"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Jesus Asks His Church: "Who Do You Say That I Am?" -Part 2 | Main | An Interview with John Frame By Marco Gonzalez »

    Is Divine Election Fair? by Pastor John Samson

    Ephesians 1:4-6 "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved."

    Perhaps the biggest hurdle people stumble over concerning the Biblical doctrine of Divine Election, is the idea that it just doesn't seem fair. It is the issue I struggled with for many years, as like many others, I had the idea that in order for God to be fair, He has to treat all people equally.

    Lets consider this fact though: When a person gives that which he has no obligation to give, he is considered gracious in giving to other people; but he is certainly not considered unjust because he doesn't give to an additional party.

    Dr. Michael Horton gives an illustration which makes the issue very clear. He tells of a man who has a million dollars that he wants to give away and he decides to give $100,000 to ten different organizations. An eleventh organization hearing about this act of charity would not have a just case against the man if they were to make the claim that he hasn't been fair.

    That's obvious isn't it? The man owes nothing to this 11th organization, just as he didn't owe anything to the ten others he gave to. This 11th organization doesn't have a just claim to that money. The man has every right to do what he wants with his own money and he can give it to whomever he will. That is exactly what takes place in Divine Election.

    Romans 9 is a chapter given entirely over to this subject of Election. Paul is explaining why it is that not everyone comes to faith in Christ, even amongst the Jews. He writes:

    "I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen." (Romans 9:1-5)

    Paul had such a heart for his fellow countrymen that he would have given up his salvation (if that was possible, which, of course, it was not) if it meant that all the Jews would be saved.

    He goes on to answer the question of why it is that many amongst God's chosen people Israel have not embraced the Messiah. Did God not have the power to open up their eyes to the truth? Is God now an eternally miserable Deity who has to live with the fact that He failed to woo so many of His people to Himself?

    Let's allow the word of God to speak to us as we read the Apostle Paul's words in verses 6-13:
    "But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, "In Isaac your seed shall be called." That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: "At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son." And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."

    God's word has not failed in any way because God's promises always hold true for the true Israel. However, not all of what we see as ethnic Israel is the true Israel, according to God. "They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." (v. 6) God's saving promises are made only to the true Israel; and Paul is declaring that these promises have never failed.

    To explain election, Paul uses the Old Testament examples of Jacob and Esau. The scripture, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated" is alarming to many people. Whatever is said about it, we cannot seriously challenge the idea that God had a different kind of love for Jacob than He had for Esau. Yet, what should be absolutely amazing to us is not that God hated Esau. That should not surprise us at all. God had every right to deal justly in Divine wrath with Esau because of his sin. But what should be absolutely breathtaking to us is that He Sovereignly decided to set His love on Jacob. What mercy! What grace!

    Why did Jacob receive this amazing mercy from God - was it because of something Jacob did. No, works were not a factor whatsoever in the choice of one over the other. Even though these twins were born in identical circumstances (they were womb-mates), the text makes it clear that before they had lived to do any good or evil, God chose one (Jacob) and not the other (Esau). We are told that the reason for this was "that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls." (v. 11)

    Paul then anticipated the inevitable objection that would be raised to this idea of God choosing one and not the other by asking the rhetorical question, "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God?"

    God answers this charge of His Sovereign Grace being unfair by stating, "Certainly not!.... I will mercy whom I will mercy, and compassion whom I have compassion." (Literal Greek of verse 15)

    Regarding this verse, Dr. James White writes, "Paul is ready with an Old Testament example to buttress his arguments: Exodus 33. This tremendous passage contains themes that find their full expression only in the New Testament's full revelation of the doctrines of God's free and sovereign grace. God showed mercy and compassion to Moses, choosing to reveal His glory as an act of grace. We must understand, in light of the prevailing attitude of the world around us, that God's mercy, if it is to be mercy at all, must be free. Literally the text speaks of mercying and compassioning, again verbs of action that find their subject in God and their object in those chosen by His decision. It does not say, "I will have mercy on those who fulfill the conditions I have laid down as the prerequisite of my plan of salvation." Both the source of compassion and mercy and the individual application find their ultimate ground only in the free choice of God, not of man."

    The sign of a good teacher is to recognize objections to your position before they arise and deal with them ahead of time. This is something Paul does frequently throughout his epistles. When he writes of God's amazing grace in salvation taking place by grace alone through faith in Christ alone (Romans 3-5) it is as if he anticipates what an objector might say in response, namely, "What then, shall we sin then, that grace may increase?" He answers this objection with an emphatic, "God forbid! How can we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6: 1, 2)

    The same thing is happening here in chapter 9. Paul has no doubt taught on the issue of Divine election before and knows what people's reaction normally is to the issue of God acting in Sovereign grace in electing some but not all to salvation. It is this - "Paul, that is not at all fair for God to choose one over the other, without any view as to what works they might do. That doesn't seem to fit with how I would run the universe if I were God."

    As I allowed the Scripture here to speak to this issue for me, I began to see that if I continued to believe that Divine Election was unfair, I would be actually siding with Paul's imagined opponents who, in v. 14, would raise exactly the same objection that I had myself. I am sure you will agree that siding with Paul's (and God's) opponents, is not a good or wise position to be in, especially for someone who believes and teaches the Bible!

    Paul then sums up this apostolic word in v. 16, "So then, (in other words, here's the conclusion) it ("it" refers to the basis of Divine election) is not of him who wills, (man's will is not the deciding factor) nor of him who runs, (nor is human effort) but of God who shows mercy."

    Dr. White continues, "This divine truth, so offensive to the natural man, could not find a clearer proclamation than Romans 9:16. We truly must ask, if this passage does not deny to the will of man the all-powerful position of final say in whether the entire work of the Triune God in salvation will succeed or fail, what passage possibly could? What stronger terms could be employed? The verse begins, "so then," drawing from the assertion of God that mercy and compassion are His to freely give. Next comes the negative particle, "not," which negates everything that follows in the clause. Two human activities are listed: willing and literally "running," or striving. Human choice and human action. Paul puts it bluntly: it is not "of the one willing" nor is it "of the one running." Paul uses two singular present active participles. The fact that they are singular shows us again the personal nature of the passage. The interpretation that attempts to limit Romans 9 to "nations" cannot begin to explain how nations "will" or "run." In contrast to these Paul uses a present active participle to describe Gods act of "mercying," showing mercy. Man may strive through his will and his endeavors, but God must show mercy." (The Potter's Freedom)

    "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth."
    Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
    You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"

    After the summation that God "mercies" whom He wills and hardens whom He wills, Paul anticipates a further objection that would be raised to his line of reasoning, namely that God is finding fault. How can God find fault with the non-elect, when, if all that Paul writes is true, then the non-elect are not responsible for their unbelief, God is. Why? Because both the elect and the non-elect are doing only that which is God's will. And here is the kicker: They cannot resist God's will!

    This seems, at first glance at least, to be a strong argument against Paul's teaching. Its also the one raised in our own day to this exact teaching. Lets keep in mind that Paul brings up this objection, knowing that it would be voiced by those who would not embrace Paul's apostolic message here in Romans 9. What we should not do, if we want to understand and believe the Scriptures, is to agree with this objection, and make it our own. Paul only raises the objection to dismantle, destroy and annihilate it, with apostolic authority, once and for all.

    "The example of Pharaoh was well known to any person familiar with the Old Testament. God destroyed the Egyptian nation by plagues so as to demonstrate His might and power in the earth, and key to this demonstration was the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. Before Moses had met with Pharaoh the first time God told him: When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. (Exodus 4:21)

    It was God's intention to bring His wrath upon the Egyptians. God's actions were not "forced" by the stubborn will of the Egyptian leader. God said he would harden Pharaoh's heart, and he did. Listen to the impudent response of this pagan idolater to the command of Moses:

    And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'" But Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go." (Exodus 5:1-2) Is this not what God said he would do? Will someone suggest that Pharaoh's heart is "soft" here? No indeed, and Moses well knew that God was behind this for when the Pharaoh then increased the work load of the Israelites, Moses complained to God in Exodus 5:22. Why complain to God if, in fact, God had nothing to do with it and it was all just a matter of the Pharaoh's "free will choice"?

    This provides the background of Paul's citation of Exodus 9:16. The portion of truth that here stings the pride of man is this: it is more important that God's name be magnified and His power made known than it is any single man get to "do his own thing." Pharaoh was surely never forced to do anything sinful (indeed, God probably kept him from committing many a sinful deed). He acted on the desires of his wicked heart at all times. But he is but a pot, a creature, not the Potter. He was formed and made and brought into existence to serve the Potter's purposes, not his own. He is but a servant, one chosen, in fact, for destruction in the waters of the sea. His destruction, and the process that led up to it (including all the plagues upon Egypt), were part of God's plan. There is simply no other way to understand these words.

    Paul then combines the fact that God showed undeserved compassion and mercy to Moses (Exodus 33) with God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart (Exodus 5) and concludes that whether one is "mercied" or "hardened" is completely, inalterably, and utterly up to God. The verbs here are active: God performs these actions. He mercies whom He wills and he hardens whom He wills. The parallel between mercy and hardening is inarguable. We may like the mercying part more than the hardening, but they are both equally a part of the same truth. Reject one and you reject them both. There is no such thing as preaching God's mercy without preaching God's judgment, at least according to Scripture." (James White - The Potter's Freedom)

    Let's now read verses Romans 9:14 - 24 in full to follow the flow of Paul's argument, remembering that Paul is continuing to address the issue of why some have not come to have faith in Christ:
    "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
    For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion."
    So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
    For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth."
    Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
    You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"
    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?
    What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?"

    Paul's answer to the objection is to point out that God is God, and man is man, and man has no business telling God what to do with His creation (v. 20). "Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?" (v. 21)

    The implication in Paul's question here is that yes, indeed, God as the Potter has every right to make what He likes from the clay. Though man will shout loud and long about what seems to be man's lack of freedom in all this, God's answer is to shout back, "What about My freedom as the Potter?" In Romans 9, Paul contends for the Potter's freedom to have mercy on whom He will.

    Jesus Himself used an illustration that is very helpful to us along this line. In His Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), He talks about the workers coming at different times of the day and at the end of the day, when each worker receives his wages, all who worked received the same amount. The owner says, "I can do what I want. It's my money." The point being then that the owner has every right to dispense his money as he will, and also God has every right to have mercy on whom he will.

    So the issue of fairness is a reasonable question to raise but I believe God's Word in Romans 9 forces us to conclude that fairness is not an issue. "Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!" (Romans 9:14).

    We must always keep in mind that grace can never be earned and mercy by definition can never be deserved. If we really want what is fair, all of us will be sent to hell. If we ever think that everyone, or even one person, deserves mercy, then by definition, we're not talking about mercy anymore, but of justice. Mercy can never be demanded. It is always given at the gracious will of the one showing it. Let's always remember that in Divine Election, a person either receives justice, or they receive mercy, but absolutely no one receives injustice! God is not obliged to give equally that which He is not obliged to give at all.

    Posted by John Samson on December 1, 2005 07:41 PM


    I too used to get befuddled at the question about how God could punish us for doing something that was His will. After all, aren't we doing God's will irresistibly?

    Then it occurred that I was looking at the question from externals. Sure, Pharaoh did God's what God wanted, but what was Pharaoh's motive? God did nothing to Pharaoh that was against Pharoah's love of evil.

    First, Pharoah was a wicked man, just as all sinners are. In Romans, Paul reminds us that God gives wicked men over to their depravity as as manifestation of His justice. People forget that God has every right to begin judging us for our sins in this life, so hardening of our hearts is, in point of fact, very much allowable on the basis of justice. Thus the Arminian cry that this is unjust has no merit, for God may harden men's hearts in perfect justice.

    Second, Pharaoh did not keep the Israelites in Egypt because He loved God and wanted to comply with God's purposes while at the same time spitting at God and hating Him! In theory, had Pharoah kept Israel in Egypt out of love for God and obedience to Him, had He known that God intended to keep Israel in Egypt, Pharoah would have been obeying God with the right motive...but that describes a righteous, not a wicked man. Thus, this proves:

    (A) God's hardening can be perceived as deserved, so it is not unjust.

    (B) God can hold Pharoah accountable for sinning while complying with God's sovereign decree, because, even though He complied with it, He did it in hatred of, not love for, God.

    (C) Thus, it is men's motives for their actions, not merely their outward, external compliance with God's sovereign purposes, that makes men accountable for their sins. Their motives are their own, and their motives, apart from God's mercy and grace, are wicked, even when hardened in judgment for their sins to accomplish something to further God's purposes.

    You started off this article with the Ephesians passage of predestination. I do believe that God predestines each one of us. But, does God predestine the means of getting to Him? Does God just predestine the end or does he predestine everything?

    In this article, you said that God's will always happens. So, are you saying that whatever we are doing is God's will. Can't I do anything outside the will of God?

    These are some of the questions that I have been struggling for a very long time.


    The point you make is excellent and important, I might add.
    I'll let pastor John give you his own answer, but I have a few things to say which I am sure he can improve on.

    Note that the passage in Ephesians asserts that our election is "in Christ", not merely an abstraction.

    So according to the Scripture, divine election, by itself, saves no one. It is simply the divine blueprint for His redemptive plan of activity in the temporal world. God the Father elects, God the eternal Son redeems and God the Holy Spirit applies that redemption to those the Triune God had determined to save in their eternal counsels.

    But there is another element: the prayers and preaching of the saints in the church. God has ordained for people to be saved in the hearing of the gospel. Obviously the natural man without the Holy Spirit cannot and will not hear about Christ. He is naturally resistant to the gospel (John 3:19). But when the preacher casts forth the seed of the gospel, the Holy Spirit, germinates that seed so to speak, opening the uncircumcized hearts of the elect, at a time of His choosing, that they may believe the gospel. Without germination that seed lies dormant. We can preach till we are blue in the face and no one will respond to the further requires the Spirit to enable us to hear by disarming our natural hostility and illunining our minds to the truth. That is what is is to be quickened, regenerated, born again. Our will does not become free from the bondage of corruption by nature, but by grace.

    So God also ordains the means: the gospel but only the Holy Spirit can open the eyes of the willfully blind.

    The Apostle Paul says,
    "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."

    Paul says he knows they are chosen because it wasn't merely preaching alone but the power of the Holy Spirit that brought them to faith.

    I have some comments too...and I look forward to reading Pastor John's reply.

    Regarding Abs' question "can't I do anything outside of God's will?" I too have struggled with that question. John Piper gave a helpful illustration of God's will:

    "He can look through a narrow lens or through a wide-angle lens.

    When God looks at a painful or wicked event through his narrow lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin for what it is in itself and he is angered and grieved. "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the LORD God" ( Ezekiel 18:32).

    But when God looks at a painful or wicked event through his wide angle lens, he sees the tragedy or the sin in relation to everything leading up to it and everything flowing out from it. He sees it in all the connections and effects that form a pattern or mosaic stretching into eternity. This mosaic in all its parts-good and evil-brings him delight."

    In the "wide-angle" sense of God's will, no, you cannot do anything outside of His will. All that happens, happens only because God has decreed that it will be allowed to happen. In the "narrow" sense of God's will, yes, you can do somthing outside of his will. We violate God's will in the narrow sense whenver we sin against His the same time, we remain within His wide-angle will because we cannot do anything he does not allow to happen.

    Regarding "Does God predestine just the end or does He predestine everything?" This is something of a paradox in my mind. I think that the truth lies between the extreme (and mutually exclusive) poles of absolute divine soverignty, and absolute human freedom. Everything I read in the Bible certainly makes it plain that the truth is much, much closer to absolute divine the wide-angle sense, that is.

    I've always pictured it this way (and if anyone thinks I'm off-base, I'd love to discuss it...maybe I am!): Let's say that God has predetermined that I will drive from my house to the grocery store on Saturday. No matter what I think about it, I'll be going to that grocery store! But perhaps He has allowed me some leeway in deciding when I leave home, which roads I take, etc. Maybe he'll even let me get stuck in traffic, or lost on the other side of town...but, in His soverignty and grace, He'll make sure I get to the store. This is not to say that God won't close down some streets to limit my options, or that He doesn't know which path I'll take...of course He does. The term "predestination" suggests to me that the destination is what is certain, even if there is freedom in the means of reaching that destination.

    Believing that He predetermines absolutely every step along our paths seems to approach fatalism, which is not biblical. Believing we're totally free and God waits to see what happens next, is open theism (and, in my opinion, absolutely silly unless we use the Bible as nothing more than a doorstop). The truth is somewhere between, and as the Bible doesn't lay it out in explicit detail, perhaps we should check our inqusitive natures and be content knowing that God is in control.

    Easier said than done, huh?


    You said >>>>Believing that He predetermines absolutely every step along our paths seems to approach fatalism, which is not biblical.

    Not exactly. Consider ... the Arminian theory of divine foreseen faith is fatalistic because it is an impersonal determinism. God foresees who will believe and thus chooses them accordingly. Well if He already knows who will believe before they exist, before time, even before they are created, then this fact is fixed in eternity and cannot be otherwise. Therefore, in this Arminian theory, it isn't God who determines it, nor does that person really have a choice since it was fixed in eternity that such and such will believe. So in that theory, something besides God, another power perhaps, an impersonal determinism ... i.e. in Arminian theology fatalism actually determines who will be saved, if they are consistent.

    But personal determinism as taught by the Bible and the Reformers is not fatalism, for God Himself determines what makes a person responsible. And he declares that we are accountable (Rom 3:19, 20) even though we are determined to choose to sin by our corrupt natures and even though He determines who will be saved. Our choices are never free from the corruption of nature nor are they ever free from God's decree. God ordains all things that come to pass.

    So human freedom in the sense you are talking about does not exist. Freedom, as the Bible defines it, is holiness. The theology of libertarian freedom (the freedom to choose otherwise) even God does not have... for God cannot choose to be unholy, lie or do anything against the essence of His nature or he would not be God. Thus libertarian freewill theology has the distinct problem that God does not have a free will in their definition. Does this mean God isn't free? of course not because He defines freedom.

    You said >>>>Let's say that God has predetermined that I will drive from my house to the grocery store on Saturday. No matter what I think about it, I'll be going to that grocery store! But perhaps He has allowed me some leeway in deciding when I leave home, which roads I take, etc. Maybe he'll even let me get stuck in traffic, or lost on the other side of town...but, in His soverignty and grace, He'll make sure I get to the store. This is not to say that God won't close down some streets to limit my options, or that He doesn't know which path I'll take...of course He does.

    Response: Brother, if he already knows what path you will take then it is predetermined. How does He know this? If he knows it before hand, either he determined it or some impersonal force did? And chance does not exist for God is not taken by surprise. It is unbiblical therefore to assert any freedom of man that is outside of God's specific decree. But speculation aside lets go to Scripture: Eph 1:11 states that God works all things according to the counsel of his will". This leaves no room for libertarian freedom.

    I ask, free from what? Is you choice about which path to take to the grocery store free from God? Free from his decree? See it is absurd to philosophize when we have the Scriputre to tell us otherwise. The problem with the free will theory is that it has no biblical basis but is rather bare philosophical speculation, without biblical support. Why do we believe things like that that are not revealed in Scripture? NOWHERE in scripture does it teach we have a free will. So why are pulpits across America proclaiming it? The Bible teaches that we are responsible, but no where will you find even one text on free will. It is make believe, fairy tale based on philosophical presupporitions we bring into the Text from the outside. We can act voluntarily but God has decreed it.

    Consider those who crucified Jesus. It is the most evil act in history yet God ordained it. Acts 2:23 says

    "Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men."

    Acts 4:27 says, 27for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

    These persons chose willingly to crucify Jesus and they are accountable for it, yet God ordained it, the Text says. It could not be otherwise.

    There are several specific respects in which we deny freewill. We deny that (i) an agent is free to thwart the divine decree; that (ii) the unregenerate are free to believe the Gospel; that (iii) the regenerate are free to commit apostasy, or that (iv) the glorified are free to sin.

    Since we cannot thwart the divine decree, the kind of freedom you speak of does not exist. Can God be taken by surprise? Of course not...the Scripture asserts that he ordains all things that come to pass.

    John H.,
    Thanks for your reply. You certainly raise an interesting point when you say that, if God knows what I'll do from all eternity, then my choices are fixed...and if they aren't fixed by God, then there must be something else to which even God is subject. I hadn't considered it from that angle.

    I don't believe I said (at least, didn't I didn't mean to say) that any free action on my part can "thwart the divine decree." I was in fact saying that I cannot thwart any divine decree, but rather that God may have granted some measure of "freedom" (for lack of a better word) to my actions. I don't believe that an unregenerate person is "free" to choose Christ, because that is contrary to the unregenerate nature. I can't choose something that I don't want, and I believe Scripture to be quite clear that the "natural man" sees the Gospel as folly and a stumbling block. However, aren't I capable of deciding whether to drive up Main St. or Elm St. on my way to the store? Those choices are within my nature to make.

    Now, in light of your above comment, I do concede that if God knows whether I'll take Main or Elm, then it's been predetermined by *something* or else it could not be known. There is nothing greater than God, thus my choice must have been predetermined by God. So it would seem that I don't have that choice.

    Let's say that I'm a believer who is able to sin, or not to sin. Rather than choosing between amoral options like which way to turn my steering wheel, let's say I'm considering whether to commit what I know to be sin. God knows what I'll do, because He's God. Thus, my decision was fixed from all eternity, and we've agreed that it was fixed by God. If I choose to sin, however, I find my logic walking the razor's edge between God allowing me to sin, and God causing me to sin.

    The WCF states: "The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in his providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin."

    I admit this reasoning has always been difficult to me. I used to misunderstand Calvinism as reducing people to puppets on strings, and I realize now that I was very wrong. However, this statement from the WCF seems to be along the lines of "The puppeteer controls every action of the puppet, good or bad, and the puppet is powerless to do anything other than what the puppeteer commands...yet the puppeteer doesn't use any strings, so the puppet is responsible for everything it does." It's very difficult to grasp. I feel like I'm chasing my tail when I try to figure it out.

    Again, I appreciate your comments and your insight about the relationship between foreknowledge and predeterminism. Acts 4:27-28 was a very good illustration.

    There's something that gets lost in discussions of providence and freedom these days, namely the distinctions that many of our forefathers made.

    When I teach on the freedom of the will...or lack thereof, the very first thing I usually say is "Free will is probably the most often repeated response to the problem of evil, the nature of salvation, and always comes up in discussions of predestination. It is probably the most often spoken of concept, but least defined concept." I always shake my head at how often it is discussed and how little anybody actually says about what it means. I center most of my teaching on the difference between "indeterminate" freedom and "determinate" freedom, e.g. incompatibilism v. compatibilism.

    I've also found that most people default to believing that believing in foreordination means I believe there is only one will in the universe. I think Thomas Oden says this about the Reformed concept of foreordination in The Living God,/i>. I think we Calvinists would do well to be clear about what "establishing the efficacy of second causes" means in the confessions. I don't hear many discussing the distinctions many of our forebears raised these days. This bothers me, because, at least in my experience, if I explain that means, people usually start to grasp the concept.

