God’s Sovereignty; Predestination

TheoThought 300

David W. Hegg

 

Introduction: All theology stems from a desire to protect something. In the area under study here the choices are two:

 

• Some view the nature, attributes, and activity of God in a way that protects the freedom of the human will.

 

• Others view the nature, attributes, and activity of God in a way that protects the absolute sovereignty of God.

 

Note: It must also be said that, in theology, choices made early regarding the way we should understand and treat the Bible, as well as how we understand the being and activity of God, will necessarily determine future choices in many areas. This area of God’s sovereignty is foundational. What you determine to be true about “sovereignty” will necessarily determine future choices concerning the “freedom” of the human will, and the relationship of regeneration and faith, among other things.

 

1. The Sovereignty of God

 

The Bible makes it clear: God is the king, supreme ruler, and lawgiver over all creation.

 

Psa. 103.19  The LORD has  established his throne in the heavens,   and his  kingdom rules over all.

 

Psa. 115.3   Our God is in the heavens;    he does all that he pleases.

 

Dan. 4.34-37    At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and  my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored  him who lives forever,    for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,   and  his kingdom endures from generation to generation; 35   all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,   and  he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand   or  say to him, “What have you done?” … 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar,  praise and extol and honor the  King of heaven,  for all his works are right and his ways are just; and  those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

 

Eph. 1.11, 12   In him we have obtained  an inheritance,  having been predestined  according to the purpose of him who works all things according to  the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be  to the praise of his glory.  

 

Defined:

1. To say God is sovereign is to declare that he occupies the supreme position in the universe.

 

2. His sovereignty means he is able to do whatever he wills to do, and that, being infinitely good and perfect, whatever he wills is always best and right.

 

3. Lastly, the sovereignty of God describes the fact that all things are ordered by his will so that nothing occurs outside of the eternal decree of God.

 

Whate’er my God ordains is right:

Holy his will abideth;

I will be still whate’er He doth;

And follow where He guideth;

He is my God; though dark my road,

He holds me that I shall not fall:

Wherefore to Him I leave it all.

 

Whate’er my God ordains is right:

Here shall my stand be taken;

Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,

Yet I am not forsaken.

My Father’s care is round me there;

He holds me that I shall not fall:

And so to Him I leave it all

            (Samuel Rodigast, 1676)

 

Definition Supported:

 

1. To say God is sovereign is to declare that he occupies the supreme position in the universe.

 

Deut. 4.39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that  the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath;  there is no other.

 

Psa. 103.19  The LORD has  established his throne in the heavens,   and his  kingdom rules over all.

 

Psa. 97.5  The mountains  melt like  wax before the LORD,   before  the Lord of all the earth.

 

Psa. 95.3  For the LORD is  a great God,   and a great King  above all gods.

 

1Chr. 29.11  Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.

 

2. His sovereignty means he is able to do whatever he wills to do, and that, being infinitely good and perfect, whatever he wills is always best and right.

 

Psa. 115.3   Our God is in the heavens;  he does all that he pleases.

 

Daniel 4:35   all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

 

3. Lastly, the sovereignty of God describes the fact that all things are ordered by his will so that nothing occurs outside the eternal decree of God.

 

Rom. 11.36   For  from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever. Amen.

 

Eph. 1.11, 12   In him we have obtained  an inheritance,  having been predestined  according to the purpose of him who works all things according to  the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be  to the praise of his glory.  

 

Col. 1.15-17    He is the image of  the invisible God,  the firstborn of all creation.  16 For by  him all things were created,  in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether  thrones or  dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created  through him and for him.  17 And  he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

 

Rev. 4.11     “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,   to receive glory and honor and power,   for  you created all things,   and  by your will they existed and were created.”

 

Summary: When we say God is sovereign we are speaking about his position as creator and sustainer of all that is, as well as the fact that he so orders all things according to his perfect will that, in the end, all things will be seen to have worked together to accomplish his purpose.

 

Question: How is the sovereign will of God accomplished?

