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"...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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    We are a community of confessing believers who love the gospel of Jesus Christ, affirm the Biblical and Christ-exalting truths of the Reformation such as the five solas, the doctrines of grace, monergistic regeneration, and the redemptive historical approach to interpreting the Scriptures.

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  • « The Divine Exchange by Pastor John Samson | Main | Faith Not Without Reason »

    Isn't Divine Predestination and Election just Fatalism?

    Question: I'm really wrestling with this whole idea of predestination and election. Isn't the idea of election just another word for fatalism?

    Thank you for your question. Let me say first of all that you are not in any way the first person to wrestle with the weighty issues of Sovereign election over against free will. Many have walked this road before you. In fact, I too have not always believed what I now believe. You can be sure that much mental and emotional wrestling took place as I was in the process of learning what I believe to be the Biblical doctrine in this area. We all have traditions, and as a friend of mine, Dr. James White says so well, "the people most enslaved by their traditions are those who don't believe they have any." If you'll allow me, I'd like to share something of my story in this regard.

    When I first heard the message of Sovereign Grace and election taught, I have to admit that I resisted it. Though the teaching I heard was backed up with Scripture, I thought I had other Scriptures that would negate the ones I heard. Then I went to a question and answer session on the subject (the first of many, I might add). This proved to be invaluable for me, because many of the questions I had were raised, and, I had to admit, were answered from Scripture, in their proper Biblical context.

    I was immediately alarmed by this, as I came to understand that this whole issue required a lot more research than I had previously thought. I have a strong and deep desire to be biblical in what I believe and teach. That means that I must continually hold up my traditions to the light of Scripture to see if they are in agreement. Knowing that I needed to believe what Scripture taught on the subject, I ordered much material, and began my research. It is never pleasant to examine firmly held traditions, and I felt that this was especially so in my position, when I had taught other things at various times in my ministry. No one wants to admit the possibility that they may in fact have been wrong.

    What I was considering was not some new "way out" doctrine... in fact, it was what I had been believing up until then that was the novel idea as far as Church history is concerned. No, I was looking into the historic orthodox Christian position, held by such men as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and the Protestant Reformers of the 16th Century, as well as perhaps the most gifted theologian of all time, Jonathan Edwards, along with men like George Whitefield and C. H. Spurgeon - in other words, some of the most outstanding men in Christian history. In more recent times men such as B. B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, Abraham Kuyper, James P. Boyce, Arthur W. Pink, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones and Dr. James Montgomery Boice could be added to the list. In our own day we could mention Dr. J. I. Packer, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Dr. James White, Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, Dr. Mark Dever, Dr. Robert L. Reymond, Dr. John Frame, Dr. Wayne Grudem, Dr. Michael Horton, Dr. R. C. Sproul and Dr. John Piper. Of course, many other names could be listed here.

    Well it took more than a year of researching the issue in depth, before I realized that there was a consistent and clear Biblical doctrine of election and predestination. I also came to see that in order for me to believe what the Bible taught in this area, I had to dispense with my traditional understanding.

    Although now embracing the doctrine, I continued on with my study, and yet waited another year before preaching on the subject at the Church. There's no doubt this issue is controversial. I think many pastors and teachers who believe it, do not preach about it for this very reason. The question then becomes, who are we trying to please - God or men?

    Jesus preached it and watched many in the crowd walk away when He pressed the claims of Divine Sovereignty in election. In John 6:65, 66 we read, "And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore." It is extremely humbling to think that God alone gets the credit for our salvation. This doctrine destroys all human pride once and for all, and elevates the graciousness of God in saving a people for Himself, for His own glory alone. Not everyone wants to hear this. Yet I am convinced, as C. H. Spurgeon said, "Christ's sheep will not be offended by Christ's voice."

    Of course, this subject is not all that I teach, but in that it is something spoken about regularly in Scripture, if I am a Bible teacher, I have to teach something about the subject. I have no right to cut it out of the Bible or out of my teaching, if, as a pastor, I am called to teach the contents of the Bible, which of course I am.

    All Christian denominations have some doctrine about predestination and election. "Predestination" and "election" are biblical words. Therefore the question is not whether we should or should not have a doctrine of election; the question is, "are we embracing the biblical doctrine?"

    As I say, what I was considering was in no way a new doctrine, but one held for centuries by orthodox Christians. Here are a couple of quotes from some of the historic creeds of mainline Churches. Firstly, from the 16th Century, the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England (also known as the Anglican or Episcopal Church):

    "Article 17 - Of Predestination and Election
    Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation as vessels made to honour. Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and at length by God's mercy they attain to everlasting felicity."

    Here's a quote from the London Baptist Confession of 1689:

    "Chapter 10: Of Effectual Calling
    1. Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, He is pleased in His appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

    2. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, nor from any power or agency in the creature, being wholly passive therein, being dead in sins and trespasses, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit; he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it, and that by no less power than that which raised up Christ from the dead."

    I have a strong and deep desire to be biblical in what I believe and teach. That means that I must continually hold up my traditions to the light of Scripture to see if they are in agreement.

    Some people just say that the Church has been divided over these issues for centuries now, and I've actually heard more than one person say that they believe both in Sovereign Election and free will, saying, "The Bible teaches both Sovereign Election and free will, and its a mystery that will be explained to us in heaven." The reason I don't believe that is because the two sides teach opposite and contradictory things. One says that God is the cause of our "choice" to receive Christ, and the other side says that in the final analysis, we are. It has to be pointed out that both sides can't be right. One is wrong and the other is right. I am convinced that God breathed Scripture, having its origin in God Himself, is therefore always consistent. It does not teach two opposite and contradictory things on any subject.

    Certainly, there are mysteries. For instance, the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery that our finite minds cannot fully grasp. Yet there is no contradiction in saying that there is one God - one in essence and three in personality, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Contradiction is not the hallmark of truth, but of untruth, and there are no contradictions in sacred Scripture. Some say there are, of course, but I am convinced that solid research shows that apparent contradictions are just that - they seem to be contradictions until examined closely.

    Now, immediately someone will say that they are right in the middle on the issue... that there's a "happy medium" between the two extremes. I used to believe that myself. However, my research has shown me that every attempt I've ever heard to explain an in-between position was simply a presentation for the free will side. The bottom line is that either, to quote Jonah 2:9, "Salvation is of the Lord," period!!, or else it is offered by the Lord, but whether or not it takes place is up to us: we are the deciding factor.

    Your question assumes that Sovereign election implies fatalism. I would strongly disagree with that assumption. Here's what I mean. To suggest that everything that happens in life is in some sense planned by God, immediately makes some feel that we're talking about fatalism. But fatalism is cruel and impersonal. God is certainly not either of those things. But the opposite side to this would say that nothing is planned by God... I don't know of a more unbiblical statement than that one. To say that all the evil things that take place on this planet happen without any purpose to them at all... is that a better position than saying that they happen for a purpose - that God will work out His purposes in spite of the evil taking place? I don't think so. God is personal and His plans are personal.

    Without doubt, the most evil action of sinners in recorded history was the crucifixion of the Son of God. There is no doubt this was unspeakably evil. But we have the record of the Early Church praying, in Acts 4:27-28, "For 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, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. " The actions of men were evil, and they are entirely responsible for their actions. But God intended this, and planned this, for the unspeakably good purpose of bringing about His entire plan of salvation. This is what theologians call, the biblical doctrine of compatibilism.

    In a similar way, Joseph's story in the Old Testament shows that although what the brothers did to Joseph was evil, God planned the events to bring about His good purposes. Joseph, later said to his brothers, in Genesis 50:20, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."

    The third chapter of the historic Westminster Confession of Faith opens with these words: "God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass" (adding the qualification that God is not the author of sin and that people aren't puppets). This statement was based on Eph. 1:11, "having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will."

    I would encourage you to keep wresting with these lofty concepts. It is well worth the effort. As you do so, I think you will find, as I did, that Scripture has one consistent message on this subject.

    Posted by John Samson on April 17, 2006 04:56 PM

    Comments

    John Frame once had a keen observation showing that it is the "free will" position (ironically) that actually ends up being fatalistic:

    He says, "Take Arminianism for example. The Arminian makes much of human "free will," insisting that our free decisions, especially those of religious significance, are not foreordained or otherwise determined by God. He seeks thereby to reinforce the doctrine of human responsibility (a doctrine with which, in itself, the Calvinist has no quarrel). But the Arminian also recognizes (1) that God foreknows the future exhaustively, and (2) that He has created the world knowing what the future will bring. For example, before the foundation of the world, God knew that Joe would make a free decision to become a Christian. Somehow, then, before Joe was born, God knew of his free decision. So even at that time, Joe's free decision must have been inevitable. Why was it inevitable? Not because of Joe's free will, for Joe was not yet born. Not because of God's predestination, because the Arminian denies that possibility from the outset. It would seem that the inevitability in question had some source other than either Joe or God.

    That is a scary possibility! In rejecting "divine determinism," the Arminian in effect embraces a determinism coming from some mysterious other source -- another god? the Devil? world history? impersonal laws? In any case, this idea certainly does not leave much room for free will.]

    But ultimately God's predestination remains the key element. For God is the one who (1) foreknows Joe's decision and (2) creates the world in such a way that Joe's decision will be made. The decisive factor is God's foreknowing creation. Creation is what sets the whole universe in motion. Is it too much to say that God's foreknowing creation causes Joe to make the decision he makes?

    Thus, even Arminianism implicitly concedes the Calvinist point without admitting it. Therefore, some Arminians today have abandoned the premise that God foreknows everything and have moved to a view more akin to that of process theology. But this move is exceedingly dubious scripturally.

    Quote from Apologetics to the Glory of God
    http://www.monergismbooks.com/apologetics2432.html

    You are right, Pastor Samson - election is anything but "cruel and impersonal". We are more than just chess pieces aranged on a board. And yet God also has divine control over our lives.

    Thanks for another good defense of predestination.

    God be with you,

    The Aspiring Theologian

    The Aspiring Theologian Blog: A Reformed Theology Blog

    Aspiring Theologian's Blog Entry on Calvinism

    I never thought it about like that before. However, I remember the day God knocked over my last objection to Reformed Theology. The sense that God is totally in control of saving His people was no longer something against which to struggle, but something to grasp and hold dear. We are all still responsible, yet God has worked out the circumstances in our lives in such a way that His elect are saved for His glory. Amen!

    Mike Ratliff

    I have yet to meet the person who embraces the doctrines of grace that did not initially resist them. It's almost as if we are all Arminian by default when we are first saved. All we know is "we decided" to follow Jesus. We have no notion that God first had to work a change in us before we would desire Him.

    I remember quite well how completely liberating it was when finally I conformed my beliefs to the teaching of Scripture. These doctrines that I resisted so strongly I have now come to regard as precious.

    In fact, a dear pastor friend of mine who had been struggling with these doctrines came into my office one day and announced he had finally come to accept the fifth point of the TULIP. He told me that the burden lifted from his shoulders upon finally accepting God's Word for what it truly says was akin to being saved again. But I'm convinced that we all resist it at first. It runs contrary to our human understanding and pride.

    I am one of those (fairly) new Christians that cannot get past Arminian free will. I am flooded with other confusing emotions as well, like guilt -- why me and not others that I love? What will happen to family members that were not chosen? Why would God choose some and not others? Isn't believing that we are chosen by God the ultimate expression of pride?!?!

    Free will and predestination may be a bit more than I can chew right now, but it fires me up. I probably need to study and understand Scripture more before I can come to terms with this, if at all

    I was looking at several definitions for fatalism, but most of them come down to the one below:

    "a submissive mental attitude resulting from acceptance of the doctrine that everything that happens is predetermined and inevitable"

    Since God is sovereign and that He has decreed all things (which is an affirmation in the Reformed movement), then the definition would apply, that everything is predetermined and inevitable.

    In this discussion, nothing of substance is given on the equally taught doctrine of human responsibility. If this doctrine is left out, then it really is inevitable that one would become a Christian fatalist.

    Words need to have meaning or all argument becomes nonsense. Either salvation is open to all or it is not. Either it is predestined who goes to heaven or it’s an individual’s choice to choose salvation through Christ. You can not have it both ways and be thinking logically and rationally. The bottom line, the predestination doctrine eliminates the role of an individual’s free will.

    Hugh Kelly,

    Hi and thanks for your comment. The Bible does not teach that man has a free will ... but that his will is in bondage to sin (2 Timothy 2:26; Rom 6:17, 20; 1 Cor 2:14). That which is in bondage is not free. Ask yourself, in light of clear biblical teaching, can a person believe the gospel apart form the work of the Holy Spirit? If not, then you agree that left to himself, man is morally powerless to come to Christ. i.e. has not free will. He can make voluntary choices but he sins by necessity. No one coerces him he voluntarily chooses to sin and yet he cannot do otherwise until Christ set him free. And this is exactly what Jesus teaches when he tells us that no one can believe the gospel unless God grants it (John 6:65).

    Secondly, God demands that you obey the ten commandments perfectly? Have you? No none of us have. That is why we need a Savior ... who Himself was without sin having obeyed all God's commands. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Likewise salvation includes delivering us from the bondage of the will. The Holy Spirit gives us a new heart opens our blind eyes and unplugs our deaf ears ... without which we would never come to saving faith. The scripture says no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' apart form the Holy Spirit. The point is that you have a lot of unbiblical assumptions in your posting. Back up what you say with Scripture, not just your unaided logic.

    Grace and peace
    John


    I believe the doctrine of election but have been presented with the following and am unsure how to answer in a biblical manner. Can you please help?

    Paul calls all of the church in Corinthians elect, but still exhorts them to pursue righteousness and Godliness. To not fall away but to persevere.
    If we must continue in our profession of faith (i.e., "persevere") in spite of trials, and do so to avoid falling away from the faith... why, then, does someone who is "elect" need to avoid falling away?

    Here is a question to ponder if you believe in irresistible grace ( reformed election ); the logical conclusion to this theology is a God that has provided the sacrifice for all( sins of the whole world ),a God that has invited all ( whosoever will ), but a God that will in fact not make available to all ( elect only )His Salvation. Why would God do the first two and not the last? This would be the same as me providing seating for, and inviting to, all my friends to my wedding, and then when they arrived ( responded to the provision and invitation), meet some at the door and arbitrarily reject some of the invited and accept others of the invited.

    Hi Larry,

    I dont accept the assumptions of your question in that the phrase "sins of the whole world" needs to be understood in its biblical context, and this I try to do here: http://www.reformationstudycenter.com/DivineIntention.html

    Dear Larry,
    Yes, God loved the world that He gave Jesus, and invites the world to believe in Jesus to be saved but..

    how can anyone who rightly understands his Bible expect that any of this world would respond to God's gracious invitation and come to Christ?

    This world which is of the Devil, lying under his sway, following after his course, being blinded by him, belonging to his kingdom, doing his will, as his children?
    This world in which there is none that does good- no not one, whose hearts are deceitful above all else and desperately wicked, whose thoughts are only evil continually, whose minds are at enmity with God?

    This world of which is the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life? Who, by nature, are the children of wrath?

    If we except God's condemnation of the world, then your conclusion is the illogical one.
    Mankind is dead in trespasses and sin's. And walks according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the 'children of disobedience.'

    According to God, the course of this world is set. Therefore we cannot save ourselves. We need God to make us alive in Christ, to replace hearts of stone with flesh, to make us born again, as His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.

    That's our hope of salvation, it's ridiculous to imagine that some spiritually dead, children of disobedience would start living for Christ apart from the miracle of the new birth.

    Besides this, many are called but few are chosen. But that's for another post.

    I happened to find this blog on Easter morning and it got me thinking. Jesus died for our sins for our sake, because otherwise we have no hope. These sorts of debates are ripping apart the church. It is irrelevant in light of Christ's great sacrifice for all who would believe. I have a friend of 30 years who recently came to know the Lord because of something I posted on Facebook about Easter. He would always mock Christians and Christianity and was the last person you would ever expect to become a believer. The problem with this whole debate is that it is an attempt to elevate ourselves to understanding God on God's level. We are supposed to see God and the universe from our position, not God's. We experience the world in time and space and (even if we ultimately don't have free will) it is a certainty that we wake up every morning with many choices to make that either honor God or deny Him. The original blog post pointed out that many people with Dr. before their names were Reformed thinkers. We can't learn to be Christians. The big error of academic, systematic Christianity is that we forget that knowing God is supposed to be more like breathing than understanding. Jesus chose fisherman and working class people to be his disciples rather than the educated and respected precisely because he knew those people would not be able to see the forest for the trees.

    Hi RM (Bob),

    I couldn't disagree with you more. God has revealed these things to us in His word because He wanted us to know them. They reveal how great and majestic His grace is. While we should always walk in love with those who disagree with us, God has called all of us as Christians to a mature faith. The anti-intellectual Christianity you subscribe to is foreign to the Scriptures. "In understanding be men" (1 Cor 14:20). "Think and the Lord will give you understanding" (2 Tim 2:7)

    There is disagreement oftentimes, not because people think, but because we do not think clearly enough. We let religious traditions rather than Scripture and its ramifications rule our thinking.

    I would really recommend John Piper's latest book called "Think." The blurb for it reads as follows: John Piper’s newest book will help Christians think about thinking. Focusing on the life of the mind helps us to know God better, love him more, and care for the world. Along with an emphasis on emotions and the experience of God, we also need to practice careful thinking about God. Piper contends that “thinking is indispensable on the path to passion for God.” So how are we to maintain a healthy balance of mind and heart, thinking and feeling?

    Piper urges us to think for the glory of God. He demonstrates from Scripture that glorifying God with our minds and hearts is not either-or, but both-and. Thinking carefully about God fuels passion and affections for God. Likewise, Christ-exalting emotion leads to disciplined thinking.

    Readers will be reminded that “the mind serves to know the truth that fuels the fires of the heart.”

    It is available here: http://www.desiringgod.org/Store/Books/907_Think/

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