In the biblical sense, the divine provision for humanity’s redemption, foreordained in eternal ages prior to Creation, and the divine desire that all human beings should be saved; in the popular, Calvinistic sense, a supposed divine decree foreordaining particular individuals to eternal salvation, and all others to eternal punishment. In Calvinist theology the former is known as election and the latter as reprobation. Seventh-day Adventists accept the biblical definition and deny the validity of the Calvinistic interpretation.
It is commonly accepted by Seventh-day Adventists that God has perfect foreknowledge of all events—past, present, and future. Foreseeing the defection of Lucifer and of our first parents, He devised the plan of salvation, which provided that Christ should become a substitute for guilty humanity ( John 3:16 ; 1 Peter 1:19 , 20 ) and that His grace should be offered freely to all ( Titus 2:11 ; 2 Tim. 1:9 ). It is God’s will that all should accept the pardon offered and the gift of eternal life ( 1 Tim. 2:3 , 4 ; 2 Peter 3:9 ; Eze. 33:11 ).
As a result of his sin, Adam passed on to his posterity a sinful nature, including both the tendency to sin and the natural results of sin. With sin came death ( Rom. 5:12 ), but Christ died that humans might live ( John 3:16 ; Rom. 5:18 ). On the cross He provided salvation for all, as a free gift; He now invites all to accept the gift, and gives it to all who do accept it ( John 1:12 ; Eph. 2:8 ; Rev. 22:17 ). That free will is the determining factor in an individual’s personal destiny is evident from the fact that God continually presents the results of obedience and disobedience, and urges the sinner to choose obedience and life ( Deut. 30:19 ; Joshua 24:15 ; Isa. 1:16 , 20 ; Rev. 22:17 ); and from the fact that it is possible for the believer, having once been a recipient of grace, to fall away and be lost ( 1 Cor. 9:27 ; Gal. 5:4 ; Heb. 6:4–6 ; 10:29 ). See Evil, Origin of ; Humanity, Doctrine of ; Perseverance .
God may foresee each individual choice that will be made, but His foreknowledge does not determine what that choice shall be. The basic fallacy of Calvinist theology with respect to predestination is that it altogether ignores the consistent and repeated affirmations of Scripture concerning the validity and effectiveness of human choice as the determining factor in each person’s salvation. Bible predestination consists in the effective purpose of God that all who choose to believe in Christ shall be saved ( John 1:12 ; Eph. 1:4–10 ).
In the early Christian centuries, Tatian ( c. A.D. 160), Irenaeus ( c. A.D. 130– c. 200), and Tertullian ( c. A.D. 160– c. 220) taught the doctrine of free will. Origen ( c. A.D. 185– c. 254) was an earnest foe of the doctrine of unconditional predestination. In the sixteenth century Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin accepted predestination as earlier taught by Augustine. Arminius (1560–1609) reacted against Calvinism and taught conditional predestination, placing the emphasis on faith. With respect to predestination, Seventh-day Adventists are, in a general sense, in the Arminian tradition.
The Seventh-day Adventist understanding of predestination was ably set forth by Uriah Smith, who, writing as editor of the Review and Herald, remarked: “That the Bible teaches predestination is true; that it teaches what modern theology defines the term to mean, we think is not true. As set forth in the Scriptures, it is a doctrine full of comfort and consolation; as taught in the creeds, it is full of spiritual paralysis and despair. In the Scriptures it is the assurance of salvation so long as we maintain a certain relation to God; in theology it is a relationship determined for us independently of our own will, and a fixed destiny to a life which we cannot lose, or a death which we cannot avert” ( Review and Herald 61:264, Apr. 22, 1884).
Ten years earlier Smith had written: “If a person believes in the Lord, while he believes in Him, he is elected; but he can believe or not as he chooses, and he can cease to believe whenever he is so disposed. He is not elected till he believes, and when he ceases to believe, his election ends” ( ibid. 43:85, Feb. 24, 1874).
In 1893 Smith wrote: “Predestination is taught in the Bible; but that predestination is all in Christ. Whoever is in Christ, and remains in Him to the end, is sure to be saved. It is impossible for such an one to be lost; but no one, as an individual, is predestined to be in Christ; that is left to the choice and decision of every one for himself” ( ibid. 70:24, Jan. 10, 1893).
In a discussion of the subject, M. E. Cornell wrote: “We believe that God did from the beginning decree that all who would obey Him should be saved, and that those who would not should be lost; but he left man perfectly free to make his own election. . . .
“Each individual must decide his own destiny, God having only predestinated and decreed that whoever would do His will should be saved, and that whoever would not should be lost. And in harmony with this general decree, man is exhorted to give all diligence to make his own election sure ( 2 Peter 1:10 ). If, therefore, any are lost, it is not because it was so decreed or willed by any but themselves; for God wills that all men should be saved” ( ibid. 54:171, Nov. 27, 1879).