Article 11. And as God himself is most wise, unchangeable, omniscient, and omnipotent, so the election made by him can neither be interrupted nor changed, recalled or annulled; neither can the elect be cast away, nor their number diminished.
In the above translation the word “annulled,” while it perhaps conveys the general idea of the original, can hardly be admitted as an accurate rendering of the Latin abrumpi. The Dutch “afgebroken” (broken off) is more correct. For the rest the translation is correct.
Also in this article there is no fundamental advance in thought over Article 7. For the main thought of Article 11 is that election is unchangeable, which thought was maintained in Article 7 when it taught that “election is the unchangeable purpose of God,” and again in the same article when it declared that God decreed to give the elect to Christ, to be saved by Him, etc., “and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of his Son, finally, to glorify them for the demonstration of his mercy.” Hence, the present article is simply an elaboration of the same thought, and a very beautiful one too. In one brief and concise statement the fathers connect the immutability of the decree of election with the attributes of the decreeing God.
The question may arise here: why were not the Scriptures quoted to support the contention of this article? More than one reason may be given for this. Certainly it is not true that no Scriptures can be found which present the above thought. For the passages are numerous. We may mention the passage in Romans 8:29, 30, already cited in Article 7, which surely teaches the infallible realization of the purpose of election.Malachi 3:6 is also applicable here: “For I, Jehovah change not; therefore ye, O sons of Jacob; are not consumed.” Isaiah 49:15, 16 instructs us Concerning the Lord’s constant mindfulness of Zion, His elect, even when they complain of being forsaken and forgotten in the following language: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that, she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, these may forget, yet will not I forget thee, Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” The Lord Jesus Himself teaches us, according toJohn 10:27-30: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know, them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any may pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” Plainly, according to these verses, Christ’s sheep, the elect, are imperishable. To the unbelieving Jews Jesus declares in John 6:37-40: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that everyone which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” James 1:17 emphasizes the unchangeableness of the Father in bestowing His good gifts upon His people in the following language: “Every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” And, to quote no more, there is that most beautiful passage inHebrews 6:16-19: “For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope tie have as an anchor of the soul, both sure; and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.” It may be, then, that the available Scriptural proof was so abundant and so transparent that it was thought unnecessary to quote it. On the other hand, however, we may notice that the argument of this eleventh article is inescapably logical. Anyone who wants to maintain the least semblance of orthodoxy will have to grant the truths of God’s wisdom, immutability, omniscience, and omnipotence. When these are granted, then the immutability of God’s election inevitably follows. To maintain the former implies that you must maintain the latter; and to deny the latter constrains you to deny the former.
There is, to be sure, one underlying principle which forms the foundation of what this article teaches. That principle is that God is one and simple, which implies that there is no separation of His attributes: all God’s attributes are one in Him. And God’s works being the revelation of Himself, they are all characterized by His unspeakable virtues. When, therefore, God chooses some for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of His glorious grace, then is not only His mercy and grace revealed. But all God’s attributes, as it were, go into action. His mercy and grace are characterized by unchangeability, wisdom, omnipotence, omniscience, as well as by all the divine virtues. Such is the principle of this article.
Now let us take note of the details.
God is most wise. This means that God always chooses the best means to attain the highest possible purpose. That highest possible purpose is God’s own glorification. And to that purpose God always adapts His whole counsel and all things, and adapts all things to one another with a view to the same purpose. And we must remember too that we are speaking of the wisdom of God. Not only does this imply, according to Scripture, that this wisdom has nothing to do with what the world calls philosophy, but is an ethical idea, so that for the creature too “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” But God’s wisdom is absolute. He is the only wise God. Rom. 16:27; I Tim. 1:17. He is wisdom. His wisdom is self-existent, eternal, infinite, and unchangeable. That God chooses the best possible means does not mean, therefore, that God’s wisdom is limited whatsoever. When man has a certain purpose in mind, he is limited to the means at hand. He does not devise the means, but he chooses from a whole array of possible means. His wisdom is causal and determinative. Furthermore, God can never make a mistake. He needs never to retrace His steps and try another path. Never can it be said of God’s way that there is a better way. Always with infinite perfection He adapts all things both in eternity arid time to themselves mutually and to the attainment of the highest purpose. It is this same wisdom that characterizes God’s election.
