Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles
Article XVII. Of Predestination and Election
Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation as vessels made to honour. Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and at length by God's mercy they attain to everlasting felicity.
As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness of most unclean living no less perilous than desperation.
Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in Holy Scripture; and in our doings that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God.
Praedestinatio ad vitam est aeternum Dei propositum, quo, ante iacta mundi fundamenta, suo consilio, nobis quidem occulto, constanter decrevit eos, quos in Christo elegit ex hominum genere, a maledicto et exitio liberare, atque ut vasa in honorem efficta per Christum ad aeternam salutem adducere. Unde qui tam praeclaro Dei beneficio sunt donati, illi, Spiritu eius opportuno tempore operante, secundum propositum eius vocantur; iustificatur gratis; adoptantur in filios Dei; unigeniti eius Iesu Christi imagini efficiuntur conformes; in bonis operibus sancti ambulant; et demum ex Dei misericordia pertingunt ad sempiternam felicitatem.
Quemadmodum Praedestinationis et Electionis nostrae in Christo pia consideratio dulcis, suavis, et ineffabilis consolationis plena est vere piis et his qui sentiunt in se vim Spiritus Christi, facta carnis et membra quae adhuc sunt super terram mortificantem, animumque ad coelestia et superna rapientem, tum quia fidem nostram de aeterna salute consequenda per Christum plurimum stabilit atque confirmat, tum quia amorem nostrum in Deum vehementer accendit: ita hominibus, curiosis carnalibus et Spiritu Christi destitutis, ob oculos perpetuo versari Praedestinationis Dei sententiam perniciosissimum est praecipitium, unde illos diabolus protrudit vel in desperationem vel in aeque pernitiosam impurissimae vitae securitatem.
Deinde promissiones divinas sic amplecti oportet, ut nobis in sacris literis generaliter propositae sunt; et Dei voluntas in nostris actionibus ea sequenda est quam in verbo Dei habemus deserte revelatam.
Fr. Laurence Wells
When we come to Article XVII, we are bound to remember that the Articles of Religion, like the "forty stripes save one" of 2 Cor. 11:24, are widely unpopular among those who profess and call themselves Anglicans. At this point the distinction between an Apologia for the Articles and a mere exposition tends to break down. Predestination and Election are words which are likely to raise chills of horror and howls of wrath in our circles, eliciting the ugliest word in the Anglican lexicon. Calvinism! I recall a brother priest who kindly took me aside in a pastoral manner to tell me, in the manner of a physician about to share the diagnosis of a loathsome and terminal disease, that he suspected that "you have leanings in an unfortunate direction." And then there was the Bible study where a layman exclaimed with dismay, "Why that's Calvinism!" I explained to him that John Calvin was not the author of Ephesians 1 or of Romans 8 and that
was not trained in St Paul . Burn the Bible if you wish, but do not stone me for telling you what is in it. Geneva
To deal immediately with one widespread myth, we must emphasize that it was not John Calvin who concocted the doctrines of predestination and election. His view on these matters was not only shared by Martin Luther (a generation ahead of him), but was aggressively taught by St Augustine of Hippo and the entire tradition which flowed from him, a school which included St. Anselm of Canterbury, St Thomas Aquinas, and another Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bradwardine (1290--1349). This, of course, was not without controversy in any period.
Article XVII was written in 1553, in the earlier Forty-two Articles. The only significant change effected in 1571, when the Articles took their final form, was the important addition of the phrase "in Christ," within the larger phrase "those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind." In the mid-sixteenth century were was no great controversy on this matter. After all,
had a strong Augustinian tradition before the names of Luther and Calvin were heard there, and Article XVII could have been written even if the Reformation had never taken place. England
But before the 16th century was out, controversy had broken out throughout
, a controversy never resolved in the non-Roman Churches and a controversy which the Roman Church itself did not escape, with the warfare between Thomists and Molinists, and the brief career of Jansenism. Europe
To summarize some intricate history with a very broad brush, by the end of the following century (that is, by 1699), were at least five forms of the doctrine of predestination in circulation, which remain current today. Critics and opponents of this doctrine will probably not trouble themselves to determine which form they dislike most. But here is the list, with brief descriptions. We will arrange these from one extreme to the other.
First, we must mention the view which must be termed "hyper-Calvinism." This does not mean "real Calvinism fervently held and zealously taught." A hyper-Calvinist is one who maintains that since his eternal destiny is already determined in an absolute way, it makes no difference what he believes or how he lives. Since the eternal destiny of all mankind is likewise determined, then preaching the Gospel to the heathen is a waste of time. There are many who impute such a belief to the Augustinian tradition, and it seems to be a cheap and easy way to refute the Calvinist tradition. Sad to say, there have been, within the Baptistic churches, some who fit the definition of hyper-Calvinists.
When William Carey was about to embark on his missionary enterprise, he was told, "Sit down, young man; when God wishes to save the heathen, He will do so in His own time and way." But this is a caricature of what Article XVII teaches.
Next, there is the slightly more benign view labeled "Supralapsarianism." While a Supralapsarian believes that God has authorized the preaching of the Gospel to all mankind, he has a hard time explaining why it makes any difference. In his view, God, before the creation of the world and as an act of pure sovereignty, determined to send some of the human race to heaven and likewise to send the rest of us to hell. This decree was without regard to sin or to the fall, hence the name Supralapsarian. In this view, the Fall of mankind was subsequently permitted in order to achieve the one goal of election and reprobation. This is the view commonly called "double predestination." While it has had some highly competent exponents (the doughty Karl Barth spoke highly of it), it has never been taught in any of the Reformed Confessions nor has it been the official position of any
Calvinist . Even so, most critics of Calvinism imagine this to be the most authentic form of predestination and election. Church
The third position, called "Infralapsarianism” asserts that God, having permitted the Fall as a consequence of Adam's free will, found a remedy for this sad state of affairs by choosing some for eternal life and abandoning the rest to their just deserts. God's decree of Election, therefore, is rooted not merely in brute sovereignty but in His love, forbearance, and determination to rescue a portion of His ruined creation. God decreed the election of certain people not because of anything in them, nor because of any merits they possess, but purely as an exercise of mercy and loving-kindness to undeserving sinners. The doctrine of Election, therefore, turns out to be a doctrine of grace, the sub-floor to the Gospel itself, This is the view which appears to be the one set forth in Article XVII. With such a gracious and evangelical concept of Divine election, election can indeed be a matter of "sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons."
A fourth position, closely related to the third, is called Amyraldianism, "hypothetical universalism," or modified Calvinism. It largely agrees with the Infralapsarian view, but refuses to draw out the perplexing logical corollary that Christ died specifically for the elect. If Christ died for all in the same way, then at least hypothetically, all mankind may be saved.
The fifth position, certainly the most popular and widespread, is that called Arminianism. The Arminian seeks to do justice to the Biblical texts that God is willing for all men to be saved and that Christ, the Lamb of God, has taken away the sins of the world. Equally committed to a philosophical concept of "free will," the Arminian position, rather similar to the semi-Pelagians of the Dark Ages, contrived the ingenious notion that if God elected certain men to be saved, He did so on the basis of a "fides praevisa." In other words, God foresaw who would believe in Christ, and those He graciously elected.
In Anglican theology of the 16th and 17th centuries, we can find representatives of the Infralapsarian, Amyraldian, and Arminian schools. The hyper-Calvinists and Supralapsarians are mentioned here only for the sake of contrast, necessary because so many caricatures and misrepresentations are in circulation. Critics of the doctrines of Predestination and Election hardly ever show any knowledge of the differences between Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism. But surely there is a wide chasm between a position which asserts that God's mercy and His wrath are equally ultimate and one which claims that He loved us in His Son before the foundation of the world.
While it is frequently said that Article XVII does not teach "double predestination," a closer reading of the second paragraph does in fact show a contrast between "godly persons, and such as feel within themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ," on the one hand and "curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ," on the other. But whereas in the Supralapsarian scheme the decrees of election to salvation and reprobation to eternal death are parallel, in the Infralapsarian, Amyraldian or Arminian view election to salvation to eternal life is rooted in God's own unmerited grace, while reprobation is in fact merited by sin. Not parallel, but nonetheless double.
