Mell, Predestination and the Saints’ Perseverence: Section III.Mell, Predestination and the Saints’ Perseverence: Section III.
We come now to a consideration of the arguments contained in our author’s first sermon. We design not to attempt a correction of all the misapprehensions and misrepresentations, with which this “sermon” abounds — to do so would take up too much space and would hardly be worth the trouble. Whatever of argument, however, we find in it, we shall state fairly and in as strong terms as possible and answer it without evasion. After two paragraphs by way of introduction in his characteristic style, our author commences the discussion with “We proceed to consider:”
“First. The difference between Calvinian (?) and Arminian predestination” — This is the “First”. We have searched diligently through the production, but have not as yet been able to discover the Second. But let that pass. He then quotes from the Presbyterian confession of faith, a definition of predestination, as he says but really of election: and, from the works of Arminius, the Arminian definition of the same; strangely confounding words and ideas. Much the largest part of the production, however, is taken up with criticisms, and “arguments” on the subject of foreknowledge. Reserving for the present a review of his remarks on the doctrine of Election, we address ourselves first to his refutation and correction in reference to God’s foreknowledge.
“The subject of foreknowledge,” he says, “has been a very perplexing one.” Yes; we perceive it has been – to him. And if that absurd and ridiculous notion of foreknowledge which he ascribes to Calvinists, gave him so much perplexity, what would have been his condition if he had, by any means encountered that which Calvinism does teach?
Calvinists maintain, says he, that it is impossible for God to know any thing excepting what He had decreed! (p.3) To prove this, he quotes from Dr. Hopkins and Calvin. The former we shall not defend against his strictures. Whether the sentiments quoted from him conform to our system or not is not material; it is enough to know that he is not recognized as a Calvinist and that we are not responsible for him. The extract from Calvin, however, our author says, expresses the same sentiments and is as follows: “God therefore foreknows all things that will come to pass, because He has decreed that they shall come to pass.” Throughout his remarks he confounds in the same way knowledge and foreknowledge. Now, we venture the assertion, that there never was a Calvinist so ignorant and so absurd, as to deny the infinity of God’s knowledge. Even Dr. Hopkins, as heterodox as he is on some other points maintains unequivocally that from eternity God knew all things possible. And we challenge our author or any one else to produce a single Calvinistic writer that denies God’s omniscience. As long ago as the time of Augustine, if not before, as the books on systematic divinity will show, the knowledge of God has been divided by those who believe in His decrees, technically, into scientia simplicis intelligentiae knowledge of simple intelligence or of all possible things; and scientia visionis knowledge of vision or of all those things which shall come to pass. “The first is founded upon the omnipotence of God; He knew all things which His power could perform. The second is founded upon His will or decree by which things pass from a state of possibility to a state of futurition.” God knew of innumerable worlds which His power might bring into existence; but He foreknew that this world would certainly exist, because He had determined to create it. God knew that the history of this world might have been infinitely varied; but He foreknew that it would be just as it is, because He decreed that His creating, His upholding, and His governing power should be exercised just as they have been and are. Now what is there is this that denies the infinite knowledge of God? And we defy our author to show that this is not a correct statement of the Calvinistic sentiment.
In reference to God’s knowledge, there is no difference of opinion between Calvinists and Arminians – both believe it to be infinite. Nor do they differ as to the extent of His foreknowledge; both believe that He knew from eternity all that would take place in futurity. The precise difference between them consists in this: Calvinists maintain (and it is a fundamental principle upon which the system of Calvinism in all its parts rests) that “the will of the Supreme Being is the cause of every thing that now exists, or that is to exist at any future time;” and they hold, therefore, that God foreknew that certain things would happen in the future, because He had willed that they should. They define God’s knowledge to be a clear and intuitive perception of all those things that may be; and His foreknowledge a clear and infallible prescience of all those things which He hath willed to be. The Arminians, on the contrary, deny that the will of God is the cause of those things that exist (at least in the moral world), and maintain that His foreknowledge is a prescience of events, some of which did not enter into His decree and which He had no agency in producing. The former make future things dependent upon God’s will; the latter make God’s will (as we shall see hereafter) dependent upon future things. The former maintains that God foreknew the future things because He had decreed that they should exist; the latter, that He has decreed nothing about (at least some of) them, and consequently (we may add), they happen independently of His will.