In the second place, the article maintains that God is unchangeable. This virtue of God is revealed in the name Jehovah; God is the eternal I Am. The creature, that exists in time and space, can never say “I Am.” The moment he attempts to say it he has already moved on, and is no more whit he was. But God is the I Am, the immutable one. He is all that He is in all the infinite and constant fullness of His being, eternally. God does not grow older; He does not increase or decrease in being or in power, or in glory. He is from eternity to eternity the same in essence and in all His virtues. His mind and will, His thoughts and decrees are eternally the same. Never, therefore, does God change His mind. Known unto Him are all His works from the beginning of the world. As far as God’s counsel is concerned, which is the reality of all things, all things are finished from eternity, and God has all His works eternally before Him.
The third attribute of God mentioned in this article is God’s omniscience, that virtue of God according to which He knows Himself and all things. Surely, this implies that nothing exists and nothing happens unbeknownst to Him. But it implies much more. For also here we must keep before us the distinction between the creature and the creator. Not only is our knowledge limited in every way, so that we know only a small portion of that which may be known, and so that we cannot possibly see things in their relation to all other things, while God knows all things perfectly. But we are dependent in our knowledge upon the thing known. With us the thing must exist before we can know it. With God this is not the case. God knows all things because He has determined what shall be and what shall happen. His knowledge is independent and sovereign and determinative. Hence, in His dealings with the children of men nothing can surprise God or disappoint Him, for the simple reason that His knowledge is before the event.
Finally, the article speaks of God’s omnipotence. That God is almighty is patently Scriptural. But this power of God is never set forth in the Scriptures as a mere abstract omnipotence. God’s claim to power is not a philosophical claim to be able to do all things. This would lead to such foolish speculations as those of the scholastics, who would philosophize about the question whether God was able to make two mountains without a valley between them and such like. The Scriptures always present God’s power concretely as it is revealed in the works of His hands. They present it as a living energy and ability to accomplish things. Here too we must remember that God’s power is strictly unique and divine energy and power. It is distinct from any power in the creature. God always performs what is impossible for the creature to accomplish. He is the God that does wonders. And His power is characterized by absolute freedom and sovereignty. God’s power is not restricted by any power outside of Himself. It is causal and creative. We may very briefly define it as that attribute of God according to which He does whatsoever He pleases. Hence, too, we cannot speak of any power alongside of God’s power, even though it be not as great as His. God’s is absolutely all power; and apart from Him there is no power whatsoever. He holds all creatures in His hand, so that apart from Him they have no existence, and cannot so much as move.
Now when we apply these attributes of God to His election, we come to the following conclusion. First of all, election can never be interrupted. It cannot be that we are now elect and then reprobate. No enemy can interrupt election, for all the movements of the enemy are known to God, determined by Him, devised by Him as means to an end, and are in His sovereign power and control. We ourselves cannot interrupt it by fulfillment or non-fulfillment of conditions. For not only is our faith and perseverance unchangeably out of God’s election, but all our weaknesses and unfaithfulnesses and failures are known unto Him, in His power, and under His direction. Further, in His infinite wisdom God also uses even our weaknesses and shortcomings for the demonstration of His power and to the attainment of the purpose of election. In the second place, election is unchangeable. We cannot change it. And God does not and will not change it, no matter what may betide. God’s mind is made up from eternity, and He never retraces His steps for any reason whatsoever. Nor, in the third place, is election ever recalled. God does never devise a new plan, a substitute plan—a better plan. And finally, election is never broken off and destroyed and put to naught, neither by us and our sins nor by the powers of darkness in their enmity against God and His counsel.
God’s election is absolutely unchangeable. Because God is unchangeable, it cannot be changed. Because He is most wise, it need not be changed. Because He is omniscient, it cannot be foiled. And because He is omnipotent, it cannot be thwarted and obstructed.
What a comfort for the elect child of God! By grace we may place the present evil moment, whether the moment of our own heinous sins and Sinfulness or the moment of the hatred and opposition of the enemy, in the eternal light of that unchangeable election, and in the knowledge that the elect cannot be cast away nor their number diminished say: “All is well. Soli Deo Gloria!”