...

Previous article in this series: September 1, 2021, p. 470.

Admonitions Are Not in Vain Because Salvation Proceeds from Election.
Augustine also shows that both the grace of free election and predestination, and also salutary admonitions
and doctrines, are to be preached 
(Lib. De Dono Perseverantiae, cap. 14 ff.).

The matter of the relation between election and admonitions was broached in the preceding paragraph of the Second Helvetic Confession. There Bullinger voiced the objection often raised by the opponents of predestination that the doctrine obviates all warnings, admonitions, and threats. If predestination is true, nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect and nothing can prevent the condemnation of the reprobate. In both cases, admonitions are rendered unnecessary. The argument raised by the enemies of predestination is that since the Scriptures contain innumerable admonitions, the teaching of predestination cannot possibly be true.

What are admonitions? Admonitions include setting forth our calling as the will of God. They include encouragement to carry out our calling faithfully, along with appropriate incentives. And they include warning against failure or refusal to do our calling as we ought.

In the previous paragraph, Bullinger had pointed to Paul’s statement in II Timothy 2:24-26, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves [to the truth]; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” In the context, the apostle has referred to predestination. He has taught in verse 19 that “the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” In verse 20, he has distinguished between vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor. But the reality of predestination does not at all restrict the apostle, here or elsewhere, from making use of warnings and admonitions with respect to those “that oppose themselves,” whether elect or reprobate. Their opposition provokes the timely and sharp admonition of the apostle. The servant of the Lord must be gentle and must instruct in meekness. But meekness is not weakness, and gentleness does not rule out firmness. Rather than to preclude admonitions, predestination demands them. The predestinating God is pleased to use admonitions in the execution of His decree of predestination.

What the enemies of sovereign grace overlook is that the predestinating God is also the God who has chosen to use means in the execution of His decree of predestination. The decree does not rule out the use of means. The means that God has chosen to use is His word, chiefly the public preaching of His word. One important aspect of that means is the word of admonition, rebuke, and warning.

Although the emphasis in the paragraph is on “salutary admonitions and doctrines” as they “are to be preached,” Bullinger does not intend to confine admonition exclusively to the public preaching. Connected to the public preaching by the ministers of the Word ought also to be the private admonitions of the elders of the church to those who walk contrary to God’s truth and law. Included are the admonitions of loving parents to their wayward children, of caring relatives to wandering family members, of concerned Christian school teachers to their students and former students, of church members who have deep concern for a brother or sister in the congregation.

God uses admonitions to keep His people on the right way and to bring His children back to the right way after they have strayed. At the same time, He uses admonitions to leave the reprobate wicked hardened in their sin and as an aggravation of their guilt.

Whether We Are Elected.

We therefore find fault with those who outside of Christ ask whether they are elected. And what has God decreed concerning them before all eternity? For the preaching of the Gospel is to be heard, and it is to be believed; and it is to be held as beyond doubt that if you believe and are in Christ, you are elected. For the Father has revealed unto us in Christ the eternal purpose of His predestination, as I have just now shown from the apostle in II Timothy 1:9-10. This is therefore above all to be taught and considered, what great love of the Father toward us is revealed to us in Christ. We must hear what the Lord Himself daily preaches to us in the Gospel, how He calls and says: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “God so loved the world,  that he gave his only [begotten] Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). 
Also, “It is not the will of my Father that one of these little ones should perish: (Matt. 18:14). 
 Let Christ, therefore, be the looking glass, in whom we may contemplate our predestination. We shall have a 
sufficiently clear and sure testimony that we are inscribed in the Book of Life if we have fellowship with Christ, 
and He is ours and we are His in true faith.

This paragraph of chapter 10 of the SHC deals primarily with the assurance of election. How may we be assured of our election? Can the elect child of God live in the assurance of his election by God? Do only a select few among believers ever attain the full assurance that they have been chosen by God? These are the questions that Bullinger faces in the present paragraph.

His response is straightforward and biblical. The child of God is assured of his election by faith. Faith is assurance. At the same time, that the child of God believes confirms him in the assurance of his election, for faith is the outstanding fruit of election. The preaching of the gospel “is to be heard” and “it is to be believed.” This is the call or command that comes to sinners in the preaching of the gospel. Further, “it is to be held as beyond doubt that if you believe and are [by faith] in Christ, you are elected.” They who believe are without doubt elect, since faith is the inevitable fruit of election. One cannot be an elect child of God and never come to faith. The elect child of God cannot live his entire life in doubt, constantly despairing that he is an elect child of God. God is both the Author and Finisher of our faith, bringing us to faith and confirming us in faith.

Because faith in Christ assures of election, Bullinger concludes by saying, “Let Christ, therefore, be the looking glass, in whom we may contemplate our predestination.” What a beautiful and apt metaphor. He compares Christ to a looking glass—a mirror. The eyes that behold the face of Jesus Christ in the looking glass are the eyes of faith. Faith sees Christ and believes on Christ. Faith does not behold oneself in the mirror, but Christ alone. Believing on Christ, “we may contemplate [be assured of] our predestination.”

