Posts Tagged ‘Election’

Finding Election Beautiful

Theology can be dangerous. Bad theology can be damning but even good theology has its own risks. I was reminded of this when reading in The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers:

I thank you for showing me the vast difference
between knowing things by reason,
and knowing them by the spirit of faith.
By reason I see a thing is so; by faith I know it as it is.
I have seen you by reason and have not been amazed,
I have seen you as you are in your Son
and have been ravished to behold you. – The Valley of Vision, 57

Now this is just the penned prayer of some old, dead white guy which doesn’t make it right. But it is. It is because the Puritans soaked themselves in scripture and the Bible says we have to have both reason and faith:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists [reason: that he is] and that he rewards those who seek him [faith, as he is, he is gracious].

Hebrews 11:6

We need both the head and the heart engaged in our theological understanding or we could trivialize God by knowing him only as a logical fact and not loving him, or its twin error, by loving a god “as we like to think of him” rather than as he is. Both head and heart are parts of faith.

This danger of apprehending God only by reason is really present when we talk about God’s foreknowledge and his predestination. Why? Because he did these things well apart from us. God foreknew us and predestined us before we existed. He did them in a form of existence we can’t even imagine; in a time before time and in a place before space. He did them in thought process very unlike ours; in the eternal, omniscient council of his own triune will. We can only grasp these things in the abstract and so there is a danger that we might abstract them.

But that’s not why Paul taught us that “those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son… And those he predestined he also called, and those he called he also justified, and those he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29–30). Paul taught us this not in the abstract as an interesting intellectual exercise, but that God’s purpose according to election might stand (Rom. 9:11). And God’s purpose for election is the praise of the glory of his grace (Eph. 1:11–14). Paul taught us (reason) so that God’s glory (delighting in him) would be the result.

Take care with your theology my friends. Beware that you might find it more enthralling than the God it is supposed to lead you to.

The Smallest Denomination in the World

In the first place, there is consolation in the doctrines of the Bible. I like a doctrinal religion. I do not believe in the statement of some people that they have no creed. A man says, for instance, “I am not a Calvinist and I am not an Arminian. I am not a Baptist, I am not a Presbyterian, I am not an Independent.” He says he is liberal. But this is only the license he claims for his own habit of disagreeing with everybody. He is one of that sort of people whom we generally find to be the most bigoted and least tolerant of others.

He follows himself And so belongs to the smallest denomination in the world! I do not believe that charity consists in giving up our denominational distinctions. I think there is a “more excellent way.” Even those who despise not faith, though they almost sacrifice it to their benevolence, will sometimes say, “Well, I don’t belong to any of your sects and parties.” There was a body of men once who came out from all branches of the Christian Church with the hope that everybody else of true heart would follow them. The result, however, has been that they have only made another denomination, distinct alike in doctrine and discipline.

I believe in creeds if they are based on Scripture. They may not secure unity of sentiment, but on the whole they promote it, for they serve as landmarks and show us the points at which many turn aside. Every man must have a creed if he believes anything. The greater certainty he feels that it is true, the greater his own satisfaction. In doubts, darkness and distrust, there can be no consolation. The vague fancies of the skeptic, as he muses over images and apprehensions too shapeless and airy to be incorporated into any creed may please for awhile, but it is the pleasure of a dream.

I believe that there is consolation for Israel in the substance of faith and the evidence of things not seen. Ideas are too ethereal to lay hold of. The anchor we have is sure and steadfast. I thank God that the faith I have received can be molded into a creed and can be explained with words so simple that the common people can understand it and be comforted by it. Then look at the doctrines themselves–the doctrines of the Bible. What well-springs of consolation they are! How consolatory the doctrine of election to the Israel of God! To some men it is repulsive. But show me the gracious soul that has come to put his trust under the wings of the Lord God of Israel–“Chosen in Christ,” will be a sweet stanza in his song of praise!

To think that before the hills were formed, or the channels of the sea were scooped out, God loved me! That from everlasting to everlasting His mercy is upon His people! Is not that a consolation? You who do not believe in election, go and fish in other waters–but in this great sea there are mighty fishes. If you could come here, you would find rich consolation. Or come again to the sweet doctrine of redemption. What consolation is there, Beloved, to know that you are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ! Not the mock redemption taught by some people, which pretends that the ransom is paid, but the souls that are ransomed may, notwithstanding, be lost. No, no! A positive redemption which is effectual for all those for whom it is made. – C. H. Spurgeon, “Simeon”, 1861

For the Sake of the Elect

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

2 Timothy 2:10

Long ago when I was doing a local radio program, I had an Arminian caller gently point out that the term “elect” in Ephesians 1 could be describing the position of being “in Christ” and not particular individuals. We had a pleasant exchange and when we were done, he hung up. Since it was my show, I got to continue to discuss it. :)

I was not convinced that elect is a position and not a people. This verse from 2 Timothy seems to reinforce that point (wish I’d have had it handy back then). How can a position of being in Christ “obtain salvation”? Isn’t that what being in Christ means? To maintain the Arminian position, I guess you’d have to say that God had no one in particular in mind when he elected ‘them’ to salvation.

Another potential interpretation is that “the elect” is referring to ethnic Israel. After all, Paul says, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Rom. 9:3) so he had genuine concern for the Jews. In 2 Timothy 2:13 he says “if we are faithless he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself.” God remains faithful to Israel even though the rejected the Messiah, right? To get that from those verses, you have to import a bunch of presuppositions that just aren’t present in 2 Timothy. Also, right after that, Paul tells Timothy to “remind them of these things.” Timothy was in Ephesus, a largely gentile city, so God’s faithfulness to apostate Israel probably wasn’t their major concern. It just doesn’t fit.

What seems to make more sense is that Paul is pursuing those God has chosen from the foundation of the world. He preaches the gospel so that they may come to faith and be saved. He preached it indiscriminately because we don’t know who the elect are till they believe and persevere to the end.