This is a continuation of the translation by Nikolaus Selnecker that appeared in Issue #3. 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 promise of grace universal and offered to everyone?
Absolutely, for this is the will of God, that everyone who believes in the Son will not perish, but have eternal life. Therefore this universal promise and will of God is not received indiscriminately and confusingly in nature and without order, but is given according to the order established by God, namely for every penitent person and truly everyone who believes in Christ; for that reason, determination is added to the universal part of every believer. And, “I do not want the death of the sinner.”1 But who is a sinner? Certainly he, who is converted. And John 6 [:37], “Everyone comes to me, I say everyone who hears and learns from the Father.” “For God wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”2 This knowledge does not happen outside of the church, but in the church; not without the Word, but through the Word; not without the Holy Spirit, but by the activity and efficacy of the Holy Spirit working through the Word and use of the Sacraments; not with repentance, but in true conversion to God, calling upon [God], and piety.
Is faith not a gift from God? Therefore why is it not given equally to everyone?
Faith is gift from God not generally, commonly, universally (for faith is not in everyone) regionally, legally, naturally, but uniquely, evangelically, and spiritually or a work of God, which is conferred and given according to the order instituted by God to those, who are living members of the church of Christ, hearers of the Word, and use the Sacraments in the way that Christ instituted, and are guardians of the Word and piety. However faith is not given to those who contempt, do not care, partake the means set forth by God in passing, esteem it lightly, and place carnal and earthly things or their own reason before it and neglect the striving after piety. For although they would be able to have historical faith, which the demons still have and tremble, nevertheless lack the faith of justification, and while they are the best and most holy of all, they are hypocrites, doubters, uncertain, without trust [fiducia] and consolation. This question is renewed below.
Is faith given on account of the hearing of Word, use of the Sacraments and striving after piety?
Just as man is not justified on account of faith, but through faith in Christ, so faith is not given on account of the hearing of the Word and use of the Sacraments, but through the Word and Sacraments, just as through the means established and set forth by God for the very thing, so that the Holy Spirit is efficacious through them and enkindles and preserves faith in the minds and hearts of the listeners, and the ones who know the heavenly doctrine.
But why is faith not given to everyone who hears the Word and uses the Sacraments?
To this question, Christ himself responds, Luke 8, showing there are three hindrances, by which the Word of God affects the roots less, and works faith in the sprits of every listener less, but only a fourth of these correctly hear the Word and truly believe. First is the devil. Second, the reason and flesh of man. Third, the world and love of worldly things. The first kind of people is compared to a road, on which the thrown out seed or Word of God is crushed, consumed by birds and becomes no fruit. For such people are the Epicureans, mockers, impenitent, self-secure, and uncomplying, i.e. everyone who holds the Word, Sacraments, and ministers of the Word in contempt. The second kind is compared to a rock, which receives the seed of the Word for a time, but in the time of the cross again loses it. Here are all hypocrites, temporary [believers], inconsistent ones, doubters, apostates, delightful ones, paid servants, and the wise of the world. The third group is compared to thorns, which are ambitious honors, works, and filthy desires. For this third group loves the world instead of the Trinity’s divine power.
It is evident from this that true and constant faith is not given to those who allow themselves to be ruled and conquered by the devil, their own flesh, and the world; but to those, who are both hearers of the Word and constant guardians of it. Also they subject themselves with a simple and good heart to the Word and are patient under the cross; i.e. (so let us speak many things generally)
Still from these, this is evident that faith is a free gift and work of God. But on the other hand disbelief is a work of the devil, flesh or the man’s reason corrupted by nature and the world. And it is the favor of God to have faith, but the fault of man to lack faith.
