The Predestinating Work of God the Father by Andy Hynes

Guest blogger Andy Hynes is a PhD candidate at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Follow him @ABHYNES on Twitter.

The predestinating work of God the Father carried a variety of thoughts.  There were the old pelagians who said it was the work of man alone to call upon God for salvation. There was also the idea that God chose men to be saved based on foreseeing their decisions and rejected everyone else to damnation. However, William Perkins taught, “the cause of the execution of God’s predestination is his mercy in Christ in them which are saved, and in them which perish, the fall and corruption of man, yet so as that the decree and eternal counsel of God concerning them both has not any cause beside his will and pleasure.”[1]  The external call must be extended to all, but only the elect would respond with understanding, faith, and repentance.  The Holy Spirit would regenerate the heart and give the gifts of repentance and faith to the sinner.

The Puritans held to John Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity.  Total depravity was the teaching that man was completely corrupt, bankrupt of anything good, and therefore was unable and unwilling to pursue God.  It was impossible for that totally corrupt individual to do anything to earn right standing before a perfect God.  Therefore, the need for redemption became the backbone of man’s existence.  Someone had to do something in order for humanity to be brought back into a right relationship with a holy God.  With man’s inability to do anything on his own, due to his totally depraved nature, God had to intervene on man’s behalf.  The reformers continually dealt with this major issue.  As a result of this issue the understanding of covenant was birthed.  Bremer said, “The Puritan emphasis on the covenant arose out of the concern of ministers to explain the process of salvation to their congregations. The clergy gave special attention to the Covenant of Grace, since it described the process whereby salvation was effected.”[2]

The predestinating work of God involved the covenants.  His work was involved in the Trinity; John Owen wrote,

The agent in, and chief author of, this great work of our redemption is the whole blessed Trinity; for all the works which outwardly are of the Deity are undivided and belong equally to each person, their distinct manner of subsistence and order being observed. It is true, there were sundry other instrumental causes in the obilation, or rather passion of Christ, but the work cannot in an sense be ascribed unto them; for in respect of God the Father, the issue of their endeavors was exceeding contrary to their own intentions, and in the close they did nothing but what the ‘hand and counsel of God had before determined should be done,’ Acts iv. 28; and in respect of Christ they were no way able to accomplish what they aimed at . . . the Scripture proposeth distinct and sundry acts or operations peculiarly assigned to them.[3]

 The Necessity of Election

 The Apostle John wrote, “Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’” (John 3:3, NASB).  Jesus’ statements in this verse show the qualifications necessary for an individual sinner to be in a right relationship with God.  Conversion is another way to describe this idea.  A man must be converted in order to see the eternal kingdom of God.  Man has a severe problem, that being separation from God on account of his sin.  A sinner, according to Paul, is “dead” in a spiritual sense and beyond need.  As a result of man’s inability to move near God, someone had to act on his behalf.  God decreed this action.

The need for God’s electing work flows from the depravity of man’s heart.  The inability to pursue God on one’s own necessitates help.   The requisite of any covenant was the depravity of man.  Charnock wrote,

Scripture represents man exceedingly weak, and unable to do anything spiritually good. ‘So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God,’ Rom. Viii. 8. He concludes it by his so then, as an infallible consequence, from what he had discoursed before. If, as being in the flesh cannot please God, therefore not in that which is the highest pleasure to God, a framing of themselves to a likeness of him. The very desire and endeavor of the creature after this, is some pleasure to God, to see a creature struggling after holiness; but they that are in the flesh cannot please him . . . God only is almighty, and man all impotency; God only is all sufficient, and man all indigent. It is impossible we can have a strength of our own, since our first father was feeble, and conveyed his weakness to us; by the same reason that it is impossible we can have a righteousness of our own, since our first father sinned: Isa. Xliii. 26,27, ‘Declare, that thou mayest be justified. Their first father hath sinned.’[4]

The concept of depravity, or total corruption of the heart, described the whole of the heart without any degree of right disposition or principles that should be a foundation for holy practices, but altogether under the dominion of a contrary disposition; so that every aspect of the heart is contrary to everything that is right.[5]  The best of any man’s body is vile.  Sibbes wrote, “Vile in the regard of the matter whence they are taken, the earth, from the beginning, from the womb; base in the whole life, base in death; most base after death. They are base, I say, in the beginning.”[6]  Every notion of the heart was wrong, corrupt, and sinful.  Every aspect of labor, work, and function was corrupted by sin.  Charnock spoke from personal experience when he said, “What more frequent in the mouths of those that have some preparations to it by conviction, than I cannot repent, I cannot believe, I find my heart rotten, and base, and unable to do any thing that is good!”[7]

The Puritans viewed this natural consequence of Adam’s sin as the beginning point of God’s needed grace.  As man’s heart and mind were fully depraved, then he was incapable of good.  Man would rather make God a debtor to him, and set too lofty an impression of him.  The heart acts in direct opposition to God in all ways.  Therefore something new is needed.  It cannot be a reorientation of what exists, but a new creation.  Jesus Christ provided the opportunity for those individuals to be made new.  Their hearts would be transformed, awakened, and made alive.

[1] H. C. Porter, Puritanism in Tudor England (London: Macmillan and Co., 1970), 293-4.

[2] Bremer, The Puritan Experiment, 22.

[3] John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, 163.

[4] Stephen Charnock, A Discourse of the Efficient of Regeneration, vol. III of The Works of Stephen Charnock (1865; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2010), 170-1.

[5] Edward Hinson, ed., Introduction of Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 178.

