Predestination by A.A. Hodge
THIS is a subject which is very little understood, even by those Christians who profess to embrace it in their creed. This is due in part to the nature of the subject, to its profundity, and to the infinite range of its complications with other important truths. But it is also in large measure due to inattention, and to the general prevalence of a natural though an unfounded and ignorant prejudice. This prejudice has become in many quarters an epidemic irresistible to persons of more zeal than judgment. Now, I wish to urge a plea in favour of an earnest, frank, patient study of the subject. Vague prejudice unsupported by definite knowledge has no value. It is unquestionable that the Scriptures do teach some doctrine of predestination, and a very strict doctrine of unconditional election has been held by the greatest and most thoroughly biblical theologians, and by whole denominations of Christians most conspicuous for their evangelical character and fruitfulness. It will not do for any of us to dismiss such a subject with supercilious impatience. We should at the very least do our best to secure a clear conception of the doctrine, and of its relation to other doctrines, before we make ourselves sure that it is not true.
I. In the first place, it should be clearly understood that this great principle of divine predestination is held in two entirely different connections and interests. It has by a great many been discussed simply as a question of transcendental theology, as concerning the acts of God enacted in eternity in a sphere above and behind the external phenomena which are obvious to our senses. If there be a God, he necessarily exists in eternity, while the creation exists in the successions and limitations of time. The universe as a whole and all the parts of it originate in him and depend upon him, and therefore are determined by him. According to the precise language of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Ques. 7, “The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he bath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” This sweeps the whole universe, and is a proposition of the highest and most general speculative importance. This position is unquestionably, in this form, true and logically involved in all scriptural views of the doctrine of grace in all its elements. It is therefore rightly embraced in our Confession of Faith, and the present writer with all his heart believes it to be true. It is in this spirit and from this speculative point of view that Zwingli discusses this subject in his De Providentia. And it is this aspect of the question which is habitually considered by the general Christian public in their hostile criticisms of this doctrine. Now, I am perfectly free to confess that however true this view of the general principle of predestination is, and however much it is logically implicated in the essentials of the Christian doctrines of grace, nevertheless this transcendental way of conceiving of the matter is more speculative than practical. Although I heartily accord with the view in my own mind, I feel no disposition to insist upon the assent of any Christian brother as a matter of loyalty to the Christian faith. No element of the Creed is essential unless it practically determines the attitude of the soul in its relations to God through Christ. And only those aspects and modes of conceiving Christian truth should be insisted upon and imposed upon others as obligatory which do directly determine this Godward attitude of our souls, or, in other words, which directly enter into and give form to our religious experience.
On the other hand, Calvin presents his characteristic doctrine of eternal election in living connection with the great practical experimental questions of personal salvation and of divine grace. If we are sinners, it is evident that the practically essential thing in religious experience is to appreciate truly our guilt, unworthiness, and helplessness before God, and God’s free grace toward us to its full extent. If God is infinitely gracious and just, if at measureless expense he redeemed us at the cost of the pain, shame, and death of his Son, it follows that any failure in our appreciation of our own unworthiness and helplessness, or of God’s gracious activity in our salvation, would be absolutely insufferable. To claim more for ourselves or to ascribe less to God than the facts of the case justify would he the greatest of all sins, and would be the very thing to make salvation impossible. The sense of our own guilt, pollution, and impotence, and of the absolute unconditioned freeness of the grace which saves us, is involved in every case of genuine religious experience.