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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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LOOKING BACK

I had lived with no idea how thoroughly sin had penetrated every area of my life. Even the idea that I needed some kind of forgiveness was ridiculous to me. God, however, is merciful.

I was His enemy, yet God brought me to Him. Paul said:

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. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

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Hardness of Heart

Elliot first missionary among the Indians

Quoting John Alexander, former president of Inter Varsity Fellowship:

“At the beginning of my missionary career I said that if predestination were true I could never be a missionary. Now after twenty some years of struggling with the hardness of the human heart, I say I could never be a missionary unless I believed in the doctrine of predestination.”

Unconditional Election

The Five Dilemmas of CalvinismCraig R. Brown:

The doctrine of unconditional election is also known as predestination, a word that sends chills up the spines of those who do not understand it. But those who reject this doctrine must ask themselves what kind of a God they want to believe in: a God who is in control of everything or one who is at the mercy of man and his decisions. (The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism)

Many Would Rather Exclude God

Loraine Boettner in 1917 at the age of 16Loraine Boettner D.D.:

Although the sovereignty of God is universal and absolute, it is not the sovereignty of blind power. It is coupled with infinite wisdom, holiness and love. And this doctrine, when properly understood, is a most comforting and reassuring one. Who would not prefer to have his affairs in the hands of a God of infinite power, wisdom, holiness and love, rather than to have them left to fate, or chance, or irrevocable natural law, or to shortsighted and perverted self? Those who reject God’s sovereignty should consider what alternatives they have left.

The affairs of the universe, then, are controlled and guided, how? “According to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will.” The present day tendency is to set aside the doctrines of Divine Sovereignty and Predestination in order to make room for the autocracy of the human will. The pride and presumption of man, on the one hand, and his ignorance and depravity on the other, lead him to exclude God and to exalt himself so far as he is able; and both of these tendencies combine to lead the great majority of mankind away from Calvinism. (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination)

It Was Included in God’s Plan

Sovereignty of GodLoraine Boettner D.D.:

If the perfection of the divine plan be denied, no consistent stopping place will be found short of atheism. In the first place there was no necessity that God should create at all. He acted with perfect freedom when He brought this world into existence. When He did choose to create, there were before Him an infinite number of possible plans. But as a matter of fact we find that He chose this particular one in which we now are. And since He knew perfectly every event of every kind which would be involved in this particular world-order, He very obviously predetermined every event which would happen when He chose this plan. His choice of the plan, or His making certain that the creation should be on this order, we call His foreordination or His predestination.

Even the sinful acts of men are included in this plan. They are foreseen, permitted, and have their exact place. They are controlled and overruled for the divine glory. The crucifixion of Christ, which is admittedly the worst crime in all human history, had, we are expressly told, its exact and necessary place in the plan (Acts 2:23; 4:28). This particular manner of redemption is not an expedient to which God was driven after being defeated and disappointed by the fall of man. Rather it is “according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Ephesians 3:11.

Peter tells us that Christ as a sacrifice for sin was “foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world,” 1 Peter 1:20. Believers were “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” (or from eternity), Ephesians 1:4. We are saved not by our own temporary works, “but according to His purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal,” 2 Timothy 1:9. And if the crucifixion of Christ, or His offering up Himself as a sacrifice for sin, was in the eternal plan, then plainly the fall of Adam and all other sins which made that sacrifice necessary were in the plan, no matter how undesirable a part of that plan they may have been.

History in all its details, even the most minute, is but the unfolding of the eternal purposes of God. His decrees are not successively formed as the emergency arises, but are all parts of one all-comprehending plan, and we should never think of Him suddenly evolving a plan or doing something which He had not thought of before. (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination)

God’s Plan

Loraine BoettnerLoraine Boettner D.D.:

It is unthinkable that a God of infinite wisdom and power would create a world without a definite plan for that world. And because God is thus infinite His plan must extend to every detail of the world’s existence. If we could see the world in all its relations, past, present, and future, we would see that it is following a predetermined course with exact precision. Among created things we may search where we will, as far as the microscope and the telescope will enable the eye to see, we find organization everywhere. Large forms resolve themselves into parts, and these parts in their turn are but organized of other parts down as far as we can see into infinity.

Even man, who is but the creature of a day and subject to all kinds of errors, develops a plan before he acts; and a man who acts without design or purpose is accounted foolish. . . .

If this is true of man, how much more is it true of God! “A universe without decrees,” says A. J. Gordon, “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.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination)

The Old Paths are Best

Loraine Boettner D.D.:

We can have no adequate appreciation of this world-order until we see it as one mighty system through which God is working out His plans. Calvin’s clear and consistent theism gave him a keen sense of the infinite majesty of the Almighty Person in whose hands all things lay, and made him a very pronounced predestinarian. In this doctrine of the unconditional and eternal purpose of the omniscient and omnipotent God, he found the program of the history of the fall and redemption of the human race. He ventured boldly but reverently upon the brink of that abyss of speculation where all human knowledge is lost in mystery and adoration.

The Reformed Faith, then, offers us a great God who is really the sovereign Ruler of the Universe. “Its grand principle,” says Bayne, “is the contemplation of the universe of God revealed in Christ. In all places, in all times, from eternity to eternity, Calvinism sees God.” Our age, with its emphasis on democracy, doesn’t like this view, and perhaps no other age liked it less. The tendency today is to exalt man and to give God only a very limited part in the affairs of the world. As Dr. A. A. Hodge has said, “The new theology, asserting the narrowness of the old, is discarding the foreordination of Jehovah as a worn-out figment of the schools, discredited by the advanced culture of today. This is not the first time that the owls, mistaking the shadow of a passing eclipse for their native night, have prematurely hooted at the eagles, convinced that what is invisible to them cannot possibly exist.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination)

All-Embracing Predestination

Dr. Abraham Kuyper:

“The determination of the existence of all things to be created, or what is to be camellia or buttercup, nightingale or crow, hart or swine, and equally among men, the determination of our own persons, whether one is to be born as boy or girl, rich or poor, dull or clever, white or colored or even as Abel and Cain, is the most tremendous predestination conceivable in heaven or on earth; and still we see it taking place before our eyes every day, and we ourselves are subject to it in our entire personality; our entire existence, our very nature, our position in life being entirely dependent on it. This all-embracing predestination, the Calvinist places, not in the hands of man, and still less in the hand of blind natural force, but in the hand of Almighty God, sovereign Creator and Possessor of heaven and earth; and it is in the figure of the potter and the clay that Scripture has from the time of the prophets expounded to us this all-dominating election. Election in creation, election in providence, and so election also to eternal life; election in the realm of grace as well as in the realm of nature.”

It was Foreordained Who should Receive the Word of Life

Every event in the course of human affairs in all of history and in all nations, no matter how insignificant it may appear to us, has its exact place in God’s eternal plan. Loraine Boettner D.D. writes:

That Luther was as zealous for absolute predestination as was Calvin is shown in his commentary on Romans, where he wrote: “All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned.”

And Melanchthon, his close friend and fellow-laborer, says: “All things turn out according to divine predestination; not only the works we do outwardly, but even the thoughts we think inwardly”; and again, “There is no such thing as chance, or fortune; nor is there a readier way to gain the fear of God, and to put our whole trust in Him, than to be thoroughly versed in the doctrine of Predestination.”

“Order is heaven’s first law.” From the divine viewpoint there is unbroken order and progress from the first beginnings of the creation to the end of the world and the ushering in of the kingdom of heaven in all its glory. The divine purpose and plan is nowhere defeated nor interrupted; that which in many cases appears to us to be defeat is not really such but only appears to be, because our finite and imperfect nature does not permit us to see all the parts in the whole nor the whole in all its parts. If at one glance we could take in “the mighty spectacle of the natural world and the complex drama of human history,” we should see the world as one harmonious unit manifesting the glorious perfections of God. “Though the world seems to run at random,” says Bishop, “and affairs to be huddled together in blind confusion and rude disorder, yet, God sees and knows the concatenation of all causes and effects, and so governs them that He makes a perfect harmony out of all those seeming jarrings and discords. It is most necessary that we should have our hearts well established in the firm and unwavering belief of this truth, that whatever comes to pass, be it good or evil, we may look up to the hand and disposal of all, to God.

