God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will (1)
One correspondent writes, "Do you realize that God has no foreknowledge outside His creation? He can’t have foreknowledge of His own actions. Remember, He had no beginning and foreknowledge only exists prior to a beginning."
Although the question proceeds on a misconception and has an air of arrogance about it, when it suggests that those who believe in God’s foreknowledge really do not understand what foreknowledge is, the question is worth our consideration.
Another questioner has obviously given the matter considerable thought, but continues to have some problems with the idea of foreknowledge. He writes,
"I understand the passages about ‘before the foundation of the world’ in the light of foreknowledge.
1. What is that foreknowledge? For those He foreknew. What did God foreknow?
2. If the elect are chosen before the foundation of the world outside of foreknowledge of the individual, then, at what point were they ever condemned? I do not see how one can be simultaneously condemned and saved at the same time.
"As Moses raised up the serpent—
1. Numbers 21:8-9, I am sure we will agree that Christ Himself used this passage as a picture of what He was doing on the cross [John 3:14]. Well, in this picture, all of the people that were bitten had to use their free will and simply looked upon the serpent to live, and all who didn’t died. How can this be a picture of Christ in the Calvinist eye, when looking is an act of conscience and of will?
2. This cannot be an accurate picture, if the consequences are not applied in the same manner.
3. The serpent was never kept away from those who were bitten so that [they] would never be able to look upon it. If salvation is not available to those who are bitten, then it is not an accurate picture."
This last question does not have foreknowledge in mind, but it is so closely related to the subject of foreknowledge that it is well to treat the two together.
First of all, we ought to be sure of what the Bible means by "foreknowledge."
The word is not frequently used in Scripture. It is found only in Acts 2:23 and I Peter 1:2. Its verb cognate, "foreknow," is used only in Romans 8:29 and Romans 11:2.
In Acts 2:23, the word is used to teach us that Christ’s death and all the circumstances of it were brought about by God’s sovereign and eternal counsel. The word "foreknowledge" is, in fact, identified with His counsel.
In the other three instances, the word is used in relation to God’s people: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate;" "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father;" "God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew."
Although foreknowledge is distinguished from both predestination and election, it is closely associated with both concepts.
In the Middle Ages, many theologians, committed as they were to the Pelagianism of Rome, defined foreknowledge in the sense of prediction. God was able to predict accurately who would, by his own free will, believe, and, on the basis of man’s own decision to believe, he was elected. The Reformers, without exception, condemned this view as being contrary to the Scriptures and a denial of God’s sovereignty.
But the heresy arose again. It arose in the hypothetical universalism of the Amyraldians in France and in the Arminian heresy of Jacobus Arminius and his followers in the Netherlands. Amyraldianism was condemned in the Formula Consensus Helvetica(1675) and by the Westminster Assembly (1640s), although the Amyraldian position or views like it were defended by a few delegates. The Arminian position was condemned by the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619).
The confessions that arose out of the Reformation are unanimously opposed to a conditional predestination and man’s free will. The Scottish Confession (1560) says, "So that the cause of good works we confess to be not our free will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus …" (Art. 13). Regarding free will, Article 10 of the Thirty-Nine Articles(1562/63) of the Church of England states, "The condition of man, after the fall of Adam, is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith and calling upon God." The Lambeth Articles (1595), intended to be added to the Thirty-Nine Articles, though never officially adopted by the Anglican Church, is strong on the doctrine of predestination (www.cprf.co.uk/articles/lambeth.htm). All the other Reformed confessions teach the same truth: the French Confession (1559), the Belgic Confession (1561), theHeidelberg Catechism (1563), etc.
It is faithfulness to the confessions to confess and maintain these truths, and to oppose the heresies that basically arose out of Rome. That most of the church today is unfaithful to her heritage makes no difference; these churches have simply repudiated what lies at the heart of Reformation thought. In doing so, they have rejected Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, Knox and all the later Reformed theologians. Defenders of later heresies must not come up with their denials of foreknowledge, predestination and election, along with their notions of free will and attempt to palm this off on the church as the truth of the Scriptures. Let them do their homework and read Luther’s The Bondage of the Will or Calvin’s God’s Eternal Predestination and Secret Providence. They will soon learn that they stand outside the stream of biblical thought.
If they claim that the Reformation came with novelties, let them go back to Augustine (354-430) and Gottschalk (c. 808-c. 867) to learn that these are ancient truths held by the churches’ greatest theologians.
The only explanation for this consistent emphasis on God’s foreknowledge and the bondage of the will of man is that these doctrines that the Reformers taught are thoroughly scriptural and must be maintained.
We will enter into the subject itself more completely in the next article and answer some of the objections of the gainsayers. I urge our readers to save this issue of the News so that you can refer to it when the next issue comes out to refresh your memories of the questions we are dealing with. Prof. Herman Hanko (emeritus, PRC Seminary)