Article 13. The sense and certainty of this election afford to the children of God additional matter for daily humiliation before him, for adoring the depth of his mercies, for cleansing themselves, and rendering grateful returns of ardent love to him, who first manifested so great love towards them. The consideration of this doctrine of election is so far from encouraging remissness in the observance of the divine commands, or from sinking men in carnal security, that these, in the just judgment of God, are the usual effects of rash presumption, or of idle and wanton t-rifling with the grace of election, in those who refuse to walk in the ways of the elect.
The above translation can hardly be called a faithful rendering of the original Latin version, even if we overlook the fact that in many instances it is far from literal. The most serious error in the translation changes completely the comparison in the article implied in the words, “The consideration of this doctrine of election is so far from . . . .” Rather than giving in involved explanation of this difference, we will give the correct translation, and the reader can note the differences, for himself. Correctly translated, the article reads as follows:
“Out of the sense and certainty of this election, the children of God daily draw more matter for humbling themselves before the face of God, for adoring the depth of his mercies, for purifying themselves, and for ardently loving him in turn, who has so greatly first loved them: so far distant is it, that by this doctrine of election and its meditation they should be rendered sluggish in the observance of the divine commands, or carnally secure. Which by the just judgment of God usually happens to those who, with respect to the grace of election either rashly presuming, or idly and wantonly chattering, are not willing to walk in the ways of the elect.”
Especially from the polemical point of view, this is one of the outstanding articles of this First Head of Doctrine. For it meets the Arminian opposition, as it were, head-on, and on its own territory. And it comes to grips with one of their most precious practical objections against the Reformed truth of election, deprives them of it, and tells them, as it were: “What you claim is just exactly not the case with this doctrine of election when it is practically applied; it has the very opposite effect on a child of God than what you always claim it has. Instead, these dread results of which you speak, namely, a carnal security, and a careless walk, are the usual effects,—and that too, according to a just judgment of God,—in those who rashly presume and idly and vainly and wantonly chatter of election while they do not want to walk in the ways of the elect. No, the elect need not fear these claimed bad results of this doctrine, for they walk surely in the ways of the elect. But the ungodly reprobate, and especially the “religious” ungodly, will justly experience these results.”
This is a warm and appealing article, and at the same time it reveals a deep discernment of the truth, and is therefore very instructive also in a practical sort of way. It is designed to make the child of God pause for a moment and stand in awe, reverently and humbly, of that wonderful grace of election and blessed gift of assurance.
We are all acquainted with the objection which is met in this article. It is the same objection which is treated by the Heidelberg Catechism in Question and Answer 64: “But doth not this doctrine make men careless and profane? By no means: for it is impossible that those, who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.” Only, here in the Canons the setting is a little different. In the Catechism the objection is brought against the doctrine of free justification. There the Heidelberger expounds the truth of justification by faith as meaning that “though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.” The Catechism further insists that we are not acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of our faith, that our good works cannot even be part of our righteousness before God, and that even the reward of our good works is not of merit, but of grace. Against this doctrine,—and it can ever only be against such doctrine,—the enemy levels the charge, denied and refuted in the 64th Question and Answer, that it makes men careless and profane. Since,—so the argument goes,—neither our faith nor our good works form any part of our righteousness before God, nor have any merit before God, it is of no use to walk in a new and holy life. Besides, there is no incentive either to walk holily. In fact, there is much reason and incentive to abound in sin, in order that the grace of God may also abound. Here the same objection is faced, but the connection is slightly different. The truth of absolutely, sovereign election has been established in the preceding articles, and was maintained by our Reformed fathers over against the Arminians. Furthermore. they maintained that the elect attained the assurance of their eternal and unchangeable election. And it is especially the last, the “sense and certainty of this election,” that was assailed with the same old weapon: this doctrine makes men careless and profane. Or, using the language of this article, they objected: this doctrine renders them carnally secure and lax in observing the commandments of God. And here, instead of proposing the “impossible” which the Catechism lays down, the Canons set forth some real facts from Christian life: “Out of the sense and certainty of this election, the children of God daily draw more matter for humbling themselves before the face of God,” etc.
