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God’s Foreknowledge

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
October 5, 2022 12:01 am

God’s Foreknowledge

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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October 5, 2022 12:01 am

Many Christians misunderstand God's foreknowledge, imagining that He looks down the corridor of time to discover new information about the future. Today, R.C. Sproul disproves this notion by presenting the biblical understanding of divine foreknowledge.

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The Apostle Paul knew that his teaching on predestination was going to cause some people to scratch their heads and in fact object. In Romans chapter 9, Paul anticipated that they would call it unfair. They say it's not fair that God from all eternity without a view to what we do makes His decision. And so the very fact that that's the objection He anticipates, that gives me great comfort that the Apostle Paul was the first one who had to deal with his doctrine of predestination being challenged on the grounds that it was unfair. The idea of predestination rubs many people the wrong way. God chooses who will be saved, and we don't have any say of the matter?

Well, Paul's letter to the Romans says pretty clearly that God has chosen those whom He will save. Today on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C. Sproul continues this series on the Westminster Confession of Faith. Let's continue now with our study of chapter 3 of the Westminster Confession as we look at the first part of section 2. Let me read it for you.

It reads as follows, 1. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath He not decreed anything because He foresaw it His future, or is that which would come to pass upon such conditions? Now another way of saying this is that God knows all contingencies but knows nothing contingently, or to look at it even from a simpler perspective. If you would take the average Christian and ask them, does God know the future, up until this dreadful movement of open theism that's plaguing the church in our day, virtually any Christian would answer by saying, yes, of course, God knows the future. He knows what's going to happen tomorrow.

He knows what I'm going to say before I say it, and so on. And so it's been a universal affirmation of Christendom that God knows the future. But then you ask the next question, and that wonderful agreement about His foreknowledge and His omniscience begins to crumble.

And yet here's the question. How is it that God is able to know the future? I would say that the average Christian's view of God's foreknowledge or of His omniscience with respect to things' future is that God is seen as like a cosmic fortune teller who looks into his crystal ball, and out of the crystal ball, he gets this information about what's going to happen tomorrow. Or it's just one of the great abilities of his mind that he can conjure up a vision of the future before it happens. And that, I say, is probably the most common view that Christians have about God's foreknowledge.

It's just some almost magical ability that he has to know what's going to happen before it happens, just by the strength of his intellect. But the Reformed view of God's foreknowledge is this, that the reason why God knows what is going to happen in the future is because from all eternity He has decreed what is going to happen in the future. And so the reason why He knows all things about the future, again, is because those are examples of His eternal will. He knows what's going to happen because He's planned it to happen.

It's that simple. Now this comes very much into play when we get to the doctrine of predestination because, again, the most popular doctrine or view of predestination is the what we call the prescience view or the foreknowledge view, where God looks into the future and He sees from His standpoint in eternity what the creatures are going to do. He looks down the corridor of time and He sees that John Smith is going to respond positively to the offer of the gospel, but that Jerry Smith will reject the gospel. And so God knows in advance who's going to say yes and who's going to say no. And on the basis of that foreknowledge of future actions of volitional creatures, He makes His decision of election or rejection. This despite the way in which the Apostle Paul labors the point in Romans 9 that that's not at all the basis upon which God makes His selection of the elect. Paul labors the point that His selection of the elect is made before they're even born without having a view of what they've done, any good or evil, but that the purposes of God according to His sovereignty might stand. And I also remind people when we look at that passage in Romans 9 that the coup de gras in it is Paul anticipates objections to what he's teaching there in Romans, and the chief objection he anticipates from his readers is the objection that some will say, what then? Is there unrighteousness in God? Now if the Apostle Paul is teaching in Romans 9 that God looks down the corridor of time and sees that some people will say yes and other people say no, and on the basis of our decision He determines whether they're going to be saved or not saved, if that's what Paul is teaching, would anybody ever raise the objection that that's not fair?

What could be more fair than to have our election based on something that we do? And yet the Apostle anticipates that the objection to what he's teaching will be that it's not fair, precisely because that is the objection that's given by people who don't like the biblical doctrine of predestination. They say it's not fair that God from all eternity has given us the objection that God from all eternity without a view to what we do makes His decision. And so the very fact that that's the objection he anticipates, that gives me great comfort that the Apostle Paul was the first one who had to deal with his doctrine of predestination being challenged on the grounds that it was unfair.

I can't think of any Arminian who's ever had to face that objection to his view of the election. But in any case, let's move on to section 3 because this gets into some other very important matters. For by the decrees of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life and others foreordained to everlasting death. Now what you have in section 3 of chapter 3 is the Reformed doctrine that is called double predestination. There are those who teach historically a doctrine of single predestination that say, yes, it's true that the Bible says from all eternity God selects certain people to be special objects of His favor, and without any view to their works or their actions, their running, their willing, or anything else, God unilaterally by grace alone chooses to save some and to elect them unto salvation.

