Is there anything we can do to be saved? This is not the same as the discussion of faith only or faith and works. This question is, “who is responsible for the decision of who is saved and who is lost?”. “Are we able to choose salvation, or must salvation be chosen for us?” is the question. extent of the doctrine in controversy. It is not that God has from all eternity ordained, but that he has unchangeably ordained; not some things, but whatsoever cometh to pass — every thing.
Surely, the ordinances or decrees of God are broken every day. He has ordained that men shall not kill, yet they do kill. He has ordained that they shall not steal, yet they do steal. He has ordained that they shall not bear false witness, yet they swear falsely every day. God compels no man to keep His ordinances, but He will visit upon him merited punishment if he does not keep them. Paul tells us that “the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” Rom. xiii:1, 2.
Predestination has been prevalent among many groups. There are prominent doctrines taught by those for whose learning and piety we have the most profound respect, which; if true, render it wholly unnecessary, it seems to us, to spend time or labor in instructing the sinner with regard to his duty either to God or man.
That we may place these doctrines properly, without any reasonable probability of misrepresenting them, we beg permission to make a few quotations from the fountain whence they flow.
“God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” Presbyterian Confession of Faith, chap. iii, sec. 1.
To the same import we have the answer to Question 12 (Larger Catechism), as follows: “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 fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass, especially concerning angels and men.
Now, if the doctrine here set forth is true, we think it impossible for man to err. Whatever he does, is in keeping with and brought about by God’s fore-ordination or decree, and therefore can not be wrong.
If he does any thing — it matters not what — whether good or bad — if God has ordained every thing, He has ordained that thing. If it comes to pass that a man lies, God has not only ordained that he should lie, but He has unchangeably ordained it. If it comes to pass that a man steals, God has unchangeably ordained that, too. If it comes to pass that a man kills his neighbor, God has unchangeably ordained that, also. It did come to pass that Cain killed his brother: why, then, did God put a curse upon him for it? It was not only in accordance with the most wise and holy counsel of His will, but He had freely and unchangeably ordained that Cain should do the very thing for which He cursed him!!! Can any sane man believe it? God has said: “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Ex. xx:13-16. As God has thus plainly forbidden things which do come to pass, it can not be true that He has unchangeably ordained them. That God should unchangeably ordain that a certain thing should come to pass, and at the same time positively forbid it, is an inconsistency entirely incompatible with His divine character, especially when we add to it the thought that He threatens the guilty with endless punishment. Surely He, whose laws ever bear the impress of that infinite justice, goodness, love and mercy which characterize their Author, would not punish His dependent creature man in the rude flames of an angry hell forever for doing that which He had unchangeably ordained that he should do: “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” Ps. cxlv:9. “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works.” Ver. 17.
Therefore when the murderer stains his hands in the blood of his fellow, he can not take shelter under the doctrine of the creed by saying that God, in ordaining every thing that comes to pass, ordained that he should kill his neighbor, and thereby avoid the responsibility of the act and the punishment due his crime.
If He has unchangeably ordained every thing that comes to pass, then how can man change God’s unchangeable ordinance? and if he can not change it, surely no blame can attach to him for any thing he does.
There is evidence of God’s will being changed. Jonah 3:4 records God’s decree that Ninevah would be destroyed in 40 days. Yet the same chapter records that “God saw their works, that they had repented from their works…and he did it not.” II Kings 20:1 records God’s decree to King Hezekiah, “set thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live.” Yet God’s change in decree was changed. “I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears; behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord, and I will add unto thy days fifteen years.” (5-6).
The Lord said that the children of Judah had “built again the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.” Jer vii:31. “They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind.” Jer xix:5. If God fore- ordained every thing, He fore-ordained these things, for they came to pass; yet He says He did not command them, nor speak them, neither came they into His mind. Will the advocates of the doctrine please to enlighten the world as to how God fore-ordained things which never entered His mind?
There is a great deal of trouble on holding to the doctrine of predestination as it is often presented.
If the doctrine be true, the whole theory of sin, accountability, rewards, and punishments, in harmony with justice
and mercy, is to us utterly incomprehensible. Every act of man is but carrying out the immutable purposes of Jehovah. If every act of mankind is the will of Jehovah God, then there should be no reward or punishment neither should there be any feeling of responsibility or duty. If God ordained every action, he ordained the lost and the saved and God alone is responsible for the lost of Hell and the blessed of Heaven.
