For many this is an enunciation of old fashioned Presbyterianism and a statement of its most unattractive features – deserved judgment and sovereign grace. However, predestination is not a Presbyterian invention or exclusive possession, and, of course, now largely repudiated in modern Presbyterian circles. It featured strongly in pre-Reformational Catholicism, was the pronounced conviction of the Continental and British Reformers and the traditions that emerged from their influence and labours, and continued as a dominant strain of thought in orthodox denominations for a good deal of time until the mid nineteenth century when adherence to Biblical doctrine began to wane and more liberal and sentimental views began to prevail. The Westminster Confession is largely an English production and the majority of the Assembly’s members were Anglican. The background to the Confession is located in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England and The Irish Articles (Anglican) composed by Archbishop James Ussher, one of the pre-eminent Protestant scholars of his day, highly regarded by theologians of the British Isles, Europe, and even leaders of the Church of Rome. Predestination is affirmed in the doctrinal formularies of most of the great national and evangelical churches of the 16th and 17th centuries that were born of the age of reform. It brings Presbyterians, Independents (Congregationalists), Baptists, old style Lutherans, and Anglicans together in the bonds of the family of Reformed Churches. It is recognized as the indispensable and solid base for the doctrines of grace.
Nowadays it takes true grit to hold to and affirm the grand doctrines of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Knox, Edwards and Spurgeon. All of these men were saturated in Holy Scripture. They were educated in their beliefs by the prophets and apostles and the doctrines to which they adhered are now styled as Augustinianism or Calvinism (George Whitefield had not read Calvin when he became a “Calvinist” and claimed that he was persuaded solely by his reading of the Bible). They are Scriptural teachings but as Scripture needs to be interpreted these titles identify the conclusions that folk of a common orthodox persuasion derive from a careful, consistent, and prayerful study of the word of God. Like the term “fundamentalist”, which has many connotations and is misused by many liberals, “Augustinianism” and “Calvinism” have become terms of ridicule or revulsion, but we cannot shy away from them, just as we cannot shy away from being called Christian, originally a term of abuse. There will always be insults, condemnation and put-downs. We must pay the price of faithful witness and endeavour to clear away misunderstandings and caricatures of the historic faith. You may attempt to present your case in the most mild and inoffensive fashion but the moment your drift is caught it will evoke keen opposition and the denigration of reputation and intent. But the sweet content of the doctrines of grace is more than enough reward for those who cherish them. The awareness is like another new birth, and they afford delightful vistas of insight into the truth and ways of the Lord.
The Anglican Articles (No.17) describe predestination as electing love and this immediately places the wonderful truth of divine sovereignty on a pastoral plain that establishes the most rapturous personal relationship with a God who loves us unconditionally, powerfully, and permanently no matter what occurs after his mighty hand places its saving grasp upon us. Election is a deliriously joyful fact of divine revelation, disclosing an affection that was set upon believers from eternity, which pursued and wooed us in time, and cleaves to us for eternity to come. It is the most romantic notion ever to capture the human heart. To reject it can only be the result of misunderstanding or rebellion through pride. The heart melts before the relentless compassion of God towards those, who left to themselves, only refuse him. God is the lover of the soul who will not give up on his beloved and will never divorce them.
Predestination is not merely a principle of theology that is faithful to Scripture it is a pastoral necessity for the helpless frail sinner who feels the strength of his temptations and the horror of his sin, and knows only too well the corruption of his affections and the impotence of his will to resist them. Nothing is more beautiful and beguiling than the sworn commitment of divine mercy to the rescue of the enslaved and helpless. Election beams forth from Scripture with the brightness of a smiling sun upon those who cannot wrest themselves from nature’s darkness. It is a gem to be seized from the treasure trove of the Lord. Salvation is free and forever. This is the true rest of faith and assurance of heaven to those who receive the invitation of the gospel. We heed the “whosoever will” and discover our “chosen-ness”. No one can claim unfairness here.
We need to show true grit as subscribers to this great truth. We will be blamed for doing so. Advocates of Arminianism do there testifying as an unquestioned right. We shall be “troublers of Israel” in popular opinion. Freewill is a truth indeed, but we have forfeited pure moral volition by our disobedience and plunge into depravity. Only Christ through his own personal agency can free us for choices that are holy and good, including desire for God and detestation of sin. This is what “Saviour” means as he undertakes to save us from self. He must break our fatal bias and incline us to himself by his sweet and compelling influences. The notion of freedom in any undetermined sense (reason, obligation, preference) is the basis of chaos and anarchy of affection and action. It is Satan’s master stroke as a philosophy to savage and destroy all that God has created and controls for good. Arminianism is the instinctive assumption of the self-exalted creature over-estimating rank and capacity in God’s scheme of things. The doctrine of election is full of sweet comfort (Article 17) “to godly persons who feel the working in themselves of the Spirit of Christ”. All who believe the promises are saved. All who come to Jesus are received. Those who fail to believe and come only prove the evil obduracy of the unrenewed heart. Grace makes the difference. The elect are effectually drawn. The unsaved have their own way. No impediment exists except in their own stubbornness. To oppose election is to deprive the saints of their deepest gospel consolations, but even more: to reject election is to rob the Saviour of the praise that is due to him for every facet of our salvation.