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A Treatise to Enervate and Confute All The Five Points Of It

by Christopher Ness

 

 An easy to read, but totally devastating attack against the heresy of Arminianism.
Recommended reading by John Owen, John Gill, and Augustus Toplady

 

CHAPTER I

Objections Against the Absolute Decree of Predestination Answered

 

I have stated and proved the doctrine of absolute Divine Predestination. I have also considered, and, I trust, scripturally refuted the Arminian’s notion of it, that it is conditional. I shall now, thirdly, answer a few of the principal objections brought by them against this Divine absolute decree of unconditional predestination.The Arminians deal with this doctrine as the heathen emperors did with primitive Christians in the ten first persecutions, who wrapped them up in the skins of beasts, and then exposed them to be torn to pieces by their fierce ban-dogs; so do the Arminians with this great truth. They first dress it up in an ugly shape, with their own false glosses upon it, and then they let fly at it one cynical sarcasm after another, saying, “This doctrine of absolute predestination goes to accuse and charge God with injustice, dissimulation, hypocrisy,” etc. etc.

Objection 1. Of injustice, in giving to equal persons unequal things; contrary to that scripture which saith, “that God is no respecter of persons” (Ac 10:34).

Answer:
1.
This was objected against Paul’s doctrine, “What shall we say then? is there unrighteousness (is there injustice) with God? God forbid” (Ro 9:14). And seeing the apostle brings it in as the cavil of carnal reason against God’s decree, we have therefore sufficient ground to reject it. God must not lose the honour of His righteousness, because the reason of it appears not to our shallow understandings. We may not reprehend what we cannot comprehend. The justice of God must not be measured by the standard of our reason; what is this but speaking wickedly for God, and talking deceitfully for Him (Job 13:7), and plainly robbing Him of all righteousness that is not consonant with our model? The work of God, and the wisdom of God, must ever be viewed as inseparably united.

2. God is righteousness itself; and darkness may sooner come from the sun (which is the fountain and source of light) than any unrighteous act from God. God’s ways are always equal, though men think otherwise of them. “Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not My way equal? are not your ways unequal?” (Eze 18:25); and though they be sometimes secret and past finding out (Ro 11:33), yet are they always just. God’s will is the rule ruling; but not as regulated by man’s depraved reason. God is the origin of all good; He is also the Foundation of justice and equity. God is too kind to do us harm, and too just to do us wrong.

3. Jacob and Esau were equal in the womb, yet had an unequal disposing decree concerning them; this was God’s right and power to do. This the apostle demonstrates, first, from Moses’ testimony, “I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee, and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex 33:19). It is His right to do so. And, secondly, from the example of the potter, who hath power over his pots, yet less than God over His creatures. Now that which the pot cannot do with the potter, that man may not do with his Maker. But the pot (supposing it could speak) could not blame the potter of injustice in appointing equal lumps to unequal ends.

4. God’s decree is not an act of injustice, but of lordship and sovereignty. Justice always presupposes debt; but God (who was perfect in Himself from all eternity) could not be a debtor to man, who had his all from God; the decree is not a matter of right and wrong, but of free favour, Grace is God’s own, He may do what He will with it. “Is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with Mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Mt 20:15). If He gives grace to some and not to others, it is no wrong in Him that is not bound to give to any.

5. God is not a respecter of persons, because He doth not choose men for their works’ sake. It was before Jacob and Esau had done either good or evil. He finds all alike, and nothing to cast the balance of His choice but His own mere good pleasure. God is a free agent, and under no law in giving grace.

Objection 2. Of cruelty; as if God were worse to His creatures than tigers to their young: than rat-catchers who stop up all holes, and then hunt them with their dogs, &c. &c.

Answer:
1.
This is charging God foolishly, seeing no act of God can be a means to damn men. Men’s own acts are the cause of it; to wit, the fulfilling their own lusts. As reprobation gives not such a grace as infallibly to make them better, so it works nothing in them by which they are made worse.

2. ‘Tis a mere fallacy: as if the decree of non-election was the procuring cause of man’s damnation. Sin is the cause of damnation, but reprobation is not the cause of sin. David’s order to Solomon concerning Joab and Shimei was not the cause why either the one or the other came to an untimely end; but it was treason against Solomon in Joab, and running from Jerusalem in Shimei, which procured their deaths (see 1Ki 2:5, 28, 40, 42).

3. It is a false hypothesis to suppose that God, in the decree of reprobation, doth by an effectual means intend to bring men to damnation as in the decree of election to bring others to salvation: for salvation is a favour not due any, so God may absolutely give or deny it; but damnation is a punishment, so hath relation to a fault. Means to salvation is the gift of free grace, but damnation comes of man’s own voluntary sin, and is the fruit or wages of it. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ro 6:23). It is God that fitteth Peter for salvation; but Judas fits himself for damnation.

4. Should God constrain the creature to sin, and then damn him for it, He delighteth in the destruction of His creature, contrary to Eze 13:23 and 23:11. God did not thrust Adam into his sin, as, after he had willingly sinned, He thrust him out of Paradise. Man’s punishment is from God as a judge; but man’s destruction is from himself as a sinner. Let it be repeated, and again repeated, that man’s sin came freely from himself.

Objection 3. It is objected against the absolute decree, that it makes God guilty of dissimulation in calling upon such as are under the negative part of it to repent, etc., just as if God bid men, whose eyes He had closed, to judge of colours; or those whose feet He had bound, to rise up and walk.

Answer:
1.
The non-elect’s not repenting is not only from want of power [“No man can come to Me, except the Father . . . draw him” (Joh 6:44)]; but also from want of will, “Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life” (Joh 5:40). None are damned because they can do no better, but because they will do no better. If there were no will there would be no hell: and this will be the very hell of hells, that men have been, felo de se, self destroyers.

2. Man had a power in Adam. God gave him knowledge in his understanding, rectitude in his will, and purity in his affections: these are all lost by the Fall. God must not lose His authority to command because man by reason of sin hath lost his ability to obey.

3. May it not more truly be said, that it is the Arminians who charge God with folly and dissimulation, by their representing Him as disappointed in his purpose, and by their bringing Him in as speaking thus: “I do indeed earnestly desire to save you, but ye so hinder that I cannot do what I desire; I would, if ye would: therefore since I am, by you, frustrated of My intention, I will change My purpose of saving you, and My consequent will shall be determination to destroy you?” So said Vorstius the Arminian, “Things may happen that may bring God to grief, having tried all things in vain!”

4. But there is another view to be taken here. When God giveth command to spiritual acts He grants power to obey the same. So it was when Christ bade the man to stretch out the withered hand, and Lazarus to come forth out of the grave. The call and command of God is the conduit-pipe of strength and ability.

Objection 4. God’s decree cannot be absolute and infallible, because it might have been frustrated by the possibility of Adam’s standing.

Answer:
1.
Adam’s standing was possible respecting himself, but not respecting God. To say that Adam might not have sinned is a categorical and simple proposition, and will hold good, Adam being considered in himself as clothed with the freedom of his will; and to say also, that it could not be but that Adam would sin is equally true, considering Adam was subordinate to the decree of God, determining what Adam would do out of the freedom of his own will.

2. As it respects man, Adam might have stood as well as fallen; for God gave not His creature a law only, but also furnished him with power sufficient to keep that law if he would; and if man had not been mutable, he had been God and not man. Man is mutable; God alone is immutable; in this He, the Lord, is distinguished from all created beings. Yet as it respects God, it was not possible man should stand; for in God’s decree it was certain that man, being left to the mutability of his own will (upon Satan’s tempting and God’s permitting), would voluntarily incline to evil. Therefore Adam sinned freely in respect of himself, but necessarily in respect of God. He acted as freely therein as if there had been no decree, and yet as infallibly as if there had been no liberty. God’s decree took not away man’s liberty; man in the Fall, while fulfilling the decree of God, yet freely exercised the proper motions of his will.

3. Thus then God, by decreeing Adam’s sin, did not subtract from Adam any grace that he had; for He decreed that he should sin voluntarily. He diminished not that power with which he was endued, only He superadded not that grace by which Adam would infallibly not have fallen; which grace was no way due to man, neither was God bound to bestow it on him. So that Adam might stand, in respect of himself; yet certainly fall, in respect of God. The Jews might have broken Christ’s bones, in respect of their own free-will in such actions, yet was it not possible they should do so; for “A bone of Him shall not be broken” (Joh 19:36). It was possible, in a sense, that Christ should be delivered from His passion by legions of angels (Mt 26:53), “But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Mt 26:54). It was possible, in respect of the thing, that God might have pardoned sinners without a Christ; but impossible, inasmuch as God had decreed Christ to be the ransom. To argue on the Arminian hypothesis of free-will, ‘tis possible none may be saved or none lost; and then either Heaven or hell would be superfluous.
 

Supra and Sub-lapsarianism, the difference between stated:

Objection 5. The predestinarians cannot agree about stating their decree; some stating it before the Fall, as the supra-lapsarians; and others after the Fall, as the sub-lapsarians.

Answer:
1.
The Arminians, by the law of retaliation, may be called sub-mortuarians, for their holding no full election till men die; and post-destinarians, for placing the eternal decree behind the race of man’s life. Surely when believers die they are the subjects of glorification, not of election. Christ should have said (upon this hypothesis) to the penitent thief, “This day thou shalt be fully elected,” not, “Thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” And may they not also be styled re-lapsarians, for saying that the elect may totally and finally fall away; and that he who is a child of God today may be a child of the devil tomorrow?

2. Those notions of sub and supra are but human conceptions of the order of the Divine decree, which so far transcends our understanding, that our weak capacities cannot comprehend it but after the manner of men. Those several states of man, before and after the Fall, are not in the Divine understanding as they are in ours, by a succession of acts, one after another; but God by one single act orders all things; and the Divine idea in the decree is a representative of all those states at once. They are not sub- ordinanda but co-ordinanda; not this after that, but altogether in one instant of eternity.

Objection 6. Absolute election makes men remiss in duty; saying, “What need or use is there of good works? Let me live as I list; if I am elected to salvation I shall certainly be saved.”

Answer:
1.
God’s decree establishes means; it doth not only ordain the end, but the means to that end; and the one is never separated from the other. God decrees that the earth shall be fruitful; this doth not exclude, but includes, that the sun must shine upon it, showers must water it, and the husbandman must till it, as his God instructs him (Isa 28:26). God decrees that fifteen years shall be added to Hezekiah’s life; this made him neither careless of his health nor negligent of his food; he said not, “Though I run into fire, or into the water, or drink poison, I shall nevertheless live so long;” but natural providence, in the due use of means, co-wrought so as to bring him on to that period of time pre-ordained for him. Man’s industry is subservient to God’s decree; it is called, “the life of thine hand” (Isa 57:10). We may not tempt the Lord our God.

2. The golden chain has so linked the means to the end, and sanctification in order to salvation, that God doth infallibly stir up the elect to the use of the means, as well as bring them to the end by the means. “Brethren beloved of the Lord, God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth” (2Th 2:13). “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them ... Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations” (Eze 36:25-31). Those in whom the Lord hath put His spirit, let them live as they list, and I am very sure they will live godly lives.

3. The Arminian eternal prescience infers as absolute a certainty, and necessity of events, as our predestination doth; for things must be foreordained to be before they can be foreseen that they shall be. Men may argue thus from their ground, “If I be eternally foreseen to believe, I shall believe and be saved.” And yet on the contrary they teach men to say, “I can repent when I will; I may be elected whenever I please, though I at present am living in lewdness, for I have a free-will to repent even on my deathbed, so I may be saved if I think proper.” This is the doctrine that will make men remiss in duty! But, for an elect soul, by the operation of the Holy Spirit, to read the heart of his covenant God towards him as loving him everlastingly, absolutely, and peculiarly; and, in consequence of His everlasting unchangeable love, bestowing on him, and giving for him, His greatest, His best gift, even Jesus Christ; let him live as he listeth, this will be his language, aye and his practice also, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” I love Thee, because Thou hast first loved me; I am constrained thereto by the all-powerful influences of Thy grace; this fleeting world can now afford nothing satisfactory to me. I shall never be satisfied till I am absent from the body and present with the Lord, till I awake with Thy likeness (Php 1:21; 1Jo 4:19; 2Co 5:14,15; Ps 17:15.)

Objection 7. The doctrine of absolute reprobation makes men desperate; “Let me do what I can, if I am to be damned I shall be damned: I am under a fatal necessity.”

Answer:
1.
This is to suck poison out of a sweet flower; to dash against the Rock of ages; to stumble at the Word, whereunto they were appointed (1Pe 2:8). Why hath God ordered all things by an absolute decree for ever? It is “that men should fear before Him” (Ec 3:14). God acts freely, as the first cause; and man freely, as the second; in concurrence and not by constraint.

2. This objection is well answered in the 17th Article of the Church of England: “For curious and carnal persons taking the spirit of Christ to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, by which the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchedness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.”

3. No man may judge himself a reprobate in this life, and so grow desperate; for final disobedience (the only infallible evidence of reprobation) cannot be discovered till death. We are not to question the secret will of God but to pay attention to His revealed will.

4. The Arminian doctrine [God foresaw what good courses I would take of my free-will, so did elect me] is miserable comfort to one whose heart is privy to myriads of departures from God. It was well said by the Psalmist, “Who can understand his errors?” Who can tell how oft he offendeth?” “Cleanse Thou me from secret faults” (Ps 19:12).To tell men (as Arminians do) that they may be justified and sanctified, and God’s children, all but glorification; and yet, after this, may become reprobates, and be damned in the end, is desperate doctrine indeed. Truly it is theirs which is the desperate doctrine; whereas our doctrine is only liable to false inferences from carnal persons — from such persons as drew false conclusions from our Lord’s words, and said, “Who then can be saved?” (Lu 18:26). Such inferences are not fairly deduced, but corrupt consequences drawn from good premises.

“God’s ways are just, His counsels wise,
No darkness can prevent His eyes;
No thought can fly, nor thing can move,
Unknown to Him that sits above.

He in the thickest darkness dwells,
Performs His work, the cause conceals,
But though His methods are unknown,
Judgment and Truth support His throne.

In Heaven, and earth, and air, and seas,
He executes His firm decrees;
And by His saints it stands confess’d,
That what He does is ever best.

Wait then, my soul, submissive wait,
Prostrate before His awful seat,
And, midst the terrors of His rod,
Trust in a wise and gracious God.”


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