Predestination is a key part of a reformed
understanding of all that God has revealed in Scripture. This
is one of the fundamental doctrines to which all leaders in the
Church of England are asked to
assent because it is stated clearly in the seventeenth of the
39 Articles. However, like so many of the great reformed doctrines
that underlie our National Church it is threatened by neglect
as by rejection. Moreover, as further talks go ahead with a view
to possible merger with the struggling Methodists few Anglicans
appear concerned at the potential conflict between the Methodist
and Anglican positions on this doctrine.
Article 17 (click
here for content of Article
17) deals with ‘Predestination to Life’ stating
that before creation, God chose those whom he would save through
Christ. Those whom he chose are thus saved from damnation and
are saved for eternal life. It is the longest of the 39 Articles
and in its finished form derives, with a few changes, from the
42 Articles of 1553. The first part of the article states the
doctrine whilst the latter, and longer part looks at its practical
It is possible to draw
theological distinctions between purpose, predestination and election,
but that is beyond the scope of this article.
The doctrine of Predestination is inseparable from the absolute
Sovereignty of God and both doctrines are clearly taught in Scripture.
Though there are many passages that teach predestination, two
of the plainest are Romans 8.28-30 and Ephesians 1.5-11. The former
passage, set in the context of the loving purposes of God, gives
the order of salvation - foreknown by God (in the sense of intimacy
not knowing about), predestined, called, justified, glorified.
Likewise the latter speaks of God’s good will and pleasure
according to which he predestines us for adoption, makes us acceptable,
redeems, forgives and gathers together - all by, in and for Christ.
Whilst it must be accepted that scripture plainly teaches predestination
there are also passages that are not easy to reconcile with the
doctrine. For example, we are given many encouragements to pray,
and even the indication that we can change God’s mind (Abraham
praying for Sodom or Moses for Israel for example). These are
not impossible things to hold together but we must admit that
they serve principally to highlight our ignorance. The temptation
is to elevate one truth at the expense of the other. Rather we
must say that both are taught in scripture and therefore both
should be held and should shape our living.
Humility compels us to say that we cannot fully comprehend these
things. We can go a long way to reasoning and understanding the
whys and wherefore, but ultimately there comes a point when we
must stop and admit that we are not God. The example of Job shows
a similar situation. His friends were adamant that he was suffering
because of his sin. Job was adamant that this was not the case.
Ultimately the book of Job gives no intellectual answer to the
problem of suffering except that when Job is finally confronted
with the presence of God, the problem that had so occupied him
evaporated. No doubt many of the things that we struggle to understand
now will disappear when we see Him face to face.
The origin of the doctrine of Predestination is traditionally
associated with Augustine of Hippo. Although Augustine does cite
earlier writers it does not appear that the leaders in the early
church gave much attention to this teaching of Scripture. Often
their language when dealing with such passages is unguarded and
vague. They clearly believed predestination in a general sense,
not least in relation to the predetermined plan of salvation through
Christ. However, when it came to individuals, those writers who
do mention it seem to assume that predestination equates with
God knowing in advance who will accept the call of the gospel.
Whilst, of course, God does know this,
it is not all that can be said about predestination from scripture
and it was not until the time of Augustine that this fact came
to the fore.
The full exploration
of the doctrine was prompted by the teaching of Pelagius who elevated
freewill to the extent of saying that a man could be saved without
grace. This was not something most earlier writers would have
accepted but it was left to Augustine to expose the error by expounding
the full teaching of scripture on the extent of sin and the sovereignty
of God. Subsequently Pelagianism has always been treated as a
heresy. It is humbling for us Brits that Pelagius is the first
known British theologian.
After the Reformation a subtly different position came to the
fore, ostensibly from the teaching of Jacobus Arminius. Again
this rested on the view that God knows in advance how we respond
gospel rather than that he predetermines it. In its 17th Century
manifestation it was largely a reaction against double predestination
(see below). It is argued by some that Article 17 is compatible
with an Arminian position. Of course, the article predates the
specific Arminian controversy, though it would have been possible
for a revised form of the article to be adopted in 1662. Indeed,
the Westminster Confession of Faith does deal in much greater
detail with the doctrine. Nevertheless, at a straightforward reading
Article 17 is a clear reformed statement. It is only with some
ingenuity that it can be made reconcilable with Arminianism.
The greatest objection
The greatest objection
raised to the doctrine of predestination is the inescapable logic
that if God predestines some to eternal life then either all are
saved (which clearly the bible denies) or, of necessity, God predestines
others to eternal damnation. This double predestination or predestination
to reprobation has always been the most controversial part of
It needs to be recognised that whilst the Scriptures do appear
to teach predestination to reprobation they do so much less prominently.
Even in Romans chapter 9 where it is clearly in view, the language
is not forceful (compare the ‘what if’ of verse 22
with the definite statements of Romans 8 about predestination
to life). We may say that scripture is reticent to explore this
doctrine and this is reflected in Article 17. The article states
clearly the doctrine of Predestination to Life, it deals with
the positive impact of this doctrine on the lives of the elect.
Then it deals with those who are not Christians (lacking the Spirit
of Christ), and essentially issues a warning, that to set this
doctrine before such people is dangerous. The implication of the
doctrine of predestination to life is thus plain, but it is actually
left unstated. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom
and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His
ways past finding out! Rom. 11:33
Living in the purposes of God
Supremely this doctrine
elevates God. It gives to Him the glory that is His due. He is
not at themercy of sinners, but in complete and utter control
of their destiny. Reformed theology is marked by the centrality
of the sovereignty of God and it is therefore small wonder that
the doctrine of election has become such a significant part of
Of necessity this doctrine therefore also humbles us as sinners.
It forces us to recognise that no part of our salvation is in
any way dependent upon us. We cannot turn to God in faith unless
of God goes before and this itself is merely the outworking of
God’s eternal election to life. It is this aspect of the
doctrine that is so difficult for us to stomach. We live in a
day where self-reliance is dominant, where we assert our rights
over against others and where self-gratification is placed constantly
above the good of others. In such a climate the message that we
are utterly dependent on God is not easily accepted.
As a consequence this truth also shows us that we are no better
than anyone else. It is said that the English Reformer John Bradford
would weep when seeing prisoners being taken to the gallows and
would declare ‘There but for the grace of God goes John
Bradford’. Since our standing before God is utterly and
entirely of grace, we have absolutely no room for boasting. When
we encounter the lost, the poor, the foolish, the criminal, we
are inclined to look down on them and think that we are better
than they. But, left to our own devices, we would be no different.
This fact should stir us to praise, to pity and to prayer.
The fact that our salvation does not rest on the strength of our
faith or the quality of our works, but rather on the purposes
of God it should bring to us great assurance and comfort. This
is particularly stressed in Article 17. It gives to us confidence
as to our future destiny, which rests on the faithfulness of God
and therefore removes the fear, that can easily swamp us, that
we may not be
able to stay the course.
We must however remember,
as was remarked above, that this doctrine does not excuse us from
obedience to God’s Word. Sadly people have often pushed
the logic of this doctrine beyond the
revelation of Scripture. God tells us to pray, believing that
God will hear and answer, we are called to be transformed, conforming
our lives to Christ, and we are commanded to make Christ known
in all the world. We cannot ignore these things, indeed we should
recognise that they are part of the way in which God is shaping
us and so directing His purposes.
Therefore, this great truth of predestination should make us people
of destiny. This is not the same as fatalism, rather our destiny
is determined and shaped by a loving God. We will therefore know
that we are taking our place in the great purposes and eternal
plans of God. We will want always to learn what that means for
us by learning of God’s purposes from His Word and by seeking
the guiding hand of God through prayer. In so doing we are fulfilling
His purposes and are being directed by Him as we grow in grace.
contents of this page are taken from an article in Cross†way
for PDF of this article
here for article by Donald Allister on Article 17 (Predestination)
Articles relevant to this issue:
ELECTION - God's choice of whom He will save. Cross†Way article by Gerald Burrows.
Five Points of Calvinism? Cross†Way article by Lee Gatiss.
Toplady on Predestination. Churchman article by Cecil Proctor.
The Thought of St. Augustine. Churchman article by Rod Garner.