(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on the Predestination from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.
Proof of the Doctrine of PredestinationUp to now we have more or less just provided definitions. Now we launch into a four-step attempt to prove the doctrine from scripture. The four steps are:
- Proof of the Doctrine of Total Depravity
- Establishment of Man’s Moral Inability
- The Divine Initiative (Rebirth)
Step 1. Proof of the Doctrine of Total DepravityThe idea than man is totally depraved, unable to save himself, and exposed to God’s wrath is taught from the beginning to the end of scripture. Let’s take a quick survey.
From Genesis the story is clear: Man was made in the image of God, placed on probation in the Garden, failed in that probationary period, and subsequently died. The death of man in the Garden, on the day of disobedience, was not physical. For in Genesis 2, we read:
“but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17)God leaves no wiggle room: on the day he sinned, Adam would die. Nowhere does God retract his threat or change his mind regarding the punishment. But Adam “lived” for centuries after his disobedience—so the only conclusion is that God kept His word, and Adam did die when he ate. Adam died a far worse death than a physical death—he died a spiritual death. He was no longer in communion with God, but rather in enmity with Him. Adam and Eve and all their descendants were instantly in need of a life-saving savior. Death came with the first bite, and we too are dead until we are born, not of woman, but of God. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1).
The change in Adam and Eve is immediate and comprehensive. As walking dead, suddenly aware of their nakedness before a Holy God, they are banished from the Garden. A short while later man’s sin escalates to include the crime of murder.
In Genesis 6 we read:
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5)This leads to the annihilation of man via the flood. However, we must recognize that the annihilation of man (apart from Noah and his family) does not result in a new and better man: after the flood it is still true that, for fallen man every intention of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually. Our hearts are only evil—they are unmixed with anything good. We are totally depraved.
The flood was not redemptive—man was not a better man after the flood. It served to demonstrate what we all are in God’s eyes, loathsome—described anthropomorphically as a “mistake.” Do not take false comfort that God somehow cleansed the gene pool via the flood, instead take comfort that while we are as despicable as Noah’s neighbors, God has provided for us a savior. Noah’s neighbors are not meant to show how much worse mankind once was, but as horrible examples showing us our utter need for that savior.
Moving on, in Job 14, starting at verse one, we read: Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble… Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.
Here we read that no man can make clean what is unclean, and all that are born of women are unclean. There is provided no possibility whatsoever that a clean man can be born of natural procreation.
The Psalms have a great deal to say about total depravity, but we will just look at one familiar passage from Psalm 51. After acknowledging his dreadful sinfulness, David’s confession goes beyond the overt act and to the heart of the matter: his sinful nature:
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Ps. 51:5)David’s sin was not a aberration, but a reflection of his (and our) inner being. We are sinful at birth, we are even sinful in the womb. David traces the root of his adultery, but not back to a moment of lustful weakness—nor does he blame Bathsheba—nor does he rationalize it as a once in a lifetime experience—but he traces it back to his very conception. When thought of this way, David’s remorse is one the strongest pieces of evidence of our inescapable total depravity.
We should also point out that David sees no way, beyond a divine initiative, that he can be cleansed of his corruption. He pleads with God to take action: Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
In Jeremiah, we read more of man’s state:
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil. (Jer. 13:23)Jeremiah is telling us that it is no more plausible for a man to free himself of his evil nature than it is for a person to alter the color of his skin or an leopard to shed his spots.
The New Testament does not spare us from the doctrine of man’s total depravity. Instead it makes it even more explicit. The recorded words of our Lord are even more straightforward than the inspired writes of the Old Testament. In Matthew we read:
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? (Matt. 23:33)Here Jesus not only comments on our sinful nature, likening some to the very symbol of evil: serpents; (take no comfort that they are Pharisees—it is clear that no unsaved man is any better) he also tells them the consequence of their sinfulness.
Likewise Jesus teaches that man is beyond picking himself up by his bootstraps. Man must be reborn:
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8)This passage explicitly teaches of the necessity to be born again, and that this rebirth is of God. Without it, we cannot see the kingdom of God. The rebirth is the primary cause that enables us to see the kingdom; it is not a consequence of anything. It also, in the metaphor about the wind, tells us that those who are reborn are chosen at the pleasure of God, and His selection process is as unpredictable and invisible as it is sovereign.
The Apostle Paul is also explicit in his teaching than man is in bondage to his corruption. In fact, Paul may have penned the most explicit teaching on total depravity in all of scripture. After surveying the entire human race, Jews and Gentiles, Paul presents his grim conclusion about mankind:
10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.”, 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Rom. 3:10-18)It doesn't get much clearer than that.
Step 2. Establishment of Man’s Moral InabilityNow the doctrine of total depravity, which we hope has been demonstrated, makes explicit what we all would have agreed with: man has no ability whatsoever to save himself. The question that remains is this: If God provides to man a way out, an offer of salvation, can man avail himself of it? In other words, does the depravity of man, grave as it, nevertheless accommodate an ability in man to say yes to the gospel offer? While total depravity has left man with a terminal illness, is man still healthy enough to swallow the miracle cure that God, the great physician, places into his mouth?
There are two reason to believe that the answer to this question is no. Man cannot do even the minimal good deed of swallowing the medicine.
