It seems that every time I blog I start out with something along the lines of, “Well, it’s been a while…”, and this time is no exception. Much has happened in the last several months: I have finished all but one of my courses from PRTS, I sent out applications from Tampa to Washington state, I was only offered one position, which I accepted. So, against all odds, I have moved back to Lynchburg to take a position as an Academic Advisor at Liberty University. The move was chaotic; I had to come down alone, while Katie was busy selling the house. I spent two months away from my family, and it was very difficult. Then there was the trouble getting a mortgage down here. In the end, we were able to get a house, and there is no way we could have made the transition without the help of many people, and the sovereignty of a good God.
Now to the meat of this post. To date, I have not posted about predestination on this blog. No reason why, I just haven’t got around to it. Below is a question that was on my comprehensive final exam at PRTS, and the answers that I gave. Enjoy.
Define the doctrine of predestination. How does the doctrine of predestination relate to (1) the doctrine of man’s free will in relation to salvation, (2) the offer of grace to all men in gospel preaching, and (3) zeal for and success in evangelism?
Concerning the eternal decree of God, I do not think I can add anything to what the Westminster Divines wrote in chapter III of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and I think it is perhaps the best concise definition of the doctrine of predestination available. I will not quote the whole of WCF chapter III, but as I understand the question to be directly relating to predestining men to salvation, I will quote what the Confession says about that topic. The doctrine of predestination is therefore defined as follows:
God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; 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. (WCF III. I)
Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions. (WFC III.II)
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. (WCF III.III)
These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished. (WCF III.IV)
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 free grace and love alone, 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; and all to the praise of his glorious grace. (WCF III.V)
As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. (WCF III.VI)
Now, concerning the doctrine of man’s free will in relation to salvation, there must be brief consideration of what is actually meant by free will. As Sproul notes, there is no such thing as neutrality at any point in life, and all decisions have to come from the strongest inclinations that we have in a given moment (RC Sproul, Chosen By God, 52-57). So really, it is a question concerning the desires of the natural man. The apostle Paul tells us that the natural man suppresses truth in unrighteousness. Mankind knows the truth about God, because God has revealed it to all men clearly since the beginning of time, but in their wickedness, men suppress that truth and worship the creation rather than the creator. Because of this, God gave them over to their desires, and they grew in their iniquity with all manner of wickedness (Romans 1:18-32).
If indeed we make all of our decisions in life based on our strongest proclivities, then we are in fact free in our actions. Therefore, “At every point we are free and self-determined.” (Sproul, Chosen By God, 59) However, what the natural man will freely choose is the factor that must be considered. If a man is going to make a decision he must first have the desire to make said decision. So, if a man desires to honor God with his actions, he must get that desire from somewhere. However, as we understand Romans 1, we must come to the conclusion that that natural man will never choose to honor God or trust Christ, but is busy suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Therefore, the desire of any man to choose Christ must come from outside of himself, and if God doesn’t give the desire to choose Christ to the natural man he will never desire to do so on his own. The natural man will always reject the gospel because he has no desire to believe it or to trust Christ. Only a change of mind and a new desire will cause a man to believe the gospel and come to Christ. This desire can only occur when God gives the natural man a new desire to come to Christ.
Both the offer of grace to all men in gospel preaching, and zeal for and success in evangelism are related. Preaching the gospel to all men is a biblical directive from Jesus himself (Mark 16:15), which alone should suffice as a good reason to preach to all men. We are commanded to preach to all men because without preaching how will anyone hear the gospel (Rom. 10:13-15)? We do not know who the elect are; we cannot tell simply by looking if a man will be in glory forever or the flames of hell; God doesn’t give us that knowledge. Therefore we bring the good news about salvation in Christ to all men, so that the elect will be saved.
Further, if we believe that God foreordained the end (salvation), we should also believe that he foreordained the means (preaching). Trusting Christ for the salvation of the lost will only increase the confidence of the evangelist, because he knows that he is not responsible for the salvation of others, but is merely a herald, preaching the good news about salvation to everyone he encounters. He need not be worried about being entertaining or funny in his presentation, but need only focus on the work of Christ for sinners. This should certainly only increase a man’s zeal for evangelism because he is trusting God for the increase, not himself.
Even as we pray for our lost friends and neighbors, the doctrine of predestination will only hearten those prayers. The Arminian praying for the salvation of the lost is a happy inconsistency, because prayer for the salvation of the unbeliever only has meaning when it is God who elects man to eternal life in Christ. The will of God will never be thwarted by the will of man, because God is the sovereign king of the universe who has ordained whatsoever comes to pass, and man is a creature under the control of God.
Lastly, the doctrine of predestination alleviates our fears and makes our witness valuable. We are often weak in our faith and in our evangelism. We are often afraid when speaking to people about Christ. But while our presentations may sometimes be awkward and embarrassing, we know that it is God who will bless our efforts. We can see this in Scripture where the apostle Paul was afraid in Corinth. Acts 18:9-10 says “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
The doctrine of predestination is not only biblical, but it is a doctrine that motivates us to evangelism. It helps us to know that we will be successful, and that God is the one who changes the inclinations of the hearts of our audiences. Excitement and hunger to preach to the lost are by-products of this doctrine, and should not ever detract from passionate evangelical engagement.