That It Discourages All Motives To Exertion
The objection that the doctrine of Predestination discourages all motives to exertion, is based on the fallacy that the ends are determined without reference to the means. It is not merely a few isolated events here and there that have been foreordained, but the whole chain of events, with all of their inter-relations and connections. All of parts form a unit in the Divine plan. If the means should fail, so would the ends. If God has purposed that a man shall reap, He has also purposed that he shall sow. If God has ordained a man to be saved, He has also ordained that he shall hear the Gospel, and that he shall believe and repent. As well might the farmer refuse to till the soil according to the laws disclosed by the light of nature and experience until he had first learned what was the secret purpose of God to be executed in His providence in regard to the fruitfulness of the coming season, as for any one to refuse to work in the moral and spiritual realms because he does not know what fruitage God may bring from his labor. We find, however, that the fruitage is commonly bestowed where the preliminary work has been faithfully performed. If we engage in the Lord's service and make diligent use of the means which He has prescribed, we have the great encouragement of knowing that it is by these very means that He has determined to accomplish His great work.
Even those who accept the Scripture Statement that God "worketh all things after the counsel of His will," and similar declarations to the effect that God's providence control extends to all the events of their lives. know that this does not interfere in the slightest with their freedom. Do those who make this objection allow their belief in the Divine sovereignty to determine their conduct in temporal affairs? Do they decline food when hungry, or medicine when sick, because God has appointed the time and manner of their death? Do they neglect the recognized means of acquiring wealth or distinction because God gives riches and honor to whom He pleases? When in matters outside of religion one recognizes God's sovereignty, yet works in the exercise of conscious freedom, is it not sinful and foolish to offer as an excuse for neglecting his spiritual and eternal welfare the contention that he is not free and responsible? Does not his conscience testify that the only reason why he is not a follower of Jesus Christ is that he has never been willing to follow Him? Suppose that when the palsied man was brought to Jesus and heard the words, "Rise up and walk," he had merely replied, "I cannot; I am palsied!" Had he done so he would have died a paralytic. But, realizing his own helplessness and trusting the One who gave the command, he obeyed and was made whole. It is the same almighty Saviour who calls on sinners dead in sin to come to Him, and we may be sure that the one who comes will not find his efforts vain. The fact is, that unless we regard God as the sovereign Disposer of all events, who in the midst of certainty has ordained human liberty, we have but little encouragement to work. If we believed that our success and our destiny was primarily dependent on the pleasure of weak and sinful creatures, we would have but little incentive to exertion.
"On his knees, the Arminian forgets those logical puzzles which have distorted Predestination to his mind and at once thankfully acknowledges his conversion to be due to that prevenient grace of God, without which no mere will or works of his own would ever have made him a new creature. He prays for that outpouring of God's Spirit to restrain, convince, renew, and sanctify men; for that divine direction of human events, and overturning of the counsels and frustrating of the plans of wicked men; he gives to the Lord glory and honor for what is actually done in this regard, which implies that God reigns, that He is the sovereign disposer of all events, and that all good, and all thwarting of evil are due to Him, while all evil is itself due to the creature. He recognizes the completeness of the divine foreknowledge as bound up inseparably with the wisdom of His eternal purpose. His prayers for assurance of hope, or his present fruition of it, presuppose the faith that God can and will keep his feet from falling, and heaven from revolt, and that His purpose forms such an infallible nexus between present grace and eternal glory, that nothing shall be able to separate him from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."1
Since the future events are hidden and unknown to us we should be as industrious in our work and as earnest in the performance of our duty as if nothing had been decreed concerning it. It has often been said that we should pray as though everything depended on God, and work as though everything depended on ourselves. Luther's observation here was: "We are commanded to work the more for this very reason, because all things future are to us uncertain; as saith Ecclesiastes, 'In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or weather they both shall be alike good,' Ecclesiastes 11: 6. All things future, I say are to us uncertain in knowledge, but necessary in event. The necessity strikes into us fear of God that we presume not, or become secure, while the uncertainty works in us a trusting that we sink not into despair.2
"The farmer who, after hearing a sermon on God's decrees, took the break-neck road instead of the safe one to his home and broke his wagon in consequence, concluded before the end of the journey that he at any rate had been predestinated to be a fool, and that he had made his calling and election sure." 3
On one occasion after Dr. Charles Hodge had finished a theological lecture he was approached by a lady who said to him, "So you believe, Dr. Hodge, that what is to be will be?" "Why, yes, lady, I do," he replied. "Would you have me believe that what is to be won't be?"
