Common Objections to Predestination-Boettner

Loraine Boettner

OBJECTIONS COMMONLY URGED AGAINST THE REFORMED DOCTRINE OF PREDESTINATION

  1. That it is fatalism.

  2. That it is inconsistent with the Free Agency and Moral Responsibility of Man.

  3. That it makes God the author of sin.

  4. That it discourages all motives to exertion.

  5. That it represents God as a respecter of persons, or as unjustly partial.

  6. That it is unfavorable to good morality.

  7. That it precludes a sincere offer of the gospel to the non-elect.

  8. That it contradicts the universalistic scripture passages.

1. THAT IT IS FATALISM

MUCH misunderstanding arises through confusing the Christian Doctrine of Predestination with the heathen doctrine of Fatalism. There is, in reality, only one point of agreement between the two, which is, that both assume the absolute certainty of all future events. The essential difference between them is that Fatalism has no place for a personal God. Predestination holds that events come to pass because an infinitely wise, powerful, and holy God has so appointed them. Fatalism holds that all events come to pass through the working of a blind, unintelligent, impersonal, non-moral force which cannot be distinguished from physical necessity, and which carries us helplessly within its grasp as a mighty river carries a piece of wood.

Predestination teaches that from eternity God has had one unified plan or purpose which He is bringing to perfection through this world order of events. It holds that all of His decrees are rational determinations founded on sufficient reason, and that He has fixed one great goal “toward which the whole creation moves.” Predestination holds that the ends designed in this plan are, first, the glory of God; and second, the good of His people. On the other hand Fatalism excludes the idea of final causes. It snatches the reins of universal empire from the hands of infinite wisdom and love, and gives them into the hands of a blind necessity. It attributes the course of nature and the experiences of mankind to an unknown, irresistible force, against which it is vain to struggle and childish to repine.

According to the doctrine of Predestination the freedom and responsibility of man are fully preserved. In the midst of certainty God has ordained human liberty. But Fatalism allows no power of choice, no self-determination. It makes the acts of man to be as utterly beyond his control as are the laws of nature. Fatalism, with its idea of irresistible, impersonal, abstract power, has no room for moral ideas, while Predestination makes these the rule of action for God and man. Fatalism has no place for and offers no incentives to religion, love, mercy, holiness, justice, or wisdom, while Predestination gives these the strongest conceivable basis. And lastly, Fatalism leads to skepticism and despair, while Predestination sets forth the glories of God and of His kingdom in all their splendor and gives an assurance which nothing can shake.

Predestination therefore differs from Fatalism as much as the acts of a man differ from those of a machine, or as much as the unfailing love of the heavenly Father differs from the force of gravitation. “It reveals to us,” says Smith, “the glorious truth that our lives and our sensitive hearts are held, not in the iron cog-wheels of a vast and pitiless Fate, nor in the whirling loom of a crazy Chance, but in the almighty hands of an infinitely good and wise God.”1

Calvin emphatically repudiated the charge that his doctrine was Fatalism. “Fate,” says he, “is a term given by the Stoics to their doctrine of necessity, which they had formed out of a labyrinth of contradictory reasonings; a doctrine calculated to call God Himself to order, and to set Him laws whereby to work. Predestination I define to be, according to the Holy Scriptures, that free and unfettered counsel of God by which He rules all mankind, and all men and things, and also all parts and particles of the world by His infinite wisdom and incomprehensible justice.” And again, “. . . had you but been willing to look into my books, you would have been convinced at once how offensive to me is the profane term fate; nay, you would have learned that this same abhorrent term was cast in the teeth of Augustine by his opponents.”2

Luther says that the doctrine of Fatalism among the heathen is a proof that “the knowledge of Predestination and of the prescience of God, was no less left in the world than the notion of divinity itself.” In the history of philosophy Materialism has proven itself essentially fatalistic. Pantheism also has been strongly tinged with it.

No man can be a consistent fatalist. For to be consistent be would have to reason something like this: “If I am to die today, it will do me no good to eat, for I shall die anyway. Nor do I need to eat if I am to live many years yet, for I shall live anyway. Therefore I will not eat.” Needless to say, if God has foreordained that a man shall live, He has also foreordained that he shall be kept from the suicidal folly of refusing to eat.

“This doctrine,” says Hamilton, “is only superficially like the pagan ‘fate.’ The Christian is in the hands not of a cold, immutable determinism, but of a warm, loving heavenly Father, who loved us and gave His Son to die for us on Calvary! The Christian knows that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God, even to them that are called according to His purpose.’ The Christian can trust God because he knows He is all-wise, loving, just and holy. He sees the end from the beginning, so that there is no reason to become panicky when things seem to be going against us.”3

Hence, only a person who has not examined this doctrine of Predestination, or one who is maliciously inclined, will rashly charge that it is Fatalism. There is no excuse for anyone making this mistake who knows what Predestination is and what Fatalism is.

Since the universe is one systematized unit we must choose between Fatalism, which ultimately does away with mind and purpose, and this biblical doctrine of Predestination, which holds that God created all things, that His providence extends to all His works, and that while free Himself He has also provided that we shall be free within the limits of our natures. Instead of our doctrine of Predestination being the same with the heathen doctrine of Fatalism, it is its absolute opposite and only alternative.


Notes

  1. The Creed of Presbyterians, p. 167.

  2. “The Secret Providence of God”, reprinted in Calvins Calvinism, pp. 261, 262.

  3. Bondage of the Will, p. 31.


Author

Dr. Boettner was born on a farm in northwest Missouri. He was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; Th.M., 1929), where he studied Systematic Theology under the late Dr. C. W. Hodge. Previously he had graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, and had taken a short course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri. In 1933 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1957 the degree of Doctor of Literature. He taught Bible for eight years in Pikeville College, Kentucky. A resident of Washington, D.C., eleven years and of Los Angeles three years. His home was in Rock Port, Missouri. His other books include: Roman Catholicism, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium.



1. THE PROBLEM OF MAN’S FREE AGENCY

THE problem which we face here is, How can a person be a free and responsible agent if his actions have been foreordained from eternity? By a free and responsible agent we mean an intelligent person who acts with rational self-determination; and by Foreordination we mean that from eternity God has made certain the actual course of events which takes place in the life of every person and in the realm of nature. It is, of course, admitted by all that a person’s acts must be without compulsion and in accordance with his own desires and inclinations, or he cannot he held responsible for them. If the acts of a free agent are in their very nature contingent and uncertain, then it is plain that Foreordination and free agency are inconsistent.

The philosopher who is convinced of the existence of a vast Power by whom all things exist and are controlled, is forced to inquire where the finite will can find expression under the reign of the Infinite. The true solution of this difficult question respecting the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man, is not to be found in the denial of either, but rather in such a reconciliation as gives full weight to each, yet which assigns a preeminence to the divine sovereignty corresponding to the infinite exaltation of the Creator above the sinful creature. The same God who has ordained all events has ordained human liberty in the midst of these events, and this liberty is as surely fixed as is anything else. Man is no mere automaton or machine. In the Divine plan, which is infinite in variety and complexity, which reaches from everlasting to everlasting, and which includes millions of free agents who act and interact and react upon each other, God has ordained that human beings shall keep their liberty under His sovereignty. He has made no attempt to give us a formal explanation of these things, and our limited human knowledge is not able fully to solve the problem. Since the Scripture writers did not hesitate to affirm the absolute sway of God over the thoughts and intents of the heart, they felt no embarrassment in including the acts of free agents within His all-embracing plan. That the makers of the Westminster Confession recognized the freedom of man is plain; for immediately after declaring that ‘God has freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass,’ they added, ‘Yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.’

While the act remains that of the individual, it is nevertheless due more or less to the predisposing agency and efficacy of divine power exerted in lawful ways. This may be illustrated to a certain extent in the case of a man who wishes to construct a building. He decides on his plan. Then he hires the carpenters, masons, plumbers, etc., to do the work. These men are not forced to do the work. No compulsion of any kind is used. The owner simply offers the necessary inducements by way of wages, working conditions, and so on, so that the men work freely and gladly. They do in detail just what he plans for them to do. His is the primary and theirs is the secondary will or cause for the construction of the building. We often direct the actions of our fellow men without infringing on their freedom or responsibility. In a similar way and to an infinitely greater degree God can direct our actions. His will for the course of events is the primary cause and man’s will is the secondary cause; and the two work together in perfect harmony.

In one sense we can say that the kingdom of heaven is a democratic kingdom, paradoxical as that may sound. The essential principle of a democracy is that it rests on ‘the consent of the governed.’ Heaven will be truly a kingdom, with God as the supreme Ruler; yet it will rest on the consent of the governed. It is not forced on believers against their consent. They are so influenced that they become willing, and accept the Gospel, and find it the delight of their lives to do their Sovereign’s will.

2. THIS OBJECTION BEARS EQUALLY AGAINST FOREKNOWLEDGE

Let it be noticed that the objection that Foreordination is inconsistent with free agency bears equally against the doctrine of the foreknowledge of God. If God foreknows an event as future, it must be as inevitably certain as if foreordained; and if one is inconsistent with free agency, the other is also. This is often frankly admitted; and the Unitarians, while not evangelical, are at this point more consistent than the Arminians. They say that God knows all that is knowable, but that free acts are uncertain and that it is doing no dishonor to God to say that He does not know them.

We find, however, that the Scriptures contain predictions of many events, great and small, which were perfectly fulfilled through the actions of free agents. Usually these agents were not even conscious that they were fulfilling divine prophecy. They acted freely, yet exactly as foretold. A few examples are: the rejection of Jesus by the Jews, the parting of Jesus’ garments and the casting lots by the Roman soldiers, Peter’s denials of Jesus, the crowing of the cock, the spear thrust, the capture of Jerusalem and the carrying away of the Jews into captivity, the destruction of Babylon, etc. It is plain that the writers of Scripture believed these free acts to be fully foreknown by the divine mind and therefore absolutely certain to be accomplished. The foreknowledge of God did not destroy the freedom of Judas and Peter ‘ at least they themselves did not think so, for Judas later came back and said, ‘I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood.;’ and when Peter heard the cock crow and remembered the words of Jesus, he went out and wept bitterly.

In regard to the events which were connected with Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem it is written: ‘These things understood not His disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things unto Him,’ John 12:16. Because we know beforehand that an upright judge will refuse a bribe, and a miser will clutch a nugget of gold, does this alter the nature or prejudice the freedom of their acts? And if we, with our very limited knowledge of other men’s natures and of the influences which will play upon them, are able to predict their actions with reasonable accuracy, shall not God, who understands perfectly their natures and these influences, know exactly what their actions will be?

Hence the certainty of an action is consistent with the liberty of the agent in executing it; otherwise God could not foreknow such actions as certain. Foreknowledge does not make future acts certain but only assumes them to be so; and it is a contradiction of terms to say that God foreknows as certain an event which in its very nature is uncertain. We must either say that future events are certain and that God knows the future, or that they are uncertain and that He does not know the future. The doctrines of God’s foreknowledge and foreordination stand or fall together.

3. CERTAINTY IS CONSISTENT WITH FREE AGENCY

Nor does it follow from the absolute certainty of a person’s acts that he could not have acted otherwise. He could have acted otherwise if he had chosen to have done so. Oftentimes a man has power and opportunity to do that which it is absolutely certain he will not do, and to refrain from doing that which it is absolutely certain he will do. That is, no external influence determines his actions. Our acts are in accordance with the decrees, but not necessarily so ‘ we can do otherwise and often should. Judas and his accomplices were left to fulfill their purpose, and they did as their wicked inclinations prompted them. Hence Peter charged them with the crime, but he at the same time declared that they had acted according to the purpose of God, ‘ ‘Him being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hands of lawless men did crucify and slay,’ Acts 2:23.

On other grounds also it may be shown that certainty is consistent with free agency. We are often absolutely certain how we will act under given conditions so far as we are free to act at all. A parent may be certain that he will rescue a child in distress, and that in doing so he will act freely. God is a free agent, yet it is certain that He will always do right. The holy angels and redeemed saints are free agents, yet it is certain that they will never sin; otherwise there would be no assurance of their remaining in heaven. On the other hand, it is certain that the Devil, the demons and fallen men will commit sin, although they are free agents. A father often knows how his son will act under given circumstances and by controlling these he determines beforehand the course of action which the son follows, yet the son acts freely. If he plans that the son shall be a doctor, he gives him encouragement along that line, persuades him to read certain books, to attend certain schools, and so presents the outside inducements that his plan works out. In the same manner and to an infinitely greater extent God controls our actions so that they are certain although we act freely. His decree does not produce the event, but only renders its occurrence certain; and the same decree which determines the certainty of the action at the same time determines the freedom of the agent in the act.

4. MAN’S NATURAL WILL IS ENSLAVED TO EVIL

Strictly speaking we may say that man has free will only in the sense that he is not under any outside compulsion which interferes with his freedom of choice or his just accountability. In his fallen state he only has what we may call ‘the freedom of slavery.’ He is in bondage to sin and spontaneously follows Satan. He does not have the ability or incentive to follow God. Now, we ask, is this a thing worthy the name ‘free’? and the answer is, No! Not free-will but self-will would more appropriately describe man’s condition since the fall. It is to be remembered that man was not created a captive to sin but that he has come into that condition by his own fault; and a loss which he has brought upon himself does not free him from responsibility. After man’s redemption is complete he will spontaneously follow God, as do the holy angels; but never will he become entirely his own master.

That this was Luther’s doctrine cannot be denied. In his book, The Bondage of the Will, the main purpose of which was to prove that the will of man is by nature enslaved to evil only, and that because it is fond of that slavery it is said to be free, he declared: ‘Whatever man does, he does necessarily, though not with any sensible compulsion, and he can only do what God from eternity willed and foreknew he should, which will of God must be effectual and His foresight must be certain . . . Neither the Divine nor human will does anything by constraint, and whatever man does, be it good or bad, he does with as much appetite and willingness as if his will was really free. But, after all, the will of God is certain and unalterable, and it is the governess of ours.’1 In another place he says, ‘When it is granted and established, that Free-will, having once lost its liberty, is compulsively bound to the service of sin, and cannot will anything good; I from these words, can understand nothing else than that Free-will is an empty term, whose reality is lost. And a lost liberty, according to my grammar, is no liberty at all.’2 He refers to Free-will as ‘a mere lie,’3 and later adds, ‘This, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: that God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that He foresees, purposes and does all things according to his immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, Free-will is thrown prostrate, utterly dashed to pieces . . . It follows unalterably, that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God. For the will of God is effective and cannot be hindered; because the very power of God is natural to Him, and His wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived.’4

It is sometimes objected that unless man’s will is completely free, God commands him to do what he cannot do. In numerous places in Scripture, however, men are commanded to do things which in their own strength they are utterly unable to do. The man with the withered hand was commanded to stretch it forth. The paralytic was commanded to arise and walk; the sick man to arise, take up his bed and walk. The dead Lazarus was commanded to come forth. Men are commanded to believe; yet faith is said to be the ‘gift of God’ ‘Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee,’ Eph. 5:14. ‘Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,’ Matt. 5:48. Man’s self-imposed inability in the moral sphere does not free him from obligation.

5. GOD CONTROLS THE MINDS OF MEN AND GIVES
HIS
PEOPLE THE WILL TO COME

God so governs the inward feelings, external environment, habits, desires, motives, etc., of men that they freely do what He purposes. This operation is inscrutable, but none the less real; and the mere fact that in our present state of knowledge we are not able fully to explain how this influence is exerted without destroying the free agency of man, certainly does not prove that it cannot be so exerted. We do have enough knowledge, however, to know that God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom are realities, and that they work together in perfect harmony. Paul plants, and Apollos waters, but God gives the increase. Paul commanded the Philippians, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ and in the immediately following verse the reason which he assigns for this is, ‘For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for His good pleasure’ (2:12, 13). And the psalmist declared, ‘Thy people offer themselves willingly in the day of thy power’ (110:3).

The actions of a creature are to a great extent predetermined when God stamps upon it a particular ‘nature’ at its creation. If it is given human nature, its actions will be those common to men; if horse nature, those common to horses; or if vegetable nature, those common to the vegetable world. Plain it is that those given human nature were foreordained not to walk on four feet, nor to neigh like a horse. An act is not free if determined from without; but it is free if rationally determined from within, and this is precisely what God’s foreordination effects. The comprehensive decree provides that each man shall be a free agent, possessing a certain character, surrounded by a certain environment, subject to certain external influences, internally moved by certain affections, desires, habits, etc., and that in view of all these he shall freely and rationally make a choice. That the choice will be one thing and not another, is certain; and God, who knows and controls the exact causes of each influence, knows what that choice will be, and in a real sense determines it. Zanchius expressed this idea very clearly when he declared that man was a free agent, and then added, ‘Yet he acts, from the first to the last moment of his life, in absolute subserviency (though, perhaps he does not know it, nor design it) to the purposes and decrees of God concerning him; notwithstanding which, he is sensible of no compulsion, but acts freely and voluntarily, as if he were sui juris subject to no control, and absolutely lord of himself.’ And Luther says, ‘Both good and evil men, though by their actions they fulfill the decrees and appointments of God, yet are not forcibly constrained to do anything, but act willingly.’

In accordance with this we believe that, without destroying or impairing the free agency of men, God can exercise over them a particular providence and work in them through His Holy Spirit so that they will come to Christ and persevere in His service. We believe further that none have this will and desire except those whom God has previously made willing and desirous; and that He gives this will and desire to none but His own elect. But while thus induced, the elect remain as free as the man that you persuade to take a walk or to invest in government securities.

An illustration which well shows God’s relation with both the saved and the lost is given by H. Johnson, ‘

Here are two hundred men in prison for violation of law. I make provision for their pardon, so that justice is satisfied and the law vindicated, while yet the prisoners may go free. The prison doors are unbarred, the bolts thrown back, and promise of absolute pardon is made and assurance is given every prisoner that he can now step out a free man. But not a man moves. Suppose now I determine that my provision for their pardon shall not be in vain. So I personally go to one hundred and fifty of these condemned and guilty men, and by a kind of loving violence persuade them to come out. That’s election. But have I kept the other fifty in? The provision for pardon is still sufficient, the prison doors are still unbarred, the gates of their cells are still unlocked and open, and freedom is promised to everyone who will step out and take it; and every man in that prison knows he can be a free man if he will. Have I kept the other fifty in?5

The old Pelagian tenet, which has sometimes been adopted by Arminians, that virtue and vice derive their praiseworthiness or blameworthiness from the power of the individual beforehand to choose the one or the other, logically leads one to deny goodness to the angels in heaven, or to the saints in glory, or even to God Himself, since it is impossible for the angels, saints, or for God to sin. Virtue, then, in the heavenly state would cease to be meritorious, because it required no effort of choice. The idea that the power of choice between good and evil is that which ennobles and dignifies the will is a misconception. It does, indeed, raise man above the brute creation; but it is not the perfection of his will. Says Mozley: ‘The highest and the perfect state of the will is a state of necessity; and the power of choice, so far from being essential to a true and genuine will, is its weakness and defect. What can be a greater sign of an imperfect and immature state of the will than that, with good and evil before it, it should be in suspense which to do?’6 In this life that grace from which good actions necessarily follow is not given with uniformity, and consequently even the regenerate occasionally commit sin; but in the next life it will be either constantly given or taken away entirely, and then the determination of the will will be constant either for good or for evil.

Perhaps some idea of the manner in which the Divine and human agencies harmonize to produce one work may be gained from a consideration of the way in which the Scriptures were written. These are, in the highest sense, and at the same time, the words of God and also the words of men. It is not merely certain parts or elements which are to be assigned to God or to men; but rather the whole of Scripture in all of its parts, in form of expression as well as in substance of teaching, is from God, and also from men. ‘By inspiration,’ says Hamilton,

we do not mean that God used the individual writers as automata, or that He dictated to them what they should say, but we mean that his Holy Spirit so guided and controlled the writers that what they wrote was true, and was the particular truth God wanted to be given in writing to His people. God allowed the writers to use their own intellects, their own language and their own style, but when they wrote, His Holy Spirit supernaturally kept their writing free from error, and rendered it the exact truth which God wanted conveyed to His people down through the ages. The Bible thus becomes a unit, parts of which cannot be cut off without irreparable injury to the whole.7

Undoubtedly there is a contradiction in supposing that ‘chance happenings,’ or those events produced by free will agents, can be the objects of definite foreknowledge or the subjects of previous arrangement. In the very nature of the case they must be both radically and eventually uncertain, ‘so that,’ as Toplady says, ‘any assertor of self-determination is in fact, whether he means it or no, a worshipper of the heathen lady named Fortune, and an ideal deposer of Providence from its throne.’

Unless God could thus govern the minds of men He would be constantly engaged in devising new expedients to offset the effects of the influences introduced by the millions of His creatures. If men actually had free will, then in attempting to govern or convert a person, God would have to approach him as a man approaches his fellowmen, with several plans in mind so that if the first proves unsuccessful he can try the second, and if that does not work, then the third, and so on. If the acts of free agents are uncertain, God is ignorant of the future except in a most general way. He is then surprised times without number and daily receives great accretions of knowledge. But such a view is dishonoring to God, and is both unreasonable and unscriptural. Unless God’s omniscience is denied we must hold that He knows all truth, past, present, and future; and that while events may appear uncertain from our human viewpoint, from His viewpoint they are fixed and certain. This argument is so conclusive that its force is generally admitted. The weaker objection which is sometimes urged that God voluntarily wills not to knew some of the future acts of men in order to leave them free has no support either in Scripture or in reason. Furthermore, it represents God as acting like the father of a lot of bad boys who goes and hides because he is afraid he will see them do something of which he would not approve. If God is limited either by an outside force or by His own acts, we have only a finite God.

The Arminian theory that God is anxiously trying to convert sinners but not able to exert more than persuasive power without doing violence to their natures, is really much the same in this respect as the old Persian view that there were two eternal principles of good and evil at war with each other, neither of which was able to overcome the other. Free-will tears the reins of government out of the hands of God, and robs Him of His power. It places the creatures beyond His absolute control and in some respects gives them veto power over His eternal will and purpose. It even makes it possible that angels and saints in heaven might sin, that there might again be a general rebellion in heaven such as is supposed to have occurred when Satan and the fallen angels were cast out, and that evil might become dominant or universal.

6. THE WAY IN WHICH THE WILL IS DETERMINED

Since man is a rational agent there must always be a sufficient cause for his acting in a particular way. For the will to decide in favor of the weaker motive and against the stronger, or without motives at all, is to have an effect with out a sufficient cause. Conscience teaches us that we always have reasons for the things we do, and that after acting we are conscious that we might have acted’ differently had other views or feelings been present. The reason for a particular act may not be strong and it may even be based on a false judgment, but in each particular instance it is strong enough to control. Scales will swing in the opposite direction only when there is a cause adequate to the effect. A person may choose that which in some respects is disagreeable; but in each case some other motive is present which influences the person to a choice which otherwise would not have been made. For instance, a person may willingly have a tooth pulled out; but he will not do so unless some inducement is present which for the time being at least makes this the stronger inclination. As it has been expressed, ‘a man cannot prefer against his preference or choose against his choice.’ A person who prefers to live in California cannot, by a mere act of will, prefer to live in New York.

Man’s volitions are, in fact, governed by his own nature, and are in accordance with the desires, dispositions, inclinations, knowledge, and character of the person. Man is not independent of God, nor of mental and physical laws, and all of these exert their particular influences in his choices. He always acts in the way in which the strongest inclinations or motives lead; and conscience tells us that the things which appeal to us most powerfully at the time are the things which determine our volitions. Says Dr. Hodge, ‘The will is not determined by any law of necessity; it is not independent, indifferent, or self-determined, but is always determined by the preceding state of mind; so that a man is free so long as his volitions are the conscious expression of his mind; or so long as his activity is determined and controlled by his reason and feelings.’8

Unless a person’s volitions were based on and determined by his character they would not really be his, and he could not be held responsible for them. In our relations with our fellow men we instinctively assume that their good or bad volitions are determined by good or bad character, and we judge them accordingly. ‘By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit . . . Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them,’ Matt. 7:16-20. And again, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.’ The tree is not free to produce good or bad fruit at random, but is governed by its nature. It is not the goodness of the fruit which causes the goodness of the tree, but the reverse. And according to the parable of Jesus, the same is true of man. And unless conduct does reveal character, how are we to know that the man who does good acts is really a good man, or that the man who does evil acts is really an evil man? While some for the sake of argument may insist that the will is free, in every day life all men assume that the will is both a product and a revelation of the person’s nature. When a man exerts a volition which results in robbery or murder, we instinctively conclude that this is a true indicator of character and deal with him accordingly.

The very essence of rationality is that the volitions must be based on the understanding, principles, feelings, etc., and the person whose volitions are not so based is considered foolish. If after every decision the will reverted to a state of indecision and oscillation equipoised between good and evil, the basis for confidence in our fellow men would be gone. In fact a person whose will was really ‘free’ would be a dangerous associate; his acts would be irrational and we would have no way of knowing what he might do under any conditions.

It is this fact (that volitions are a true expression of the person’s nature) which guarantees the permanence of the states of the saved and of the lost in the next world. If mere free agency necessarily exposed a person to sin there would be no certainty that even the redeemed in heaven would not sin and be cast down to hell as were the fallen angels. The saints, however, possess a necessity on the side of goodness, and are therefore free in the highest sense. There is an absence of strife, and their wills, confirmed in holiness, go on producing good acts and motions with the ease and uniformity of physical law. On the other hand the state of the wicked is also permanent. After the restraining influences of the Holy Spirit are withdrawn, they become bold, defiant, blasphemous, and sin with an irremediable obstinacy. They have passed into a permanent disposition of malice and wickedness and hate. They are no longer guests and strangers, but citizens and dwellers, in the land of sin. Further, if the theory of free-will were true, it would give the possibility of repentance after death; for is it not reasonable to believe that at least some of the lost, after they began to suffer the torments of hell, would see their mistake and return to God? In this world mild punishments are often effective in turning men from sin; why should not severer punishments in the next world be more effective? Only the Calvinistic principle that the will is determined by the nature of the person and the inducements presented, reaches a conclusion in harmony with that of Scripture which affirms that ‘there is a great gulf fixed,’ so that none can pass over, ‘ that the states of the saved and the lost alike are permanent.

The person who has not given the matter any special thought assumes that he has great freedom. But when he comes to examine this boasted freedom a little more closely he finds that he is much more limited than at first appeared. He is limited by the laws of the physical world, by his particular environment, habits, past training, social customs, fear of punishment or disapproval, his present desires, ambitions, etc., so that he is far from being the absolute master of his actions. At any moment he is pretty much what his past has made him. But so long as he acts under the control of his own nature and determines his actions from within, he has all the liberty of which a creature is capable. Any other kind of liberty is anarchy.

A man may carry a bowl of goldfish wherever he pleases; yet the fish feel themselves free, and move unrestrainedly within the bowl. The science of Physics tells us of molecular motion amid molar calm, ‘ when we look at the piece of stone, or wood, or metal, it appears to the naked eye to be perfectly quiet; yet if we had a magnifying glass powerful enough to see the individual molecules and atoms and electrons, we should find them whirling in their orbits at incredible speeds.

Predestination and free agency are the twin pillars of a great temple, and they meet above the clouds where the human gaze cannot penetrate. Or again, we may say that Predestination and free agency are parallel lines; and while the Calvinist may not be able to make them unite, the Arminian cannot make them cross each other.

Furthermore, if we admit free will in the sense that the absolute determination of events is placed in the hands of man, we might as well spell it with a capital F and a capital W; for then man has become like God, ‘ a first cause, an original spring of action, ‘ and we have as many semi-Gods as we have free wills. Unless the sovereignty of God be given up, we cannot allow this independence to man. It is very noticeable ‘ and in a sense it is reassuring to observe the fact ‘ that the materialistic and metaphysical philosophers deny as completely as do Calvinists this thing that is called free will. They reason that every effect must have a sufficient cause; and for every action of the will they seek to find a motive which for the moment at least is strong enough to control.

7. SCRIPTURE PROOF

The Scriptures teach that Divine sovereignty and human freedom co-operate in perfect harmony; that while God is the sovereign Ruler and primary cause, man is free within the limits of his nature and is the secondary cause; and that God so controls the thoughts and wills of men that they freely and willingly do what He has planned for them to do.

A classic example of the co-operation of Divine sovereignty and human freedom is found in the story of Joseph. Joseph was sold into Egypt where he rose in authority and rendered a great service by supplying food in time of famine. It was, of course, a very sinful act for those sons of Jacob to sell their younger brother into slavery in a heathen country. They knew that they acted freely, and years later they admitted their full guilt (Gen. 42:21; 45:3). Yet Joseph could say to them, ‘Be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life. . . . So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God;’ and again, ‘As for you, ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive,’ Gen. 45:5, 8; 50:20. Joseph’s brothers simply followed the evil inclinations of their natures; yet their act was a link in the chain of events through which God fulfilled His purpose; and their guilt was not the least diminished by the fact that their intended evil was overruled for good.

Pharaoh acted very unjustly toward his subject people, the Children of Israel; yet he simply fulfilled the purpose of God, for Paul writes, ‘The scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth,’ Rom. 9:17; Ex. 9:16; 10:1, 2. Some of God’s plans are carried out by restraining the sinful acts of men. When the Israelites went up to Jerusalem three times a year for the set feasts, God restrained the greed of the neighboring tribes so that the land was not molested, Ex. 34:24. He put it into the heart of Cyrus, the heathen king of Persia, to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem, Ezra 1:1-3. We are told, ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of Jehovah, as the watercourses; He turneth it whithersoever He will,’ Prov. 21:1. And if He turns the king’s heart so easily surely he can turn the hearts of common men also.

In Isaiah 10:5-15 we have a very remarkable illustration of the way in which divine sovereignty and human freedom work together in perfect harmony: ‘Ho, Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, the staff in whose hand is mine indignation! I will send him against a profane nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets, Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few. For he saith, Are not my princes all of them kings? Is not Calno as Carchemish? Is not Hamath as Arpad? Is not Samaria as Damascus? As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and Samaria; shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?

‘Wherefore it shall come to pass, that, when the Lord hath performed His whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. For he hath said, by the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I have understanding; and I have removed the bounds of the peoples, and have robbed their treasures, and like a valiant man I have brought down them that sit on thrones; and my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the peoples; and as one gathereth eggs that are forsaken, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or chirped.

‘Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that wieldeth it? As if a rod should wield them that lift it up, or as if a staff should lift up him that is not wood.’

Concerning this passage Rice says:

What is the obvious meaning of this passage? It does most unequivocally teach, in the first place, that the king of Assyria, though a proud and ungodly man, was but an instrument in the hands of God, just as the axe, the saw, or the rod in the hands of a man, to execute His purposes upon the Jews; and that God had perfect control of him. It teaches, in the second place that the free agency of the king was not destroyed or impaired by this control, but that he was perfectly free to form his own plans and to be governed by his own desires. For it is declared that he did not design to execute God’s purposes, but to promote his own ambitious projects. ‘Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and to cut off nations not a few.’ It consequently teaches, thirdly, that the king was justly held responsible for his pride, and wickedness, although God so overruled him that he fulfilled His wise purposes. God decreed to chastise the Jews for their sin. He chose to employ the king of Assyria to execute His purpose, and therefore sent him against them. He would afterward punish the king for his wicked plans. Is it not evident, then, beyond all cavil, that the Scriptures teach that God can and does, so control men, even wicked men, as to bring to pass His wise purposes without interfering with their free agency?9

For any one who accepts the Bible as the word of God it is absolutely certain that the crucifixion of Christ ‘ the most sinful event in all history ‘ was foreordained: ‘For of a truth in this city against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel foreordained to come to pass,’ Acts 4:27, 28; ‘Him being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hands of lawless men did crucify and slay,’ Acts 2:23; and ‘The things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He thus fulfilled,’ Acts 3:18. ‘For they that dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers because they knew Him not, nor the voice of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them in condemning Him. And though they found no cause of death in Him, yet they asked Pilate that He should be slain. And when they had fulfilled all things that were written of Him, they took Him down from the free, and laid Him in a tomb,’ Acts 13:27-29.

And not only the crucifixion itself was foreordained, but many of the attending events; such as: the parting of Christ’s garments and the casting of lots for His vesture (Ps. 22:18; John 19:24); the giving of gall and vinegar to drink (Ps. 69:21; Matt. 27:34; John 19:29); the mockery on the part of the people (Ps. 22:6-8; Matt. 27:39); the fact that they associated Him with thieves (Is. 53:12; Matt. 27:38); that none of His bones were to be broken (Ps. 34:20; John 19:36); the spear thrust (Zech. 12:10; John 19:34-37); and several other recorded events. Listen to the babble of hell around the cross, and tell us if those men were not free! Yet read all the forecast and prophecy and record of the tragedy and tell us if every incident of it was not ordained of God! Furthermore, these events could not have been predicted in detail by the Old Testament prophets centuries before they came to pass unless they had been absolutely certain in the foreordained plan of God. Yet while foreordained, they were carried out by agents who were ignorant of who Christ really was, and who were also ignorant of the fact that they were fulfilling the divine decrees, Acts 13:27, 29; 3:17. Hence if we swallow the camel in believing that the most sinful event in all history was in the foreordained plan of God, and that it was overruled for the redemption of the world, shall we strain at The gnat in refusing to believe that the smaller events of our daily lives are also in that plan, and that they are designed for good purposes?

8. FURTHER SCRIPTURE PROOF

  • Prov. 16:9: A man’s heart deviseth his way; But Jehovah directeth his steps.

  • Jer. 10:23: O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.

  • Ex. 12:36: And Jehovah gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked.

  • Ezra 6:22: For Jehovah had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria unto them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God (rebuilding the temple).

  • Ezra 7:6: And the king (Artaxerxes) granted him (Ezra) all his request, according to the hand of Jehovah his God upon him.

  • Is. 44:28: (Jehovah) that saith of Cyrus (the heathen king of Persia), He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure, even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built; and of the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

  • Rev. 17:17: (Concerning the wicked it is said) God did put in their hearts to do His mind, and to come to one mind, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God should be accomplished.

  • I Sam. 2:25: They (Eli’s sons) harkened not unto the voice of their father, because Jehovah was minded to slay them.

  • I Kings 12:11, 15: And now whereas my father (Solomon) did lade you with a heavy yoke, I (Rehoboam) will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions . . . So the king harkened not unto the people; for it was a thing brought about of Jehovah.

  • II Sam. 17:14: And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, The Counsel of Hushai is better than the counsel of Ahithophel. For Jehovah had ordained to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that Jehovah might bring evil upon Absalom.


Notes

  1. Quoted by Lanchius, p. 56.

  2. Bondage of the Will, p. 125.

  3. id. p. 6.

  4. id. pp 26, 27.

  5. Pamphlet, ‘ ‘The Love of God for Every Man.’

  6. The Augustinian Doctrine of Predestination, p. 78.

  7. The Basis of Christian Faith, p. 162.

  8. Systematic Theology, II, p. 288.

  9. God Sovereign and Man Free, pp. 70, 71.


Author

Dr. Boettner was born on a farm in northwest Missouri. He was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; Th.M., 1929), where he studied Systematic Theology under the late Dr. C. W. Hodge. Previously he had graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, and had taken a short course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri. In 1933 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1957 the degree of Doctor of Literature. He taught Bible for eight years in Pikeville College, Kentucky. A resident of Washington, D.C., eleven years and of Los Angeles three years. His home was in Rock Port, Missouri. His other books include: Roman Catholicism, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium.

1. THE PROBLEM OF EVIL

THE objection may be raised that if God has foreordained the entire course of events in this world He must be the Author of Sin. To begin with, we readily admit that the existence of sin in a universe which is under the control of a God who is infinite in His wisdom, power, holiness, and justice, is an inscrutable mystery which we in our present state of knowledge cannot fully explain. As yet we only see through a glass darkly. Sin can never be explained on the grounds of logic or reason, for it is essentially illogical and unreasonable. The mere fact that sin exists has often been urged by atheists and skeptics as an argument not merely against Calvinism but against theism in general.

The Westminster Standards, in treating of the dread mystery of evil, are very careful to guard the character of God from even the suggestion of evil. Sin is referred to the freedom which is given to the agent, and of all sinful acts whatever they emphatically affirm that ‘the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is, nor can be the author or approver of sin.’ (V; 4.)

And while it is not ours to explain how God in His secret counsel rules and overrules the sinful acts of men, it is ours to know that whatever God does He never deviates from His own perfect justice. In all the manifestations of His character He shows Himself preeminently the Holy One. These deep workings of God are mysteries, which are to be adored, but not to be inquired into; and were it not for the fact that some persons persist in declaring that the doctrine of Predestination makes God the author of sin, we could let the matter rest here.

