THIS THING CALLED PREDESTINATION; IT BOTHERS ME
by Dr. Henderson Ward
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On a damp winter’s evening many years ago in London a colleague of mine and I were discussing the subject of predestination and he gave me his take on the subject. He said to me that he was convinced that predestination meant that because God had chosen him as one of the elect then no matter what he did he would not be lost. He told me that if he was stealing his neighbour's cow, he was actually leading it by a rope towards his house and the trumpet sounded and time was no more he would go to be with God just as all the Christians everywhere. My response was simple; so what are you God's elect doing stealing your neighbour's cow, does that not make you a thief?
This is part of the dilemma we face because some people do not seek to know God's word fully being satisfied with cherry-picking through the Bible as if the bits they don't like can be randomly discarded. When we are dealing with the Bible it is essential to remember that the Bible is truly one book in sixty six sections and nowhere does it contain contradictions because God cannot contradict himself. It is therefore crucial that when we engage the Bible to seek its truths we remember the words of Jesus, "But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4) We seek truth by looking at and accommodating every word in the Bible that throws light on the subject for to do otherwise is to be partially informed and we open ourselves to the adoption of unsound doctrine and in truth that bothers me.
The Bible speaks of God's elect and a proper understanding of this concept should not lead us into thinking that God is unjust and cavalier; choosing some to live and choosing others to die in total disregard for our choices. To understand God's elect in this way bothers me.
The Bible speaks of God's call, predominantly through his word and the Holy Spirit. Some interpret this as meaning that God will not call some people because they are not on his 'elect list' and further if such people craved and yearned for God because they are not chosen by God then God will deliberately stop them from acquiring salvation. To understand God’s dealing in this way with people bothers me.
Perseverance is the ability to stick with something until the very end and never giving up. The idea that someone could long sincerely for God, commit his life to God and because he is not one of the elect then God will surely make him stumble and fall is an idea that bothers me.
It is accepted that Christians are not impervious to sinning and will from time to time transgress. The notion that because one is saved, i.e. has accepted Christ, he can then do whatever he likes, live a life of sin and reckless abandonment if he wants knowing that God will save him regardless is a once-saved-always-saved belief that bothers me.
It would be wise here to pause briefly and make an important interjection. Some subjects are so complex and far above our intellect to grasp their full extension that in spite of the volumes of discussions and the libraries of books devoted to them, all the quirks are still not ironed out, all the Is are not dotted and all the Ts are not crossed. All we would have done by honest inquiry and diligent examination, as in the case here with predestination is to establish God's just credentials in dealing with all humanity.
God is just and that is without qualification. Not just to some and not to others. Not just for a while but not later. Not just when he has chosen you and unjust to those he hasn't. God is just as water is wet, as fire is hot, as ice is cold. Period. The Bible tells us this, "... and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me." (Isaiah 45:21) Because God is inherently, resolutely and unchangeably just there are certain compelling assertions we can make.
God's will for all human beings who ever lived or will ever live is for them to come to salvation, to be redeemed; to be saved. This is without exception and the Bible affirms this, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9). Paul says, "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 2:3-4) Forget all that you hear to the contrary, God does not discriminate and pre-determine that some people go to hell and others go to heaven for to do so would be unequivocally unjust. We know that some people will go to hell, will spend their eternity with Satan but that is not God's choice as we shall see later.
God's call to repentance, the call by which men are saved, goes forth to all people without exception. Since that it is established that God wants all humanity to be saved it follows therefore that the call has to go forth to all so that they have a chance of being saved. The Jews thought they were the only people could be saved and Jesus disillusioned them like this, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." (John 10:16) If there are any doubts as to the universality of God's call then this pivotal scripture puts them to rest, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) It is for good reasons that this verse of scripture stands proud and resplendent as the golden text of the whole Bible.
God's call to repentance is not irresistible, for people can hear the call and through their freewill reject it or accept it. However undesirable this might be, however sad that people turn away from their divine destiny, however foolish, short-sighted and deadly for those concerned it is nevertheless true that some will reject God's call; we see this happening every day. King Agrippa did just that, "King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." (Acts 26:27-28) The sadness of rejection is reflected in the words of Jesus, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not." (Matthew 23:37) This sadness was compounded by the consequences that must inevitably follow, "Therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter: because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that wherein I delighted not." (Isaiah 65:12) Jeremiah endorsed this, "Therefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon Judah and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil that I have pronounced against them: because I have spoken unto them, but they have not heard; and I have called unto them, but they have not answered." (Jeremiah 35:17)
Salvation, being saved, is both a product and a process and success is measured by our eventual arrival at our heavenly destination which speaks to our perseverance. When you get to heaven you are saved because that demonstrates that you endured all that came your way and continued serving God until the end. The Bible puts it like this, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." (Matthew 24:13) Some will claim to be saved but fall by the wayside, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." (I John 2:19) This is a clear demonstration that some who were committed and in the faith fell by the wayside and other scriptures show that success through endurance is possible like this scripture, "And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:13-14)
All of this tells us that you cannot take your salvation for granted and assume that once you have salvation you cannot lose it. It is incumbent upon every believer to be spiritually diligent because we are being saved, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (I Corinthians 1:18 RSV) and to, "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.' (Philippians 2:12) Granted that it is unlikely that you will lose your salvation if you are genuinely saved nevertheless one has to be careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit, "And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30)
A lot of confusion arises because people struggle with some words, some concepts; concepts that are complex and deep, associated with this subject of predestination and so a look at some of them here is timely.
FOREKNOWLEDGE. The Bible speaks about God's foreknowledge and in nearly every case it has to do with God's prescient ability to know all things that will occur in the future. Because God knows that something will occur does not mean that he approves of it much less is responsible for making it happen. Because of God's foreknowledge he knows all those who will answer his call and so has elected them to salvation in Christ. This is the proper order of things and this scripture verifies it, "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." (Romans 8:29) All human beings were predestined by God to be like Christ but humans have a choice in the matter.
CALLING. Calling is a powerful doctrine in the Bible and refers to God sending a request or invitation to someone. God has to call someone to salvation for that someone to be saved for without that call there can be no salvation. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God's method of calling people through the Holy Spirit, so whether we hear the Gospel preached or read it for ourselves the intention is always the same - God's calling. Here is how the Bible puts it, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:13-14) The Apostle Paul puts it thus, “Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:14) The duty of the church is to ensure that God’s call reaches everyone.
PREDESTINATION OR FOREORDINATION. This is the belief that God had, even before the world was created, determined who would be saved. A proper understanding of this is that God predestined all humanity to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. That is our true destiny and that body, called the church, was predestined as the mystery of God that would be revealed by the advent of Jesus Christ and was foreordained to eternal glory. God, knowing all of those who would accept his call even before the world was created made provision for them to be called and provided security for them through the person of the Holy Spirit. These people, sometimes referred to as the elect, are diligent in their walk with God, forsaking the things of the world and living their life pleasing to God. It is these people who will persevere to the very end and be part of the predestined church that God foreordained before the world was created. It is these people to whom Christ referred, "…and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." (John 10:29) and the Apostle Peter encouraged, "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." (2 Peter 1:10)
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I think you did an amazing job of explaining a VERY difficult doctrine in God's word. If I may interject one troubling scripture that I find potentially negates some of your reasoning- Romans 9:22 "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction," I would absolutely desire to read your thoughts on this verse...it has been one that weighs heavily on me knowing my God as I do and believing that this fits into his attribute of justice.