The Sovereignty of God
Unwanted Results of an Inordinate Emphasis on the Exercise of Sovereignty
An inordinate emphasis on the sovereignty of God can lead to doctrinal conflicts in the church because of inexplicable teachings arrived at by theologian’s systematic teachings. Sadly, God’s people, all too often, are forced to reconcile terrible interpretations of God’s Word with very clear Biblical teachings. The theologians and good meaning men obscure or hide the truth. In fact, those most prone to obscure God’s truth are those who claim most vigorously that they have a fuller understanding of God’s Word. In his final words, Job lamented this very situation...
3 Who is he that hideth counsel Without knowledge? Therefore have I uttered that I understood not; Things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
One such doctrinal conflict is the demand to explain Calvin’s reprobation doctrine from his systematic theology Institutes, and the clear, simple teaching that God loved the world. Calvin’s teachings concerning sovereign election have obscured truth becoming a stumbling-block to the young theologian, the discouraged older theologian, or to the aggressively intellectual theologian.
In his Institutes, Calvin clearly teaches as part of sovereign election the doctrine of reprobation. Free grace of God is made sovereign grace. It confuses believers who believe that God is love; that Jesus died for all men; and that God desires all to come to repentance.
The doctrine of reprobation teaches that if some are arbitrarily elected to salvation by God, then there has to be the opposite and equal teaching that God arbitrarily elected some to damnation. This is by Calvin’s own words a “horrible” doctrine. Calvin even characterized those that would not accept reprobation as “childish.”
Among “modern” theologians, John Calvin gave an early and detailed treatment of eprobation in his Institutes (III. 23. 1ff.), calling it a “horrible” doctrine, yet one that could not be avoided from the plain teaching of Scripture. The example of Jacob and Esau (Rom. 9:13) is cited as a prime example of reprobation, where even before their birth, one is elected to blessing and the other consigned to judgment. (Boa, K., & Kruidenier, W. (2000). Vol. 6: Romans. Holman New Testament Commentary (294). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)
The human mind, when it hears this doctrine, cannot restrain its petulance, but boils and rages as if aroused by the sound of a trumpet. Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an invidious charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated (Bernard. in Die Ascensionis, Serm. 2). This they do ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation (Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)
God is said to set apart those whom he adopts for salvation. It were most absurd to say, that he admits others fortuitously, or that they by their industry acquire what election alone confers on a few. Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children. (Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)
Calvin’s justification for such a “horrible” doctrine includes the Romans 9, Jacob and Esau passage. If Jacob and Esau are examples of Paul’s teaching of election for eternal salvation; then, God should have given that inspiration to Paul as he wrote Romans 9. To the contrary, the context is not salvation of the lost worldwide, but the selection of which child would be a father of earthly Israel.
God “hated” Esau and would not give him the role as a father of Israel. This is a quote from Malachi with nothing to do with the death of Christ, salvation of the lost, or the damnation of the lost. Being a member of earthly Israel has nothing to do with eternal salvation, unless you believe that Israel will be saved apart from Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
In fact, it would be hard to prove that Roman’s 9 is anything more than Paul’s complete broken heartedness over Israel’s advantage being lost as the earthly people of God. God by sovereign choice made Israel His earthly people. He gave them advantage with the delivery responsibility of God’s message and savior. Their rebellion caused God to reject them and nullify their advantage. God is justified by His rejection of Esau and now Israel. They cannot say to the potter, “Why have you made me thus?”
It is not their salvation, but it is the loss of advantage as God’s earthly people. God did not consign them to eternal hell, but He did reject them and grafted in the Gentiles. The Gentiles now have the privilege of which Israel was unworthy. .
By the same token, the Gentiles may be rejected should they refuse His offers of reconciliation and God would be totally justified. No place in the passage does Paul give reference to the arbitrary damnation of the lost.
Never is there a discussion of God’s sovereign determinate council before creation in which He decreed individually all that would go to hell. However, repeatedly we see the free grace of God and his will to save all men.
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
God has gone to a lot of trouble to cover-up his true intention to damn people arbitrarily with all these simple statements from Scriptures. With regret, the conflict for the church rages on because simple truth has been replaced with the complex systems of theology, and the church struggles to carry these theological burdens.