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Thoughts on the Doctrine of Election (8)

  1. It’s Character

In our last installment, we answered the charge that election and reprobation make God a “respecter of persons.” When the angels that sinned fell, God provided no Saviour for them.  He was no respecter of their persons.  All were worthy of damnation, and all were damned.  But when man fell, God provided a Saviour for some of the human race.  Does this, then, make Him a respecter of persons? If He were a respecter of persons, would He not have saved the angels and reprobated man? Then there is the Jewish nation.  God chose it to be the repository for the oracles of God. Why? for they were a people stiff-necked, murmuring, complaining, rebellious, impenitent, stubborn.  A respecter of persons never would have settled on the Jew for such an honor.  Election makes God a respecter of persons? Then why did He choose “the poor of this world” (James 2:5)? Had He respect to the rich, how many of us would be saved? Not many magnates, not many millionaires, not many of royalty, not many of the gifted, the influential are chosen.  But God has chosen the weak, the base, the despised, the nothings, the no-bodies of the world.  He rejects the publicans and chooses harlots.  Why? That “no flesh should glory in His presence.” If He were a respecter of persons He would never have chosen any such off-scourings of humanity.

But not by force of argument does one come to believe the doctrine of election.  “The reason why any one believes in election is that he finds it in the Bible.  No man could ever imagine such a doctrine—for it is, in itself, contrary to the thinkings and wishes of the human heart.  Everyone, at first, opposes the doctrine, and it is only after many struggles, under the working of the Spirit of God, that we are made to receive it.  A perfect acquiescence in this doctrine—an absolute lying still, in adoring wonder, at the footstool of God’s sovereignty, is the last attainment of the sanctified soul in this life—as it is the beginning of heaven.

“The reason why anyone believes in election is just this, and only this—that God has made it known.  Had the Bible been a counterfeit it never could have contained the doctrine of election, for men are too averse to such a thought to give it expression much more to give it prominence.

“The Bible not only teaches the doctrine, but makes it prominent—so prominent that you can only get rid of election by getting rid of the Bible.” (Dr. Geo. S. Bishop, The Doctrines of Grace, chap. 11, The Doctrine of Election True, p. 167).

Election is solely an act of God.  For He made His decree of election from the beginning of the ages (Acts 15:18) of eternity.  God is the chooser.  His people are the chosen.  Once in a while we hear that ridiculous Negro theology which has it that God votes for you, the devil against you, but you must cast the deciding vote.  Scripture knows nothing of this.  But far rather, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you…” (John 15:16).  The truth is that “God hath from the beginning chosen you” (II Thess. 2:13).  Therefore it is called “election of God” (I Thess. 1:4), and the persons chosen are called “God’s own elect” (Luke 18:7).  The elect does become a chooser, but only after God has chosen him.  We choose Him because He first chose us.  “Mary hath chosen that good part.”

Election is absolute.  It is entirely free, independent of everything outside of Himself.  Why did He write some names in the Book of Life, and refuse to include others in that register? Paul says it was good pleasure of His will (Eph. 1:4, 5).  Why does God save some and condemn others? Because some believed and some believed not (Acts 28:24; John 3:18).  Why do some believe? Because they were ordained to eternal life (Acts 13:48).  Why do some believe not? Because they are not Christ’s sheep (John 10:26) and because they could not believe because God sovereignly hardens them (12:39f).  Why did God decree to choose some and to reject others? There is no other answer but that of His sovereign good pleasure!

It is immutable because founded on nothing in man, but on Himself.  His decree is before all things, before His so called foresight.  God does not decree because He foresees.  He can only foresee and foreknow what He has decreed. There is nothing else to foreknow.  He cannot possibly foresee something not ordained in His decree.  Whatever He foresees is certain.  God cannot foresee an uncertainty.  Therefore, if He foresees anything, it is certain; and certain because He decreed it.  So His purpose according to election stands.

That purpose, to have an elect people, was prior to His consideration of anything relative to sin.  God viewed His people first of all as perfect and glorified in Christ, and therefore as vessels unto honor, made so from an un-fallen lump.  In this view, election is first and primary.  Everything else, including the fall and reprobation, is subservient to it.  The end does not serve the means, but the means serve the end.  This is the supralapsarian view of election, which holds that the decree of predestination, in the order of the decrees, is above, beyond and preceding all the other elements in the divine system of redemption.  The view which puts election after the fall, and so with a view to the fall, is called the infralapsarian view.  Accordingly, total depravity is made the basis of election.  That is, God elects a people for Himself out of the total mass of fallen humanity.  Infralapsarians were known as low Calvinists and supralapsarians as high Calvinists.

