51 page Pdf on God’s Decrees- Fall 2016/ Issue 106
Introduction: Decrees | Tom Nettles
The Nature of God’s Eternal Decree An exposition of Paragraphs 1 and 2 of Chapter 7 “The Decree of God” From the 1689 London Baptist Confession | Tom Hicks
Predestined to Eternal Life Glory Hidden in the Mystery | Jared Longshore
Reprobation and the Second London Confession “the Second London Confession affirms reprobation, a doctrine which has been and continues to be the subject of much controversy” | Richard Blaylock
Like a Stone? The Perfect Confluence of God’s Providence And Human Freedom | Aaron Matherly
The High Mystery of Predestination An exposition of Paragraph 3 of Chapter 7 “The Decree of God” From the 1689 London Baptist Confession | Fred Malone
Book Review The Gospel Heritage of Georgia Baptists: 1772–1830 by Brandon F. Smith and Kurt M. Smith | Reviewed by Tom Nettles
“In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated, according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (#Eph 1:11).
The three Bible words in the above caption express closely related doctrine, which find support in the above text. Since knowledge begins with definition, I shall begin with a definition of terms. Predestination may be defined as the purpose of God from eternity respecting future events. Prophecy is a declaration or revelation of future events and human actions. Providence is the work of God bringing to pass in history what is predestinated in eternity and prophesied in time. These three doctrines are based upon the will of God. And so we read that He “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”
We might put it like this: Predestination is the eternal determination or purpose of the Divine will; Prophecy is the revelation of the Divine will; and Providence is the execution of the Divine will.
This raises the question as to who or what is running this world. In answer to this question, there are four schools of thought. One school says that all things come to pass by a fixed law-the law of nature. According to this view, the Creator made the world, as a man might make a clock and wind it up, leaving it to run by itself without outside interference. The only part God has in world affairs is to allow it to run by natural and moral laws He Himself gave. This view rejects all miracles and believes only what can be accounted for on so-called scientific grounds. The second school says that things happen by a sort of chance; that nothing is fixed or determined, and that one thing is as likely to happen as another. The third school believes that everything comes to pass by a cold, impersonal force called fate. And finally there is the Bible and Christian view that all things come to pass by a Divine will called Providence; that is, by the administration of wise, loving, and almighty God. The God who created, sustains and rules to the praise of His own glory, and for the good of His people.
In our English Bible the word “providence” occurs only once: #Ac 24:2. Here it refers to the government or administration of Felix the Roman governor of Judea. The apostle Paul is on trial before Felix, charged by the Jews with the crime of insurrection, and as being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. Ananias, chief priest, and the elders bring with them a lawyer Tertullus, who prosecutes the case against Paul. But before pressing his case, Tertullus flatters the governor by saying, “Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, we accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness” (#Ac 24:2,3). What flattery and lying! During the administration of Felix, revolts in the nation were common and continuous, culminating in the final revolt that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
While the word “providence” here refers to the rule of Felix over Judea, the word is much more applicable to the sovereign rule of God Whose kingdom is over all and from everlasting to everlasting.
SOME GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
1. While the Divine decrees and prophecies make a thing certain, there is no external force used in bringing it to pass. When an evil deed is predicted of someone, providence is not an external force that compels the act. We can never truthfully say that man had to sin as far as external force is concerned. God never forces anyone to sin; on the other hand He gives commandments and warnings and inducements not to sin. Nor can any man or group of men force another man to sin. If you should take me by physical force, place a gun in my hand, and by force compel me to pull the trigger, resulting in the death of someone, I would not be guilty of murder, or even a misdemeanor.
2. Let it be remembered and understood once for all that sin resides in the human heart—sin must be in the heart before it can be in the hand. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (#Mt 15:19). And let us also remember that God never put sin in the human heart. How it got there is a profound mystery. God made man in His own image and likeness and pronounced him good. In the mystery of the Divine administration, the first man sinned and lost the image of God in holiness. And the whole human race fell in the fall of the first Adam: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (#Ro 5:12-19). “…God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (#Ec 7:29). God is never the Author or cause of sin.
