THE COMPROMISING CHURCH (Part 4)

Sola Gratia

By Roger Salter
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
www.virtueonline.org
It could be said that we live in the age of “cheap grace”. But in fact that is too high a compliment to pay to the prevailing attitude of our time (“attitude” is a substitute for the noun “theology”, for that noble science, in any Biblical sense, scarcely exists anymore in all the breadth of that amorphous religious entity known as “Anglicanism”). Grace hardly matters as a concept or a divine influence when sin, its consciousness and sense of conviction, is annihilated by the universal assumption of Universalism – the notion that divine acceptance embraces all without condition or exception. “Anything goes” is the the watchword of our benighted Communion.

A Reformation can only occur against the backdrop of accountability to God and the offenses committed against Him. A Reformation such as Martin Luther’s was fueled by the environment of Roman Catholicism with its residual elements of Christian tradition. In our era what is necessitated is a revolutionary reversal of practically all that constitutes human self-understanding and perception of reality. Our race is about as far gone from God as is possible prior to the event of the denouement of history. At the end of the 20th century Evangelical notables such as Martyn Lloyd Jones and Alec Motyer were remarking that societal decadence was almost at an absolute nadir. Decades later our culture and mainline churches have descended to even greater depths of moral turpitude and departure from true Christian faith. Only an acute awareness of sin can arouse consciences to cry for divine mercy.

Our plight is beyond the wit or action of man to resolve, and only divine power and wisdom can extract us from the morass of grave wickedness in which our generation now lies. No situation is beyond the redemptive power of God but it is subject to the determination of his sovereign will and his inviolable prerogative to exercise compassion or wrath: “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever” (Genesis 6:3). Mercy is never an entitlement. It issues from a free decision. “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Romans 9:15). If salvation is in any way to be in prospect for sinners it must spring from divine initiative, not simply as a proposition, but at the very inception of its performance. God must begin, carry out, and complete the mission of human rescue. The first move is strictly monergistic, then follows assent, and then continuing compliance with the will of God. Grace is decisive at every point of the process of redemption. The sinner is first embraced by the Lord’s unmotivated grip. He then closes with God under the influence of the divine call and love. He is enabled to continue in attachment to God by the unbreakable bond of divine reliability in sustaining permanent divine commitment toward a specially chosen and unstable companion – namely the elect individual. Salvation is all of grace operative through different modes – election, enticement (effectual call), and everlasting care.

The believer’s thorough reflection on Scripture and experience brings him or her to the Pauline conclusion”: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brethren; and those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified.”

There is no break or failure in the sequence of saving events. The order of salvation is preserved intact. Christ the Son is chosen as Redeemer and the Lord looks favorably upon a vast and gathered cluster of lost individuals whom he will personally associate forever as “brethren” with his Servant, and their Saviour, in the assignment of recovery from sin and restoration to his intimacy. Those sovereignly considered and named ones (their undeserving identity fully known and foreknown), are predestined to mercy and the gift of eternal and holy life. Salvation is in and through Christ – not because recipients somehow, in time, enter into connection with Christ by some human means, but because Father, Son, and Holy Spirit nominate them to inclusion within the People of God and collaborate in bringing them “home”.

The elect ones are attracted to Christ. They are accepted through him. And so perfect is their protection and preservation through this life of weakness and temptation that their attainment of Christ’s glorious presence in heaven is absolutely guaranteed. Predestination is important because it upholds the effectualness, completeness, and ultimate success of Christ’s saving venture. It renders to him due glory for the fulfillment of his purpose. Nothing human can cause him to fail. It is unthinkable to diminish or mar the perfection of his saving work.

All facets of the divine purpose are beautifully and pastorally spelt out in the seventeenth Article of our Reformed Confession.

Article 17. Of Predestination and Election.

Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

Intellectual and moral integrity require that the Article be read and interpreted in the historical and grammatical sense apparent in the known views of the Reformers themselves. Their doctrine is not malleable to the influence of private opinion or subject to the imposition of subsequent attempts at revisionism. Cranmer, whose theology “was structured by predestination” (Diamaid MacCulloch), built that same structure into Anglicanism as the principal author of our Confession of Faith. Every phrase of the Article can be seen to match the language employed by Jean Calvin at various points throughout his writings, which is not to allege that the French Reformer was directly copied by Cranmer. The views of the two men coincided because they had Sacred Scripture as their common source.

Fore-ordination to salvation is the evident meaning of the opening statement of the article i.e “everlasting purpose”, “constantly decreed”, “those whom he hath chosen in Christ”. The decree brings men to Christ, that is to knowledge of and faith in Christ. They are not selected on the basis of faith already existent in Christ but they are marked out for the gift of faith which shall be exercised toward Christ. “In Christ” signifies the consideration of the elect as being under Christ, whom the Father has elected as head of all redeemed ones. Augustinian predestinationism is absolutely asserted in the vocabulary before us. It is people who are chosen out of a wretched state that are selected by the Lord and not those who somehow find themselves in a favorable state through their effort or inclination. Grace is distinguishing: “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).

