CHAPTER SIX: Eternal Predestination: Election and Reprobation
General Observations about Predestination
Having spoken of the decrees of God in general, we shall now proceed with a discussion of the specific decrees of God, speaking particularly of those relating to man’s salvation and damnation. Due to repeated slander by individuals with evil motives, the word predestination gives some offense, triggers prejudice, and is repulsive to people who are both ignorant and filled with resentment against this doctrine. This has led some to be of the opinion that it is preferable not to speak of this mystery. Since Scripture, however, bears such abundant testimony to this doctrine; since it is a matter of supreme importance, yielding a proper understanding of the entire way of salvation; and since it is a fountain of comfort and genuine sanctification, nothing must be held back. The entire counsel of God must be declared. Everyone must strive to understand this doctrine well and apply it properly.
Scripture makes reference to election in a variety of ways.
(1) The Lord Jesus Christ is called the Elect (Isa. 42:1),
“who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20), to be the Surety and Savior of the elect.
(2) The holy angels have been elected to an eternal and permanent state of felicity.
They are not chosen in Christ, and He is not considered to be their Mediator, as there was neither sin in them nor would there be. He is also not considered their Head to preserve and confirm them in their state, as Scripture makes no mention of this at all. The Lord Jesus has been given unto the salvation of men and not angels. As God and man, however, Christ is exalted above the angels who worship Him, and whom He, as Lord, uses according to His will to the benefit of His elect. These holy angels have been chosen by God, which explains why they are called “elect” (1 Tim. 5:21), in distinction from other angels who have sinned, not having kept their first estate, and having left their own habitation, are therefore eternally damned (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; Mat. 25:41).
(3) Some people are elected to a specific office, possibly in government, as Saul was chosen to be king.
“see ye him whom the LORD hath chosen?” (1 Sam. 10:24). This was also true when he was rejected. “I have rejected him” (1 Sam. 16:1). Others are chosen to an ecclesiastical office, as Judas, who was also chosen to be an apostle. “Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John 6:70).
(4) This manner of election is not under discussion here, but rather the election of some men unto salvation, in contrast to those who have been rejected by God.
Various words are used to give expression to the doctrine of election, such as.
(1) Προορισμός (Proörismos), predestination, which in Latin is “predestinatio.”
It signifies a determination of a matter before it exists or transpires in order to bring it to a certain end. “For to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel, προώρισε (proóórise), determined before (that is, predestined) to be done” (Acts 4:28). This is further confirmed in 1 Corinthians 2:7, “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.” It is this word which is used to refer to man’s destiny relative to salvation, as well as the means whereby they obtain this salvation. “We … being predestinated … having predestinated us unto the adoption of children” (Eph. 1:11, 5); “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.… Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called” (Rom. 8:29–30). This word not only relates to election, but also to reprobation, as confirmed in texts where the word is used in reference to Herod, Pilate, and Judas. “For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28). “And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom He is betrayed” (Luke 22:22).
(2) Another word is Πρόγνωσις (Prognosis), fore-knowledge.
This word does not refer to a mere foreknowledge whereby God has prior knowledge of all things, including the end of men. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). It rather refers to a foreknowledge characterized by love and delight. In this manner Christ is referred to as “the Elect of God,” stating that He “was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20). In like manner “the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous” (Psa. 1:6), and “the Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). Believers are therefore called “elect according to the fore-knowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:2). It signifies election itself. “God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew” (Rom. 11:2); “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate” (Rom. 8:29). This foreknowledge is contrasted with not being known, that is, being rejected. “I never knew you” (Mat. 7:23); “I know you not” (Mat. 25:12).
(3) Scripture also uses Πρόθεσις (Prothesis), or purpose.
This word does not refer to an impotent wish, but to a certain, immutable, unbreakable decree. It is used in reference to the election of the Lord Jesus as Surety. “Whom God hath sent forth to be a propitiation” (Rom. 3:25). It is also used relative to the elect, particularly in reference to both the means by which, and the end unto which they are made partakers of salvation. “… them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28); “… that the purpose of God according to election might stand” (Rom. 9:11); “… being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11).
(4) Then there is the word Ἑχλογή (ekloge), that is, election.
Even though it is used in reference to other matters, it also is frequently used to describe divine appointment unto salvation as well as the means whereby the elect become partakers of salvation. “The purpose of God according to election” (Rom. 9:11); “There is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5); “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God” (1 Th. 1:4). In this respect believers are called the elect. “Few are chosen” (Mat. 22:14); “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” (Rom. 8:33). They are even referred to as “the election” itself. “But the election hath obtained it” (Rom. 11:7). They whom God has chosen for a specific purpose He has also chosen in regard to the means, which is also referred to as “choosing.” “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit. I have chosen you out of the world” (John 15:16, 19).
Having considered the word, we now proceed to consider the matter itself. We shall present it descriptively, and explain it point by point.
Predestination is an eternal, volitional, and immutable decree of God to create some men, concluding1 them in the state of sin, and bringing them unto salvation through Christ, to the glory of His sovereign grace. He simultaneously decreed to create other men, also concluding them in the state of sin, to damn them for their own sin, to the praise of His justice.
Predestination is a divine decree.
Whatever was stated in a general sense in the previous chapter concerning God’s decrees must also be specifically applied to this decree: it is eternal, volitional, wise, and absolutely immutable.
This decree originates in God Himself.
“Moreover whom He did predestinate” (Rom. 8:30); “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … having predestinated us” (Eph. 1:3, 5). God is all-sufficient in and unto Himself; the creation of creatures was not a necessity with Him. It is solely due to His goodness that He wishes to make His creatures partakers of this goodness—indeed, that He has gifted both angels and men with intellect and volition, not merely to find sufficiency and delight within themselves, but to find their felicity in communion with God and in the reflection upon and acknowledging of God’s perfections. Blessed is he whom God has chosen to be thus engaged!
The objective which God had in view with predestination is the magnification of Himself in His grace, mercy, and justice.
This should not be understood to mean that anything can be added to the glory of God, but rather that angels and men, in perceiving and acknowledging this glory, would enjoy felicity. Even among men a wise individual does not proceed without a well-defined objective. A building contractor does not first gather bricks, wood, and various building materials without any intent and then subsequently decide what he will do with them. Rather, he first determines that he wishes to build a house, and in order to accomplish that objective he acquires the materials which serve his purpose. This leads us to affirm the following proposition: The ultimate objective of a plan is conceived first and executed later. This is much more true of the only wise God.
Would God first have decreed to create men and to conclude them in sin without having any further purpose, only to decree subsequently what He would do with them? No, He first decreed the end: the magnification of His grace and justice. For this purpose God decreed the means to accomplish this objective: the creation of man and his conclusion in sin. This is clearly stated in Scripture. “What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory?” (Rom. 9:22–23). The apostle emphatically states God’s objective: to manifest His wrath as well as the riches of His glory. He follows this up by stating which means He will use to accomplish this objective: the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and the vessels of mercy prepared unto glory.
Whatever God accomplishes in time has been decreed by Him from eternity.
He selects some from the depraved mass of the human race to be the recipients of salvation, bringing them to Christ their Surety and saving them by Him. This presupposes that He decreed to do so from eternity. Yet, it is but a means to His objective, which is the magnification of His mercy and justice. It was for that purpose that God decreed the felicity of men; and for that purpose God decreed to create men, to conclude them in sin, and to deliver them through Christ. Therefore if we view predestination comprehensively—including both the end and the means whereby the end is accomplished—both sin and Christ are involved. Although we make a separate and sequential distinction between these various matters, we recognize that God has decreed everything with one singular, all-inclusive decreeing act. For the purpose of orderly presentation, however, we distinguish between the end and the means.
God has also decreed that He will be magnified in His justice.
To accomplish that objective He decreed to create men, to permit them to sin volitionally, and to justly damn them for their sins. God did not create one human being to happiness and another to condemnation. Rather, He created the entire human race perfectly holy, and thus unto felicity—His objective in doing so. I repeat that we must here consider God’s objective in creating man, for the felicity of man was the objective of the state of innocency. If man had remained in this state, it would have resulted in the felicity of all mankind.
We should not confuse the objective of creation and the objective of the Creator. In creation it was not God’s objective that all men would attain unto salvation; for as God’s counsel will stand and His purpose will always be accomplished, all would then indeed attain unto salvation. God prevents no one from obtaining salvation, but man excludes himself since he sins willfully. The election of some unto salvation is not to the detriment of others.
Reprobation is neither the cause that someone sins, nor why someone is damned, but the sinner himself and his sin are the cause. It is true that those who have not been elected will not be saved; it is equally true that none but sinners will be damned. It is also true that whoever repents, believes in Christ, and lives holily will not be damned but saved. Man is therefore to be blamed for not doing so. Likewise when God converts someone, brings him to Christ, and sanctifies him, it is to be attributed to His sovereign grace.