Although he does not enter into the supra-infra issue, J.H. Thornwell in his “Election and Reprobation” nevertheless slashes at the supra view, calling it an “extreme of squeamish timidity” (pg. 4).  He also accuses the supra view relative to the decrees of God as amounting “to a downright denial of their certainty ad sovereignty” (ibid.), and as “no more to be regarded as the genuine doctrines of Calvinistic churches” (pg. 8).  These remarks are not exactly in harmony with the history of the Reformed and Calvinistic churches.  For, although the Canons of Dort, for example, and certain expressions in the Westminster Confession, are infralapsarian, there never was a formal, synodical condemnation of supralapsarianism.  Supra men were always accepted as Reformed and always found a place in the church.  There is no creedal repudiation of supralapsarianism.  In the Reformed and Calvinistic creeds which are admittedly and definitely infra, the matter of infra was not made binding, not at least in the sense that it is the only view of predestination to be maintained, and that to the exclusion of supralapsarianism.  Toplady tells us that the Church of England’s Thirty-nine Articles are, strictly speaking, infra, “though with such moderation as not to exclude the” supra view.  The supra-infra question was never resolved at any point in the history of the Reformed and Calvinistic churches.  Neither does it seem likely nor desirable that it ever be.  Then infralapsarians may not debar the supra man on any appeal to the confessions.  Besides all this, history reveals that supralapsarians were nothing like Mr. Timorous, Little-faith, Faint-heart, Mr. Feeble-mind, or Mr. Ready-to-halt.  They were lion-hearted men, like Great-heart and Valiant-for-truth.  Then it is absurd to regard the views held by such men as Gomarus, Voetius, Beza, Twisse, John Gill, Thomas Goodwin, and Arthur W. Pink as “squeamish timidity.”

The infra view might seem to be the easier to maintain, because we perhaps the most often think of our redemption from the point of view of our sin, misery and lost condition.  It is a little more difficult to think of the original glory, perfection and excellency of the Church of Christ as comprehended in the eternal thought and counsel of God.  But it will be found to be the presentation of Scripture that God conceived of His people in a super-creation union with Christ prior to their creation-union with Adam.  God had blessed all His people with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ before the creation of the universe, and so before they fell in Adam and under the curse.

In the decree of election, we are to distinguish what is God’s purpose as to the end He has in mind, and what His purpose is as to the means to attain that end.  The end God planned was to glorify His Son with the gift of a people, and that for the praise of the glory of His grace.  The means by which His eternal purpose is put into execution and brought to fulfillment are also ordained from the beginning.  We are to determine then what in the decree is end and what the means are.  The end concerns the glorification of a people in their elect Head.  The means include the purpose to create those people, ordain their fall, and recover them from it via redemption and sanctification.  The end and the means are not two separate determinations, but two parts of the one eternal purpose.

The end in mind is naturally first before the determination of the means, so that “what is first in intention is last in execution.” The converse is also true: “Te last thing in execution is the first thing in purpose.” The glory of God is that “chief end,” that “chief and only good” which He always keeps in view.  He works all things to that end, so that it is the last thing in execution; but it also follows that it was always first in intention.  Wherefore God’s purpose behold His glory revealed in Christ and His church, with the church viewed as yet neither created nor fallen, since the creation and the fall belong to God’s counsel concerning the means.  It is the infra view which tends to deny the “certainty and sovereignty” of the decree of God, for it is on that score difficult to see clearly any purpose of God.  For if God first determined to create men, and then permitted their fall, then out of the fallen mass to chose some to glory, did He not purpose to do all this without any end in view? This conception of the decrees leaves God with less wisdom than man, who first determines his purpose and end, say in making a journey, and then decides the ways and means to realize his end.  How else, even for a moment, could God determine and act?

This distinction of God’s purpose and God’s means (to secure His purpose) is supported by the Word of God.  WE read, “For it became Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10).  The decree of His purpose is first in that God ordained many sons unto glory.  Next is His decree of the means in which He ordained that the Captain of our salvation be made perfect through sufferings.  So it was with Christ in the decree.  There He stands at its head, first.  “The Lord said unto My Lord, ‘Sit Thou at My right hand’” (Psalm 110:1).  It was God’s purpose to exalt the Mediator to the place of highest dominion. Yet in order to that intention, it was ordained that “He shall drink of the brook in the way” (v.7).  Christ’s main purpose was indeed to drink of the fullness of the pleasures which are at God’s right hand forevermore, but the way He would take to that end would be to drink the bitter, black, Kedronic waters of woe and anguish.  So His people were destined to Canaan, but the wilderness was also appointed as the way through which they were to attain to that higher ground.

(To be continued, D.V.)