3. In bringing sinful deeds to pass all God does is to leave men to themselves to do what is already in their hearts. “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (#Ac 14:16). It is frightening to think that God may again abandon whole nations to their own ways. In Romans, chapter one Paul describes the moral degeneration of the Gentile (heathen) nations. First, men held down or suppressed the truth about God in the book of nature. Pretending to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into various images as objects of worship. There was the Apollo of the Greeks, the eagle of the Romans, the sacred bull of the Egyptians, and the serpent of the Assyrians. And God gave them up to degenerate from bad to worse. And the chapter closes with a long list of sins that are prevalent in our day, even here in so-called Christian American. It makes one shudder to scan the prophetic horizon. In “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (#Ge 6:11), we read that the earth was filled with violence in the days of Noah just preceding the flood and in “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (#Mt 24:37), we are told that these same conditions shall prevail just before our Lord returns in judgment. The masses will be so occupied with temporal and material matters that the judgment will take them unawares. Now back to our main thought, namely, that the eternal purposes and Scriptural prophecies make the predicted evils certain without imposing any necessity to do wrong upon anyone. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are both true, although we may not be able to reconcile them.
SOME ILLUSTRATIONS AND EXAMPLES OF OUR MAIN THEME
1. Take the case of Judas Iscariot who was to betray Jesus. This was first predicted in “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me” (#Ps 41:9), and quoted by Jesus in #Joh 13:18: “I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” Our Lord is here saying that He knew what He was doing when He chose Judas to be an apostle; He did it to make certain the fulfillment of Scripture. When Peter made his confession for the twelve, saying, “…we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus corrected him by saying unto the twelve, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” And John tells us that he was speaking of Judas Iscariot who should betray him. “And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve” (#Joh 6:69-71). At the feast of the Passover, Jesus identified His betrayer by giving him the sop: “Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon” (#Joh 13:26). If Judas had not betrayed Jesus, both the Psalmist and the Saviour would have been found liars. And yet nobody made Judas do that awful deed; he did it of his own free will and accord. He was simply giving expression to what was already in his heart. Our Lord chose Judas because nobody but a devil would do what he did.
2. Consider a few of the many prophecies concerning the death of Christ certain in many and minute details. The very first prophecy was in #Ge 3:15 “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel,” where the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, and have his heel bruised. In “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:” (#Ga 3:13). Paul quotes #De 21:23 “His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance” to indicate that Christ would die by crucifixion, the Roman method of captial punishment. This necessitated a change of government, for if Jesus had been put to death by Jewish law, he would have been stoned. In Psalm 22 we have the cry of anguish (#Ps 22:1); the cruelty of the crowds (#Ps 22:12,17); and the parting of His garments and gambling for His vesture (#Ps 22:18). And all these predictions were fulfilled at the place called Calvary. Isaiah 53 we see the Messiah as despised and rejected of men, as being smitten of God, as making His grave with the wicked and with the rich in His death, as being satisfied with the result of His sufferings, and as praying for His enemies. Behold the mystery of Divine Providence in the fulfillment of all these predictions some 700 years later at Calvary. In #Joh 12:32,33 Jesus Himself predicted the manner and result of His death: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto me. This He said, signifying what death he should die.” In John, chapter ten, He speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd giving His life for His sheep, and predicting that His sheep would hear His voice and follow Him and receive everlasting life. In His prayer as High Priest, recorded in John 17, Jesus acknowledges that the Father had given Him authority over all flesh so that He might give eternal life to all the Father gave Him, and that while He was on earth He had kept those given to Him so that not one of them was lost. And then He says that the son of perdition was lost that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Now in the gospel accounts of the death of Christ we see all these Scriptures fulfilled, everything coming to pass by Divine Providence. And in the book of Acts, Luke the historian, confirms the fulfillment of these prophecies. In #Ac 2:23 he says this: “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel (will) and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Here we have God’s will or purpose in the death of Christ being carried out by wicked hands. Nobody was forced to crucify Christ, men acted on their own free will and revealed the fact that the carnal mind is enmity against God. And the Lord Jesus was God wrapped in human flesh. In #Ac 4:27,28 we have a quotation from the second Psalm, with this comment: “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” Here we have predestination (the determination or purpose of the Divine will), and providence (the execution of the Divine will) in the crucifixion of Christ. Politicians and religionists were doing God’s will, but their motive was not to carry out His will. They were simply acting out what was in their heart. God did not put the evil in their heart, but He did control and direct everything they did for the accomplishment of His eternal purpose in Christ. The human motive was bad, but God overruled it all for the salvation of sinners and to the praise of His grace. Here is one of many places where God makes the wrath of man to praise Him, and preventing that which would not: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (#Ps 76:10). Because of the overruling providence of God, what Joseph’s brethren did in selling him into slavery was attributed to God Himself. When Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and they realized what they had done, they began to weep and be afraid. He confronts them by telling them that the hand of God was in it all for the salvation of human lives. “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God” (#Ge 45:8). And in #Ge 50:20 we learn that what made the difference in the Divine will and the human deed was in the motive. Joseph says to his brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” And so what came to pass at Calvary was overruled to save many sinners from eternal punishment in hell.
