Article 7. Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the mediator and head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation.
This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by him, and effectually to call and draw them to his communion by his word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of his Son, finally, to glorify them for the demonstration of his mercy, and for the praise of His glorious grace; as it is written: “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.” Eph. 1:4, 5, 6. And elsewhere: “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified them he also glorified.” Rom. 8:30.
In this rather lengthy article there is but one insignificant variation from the original Latin text. In the last phrase before the Scriptural quotations our English version reads: “and for the praise of his glorious grace.” This should read: “and for the praise of the riches of his glorious grace.” Otherwise the above rendition is substantially correct.
We find in the present article a very thorough and detailed definition of sovereign election, supported by two very pertinent quotations of Scripture. One who studies this article, whether he be supra or infra, if he is Reformed at heart, cannot help falling in love, with this beautiful exposition of the truth of divine election anew, and learns to appreciate in greater measure the meaning of the phrase, “for the praise of the riches of his glorious grace.” And yet we must not imagine that it was at Dordrecht that for the first time this truth was expressed by our Reformed Fathers. For a comparison of this article with Article 16 of theConfessio Belgica, as well as with Question and Answer 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism, will reveal that as far as its essence is concerned, the whole and pure truth of sovereign election had been confessionally established in the Reformed churches long before the Canons were formulated. The virtue of the Canons lies not in the fact that they for the first time establish the truth not in the fact that they for the first time establish the truth of election in our Reformed confessions, but rather in the fact that they define it in detail and define its relation to and position among the other truths of our salvation as the cornerstone in the structure of the truth. Let us briefly enumerate the main points of this article:
1) Election is the unchangeable and eternal purpose of God.
2) The objects of this election are a certain definite number of fallen men, fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction.
3) The source of this election is the free, or sovereign, good pleasure of God. Election is pure grace.
4) Election includes Christ, Who is eternally elected the mediator and head of the elect and the foundation of salvation.
5) Election finds absolutely no reason or ground in its objects why they should be elect: they are neither better nor more deserving than others by nature.
6) Election includes not only the end, final salvation and glory, but also the, means unto that end, union with Christ, calling, faith, justification, sanctification, preservation, and glorification of the elect persons.
7) Election is theocentric: it is for the demonstration of God’s mercy and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace.
These in brief are the truths set forth in this seventh article.
There are several elements in this paragraph of theCanons which receive special attention and emphasis in separate articles in this first chapter. Nevertheless, it is necessary in this connection to stress the positive teachings of the present article, in order in our treatment of the following articles to emphasize the apologetic aspect of these truths, as the Canonsthemselves do. For the Canons in the remaining articles of this chapter make a special point of setting the Reformed truth over against various Arminian falsehoods concerning divine election. And then we may note, first of all, that the fathers speak of election as the “purpose” of God. The term is a Scriptural one, and is but one of several terms which the Bible employs to denote God’s counsel in general, and the counsel of election in particular. Scripture also employs the terms decree (Ps. 2:7, 8);determined, Luke 22:22; counsel, Isa. 46:10, Acts 2:23; good pleasure, Isa. 46:10, Luke 12:32, Matt. 11:25, 26. And also as far as the counsel of election in particular is concerned, we find more than one word in Scripture. The verb to know, and to foreknow, and that with the connotation of a knowledge in love, is used several times. Gen. 18:19; Amos 3:1, 2; Rom. 8:29, etc. Besides, we find the termto choose, to elect and the term election. Deut. 7:6; Deut. 14:2; Eph. 1:4; Rom. 9:11. And there is also the word which means to predetermine, predestine, foreordain. Rom. 9:29; Eph. 1:4, 11. The term purpose occurs in regard to election in Rom. 9:11, in the phrase, “the purpose of God according to election.” It is used, further, in Jer. 4:28;Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11; II Tim. 1:9, etc. The term purpose denotes God’s counsel as the setting forth of things before the divine mind. And it certainly emphasizes the idea that there is nothing arbitrary and unsettled in God’s counsel and in God’s works, which are accomplished according to His counsel. The Arminians, however, with their doctrine of an indefinite and conditional election, destroy this conception of God’s counsel, and make themselves guilty of introducing an element of arbitrariness in the divine mind and counsel. This constitutes one of their fundamental errors. And it is undoubtedly intentional when the fathers employ the term purpose in their definition.
