Doctrine of Predestination (Part I)

by Nikolaus Selnecker
translated by Souksamay Phetsanghane

This is a translation of a lecture on predestination and election based on Romans. Nikolaus Selnecker (1532-1592) was the author. He was instrumental in the years of Lutheran orthodoxy after the death of Luther in 1546. This Latin text can be found in the Sammlung (Compilation), which Martin Chemnitz put together and published in 1594. He compiled this book during the Gnadenwahlstreit of the late 16th century.

To the glory of him who loved us from eternity and predestined us out of his infinite mercy to be with him forever. Amen.

Is the doctrine of predestination a necessary doctrine?

Absolutely, because God himself gave this doctrine, and predestined those whom he called. Therefore this doctrine that reveals the eternal good will of God towards us is greatly necessary for the confirmation of our article of free justification, the true comfort of consciences, and the striving after piety, patience, and firmness.

Yet is this doctrine useful?

This doctrine is very useful and full of comfort for the believers, who rest on this word, “For God so1 loved the world;” “Come to me all of you, who labor;”2 “This is my Son, whom I love, listen to him;”3 “He, who believes in the Son, has eternal life,”4 etc. But it is most destructive to the unbeliever and those who talk about predestination without and outside of Christ. “For who does not believe in the Son, the wrath of God remains over him.”5 Therefore it must correctly be taught that the doctrine of predestination is like an iron sword, although it has great usefulness, nevertheless it is not suitable for imprudent boys, nor angry and bad men; but for adults who correctly use it, and for the pious or believers in Christ.

From where is this doctrine originated?

One does not go up into heaven and run down with this doctrine’s conditions, nor into the eternal plan of the Trinity outside of the earth’s foundation. It is not to be indulged by private speculation and seeking of the order of causes from eternity, but it was begun at the manger of God’s Son, Christ. He was made man, descended from heaven for our sake and for the sake of our salvation, suffered, was crucified, and died in his flesh for the sake of our sin, resurrected for the sake of justification, ascended to heaven as victor and conqueror; was made higher than the heavens, elevated above the entire sky, sits in his flesh at the right hand of the eternal and omnipotent Father, gives gifts to us, shows to us every good thing, and leads us to the knowledge of the gracious will of God toward us. In this way, we begin at the manger of Christ and arrive at the right hand of God to which Christ was carried in his human flesh. Therefore we ought to correctly judge predestination from the revealed will of God in the doctrine of the gospel concerning Christ. Whoever believes in the Son, they were predestined, i.e., they have eternal life. This is the voice of the gospel, from which it must begin, with which it must agree and continue up to death or to our emptiness, from which they arise to glory and heavenly life, according to Christ’s word, “I want that where I am, they also will be, whom you, Father, have given to me.”6 We are entirely, perfectly, and firmly able to discern, speak about, and are assured of the eternal and hidden plans, and order of causes. Now it is enough that we rest upon the revealed will of God in the word and use of the sacraments, which we know are the same as the eternal, secret, and [will] hidden to the wise ones of the world. Matt.11[:25].

Is not the doctrine of predestination to eternal life the same as the doctrine of the justification of man before God?

It absolutely is. There is no other cause of predestination than the cause of justification. Therefore Paul proves the doctrine of free grace from predestination. There is no distinction apart from the fact that predestination concerns the eternal will and pleasure unknown to every creature, but justification concerns the revealing of the eternal and secret will accomplished through the Son.

In this life, is anything able to be known or said about the eternal order of causes, which God would have planned from eternity for himself in the electing and condemning of men?

If Christ and his word are always in the heart, mouth, and in view, then one is able to safely and without danger discern concerning the order of causes, in this way, according to the Word. Certainly, the fact that God in his eternal and infallible plan would have wanted out of his eternal kindness to reveal his glory, and thus the decree was made in the plan of the eternal Trinity. He would set up the human race for his image, justification, and holiness in this way, so that such a race would be and remain forever, so that it would live without harm in eternity. Then although God foresaw (to whom nothing is able to be unknown nor at hand, even if it will happen and has not yet happened) the wickedness of Satan who rises against God, and corrupts the human race, that himself and all his generations would return as subjects under God’s judgment; he did not immediately wish to avert his enemy’s wickedness in his eternal, particular, secret, divine, and impenetrable plan. He allowed this to happen, just as a powerful lord, a viewer of the things that a polluted and powerless enemy plots, does not immediately oppose his enemy, but knows when and how he ought, is able, and wishes to restrain the evil enemy for his glory and bring him back to nothing. Therefore when the plan was held with the Logos (the Son) and the Holy Spirit, he destined the enemy to eternal destruction: but in view of the Son, on account of and through whom everything was made, as in view of the only mediator, he did not wish that the act would punish the entire human race. He wished that the Son be made flesh, and according to his flesh be predestined for innocence, cleanliness, integrity, holiness, completed justification, life, salvation, joy, and eternal glory, and at the same time for the ransoming and reconciliation of men, since they are predestined by God to eternal life in this way, that for that very fact whoever believes in him receives from his abundance, at whomever God looks; on the other hand whoever is outside of Christ, i.e., without faith in Christ is condemned and rejected. God reveals this, his secret will, through the Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, and establishes the means, through which faith in Christ is kindled and confirmed by the maker and doer, the Holy Spirit. Therefore he decreed to gather the church and keep her visible and open to the entire human race, in which he wishes his voice to be heard, which is, “This is my Son whom I love, listen to him.”7 Those who listen to him and do not despise, neglect, belittle, or place it after earthly and perishable things, but humbly, learn, listen, and esteem as great the means, indeed the gospel’s message and the use of the sacraments; he wants to give [them] in true faith in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and in eternal salvation and he forsakes no one, to whom these means, planned by God, are a care and of the heart. Moreover he reveals to him the word and heart, and wants that he be in the number of the foreordained to eternal life, i.e., of the ones justified through faith in Christ. However others, who despise the means or think nothing of them, and are not striving after Christian piety, he pronounces as unbelievers, impenitent, hardened, wicked, rejected, and vessels of wrath suitable for ruin-not by the fault of God, but by their own particular fault. We are able and ought to only speak about the order of causes in this doctrine of predestination from Scripture. Moreover what causes bring forth larger things to these, those are not for our asking in this life, but pertain to the eternal Academia (academy). It is enough to know, how we are justified before God, absolved from sin, are adopted as sons, i.e., are predestined and elected to eternal life and salvation.

What rules are to be maintained in the doctrine of predestination? Ten.

First: Not human reason, nor philosophy, but God’s Word alone ought to be the norm of the judgment and thought of predestination. Outside of the God’s Word, nothing is to be decided concerning God and his will.

Second: The promise of grace is universal, pertaining to every people, penitent races and men, who believe in Christ, according to the order established by God. It resounds in the visible church just as in an overhanging cathedral; every single person ought to be listeners of this, outside of which there is not salvation.

Third: In the presence of God, there is no respect of persons. Deut. 10; Acts 10; Is. 20; Rom. 4.

Fourth: There are no contradicting wills in God. The revealed will is nothing other than what the eternal will of God is.

Fifth: The grace shown and revealed to us in Christ abounds over sin.

Sixth: Just as in the earthly Adam, everyone fell, so in the heavenly Adam, who is Christ, everyone arises and in the universal resurrection accomplished by Christ, believers arise to life, the other ones rise to eternal damnation. For just as the promise of grace is universal, so also the resurrection is universal, i.e. pertains to everyone. Anyhow with this distinction, that many reject grace, and therefore arise to damnation, but believers are raised to life out of grace.

Seventh: God is the cause neither of sin nor the ruin of men, and he does not predestine anyone to damnation with his will.

Eighth: The doctrine of predestination is plain, certain, and explained through the doctrine of the free justification of men before God. Furthermore the cause of predestination is nothing more than the cause of justification.

Ninth: Whoever perishes, he perishes by his own fault. Whoever is saved, he is saved out of pure grace and goodness through Christ.

Tenth: God saves no one apart from the means, which he has set up, namely the word and use of the sacraments, nor outside of the church of Christ8 without a conversion to Christ. So he condemns no one, to whom these means which lead to Christ are a care and of the heart. “He who hears and learns from the Father, he comes to me,” Christ said, “and he who comes to me, I will not cast him outside.”9

What are the particular words used in this doctrine?

Purpose, foreknowledge, predestination or election, Book of life, condemnation etc.

Purpose or design is the eternal and unchangeable decree and favor of God concerning the salvation of men according to the order he established.

Foreknowledge is the knowledge beforehand of the saved ones, whom God knows, calls, cares for, guards, and protects [being] conscience of everything. 2 Tim. 2 [: 19], “He knows who are his,” and on the other hand, there is still the foresight of the bad, wicked, and condemned ones.

