarly says: “If I’ve done anything to be sorry for, I’m willing to be forgiven.”

    (b) The decree to permit sin is therefore not an efficient but a permissive decree, or a decree to permit, in distinction from a decree to produce by his own efficiency. No difficulty attaches to such a decree to permit sin, which does not attach to the actual permission of it. But God does actually permit sin, and it must be right for him to permit it. It must therefore be right for him to decree to permit it. If God’s holiness and wisdom and power are not impugned by the actual existence of moral evil, they are not impugned by the original decree that it should exist.

    Jonathan Edwards, Works, 2:100—“The sun is not the cause of the darkness that follows its setting, but only the occasion”; 254—“If by the author of sin be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing—so it would be a reproach and blasphemy to suppose God to be the author of sin.… But if by author of sin is meant the permitter or non-hinderer of sin, and at the same time a disposer of the state of events in such a manner, for wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted and not hindered, will most certainly follow, I do not deny that God is the author of sin; it is no reproach to the Most High to be thus the author of sin.” On the objection that the doctrine of decrees imputes to God two wills, and that he has foreordained what he has forbidden, see Bennet Tyler, Memoir and Lectures, 250–252—“A ruler may forbid treason; but his command does not oblige him to do all in his power to prevent disobedience to it. It may promote the good of his kingdom to suffer the treason to be committed, and the traitor to be punished according to law. That in view of this resulting good he chooses not to prevent the treason, does not imply any contradiction or opposition of will in the monarch.”
    An ungodly editor excused his vicious journalism by saying that he was not ashamed to describe anything which Providence had permitted to happen. But “permitted” here had an implication of causation. He laid the blame of the evil upon Providence. He was ashamed to describe many things that were good and which God actually caused, while he was not ashamed to describe the immoral things which God did not cause, but only permitted men to cause. In this sense we may assent to Jonathan Edwards’s words: “The divine Being is not the author of sin, but only disposes things in such a manner that sin will certainly ensue.” These words are found in his treatise on Original Sin. In his Essay on Freedom of the will, he adds a doctrine of causation which we must repudiate: “The essence of virtue and vice, as they exist in the disposition of the heart, and are manifested in the acts of the will, lies not in their Cause but in their Nature.” We reply that sin could not be condemnable in its nature, if God and not man were its cause.
    Robert Browning, Mibrab Shah: “wherefore should any evil hap to man—From ache of flesh to agony of soul—since God’s All-mercy mates All-potency? Nay, why permits he evil to himself—man’s sin, accounted such? Suppose a world purged of all pain, with fit inhabitant—Man pure of evil in thought, word and deed—were it not well? Then, wherefore otherwise? “Fairbairn answers the question, as follows, in his Christ in Modern Theology, 456—“Evil once intended may be vanquished by being allowed; but were it hindered by an act of annihilation, then the victory would rest with the evil which had compelled the Creator to retrace his steps. And, to carry the prevention backward another stage, if the possibility of evil had hindered the creative action of God, then he would have been, as it were, overcome by its very shadow. But why did he create a being capable of sinning? Only so could he create a being capable of obeying. The ability to do good implies the capability of doing evil. The engine can neither obey nor disobey, and the creature who was without this double ability might be a machine, but could be no child. Moral perfection can be attained, but cannot be created; God can make a being capable of moral action, but not a being with all the fruits of moral action garnered within him.”

    (c) The difficulty is therefore one which in substance clings to all theistic systems alike—the question why moral evil is permitted under the government of a God infinitely holy, wise, powerful, and good. This problem is, to our finite powers, incapable of full solution, and must remain to a great degree shrouded in mystery. With regard to it we can only say:
    Negatively,—that God does not permit moral evil because he is not unalterably opposed to sin; nor because moral evil was unforeseen and independent of his will; nor because he could not have prevented it in a moral system. Both observation and experience, which testify to multiplied instances of deliverance from sin without violation of the laws of man’s being, forbid us to limit the power of God.
    Positively,—we seem constrained to say that God permits moral evil because moral evil, though in itself abhorrent to his nature, is yet the incident of a system adapted to his purpose of self-revelation; and further, because it is his wise and sovereign will to institute and maintain this system of which moral evil is an incident, rather than to withhold his self-revelation or to reveal himself through another system in which moral evil should be continually prevented by the exercise of divine power.