Now, God’s decree is synonymous with God’s will. Substitute, therefore, in the extract taken from Calvin, the word `willed’ for the word `decreed’, and the Calvinistic idea of foreknowledge will stand thus: “God therefore foreknows all things that will come to pass, because He has willed that they shall come to pass.” Or it may be stated in two propositions, thus: 1st. Nothing can come to pass in time except what God wills shall come to pass; 2nd. God foreknows that certain things will come to pass, because He wills they shall come to pass. It will then be perceived that it was incumbent upon our author to controvert this, not by asserting that Calvinists deny the infinite knowledge of God (an assertion that is contradicted by all the Calvinistic writers), but by showing the incorrectness of the fundamental principle, viz: that all things depend for their existence upon the Divine will. We have searched about in the confused mass of observations on foreknowledge, filling seven pages of his pamphlet, and the following are all that we can find in the shape of arguments bearing upon this point.
1. “If God’s foreknowledge is dependent on His decrees, the eternity of His foreknowledge is necessarily destroyed. If His foreknowledge depend upon the decree, it would be absurd to suppose He could have that foreknowledge before the decree existed.” p.10. Dr. Hopkins had stated that foreknowledge must be considered as in the order of nature consequent upon the determination and purpose of God: and our author argues against him as if he had said consequent in the order of time! In consequence of the poverty of language, whenever we speak of the Infinite Mind, we are compelled to use terms drawn from the analogy of our own finite minds, which, by those so disposed, can easily be perverted. Now when it is said that God’s foreknowledge is, in the order of nature, consequent upon His will, we mean not that it is consequent in the order of time — for God’s knowledge and God’s will existed from eternity — but that the one depends for its existence upon the other. God’s knowledge (or His omniscience) is a distinct and independent attribute and is infinite; but God’s foreknowledge is limited to the apprehension of objects not infinite in number and is dependent upon His will. The argument then may be stated in a nutshells thus; God’s foreknowledge takes cognizance only of future things; but all future things are dependent upon God’s will; therefore, God’s foreknowledge also is dependent upon His will: and is consequent upon it in the order of nature.
Again, to make it, if possible, plainer still: suppose He had determined from eternity not to bring a universe into existence — not to create any intelligences, but to continue Himself the sole-existing being: in that case He could have possessed no foreknowledge; for foreknowledge differs from knowledge in the fact that it perceives events before they occur, but, upon the supposition, no events were to occur, and none, therefore, could be foreknown, upon the supposition made, while He would have possessed infinite knowledge, He would have been entirely destitute of foreknowledge. Why, then, has He possessed foreknowledge from eternity? Because from eternity He willed or decreed that He would create the universe, and that certain events should occur in that universe which could be the objects of foreknowledge.
Now if it be true that, because God’s foreknowledge is consequent in the order of nature upon His will, it could not have existed from eternity, the same is true in reference to those things that are consequent in the order of nature upon His wisdom and benevolence. Take, for instance, the plan of salvation — God’s purpose of grace towards the creatures He would make. His wisdom devised the plan, and His love prompted Him to send His Son to execute it; and we are distinctly told that this purpose and grace were given us in Christ Jesus before the world was. Now if it were not for God’s wisdom and benevolence, the plan of salvation would never have been devised! What then, is the conclusion? — that God did not entertain this purpose from eternity? So our author would say, if he is consistent.
2. Again, to prove that God’s foreknowledge does not depend upon His decree, he draws an argument from the analogy of human knowledge. We, says he, foreknew some things as, for instance, we know we must die; and if we should see a man shingling a house by reversing the order — by commencing at the top of the roof, we would foreknow that when it rains that house will leak; and this too without having decreed any thing on the subject! p.4. This is an involuntary acknowledgment that God, in his opinion, is altogether such an one as we are. To make the analogy complete, however, instead of degrading the Supreme Being to the level of the spectator, he must elevate the latter to the position occupied by the Creator. Let it be supposed then that this spectator was a self existent being, possessing all the attributes of God and stationed at a period anterior to the creation of the universe; for him to foreknow that that house would leak, it would be necessary for him to determine to create the world and to uphold it to the time of the existence of the builder; to give him being at the proper time and place and to preserve his life; to furnish the materials out of which to construct his house; and to cause the vapors to ascend and form the clouds that should discharge themselves upon that foolishly constructed house. Let this be supposed, and a child can see that the foreknowledge of that Being — call him man or God — would be – dependent upon his determination or will.
After what has been said above, no answer is necessary to the puerilities, that this Calvinistic view of foreknowledge makes it synonymous with memory! p.5, and that is equivalent to asserting that God made His decrees in ignorance! p.8. Besides these, his production contains no other arguments against Calvinistic foreknowledge. In conclusion, we will venture the remark that, if he had studied the subject before attempting to write on it, neither himself nor his readers would have been so much perplexed.
The doctrine of election, under the comprehensive name of predestination, receives our author’s first and last assault. “Calvinists hold,” says he, “that God predestinates His elect without any foresight of faith or good works, or perserverance in either of them or any other thing in the creature, as conditions or causes moving Him thereunto” (See Pres. Confession of Faith, Chap. 3, Art. 5. p. 1.). The whole article of which this is an extract expresses more clearly the Calvinistic view of the subject: “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 mere free grace and love without any foresight of faith and good works, or perserverance 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.” Now our author affects to understand Calvinists by this to say, that personal holiness is not necessary as a qualification for admission to heaven — that God receives men into the kingdom of glory, without reference to their character, i.e. though they may be unbelievers and evil doers! “It is palpable that Calvinists hold that God’s elect are ordained to the everlasting life without any regard to their Christian character, seeing that such character is composed of faith and good works”- p. 14. “Fleeted without any reference to Christian character, a change of character would not produce the least change in their relation to God.” p. 15. (We quote from the second sermon, because the idea is more concisely stated; the reader will see the same however more diffusely expressed on pp. 2, 10). And he goes on to argue against this: 1st. That “God predestinates to conformity to the image of His son.” p. 10; and 2nd. That “on the last day, men will be judged according to their works.” p. 11. He argues at length on these points, doubtless, in his opinion, very conclusively; but the truth is they have no relevancy to the case in hand. His opponents hold them to be true no less firmly than he does. The true question at issue he seems not to have conceived at all. In a recent publication he says, he “holds it criminal to misrepresent an author;” the only conclusion left us therefore is that he did not understand that upon which he was writing. And yet the uninitiated would suppose, from the confident manner in which he expresses himself, that he had the subject at his finger’s end. Ignorance, while it should always be modest and diffident, is not unfrequently self-conceited and presumptuous.
Arminians and Calvinists both believe that men will be Judged according to their deeds, and that Christians are purified as a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Both believe that without holiness, no man shall see the Lord; and both believe in a doctrine of election. The precise difference between them is this: Arminians hold that God elects some because He foresees that they will believe in Christ and obey His will: Calvinists, that God, seeing all men, while in a state of nature, possessing the same moral character, and without exception, unbelievers and rebels, without reference to (i.e. in spite of) that character, chooses some to holiness and eternal life, influenced solely by His sovereign benevolence. The former believe that He chooses them because they have faith and good works; the latter that He chooses them that they might have faith, and might perform good works. The former make the sinner take the initiative in his election, and consequently, (we may say) in his salvation, and then introduce the Supreme Being as his coadjutor; the latter make of God the author and the finisher of the sinner’s faith, and the originator of every thing good in the creature. In a word, Arminians maintain that faith and good works are the causes of God’s election; and Calvinists that they are the effects of it. In reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit, Arminians believe that it is bestowed irrespective of election and upon all in a measure sufficient to secure their repentance and faith — that it can be improved or misimproved, received or rejected, according to the will of the creature, and that God chooses those who, He sees will properly improve its influences; Calvinists believe that it is bestowed subsequently to election, and with the design to make its decree effectual, and, in its influence upon the elect, is invincible.