Bullinger adds: “We shall have a sufficiently clear and sure testimony that we are inscribed in the Book of Life if we have fellowship with Christ, and He is ours and we are His in true faith.” The “book of life” is a biblical expression. It is found in Philippians 4:3 and several times in the book of Revelation, where it is also referred to as the “Lamb’s book of life” (3:5; 13:8; 20:15; 21:27; 22:19). It is called the “book of life” inasmuch as those whose names are written in this book are chosen unto life—eternal life. Thus, the expression refers to the elect of God; the names of the elect are inscribed in the book. The book is God’s book and God Himself has “written” the names of the elect in this book.

It ought to be evident that there is no literal “book of life” somewhere in heaven in which names of people are inscribed. Figuratively, the expression refers to God’s eternal counsel, particularly His counsel of election. The expression underscores that God’s decree of election is an unchangeable decree. The names of the elect are “written.” The number of the elect is fixed and definite. That “names” are written in the book indicates also that God’s election is personal and individual. God has chosen particular persons who are His elect people. Your name is personal to you; it stands for you and refers to you. When you sign your name, your signature represents you personally and no one else. So does also your name in the Lamb’s book of life. Only they whose names are written in the book of life enjoy everlasting life. All whose names are not written in the book are rejected and reprobated.

Those whose names are in the book of life “have fellowship with Christ, and He is ours and we are His in true faith.” This is the fruit of election. Those, therefore, who enjoy fellowship with Christ and who are united to Him by true faith, must have their names written in the book of life. Even if there were a literal book into which we could peer in order to find our name written, it would be altogether unnecessary. Fellowship with Christ and union to Christ by faith are undoubted testimonies to our election.

Temptation in Regard to Predestination.

In the temptation in regard to predestination, than which there is scarcely any other more dangerous,
we are confronted by the fact that God’s promises apply to all the faithful, for He says: “Ask, and everyone
who seeks, shall receive” (Luke 11:9-10). This finally we pray, with the whole Church of God, “Our Father who
art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9 ff.), both because by baptism we are ingrafted into the body of Christ, and we are
often fed in His Church with His flesh and blood unto life eternal. Thereby, being strengthened, we are
commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, according to the precept of Paul.

In the concluding paragraph of chapter 10 of the SHC, Bullinger addresses a sore temptation regarding predestination. At the same time, this temptation involves not a use but an abuse of the truth of predestination. Temptation is always temptation to sin. The sin to which some might be tempted would not, of course, involve a legitimate application of predestination. Then it would not be sinful. Rather, it involves a contradiction of the truth and a sinful perversion of predestination.

The temptation is a denial of predestination practically. If someone confesses that they believe the truth of predestination but exhibits this practical temptation in their walk of life, they in effect deny predestination. There are always two ways to deny the truth: theoretically and practically. It is possible to deny God’s providence by trusting in fortune or chance. It is also possible to deny providence while faithfully professing it. That would happen if despite one’s outward confession, he did not trust himself or his family to the care of his gracious and loving heavenly Father. It is this sort of practical denial that forms the “dangerous” temptation regarding predestination that Bullinger is concerned to address.

The temptation is that we become careless and indifferent to the means by which God is pleased to carry out His decree of predestination. That might not be immediately evident from what Bullinger has to say in this last paragraph. But a careful reading of what he says will bear this out. One of the main temptations is that we do not remain constant in our use of prayer. We do not take seriously Christ’s command in Luke 11:9-10 to ask, seek, and knock. In this passage, Jesus is commanding His disciples to pray, with the added assurance, “For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Only they who ask receive; only they who seek find; and only they who knock have it opened unto them. We must ask; we must seek; and we must knock. To take the attitude that since God has predestinated us to salvation, we need not pray as the means by which God is pleased to give us what we need spiritually and physically is to tempt God.

Bullinger reaffirms the necessity and importance of prayer in the life of the elect people of God when he refers to the Lord’s Prayer: “This finally we pray, with the whole Church of God, Our Father who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9 ff.).

Besides the importance of prayer in the life of the elect, Bullinger also affirms the place of the sacraments in the corporate life of the people of God. He has earlier referred to the chief means of grace, the preaching of the Word of God. Now he adds to the preaching baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Shutting the door firmly against the dangerous, practical denial of predestination, Bullinger quotes “the precept of Paul” in Philippians 2:12-13, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” That God works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure does not remove but validates the calling, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

Reformed believers must never waiver in their confession of God’s sovereign predestination. Neither must they allow themselves carelessly to fall into the practical and dangerous temptation to set aside the means by which God is pleased to execute His decree of predestination. Decree and means always belong together.