Jabez Burns, “Conversation on Predestination”

, posted by K.W. Leslie

This comes from Jabez Burns’s 1849 book Doctrinal Conversations.

INQUIRER. “What are we to understand by the doctrine of predestination?”

MINISTER. “It is the determination of God’s mind in reference to things to come.”

INQUIRER. “Does God then infallibly know all future events?”

MINISTER. “Unquestionably; or he would not be an infinitely perfect being—or able to govern the world.”

INQUIRER. “But can nothing counteract or prevent what God has foreknown and predetermined?”

MINISTER. “No; for God’s knowledge being unerring, he cannot possibly be mistaken.”

INQUIRER. “But has God predestined everything that comes to pass?”

MINISTER. “No; for then God would have been the author of sin, or moral evil. As the Father of lights, there can be no darkness in him, nor can moral evil possibly proceed from him.

“Nay, more; if God had predestinated what we call sin, it would be no longer sin—seeing that it would be the result of God’s purposes, and therefore agreeable to his mind and will. While we invariably understand sin to be utterly opposed to God’s mind, and rebellion against his will.”

INQUIRER. “How then could sin exist, if God did not predestinate it?”

MINISTER. “God resolved to permit its entrance into the universe. And thus he acted in harmony with another department of his work, in creating angels and men, responsible creatures—able to stand, or capable of falling.”

INQUIRER. “Then is there a real distinction between God’s foreknowledge and predestination?”

MINISTER. “Certainly: for knowledge does not involve the idea of influence being exerted; but simply events being perceived and apprehended.”

INQUIRER. “Has God predestinated or foredetermined in reference to man’s final destiny, so as necessarily to include the final condition of all that will be lost, and all that will be saved?”

MINISTER. “He has; but God’s predestination has invariably reference to the moral character and state of men. He has predestinated that all obstinate, impenitent sinners shall perish. That all repentant and believing sinners shall be saved.”

INQUIRER. “But is not predestination with God absolute?”

MINISTER. “It is as absolute and irrevocable as his immutable throne and holy laws. So much so, that no incorrigible sinners will ever be saved, and no contrite believer will ever be lost.”

INQUIRER. “But this view of predestination seems to be mixed up with conditions and contingencies.”

MINISTER. “So it is; and thus it differs from foreknowledge. For thus—when God placed our first parents in Eden, their state was one of conditions and contingency. So it was also after the fall. So also God declares in reference to Cain and Abel. [Gen 4:7] So through the whole of the scriptures in reference to every dispensation and people. As to contingency, there is none in reference to God himself, as he knows all things, and infallibly discerns the course that all men will pursue.”

INQUIRER. “Then have we no instance in scripture where God has predestinated men to eternal life, irrespective of character?”

MINISTER. “Not one. Such an instance would be contrary to God’s holy nature. A violation of his holy government. And would shake the confidence of all holy beings as to the moral rectitude of the divine character. God essentially hates iniquity, and as essentially loves righteousness. He must therefore punish the one, and reward the other.”

INQUIRER. “But does not the apostle speak of some persons being predestinated?”

MINISTER. “He does. In writing to the Romans. [8:29] And you will observe he there states, that they were predestined ‘to be conformed to the image of his son.’ That is, to be holy persons. And he further states, that such predestined persons were foreknown. ‘For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate.’ Thus putting his foreknowledge before his predestination. God, foreknowing their repentance and faith, determined or fore-appointed them to a holy resemblance to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Such is the predestination of God’s word—which is alike in harmony with the equity and goodness of God, and the free agency and responsibility of man.”

INQUIRER. “Have you any other reasons in favor of that view of predestination?”

MINISTER. “Yes: for it accords with God’s solemn declaration, that as he liveth, he takes no pleasure in the death of the sinner. [Eze 33:11] But if he had predestinated all events, and had not acted on the grounds of the foreknowledge of character, then it must be manifest, that either God had changed, or that the declaration I have referred to in the scriptures was not true. If sinners do perish—and God has no pleasure in it—then simply he did not foreappoint and predetermine it. But if God resolved that the impenitent should perish, and predestinated that holy—then the sinner’s ruin is his own act, and it remains a truth, honorable alike to God’s equity and truth, that he has no delight therein.

“Moreover, predestination as it is generally taught, is but another name for necessity; and cannot be effectually separated from the doctrine of fatalism, in which all human responsibility and agency are entirely destroyed.”

INQUIRER. “But are you not thus reasoning because you are unable to understand it, or reconcile it with human reason; while you admit most truths on the ground that God has declared them, and not because human reason can perceive their fitness or propriety?”

MINISTER. “Predestination, as we have explained it, is easily understood, is in perfect harmony with the justice of God,  obviously commends itself to our minds as reasonable and accountable beings, and is supported by all the weight of scriptural authority. The other view, that God has absolutely predetermined men’s destiny, and yet the asseveration that he has no pleasure in the death of the ungodly, is indeed not so much a profound mystery, as a most palpable contradiction; and therefore in the very nature of things must be untrue. But we shall perceive the truth of this doctrine more and more, as we contemplate the other subjects before us.”

INQUIRER. “I confess that what you have stated as to the divine foreknowledge being distinct from predestination, and also that in scripture it precedes it, has opened quite a new moral scene before me. I begin to think, that one of the difficulties, which I previously deemed insuperable, is almost, if not entirely, removed.”

MINISTER. “I rejoice to hear it, and there no doubt, if you will humbly hearken to the divine oracles, that you will happily perceive that the divine word is never inconsistent with sound reason, and much less can it ever be opposed to man’s responsibility.”