A PLEASANT privilege is now ours — that of examining our Missouri brethren’s favorite passages of Scripture bearing on the doctrine of election. We say a “privilege,” for the study of God’s Word is the greatest delight. After all our reasoning, we must finally decide according to God’s holy oracles; they are the last court of appeal. “To the law and to the testimony! if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them” (Isa. 8:20). In this controversy, we have no hesitancy in making the appeal to the Bible. “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. . . . The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes’ (Ps. 19:7, 8). The first passage to claim our attention is Rom. 8:28-30 (American Revised Version) : “And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew. He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren: and whom He foreordained, them He also called : and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.”
We begin with verse 29: “For whom He foreknew” (oti ous proegno). The Greek verb here used is a form of pro-gignoskein, meaning, by its very etymology, to know before. Dr. Pieper (page 73) tries to break the force of this verb by identifying it with elect or predestinate. Yet elsewhere in his book he says we should not interpret God’s Word, but take it just as it says. Here, however, when the plain words do not suit his theology, he gives them an interpretation to fit. Thus we all have our subjective biasses; we are all very human. But we fear he cannot maintain his interpretation. It would make Paul a very poor rhetorician for him to say, “For whom he did predestinate, them He did predestinate to be conformed,” etc. The Holy Spirit, who inspired Paul, would hardly have moved him to use such meaningless tautology. Besides, the word translated “foreordain” or “predestinate” is pro-orisen (second “o” is omega), aorist of pro-orizein, to determine beforehand. So Dr. Pieper’s explication is in- admissible. Therefore, taking the plain meaning of the words just as they stand, they must signify that God foreknew certain persons ; foreknowing them. He foreordained them to be made like Christ — that is, to be saved ; having thus determined in eternity, He proceeded to carry out the decree in time by calling, justifying and glorifying them. What needs to be settled now is, who are the persons whom He foreknew?
Let us remember that Paul is speaking about those who are saved according to the gospel of Christ. Now, when we look into the plan of redemption as it has been plainly set forth in the Bible, we find that the terms or conditions of salvation always are faith, or repentance and faith (John 3:14-21; John 20:31; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 3:19, 20; 13:38, 39; 16:31; Rom. 5:1, 2, and a hundred others). Therefore, if in time He has revealed persevering faith to be the condition of salvation, He must have foreordained it to be so from eternity ; surely, then, for those who He foreknew would comply with His plainly announced condition. He would make his predetermination effective. (“What is the force of the words, ‘who from eternity He foresaw?'” . . Secondly, that Predestination is not identical with foreknowledge; and, thirdly, that, speaking of course anthropomorphically, but nevertheless in accordance with Holy Scripture, and therefore with absolute truth, foreknowledge is not dependent upon predestination, but predestination upon fore- knowledge” (Jacobs, idem, page 555).Thus the election must have been “in view of faith” (of course persevered in to the end).) And remember, “it is by faith that it might be by grace.” So we have established our glorious Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone, connoting salvation by grace alone. And all has been in accord with God’s gracious eternal decree, based upon His infinite foresight or omniscience. We praise God for His absolute knowledge; it gives a solid basis for all His predeterminations, so that none of them can mis- carry, and yet all of them are just, right, gracious and kind.
Here it is proper to define still more closely the doctrine of election “in view of faith.” Perhaps we should have made the proper distinctions earlier in this discussion. The phrase is liable to misunderstanding from the fact that it seems to the opponent as if we meant that men can believe on Christ before they are converted. On the other hand, if we insist that faith is the gift of God, and is an ability bestowed simply and solely by God’s grace first in regeneration, then why might we not just as well fall in with Missouri, and say that men are “elected unto faith ?” So we believe that some of the exponents of intuitu fidei have not made quite all the distinctions that should have been made at this point. To put it just as accurately as we can, we would say: God has elected sinners in view of the use they will make of divinely imparted and enabled freedom at every point in the Order of Salvation, from the first moment of the Call to the final transfer to glory in heaven. In this process faith plays a large and determining part; yet it does not enter into the prevenient acts, but is implanted in regeneration. Thus intuitu fidei is an expression that can be retained for convenience, if it is remembered how it is produced, and what acts of the Holy Spirit precede it. The following is Dr. Jacobs’ carefully phrased and finely discriminating definition of “Predestination or Election” (“A Summary of the Christian Faith,” page 554) :
“It is the eternal decree, purpose or decision of God, according to which, out of pure grace, He determined to save, out of the fallen, condemned and helpless human race, each individual who He foresaw from eternity would, by His grace, be in Christ unto the end of life.”
We must go a step farther. All who hear the gospel Call until they understand its heavenly purport have a sufficient chance (gratia sufficiens) to be made willing, to know that God will convert and save them if they will let Him. There God’s responsibility ends and the sinner’s begins. If God would go farther than to awaken, convict, enlighten and stir the sinner’s will into the ability to consent to being saved, He would force salvation upon him ; which God will never do ; for He always says, “Whosoever will, let him come.”
Let us add that God always deals with man as man, that is, as a moral agent, not as a block or machine or an irrational animal. Sometimes we get the impression — and we mean it kindly and only as a suggestion — that our Missouri brethren emphasize God’s power more than they do His grace. Several times we have been tempted to think that, instead of sola gratia, they ought to say sola vis.
Now we come to the crux of the theologians relative to our main theme — Rom. IX to XI inclusive. Here both the Calvinists and the Missouri Lutherans find their chief Biblical support for their peculiar views. With both alike the doctrine of election as drawn from this passage is regulative in their theology, everything else being made to conform; everything being dealt with from this view-point ; whereas the rest of us Lutherans, as did Paul and Luther, make justification by faith the fundamental and regulating principle. Did we say Paul? Yes, for in this very epistle he first treats of justifying faith, then of election. (In this respect Dr. Jacobs, in the work so often cited, follows the Pauline and Lutheran order. First he treats the whole order of redemption through Jesus Christ, then, at the close of his work, deals with the doctrine of the divine decrees.) In the examination of this crucial passage we must move slowly and carefully, and must not allow preconceived notions to exercise an undue influence upon us.
First of all, we must find out what was Paul’s main purpose in the doctrinal portion of this epistle, comprising, after the introduction, the first eleven chapters. This purpose is to prove to both his Jewish and Gentile readers that justification comes by faith alone, or rather, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ ; this doctrine and fact he maintains over against the error that justification comes by the deeds of the law and works of human merit. There was need for this presentation, for, on the one hand, there were Jews who insisted on the law ; on the other, Gentiles who believed in the merit of good character and conduct. His polemic is presented in good homiletical order. After stating his main theme (1:16, 17), where he declares that the righteousness of God is bestowed through faith, he deals first with the heathen world, and shows that it is altogether steeped in sin, and therefore cannot save itself (1:18-32); secondly, he shows that both Jews and Gentiles, on account of their sins, are under the same condemnation and disability (2:1-29); thirdly, he turns to the Jews, and, by a most clean-cut argument, shows them that, while they have been highly favored of God as His chosen people and in being entrusted with the “oracles of God,” yet they cannot be saved by the deeds of the law, simply because they are too much in the bondage of sin to keep it (chapters 3 and 4) ; then comes his matchless argument (chapters 5 to 8 inclusive) for justification by faith alone as opposed to all work- righteousness, whether of Jew or Gentile, ending with the wonderful apostrophe to saving and preserving love in the concluding verses of the eighth chapter.
This brings us to chapters 9 to 11, where God’s sovereignty is so strongly emphasized. But it is God’s sovereignty exercised in accordance with His predetermined order of salvation, as set forth in the previous chapters, namely, salvation by grace through faith. If not, Paul would be a very inconsistent writer and theologian; yet he was inspired by the Holy Spirit. What does he mean to show in these chapters? The relation between the Jews and the Gentiles; that both are saved by grace through faith, notwithstanding God’s varied providential dealings with them; that God’s sovereign will and grace to save them in this way cannot be frustrated by anything that man can do, and that for carrying out this sovereign purpose He raises up both men and nations by a special dispensation and exercise of His power and grace. That this is the gist and point of his whole polemic is clearly set forth in 11:19-23, where it is said that the Jews (or those of them who rejected Christ) were broken off “by their unbelief,” while the saved Gentiles stand “by their faith” (11:20). In the next verses he teaches that, if the Gentiles continue not in God’s goodness, they also will “be cut off;” but if the Jews “continue not in their unbelief,” they shall again “be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.” Cannot any one see that Paul is logically and consistently carrying out his cardinal principle of justification by faith alone, and showing that all God’s predeterminations in eternity and His providential and gracious dealings in time are bent on making this principle effective?
Now, what is the exact idea of election so powerfully presented in these chapters? It is that God predestines and elects and raises up certain nations and representative individuals to carry out His sovereign plans, His purpose to save by grace through faith, because that is the only right way to save the race. We maintain, therefore, that in these chapters no reference is made to the unconditional election of individuals unto eternal salvation or unto eternal reprobation. For that Paul always makes conditional on faith. That God does raise up certain representative individuals to be the instruments of His sovereign purposes, who can doubt? There were Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, Luther. And why He elected these men and not others for their great work, who knows? That He also elected and chose Israel to be the special bearers of salvation to the world, the race from whom Christ should come according to the flesh, admits of no questioning. Just why He chose Israel and not some other nation we are willing to leave to Him. It certainly was not on account of Israel’s superior “good conduct.” Here the divine Potter had perfect power over the clay. But our faith is simple enough, since God has saved us by grace through faith, to believe that He elected those individuals and the Jewish nation for a wise and gracious purpose, and not in an absolute and arbitrary way. God has His in- scrutable methods and purposes, for His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts. It is just as easy, and a good deal more reasonable, to believe, for example, that He, by His divine foresight, knew that Abraham would be the instrument best fitted for His purpose, and therefore He chose him, as it is to believe that He did just as He pleased without a good and sufficient reason, and just because He had the power ; for the Scripture teaches that “by faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place,” etc. (Heb 11:8). The same principle will hold in respect to God’s other agents who were raised up for a special mission.
Now, with Paul’s great principle in mind — salvation by grace through faith — let us seek the meaning of the most difficult sections. In 9:6-9 Paul teaches that not all the seed of Abraham was elected to be the bearers of God’s saving plan; not Ishmael, a child of the flesh, but Isaac, the child of promise, whom Abraham and Sarah looked for by faith. Beautiful! Everything is determined and wrought out along God’s plan of salvation through faith. Then there is the case of Jacob and Esau, 9:10-13, which we will give in the beautiful version of the Twentieth Century New Testament (in this place a true translation, not a gloss) : ‘There is also the case of Rebecca, when she was about to bear children to our ancestor Isaac. For in order that the purpose of God, working through selection, might not fail — a selection depending not on obedience, but on His Call — Rebecca was told, before her children were born, and before they had done anything either right or wrong, that ‘the elder would be a servant to the younger.’ The words of Scripture are, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.’ ”
You will observe that this version does not tone down the election part at all, for “selection” must mean the same thing. Does this prove that God unconditionally elected Jacob unto salvation and passed Esau by? Not at all. It has reference solely to what Paul set out to show, namely, that God was electing the one who would be the fitter to be the ancestor of the people of God and of the Christ who was to be given through them. Why do we say this? Because if it refers to individual salvation, then Esau must have been lost, and that simply because he was not elected, and we have no evidence that he was lost. Moreover, it would imply that all of Esau’s descendants must have been lost, for of course these two men, as we have shown, were treated as the representatives of their respective posterities. That God’s eternal foresight and selection were correct is verified by the sequel, for Jacob proved to be by far the fitter instrument for God’s redeeming plan. With all his faults, he was spiritual, he had visions of God, and grew more spiritual toward the end of his life ; while Esau was always crass, worldly and sensuous. Just try to imagine God’s having chosen Esau instead of Jacob for the divine purpose, and you will intuitively see how intolerable is the thought. Therefore, even in choosing His special agents to carry out His larger. His worldwide purpose. He does not elect them in an absolute and arbitrary way.
With reference to God’s loving Jacob and hating Esau, we will defer to Dr. Jacobs (Lutheran Commentary, in loco, p. 190) : “The word hatred here does not mean to dislike or abhor. It simply expresses the preference shown to one who is loved when his claims or interests come in conflict with the other . . . ‘When a Hebrew compares a less with a greater love, he is wont to call the former hatred’ (Tholuck).” References to Gen. 29:30, 31; Deut. 21:15.
“That the purpose of God according to election” (Amer. Rev.) — the precise order here cannot be determined from the Greek. It is, iva e kat’ eklogen prothesis, but the preposition kata may be translated “according to” or “by means of” (see any Greek lexicon). Dr. Jacobs prefers the former, and thus puts “election first, the purpose afterward,” while the Twentieth Century version makes it “through.” We think the latter the more simple and consistent, for surely the order in every mental process would be, the purpose first, then the election of the means for carrying out the purpose.
The next passage is verses 14-16: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.”
Let us remember what Paul was proving — that God had not elected the Jews on account of any work or legal righteousness ; for they could claim no such merits ; therefore in their self-righteousness they had no right to pronounce judgment upon God’s methods and ways. So He told them that His mercy was in His own hands to be shown as He pleased. But on whom does He always clearly show in the New Testament that He wills to have mercy? Right here it is, in another writing of Paul (1 Tim. 1 :16) : “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all His long-suffering, for an ensample of them that should thereafter believe on Him unto eternal life.” Hundreds of passages to the same effect might be cited. Thus we interpret Scripture by Scripture, not by some subjective theological dogma. “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” Just as we have shown all along — God is the enabling source of all good, of the willing and the running. But remember He will not do our willing and running for us, after He has conferred the ability upon us through His mercy and grace.
Vs. 17, 18: “In Scripture again it is said to Pharaoh : It was for this very purpose that I raised thee to the throne, to show my power by my dealings with thee, and to make my name known throughout the world.’ So, then, where God wills He takes pity, and where He wills He hardens the heart.”