A partial explanation of sin is found in the fact that while man is constantly commanded in Scripture not to commit it, he is, nevertheless, permitted to commit it if he chooses to do so. No compulsion is laid on the person; he is simply left to the free exercise of his own nature, and he alone is responsible. This, however, is never a bare permission, for with full knowledge of the nature of the person and of his tendency to sin, God places him or allows him to be in a certain environment, knowing perfectly well that the particular sin will be committed. But while God permits sin, His connection with it is purely negative and it is the abominable thing which he hates with perfect hatred. The motive which God has in permitting it and the motive which man has in committing it are radically different. Many persons are deceived in these matters because they fail to consider that God wills righteously those things which men do wickedly. Furthermore, every person’s conscience after he has committed a sin tells him that he alone is responsible and that he need not have committed it if he had not voluntarily chosen to do so.

The Reformers recognized the fact that sin, both in its entrance into the world and in all its subsequent appearances, was involved in the divine plan; that the explanation of its existence, so far as any explanation could be given, was to be found in the fact that sin was completely under the control of God; and that it would be overruled for a higher manifestation of His glory. We may rest assured that God would never have permitted sin to have entered at all unless, through His secret and over-ruling providence, He was able to exert a directing influence on the minds of wicked men so that good is made to result from their intended evil. He works not only all the good and holy affections which are found in the hearts of His people, but He also perfectly controls all the depraved and impious affections of the wicked, and turns them as He pleases, so that they have a desire to accomplish that which He has planned to accomplish by their means. The wicked so often glory in themselves at some accomplishment of their purposes; but as Calvin says, ‘the event at length proves that they were only fulfilling all the while that which had been ordained of God, and that too, against their own will, while they knew nothing of it.’ But while God does overrule the depraved affections of men for the accomplishment of His own purposes, He nevertheless punishes them for their sin and makes them to stand condemned in their own consciences.

A ruler may forbid treason; but his command does not oblige him to do all in his power to prevent disobedience to it. It may promote the good of his kingdom to suffer the treason to be committed, and the traitor to be punished according to law. That in view of this resulting good he chooses not to prevent the treason, does not imply any contradiction or opposition of it in the monarch.1

In regard to the problem of evil, Dr. A. H. Strong advances the following considerations: ‘(1) That freedom of will is necessary to virtue; (2) that God suffers from sin more than does the sinner; (3) that, with the permission of sin, God has provided a redemption; and, (4) that God will eventually overrule all evil for good.’ And then he adds, ‘It is possible that the elect angels belong to a moral system in which sin is prevented by constraining motives. We cannot deny that God could prevent sin in a moral system. But it is very doubtful whether God could prevent sin in the best moral system. The most perfect freedom is indispensable to the attainment of the highest virtue.’2 Fairbairn has given us some good thought in the following paragraph: ‘But why did God create a being capable of sinning? Only so could He create a being capable of obeying. The ability to do good implies the capability of doing evil. The engine can neither obey nor disobey, and the creature who was without this double capacity might be a machine, but could be no child. Moral perfection can be attained, but cannot be created; God can make a being capable of moral action, but not a being with all the fruits of moral action garnered within him.’

2. INSTANCES IN WHICH SIN HAS BEEN OVERRULED FOR GOOD

Throughout the Scriptures we find numerous instances in which sinful acts were permitted and then overruled for good. We shall first notice some Old Testament examples. Jacob’s deception of his old, blind father, though a sinful act in itself, was permitted and used as a link in the chain of events through which the already revealed plan of God that the elder should serve the younger was carried out. Pharaoh and the Egyptians were permitted to wrong the Israelites, that by their deliverance God’s wonders might be multiplied in the land of Egypt (Ex. 11:9), that these things might be told to future generations (Ex. 10:1, 2), and that His glory might be declared throughout all the earth (Ex. 9:16). The curse Balaam tried to pronounce upon the Israelites was turned into a blessing (Nu. 24:10; Neh. 13:2). The proud, heathen king of Assyria unconsciously became the servant of Jehovah in executing vengeance upon an apostate people: ‘Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so,’ Is. 10:5-15. The calamities which befell Job, as seen from the human viewpoint appear to be mere misfortunes, accidents, chance happenings. But with further knowledge we see God behind it all, exercising complete control, giving the Devil permission to afflict so far but no farther, designing the events for the development of Job’s patience and character, and using even the seemingly meaningless waste of the storm to fulfill His high and loving purposes.

In the New Testament we find the same teaching. The death of Lazarus, as seen from the human viewpoint of Mary and Martha and those who came to mourn for him, was a very great misfortune; but when seen from the divine viewpoint it was ‘not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby,’ John 11:4. The manner of Peter’s death (which apparently was by crucifixion) was to glorify God (John 21:19). When Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee with His disciples He could have prevented the storm and have ordered them a pleasant passage, but that would not have been so much for His glory and the confirmation of their faith as was their deliverance. Paul, by his stern rebukes, made the Corinthians ‘sorry unto repentance,’ ‘after a godly sort;’ ‘for godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret; but the sorrow of the world worketh death,’ II Cor. 7:9, 10. The Lord often temporarily delivers a person over to Satan, that his bodily and mental sufferings may react for his salvation, (I Cor. 5:5). Paul, in speaking of the adversities which he had suffered, said, ‘Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel,’ Phil. 1:12. When he saw that his ‘thorn in the flesh’ was something which had been divinely sent upon him, ‘a messenger of Satan to buffet him,’ so that he ‘should not be exalted over much,’ he accepted it with the words, ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me,’ II Cor. 12:7-10. In that instance God made the poison of the cruelest and most sinful monster of all time to be an antidote to cure the apostle’s pride.

To a certain extent we can say that the reason for the permission of sin is that, ‘Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’ Such deep, unfathomable grace could not have been shown if sin had been excluded.

As a matter of fact we gain more through salvation in Christ than we lost by the fall in Adam. When Christ became incarnate, human nature was, as it were, taken into the very bosom of Deity, and the redeemed reach a far more exalted position through union with Christ than Adam could have attained had he not fallen but persevered and been admitted into heaven.

This general truth was expressed by Calvin in the following words:

But, God, who once commanded light to shine out of darkness, can marvelously bring, if He pleases, salvation out of hell itself, and thus turn darkness itself to light. But what worketh Satan? In a certain sense, the work of God! That is, God, by holding Satan fast bound in obedience to His Providence, turns him whithersoever He will, and thus applies the great enemy’s devices and attempts to the accomplishment of His own eternal principles.3

Even the persecutions which are permitted to come upon the righteous are designed for good purposes. Paul declares that ‘our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory,’ II Cor. 4:17. To suffer with Christ is to be more closely united to Him, and great reward in heaven is promised to those who suffer in His behalf (Matt. 5:10-12). To the Philippians it was written, ‘To you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer in His behalf,’ Phil. 1:29; and we read that after the apostles had been publicly abused, ‘They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name,’ Acts 5:41. The writer of the book of Hebrews stated this same truth when he wrote, ‘All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit to them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness,’ Heb. 12:11.

‘The acts of the wicked in persecuting the early Church,’ says Dr. Charles Hodge,

were ordained of God as the means for the wider and more speedy proclamation of the Gospel. The sufferings of the martyrs were the means not only of extending but of purifying the Church. The apostasy of the man of sin being predicted, was predetermined. The destruction of the Huguenots in France, the persecution of the Puritans in England, laid the foundation for the planting of North America with a race of godly energetic men, who were to make this land the land of refuge for the nations, the home of liberty, civil and religious. It would destroy the confidence of God’s people could they be persuaded that God does not foreordain whatever comes to pass. It is because the Lord reigns, and doeth His pleasure in heaven and on earth, that they repose in perfect security under His guidance and protection.4

Many of the divine attributes were displayed through the creation and government of the world, but the attribute of justice could be shown only to creatures deserving punishment, and the attribute of mercy or grace could be shown only to creatures in misery. Until man’s fall into sin, and redemption from it, these attributes, so far as we can learn, had been unexercised and undisplayed, and consequently were unknown to any but God Himself from all eternity. Had not sin been admitted to the creation these attributes would have remained buried in an eternal night. And the universe, without the knowledge of these attributes, would be like the earth without the light of the sun. Sin, then, is permitted in order that the mercy of God may be shown in its forgiveness, and that His justice may be shown in its punishment. Its entrance is the result of a settled design which God formed in eternity, and through which He purposed to reveal Himself to His rational creatures as complete and full-orbed in all conceivable perfections.

3. THE FALL OF ADAM WAS INCLUDED IN THE DIVINE PLAN

Even the fall of Adam, and through him the fall of the race, was not by chance or accident, but was so ordained in the secret counsels of God. We are told that Christ was ‘foreknown indeed (as a sacrifice for sin) before the foundation of the world,’ I Peter 1:20. Paul speaks of ‘the eternal purpose’ which was purposed in Jesus Christ our Lord, Eph.3:11. The writer of Hebrews refers to ‘the blood of an eternal covenant,’ 13:20. And since the plan of redemption is thus traced back into eternity, the plan to permit man to fall into the sin from which he was thus to be redeemed must also extend back into eternity; otherwise there would have been no occasion for redemption. In fact the plan for the whole course of the world’s events, including the fall, redemption, and all other events, was before God in its completeness before He ever brought the creation into existence; and He deliberately ordered it that this series of events, and not some other series, should become actual.

And unless the fall was in the plan of God, what becomes of our redemption through Christ? Was that only a make-shift arrangement which God resorted to in order to offset the rebellion of man? To ask such a question is to answer it. Throughout the Scriptures redemption is represented as the free, gracious purpose of God from eternity. In the very hour of man’s first sin, God sovereignly intervened with a gratuitous promise of deliverance. While the glory of God is displayed in the whole realm of creation, it was to be especially displayed in the work of redemption. The fall of man, therefore, was only one part and a necessary part in the plan; and even Watson, though a decided Arminian, says, ‘The redemption of man by Christ was certainly not an afterthought brought in upon man’s apostasy; it was a provision, and when man fell he found justice hand in hand with mercy.’5 Out of the ruins of the fall God has built a new spiritual creation far more glorious than the first.

Consistent Arminianism, however, pictures God as an idle, inactive spectator sitting in doubt while Adam fell, and as quite surprised and thwarted by the creature of His hands. In contrast with this, we hold that God fore-planned and fore-saw the fall; that it in no sense came as a surprise to Him; and that after it had occurred He did not feel that He had made a mistake in creating man. Had He wished He could have prevented Satan’s entrance into the garden and could have preserved Adam in a state of holiness as He did the holy angels. The mere fact that God foresaw the fall is sufficient proof that He did not expect man to glorify Him by continuing in a state of holiness.

Yet God in no way compelled man to fall. He simply withheld that undeserved constraining grace with which Adam would infallibly not have fallen, which grace He was under no obligation to bestow. In respect to himself, Adam might have stood had he so chosen; but in respect to God it was certain that he would fall. He acted as freely as if there had been no decree, and yet as infallibly as if there had been no liberty. The Jews, so far as their own free agency was concerned, might have broken Christ’s bones; yet in reality it was not possible for them to have done so, for it was written, ‘A bone of Him shall not be broken,’ Ps. 34:20; John 19:36. God’s decree does not take away man’s liberty; and in the fall Adam freely exercised the natural emotions of his will.

The reason for the fall is assigned in that ‘God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that He might have mercy ‘on all,’ Rom. 11:32; and again, ‘We ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead,’ II Cor. 1:9; and it would be difficult to find language which would assert the Divine control and Divine initiative more explicitly than this. For wise reasons, God was pleased to permit our first parents to be tempted and to fall, and then to overrule their sin for His own glory. Yet this permission and overruling of sin does not make Him the author of it. It seems that He has permitted the fall in order to show what free will would do; and then, by overruling it, He has shown what the blessings of His grace and the judgments of His justice can do.

It may be well just at this point, to say something more about the nature of the fall. Adam was given a most favorable opportunity to secure eternal life and blessedness for himself and his posterity. He was created holy and was placed in a world free from sin. He was surrounded by all the beauty of paradise and was graciously given permission to eat of all the fruits with the exception of one, which was certainly no irksome restraint. God Himself came down into the Garden and was Adam’s companion. In unmistakably clear language Adam was warned that if he did eat of the fruit he would certainly die. He was thus placed under a pure test of obedience, since the eating would not in itself have been either morally right or wrong. Obedience is here set up as the virtue which, in the rational creature, is, as it were, the mother and guardian of all the others.

4. THE RESULT OF ADAM’S FALL

But, in spite of all his advantages, Adam deliberately disobeyed, and the threatened sentence of death was executed. This plainly includes more than the dissolution of the body. The word ‘death’ as used in the Scriptures in reference to the effects of sin includes any and every form of evil which is inflicted in punishment of sin. It means primarily spiritual death, or separation from God, which is both temporal and eternal ‘ a loss of His favor in all ways. It meant the opposite of the reward promised, which was blessed and eternal life in Heaven. It meant, therefore, the eternal miseries of hell, together with the foretastes of those miseries which are felt in this life. Its nature can be partly seen in the effects of sin which have actually fallen upon the human race. And finally, the nature of the death which fell upon Adam and his descendants can be seen by contrast with the life which the redeemed have with Christ. It was a death which caused sin instead of holiness to become man’s natural element, so that now in his unregenerate nature the gospel and all holy things are repulsive to him. He is as utterly unable to appreciate redemption through faith in Christ, as a dead man is to hear the sounds of this world. That the death threatened was not primarily physical death is shown by the fact that Adam lived many years after the fall, while spiritually he was immediately alienated from God and was cast out of Paradise. In his fallen state man is terrified by any appearance of the supernatural. And even in regard to physical death, that was also in a sense immediately executed; for though our first parents lived many years, they immediately began to grow old. Since the fall, life has become an unceasing march toward the grave. Says Charles Hodge, ‘In the day in which Adam ate the forbidden fruit he did die. The penalty threatened was not a momentary infliction but permanent subjection to all the evils which flow from the righteous displeasure of God.’6

Furthermore, the whole Christian world has believed that in the fall, Adam, as the natural and federal head of the race, injured not only himself but all of his posterity, so that, as Dr. Hodge says, ‘in virtue of the union, federal and natural, between Adam and his posterity, his sin, although not their act, is so imputed to them that it is the judicial ground of the penalty threatened against him coming also on them . . . To impute sin, in Scriptural and theological language, is to impute the guilt of sin. And by guilt is meant not criminality, or moral ill-desert, or demerit, much less moral pollution, but the judicial obligation to satisfy justice.’7 His sin is laid to their account. Even infants, who have no personal sin of their own, suffer pain and death. Now the Scriptures uniformly represent suffering and death as the wages of sin. It would be unjust for God to execute the penalty on those who are not guilty. Since the penalty falls on infants, they must be guilty; and since they have not personally committed sin, they must be guilty of Adam’s sin. All those who have inherited human nature from Adam were in him as the fruit in the germ, and have, as it were, grown up one person with him. By the fall Adam was entirely and absolutely ruined. The state of original righteousness or holiness in which he was created was lost and its place was taken by an overwhelming state of sin, which was brought about as effectively as one puncture of the eye involves the person in perpetual darkness. The wrath and curse of God rested upon him and he was possessed with a sense of guilt, shame, pollution, degradation, a dread of punishment, and a desire to escape from the presence of God.

In fact, there is a strict parallel between the way in which the guilt of Adam is imputed to us and that in which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us, so that the one illustrates the other. We were cursed through Adam and were redeemed through Christ, although we were of course no more personally guilty of Adam’s sin than we are personally meritorious because of Christ’s righteousness. It is utterly absurd to hold to salvation through Christ unless we also hold to damnation through Adam, for Christianity is based on this representative principle. Unless the race had been cursed through Adam, there would have been no occasion for Christ to have redeemed it. The history of the fall, recorded in a manner at once profound and childlike in the third chapter of Genesis, has, therefore, universal significance. And Calvinism alone does justice to the idea of the organic unity of the human race, and to the profound parallel which Paul draws between the first and the second Adam.

5. THE FORCES OP EVIL ARE UNDER GOD’S PERFECT CONTROL

We believe that God actually rules in the affairs of men, that His decrees are absolute, and that they include all events. Consequently we believe that nations and individuals are predestined to all of every kind of good and evil which befalls them. When we get the larger view we see that even the sinful acts of men have their place in the divine plan, and that it is only because of our finite and imperfect nature, which does not comprehend all the relations and connections, that these acts appear to be contrary to that plan. To illustrate this, when we see the sheet music running through the player piano we readily understand how it is used; but if we were to find the same paper apart from the piano and had never seen it used, we might readily conclude that it was only wrapping paper, and poor wrapping paper at that, for it would be full of holes. Yet when it is put in its proper place it produces the most beautiful music. Unless we do believe that God has ordained the whole course of events, and that the courses he has outlined for our individual lives are good ones, we are certain to become discouraged in times of adversity. Like Jacob of old who in the face of the apparent misfortunes immediately before meeting his favorite son, Joseph, concluded, ‘All these things are against me,’ we may become discouraged when perhaps at that very time the Lord is preparing great things for us.

The Scripture doctrine, as stated before, is that God restrains sin within certain limits, that He brings good out of intended evil, and overrules the evil for His own glory. Since God is infinite in power and wisdom, sin could have no existence except by His permission. God was free to create, or not to create; to create this particular world order, or one entirely different. All evil forces are under His absolute control and could be blotted out of existence in an instant if He so willed. The murderer is kept in life and is indebted to God for the strength to kill his victim, and also for the opportunity. When Jesus said, ‘Get thee hence, Satan,’ Satan immediately went; and when Jesus commanded the evil spirits to hold their peace and come out of the possessed persons, they immediately obeyed. The psalmist expressed his confidence in God’s power to overrule sinners when contemplating their works, he wrote, ‘He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh; the Lord will have them in derision,’ 2:4. Job said, ‘The deceived and the deceiver are His,’ 12:16; by which he meant that both good and evil men are under God’s providential control.

Unless sin occurs according to the divine purpose and permission of God, it occurs by chance. Evil then becomes an independent and uncontrollable principle and the pagan idea of dualism is introduced into the theory of the universe. The doctrine that there are powers of sin, rebellion, and darkness in the very nature of free agency, which may prove an over-match for divine omnipotence, imperils even the eternal safety and happiness of the saints in glory.

Luther expressed his belief concerning this question in the following words:

What I assert and contend for is this: ‘ that God, where He operates without the grace of His Spirit, works all in all, even in the ungodly; and He alone moves, acts on, and carries along by the motion of His omnipotence, all those things which He alone has created, which motion those things can neither avoid nor change, but of necessity follow and obey, each one according to the measure of power given of God: ‘ thus all things, even the ungodly co-operate with God.’