Predestination is the designation and decree, by which God elects according to design and favor or plan of his will the eternal church in his Son, calls and gathers her through the ministry of word and sacrament. In her by the merit and efficacy of the Savior Christ, he bestows to everyone who believes in Christ righteousness, remits sins, gives the Holy Spirit and eternal life, out of pure grace and goodness.

The Book of life is Christ himself, to whom we are joined and ascribed through faith. Therefore the word anthropopathos says that God has the book, in which he would have written down the names of his elect, to whom he wants the give eternal life, Colossians 4 [: 3], Ezekiel 13 [: 9], the house of Israel, the mystery of the Lord. The name “Book of life” is most pleasing and describes the certainty of salvation for the believers in Christ. For all are said to be written in the Book of life, in whose faith and salvation there is no doubt.

Condemnation is the rejection of the wicked from eternal life, who do not esteem the gospel of Christ in the faith about the promised free divine mercy, according to the passage, “Who do not believe the Son, will not see life, but the wrath of God remains over him.”10

Providence is the general word concerning the universal rule of God, by which God is mindful of every single creature and rules and governs them according to his great wisdom, goodness, and righteousness.

Does God still predestine wicked men for bad both on account of their fault and as a punishment?

The voice of predestination in Scripture is used only for the work of redemption and salvation of the human race. Augustine says, “For it is wrong to say that God predestined anything except good. Indeed God foresees the bad things, but he does not predestine, but he foresees and predestines the good things.” And Fulgentius11 also says, “There is not sin in God: so no sin comes from him: moreover what is never in his work was never in his predestination.” Therefore God predestines no one to sin, because God neither wishes nor approves sin, but hates and punishes it, as it is written, “You are not a God that desires iniquity,”12 and, “God apart from any iniquity, is just and right.” Likewise, “Whatever is in the world, desires of the flesh, of the eyes, and the arrogance of life is not from the Father, but from the world.”13 And still it is correctly said by all heathens that the voice is wicked, impious, and at no time supporting, which makes God the author of sin. Moreover the fact that God still does not wish with the plan and decree of his perfect will the punishment and ruin of man, the oath of God himself testifies, “As long as I live, I do not want the death of sinners, but that he is converted and lives.”14 For God is not a tyrant, but he concedes to us sinners a time of repentance, and impels with us, just as also a father with his children and family. However he rejects the wicked ones who do not repent and he punishes their own wickedness with eternal death by their own fault.


Acts 2[:23], Peter says, “With a definite plan, and with the foreknowledge of God did the Jews receive Jesus who was handed over and murdered him.” And Acts 4[:28], “They did whatever the hand of God and plan of God had predetermined or predestined, and it happened.”

Therefore the voice of predestination is used still for the sins of the rejected. I respond. Peter does not speak about the wicked intent, will and action of the Jews, as if this was decreed by God. In the former section, he affirms by an astonishing and indescribable temperament of righteousness and mercy that the decree is from God that the Son was made a victim for us, whom the Father still would have handed over to temporal death, so that he would win eternal life for us. In the latter section, he shows that rulers and people with their insanity would be able to do nothing more against Christ, expect that, which God had decreed for the salvation of the human race. And the answer to the argument pertains to this:

The will which agrees with the divine will is good.

The will of the Jews agrees with the divine which wishes the death of the Son, whom they themselves wanted killed.

Therefore the Jews will was good.

I respond to the initial argument. The true will is greater, if the will agrees according to all the causes. [I respond] to the following argument. False is the following [argument], because there is a manifold distinction in the will of God and of the Jews. The motivating cause in God is the immense mercy of God towards the human race, and the intercession of the Son offering himself for the atoning punishment in our place, but in the Jews, the motivating cause is the burning desire against Christ. Then the formal thing which God wants is the obedience of his Son, but the formal thing that the Jews want is a mangling, execution, and torment which they wish to last forever. At last the final causes are in God, the appeasing of God’s wrath, the reconciliation of men with God, the glory of God, the salvation of men etc, but in the Jews the destruction of Christ, eternal death, and a confirmation of errors, idolatry, and sin. Therefore the causes in God and in the Jews do not agree, nevertheless they arrive at the same objective, as a surgeon and robber arrive at the same objective. Look at Ephiphanius15 against the Caianites or Cainites.16

Did God preordain Judas’s betrayal and the Jews’ sin?

Not at all, for he who sins is from the devil. Wickedness is absent from God, iniquity from the Omnipotent. Certainly God preordained the obedience and satisfaction of his Son in place of the human race. For the execution of this preordination, that which belongs to inflicting bad things, the wicked and hardened ones act willingly. They are not driven by God, but by the devil and his evil, nor do they want what God wants, but the opposite. For God wants good, but they themselves want bad and the ruin of Christ. But although God knows in his eternal foreknowledge from eternity these things would happen in this way, nevertheless he does not want, assist, nor approve the sin of Judas or the Jews. Moreover although God foreknew that they would be vessels of wrath, who would give themselves to their own madness by rejecting Christ, he forsook them, and allowed them to be carried by their own desires and by the instigation and urging of the devil; nevertheless in his eternal, unchangeable, and definite plan he leads all theses things to the best outcome, which is the glory of God and salvation of men. This is the good end of God’s predestination: However the sin itself of Judas and the Jews is from the devil, and although God prohibits and punishes it, the sin is still committed.

Why does God not avert and stop the sin, since he would easily be able to stop it?

  1. Because he wants natural reason to have freedom at any time, not to compel it forcefully, nor to drag it unwillingly to obedience, but he maintains such a thing, as it is.
  2. Because he requires willing obedience, which is not able to be pleasing to him, unless it is willingly.
  3. Because he acts according to his will, which is revealed to us in the Word i.e. according to the promises and warnings, by which we ought either to be moved to obedience, or to be punished by God, whom we would not obey.
  4. Because Judgment Day remains, when sin truly is eradicated and the wicked are condemned.

Why does God not immediately destroy and punish the wicked?

  1. Because he is patient, and gives time for repentance.
  2. Because he testifies that judgment remains, in which everything hidden is revealed and judged
  3. Because the wicked and impenitent are punished more severely.
  4. Because God wants the merit of his Son to be known, on whose account he spares the entire human race.
  5. Because he wants his mercy, goodness, long-suffering, and patience celebrated.
  6. He still wants us to live continually in the exercises of true repentance.

Augustine [said], “God allows so many hideous things to happen in thoughts, words, and actions, so that everywhere his judgments are feared and from the impure preparation of wickedness, the most pure discipline becomes sweet, and also it gives honor to him. Moreover it raises fear and modesty for him, who did not fall into these bad things either when that was ruling or when that was rising up from there.”

Gerson17 [said], “If God would want to condemn humans, he would have done it already long ago and would not ask us to trust in his help and goodness, just as he condemned the demons and would not give the Son and gives no desire or time for repentance.”

Does God often punish sin with sins or does he not want sin?

God desires sin neither from the beginning, in the middle, nor in the end. And they blasphemed, who give to God any blame for sin. Moreover he wants punishment, the law and execution of which is a work of God’s will. And with the reasoning of punishment, he still desires the law of retaliation, so that through that which one sins, he is punished by the same thing. Moreover two observations or rules are to be maintained for us.

The first is as often as God punishes sin with sin, then he uses the wicked ones or vessels of wrath for the execution of the punishment. Their nature is nothing other than to sin, to resist God, and otherwise be subject to condemnation, although their natures are not used for that punishment, which God wants. Therefore they are as a staff, which a father uses, and then throws it into the fire, as are Absalom, Assyria (Isa. 10) and today the Turks, and similar enemies of the true church, who do not repent.

The second is whatever whether rewards or punishment happens to the pious as a benefit, these happen when God arranges the event in this way, although in the middle many things are erred, the cause of which is not God, but the devil and the perverse nature of men. On the other hand, whatever happens to bad men is bad that happens with God arranging the event in this way according to his just wrath, such things are the means, the nature and disorder of which ought to be ascribed not to God, but to the devil and men. For God determines everything in his eternal plan for the best outcome, whether for the salvation of the pious or for the fall of the wicked, indeed the former is free, but the reason for the latter is it is owed and merited.

Why does God allow many to live in their blindness, and still allow that many perish in that?

The cause of blindness and ruin is found in man, not only in the reasoning of the original perversity, but also in the reasoning of the contempt of the doctrine resounding in the church, which men ought to hear and when they do not hear it, they are punished with the just judgment of God.

Therefore the first cause of this same blindness is the just wrath of God against sin and vessels of wrath.

Second, the punishment of many particular and actual sinners, of idolatry, of blasphemy, of lust etc.

Third, the disorder of the devil, who still thinks that he already blinds everyone and has rule of the world, and that every nation is in his hand; who is ashamed of the preaching of the gospel, by which he sees his own kingdom destroyed, and the church is gathered here and there among the nations, lest everyone should perish.