    There are four questions which neither Scripture nor reason enables us completely to solve and to which we may safely say that only the higher knowledge of the future state will furnish the answers. These questions are, first, how can a holy God permit moral evil? secondly, how could a being created pure ever fall? thirdly, how can we be responsible for inborn depravity? fourthly, how could Christ justly suffer? The first of these questions now confronts us. A complete theodicy (Θεός, God, and δική, justice) would be a vindication of the justice of God in permitting the natural and moral evil that exists under his government. While a complete theodicy is beyond our powers, we throw some light upon God’s permission of moral evil by considering (1) that freedom of will is necessary to virtue; (2) that God suffers from sin more than does the sinner; (3) that, with the permission of sin, God provided a redemption; and, (4) that God will eventually overrule all evil for good.
    It is possible that the elect angels belong to a moral system in which sin is prevented by constraining motives. We cannot deny that God could prevent sin in a moral system. But it is very doubtful whether God could prevent sin in the best moral system. The most perfect freedom is indispensable to the attainment of the highest virtue. Spurgeon: “There could have been no moral government without permission to sin. God could have created blameless puppets, but they could have had no virtue.” Behrends: “If moral beings were incapable of perversion, man would have had all the virtue of a planet,—that is, no virtue at all.” Sin was permitted, then, only because it could be overruled for the greatest good. This greatest good, we may add, is not simply the highest nobility and virtue of the creature, but also the revelation of the Creator. But for sin, God’s justice and God’s mercy alike would have been unintelligible to the universe. E. G. Robinson: “God could not have revealed his character so well without moral evil as with moral evil.”
    Robert Browning, Christmas Eve, tells us that it was God’s plan to make man in his own image: “To create man, and then leave him Able, his own word saith, to grieve him; But able to glorify him too, As a mere machine could never do, That prayed or praised, all unaware Of its fitness for aught but praise or prayer, Made perfect as a thing of course.” Upton, Hibbert Lectures, 268–270, 324, holds that sin and wickedness is an absolute evil, but an evil permitted to exist because the effacement of it would mean the effacement at the same time both for God and man, of the possibility of reaching the highest spiritual good. See also Martineau, Study of Religion, 2:108; Momerie, Origin of Evil; St. Clair, Evil Physical and Moral; Voysey, Mystery of Pain, Death and Sin.
    C. G. Finney, Skeletons of a Course of Theological Studies, 26, 27—“Infinite goodness, knowledge and power imply only that, if a universe were made, it would be the best that was naturally possible.” To say that God could not be the author of a universe in which there is so much of evil, he says, “assumes that a better universe, upon the whole, was a natural possibility. It assumes that a universe of moral beings could, under a moral government administered in the wisest and best manner, be wholly restrained from sin; but this needs proof, and never can be proved.… The best possible universe may not be the best conceivable universe. Apply the legal maxim, ‘The defendant is to have the benefit of the doubt, and that in proportion to the established character of his reputation.’ There is so much clearly indicating the benevolence of God, that we may believe in his benevolence, where we cannot see it.”
