Glory Hidden in the Mystery
The doctrine of predestination is a mysterious one. That mystery has resulted in confusion and controversy over this doctrine throughout the history of the church. Men like Pelagius in the early church and John Wesley in the evangelical era have been unable to accept the doctrine. While men like Augustine, John Calvin, and Charles Spurgeon have delighted in it. The questions stemming from the doctrine, which remain unanswered, ought not to stop us like temple guards from approaching this most holy truth. Confidence in Scripture wedded to a humble mind is the key to leaving the court of the Gentiles and going forward into greater knowledge of God and his enigmatic acts.
The mystery of this truth ought not to keep us from embracing the simplicity, sublimity, and serviceability of the doctrine. How simple the doctrine appears when Spurgeon says, “I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him.”1 How sublime to consider the work of God before the first throb of our hearts, or for that matter before “the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy.”2 How useful to be sure that God has made certain decisions concerning the future that, come what may, will not change. What a shame not to taste the sweetness of this article because of the complexities which attend it.
Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery
The indispensable thing, then, if we are to welcome the doctrine, is to closely examine what is revealed concerning it in Scripture. And we have an abundance. Spurgeon once said in reply to an Arminian brother who said he had read the Bible through numerous times without finding the doctrine, “the wonder is that you found anything at all: you must have galloped through it at such a rate that you were not likely to have any intelligible idea of the meaning of the Scriptures.”3 Certainly then, I will be unable to examine all of the biblical material on predestination in this article. I will attempt, however, a theological and pastoral engagement with some of the biblical evidence for predestination unto life and salvation as seen in chapter 3 paragraphs 3, 5, and 6 of the 1689 Baptist Confession. I will consider these paragraphs in detail under five headings (1) the meaning of predestined, (2) the decision of predestination, (3) the key to predestination, (4) the source of predestination, and (5) the purpose of predestination. The central point to be unpacked is: God predestines some men and angels to eternal life for his own glory.
The section of Chapter 3, Paragraph 3 of the confession which I will focus on in this article says,
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glorious grace…
The Meaning of Predestined
Predestined is a biblical word. The writers of the confession were not aiming to be extrabiblical when they employed the word predestinated. They were attempting to deal with the Bible when they said, “some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained.” What does the Bible have to say about the verb predestined?
It is important to note a couple things at the outset of attempting to answer such a question. First the biblical language that serves the doctrine of predestination encompasses more than just one word. To develop an accurate meaning of the doctrine of predestination, then, biblical words beyond the verb of predestine (proorizo) must be examined like the noun elect (eklektos), and the verb choose (haireomai; eklego). For example, a study merely of the verb predestine (proorizo) will leave one confounded as to why the confession speaks of predestined angels. But a study of the word elect (eklektos) reveals 1 Timothy 5:21, “In the presence of God and Christ Jesus and of the elect angels.” Second, the doctrine of predestination “does not depend upon the use of a few words, for as one studies the Bible as a whole this doctrine is seen to be central to much of the teaching of both testaments.”4 In other words, there are theological realities concerning God, man, and salvation, that take shape as the totality of Scripture is digested. These realities support the doctrine of predestination. Nevertheless, considering the biblical use of the verb predestine (proorizo) begins to shed light on the doctrine so to that consideration we now turn.
The verb predestine (proorizo) is used six times in the New Testament:
- Acts 4:28 “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined (proorizo) to take place.”
- Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined (proorizo) to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
- Romans 8:30 “And those whom he predestined (proorizo) he also called, and those who he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:7 “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed (proorizo) before the ages for our glory.”
- Ephesians 1:5 “he predestined (proorizo) us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”
- Ephesians 1:11 “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined (proorizo) according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
This verb has been defined as to “decide upon beforehand, predetermine.”5 So if a man decides mid-week that he will take his family to the park downtown on Saturday, then he has predestined. He decided upon it beforehand. This definition fits the passages above very nicely. In every case, God is the one doing the deciding. And notice that when His deciding concerns people, He is deciding future realities of some, not all. In Acts 4:28, He has decided upon the crucifixion beforehand. In Romans 8:29, He has decided to conform those whom He foreknew to the image of His Son beforehand. In Romans 8:30, He subsequently called, justified, and glorified, those whom He had decided upon beforehand to be conformed to the image of his Son. In 1 Corinthians 2:7, He decided upon a secret and hidden wisdom before the ages. In Ephesians 1:5, He decided to adopt Christians as sons beforehand. In Ephesians 1:11, He decided to give an inheritance to Christians beforehand.
So the confession is synthesizing biblical language when it says, “some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained.” The biblical teaching is that some men and angels are decided upon beforehand. But what does that decision consist of?
The Decision of Predestination
The confession continues by saying, “some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life.” The doctrine of predestination teaches that some men were decided upon beforehand to obtain eternal life. This truth is demonstrated by some of the texts above which contain the verb predestined (proorizo) as well as others. In Romans 8:29 what God specifically decides upon is that those whom He foreknew would be “conformed to the image of his Son.” This is evidently one aspect of eternal life. No one gets conformed to the image of Christ without obtaining eternal life and no one obtains eternal life without being conformed to the image of Christ. The reaction to seeing this truth might be to think that God, in order to be fair, must have done this for all people. The problem with this is twofold. First, as can be seen in verse 29, the text simply does not say all people, but plainly limits the number of those who are predestined by saying “those whom he foreknew he also predestined.” If the question is raised as to whether God foreknew all people, then the second problem is confronted in verse 30 for all those who are foreknown are glorified, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those who he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Ephesians 1:5 says that what God specifically decided upon beforehand was that Christians would be adopted as God’s children, “he predestined us for adoption as sons.” This adoption, like conformity to Christ, is one aspect of eternal life. No one gets adopted as a child of God without receiving eternal life and vice versa. Jesus in John 8:44 and John in 1 John 3:10 teach that unbelievers are indeed not children of God, but children of the devil. Again the “some” of the confession is seen in Paul’s use of the word us in Ephesians 1:5. The word us must be determined by the context of Paul’s letter. He identifies who the us is only four verses earlier when he says he is an apostle of Christ writing to “the saints.”
