Monday, February 7, 2011

Concerning the Foreknowledge and Predestination of God

I am hearing a developing and common erroneous theme among preachers concerning the Foreknowledge of God as it pertains to Predestination. This is a critical and central doctrine of Christ in which the church cannot err without losing completely the knowledge of Christ and living faith. We will here, by the grace of God, consider what is the truth of Scripture in this matter in the light of what our Elders taught.

This is a very necessary and wholesome doctrine to study, for all of God’s word is given for our spiritual and eternal benefit. Luther writes in his Commentary on Romans that this doctrine “is not as deep a subject as is commonly thought, but rather is a wonderfully sweet thing for those who have the Spirit, but a bitter thing and harsh above all things for the prudence of the flesh.”

The error now taught is that God, in His omniscience, foreknew (had prior knowledge of) who would believe the gospel and who would not, and based on this foreknowledge God moved to predestinate unto eternal life those who would believe. This necessarily leads to a free-will doctrine, for it is presupposed that natural man is able to see, hear, and comprehend the things of God’s kingdom and to choose whether or not to receive and believe it. Scripture dispels this notion: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” [I Cor. 2:14]. It is absolutely necessary that a person first be born of the Holy Spirit before it is possible to comprehend the word of God. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” [v. 12]. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God“ [Jn 3:5]. I say in the strongest terms that the doctrine of free-will is a doctrine of the devil. Luther wrote, “I would admonish those who assert free-will, that they are deniers of Christ.“

Let’s take a brief look at Romans 8: 28,30: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”  God’s foreknowledge in this passage pertains to those whom He has predestinated unto eternal life, for Paul begins writing of God’s working purpose toward those who are the called according to His purpose, the end of which is their glorification. The call of the gospel goes out into all the world, even as Jesus commanded that it be preached to every creature, but “Many are called, but few are chosen” [Mt. 22:14].

The doctrine of the Apostolic Lutheran Church, according to our By-Laws, is here taken from the Jacobs edition of the Book of Concord, Chapter XI. This will also dispel another false teaching concerning election: that election deals not with individual persons but only with the means of salvation, as some say this doctrine means nothing more than that God elected to save sinners by means of Christ. “But the eternal election of God not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but is also, from the gracious will and pleasure of God in Christ Jesus, a cause which procures, works, helps and promotes what pertains thereto; upon this [divine predestination] also our salvation is so founded that “the gates of hell cannot prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). For it is written (John 10:28): “Neither shall any man pluck my sheep out of my hand.” And again (Acts 13:48) “And as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.“ It does not say that as many as believed were ordained unto eternal life, but it is manifestly clear that predestination, or the ordination unto eternal life, must precede faith. We are not predestinated because we believe, but rather we believe because we are first predestinated. The election of God does not foresee the choice, or works, of a person, but rather foresees and is a cause of their salvation.

Concerning the foreknowledge of God, we read from the Book of Concord, Chapter XI: “First, the distinction between the eternal foreknowledge of God, and the eternal election of his children to eternal salvation, is to be accurately observed. For foreknowledge or prevision, i.e. that God sees and knows everything before it happens, which is called God’s foreknowledge [prescience], extends to all creatures, good and bad, since before God all things, whether they be past or future, are manifest and present. Thus it is written (Matt. 10:29)” “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.”

Concerning the election or predestination of God we read, “But the eternal election of God, or predestination, i.e. God’s appointment to salvation, pertains not at the same time to the godly and the wicked, but only to the children of God, who were elected and appointed to eternal life before the foundation of the world was laid, as Paul says (Eph. 1:4,5) “He hath chosen us in him, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ.”

It must be noted, as is taught in the Book of Concord, that God did not simply hold a muster of all people and then arbitrarily choose some for salvation and others for damnation. Rather, God looked upon the race of Adam, of which all were justly damned because of sin, and chose some unto salvation. All who perish do so justly as a consequence of God’s justice, and all who are saved are saved as a result of God’s mercy. Against this doctrine human reason will rise up in a rage, as Apostle Paul anticipated in his letter to the Romans. But what was Paul’s answer? “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? [9:20, 21]. Some people try to sidestep this doctrine by saying the vessels signify the new man and the old man. This, however, is an impossible gloss, for the new man is not made of the same lump as the old. Luther in his commentary on Romans quotes Augustine, “God shows mercy out of His great goodness and hardens with no injustice, so that he who is freed may not boast of his own merits and he who is damned has been overcome by nothing but his own deserts. For grace alone distinguishes the redeemed from the condemned, all having been mingled in one mass of perdition by the common cause of their common origin.”

What then is the cause of God’s election? The closest answer I can give is love. “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” [Rom. 9:11-14]. The elect, according to the gracious purpose of God, receive by inheritance a participation in Christ, to Whom they are also brought, and not without means. For all who come to living faith, to hear and believe that by the redemptive work of Jesus Christ all their sins are forgiven, and to rejoice that they are washed pure and spotless in the blood of His cross, are brought to awakening, conversion and new birth by the operation of the word and Spirit. We love Him because He first loved us [I Jn. 4:19].

The doctrine of election must be properly viewed and considered in order that it might be edifying. The following is an excellent explanation of how to consider this doctrine, taken from Luther‘s Preface to the Romans:

“The apostle's teaching in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters is concerning the eternal predestination of God, whence it originally flows, whether a person is to believe it or not, become rid of his sins or not, in order that our becoming godly may be taken entirely out of our own hands and placed in the hands of God. And this is of the very highest importance. For we are so feeble and full of uncertainty that, if it depended on us, not a single person would be saved; the devil would surely overpower all. But God being reliable so that His predestination does not fail, and no one can defeat His purpose, we have still reason for hope over against sin.

“However, at this point a limit has to be staked off against presumptuous and arrogant spirits, who lead their reason to this point first, start from the top, undertake to explore before everything else the abyss of divine predestination, and worry to no purpose over the question whether they are predestinated. These people become the cause of their own downfall; they either despair of their salvation or abandon themselves to recklessness.

“As to yourself, I say: Follow the order of this epistle. Occupy your mind with Christ and His Gospel in order that you may know your sin and His grace, and then wrestle with your sin, as chaps. 1,2,3,4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 have taught you to do. After you have arrived at the eighth chapter and are subjected to crosses and sufferings, you will be rightly taught how comforting predestination is, as explained in chaps. 9, 10, and 11. For outside of a condition of suffering, cross-bearing, and mortal anguish, a person cannot contemplate predestination without injury to himself and without harbouring a secret grudge against God. Therefore Adam must be quite dead before a person can bear to listen to this teaching and drink of this strong wine. Beware, then, of drinking wine while you are still a suckling infant. There is a proper limit, time, and age for every doctrine.”

We will consider also how our Elder Laestadius taught in the matter of man’s will. It is interesting to note that Laestadius upheld Lutheran doctrine and the Symbolical Books, and by them judged doctrine. He also taught that all, including children, must be born again, and that the law is to be preached not only for awakening, but is to be preached also to the graced ones for their sanctification. But more on that another time.

In Laestadius’ The Voice Of One Crying In The Wilderness we read, “It is verily true that man by nature is a child of wrath. But precisely then, when this truth is set before the eyes of a sinner through the preaching of the law, or when the spirit of the law incites all manner of lust in the hearer’s heart, so that the sinner comes into true recognition of sin and to more clearly understand his deep debasement and unfortunate condition - then comes the virtuous intellectual, the civilized man of the world, and says that this type of law-preaching, which leads to awakening, is “dog’s barking” [p. 32].

