Book 3 - Chapter 4: Of Election - by Herman WitsiusThe Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius
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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)
Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).
Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.
This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.
Chapter IV: Of Election
I. WE are now first of all to consider those benefits which belong to the covenant of grace, taken absolutely and in itself, and therefore common to all those in covenant, under what economy soever; which we enumerate in the following order: 1. Election. 2. Effectual calling to the communion of Christ. 3. Regeneration. 4. Faith. 5. Justification. 6. Spiritual Peace. 7. Adoption. 8. The Spirit of Adoption. 9. Sanctification. 10. Conservation, or preservation. 11. Glorification. The devout meditation of all these things cannot fail to be glorious to God; agreeable, delightful, and salutary to ourselves.
II. The beginning and first source of all grace is Election, both of Christ the Saviour and of those to be saved by him. For even Christ was chosen of God, and by an eternal and immutable decree given to be our Saviour, and therefore is said to be “foreordained before the foundation of the world,” 1 Pet. 1:20. And they whom Christ was to save were given to him by the same decree, John 17:6. They are therefore said to be “chosen in Christ,” Eph. 1:4; that is, not only by Christ, as God, and consequently the elector of them, but also in Christ, as Mediator, and on that account the elected, who, by one and the same act, was given to them to be their head and lord, and at the same time they were given to him to be his members and property, to be saved by his merit and power, and to enjoy communion with him. And therefore the book of election is called, “the book of life of the Lamb,” Rev. 13:8; not only because life is to be obtained in virtue of the Lamb slain, but also because the Lamb takes up the first page of that book, is the head of the rest of the elect, “the first-born among many brethren, and joint-heirs with him.” Rom. 8:17, 29. But we before treated of this election of Christ the Mediator, book II. chap. iii. §. viii. and now we are to speak of the election of those to be saved.
III. We thus describe it: Election is the eternal, free, and immutable counsel of God, about revealing the glory of his grace, in the eternal salvation of some certain persons. Most of the parts of this description are in these words of the apostle, Eph. 1:4, 5, 6: “According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ to himself, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
IV. We call election, “the counsel of God,” by which term we mean that which is commonly called decree. Paul, on this subject, calls it the προθεσις, the purpose, of God. This term appears selected by the apostle, and frequently made use of by him to denote a sure, firm, and fixed decree of God, which he can never repent of, and which depends on nothing out of himself, but is founded only in his good pleasure. All this is intimated, 2 Tim. 1:9: “who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.” To this purpose also, Eph. 1:11, “we are predestinated according to the purpose of him, who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” And elsewhere the same apostle also speaks of προθεσις “the purpose of election,” Rom. 8:28, “who are called according to his purpose,” and Rom. 9:11. “the purpose of God according to election.” And thus we distinguish this internal election and of counsel, from the external and of fact, which signifies the actual separation of believers from unbelievers, by effectual calling. In this sense the Lord Jesus said to his apostles, John 15:19, “but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” But the eternal and internal decree of God could not be the cause of this hatred, but only as it discovered itself by the event, and by the actual separation of the apostles from the world. To this we may also, it seems, apply what the apostle writes, 1 Cor. 1:26, 27, “Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men, &c. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise,” &c. Where he seems to take calling and election for the same thing. Nor does this internal election and of counsel, differ from the external and of fact but only in this, that the last is the demonstration and execution of the first.
V. It is likewise clear, that we are not here speaking of an election to any political or ecclesiastical dignity, 1 Sam. 10:24, and John 9:70, nor even to the privilege of an external covenant with God; in the manner that God chose all the people of Israel, Deut. 4:37, “he loved thy fathers, and chose their seed,” compared with Deut. 7:6, 7; but of that election, which is the designation and enrolment of the heirs of eternal salvation: or as Paul speaks, 2 Thes. 2:13, by which “God hath, from the beginning, chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth.”
VI. For this purpose the BOOK OF LIFE is so frequently mentioned in Scripture: it will not then be improper, here, to inquire, what is intended by that appellation. That God has no book, properly so called, is self evident: but as men write down those things in books which they want to know and keep in memory; so the book of God denotes the series of persons and things, which are most perfectly known to God. Moreover, the Scripture speaks of several books of God. 1st, God has a book of common providence, in which the birth, life, and death of men, and every thing concerning the same, are inserted; Psa. 139:16, “in thy book all my members were written.” 2ndly, There are also books of judgment, in which the actions, good or bad, of every man in particular are written, Rev. 20:12, “And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” These books are mentioned in the plural number, as if each particular person had his own peculiar book assigned him, lest the good or bad behaviour of one should be put to the score of another, and thence any confusion should arise. By which is signified the most exact and distinct knowledge of God. And because, in other respects, God knows all things at one intuitive view of his understanding, this very book is mentioned in the singular number, Mal. 3:16, “A book of remembrance was written before him.” 3dly, There is also the book of life; which is three-fold. 1, Of this natural life, of which Moses speaks Exod. 32:32. Where, entreating the face of the Lord, who had said he would consume Israel in the wilderness, and make Moses a great nation, Moses prays, that God would preserve his people, and bring them into the inheritance of the land of Canaan, offering himself, at the same time, instead of the people: “Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin: and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book, which thou hast written.” As if he had said, “I accept not the condition offered of preserving me alive, and increasing me greatly after the destruction of Israel: I choose rather to die an untimely death, than that Israel should be destroyed in the wilderness.” 2, Of a fœderal and ecclesiastical life, consisting in communion with the people of God. Which is the register, not only of those internally, but of those externally in covenant, mentioned Ezek. 13:9, “They shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel;” and Psa. 87:6. “The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there.” 3, Of life eternal, mentioned, Is. 4:3. Dan 12:1. Phil. 4:3. Luke 10:20. Rev. 3:5: 13:8: 20:12: and 21:27; which book signifies the register of those predestinated to life eternal.