The fourth cause is so that we know about the calling of the incarnate Son for the nations to be saved, by his own voice sending out disciples into all the earth.

Fifth, so that we are humbled before God and know that we are enlightened, called, taught, and preserved by the mere compassion of grace in God alone through and on account of the Son, without our merits and works. We give God thanks that he wanted us to live in the joy of the called, to hear the doctrine of the Son of God, and of the believers’ salvation.

Sixth, so that everything is subjected to the will of God that is always just and proclaims the examples of his righteousness and compassion, impenetrable to our plans.

Seventh, so that it is known that everyone perishes, who does not listen to the church which teaches about Christ and joins himself to her.

Do peoples outside of the Church have an excuse? No!

  1. For they are guilty because of the sin and wickedness of [their] nature.
  2. Next because of the righteousness, in which they engage the truthfulness of God.
  3. Because of the many, horrible, filthy sins.
  4. Because of the very just wrath of God against those who contempt Christ.

Why does Christ prohibit the disciples to go towards the way of Gentiles and Samaritans?

Because he wishes the first church of the gospel’s doctrine, as it were, to be established among the Jews, who have the true worship of God according to the promise, according to this Acts 13 [: 46], “It was proper that the Word of God first be preached to you, but because you drive it away and you judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we turn to the Gentiles.” Christ did not exclude the Gentiles, but calls everyone to hear the word in the church, i.e. in that place, which he set up his church. From there he still wants the purity of doctrine to be received and distributed to other people in the entire world, as it is done.

Why does Christ say that Tyre, Sidon, and others would be repenting in ashes, if these miracles were performed before them, which were done in the Jewish cities?18 Why is such a light not shone to them, so that they are converted?

Augustine warns mercifully in questions, which are not to be asked in this matter. Nevertheless a true response is this: Christ speaks in a human way and accommodates his speech to the common speech, comparing the ungrateful Judean and Galilean cities to the Gentiles, Sodomites, Tyrians, and similar peoples. He only says this; that they will be punished more severely, who hear the Word of God and know the will of God, than others to whom the light of the doctrine has not yet shone in this way as to themselves. And that, which is in the just judgment and plan of God, is not for us to ask. Nevertheless the fault is not God’s, but man’s who despise the goodness of God revealed through the Word, because the people do not want to hear.

Why are Paul and Timothy prevented by the Holy Spirit to go into Asia and preach the gospel there?

God wanted to send them off in another direction, where more fruit would be produced according to the most loving good will of God; meanwhile he wanted the preaching of the gospel in Asia and Bithynia to be differed. He himself knew the reasoning of the divine plan, it is his plan. Moreover let us give God thanks for the light of the gospel and striving after piety, lest it is taken back from us and is handed over to other peoples. Still this is true that Paul and Timothy were not able to teach at one and the same time in very different places, but [their] work was in a fixed order and at a fixed time. God prescribed his reasoning to them, where they truly ought to begin and to what place they took themselves afterwards.

  1. Emphases, unless otherwise noted, are from the original Latin. 

  2. Matthew 11:28. 

  3. Matthew 3:17. 

  4. John 3:36. 

  5. John 3:18. 

  6. John 17:24. 

  7. Matthew 3:17. 

  8. The church of Christ or other similar references mean the true invisible church of believers, not the Roman Catholic Church as they might claim. 

  9. John 6:37. 

  10. John 3:36. 

  11. Fulgentius (462-527) was bishop at Ruspe. He was a student of Augustine and followed his teachings. 

  12. Psalm 5:4. 

  13. 1 John 2:16. 

  14. Ezekiel 18:23. 

  15. Ephiphanius (c. 315-403) wrote, “Medicine Chest against Heresies.” It talked about the various sects including the Cainites who were rejected as heretics in the early Christian church. 

  16. The Cainites were a sect of Gnosticism. They sought salvation through doing bad deeds. They thought that those who did good deeds would in another life swing like a pendulum to the side of bad and thus would need salvation. They pre-empted this by doing bad now and getting salvation sooner. Their prophets were Cain, Esau, Koran, Judas and Sodomites. 

  17. John Gerson (1363-1429) was professor and chancellor at the University of Paris. He was active at the Council at Constance (1415), which restored one pope to Catholicism (not three) and condemned Ian Hus as a heretic. 

  18. Matthew 11:21. 

Nikolaus Selnecker provides a thorough systematic treatment of the Christian doctrine of predestination.

 Aug 4, 2006