The first reason is that man is not sick, but dead. Ephesians 2:1 tells us that explicitly, and God’s punishment of death to Adam, as we have seen, results in a condition inherited by us all: this death means we cannot make any choice that is not sinful. This kind of dead man cannot cooperate with his own cure—for the very act of accepting God’s offer is one that must be done sincerely, and sincerity is impossible in our fallen state. We need to be cured (made alive) before we will accept the gospel, not the other way around.
As we have seen, Paul tells us in the third chapter of Romans that nobody is righteous (v10), nobody understands and nobody seeks God (v11), all have turned aside and are useless; nobody does good (v12), and nobody fears God (v18). If this weren’t enough, the Apostle goes on in chapter eight to teach:
7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom. 8:7-8)Here, "in the flesh" refers not to especially degenerate sinners, but to anyone who has not been reborn--they still exist in the first birth, the birth of woman, they are in the flesh. Paul makes that clear in the next verse: You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. In the flesh means you are not indwelt by the Spirit--it simply means you are unregenerate.
At the end of verse 7 we see the words: it [the mind] cannot. It goes well beyond stating that most men do not want to submit to God—no that little phrase clearly speaks of a more congenital defect: we cannot (in the flesh—i.e., in our natural, fallen state) submit to God. This is total inability; this is being beyond sick; this is being dead.
In verse 8 we see that we are unable to please God. However, the non-predestination view of a man in his fallen state (i.e., unregenerate) responding to God’s gospel offer, even with a generous helping of grace, would (most would agree) please God. This speaks of the impossibility of such an act.
The second reason that speaks of man’s inability are the verses, some of which we have already examined, that teach when man does come to Christ, God has inclined him to do so. In addition to those passages from John that we have already mentioned, especially John 6:44: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day, we continue on and in the next verse, John 6:45 we read:
It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—(John 6:45)Here we see a plain teaching that everyone who has learned from the Father comes to Christ. There is sense of both necessity and sufficiency: you must be taught (or drawn) by God, and if you are taught you will come to Christ.
This, of course, goes against the grain. All religions of the world are autosoteric—you must save yourself. Only Christianity differs, only in Christianity are you unable to save yourself (Jesus paid it all.) Still, as it has been pointed out, man, it seems, is simply determined to merit salvation rather than receive it for free.
RecapLet us recap the first two steps of our predestination “proof”: man’s fall (total depravity) and his moral inability, by a quick recap of some relevant passages:
- The intent of our heart is "only evil continuously". (Gen. 6:5)
- Our "righteous" deeds like filthy garments to God. (Isa. 64.6)
- We are like a leopard who cannot change his spots. (Jer. 13:23).
- Nothing clean can come from an unclean birth. (Job 14)
- We are born in sin. (Ps. 51:5)
- Nobody is good. (Luke 18:19)
- We cannot see the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
- We cannot enter the Kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
- We must be compelled to come to Christ. (John 6:44)
- We are not righteous. (Rom. 3:10)
- We do not understand; we do not seek God. (Rom. 3:11)
- We have turned aside; we are useless. (Rom. 3:12)
- None of us does good. (Rom. 3:12)
- We do not fear God. (Rom. 3:18)
- We are hostile to God. (Rom 8:7)
- We are unable (not just unwilling) to submit to the law of God. (Rom 8:7)
- We cannot please God. (Rom 8:8)
- We were dead (not just gravely ill) in our sins. (Eph 2:1)
- We walked according to Satan. (Eph 2:2)
- We lived in the lusts of our flesh. (Eph 2:3)
- We were children of wrath. (Eph 2:3)
“Come, ye dead, Christless, unconverted sinner, come and see the place where they laid the body of the deceased Lazarus; behold him laid out, bound hand and foot with graveclothes, locked up and stinking in a dark cave, with a great stone placed on top of it. View him again and again; go nearer to him; be not afraid; smell him, Ah! how he stinketh. Stop there now, pause a while; and whilst thou art gazing upon the corpse of Lazarus, give me leave to tell thee with great plainness, but greater love, that this dead, bound, entombed, stinking carcase, is but a faint representation of thy poor soul in its natural state;...thy spirit which thou bearest about with thee, sepulchered in flesh and blood, is literally dead to God, and as truly dead in trespasses and sins, as the body of Lazarus was in the cave. Was he bound hand and foot with graveclothes? So art thou bound hand and foot with thy corruptions; and as a stone was laid on the sepulchre, so there is a stone of unbelief upon thy stupid heart. Perhaps thou has lain in this estate, not only four days, but many years, stinking in God’s nostrils. And, what is still more effecting, thou art as unable to raise thyself out of this loathsome, dead state, to a life of righteousness and true holiness, as ever Lazarus was to raise himself from the cave in which he lay so long. Thou mayest try the power of thy boasted free will, and the force and energy of moral persuasion and rational arguments (which, without doubt, have their proper place in religion); but all thy efforts, exerted with never so much vigor, will prove quite fruitless and abortive, till that same Jesus, who said ‘take away the stone” and cried “Lazarus, come forth,” also quicken you. This is grace, graciously offered, and grace graciously applied.To state the obvious, you either accept these first two points, total depravity and moral incapability, as being found in scripture—or you don’t. If you do, you had better hope that scripture also teaches predestination, because that is the only hope that anyone will be saved. If you reject total depravity and moral incapability—then salvation rests on the hope that some vestigial “goodness” remains in man after the fall—at least enough that man is capable, of his own and before he is reborn, to accept the gospel offer.