Predestined to Life
Dr. Zacharias Ursinus
From his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism
TWENTY-FIRST LORD'S DAY.
Question 54. What believest thou concerning the "Holy Catholic Church" of Christ?
Answer. That the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends and preserves to himself, by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, a church, chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am, and for ever shall remain, a living member thereof.
The principal questions in connection with the subject of the Church, are the following:
- What is the Church?
- How manifold is it?
- What are the marks of the true Church?
- Why is it called One, Holy, and Catholic?
- In what does it differ from the State?
- What is the cause of the difference between the Church and the rest of mankind?
- Is there any salvation out of the Church?
I. WHAT IS THE CHURCH?
The question what is the Church, presupposes its existence; so that there is no necessity for us to inquire whether there be a church? We may, however, merely remark, that there always has been, and ever will be, a church, including a greater or less number of members; because Christ always has been, and always will be, king, head and priest of the church, as we shall show in our remarks upon the fourth division of this subject.
The term church signifies the same thing which the Athenians were wont to express by ekklhsia, from ekkalein to call forth, which meant among them an assembly of citizens called by the voice of a public crier, from the remaining crowd, as it were by name, and by the hundreds, for the purpose of hearing an oration, or the decision of the Senate in relation to any particular subject. The apostles, therefore, on account of this similarity borrowed the word ecclesia for their own purpose, in order that they might thereby express, in the most intelligent manner, the idea of the church. For the church is an assemblage of persons brought together, not by chance, nor in a disorderly manner, but called out of the kingdom of Satan by the voice of the Lord, and by the preaching of the gospel for the purpose of hearing, and embracing, the word of God. The term ecclesia differs, therefore, from synagogue; for whilst the latter means any kind of an assembly, or gathering, however common, and irregularly brought together, ecclesia, on the other hand, denotes a congregation called together in a particular manner, and for a particular object, which is the character of the congregation of those who are called of God to a knowledge of the gospel. This congregation of those who are called of God, the Latins also express by the Greek word ecclesia. The German, Kirche, seems to be derived from the Greek kuriakh, which means the Lord's house, or as it is expressed in the German, Gotteshaus.
The Catechism in answer to the Question under consideration, defines the church to be that assembly, or congregation of men, chosen of God from everlasting to eternal life, which the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends and preserves to himself, by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, agreeing in true faith, and which he will at length glorify with eternal life and glory. Such is the definition of the true church of God of which the Creed properly speaks.
II. HOW MANIFOLD IS THE CHURCH?
The church is either true, or false. When we speak of the church, however, as false, we do not use the term in a proper, but in an improper sense; and mean by it every assembly which arrogates unto itself the name of the Christian Church, but which, instead of following it, rather persecutes it. The true church is either triumphant, which even now triumphs with the blessed angels in heaven, and which will at length obtain a complete triumph after the resurrection; or militant, which in this world fights under the banner of Christ against the devil, the flesh and the world. The church militant is either visible, or invisible. When spoken of as visible, it means an assembly of persons, who embrace and profess the entire and uncorrupted doctrine of the law and gospel, and who use the sacraments according to the appointment of Christ, and profess obedience to the teachings of God's word. The visible church consists of many who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit through the word unto eternal life, and many also who are hypocrites and unregenerated, but who nevertheless consent to the doctrine, and conform to the external rites of the church. Or, the visible church may be defined to be the assembly of those who assent to the doctrine of God's word, among whom there are, however, many dead members, or such as have not been regenerated. "Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 7.21.) We may here also appropriately cite the parable of the wheat and tares, and that of the net, which gathered of every kind, the good and the bad. The invisible church consists of those who are chosen unto eternal life, who are also regenerated, and belong to the visible church. It lies concealed in the visible church, during the whole of the struggle, and conflict which is continually going on in this world between the kingdom of light and darkness. It is likewise called the church of the saints. Those who belong to this church never perish; neither are there any hypocrites in it; for it consists only of such as are chosen unto eternal life, of whom it is said: "No man shall pluck my sheep out of my hands." "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his." (John 10.28. 2 Tim. 2.19.) It is called invisible, not that the men who are in it are invisible, but because the faith and piety of those who belong to it can neither be seen, nor known, except by those who possess it; and also because we cannot with certainty distinguish the godly from those who are hypocrites in the visible church.
Furthermore, the church, both visible and invisible, is either universal or particular. The universal visible Church consists of all those who profess the doctrine of God's word, in whatever part of the world they may be. The particular visible Church comprehends those who, in any particular place, profess this doctrine. The visible church is universal in as far as it has respect to the profession of one faith in Christ, one doctrine and worship; and it is particular in as far as it has respect to place and diversity of rites and ceremonies. So also the invisible church is universal, inasmuch as all the elect of whatever place they may be, and in whatever time they may have lived, have one faith; and it is particular as in this, or that place, they have the same faith. All the particular churches are parts of the universal church; and the different parts of the visible, belong to the universal visible church; as also the invisible, are parts of the universal invisible church. And it is of this universal invisible church of which this article of the Creed properly speaks, saying, I believe in the Holy Catholic Church. These properties are also attributed with great propriety to the church, because it is holy, and because it is here that we find the true communion of the saints with Christ, and all his members. The difference which exists between the visible and invisible church is very nearly the same as that which exists between the whole and a part; for the invisible church is concealed in the visible, as a part in the whole, which is also corroborated by the declaration of the Apostle, where he says, "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called." (Rom. 8.30.) This calling, however, which God addresses to men is two-fold, inward and outward. Paul declares that the inward call is made according to the purpose of salvation. The elect are called in both respects, whilst hypocrites have nothing more than the mere external call. It is in respect to this outward call that the visible church is termed the church of the called, in which hypocrites are also found; whilst the invisible is called the church of the elect.
Objection. 1. If the whole is visible, that which is a part thereof is also visible.
Answer. That part is visible, which has respect to the persons who are called, in as far as they are men, and profess the doctrine of the visible church; but that which pertains to their piety, or their faith and repentance, is invisible.
Objection. 2. According to the foregoing definition those who are members of the church do not perish. But there are many hypocrites belonging to the church. Therefore either hypocrites will not perish, or that which is affirmed of those who belong to the church, is false.
Answer. Those who belong to the invisible church will not perish, and it is of this that the foregoing definition speaks. The minor proposition has reference to the visible church, in which it is admitted that there are many hypocrites.
Objection. 3. The visible church cannot be where the invisible is not. But the invisible church was not during the reign of the Papal system. Therefore, neither did the visible church then exist.
Answer. We deny the minor proposition: because there have always been some, even in the most corrupt period of the church, who held fast to the fundamental principles of the gospel. The church was oppressed, but not destroyed.
There is also another division of the church, into the church of the Old and New Testaments. The church of the Old Testament included those who received the doctrine of Moses and the Prophets, and professed that they would conform to, and preserve in the Jewish nation the ceremonies of Moses, and that they would, both among themselves, and among other nations, believe those things which were signified by these institutions having reference to the Messiah which was to come. The church of the New Testament is not thus distinguished, because all believe in the Messiah already come. It may be defined as the congregation of those who receive the doctrine of the gospel, observe the sacraments instituted by Christ, and believe in him as the true Messiah.