In respect of God, there is nothing neither casual nor contingent in the world. If a master should send a servant to a certain place and command him to stay there till such a time, and, presently after, should send another servant to the same place, the meeting of these two is wholly casual in respect to themselves, but ordained and foreseen by the master who sent them. They fall out unexpectedly as to us, but not so as to God. He foresees and He appoints all the vicissitudes of things.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination)

The Hand of God

Loraine Boettner D.D.:

The Reformed theologians logically and consistently applied to the spheres of creation and providence those great principles which were later set forth in the Westminster Standards. They saw the hand of God in every event in all the history of mankind and in all the workings of physical nature so that the world was the complete realization in time of the eternal ideal. The world as a whole and in all its parts and movements and changes was brought into a unity by the governing, all-pervading, all-harmonizing activity of the divine will, and its purpose was to manifest the divine glory. While their conception was that of a divine ordering of the whole course of history to the veriest detail, they were especially concerned with its relation to man’s salvation. Calvin, the brilliant and systematic theologian of the Reformation, put the matter thus:

“Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which He has determined in Himself, what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some and eternal death for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say he is predestinated either to life or to death.”

The Purpose of God

Loraine Boettner:

This doctrine of Predestination represents the purpose of God as absolute and unconditional, independent of the whole finite creation and as originating solely in the eternal counsel of His will. God is seen as the great and mighty King who has appointed the course of nature and who directs the course of history even down to its minutest details. His decree is eternal, unchangeable, holy, wise, and sovereign. It extends not merely to the course of the physical world but to every event in human history from the creation to the judgment, and includes all the activities of saints and angels in heaven and of reprobates and demons in hell. It embraces the whole scope of creaturely existence, through time and eternity, comprehending at once all things that ever were or will be in their causes, conditions, successions, and relations. Everything outside of God Himself is included in this all-embracing decree, and that very naturally since all other beings owe their existence and continuance in existence to His creative and sustaining power. It provides a providential control under which all things are hastening to the end of God’s determining; and the goal is one far-off divine event toward which the whole creation moves. (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 8)

If We are to be Biblical!

Quoting R. C. Sproul:

“If we are to be biblical, then, the issue is not whether we should have a doctrine of predestination or not, but what kind we should embrace.”

John Calvin and Predestination

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37 ESV) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (John 6:44 ESV) All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27 ESV) In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6 ESV)

I have noticed over the years that many people do not like the attention I often give to John Calvin in my blog. Perhaps they have been prejudiced by the rewriting of church and secular history by authors who (according to their own personal biases) have often portrayed Calvin as grave, somber, and the vindictive purveyor of predestination. Indeed, Calvin’s God has been slandered as cruel, unjust, and – at the very least – unfair.

Born in France in 1509, Calvin studied theology and law, and was converted in 1533. He lived in exile from 1534. In Basel, Calvin wrote the first part of his Institutes of the Christian Religion. He then traveled to Geneva; Strasbourg; and finally back to Geneva where he lived out his life. John Knox testified that under the guidance of Calvin, Geneva was “the most perfect school of Christ that ever was in the earth since the days of the Apostles.”

The terms “predestination” and “election” are often viewed with suspicion as “something vile” Calvin invented. Calvin, however, would be stunned that he is accused of inventing predestination. Except for its unpopularity in the last 130 years due to Arminianism, radical dispensationalism, pride, and sin, it is quite evident in the teachings of the Scriptures. It is clearly taught by Paul, Augustine, and Martin Luther as well (among many others). Luther said of predestination, “That is what Reason can neither grasp nor endure, and what has offended all these men of outstanding talent who have been so received for so many centuries. Here they demand that God should act according to human justice, and do what seems right to them or else cease to be God.” (The Bondage of the Will)

Many people are simply very confused about the nature of election. Paul writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV) In election, as taught by the Bible, we find that God has blessed us with faith according to His purpose. God is the “author and finisher” of our faith. We cannot save ourselves – so it is God Who must save us. It is God who elects (chooses). We do not choose Him. There is nothing cold, impersonal, or fatalistic about election. It is God’s response to the grip of sin which has tossed mankind over into chaos. The acceptance of predestination falls heavily on the question of whether you are willing to give God full credit and glory for saving you. For anyone who believes Christ saves us with our help; it is but a short step to – we save ourselves with Christ’s help.

A right view of predestination exalts the love and majesty of God. If you deny election, you decrease the supremacy of God in your heart. God is supremely sovereign over the universe and everything in it. There is not one molecule in creation that is beyond His control. If God is not sovereign, He is not God. If He is not sovereign, you and I will never be saved from sin.

