Providence and Predestination

Providence and Predestination

by Peter Martyr Vermigli

The doctrine of providence and predestination is highly beneficial, for it reveals the source of our salvation. Thus, we attribute all our goodness not to ourselves but to the governance and dispensation of God. In the reprobate, we glimpse what could justly have befallen us if not for God's mercy through predestination. Through this faith in our predestination, we find great solace in adversity. Saint Paul reasoned thus to the Romans. From this foundation, we also derive certainty of our salvation, which, if reliant on the fickle will of man rather than the steadfast predestination of God, would be uncertain.

The providence of God is His ordained, unchanging, and perpetual governance of all things. Through it, He directs all His creations towards their intended ends. This providence involves not only understanding but also a will that guides all things according to its pleasure.

This power cannot be separated from God, for He determines kingdoms according to His will. The hairs on our heads are counted. Not even two sparrows fall to the ground without the Father's will. Even those who perish by chance are said to be delivered by God into the hands of others. Princes are in His hands like tools. He sustains all things by His mighty word. To the Hebrews and Ephesians, it is said, He works all things according to the counsel of His will.

Thus, the Holy Spirit says, "Cast your care upon God, and He will sustain you." Peter affirms, "He cares for us." Whoever touches you, touches the apple of my eye. This is a great comfort to the godly, knowing they are in God's hands.

Let the wicked do as they may, they can only act within God's providence. As Peter said in Acts, Herod and Pilate agreed to do what God's hand and counsel had predestined. Job also said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away."

Even events that seem to occur by chance are governed by providence. Joseph said, "God sent me ahead of you into Egypt." God says He sent Saul to Samuel, though it may seem he arrived by chance. And Christ said, "A man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you."

The vastness of providence is evident: "If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there." The decrees of providence are immutable: "I am the Lord, I do not change." With God, there is no variation or shadow due to change. The counsel of the Lord stands firm.

God's providence does not negate human choice nor does it eliminate chance. Things occur according to the nature of their immediate causes. Thus, causes may be called contingent in relation to human choices and natural effects. God governs contingent and voluntary causes so that they may operate through both chance and will. However, if these things are referred to God, there is only a necessity by assumption, as in prophesying future events. It was necessary for the Scriptures to be fulfilled, and it was necessary for Christ to suffer. Yet, providence holds greater power than foretelling future events, for prophecies do not act upon creatures as God's providence does, although neither does it violate the nature of secondary causes. Regarding providence, things are definite from eternity, for all things are numbered before God. But for us, they may be considered both voluntary and contingent, although for God, nothing is left to chance or fortune. As God says in Isaiah, "All that I purpose, I will do." Paul adds, "He works all things according to the counsel of His will."

Seeing the providence of God in this manner, there is room for counsels, admonitions, deliberations, and corrections, since it has decreed to achieve its ends through these means. For instance, when it determines to change a wicked will, it decrees to do so through these means. Therefore, these means are the instruments of God.

Predestination is a certain aspect of the providence of God, for it is the strength and power by which He appoints and guides individuals to obtain eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Through predestination, the nature of things is not altered concerning necessity, contingency, and deliberations, as discussed concerning providence.

Though all things are present to God's foreknowledge and eternity, creatures that have a beginning are not coeternal with God, so they cannot exist alongside His eternity. Thus, Paul says that we were chosen before the foundation of the world. Concerning Jacob and Esau, it is said that before they had done good or evil, Jacob was loved, but Esau was hated.

Those who claim that things are not appointed by God but in relation to His foreknowledge err greatly. The Scriptures place His will between them. "Not a sparrow falls without the will of the Father," the will being not new but eternal. Seventy years were prescribed for the captivity of Babylon, and 15 years were added to Hezekiah's life. Christ said, "My hour has not yet come." "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." Those who were ordained believed. Christ was crucified according to God's determinate counsel.

Some say predestination is a preparation of grace or a foreknowledge or a preparation of God's gifts, whereby those who are saved are assuredly saved while others are left in perdition. Some say it is a purpose of showing mercy, others a preparation of grace in the present time and of glory in the future. But I say it is God's most wise purpose, by which He decreed before all ages to call those whom He loved in Christ to adoption as children, to justification by faith, and eventually to glory through good works, so that they may be conformed to the image of the Son of God and His glory and mercy may be revealed in them.

Predestination is unchangeable. "The foundation of God stands firm." The Lord knows who are His. Hence comes the certainty of salvation. Therefore, when Paul spoke of predestination, he said, "Who shall accuse us? Who shall condemn us? Who shall separate us from the love of God? I am the Lord, and I do not change."

Reprobation is God's most wise purpose, by which He decreed before all worlds, without any injustice, not to show mercy to those whom He did not love but to pass them over so that through their just condemnation He might declare His wrath towards sins and display His power and glory.

Sins are not the cause of reprobation, for some are excluded from the love of God and forsaken, though they are the causes of damnation. Therefore, when the fathers sometimes say that sins are the cause of reprobation, they mean regarding the final condemnation, which is entirely due to sins.

God predestines us so that while we live, we should do good works. For it is said to the Ephesians that He has ordained good works for us to walk in them. However, good works or faith cannot be the causes of predestination, for they are the effects thereof. Regarding the two twins in Romans, it is said that before they had done good or evil, the elder shall serve the younger. "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated." "Not of works, but of Him who calls." "It is not in him who wills, nor in him who runs, but in God who shows mercy." "I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy." "He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens." Paul's arguments would be meaningless if God's predestination depended on faith and works that were foreseen. "I obtained mercy from the Lord to be faithful." "I did not therefore obtain mercy because I was faithful." "Those who were ordained to eternal life believed." "They believed because they were ordained; not that they were ordained or predestinated by God because they believed." Our justification depends on God's election or predestination. "Whom He predestined, He called; whom He called, He justified." But if predestination depended on free will, then we would be justified by free will.

The election of God and men are different. Men choose those in whom they find virtues or any good thing, but God cannot find in men any good thing that He Himself has not placed in them. Therefore, if He chooses whom He will in Christ, they do not possess it of themselves that they are in Christ; they receive it from God Himself. Thus, being in Christ is not the means or cause of predestination but the effect.

Christ is the chief and principal effect of predestination. God gave Him so that through Him He might save those who were predestined. By Him, as by a conduit, other effects of predestination are derived unto us through the mercy of God.

If election depended on foreseen works, Paul would not have exclaimed, "O the deepness of the riches, etc."

The doctrine of predestination does not open a window to idleness but rather to diligence and the endeavour of righteous living. When we believe that we are predestined, we understand that we are predestined to live well; therefore, let us strive to make our calling certain and to live according to the disposition of those predestined.

At first glance, it seems absurd that some should be created by God to perish. Yet the scripture says so: "The potter makes some vessels unto honour, and some unto dishonour," and that God ordained Pharaoh to show His power through him. It is also said that He, to show His wrath, endured with much patience the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Additionally, "He makes the ungodly for the evil day."

Not all who are called are predestined, for Christ said, "Many are called, but few are chosen." They affirm that the calling is universal and that God desires all men to be saved. If universal calling is understood because it is offered to all without exclusion by name, that is true. Also, if it is called universal because the death of Christ and His redemption is sufficient for the whole world, that is also true. But if this universality implies that it is within everyone's power to receive the promises, I deny it, because to some it is given and to others it is not given. Just as we see that the preaching of the Gospel was not given to many places, ages, and nations for a long time. God desires all men to be saved, yet believers. But He gives faith to whom He sees fit, for He may rightly do with His own as He pleases.

The certainty of our salvation depends on this. For when we see ourselves both called and believing, we have an earnest penny or certain pledge of our salvation: "The Spirit of God bearing witness with our spirit that we are the sons of God." However, the feeling of our calling and our faith is a sign of predestination, not a cause thereof.

As providence does, so does predestination not impose constraint or violence on man's will, for whatever we do, we do it willingly and of our own accord.