BY T.W Brents (1874)
Abridged and Edited by Jeff Paton
Knowledge is one of the adjuncts of faith: "Besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge." 2 Peter 1:5. "Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle." Vers.12, 13.
There are prominent doctrines taught by those for whose learning and piety we have the most profound respect, which, if true, render it wholly unnecessary, it seems to us, to spend time or labor in instructing the sinner with regard to his duty either to God or man.
That we may place these doctrines properly before the mind of the reader, we beg permission to make a few quotations from the fountain in which they flow.
"God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass."
Presbyterian Confession of Faith, chap.iii, sec. I.
To the same import we have the answer to Question 12 (Larger Catechism), as follows:
"Godís decrees are wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he hath, for his own glory,
unchangeably fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass, especially concerning angels and men."
Now, if the doctrine set forth is true, we think it impossible for man to err. Whatever he does, is in keeping with and brought about by Godís fore-ordination or decree, and therefore can not be wrong. If he does anything- it matters not what- whether good or bad-if God has ordained everything, He has ordained that thing. If it comes to pass that man lies, God has not only ordained that he should lie, but He has unchangeably ordained it. If it come to pass that a man steals, God has unchangeably ordained that too. If it comes to pass that a man kills his neighbor, God has unchangeably ordained that, also. It did come to pass that Cain killed his brother: why, then, did God put a curse upon him for it? It was not only in accordance with the most wise counsel of His will, but He had freely and unchangeably ordained that Cain should do the very thing for which He cursed Him!!! Can any sane man believe it? God has said: " Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." Ex. 20:13-16.
As God has thus plainly forbidden things which do come to pass, it can not be true that He has unchangeably ordained them. That God should unchangeably ordain that a certain thing should come to pass, and at the same time positively forbid it, is an inconsistency entirely incompatible with His divine character, especially when we add to it the thought that He threatens the guilty with endless punishment. Surely, He, whose laws ever bear the impress of that infinite justice, goodness, love, and mercy which characterize their Author, would not punish His dependent creature man in the rude flames of an angry hell forever for doing that which He unchangeably ordained that he should do. "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are all over his works." Ps. 145:9. "The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works." Vers. 17. Therefore when a murderer stains his hands in the blood of his fellow, he cannot take shelter under the doctrine of the creed by saying that God, in ordaining every thing that comes to pass, ordained that he should kill his neighbor, and thereby avoid the responsibility of the act and the punishment due to his crime. It is true that the makers of the creed disclaim the consequences of the doctrine, saying, "Yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin;" but they have failed to show us how His character may be vindicated from such a charge in harmony with such a doctrine; and we are unable to see how God is not the author of what He has unchangeably ordained should come to pass. If He has unchangeably ordained everything that comes to pass, then how can man change Godís unchangeable ordinance? If God unchangeably ordained that a certain man, on a certain day, should do a certain thing, then there is no power left to man not to do the thing; for were he to avoid doing it, he would have changed Godís unchangeable decree, and therefore had more power to change than God had to enforce. Is anyone prepared to assume such a position as this?
The reader will please note the extent of the doctrine in controversy. It is not that God has from all eternity ordained, but that He has unchangeably ordained; not some things, but whatsoever comes to pass---- everything. Surely, the ordinances of God are broken every day. He has ordained that men shall not steal, yet they do steal. He has ordained that they shall not bear false witness, yet they swear falsely every day. God compels no man to keep His ordinances, but He will visit upon him merited punishment if he does not keep them.
God said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown." Jonah 3:4. Here was a positive decree or ordinance of God that did not come to pass, for ĎGod saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and He did it not." Vers. 10. Was not His decree unchangeable? God said to Hezekiah, "Set thy house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live." 2 Kings 20:1. Here was another positive ordinance which was unchangeable, for Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed, after which God said to him: "I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears; behold, I will heal thee; on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord, and I will add unto thy days fifteen years." Vers. 5,6. Here was a decree concerning Hezekiahís death, which was changed, and his life prolonged fifteen years, and the change induced by his prayers and tears.
When David was at Keilah, he inquired of the Lord, "Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?" And the Lord said, they will deliver thee up. Then David and his men, which were about six hundred, arose and departed out of Keilah, and went withersoever they could go. 1 Samuel 23:11-13. Had God decreed, from all eternity, whatsoever comes to pass, it occurs to us that He would have answered David differently.; perhaps something after the following style: "No, David, Saul will not come to Keilah, nor will the men of Keilah deliver you into his hands, for I have unchangeably ordained that you shall leave Keilah, and Saul will turn his pursuit in the direction in which you shall go." This is what did come to pass, and certainly God did not tell David what He had fore-ordained to be untrue. Had David remained at Keilah, Saul would have gone there; hence circumstances, and not immutable decrees, controlled this event, even as they do most others.
Other examples might be given, but these are enough to show that God has issued decrees that never have come to pass, nor ever will came to pass. Now, if it is true that God for-ordained the reformation of the Ninevites, the prayers of Hezekiah, and the flight of David from Keilah; hence when He said, "Yet forty days, and Nineheh shall be overthrown," He had for-ordained before time began, that it should not be overthrown, When He told Hezekiah to set his house in order, for he should die and not live, He had for-ordained that he should live fifteen years longer. And when he told David that Saul would come to Keilah, and that the men of Keilah would deliver him and his men to Saul, was it not telling him that events should happen which He had unchangeably ordained to be otherwise? How such a theory is to be harmonized with the word of the Lord, we know not.
By the mouth of his prophet, the Lord said, (Jer. 18:7-10): "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at that instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them." Here we see the same law obtains as to nations that we have seen applied to cities and individuals. If they, having done evil, turn from the evil, then the Lord proposes to turn from the evil which He purposes doing to them; on the contrary, if they persist in disobedience, they will suffer the consequences, even to extermination. Hence circumstances have ever varied Godís dealings with men.
Again: "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at his heart." Gen. 6:5, 6. Now, if the Lord for-ordained everything that comes to pass, He for-ordained every thing the antediluvians did: why, then, should He grieve over their wickedness, when every act was but the consummation of His own immutable and eternal decree? Really, it would seem like God would be grieving over His own folly!
The Lord said that the children of Judah had "built again the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind." Jer. 19:5. If God fore-ordained every thing, He for-ordained these things, for they came to pass; yet, He says that he did not command them, nor speak them, neither came then into His mind. Will the advocates of the doctrine please to enlighten the world as to how God for-ordained things which never entered His mind? But we will not press the argument further. If the doctrine be true, the whole theory of sin, accountability, rewards, and punishments, in harmony with justice and mercy, is to us utterly incomprehensible. Every act of man is but carrying out the immutable purposes of Jehovah; and when He gives a man a law, He does it expressly that he may violate it, so as to furnish a pretext for the punishment previously ordained for him. Take the sin of Adam for an example: God made him and placed him under law. It came to pass that he violated this law. He ate of the fruit whereof God commanded him not to eat. If God for-ordained whatsoever comes to pass, then of course He for-ordained that he should eat. Hence Adam was in a strait between the law and the unchangeable ordination or decree. It came to pass that he eat; therefore God ordained that he should eat. The law said he should not eat. One or the other must be broken. He must eat and violate the law; or not eat, and change God's unchangeable decree. This was impossible: hence to eat eat and violate the law was a necessity; and yet God would punish him for it!! Surely, such a theory is at war with the Bible---with all reason and common sense---as well as a reproach upon the character of our Heavenly Father. But able and learned men have taught it, good and true men believe it; therefore we must treat it respectfully, yet examine it fairly, patiently, and thoroughly.
BIBLICAL THEOLOGY ETERNAL SECURITY