The word “decree” is deemed by many to have a hard edge to it. Decretal theology, it is claimed, is often presented in a harsh tone as if divine decisions were purely mental conceptions disconnected from living, feeling, souls. Such is not the case. Election emerges from warm affection – “electing love”. Condemnation is in consideration of unforsaken evil which is rightly hated by a holy God. Those “passed by” dare to be living souls harboring hatred for God and determined to continue in defiance of their Maker and Governor. God possesses the prerogative to show mercy or administer judgment. Salvation is entirely free. Punishment is entirely deserved. “It is of grace that any are saved; and in the distribution of that grace he does what he will with his own – a right which most are ready enough to claim in their own concerns, though they are so unwilling to allow it to the Lord of all” (John Newton).

God is at liberty to issue his just decrees, publish his determinations, express his commands, and declare his demands. They are all righteous and wise, and where they are prescriptive they are supremely beneficial. Where his ways are beyond human understanding we yield to Nebuchadnezzars’s discovery: “But he does according to his will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth: and no one can ward off his hand or say to him, What have you done? We can only accede to Paul’s advice to be humble, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God” (Romans 9:20). God does not require our permission and he is entitled to our acquiescence. The sovereignty of God warrants glad submissiveness in man.

[It may be possible and useful to comment briefly at this point on the matter of supra vs infralapsarianism, as to whether any sovereign differentiation between persons is to be considered prior to or following the fall of man. Our minds ought to be reverently reserved on this speculative matter which has no material affect on the ministry of the gospel (although supra may have a tendency to blunt Christian compassion). Supra is not necessarily more logical (see Warfield, The Plan of Salvation), although that is its claim, and in preaching to lost sinners, ministers are virtually infra in their approach. It is often concluded by even scholarly biographers of John Donne that his protest against the supra position was proof that he denied the doctrine of eternal election, but there is too much evidence to the contrary. Donne was as Augustinian as the Puritans. It was in matters of worship and church polity that he differed. “God did not elect me as a helper, not create me, not redeem me, not convert me, by way of helping me; for he alone did all, and he had no use at all of me. God infuses his first grace, the first way, merely as a Giver, entirely, all himself; but his subsequent graces, as a helper; therefore, we call them Auxiliant graces.” Yet in spite of his caution as to speculation regarding the decrees, Donne the infralapasarian who could openly refer to the Book of Life as the register of the elect, could also express his belief in “the first judgment, before all times” (Reformed Anglicans ought to recognize what allies they have in Messrs Donne, Hooker, and Beveridge).

As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God:

In this portion of the Anglican treatment of predestination resides the refutation of any notion that the doctrine of election is cold, unfeeling, and remote from sensitivity, human or divine. Election arouses warm and vital human emotion, appreciation of God’s mercy, and the revelation and felt experience of divine love in the personal choice and cherishing of believers through Christ.

Only a godly consideration of predestination is the right approach to this biblical doctrine. Grammar is one matter, but tone is essential, and only the regenerate are receptive of this tone that speaks to the heart of a rebel redeemed. “Why was I made to hear his voice, and enter while there’s room; When thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come. ‘Twas the same love that spread the feast, that sweetly forced me in; Else I had still refused to taste, and perish in my sin.” “Sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort” is derived from reflection on predestination. Its effect is deeply affective and emphasized by the influence and evidence of the Spirit’s presence and activity in the soul and life of the child of God. Most convincing in an astonishing way is as to how a mind once absorbed in vanity, futility, and illusory self-esteem and vacuous aspiration and desire can be so remarkably engaged in “high and heavenly things”. This development is contrary to fallen nature when the mind is enabled to soar to “heavenly places in Christ” in foretaste of celestial glory and ecstasy (Ephesians 2:6). When holiness is even faintly preferred to the desires and deeds of the flesh mercy is near and within (those who desire God have him).

So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchedness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation. Furthermore, we must receive God’s promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.

The nature of the concluding pastoral precautions is firm proof of the Augustinian cast of the Article. Such warnings would be unnecessary if election were grounded in prescience or foreseen/actual faith (being potentially or already found in Christ, as it were). In fact, any other explanation, modification, version of election completely nullifies the need for recognition of the fact and its efficacy. It means nothing at all in terms of the blessings attributed to it by the Word of God. It would simply indicate mere divine acknowledgement of a human decision too frail to be fully relied upon – something amounting to auto-soterism.

To continually weigh the matter of predestination speculatively, without a godly and humble frame of mind and all the resources and perspectives of true faith in Christ, is to plunge oneself into the abyss of despair or to embark upon a course of recklessness in life. There is no light available to an attitude of dark brooding or introspective speculation concerning the nature of divine decision concerning one’s own destiny. The truth and invitation of the gospel must be our guide. These press the promises to our mind and persuade us to trust them and rest in them with a confidence that outstrips curiosity. The inducements of the gospel are offered to all and where they are sincerely embraced so they impart an infallible comfort and good hope as the continuing calling upon Christ and the cultivation of companionship with him grow through the means of grace. The reliability and faithfulness of God are proven to us as the path of obedience is carefully trod. We become accustomed to walking in the light of the Word by the grace of the Spirit. All are invited to look to the Christ of the cross and depend upon the blood of atonement. Whosoever will may come. There is no contrary prohibition revealed personally by God to any person. Election is recognized in the face of Christ that smiles welcomingly upon all comers.

Witnesses

It is not because we did believe, but so that we might believe, that he chose us. . . Man is not converted because he wills to be, but he wills to be because he is ordained to election.— Aurelius Augustine

For the term predestination does not express some compulsory necessity of the human will, but it foretells the eternal disposition, merciful and just, of a future divine operation. God . . . does not bring to perfection or deed anyone whom he has prepared beforehand in his eternal and unchangeable will. — Fulgentius of Ruspe

Nobody has been so insane as to say that merit is the cause of divine predestination as regards the act of the predestinator. . . . Thus it is impossible that the whole of the effect of predestination in general should have any cause as coming from us; because whatsoever is in man disposing him toward salvation, is all included under the effect of of predestination; even the preparation for grace — Thomas Aquinas

In the schools of the philosophers I rarely heard a word concerning grace, . . . but I continually heard that we are the masters of our own free actions. . . but afterward. . . I came to see that the grace of God far preceded all good works both in time and in nature – by grace I mean the will of God. — Thomas Bradwardine, (1200 – 1349, Archbishop of Canterbury for six months until taken by fatal illness).

The Lord Jesus knows his own. He knows them and he has chosen them from the beginning. . . how can they perish whom the Son prayed might not perish, and those whose life the Father gave up his son to death?

The Lord knows who are his. . . but he judges no others worthy of a share in so great a mystery, except those he has foreknown and foreordained as his own. For those whom he foreordained, them he also called. The merciful goodness of the Lord endures from everlasting upon them that fear him. From everlasting, because of predestination, to everlasting, because of glorification. The one process is without beginning, the other knows no ending. Indeed, those whom he predestines from everlasting, he glorifies to everlasting, with an interval, at least, in the case of adults, of calling and justification between. — Bernard of Clairvaux

All that have been, or shall be saved, have been chosen before all worlds. . . whosoever holdeth free-will, denieth wholly the predestination of God. — John Wycliffe

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) This passage is the foundation on which rests everything that apostle says to the end of the chapter . . . He takes up here the doctrine of predestination or election. This doctrine is not so incomprehensible as many think, but is rather full of sweet comfort for the elect and all who have the Holy Spirit. . . But it is most bitter and hard for the wisdom of the flesh. . . . If there would not be this divine purpose, but our salvation would rest upon our will or work, it would be based upon chance. . . . But when the apostle says, ‘Who is he that condemneth’ ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (8:33, 34, 35), he shows that the elect are not saved by chance, but by God’s purpose and will. Indeed for this reason, God allows the elect to encounter so many evil things as are here named, namely, to point out that they are saved not by their merit, but by his election, his unchangeable and firm purpose.”
— Martin Luther

It is election which saves. . . . He who is covered by the shield of faith knows that he is elected of God by the very basis and firmness of his faith inGod . . . for those who have believed have been elected. Election, therefore, precedes faith. — Huldreich Zwingli

The kingdom of our Servitor, Jesus Christ, is an administration and procuring of the eternal salvation of the elect of God by which he . . . gathers his elect to himself. — Martin Bucer, mentor to Jean Calvin

God from eternity, predestined, or elected, freely and from his own free grace, with no respect of men’s character, the saints he would save in Christ according to that saying of the apostle: ‘God chose us in Christ himself before the foundation of the world,’ not without a medium, though not on account of any merit of ours. In Christ, and on account of Christ, God elected us, so that they that are engrafted in Christ by faith are the elect.
— Heinrich Bullinger, The Second Helvetic Confession (1564)

God chooseth us first and loveth us first, and openeth our eyes to see his exceeding abundant love to us in Christ; and then love we again, and accept his will above all things, and serve him in that office whereunto he has chosen us. — William Tyndale

