Predestination & Election

by Herman Bavinck


In Christian theology,  the word “predestination” (προορισμος) has been used in very different senses. Meanings varied from broad to narrow. On the Pelagian position it is nothing other than the decree to grant eternal salvation to those whose faith and perseverance God had foreseen, and to consign others, whose sins and unbelief he had foreseen, to eternal punishment. The creation, the fall, Christ, the preaching of the gospel and the offer of grace to all, a persevering faith or unbelief—they all precede predestination, are not included in it but excluded from it. This decree is restricted to the decision to predestine some to eternal life and others to eternal punishment. Here predestination is understood in the most restricted sense and is totally dependent on the bare foreknowledge of God. It is uncertain and undeserving of the name “predestination.” Not God but humans make history and determine the outcome of it. This view has been sufficiently rebutted above and needs no further discussion here.131

What does need further consideration is the important difference between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism. This, in fact, consists in nothing other than a more restricted or broader definition of the concept of predestination. Augustine, to cite a major figure in this discussion, restricted the word in two ways. In the first place, in the order of the decrees he had the decree of predestination follow that of creation and the fall; second, he usually construed the word in a favorable sense, equated foreordination with election, and favored describing the decree of reprobation with the word “foreknowledge.” Predestination tells us what God does, that is, the good; but foreknowledge refers to what humans do, that is, evil.132 Generally speaking, scholasticism,133 Roman Catholicism,134 and Lutheranism 135 followed this latter usage. The infralapsarians among Reformed theologians similarly had the decree of creation and fall precede that of election and reprobation. But while the majority of them were willing to include reprobation in the decree of predestination—provided it follows that of the fall—and hence spoke of “double predestination,”136 others preferred to restrict predestination to election and to treat reprobation separately under a different name.137 Now if the word “predestination” is not construed in a Pelagian sense and reprobation is not withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the divine will, as was done in the thinking of later Catholic and Lutheran theologians, this difference is not material but merely verbal.138 Still, it is characteristic for the infralapsarian position that the decree of creation and fall precedes that of election and reprobation. Supralapsarianism, by contrast, so expanded predestination that it includes the decree of creation and the fall, which are then considered as means leading to an ultimate end: the eternal state of rational creatures.

In Reformed churches and theology both views of predestination, the supra- as well as the infralapsarian, have always been accorded equal recognition. While the Dutch confessional standards are infralapsarian in outlook, no ecclesiastical assembly, not even the Synod of Dort, ever made things difficult for a supralapsarian. The Lambeth articles of 1595, which were included in the Irish Confession of 1615 (ch. 3) as well as the Westminster Confession, intentionally leave the issue undecided. Reformed theologians have always extended equal rights to both views.139 Spanheim used to say that when he lectured in a theological classroom, he was a supralapsarian, but when speaking to his congregation he was an infralapsarian.140 And indeed, both are fundamentally Reformed. On the one hand, supralapsarians teach as decisively as infralapsarians that God is not the author of sin but that the cause of sin lies in the human will. Although as the Omnipotent One God may have predestined the fall and exercised his government also in and through sin, he remains holy and righteous. Humans fall and sin voluntarily through their own fault. “Man falls as God’s providence ordains, but he falls by his own fault.”141 Also, supralapsarians did not arrive at their view by philosophical speculation, but presented this view because they deemed it to be more in harmony with Holy Scripture. Just as Augustine arrived at his doctrine of predestination by studying Paul, so the scriptural doctrine of sin led Calvin to his supralapsarianism. According to his own testimony, in passing on this perspective he was not giving his readers philosophy but the truth that is according to the Word of God.142 On the other hand, Reformed theologians of the infralapsarian persuasion fully recognize that God did not, by foreknowledge, merely foresee the fall and sin and eternal punishment, but included and foreordained them in his decree.143

On the decrees themselves and on their content, accordingly, there is no disagreement. Both parties reject free will, and deny that faith is the cause of election and that sin is the cause of reprobation, and thus combat Pelagianism. Both parties ultimately rest their case in the sovereign good pleasure of God. The difference only concerns the order of the decrees. Infralapsarians adhere to the historical, causal order; supralapsarians prefer the ideal, teleological order. The former construe the term “predestination” in a restricted sense and have the decree of creation, fall, and providence precede it. The latter subsume all the other decrees under the term “predestination.” In the thinking of the infralapsarians, the emphasis lies on the plurality of the decrees; in that of the supralapsarians, on the unity of the decrees. In the former, all the decrees to some degree have a significance of their own; in the latter, the preceding decrees are all subordinate to the final decree.

This difference is not resolved by an appeal to Scripture. For while infralapsarianism is supported by all the passages in which election and reprobation have reference to a fallen world and are represented as acts of mercy and of justice (Deut. 7:6–9; Matt. 12:25–26; John 15:19; Rom. 9:15–16; Eph. 1:4–12; 2 Tim. 1:9), supralapsarianism finds support in all the texts that declare God’s absolute sovereignty, especially in relation to sin (Ps. 115:3; Prov. 16:4; Isa. 10:15; 45:9; Jer. 18:6; Matt. 20:15; Rom. 9:17, 19–21). The simple fact that each of these views rests on a specific group of texts and fails to do full justice to the other group already suggests the one-sidedness of both groups. Infralapsarianism deserves praise for its modesty inasmuch as it does not offer a solution and abides by the historical causal order. Also, it seems less harsh and shows greater consideration for the demands of [pastoral] practice. However, it does not satisfy the mind, because reprobation can no more be understood as an act of divine justice than election. Faith and good works, we know, are not the cause of election; but neither is sin the cause of reprobation, which lies solely in God’s sovereign good pleasure. The decree of reprobation, accordingly, always in a sense precedes the decree to permit sin. Moreover, if in the divine consciousness the decree of reprobation did not occur until after the decree to permit sin, the question inevitably arises: then why did he permit sin? Did that permission consist in an act of bare foreknowledge, and was the fall actually a frustration of God’s plan? But no Reformed believers, even if they are infralapsarians, can or may ever say such a thing. Reformed believers must in a sense include the fall in God’s decree and conceive of it as having been foreordained. But why did God, by an act of efficacious permission, foreordain the fall? Infralapsarianism has no answer to this question other than God’s good pleasure, but in that case it says the same thing as supralapsarianism. Reprobation cannot be explained as an act of divine justice, for the first sinful act at any rate was permitted by God’s sovereignty. Infralapsarianism, reasoning backward, still ends up with a supralapsarian position. If it refused to end up there, it would have to resort to “foreknowledge.”

