Should Predestination Be Publicly Taught & Preached?

By Francis Turretin

Whether Predestination should be publicly taught and Preached? We affirm.


Occasion of the Question

I. Some of the breathren of Gaul in the time of Augustine started this Question: For since he in his books against the Pelagians had inserted and nculcated many things concerning Predestination, so as in this way to defend the truth against their Impious doctrines, many were disturbed by it., as appears frost the two epistles of Prosper, a disciple of Augustine and of Hilary, bishop of Arles, prefixed to the book de Predestinations Sanctorum, et bono perseverantiae, (Tom. vii. Oper. August.). The reason was, not that they judged it to be at all false, but because they thought the preaching of it was dangerous, and invidious, better to be suppressed, than brought into prominence.

II. There are some of the same opinion at the present day, who wearied with the contentions arising from this doctrine in almost every age, think that it is best for the peace of the Church and the tranquility of conscience, to let these Questions alone, since by them scruples are suggested, and doubts generated, calculated to weaken the faith of the weak, and to drive men to desperation, or into carnal security. But this opinion is more honest than true, and cannot be readily received by those who have known the richest fruits of consolation and sanctification to believers from this doctrine properly understood.

III. Whence we think that this doctrine should neither by wholly suppressed from a preposterous modesty, nor curiously pried into by a rash presumption, but taught soberly and prudently from the word of God, so that two dangerous rocks may be avoided, on the one hand of "affected ignorance," which wishes to see nothing, and blinds itself purposely in things revealed; on the other of "unwarrantable curiosity," which busies itself to see and understand everything even in mysteries. They strike upon the first, who, sinning in defect, think that we should abstain from the proposition of this doctrine; and upon the latter, who, sinning in excess, wish to make everything in this mystery scrupulously accurate, and hold that nothing should be left undiscovered in it. Against both we maintain with the Orthodox, that Predestination can be taught with profit, provided this is done soberly from the word of God.

Predestination Should Be Taught

IV. The reasons are, 1. Because Christ and the Apostles frequently taught it, as appears from the Gospel, Matt. 11:20, 25, 13:11, 25:34; Luke 10:20, 12:32; John 8:47, 15:16, and in other places; and from the Epistles of Paul, Rom. 9 (the whole chapter), 8:29-30; Eph. 1:4-5; 2Tim. 1:9; 1Thes. 5:9; 2Thes.2:13. Nor otherwise do Peter, James and John express themselves, who speak repeatedly of this mystery whenever occasion offered. Now if it was proper for them to teach, why is it not for us to learn? Why should God teach what would have been better to be unspoken? Why did he wish to proclaim those things which it would be better not to know? Do we wish to be more prudent than God, or to prescribe rules to Him?

V. 2. Because it is one of the primary Gospel doctrines, and foundations of faith. It cannot be ignored without great injury to the Church and to believers, since it is the fount of our gratitude to God, the root of humility, the foundation and most firm anchor of confidence in all temptations, the fulcrum of the sweetest consolation, and the most powerful spur to piety and holiness.

VI. 3. The importunity of the Adversaries, who have corrupted this primary head of faith by deadly errors, and the infamous calumnies they are accustomed to heap upon our doctrine, impose upon us the necessity of handling it, so that the truth may be fairly exhibited, and freed from the most false and iniquitous criminations of evilly disposed men; as if we introduced a fatal and stoical necessity, as if we would extinguish by it all religion in the minds of men, and soothe them on the bed of security and profanity, or hurl them into the abyss of despair; as if we made God cruel, hypocritical, and the author of sin, I shudder to relate it. Now as all these things are perfectly false, they ought unquestionably to be refuted by a sober and healthy exhibition of this doctrine from the word of God.

Sources of Explanation
VII. Although wicked men often abuse this doctrine imporperly understood; its lawful use towards the pious ought not therefore to be denied, unless we wish to have more regard for the wicked than for believers; 2. If, on account of the abuse of some persons we should abstain from the proposition of this mystery, we must equally abstain from most of the mysteries of the Christian Religion, which the wicked abuse, or laugh at or satirize; such as the mystery of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the like. 3. The calumnies launched against the doctrine of Paul by the False-apostles, could not cause him to suppress it, yea, he thoroughly discussed it in his inspired way, so that he might shut the mouths of Adversaries. Why then should we refrain from its presentation? Let us only follow in the footsteps of Paul, and with him speak, and be silent.

VIII. If some abuse this doctrine, either to licentiousness, or to desperation; this happens not per se, from the doctrine itself, but accidentally, from the vice of men, who most wickedly wrest it to their own destruction. Indeed, there is no doctrine from which more powerful incentives to piety can be drawn, and richer streams of confidence and consolation flow, as will be seen in the proper place.

IX. The Mystery of Predestination is too sublime to be comprehended by us, as to the why, and he is rash who would attempt to find out or to assign the reasons and the causes of it; but this does not hinder it from being taught in Scripture as to the fact, and from being firmly held by us. Two things, therefore, must be distinguished here, the one what God has revealed in his Word, the other what He has concealed; the former we cannot despise unless wickedly, the latter we cannot investigate unless rashly. "The secret things," says Scripture, "belong unto God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children," (Deut. 29:29). To neglect things revealed argues ingratitude, but to search into things concealed argues pride. "We must not therefore deny what is plain; because we cannot comprehend what is hidden," as Augustine expresses it.

X. The Fathers before Augustine spoke more sparingly concerning this mystery not because they judged it best to ignore it, but because there was occasion presented for discussing it more largely, the Pelagian heresy not having as yet sprung up, indeed it is true that they sometimes expressed themselves, without sufficient caution: nevertheless Augustine, in his book de bono Perseverantiae, ch.15, proves that they did not pass over this truth in utter silence, (for who could be ignorant of that which is so clearly set forth in the Sacred Scriptures?) the testimony of Ambrose, Cyprian, and Nazianzen being adduced for this purpose.

How Predestination Should be Taught.

XI. While we think that Predestination should be taught, we do not further suppose that human curiosity should be unclasped, but believe that there is need here of great sobriety and prudence, both that we may remain within the bounds prescribed by Scripture, nor endeavour to be wise beyond what is written, and that we may prudently have a regard for the persons, places and times, to regulate the proposition of it; for it ought neither to be delivered immediately and in the first instance, but gradually and slowly; nor equally as to all its parts, for some ought to be more frequently inculcated as more useful and better suited to the consolation of the pious, as the doctrine of Election, but others ought to be handled more sparingly, as Reprobation; nor ought it to be set forth so much to the people in the Church, as to the initiated in the School. Again, Predestination must be considered not so much a priori, as a posteriori; not that we may descend from causes to effects, but ascend from effects to causes; not that we should curiously unroll the book of life, in order to see if our names are written therein, which is forbidden to us, but that we should diligently consult the book of conscience, which we are not only permitted, but also commanded to do, that we may know whether the seal of God is stamped upon our hearts, and whether the fruits of election, viz; faith and repentance, may be found in us, which is the safest way of procceding to the saving knowledge of that doctrine: In one word, all curious and fruitless questions must be avoided here, and what Paul calls "foolish and unlearned questions," 2 Tim.2:23, which usually gender strifes and contentions; and our only object should be to increase our faith, not to feed curiosity, to labour for edification, not to strive for glory.

Francis Turretin

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