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(4 posts)

God Ordains the Means

Richard Phillips explains why Calvinism is not an impediment to evangelism: [D]ivine sovereignty does not stand against evangelism because God ordains not only the ends but also the means. He predestines some to be saved and commands us to preach to that end. If we do not preach and teach the gospel, then none will be saved. But God has ordained that some will be redeemed; He has chosen His people to be saved. So he has also ordained that we should preach and share the gospel, and therefore we will, exercising our human responsibility in accordance with His sovereign purpose. God commands all who are His to engage in evangelism; it is part of our obedience to Him. Packer explains: “We are not all called to be preachers; we are not all given equal opportunities or comparable abilities for personal dealing with men and women who need Christ. But we all have some evangelistic responsibility that we cannot shirk without failing in love both to our God and neighbor.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 171.

Is God Unjust?

And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” —Romans 9:10–13 Anticipating objections, the very next verse of Romans 9 says, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” But objections come anyway, as men are determined to impose their sense of justice upon God, declaring with authority what God would and wouldn’t do. “That’s not fair!” is presumed to pass as a theological argument. But God will speak for himself. Reformed Christians affirm that God elects some to salvation “unconditionally,” but this does not mean that He does so arbitrarily. Paul addresses this while confronting the very objection that predestination is unfair: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” Whenever we find that an objection we are raising is confronted directly in the Bible, we should be careful to heed the answer. Paul says, “By no means!” (Rom. 9:14). Paul’s answer to the question of fairness in unconditional election is important. Essentially, he replies, “Did you say justice?” If justice is what we want—if we want to be treated fairly by God—then the result will be the damnation of us all. No one who wants things to be fair with God can ever hope for heaven, for the simple reason that fairness demands that all sinners be damned. No, says Paul, when it comes to predestination—or salvation in general—the right category is mercy. And mercy, by definition, is sovereignly granted. It cannot be earned. It never is a matter of fairness, but always is a gift of grace. Paul elaborates in Romans 9:15–16: “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” This makes the essential point that when the Bible speaks of God’s predestination, or unconditional election, it is always joined to His mercy. Why is that? Paul’s illustration from the life of Moses makes it clear. God’s statement, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,” was made after the Israelites had soiled themselves with the golden calf while Moses was receiving the law on Mount Sinai. They all were under judgment. But in this hopeless situation, God told Moses that He would choose some to be objects of His mercy. This is exactly how it is with the entire human race. The Reformed doctrine of predestination does not teach that God looked down on a neutral mass of humanity and decided to send some to heaven and others to hell. God was not sitting in eternity with a pile of daisies, picking petals and musing, “I love him, I love him not!” Rather, God looked down from on high on humanity wholly lost in sin. When God predestined to salvation, He predestined sinners who were bound for judgment and were utterly opposed to His will. Donald Grey Barnhouse therefore states: “If we may say so, the doctrine of election was God’s secret weapon which made it possible for some men to be saved. If He had not retreated into His sovereignty . . . there would have been nothing but a curse and no one would have been saved.” —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 38–40.

Foreknowledge in Brief

A very basic explanation of the foreknowledge of God from R. C. Sproul: Throughout church history one of the most popular views of election or predestination has been the prescient view. Prescience means “pre-science” or “foreknowledge.” According to this view, since Paul in Romans speaks first of foreknowledge and then of predestination, obviously God’s action of election or predestination must somehow be constructed upon His foreknowledge. The prescient view says that God looks down the corridor of time and knows that some people will say yes to the offer of the gospel and some will say no; in other words, some will cooperate with the grace God makes available while others will reject it. On the basis of this prior knowledge, God then chooses or elects unto salvation those whom He knows in advance will respond to the gospel. That view cannot possibly be squared with Romans 8, not to mention Romans 9, nor can it explain the doctrine of election. It basically denies it or tries to get around it. The doctrine of sovereign election is odious to us by nature. The word “foreknowledge” comes before the words “election” and “predestination” in Romans 8 because God never elects nameless, faceless ciphers—He elects people. Therefore, those whom God elects, He knows. Predestination must be related to that divine foreknowledge as the basis upon which God knows what He intends to do. How does God, even in His transcendent majesty, have the ability to know the end from the beginning? How is it possible for God to have knowledge of future things? God does not have a crystal ball into which He gazes so that He can know in advance what decisions we will make; rather, God knows the future because He ordains it. He knows His own plan in advance, and He knows it certainly, because He has decreed it. Those decrees are not based on any human condition that God foreknows. Indeed, if God did look into the future to examine the responses that people will one day make, the only response of fallen human beings to His grace would be that of unbelief. People are not elect because they have faith, but they are elected to have faith. Faith itself is the result of God’s electing grace. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 26–27.

Before Arminius

Although the Arminian Remonstrance took place in the seventeenth century, the controversy goes back much farther than that. None of the doctrines bearing the “Arminian” or “Calvinist” labels originated with Arminius or Calvin. Arminianism has its roots in Pelagianism, the system put forth by the fifth century monk Pelagius (360–418). Calvinism is simply a reiteration of Augustinianism, so named after Augustine (354–430), bishop of Hippo (in modern-day Algeria), who, against Pelagius, defended the biblical doctrines of original sin and monergistic soteriology. Pelagianism diverged much farther from orthodoxy than Arminianism. While an Arminian may be a Christian (as R. C. Sproul once said, “just barely”), a Pelagian cannot. Pelagius taught that everyone was born in the same state as Adam, able to keep the law perfectly and believe the gospel. Augustine said, No, man has inherited Adam’s sin. Consequently, his very nature is so corrupted that, without divine grace—bestowed upon those whom the Father has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world—he is neither able nor willing to believe. Enter John Cassian (360–435), a monk from Gaul (France), who concocted a middle way between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Short of denying original sin as Pelagius had, Cassian taught that man, though corrupted by sin, retained the ability by the natural powers of his mind to take the first step towards conversion and, having taken that first step, would then gain the Spirit’s help in coming the rest of the way. This middle way was called Semi-Pelagianism, and “is not at all differing from . . . Arminianism.” Both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were rejected by the Reformers. Like Augustine, the Reformers held to the doctrines of the sovereignty of God, the total depravity of man, and unconditional election. As Boettner shows, they stood together in their view of predestination: It was taught not only by Calvin, but by Luther, Zwingli, Melanchthon (although Melanchthon later retreated toward the Semi-Pelagian position), by Bullinger, Bucer, and all of the outstanding leaders of the Reformation. While differing on some other points they agreed on this doctrine of Predestination and taught it with emphasis. Luther’s chief work, The Bondage of the Will, shows that he went into the doctrine as heartily as did Calvin himself. . . . Thus, it is evident that the five points of Calvinism, drawn up by the Synod of Dort in 1619, were by no means a new system of theology. On the contrary, as Dr. Wyllie asserts of the Synod, “It met at a great crisis and was called to review, re-examine and authenticate over again, in the second generation since the rise of the Reformation, that body of truth and system of doctrine which that great movement had published to the world.” —The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 11–13.


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