It is thus evident that it is nothing but vicious slander to insist that the church teaches that one man is created unto felicity and the other unto damnation—and therefore someone who would be virtuous to the utmost degree would nevertheless be damned, whereas someone else who would engage in wickedness to the utmost degree would nevertheless be saved. Far be it from the Almighty to do unjustly! That He has determined to manifest His grace and justice to man proceeds purely from His goodness and holiness. It is a pure manifestation of holiness to deliver men through Christ and to lead them unto salvation in the way of holiness. It is also a pure manifestation of holiness to leave men who sin voluntarily in their sin, and to damn them for their sins. When a person becomes godly and a believer, this is not to be attributed to any efforts by man who, being evil, wishes only to do evil. It must rather be attributed to the work of God’s grace which He only performs in the elect.
The Distinctive Characteristics of Predestination
(1) Predestination is eternal, that is, from before the foundation of the world.
“… whom He did predestinate” (Rom. 8:30).
(2) Predestination is volitional.
God was not moved by external or internal causes to predetermine man’s destiny, but was solely moved by His good pleasure. “For so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Mat. 9:22). The fact that God has ordained to lead one individual unto salvation through Christ and to damn another individual for his sins is solely to be attributed to the free exercise of His sovereignty. “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Rom. 9:21). This is infinitely more true of God.
(3) Predestination is an act of wisdom whereby God ordains suitable means to accomplish His end.
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11:33). The apostle exclaims this concerning predestination, which he discussed in this chapter.
(4) Predestination is independent, absolute, and unconditional.
God accomplishes His decree by the use of means, but the means are not the conditions. The decree is not contingent upon the means. Thus, the means neither establish nor unsettle this decree. God Himself governs the means to accomplish His certain, immutable, and immovable purpose—a purpose which proceeds from within Himself according to His good pleasure. All means are subordinate to this good pleasure. “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:11–13).
(5) Predestination is an immutable decree.
Since God’s purpose originates in eternity, it is not contingent upon the condition of goodness or evil within man, but proceeds solely from the good pleasure of God. It is thus impossible for this purpose to change. God Himself is immutable, wise, and omnipotent. Therefore Romans 8:30 states, “Moreover whom He did predestinate … them He also glorified” (cf. Rom. 9:21–23).
The Two Parts of Predestination: Election and Reprobation
Predestination consists of two parts: election and reprobation. This is evident from texts in which both are mentioned simultaneously. “… vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: … vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory” (Rom. 9:22–23); “The election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Rom. 11:7); “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:9).
The Decree of Election
Various words are used to describe the decree of election, such as “purpose,” “foreknowledge,” and “predestination.” “… them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate” (Rom. 8:28–29). It is also referred to as being ordained to eternal life: “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48); as being written in the book of life: “but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20); as obtaining salvation (1 Th. 5:9), and by the word “chosen”: “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
Election is the foreordination of God whereby He eternally, certainly, and immutably has decreed to lead some specific individuals, identified by name, unto eternal salvation, not because of foreseen faith or good works, but motivated purely by His singular and sovereign good pleasure, to the glory of His grace.
(1) Election is a divine deed.
It has pleased the eternal God, who is all-sufficient in Himself, to communicate His goodness, having chosen some men to be the recipients of that communication. “He hath chosen us” (Eph. 1:4); He hath appointed us “to obtain salvation” (1 Th. 5:9). It is for this reason that they are called “His own elect” (Luke 18:7). God must not be perceived here as Judge, judging the deeds of men to either justify or damn them in consequence of this, but He must here be considered as sovereign Lord, who deals with His creatures as it pleases Him, electing the one and rejecting the other.
(2) Election originates in eternity.
In time, God sets some apart by His efficacious call, bringing them from a natural state into the state of grace. “I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16). This selective call, however, proceeds from God’s eternal purpose (Rom. 8:28). Thus the decree of election was not made in time—in response to man’s existence, faith, and godly life—but occurred before man performed any good deed (Rom. 9:11); that is, from eternity, before the foundation of the world. “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4); “According to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11); “… according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9).
(3) Election pertains to specific individuals; that is, God has made a distinction between men and men.
“Many be called, but few chosen” (Mat. 20:16); “… but the election … and the rest …” (Rom. 11:7). The elect are specific individuals, identified by name, in contradistinction to other specific individuals. God neither chose individuals because of qualities or virtues nor because of faith or godliness, but His choice relates to specific identity only. “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate” (Rom. 8:29); “The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19); “… whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3).
(4) Election did not occur by virtue of Christ’s merits, foreseen faith, or anticipated good works.
These are fruits issuing forth from election. They are not the causes of election. They do not precede election but are a consequence of it. There is nothing which necessitates God to do anything. Nothing which would be in man, nor any future deeds, moved God to elect a person. The reason for election is nothing but the sovereign good pleasure of God. “… according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself … having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Christ Jesus to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:9, 5).
This alone is the fountain of election. In its execution, however, God uses means. God, having permitted the human race to become subject to sin and punishment, in time draws His elect out of this state and is gracious to them. Election is therefore called the election of grace. “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works” (Rom. 11:5–6).
Because God has elected some, He grants Christ to them in order to bring them to God and salvation in a manner consistent with His divine Being. “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me” (John 17:6). It is in this respect that election occurred in Christ. “According as He hath chosen us in Him.… Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto Himself … wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:4–6).
This election is not a consequence of any foreseen faith or good works. These issue forth out of election, being the means to make the elect partakers of the salvation ordained for them. This is true for faith: “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Therefore faith is called the faith of the elect (Titus 1:1). Consider also what is stated concerning good works in Ephesians 1:5, 4, “Having predestinated us [not because we were such and such or because God viewed us as such but] …” that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” “For whom he did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). These He called, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:30).
(5) Election is immutable.
Man will not change this decree, as this election was not made on the basis of conditions. God Himself works in His elect that which is pleasing to Him, thereby leading them unto salvation. God will not of Himself change this decree, since with the Lord there “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). The Lord’s wisdom and omnipotence cause His counsel to stand: This is why Scripture speaks of the “immutability of His counsel” (Heb. 6:17); “That the purpose of God according to election might stand” (Rom. 9:11); “The foundation of God standeth sure” (2 Tim. 2:19); “Whom He did predestinate … them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).
(6) The purpose of election is the glorification of God.
This is not to add glory to Him, for He is perfect, but to reveal all His glorious perfections which manifest themselves in the work of redemption, to angels and men, in order that in reflecting upon them felicity may be experienced. Its purpose is, by glorifying and praising Him, to end with all things in Him in whom all things must end, and thus to afford Him honor and glory. The purpose is “to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe” (2 Th. 1:10); it is to “the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6). In reference to this the apostle exclaims, “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
The other element of predestination is reprobation, to which reference is made in a variety of ways, such as “to be cast away.” “I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away” (Isa. 41:9); to be fitted to destruction (Rom. 9:22); to be appointed unto wrath (1 Th. 5:9); to be ordained unto condemnation (Jude 4); and not to be written in the book of life (Rev. 13:8). These texts prove at once that there is such a thing as reprobation.
We define reprobation to be the predestination of some specific individuals, identified by name, out of sovereign good pleasure to the manifestation of God’s justice in them by punishing them for their sins.
(1) Just as we have shown and shall further prove that election pertains to specific individuals, so this is likewise applicable to reprobation.
“… whose names were not written in the book of life” (Rev. 17:8). Christ said to specific individuals, “Ye are not of My sheep” (John 10:26). They are designated by the relative pronoun “who.” “For there are certain men … who were before of old ordained to this condemnation” (Jude 4). This is the reason why some are specifically called by name, such as Esau (Rom. 9:13), Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17), and Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:25). The number of reprobates far exceeds the number of elect, who in contrast to them—even of those that are called—are referred to as “few” (Mat. 20:16).
(2) Reprobation proceeds solely from God’s good pleasure.
Although the ungodliness of the reprobates is the cause of their damnation, this nevertheless was not the reason why God, to the glory of His justice, was moved to decree their reprobation. It purely proceeds from the good pleasure of God who has the right and the power to do as He pleases with His own. Thus, no one is permitted to say, “Why hast Thou made me thus?” (Rom. 9:20). According to His good pleasure He conceals the way of salvation (Mat. 11:25–26); “He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18). His purpose stands firm. This is confirmed in Romans 9:11 where it is stated, “for the children being not yet born, neither having done good or evil.” It is therefore according to God’s sovereignty and good pleasure to manifest His justice towards some and His grace to others (Rom. 9:22–23). God shall maintain His holiness and justice. Believers know that God is just and righteous in all His doings. Let him who wishes to strive with God concerning this do so.
(3) As the decree itself is a manifestation of the sovereignty of God, its purpose is the manifestation of God’s justice which reveals itself in the execution of this decree.
He who decrees the end simultaneously decrees the means unto this end. Sin is the only reason that God has decreed to damn specific individuals. God permits them by their own volition to turn from Him and to enslave themselves to sin. They, having sinned, become subject to the curse threatened upon sin. God, while delivering others from sin and its curse by means of the Surety Jesus Christ, bypasses them, and therefore they neither hear God nor believe in Him. “Ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:47); “But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep” (John 10:26). As a righteous Judge God punishes them due to their sin in “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). Thus, God shows His wrath over “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” (Rom. 9:22).
Up to this point we have explained this doctrine; however, this doctrine has many opponents, such as Roman Catholics (although not exclusively so), Arminians, Lutherans, and others.