Why is it written, “They believed, as many as were appointed to eternal life?”3
It is certainly written, because of this: God knows his own from eternity and those whom he predestined to eternal life; he gave faith as a gift and justified them through the Word, which they heard. However the fact that he does not predestine everyone and gives faith as a gift is the fault of men, not of God. For many men hear the Word in vain and reject the grace of God revealed in the Word. In fact although God would be able to make everyone who is unwilling willing, nevertheless he does not. Why he does not do this, he has his own very just and wise reasons, which is not ours to ask. Rather we ought to give him thanks with our entire heart that he has called us through the preaching of the Gospel to the participation of eternal life and enlightened our hearts with faith. And when Luke, Acts 13[:48], uses this particular word, appointed, we know that we are bound to the order, i.e. according to the order established by God in the church, Word, and Sacraments, to judge about election and ought to speak about it and to always hold these sentiments firmly concerning this: they are never elected unless they are in the assembly of the called and that everyone, who continues through trial in faith and calling upon the Son of God, is elected. Who does not follow in these sentiments, they confirm in their spirits and the spirits of others or of Epicureans the contempt or desperation, and they are not in that order, in which God appointed to eternal life those who repent according to the order established by God, and believe in Christ. Syrus4 renders the word, appointed, as sealed, stamped, adorned, namely in the blood of Christ, or placed and set up for eternal life.
Is intuitu fidei (in view of faith; foreseen faith) the cause of election?
If justifying faith would be our work, our quality and virtue, this question would have a place. But because that faith is a work of God in us, truly there is no merit to this question; nevertheless to respond to it is easy. Certainly election is the eternal plan of God for the salvation of men. Faith in Christ, which itself God gave according to the order he established, is subjected to this plan of God. Therefore foreseen faith is not able to be the cause of election, the subsequent and produced faith of this kind is born in us in time and continues in time still until we die. The fact that if foreseen faith would be the cause of election, the false opinion of our foreseen worthiness and merits, not only of faith, just as of our quality, but also of our other good works, easily are able to occupy our minds. God knows who are his own and he chooses them before the foundations of the world were laid. And the cause of this election is nothing other than the free mercy and compassion of God through and on account of Christ the Mediator, and his merit, received and applied by faith alone. Although this faith is the hand or tool, by which the grace of God and merit of Christ is received, it is not the cause of grace and election, but it is the means and organ, by which the application of the grace and merit of Christ becomes ours.
Does God have a fixed number of elected for eternal life?
God knows his own, 2 Tim. 2[:19], and is conscious of everything. Therefore he knows the persons and number of saved ones. This great comfort rises from the truth of the matter. Indeed it does not follow from here that God by his own particular and secret decree destined a certain definite people to eternal damnation and would not want them to come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved, moreover that he himself efficiently would blind and harden them and would be the cause of their damnation. This thought is utter blasphemy. And nevertheless it is true that God, who knows his own out of grace, still knows the persons and number of the condemned, not by predestination, but out of omniscience of all things and just judgment which follows the bad deed not as a cause, but as a punishment. For God knows every single person and from these the ones saved by grace apart from their own merits, also through the antithesis and consequence the ones condemned by just wrath on account of their own wickedness, by which they refused grace.
Does not God himself blind and harden the wicked, as Scripture says?
Absolutely, for when the grace of God is absent, then God always is said to blind and harden people, who have been forsaken by him and who go after the desires of their heart with their own devices. This is the punishment and judgment of God for the ones who contempt the grace of the Gospel. And certainly to no greater prayer is God able to attach them, who do not want to obey his saving warnings, than if he allows them to obey and indulge their own desires and follow their own plan, by which they contrive and prepare ruin and destruction for themselves. They both seem to precisely understand themselves and to look after their own interests in the best way. For they are urged not by the Spirit of God, but by an evil spirit, and they do not have the gracious God, but the angry God, just as God hides his wrath for a time, as it is written, “My anger is at rest for me, and my zeal is removed from me, and I am at rest and I am no more full of wrath.”5 This blindness and hardening is this, the removal of grace, but not the efficacious work done by the plan and decree of the divine will because it is their fault, but the punishment for the contempt of God’s Word. By this punishment, God dismisses or sends away (as Psalm 81[:12] says) the ungrateful and wicked to be carried by the impulse of their own flesh, nature, and reason; with which it happens that they fall headlong from sin to sin by their own fault and into ruin. Moreover God is said to blind, harden, cast them down and catch (Ezekiel 14[:23]) by the reason of the very just punishment and wrath. For where grace is not present through and on account of Christ, there it is necessary that the place be given over to hardening and blindness. Is. 6[:10], and John 12[:40].
Do not all things happen with God wanting them and they happen necessarily?
Before the response, eight hypotheses are to be considered concerning the will of God.
After these hypotheses are diligently considered, now “to certainly subject all things to the will of God” is known, but in this way, that God in one way wants these things, which simply depend on the divine will, and in another way those things, which depend on the will of the rational creatures. Especially after the Fall, many things of that often happen still against God’s will, when the sins are prohibited by God, which God still punishes for this very reason, because they are lawless, i.e. they happen against the will and law of God, and fight with it. For God wants either obedience or punishment.
This distinction is also useful, the reason for teaching. The will of God is either antecedent or consequent. The antecedent will is that which is either of the omnipotence, good will, or approval. The will of the Omnipotent is unchangeable; no other power is able to resist it, like the captain of all things. The will of approval is either the end, by which God out of his fatherly good pleasure wants everyone to follow to the end, why they were created or redeemed, i.e. saved; or is the will for the end, by which God namely wants it to happen by men, which pertains by reason of order to the consequent end, and without which no one is appointed to salvation, as to be a member of the true church, to hear the Word, to come to a knowledge of the truth, to believe the promises, to be justified, to be renewed, to use the means instituted by God, to strive after piety, to pray, and to continue in faith and piety. The consequent will of God is that which God either punishes the wicked, unbelieving, and impenitent ones by reason of his righteousness or receives the converted and believers in the Son by the reason of his mercy and protects them on account of the Son for nothing. On account of the antecedent and consequent will of God it is still the will of sending away, without exclusion the will is called [this]. For more correctly it is simply called sending away (as Psalm 81 calls it) “he sent, dismissed, sent away.” Moreover this is that by which God allows that, which he himself does not want, to happen by the wicked, who resist the Word and will of God, whom God sends away according to the desires and wickedness of their heart, until he rejects them and that is what rejection is.
Therefore it is noted rather diligently, as it is shown, that the Stoic teaching of the absolute necessity of all things that happen, virtues or sins, is with God wanting, driving, and urging men’s minds and wills in that way, is false. For in this way, God is not only the beginner of all good things, but also of sins, of which the former is very true, but the latter is very false and blasphemous.
In the ecclesiastical writers several times there is mention of absolute and conditional necessity. The former is simply the will of God and unchangeable as creation, redemption, gathering, calling, sanctification, preservation of the church, the resurrection of the dead, Last Judgment, salvation of believers, etc. Is. 46[:10]. “My purpose will stand, and my every will will happen.” The conditional necessity is the will of God in that, which God has planned with condition, and wants it accomplished with the reason of either his judgment or mercy, as when ruin was preached to the people of Sodom with a condition, if ten righteous ones are found, they ought not to perish; when destruction was announced to the people of Nineveh with a condition, if they do not repent; death was announced to King Hezekiah and nevertheless it was put off for fifteen years; the hardening of Pharaoh constituted the end of judgment, unless he would listen to Moses and Aaron; the death of Abimelech was set, unless he gave back Abraham’s wife; God wants everyone saved, who listen to the Son and he wants no one condemned unless they do not believe in the Son. For he wants believers saved (this is the will of mercy) and non-believers condemned (this is the will of righteousness and judgment) and nevertheless it is one and the same also very simple will always directed to good and on the other hand turning from evil.
To this pertains the voice that is given to God for repentance and taken from the human custom, which does not indicate the changeability of the divine will, but the movement of the Holy Spirit urging in the hearts of the pious the assurance of either mercy, or judgment and wrath. Thus when it is said that God grieved because he had made man, i.e. the long-suffering and patience of God was very much offended by the sins of men in this way that God was angry, according to the norm of his righteousness, he wanted to execute punishment and destroy the human race. Likewise, God grieved for the calamity what he had said to do to the Ninevites, and he receives the repentant ones into grace according to the Jeremiah 18 [:8], “If an evil nation turns from its evil, I also relent from the evil, which I thought that I would do to it.” This is the norm of mercy. Moreover no one is able to cause this wonderful temperance of divine righteousness and mercy, nevertheless with one and the same will remaining, except the Son of God satisfying the righteousness and opening the windows of mercy.
Moreover let us consider the true and useful doctrine from four grades of necessity. All things are truly necessary, which belong to the first grade of necessity, which is called absolute and simple or the necessity of consequence, e.g. God is one and three persons of the divinity; God is good, just, and merciful etc.
Next all things are truly necessary, which belong to the second grade of necessity in natural reason, and its theoretical and practical principles, e.g. man understands the distinction of honor and disgrace, two times four is eight. And in addition, from the Word of God, certain doctors refer to these things still that are true with a necessity of heavenly definition and demonstration, which are not noted by nature for us, but which are handed down in the Word of God. They necessarily are revealed to us according to the norm of the will of God, e.g. he who believes in the Son is saved, he who does not believe is condemned, and there will be a resurrection of the dead. These and similar things, which are established on an evangelical definition and description, which are not written or straightened, but drawn, are not less true than this: two times four is eight.
Next they are necessarily true, which pertain to the third grade of necessity, just as with those, which work naturally, unless God would want the other, e.g. fire burns, nevertheless it was not able to burn the three Israelites in the Babylonian furnace. The sun always moves, with a physical necessity, because it was set up that way by God, but in Joshua 10 [:13] the sun stood still. For God is not bound to the subsequent causes, but the subsequent causes are changeable and subjected to the will and order of God.
Finally those things are true, which do not have necessary causes, but are contingent on their own nature, and nevertheless are already made, and for that reason, because they are not able to be made unfinished to unavoidable consequences are said to be necessary, as the Wisdom of Solomon6 19 [:5], “The Egyptians drowned on account of a deserving necessity” i.e. because they were not ceasing their sin, therefore it was necessary that they perish, just as by a necessity of consequence.
From these, it is possible now to respond to the question, everything happens by God wanting [it], e.g. all good things: But bad things happen although God prohibits [it] e.g. sins, the punishment of which God still wants and imposes, unless a conversion and remission happens on account of his Son. “Everything happens necessarily,” is not able to be said without distinction. Many things happen contingently. Still many things happen by the evil plan of man, which ought and were able to be omitted. Many punishments are dragged in by human wickedness. And nevertheless theses things, when they happen, are called necessarily true by a necessity of consequence, because the impossible is not able to happen. But about these fates, for in this life, we are not able to join everything, but this doctrine is sufficient to us, that every good thing is from God and by God foreknowing, knowing, seeing, hearing, understanding, judging, directing and determining everything that happens to the final good and salvation of the pious; and that still all bad things, which are the punishment, test, cross and trial, imposed on the pious by God wishing [it], although they are the means, instruments and organs of execution, are vessels of wrath, the devil, and unbelief, just as David said, “The Lord instructed Shimei, so that he would curse David.”7 And Joseph to his brothers, “Not by your plan, but I was sent here with God wanting [it].”8 Likewise, Job, when God allowed Satan to slaughter the sons and cattle of Job, “he said, ‘The LORD takes it away, just as it is pleasing to the LORD, thus it happened, may the name of the LORD be praised.”9 And Paul, conquered by wicked men, called himself a prisoner or conquered of Christ Jesus.10
Are many effects in fact contingent?