As to the [eternal] election, I see there have been many who judged that this question should not even be raised. . . it is a wonder that they should think that the doctrine of predestination would subvert the good effect of preaching, especially since Paul, teacher of the Gentiles and preacher to the whole world, inculcates this doctrine in his letters, often clearly and explicitly, for instance in his letters to the Romans, the Ephesians, and Timothy. . . We cannot acknowledge the gifts of God unless we understand from what fountain they spring, and that fountain is the free purpose and mercy of God given to those whom he has elected before the foundation of the world. Those who do not see this do not see the goodness of God towards them. By this doctrine men may be brought to glory not in themselves but in the Lord. They cannot do this who ascribe to their own free will even the tiniest bit of why they are chosen by God. for they have in themselves the basis of their boasting. — Peter Martyr Vermigli (mentor to Jewel)

God hath chosen you from the beginning. His election is sure forever. The Lord knoweth who are his. You shall not be deceived with the power and subtlety of anti-christ, you shall not fall from grace, you shall not perish. This is the comfort which abideth with the faithful when they behold the fall of the wicked. . . Although all the world should be drowned with the waves of ungodliness, yet will I hold by the boat of his mercy, which shall utterly preserve me. If all the world be set on fire with the flame of wickedness, yet will I creep into the bosom of the protection of my Lord; so shall no flame hurt me. He hath loved me, he hath chosen me, he will keep me. John Jewel. (mentor to Hooker)

1. That God has predestined certain men, not all men.
2. that the cause moving him thereunto was not the foresight of any virtue in us at all.
3. That to him the number of the elect is definitely known.
4. That it cannot be but their sins must condemn them to whom the purpose of his saving mercy doth not extend.
5. That to God’s foreknown elect, the final continuance of grace is given.
6. That inward grace whereby to be saved is deservedly not given to all men.
7. That no man comes to Christ whom by the inward grace of his Spirit draws not.
8. And that it is not in every, no not in any man’s own mere ability, freedom and power to be saved, no man’s salvation being possible without grace. — Richard Hooker

Oh the excellency of the doctrine of election, and of the saints final perseverance, to those who are sealed by the Spirit of promise! I am persuaded, till a man comes to believe and feel these important truths, he cannot come out of himself; but when convinced of these, and assured of the application of them to his own heart, he then walks by faith indeed, not in himself, but in the Son of God, who died and gave himself for him . . . This is my comfort, the doctrines I have taught are the doctrines of Scripture, the doctrines of our own and of other reformed churches. — George Whitefield

i doubt not but you are often affected with a sense of distinguishing mercy. But though we know we are debtors, great debtors to the grace of God, which alone has made us to differ, we know it but imperfectly at present. — John Newton

“But some truths ought to be kept back from the people,” you will say, “lest they should make ill use thereof.” That is Popish doctrine. It was upon that very theory that the priests kept back the Bible from the people. They did not give it to them lest they should misuse it. Besides all this, remember that men do read the Scriptures and think about these doctrines and often make mistakes about them. Who then, will set them right if we who preach the Word hold our tongues about the matter? C. H. Spurgeon

Conclusion

A brief survey of the doctrine of predestination reveals that the election of grace is legitimate Catholic doctrine. The recognition of divine predestination is at the very core of the Protestant heritage. It remains for Bishop John Charles Ryle to address professing Anglicans on the matter of the Reformational sola gratia:

Some tell us that at any rate Election is not the doctrine of the Church of England. It may do very well for dissenters and Presbyterians, but not for churchmen. ‘It is a pure piece of Calvinism,’ they say, – an extravagant notion which came from Geneva, and deserves no credit among those who love the Prayer Book.” Such people would do well to look at the end of their Prayer Books, and to read the Thirty-Nine Articles. Let them turn to the 17th Article, and mark the following words (see above).

I commend this article to the special attention of all English churchmen. It is one of the sheet-anchors of sound doctrine in the present day. It never can be reconciled with baptismal regeneration! A wiser statement of the true doctrine of personal Election was never penned by the hand of uninspired man. It is thoroughly well-balanced and judiciously proportioned. In the face of such an Article it is simply ridiculous to say that the Church of England does not hold the doctrine of this paper (see Old Paths, The Banner of Truth Trust).

Two vital points should now be apparent:

It should be abundantly clear that the excellent Jean Calvin was not the inventor of the doctrine of predestination. Its author is the sweet Spirit of God who spread this truth throughout Holy Scripture and illuminated the minds of eminent saints to discern and declare the fact of electing love.

Though the doctrine of God’s everlasting love in predestination is neglected by the Anglican Communion, and the effective authority of our Articles – never formally refuted, nor officially annulled (for fear of controversy and its complications) greatly diminished – it must be seen in our time that the Reformation heritage conserved in our 16th century Confession of Faith is the only instrument, humanly speaking, and faithfully enjoined upon our clergy, is the only guarantee of our ever being a sound gospel believing, gospel preaching body within the universal Church of God. It is a matter of conscience for all ordained men to reconcile themselves to the teaching of the Articles for the sake of Confessional integrity.

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church

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