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Predestination (Calvinism)

The Calvinist doctrine of predestination is easy to state in all of its infamous bluntness (please read the Talk, if you wish to change this):

Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which He hath determined in Himself what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. -- John Calvin Institutes of the Christian Religion[?]

The Westminster Confession of Faith[?] is just as blunt, and expands the issue at length in Chapter III:

3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

And yet, what Calvinists are quite willing to confess among themselves, they sometimes are unwilling to say as boldly to others, or to allow others to attribute to them. Why is this? Is the doctrine of predestination according to Calvinism that, God foreordains some to eternal life, and others to eternal damnation, or not? Is it a decision based purely on his own will, so that there's nothing anyone can do to be saved if they aren't "one of the elect", or isn't it?

Any frank Calvinist must admit that, it appears to be as simple as that. If this is what people understand it to be, and he wants to say that they have not understood the doctrine, then the Calvinist must acknowledge that it's not for lack of understanding of the English language that they have come to their conclusion.

Besides this, notwithstanding the bluntness of its statements, the Westminster Confession of Faith uses notoriously peculiar language on these points in Chapter III.

1. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

This is a square circle indeed, if it's saying what it seems. From eternity, an order of all things is set in exhaustive detail, which nothing can change. And yet, this unchangeable order does not contradict the will of the creatures or take away their freedom, or remove second causes, much less cause the sinful choices of man? One may well wonder what the use is, of a doctrine that cannot be understood. It states plainly, what it denies in the next sentence. Here, supposedly, is a cause of every detail, that doesn't cancel second causes, or involve any coercion, or even resistance, much less offer "violence" to man's free choices or cause man to sin. In fact quite the opposite, says the confession, the freedom of man's choices is established inviolate by God's unchangeable decree. Perhaps Westminster is speaking merely of foreknowledge? Chapter III, again:

2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath He not decreed any thing because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

A distinction is made, between the decision that God makes from himself without reference to anything else - this "eternal decree" - and any actions that He may take based upon what happens, or what will happen, or what He understands about causes and consequent effects. Predestination is not foreknowledge. Instead, in section 7, it says that a secret counsel, an eternal and immutable purpose, and the good pleasure of His will is the basis of God's decree concerning both, those who are saved and those who are damned, as opposed to "any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto." This is where the crass criticism comes from, when referring to human hubris: "He does whatever he damn well pleases".

Now, we revisit the question of why Calvinists object when opponents repeat what Calvinists confess. The answer appears to be, because it evokes hatred of God in those who do not know God, if this be God. This appears from section 8 of chapter III:

The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.

Essentially, what this is saying according to Calvinists is that, the doctrine has no profitable meaning, except for those who believe the gospel. And, say the Calvinists quite adamantly, the gospel is not about predestination but about Christ, and the forgiveness of sins.

This gospel of Christ, according to Calvinists, is to be preached freely to all men, and they are to be urged with all sincerity to trust in it. The gospel should never be replaced with teachings on election and predestination, which cannot have any profitable meaning except to those who have trusted in the gospel. It is never to be said, "to be saved, you must be elect", because, what can men do to be elect? Therefore, if Calvinists find that their doctrine concerning salvation is being described by others as "you must be elect", they will object (or at least, that appears to be what their confessional documents tell them they should do).

It is never to be said, "judgment is based on God's decree", or "most men are damned before they are even born". That is a false way of speaking to the world. Judgment is based on the good and the evil that men do, Calvinists say, because that is what the gospel says. "Turn away from sin, trust in God and believe in Christ" is the gospel, according to Calvinists; "You must be elect" is an antigospel because it subjects men to false notions of futility, and it is therefore an obstacle to faith, something that should not be said because even if the words are right, the spirit of the words as expressed in unbelief is completely antithetical to their believing intent.

And so, what is the doctrine of predestination? The Calvinists say that it is instruction for those who believe, not to credit their believing to themselves, but to God who has had mercy and granted them faith, in love. It teaches those who have begun to trust God, to continue to trust even to the end of the world, because He has been faithful from the foundations of the world. And, those who have begun to obey, learn that salvation is not an achievement to be earned by them: rather, it is God, who is at work in them to make them willing, and able to live for Him. It teaches them when they preach the gospel to others, not to burden themselves with responsibility for whether they are believed: this is a matter between the others, and God. Therefore, if the world is too stubborn to listen, plead with God to grant them ears to hear, in whose hands are the fates of all men. And, because of this doctrine, no one can say "this people or that people cannot receive the gospel, because circumstances have made it impossible": God is the maker of all circumstance. Therefore, plead with God that he would be willing to overcome every obstacle. And if God by decree has the reins of the hearts and the will of men, then plead with God that men would be turned toward life. Predestination is the doctrine of Calvinism, only if it teaches joy and patience, and the assurance of God's faithfulness.

In other words, it is a doctrine intended to instruct Christians in the obedience of faith, not in the metaphysics of "will" in the abstract. It teaches them to credit nothing in creation for their salvation, but only God alone. And they are cautioned never to use this doctrine wrongly: because if these things are preached to those who do not believe the gospel, they will be provoked to blaspheme God. Because if election is preached, they will only hear a perverse message of damnation, or a message which makes them complacent in their sin. But if repentance and forgiveness through faith in Christ are preached, who knows but that God has written their names for the gift of repentance, in the book of life? So say the Calvinists.

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