The Book of Life and Predestination (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume I
Augustine on the Psalms

I like Augustine’s comments on the perseverance of the saints using the biblical reference of the “book of life” (cf. Phil 4:3, Rev. 3:5, etc.):

Brethren, we must not so take it, as that God writeth anyone in the book of life, and blotteth him out. If a man [Pilate] said, “What I have written I have written,” concerning the title where it had been written, “King of the Jews,” (John 19:22) doth God write anyone, and blot him out? He foreknoweth, He hath predestined all before the foundation of the world that are to reign with His Son in life everlasting (Rom. 8:29).  These He hath written down, these same the Book of Life doth contain.

Augustine, Exposition on the Book of the Psalms, Ps. 29:28, NPNF 1.

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

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Predestination: The Axe that Cuts Down Pride (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5 As a follower of Jesus, I am very much aware than any truly good deed that I do is a result of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit at work in me.  I can’t take credit for any good thing I’ve done; the credit goes to God.  Here’s a great commentary by Augustus Toplady on predestination and how it glorifies God and humbles man:

When God does, by the omnipotent exertion of his Spirit, effectually call any of mankind in time, to the actual knowledge of himself in Christ; when he likewise goes on to sanctify the sinners he has called, making them to excel in all good works, and to persevere, in the love and resemblance of God, to their lives end; the observing part of the unawakened world may be apt to conclude, that these converted persons might receive such measure of grace from God, because of some previous qualifications, good dispositions, or pious desires, and internal preparations, discovered in them by the all-seeing eye: which, if true, would indeed transfer the praise from the Creator, and consign it to the creature.

In other words, when God sovereignly calls and regenerates sinners and begins to sanctify them, some unbelievers might think that God was kind to them because they did something to deserve it.  However, Toplady argues, that would mean the creature gets the glory instead of the Creator.  He continues:

But the doctrine of predestination, absolute, free, unconditional predestination, here steps in, and gives God his own [glory]. It lays the axe to the root of human boasting, and cuts down (for which reason, the natural man hates it) every legal, every independent, every self-righteous imagination, that would exalt itself against the grace of God and the glory of Christ. It tells us that God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in his Son; according as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, in order to our being afterwards made holy and blameless before him in love (Eph. 1). Of course, whatever truly and spiritually good thing is found in any person, it is the special gift and work of God: given and wrought, in consequence of eternal, unmerited election to grace and glory.

I agree; not only does the biblical doctrine of predestination humble man, it also leads us to give God all the glory!

 Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 289–290.

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

Predestination and the Promise (Bunyan)

  Not much in our lives is certain.  We could lose our job and have to move in a month.  We could get into a car accident that makes the rest of our life quite difficult.  Or we could face a diagnosis that immediately brings tears to our eyes and ache to our heart.  Much of our life is filled with uncertainty.

However, the promises of God are certain. We as Christians know that the promises of God are sure, solid, and steadfast.  They will not change and he will keep them perfectly.  This is a major source of comfort in the Christian life.  He loves me and will continue to love me (Rom 8:39).  The Lord will never leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5).  In his sovereign providence, nothing will happen to me apart from his will and everything that does happen to me is ultimately for my Christian good (Rom. 8:28).  These are unshakable promises that will come to pass.

There are many promises in Scripture that are of great comfort to the Christian.  One that we might not think of too often is the fact that when a person comes to saving faith in Christ, it is another promise kept: Everyone that the Father gives me will come to me (John 6:37 CSB).  Jesus says: I promise that those whom the Father has given me will come to me.  John Bunyan explained this truth in a way that magnified the sovereign grace of God:

…Coming to Jesus Christ aright is an effect of their being, by God, given to Christ before. Mark, ‘They’ shall come. Who? ‘Those’ that are given. They ‘come,’ then, because they were ‘given,’ “thine they were, and thou gavest them me.”

Now, this is indeed a singular comfort to them that are coming in truth to Christ, to think that the reason why they come is, because they were given of the Father before to him. Thus, then, may the coming soul reason with himself as he comes: ‘Am I coming, indeed, to Jesus Christ? This coming of mine is not to be attributed to me or my goodness, but to the grace and gift of God to Christ. God gave first my person to him, and, therefore, hath now given me a heart to come.’

…These words, shall come, make thy coming to be also the effect of an absolute promise; coming sinner, thou art concluded in a promise; thy coming is the fruit of the faithfulness of an absolute promise. It was this promise, by the virtue of which thou at first receivedst strength to come; and this is the promise, by the virtue of which thou shalt be effectually brought to him.

Bunyan, J. (2006). Come and Welcome, to Jesus Christ (Vol. 1, p. 254). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

John Wesley’s Hatred of Predestination

I was recently reading Lee Gatiss’ collection of essays on Reformed theology and history when I ran across his article called, “Strangely Warmed: John Wesley’s Arminian Campaigns.”  I have to admit I have not read much of Wesley’s writing (though what I have read has been less than impressive).  Since Gatiss mentioned Wesley’s oft-preached sermon on Romans 8:32, I thought I should read it.  In doing so, I found that Gatiss’ point is correct: Wesley was a firm, ferocious, and fierce opponent of unconditional election.

Wesley’s sermon that I’m referring to, interestingly called “Free Grace,” was published and republished quite a few times during his life.  It should be noted that the sermon is not at all an expository sermon on Romans 8:32.  Instead, it is a tirade against one of the doctrines of grace, specifically, the sovereignty of God in election.  Here are a few excerpts:

“Manifestly does this doctrine tend to overthrow the whole Christian Revelation by making it contradict itself. …[This doctrine] is a doctrine full of blasphemy; of such blasphemy as I should dread to mention….”

