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J. L. Dagg on Election

J. L. DaggToday, I’d like to provide some historical background to our Southern Baptist beliefs on election. The following is taken from John L. Dagg’s Manual of Theology (which can also be found online at the Founders’ Ministries website here), Book 3, Chapter III, Section 7 “Designs of Providence.” All emphases in the text below are made by me.

In the view which we have taken of God’s providential government, we have included the fact, that he so orders the events which occur, as to accomplish his purpose. This is called predestination. The purpose of God respects the end which he has in view; and also the means which he uses for the accomplishment of this end.

The doctrine of predestination teaches that no event comes to pass, which is not under the control of God; and that it is so ordered by him as to fulfil his purpose. If it would thwart his purpose, the event is prevented; or if, in part only it would conduce to his purpose, only so far is it permitted to happen. This divine control extends over all agents, animate and inanimate, rational and irrational; and is exercised over each in perfect accordance with its nature, and with all the laws of nature as originally established. Physical agents are controlled as physical agents; and moral, as moral agents. The latter act as freely as if no providence over them existed. Their ends are chosen, their means adopted, and their accountability exists, just as if there were no predestination of God in the matter. Yet God is not unconcerned in any of these acts, but overrules each and all of them according to his pleasure.

The holy men of ancient times were accustomed to view the hand of God in everything with which they had to do; and the passages of Scripture are numerous, in which God’s direction of man’s affairs and actions is taught. “A man’s heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) “The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord, as the rivers of water; he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Prov. 21:1) The gardener has his rivulet, with which he waters his beds; and, by cutting a channel here, and damming up there, he directs the fertilizing stream to whatever part of his garden he pleases; while the water, however directed, moves according to its own natural tendency. So the kings heart moves according to its own inclination; but the directing hand of God guides his movements, though freely made, to the accomplishment of such ends as infinite wisdom has designed. The passages are also numerous, which show that this direction of events is for the accomplishment of some purpose. God meant it unto good. (Genesis 1:20) All things work together for good. (Romans 8:28) Each particular event accomplishes some purpose; and the whole combined accomplishes the grand purpose, to which the particular purposes are subordinate. So he who builds a house, has, in adjusting each timber, a purpose subordinate to the general or final purpose for which the whole work was undertaken; and to the accomplishment of which, the whole is directed.

The possibility that God should possess this complete control of all things, cannot be doubted by any who admit the doctrine of necessity. Even if human volitions are absolutely contingent, his control of overt acts must be conceived to be as perfect, as on the other hypothesis. As length and breadth are necessary to constitute area, as weight and velocity are necessary to constitute force; so volition and power are necessary to constitute action. He does not act, who has the will without the power, or the power without the will. Now, power is in the hand of God, and under his perfect control; and, therefore, whatever the will may be, no overt act can be performed but by his permission; and consequently, no influence can be brought to bear on any part of God’s dominions, so as to disturb his administration. This hook God has in the nose of every rebellious subject; so that, however filled with rage, he cannot move but by God’s permission. (2 Kings 19:28)

Again, even if human volition is absolutely contingent, it is still true, that men often foretell it with sufficient certainty or probability, to know how to direct their actions with respect to it. A sagacious sovereign knows the character of his subjects, and the parties which exist in his government; and he adapts the measures of his administration to meet the exigencies as they arise. Why cannot God, on the throne of the universe, manage the affairs of his government with equal skill? A human sovereign sometimes fails for want of time to deliberate. His enemies form their schemes, and their plots proceed to their accomplishment before he is aware of their designs; and, when they are discovered, he cannot command his resources, or digest his plan, in time to meet the emergency. But God sees every budding volition; and, as all his power man be exerted at any point of space, so all the resources of his infinite wisdom can arrange his plan, while the volition is taking its form as wisely and completely as if it were the result of an eternity of deliberation. God is verily able to govern the world; and who doubts that he is willing? And our belief that God governs the world, and predestinates its various events to accomplish the counsel of his will, is not dependent on a metaphysical speculation.

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