The Doctrines of Grace, Part One: Election
This first post of my series on the Doctrines of Grace covers the doctrine of “divine election and reprobation,” which is summed up in the First Head of the Canons of Dort. This teaching is meant to display the greatness and majesty of God in His sovereignty over the whole human race. As Article 11 (CD 1.11) shows, God is “most wise, unchangeable, omniscient, and omnipotent.” So whatever God decides is the ultimate best thing that can happen, since He is Creator and Lord of all. This is an amazing mystery that we vainly struggle to wrap our minds around, because it is indeed too wonderful for us to totally comprehend.
I want to focus on the fact that even though we have all sinned in Adam and thus richly deserve condemnation and not mercy (CD 1:1), God still was so gracious and loving that He sent Christ, His only begotten Son, into the world so that He might purchase a people for His own possession (CD 1:2; John 3:16; 1 John 4:19).
Those who trust in and embrace Christ through faith, which is a free gift given to us by God, have eternal life and are part of the people whom God has elected to salvation (CD 1:3, 4; Eph. 2:8-9). The Canons excellently sum up the doctrine of election in Article 7 below:
“Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has 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 the primitive state of rectitude [righteousness] 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.”
It is important for us Christians to remember that none of us were elected because we were somehow intrinsically better or behaved more worthily than others. No, even though we were once in equally deep misery with unbelievers, without light and hope, God according to the counsel of His own perfect and good will chose us to receive eternal life through Christ - to be justified, sanctified, and finally glorified in heaven (CD 1:7; Eph. 1:4-6; Rom. 8:30).
God did not base election upon our foreseen faith or merits which He saw beforehand, but elected us so that we would have faith, and perform good works - “He chose us that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (CD 1:9; Eph. 1:4). It was according to God’s good pleasure - since He is perfect and completely good - that we were chosen out of that common mass of sinners which we once despondently belonged to, just as He chose Jacob over Esau in Genesis (Rom. 9:11-13).
How do we know that we are of the elect? Not by trying to find out God’s secret will in this matter, but by seeing the fruits of our election - continually fixing our faith upon Christ, sorrowing over our sin, and hungering after righteousness (CD 1:12). And since we know that God will deliver us all the way to heaven, we are always encouraged to continue persevering in our faith (I will deal more on this in the 5th post, on the perseverance of the saints).
The doctrine of election does not make us lazy and complacent, thinking that since God has elected us, it doesn’t matter what we do. Rather, those who are elect are characterized by a loving devotion to their Savior; it is actually those who are not elect who would tend to have this flippant attitude towards God’s decree (CD 1:13).
We do need to remember also that just as God elects, so He also reprobates (this is also called “double predestination”). But He does not reprobate in the same way that He elects. He chooses to leave sinners in their misery that they have plunged themselves into, who do not have a claim upon His love and mercy (and neither do the elect have such a claim, by the way). God is also a just God, and His justice is vividly demonstrated in the eternal condemnation of the reprobate. God is not committing sin by doing this - after all, He is perfect; it is rather those sinners who turned from Him and chose their own damnation. God is glorified in this vindication of His righteous majesty (CD 1.15).
I know that reprobation is a very hard doctrine to accept, but it makes sense in light of the full Biblical picture of God’s holiness. Nevertheless, if we understand the great mercy and grace that God has shown to millions upon millions of people throughout history, we see that reprobation is not the whole face of God. He is not cruel and sadistic and vindictive. He could very well have reprobated all of us, but in His love He chose to send His Son to purchase His elect with Christ’s blood. Such love, rejected, makes reprobation utterly just.
But “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2), now is the time when God’s kindness is displayed to the whole world as the Gospel goes forth. It is the time to throw ourselves upon Christ’s great mercy and receive eternal life from His hand. That is what we should focus on, the love of God as demonstrated over thousands of years of amazing, insane, and redemptive history.
I’ll close this post by quoting along with the last article of this Head of the Canons (1:18), the doxology of Romans 11:33-36:
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?' 'Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."
For the First Head of the Canons of Dort, see http://www.oceansideurc.org/canons-of-dordt/#p1.