Tulip: Unconditional Election
Let us not take away half the love of God by saying he only started to love us at our baptism or only after we came to faith. Let us not take away half the love of God by saying he only loved us in a trickling, generally vague way until we ourselves harnessed and focused his love like a laser through our own reciprocation.
Leave God's love wholly intact. Leave him be. Let his love for his elect church be as old and as particular as he wills it to be, for the scripture says: “…he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:3-4).
To take away half God's love is to eclipse the glorious gospel of grace. Let the gospel shine fully without shadows. Where part of the gospel is darkened, part of the believer's soul is darkened by doubts, fears, and many injurious introspections. Proclaim divine unconditional election.
God did. God does. Through Jeremiah he says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer. 31:3). Here is the place of refuge and renewal for a sin-sick church who needs a foundation for her repentance that melts her heart and ignites her faith. As Geerhardus Vos said of this stunning text: “The best proof that He will never cease to love us lies in that He never began. What we are for Him and what He is for us belongs to the realm of eternal values. Without this we are nothing, in it we have all.”
It is popular, yet certainly wrong, to suggest God predestines individual men and women to salvation in Christ based upon the foreseen belief of different individuals and the foreseen fruitfulness of the same.
This erroneous idea asserts that God looks into the future to see what free choices people will make, whether to believe on Christ or not. On this basis individuals are elected, leaving God to react to human decisions. God’s decree then must take into account human decisions that God himself has not decreed, as if human agents possess some form of existence apart from God, apart from his decree.
In this Arminian ordering of the decrees, the actions of God are contingent upon man. Man’s will (his believing and persevering which God foresees) becomes the basis for God’s election. God is thus reactive to human decisions and divine freedom of will is denied.
The delegates at the international Synod of Dort (1618-19), reproved this error in their First Head of Doctrine: “Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation” (Article 7).
God’s own pleasure and God’s own will are the basis for election, not some condition foreseen in man. And significantly, the article says at the end, Christ was appointed the Mediator to save those who had been graciously and unconditional elected. This means the eternal Son was sent to die not so God could then love me, but because God had already chosen to love me. Though this love never looked at me apart from Christ, it did look at me apart from anything I could offer.
Which means, of course, that nothing will prevent the Spirit of God from uniting all souls of God’s elect church to Christ by faith. Not even foreseen unbelief will prevent this. It too will necessarily give way and be overcome by grace. Having chosen men without regard to conditions, no condition will hinder Him in bringing those appointed to eternal life to saving faith (Acts 13:48). In fact, all those conditions were decreed to bring you to him.
It is a bright light to the soul of man to discover there was never a time in this life, nor extending back into eternity, when God was indifferent toward his elect people. The vitality of his everlasting love is arresting. It challenges and presses and pushes at and away every bit of lingering indifference which it finds in our love toward him.
John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.