Chosen by God (by R.C. Sproul; Chapter 7)

Chapter 7 is called: “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble: Is Predestination Double?”

“There are different views of double predestination. One of these is so frightening that many shun the term altogether, lest their view of the doctrine be confused with the scary one. This is called the equal ultimacy view.

Equal ultimacy is based on a concept of symmetry. It seeks a complete balance between election and reprobation. The key idea is this: Just as God intervenes in the lives of the elect to create faith in their hearts, so God equally intervenes in the lives of the reprobate to create or work unbelief in their hearts. The idea of God’s actively working unbelief in the hearts of the reprobate is drawn from biblical statements about God hardening people’s hearts.

Equal ultimacy is NOT the Reformed or Calvinist view of predestination. Some have called it ‘hyper-Calvinism.’ I prefer to call it ‘sub-Calvinism’ or, better yet, ‘anti-Calvinism.’ Though Calvinism certainly has a view of double predestination, the double predestination it embraces is not one of equal ultimacy” (p. 142; emphasis Sproul’s; italicized in the original).

The phrase “equal ultimacy” might mean different things to different people. However, the Biblical view of predestination is that God actively works in the hearts of the reprobate to hate His glory, persecute His people, and oppose His gospel, that He may justly punish them (Exodus 7:3, 9:12; Joshua 11:20; 1 Samuel 2:25; Psalm 105:25; Romans 9:18; Revelation 17:17). Sproul is correct to say in effect, that the Reformed or Calvinist view of predestination is NOT the one taught in Holy Scripture. Indeed, it is clearly not. The Biblical teaching of predestination is indeed “anti-Calvinistic” because it is anti-sovereignty-of-man.

There is symmetry in the sense of God being equally active in BOTH decrees of election and reprobation, but obviously there is no symmetry in God’s purpose for electing His people when compared with His purpose for reprobating the rest. There is no “equal ultimacy” in His dealings with the elect and reprobate since He has purposed to have mercy on the one and to harden the other.

“To understand the Reformed view of the matter we must pay close attention to the crucial distinction between positive and negative decrees of God. Positive has to do with God’s active intervention in the hearts of the elect. Negative has to do with God’s passing over the non-elect.

The Reformed view teaches that God positively or actively intervenes in the lives of the elect to insure their salvation. The rest of mankind God leaves to themselves. He does not create unbelief in their hearts. That unbelief is already there. He does not coerce them to sin. They sin by their own choices” (pp. 142-143).

In attempting to grasp the incoherent Reformed view one must make a distinction between “positive” and “negative” decrees. But we will not be lulled into this Sproulian stupor since the Bible makes no such “crucial” distinctions. God does “give men up” to impurity (Romans 1:24) and “allows nations to go their own way” (Acts 14:16) and the Assyrians present a salient instance of how God actually accomplishes this. The Assyrian kingdom was the rod of God’s anger sent to punish Jerusalem for its idolatry. R.C. Sproul would EVILLY BOAST that the Assyrian is being “left to himself” or “passed over” since it is in the Assyrian’s heart “to destroy and cut off nations not a few” (Isaiah 10:7). In reality the Assyrian is an unwitting instrument of wrath in the hand of God and R.C. Sproul is unwittingly sympathizing with the Assyrian king. The king and R.C. are BOTH like unto a sovereignty-denying staff that lifts (i.e., exalts) itself up as if it were not wood. When it comes to sinful actions done by them, R.C. Sproul and the king of Assyria are of the arrogant notion that the axe, the rod, and the staff are “permitted” to move under their own power, to swing themselves by their own self-determining steam.

Sproul says that the unbelief of the reprobate is “already there” and that God did not put it there. Really? Then how did it get there? Perhaps there is another Creator in the universe? Sproul insists on misrepresenting and caricaturing the Biblical position with the word “coerce.” A person who is being coerced is able to give at least some resistance. The alleged “coercing” (i.e., hardening) that God is doing in Romans 9:18 cannot be resisted (Romans 9:19). Sproul asserts that the reprobate ultimately “sin by their own choices.” Really? Is there another God in whom the reprobates live and move and exist (cf. Acts 17:28)? Is there another metaphysical power in the universe by which rods and axes swing themselves (cf. Isaiah 10)? If we were to read Sproul’s philosophical presumption into Psalm 105:25 it would read like this:

“He did NOT turn their hearts to hate His people. He left them to themselves. He did not create hatred in their hearts. It was already there. He did not coerce them to hate. They sinned by turning their own hearts.”

