First Head of Doctrine
Since all men have sinned in Adam, lie under the curse, and deserve eternal death, 1 God would have done no one an injustice if it had been His will to leave the whole human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn it on account of its sin, according to these words of the apostle: so that
… the whole world [may be] held accountable to God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God( Rom 3:19, 23);
and, the wages of sin is death( Rom 6:23)
So that men may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends heralds of this most joyful message to whom He will and when He wills. 1 By their ministry men are called to repentance and to faith in Christ crucified. 2
For how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent( Rom 10:14 – 15) ?
The wrath of God remains upon those who do not believe this gospel. 1 But those who receive it and embrace Jesus the Saviour with a true and living faith are delivered by Him from the wrath of God and from destruction, and are given eternal life. 2
The cause or guilt for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is by no means in God, but rather in man. 1 Faith in Jesus Christ and salvation through Him, however, is the free gift of God, as it is written:
By grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God( Eph 2:8). Similarly:
It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ… to believe on Him( Phil 1:29).
That God in time confers the gift of faith on some, and not on others, proceeds from His eternal decree. 1 For He knows all His works from eternity, 2 and He
works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will( Eph 1:11). According to this decree He graciously softens the hearts of the elect, no matter how hard they may be, and inclines them to believe; those not elected, however, He leaves in their own wickedness and hardness by a just judgment. And here especially is disclosed to us the profound, merciful, and at the same time just distinction between men equally worthy of condemnation, or that decree of election and reprobation which has been revealed in God’s Word. Although perverse, impure, and unstable men twist this decree to their own destruction, it provides unspeakable comfort for holy and God-fearing souls.
Election is the unchangeable purpose of God whereby, before the foundation of the world, 1 out of the whole human race, which had fallen by its own fault out of its original integrity into sin and perdition, He has, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His will, out of mere grace, chosen in Christ to salvation a definite number of specific persons, neither better nor more worthy than others, but involved together with them in a common misery. He has also from eternity appointed Christ to be the Mediator and Head of all the elect and the foundation of salvation and thus He decreed to give to Christ those who were to be saved, and effectually to call and draw them into His communion through His Word and Spirit. He decreed to give them true faith in Him, to justify them, to sanctify them, and, after having powerfully kept them in the fellowship of His Son, 2 finally to glorify them, for the demonstration of His mercy and the praise of the riches of His glorious grace. 3 As it is written: God chose us in Christ,
before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will — to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves( Eph 1:4-6). And elsewhere, those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified ( Rom 8:30). 4
There are not various decrees of this election, but there is one and the same decree concerning all those that are to be saved under both the Old and the New Testament. For Scripture declares that the good pleasure, purpose, and counsel of the will of God is one. 1 According to this purpose He has chosen us from eternity both to grace and to glory, both to salvation and to the way of salvation, which He prepared for us that we should walk in it. 2
This election is not based on foreseen faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality of disposition, as a cause or condition in man required for being chosen, but men are chosen to faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, and so on. Election, therefore, is the fountain of every saving good, from which flow faith, holiness, and other saving gifts, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects. 1 This the apostle teaches when he says,
He chose us ( not because we were, but are)
to be holy and blameless in His sight( Eph 1:4).
The cause of this gracious election is solely the good pleasure of God. This good pleasure does not consist in this, that out of all possible conditions God chose certain qualities or actions of men as a condition for salvation, but in this, that out of the common mass of sinners He adopted certain persons to be His own possession. For it is written,
Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad( Rom 9:11 – 13), and so on, she (namely, Rebecca), was told,
“The older will serve the younger”( Gen 25:23). Just as it is written:
“I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated”( Mal 1:2, 3). And,
all who were appointed for eternal life believed( Acts 13:48).
As God Himself is most wise, unchangeable, all-knowing and almighty, so His election can neither be undone and redone, nor changed, revoked, or annulled; neither can the elect be cast away, 1 nor their number be diminished. 2
The elect in due time, though in various stages and in different measure, are made certain of this their eternal and unchangeable election to salvation. They attain this assurance, however, not by inquisitively prying into the hidden and deep things of God, 1 but by observing in themselves, 2 with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unfailing fruits of election pointed out in the Word of God – such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for their sins, 3 and a hunger and thirst for righteousness. 4
The awareness and assurance of this election provide the children of God with greater reason for daily humbling themselves before God, for adoring the depth of His mercies, for cleansing themselves, 1 and for fervently loving Him in turn who first so greatly loved them. 2 It is therefore not at all true that this doctrine of election and the reflection on it makes them lax in observing the commands of God or falsely secure. In the just judgment of God, this usually happens to those who rashly presume to have the grace of election, or idly and boldly chatter about it, but refuse to walk in the ways of the elect.
This doctrine of divine election, according to the most wise counsel of God, was preached by the prophets, by Christ Himself, and by the apostles, under the Old as well as the New Testament, and was then committed to writing in the Holy Scriptures. Therefore, also today this doctrine should be taught in the church of God, 1 for which it was particularly intended, in its proper time and place, provided it be done with a spirit of discretion, in a reverent and holy manner, without inquisitively prying into the ways of the most High, to the glory of God’s most holy Name, and for the living comfort of His people. 2
Holy Scripture illustrates and recommends to us this eternal and undeserved grace of our election, especially when it further declares that not all men are elect but that some have not been elected, or have been passed by in the eternal election of God. 1 Out of His most free, most just, blameless, and unchangeable good pleasure, God has decreed to leave them in the common misery into which they have by their own fault plunged themselves, 2 and not to give them saving faith and the grace of conversion. These, having been left in their own ways 3 and under His just judgment, God has decreed finally to condemn and punish eternally, not only on account of their unbelief but also on account of all their other sins, in order to display His justice. This is the decree of reprobation, which by no means makes God the author of sin (the very thought is blasphemous!), but rather declares Him to be its awesome, blameless, and just judge and avenger.
Some do not yet clearly discern in themselves a living faith in Christ, 1 an assured confidence of heart, peace of conscience, a zeal for childlike obedience, and a glorying in God through Christ; 2 nevertheless, they use the means through which God has promised to work these things in us. They ought not to be alarmed when reprobation is mentioned, nor to count themselves among the reprobate. Rather, they must diligently continue in the use of these means, fervently desire a time of more abundant grace, and expect it with reverence and humility. Others seriously desire to be converted to God, to please Him only, and to be delivered from the body of death. 3 Yet they cannot reach that point on the way of godliness and faith which they would like. They should be even less terrified by the doctrine of reprobation, since a merciful God has promised not to snuff out the smouldering wick nor to break the bruised reed. 4
Still others disregard God and the Saviour Jesus Christ and have completely given themselves over to the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. 5 For them this doctrine of reprobation is rightly fearsome as long as they do not seriously turn to God. 6
We must judge concerning the will of God from His Word, which declares that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they are included with their parents. 1 Therefore, God-fearing parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in their infancy. 2
To those who complain about this grace of undeserved election and the severity of righteous reprobation, 1 we reply with this word of the apostle:
But who are you, O man, to talk back to God( Rom 9:20) ? And with this word of our Saviour: Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? 2
We, however, with reverent adoration of these mysteries, exclaim with the apostle:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen ( Rom 11:33-36).