Starting Anew in 2017

st_paul_anglican_church_beautiful_sunset_hd-wallpaper-1606729I launched this blog in November 2014.  Between then and now I have published 250 posts.  Although there has been quite a variety of topics, there have been two primary areas of focus, those being:

  1. A deep study of the PC(USA) leadership, including their beliefs, actions, intentions and results
  2. Publishing two of my own works: The Language of Suffering and God’s Acts of Providence.

I completed publishing God’s Acts of Providence late this year.

Although the PC(USA) leadership will certainly continue in their apostasy (and worse), there is a point where continued criticism becomes redundant. That is, if someone after reading a significant portion of my work in this area remains untroubled, then they likely either are in general agreement with the leadership’s direction or are in an impregnable state of denial.  So, although the PC(USA) leadership will certainly continue in their present course, the marginal value of addressing this issue is decreasing.  I don’t doubt that some future outrage will tempt me to revisit this area, which I may find irresistible.  However, I hope that these unpleasant diversions are few and far in-between.

So, if I intend to leave behind the two primary areas of the past two-plus years, then where to focus going forward?  Although it’s anyone’s guess where this year’s events will lead, there is an issue upon which I will initially focus.

I have become convinced that the Progressive political movement is a major contributor to the shocking decline of what was once called Western Civilization.  It is by no means the only contributor, as there is much blame to go around across the political, social and religious spectrum.  That blame clearly extends to me as well.  That is, I do not consider myself to be someone who stands at a privileged moral position, but rather as an active participant whose faults and failures have certainly contributed to our current state.

But, that’s the reason I have decided to focus on the Progressives, be they secular or their enthusiastic religious collaborators.  For, the elite Progressives clearly do presume to occupy a privileged moral position; one from which they feel entitled to assault and destroy anyone or anything that they deem to be in opposition to their goals.  I have touched on this issue in previous posts, see herehere, here, here, and here, among others.

One of the most potent weapons in their arsenal is the ability to designate levels of “presumed moral authority” to groups and individuals.  Those who achieve the highest levels in this “pyramid” are able to act and speak with an impunity that is denied to almost everyone else.  However, you need not be a member of the top group to obtain that impunity.  No, regardless of your identity group, if you slavishly support whatever Progressive positions are currently held, then you too can speak and act with an impunity that approaches those holding the position of “presumed absolute moral authority” (this is particularly true for the caste of elite Progressive social engineers who determine the order in this pyramid).

Note, however, that the top pyramid position is not static.  That is, who occupies the favored position changes over time.  And so we are led to ask who is on top and just how a given group or person achieves that position.  Examination of these and associated questions may well shed significant light on how the Progressive movement has been able to achieve their impressive levels of civilizational destruction.

Christmas – Celebrating the Incarnation

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins

Ephesians 2:1


Jesus Christ, the Incarnation – all God and all man – submits to be Baptized.

There we are, “dead in our sins.”  God could have left us there, receiving our just punishment.  But, He, out of a love and mercy beyond our ability to comprehend, rather:

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:6-8

But even this beloved passage from Philippians doesn’t cover the entire depth of God’s humbling of Himself by the Incarnation to save us.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus

1 Timothy 2:5

It is not without cause, therefore, that Paul, when he would set forth Christ as the Mediator, distinctly declares him to be man. There is, says he, “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim. 2: 5). He might have called him God, or at least, omitting to call him God he might also have omitted to call him man; but because the Spirit, speaking by his mouth, knew our infirmity, he opportunely provides for it by the most appropriate remedy, setting the Son of God familiarly before us as one of ourselves. That no one, therefore, may feel perplexed where to seek the Mediator, or by what means to reach him, the Spirit, by calling him man, reminds us that he is near, nay, contiguous to us, inasmuch as he is our flesh. And, indeed, he intimates the same thing in another place, where he explains at greater length that he is not a high priest who “cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin,” (Heb. 4: 15).

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion II.12.1

How to conceive of such a marvelous act of grace?

We see that our salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4: 12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of Him” (1 Cor. 1:30). …. If we seek strength it lies in His dominion; if purity, in His conception; if gentleness, it appears in His birth. For by His birth He was made like us in all respects (Heb. 2:17) that He might learn to feel our pain (cf. Heb. 5:2) … in short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in Him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion II.16.19

Rejoice and be glad, for God is with us!

God’s Acts of Providence (60)

22-sun-and-cloud-photosMeditation on God’s Providence (17)

Final Thoughts

One question that burns bright is why have history and predestination?  It would appear that the latter renders the former irrelevant.  There are so many others!  It is here that we are wise to once again listen carefully to John Calvin.

First, then, let them remember that when they inquire into predestination, they penetrate the inmost recesses of Divine wisdom, where the careless and confident intruder will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity, but will enter a labyrinth from which he will find no way to depart. For it is unreasonable that man should scrutinize with impunity those things which the Lord has determined to be hidden in himself; and investigate, even from eternity, that sublimity of wisdom which God would have us to adore and not comprehend, to promote our admiration of His glory. The secrets of His will which He determined to reveal to us, He discovers in His word; and these are all that He foresaw would concern us or conduce to our advantage.

We should take the most serious note that the Apostle Paul, though fully convinced of God’s predestining action still participated in history with the greatest of energy.  If I had been there to ask all of my “but why” questions there’s no doubt in my mind that the Great Apostle would have finally answered something along the lines of:

But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? (Romans 9:20a).

Yes, indeed, who am I?  The plain fact is that our Lord God has made history and placed us within it.  The Scriptures clearly show that we are to be active participants in history’s unfolding.  Those who came to understand God’s eternal decrees did so in the humility of accepting a hard and perplexing conclusion while continuing to live and act in the world.

The simple fact is that there are places forever beyond the reach of our intellects.  With the continued wise application of theology, science, medicine, philosophy, economics and so forth we can continue to advance our well-being.  However, in order for any of this to truly be wise we must recover the truth that we are, all of us, limited creatures under the authority of the infinite Lord God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)


If you would like to download God’s Acts of Providence, go to the Document Repository page.

God’s Acts of Providence (59)

aloneMeditation on God’s Providence (16)

The Last Question

There is one last question that must be addressed:

Why bother to defend such an obviously outdated, unpopular and disturbing doctrine in the first place?

The answers are simple.  I do so because careful study of the Scriptures has convinced me that it must be true.  I do so because, believing, I have found unexpected, unexplainable peace and release.

For though

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

(Hebrews 10:31)

it is also

… the peace of God, which passes all understanding…

(Philippians 4:7)

that I have actually found there.

The road that I have traveled to arrive at this place has been hard.  For to walk down it has meant to progressively give up on my fantasies of self-sufficiency, of righteousness.  I have found that continually

He must increase, but I must decrease.

(John 3:30)

I still pathetically cling to the filthy rags that remain.  But before my soul’s eyes stands the hope that can never be shaken now that it is in God’s sure hands that my salvation rests.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

(Romans 8:29-30)


God’s Acts of Providence (58)

hard-roadMeditation on God’s Providence (15)

The Hard Road from Revulsion to Embrace (4)

Human Free Will (2)

Perhaps we should acknowledge that there are some things we are not sufficient in ourselves to decide and thus should in gratitude accept God’s act on our behalf.  N.L. Rice once again will be quoted.

Again, according to the doctrine of Divine foreordination, God is the author of all that is pure in the Christian’s heart. He saw him “dead in trespasses and sins.” He purposed to renew his heart, not because of anything in the sinner moving him thereto, nor because of any foreseen co-operation on his part, but simply of his sovereign mercy. So that the most devoted Christian, comparing his present condition and character with his former condition and character, must say emphatically with Paul:-“By the grace of God I am what I am.” And of all his good works he must say:-“I labored; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

With regard to the exertion of our wills in secondary matters, the fact that God foreordains ends need by no means imply our loss.  An initial, but substantial discussion of this issue occurred previously.

We are comfortable with the concept by which actions by individuals, organizations and nature influence human acts.  There are laws, social conventions, arguments, economic incentives, natural disasters and so many more means by which this is accomplished.  In all of these cases we recognize that the responses elicited are by agents having free wills.

How much more God, Who knows our every thought and motive, Who has ultimate control over creation itself, is capable of so ordering events such that the acting out of all of our free wills will lead to the end that He has ordained.

Loraine Boettner has developed these ideas in greater detail and scope [20].[1]

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 inter-act 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.

The Scriptures speak with great power and regularity about God’s desire for our right exercising of our free wills.  We must take these teachings with the greatest of seriousness.

[1] Loraine Boettner (March 7, 1901 to January 3, 1990) was an American theologian and author.  Boettner was born in Linden, Missouri. He received a Th.B. (1928) and Th.M. (1929) from Princeton Theological Seminary, and he received the honorary degrees of Doctor of Divinity (1933) and Doctor of Letters (1957). He was a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

God’s Acts of Providence (57)

hard-roadMeditations on God’s Providence (14)

The Hard Road from Revulsion to Embrace (3)

Human Free Will (1)

To begin, it must be openly admitted that the doctrine of predestination does take the issue of salvation outside the scope of human free will.  There will be no argument here seeking to obscure or soften this fact.  There is, though, the secondary issue of human exercise of their free wills as they go through life.  Here I will argue for free will’s continued existence, and for its value in God’s economy.

With regard to the removal of our wills from the issue of our salvation, much is often made of this consequence’s unfairness to us.  However, perhaps we Christians should consider more carefully, ponder more seriously the consequences of the opposite view for Christ and His Cross.  Doing so sheds an entirely different light on the situation.

If our salvation is dependent on our wills in any way, then it must be the case that Christ has left something unfinished in His work on our behalf.  That is, it is as if Christ has carried a heavy load a great distance for us, but we somehow must make the effort to move it across the finish line.  We can use any language to describe this work of ours, but it will always come back to the insufficiency of Christ’s work on our behalf, because, if there is anything that we must add then Christ has left something undone.

Stibbs has said it well.

The faith of the individual must be seen as having no value in itself, but as discovering value wholly and solely through movement towards and committal to Christ. It must be seen as simply a means of finding all one’s hope outside oneself in the person and work of another; and not in any sense an originating cause or objective ground of justification. For true faith is active only in the man who is wholly occupied with Christ; its practice means that every blessing is received from another. For this reason faith is exclusive and intolerant of company; it is only truly present when any and every contribution towards his salvation on the part of the believer or on the part of the Church is absolutely and unequivocally shut out. Justification must be seen and received as a blessing dependent wholly and exclusively on Christ alone, on what he is and what he has done—a blessing enjoyed simply through being joined directly to him, through finding one’s all in him, through drawing one’s all from him, without the interposition of any other mediator or mediating channel whatever.

So, when we insist on a theology that allows our wills a role in salvation we simultaneously are insisting that Christ’s work on the Cross be considered insufficient.

Martin Luther put it bluntly:

If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.

Is this what we, as followers of Christ, desire to do to Him (as if we could)?  Put that way, most would say no.  So, if the Scriptures appear to take all ground away for our own contribution to salvation, as they do, then perhaps we should embrace as opposed to reject.

Jonathan Edwards[1] (a strong supporter of Calvinist theology) is best known for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  But he nonetheless has written words about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ that shine wonderful light on His perfect love, his all-sufficient work on our behalf.

