Predestination Must Be Preached (Augustine)

Scripture teaches predestination.  For two examples, consider Ephesians 1 and Romans 9.  In these chapters, Paul says that before the foundation of the world, God chose a certain number of people to salvation in Christ.  He did this not based on man’s merits or choice, but his own mercy and sovereign will.  Election is therefore unconditional; it’s not conditional upon a person’s choice, will, or works.  In the early 5th century Augustine echoed Scripture’s teaching on this point as did others later in church history.  The Reformers also taught this truth in the 16th century and the doctrine of unconditional election is found in the Reformed Confessions.

In fact, the Reformed Confessions say that this truth of election must be taught and preached:  Here’s article 14 of the 1st point of doctrine in the Canons of Dort:

“As the doctrine of divine election by the most wise counsel of God was declared by the prophets, by Christ himself, and by the apostles, and is clearly revealed in the Scriptures both of the Old and the New Testament, so it is still to be published in due time and place in the Church of God, for which it was peculiarly designed….”

Augustine said the same thing around 1,200 years before the Canons of Dort were written:

Wherefore, if both the apostles and the teachers of the Church who succeeded them and imitated them did both these things—that is, both truly preached the grace of God which is not given according to our merits, and inculcated by wholesome precepts a pious obedience—what is it which these people of our time think themselves rightly bound by the invincible force of truth to say, “Even if what is said of the predestination of God’s benefits be true, yet it must not be preached to the people”?

It must absolutely be preached, so that he who has ears to hear, may hear. And who has them if he has not received them from Him who says, “I will give them a heart to know me, and ears to hear”? Assuredly, he who has not received may reject; while, yet, he who receives may take and drink, may drink and live. For as piety must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, God may be rightly worshipped; modesty must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, no illicit act may be perpetrated by his fleshly nature; charity must be preached, that, by him who has ears to hear, God and his neighbours may be loved—so also must be preached such a predestination of God’s benefits that he who has ears to hear may glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Gift of Perseverance,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 546–547.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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The Necessity of Effectual Calling (Or: We Need a Miracle!)

Saved by Grace by [Hoekema, Anthony A.] This is a very helpful discussion of effectual calling/regeneration:

If you believe that the natural state of human beings today is that of moral and spiritual neutrality, so that they can do good or bad as they please (the Pelagian view), you will not even feel the need for an effectual call or for regeneration. If you believe that our natural state is one of spiritual and moral sickness, but that we all still have the ability to respond favorably to the gospel call (the Semi-Pelagian view), you will not need an effectual call. If you believe that, though we are partially or totally depraved, God gives to all a sufficient enabling grace so that everyone who hears the gospel call is able to accept it by cooperating with this sufficient grace (the Arminian view), you will not feel the need for an effectual call. But if you believe that we are by nature totally dead in sin, and therefore unable to respond favorably to the gospel call unless God in his sovereign grace changes our hearts so that we become spiritually alive (the Reformed view), you will realize how desperately you need God’s effectual call. The view last described, I believe, most faithfully reflects biblical teaching.

Let me use an illustration. Let us suppose that you are drowning within earshot of friends on the shore. You cannot swim. Wishing to respect your integrity as a person, and wanting to enable you to help yourself as much as possible, one of your friends standing on the shore, an excellent swimmer, shouts to you that you should start swimming to shore. The advice, though well-meant, is worse than useless, since you can’t swim. What you need, and need desperately, is for your friend to jump in and tow you to shore with powerful strokes, so that your life may be saved. What you need at the moment is not just advice, good advice, even gracious advice—you need to be rescued!

This, now, is our situation by nature. We are lost sinners. We are dead in sin. Being dead in sin, we cannot make ourselves alive. Since we are dead in sin, our ears are deaf to the gospel call and our eyes are blind to the gospel light. We need a miracle. This miracle occurs when God in his amazing grace calls us effectually through his Spirit from spiritual death to spiritual life, from spiritual darkness into his marvelous light. After we have been made spiritually alive, we can once again become actively involved in the process of our salvation—in repentance, faith, sanctification, and perseverance. But at the very beginning of the process, at the point where, being spiritually dead, we need to become spiritually alive, we need nothing less than a miraculous rescue from the murky waters of sin in which, if left alone, we would drown. This is what happens in the effectual call.

Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 91.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Exegetical Basis for Total Depravity and Total Inability (Murray)

Epistle to the Romans One aspect of the doctrines of grace is the insistence that man, by nature, is unable and unwilling to come to Jesus in repentance and faith. Apart from saving grace, a sinner is corrupt in every part of his being and morally incapable of doing good in God’s sight.  Although he isn’t as wicked as he could be, he is dead in sin and his will is in bondage to sin.  Of course, the Reformers taught these things, as did other in history before them.  But is there a biblical basis for these teachings?  Yes.  For one of several examples, consider Romans 8:7-8, which says, “…The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (NASB).

Here are some of John Murray’s helpful comments on these verses:

“Verse 7 gives the reason why the mind of the flesh is death [v.6].  It is ‘enmity against God.’  …It defines the mind of the flesh, the mind characterizing those who are ‘after the flesh’ and ‘in the flesh’, as one that is conditioned and governed by ‘enmity’, enmity of which God is the object.  Enmity towards God is the actuating principle and governing propension of the mind of the flesh.”

“…The last clause, ‘neither indeed can it be’, points to the impossibility that resides in the mind of the flesh and means nothing less than it is a moral and psychological impossibility for those who are ‘in the flesh’ to have any disposition of obedience with respect to the law of God.”

“…The apostle…expressly states what is to the effect that it is a moral and psychological impossibility for those who are in the flesh to do anything that elicits the divine approval and good pleasure.  Here we have nothing less than the doctrine of the total inability of the natural man, that is to say, total inability to be well-pleasing to God or to do what is well-pleasing in his sight.”

“…In the whole passage we have the biblical basis for the doctrines of total depravity and total inability.  It should be recognized, therefore, that resistance to these doctrines must come to terms not simply with the present-day proponents of these doctrines but with the apostle himself.  ‘Enmity against God’ is nothing other than total depravity and ‘cannot please God’ nothing less than total inability.”

John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 286-7.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 45015

 

 

Cage Phase Calvinists (Newton)

Sometimes Calvinists are arrogant jerks.  They learn about predestination, limited atonement, etc., and this leads them to arrogantly think they know it all.  They don’t show much love, patience, or tenderness when talking about the things of God.   This is what has been called the “cage phase” Calvinist because a person like that belongs in a cage to keep him from doing more harm than good.

In his typical winsome and pastoral way, John Newton talked about this many years ago:

“I believe a too hasty assent to Calvinistic principles, before a person is duly acquainted with the plague of his own heart, is one principle cause of that lightness of profession which so lamentably abounds in this day, a chief reason why many professors are rash, heady, high-minded, contentious about words, and sadly remiss as to the means of Divine appointment.”

Newton wrote that in 1775, but could it also be said of the present?

This quote is found in Josiah Bull’s biography of Newton, But Now I See, p. 212.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Jesus Came Not To Aid, But To Save (Warfield)

The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 5: Calvin and Calvinism One part of Reformed theology is sometimes referred to as “Calvinsim” or, as I prefer, “the doctrines of grace.”  Here’s how B.B. Warfield nicely described the God-centered aspect of the doctrines of grace:

What lies at the heart of his [the Calvinist’s] soteriology is the absolute exclusion of the creaturely element in the initiation of the saving process, that so the pure grace of God may be magnified. Only so could he express his sense of man’s complete dependence as sinner on the free mercy of a saving God; or extrude [force out] the evil leaven of Synergism by which, as he clearly sees, God is robbed of His glory and man is encouraged to think that he owes to some power, some act of choice, some initiative of his own, his participation in that salvation which is in reality all of grace.

There is accordingly nothing against which Calvinism sets its face with more firmness than every form and degree of autosoterism. Above everything else, it is determined that God, in His Son Jesus Christ, acting through the Holy Spirit whom He has sent, shall be recognized as our veritable Savior. To it sinful man stands in need not of inducements or assistance to save himself, but of actual saving; and Jesus Christ has come not to advise, or urge, or induce, or aid him to save himself, but to save him. This is the root of Calvinistic soteriology; and it is because this deep sense of human helplessness and this profound consciousness of indebtedness for all that enters into salvation to the free grace of God is the root of its soteriology that to it the doctrine of election becomes the ‘cor cordis’ [heart of the heart] of the Gospel.