 

Answer: Initially through the eternal decree of God, and in time through the providence of God.

 

2. The Decree of God

 

Rom. 9.11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of  him who calls—

 

Eph. 1.11   In him we have obtained  an inheritance,  having been predestined  according to the purpose of him who works all things according to  the counsel of his will,  12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be  to the praise of his glory. 

 

Eph. 3.11 This was  according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,

 

Definition: The “decree of God” is theological language describing the eternal plan or purpose or will of God determined in eternity past. It is now being worked out, and will ultimately be accomplished perfectly, to the glory of God.

 

God's will is, and rightly ought to be, the cause of all things that are ..."For God's will is so much the highest rule of righteousness that whatever he wills, by the very fact that he wills it, must be considered righteous. When, therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it. But if you proceed further to ask why he so willed, you are seeking something greater and higher than God's will, which cannot be found." (John Calvin, Institutes, Bk 3, Ch 23, s. 1)

 

The Decrees of God

 

Theologians love to use hypothetical exercises to test and shape their understanding of God’s mind and actions. One of the most helpful is the “ordering of decrees:” In this exercise we attempt to determine the order in which God “willed” the following:

 

• Create mankind

Elect some to eternal life

• Permit the Fall (lapse)

• Gift of Christ to redeem the elect and ground free offer to all

• Gift of the Holy Spirit to regenerate believers

• Sanctification of all the regenerate

 

The essential decision is this: Where does the decree to elect some to eternal life come? Does it come before the fall (supralapsarianism)? or after the fall (Infralapsarianism)?

 

4 Views:

(Note: space limitations mean not all the points are completely spelled out)

 

Supralapsarian    Infralapsarian         Amyraldian            Arminian

Elect some to    • Create mankind   • Create mankind  • Create

  eternal life          • Permit the Fall      • Permit fall            • Permit fall

• Create mankind • Elect some           • Provide salvation• Provide salvation

• Permit the Fall    • Gift of Christ               for all                       for all

• Gift of Christ to   • Gift of Holy Spirit  • Elect some          • Call all to salvation

  redeem the elect• Sanctification of    • Gift of Holy Spirit       (prevenient grace)

• Gift of the Holy      all the regenerate • Sanctification     • Elect those who believe

  Spirit to regenerate                                                            • Gift  of Holy Spirit

• Sanctification of all                                                             • Sanctification

  the regenerate

 Note: The crucial difference in views #1 and #2 is the relationship of the Decree to Permit the Fall, to the Decree to Elect some to eternal life. The first places election above (supra) the fall (lapse); the second places election under (infra) the fall.

 

Why is this important? In the Supralapsarian view, God’s election to salvation occurs when, in God’s mind, mankind is not yet created, thus not fallen. The choice of God, then, is to save some and also to “choose” others to reprobation even before the fall is in mind. This view demands what some refer to as “double predestination” in that God chooses some to salvation and chooses some to reprobation.

 

In the Infralapsarian view, the election takes place after the fall, in God’s mind. Thus, his choice is to save some from among already fallen humanity. Some are chosen for salvation while others are simply left in their sin. This means God does not “choose” them for reprobation but simply chooses to rescue some and not all. He leaves some to follow their own sinful desires, the end result being his righteous wrath.

 

View #3 demonstrates a belief that the death of cross made salvation possible for all, but actual only for the elect. The French theologian Amyraud phrased it this way: “The cross was sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect.”

 

The last or Arminian view demonstrates a belief that “election” is based on foreseen faith. Salvation is provided for all, and all are called. The elect are those God knows will believe, and their belief is met with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

Views #1 and #2 are “particularistic” in that the decree to provide salvation is limited to the elect. View #3 is “inconsistently particularistic”, while View #4 is that of classic Arminianism, with its provision of “prevenient grace” making regeneration ultimately up to man’s will.

 

Does it really matter? The discussion of the Order of Decrees can be helpful in that it graphically illustrates the consequences of various choices we make in interpreting the biblical material regarding God’s activity in creation and redemption. This means, as we study Scripture, and begin putting together our overall view of God and his redemptive activity, the various views force us to recognize and deal with the “problem areas” all the view have. This can help keep us honest, humble, and teachable as we move along on our theological journey.

 

Question: How is the “purpose/will/decree” of God worked out in history?

 Answer: God’s eternal purpose/will/decree is worked out and made manifest through his works of providence.

 

3. The Providence of God

 

Defined: God’s continual involvement with his creation so that he “1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; 2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and 3) directs them to fulfill his purposes.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pg. 315).

 

The providence of God allows us to understand that “events in creation are not determined by chance or karma or randomness or impersonal fate, but by God who is the personal, yet infinitely powerful Creator and Lord of heaven and earth.” (Grudem, pg. 315).

 

From the above definition we can understand the elements of providence to be these three:

 

1) Preservation: God keeps all things existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them.

 

Heb. 1.3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and  the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.  After making purification for sins,  he sat down  at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

 

Col. 1.17 And  he is before all things, and in him all things  hold together.

 

2) Concurrence: God cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do.

 

Eph. 1.11   In him we have obtained  an inheritance,  having been predestined  according to the purpose of him who works (e˙nergw; energo) all things according to  the counsel of his will,

 

e˙nergouvntoß, energw; (energountos, energo): to work, to bring about

 

God “works” in and through natural laws and other secondary causes to bring about his purpose.

 

3) Government: God directs all things to fulfill his purposes.

 

Psa. 103.19  The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his  kingdom rules over all.

 

Rom. 8.28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together  for good,  for  those who are called according to his purpose. (Note: While this text speaks specifically about the work God performs to bring about the ultimate sanctification and glorification of believers, it does demonstrate God’s governing authority over the affairs of mankind and creation.)

 

Question: Then, if I am understanding all this correctly, everything has already been determined by God, right? So we’re just robots, going through the motions and patterns God has “pre-determined” for us?

 

4. Predestination

 

The topic of predestination gives rise to some of the most contentious arguments in the theological realm. It has direct bearing on our views of human freedom, and most importantly, evangelism, faith, and salvation. These tension points will be covered in upcoming classes. Here we simply want to introduce the subject and examine the biblical basis for it.

Defined: God’s foreordaining all things that will come to pass.

 

“The verb predestinate is of Latin original, and signifies, in that tongue, to deliberate beforehand with one’s self how one shall act; and in consequence of such deliberations to constitute, fore-ordain and predetermine where, when, how and by whom anything shall be done, and to what end it shall be done.” (Jerome Zanchius, Absolute Predestination, pg. 48)

 

Psa. 139.16  Your eyes saw my unformed substance;   in your  book were written, every one of them,   the days that were formed for me,   when as yet there was none of them.

 

Is. 37.26     “ ‘Have you not heard   that I determined it long ago?   I planned from days of old   what now I bring to pass,   that you should make fortified cities   crash into heaps of ruins,

 

Acts 4.28  to do whatever your hand and  your plan had predestined to take place.

 

Acts 13.48   And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and  glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

 

Acts 17.26 And  he made from one man every nation of mankind to live  on all the face of the earth,  having determined allotted periods and  the boundaries of their dwelling place, 

 

Rom. 8.28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together  for good,  for  those who are called according to his purpose.  29 For those whom he  foreknew he also  predestined  to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be  the firstborn among many brothers.  30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also  justified, and those whom he justified he also  glorified.

 

Rom. 9.11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of  him who calls—  12 she was told,  “The older will serve the younger.”  13 As it is written,  “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

 

Rom. 11.7   What then?  Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest  were hardened,

 

Eph. 1.4  even as he  chose us in him  before the foundation of the world, that we should be  holy and blameless before him. In love 5  he predestined us  for  adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,  according to the purpose of his will,  6  to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in  the Beloved.

 

1Th. 1.4 For we know,  brothers  loved by God,  that he has chosen you,  5 because  our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and  in the Holy Spirit and with full  conviction. You know  what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.

