The great St. Augustine, in his valuable treatise, De Bono Persever, effectually obviates the objections of those who are burying the doctrine of predestination in silence. He shows that it ought to be publicly taught, describes the necessity and usefulness of preaching it, and points out the manner of doing it to edification. And since some persons have condemned St. Augustine, by bell, book and candle, for his stedfast attachment to and nervous, successful defences of the decrees of God, let us hear what Luther, that great light in the Church, thought respecting the argument before us.
Erasmus (in most other respects a very excellent man) affected to think that it was of dangerous consequence to propagate the doctrine of predestination either by preaching or writing. His words are these: “What can be more useless than to publish this paradox to the world, namely, that whatever we do is done, not by virtue of our own free-will, but in a way of necessity, etc.? What a wide gap does the publication of this tenet open among men for the commission of all ungodliness! What wicked person will reform his life? Who will dare to believe himself a favourite of heaven? Who will fight against his own corrupt inclinations? Therefore, where is either the need or the utility of spreading these notions from whence so many evils seem to flow?”
To which Luther replies: “If, my Erasmus, you consider these paradoxes (as you term them) to be no more than the inventions of men, why are you so extravagantly heated on the occasion? In that case, your arguments affect not me, for there is no person now living in the world who is a more avowed enemy to the doctrines of men than myself. But if you believe the doctrines in debate between us to be (as indeed they are) the doctrines of God, you must have bid adieu to all sense of shame and decency thus to oppose them. I will not ask, ‘Whither is the modesty of Erasmus fled?’ but, which is much more important, ‘Where, alas! are your fear and reverence of the Deity when you roundly declare that this branch of truth which He has revealed from heaven, is, at best, useless and unnecessary to be known?’ What! shall the glorious Creator be taught by you, His creature, what is fit to be preached and what to be suppressed? Is the adorable God so very defective in wisdom and prudence as not to know till you instruct Him what would be useful and what pernicious? Or could not He, whose understanding is infinite, foresee, previous to His revelation of this doctrine, what would be the consequences of His revealing it until those consequences were pointed out by you? You cannot, you dare not say this. If, then, it was the Divine pleasure to make known these things in His Word, and to bid His messengers publish them abroad, and leave the consequences of their so doing to the wisdom and providence of Him in whose name they speak, and whose message they declare, who art thou, O Erasmus, that thou shouldest reply against God and say to the Almighty, ‘What doest Thou?’
“St. Paul, discoursing of God, declares peremptorily, ‘Whom He will He hardeneth,’ and again, ‘God willing to show His wrath,’ etc. And the apostle did not write this to have it stifled among a few persons and buried in a corner, but wrote it to the Christians at Rome, which was, in effect, bringing this doctrine upon the stage of the whole world, stamping an universal imprimatur upon it, and publishing it to believers at large throughout the earth. What can sound harsher in the uncircumcised ears of carnal men than those words of Christ, ‘Many are called, but few chosen’? And elsewhere, ‘I know whom I have chosen.’ Now, these and similar assertions of Christ and His apostles are the very positions which you, O Erasmus, brand as useless and hurtful. You object, ‘If these things are so, who will endeavour to amend his life?’ I answer, ‘Without the Holy Ghost, no man can amend his life to purpose.’ Reformation is but varnished hypocrisy unless it proceed from grace. The elect and truly pious are amended by the Spirit of God, and those of mankind who are not amended by Him will perish.
“You ask, moreover, ‘Who will dare to believe himself a favourite of heaven?’ I answer, ‘It is not in man’s own power to believe himself such upon just grounds until he is enabled from above.’ But the elect shall be so enabled; they shall believe themselves to be what indeed they are. As for the rest who are not endued with faith, they shall perish, raging and blaspheming as you do now. ‘But,’ say you, ‘these doctrines open a door to ungodliness.’ I answer, ‘Whatever door they may open to the impious and profane, yet they open a door of righteousness to the elect and holy, and show them the way to heaven and the path of access unto God.’ Yet you would have us abstain from the mention of these grand doctrines, and leave our people in the dark as to their election of God; the consequence of which would be that every man would bolster himself up with a delusive hope of share in that salvation which is supposed to He open to all, and thus genuine humility and the practical fear of God would be kicked out of doors.
This would be a pretty way indeed of stopping up the gap Erasmus complains of! Instead of closing up the door of licentiousness, as is falsely pretended, it would be, in fact, opening a gulf into the nethermost hell.
Jerome Zanchius (1516-1590) was an Italian pastor, theologian, writer and reformer during the Protestant Reformation. After the death of Calvin, Zanchius’ influence filled the void, which was copiously met by a large written ministry. Among his most popular works are, “Confession Of The Christian Religion”, “Observation On The Divine Attributes” and “The Doctrine Of Absolute Predestination”.