III. WHAT ARE THE MARKS OF THE TRUE CHURCH?
There are three marks, or signs, by which the true church may always be known. (1.) A profession of the true, pure, and rightly understood doctrine of the law and the gospel, which is the same thing as the doctrine of the prophets and the apostles. (2.) The right and proper use of the sacraments. One of the objects of the sacraments, is to distinguish the true church of God from all the various sects and heretics. (3.) The profession of obedience to this doctrine, or to the ministry. These three things which are always found in connection with the true church, are contained in the declaration of Christ, where he says: "Go ye, and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (Matt. 28.19.) It behooves us to hold fast to these marks for the glory of God, that his enemies may be distinguished from his children; and also for our salvation, that we may associate ourselves with the true church.
Objection. 1. But there have always been great errors, public and private, found in the church.
Answer. But the true foundation has always been preserved, upon which some have built gold, and others straw. Nor has the church ever defended these errors. Hence the mere fact that errors have been found in the church, does not conflict with what we have said in regard to the marks of the true church.
Objection. 2. But there have also been great and aggravated sins committed in many of the churches professing the true doctrine of God's word. Therefore obedience is not a mark of the true church.
Answer. But there are many in these same churches, who do yield, and who strive to yield obedience to the requirements of God's word; and who confess and acknowledge their sins, so that these things are not defended, but deplored by the church. It is also necessary that we should add obedience to the requirements of God's word, as one of the marks of the true church, lest God should be mocked by those who might say that they receive the doctrine of Christ, and are yet unwilling to live in accordance with it.
Objection. 3. But Heretics and Schismatics also arrogate unto themselves these marks of the true church.
Answer. It is, however, not to be enquired whether they claim them for themselves; but whether they really possess them.
Objection. 4. That which is necessary to the existence of the church is also a mark of it. The ordinary succession of ministers, is necessary to the existence of the church in the world. Therefore this is also a mark of the true church.
Answer. If the ordinary succession here spoken of be understood of the succession of the ministry in the same true doctrine of the church, and administration of the sacraments, it is true: for such a succession does not differ from the marks of the church which we have specified. But if by ordinary succession be meant a succession in the same place, whether they teach the same or different doctrines, and if it be regarded as tying or restricting the church to a certain place, city, region, &c., it is false.
IV. WHY THE CHURCH IS CALLED ONE, HOLY AND CATHOLIC.
The Church is one, not because those who are members thereof dwell together, or because the rites and ceremonies to which they conform are the same; but on account of their agreement in doctrine, and faith. It is called holy, because it is sanctified of God by the blood and Spirit of Christ, that it may be conformable to him, not in perfection, but by the imputation of Christ's righteousness, or obedience; and by having the principle of holiness; because the Holy Spirit renews and delivers the church from the dregs of sins by degrees, in order that all who belong to it may commence and practice all the parts of obedience. It is also called holy, because it is consecrated to a holy and divine use, and is separated from the ungodly who are without its pale. The Church is called, catholic, first in respect to place; because it is spread over the whole world, and is not tied or restricted to any particular place, kingdom, or certain succession. The catholicity of the church, in this respect, commenced at the time of the Apostles; because prior to this time the church was circumscribed in narrow limit, being confined to the Jewish nation. Secondly, in respect to men, because the church is gathered from all classes of men
of every nation. Thirdly, in respect to time, because it will endure throughout every period of the world: "I will be with you always even to the end of the world;" and because there is only one true Church of all times, which is of such a peculiar constitution as to embrace the whole world, and not to be tied down to any one particular place.
That there is but one church of all times, from the beginning to the end of the world, there can be no reasonable doubt; for it is manifest that the church has always existed, even before the time of Abraham. It is not to be supposed that the family of Abraham, did not worship God before his calling, and that he was only after his calling the servant of the most High. For even before he was called, he held fast to the fundamental principles of the doctrine of the true God, although they were not clearly understood, on account of the false notions and superstitions which were mingled with them. Melchisedek, who was the priest of the most high God, also lived at the same time. Hence there were besides, and before Abraham, other worshippers of the true God, whose priest Melchisedek was. That the church will always exist is evident from these declarations of Scripture: "My words shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed." "If the night and the day may be changed, my covenant may also be changed." "I will be with you always, even to the end of the world." (Is. 5.9,21. Jer. 33.20. Matt. 28.20.) Christ, moreover, always has been, and always will be king, head and priest of the church. Hence there always has been, and ever will be, a church. And hence it is also evident that the church, both of the Old and the New Testaments, is one and the same; which is also confirmed by the following article of the Creed. For Christ is the sanctifier of his church, and is common to those who have believed on him under each dispensation.
The question of the authority of the church properly belongs here, and must, therefore, be considered. The Papists say that the authority of the church is greater than that of the Scriptures, which is false. For the church did not produce the Scriptures; but the Scriptures gave birth to the church. They bring forward the testimony of Augustin against the epistle of Manichaeus, cap. 5, where he describes the manner in which he was led to embrace the faith of the Catholic Church. He says that he obeyed the Catholics when they said, "Believe the gospel." And in the same book is contained that declaration of his, so generally known: "I would not believe the gospel, unless the authority of the Catholic Church would move me." It was, therefore, by the testimony of the church, that he was induced to read the gospel, and to believe the doctrine which is contained therein. But what then? Does he promise himself, after he has believed, that he would have more faith in the church, than in the gospel, if the church were to propose, or to decide any thing contrary to the gospel, or which could not be proven from the Scriptures? Augustin would certainly never have assented to this. Nay, in different portions of his writings, he denounces anathemas upon those, who teach any thing different from that which we have received in the writings of the law and gospel. And in the very same place to which reference is had above, he declares, that he could not believe Manichaeus, because he believed the gospel, inasmuch as he could read nothing in the gospel concerning the apostleship of Manichaeus. Hence traditions lead us to the Scriptures, and bind us to that voice which speaks in them.
But here it must be observed how honestly the Papists act in this affair. For wherever the word tradition occurs, they wrest it in a very short time from its proper meaning, and add it to their own traditions, which they cannot prove from the word of God. As when Paul says, "I delivered unto you that which I received." (1 Cor. 15.3.) They immediately exclaim, do you not read of traditions? I do; but read on a little further to the place, where Paul explains what those things are, which were delivered unto him: "I delivered unto you that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again according to the Scriptures." (1 Cor. 15.3,4.) Here you hear the traditions of Paul, to be according to the Scriptures. They were first taken out of the Scriptures of the Old Testament; and then they were committed to writing by Paul himself. Paul also says concerning the Lord's Supper: "I have received of the Lord, that which I have delivered unto you." (1 Cor. 11.23.) But this tradition the Apostle himself also committed to writing, after the Evangelists. The Jesuits in like manner quote the declaration of Paul in his second epistle to the Thes., 3.6, where he says, "Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." But a little farther on he declares in the same chapter what tradition he meant, as must be manifest to everyone that will read the passage with care. And yet they will maintain, that many things are to be believed, which cannot be proven by the testimony of the Scriptures. They also show the same effrontery in regard to another declaration of Scripture recorded in Acts 16.4, where it is said, "They delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem;" when it is, only a little before, declared that these decrees were sent down in letters written by the apostles.
The declaration of the Papists, that the Church does not err, is true in this sense: (1.) The whole church does not err, even though some members of it, or a certain part of it, may err. (2.) The church does not err universally, although it may in some particular points of doctrine. (3.) It does not err in the foundation.
V. IN WHAT DOES THE CHURCH DIFFER FROM THE STATE?
The chief differences between the church and the state are the following: (1.) The state is a society which is bound by certain civil laws for the maintenance of external propriety and order, according to each table of the Decalogue. The church consists of those who embrace the gospel, and observe the sacraments according to divine appointment, and is governed by the Spirit and word of God, requiring both internal and external obedience. (2.) In the church there are always some holy and godly persons, which is not always true of the state. (3.) There are many and different states which are distinguished from each other by locality, time and laws; neither can he who is a citizen of one state, be a citizen of another also, or of all others; nor is there any one universal state of which all others are parts. The church, however, has been, is, and ever will be, one throughout all periods, and among all nations. It is for this reason called Catholic, having many parts. (4.) The head of the church is one, and in heaven, which head is Christ. The different states have many kings and rulers, and these upon earth. (5.) The state has magisterial authority and power to make laws, to which it becomes us to yield obedience for conscience sake. The church is restricted and tied down to the word of God, and has no power to make new articles of faith. It may, indeed, establish rules of order and propriety, but without binding the conscience; and that not with magisterial authority, but with consent. (6.) The state is armed with power to inflict punishment upon obstinate offenders, and to preserve its laws with the sword. The church has merely the sword of the word, which consists in the denunciation of the wrath of God against those who are disobedient. One and the same person, as the prophets and priests of old, may sometimes act both in a civil and ecclesiastical capacity. Hence they ought to be carefully distinguished.
VI. WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CHURCH
AND THE REST OF MANKIND?
There are three classes of men in the world, which differ very much from each other. There are some, who by their own avowed declarations, are so entirely alienated from the church as to deny the necessity of faith and repentance, and are, therefore, the avowed enemies of God and the church. There are others again who are called, but not effectually, as hypocrites, who make a profession of faith without any true conversion to God. And finally, there are others who are effectually called, as are the elect, of which class there is but a comparatively small number, according to the declaration of Christ: "Many are called, but few are chosen." (Matt. 20: 16.)
What now is the cause of this difference? The efficient cause of this difference is the election of God, who purposes to gather to himself in this world a church. The Son of God is the mediate executor of the will of the Father, whilst the Holy Ghost is the immediate executor. The word of God is the instrumental cause: "God in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways." "God hath mercy, upon whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth." "All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me." "Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate, to be conformed to the image of his Son. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called," &c. (Acts 14.16. Rom. 9.18; 8.23,30. John 6.37.) We are taught by these declarations that the promise of grace is general in respect to those that believe. God does indeed will that all should be saved, and that, both on account of the desire which he has for the salvation of all, and also because he invites all to seek salvation. "But the election hath obtained it, (this salvation) and the rest were blinded." (Rom. 11.7.)
VII. IS THERE ANY SALVATION OUT OF THE CHURCH?
No one can be saved out of the Church: (1.) Because out of the church there is no Saviour, and hence no salvation. "Without me ye can do nothing." (John 15.5.) (2.) Because those whom God has chosen to the end, which is eternal life, them he has also chosen to the means, which consist in the inward and outward call. Hence although the elect are not always members of the visible church, yet they all become such before they die.
Objection. Therefore the election of God is not free.
Answer. It is free, because God chooses freely both to the end and the means, all those whom he has determined to save. He never changes his decree however, after he has chosen, and ordained to the end and the means. Infants born in the church are also of the church, notwithstanding all the cant of the Anabaptists to the contrary.
What then is it to believe the Holy Catholic Church? It is to believe that there always has been, is, and ever will be, to the end of time such a church in the world, and that in the congregation composing the visible church there are always some who are truly converted, and that I am one of this number; and therefore a member of both the visible and invisible church, and shall forever remain such.
OF THE ETERNAL PREDESTINATION OF GOD.
The Common Place of the eternal predestination of God, or of election and reprobation naturally grows out of the doctrine of the church: and is for this reason correctly connected with it. In the discussion of this subject we must enquire principally,
- Is there any predestination?
- What is it?
- What is the cause of it?
- What are the effects of it?
- Is it unchangeable?
- To what extent may it be known by us?
- Are the elect always members of the church, and the reprobate never?
- Can the elect fall from the church, and may the reprobate always remain in it?
- What is the use of this doctrine?
I. IS THERE ANY PREDESTINATION?
When the question is asked, Is there any such thing as predestination? it is the same thing as to enquire, if God has any counsel or decree, according to which he has determined that some should be saved, and others condemned. There are some who affirm that election, when used in the Scriptures, means excellence, on account of which some are regarded worthy to be chosen unto everlasting life, just as a man may make choice of a noble horse, or of pure gold. It is in the same way that they explain the idea of reprobation.
This view, however, is false, in as much as election is the eternal counsel of God. That there is such a thing as predestination, or election and reprobation in God, is proven by these declarations of Scripture: "Many are called but few are chosen." "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." "Other sheep I have which are not of this fold." "He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." "I have much people in this city." "And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called." (Matt. 20.16. John 15.16; 10.16. Eph. 1.4,5. Acts 18.10; 13.48. Rom. 8.30.)
The following passages of the word of God, may be regarded as having a special reference to reprobation. "God willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction." "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." "It is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." "Who were before of old ordained to this condemnation.'' "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise, and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes, even so Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." "Ye have not the words of God, because ye are not of God." "Ye believe not; because ye are not of my sheep." "The Lord hath made all things for himself, yea, even the wicked for the day of evil." (Rom. 9.22,13. Matt. 13.11. Jude 4. Matt. 11.25,26. John 8.47; 10.26. Prov. 16.4.)
Objection. 1. But the promise of grace is universal.
Answer. It is universal in respect to the faithful, that is, it extends to all those that believe. And it is particular in respect to all men. Our adversaries, however, deny that it is universal, because, say they, those who are converted may fall away, which is to weaken the general promise.
To this it is objected, that God wills that all men should be saved. (2. Tim. 2.4.) We reply, that there are other passages which must be taken in connection with this: such as these: "Many are called, but few are chosen." "This people's heart is waxed gross, saith the Lord, lest they should be converted, and I should heal them." (Matt. 20.16; 13.15.) Here it is declared that God wills that some should not be saved. Are we then to infer, that these declarations of divine truth contradict each other? God forbid! God wills that all men should be saved, in as far as he rejoices in the salvation of all: and he rejoices in the punishment of the wicked, yet not in as far as it is the torment of his creatures; but in as much as it is the execution of his justice. God wills that all should be saved, in as much as he, in a certain respect, invites, and calls all to repentance, but he does not will the salvation of all, as it respects the efficacy of this calling. He blesses all, "if haply they might feel after him, and find him:" (Acts 17.27.) He invites all, and says to all; Honesty and obedience are pleasing to me, and due to me from you; but he does not say to all, I will produce this honesty, and obedience in you; but to the elect alone, and that because, from everlasting it has so pleased him. "The election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded." (Rom. 11.7.)