The true question at issue therefore is, whether election is the cause or the effect of faith and good works. Calvinists believe the former, and maintain that it is sovereign, and is the cause of every thing morally good in the creature. This then is what our author should have attacked, if he had wished to refute Calvinistic election. Everything he has said, that has any bearing upon the point at issue, is sufficiently answered by the simple statement above of the Calvinistic doctrine; but lest he may say that we pass them over because we cannot answer them, we will give them (begging our readers’ pardon for doing that which is so unnecessary) accompanied by a formal reply:
1. He asks. “If God knew, at the time He passed the decree, all about their personal character and holiness of heart, why did He not have reference to it? Was there so little difference between vice and virtue in God’s account, that his government regarded it not?” p.2. No; but God saw in the character of men in a state of nature all “vice” and no “virtue”. His Bible teaches the total depravity of all men. It asserts that they that are in the flesh cannot please God — that the carnal heart is enmity to God, not subject to His law, and unable to be; and, consequently, that none but those influenced by His grace will ever repent, believe and obey. He could not, therefore, elect them because of faith and good works foreseen; for He foresaw that none would believe and serve Him if left to themselves. If elected at all, therefore, they are elected not in consequence of, but in spite of their character: not because they are obedient, but that they might be obedient. And this is the apostle Peter’s opinion. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience” (1 Pet. 1:2).
2. Another argument which seems to be leveled at predestination as a whole, we put in this place for the want of a better, as we wish to reply to all of his arguments, whether he has properly arranged them or not. He says: “The man who believes the Calvinian notion of predestination, never feels the force or truth of such passages of holy scripture, as teach the universality of the atonement. Tell him that Christ tasted death for every man, he feels in difficulty about the reprobate.” p.11. To this, we answer that this embarrassment is altogether imaginary. Calvinists rejoice in the privilege conferred upon them to preach the gospel to every creature. Whether they believe in a general or a limited atonement – whether they believe that Christ died for all men without exception or only for His elect, (and we are sorry to say that there is a difference of sentiment on this point), they feel no hesitation in calling upon all men, and commanding them in the name of God to repent and believe the gospel, and in pointing all penitent sinners to a crucified Saviour. If they believe that the Bible places a limit to the intention of the atonement, they believe also that it represents its merits to be infinite, and sufficient to save a thousand times the number of the descendants of Adam if applied to them. They feel no hesitation, therefore – nay, they rejoice to declare to every sin burdened soul: Christ is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him.
Having thus answered all of our author’s arguments that have any bearing upon the doctrine of, election, let us see if the war cannot be carried successfully into Africa.
1. The position that the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon all in a measure sufficient to secure their repentance and faith, does not seem to be sustained by fact. The large majority of man-kind live in heathen lands, where not one ray of spiritual light reaches their minds. They have no knowledge of the true God, and of the law which He has published in His word for the government of His creatures, and, consequently, know not when they have sinned against Him by its infraction. True, they have the light of nature, and that law written upon their hearts by the dictates of which their consciences either accuse or else excuse them; but the former is so darkened by superstition, and the latter so confounded with heathenish maxims, as to be insufficient to guide them in the path of duty, or to point them to the path of safety. Now, in what way can the Spirit, if sent to the benighted heathen, operate upon their hearts? Of what can it convince them? — of sin? But by the law is the knowledge of sin; and they have no law excepting that written upon their hearts, which has been obliterated and displaced by the law of custom and superstition. If they should by any means be convinced by the Spirit that they are sinners, how can they obtain forgiveness of sin? By belief in Christ? But how can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? By any other way? But Christ is the only way — there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby they can be saved. It is evident, then, that if any of the adult heathen who have never heard the Gospel are saved, they are saved without faith in Christ, and by a wonderful exercise of the power of the Spirit of God in their behalf. If saved without faith in Christ, then we have some who were elected without a foresight of faith at least, whatever may be true in regard to good works; and if God by His sovereign power can save some heathen without a foresight of faith, why can He not (reasoning upon Arminian principles) save all? And if none of the adult heathen are redeemed while some in gospel lands obtain salvation, what becomes of the doctrine that God treats all men alike? If, in answer to this, it be said, He treats all men alike in the very fact that He gives all His Holy Spirit; we reply that in giving His Spirit to the heathen when He knows that their condition cannot be bettered, but their responsibilities must be increased, and their guilt enhanced by it without the Gospel. He curses rather than blesses them.
