Our fathers insist here that the sense and certainty of this eternal and unchangeable election results in the very opposite of carnal security and moral laxity. Positively, they maintain that it bears fruit, first of all, in that the elect humble themselves before God. This is indeed worthy of special notice. Frequently it is claimed that the Reformed doctrine of election is a proud doctrine, that it makes the elect conceited, and causes them to assume a haughty and I-am-holier-than-thou attitude towards the reprobate and ungodly, as if they have something to boast of themselves that God has chosen them and not someone else. But we should understand that this is not an objection than can be launched against the doctrine of sovereign predestination at all. And when this charge is brought, it can only be due to the grossest ignorance of the truth, or to the evil and malicious conscience of the adversary of this truth, who, in the realization that his own heretical doctrine is chargeable with this very fault, throws a smokescreen by leveling this accusation against the truth. This is a very common phenomenon in the battle for the truth, that heretics seek to calumniate the truth with the very faults which characterize their own false doctrine. Here too, the Reformed truth of election is not a proud doctrine, and does not foster pride in the elect; but the Arminian heresy concerning election is a proud doctrine essentially, and fosters pride. This lies in the very nature of the case. The truth of a sovereign and free election exactly excludes all carnal boasting. It necessarily includes the profession of our own unworthiness and sin. It necessitates the confession that God’s grace is sovereign, and that God did not choose us on account of our own works in any sense of the word. This leads to true smallness before God. It cuts a man down to size. And what is man’s size? “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket (“of a bucket,” not, “in a bucket”), and are counted as the small dust of the balance . . . All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.” Isa. 40:15, 17. And true humility is the deep and heartfelt realization of our “nothingness” in relation to the sovereign Lord. To this humility Arminian doctrine can never lead, because it maintains that the creature, yea, the sinner, is after all something, not nothing, in relation to God.
Secondly, the sense and certainty of their election, according to this article, results in the elect adoring the depth of God’s mercies. This stands in close connection with the fruit of humility. For God’s mercy is that divine virtue according to which He eternally wills to bless His people as they are in misery. That mercy we behold in all its depth when we stand before the truth of sovereign predestination. O, to be sure, that mercy we behold in all the blessings of salvation, in the gift of God’s Son, in His cross, in His resurrection, and in all the operations of the Spirit of Christ whereby the blessings of Christ are applied to us, so that we taste it in our lives. But the one, question which we ponder in all these manifestations of God’s mercy remains: why? Why Christ? Why the cross? Why forgiveness? Why sanctification? Why preservation? Why glory? Why for me, a poor, miserable, all unworthy, and sinful creature of the dust? That question presses in upon the mind and heart of the child of God with ever greater insistence according as the consciousness of his own misery deepens. And there is but one answer to that question. That answer, the solution, is not to be found in you and me. Rightly considered, it is not to be found in Christ and His atoning work: for even then the question remains, “Why Christ?” The answer is: God and His eternal and unchangeable and sovereign purpose of election. In other words,—if we may speak of the “measure” of God’s mercy,—the measure of His mercy is eternal and infinite. Before it the child of God can only stand in awe and be filled with adoration and inexpressible delight. According, therefore, as the knowledge of our misery deepens, our adoration of the depth of God’s mercy, originating in eternal election and through which alone we are saved, also deepens.
In the third place, the fruit of the sense and certainly of our election is that the children of God find in it daily more reason for purifying themselves, cleansing themselves “from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit.” It may safely be said that there is no greater reason and incentive for a sanctified life than in the truth of election as it is personally appropriated by God’s children. For do not forget that God has chosen us for the very purpose that “we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” Eph. 1:4. Such is the divine purpose of election. And that purpose, of course, cannot be thwarted: God always fulfills His purpose. Nor is it an arbitrary matter that God has chosen us unto holiness. For God is the holy one in Himself. And it is His eternal purpose that His people should be to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. Eph. 1:5, 6. If then His elect are to be to the praise of the glory of His grace, then that grace must be and is of such a nature that it sanctifies, cleanses, and makes holy its elect objects. Contemplating that grace, His elect people, (in the sense and certainty of that election, and election unto holiness), take as their own purpose and striving sanctification, that is, walking in a new and holy life. The holy purpose of the electing God becomes the purpose and striving of the elect people. Principally they can never say, “God’s purpose may be holiness, but we do not care to walk in newness of life.” Principally they always say: “How ought we also to walk holily and to strive for sanctification of life before the face of the holy God that has chosen us.”