    In Reformed theology, as I understand it, we distinguish between category and act. There are acts in which God directly intervenes: miracles, creation, regeneration, and conversion and other acts requiring us to be in place, on time, and ready to help somebody in need at just the right moment. He may use circumstances, affect our desires, or both to bring certain acts about, but nothing will be contrary to our natures, except regeneration, since, by definition, its purpose is to give life to the sinner and effectually enabling saving faith to arise within him. Then there are acts in which He allows natural processes and human nature to work out His will apart from the most minimum involvement; what I wear to work tomorrow; whether I eat corn flakes or Rice Krispies for breakfast, etc. We seldom bother to make this distinction today. Charles Hodge termed this God's potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata. I find that distinction very useful in teaching this material. People usually shake their heads and "get it" when I make that distinction.

    The nature of a thing determines the category of its acts, and not each and every act is the result of God's direct action. In fact, God's will can be rendered very effective through His inaction, not simply His action. By not intervening, something may be accomplished as effectively as if He had intervened directly. The Westminster Confession and London Baptist Confession are clear. God’s determination of men’s acts in this regard comes through decreeing they come about through “the efficacy of second causes.” His sovereign decree is what establishes their efficacy. Individuals still have the freedom to act out any number of possible goods or evils as dictated by their natures. God's decree may render I eat vanilla tonight at 9pm, but it could also simply say that I eat ice cream or have dessert. We don't know. We do know, however, that however strictly or loosely that choice is decreed, I make it because my "nature" (in this case my likes and dislikes) will lead me to want vanilla and not chocolate tonight. I come to this on my own, without God taking me by the hand and leading me to the ice cream.

    God can choose goods. Satan can choose from any possible number of evils. Each and every act need not be “predestined” by the direct action of God, much of what happens is predestined by virtue of God controlling the boundings and directings of our choices while giving us freedom to act within the constraints of our natures, intervening directly as He pleases, constraining us and permitting us as He so chooses for His purposes. Nothing happens apart from the grounding, sovereign decree of God, but certain acts and choices and circumstances come about by God ‘s direct effort (what Charles Hodge calls His “potentia absoluta’) This are: miracles, creation, regeneration, conversion, the events of the eschaton, and specific acts of judgment.

    As Tom Nettles notes in Ready for Reformation (Broadman & Holman, 2005, p. 89), if effectual calling cannot be reconciled with human freedom and responsibility without making a person a mindless automaton, then, logically, God’s inspiration of Scripture cannot operate in a way that produces an infallible, inerrant text apart from a mindless kind of robotic dictation. Tell that to an non-Reformed nerrantist and watch what happens.

    Now, let's apply this to election and reprobation. There are some who fought against the missions movement and proposed a hyperCalvinism that said God would save unbelievers regardless of what they did. On the one hand, they did this, because they believed in an error. On the other, their refusal to send missionaries could be viewed as a means by which the decree of election and reprobation was rendered effective. What they did in error, God used to withhold the gospel from a particular people or person for a time, perhaps to send a missionary at a later time, after a battle over this error was fought, so that a person or people would hear the gospel at the right time in their lives and be called and saved, or passed over.

    Abs and all,

    I have not had access to a computer to respond to the comments until now. Please excuse me for the delay in responding.

    I have enjoyed reading the interchange and believe many good points have been made. Thank you John H. for stepping in with some great insights.

    One question was asked of me, "In this article, you said that God's will always happens. So, are you saying that whatever we are doing is God's will. Can't I do anything outside the will of God?"

    In context, I was saying the following: "After the summation that God "mercies" whom He wills and hardens whom He wills, Paul anticipates a further objection that would be raised to his line of reasoning, namely that God is finding fault. How can God find fault with the non-elect, when, if all that Paul writes is true, then the non-elect are not responsible for their unbelief, God is? Why? Because both the elect and the non-elect are doing only that which is God's will. And here is the kicker: They cannot resist God's will!"

    The will of God is multi-faceted, but here I believe, it is refering to God's decretive will - the will of God that necessarily comes to pass (rather God's will that you and I not covet, which may or may not be complied with before the next minute is over).

    I believe Paul is stating that both the elect and the non-elect are so because of God's decree, and he then simply raises the objection that arises from man-centered men who think God has no right to do so. Then of course he dismantles that very objection.

    Dr. R. C. Sproul's article on the will of God is very useful if you wish to read further on this theme.

    John Hendryx and John Samson, thanks for your input on the will of God and predestination.

    I am gonna try to explain my confusion in detail. For example, I joined a college and I don't know if it is God's will that I go there or maybe it is not. Lets just say it is God's will, then I am following God's will. Just say, its not God's will that I don't go to this particular college. But still I went there. So, in essence I am working outside God's will. So, my question today is can we operate outside God's will. Can anything on this earth operate outside God's will.

    I was in firm belief that everything happened around me and to me was God's will. But, the more I think about things like murders and rapes, I started questioning myself if these horrible things are God's will.