To God be the glory!
Great things He hath done:
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son;
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the Life-gate that all may go in.
O perfect redemption, the purchase of Blood,
To every believer the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
Great things He hath taught us,
Great things He hath done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, Our transport, when Jesus we see.
C. D. Cole-Definitions of Doctrine-Volume 2-Part 2
William Tyndale was committed to the biblical teaching of the sovereign election of God. He believed God acted before time began, in eternal love, in choosing a people whom He would save. God set His heart upon a people, elected out of the mass of fallen humanity, to be His own possession. This election of man was not based upon any foreseen choice within man. Rather, it was entirely by the free exercise of God’s will:
“Predestination … and salvation are clean taken out of our hands, and put in the hands of God only … for we are so weak and so uncertain, that if it stood in us, there would of a truth be no man saved; the devil, no doubt, would deceive us.”
Read the entire article here.
In fact, while many students of the Reformation today focus their attention to the obvious differences between Protestantism and Romanism, such as the Papacy, mass, indulgences, et cetera, Luther himself recognizes those issues to be entirely peripheral to the conflict. He wrote in 1525 to Erasmus of Rotterdam, with whom he had been debating the Sovereignty of God’s grace (in election and salvation) and the freedom of man’s will:
I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account—that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such like—trifles, rather than issues in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot.3
With this admission by the Father of the Protestant Reformation, the present study becomes highly important in understanding the Reformation. The debate over single versus double predestination has certainly been an issue throughout church history, but was it an issue among the Reformers? Specifically, were Luther and Calvin at odds on this issue? 19th Century Scottish theologian William Cunningham asserts,
When Luther’s followers, in a subsequent generation, openly deviated from scriptural orthodoxy on these points, they set themselves to prove that Luther had never held Calvinistic principles. . . But we have no hesitation in saying, that it can be established beyond all reasonable question, that Luther held the doctrines which are commonly regarded as most peculiarly Calvinistic, though he was never led to explain and apply, to illustrate and defend some of them, so fully as Calvin did.4
Though Cunningham is confident enough to make this claim, his reader may be disappointed that he fails to make a comprehensive case for his assertion (though his claim is not entirely without defense). Another Reformed5 theologian, Loraine Boettner, in his work The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination claims that “Luther. . .went into the doctrine [of predestination] as heartily as did Calvin himself. He even asserted it with more warmth and proceeded to much harsher lengths in defending it than Calvin ever did.”6 Boettner’s work displays a far better defense of his claim than Cunningham’s, but both fail to fully analyze Luther’s position.
What Cunningham and Boettner both fail to support, the present work intends to prove. Where their assertions fall short, this work will provide ample evidence to support their claims. The Modern Lutheran church does not stand with Martin Luther on the issue of predestination, and thus suffers from an internal contradiction. It’s efforts to modify Luther’s views and to present a more moderate case for predestination ultimately end in conflict with Luther’s uncompromising doctrine of God’s Sovereignty. However, before critically analyzing the writings of Luther, an examination must be made of the various presuppositions possible in approaching Luther’s writings.
Read the entire article here (Pdf 112 Kb).
3 Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1992) p.319.
4 William Cunningham, The Reformers & the Theology of the Reformation, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967) p.109.
5 The term “Reformed,” unless otherwise indicated, denotes a scholar from the Calvinist tradition.
6 Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed,
1505 Scotland Street
December 7, 1959
Dear Dr. Cole:
Since writing my Christmas card to you, I have received your books, “The Heavenly Hope” and “Divine Doctrines”. Thank you very much indeed. I am thoroughly enjoying the magnificent study on the doctrine of God. How it magnifies and exalts Him and restores Him to His rightful position of King of kings and Lord of lords. I have felt for a long time that the Christian church needs a fresh vision of the holiness and majesty of God, and to realize that He is “the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity”. There is entirely too much spirit of camaraderie in our attitude toward God today.
I wish more of our present-day ministers preached doctrine. It seems to me that church members would be more firmly rooted and grounded in their faith if we had more doctrinal teaching and less “snackbar” preaching!
Apropos of our study on Election, I am still getting repercussions from it from some of my class members. Nothing that I have ever taught has stirred up such interest. I also gave a copy of your pamphlet to our minister; am awaiting his reaction!
We were visiting with some friends from another Baptist church a few weeks ago and something came up about my Bible Class and this teaching on election. Would you believe it— not one person in that room, apart from the members of my own immediate family who were present, had even heard about Election, let alone understood it? And yet they are all good Christian people—not just nominal church members.
We only got into a preliminary discussion of it when we were interrupted. But I could see that it was not at all favourably received! (As you say, we are all Arminians by nature!) One woman and her aged father who had moved away to Arizona about two years ago, are back in Calgary and were present that night. About a week ago, I ran into this woman at the post office in one of our local department stores. She is working there temporarily and as there were people waiting to be served she didn’t have too much time to talk to me. But as I was leaving the wicket, she said, “Oh, Marjorie; I want to have a talk with you some time on that matter that we were discussing at Thelma’s the other night.” For a minute or two, my mind was a complete blank—I couldn’t remember what she was referring to. She smiled and said, “You know, we started a discussion about it”. Suddenly light dawned and I said, eagerly, (this is my favourite subject now) “Oh yes, of course. I’ll be glad to any time you are free.” She nodded and said, “Well, it has set me thinking. I don’t understand it and don’t say that I agree but I want to learn more about it”. So there is another ripple from the stone you cast into the pool!
Dr. Cole, when you are so busy, I do hate to bother you with my questions but I feel that you are so learned in this subject that you are in a better position to help me than anyone else. May I trouble you with one or two further questions:
1. What is meant by making “your calling and election sure”? At first when I was reading #2Pe 1:5-10, in the light of my new knowledge on Election, it seemed to me that Peter spoke as if it were possible to lose one’s salvation. And yet, because I believe in the eternal security of the believer (even more so since I understood Election) I didn’t see how this could be. As I prayed about it, it seemed to me that perhaps what is meant is rather that a person who does what Peter admonishes is less likely to backslide rather than be lost? Do you think that is the meaning of it?
2. Is the “all” of #Ro 11:32 another example of “all” not being used in the absolute? I mean the part where it says “that He might have mercy upon all”. Some people argue that verse as being opposed to Election, saying that if God wanted to have mercy on all, He would not pick and choose people for salvation as the doctrine of election teaches.
3. Also, while we are still in Romans, is it true that even Christians will be judged for everything they have done since they were saved? Not in the sense of punishment for their sins, because Judgment on sin was passed at Calvary. But when the Bible says, “So then we must every one give an account of ourselves to God;” and again, #Ro 2:6 —”who will render to every man according to his deeds”; and #1Co 4:5.
I don’t know why it is, but the thought of having all my sins exposed to view, even though I am not going to be punished for them, robs heaven of considerable joy. I backslid very badly some years ago and although the Lord is dearer to me now than He ever was before, I sometimes feel that nothing can undo the sins of those years. God knows all about them and has forgiven me; why must they be published for all the world to see when I get to heaven?
I thought the passages in Psalms that “as far as the east is from the west so far have I removed thy transgression from thee,” meant that once we were saved God really blotted out our sins and we never had to hear about them again. But there seems to be several passages in the epistles which would lead one to think that, although we will not be punished for our sins in the sense of going to hell, we shall certainly have to account for them. If this is so, it seems to me that no Christian could die really at peace, knowing you had that ahead of you. (Why are we more afraid of man’s opinion than God’s?)
