Predestination and Double Predestination

Predestination and Double Predestination

Predestination is the Christian doctrine according to which a person's ultimate destiny, whether it be salvation or damnation, is determined by God alone prior to, and apart from, any worth or merit on the person's part.

Double predestination is the doctrine that God determines those to be saved and those to be condemned.

The simple questions are these “Why does God save some and not others?” “Why has God saved you and not your brother or sister, son or daughter?” “Why has God saved the members of the Brethren and not those of the Church of Scotland?”

Robert Burns’ poem Holy Willie’s Prayer puts the issue thus:

'O Thou, who in the heavens does dwell
Who as it pleases best thysel
Sends ane to heaven an' ten to hell
A' for thy glory
And no for ony gude or ill
They've done afore Thee!'

But predestination and double predestination are part of Scottish folk religion and folk culture. Only last week someone quoted that oft repeated saying to me, 'Whit’s fur ye ‘ll no go by ye'. Now that is not a New Testament saying. We do not read in Matthew’s Gospel that Jesus went up a mountain and when the people had gathered there and had sat down, he taught them saying 'Whit’s fur ye ‘ll no go by ye'. This fatalism guides and affects many as they seek to understand life’s many ups and downs. It is the opposite of the transforming grace and life of Jesus Christ offered in the Gospel. It is the opposite of the positive saving message of Christianity. John Calvin has got the blame for the perceived negative influence of predestination in western Christianity and it is indelibly associated with his Reformation thinking. It is Biblical, being found in both Old and New Testaments.

Moses, speaking of Israel, said,

'For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt' (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).

In New Testament the coming of Jesus, his death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, all fulfilled God's eternal plan and purpose (1 Peter 1:20; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Acts 2:23). Paul teaches that Christians have 'have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,' (Ephesians 1:11 ESV). Predestination is thus according to the purpose of God, or his will. Paul is clear that God ordains all acts, even in the case of Pharaoh, sinful acts of humanity. In Paul's mind, everything exists and happens in accordance with God's predetermined plan and sovereign purpose (Ephesians 1:11). In Romans 1, Paul suggests that God abandons ungodly people and leaves them to their fate.

The term double predestination has been used to refer to the dual concepts of election and damnation. It has been used as a view of predestination which sees election and damnation being worked out in equally. According to this doctrine God positively and actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to bring them to salvation; and in the same way God positively and actively intervenes in the life of the damned to bring them to sin. This is a picture of God which we do not recognise from the New Testament - from the life and teaching of Jesus. It means that God has a split personality doing good and evil. It makes playthings and puppets of human beings and absolves us of free will and responsibility for our actions.

This is not the Reformed view of predestination. The classic position of Reformed theology views predestination as double in that it involves both election and damnation but not equally. In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by grace. To the non-elect God withholds this grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves. He does not work sin or unbelief in their lives. This explains why not everyone is saved. This is a fact of life. Not everyone is a Christian. Not everyone is a saved Christian.

John Calvin defined predestination as 'God's eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each [person]. For . . . eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others'. So predestination is an act of God's will through which God elects or chooses those whom God calls to faith and thus to eternal life, and through which God chooses those who will not receive faith. Other theologians have seen in predestination only a positive calling to eternal life. Still others have seen it as God's foreknowledge of who would choose faith.

Both Calvin and Luther saw predestination as relieving the great late medieval anxiety about salvation; there was no reason for Christians to devote their energies to pious acts intended to improve their status in God's eyes. Because of the confidence Christians experience in faith, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit in their hearts that comes with faith, Christians can rejoice in God's gift of grace and in thanksgiving turn their energies toward serving the needs of their neighbours.

As the natural consequence of a proper understanding of the doctrine of predestination the Reformers saw a great deal of energy released for serving the needs of other people. Luther said there was no reason for buying indulgences; it would be better for people to spend the money instead on food for the poor.

Calvin worked harder than Luther at trying to explain systematically how the doctrine of predestination works. But he too finally admitted that we must stand in awe of the mysteries of God's decisions, which are unfathomable by human minds. The context in which Calvin placed the doctrine of predestination was the means of grace: how it is that God's grace comes to us. Later Calvinism tended to place far greater stress on predestination than Calvin did, and to give it a more prominent systematic place.

Most of the Reformed Confessions of Faith in the Presbyterian tradition reflect a doctrine of predestination as a part of justification by grace; some are more explicit than others. But many 20th-century Presbyterians have been very concerned about the few statements in the Confessions that suggest that God has from all eternity condemned some people to eternal death. If there is a popular stereotype of Presbyterianism, it's that Presbyterians believe in predestination as a kind of fatalistic belief that God determines everything in advance.

Again, let me turn to 'The Wee Book Of Calvin'. Bill Duncan asks the question, 'Are you a Calvinist?' He suggests you can tell in the following ways.

'You prefer your own company to that of others
Your favourite sweet is a Fisherman’s Friend - extra strong
You have an uncanny empathy with bleak and deserted landscapes and with art that centres on melancholy, loss, rejection, tragedy, alienation and suffering.
You are unable to resist attending a Free Presbyterian Church service, conducted entirely in Gaelic, when on holiday in the Outer Hebrides. You think you recognise the words, ‘creed’, ‘whisky’ and ‘Hell’, but sitting alone in the darkness of the half-empty Kirk amongst a sparse, black clad, ageing feel inexplicably at home.
You prefer saying No to Yes'

I think we have a few cultural Calvinists in this Church.

What does Biblical predestination mean today? The American thinker Jane Dempsey Douglass puts it this way. 'Firstly, the Reformed tradition has always stressed the sovereignty of God, the freedom of God, and predestination has been connected to a doctrine of God's freedom and of God's lordship over the universe, over all creation. The doctrine of predestination re-emphasises that God alone is Lord. In the second place, the doctrine of predestination functions for us today, as well as it did for Luther and Calvin, to safeguard the doctrine of justification by grace. Our experience is that faith comes as a gift from God; we understand that God comes to us with God's grace to which we can only respond with gratitude. And Reformed predestination is a way of saying God has taken the initiative in giving us these gifts'. Third, along with the Reformers, we can see this doctrine as a source of assurance of God's love for us. It is a doctrine that gives us confidence as we stand before God as forgiven sinners. Finally, we need to see the doctrine as the Reformers did as part of a doctrine of providence: God cares about everything God has created, and God has a purpose for each person who has been created. The Christian is therefore responsible for finding God's will and living in accordance with it. We are free to obey God. We must continue to work theologically at relating God's calling or predestination with human responsibility'.

To sum all this up this morning:

The problem arises if you give lose perspective and swallow theological camels and choke on theological gnats. The problem arises if you forget the simplicity of Christian calling. The problems arise if you put Christian love and humanity to the back of the queue. Predestination is the logical intellectual working out of the reality of Christian calling. But Jesus Himself warned against getting things out of perspective. “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but those who do the will of my Father I heaven”.

Mean-spirited, judgemental, loveless people have been present in Scottish churches throughout the centuries. We have some here even today in the 21st century. Jesus’ own life is our example. Grace and truth in generous outpouring. We know that even members of our own families do not fully respond to God’s love for them but we see that love working in their lives nonetheless. If they do not return God’s love then they lose much in life. But it is not for us to close the door of salvation on them. Christianity always offers a way back. To everyone - in every generation. As for you - if you are indeed a Christian - give thanks - with much humility - and love your fellow humans beings with the love that God has given you through Jesus Christ.

Robert Anderson 2017

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