Add to this, finally, that it puts the decree of reprobation after that of the fall, but where? Was original sin, the sin committed by our first ancestor, the point at which God decided to reject the “many,” and in making this dreadful decree did God leave actual sins totally out of consideration? But if reprobation must be traced to God’s justice, as infralapsarianism insists, why not rather place it, not only after the entrance of original sin, but after the completed commission of all actual sins and so reject every reprobate individually? This was in fact the teaching of Arminius, who also included the sin of foreseen unbelief in this decree. But that, of course, would not do for a Reformed theologian. For then reprobation would depend on bare foreknowledge, that is, on the conduct of human beings. In that case the sinful deeds of humans would be the ultimate cause of reprobation. For that reason theologians rather arbitrarily placed the decree of reprobation immediately after the fall and stopped there. In reality, therefore, with reference to all actual sins infralapsarianism taught exactly the same thing as supralapsarianism. Reprobation, here, may not precede original sin, but it certainly precedes all other sins. Infralapsarianism may seem more gentle and fair, but upon deeper reflection this proves to be little more than appearance.

Accordingly, supralapsarianism undoubtedly has in its favor that it refrains from all useless attempts at justifying God. In the cases of both reprobation and election, it grounds itself in God’s sovereign, incomprehensible, yet always wise and holy good pleasure. Yet it is, if not more unsatisfactory, at least as unsatisfactory as infralapsarianism. While it assumes the appearance of a solution, in fact at no point and in no respect does it offer a solution.

In the first place, while it is true that the revelation of all God’s perfections is undoubtedly the ultimate goal of all God’s ways, supralapsarianism is mistaken when it immediately includes in this ultimate end the manner in which this glory of God will in the hereafter manifest itself in the eternal state of his rational creatures. For that eternal state, both of blessedness and of perdition, is not itself the ultimate goal, but a means designed to reveal all God’s perfections on a creaturely level. After all, one cannot say that God could not have manifested his glory in the salvation of all, had he so desired. Nor is it correct to say that in the eternal state of the lost, God exclusively reveals his justice, and in that of the elect he exclusively reveals his mercy. Also, in the church, purchased as it was by the blood of his Son, God’s justice becomes manifest; and also, in the place of perdition there are degrees of punishment and hence glimmerings of his mercy. The ultimate goal of all God’s works indeed is, and has to be, his glory; but having said this we have not yet said a word about the manner in which his glory will shine forth. This manner has been determined by his will, and although God also had his wise and holy reasons for it, we cannot say why he chose precisely this means and not another, why he planned the destruction of many and not the salvation of all. A further objection to supralapsarianism is that according to it the objects of the decree of election and reprobation are possible humans and, as Comrie added, a possible Christ. Granted, this last component has been eliminated from the supralapsarian position by others,144 but this does not remove the principle from which this error arose in the first place. Logically speaking, if the object of election is the salvation of possible persons, the decree must include the incarnation of a possible Christ, for the church and its head cannot be separated.

But aside from this, God’s decree of election and reprobation, whose sole object is “humans capable of being created and of falling,” is not yet actual but only provisional. Before very long supralapsarianism must again proceed to the infralapsarian order. For following the first decree concerning the election and reprobation of possible humans, comes the decree actually to create these possible humans and to let them fall. This decree must then be succeeded by still another with respect to these humans—now no longer regarded as possible but as actually existing entities—to elect some and to reject others. The logical order in supralapsarianism, therefore, leaves a lot to be desired. Actually it differs from infralapsarianism only in that, like Amyraldism, it prefaces the infralapsarian series of decrees with a decree concerning possibilities. But just what is a decree concerning possible human entities whose actual future existence is still absolutely uncertain? In the consciousness of God there is an infinite number of possible humans who will never really exist. The objects of the decree of election and reprobation, therefore, are “nonbeings,” not specific persons known to God by name. A final problem associated with supralapsarianism is that it makes the eternal punishment of reprobates an object of the divine will in the same manner and in the same sense as the eternal salvation of the elect; and further, that it makes sin, which leads to eternal punishment, a means in the same manner and in the same sense as redemption in Christ is a means toward eternal salvation.

Now, Reformed theologians all agree that sin and its punishment are willed and determined by God. It is also perfectly true that words like “permission” and “foreknowledge” in fact in no way contribute to the solution of difficulties. The questions, after all, remain precisely the same: Why did God, knowing everything in advance, create humans with the capacity to fall, and why did he not prevent the fall? Why did he allow all humans to fall in the fall of one person? Why does he not have the gospel preached to all humans, and why does he not bestow faith on all? In short, if God foreknows a thing and permits it, he does that either willingly or unwillingly. The latter is impossible. Accordingly, only the former is a real option: God’s permission is efficacious, an act of his will. Nor should it be supposed that the notion of permission is of any value or force against the charge that God is the author of sin, for one who permits someone to sin and hence to perish, although he is in a position to prevent it from happening, is as guilty as he who incites someone to sin. On the other hand, all agree also that sin, though not outside of the power of God’s will, is and remains nevertheless contrary to his will, that it is not a means to the ultimate goal but a serious disruption of God’s creation, and therefore that Adam’s fall [into sin] was not a forward step but most certainly a fall. It also has to be granted that, though we can with good reason take exception to such terms as “permission,” “foreknowledge,” “preterition,” and “dereliction,” no one is able to come up with better ones. Even the most rigorous supralapsarian cannot dispense with these words, either from the pulpit or from behind an academic theological lectern.145 For though one may assume that there is a “predestination to death,” no Reformed theologian has ventured to speak of a “predestination to sin.” Every one of them (Zwingli, Calvin, Beza, Zanchius, Gomarus, Comrie, et al.) has maintained that God is not the author of sin, that humans were not created for perdition, that in reprobation also the severity of God’s justice is manifested, that reprobation is not the “primary cause” but only the “accidental cause” of sin, that sin is not the “efficient” but the “sufficient” cause of reprobation, and so forth.