4. My last question has to do with pages 7-9 of your pamphlet “The Heavenly Hope”. I had always understood (prior to my study of Election), both from Scripture and various hymns and sermons that I had heard, that there is danger in delaying salvation; that a person could be cut off from this life before they had accepted Christ and be hurled into a Christless eternity.
But according to the doctrine of Election, no one who is elected for salvation can possibly die without being saved? Isn’t that true? (“All that the Father hath given to me, will come unto me…”) Therefore, anyone whom God has intended to save will be saved and cannot possibly be lost so there is no danger in delaying for them; and the non-elect will not be saved anyway. Isn’t that so?
It seems to me I just get things sorted out in my mind to where I understand them, when I read something that puts me off again!
As I say, I used to believe too that there was danger in delay. All the hymn-writers speak of it etc. But since studying Election, I concluded that I must have been wrong. There is no real urgency, in the sense of it being a life and death matter, because no one can die before he is saved, if God intends him to be saved. Therefore, why do ministers (even those like yourself who believe in Election) urge people to make haste and accept Christ before it is too late? It can never be too late for an elected person, can it? I should appreciate being straightened out on this point.
You will get so you dread to see a letter from me if I always write at such length. But there is so much I need to ask you about and modern ministers, like doctors, are so busy they haven’t time for people any more.
Thank you again for all your help and may God richly bless you in the year ahead.
Dr. C. D. Cole-The Bible Doctrine of Election-Part II-Questions and Answers on Election
1505 Scotland Street Calgary, Alberta October 5, 1959
Dr. C.D. Cole
746 W. Noel
My Dear Dr. Cole:
Although I am a total stranger to you, my parents have known Dr. Shields over the years and take “The Witness” regularly. As a result of an article of yours which I read therein several years ago, I feel that I must write you to seek further light on this matter of Election.
Your article opened up a completely new line of thought for me; like most people, I did not subscribe to it at all (at first) but was challenged by it, even though much disturbed. Since then, I have reverted to it time and again and finally this autumn got down to studying it in dead earnest! I read what I could of Spurgeon on the subject, Dr. Shields, and also borrowed a copy of Strong’s Theology which I found rather heavy going! All in all, I have become so obsessed with this doctrine that I can scarcely think of anything else. And yet there is so much that I do not understand. I know that the “heart is deceitful above all things” and perhaps mine is deceiving me when I say that I really think the questions that arise in my mind do not stem so much from a reluctance to admit total depravity as they do from my inability to reconcile the doctrine with other passages of Scripture.
I had always thought that election and predestination was something that the Presbyterians were a little “off” on (excuse the bad grammar!). It never occurred to me that there was so much Scriptural evidence for it, or that Baptists believe it! However, I did feel that if this doctrine was taught in the Scripture, as it seemed to be, than I should know more about it and should believe it, whether I liked it or not and whether I fully understood it or not.
My mind goes round and round like a squirrel in a cage, until I am really exhausted. About the time I think I understand it and accept it, Satan seems to raise fresh doubts to plague me. It leaves one almost breathless. As after a close brush with death, to think that one might not have been elected! Truly, as never before, I can see that our salvation is all of grace. I always thought, when we spoke of salvation as being wholly of God’s grace, that it meant that His plan or idea to save us was unmerited favour, since nothing in us merited His ever desiring to save us; and also, that it was a gift for which we could never possibly work or acquire sufficient righteousness to merit. But obviously grace embodies more even than this. When you realize that a person wouldn’t even want salvation unless he were elected, then you realize how tremendously indebted we are to grace—for it is grace through and through.
I have wondered sometimes if the objections which we feel towards Election are directed more towards the idea of God’s complete sovereignty than towards total depravity. It seems to go against human nature to think that God can do what He likes with us and we are powerless to do anything about it.
I almost hesitate to put into words some of the objections which have come to my mind lest I should be guilty of blasphemy or sacrilege; for I have always been taught that it is a very serious thing to criticize God. And yet, in the interests of clarifying my thinking, I feel that I must confess to you some of the points about election that are troubling me and which seem to contradict other Scriptures and other doctrines.