VII. Further, as the book of God denotes not one and the same thing; so the writing of persons in any of these is not always the same. The writing of some is only imaginary, consisting in a fallacious judgment concerning ourselves or others, too easily presuming either our own, or the election of others, such as was that of those who cried out, Jer. 7:4, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these;” and of the people of Sardis, who were said to live, though they were really dead, Rev. 3:1. There is another inscription which is indeed true, but it is only human, in the book of the fœderal life, done either by the man himself, by a profession of the faith, subscribing as with his own hand, “I am the Lord’s,” Is. 45:5; or by the guides of the church, inserting such a person in the list of professors, and acknowledging him for a member of the church, of the visible at least. There is, in fine, a writing of God himself, made by his eternal and immutable decree; of which the apostle says, 2 Tim. 2:19, “The Lord knoweth them that are his.” The observation of these things throws much light on many places of Scripture, and will immediately prove also of use to us.
VIII. This election to glory is not some general decree of God about saving the faithful and the godly, who shall persevere in their faith and piety to the end of their life; but a particular designation of certain individual persons, whom God has enrolled as heirs of salvation. It is not consistent with the perfection of God, to ascribe to him general and indeterminate decrees, which were to receive any determination or certainty from men. We read, Acts 2:23, of the determinate counsel of God, but never of a general and indeterminate decree. Neither does the Scripture ever describe election, as the determination of any certain condition, by and without which salvation is or is not obtained. It is nowhere said, that faith is chosen by God, or written down in the book of life, or any thing like that; but that men, indeed, are chosen by God. Let us refer to Rom. 8:29, 30, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate. Whom he did predestinate, them he also called,” &c. It is not said in the text, persons so qualified, that it might be applied to the designation of any condition, but certain persons are appointed as the objects of the acts there mentioned.
IX. The very term, προορίειν, to predestinate, which the apostle more frequently uses on this subject, does not obscurely discover this truth. For, as ὁρίζειν signifies to point out, or ordain a certain person (Acts 17:31. “By that man whom ὡρισε, he hath ordained,” and pointed out by name; and Acts 10:42. “ὁ ὡρίσμενος, which was ordained of God to be the judge;” and Rom. 1:4, “ὁρισθέντος υἱου Θεου declared to be [determinately marked out as] the Son of God,” who was, by name, and particularly declared to be so by God, by a public nomination); so προορίζειυ, as applied to the heirs of eternal life, must signify, to enrol, or write down some certain persons as heirs, in the eternal testament.
X. This is what Christ said to his disciples, Luke 10:20, “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Where he speaks to them by name, and assures them of their election, and bids them rejoice on that account. Which is certainly of much greater import, than if he had said in general, “Rejoice because God has established, by an eternal decree, that he would make all believers happy in heaven, though he has thought nothing of you by name:” for in this manner, according to the opinion of our adversaries, these words were to be explained.
XI. What the apostle, Phil. 4:3, expressly asserts concerning Clement and his other fellow-labourers, that their names were in the book of life, ought to be sufficient for determining this inquiry: since impudence itself dares not wrest that to a general decree of some condition. For, 1st, The name of a person is one thing, the condition of a thing another. He who determines to inlist none but valiant men for soldiers, does not write down the names of some soldiers in the roll. 2dly, The condition of salvation is but one, but the Scripture always speaks in the plural number of the names written in the book of life. Therefore the writing down of the names is one thing, the determination of some condition another. 3dly, It is certain, that the apostle, and other sacred writers, when they say that some men, or the names of some, are written in the book of life, do always, by that very thing, distinguish them from others, who are not inserted. But, according to the opinion of our adversaries, the appointment of this condition imports no actual distinction between men. Because notwithstanding that decree, about saving believers and those who obey it, it may be possible, according to their principles, that none should believe, obey, or be saved. 4thly, All these things will be more cogent, if we attend to the original of this metaphorical expression. The similitude is taken from a genealogical catalogue or register, especially among the people of God; in which the names of every particular person, belonging to any family, was written; and, according to this catalogue, at the time of the jubilee or other solemnity when the paternal inheritance was restored to any family, every one was either admitted or rejected, according as his name was or was not found there. We have an example of this, Ezra 2:61, 62, when after the Babylonish captivity the posterity of Habaiah, Koz, and Barzillai, not being able to prove their descent by the genealogical registers, were put from the priesthood. In the same manner, the book of life contains the names of those who belong to the family of God; in which he who is not written, whatever he may presume or pretend, will be deprived of the inheritance.
XII. To conclude, I would ask our adversaries, when the apostle says, 2 Tim. 2:19, “the Lord knoweth them that are his;” and the Lord Jesus, John 13:18, “I know whom I have chosen,” whether there is nothing ascribed to God or to Christ in these words, but what the least in the school of Christ knows, that they who believe in and obey Christ are the peculiar property of God and of Christ? Has not that language a grander sound? and does it not intimate, that God has the exactest account of all in whom he will be glorified as his peculiar people? We yield to what our adversaries declare in Compend. Socin. c. 4. §. 1. “Admitting the infallible prescience of all future contingents, Calvin’s doctrine of the predestination of some by name to life, of others to death, cannot be refuted.” But that prescience of God has as many witnesses, as he has constituted prophets. It follows, therefore, that election is a designation or appointment of some certain persons.
XIII. This designation was made from eternity; as were all the counsels or decree of God in general; for, “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,” Acts 15:18; “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” Eph. 1:11. And all the foreknowledge of future contingencies is founded in the decree of God: consequently he determined with himself, from eternity, every thing he executes in time. If we are to believe this with respect to all the decrees of God, much more with regard to that distinguishing decree, whereby he purposed to display his glory, in the eternal state of men. And I shall add, what ought, in the fullest manner, to establish this truth, that “we are chosen in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world,” Eph. 1:4.
XIV. And hence appears the gangrene of the Socinian heretics, who, distinguishing between predestination, which they define the general decrees of God, concerning the salvation of all those who constantly obey Christ, and between Election, which is of particular persons; they say, indeed, that the former is from eternity, but the latter made in time, when a person performs the condition contained in the general decree of predestination. And they make the excellence of the Lord Jesus and a part of his divinity to consist in this, that he was foreknown by name from eternity. But as Peter writes, 1 Epist. 1:20, that Christ “was foreordained before the foundation of the world;” so we have just heard Paul, testifying by the same expression, that “we were chosen before the foundation of the world.” But neither the subject, as we have just shown, nor the apostle’s words, which describe not an election of holiness as the condition of life, but an election of some certain persons to holiness, which, in virtue of that election, they had already in part obtained, and were afterwards in the fullest manner to obtain, will not suffer us to pervert this to some general decree of saving saints.
XV. We are here to explain what our Saviour declares he will pronounce on the last day of judgment, Matt. 25:34, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you ἀπὸ καταβολἦς κοσμου, from the foundation of the world:” he does not say, “before the foundation of the world,” as is said, Eph. 1:4. If by this preparing we understand God’s decree, we must say with many expositors, that this phrase, “from the foundation of the world,” is equivalent to that other, “before the foundation of the world:” just as, “from the beginning of the world,” Acts 15:18, and “before the world,” 1 Cor. 2:7, denote the very same thing. Similar expressions of eternity may be compared, Prov. 8:23, “מעולם, from everlasting; מראש, from the beginning; מקדמי ארצ, or ever the earth was. Or if we would rather distinguish these, and explain that expression, “from the foundation of the world,” to signify, not eternity, but the remotest period of time (as it is taken, Luke 11:50: “The blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world;” that is, from the remotest antiquity, beginning with the blood of Abel, ver. 51. and Heb. 4:3), we shall say, that by preparing the kingdom is meant the formation of heaven, which is the throne of glory; and that the elect are invited to enter in to the inheritance of that habitation which was created at the very beginning of the world, in order to be their eternal residence. And who can doubt but what God created in the beginning, in order to be the blessed abode of the elect, was appointed by him from eternity for that purpose?
XVI. And we must not omit that illustrious passage, Rev. 13:8: “Whose names are not written in the book of life of the lamb, slain from the foundation of the world.” The last of these words are so placed, that they may stand in a threefold connexion with the preceding, as to mean, that Christ was “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world;” that is, either from all eternity in the decree of God, which, importing a certain futurition of events, to use a scholastic term, is the reason that things future may be considered as already existing; or from the remotest antiquity of the world, not only in the members of his mystical body, but also in the promise of God in the type of sacrifices, and of Abel, slain by his envious brother; and, in fine, in the efficacy of his death, which extended itself to the first of the human race. For unless the death of Christ, which he was once to undergo in the fulness of time, could have extended its virtue to the first men in the world, “Christ must often have suffered since the foundation of the world,” Heb. 9:26. God did many things before Christ could die, which could not consistently have been done, unless with a view to Christ’s death, which was to ensue in its appointed time; and with respect to these, he is said to be slain before the foundation of the world. Nay, the foundation of the earth itself was not laid without a view to the death of Christ. For since the manifestation of his glorious grace in man, through Christ, was the chief end of God in creating man, we must look upon the foundation of the earth for a habitation of the good as a means to that end. Nor would it have been consistent with God to form the earth for a habitation of sinful man, unless that same earth was at one time or other to be purged by the blood of Christ, as the sanctifier and glorifier of his elect. For all these reasons, the slaying of Christ and the foundation of the world are not improperly connected. Secondly, those words, “from the foundation of the world,” may be referred to what goes before, are written; to signify, whose names are not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of that lamb slain. Which sense was preferred by Junius, Piscator, Gomarus, and other great divines. And indeed, we observe, Luke 4:5, an instance of a transposition not unlike this. And John himself is found to have so ranged these very words, as to omit entirely what is here inserted about the lamb slain, Rev. 17:8, “Whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world.” And then this phrase would denote the eternity of the divine decree, as we showed in the foregoing paragraph, that it might be explained. Thirdly and lastly, The words may be so construed as to point to men who have lived since the foundation of the world, and whose names are not written in the book of life. And then the usual and most common sense of that phraseology will be retained, so as to denote the first times of the world.
