Thoughts on the Doctrine of Election (2)


Introductory (continued)

The doctrine of election is a distinguishing truth. The preaching of the sovereignty of God in foreordaining the eternal destiny of angels, men and the whole realm of nature has the effect of winnowing and separating the chaff from the wheat. The effect of such preaching will then either be “He that is of God heareth God’s word” or “ye hear them not because ye are not of God” (Jn. 8:47). We think of many in Fundamentalist circles who do not believe this truth, some of them out of ignorance. They have never been exposed to nor instructed in the doctrine. Others do not believe it, in fact, oppose it, not in ignorance, but by choice and determined purpose. The former, more than the latter, are more apt to receive a truth once they see that it is plainly taught in Scripture, even though it is not what they have been used to, nor in keeping with what they have always regarded as “sound reason”. The former more than the latter will receive what is revealed to be Scripture truth. They will believe it, even if not another soul in the world will believe it. The unregenerate natural mind will not receive the truth of predestination and in that connection, the following may fairly be applied to them. “They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us. He that is not of God heareth us not. Hereby know we the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (Jn. 4:5, 6).

The modern evangelist with his inclusivist approach, his compromising message and bombastic delivery calculated to flatter the majority of his auditors, may gain followers for the liberal Protestant churches or for the liberal Roman Catholic churches. For his and their Pelagainism are practically identical. But let a true minister of the Gospel, an advocate of election preaching, faithfully expound this doctrine and he will discover that this is the preaching which separates the sheep from the goats. It had this effect when Jesus proclaimed this truth. For when He preached that “no man can come unto Me, except the Father…draw him” (Jn. 6:44), “many…when they had heard this, said, ‘This is an hard saying!’…From that time they went back and walked no more with him” (6:60, 66). When He had preached that “many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet…none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian”. His hearers were filled with wrath at such preaching and attempted to murder Him by forcing Him over a precipice. The point we are endeavoring to make here is that although not all who profess to be “Calvinists” or “Reformed” in theology can be said to manifest in their conduct the life of regeneration, yet it is also true that they who continue to oppose or refuse the truth of predestination are not entitled to the name of Christian.

This is also one of the most neglected doctrines, not because it has no prominent place in the Scripture; the opposite is the fact. But there are “evangelicals” and “Bible believers”, as they like to be known, who give this truth a wide berth, regard it with suspicion and suppose it to be utterly inconsistent with “missionary zeal”. This may be due to their inadequate training. The majority of seminaries do not teach it, the “Bible schools” never did and few have ever appreciated its fundamental importance. Others, of the liberal camp and their brain-washed following, detest the preaching which advances the glory of God and abases the pride of man. Many more, however, drop this truth, certainly not in the interest of being right, but in being popular. They know it, intellectually assent to it or shrug it off with, “Why, that’s just a rehashing of the Canons of Dort!”. They make no use of the truth and do nothing to expound or spread it. They have one ear to the ground and one finger in the air. They know current opinion, even better than they know Scripture and, accordingly, prefer to give the people what they think they want. Still, neither ignorance, prejudice nor enmity shall ever prevail against this truth or diminish its weightiness.

2. Its Origin

Broadly speaking, the truth before us is the doctrine of predestination, a more comprehensive term than election, for the former is in two parts, its positive branch being election itself and its negative branch being reprobation. There is no election without reprobation, notwithstanding certain Primitive Baptists and Plymouth Brethren to the contrary. They put it this way: “An election of some to life does not imply an election of some to death”. (The Bible Doctrine of Election, T. P. Simmons, Bapt. Bible & Bk. Hse, Ashland, Ky., p. 54). This is, for one thing, somewhat misleading. For election is unto salvation, never unto death. But election implies reprobation, as a choice suggests a refusal. In the eternal counsel of God, the Lord ordains some to eternal life (Ac. 13:48) and others He ordains to eternal condemnation (Jude 4). Further proof of this we have in Psalm 78, “He refused the tabernacle of Joseph and chose not the tribe of Ephraim: but chose the tribe of Judah” (vs. 66, 67).

