Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"The Pot and the Kettle": John Preston On the Reprobate and the Gospel Call

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.”


Unknown said...

I was saved, I am saved and I am being saved. Yes, but only GOD knows who they are.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Thanks so much for your comment on the new post. God knows who will be saved---you're right in that. And I would never argue against that. As a Classical Arminian holding to James Arminius's theology, I agree with Arminius when he stressed that God has exhaustive infallible foreknowledge. God knows all things perfectly.

But my question for Preston and others who oppose my theology would be, does God's foreknowledge cancel a genuine desire of salvation on God's part for those who never accept Him? In Preston's theology, he believed that Jesus still died for the reprobate, even though God had a "secret will" that kept Him from actually saving them. In my opinion, that makes for a rather disingenuous desire. How can God genuinely desire the salvation of the reprobate, but not provide the means by which they are to be saved (i.e., efficacious grace)? A God who genuinely desires the salvation of all will provide grace for all to be saved. Otherwise, those who are not saved bear no responsibility for it.

Thanks for commenting...and feel free to visit the site more in the future.

Unknown said...

Dear Deidre,
St. Thomas Aquinas maintained a doctrine of predestination, according to which “invincible ignorance” -- that ignorance in which some reside in which it is impossible for them to come to a belief in the Catholic Faith -- is an adequate means to contribute to the accomplishment of the purpose of the universe, which is the manifestation of the goodness of God.

The accomplishment of the Universe pre - exists in the Divine Mind, which is the cause of the universe, as the divine providence.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


I would certainly say that God can use all things for His purposes and glory. There is nothing that lies outside of God's sovereign control; however, at the same time, there is a difference between God using the evil created and God "creating" evil Himself. You are right to say that God is goodness; never is He ever labeled "evil." Evil is so opposed to God in the Scriptures on every page that we can say that God is not the author of sin and evil (James 1:13-15).

God is the origin of all things; in that sense, God is the "cause" of life. But God is not the "cause" of evil actions; the only thing that God "causes" is freedom of choice; what we do with that freedom is up to us.

I think all things can be used for God's purposes. If you read Romans 9-11, you will find out that even national Israel's unbelief was used for good, to bring about the salvation of the Gentiles. But never once did Paul tell us that God is responsible for national Israel's unbelief. Rather, the reason why they are not saved is because they choose to "earn" their salvation through works of the law instead of by faith (Rom. 9:30-32). God will still save Israel (Rom. 11:26-29), even if He will not save every single Jew. In this way, God's purpose is still accomplished, even though there are many Jews who will not believe. Did they have to "not believe"? No. They could have believed, and God would have saved them. But since they choose not to believe, a representation of the twelve tribes will be saved---despite the fact that potentially, every single Jew could have been saved.

What scriptural justification does Aquinas use in making the argument you speak about in your last comment?

Unknown said...

Dear Deidre,
God first intends the purpose of the universe, namely that it might manifest His goodness as far as is possible.

Therefore He intends that there should be salvation and damnation, so that His goodness might be variously and thereby more perfectly manifested.

Therefore He elects some, whom He predestines to salvation, and the good of His mercy is manifested in these, as St. Thomas says, in that He “spares” them the fate of the reprobate.

And others He reprobates, in whom is manifested the good of His avenging justice.

God first decides the end and then decides the adequate means to that end, namely predestination and reprobation, the ultimate end being the same for either, namely the manifestation of the divine goodness.

God wishes to realise His wrath as well as His mercy, and there is no injustice in this of God as He deprives no creature of what it is due. The Apostle explains:

“As it is written: Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated. What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? God forbid.

For he saith to Moses: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will shew mercy to whom I will shew mercy.

[…] O man, who art thou that repliest against God? […] What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction?”
(Romans 9:13-15, 20, 22)

So, we have seen the purpose of the universe, the universal principles that this entails, and how these apply to men.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


I noticed that you used Romans 9 as a prooftext for your argument. In response to this passage, I will say that a passage cannot be used alone in order to confirm one's beliefs about Scripture. A certain interpretation must have not only the passage in question, but other passages to back up the specific interpretation of the one passage. As John Calvin taught it, "Scripture interprets Scripture." If your interpretation of Romans 9 is correct, what other Scriptures can support your view of Romans 9? I have made it clear that according to Matthew 25:41, hell was only prepared for the Devil and his angels. Funny, but if God intended to damn some before the foundations of the world, why then was hell not prepared for one single person? As I said before, the interpretation you provide above cannot be supported by Scripture. To prove your point, you must use supporting passages to bolster your argument.

Next, not everyone in the schema you provide above is getting what they deserve. Those whom God "damns" (as you put it) are those that u believe deserve their fate; but what about the elect? Do they deserve what they're getting? No--in fact, they are getting better than what they deserve because they are recipients of eternal life and all of the spiritual privileges in Christ. So if the damned are getting what they deserve, what is the explanation behind why the "elect" are not? The real question is, "Why does God choose some and not others?" The answer to that from the Calvinist perspective (and even Molinist) is, "I don't know." How then, can the revealed Word of God mean anything if God really picks some and not others? Why provide the Scriptures, full of emphasis on faith and believing in the Son of God, if God really intends to damn some anyway? Why even deceive me into thinking I can be saved if I've already been predetermined for damnation? If you start to say, "Because God knew that person would never believe," you come back to what I said before: that God damns or chooses on the basis of unbelief/faith.

In addition to all this, Paul provides the reasons for the Gentiles' chosenness by God and the Jews' rejection by God; one seeks salvation by faith while the other seeks it by the works of the law. If Romans 9:30-33 deals with the responsibility to believe and be saved (or disbelieve and be damned), then how can your interpretation be right? Provide a sufficient defense for me as to why Romans 9:30-33 must be wrong. These verses are following the majority of Romans 9...and hermeneutics requires proper biblical interpretation of a text via context.

Unknown said...

Dear Deidre

Is Half of The Story Sufficient For Salvation?

How many sides are there to a story? If you say two, then you are wrong. If You had one side and I had one side, that would make two sides. However, there is a third side, the side of truth.

Rule # 1... One half of truth does not a truth make. Neither does one half of a story make the full story. No intelligent person can hear one side of a story and decide which side has the truth.

Both sides have to be heard, then analyzed, and then a decision has to be made as to which side (if either) has a valid story, and after that, the right side(s), or truth side, can be determined.

This thinking holds true for discerning what Holy Scripture tells us. Throughout the Bible there are double standards, yet the fundamentalist thinking shows only one standard, or one side of the story, or only one half of the truth.

Their thinking is in violation of rule # 1. With only one half of truth, you do not have truth. Anything less than the whole truth is error.

Unknown said...

Is Half of The Story Sufficient For Salvation? continued....>

In the following examples, side 'A' is the first side, side 'B' is the second, and side 'C' is the right, or truth side.

Example # 1... Sola Scriptura... Only the Bible. Fundamentalist thinking is that the Bible is sufficient and nothing else is needed for salvation.

First of all, in order to believe in the 'Bible Only' philosophy, you have to show that Scripture says it. Is that not true? The doctrine of 'Sola Scriptura' is not to be found in Scripture.

A. Tradition is condemned in many places in Scripture, such as Job 22:15, Mt 15:6, Mk 7:3-13, Gal 1:14, Col 2:8, 1Tim 1:4, Tit 1:14, and 1Pet 1:18.

Look at these verses and grasp their meaning. They all address 'vain' human traditions and are rightly condemned. This is one half of the truth.

B. Tradition is supported in more places in Scripture than it is condemned. Study Isa 59:21, Lk 1:2, 2:19,51, Lk 10:16, 2Thes 2:14-15 - "Stand firm and hold the traditions you have learned..", 2Tim 1:13,2:2, 1Pet 1:25, 1Jn 1:1,2:24, 2Jn 1:12, Rev 12:17,19:10.

Unknown said...

Is Half of The Story Sufficient For Salvation? continued....>

These are different traditions than mentioned in 'A'. These are the traditions of GOD, or 'Apostolic' tradition. Again, this is only half of the truth.

C. The truth is, yes, we do condemn the vain tradition of men, as shown in 'A', and we must keep the tradition of GOD, as shown in 'B'.

Thus we have half the truth in 'A', and the other half in 'B', and combined we have the full truth.

The false doctrine of Sola Scriptura adds A and B together and puts the total in A, rejecting all of tradition. A+B=C.

Example # 2... Sola Fides... Saved by faith alone. The fundamentalist believes he is assured of salvation.

All he has to do is to accept Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and savior and salvation is automatic and irrevocable no matter what he does for the rest of his life. Oh Yeah? What happened to the ten commandments?

Unknown said...

Is Half of The Story Sufficient For Salvation? continued....>

A. Many verses in Scripture attest to salvation by faith alone. Joel 2:32, "...that every one that shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."

Acts 2:21 says the same almost word for word, and likewise for Rom 10:13. "...I live in the faith of the Son of GOD...", is from Gal 2:20. Again, these are beautiful words that should be heeded by all.

B. However, elsewhere in Scripture there is quite a different side of the story. Start with Mt 7:21, "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in Heaven shall enter the kingdom of Heaven." Very clear that you have to do the will of the Father to gain salvation.

I like 1Cor 10:12, "...let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." That one says you cannot be guaranteed of salvation.

Unknown said...

Is Half of The Story Sufficient For Salvation? continued....>

Then James 2:14-26 says over and over, "...Faith too without works is dead...Faith without works is useless...so Faith also without works is dead." Again, words to be heeded by all.

