Will, Predestination, and Calvinism

Figures, I wanted to reply to a comment and ended up writing a four-page essay! As that is certainly a little lengthy for a reply, I decided to expand it into an article so I could more fully (though it is still severely incomplete) address the topics of Calvinism, free will, predestination, etc.

I’ve been surprised by the amount of discussion generated by Two Sinners and a Saint; I think however the discussion should be turned from a Calvinism/Arminianism to a more relevant discussion of that article topic, as the purpose of this blog and the comments is not to be a forum that trails off on side topics.

That being said, I would like to “throw my hat in the ring” with my thoughts on the subject.

I really enjoyed reading Wesley’s sermons on the topic; the language is a little bit “involved” (a great mental exercise) but it is a great read nonetheless. My favorites are Sermon 128 and Sermon 58.

I should also like to speak myself on the subject with some of my observations. Let me preface this discussion by emphasizing that, though I disagree with Calvinism, I do not wish alienate myself from those who hold to his postulates; if we love, serve, and put our faith in the same Lord, then we are rather allies than enemies, and as such I hope that addressing these topics will only strengthen and mature our faith.

The basic premises.

Does God desire that all would be saved?

The Lord does not delay and is not tardy or slow about what He promises, according to some people’s conception of slowness, but He is long-suffering (extraordinarily patient) toward you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance. — 2 Peter 3:9

This first “stepping stone” reminds us that God desires that all would be saved, and wants no one to go to Hell; that’s His love. However, our God is a just God, and as such His desire that all would be saved conflicts with His just nature, and consequently He must give us our due reward or punishment. Thus, we are reminded that God’s desires are not necessarily His actions. However, perhaps this seems to be a hasty conclusion, which I will elaborate on.

For the purpose of argument, I will momentarily assume the mindset of Calvinism: that God, irregardless of a person’s free will and character (which is presumed irrelevant since they are preordained) irrevocably chooses some for salvation and others for Hell. On this premise then, God created humanity with the desire and action (in Calvinism the two are equated with each other), of destining all to Hell apart from salvation. We must conclude that God therefore created the earth and willed (both in desire and action) that it be fallen and bound to curse. History and the Bible tell us that God sent Christ for our salvation, but in predestining the world to condemnation, did He not also will (desire and action) that His Son be humiliated, tormented, scorned, separated from the Father, made an object of ridicule, crucified, and made to take on all the sins of the world? Have we not made God a tyrant who condemns His own Son simply because he willed that the world be bound to corruption irregardless of the free will (which is presumed irrelevant) of the condemned?

From the Scriptures, we find that Jesus (the incarnation of God) did not wish to be crucified. Yet He was crucified, because He said “not my will (Strong’s 2307: to desire, to want, etc.) but your will (same word) be done.” In effect, Christ (God Himself!) said, “I do not want to be tortured, separated from you, and crucified; but Father, I know that it is your desire that man be reconciled to you, and in consequence I must lay down my life so that your desire of reconciliation can be realized.” Have we not a contradiction of two wills? We therefore are reminded yet again that desire does not correlate to effect.

How are we predestined?

Having discerned that God desires that all be saved (I may endeavor to write further on the topic of Will vs Action), let us move on to another stone: that of God’s predestination.

Romans 9 is a wonderful exercise in context. Through vs. 27, Paul speaks of God predestining the footsteps of all, so that His glory might be revealed. Then in vs. 30, Paul reminds us of the purpose of this discussion:

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone. — Romans 9:30–32

Paul has directly summarized all that was said before: God did not decide on a whim that certain people only would be saved, irregardless of free will; he ordains our footsteps (or our purpose, such as that of Pharaoh) in order that He may be glorified. And he reminds us that Israel was (is) an instrument of salvation; that Israel “isn’t not” entirely saved because they were not “chosen.” For indeed, they are called God’s chosen people! It is because they did not pursue salvation by faith. Thus, we see that God has not forcibly chosen whether we will be saved or condemned; rather, he has lain out the course of the universe, using all as instruments in His grand plan according to their rejection or acceptance of Him.

I am hardly as eloquent as Wesley was in sermon 58, so therefore I encourage the reader to read it for himself; but nonetheless I will attempt to summarize the “how” of predestination.

God is not confined to time, and as such His knowledge is timeless. Consequently, He knows if we reject or accept him of our will (I speak in present tense because tense makes little sense to describe God), and as such (as per the previous point) he predestines the paths of all such that His glorious plan may come to pass. It helps to think of non-custom machinery parts; it takes time to assemble the pieces, but the builder knows what He wants the end result to be, and as such He uses a number of parts (which he did not necessarily custom make) which already have shape and form, to accomplish that end. Admittedly, it is a very limited analogy, but useful nonetheless.

Elaborating, recall Romans 8:28–30:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. — Romans 8:28–30

I would like to here borrow from Wesley’s excellent summary – as stated earlier, God is not confined by time-based observation, and knows our choices before we are forced to make them. In consequence, he knows us, as though before we know Him, which in human terms is called foreknowledge. However, this is perhaps a limited term since God does not have foreknowledge, being outside of time.

Thus, those whom God knew – those who of their own will commit their life to Christ – he did also predestine (set their paths such that their will to serve God would be fabricated into His grand scheme), and those whom he predestined he called, etc. Therefore, we see that those who are glorified to salvation are those whom God knows (in human terms, “foreknew”). Here I will quote Wesley’s analogy (though I have endeavored not to poorly recount his incredible dissertation):

But observe: We must not think [those who are saved] are because he knows them. No: he knows them because they are. Just as I (if one may be allowed to compare the things of men with the deep things of God) now know the sun shines: Yet the sun does not shine because I know it, but I know it because he shines. My knowledge supposes the sun to shine; but does not in anywise cause it. In like manner, God knows that man sins; for he knows all things: Yet we do not sin because he knows it, but he knows it because we sin; and his knowledge supposes our sin, but does not in anywise cause it. In a word, God, looking on all ages, from the creation to the consummation, as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all the children of men, knows every one that does or does not believe, in every age or nation. Yet what he knows, whether faith or unbelief, is in nowise caused by his knowledge. Men are as free in believing or not believing as if he did not know it at all. — John Wesley, Sermon 58

Reasoning in light of Calvinistic consequence

Granted, God’s ways are high above ours, but it is not from fallen nature that we derive logic. Rather, logical reasoning is a gift, and error comes to those who erroneously form their arguments. And as such, it is not wrong that we logically attempt to discuss the things of God, as long as we realize the limits of our knowledge if we are to include such limited observations as premises.

Bearing this in mind, I will proceed with what a logical mind must surmise about the characteristics of God.

If we are indeed chosen irregardless of our will, for what reason ought we to endeavor to seek salvation, or to encourage the spread of the Gospel, or to witness? Have we not in fact nullified God’s purposes in mission work? Again, why is the New Testament so concerned with warning the church to cling to Christ, if it makes no difference in the salvation “distribution?” For indeed, we do not do good things unless we have some reward or purpose in them; our reward in faith is salvation from the punishment we deserve, and our reward in good works (besides the rewards God promises us in Heaven) is seeing others come into salvation freely.

Ought we not to conclude that there is indeed some usefulness here on earth in spreading the Gospel and encouraging one another to faithfulness in devotion?

Final remarks

I regret that I have not time to complete this already lengthy dissertation on Calvinism, grace, predestination, free will, etc. but in the meantime I encourage you to read Wesley’s sermons on these topics (Sermon 128 and Sermon 58); with fewer pages he has formulated easier to understand (even with his dialect!) treatise on these “touchy” theological questions.

In consequence of the “touchiness” of this topic, comments will be closed, as I do not want them to inevitably turn into a hostile forum that heats up with every reply. However, I am certainly interested in hearing any additions you might have to this lengthy topic; feel free to email me, though I disclaim that my time is too limited to carry on lengthy email exchanges.