Part I LESSON NINE Art. 11. ELECTION IS UNCHANGEABLE
What is the relation between the unchangeability of God and the character of election? You will agree, won’t you?, that God is wise. If God is wise he always uses the best means to the best ends. If so, then election is the best means to the best ends, the e1aims of those who think election unfair notwithstanding. If God is unchangeable, election is unchangeable. If God is righteous in all his ways, then election is a righteous plan of his. If God is omniscient, he chose his own, conscious of all relationships and of all reactions. Knowing the end from the beginning, he knows what the end will be of all his elective activity just because he himself determines the end. If God is omnipotent he is able to keep his elect from falling. There is no force outside of God that can hinder him from preserving his own.
To the sophisticated Christian who argues that there are so many factors relevant to the doctrine of election that election cannot be true, let it be said that nothing relevant escaped God in the matter of election. Let not, then, finite man, sinful man at that, no matter how highly educated, take exception to God’s inscrutable plan. God’s thoughts are higher than our highest thoughts.
Election cannot be “changed, recalled, or annulled.” If it could be, it would be meaningless. Because it cannot be “changed, recalled, or annulled,” the child of God knows that he can never be cast away. “My sheep…shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hands” (John 10:27–28). “Nor shall their number diminish.” If the sheep of Jesus shall never perish, and if there are people who do perish, it must needs follow that all are not sheep. If all were sheep, all would be saved. “For if pardon had been purchased for all then of necessity all would have been saved; for universal redemption means universal salvation” (Boettner, The Atonement, p. 85. Eerdmans). On p. 87 Boettner writes, “The love which caused God to send Christ into the world to suffer and die was not a general and indiscriminate and ineffectual love of which all persons equally tire the object, but a peculiar, mysterious, in.finite love for His elect, His chosen” (Ibid).
Art. 12. ASSURANCE OF ELECTION MUST BE CULTIVATED
The elect do not al1 have the same degree of assurance. How can assurance be cultivated? Certainly not “by prying into the secret and deep things of God.” Since this was forbidden early enough in the Word of God, God’s people shouldn’t be guilty of this anymore. In Deuteronomy 29:29 God tells us ‘”‘that the secret things belong to Jehovah our God, but the revealed things to us and our children forever….” We should be satisfied with the “revealed things” even though some of them may baffle us.
How, then, should the elect cultivate assurance? They do so, say the writers of the Canons, “by observing in themselves with spiritual joy and holy pleasure the infallible fruits of election pointed out in God’s Word.” One of these fruits is a “true faith in Christ.” How can we be assured our faith is true faith? In a little gem of a book entitled The Assurance of Faith, Prof. L. Berkhof writes: “In seeking assurance, the believer then searches, not the lives of other Christians, but the Scriptures for the marks and signs of true faith, and finds that these consist, among others, in a childlike spirit, confidence in God and in Jesus Christ, love to God and a holy desire to do his will, sorrow on account of sin and a longing for holiness, hatred of sin and of the forces of evil, and an earnest endeavor to battle against the enemies of the Kingdom of God” (p. 79, Smitter Book Co.).
Another fruit of election is “filial fear.” Today we hear little about the fear of Cod and much about the love of God. “Perfect love,” you say, “casteth out fear.” Very true, but whose love is perfect? Whose love even approaches perfection? I fear that many of those who think that because God is love we need not fear him, arc ignoring the awful holiness of God, a consideration of which fills one with wholesome fear. I sincerely think that unless we fear God we cannot properly love him. Fear is an unpopular concept, but it is still the beginning of wisdom. “Oh, how I fear Thee, living God, etc. Yet I may love Thee too, O Lord” (See New Psalter Hymnal No. 328).
A third fruit of election is “godly sorrow.” This is not sorrow resulting from one’s sin having been found out by men, but a sorrow that flows from the realization that we have wronged God, that we have transgressed his commandments. “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned.”