    Thanks again for your comments.

    When you say that it may not be God's will that you go to such and such a college, you may be confusing God's will of decree and his preceptive will (what God commands). God reveals his will to us in the Bible in such things as the commandments. Whenever we sin we are doing something against God's will. Are we, therfore, thwarting God's will (decree) when we break the law? No. God's commands are broken every day. So God's will, his preceptive will, may not want you to go to a cerain college, perhaps because you would be sinning by breaking some command and if you did, for instance if they taught you to lie as some law Schools may this case you would be doing something against his will. But you could not possibly do something against God's decree (Eph 1:11). This would result in God somehow being taken by suprise robbing him of omniscience. It would go against his essential nature. You could never pry into God's will of decree (his secret will) and it is not revealed to us (Deut 29:29).

    As far as rapes and murders are concerned ... we must consider that when we believed the gospel, a component of this was to embrace the idea that we justly deserve the wrath of God save his mercy in Christ alone. In other words, anything that occurs to us on earth short of hell is better than we deserve ... so nothing unjust is taking place. Such things should not shock us that they happen and they should indeed serve as reminders of the desperate condition of mankind. In other words, all events, down to the greatest details cannot operate outside of God's will. But justice will be done in the end. God has promised this.

    To even consider that anthing that occurs is outside God's will is to be dualistic, thinking that chance of some other force in the universe is completely outside God's control & knowledge. If this were the case then we could not be certain of any of God's promises to us. Such an erroneous worldview would lead us to believe that perhaps evil would ultimately prevail in the end. For if God could not help letting evil into the universe, then the future would be uncertain.

    Also consider the texts I showed earlier: Acts 2:23 & Acts 4:27

    The crucifixion of the Son of God is worse than any rape. It is the greatest crime in history. Yet the apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, claim in both of these texts that God predetermined that these evil men would put the Son of God to death. The Scripture itself bears witness that God can ordain sin sinlessly.

    As John Samson suggested, you may find the essay "The Will of God"
    by R. C. Sproul to be helpful

    I would also highly recommend the book "God & Evil, The Problem Solved" by Gordon H. Clark

    Wow, this post and the following discussion is really good. I've linked it in the same post I linked last time.

    Abs, Id like to commend this helpful, and wise, quote by C.H. Spurgeon.

    "I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche."

    When Spurgeon was challenged that this is nothing but fatalism and stoicism, he replied,

    "What is fate? Fate is this – Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that. . . . There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man."

    I just wanted to thank all of you for sharing your views with me. I really appreciate it. This post and the comments were very informative and it opened up a lot of angles of theology for me. I am very glad that I have a community that I can fall back upon when I need help.

    Re: Favoritism

    Related to the question of whether or not God is fair in election, our synergistic bretheren often bring up the point that election, as Calvinists see it, would actually make God a respector of persons, showing favoritism, so to speak.

    In answer to this, we can look to the Scripture to see how it defines favoritism. In the book of James, for example, he warns us not to show favoritism to the rich (those wearing fine rings) and seat them at the best seat etc. What is God warning against here? He is warning against respecing these persons because of what they can get out of it as opposed to treating the poor and rich alike since riches is not what distinguishes us.

    With this in mind, in matter of fact, the Arminian view turns out to teach a view of God that shows favoritism since God chooses only those he sees has the natural ability over others who do not, to believe. These persons have reason to boast for they distinguish themselves from other men because of their faith, not grace alone. Is God's love conditional like this? Conditioned upon who believes, or is God's love unconditional, actually saving those he loves. W

    Whereas, election, is done purely out of love for his own, not because God can get some benefit that he wouldn't have if he chose someone else. Since it is pure mercy, it is a mischaracterization to say that it makes God a respector of persons.

    Some meaningful words on this topic by John Piper...

    "...God governs all events in the universe without sinning, ... that is what the Bible teaches. God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).

    This "all things" includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

    From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure - God governs them all for his wise and just and good purposes (Isaiah 46:10). Lest we miss the point, the Bible speaks most clearly to this in the most painful situations. Amos asks, in time of disaster, "If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?" (Amos 3:6). After losing all ten of his children in the collapse of his son's house, Job says, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). After being covered with boils he says, "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 2:10).

    Oh, yes, Satan is real and active and involved in this world of woe! In fact Job 2:7 says, "Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head." Satan struck him. But Job did not get comfort from looking at secondary causes. He got comfort from looking at the ultimate cause. "Shall we not accept adversity from God?" And the author of the book agrees with Job when he says that Job's brothers and sisters "consoled him and comforted him for all the adversities that the LORD had brought on him" (Job 42:11). Then James underlines God's purposeful goodness in Job's misery: "You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful" (James 5:11). Job himself concludes in prayer: "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). Yes, Satan is real, and he is terrible - and he is on a leash.

