Unconditional Election, Mercy, and Assurance (Knox)

  In 1591 a London publisher released this book: An Answer to a Great Number of Blasphemous Cavailations Written by an Anabaptist, an Adversary to God’s Eternal PredestinationThe author of this book was Scottish pastor-theologian, John Knox (d. 1572); the book is found in the fifth volume of Knox’s Works. This treatise on unconditional election might be called one of Knox’s best works; it is extremely biblical, pastoral, and informative.  Right at the outset Knox noted that election is an essential teaching of Christianity because, as found in Scripture, it humbles the sinner and magnifies the free grace of our loving God.  In other words, it is practical:

“For first, there is no way more proper to build and establish faith, than when we hear and undoubtedly do believe that our Election (which the Spirit of God doth seal in our hearts) consisteth not in ourselves, but in the eternal and immutable good pleasure of God. And that in such firmness that it can not be overthrown, neither by the raging storms of the world, nor by the assaults of Satan; neither yet by the wavering and weakness of our own flesh. Then only is our salvation in assurance, when we find the cause of the same in the bosom and counsel of God.”

Knox said that if election’s foundation was based on our choice, will, or faith, it would be a very weak and uncertain foundation:

“For if we shall think that we believe and have embraced Christ Jesus preached, because our wits be better than the wits of others, and because that we have a better inclination, and are of nature more tractable [teachable/pliable] than be the common sort of men, Satan, I say, can easily overthrow all comfort built upon so weak a ground.”

Where is a solid foundation of election?  In the good pleasure – the free grace – of God in Christ, Knox explained.

His infinite goodness, which moved him to love us in another than in ourselves (that is in Christ Jesus) according to his free benevolence, which he had purposed in him, is to us a tower of refuge, which Satan is never able to overthrow, nor the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.

For however we be changeable, yet is God in his counsel stable and immutable; yea, how weak, how feeble, how dull that ever we be, yet is there nothing in us (even when we be in our own judgment most destitute of the Spirit of God) which he did not see to be in us before we were formed in the womb, yea, and before the beginning of all times, because all is present with him. Which imperfections, infirmities, and dullness, as they did not stop his mercy to elect us in Christ Jesus, so can they not compel him now to refuse us. And from this fountain doth flow this our joy, that with the Apostle we are bold to cry, ‘Who is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus?'”

You may need to read that again!  Notice the great gospel truth that our sin and wickedness did not prevent God from electing us in mercy; similarly, our sin and wickedness do not prevent him from keeping us in mercy.  God has elected us in his grace, and by that grace he also preserves his elect unto the end.  Indeed, nothing in all of creation will separate God’s people from his loving grip.

John Knox, The Works of John Knox, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: J. Thin, 1854), 27.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI


One comment on “Unconditional Election, Mercy, and Assurance (Knox)

  1. Ron Gilbert says:

    A timely word. Thanks.


Comments are closed.