Article 12 mentions a fourth fruit, that of “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” Hungering and thirsting represent a deep yearning for and a whole-hearted commitment to righteousness. The unregenerate man may do the right for his own sake, for his own reputation. The regenerate man does it for God’s sake, for God’s glory.
For the Leader
1. You should have the group sing Psalter Hymnal No. 328. Urge them to memorize it.
2. You may like to consult Arthur Pink’s book, 1’11e Sovereignty of God, especially chapter 3.
3. Encourage the group to read Berkhofs The Assurance of Faith. It will prove a blessing.
1. Can the elect be misled unto destruction?
2. Was Judas elected unto salvation?
3. Can a reborn person be lost? See Matthew 24:24, John 10:28, 29, John 6:39.
4. Show that those who are called will also be glorified.
5. Can one be elected without knowing it? Consider this: “It is an unspeakable privilege if we are elect. But how glorious it is if we may know it” (The Rev. J. C. Feenstra, Dordtse Leerregeien, p. 51. Kok).
6. Mention fruits of election not mentioned in Art. 12.
Art. 13. ASSURANCE OF ELECTION PROMOTES DILIGENCE, NOT NEGLIGENCE
Certainty of election leads to humiliation not pride. That is why God’s people love to sing:
“When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt in all my pride.”
Certainty of election gives reason for “adoring the depth of God’s mercies.” So the heart of the elect exclaims:
“My God, how wonderful Thou art, Thy majesty how bright! How beautiful Thy mercy seat In depths of burning light!”
Certainty of election leads to cleansing oneself. God’s chosen ones not only cry out with David, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Psalm 51:7), but also heed the admonition of Paul, when he says, “Having therefore these promises…let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Cor. 7:1). Paul here speaks of cleansing oneself. So does James who considers keeping “oneself unspotted from the world” as a mark of “true religion and undefiled be· fore our God” (James 1:27). Fighting the good fight of faith is a way of cleansing oneself (1 Tim. 6:12). Separation from those who serve anyone other than Cod is a way of cleansing oneself (II Cor. 6: 17). Also ponder II Peter 2:7, 8 and I John 1:3.
Assurance of election leads one to “render grateful returns of ardent love to God.” This is well ex· pressed in Psalm 138:
“With grateful heart my thanks I bring Before the great Thy praise I sing; I worship in Thy holy place And praise Thee for Thy truth and grace.”
Early in life I was taught to sing and to love Psalm 116 in the Holland language:
“God heb ik lief want die getrouwe Heer Hoort miine stem, mijn smeekingen, mijn klagen; Hij neigt xijn oor; ‘k rocp tot Hem all mijn dagen; Hij schenkt mii hulp, Hij redt mij keer op keer.”
Yes, “returns of ardent love” expressed in dedication, surrender, self·denial, loyalty to God’s Word, grateful devotion to the program of God’s Kingdom. God’s love in electing gains a response of ardent love on the part of those elected out of sheer grace.
“What shall I render to the Lord For all His benefits to me?” (Ps. 116)
The psalmist responds, “I will offer Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving,” etc. Only such response is appropriate to God’s elect.
On the part of the regenerate the doctrine of election does not “encourage remissness in the observance of the divine commands.” “We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein” (Rom. 6:2). The reborn heart is “dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). Such do not trifle with the grace of election, but marvel and marvel at it.
One suffering from a sense of “carnal security” may well wonder whether he is actually saved. It is rather a sense of covenantal security, of redemptive security that grips the regenerate heart.
Those who say, “I know I am elect; so it makes no difference how I live”; or those who say, “since God ordained all things to come to pass, I cannot be held responsible for what I do”—such may well question whether they have any ground for believing that they are elect. One reborn according to the election of God, rather says,
“O, how love I Thy law; it is my meditation day and night.” He longs to heed the words of Jesus, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
Art. 14. THE TEACHING OF ELECTION MUST BE PERPETUATED
In this article the Synod of Dordt reminds us that the “doctrine of divine election” was taught by the O. T. prophets, by Christ, and by the apostles; therefore it should continue to be taught in the Church of Jesus Christ for the glory of God and the comfort of the saints.
A full-orbed teaching of God’s Word demands the teaching of the doctrine of election. To omit some of God’s Word is likely to distort the rest of it. The Rev. J. G. Feenstra warns that to be silent about the truth goes hand in hand with secret infiltration of error (See his Dordtse Leerregelen, p. 60 ). Neglect your lawn and the weeds will take over. Neglect the truth and the weeds of error will take over. It is not good to sort out for consideration only such truths as please our palates; it is our duty to cling to the whole truth. Yes, we may not even disturb the jots and the tittles! “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18).
We may no more lower the curtain over any truth God has revealed, than we may expect God to lift the curtain over what he has not revealed.
Paul did not shrink from declaring unto the Ephesians the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Why are some leaders of Calvinistic groups so afraid of teaching the doctrine of election? We do not have to apologize for so glorious a divine truth. Let us not think ourselves justified in passing judgment on God’s eternal plan and purpose.
To be sure we must teach human responsibility, but not at the neglect of teaching election. To be sure we must teach the love of God, but not at the neglect of the wrath of God, nor of the righteousness of God.
The church does not teach election to disturb believers, but to comfort them, and to give them solid ground for believing in eternal security. How much solid comfort the Arminian misses!
1. Show that God couldn’t make his promises to believers surer than he did. Consider Hebrews 6:17–20.
2. How will the neglect of .,certain Biblical doctrines tend to color our concept of other doctrines?
3. What are we doing to God if we condemn his plan of election?
4. What is your fear concerning those “who trifle with the grace of election”?
5. What kind of effect does the doctrine of election have on your thinking about God? on your relationship to God?
6. Show that Job and Paul believed in election. See Job 19:25, 26; Romans 8:38, 39; II Timothy 1:12.
Art. 15. DECREE OF REPROBATION
As we begin the study of reprobation, let us unconditionally accept that God doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him. What doest Thou? ( Dan. 4:35). It stands to reason that if not all are elected to salvation, some are rejected. Although election is unconditional, rejection is, in a sense, conditional. Those who are rejected God has decreed “for the declaration of his justice, to condemn and punish them forever, not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins:” Note, “on account of…but also for.”
The following definitions of Berkhof will prove very helpful. (See his Summary of Doctrine, pp. 46–48.)
1. Decree. “The decree of God is his eternal plan and purpose, in which he has foreordained all things to come to pass.” Note! God has one decree.
2. Predestination. “Predestination is the plan or purpose of God respecting his moral creatures.”
3. Election. “Election is God’s eternal purpose to save some of the human race in and by Jesus Christ.”
4. Reprobation. “Reprobation is God’s eternal purpose to pass some men by with the operation of his special grace, and to punish them for their sins.”
Relation of Reprobation to Election In an interesting figure of concentric circles Ds. J. H. Feenstra attempts to show that predestination is the center of the decree and election is the center of predestination. He further states that everything rotates in Cod’s Counsel around the election of his own in Christ. He then explains that reprobation is not coordinate with but subordinate to election. It is subordinate, he believes, because it must serve to enhance the splendour, the luster of God’s honor in election (Ibid, p. 62). Perhaps we can clarify this somewhat. Just as a Christian’s visit to a general hospital enhances his gratitude to God for his own physical health, and just as his visit to a mental hospital increases his gratitude to God for his mental health, so the sober realization that some people are hell-bound deepens and swells a Christian’s desire to magnify the Lord for his own salvation. Thus God’s honor gains in splendour and in luster. See Rev. 11:17–18; Rev. 12:10–12; Rev. 19:1–2 and 6–8. Also see Calvin’s Institutes, Bk. 111, chap. 24, section 14.
No better…but chosen! How blessed I am! Equally a sinner…but redeemed! How privileged I am! Equally worthy of hell…but heaven bound! How happy I am! Equally condemned in Adam but justified by faith in Christ! How free I am!
All stand equally condemned in Adam! God could have condemned all eternally! God was pleased to deliver some from condemnation! That God saved some does not make the rest less worthy of condemnation!
Because everyone has lost his rights by nature, no one can condemn God for condemning him!
Salvation for all who believe
It isn’t this way that a sinner wants to be saved but can’t be. Sinners by nature don’t want to be saved. Rather they reject God. By nature the sinner worships and serves the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). God promises salvation to all who believe (John 3:16). This is a sincere offer. How does this harmonize with the fact that whom God wills he hardeneth, as well as he has mercy on whom he will? (Rom. 9:18). Calvin explains that God’s sole design in promising salvation to all who believe “is to offer his mercy to all who desire and seek it, which nOlle do but those whom he has enlightened, and he enlightens all whom he has predestinated to salvation” (Institutes, Bk. III, chap. 24, sect. 17). In section 13 of chapter 24 Calvin quotes Augustine to say, “God could convert to good the will of the wicked, because he is omnipotent. It is evident that he could. Why, then, does he not? Because he would not. Why he would not, remains with himself.”
Doesn’t this violate the truth expressed in II Peter 3:9. I do not think so. In fact I do not believe that the “any” in II Peter 3:9 has universal meaning. To whom is Peter writing? Is he addressing his epistle to everybody? He is addressing his epistle “to them that have obtained a like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (II Peter 1:1). God is long-suffering to them whom he had already endowed with like precious faith or whom he would still endow with it. He is not willing that any of them should perish, but that all should come to repentance. If God willed to elect only some of the human race to salvation, he also willed to reject others even though he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23 and 32). God’s condemnation of the wicked is not a manifestation of his pleasure, but of his wrath. God’s destruction of the world with the Flood was not a manifestation of his love but of his wrath. A parent who punishes his child in obedience to God’s mandate, does not take pleasure in punishing him, although he wills to do it. “What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction…” (Rom. 9:22).
That God leaves a sinner in the way he wants to go, does not condemn God! It is his sovereign right. Calvin ends his chapter on election, in the Institutes, with these words: “For, as Augustine justly contends, it is acting a most perverse part, to set up the measure of human justice as the standard by which to measure the justice of God.”
For the Leader
1. Try to read the entire chapter 24 in Bk. III of Calvin’s Institutes as part of your preparation for the meeting.
2. In connection with number 2 below call attention to this article (15) and article 16; and to article 16 of the Belgic Confcssion. See also chapter III of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
3. Sing such numbers as 385 and 387 from the Psalter Hymnal or numbers 96 and 397 from the Trinity Hymnal.
1. Show that the Bible teaches reprobation and that this teaching is therefore part of the “pure doctrine” of the Holy Scriptures.
2. Having established the purity of this doctrine, show that no office-bearer in our churches may teach contrary to this doctrine. (See the second question to which office-bearers in the Chr. Ref. Church must give answer when ordained. Ministers, elders, deacons, and ordained missionaries are all bound by promise to be faithful to it.)
3. Supposing an office-bearer comes to the point where he consciously and conscientiously disagrees with one or more of the teachings of his church, what may he do? What should he do? What may he not do?
4. Show how an ordinary confessing member (of the C.R.C., at least) violates his public profession vows, if he begins to teach or write contrary to the O.T. or N.T. or to “the articles of the Christian faith taught in this Christian church.” (See question one of the “Form for the Public Profession of Faith” on p. 88 in the back of the Psalter Hymnal. If you belong to another denomination check your profession vows.)
5. If the church public knows that an ordained man is teaching or writing contrary to what he professed to believe and promised to teach, may the official church loiter in dealing with such a person? How might postponement of action affect the purity of doctrine, the morale of the membership, and the respect for the importance of church discipline?