 

2Tim. 1.9  who saved us and  called us to  a holy calling,  not because of our works but because of  his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus  before the ages began,

 

1Pet. 1.1  Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,   To those who are elect exiles of  the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

 

Rev. 13.7 Also it was allowed  to make war on the saints and to conquer them.  And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation,  8 and all  who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in  the book of life of  the Lamb  who was slain.

 

Rev. 17.8 The beast that you saw  was, and is not, and  is about to rise from  the bottomless pit  and  go to destruction. And  the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in  the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because  it was and is not and is to come. 

 

How the Bible Views God’s Providence

 

1) As a reason for great comfort:

 

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians presents God’s providential working as part of the great chain of blessing:

 

Eph. 1.4  even as he  chose us in him  before the foundation of the world, that we should be  holy and blameless before him. In love 5  he predestined us  for  adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,  according to the purpose of his will,  6  to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in  the Beloved … 11   In him we have obtained  an inheritance,  having been predestined  according to the purpose of him who works all things according to  the counsel of his will …

 

2) As an encouragement to evangelism:

 

John 6.37, 44  All that  the Father gives me will come to me, and  whoever comes to me I will never cast out … 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me  draws him. And  I will raise him up on the last day.

 

2Tim. 2.10 Therefore  I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain  the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with  eternal glory.

 

Summary: While the doctrine of predestination is often the source of great chagrin and controversy, it is so only as we attempt to protect the human side of the equation. But, at this point, our safest position is to recognize the overwhelming testimony of Scripture as to God’s sovereign and providential government of all things, while at the same time recognizing the testimony of Scripture regarding mankind’s accountability. To solve this paradox we must allow God’s Word to present the solution, and not run away from the biblical text to own philosophical theories that, while making us feel better, erode the biblical view of God and his activity in history.

 

A Final Thought … “Three things, in deed, are to be noted. First, God’s providence must be considered with regard to the future as well as the past. Secondly, it is the determinative principle of all things in such a way that sometimes it works through an intermediary, sometimes without an intermediary, sometimes contrary to every intermediary. Finally, it strives to the end that God may reveal his concern for the whole human race, but especially his vigilance in ruling the church, which he deigns to watch more closely. Now this also ought to be added, that although either fatherly favor and beneficence or severity of judgment often shine forth in the whole course of providence, nevertheless sometimes the causes of the events are hidden. So the thought creeps in that human affairs turn and whirl at the blind urge of fortune; or the flesh incites us to contradiction, as if God were making sport of men by throwing them about like balls. It is, indeed, true that if we had quiet and composed minds ready to learn, the final outcome would show that God always has the best reason for his plan: either to instruct his own people in patience, or to correct their wicked affections and tame their lust, or to subjugate them to self-denial, or to arouse them from sluggishness; again to bring low the proud, to shatter the cunning fo the impious and to overthrow their devices. Yet however hidden and fugitive from our point of view the causes may be, we must hold that they are surely laid up with him, and hence we must exclaim with David: ‘Great, O God, are the wondrous deeds that thou has done, and thy thoughts toward us canot be reckoned; if I try to speak, they would be more than can be told.’” (John Calvin, Institutes, vol. 1, book 1, chapter 17, pg 211).

 

Resources

 

Articles

 

Notes on The Order of Decrees (Suprlapsarianism and Infralapsarianism)

http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/sup_infr.htm

 

John MacArthur: God’s Absolute Sovereignty

http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/A167/gods-absolute-sovereignty

 

• John Piper: Sermons on God’s Sovereignty

http://www.gty.org/resources/articles/A167/gods-absolute-sovereignty

 

Books

 

Absolute Predestination, Jerome Zanchius (Sovereign Grace, 1971)

 

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer; (IVP, 1961)

 

Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, volume 1, book 1, chapters 16, 17; (Westminster Press; 1960)

 

Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, chpt. 16: God’s Providence; (Zondervan, 1994)

 

The Sovereignty of God, A. W. Pink (Banner of Truth, 1982)

 

The Plan of Salvation, B. B. Warfield (Eerdmans, 1973)