Predestination

W. John Murray
The Astor Lectures
Divine Science Publishing Assoc.
New York, 1917, 8th ed.

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestine to be
conformed to the image of his son.
— Romans 8:29.
[239] Two of the cardinal points in Calvin’s doctrine of predestination are, first that God elects individuals to be saved; second, that He designs complete redemption for these only; that every event in their lives was predestined and could not have been avoided.

Carefully bear in mind these definitions of predestination; that the Calvinistic is the arbitrary method of God by which some are ordained to be saved and others to be eternally lost. The definition of predestination as given in the Koran is that every event that has ever occurred in the history of the world or which ever will occur was foreordained from the beginning and could not possibly have been different.

These are the doleful interpretations as almost universally accepted at one time and as accepted by many today. Predestination declares that if a man is born to be hanged he can never be drowned; that each event in his life, and the [240] manner of his leaving this sphere of activity was foreordained before his birth, and from such teaching was born the doctrine of fatalism.

There are many sensible people who are fatalists, those who believe it is useless to battle against the predestined conditions in life. Calvinism teaches that man has attached to him at birth a personal chart of life which he must follow to the letter; that if he has not been elected by God to be one of the saved, no efforts on his part can tend to his salvation.

Some centuries ago theologians of the Christian Church began to see an element of unfairness in this situation, because their alert mentalities discovered that the individual, in order to be an individual at all, has what is called “free will”; that is, he is a free moral agent, and because of this it was possible, very possible, that a man who was predestined to be something other than he wished to be, might by the exercise of free moral agency or free will break the shackles. Many controversies took place, among the active mentalities of the Church and the sleepy ones, on this question of predestination, but it was never settled because even so great a church dignitary as Robertson (Frederick William, 1816-53), perhaps the greatest preacher of his time in England, declared that it was possible for him to see predestination and a certain amount of free will without interfering with the plans of the Infinite. He, however, only plunged them into a dilemma. He [241] handed them predestination on the one hand and free will on the other.

Now, my friends, what is free moral agency for if it is not to carve out for the individual the kind of life that he desires to live? If it is for no higher or better purpose than for one merely to follow the lines of least resistance and accept the doctrine of predestination as a fixed chart for one’s personal life, then I see no real value in free moral agency.

It seems ridiculous, and yet this great man of the Church, Robertson, declares that he can see vaguely, dimly, the possibility of predestination according to the Calvinistic theory, and free moral agency according to the desires of the inmost heart. He does not tell us that these ideas can be brought together and caused to work in harmony; he could not tell us that because two thoughts so utterly opposed to each other never could be brought to work harmoniously together.

Predestination has been a mightily discouraging doctrine which Theology has never been able to explain. It remains, therefore, for the thoughtful minds outside the Church which are not bound by the traditions of the elders to solve this doctrinal enigma. If man wishes to be noble, great and powerful spiritually, it would surely be a pity if predestination should prevent his spiritual growth.

Free moral agency is God’s greatest gift to man, not intended, however, to affect the foreordained [242] plans of the Infinite. Were these plans that each individual should follow a certain line of conduct carefully mapped out before his birth, [and] follow it through all the events and experiences, pains, passions, trials and tribulations of what we call this earthly life, and finally land in a state of unending torment as a result of his life here, then it would be a sad theology and a sad outlook.

That predestination is a law goes without saying; that free moral agency is a God-bequeathed power also goes without saying; and to affirm that these two, one a law and the other a force, can work together harmoniously it is our purpose to show. We shall prove the possibility of predestination and free agency working in perfect harmony and bringing about those high conditions which every aspiring human soul desires. But in order to do this we must take a new view of predestination. We must get away from the idea which says that an invisible tag is placed around the neck of every child the moment it is born; a tag signifying the method and manner of its future life and inevitable death and of its postmortem experiences, for this is the idea which has obtained for so many centuries in the minds of men concerning predestination.

Predestination is a law, and perhaps the most beautiful law in the whole category of laws. It is diametrically opposed to the Calvinistic idea that God elects some to be saved and others to be eternally lost; it is diametrically opposed to the [243] teaching of the Koran. How differently does the Master regard this law! He seems to feel, when we turn with anguished hearts, mutilated bodies and tortured minds, that we are entitled to something nobler in the way of interpretation of this great law, and he tells us in unmistakable words, “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish,” but that all of them should have eternal life. It is not the will of our Father which is in heaven that the sinner should die, but rather that he should be converted and live. Imagine, my friends, that it were predestined by God that the child should die and that without baptism; that the floor of hell should be paved with the skulls of unbaptized infants (as a contemporaneous writer of Calvin declares to be the case); imagine this vivid picture of Dante’s Inferno of a seething mass of lost souls–including the repentant ones (because of this terrible law having gone into effect,) and where men who desired to be saved could not be saved, and little children although not responsible for their personal salvation eternally damned! Imagine this if you can!

Is it not a wonderful thing to have the greatest of all teachers tell us that the predestination of God concerning man is that all shall know Him from the least of them unto the greatest, from the lowest to the highest, from the most degraded and debased to the most exalted and powerful?

[244] I want you to bear in mind these wonderful words of our text, because they signify what Paul the Apostle understood predestination to mean: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son.”

For God to know means for God to foreknow; for God to ordain is for God to foreordain; for Him to destinate means for Him to predestinate. So all the great scheme of the universe is known from the beginning to the end by that Infinite Wisdom which men call God, and in that Infinite Wisdom we see the working out of an oral process of unfoldment.

God predestines Man! He foreknows Man! He foreordains Man and for what purpose? To be conformed to the Divine Image. What a wonderful predestination that is! How it would have enlightened the medieval theologians if they had taken these words of St. Paul and examined them carefully and found what they really meant. They knew the meaning of the words predestinate, foreknow, and foreordain, but they did not know the beautiful word conform. To conform–to make one with–to cause one to be in complete harmony with; this is what is meant by man being foreordained to the image of God. Theologians have seen only half the picture.

We see man in the process of going out, but we do not see him coming back. It is as if we saw an Australian boomerang-thrower throwing his boomerang and we wondered where it was [245] going, trying to see if it would not disappear in the distance. Presently we see it returning to the hand of the thrower. That is the half of the picture that Calvin did not see. He saw the other half, God throwing Man into this great world of experience and letting him go with a tag on his neck signifying the career he should follow notwithstanding he desired to follow a very different one.

Divine Wisdom and Divine Spiritual Science see the end from the beginning. We see the boomerang which we may figuratively speak of as Man going out from the great heart of God, making its circuit and coming back again, having gained much by the experience. Just as the boomerang gains velocity on its homeward journey, just so man on his homeward journey back to the great heart of God brings with him the treasures of this wonderful life.

For instance, take a sincere teacher in a school who is not there merely for financial gain but who desires to see the unfoldment of his pupil’s mind; he sees in the child what the parents cannot persuade themselves to see; he believes that in that child are great possibilities and he goes to work upon the unfinished product of other systems of education. All the time he sees the boy as the thing that is coming into its own. He holds the thought over the child that he must return to his divine perfection. Imagine a child in an atmosphere of this kind. Picture the unfoldment of the child in whom the principal [246] of a school has such tremendous confidence that he know that one day that child is going to manifest all the intellectual perfection which God intends he shall manifest. This child cannot be a failure.

Compare the patience of this teacher with the wonderful patience of Divine Wisdom which, whether or not it sees us at work in this great schoolroom of life, has but one idea concerning us,–our perfection in the divine scheme of things. It is as if we were put into a workshop with a certain pattern to follow and the master workman knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that we were fully capable of working out this scheme, should leave us with all the implements and with a pattern before us, knowing in his own mind that it is but a question of time when we shall bring to him the finished product.

God sees in you the divine artist and has given to you the perfect pattern. The thought of God is, “It is only a question of time when this son of mine will come back to me with the finished work, when all the thought in his mind and all the atoms of his body are conspiring to bring about a conformity with the ‘I AM.’”

In the great schoolroom of life we make many mistakes–serious mistakes; we suffer because of them and devise ways, means and methods of our own for escaping the punishment of these mistakes, but it is this very punishment that is going to correct them, till we begin to see that we [247] were destined to be something infinitely greater than that which we have produced in our lives.

Shakespeare says, “There is a destiny which shapes our ends, rough hew them as we may.” The fatalist says it makes no difference how we live, we shall end just as God planned us to end. The great universal scheme of things has us at its mercy, so it makes no difference as individuals what we do. “Why not interpret these words of Shakespeare a little differently? Thinking of man as a mortal, beginning at birth and ending at death we know how the ends are shaped; we know we come into this plane of consciousness with a cry, and we know that most of us go out with another cry; we know this only too well, but this is not all of man. These are not the ends that destiny has shaped, for when we begin to think seriously and think of man as an immortal instead of a mortal being, as spiritual instead of material, then we begin to conceive of man as the son of God instead of as a mere son of man; we begin to see that the ends which destiny has shaped for us unite. Those ends meet in that eternal life which is God; they are so skillfully welded together that the human eye cannot see the point of separation. These ends have been destined from eternity to eternity.

The predestination of man is that he shall forever repose in the great central heart of God. From the very beginning it has been foreordained that man shall conform to the image of His Son; to the image of the One Altogether [248] Lovely. It is the destiny of man to be superior not only to sin, but to sickness, sorrow, pain, perplexity and poverty; this is the destiny of man. While we are working this out here, either ignorantly or intelligently, a Divine plan formed throughout all eternity is at work in every human consciousness.

It is your work and mine to understand the purpose and cause for which we came into this world; why we are here, what we are going to do and what is going to become of us. The simple words of St. Paul interpret predestination from a glorious point of view. They tell us that conformity to the image of His Son is our destiny, is the glorious end of Man even as it was his beginning, because both meet in God.

Does ill health seem to be your destiny? Do you feel that your destiny is to go through this earth-life of yours wasting away till that which is called death takes place? Do you feel that adversity is your lot in spite of yourself? Do you feel that despite all your efforts you are to remain a limited personality all your days in this great workshop of life? Are you the victim of some habit which has been fastened upon you by inherited tendencies? If so, disabuse your mind of any such belief. It is a giant delusion and has nothing to do with predestination as understood by Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus. Let Theology rave, rant, argue and indulge in controversies, but all the time God’s glorious truth that Man’s destiny is to conform [249] to His image is eternal. If originally you were the son of God, ultimately you will manifest Him in spite of all your earth experiences. You will prove your divine sonship because it is the law of your being.

The only inherited tendencies are the God-like tendencies. Claim them for yourself. Of course that which is predestined must come to pass and this is the thing predestined–the perfectness of Man made in the image of God. What a horrible doctrine is predestination when seen on its negative side! What a glorious doctrine when seen on its positive side!

When predestination is understood as the ultimate recovery of man’s original birthright of domination over sin, sickness and sorrow alike, then we will be glad for predestination. It is a hopeful doctrine. It dries the tears and gives courage to the fearful, strength to the weak and heart to the disheartened. It is new birth. This was what it did for the prodigal son. He arose one morning and opened his eyes to the real meaning of predestination. It dawned upon him that he was the son of his father and that it was not right for him to be down there eating husks with swine; that it was his divine right to be free, healthy and happy; timorously at first he arose and said, “I will arise and go in the direction of my father if this is my destination; if it is predestined for me that I shall live in my father’s home in comfort, happiness, peace and [250] luxury, then I will turn my face in the direction of my father.”

This is the lesson that comes to you and to me, my friends. We were predestined from the very beginning to enter into all the joys of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32.) Calvinistic predestination says, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to withhold the Kingdom from you.”

Shall we believe in this false doctrine, or in Him who is “The Lord your God, who is God in heaven above and in the earth beneath?”

It is your destiny to demonstrate health, harmony and happiness. Look away from the morbid reflections of the past. Look away from this false doctrine of the medieval Church which was mixed in its theology. Look away from everything which would indicate that man was destined to be anything other than the glorious, dominating Son of the Living God, which he really is.

Next: The Practice of Idealism

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