When we narrow the field to the Infralapsarian, Amyraldian, and Arminian positions, it must be noticed that all three hold and teach that "Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God." Article XVII does not exclude any of these positions. The key difference, we must declare, is not so much in how "free will" comes into play as it is in the matter of whether God's elect people is a definite number of people, a "numerum clausum" as the Calvinists adamantly maintain, or whether it is an open set, which humans can voluntarily join, as the Arminians would assert. The apparent weakness of the Arminian position is that it seems to reduce "the Lamb's book of life" to a sign-up sheet for volunteers, The apparent weakness of the Infralapsarian and Amyraldian positions, on the other hand, is that they surely seem to verge on philosophical determinism.
Perhaps the radical problem, which may tilt the playing-field toward the Infralapsarian position, lies in the question which the disciples put to our Lord (Luke 13:23), "Are they few that be saved?" It is commonly assumed and sometimes gleefully alleged that theologians of the Pauline-Augustinian-Calvinist tradition teach that only a remnant, a tiny minority of the human race, will be spared God's eschatological wrath and ultimately saved. While such a view has sometimes been held forth by the gloomier side of Lutheranism, the staunchest defenders of Divine Election have asserted that God's Elect People, those whom He loved before the foundation of the world with an everlasting love, will be a great multitude which no man can number.* The Princeton theologians were emphatic that the overwhelming majority of the human race will be saved at the last. Election, after all, is the decree of a truly gracious God.
While the Arminian emphasis on free well is truly flattering to my prideful ego, I am mindful that my free will has brought me more harm than good, in sin, selfishness and suffering. When it comes to my own eternal destiny, I feel far safer if it is God's decision and not my own.
Fr. Robert Hart
In the above Fr. Wells has been thorough, and has dispelled many myths, and also many simplistic notions. The historical record he has set straight as well, taking the subject out of the exclusive bounds some call “Calvinism.” This is long overdue for many people who imagine that doctrines were newly minted in the Reformation; for, in fact, there were no new doctrines among the Reformers. Old debates were rekindled that had been going on among catholic doctors for centuries.
Article XVII gives us that special English approach, looking at the old questions with a gracious share of Reason. In words no one can dispute successfully, it teaches us of the grace of God active in the life of a believer, with the words, “such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, etc.” In a very old English manner, it invites each Christian to at least some mystical understanding of what it means to know God, all in terms drawn directly from the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. This it contrasts to the danger for those trapped in the works of the flesh, “curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ.” The contrast should bring to mind the same contrast as
expressed it in the fifth chapter of Galatians, pitting the works of the flesh against the fruit of the Spirit. The warning that we ought not to set forth continually “the sentence of God's Predestination” before the eyes of carnal persons carries with it the obvious meaning that it is, rather, our duty to urge them to repent and believe; not to presume that we may write them off. St. Paul
That the contrast between carnality and walking in the Spirit is related to predestination and election should be indisputable on at least one level. Clearly, no one may simply produce the fruit of the Spirit by an act of free will, for it requires the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit alone creates within each believer His own working, “the working of the Spirit of Christ.”
Other points in the Article are simply indisputable also. That the doctrine of election “is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort” to people who live by faith, should not be controversial. Against this we may contrast an idea of those who teach that even the greatest saints have had no assurance of salvation. Rather, we see that God has made promises to those who sincerely repent and believe His Gospel, that He provides Absolution within His Church, and bids us come near and receive the spiritual food of the Body and Blood of Christ. These revealed truths should erase all erroneous notions that we may not have some assurance of faith, assurance that “is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort.”
The Article emphasizes that we have our salvation because we are “in Christ,” echoing the words of
again: St. Paul
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 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, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” *
The emphasis remains one of grace rather than something akin to the ugly notion of Kismet, the picture of an unloving God Who simply delights in exercising power to obtain some distorted and twisted kind of “glory.” It has been argued that western man’s exchanges with Islam in the late Middle Ages created an emphasis of the Divine attribute of power over the emphasis of Divine love. Certainly, that cannot help but distort the Biblical picture of predestination and election, robbing us of the beauty as well as of the comfort. It replaces the God Who so loved the world with a devilish god. Some think of that devilish god and of Kismet, and they throw around words they cannot properly define, such as “Calvinism.” But, our Anglican Article XVII emphasizes the grace of God as the basis of predestination and election, not some unfeeling demonstration of power.
Finally, we are treated to that particular Anglican grace of the practical and pastoral approach, reminding us at the end that God’s general will is revealed in Scripture for our daily living, which means, if we love Him we will keep His commandments.
* Ephesians 1:3-6