Also, I teach a Young Women’s Bible Class and we have been studying this subject (the blind leading the blind, I am afraid). We are to have an evening discussion of it on November 5th so I should like to clear up some points in my own mind before that time.
Perhaps the easiest way for you to answer would be for me to put my questions in point form:
1. Most people feel right away that Election is unjust. I realize, from your pamphlet, as well as from Scripture, that God doesn’t owe it to us to save anyone and further, that He has a right to bestow the gift of salvation on whom He will. But somehow the feeling persists that if a person doesn’t even get a chance to accept or reject salvation, he “goes to bat with two strikes against him” so to speak.
Before studying Election, I always thought that if anyone were even remotely interested in being saved, then, in response to prayer by interested relatives or friends, the Holy Spirit would operate on that person’s heart and bring him under conviction to the place where he would decide for or against Christ.
But, if the only people who are going to accept Christ are those who have been “ear-marked” for salvation ahead of time, then, one feels that the rest of the race haven’t had a chance, even of refusing. To what extent are they responsible for being lost?
One woman in my class, from the southern states as a matter of fact, said to me afterwards, “If this teaching is right, it makes everything seem so hopeless. I thought anyone could be saved; that the decision was theirs. But if God has decided ahead of time, they haven’t a chance, no matter how much we pray for them”.
I tried to point out that the whole race was lost anyway, regardless of Election. That Election of some did not mean that the others were any worse off than they would have been without Election. And yet—with a part of me—I know how she feels, because periodically, in spite of all my praying for light, I have the same feeling…that if you are not elected, you just don’t stand a chance. You feel as if the whole matter has been taken out of your hands and you aren’t given an equal chance with others.
I understand all the argument about the governor of a prison, too, and agree with it with my head! But my heart keeps saying that while it is true a man is not in prison because the governor hasn’t pardoned him, but rather because of his own wrongdoing, nevertheless, the lack of a pardon keeps him there!
Is there Scripture to support the interpretation that if we were not elected, we would never have the faintest interest in salvation? I know from #Ro 8:7,8 as well as other passages, that in our natural state we are at enmity with God. But I always thought that if the Holy Spirit operated on a human heart, say of someone who was showing interest in becoming a Christian, that that person then had a chance to decide whether or not to be saved. But evidently, the Holy Spirit doesn’t even work on the heart of anyone who has not been elected ahead of time. Is there Scripture for that?
2. If God chooses only certain people for salvation, or enables only certain people to avail themselves of salvation, then what do you do with verses like #Joh 3:16? I thought Christ died “for the sins of the whole world” (#1Joh 2:2) not just for the elect. Spurgeon seem to think that He died only for the elect.
And what about such verses as “He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” and again “but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent”. If man is powerless to repent unless he is elected, and God does not elect him, how is man responsible for not obeying God’s command to repent; and, furthermore, how can it be said that God is not willing for any to perish if He doesn’t enable all to be saved?
3. How do you explain the fact that sometimes a person is under great conviction but decides against salvation? Were they or were they not elected? My father, who passed away in July, was a great Christian layman and doctor and led many souls to Christ in his offices and through lay preaching. He told me a story which he either read or witnessed himself—I have forgotten which. But a young woman attended some revival meetings night after night and appeared to be deeply moved. In fact, it was apparent to the preacher that she was under deep conviction. The last night, when the call was given, she slipped from her place and left the building. A worker followed her and heard her say, looking up to the stars, “I do not want to be a Christian. Why can’t You leave me alone? I am enjoying life and my good times and I am not prepared to change my way of living. Holy Spirit, please leave me alone and don’t bother me again”. And, with a chilling laugh, she walked off into the night. She was killed in an accident a few hours later, if I remember rightly.
Now, what I want to know is this: was she elected, and if she were not, how did she get under conviction in the first place? Would the Holy Spirit waste time, so to speak, convicting someone of sin whom God had not even elected? If she were elected, why didn’t she come? I thought election meant that you had to come whether you realized it or not. Is it possible for certain people to be chosen for salvation but for them, in the exercise of their free wills, to reject it?
