Friday, August 27, 2010

More on Objections to Predestination

Opponents to the doctrine of election charge believers with making God unjust. One of their objections is that if God predestined Adam to fall, causing all of mankind to fall with him, then God is the cause of all men's condemnation. Erasmus, the theologian who argued with Luther saying that the human will was free, argued that if God ordained Adam to fall and then predestines his progeny based on that fall, then God must be unjust. Calvin admits that "all of Adam's children have fallen by God's will.... we must always return to the sole decision of God's will, the cause of which is hidden in him." He quotes Paul, "But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?" (Romans 9:20-21, New King James Version). Calvin's opponents argued that Calvin is sidestepping the issue by claiming that this is the will of God. They wanted an answer that conformed to human logic rather than Biblical truth. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33, New King James Version). We cannot box God into our idea of what He ought to be. Calvin writes, "Monstrous indeed is the madness of men, who desire thus to subject the immeasurable to the puny measure of their own reason!"

We should not be questioning God's hidden decree or attempting to figure out God's reasoning, but we should marvel at God's love and mercy. We can never understand God's hidden will no matter how hard we try. "With Augustine I say: the Lord has created those whom he unquestionably foreknew would go to destruction. This has happened because he has so willed it. But why he so willed it is not for our reason to inquire, for we cannot comprehend it." We should accept God's will and not question why God has willed it. It is not our place to question God. Calvin quotes Augustine again, "Ignorance that believes is better than rash knowledge. Seek merits; you will find only punishment."

Some object that in this doctrine we take away guilt and responsibility from men and place it upon God. In this mode of thinking, since man cannot choose whether or not he is saved then it is not his fault for being condemned, therefore, he was not responsible for his own downfall. Calvin wrote a lot about this earlier in the Institutes. "The evils God forsees are not man's, not his own." Man is still guilty of his sin. He willingly rushes headlong into sin. Calvin admits along with Solomon, "The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom," (Proverbs 16:4, New King James Version). He writes, "Behold! Since the disposition of all things is in God's hand, since the decision of salvation or of death rests in his power, he so ordains by his plan and will that among men some are born destined for certain death from the womb, who glorify his name by their own destruction." Those of you familiar with the Catechism for Young Children will know the answer to question 3: "Why did God make you and all things?" The answer is "For his own glory." All things were made for the glory of God, not just "good" things but all things. In certain things (and people) it is much easier to see God's glory. Others are more difficult.

Calvin so eloquently wrote about foreknowledge in this section. He wrote, "If God only foresaw human events, and did not dispose and determine them by his decision, then there would be some point in raising this question: whether his foreseeing had anything to do with their necessity. But since he foresees future events only by reason of the fact that he decreed that they take place, they vainly raise a quarrel over foreknowledge, when it is clear that all things take place rather by his determination and bidding." When I read The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, I struggled with my understanding of free will, but I came to better comprehend this important fact: nothing happens outside the control of God. If it comes to pass, God has necessarily ordained it. If it does not come to pass, then God ordained that it not happen. Some objectors to the doctrine of election attempt to convince others that Adam had totally free choice in his ability to shape is own future. But if we believe that God ordains all things that occur, then he would also have ordained that Adam sin. Calvin writes, "Yet no one can deny that God foreknew what end man was to have before he created him, and consequently foreknew because he so ordained by his decree." God knew it would happen. "For as it pertains to his wisdom to foreknow everything that is to happen, so it pertains to his might to rule and control everything by his hand." Calvin concludes this section with another important quote from Augustine: "We most wholesomely confess what we most correctly believe, that the God and Lord of all things, who created all things exceedingly good, and foreknew that evil things would rise out of good, and also knew that it pertained to his most omnipotent goodness to bring good out of evil things rather than not to permit evil things to be..., so ordained the life of angels and men that in it he might first of all show what free will could do, and then what the blessing of his grace and the verdict of his justice could do."

Tomorrow's reading: 3.23.8-3.23.14


  1. Of all doctrines this seems most perplexing. Admittedly the Scriptural support for God doing whatsoever He will with His own creation is overwhelming and undeniable, it still pains the brain to some degree to consider, that God proceeded with creation knowing the Fall would come, indeed willed it be so. Calvin's reply echoes Paul's: some things of God are unfathomable, and what is man that he should argue with Him.

    I struggle with this in reference to prayer for the salvation of my family and friends. The finite mind thinks "if God has willed the salvation of a remnant why pray for anyone since the selection has already been made." But 1 Titus 2:1 states "I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men" and verse 4 "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." I feel Calvin's explanation in his Commentary inadequate that only classes of men are referred to in verse 4 because of the context of verse 1: "that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons; for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations."

    It's a conundrum in the mind of man. Nonetheless I continue to pray daily for the salvation of my family, following the Biblical tradition (Jonah 3:9 "Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.") I'd hate to stand in Heaven before my Lord and hear, "Why did you not pray for those you love if you were so concerned for them?"

  2. Sorry, there's only one Titus, I meant 1 Timothy, of course!

  3. This gets back to the metaphor of the potter and the clay that Isaiah and Jeremiah both used. Who are we as the clay to challenge the will of the potter? As far as prayer goes, all things happen according to the will of God. However, we are instructed to make our requests known to God. Often the miracle that happens with our prayer is that our own minds are changed in order to understand and accept God's will, not that God will change His mind. Thanks for sharing your comments.


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