According to this doctrine, as well expressed in the Westminster Confession, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life and others foreordained to everlasting death”, (I Tim. 5:21; Mt. 25:41; Ro. 9:22f; Eph. 1:5f; Prov. 16:4). This decree of God originated in His own sovereign will. There is no principle or power outside of God to rule him. There is no law or cause to which He is subject, save His own will. There is no determining or moving power outside the will of God. In keeping with this truth, the elect have been “predestinated according to the (eternal) purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11).

This decree of God will be found to reveal especially two of the divine attributes. The decree itself, as seen above, is two-fold: it is unto life and unto death. It also has a two-fold effect: that of salvation and that of condemnation. So the decree of God manifests His grace to some and His justice to others. God decrees the salvation of the elect to the praise of the glory of His grace. God ordains the condemnation of the reprobate for the glory of His justice. The latter is God’s severity, which must never be perverted to cruelty. God is gracious; but that is not all He is. He is also just. God is characterized not by goodness alone, nor by severity alone, but by both. His attributes are inseparable. Abstract them and God is made to look monstrous. See all the facets of His being and it will be impossible to see in Him anything of injustice.

The purpose of God’s decree is His own glory. It is not only the chief end of man, but the ultimate end which God has in mind. There is no higher end or purpose than the glory of God. When we say that this is the chief end of God and man, we do not mean that there are other, but subordinate, ends which God may have, or for which man may strive. There is only this one sole end. Some theologians think of certain lesser ends, such as, the earning of temporal support; the acquisition of knowledge (neither of which necessarily glorify God); the gratification of lawful tastes (but what are lawful tastes? Only those which glorify God!); and the furtherance of the welfare of society (but what is the welfare of society? Only that which glorifies God!). Therefore, we understand the expression “chief end” to mean “exclusive end”, or as the metrical Psalter has it, our “chief and only good”. “The Lord hath made all things for Himself” (Pro. 16:4), for His own end. For from Him and through Him and unto Him are all things (Ro. 11:36). Even the good of God’s people is not a secondary end, but their good is a true good when it is to the glory of God.

Election is the great fountain out of which flows every saving good. The source of that fountain is the sovereign will of the triune God. We say “triune God” because all three persons of the trinity are involved. They are of the same one divine essence and have but one will. “He (the triune God) is in one mind and who can turn Him? And whatsoever His soul desireth (wills) even that He doeth!” (Job 23:13). What God wills to do, He does do. The will of God is not a mere part of His divine nature, nor a mere objective effect of His determination, but “the will of God is the living God Himself willing”.

What, then, we may say of God’s will, we may say also of divine election. That is, God’s will is immutable. So is election. God never changes His will, although He does will change. His will is one and none can divert Him from it. With Him, in His being, there is no variation, nor shadow cast by turning (Jas. 1:17). His will is eternal, for the Word speaks of “His eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ” (Eph. 3:11). That His will and purpose are practically synonymous is plain from Eph. 1:5, 9, 11 where to be predestinated according to the good pleasure of His will is again expressed in these words, “being predestinated according to the purpose of Him”. Also, when we read of the revealing of His will according to His good pleasure which He has purposed in Himself, this is not fundamentally different from preordaining according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.

God’s will is the only absolutely free will, sovereignly free. That must be quite evident from the passage just referred to in Ephesians 1. God’s will is absolutely free in the sphere of nature. He was not bound to create. He could do so, or not, as He chose. Since He chose to create, He was perfectly free to do so whenever He pleased, earlier or later than He did. But since what God did do was the very best of all possibilities, then there was no other time to create than when He did. He certainly may have made the earth smaller or larger than it is. That He made it the size it is, was only because that was the best. No other determination in this regard could have been better. But in making His determinations He was influenced by no considerations outside of Himself. That God should have made the whole universal order “very good” and then should have ordained sin to come into the world, was not only all settled by God’s decree, but was also for the best of things. He could have made a world without sin and it is difficult, if not impossible, for carnal eye to see that any other kind of world could possibly be for the best. But the reason why God created and then ordered sin into the world is only to be ascribed to His own indisputable will. Then divine election is sovereign and free. None was His counselor (Rom. 11:34) to advise Him how to form His purpose according to election (9:11). In His determinate counsel and foreknowledge, He decreed in absolute sovereignty. “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy! And I will have compassion on whom I have compassion!” (9:15). It all emerges from God’s eternal good pleasure (Eph. 1:4, 5, 9, 11).

(To be continued, D.V