Thoughts on the Doctrine of Election (16)

14. It’s Resistance, cont’d

God is the only one with a sovereignly free will.  Has He not the right to exert it as He pleases, to do what He will with His own, to predetermine the destiny of all His creatures? But proud, self-assertive, would-be autonomous man objects to this.  By nature a rebel, he pickets the Lord carrying his little placard, “God is unfair!” This because God hath mercy on whom He will and whom He will He hardeneth.  He reasons that God should create all men equal, and give everyone the same opportunities for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as for salvation. It is partiality to show mercy to one and severity to another.  What is the answer to this objection? This: “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed, say to Him that formed it, “Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the Potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Romans 9:20f).

God’s people may find the mystery of this difficulty made plainer when they understand that “God is light” as well as “God is love.” He is a just God as well as a Saviour, holy as well as gracious.  Both of these aspects of the truth are seen in predestination.  In the election of His people, God reveals the riches of His grace. In the reprobation of the rest, God proves His holiness and justice.

Does God owe all men without exception eternal salvation? If so, then He must also owe them earthly prosperity.  For argument from greater to lesser is conclusive.  If God, to be perfectly just, must provide for the salvation of all men, so He is bound to make equal provision for man’s material welfare.  But do all men have equal spiritual and temporal opportunities? Not in this world where God is indisputable Sovereign. Does this, then, make Him unjust? Who will be as big a fool as the Devil to suggest it? But are not the providences of God inscrutable and mysterious? Unquestionably so.  But these mysteries reveal not the injustice of the Almighty, but the superficiality of finite understanding.  Take comfort in the biblical doctrines of predestination and providence, which reveal His infinite attributes of wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth and love.

An unfailing perennial objection to God’s election is that it destroys man’s responsibility.  If God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, as the Westminster Confession puts it, if His decree fixes every event in history (Acts 2:22, 23; 4:27f) and settles the destiny of every man, then all human responsibility is destroyed and man becomes a stock (a log) and a (concrete) block.  Therefore, Arminians insist that man’s will must be free to choose good or to choose evil, otherwise man’s moral agency is destroyed.  This is why modern prophets, like Billy Graham, and their duped followers conclude that man ultimately, and not God, decides his eternal destiny.  What is wrong with this objection is that is confuses responsibility and free will.  It assumes that ability is the measure of responsibility.  But there is no principle more erroneous.  Man’s responsibility was in no way diminished by the Fall.  Responsibility remains, whatever man’s ability or lack of it.  Human responsibility is one thing, free will another.  Man has as much responsibility as he ever had before the Fall, and more.  But his will is not as free as it was before the Fall.  Now the will of fallen man is free only in the direction of sin.  Therefore human responsibility and free will are basically different. They are not to be confused.  Fallen man suffers total moral impotency, and so a total moral and spiritual inability.  Yet he is as fully responsible as sinless Adam was in the state of rectitude.  The idea that his responsibility before God is only according to the ability he has as a totally depraved sinner is a philosophical dream.  This means that the more wholly incapable of any good man becomes, the less responsible he becomes.  But the law of God holds man responsible in every respect, in thought, word and deed, and that personally, perpetually and perfectly.

Another objection against the truth of predestination is that it precludes the use of God-ordained means.  In fact, some who draw the wrong conclusions from this truth do assert that those chosen to salvation will be saved although they remain utterly ignorant of the Gospel, never see a Bible, never hear a preacher of the Word, nor hear the name of Christ.

This is an objection against, not the Reformed doctrine of predestination, but a strange conception of predestination, that is, a predestination of an end without any regard to means.  This is a Mohammedan view of predestination.  It is fatalism.  It wrongly assumes that God fulfils His purposes without the use of instrumental means and secondary agencies.  God has chosen the elect, not on the foresight of their faith, but to faith, to salvation, and to every saving good.  Nevertheless, it still remains that God from the beginning hath so chosen you “through sanctification and belief of the truth” (II Thess. 2:13).  Faith and sanctification of life are not conditions of salvation, since they are a very part of salvation.  But they are means unto final salvation.  Our salvation is in three historical stages: its beginning (regeneration), its continuance (faith and sanctification), and its end (glorification).