And we are further reminded at this point of one in Scotland accused and convicted of murder, who said to the judge "I was predestined from all eternity to do it." To whom the judge replied, "So be it, then I was predestined from all eternity to order you to be hanged by the neck, which I now do."
Some may be inclined to say, If nothing but the creative power of God can enable us to repent and believe, then all we can do is to wait passively until that power is exerted. Or it may be asked, If we cannot effect our salvation, why work for it? In every line of human endeavor, however, we find that the result is dependent on the co-operation of causes over which we have no control. We are simply to make use of the appropriate means and trust to the co-operation of the other agencies. We do have the express promise of God that those who seek shall find, that those who ask shall receive, and that to those who knock it shall be opened. This is more than is given to the men of the world to stimulate them in their search for wealth, knowledge, or position; and more than this cannot rationally be demanded. He who reads and meditates upon the word of God is ordinarily regenerated by the Holy Spirit, perhaps in the very act of reading. "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them that heard the word," Acts 10:44. Shakespeare makes one of his characters say: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings," (Julius Caesar, 1:2).
The sinner's inability to save himself, therefore, should not make him less diligent in seeking his salvation in the way which God has appointed. Some leper when Christ was on earth might have reasoned that since he could not cure himself, he must simply wait for Christ to come and heal him. The natural effect, however, of a conviction of utter helplessness is to impel the person to make diligent application at the source from whence alone help can come. Man is a fallen, ruined, and helpless creature, and until he knows it he is living without hope and without God in the world.
The genuine tendency of these truths is not to make men indolent and careless, but to energize and stimulate them to redoubled efforts. Heroes and conquerors, such as Cæsar and Napoleon, have often been possessed with a sense of destiny which they were to fulfill. This sense steels the nerve, redoubles the courage, and fixes in of an indomitable purpose to carry his work through to a successful finish. Large and difficult objects can only be achieved by men who have confidence in themselves, and who will not allow obstacles to discourage them. "This idea of destiny once embraced," says Mozley, "as it is the natural effect of the sense of power, so in its turn adds greatly to it. The person as soon as he regards himself as predestined to achieve some great object, acts with so much greater force and constancy for the attainment it; he is not divided by doubts, or weakened by scruples or fears; he believes fully that he shall succeed, and that belief is the greatest assistance to success. The idea of a destiny in a considerable degree fulfills itself . . . . It must be observed that this is true of the moral and spiritual, as well as of the natural man, and applies to religious aims and purposes, as well as to those connected with human glory." 4
E. W. Smith, in his valuable little book, "The Creed of Presbyterians," writes as follows: "The most comforting and ennobling is also the most energizing of faiths. That its grim caricature, fatalism, has developed in human hearts an energy at once sublime and appalling is one of the common-places of history. The early and overwhelming onrush of Mohammedanism, which swept the East and all but overthrew the West, was due to its devotees' conviction that in their conquests they were but executing the decrees of Allah. Attila the Hun was upborne in his terrible and destructive course by his belief that he was the appointed 'Scourge of God.' The energy and audacity which enabled Napoleon to attempt and achieve apparent impossibilities was nourished by the secret conviction that he was 'the man of destiny.' Fatalism has begotten a race of Titans. Their energy has been superhuman, because they believed themselves the instruments of a super-human power.
"If the grim caricature of this doctrine has breathed such energy, the doctrine itself must inspire a yet loftier, for all that is energizing in it remains with added force when for a blind fate, or a fatalistic deity, we substitute a wise, decreeing God. Let me but feel that in every commanded duty, in every needed reform, I am but working out an eternal purpose of Jehovah; let me but hear behind me, in every battle for the right, the tramp of the Infinite Reserves; and I am lifted above the fear of man or the possibility of final failure." (pp. 180, 181).