XVII. We are also to inquire into the genuine sense of that saying in 2 Tim. 1:9, and which is commonly brought as a proof of the eternity of election: “Saved us according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” Two things are here especially to be inquired into. 1st, What is to be understood by the giving of grace. 2dly, What by, “before the world began.” The saving grace of the New Covenant is given to those who are to be saved. 1. In the decree of God. 2. In the promise. 3. In the actual gift of it. The decree of God is the original source of grace: the promise is the manifestation of the decree: the actual gift is the execution of both. But because it is impossible for the decree of God to fail, or the promise of God to deceive, the person to whom God decrees and promises to give any thing may be as certain that it shall be given as if he was already in the actual possession of it. And on account of that certainty of the promise of God, the benefit decreed or promised may be considered as already given. But it is plain that the apostle speaks not here of actual bestowing, therefore it ought to be understood of giving, either in the decree or in the promise. But which of these explications is to be preferred, depends on the meaning of the following phrase: πρὸ χρόνων ἀιωνίων, “before the world began.”
XVIII. If there be any, who by χρόνους αἰωνίους, “before the world began,” understand absolute eternity, they refute themselves. For seeing Paul here relates something done before the world began, something must be imagined more eternal than eternity itself, than which nothing can be more absurd. It is better that we thereby understand all that time which commenced with the creation of the world (when αἰῶνες ἐκτίσθησαν, “the worlds were framed,” Heb. 11:3) which then run on, and will run through all ages without end and limit. But what is it, “before the world began?” Is it what precedes all time, and so is eternal, as most divines think, who from hence directly conclude the eternity of our election, and interpret this giving of the giving contained in the decree? But we are to consider whether we can firmly maintain that exposition against the exceptions of those of the opposite opinion. Indeed, the very subtle Twiss himself, Vindiciæ Gratiæ, lib. i. p. I. Digress. ii. sect. 4, p. 64, cavils: “That it is not necessary directly to believe, that what is said to be before the foundation of the world, signifies to be before all time, but only before many ages.” But that very learned person, as frequently on other occasions, so also on this, appears to have given too much scope to his wit and fancy. If this exposition of his be retained, there is nothing of which it may not, one time or other, be said that it was done “before the foundation of the world,” a regard being had to following ages. Which is, in a remarkable manner, to weaken the force and majesty of the apostle’s expression. And I would not willingly make such concessions to our adversaries. Since χρόνοι αἰώνιοι, “the beginning of the world,” commenced at that beginning, in which αἰῶνες ἐκτίσθησαν, “the worlds were framed;” what was done, πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων, “before the foundation of the world,” seems altogether to have been done before the creation of the world, and consequently from eternity: unless we should be under a necessity to limit that phrase. And none can doubt but in its full import it may signify this. Why then may it not be explained in its full emphasis if there be nothing to hinder it? But what is here said of giving grace is no such hinderance: “For because all things are present to God, and that what God has decreed to be future, shall certainly come to pass; therefore God is said to have done from eternity what is revealed to us in its appointed time;” as the venerable Beza has well observed on Tit. 1:2. And let this be said for those who understand this giving of the giving in the decree, and explain that expression, “before the foundation of the world,” so as to mean the same thing as “from eternity.”