He who knows that it is God who has chosen him and not he who has chosen God, and that he owes his entire salvation in all its processes and in every one of its stages to this choice of God, would be an ingrate [ungrateful person] indeed if he gave not the glory of his salvation solely to the inexplicable elective love of God.

Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Calvin and Calvinism, vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2008), 359–360.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Distinctive Characteristics of Predestination (Brakel)

In both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible talks about election and predestination.  He has in mercy chosen some sinners to salvation and in justice has passed by others.  God didn’t elect some to salvation because he knew they’d believe, or because they were more worthy than others.  He chose to save some sinners because of his own sovereign will: I will have mercy on whom I have mercy (Rom. 9:15 NASB).  Wilhelmus a Brakel (d. 1711) explained unconditional election quite well in book one of The Christian’s Reasonable Service.  Here are part of his notes on predestination:

1) Predestination is eternal, that is, from before the foundation of the world. “…whom He did predestinate (Rom. 8:30).

 2) Predestination is volitional. God was not moved by external or internal causes to predetermine man’s destiny, but was solely moved by His good pleasure. “For so it seemed good in Thy sight” ( Mat. 9:22). The fact that God has ordained to lead one individual unto salvation through Christ and to damn another individual for his sins is solely to be attributed to the free exercise of His sovereignty. “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Rom. 9:21). This is infinitely more true of God.
3) Predestination is an act of wisdom whereby God ordains suitable means to accomplish His end. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom 11:33). The apostle exclaims this concerning predestination, which he discussed in this chapter.

(4) Predestination is independent, absolute , and unconditional. God accomplishes His decree by the use of means, but the means are not the conditions. The decree is not contingent upon the means.  Thus, the means neither establish nor unsettle this decree. God Himself governs the means to accomplish His certain, immutable, and immovable purpose – a purpose which proceeds from within Himself according to His good pleasure. All means are subordinate to this good pleasure (Brakel quotes Romans 9:11-13 here).

5) Predestination is an immutable decree. Since God’s purpose originates in eternity, it is not contingent upon the condition of goodness or evil within man, but proceeds solely from the good pleasure of God. It is thus impossible for this purpose to change. God Himself is immutable, wise, and omnipotent. Therefore Rom 8:30 states, “Moreover whom He did predestinate… them He also glorified” (cf. Rom 9:21-23).

Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, book 1, pages 216-217.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Election: Is It Fair? (Cosby)

Rebels Rescued: A Student's Guide to Reformed Theology Rebels Rescued by Brian Cosby is a concise, clear, and easy to read resource on the doctrines of grace and the solas of the Reformation.  The subtitle is accurate: “A Student’s Guide to Reformed Theology.”  I thought the following section on election was helpful.  It starts with an illustration:

“…You find yourself out walking one day and see an elderly homeless man digging through a dumpster.  You have compassion on the man and so you decide to give him a hundred pounds.  He didn’t ask you, but you gave anyway.  Unbeknownst to you, somebody down the street sees you and comes running up to you demanding that you give him one hundred pounds as well.”

“Stop.  Think.  Are you obligated to give this second man the money?  Is he entitled to it?  Absolutely not.  But because of your generosity, there is a false sense of injustice – a false sense of thinking that you’re not being fair to the second man.”

“When we begin considering God’s eternal election of his people, before the foundation of the world, we must step back and ask the question: ‘What is fair?’  Is it fair that everyone goes to heaven?  Is God obligated to send everyone to heaven?  Remember – the wages of sin is death and hell forever (cf. Romans 6.23).  If we are all sinners, which we are, then the payment or the consequence of our sin is death and hell.”

“Therefore, in answer to our question, it would only be fair to send everybody to hell.  The fact that God elects some people for salvation points to his grace and love.  That God doesn’t elect others points to his holiness and justice.  Or to put it another way: by choosing some, he demonstrates his perfect love and grace.  By not choosing others, he demonstrates his perfect holiness and justice.  He is not obligated to save anybody.  But because he wanted to demonstrate the greatness of his mercy, he poured out his grace upon the beloved bride of Christ, the church.”

Brian Cosby, Rebels Rescued, p. 34-5.

Shane Lems