God, who worketh all things after the counsel of his will, deals with our sinful world in terms of Jesus Christ. It has pleased God “to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth” (Eph. 1:10). In Christ the grace of God has appeared. Our Savior has abolished death and brought life and immorality to light through the good news which is heralded all over the world (II Tim. 1:10). In the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:11 ). In all things Christ Jesus must have the preeminence (Col. 1:18). Therefore every minister worthy of his office must imitate Paul who determined not to know anything among the Corinthian church than Jesus Christ and him crucified (I Cor. 2:2). And God’s people have every right to expect that the person and the work of Christ shall constitute the summation of the gospel.
It is the Father’s good pleasure to have all the fulness dwell in Christ (Col. 1:19). Everything sinners need for salvation in all of its implications must be drawn from the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ. God has determined to communicate him· self and all his gifts through his Son, our Savior. Calvin caught this Christocentric vision—one which coalesces in every detail with a theocentric vision—and wrote in his commentary on Colossians “that all that detract from Christ, or that impair his excellence, or rob him of his offices, or, in fine, take away a drop from his furness, overturn, so far as is in their power. God’s eternal counsel” (p. 154). There is a decided and inescapable Christological color to everything which is proclaimed from a pulpit which remains faithful to the whole Scriptures. This is also true with respect to predestination.
The believer, that is, the elect, can not be abstracted from Christ. Believers have been crucified with him, Galatians 2:20; they have become united with him in the like· ness of his death, Romans 6:5; they have been buried with him, Romans 6:4; they have been raised with him, Romans 6:5; Colossians 3: 1; they sit with him in the heavenly places, Ephesians 2:6; their lives are hid with Christ in God, Colossians 3:3; they are joint heirs with him, Romans 8:17; they have been foreordained to be conformed to his image, Romans 8:30. Such union with Christ gives a Christological accent to everything in the believer’s life.
This also holds true for the sinner’s election unto eternal life. In Ephesians 1:4 Paul tells us that we have been chosen in Christ. This fact needs full-bodied emphasis in the pulpit if we are to feel the throbbing heart of divine love in predestination as the cor ecclesia, the heart of the church. The church as the body of Christ finds the heart of her life rooted in God’s gracious decision for sinners in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world. God saves us and calls “us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal” (II Tim. 1:9). If the truth of predestination is to find its proper place in the pulpit and in the hearts of God’s people it must be viewed in inseparable connection with Christ Jesus.
This is not something new. It is affirmed in our Reformed confessions. The 16th Article of the Belgic Confession captures this biblical connection as it speaks of God’s mercy as delivering from perdition all whom “He in His eternal and unchangeable counsel of mere goodness has elected in Jesus Christ our Lord, without any respect to their works.” The Canons of Dort, Chapter I, Article 7, says that God out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his wiIl, has chosen “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.” The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, Paragraph 5, expresses this truth: “Those of mankind that are predestined unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory . . .” The words which I have italicized in these confessional statements demonstrate that it has always been an integral part of the Reformed tradition to assert this inseparable connection between Jesus Christ and God’s decision to elect.
Within the structure of God’s counsel to save the human race there is a unique coalescence of the divine decision to elect a fixed number unto eternal life and the divine decision to set his incarnate Son as the Mediator and Head of these elect. God’s decision to elect was not taken outside of, apart from, or in abstraction from Christ. When God decided to elect sinners he also at the same time decided to elect Christ as their Mediator and Head; and when he decided to choose Christ as the chief cornerstone he at the same time chose those who constitute the temple of God and who rest upon their Savior as the head of the corner. The elect and Christ are chosen together, in the same decree, in communion with and for each other.
It seems to me to be quite futile to argue about the logical priority of these two divine decisions. Some Reformed scholars argue that God’s choice of the elect is logically prior to his choice of Christ as their Mediator. Others reverse the argument and plead for the fact that God logically chose Christ first and then the elect. Interestingly enough, Bavinck at one place argues for the one position and in a different connection argues for the other position. We must remember that God possesses his own divine life in the adorable uniqueness of simultaneous totality and total simultaneity. All of his decisions are taken at once and at once he makes them all. As the Father gave his people to his Son he also gave his Son to his people.
On the basis of Scripture we must posit a genuine union between Christ and the chosen within the divine decree. It is a federal union which roots in the covenant of redemption. According to this pact God gave the chosen unto Christ and Christ unto the chosen. It is this federal union which forms the final ground for that voluntary union with Christ by faith which takes place in history. As united to Christ in the covenant of redemption, the people of God, the recreated humanity, are elected unto eternal life with all its attendant blessings. We need renewed emphasis on this Christological aspect of election.
Because there is such a God-ordained relationship between Christ and the chosen the believing sinner can reach assurance concerning his personal election. Every believer asks himself sooner or later whether he is really one of the elect. There is abiding consolation in knowing that one’s salvation roots in the eternal and immutable counsel of divine grace. Such confidence rests in Christ Jesus. He knows that he is a chosen one not on the ground of his spiritual experiences no matter how rich they may be. These experiences merely confirm the fact that he rests solely on the perfectly procured and infinitely sufficient work of his Savior. By holding fast in faith to Jesus Christ he holds the electing God himself. God himself established an inseparable connection between election and Christ. Thus to hold Christ fast is to fasten oneself to his own election.
As long as the sinner thinks of God’s decision to elect as taking place outside of Christ he has nothing solid on which he can fasten himself. The decree remains hidden behind and beyond Christ. He can never really be sure that the God who meets him in Jesus Christ is the God who sovereignly chose some to eternal life. If, however, he catches a vision of the foundational, immutable federal union which God established in his decree between Christ and the chosen he knows that in holding fast to Christ he holds fast to his own personal election.
It was especially Calvin who stressed this matter of personal assurance about one’s own election. He constantly spoke of Christ as the speculum electionis, the mirror of election. Genuine assurance according to him can only be found by looking to the Savior. In the Institutes, III, XXIV, V (Allen trans.) he writes that “if we are chosen in him, we shall find no assurance of our election in ourselves; nor even in God the Father considered alone, abstractedly from the Son. Christ, therefore, is the mirror, in which it behooves us to contemplate our election; and here we may do it with safety.” If we have communion with Christ our names are written in the book of life. “This is our highest limit,” says Calvin, “and what folly do we betray in seeking out of him, that which we have already obtained in him, and which can never be found anywhere else.” He counsels us to seek our assurance here because of the inseparable connection which obtains within God’s counsel between Christ and tile chosen.
With such a Christological color to the fact of election we also obtain new perspectives for the church’s task of evangelization. Election in Christ means the choice of a new humanity. The perspective of a recreated human race begins to unfold to the vision of faith. Christ saves the race and this rests in the counsel of predestination.
If we think of election apart from Christ, the Head who gives new cohesion and organic oneness to the new humanity, we think of God as choosing unrelated, isolated individuals. This could in turn lead the church to lay emphasis on an individualistic approach which silently assumes or overtly confesses that God snatches isolated individuals out of a corrupt and dying human race. Such a conception leads not only to individualistic tactics in the mission program but also to lack of missionary enthusiasm. It is a noteworthy historical fact that the church communions which frequently long for assurance concerning their personal election as they ignore the biblical connection between Christ and the chosen are also those communions which pay little or no attention to a world wide mission program.
If, however, we see the unique conjunction of Christ and the chosen we come to see the perspective of a redeemed human race. The church speaks in the name of Christ and upon his authority to the whole race, to mankind in the process of being saved. She goes out with confidence and knows that the race shall not be lost despite the frantic and subtle strategies of Satan. Those who spurn her message, refuse her summons, reject her offer, and perish in unbelief are the isolated branches, the individuals who have been cut out of the tree of humanity whose new root and head is Christ Jesus, the new and last Adam. Such perspectives add new zeal and strength to mission programs here and everywhere.
There is something more. Not infrequently one hears the idea propounded that we ought to soft pedal predestination in our missionary work. At least there is a manifest reluctance to herald this fact to sinners who as yet do not know Christ. One at times obtains the impression that predestination means an eclipse of opportunity to be saved and the muting of the tones of boundless love. Such ideas can only arise when there is neglect of the fact that sinners are chosen in Christ Jesus.
In both church and mission station there is only one message. It is Jesus Christ, his person, and him crucified, his work. In preaching Christ we are preaching predestination unto eternal life for all the elect are chosen in inseparable connection with Christ Jesus. In preaching Christ himself confronts the sinner with his gracious provision of salvation and summons this sinner to rest in him. As soon as, and only as, Christ is preached according to the whole Scriptures, the sinner is confronted with the God of predestination. God chose sinners in Christ. We do not know whether the given sinner has been elected or not. The sinner himself can never know this except in the way of believing commitment to this Christ who confronts him with salvation. But of one thing we are sure. As soon as Christ establishes contact with the sinner in the offer of the gospel which is a summons and in the summons which is ever an offer there is contact with the unmerited, free, sovereign, unconditioned grace of God. It is this kind of grace, this kind of love, this measureless mercy which roots in the eternal decree of election which meets the sinner. Only as they refuse to rest in this grace and trust this God will they be cut off and cast into outer darkness. To carry the news of election in Christ out to our lost world is to carry the best news this sinful world has ever heard and will ever hear.
In concluding this short series of four articles I would urge my readers to reflect more intensively on this Christological aspect of election. There are various other practical angles to this matter which I have left untouched and many highly refined theological questions have here been passed by in silence. By recapturing the spirit of the confessions quoted earlier we can do much to preach predestination and speak to the hearts of God’s people.