Accordingly—and fortunately!—supralapsarianism is consistently inconsistent. It starts out with a bold leap forward but soon afterward it shrinks back and relapses into the infralapsarianism it had previously abandoned. Among the proponents of supralapsarianism this phenomenon is very clear. Almost all of them were reluctant to place the decree of reprobation (in its entirety and without any restriction) before the decree to permit sin. The Thomists differentiated between a negative and a positive reprobation, the former preceding creation and fall, and the latter following them. This distinction, though in a more or less modified form, regularly returns in the works of Reformed theologians. All of them acknowledge that the decree of reprobation must be distinguished from condemnation (which is the implementation of that decree), occurs in time, and is prompted by sin.146 But in the decree of reprobation itself many of them again differentiate between a preceding, more general decree of God to reveal his perfections, notably his mercy and justice, in certain humans “capable of being created and falling”—and a subsequent specific decree to create these “possible humans,” to permit them to fall and to sin, and to punish them for their sins.147

Inadequacy of Supra- and Infralapsarianism

[245] Thus neither supralapsarianism nor infralapsarianism succeeded in solving this problem and in doing justice to the many-sidedness of Scripture. In part this failure is due to the one-sidedness that characterizes both views.148 In the first place, it is incorrect, as we stated above, to describe the ultimate end of all things as the revelation of God’s mercy in the elect and of his justice in the lost. Most certainly, the glory of God with the manifestation of his perfections is the ultimate goal of all things; yet the double state of human blessedness and human wretchedness is not included in that ultimate goal but is related to it as a means. It is strictly indemonstrable that this double state has to be an integral part of the ultimate goal of God’s glory. When God accomplishes his works ad extra, he can never have in view anything other than the honor of his name. But that he seeks to establish his honor in this and in no other way, is to be ascribed to his sovereignty and nothing else. Even aside from this, however, it is not true that God’s justice can only be manifested in the wretched state of the lost and his mercy only in the blessedness of the elect, for in heaven, too, his justice and holiness are radiantly present, and even in hell there is still some evidence of his mercy and goodness.

In the second place, it is incorrect to represent the wretched state of the lost as the goal of predestination. Admittedly, sin cannot be traced to a bare foreknowledge and permission of God. The fall, sin, and eternal punishment are included in the divine decree and in a sense willed by God, but then always only in a certain sense and not in the same manner as grace and blessedness. God takes delight in the latter, but sin and punishment are not occasions of pleasure or joy to God. When he makes sin subservient to his honor, he does it by his omnipotence, but this is contrary to the nature of sin. And when he punishes the wicked, he does not delight in their suffering as such; rather, in this punishment he celebrates the triumph of his perfections (Deut. 28:63; Ps. 2:4; Prov. 1:26; Lam. 3:33). And though on the one hand, with a view to the comprehensive and immutable character of God’s counsel, there is no objection to speaking of a “double predestination,” on the other hand we must bear in mind that in the one case predestination is of a different nature than in the other. “Predestination is the disposition, end, and ordering of a means to an end. Since eternal damnation is not the goal but only the termination of human life, reprobation cannot properly be classified under predestination. For these two things—to order to a goal and to order to damnation—are at variance with each other. For by its very nature, every goal is the optimal end and perfection of a thing. Damnation, however, is the ultimate evil and the ultimate imperfection, so that it cannot properly be said that God predestined some humans to damnation.”149 Hence, no matter how emphatically and often Scripture says that sin and punishment have been determined by God, the words “purpose,” “foreknowledge,” and “predestination” are used almost exclusively with reference to “predestination to glory.”

In the third place, there is still another reason why it is less proper to coordinate “predestination to eternal death” with “predestination to eternal life” and to treat the former as the ultimate goal in the same sense as the latter. The object of election is not just an aggregate of certain individuals, as in the case of reprobation, but the human race reconstituted under a new head: Christ. Hence, by the grace of God not just some individuals are saved, but the human race itself in conjunction with the entire cosmos. Moreover, in this salvation of the human race and the world as a whole, it is not just some of God’s perfections that are manifested, so that in addition a realm of eternal perdition would be needed to manifest his justice, but in the consummated kingdom of God all his virtues and perfections are fully unfolded: his justice as well as his grace, his holiness as well as his love, his sovereignty as well as his mercy. Hence, this state of glory is the real and direct end—although also subordinated to his honor—that God has in view with his creation.

In the fourth place, both supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism erred in that they placed all the things that are antecedent to the ultimate goal as means in subordinate relations also to each other. It is true, of course, that the means are all subordinate to the ultimate goal, but they are not for that reason subordinate to each other. Creation is not just a means for the attainment of the fall, nor is the fall only a means for the attainment of grace and perseverance, and these components in turn are not just a means for the attainment of blessedness and eternal wretchedness. We must never lose sight of the fact that the decrees are as abundantly rich in content as the entire history of the world, for the latter is the total unfolding of the former. Who could possibly sum up world history in a logical outline of just a few terms? Creation, fall, sin, Christ, faith, unbelief, and so forth, are certainly not just related to each other as means, so that a preceding one can fall away the moment the next one has been reached. As Twisse already noted: “These elements are not just subordinated to each other, but are also related coordinately.”150 Certainly the creation of the world did not just occur to make room for the event of the fall, but resulted in something that will continue even in the state of glory. The fall did not just take place to produce creatures existing in a state of misery, but retains its meaning as a fact with all the consequences that have arisen from it. Christ did not only become a mediator—a position that would have been sufficient for the expiation of sin—but God also ordained him to be head of the church. The history of the world is not a means that can be dispensed with once the end has come; instead, it has continuing impact and leaves its fruits in eternity.151 And election and reprobation themselves do not follow two straight parallel lines, for in unbelievers there is much that does not arise from reprobation, and in believers there is much that cannot be attributed to election. On the one hand, both election and reprobation presuppose sin and are acts of mercy and justice (Rom. 9:15; Eph. 1:4); on the other, both are also acts of divine sovereignty (Rom. 9:11, 17, 21). Similarly, even before the fall Adam was already a type of Christ (1 Cor. 15:47ff.), yet in Scripture the incarnation is always based on the fall of the human race (Heb. 2:14ff.). Sometimes Scripture uses language so strong that reprobation is completely coordinated with election, and eternal punishment is as much God’s goal as eternal blessedness (Luke 2:34; John 3:19–21; 1 Pet. 2:7–8; Rom. 9:17–18, 22; etc.). At other times eternal death is entirely absent from the biblical portrayal of the future: the end will be the triumphal consummation of the kingdom of God, the new heaven and the new earth, and the new Jerusalem, where God will be all in all (1 Cor. 15; Rev. 21–22). All things will be subordinate to the church as the church is to Christ (1 Cor. 3:21–23), and reprobation is totally subordinated to election.

Accordingly, neither the supralapsarian nor the infralapsarian view of predestination is capable of incorporating within its perspective the fullness and riches of the truth of Scripture and of satisfying our theological thinking. The truth inherent in supralapsarianism is that all the decrees together form a unity; that there is an ultimate goal to which all things are subordinated and serviceable; that the entrance of sin into the world was not something that took God by surprise, but in a sense willed and determined by him; that from the very beginning the creation was designed to make re-creation possible; and that even before the fall, in the creation of Adam, things were structured with a view to Christ.152 But the truth inherent in infralapsarianism is that the decrees, though they form a unity, are nevertheless differentiated with a view to their objects; that in these decrees one can discern not only a teleological but also a causal order; that the purpose of the creation and the fall is not exhausted by their being means to a final end; and that sin was above all and primarily a catastrophic disturbance of creation, one which of and by itself could never have been willed by God.

Generally speaking, the formulation of the ultimate goal of all things as God’s will to reveal his justice in the case of the reprobate and his mercy in the case of the elect, is overly simple and austere. The state of glory, Scripture tells us, will be rich and splendid beyond all description. We look for a new heaven, a new earth, a new humanity, a restored creation, an ever-progressing development never again disturbed by sin. To that end the creation and the fall, Adam and Christ, nature and grace, faith and unbelief, election and reprobation—all work together, each in its own way, not only consecutively but in concert. Indeed, even the present world, along with its history, is as such already an ongoing revelation of God’s perfections. It is not only a means toward the higher and richer revelation that is coming but has an inherent value of its own. It will continue to exert its influence in depth and in breadth also in the coming dispensation, and to furnish a new humanity with ever new reasons for the worship and glorification of God. Accordingly, inherent in the decrees reciprocally, as in the facts of world history, there is not only a causal and teleological but also an organic order. Given our limitations, we can only put ourselves in one or the other position, so that the proponents of a causal and the proponents of a teleological world-and-life view may at any time clash with each other. But for God the situation is very different. He surveys the whole world-historical scene. All things are eternally present to his consciousness. His counsel is one single conception, one in which all the particular decrees are arranged in the same interconnected pattern in which, a posteriori, the facts of history in part appear to us to be arranged now and will one day appear to be fully arranged.

This interconnected pattern is so enormously rich and complex that it cannot be reproduced in a single word such as “infralapsarian” or “supralapsarian.” It is both causally and teleologically connected. Preceding components impact subsequent components, but even future events already condition the past and the present. The whole picture is marked by immensely varied omnilateral interaction. Accordingly, predestination in the ordinary sense of the word as the foreordination of the eternal state of rational creatures and of the steps leading to that state, is not the one all-encompassing decree of God. While it is an utterly significant part of the counsel of God, it does not coincide with it. The counsel of God is the master concept because it is comprehensive. It covers all things without exception: heaven and earth, spirit and matter, things visible and invisible, creatures animate and inanimate. It is the one will of God governing the whole cosmos, past, present, and future. Predestination, however, concerns the eternal state of rational creatures and the steps or means leading to it, but it cannot include among those means everything that exists and occurs in the world. That is why in a previous section we discussed “providence” separately as a decree of God, though not as one that is separate from predestination. Much more than was the case in the past, the subject of common grace must be given its due also in the doctrine of the counsel of God. In short, the counsel of God and the cosmic history that corresponds to it must not be pictured exclusively—as infra- and supralapsarianism did—as a single straight line describing relations only of before and after, cause and effect, means and end; instead, it should also be viewed as a systemic whole in which things occur side by side in coordinate relations and cooperate in the furthering of what always was, is, and will be the deepest ground of all existence: the glorification of God. Just as in any organism all the parts are interconnected and reciprocally determine each other, so the world as a whole is a masterpiece of divine art, in which all the parts are organically interconnected. And of that world, in all its dimensions, the counsel of God is the eternal design.


[246] From the foregoing it has become evident in what sense reprobation must be considered a part of predestination. From the perspective of the comprehensive character of the counsel of God, we have every right to speak of a “double predestination.” Also sin, unbelief, death, and eternal punishment are subject to God’s governance. Not only is there no benefit in preferring the terms “foreknowledge” and “permission” over the term “predestination,” but Scripture, in fact, speaks very decisively and positively in this connection. It is true that Scripture seldom speaks of reprobation as an eternal decree. All the more, however, does it represent reprobation as an act of God in history. He rejects Cain (Gen. 4:5), curses Canaan (Gen. 9:25), expels Ishmael (Gen. 21:12; Rom. 9:7; Gal. 4:30), hates Esau (Gen. 25:23–26; Mal. 1:2–3; Rom. 9:13; Heb. 12:17), and permits the Gentiles to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16). Even within the circle of revelation there is frequent mention of a rejection by the Lord of his people and of particular persons (Deut. 29:28; 1 Sam. 15:23, 26; 16:1; 2 Kings 17:20; 23:27; Ps. 53:5; 78:67; 89:38; Jer. 6:30; 14:19; 31:37; Hos. 4:6; 9:17). But also in that negative event of rejection there is frequently present a positive action of God, consisting in hatred (Mal. 1:2–3; Rom. 9:13), cursing (Gen. 9:25), hardening (Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4; Deut. 2:30; Josh. 11:20; 1 Sam. 2:25; Ps. 105:25; John 12:40; Rom. 9:18), infatuation (1 Kings 12:15; 2 Sam. 17:14; Ps. 107:40; Job 12:24; Isa. 44:25; 1 Cor. 1:19), blinding and stupefaction (Isa. 6:9; Matt. 13:13; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26; Rom. 11:8). God’s reign covers all things, and he even has a hand in people’s sins. He sends a lying spirit (1 Kings 22:23; 2 Chron. 18:22), through Satan stirs up David (2 Sam. 24:1; 1 Chron. 21:1), tests Job (ch. 1), calls Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus his servants (2 Chron. 36:22; Ezra 1:1; Isa. 44:28; 45:1; Jer. 27:6; 28:14; etc.) and Assyria the rod of his anger (Isa. 10:5ff.). He delivers up Christ into the hands of his enemies (Acts 2:23; 4:28), sets him for the fall of many, and makes him a fragrance from death to death, a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense (Luke 2:34; John 3:19; John 9:39; 2 Cor. 2:16; 1 Pet. 2:8). He abandons people to their sins (Rom. 1:24), sends a spirit of delusion (2 Thess. 2:11), raises up Shimei to curse David (2 Sam. 16:10; cf. Ps. 39:9), uses Pharaoh to show his power (Rom. 9:17), and heals the man blind from birth to manifest his glory (John 9:3). Certainly in all these works of God one must not overlook people’s own sinfulness. In the process of divine hardening humans harden themselves (Exod. 7:13, 22; 8:15; 9:35; 13:15; 2 Chron. 36:13; Job 9:4; Ps. 95:8; Prov. 28:14; Heb. 3:8; 4:7). Jesus speaks in parables not only in order that people will fail to understand but also because people refuse to see or hear (Matt. 13:13). God gives people up to sin and delusion because they have made themselves deserving of it (Rom. 1:32; 2 Thess. 2:11). And it is ex posteriori that believers see God’s governing hand in the wicked deeds of enemies (2 Sam. 16:10; Ps. 39:9–10). Nevertheless, in all these things also the will and power of God become manifest, and his absolute sovereignty is revealed. He makes weal and creates woe; he forms the light and creates the darkness (Isa. 45:7; Amos 3:6); he creates the wicked for the day of evil (Prov. 16:4), does whatever he pleases (Ps. 115:3), does according to his will among the inhabitants of the earth (Dan. 4:35), inclines the heart of all humans as he wills (Prov. 16:9; 21:1), and orders their steps (Prov. 20:24; Jer. 10:23). Out of the same lump of clay he makes one vessel for beauty and another for menial use (Jer. 18; Rom. 9:20–24), has compassion upon whomever he wills and hardens the heart of whomever he wills (Rom. 9:18). He destines some people to disobedience (1 Pet. 2:8), designates some for condemnation (Jude 4), and refrains from recording the names of some in the Book of Life (Rev. 13:8; 17:8).

