Blog 154: 3.21.6 - 3.22.3

Iain D Campbell

God's sovereign election of Israel as a means of blessing to the world also included a delimiting decree, by which individual Israelites were chosen to be heirs of salvation. The conditionality of the covenant was a means by which individual election was realised. While the nation was, in one sense, chosen by God as a channel of salvation, individuals within the nation who broke covenant with God were cut off; their rejection of the God of the covenant was a sign of their individual reprobation. Calvin wishes to stress the freedom of God in thus acting: he elects a whole nation, but is under no obligation to appropriate his grace to every member of it.

The principle of individual election is fundamental to the revelation of grace in the gospel. Abraham's line was chosen by God as a light to the nations, yet many of his descendants were cut off. None who are in Christ are cut off: this is a 'special mode of election' (3.21.7) by which grace is made effectual to those whom God chooses. The unmistakeable doctrine of Scripture is that 'God once established by his eternal and unchangeable plan those whom he long before determined once of all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction' (3.21.7). Election is sealed by call and by justification; reprobation is marked by the absence of the knowledge of God and the absence of sanctification.

Calvin then addresses false propositions as he elucidates the Scriptural position. First, election is different to foreknowing merit. To reason that God elects those whom he foresees as deserving his grace is to obscure the Scriptural testimony on the one hand, and to charge God with the destruction of the lost on the other. The reality, however, is that there was nothing in us worthy of God's electing of us; which is why Paul emphasises that we were chosen IN CHRIST, out of God's mere good pleasure, and made fit to be sharers of the heavenly inheritance (Col 1:12).

Secondly, Calvin emphasises that election took place before the foundation of the world, that is to say, before any of the objects of election were in existence. Foreknowledge of human merit requires a temporal election; but the statement of the New Testament is that election is beyond and before time. In essence, the doctrine is that 'God has chosen whom he has willed' (3.22.2), not those who deserved it.

Third, election is in order to holiness, and not because we are already holy. 'if he chose us that we should be holy, he did not choose us because he foresaw that we should be' (3.22.3). It is a simple argument, but a powerful one. The godly, says Calvin, have their holiness from election, not their election from holiness.

Otherwise, who among us would ever be Christ's disciples?