All is clear if our minds are not too much possessed by the idea of a mysterious unconditional election. It does not say that God created Pharaoh for the purpose of hardening and finally condemning him, but He “raised him up” — that is, gave him an exalted position in the world — in order that He might show His power and grace through him. Suppose God foresaw that Pharaoh would harden his own heart against God (the Old Testament says five times that he did this before it says God hardened his heart, Ex. 7-9), then how just it would be to lift him up and make him the conspicuous instrument through whom God would exhibit His power ! If God had not done this, we never would have had the wonderful history of God’s deliverance of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. Why God raised up Pharaoh for this special purpose, and not some other great ruler, we leave to God Himself. We may some time see that He raised up every great man for some special purpose.
We should remember, too, that, such is God’s economy of nature and grace, that what is intended to soften the heart actually hardens it, if God’s overtures are rejected. The sun melts the wax, but hardens the clay. This, is God’s law, and so there is a sense in which God Himself may be said to harden men’s hearts. Let us bear in mind, too, that in this place Paul is not dealing with the question of individual election to salvation, but with such conspicuous personages as He chooses to effect great steps and epochs in His scheme of redemptive grace. When we look at Pharaoh in this way, we can readily see that He was as clay in the hands of God’s sovereign power, and, all unwittingly, aided in carrying out His purpose, just as Satan and Judas did when they brought about the crucifixion of Christ. No one can get ahead of God, or balk His great purposes, no matter how much he may abuse his free moral agency. This is the great comfort of elective grace. How often in times of trial we throw ourselves back on God’s sovereignty !
Vs. 19-24: “Perhaps you will say to me: ‘How can any one still be blamed? For who withstands His purpose?’ I might rather ask, ‘Who are you that are arguing with God?’ Does a thing which a man has moulded say to him who moulded it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Has not the potter absolute power over his clay, so that out of the same lump he makes one thing for better, and another for common, use? And what if God, intending to reveal His displeasure and make His power known, bore most patiently with the objects of His displeasure, though they were fit only to be destroyed, so as to make known His surpassing glory in dealing with the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared beforehand for glory, and whom He called — even us — not only from among the Jews, but from among the Gentiles also !”
It does not say that the potter created the clay, but simply moulded it ; so it does not say that God created the “objects of His displeasure,” especially not for eternal retribution ; it does say that He “bore most patiently with” them, “though they were fit only to be destroyed.” Here it is all plain. God bore patiently with men like Pharaoh and others for awhile, even much longer than they deserved, until He saw that they were reprobate ; then He used them to carry out His redemptive purpose in saving Israel, and to show His glory and power, and thus make them the bearers of salvation in Christ. Thus God makes the wrath of man to praise Him (Ps. 76:10). Even Dr. Pieper justifies God’s dealing with Pharaoh, saying the wicked ruler got what he deserved.
We have now dealt with the difficult passages in these chapters ; and yet we wonder whether it was necessary to expend so much labor on them, when Paul himself afterward makes everything plain (9 :30-32) : “What shall we say then?” Note his own answer: “That the Gentiles who followed not after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith; but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Wherefore? because they sought it not by faith, but as it were, by works. They stumbled at the stone of stumbling, even as it is written : Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence; and he that believeth on Him shall not be put to shame.” There it all is, just as clear as crystal — just why God elects some and does not elect others. If we walk in this rich garden of truth in the light of justifying faith, which God has revealed to us in His Word, we shall not walk in darkness. If there is anything which God has not revealed, we must search for it, if we search at all, in the light revealed, not the reverse.
If it were necessary, we should take pleasure in going through chapters ten and eleven, to show how Paul again and again maintains that Israel was rejected for a time on account of their lack of faith, while many of the Gentiles were grafted in because they did not depend on their good works, but solely on faith ; but we simply invite the reader to examine these luminous passages for himself. At this point we desire to quote some cogent and fluent sentences from one of the best theologians of our country who is not a Lutheran — one who has most stoutly defended the evangelical faith against the “new” theology and the rationalism of the times — Dr. Henry C. Sheldon, professor of theology in Boston University. Our selections are taken from his work, entitled “A System of Christian Doctrine.” He says:
“It is not to be denied that the idea of election or predestination is awarded considerable prominence in the Scriptures. It could not have been otherwise, if their pages were to reflect the vast sweep of the divine agency necessarily operative in founding and consummating the kingdom of righteousness. As the working out of this supreme enterprise is immeasurably above creaturely abilities, it would be a glaring incongruity not to represent the far-reaching foresight and powerful direction of God as fundamental to it all. In any reasonable view His sovereignty, considered not indeed as arbitrariness, but as wise authority, must be regarded as determining very much according to its own behests. The existence of the economy of grace is altogether by the choice of God, not of men. The stages of that economy from the first overtures to sinners to their in- vestment with the glory of a supernatural destiny, are properly characterized as His choice. In the adjustment of nations and individuals to the economy His agency is of vast consequence. Free will in man does not annul the necessity of providential ordering in this matter. To get His gracious purpose effectively before the contemplation of man, God must have bearers and interpreters of the same. The fittest interpreters for a given time and place need to be selected, and fitness for this vocation is not independent of foregoing discipline. Israel could never have fulfilled its mission in bringing the divine testimony to the nations without special discipline. Apart from the light shed by suitable antecedents, the world would not have known what to make of the gospel message as it fell from the lips of Christ and the apostles.
