In Articles 1-7 of the First Head of Doctrine (Unconditional Election), we saw in some detail where Arminians and Calvinists both agree (Articles 1-4) and where their respective views begin to diverge (i.e. the source of saving faith in Christ, God’s eternal decree, and the definition of election – Articles 5-7), we now proceed to a brief examination of Articles 8-10.
In Articles 8-10 we get to the heart of the matter regarding the doctrine of unconditional election. For here we are plainly taught that God’s decree of election unto salvation in Christ is the same in both the Old and New Testaments (Article 8); that it was not based upon “foreseen faith” or anything else in us (Article 9); and that the sole cause of God’s gracious purposes in election is merely “the good pleasure of God” (Article 10).
“There are not various decrees of election, but one and the same decree respecting all those who shall be saved, both under the Old and New Testament; since the Scripture declares the good pleasure, purpose and counsel of the divine will to be one, according to which He hath chosen us from eternity, both to grace and glory, to salvation and the way of salvation, which He hath ordained that we should walk therein.”
Here the argument is from the immutability of God as well as the unity of God’s decree. God does not change, and His purpose in election and salvation has not changed from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Later in the section of this Head of doctrine detailing the rejection of errors, the Synod notes that they “reject the error of those who teach” that “there are various kinds of election of God unto eternal life . . . .” (Rejection 2)
As to the unity of God’s decree, Ephesians 1:11 tells us, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” (ESV) The counsel of God’s will is singular or simple (i.e. one, unified), even as God Himself is One. Paul there does not speak of God’s purposes (i.e. plural), but rather of His “purpose” (i.e. singular).
That God’s decree of election is one and the same in both the Old and New Testament is clearly evident because in teaching and establishing the doctrine of divine election in the New Testament, Paul explicitly points us back to the Old Testament. In fact, he does so throughout Romans chapter 9, using Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as examples of God’s saving purpose in election. For example:
“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10–13, ESV, Italics added)
God chose to save Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And Paul explicitly teaches us the Jacob was chosen by God before he was even born or “had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might continue” (or stand – KJV). And so God’s decree of election has not changed from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
“This election was not founded upon foreseen faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition in man, as the prerequisite, cause or condition on which it depended; but men are chosen to faith and to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc.; therefore election is the fountain of every saving good, from which proceeds faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects, according to that of the apostle: “He hath chosen us [not because we were but] that we should be holy, and without blame, before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4).”
Here we see the Canons beginning to explicitly address the heart of the Arminians’ error regarding election. Arminianism views God’s election as being in some ways conditional. That is, it holds that God’s election unto salvation was based on something that He foresaw in those whom He would choose, such as faith, obedience, holiness, etc. This makes something inherent in us the very basis for our election.
Contrary to this unbiblical idea, the Canons here affirm that God’s election of sinners unto salvation was in no way based or conditioned upon something foreseen in them, but rather that we are chosen unto those things. God’s gracious decree of election is rather the cause of such things as faith, holiness, etc. That is why the Canons speak of God’s decree of election as “the fountain of every saving good” in us. In his book, Saving the Reformation, W. Robert Godfrey puts it this way:
“Election does not flow from faith or holiness, but rather, faith and holiness flow from election.” (p.92)
And so we are not chosen by God because we will one day believe, but rather because we are chosen by God unto salvation before the foundation of the world, we will therefore believe, repent, and walk in holiness, etc. All of those gifts and graces flow from God’s gracious decree of election, not vice-versa. And this is clearly taught in Ephesians 1:4, where Paul tells us that God chose us in Christ, not because we already were or would be holy and without blame before Him, but rather so “that we should be holy, and without blame, before Him in love” (italics added).
“The good pleasure of God is the sole cause of this gracious election, which doth not consist herein, that out of all possible qualities and actions of men God has chosen some as a condition of salvation; but that He was pleased out of the common mass of sinners to adopt some certain persons as a peculiar people to Himself, as it is written, “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil,” etc., it was said (namely to Rebecca): “The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:11-13). “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).”
Article 10 teaches us that the mere “good pleasure of God” is the “sole cause” of God’s decree of election. The sole cause of election is in God Himself, and so all of the glory for our salvation, from beginning to end, belongs to Him alone.
The Arminian view basically teaches that God chose the conditions of salvation (faith, repentance, holiness, etc.) ahead of time, rather than choosing the individual sinners themselves unto salvation. Contrary to that, the Canons here teach and affirm that God “was pleased out of the common mass of sinners to adopt some certain persons as a peculiar people to Himself.”
Once again the Canons point us to Romans 9:11-13 (i.e. God’s choice of Jacob over Esau). Here we are also pointed to Acts 13:48, which tells us, “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” This verse does not teach us that they were ordained to eternal life because they believed (i.e. the Arminian view), but rather that the very reason that they believed and were saved is precisely because they had been previously “ordained to eternal life.”