And Zanchius wrote,

We should, therefore, be careful not to give up the omnipotence of God under a pretense of exalting His holiness; He is infinite in both, and therefore neither should be set aside or obscured. To say that God absolutely nills the being and commission of sin, while experience convinces us that sin is acted every day, is to represent the Deity as a weak, impotent being who would fain have things go otherwise than they do, but cannot accomplish His desire.9

One of the best of more recent comments is that of E. W. Smith, in his admirable little book, The Creed of Presbyterians.

Did we believe that so potent and fearful a thing as sin had broken into the original holy order of the universe in defiance of Cod’s purpose, and is rioting in defiance of His power, we might well surrender ourselves to terror and despair. Unspeakably comforting and strengthening is the Scriptural assurance of our Standards (V:4) that beneath all this wild tossing and lashing of evil purposes and agencies there lies, in mighty and controlling embrace, a Divine purpose that governs them all. Over sin as over all else, God reigns supreme. His sovereign Providence ‘extendeth to the first fall and all other sins of angels and men,’ so that these are as truly parts and developments of His Providence as are the movements of the stars or the activities of unfallen spirits in heaven itself. Having chosen, for reasons most wise and holy though unrevealed to us, to admit sin, He hath joined to this bare permission a ‘most wise and powerful bounding’ of all sin, so that it can never overleap the lines which He has prescribed for its imprisonment, and such an ‘ordering and governing’ of it, as will secure ‘His own holy ends,’ and manifest in the final consummation not only His ‘almighty Power,’ but His ‘unsearchable Wisdom’ and His ‘infinite Goodness’ (p. 177).

And Floyd E. Hamilton has written:

God created the human being with the possibility of sinning, and He has the power to interfere at any time to prevent the evil act. Even though He has no purpose to work out in the permission of the act, the very permission of the act when He has the power to interfere, places the ultimate responsibility for the act squarely upon God. Moreover, if He has no purpose to work out, then He is certainly reprehensible in not preventing the act! It is attempted to avoid this conclusion by saying that God does not interfere because to do so would be to take away man’s freedom. In that case man’s freedom is regarded as of more value than his eternal salvation! But even that does not remove the ultimate responsibility for the permission of the evil act from God; God has the power to prevent the evil act, has no purpose to work out in permitting it, but nevertheless, in order to protect man’s freedom, allows man to bring eternal punishment upon himself! Assuredly that would be a poor kind of a god!10

Hence God Himself is ultimately responsible for sin in that He has power to prevent it but does not do so, although the immediate responsibility rests on man alone. God is, of course, never the efficient cause in the production of sin. Augustine, Luther and Calvin often stressed this truth of God’s full and sovereign control when proving that the present course of the world is the one which from eternity God planned that it should follow.

6. SINFUL ACTS OCCUR ONLY BY DIVINE PERMISSION

The good acts of men then are rendered certain by the positive decree of God, and the sinful acts occur only by His permission. Yet it is more than a bare permission by which the sinful acts occur, for that would leave it uncertain whether or not they would be done. Concerning this subject David S. Clark says: ‘The most reasonable explanation is that the sinful nature will go to the boundary set by the permission of God; hence God’s bounding of sin renders certain what and how much will come to pass. Satan could go no farther with Job than God permitted; but it is certain that he would go as far as God allowed.’11 And in accordance with this is the statement of W. D. Smith:

When it is known, certainly, that it will be done unless prevented, and there is a determination not to prevent it, it is rendered as certain as if it were decreed to be done by positive agency. In the one case, the event is rendered certain by agency put forth; and, in the other case, it is rendered equally certain by agency withheld. It is an unchangeable decree in both cases. The sins of Judas, and the crucifixion of the Saviour, were as unchangeably decreed, permissively, as the coming of the Saviour into the world was decreed positively. From this you can perceive the consistency of the Confession of Faith with common sense, when it says, that ‘God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably foreordain whatsoever comes to pass,’ etc. You perceive, also, that this is clearly reconcilable with the following sentiment, ‘He is not the author of sin,’ etc.’2

Augustine expressed a similar thought when he said:

Wherefore those mighty works of God, exquisitely perfect, according to every bent of His will, are such that, in a wonderful and ineffable way, that is not done without the will of God which is even done contrary to His will, because it could not be done at all, unless He permitted it to be done; and yet, He does not permit unwillingly, but willingly. Nor, as the God of goodness, would He permit a thing to be done evilly, unless, as the God of omnipotence, He could work good even out of the evil done.13

Even the works of Satan are so controlled and limited that they serve God’s purposes. While Satan eagerly desires the destruction of the wicked and diligently works to bring it about, yet the destruction proceeds from God. It is, in the first place, God who decrees that the wicked shall suffer, and Satan is merely permitted to lay the punishment upon them. The motives which underlie God’s purposes and those which underlie Satan’s are, of course, infinitely different. God willed the destruction of Jerusalem; Satan also desired the same, yet for different reasons. As Augustine tells us, God wills with a good will that which Satan wills with an evil will, ‘ as was the case in the crucifixion of Christ, which was over-ruled for the redemption of the world. Sometimes God uses the wicked wills and passions of men, rather than the good wills of His own servants, to accomplish His purposes. This truth has been very clearly expressed by Dr. Warfield in the following words: ‘All things find their unity in His eternal plan; and not their unity merely, but their justification as well; even the evil, though retaining its quality as evil and hateful to the holy God, and certain to be dealt with as hateful, yet does not occur apart from His provision or against His will, but appears in the world which He has made only as the instrument by means of which He works the higher good.’14

7. SCRIPTURE PROOF

That this is the doctrine of the Scriptures is abundantly plain. The sale of Joseph into Egypt by his brothers was a very wicked act; yet we see that it was overruled not only for Joseph’s good but also for the good of the brothers themselves. When it is traced to its source we see that God was the author. It had its exact place in the divine plan. Joseph later said to his brothers, ‘And now be not grieved nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life . . . . So now it was not you that sent me hither but God . . . . And as for you, ye meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,’ Gen. 45:5, 8; 50:20. It is said that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, Ex. 4:21; 9:12; and the very words which God addressed to Pharaoh were, ‘But in every deed for this cause have I made thee to stand, to show thee my power, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth,’ Ex. 9:16. And to Moses God said, ‘And I, behold I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians and they shall go (into the Red Sea) after them; and I will get me honor upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, and upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen.’ Ex. 14:17.

Shimei cursed David, because Jehovah had said, ‘Curse David’; and when David knew this, he said, ‘Let him alone, and let him curse; for Jehovah hath bidden him,’ II Sam. 16:10, 11. And after David had suffered the unjust violence of his enemies he recognized that ‘God hath done all this.’ Of the Canaanites it was said, ‘And it was of Jehovah to harden their hearts, to come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, that they might have no favor, and that He might destroy them, as Jehovah commanded Moses,’ Joshua 11:20. Hophni and Phinehas, the two evil Sons of Eli, ‘hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because Jehovah was minded to slay them,’ I Sam. 2:25.

Even Satan and the evil spirits are made to carry out the divine purpose. As an instrument of divine vengeance in the punishment of the wicked an evil spirit was openly given the command to go and deceive the prophets of King Ahab: ‘And Jehovah said, Who shall entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one said on this manner; and another on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before Jehovah, and said, I will entice him. And Jehovah said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of his prophets. And He said, Thou shalt entice him, and shalt prevail; Go forth and do so. Now therefore (said Micaiah), behold, Jehovah hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets; and Jehovah hath spoken evil concerning thee,’ I Kings 22:20-23. Concerning Saul it is written, ‘an evil spirit from Jehovah troubled him,’ I Sam. 16:14. ‘And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech,’ Judges 9:23. Hence it is from Jehovah that evil spirits proceed to trouble sinners. And it is from him that the evil impulses which arise in the hearts of sinners take this or that specific form, II Sam. 24:1.

In one place we are told that God, in order to punish a rebellious people moved the heart of David to number them (II Sam. 24:1, 10); but in another place where this same act is referred to, we are told that it was Satan who instigated David’s pride and caused him to number them (I Chr. 21:1). In this we see that Satan was made the rod of God’s wrath, and that God impels even the hearts of sinful men and demons whithersoever He will. While all adulterous and incestuous intercourse is abominable to God, He sometimes uses even such sins as these to punish other sins, as was the case when He used such acts in Absalom to punish the adultery of David. Before Absalom had committed his sin it was announced to David that this was the form which his punishment was to take: ‘Thus saith Jehovah, Behold I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house; and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of the sun,’ II Sam. 12:11. Hence these acts were not in every way contrary to the will of God.

In I Chr. 10:4 we read that ‘Saul took a sword and fell upon it.’ This was his own deliberate, sinful act. Yet it executed Divine justice and fulfilled a divine purpose which was revealed years before concerning David; for a little later we read, ‘So Saul died for his transgressions which he committed against Jehovah . . . . He inquired not of Jehovah; therefore He slew him and turned the kingdom unto David the son of Jesse,’ I Chr. 10:14. There is a sense in which God is said to do what he permits or impels His creatures to do.

The evil which was threatened against Jerusalem for her apostasy is described as directly sent of God, II Kings 22:20. The psalmist recognized that even the hate of their enemies was stirred up by Jehovah to punish a rebellious people, Ps. 105:25. Isaiah recognized that even the apostasy and disobedience of Israel was in the divine plan: ‘O Jehovah, why dost thou make us to err from thy ways, and hardenest our hearts from thy fear?’ Is. 63:17. In I Chr. 5:22 we read, ‘There fell many slain, because the war was of Jehovah.’ Rehoboam’s foolish course which caused the disruption of the kingdom was ‘a thing brought about by Jehovah,’ I Kings 12:15. All of these things are summed up in that passage of Isaiah, ‘I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil: I am Jehovah that doeth all these things,’ 45:7; and again in Amos, ‘Shall evil befall a city and Jehovah hath not done it?’ Amos 3:6.

When we come to the New Testament we find the same doctrine set forth. We have already shown that the crucifixion of Christ was a part of the divine plan. Though slain by the hands of lawless men who did not understand the importance of the event which they were carrying out, ‘The things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He thus fulfilled,’ Acts 3:18. The crucifixion was the cup which the Father had given Him to drink, John 18:11. It was written, ‘I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad,’ Matt. 26:31. When Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, they spoke of ‘His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem,’ Luke 9:31. Concerning His own death Jesus said, ‘The son of man indeed goeth, as it hath been determined; but woe unto that man through whom He is betrayed,’ Luke 22:22; again, ‘Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; This was from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes?’ Matt. 21:42; and never did He teach more plainly that the cross was in the divine plan than when in the garden of Gethsemane He said, ‘Not as I will, but as thou wilt,’ Matt. 26:39. Jesus deliberately surrendered Himself to be crucified when He might have called to his defence ‘more than twelve legions of angels,’ had He chosen to have done so, Matt. 26:53. Pilate thought that he had power to crucify Jesus or to release Him as he pleased: but Jesus told him he could have no power against Him at all except it were given him from above, John 19:14), 11.

It was in the plan of God that Christ should come into the world, that He should suffer, that He should die a violent death, and thus make atonement for His people. Hence God simply permitted sinful men to sinfully lay that burden upon Him, and overruled their acts for His own glory in the redemption of the world. Those who crucified Christ acted in perfect harmony with the freedom of their own sinful natures, and were alone responsible for their sin. On this occasion, as on many others, God has made the wrath of man to praise Him. It would be hard to frame language which would more explicitly set forth the idea that God’s plan extends to all things than is here used by the Scripture writers. Hence the crucifixion on Calvary was not a defeat, but a victory; and the cry, ‘It is finished,’ announced the successful achievement of the work of redemption which had been committed to the Son. That which ‘stands written of Jesus in the Old Testament Scriptures has its certain fulfillment in Him; and that enough stands written of Him there to assure His followers that in the course of His life, and in its, to them, strange and unexpected ending, Re was not the prey of chance or the victim of the hatred of men, to the marring of His work or perhaps even the defeat of His mission, but was following step by step, straight to its goal, the predestined pathway marked out for Him in the counsels of eternity, and sufficiently revealed from of old in the Scriptures to enable all who were not ‘foolish and Slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken,’ to perceive that the Christ must needs have lived just this life and fulfilled just this destiny.’15

Other events recorded in the New Testament also teach the same lesson. When God cast off the Jews as a people it was not a purposeless destruction, nor in order merely that ‘they might fall’; ‘but that by their fall salvation might come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy,’ so that they in turn shall also embrace Christianity, Rom. 11:11. The blindness of one man is said to have been, not because of his own or his parent’s sin, but in order to give Jesus a chance to display His power and glory in restoring the sight, or, as the writer puts it, ‘that the works of God should be made manifest in him,’ John 9:3. The Old Testament statement that the very purpose which God had in raising up Pharaoh was to show His power and to publish abroad his name is repeated in Rom. 9:17. This general teaching is climaxed with Paul’s declaration that ‘To them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to His purpose.’ Rom. 8:28.

No one can rationally deny that God foreordained sin if, as the Scriptures assert, He foreordained the crucifixion of Christ, and these other events to which we have referred. That sinful acts do have their place in the divine plan is repeatedly taught. And if any persons are inclined to take offence at this, let them consider how many times the Scriptures declare the judgments of God to be a ‘great deep.’ Hence those who hastily charge that our doctrine makes God the author of sin, bring that charge not only against us, but against God Himself; for our doctrine is the clearly revealed doctrine of the Scriptures.

8. COMMENTS BY SMITH AND HODGE

God’s relation to sin is admirably illustrated in the following paragraph which we shall take the liberty of quoting from W. D. Smith’s little book, What is Calvinism?

Suppose to yourself a neighbor who keeps a distillery or dram shop, which is a nuisance to all around ‘ neighbors collecting, drinking, and fighting on the Sabbath, with consequent misery and distress in families, etc. Suppose, further, that I am endowed with a certain foreknowledge, and can see, with absolute certainty, a chain of events, in connection with a plan of operations which I have in view, for the good of that neighborhood. I see that by preaching there, I will be made the instrument of the conversion, and consequent reformation, of the owner of the distillery, and I therefore determine to go. Now, in so doing, I positively decree the reformation of the man; that is I determine to do what renders his reformation certain and I fulfill my decree by positive agency. But, in looking a little further in the chain of events, I discover, with the same absolute certainty, that his drunken customers will be filled with wrath, and much sin will be committed, in venting their malice upon him and me. They will not only curse and blaspheme God and religion, but they will even burn his house, and attempt to burn mine. Now, you perceive that this evil, which enters into my plan, is not chargeable upon me at all, though I am the author of the plan which in its operations, I know will produce it. Hence, it is plain, that any intelligent being may set on foot a plan, and carry it out, in which he knows, with absolute certainty, that evil will enter, and yet he is not the author of the evil, or chargeable with it in any way . . . In looking a little further in the chain of events, I discover, that if they be permitted they will take his life; and, I see, moreover, that if his life be spared, he will now be as notorious for good as he was for evil, and will prove a rich blessing to the neighborhood and to society Therefore, upon the whole plan, I determine to act; and, in so doing, I positively decree the reformation of that man, and the consequent good; and I permissively decree the wicked actions of the others; yet, it is very plain, that I am not in any way, chargeable for their sins. Now, in one or the other of these ways, God ‘has fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass’ (P. 33-35).

And Charles Hodge says in this connection:

A righteous judge, in pronouncing sentence on a criminal, may be sure that he will cause wicked and bitter feelings in the criminal’s mind, or in the hearts of his friends, and yet the judge be guiltless. A father, in excluding a reprobate son from his family, may see that the inevitable consequences of such exclusion will be his greater wickedness, and yet the father may do right. It is the certain consequence of God’s leaving the fallen angels and the finally impenitent to themselves, that they will continue in sin, and yet the holiness of God remain untarnished. The Bible clearly teaches that God judicially abandons men to their sins, giving them up to a reprobate mind, and He therein is most just and holy. It is not true, therefore, that an agent is responsible for all the certain consequences of his acts. It may be, and doubtless is, infinitely wise and just in God to permit the occurrence of sin, and to adopt a plan of which sin is a certain consequence or element; yet, as He neither causes sin, nor tempts men to its commission, He is neither its author nor approver.16

9. GOD’S GRACE IS MORE DEEPLY APPRECIATED AFTER
THE
PERSON HAS BEEN THE VICTIM OF SIN

We are often permitted to fall into sin, that, after being delivered from it, we shall appreciate our salvation all the more. In the parable of the two debtors the one owed five hundred shillings and the other fifty. When they had nothing with which to pay the lender forgave them both. Which of them, therefore, would love him most? Naturally the one to whom he forgave most. As Jesus spoke this parable they were seated at meat and the application was made to Simon the Pharisee and to the penitent woman who had anointed His feet. The latter had been forgiven much and was profoundly grateful, but the former had received no such favor and felt no gratitude. ‘To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little,’ Luke 7:41-50.

Sometimes the person, like the prodigal son, will not appreciate the Father’s home nor respect His authority until he has experienced the ravaging effects of sin and the pangs of hunger, sorrow and disgrace. It seems that man with his freedom must, to a certain extent, learn by experience before he is fully able to appreciate the ways of righteousness and to render unquestioned obedience and honor to God. We have quoted Paul’s statement to the effect that ‘God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that He might have mercy on all,’ Rom. 11:32, and that the sentence of death was passed within us that we should not trust in ourselves but only in God, II Cor. 1:9. The creature cannot adequately appreciate God’s mercy until he has been rescued from a state of misery. After the lame beggar had been healed by Peter and John at the door of the temple, he appreciated his health as never before, and ‘entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.’ And after being delivered from the power and guilt of sin, we appreciate God’s grace as we never could have otherwise. We read that even our Lord Jesus Christ in His human nature was made ‘perfect through sufferings,’ although He was, of course, totally separate from all sin.

10. CALVINISM OFFERS A MORE SATISFACTORY SOLUTION OF
THE PROBLEM OF EVIL THAN DOES ANY OTHER SYSTEM

The real difficulty which we face here, is to explain why a God of infinite holiness, power, and wisdom, would have brought into existence a creation in which moral evil was to prevail so extensively; and especially to explain why it should have been permitted to issue in the everlasting misery of so many of His creatures. This difficulty, however, bears not only against Calvinism, but against theism in general; and while other systems are found to be wholly inadequate in their explanation of sin, Calvinism can give a fairly adequate explanation in that it recognizes that God is ultimately responsible since He could have prevented it; and Calvinism further asserts that God has a definite purpose in the permission of every individual sin, having ordained it ‘for His own glory.’ As Hamilton says, ‘If we are to accept theism at all, the only respectable kind is Calvinism.’ ‘Calvinism teaches that God not only knew what He was doing when He created man, but that He had a purpose even in permitting sin.’ And what better explanation than this can be advanced by any one else who believes that God is the Creator and Ruler of this universe?