And here is not only infinite strength and infinite worthiness, but infinite condescension, and love and mercy, as great as power and dignity. If you are a poor, distressed sinner, whose heart is ready to sink for fear that God never will have mercy on you, you need not be afraid to go to Christ, for fear that he is either unable or unwilling to help you. Here is a strong foundation, and an inexhaustible treasure, to answer the necessities of your poor soul, and here is infinite grace and gentleness to invite and embolden a poor, unworthy, fearful soul to come to it. If Christ accepts of you, you need not fear but that you will be safe, for he is a strong Lion for your defense. And if you come, you need not fear but that you shall be accepted; for he is like a Lamb to all that come to him, and receives then with infinite grace and tenderness. It is true he has awful majesty, he is the great God, and infinitely high above you; but there is this to encourage and embolden the poor sinner, that Christ is man as well as God; he is a creature, as well as the Creator, and he is the most humble and lowly in heart of any creature in heaven or earth. This may well make the poor unworthy creature bold in coming to him. You need not hesitate one moment; but may run to him, and cast yourself upon him. You will certainly be graciously and meekly received by him. Though he is a lion, he will only be a lion to your enemies, but he will be a lamb to you. It could not have been conceived, had it not been so in the person of Christ, that there could have been so much in any Savior, that is inviting and tending to encourage sinners to trust in him. Whatever your circumstances are, you need not be afraid to come to such a Savior as this. Be you never so wicked a creature, here is worthiness enough; be you never so poor, and mean, and ignorant a creature, there is no danger of being despised, for though he be so much greater than you, he is also immensely more humble than you. Any one of you that is a father or mother, will not despise one of your own children that comes to you in distress: much less danger is there of Christ’s despising you, if you in your heart come to him.

[1] Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was a preacher, theologian, and missionary to Native Americans. Edwards “is widely acknowledged to be America’s most important and original philosophical theologian,”[3] and one of America’s greatest intellectuals.[4] Edwards’s theological work is very broad in scope, but he is often associated with his defense of Reformed theology, the metaphysics of theological determinism, and the Puritan heritage. Edwards played a critical role in shaping the First Great Awakening, and oversaw some of the first fires of revival in 1733-1735 at his church in Northampton, Massachusetts.


God’s Acts of Providence (56)

hard-roadMeditation on God’s Providence (13)

The Hard Road from Revulsion to Embrace (2)

God’s Responsibility

Placing human salvation[1] or damnation[2] entirely into God’s hands, and before the beginning of time, calls into question His love and justice.  We are part of a society that has placed fairness and self-actualization into foundational concepts.  Regardless of our intense arguments over their meaning and implementation, almost all political and social positions share these conceptual foundations.

The doctrine of predestination was likely never popular.  However, at least centuries ago, when most humans knew what it was to live under the authority of a king, they might have started a bit closer in intellectual framework.  Today we in the West begin from a position of radical estrangement, so powerfully does it appear to violate our most cherished values.

And yet there is another foundational concept of the West, attenuated and pushed aside, that remains crucial to this issue – truth.  When we think of truth nowadays it tends to be only in the realms of science, personal conduct and law.  Even in these areas its power has waned considerably.[3]

However, as Christians, we must admit that the truth about God’s nature and His action is indeed of fundamental importance.  We have confessed from the beginnings of Christ’s Church that it is in God’s Word that we are to look for truth about these matters.

3. What is the Word of God?

The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.[4]

4. How doth it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?

The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation.[5] But the Spirit of God, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.[6]

5. What do the Scriptures principally teach?

The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.[7]

But what if, after carefully searching and considering the Scriptures we conclude that the truth that they teach is indeed captured by the doctrine of predestination?  Would we not find ourselves at the same place as the other disciples when they received the hard teaching about the Bread of Life?[8]

Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.

(John 6:60-66)

Yes, the doctrine of predestination “is a hard saying” and “who can listen to it?”  But, if it is indeed true then are we not obligated as followers of Christ to accept it?  The issue is our willingness to follow wherever Christ leads, not following our own sense of justice and rightness.

Yes, it is potentially a disturbing thought that God would decide human salvation from before the beginning of time.  And yet, this is the Father who loved us enough to send His own Son to die for our sins.  This is the Son who set aside His glory to live among us, experiencing all of our pain, temptations and possibilities so that He could intercede on our behalf in love and understanding.  This is the Spirit that breaths life into us and brings us to saving faith where otherwise we would be forever dead in our sin.[9]  Can’t we place all, even human salvation, into this God’s hands in total confidence that He has decided in love, perfection and truth; regardless of if we understand?

And, if we do so give ourselves over to this doctrine’s care, are there true and fragrant benefits?  I say yes, yes, blessedly yes.  Let N.L. Rice speak this truth, first for the individual [10]

This doctrine greatly exalts the grace of God, whilst it deeply humbles the believer, and fills his heart with inexpressible gratitude. It proclaims “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will to men.” It will swell the sweet notes in heaven, when the head-stone of the spiritual temple shall be brought forth with shoutings of “Grace, Grace unto it.”

and then for the Church.

And indeed this very feature of the doctrine marks it as Divine. Examine all the errors that have ever marred the beauty and destroyed the moral power of the Church of Christ, and you will find in them all one great characteristic feature, viz: they diminish the guilt of man, and thus diminish their indebtedness to divine grace. But this doctrine humbles man in the very dust, as deserving of eternal misery, and exalts in the highest degree “the grace of God that bringeth salvation.” Its language is–“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.”[Psa. 115:1] Human nature has ever exalted itself, but this doctrine humbles human nature and exalts the grace of God. It takes from man all merit, and gives all the glory of his salvation to God. Need we better evidence that this doctrine is not of man, but of God?

[1] Psa 65:4; Mat 24:24; John 6:37; John 15:16; Act 13:48; Rom 8:28-30; Rom 9:10-24; Rom 11:5-7; Eph 1:3-6; Eph 1:11-12; 1The 1:4; 1The 5:9; 2The 2:13-14

[2] Exo 4:21; Rom 9:13; Rom 9:17-18; Rom 9:21-22; 1Pet 2:8

[3] Note the raise of “consensus-based” scientific conclusions, situational ethics and law, etc.

[4] Gal. 1:8, 9; Isa. 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; II Tim. 3:15–17.

[5] General Note. —At several points the Larger Catechism is more specific in its statements than in Scriptures. These statements are inferences from the Scriptures, or from statements based on the Scriptures, or from the experience and observation of the church. In such cases no texts are cited; but reference is made to this general note.

[6] John 16:13, 14; I Cor. 2:69.

[7] See “General Note” above.

[8] So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:53,54)

[9] As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1)

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins (Colossians 2:13)

[10] N.L. Rice, D.D., Pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church, 1850



God’s Acts of Providence (55)

hard-roadMeditation on God’s Providence (12)

The Hard Road from Revulsion to Embrace (1)

The reaction, even from many committed Christians, to the doctrine of predestination can be best captured by the word “revulsion.”  Use of such a strong expression is by no means meant to denigrate the response nor negate its reasons.  In fact, so antithetical is this doctrine to our natural reason that the most likely first reaction must be one of repulsion.

I believe that there are two related but distinct fundamental reasons for this response.

  1. The doctrine places the responsibility for each individual’s eternal disposition – salvation or damnation – squarely, solely and uniquely in God’s hands.
  2. The doctrine appears to fundamentally negate the doctrine of human free will.

With respect to God’s responsibility, the relationship to negation of free will is obvious.  However a fuller discussion of free will will be developed separately because of issues that include, but go beyond salvation.

God’s Acts of Providence (54)

1024px-caravaggio_incredulityMeditation on God’s Providence (11)

The Scale of Doubt and Faith (2)

My point is that, if God did indeed choose to create a faith that required the invasion of a divine act, called grace, by which it could become active and effective within an elect group, wouldn’t it be consistent to make that faith impossible to accept by reason alone?  I believe so.  For as much as the historical events argue for the amazing proof of God’s truth and power at work in Christ and the creation of His Church to the redeemed, they look like so much superstitious, irrational drivel to the unredeemed.

This is a hard conclusion for some Christians to accept, for it places them on the “wrong” side of our society’s norms, which stress rationality and science as the ultimate values for members in good standing.  The militant atheism at play now is simply the confident resurgence of latent doubt that has always been there, but that has been previously repressed in the West (and the United States particularly) due to the dominance of Christian mores.

The Apostle Paul knew well the radical disconnect between Christ’s Gospel and the expectations of the world.  He also knew what would be the response to such a proclaimed belief, and in 1 Corinthians 4:9,10, speaks down through the centuries to us.

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.  We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.  

We still desire greatly for the larger society to judge us as wise and honored in Christ.  They may appear to do so if they fear our power to effect their funding or otherwise impair their material well-being.  In some cases, the course of events intersecting with Christianity’s moral teaching may indeed yield admiration.

But deep down, at the hidden place where souls are laid bare in the unreachable depths of God’s eternal decree, we stand alone at the precipice of a mystery that no reason can penetrate.  Those who are saved unto eternal life find a strange but beautiful Truth growing within our minds, a power not of us transforming our very bodies and souls at work.

We should know better than to speak of anyone else as outside of God’s grace, for it is only for God and Him alone to know and act so as to bring this grace into lives as He sees fit.  But we do observe that what appears clear and powerfully true to us is nothing short of incomprehensible, if not folly, to some to whom we would like to communicate its presence.  The words of Scripture fall to the ground as empty fables.  We are as if living in different worlds.

And so, I end this section with the seemingly harsh words of John Calvin[1].  We call him harsh because he followed the logic of Scripture to where it apparently led, to the best of his ability.

J. I. Packer,[2] in his Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ[3] had this to say about Calvinistic theology:

Now the real nature of Calvinistic soteriology[4] becomes plain. It is no artificial oddity, nor a product of over-bold logic. Its central confession, that God saves sinners, that Christ redeemed us by His blood, is the witness both of the Bible and of the believing heart. The Calvinist is the Christian who confesses before men in his theology just what he believes in his heart before God when he prays. He thinks and speaks at all times of the sovereign grace of God in the way that every Christian does when he pleads for the souls of others, or when he obeys the impulse of worship which rises unbidden within him, prompting him to deny himself all praise and to give all the glory of his salvation to his Saviour. Calvinism is the natural theology written on the heart of the new man in Christ…

I’m not one bit against examining Calvin’s theology or the Confession’s doctrinal conclusions with Scripture as our guide.  What I do object to is the arbitrary walling off of certain theological lines of thought because they conflict with our own conceptions of justice.  To accept this position is to unseat God as king and relegate His Word to irrelevancy.

So, finally, Calvin may speak.

In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom He would admit to salvation, and whom He would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on His gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom He devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals His elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of His name and the sanctification of His Spirit, He affords an indication of the judgment that awaits them.

[1] John Calvin (July 10, 1509 – May 27, 1564) was a French Protestant theologian during the Protestant Reformation and was a central developer of the system of Christian theology called Calvinism or Reformed theology. In Geneva, his ministry both attracted other Protestant refugees and over time made that city a major force in the spread of Reformed theology. He is famous for his teachings and writings, in particular for his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

[2] James Innell Packer (born July 22, 1926) is a British-born Canadian Christian theologian in the low church Anglican and Reformed traditions. He currently serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is considered one of the most influential evangelicals in North America.