It is to be noted, however, that the two situations mentioned in the preceding paragraph are nevertheless essentially the same. This might also be expected in view of the fact that the same objection is used. In the first place, of course, when this objection is raised against the truth of free justification, we must remember that it is nevertheless essentially against the doctrine of sovereign election, in last instance, that it is brought. For that truth of free justification is rooted in the truth of free election. The doctrine of justification by faith only can never be maintained successfully if the doctrine of sovereign election is not maintained. Sacrifice the latter, and the former must -also go. But, in the second place, the two truths have this in common that they magnify the sovereign grace of God and reject any thought of human merit. And it is especially the latter thought that occasions the objection that these doctrines make men careless and profane. As soon as you inject any notion of human worthiness and human merit and human ability to do anything towards attaining salvation into your doctrine, one thing is certain: you will never face the objection that your doctrine makes men careless and profane.
Now what must be said of this objection?
It might very well be answered here also as it is by the Heidelberg Catechism. The fathers might have said: “It is impossible that those who have attained the sense and certainty of their election should not humble themselves before God, adore the depth of his mercies, cleanse themselves, and ardently love him in turn, who first so greatly loved them.” Certainly, it is this impossibility that underlies the proposition of this article also. They might also have argued that this objection is purely rationalistic. For it is certainly not an objection that is derived from and based on Scripture, but on& which arises out of human reason, and sinful human reason at that. And this alone surely invalidates the entire argument. But instead of this, they go into the question from a practical point of view, from the point of view of real life. And then they insist that the Arminian is entirely off the track. They really imply that one who adopts the position of the objector has really never understood and never spiritually apprehended this marvelous doctrine of election, is so far from understanding it that he presents as its fruit that which is farthest from reality, namely that the elect become carnally secure.
For what is implied in this carnal security? Notice that the question is not whether the elect are rendered secure by this “sense and certainty” of their election. They surely are, secure, everlastingly secure! But the question is whether they are rendered carnally secure. And this carnal security is the attitude of heart according to which one says within himself: “I am elect. And my election is eternal and unchangeable. I can do nothing to it, and I can take nothing away from it. It therefore makes no difference any more what I do and how I live. I can sin all I please to. I need not fight against sin, and I shall not.” Note that this carnal security is a subjective attitude of the heart and mind. Objectively, of course, it is absolutely true that nothing which the elect ever does, good or evil, can possibly affect his election. And how good it is that this is true! All our sins, our deepest falls, our most horrible transgressions cannot change God’s purpose of election with respect to us! Otherwise, to be sure, we would be long lost. But subjectively, this assurance of our election, so the Canons maintain, does not lead to the carnal attitude: “Well, then, let us sin; it makes no difference anyway.” There is a vast difference, therefore, between carnal security and spiritual security.
Such carnal security, just because it is carnal, leads to a laxity in observing the commandments of God. You ask in what respects? It leads, first of all, to pride: pride over against our fellows because we imagine ourselves to be privileged above them not only, but essentially pride over against the living God, whereby a man fails to acknowledge His most high and most holy majesty, and contrariwise boasts in his sin. It involves, in the second place, this, that a man scorns and despises the depth of God’s mercy, or, to use the language of Romans 2, he despises the riches of God’s goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, the reason being that he has never known nor tasted the goodness of God that leads to repentance. Quite in harmony with the foregoing, this carnal security, in the third place, will never lead to a striving for sanctification of life and a continual struggle to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, but, on the contrary, to a life of licentiousness and carelessness with respect to God’s precepts. And finally, the root of the whole matter is this, that there is no love of God in such a carnally secure man. Never having tasted the love of God, that love finds no response in his heart. Instead, he is really filled with enmity against the living God, the enmity in which he was conceived and born.
(to be continued)