Objection. 2. He who bestows his gifts unequally upon those who are equal, is a respecter of persons.
Answer. He is, indeed, a respecter of persons who gives unequally to those who are equal, if he confer his gifts on account of external causes, which are not the conditions on account of which equal rewards or punishments should be given, or not given; that is, when the cause common to both parties is in his judgment overlooked, and others are regarded which do not properly belong to the cause, such as the riches, power, honors and friendship, of the one party. God, however, does not look to the outward circumstances of men, but requires faith and conversion, and gives eternal life to those who possess these, and withholds it from those who have not this faith and conversion. Again: he is a respecter of persons, who gives unequally to those who are equal, when he is bound to give equally to all. But God gives most freely, out of his pure mercy and grace; and is bound to no one. We were all his enemies; and hence he might most justly have rejected us all. And if unrighteousness should in any respect attach itself to God, (which God forbid that we should say) he would in that case be unrighteous, and a respecter of persons if he were to give any thing. God, therefore, when he has compassion upon some, and not upon others, is no more a respecter of persons, than thou art, if, being moved by thy mercy and compassion, thou dost give alms to one beggar, and none to another, or if thou give a farthing to one, and a penny to another. Why then dost thou, O man, accuse God of injustice, because he has mercy upon whom he will, whilst he has no mercy upon those whom he will not, seeing that he is under obligation to none? "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?" "Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again." (Matt. 20.15. Rom. 11.35.) A knowledge of this has an important bearing upon the glory of God.
Objection. 3. It is proper and just that he who has received a ransom sufficient for the sins of all, should admit all into his favor. God has received in his Son a ransom sufficient for the sins of the whole world. Therefore he is bound to receive all into his favor.
Answer. It is just that he should admit all into his favor, who has received a ransom sufficient for all, and which is to be applied to all. But there is no application of this to all, because it is said, "I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me." But a ransom, say our opponents, that is sufficient for all, ought to be applied to all; because it belongs to infinite mercy to do good to all. But we deny that infinite mercy consists in the number, that are saved. It consists rather in the manner in which they are saved. God, moreover, will not bestow this blessing upon all, because he is most wise and just. He can, and will exercise his mercy and justice at the same time. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "He that believeth not is condemned already," &c. (John 3.16,18.)
It is still further objected: He who receives a ransom that is sufficient for all, and yet does not save all, is unjust; because he receives more than he bestows. But God is not unjust. Therefore he receives all into his favor.
Answer. He, who thus acts, is unjust unless he himself gave the ransom. But God gave it. Therefore he receives of his own, and not of that which belongs to us. Again: it is not the sufficiency, but the application of this ransom which binds God to receive all into his favor. But he has not obligated himself to apply this ransom to all.
Objection. 4. He who afflicts some for the sake of his own glory, is unjust. God is not unjust. Therefore he does not afflict, nor cast off any for the sake of his own glory.
Answer. We deny the major proposition if understood generally. Of creatures it is true, but it is not true of God, because he is the highest good, and the greatest respect ought to be had for the highest good. But the highest good, or the glory of God, does not merely require, that the mercy of God, but that his justice also, should be manifested. Again: he is unjust who, for his own glory, afflicts some without any sufficient cause, as when those who are punished are not worthy of death. But this is not the case with God, who, for his own glory, permits some to perish, inasmuch as they themselves willingly fall into sin, and perish. Nor is God any more bound to save men, than he was to create them. He does, indeed, permit men to fall into sin; but they do it freely, himself not being bound to save any; but bound to have a greater regard for his own glory, than the salvation of the reprobate.
Objection. 5. But he who predestinates to a certain end, also predestinates the means through which this end is attained. God, according to this doctrine, predestinates some to damnation. Therefore he also predestinates them to sin, as the means through which they are brought to this end. That sin is the means through which this end is reached, is evident from the fact that none are damned, but those who are guilty of sin.
Answer. There are two kinds of means. There are some means which, in whatever way it may be, go before the end, and which he employs who is aiming at a certain end, and by the help of which he reaches and accomplishes the end which he intended. There are also other means which do, indeed, contribute to a certain end, but which are not done by him who intends the end; but are merely permitted, from which it does not follow that he wills them. We reply, therefore, to the major proposition; he who wills the end, wills also the means which he himself employs, and by which he works for the accomplishment of the end which he intends; but he does not will all means, otherwise there would be more in the conclusion, than in the premises. Neither does God will those things which he permits: he merely does not prevent their accomplishment, if they do not hinder his end.
Objection. 6. He who calls all, and, in the mean while, wills to save only a certain number, dissembles. God, according to this doctrine, does so. Therefore he dissembles.
Answer. Nothing can be inferred from mere particulars. Or we may reply, that there is here an incorrect chain of reasoning, by putting that for a cause which is no cause. The first proposition, moreover, if understood universally, is false; because there may be another cause. God calls all, not that he may dissemble and deceive, but that he may render all inexcusable. Hence the major proposition ought to be distinguished thus: He who calls all, and yet wills to save only a certain number, that he may deceive them, is guilty of dissembling, if he call them indiscriminately, and with a mind unwilling to influence all to obey. But God never promised that he would effect this in all. There is, therefore, no contradiction in these premises or declarations; all ought to do it, and I will effect it in some; because the terms are not the same.
Objection. 7. They cannot have comfort whose salvation depends on the secret counsel of God. Our salvation depends upon the secret counsel of God. Therefore we cannot have comfort.
Answer. We cannot, indeed, have comfort before the will of God is revealed unto us. But God has made known his secret counsel through his Son, and the Holy Spirit; and also by the effects which accompany it, according as it is said: "Being justified by faith we have peace." "Who hath also sealed us, and given us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." "Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." (Rom. 5.1. 2 Cor. 1.22. Rom. 8.16. 1 John 3.24.) It is true, therefore, that before the secret counsel of God is made known unto us, we can obtain no comfort from it; but it is different after it is once known.
Objection. 8. No man ought to attempt that which is done in vain. But it is to no purpose that reprobates repent, in as much as their salvation is impossible. Therefore they ought not to attempt it.
Answer. This would be true if they knew that they were among the reprobate; but God has not been pleased to reveal this to any one. The objection, therefore, involves a contradiction, in that it affirms that one can be among the reprobate, and yet repent. If any one repent, he is no longer a reprobate. There is, therefore, no danger to be apprehended from this absurdity.
II. WHAT IS PREDESTINATION?
Predestination differs from providence, as species from genus. Providence is the counsel of God concerning all his creatures; but predestination is the counsel of God, with reference to the salvation of angels, and men. Predestination is, therefore, the eternal, most righteous and unchangeable counsel of God concerning the creation of man, the permission of man to fall into sin and eternal death, the sending of his Son in the flesh that he might be a sacrifice, and the salvation of some by true faith and conversion through the Holy Spirit and the word for the sake of the mediator, by, and on account of whom they are justified, raised to glory, and rewarded with eternal life; whilst the rest are left in sin and death, raised to judgment, and cast into everlasting punishment. This definition of predestination is given with reference to men, and not to angels, because it is of the salvation of men that we shall here speak.
The two parts of predestination are embraced in election and reprobation. Election is the eternal and unchangeable decree of God, by which he has graciously decreed to convert some to Christ, to preserve them in faith, and repentance, and through him to bestow upon them eternal life. Reprobation is the eternal, and unchangeable purpose of God, whereby he has decreed in his most just judgment to leave some in their sins, to punish them with blindness, and to condemn them eternally, not being made partakers of Christ, and his benefits. That both election and reprobation are the decree of God, these and similar declarations of Scripture prove: "I know whom I have chosen." "According to his grace which was given us in Christ Jesus, before the world began." "He hath mercy on whom he will." (John 13.18. 2 Tim. 1.9. Rom. 9.18.) Election and reprobation were, therefore, made with counsel; and hence each is the decree of God, and for this reason eternal: because there is nothing new in God, but all things are from everlasting, or before the foundation of the world. In as much now as he has chosen us, he must have rejected the rest, which is still further proven by the import of the word election, or choice; for that which is chosen, is selected, whilst other things are rejected.
III. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF PREDESTINATION?
The efficient and moving cause of predestination is the good pleasure of God. "Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight." (Matt. 11.26.) God saw nothing good in us, on account of which he chose us, seeing that we were all by nature the children of wrath, even as others. And whatever good there is in us, that God has wholly wrought. But he effects nothing in us, which he has not decreed from everlasting. Wherefore the good pleasure of God, which alone is most free, and gracious, or the mercy of God exercised most freely, is the efficient, and moving cause of our election. It is of grace we say, and not out of regard to any goodness seen in us. "He hath mercy on whom he will." "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." "God hath predestinated us, unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself according to the good pleasure of his will." "For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger. So it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. Whom he will, he hardeneth." "Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." "For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou, that thou didst not receive." "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." (Rom. 9.18. John 15.16. Rom. 9.10,11,16. Col. 1.12. 1 Cor. 4:7. 2 Tim. 1.9.)
The efficient cause of reprobation is also, in like manner, the good pleasure of God which is most free. For seeing that we are all by nature the children of wrath we should all perish if sin were the cause of reprobation. The cause of reprobation is, therefore, not in men, but in God, and is his will showing forth his own glory, as it is said, "He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will be hardeneth." "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight." Hence in relation to individuals, no other reason can be given why this one is elected, and that one reprobated, but the good pleasure of God.
The cause of damnation, however, which is sin, is wholly in men. God will declare his justice in the condemnation of the reprobate. And hence he condemns no one, neither does he give any over to damnation, unless it be on account of sin: God does not will the damnation of any one, as it is damnation, but as a just punishment. Neither does punishment ever take place, except where sin has reigned. Hence the chief cause, and source of damnation is to be found in the free will of devils and men; because they of their own accord separated themselves from God. But the chief cause of salvation is the eternal, and most free election of God, who saw nothing in us, why he should convert us unto Christ, rather than others, and save and rescue us from the common ruin, to which all were exposed on account of sin.
The chief final cause of predestination is the manifestation of the glory of God. The last, and proper final cause of election is the manifestation of the goodness and mercy of God in saving the elect by his grace; and the next final cause is the justification of the elect, and their salvation through Christ. The apostle comprehends each of these causes in the words; "He hath predestinated us to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved." (Eph. 1.6.) On the contrary, the chief final cause of reprobation is the declaration of the justice, severity and hatred of God against sin in the reprobate; "God willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction." (Rom. 9.22.)
Objection. 1. God fore-knew our works, and, therefore, himself chose us on account of them.
Answer. He fore-knew those good things, which he had determined to work in us, and not which we ourselves would accomplish, as he also fore-knew the persons; otherwise he could not have foreknown any good. So God could not have foreseen any evil works, unless he had resolved to permit them.
Objection. 2. Those whom God chose in Christ, he found in him, inasmuch as he confers his benefits upon none, except those who are in Christ. God chose us in Christ. Therefore he found us in him, that is, he foresaw that we would receive Christ, believe in him, and be better than others, and hence chose us.
Answer. We deny the major proposition, because the reason which it assigned is true, not of election, but of the effects of election, and of the consummation of the benefits of Christ, which extend to none, except those who are united to Christ by faith, as it is said: "Except ye abide in me, ye shall have no life in you." (John 15.4.) But it is false when applied to election, and the first cause of our salvation, as is evident from the declaration of the Apostle (Eph. 1.4.) to which the objection refers; for he chose us before the foundation of the world, not because we were, but that we might be blameless and holy, and thus better than others; not that we were already in Christ, but that he might engraft us into him, and adopt us among his children. Our faith, or holiness, therefore, which was foreseen is not the cause, but the effect of our election in Christ. He chose us, not as being already sons, but that we might be adopted among his children. Augustin says: "He chose us, not for the reason that we were then holy; nor yet because we would become holy; but rather for this end, that in the day of grace we might be holy through good work." He chose us then, not because we would be holy, but in order that we might be holy. The Pelagians, perverting the truth, say, God foreknew who would be holy, and without blame by the choice of their free will, and for this reason chose them by his fore-knowledge, such as he knew they would be. The Apostle, however, refutes this position in the passage already referred to, where he says that God chose us that we should be holy.
Objection. 3. But the cause of our election is the merit of Christ applied unto us by faith. Therefore it is not the good pleasure of God.
Answer. We deny the antecedent, for the reason that the merit of Christ is not enumerated among the causes, but among the effects of election, and the causes of our salvation. He chose us in Christ, viz, as in the Head. Hence he first chose the head, and ordained him to the office of mediator as Peter testifies: (1 Pet. 1.20.) then he chose us also as members of that head. "God so loved the world that he," &c. (John 3.16.) The love of God, therefore, which is his free election, is the cause on account of which he sent his Son, and not the sending of his Son, the cause of his love.
Objection. 4. Evil works are the cause of reprobation. Therefore, good works are the cause of election.
Answer. We deny the first proposition; for evil works are not the cause of reprobation, but of damnation, and the appointment thereto, which follows reprobation. If sin were the cause of reprobation, we should all be reprobates; because we are all equally the children of wrath. "For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger." (Rom. 9.11,12.) "Good works," said Augustin, "do not precede, but follow justification." They are, therefore, not the cause of justification; much less are they the cause of our election. They spring from, and have their perpetual virtue in the grace of God alone.
IV. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF PREDESTINATION?
The effects of election comprehend the entire work of our salvation, and the degrees of our redemption which may be said to embrace the following particulars: (1.) The establishment and gathering of the Church. (2.) The gift, and mission of Christ, the mediator, and of his sacrifice. (3.) The effectual calling and conversion of the elect to Christ by the word and Spirit of God. (4.) Faith, justification and regeneration. (5.) Good works. (6.) Final perseverance. (7.) Our resurrection unto glory. (8.) Our glorification and eternal life.
The effects of reprobation comprise: (1.) The creation of the reprobate. (2.) The want of the grace of God. (3.) Blindness and obduracy. (4.) Perseverance in sin. (5.) Their resurrection to the judgment. (6.) Their banishment into everlasting punishment.
Objection. 1. Different causes produce different effects. The effects of election are good works. Therefore the effects of reprobation are evil works.
Answer. Nothing can be decided upon from mere particulars. The major proposition, moreover, is not always true of voluntary causes, which may work differently, and yet not produce contrary effects, as is true in the present instance; because God has decreed to effect good works in the elect, and to permit those that are evil in the reprobate. The devil and wicked men are, however, the proper cause of evil works.
Objection. 2. Blindness is the effect of reprobation. But blindness is sin. Therefore sin is the effect of reprobation.
Answer. Blindness is a sin in respect to the persons who bring it upon themselves, or in as far as it is received and merited; but in as far as God inflicts it upon wicked men for rejecting the truth, it is a just punishment, from which it is of his mercy alone, if he delivers any.
V. IS PREDESTINATION UNCHANGEABLE?
Predestination is fixed and unchangeable. This is evident from the general reason, that God is unchangeable, and that his decree does not depend upon the various changes which are occurring in the world, which rather depend upon the divine decree. What God has, therefore, determined from everlasting concerning the salvation of the elect, and the damnation of the reprobate, he has decreed unchangeably. Hence both election and reprobation are fixed and unchangeable. Those whom God has willed, and determined from everlasting should be saved, them he now, and for ever desires and purposes to save, which may also be said in relation to reprobation, for it is likewise unchangeable. There are various declarations of Scripture which prove this: "My counsel shall stand." "I am the Lord, I change not." "This is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing." "Neither shall any man pluck my sheep out of my hand." "Ye believe not; because ye are not of my sheep." "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal." "The Lord knoweth them that are his." (Is. 46.10. Matt. 3.6. John 6.39; 10.28,26. 2 Tim 2.19.) That the decree of God concerning the salvation of the elect is the foundation of which Paul speaks in the last passage just quoted, may be inferred from the fact that it is the origin, and foundation of our salvation, and of all the means which contribute to it; and also because it is solid, and firm like a foundation, and is, therefore, never overthrown. It is necessary that we should have a knowledge of this, in order that we may have sure comfort, believe in eternal life and all the other articles of our faith. This reason is frequently repeated in the Scriptures, and should often be thought upon; because he who has no firm assurance of future grace, is also uncertain of present grace, inasmuch as God is unchangeable.
VI. TO WHAT EXTENT MAY WE KNOW THE PREDESTINATION OF GOD;
AND CAN WE, AND OUGHT WE TO BE CERTAIN OF IT?
Election and reprobation are known in general, as that there are some elect, and some reprobate: but not in particular, as, that this one, or that one is chosen, or not. But of our own election in particular, we not only may, but ought to be certain, the knowledge of which is obtained, a posteriori, that is from our conversion to God, or from true faith and repentance, which are the effects of our election unto eternal life. That we may know and believe that we are certainly chosen of God, we must believe in Christ, and also in eternal life. This, however, we cannot do except we have true faith and repentance. And as every one ought to have this faith and repentance, so each one ought certainly to believe that he is of the number of the elect, or else he will charge upon God a lie. "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God." (Rom. 5.2.) Christ is our intercessor, and prevails in our behalf, that we may for ever be preserved. I believe in eternal life, (not only spiritual, but eternal) which being here commenced, I carry with me out of this life. Nor does every one only know his own election in particular from his faith and conversion; but he may also know in general that others are also elected. And in general we ought not only to hope, but also to believe firmly that there are others elected besides ourselves; for we are bound to believe in the article concerning the church, that it always has been, and now is. But no one separately considered is the church, nor should any one say as Elijah, "I, even I only, am left." (1 Kings 19.14.) But it does not belong to us to discern in regard to every individual. It is well, however, that we should hope in regard to the election of others, even individually. In short, the election of all is known in general; but it is known in particular in a different respect of one's self, and of others.
In relation to reprobation no one ought to determine any thing with certainty, either concerning himself, or another before the end of life, for the reason that he who is not yet converted, may be before he dies. Hence no one ought to decide concerning others that they are reprobate, but should hope for the best. In regard to himself, however, every one ought to believe with certainty that he is one of the elect; for we have a universal command for all to repent, and believe the gospel.
VII. ARE THE ELECT ALWAYS MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH, AND THE REPROBATE NEVER?
The elect are not alway members of the church, but become such when they are converted, and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. For it is said; "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his." (Rom. 8.9.) The church is likewise called holy. But the elect are not holy before their conversion to God; for Paul expressly says: "Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified." And again; "Who hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son." (1 Cor. 6.11. Col. 1.13.) There are some who are born in the church, and live and die in it, whilst others again are not born in it; but are called, some sooner and others later to the church visible and invisible, as the thief on the cross. "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold, them also I must bring," said Christ. (John 10.16.) "I have much people in this city," that is by election. (Acts 18.10.) So the reprobate are not always estranged from the church; but are sometimes born in it, and sometimes become members of the visible church, and go out from it again. "They went out from us." "Grievous wolves shall enter in among you." (1 John 2.19. Acts 20.29.)
Objection. 1. All those that believe are always members of the church. But all the elect believe, because the saved, the elect, the faithful are interchangeable terms. Therefore all the elect are always members of the church.
Answer. We reply to the minor proposition, that the terms enumerated are indeed interchangeable, but are nevertheless used with a certain limitation. All the faithful, and those that are to be saved are elected, and that always, and at all times. And all the elect are such as do believe, and as will be saved, yet not always; for at one time it may be said of them that they are to be saved; at another that they do believe, and at another that they are saved. So far then these terms are convertable; because all the elect do believe, or will believe before the end of life: for now is the day of grace: then will be the day of judgment.
Objection. 2. Christ notwithstanding calls those his sheep, who are not as yet converted from the Gentiles. "I have," said he, "other sheep which are not of this fold," which means that they are not of that portion of the church which was to be gathered from among the Jews. Therefore those other sheep, seem to be of the general flock.
Answer. These were even then sheep, as to the counsel, and care of God, but not as touching the fulfillment of his decree: in other words they were sheep by predestination. In short, the elect are not always members of the church, but it is necessary, that they should be brought into the church, even if it should occur in the very moment of death. This is what we mean when we say that it is necessary that all the elect in this life begin eternal life. The reprobate are indeed sometimes members of the visible church, and are not always estranged from it: but they never truly came into it, nor are they ever members of the invisible church, which is that of the saints; for they are always aliens to this.
