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Asking “Do I believe?” rather than “Am I elect?” – R Scott Clark

January 12, 2013 Comments off

[W]hat theologians in church history do you recommend reading to better understand the doctrine of election?

Among the Fathers, Augustine’s On the Predestination of the Saints is essential. Gottschalk’s little treatise, On Predestination witnesses to the vitality of doctrine in the early middle ages. Thomas’ discussion in Summa Theologica 1a 23.1 is masterful. My favorites, however, are Calvin’s exegetical treatment in his commentary on Romans (1539, 1551) chapter 9 because of its strong commitment to understanding the passage in its redemptive-historical context and his doctrinal treatment in the 1559 Institutes(3.21-24) because there he helps us address it a posteriori by asking not, ‘Am I elect?’ but rather, ‘Do I believe?’ Herman Witsius’ 1677 treatment of election relative to the covenant of grace (Economy of the Covenants 3.4.) is encouraging as he points to the spiritual benefits the doctrine brings to the believer.

[H]ow might a Reformed understanding of the doctrine of election help the Christian who struggles with issues of assurance of salvation?

One of the more unfortunate facts in the history of Protestant piety is that the doctrines of election, and reprobation (predestination) have sometimes become a source of doubt and spiritual uncertainty. It is unfortunate and perverse because, understood properly, the doctrine of predestination should be a source of comfort and encouragement. Perhaps the single greatest reason that Christians have found the doctrine of predestination spiritually troubling is that they have often asked the wrong question: “Am I elect?” This is the wrong question first because it is not a question that Scripture ever encourages us to ask. It is the wrong question because it seeks to know things in a way that has not been revealed to us. We might call this the medieval question.

One result of asking the question this way is that one could never know with certainty if one is elect and any claim to know, with certainty, that one is elect, would be regarded as presumption. The question that the Scriptures teach us to ask is quite different: “Do I believe?” Let us call this the Protestant question. It is a question that we can answer, and by doing so, find comfort and certainty.

The Apostle Paul used the doctrine of election to encourage the Ephesian church. Writing to them on the basis of their profession of faith in Christ, he explained that the Father has “blessed us in Christ” and “chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” and that “in love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… (Eph 1:3–6).

Paul’s point was to remind helpless sinners, whose state, outside of Christ, he described as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), of God’s free, unconditional favor in Christ. His reasoning works this way: After the fall, under Adam’s headship (Rom 5:12–21), we are spiritually corrupt and at war with God. We have no inclination to believe. If we believe, it is because “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him…” (Eph 2:4–6).

In other words, God’s free election of his people to spiritual life, true faith, and union with Christ means that salvation and righteousness are his free gifts to his people. They were given unconditionally and they are received, through faith alone (Eph 2:8). If you believe, it is because God loved you, in Christ, and willed from all eternity to bring you to life, to give you the gift of faith and through it all of Christ’s benefits. This way of thinking about God’s election gives us firm, unshakeable ground on which to stand. It means that believers belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to their faithful Savior Jesus and that no one can snatch us out of his hand (John 6:40, 10:28; Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 1). It is not only medieval Christians who have asked the wrong question. Since the Reformation evangelical Christians have often been tempted to ask the medieval question and have reached the same troubling conclusion. As a result they have made uncertainty of the essence of faith. We see none of this, however, in Paul. Even when he thinks about his struggle with sin in the Christian life (Romans 7) he finds certainty on the basis of God’s free, electing grace and promises in Christ (Rom 8-10). Let us follow Paul, and his followers, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and countless other evangelical Protestants before us and do the same.

Believers are what they are by God’s grace and his promise is as sure as God is immoveable and faithful. We should not ask whether we are good enough (we are not) or whether we might fall (we shall) but whether God is faithful (he is) and whether he has sealed his promises with Christ’s obedient life, bloody death, and resurrection (he has), and whether we believe: by God’s grace we do.

Source: Credomag

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Henry commentary on 2 Peter 2:7-9

January 11, 2013 Comments off

Henry commentary: 2 Peter 2:7-9

2Pe 2:7  And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked:
2Pe 2:8  (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)
2Pe 2:9  The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:

When God sends destruction on the ungodly, he commands deliverance for the righteous; and, if he rain fire and brimstone on the wicked, he will cover the head of the just, and they shall be hid in the day of his anger. This we have an instance of in his preserving Lot. Here observe, 1. The character given of Lot; he is called a just man; this he was as to the generally prevailing bent of his heart and through the main of his conversation. God does not account men just or unjust from one single act, but from their general course of life. And here is a just man in the midst of a most corrupt and profligate generation universally gone off from all good. He does not follow the multitude to do evil, but in a city of injustice he walks uprightly. 2. The impression the sins of others made upon this righteous man. Though the sinner takes pleasure in his wickedness, it is a grief and vexation to the soul of the righteous. In bad company we cannot escape either guilt or grief. Let the sins of others be a trouble to us, otherwise it will not be possible for us to keep ourselves pure. 3. Here is a particular mention of the duration and continuance of this good man’s grief and vexation: it was from day to day. Being accustomed to hear and see their wickedness did not reconcile him to it, nor abate of the horror that was occasioned by it. This is the righteous man whom God preserved from the desolating judgment that destroyed all round about him. From this instance we are taught to argue that God knows how to deliver his people and punish his enemies. It is here presupposed that the righteous must have their temptations and trials. The devil and his instruments will thrust sore at them, that they may fall; and, if we will get to heaven, it must be through many tribulations. It is therefore our duty to reckon upon and prepare for them. Observe here, (1.) The Lord knows those that are his. He has set apart him who is godly for himself; and, if there is but one in five cities, he knows him; and where there is a greater number he cannot be ignorant of nor overlook any one of them. (2.) The wisdom of God is never at a loss about ways and means to deliver his people. They are often utterly at a loss, and can see no way; he can deliver a great many. (3.) The deliverance of the godly is the work of God, that which he concerns himself in, both his wisdom to contrive the way and his power to work out the deliverance out of temptation, to prevent their falling into sin and their being ruined by their troubles. And surely, if he can deliver out of temptation, he could keep from falling into it if he did not see such trials to be necessary. (4.) God makes a very great difference in his dealings with the godly and the wicked. When he saves his people from destruction, he delivers over his enemies to deserved ruin. The unjust has no share in the salvation God works out for the righteous. The wicked are reserved to the day of judgment. Here we see, [1.] There is a day of judgment. God has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world. [2.] The preservation of impenitent sinners is only a reserving of them to the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.

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