    For advocacy of the view that God cannot prevent evil in a moral system, see Birks, Difficulties of Belief, 17; Young, The Mystery, or Evil not from God; Bledsoe, Theodicy; N. W. Taylor, Moral Government, 1:288–349; 2:327–356. According to Dr. Taylor’s view, God has not a complete control over the moral universe; moral agents can do wrong under every possible influence to prevent it; God prefers, all things considered, that all his creatures should be holy and happy, and does all in his power to make them so; the existence of sin is not on the whole for the best; sin exists because God cannot prevent it in a moral system; the blessedness of God is actually impaired by the disobedience of his creatures. For criticism of these views, see Tyler, Letters on the New Haven Theology, 120, 219. Tyler argues that election and non-election imply power in God to prevent sin; that permitting is not mere submiting to something which he could not possibly prevent. We would add that as a matter of fact God has preserved holy angels, and that there are “just men” who have been “made perfect” (Heb. 12:23) without violating the laws of moral agency. We infer that God could have so preserved Adam. The history of the church leads us to believe that there is no sinner so stubborn that God cannot renew his heart,—even a Saul can be turned into a Paul. We hesitate therefore to ascribe limits to God’s power. While Dr. Taylor held that God could not prevent sin in a moral system, that is, in any moral system, Dr. Park is understood to hold the greatly preferable view that God cannot prevent sin in the best moral system. Flint, Christ’s Kingdom upon Earth, 59—“The alternative is, not evil or no evil, but evil or the miraculous prevention of evil.” See Shedd, Dogm. Theol., 1:406–422.
    But even granting that the present is the best moral system, and that in such a system evil cannot be prevented consistently with God’s wisdom and goodness, the question still remains how the decree to initiate such a system can consist with God’s fundamental attribute of holiness. Of this insoluble mystery we must say as Dr. John Brown, in Spare Hours, 273, says of Arthur H. Hallam’s Theodicæa Novissima: “As was to be expected, the tremendous subject remains where he found it. His glowing love and genius cast a gleam here and there across its gloom, but it is as brief as the lightning in the collied night—the jaws of darkness do devour it up—this secret belongs to God. Across its deep and dazzling darkness, and from out its abyss of thick cloud, ‘all dark, dark, irrecoverably dark,’ no steady ray has ever or will ever come; over its face its own darkness must brood, till he to whom alone the darkness and the light are both alike, to whom the night shineth as the day, says ‘Let there be light!’ ”
    We must remember, however, that the decree of redemption is as old as the decree of the apostasy. The provision of salvation in Christ shows at how great a cost to God was permitted the fall of the race in Adam. He who ordained sin ordained also an atonement for sin and a way of escape from it. Shedd, Dogm. Theol., 1:388—“The permission of sin has cost God more than it has man. No sacrifice and suffering on account of sin has been undergone by any man, equal to that which has been endured by an incarnate God. This shows that God is not acting selfishly in permitting it.” On the permission of moral evil, see Butler, Analogy, Bohn’s ed., 177, 232—“The Government of God, and Christianity, as Schemes imperfectly Comprehended”; Hill, System of Divinity, 528–559; Ulrici, art.: Theodicée, in Herzog’s Encyclopädie; Cunningham, Historical Theology, 2:416–489; Patton, on Retribution and the Divine Purpose, in Princeton Rev., 1878:16–23; Bib. Sac., 20:471–488; Ward, The Witness of Sin.
  18. SeamusDelion

