8. Its Character
The last paragraph of the previous article really began this new turn of our subject. There we said election is solely an act of God. God does the electing and the choosing. Men and angels are the chosen ones. Election is further characterized in Scripture as absolute. It is entirely free, independent of everything outside of God himself. Why did He write some names in the Book of Life, and eliminate others from that register? Paul would say it was the good pleasure of His will to do so (Eph. 1:4, 5). Why does God save some and condemn others? Because salvation is through faith, and some believe,-while some believe not (Acts 28:24; John 3:18). Why do some believe? It is because they were ordained to eternal life (Acts 13:48). Why do some believe not? It is because they are not Christ’s sheep (John 10:26), and because they could not believe because God sovereignly hardens them (John 12:39f). Why did God decree to choose some and to reject others? There is no other answer than that of His sovereign pleasure!
Election is immutable, because founded on nothing in man, but on the unchangeable God alone. 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.
What follows is also most important as to the character of predestination. God’s 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 unfallen 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. What is implied here is that election is of a supralapsarian character. This means 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. According to it, 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. Thomwell in his Election and Reprobation nevertheless slashes at the supra view, not only calling it an “extreme of squeamish timidity” (p.4), but also accusing the supra view relative to the decrees of God as amounting “to a downright denial of their certainty and sovereignty” (ibid.), and as “excesses . . . no more to be regarded as the genuine doctrines of Calvinistic churches” (p.8). These statements are not in harmony with the history of the Reformed and Calvinistic churches, to say nothing of not being in harmony with Scripture and reason. For, although the Canons of Dordt, for example, 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 those 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 which may or is 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 ecclesiastically or confessionally resolved at any point in the history of the Reformed and Calvinistic churches. Neither does it seem likely nor desirable that it ever should be. Besides all this, history reveals that supralapsarians were nothing like a Mr. Timorous, Little-faith, Faint-heart, Mr. Feeble-mind or Mr. Ready-to-halt. They were lionhearted men—like Great-heart and Valiant-for-truth. Then it is more than ridiculous to regard the views held by such men as Calvin,* Gomarus, Voetius, Beza, Zwingli, Twisse, John Gill, Thomas Goodwin, Arthur W. Pink and H. Hoeksema 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 supra-creation with Christ prior to their creature-union with Adam. God had blessed all His people with all spiritual blessings in heaven in Christ before the creation of the universe (Eph. 1:3, 4), and so before they fell in Adam and under the curse.
In God’s decree and purpose of election, we are to distinguish what is the end He has in mind, and what are the means He has ordained and will use to 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 divine purpose is end and what are means. The end concerns the glorification of a people in their elect Head. The means include the purpose to create those people, ordain their fall, recover them from it viaredemption 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: “The 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 fast in His intention. Wherefore, God’s purpose beholds 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, next permitted their fall, then out of the fallen mass to choose some to salvation, 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 hispurpose and end, say, in the making of a journey, then decides 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” (Heb. 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’ ” (Ps. 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 fulness 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 the higher ground.
9. Its Supralapsarian Character
It is to be doubted that anyone can understand how that going to the supralapsarian view is going to the “extreme of squeamish timidity.” For it, more than the Infrascheme, elevates the certainty and sovereignty of the decrees of God. It was nothing to do with “timidity,” either, that the Supra view had never been confessionally condemned, not in the Anglican churches, not in the Presbyterian churches, not in the Reformed churches, nor in any churches calling themselves Calvinistic. But what is important to see, in the main points at issue, is the distinction between the end God has in mind, and the way He keeps in mind to take to that end.
God foreknew His people with a knowledge of everlasting love. Then, according to the foreknowledge of love, He predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son all these people. Finally, whom He predestinated, He also glorified. Certainly, it must be plain from Romans 8that this foreordination of God puts His people in glory definitely prior to His prescience of their fall in Adam. Certainly this understanding of the truth is also in better agreement with the cases of Jacob and Esau mentioned in Romans 9:11 than the infralapsarian view, which has the divine decree regard them as fallen creatures.
(To be continued)
*Schaff says Calvin “must be classed rather with the Supralapsarians” (History of the Christian Church, VIII, 553). See in Calvin’s “Institutes,” Bk. III, XXIII, VIII, concerning which Schaff says, “‘Here we have Supralapsarian logic combined with ethical logic.”—(His. of Chr. Ch., VIII, 555). Also in the “Institutes,” Bk. III, XXI, V, VII; XXIII, XI; XXIV, XII, especially in the last place mentioned, there is strong supralapsarian language.