Pierre Maury – The decree of election is not ….the obscure and impenetrable decision of a divinity who does not …. reveal his purpose…a capricious tyrant, no longer the God of grace but the wielder of a crushing power who is worshipped only in terror…

Below is a short passage from Pierre Maury’s work Predestination,  the second chapter entitled Election of God by God: election as a theological and not an anthropological doctrine, which was originally published as Predestination and Other Papers, translated by Edwin Hudson from the French – La Prédestination, Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1957, Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1960; London: SCM, 1960. Revised translation © Simon Hattrell, 2014. This is Maury, the pastor/theologian, speaking to delegates at the Second World Council of Churches Assembly at Evanston, Illinois, in 1954, just two years before his death.

Pierre Maury 1955

Before we proceed further, there is an important point which must be made clear. For if what we have said is true, it is obvious that the decree of election—let us say predestination here if you will—is not, as classic theology has maintained, from Augustine to Luther, Calvin and the orthodox dogmatic theologians from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century—the obscure and impenetrable decision of a divinity who does not, on this point, reveal his purposes. It was because they asserted that the absolute decree of the Creator, anterior to any creation—and even to any fall, as the Supralapsarians [1] held—was the unknowable secret of an absolute power, that predestination appalled even those who defended it with the most unflagging ardor. I think of Calvin, for instance, whom the “labyrinths” of this mystery filled with a kind of holy terror. How can it be otherwise, if we know nothing, and can know nothing, of the grounds which undergird God’s creative activity, if the liberty with which he loves us is replaced by the arbitrary decision of pure omnipotence? How can such a God, so far from being from all eternity the God of the covenant, appear in that eternity—and so in time, in which his purposes are worked out—as anything but a capricious tyrant, no longer the God of grace but the wielder of a crushing power who is worshipped only in terror? How can we be sure that he wishes to save the lost?

Of course I do not wish for a moment to detract from the mystery of God’s sovereign liberty. He wills to act only in accordance with his good pleasure (Phil 2:13), but it is a good pleasure. His entire revelation tells us so, tirelessly. There is nothing higher than his goodness, nor anterior to it. God loves always, from all eternity. And his purpose, before which, and outside which, there is none other, is to ally his life to human life in a reciprocal love. Often, moved by their sense of the worship of the divine majesty, the great teachers of predestination, especially Calvin, have exalted the mystery of the absolute decree. But why have they turned it into a mystery as impenetrable as night, the secret of an opaque God? It is not in the darkness of an eternal obscurity that God lives and makes his decision, but in light “unapproachable,” yes, but light! Darkness and night are, in the Bible, the abode of the devil, in which he prepares and makes a decision about his “works of darkness.” If there is anyone who tyrannizes man, his victim, it is the devil, not the Father “who has delivered us from the power of darkness” (Col 1:15), and “has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

It is absolutely necessary, then, to maintain the mystery of election—for God’s freedom is the sovereign liberty of the Creator, which our liberty may neither dispute nor judge: “O man, who are you to argue with God?” (Rom 9:20)—provided that we know and preach that this mystery is none other than the peace that passes understanding. It is unfathomable because the love of God is unfathomable. And the only act of worship God expects of us is our wonder at a purpose that overwhelms us.

This is all the more so, as we shall see from another (the Christocentric) point of view, since the covenant made and renewed between the Creator and his creation is made at a price—also unfathomable—which is the Cross.

[1] A Calvinistic view of predestination that maintains that in the “logical order of divine decrees” God decreed the election of some persons and the reprobation of others before allowing the Fall of Adam. Hence the decree of election is “supralapsarian.” In supralapsarianism the emphasis is on God’s predestination of uncreated and unfallen humans rather than on created and fallen humanity (sublapsarianism). Consequently, the supralapsarian view leads to the idea of double predestination: God has chosen to glorify himself by predestining certain persons to eternal life and others to eternal condemnation (S. Grenz, D. Guretzki & C. Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1999, S. 110.

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