GOD'S FOREKNOWLEDGE - ACT OR ATTRIBUTE?
by Pastor William Sasser

James Arminius (1560 - 1609) was a student of Theodore Beza, the successor of John Calvin, who taught at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. He was sent there from the University of Leyden. Under the teachings of Beza, Jacob Arminius became a confirmed Calvinist, even holding the extreme soteriological position of supralapsarianism.

In 1588, after having studied in Italy and elsewhere, he returned to Amsterdam where he was ordained into the ministry and became distinguished as a preacher and theologian. According to Philip Schaff:

While engaged in research against the writings of Dorch Coornhert (1522 - 1591), at the request of the magistrate of Amsterdam, he found the argument of his opponent, who was a Pelagian, stronger than his own conviction, and became a convert to the doctrine of universal grace and the freedom of the will. (Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 1, p. 510).

He thereafter developed a modified view of original sin though he continued to hold to the total depravity of man. Accordingly, Arminius advocated a revision of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, the standard for Reformed Churches.

Holding to such a position brought Arminius into open conflict with Francis Gomar (1563 - 1645), a supralapsarian colleague, who had also conferred on Arminius his degree of Doctor of Divinity. The controversy between Gomar and Arminius soon spread throughout all Holland. Arminius applied to the Government to invoke a Synod, a church council, for the purpose of examining and establishing official positions of the church upon doctrine. For Arminius the issue was two-fold:

1. A conditional or unconditional election.

2. A resistible or irresistible grace.

One year after Arminius' death in 1610 his followers, now known as Arminians and led by Episcopius, presented a remonstrance (protest) to the civil authorities of Holland organized under five heads or articles. They objected to the doctrines contained in the Belgic Confession of faith and Heidelberg catechism. They objected specifically to those doctrines relating to divine sovereignty, human inability, unconditional election or predestination, particular redemption, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. They insisted that the confession and the catechism be revised to reflect their doctrinal position. Too, they demanded a full toleration for the profession of their views. This action procured for them the designation of the Remonstrants, while their opponents are often called Contra-remonstrants.

Roger Nicole, in Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 64, summarizes the five articles contained in the Remonstrance as follows:

1. God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief.

2. Christ died for all men and for every man, although only believers are saved.

3. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary unto faith of any good deed.

4. This grace may be resisted.

5. Whether all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere in the faith is a point which needs further investigation.

This last article was later altered so as to definitely teach the possibility of the truly regenerate believer losing his faith, and thus losing his salvation.

Under the leadership of men such as Uytenbogaert (1557-1644), Episcopius (1583-1643), Curcelaeus (1586-1659), Grotius (1583-1645), Limborch (1633-1712), and others, Arminianism became characterized by increasing differences from the Orthodox and historical faith. Regarding the foreknowledge of God and the human will, the following tenets are commonly held by Arminians:

God's knowledge of the future acts of free agents is mediate.

God's decrees are based on his foreknowledge: election on foreseen faith, and reprobation on foreseen resistance to grace.

The external call of the gospel is accompanied by a universal sufficient grace which can be resisted.

Repentance and faith precede regeneration.

The human will is to be viewed as one of the causes of regeneration.

As long as one lives one may fall away from grace and lose salvation altogether.

J. I. Packer wrote of the system of thought embodied in the Remonstrance:

The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles: First, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation. From these principles the Arminians drew two deductions: First, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following position: (1) Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the Gospel when it is put before him, nor (2) is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it. (3) God's election of those who shall be saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe. (4) Christ's death did not insure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they did believe. (5) It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost. Thus, Arminianism made man's salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man's own work, and because of his own, not God's (work) in him. (Introductory Essay to John Owen's work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, pp. 3-4).

ELECTION, FOREKNOWLEDGE, PREDESTINATION

One can easily see how crucial the teaching regarding foreknowledge is to the scheme of salvation. To a great extent, the doctrines of election and predestination hinge upon foreknowledge. Is foreknowledge merely a knowing before? Does God choose on the basis of what He sees? Does the choice of man determine the choice of God? Our understanding of the foreknowledge of God will determine both our view of salvation and the God of salvation. Is it true that AGod helps those who help themselves,@ or does God help those who cannot and will not help themselves? To a large extent the answer to such questions depends upon our understanding of the foreknowledge of God.

A. The Terms.

1. Unconditional Election

a. Election (Eklektos) signifies picked out, chosen, to select from out of.

1) "Ek," from: "lego," to gather or pick out.

2) "Elect" or "chosen" is expressed by one Greek word, except in Matt. 12:18 and II Thess. 2:13.

3) It occurs with its correlative 51 times in Scripture.

b. Unconditional - This term is used to describe the kind of election set forth in Scripture because of...

1) The time it took place, i.e., before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; 17:8; Eph. 1:4; II Tim. 1:9; II Thess. 2:13).

2) The nature of it, i.e., pure, sovereign grace (Jn. 1:12-13; Rom. 9:9-13; 9:15-16, 18).

3) The cause of it, i.e., the cause is within God. We are justified freely (Rom. 3:24). Dorean, translated "freely," is from gratuitous, "a free tip," as we say. It is used of Christ to explain why men hated him in John 15:25. As Christ was hated "without a cause" (Dorean), so we are justified without a cause, i.e., freely.

2. Foreordination/Foreknowledge

a. Foreknow - proginosko (Rom. 8:29) "pro" - before "ginosko" - to know

b. Foreknowledge - prognosis - used only of divine foreknowledge; an aspect of divine omniscience (Eph 1:5, 11; Gal. 1:16).

c. Foreordination has to do with the broader sense of divine supremacy which embraces God's sovereign plan.

3. Determine / Predestinate / Determinate

a. Determine / Determinate - Horizo - to bound, to set a boundary, to mark out definitely.

"Truly the Son of man goeth as it was determined" (Luke 22:22) Christ's death was foreordained, or marked out from eternity. His death was settled and unchangeable (Acts 2:23).

b. Predestinate - Proorizo "pro" - before "destinate" - a boundary. (Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29-30)

A part or facet of overall foreordination which has reference to eternal destiny. The broader sense of divine sovereignty which embraces God's sovereign plan whereby He over all, in all things, decides and determines all that is to happen in His universe. From a sparrow's fall to the numbering of the hairs of the head to the maker of salvation. This means that, from God's perspective, there is no such thing as luck, good or bad, or chance. According to Ephesians 1:11, God "works all things after the counsel "decree) of His own will;" not some things, most things or many things - but all things.

Is this giving too much power to God? Is this exalting Him too highly? The only person who would object to God controlling all things would be one who has such a high opinion of himself he doesn't trust even God. Nevertheless, all is according to the will of God; His secret will being revealed in time, and His revealed will being declared in Scripture (Deut. 29:29).

B. A Critical Apology

What about election? All who believe the Bible believe in election, either conditional or unconditional. Pelagianism and Arminianism teach a conditional election, while Calvinism teaches an unconditional election. What does the Bible teach? Which of the following is Scriptural?

God elected me because I first elected to believe. He chose me because I first chose Him;

OR

I chose God because He first chose me. He elected me because I could not save myself.

Granted, the believer chooses God, and the believer is chosen of God. The question is, which was the first choice? Which choice resulted from the other? Which was the cause and which the effect? Is it true that "God is careful to elect only those whom He foresees will elect themselves?" Or has God sovereignly chosen his people according to His own will and pleasure?

According to scripture, election is unconditional. That is, God chose apart from setting forth any conditions to be met. But this was not done arbitrarily. There are at least three wise reasons why God elected unconditionally.

1. Because of what God knew (Psalm 14)

The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and seek God (v. 2).

They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one (v. 3).

The Lord knew from all eternity that men, if left alone, would never choose him, or even seek him. If any were to be spared He had to choose them. The Apostle Paul quoted this Psalm in Romans 3, when revealing the sinfulness of men.

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

According to this verse, man is in such unbelief that the things of God are to him utter foolishness, i.e., "they are foolishness unto him." Further, man is spiritually dead and thus cannot understand, i.e., "they must be spiritually discerned," or understood.

2. Because of God's great love and mercy.

I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore, with loving kindness have I drawn thee (Jer. 31:3).

No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44, 45).

Knowing the condition of man, and knowing what man would do in time, the Lord therefore knew that man could not and would not meet any conditions set forth. In sovereign mercy he chose to set his love upon man unconditionally. There was no other way for any person to be saved.

3. What about Romans 8:29?

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

Many attempt to use this passage to prove conditional election. However, it actually establishes the opposite. Broadly speaking, there are two general views regarding the meaning and use of the word "foreknow" in this passage.

a. The Arminian and Pelagian viewpoint.

The Arminian and Pelagian commentators maintain that Paul is saying that God predestined to salvation those whom he foreknew would respond to His offer of grace. For example, Frederic Godet says,

In what respect did God thus foreknow them? They were foreknown as sure to fulfill the conditions of salvation, that is, faith; so, foreknown as his faith (Frederic Godet, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. p.325).

b. The Augustinian and/or Calvinistic viewpoint.

Augustinian commentators reject this view on two grounds: first, such an interpretation is not in keeping with the meaning of the language; secondly, such a view is out of harmony with the system of doctrine taught in the rest of the Scriptures.

C. The meaning of the language in the verse.

It is about people, not the acting of people. The word is "whom," not "what." This verse says nothing about God knowing something about particular individuals, i.e., what they would do; but, rather it speaks of God knowing the individuals themselves.

"Foreknow" could not have reference to what the individuals under consideration would do, for God knows what all men will do at all times. However, all men are not called, justified, and glorified, nor shall this be the lot for all men. This means that God does not "foreknow" all men in this sense of the verse.

When the view is held that "foreknow" means "what" rather than "whom," the verse makes no sense.

Example: "What He foreknew He also did predestinate, call, justify, and glorify?"

The word is "foreknow," not "foresaw." To foresee has reference to pre-science; to foreknow has reference to love, favor, or an intimate relationship.

Thus, to teach that God merely saw what someone would do is not in keeping with the meaning of this verse.

D. The Immediate Context

Romans 8:29 must be in harmony with preceding chapters. Consider the following:

Rom. 1:29-32. Men are absolutely ruined, having no remote interest in God. How could God foresee that they were not interested and at the same time foresee that they would choose to serve Christ?

Rom. 2:11. How could God choose on the basis of what he saw men would do without having respect for some?

Rom. 3:9-18. How could God see that none would do good, i.e., repent and believe, that none understood or sought Him, and at the same time see that they would choose Him?

Rom. 4. Abraham, the father of the faithful, never sought God; he was a worshipper of idols (Josh. 24:2). He is called "ungodly" (v. 5). How could God have foreseen Abraham choosing Him when he didn't know who God was?

Rom. 9:11-13. God could not have chosen based upon what one would or would not do, for none had done good or evil.

Rom. 10:13-17 No man can call on God to be saved without a preacher and God's Word.

1. "Foreknow"; "Foreknowledge"

"Foreknow" cannot refer to the foresight of faith or good works.

Faith would be understood as man's gift to God, not God's gift to man.

Robert Haldane: AFaith cannot be the cause of foreknowledge because, foreknowledge is always before predestination and predestination is the effect of faith.@

As many as were ordained to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

"Foreknow" cannot be the foreknowledge of good works for these are the effects of predestination.

We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10).

It cannot be a foreknowledge of faith, for even Arminians agree that faith is a gift which God gives or creates. But for God to give faith means that He doesn't give faith to all and perhaps He gave faith to one against his will.

2. Conclusion

"Foreknow" means to "fore-love," i.e., "Whom He did fore-love?"

Amos 3:2 He knew Israel only.

Jer. 1:5 He knew Jeremiah.

Matt. 7:2223 I never knew you.

The fact that God chooses according to The foreknowledge of God is the cause of faith, "If one loves God, one is known by Him" (II Cor. 8:3).

God's purpose of election preceded good or evil, and who would not say that faith is a good thing (Rom. 9:1011)?

We are not saved by the righteous work of faith. The cause of salvation is the mercy of God, not faith (Tit. 3:5; Rom. 9:15).

Paul's theology is such that it anticipates cries of "unrighteousness" and "injustice" from natural men, which it would never do if God's election was based upon man's will or if God chose everyone to be saved (Rom. 9:11-16, 18-21). That is, no one ever cries that conditional election is unjust. The cry is that unconditional election is unjust. If Paul is not teaching unconditional election why does he presuppose that men will protest?

His own will and not because of man's faith or goodness, proves that God chooses unconditionally.