C. So what is the answer to this dilemma? Is this one of those Bible 'conflicts' you keep hearing about? No, not at all.

The answer is very simple. There are two types of salvation, 'objective salvation', and 'subjective salvation'.

The verses in 'A' are examples of objective salvation. Jesus Christ did atone for all of our sins, past, present and future.

He did His part and did it well, but He left the burden upon each one of us to complete the second side of the story by atoning for our own sins, by doing the will of the Father.

Unknown said...

Is Half of The Story Sufficient For Salvation? continued....>

We have to keep the commandments. We have to practice 'subjective salvation'. There is no salvation by accepting only part of Scripture as shown in 'A', and by rejecting, or trying to explain away the verses in 'B'.

Yet this what Protestants are doing. Again, we have to combine 'A', and 'B', to have the full truth. A+B=C = TRUTH.

Example # 3... Sola Gratia... or saved by the Grace of GOD.
This is the belief that all are saved solely by the Grace of GOD. The thinking is that all will be saved no matter what they do in this life.

Everyone of us is given sufficient grace for our salvation. However, that grace can be rejected and lost by the individual.

Unknown said...

Is Half of The Story Sufficient For Salvation? continued....>

A. Some will try to justify this false doctrine with Eph 2:8-10, "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of GOD." I agree that grace is a 'gift of GOD'.

B. The arguments against Sola Gratia are basically the same as for Sola Fides. See Sola Fides 'B'.

C. There again, there are two kinds of grace, 'deserved' and 'undeserved'. Not all will receive saving grace if they are undeserving of it as shown in Mt 7:21, 1Cor 10:12, and Jam 2:14-26.

Why would GOD extend His graces to those who do not keep His commandments? The truth is, yes you will receive saving grace from GOD if you are deserving of it.

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


I agree that Scripture is often created as a "false dilemma." That is the reason why I hold to salvation by faith and the need for grace to precede a person's conversion.

Classical Arminianism stresses both the necessity of grace as well as faith in salvation. Without grace, a person cannot come to profess faith in the one true living God.

In issues of final salvation (in contrast to initial salvation above), Classical Arminians believe in faith and perseverance as both being necessary to receive final salvation. Because Classical Arminian theology is one that tries to balance all sides fairly, Classical Arminianism cannot be attacked as an "extreme" theology; and as such, it cannot be thrown in with theologies such as Pelagianism or Calvinism where "either" God or man is the one who is active (solely one or other). It is a theology that stresses both God's role in salvation and man's role in responding to the work of God in salvation. In other words, we hold to divine sovereignty and human responsibility without nullifying either theological principle.

But what are you saying about our previous discussion regarding faith in Romans 9? I certainly do believe that God has established a way to obtain salvation: by faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As such, those who do not meet this condition (those who refuse to believe) will perish eternally.

Can you provide some reason for me as to why I'm wrong regarding Romans 9? I desire to read something from your own view of the text itself that states why you disagree with my interpretation of faith as the condition that "selects" some and not others.

I do not disagree with an election or "selection" process; what I disagree with is your interpretation that God elects or rejects without basis to faith. When Paul writes about the twins "not doing anything good or bad," he is referring to works of the law ("not by works but by him who calls"), not faith. Otherwise, Romans 9:30-33, the end of the chapter, would make no sense. How could Paul be saying, "God doesn't even consider on the basis of faith" but then turn around and say that the Lord has favored the Gentiles because of faith?

Unknown said...

Dear Deidre
In Romans 9:31-32 that, regardless of how the Jews may have thought of themselves as being in God's graces, the fact is that Scripture portrays them as pursuing righteousness by works, not of being overly proud of grace.

Paul writes: 31 "...but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works."

It is only the "remnant" of Jews that remained in the grace of God, and the rest in Israel were hardened in their sin; and according to Paul, this occurred in the eighth century BC before the Gentiles ever became a concern. (Romans 11:1-10)

Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


Even though the majority of the nation was pursuing righteousness by the works of the law, God did not "make" them do it; neither did He force those who believed. I'm not arguing here that they were not enabled to believe, only that they were not "made willing".

Rather, unbelief and faith are what's at stake in Paul's words in Romans 9. Paul goes on to tell the Gentiles in Romans 11:20ff that "you stand by your faith," and warns them to "continue in His kindness" or "you too, will be cut off." These words do not sound like words given to those who are "determined" by God to remain in His kindness. Rather, it reminds them that at one time, the Jews were in the grace of God; and that, even though they've fallen, the Lord will remain faithful to His covenant. However, there is no eternal security for anyone in Christ. Otherwise, how would you explain Paul's words in Romans 11?

Note that Romans 11 seems to be the conclusion of his argument. If Paul was trying to argue that God determined it all, why turn around and place the blame on the Jews? We cannot have a God who "makes willing" some and then merely "allows" others to rebel. Either God makes both "willing" and "unwilling," or He leaves the choice to each individual to decide.