XIX. Yet other divines explain it of the giving in the promise; on comparing Tit. 1:2, “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised, πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνίων, before the world began.” “Hence we see,” says a celebrated expositor of our day, “that the promise, which was made בראש דורות, in the beginning of ages,” Is. 41:4, “before any age had passed away; and so when there was no secular time, or time of this world, when the second age was not yet called forth. We see, I say, that the promise was said to be given forth before the world began. Here, therefore, we do not only understand a giving by decree or purpose, but also by promise, that is, by assignation.” Which is given unto us, that is, “the effect of which grace is assigned to us by promise, which is almost coeval with this world.” These things are much more plausible than what we just heard from Twiss. Indeed, from that passage in Titus, it seems that we might conclude, that πρὸ χρόνων αἰωνὶων, “before the world began, neither always, nor necessarily, denotes absolute eternity. For because the apostle there treats of the promise, he does not so comprehend all ages, as to lead us beyond the creation of the world, as Calvin himself has observed: but he points out the beginning of the first age, in which the promise of salvation was made to our first parents immediately upon the fall, which our Dutch commentators have also adopted. Whence it appears, that they are guilty of no absurdity, who so explain this giving as to include the promise of grace made before the flux of any age. And then, in the apostle’s discourse there are these three things proposed in order: first, the purpose of God, which is the source of all grace; then the promise made from the remotest antiquity, which he expresses by the term, giving; and lastly, the actual bestowing and manifestation by the glorious coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Nor would I make much opposition, if any should explain the apostle’s expression in this manner.
XX. But whatever way you interpret, there is a strong argument in the said passage of Paul for the eternity of election. For, if you explain the giving of the decree, and say, that before the world began is equivalent to eternity, you will conclude directly; and I think both may be defended. For indeed, the phrase, “before the world began,” in its full emphasis, signifies so much: nor can it be much weakened by Titus. 1:2. For the subject is different: in the one place, the apostle speaks of the purpose of God, and of giving from his purpose; in the other, of the promise. But the same predicate is often to be differently explained, according to the diversity to the subjects. For instance, when Peter says, Acts 15:18, “known unto God are all his works,” ἀπʼ αἰῶνος, from the beginning of the world;” ἀπʼ αἰῶνος doubtless signifies, from eternity. For, if all his works, certainly also, that of the first creation, prior to which was nothing but eternity; but when the same apostle, Acts 3:21, says, “which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets, ἀπʼ αἰῶνος since the world began;” he means nothing by these words, but the most ancient times, in which the prophets existed. Why therefore may not πρὸ χρόνων αἰῶνίων be explained one way in 2 Tim. 1:9. and another Tit 1:2. But let us grant, that the apostle, by the giving of grace before the world began, understands the promise made in the beginning of the first age; seeing he says, that “the purpose of God was the source of it,” certainly that purpose was prior to the promise. But none, I imagine, will say, that it was made, when God created man; it must therefore have been from eternity. “According to the eternity purpose, which he proposed in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Eph. 3:11. That must certainly be an eternal purpose, since the effect of it is grace given before the foundation of the world.
XXI. Let us add another passage of Paul, which, we think, is a testimony to the eternity of election; namely, 2 Thess. 2:13, “but we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath ἀπʼ αρχῆς, from the beginning, chosen you to salvation.” The apostle distinguishes that election of which he speaks, from the call by the Gospel, ver. 14. And, therefore, with great propriety, we understand it of the election of counsel and purpose. This, he says, was “ἀπʼ αρχῆς, from the beginning,” that is, from eternity. For that phrase is often taken in that sense: thus what John 1:1, says in his Gospel, “ἕν αρχῆ ῆν, in the beginning was,” in 1 John 1:1, he says “ἀπʼ αρχῆς, was from the beginning. But to have been already in the beginning, signifies to be from eternity. For, what was already בראשית ἐνʼ αρχῆ, in the beginning, when all things were made, must have been self-existent, and from eternity. But, lest any should cavil, that the new world of grace was here intended, John speaks of “the beginning of things made,” because he speaks of the existence of him by whom the world was made, and that very world which knew him not, ver. 10. By comparing the alleged passages, it appears, that in the beginning and from the beginning, are equivalent terms. We have this sense more clearly, Mic. 5:2. Where the prophet describes at least a twofold going forth of the Messiah; the one from Bethlehem, which is after the flesh, and relates to his being born of the virgin Mary; the other, which is after the Spirit, and is expressive of his eternal generation; of which last he says, “ומוצאוהי מקדסו מימי צולם whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Which the Septuagint translate, “κὰι ἐξοδοι αὐτοῦ ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς, ἐξ ἡερῶν ʼαἰῶνος· and his goings forth from the beginning, from everlasting.” What can be more evident, than that απʼ ἀρχῆς there denotes eternity? The son of Sirach also, Ecclesiasticus 24:9, may show us in what sense the Hellenists were wont to use this expression, when he joins, as synonymous, πρὸ ποῦ αἰῶνος and ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς. As, then, the apostle speaks of the election of purpose, as distinct from that of execution, which is made by effectual calling, and since ἀπ ʼαρχῆς signifies eternity, we very properly infer the eternity of election.
XXII. Here again Twiss comes in our way, who confidently affirms, that there is no place in all the Scripture, where this word signifies eternity: nay, he thinks it may be put out of all controversy, that it never is, or can be, so used in the sacred writings, according to right reason, l. c. p. 60. And he applies the election mentioned here, to some external declaration of internal election, and thinks the apostle alludes to that remarkable promise made to Adam after the fall, of the seed of the woman bruising the serpent’s head. For, says he, God himself has pointed out, in that place, a remarkable difference between the elect and the reprobate: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed,” &c. p. 63. I cannot but wonder at the confidence of this very learned person. It is, indeed, true, that “from the beginning,” does not always in Scripture denote eternity; as John 8:44, and 1 John 3:8, where the signification is to be determined by the subject treated of. But from the places above quoted it is plain, that sometimes it can admit of no other sense. And I hope, the learned person did not desire to wrest out of our hands those passages, by which our divines have, so happily, defended the eternity of the Logos, or Word, against the Socinians. I would rather believe, that he did not attend to the places we have mentioned. Besides, I could wish he could show where, in the sacred writings, the first promise of grace is called election; which I imagine, he will never be able to do: we are not to forge significations. Moreover, though in that promise there is some general indication of a difference made between the elect and reprobate; yet it is not credible, the apostle here had any eye to that; who gives thanks to God, not because he chose some men, but most especially because he chose the Thessalonians. But the election of the Thessalonians cannot be inferred from that general declaration of God, the truth of which might have remained, though none of those, who then dwelt at Thessalonica, had been chosen. We therefore conclude, that the received explication of divines is perfectly well-grounded.
XXIII. There is another learned person, who asserts, that this place of Paul is to be understood “of that beginning in which God began to make the Gentiles heirs of salvation; seeing the Thessalonians were almost among the first of these, they are said to be chosen, separated from the beginning. Or also the beginning of the Gospel may be understood, of which Mark 1:1, Phil. 4:15; or of the salvation which was preached by Jesus, Heb. 3. He hath chosen you from the beginning. That is, from the beginning of preaching the Gospel, and of salvation manifested and proclaimed.” But even these things are not satisfactory: for, 1st, We have shown, that Paul treats here of election in purpose, or intention, and not in execution. 2dly, It is, indeed true, that the term beginning ought to be explained in a way suitable to the subject it treats of; but I do not think, that “from the beginning,” absolutely taken, does any where signify the beginning of the Gospel preached, much less the beginning of the inheritance of the Gentiles; nor do the places alleged prove it. 3dly, Nor does it agree with history, that the Thessalonians were the first-fruits of the Gentiles brought to the inheritance of salvation; for the people of Antioch, both in Syria and Pisidia, and the people of Lystra and Derbe, and the Philippians, had already received the Gospel, and the apostles had acquainted the brethren at Jerusalem with the conversion of the Gentiles, Acts 15:3, before ever Paul preached the Gospel at Thessalonica, as appears from the Acts of the Apostles. Nor do I think the learned person was unacquainted with this; and therefore he said, the Thessalonians were almost among the first; which diminutive particle does not a little weaken the force of the expression “from the beginning.” 4thly. Much less can it be said, that the Thessalonians were separated from the beginning of that salvation which Jesus published; which beginning Paul makes prior to the confirmation of the Gospel, made by those who heard it from the mouth of Jesus himself, that is, to the preaching of the apostles, Heb. 2:3. For it is plain, Christ was the minister of circumcision, and did not preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Nothing, therefore, appears more easy and solid, than that explication we have already given.
XXIV. Having said enough concerning the eternity of election, let us now consider its FREENESS; which consists in this, that God, as the absolute Lord of all his creatures, has chosen out of mankind whom, and as many as, he pleased; and indeed, in such a manner, as that no good which he foresaw in any man was the foundation of that choice, or the reason why he chose one rather than another. This appears, 1st, Because the Scripture asserts, that the most free will of God was the supreme reason or cause of election, Matt. 11:26, “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” Luke 12:32, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Above all, the apostle is full in vindicating this absolute power of God, Rom. 9; where among other things he says, ver. 21: “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” 2dly, At the same time, also, that the Scripture refuses the consideration of any good foreseen in man, it maintains this most free and gracious good pleasure of God, Rom. 9:11; “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth,” &c. 2. Tim: 1:9, Not according to our works, but according to his own purpose.”
3dly. Neither faith, nor holiness, nor any thing truly good can be considered in man, unless bestowed out of divine grace. Phil. 1:29, “Unto you is given to believe on Christ.” Eph. 2:8. Faith, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” But the bestowing of this favour can proceed from no other cause than the election of grace, and the benevolent good pleasure of his will. And consequently these benefits cannot be presupposed as preparatory to divine election.
4thly. The Scriptures expressly declare, that we are chosen to faith, holiness, and to perseverance in both, which, being the consequents and fruits of election, cannot be the antecedent conditions of it, Eph. 1:4, “He hath chosen us that we should be holy and without blame,” or have it begun on earth, and consummated in heaven, John 15:16, “I have chosen you and ordained you, that you should bring forth fruit.” I have chosen you from eternity, called and ordained you in the appointed time. 2 Thess. 2:13, “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” Election is as well to the means, as to the end. All these passages, and many others of a like nature, have been so fully and solidly defended by our divines, against the objections of the Remonstrants, that I have scarce any thing to add.
XXV. This counsel of God, as it is free, so it is also immutable from eternity, 1st. Immutability belongs to all the decrees of God, in general, Is. 14:27, “the Lord of Hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it?” Is. 46:10, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” Rom. 9:19, “Who hath resisted his will?” To affirm with Crellius, that these things are to be understood of the absolute decrees of God, not of his conditional, is begging the question. For we deny that any decree of God depends on a condition: if the thing decreed be suspended on a condition, the condition itself is at the same time decreed. These texts speak nothing of Crellius’s distinction, nor lay any foundation for it: and even reason is against it. For if any decree of God could be changed, it would be, because God either would not or could not effect the thing decreed, or because his latter thoughts were wiser and better than his first: all which are injurious to God. You will answer; God, indeed, wills what he has decreed to be done, but on condition the creature also wills it, whose liberty he would nowise infringe. I answer, is God so destitute either of power or of wisdom, that he cannot so concur with the liberty of second causes, which he himself gave and formed, as to do what he wills, without prejudice to and consistently with their liberty? God is far more glorious, in our opinion, and more to be had in reverence, than for us to believe any such thing of his power and wisdom. And here the very heathen poets and philosophers themselves, who at times have spoken more devoutly of their gods, may put the heretics to the blush: for thus Homer introduces Jupiter, saying,
——Οὐ γὰρ ἐμὸν παλινάγρετον ουδʼ ἀπατηλὸν,
Οὐδʼ ἀτελεύτητον ὅτι κʼ εν κεφαλῆ κατανεύσω.
——Nec enim mutabitur unquam
Quod capite annuero, nec falsum fine carebit.
“Nor is it mine to recall, nor to be false in, nor leave unfinished, whatever I shall have signified by my awful nod.” And Maximus Tyrius, who quotes these words of Homer, Dissert. 29, adds of his own in the following dissertation: “To be changeable and to repent is unworthy, not to say, of God, but even of an honest man.” And he argues much in the same manner as we. 2dly, More especially the Scriptures ascribe immutability to the divine election: Rom 9:11, “That the purpose of God according to election might stand.” 2 Tim. 2:19, “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them who are his.” Is. 49:15, 16, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget thee. Behold! I have graven thee on the palms of my hands.” Rev. 3:5, “I will not blot out his name out of the book of life.” Isa. 4:3, “And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem.” Our adversaries have scarce any thing to oppose to such express passages, but their stale musty distinctions of election peremptory and not peremptory, and the like, which are contrary both to the glory of God, and to the simplicity of the Scriptures.
XXVI. But we must say something on Psa. 69:28; where the Lord Jesus denounceth a curse against the Jews, the obstinate despisers of his grace, and his sworn enemies: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” And it cannot be doubted, but this imprecation of our Lord had its full effect: and hence it is concluded, that some are blotted out of the book of the living. But we have already, §. 6 and 7, spoke somewhat largely on this head, which may throw no small light on this passage. For, 1st, By the “book of life”, here, we may very well understand the list of those who live on earth, with respect to this animal life. For the wicked Jews were blotted out of that book, by the tremendous judgment of God, when, in their last wars with the Romans, many myriads of them were slain in a shocking manner, whose number Lipsius, de Constant. lib. ii. c. 21, has collected to amount to twelve hundred and thirty thousand, who were cut off in less than full seven years. 2dly, By the book of the living may be understood, the book of God’s covenant-people, out of which the Jews were erased, when God publicly disowned and rejected them; and it was said to them “lo-Ruhama” and “lo-Ammi,” according to the prophecy of Hosea, 1:6, 9. This was done when the Gospel, which the Jews rejected, was preached to the Gentiles, and eagerly received by them; and the wretched remains of the Jews were dispersed among the nations. 3dly, If we should understand it of the book of election, it may be said, they were blotted out of that book, as to that writing by which they presumptuously wrote themselves down therein, falsely boasting that they were the dearly beloved children of God and of Abraham: our Lord Jesus justly imprecates against them, that this their boasting may be found actually vain. 4thly, But if this blotting out is to be absolutely understood of the writing of God himself in the book of election, we shall say, that the blotting out was not private but negative, and that the latter part of the verse is an explication of the former; so that the blotting out is a declaration of their not being written down. Kimchi, among the Jewish doctors, also observed this, who writes, “the verse is double, the same sense being proposed in different words.” And he adds, “let them be blotted out, signifies, let them not be written in the book of life.” From which it appears, that our adversaries argue falsely from this passage, against the immutability of God’s election.
XXVII. As this is fixed and settled with respect to God, so the believer may also attain to a certain assurance thereof, and, from infallible marks, know that he is one of the chosen. If it was not so, Peter had to no purpose admonished believers “to make their calling and election sure,” 2 Pet. 1:9, 10. That is, to endeavour, by evident signs, to be fully persuaded in their own mind. Vain also would have been Paul’s glorying, 1 Thess. 1:4, “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” For by the same evidences that Paul could have known this of the Thessalonians, the Thessalonians could have known it with respect to themselves. In fine, believers could not possibly, in faith, give thanks to God for their election, unless they could be assured of it in their own mind; and yet they do give thanks to God for it, Eph. 1:3, 4.