VIII. CAN THE ELECT FALL FROM THE CHURCH, AND MAY THE
REPROBATE ALWAYS REMAIN IN IT?
This question has already to a certain extent been answered in what we have said of the unchangeableness of election, and of the perseverance of the saints. The elect when they are once truly in the church of the saints, may indeed sometimes fall, but they never wholly and finally depart from it; not wholly, because they never so fall that they may become the enemies of God and the church; nor yet finally, because they do not continue in apostasy, but do most certainly at length repent and turn to God. "A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench." "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." (Is. 42.3. John 10.28.) But all the reprobate, and hypocrites do at length go out of the church, and with the gifts which they had, they lose also those which they seemed to have. "They went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us." (John 2.19.)
Objection. But the saints have also fallen into sin, as David, Peter, &c.
Answer. They fall, but not totally, nor finally. Peter fell, but not totally nor finally, for he retained in his heart the love of Christ, although he denied him through fear of danger. He also afterward acknowledged his fall, and wept bitterly over it. Augustin says; "Peter's faith did not fail in his heart, when he ceased to make confession with his mouth." Nor did David fall totally; for being reproved of God by his prophet, he did truly repent, and gave evidence that his faith was not wholly lost, but merely slumbered for a time. Hence he prayed, "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me." Psalm 51.13.) The saints, therefore, never wholly fall. But hypocrites, and the reprobate at length wholly, and finally fall away in such a manner, that they never return to repentance: and because the love of God was never in them, they were never of the member of the elect. Hence it is not to be wondered at, if they at length wholly fall from the church.
IX. WHAT IS THE USE OF THIS DOCTRINE?
The use of this doctrine is, first that all the glory of our salvation may be attributed to God. "What hast thou, that thou didst not receive." (1 Cor. 4.7.) And secondly, that we may have sure, and certain comfort. This consolation we shall not want, if we do not doubt in reference to the things here taught: and especially if every one of us be firmly persuaded, that the decree of God concerning the salvation of the elect be wholly unchangeable; and also that he himself is one of the number of the elect, a living member of the invisible church, and that he shall never depart from the communion of the Saints.Question 55. What do you understand by "the communion of saints?"
Answer. First, that all and every one who believes, being members of Christ, are in common partakers of him, and of all his riches and gifts; secondly, that every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts for the advantage and salvation of other members.
The articles of the Creed which we have yet to consider, treat of the benefits of Christ which have been, and shall be conferred upon the church by the Holy Ghost. The term communion expresses the relation between two or more persons, who have the same thing, or possession in common. The foundation or ground of this communion is the thing which is common. The term itself signifies the possessors, few or many, who have common fruition in one, or many things. The communion of saints, therefore, is an equal participation in all the promises of the gospel; or it is the common possession of Christ, and all his benefits; and the bestowment of the gifts which are given to each member for the salvation of the church. It signifies then, (1.) The union of all the saints with Christ, as members with the head, which is effected by the Holy Ghost, who dwells in the head, and in the members, conforming and making them like unto their glorious Head, yet preserving a proper proportion between the head and the members; or, it is a union of the church with Christ, and of the members one with another; which union with Christ extends to his whole person, including both, his divine and human natures; for communion with the person of Christ is the foundation of communion in his benefits, according to what is said: "I am the vine; ye are the branches." "Abide in me, and I in you." "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me." "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his." "He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit. "Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit." (John 15.4,5. 1 Cor. 12.13. Rom. 8.9. 1 Cor. 6.17. 1 John 4.13.) (2.) A participation in all the benefits of Christ. The same reconciliation, redemption, justification, sanctification, life and salvation, belong to all the saints by and for the sake of Christ. They have in common all the benefits which are necessary for their salvation. "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism," &c. (Eph. 4.4.) (3.) The distribution of special gifts. These particular gifts which are bestowed upon some members of the church for the salvation of the whole body, for the gathering of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and for the edification of the church, are also common to the whole church: yet they are at the same time so distributed to all its members that some excel in one particular kind of gifts, whilst others again excel in other respects; for there are different gifts of the Spirit, and "to every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ." (Eph. 4.7.) (4.) The obligation of all the members to devote all the gifts which have been conferred upon them to the glory of Christ, their Head, and to the salvation of the whole body, and of every member mutually.
From what has now been said, we may readily see how vain is the exposition of those, who make the communion of saints to consist in the subsistence of Christ's body in and with our bodies. This opinion is refuted by the often-repeated comparison of the head and the members, which, although they are united in the closest manner, nevertheless, subsist without any mixture or confusion. From this we may also easily judge of the communion which we have in the sacraments; for they seal nothing different from what the word promises. The same error is also refuted by the consideration, that it is necessary that this communion should continue for ever. It is to this end that Christ communicates himself to us, that he may dwell, and remain in us. Hence the communion of Christ is such as his dwelling in us is, which being spiritual is to last for ever. Wherefore his communion must also be perpetual. This argument is conclusive, and has driven some to the notion of ubiquity, in order that they might overthrow it; for to maintain that other corporeal communion, they are constrained to affirm that Christ continually dwells bodily in the saints.
Believers are called saints in three respects: by the imputation of Christ's righteousness; by the beginning of conformity to the law which is commenced in them; and by their separation from the rest of the human race, being called of God to the end that they may truly know and worship him.
Hence we may now understand what we mean when we say, I believe in the communion of saints; viz, I believe that all the saints (to the company of whom I am firmly persuaded that I belong) are united to Christ, their head, by his Spirit, and that gifts are bestowed upon them from the head, including such as are the same in all and necessary for their salvation, as well as those which are diverse and variously bestowed upon every one, and which are requisite for the edification of the church.Question 56. What believest thou concerning "the forgiveness of sins?"
Answer. That God, for the sake of Christ's satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, neither my corrupt nature, against which I have to struggle all my life long, but will graciously impute to me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never be condemned before the tribunal of God.
Concerning the forgiveness of sins we must consider:
- What it is:
- By whom it is granted:
- On account of what it is granted:
- Whether it comports with the justice of God:
- If it is gratuitous:
- To whom it is granted: and
- How and when it is given.
I. WHAT THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS IS.
The forgiveness of sins consists in the purpose of God, not to punish the sins of the faithful on account of the satisfaction of Christ. Or, it is the pardon of deserved punishment, and the bestowment and imputation of the righteousness of another, even Christ. It is more fully defined in this manner: To be the will of God which does not impute any sin to the faithful and elect; but remits unto them both the guilt and punishment of sin, loves them just as much as if they had not sinned, delivers them from all the punishment of sin, and freely grants them eternal life in view of the merits and intercession of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our mediator. But although God remits unto us our sins for the sake of the merits of his Son, yet he still afflicts us in this life, not, indeed, that he may punish us, but that he may chastise us as a father. Neither must we suppose, because God does not punish our sins, that they are not displeasing to him, for the sins even of the most holy greatly offend him, although he does not punish them for their sins, for the reason that he has punished them in his Son. For God does not so remit sins as if he did not regard them as sins, or were not displeased therewith; but because he does not impute them unto us, nor punish them in us, and because he accounts us righteous on account of the satisfaction of another, which we apprehend by faith. It is, therefore, the same thing to have the remission of sins, and to be righteous.