Questions and Objections Answered
The Arminians appeared on the scene at the beginning of the seventeenth century. They were condemned by the national Synod—better referred to as the General Synod held in 1618 and 1619 in Dordrecht—and were subsequently expelled from the Reformed Church.
They, first of all, propose the existence of a universal, indefinite decree which relates to believers and their perseverance in good works, as well as the damnation of the ungodly. This is referred to as the will of divine precedence.
Secondly, they propose that God, moved by universal philanthropy, ordained Jesus Christ to be a Savior of all men in general and each one specifically. They maintain that God has done so in consequence of the universal atonement of Christ as well as man’s faith and perseverance in good works, both of which they consider to proceed from the exercise of man’s free will which God anticipates by virtue of His mediate knowledge (see chapter 3) whereby He knows what everyone will or will not do.
They maintain that this is the reason why God was moved to decree to save some, whereas due to foreseen continuance in unbelief, ungodliness, and apostasy He was moved to damn others. They also propose that no person can be assured of his salvation because he knows not whether he will persevere or not, even though he is presently believing and godly.
Within Roman Catholicism there is no agreement concerning this doctrine, but rather vehement contention. Some are almost orthodox in this doctrine, whereas others agree with the Arminians. First the battle was waged between the Franciscans and Dominicans and afterwards between the Jesuits and Jansenists. Some hold to election by grace, whereas others promote election on the basis of works. Others hold to yet different opinions, the one maintaining that election unto grace is by grace only, but unto glory on the basis of works, whereas others insist that both are on the basis of works.
Lutherans do not strictly adhere to the sentiments of Luther who was pure in this doctrine in spite of his use of expressions which are a bit too crude. His followers, however—the one more than the other—deviate from his position.
They propose the existence of two decrees.
The first decree pertains to the election of Christ to be a universal Savior of the entire human race. They hold to an election of all men in order that all might be redeemed through Christ, may receive means which are sufficient unto salvation, be called to Christ, and be saved upon the conditions of faith and repentance. Thus, all could possibly be saved if they would but believe in Christ and repent; however, the majority of mankind would reject this offer and thus perish.
In addition they propose a different decree of election:
God from eternity and out of sovereign grace has chosen certain specific individuals unto salvation in Christ, He being the foundation of election, who as Surety would pay for them and merit salvation.
Others wish to hold to a foreseen faith, be it as a moving cause or as a means similar to its function in justification.
They furthermore propose that the elect upon birth are dead in sins and trespasses and thus are entirely impotent to repent and to believe in Christ. At God’s time, however, in accordance with the decree of election, He converts them, grants them faith, and preserves them unto salvation. Thus, they maintain that the elect can completely apostatize after regeneration and again become dead in sins and trespasses. Nevertheless they cannot do so irrevocably, since God, according to His eternal and immutable decree, restores faith and regeneration prior to their death. Consequently, an elect person, having been regenerated, can be assured of his salvation.
Amyraut, and all who follow him, maintain to have found a middle position whereby the offense of the true doctrine can be removed.
They hold to the existence of two decrees.
One is a universal decree whereby God, being graciously disposed towards the entire human race, decreed to send Christ into the world so that He by virtue of His atonement would merit the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation for all men—this being contingent upon faith in Him and their not neglecting this salvation. To some extent God would then will the salvation of all men and every man would be able to be saved if he would but exercise his will accordingly. To this they add a special decree whereby God out of sovereign grace has chosen certain specific individuals unto salvation. By virtue of this decree He will most certainly lead them to salvation, granting them (due to their natural inability) faith and repentance and preserving them in this state by His power. From all this a regenerate person may be assured of his salvation.
As far as the first decree is concerned, Amyraldians are in agreement with Armininans and Lutherans, but are orthodox concerning the second decree. In the presentation of the sentiments of the various parties it becomes evident that there is not merely one point of contention, but that various points of contention are intermingled. We shall therefore consider and treat each point by itself.
Socinians maintain that there are two elections: one universal, eternal election of godly men, and one particular election which occurs in time.
Has God from eternity purposed universally to have mercy upon the entire human race, having ordained Christ to be a Savior for each and every one, calling them all to Himself and blessed communion with Him?
The sentiments of the various parties and the manner in which they express themselves concerning this manner have been explained above. All agree, however, in this point that God has not ultimately intended and purposed to save all men, perceiving that then all men would most certainly become the recipients of salvation—a fact contradicted by reality.
We respond that God does not hate any creature other than because of sin, having a common affection for all His creatures as created beings, each after his kind. He maintains and governs them, in this way not leaving Himself without witness to sinners, doing good to them and filling their hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17). We also maintain that God is pleased with the conversion of men, their faith in Christ, their prayers, their alms, and their sanctification, as all of these are principal elements of the restoration of God’s image in man. We deny, however, the existence of such universal grace or purpose to be gracious to all men, to give Christ to be a universal Savior for all men, and presenting Christ as such to all men.
First, we maintain that whatever God does in this time state, He has decreed from eternity.
“… who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). Thus, God, in this time state, is not gracious to all men. “He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18). God did not send Christ into the world to be the Savior of all, but only for His elect. Christ suffered as a Surety and High Priest, and the merits of Christ and their application are inseparable. The first is not broader in scope than the other, and Scripture ascribes the efficacy of Christ’s death only to some. We will deal with this more comprehensively in chapter 22, “The Satisfaction of Christ.” God does not offer Christ to all men, for he does not call all men. “He sheweth His word unto Jacob. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for His judgments, they have not known them” (Psa. 147:19–20). Christ confirms this in Matthew 11:25–26, “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” This reality is incontrovertibly confirmed by daily experience. We therefore conclude that in eternity God did not make a universal, gracious decree. He neither ordained Christ to be the Savior of all men, nor did He decree to offer Christ to all men.
Secondly, election and reprobation are the opposite of each other.
Both relate to specific individuals. Both election and reprobation concern specific persons with specific names. All of this has previously been demonstrated. Thus, there is simply no room for a universal decree—to be gracious to all and to send Christ for all men. It cannot be maintained that this is a determination in a second or subsequent decree, and then suggest that this decree does not eliminate a prior decree which is universal in scope. Nowhere does Scripture speak of a first and a second decree, much less of a first decree which is nullified by a subsequent decree. God’s decree is immutable. Since God in His eternal decree has appointed some unto wrath and destruction, it follows that there was no prior decree of God to be gracious to them.
Thirdly, the position that grace is universal in scope has several inherent absurdities, which in turn generate additional absurdities:
(1) To propose that there is a universal will to save all men implies that God wills contrary to His will.
He who truly, sincerely, and fervently wishes to accomplish a task, will execute it if at all possible. God is able to actually save all men, but it is not according to His will. This is confirmed by the outcome of events. If, however, it is God’s desire to save all men, then He necessarily has willed to do so, which is also true for the reverse argument.
(2) This universal decree to save all men is either absolute or conditional.
If it is absolute, God has failed in His purpose, for all men are not saved. If it is conditional, God will either execute this condition or merely demand that it be met. If God Himself were to execute this condition, all men would actually be saved. This is simply not true. If God does not wish to execute the condition, but merely demands that it be met, then He does not truly will the salvation of all men. God knows that it is completely impossible for sinful man to comply with this condition, since he is spiritually dead, blind, unwilling, and impotent. Then God would fervently and earnestly desire something which He simultaneously knows with certainty will never come to pass.
(3) If God were to universally will the salvation of all men, He would fail in His purpose and would be deprived from accomplishing His will, since He wills something which does not occur.
He wills the salvation of all men; and nevertheless, they are not all saved.
It is quite different, however, when God commands something and declares that obedience to it would be pleasing to Him. There can obviously be no argument about the fact that men do not obey the will of God’s command. It is again a different matter to decree something with a purpose, and it is this will of God’s decree which is the point of contention here. It is the will of God’s decree which is thwarted if that which He wills does not come to pass. If God had decreed the salvation of all men, He would be thwarted in His purpose, as He would not obtain that which He decreed according to His will and that which He wills according to His decree. Since all this is absurd, it is also absurd to maintain that within God there is a will to decree the universal salvation of all men.
The reasons advanced by those who hold to the view of universal grace are dealt with in our discussion concerning the satisfaction of Christ in chapter 22. Here we shall deal briefly with some of the reasons and demonstrate that they do not lend support to the idea of a decree of universal grace.
“As I live, saith the LORD God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from His way and live” (Ezek. 33:11).
Answer: The decree of God, which most certainly will be executed and whereby God always accomplishes His purpose, is not discussed in this text. It rather speaks of God’s delight in the conversion of man whereby man is again restored in the image and likeness of God; also that God, by virtue of the fact that man is His creature, is displeased with both man’s failure to repent as well as his damnation.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth …” (John 3:16); “… which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51); “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19); “And He is the propitiation of our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
These texts do not deal with the point of contention, which is the eternal decree of God, but rather with Christ’s mission on behalf of man.
(2) The word “world” here refers to human beings, to the human race which is the object of God’s love for men, the human race being the object of God’s love and benevolence.
This does not mean that God loves every individual human being in the world, that Christ imparts spiritual life to every man, and that sin is not imputed to everyone. All this is evident from the general language of the Bible. The first world perished in the flood (Luke 17:27); nevertheless, Noah and his family were preserved. The devil “deceiveth the whole world” (Rev. 12:9), “and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). Who would therefore conclude that there were no believers in the world and that there was not a single human being who was not deceived by the devil, nor lying in wickedness? Christ says, “I pray not for the world” (John 17:9), which does not imply that there is not a person on earth for whom Christ does pray. The word “world” cannot be understood as referring to each and every human being upon earth, but one should understand it to refer to those individuals which the text has in view. Sometimes the reference is to a multitude of people, “Behold, the world is gone after Him” (John 12:19), or to the ungodly in contradistinction to the elect (John 17:9). Sometimes it is used in regard to the elect in contrast with others. In 2 Corinthians 5:19, “world” is used to refer to those who are reconciled with God and to whom God does not impute their trespasses. This does not apply to the ungodly, but to the elect.
“For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32); “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Rom. 5:18); “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22); “And that He died for all …” (2 Cor. 5:15); “Who will have all men to be saved.… Who gave Himself a ransom for all …” (1 Tim. 2:4, 6); “… not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
Our response to each of these texts can be found in chapter 22. The word “all” does not refer to all men who have existed, do exist, and will exist, but rather to all those who are under discussion in each individual text. Romans 5:18 speaks of all those who are in Christ, who will be the recipients of justification unto life. Romans 11:32 refers to the rejection and the restoration or repentance of the Jewish nation. 1 Corinthians 15:22 speaks of all who will be made alive in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:15 makes mention of all believers who have died to sin and are partakers of spiritual life. In 1 Timothy 2:4–6, the reference is to all sorts of men, which is evident in verse 2—all sorts of men rather than all men will come to the knowledge of the truth. Whatever God has decreed shall certainly come to pass and whatever does not occur is not according to the will of God’s decree. Thus, all men are not saved, but only those in whose stead Christ has been given as a ransom. 2 Peter 3:9 refers to the elect who will come to repentance and who must first be gathered in before the world perishes. It also makes mention of the command and the declaration of the gospel which commands everyone who hears it to repent, speaking of both God’s pleasure and displeasure relative to repentance or the lack of it.
Since we have demonstrated above that the proponents of universal grace make Christ the foundation and cause of election, it is necessary to answer the following question.
Does the election of Christ precede in its order the election of men, so that God was moved by the merits of Christ to elect men, or does the election of men take precedence, and thus Christ was chosen to execute the election of men?
The proponents of a universal grace hold to the first position and we to the second position. Christ, as far as the decree of election is concerned, is the Executor of this election. He is the meriting but not the moving cause of the salvation to which the elect are ordained. We maintain this for the following reasons:
First, Christ has been chosen on behalf of the elect, to be their Mediator, Redeemer, and Savior.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10); “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). These texts state clearly that the gift of the Son proceeds and issues forth from the love of God towards the elect. It is a fact in the realm of nature that the cause precedes the effect, the end precedes the means whereby the end is attained, and the objective precedes any activity related to it. Thus, the love of God toward the elect as well as their election preceded the ordination of the Surety who is given to them (Isa. 9:5), is given them unto their redemption and salvation, and who was foreordained and manifested for them (1 Pet. 1:20). The Lord Jesus confirms this in John 17:6, where He states, “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me.” They were therefore the property of the Father before they were given to the Son as Surety and Mediator, and thus their election precedes the election of the Surety who was chosen for the benefit of their salvation.
Secondly, election has no other cause than the good pleasure of God.
“Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:9–11). Election has precedence here, as the elect are said to be ordained according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His own will; that is, according to His good pleasure. There is here no other cause which would have moved God. To this is added the means whereby God would accomplish His purpose: “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ.” Thus, Christ is the ordained means whereby those who have been chosen according to God’s sovereign good pleasure are made partakers of the salvation to which they have been ordained. He is therefore neither the moving cause nor the foundation of election. This is also confirmed by the following texts. “… it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32); “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Mat. 11:26); “… not of works, but of Him that calleth” (Rom. 9:11).
“According as He hath chosen us in Him” (Eph. 1:4); “… grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9).
(1) To be chosen in Christ is to be made partakers of all spiritual blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3).
The apostle clearly expresses this in 1 Thessalonians 5:9, where he states, “For God hath … appointed us … to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our appointment unto salvation is the issue at hand, and this appointment is executed by the agency of Christ. Thus “in Christ” does not mean “for Christ’s sake,” but rather by means of Christ. He has chosen us to be saved through Christ. Before anyone was in Christ, he already was the property of the Father. “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me” (John 17:6).
(2) Grace was given in Christ before the world began, although not in actuality, as the elect did not as yet exist.
Rather, it was ordained that grace would be given them in time by Christ as the Executor of the plan of salvation. Thus, these texts do not afford the least proof that Christ is the moving cause and foundation of election.
“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” (Rom. 8:29). The image to which there must be conformity precedes that which is conformed to this image. Thus, Christ was elected prior to men, and man is elected as He is viewed in Christ.
(1) The apostle states expressly that His foreknowledge of the elect has precedence.
“For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image,” etc.
(2) Conformity to the image of His Son occurs in this time state, and is not related to the decree but to the execution of this decree.
The apostle states that God has ordained from eternity, and that those known from eternity would be conformed to the image of Christ in this time state. He does not say, however, that God, in electing, conformed His elect to the image of His Son. If there were such a text, their argument would have a semblance of validity, but this is not at all the case.
(3) Christ is said to be the firstborn among many brethren, but not the first elect. It is the latter that needed to be proven.
The apostle here speaks of the beginning of the salvation of the elect, which is the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is both the meriting cause of salvation as well as the example to which the elect are conformed in time, both in reference to His suffering and His life. In this respect He is the firstborn of all in the actual execution of God’s decree, and in His excellence.
Have some men been the specific object of God’s choice; that is, has He chosen them by name?
The Arminians maintain that all men have been the object of God’s choice, this choice being contingent upon faith, repentance, and perseverance, all of which in turn are contingent upon the exercise of man’s free will. They insist that election is God’s decree to save all who believe and are godly, and that reprobation is God’s decree to damn all unbelievers and the ungodly, without specifying them by name. They furthermore maintain that God, by virtue of a mediate knowledge, knows who shall and who shall not be willing to believe. As a result of this knowledge God knows who will and who will not be saved.
We maintain, however, that God has chosen a predetermined number of specific individuals by name. He has furthermore decreed to send Christ to be a Mediator to lead them unto salvation. He decreed to call them irresistibly unto Christ, grant them faith and repentance, preserve them by His power, and thus in actuality save them. This is confirmed by the following proofs.
It is evident from the word Προοριζειν (proörizein), that is, to ordain beforehand, which is repeatedly used in reference to election (cf. Rom. 8:29–30; Eph. 1:5, 11).
This word means “to ordain someone for a specific purpose.” “For to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:28); “Him … by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,” etc. (Acts 2:23); “Again, He limiteth a certain day” (Heb. 4:7); He “hath determined … the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). Since God uses this word in reference to election, it therefore pertains to specifically identified individuals who are ordained unto salvation. The same is also expressed by the verb “to elect,” which is the Greek word ἐκλογή (ekloge). He who takes the whole does not make a choice. To elect is to choose something from among many for oneself according to one’s own pleasure. Since Scripture states that God from eternity has chosen certain men unto salvation, it does not imply that all men are ordained to this salvation, but rather that He has chosen specific individuals unto Himself.
It is evident from the fact that some names have been written in the book of life.
The children of Israel had their genealogies from which they could prove their tribal origin. Likewise God is said to have such a book, which is called the book of life (Rev. 3:5). The names of the reprobate are not recorded in this book. “… whose names are not written in the book of life …” (Rev. 13:8). Rather, the names of those elected unto salvation are recorded in this book. “But rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). In Revelation 21:27 it is stated that “they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will enter the new Jerusalem. The Father has elected them, written them in His book, and has given them to the Son in order that He might redeem them. He in turn assumed responsibility for them, and has transferred their names into His book, which for this reason is called the “book of the Lamb.” “… help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil. 4:3). It cannot be expressed any more clearly. There is here no mention of any virtue or condition. There is no general reference to evil and good, to believers or unbelievers, but the name of each individual is recorded in the book of life. Those whose names are recorded in this book are mentioned by name, as well as those whose names are not recorded. Thus, election relates to specific individuals.
This is also evident from the contrast between persons rather than virtues.
“… many be called, but few chosen” (Mat. 20:16); “… the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” (Rom. 11:7). It is nowhere recorded that God elects or rejects virtues, nor is it stated anywhere that God has elected or rejected individuals with a specific nature. Rather, the reference is always to specific persons. “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13). Even though this may be applied to their descendants, as the descendants of the one were incorporated into the church and those of the other were rejected—even from the administration of the means of grace—the text nevertheless refers to individuals as far as eternal election and rejection is concerned. All of this is evident from the context of this text, for the apostle follows this proposition with a treatise concerning election and rejection. This is also confirmed by those texts which do not mention individuals by name, but which nevertheless use the pronouns “our,” “those,” and “these.” “… as He hath chosen us …” (Eph. 1:4); “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate …” (Rom. 8:29). These words do not refer to virtues, but rather to specific individuals. “The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19).
