The Reincarnation of Pighius

On the cover of The Reformed Journal (February, 1983) there appear in large letters the words, “A Respectable Blasphemy? PREDESTINATION.” The reference is to an article by Thomas Talbott entitled, “On predestination, reprobation, and the love of God” with the sub-title, “a polemic.” Mr. Talbott is a professor of philosophy at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon, and in his article identifies himself as a member of the Christian Reformed Church. To him it is not a question whether predestination is a respectable blasphemy, as is the query on the cover, but a fact. His entire article is a blatant and blasphemous (I use the term advisedly.) attack on the doctrine of predestination. He states the main thrust of his article rather adequately in the opening paragraph:

My concern in this article is with a form of theological blasphemy, the Reformed doctrines of predestination and reprobation; and here I use the term “blasphemy” in a very exact sense. The Reformed doctrine of predestination—with or without its corollary, the doctrine of reprobation—is a form of blasphemy in this sense: those who accept the doctrine inevitably attribute Satanic qualities to God; they inevitably confuse the Father in heaven, Whose essence is perfect love, with the Devil himself. Rut it is also a respectable form of blasphemy in that, as is well known, this doctrine can be found in many of the confessional statements associated with the Protestant Reformation and remains part of the official doctrine of many mainline churches, including my own church, the Christian Reformed Church. That this should be so is, for me, one of the great mysteries of church history—though no greater, perhaps, than the mystery of why the Jews, during New Testament times, should have found it so difficult to believe that God’s grace also extends to the Gentiles. It seems that a kind of exclusiveness in theology, the temptation to believe that God’s grace extends to us but not to them, to Jews but not to Gentiles, to Christians but not to non-Christians, is one of the more intractable forms that original sin takes in our lives. Indeed, as I shall argue, the Reformed doctrine of predestination is an expression of human rebelliousness; for it is simply not possible, not psychologically possible, not even logically possible, to love God with all one’s heart, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, and simultaneously to believe the Reformed doctrine of predestination.

The problem is not that Mr. Talbott does not intellectually understand the doctrine of predestination; he does, and he even quotes Calvin’s Institutes for a definition. Neither is the problem that Mr. Talbott does not want reprobation only; he deliberately includes all of predestination, although an analysis of his article will show that his hateful darts are aimed primarily at reprobation-but has not history demonstrated a patternof attacking sovereign election by attempting to make the doctrine of predestination hateful by attacking reprobation? Nor is the problem that Mr. Talbott misconstrues the doctrine of reprobation as such; he even recognizes in Herman Hoeksema a consistent exponent of this doctrine. For he writes, p. 13: “If, God forbid, there are such unfortunate persons, if there are some who are not elect, it immediately follows that they are not an object of God’s eternal love; and one Reformed theologian who has seen this quite clearly is Herman Hoeksema, who forthrightly admits that the non-elect are an object of God’s ‘eternal hatred.’ Nor is it possible in any way to soften this implication.” 

No, the simple fact is, as is plainly stated in the opening paragraph (quoted above) that the writer characterizes the Reformed doctrine of predestination as blasphemy, as ascribing “Satanic qualities to God,” and as confusing the Father in heaven with the Devil himself. 

I have no intention, at this point, of entering into Mr. Talbott’s arguments, except to point out: 

1) That there is nothing new in his attack. It is nothing but a variation of the old argument—as old as the apostle Paul himself—that sovereign predestination is an immoral doctrine. This argument has assumed various forms, as, for instance, that predestination makes God the author of sin, or that the doctrine of predestination makes men careless and profane. Mr. Talbott’s argument is obviously a variation of this same age-old attack. 

2) The entire argumentation of Mr. Talbott isrationalistic, that is, proceeds from sinful human reason, rather than Scripture. He never mentions or explains the passages of Scripture which plainly teach predestination. He never approaches the whole question from a Scriptural point of view, never attempts a Scriptural argument. As he himself states, love of God and the neighbor are psychologically and logically impossible if one believes the Reformed doctrine of predestination. 

3) Mr. Talbott’s argumentation is all the more shocking—horrifying, in fact—because a) it is brutally blunt; b) it comes from one who, according to his own confession as a Christian Reformed member, is supposed to believe and confess the truth of sovereign predestination. If the doctrine of predestination has supposed friends like Talbott, it surely needs no enemies.

In the title of this editorial I refer to this as the reincarnation of Albertus Pighius. 

Who was Pighius? 

To be truthful he is a skeleton in the Dutch closet! His full name is Albertus Pighius van Kampen. Yes, he was a native of Kampen in the Netherlands. He was a Roman Catholic theologian and a friend of more than one pope, as also a fierce foe of the Reformation and especially of Calvin. In his book concerning man’s free will he not only sought to establish the free will of man, but also attacked violently the doctrine of sovereign predestination. It was in part against Pighius that John Calvin wrote his “Treatise of the Eternal Predestination of God,” at one time published, with his “Treatise on the Secret Providence of God,” under the title Calvin’s Calvinism. But let Calvin himself furnish a description:

Nine years have now elapsed since Albertus Pighius, the Campanian, a man of evidently phrensied audacity, attempted, at the same time, and in the same book, to establisb the free-will of man, and to subvert the secret counsel of God, by which He chooses some to salvation and appoints others to eternal destruction. But as he attacked me by name, that he might stab, through my side, holy and sound doctrine, I have deemed it necessary to curb the sacrilegious madness of the man. At that time, however, being distracted by various engagements, I could not embrace, in one short space of time, the discussion of both subjects; but having published my thoughts upon the former, I promised to consider, when an opportunity should be given, the doctrine of predestination. Shortly after my book on free-will appeared, Pighius died. And that I might not insult a dead dog, I turned my attention to other serious matters. And from that time till now I have always found plenty to do. Moreover, as I had already copiously treated of this great point of doctrine, and had set it forth clearly, and confirmed it by solid testimonies of Scripture, this new labor upon it did not seem so absolutely necessary, but that it might safely be suffered to rest for a time. 

But since, at the present day, certain maddened and exulting spirits strive, after the example of Pighius, with all their might to destroy all that is contained in the Scriptures concerning the free election of the godly and the eternal judgment of the reprobate, I have considered it my duty to prevent this contagion from spreading farther, by collecting and summarily refuting those frivolous objections by which such men delude themselves and others. Among these characters there started forth, in Italy, a certain one, Georgius, a Sicilian—an ignorant man indeed, and more worthy of contempt than public notice in any form, were it not that a notoriety, obtained by fraud and imposture, has given him considerable power to do mischief. . . .

In the next paragraph of his treatise Calvin further introduces his opponents:

I propose, now, to enter into the sacred battle with Pighius and George, the Sicilian, a pair of unclean beasts (Lev. xi. 3) by no means badly matched. For though I confess that in some things they differ, yet, in hatching enormities of error, in adulterating the Scripture with wicked and reveling audacity, in a proud contempt of truth, in forward impudence, and in brazen loquacity, the most perfect likeness and sameness will be found to exist between them. Except that Pighius, by inflating the muddy bombast of his magniloquence, carries himself with greater boast and pomp; while the other fellow borrows the boots by which he elevates himself from his invented revelation. And though both of them, at their commencement, agree in their attempt to overthrow predestination, yet they afterwards differ in the figments which they advance. An invention of them both is, that it lies in each one’s own liberty, whether he will become a partaker of the grace of adoption or not; and that it does not depend on the counsel and decree of God who are elect and who are reprobate; but that each one determines for himself the one state or the other by his own will, and with respect to the fact that some believe the Gospel, while others remain in unbelief; that this difference does not arise from the free election of God, nor from His secret counsel, but from the will of each individual.

I could fill the Standard Bearer with appropriate quotations from this treatise of Calvin, but let one more pertinent quotation suffice:

But Pighius and his fellows are not hereby satisfied. For, pretending a great concern for the honour of God, they bark at us, as imputing to Him a cruelty utterly foreign to His nature. (This is precisely what Mr. Talbott does in the course of his argumentation, remember! HCH) Pighius denies that he has any contest with God. What cause, or whose cause is it, then, that Paul maintains? After he had adopted the above axiom—that God hardens whom He will and has mercy on whom He will—he subjoins the supposed taunt of a wicked reasoner: ‘Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?’ (Rom. ix. 19) He meets such blasphemy as this by simply setting against it the power of God. If those clothe God with the garment of a tyrant, who refer the hardening of men even to His eternal counsel, we most certainly are not the originators of this doctrine. If they do God an injury who set His will above all other causes, Paul taught this doctrine long before us. Let these enemies of God, then, dispute the matter with the apostle. For I maintain nothing, in the present discussion, but what I declare is taught by him. About these barking dogs, however, I would not be very anxious. I am the rather moved with an anxiety about some otherwise good men, who, while they fear lest they should ascribe to God anything unworthy of His goodness, really seem to be horror-struck at that which He declares, by the apostle, concerning Himself.

Principally, this article in the Reformed Journalrepresents the reincarnation of the Pighius whom Calvin refutes in the treatise from which these quotations are taken.

But it should not be overlooked that The Reformed Journal is the mid-wife at the occasion of this journalistic reincarnation of Pighius. 

I am well aware of the fact that its masthead carries a disclaimer to the effect that “The publication of comments, opinions, or advertising herein does not imply agreement or endorsement by the publisher, editors, contributing editors,” etc. The Standard Bearer carries a similar disclaimer. Nevertheless, The Reformed Journal calls itself “a periodical of Reformed comment and opinion.” And while such a disclaimer as mentioned above has its place and function, it surely cannot be used as cover for (not a critical letter or statement of opinion) a full-fledged article which is placed by the Editors and Editor-in-Chief, but which is diametrically and very obviously contradictory of the stated character of the magazine. 

Do the editors accept this responsibility? And I have in mind especially such men as Harry R. Boer and James Daane, men who are known for their open opposition to the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. 

If not, then let them openly repudiate Mr. Talbott’s article; and let them apologize for publishing an article so obviously inimical to the Reformed faith, and that, too, in the name of “Reformed comment and opinion.”