“Thus the divine procedure has of necessity the appearance of selection or predestination, and is such very largely in fact. The conjunction of the prepared subject with the message of grace, whatever else may contribute thereto, falls pre-eminently under the category of divine ordering.
“But how is the divine superintendence managed? Is it so managed as to secure the fittest instruments for the greatest advance of the kingdom of grace and salvation that is practicable in a world of free agents? or is it the sole care to bring into the divine household a certain number, unconditionally chosen, to the everlasting neglect or exclusion of all others? The fault of the Augustinian or Calvinistic predestinarian is that he fastens upon this ultra sense of predestination, and reads it into the Scriptures. Not content with the majestic office which is open to divine sovereignty in ordering the progress of the dispensation toward the grandest attainable result, he will have it that the absolute choice of God fixes the eternal destiny of all souls.”
Let us investigate another crucial passage, Eph. 1 :3-7; but do not stop there; read on through to 12-14, 19; 2:7-9; 3:11, 12. As the sentences in the other versions are very long and complicated, we will use the Twentieth Century New Testament (a few glosses we will correct) : “Blessed be the God and Father of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who has blessed us on high with every spiritual blessing in Christ: for He chose us in Him before (pro) the foundation of the world (kosmos), that we might be holy and blameless in His sight, living in the spirit of love. He foreordained us, in His good will toward us, to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ, and so to enhance that glorious manifestation of His loving-kindness which He gave us in the Beloved ; for in Him and through the shedding of His blood, we have redemption in the pardon of our offences . . . (Vs. 11-13) : In Him, I say, for by our union with Him we became God’s heritage, having been foreordained for this in the intention of Him who, in all that happens, is carrying out His own fixed purpose; that we should enhance His glory — we who have been the first to rest our hopes in Christ (Amer. Rev.: ‘we who had before hoped in Christ’). And you, too, having heard the Word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and having also believed, were sealed as His by the Holy Spirit which He had promised.”
The italicised words in verses 12 and 13 will show that God’s foreordination and choosing were all made in view of sinners hoping and believing in Jesus Christ. Note also verse 19.
Eph. 3:9-12. One dogmatician, in order to prove his election doctrine, quoted only this much of verse 11 : ”According to the eternal purpose.” But you cannot establish a doctrine by such fragmentary citations from the Bible. Using the Bible in that way simply puts a club into the hands of the rationalists and negative critics. In the previous verses Paul declares that the “hidden mystery has now been made known through the gospel ;” then he adds : “according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, In whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in Him.” The “eternal purpose” simply comes back to faith once more. Paul sticks right to his theme.
Another text is 2 Tim. 1 :9 : “Who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which were given us before times eternal” (old ver. : “before the world began”). There is no difficulty here, for the antithesis is not between God’s purpose and faith, but between His purpose and works. Here He says God’s “purpose and grace.” All we need to do is to remember that Paul says, “It is by faith that it might be by grace,” and then we shall know what are God’s eternal purpose and grace — simply to save all who will accept salvation by faith. The election advocates ought always to read the whole passage, and not to treat the Bible piece-meal ; for here, if they would have read on to the 12th verse, they would have found this sublime statement : “For I know Him whom I have believed, and am pursuaded that He is able to guard that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”
Consider 1 Pet. 1 :1, 2: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect, who are sojourners . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” The apostle even says here the “elect according to the foreknowledge of God,” which shows that God’s election is determined by His foreknowledge. Then He could have foreknown those who would humble themselves and accept His grace by simple faith and self-surrender. The fact is, Peter does not give much support to the doctrine of unconditional election, for he says (2 Pet. 1 :10) : “Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble.”
