The distinguishing feature of our doctrine concerning predestination or election may be briefly stated thus: We differ from all those who in any way limit either universal or free grace.
There is no predestination to death. As to universal grace we teach that God’s earnest, sincere, and efficacious grace extends to all men alike, in such a manner, that all those who remain unbelievers, remain such solely by their own fault. We, therefore, reject the distinction between common grace and efficacious (regenerating) grace, the former extending to all men, the latter being granted to the elect only. For the grace granted to those who remain unbelievers and against which the unbelievers harden themselves, Holy Scripture clearly describes as sincere and efficacious grace (Acts xiii. 46; Matt, xxiii. 37; Acts vii. 51). Even those passages of Scripture that treat of obduration inflicted by God on some persons, do not prove that God passed them by, but rather that He visited these with his saving grace, for obduration is represented by Holy Scripture as a punishment for contemning and resisting the grace of God. Yea, according to Scripture, some of those who are actually lost, enjoy even a more abundant measure of grace than some of those who are actually saved (Matt. xii. 41). We teach and confess that damnation comes upon men not for want of grace on the part of God, but for contempt of grace on the part of men (Acts xiii. 46; Matt. xi. 25). There are, indeed, some historical facts (e. g., that many nations are destitute of the preaching of the Gospel) which present a seeming contradiction to the universality of grace. But we deem Holy Scripture to be clearer than history. In spite of all seeming contradictions, we abide by the clear statements of the Scripture asserting God’s earnest, sincere, and efficacious grace to be universal (i Tim. ii. 4; Ez. xxxiii. 11). There is no predestination to unbelief and damnation.
There is a predestination to salvation. Holy Scripture, although utterly silent on a predestination to death, clearly teaches a predestination to salvation, pertaining not to all men, but only to those who are actually saved. Holy Scripture clearly reveals the fact that all those who are actually converted, preserved in faith, and saved, by the divinely established common way of salvation, are from eternity in God’s counsel elected and predestined to be saved in this way and in this order, Eph. i. 3-6; 2 Thess. ii. 13, 14. ”The eternal election or predestination of God” — the Formula of Concord says — “that is, the ordaining of God unto salvation, does not pertain both to the good and the bad, but only to the children of God, who were elected and ordained to eternal life, before the foundation of the world, as Paul, Eph. i. 4, 5, declares: ”He hath chosen us in Christ Jesus, and predestinated us unto the adoption of children.”
Causes of eternal election. God elected those who are elected solely out of His mercy and on account of Christ s merit earned for all. Election has not taken place on account of anything good, even not on account of faith, which God foresaw in the elect. According to the universal Christian order of salvation, all those who are actually converted and saved, are indebted for their conversion and salvation to God’s free grace in Christ, their conversion and salvation being in no way secured or promoted by anything good found in themselves. Even so their eternal election to conversion and salvation is not dependent on or conditioned by anything good found in themselves, be it called ” good works, ” or ”good conduct,” or “self-determination,” etc., but eternal election solely flows from God’s free grace in Christ. This doctrine, and none other, is revealed in Holy Scripture. Holy Scripture not only teaches that God has chosen us in Christ, according to the good pleasure of his willy to the praise of the glory of his grace (Eph. i. 4-6), but expressly denies that there be a cause of election in man; “not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. i. 9; John xv. 16.) In this sense St. Paul calls election “the election of grace,” adding for the purpose of explanation as to what ” grace ” is: “and if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom. xi. 5, 6). The Lutheran Church confesses concerning the causes of election: “The following doctrine is false and erroneous, namely, that not the mercy of God alone, and the most holy merit of Christ are the cause, but that in us also there is a cause of the election of God, on account of which God has elected us to everlasting life.” This is Lutheran doctrine! The doctrine that God elected on account of foreseen “good conduct, ” ” self-determination, ” ” non-resistance, ” etc., we hold to be both un-Lutheran and unchristian, denying free grace, and thus falsifying the Christian way of salvation.
Relation of eternal election to the faith of the elect. In the decree of eternal predestination the faith of the elect is not presupposed (as is assumed by the theory that predestination took place “in foresight of faith),” but included. For God did not first elect them to salvation absolutely, and after that decree to grant them faith as the means of obtaining salvation, but when God elected them He at the same time and in the same decree decreed to grant them faith and perseverance in faith. As God in time unites His children to himself by giving them faith, so in eternity he united His children to himself by decreeing to give them faith. The very substance of eternal election consists in this, that God decreed to grant his children faith in Christ and preserve them therein. “God took” — the Formula of Concord says — “so deep an interest in the conversion, righteousness, and salvation of each Christian, and so faithfully provided for these, that before the foundation of the world, in His counsel and purpose, He ordained the manner in which He would bring me to salvation, and preserve me there,” If, therefore, the question be asked whether the faith that is found in the elect in time, in the order of thought precedes their eternal election as a cause, condition, etc., or follows after it as a result, the latter must be affirmed and the former denied. For in all passages of Scripture treating of this matter, not only faith, but the entire state of grace with all the spiritual blessings bestowed upon the Christians in time, are represented as flowing from their eternal election, Eph. i. 3-5: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who 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” etc.. Acts xiii. 48: “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. See: 2 Tim. i. 9; 2 Thes. ii. 13, 14; Rom. viii. 28-39. Hence the Formula of Concord states: ”The eternal election of God not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but through his gracious will and good pleasure in Christ Jesus, is also the cause which procures, works, facilitates, and promotes our salvation and whatever pertains to it.” And it is this relation of the eternal election to their faith and continuance in faith that the Christians find such a precious consolation in the doctrine of election, as the Formula of Concord puts it: ” This doctrine also affords the eminent and precious consolation, that God took so deep an interest in the conversion, righteousness, and salvation of each Christian, and so faithfully provided for these, that before the foundation of the world, in His counsel and purpose, He ordained the manner in which He would bring me to salvation, and preserve me there; again, that he wished to secure my salvation so truly and firmly, that in his eternal purpose, which cannot fail or be overthrown, he decreed it, and to secure it, placed it in the omnipotent hands of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, out of which none shall pluck us, John x. 28. For, if our salvation were committed unto us, it might easily be lost through the weakness and wickedness of our flesh, or be taken and plucked out of our hands, by the fraud and power of the devil and of the world.”
Objections to This Doctrine
To this doctrine the following objection is made by Calvinists: To affirm an election to salvation, and to deny an election to death, is an ”illogical” position, according to the rules of human reason. We reply that we are well aware of this, and, morever, that we know all the means employed both by Calvinists and Synergists, to remedy this “inconsistency.” But this illogical position is that of the Scripture. Holy Scripture clearly teaches a predestination to salvation, which is a cause of the conversion and salvation of the elect; but it does not mention a preterition or predestination to death, which is a cause of the unbelief and damnation of those who perish. This is clearly seen from Acts xiii, 48 compared with v. 46. Verse 48 we hear of believing Gentiles, and their faith is referred to their eternal election: “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Verse 46 we hear of unbelieving Jews, but their unbelief is not referred to an eternal predestination to unbelief and death, or to a lack of grace on the part of God, but solely to the Jews’ wilful resistance to God’s sincere and efficacious grace; for Paul and Barnabas address the Jews thus: “Seeing ye put it (the Word of God) from you, and judge yourself unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” It is sound theology to speak where Scripture speaks, and to be silent where Scripture is silent.
The Synergists urge the objection: If you insist upon the grace of God and the merit of Christ as being the only causes of eternal election, denying that election was also on account of man’s foreseen ”good conduct,” “self-determination,” etc., you will be forced to admit that God’s sincere and efficacious grace is not universal. This conclusion, however, we do not admit, since Scripture does not admit it. Holy Scripture, in revealing God’s eternal election, never makes it dependent on man’s “good conduct,” etc., but merely on God’s free grace in Christ. Scripture at the same time maintains the universality of grace. And so do we, maintaining unimpared both free and universal grace.
But finally our doctrine, to wit, that election ” is also the cause which procures and promotes our salvation and whatever pertains to it,” is charged with introducing a twofold way of salvation, the way of grace pertaining to all men, and the way of election pertaining to those only who are actually saved. In answering this objection, we might simply refer to Holy Scripture, which plainly asserts election to be a cause of the salvation of the elect. But by duly considering the matter it is easily understood that we do not introduce two ways of salvation, but maintain the one universal way of grace in regard to the elect also. For it is one and the same efficacious, saving grace by which the children of God are saved, and against which the children of unbelief harden themselves. And as the children of God during this life are brought to conversion, justification, sanctification, etc., out of pure, free grace in Christ without any merits of their own, even so they are from eternity elected to salvation and whatever pertains to it, not in consideration of any good conduct found with them, but out of mere grace in Christ. Hence the one way of grace is not destroyed by this doctrine, but rather confirmed by it, as the Formula of Concord expressly remarks: “It confirms most forcibly the article, that we are justified and saved by pure grace for the sake of Christ alone, without any of our works and merit” But when it is affirmed that conversion and salvation do not depend on grace only, but to some extent on man’s conduct also, and, consequently, that eternal election also took place in consideration or foresight of this conduct of man, then, indeed, the one old Christian way of salvation is entirely abandoned and a new way of salvation is introduced, altogether different from the revealed way of grace.