“Predestination should be taught… because it is one of the primary Gospel doctrines, and foundations of faith. It cannot be ignored without great injury to the Church and to believers, since it is the fount of our gratitude to God, the root of humility, the foundation and most firm anchor of confidence in all temptations, the fulcrum of the sweetest consolation, and the most powerful spur to piety and holiness.” (Institutio Theologiae Elencticae, Question 6) In the election and predestination of God we discover hopefulness and truth. Accepting that God predestined us, should give each of us confidence that God will carry out His purpose in us. I close with the following words from Octavius Winslow:

“What doctrine is more emptying, humbling, and therefore sanctifying, than predestination? It lays the axe at the root of all human boasting. In the light of this truth, the most holy believer sees that there is no difference between him and the vilest sinner that crawls the earth, but what the mere grace of God has made. . . One blessing accruing from the doctrine of predestination is the sweet and holy submission into which it brings the mind under all afflictive dispensations. Each step of his pilgrimage and each incident of his history, the believer sees appointed in the everlasting covenant of grace. . . The radiance which predestination reflects upon the entire history of the child of God, and the calm repose which it diffuses over the mind in all the perplexing, painful, and mysterious events of that history, can only be understood by those whose hearts have fully received this doctrine.”

The Evil of Murmuring and Complaining

God’s people should comfort themselves in whatever befalls them, by resting quietly and submissively in the bosom of God. Consider that whatever comes to pass proceeds from the decree of their gracious Creator and loving Father. Only He knows what is best for them and will make all things work together for their good. Thomas Boston says:

Whoever may be the instruments of any good to us, of whatever sort, we must look above them, and see the hand and counsel of God in it, which is their first source, and be duly thankful to God for it. And whatever evil of suffering or afflictions befall us, we must look above the instruments of it to God. . . . We should be patient under whatever distress comes upon us, considering that God is on our side. Job 2:10 “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” This would be a happy means to quiet our complaining at adverse dispensations. Hence David says, “I was mute, I did not open my mouth, because it was you who did it.” Psalm 39:9

See here the evil of murmuring and complaining at our lot in the world. How apt are you to quarrel with God, as if he were in the wrong to you, when his dealings with you are not according to your own desires and wishes? You demand a reason, and call God to an account, Why did this happen to me? Why am I so much afflicted and distressed? Why am I so long afflicted? And why such an affliction rather than another? Why am I so poor and another so rich? Thus your hearts rise up against God. But you should remember that this is to defame the counsels of infinite wisdom, as if God had not ordered your affairs wisely enough in his eternal counsel. We find the Lord reproving Job for this, chap. 40:2 “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?” When you murmur and brood under cross and afflictive dispensations, this is a presuming to instruct God how to deal with you, and to reprove him as if he were in the wrong. Indeed, there is a kind of implicit blasphemy in it, as if you had more wisdom and justice to arrange your circumstances, and to carve out your own portion in the world. This is what you really mean when you say, “If I had been on God’s counsel, I would have ordered this matter better; things would not be with me as they are now.” Oh presume not to correct the infinite wisdom of God, seeing he has decreed all things most wisely and judiciously. (“Important Lessons Drawn from the Decrees of God”)

Casting Blame Upon God’s Decree

In the words of Thomas Boston:

Wicked men, when they commit some wicked or atrocious crime, might attempt to excuse themselves, saying, “Who can help it? God would have it so; it was appointed for me before I was born, so that I could not avoid it.” This is a horrid abuse of the divine decrees, as if they might constrain men to sin. This is impossible. The decree is an immanent act of God, and so can have no influence, physical or moral, upon the wills of men, but leaves them to the liberty and free choice of their own hearts; and what sinners do, they do most freely and of their own choice. It is a horrid and detestable wickedness to cast the blame of your sin upon God’s decree. This is to charge your villainy upon him, as if he were the author of it. It is great folly to cast your sins upon Satan who tempted you, or upon your neighbor who provoked you: but it is a far greater sin, nay, horrid blasphemy, to cast it upon God himself. A greater affront than this cannot be offered to the infinite holiness of God.

O what a sweet and pleasant life would you have under the heaviest pressures of affliction, and what heavenly serenity and tranquility of mind would you enjoy, would you cheerfully acquiesce in the good will and pleasure of God, and embrace every dispensation, how no matter how sharp it may be, because it is determined and appointed for you by the eternal counsel of his will! (“Important Lessons Drawn from the Decrees of God”)

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