By Colton Corter
The reason that we are so adamant about the doctrine of predestination is because it affects every thing about our lives. What we think about the doctrine of predestination is not a light matter. God Himself has revealed Himself to us that we might know Him as He is. Now, each and every one of us has refused to do so. But in our union with Christ by faith, we are justified and we begin to be sanctified. Sanctification is begun by regeneration and both occur by God allowing us to behold the glory of God (2 Corinthians 3:17-4:6). Christian freedom is being caught up in the gospel of God, striving by grace to know the God that saved us. Eternal life is knowing God in Christ, after all!
Geerhardus Vos is a name less known than, say, John Calvin, but is nonetheless a really helpful guide in understanding what the Bible teaches us about the character and grace of God. The Dutchman gave a series of lectures at what is now called Calvin College in the later 19th century. These lectures on systematic theology were published in Dutch in 1910 but remained untranslated in English until 2014! Thankfully, I got a copy of the three volume set for Christmas (“found” them early). His section on God’s predestination begins by showing how this doctrine works within the larger set of Christian doctrine. In other words, what we think about predestination will affect how we think about other doctrine like God’s sovereignty, our sin, God’s grace, and even the merits of Christ.
Vos begins by saying that the Reformed doctrine of predestination comes as a “direct consequence of the Reformed concept of God’s sovereignty, as that has been shaped based on Scripture.” The best thing about Vos’s work is that he only wants to espouse the theology that he had found in the Bible. Vos sees in the Scriptures a transcendent, glorious God (and he writes like it too!). He says that if one denies the Bible’s teaching on predestination then we will inevitably “falsify biblical teaching at numerous places.” The truth of God’s sovereignty, in His kindness, can save us from a lot of bad, God-belittling, soul- quenching doctrine.
Vos states, “The doctrine of human inability after the fall is inseparably connected with predestination, so that one must maintain them together or drop them both together.” Scripture never presents the doctrine of predestination without the doctrine of man’s utter inability to come to God on his own. It is crazy that we who love this doctrine could ever be snooty and proud! The truth is, God must elect those who will be saved because if He didn’t then none of us would be saved. We need this doctrine. We are undone without it. If man is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3) and has exchanged God’s glory for a lie (Romans 1:18-32), then only the grace of God can be the source of our salvation. Vos says that if we lose what the Bible teaches about God’s sovereignty in salvation then we will lose something of the doctrine of sin. It can be maintained that man is sick but never dead. To do so is to be less than truthful about who we really are and about who God really is. “One of the two; it depends on God or it depends on man who will be saved.”
Christ’s Union With His Church
The doctrine of salvation and the doctrine of the church are never far apart. The former creates the latter as God creates His church by His Word. Vos argues that God’s meshing together of His people necessitates predestination. He draws heavily on Paul’s body imagery in 1 Corinthians 12. He says, “the elect form a body.” “In a body the members must be fitted to each other and are intended for each other.” This is a beautiful quote on the church. God has saved all of us individually, but we live out our Christian lives primarily in the context of the local church. God has sovereignly ordained that we labor with one another to happy and holy in Jesus to the praise our His glorious grace among the nations. He argues that if the body is built by the free-will and merit of the individual members then the body will be disproportional. But since it is God alone who saves, no member can rightly say they are more important than another. Salvation is a gift and so are His other gifts that He gives individual Christians for the sake of the body. Our unity is preserved by our common gospel identity that began in the eternal mind of the Triune God. Humility is key to congregational life and humility is best cultivated before the glory of God.
Vos shows us that faith must be a gift of God. Predestination, in the Reformed tradition, maintains this important truth found in texts like Ephesians 2:8-9. The application of what Christ accomplished was also bought on the cross. This means that our faith to trust in the imputed righteousness of Christ for our right standing before God was also purchased by Christ for us. The promises of the New Covenant were bought by the blood of Christ. Vos shows that if we deny election then we accidentally undermine the benefits of the gospel. Our faith cannot originate in us and be purchased by the blood of Christ. He writes, “Christ cannot have merited for us what we ourselves provide. And so it is, not only with faith but with all other parts of the application of salvation. Denial of predestination includes, so viewed, a denial of the actual merits of the Mediator.”
The Bible presents the doctrine of predestination in the context of assurance. More like a pillar than a hammer, these doctrines are exceedingly sweet to those who have been made to know their weakness. “Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it.” Vos didn’t write that but he certainly saw this as a reality in his own heart. Man cannot expect to begin his own “state of grace” and then continue it by the grace of God. What man starts, he must finish. But if it is God who begins the work of grace in us, we can be sure that He will see it through to completion. “Once God’s sovereignty is at play, man can no longer thwart it subsequently.”Grace shows us that our own “free-will” is not good news. John MacArthur has said that if we could lose our salvation then we would. If we are standing in grace now then we can be sure that it is God’s grace and that God planned to give us this grace from before the foundation of the world.
If we lose the biblical teaching on God’s predestination then we will lose so much more. A ship will sink without its proper ballast. Predestination is such a ballast. It serves to humble man and exalt God, which is the only source of true joy. Rejoice that salvation is of the Lord! God is glorified in the salvation of ruined sinners. The doctrine of predestination is cause to praise the God who loved us first. Behold your God!
Colton Corter is a student at SBTS and member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville.