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Election and Foreknowledge

In his chapter of the book John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, Election and Reprobation, Richard D. Phillips presents John Calvins doctrine, as well as Calvins answers to some common objections. Of particular interest to me is his response to the position I formerly held:

image   First among [the objections to the doctrine of Unconditional Election] is the assertion that election is based on Gods foreknowledge. This approach seeks to counter Calvins doctrine of election by asserting that God foresees which people will believe His Word in the future, then predestines them for salvation on that basis. Likewise, God foreknows those who will not believe, and thus elects them for condemnation. Calvin explains, These persons consider that God distinguishes among men according as he foresees what the merits of each will be [John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; Library of Christian Classics, XXXXI (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 3.21.3.].

In reply, Calvin first notes that the true issue involves the origin of salvation. Under the foreknowledge view, Gods grace finds its origin in the worthiness of the recipient; since God can give grace only in response to foreseen merit, it is not His freely to give. But the Bible presents a different picture: as Calvin states, God has always been free to bestow his grace on whom he wills [Ibid., 3.22.1.].

Calvin then unfolds the teaching of Scripture, which insists that salvation originates not in the worthiness of the recipient but in the free grace of God. He notes that the Bibles teaching that God chose His people before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4) clearly means merit plays no part in their election. We are chosen in Christsince we have nothing in ourselves to commend us to Gods grace, God views us by our union with Christ. This shows that the elect possess no merit of their own for God to foresee. In fact, Calvin says, Ephesians 1:4 declares that all virtue appearing in man is the result of election [Ibid., 3.22.2.].

Here, then, is the question: is our faith the cause or the result of our election? If we are elected because of foreseen faith, then we can make no sense of Pauls teaching: He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph. 1:4). As Calvin explains, the foreknowledge objection inverts the order of Pauls reasoning: If he chose us that we should be holy, he did not choose us because he foresaw that we would be so [Ibid., 3.22.3.]. This is abundantly confirmed in Pauls subsequent teaching, when he states that our election is according to the purpose of his will (Eph. 1:5) and according to his purpose (Eph. 1:9). Paul uses similar language in 2 Timothy 1:9, writing that God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace. Preaching on this text, Calvin asserts: He saith not that God hath chosen us because we have heard the gospel, but on the other hand, he attributes the faith that is given us to the highest cause; to wit, because God hath fore-ordained that He would save us [John Calvin, The Mystery of Godliness and Other Sermons (1830; repr. Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1999), 46.]. Therefore, instead of teaching that salvation originates in what God foresees in us, Calvin insists, all benefits that God bestows for the spiritual life, as Paul teaches, flow from this one source: namely, that God has chosen whom he has willed, and before their birth has laid up for them individually the grace that he willed to grant them [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.22.2.].

Richard D. Phillips, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 147149.

Posted 2009·07·03 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Church History · John Calvin · John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology · Richard Phillips
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#1 || 09·07·04··05:28 || Jim Duval

This was the soteriology that I too grew up with and it was not until a dear saint that I met in my early thirties directed me to read A.W. Pink's "The Sovereignty of God" [which initially appalled me since I had long since attributed this man to an absolute heretic]. Still, I was encouraged to read this book with my Bible open and thus to check all assertions made by Pink with the Word. The results for me were cataclysmic. I was introduced to truth as I had never seen it before. The doctrine of predestination was but one aspect of the doctrines of grace which have since and do continue to thrill my soul quite literally every day. Thank you for this article.

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