[6] Richard Sibbes, The Redemption of Bodies, vol. V of The Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Grosart (1862-64; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 162.

[7] Stephen Charnock, A Discourse of the Efficient of Regeneration, 171.

tagged as , , , , in calvinism,Christianity,theology

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve Martin April 5, 2013 at 11:21 am

What a relief that it doesn’t depend on me. I have trouble deciding what shirt to wear in the morning (some days).

2 Cathy M. April 5, 2013 at 12:37 pm

“The heart acts in direct opposition to God in all ways. Therefore something new is needed. It cannot be a reorientation of what exists, but a new creation.”

That is a brilliant phrase! Gonna remember that one.

3 Andy April 5, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Thank you Cathy. God receives the glory.

4 Lynn Mac September 6, 2013 at 3:59 pm

If Calvinisim were true and totally depravity means  “that man was completely corrupt, bankrupt of anything good, and therefore was unable and unwilling to pursue God”, then I have a couple of questions:
1) how in Acts 2 Peter convicted his listeners of crucifying the Messiah and they did not respond to Peter in an depraved, hostile, rejection of his gospel sermon but somehow not only understood that gospel message but while still in their lost, “depraved” state asked what they must do.    If they were lost / depraved why would they have any care about what to do about their sin?
2) I have been told by Calvinists that God hardened Pharoah’s heart agaisnt his will causing him to sin / disobey.  If total depravity were true, then Pharaoh would have naturally disobeyed God without God having to force Pharaoh to sin.  So why would God need to force / cause Pharaoh to do something aganst his own will when Pharoah would have naturally disobeyed on his own without God stepping forcing him to harden his heart against his will?

5 Chris Roberts September 6, 2013 at 9:46 pm

Lynn Mac Both straightforward and simple enough:
1. God was at work in their hearts. This is seen in a verse like Acts 13:48: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” – who believed? The ones appointed to eternal life. Who are the ones appointed to eternal life? The elect. Who are the elect? Those chosen by God to believe and be saved. What does God do in their lives? Causes them to be born again to believe this great hope (1 Peter 1:3). So how is it that those who heard Peter were able to repent and believe? They were among the elect that God was working on.
2. Why did God harden Pharaoh if Pharaoh was already depraved and would have sinned against God? Because a person doesn’t have to be righteous to be smart enough to avoid suffering. Doing cocaine is a sin. It is also harmful. There are many people who don’t do cocaine; not because it’s not a sin, but because it’s harmful, could get them arrested, etc. But harden them even more so they don’t care about the harm and care only for the drug, and they will do it. Pharaoh might well have let the Israelites go in order to end the plagues, but God hardened him so that he desired his pride and rebellion more than the end of his suffering.

6 Lynn Mac September 9, 2013 at 9:53 pm

@Chris Roberts Lynn Mac
I do not get your explanation about Pharaoh.  There would be no reason for God to harden Pharaoh’s heart against his will if Pharaoh was totally depraved and would have disobeyed anyway.  If Pharaoh were totally depraved he could never do anything but reject God regardless of any harm or consequences.  Total depravity would have left Pharaoh with no choice at all.
Rom 9:17 “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.”
This verse does NOT say God’s purpose for raising up Pharaoh was to harden his heart against his will.  God’s purpose for raising up Pharaoh was “that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
God could have done this regardless if Pharaoh obeyed or disobeyed.  If Pharaoh obeyed and let the people go then the people would have seen this king bowed in submission to God’s will and God would have showed His power over Pharaoh and magnify His name.  Yet Pharaoh chose to disobey and God used his disobedience to show his power over Pharaoh and magnify His name.  God foreknew how Pharaoh would respond to Moses and since God could accomplish His will with Pharaoh Rom 1);17 whether Pharaoh obeyed or not God never had to force anything upon Pharaoh against his will for he was free to harden his own heart Ex 8:32

7 Lynn Mac September 9, 2013 at 10:34 pm

@Chris Roberts Lynn Mac
It was the gospel word that pricked their hearts in Acts 2, so they were not totally depraved else they would not have had their hearts pricked by the gospel word nor would they ask what they must do.
Your interpretation of Acts 13:48 puts fault and blame upon God when He has none.  If God did not choose me before the world began, then it is God’s fault that I am un unsaved unbeliever.  The context leading up to verse 48 does not allow for Calvinistic interpretation.  In v43 Paul “persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.”  If they were predetermined to be saved then they needed no persuasion to continue in God’s grace for they would have remained in God’s grace regardless.  Persuasion indicates man’s will, they had the choice to leave God’s grace.  They were in God’s grace by  their own willful choice and could leave God’s grace by choice, not unconditionally predetermined by God.  In v47 Paul said “salvation unto the ends of the earth”. means salvation is for everyone , everywhere not just for a few God supposedly unconditionally predetermined.
Lastly in v42  “the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.”  The Gentiles of their own will determined to hear the gospel and that is why they came to believe.  Luke in the context is contrasting the Jews who of their own will put God’s word away from  themselves while the Gentiles desired to accept the word of their own will.  The word “ordained” means to set in order, to determine and can be either passive or middle voice.  The context determines it is middle voice, the Gentiles determined themselves (again see v42) for they are set in contrast to the Jews who put God’s word away from themselves.  So those who believe determined themselves to believe and receive eternal life.

8 Lynn Mac September 9, 2013 at 10:51 pm

Also, In Acts 13:40 why would they be commanded, warned to beware, to take heed if there eternal fate was predestined?  How could one obey this command if his fate has already been sealed by God?  His eternal destiny is unavoidable.


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