The Nature or Properties of Election (Boston)

See the source image When the Bible talks about election, “God’s elect”, or “the elect,” what does this mean?  What is election?  Obviously in this context it’s not people electing someone to office. Instead, it’s God’s electing someone to salvation in Christ (e.g. Mk 13:20, Rom 8:33; 1 Peter 1:1, etc.).  The apostle Paul explains election with some detail in Ephesians 1:3-5, as many of our readers already know.

I like how Thomas Boston explained the nature of election as he reflected on Paul’s words in these verses.  Below is a summary of Boston’s excellent explanation – a section he called, “The Properties of Election:”

  1. It is altogether free, without any moving cause, but God’s mere good pleasure.  No reason can be found for this but only in the bosom of God. There is nothing before, or above, or without his purpose, that can be pitched upon as the cause of all that grace and goodness that he bestows upon his chosen ones. There was no merit or motive in them, as Christ told his disciples, John 15:16. ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.’ His choice is antecedent to ours. The persons who are singled out to be the objects of his special grace, were a part of lost mankind, the same by nature with others who were passed by, and left to perish in their sin.
  2. Election is eternal. They are elected from all eternity, Eph. 1:4 chosen before the foundation of the world, 2 Tim. 1:9. ‘He 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.’ All God’s decrees are eternal, Eph. 1:11. ‘We are predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. God takes no new counsels, to do which would be inconsistent with his infinite perfection. Because God is eternal, his purposes must   p 307  be of equal duration with his existence.
  3. It is particular and definite. God has chosen a certain number of the children of men to life, whom he knows by name, so as they can neither be more nor fewer. Hence their names are said to be written in the book of life, Luke 10:20. Phil. 4:3 and others are said not to be written there, Rev. 17:8. Though they are known to none, yet God knows them all, 2 Tim. 2:19. And they are given to Christ, John 17:9. Therefore God’s decree of election is not a general decree only to save all that shall believe and persevere in the faith; for that way it might happen that none at all might be saved.
  4. It is unchangeable. Mutability is an imperfection peculiar to creatures. As the least change in God’s understanding, so as to know more or less than that hid from eternity, would be an instance of imperfection; the same must be said with respect to his holy will, which cannot be susceptible of new determinations. Though there are many changes in the external dispensations of his providence, which are the result of his will, as well as the effects of his power; yet there is no shadow of change in his purpose. No unforeseen occurrence can render it expedient for God to change his mind, nor can any higher power oblige him to do it; nor can any defect of power to accomplish his design, induce him to alter his purpose. Those who are once elected can never be reprobated. All that are elected shall most certainly be saved. None of them can be left to perish. For all the divine purposes are unchangeable, and must be fulfilled, Isa. 46:10.; and this in particular, 2 Tim. 2:19. Election is the foundation of God’s house, laid by his own hand, which cannot be shaken, but stands sure; and a sealed foundation, as men seal what they will have; a seal of two parts securing it; on God’s part, God loves and keeps them that are his, that they fall not away; on our part, the same God takes care that his elect depart from iniquity.

These great quotes are taken from pages 306-307 of Boston’s Works, volume 1

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

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Election and the Judgement of Charity (Calvin)

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.)
Calvin’s Commentaries

When we speak about election, we always have to understand that we don’t have God’s view or perspective on it.  We don’t have access to all the names written in the book of life, nor can we pry into the secret counsel of God.  The question arises: Why does Peter write to Christians scattered in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and call them “elect”?  Did Peter know which Christians were elect?  Was that some knowledge he as an apostle had?  No.  Although Peter was an apostle commissioned by Christ, he, like other humans, didn’t have access to the secret things of God.  Calvin discussed this topic well in his comments on 1 Peter 1:1.

It may be asked, how could this be found out, for the election of God is hid, and cannot be known without the special revelation of the Spirit; and as every one is made sure of his own election by the testimony of the Spirit, so he can know nothing certain of others. To this I answer, that we are not curiously to inquire about the election of our brethren, but ought on the contrary to regard their calling, so that all who are admitted by faith into the church, are to be counted as the elect; for God thus separates them from the world, which is a sign of election.

It is no objection to say that many fall away, having nothing but the semblance; for it is the judgment of charity and not of faith, when we deem all those elect in whom appears the mark of God’s adoption. And that he does not fetch their election from the hidden counsel of God, but gathers it from the effect, is evident from the context; for afterwards he connects it with the sanctification of the Spirit. As far then as they proved that they were regenerated by the Spirit of God, so far did he deem them to be the elect of God, for God does not sanctify any but those whom he has previously elected. [John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 24.]

Calvin’s comments are level-headed and align with other biblical teaching.  We don’t have to equivocate language and say someone was elect but fell away and lost his election.  Nor do we have to say that we cannot know anything about election, so we best not talk about it at all.  There’s a biblical balance and it has to do with what Calvin and others have called the judgment of charity.   Matthew Henry said it this way in his comments on Philippians 4:3b:

We cannot search into that book [the book of life], or know whose names are written there; but we may, in a judgment of charity, conclude that those who labour in the gospel, and are faithful to the interest of Christ and souls, have their names in the book of life.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

God’s Sovereign Will and the Salvation of the Elect (Zanchi)

The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted
Zanchius, Predestination

In light of his debates with John Wesley (1703-1791) about free will, predestination, and other related topics, Augustus Toplady (1740-1778) edited and translated some of Jerome Zanchi’s 16th century writing on predestination. I’m not certain about the details of Toplady’s editing and translating work but it’s an enjoyable read so far. Here’s a section of Toplady’s edition of Zanchi that I found helpful this morning:

Pos. 13. The absolute will of God is the original spring and efficient cause of his people’s salvation: I say the original and efficient; For sensu complexo, there are other intermediate causes of their salvation, which however all result from, and are subservient to, this primary one, the will of God. Such are his everlasting choice of them to eternal life, the eternal covenant of grace entered into by the Trinity in behalf of the elect, the incarnation, obedience, death and intercession of Christ for them all, which are so many links in the great chain of causes; and not one of these can be taken away without marring and subverting the whole gospel plan of salvation by Jesus Christ.

We see then, that the free, unbiased, sovereign will of God is the root of this tree of life, which bears so many glorious branches, and yields such salutary fruits: He therefore loved the elect, and ordained them to life, because he would, according to that of the apostle, “having predestinated us—according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5). Then, next after God’s covenant for his people, and promises to them, comes in the infinite merit of Christ’s righteousness and atonement; for we were chosen to salvation in him as members of his mystic body, and through him as our surety and substitute, by whose vicarious obedience to the moral law, and submission to its curse and penalty, all we whose names are in the book of life should never incur the divine hatred, or be punished for our sins, but continue to eternity, as we were from eternity heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.

But still divine grace and favour (and God extends these to whom he will) must be considered as what gave birth to the glorious scheme of redemption, according to what our Lord himself teaches us, John 3:16: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,” etc., and that of the apostle, 1 John 4:9. “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that he sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him.”

 Jerom Zanchius, The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted (New York: George Lindsay, 1811), 85–86.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Book of Life and Predestination (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume I
Augustine on the Psalms

I like Augustine’s comments on the perseverance of the saints using the biblical reference of the “book of life” (cf. Phil 4:3, Rev. 3:5, etc.):

Brethren, we must not so take it, as that God writeth anyone in the book of life, and blotteth him out. If a man [Pilate] said, “What I have written I have written,” concerning the title where it had been written, “King of the Jews,” (John 19:22) doth God write anyone, and blot him out? He foreknoweth, He hath predestined all before the foundation of the world that are to reign with His Son in life everlasting (Rom. 8:29).  These He hath written down, these same the Book of Life doth contain.

Augustine, Exposition on the Book of the Psalms, Ps. 29:28, NPNF 1.

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

Predestination: The Axe that Cuts Down Pride (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5 As a follower of Jesus, I am very much aware than any truly good deed that I do is a result of God’s grace and the Holy Spirit at work in me.  I can’t take credit for any good thing I’ve done; the credit goes to God.  Here’s a great commentary by Augustus Toplady on predestination and how it glorifies God and humbles man:

When God does, by the omnipotent exertion of his Spirit, effectually call any of mankind in time, to the actual knowledge of himself in Christ; when he likewise goes on to sanctify the sinners he has called, making them to excel in all good works, and to persevere, in the love and resemblance of God, to their lives end; the observing part of the unawakened world may be apt to conclude, that these converted persons might receive such measure of grace from God, because of some previous qualifications, good dispositions, or pious desires, and internal preparations, discovered in them by the all-seeing eye: which, if true, would indeed transfer the praise from the Creator, and consign it to the creature.

