Chapter 3: Of God’s Decree, paras. 3-7
3._____ By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of his glorious grace; others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his glorious justice.
( 1 Timothy 5:21; Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 1:5, 6; Romans 9:22, 23; Jude 4 )
4.______These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
( 2 Timothy 2:19; John 13:18 )
5._____ Those of mankind that are predestinated to 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, out of his mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto.
( Ephesians 1:4, 9, 11; Romans 8:30; 2 Timothy 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Romans 9:13, 16; Ephesians 2:5, 12 )
6._____ As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so he hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto; wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ, by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation; neither are any other redeemed by Christ, or effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
( 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:9, 10; Romans 8:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:5; John 10:26; John 17:9; John 6:64 )
7._____ The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; 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.
( 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5; 2 Peter 1:10; Ephesians 1:6; Romans 11:33; Romans 11:5, 6, 20; Luke 10:20)
Understanding the Confession
God’s Specific Decree of Predestination to Life
1. Biblical Characteristics of the Doctrine of Election
A. Its Selectivity (Paragraph 3)
Though some professing Reformed theologians question it, there is conclusive biblical evidence for the doctrine of reprobation. The doctrine of election as an act of selection presupposes and implies an act of rejection (Rom. 9:11). The following arguments may be used to reveal the selectivity of election and against the idea that individuals are “made elect” by the act of their believing.
- The words used for election imply the idea of selection (Ps. 147:19-20; Amos 3:2; Deut. 7:7-8).
- The biblical passages which teach reprobation imply the idea of selection (John 12:37-40; Jude 4).
- The biblical passages which contrast the elect and the non-elect imply the idea of selection (Rom. 9:6-24; 1 Peter 2:8-10).
B. Its Specificity (Paragraph 4)
Paragraph 4 emphasizes this by speaking of the immutability and particularity of God’s predestination. This raises the questions “Did God elect only nations or groups? i.e. Does Rom. 9 have only to do with the election of nations rather than individuals? Is God’s election of the church corporate or individual? The Scriptures and the confession show that a positive answer to these questions would be both illogical and unscriptural.
- It would be illogical for God to only elect groups, but not individuals. What if everyone in the group fell away and was lost? Thus the whole group would be therefore lost. If the salvation of some is. certain how can this be secured without the election of certain individuals?
- It would be unscriptural because the Bible teaches otherwise. Notice Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:29-30 – “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (emphasis mine). Notice that Paul does say “That which God foreknew or predestined or called or justified,” but rather he says “those whom.” This is is not corporate this clearly individual and specific.
C. Its Cause (Paragraph 5)
The question is frequently raised, did not God simply elect those whom he foresaw would repent, believe, be receptive, be holy, or persevere in faith? The answer is no. Here are a few considerations to take into account.
- Foreknowledge presupposes God’s decree as we have already shown in part 8 of our walkthrough the confession.
- Foreknowledge means foreordination not a foreseeing of qualifications. Foreknowledge in Romans 8:29; 9-11 and in 1 Peter 1:2 clearly mean a choosing or predestining beforehand. It is crucial to note that in these passages there is nothing said regarding something about the elect that is foreknown, but rather speaks that they were foreknown, not their actions. To know in this sense is relational, not cognitive. It is related to a covenantal love that has been divinely and freely given to an individual.
- The idea that God chooses us because of some good things is categorically denied by the Bible (Rom. 9:11-16; 11:5-6).
- The Opposite idea that we are choosing apart from anything good in us is the clear biblical testimony (Eph. 1:4-6, 9).
- Faith, repentance, perseverance, holiness, and receptivity — all the good things which God is supposed to foresee in us –are all themselves fruits of election, and therefore as the fruits of election they cannot be its prior conditions.
2. The Pressing Questions Associated with the Doctrine of Election
a. Can anyone be saved beside the elect?
The answer to this question according paragraph 4 is “no.” The reason, however, for this is not that God actively prevents them from being saved, but that only by grace foreordained for men in God’s electing purpose will any ever come earnestly to seek salvation. Outside of electing mercy, in other words, no-one wants to be saved (Rom. 3:11).
b. What makes the difference between those God ordains to life and those he leaves in their sin?
According to paragraphs 3 and 5, the difference is made by God’s choice and grace. Because of Original sin all men are equally exposed to God’s wrath. Nothing about them conditions God’s choice of them or commends them to God’s grace. It is God’s choice which makes all the difference therefore. The distinction between elect and the non-elect is made by divine sovereignty. There is nothing unjust about this, therefore, since God simply chose to leave some in the wrath that they rightfully deserve and choose others to save for nothing other than his own goodness and glory.
c. How can we know if we are elect?
We can know we are elect by observing the fruits of election (paragraph 6) in our lives. If we see faith in Christ, sanctification, and perseverance in the Christian life in our own cases then we know that these things can only be present on the basis of electing grace. Thus if they are our possession, than we can be assured of our election.
d. Is it true to say that the elect will be saved no matter what they do?
The answer to this question is found partly in paragraph 1 and partly in paragraph 6. The predestined plans of God are brought about through human action and natural events. According to paragraph 1 (focused on in the last article) “the contingency of second causes is not taken away.” As paragraph 6 makes clear, if God has foreordained the end, then he has also “foreordained the means unto.” Thus the elect will not be saved no matter what they do, rather they will be saved in the way that God foreordained and no other. Only this makes sense of Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 2:10, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Paul knew that if God had foreordained the end, he had also foreordained the means.
3. Understanding the two wills of God.
The will of God in Scripture may have reference to two distinct things. The phrase “the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will” (Para. 5) is a clear reference to what may be called God’s decretive or secret will. Whereas God’s ethical demands upon us, his law, may be called his preceptive or revealed will. These two aspects of the divine will are clearly distinct. The decretive will is that which God has determined to do himself, and the preceptive will is that which God has commanded us to do. The biblical basis for these two distinct wills are most clearly seen in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” This distinction is also implied in Genesis 50:20. There it is clear that Joseph’s brothers fulfilled God’s decretive will to sell Joseph into slavery, while simultaneously breaking God’s preceptive will thus sinning in how they treated their brother. God’s decretive or secret will is not the rule of our conduct. Though in some cases God’s providence will impact our actions indirectly, it is never the rule of our conduct. The rule of our conduct is God’s law, his preceptive will. This distinction is absolutely critical if we are to avoid falling into the pit of hyper-calvinism. For instance it has been denied by hyper-calvinists that faith in Christ is not the duty of all men because not all men have been elected to faith. This however, wrongly makes God’s decretive will the rule of our ethical conduct instead of his preceptive will. This is a capital mistake! Faith is the commanded duty of all mankind regardless of whether they are elect or not. To understand more about the two wills of God you can follow these links from these former blogs that I have done on the topic. two wills pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3
1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. http://www.rblist.org/1689.pdf.
Waldron, Sam. A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. Durham, NC: Evangelical Press, 1999.