Light and Shadow
Confessing the Doctrine of Election in the Sixteenth Century
An Analysis of Reformed Symbolic documents in the Light of
Article XI of the Formula of Concord
A Research Paper For
Seminar on The Formula of Concord (S-824)
Professor Robert Kolb
Jeffrey J. Meyers
St. Louis, MO – May 20, 1997
The Lutheran churches of the sixteenth century offered no explicit treatment of the doctrine of election in their confessional documents until Article XI in the Formula of Concord (1577). Reformed churches, on the other hand, began incorporating this doctrine in their confessions and catechisms early on. When the Lutheran church did come to confess election was it substantially different than the Reformed confessional understanding of the doctrine? How do the two ways of confessing the doctrine of election compare? Specifically, are the concerns of the Formula’s Article XI directed at the Reformed confessions and catechisms? Without conducting a detailed historical investigation into the actual intentions of the Formula’s authors (whether they had Reformed theologians and/or symbolic documents in mind), we might nevertheless profitably ask if the pastoral and theological concerns addressed by the Lutherans in this article apply to the Reformed church’s way of confessing predestination and election. Answering this question would necessarily involve a careful examination of the texts of the Reformed symbolic documents in the light of the concerns articulated in the Formula of Concord. This essay attempts to do just that. I will examine the doctrine of election as confessed in the Reformed symbolic documents of the sixteenth-century confessions and catechisms in order to determine continuities and discontinuities between the Lutheran and Reformed ways of confessing election.
My thesis is that there was no substantial difference in theological content between the two ways of publicly confessing the doctrine in the sixteenth century. Reformed confessions and catechisms treat the doctrine of election positively as the light that illumines the reality of the experience of salvation, thereby grounding the Reformation doctrine of justification sola gratia in God’s eternal counsel. The shadow of preterition (or reprobation), however, finds little or no place in the Reformed church’s public confession of the Gospel. The article of election might have any number of minor uses or functions within the system of Christian doctrine, nevertheless, its fundamental confessional function involves illuminating and thereby anchoring the central Reformation confession of justification in God’s eternal purpose. Election is confessed in both Lutheran and Reformed communions as the flip side of sola gratia, or better, election is a way of confessing the Gospel of grace from the perspective of eternity.
The analysis will proceed in three stages. First, I will expound the fundamental concerns of Article XI of the Formula. Second, the sixteenth-century Reformed Confessions and catechisms must be analyzed carefully to discover the shape and content of the doctrine of election as confessed by Reformed churches. Finally, I will compare and contrast the Formula’s Article XI with the confessional doctrine of election discovered in the Reformed symbolic documents, highlighting areas of continuity and discontinuity between the Lutheran and Reformed way of confessing the doctrine of election.
The Burden of the Formula of Concord on Election
The Formula offers four stated reasons for including this article. First, the doctrine of election “has become the occasion of very serious controversies at other places and has involved our people also” (SD XI, 1). It is not entirely clear what these “other places” are. There may not have been any “public dissension” on this article among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession (SD XI, 1), but there was at least one not entirely private dispute between Luther and Amsdorf. Amsdorf taught a rather symmetrical version of “double predestination,” which Luther and others rejected. In addition to this, we do know of at least three general disputes over the doctrine of election in “other places” that might qualify as illuminating background for the content of this article. Surely the synergistic controversy with the so-called Philippists is one dispute that underlies the concern in this article to deny any determinative role to human choice in one’s salvation (EP XI, 5, 15, 20; SD XI, 23, 30, 31, 43-44).
Moreover, the various tract wars fought by Calvin, Beza, and other Reformed theologians against such dissenting voices as Bolsec and Pighius may also have been in view. Calvin published his Consensus pastorum Genevensis ecclesiae in 1552, an extensive exposition of his doctrine of election which culminated a decade or so of debate with Pighius, Bolsec, and Georgius. These debates were surely known among the Lutheran theologians. Calvin’s own Institutes had gone through six editions, the last published in 1559, and contained a full exposition of his doctrine of election. In addition to this, Jacob Andreae and Calvin’s successor Theodore Beza had faced off at the colloquy of Poissy in 1561. The doctrine of predestination was not really an issue at Poissy, but as Jill Raitt notes, “From this point on Andreae and Beza became more and more inimical, especially through the battle for the Palatinate . . .” We should take note, however, that the Formula makes no explicit mention of Calvinism or Reformed theology, so one must be careful about identifying the precise objects under attack. Three of the four antitheses, however, in the Formula’s Epitome reject some form or another of soteriological particularism (EP XI, 17-19; cf. SD XI, ), so it is reasonable to assume that the predestinarian particularism of Calvinism (at least as it was perceived by the authors of the Formula) provides the background for these passages that highlight God’s universal will and grace. Nevertheless, my investigation in this essay will seek to determine whether the public, ecclesiastical Reformed confessions and catechisms in particular might have been in view. Would the way in which the doctrine of election was confessed in these Reformed symbolic texts lead to the kind of polemical statements that we find in Article XI of the Formula?
