(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.
We are on the last step of a four step "proof" of predestination:
- Proof of the Doctrine of Total Depravity
- Establishment of Man’s Moral Inability
- The Divine Initiative (Rebirth)
Step 4. PredestinationSo far we have proposed: man is totally depraved, born in iniquity; with no ability to move himself to where he seeks God; and before he can choose God, God must first choose him. The only remaining question is: When does God make this choice?
We should stop here and, once again, consider the interconnectedness of these four steps. If man is totally depraved, unable to save himself, and reliant on God to resurrect him from death, on what basis does God choose one person to benefit from this gift while another does not?
It cannot be on the basis of their deeds, because that would belie our doctrine, so far developed, that man’s deeds are but filthy rags. My filthy rags are no less filthy than anyone else’s. Can it be that God rolls the dice for every person—a cosmic lottery? No, that would impugn what the bible teaches us elsewhere about God’s character. Besides, it tells us that we choose and love him because he first chose and loved us. Loving someone is not consistent with random drawing.
This is indeed a puzzle. I don’t know if there is more than one possible solution, but there is an obvious one: that God chose us ahead of time; that God loved us ahead of time—ignoring our filthy deeds, and for those he loved he provided a redeemer. In other words, a temporal solution seems utterly at odds with God’s ability to choose one person over another. But an eternal decree would fit. Once again, if we find that the bible does teach of a choice made before time began, we are more confident of our previous three steps. If it doesn’t, then something is wrong with our exegesis.
At close examination, we see that, at the heart of the matter, we are actually poking about in the area of God’s sovereignty. Is God sovereign over all of creation? Can God ever be surprised about how things turn out? Did God send His son to die and now sits waiting and hoping that we will do our part? Or did God ensure from all eternity that there would be a people to give to His son, the same people that the Son would redeem, and the very same people that the Spirit would enlighten?
It makes sense, then, to start with a passage that reminds us of God’s sovereignty.
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Dan 4:35)There are many other verses we could examine, but to me no verse is quite as clear in showing that neither man, nor angels, nor devils can thwart the hand of God. This would logically include, it would seem to me, adding to or subtracting from the number of the elect. If not, then we have to admit that while God may be “mostly” sovereign, He is not totally in control of the names written in the book of life.
Let’s now look for passages that support predestination—the idea that God’s choice for us was made long before we were born.
Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass, (Job 14:5)We are reminded of the words of Spurgeon, “It is a good thing that God chose me before the foundation of the world rather than waiting to see how I turned out.”
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. (Ps 139:16)
And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword; those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’ (Jer 15:2)
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. (John 17:6)
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)
4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, (Eph 1:4-5)
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30/ And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom 8:29-30)
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. (2 Th. 2:23)
in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began (Titus 1:2)
We come now to the coup de grace (with the emphasis on grace). While permeating throughout, nowhere in scripture is the doctrine more clearly taught that in the ninth chapter of Romans. This amazing chapter is often given the heading “God’s Sovereign Choice.” It begins by discussing the twins born to Isaac and Rebecca:
11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Rom. 9:11-13)Here is where a railroad spike could be driven into the coffin of predestination. For Paul might be about to tell us that Jacob was favored because, rascal that he was, God foresaw that he (Jacob) would seek Him out, or that at least Jacob would assent to God's offer. That would place rebirth squarely back in the camp that requires man’s cooperation, and predestination in the camp that believes it merely refers to foreknowledge.
Now, as an aside, even if we arrived here without thinking about predestination, we would very surprised if Paul was about to tell us that God loved Jacob because he foresaw Jacob’s willing response. Jacob’s conversion, described in Genesis 32, is the very picture of divine initiative (step 3 in our proof) and man’s inability (step 2): God literally wrestles Jacob to the ground and makes him say uncle. Possibly the only conversion in scripture that displays the divine initiative more vividly is that of Paul himself, where God knocks him from his horse. Here again, we see not man’s cooperation but God’s selection.
At any rate, how does Paul proceed from setting the stage for a possible repudiation of predestination? He proceeds not by repudiating it but by affirming it.
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Rom 9:14-18)So, Paul tells us, it has nothing to do with what man wills, or on his works (exertion), but it is entirely a sovereign choice of God who, even if it seems unfair to us, will have mercy upon those it pleases Him to have mercy.
Next Paul anticipates that precise complaint: but that’s not fair. He then answers it straightforwardly, in one of the hardest, most brutal, yet unambiguous passages in all of scripture:
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 honored 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? (Rom 9:19-24)Here we have a difficult lesson indeed. Vessels of destruction and vessels of mercy, prepared in advance. Why? Because that is how they would turn out? No, it appears that it is because it makes the riches of his glory known.
A final point. We must understand that we all are born in rebellion. Justice for all would mean damnation for all. Instead, some receive mercy, some who were chosen in advance not because of merit but because it pleased God to do so in a way that we cannot really comprehend. Why did he do so? For His glory—which again we cannot fully comprehend. In all of this, does anyone receive injustice? No—mercy is a gift shown to some. Others receive a terrible but ethical justice.
On the fairness question, we should consider whether the alternative view is fair.
The non-predestination, or Arminian view is that life is fair, because we all have the chance to hear and respond to the Gospel.
The Arminian view of Jacob and Esau must be something like this: Born twins, they were equal in many ways. Esau, however, was a man’s man and spent his days working the land. Jacob was more of a mother’s boy who stayed inside. There she instructed him in the ways of God, so that ultimately He came to believe upon the Lord.
In this possible counter explanation, was life any more “fair” to Esau?
How about two identical twins--Bill and Ted. Both as equal as possible in terms of IQ, parental rearing, education, finances, etc. Bill accepts the gospel, but Ted doesn't. What was different about the two? One happened to be in the right place at the right time? Was that fair? Was God's grace just sufficient enough for Bill but not quite for Ted? Was that fair?
In the non-predestination view, is life fair to the many millions who have died without hearing the gospel?
In the non-predestination view, is life fair to the children murdered in the womb before they can hear the gospel?
If your response is: Even though millions have died without hearing the gospel, including the 40 million murdered in the womb in the U.S. since Roe, God could save them if He wanted to, then I say to you: Precisely. Welcome to Calvinism.
Next: “problem” verses.