These numerous strong pronouncements of Scripture are daily confirmed in the history of humankind. The defenders of reprobation, accordingly, have always appealed to these appalling facts, of which history is full.153 Present in this world there is so much that is irrational, so much undeserved suffering, so many inexplicable disasters, such unequal and incomprehensible apportionment of good and bad fortune, such a heartbreaking contrast between joy and sorrow, that any thinking person has to choose between interpreting it—as pessimism does—in terms of the blind will of some misbegotten deity, or on the basis of Scripture believingly trusting in the absolute, sovereign, and yet—however incomprehensible—wise and holy will of him who will some day cause the full light of heaven to shine on those riddles of our existence. The acceptance or rejection of a decree of reprobation, therefore, should not be explained in terms of a person’s capacity for love and compassion. The difference between Augustine and Pelagius, Calvin or Castellio, Gomarus and Arminius is not that the latter were that much more gentle, loving, and tenderhearted than the former. On the contrary, it arises from the fact that the former accepted Scripture in its entirety, also including this doctrine; that they were and always wanted to be theistic and recognize the will and hand of the Lord also in these disturbing facts of life; that they were not afraid to look reality in the eye even when it was appalling. Pelagianism scatters flowers over graves, turns death into an angel, regards sin as mere weakness, lectures on the uses of adversity, and considers this the best possible world. Calvinism has no use for such drivel. It refuses to be hoodwinked. It tolerates no such delusion, takes full account of the seriousness of life, champions the rights of the Lord of lords, and humbly bows in adoration before the inexplicable sovereign will of God Almighty. As a result it proves to be fundamentally more merciful than Pelagianism. How deeply Calvin felt the gravity of what he said is evident from his use of the expression “dreadful decree.”154 Totally without warrant, this expression has been held against him. In fact, it is to his credit, not to his discredit. The decree, as Calvin’s teaching, is not dreadful, but dreadful indeed is the reality that is the revelation of that decree of God, a reality that comes through both in Scripture and in history. To all thinking humans, whether they are followers of Pelagius or Augustine, that reality remains completely the same. It is not something that can in any way be undone by illusory notions of it.

Now, in the context of this dreadful reality, far from coming up with a solution, Calvinism comforts us by saying that in everything that happens, it recognizes the will and hand of an almighty God, who is also a merciful Father. While Calvinism does not offer a solution, it invites us humans to rest in him who lives in unapproachable light, whose judgments are unsearchable, and whose paths are beyond tracing out. There lay Calvin’s comfort: “The Lord to whom my conscience is subject will be my witness that the daily meditation on his judgments leaves me so speechless that no curiosity tempts me to know anything more, no sneaking suspicion concerning his incomparable justice creeps over me, and in short, no desire to complain seduces me.”155 And in that peaceful state of mind he awaited the day when he would see [God] face to face and be shown the solution of these riddles.156

[247] Though, on the one hand, there is every reason to consider reprobation as a part of predestination, it is not in the same sense and manner a component of God’s decree as election, as the defenders of a double predestination have also at all times acknowledged. When the sovereignty of God, the positive and unambiguous witness of his Word, or the undeniable facts of history were at issue, these defenders were as intransigent as the apostle Paul and had no interest in compromise or mediation. In such situations they sometimes uttered harsh words, which could trouble the Pelagianistic human heart. Augustine, for example, once commented that God could not even be accused of wrongdoing if he had wanted to damn some people who were innocent. Said he: “If the human race, which exists as originally created out of nothing, had not been born under the guilt of death and with original sin, and the omnipotent Creator had wanted to condemn some to eternal perdition, who could say to the omnipotent Creator: Why have you done this?”157 Other theologians as well, also among the Reformed, have expressed themselves with a similar harshness. Anyone who realizes something of the incomparable greatness of God and the insignificance of humans, and considers how we frequently contemplate with complete indifference the most severe suffering of humans and animals—especially when such suffering is in our own interest or for the benefit of art or science—will think twice before condemning Augustine or others for such a statement, not to mention calling God to account. If the question here is only one of rights, what rights can we claim over against him who formed us out of nothing and to whom we owe everything we have and are? Still, though one may for a moment speak in this fashion to someone who believes he or she has a right to accuse God of injustice, Calvin and almost all later Reformed theologians have in the end firmly, and with indignation, rejected such “absolute rule.”158 Although the reason why God willed one thing and not another, chose some and rejected others, may be totally unknown to us, we do know his will is always wise and holy and good, and that he has his righteous reasons for everything he does. His power, we must insist, cannot be separated from his justice.159 If only God’s honor and sovereignty were first recognized, all Reformed theologians recommended the most cautious and tender treatment of the doctrine of predestination and warned against all vain and curious approaches to the subject. “Hence it is not appropriate for us to be too severe. If only we do not in the meantime either deny the truth of what Scripture clearly teaches and experience confirms, or venture to carp at it as if it were unbecoming to God.”160 Although God knows those who are his and the number of the elect is said to be small, “nevertheless, we should cherish a good hope for everyone and not rashly count anyone among the reprobate.”161

