A Study of Ephesians 1:11
“In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” (Ephesians 1:11)
How far the opponents of the doctrine of absolute predestination will go never ceases to amaze those who love the doctrine of Christ.
For instance, there is an idea afoot that says, “God has predestinated some things, of course; but there are some other things which He has not predestinated.” There are folks out there in the real world who say there are many events happening all the time which God has not predestinated. To hear them tell it, maybe there are millions of things happening at this very second, even as you read these lines, that God has not predestinated. Perhaps, according to those who believe this brand of non-predestination, perhaps it is not even predestinated that you will read this little article. If such is really the case, and you can do something that is not predestinated, read on.
The very thought of such an idea, that “some things happen which are not predestinated,” gives rise to many questions. High on our list is this one: Granting for the moment that there were such a category, “the things which are not predestinated” would have to have been predestinated to be not predestinated, would they not?
Before addressing this topic directly, it must be mentioned that the subject of God’s will is foundational to whether or not God predestinated any particular event. Paul said in Ephesians 1:11 that God “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” That is a simple, unqualified statement of fact. Your declaring this fact or any other fact, however, carries with it no assurance that any given person will believe the fact just because you declared it.
For example, I remember back in 1948 when my dad told some of his friends that he had seen a box, like a new kind of radio with a window in its side, that you could use to see what people were doing hundreds of miles away. He said this box was called a “television.” His friends did not believe his declaration. Instead, they rather ridiculed him about it. They said he’d been fooled by someone inside that box, “just clowning around.”
His declaring the fact of television did not make anyone believe him.
Nor did all the disbelief of his friends make the fact of television one whit less true. History has proved him to have been right and the unbelievers wrong. Now, all those unbelievers and their children have television sets of their own.
If such is the case even in nature, that people do not believe what they do not comprehend, it is certainly true in the spiritual realm which the eye of flesh cannot see. Merely declaring that God works all things after the counsel of His own will has never made anyone believe it.
The will of the Three-One God establishes all things. Since Paul did not break that fact down into smaller categories such as all good things or all bad things, and as predestination is a thing, then we conclude that predestination is one of the “all things” which He works after the counsel of His own will. What about whether or not predestination is a thing? Of course it is. Predestination is a noun, and a noun (according to our grade school teachers) names a person, a place, or a thing. Since predestination is not a person or a place, it is a thing.
How about the word after in Paul’s saying that He worketh “all things after the counsel of His own will”?
After is not used only in a timely sense, as in: “First, God had his counsel; and second, ‘after’ His counsel, He works all things.” In a way this is certainly true, because all “things” happen (or will happen) subsequently to His counsel. But “after” also has another meaning: “in accordance with.” He worketh all things in accordance with His own will. It is in this latter sense we understand Paul’s use of the word “after.” Paul uses the word here translated “after” at least eighteen times in Ephesians. Sixteen times it is translated according, and twice as after. God works all things, then, in accord with His divine counsel.
The generally accepted definition of predestination or predestinate is in Jerome Zanchius’ book, Absolute Predestination. To quote Zanchius:
“The verb predestinate is of Latin origin, and signifies, in that tongue, to deliberate beforehand with one’s self how one shall act; and in consequence of such deliberation to constitute, fore-ordain and predetermine where, when, how and by whom anything shall be done, and to what end it shall be done. So the Greek verb, prooridzo, which exactly answers to the English word predestinate, and is rendered by it, signifies to resolve beforehand within one’s self what to do; and, before the thing resolved on is actually effected, to appoint it to some certain use, and direct it to some determinate end. The Hebrew verb Habhdel has likewise much the same signification.”
All this being so, before the foundation of the world when God declared (in accord with the counsel of His own will) what every thing would be and do, He declared what He Himself would predestinate. If in the then-future course of this world there were to be some things that would not be predestinated, then in the same declaration He would no doubt have also declared what would not be predestinated. “A wicked ruler shall arise and kill millions of people, but that is bad and evil, so I shall not predestinate that.” It was either something like that, or else those things which were not predestinated were not declared at all.
To make this last point as plain as possible, any thing or event which actually happens in time must, of necessity, fall into one of these four categories: (1) God predestinated it to be done, and it was done; (2) God predestinated it not to be done but it was done anyway; (3) God did not predestinate it, but it was done anyway; or (4) God did not consider it, one way or the other.
If (4) is true, that God did not consider it, one way or the other, then the out-and-out Arminian would be right in saying that God is surprised by a lot of things and there is really no such thing as predestination.
If (3) is true, that God did not predestinate it but it was done anyway, there is much the same problem. Millions of non-predestinated things would be running around, getting in the way of those things which were predestinated. It remains for the one who takes this position to say whether or not God at least thought about these “non-predestinated events” colliding with all the things He predestinated. We are not asking for the moment whether or not He predestinated the “non-predestinated events,” oh, no; but, did He at least just think about them a little bit during His determinate counsel when He was considering what He would and would not predestinate?
If He thought about the “non-predestinated events,” even a little bit, then they were nevertheless predestinated, because, “The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass…” (Isaiah 14:24). If He did not think about the “non-predestinated events,” how could they ever come to pass, seeing they surely would be in conflict with the things He did think about?
Position (2) cannot possibly be true, that God predestinated some events not to be done but they were done anyway. God not only declared the end from the beginning, but He also declared “from ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10). The things which the partial-predestinarian says “happen but were not predestinated” could only be among those things which were not yet done. At the time of His declaration, which the inspired Isaiah was content to call “from the beginning,” the things which were not yet done included everything that happens in time. Past, present, and future events, as far as we time-bound creatures are concerned, were included in His far-reaching decree from the beginning.
“Beginning” is a timely word and refers to the beginning of time. At the beginning of time nothing in time had yet been done, just as at the beginning of a carpenter’s workday none of that workday’s tasks have yet been done. Too, there is a difference between (a) declaring the end from the beginning and (b) declaring the things which are not yet done.
Consider that carpenter’s workday again for a moment. At seven o’clock in the morning he may declare the end, “At five o’clock I shall quit and go home,” and he may or may not be correct. A lot of men have thought at the beginning of their workday that they would go home that evening, but they died on the job.
But, say for argument’s sake that our carpenter is right; he has declared the end of the workday from the beginning and it turns out to be true and correct. He leaves for home exactly at five o’clock. That is still a far cry from his declaring, from before the beginning, the things that are not yet done. No man could say with certainty before he starts his day’s work, for example, that at exactly 12:18 p.m. he will be executing his eighth chew on his seventh bite of a particularly tough steak sandwich, or that at exactly fifty-one seconds after 1:23 p.m. he will be driving his 273rd nail which will be bent at a 37-degree angle by the fourth blow from his hammer.
In order to do what God did in His determinate counsel and foreknowledge, the carpenter would have to declare every single, solitary event which was not yet done, all the livelong day, and throughout all time and eternity as well. Then he would also have to have the wisdom and power to carry it all out in exactly the time and way that he had declared, in every finite detail, or else his declaration would have been of no effect. To do that, our carpenter would have to be all-wise, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.
There is only one Being who is qualified to declare all things; one all-wise, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Being: God Himself. And, wonder of wonders, that is exactly what He has done: He has declared all things! He has declared the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done. And to make sure that everything goes exactly as He declared it, He works all things in accordance with the counsel of His own will.
Even if in all the sacred scriptures there were no other texts like those cited in Isaiah, Ephesians 1:11 by itself would be sufficient to establish the truth of the absolute predestination of all things.
So, position (1), above, stands: Any thing or event which happens in time, God predestinated it to be done.
But, alas, declaring this fact never made anyone believe it. Men who can’t predict what they will have for lunch, or whether they will drive nails or saw boards, or if they will live the day out or die before they draw their next breath, cannot understand an infinite God unless that God by His grace is pleased to reveal Himself and the truth about Himself to their understanding. But again, being unable to understand a thing has never kept men from railing against what they do not comprehend.
So, men who do not understand predestination want to size it down to their way of thinking.
High on the list of priorities of those who feel compelled to come out with more and more new versions of the Bible should be the revision of Isaiah. The current revisions are far too timid. They need a brave new revision like none that has ever been seen before. To satisfy the needs of the near-predestinarians, for example, someone needs to rewrite Isaiah 55:8 to read something like this:
For my thoughts are just like your thoughts, and your ways are exactly like my ways, saith the Lord.
Such a revision would pass as good currency in many a meeting-house on Sunday mornings.
Until they come up with such a revision and make it stick, we will gladly stay with what Isaiah really said. And he did not say that God declared from ancient times “just the good things” that were not yet done.
The Lamb of God said that “if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18). Adding “good” where God said “all things” to make it say “all good things” looks suspiciously like it might come under the heading of adding to what God has said. Our calling this observation to your attention, however, will carry no weight with those bent on saying that God predestinated “only the good things” but not the other things.
So saying brings us to our subject: If it is as some people say, “God predestinated some things but not others,” and since Paul says, God works all things after the counsel of His own will, it would follow from these two premises that God works some things that are not predestinated. Or, have we missed something?
Again: How can we have this arena called the created universe, containing all the things which God has predestinated, and, intermingled with all of these predestinated things and events, there are all of those non-predestinated things running hither and yon, willy-nilly, catch as catch can? “Watch out!” we hear someone saying, “Here comes something done by the Governor of his own free will!” “Be careful-there goes a tree, falling by chance!” “Oh, we were certainly lucky to escape with our lives!”
And, again: If Pat’s actions are not predestinated but Mike’s are, we need to know whatever will happen when Pat and Mike get together. Suppose Pat plans to punch Mike in the nose. Suppose Pat’s desire to punch Mike in the nose is not predestinated, because punching someone in the nose is not a good thing, but he tries to punch him anyway? Suppose Mike is predestinated to be across town from Pat at the exact time Pat is trying to hit him? What then?
Situations like this would be bound to arise constantly in the fog-shrouded nether lands between what God has predestinated and what He has not, along that magnificent and mysterious borderline between good and evil. Whenever, however, or wherever good and bad rub together, they tell us, “All the good things are predestinated but all the bad things are not.”
Saying that God only predestinated the good things is like saying, “Yes, God predestinated automobiles and petroleum-propelled internal combustion engines to furnish us transportation so we can ‘go to church’, which is a good thing; but He never predestinated the carbon monoxide, fumes, pollution, and waste gasses which come out of the motor, because those things are bad, and God doesn’t predestinate the bad things. Just the good.”
We will not set out to prove that God’s will is the exact same thing as His predestination. Indeed, His will is much more basic than that; God’s will is foundational to predestination. Without God’s will being actively engaged in the event, there would have been nothing predestinated. There would have been no predestination. His will is the basis for all that happens, all that is. Ephesians 1:11 says so. Predestination, then, is God’s will in action, and His providence is the unfolding and the revelation of His will and predestination.
That being the case, predestination must embrace all things. “All things good or bad,” as men are prone to say.
To sum it up, a serious person would have to conclude that since all things are predestinated, and if, as some say, “there are some things which are not predestinated,” then even those latter things which are not predestinated must of necessity be predestinated! Paul and the nearly-predestinarians cannot both be right. If they are not both right, then we had rather believe Paul, God being our strength. “Things which are not predestinated” is an empty or nonexistent category. What is left, therefore, is the absolute predestination of all things.
And that is the only predestination there is!
– C.C. Morris