God's Eternal Predestination

John Knox

Originally Printed In 1560

Posted On March 20, 2021

An answer to a great number of blasphemous cavillations written by an Anabaptist and Adversary to GOD’S ETERNAL PREDESTINATION, and confuted by John Knox, minister of God’s Word in Scotland. Wherein the author so discovereth the craft and falsehood of that sect, that the godly knowing that error, may be confirmed in the truth by the evident Word of God. By JOHN KNOX, Minister of the Gospel in Scotland. With a short Editorial on Divine Reprobation included at the Conclusion of this volume. LONDON, 1591. ORIGINALLY PRINTED – GENEVA, 1560.

Introduction: During the years, 1558-1559, {which are most associated with the time period that John Knox wrote this particular book,} Knox was living in Geneva Switzerland, having previously served a congregation of English-speaking refugees in Dieppe, France, and a similar type of congregation in Hamburg, Germany. At this point Martin Luther had already been dead for about 13 years, Queen Elizabeth I was just ascending the throne, and the University of Geneva {a theological seminary} was first opened {1559} by John Calvin. Prior to these years Knox had spent 19 months as a galley slave on a French Warship until the English Government obtained his release sometime in February of 1549. At this point England was being ruled {under a regency} by the young Protestant King Edward VI, with Thomas Crammer as Archbishop of Canterbury. Soon after his arrival in England, Knox was sent by Crammer to Newcastle upon Tyne, and there appointed preacher of Newcastle Cathedral, and was soon thereafter summoned to London to preach before the King himself. In his first sermon before the King, he advocated a change for the second edition of the Book of Common Prayer, as it was felt by Knox that the liturgy which required worshippers to kneel during communion lacked any Scriptural warrant. Whilst in England his preaching was faithful & forcible, and meticulously calculated to repeatedly strike at the root of Popery by boldly pronouncing the pope to be antichrist, and the whole system erroneous and anti-scriptural. Such faithful preaching would make his messages to stink in the nostrils of all that sought to elevate the blind traditions of men above Scripture, ever stressing here, as in all his writings, that all that we attempt to perform in the way of worship must have clear biblical warrant. Knox would repeatedly stress that all worship invented by man is idolatry, and such uncompromising devotedness to the sacred scriptures would characterize his ministry throughout the years.

Knox would remain in England until the death of King Edward VI, as Edward’s successor, the ‘bloody’ Queen Mary Tudor would do all in her power to re-establish Roman Catholicism in England and restore the idolatrous Mass in all the churches, leaving the country no longer safe for Protestant preachers. In 1558, Knox, {although urged by both Heinrich Bullinger and John Calvin to use caution regarding female magistrates,} published {anonymously in Geneva} his First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, in which pamphlet he sought to affirm that all government by women was “repugnant to nature, an offense to God, and finally, the subversion of good order.” Interestingly enough, Calvin and Beza both initially reacted by banning the sale of the book in Geneva; and it is thought that it was the printing of this book that actually delayed his call to return to Scotland around 1559, as Queen Elizabeth, now on the throne, {furious because of this book which spoke out against female monarchs,} refused to allow Knox a safe passage through England; and it is thought that during this six month period in which he lingered in Geneva that he wrote, at the request made from brethren in England, this, his largest theological treatise, on the subject of God’s Predestination. The book fully titled, “An Answer to a Great Number of Blasphemous Cavillations Written by an Anabaptist, and Adversary to God’s Eternal Predestination, and Confuted by John Knox, Minister of God’s Word in Scotland, wherein the Author so discovereth the craft and falsehood of that Sect, that the godly may be confirmed in the truth by the evident Word of God,” was printed in Geneva on November 13, 1559, and was a chapter by chapter reply to a book then circulating in England, entitled, “Careless by Necessity.”

This work, written by an Anabaptist, denied the doctrine of God’s Predestination, and attempted to untie the thread of God’s predestinating purpose that governs all things in Christ, by futile arguments that differ none whatsoever from similar arguments found in virtually every author that throughout the ages has hopelessly attempted the same. In this treatise Knox linked the Anabaptists with other advocates of free will, both past and present, and regarded them as a group to be dreaded more than the Papists. To him these Anabaptists were “more dangerous, and more to be feared. For under the color and cloak of mortification of the flesh, of godly life, and of Christian righteousness, they are become privy blasphemers of Christ Jesus, supplanters of his dignity, and manifest enemies to the free justification which cometh by faith in his blood.” Knox regarded their teachings as “most horrible and absurd,” as “rotten heresies” and “damnable error.” He considered the holders of such opinions as “blasphemers,” “venomous liars” and “vile slaves of proud Lucifer,” in all their futile attempts to dethrone the LORD from his exalted position as that exclusive ONE that governs all things according to his predestinating purpose in Christ. Knox’s view was that God’s Decree of Predestination is all-comprehensive, whereby for His own glory alone, the LORD hath most immutably, unconditionally and efficaciously pre-determined whatsoever comes to pass, whereby all things are absolutely controlled, maintained and preserved in such a way that all, without exception, lead to the end which He hath determined. It is the fixed, determined purpose and counsel of God, in which He has ordained irrevocably the destiny of all things, before they are brought to pass, in the exact order and succession of events that He has determined in His infinite wisdom. This is a foundation truth of all real theology. God is the great Originator, Initiator & Architect of all his creation!

Knox would point out that in contrast to that Government of Grace that rests securely upon the shoulders of Christ; these false systems of theology and philosophy begin with man, who in some twisted manner somehow make God subject to his whims, choice and will; which system of belief is in essence completely atheistic and can only make infidels of its adherents. The Arminian world is the world of the atheist, and not the world of the Christian; and in this natural world of self-delusion & theological blunder he shall abide, unless the LORD, {“in the beginning God” – the foundation of all theology,} by a sheer act of his sovereign & distinguishing grace dispels the darkness of his mind, enlightening his understanding to the acknowledgement of the absolute sovereignty of God’s grace in the salvation of those freely chosen in Christ Jesus. Knox, understanding the vital importance of the truth which he contended for in this volume, wrote in its first few opening pages, “but I say, that the doctrine of God’s Eternal Predestination is so necessary to the Church of God, that, without the same, can faith neither be truly taught, neither surely established; man can never be brought to true humility and the knowledge of himself; neither yet can he be ravished in admiration of God’s eternal goodness, and so moved to praise him as appertaineth. And therefore, we fear not to affirm, that so necessary as it is that true faith be established in our hearts that we be brought to unfeigned humility and that we be moved to praise him for his free graces received; so necessary also is the doctrine of God’s Eternal Predestination. For first, there is no way more proper to build and establish faith, than when we hear and undoubtedly do believe that our election {which the Spirit of God doth seal in our hearts} consisteth not in ourselves, but in the eternal and immutable good pleasure of God, and that in such absolute authority that it cannot be overthrown, neither by the raging storms of the world, nor by the assaults of Satan; neither yet by the wavering and weakness of our own flesh. Then only is our salvation in assurance, when we find the cause of the same in the bosom and counsel of God.”

Asserting free grace throughout this treatise Knox often shifts the emphasis of any particular doctrine or practice to the broader spectrum of God’s design for salvation in Christ before the foundation of the world, with a repeated emphasis upon a believer’s standing IN Christ. “And we fear not to affirm, that the men which this day do attribute Election or Predestination to any virtue or quality within man, do hold and defend {to their great danger} that which none, endued with the Spirit of God, have left or opened to us as written within the holy Scriptures, either yet that any of the chosen shall confess the same. Let the whole Scriptures be read and diligently marked, and no sentence {rightly understand} shall be found, that affirmeth God to have chosen us in respect of our works, or because he foresaw that we should be faithful, holy, and just. But to the contrary, many places shall we find {yea, even so many as entreat of that matter} that plainly affirm, that we are freely chosen according to the purpose of his good will, and that in Christ Jesus.” Knox continues, “because faith is no part of man’s work, therefore doth neither his faith nor his election depend upon the inconstancy of his own nature; but God of his sovereign bounty overcoming what imperfections soever be in his chosen children, hath grounded their election in himself and in Christ Jesus his Son.” Knox continues a few paragraphs later, “it is a thing most certain, that albeit Adam, and all men in him, might and did fall from God by sin, yet cannot the Elect of God, who be elected to life everlasting in Christ Jesus, so fall from their election, that finally they perish. The reason is, that as Christ Jesus, the brightness of the glory of his Father, and the expressed image of his substance, is greater than ever was Adam, so is his power of greater virtue to save the Elect than Adam’s impotency was to bring damnation upon all. Where you ask, if our election be surer now, after the transgression than before the transgression? I answer, the assurance and firmity of our election was always, and at all times, one. For when we stood in Adam, {as you allege,} yet were we elected in Christ; and when we fell in Adam, then did our election burst forth and appear.”

The Swiss reformer, {minister of the Church of Zurich,} and one of the most influential theologians of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, Heinrich Bullinger, in his fourth sermon on Providence and Predestination, {printed about the same time period as this work by Knox,} had this same Christ dominant emphasis, “God’s predestination is not stayed or stirred with any worthiness or unworthiness of ours, but it respects Christ alone, of the mere grace and mercy of God the Father. And because our salvation stays only upon him, it cannot help but be most certain. For those are wrong, who think that the ones saved to life are predestined by God for their merit’s sake, or good works, which God foresaw in them. For the apostle Paul says notably, ‘he has chosen us in Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, that the glory of his grace might be praised.’ Ephesians 1:4-6. And again, ‘it is not in him that wills, nor in him that runs, but in God who shows mercy.’ Romans 9:16. Again, ‘God has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us through Christ Jesus before the world existed, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ II Timothy 1:9. Freely, therefore, of his mere mercy, not for our deserts but for Christ’s sake, and only in Christ, has He chosen us, and for Christ’s sake He embraces us, because he is our Father and a lover of men.”

In contrast to those that would attempt to regulate or diminish the Lord’s absolute sovereignty to a bare notion of idle permission, Knox had this to say, “if in God’s counsel, God’s gift, God’s hand, and eternal purpose, before decreeing all things to come to pass in the death of his Son, you can see nothing but a bare and simple permission, I cannot cease to affirm, that as by falsifying such plain Scriptures, you labour to take from the Church of God their most singular comfort left to us in Christ’s death, so do you walk in darkness, and in the same you shall perish except speedily you repent. How one and the same work, in so far as it proceedeth from God, is most just, most profitable, and most merciful; and yet as it proceedeth from the instruments most profane, most wicked, damnable to themselves, and most cruel, I have abundantly declared, and after, as occasion shall be offered, shall touch by God’s grace, so much as may instruct the sober mind, if it be ignorant; and also to put silence to your venomous mouths, be they never so impudent.” Again, “for all these be, and are found within the offenders, which God doth use, not by an idle permission, {for that is a thing most contrary to his justice,} but effectually, as his wisdom best knoweth, they shall serve to his glory, and that for utility of his chosen children. I say, it is a thing most contrarious to God’s justice and power idly to suffer iniquity to be done, if he had no further respect than to the fact as it is committed. For as a man cannot be excused who may impede murder and doth it not, so cannot God’s justice be excused by your idle permission, if he had no further respect but to things as they be done by man. And so is God’s justice rather accused than maintained by the foolishness of your curious brains, saying, ‘God permitteth many things which he would not.’ What vanity is this? Is it not a thing confessed amongst all, that God’s power is omnipotent? Who then can compel him to suffer that which he would not? And why doth he willingly suffer things which in his law he hath forbidden? I answer, for the manifestation of his own glory, which is more precious than the heaven and the earth, and all the creatures in the same contained. And thus doth vanity cause you to fear, that God’s justice shall fall into decay, except it be underset and upholden with your foolish distinction betwixt his will and his permission; but we fear not to affirm, that he permitteth nothing which in some respect he will not; for as He is omnipotent and a most loving Father, so should he suffer no calamity to come nor cruelty to be used against his children, except he did before see, yea, and before determined, their comfort and his glory to arise of the same. And will you say that God’s glory, the comfort and the preservation of his church, is an evil work, because that wicked men are instruments by whom God’s eternal counsel is brought to pass? Was the exaltation of Joseph to honour, the preservation of Egypt, and of other nations from famine, yea, and the feeding of Jacob and his family, an evil work, because that Joseph’s brethren of malice and envy did sell him to the Ishmaelites, and they for lucre did sell him again to Potiphar, whose wife of malice did most unjustly accuse him, and so being in prison, at length he was brought to the knowledge of Pharaoh, and so was promoted for his revelation and wisdom to honour and dignity? O! Say you, it is not this that we do lay to your charge, but you affirm ‘that God was author of the malice, and of the wicked thoughts of Joseph’s brethren.’ You do belie us most maliciously, for we constantly deny that God either powered in them any malice, or did move by his Holy Spirit any wicked thought into them; for those we say they had of nature, in so far as it is corrupted. But we say, that God used their wicked thoughts and malice to his glory, and to the full comfort of him whose destruction they sought; and that he did not, idly permitting them, but effectually working by such instruments and means as his wisdom had before appointed. Rage now as you list; for albeit to you this saying is vain, that God worketh all things for his own glory; yet will not God have his glory measured by the vanity of your brain.”

