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The Evil of Fatalism

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Date May 13, 2008

Grey Hazlerigg once wrote, ‘A truth out of place and out of season may work in Satan’s hands like a lie.’ So Satan has often perverted the truth of predestination and God’s sovereignty to lull sinners into idle slothfulness.

Fatalism is evil. God is not in it. There is no purpose, no point, no religion, no end, no wisdom, no love, no God! In a word – it is atheism. It is blind fate that rules.

Fatalism omits one vital point – that the means are ordained as well as the end. Let us explain. God has predestinated His people to heaven; but He has also predestinated them to repentance and faith in Jesus. God has predestinated His people to heaven, but He has also predestinated that they shall persevere in the truth to the end. ‘He that endureth to the end shall be saved.’

One of the clearest illustrations of this is the account of Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27. Paul clearly affirmed that of all the 276 souls aboard the ship, not one would perish. God had told him so. ‘There shall be no loss of any man’s life among you’ (verse 22). But when some of the crew were trying to escape, Paul cried, ‘Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved’ (verse 31). In other words the means is just as much predestinated as theend. One of the greatest champions for the truth of predestination was Augustus Toplady – but he was terrified of riding on a horse. His enemies taunted him with this. How did it fit in with his belief in divine sovereignty? Toplady’s reply was: ‘I have often wondered if my terror of riding on a horse is the God-ordained means of preserving my life.’ And this was not mere casuistry!

One of the best illustrations we have ever heard of this was when in boyhood days we were listening to an old Yorkshire preacher. He said, ‘You all know that I come from Halifax. In Halifax there is a very steep hill’ (and he named it). ‘Now,’ he said, ‘if I were sitting in a bus at the top of the hill and before it started I knew that it would crash at the bottom: if I believed in predestination I should jump off! If I were a fatalist I should stay on!’ We feel there is a depth of divinity in this quaint explanation.

Predestination is not the only truth taught in the Bible. It is taught, very clearly, but there are many more things beside.

We do not know who or what is predestinated and who or what is not. The gospel is to be preached to all, and those whom God has predestinated He will infallibly call out. And though God has infallibly ordained all that will take place, we do not know what He has ordained. Really, no one is a logical fatalist! If he were he would never get up, never go to dinner, never do anything.

God has said, ‘Give diligence to make your calling and election sure’ – in that order. Those whom God elects He calls. We cannot ascend to heaven to see whose names are in the Book of Life. But we know that those who are called by God’s grace, and blessed with faith and repentance, are called because their names are in the Book of Life. Similarly, ‘All that the Father giveth Me’ – in eternity – ‘shall come to Me’ – in time.

We turn from fatalism as a God-dishonouring thing. But, sadly, at times it is as a dark shadow over those who believe in God’s eternal predestination, and always has been.

‘Why pray?’ says Satan. ‘If all is infallibly ordained, what is the use of prayer?’ Who does not know this temptation of the evil one? What is our answer? That He who ordained all things is the One who bids us pray. No one knew the truths of God’s eternal decrees like the Lord Jesus, but it was He who said, ‘Ask, and ye shall receive,’ and who gave such gracious encouragement to pray. As it fits in with the doctrine: God has graciously ordained that many of His purposes shall be fulfilled in answer to His people’s prayers.

In Ezekiel 36 God tells what He has infallibly decreed, but then adds: ‘I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.’

Again, how Satan tempts godly parents that it is no use praying for their children, because if they are not among the elect they cannot be saved. But this is the logic of the devil! It is our God-given privilege to pray for our children and grandchildren, and in praying for them, above all to seek the blessing of the Lord which makes eternally rich.

May the Lord deliver His church from the dark cloud of God-dishonouring fatalism but also make the truth of predestination precious to our souls.

We subjoin J.H. Gosden’s useful comments in answer to a complaint about a minister stating he was not concerned about dwindling congregations because ‘those who are to be saved will be saved.’

Fatalism is the proper designation of such a sentiment. Not to be concerned about the low state of Zion manifests – especially in a minister – either a condition of spiritual death, or at least most grievous torpor. The blessedness of those who mourn and are ‘sorrowful for the solemn assembly’ cannot apply to such. Moreover, seeing that the glory of God is definitely connected with the prosperity of the church and the fruitfulness of individual believers, where is the love of God in a heart unaffected by the sight of the desolation which overspreads the churches today? Even the Son of God wept over Jerusalem, notwithstanding He thanked His Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, because He had hid the things of the kingdom from the wise and prudent and had revealed them unto babes (Matt. 11:25, Luke 19:41, 42).

Not concerned? It was vastly different with Jeremiah when his eye affected his heart and he wept day and night without any intermission; Daniel also who mourned and supplicated the Lord for His name’s sake to shine upon the sanctuary which was desolate (Lam. 3, Dan. 9).

One perfectly and painfully realises the absolute impotence of mere human power to further or retard God’s work. His purpose must ever be unfrustratable; blessed be His holy name! Yet He condescends to use means in the development and execution of His eternal purpose of grace and mercy toward His elect. Often very feeble means the Lord Himself selects, in order that it may be seen that the excellency of the power is of God and not of man.

Paul was no fatalist, but he fully believed in and taught the doctrine of election even when as a labourer together with God he strove for the furtherance of the gospel and travailed in birth for the Galatians until Christ was formed in them. He did not complacently say in self-indulgence: God will have His own; but, knowing that to be blessedly true, he laboured more abundantly than all others in preaching the gospel of salvation by Jesus Christ. Knowing that their work would not be vain in the Lord, he entreated the Corinthians to be stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding therein (1 Cor. 15:58). He was not unconcerned, but sought by any means to provoke to emulation some Israelites, and might thus save some of them (Rom. 11:14). It is greatly to be feared that there are not a few preachers who are not ‘labourers together with God,’ and whose motive in emphasising divine sovereignty is rather to indulge sloth than to exalt that solemn attribute of the eternal God.

Dependence upon the Lord’s gracious promises rather energises than stifles faith and prayer. Fatalism – that cold, loveless principle – enervates while it lulls into indifferent security by the misuse of divine truth. When the psalmist said, ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain,’ he did not discourage diligence or inculcate sloth, but sought to correct self-dependence and to stimulate watchful prayer and faith in the Lord’s promised help. Gideon’s appeal to the Lord manifested not indifference but anxiety of faith concerning the promised deliverance of Israel, in effecting which he was shown that he was an honoured instrument employed of the Lord, and lest Israel vaunt themselves against the Lord, saying their own hand saved them, the army was reduced from thirty-two thousand to three hundred (Judg. 6:13). Micah was not indifferent when, filled with woe because of the desolations in Zion, he waited upon and for the Lord in penitence and vigour of faith under all his anxiety (chapter 7). David deprecating his own sin and loss, pleading for the Holy Spirit, was not unconcerned for Jerusalem: ‘Build Thou the walls of Jerusalem’ (Psa. 51:18).

Zechariah did not discharge the people from their work when he prophesied that the building was ‘not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.’ He and Haggai, with Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the people together, wrought the more earnestly, in spite of opposition, because (as Haggai assured them) the Spirit would remain with them according to God’s covenant. And we read that the work prospered through the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah. Yet it did not prosper by merely assenting to God’s prophets, but through believing obedience to the direction: ‘Be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you.’ This represented not carnal activity, but spiritual obedience.

The Lord Jesus Christ (who surely knew that God would save His own!) inculcated not indifference but watchful diligence when, in view of the declension of the church in Sardis, He warned the ‘angel’ to strengthen the things which remained that were ready to die, for his works were not perfect before God. Rather, that faithful Witness directed the church to the cause of declension, and to the means of recovery. Who would have the temerity to suggest that Christ infringed the doctrine of divine election, and denied that God would save His own people, because He threatened to remove the candlestick from Ephesus if she did not repent?

It has been said that some preachers have tartly told their hearers that if they were not elected they cannot be saved; implying thereby that they need not trouble, and inferring a fault in God. Damnable error can be taught by an improper presentation of what is most true. Disproportion can very seriously falsify truth, even as a half-truth can be a gross lie. How urgent, how imperative, then, is that infallible instruction, light and unction of the Holy Spirit for a right discharge of the solemn work of the ministry! Paul’s exclamation will be that of each man whom the Lord ordains to this serious office: ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ And woe be to him who obtrudes himself into that office without divine ordination! The Lord in great mercy forgive us and deliver us from our ministerial sins! May He give us grace, also, in our anxiety concerning the depletion of the churches and the lack of signs following the ministry, sincerely and deliberately to search and pray to be shown the procuring causes of the Holy Spirit’s withholding, and to turn from everything which provokes that gracious Teacher to withdraw from the ministry and from the churches.

Christ’s perfect teaching gives a true perspective of divine sovereignty, attractive to every truly exercised soul: ‘No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.’ ‘All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me, and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out’ (John 6). ‘Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matt. 11:28). And this perspective will be the background of all right ministerial labour – a labour which begins not in the pulpit but in the closet. Although none can come but such as are drawn of the Father, none need thereby be discouraged from coming to Christ; nor on that ground should any minister hesitate to invite a convicted, penitent sinner to come to Christ (even though he is troubled because his convictions and repentance are deficient). We solemnly realise that the most earnest appeals a minister may make will have no effect without the Holy Spirit’s power; but in our view the absence of those appeals betrays not faith in the covenant promise, ‘They shall all know Me’ but a practical fatalism which, however, may not always be detected.

Taken with permission from The Gospel Standard, May 2008

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