There are possibly no two other terms in the field of theology more commonly confused and misunderstood than the terms foreknowledge and fore-ordination, or the more familiar word, predestination.
Both these terms have this in common that they are Scriptural terms, each referring to some definite phase of the eternal counsel of God’s will, in which divine election and reprobation take a prominent place. They are intimately related to each other as cause and effect, since God’s sovereign foreknowledge is the determining cause of His eternal predestination.
Turning to the Scripture we meet various passages, particularly in the New Testament, that speak of God’s foreknowledge. Peter addresses the strangers of the dispersion as “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father,” making God’s foreknowledge the basis for their election..
In this same chapter he speaks of Christ as a lamb without spot or blemish “Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world.” verse 20. Although the translation speaks of “foreordained” the word in the original is the same as is used in the second verse and definitely means “foreknown.” (The word is proginooskoo, not pro-oridzoo). The Dutch accordingly has “voorgekend.” Thus Peter speaks also of Christ, as well as of the elect, as having been foreknown from all eternity. He was foreknown as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world.
In his Pentecostal address Peter speaks of Christ as having been delivered into wicked hands to be crucified and slain “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.”. Never could wicked hands have taken Him had these hands not been determined by God according to His eternal foreknowledge. God determined the time, the place, the occasion, the circumstances and the persons for carrying out the atrocious act of crucifying the Lord of glory. By that very act He would make atonement for sin. God willed to save His people, whom He foreknew as His own, by the death of His Son on the cross.
In this connection it is interesting to note that when Scripture states that God knows His people, this divine knowledge of His own is rooted in foreknowledge. God says of Abraham,, “For I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.” This can only mean that God knew Abraham with an eternal knowledge. He foreknew him in sovereign, unchangeable love. And that is true of all His people. He has chosen them on the basis of His eternal foreknowledge. By grace He redeems them on the cross, makes them His people through the indwelling Spirit in their hearts and blesses them with all spiritual blessings to fit them to His service. God forms them as His own according to His eternal good pleasure.
But Scripture also speaks of predestination. In the first chapter of Ephesians Paul states, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption through Jesus Christ unto Himself according to the good pleasure of His will.” Verse 5. And in the eleventh verse, “Being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will.” Both passages refer to the divine purpose of God’s predestination. God predestinated His people unto a very definite purpose, a definite and exalted glory, which is realized in their adoption unto Himself in Christ Jesus.
A very significant passage for our purpose is, “For whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” This passage is particularly significant because both foreknowledge and predestination are mentioned together. The more so, because they are mentioned in their relation to one another. The apostle is giving assurance of the fact “that all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to His purpose.” He does this by showing that the salvation of the called ones is an established fact with God Himself from eternity.
The chain of salvation is eternally bound fast in God. For whom He foreknew He also predestinated. . . . and whom He predestinated He also called, and whom He called He also justified, and whom He justified He also glorified, (verses 29 and 30). The viewpoint is not of what takes place in time, but of what is established already in the counsel of God’s will. The elect are not only foreknown and predestinated, but they are also called and justified and glorified in God’s eternal decree. Nothing can change that established fact. It rests on eternal foreknowledge, which is the divine motive why God predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. No wonder, then, that all things must necessarily work together for good for those who love God.
In speaking of God’s foreknowledge we may never forget that God is God, the wholly other, also in His eternal foreknowledge. Man knows as man, but God knows as God. Man may make certain observations of existing circumstances and thereupon make some uncanny predictions. The weatherman, for example, may be quite correct in determining the weather and temperature more than twenty four hours in advance. The news commentator may shock the world with his predictions based on events that have already transpired. But in either case this foreknowledge is only a conclusion based on certain established facts. And the prediction has but a limited degree of certainty and accuracy. But God’s foreknowledge is original in God, sovereignly independent from any outside circumstances or conditions.
God’s foreknowledge is even the determining cause for that which is. God does not see in advance that a certain series of circumstances must have a certain definite result, but God wills the circumstances and the conditions in His eternal foreknowledge. But God is the originator, the creative cause of all that He foreknows. He wills it, determines it, and it happens accordingly. He foreknows it because He wills it so. As an artist conceives of a beautiful painting in his own mind and gives expression to it only as his brush sweeps over the canvas, so God in His eternal foreknowledge conceives of all things which He calls into being in time.
In that way God also foreknows His people in Christ Jesus. He does not foreknow His people because of foreseen faith and works and perseverance, as the Arminian likes to present it. Election based on such a knowledge is no election, is not worthy of the sovereignly independent God. Such a presentation of God’s foreknowledge is a flat denial of God Himself. Not God, but man then determines who shall be saved to enter into God’s glory.
On the contrary, God foreknows His people in Christ Jesus with an eternally sovereign, independent, determinative, creative knowledge. God foreknew Christ, Who is the Son, the express image of His likeness and the effulgence of His glory. God willed that Christ should be the Servant par excellence, in whom all the fullness of divine blessedness should dwell forever. In Christ God foreknows His people, chosen unto Himself with a foreknowledge of love. God knows them collectively as the assembly of the elect, the body of Christ. But He also knows them individually, each one by name according to his person and nature, according to his place and position in the household of faith. He conceived of them as so many brethren in Christ Jesus, and engraved them in the palms of His hands. He loves them for His own Name’s sake in Covenant friendship, delighting in them as His masterpiece, which perfectly shows forth the glorious praises of His name forever.
That is God’s foreknowledge. In distinction from that, predestination is the eternal act of God whereby He sovereignly determines all things to serve His supreme purpose, the most excellent glory of His Name. This predestination is God’s plan of the ages. Not as an architect makes a blueprint of the structure he intends to build, which is but a lifeless slip of paper and becomes useless as soon as the structure is complete. God’s predestination is the almighty, living thought of the eternally counselling God, coming into full expression when God’s counsel is realized. As a result of this divine decree He commands and it stands forth. All rational and irrational creatures, men and angels, good and evil, things in heaven and things on earth belong to that living counsel of the Most High. The time and place of our birth and death, our daily existence and our place in life form a part of that decree. Even the good works of the believers have been prepared beforehand that they may walk in them during this present time.. Together all things serve the purpose which God has established from eternity in that counsel of His will.
Especially God’s people form an integral part of that predestination. “For whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren.” God’s foreknowledge is the divine motive for His predestination. God willed Christ to be the firstborn, for which reason He gave Him many brethren, God chose these brethren, ordained them unto eternal life. Election is first of all personal. Every one of the elect is personally chosen, known of God. Each one has his name written in the book of life from before the foundation of the world. But election also includes that God has ordained them to become partakers of a definite and exalted glory, the end unto which they were chosen. That end is the adoption to sons, the conformation into the image of God’s Son, so that He is the firstborn among many brethren. Many sons must carry and radiate the glory of the firstborn of the Father. His glory must be reflected by thousands upon thousands who are sons through Him and are made like Him. So that even as He reflects the glory of the Father, the Triune God, so God Himself may be glorified forever in Christ and in all those who belong to Christ. The glorified saints shall share the likeness and life of Christ, to be like unto God, as sons in His house, to dwell with Him, to experience and tell His praises forever.
Foreknowledge and predestination, though each distinct in itself, are most intimately related. The former is the divine motive for the latter, that to God may be the praise and glory eternally.