God ordained to save His elect by means of faith and sanctification.  To say that God’s elect will be saved without the use of means whatsoever is absurd.  We are not thinking of man’s means, but God’s means, the means He has ordained and commanded to be used.  Abraham was ordained to be the father of many nations.  Was he so ordained without the use of means? To say that he would be such a father apart from any means is like saying he would be, even if he had died in infancy.  Hezekiah was ordained to live fifteen extra years, but could he have so lived without food or sleep? The decree of God was revealed to Joshua that he could conquer Jericho, but could this have been realized if Israel under their own fig tree had sat down with folded arms? No, because God had also ordained how the city was to be taken.

There are the heathen.  Some of them God has ordained form all eternity to life and salvation. He has ordained that some of them shall call upon the name of the Lord.  They have never heard the name of the Lord.  But they shall call upon His name, and “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).  Still, “how…shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach? Except they be sent?” (10:14f, ASV).  God does deign to use the agency of human instruments, as preachers, and the preaching of the Gospel unto the salvation of His people.  Does this make salvation dependent upon man? Not when it is all dependent upon His furnishing, setting forth, using and blessing, the means.

The Arminians who are undying in their resistance to this truth use certain pet Scripture texts against it, such as Proverbs 1:24,25; Isa 65:2 and Matthew 23:37. Take the latter, for example. “O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” This outcry of Christ’s is said to be incompatible with Calvinism, since it shows plainly that the will of God can be resisted and the desire of Christ can be frustrated.  Now such reasoning flies in the face of the heart of the Scripture truth that God is God.  For a disappointed, defeated, thwarted, helpless God is not the God of truth.  To prove that the decrees of God can fail is to prove that there is no God! The trouble is, the Arminians interpret this text most incorrectly. As John Gill wrote, “…this Scripture… they are ready to produce on every occasion against the doctrines of election and reprobation, particular redemption, and the irresistible power of God in conversion: and in favor of sufficient grace and of free will and power in man..” Notice what Christ does not say.  He does not say, How often would I have gathered you, and ye would not.  Nor, I would have gathered thy children, and they would not.  He said, “I would have gathered thy children, and ye would not.” The Lord does not teach here that it was His purpose to gather all mankind without exception, nor that he wanted to convert persons who would not be converted.  We have here two wills, the will of Christ and the will of man.  Christ will Yes. Man wills No.  Christ says, I would. Man says, I would not.  The question is, which of these two wills shall have its way? For one or the other must be sovereign.  Either “I would” must win out, and then “thy children” must be gathered, or “ye would not” must win out and they cannot be gathered.  When the Lord says, “I would,” can man’s “I will not” stop Him? “Whatsoever the Lord please, that did He!”

  1. It’s Proclamation

Doctrinal preaching has all but died out in this generation. Even where the Heidelberg Catechism is still read from the pulpit, it is often used only as a spring board to digress into anecdotal orations.  The Word of God is both doctrinal and practical.  The Belgic Confession is doctrinal in emphasis.  The Heidelberg Catechism is personal and practical in emphasis.  Why then do some claim we need more experiential preaching and not so much dry doctrine? In “holiness” circles, the cry is, “More of Christ, not theology.” This is a foolish, dangerous out-look.  How can you test practical preaching as to whether it is sound, if it be divorce from the doctrine contained in Scripture? Without doctrine, there is no standard of judgment.  The “Christ,-not-doctrine” philosophy is impossible.  Christ cannot be known, understood, recognized and received unless He is preached.  Without doctrine He cannot be preached.

Why is this great truth so widely omitted from the preaching in American pulpits? One reason is because of ministerial laziness.  Most ministers do not care to spend much time in the study.  When you discover the long list of Communist-front connections some “ministers” have, you know the rarely, if ever, make use of the study in the work of the church and the gospel.  Real study is physically and mentally taxing.  It takes panful effort to prepare a series of sermons on the doctrine of the church, than to present addresses on prayer, missions, and ecumenicism.  Sound expositional preaching requires an intensive study of Scripture and hours of perusal of the older biblical works.  Many ministers, if they do put in as much as eight hours a day of work, spend it in visiting, in laboring for the advancement of Socialism and in meditating of the ogld course.  They know nothing of “Give attendance to reading…take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine: continue in them” (I Timothy 4:13, 16).

(To be continued, D.V.)