However, with respect to the rest of the world, the rest of those people are still invited to come and still can come, may come if they choose to come. God does not foreordain that some people will perish from all eternity. That is seen by those who teach single predestination as the decree to horribilae, or the horrible decree.

They just can't imagine that a just and holy God would from all eternity decree that some people would be reprobate, that some people would indeed perish everlastingly because of God's decree. And so this raises a very weighty problem to deal with in our theology, and I'd like to take the time that we have left in this session to look at this business of the doctrine of double predestination because it's a doctrine that is so frequently distorted, caricatured, and misunderstood among people. And what I'm going to do is talk about two different types of double predestination. The one form of double predestination is what we call positive, positive in its orientation.

Now what does that mean? This kind of double predestination would say that God from all eternity determined to intervene actively and positively in the lives of the elect, create faith in their hearts, make them fit to be linked with Christ through this positive intrusion and invasion, as it will, into the soul of the person, bringing them to faith. And on the other side of the coin, the flip side of reprobation is the idea that God, in the case of the reprobate, likewise intervenes in their lives and invades their souls by His omnipotent power and creates fresh evil in them, preventing them from coming to faith. So that in both sides, on the side of election and the side of reprobation, there is a kind of what we call equal ultimacy, or a symmetry between the way in which God works, both in the hearts of the elect and the hearts of the reprobate.

This is sometimes called a symmetrical view of predestination, that the scales are balanced on both sides. I once was in a class, seminary class, where somebody asked a professor if he believed in a Reformed doctrine of election, and the professor was indignant. He said, no. He said, because I don't believe that God brings some people kicking and screaming against their will into His kingdom while He shuts out other people who desperately want to be there. And here the man completely distorted the doctrine, the Reformed doctrine of predestination.

I couldn't believe he was teaching in a seminary, particularly a Presbyterian seminary, with that wildly caricatured idea of what salvation is, because the whole point is that God never brings anybody kicking and screaming against their will into His kingdom. What He does in the case of election is that He, through the power and the influence of the Holy Spirit, changes the disposition of the heart of the elect, and in a sense makes that person willing, who if left to themselves would never be willing, because by nature we are totally indisposed towards the things of God. We don't want God in our thinking. We are by nature the children of wrath, and unless the Father does something, nobody, Jesus says, can come to Me unless it is given to Him by the Father. And so our basic moral ability, our basic spiritual ability prior to regeneration is completely moribund. We aren't capable of choosing Christ if left to ourselves.

We have the faculty of choice. Anybody can choose Christ if they want Him, but the problem is where? In the want Him. Nobody's going to want Him unless God changes that heart of stone into a heart of flesh that beats after the things of God. You could just say, you know, you didn't choose me.

I chose you. This side is positive, that the Reformed doctrine of predestination does teach that there is a positive action that God the Holy Spirit makes on the soul of the elect, bringing them to faith. And without that intervention, that person would not and could not come to faith.

Is that clear? But where this departs from historic Reformed theology is on the flip side, on the positive-positive side. Reformed theology does not teach that the rest of the people are forced into sin by God and God creating fresh evil in their hearts so that they won't and cannot come.

No. What the Reformed doctrine is, is this positive-negative. Let me try to explain that simply. When God looks at the world of fallen people, He sees this mass of humanity, all these people who are in total corruption, in original sin, all hostile to the things of God, all of them, the desires of their hearts are only evil continually. They don't want God in their thinking. It's not like they're desperately seeking after God. No one seeks after God.

No, not one. None is righteous. And what God does is He takes and what God does is He comes down and He expresses mercy and grace by intervening in the lives of the elect and bringing them to faith. And what does He do with the rest of them?

He passes over them. He lets them up to their own devices. He lets them perish in their sin. He doesn't create fresh evil in their heart. If He leaves them alone, they won't come home wagging their tails behind them, but they will continue to stay as far away from Christ as they possibly can because they are basically hostile. But doesn't the Bible say Luther had to wrestle with this in his response to Erasmus?

This is one of the best treatments of this you'll ever find. Too bad the Lutherans don't follow it, but in any case, Luther was asked, but the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart. And Luther admitted that, yes, the Bible says that God hardens Pharaoh's heart, but the question is how does God harden Pharaoh's heart? How does God harden Pharaoh's heart?