If God had chosen specific individuals, their names would have to be recorded in the Bible, which contains the entire counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
The names of some are recorded as has been demonstrated.
It is sufficient if their names have been recorded in the book of life. As far as the full counsel of God is concerned, Scripture reveals as much as we need to know to believe, to live holily, and to be comforted.
Since all the promises of God are conditional, then this is also true for election.
God’s manner of operation in this time state is consistent with His eternal decree, and if therefore election is conditional, it is neither absolute nor does it relate to specific individuals.
We reject this conclusion.
There are conditional promises, but it does not necessarily follow that there is a conditional decree of election. The decree is one thing and the administration of the gospel another. It is true that whatever God accomplishes in time He has decreed from eternity. Since He makes conditional promises in time, He consequently decreed from eternity to make conditional promises. This is logical, but it does not follow that therefore election is also conditional.
If God has decreed such an election which is both absolute and specific, then He would not issue a conditional command to the elect relative to the acquisition of salvation, nor a threat of damnation upon disobedience to this command, which nevertheless does commonly occur in the Word of God.
This is not a logical argument.
He who has most certainly decreed the end, has also decreed the means whereby He brings the elect to that end. This is the way which God holds before them: faith and repentance. He uses promises and threatenings, which are sanctified by His Spirit, to motivate them towards that end.
If there was such a thing as an election of specific individuals, the gospel could not be proclaimed to everyone unconditionally, nor could a reprobate be commanded to believe in Christ, with the promise of salvation annexed to it.
It would be contradictory not to will someone’s salvation and nevertheless to promise salvation to him if he believes in Christ. Consequently, God has not chosen specific individuals by name.
The fact that there is such a specific election has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt.
It is equally true that there is an unconditional offer of the gospel, to which the promise of salvation is annexed upon the conditions of faith and repentance. There is no contradiction here, for the one is absolute and the other conditional. The one is a decree, whereas the other is a command. There is a difference between the objective of the worker and the ultimate realization of his work. It is a manifestation of God’s goodness to present the gospel to the unrepentant with a conditional promise, and it is man’s duty to obey that gospel. Election does not prevent the unrepentant from obedience, but rather their own evil nature, and God is thus glorified when He damns them for their own disobedience.
Did election proceed purely from the sovereign good pleasure of God, without any external influence, or was this decree made on the basis of foreseen faith and good works?
The latter is the view of many in Roman Catholicism, of Arminians, and of many Lutherans.
We do maintain that faith and holiness constitute the way by which God accomplishes the decree of election. They are, however, in no way the moving cause nor the foundation of election which solely and purely proceeds from God’s sovereign good pleasure.
First, this is evident from Scripture’s express declaration that election has no other cause but God’s good pleasure alone.
(1) “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9). The apostle speaks of persons (us), and not of virtues. He declares that God who saves them grants them eternal glory, and leads them there by means of the calling. He reveals the fountain from which the purpose and the means unto this purpose proceed. He affirms that this is not to be found in works but solely in the purpose and grace of God.
(2) “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; it was said unto her … so then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:11–12, 16). The apostle here refers to two specific individuals, Jacob and Esau, and not to their descendants as if to imply that Jacob’s descendants would constitute the church of God and Esau’s descendants would be deprived of the means of grace. He speaks of these two, considering them not yet born, “neither having done any good or evil.” It is the apostle’s objective to exclude all consideration of works as the moving cause that one person is accepted and the other rejected. He wishes to confirm that God’s purpose according to election is the only origin of election and rejection, and thus the decree is not based on works but originates in the God who calls. From God’s dealings with these two men, the apostle draws the line to God’s dealings with all other men. Thus the reason why someone is appointed for destruction is not to be found in man even though sin is the cause for damnation coming upon them. Likewise, the reason why anyone is prepared unto glory is neither to be found in man, but only in the good pleasure of the Lord (vss. 21, 22). The reason is not to be found in willing nor running, but in the mercy of God.
(3) “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32); “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Mat. 11:26); “Having predestinated us … according to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5); “… there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace,” etc. (Rom. 11:5–6). These texts expressly state God’s good pleasure and His sovereign grace to be the origin of election unto salvation, excluding all other things, particularly all works.
Faith, good works, and the perseverance in both of these do not originate in man himself, but in God. They proceed from eternal election. Consequently, election is not based on faith, good works, and perseverance.
We will subsequently demonstrate in chapters 31 and 32 that these matters do not proceed from man himself. That election is not the result of faith, but faith the result of election, is evident from what follows.
First, “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.
Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified” (Rom. 8:29–30). Here the apostle posits election as being unto glory and grace, unto glory as the ultimate end, and unto the benefits as means whereby this ordained glory is obtained.
Paul makes mention of the cross and states that believers have been appointed to suffer as Christ has suffered in order that they may be conformed to the image of His Son. He further says that they are called to this and that patient cross-bearing has the approbation of God; in this way He brings them to glory in the sight of all men.
(1) It is obvious that the apostle is referring to individuals;
That is, specific individuals, pointing them out as it were with his finger as he uses words such as, “this,” “that,” “those,” “not such,” and “such.”
(2) Even though the apostle has previously made mention of suffering, his reference in these texts is not to suffering,
But he establishes a firm foundation for comfort in suffering: their eternal election unto glory—the latter being attained by making them conformed to Christ, calling them, and justifying them.
(3) This conformity of believers does not consist in the cross itself, for the ungodly also encounter crosses, who nevertheless are not conformed to Christ.
This conformity consists in holiness. “… we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:49); “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19); “But we all … are changed unto the same image …” (2 Cor. 3:18).
(4) This calling is not a calling unto the cross, but unto faith, hope, and love, which occurs by means of the gospel and is to glory and virtue.
“… Him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3); “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory” (1 Pet. 5:10). This calling proceeds from election, as the apostle confirms here. Those whom He has foreknown, He has predestinated, and those He has called. This is why those who are called are declared to be chosen and faithful: “And they that are with Him are called, and chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:14). In addition, the apostle speaks of such a calling which is inseparably linked to glory. The calling to bear the cross does not generally result in salvation, however, for God also brings crosses upon the ungodly. Many who are called externally, apostatize as a result of the cross (Mat. 13:21).
(5) The suggestion that justification would be God’s approbation upon the suffering of believers does not contain a semblance of truth.
To be justified means to be acquitted from sin and punishment for the sake of Christ’s merits. “It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died” (Rom. 8:33–34). Thus, justification is not God’s public approbation upon the suffering and patience of believers.
(6) Likewise, glorification does not signify the granting of honor before men; rather, it refers to making one a partaker of eternal glory.
Nowhere does glorification refer to the act whereby God exalts someone or gives him a position of honor among men. Furthermore, believers are not honored among men for their suffering; suffering causes them to be held in contempt and to be despised by the world. To be glorified is to be made a partaker of eternal glory. “… that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). Peter refers to being glorified as receiving a crown of glory. “Ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Pet. 5:4).
From all this it may be concluded that this argument is vain and invalid. Thus, this text confirms that conformity to Christ, calling, and justification proceed from eternal election, from which follows that God in His electing decree was not moved by faith and good works to elect one person rather than someone else.
Secondly, this is confirmed by texts specifically referring to faith, good works, and perseverance.
These texts demonstrate that election is not based on these virtues, but that they are the result of election.
In Acts 13:48 there is stated concerning faith. “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Specific individuals are here said to believe, to which is added why they believed, whereas others did not. The origin of their believing was to be found in the fact that God had ordained them unto eternal life. Although it is not stated who ordained them, we nevertheless know that no one can ordain anyone unto eternal life but God alone. “God hath … appointed us … to obtain salvation” (1 Th. 5:9). The objective was eternal life, to which some had been ordained. Although it is not stated here that they were predestinated, we nevertheless know that ordination to eternal life is from eternity (cf. Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 3:11).
They had been ordained to eternal life. This does not imply that they had a good, suitable inner disposition, for apart from the fact that this word is never descriptive of an internal spiritual frame—no man has such a suitable inner disposition to believe or to be worthy of eternal life as we will demonstrate at the appropriate time—it does mean “to ordain,” “to determine,” “to appoint,” and “to be committed to something,” which in 1 Corinthians 16:16 is expressed as “submitting one’s self unto.” Since God had ordained them unto eternal life, it necessarily follows that God granted them faith as the means to lead them to eternal life. When it is stated “as many as believed,” it is neither suggested that the apostle knew the precise number, nor that there were no more elect in those localities to be converted later. It merely indicates that the word was fruitful and efficacious, causing many to believe, and that none but the elect did believe.
This is also confirmed in Titus 1:1, where the phrase occurs, “the faith of God’s elect.” This neither suggests that faith preceded election, nor was a moving cause for election, for then it would have been an election of faith. Since, however, it is referred to as the faith of the elect, it is evident that faith is subsequent to election and proceeds from it.
Thirdly, it is evident that holiness proceeds from election.