“The dreadful error of hyper-Calvinism is that it involves God in coercing sin. This does radical violence to the integrity of God’s character. The primary biblical example that might tempt one toward hyper-Calvinism is the case of Pharaoh” (p. 143).

A great way to marginalize the Biblical teaching is to give it a disparaging and inaccurate label (e.g., “hyper-Calvinism”). Earlier Sproul had described the Biblical view as “anti-Calvinistic,” which is true. The basic, elementary, and Scriptural teaching concerning the Godhood of God is extremely anti-Calvinistic. No doubt about it. Paul’s belligerent objector also thought that unconditional active hardening did “radical violence to the integrity of God’s character.” For “Why does He yet find fault?” implies that the fault ought to lie with the One who hardened him and made him like this (Romans 9:20). Sproul’s concern for the integrity of God’s character is a transparent façade. Sproul has his very own standard that he imposes upon God. Evidently God must adhere to Sproul’s standard of righteousness lest He do radical violence to the integrity of His own character. Sproul seeks to shroud self-worship with the robe of reverence.

“The Bible clearly teaches that God did, in fact, harden Pharaoh’s heart. Now we know that God did this for his own glory and as a sign to both Israel and Egypt. We know that God’s purpose in all of this was a redemptive purpose. But we are still left with a nagging problem. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and then judged Pharaoh for his sin. How can God hold Pharaoh or anyone else accountable for sin that flows out of a heart that God himself hardened?

Our answer to that question will depend on how we understand God’s act of hardening. How did he harden Pharaoh’s heart? The Bible does not answer that question explicitly. As we think about it, we realize that basically there are only two ways he could have hardened Pharaoh’s heart: actively or passively” (p. 144).

Sproul asks “How can God hold Pharaoh or anyone else accountable for sin that flows out of a heart that God himself hardened?” This is the SAME idea expressed in the question of Paul’s God-hating objector (Romans 9:19). Sproul says that our answer to the question of how God can find fault with the one He hardens depends on how we understand God’s act of hardening.

The Reformed view of passive hardening when correctly understood NEVER receives the Romans 9:19 objection. The only reason the Reformed position ever receives the objection is because many of the “non-Reformed” misunderstand it and confound it with the Biblical view. If God is not actually hardening people but merely passively allowing them to harden themselves, then the objection in Romans 9:19 would never come up. In Romans 9:20 Paul shows that the objector has correctly understood the doctrine of God’s unconditional immediate and efficient hardening of Pharaoh.

Paul’s rhetorical questions clearly demonstrate that those among the hardened reprobate have no right to talk back to God; no right to command the Potter since He has the right to make them reprobates (Romans 9:21). Please compare the answer Paul gives with the answer that Sproul gives. The contrast will prove striking.

“Active hardening would involve God’s direct intervention within the inner chambers of Pharaoh’s heart. God would intrude into Pharaoh’s heart and create fresh evil in it. This would certainly insure that Pharaoh would bring forth the result that God was looking for. It would also insure that God is the author of sin.

Passive hardening is a totally different story. Passive hardening involves a divine judgment upon sin that is already present. All that God needs to do to harden the heart of a person whose heart is already desperately wicked is to ‘give him over to his sin.’ We find this concept of divine judgment repeatedly in Scripture” (pp. 144-145).

Evidently the “inner chambers of Pharaoh’s heart” is a kind of “Holy of Holies” that God dare not intrude into lest He sully His righteous character. Though Sproul does not explicitly define what he means by the phrase “author of sin” it is at least implied that God would be doing “radical violence” to His character by virtue of this “intrusion.” Sproul invents a standard of his own making and then has the audacity to impose it upon God.

Either Sproul believes God COMMITS the actual sin He CAUSES or that God is SINS when He CAUSES a person to commit the actual sin. Both of these ideas are nefarious non sequiturs to say the least — God does NOT become Pharaoh by CAUSING Pharaoh to sin. Nor does God sin when He CAUSES Pharaoh to sin. Apparently R.C. has just come down off his Sproulian Sinai with some freshly-etched tablets for God to obey.

In light of Sproul’s doctrine of passive hardening Romans 9:18 would read thusly: “So, then, to whom He desires, He shows mercy. And to whom He desires, He gives over to his sin.” In the pernicious view of passive hardening there is no reason to ask, “Who resists His will?” since there is nothing actively being done on God’s part that could not be resisted by the one being hardened. And of course, the answer given by the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:20 is that God DID make him like this. Sproul contradicts God’s apostle by saying that God did NOT make you like this. You made yourself like this.

“How does this work? To understand it properly we must first look briefly at another concept, God’s common grace …One of the most important elements of common grace we enjoy is the restraint of evil in the world…By his grace he controls and bridles the amount of evil in this world. If evil were left totally unchecked, then life on this planet would be impossible.

All that God has to do to harden people’s hearts is to remove the restraints. He gives them a longer leash. Rather than restricting their human freedom, he increases it. He lets them have their own way. In a sense he gives them enough rope to hang themselves. It is not that God puts his hand on them to create fresh evil in their hearts; he merely removes his holy hand of restraint from them and lets them do their own will” (p. 145).

When Sproul asks “How does this work?” he is asking how does “passive hardening” work? Of course passive hardening fits together quite well with the insidious view of “common grace” which teaches either that “God shows grace at the expense of His justice or that Jesus Christ’s death in some way merited grace for everyone without exception” (see:

Sproul is advocating a kind of semi-dualism where there is an independent power that can be increased or decreased by God, but yet is nevertheless free from His active control. Sproul makes the asinine assumption that if evil were “left totally unchecked” then life on the planet would be impossible. Really? I thought the Bible taught that God was actually IN CONTROL.

Sproul’s adherence to “common grace” reveals that he is ignorant of the fact that God does not show grace at the expense of His justice. He is also ignorant that God desires to actively cause many reprobates to be outwardly moral. Away with such hypothetical nonsense about “restraint” and “life on this planet.” There is absolutely nothing to “check” or “restrain” in the way Sproul describes. God needs to restrain, bridle, and check the evil of men as much as a woodsman needs to restrain, bridle, and check the swinging of an axe (cf. Isaiah 10:15). Which is to say, not at all.

According to the heretic R.C. Sproul the less God restrains the less He controls, and the more God restrains the more He controls. For Sproul, the more God withdraws his “restraining grace” the more the reprobate sovereignly controls his own thoughts, words, and actions. Sproul says that God does not restrict human freedom, but increases it. Thus the more God withdraws “restraining grace” the more sovereign the creature becomes. It is by virtue of this “restraining grace” that God gives up much of His sovereignty to the creature.

“About the only restraint there was on Pharaoh’s wickedness was the holy arm of God. All God had to do to harden Pharaoh further was to remove his arm. The evil inclinations of Pharaoh did the rest.

In the act of passive hardening, God makes a decision to remove the restraints; the wicked part of the process is done by Pharaoh himself. God does no violence to Pharaoh’s will. As we said, he merely gives Pharaoh MORE freedom…We see the same kind of thing in the case of Judas…Judas was not a poor innocent victim of divine manipulation. He as not a righteous man whom God forced to betray Christ and then punished for the betrayal. Judas betrayed Christ because Judas wanted thirty pieces of silver…To be sure, God uses the evil inclinations and evil intentions of fallen men to bring about his own redemptive purposes. Without Judas there is no Cross. Without the cross there is no redemption. But this is not a case of God coercing evil” (pp. 146-147; Sproul’s emphasis is italicized in the original).

Sproul says that the “evil inclinations of Pharaoh did the rest.” In Sproul’s blinded estimate, Pharaoh must be the ultimate metaphysical cause of his own actions. This is nothing but atheism in religious garb. God did NOT give Pharaoh “more freedom” any more than He gave the Assyrian king more freedom (Isaiah 10:5-15); or any more than He gave Amaziah more freedom (2 Chronicles 25:20); or any more than He gave certain hate-filled people more freedom (Psalm 105:25); or any more than He gave the king’s heart more freedom (Proverbs 21:1); or any more than He gave His “war club” more freedom to wreak havoc upon the nations (Jeremiah 51:20-26).

Obviously the mighty God of war and holy vengeance is NOT “passively” swinging His war club by giving it “more freedom.” The war club’s “freedom” is restricted by Him who wields it.

“In God’s ultimate act of judgment he gives sinners over to their sins. In effect, he abandons them to their own desires. So it was with Pharaoh. By this act of judgment, God did not blemish his own righteousness by creating fresh evil in Pharaoh’s heart. He established his own righteousness by punishing the evil that was already there in Pharaoh.

This is how we must understand double predestination. God gives mercy to the elect by working faith in their hearts. He gives justice to the reprobate by leaving them in their own sins” (pp. 147-148).