Predestination cannot be true. God is no respecter of persons–Acts 10:34. God does not will that any perish but all be saved: Titus 2:11; 1 Ti 2:3-4; 2 Pe 3:9. Whosoever will may come to God (John 3:16; Romans 14:18). We are responsible for our own eternal decision (Ezekiel 4:18ff; Romans 2:6; & Matthew 16:27). Those predestined to salvation are those who choose to be on the group of the saved by their character of faith (Ephesians 1:2-5; Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8).
UNCONDITIONAL PARTICULAR ELECTION AND REPROBATION
The concepts of unconditional particular election and reprobation are important areas of study for a proper understanding of God’s plan of salvation. In order to study the topic, let us see exactly what is taught:
“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men thus predestinated and fore-ordained are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions or causes moving him thereunto.” Confession of Faith, chap. 3, sees. 3, 4, 5.
These doctrines flow from the fountain dug in a false notion of God’s sovereign nature. God is sovereign. However, God’s sovereign choice was to allow mankind to choose whether they would be saved or lost. He has graciously provided Jesus as the means of sanctification which transfers whosoever will accept the faith from death to life.
Notice the results of this doctrine.
If these doctrines are true, then individuals are not responsible for their own actions, yet the Bible teaches that each will be judged for his own works–Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:12.
If these doctrines are true, then it is impossible to truly repent–Acts 17:30; Luke 13:3, 5.
If these doctrines are true then God is a respecter of persons–Acts 10:34-35; James 2:9.
If these doctrines are true, then it is impossible to choose salvation or condemnation. The Scriptures still urge mankind to choose salvation–Revelation 22:17.
If individuals have their eternal destiny foreordained in eternity, then to what class did these individuals belong?
Nadab and Abihu the priests who were executed for offering unauthorized fire before God.
Demas was at one time a servant of Christ, but forsook Paul “being in love with the present world.”
Ananias and Saphira were among the first converted to Christ, yet they died a liar’s death.
Saul of Tarsus claimed the title chief of sinners, yet he also was the most preeminent apostle.
An Christian in Corinth was to be “delivered unto Satan” in I Corinthians 5. However, in II Corinthians 2:5-12, Paul said the man should be forgiven and accepted.
Eternal destiny is not fixed by God, it is chosen by mankind by their submissive faith.
What does the Bible teach about election and reprobation?
Luke 8:4-15 records the parable of the soils and its explanation. The acceptance or rejection of individuals was based upon their acceptance or rejection of the Word not God’s foreordination.
Those who choose to be in Christ are those who are elect–John 3:16; Ephesians 1:3ff.
Election is the result of Biblical faith–Romans 10:17.
God’s elect must “work out their own salvation” (Philippians 2:12).
Those who are reprobate are those who stay away from or fall away from God–II Corinthians 13:5-7; Galatians 1:6-10.
If the Bible instructs men to exercise choice, then unconditional particular election and/or reprobation must be false.
Romans 10:16-17 demonstrates the choice of faith individuals must make when the Word is heard.
John 8:24 Jesus explains that the choice of faith is necessary to salvation.
I Corinthians 10:12 warns against those who think they stand to “take heed lest they fall”.
Acts 2:38 records commands to repent and be baptized. Three thousand obeyed, but many refused to obey.
Our Lord certainly understood the reality of human choice. Jesus knew who would choose salvation and who would choose condemnation. Mark 6:6 records that Jesus marveled at the unbelief of those in Nazareth. If their unbelief was foreordained of God, there would be no need for the one who knew all things to marvel. However, if God has given men and women the choice of life or death, then even God himself would marvel at those who chose death over live.
CALVINISTIC PROOF TEXTS EXAMINED
II Peter 3:9 teaches that “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all would accept repentance.” The passage teaches two things. First, God does not want anyone to “perish” (from apolesthai meaning to be destroyed). Second, God wants all people to repent (metanoian to change one’s mindset). The Bible does not contradict itself, so whatsoever is learned about the exertion of God’s will upon mankind it must admitted that God wants everyone to be saved and no one to be lost.
Yet Calvinism teaches that God has ordained the few of the elect to eternal life and the majority to eternal destruction. This is clearly not the same God whose will is revealed in II Peter 3:9. Whatever a passage teaches, it must be remembered that God wants every soul to be saved, and allows every soul to choose repentance or not to accept repentance.
GOD’S CHOICE OF INDIVIDUALS FOR CERTAIN WORKS DOES NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT UPON THEIR ETERNAL DESTINY. Ananias said to Saul, “The God of our fathers hath chosen thee” (Acts 13:14). For what was Saul chosen? To preach the Gospel of Christ to the Gentiles (Acts 14:15). Paul preached the Gospel to Jews without breaking God’s decree. God’s choice of Paul did not save him. God’s choice of Paul was for a special work.