    From his essay: Why I Do Not Say, "God Did Not Cause the Calamity, but He Can Use It for Good"

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    If we view one of God's traits to the exclusion of others, in my humble opinion, I feel we miss the boat. God is King of Kings but he is also Father. If a Father gave one son 100 million dollars and to the other son he kicked in the teeth - this would be not loving, or merciful, or just. The strong calvinist would say "all is for the Glory of God and his good pleasure" but does God gain pleasure from sending people made in His image to hell?

    I think God gets the most Glory when a man has the choice to either follow or turn-away, and freely chooses God. What honor is there in a shotgun wedding, or forced love?

    Some will say who am I, just dust and ashes, to talk back to God. I agree, I am not talking back to Him but those who try to lessen God's love for the world and the hope for everyman to be spared the flames.

    There is a fundamental problem in comparing God to someone with a million dollars. God is not finite. I would imagine most theologians agree that God is limitless in His ability to dole out salvation. A further flaw in using such a view of God is most theologians likely agree on His foreknowledge in creation.

    In light of such acceptable truths about God, a more correct analogy fitting with your theological paradigm would be this:

    There is a certain city where a man of unlimited wealth can literally give any amount of money to any charitable organization that he pleases without incurring the slightest financial dent. But then out of the hundreds of charities he choses a mere ten. Oh and did I mention that this man is not only the mayor of this city who managed it in such a way that gave rise to the need for charities, but he also founded/created each and every one of those charities! On top of that (depending on your view of the afterlife), those charitable organizations to which he did not donate went on experienced unendurable pain and suffering simply for the fact that they were created by the wealthy mayor, who by the way, knew it was all going to end up this way in the first place.

    Sounds a little unfair to me.


    I profoundly disagree and believe your argument is flawed.

    From a biblical perspective all the organizations would not just be in debt, but were using all the funds given by their creator to defy him. They had bombed his offices, mocked and killed his spokespeople, and even though he had reached out to them by sending his only son to act as a mediator, they killed him too, defying and hostile with every breath, they plot more and more to do all they can to bring him and his regime down. Yet in amazing mercy, he cancels the debt of a great many of these organizations and provides a banquet party for them. The rest, he leaves to their own devices and the hostility of their hearts... facing the consequences of their rebellion. Mercy is never owed, by definition, and the very fact he does this for even one, is amazing beyond all words.

    More could be said, but this already is far removed from your concept that you say is unfair.


    I hear what you're saying, and I'm aware of the scriptural precedence for being born into wickedness. I'm trying to step back and examine a big picture for the sake of argument.

    For clarity's sake, let's abandon the charity analogy for a second. Foreknowledge in and of itself lends responsibility to the creator for its creation. The rest is semantics of how we make ourselves feel ok about this fact. I can't resist another analogy here. Realistically if I make a chair that is structurally unsound (destined for failure), and then throw my hands in the air and blame the chair as someone sits on it and it crumbles, does that seem reasonable or fair? Regardless of how wretched the chair's failure, seemingly in open defiance of its purpose for being a chair, it was ultimately set up to fail.

    Resuming the analogy, regardless of the actions of these charities, the mayor created them knowing full well exactly what they'd do. So you say now he has no responsibility for making things right to any of them and the fact that he helps out a few makes him merciful. All this with the knowledge that at the slightest whim he could save them all. He knew exactly what would happen all along, and went through with it anyway just so He and a few charities could have a good relationship.

    Can you see how it becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile an image of God as amazingly merciful on a select few evil creatures when ultimately He is responsible for all of their sorry states? I realize this seems harsh but I'm just trying to following your argument to its logical conclusion. Please help me understand how this view can be justified.


    If you start out (which you are doing) with man and his feelings as the grounds of fairness, you will never be satisfied with the biblical answer to your question and heart cry. However, if you start with God and His glory, and His right to make all things redound to His glory - including His attributes of mercy and the justice of His holiness and righteous anger against sin, it all makes sense. At the end of time, all of God's attributes will be fully glorified, and the saint with the trappings of fallen thinking now removed in heaven, will see this clearly and delight in it... right now, we feel more in common with a Hitler or Satlin and choke on the idea of eternal punishment, but I think in heaven, we will appreciate much more the fact that God's wrath is glorified in the punishment of the wicked.

    Your chair analogy fails because God made it all good and the chair rebelled against its maker.. Yes, He knew it would happen, but He ordained it would happen for the sake of His glory being revealed. Kevin, your argument is the one raised in Romans 9... "19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

    Can you see - you side against Paul here, taking the side of the imaginary objector?

    Man centered theology is foreign to the Bible and there is no way it can handle the God revealed in Romans 9. It will not accept or tolerate the idea that man is not the center of the Universe. God is.

    For more on this, perhaps you could read this short artile Kevin.

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