They are, for God does not suspend the way of working in nature by his own direction, but, just as he maintains nature as well as the way of working in nature, and he wants that one thing works naturally, another voluntarily, e.g. fire naturally burns, man voluntarily. God performs the order of his providence through inferior means, the effects of which are necessary to one, contingent to another. And whatever is truly set forward, it is certain that man by his own will chooses and does some before others. God is not the cause of sin nor does he want it. Beautiful is the example of Christ himself, the Savior, who was able to lay hold of 12 legions of angels, nevertheless he did not, and Peter knew he would not ask for them, although he was able. Therefore anything is able to happen, but that does not happen. Still from this it is rightly said that God’s knowledge renders every action necessary. Truly it will not happen for this reason, because he knows; but he knows for this reason, because it will happen, and he has the very free power of acting and not acting. And we ought to ponder this doctrine diligently, as we beseech God; as he himself governs us, lest we go against his order, but in the fear of God we live dwelling in the help of the Most High. Let us not do anything that obscures the glory of God or impedes our salvation.
Why is it written in other places in the works of orthodox doctors, “Everything happens with an absolute necessity?”
It is truly a hyperbole of the thought, and they are the thoughts themselves of the writers in this way, necessity is not defined without the Word, but according to the norm of the divine Word. Therefore Dr. Luther says, “After my death, many will cite my books halfway, and from that they will confirm the errors of every kind by their own folly. Moreover I wrote everything is absolute and necessary, but at the same time I added the revealed God must be beheld, as we sing in the Psalm, ‘He is Jesus Christ the LORD of hosts.’ But they pass over all these words and they catch on to only those about the hidden God. Therefore you, who now hear me, remember that I taught this, not to inquire about the predestination of the hidden God, but that must agree with what is revealed through the calling and ministry of the Word. For then you are able to be certain and speak of your faith and salvation. I believe in the Son of God, who said, ‘He who believes in the Son, has eternal life. Therefore in him there is no condemnation or wrath, but the favor of God.’ In other words I have professed these same words in my books and still now I pass them down with a living voice. Therefore I am excused etc.”
Moreover let us love, because of the grace of God, the skill of teaching and the truth and let us not delight in absurd and blasphemous voices, such are the voices of fanatics, who publicly spew these and similar things: God by his hidden plan is the cause of hardening, and by his decree orders the fall of men, also efficaciously works the sins of men, and God wants sin, and orders them as the author [of sin], and for the elect no sin is mortal and for the false ones nothing is venial, Christ still did not come for every single person nor prays for everyone, and the promise of grace is not universal nor pertains to everyone.
From these, other signs of conjectures arise against God with contumelious and deceitful words, about which we hear the words of Dr. Luther. “I hear scattered sinful voices among the nobles and leaders concerning predestination or divine foreknowledge. For they speak thus, ‘If I am predestined, whether lacking good or bad, I am saved. If I am not predestined, I am condemned, although I have no account of works.’
“If theses voices are true, then the incarnation, suffering, resurrection of God’s Son and whatever he did for the world’s salvation is plainly removed. Also what the prophets and the entire Holy Scriptures record [is removed] and what the Sacraments [promise is removed]. Therefore let us reject and trample all these things. They are diabolical and poisoned weapons and original sin itself, with which the devil seduced [our] first parents.” And again, “They are the children of the devil, with which he tries to make us doubtful and unbelieving; although for that reason Christ came into the world to make us very certain. For necessarily follows either desperation or contempt of God, of the sacred Bible, of baptism, of all the divine blessings, by which God wants us assured against unbelief and doubt.”
Moreover the true and firm knowledge of Christ is set against these thoughts. Do that as you contemplate the Son, so that Christ in his nativity, miracles, and cross is pleasing in your heart, for there is the book of life, in which you are written.