[3] 1958 reprint

[4] so·te·ri·ol·o·gy n

the Christian doctrine that salvation has been brought about by Jesus Christ [9]

God’s Acts of Providence (53)

iurMeditation on God’s Providence (10)

The Scale of Doubt and Faith (1)

What can be said about God’s choice to act in history as He did almost two thousand years ago?  What are the continuing implications and reverberations from this act today as the world continues to convulse in suffering and hope?

Looking at the events associated with the creation of the Church I am struck by the corresponding of dismal worldly weakness and overwhelming spiritual power at play.  Standing at today’s vantage I see the undeniable miracle of the Church’s birth and persistence along side of Christ’s tarrying and the church’s turmoil.  In-between (and still) is the story of faith, hope and love intermingled with terrible corruption and pride.

But when all is considered it’s as if the scale between doubt and faith is at all times calibrated in doubt’s favor.

Why do I make such a pessimistic statement, particularly in light of those who argue so forcefully for Christianity’s reasonableness, that is, the apologists?  Again, given the primary theme – the miracle of the Church’s birth – it might plausibly be concluded that I have been arguing for the acceptance of Christianity as a rational decision. In point of fact I am arguing quite the opposite – that then, in-between and now, there was and is not anywhere near a sufficient rational basis upon which to place one’s faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.

This is not to say that there is no rational basis.  For looking back on the story of the Church or our own lives reveals God’s hand at work in wonderful ways that have left tangible evidence.  The Christian apologist can point with confidence to this evidence and many have followed this trail right up to the brink of belief.

But we contend that it is only through the eyes of faith that this evidence becomes compelling, only through the invasion of the Divine that a conversion can actually take place.  We see this reality acknowledged time and again in the New Testament, where it is testified that the Holy Spirit’s (Ghost’s) power is the motive force behind conversion.

Q 58. How do we come to be made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured?

We are made partakers of the benefits which Christ hath procured, by the application of them unto us, which is the work especially of God the Holy Ghost.[1]

Q 59. Who are made partakers of redemption through Christ? [2]

Redemption is certainly applied, and effectually communicated, to all those for whom Christ hath purchased it;[2] who are in time by the Holy Ghost enabled to believe in Christ, according to the gospel.[3]

If God had desired that humankind should find Christianity to be a natural, rational faith then He might well have gone about it differently.  In the place of a humble, vulnerable Incarnation there might have been an awesome arrival of an impervious Messiah.  Rather than teaching that runs against our every impulse and challenges our deepest conceits there might have been comforting accommodations to our desires.  A regal coronation with heavenly displays might have replaced the mockery, humiliation, suffering and lonely death on a Cross.  Miracles might have been seen by the entire earth rather than by just a few in a tiny, insignificant province.  And the Church might have been founded upon shared visions to the most influential instead of just a few insignificant men and women whose credibility had been shattered by the crushing execution of their leader.

Since the beginnings, God might have intervened directly and visibly on regular occasions to keep His Church pure, unified and coherent. He might give rewards to followers in direct proportion to their adherence to his rules.  All his promises would be easy to understand and would come to pass like clockwork.  All of this it was in the power of God to do.  But He chose the opposite in every case.

We are bound to seek the answers as to why.  Mine begin with those vexing doctrines of predestination and election.  These doctrines are summarized in the following three question / answer pairs of the Larger Catechism and discussed at length by John Calvin (see Endnote [i]).

Q 12. What are the decrees of God?

God’s decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass in time,[4] especially concerning angels and men.

Q 13. What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?

God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory;[5] and, in Christ, hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof;[6] and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favor as he pleaseth) hath passed by, and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.[7]

Q 14. How doth God execute his decrees?

God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will.[8]

[1] John 1:12, 13; John 3:5, 6; Titus 3:5, 6.

[2] John 6:37, 39; John 10:15, 16; Rom. 8:29, 30.

[3] I Peter 1:2; II Thess. 2:13.

[4] Eph. 1:4, 11; Acts 4:27, 28; Ps. 33:11.

[5] I Tim. 5:21.

[6] Eph. 1:4–6; II Thess. 2:13, 14; I Peter 1:2.

[7] Rom. 9:17, 18, 21, 22; Jude 4; Matt. 11:25, 26; II Tim. 2:20.

[8] Eph. 1:11; I Peter 1:1, 2.

[i] John Calvin’s great theological work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion was published, and expanded, in a number of Latin and French editions. (In fact it was among the first serious texts to be published in French). The text below is from the chapter on predestination. The emphasis on this doctrine (which was also held by Luther) became one of the distinctive marks of Calvinism.

THE covenant of life not being equally preached to all, and among those to whom it is preached not always finding the same reception, this diversity discovers the wonderful depth of the Divine judgment. Nor is it to be doubted that this variety also follows, subject to the decision of God’s eternal election. If it be evidently the result of the Divine will, that salvation is freely offered to some, and others are prevented from attaining it—this immediately gives rise to important and difficult questions, which are incapable of any other explication, than by the establishment of pious minds in what ought to be received concerning election and predestination—a question, in the opinion of many, full of perplexity; for they consider nothing more unreasonable, than that, of the common mass of mankind, some should be predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction. But how unreasonably they perplex themselves will afterwards appear from the sequel of our discourse. Besides, the very obscurity which excites such dread, not only displays the utility of this doctrine, but shows it to be productive of the most delightful benefit. We shall never be clearly convinced as we ought to be, that our salvation flows from the fountain of God’s free mercy, till we are acquainted with His eternal election, which illustrates the grace of God by this comparison, that He adopts not all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what He refuses to others.

Ignorance of this principle evidently detracts from the Divine glory, and diminishes real humility. But according to Paul, what is so necessary to be known, never can be known, unless God, without any regard to works, chooses those whom He has decreed. “At this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise, grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise, work is no more work.” If we need to be recalled to the origin of election, to prove that we obtain salvation from no other source than the mere goodness of God, they who desire to extinguish this principle, do all they can to obscure what ought to be magnificently and loudly celebrated, and to pluck up humility by the roots. In ascribing the salvation of the remnant of the people to the election of grace, Paul clearly testifies, that it is then only known that God saves whom upon which there can be no claim. They who shut the gates to prevent anyone from presuming to approach and taste this doctrine, do no less injury to man than to God; for nothing else will be sufficient to produce in us suitable humility, or to impress us with a due sense of our great obligations to God. Nor is there any other basis for solid confidence, even according to the authority of Christ, who, to deliver us from all fear, and render us invincible amidst so many dangers, snares, and deadly conflicts, promises to preserve in safety all whom the Father has committed to His care.

Whence we infer, that they who know not themselves to be God’s peculiar people will be tortured with continual anxiety; and therefore, that the interest of all believers, as well as their own, is very badly consulted by those who, blind to the three advantages we have remarked, would wholly remove the foundation of our salvation. And hence the Church rises to our view, which otherwise, as Bernard justly observes, could neither be discovered nor recognized among creatures, being in two respects wonderfully concealed in the bosom of a blessed predestination, and in the mass of a miserable damnation. But before I enter on the subject itself, I must address some preliminary observations to two sorts of persons. The discussion of predestination—a subject of itself rather intricate—is made very perplexed, and therefore dangerous, by human curiosity, which no barriers can restrain from wandering into forbidden labyrinths, and soaring beyond its sphere, as if determined to leave none of the Divine secrets unscrutinized or unexplored. As we see multitudes everywhere guilty of this arrogance and presumption, and among them some who are not censurable in other respects, it is proper to admonish them of the bounds of their duty on this subject. First, then, let them remember that when they inquire into predestination, they penetrate the inmost recesses of Divine wisdom, where the careless and confident intruder will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity, but will enter a labyrinth from which he will find no way to depart. For it is unreasonable that man should scrutinize with impunity those things which the Lord has determined to be hidden in himself; and investigate, even from eternity, that sublimity of wisdom which God would have us to adore and not comprehend, to promote our admiration of His glory. The secrets of His will which He determined to reveal to us, He discovers in His word; and these are all that He foresaw would concern us or conduce to our advantage.

II. “We are come into the way of faith,” says Augustine; “let us constantly pursue it. It conducts into the king’s palace, in which are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. For the Lord Christ Himself envied not His great and most select disciples when He said, ‘I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.’ We must talk, we must improve, we must grow, that our hearts may be able to understand those things of which we are at present incapable. If the last day finds us improving, we shall then learn what we never could learn in the present state.” If we only consider that the word of the Lord is the only way to lead us to an investigation of all that ought to be believed concerning Him, and the only light to enlighten us to behold all that ought to be seen of Him, this consideration will easily restrain and preserve us from all presumption. For we shall know that when we have exceeded the limits of the word, we shall get into a devious and darksome course, in which errors, slips, and falls, will often be inevitable. Let us, then, in the first place, bear in mind, that to desire any other knowledge of predestination than what is unfolded in the word of God, indicates as great folly, as a wish to walk through unpassable roads, or to see in the dark. Nor let us be ashamed to be ignorant of some things relative to a subject in which there is a kind of learned ignorance. Rather let us abstain with cheerfulness from the pursuit of that knowledge, the affectation of which is foolish, dangerous, and even fatal. But if we are stimulated by the wantonness of intellect, we must oppose it with a reflection calculated to repress it, that as “it is not good to eat much honey, so for men to search their own glory, is not glory.” For there is sufficient to deter us from that presumption, which can only precipitate us into ruin.

III. Others, desirous of remedying this evil, will have all mention of predestination to be as it were buried; they teach men to avoid every question concerning it as they would a precipice. Though their moderation is to be commended, in judging that mysteries ought to be handled with such great sobriety, yet, as they descend too low, they have little influence on the mind of man, which refuses to submit to unreasonable restraints. To observe, therefore, the legitimate boundary on this side also, we must recur to the word of the Lord, which affords a certain rule for the understanding. For the Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which, as nothing necessary and useful to be known is omitted, so nothing is taught which is not beneficial to know. Whatever, therefore, is declared in the Scripture concerning predestination, we must be cautious not to withhold from believers, lest we appear either to defraud them of the favor of their God, or to reprove and censure the Holy Spirit for publishing what it would be useful by any means to suppress. Let us, I say, permit the Christian man to open his heart and his ears to all the discourses addressed to him by God, only with this moderation, that as soon as the Lord closes his sacred mouth, he shall also desist from further inquiry. This will be the best barrier of sobriety, if in learning we not only follow the leadings of God, but as soon as he ceases to teach, we give up our desire of learning. Nor is the danger they dread, sufficient to divert our attention from the oracles of God. It is a celebrated observation of Solomon, that “it is the glory of God to conceal a thing.” But, as both piety and common sense suggest that this is not to be understood generally of every thing, we must seek for the proper distinction, lest we content ourselves with brutish ignorance under the pretext of modesty and sobriety. Now, this distinction is clearly expressed in a few words by Moses “The secret things,” he says, “belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” For we see how he enforces on the people attention to the doctrine of the law only by the celestial decree, because it pleased God to promulgate it; and restrains the same people within those limits with this single reason, that it is not lawful for mortals to intrude into the secrets of God.

