Calvin and the Doctrine of Election

Because of the reaction it caused, Calvin found himself rigourously defending the Doctrine of Election. He had to expand the section on Election in his Institutes. He was not unwilling to defend his understanding of this teaching because he felt he was defending a pastorally beneficial truth revealed by God.

His understanding was as follows: The Holy Spirit revealed that before the creation of the world, God the Father chose who would be saved through Jesus Christ His Son.

This choice was not generated by any future factors in the person who would receive this mercy, but was purely a result of God’s undeserved love.  He chose us.

Salvation is, therefore, a result of His grace and not the result of any desire for salvation or any work towards salvation on our part.

The recipient of this electing mercy, the sinner, must repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead in order to be saved.

The common experience of believers could be described like this: Having considered the claims of Christ, and having believed and been forgiven, we discover in Scripture that our salvation was God’s pre-ordained plan and not the result of our own choice or decision.This increases our appreciation of God’s particular love towards us and results in an increased desire to worship Him, live for Him and serve His purposes unselfishly.

Jesus Himself said, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit.’ (John 15:16 NIV)

Spurgeon on Election
CH Spurgeon, the 19th century British preacher, described his own delight in the Doctrine of Election this way: ‘I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine.’ (From the sermon, A Defence of Calvinism http://www.spurgeon.org/calvinis.htm)

A pastoral doctrine
The doctrine of election was not the headline teaching in Calvin’s Institutes.

Andrew Johnston writes, ‘It’s position in the Institutes is significant. It was treated in the third book dealing with the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and not, as one might expect, in Book One which dealt with the doctrine of God.

For Calvin, predestination was essentially a pastorally-orientated doctrine. It was a source of assurance to the believer and a means of humbling the proud…Calvin was always careful not to go beyond what the scriptures explicitly stated.

Rather than predestination, the central doctrines of the Institutes were the glory of God and the divinity of Christ.’ (Andrew Johnston, The Protestant Reformation in Europe. Longman. P.58)

This astonishing, unfathomable, controversial doctrine is stated in numerous places in Scripture. But this teaching did not originate with Calvin and any serious student of the Bible will need to grapple with it. There are many other references to this in Scripture, but we must keep on track with the historical story we are following.

2 Thess 2:13 ‘But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.’ (NIV)

Eph 1:3-6 ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace.’ (ESV)

Next time we’ll take a look at Calvin’s views on a number of different issues. There was no Calvin’s ‘Table Talk’, as there was with Luther, but we can still gain insight into his personal life and thought from various sources.

Read Calvin’s views on Preaching, Grieving and Being Single

Andrew Johnston leads Christ Church, Hailsham, Sussex, UK. Please visit http://www.christchurchhailsham.org/index.html for more details.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

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