Skip to content

Divine Election, by G.C. Berkouwer

August 28, 2012

“Has it not often happened that we, called upon to accept in faith the promise of God in Jesus Christ, have had great difficulty in avoiding the question whether we have the right to apply that promise to ourselves, and whether we should not be convinced by another way – a roundabout way – of our personal election? Around the halo of God’s mercy always remains the dark edge of the inscrutable election, of an eternal decision which cannot be altered, the counsel of God’s absolute freedom. Is there still a possibility in this short life to answer the burning question regarding our election with certainty of an unswerving faith?

This connection between election and certainty does not tend toward anthropocentrism. Concern for man’s salvation and searching for the “we know” is not opposed to a theocentrical perspective. Soteriology is immediately evoked by and connected with an emphasis on God’s free will. If we separate these two from each other we can speak of election only in an abstract manner. Our salvation is then causally and objectivistically “derived” from God’s sovereignty, and the consolation of election gives way to a powerless submission which cannot be distinguished from submission to destiny and fate, and in which the Savior of the world can no longer be detected.

It is surprising that the explicit relation between election and the certainty of salvation has often become the great problem of the doctrine of election, for this tension is nowhere found in Scripture. In Scripture the certainty of salvation is never threatened or cast in shadows because of the fact of election. Rather, we always read of the joy of God’s election and of election as the profound, unassailable and strong foundation for man’s salvation, both for time and eternity. Election functions nowhere as a background to the order of salvation, a background that creates uncertainty, or as a shadow of the deus absconditus over the revelation of the deus revelatus. On the contrary, we hear with it a hymn of praise and gratitude  for the foundation of salvation. Election does not loom as a problem, as an unbearable tension. It completely lacks those aspects, and we meet election in emphatically doxological and soteriological contexts, as when Paul writes that God “chose us in him [Christ] . . . foreordained us unto the adoption as sons . . . according to the good pleasure of his will (Eph. 1:4, 5) . . . The revealing of the plan of salvation gives “a last message for the eschatological certainty.” To be sure, the plan of God, which is free and sovereign, is discussed in Romans 8:28, and history is seen as having its roots in eternity, but this is the basis for salvation, not the threat to it. The correlations in which Paul thinks are not obscure. They are filled with the light that is the source of that certainty which resounds in a song when Paul knows the congregation that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 8: 35 ff.).

We wonder, therefore, where – in spite of this testimony in Scripture – the origin lies of the problematic aspect of revelation and “hidden” election. We do not yet want to seek an answer to this important question, but we pose it now to emphasize how necessary it is that we remain within the boundaries of the gospel when we discuss election. We are conscious of the fact that it is easier to give this warning than to heed it. But is necessary to understand that every speculation apart from faith and the gospel threatens the congregation and confronts it with insoluble questions which can turn the preaching of the gospel into objective lectures. Only the boundaries of reflection are respected can we be saved from a doctrine of election that hangs over us like a dark cloud, and only then will it be possible to continue to speak of election as the cor ecclesiae, and to separate the confession of the doctrine of election from the disturbance of faithful hearts by a menacing secrecy ascribed to God.1  (Divine Election, by G.C. Berkouwer, pages 12-14)

*1, In the footnote here, “It seems to me undeniable that much of the terminology in theological discussions has caused misunderstanding. We think especially of the use made of the term fatum in the doctrine of election. Otto Weber is correct when he writes: “It certainly is deplorable that at times even orthodox believers identify providentia with fatum… He points especially to Gerhard and reminds us of the fact that Calvin rejected this identification (Inst. I, xvi, 8). Calvin deemed the word “fate” unacceptable because it belongs to the class of words “of which St. Paul teaches us to avoid the unholy novelty” (1 Tim. 6:20) and “because they endeavor to load the truth of God with the odium attached to it.”


But in the end, Calvin did speak of the “decretum” as a “decretum quidem horribile fateor”…. “But though the discussion of predestination may be compared to a dangerous ocean; yet in traversing over it the navigation is safe and serene, and I will also add pleasant, unless any one freely wishes to expose himself to danger. For as those who, in order to gain an assurance of their election, examine into the eternal council of God without THE WORD plunge themselves into a fatal abyss, so they who investigate it in regular and orderly manner as it is contained in the Word derive from such inquiry the benefit of peculiar consolation.” (Inst. III. 24)

My quote!  (Fr. R.) … And btw, we can see from this last quote, that the Creedal statements of Election (Article XVII, Thirty-Nine Articles, as too the Irish Articles 1615 (Presdestination and Election III), were very much affected from Calvin here!

  1. Btw, sooner or later, every Christian pastor-teacher, serious bible student, etc., MUST pass the Rubicon of the Mystery of Divine Election! And oftentimes it takes years of study here! I am a certain Augustinian and even somewhat Calvinist, but always therein an Anglican one! 🙂

    But none of us are gonna crack this divine mystery!

    • But every faithful believer and true disciple of Jesus Christ as Lord should know they are chosen by God In Christ! And this is not just theological but practical “Biblicism”, belief in the Holy Scripture and Revelation! (See Romans 8) The Adoption of God in Jesus Christ… the gracious act of God whereby He chooses us, and calls us to Himself in the great Love of God ‘In Christ’!

  2. I am happy that some still read this post! Indeed Berkouwer was a profound Christian teacher and theolog! And the subject of Divine Election is always worth the high road of biblical study!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: