For several years, I have considered myself to be a so-called “5 point Calvinist” (though Particular Baptist is more accurate), yet one who rejects what I understood to be sublapsarianism (often called double predestination, or hyper-Calvinism). My reason for so is not because of any belief that adhering to double predestination makes God cruel or otherwise unrighteous – for my acceptance of limited (or more accurately, particular) atonement precludes this thinking – but rather 2 Peter 3:9, which reads “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” and also Matthew 25:41, which tells that the lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels. (More on this later.)
Therefore, I rejected the claims of some, such as the estimable Gotquestions.org, who claims that belief in limited atonement requires a belief in sublapsarianism. Instead, I felt that both limited atonement and infralapsarianism were Biblical, that Theodore Beza and fellow travelers exceeded the evidence of the Bible in articulating sublapsarianism. That is, until – when going to a fast food restaurant to get a bite to eat (bad decision; it made my belly bitter, so to speak!) – I happened to listen to a bit of the Janet Mefferd radio show. Ms. Mefferd’s show frustrates me, as I find it to be a curious mix of religious right politics (which I detest) and very bold, principled theologians! It happens that this particular day, a particular theologian that she was discoursing with (and neither she nor he saw fit to reveal his name!) was discussing the nature of God’s divine love (in contrast with carnal emotionalism that is now taken by the fallen world to mean love) and in the process mentioned Proverb 16:4 and Romans 9:21-23.
First Romans 9:21-23. “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? [What] if God, willing to shew [his] wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory”? But Paul was merely asking a rhetorical question, as he is known to do from time to time such is in 2 Corinthians 11:23, right? Except that Proverb 16:4 reads “The LORD hath made all [things] for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.” And that text appears in a passage that begins with “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, [is] from the LORD” in verse 1! My problem: I do not use the Proverbs as a source of theology I guess!
And Spurgeon.org gave 1 Peter 2:8 and Jude 4 for more information on the topic. (Note: Spurgeon.org, a 5 point site, corrects some of the faulty assumptions in Gotquestions.org, a 4 point site. Those texts read, respectively “And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, [even to them] which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed” and “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” There it is, explicitly laid out. Where perhaps I can get a “pass” for not allowing texts from Proverbs to influence my theology to any great degree (then again I guess I cannot, because I allow Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon and Psalms to do so greatly), the meaning and application of the other texts simply flew past me. 1 Peter 2:8, I simply read the appointment of the wicked in that text apart from the appointment – the election! – of the righteous in 1 Peter 2:9-10. “But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past [were] not a people, but [are] now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Jude 1:4 … I just flat out missed the meaning of “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation.” But in light of those, how can the case for sublapsarianism be denied?
That gets me back to my reason for doing so: 2 Peter 3:9 and Matthew 25:41. Here is my problem – which I have just now realized – for many years I believed that “The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance for the hell was everlasting fire [was] prepared (as in only originally intended) for the devil and his angels” was a Bible text. Why? Because I have heard PLENTY of sermons where those two textual fragments were juxtaposed, so I erroneously believed them to form one text. It is only now that I for the first time know that they are portions of separate texts that are several books apart. And when evaluating these fragments individually, and in context, the problem is resolved. Matthew 25:41 reads “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels”, and in it our Lord Jesus Christ is merely describing the final status of the wicked, with “prepared for the devil and his angels” as a descriptive clause. There is no way to assert from the context, either there or from the entirety of scripture, that the lake of fire was originally created only for demons, and that God adjusted His original plan to send men there too after the fall (and after an attempt at universal salvation failed?)! That exceeds even “predestined foreknowledge” Wesleyanism and fully into the camp of open theism, meaning that God was forced to react and adjust to circumstances that He had no knowledge of or control over. ‘Tis heresy that denies God’s omnipotence and omniscience!
2 Peter 3:9 is much simpler. Its context was people doubting the return of Jesus Christ because it had not happened yet: see “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as [they were] from the beginning of the creation” of verses 3 and 4 of this same chapter. This text DOES NOT MEAN that God was attempting to save everybody, for being God and by definition omnipotent, God would not have TRIED to save everyone and FAILED. Had God TRIED to save everyone, THEN EVERYONE WOULD BE SAVED. Or had it been God’s WILL to save everyone, THEN EVERYONE WOULD BE SAVED. A fundamental, nonnegotiable fact of Biblical revelation is that God’s will shall come to pass! Otherwise, there is no point in even so much as saying the Lord’s Prayer! Faith would be pointless, because everything would be reduced to chance. Maybe God can come through for us this time, maybe He can’t! That would reduce religion to being a mere lottery, and it would confirm the false doctrines of the evolutionists and big bang theorists, who have created an entire religious, ideological, and pseudo-scientific system on the idea that chance, random uncaused events, is the creator and sustainer of all things!
Instead, Peter was informing the church that the reason why Jesus Christ had not yet returned was so that all of the elect, everyone predestined to salvation, would be saved! (Consider another problem with the alternative interpretation: if the return of Jesus Christ was delayed because God does not want anyone to go to the lake of fire, then why not begin human history with the atonement, instead of allowing many thousands of years to pass first? Also, no matter how long Jesus Christ’s return is coming, people are still going to the lake of fire, a fact that we know from the Bible! So, God would be delaying the return of Jesus Christ because of something that He already knows to be a failed hope! To put it another way, God is withholding the return of Jesus Christ to restore creation as a consequence of His own failure to save it! Again, a heretical, blasphemous thought that no Christian should have on his mind!) Peter is not an innovator in tying the return of Jesus Christ to the completion of God’s plan to convert sinners into saints. In the Olivet discourse, Jesus Christ stated that the end of time will not come until the gospel is preached to all nations (Mark 13:10, Matthew 24:24). Paul stated that the endtimes will not come until the Gentile mission is complete (Romans 11:25-26).
So, now that I know what the Bible actually says instead of what I believed it to say, I have no problems with accepting the doctrine of sublapsarianism. Further, allow me to say that knowing more about God and His plan to save His people should make you more willing to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus Christ instead of less, for you will know that your salvation and eternal fate is not your own doing or responsibility, but has been planned for you by an omniscient, omnipotent God who cannot fail! If you have not done so already, do so today!