“According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children” (Eph. 1:4–5). Although holiness is the objective for which God chooses someone, it is not therefore the moving cause why someone is chosen above someone else. That He has chosen us does not suggest that He has chosen us as believers, knowing by virtue of His mediate knowledge that we would believe, as a fruit of which we would exercise holiness. Then foreseen faith would be the moving cause of election, from which holiness would issue forth. The apostle rather speaks of those who now actually believe, and says of them that they were elected, since faith is given to someone because he is elect. This we have demonstrated and is also evident from verse 3, “… who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” All spiritual blessings proceed from election, which includes faith, it being a special blessing and gift of God. This is equally true of sanctification.
Fourthly, it is evident that perseverance proceeds from election. “… that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Mat. 24:24).
False prophets would have much power of deception and thus deceive many, but they would not be able to deceive any true believers, the reason being that they are elected. Such is also the case in Revelation 13:8 where it is stated, “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him (the beast), whose names are not written in the book of life.” Why is it that others would not follow the beast? By comparison it is evident that it was because their names were written in the book of life, as is confirmed by the golden chain of salvation, out of which not one link can be removed. Those whom He has foreknown, predestinated, called, and justified, he has also glorified (Rom. 8:29–30). The apostle Peter extracts all blessing—also the perseverance of saints—from eternal election. In 1 Peter 1:2 he calls believers “elect,” and in verse 5 he says about those elect that they “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”
“For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate” (Rom. 8:29).
Here it is expressly stated that foreknowledge precedes predestination. This means that God sees the faith, good works, and perseverance of believers prior to His election of them, and is thereby moved to elect them in deference to others.
Far be it from us to suggest that the apostle here states that God perceives the faith and good works of some in advance and therefore elects them.
The apostle in using the relative pronoun “whom” speaks of persons and not of virtues. This foreknowledge is the eternal election unto salvation; it is a knowing of some to be His. “The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). It also relates to the election of Christ as Mediator, “… who verily was foreordained3 …” (1 Pet. 1:20), as well as to the election of some individuals, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:2). God did not randomly determine who would become godly and believing, but consciously chose specific individuals to be His own. The reason why the apostle here allows foreknowledge to precede predestination is due to the fact that he establishes foreknowledge to be the fountain of all things. From that point he proceeds to the means whereby God leads those who are foreknown to salvation. Those whom He has known to be His own, He has also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, and those He has called, etc.
God has loved the elect from eternity, and therefore foresaw their faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Heb. 11:6).
It is God’s will that we love our enemies, that we bless those who curse us, and that we do well to those that hate us (Mat. 5:44).
Nevertheless there is nothing desirable in these enemies which would move us to love them. God likewise loves His enemies and, motivated by love, gives them His Son (John 3:16). “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God’s love has its origin in God Himself, and He chooses objects to whom He will manifest His love. The motivation for this love does not originate with man. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19). It is a known fact that one can exercise love in a twofold manner. One can love with the love of affection and benevolence, which can be exercised towards his enemy, or with a love of pleasure or delight.4 God has eternally loved the elect with a love of benevolence, and in time with the love of His delight, finding delight in their holy deeds. From that perspective it is impossible to please God without faith. Thus, they whom it pleased God to elect from eternity, please God in time.
God has chosen the saints, the poor of this world, and those that are rich in faith.
“As the elect of God, holy and beloved …” (Col. 3:12); “… because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Th. 2:13); “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit …” (1 Pet. 1:2); “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom?” (James 2:5).
In these texts sanctification and faith are not presented as the moving causes why God has chosen His elect, but rather as fruits of election and as evidences that the person who manifests these fruits has been chosen by God from eternity.
Colossians 3:12 does not suggest that these matters coalesce within God’s eternal purpose, much less that holiness precedes election as its cause. Rather, the apostle refers to the elect as they exist in time, already being partakers of sanctification. He advances election before time, sanctification in time, and the love of God towards them as reasons why they should be motivated to live worthy of these benefits. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 1 Peter 1:2 do not refer to holiness as either preceding election or as being its cause. It does not say, “God has chosen you in view of your sanctification,” but rather that He has chosen them unto salvation and sanctification, this being the way in which they will be brought to salvation. In James 2:5 the apostle makes mention of the temporal condition of some believers as being the poor of the world. He admonishes not to despise them since God had also chosen them to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom.
As election occurred according to God’s sovereign good pleasure, so likewise did reprobation occur for the same reason.
Is the decree of eternal election mutable or immutable?
The Arminians are at a loss here, as they must yield to too many clear and irrefutable passages of Scripture in this regard.
In an effort, however, to maintain mutableness—which they must do as they consider election to be contingent upon the exercise of man’s mutable will—they have invented a distinction by proposing the existence of a perfect and an imperfect decree of election. They view the imperfect decree to be the will of God to save those who believe and are godly. All of this is contingent upon the exercise of man’s free will which enables man either to believe or to apostatize from the faith. They consider the perfect decree of election to be the will of God to save specific individuals, since God has foreseen that they would believe and persevere in faith. The first decree is considered to be mutable and the second immutable—not due to election, but due to the sufficiency of man, which God most certainly and infallibly foresaw. We reject this distinction as being outside of and contrary to the Word of God, and contradictory to the doctrine itself. We therefore maintain that the decree of eternal election, by virtue of its nature, is immutable in the absolute sense of the word. In it God has most certainly decreed the end, as well as the means to that end, by which He irresistibly accomplishes one thing or another.
First, this is evident from all texts which testify of the immutability of all God’s decrees, a truth which we have considered comprehensively in the previous chapter.
“For I am the LORD, I change not” (Mal. 3:6); “… with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17); “For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it?” (Isa. 14:27). “My counsel shall stand” (Isa. 46:10).
Add to this the texts referring to election. “… that the purpose of God according to election might stand …” (Rom. 9:11); “… God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel …” (Heb. 6:17); “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19). It cannot possibly be disputed that this last text refers to eternal election, for the apostle has just discussed the apostasy of Hymenaeus and Philetus. Following this he declares that although they had apostatized, those who are God’s will not apostatize. This does not suggest that the foundation for perseverance is to be found in man, but rather that their being called and brought to faith rests upon a sure foundation—the sure foundation of God, which He Himself has laid. This foundation is His eternal counsel and the election of His own, whom He knows individually by name, upon whom is His eye from eternity (and also in time), and whom He keeps from apostasy by His power. Subsequent to this text the apostle gives us the reason for the apostasy of these two, so one will neither consider it to be strange nor be offended by it, as all sorts of people are to be found within the church—both good and evil—who afore are prepared unto glory or damnation. This compares to the situation in a large house in which various vessels of silver, wood, and stone are to be found, some to honor, and some to dishonor.
Therefore, everyone ought to be diligent in perseverance, adherence to the truth, and the practice of godliness, whereas those who are known by God most certainly must depart from iniquity. Whomever God chooses unto salvation, He also chooses unto holiness. The sanctification of the elect is the evidence that God has chosen them, for which reason they will remain with the truth and persevere in godliness. “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29).
Secondly, Scripture binds election and salvation together with an unbreakable knot.
Neither the immutable God, the evil one, the evil world, nor its powerful corruption will break this bond. Whomever God has chosen unto salvation will most certainly obtain it. Whomever God has foreknown, He has also predestinated, called, justified, and glorified (Rom. 8:29–30). The apostle speaks of glorification in the past tense, it being so certain as if it had already occurred. Consider also Romans 11:7, where it is stated, “The election has obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” This eliminates any notion about virtue and the focus is upon God’s work alone. The apostle states that from election issues forth that which is obtained, for God who does the one, also grants the other.
Thirdly, the perseverance of the saints as a consequence of God’s immutable decree is confirmed by the Lord Jesus.
“For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Mat. 24:24). It is therefore impossible that the elect will be deceived. The word “elect” refers to those whom God has eternally designated to be His, and set before Him as His property. The attack of the false prophets would also be focused on them, doing their utmost to deceive the elect also. They would not be successful, for it is impossible. The statement “if it were possible” does not mean, “if with much objection and great difficulty they would be able to do it,” neither does it say, “if they [the false prophets] would possibly be able to,” for the word “possible” does not refer to the false prophets and their work. Instead, it refers to the certainty of the spiritual state of the elect warranted by the decree of God. As the elect they could not be deceived, and therefore the labors of the false prophets would have no effect upon them.
Believers are continually exhorted to fear and diligence in order to make their calling and election sure.
“Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). This refers to apostasy from God, as was the case with many of the Israelites. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12); “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it” (Heb. 4:1); “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10); “Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” (2 Pet. 3:17).
(1) These texts do not refer to a fear for damnation, but to a careful watch over our conduct.
(2) These exhortations are means to lead believers in the way of righteousness to the salvation to which they are ordained.
Since election is unto glory and grace, it thus relates to the end as well as the means unto that end.
(3) Calling and election are made sure from our side;
That is, we need to be assured that we are partakers of the heavenly calling, from which may be concluded that we are chosen by God. From God’s perspective, however, election is not made sure by us, since it has been sure from eternity in God’s immutable counsel.
Threatenings relative to damnation indicate that election is not immutable.
“I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3); “God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city” (Rev. 22:19).
(1) Threatenings, just as exhortations, are means to stir us up to abstain from sin and to practice godliness.
Whoever does not repent will most certainly go lost, and therefore this threatening is applicable to all who are unconverted. If, however, a person is converted but is not assured thereof, then in his estimation this threat relates to his condition. If, however, a person is converted and is conscious of it, this should motivate him to make additional progress. If he becomes lax and his condition deteriorates, he needs to arouse himself for fear of chastisement in body and soul. All believers must carefully refrain from everything which brings the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. They must give heed to all threatenings in such a manner that they flee from those sins to which the threatening pertains.
(2) To have one’s part taken out of the book of life is synonymous with not being saved.
Such a person is neither a partaker of life, nor does he belong to those whose names are written in the book of life. This does not imply, however, that they initially were partakers of salvation and had been recorded in the book of life, for then all men most certainly would be partakers of eternal life. Then even someone who, until that very moment, would have lived a very ungodly life from his youth, would have his name written in the book of life until he would mutilate the Word of God by eliminating some truths from its pages, and only then would be erased from the book of life. Not even those who object to the immutability of election would hold to such a view, from which they should be convinced that this text cannot be used to maintain the mutability of election.
Those whom God has given to Christ can nevertheless perish.
Thus, the decree of election is not immutable. “Those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition [Judas]” (John 17:12). Paul also testified that he was not sure of his spiritual state, as he could also be a castaway. “… when I have preached to others, I myself should be castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27).
(1) In John 17:12 there is no coalescence of Judas and the others who have been kept, they having been given to Christ by God.
Instead there is a contrast. It is not stated that Judas had been given to Christ, but it is merely stated that even though Judas perished, others did not perish. Therefore the word “but” actually means “except,” for the Greek phrase εἰ μη, (ei mé) is often translated with the word “except” (cf. Mat. 12:4; Gal. 1:7).
(2) Judas had never been given to Christ, for although he had been chosen to be an apostle, he was nevertheless a devil (John 6:70).
Refer also to our answers to the objections found in our discussion concerning “The Perseverance of the Saints” in chapter ninety-nine. The slanderous suggestion that one of the elect, living in the most ungodly manner, will nevertheless be saved, has been answered already.
Can believers be assured of their election?
Those of Roman Catholic and Arminian persuasion, who propose a conditional election due to the mutability of man’s free will, do not know whether they will persevere until the end, and consequently cannot be assured of their election.
We do not maintain that all believers are in possession of assurance, neither do we maintain that assurance is always present in the same sensible degree, nor that a believer is assured during a season of spiritual desertion. Nevertheless, we do maintain that God has given marks of election in Scripture which are such, that a believer perceiving these in himself may conclude by the operation of the Holy Spirit that he is elect and may thus rejoice in the assurance of them. Therefore believers can be assured of their election and should strive to be assured thereof.
Election is also confirmed by its fruits, which are calling, faith, and sanctification. One can be assured that he is a partaker of these and may ascend higher, namely, that God has justified those whom He has called. And those whom He has called He has predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, and those He in turn has foreknown. That someone may be assured of his calling is confirmed in the following texts: “For ye see your calling, brethren” (1 Cor. 1:26); “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1). One can also be assured of his faith. “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12). This is also confirmed by the purpose for which believers have received the Holy Ghost. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2:12). Furthermore, Scripture states expressly that believers are indeed assured. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16). We will treat the subject of assurance comprehensively in the chapter which deals with justification (chapter thirty-four).
Practical Applications of the Doctrine of Election
Aside from the fact that many are offended by these divine truths—the one rejects them, the other slanders them, and a third refuses to heed them—God’s children are occasionally assaulted about whether or not they are of the elect. Some are overcome by a great fright due to an inner voice which says, “You are not called.” Some gradually come into strife concerning this matter while thinking, “If I am not elected, I shall yet go lost, and I fear that in the end I shall find it to be true that I am not one of the elect.”
Sometimes the devil is the originator of this assault, who, without reason, suggests this and impresses upon them word for word, “You are not elected; God hates you; God has rejected you; you will not be saved; and all your prayer and activity are in vain. Therefore, simply give up.” These suggestions torment and injure the soul, bringing it into a disconsolate condition. This causes the soul to be deprived of what he previously enjoyed: a lively faith, heartfelt prayer, a sweet resting and rejoicing in God, and a simple cleaving to and serving of Him.
Sometimes these assaults proceed from man’s own heart. In mentioning these assaults I am not referring to the struggles of him who as yet is not assured about his spiritual state, is greatly concerned, and is seeking a basis for assurance by which he would be able to ascend to the fountain of election itself. Rather, it is an assault which originates in our own evil and unbelieving heart. Due to a foolish inclination we then begin to gainsay, so that by way of gainsaying we would as it were compel God to assure us of our election. This in turn may generate fretting and resentful thoughts towards God.
It is also possible that such disturbing suggestions can occur when the soul is in a better spiritual frame than the aforementioned. This occurs when the soul focuses upon the darkness within, unbelief, the power of inner corruption, and upon the fact that his prayers are not answered. Such a soul has been very desirous to be rightly and thoroughly assured of his state—and thus of his election—so that the issue is beyond question. In spite of having often prayed for this, however, he has never attained it. Initially this results in some passing thoughts whether or not one is one of the elect, or a reprobate. Subsequently, these thoughts become established thought patterns, and the reasons why one is not elected present themselves more clearly and more powerfully, thus increasingly disturbing the soul. At last such a soul draws the conclusion that he is not one of the elect. This results in a nearly complete neglect of the means, such as prayer, reading, and a laboring to receive Christ by faith. One can no longer engage himself in spiritual matters as previously, being continually confronted with, “You are not elected anyway; it is all for naught and in vain.” From this arises despair, anxiety, the inclination to have hard thoughts about God, and whatever other inner turbulence there may be. What a sad condition this is!
What counsel is there for such?
Who can better heal the wounds of the soul than the great Physician Himself? He does this in the way of means; therefore listen to my counsel, and allow me to quietly instruct you.
First, did these turbulent thoughts ever give you peace and quiet within?
Are you now much better off than before? Have you increased in wisdom and understanding? Have you become holier? Has there been an increase in inner peace? If not, are you now filled with much more anxiety than before? Why then are you torturing yourself? Cast away all these suggestions.
But you will reply, “I cannot rid myself of them, for they have a hold on me.” Do you not now perceive that you were initially too careless by entertaining these thoughts, and have too easily yielded to these assaults? It is therefore time to cease doing so and to do battle against all those reflections and thoughts about this matter. Allow other thoughts and activities to divert you from them in order that you may distance yourself from these assaults.
Secondly, consider what foolishness all this is, for you are mulling about matters which God has concealed within His own counsel and has not revealed to man.
For even if you lacked the least evidence of your election, you still could not determine whether or not you are elected, as you have no reason to conclude that you will never be converted.
I feel within my heart that I am not one of the elect but rather a reprobate, and that therefore I shall never be converted.
This is an untruth and nothing but imagination.
No man can know whether he is a reprobate because God has not revealed this in His Word. The Lord does not have such intimate communion with the ungodly that He would make this known to them in an extraordinary way.
Some have known this, such as Spira and others.
They had no knowledge of this but it was mere imagination.
I am neither suggesting that their imaginations could not have been true, nor that they did not belong to the elect, all of which could be true. I am saying, however, that they neither knew this from Scripture nor from immediate revelations, but rather from their imagination. It has happened that some who with such certainty imagined themselves to belong to the reprobate, just as these others, were subsequently converted. Others who were already converted received much assurance concerning their election.
Those who have sinned against the Holy Ghost know that they are reprobates.
Those who have sinned against the Holy Ghost are indeed reprobates;
However, such do not come to repentance after the commission of this sin, but persevere in their wickedness and without any sensitivity continue in their rage against God. Since therefore you neither know nor are able to ascertain this, and all this is but imaginary, why are you then so foolish to torment yourself with unfounded imaginations?
I know that I am unconverted, have once been enlightened, and that I have been hardened under the use of so many means.
May I not conclude my reprobation out of all this?
Suppose that you are presently unconverted, have resisted previous enlightenment and conviction, and have hardened yourself against the Word of God; even then you may not conclude your reprobation, for you can still be converted.
It is also possible that you are neither conscious of your own condition nor of the grace which the Lord has already granted you. It is one thing to be a recipient of the life of grace, but it is additional grace to be conscious of those things which God has granted us. No matter how you view your state, you cannot know whether or not you are a reprobate, and therefore ought to desist from this foolishness and reject it outright.
Thirdly, let the revealed will of God be your guide.
In the gospel God offers His Son Jesus Christ, inviting all who are desirous to come to Him to do so. He promises that all who believe in the Son will have eternal life, while promising at the same time that none will be cast out who come to Him. God will never damn anyone but for his sins. God does not prevent anyone from repentance, believing in Christ, and salvation. God is not the cause of anyone’s damnation. Man and his own free will are to be blamed for the fact that he lives an ungodly life, and it is therefore just when God punishes and damns him for his sins.