The same could be said of men like Cyrus the king of Persia. Ezra 1:1 records that “the LORD stirred teh spirit of Cyrus…to build the house of the LORD.” This does not mean that Cyrus was a saved person, it does mean that God had a work for him to do. We see a similar theme in the life of John the Baptist. Luke’s first chapter records how God laid out the work of John as the forerunner of Christ. However, that does not mean that John had no choice in the matter. It also does not demand that John must be saved and could not be lost.
SOME SCRIPTURES POINT TO GOD’S CHOICE OF CHRISTIANS TO BE SAVED AS A CORPORATE BODY BUT NOT AS INDIVIDUALS. The New Testament speaks often of the “elect” and those who are “predestined” and those who are “called”. However, these words must be understood as being corporate in nature. They are referring to groups of individuals rather than to individuals themselves. God has chosen a group for salvation—Christians. He has not preordained who those Christians will be.
Acts 13:48 records “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” On the surface it may appear that God ordained certain people to eternal life and because of his decision they came to faith. However, notice the following observation by a Protestant scholar by the name of Lenski that the best translation of the term would be: “determined themselves”. Furthermore, notice that the Jews had thrust aside the Gospel and judged themselves unworthy of eternal life” (Acts 13:46). They made the decision to be lost. God did not make it for them. In the same way, the Gentiles made the decision to be saved. If God made that decision for them, then He would be a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) and God would have willed that some be lost (II Peter 3:9).
Romans 8:29 speaks of the foreknowledge of God, the predestined, and calling. However, notice that this is speaking of a group and not of individual persons. This verse is fixed in a discussion of suffering saints for whom all things work together for good. For those suffering saints, God extends comfort that he knew beforehand what they would have to endure, he has fixed the degree of their suffering to a limit which they can endure, and that he has called them to something greater–Heaven.
Romans 9 speaks of God’s sovereign choice. However, his choice was to form the Jewish people to be special in his sight, and then to allow all who would become Christians to enjoy the special kinship of his family. Romans 9:16 tells us “it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” It is possible that this verse alludes to the blessing of Isaac upon Jacob instead of Esau. Esau ran for the venison with which to secure the blessing, nevertheless Jacob obtained it because God had chosen his lineage to give birth to the Messiah. Truly, Christians are saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Yet faith is the most difficult work of all. Human will or exertion can only lead to filthy rags instead of righteousness. Yet the believer whose life is characterized by obedience is promised the mercy of Almighty God (Heb. 5:9; Jn. 3:36; II Thess. 1:8; I Pet. 4:17; I Jn. 5:2).
Romans 9:20-23 alludes to Jeremiah 18:1-10 and God’s visual aid of the potter and the clay. The clay failed, and the potter “made it again”. So it was with Israel. The physical Israel had failed, and God chose to establish the promise to Abraham in spiritual Israel (Christianity) instead of physical Israel (Judaism). This passage does not teach that God forms some people for destruction and others to glory.
II Timothy 2:20-21 mentions vessels of gold and of silver, and those of wood and earth. These are vessels of honor and dishonor. Yet still the basis of their work is “if a man therefore purge himself” not purged by God directly, but purge himself.”
Ephesians 1-4:6 is often seen as proof that God chose or elected certain individuals through predestination. However, examination of these verses shows that the chosen are those who are in Christ. It is a corporate group of believers who are chosen to be saved. Anyone who chooses to be part of that group is part of the chosen.
II Thessalonians 2:13-14 is often used as a Calvinistic proof text because it says, “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation.” Yet this choosing was “through the sanctification of the Spirit” (see Titus 3:5 and Acts 2:38) and their “belief in the truth” (see Romans 10:6-17).
I Peter 1:2 addresses the letter to the “elect according to the foreknowledge of God.” This just shows that the election of Christians is according to the foreknowledge of God. Christianity is no afterthought. It is the manifestation of the eternal purpose of God (Eph. 3:10). Christians are elect because they chose to be born into the family of God.
Revelation 17:9 speaks of those whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” God’s knowledge of who will be lost and saved is not responsible for man’s choice in the matter. Revelation 3:5 tells us that God will not blot out the name of the one who overcomes, but what would become of the one who does is overcome with the world? Isn’t the implication that his name would be blotted out? (see Revelation 22:18-19).