In the fourth place, this article mentions as one of the fruits of the assurance of our election “ardently loving him in turn, who has so greatly first loved them.” Concerning this we may note, first of all, that “loving God in turn,” as the Canons have it, is certainly not a love that is independent of God’s love to us, so that even in smallest measure the elect ever remunerate God for His love by loving Him in turn. No, this reciprocating love is never anything else than the reflection of and the response to His own love toward us as it is shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit of Christ. Secondly, we must remember that these ardent returns of love, while they first of all find expression in our direct love of and service of God Himself, necessarily include the manifestation of a true love of the brethren and of the neighbor. To love God and not the neighbor is impossible. And the idea here is that experiencing the love of God, exactly as a first love and as an unspeakably great love, and contemplating that love of God, the elect are incited to respond by their love in Him.
Such is the picture of the elect child of God who has attained the personal assurance of election.
Just a few observations must be made yet in this connection. ”
First of all, we must by no means get the impression that God’s elect are perfect or near-perfect in this life. This is not the case. And the elect themselves would be the first to acknowledge it. Nor do the Canons leave this impression: for they plainly speak of a certain progress in humility, in adoration, in cleansing, and in love. And where perfection is attained, progress is no more possible.
In the second place, we must remember that what the Canons here present is no mere moralistic religion. It is true that the relation as it is here presented is one of “daily drawing more material” for humility, adoration, etc. It is true that the fathers speak of the “meditation” or “contemplation” of the doctrine of election. But, as is plain from the very lash: Sentence of this article, mere meditation and contemplation of the truth of election will never lead nor incite one to Christian virtue. And if thus matters are presented, you have nothing but the very moralistic philosophy in which all Arminianism must itself end. The rock bottom basis of all that the fathers here teach concerning the fact that the elect for a fact draw from the sense and certainty of their election and from the contemplation thereof daily more material for humbling themselves before God, et cetera, is nothing less than the truth which the Heidelberg Catechism maintains when this objection is brought against the doctrine of free justification, namely, that a careless and profane Christian is an impossibility. And why is it impossible? Because it is contrary to the very nature of God’s grace of election. After all, do not forget that the Canons have already taught us that election is “the fountain of every saving good; from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects.” If, therefore, any individual elect has attained the “sense and certainty of this election,” it can only mean that the grace of election has already been realized in him, so that he has received faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation. And by grace contemplating these benefits,—and then emphatically only by grace,—he finds daily more material for growing in the infallible fruits of election.
And in the third place, notice how,—to sum up the matter,—just how “far distant” it is that by this doctrine and its meditation the elect should be rendered sluggish in the observance of the divine commands, or carnally secure. It is as far distant as east from west, as black from white.
And finally, the fathers emphasize this truth yet more strongly by claiming that this carnal security and sluggishness in observing the divine commands, instead of being found in the elect, are as a rule found in the reprobate, and that too, in a certain class of reprobate, namely, such who rashly presume to be elect and who idly and wantonly chatter about election, while they are unwilling to walk in the ways of the elect. Such people can be found: people who the grace of election; people who use a fatalistic falsification know all about election, but who have never spiritually tasted of the truth of election in order to excuse an ungodly walk. Concerning them the Canons stipulate two things: first of all, we are instructed that such people can always be marked by their walk, because they refuse to walk in the ways of the elect, that is, in the way of sanctification. And secondly, the fathers connect the sin and its visitation when they add: “by the just judgment of God.” In other words, God visits their sin of rash presumption and wanton trifling and carnal security upon their own heads, and they are hardened in the very sins in which they walk, and go down to destruction.
But to attribute such phenomena to the divine grace of election is nothing short of blasphemy.