Let the Word of God be your rule and cease from entertaining these haughty imaginations. Seek Christ, believe in Him, pray, do battle against sin, and believe, so that, by proceeding according to Scripture, you will be saved. This way is both a steadfast and safe way.
Faith and repentance are the work of God, which He grants only to His elect.
If I am a reprobate, He will not bestow it unto me.
(1) It is likewise an established fact that you are to be blamed for your failure to believe and to repent.
Therefore if you do not believe or repent, blame yourself rather than God, for He is under no obligation to grant these graces to anyone. Even if He grants them to some, He is therefore not obligated to do so to others.
(2) Even though God has not granted you these graces until this day, you nevertheless do not know if He will yet do so.
Therefore, do not be fretful or resentful towards the Lord and His holy decree. Be humbled and start from the beginning, allowing yourself to be guided by Scripture. Thus, in dependence upon the blessing of the Lord you will prevail over these assaults while making more lively and steadfast progress in the way of salvation. We have dealt sufficiently with this matter, however.
Although one cannot be assured of his reprobation, we have already demonstrated that one can be assured of his election.
It is thus the duty of every Christian to strive for assurance according to the exhortation of the apostle in 2 Peter 1:10, as this assurance is the fountain of much joy in God and results in much growth in sanctification. One does not obtain this assurance by ascending into heaven to examine the book of life for the purpose of ascertaining whether one’s name is to be found in it (Rom. 10:6–7). Neither is this assurance obtained by imagining oneself to be one of the elect, so that by the duration of this imagination one could consistently maintain this assurance, being of the opinion that it is a sin to be doubtful about it even though one lacks the least foundation for this assurance. Rather, one obtains this assurance from the Word of God wherein is found a clear description of those who are of the elect. If these characteristics are discerned within, he may draw the conclusion that he is one of the elect.
The first characteristic is the calling.
God calls internally and efficaciously only those whom He has chosen. This is a well-established truth. “Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called” (Rom. 8:30); “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3). If, while bringing yourself into the omniscient presence of the Lord and examining yourself in truth, you may perceive that your mind has been illuminated to enable you to discern the spiritual dimension of the spiritual benefits of the covenant of grace; if you perceive within yourself a love and desire for spiritual frames within your soul such as the love and fear of God, willingness and obedience, spiritual liberty, and joy in the Lord; if you perceive within yourself a recurring stimulus, stirring you up to think upon God, to pray, to repent after backslidings, to walk in a way pleasing to God; and if you perceive that the nearness of the Lord is your life and His absence your grief—if all these things are to be found in you, then you may be assured of being called and drawn. Since all of this proceeds from election one may therefore conclude, “God has drawn me to Himself and His communion with a heavenly, internal, and efficacious calling, and thus I am also one of the elect.” Blessed is he who deals truthfully with himself in this matter, neither denying what he has received nor glorying in things which he does not possess.
Secondly, the Word of God teaches that faith is a certain characteristic of election.
“And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48); “… the faith of God’s elect …” (Titus 1:1). If then you are assured that you find delight in God’s counsel to reconcile sinners to Himself through the Surety, the Lord Jesus Christ; if, due to grief and sorrow over your sinful heart and deeds, fear for God’s wrath, love for communion with God and a spiritual walk, and a sense of your own impotence to attain to these matters, you take refuge to this Surety who offers Himself; if you look to Him, long for Him, engage in transactions with Him, accept His offer, surrender yourself to Him, rest your salvation upon Him, and rely upon Him—be it one time with more, and then again with less intensity, with more clarity or more darkness, with more or less strife, continually or intermittently—if these things are to be found in you, then you are a partaker of true faith. If you may thus be assured of your faith, you may then consequently conclude your eternal election.
Thirdly, sanctification is also a sure characteristic of election.
“According as He hath chosen us … that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4). If you then perceive within yourself a hatred, repulsion, and sorrow concerning both the secret sins of your heart, as well as your sinful deeds, and if you find an inner delight and love for a godly spiritual frame and the practice of all virtues in the fear, love, and obedience of God, as being His will; if you perceive within yourself the warfare between flesh and spirit so that sin does not have dominion over you, that is, that you are not governed by your evil will; if sin meets with internal resistance of your will, being restrained and often driven away by the fear of God; if you perceive within yourself the inclination to pray, wrestle for peace of conscience, and experience the nearness of the Lord; if, either privately or in the presence of men, you desire to let your heart, thoughts, words, and deeds be governed by the will of God; if, I say, these things be found in you, then you are a partaker of spiritual life and the principle of sanctification is in you. This is not the result of your natural disposition, but a gracious gift of God issuing forth from election. Thus, you may conclude your election from this spiritual condition.
Having made this conclusion, focus upon it and meditate upon the fact that this election is the primary fountain from which your life, godliness, and salvation issue forth.
You would not presently exist, neither would you have been born into the world, had it not been for this decree. Since you do exist, however, must you not perceive how sinful and miserable you are in yourself? How great is God’s goodness towards you that He, who passes by millions, condemning them for their sins, has eternally chosen you to be His child and the object of His incomprehensible grace and salvation! Why is the gospel proclaimed to you? Why are you called, drawn, and quickened? Why do you know Jesus and receive Him by faith? Wherefore may you have some delight in communion with God and are desirous to fear His Name? Does not all of this issue forth from this eternal counsel to save you?
Lose yourself in holy amazement and confess with Hagar, “Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” (Gen. 16:13), and with the psalmist, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of Him?” (Psa. 8:4). And if there are any inner motions to rejoice, then rejoice in this that your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. After having engaged yourself in such meditation for some time, proceed to consider each grace which you receive as issuing forth from this—yes, proceed to consider eternal salvation itself and link it to eternal election as Paul does in Romans 8:29–30. In doing so, consider the immutability of that decree and the certainty, steadfastness, and immutability of your spiritual state and salvation. Quietly rest therein and say with confidence, “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psa. 73:24).
Here we may have the fountain of comfort in all the grievous trials and tribulations which the Lord causes us to encounter in this life.
All of these occur according to “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). “For He performeth the thing that is appointed for me” (Job 23:14). All these trials and tribulations proceed from love and are for your good. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). He who has eternally loved you and has appointed you to be his child and heir to manifest all His goodness to you—would He allow anything harmful to come your way? Far be it from us to suggest such a thing. He chastises those whom He loves (Rev. 3:19). Bear therefore your cross joyfully and submissively, and be comforted by the prospect of a favorable end which as yet you cannot perceive.
Here is comfort against the sins which oppress a child of God and frequently rob him of all spiritual desire and liveliness.
What wretched thoughts sin often produces within the elect. Notice, however, that He, who in sovereign goodness and love has chosen you without being moved to such a decree by your good works or faith; who never deviates in His goodness and love; who concluded you in sin that He might have mercy upon you (Rom. 11:33); and who most certainly glorifies those whom He has elected unto salvation, will therefore not reject you for your remaining sin over which you grieve. Therefore, stand firm in faith, do not succumb to the multitude of remaining enemies, but rather focus upon this eternal decree, the perfect atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the covenant of grace. Rest in these, and although sin must continue to grieve you, do not let it cause you to be discouraged.
The assurance of one’s election also affords much liberty and gives much support in prayer.
One may approach unto God and say, “MyFather! Hast Thou not known me by name and have I not found grace in Thine eyes? Hast Thou not eternally known me to be one of Thy own, chosen me to be Thy child and the object of Thy love, and wondrously to glorify me by Thy grace, mercy, and faithfulness, which manifests itself in the way in which Thou hast led me and wilt lead me? Therefore, oh Father, consider the trials and tribulations which I fear, the troubles which press me down, and my sinfulness which oppresses me. These matters I desire, these are the needs of my body, and these are my spiritual desires. May it therefore please Thee to look down upon Thy chosen one and upon the object of Thy favor. May it please Thee to hear me and to grant my desire.” How this yields liberty, familiarity, faith that my prayer will be answered, and quiet submission!
The assurance of election is a significant means whereby sanctification is promoted.
Although the natural man cannot comprehend this, is offended by this, and imagines that resting on such a foundation makes one careless, Scripture teaches the contrary: “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). This is the daily experience of the godly. The more they are assured of the love of God towards them, the more they are stirred up to love God in return. “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Since the believer knows that sanctification is not the cause of his election and salvation, but a fruit of election and a principal element of salvation, all his activity proceeds purely from love. While he thus loves God it ignites within him a desire to be conformed to His will and to be engaged in a manner pleasing to his Lord.
When the godly perceive that the beginning, middle, end, yes everything, proceeds only from God according to His eternal election—there being neither any contribution from him nor any reason within him—it will then stir up the soul to return everything to God and in all things to honor and glorify Him, most heartily thanking Him as the apostle did on behalf of others in this respect. “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Th. 2:13). Here the attentive soul will perceive God’s sovereignty, goodness, mercy, wisdom, power, and immutability. He will be deeply led into this in order to have an intimate view of these perfections in all their glory. Oh, how he will lose himself in this and sink away in sweet amazement, only to arise afterwards to worship, be at rest, and rejoice that God’s glory so far exceeds his comprehension! This will cause him to exclaim, “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 1:211–250.