Friday, May 15, 2009
Human Works and God's Foreknowledge
I've been teaching a series on Romans for the past few months, and it's been very enjoyable. It's also very difficult, especially when you get to chapter 9, which deals with the doctrine of election. I haven't felt much like posting the past few days, but thought I'd better put something up. And what better thing to put up than a subject that raises people's blood pressure.
One of the common points of argument on this subject is how God "elects" His people to salvation. Calvinists argue that human works and will have nothing to do with it. God's election is sovereign and not dependent on anything we do. Arminians insist that God "foreknows" who will believe in Him and elects people to salvation on that basis.
I was reading up on this in lesson prep, and I found this rather arresting passage from John Calvin himself, commenting on the Romans passage, "if through grace, it is no more by works," etc:
This amplification is derived from a comparison between things of an opposite character; for such is the case between God's grace and the merit of works, that he who establishes the one overturns the other.
But if no regard to works can be admitted in election, without obscuring the gratuitous goodness of God, which He designed thereby to be so much commended to us, what answer can be given by Paul to those infatuated persons, (phrenetici—insane) who make the cause of election to be that worthiness in us that God has foreseen? For whether you introduce works future or past, this declaration of Paul opposes you; for he says that grace leaves nothing to works.
Paul speaks not here of our reconciliation with God, nor of the means, nor of the proximate causes of our salvation; but he ascends higher, even to this— why God, before the foundation of the world, chose only some and passed by others: and he declares that God was led to make this difference by nothing else but His own good pleasure; for if any place is given to works, so much, he maintains, is taken away from grace.
It hence follows that it is absurd to blend foreknowledge of works with election. For if God chooses some and rejects others, as he has foreseen them to be worthy or unworthy of salvation, then the grace of God, the reward of works being established, cannot reign alone, but must be only in part the cause of our election. For as Paul has reasoned before concerning the justification of Abraham, that where reward is paid, there grace is not freely bestowed; so now he draws his argument from the same fountain— that if works come to the account, when God adopts a certain number of men unto salvation, reward is a matter of debt, and that therefore it is not a free gift.
A very powerful argument, if you ask me. Human pride is very, very subtle. If we think for one moment that good works of any kind earn one drop of Christ's blood, or help in obtaining our salvation, we are on very, very dangerous ground.
How does the will of man intersect with the will of God? It's a mystery. But I have to give the sovereignty to God, where it belongs. If I had to save myself, I might as well reserve my bunk in Hell right now. Why did He save me? I don't know. But I am eternally thankful that He did.