Overland Monthly / OV031 - The Divine Program (VII. The Predestination and Election of the Bible)
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OV31 THE DIVINE PROGRAM VII—THE PREDESTINATION AND ELECTION OF THE BIBLE
BY C. T. RUSSELL
PASTOR BROOKLYN TABERNACLE
THE PRESENT generation but little appreciates the awful import of the words predestination and election as they were understood by their fathers in connection with the Divine Program in respect to mankind. The reason of this is, that these doctrines have not been taught to any extent during the last forty years. The catechisms which formerly instructed the children, the youth and the gray-haired, have now very generally been relegated to the rubbish heaps. A few tell us that this is because the public today "will not endure sound doctrine." (#2Ti 4:3.) Our reply is, that the view of predestination and election entertained by our forefathers for centuries was neither sound doctrine nor sound reason. It was opposed alike to common sense and to the Scriptures. We are glad that the travesties upon the Divine Character and Government formerly identified with words predestination and election are no longer acceptable to any. True, several of the largest denominations still declare that the "Westminster Confession of Faith" is theirs, but we know that in private conversation and in their hearts, this feature, at least, of that confession is ignored and denied. It speaks well for Presbyterianism that, while still holding to the Westminster Confession, it has adopted a new statement of faith for public consumption, which, while not denying these features, most happily ignores them.
The Erroneous View Criticized.
By way of emphasizing what the Bible does not teach, let us briefly review the rapidly-fading error on the subject of Predestination and election; errors which, perhaps, did more than almost any others to turn men away from God and from the Bible. Let it be understood that we are not criticizing men, but doctrines. While criticizing the doctrines of Brother Calvin, we are glad to admit that he had many noble qualities of heart and head, and that, in some respects, his teaching has exercised a powerful influence in the world for good. Undoubtedly his views of the sovereignty of God—his justice and his power—exercised a marked influence upon Christian sentiment along this line, leading to a greater reverence for Divine power, though we fear that it did not do much to cultivate love for God. From the Calvinistic standpoint, the Almighty, perfect in wisdom and power, mapped out in advance an unalterable program represented by the words Divine Predestination.
According to this theory, everything, both good and bad, was foreordained and in its execution unavoidable. This doctrine, applied to humanity, declares that the Supreme Creator had from the beginning designed, predestinated, that a little handful, a saintly few, should constitute his elect, his favorites and be granted glorious things in heaven. The catechism was careful to mark out that this favoritism on God’s part was "not for any works or worthiness of ours, but of his own sovereign will." Giving these words their full weight would signify that if the sovereign will had exercised itself with similar benevolence towards the non-elect, they, too, would have shared the heavenly blessings. And since the Divine favor was not assumed to be connected with work or worthiness on our part it
OV32 follows that the lack of works and the lack of worthiness, on the part of the non-elect, need not have debarred them from the chiefest of Divine favors had Divine benevolence willed favorably toward them. As for the fate of the non-elect, their case was treated with the greatest delicacy possible to the situation by the pen of an able man. We were quietly informed that "God passed them by." The doctrine of total depravity lay at the bottom of this theory. It was claimed that Father Adam’s transgression of the Divine Law merited eternal torment as the portion of Justice for himself and every child of his that should ever be born. We were told that this was a just penalty, and that God through Christ merely released the elect as an exhibition of his love and grace—passing the others by—not electing to save them from torment.
And the doctrine of predestination attached to the doctrine of election by way of showing that God’s elective preferences for those whom he would favor were determined long in advance of their birth, and that with equal deliberation he had foreordained that no help, no adequate relief, should be granted to the non-elect; they should be thoroughly passed by, and allowed to go to the doom to which they were sentenced—eternal torment. And that doom and the numbers of the non-elect were fully known to God in advance and approved as his unalterable will, his supreme good pleasure.
Wesley’s Heart Rebelled.
John Wesley was reared under the influence of the above teachings, but, as a minister of the Episcopal Church, he felt that he could not so preach. His head declined to recognize such a course as loving even if it were just, and his heart wholly repudiated the thought that the Divine character and program could be after that manner. In his own largeness of heart Brother Wesley promulgated an opposite theory, namely, that since God is Love he must be doing all in his power to save our race from eternal torment. Brother Wesley urged that the millions who would reach eternal torment would get there on their own responsibility and in spite of God’s best efforts to keep them out of it. Noble soul that he was, he braved persecution in his day in his attempt to tell of his love of God and to urge sinners not to consider themselves non-elect and doomed to eternal torture, but to hearken to the voice of Divine mercy and to turn to the Lord with their whole heart and be abundantly pardoned. Wesley’s heart-teaching triumphed over Calvin’s logic. Not only has it resulted in the formation of the enormous bodies of Christians called Methodists, but far more than this, it has transformed the views of the Christian world of all denominations so that today, regardless of the denominational vows, the membership of practically every institution of Christendom holds to Wesley’s views.