In an English newspaper, "The Daily Express," of April 18, 1929, we read the following concerning Earl Haig, who was Commander-in-Chief of the British armies in the First World War, and who was a Scotsman and a Calvinistic Presbyterian: "Most remarkable as regards Haig's own personality is the disclosure that this reserved, cold, formal man had a profound faith, and in the greatest crises of the war believed implicitly that help would come from above, and that he regarded himself as the chosen of the Lord, the Cromwell who alone could smite the foe. He was genuinely convinced that the position to which he had now been called was one which he and he alone in the British Army could fill. It was not conceit. There was no man who was less inclined to over-estimate his own value or capacity; it was opinion based upon the discernment of all the factors.
He came to regard himself with almost Calvinistic faith as the predestinated instrument of Providence for the achievement of victory for the British armies. His abundant self-reliance was reinforced by this conception of himself as the child of destiny."
The genuine tendency of these truths, then, as stated before, is not to make men indolent and careless, nor to lull them to sleep on the lap of presumption and carnal security, but to energize and to inspire confidence. Both reason and experience teach us that the greater one's hope of success, the stronger becomes the motive to exertion. The person who is sure of success in the use of appropriate means has the strongest of incentives to work, while on the other hand, where there is but little hope there will be but little disposition for one to exert himself; and where there is no hope, there will be no exertion. The Christian, then, who has before him the definite commands of God, and the promise that the work of those who obediently and reverently avail themselves of the appointed means shall be blessed, has the highest possible motives for exertion. Furthermore, he is elevated and inspired by the firm conviction that he himself is marked out for a heavenly crown.
Who ever stated the doctrine of election more plainly or in more forcible language than did the Apostle Paul? And yet who was ever more zealous and more untiring in his labors than Paul? His theory made him a missionary and impelled him to set forth Christianity as final and triumphant. How cheering it must have been for him in Corinth to hear the words, "Be not afraid, but speak and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to harm thee; for I have much people in this city," Acts 18:10. What greater incentive to action could have been given him than this, that his preaching was the divinely appointed means for the conversion of many of those people? Notice, God did not tell him how many people He had in that city, nor who the individuals were. The minister of the Gospel can go forward confident of success, knowing that through this appointed means God has determined to save a vast number of the human family in every age. In fact, one of the strongest pleas for missions is that evangelism is the will of God for the whole world; and only when one acknowledges the sovereignty of God in every realm of life can he have the deepest passion for the Divine glory.
The experience of the Church in all ages has been that this doctrine has led men, not to neglect, nor to stolid unconcern, nor to rebellious opposition to God, but to submission and to a sure trust in Divine power. The promise given to Jacob that his posterity was to be a great people did not in the least prevent him from using every available means for protection when it looked as though Esau might kill him and his family. When Daniel understood from the prophecies of Jeremiah that the time for the restoration of Israel was at hand, he set himself earnestly to pray for it (Daniel 9:2, 3). Immediately after it had been revealed to David that God would establish his house, he prayed earnestly for that very thing (2 Samuel 7:27-29). Although Christ knew what had been appointed for His people, He prayed earnestly for their preservation (John, Ch. 17). And although Paul had been told that he was to go to Rome and bear witness there, it did not in the least cause him to be careless of his life. He took every precaution to protect himself against an unfair trial by the Jerusalem mob, and against an unwise voyage (Acts 23:11; 25:10, 11; 27:9, 10). The decree of God was that all those on board the ship should be saved, but that decree took in the free and courageous and skillful activity of the seamen. Their freedom and responsibility were not in the least diminished. The practical effect of this doctrine, then, has been to lead men to frequent and fervent prayer, knowing that their times are in God's hands and that every event of their lives is of His disposing.
Furthermore, it may be said that so long as the sinner remains ignorant of his lost and helpless condition, he remains negligent. Probably there is not a careless sinner in the world who does not believe in his perfect ability to turn to God at any time he pleases; and because of this belief he puts off repentance, fully intending to come at some more convenient time. Just in proportion as his belief in his own ability increases, his carelessness increases, and he is lulled to sleep on the awful brink of eternal ruin. Only when he is brought to feel his entire helplessness and dependence upon sovereign grace does he seek help where alone it is to be found.
1. Atwater, article, Calvinism in Doctrine and Life; The Presbyterian Quarterly and Princeton Review, Jan. 1875, p. 84.
2. Bondage of the Will, p. 287.
3. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 361.
4. The Augustinian Doctrine of Predestination, p. 41.