Acts 13:48: “And as the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the Word of God ; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
This passage is quoted with much confidence by Missourians and Calvinists alike ; and we confess that, when we first read it, we could not help feeling that here, at last, was one passage that clearly teaches the divine election to be the cause and antecedent of faith. And we decided that, if this were true, we would lay down our pen, and let Dr. Pieper’s book go unanswered. But it is never safe to jump at conclusions. So we decided to look up the Greek for the word “ordained.” Not a little was our surprise to find that it is not the word used in Rom. 8:29, 30. There the word employed is pro-orizein, which really means to predetermine or to mark out beforehand ; but here the word is tetagmenoi, the perfect passive participle of tassein, which has various meanings; but our classical dictionary (Liddell and Scott) does not give “ordain” or “foreordain” among them. The fact is, there is no prefix here as there is in pro-orizein. Among the many meanings given to the word tassein are “to arrange or put in order,” “to post, station,” “to order, command, give instructions,” “to fix, settle;” not once “to ordain” or “foreordain.” Our New Testament dictionary gives only the following meanings to the participle used in this verse: “arranged, compact, firm, steady.” Now let us give a literal translation of this part of the verse, putting the words in the precise order of the original: “And they believed, as many as were (esan, imperfect) arranged, settled, or made steady unto life eternal.” Faith comes first, and then the qualifying clause, and the meaning might easily be that God had made them steady unto eternal life through their faith. There may not be the least reference here to an eternal decree, for there is nothing that so steadies the soul unto eternal life as faith in Jesus Christ. “And this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith.” Again, in verse 46 we see why Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles at Antioch of Pisidia ; for they said to the unbelieving Jews : “It was necessary that the Word of God should first be spoken to you. Seeing ye thrust it from you, and judge your- selves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” Now we do not insist on our interpretation of this crucial verse, but we have at least shown that the meaning is at present too uncertain for theologians to found a dogma upon, especially one that rends our Lutheran Church asunder.
Next we advert to 2 Tim. 2:18-21. We note that a Missouri dogmatician, in trying to establish his favorite doctrine, quotes only a part of verse 19. ‘ If we are going to learn just what the Bible teaches, we must cease this “atomistic” use of proof-texts. Only then can we be workmen who “need not be ashamed, handling aright the Word of God.” We believe in using proof-texts to establish doctrines. Only rationalists, negative critics and “new” theology men scoff at their use. But theologians must use them correctly, not torture them, nor disjoin them from their contexts.
Paul was here speaking of two errorists of his time, Hymenaeus and Philetus : “men who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is passed already, and overthrow the faith of some. Howbeit the firm foundation of God standeth, having this seal, ‘The Lord knoweth them that are His,’ and, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.’ ” See how the two parts of the seal complement each other, the latter showing that those whom the Lord knows to be His are those who depart from iniquity ; and who are they? All those who surrender to God and let Him save them by faith, as is taught all through the gospel. The dogmatician above referred to should have read on through the next two verses, 20, 21 : “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some unto honor and some unto dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, meet for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work.” And how shall he purge himself? By washing in the “fountain opened in the house of David for all sin and uncleanness.” “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean ; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7).
Another sample of fragmentary Biblical quotation occurs when predestinarians cite Mark 13:20 and 22, and even omit verse 21, to say nothing of failing to refer to the entire context. We will refrain from that method of using God’s Word ; we will cite enough of the context to show the exact setting and relation, beginning with verse 14: “But when ye see the abomination of desolation standing where he ought not (let him that readeth understand), then let them that are in Judea flee unto the mountains ; and let him that is on the house-top not go down nor enter in to take anything out of his house . . . And pray ye that it be not in the winter.” Remarkable that even God’s eternal purpose takes into account man’s free moral agency in both action and prayer ! Oh, the wonderful omniscience of God ! Then verse 19 describes the great tribulations of those days, followed by verses 20-23 : “And except the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved ; but for the elect’s sake, whom He chose. He shortened the days. And if any man shall say unto you, ‘Lo, here is Christ,’ or, ‘Lo, there,’ believe him not; for there shall arise false Christ and false prophets, and shall show signs and wonders, that they may lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have told you all things beforehand.” Then in verses 33-37 : “Take ye heed ; watch and pray, for ye know not when the time is . . . lest coming suddenly. He find you asleep. And what I say unto you, I say unto all. Watch !”
Does not this make perfectly clear who the “elect” are? Those who watch and pray, who will not believe the false Christs and prophets ; then God will keep them amid all their tribulations, and will even shorten the days so that their faith may not be overborne. A most beautiful commentary this on 1 Cor. 10:13: “But God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it.” The Bible is a wonderful harmony, not a jumble of contradictions. With God there is no decretum absolutum, but He ordains and orders everything to fit into the constitution and need of the moral agents whom He has created and whom, when they fall into sin, He graciously determines to save.
The great passage, John 6:43-51, has also been treated in the same fragmental way, only this part being quoted : “No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him ;” but the whole passage following should be read, which runs : “And I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Every one that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto me. Not that any man hath seen the Father, save He that is from God ; He hath seen the Father. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth hath eternal life … if any man shall eat of this bread, he shall live forever: yea, and the bread which I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
It is plain here how the Father draws people to Christ, namely, by sending His Spirit with His Call : see “taught,” “heard,” “hath learned,” in the above passage, leading to “believeth” and “shall eat.” Remember, too, the Father “draws;” He does not “push,” “pull,” or “force;” just as Jesus once said: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.” Thanks be to Christ for the magnetic power of His person and His atoning grace !