“[This doctrine] destroys all his (God’s) attributes at once: it overturns both his justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust.

“No scripture can prove that God is not love, or that his mercy is not over all his works; that is, whatever it prove beside, no scripture can prove predestination.

So near the end of the sermon when Wesley said, “I abhor the doctrine of predestination,” he wasn’t exaggerating!   And, as others have noted, when Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” he did not change his views on the doctrines of grace and election.  In fact, Gatiss notes, Wesley’s opposition to Calvinism grew.  Gatiss puts it this way: “His heart was always strangely warmed against it.”  Similarly, as many know of Wesley, he taught perfectionism and was foggy on the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  At one point George Whitefield told Wesley they were preaching two different gospels!

Why is this worth pointing out?  Well, as Gatiss notes, Wesley may have done Christian good in his life, “but we may also want to go on and ask whether celebrity men of action can really be so easily excused a little dodgy theology on basic issues of salvation.”  “…The extravagant Arminian eccentricities of the great and famous John Wesley have been hushed up or too easily excused – by Wesley, his followers, by [J. C.] Ryle, and others.”  It’s incorrect to paint Wesley as a solid evangelical who was patient and exceedingly tolerant.  Here is one of Gatiss’ main points:

“Wesley raised the temperature of debate amongst evangelicals in the eighteenth century.  For one supposedly devoted to evangelical unity and peace, his heart and pen were strangely warmed against Calvinists and Calvinism.  His behavior and tone have too often been excused or covered up, and many have been blinded by his celebrity and reputation, or wanted to keep him and his followers onside.  That has sometimes led to something of a whitewash.  In response we must do better church history, which, as Oliver Cromwell said about portrait painting, is best done ‘warts and all.'”

[The above info is found in and quoted in the 8th chapter of Cornerstones of Salvation.]

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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

The Reformation and Election (Van Dixhoorn)

I recently started reading this resource in my Logos library: T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology.  One article that stands out is Chad Van Dixhoorn’s work on election.  In this essay, Van Dixhoorn talks about the historical background of election, the definition, the various views, the Synod of Dort, Amraldianism, and so forth.  I appreciate how he summarized the Reformed view of election, which is drawn exclusively from Scripture:

At this juncture in Protestant history the precise nature of divine foreknowledge was not yet contested; each side in the dispute would agree that Scripture indicates that God has known all things “from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). Indeed, the Reformed were willing to press further the extent of God’s knowledge. In his arguments against Pighius, Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499–1562) argues that God does not only know all that has happened and will happen. He also knows all that could happen. His knowledge is more extensive than His foreknowledge. Vermigli does not supply scriptural support for his argument, but others would, reflecting on passages like 1 Samuel 23. There David posed a series of questions to God, first about King Saul, and then about the townspeople of Keilah, querying whether they would hand him over to Saul if the despot demanded it. The point made by Reformed exegetes is that this line of questioning was not too hard for God, for there is no scenario or counterfactual which God does not already know.

But when debating Pighius, the Reformers could not help but turn to the locus classicus of predestination, Romans 9. There the divine announcement is heard, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” even “before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad.” And “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” The passage was particularly useful because it brings up the question of human responsibility as Paul anticipates his readers’ response: “why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” And Paul provides the divine response in the form of two questions: “Who are we to talk back to God?” And “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” They concluded that election is God’s free choice only, and that the number of His elect is immune to addition or subtraction. God did not peer into the future in order to find sparks of faith that He could fan into flame. He did not predestine people to salvation because He predicted their good works, or knew they would persevere in the Christian life. There is nothing in human beings that motivated His choice. He set no conditions that He needed to foresee before He would choose the objects of his grace. There was no cause other than His own love that set God in motion toward the salvation of sinners.

Chad Van Dixhoorn, “Election,” in T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology, ed. David M. Whitford, T&T Clark Companion (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2012), 91–92.

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

God’s Free Grace Made the Difference (Henry)

Matthew Henry's Commentary There’s an old hymn called, “How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place.” When we sang it last Sunday during worship, the following lines stuck out:

Why was I made to hear Your voice, and enter while there’s room,
when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in;
else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin.

Scripture says it this way: In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-5 NIV).  Paul also talks about this extensively in Romans 9, where he says that God’s election of some to salvation has nothing to do with their merit, but his mercy: I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion (Rom. 9:15).  Election is unconditional!  Matthew Henry wrote well on this theme as he commented on Romans 9:

All God’s reasons of mercy are taken from within himself. All the children of men being plunged alike into a state of sin and misery, equally under guilt and wrath, God, in a way of sovereignty, picks out some from this fallen apostatized race, to be vessels of grace and glory. He dispenses his gifts to whom he will, without giving us any reason: according to his own good pleasure he pitches upon some to be monuments of mercy and grace, preventing grace, effectual grace, while he passes by others.

The various dealings of God, by which he makes some to differ from others, must be resolved into his absolute sovereignty. He is debtor to no man, his grace is his own, and he may give it or withhold it as it pleaseth him; we have none of us deserved it, nay, we have all justly forfeited it a thousand times, so that herein the work of our salvation is admirably well ordered that those who are saved must thank God only, and those who perish must thank themselves only, Hos. 13:9.

Applying this general rule to the particular case that Paul has before him, the reason why the unworthy, undeserving, ill-deserving Gentiles are called, and grafted into the church, while the greatest part of the Jews are left to perish in unbelief, is not because those Gentiles were better deserving or better disposed for such a favour, but because of God’s free grace that made that difference.

 

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2217.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI