Martin Bucer (1491-1551) on Predestination

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in God who Ordains


THE GREEK WORD proorismos means literally ‘predetermination’,1 though the common rendering is ‘predestination’. St. Paul, in fact, uses the verb proorizein to signify two things: fist, the election of the saints and their separation from the remaining polluted mass2 of lost mankind (what Scripture denotes by the word hibdîl, which is used by the Lord when he speaks of the election of his own people out of the rest of the nations),3 and secondly, the election of the saints before they are even born.4 Now the apostle’s objective in this passage (in Romans 8) is to teach us that God destined us for salvation before we were born, let alone before we had performed any good works.

From this fact he proceeds to demonstrate that this purpose of God for our salvation is fixed and unshakeable and cannot be frustrated by any of his creatures, because God adopted it on his own initiative and out of his own kindness, which cannot change, and not out of any regard for our merit, which always fluctuates so wretchedly.

Hence foreknowledge, predetermination and election5 are at this point one and the same thing, so to speak; for God chose us in Christ before the foundations of the world were laid, having predetermined (proorisas) us to adoption as sons.6

Predetermination (proorismos), then, which we commonly call ‘predestination’, is that act of designation on the part of God whereby in his secret counsel he designates and actually selects and separates from the rest of mankind those whom he will draw to his Son, Jesus our Lord, and engraft them into him (having brought them into this life at his own good time [410], and whom, when thus drawn and ingrafted, he will regenerate through Christ and will sanctify to fulfill his purposes. This, then, as I have said, is the predestination of the saints.

There is in addition a general predestination. Proorismos means simply ‘predetermination’, and God accomplishes all things by his predeterminate counsel,7 assigning each and every thing to its own use, and so separating it from other things as far as this its use is concerned. If you require a definition of this general predetermination it is the assigning of each thing to its own purpose, whereby before creating them God destines all things severally from eternity to some fixed use. In this sense there is even a predestination of the wicked, for just as God forms them also out of nothing, so he forms them for a definite end. God does everything in wisdom, not excepting the predetermined and good use of the wicked,8 for even the godless are the skeuē the tools and instruments, of God, and ‘God has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked man for the day of evil’.9 The theologians, however, refuse to call this ‘predestination’, preferring ‘reprobation’ instead.10 Nonetheless, God does all things well and wisely, and so does nothing except by chosen design. He gave Pharaoh up to a depraved mind and raised him up for the purpose of showing his power in punishing him; Esau too he hated before he had done any evil.11 Scripture speaks in terms as plain as these. Indeed, who will deny that when God formed these and all the wicked he foreknew before he made them the purposes for which he wished to use them, and that he ordained and destined them for those ends? So what prevents us calling it ‘predestination’ in their case too? At any rate, none of the wicked does God fail to put to a good use, and in every act of sin on our part there is some good work of God. But both in the present passage and in Ephesians 1 the apostle used the word proorizein when dealing with the certainty of God’s goodwill towards his saints, and hence the divine predestination of which he is speaking here is the marking out of the saints for participation in salvation. Ths, however, is not the reason why many assert predestination only of the saints, and reprobation of the wicked, but because it seems to them unworthy of God to say that he has predetermined anyone to perdition. Nevertheless, Scripture does not shrink from stating that God abandons certain men to a depraved mind and works in them to their ruin;12 why, then, is it unworthy of God to say that he had also decided in advance to abandon them to a depraved mind and work in them to their ruin? But it is intolerable to human reason that some men should by God be hardened, blinded and given up to a reprobate mind, and this is why it is thought impious to ascribe to God the predetermining and destining of anyone to these fates. For the intellect recognizes that among men a person who blinded his servant and then, when he required of him some service which he could not fulfill except by sight, punished him for not carrying out his orders, would be condemned as utterly unjust and cruel. By the same touchstone man proceeds to pass judgment on God too, and decrees that it is unjust of him to require of those whom he himself hardens, blinds and abandons to a spirit of depravity, the kind of lie that no man can live unless for this very purpose God himself has regenerated and enlightened him and given him a new and upright spirit, and that it is cruel of him to punish such men for committing the sort of offences that are produced by their hardness, blindness and depravity of mind. The unsettlement occasioned by this verdict of our reason has led some so far astray as to claim, contrary to countless explicit utterances of holy Scripture, that God will in the end enlighten and save all the wicked.13 Others, however, who have maintained a straightforward and universal belief in holy Scripture have begun to interpret ‘hardened, blinded, handed over to depravity’ in terms of ‘withdrew his Spirit from, allowed to be hardened and blinded‘. But neither course can satisfy the human intellect, for it is unable to acknowledge the justice with which God even temporarily blinds, hardens and gives up to a depraved disposition men from whom he demands a life in all parts righteous and holy. It also cannot fail to judge it inhuman that God even allows men to fall when he alone can save them from falling, and cruel, that he punishes the fallen when, bereft of his aid, they could not help falling.

We must accordingly reject the judgment of reason in this area, and confess that the judgments of God are ‘a great abyss and inscrutable, yet righteous. For God is just in all his ways, even when to our reason he seems otherwise.14 Therefore we must confess that God justly demands of us a holy life adorned with every virtue, and justly also hardens, blinds and abandons [411] to a spirit of depravity whom he will, and finally justly condemns and punishes them, while to us is to be assigned all the blame for our perdition.15

Consequently, once it is agreed that it belongs to God’s glory to declare that he hardens, blinds and gives up to depraved reason whom he chooses, it will be obvious that it can also be said that God foreknew and ordained these very people for such a fate before he created them; for he accomplishes all things according to a predetermined and settled plan. However, it must be observed at this point that for God the final object in the case of those he hardens and blinds and overthrows is not their perdition. It is for his own sake and his own glory that God made all things, even ‘the wicked for the day of evil’, and hence the words of the Lord to Pharaoh were, ‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth‘.16 Indeed, everywhere in the Scriptures the glory of the Lord is declared to be the goal of his avenging the wicked. Therefore, when proclaiming the casting down of all nations with terrible vengeance Isaiah repeats several times the phrase, ‘The Lord alone will be exalted in that day’ 17 But nonetheless, the Lord himself vaunts the fact that the perdition of the wicked is for him the immediate goal when he blinds and hardens them,18 for when he is speaking in Isaiah 6 of the hardening and blinding of the wicked he adds this reason, ‘Lest they repent and I heal them’. So too, in chapter 9 of the Epistle below. the wicked are called ‘instruments of wrath, formed and fitted (katērtismena) for destruction’.19

The nature of predestination, then, should now be clear. In general it is the divine assigning of each thing to its own purpose, but the predestination of the saints, which is the apostle’s subject here, is the election and destining of the saints for eternal salvation. Now to the second part of our inquiry: why should we consider predestination? The teaching of Philip Melanchthon answers this very devoutly and faithfully: it is solely in order that you may be more certain of your salvation and may cleave more firmly to the promises of God.20 The fist demand God makes of us is to believe that he is God, that is, the Savior, so that when we hear him summoning to himself all who are afflicted and distressed21 we, hasten eagerly to him. Now if those whom God calls heed his call, he has assuredly predestined and foreknown them, and will also justify and glorify them. Therefore, the first duty you owe to God is to believe that you have been predestined by him, because unless you believe that, you represent him as making sport of you when he calls you to salvation through the gospel. For by the gospel he summons you to justification and to share his glory, but these can be experienced only by those who have been predestined, foreknown and elected to do so. All God’s works are wrought in wisdom, and therefore by predetermined design. Consequently, if you doubt that you are predestined, you are also bound to doubt that you have been called to salvation, that you are justified, and that finally you are to be glorified: which means that you are bound to doubt every promise concerning your salvation and to doubt the gospel itself, that is to say, to believe God for nothing at all of what he offers you in the gospel. For it is true believers who have eternal lie, and they can no more doubt that they have it than doubt the Lord’s promise that ‘He who believes in me has eternal life’.22

From these comments, then, it will be quite evident that the reason why we and others should reflect upon God’s predestination is so that our faith in the promise of God may be strengthened by the knowledge that, as the apostle here affirms, the saints may have complete certainty that those whom God has predestined he will also call, justify and glorify, and those whom he has already called he has also undoubtedly foreknown and predetermined. Ths is the purpose behind every mention by the apostle of election and predestination, wherever it occurs. If we ponder this carefully with regard to ourselves, our confidence in God will be increased and with it our love for him and for every good thing, just as, when we entertain doubt as to our predestination, along with disregard and enmity for God all kinds of evil find an entrance. Therefore, we must reject as the source of every damaging temptation the question ‘Are we predestined?‘ For as we have said, the person who is doubtful on this score will be unable to believe that he has been called and justified, which means that he cannot be a Christian. We must confidently trust, therefore, as the foundation of faith, that we have all been foreknown, predetermined, separated from the rest and chosen by God to this end, that we may enjoy eternal salvation, and this is God’s immutable purpose. Hence we must direct our whole attention and concern [412] to our response to this predestination and calling of God, so that we may work together with God unto eternal lie, according to the strength which the Lord has ever supplied and for whose increase we ought unceasingly to pray.

But perhaps you are wondering about words such as ‘Many are called but few chosen’, and ‘Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does my will’.23 The former saying, ‘Many are called but few chosen’, refers to the fact that many are called through the gospel who nevertheless do not come to Christ, because they are not elect. As for yourself, therefore, believe the gospel and you have come.24 Then henceforth there will be no possibility of doubt in your case that you are foreknown, called according to his purpose, predestined and elect. The other saying, however, ‘Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord”, is meant to stimulate you to a keener zeal for the will of God, for that is why the Lord said it, not in order to engender doubts about your calling and election. Indeed, it is true that the greater your zeal for righteousness, the stronger will be your own and others’ certainty as to your calling and election,25 for an earnest zeal for righteousness is so signal a gift of God as to be granted only to the predestined and elect. Thus a serious devotion to righteousness is complete proof that a man is predestined and elect. But because all our righteousness is so maimed and mutilated that by its merit alone we could never be assured of our salvation (for it fails to satisfy the law of God), assurance of our predestination and election is to be sought only from the promise and ca1lng of God, and our attention must always be directed away from our own righteousness, which of itself is permanently an abomination in the sight of God, towards the divine promise. For the verse in the second Epistle ascribed to St. Peter–’Moreover, brethren, be more zealous to confirm your calling and election, for if you do this you will never fall’–is not to be understood as if the stability of our election and calling depended to any degree on our works. Rather, by being zealous for good works we fulfill the purpose for which we have been called and elected, or, better still, we devote ourselves to working together with the Lord for its accomplishment. By ‘election and ca1lng’ here is meant the life to which we are chosen and called, and so the subsequent words, ‘If you do this you will never fall’, amount to this: ‘From the way of the Lord which is your ca1lng and election you will never fall away’, though of course we must guard against it by the earnest pursuit of godliness with the help of the Lord.

Therefore, every passage of Scripture that in order to expose hypocrisy and stimulate zeal for purity bids us examine our own works and testifies that without a genuine zeal for living to please the Lord we call upon him in vain, should be understood and considered by us in such a way that, abandoning self-confidence and counting all our righteousness as nothing, we fist of all strengthen our confidence in the divine goodness and then, with the kindling thereby of a sound hope in God and our Lord Jesus Christ, ardently desire to’ render ourselves acceptable to him. As a result we shall soon be stimulated to aspire to an unfaltering zeal in mortifying our flesh and pursuing righteousness. For the present these remarks must suffice as to the reason why we should reflect upon God’s predestination.

Misunderstanding of the holy Fathers has sometimes given rise to the erroneous idea that our good works are in some sense the cause of our predestination, on the grounds that God foresees that his own people will embrace the offer of his grace and make worthy use of his gifts, and for this reason predestines and predetermines them to salvation. But this is an error that even St. Thomas correctly refutes in saying that anything good in us is the effect of predestination.26 What indeed can God foresee in us, who come into being from nothing, except what he has determined in his goodness to give us? There can be absolutely nothing in us, therefore, which God might take into account in predetermining us to future salvation; his own good pleasure decides all that he does and gives to us. Of course, one effect of predestination becomes the cause of another: the inspiration of the Holy Spirit creates soundness of judgment, a sound judgment issues in uprightness of will, an upright will produces holiness of conduct, and holy conduct obtains the reward which the Lord of his boundless goodness bestows on it. But all of these are the result solely of the unmerited kindness of God. It is established, therefore, that our confidence of salvation ought to be strengthened by the consideration of predestination, but assurance of predestination must on no account be sought from our own works but from the divine promise. And so [413] for the sake of confirming our faith predestination should be kept continually in mind, but we must never allow doubts to be cast upon it from any source.

The third part of our inquiry is whether predestination abolishes the freedom of the will. We shall be speaking at greater length on the subject in a later chapter,27 but reflection on the nature of the freedom of the will and a firm grasp on the results of our present discussion of predestination should leave us without any uncertainty on this issue. Now the freedom of the will is the faculty of acting according to one’s own choice and decision without any compulsion. Notice that I say ‘without compulsion’, not ‘without necessity’, for God of necessity wills what is right and cannot will otherwise, and yet has the highest freedom of will.28 We too at the last will enjoy complete liberty when we shall no longer be able to will what is evil and shall necessarily will what is good.

Freedom of will, therefore, and free will (that is, autexousion) is the capacity for acting according to your own decision, so that you act on your own initiative and are not acted upon contrary to your wish to be acted upon, and this excludes any power which compels or constrains you against your will but not the God-given invariability and necessity of doing right. Predestination, as this discussion will have made clear, is the divine marking out of the saints to be partakers of everlasting salvation through Christ the Lord, Salvation in turn means the enjoyment by the inspiration of God’s Spirit of perfect discernment and soundness of judgment in respect of what is truly good, and the pursuit of the same with persistent and unflagging zeal. In fact, at the consummation of our salvation when every error and every corruption of our nature is dispelled, we shall be able to approve and seek after nothing but what is truly good. It therefore follows that, far from destroying the freedom of the will, predestination alone really establishes it. For the Spirit of true freedom who enables you to approve the good for yourself and pursue it of your own choice, on your own initiative, compelled by no one against your will, becomes yours only because God has foreknown and predetermined you to be inspired and directed by this Spirit. It is hardly freedom at all to embrace evil instead of good; it is rather the error and bondage of Satan. True freedom, as St. Augustine shrewdly wrote, is ‘to do what you will, and to will what makes for salvation‘.29 To be in the grip of a depraved spirit and a shameful and eternally ruinous lusting for evil is more truly captivity than servitude, as the apostle teaches in chapter 7 of the Epistle. In our folly we suppose that freedom involves the ability to accept or reject the life of God, when in reality its rejection is the work of the wretched slavery and captivity of sin. True freedom of the will consists in living according to the commandments of God of your own spontaneous decision and volition, and even with love and the keenest zeal. Predestination cannot destroy this since it alone establishes it.

And so this too is now clear, that the certainty of salvation which is based on predestination in no degree detracts from the freedom of the will, but in fact perfects it. As St. Augustine wrote, never more truly, ‘As God can never make a mistake, so none of the predestined can fail to be saved’.30

Our discussion of so pregnant a theme has been very brief. but whoever reverently ponders these remarks will readily equip himself on the subject of predestination so well that nothing will be hid from him of what we can know about predestination to the promotion of godliness. In commenting on the next chapter of the Epistle we will treat of God’s innocence of the guilt of our perdition when he does not predestine us to salvation but even rejects and hardens us.31

Martin Bucer, “Predestination,” in Common Places of Martin Bucer, trans., and ed., D.F. Wright (England: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1972), 96-105. [Some reformatting; footnotes and values original; bracketed inserts original; some spelling modified; and underlining mine.]


1Bucer’s word here is praefinitio, In view of the undertone of meaning attaching to predetermnation’, ‘foreordination’ might have seemed a preferable rendering, However, ‘predetmination’ preserves the mot meaning of the Greek which Bucer is anxious to bring out in hi Latin, and so we have used it consistently in this extract. The verb proorizein occurs in Rom. 8. 29 f.

2‘polluted mass’–colluvies.

3Bucer refers to Lev. 20. 24 ff. and Numb. 16.9.

4It is not completely clear whether Bucer ascribe to Paul two different meanings of proorizein or is speaking. of two aspects of one meaning. If rte former seems more likely, it is then difficult to imagine how he would have divided Paul’s uses of the verb (Rom. 8. 29 f.; Eph. 1.

5praescire, praefinire, praeeligere.

6Eph. 1.4 f.

7Cf. Acts 2, 23; Eph. 1. 11.

8. . . omnia, nihil non ad malorum, praefinitum, et bonum usum (?).

9Rom. 9. 22, Provo 16.4.

10Cf., for instance, Peter Lombard, Sentences 1. 40. 1, 4 (PL 192, 631 f.), Aquinas, Summa Theol. 1. 23. 3, Summa contra Gentiles 3. 163. This was also true of Duns Scotus and William of Occam, and of Gabriel Biel; see H. A. Oberman, The Harvest af Medieval Theology: Gabriel Bid and Late Medieval Nominalism, 2nd edit., Grand Rapids, 1967, pp. 187 f.

11Cf. Rom. 1. 28, 9.17,13, Mal. 1. 2 f.

12Cf. Rom. 1. 24, 26, 28, and perhaps also Rom. 9.22, 11. 7 ff., 1 Pet. 2. 8, Jude 4.

13Several of the leading figures in the ‘Radical Reformation’ believed in at least the possibility of the ultimate salvation ‘Of all men, and even of demonic beings as well (cf. G. H. Williams, The Radical Reformation, London, 1962, pp. 843 f.). Conspicuous among these were Hans Denck (who was opposed by Bucer over his belief inter alia in universal salvation when he took refuge in Strasbourg for a short period late in 1526 (ibid., pp. 159 f., 252, with literature noted there; Eells, p. 581; the universalist tendency in Denck’s thought can be observed in convenient translation of his Whether God is the Cause of Evil by Willams in LCC 25, 86-111), Sebastian Franck, Melchior Hofmann and Balthasar Hubmaier. Such Anabaptist exponents of the doctrine of apocatastasis were not above appealing to the speculations of Origen in the same direction. Further documentation of this aspect of the confrontation with the Radicals in Strasbourg can be consulted in Krebs-Rott, of. Index s.v. ‘Wiederbringung’, 2, p. 541.

14Cf. Ps. 36. 6, Rom. 11. 33, Ps. 145. 17.

15At this point Bucer refers to his discussions of this subject above on pp. 70-3 of the Commentary (on Rom. 1. 24), and below on pp, 455-60 (On Rom. 9. 18).

16Rom. 9.17, quoting Exod. 9.16.

171sa. 2.11,17; cf. 19, 21.

18At proximum tamen finem, perditionem malorum sibi esse, dum excaecat et indurat eos, Dominus ipse gloriatur. Cf. Isa. 6. 10.

19Rom. 9. 22.

20Cf. Melanchthon, Loci Communes, 1535, soo. ‘On Predestination’ (CR 21, 451 ff.).

21Cf. Matt. 11. 28.

22John 3. 15.

23Matt. 22. 14, 7. 21.

24Tu ergo crede Evangelio et venisti. Cf. Augustine, credendo venisti; crede et venis; crede et manducasti, etc. (Sermon 30.10, CCL 41, 389; Sermon 131. 2, PL 38, 730; Homiles on John’s Gospel 25. 12, CCL 36,254). Similar formulae are frequent in Luther.

25Cf. 2 Pet. 1. 10.

26Aquinas, Summa Theol. 1. 23. 2, 5.

27I.e., pp. 460-5 Of the Commentary, on chapter 9. 14-21 on the Epistle, translated in this volume, ch. 5.

28The same distinction between sinning of necessity and sinning by compulsion was made by Luther (The Enslaved Will, W A 18, 634) and Calvin (Institutes 2. 3. 5, LCC 20, 294 ff.)

29These words do not appear to be a direct quotation from Augustine. For statements that are more or less close to Bucer’s words of. Homiles an John’s Gospel 41. 8, 10 (CCL 36, 362 f.), The Grace of Christ and Original Sin 1. 14 (CSEL 42, 137), Grace and Free Will 7 (PL 44, 886), The Perfection of Man’s Righteousness 4 (9) (PL 44, 295 f.), Unfinished Work Against Julian 1. 86, 93, 3. 120 (PL 45, 1105, 1110, 1298).

30 ‘words which we cited a short while ago from his work Rebuke and Grace‘, i.e., Rebuke and Grace 14 (PL 44, 924), quoted by Bucer on p. 405 of the Commentary an Romans (1562 edition).

31See n. 15 above.

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