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Lecture VII: God's Decision and Man's Election

(Art. 7–8)

We acknawledge and confesse, that this maist wonderous conjunction betwixt the God-head and the man-head in Christ Jesus, did proceed from the eternall and immutable decree of God, from quhilk al our salvatioun springs and depends.


For that same eternall God and Father, who of meere grace elected us in Christ Jesus his Sonne, befoir the foundatioun of the warld was laide, appointed him to be our Head, our Brother, our Pastor, and great Bischop of our sauls. Bot because that the enimitie betwixt the justice of God and our sins was sik, that na flesh be it selfe culd or might have attained unto God: It behooved that the Sonne of God suld descend unto us, and tak himselfe a bodie of our bodie, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bones, and so become the Mediator betwixt God and man, giving power to so many as beleeve in him, to be the sonnes of God; as himselfe dois witnesse, I passe up to my Father, and unto zour Father, to my God, and unto zour God. Be quhilk maist holie fraternitie, quhatsaever wee have tynt in Adam, is restored unto us agayne. And for this cause, ar we not affrayed to cal God our Father, not sa meikle because he hes created us, quhilk we have common with the reprobate; as for that, that he hes given to us his onely Sonne, to be our brother, and given unto us grace, to acknawledge and imbrace him for our onlie Mediatour, as before is said. It behooved farther the Messias and Redemer to be very God and very man, because he was to underlie the punischment due for our transgressiouns, and to present himselfe in the presence of his Fathers Judgment, as in our persone, to suffer for our transgression and inobedience, be death to overcome him that was author of death. Bot because the only God-head culd not suffer death, neither zit culd the onlie man-head overcome the samin, he joyned both togither in one persone, that the imbecillitie of the ane, suld suffer and be subject to death, quhilk we had deserved: And the infinit and invincible power of the uther, to wit, of the God-head, suld triumph and purchesse to us life, libertie, and perpetuall victory: And so we confes, and maist undoubtedly beleeve.


The heading of Article 8 is “of Election.” But the contents of this article seem at first sight to be of a purely Christological character, presenting and establishing in detail the statements of Article 4 on the true divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. Conversely the heading of Article 7 raises the Christological question, Cur Deus Homo? But the answer, which is admittedly very short, consists solely in a reference to the divine decree, by which, the Confession says, the whole salvation of man is ordained. Here again, as in the doctrine of sin, we are confronted with a noteworthy innovation in the ordering of its subject-matter on the part of the Scottish Confession. By this arrangement its authors have made it known unambiguously that they wish the whole body of material which is called the doctrine of Predestination to be explained through Christology and conversely Christology to be explained through the doctrine of Predestination. Unfortunately they have not said how they wished this mutual relation to be explained, but have contented themselves with making it manifest. They have therefore presented us with a riddle and a task which we shall have to work out unaided. But we must admit, as in the case of Articles 2 and 3, that they have accomplished something significant in making manifest this relation so expressly, and that they have thereby presented us with a task which is both significant and fruitful.

If we take our authors strictly at their word in regard to what they say in Articles 7 and 8, the general view of the matter to which we attain in the first instance is as follows: Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is, as the Revelation of God, the God who deals with man. He is the eternal God, who deals with man and who therefore acts in time. He is the just God who deals mercifully with sinful man. He is the God whose action consists in His deciding in favour of man and in His choosing or electing man. He is the God whose action is directed by His desire to have fellowship with man. God's decision is accordingly what the Scottish Confession calls the decree, and “the choosing of man” is what it calls election. According to our view these two make up the one course of action which God has adopted towards men; a course of action at once just and merciful, eternal and in time. And following the direction of the Scottish Confession the point which we make here is that the course of action which God adopts towards man is identical with the existence of Jesus Christ. The existence of Jesus Christ is God's decision and man's election. This is the position which we have to develop in this lecture.