The mystery to be acknowledged in this doctrine. There are some things in this doctrine which we know, and there are others which we know not. We exactly know the reason why those who are actually saved, are elected, brought to faith and preserved in it. It is, so Scripture clearly reveals, out of God’s pure, free mercy in Christ. We also know the reason why those who perish are not converted or not preserved in faith, and thus go to perdition. It is, as Scripture likewise plainly teaches, from their own fault, namely, from their obstinate resistance to the saving grace of God. But we do not know the reason why one person in preference to another is converted and saved, as all men by nature are equally guilty and dead in sin. By acknowledging a mystery right here we must not be charged with Cryptocalvinism. For this and none other is the doctrinal position of the Lutheran Church. The Formula of Concord stating the case thus: ” that God gives his Word to one region, but not to another; or that one man is hardened, blinded, and given over to a reprobate mind, but that another, though equally guilty, is converted to God,” refers us to Rom. xi. 33, 34: ” O the depth both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord?” The same position is, as with one voice, avowed by the great Lutheran theologians of the sixteenth century. Martin Chemnitz e. g., writes thus: ”Our Catechism, in the third article of our Christian faith, says that by his own reason or strength man cannot believe in, or come to Jesus Christ, but that the Holy Ghost must bring him to such faith, for faith is a gift of God ; how, then, is it that God does not bestow such faith upon the heart Judas so that he also could have believed that Christ could help him? Here we must restrain our questions and say (Rom. xi.): ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ We are neither able, nor bidden to search this out, and must not be absorbed in such thoughts.” The mystery which the Lutheran Church acknowledges at this point may only be solved either by denying with the Calvinists God’s universal grace, or by denying with the Synergists God’s free grace, as was shown before.
As to the dogmatical phrase (which was introduced into the Lutheran Church by Aegidius Hunnius) that election has taken place ”in view of faith,” we hold, in the first place, that it is not taken from the Holy Scriptures. In the passage Rom. viii. 29: “whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate,” foreknow does not denote the simple foreknowledge of God — for thus a universal election would result, as God’s simple foreknowledge extends to all men — but foreknow here is used in the sense of, “to appropriate, to make his own beforehand,” as know and foreknow are used in other passages of Scripture, e. g., Amos iii. 2: “You only — O children of Israel — have I known of all the families of the earth.” See Rom. xi. 2; Gal. iv. 9; Ps. i. 6. Hence the Formula of Concord paraphrases Rom. viii. 29, 30, thus: “Whom He did predestinate, elect and ordain, them He also called.” In the second place, we hold, that the phrase “in view of faith ” is not found in the Lutheran Confessions; in the third place, that it does not solve the mystery, if at the same time the biblical doctrine be maintained that faith is a free gift of grace, and in no respect man’s own work; in the fourth place that, if the phrase ” in view of faith ” be exchanged for ”in view of man’s conduct,” ” in view of man’s self-decision,” etc., the mystery, indeed, is solved, but by the key of synergism. The Lutheran grounds are entirely abandoned. For the Lutheran Church confesses: “The following doctrine is false and erroneous, namely, that not the mercy of God alone, and the most holy merit of Christ are the cause, but that in us also there is a cause of the election of God, on account of which God has elected unto everlasting life. ”
Assurance of election. That a believing Christian can become and be certain of his eternal election, is a matter of course with Holy Scripture, for Holy Scripture uses eternal election as a means to comfort the Christians in their temptations and tribulations; for instance, Rom. viii. 33: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” As to the quality or character of certainty, it is best described as a certainty of faith, for it results, not from searching into the secret counsel of God, nor from hearing the law and its comminations, but by attending to and believing the Gospel of Christ, in whom eternal election has taken place in eternity and is now revealed in time.