God predestines the means as well as the end, in his good providence. “As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto (Eph. 1:4-5; 2:10; II Th. 2:13; I Pet. 1:2).” There is an order to the salvation of the elect in history. “Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ (I Th. 5:9-10; Titus 2:14).” It is by being included in the covenant made with Adam, that all humanity sinned in his sin, and thus all are fallen (Rom. 5:12). All are born in a sinful state, not by physical birth, but by covenantal inclusion. It is the same basis by which we are redeemed in Christ, by being in covenant with him. This is the context of our union with him, being ‘in Christ’. This union takes place at our effectual calling, which by grace includes our repentance and faith. We are “effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season.” ‘Due season’ is the working out of our salvation by providence in our history.
Effectual calling is the beginning of what has come to be called the ‘ordo salutis’, or order of salvation, as it pertains to the application of redemption which was planned before we were born. From this beginning there follows on an equal plane the three actions and states of adoption, sanctification, both definitive and progressive, and justification. We “are justified, adopted, sanctified (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:5; II Th. 2:13), and kept by his power through faith unto salvation (I Pet. 1:5).” The saints, the elect, will persevere to the end for a complete salvation in glorification. “Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only (Jn. 17:9; Rom. 8:28; Jn. 6:64-65; 8:47; 10:26; I Jn. 2:19).” Again, the ‘ordo salutis’ is typically seen in sequential terms only, but adoption, justification, and definitive sanctification should be seen as concurrent, directly sequential to effectual calling, and progressive sanctification as flowing upon definitive sanctification.
This one paragraph in the Confession also includes, either directly or indirectly, what has come to be understood as the ‘tulip’ understanding of salvation. Total depravity is made mention of in our fall in Adam, unconditional election and limited atonement in the elect here as those “redeemed in Christ” and “the elect only,” irresistible grace in our effectual calling, and perseverance “being kept by his power.” There is also a distinction drawn between being redeemed and being saved, as not being synonymous. This section represents the elect as “their redemption by Christ as being effectually called unto faith in Christ. Their justification, adoption, sanctification and final salvation are just the blessings which constitute the deliverance obtained through the death of Christ; and, therefore, their redemption by Christ must signify, not the deliverance itself, but the payment of the price which procured their deliverance.
Their redemption by Christ is already complete – it was finished by Christ on the cross; but their actual deliverance is to be effected “in due season,” namely, when they are united to Christ by faith. In this section, then, we are taught: 1. That Christ, by his death, did not merely render the salvation of all men possible, or bring them into a salvable state, but purchased and secured a certain salvation to all for whom he died (John 17:4; Heb. 4:12). 2. That Christ died exclusively for the elect and purchased redemption for them alone (Jn. 10:15, 28-29). 3. We are further taught that salvation shall be effectually applied by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 6:37; Acts 13:48).”1 This salvation is also affirmed as a trinitarian work. “Thus our Confession, agreeable to Scripture, represents each of the divine persons as acting a distinct part in the glorious work of human redemption, and as entirely concurring in counsel and operation.”2
In regards to Section VII and VIII, and as stated in the previous sections, grace was and is required for the elect to have the repentance and faith that is necessary, but the reprobate are simply left in the condition that all men fell into in our rebellion in the Adamic covenant. However, in that the predestination of both the elect and the reprobate happened before either were born, it is also true to say, in harmony with the scriptural testimony, that he did also ordain the reprobate to be objects of “dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice (Mt. 11:25-26; Jn. 3:36; Rom. 9:17-22; Eph. 5:6; II Tim. 2:19-20; Jude 4; I Pet. 2:7-8).” For some, grace is withheld, that in them the just punishment for sin might also be to God’s glory. “There is nothing whatever in men that provides God with a reason for electing one man and passing by another.”3
The doctrine of predestination (Sec. VIII), some argue is arbitrary, but it is not really arbitrary, because God predestines according to his own good pleasure. Also, some want to avoid this doctrine, but it has been given to us to know it by divine revelation for a purpose (Dt. 29:29; Lk. 10:20; Rom. 8:29-33; 9:20; 11:5-6, 20, 33; Eph. 1:3-14; II Pet. 1:10; . “The truth is that when the doctrine is not taught with care and prudence the danger of false presumption is increased. But when the doctrine is taught without reservation the desired diligence and humility is the God-given result. The evidence certainly does not show that neglect of this doctrine has produced that humility, diligence, and abundant consolation, that has marked the Church in better days when this doctrine was so handled.”4 “So shall this doctrine afford a matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence and abundant consolation, to all that sincerely obey the gospel.”
“Aside from the fact that God has commanded his servants to preach all his revelation, one great reason for preaching on the eternal decree is that a knowledge of sovereignty, election, and predestination is necessary in order to understand many other doctrines. If God has not from all eternity decided to preserve me in grace, do I have any spiritual power in myself to persevere to the end? And if I have such power, would not salvation be achieved through my own efforts and by my own merits, rather than by God’s grace.”5 These doctrines also have a bearing on the biblical view of history, including the fulfillment of prophecy. “Given the sovereignty of God, his omnipotence and omniscience, predestination follows by logic alone. Given the creation of the world by an Almighty Creator, it necessarily follows that history must accord with the eternal decree.”6
“Salvation is declared to be in its very essence a matter of grace; and if of grace, the selection of its subjects is inalienably a matter of divine discretion. Lam. Iii. 22; Rom. iv. 4; xi. 6; Eph. i. 5-7; John iii. 16; 1 John iii16; iv. 10.”7 “The principle of divine sovereignty in the distribution of grace is certainly revealed in Scripture, is not difficult of comprehension, and is of great practical use to convince men of the greatness and independence of God, of the certain efficacy of his grace and security of his promises, and of their own sin and absolute dependence.”8 However, Hodge is also right to stress that “this truth ought not, moreover, to be obtruded out of its due place in the system, which includes the equally certain truths of the freedom of man and the free offers of the gospel to all. The command to repent and believe is addressed to all men indiscriminately, and the obligation rests equally with all.”9
“The salvation of the elect is wholly ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’, and the condemnation of the non-elect is ‘to the praise of his glorious justice’. Calvin justly remarks: ‘That those things which the Lord hath laid up in secret, we may not search; those things which he hath brought openly abroad, we may not neglect; lest either on the one part we be condemned of vain curiosity, or on the other part, of unthankfulness.’ Were this doctrine either dangerous or useless, God would not have revealed it, and for men to attempt to suppress it, is to arraign the wisdom of God, as though he foresaw not the danger which they would arrogantly interpose to prevent. ‘Whosoever,’ adds Calvin, ‘laboureth to bring the doctrine of predestination into misliking, he openly saith evil of God; as though somewhat had unadvisedly slipped from him which is hurtful to the church.’”10
1. Shaw, (93)
2. Ibid., (95)
3. Williamson, (38)
4. Ibid., (39-40)
5. Clark (47)
6. Ibid., (47)
7. A.A. Hodge, (75)
8. Ibid., (76)
9. Ibid., (77)
10. Shaw, (97-98 Cf. Calvin’s Institutes, book iii, ch. 21. Sec. 4.)