Double Predestination: It is Not What You May Think. Answering Ridiculous Charges That This Makes God a Monster.

December 14, 2017


Briefly, here are my thoughts on a question that assumes some things about double predestination that are not the actual teaching I assume or desire to uphold. Namely, that God works symmetrically: as He does in the elect, so He does in the reprobate. This portrayal is obviously devised to make "Double Predestination" unpalatable (as if there could be any other kind of predestination). The sticking point emerges in the claim that God works the same way in the reprobate to create the evil in their hearts just as He does to create faith in the elect. This is indeed nonsense as all people since the fall are bound in sin, are spiritually dead, and do nothing that can merit acceptance by God. Of course, God must create the faith in the elect. If God did not effectually draw them and grant faith in regeneration, salvation would never be forthcoming. On the other hand, God sees the reprobate as they are, already wicked since the fall. That God has decreed to have them sin, and so be lost eternally should trouble no Calvinist worth his salt. But before we rush to try and exonerate God from the charge that He does something monstrous, we must consider several passages: Amos 3:6, “shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” The word evil here is sometimes used for wicked immoral actions of men. Also in Isaiah 45:8, we see: “I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.“ Again, the word here sometimes refers to moral evil. In Revelation 17:17, a puzzling text affirms: “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” Or this from the Psalms: “He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants.” Listen to John Calvin’s exposition of this passage,


He turned their heart, so that they hated his people The Egyptians, though at first kind and courteous hosts to the Israelites, became afterwards cruel enemies; and this also the prophet ascribes to the counsel of God. They were undoubtedly driven to this by a perverse and malignant spirit, by pride and covetousness; but still such a thing did not happen without the providence of God, who in an incomprehensible manner so accomplishes his work in the reprobate, as that he brings forth light even out of darkness. The form of expression seems to some a little too harsh, and therefore they translate the verb passively, their (i.e., the Egyptians') hearts were turned. But this is poor, and does not suit the context; for we see that it is the express object of the inspired writer to put the whole government of the Church under God, so that nothing may happen but according to his will. If the delicate ears of some are offended at such doctrine, let it be observed, that the Holy Spirit unequivocally affirms in other places as well as here, that the minds of men are driven hither and thither by a secret impulse, (Pr 21:1) so that they can neither will nor do any thing except as God pleases. What madness is it to embrace nothing but what commends itself to human reason? What authority will God's word have, if it is not admitted any farther than we are inclined to receive it? Those then who reject this doctrine, because it is not very grateful to the human understanding, are inflated with a perverse arrogance. Others malignantly misrepresent it, not through ignorance or by mistake, but only that they may excite commotion in the Church, or to bring us into odium among the ignorant. Some over-timid persons could wish, for the sake of peace, that this doctrine were buried. They are surely ill qualified for composing differences. This was the very cause why in former times the doctors of the Church, in their writings, swerved from the pure and genuine truths of the gospel,   and turned aside to a heathen philosophy. Whence originated the doctrine of free-will, whence that of the righteousness of works, but because these good fathers were afraid of giving occasion to evil-tongued or malignant men if they freely professed what is contained in the sacred Scriptures? And had not God, as it were by a strong hand, prevented Augustine, he would, in this respect, have been exactly like the rest. But God, so to speak, polishing him with a hammer, corrected that foolish wisdom, which rears its crest against the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, we see, affirms that the Egyptians were so wicked, that God turned their hearts to hate his people. The middle-scheme men seek to evade and qualify this statement, by saying, that his turning their hearts, denotes his permitting this; or, that when the Egyptians set their hearts upon hating the Israelites, he made use of their malice, as what, so to speak, came accidentally in his way; as if the Holy Spirit, from being defective in the power of language, spoke one thing, when he meant another. If the doctrine of this text, at first sight, seem strange to us, let us remember that God's judgments, in other places, are justly called "unsearchable," (Ro 11:33) and "a great deep," (Ps 36:6) Did not our capacity fail in reaching the height of them, they would not have that intricacy and mystery by which they are characterized. It is, however, to be observed, that the root of the malice was in the Egyptians themselves, so that the fault cannot be transferred to God. I say, they were spontaneously and innately wicked, and not forced by the instigation of another. In regard to God, it ought to suffice us to know, that such was his will, although the reason may be unknown to us. But the reason is also apparent, which vindicates his righteousness from every objection. If we learn and keep in mind only this small word of advice, That the revealed will of God ought to be reverently acquiesced in, we will receive, without disputation, those mysteries which offend either the proud, or such as would be over-careful to remove the difficulties, in which, according to their view, such mysteries seem to be involved. The prophet next expresses the manner in which the Egyptians wrought mischief against the people of God: they did not assault them openly, that they might put them to death, but they endeavored, in the way of craft and policy, to oppress them by little and little. His expression is borrowed from Moses himself. And it is purposely used, that we may not think that the hearts of the ungodly are permitted without restraint to work our destruction. It is a consideration which ought surely to satisfy our minds, that whatever the devil and wicked men may plot against us, God nevertheless represses their attempts. But it is a double confirmation of our faith, when we hear that not only their hands are bound, but also their hearts and thoughts, so that they can purpose nothing except what God pleases.


Calvin is extremely clear, and he finally evinces a balanced view concerning these truths revealed in Scripture. I affirm as much in this quotation as the Master French theologian. For more on the Calvinist position about God’s rule and the question of “bare permission,” see the elaborate discussion in the Institutes, Book 1, chs. 16-18.


The key, I believe in expounding all of God’s works is to remember that God does not sin in decreeing sin. God is not accountable to anyone. God has no law to bind Him. He is a law unto Himself. What God commands for man to do is apropos for man. However, it is incorrect to apply the law that is intended for mankind to bind God in what He can and cannot do. God remains just and holy in all His dealings with man in the time/space continuum. This universe is His and all that is in it is His. God can do as He will with His own. So, the question that began our investigation needs to be re-stated in such a way that clears away prejudice and the unpalatable taste one gains by accepting the legitimacy of skewed interrogative posts that claim, “God works in exactly the same way in the elect and the reprobate.” Obviously, God works differently in the lives of the elect and the reprobate.  In the elect, God brings life where there is only death. This underscores His gracious dealings with enemies that are totally undeserving of such divine gifts. In the reprobate, God sometimes puts it in the heart of these lost persons to accomplish His purposes. And this shows God’s divine justice, in temporarily hardening and executing His will in their iniquitous actions, and in their eternal demise and damnation. But God is the prime cause, and the truth of secondary causes is not excluded. But in these instances, God works with those that are already dead and separate from God. The reprobate are not neutral, as if God merely awaits to see what they will do and thus turn it into something useful. No! God takes those reprobates marked out for destruction before the foundation of the world, and sometimes deepens their evil actions in a positive manner. The way God uses the Assyrians in Isaiah 10 is a prime example: “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few. . . . Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.” Clearly, we see God raises up this King and his armies to fulfill God’s purposes. The king of Assyria has no idea that he is a pawn in God’s plan. The king thinks he has accomplished great feats. But notice that God will judge him, not merely for the wicked deeds, that in God’s purposes further His kingdom objective, but for his arrogance, “For he saith, Are not my princes altogether kings? Is not Calno as Carchemish? is not Hamath as Arpad? is not Samaria as Damascus? As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria; Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols? For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man: And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped.”


Again, let us hear from Calvin:


I will visit upon the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria. God promises, in a word, that after having permitted the Assyrian to plume himself beyond measure, he will in his turn be an avenger; for it belongs to him to repress the pride of the flesh, which is connected with sacrilege. Accordingly, the preposition על (gnal) is emphatic, as if it declared that the Assyrian will not be protected by his loftiness from undergoing punishment. Fruit is here taken in a metaphorical sense, for wicked men think that they are happy and prosperous when they swell with pride, as if they gathered some fruit. He places in the foreground the heart, which is the seat of pride, and which, when it swells with haughtiness, pours out fierceness and cruelty. Afterwards, he adds the eyes, by which the inward feelings of the heart are manifested, and which, by being lifted up, are the heralds of secret vice. To whatever extent the Assyrian, in his pride, may elevate himself, God testifies that he has in his own power the means of suddenly changing his glory into dishonor and reproach. Accordingly, he includes contempt, scorn, disdain, and haughty looks, indicative of excessive confidence, which are usually beheld in proud men. I will visit. He introduces God as speaking, because that which God utters with his own mouth is more impressive, (ἐμφατικώτερον,) than if he spoke by the mouth of the Prophet. Hence draw a general doctrine. God cannot endure the arrogance of proud men, without suppressing it; for he wages incessant war with the haughty and disdainful. (Pr 3:34; Jas 4:6; 1Pe 5:5.)


When the Lord shall have finished his whole work. Observe how, in order to repress immoderate haste, the Prophet added this by way of limitation; for as soon as we see a proud man, we wonder that the Lord endures him. Isaiah here shows that God endures that proud tyrant, whatever may be the insolence with which he vaunts and exalts himself, because he chose to make use of his agency, and that the seasonable time for the Lord's destruction of the wicked is not always at hand, but that we ought to wait patiently for it. When he shall have chastised the kingdom of Judah, as if he were bringing the members of the family into a state of submission, he will not be slow or sluggish in punishing a foreign enemy; as a father commonly throws away or breaks the rod with which he chastised his son.


His whole work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem. By a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, (συνεκδοχικῶς,) Mount Zion is here put for the Church, and Jerusalem is employed in the same sense, in order that by means of the Temple and the royal city, as the head, he might describe the whole body, and by means of the most important part might describe the whole kingdom. He calls it the whole work, because through our foolish haste we would draw away God from his work, though it were only begun. More especially, our wrath against wicked men rages so strongly, that it is difficult to restrain our impatience, if God do not instantly comply with our wish in punishing them. To mitigate this fervor, he bids them allow full and ample time for God's fatherly chastisements.


The whole work denotes a proper measure. This is a useful and highly consolatory doctrine; for we see wicked men, in a wonderfully arrogant and seemingly triumphant manner, mocking God, and uttering reproaches and slanders against his doctrine, so that hardly any words can express their insolence. If the Lord would comply with our wish, he would immediately hasten to subdue and destroy them. But he wishes first to humble his Church by means of them.


So, God’s rhetorical questions give insight into what God makes of the whole matter: “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.”  John Calvin adds these observations:


Shall the axe boast? He now ridicules more strongly the mad effrontery of the Assyrians in imagining that he could create mountains of gold; for he tells us that the case is the same as if an axe or a hammer should despise the hand which sets them in motion, and should be proud of their activity, though it is manifest that they have no power of their own to move. But before explaining the subject more fully, I shall touch briefly on the words.


Like the rising up of a rod against him that raiseth it. This second class of the verse is somewhat obscure. The matter is plain enough, but in the form of expression there is some ambiguity, in consequence of which commentators greatly differ. Yet, when I examine the matter closely, the rendering which I have given appears to flow more naturally than the others. "What is this? If a staff rise against the hand of him that raiseth it, and forget that it is wood, what a shocking exhibition will it be!" For it is not uncommon that the particle את, (eth) which is the sign of the accusative, should mean against; and the copulative ו (vau) is often superfluous. We shall thus have a meaning which is not ambiguous, and which agrees with the words of the Prophet. He formerly reproached the Assyrian for ascribing to his schemes and his army the victories which he had gained. He now says, that in this manner he boasts against God, just as if an axe, reckoning as nothing the hand of him that cuts, claimed the praise of a workman, or a staff, as if it were not dead wood and without any strength of its own, rose up against him that wielded it.


Hence we learn that men rise up against God, whenever they ascribe to themselves more than is proper, and that in such cases they war not with men but with God himself. Away, then, with     those proud and blasphemous expressions, "By my power and wisdom and perseverance I have done and contrived and accomplished these things;" for the Lord is a jealous God, (Ex 20:5,) and does not permit his glory to be given to another! (Isa 42:8; 48:11.)


We must attend to those comparisons by which he likens men to instruments; and we must not view it as referring to the universal providence by which all creatures are governed, as some do, who acknowledge that all the creatures are moved by God, because they cannot deny it, but add, that each of them is driven according to its nature, as the sun, the moon, the heavens, and such like. Thus they imagine that man is driven hither and thither by his own choice and by free-will; because God does nothing more than continue that power which he once bestowed at the beginning. Their false explanation amounts to this, that the whole machinery of the world is upheld by the hand of God, but that his providence is not interposed to regulate particular movements. Thus they ascribe to God the rain and the fair weather because he is the Author of nature, but contend that, strictly speaking, God commands nothing, that the rain is produced by vapours, and that fair weather also is produced by its natural causes. But this confused direction, which they leave to God, is hardly the thousandth part of that government which he claims for himself. Justly therefore, does Isaiah show that God presides over individual acts, as they call them, so as to move men, like rods, in whatever way he pleases, to guide their plans, to direct their efforts; and, in a word, to regulate their determinations, in order to inform us that everything depends on his providence, and not on the caprice of wicked men.


It is objected, that it would be absurd to call men axes and swords, so as to take away from them will and judgment, and everything that distinguishes them from inanimate creatures, and to make them, not men, but stocks and stones. But the answer is at hand. Though God compares men to stones, it does not follow that they resemble them in all respects. No one thing is exactly like another, but they agree in some points; for as a staff cannot move itself in any direction, and yet is fit for inflicting blows, so wicked men have something which belongs to them by nature, and yet they cannot be moved hither and thither, without being directed by the providence and secret decree of God. This fitness of things, if we may so call it, is no reason why the action should not be ascribed entirely to God alone.


But the question about the will of man is unseasonably introduced on the present occasion. If God controls the purposes of men, and turns their thoughts and exertions to whatever purpose he pleases, men do not therefore cease to form plans and to engage in this or the other undertaking. We must not suppose that there is a violent compulsion, as if God dragged them against their will; but in a wonderful and inconceivable manner he regulates all the movements of men, so that they still have the exercise of their will.


In this passage Isaiah chiefly shows that all the efforts of men are fruitless, if God do not grant them success; and therefore that the Assyrian, even if he had attempted everything, would not have succeeded, if the Lord had not bestowed the victories; and, consequently, that he had no reason for laying claim to the praise of those things in which his success was owing solely to God. This is confirmed by another metaphor, that the lifting up of a staff proceeds from the will of him who moves it, and not from the nature of the wood.


So, Calvin provides a Calvinist perspective on the nature of God’s operations. God is always prime mover. His decree and His effectual providence governs everything that comes to pass. God does nothing wrong in decreeing to raise up men to accomplish His purposes, even when He has them sin and orders their movements to guarantee His will is done. If one wishes to caricature this approach for a more palatable position one must jettison the label “Calvinist.” It simply will not do to claim to be reformed and to hold a position that Calvin himself finds so repulsive. Calvin, rightly sees these futile attempts at, “getting God off the hook,” so to speak, as idiotic. I agree. Caricature and ridicule may be good strategy for politicians, but not for theologians. So, please stop maligning the name of the one who gave us these teachings, the Lord God Almighty, Himself. He is not ashamed to give these words in Scripture, let us boldly proclaim the whole counsel of God.




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