When this article further qualifies that counsel of election as “unchangeable” and “before the foundation of the world,” or eternal, they only further stress the fact that there is absolutely nothing indefinite and arbitrary in divine election. The two truths are, of course, complementary: that which is unchangeable is necessarily eternal, and that which is eternal is necessarily unchangeable. More than likely the idea of eternity in this article is quantitative, so that it is understood in the sense of “without beginning.” This appears from the expression “before the foundation of the world,” which, in the infralapsarian construction of the doctrine of predestination, is understood temporally rather than logically. To be sure, the difference between eternity and time consists also in this, that while time has a beginning, and in a sense, always has its end within itself, and can be measured, eternity is “from everlasting to everlasting.” But there is a qualitative difference between time and eternity. Eternity is not time. It is not even time infinitely extended. Time is the product of creation, and is not a form for God’s being and life. There is no time for God. He is constantly all that He is, and constantly lives all His infinite life with perfect consciousness. He is the eternal I AM. And as He is eternal, so is His purpose. This means, then, not only that God’s purpose of election has no beginning, as if God were ever without it. But it implies that from everlasting to everlasting that purpose of election is constantly and fully before the divine consciousness. From eternity to eternity God is the decreeing God.
This at once implies too the immutability, or unchangeable character of God’s purpose. God is from eternity to eternity the same in all the infinite fullness of His being. There is no succession of moments in Him: There is no increase or decrease in His being and power, no changing of His mind and will. And once more, as God is, so is His purpose. He does not change His purpose, nor the course which He has designed to realize that purpose. This may be the case with man. His counsel is often brought to naught by various circumstances. And he may be forced to change his mind and choose a new course of action for various reasons. But as the immutable one, God is unchangeable in His decree. He knows all things, and that too, in relation to each other. And nothing can resist His will, and cause Him to change His course. His purpose cannot be thwarted by any outside interference. Nor can it be changed and improved upon for any reason whatsoever. His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His good pleasure.
Inseparably connected with the foregoing, but also intimately related with one another, are the further elements in this definition of election: 1) that it is mere grace that God elects; 2) that election is according to the sovereign good pleasure of His will; and 3) that there is no worthiness in the elect persons which occasions or merits their election. We note, first of all, that this is inseparably connected with the fact that God’s purpose is eternal and unchangeable. These attributes of God’s elective purpose are not so many loose and unrelated qualities. But just as all God’s virtues are one in Him, so they are revealed as one in His decree. It must certainly be maintained that if God’s counsel of election is eternal and unchangeable, then He elects His people out of mere grace, according to His sovereign good pleasure, and not because of any worthiness in them. And the converse is also true: if election is of mere grace, and according to His sovereign good pleasure, then it is necessarily eternal and unchangeable. You cannot possibly maintain the one without the other. This too is a fundamental principle which the Arminian fails to consider. The moment that he fails to reckon with any one of the above qualities of God’s purpose of election, he loses them all.
But, in the second place, the three elements mentioned in the preceding paragraph .are also interrelated and interdependent. If election is not of mere grace, then it is not according to God’s sovereign good pleasure. And if it is not according to God’s sovereign good pleasure, then it is not without cause or ground in the worthiness of its objects. Also here, you cannot possibly maintain the one without the other. The proposition that election is of mere grace demands, intrinsically, from the very nature of divine grace, that divine election has its source in God’s sovereign good pleasure, and not at all in the worthiness and deserving nature of those whom He chooses. Destroy the one concept, and you inevitably must let go of the others. But let us observe this relationship more in detail, and. notice at the same time the infralapsarian character of the fathers’ argument in this connection.
(to be continued)