XXVIII. But in what manner do believers attain the assurance of their election? Who hath ascended into heaven? Or who, with a prying eye, hath perused the volumes of God’s decrees and secrets? Who hath looked into the heart of God? We are here, indeed, to guard against rash presumption. But what God has, from eternity, determined about the salvation of his people, he declares to them in time by signs that cannot deceive them. He has given them two books, from which they may gather what is sufficient to know, that they are written in the book of life: namely, the book of Scripture and the book of Conscience. In the book of Scripture, the distinguishing marks of election are drawn out with great exactness. In the book of Conscience, every one may read, if he gives that proper diligence which a matter of such importance requires, whether these marks are with him. The Scripture shows that the marks of Election are, 1st, Effectual calling by the word and Spirit of God, Rom. 8:30. 2dly, Faith in God and Christ, 2 Thess. 2:13. 3dly, Hatred and eschewing of evil, 2 Tim. 2:19. 4thly, The sincere and constant study of holiness, Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13. And when it is well understood and known what effectual calling is, what faith in God and Christ, what eschewing of evil, and what the study of genuine godliness are; the conscience is then to be examined, whether these can be found in itself; and, upon discovering that they are, the believing soul may, from these undoubted fruits, be assured of his election. And it frequently happens, that God favours his chosen people with the ravishments of his most beneficent love, that while they are inebriated with those spiritual and unspeakable delights, which earthly souls can neither conceive nor relish, they are no less persuaded of their election, than if they had seen their names written by the very hand of God himself. These things make them, with exultation, cry out to their infernal enemies, who in vain resist their faith, “Know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself.” Psa. 4:3. Especially if (which then is not usually wanting) the internal witness of the Spirit to their adoption is superadded, of which in Rom. 8:16, and which is by way of seal, Eph. 1:13. But there will be occasion to speak of this hereafter.
XXIX. And it is the interest of believers to endeavour earnestly after this assurance of their election. For, 1st, It is not possible, they should have a life of joy and exultation in the Lord, while they are ignorant of this. They may, no doubt, happily fall asleep in the Lord, and, through death, reach to eternal life, though they are not assured of their election. For our salvation depends not on this full assurance of faith; but on our union and communion with Christ, which may remain safe and secure without that. But a man who has his salvation at heart, as he ought, cannot live in secure joy, so long as he doubts of his election. 2dly, Nor does this assurance greatly contribute to our joy only, but also very much to the glory of God. For then it is that we properly value the riches of divine love, and are sweetly swallowed up in the immense ocean of his goodness, when we ascend, in our minds and in our praises, to the original fountain of all grace; and, in imitation of Paul, celebrate his free love, by which “He hath chosen us in Christ Jesus, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved,” Eph. 1:6. 3dly, Nay, this certainty of the election which we preach likewise promotes the careful study of piety, and kindles a fervent zeal therein; so far is it from opening a wide door to ungodliness and carnal security: which none dare assert, but they who are ignorant of the good ways of God, or malignant perverters of them.
XXX. Here, then, is the meditation of one who is thus fully persuaded, and this is his language to his God: “Didst thou, O Lord, from eternity, entertain thoughts of glorifying me, a miserable wretch, who am less than nothing; and shall I not again carry thee for ever in my eyes, and always in my bosom? Shall I not delight in meditating on thee? Shall I not cry out, ‘How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!’ Psa. 139:17. Shall I not, with the most sincere repentance, bewail that time, in which so many hours, days, weeks, months, and years have passed over my head, without one single holy and pleasing thought of thee? Didst thou, out of mere love, choose me to salvation? And shall not I again choose thee for my Lord, my king, my husband; for the portion of my soul; for my chief, or rather my only, delight? Didst thou choose me from among so many others, who, being left to themselves, have eternal destruction abiding them; and shall not I exert myself to the utmost, to excel others in love, in thy worship, and in all the duties of holiness? Didst thou predestinate me to holiness, which is so amiable in itself and so necessary for me, that without it, there can be no salvation; and shall not I walk therein? Shall I presume to cavil with thee, thou brightest Teacher of truth; that, separating the end from the means, I should securely promise myself the end, as being predestinated thereto, in a neglect of the means to which I was no less predestinated? Is thy purpose concerning my salvation fixed and unchangeable; and shall I change every hour—at one time giving my service to thee, and at another time to the devil? Shall I not rather cleave to thee with such a firm purpose, as sooner to choose a thousand deaths rather than perfidiously forsake thee? Shall I not be ‘steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as I know my labour shall not be in vain in the Lord?’ 1 Cor. 15:58. Wilt thou by thy Spirit assure me of thy love, which passeth all understanding; and I not love thee again with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength? Wilt thou give me the assurance of my salvation; and shall not I, ‘having this hope, purify myself, as thou art pure?’ 1 John 3:3.” Who that understands these things, can deny that the doctrine of Election, as we have explained it, affords ample matter to a pious soul for these and such like meditations? And who also can deny, that in the practice of these meditations consists the very kernel of piety and holiness?