In regard to the first fall of man, we assert that the proximate cause was the instigation of the Devil and the impulse of his own heart; and when we have established this, we have removed all blame from God. Paul tells us that God ‘dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto.’ Our mental vision can no more comprehend His deep mysteries than our unaided physical eyes can endure the light of the sun. When the Apostle contemplated these things he broke forth, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past tracing out!’ And since our human intellects cannot soar to such stupendous heights, it is ours to adore with reverence, fear, and trembling, but not to explain, that mystery which is too high and too deep for even the angels themselves to penetrate. Let us remember also that along with this sin, God has provided a redemption graciously wrought out by Himself; and no doubt it is due to our limitations that we do not see this to be the all-sufficient explanation. The decree of redemption is as old as the decree of apostasy; and He who ordained sin has also ordained a way of escape from it.

Since the Scriptures tell us that God is perfectly righteous, and since in all of His acts upon which we are capable of passing judgment we find that He is perfectly righteous, we trust Hun in those realms which have not yet been revealed to us, believing that He has solutions for those problems which we are not able to solve. We can rest assured that the Judge of all the earth will do right, and as His plan is more fully revealed to us we learn to thank Him for that which is past and to trust him for that which is future.

It avails nothing, of course, to say that God foresaw the evil but did not include it in His plan, ‘ for if He foresaw it and in spite of it brought the world into existence, the evil acts were certainly a part of the plan, although an undesirable part. To deny this foresight makes God blind; and He would then be conceived of as working something like the schoolboy who mixes chemicals in the laboratory not knowing what may happen. In fact, we could not even respect a God who worked in that manner. And furthermore, that view still leaves the ultimate responsibility for sin resting upon God, for at least he could have refrained from creating.

That the sinful acts of men have their place and a necessary place in the plan is plainly seen in the course of history. For instance, the assassination of President McKinley was a sinful act, ‘ yet upon that act depended the role which Theodore Roosevelt was to play as President of the United States; and if that one link in the chain of events had been otherwise, the entire course of history from that time to the end of the world would have been radically different. The same is true in the case of Lincoln. If God intended that the world should reach this state in which we find ourselves today, those events were indispensable. A moment’s consideration will convince us that all of even the apparently insignificant events have their exact place, that they start rapidly growing influences which soon extend to the ends of the earth, and that if one of them had been omitted, say fifty years ago, the world today would have been far different.

A further important proof that Paul taught the doctrine which Calvinists have understood him to teach is found in the objections which he put in the mouths of his opponents, ‘ that it represented God as unrighteous: ‘Is there unrighteousness with God?’ Rom. 9:14; and, that it destroyed man’s responsibility: ‘Thou wilt then say unto me, Why doth He still find fault? For who withstandeth His will?’ Rom. 9:19. These are the very objections which today, on first thought, spring into men’s minds, in opposition to the Calvinistic doctrine of Predestination; but they have not even the least plausibility when directed against the Arminian doctrine. A doctrine which does not afford the least grounds for these objections cannot have been the one that the Apostle taught.


Notes

  1. Tyler, Memoir and Lectures, p. 250-252.
  2. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 857.
  3. ‘The Secret Providence of God’; reprinted in Calvins Calvinism, p. 240.
  4. Systematic Theology, I., p. 545.
  5. Theological Institutes, II, ch. 18.
  6. Systematic Theology, II, p. 120.
  7. id. p. 194.
  8. Bondage of the Will, p. 301.
  9. Predestination, p. 55.
  10. Article, ‘The Reformed Faith in the Modern World’.
  11. A Syllabus of Systematic Theology, p. 103.
  12. What is Calvinism, p. 32.
  13. Quoted in Calvin’s Calvinism, p. 290.
  14. Biblical Doctrines, article, ‘Predestination’, p. 21.
  15. Warfield, Biblical Doctrines, article, ‘The Foresight of Jesus’, p. 73.
  16. Systematic Theology, I., p. 547.

Author

Dr. Boettner was born on a farm in northwest Missouri. He was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; Th.M., 1929), where he studied Systematic Theology under the late Dr. C. W. Hodge. Previously he had graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, and had taken a short course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri. In 1933 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1957 the degree of Doctor of Literature. He taught Bible for eight years in Pikeville College, Kentucky. A resident of Washington, D.C., eleven years and of Los Angeles three years. His home was in Rock Port, Missouri. His other books include: Roman Catholicism, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium.

4. THAT IT DISCOURAGES ALL MOTIVES TO EXERTION

1.

The Means as well as the Ends are Foreordained.

2.

Practical Results.

1. THE MEANS AS WELL AS THE END ARE ORDAINED.

THE objection that the doctrine of Predestination discourages all motives to exertion, is based on the fallacy that the ends are determined without reference to the means. It is not merely a few isolated events here and there that have been foreordained, but the whole chain of events, with all of their inter-relations and connections. All of the parts form a unit in the Divine plan. If the means should fail, so would the ends. If God has purposed that a man shall reap, He has also purposed that he shall sow. If God has ordained a man to be saved, He has also ordained that he shall hear the Gospel, and that he shall believe and repent. As well might the farmer refuse to till the soil according to the laws disclosed by the light of nature and experience until he had first learned what was the secret purpose of God to be executed in His providence in regard to the fruitfulness of the coming season, as for any one to refuse to work in the moral and spiritual realms because he does not know what fruitage God may bring from his labor. We find, however, that the fruitage is commonly bestowed where the preliminary work has been faithfully performed. If we engage in the Lord’s service and make diligent use of the means which He has prescribed, we have the great encouragement of knowing that it is by these very means that He has determined to accomplish His great work.

Even those who accept the Scripture Statements that God ‘worketh all things after the counsel of His will,’ and similar declarations to the effect that God’s providential control extends to all the events of their lives, know that this does not interfere in the slightest with their freedom. Do those who make this objection allow their belief in the Divine sovereignty to determine their conduct in temporal affairs? Do they decline food when hungry, or medicine when sick, because God has appointed the time and manner of their death? Do they neglect the recognized means of acquiring wealth or distinction because God gives riches and honor to whom He pleases? When in matters outside of religion one recognizes God’s sovereignty, yet works in the exercise of conscious freedom, is it not sinful and foolish to offer as an excuse for neglecting his spiritual and eternal welfare the contention that he is not free and responsible? Does not his conscience testify that the only reason why he is not a follower of Jesus Christ is that he has never been willing to follow Him? Suppose that when the palsied man was brought to Jesus and heard the words, ‘Rise up and walk,’ he had merely replied, ‘I cannot; I am palsied!’ Had he done so he would have died a paralytic. But, realizing his own helplessness and trusting the One who gave the command, he obeyed and was made whole. It is the same almighty Saviour who calls on sinners dead in sin to come to Him, and we may be sure that the one who comes will not find his efforts vain. The fact is, that unless we regard God as the sovereign Disposer of all events, who in the midst of certainty has ordained human liberty, we have but little encouragement to work. If we believed that our success and our destiny was primarily dependent on the pleasure of weak and sinful creatures, we would have but little incentive to exertion.

On his knees, the Arminian forgets those logical puzzles which have distorted Predestination to his mind and at once thankfully acknowledges his conversion to be due to that prevenient grace of God, without which no mere will or works of his own would ever have made him a new creature. He prays for that outpouring of God’s Spirit to restrain, convince, renew, and sanctify men; for that divine direction of human events, and overturning of the counsels and frustrating of the plans of wicked men; he gives to the Lord glory and honor for what is actually done in this regard, which implies that God reigns, that He is the sovereign disposer of all events, and that all good, and all thwarting of evil are due to Him, while all evil is itself due to the creature. He recognizes the completeness of the divine foreknowledge as bound up inseparably with the wisdom of His eternal purpose. His prayers for assurance of hope, or his present fruition of it, presuppose the faith that God can and will keep his feet from falling, and heaven from revolt, and that His purpose forms such an infallible nexus between present grace and eternal glory, that nothing shall be able to separate him from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.1

Since the future events are hidden and unknown to us, we should be as industrious in our work and as earnest in the performance of our duty as if nothing had been decreed concerning it. It has often been said that we should pray as though everything depended on God, and work as though everything depended on ourselves. Luther’s observation here was:

We are commanded to work the more for this very reason, because all things future are to us uncertain; as saith Ecclesiastes, ‘In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or ‘whether they both shall be alike good,’ Eccl. 11:6. All things future, I say are to us uncertain in knowledge, but necessary in event. The necessity strikes into us fear of God that we presume not, or become secure, while the uncertainty works in us a trusting that we sink not into despair.2

‘The farmer who, after hearing a sermon on God’s decrees, took the break-neck road instead of the safe one to his home and broke his wagon in consequence, concluded before the end of the journey that he at any rate had been predestinated to be a fool, and that he had made his calling and election sure.’3

On one occasion after Dr. Charles Hodge had finished a theological lecture he was approached by a lady who said to him, ‘So you believe, Dr. Hodge, that what is to be will be?’ ‘Why, yes, lady, I do,’ he replied. ‘Would you have me believe that what is to be won’t be?’

And we are further reminded at this point of one in Scotland accused and convicted of murder, who said to the judge, ‘I was predestined from all eternity to do it.’ To whom the judge replied, ‘So be it, then I was predestined from all eternity to order you to be hanged by the neck, which I now do.’

Some may be inclined to say, if nothing but the creative power of God can enable us to repent and believe, then all we can do is to wait passively until that power is exerted. Or it may be asked, If we cannot effect our salvation, why work for it? In every line of human endeavor, however, we find that the result is dependent on the co-operation of causes over which we have no control. We are simply to make use of the appropriate means and trust to the co-operation of the other agencies. We do have the express promise of God that those who seek shall find, that those who ask shall receive, and that to those who knock it shall be opened. This is more than is given to the men of the world to stimulate them in their search for wealth, knowledge, or position; and more than this cannot rationally be demanded. He who reads and meditates upon the word of God is ordinarily regenerated by the Holy Spirit, perhaps in the very act of reading. ‘While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word,’ Acts 10:44. Shakespeare makes one of his characters say: ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings,’ (Julius C’sar, 1:2).

The sinner’s inability to save himself, therefore, should not make him less diligent in seeking his salvation in the way which God has appointed. Some leper when Christ was on earth might have reasoned that since he could not cure himself, he must simply wait for Christ to come and heal him. The natural effect, however, of a conviction of utter helplessness is to impel the person to make diligent application at the source from whence alone help can come. Man is a fallen, ruined, and helpless creature, and until he knows it he is living without hope and without God in the world.

2. PRACTICAL RESULTS

The genuine tendency of these truths is not to make men indolent and careless, but to energize and stimulate them to redoubled efforts. Heroes and conquerors, such as C’sar and Napoleon, have often been possessed with a sense of destiny which they were to fulfill. This sense steels the nerve, redoubles the courage, and fixes in one an indomitable purpose to carry his work through to a successful finish. Large and difficult objects can only be achieved by men who have confidence in themselves, and who will not allow obstacles to discourage them. ‘This idea of destiny once embraced,’ says Mozley,

as it is the natural effect of the sense of power, so in its turn adds greatly to it. The person as soon as he regards himself as predestined to achieve some great object, acts with so much greater force and constancy for the attainment of it; he is not divided by doubts, or weakened by scruples or fears; he believes fully that he shall succeed, and that belief is the greatest assistance to success. The idea of a destiny in a considerable degree fulfills itself. . . . It must be observed that this is true of the moral and spiritual, as well as of the natural man, and applies to religious aims and purposes, as well as to those connected with human glory.4

E. W. Smith, in his valuable little book, The Creed of Presbyterians, writes as follows:

The most comforting and ennobling is also the most energizing of faiths. That its grim caricature, fatalism, has developed in human hearts an energy at once sublime and appalling is one of the common-places of history. The early and overwhelming onrush of Mohammedanism, which swept the East and all but overthrew the West, was due to its devotees’ conviction that in their conquests they were but executing the decrees of Allah. Attila the Hun was upborne in his terrible and destructive course by his belief that he was the appointed ‘Scourge of God.’ The energy and audacity which enabled Napoleon to attempt and achieve apparent impossibilities was nourished by the secret conviction that he was ‘the man of destiny.’ Fatalism has begotten a race of Titans. Their energy has been superhuman, because they believed themselves the instruments of a super-human power.

If the grim caricature of this doctrine has breathed such energy, the doctrine itself must inspire a yet loftier, for all that is energizing in it remains with added force when for a blind fate, or a fatalistic deity, we substitute a wise, decreeing God. Let me but feel that in every commanded duty, in every needed reform, I am but working out an eternal purpose of Jehovah; let me but hear behind me, in every battle for the right, the tramp of the Infinite Reserves; and I am lifted above the fear of man or the possibility of final failure. (pp. 180, 181).

In an English newspaper, ‘The Daily Express,’ of April 18, 1929, we read the following concerning Earl Haig, who was Commander-in-Chief of the British armies in the First World War, and who was a Scotsman and a Calvinistic Presbyterian:

Most remarkable as regards Haig’s own personality is the disclosure that this reserved, cold, formal man had a profound faith, and in the greatest crises of the war believed implicitly that help would come from above, and that he regarded himself as the chosen of the Lord, the Cromwell who alone could smite the foe. He was genuinely convinced that the position to which he had now been called was one which he and he alone in the British Army could fill. It was not conceit. There was no man who was less inclined to over-estimate his own value or capacity; it was opinion based upon the discernment of all the factors. He came to regard himself with almost Calvinistic faith as the predestinated instrument of Providence for the achievement of victory for the British armies. His abundant self-reliance was reinforced by this conception of himself as the child of destiny.

The genuine tendency of these truths, then, as stated before, is not to make men indolent and careless, nor to lull them to sleep on the lap of presumption and carnal security, but to energize and to inspire confidence. Both reason and experience teach us that the greater one’s hope of success, the stronger becomes the motive to exertion. The person who is sure of success in the use of appropriate means has the strongest of incentives to work, while on the other hand, where there is but little hope there will be but little disposition for one to exert himself; and where there is no hope, there will be no exertion. The Christian, then, who has before him the definite commands of God, and the promise that the work of those who obediently and reverently avail themselves of the appointed means shall be blessed, has the highest possible motives for exertion. Furthermore, he is elevated and inspired by the firm conviction that he himself is marked out for a heavenly crown.

Who ever stated the doctrine of election more plainly or in more forcible language than did the Apostle Paul? And yet who was ever more zealous and more untiring in his labors than Paul? His theory made him a missionary and impelled him to set forth Christianity as final and triumphant. How cheering it must have been for him in Corinth to hear the words, ‘Be not afraid, but speak and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to harm thee; for I have much people in this city,’ Acts 18:10. What greater incentive to action could have been given him than this, that his preaching was the divinely appointed means for the conversion of many of those people? Notice, God did not tell him how many people He had in that city, nor who the individuals were. The minister of the Gospel can go forward confident of success, knowing that through this appointed means God has determined to save a vast number of the human family in every age. In fact, one of the strongest pleas for missions is that evangelism is the will of God for the whole world; and only when one acknowledges the sovereignty of God in every realm of life can he have the deepest passion for the Divine glory.

The experience of the Church in all ages has been that this doctrine has led men, not to neglect, nor to stolid unconcern, nor to rebellious opposition to God, but to submission and to a sure trust in Divine power. The promise given to Jacob that his posterity was to be a great people did not in the least prevent him from using every available means for protection when it looked as though Esau might kill him and his family. When Daniel understood from the prophecies of Jeremiah that the time for the restoration of Israel was at hand, he set himself earnestly to pray for it (Dan. 9:2, 3). Immediately after it had been revealed to David that God would establish his house, he prayed earnestly for that very thing (II Sam. 7:27-29). Although Christ knew what had been appointed for His people, He prayed earnestly for their preservation (John, Ch. 17). And although Paul had been told that he was to go to Rome and bear witness there, it did not in the least cause him to be careless of his life. He took every precaution to protect himself against an unfair trial by the Jerusalem mob, and against an unwise voyage (Acts 23:11; 25:10, 11; 27:9, 10). The decree of God was that all those on board the ship should be saved, but that decree took in the free and courageous and skillful activity of the seamen. Their freedom and responsibility were not in the least diminished. The practical effect of this doctrine, then, has been to lead men to frequent and fervent prayer, knowing that their times are in God’s hands and that every event of their lives is of His disposing.

Furthermore, it may be said that so long as the sinner remains ignorant of his lost and helpless condition, he remains negligent. Probably there is not a careless sinner in the world who does not believe in his perfect ability to turn to God at any time he pleases; and because of this belief he puts off repentance, fully intending to come at some more convenient time. Just in proportion as his belief in his own ability increases, his carelessness increases, and he is lulled to sleep on the awful brink of eternal ruin. Only when he is brought to feel his entire helplessness and dependence upon sovereign grace does he seek help where alone it is to be found.


Notes

  1. Atwater, article, ‘Calvinism in Doctrine and Life’; The Presbyterian Quarterly and Princeton Review, Jan. 1875, p. 84.
  2. Bondage of the Will, p. 287.
  3. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 861.
  4. The Augustinian Doctrine of Predestination, p. 41.

Author

Dr. Boettner was born on a farm in northwest Missouri. He was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; Th.M., 1929), where he studied Systematic Theology under the late Dr. C. W. Hodge. Previously he had graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, and had taken a short course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri. In 1933 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1957 the degree of Doctor of Literature. He taught Bible for eight years in Pikeville College, Kentucky. A resident of Washington, D.C., eleven years and of Los Angeles three years. His home was in Rock Port, Missouri. His other books include: Roman Catholicism, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium.

1. DIFFICULTIES FACED BY ALL SYSTEMS

IF all men are dead in sin, and destitute of the power to restore themselves to spiritual life, why, it Is asked, does God exercise His almighty power to regenerate some, while He leaves others to perish? Justice, it is said, demands that all should have an equal opportunity; that all should have, either by nature or by grace, power to secure their own salvation. It is to be remembered, however, that objections such as these do not bear exclusively against the Calvinistic system. They are urged by atheists against Theism. It is argued, If God is infinite in power and holiness, why does He allow so much sin and misery to exist in the world? And why are the wicked often allowed to prosper through long periods of time, while the righteous often must endure poverty and suffering?