Objection. The law does not only demand that we avoid sin, but also that we do good. Therefore it is not sufficient that sin be pardoned, but it is also necessary that perfect obedience be rendered to the law that we may be just.
Answer. Even the omission of doing good is sin; for he that can do good and does it not, is a sinner, and accursed. (James 4.17.) This forgiveness is granted unto us, because Christ has sufficiently satisfied for all our sins. Hence we have in Christ perfect remission of all our sins in such a way, that we are accounted righteous in the sight of God by his merits alone.
II. BY WHOM FORGIVENESS OF SINS IS GRANTED.
Remission of sins is granted by God alone, who, as the prophet says, (Is. 43.25.) "blotteth out our transgressions." This is done by the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; for we are baptized in the name of the three persons of the Godhead. That we are baptized unto the remission of sins, is evident from the baptism of John. And the Scriptures plainly affirm of Christ, that the Son of man hath power to forgive sins. (Matt. 9.6.) So also it is said of the Holy Ghost that he was tempted, offended and grieved on account of sin; and hence he also has power to forgive it; for no one can forgive sin, except the person against whom it is committed, and who is offended thereby. Christ likewise speaks in express terms of the sin against the Holy Ghost. The reason why no one but God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, can forgive sin, arises from this, that none but the offended party can remit sin. Now no one is offended at sin except God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Therefore no one else can forgive sin; consequently no creature can grant any thing which rightfully belongs to God. Hence David said, "Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight." (Psalm 51.6.)
Objection. But the apostles also, and the church, remit sins, as it is said, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven." "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." (Matt. 18.18. John 20.23.) Therefore it is not true that none but God can forgive sins.
Answer. The apostles forgave sin in as far as they announced the forgiveness of God. So the church forgives sin, when she, according to the command of God, pronounces forgiveness to the penitent. So likewise one neighbor remits sin to another, when he pardons private offences. But God alone frees us from the guilt of sin by his own authority; he alone cleanses us from all impurity by the blood of his Son, and remits all sins, original and actual, whether they be sins of omission or of ignorance, as it is said, "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities.'' "There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." (Psalm 103.3. Rom. 8.1.)
III. ON ACCOUNT OF WHAT IS FORGIVENESS GRANTED?
God forgives our sins out of his pure mercy, and free love towards us; and on account of the intercession and satisfaction of Christ applied by faith. Intercession could not be made without satisfaction, because that would be to ask of God to yield somewhat of his justice. "Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." "The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin." "For it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell in Christ; and having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself." "Ye are come to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things, than that of Abel." "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace." (1 Pet. 3.18. 1 John 1.7. Col. 1.19,20. Heb. 12.24. Eph. 1.7.)
IV. WHETHER FORGIVENESS OF SINS COMPORTS WITH THE JUSTICE OF GOD.
It belongs to God, as a most righteous judge, not to permit sin to pass by with impunity, so that he cannot remit it, unless some sufficient satisfaction be made. Hence God cannot grant the forgiveness of sins out of his clemency, which would conflict with his justice, for the reason that he would then suffer it to pass by unpunished; but he has punished it most sufficiently in Christ. God then pronounces us righteous, and such as are not to be punished in view of the perfect satisfaction of Christ, which does not conflict with his justice and truth.
Objection. 1. The justice of God demands that he who sins, should be punished. Therefore that forgiveness which is granted without a sufficient punishment of the sinner, conflicts with the justice of God.
Answer. It would, indeed, conflict with the justice of God, if he were not to punish sin at all, neither in the sinner, nor in any one else, who might endure punishment in the sinner's room and stead.
Objection. 2. But to punish the innocent in the place of the guilty is also repugnant to the justice of God.
Answer. This objection would have force, (1.) If the innocent one were unwilling to endure the punishment which would be required. (2.) If he were not of the same nature with the guilty. (3.) If he were not able to undergo a sufficient punishment. (4.) If he could not come forth from this punishment; for God would not have the innocent to perish for the guilty. (5.) If he were not able to renew and regenerate the sinner, and give him faith so that he might embrace his benefits. But all these conditions meet in Christ, as is clearly evident from the following portions of Scripture: "Christ hath loved us and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet smelling savour." "I lay down my life for the sheep." "He was wounded for our transgressions, and was bruised for our iniquities." "Christ died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." "I lay down my life that I might take it again." "Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it." "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." (Eph. 5.2. John 10.15. Is. 53.5. 2 Cor. 5.15. John 2.19; 10.17. Eph. 5.25. Titus 2.14.)
V. IS THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS GRATUITOUS?
Although God does not extend unto us the forgiveness of our sins, unless a sufficient satisfaction be made, yet he nevertheless grants remission freely, because he does not demand satisfaction from us, but from Christ upon whom our sins were laid.
Objection. But if God forgive sins for the sake of the satisfaction of Christ, it is not free.
Answer. It is, indeed, free in respect to us; for it is without any satisfaction on our part, although not without the satisfaction of another.
To this it is objected; he that grants pardon upon this condition, does not grant it freely; for it is an established rule, That whatever any one does through another, he seems to do through himself. Therefore we ourselves give this satisfaction, by paying it through Christ.
Answer. But God also gives this price, or ransom for us, that is, he gave Christ to be our satisfier and mediator; for he was not purchased by us. "God so loved the world that he gave his," &c. (John 3.16.)
VI. TO WHOM IS THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS GRANTED?
The forgiveness of sins is extended to all and only the elect; because it is given to such as believe. In as much now as the reprobate never do truly believe, they never receive the forgiveness of sins. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." "To him gave all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." (John 3.36. Acts 10.43.) All the elect, however, do not always enjoy the forgiveness of sins, but all those that believe always have it; for none have the remission of sins, but those who believe that they have it. But all the elect do not always believe this: but then first when they are converted, and made the possessors of a true faith. Yet they always have the remission of sins, in respect to the purpose of God. Even infants have faith in possibility and inclination, although not actually. Hence they also have the forgiveness of sins.
VII. HOW AND WHEN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS IS GRANTED.
The forgiveness of sins is granted and received by faith alone, which the Holy Spirit works and kindles in us. It may be said then, that the forgiveness of sins is granted at the time when it is received by faith. God has, indeed, determined from everlasting to pardon the sins of those whom he has chosen in Christ, for the sake of his satisfaction, but he pardons the sins of every one, and of all that believe in Christ, at the time when he accounts them as righteous, and works in their hearts by the Holy Spirit a sense of this pardon, so that they may forever remain certain in regard to it. The decree of God, therefore, concerning the forgiveness of sins is everlasting, but the execution of it takes place at the time when we apply to ourselves by faith the forgiveness which the gospel offers unto us. It is in the same way that God always loves his people, but he does not shed abroad this love in their hearts before their repentance. But those who do truly repent obtain at length the testimony of their conscience, by the Holy Spirit which is given unto them, that they are beloved of God, and so enjoy the forgiveness of sins.