He writes also, “Furthermore, with regard to the doctrine of man’s will, the pastor should explain as best he can to the confirmation children that the will has no power called liberum arbitruim (freedom to judge) in spiritual matters, and in conversion conducts itself pure passiv; that is, it has no power to make itself good, that man’s will can not of its own power ever become good. And if before conversion someone imagines that he has a good will, this is self-deception [p. 138]. Laestadius writes on this same page that the free-will doctrine “absolutely turns the entire Lutheran doctrine upside down.”

The awakened soul has come to know the bondage and power of sin and their complete helplessness in the matter of salvation. Such a one, who has suffered torment of conscience in the knowledge of their damned state, finds much comfort in contemplating the sufferings of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross of Calvary. What sure hope springs forth when Christ is heard to cry out, “It is finished.” They contemplate also the empty tomb, and know that death itself has been destroyed by our Saviour. This work of Christ is eternally sure, and is for every penitent sinner who cries to God for mercy. These are they of whom Jesus speaks, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My father, which gave them me is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” [Jn. 10:27-29]. These sheep truly are the joy set before Him as He, our eternal High Priest, prayed before his suffering and death, “These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify they Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” [Jn. 17:1-3].

Luther writes in his Commentary on Romans:

“Although this matter is very hard for the “prudence of the flesh,” which is made even more indignant by it and brought even to the point of blasphemy, because here it is strangled to death and reduced to absolutely nothing, it understands that salvation comes in no way from something working in itself but only from outside itself, namely, from God, who elects. But those who have the ‘’prudence of the spirit’’ delight in this subject with an ineffable pleasure, as the apostle makes clear here and as is seen in the case of Hannah, the mother of Samuel in I Sam. 2. Among these are those people in the middle who have begun to turn away from the “prudence of the flesh” or are coming close to the “prudence of the spirit,” people who gladly want to do the will of God, but they are pusillanimous and tremble when they hear these teachings. Thus even though these words of the most perfect and nourishing food are still not entirely pleasant to them, yet by the process of antiperistasis, that is, through the fact that opposites attract, they find these words soothing and consoling. Thus, for example, no words are more effective than these for terrifying, humbling, and destroying our arrogant presumptuousness regarding merits. But those who are fearful and become pale before them have here the best and happiest sign, for the Scripture says: “Upon whom does my Spirit rest except on him who is humble and trembles at My Word?” (Is. 11:2: 66:2). To these people Christ also says: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32). And Is. 35:4: “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come.’” For if He had not seen that they were thinking the opposite, namely, fear and despair of the Kingdom, He would not have said, “You who are of fearful heart, ‘Be strong! Behold, your God will come.’” And again: “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord” (Ps. 112:1). And everywhere in the Scriptures, people of this kind who fear the Word of God are commended and comforted. For they despair of themselves, and the Word of God accomplishes its work in them, that is, creating the fear of God in them. For just as those who are hardened toward the Word of God and trust in themselves have a very bad sign, so they who tremble before it and are frightened have the very best sign; as it is written in Ps. 144:6: “Send out Thy arrows and rout them.”

“Therefore he who is overly fearful that he is not elect or is tested concerning his election, let him give thanks for this kind of fear and rejoice that he is afraid, for he knows with confidence that God, who cannot lie, has said: “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken,” that is, a despairing “spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17). Moreover, he himself knows what “broken” means. Therefore he should boldly lay hold on the truthfulness of the God who promises and thus free himself from his former idea of a terrifying God and be saved and elect.

“It is surely not a characteristic of reprobate men, at least in this life, that they fear the hidden judgment of God, but rather it is a quality of the elect. For the reprobate despise it and pay it no attention, or in desperation they become presumptuous, saying: “If I am damned, I will be damned.”

May God allow us to know Christ not as a co-Saviour, but as the One who died for us and called us His own while we were yet dead in trespasses and sins. We who have been drawn to Christ have also this sure word of promise, that in spite of all our doubts, failures and shortcomings, we are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation [I Peter 1:5]. And what is this faith but that which brings to us all the benefits of Christ crucified. 

God’s peace,
Steven E. Anderson

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