We promised in our last Article to deal with the statements in Article 17 relating to misapplications of the Scriptural doctrine of Predestination.
The Article reads: “As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ. . . So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean being, no less perilous than desperation.”
All Truth can be Perverted.
There is no truth of Scripture that has not been perverted. “God is One” has been interpreted to mean “Our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be God.” “Justification by faith only” has been interpreted to mean “It does not matter what kind of life we live.” “This is My Body” has been interpreted to mean “You receive the veritable Body of Christ, with bones, nerves and sinews into your mouth.” It is not surprising, therefore, that the doctrine of Predestination has been also misinterpreted. The popular objection that because this doctrine is misunderstood it had better be treated with absolute silence is corrected by the reflection that such misunderstanding attaches to every doctrine in Scripture. Indeed the principle might be extended to include many of the apparently obvious facts in nature. But that does not relieve us from the task of warning against error.
Beveridge and the Source of the Article.
Beveridge in his Commentary on the Articles traces the passage we have quoted to Augustine. He quotes a letter of Hilary of Arles to Augustine in which he writes that some were so moved that they said, desperation was held forth to men by it. He also quotes Augustine as relating that a certain man in a monastery on being reproved answered, “Whatsoever I am now, I shall be such a one as God foreknew I would be.” Augustine adds, “Yet this truth did not turn to good, but it so turned to evil, that leaving the society of the monastery, he became a dog that returned to his vomit.” This seems an adequate answer to the suggestion made, for example, by Dr. Bicknell that the closing paragraph is an answer to a mistaken Calvinistic interpretation. Beveridge, speaking again of Augustine says: “And thus doth this reverend Father annex the same caution to this doctrine of Predestination that after him our reverend convocation did; even that, for all the truth of that doctrine we are still to hope in God’s promises and obey his precepts.”
The Message of the Concluding Paragraph.
The concluding paragraphs assert that the godly consideration of Predestination is full of comfort. This is conveyed in St. Paul’s message to the Romans, “If God be for us who can be against us?” The fact that our salvation depends on the eternal purpose of God revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord enables us to realise that “all things work together for good to them that love God.” It assures us with a definiteness that passes beyond any reasonable conjecture and enters into the domain of absolute certainty that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” It is a matter of profound satisfaction to the humble believer to realise that his salvation is in the hands of a living and compassionate God in Whom he unreservedly places his trust.
But we are warned that this sublime confidence so full of assurance to the humble may be distorted so as to induce despair. The unintelligent may argue, “It is useless for me to labour and pray. If God has chosen me I cannot be lost, if God has not chosen me I cannot be saved. As I lack a sense of salvation 1 must regard myself as doomed.” Not only Beveridge but Calvin himself reminds us that this odium rested on Augustine. It was contended that his opinions were subversive of all exhortations to purity of life. Some would sink into a listless apathy. Others would indulge themselves in sins of the flesh. Both parties would claim that God’s predestination removed salvation from their control. That these opinions emerged at the Reformation period is most likely. Whenever attention is directed to the sacred Scriptures evil cogitations keep pace with godly consideration. But Augustine’s treatise in “correction and grace” to which Calvin directs attention (Calvin’s Institutes Bk. III, C XXIII Sec. XI II) sufficiently proves that they were not a peculiar product of Reformation theology.
Two correctives are given. “We must receive God’s promises . . . as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture.” The Word “generally” means “belonging to all classes.” The injunctions are addressed to mankind and must be thus interpreted. Calvin points out, “Christ commands men to believe in Him. Yet His limitation is neither false nor contrary to His command, when he says, ‘No man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father’”. Similarly Paul says: “God commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” Again we are reminded that God’s will is to be followed. Whatever we find in Scripture is an obligation. It would defeat the purpose of God if any obligation imposed by Him were abrogated by His eternal decree. He disposes and turns the hearts of men to obedience. The obligation to obedience rests equally on believers and unbelievers. Therefore my only assurance of God’s call rests on the admitted fact that I am following Him.
From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, July 4, 1957.This article is part of our Articulate series, listening to T.C. Hammond unpack the 39 Articles one by one.