We ought to detest and leave these sinful voices, which the Epicureans throw around, “If it is necessary that this be done, it will happen. It ought to happen, because God predestined it etc.” For God does not descend from heaven in order to make you certain of predestination, in order to teach you to contempt the Sacraments, absolution and the rest of the divine ordinations. On the contrary, for this reason he instituted [them] so that he makes you very certain, and removes the disease of doubt from your mind so that you not only believe with the heart, but also see with the human eyes and touch with the hands. You have the Gospel, you are baptized, you have absolution, and you are a Christian. God says to you, “Behold you have my Son, hear and receive him. If you do this, now you are certain of your faith and salvation, and you are very surely predestined. I hear the incarnate Son and predestination willingly offers itself.”
Does God not have the very free power of receiving or condemning whomever he wants?
He does, but it must be added that God is neither a liar nor tyrant. And we ought to observe God and his will. Just as he revealed himself in his Word, because it shows that God receives and eternally saves everyone who repents, believes, takes refuge in the Son of God, and holds on to the universal divine promises by faith.
It is not humility to say, “If God wants to condemn me, so be it, I want to be condemned,” because God declared his fatherly intent to us, that whoever does not examine and embrace by faith, he is condemned. Therefore this is true humility, to put oneself under the revealed will of God i.e. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.”11 Thus God does not want to condemn us, but to save through and on account of the Son, who gave to us the power to become sons of God, as many of us as believe in his name. Whoever does not firmly embrace this revealed will of God, not only is he without faith, but he also holds God and his Word in contempt.
Is man able to be certain about his election to eternal life?
He both is able and ought to be certain, as Paul said, “I know, whom I have believed, and I am certain that he is able to guard my deposit for that day.”12 And, “I am convinced that neither death nor anything is able to separate me from the love of God, which is in our Lord Christ Jesus.”13 And Job said, “I know, that my Redeemer lives, and I will see him etc.”14 Likewise, “Faithful, certain, and worthy of every acceptance is the saying, Christ Jesus came into the world, to save sinners.”15
On what truths does that certainty of our election stand?
What stands opposed to the doubts of God’s grace?
Ezekiel 18:23. ↩
1 Timothy 2:4. ↩
Acts 13:48. ↩
Ephraem Syrus (c.306-373) was a Mesopotamian theologian, hymn-writer, and doctor of the church. He wrote many commentaries and was a staunch defender of Nicaean orthodoxy. ↩
Numbers 25:11. ↩
The Wisdom of Solomon is an apocryphal book. ↩
2 Samuel 16:11. ↩
Genesis 45:8. ↩
Job 1:20. ↩
Ephesians 3:1, Philemon 1. ↩
John 3:36. ↩
2 Timothy 1:12. ↩
Romans 8:38-39. ↩
Job 19:25. ↩
1 Timothy 1:15. ↩
John 3:16. ↩
Matthew 3:17. ↩
Titus 2:11. ↩
Ezekiel 33:11. ↩
Isaiah 53:4. ↩
Matthew 11:28. ↩
1 Timothy 1:15? ↩
John 1:29. ↩
Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45. ↩
Joel 2:32. ↩
1 Corinthians 12:3. ↩
Matthew 10:22. ↩
Revelation 2:10 ↩
1 John 5:10. ↩
Matthew 9:2. ↩
Luke 7:50. ↩
Abraham was justified by faith. cf. Romans 4. ↩
Ecclesiatiscus is another apocryphal book like the Wisdom of Solomon. ↩
Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) was an upright monk. He preached for the second Crusade. Although he loved Mary and thought the Catholic Church was the highest authority, he still believed in justification by faith and deplored his sinful self. Luther, “When Bernard is speaking of Christ, it is a pleasure indeed to listen to him; but when he leaves that subject and discourses on rules and works, it is no longer St. Bernard.” ↩
Nikolaus Selnecker provides a thorough systematic treatment of the Christian doctrine of predestination.
Aug 4, 2006