The Comfort of Election (Or: Pelagianism Has No Pity) [Bavinck]

 Some people wrongly think that the biblical teaching of unconditional election is a frightening and dark teaching that hinders evangelism and makes people into fatalists.  It is true that wrong views of election (such as a hyper-Calvinist view, for example) do get in the way of evangelism and can give people a fatalistic outlook.  However, a biblical understanding of election does neither; in fact, it ascribes all glory to God, it gives comfort to followers of Jesus, and it’s a reason to share the gospel with all kinds of people!  Herman Bavinck said it well:

The Son did not move the Father to love; electing love arose from the Father himself. Scripture, accordingly, everywhere teaches that the cause of all the decrees does not lie in any creature but only in God himself, in his will and good pleasure (Matt. 11:26; Rom. 9:11ff.; Eph. 1:4ff.).

For that very reason, both for unbelievers and believers, the doctrine of election is a source of inexpressibly great comfort. If it were based on justice and merit, all would be lost. But now that election operates according to grace, there is hope even for the most wretched. If work and reward were the standard of admission into the kingdom of heaven, its gates would be opened for no one. Or if Pelagius’s doctrine were the standard, and the virtuous were chosen because of their virtue, and Pharisees because of their righteousness, wretched publicans would be shut out. Pelagianism has no pity.

But to believe in and to confess election is to recognize even the most unworthy and degraded human being as a creature of God and an object of his eternal love. The purpose of election is not—as it is so often proclaimed—to turn off the many but to invite all to participate in the riches of God’s grace in Christ. No one has a right to believe that he or she is a reprobate, for everyone is sincerely and urgently called to believe in Christ with a view to salvation. No one can actually believe it, for one’s own life and all that makes it enjoyable is proof that God takes no delight in his death. No one really believes it, for that would be hell on earth. But election is a source of comfort and strength, of submissiveness and humility, of confidence and resolution. The salvation of human beings is firmly established in the gracious and omnipotent good pleasure of God.

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 401–402.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015