It is plain enough that the anti-Calvinistic systems can offer no real solutions for these difficulties. Admitting that regeneration is the sinner’s own act, and that every man has sufficient ability and knowledge to secure his own salvation, it remains true that in the present state of the world only comparatively few are saved, and that God does not interpose to prevent the majority of adult men from perishing in their sins. Calvinists do not deny that these difficulties exist; they only maintain that such problems are not peculiar to their system, and they rest content with the partial solution of them which is given in the Scriptures. The Bible teaches that man was created holy; that he deliberately disobeyed the divine law and fell into sin; that as a result of that fall Adam’s posterity come into the world in a state of spiritual death; that God never pushes them into further sin, but that on the contrary He exerts influences which should induce rational creatures to repent and seek His sanctifying grace; that all who sincerely repent and seek this grace are saved; and that by the exercise of His mighty power, vast multitudes which otherwise would have continued in their sin are brought to salvation.

2. GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS

A ‘respecter of persons’ is one who, acting as judge, does not treat those who come before him according to their character, but who withholds from some what is justly theirs and gives to others what is not justly theirs ‘ one who is governed by prejudice and sinister motives, rather than by justice and law. The Scriptures deny that God is a respecter of persons in this sense; and if the doctrine of Predestination represented God as doing these things, we admit that it would charge Him with injustice.

In the Scriptures God is said to be no respecter of persons, for He does not choose one and reject another because of outward circumstances such as race, nationality, wealth, power, nobility, etc. Peter says that God is no respecter of persons because He makes no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. His conclusion after being divinely sent to preach to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, was, ‘Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to Him,’ Acts 10:35. Throughout their entire past history the Jews had believed that they as a people were the exclusive objects of God’s favor. A careful reading of Acts 10:1 to 11:18 will show what a revolutionary idea it was that the Gospel should be preached to the Gentiles also.

Paul likewise says, ‘Glory and honor and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek; for there is no respect of persons with God,’ Rom. 2:10, 11. And again, ‘There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for they all are one man in Christ Jesus.’ Then he adds that it is not those who are Jews externally, but those who are Christ’s that are in the highest sense ‘Abraham’s seed,’ and ‘heirs according to the promise,’ Gal. 3:28, 29. In Eph. 6:5-9 the slaves and the masters are commanded to treat each other justly; for God, who is the Master of both, is no respecter of persons; and likewise in Cot. 3:25 the relations between fathers and children and between wives and husbands are included. James says that God is no respecter of persons because He makes no distinction between the rich and poor, nor between those who wear fine clothing and those who are plainly dressed (2:1-9). The term ‘person’ in these verses signifies, not the inner man, or the soul, but the outward appearance, which often carries so much influence with us. Hence when the Scriptures say that God is no respecter of persons they do not mean that He treats all people alike, but that the reason for His saving one and rejecting another is not that one is a Jew and the other a Gentile, or that the one is rich and the other poor, etc.

3. GOD PLAINLY DOES NOT TREAT ALL PEOPLE ALIKE; HE GIVES TO SOME
WHAT HE WITHHOLDS FROM OTHERS

It is a fact that in His providential government of the world God does not confer the same or equal favors upon all people. The inequality is too glaring to be denied. The Scriptures tell us, and the experiences of every day life show us, that there is the greatest variety in the distribution of these, ‘ and justly so, for all of these are of grace, and not of debt. The Calvinist here falls back upon the experienced reality of facts. It is true, and no argument can disprove it, that men in this world find themselves unequally favored, both in inward disposition and outward circumstances. One child is born to health, honor, wealth, of eminently good and wise parents who train him up from infancy in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and who afford him every opportunity of being taught the truth as it is in the Scriptures. Another is born to disease, shame, poverty, of dissipated and depraved parents who reject and ridicule and despise Christianity, and who take care to prevent their child from coming under the influence of the Gospel. Some are born with susceptible hearts and consciences, which make lives of innocence and purity natural for them; others are born with violent passions, or even with distinct tendencies to evil, which seemingly are inherited and unconquerable. Some are happy, others are miserable. Some are born in Christian and civilized lands where they are carefully educated and watched over; others are born in complete heathen darkness. As a general rule the child that is surrounded with the proper Christian influences becomes a devout Christian and lives a life of great service, while the other whose character is formed under the influence of corrupt teaching and example lives in wickedness and dies impenitent. The one is saved and the other is lost. And will any one deny that the influences favorable to salvation which are brought to bear upon some individuals are far more favorable than those brought to bear upon others? Will it not be admitted by every candid individual that if the persons had changed places, they probably would have changed characters also? ‘ that if the son of the godly parents had been the son of infidels, and had lived under the same corrupting influences, he would, in all probability, have died in his sins? In His mysterious providence God has placed persons under widely different influences, and the results are widely different. He of course foresaw these different results before the persons were born. These are facts which no one can deny or explain away. And if we are to believe that the world is governed by a personal and intelligent Being, we must also believe that these inequalities have not risen by chance or accident, but through purpose and design, and that the lot of every individual has been determined by the sovereign good pleasure of God. ‘Even Arminians,’ says N. L. Rice,

are obliged to acknowledge that God does make great differences in the treatment of the human family, not only in the distribution of temporal blessings, but of spiritual gifts also, ‘ a difference which compels them, if they would be consistent, to hold the doctrine of election. . . . If the sending of the Gospel to a people, with the divine influence accompanying it, does not amount to a personal election, most assuredly the withholding of it from a people amounts generally to reprobation.1

Calvinists merely assume that in the dispensation of His grace God acts precisely as He does in giving other favors. If it were unjust in principle for God to be partial in the distribution of spiritual goods, it would be no less unjust for Him to be partial in His distribution of temporal goods. But as a matter of fact we find that in the exercise of His absolute sovereignty He makes the greatest possible distinctions among men from birth, and that He does so irrespective of any personal merits both in the allotments of temporal goods and of the essential means to salvation. Hence the statement that the Holy Spirit ‘divideth to each one severally as He will,’ I Cor. 12:11; and nowhere in Scripture is it said that God is impartial in the communication of His grace, in regard to His dealings with nations we find that God has favored some much more highly than others, ‘ namely Israel in ancient times, and Europe and America in modern times, while Africa and the Orient have lain in darkness and under the curse of false religions, ‘ and this is a fact which all must admit.

Although the Jews were a small and disobedient people, God conferred favors on them which He did not give to the other nations of the world. ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth,’ Amos 3:2. ‘He hath not dealt so with any nation; And as for His ordinances, they have not known them,’ Ps. 147:20. And again, ‘What advantage then hath the Jew? Or what is the advantage of circumcision? Much every way: first of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God,’ Rom. 3:1, 2. These favors did not come because of any merits in the Jews themselves, for they were repeatedly reproached for being ‘a stiffnecked and rebellious people.’ In Matt. 11:25 we read of a prayer in which Jesus said, ‘I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes; yea, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in thy sight.’ In those words He thanked the Father for doing that very thing which Arminians exclaim against as unjust and censure as partial.

If it be asked, Why does God not bestow the same or equal blessings upon all people? we can only answer, that has not been fully revealed. We see that in actual life He does not treat all alike. For wise reasons known to Himself, He has given to some blessings to which they had no claim ‘ thus making them great debtors to His grace ‘ and has withheld from others gifts which He was under no obligation to bestow.

There is, in fact, no single member of this fallen race who is not treated by his Maker better than he deserves. And since grace is favor shown to the undeserving, God has the sovereign right to bestow more grace upon one subject than upon another. ‘The bestowment of common grace upon the non-elect,’ says W. G. T. Shedd,

shows that non-election does not exclude from the kingdom of heaven by Divine efficiency, because common grace is not only an invitation to believe and repent, but an actual help toward it; and a help that is nullified solely by the resistance of the non-elect, and not by anything in the nature of common grace, or by any preventive action of God. The fault or the failure of common grace to save the sinner, is chargeable to the sinner alone; and he has no right to plead a fault of his own as the reason why he is entitled to special grace.2

If it be objected that God must give every man an opportunity to be saved, we reply that the outward call does give every man who hears it an opportunity to be saved. The message is: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ This is an opportunity to be saved; and nothing outside the man’s own nature prevents his believing. Shedd has expressed this idea very well in the following words:

A beggar who contemptuously rejects the five dollars offered by a benevolent man, cannot charge stinginess upon him because after this rejection of the five dollars he does not give him ten. Any sinner who complains of God’s passing him by’ in the bestowment of regenerating grace after his abuse of common grace, virtually says to the High and Holy one who inhabits eternity, ‘Thou hast tried once to convert me from sin; now try again, and try harder.’3

A strong argument against the Arminian objection that this doctrine makes God unjustly partial, is found in the fact that while God has extended His saving grace toward fallen men, He has made no provision for the redemption of the Devil and the fallen angels. If it was consistent with God’s infinite goodness and justice to pass by the whole body of fallen angels and to leave them to suffer the consequences of their sin, then certainly it is consistent with His goodness and justice to pass by some of the fallen race of men and to leave them in their sin. When the Arminian admits that Christ died not for the fallen angels or demons, but only for fallen men, he admits limited atonement and in principle makes the same kind of a distinction as does the Calvinist who says that Christ died for the elect only.

Men, with their limited and often mistaken knowledge, have no right to censure God’s distribution of His grace. It would be as unreasonable to charge Him with injustice for not having made all of His creatures angels, and for not having preserved them in holiness as He did the angels in heaven and as He had power to do, as to charge Him with injustice for not having redeemed all mankind. It is as hard for us to understand why He allows any to perish eternally, as for us to understand why He saves some and not others. He plainly does not prevent the perdition of those whom, beyond doubt, He has the power to save. And if those who admit God’s providence say that He has wise reasons for permitting so many of our race to perish, those who advocate His sovereignty can say that He has wise reasons for saving some and not others. It might as reasonably be argued that since God punishes some, He should punish all; but no one goes to that extreme.

It may be admitted that from our human viewpoint it would seem more plausible and more consistent with the character of God that sin and misery should never have been allowed to enter the universe; or if, when they had entered, provision had been made for their ultimate elimination from the system, so that all rational creatures should be perfectly holy and happy for eternity. There would be no end to such plans if every person were at liberty to construct a plan of divine operations in accordance with his own views as to what would be wisest and best. We are, however, shut up to the facts as they are found in the Bible, in the providential workings about us, and in our own religious experiences; and we find that only the Calvinistic system is satisfied by these.

4. GOD’S PARTIALITY IS PARTLY EXPLAINED BY THE FACT THAT
HE IS SOVEREIGN AND THAT HIS GIFTS ARE OF GRACE

It cannot be said that God acts unjustly toward those who are not included in this plan of salvation. People who make this objection neglect to take into consideration the fact that God is dealing not merely with creatures but with sinful creatures who have forfeited every claim upon His mercy. Augustine well said:

Damnation is rendered to the wicked as a matter of debt, justice and desert, whereas the grace given to those who are delivered is free and unmerited, so that the condemned sinner cannot allege that he is unworthy of his punishment, nor the saint vaunt or boast as if he were worthy of his reward. Thus, in the whole course of this procedure, there is no respect of persons. They who are condemned and they who are set at liberty constituted originally one and the same lump, equally infected with sin and liable to vengeance. Hence the justified may learn from the condemnation of the rest that that would have been their own punishment had not God’s grace stepped, in to their rescue.

And to the same effect Calvin says, ‘The Lord, therefore, may give grace to whom He will, because He is merciful, and yet not give it to all because He is a just Judge; may manifest His free grace by giving to some what they never deserve, while by not giving to all He declares the demerit of all.’

‘Partiality,’ in the sense that objectors commonly use the word, is impossible in the sphere of grace. It can exist only in the sphere of justice, where the persons concerned have certain claims and rights. We may give to one beggar and not to another for we do not owe anything to either. The parable of the talents was spoken by our Lord to illustrate the doctrine of the Divine sovereignty in the bestowment of unmerited gifts; and the regeneration of the soul is one of the greatest of these gifts.

The central teaching in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard is that God is sovereign in the dispensation of His gifts. To the saved and the unsaved alike He can say, ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong, . . . Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Or is thine eye evil, because I am good?’ Matt. 20:13-15. It was said to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion’; and Paul adds, ‘So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy So then He hath mercy on whom He will and whom He will He hardeneth,’ Rom. 9:15-18. He will extend mercy to some, and inflict justice on others, and will be glorified by all. Just as a man may give alms to some and not to others, so God may give His grace, which is heavenly alms, to whom He pleases. Grace, from its own nature, must be free; and the very inequality of its distribution demonstrates that it is truly gratuitous. If any one could justly demand it, it would cease to be grace and would become of debt. If God is robbed of His sovereignty in this respect, salvation then becomes a matter of debt to every person.

If ten men each owe a certain creditor one thousand dollars and he for reasons of his own forgives the debts of seven but collects from the other three, the latter have no grounds for complaint. If three criminals are sentenced to be hanged for having committed murder and then two of them are pardoned ‘ perhaps it is found that they have rendered distinguished service to their country in time of war ‘ does that render the execution of the third unjust? Plainly, No! for in his case there is no intervening cause as to why he should not suffer for his crime. And if an earthly prince may justly do this, shall not the sovereign Lord of all be allowed to act in the same manner toward His rebellious subjects? When all mankind might have been punished, how can God be charged with injustice if He punishes only a part of them? ‘ and that no doubt a comparatively small part.

Warburton gives a very fitting illustration here. He supposes a case in which a lady goes to an orphans’ home and from the hundreds of children there, chooses one, adopts it as her own child and leaves the rest.

She might have chosen others; she had the means to keep others; but she chose one. Will you tell me that woman is unjust? Will you tell me that she is unfair, or unrighteous, because in the exercise of her undisputed right and privilege she chose out that one child to enjoy the comforts of her home, and become the heir of her possessions, and left all the others, possibly to perish in want, or sink into the wretched condition of gutter-children? . . . Have you ever heard any lay the charge of injustice, or of unrighteousness against the one who has done such an action? Do men not rather hold such an action up to praise? Do they not speak in the highest terms of the love, the pity, and the compassion of such a person? Now why do they do this? Why do they not condemn the taking of the one, and the leaving of the rest? Why do they not complain that it was unjust for this particular one to be chosen, and not another, or not all? . . . The reason is this ‘ because men know ‘ as we also know ‘ that all those children were in exactly the same plight and that not one of them had a single claim, or the least vestige of a claim, upon the person whose will and pleasure it was to adopt one as her own . . . Do you, or can you, see anything different in this act of God’s from that of my neighbor’s? The children in that foundling home had no claim upon my neighbor. Neither had fallen man any claim upon God; and God’s choice, therefore, just as it was free and unmerited, so was it also righteous and just. And this free and unmerited fore-choice of God in view of man’s self-procured ruin, is all that is meant by the Calvinistic doctrine of Predestination.

Since the merits of Christ’s sacrifice were of infinite value, the plan which usually first suggests itself to our hearts is that God should have saved all. But He chose to make an eternal exhibition of His justice as well as His mercy. If every person had been saved, it would not have been seen what sin deserved; if no person had been saved, it would not have been seen what grace could bestow. Furthermore, the fact that salvation was provided, not for all, but only for some, makes it all the more appreciated by those to whom it is given. All in all, it was best for the universe at large that some should be permitted to have their own way and thus show what a dreadful thing is opposition to God.

But some one may ask, What about this unregenerate man, this one of the non-elect who is left in sin, subject to eternal punishment, unable even to see the kingdom of God? We reply, Go back to the doctrine of original sin, ‘ in Adam, who was appointed the federal head and representative of all his descendants, the race had a most fair and favorable opportunity to gain salvation, but lost it. The justification for the election of some and the passing by of others is that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ Doubtless there are the best of reasons for the choosing of some and the passing by of others, but these have not been made known to us. We do know, however, that none of the lost suffer any unmerited punishment. In this world they enjoy the good things of providence in common with the children of God, and very often in a much higher degree. Conscience and experience testify that we are members of an apostate race, and every man who comes short of eternal life knows that the responsibility rests primarily upon himself. Furthermore, if all men are in their present lost and ruined condition by the operation of just principles on the part of God (and who will say that they are not?), they may justly be left to deserved punishment. It is absurd to say that they are justly exposed to eternal misery, and yet that it would be unjust for them to suffer; for that is the same as saying that the execution of a just penalty is unjust. It may also be added that man in his fallen state has no desire for salvation, and that from this corrupt mass God ‘hath mercy on whom He will and whom He will He hardeneth.’ This is the uniform teaching of Scripture. He who denies this denies Christianity and calls in question God’s government of the world.

As a matter of fact all of us are partial. We treat the members of our own family or our friends with great partiality, although at the time we may know that they are no more deserving, or perhaps even less deserving than are many others with whom we are associated. It does not follow that if we grant favors to some, we must grant the same or equal favors to all. Yet the Arminian absolutely prescribes it as a rule to the Most High, that He ought to extend His bounty to all equally as from a public treasury. ‘Should an earthly friend,’ says Toplady, ‘make me a present of ten thousand pounds, would it not be unreasonable, ungrateful and presumptuous in me, to refuse the gift, and revile the giver, only because it might not be his pleasure to confer the same favor on my next door neighbor?’

Hence, then, to the objection that the doctrine of Predestination represents God as ‘partial,’ we answer, it certainly does. But we insist that it does not represent Him as unjustly partial.


Notes

  1. God Sovereign and Man Free, pp. 136. 139.
  2. Calvinism. Pure and Mixed, p. 59.
  3. Calvinism Pure and Mixed, p. 51.

Author

Dr. Boettner was born on a farm in northwest Missouri. He was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; Th.M., 1929), where he studied Systematic Theology under the late Dr. C. W. Hodge. Previously he had graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, and had taken a short course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri. In 1933 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1957 the degree of Doctor of Literature. He taught Bible for eight years in Pikeville College, Kentucky. A resident of Washington, D.C., eleven years and of Los Angeles three years. His home was in Rock Port, Missouri. His other books include: Roman Catholicism, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium.

1. THE MEANS AS WELL AS THE ENDS ARE FOREORDAINED

THE objection is sometimes made that this system encourages men to be careless and indifferent about their moral conduct and their growth in grace, on the ground that their eternal welfare has already been secured. This objection is primarily directed against the doctrines of Election, and the Perseverance of the Saints.