John 10:25-30, which we will not treat piece-meal as is too often done : “And Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not; the works that I do in my Father’s name, these bear witness of me. But ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep.” Who are His sheep? Verse 9 of this same chapter: “I am the door; by me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and shall find pasture.” Continuing, verse 27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me : and I give unto them eternal life ; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who hath given them unto me, is greater than all ; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Thanks be to God for His gracious and eternal election ! For thereby He makes absolutely secure those who put their trust in Him : “I know Him whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Tim. 1 :14) ; “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8:37).
We need not dwell upon Matt. 13:13-15 and Mark 4:10-12, for every one knows that, when people obstinately reject the overtures of God’s mercy and grace. He will harden their hearts, dull their ears and blind their eyes, through the inevitable law of moral and spiritual degeneration, just as He hardened Pharaoh’s heart after the wicked king had first five times hardened his own heart. We think now we have dealt with all the important passages relied on by the predestinarians. We think we have fought shy of none of them; if we have, it was an oversight ; and we have tried to be fair, first to God’s Word, then to all parties concerned.
It will be seen that we have not referred a great deal to either the Formula of Concord or the dogmaticians. We could not do so except in a thorough-going way, and that would carry us far beyond the proposed limits of this work. Besides, they are quoted on both sides by Lutheran theologians of great ability, who ac- cept the entire Book of Concord confessionally. The matter of what the Confessions teach may well be left to such eminent theologians as Dr. Pieper, on the one side, and such stalwart and capable Lutherans as Drs. Stellhorn and Jacobs, on the other. The General Synod, of which the writer is a member, esteems very highly the Secondary Symbols, and has officially declared them to be “expositions of Lutheran doctrine of great historical and interpretative value” (see Minutes of 1909, pages 57, 60, and of 1913, page 126) ; yet she does not receive them in the confessional sense, as she does the Unaltered Augsburg Confession. Therefore we are all the more willing to leave it to those who accept them confessionally to settle their meaning. Our main purpose in this thesis has been to discover and determine the teaching of God’s inspired Word relative to the questions at issue.
Personally, we appreciate the Formula of Concord more than we can ever tell. We acknowledge our great indebtedness to it in helping us to a better understanding of more than one Biblical doctrine and more than one doctrine of our Lutheran system of faith. Having studied it not a little, we would modestly suggest a thorough reading of its illuminating chapters on “The Righteousness of Faith Before God,” for there will be found the co-ordinating doctrine of Lutheran theology.
SOME ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS
We add here a few nuggets of thought that have come to our mind while this work has been passing through the press, and which therefore could not be inserted in their proper places :
All God’s predeterminations must be governed by His foreknowledge, because if He should determine anything without perfect prescience of all possible exigencies, He might make a mistake, and so might meet with something for which He had not provided and which would balk His will ; but since His foreknowledge is perfect, He is able to make provision for every possible contingency. This being so, He must have known by His inevitable foresight who would believe in Christ to the end, and could therefore elect them for eternal salvation, and so dispose every condition and circumstance that nothing but their own free will would prevent their salvation. This, we believe, is Paul’s idea of the assurance and comfort of election.
The Missouri teaching confuses God’s general and special decrees. By His general decree He provides salvation in Christ for all mankind, and freely offers it to all, while by His special decree He decides actually to bestow salvation upon those only who will freely accept the benefits offered. The two decrees blend in an ethical harmony. A wealthy man might set aside a fund for the poor of his community ; but he might very properly stipulate that he would give help only to those who would accept it.
A proper distinction should be made in the will of God. In some cases in Scripture it means His desire; in others His executed purpose. For example, when the Bible teaches that He wills that all men shall be saved (2 Pet. 3:9), it clearly means that His earnest desire is that all shall be saved. However, when it teaches that He wills to save those who will accept the proffered salvation, then His desire becomes an absolute purpose which He will surely execute. We are wont to use the word “will” in the same twofold way, some- times to express only our desire, at other times to express our determined purpose. Here is where the true Lutheran view of individual election has its comfort and value — we know that God’s purpose or will to save those who believe on Christ and persevere in their faith cannot be frustrated, no matter who or what assails them, for God has absolutely willed to keep them safe so long as they abide in Him. God’s will of purpose can never be balked ; His will of desire may be frustrated by the wrong choice of His moral agents, because He Himself has constituted them with such a power.
Anent Missouri’s error that faith is a matter of merit, note this : She holds, with all other Lutherans, that men are justified solely through faith. Now if faith is a matter of merit, men must be justified on account of some merit of their own ; which is the direct opposite of Paul’s teaching and of all Lutheran theology.
When our Missouri brethren quote Rom. 9:18: “So then He hath mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardeneth,” to prove that God elects by a inscrutable decree, we reply that the Bible teaches clearly on whom He wills to have mercy, namely, those who believe on Christ (John 3:16; Mark 16:16); also just as clearly whom He wills to harden, namely, such wicked men like Pharaoh, of whom the Bible says five times he hardened his own heart before it says God hardened it.