To know Jesus Christ is to know God, the one and only God, majestic and personal, the Creator and Lord of the world and man. To know this God in His dealings, viz. in His decision in favour of man, means necessarily to know God's free mercy, the most incomprehensible of all miracles. That eternity really meets us in time, is not a matter of course but a miracle, nor was it a matter of course that God really became man and has not only decided to have fellowship with us but has decided to do so in this absolute and irrevocable way, whereby He Himself became what we are. God could exist without us. He is under no debt to give Himself to us. For neither in His Divine nature does He need us, nor can any such obligation rest on Him as Creator of the world and man, still less against the background of human rebellion. Indeed we must admit that in face of human rebellion, God would have to be against man. Hence to know Jesus Christ is to know God in the amazement and terror expressed by such passages as: “I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant” (Gen. 32, 10). “I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof” (Mt. 8, 8). “I am no more worthy to be called Thy son” (Lk. 15, 19). Though God has established fellowship between man and Himself and—let me repeat—done so in this absolute and irrevocable way whereby He Himself became what we are, yet this is something which man has not deserved, of which he is not capable and to which he can contribute nothing. But if God has thus established fellowship with man, and this is so in Jesus Christ, who is the “eternall and immutable decree of God” fully consummated—then here we stand confronted with the depths of God's goodness, which we can describe only haltingly even by the word “Grace” and all explanations of it.

But we may not stop at this point in our knowledge of Jesus Christ especially. Grace is not arbitrariness. The depths of God's goodness are not that strange abyss which we call a paradox. The divine freedom is not the whim of a tyrant, able to incline equally well in one direction or in another. God does not become unfaithful to Himself when He shows us His incomprehensible faithfulness. On the contrary, we now stand before the other side of the mystery of Jesus Christ; God is not merely merciful, He is just when He is merciful. God acts in accordance with His own inviolable ordinance when He performs miracles. While God's becoming man is not a matter of course, yet it can be justly considered as the most natural of all natural occurrences, because it was God who became man in Jesus Christ. While it is beyond our comprehension that eternity should meet us in time, yet it is true because in Jesus Christ eternity has become time. While God must be against and without man when considered as the man whom we recognise in ourselves, the creature who has fallen in sin and who, wishing to injure God's glory, has lost his own glory besides, yet God cannot be against and without the man, whom He Himself is in His Son. While it would be monstrous for us to make our human capacities and merits the ground for demanding that God must have fellowship with man, yet it is perfectly normal that God should have fellowship with man at that point, where He Himself as man has taken man's place and where He therefore finds Himself again in man, thus finding again in a human life and death, real, proper and active obedience. This is something greater and something better than anything which God ever demanded from man or which man could have rendered, even if he had remained sinless. It is something greater and something better than all the prophets and all the other servants of God have ever rendered, for it is God's own divine perfection. And it is this that He finds again in the man Jesus Christ—“This is my Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” How should the Father be anything but well pleased with the man who is not only what we others ought to be and are not, a clear mirror of His glory, but who as His own beloved Son is Himself God from eternity to eternity? To sum up, if God looks at man in Jesus Christ, then His good pleasure in man is the strictest justice, as is His decision to have fellowship with him, and the whole incomprehensible “Yea” which God speaks to man is the strictest justice, just as certainly as we can only understand it as free mercy in so far as it concerns us. And what if that is the case, if the meaning of this decision, the content of that “eternall and immutable decree” is that God will look at man in no other way than in His Son Jesus Christ? What if the Son of God has taken our place that we might come to stand in His place? What if we might be permitted to become by grace what He is by nature? It is this that we have to recognise as true, when we recognise Jesus Christ aright. God sees us in His beloved Son—that is the joy of the good news. Then it clearly holds good for us also, that God in being merciful to us allows nothing but the strictest justice to befall us, not on our account but for the sake of Jesus Christ in our “maist holie fraternitie” with Him. His decision to be for us and to call us His dear children, though He hates sin and tolerates no stain on His glory, is therefore one which we must accept as a valid legal ground and the holiest of ordinances.


In the last sentences we have assumed that to know Jesus Christ means not only to know God but also to know the election of man, which takes place as God executes His decision, and thus to know Jesus Christ means to know a new man, the elect man. At this point too, we are dealing with God's action, and let it be said at once, that God's action, when we consider it in the light of its result in man upon whom God acts, appears as free mercy, as a miracle wrought by God, no less than it did when we were dealing with its origin in God Himself. It is for this reason that Scripture and with it church-tradition speak of election in the case of man who is permitted to have fellowship with God, to be called and to be His child, on account of the divine decision. To be God's child is something which no man is by nature, or by his own strength and achievement or because of any claim which he has to be so. To be permitted to live with God and to escape perishing without Him is something which no man has chosen for himself. When man chooses he chooses the opposite. How can God become man, or eternity meet us in time? How can man come even to have part in God, or time come even to have a share in eternity? What answer can we give? But the answer is already given us: “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you” (John 15, 16). “Choosing” or “Election” means that it is so, because God wills and makes it so. By the power of God's action man becomes what he cannot be by his own strength. “Election” means “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19, 26). “Election” means that man is plucked like a brand from the burning out of the midst of the universal position and condition of all men by nature. We know about election because we know about Jesus Christ. He is the elect One, the man who is not only man but God. He is the miracle of Grace, in whom what is impossible for any man, is possible for man, i.e. in Him it is possible for man to have not merely a part in God but to include the fullness of Godhead in himself and be the son of God. But it is He and none other who is the miracle of grace. Once more we stand confronted by the depths of God's goodness, this time from the other side. Before it all words are hushed, and we, when we see Him, can only worship.