    SeamusDelion Calvinist Supporter


    1. Practical uses of the doctrine of decrees

    (a) It inspires humility by its representation of God’s unsearchable counsels and absolute sovereignty. (b) It teaches confidence in him who has wisely ordered our birth, our death, and our surroundings, even to the minutest particulars, and has made all things work together for the triumph of his kingdom and the good of those who love him; (c) It shows the enemies of God that, as their sins have been foreseen and provided for in God’s plan, so they can never, while remaining in their sins, hope to escape their decreed and threatened penalty. (d) It urges the sinner to avail himself of the appointed means of grace, if he would be counted among the number of those for whom God has decreed salvation.

    This doctrine is one of those advanced teachings of Scripture which requires for its understanding a matured mind and a deep experience. The beginner in the Christian life may not see its value or even its truth, but with increasing years it will become a staff to lean upon. In times of affliction, obloquy, and persecution, the church has found in the decrees of God, and in the prophecies in which these decrees are published, her strong consolation. It is only upon the basis of the decrees that we can believe that “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28) or pray “Thy will be done” (Mat. 6:10).
    It is a striking evidence of the truth of the doctrine that even Arminians pray and sing like Calvinists. Charles Wesley, the Arminian, can write: “He wills that I should holy be—What can withstand his will? The counsel of his grace in me He surely will fulfill.” On the Arminian theory, prayer that God will soften hard hearts is out of place,—the prayer should be offered to the sinner; for it is his will, not God’s, that is in the way of his salvation. And yet this doctrine of Decrees, which at first sight might seem to discourage effort, is the greatest, in fact is the only effectual, incentive to effort. For this reason Calvinists have been the most strenuous advocates of civil liberty. Those who submit themselves most unreservedly to the sovereignty of God are most delivered from the fear of man. Whitefield the Calvinist, and not Wesley the Arminian, originated the great religious movement in which the Methodist church was born (see McFetridge, Calvinism in History, 153), and Spurgeon’s ministry has been as fruitful in conversions as Finney’s. See Froude, Essay on Calvinism; Andrew Fuller, Calvinism and Socinianism compared in their Practical Effects; Atwater, Calvinism in Doctrine and Life, in Princeton Review, 1876:73; J. A. Smith, Historical Lectures.
    Calvinism logically requires the separation of Church and State: though Calvin did not see this, the Calvinist Roger Williams did. Calvinism logically requires a republican form of government: Calvin introduced laymen into the government of the church, and the same principle requires civil liberty as its correlate. Calvinism holds to individualism and the direct responsibility of the individual to God. In the Netherlands, in Scotland, in England, in America, Calvinism has powerfully influenced the development of civil liberty. Ranke: “John Calvin was virtually the founder of America.” Motley: “To the Calvinists more than to any other class of men, the political liberties of Holland, England and America are due.” John Fiske, The Beginnings of New England: “Perhaps not one of the mediaeval popes was more despotic than Calvin; but it is not the less true that the promulgation of his theology was one of the longest steps that mankind have taken towards personal freedom.… It was a religion fit to inspire men who were to be called to fight for freedom, whether in the marshes of the Netherlands or on the moors of Scotland.”
    Æsop, when asked what was the occupation of Zeus, replied: “To humble the exalted and to exalt the humble.” “I accept the universe,” said Margaret Fuller. Some one reported this remark to Thomas Carlyle. “Gad! she’d better!” he replied. Dr. John Watson (Ian McLaren): “The greatest reinforcement religion could have in our time would be a return to the ancient belief in the sovereignty of God.” Whittier “All is of God that is and is to be, And God is good. Let this suffice us still Resting in childlike trust upon his will Who moves to his great ends unthwarted by the ill.” Every true minister preaches Arminianism and prays Calvinism. This means simply that there is more, in God’s love and in God’s purposes, than man can state or comprehend. Beecher called Spurgeon a camel with one hump—Calvinism. Spurgeon called Beecher a camel without any hump: “He does not know what he believes, and you never know where to find him.”
    Arminians sing: “Other refuge have I none; Hangs my helpless soul on thee”; yet John Wesley wrote to the Calvinist Toplady, the author of the hymn: “Your God is my devil.” Calvinists replied that it was better to have the throne of the universe vacant than to have it filled by such a pitiful nonentity as the Arminians worshiped. It was said of Lord Byron that all his life he believed in Calvinism, and hated it. Oliver Wendell Holmes similarly, in all his novels except Elsie Venner, makes the orthodox thinblooded and weakkneed, while his heretics are all strong in body. Dale, Ephesians, 52—“Of the two extremes, the suppression of man which was the offence of Calvinism, and the suppression of God which was the offence against which Calviaism so fiercely protested, the fault and error of Calvinism was the nobler and grander.… The most heroic forms of human courage, strength and righteousness have been found in men who in their theology seemed to deny the possibility of human virtue and made the will of God the only real force in the universe.

    2. True method of preaching the doctrine

    (a) We should most carefully avoid exaggeration or unnecessarily obnoxious statement (b) We should emphasize the fact that the decrees are not grounded in arbitrary will, but in infinite wisdom. (c) We should make it plain that whatever God does or will do, he must from eternity have purposed to do. (d) We should illustrate the doctrine so far as possible by instances of completeness and far-sightedness, in human plans of great enterprises. (e) We may then make extended application of the truth to the encouragement of the Christian and the admonition of the unbeliever.

    For illustrations of foresight, instance Louis Napoleon’s planning the Suez Canal, and declaring his policy as Emperor, long before he ascended the throne of France. For instances of practical treatment of the theme in preaching, see Bushnell, Sermon on Every Man’s Life a Plan of God, in Sermons for the New Life; Nehemiah Adams, Evenings with the Doctrines, 243; Spurgeon’s Sermon on Ps. 44:3—“Because thou hadst a favor unto them.” Robert Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in his hand Who saith ‘A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: See all nor be afraid!’ ”
    Shakespeare, King Lear, 1:2—“This is the excellent foppery of the world that when we are sick in fortune (often the surfeit of our own behavior) we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion, and all that we are evil in by a divine thrusting on; an admirable evasion of man to lay his disposition to the charge of a star!” All’s Well: “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie Which we ascribe to heaven: the fated sky Gives us free scope; only doth backward pull Our slow designs, when we ourselves are dull.” Julius Cæsar, 1:2—“Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

    ICONO'CLAST Well-Known Member