Book 3 Chapter 24 Section 1-17
In the last two chapters we have considered God’s actions before the world was created – his electing purposes before the dawn of time. We can spend our days searching the scriptures to try and discern what God determined back then, but a more pressing question is, how do I know if I am one of the elect or not? How do these secret decrees and plans become woven into my life? Can I ever know if I am one of the elect? At his heart Calvin is a pastor and as such he is not content to leave his teaching of predestination and election in the recesses of theory. He wants his people to know the assurance of being part of God’s family.
He begins by considering the calling of the elect – the process by which the elect are brought out of their spiritual deadness to newness of life. He recognises that while there is a universal call that extends to all who hear the gospel, within this general call is a special call that the elect hear and respond to. The preaching of the word when combined with the illumination of the Spirit results in a powerful call able to raise the dead. Those who respond find that God “admits them to his family, and unites them to himself, that they may be one with him.” Calvin wants the called to know that “this inward calling is an infallible pledge of salvation.”
Calvin is also keen to stress that the power of our election is not dependent on the faith by which we perceive we are elected. It is not the strength of our faith that makes our salvation secure, but the strength of the one calling. If we feel unsure as to our election we should “begin with the calling of God and to end with it.” Rather than try and penetrate the hidden recesses of the divine wisdom, which only keeps someone “perpetually miserable”. Calvin summarises it in this way: “For as a fatal abyss engulfs those who, to be assured of their election, pry into the eternal counsel of God without the word, yet those who investigate it rightly, and in the order by which it is exhibited in the word, reap from it rich fruits of consolation.”
Christ is the source and security of our election, “if we are in communion with Christ we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life”. Indeed, Calvin sees little point in looking inwards, for “if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves”. Christ “would have us to rest satisfied with his promises and not to inquire elsewhere whether or not he is disposed to hear of us.”
The twin perils of election are either to become fascinated with it to the extent of never being sure of our own election, or completely ignoring it as something that is too divisive and too complicated to understand. In this chapter Calvin gives us a middle way – to look to what God has done in us and our union with Christ for the evidence of our election, not at our faultering faith. In this way we can have a healthy approach to the doctrine of election.
By some election is seen as a hinderence to our evangelism. But contrary to this position it should actually drive us to reach out – knowing that the call of God is powerful and will bring the elect to himself wherever Christ is preached. But let us not try and discern who amongst the crowd is elect, for the only person we can ever know for sure whether they are elect or not is ourselves. As we work out our own salvation “with fear and trembling”, we can find assurance that Christ lives within us and has redeemed us. When rightly understood and applied the doctrine of election can bring wonderful assurance and peace to a believer’s life. God wants us to know that we are in his family, he wants us to be sure of his love and our eternal destination. May each of us reach this place of peace and rest so that we are not endlessly wondering whether he loves me, or he loves me not.
“In him we were also chosen, having being predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1-11-12