Monday, October 10, 2011

Chapter 99 - Hardshells and Predestination II

As was shown in the previous chapter, the London confession said:

"God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass..." (Article 1 of Chapter 3 on "God's Decrees")

This is clearly an affirmation of the absolute predestination of all things. Thus, those Hardshells who affirm belief in it are therefore "primitive" on this doctrine, using the old confession as a standard. Though the word "predestinate" is not used, the confession nevertheless uses equivalent words which denote substantially the same thing. It uses the word "decreed." In systematic theologies the word "decree" is often used when discussing predestination.

Predestination involves what God has eternally decreed, what he has predetermined shall, or shall not, exist and "come to pass." Another word and idea connected with predestination is "will."  God's eternal decrees have to do with God "willing beforehand."  The divine decrees involve the "will of God." Thus, in discussing predestination one is essentially talking about what God has from eternity decreed or willed. There are of course other words used in scripture, in the confession, and in theological writings on the topic, such as predetermined, pre-ordained, purposed, and pre-appointed, etc.

The authors of the London Confession also believed that God's predestination (decrees) was "absolute," that is, "unchangeable," or "immutable." Further, God's decrees involve not just a few things, but "all things," or "whatsoever comes to pass." Therefore, it is clear that the "Conditionalist" faction does not believe what this article affirms. They rather limit predestination to only a few things that come to pass in time, often limiting it only to what pertains to the eternal salvation of the elect.

In chapter 5 on "Divine Providence" the confession says:

"Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence..." (chapter 5, article 2)

Notice again how the confession is clear that "all things that come to pass" are exactly what God has eternally decreed. Also, notice again how the confession affirmed that this decree is "immutable" and "infallible," that is "absolute." It denies belief in accident and "chance." God is the "first cause" of everything that exists or happens, of all "second causes."  They affirm that "not anything" (nothing) "befalls" (happens to) "anyone,"  any creature, "without his providence."  That is, all that occurs is by, with, or through his providence.  Will today's Conditionalist Hardshells endorse this primitive Baptist article?

The confession also states, in Chapter five, article four:

"The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends..."

In this section the confession uses the term "determinate counsel" instead of the word "decreed," and yet it is clearly talking about the same thing. The authors of the confession understood that God's "determinate counsel" (Acts 2: 23) was, in Greek, substantially the same word translated "predestination" in Romans eight and Ephesians one.  Also, I Corinthians 2: 7, Ephesians 2: 10, and Jude 1; 4 we have "before ordained," or "pre-ordained."  Many of the Conditionalist faction, however, will often say that the concept of "predestination" is only taught in those places where the verb or noun form of the English word is used in the King James Version.  This is an unlearned position, for the same, or similar Greek words, are used in several passages, in the KJV, though translated as "determined before" or "before ordained," or "determinate counsel," etc., to express the Greek idea.  Jesus said "the Son of man goeth, as it was determined."  (Luke 22: 22), or as it was predestined.

The confession says that God's decree, purpose, will, determinate counsel, foreknowledge, and predestination, "extends itself even to the first fall, and to all other sinful actions."  Today's Conditionalist Hardshells will not endorse this statement and have in fact repudiated it.  How then can they claim to be "primitive" Baptists?  The confession has already rejected the idea of "chance," and it did not view the fall of man as the result of chance, but as a result of what God had willed to occur. 

The confession does not deny the "permissive will" of God, but it does not accept it as a mere "bare permission."  They did not believe that God permitted apart from will and choice.  They no doubt endorsed the exposition given by Jerome Zanchius (1516-1590) in his work "Absolute Predestination."

Wrote Zanchius:

"From what has been laid down, it follows that Augustine, Luther, Bucer, the scholastic divines, and other learned writers are not to be blamed for asserting that 'God may in some sense be said to will the being and commission of sin.' For, was this contrary to His determining will of permission, either He would not be omnipotent, or sin could have no place in the world; but He is omnipotent, and sin has a place in the world, which it could not have if God will otherwise; for who hath resisted His will? (Rom. 9). Not one can deny that God permits sin, but He neither permits it ignorantly nor unwillingly, therefore knowingly and willingly." See here

The authors of the confession affirmed, like Augustine, Calvin, Luther, and Zanchius, that nothing occurs apart from God's permission, and that this divine permission (acquiescence) was what was done willingly and knowingly, as Zanchius and others have said.  They recognized that the "permissive will" of God was still simply "the will of God." 

In Chapter three, article one, the confession states:

"...yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree." 

The confession is clear to state that its affirmation of the absolute predestination of all things does not, though it might seem to do so, imply that God is the immediate producer of evil acts, or is the direct and responsible cause for such acts, nor does it imply that men are not accountable or responsible.  The confession allows the "will of the creature" to be the immediate and direct cause, and that the will of the creature is one of those "second causes."  But, at the same time, the confession acknowledges that God is the "first cause," and this is a first principle that cannot be easily confronted or denied.

The confession states:

"...yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently." (chapter 5, article 2)

This is a repeat of what was said in the chapter on the divine decrees, where the will of the creature and second causes were acknowledged.  The confession believes that human choice is somehow compatible with divine sovereignty and predestination, though the confession makes little effort to demonstrate how they are compatible.  The deniers of the absolute predestination of all things often argue that it is not compatible with human responsibility and therefore reject the former as being truth.  Wrote Spurgeon:

"That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring." ("Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility," 1858)

The confession also stated:

"...yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin." (chapter 5, article 4)

The confession denies that God's predestination of all things destroys the accountability of the creatures, and affirms that the sinful acts of creatures are wilful acts, and that God's decree lay no compulsion upon the creature, but nevertheless included those acts.  The confession denies that the absolute predestination of all things makes God to be the "author of sin." 

In chapter five of the confession, on "Divine Providence," the confession states:

5.___The most wise, righteous, and gracious God doth oftentimes leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations and the corruptions of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled; and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself; and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for other just and holy ends. So that whatsoever befalls any of his elect is by his appointment, for his glory, and their good.

Again, the confession is clear in affirming that "whatsoever befalls any of his elect is by his appointment."  Today's Hardshell Conditionalists will not affirm this article, and therefore, they cannot claim to be primitive or original in their beliefs on predestination.

The confession also states, in the same section:

6.___As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as the righteous judge, for former sin doth blind and harden; from them he not only withholdeth his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understanding, and wrought upon their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had, and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, under those means which God useth for the softening of others.

Here the confession affirms how sin results from the will of God.  God's withholding of his grace results in sin.  Just as withdrawing one's grasp of a stone, by letting it go, causes it to fall, so does God's withdrawing of his grace cause moral falling.  Of course, gravity was the primary cause of the stone's falling, and the sinful nature and will of creatures are the primary cause of their moral falling.

The confession continues:

7.__As the providence of God doth in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it taketh care of his church, and disposeth of all things to the good thereof.

Again, just as Paul, who said that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Rom. 8: 28), so does the confession affirm the same in the above words.

In chapter 6, "Of the Fall of Man, Of Sin, And of the Punishment Thereof," the confession states:

1.__Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, which had been unto life had he kept it, and threatened death upon the breach thereof, yet he did not long abide in this honour; Satan using the subtlety of the serpent to subdue Eve, then by her seducing Adam, who, without any compulsion, did willfully transgress the law of their creation, and the command given unto them, in eating the forbidden fruit, which God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.

Notice again how the confession affirms that the fall of Adam had been "purposed" by God, it being what was part of his permissive will.  Yet, at the same time, the confession affirms that God's willing and purposing the fall did not force Adam to transgress. 

In concluding this chapter, it becomes clear that the old London confession affirmed the predestination of all things and that such predestination was compatible with responsibility and human choice.  In the rest of the chapters in this series, these points will be enlarged upon.

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