ELECTION: Its Well-Spring (concluded)
We have seen how God views man in His eternal purpose of election, namely, first of all as the man, Christ Jesus, and then as man in Christ. In God’s view of election, Christ is seen first as the Head of the church, and then as the Savior of the body. We have also seen in the great Proverbs VIII passage that there Christ is, in the eternal decree, especially viewed as the ordained Savior of the body, as the Word incarnate in living connection “with the sons of men,” and so also in necessary connection with the cross, wherein alone the sons of men are viewed with delight. We have further seen that there simply is no real or valid preaching of the gospel unless preached on the background, on the basis and in the light of the truth of election. When it is really perceived that Christ is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8), then it is surely understood that the gospel and election are inseparable. One cannot preach the gospel without principally preaching election; and with election discovered, the gospel is revealed as never before.
Then let it also be preached that the names of the elect “are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Rev. 21:27), that they are “written among the living in Jerusalem” (Is. 4:3), as, in fact, “in Thy Book all My members were written” (Ps. 139:16). The Book of Life, containing the register of all the elect, reveals not only the accurate, but also the saving knowledge God has of all who are His, and also proves that eternal election is of particular persons, fornames are there definitely recorded. The Book also teaches the absolute safety and security of the elect, for their names shall never be blotted out of it. It is called the Lamb’s Book of Life because His name is at the head of the register (Heb. 10:7, Gk.). So His name is at the head of the New Testament (Matt. 1:1). It is the Book of Life because He is the Life, the Prince of Life, Christ our Life, and because election is unto eternal life. Believe with a true faith that the Lamb of God was sacrificed for you, to take away your sins, and you have the evidence and assurance that your name is written in that Book!
3. Its Confessional Expression
This aspect of the truth of election has to do with its witness. If there is any one truth the church, throughout the ages, has always testified, it is that of election. The witnessing church has left in the world an indelible and irrepressible testimony in its confessions. That is why this truth is plainly, yet beautifully, declared in all the Calvinistic, Presbyterian and Reformed statements of faith. For example, the whole Heidelberg Catechism presupposes it. There the entire glory of the gospel is exemplified as experienced by the full-grown, mature, perfect, redeemed man in Christ, with all things subservient to his salvation. In this most beautiful biblical instructor, Christ and His people are viewed through the telescope of the divine decrees, in their historical connection through the ages in the midst of the world. For “the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends and preserves to himself by His Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am and forever shall remain, a living member thereof’ (HC, Q. 54).
According to that statement, the Son of God is first, not man, not the lost, not the redeemed, nor the church. He is before all things, all things being created by Him and for Him, especially the church. Next noted is His own peculiar work: He gathers a church. Underscore the exact language: it is not that He proposes to gather a church, hence desires to do so, making many efforts, some fruitless, to that end. No, the statement being so severely biblical as it is, the Son of God is seen actually gathering a church, and continuing to gather it from the beginning to the end of the world. This work He does invincibly, for He effectually defends His church. He successfully completes it to the end, without interruption or hindrance, for He preserves His church. The Son of God now actually gathers a people, a church. This He does, not merely saving sinners, as though rescuing individual pieces of flotsam and jetsam. Christ gathers not a loose aggregate of milling hordes like the swarming mass of humanity at an international airport. He gathers a church, the body of the redeemed and glorified saints in union with Him as Head. The peculiar character of the church is denoted in its being chosen. It is an elect church. It is then no second-guess work, no emergency measure, no substitute for a second-best, failed original. It is the original! The church is chosen. It is chosen in before it is chosen out. It is, as to God’s great end in view, chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world; then, as to the means taken to realize that end, it is chosen out of the whole human race. This means that the church is seen in its historical setting, in the fallen mass of humanity, corrupt, polluted, helpless in its spiritual impotency and degradation, no better than the rest of depraved mankind, indeed, not as “good” as the majority of humanity, but chosen, not for any good in it (God adjudges, “there is none good, no, not one”), but for the glory of His own sovereign grace. So that the church was not chosen for anything man did or could do, but to every saving good, as summed up in “chosen, to everlasting life.” The church being chosento eternal life, shall it not, then, have eternal life? Shall it not also agree in true faith? It shall! For it subsists upon the faith of God’s elect! Shall the Son of God fail in His own wonder-work of grace? Never! Jesus never fails! Not one member of His blood-bought, chosen race shall fail to be gathered into, continue in and forever remain a living member thereof!
The next point in the Reformed Confessions on the subject is at Article XVI, On Eternal Election, in the Belgic Confession, which reads,
We believe that all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and ruin, by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such as He is, that is to say, merciful and just: merciful, since He delivers and preserves from this perdition all, whom He, in His eternal and unchangeable counsel, of mere goodness, hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respect to their works: just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.
Admittedly, there is much that disappoints us in this article. It is not only shorter than any article ought to be of such grand and lofty theme, but it is somewhat out of place, logically belonging, not in the loci of Anthropology, but in that of Theology and in connection with the counsel of God. Also the article is not as accurately titled as it might be, for it is not limited to sovereign election, epitomizing, as it does, the whole doctrine of predestination, with its two, positive and negative, parts, election and reprobation. Further, it only very sketchily outlines the doctrine of predestination; nothing more.
Still, the disappointments in this connection are not as serious and regrettable as in the case of the Eighteenth article of the (Reformed Episcopal) Thirty-five Articles of Religion. There, election, predestination and free will are not only not treated under theology proper, nor even under anthropology, but rather in connection with soteriology. Further, unlike the Belgic Confession article, the Reformed Episcopal article is in its title misleading, for it does not, actually, treat of Election, Predestination or Free Will; no, not even in sketchy outline. There merely appears the statement that “this church (Reformed Episcopal—RCH . . . simply affirms these doctrines as the Word of God sets them forth, and submits them to the judgment of its members, as taught by the Holy Spirit. . . .” But no explanation is offered as to just how the Word of God does set forth these doctrines. Then to leave such a great essential of the faith “to the individual judgment of the church’s members” for its reception, interpretation and expression is hardly satisfactory, showing theological incompetence. Such a statement is inherently unworthy of a theological, confessional declaration. Its phraseology is really non-confessional, even anti-doctrinal. Where witness to the highest of Reformed truth is expected, none is given. The mere mention of the doctrinal peaks of the Christian Faith, and the leaving of them to the individual judgment of members in the church, is not only the height of rank individualism, but is certainly, and sadly, no confession, or witness to the truth.
But these hollow sounds are not echoed in our Article XVI. While it is extremely brief, that lack is more than made up in the Canons of Dordt, where predestination is treated at length in eighteen consecutive articles. Yet this article does contain the essentials of the doctrine of predestination, with the basic elements of election and reprobation. Weakness there is, to a degree, evident in this article, as shown, above; but that weakness lies not in the fact that the truth is herein viewed in its historical setting. The fact that, with humankind fallen into the pit of perdition, God delivers and preserves from this perdition all whom He has elected in Christ, is no weakness. Nor is this infralapsarianism. It is not infralapsarian to state that after the fall, and from the fall, God delivers and preserves His chosen ones. The article fits in well enough with the supralapsarian scheme. So often this article is said to be Infra-. But that God delivers from perdition all He has elected in Christ, certainly implies an election made in the first place with Christ in view, and not first with sin and the fall in view; with viewing Christ first as the Head of the church, then as the Savior of the body. Although the article is not infralapsarian, neither does it press the switch on the supralapsarian floodlight. It does not enter upon the Infra-Supra question. But it definitely does not state that God chose out of the fallen human race. The article is not weakened with infralapsarianism.
(To be continued, D.V.)