Let it always be understood that true Lutheran theologians never teach that God elected any one on account of faith, that is, because of any merit in faith, but solely on account of the merits of Christ appropriated by faith. Faith is not a cause of election ; it is a condition of election.
While, as has been said, we refrain from using the word “conduct” in connection with the decree of election, we must confess that Luther himself was not so chary. After saying that the offer of the gospel is for all, he adds : “But what is the actual result ? We are told afterward in the gospel, ‘Few are chosen ;’ few so conduct themselves toward the gospel that God is well pleased with them ; for some hear it and do not esteem it; some hear it, and do not hold fast to it, refusing to do or suffer anything for the sake of it. Some hear it, but pay more attention to money and goods and sensuous pleasures. But that does not please God, and He does not take pleasure in such people. That is what Christ calls not to be ‘chosen,’ namely, not to conduct oneself so that God could take pleasure in him.” Now note whom Luther designates as the elect : “But these are the elect, in whom God takes pleasure, who diligently hear the gospel, believe in Christ, prove their faith by their fruits, and suffer on account of it what Providence has ordained.” No trouble about an inscrutable decree here. We fear Missouri cannot claim Luther.
The Missouri Lutherans may ask : “Why cannot men be satisfied merely with a mysterious divine decree unto individual salvation ? Why will they question further?” The reply is evident: Eternal salvation and eternal retribution are matters of the greatest and most vital personal concern to each individual. Men may readily leave some things to God’s unrevealed will, but not those matters that pertain to their everlasting weal or woe. What God determined in eternity should be the constitution of matter, whether it should be made up of atoms or electrons or vortices, or of one or sixty primary elements — that makes very little difference to any of us ; it is merely a matter of scientific curiosity ; but, ah ! when a decree involves a person’s eternal blessedness or suffering, then the heart desires a ”sure word of prophecy,” a clearly revealed purpose and plan. Thanks be to God He has not left us to grope our way in darkness here : “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved ;” “The wages of sin are death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”
According to the Formula of Concord (which the Missouri Synod accepts confessionally), election is not to be relegated to the realm of mystery, for it says : “This (election) is not to be investigated in the secret counsel of God, but is to be sought in the Word of God, where it is also revealed” (Jacobs’ edition, p. 525). Also: “But the true judgment concerning predestination must be learned alone from the holy gospel concerning Christ, in which it is clearly testified that ‘God hath concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all,’ and that ‘He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’ ” (p. 526). Again : “In Him therefore we should seek the eternal election of the Father, who, in His eternal divine counsel, determined that He would save no one except those who acknowledge His Son, Christ, and truly believe on Him” (p. 527). All of which is so plain we wonder any one could have ever misunderstood it.
It has been objected that we have no right to read anything into the passage (Rom. 8:29) : “For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son,” etc. We are forbidden, so say electionists, to read it thus : “For whom He foreknew would have perserving faith in Christ.” Reply : You must supply something. If you do not read it as above indicated, you must read it thus : “For whom He foreknew that He would foreordain, them He foreordained to be conformed,” etc., which would be tantamount to saying: “Whom He foreordained them He foreordained ;” and that would make Paul a vapid writer. It would be like saying, “What I know I know,” or, “What I see I see.” If Paul meant by “foreknew” “foreordained,” why did he not use the right word?
“Without faith it is impossible to please God.” Then when God in eternity reviewed the multitude of sinners still without faith, how could any of them “please” Him so well that He elected them to eternal residence with Him, without foreseeing that they would exercise faith ?
With their strange, mechanical and unpsychological ideas of free will, the Concordia dogmaticians cannot understand how one man can, by his own option, choose to let God save him, while another, also by his own option, rejects God’s mercy. Hence they posit a mystery in God’s eternal decree to explain the difference. With their mechanical and unethical views of faith, from which they excise every element of freedom, they do not see how one man can (though enabled by prevenient grace) freely and savingly believe on Christ, while another man, even though similarly called, refuses to believe. Hence again they go back to God’s eternal counsel for the solution. Yet they declare that he is not “a good theologian” who seeks an explanation! And the strange thing is, they try to account for a psychological mystery by creating a theological one. Now the Bible simply takes the practical, common-sense view of man’s psychical constitution, treats him as a moral and responsible agent, and offers him the great boon of salvation on the simple terms of repentance and faith. The ability to repent and believe He confers as soon as man, after his awakening, is willing to let God save him from his dire estate. Just so we who accept the plain and simple gospel preach to sinners to ”come and take of the water of life freely,” without troubling ourselves about the psychological mysteries involved; just as we see without bothering much about the mysteries of optics, and breathe without understanding all the mysteries of respiration, and eat without trying to figure out all the unsolved problems of digestion and assimilation.