Now let’s talk bout the history of this doctrine of predestination. You are probably saying to yourself, “Well, predestinarians are so rare, why bother talking about predestination? There aren’t many predestinarians around.”
This is no longer true. Predestinarians are growing in number. Let me give you the history and then we’ll discuss that.
First 400 years
For the first four hundred years of the Christian church, the doctrine of predestination (as we popularly understood) was unknown.
For the first four hundred years of the Christian church, Christians said:
Christ died for everybody (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
Whosoever will may come (Revelation 22:17)
But remember, he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved (Matthew 10:22).
And take heed that you resist not the Holy Spirit, not grieve him or quench him (1Thessalonians 5:19).
This is a summary of the texts that rebut four-fifths of T-U-L-I-P.
Augustine of Hippo
In the fifth century, a wonderful man named Augustine [A.D. 354-430] came along. (You must beware of very gifted men and women. They are often the ones who invent great heresies. No great heresy came from a modest man or woman.)
Augustine was a very great man. In his early years, he was very lascivious. His Christian mother, Monica, prayed for him. He said to himself, “I’m going to get away from mother. She is a bad influence on me. She’s a Christian.”
Augustine went to Rome, and then to Milan. But his mother’s prayers followed him, and he was converted under the tutelage of the bishop of Milan.
Augustine reached his moment of decision when he was in a garden, thinking. Suddenly, he heard a child’s voice calling, “Take and read. Take and read.” Because he was a scholar, he had a portion of the New Testament in his hand. He took it and read, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (Romans 13:14).
Though he was living with a concubine at the time, Augustine was converted. He became the most important man in the church for a thousand years. From Augustine has come almost all of the best things in theology since Paul-and also the very worst.
In his time, a man named Pelagius [late fourth-early fifth centuries] arose and said:
“Look, there’s no excuse for Christian misbehavior. We know what we ought to do. Go and do it. Don’t use the excuse of original sin, about being born bad. Every child is a little angel and a little saint, every person is so born they can obey if they want to. There’s no excuse for anybody.
We all have a perfectly free will, and we can do the right thing, if we so desire. There is no need for us to do the wrong thing, and we ought to be perfect.”
Augustine was a great polemicist. He jumped right into battle, and said: “Mr. Pelagius, it ain’t so!
The Bible says that I was born in sin, conceived in iniquity, a transgressor from the womb. The imagination in my heart is only evil continually; for out of the heart come evil thoughts, adultery, fornications, thefts, sorceries (Psalm 51:5; Genesis 6:5; Matthew 15:19).
Mr. Pelagius, don’t you know that even the desire to sin is sin? The tenth commandment actually mentions wrong desire: ‘Thou shalt not desire wrongly.’ If the law is that deep and if our Savior could say you could break the seventh commandment simply by a look and you could break the sixth commandment by a single, unkind though-then, Mr. Pelagius, you’ve got it all wrong.”
Augustine and predestination
The battle was very hot. Pelagius was no idiot. It is possible to make a good case out of a bad thing. You know the old saying about making “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
Augustine, in his great old age, wanted to defend the greatness of God’s grace, and emphasize the helplessness of human nature.
He looked around the church, and saw that not everyone was doing the right things. He did not fall into universalism (the doctrine that everyone is going to be saved). He said only some are going to be saved. And he came up with the doctrine of predestination. He said,
“The truth is that we are so far gone, so dead in our trespasses and sins, that none of us can find our way to God. God must find his way to us. God must do it. God has to come in, and move upon us.”
All that is true. Then Augustine said: “And what God does, he does well. When God come in, you only have to go with the flow, and you’ll be saved. I’m sorry though. There are only a few people like that.”
The terrible decree
There the doctrine lay for centuries. The along came Gottschalk, who refined the teaching of predestination. He taught both the predestination of the saved and the predestination of the lost.
You really can’t have one without the other. If I’m the nurse in charge of two children and a fire comes, and I only put my arm around one and save her from the fire, and I don’t put my hand around the other, well, I’m responsible for the death of the other.
Augustine really taught the doctrine of “the terrible decree.” (That is what theologians call John Calvin’s thorough restatement of predestination.) The horrible decree is that God said from eternity, “most of the souls I have made will be lost.”
My friends, it’s far worse than that. The full reality of the doctrine is this: that for every sweet moment you have in this life, there will be a trillion years of pain in hell-and you never asked to be born!
Can you see how terrible this teaching really is? Again, I’m not saying one thing against predestinarians, because they are often very great people. But the orthodox teaching of predestination is that of the vast majority of people who have come into the world (and one asked to be born), every single moment of joy will reap a trillion years of torture in an everlasting, everburning, fiery hell.
Augustine began the doctrine of predestination, and Gottschalk boosted it. Next came Thomas Aquinas [1224- 1274], the great Catholic theologian. He also taught predestination.
Aquinas was a very great genius. But at the end of his life, he said the wisest thing of his whole life: “As I look back, all my theology is only straw.”
But the man who taught the doctrine so powerfully that it is still influencing us late in the twentieth century was the Reformer, John Calvin [1509-1564]. (Calvin was a lawyer.) Calvin influenced the other Reformers, too.
John Calvin was very smart. At 25 he wrote one of the most famous books of history. If you were to select 20 books that have influenced the world most, one of the would be John Calvin’s, The Institutes of the Christian Religion.
Institutes went through approximately 80 revisions, but was first written when Calvin was only 25. Calvin was a genius, but men of genius can be dangerous. In his Institutes, Calvin set out the teaching of a double-barreled predestination (“Some elected to be saved, and some elected to be lost”) with great clarity.
Luther and Melanchthon
Almost all the Reformers were predestinarian. Martin Luther [1483-1546] wrote a book, mainly biblical, called The Bondage of the Will. Then Philipp Melanchthon [1497-1560], who started off predestinarian said, “We must study this doctrine from the word of God. We can’t just take it from Calvin. We can’t just take it from Augustine.”
Melanchthon said, “The Bible doesn’t teach limited atonement. It says, ‘God so loved the world that whosoever believeth . . . “ (John 3:16KJV). Melanchthon wrote against predestination, and Luther commended Melanchthon. So the Lutheran church turned away from Calvinism.
Europe and predestination
The Anglican church (Episcopalian) also turned away from it.
During the days of John Calvin, the Scottish Protestants sent their young men to Geneva, Calvin’s city, (I’ve been in the church where he preached. I’ve seen his statue at the university where he taught.) The British sent their sons to Geneva. The people of Holland and France sent their young Protestants to Geneva. The great majority of Christians of the sixteenth century believed in double-barreled predestination.
Predestination was challenged by a man called Jacob Arminius [1560-1609]. Arminius was a very wonderful Christian, always courteous, always kind. He sat too much, though. He studied too much, and his health fell apart when he should have had another twenty or thirty years of life. But he did a tremendous amount of work, and his main work was combating predestination.
From his name we take the term “Arminianism.” I must warn you: Arminius was not an Arminian. By that, I mean that, because of his success and many followers, his teaching was somewhat abused.
Arminius put as much stress on the need for grace as did Augustine. Arminius also taught total depravity. Arminius said:
“Unless God moves on us, we are done for. We need the grace of God. But God’s grace never comes in such a way as to rob us of freedom. It is simply not biblical to say that Christ only died for some.
The Scriptures teach, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). Christ “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10 – not just some of them. Jesus’ suffered death, so that by the grace of God, he might taste death for everyone (Hebrews2:9). Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men’ (Romans 5:18).
Religiously, there was quite an upset in Europe after Jacob Arminius pointed out some of these texts. A group called the Remonstrants rose up, making a protest against Calvinism.
Since then, there have been the two groups in Protestantism – the predestinarians and the Arminians.
I can make mention of contemporary men you know, men beside whom I am unworthy. Arthur Pink was a Calvinist. J.I.Packer is still alive, teaching at Regent College. (I’ve corresponded with him. A very wonderful man.)
There are others whom you know, yet you may not know they are thoroughly Calvinistic. Why don’t you now? Because they don’t talk about their predestination doctrine much. Why not? Because it is, indeed, as Calvin said, a horrible thing – a horrible decree.
It would be horrible to believe that the majority of humanity are to suffer infinitely for their finite sins-and they have no choice in the matter! Happily, Scripture plainly says otherwise;
“God so loved the world . . . that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).