This objection, however, like the one to the effect that this system discourages all motives to exertion, is completely answered by the great principle which we hold and teach, namely, that the means as well as the ends are foreordained. God’s decree that the earth should be fruitful did not exclude, but included, the sunlight, the showers, the tillage of the husbandman, etc. If God has foreordained a man to have a crop of corn, He has also foreordained him to plow and plant and cultivate and to do all other necessary things to secure the crop. Just as a purpose to build includes the hewing of stone, the squaring of timbers, and the preparation of all other materials which enter into the structure; and as a declaration of war implies arms, ammunition, ships, and all other necessary equipment; so the election of some to the eternal enjoyment of heaven includes their election to holiness here. It is not the individual as such, but the individual as holy and virtuous that is predestinated to eternal life.

In the plainest of language Paul taught that the very purpose of election is, ‘That we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love,’ Eph. 1:4; that we are ‘foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son,’ Rom. 8:29; and that ‘God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth,’ II Thess. 2:13. ‘As many as were ordained to eternal life believed,’ Acts 13:48. The predestinated, called, justified, glorified ones are the same, Rom. 8:29, 30. Therefore the purpose of God according to election must stand, Rom. 9:11.

The belief of Calvinists concerning this subject is well expressed in the Westminster Confession, where we read:

As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation. (111:6).

God decreed that fifteen years should be added to Hezekiah’s life; this made him neither careless of his health, nor negligent of his food: he said not, ‘Though I run into the fire, or into the water, or drink poison, I shall nevertheless live so long’; but natural providence, in the due use of means co-wrought so as to bring him on to that period of time preordained by him.1

Since all events are more or less intimately connected, and since God works by means, if He did not determine the means as well as the events, the certainty as to the events themselves would be destroyed. In the redemption of man He determined not only the work of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, but also the faith, repentance and perseverance of all His people.

When this same doctrine was preached by Paul on another occasion and this same objection was brought against It ‘ namely, that he ‘made the law of none effect through faith,’ or in other words, that since we are saved through faith we do not need to keep the moral law ‘ his emphatic reply was, ‘God forbid; nay, we establish the law,’ Rom. 8:31. There is, then, an invariable connection established between eternal salvation as an end, and faith and holiness as a means leading to that end.

The ideal Christian, of course, would commit no sin at all. Though certainly saved, he is saved for good works, and is commanded to ‘give no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our ministration be not blamed,’ II Cor. 6:8. The Scriptures know of no perseverance which is not a perseverance in holiness, and they give no encouragement to any sense of security which is not connected with a present and ever-increasing holiness. Virtue and piety, therefore, are the effect and not the cause of election, for which no cause is to be assigned except God’s sovereign good pleasure. It is true that some become much more advanced in holiness here and continue in that state over a much longer period of time than do others; yet it is vain for any who do not partake in some degree of holiness in this world to hope to enjoy happiness in the next. All those whom God has designed to render perfectly happy in eternity, He has designed to make in part happy in this world; and as holiness is essential to the happiness of an intelligent creature, so there is begun in them in this world that holiness without which no one shall see the Lord.

2. LOVE AND GRATITUDE TO GOD FOR WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR US IS THE STRONGEST POSSIBLE AND ONLY
PERMANENT BASIS FOR MORALITY

Those who make the objection that we are now considering assume that believers ‘ those who through the almighty power of God have been brought from death to life, from sin to holiness; who have partially beheld the love and glory of God as it is revealed in Christ ‘ are still incapable of being influenced by any motives except those which arise from a selfish and exclusive regard to their own safety and happiness. ‘And,’ as Cunningham says, ‘they do virtually make a confession,

first, that any outward decency which their conduct may at present exhibit, is to be traced solely to the fear of punishment; and, secondly, that if they were only secured against punishment, they would find much greater satisfaction in serving the Devil than in serving God; and that they would never think of showing any gratitude to Him who had conferred the safety and deliverance on which they place so much reliance.2

The contrast between the Calvinistic and the Arminian basis for morality is clearly stated in the following section from McFetridge:

The two great springs by which men are moved are, on the one hand, conviction and idea, on the other, emotion and sentiment; as these control, so the moral character will be shaped. The man who is ruled by convictions and ideas is the man of stability; he cannot be changed until his conscience is changed; the man who is ruled by emotion and sentiment is the man of instability. Now, the appeal of Arminianism is chiefly to the sentiments. Regarding man as having the absolute free moral control of himself, and as able at any moment to determine his own eternal state, it naturally applies itself to the arousing of his emotions. Whatever can lawfully awaken the feelings it considers expedient. Accordingly, the senses, above all things, must be addressed and affected. Hence the Arminian is, religiously, a man of feeling, of sentiment, and consequently disposed to all those things which interest the eye and please the ear. His morality, therefore, as depending chiefly upon the emotions, is, in the nature of the case, liable to frequent fluctuation, rising or falling with the wave of sensation upon which it rides. Calvinism, on the other hand, is a system which appeals to idea rather than sentiment, to conscience rather than emotion. In its views all things are under a great and perfect system of divine laws, which operate in defiance of feeling, and which must be obeyed at the peril of the soul. . . . Its thought is not sentiment, but conviction. . . . It makes the voice of God, speaking in the soul, a guide in all conduct. It seeks rather to convince men than to fill them with a transient sensation. Thus a deep sense of duty is the greatest thing in the moral life of the Calvinist. His first and last question is, Is it right? Of that he must first be convinced. Hence with him conscience has the first place in all practical questions. . . . In the Calvinistic conception God has marked out the way in which man is to walk ‘ a way which He will not change; and man is required to walk in it, joyously or sorrowfully, with as much or as little sentiment as he pleases. Hence the Calvinist is not, religiously, a man of demonstrations, but rather a man of thoughtfulness; so that his morality, whatever it may be otherwise, is characterized by stability and strength, which may sometimes lapse into stubbornness and harshness.3

Our love to God would at best be only lukewarm if we believed that His love and favor toward us depended only on our good behavior. His love toward us is as an immense sun, which shone without beginning and which will shine without end, while ours toward Him is, at its best, as only a little flame. Hence the assurance that the objects of God’s love shall never be permitted to fall away. Love which is founded on self-interest is commonly recognized as not being moral in the highest sense; yet Calvinism is the only system of faith which presents a purely unselfish motive, namely the consciousness that it is alone the free grace and unmerited love of God, to the exclusion of all human merit, that saves men. When the Christian remembers that he was saved only through the suffering and death of Christ his substitute, love and gratitude overflow his heart; and, like Paul, he feels that the least he can offer Christ In return is his whole life in loving service. Seeing himself saved by grace alone, he learns to love God for His own sake and finds it the joy of his life to serve Him with the whole heart. Obedience becomes not only the obligatory but the preferable good.

The motive which actuates the saints on earth Is the same in principle, though not so intense, as that which actuates the saints in glory, whose constant delight is to perform the noblest actions and service, namely, that of praising God, and punctually performing His will without interruptions or defeats. ‘As they have always a ravishing sense of His goodness to them, so they exercise their perfectly pure minds in ascriptions of praise and glory to him for delivering them from deserved ruin, and placing them in the blissful mansions where they find themselves possessed of ease, delight, complacency, and glory wholly unmerited.’4

Pure love and gratitude to God, and not selfish fear, is the very fuel of acceptable obedience, and these are the elements from which alone anything like high and pure morality will ever proceed. Jesus had no fear that a sense of eternal security would lead to licentiousness in His disciples, for He said to them, ‘Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ The elect, therefore, have the utmost reason to love and glorify God which any beings can have, and it is a sheer calumny to represent the doctrine of Predestination as tending to licentiousness and as unfavorable to good morality.

3. THE PRACTICAL FRUITS OF CALVINISM IN HISTORY
ARE
ITS BEST VINDICATION

Calvinism answers the charge that it is unfavorable to good morality, not merely by opposing reason against reason, but by putting facts of world-wide reputation over against these fictitious claims. It simply asks, What rival fruits can other systems oppose if we point to the achievements of the Protestant leaders of the Reformation period, and to the high moral earnestness of the Puritans? Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their immediate helpers were all thoroughgoing ‘Calvinists,’ and the greatest spiritual revival of all time was brought about under their influence. Those in England who held this system of faith were so very strict regarding purity of doctrine, purity of worship, and purity of daily life, that by their very enemies, who thus were their best witnesses, they were called ‘Puritans.’ The Puritans in England, the Covenanters in Scotland, and the Huguenots in France, were men of the same religious faith and of like moral qualities. That the system of Calvin should have developed precisely the same kind of men in each of these different countries is a proof of its power in the formation of character.

Concerning the Puritans in this country McFetridge says:

Amongst all the people in the American colonies, they (the Puritans, Calvinists of New England) stood morally without peers. They were the men and the women of conscience, of sterling convictions. They were not, indeed, greatly given to sentimentalism. With mere spectacular observances in religion they had no sympathy. Life to them was an experience too noble and earnest and solemn to be frittered away in pious ejaculations and emotional rhapsodies. They believed with all their soul in a just God, a heaven and a hell. They felt, In the Innermost core of their hearts, that life was short and its responsibilities great. Hence their religion was their life. All their thoughts and relations were imbued with it. Not only men, but beasts also, were made to feel its favorable influences. Cruelty to animals was a civil offense. In this respect they were two centuries in advance of the bulk of mankind. They were industrious, frugal and enterprising, and consequently affluence followed in their path and descended to their children and children’s children. Drunkenness, profanity and beggary were things little known to them. They needed neither lock nor burglar-proof to secure their honestly-gotten possessions. The simple wooden bolt was enough to protect them and their wealth where honesty was the rule of life. As the result of such a life they were healthy and vigorous. They lived long and happily, reared large and devoted families, and descended to the grave ‘like as a shock of corn cometh in his season,’ in peace with God and their fellowmen, rejoicing in the hope of a blessed resurrection.5

It is further to be remembered as a diadem upon the brow of Calvinistic morality, that in all the history of the Puritans there is said to have been not one case of divorce. What a crying need there is for some such influence today! Lawlessness in general was scarcely, if ever, more unknown than among the Puritans. If, then, Calvinism was actually unfavorable to morality, as charged, it would indeed be a strange coincidence that where there has been the most of Calvinism there has been the least of crime. ‘This is the problem,’ says Froude,

Grapes do not grow on bramble bushes, illustrious natures do not form themselves upon narrow and cruel theories. Spiritual life is full of apparent paradoxes. . . . The practical effect of a belief is the real test of its soundness. Where we find heroic life appearing as the uniform fruit of a particular opinion, it is childish to argue in the face of fact that the result ought to have been different.6

‘There is no system,’ says Henry Ward Beecher,

which equals Calvinism in intensifying, to the last degree, ideas of moral excellence and purity of character. There never was a system since the world stood which puts upon man such motives to holiness, or which builds batteries which sweep the whole ground of sin with such horrible artillery. They tell us that Calvinism plies men with hammer and with chisel. It does; and the result is monumental marble. Other systems leave men soft and dirty; Calvinism makes them of white marble, to endure forever.7

Instead of being a system which leads to immorality and despair, it has worked out exactly the opposite way in everyday life. No other system has so fired people with ideals of religious and civil freedom, nor led to such high ideals of morality and endeavor in all phases of human life. Wherever the Reformed Faith has gone it has made the country to blossom like the rose, even though it was a poor country like Holland, or Scotland, or New England. This has been admitted by Macaulay and many others, and is a very comforting thought.


Notes

  1. Ness, Antidote Against Arminianism, p. 41.

  2. Historical Theology, II, p. 279.

  3. Calvinism in History, pp. 107, 108.

  4. Walmsley, S. G. U. pamphlet No. 173, p. 67.

  5. Calvinism in History, p. 128.

  6. Calvinism, p. 8.

  7. Quoted by McFetridge, Calvinism in History, p. 121.


Author

Dr. Boettner was born on a farm in northwest Missouri. He was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; Th.M., 1929), where he studied Systematic Theology under the late Dr. C. W. Hodge. Previously he had graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, and had taken a short course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri. In 1933 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1957 the degree of Doctor of Literature. He taught Bible for eight years in Pikeville College, Kentucky. A resident of Washington, D.C., eleven years and of Los Angeles three years. His home was in Rock Port, Missouri. His other books include: Roman Catholicism, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium.

1. THE SAME OBJECTION APPLIES AGAINST GOD’S FOREKNOWLEDGE

ALTHOUGH the Gospel is offered to many who will not, and who for subjective reasons cannot, accept, it is, nevertheless, sincerely offered to all. The objection so strenuously urged on some occasions by Arminians, to the effect that if the doctrine of Predestination is true the Gospel cannot be sincerely offered to the non-elect, should be sufficiently answered by the fact that it bears with equal force against the doctrine of God’s Foreknowledge. We might ask, How can the offer of salvation be sincerely made to those who God foreknows will despise and reject it, especially when their guilt and condemnation will only be increased by their refusal? Arminians admit that God knows beforehand who will accept and who will reject the message; yet they know themselves to be under a divine command to preach to all men, and they do not feel that they act insincerely in doing so.

The difficulty, however, in both cases is purely subjective, and is due to our limited knowledge and to our inability to comprehend the ways of God, which are past finding out. We do know that the Judge of all the earth will do right, and we trust Him even though our feeble reason cannot always follow His ways. We know definitely that abundant provision has been made for all who will come, and that every one who sincerely accepts will be saved. From Christ’s own lips we have a parable which illustrates the love of God for His children. The father saw the returning prodigal when he was still a great way off, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the welcome given to this prodigal God is willing to give to any prodigal.

2. THE OFFER IS SINCERELY MADE

God commanded Moses to gather together the elders of Israel, to go to Pharaoh and demand that they be allowed to go three days’ journey into the wilderness to hold a feast and offer sacrifices. Yet in the very next verse God Himself says, ‘I know that the king of Egypt will not give you leave to go, no, not by a mighty hand,’ Ex. 3:18, 19. If it is not inconsistent with God’s sincerity for Him to command all men to love Him, or to be perfect (Luke 10:27; Matt. 5:48), it is not inconsistent with His sincerity for Him to command them to repent and believe the Gospel. A man may be altogether sincere in giving an invitation which he knows will be refused. A father who knows that his boys are going to do wrong feels constrained to tell them what is right. His warnings and pleadings are sincere; the trouble is in the boys.

Will any one contend that God cannot sincerely offer salvation to a free moral agent unless in addition to the invitation He exerts a special influence which will induce the person to accept it? After a civil war in a country it often happens that the victorious general offers free pardon to all those in the opposing army, provided they will lay down their arms, go home, and live peaceable lives, although he knows that through pride or malice many will refuse. He makes the offer in good faith even though for wise reasons he determines not to constrain their assent, supposing him possessed of such power.

We may imagine the case of a ship with many passengers on board sinking some distance out from shore. A man hires a boat from a nearby port and goes to rescue his family. Incidentally it happens that the boat which he takes is large enough to carry all the passengers, so he invites all those on the sinking vessel to come on board, although he knows that many of them, either through lack of appreciation of their danger, or because of personal spite toward him, or for other reasons, will not accept. Yet does that make his offer any the less sincere? ‘If a man’s family were with others held in captivity, and from love of them and with the purpose of their redemption, a ransom should be offered sufficient for the delivery of the whole body of captives, it is plain that the offer of deliverance might be extended to all on the ground of that ransom, although specially intended only for a part of their number. Or, a man may make a feast for his own friends and the provisions be so abundant that he may throw open his doors to all who are willing to come. This is precisely what God, according to the Calvinistic doctrine, has actually done. Out of special love to His people, and with the design of securing their salvation He has sent His Son to do what justifies the offer of salvation to all who choose to accept it.’1

When the Gospel is presented to mankind in general nothing but a sinful unwillingness on the part of some prevents their accepting and enjoying it. No stumbling block is put in their way. All that the call contains is true; it is adapted to the conditions of all men and freely offered if they will repent and believe. No outside influence constrains them to reject it. The elect accept; the non-elect may accept if they will, and nothing but their own nature determines them to do otherwise. ‘According to the Calvinistic scheme,’ says Dr. Hodge,

the non-elect have all the advantages and opportunities of securing their salvation that, according to any other scheme, are granted to mankind indiscriminately. Calvinism teaches that a plan of salvation adapted to all men and adequate for the salvation of all, is freely offered to the acceptance of all, although in the secret purpose of God He intended that it should have precisely the effect which in experience it is found to have. He designed in its adoption to save His own people, but consistently offers its benefits to all who are willing to receive them. More than this no anti-Calvinist can demand.2

Arminians object that God could not offer the Gospel to those who in His secret counsel were not designed to accept it; yet we find the Scriptures declaring that He does this very thing. His commands to Pharaoh have already been referred to. Isaiah was commissioned to preach to the Jews, and in 1:18, 19, we find that he extended a gracious offer of pardon and cleansing. But in 6:9-13, immediately following his glorious vision and official appointment, he is informed that this preaching is destined to harden his countrymen to their almost universal destruction. Ezekiel was sent to speak to the house of Israel, but was told beforehand that they would not hear, Ezek. 3:4-11. Matt. 23:33-37 presents the same teaching. In these passages God declares that He does the very thing which Arminians say He must not do. Hence the objection now under consideration has arisen not because of any Calvinistic misstatement of the divine plan, but through erroneous assumptions made by Arminians themselves.

The decree of election is a secret decree. And since no revelation has been given to the preacher as to which ones among his hearers are elect and which ate non-elect, it is not possible for him to present the Gospel to the elect only. It is his duty to look with hope on all those to whom he is preaching, and to pray for them that they may each be among the elect. In order to offer the message to the elect, he must offer it to all; and the Scripture command is plain to the effect that it should be offered to all. Even the elect must hear before they can believe and accept, Born. 10:13-17. The attentive reader, however, will perceive that the invitations are not, in the strict sense, general, but that they are addressed to the ‘weary,’ the ‘thirsty,’ the ‘hungry,’ the ‘willing,’ those who ‘labor and are heavy laden,’ and not to those who are unconscious of any need and unwilling to be reformed. While the message is preached to all, it is God who chooses among the hearers those to whom He is speaking, and He makes this selection known to them through the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit. The elect thus receive the message as the promise of salvation, but to the non-elect it appears only as foolishness, or if their conscience is aroused, as a judgment to condemnation. As a rule, the non-elect are not concerned about salvation, do not envy the elect their hope of salvation, but rather laugh and scorn at them. And since the secret as to which ones in the audience belong to the elect is hidden from the preacher, usually he does not know who got the message to salvation and who got it to judgment. Among the elect themselves there are so many weaknesses, and on the other hand the evil one is so able to appear as an angel of light and to make such an outward show of good deeds and words, that the preacher usually cannot be sure of the outcome. The effect of the preaching is not in the preacher’s hands, but in God’s hands; and it often happens that the sermons which seemed unsuccessful were strengthened and made effective by the Holy Spirit.

