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The Canons of Dort, First Head of Doctrine, Article Fourteen

Synod%20of%20Dort.jpgArticle 14: Teaching Election Properly

Just as, by God's wise plan, this teaching concerning divine election has been proclaimed through the prophets, Christ himself, and the apostles, in Old and New Testament times, and has subsequently been committed to writing in the Holy Scriptures, so also today in God's church, for which it was specifically intended, this teaching must be set forth--with a spirit of discretion, in a godly and holy manner, at the appropriate time and place, without inquisitive searching into the ways of the Most High. This must be done for the glory of God's most holy name, and for the lively comfort of his people.

It is vital that we keep in mind the fact that the doctrine of election is not presented to us in Scripture as a subject for our intellectual speculation, or as a means by which we can satisfy our sinful curiosities about the hidden things of God.  God did not reveal his eternal purposes to us so that we could have a new subject about which to debate and speculate.  He did not reveal this so that the more learned, devoted, or zealous in our midst, could somehow force their way into the throne room of God and get a peek at the Deus nudus (the “naked God”).  God revealed this doctrine to us to promote his own glory, not to satisfy our musing and speculation.  

In fact, it was none other than Calvin himself, who cautions us about the dangers of such undue speculation about the subject of election and predestination:

    The subject of predestination, which in itself is attended with considerable difficulty is rendered very perplexed and hence perilous by human curiosity, which cannot be restrained from wandering into forbidden paths and climbing to the clouds determined if it can that none of the secret things of God shall remain unexplored.  When we see many, some of them in other respects not bad men, every where rushing into this audacity and wickedness, it is necessary to remind them of the course of duty in this matter.  First, then, when they inquire into predestination, let then remember that they are penetrating into the recesses of the divine wisdom, where he who rushes forward securely and confidently, instead of satisfying his curiosity will enter in inextricable labyrinth.  For it is not right that man should with impunity pry into things which the Lord has been pleased to conceal within himself, and scan that sublime eternal wisdom which it is his pleasure that we should not apprehend but adore, that therein also his perfections may appear. Those secrets of his will, which he has seen it meet to manifest, are revealed in his word-revealed in so far as he knew to be conducive to our interest and welfare (Institutes, III.xxi.1).

This is exactly the same point that the Canons are making.  The reason why we must wrestle with the doctrine of election is not to satisfy our own curiosity, but to promote God’s honor and glory, and so that we might find comfort in the midst of the tumultuous nature of life in a world full of sin and doubt.  

We teach and proclaim the doctrine of election only because God has revealed this doctrine to us in the Holy Scriptures by his prophets, by Christ himself, and by all the apostles.  And since this teaching is given by God to his church, we must proclaim, teach, and defend this truth without any compromise.  

Yet, at the same time, the Canons point out, “this teaching must be set forth—with a spirit of discretion, in a godly and holy manner, at the appropriate time and place, without inquisitive searching into the ways of the Most High.”  Here is where wisdom and prudence enter the discussion.  The Canons exhort us to teach and discuss these matters with the utmost of discretion and care, at the appropriate time, and in an appropriate manner.  In other words, we should exercise a fair bit of tact, compassion, and discernment here.  Someone who has just lost an unbelieving loved one is not likely to be too receptive to the biblical teaching on reprobation—for good reason.  And yet, presented at the right time, and in the right way, the subject should be broached as part of the normal catechesis of all Christian believers without compromise.

One of the main reasons that the doctrines of election and predestination are so difficult to discuss with others is not because the doctrine is unbiblical, and there is not much evidence for it in the Scriptures.  Rather, this is a difficult subject to discuss, precisely because it is a difficult subject!  

The doctrine of election can also be a touchy subject because so many Reformed folk have been so obnoxious about the subject to those outside the Reformed faith.  Far too often, Reformed Christians use the doctrine of election solely to “evangelize” their Arminian friends, or to win an argument, or make a point, and not, as the Canons urge, for the glory of God's most holy name, and for the lively comfort of his people.  Our sinful nature wants to be right, and as we all know, the flesh is not interested in God’s honor and glory.  

In this regard, the focus of our efforts should be where the Biblical teaching places it, upon the graciousness of God in choosing to save some out of the fallen mass of sinful humanity to glorify his name—namely, those of us who believe in Christ—and to leave the rest under God’s just condemnation for their own sin, so as to magnify his justice.  

This doctrine is revealed to us, God's people, so that we who are sinful, weak, and full of fear and doubt, might instead place our sole confidence in God, who is gracious, almighty, and merciful beyond words.  As Paul says in the opening of his letter to the Philippians, “
he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  God comforts us with the knowledge that he will not start something, and then quit in the middle of it!

As Reformed Christians, we believe, teach, and preach the doctrine of election because of God’s glory and honor, and for the comfort of the saints.

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