Both Right and Both Wrong.
Having commended both Calvin and Wesley as children of God, and many of the followers of their teachings as saints, it might seem to some temerity on our part to offer criticism of either, and particularly of both. We are encouraged to do this, however, from two reasons:
1. We wish to show that in some respects both of these doctrines are right and scriptural, and in other respects wrong and unscriptural.
2. We are further encouraged to do this by the fact that denominationally these opposing doctrines are about evenly represented in the world, and all will admit that they cannot both be right while contradicting each other. 3. If we shall succeed in demonstrating that these two opposing systems can be harmonized and that elements of both can be shown to be Scriptural and to harmonize with each other, then we believe that the advocates of both schools of thought would have reason to thank us for the service, and thousands who, through the conflict of these doctrines, have lost their faith in the Bible as the Word of God, may be rescued from unbelief.
Reject the Errors First.
Before coming to the subject from the Scriptural standpoint, we must tear away some of the sophistries and errors connected
OV33 with these popular doctrines and must see them in their true light, in order that we may properly appreciate the teachings of the Scriptures on the subject. First, then, let us note the strong points of Calvinism which must stand, which can never be repudiated by God’s children with impunity—Divine Sovereignty, Foreknowledge, Purpose, Intention, Justice, and Power. "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." (#Ac 15:18.) Note his own declaration through the Prophet, "So shall my Word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the things whereto I sent it."—#Isa 55:11. We must agree with Calvinism in the Divine foreknowledge of whatsoever comes to pass; and, more than this, that nothing could come to pass contrary to the Divine permission, although many things do come to pass, contrary to the Divine Law—being permitted for wise purposes. But while agreeing with Brother Calvin respecting these strong points of the Divine character, we must agree with Brother Wesley that love is not only an element of the Divine Character, but is, with justice, a dominating element in the Divine Program. We must agree with Brother Wesley that neither human justice nor human love could predestinate the doom of eternal torment for a majority of our race—nor for a single member of it. We must agree with Wesley that the Divine Program is that, eventually, God’s grace of forgiveness for sin must be free grace, and must extend to every member of our race. If our standpoint of the freeness of this grace is broader than that of Brother Wesley, it may not signify that our hearts are broader than his, but that the due time has come for the lifting of the vail of ignorance and superstition and the permitting of the eyes of our understanding to see more clearly "with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of "Love Divine, all love excelling," "and to know the love of Christ, which passeth all knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God."—#Eph 3:18,19. Having shown that Brother Calvin’s view recognized God as dignified and omnipotent, but deficient in love, it is appropriate that we show that Brother Wesley, while recognizing a God of Divine love theoretically, implied his deficiency in wisdom and foreknowledge. Brother Wesley admitted with Brother Calvin that only the handful of the saintly believers would enter heaven, and he admitted with him also that all the remainder would go to an eternity of torture. The difference between the two theories, therefore, had no practical bearing upon the sufferings of the lost, but merely upon the Divine character, and provision in connection with the suffering. Calvin taught that God willed it so. Wesley disputed this. Evidently "the God of all grace" would need to embody in himself not only the loving qualities of Wesley’s ideal, but also the dignity, wisdom and power of Calvin’s ideal—between the two we would find the God of the Bible and the God of whom our reasons could approve. Fully balanced, fully co-ordinated, God’s Justice, Love, Wisdom and Power, should be displayed in his dealings with humanity. What would it profit us to have the loving God of Wesley’s teachings, who desired all sorts of good things for his creatures, if, with that love, he lacked the wisdom to direct a favorable plan or lacked the power to execute the favorable plan approved by his Wisdom and his Love? Let us rest assured that the God revealed in the Bible is perfect in all of his attributes. His Foreknowledge, looking down the avenues of time, would have foreseen every incident connected with the interests of his creatures. And had that Foreknowledge perceived that Divine Justice could not grant to the creature eternal life in bliss, but must perpetuate the existence in eternal suffering, then Divine Wisdom and Love would surely have determined that Divine Power should not be exercised for the creation of that being; and Divine Justice would surely have decreed that no being should be created whom Divine Wisdom foresaw must spend an eternity of misery.
Specious Arguments Rejected.
We are not ignorant of the specious
OV34 arguments advanced by Brother Wesley and his coadjutors:
1. That God could create a human soul, but could not destroy one. Absurd! Unscriptural! We answer, Is it not written "All the wicked will be destroyed?" (#Ps 145:20.) And again, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (#Eze 18:4); "Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna" (#Mt 10:28); "The wages of sin is death."—#Ro 6:23.
2. The specious argument that God has left the destinies of the heathen in our hands and has determined that, dying at the rate of ninety-five millions a day, they should be sent to eternal torment if Christian people do not send them word respecting Christ and his redemptive work. How absurd! Is it any wonder that infidelity laughs to scorn so abominable a misrepresentation of Divine Justice and Love? Surely the Heavenly Father’s character has been grossly traduced by his own family, his own children! Our hearts and our heads cry out for the living and true God of the Bible, who knew what he was doing when he undertook the creation of our race—a God not only benevolent in his designs, but thoroughly wise, capable and powerful for the carrying out of all his intentions. In the Bible, and in it alone, we find portrayed a God of this character, with a Plan of this caliber.
Election and Free Grace.
Briefly stated, the Scriptures teach an election in the present age of the "Church of the Firstborns, whose names are written in heaven," but it does not teach that the non-elect are doomed to eternal torment. It does teach that the dead are really dead, but not hopelessly dead, not dead as the brute beasts. It teaches that the sentence of death came upon our entire race, and has resulted in our mental, moral and physical blemish and decay. It teaches that the death sentence upon us as a race would have been an eternal one, had it not been for God’s mercy expressed through Jesus and the work he has accomplished and will yet accomplish for our race. It teaches that the hope of our race is a resurrection from the dead, and a release from the domination of imperfection and sin. The Bible does not teach that Free Grace has yet reached mankind, but, on the contrary, that an elective process is now in operation, and that in due time, after the election shall have accomplished its selection of the Bride of Christ, then Free Grace will obtain throughout the whole earth and every creature will be brought to a knowledge of the Lord—"all the blind eyes shall be opened, all the deaf ears shall be unstopped." That time of Free Grace will be the Millennial Age; and throughout that Age the Church of Christ, now being elected, will be joint-heirs with Jesus in his Kingdom and its glorious work for human uplifting from sin and death conditions. Thus "the elect" of this present time will ultimately be used of the Lord as his "Royal Priesthood" under Christ Jesus their Head, their Chief Priest, in blessing of all the families of the earth with the fullest and most absolute opportunity of attaining restitution to human perfection and life eternal—or, rejecting this favor, to die the Second Death, to be as though they had never been. We are asked, Do not the Scriptural statements which teach that there will be an "elect" Church, thereby imply that the masses of mankind are non-elect? and if non-elect surely they cannot go to the same happy abode with the elect, but must be remanded to eternal torture! How strange that these evil surmisings respecting the character and Program of the Heavenly Father should so persist in our minds! Do we reason so falsely on other subjects? The civilized world in our day is accustomed to this word election. We elect Legislatures and Congresses. The number chosen to these offices is small indeed in comparison to the populace. Thus continually we have before our mind’s eye an elect little company and the non-elect multitudes—millions. Do we reason that those not elected to the Legislature or to Congress, by reason of their non-election, must surely suffer some kind of torment? And is it not equally preposterous to reason after this fashion in respect to the elect and non-elect of the Scriptures? On the contrary, as legislators and judges are chosen from amongst the people because of their supposed suitability for special work and as they are ordained
OV35 in office for the purpose of conserving the interests of the non-elect, so let us see the election so prominent in the Divine Program. The Church is being elected to membership in the Body of Christ—in the Spiritual Seed of Abraham. And the Divine declaration is that in this Seed of Abraham, this elect Church, all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Surely this is the only reasonable and sane view of this question, the only Scriptural view, the only view which enables us to appreciate the character and the Program of our God in dealing with Adam and his race.—#Ga 3:29.
Foreknowledge and Predestination.
Has God predestined or determined in advance just which individuals shall be blessed with the opportunities of the High Calling of this Gospel Age to joint heirship with Christ? and, correspondingly, has he predestined which members of our race may have the Restitution blessings of the next Age? and which shall be esteemed unworthy of eternal life on any plane and be remanded to death—the "Second Death;" eternal destruction? We reply that nothing in the Scriptures can possibly be construed to favor the view suggested. The predestinations of the Bible are of a Divine character. The Creator foreknew man’s fall into sin and its death penalty, and his own plan for redeeming and restoring the race. He fore-knew that he would tender the privilege of being the Redeemer, first to his only begotten Son. But the matter was open to the volition of the Logos. It was not compulsory, but optional with him. Likewise, our Creator foreordained or predestinated that an opportunity would be granted to some of the race to become joint-heirs with the Redeemer in his Kingdom and nature—such a class was predestinated, foreordained, but no suggestion was offered as to the individuals to compose that foreordained class. On the contrary, the statement is definitely made, that in harmony with the Divine Program many should be called to this high position in comparison to the few that would be chosen. And the conditions upon which any of the called ones would be chosen are clearly set forth in the Scriptures; and those favored with the call are specially exhorted to consider the matter as wholly dependent upon their own faithfulness, because "Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do"—all that he has promised; hence it remains with the called ones to "make their calling and election sure."—#1Th 5:24. St. Paul sets forth this matter of predestination in most explicit language, and distinctly points out that Divine predestination does not apply to the individual, but to the class and to the characteristics of all who will belong to that class. He predestinated that none could come into harmony with him or be eligible to this class unless first they believed in Christ as their Redeemer, turning from sin—unless first they were justified through faith in the precious blood. Next they must consecrate, taking upon themselves holy vows of devotion to the Lord, his Truth and his service—even unto death. Not only so, but to the best of their ability those consecration vows must be kept, must be lived day by day to the end of their period of trial and testing. Meantime, begotten of the holy Spirit, these favored ones must cultivate the fruits and the graces of the Spirit and become at heart copies of God’s dear Son, however blemish and imperfection may affect some of their outward conduct and words. This is God’s predestination; says the Apostle, "Whom he did foreknow (the elect Church), he also did predestinate (predetermine) to be conformed to the image of his Son." (#Ro 8:29.)
Whoever of the "called" ones fails to attain the character likeness of Christ fails to make his calling and election sure, and will be rejected from membership in the same, because God has predestined that none shall be of that glorious elect company except such as, by his assisting grace in Christ, shall attain to the glorious character likeness of the Redeemer. We hold that from this stand-point, the doctrine of God’s elections and fore-ordinations in respect to the Church and those who shall become members thereof is a glorious one, and one well calculated to develop Christian character, to enthuse with apostolic zeal the called ones. And as to the Free Grace of the Divine Plan surely it is a most glorious provision from
OV36 this standpoint—promising blessed opportunities to every member of the race. As it is written, Christ, "the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world."—#Joh 1:9. A beautiful symbolic picture of the Millennial Age and the blessings extending to all mankind under Israel’s New Covenant, is set before us in the Book of Revelation. First the "elect" Church is pictured as "the New Jerusalem adorned as a Bride for her husband" descending from heaven to earth, establishing the Divine rule amongst men. Then follows a further symbolization: "a river of the Water of Life, clear as crystal," is represented as "proceeding forth from the throne" of the New Jerusalem, flowing out to bless all the nations of the world. The result is Paradise with trees of life by both sides of the River and "the leaves of the trees for the healing of the heathen." Then we read the message of Free Grace, so attractive to Brother Wesley and to us all—"And the Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him come and take of the Water of Life freely."—#Re 22:17.
ONE HERE, ONE THERE
OF all we meet in life’s great stream, There’s but one here and there Who treasures most the better things; Each man to self most tightly clings, For self he toils, for self he sings, Except one here, one there.
The world would be a desolate place, But for one here and there, Whose heart with self hath not been filled, Whose love for God hath not been killed, Whose thankful praise hath not been stilled; There’s one such here and there.
And this hath been the Lord’s wise will, To find one here, one there, Who counting earthly gain but dross, Would daily take the Christian’s cross, E’en at the risk of any loss:—God finds one here and there.
’Tis not the numbers that He seeks, But just one here, one there; He seeks not souls, but jewels fair, For those who will His suff’ring share, And for His sake reproaches bear; They’re few; one here, one there!
But oh! the grandeur of the work For this one here and there, To join in lifting up our race, To wipe away of sin each trace, To make of earth a perfect place, Put glory everywhere!