Ephesians 1:11 also demonstrates that it is eternal life to which God has predestined some men. Paul writes, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined.” This heavenly inheritance that is obtained by believers is certainly one aspect of eternal life. The position is untenable that God has somehow predestined some men to (1) be conformed to the image of Christ, (2) be adopted as God’s children, and (3) obtain a heavenly inheritance, but not too obtain eternal life. This truth is only strengthened by other texts like Matthew 25:34 which says, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This kingdom (eternal life) was prepared for Christians beforehand. Before what? Before the foundation of the world. 1 Peter 1:1-2 as well speaks of being chosen for sprinkling with Christ’s blood. “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” Finally, 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 clearly demonstrates this point, saying, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation.”
The Key to Predestination
The 1689 Confession adds to the Westminster Confession when it says that God has predestined some men “to eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Although this phrase is short, it ought not be overlooked. This focus on Christ emphasizes that all of God’s blessings come to His people through Christ. We often think of justification, sanctification, and adoption, coming through Christ, but here we see that the very decision of God which He made before the foundation of the world that some men would obtain salvation was made through Christ. 2 Timothy 1:9 sheds some light on this reality when Paul says, “[God] 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.” Not only did Christians get their grace before the ages began, but they got it in Christ. God delivered grace to them in reference to Christ, because of Christ, for the sake of Christ.
Jesus indicates this truth in His own words when He says in John 17:9, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” God the Father had given Christ certain people. Therefore, not only was the decision of God made in reference to Christ, but He decided to give us to Christ. The eternal life to which some men have been predestined is eternal life through Christ. It is dependent upon Christ. It is experienced in Christ. In this context, Ephesians 1:3 takes on greater meaning for God the Father has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” The spiritual blessing of being chosen by God as well as the eternal life to which we have been chosen both find their ground in the crucified and risen Savior.
There are significant implications of this reference to Christ as it concerns predestination. No one comes to know eternal life apart from faith in Christ. To draw a different conclusion from the doctrine of predestination would be to miss this all important truth that eternal life is found in Christ alone. Some might question how we can be certain that what God has decided beforehand will actually come to pass given the predestined must still trust in Christ. Chapter 3, Paragraph 6 of the confession demonstrates that God has also predestined “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.” Therefore, the doctrine of predestination does not negate, but confirms the necessity of gospel proclamation and faith in Christ.
The Source of Predestination
In one sense the source of predestination is very simple, God. But there is wonder in considering intently God’s decision regarding the salvation of sinners. The confession states that it is “by the decree of God … [that] some men and angels are predestinated.” God’s decree is “a theological term for the comprehensive plan for the world and its history which God sovereignly established in eternity.”6 This comprehensive plan includes “all things, whatsoever comes to pass.”7 So, among other things, in eternity, God sovereignly established what the temperature would be outside the Empire State building this morning.
Moreover, this decree “results from the free, sovereign will of God.”8 And the will of God is “that attribute of God by which he has determined what he will do; it is known to him alone.”9 This attribute of God, known as His will, is “most wise and holy.”10
The significance is in the fact that God’s predestining of some unto salvation is executed according to both this comprehensive plan He established in eternity (God’s Decree) and this attribute of God which is most secret, wise, and holy (God’s Will). Chapter 3, Paragraph 5 of the confession says that God has chosen the predestined “according to His eternal and immutable purpose (God’s Decree), and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will (God’s Will).”
His decision made beforehand (predestination), then, was not arbitrary, forced, coerced, or against his will; He decided beforehand because He wanted to, He willed to. “God’s predestination has his infinite and purposeful wisdom behind it.”11 This is the truth packed into Ephesians 1:11, which says, “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.”
At this point, one might ask a final and ultimate question, “Why would He want to predestine some unto salvation?”
The Purpose of Predestination
The answer is found in the confession when it says, “for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glorious grace.” God wanted to, and did, predestine certain people to salvation in order to make known His own glory. Romans 9:22 says, “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, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” God’s wrath is His strange work. And He desires to show it in order to ultimately elevate the riches of His glory. His grace is glorious and is worthy of praise. And this grace of His is vividly displayed in the doctrine of predestination.
Joy Embedded in the Mystery
That is why the confession speaks of such marvelous uses of this particular truth. By this doctrine, those who love God and obey His Word can “be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God.”12 So while there may be questions that remain unanswered and misunderstandings in need of clarification, we can rejoice in this truth as we commit ourselves to take God at His Word. We can say with the Prince of Preachers,
Whatever may be said about the doctrine of election, it is written in the Word of God as with an iron pen, and there is no getting rid of it. To me, it is one of the sweetest and most blessed truths in the whole of revelation, and those who are afraid of it are so because they do not understand it. If they could but know that the Lord had chosen them, it would make their hearts dance for joy.13
1 Charles Spurgeon, Autobiography, 170.
2 Job 38:7 (ESV).
3 Spurgeon, Autobiography, 171.
4 Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 870.
5 Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
6 Elwell, 302.
7 Chapter 3, Paragraph 1, 2LBC.
8 Elwell, 303.
9 Elwell, 1172.
10 Chapter 3, Paragraph 1, 2LBC.
11 Richard Belcher, Arthur W. Pink: Predestination, 30.
12 Chapter 3, Paragraph 7, 2LBC.
13 Charles Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons, 9.374, 375.