Does he again go in there and plant fresh calluses on the heart of Pharaoh? All God ever has to do to harden anybody's heart is to give them more room and more opportunity to exercise their own evil inclinations. You know, ladies and gentlemen, Reformed theology, as we will see when we look at the Fall, teaches the doctrine of the total depravity of fallen humanity. But even that doctrine is radically misunderstood because there's a difference between total depravity and utter depravity. If you take Adolf Hitler and use him as an example of a morally depraved person, even Adolf Hitler, though he was totally depraved, was not utterly depraved. Total depravity means that his sin and corruption affected the total person. There was no part of Adolf Hitler that was not infected by sin.

His mind, his heart, his soul, his senses, all of those things in this whole person was affected by the Fall. Nevertheless, as wicked as he was, we could still conceive of even greater evil being performed by Adolf Hitler. And in fact, sometimes in the seminary classroom, I'll ask the students to give me their nomination for the most wicked people in history. And they'll talk about Hitler, and they'll talk about Stalin, and they'll talk about Nero, and people like that.

And I'll say, what do all these people have in common? And if you look at the people who we bring forth as the most corrupt individuals in history, virtually every one of them was a person who had enormous power and authority with very little restraint on him, where you and I have restraints on us that Hitler never had. I have to be careful how I drive my car, or I'll get arrested, thrown in jail, or fined. Stalin never had to worry about how fast he drove his car. Nero didn't worry about the law. He was lawless. And the only way in which a person like Stalin or a Hitler could be restrained would be by other powers coming up against him, like the power of the allies in World War II, put restraints to Hitler's evil. Now when we look at Pharaoh, we see he was the most powerful man in the world at his time. Nothing was restraining him from exploiting the people that were under his power.

The only restraints on the evil of Pharaoh was God. And if God wants to harden his heart, all he has to do is give him more room on the leash, withdraw his common grace that restrains him from himself. Because if God would take his restraints off of me and on you, we wouldn't be just totally depraved, we would be utterly depraved. Because it's part of his grace is the restraint that he puts upon our sin and our sinful and our sinful inclinations. And that's what Luther was trying to explain to Erasmus to get him to see that when God hardens, it's another way of saying that God gives people over to their own sin so that they harden their own hearts. And in fact, the final judgment of God, when you look at the end of the book of Revelation and we see the final judgment described, that there's a kind of poetic justice that is exercised by God.

And the worst kind of judgment that can befall a creature is this. When God makes this statement, let him who is wicked be wicked still. And He gives up people, gives them over to their own evil, to their own evil inclinations, their own evil desires. If God did that for me, I would be Hitler, and so would you.

So when we're talking about double predestination, on the negative side, God doesn't force anybody to evil here. He leaves them to themselves. So in this scenario, nobody is treated unjustly. These people, the ones that are elect, do not get what they deserve. They get mercy. These people get justice.

They get exactly what they deserve, what we all deserve. But you see, where we cry that it's not fair is that we say, wait a minute, if God's going to exercise His executive privilege here, if He pardons some, He has to pardon all. If He's going to give grace to some, He has to give grace to all. Well, if God ever has to give grace, then it's not grace, is it? We're not even thinking about it because grace, by definition, is voluntary. And if God wants to manifest His perfection by displaying in election both His grace and His righteousness, both of those redound to His everlasting glory.

God is as glorified in the reprobation of the wicked as He is in the saving of the elect. And that's very difficult, I know, for us to grasp. And so, we'll spend some more time on this as we cover these questions further along the way. Now, these truths are difficult to grasp, but with Dr. R.C. Sproul's careful teaching today, these pieces start to fall into place. All this week, we are listening to a teaching series by Dr. Sproul on the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Confession has been treasured by believers around the world for centuries.

In fact, R.C. called it one of the most important confessions of faith ever penned. Dr. Sproul's book, Truths We Confess, is a helpful study companion for you as you explore what the Confession has to say.

He shows how the doctrines of the Bible from creation to covenant, sin to salvation, fit together. We'd like to send you a hardbound edition of this book. You can request it with your donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries.

You can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343, or you can go online to renewingyourmind.org. I think it's easy for all of us to get entangled by the distractions and challenges of everyday life and neglect our time in God's Word. But the challenges we face should provide us with all the more reason to study. And that's where Ligonier works to step in and help. Our team labors daily to help people around the world dig deep into the life-giving Word of God so that minds are renewed by truth. And we're grateful for your financial support which makes all of this happen. Well, as we heard R.C. say toward the end of his message today, some of these doctrines, some of these truths about predestination and foreknowledge are difficult to grasp, and he'll spend some more time on this tomorrow. Here's a preview. And if it pleases the Lord to choose me, it's His good pleasure in that choice. And if it pleases the Lord not to choose me, not to give me His grace, and to let me perish in my sin, then that pleasure of His will would be equally good. I hope you'll join us Thursday for Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-26 19:24:05 / 2022-12-26 19:32:18 / 8

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