A reflection from Peter Toon
Inextricably bound to the Proclamation of the Gospel as well as to the doctrines of Baptism and the Lord's Supper in The Book of Common Prayer (English editions of 1549, 1552 & 1662; Canadian 1962; USA 1928) is the Pauline (and Augustinian) doctrine of Divine Predestination and Divine Election. It surfaces in various ways and places within the texts of this Prayer Book and is stated with clarity and pastoral sensitivity in Article XVII of The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion.
The doctrine was held in varying degrees of development and intensity by all the major Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century from the Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican persuasions.
Here is the first part of Article XVII from 1571 in "contemporary" English:
Predestination and election
"Predestination to life belongs to God's everlasting purpose. By this is meant that before the foundation of the world, it is his unchangeable decree, in accordance with his secret counsel, to deliver from the curse and damnation those whom he has chosen in Christ, and to bring them by him to everlasting salvation, as vessels of his mercy). Therefore, those on whom such an excellent blessing of God is bestowed are called according to God's purpose by the Holy Spirit working in them in God's good time; through grace they obey this calling and are freely justified by God; they become the sons of God by adoption); they are conformed to the image of his only Son Jesus Christ; they lead holy lives that are given to good works to the glory of God; and at last, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting bliss."
Here we see that predestination refers to what God as a Trinity of Persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thought and planned before he actually created the world out of nothing (see further Ephesians 1 & Romans 8: 28ff.).
As a result of his divine election outside of space and time, God the Holy Trinity acts within space and time and within a sinful world to bring to final and full salvation and redemption those whom he has chosen in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. What happens to the elect is presented here as being a sevenfold process, although one need not think of it as strictly chronological in all aspects (e.g., 3 & 4 are simultaneous in God's sight).
1. Called by the Holy Spirit working in them in God's good time.
Following Pauline usage (see Romans 8:28b), this refers to the inward and secret work of the Holy Spirit upon the mind/heart of those who are hearing (in one way or another) the Gospel of the Father concerning his Son and salvation through him. Thus they are called outwardly and inwardly, via the senses and via mind/heart.
2. Through grace they obey this calling. Though impotent in and of themselves to repent and believe the Gospel, they become obedient to its call through the assistance and inspiration supplied by God's grace, working in their hearts/minds. In obeying they repent of sin and believe the Gospel.
3. They are freely justified by God. Their sins are forgiven and they receive a new status before God, as the righteous elect; to them is reckoned the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus and this costs them nothing for the grace of God in Christ is totally free (Romans 3:21ff; 5:1f.)
4. They become the sons of God by adoption. Within the same moment that the Father declares that they are forgiven and righteous, for the sake of Jesus Christ, he also adopts them into his family so that that henceforth they are his sons/children by grace. And to them he gives the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:12-17; cf. John 3: 6ff.)
5. They are conformed to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ. God does not only declare in his heavenly court that they are righteous and his children, he also by his Holy Spirit works within them to make them to become in daily reality what they are as in Christ Jesus. The work within them is to make them like Jesus, the true and real Man, in their character and behavior (Romans 8:29).
6. They lead holy lives that are given to good works to the glory of God. As the children of the Father and disciples of Jesus Christ they are separated from the ways of the world for the service of God, and as such they glorify God by their good works done out of love for God and for the neighbor (Romans 6:15ff; Galatians 5:16-25; Ephesians 2:8-10).
7. At last, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting bliss. God's call to the elect is a call that has in view their full redemption, the seeing and enjoying the glory of God n the face of Jesus Christ with all the elect and in their glorious resurrection bodies in the heavenly Jerusalem in the age to come (Romans 8:31ff., 1 Corinthians 15).
In the light of other Articles of Religion and the content of the Services of The Book of Common Prayer, we need to add that (a) numbers three and four above are given sacramental form through what God the Father does and gives in Holy Baptism (see for details my booklet, Mystical Washing and Spiritual Regeneration, www.anglicanmarketplace.com ) and (b) numbers five and six are in part achieved through the blessings given in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and number seven is the fulfillment of the Messianic Banquet of which eating and drinking at the Holy Communion is the foretaste.
This way of looking at the saving work of the Holy Trinity in space and time and within the elect is very different from the accounts given today in popular evangelicalism where there is much emphasis upon "making a decision for Christ," being "born again," and "being converted" (and where biblical images/metaphors/models are used to illustrate these modern themes and where individual experience rather than the fact of Baptism is seen as the pivotal moment). It is also different to views held in some "Catholic" circles where both Baptism and Eucharist are seen as having a kind of magical quality giving by their very existence "salvation."
Of course, teaching the doctrine of predestination has to be undertaken with care and sensitivity and this was very much understood by Archbishop Cranmer, who wrote this Article in its original form in 1552. The second half of Article XVII reads:
"The reverent consideration of our predestination and election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable strength and comfort to godly persons, who feel the working in themselves of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly passions and drawing their thoughts upward to high and heavenly realities.
This teaching is welcome to us both because it strongly establishes and confirms our assurance of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ and also because it kindles in us a fervent love to God. For worldly-minded persons, however, who are moved by idle curiosity and who do not have the Spirit of Christ, to be constantly confronted with the doctrine of God's predestination is dangerous and disastrous, since the devil uses it to drive them either to despair or to abandon themselves to immoral and ungodly living, which is no less perilous than despair.
Furthermore, we must accept God's promises in the way in which they are ordinarily presented to us in Holy Scripture, and in all that we do the will of God is to be followed precisely as it is revealed to us in the Word of God."
As a response to this short reflection, I suggest to my reader that it is now most appropriate to read Romans 8 and Ephesians 1 rather than engaging in thought or talk of a philosophical nature.
April 17, 2007 firstname.lastname@example.org