Friday, February 19, 2010

7.Calvin's Predestination in the Dordrecht and Westminster Paper

On December 4, 1646, the Confession of Faith, prepared by the “Assembly of Divines” meeting at Westminster, was completed. This is more than a century after the earlier editions of Calvin masterpiece, The Institutes of the Christian Religion and also of the first edition of what is one of his most notable commentaries, the Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. This time was used for theological reflection and intense controversy. Within the Reformed Churches the most challenging issue was the Arminian Remonstrance of 1610, which actually was the main reason for the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618 and 1619. It would be theologically unprofessional to oversee the development of the formulation of Reformed doctrine that a century of reflections and controversy had produced.
This section is concerned with the subject of predestination. “The divines”, as John Murray calls them in his paper, met to first clarify several Calvinistic terms like:
1. “predestinate” and “predestination”
2. “appointed to everlasting life,”
3. “foreordained to everlasting death”
According to Sect III, those who for the manifestation of His glory are by God’s decree
“appointed to everlasting death” are men and angels. God’s powerful grace assures everlasting life in Christ so much that Reformed theology speaks of it as “predestinated to everlasting life; at the same time there is no escape for sinful, grace refusing people. Like disobedient angels they are considered as “foreordained to everlasting death.” 83 The doctrine of the Confession on predestination and foreordination is unequivocal. It is believed, that God knows the exact number of them already, and this number will not change (Sec. IV). It is noteworthy that this statement of the Confession includes both angels and men and is so framed that in respect of the doctrine is equal relevance to men and angels. This feature in the Westminster paper goes beyond what we find in the Canons of Dordrecht. The Canons of Dordrecht are concerned only with the election and “reprobation” of men and don’t include the future of angels. To include the subject of angels would have unnecessarily complicated the issue, but in respect of mankind Dordrecht states the same position. God himself is most wise, unchangeable, omniscient, and omnipotent, so the election made by him can neither be interrupted nor changed, recalled nor annulled; neither can the elect be cast away, nor their number diminished (Cap. I, Art. XI; cf. Art. VI).
In contrast with the Remonstrant teaching, predestination to life and salvation is in both
documents described as unconditional. This means it is in the sovereign decision God and not
influenced by any anything through men. The Confession writes this in these terms: According to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will mankind is predestinated to life. God decided this before the foundation of the world was laid and chose that this is happening in and through Christ, out of his mere free grace and love to his everlasting glory (Sect. V). The terms of the Canons are: “Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath, out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race . . . a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ (Art. VII); The good pleasure of God is the sole cause of this gracious election?(Art. X; cf. also Arts. XV and XVIII). So there is not only an identity of doctrine but also to a large extent of language. The negative counterpart of the emphasis upon free grace of God only is, in contrast to the
teaching about the Remonstrant, that election is not determined by any foresight of faith or of perseverance. Without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto says the Confession (Sect. V). This election is not founded upon foreseen faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition in man, as the prerequisite, cause, or condition on which it depended (Art. IX) the Canons write (also check “Rejection of Errors,” Art. V).
The redemption by Christ and all the grace necessary is part of the process of election and its purpose and never determined by its receivers. God has decreed to give the elect to Christ to be saved by him, and effectively call and draw him to his communion by his word and Spirit; to establish in him true faith, justification, and sanctification; and through powerful preservation of faith in the fellowship of his Son, finally demonstrating His mercy for the praise of the riches of his glorious grace (Canons, Art. VII; cf. Art. IX). It should be noted that in the formulation of Westminster the fruit of election and its results as a result of Gods decision are equally emphasized. Therefore, also elect are people fallen in Adam and only through the redemption by Christ and a life in the Spirit justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, in faith, in salvation (Sect. VI).
This section deals with what has often is called the decree of reprobation. The Westminster
Confession in this account differs from Dordrecht by not using this term (cf. Arts VI, XV, and XVI). Although the Scripture uses the term reprobate in its meaning (Rom. 1:28; 1 Cor. 9:27; 2 Cor. 13:5, 6, 7; 2 Tim. 3:8; Tit. 1:16), its application in the Westminster papers implies that the decree of God is not part of it. Some assume that the “Westminster divines” did hesitate using it because they were convinced biblical terms should not be loosely applied.
Why are some ordained to dishonour and wrath when others equally deserving are not? The only explanation is the sovereign will of God. The ground of dishonour and wrath is sin alone. But the reason why the non-elect are ordained to this dishonour and wrath when others, the elect, are not, is sovereign differentiation on God part and there is no other answer to the question.
The fathers of Dordrecht actually managed to adequately distinguish Calvin’s teaching in more helpful theological terms. But those fathers were aware of the distinctions and diverse factors describing the decree of reprobation (decretum reprobationis).
On the distinction between the sovereign and judicial elements in foreordination to death Calvin draws the distinction in terms of the difference between the highest cause (suprema causa) and the proximate cause (propinqua causa, Romans 9:11,30). The highest cause is the secret predestination of God and the proximate cause is that they are all cursed in Adam.

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