LETTER ONE BY MRS. MARJORIE BOND
1505 Scotland Street
October 5, 1959
Dr. C.D. Cole
746 W. Noel
My Dear Dr. Cole:
Although I am a total stranger to you, my parents have known Dr. Shields over the years and take "The Witness" regularly. As a result of an article of yours which I read therein several years ago, I feel that I must write you to seek further light on this matter of Election.
Your article opened up a completely new line of thought for me; like most people, I did not subscribe to it at all (at first) but was challenged by it, even though much disturbed. Since then, I have reverted to it time and again and finally this autumn hot down to studying it in dead earnest! I read what I could of Spurgeon on the subject, Dr. Shields, and also borrowed a copy of Strong's Theology which I found rather heavy going! All in all, I have become so obsessed with this doctrine that I can scarcely think of anything else. And yet there is so much that I do not understand. I know that the "heart is deceitful above all things" and perhaps mine is deceiving me when I say that I really think the questions that arise in my mind do not stem so much from a reluctance to admit total depravity as they do from my inability to reconcile the doctrine with other passages of Scripture.
I had always thought that election and predestination was something that the Presbyterians were a little "off" on (excuse the bad grammar!). It never occurred to me that there was so much Scriptural evidence for it, or that Baptists believe it! However, I did feel that if this doctrine was taught in the Scripture, as it seemed to be, than I should know more about it and should believe it, whether I liked it or not and whether I fully understood it or not.
My mind goes round and round like a squirrel in a cage, until I am really exhausted. About the time I think I understand it and accept it, Satan seems to raise fresh doubts to plague me. It leaves one almost breathless. As after a close brush with death, to think that one might not have been elected! Truly, as never before, I can see that our salvation is all of grace. I always thought, when we spoke of salvation as being wholly of God's grace, that it meant that His plan or idea to save us was unmerited favour, since nothing in us merited His ever desiring to save us; and also, that it was a gift for which we could never possibly work or acquire sufficient righteousness to merit. But obviously grace embodies more even than this. When you realize that a person wouldn't even want salvation unless he were elected, then you realize how tremendously indebted we are to grace -- for it is grace through and through.
I have wondered sometimes if the objections which we feel towards Election are directed more towards the idea of God's complete sovereignty than towards total depravity. It seems to go against human nature to think that God can do what He likes with us and we are powerless to do anything about it.
I almost hesitate to put into words some of the objections which have come to my mind lest I should be guilty of blasphemy or sacrilege; for I have always been taught that it is a very serious thing to criticize God. And yet, in the interests of clarifying my thinking, I feel that I must confess to you some of the points about election that are troubling me and which seem to contradict other Scriptures and other doctrines.
Also, I teach a Young Women's Bible Class and we have been studying this subject (the blind leading the blind, I am afraid). We are to have an evening discussion of it on November 5th so I should like to clear up some points in my own mind before that time.
Perhaps the easiest way for you to answer would be for me to put my questions in point form:
1. Most people feel right away that Election is unjust. I realize, from your pamphlet, as well as from Scripture, that God doesn't owe it to us to save anyone and further, that He has a right to bestow the gift of salvation on whom He will. But somehow the feeling persists that if a person doesn't even get a chance to accept or reject salvation, he "goes to bat with two strikes against him" so to speak.
Before studying Election, I always thought that if anyone were even remotely interested in being saved, then, in response to prayer by interested relatives or friends, the Holy Spirit would operate on that person's heart and bring him under conviction to the place where he would decide for or against Christ.
But, ifthe only people who are going to accept Christ are those who have been "ear-marked" for salvation ahead of time, then, one feels that the rest of the race haven't had a chance, even of refusing. To what extent are they responsible for being lost?
One woman in my class, from the southern states as a matter of fact, said to me afterwards, "If this teaching is right, it makes everything seem so hopeless. I thought anyone could be saved; that the decision was theirs. But if God has decided ahead of time, they haven't a chance, no matter how much we pray for them".
I tried to point out that the whole race was lost anyway, regardless of Election. That Election of some did not mean that the others were any worse off than they would have been without Election. And yet -- with a part of me -- I know how she feels, because periodically, in spite of all my praying for light, I have the same feeling...that if you are not elected, you just don't stand a chance. You feel as if the whole matter has been taken out of your hands and you aren't given an equal chance with others.
I understand all the argument about the governor of a prison, too, and agree with it with my head! But my heart keeps saying that while it is true a man is not in prison because the governor hasn't pardoned him, but rather because of his own wrongdoing, nevertheless, the lack of a pardon keeps him there!
Is there Scripture to support the interpretation that if we were not elected, we would never have the faintest interest in salvation? I know from Romans 8:7,8 as well as other passages, that in our natural state we are at enmity with God. But I always thought that if the Holy Spirit operated on a human heart, say of someone who was showing interest in becoming a Christian, that that person then had a chance to decide whether or not to be saved. But evidently, the Holy Spirit doesn't even work on the heart of anyone who has not been elected ahead of time. Is there Scripture for that?
2. If God chooses only certain people for salvation, or enables only certain people to avail themselves of salvation, then what do you do with verses like John 3:16? I thought Christ died "for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2) not just for the elect. Spurgeon seem to think that He died only for the elect.
And what about such verses as "He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" and again "but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent". If man is powerless to repent unless he is elected, and God does not elect him, how is man responsible for not obeying God's command to repent; and, furthermore, how can it be said that God is not willing for any to perish if He doesn't enable all to be saved?
3. How do you explain the fact that sometimes a person is under great conviction but decides against salvation? Were they or were they not elected? My father, who passed away in July, was a great Christian layman and doctor and led many souls to Christ in his offices and through lay preaching. He told me a story which he either read or witnessed himself -- I have forgotten which. But a young woman attended some revival meetings night after night and appeared to be deeply moved. In fact, it was apparent to the preacher that she was under deep conviction. The last night, when the call was given, she slipped from her place and left the building. A worker followed her and heard her say, looking up to the stars, "I do not want to be a Christian. Why can't You leave me alone? I am enjoying life and my good times and I am not prepared to change my way of living. Holy Spirit, please leave me alone and don't bother me again". And, with a chilling laugh, she walked off into the night. She was killed in an accident a few hours later, if I remember rightly.
Now, what I want to know is this: was she elected, and if she were not, how did she get under conviction in the first place? Would the Holy Spirit waste time, so to speak, convicting someone of sin whom God had not even elected? If she were elected, why didn't she come? I thought election meant that you had to come whether you realized it or not. Is it possible for certain people to be chosen for salvation but for them, in the exercise of their free wills, to reject it?
4. Also, please explain the verse "many are called, but few are chosen". If that verse said "many are called but few accept" I could understand it. But I do not distinguish between "calling" and "choosing". I would have thought they were the same.
5. Finally, in spite of all the arguments to the contrary, I find myself caught up in a sort of fatalistic attitude -- that what is to be will be. Perhaps this stems more from my reading on the sovereignty of God than from Election. But I find myself arguing thus, "If God has a plan for every individual and every nation, if He ordains the powers that be, and sets up kings and disposes of them, etc., if He is completely sovereign, then He is going to work out His will regardless of Satan's efforts to thwart Him or man's failure to his part".
You say that because Election is a secret matter, we must witness anyway and leave the results to God. True. But on the other hand, I can't see that it matters whether we know or whether we don't since God knows who is elected and will save a person whether we do our bit or not. Just because I fail to witness, God is not going to be thwarted in His design to save certain people. The very fact that God has chosen them is sufficient to ensure that they will be saved whether we witness or not, for the simple reason that God is sovereign and has already elected them for salvation. I agree that I don't know who is elected and who is not. But I don't have to. They are going to be saved anyway if God wills it.
I read in Strong's Theology that our prayers never change God's mind, the idea being that as we grow in our Christian experience and live closer to God, we shall learn to pray for those things that are according to God's purpose for us; therefore He can answer our prayer.
But again -- if He has plans for individuals or nations, they will be brought to fruition without our prayers. If this is so, then, what we think have been answers to prayers are only the fulfilment of a divine plan that would have been accomplished quite as well without our prayer. But, because we cannot see the future, we think we have prevailed with God and so we say He has answered our prayer. But, since He planned a certain course for us, it would have come about that way in any event. Do you see what I am trying to say?
I always thought that, to a certain extent, we did prevail with God providing we were not asking for something outside of His will -- by that I mean His pleasure or permissive will rather than a fixed, premeditated plan. I guess I thought, for instance, that if a loved one were sick and the Lord didn't have any actual decision made that that was the time they were to die, He would spare their life in answer to prayer. But according to sovereignty, the reason He spared it was simply because He wasn't ready for them to die yet, therefore my prayer had nothing to do with it. They would have recovered in any event. If that were His foreordained plan, or died if that were His plan.
If prayer doesn't change God's mind, then what use was there in Abraham interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah? God would have saved 50 or 40 or 10 in any event if they had been found. Or Moses interceding for Israel. God had a plan for Israel that He would carry out regardless of Moses' prayer so that Moses and the rest of us just pray for something that is bound to happen whether or not we pray! To me that defeats the whole purpose of prayer. It almost makes one feel that we are deluded into thinking we are accomplishing something by prayer, whereas in reality it has all been decided upon ahead of time. Now, for instance, in the case of Mueller's Orphanage. God had a plan for that work which would be carried to fruition since He is sovereign. If prayer doesn't carry any weight with God, so to speak insofar as influencing Him, then would that milk truck have broken down in front of the Orphanage (thereby supplying milk for all those children) whether Mueller had spent the night on his knees or not? According to theologians, it was not Mueller's prayers that resulted in the seemingly miraculous supply of milk for the orphanage, but just part of a plan that would have come to pass anyway. Mueller might just as well have spent the night in bed as on his knees. I don't understand it. To me, such reasoning contradicts James 5:16 and others which teach importunate prayer. I wonder sometimes if the trouble is not with men's interpretations of Scripture rather than with Scripture itself.
This is a terribly long letter and I do apologize for being so wordy. But this subject is too vast, I guess, to be covered by correspondence. How I wish I could sit down and talk with you.
I am keeping a copy of this letter so that I can refer to it when your answer comes. I do hope you will not think I am imposing on you; but your pamphlet has really stirred me up. I can see where election is indeed a wonderful doctrine if only it didn't seem to contradict other Scriptures.
I hope and pray that you can give me more light and that you won't be offended with such a long letter from a stranger.
With heartfelt thanks in anticipation of your reply, I am
Signed: Marjorie Bond
(Mrs. Marjorie Bond)