IV. Profane persons, I confess, suddenly lay hold of something relating to the subject of predestination, to furnish occasion for objections, cavils, reproaches, and ridicule. But if we are frightened from it by their impudence, all the principal articles of the faith must be concealed, for there is scarcely one of them which such persons as these leave unviolated by blasphemy. The refractory mind will discover as much insolence, on hearing that there are three persons in the Divine essence, as on being told, that when God created man, He foresaw what would happen concerning him. Nor will they refrain from derision on being informed that little more than five thousand years have elapsed since the creation of the world. They will ask why the power of God was so long idle and asleep. Nothing can be advanced which they will not endeavor to ridicule. Must we, in order to check these sacrileges, say nothing of the Divinity of the Son and Spirit, or pass over in silence the creation of the world? In this instance, and every other, the truth of God is too powerful to dread the detraction of impious men; as is strenuously maintained by Augustine, in his treatise on the Perseverance of the Faithful. We see the false apostles, with all their defamation and accusation of the true doctrine of Paul, could never succeed to make him ashamed of it. Their assertion, that all this discussion is dangerous to pious minds, because it is inconsistent with exhortations, shakes their faith, and disturbs and discourages the heart itself, is without any foundation. Augustine admits, that he was frequently blamed, on these accounts, for preaching predestination too freely; but he readily and amply refutes them.

But as many and various absurdities are crowded upon us here, we prefer reserving every one to be refuted in its proper place. I only desire this general admission, that we should neither scrutinize those things which the Lord has left concealed, nor neglect those which He has openly exhibited, lest we be condemned for excessive curiosity on the one hand, or for ingratitude on the other. For it is judiciously remarked by Augustine, that we may safely follow the Scripture, which proceeds as with the pace of a mother stooping to the weakness of a child. that it may not leave our weak capacities behind. But persons who are so cautious or timid, as to wish predestination to be buried in silence, lest feeble minds should be disturbed,-with what pretext, I ask, will they gloss over their arrogance, which indirectly charges God with foolish inadvertency, as though He foresaw not the danger which they suppose they have had the penetration to discover. Whoever, therefore, endeavors to raise prejudices against the doctrine of predestination, openly reproaches God, as though something had inconsiderately escaped from Him that is pernicious to the Church.

V. Predestination, by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no one, desirous of the credit of piety, dares absolutely to deny. But it is involved in many cavils, especially by those who make foreknowledge the cause of it. We maintain, that both belong to God; but it is preposterous to represent one as dependent on the other. When we attribute foreknowledge to God, we mean that all things have ever been, and perpetually remain, before His eyes, so that to His knowledge nothing in future or past, but all things are present; and present in such a manner, that He does not merely conceive of them from ideas formed in His mind, as things remembered by us appear present to our minds, but really beholds and sees them as if actually placed before Him. And this foreknowledge extends to the whole world, and to all the creatures. Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which He has determined in Himself what would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is fore-ordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestinated either to life or to death. This God has not only testified in particular persons, but has given a specimen of it in the whole posterity of Abraham, which should evidently show the future condition of every nation to depend upon His decision. “When the Most High divided the nations, when he separated the sons of Adam, the Lord’s portion was His people; Jacob was the lot of His inheritance.”

The separation is before the eyes of all: in the person of Abraham, as in the dry trunk of a tree, one people is peculiarly chosen to the rejection of others: no reason for this appears, except that Moses, to deprive their posterity of all occasion of glorying, teaches them that their exaltation is wholly from God’s gratuitous love. He assigns this reason for their deliverance, that “He loved their fathers, and chose their seed after them.” More fully in another chapter: “The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; but because the Lord loved you.” He frequently repeats the same admonition: “Behold, the heaven is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is. Only the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and He chose their seed after them.” In another place, sanctification is enjoined upon them, because they were chosen to be a peculiar people. And again, elsewhere, love is asserted to be the cause of their protection. It is declared by the united voice of the faithful, “He hath chosen our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob, whom He loved.” For the gifts conferred on them by God, they all ascribe to gratuitous love, not only from a consciousness that these were not obtained by any merit of theirs, but from a conviction, that the holy patriarch himself was not endued with such excellence as to acquire the privilege of so great an honor for himself and his posterity. And the more effectually to demolish all pride, he reproaches them with having deserved no favor, being “a stiff-necked and rebellious people.” The prophets also frequently reproach the Jews with the unwelcome mention of this election, because they had shamefully departed from it. Let them, however, now come forward, who wish to restrict the election of God to the desert of men, or the merit of works. When they see one nation preferred to all others—when they hear that God had no inducement to be more favorable to a few, and ignoble, and even disobedient and obstinate people—will they quarrel with him because he has chosen to give such an example of mercy? But their obstreperous clamors will not impede this work, nor will the reproaches they hurl against Heaven, injure or affect his justice; they will rather recoil upon their own heads. Lo, this principle of the gracious covenant, the Israelites are also recalled whenever thanks are to be rendered to God, or their hopes are to be raised for futurity. “He hath made us, and not we ourselves,” says the Psalmist: “we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” It is not without reason that the negation is added, “not we ourselves,” that they may know that of all the benefits they enjoy, God is not only the Author, but derived the cause from Himself, there being nothing in them deserving of such great honor. He also enjoins them to be content with the mere good pleasure of God, in these words: “O ye seed of Abraham His servant, ye children of Jacob His chosen.” And after having recounted the continual benefits bestowed by God as fruits of election, he at length concludes that He had acted with such liberality, “because He remembered His covenant.”

Consistent with this doctrine is the song of the whole Church: “Thy right hand, and Thine arm, and the light of Thy countenance, gave our fathers the land, because Thou hadst a favor unto them.” It must be observed that where mention is made of the land, it is a visible symbol of the secret separation, which comprehends adoption. David, in another place, exhorts the people to the same gratitude: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance.” Samuel animates to a good hope: “The Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake; because it hath pleased the Lord to make you His people.” David, when his faith is assailed, thus arms himself for the conflict: “Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest, and causest to approach unto Thee; he shall dwell in Thy courts.” But since the election hidden in God has been confirmed by the first deliverance, as well as by the second and other intermediate blessings, the word choose is transferred to it in Isaiah: “The Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel;” because, contemplating a future period, He declares that the collection of the residue of the people, whom He had appeared to have forsaken; would be a sign of the stable and sure election, which had likewise seemed to fail. When He says also, in another place, “I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away,” He commends the continual course of His signal liberality and paternal benevolence. The angel, in Zachariah, speaks more plainly: “The Lord shall choose Jerusalem again;” as though His severe chastisement had been a rejection, or their exile had been an interruption of election; which, nevertheless, remains inviolable, though the tokens of it are not always visible.