Roughly translated Sproul is saying that in God’s ultimate act of judgment He serves up a heaping portion of His sovereignty to reprobate sinners. In Sproul’s twisted mind, for God to do this is “a kind of poetic justice” (p. 147). Certainly the Bible teaches a kind of “poetic justice” whereby God gives men up to their own sin. But this is always done actively, never passively.

God did NOT leave Pharaoh in his own sins; He actively hardened Pharaoh by working the rebellion of unbelief in his heart. The Sproulian Calvinist will say, “Why then does God find fault with Pharaoh? For who among the reprobate can possibly resist God’s will to harden him?” I answer with the Apostle that God has the right to make dishonorable vessels, to make men sinners in order to show His power and wrath against them and to utterly destroy them. God DID make them “like this” (i.e., did make them sinners; dishonorable vessels) but they have no right to object any more than the pot has the right to object to the potter.

“The second objection Paul anticipates is this: ’You will say to me then, Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’ Again we wonder why the apostle anticipates this objection. This is another objection never raised against Arminianism. Non-Reformed views of predestination don’t have to worry about handling questions like this” (p. 152).

The apostle anticipates this objection because he is teaching unconditional reprobation and active hardening. Sproul (and other like-minded Calvinists) would say that God finds fault because He did NOT make the objector like this. In stark contrast Paul says that God DID make the objector like this and he has no right to complain to God by saying, “Why did You make me like this?” Paul is saying that to object to God making you like this is as warped as a pot complaining to the potter. Thus, Reformed views of predestination don’t have to worry about handling questions like this since they do NOT believe that God made the dishonorable vessels. In answer to Romans 9:20 most Reformed answer: “The one formed shall not say ‘why did You make me like this?’ because He didn’t make you like this.” But Paul contradicts the Reformed world in Romans 9:21 by answering in the affirmative — God DID make you like this and He has the authority to make you like this.

Sproul quotes Romans 9:20-24 and comments:

“This is a heavy answer to the question. I must confess that I struggle with it. My struggle, however, is not over whether the passage teaches predestination. It clearly does that. My struggle is with the fact that this text supplies ammunition for the advocates of equal ultimacy. It sounds like God is actively making people sinners. But that is not required by the text. He does make vessels of wrath and vessels of honor from the same lump of clay. But if we look closely at the text we will see that the clay with which the potter works is ‘fallen’ clay” (p. 153).

Sproul struggles with it because he is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Romans 9:20-24 “sounds like” God is actively making people sinners because it is clearly teaching that God is actively making people sinners. Why else would Paul say, “Shall the thing formed say to the One forming it, Why did You make me like this?” if he was not intending to teach that God actually made them like this? Sproul wishes to assert that the clay is “fallen clay.” Paul’s teaching is that God MAKES the dishonorable vessels. Sproul’s teaching is that the dishonorable vessels somehow MAKE themselves.

In discussing the doctrine of unconditional election Sproul writes:

“We must be careful to distinguish between conditions that are necessary for salvation and conditions that are necessary for election. We often speak of election and salvation as if they were synonymous, but they are not exactly the same thing. Election is UNTO salvation. Salvation in its fullest sense is the complete work of redemption that God accomplishes in us. There are all sorts of conditions that must be met for someone to be saved. Chief among them is that we must have faith in Christ. Justification is by faith. Faith is a necessary requirement. To be sure, the Reformed doctrine of predestination teaches that all the elect are indeed brought to faith. God insures that the conditions necessary for salvation are met. When we say that election is unconditional we mean that the original decree of God by which he chooses some people to be saved is not dependent upon some future condition in us that God foresees” (pp. 155-156; emphasis Sproul’s, italicized in the original).

Sproul clearly and succinctly states his opposition to the gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone (cf.1 John 2:22). According to Sproul God’s unconditional choice is not dependent upon future conditions whether foreseen or foreordained. Sproul’s view is that election is unconditional, but with regard to salvation there are “all sorts of conditions that must be met.”

To Sproul salvation (not election) is dependent NOT on Christ ALONE but on conditions foreordained that God infallibly “insures” will be met.To repeat, Sproul’s teaching is that salvation is ultimately dependent, NOT upon the efficacious work of Jesus Christ alone, BUT upon the work of the “god-enabled” sinner to meet all the supposed multitudinous conditions for salvation (cf. 1 John 4:1-3). Next Page (8)

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