The thoughts of Knox as pertaining to the order or arrangement of God’s decree are grounded in the immutability of God’s nature. In fact, all his theology is regulated and conducted by his exalted views of God’s attributes, which are all grounded in the Holy Scriptures. In the words of Knox, “God by his eternal Word, and power infinite, hath created all things; so hath he by His wisdom incomprehensible so disposed all things, that as nothing was created for the self, so was nothing the appointer of the self to serve God as his glory required. But He, in his eternal counsel, appointed the end to every creature, to the which they shall once attain, by such means as he most justly hath appointed. And therefore, seeing his glory doth no less require his just judgments {in order} that his superabundant mercy to be known, he hath in his eternal counsel elected some and rejected others, even before the foundations of the world. And albeit he created man after his own image, yet did God never determine that mankind should stand in Adam; but his just counsel and purpose was, that all men should fall in Adam, that the elect might know the price of their salvation, Christ Jesus, in whom they were elected before that in Adam actually they did fall, or were created. And so God, willing to make his glory to shine in all, hath prepared some vessels of mercy and some of wrath, to the one he hath freely given life everlasting in Christ Jesus his Son; the other he hath, for just causes, so rejected, that albeit with long patience he suffereth their manifest rebellion, yet in the final judgment he shall command them to go to the fire that never shall be quenched.” Again, “the death of Christ Jesus for man’s redemption was decreed in the eternal counsel of God before the foundations of the world were laid, as we were elected in him, and as he was the Lamb killed from the beginning; which death also was decreed in the same counsel of God to be in a certain time appointed; and that so certainly, that neither could the malice of any creature prevent the hour appointed of God thereto, neither yet could any policy or chance impede or transfer the same to any other time. For how oft Christ was before assaulted, the Evangelists do witness; but always his answer was, ‘my hour is not yet come.’ And what impediments did occur immediately before his death is also evident. The feast of Passover was at that time, the fame of Christ was great, the favour of the people with public voices was declared, and the counsels of the High Priests and Elders had decreed, that, to avoid sedition, his death should be delayed till after that feast. But all these were shortly overthrown, and Christ did suffer in the very time appointed, as he before had forespoken.”

As one familiarizes himself with the various writings & scholarly assessments as to determine from whence, or from whom Knox acquired his understanding of the truth for which he so passionately contended for in these writings, we see a common thread which binds all of these speculations together, and that is the concept that Knox acquired all his understanding of the Holy Scriptures from this Reformer or that Reformer, this Teacher or that Teacher, completely slaying any concept that perhaps the LORD himself opened his understanding to perceive, love & embrace this blessed testimony of grace & truth, setting forth a salvation that is so absolutely unique to anything that could have ever been conceived by man, and opposite to all world religion which in some form or another proclaim salvation by works, that is, by man’s own efforts to commend himself or make himself acceptable in God’s sight; whereas the Bible alone declares from cover to cover that salvation is of the Lord, and emphatically asserts that, if the LORD does not save a man, he cannot be saved. Knox states that, “Satan ever from the beginning hath declared himself enemy to the free grace and undeserved love of God, so hath he now in these last and most corrupted days most furiously raged against that doctrine, which attributeth all praise and glory of our redemption to the eternal love and undeserved grace of God alone.” In essence, Knox was irresistibly constrained to bow before the absolute authority of the inscripted word as the Scriptures were opened to his understanding, by the Spirit of Truth, who dispenses the truth {essentially the doctrine of Christ – as all truth meets, is centered upon & gravitates to Christ, himself being the sum & substance of all truth} to the spiritual minds of those whose eyes have been opened. Knox, “we say not, we teach not, nor believe not, that Christ Jesus doth only offer medicine, and prescribe a diet, as a common Physician, leaving the using and observation of it to our will and power. But we affirm that in the hearts of his elect, he worketh faith, he openeth their eyes, he cureth their leprosy, he removeth and overcometh their disobedience; yea, by violence he pulleth them forth of the bondage of Satan, and so sanctifieth them by the power of his Holy Spirit, that they abide in his truth, according as he hath prayed for them, and so continue they vessels of his glory forever.” This is the experience of all the elect, being conducted into all ‘salvation’ truth by the Spirit of Truth, in full awareness that these truths are of heavenly origin, and therefore our understanding too must be!