As we do we ought also to set our view apart from others who are equally interested in speaking of the connection between Christ and election. We owe it both to ourselves and to those who differ with us to give unambiguous expression to the differences which exist. Two people may say the very same thing and yet put radically different content into these words. This has ever been the case in the history of Christian thought and is no less true today.
The Remonstrants speak of Christ as the foundation of election. By this they mean that the Savior is the moving cause who impelled the Father to set his love upon sinful mankind. Looking ahead at the love of Christ and the acceptance of Christ’s work by faith on the part of the sinner, God the Father decided to elect those who believe and who persevere in faith. Actually the Remonstrants do not confess election in the sense of foreordination and predetermination. God merely sees ahead the free choice of man. Christ is offered to all men for salvation and man’s choice for or against Christ determines whether or not such a person is elected of God.
But it was not Christ foreseen as Mediator which forms the foundation of God’s gracious choice of sinners. This foundation is his own gracious will, his good pleasure. This basis, however, in the good pleasure of God is not necessarily safeguarded by circumventing Christ. God’s good pleasure comes to expression in the Savior and is realized in and through his person and work. In the interest of setting our view apart from the Remonstrant position we must not obscure the real connection which obtains between Christ and the chosen in the decree. Nor will it suffice to speak of Christ as only a means for getting the elect to glory. Such reduction to a position of means scarcely comports with the song of the redeemed in Revelation 5:13, “Unto him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb, be the blessing, and the honor, and the glory, and the dominion for ever and ever.” The elected sinners do not form the hub, the focal point, around which God’s election moves, but it is the Lord himself whose glory must radiate from their lives.
Karl Barth also stresses the fact of Christ as the foundation of election. He avoids, however, the synergistic pitfalls of the Remonstrants and refuses to make election depend upon the free choice of the sinner. In his effort to make predestination the sum of the gospel he has completely revised the traditional Reformed position as expressed in our confessions. Such revision he deems necessary in order to give a genuine Christo logical color to predestination.
According to Barth Christ Jesus is both the subject and the object of election. Jesus Christ, the God-man, is the beginning of all God’s ways and works. In support of this contention he appeals to passages like John 1:1, 2; Col 1:15, 17. The Incarnate Son is the initial point from which all of God’s works proceed.
Jesus Christ chooses. He is the subject of election, the electing God. There is no other act of God outside of Christ. Jesus Christ is not merely the light and mirror of our election in the sense that Our election unto life eternal is seen, known, and clarified in Christ’s election as our Mediator and Head. With this latter statement we agree. But Barth means that Christ reveals to all men their own election as a completed decision which he made for them.
Christ Jesus is also the chosen one. He is the object of election. In choosing himself we see the vast dimensions and the liberality of divine love. God, in Christ Jesus as the beginning of all God’s ways with man, in measureless mercy and unassailable righteousness takes upon himself man’s rejection and reprobation. God’s wrath and just punishment are aimed at God himself as God’s Son remains lovingly loyal to his own decision to elect all men and to reprobate all men in himself. Predestination means that all men are in Jesus Christ both as elected and reprobated. God takes man’s reprobation upon himself and positively chooses all to salvation. In this way, according to Barth, Jesus Christ becomes the sum and substance of the decree of predestination.
Obviously such a reconstruction of the biblical teaching of predestination does not fit the facts of the Bible. The idea of Jesus Christ as the pre-existent God-man is a fiction. Nowhere do we read that Christ bore the reprobation of man. He is never portrayed as the reprobated one. Peter does speak of him as the living stone, rejected indeed of men, but elect and precious in the eyes of God, I Peter 2:6, 7. There are too many passages which plainly indicate that Christ did not save all men. If God decided to save all men, how is it that there are and will be lost sinners in outer darkness? Can the sinner undo God’s decision unto salvation for him? If he can not, does this mean that all men will finally be saved? How is it possible for the sinner to find himself in a situation from which God in actual fact is supposed to have saved him? For a more detailed analysis and criticism of Barth’s views we refer the reader to Prof. G. C. Berkouwer’s latest book entitled The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth.
Although we must set our views apart from those of Barth, we must not for that reason tone down the Christological connection which God has set within his counsel. Predestination is the heart of the church. Christ Jesus is the life of his church. God has chosen us unto eternal life in Christ Jesus. To begin to catch a glimpse of this real connection between Christ and the chosen allows the teaching of predestination to function as a real comfort for the believers and as real encouragement for the church. Although there is a proper place for discussing the doctrine of predestination in connection with the divine decrees, there is also real ground for bringing it to bear upon our view of the way of salvation. Within the history of Reformed thought there have been both approaches. Gradually the more systematic discussion took over and predestination was discussed only in connection with the divine decrees. Perhaps it is time to rescue this precious truth from the hands of systematic theologians and to bring it out into the great market places of the world so that all men may come to see Jesus Christ and in him the glory of the Triune God. At least I am sure you will agree that we ought to reflect together about these matters so that predestination may regain its proper place in the pulpit and in the hearts of God’s people.