Finding Delight in Predestination?

Dear Friend,

I want to thank you for your courage and trust that you exhibited by sharing your wrestling with the doctrine of predestination. I’ll repeat what I said last night: they are good questions, and you are not the only person to ask. Being honest about these questions and then being serious about studying our Bibles in the pursuit of truth can be a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our faith and understanding, so I’m glad you brought up your questions.

While we have a lot of ground we could cover, I’d like to focus this letter on the main question you were asking: how can I find comfort in the doctrine of predestination? By predestination we mean the teaching which says that before time began God chose some to be saved and he passed over others unto eternal condemnation.

This question assumes we’ve been able to give a positive answer to a prior question: is predestination true? Does it agree with the way God has actually chosen to work in the world? Unless we have good reason to believe the doctrine of predestination is objectively true, we don’t want to waste precious energy figuring out how a mere fiction may be of value to us!

And I do think we have good reasons for believing this teaching to be true. The language of election and predestination is found throughout the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Without using the word, Jesus teaches predestination (John 6:37-40; John 10:14-16, 26-29).  And when Jesus pours out his heart to the Father in John 17, he prays for those “whom [the Father] had given him” and no others. He prays for those whom the Father had given him, not those who might believe.

And, of course, the concept of predestination is taught clearly by the apostles. Paul writes to the Ephesians of how the Father “…chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Eph. 1:4-5). Romans 8 declares, quite gloriously, that those whom God has predestined he also glorified (Rom. 8:29-30). And nowhere is truth of predestination more clearly asserted than in the ninth chapter of Romans where Paul, making use of the examples of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, says that the promises of salvation belong to those on whom God has freely determined to lavish his mercy and grace:

“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:22-24).

In fact, we must also say that it is not just individual passages of Scripture that teach the doctrine of predestination, but that the logic of the entire Bible requires it. Man, in his fallen condition, is dead in sins, he cannot make himself live again. Like Lazarus, he needs a voice from outside the tomb to command him to come alive again! And only God can do this! As Broughton Knox put it, “The doctrine of predestination is simply the consequence of man’s nature (dead in trespasses and sins), and of God’s nature (goodness and mercy), and of his sovereignty and power, through which he recreates those who are dead in their sins, to be his sons and daughters, choosing according to his own wise and loving and righteous will.”

But, for all this, we have not addressed the question of how such a doctrine can elicit delight? Certainly, there are both sociological and apologetic obstacles that can get in the way. For some who have grown up in the church, the doctrine of predestination has been trumpeted as an unassailable, cold, hard fact in such a way that we would as soon embrace a fish as this doctrine espoused from some pulpits. But to this I need only say that such a poor presentation of the doctrine should not put us off. Instead, we would need only look at how some of the warmest, most joyful Christians who have ever lived have staked their comfort on this doctrine.

Consider the brilliant Charles Spurgeon. He said, “I am persuaded that the doctrine of predestination is one of the softest pillows upon which the Christian can lay his head — and one of the ‘strongest staffs’ upon which he may lean, in his pilgrimage along this rough road.”

The point is that predestination must not be confused for an arid, cold, and lifeless teaching that is sometimes promoted in the church. In fact, in the history of the church, those who have been most acquainted with God’s love and most aflame with love for Christ have held to this very teaching.

And yet there is also the apologetic question of whether such a teaching is good. How can I take comfort in a doctrine in which God apparently chooses to send some people to eternal condemnation? How can I take joy in a teaching that tells me there is someone—or perhaps many people—who are languishing in hell when God could’ve chosen otherwise? How is that fair? It may appear to some that God has chosen to play some nasty version of Russian Roulette with the eternal fate of all the souls that ever lived. Some dodge the bullet; others don’t.

At its root, it rubs against our sense of justice because it seems unfair that some would get chosen to experience eternal joy while others are left to eternal torment. I can certainly understand the question and I’m glad for it because it gets at an important assumption we want to address. What does God owe us? Shouldn’t God save everyone?

But here’s what we need to understand. The Bible tells us that we are sinners by birth and by choice. What all of us deserve as willful rebels against God is eternal condemnation. As Machen put it, “We regard it as surprising that any are lost; the Bible regards it as surprising that any are saved.” But it is not only that we are mistaken to assume we deserve anything less than hell. It is also that once we assume that God is under an obligation to do something to us, we deny his ability to be merciful. If we expect that God must save all, then salvation is not the outpouring of God’s mercy and grace, but the duty God was compelled to render. In other words, if we object to God predestining some but not all, we are ultimately resisting God’s merciful character. We can delight in predestination as it helps us to see salvation as being drenched in God’s mercy.    

Secondly, we can delight in predestination because as it grounds our salvation in the eternal and unchanging choice of God, it establishes our salvation as secure. A Christian can know that they are saved not so long as they hold onto Christ, but because Christ has chosen to infallibly hold on to Him. It is a safe rule of thumb that an all-powerful, all-wise being gets what He wants. And since He, for some reason known only to Him, has chosen me, I will be sure to get Him. Predestination is the Christian’s safety.

There are more reasons we can find delight in this doctrine, but I’ve already gone on long enough. I hope I’ve given you some reasons to see this familiar doctrine in a fresh and more exciting way. If you have any questions, you can always feel free to send me another note.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

Pastor Wayne

P.S.  If you’d like to read more about the argument for predestination, I’d direct you to J. Gresham Machen’s chapters on the subject in Things Unseen (his radio talks) or R.C. Sproul’s book or lectures Chosen by God. For a very short introduction, you could also check out The Everlasting Purpose: Understanding Predestination by Broughton Knox.


What Pastor Wayne is reading . . .

Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West
by Catherine Belton

The Everlasting Purpose: Understanding Predestination
by Broughton Knox

Making the Most of the Cross
by John Chapman

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