2. If men are elected because of their faith and good works foreseen, and thus are made to differ from others, they have room for boasting, and have a right to ascribe their salvation, at least in its incipient stages, to their own merits. If the Holy Spirit be bestowed upon all in a measure sufficient for their salivation, and some improve His influences, while others do not, it is because of some excellencies of character inherent in the former and not in the latter and, consequently, in answer to the Apostle’s question, who made thee to differ? they can say, “we made ourselves to differ.” And, if any are in this condition, they at least cannot join in the ascription of the redeemed: Not unto us, but unto thy great name be all the praise.
3. If any are chosen because of faith and good works, it follows that they are the authors of election and not God. They have chosen God, and not God them. But the Saviour said to His disciples: Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.
4. The apostle Paul distinctly asserts that men are not chosen because of their faith and good works foreseen or otherwise (Rom. 9:11) “For the children being not yet born, neither having done good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth; It was said the elder shall serve the younger.” Now faith itself is as much a work as repentance, or love, or any other Christian exercise. Obedience to any command is a good work, and God not only commands us to repent, but to believe the gospel. What testimony on this point can be more explicit than the following? “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). “God hath saved us, and called us with an Holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9). Arminians say that God has chosen His people because of faith and good works; but the apostle Paul says that He hath chosen them not according to their works but according to His purpose and grace — and Calvinists say the same.
5. Another, as it appears to us, unreasonable feature of the Arminian doctrine of election, is, that it may after all prove unavailing, and ineffectual. Our author says, p. 13, “Bible predestination does not absolutely secure everlasting life.” Their view may be illustrated by example, thus: God foresees that a certain individual at the age of twenty-five will believe and obey and, therefore, He passes a decree of election in his behalf, and, when the time arrives, actually bestows upon him the blessings of that decree; but when he reaches the age of thirty he apostatizes, becomes a blaspheming atheist, and dies in impenitency. Now, from all eternity, God as well foresaw the awful apostasy as He did the faith and obedience. May we not ask then: Does not this statement exhibit God as insincere? Is it not a mockery, and trifling, to adopt formally into His family those who He knows will five years thereafter backslide and go to Hell? Does it not represent Him too as dependent upon the will of the creature, changing every time that he does — now striving to secure the salvation of the sinner, and then disappointed and giving it up in despair- if this sincere attempt, and hopeless disappointment, can be reconciled with the infallible knowledge from eternity that it would result just as it does. And of what benefit is this election to the chosen one? It does not bring him into a state of holiness, for it is a consequent and not a cause; it does not keep him in a state or holiness, for notwithstanding it, he may fall from grace; it does not secure to him eternal life, for in spite of it he may die in a backslidden state and go to perdition. Is it said that if he die while in a state of grace, he will be sure of heaven? But that is not a supposable case — for God, who has fixed the number of his days, knew from eternity that he would live beyond the period of grace, and die after it should be all exhausted. May we not say then that this is an election neither honoring to God nor profitable to men?
At this point we close out our review of our author’s first sermon. We have, as we think, answered all the arguments contained in it; and if any have escaped our notice, it has not been because we have not diligently searched them.