The Reformed doctrine of predestination is “an opiate of the flesh and the devil, and is a stronghold of Satan where he lies in wait for all people, wounds most of them, and fatally pierces many of them with the arrows of both despair and self-assurance.” This doctrine “makes God the author of sin, unjust, a tyrant, and a hypocrite; and is nothing but a refurbished Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, and Mohammedanism.” It “makes people carnally self-assured, since it persuades them that nothing endangers the salvation of the chosen, no matter how they live, so that they may commit the most outrageous crimes with self-assurance.” The doctrine means “infant children of believers are snatched in their innocence from their mothers’ breasts and cruelly cast into hell so that neither the blood of Christ nor their baptism nor the prayers of the church at their baptism can be of any use to them.”
What is it about the Reformed churches that led to such strong statements? One example is the doctrine of God’s double decree of predestination.
Q. 13. What hath God especially decreed concerning angels and men?
A. God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, hath elected some angels to glory; and in Christ hath chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof: and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will, (whereby he extendeth or withholdeth favor as he pleaseth,) hath passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.
Focusing especially upon what this answer says about us, the doctrine that God has predestined that some will be saved is what we call "election." The doctrine that God has also included in his decree that some will be lost is what we call "reprobation." This certainly is a high mystery and we need to tread lightly. We need to guard our language so that we do not end up saying God rapes women, God doesn’t listen to our prayers, or that we should not preach, evangelize, and witness to the lost. This means we need to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the revelation of the Word.
First, notice Paul’s exposition of this doctrine in Romans 9. Here we get the clearest exposition of the double decree of predestination in Scripture. The reason why Paul even discusses this is because he sought to answer the question of why not all the Jews believed in Jesus as their Messiah. After all, they had tremendous privileges, such as being adopted by God, having the glory of God in their midst, having entered into covenant with the Creator, having his law for their lives, participating in his revealed worship, receiving his great and precious promises, being from the line of the patriarchs, and from whom came the Christ (Rom. 9:4–5). Despite all these blessings, they did not believe. And because of their unbelief, Paul yearned for their salvation (Rom. 9:1–3). This led him to answer three objections.
First, Paul answers the objection that God failed. His answer was that God did not fail because “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6; KJV). In other words, “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring” (Rom. 9:7). Paul’s proof of this was the genealogies of Genesis. Since God promised that “through Isaac shall [Abraham’s] offspring be named” (Rom. 9:7), the conclusion was that “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise” (Rom. 9:8). God later told Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, concerning her twins in her womb, “the older will serve the younger” (Rom. 9:12). Paul then reasoned that God said this “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls” (Rom. 9:11). Double predestination is the foundation of patriarchal history.
Second, Paul answers the objection that God was unjust or unfair (Rom. 9:14). His answer to this was to assert the sovereignty of God, which God himself had asserted to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Rom. 9:15). Paul again reasoned that salvation “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). If this were based on works then there would be an argument that one was more deserving than another. Paul’s point was that all are sinners and that God chose to bestow love because he chose to bestow love. He saved Israel while he hardened Pharaoh; but he could have saved Pharaoh and the Egyptians while hardening Abram and his family. “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Rom. 9:18).
Third, Paul answers the objection that life is purposeless and pointless if everything is about God and not us. His answer—which was no answer, at least according to human wisdom—was the greatest response in Scripture: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Rom. 9:20) There is a certain limit to what God has revealed to us and beyond that we are not to pry out of curiosity; we are simply to exalt the freedom of God while we are humble. To illustrate this Paul says God is like potter who has the right to make whatever he wants out of his clay. He can make a vessel for honorable use and he can make a vessel for dishonorable use (Rom. 9:20–23).
This is why the Larger Catechism tells us that God’s decree of double predestination was “eternal and immutable,” “out of his mere love,” “for the praise of his glorious grace,” and “to the praise of the glory of his justice.”
So what is the application—if there is any at all?—of this truth for us as we meditate upon it?
First, predestination is meant for consolation, not speculation. “But how do I know if I am elect?” Not by asking that question, but by answering it with, “I believe in Jesus Christ.” The Catechism states that God has not only “chosen some men to eternal life,” but also that he has chosen “the means thereof,” meaning, faith in his Son. Again, Paul’s purpose in Romans 9 is to comfort believers that God is in control and that he is good.
Second, predestination is a cause or praise, not prying. At the end of this lengthy section of Romans (chapters 9–11), Paul stands back in reverence and admiration of the eternal purpose of God, exclaiming: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways…For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:33, 36)
Third, predestination causes humility. It causes us to consider who we are by nature—lifeless pieces of clay. It causes us who are Gentiles to consider how wild we truly were before coming to Christ! (Rom. 11:17–24) In commenting on Jude’s words to the church that those who were infiltrating it to destroy it were “long ago…designated for this condemnation” (Jude 4), John Calvin said, “it behooved them [the church] to take heed lest they should involved themselves in the same destruction.” [Commentaries, 22:432]
Fourth, predestination ultimately teaches us that no one is hopelessly lost. If Paul could be saved, anyone could be saved. If the Romans could be saved, any group could be saved. If I could be saved, even you can be saved.