In other words, when God sovereignly calls and regenerates sinners and begins to sanctify them, some unbelievers might think that God was kind to them because they did something to deserve it.  However, Toplady argues, that would mean the creature gets the glory instead of the Creator.  He continues:

But the doctrine of predestination, absolute, free, unconditional predestination, here steps in, and gives God his own [glory]. It lays the axe to the root of human boasting, and cuts down (for which reason, the natural man hates it) every legal, every independent, every self-righteous imagination, that would exalt itself against the grace of God and the glory of Christ. It tells us that God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in his Son; according as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, in order to our being afterwards made holy and blameless before him in love (Eph. 1). Of course, whatever truly and spiritually good thing is found in any person, it is the special gift and work of God: given and wrought, in consequence of eternal, unmerited election to grace and glory.

I agree; not only does the biblical doctrine of predestination humble man, it also leads us to give God all the glory!

 Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 289–290.

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

Predestination and the Promise (Bunyan)

  Not much in our lives is certain.  We could lose our job and have to move in a month.  We could get into a car accident that makes the rest of our life quite difficult.  Or we could face a diagnosis that immediately brings tears to our eyes and ache to our heart.  Much of our life is filled with uncertainty.

However, the promises of God are certain. We as Christians know that the promises of God are sure, solid, and steadfast.  They will not change and he will keep them perfectly.  This is a major source of comfort in the Christian life.  He loves me and will continue to love me (Rom 8:39).  The Lord will never leave me or forsake me (Heb. 13:5).  In his sovereign providence, nothing will happen to me apart from his will and everything that does happen to me is ultimately for my Christian good (Rom. 8:28).  These are unshakable promises that will come to pass.

There are many promises in Scripture that are of great comfort to the Christian.  One that we might not think of too often is the fact that when a person comes to saving faith in Christ, it is another promise kept: Everyone that the Father gives me will come to me (John 6:37 CSB).  Jesus says: I promise that those whom the Father has given me will come to me.  John Bunyan explained this truth in a way that magnified the sovereign grace of God:

…Coming to Jesus Christ aright is an effect of their being, by God, given to Christ before. Mark, ‘They’ shall come. Who? ‘Those’ that are given. They ‘come,’ then, because they were ‘given,’ “thine they were, and thou gavest them me.”

Now, this is indeed a singular comfort to them that are coming in truth to Christ, to think that the reason why they come is, because they were given of the Father before to him. Thus, then, may the coming soul reason with himself as he comes: ‘Am I coming, indeed, to Jesus Christ? This coming of mine is not to be attributed to me or my goodness, but to the grace and gift of God to Christ. God gave first my person to him, and, therefore, hath now given me a heart to come.’

…These words, shall come, make thy coming to be also the effect of an absolute promise; coming sinner, thou art concluded in a promise; thy coming is the fruit of the faithfulness of an absolute promise. It was this promise, by the virtue of which thou at first receivedst strength to come; and this is the promise, by the virtue of which thou shalt be effectually brought to him.

Bunyan, J. (2006). Come and Welcome, to Jesus Christ (Vol. 1, p. 254). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Unconditional Election and Ineffable Grace (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume VII Augustine clearly taught unconditional election; it did not originate with Calvin.  They both rejected the teaching of conditional election, that God elects people because he foresaw faith in them.  Furthermore, both Calvin and Augustine found unconditional election in Scripture.  Here are Augustine’s comments on John 15:16 (You did not choose Me but I chose you – NASB):

Ineffable grace! For what were we before Christ had chosen us, but wicked, and lost? We did not believe in Him, so as to be chosen by Him: for had He chosen us believing, He would have chosen us choosing.

This passage refutes the vain opinion of those who say that we were chosen before the foundation of the world because God foreknew that we should be good, not that He Himself would make us good.

For had He chosen us because He foreknew that we should be good, He would have foreknown also that we should first choose Him, for without choosing Him we cannot be good; unless indeed he can be called good who hath not chosen good.

What then hath He chosen in them who are not good? Thou canst not say, ‘I am chosen because I believed’; for hadst thou believed in Him, thou hadst chosen Him. Nor canst thou say, ‘Before I believed I did good works, and therefore was chosen.’ For what good work is there before faith?

What is there for us to say then, but that we were wicked, and were chosen, [so] that by the grace of the chosen we might become good?

This quote can be found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.7, tractate LXXXVI.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI