Saturday, August 26, 2006

8. The Biblical Doctrine of Election is Useful

The doctrine of election is not an abstract truth with no practical significance for the Christian, rather it is vitally edifying when handled aright. As Calvin describes it “though the discussion of predestination is regarded as a perilous sea, yet in sailing over it the navigation is calm and safe, nay pleasant, provided we do not voluntarily court danger. .those who investigate it rightly, and in the order in which it is exhibited in the word, reap from it rich fruits of consolation”. When Puritans sought to make practical application of doctrine they spoke of its uses. The Biblical doctrine of Election is preeminently full of practical use and application.

Some say that election should not be preached because it is so mysterious or difficult but all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, and Scripture is full of expressions and implications of this doctrine. Although it may be unpopular or challenging it must still be preached. If preaching election can fan doubts and fears for genuine believers, preaching regeneration easily could do the same for those who have fears and doubts whether or not they have truly been born again.

Preaching exalts God in Christ and abases man and this is the true result of unconditional election by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit. Calvin rightly says: “Those who preclude access, and would not have any one to obtain a taste of this doctrine, are equally unjust to God and men, there being no other means of humbling us as we ought, or making us feel how much we are bound to him.”

In preaching, however, election is to be handled with special prudence, humility and care so that it is only emphasised in proportion to the degree that it is stressed in Scripture. It would be unwise to press it prominently upon anxious seekers, sceptics, or those who have not grasped the gospel and other basic truths first. It must be taught in relation to effectual calling and obedience to the gospel with proportionate emphasis upon man’s responsibility.

Assurance and comfort
Election is the basis of our eternal hope: that those whom he predestined, them he also called. We have no hope in ourselves as guilty, lost and ruined. But we have hope in the only Redeemer of God's elect who is Himself the elect one appointed to lay down his life for the people given to him in the eternal counsels. The golden chain joining election and glorification assures us that Nothing will thwart God's ultimate purpose. We doubt ourselves but we cannot doubt his promises.

The Canons of Dordt wisely counsel that the elect gain assurance of their election “not by inquisitively prying into the secret and deep things of God, but by observing in themselves with a spiritual joy and holy pleasure the infallible fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God such as, a true faith in Christ, filial fear, a godly sorrow for sin, a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, etc.” The Christian receives comfort and assurance by following these fruits of election to their source. The Spirit thus assures us of our adoption and therefore of our election: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." Rom. 8:16).

In their useful summary of the orthodox doctrine of election the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England affirm winsomely the same teaching as Dordt that “the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God”.

Election when rightly considered in this way will truly humble us to say with David, “Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house that thou hast brought me hitherto? ... And is this the manner of men? And what can David say more unto thee? For thou, Lord GOD knowest thy servant?” The sense of that debt flows out in loving obedience to his revealed will. The elect are called with an holy calling (2 Tim. 1:9) unto holiness and their manner of life shows this. Election does not produce carelessness but careful obedience and acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness. The Canons of Dordt indicate this: “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 trifling with the grace of election, in those who refuse to walk in the ways of the elect.”

Praise and devotion
Election should instill within us a spirit of praise, love and devotion. It is all to the “praise of the glory of his grace” and "we love him because he first loved us". No credit is due to the creature but all the glory belongs and is due to God alone. "We are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation" (2 Thess. 2:13). What a high privilege election is. They are a people chosen to show forth his praises. They are blessed indeed "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts" (Ps. 65:4). "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him" (Eph. 1:3, 4). Does the Lord say: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." And will not our love rise in response? This spirit of praise is well expressed in the following words of the Dutch theologian Herman Witsius:

Didst thou, O Lord, from eternity, entertain thoughts of glorifying me, a miserable wretch, who am less than nothing; and shall I not again carry thee for ever in my eyes, and always in my bosom? shall I not delight in meditating on thee? shall I not cry out, how precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! Psalm 139.17. Shall I not, with the most sincere repentance, bewail that time, in which so many hours, days, weeks, months, and years, have passed over my head, without one single holy and pleasing thought of thee? Didst thou, out of mere love, choose me to salvation? And shall not I again choose thee for my Lord, my king, my husband, for the portion of my soul, for my chief, or rather my only delight?

Unconditional Election must bring us to this. It will naturally lead to this when handled with special prudence and care as the Westminster Confession teaches: “So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel”. We emphasise again Anthony Burgess's words: 'This point of election... is not to be agitated in a verbal and contentious way, but in a saving way, to make us tremble and to set us upon a more diligent and close striving with God in prayer, and all other duties.' May this be our own experience to the praise of the glory of his grace alone.