Article 12. The elect in due time, though in various degrees and in different measures, attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election, not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure, the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the word of God—such as a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.
The above translation is correct, and differs from the Dutch version only in that the latter adds a reference to Scripture, II Corinthians 13:5, something which is not found in the original Latin quoted by Schaff.
This article deals with a matter of doctrine, to be sure, but with a matter of doctrine which is of extreme practical importance: for what could be more vitally practical than the subject of the assurance of our eternal and unchangeable election? Essentially, of course, doctrine is always practical. It is a matter of the truth,—the truth concerning God, concerning ourselves, concerning our salvation, concerning all things in relation thereto,—the truth which we believe, which is the object of faith. But doctrine as it concerns so great and- unspeakable a blessing as the assurance of our election is especially practical. And when you consider that that election is eternal and unchangeable, the matter becomes still more vital. To know and to be assured that God has eternally and unchangeably chosen me to be His very own child, loved me, set His divine affection upon me,—what could be more wonderful, but also more practical than that? That is everything. That is all that ever could be of any account in life or in death, for time and eternity. Being assured of that election, I need no other assurance whatever.
In this twelfth article the fathers make a doctrinal statement of this very practical truth. And we must also not overlook the apologetic element in this statement. It is again because there were those who denied the truth that the elect can and do become assured of their eternal and unchangeable election, who taught instead that election could be interrupted and changed, recalled and annulled, and that the saints to the very moment of their death could attain no firm assurance because their election was conditioned by their perseverance, that the fathers found it necessary to state in concise form and language that this assurance of election is not only possible but actual for the saints, and to state how and along what way it is obtained. Let us remember, therefore, that not only from the point of view of the objective maintenance of the true doctrine, but also from the point of view of our own spiritual life and spiritual health, the fathers did us a favor when they laid down this proposition of Article 12.
The first element of truth maintained in this article is that this assurance of our eternal and unchangeable election is both possible and actual for the elect: “The elect . . . attain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election.” That the elect attain this assurance, and they only, is, of course, self-evident. Assurance must be based on and rooted in reality, in objective fact. Any other assurance is false, is self-deception, and is a lie. If a man is not elect, if God has not eternally and unchangeably chosen him in Christ Jesus, then he cannot possibly have the assurance of being elect. For God does not lie. He does not assure a man of something which is not true. One may, of course, be a hypocrite. And as such he may leave the impression in the church and with men that he has this assurance. But in his heart and before God also the hypocrite knows better. And he certainly will not die with the assurance of being elect, and open his eyes presently in the hell of the reprobate. Only the elect attain the assurance of their eternal and unchangeable election.
But it is important to note that the elect do attain assurance. The Canons not only proceed from the positive thought that this assurance of our election ispossible, leaving room for the idea, that some, or perhaps many, of the elect never attain to this possible assurance. But they positively maintain that the elect (infants are, of course, excluded from assurance from the very nature of the case),—but the elect do obtain the assurance of their election. And there is no exception to this rule, we may be sure. Furthermore, it is normal, not exceptional and abnormal, to have this assurance. It is not correct to imagine that this blessed assurance of election is for an elite group of saints, and that the vast majority would really be impious if they claimed the same assurance. It is not correct to teach that it is normal for the Christian to doubt his election, and to foster such doubt. It is not correct to say: “It is an unspeakable privilege that we are elect; but oh, if we may only know that too,” as if the latter belonged to the almost unattainable. Reformed, confessionally Reformed, it is to say: “The elect . . . . obtain the assurance of this their eternal and unchangeable election.”
And this is thoroughly Scriptural. The fathers do not here adduce Scripture references. Presently, in the Rejection of Errors they will quote Scripture on this subject. But how numerous in holy writ are the instances of the saints breaking forth into expressions of thanksgiving and praise exactly in the consciousness and assurance of their election. And how often they are addressed as “elect.” To mention only one passage at this time, think of that beautiful expression of joy and thanksgiving in Ephesians 1:3, ff.: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love; Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Such is always the tone of holy writ. And how utterly foolish and unreasonable is any contrary notion. How foolish and useless would be that unspeakable blessing of eternal and unchangeable election, how wasted it would be, if the Lord God chose people and would never cause them to know that they were His chosen and precious ones. Nay, but His Purpose is exactly that they, the elect, shall be to the praise of the glory of His grace. And that grace is revealed in its highest perfection as grace in that He sovereignly chose us from before the foundation of the world according to an unchangeable decree. How utterly inconceivable that God, would ever hide that most wonderful manifestation of electing grace from His people! And if we remember that our eternal and unchangeable election in Christ Jesus is the most comforting element in the Christian’s comfort, how cruel it is to teach that the God of His people denies them that comfort!
Concerning this assurance of election the Canonsfurther instruct us: 1) That it is obtained in God’s own time. This is the idea of the expression “in due time.” Due time is, of course,” always God’s time, not our time. It is time determined by Him, according to His good pleasure. It is literally in the Latin original of this article “His own time.” Hence the idea is that also the assurance of our election takes place according to God’s good pleasure. The one,—as for example, the thief on the cross,—may not obtain it till his dying moments. That is God’s time for him. The other may attain it at a very young age, and may early be assured of the fact, and clearly confess it, that he is an elect child of God. And that is God’s good pleasure. But the elect attain this assurance in due time. 2) That this assurance may indeed vary in degree and measure. This is true, first of all, when we compare Christian and Christian. All do not have the same measure of assurance. There are some who are very firm and clear in that assurance, who seldom know a moment of doubt, and who very genuinely and sincerely will affirm that they are assured of their election. But there are also those (not who never attain it) who seldom have the courage to say without hesitation that they are of God’s chosen ones, who frequently despair, and who are plagued with doubts and fears and questionings. And there are various degrees in between. But brightly or dimly, the elect obtain this assurance. And assurance is normal, not abnormal. Doubt is sin. And the doubting and fearful and weak Christian is to be pitied and helped and borne along by the saints. But his doubt may not be fostered. However, we may also discover this variation in degree and measure of assurance in the same Christian. Assurance may waver from time to time. Assurance may also be fostered through the proper means, and may be nurtured, and grow. And we may also say, especially with regard to the children of believers who are elect, that it is normal for this assurance to differ in degree as the child grows up,—to differ in the sense that it increases as he grows up and as he becomes founded in the truth of the gospel. But apart from this, what Christian does not know from experience those times when his assurance is dim and those times when he is on the mountain tops of faith? Yea, at times,—dark times they are for the child of God, usually times of gross sin and walking in sin,—at times he may lose this consciousness, even though that election itself remains unchangeable. Indeed, this assurance is attained in various degrees and measures.
All the above is not to be conceived of in separation from the further instruction of this article concerning the manner of this I assurance. It is important that we remember this. For in the first place, if we understand this connection, we will be on our guard against any rash and hasty assertions of confidence of our election. It is indeed true that election and the assurance of election are wonderful blessings of salvation. But it is also true that the relation between the two is a very delicate relation, and that the relation between assurance and the Christian virtues mentioned in this article is equally delicate and intimate. The way of assurance is a clearly defined and exclusive way. Secondly, an understanding of the connection between our personal assurance of election and the manner of attaining this assurance will serve undoubtedly to foster a greater assurance and to answer for the child of God the question as to why that assurance may often be weak and wavering. And therefore again, both doctrinally and practically we do well to give heed to the instruction of the fathers on this subject.
(to be continued)