Results tagged “Predestination” from Reformation21 Blog

Reprobate Anglicans

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Continuing to ponder the idea that God appointed some to everlasting life and others to a different fate. Is this really a genuinely Anglican idea, as my previous posts about the dark side of predestination and the way not to apply reprobation have asserted?

The first commentary on the Thirty-nine Articles by Thomas Rogers seems to indicate so. In The English Creed (1585), page 60, he writes (with Yoda-like grammar), "Err therefore doe they which stand in opinion that some are appointed to be saved, yet none to be damned." His later A Treatise upon sundry matters contained in the Thirty-nine Articles (1658), page 65, adds a condemnation of those who say "no certain company be foredestined unto eternal condemnation."

He was not alone in holding this view of course. In reply to an attack by a Portuguese Roman Catholic named Osorious on the English creed (i.e. the Articles), the famous John Fox and a certain Mr Haddon, wrote this:
For whereas that most sacred purpose of the divine predestination and reprobation doth issue and spring from out the only will of God, being indeed most unsearchable, yet most righteous; and whereas, also, men are first fashioned in the same will, as in God's workshop, to be either vessels of wrath, or vessels of mercy, before that any lenity or mercy do appear to be extended towards any of them from God; by what means then will Osorius affirm that the defence of justice consisteth wholly in mercy, and that there be no vessels of wrath, but such as will not be vessels of mercy? I do answer that this is true that no man perisheth at all, but whoso perisheth by his own procurement and default," nevertheless, "as he is a judge he doth punish sinners indeed; but as he is a creator he doth fashion his creatures according to his will, even as the potter doth fashion his pots."  Haddon & Fox Against Osorius. (originally, 1563). (See Thomas R. Jones, An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles by the Reformers (1849), page 105.)
Haddon and Fox oppose the view that there are only "vessels of mercy" and those who themselves decide not to be. They oppose that by saying that predestination and reprobation can both be traced back to God's will. God's will, not their own, makes people vessels of mercy or vessels of wrath. It is true, they affirm, that all who perish do so because of their sin, in a sense. But in an ultimate sense, God fashions things as he wills.

There was a dispute in Cambridge about these issues in the 1590s. There were virulent sermons against Calvin, Beza, Vermigli, and Zanchius, and especially their doctrines of election. In response, the co-called Lambeth Articles were drawn up by the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and endorsed by both archbishops, and others, in 1595. They clarified that Anglican doctrine was Reformed and, more specifically, that, "1. God from eternity has predestined some men to life, and reprobated some to death." Note the subject of that sentence. They added that, "4. Those not predestined to salvation are inevitably condemned on account of their sins." God predestines and reprobates, the latter on account of sin, the former on account of grace alone.

The Anglican worthies who were sent by King James I to attend the Synod of Dort in 1618 were far from severe or hyper-calvinists, as my previous interlocutor Dr Jensen will no doubt admit (their minority opinion on the matter of "limited atonement" being of particular interest to some of our mutual friends in Sydney). They did however pronounce it an erroneous opinion that predestination to life was "the whole and entire decree of predestination." The fact that some are severed from others by the decree is a key part of it according to scripture, they said.

On reprobation, the British divines at Dort -- who clearly were unafraid to disagree with a majority view, if they felt scripture or their confession called them to -- declared that "non-election, we avow to be grounded upon the most free will of God." They cite Romans 9 and John 10:26 ("you do not believe because you are not my sheep"). All lie in sin and are equally undeserving. God decides to save some, and decides not to save others. They are damned and predestinated to damnation in consideration of their sin. Reprobation is the negation of election and sets down "the immutable will of God, by which he hath decreed not to take pity of that person, whom he passeth by, so farre forth as to bestow upon him eternall life." As they conclude, "The Apostle fetcheth this preterition, or non-election, from the mere will of God." (See Anthony Milton (ed.), The British Delegation and the Synod of Dort, pages 230, 238-239, 241, 242-243.)

So nothing that I have affirmed about "the sentence of God's predestination" against the reprobate is un-Anglican. It is embedded in the first generations of Reformation Anglican writing on the subject, as well as being part of an international Reformed consensus at that formative time.

I know there are subtle distinctions at play in the way some people talk about this subject. And perhaps I am too much of a dullard and a historian to really understand the philosophical elegancies of systematics. But as the great Anglican scholar J.B. Mozley puts it in his Treatise on the Augustinian doctrine of Predestination (1883), page 392, "There is no real distinction between abandoning men to a certain state, of which punishment will be the consequence, and ordaining them to that punishment."

As he goes on, on the next page, "I see no substantial difference between the Augustinian and Thomist, and the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. S. Augustine and Calvin alike hold an eternal Divine decree, which, antecedently to all action, separates one portion of mankind from another, and ordains one to everlasting life and the other to everlasting punishment."

I confess that I find that intellectually satisfying and historically compelling, as well as most in accordance with scripture as I currently understand it. I also think it is authentically Anglican and thoroughly evangelical, and while I fully understand some may not like it and want to disagree, I can't see that it should be dismissed with irrelevant epithets such as "overly neat" or "unfeelingly dogmatic."

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society, adjunct lecturer at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and Research Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa at the University of the Free State, South Africa

How not to apply reprobation

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In my former article on The darker side of predestination, I spoke about how Article 17 of The Thirty-nine Articles is not entirely limited to talking about the positive aspects of that doctrine. It does indeed mention "the sentence of predestination", the flip side of the coin, as do other Anglican formularies. Article 17 teaches that reprobation cannot be used as an excuse for immorality, not that there is no such thing as reprobation.

This reading is confirmed I think by a passage in Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's proposed canon law reform, the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum. There, he writes, 
On the fringe of the church there are many who live in a wild and dissolute way, who when they get interested in the subject, being dissipated by excess and completely cut off from the Spirit of Christ, always toss predestination and rejection, or (as they usually call it), reprobation, into their speech, arguing that since God by his eternal counsel has already determined something, both concerning salvation and destruction, they have some excuse for their wrongdoings and crimes and all manner of evil. And when pastors upbraid their dissipated and disgraceful life, they blame God's will for their crimes and by that defence consider that the reprimands of admonitions are wasted... Wherefore everyone must be warned by us that in undertaking actions they should not rely on the decrees of predestination, but adapt their entire way of life to the laws of God, and contemplate that both promises to the good as well as threats to the bad are generally set forth to him in the Holy Scriptures.
In other words, one may be reprobate, but one is not to assume this in deciding how to live. All the more so, since "the decrees of predestination are unknown to us," as the 1553 edition of Article 17 says. Interesting use of the plural "decrees" there.

Rather, we are to obey the warnings of Scripture and trust the promises. As Article 17 says, "in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared to us in the Word of God." So we are not to base our rejection of God on a presumption that he has not chosen us. Scripture, when it speaks of reprobation, does not apply it in this manner.

So preachers should simply declare the promises of God for forgiveness as applicable to all those who repent and believe. Just because we don't preach reprobation to people as an excuse for them to sin, that does not mean there is no such thing as reprobation.

I love the way Article 17 tells us that believers should not recoil from this doctrine of predestination as "too complicated" or "too divisive" or "too mysterious", but meditate on it as "full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort" for believers. It leads to godliness and love for God. We can and should focus on that, as a much needed gospel comfort. But that doesn't mean we should dismiss as "scant" the references to another aspect of this doctrine.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society, adjunct lecturer at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and Research Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa at the University of the Free State, South Africa


I was interested to see that TGC have launched in Australia. I hope and pray it will be a great support and encouragement to gospel-minded people down under.

On their shiney new website, there is an article posted two days ago on the great Anglican theologian, W.H. Griffith Thomas by my friend and birthday buddy, Michael Jensen.

One of the things Griffith Thomas says, and which for some reason Michael chose to zero in on in his summary of the man, is that there is no mention of the darker side of predestination in the Anglican formularies. Or as WHGT put it when commenting on Article 17 of The Thirty-nine Articles, "There is no reference to Reprobation or Preterition, neither of which is part of the Church of England doctrine."

Now, I don't especially like talking about this sort of thing. It can be difficult pastorally, and you always have to hedge everything around with qualifications and asides to guard against misunderstandings. And there isn't a consensus even amongst the more Reformed type of evangelicals about how precisely to formulate this sort of thing. So it isn't something I personally would choose to bring up if I was trying to build a coalition around central gospel truths. I would pass over it.

All that being said, it is a little disconcerting to read this sort of thing, and to be told that "there are scant Scriptures that might be said to teach a doctrine of reprobation." OK, so Article 17 does not explicitly cite:
1 Peter 2:8, "[those who do not believe] stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do."
2 Peter 2:12, "But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction."
Jude 4, "certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."
Revelation 17:8, "the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world..."
But in such scriptures, the doctrine of reprobation does seem to many interpreters to surface in a most remarkable way. If it doesn't, if there is some other explanation for what these verses say, then perhaps we ought to be educated on that, rather than them simply being dismissed as "scant." They are, after all, about as scant as the number of verses directly addressing practising homosexuality, or whether you should marry a non-Christian.

We don't usually accept the argument that "where number of verses addressing a subject is small, dismiss the doctrine," or call it "mysterious," or say there is "no reference" to it. After all, how many times does God need to say something for us to listen?

As a mere historian, I think it is only fair to point out that Article 17 does actually speak of "the sentence of predestination." This "sentence" leads those without the Holy Spirit into desperation and ungodly living. This can only be a reference to that aspect of predestination which is directed against the non-elect, can't it?

The positive side of the doctrine is stated in the Articles using a clear allusion to Romans 9:23 "vessels made to honour". When you look that up, as all contextual exegetes like to do, it doesn't take long to notice that it is immediately preceded by a contrasting mention of "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Romans 9:22). Did I mention Romans 9 earlier? Maybe not, but again, it is another place where many commentators have seen the darker side of predestination being addressed, i.e. "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...?" Romans 9:13 doesn't say, "Jacob I loved."

It simply won't do to say that there is "no reference" to the flip side of this sweet doctrine. I know some people are offended by it. So did the English Reformers. There is an official Anglican Homily about that, "An Information of them which take Offence at certain Places of Holy Scripture." (The Homilies are officially recognised as having a certain authority in Anglicanism, by Articles 11 and 35.) This teaches us to have a "reverend estimation of God's word." And in part 2 of that homily, we are taught that, "Christ Jesus is a fall to the reprobate, which yet perish through their own default; so is his word, yea, the whole book of God, a cause of damnation unto them."

You might say this is simply affirming that sinners are damned by their own fault. That, as Griffith Thomas puts it "it is not God's doing." But it seems to me that it mentions God's word also being "a cause of damnation" there. Or did I misunderstand? I'm not quite convinced with Michael Jensen that "if we are condemned, it is our fault entire." I suspect there is more to it than simply us opposing his will (as if that could trump God's will). 2 Corinthians 4:3 also mentions another agency involved in the perishing of unbelievers.

There's also the lesser-read "Homily for Rogation Week" (Part 1). Here, we are also informed that God "may do what liketh him, and none can resist him. For he worketh all things in his secret judgment to his own pleasure, yea, even the wicked to damnation." God is involved somehow even in this darker side of things, it seems to say here. That even alludes to Proverbs 16:4 (another of those scant scriptures I forgot to list earlier).

I agree with Michael, that "There is much more of value in the work of Griffith Thomas." There is a great deal of useful stuff in the work of this great dispensationalist, premillennialist Anglican of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for those seeking to build a coalition around the gospel. Indeed, his portrait graces the walls of the Church Society office, and his commentary on the Articles is a Church Society publication. I just wish that we had learned more in Dr Jensen's article about some of the valuable things in his work, rather than this much more questionable aspect of his output.

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society, adjunct lecturer at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and Research Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa at the University of the Free State, South Africa

In scholastic theological discourse, 'moral suasion' and 'physical influence' represent two different ways of getting someone to do something. If my goal were, say, getting my four-year-old daughter to the dinner table, I might employ 'moral suasion' by promising her that she'd find her favorite dish when she arrived there, or by simply threatening her with consequences for refusing to follow my instructions to cease and desist from playing and join us for supper. I might, alternatively, employ 'physical influence' by simply picking her up, compliant or not, and carrying her to the table.

This distinction finds expression, among other places, in the Synod of Dort's explanation for how God brings his elect to faith and repentance. "God," the Canons of Dort argue, "not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to [the elect] outwardly, ... [but] also penetrates into the inmost being, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. God infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant."

The Divines at Dort described God's act of 'physical influence' upon the will in such terms to counter semi-Pelagians who professed that divine grace precedes every positive movement of the human will towards salvation, but -- when pressed -- were forced to admit that by 'grace' all they really meant was God inviting, threatening, pleading with, and otherwise attempting to suade [sic] sinners to embrace the Gospel. The underlying assumption of such persons was that sinners retain sufficient freedom of the will to respond positively to the Gospel when it is properly set before them. Grace in such a semi-Pelagian scheme need not entail any actual influence upon the will, and -- correspondingly -- remains something which can be resisted by those whom it confronts.

Though Luther never employs the exact terms I've outlined above ('moral suasion' vs. 'physical influence'), I believe this distinction lies at the heart of the difference he posits, in his Bondage of the Will, between God's work of regenerating those whom ultimately believe and God's work of hardening those whom ultimately perish in unbelief.

So enslaved, in Luther's perspective, is every human person's will to that human person's sinful nature -- i.e., so enslaved is every person's will to sin (cf. John 8.34) -- that Luther, though admitting that people sin freely and under no compulsion, is reluctant to attribute 'free choice' to sinners at all. For sinners to exercise faith in Christ, then, requires a divine act of physical influence upon their wills. "The ungodly does not come even when he hears the Word [moral suasion], unless the Father draws and teaches him inwardly [physical influence], which He does by pouring out the Spirit. There is then another 'drawing' [namely, one of physical influence] than the one that takes place outwardly [i.e., that of moral suasion]; for then" -- that is, when God employs his Spirit to bring someone to faith -- "Christ is [so] set forth... that a man is rapt away to Christ with the sweetest rapture, and rather yields passively to God's speaking, teaching, and drawing than seeks and runs himself."

For Luther, as for the Divines at Dort, 'moral suasion' and 'physical influence' coincide in the work of regeneration -- "it has thus pleased God to impart the Spirit, not without the Word, but through the Word" -- but the latter is utterly indispensable to any right response to the Gospel. Elsewhere Luther describes this "inward" work of God upon the will thus: "If God works in us, the will is changed, and being gently breathed upon by the Spirit of God, it again wills and acts from pure willingness and inclination and of its own accord, ... willing and delighting in and loving the good just as before it willed and delighted in and loved evil."

But Luther employs decidedly different language when he discusses God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart (and the hearts of all who die in final unbelief) in Exodus 9:12 (cf. Romans 9:17-18): "[God] provoked [Pharaoh] and increased the hardness and stubbornness of his heart by thrusting at him through the word of Moses, who threatened to take away his kingdom and withdraw the people from his tyranny, without giving him the Spirit inwardly but permitting his ungodly corrupt nature under the rule of Satan to catch fire, flare up, rage, and run riot with a kind of contemptuous self-confidence."

In other words, God hardened Pharaoh's heart through an act of 'moral suasion' alone. God confronted Pharaoh with a word which required Pharaoh to give up something he held dear, and in so doing provoked Pharaoh to cling more tightly to that very thing. Luther again explains: "It is thus [God] hardens Pharaoh, when he presents to his ungodly and evil will a word... which that will hates -- owing of course to its inborn defect and natural corruption. And since God does not change it inwardly by his Spirit, but keeps on presenting and obtruding his words... from without, ... the result is that Pharaoh is puffed up and exalted by his own imagined greatness, ... and is thus hardened and then more and more provoked and exasperated the more Moses presses and threatens him."

Thus God "hardens" all who are exposed to the Word without a corresponding work of God's Spirit to bring them to faith and repentance: "This provocation of the ungodly, when God says or does to them the opposite of what they wish, is itself their hardening or worsening. For not only are they in themselves averse through the very corruption of their nature, but they become all the more averse and are made much worse when their aversion is resisted or thwarted." In Luther's judgment the Gospel proves the ultimate "provocation of the ungodly," because it calls sinners to abandon their most prized possession -- their own self-righteousness.

This basic difference between God's act of hardening (through 'moral suasion') and God's act of softening (through 'moral suasion' and 'physical influence') human hearts should be carefully noted. It reminds us, among other things, that God is not the author of corrupt nature or sinful human acts as such. If, in fact, God hardened human hearts in some way analogous to how he softens them -- by an act of physical influence upon them -- Scripture's claim that God is "too pure" even to "look upon sin" (much less to be the culpable cause of sin) might seem to ring hollow. Persons who, like the Divines at Dort, accept with Luther the biblical truth that God has in fact predestined some (undeserving) sinners to eternal life (accomplishing their salvation in time) and predestined other (deserving) sinners to eternal death (accomplishing, in a fundamentally different way, there condemnation in time) would do well to articulate the difference in how God ultimately achieves those respective ends with as much precision and care as Luther.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.

Our local veterinary clinic -- where our dog, for reasons I'd rather not relate, is not welcome -- has a letter board on their grounds which typically displays humorous messages about animals. The message on display earlier this week caught my attention as I was driving to work. It read: "If cats could talk, they wouldn't." I must confess, this made me smirk -- which is generally as close as I come to laughing. I'm no despiser of cats in principle, but they do strike me as the kind of creatures that, were they suddenly endowed with the ability to speak in human language, wouldn't condescend to actually say anything to anyone. The sign made me wonder, in fact, if cats might not actually have the ability to speak, and simply don't because they can't be bothered communicating their thoughts to human beings, creatures so clearly inferior to them in every conceivable way. Can we really be sure they cannot speak if, regardless, they will not speak?

As it happened, I read that sign as I was on my way to teach a class on Luther's Bondage of the Will, and it struck me as I was doing so that this particular possibility regarding cats -- that, in actual fact, they "cannot" speak simply, or more properly, because they will not speak -- provides an apt analogy for Luther's teaching on sinful man and his freedom (or lack thereof) to exercise faith in, and genuine love towards, God. As is well known, Luther argued -- contra the claim that sinners retain some ability to choose the good apart from grace -- that sinners cannot choose Christ unless (or until) God restores their wills and so renders them capable of doing so (or, indeed, incapable of not doing so). Critics then and now have often argued that Luther's doctrine of the "bound will" destroys man's culpability for his crimes (or, alternatively, his merit for his positive moral choices), rendering him a mere puppet who acts according to the dictates of forces he cannot control.

Luther, to be sure, employs some images that might seem to warrant such criticism, describing for example the human will as a "beast of burden" subject to the mastery of either God or the Devil. "If God rides it, it wills and goes where God wills.... If Satan rides it, it wills and goes where Satan wills; nor can it choose to run to either of the two riders or to seek him out, but the riders themselves contend for the possession and control of it." But when we read beyond the often quoted extracts, we quickly realize that Luther's teaching isn't really susceptible to the charge of reducing man to a mere puppet, free from moral responsibility. Luther's teaching is really that sinful man cannot choose Christ because he will not choose Christ. Like cats who, supposing they can actually talk, don't talk because they won't talk, sinners don't orient themselves towards the true Good because, quite simply, they want nothing to do with that Good. And, needless to say, sinners are morally responsible for that which they will not choose or do.

We see this, I suggest, if we pay careful attention to a distinction Luther repeatedly draws in his writings on the subject of the will, that between the "necessity of immutability" and the "necessity of compulsion." It is a distinction found in pre-Reformation writers, especially those of an Augustinian bent; Thomas Aquinas, for example, whose perspective on the will and human freedom was much closer to Luther's than either Luther or most modern scholars admit, makes this distinction in his Summa Theologiae (see I-II, 112, 3). The "necessity of immutability" describes the necessity that pertains to human choices, for good or ill, by virtue of the fact that God at very least foreknows (and, really, has fore-ordained) everything that comes to pass. The "necessity of compulsion" describes the necessity that pertains to human choices, for good or ill, by virtue of some outside agent effectively forcing those human choices.

Luther, much like earlier Augustinians and, for that matter, Augustine himself, acknowledges that everything happens according to divine foresight and design. There is, in other words, a kind of necessity (of immutability) that governs everything that happens, including the decisions humans make. But Luther vigorously denies that human choices happen according to any "necessity of compulsion." No man, in other words, does "evil against his will, as if he were taken by the scruff of the neck and forced to it." Man does evil, rather, "of his own accord and with a ready will." Man cannot do other than sin, in other words, because he will not do other than sin.

The converted man, likewise, chooses Christ not because he is compelled to do so by God, but because God has made that man willing to do so. "If God works in us, the will is changed, and being gently breathed upon by the Spirit of God, it again wills and acts from pure willingness and inclination and of its own accord, not from compulsion, so that it cannot be turned another way by any opposition, nor be overcome or compelled even by the gates of hell, but it goes on willing and delighting in and loving the good, just as before it willed and delighted in and loved evil." The converted man "cannot be turned" from Christ, in other words, because he will not be turned from Christ, whom he now delights in and loves.

Thomas, for what it's worth, put it this way: "If God intends, while moving, that the one whose heart He moves should attain to grace, he will infallibly attain to it, according to Jn. 6:45: Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to Me."

It never occurred to Thomas or Luther to illustrate the lack of compulsion that ultimately characterizes sinful or faithful choices by discussing snobbish cats and their refusal to speak. More's the pity, as no cat has ever said.

Now if someone could just devise some way of convincing cats to try to communicate, we might clear up once and for all the question of whether they can in fact communicate. I'm fairly certain, in any case, that dogs genuinely cannot speak. If they could, I'm pretty sure mine would never shut up.

Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, FL. Those who have met his dog, Oakley, know exactly why Oakley is not welcome at the local veterinary clinic.