Is It Really Possible?

It is readily acknowledged by almost everyone that there are differences of opinion on doctrinal matters in Reformed circles. One such difference concerns the Sovereignty of God. In the Christian Reformed Church Dr. James Daane has for some years been dealing with various phases of this precious truth. The reader may note particularly Daane’s articles JIl the Reformed Journal of September 1953 through February 1954; his book, A Theology of Grace, and his articles in the Calvin Forum for April and May of 1955. Says Daane, “An too often we have thought in order to maintain the Sovereignty of God, we must think of the will of God as that which in the self-same manner wills sin and righteousness, reprobation and election, damnation and salvation. All too often we have built on the erroneous presupposition that everything that happens is willed. by God in the same sense as anything else that happens” (Ref. Jour., Nov. 1953, p. 10. Italics by E.Z.). Daane is also disturbed by what he calls the principle of “the equal ultimacy of election and reprobation,” which principle he defines as “The principle that God is as much interested in the damnation of the reprobate as in the salvation of the elect” (A Theology of Grace, p. 25). Such statements might indeed not arouse too great concern if it were not for what Daane seems to mean by God’s willing sin and righteousness, reprobation and election, damnation and salvation in a different manner; by the unequal ultimacy of reprobation and election; and by the fact God wills some events differently from the way he wills other events.

Just what difference Daane means to introduce into the will of God in respect to sin and righteousness, or reprobation and election, or damnation and salvation, is made somewhat clear to us by another quotation from his book: “Van Til has defined possibility as that which is coextensive with the counsel of God. Thus in this conception there are no real possibilities except those which already are or shall be actualized. Van Til regards it as inconceivable that the counsel of God should include genuine possibilities that do not become actualities in history. Such a conception of possibility is sheer determinism and cannot be reconciled with the traditionally held position that Adam was created with the freedom not to sin. Nor does the Bible speak as though alI unactualized possibilities are unreal and non-existent possibilities. Jesus in Gethsemane did not act on the principle that there are no possibilities but those which are in fact actualized. Cf. also Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 2:7, 8, ‘We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory: which none of the rulers of this world hath known: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.’” (Daane’s italics.)


Thus we see at the outset that Daane is dissatisfied with Van Til’s conception of what can or cannot take place. Because Van Til contends that God’s counsel and God’s providence are mutually exhaustive, that in the counsel of God there are no unactualized possibilities, he is a sheer determinist. To Daane it is definitely conceivable “that the counsel of God should include genuine possibilities that do not become actualities in history….Moreover, it is conceivable to him because he thinks that is what the Bible teaches. He cites two passages in particular which to him make his conclusion certain. He further points out that only in this way can the genuine freedom of Adam not to sin be maintained.

Thus God does not foreordain certain events to take place; he only foreordains the possibility of their taking place. When our Lord Jesus went into the garden of Gethsemane to pray and said, “Father if thou be willing, remove this cup from me,” it meant that God had not unalterably predetermined the death of Christ upon the cross, but only the possibility that Christ might die on the cross. There was a real possibility that the cup could be removed from him and that he would not have to die for the sins of men. And there was also according to Daane’s interpretation a real possibility that the rulers of this world who crucified the Lord of glory, might not have done so. If only they had known who he was! God had not determined that this mystery should be withheld from them. He only determined the possibility of its being withheld.

It would seem then that it is also true that God has only decreed the possibility of the elect’s being saved, and that in his counsel there is also the possibility that the elect might be lost. Then too one would expect that in the counsel of God there is also the possibility that the reprobate might be saved. Surely this is the Reformed faith speaking in an unknown tongue. But such a result is to be expected when the infinity of God is compressed by the mold of human reason.

All of which leads us to ask: Is God the ultimate power which enables any event to take place? Does God really operate in the realm of time and history? ]s the divine energy engaged in upholding, governing and guiding the destiny of the universe? Is God’s sovereign power at work ruling and overruling the affairs of men and nations, ordering them to the praise of his glory and the good of his church? If Daane’s view of unactualized possibilities in the counsel of God is correct, then we must give an unhesitating NO to all these questions. If events are really equally possible or impossible, if they are absolutely uncertain, then of course history is but the outworking of man’s ungoverned and ungovernable whims. Anything can and probably will happen, for Mother Chance can produce strange offspring—even a saved reprobate!

We may well ask ourselves, How does God act with respect to the possibility in his counsel? He could engage his energy equally in favor of all possibilities, good ones and evil ones. But Daane would not want this, for it would be equal ultimacy with a vengeance. Or, God could differentiate between the possibilities and decide to act in favor of some and not in favor of others. God would then have to act either in accord with a pure, blind caprice, in which case he would become an utter monstrosity; or he would have to act in accord with an all-wise choice. But such an intelligent choosing would necessarily involve his predetermination of what is really possible, since only that can be realized which is supported and governed by his divine power. But this is also what Daane does not want. One other path is open. God can separate himself from the realization of all possibilities so that there is nothing left of providence whatsoever. This it would seem is the path Daane must choose if he wants to be consistent with his main proposition. His only consistent procedure is to remove God’s influence completely from the realization of any of the “divinely ordained” possibilities. Daane’s dilemma seems to stem in part, at least, from an unwarranted definition of “equal ultimacy.” Daane holds that equal ultimacy means that God is equally interested in the damnation of the reprobate and in the salvation of the elect, that he wills in the self-same manner reprobation and election. Historically, Calvinists have not been so presumptuous as to seek to penetrate the unfathomable depths of the divine mind in order to determine the priority of the divine interest in bringing to pass any particular portion of the divine decree. They have usually maintained a discreet silence with respect to this interest. They have on occasion spoken of “permission” with respect to sin, and yet even here Bavinck, Cunningham and others, to say nothing of the Westminster Confession of Faith, realize that “bare permission” is not the answer with respect to the presence of reprobation, sin and damnation. Daane’s definition is not warranted either by Reformed writing or practice. Equal ultimacy in Reformed circles means and has always meant that reprobation, sin and damnation are equally certain with election, righteousness and salvation, and that this certainty like all other certainty is ultimately to be found only in God’s immutable counsel. Daane will not have God’s counsel to be the ultimate source of certainty. In fact it would seem that for Daane there can be no certainty. If the counsel of God had not determined that the cup would not pass form the lips of Jesus Christ, then there never could have been any certainty that he would one day appear on the stage of history to give his life a ransom for many,

to become the only mediator between God and man. Then he was not “delivered up according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,” as Scripture declares.

Thus it becomes exceedingly difficult to understand how Daane with his view of real but unactualized possibilities in the counsel of God can do justice to the sovereignty of God. That sovereignty has been destroyed both with respect to the eternal counsel and with respect to providence.

Having a false conception of equal ultimacy Daane proceeds to rid Reformed theology of this false conception by the introduction of a radical distinction between the divine counsel and divine providence; a disjunction so radical that it Is absolutely destructive of both the divine counsel and providence. One can but sympathize with Daane’s struggling with the problem of the relation of divine sovereignty to human action. The self-conscious Calvinist doesn’t exist who has not struggled with that problem. But Daane has given us a faulty formulation of the problem by the introduction of a faulty notion of equal ultimacy. Then, in order to solve the faulty formulation of the problem he has presented a solution which is far worse than the faulty notion of equal ultimacy which he has introduced into the problem.

In this first article we have tried to show that Daane’s solution is untenable purely on the ground of reason. In a future article we hope to show how his position is out of accord not only with our confessions but with the genera] teaching of Scripture as well.