4. Also, please explain the verse “many are called, but few are chosen”. If that verse said “many are called but few accept” I could understand it. But I do not distinguish between “calling” and “choosing”. I would have thought they were the same.
5. Finally, in spite of all the arguments to the contrary, I find myself caught up in a sort of fatalistic attitude—that what is to be will be. Perhaps this stems more from my reading on the sovereignty of God than from Election.
But I find myself arguing thus, “If God has a plan for every individual and every nation, if He ordains the powers that be, and sets up kings and disposes of them, etc., if He is completely sovereign, then He is going to work out His will regardless of Satan’s efforts to thwart Him or man’s failure to his part”.
You say that because Election is a secret matter, we must witness anyway and leave the results to God. True. But on the other hand, I can’t see that it matters whether we know or whether we don’t since God knows who is elected and will save a person whether we do our bit or not. Just because I fail to witness, God is not going to be thwarted in His design to save certain people. The very fact that God has chosen them is sufficient to ensure that they will be saved whether we witness or not, for the simple reason that God is sovereign and has already elected them for salvation. I agree that I don’t know who is elected and who is not. But I don’t have to. They are going to be saved anyway if God wills it.
I read in Strong’s Theology that our prayers never change God’s mind, the idea being that as we grow in our Christian experience and live closer to God, we shall learn to pray for those things that are according to God’s purpose for us; therefore He can answer our prayer.
But again—if He has plans for individuals or nations, they will be brought to fruition without our prayers. If this is so, then, what we think have been answers to prayers are only the fulfilment of a divine plan that would have been accomplished quite as well without our prayer. But, because we cannot see the future, we think we have prevailed with God and so we say He has answered our prayer. But, since He planned a certain course for us, it would have come about that way in any event. Do you see what I am trying to say?
I always thought that, to a certain extent, we did prevail with God providing we were not asking for something outside of His will— by that I mean His pleasure or permissive will rather than a fixed, premeditated plan. I guess I thought, for instance, that if a loved one were sick and the Lord didn’t have any actual decision made that that was the time they were to die, He would spare their life in answer to prayer. But according to sovereignty, the reason He spared it was simply because He wasn’t ready for them to die yet, therefore my prayer had nothing to do with it. They would have recovered in any event. If that were His foreordained plan, or died if that were His plan.
If prayer doesn’t change God’s mind, then what use was there in Abraham interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah? God would have saved 50 or 40 or 10 in any event if they had been found. Or Moses interceding for Israel. God had a plan for Israel that He would carry out regardless of Moses’ prayer so that Moses and the rest of us just pray for something that is bound to happen whether or not we pray! To me that defeats the whole purpose of prayer. It almost makes one feel that we are deluded into thinking we are accomplishing something by prayer, whereas in reality it has all been decided upon ahead of time.
Now, for instance, in the case of Mueller’s Orphanage. God had a plan for that work which would be carried to fruition since He is sovereign. If prayer doesn’t carry any weight with God, so to speak insofar as influencing Him, then would that milk truck have broken down in front of the Orphanage (thereby supplying milk for all those children) whether Mueller had spent the night on his knees or not? According to theologians, it was not Mueller’s prayers that resulted in the seemingly miraculous supply of milk for the orphanage, but just part of a plan that would have come to pass anyway. Mueller might just as well have spent the night in bed as on his knees. I don’t understand it. To me, such reasoning contradicts #Jas 5:16 and others which teach importunate prayer. I wonder sometimes if the trouble is not with men’s interpretations of Scripture rather than with Scripture itself.
This is a terribly long letter and I do apologize for being so wordy. But this subject is too vast, I guess, to be covered by correspondence. How I wish I could sit down and talk with you.
I am keeping a copy of this letter so that I can refer to it when your answer comes. I do hope you will not think I am imposing on you; but your pamphlet has really stirred me up. I can see where election is indeed a wonderful doctrine if only it didn’t seem to contradict other Scriptures.
I hope and pray that you can give me more light and that you won’t be offended with such a long letter from a stranger.
With heartfelt thanks in anticipation of your reply, I am
Signed: Marjorie Bond (Mrs. Marjorie Bond)
Dr. C. D. Cole-The Bible Doctrine of Election-Part II-Questions and Answers on Election