Friday, September 18, 2009

1 Election, Assurance, Sanctification

As I continue to read through the early sermons in John Calvin's Sermons on Ephesians, I am struck by the depth of his analysis of election and God's purposes in it as he exposits the early verses of chapter 1 of the Epistle. I've already written of his argument that God cannot rightly be praised or known if He is not known as the Sovereignly-electing God - He who has elected whom He purposed prior to the foundation of the world to save, according to the good pleasure of His own will. If God is not acknowledged and praised for His attributes and His works as Scripture teaches them - which surely includes this doctrine of Election, then I do believe Calvin is right to question whether the one who rejects this doctrine truly knows who God is... His Sovereignty is part and parcel with His being God.

Further, in Calvin's 2nd and 3rd sermons in this series, he teaches that election is intimately tied to our assurance of salvation, and to our being encouraged to live a holy life. He writes,
"...we must not hesitate or doubt, but we must be thoroughly resolved and persuaded in ourselves that God counts us as his children. And how may that be but by embracing his mercy through faith, as he offers it to us in his gospel, and by assuring ourselves that we are grounded in his eternal election? ... If, then, our faith were not grounded in our election, it is certain that Satan might pluck it from us every minute. Though today we were the most steadfast in the world, yet we might fail tomorrow. But our Lord Jesus shows us the remedy to strengthen us against all temptations in that he says: 'You do not come to me of yourselves, but the heavenly Father brings you to me; and since I have taken you into my keeping, be no more afraid, for I acknowledge you as the inheritance of God my Father, and he that has given me charge of you and put you into my hand is stronger than all. [John 10:28-29] We see, then, that besides setting forth God's glory, our salvation also is assured by God's eternal predestination, which ought to be sufficient reason to move us to consider what St. Paul says of it in this place." (p. 29, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
If we were to ground our assurance in ourselves... what assurance could we possibly have that did not derive from delusions of grandeur about our own qualifications? Calvin has already struck down the idea of looking to ourselves in salvation - and here again he places our assurance in the fact that one stronger than we - stronger than all - holds us in His hand. As Christ also says elsewhere, NONE shall take those the Father has given to Him from His grasp. We may be assured insofar as we understand that God's electing purpose and His acceptance of Christ's full righteousness on our behalf have accomplished our salvation. Outside that, how can we have any assurance at all?

Commonly it is objected that the doctrine of election leads to libertinism - and this cannot be farther from the truth - and certainly is not a logical derivation from the verses on which Calvin preaches in these sermons (Eph. 1:3-6). For, he writes,
"he [Paul] shows here that although God's election is free and beats down and annihilates all the worthiness, works and virtues of men, nevertheless it does not provide us with license to do evil and to lead a disordered life, or to run amok, but rather it serves to withdraw us from the evil in which we were plunged...You see, then, that to which he meant to bring the faithful was to make them know that just as God has elected them of his own free grace, so he does not give them leave to yield themselves to all wickedness, but intends to keep and preserve them undefiled to himself. For God's electing of us and, with that, his calling of us to holiness are things joined inseparably together, even as St. Paul says in another passage, that we are not called to uncleanness and filthiness, but to be dedicated to God in all piety and holiness." (pp. 33-34, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
God's purpose in displaying His rich blessing of us was for encouragement and for our eyes to see that we might prayse Him all the more - not only with our mouths, as Calvin writes later, but with our whole life. Naturally, as we aim to live according to God's precepts and with a view to holiness of conduct and thought, we will find that we fail. This mustn't cause us to decide that we are not God's children after all, however - as Calvin later writes. We are not to assume that if we fail perfectly to uphold God's standards, we have lost His love or His adopting grace - though we surely are tempted to that. Calvin's words here are precious to the trembling believer:
"Moreover let us also observe that though God has reformed us and set us in the good way and made us to feel that he has worked in us already to subdue us to his Word and to make us serve him obediently in all things, yet it does not therefore follow that we are fully reformed on the first day, no, nor yet in our whole lifetime. St. Paul does not say that God brings his elected and faithful ones to the fulness of perfection, but that he draws them towards it, and so we are but in the way thitherward even to our death. Therefore, as long as we live in this world, let us learn to profit and go forward more and more, resting assured that there is still always very much that is blameworthy in us. For they that imagine any perfection are as good as bewitched by hypocrisy and pride, or rather, have no feeling or fear of God in them, but they are far gone mockers. For he that examines himself shall always find such as tore of vices that he shall be ashamed of them if he seriously consider them.

They then which say that we can reach any perfection while we dwell in this mortal body clearly show that either they are utterly blinded with devliish pride, or else that they are profane people, void of all religion and piety. As for us, let us note (what I touched on before) that God has elected us that we should be blameless, but that we are not able to be so till we are fully rid of all our infirmities and departed out of this prison of sin in which we are now held fast. [Rom. 7:24] And, therefore, when we feel any vices in us, let us fight bravely against them, and let us not be downhearted as though we were not God's children because we are not yet faultless before him, and our sins, which make us blameworthy, are always before our eyes...

You see then, that our place of refuge and succour is God's mercy by which he covers and buries all our sins, because we have not yet attained to the mark to which he calls, that is, to a holy and faultless life. But, be that as it may, let us still go forward and take good heed that we do not get enticed from the right way." (pp. 37-38, Sermons on Ephesians, Banner of Truth)
Finding the middle way - hatred of our sin, tears of recognition of our unworthiness before God, striving for holiness in all things, assurance of our acceptance before Him - requires faith and trust, and a resting in the assurance that can only be obtained as we consider ourselves in Christ. If our salvation depends on us, we are the most to be pitied. If instead we recognize that God has elected us of His free grace, and has accounted us righteous because of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf, how LOUD must our praises of God be! How glorious is this God! Praise Him, all ye lands, praise Him!


JamesL said...

My church library has a copy of this on their shelf. I read one page and was struck by the profound and simple way Calvin was preaching. Then I came on your site and read these review posts and I said,"maybe this is a providence for me to buy Calvin's sermons on Ephesians." :) Many thanks!



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