Yet while it is certain that the non-elect will not turn to God, repent of their sins, and live good moral lives, it is, nevertheless, their duty to do so. Though members of a fallen race, they are still free moral agents, responsible for their character and conduct. God is, therefore, perfectly consistent in commanding them to repent. For Him not to do so would be for Him to give up the claims of His law. We commonly hear the idea expressed that man is under no obligation to do anything for which he has not full and perfect ability in himself. The reasoning, however, is fallacious; for man labors under a self-acquired inability. He was created upright and voluntarily sank himself into sin. He is, therefore, as responsible as is the person who in order to escape military service deliberately mutilates a hand or an eye. If inability canceled obligation, then Satan with his inherent depravity would be under no obligation to do right, and his fiendish enmity toward God and men would be no sin. Sinners in general would then be lifted above the moral law.

In conclusion it may be further said that even in regard to the non-elect the preaching is not altogether vain; for they are thus made the objects of general restraining and directing influences which prevent them from sinning as much as they otherwise would.


Notes

  1. Hodge, Systematic Theology, II, p. 556.

  2. Systematic Theology, II, p. 644.


Author

Dr. Boettner was born on a farm in northwest Missouri. He was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; Th.M., 1929), where he studied Systematic Theology under the late Dr. C. W. Hodge. Previously he had graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, and had taken a short course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri. In 1933 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1957 the degree of Doctor of Literature. He taught Bible for eight years in Pikeville College, Kentucky. A resident of Washington, D.C., eleven years and of Los Angeles three years. His home was in Rock Port, Missouri. His other books include: Roman Catholicism, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium.

1. THE TERMS ‘WISH,’ ‘WILL,’ AND ‘ALL’

IT may be asked, is not the doctrine of Predestination flatly contradicted by the Scriptures which declare that Christ died for ‘all men,’ or for ‘the whole world,’ and that God wills the salvation of all men? In I Tim. 2:8, 4 Paul refers to ‘God our Saviour, who would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’ (And the word ‘all,’ we are dogmatically informed by our opponents, must mean every human being.) In Ezekiel 83:11 we read, ‘As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live’; and in II Peter 3:9 we read that God is ‘not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ The King James Version reads, ‘Not willing that any should perish. . . .’

These verses simply teach that God is benevolent, and that He does not delight in the sufferings of His creatures any more than a human father delights in the punishment which he must sometimes inflict upon his son. God does not decretively will the salvation of all men, no matter how much He may desire it; and if any verses taught that He decretively willed or intended the salvation of all men, they would contradict those other parts of the Scripture which teach that God sovereignly rules and that It is His purpose to leave some to be punished.

The word ‘will’ is used in different senses in Scripture and in our every day conversation. It is sometimes used in the sense of ‘decree,’ or ‘purpose,’ and sometimes in the sense of ‘desire,’ or ‘wish.’ A righteous judge does not will (desire) that anyone should be hanged or sentenced to prison, yet at the same time he wills (pronounces sentence, or decrees) that the guilty person shall be thus punished. In the same sense and for sufficient reasons a man may will or decide to have a limb removed, or an eye taken out, even though he certainly does not desire it. The Greek words thelo and boulomai, which are sometimes translated ‘will,’ are also used in the sense of ‘desire,’ or ‘wish;’ e.g., Jesus said to the mother of James and John, ‘What wouldest thou?’ Matt. 20:21; of the scribes it was said they ‘desire to walk in long robes,’ Luke 20:46; certain of the Scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we would see a sign from thee,’ Matt. 12:38; Paul said, ‘I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue,’ I Cor. 14:19.

In like manner the word ‘all’ is unmistakably used in different senses in Scripture. In some cases it certainly does not mean every individual; e.g., of John the Baptist it was said, ‘And there went out unto him all the country of Judea, and all they of Jerusalem; and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins,’ Mark 1:5. After Peter and John had healed the lame man at the door of the temple, we read that ‘all men glorified God for that which was done,’ Acts 4:21. Jesus told His disciples that they would be ‘hated of all men’ for His name’s sake, Luke 21:17. Paul was accused of ‘teaching all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place’ (the temple), Acts 21:28. When Jesus said, ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself,’ John 12:32, He plainly meant not every individual of mankind, for history shows that not every individual has been drawn to Him. He certainly does not draw the many millions of heathens who die in utter ignorance of the true God. What He meant was, that a large multitude from all nations and classes would be saved; and this is what we see coming to pass. In Heb. 2:9, we read that Jesus tasted death ‘for every man.’ The original Greek, however, does not use the word ‘man’ here at all, but simply says, ‘for every.’ So in principle, if the meaning is not to be limited to those who are actually saved, why limit it to men? Why not include the fallen angels, even the Devil himself, and the irrational animals?

I Cor. 15:22 is probably the one verse most often quoted by Arminians to refute Calvinism. There we read, ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.’ The verse is, however, entirely irrelevant. This is from Paul’s famous resurrection chapter, and the context makes it plain that he is not talking about life in this age, whether physical or spiritual, but about the resurrection life. Verses 20 and 21 read: ‘But now hath Christ been raised from the dead, the first fruits of them that are asleep. For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead.’ Then follows verse 22, ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive’; and that he refers not to a regeneration or a making alive in this present world but to the new life which is given in the resurrection is made clear by what follows immediately in verses 23 and 24: ‘But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits; then they that are Christ’s, at His coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father,’ etc. Christ is the first to enter into the resurrection life, then, when He comes, His people also enter into their resurrection life. Then comes the end, that is, the end of the world, and the introduction of heaven in its fulness; and what Paul says is that at that time a glorious resurrection life will become a reality for all of those who are in Christ. This is possible because Christ is their federal head and representative. Through His power all of His people shall be raised to newness of life with Him. And this point is illustrated by the well understood fact that the race fell in Adam, who acted as the federal head and representative of the entire race. What Paul says in effect is this: ‘For as all born in Adam die, so also all born in Christ shall be made alive.’ Verse 22, then, refers not to something past, nor to something present, but to something future; and it has no bearing whatever on the Arminian-Calvinistic controversy.

It was not the whole of mankind which was equally loved of God and promiscuously redeemed by Christ. John’s hymn of praise, ‘Unto Him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by His blood; and He made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto His God and Father,’ Rev. 1:5, evidently proceeds on the hypothesis of a definite election and a limited atonement since God’s love was the cause and the blood of Christ the efficacious means of their redemption. The declaration that Christ died for ‘all’ is made clearer by the song which the redeemed now sing before the throne of the Lamb: ‘Thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation,’ Rev. 5:9. The word all must be understood to mean all the elect, all His Church, all those whom the Father has given to the Son, etc., not all men universally and every man individually. The redeemed host will be made up of men from all classes and conditions of life, of princes and peasants, of rich and poor, of bond and free, of male and female, of young and old, of Jews and Gentiles, men of all nations, and races, from north to south, and from east to west.

2. THE GOSPEL IS FOR JEWS AND GENTILES ALIKE

In some instances the word ‘all’ is used in order to teach that the gospel is for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews. Through the many centuries of their past history the Jews had, with few exceptions, been the exclusive recipients of God’s saving grace. They had greatly abused their privileges as the chosen people. They supposed that this same distinction would be kept up in the Messianic era, and they were always inclined to appropriate the Messiah exclusively to themselves. So rigid was the Pharisaic exclusivism that the Gentiles were called strangers, dogs, common, unclean; and it was not lawful for a Jew to keep company with or have any dealings with a Gentile (John 4:9; Acts 10:28; 11:3).

The salvation of the Gentiles was a mystery which had not been made known in other ages (Eph. 3:4-6; Col. 1:27). It was for that reason that Peter was taken to task by the Church at Jerusalem after he had preached the Gospel to Cornelius, and we can almost hear the gasp of wonder in the exclamation of the leaders when after Peter’s defense they said, ‘Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life,’ Acts 11:18. To understand what a revolutionary idea this was, read Acts 10:1’11:18. Consequently this was a truth which it was then peculiarly necessary to enforce, and it was brought out in the fullest and strongest terms. Paul was to be a witness ‘unto all men,’ that is, to Jews and Gentiles alike, of what he had seen and heard, Acts 22:15. As used in this sense the word ‘all’ has no reference to individuals, but means mankind in general.

3. THE TERM ‘WORLD’ IS USED IN VARIOUS SENSES

When it is said that Christ died ‘not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world,’ I John 2:2, or that He came to ‘save the world,’ John 12:47, the meaning is that not merely Jews but Gentiles also are included in His saving work; the world as a world or the race as a race is to be redeemed. When John the Baptist said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!’ he was not giving a theological discourse to saints, but preaching to sinners; and the unnatural thing then would have been for him to have discussed Limited Atonement or any other doctrine which could have been understood only by saints. We are told that John the Baptist ‘came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him,’ John 1:7. But to say that John’s ministry afforded an opportunity for every human being to have faith in Christ would be unreasonable. John never preached to the Gentiles. His mission was to make Christ ‘manifest to Israel,’ John 1:31; and in the nature of the case only a limited number of the Jews could be brought to hear him.

Sometimes the term ‘world’ is used when only a large part of the world is meant, as when it is said that the Devil is ‘the deceiver of the whole world,’ or that ‘the whole earth’ wonders after the beast, Rev. 13:3. If in I John 5:19, ‘We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one,’ the author meant every individual of mankind, then he and those to whom he wrote were also in the evil one, and he contradicted himself in saying that they were of God. Sometimes this term means only a relatively small part of the world, as when Paul wrote to the new Christian Church at Rome that their faith was ‘proclaimed throughout the whole world,’ Rom. 1:8. None but believers would praise those Romans for their faith in Christ, and in fact the world at large did not even know that such a Church existed at Rome. Hence Paul meant only the believing world or the Christian Church, which was a comparatively insignificant part of the real world. Shortly before Jesus was born, ‘There went out a decree from C’sar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled,’ ‘and all went to enroll themselves,’ Luke 2:1, 3; yet we know that the writer had in mind only that comparatively small part of the world which was controlled by Rome. When it was said that on the day of Pentecost, ‘there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven,’ Acts 2:5, only those nations which were immediately known to the Jews were intended, for verses 9-11 list those which were represented. Paul says that the Gospel was ‘preached in all creation under heaven.’ Col. 1:23. The goddess Diana of the Ephesians was said to have been worshipped by ‘all Asia and the world,’ Acts 19:27. We are told that the famine which came over Egypt in Joseph’s time extended to ‘all the earth,’ and that ‘all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy grain,’ Gen. 41:57.

In ordinary conversation we often speak of the business world, the educational world, the political world, etc., but we do not mean that every person in the world is a businessman, or educated, or a politician. When we say that a certain automobile manufacturer sells automobiles to everybody, we do not mean that he actually sells to every individual, but that he sells to every one who is willing to pay his price. We may say of one lone teacher of literature in a city that he teaches everybody, ‘ not that everybody studies under him, but that all of those who study at all study under him. The Bible is written in the plain language of the people and must be understood in that way.

Verses like John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have eternal life,’ give abundant proof that the redemption which the Jews thought to monopolize is universal as to space. God so loved the world, not a little portion of it, but the world as a whole, that He gave His only begotten Son for its redemption. And not only the extensity, but the intensity of God’s love is made plain by the little adverb ‘so,’ ‘ God so loved the world, in spite of its wickedness, that He gave His only begotten Son to die for it. But where is the oft-boasted proof of its universality as to individuals? This verse is sometimes pressed to such an extreme that God is represented as too loving to punish anybody, and so full of mercy that He will not deal with men according to any rigid standard of justice regardless of their deserts. The attentive reader, by comparing this verse with other Scripture, will see that some restriction is to be placed on the word ‘world.’ One writer has asked, ‘Did God love Pharaoh? (Rom. 9:17). Did He love the Amalekites? (Ex. 17:14). Did He love the Canaanites, whom He commanded to be exterminated without mercy? (Deut. 20:16). Did He love the Ammonites and Moabites whom He commanded not to be received into the congregation forever? (Deut. 23:3). Does He love the workers of iniquity? (Ps. 5:5). Does He love the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, which He endures with much longsuffering? (Rom. 9:22). Did He love Esau? (Rom. 9:13).’

4. GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

Nor does the prophetic invitation, ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,’ Is. 55:1, and other to the same effect, contradict this view; for the majority of mankind are not thirsty but dead, ‘ dead in sin, hopeless and willing servants of Satan, and in no state to hunger and thirst after righteousness. The gracious invitation to come to Christ is rejected, not because there is anything outside their own person which prevents their coming, but because until they are graciously given a new birth through the agency of the Holy Spirit they have neither the will nor the desire to accept. It is God who gives this will and excites this desire in those who are predestined to life, Rom. 11:7, 8; 9:18. He that will, may come; but a person who is completely immersed in heathenism, for instance, has no chance to hear the Gospel offer and so cannot possibly come. ‘Faith cometh by hearing;’ and where there is no faith there can be no salvation. Neither can that person come who has heard the Gospel but who is still governed by principles and desires which cause him to hate it. He is a bondservant to sin and acts accordingly. He that will may escape from a burning building while the stairway is safe; but he that is asleep, or he that does not think the fire serious enough to flee from, hasn’t the will, and perishes in the flames. Says Clark,

Arminians are fond of quoting: ‘Whosoever will let him come,’ or ‘Whosoever believeth,’ implying that belief and decision are wholly the acts of man, and that this is an offset to sovereign election. True as these statements are they do not touch the point at issue. Miles deeper down than this lies the vital point; viz., how does a man become willing? If a man is willing he can certainly choose; but the sinful nature averse to God must be made willing, by God’s word, by God’s grace, by God’s Spirit, or by sovereign intervention.1

Strictly speaking, these are not divine offers indiscriminately made to all mankind, but are addressed to a chosen people and are incidentally heard by others.

If the words of I Tim. 2:4, that God ‘would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth,’ be taken in the Arminian sense it follows either that God is disappointed in His wishes, or that all men without exception are saved. Furthermore, the doctrine which imputes disappointment to Deity contradicts that class of Scripture passages which teach the sovereignty of God. His will in this respect has been the same through the centuries. And if He had willed that the Gentiles should be saved, why was it that He confined the knowledge of the way of salvation to the narrow limits of Judea? Surely no one will deny that He might as easily have made known His Gospel to the Gentiles as to the Jews. Where He has not provided the means we may be sure that He has not designed the ends. The reply of Augustine to those who advanced this objection in his day is worth quoting:

When our Lord complains that though he wished to gather the children of Jerusalem as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but she would not, are we to consider that the will of God was overpowered by a number of weak men, so that He who was Almighty God could not do what He wished or willed to do? If so, what is to become of that omnipotence by which He did whatsoever pleased Him in Heaven and in earth? Moreover, who will be found so unreasonable as to say that God cannot convert the evil wills of men, which He pleases, when He pleases, and as He pleases, to good? Now, when He does this, He does it in mercy; and when He doeth it not, in judgment He doeth it not.’ Verses such as I Tim. 2:4 it seems are best understood not to refer to men individually but as teaching the general truth that God is benevolent and that He does not delight in the sufferings and death of His creatures. It may be further remarked that if the universalistic passages are taken in an evangelical sense and applied as widely as the Arminians wish to apply them, they will prove universal salvation, ‘ a result which is contradicted by Scripture, and which in fact is not held by Arminians themselves.

As was stated in the chapter on Limited Atonement there is a sense in which Christ did die for mankind in general. No distinction is made as to age or country, character or condition. The race fell in Adam and the race taken in the collective sense is redeemed in Christ. The work of Christ arrested the immediate execution of the penalty of sin as it related to the whole race. His work also brings many temporal and physical blessings to mankind in general, and lays the foundation for the offer of the Gospel to all who hear it. These are admitted to be the results of His work and to apply to all mankind. Yet this does not mean that He died equally and with the same design for all.

It is true that some verses taken in themselves do seem to imply the Arminian position. This, however, would reduce the Bible to a mass of contradictions; for there are other verses which teach Predestination, Inability, Election, Perseverance, etc., and which cannot by any legitimate means be interpreted in harmony with Arminianism. Hence in these cases the meaning of the sacred writer can be determined only by the analogy of Scripture. Since the Bible is the word of God it is self-consistent. Consequently if we find a passage which in itself is capable of two interpretations, one of which harmonizes with the rest of the Scriptures while the other does not, we are duty bound to accept the former. It is a recognized principle of interpretation that the more obscure passages are to be interpreted in the light of clearer passages, and not vice versa. We have shown that the evidence which is brought forward in defense of Arminianism, and which at first sight appears to possess considerable plausibility, can legitimately be given an interpretation which harmonizes with Calvinism. In view of the many Calvinistic passages, and the absence of any genuine Arminian passages, we unhesitatingly assert that the Calvinistic system is the true system.

This is the true universalism of the Scriptures ‘ the universal Christianization of the world and the complete defeat of the forces of spiritual wickedness. This, of course, does not mean that every individual will be saved, for many are unquestionably lost. Just as in the salvation of the individual much possible service to Christ is lost and many sins are committed through the period of incomplete salvation, so it is in the salvation of the world. A considerable number are lost; yet the process of salvation is to end in a great triumph, and our eyes are yet to behold ‘the glorious spectacle of a saved world.’ The words of Dr. Warfield are very appropriate here:

The human race attains the goal for which it was created, and sin does not snatch it out of God’s hands; the primal purpose of God with it is fulfilled; and through Christ, the race of man, though fallen into sin, is recovered to God and fulfills its original destiny.2

So while Arminianism offers us a spurious universalism, which is at best a universalism of opportunity, Calvinism offers us the true universalism in the salvation of the race. And only the Calvinist, with his emphasis on the doctrines of sovereign Election and Efficacious Grace, can look to the future confidently expecting to see a redeemed world.


Notes

  1. ‘Syllabus of Systematic Theology’, p. 208.

  2. The Plan of Salvation, p. 131.


Author

Dr. Boettner was born on a farm in northwest Missouri. He was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; Th.M., 1929), where he studied Systematic Theology under the late Dr. C. W. Hodge. Previously he had graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, and had taken a short course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri. In 1933 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1957 the degree of Doctor of Literature. He taught Bible for eight years in Pikeville College, Kentucky. A resident of Washington, D.C., eleven years and of Los Angeles three years. His home was in Rock Port, Missouri. His other books include: Roman Catholicism, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium.



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