TOTAL HEREDITARY DEPRAVITY
A “Confession of Faith” stipulates the following:
By this sin (eating the forbidden fruit) they (our first parents) fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of the soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity descending from them in every generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.”
“Man, by his fall into sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation…is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself.”
If this is correct, it states that individuals cannot get worse than wholly defiled in all their faculties which they are at birth.
EVIDENCE FROM THE GARDEN THAT DISPROVES THIS DOCTRINE
If all sin proceeds from this one transgression, then from whence did Adam and Eve sin?
If they were totally depraved the moment after the first sin, then why were they still yet able to speak with God and be in his presence?
If all their descendants are totally depraved, then how could Able offer an acceptable sacrifice to God?
If Able was “saved” but Cain remained “totally depraved from birth”, then how was Cain able to offer acceptable sacrifice to God before the infamous one?
If all their descendants are totally depraved, then why did Cain wait so long to kill Able?
If this is true, then Cain was no more sinful than Abel.
If the sin in the Garden was “ordained” or “permitted” by God for his own glory (Chp. 6, sec. 1 of Confession) then: 1) how could God punish people for what He caused?; 2) how could God ordain or permit sin without infringing His own holiness?; 3) why does Gen. 6:5-6 record that “God saw the wickedness of man was great….and it repented The Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.”
WHY THIS DOCTRINE CANNOT BE TRUE
We have observed individuals who have no profession of Christianity who are very sacrificial in their service to others.
II Timothy 3:13 tells us that “evil men and seducers shall grow worse and worse.” They are not born as bad as they possibly could be.
To allow for Total Hereditary Depravity would demand we adjust our image of God who gave his Son for our behalf and desired not to judge the world but to save it (John 3:16-17).
Luke 18:15-16 Jesus said the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like little children, yet Calvinism would have us believe that means the Kingdom belongs to totally depraved people.
The same Confession states that “this corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated”. What does that say about salvation?
We are told that not only the consequences of the first sin remain, but also the guilt of the first sin as well. Yet the Bible teaches that the soul that sins shall die–Ezekiel 18. The Bible teaches that each one will be judged according to his own works–I Peter 1:17, “God judges impartially according to each man’s works.”
TERRIBLE CONSEQUENCES OF THE DOCTRINE
If the doctrine of Total Hereditary Depravity is true, then think what it means for infants. The Confession says, “elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit who worketh how and when he pleases” (chap. x, sec. 3). So God chooses to save some babies but not others?–Acts 10:34-35; II Peter 3:9.
If the doctrine of Total Hereditary Depravity is true, then what of those who are unable to understand the Gospel message?
This is what contributed to the practice of infant baptism. Notice the following by Charles Wesley, “If infants are guilty of original sin, then they are proper candidates for baptism, seeing that in the ordinary way, they can not be saved unless this be washed away by baptism.”
QUESTIONS TO ASK?
Do men have the power to believe in God when they learn the Scriptures?–Romans 10:17; Acts 15:7.
Is there any good reason why we should be guilty of the first sin and not all other sins as well?
If this doctrine is true, then it is impossible to “train up a child in the way he should go.” Rather one should pray God would choose to regenerate him.
We are told that the anger a child demonstrates at birth is evidence of his depravity. Yet, anger itself is not a sin–Ex. 30:10; Psalm 7:11.
We are told that “there is none righteous” (Rom. 3:10-18). This applies to those who have corrupted themselves and is a rhetorical device.
Psalm 51:5 speaks of David being “born in sin”. Yet this clearly is poetic language showing an emotion and not a fact.
Isaiah 1:5-6 tells Jerusalem and Judah, “why should ye be stricken any more?…The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” Yet if they were totally depraved, there would be no possibility of reasoning with them to be saved–Isaiah 1:18. Their salvation was dependent upon their choices. They chose to rebel against God’s upbringing–1:2-3. They could choose to wash themselves and be clean–1:16. They could choose to learn to do good–1:17. They could choose to reason–1:18.
Ephesians 2:1-3 speaks of being dead in trespass and sins. Yet it speaks not of Adam’s sin but of their sins which they had committed.
Romans 5:12 tells us that all men sinned. Yet, the word “for” or “in this way” means that we follow the example of Adam in choosing the world over God. Not that all men sinned in Adam. All were under the crippling physical consequences of sin’s presence in the world, but all had the ability and opportunity to choose life in Christ.
We are told that it is impossible for man to “convert himself.” Yet what did Peter preach in Acts 2:40?