But once again the second step must be taken. Once again grace is not arbitrariness or the whim of some dark fate. Here too God is not unfaithful to Himself, when in His election of man He keeps faith with man, who has not chosen Him. He keeps faith with us by becoming man and taking our place. But that means that He makes all our incapacity His own, the incapacity for which we are to blame, because it is founded on our unwillingness. Our burden, the fact that we cannot live with Him, but must perish without Him, becomes His burden. He Himself becomes the One Who cannot choose salvation, but can choose only the curse. He Himself bears the whole boundless affliction of this curse which lies upon us. Make no mistake, that is what happens when God becomes man. That is Jesus Christ in the suffering obedience of His life and death. He has become the one on whom the curse rests. And because God looks at man in Jesus Christ, His election of man to fellowship with Him, the incomprehensible “Yea” which God speaks to man is once again the strictest justice, just as certainly as we can understand it only as free mercy in so far as it concerns us. If it is true—and we have previously seen that it is true—that God finds Himself again in Jesus Christ, finds again His own perfection in Him and thus finds again in Him man righteous in His sight, where is then man's rejection, the guilt of his unwillingness and the curse of his expulsion? Is what is impossible for man not, in point of fact, possible for God? Has He not already brought this about by taking on Himself all the guilt and punishment which oppress us, bearing them, removing them, covering them up and throwing them into the depths of the sea? How could that which God Himself has borne in our stead weigh us down any longer? Because that has happened, it is clear, that it is not merely the opportunity for our election which has been given. Because that has happened we are already those whose place has been taken by Jesus Christ, who has made our rejection His own, and therefore we are already the elect of God. No one and nothing can ever again tear us from His hand after He has laid it so completely and powerfully upon us. We are the chosen of God and such we are by mercy. How could we say anything else, when we look at ourselves? But we are so also in accordance with the strictest justice. How could we say anything else when we look at Jesus Christ and ourselves in Jesus Christ, seeing that God Himself wishes to look at us in this and in no other way?


We will conclude this lecture also with certain delimitations. The Scottish Confession is right in principle in the position it takes. God's eternal decree and man's election and thus the whole of what is called the doctrine of Predestination cannot but be misunderstood unless it is understood in its connection with the truth of the divine-human nature of Jesus Christ. But the connection between these two doctrines must be considered to be even closer than the authors of the Scottish Confession presumably thought it to be, and this is just what we have tried to bring out. The word “predestination” is unfortunate in so far as by it something has been understood other than what has taken place in Jesus Christ. The treatment and proclamation of the doctrine of Predestination has all along suffered from the defect that its exponents have to a greater or less degree detached it from this connection with God's revelation in Jesus Christ. Some have sought the ultimate mystery of Predestination in a divine determination of man, which took place in some sort of eternity before and without Jesus Christ. But this eternity would be an empty one, and man would seek in vain to conceive of it as mercy and justice, whereas what was done antequam mundi iacta essent fundamenta (Eph. 1, 4) is, according to the whole New Testament, undoubtedly identical with what took place in the stable at Bethlehem and on the Cross on Calvary. Eternity is here in time. Calvin's doctrine of Predestination suffers from this error of distinguishing God's decree and the existence of Jesus Christ, and it may be conjectured that the thinking of the authors of the Scottish Confession, too, ran in this direction, despite their good beginning. I do not claim in this lecture to have propounded the doctrine of Predestination according to Calvin or the Scottish Confession. The opposite error is that of the Lutherans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These latter, because they rejected Calvin's absolute decree, sought the mystery of Predestination in man's freedom to believe and therefore in the nature of man or in a quality in him. In so doing they on their part lost sight of the free action of the God who is merciful and just. Calvin errs on the objective side, the Lutherans on the subjective side. It must be admitted that these two solutions bear only too clearly the traces of a natural theology, the traces, that is, of a general view of the freedom of God, based on one philosophical system or another. The true mystery of Predestination is neither the secular mystery of determinism nor the equally, secular mystery of indeterminism, but the holy and real mystery of Jesus Christ.