All of them maintained, furthermore, that, though sin is not outside the scope of the will of God, it is definitely against it. Sin, admittedly, could not have been the efficient and impelling cause of the decree of reprobation, for sin itself followed the eternal decree in time, and would, if it had been the cause, have resulted in the reprobation of all humans. However, it was the sufficient cause and definitely the meriting cause of eternal punishment. There is a distinction, after all, between the decree of reprobation and reprobation itself. The former, namely, the decree, has its ultimate ground in the will of God alone, but the act of reprobation itself takes account of sin. The decree of reprobation is realized through human culpability.162 This decree, therefore, is neither a blind fate impelling humans against their will, nor a sword of Damocles hanging threateningly over their head. It is nothing other than God’s idea of reality itself. In the decree cause and effect, condition and fulfillment, and the whole web of things are linked together in precisely the way it is in reality. In the decree sin, guilt, misery, and punishment have the same character and relate to each other in the same way as in the empirical world we daily observe. With our own eyes we see that decree—which was not revealed to us beforehand—gradually unfold in all its fullness in history. As we on our part think about it, that decree is and has to be an exact reflection of reality. We see and think about things after they occur. But on God’s part the decree is the eternal idea of reality as it gradually unfolds in time. His ideas of things precedes their actual existence. What the decree of reprobation finally comes down to is that this entire sinful reality, all of world history as an interconnected series of events, is ultimately caused, not by factors inherent in itself—how indeed could it?—but by something extramundane: the mind and will of God. The decree does not in the least change reality. Reality is and remains identical, whether one follows Augustine or Pelagius. But the decree prompts the believer to confess that also this dreadful world—which Manichaeism attributes to an antigod, pessimism to a blind malevolent will, and many others to fate or chance—exists in accordance with the will of him who presently would have us walk by faith, but who will at sometime in the future, on the day of days, vindicate himself before all creatures.

Entirely mistaken, therefore, is the notion that the counsel of God in general and the decree of reprobation in particular is a single naked decision of the divine will concerning someone’s eternal destiny. It is wrong to conceive the decree as if it determined only a person’s end and coerced him or her in that direction regardless of what they did. The decree is as inconceivably rich as reality itself. It is, in fact, the fountainhead of all reality. It encompasses in a single conception the end as well as the ways leading to it, the goal along with the means of reaching it. It is not a transcendent power randomly intervening now and then from above and impelling things toward their appointed end. On the contrary, it is the divinely immanent eternal idea that displays its fullness in the forms of space and time and successively—in its several dimensions—unfolds before our limited field of vision that which is one in the mind of God. The decree of reprobation, accordingly, does not exist separately alongside other decrees, not even alongside that of election. In real life sin and grace, punishment and blessing, and justice and mercy do not occur dualistically side by side as though the reprobate were visited only with sin and punishment and the elect only with grace and blessing. Believers, after all, still sin daily and stumble in many ways. Are the sins of believers the consequence of election? No one will say this is so. True, these sins are again made subservient by God to their salvation, and all things work together for good to those who are called (Rom. 8:28). But this is not the natural outcome of those sins themselves; it is the result only of the gracious omnipotence of God, who is able to bring good out of evil. Sins, therefore, are not means of salvation, as regeneration and faith are. They are not “a preparation for grace” but, inherently, the “negation of grace.”163 Hence, the law is still important also for believers. For that reason they are still admonished to be zealous to confirm their election (2 Pet. 1:10), and among them, too, we sometimes witness a temporary hardening and rejection. Conversely, the reprobates also receive many blessings, blessings that do not as such arise from the decree of reprobation but from the goodness and grace of God. They receive many natural gifts—life, health, strength, food, drink, good cheer, and so forth (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17; 17:27; Rom. 1:19; James 1:17)—for God does not leave himself without a witness. He endures them with much patience (Rom. 9:22). He has the gospel of his grace proclaimed to them and takes no pleasure in their death (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; Matt. 23:27; Luke 19:41; 24:47; John 3:16; Acts 17:30; Rom. 11:32; 1 Thess. 5:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Pelagians infer from these verses that God’s actual intention is to save all people individually, and therefore that there is no preceding decree of reprobation. But that is not what these verses teach. They do say, however, that it is the will of God that all the means of grace be used for the salvation of the reprobates. Now, these means of grace do not as such flow from the decree of reprobation. They can be abused to that end; they may serve to render humans inexcusable, to harden them, and to make their condemnation all the heavier—like the sun, which may warm but also scorch a person. Yet in and by themselves they are not means of reprobation but means of grace with a view to salvation.164

So, whereas election and reprobation may culminate in a final and total separation, on earth they continually crisscross each other. This indicates that in and by itself neither of the two is a final goal, and that in the mind of God they were never a final cause. Both are means toward the attainment of the glory of God, which is the ultimate goal and, therefore, the fundamental ground of all things. Accordingly, the beginning and the end, the reason and purpose of all that is, is something good. Sin and its punishment can never as such, and for their own sake, have been willed by God. They are contrary to his nature. He is far removed from wickedness and does not willingly afflict anyone. When he does it, it is not because, deep down, he wants to. They can therefore have been willed by God only as a means to a different, better, and greater good. There is even a big difference between election and reprobation. Whatever God does, he does for his own sake. The cause and purpose of election, accordingly, also lies in God. The truth is that in the work he accomplishes as a result of election, he takes great delight. In that work his own perfections are brilliantly reflected back to him. The new creation is the mirror of his perfections. But what he does in keeping with the decree of reprobation is not directly and as such the object of his delight. Sin is not itself a good. It only becomes a good inasmuch as, contrary to its own nature, it is compelled by God’s omnipotence to advance his honor. It is a good indirectly because, being subdued, constrained, and overcome, it brings out God’s greatness, power, and justice. God’s sovereignty is never more brilliantly manifested than when he manages to overrule evil for good (Gen. 50:20) and makes evil subservient to the salvation of the church (Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 3:21–23), the glory of Christ (1 Cor. 15:24ff.; Eph. 1:21–22; Phil. 2:9; Col. 1:16), and the glory of God’s name (Prov. 16:4; Ps. 51:4; Job 1:21; John 9:3; Rom. 9:17, 22–23; 11:36; 1 Cor. 15:28).