VI. We must now proceed to a second degree of election, still more restricted, or that in which the Divine grace was displayed in a more special manner, when of the same race of Abraham God rejected some, and by nourishing others in the Church, proved that He retained them among His children. Israel at first obtained the same station as his brother Isaac, for the spiritual covenant was equally sealed in him by the symbol of circumcision. He is cut off; afterwards Esau; lastly, an innumerable multitude, and almost all Israel. In Isaac the seed was called; the same calling continued in Jacob. God exhibited a similar example in the rejection of Saul, which is magnificently celebrated by the Psalmist: “He refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah ;” and this the sacred history frequently repeats, that the wonderful secret of Divine grace may be more manifest in that change. I grant, it was by their own crime and guilt that Ishmael, Esau, and persons of similar characters, fell from the adoption; because the condition annexed was, that they should faithfully keep the covenant of God, which they perfidiously violated. Yet it was a peculiar favor of God, that He deigned to prefer them to other nations; as it is said in the Psalms: “He hath not dealt so with any nation; and so for His judgments, they have not known them.” But I have justly said that here are two degrees to be remarked; for in the election of the whole nation, God has already shown that in His mere goodness He is bound by no laws, but is perfectly free, so that none can require of Him an equal distribution of grace, the inequality of which demonstrates it to be truly gratuitous. Therefore Malachi aggravates the ingratitude of Israel, because, though not only elected out of the whole race of mankind, but also separated from a sacred family to be a peculiar people, they perfidiously and impiously despised God their most beneficent Father. “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.” For God takes it for granted, since both were sons of a holy father, successors of the covenant, and branches from a sacred root, that the children of Jacob were already laid under more than common obligations by their admission to that honor; but Esau, the first-born, having been rejected, and their father, though inferior by birth, having been made the heir, He proves them guilty of double ingratitude, and complains of their violating this two-fold claim.

VII. Though it is sufficiently clear, that God, in his secret counsel, freely chooses whom He will, and rejects others, His gratuitous election is but half displayed till we come to particular individuals, to whom God not only offers salvation, but assigns it in such a manner, that the certainty of the effect is liable to no suspense or doubt. These are included in that one seed mentioned by Paul; for though the adoption was deposited in the hand of Abraham, yet many of his posterity being cut off as putrid members, in order to maintain the efficacy and stability of election, it is necessary to ascend to the head, in whom their heavenly Father has bound His elect to each other, and united them to Himself by an indissoluble bond. Thus the adoption of the family of Abraham displayed the favor of God, which He denied to others; but in the members of Christ there is a conspicuous exhibition of the superior efficacy of grace; because, being united to their head, they never fail of salvation. Paul, therefore, justly reasons from the passage of Malachi which I have just quoted, that where God, introducing the covenant of eternal life, invites any people to Himself, there is a peculiar kind of election as to part of them, so that he does not efficaciously choose all with indiscriminate grace. The declaration, “Jacob have I loved,” respects the whole posterity of the patriarch, whom the prophet there opposes to the descendants of Esau.

Yet this is no objection to our having in the person of one individual a specimen of the election, which can never fail of attaining its full effect. These, who truly belong to Christ, Paul correctly observes, are called “a remnant;” for experience proves, that of a great multitude the most part fall away and disappear, so that often only a small portion remains. That the general election of a people is not always effectual and permanent, a reason readily presents itself, because, when God covenants with them, He does not also give the spirit of regeneration to enable them to preserve in the covenant to the end; but the eternal call, without the internal efficacy of grace. which would be sufficient for their preservation, is a kind of medium between the rejection of all mankind and the election of the small number of believers. The whole nation of Israel was called “God’s inheritance,” though many of them were strangers; but God, having firmly covenanted to their Father and Redeemer, regards that gratuitous favor rather than the defection of multitudes; by whom His truth was not violated, because His preservation of a certain remnant to Himself, made it evident that His calling was without repentance. For God’s collection of a Church for himself, from time to time, from the children of Abraham, rather than from the profane nations, was in consideration of his covenant, which, being violated by the multitude, He restricted to a few, to prevent a total failure. Lastly, the general adoption of the seed of Abraham was a visible representation of a greater blessing, which God conferred on the few out of the multitude.

This is the reason that Paul so carefully distinguishes the descendants of Abraham according to the flesh, from His spiritual children called after the example of Isaac. Not that the mere descent from Abraham was a vain and unprofitable thing, which could not be asserted without depreciating the covenant; but because to the latter alone the immutable counsel of God, in which He predestinated whom He would, was of itself effectual to salvation. But I advise my readers to adopt no prejudice on either side, till it shall appear from adduced passages of Scripture what sentiments ought to be entertained. In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom He would admit to salvation, and whom He would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on His gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom He devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals His elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of His name and the sanctification of His Spirit, He affords an indication of the judgment that awaits them. Here I shall pass over many fictions fabricated by foolish men to overthrow predestination. It is unnecessary to refute things which, as soon as they are advanced, sufficiently prove their own falsehood. I shall dwell only on these things which are subjects of controversy among the learned, or which may occasion difficulty to simple minds, or which impiety speciously pleads in order to stigmatize the Divine justice.


From: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. V: 9th to 16th Centuries, pp.    141-150.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

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© Paul Halsall June1998