I’ve often heard statements about “the pot calling the kettle black.” Usually, people use this phrase when someone is saying something about someone else and accuses himself or herself in the process. The point of this response is to say that, should a person be guilty of something, they should first “pick the mote and beam out of their own eye” before trying to pick the log out of someone else’s.
Theologically, though, we find John Preston in the state of “the pot calling the kettle black.” If you look back at the posts on John Preston so far, you’ll notice that he separates the atonement of Christ from the intercession of Christ: while Christ atones for all, He only intercedes on behalf of the elect, His special chosen ones. So the question becomes, if Christ died for all, but only intercedes for some, then how could Christ have given all a genuine opportunity? It seems that, if He intercedes for some, then He only desires that “some” genuinely be saved. Why would He die for people that He would not intercede for?
John Preston, however, was staunchly opposed to Arminius and his theology. Regarding Arminius, Preston records the following:
“For according to Arminius, though God did heartily desire the conversion of such a man, and offered him al the meanes of Grace that could be, yet it is stil in the free choise of his wil to convert, or not to convert; Their onely answer here is, that seeing God hath made a Decree, that man shal be a free Agent, though he doe most earnestly desire the conversion of such and such men, yet because he cannot disannul his Decree, he doth, and must leave it to the liberty of the Creature to doe contrary to even that himselfe desires. BUT WHAT IS THIS ELSSE BUT TO PUT GOD INTO SUCH STREIGHTS AS DARIUS WAS IN, WHO WOULD FAINE HAVE SAVED DANIEL, BUT BECAUSE OF HIS DECREE HE COULD NOT?...[W]hat is this else but to attribute griefe unto God, and so to detract from his Blessednesse?” (John Preston, “Plenitudo Fontis,” pp. 9-10; quoted by Jonathan Moore, “English Hypothetical Universalism,” page 129).
Preston strongly disagrees with Arminius’s assessment of how God saves mankind. His reason? “What is this elsse but to put God into such streights as Darius was in...?” According to Preston, to claim that God could not “force” the creature to believe is to “limit God’s power” in such a way that God cannot ever be assured of achieving His purposes.
The apostle Paul answers John Preston’s response to Arminius in the book of Romans. In the beginning of Romans chapter 9, Paul is burdened for the salvation of his kinsmen, the Jews; but in verse 6, he answers his burden: “but it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants” (Rom. 9:6-7a, Holman Christian Standard Bible). The remainder of the chapter show’s that God “elects” some and not others. What is the means of election, though? Is it God’s arbitrary whim or faith? The Gentiles obtain salvation because they have obtained “the righteousness that comes from faith” (Rom. 9:30), while the Jews failed to obtain salvation because they were aiming to obtain salvation “as if it were by works” (v.31).
Romans 11 is the summation of Paul’s discussion of Romans chapters 9-11; as such, it mimics Paul’s words in chapter 9 that the word of God had not been nullified, despite the unbelieving majority of national Israel: “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Despite the unbelieving majority, the nation as a whole will be saved (even though every Jew in all of human existence will not). Here, corporate election is discussed, not individual election. This can also be seen in Hebrews 3-4, where the writer tells us that the wilderness generation (with the exceptions of Joshua and Caleb) failed to reach the Promised Land because the good news that was preached was not met with faith in the hearers (Heb. 4:2). While the corporate election of the nation is unconditional (as Rom. 11:26ff teaches), individual election is conditional upon faith (Rom. 9:30-32; Rom. 10:9-10).
Secondly, how is it “limiting God” to say that God will not renege on His word? God promised Noah that He would never flood the earth again with water (Gen. 9:11-17); does this somehow make God “less God” because He cannot flood the earth again with water? No! Rather, it shows that God is who He is---one who keeps His promises. What about the Jews inheriting the land of Canaan? According to Joshua, God kept every promise He made (Joshua 21:45; 23:14). God made the promises, and then He made good on them. Does this make God “less God” because He kept His word? No---rather, it proves, once again, that God is One who never changes (Malachi 3:6).
The Bible tells us that God will never deny His nature and character (2 Tim. 2:13). But in Preston’s theology, it is perfectly justified for God to say and do one thing and then turn around and take it back. Evidently, he never read Peter’s words that “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay” (2 Peter 3:9).
Last but not least, the Atonement itself testifies to the consistency of God’s character. Why was Jesus sent to die? “to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom. 3:25b). By sending Christ as the “propitiation” for our sins, or the atoning sacrifice (Rom. 3:25), God “would be righteous” (in His judgment) “and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus” (the one who trusts in the work of Christ on the cross), Rom. 3:26. But if God had not been just, but decided to take back His judgment on mankind made in the Garden of Eden (“you will surely die”), then He would have said, “if you eat you die; you have eaten of the forbidden fruit---but you will not die.” God would be “giving with the left hand what the right hand takes away,” so to speak. He would be saying, “you will die,” but then He would turn around and say, “you will not die.” How can “you will die” and “you will not die” make any sense in that imaginary scenario?
That day in the Garden, God “smoothed” out the seeming paradox: Adam and Eve “would die” a physical death but they “would not die” a spiritual one (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20). Why? because justice and mercy would both meet in Jesus Christ, the unique Son and Lamb of God slain for the sins of the world (John 1:29).
In my next post, I will continue my discussion of John Preston and why he is rather hypocritical in his attack on Arminian theology. It truly is another instance of “the pot calling the kettle black.”