[248] Predestination finally culminates, therefore, in election. In this activity it reaches its pinnacle and comes to its full realization. In its consummate form it is the decree of God concerning the revelation of his perfection in the eternal glorious state of his rational creatures and the disposition of the means leading to that end. Even at that, reprobation may not be forgotten. It is only by contrast to this dark counterpart that election itself shines most brilliantly. It is a matter of the utmost seriousness that also on this superlatively high level, where the issue is the eternal weal and woe of rational creatures, the day comes up out of the blackness of the night, and light is born out of darkness. It seems that the rule “many are called but few are chosen” is valid everywhere. There’s a deep truth in the saying that one person’s death is another person’s breath. Darwin’s doctrine of the survival of the fittest has universal validity and is in force throughout God’s creation. Thousands of blossoms fall to the ground so that a few may ripen and bear fruit. Millions of living beings are born, yet only a few remain alive.165 Thousands of people labor in the sweat of their face in order that a few persons may swim in wealth. Riches, art, science, all that is high and noble, are built on a foundation of poverty, deprivation, and ignorance. The equal distribution envisioned in socialist theory has never been seen anywhere in the world. Equality exists in no area of life. Election exists everywhere alongside, and on the basis of, reprobation. The world is not ordered according to the Pharisaic law of work and reward. Merit and riches are totally unrelated.166 And even on the highest level, it is only God’s grace that makes the difference. Like all the decrees, so also that of election is ultimately rooted in God’s good pleasure. Pelagians of all stripes have consistently wanted to view these decrees as acts of divine justice based on human merit. In his decrees God allowed himself to be conditioned by the foreseen behaviors of his creatures. He offers salvation to all. He grants faith to those who by their natural or God-given supernatural power made good use of this offer. He saves those who persevere in faith to the very end. Now, it is true that there is a certain order among the decrees: they include both the goal and the steps leading to it. In God’s decree the prayer of his children is linked to his hearing that prayer. When God decreed to give rain in a period of drought, he at the same time decreed that his people would pray for it, and that he would give rain in answer to their prayer. In his decree he made a connection between sunshine and warmth, sowing and harvesting, indolence and poverty, knowledge and power (etc.); and similarly between sin and punishment, unbelief and perdition, faith and salvation. The harmony existing between phenomena and events in the real world is a complete and exact duplicate of the harmony existing in the world of God’s thoughts and decrees.167

Scripture often confines itself to these secondary causes, and Reformed theologians, too, have fully recognized their significance. But by implication these secondary causes are not the final and most fundamental causes. And one cannot escape inquiring into the latter. From all directions questions crowd in upon us. What is the interconnection between the phenomena and the events we keep seeing in the world? An appeal to the nature of these things is not conclusive, for that nature also has been created and determined by God. Science can register the that of things but not the why Why is there causality between creatures? Why is every creature what it is? Why is there such endless diversity among creatures in kind, nature, gender, species, power, intelligence, riches, honor, and so forth? Within the realm of creation no reason can be found. The same thing is true of rational creatures. Why are some angels destined for eternal glory, while the fall and perdition of others are both foreseen and preordained? Why was the human nature that Christ assumed dignified to this honor? Why is one person born within, and another outside, the precincts of Christianity?

Why does one person have so many advantages over another in character, talent, disposition, and upbringing? Why does the one child die in infancy and as a child of the covenant is taken into heaven, while another dies outside of the covenant and without grace? Why does the one become a believer and another not? All of these are questions that no mortal can answer. God’s decrees cannot be understood as acts of a justice that operates according to works performed and merit achieved. Especially in the case of angels it is clear that the ultimate reason for their election and rejection has to lie in the will of God. For even if one resorts to foreknowledge and answers that God foresaw the perseverance of some and the fall of other angels, the fact remains that this foreknowledge preceded their creation. Why then did God create the angels whose fall he foresaw? Why did he not give them sufficient grace to remain obedient like the others? We have here a clear instance of a reprobation based solely on God’s sovereignty.168 On the other hand, election as such is not always an act of mercy or explicable as such. In the election of Christ and of the good angels, there was no sin and hence no mercy either. And the election of humans, though an act of mercy, is not explicable in terms of mercy alone. For then God would have had to be merciful to all, since all [had sinned and] were wretched. Similarly, reprobation, though an act of justice, cannot be explained in terms of justice alone, for then all would have been rejected.169

Accordingly, though the decrees are interconnected, as acts of God they are not conditional but absolute: acts of pure sovereignty. Similarly, though God established a causal connection between sin and punishment, and though he maintains that connection in everyone’s conscience, the decree of reprobation has its ultimate ground, not in sin and unbelief, but in the will of God (Prov. 16:4; Matt. 11:25–26; Rom. 9:11–22; 1 Pet. 2:8; Rev. 13:8). Similarly, there is a causal connection between faith and salvation, but the decree of election is not prompted by foreseen faith; on the contrary, election is the cause of faith (Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 4:7; Eph. 1:4–5; 2:8; Phil. 1:29). Even Christ cannot be viewed as “the cause of election,” though a good interpretation can be given to this phrase. Thomas correctly states that Christ is the cause of our predestination, not when it is considered as an act or decree, but with a view to its purpose and goal. “For God preordained our salvation by an act of predestination from eternity in order to fulfill it through Jesus Christ.”170 Similarly, some Reformed theologians also spoke of Christ as the “cause” or “foundation of election,” or of election through and on account of Christ.171 Now, Christ is indeed the cause or foundation of election inasmuch as election is realized in and through him. He is also the meritorious cause of salvation, which is the purpose of election, as well as the mediator and head of the elect. The decree of election was made also with a view to the Son—out of love for him.172 The church and Christ are jointly chosen, in one and the same decree, in fellowship with and for each other (Eph. 1:4). But this does not yet mean that as mediator Christ is the “actual, moving, and meritorious cause” of the decree of election. In that sense Christ has indeed been called the cause of election by many Roman Catholic, Remonstrant,173 Lutheran,174 and modern theologians.175 But Reformed theologians have rightly opposed this view.176 For Christ, who is himself the object of predestination, cannot at the same time be its cause. He is a gift of the Father’s love, which precedes the sending of the Son (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 8:29; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 John 4:9). The Son did not move the Father to love; electing love arose from the Father himself. Scripture, accordingly, everywhere teaches that the cause of all the decrees does not lie in any creature but only in God himself, in his will and good pleasure (Matt. 11:26; Rom. 9:11ff.; Eph. 1:4ff.). For that very reason, both for unbelievers and believers, the doctrine of election is a source of inexpressibly great comfort. If it were based on justice and merit, all would be lost. But now that election operates according to grace, there is hope even for the most wretched. If work and reward were the standard of admission into the kingdom of heaven, its gates would be opened for no one. Or if Pelagius’s doctrine were the standard, and the virtuous were chosen because of their virtue, and Pharisees because of their righteousness, wretched publicans would be shut out. Pelagianism has no pity. But to believe in and to confess election is to recognize even the most unworthy and degraded human being as a creature of God and an object of his eternal love. The purpose of election is not—as it is so often proclaimed—to turn off the many but to invite all to participate in the riches of God’s grace in Christ. No one has a right to believe that he or she is a reprobate, for everyone is sincerely and urgently called to believe in Christ with a view to salvation. No one can actually believe it, for one’s own life and all that makes it enjoyable is proof that God takes no delight in his death. No one really believes it, for that would be hell on earth. But election is a source of comfort and strength, of submissiveness and humility, of confidence and resolution. The salvation of human beings is firmly established in the gracious and omnipotent good pleasure of God.