In the words of Thomas McCrie, whose classic biography of John Knox was originally published in 1812, we find a parallel thought. “In reading the writings of the first reformers there are two things which must strike our minds. The first is the exact conformity between the doctrine maintained by them respecting the justification of sinners, and that of the apostles. The second is the surprising harmony which subsisted among them on this important doctrine. On some questions respecting the sacraments, and the external government and worship of the Church, they differed; but upon the article of free justification, Luther and Zwingli, Melanchthon and Calvin, Cranmer and Knox, spoke the very same language. This was not owing to their having read each other’s writings, but because they copied from the same divine original. The clearness with which they understood and explained this great truth is also very observable. More learned and able defenses of it have since appeared; but I question if it has ever been stated in more scriptural, unequivocal and decided language, than in the writings of the early reformers. Some of their successors, by giving way to speculation, gradually lost sight of this distinguishing badge of the Reformation, and landed at last in Arminianism, which is nothing else but the Popish doctrine in a Protestant dress.” Again, Knox informs us that, “God, who hateth all iniquity, must needs resist the proud, destroy the lying lips, and remove from his society such as declare themselves enemies to his Eternal Truth; the knowledge whereof, we confess with Job, cometh only by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and doth not proceed from flesh or blood, from study, care, or worldly wisdom, but is the free gift of God revealed to the little ones, and commonly hid from the wisest of the world.”

Having established the necessity of Divine Revelation, we do indeed acknowledge that Calvin’s influence in this treatise seems somewhat immense, {especially as this volume contains large verbatim quotations from the Reformer’s Institutes, which at that time had just recently been translated from the French 1545 Edition, to that of the Latin, 1548 Edition,} and although largely influenced by Calvin in this treatise, it would appear that Knox more closely followed the method of Zwingli and Bullinger who first turned the truth of God’s Predestination into a weapon against the Anabaptists. Knox, building up the ramparts of his defenses by one scripture after another scripture, resulting in inevitable loss for any that would attempt to bash their brains against these walls of Sola Scriptura, which Knox held in the highest estimation, clinging ever so closely to what the LORD had revealed, and opened to his understanding.

Towards the close of the present work, Knox introduces a long historical narrative of the well-known insurrection of the Anabaptists in Münster Germany, {1534-1535,} and for this purpose, he contents himself with giving two long extracts translated from a well-known work then recently published in Latin by one John Sleidan, entitled, “The General History of the Reformation of the Church, from the errors and corruptions of the Church of Rome; begun in Germany by Martin Luther, with the progress thereof in all parts of Christendom, from the year 1517, to the year 1556.” This fascinating account of a people gone raving mad was an attempt by Knox to discredit the entire Anabaptist movement, viewing the Anabaptists radicals much as the other Continental Reformers did, lumping them all together and identifying them as fanatics, anarchists, blasphemers, heretics and enemies of God. Knox principally targeted their appeal to an inner voice, to dreams, reasonings and extra-biblical sources. Like Luther and Calvin, he mercilessly opposed these Anabaptists whom, he believed, substituted an inner light for the written Scripture. Therefore, Knox frequently declared that “the plain Scripture confuteth this your error,” – “we affirm nothing which God’s Word doth not plainly teach us,” and, “ye deserve death as a blasphemous person and denier of God, if you prefer any word to that which the Holy Ghost has uttered in his plain Scriptures.” Overall, this is a tremendous work that deserves a warm recommendation to all enquiring minds, desiring to be established in the faith of God’s elect, even whilst building themselves upon their most holy faith in Christ.