Article 17 — Of Predestination and Election
Posted by Paul Darlington, 18 Mar 2017
Paul Darlington takes us through the longest of the 39 Articles, on the tricky subject of predestination. What does the Church of England believe about that?
XVII — OF PREDESTINATION AND ELECTION
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.
As 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: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.
Furthermore, we must receive God’s promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.
Is God for you or against you? And if he is for you, to what extent is he for you?
On the other hand, would you like to be more confident in your faith? And more loving towards God?
Article 17 is the longest article by a considerable margin. Careful explanation was clearly necessary. But the doctrine was nothing new. Augustine of Hippo had taught the biblical doctrine over 1,000 years before our Article was written.
Despite its length, it is just four sentences.
The first sentence is a straightforward, uncompromising, and positive statement of the doctrine: God has chosen those who will be eternally saved. This choice predates everything and its effects last forever. In Christ, the elect are saved forever from condemnation: chosen in him, redeemed in him, and certain to inherit in him (Ephesians 1:3-14). There is never any variation in this purpose of God. God has not told us who the chosen are, but he unfailingly brings them to the place of honour.
The second sentence describes how this purpose works out on the ground in history in the individual believer. The elect individual experiences the invitation of the gospel and accepts it, enjoys their new justified status, and continues in Christ-like good works until they go to be with Christ forever. But the Article repeatedly makes clear that from start to finish at every step it is God who effects his purpose in the chosen. He does so by the Spirit, through grace, freely, by his mercy. We certainly obey and walk, but we do so because of God’s powerful and unmerited work in us.
So as a Christian, is God for you? Certainly! To what extent is God for you? Completely! It is impossible to imagine a gospel where God more completely plans, executes, and fulfils salvation for us.
Every Christian knows that we are saved by God’s grace. Even the Church of Rome has never denied that God freely gives what is undeserved. But the Article sets forth the only theological system which expresses salvation by God’s grace alone. Deciding to trust and follow Christ is the best decision anyone can make. But I did not so decide because I was clever, or more discerning than my neighbour, or more able than some others. I decided because in God’s kindness to me, in his determination to bring his elect in Christ to glory, he caused me to. God is so for us, that he ensures not even we, with all our corruption, can separate ourselves from his love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:28-39).
And so it is plain why all the glory belongs to God. The true gospel of grace alone can only result in glory to the God alone who gives that grace. We should be moved to praise God for his immeasurable generosity to us in Christ: chosen in him, redeemed in him and certain to inherit in him. And we should also find the greatest comfort when we consider this doctrine.
And so the Article naturally turns to its third sentence, pointing us to how unspeakably comforting this doctrine is to the believer. But in expounding the healthy use of this doctrine, we are also warned about its destructive use.
If the preceding paragraphs are worth anything, then you, the believer, should be growing in assurance that you are truly saved and secure in Christ forever. We are not still believing because we are so good at holding onto God, but because God is so good at holding on to us. He is unfailing in fulfilling his purpose in Christ for us.
In life, I am always more likely to trust someone who I know is genuinely on my side. Proper appreciation of just how much God is for us in Christ should make us trust him more (and more readily) than anyone or anything else. Similarly, I am always more likely to love someone who has been good to me for no reason other than their love for me. In love he predestined us for redemption and glory. How this should lift our affections to him!
So would you like to be more confident in your faith? And more loving towards God? Then think on and pray through this doctrine.
There is a warning though. As we teach biblical doctrine, we must apply biblical doctrine as the Bible does. The Bible only applies the doctrine of election and predestination to encourage God’s already believing people. The doctrine of election is not the gospel of grace alone that is to be preached to all the world. It defends that gospel from ideas of human merit, and impresses upon the believer the absolute security we enjoy in the gospel. ‘Are you chosen in Christ?’ is a constructive question for the believer, but an uncaring opening question in evangelism.
Of course, it is an encouragement to keep preaching the gospel of grace. Christians often get this the wrong way round, but as a preacher myself, if people’s salvation depended on them or me, I would have given up a long time ago. But it is God who effectually calls out and saves his people.
In its final sentence the Article calls for repentance and faith. It humbles the objector to this doctrine and keeps us away from false assurance. Every elect person will, in due time, repent and believe. There is no evidence of any saving work of God in someone without repentance and faith, whatever they might claim.
So if you are worried about your election, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. If you are confident of your election, repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Then we will praise and love him in eternal security.
Paul Darlington is the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Oswestry, Chairman of the Church Society council, and author of the booklet, Evangelical Ministry in a Non-Evangelical Parish.
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