[249] The glory of election is even more splendidly evident, finally, when we consider its object and goal. In the past, that object was usually particularized and discussed in three categories: angels, humans, and Christ. On the subject of humans there is no disagreement. All agree that the real objects of predestination and election are humans, whether viewed as fallible or fallen, as actual or potential believers. This is not to be understood in the sense that humanity, peoples, generations, or even the church in general—without any further specification and as opposed to individuals and special persons—are the objects of election, as Schleiermacher, Lipsius, Ritschl, and others claim.177 This view is a pure abstraction since humanity, people, family, and church solely consist of particular persons. It is also contrary to Scripture, for Scripture teaches a personal election (Mal. 1:2; Rom. 9:10–12 [Jacob]; Acts 13:48 [as many as]; Rom. 8:29 [whom]; Eph. 1:4 [us]; Gal. 1:15 [Paul]) and speaks of the names of the elect that are written in the Book of Life (Isa. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; etc.)

It is also true, however, that in Scripture the elect are not viewed separately, that is, atomistically, but as a single organism. They constitute the people of God, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. They are, accordingly, elect in Christ (Eph. 1:4), to be members of his body. Hence, both Christ and the church are included in the decree of predestination. For that reason Augustine already wrote: “Therefore, just as that one man was predestined to be our head, so we being many, are predestined to be his members.”178 The Synod of Toledo (675) expressed itself along similar lines,179 and scholasticism treated the predestination of Christ at great length, especially on the basis of Romans 1:5. 180 Lutheran theologians demurred, however, because they viewed predestination as election from sin to salvation through the mercy of God.181 This prompted the Reformed all the more vigorously to bring out that Christ was also preordained and together with the church was the object of God’s election. There was even some debate over whether Christ was the object of predestination alone or also of election. Some, such as Calvin, Gomarus, Marck, and de Moor, said that Christ was destined to be mediator to bring about the salvation of his own. Consequently, the election of his people logically preceded the foreordination of Christ as mediator.182 But others, such as Zanchius, Polanus, and the [Leiden] Synopsis [1625], view Christ also as the object of election, since he was foreordained to be not only the mediator but also the head of the church. In this perspective the election of Christ logically precedes that of the church.183

Now it is undoubtedly true that Christ was ordained to be mediator to accomplish everything necessary for the salvation of humans; and it is equally certain that Christ was not elected by God’s mercy from sin and misery to glory and blessedness. Yet also in connection with the Messiah Scripture frequently speaks of God’s election (Isa. 42:1; 43:10; Ps. 89:3, 19; Matt. 12:18; Luke 23:35; 24:26; Acts 2:23; 4:28; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2:4). This act was rightly called “election” because from all eternity the Father designated the Son to be mediator, and above all because Christ’s human nature was foreordained—by grace alone and aside from any merit—to union with the Logos and to the office of mediator. Strictly speaking, however, this still makes Christ only an object of predestination, inasmuch as predestination, in distinction from election, by definition includes the arrangement of means to an end. On the other hand, Scripture states with equal emphasis that the church is elect in and for Christ, to be conformed to his image, and to see his glory (John 17:22–24; Rom. 8:29). Christ was foreordained not only to be the mediator but also to be head of the church. All things were created through him and for him (1 Cor. 3:23; Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:16ff.). It is not that Christ was thereby made the ground and foundation of our election; but the election of the church is the very first benefit bestowed on the church; and even this benefit already occurred in union with Christ, and above all it has as its goal, not as its foundation, that all other benefits—rebirth, faith, and so forth—will be imparted to the church by Christ. In this sense, then, the election of Christ logically precedes our own.

But no matter how this logical order was construed, all Reformed theologians agreed that Christ together with his church, that is, the mystical Christ, was the real object of election. “By one indivisible decree we are all elect, both Christ and we.”184 But they did not stop there. In line with Augustine 185 and other scholastics,186 but contrary to the Lutherans,187 they also included angels in the decree of predestination. This was occasioned in part by Scripture (1 Tim. 5:21; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; Matt. 25:41), while the example of Christ was proof that election does not always presuppose a state of sin and misery. Accordingly, although in Scripture election (ἐκλογη) is viewed as separation from the peoples of the world (Gen. 12:1; Deut. 7:6; 30:3; Jer. 29:14; 51:45; Ezek. 11:17; Hos. 11:1; Acts 2:40; Phil. 2:15; 1 Pet. 2:9), and the number of the elect is often represented as being very small (Matt. 7:14; 22:14; Luke 12:32; 13:23–24), still in that elect assembly (ἐκκλησια) the world is being saved. Not just a few people from the world but the world itself is the object of God’s love (John 3:16–17; 4:42; 6:33; 12:47; 2 Cor. 5:19). In Christ all things, both in heaven and on earth, are reconciled to God, and in him they are all gathered into one (Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20). The world, which was created by the Son, is also predestined for the Son as its heir (Col. 1:16; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 11:15). So it is not a random aggregate of things but an organic whole that is known by God in election and saved by Christ’s redemption. “A reconciled world will be delivered from a hostile world. The church without spot and wrinkle, gathered from all the nations and destined to reign forever with Christ, is itself the country of the blessed, the land of the living.”188 Precisely because the object of election is a perfect organism, election itself can only be conceived as a fixed and specific decree of God. In an aggregate the number of its parts is totally immaterial. But an organism must by its very nature be based on measure and number. God chose Christ to be the head, and the church as his body; together they must grow into a fully mature “person,” in whom every member has his or her own place and fulfills his or her own role. Election is the divine “idea,” the eternal blueprint of the temple that he builds in the course of the ages and of which he is the supreme builder and architect. All things are subordinate and subservient to the construction of that temple. Just as all the decrees of God culminate in that of the glorification of God, so the entire history of the world and humankind works together for the coming of the kingdom of God. “Even those who are not citizens of that kingdom,” says Calvin, “are born with a view to the salvation of the elect.”189 Creation and fall, preservation and governance, sin and grace, Adam and Christ—all contribute, each in his or her own way, to the construction of this divine edifice, and this building itself is built to the honor and glorification of God. “All [things] are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21–23 kjv).


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