Finally, Strasbourg is another one of these “other places” where controversy broke out over this issue. Just a little more than a dozen years before the Formula was written a serious dispute over predestination broke out between the Reformed theologian Jerome Zanchi and the Lutheran pastor Marbach. This particular theological altercation focused on Zanchi’s scholastic doctrine of predestination, which Marbach found particularly destructive to pastoral care. This bitter debate ended with the Strasbourg Concord (1563), a document written in part by Andreae and Brenz, which Zanchi signed with serious reservations. This incident no doubt alerted the Lutheran theologians to the potential pastoral problems associated with an errant or even a badly skewed doctrine of election.
The three other reasons stated for the inclusion of this article are the desire to 1) standardize theological terminology among Lutheran theologians, 2) make the church’s position on election public and explicit “so that all men may know what we teach, believe, and confess in this article” (SD XI, 2), and 2) set forth the true biblical doctrine “precisely in order to avert such misuse and misunderstanding, we must set forth the correct meaning on the basis of Scripture” (SD XI, 3). Underlying each of these four expressed reasons stands the deep pastoral concern that pervades the Formula’s careful treatment of this doctrine. The Formula’s treatment is more concerned with outlining a basic evangelical and pastoral shape or context for the doctrine of election than with articulating a definitive body of teaching on the subject. The depth of this pastoral concern can be seen by summarizing the content of the article.
First, Article XI traces the outlines of an important distinction between God’s Lordship over evil and his gracious election of his people (EP XI, 1-4; SD XI, 4-7). Although God is Lord over all that happens, including good and evil, he does not originate or cause evil and wickedness as he does the salvation of his people in Christ. Sin is not produced or authored by God (EP XI, 3; SD XI, 79-86). This accounts for the concern to distinguish between foreknowledge and predestination as an explanation of God’s asymmetrical relation to sin, evil, and damnation and salvation (EP XI, 2-5; SD XI, 4-8). The Formula does not even attempt to explicate a more comprehensive “general” doctrine of predestination. The article is silent about the cosmological or philosophical possibilities in this doctrine. The fundamentally asymmetrical nature of God’s work can also be seen in the strong language used in Art. XI to describe the proper positive doctrine of the Christian’s eternal election. Referencing Matt. 6:18, John 10:20, and Acts 3:48, the Solid Declaration ascribes to the positive doctrine of election unto salvation everything it denies to reprobation: “God’s eternal election, however, not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but by God’s gracious will and pleasure in Christ it is also a cause [eine Ursach] which creates, effects, helps, and advances [schaffert, wirket, hilft und befurdert] our salvation and whatever pertains to it” (SD XI, 8). Theologically, then, God’s dealings with man are fundamentally asymmetrical. Because God does not work evil desires in man in the same manner (eodem modo) as he works salvation in his people, the church’s doctrine of election must not press logical connections in order to arrive at a nice symmetrical doctrine of predestination. The Formula eschews all attempts to penetrate or concatenate the various disparate elements so evident in the Scriptural expression of this doctrine. The church’s confession of election will always manifest the paradox of this doctrine’s inherent mystery, the inexplicable cur alii, alii non.
Second, in light of this emphasis on directing Christians to the revealed will of God in the Gospel of Christ, Art. XI warns against speculative forays into the “secret and inscrutable counsel of God” (EP XI, 5-7; SD XI, 9). The example given makes God’s will intolerably arbitrary, like a “military muster,” choosing one person and passing by another. Count off by 4’s and every one with an even number will be saved. This reduces God’s eternal counsel to a mathematical or statistical nightmare. “This one shall be saved, that one shall be damned, this one shall persevere, that one shall not persevere.”
“Hence if we wish to think or speak correctly and profitably about eternal election or about the predestination and ordering of the children of God to eternal life, we should accustom ourselves not to speculate concerning the absolute, secret, hidden, and inscrutable foreknowledge of God. On the contrary, we should consider the counsel, purpose, and ordinance of God in Christ Jesus, who is the genuine and true ‘book of life’ as it is revealed to us through the Word” (SD XI, 13).
This means that we should keep together the “entire teaching” (die ganze Lehre) concerning the purpose, counsel, will and ordinance of God relating to our redemption, just as Paul does in Romans 8 and Ephesians 1. Our thinking about election should be organized around the eight points of doctrine outlined in SD XI, 15-22. It is only in this “light” that the doctrine of election should be considered (SD XI, 24). The solution to man’s tendency to reduce God’s eternal mind and will to man’s puny proportions through fruitless speculation is always to think of the entire doctrine of God’s purpose and counsel (predestination) Christologically and soteriologically.
Third, Article XI eschews all formulations of the doctrine of election that would evacuate its ability to comfort individual Christians concerning God’s gracious and infallible will concerning their salvation (SD XI, 23, 43-49, 91-93). Thus, God’s eternal purpose is not merely to make salvation possible or to make it available to all in general; on the contrary, he has specifically “elected to salvation each and every person among the elect [alle und jede Personen der Auserwählten]” (SD XI, 23). The question of the identity of the elect must be carefully considered. Since the doctrine of election ought to comfort the elect, the questions “who are the elect?” and “wherefrom and whereby can and should one discover [one’s election]?” become acute. The Formula answers these questions by warning against making judgments based on the law, reason, outward appearance, or especially any attempt “to investigate [forschen] the secret and hidden abyss of divine foreknowledge [den heimlichen, verborgenen Abrund götlicher Vorsehung]” (SD XI, 26). Rather than leading us into the dark, hidden depths of God’s being, the doctrine of election stands behind the revealed will of God in Christ (Eph. 1:9, 10). Therefore, assurance of our election comes through the call of the Gospel (SD XI, 27-29). For this reason, the Formula is concerned to direct believers to the “revealed will of God” for certain knowledge of his will. Theologically, if believers cannot trust God’s intentions in the Gospel, then God must be deceiving us or contradicting himself (SD XI, 34-35). Both possibilities are intolerable. God’s intention is accurately revealed in his Word and Sacrament. If God has two wills, two intentions, one secret and one revealed, how will we know with “absolute certainty” that God loves us in Christ? (see EP XI, 17-19). This means that there can be no deception in God’s Gospel call—it goes out freely and sincerely to all. The elect are those, according to God’s decree, who “hear the Gospel, believe on Christ, pray, give thanks, are sanctified in love, have hope, patience, and comfort in afflictions (Eph. 1:11, 13; Rom. 8:25)” (SD XI, 30).
Fourth and finally, the Formula makes it abundantly evident that the doctrine of election is a corollary to and ground for the mercy of God in Christ revealed in the Gospel. The doctrine of election can only be understood as an evangelical doctrine. In paragraphs 43 through 51, the Formula outlines 4 major and two minor “uses” for the doctrine of God’s eternal foreknowledge or election. There is a nice inclusio in paragraph 51 that ties these six “uses”—altogether eight paragraphs—together: “Thus it is possible to use the teaching in this article in a profitable, comforting, and salutary way [nützlich, tröstlich, und seliglich]” (SD XI, 51). Use #1: Most importantly, God has revealed the mystery of foreknowledge as powerful support for the central article of justification by grace through faith. Citing Eph. 1:4, Rom. 9:11, and 2 Tim. 1:9, the Formula explains that election “is indeed a useful, salutary, and comforting doctrine [nützliche, heilsame, tröstliche Lehre], for it mightily confirms [gewaltig bestätigen] the article that we are justified and saved without our works and merit, purely by grace and solely for Christ’s sake” (SD XI, 43; BS 1076, 36-38). Use #2: The doctrine of election overturns all false doctrines about “the powers of the natural will [von der Kräften unsers natürlichen Willens]” (SD XI, 44). Use #3: This doctrine is designed to afford “beautiful and glorious comfort” to individual Christians. They can know that nothing will separate them from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:35) since God has ordained their salvation in his eternal purpose even before the foundation of the world. Use #4: The Christian can find the assurance of his election especially comforting during times of trial and affliction. Here the Formula derives a very practical use from the Christological orientation of election. Referencing Romans 8, the doctrine of election ought to comfort us in our trials, reminding us that we are “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,” persevering through cross and affliction as he did. Use #5: The doctrine of election assures us that the Church of God will endure against all odds and in spite of “the outward prestige of the false church” (SD XI, 50). A sixth use is noted, but not explained. The article of election, according to such passages as Luke 7:30, 4:24, and Matt. 22:14, “contains strong admonitions and warnings [mächtige Vermahnungen und Warnungen]” (SD XI, 51). In outlining these six uses of the doctrine the Formula intends to highlight the inseparable organic relationship between the doctrine of election and the foundational doctrine of the justification. Any use of election that strays from its connection with the Gospel becomes an improper and dangerously unbiblical use.
We can conclude our review of Article XI’s chief concerns with eight summary points. In confessing the biblical teaching of election the Formula seeks to 1) provide the outline of a biblical and pastorally sensitive doctrine of election; 2) champion the Gospel context and ground of the doctrine of election as a objective substructure of justification and sola fide; 3) guard the asymmetrical character of God’s dealings with men; 4) repudiate God’s causal complicity with sin and evil by denying that God is the author of evil or the cause of damnation; 5) explain election as God’s gracious, eternal choice of individuals for salvation in Christ in such a way that would comfort Christians in times of doubt and temptation; 6) uphold the sincerity and universality of God’s love for all mankind, Christ’s atonement, and the Gospel’s free offer of salvation; 7) deny any contribution to salvation from man’s works or will (contra synergism); and 8) warn against speculative investigations into God’s will outside of Christ and his revealed Word;
These eight points must now be turned into questions and directed to the sixteenth-century Reformed confessions and catechisms. Do the Reformed symbolic documents exhibit the same considerations when confessing the doctrine of election? Do they ignore or possibly violate any of the Formula’s evangelical concerns. Do they confess a doctrine of election that is fundamentally at odds with the shape and content of the doctrine summarized in the Formula? Is election cut loose from Christology and justification in the Reformed symbols? The texts of these pre-Concord, sixteenth-century symbolic documents must now be examined and analyzed.
Election as Confessed in the Reformed Symbolic Documents
In this essay we are not particularly interested in each of the Reformer’s “extended” or “general” doctrine of election, but rather in the evangelical publication of the doctrine as it is confessed in their ecclesiastical confessions and catechisms. Our goal is to ascertain the way in which the doctrine of election was publicly confessed by the Reformed church, not how it was taught or argued. Consequently, we will avoid detailed analyses of each particular Reformer’s doctrine of election as he might have expounded it in lectures, books, or polemical tracts apart from the churchly confessions and catechisms. For our purposes, these works will be used only occasionally to help illumine otherwise opaque passages in the symbolic texts. Our method will be to introduce each confession or catechism briefly, cite all the relevant passages that touch on the doctrine of the election, and make expository comments relevant to our goal of comparing the Lutheran and Reformed ways of confessing election.
The first distinctively “Reformed” confessions begin with the symbolic works of Zwingli and those allied with him in the Swiss Reformation. None of Zwingli’s four ecclesiastical writings, however, give election any special prominence, and no extended treatment is given to explicating that doctrine. Allusions to the reality of election do appear in the later two larger works (Fidei ratio  and Expositio fidei christianae ), especially in connection with the treatment of the fall, redemption, and the nature of the church—sensitive topics central to Zwingli’s apologetic battle with Rome—but even there election is primarily discussed using the terminology of Scripture with little or no explicit theological exposition.
In 1530 Zwingli presented a confession to the emperor at the Diet of Augsburg. He sent his Fidei ratio to Charles V as a concise summary of the Zurich church’s confession of faith. The doctrine of election finds no separate treatment. The first mention of foreordination is found in connection with his article on God.
I know that that Supreme Divinity who is my God has freely made appointment concerning all things [libere constituere de rebus universis], so that his counsel does not depend on the occasioning of any creature, since it is peculiar to marred human wisdom to reach a decision because of a preceding discussion or example. But God, who from eternity to eternity knows all that is with a single and simple regard [qui ab aeterno usque in sempiternum universaa unico et simplici intuitu inspicit], has no need of any ratiocination, or expectation of acts, but, equally wise, prudent, and good, freely determines and disposes concerning all things [libere constituit ac disponit de rebus universis]—seeing that all that exists is His. Therefore, though He knowingly and purposely in the beginning made the man who should fall, He yet equally determined to clothe His own Son in human nature, that he might repair the fall [Hinc est, ut quamvis sciens ac prudens hominem principio formaret qui lapsurus erat, aeque tamen constitueret filium suum humaua natura amicire, qui lapsum repararet].
What at first glance looks like a general, cosmological doctrine of predestination actually turns out to be an expression of the believer’s personal trust in a gracious Father to order (constituere) all things, especially (note the connecting “therefore” in the last sentence) his determination of the incarnation of his Son to repair the fall of man. Zwingli does not speak of God’s determining (constituere) the fall of man, but of his “knowingly and purposefully [sciens ac prudens] making the man who should fall.” God is not the cause of man’s fall, his determination comes in as consequence of the fall in order to repair it. This is how Zwingli puts it:
Then, when the time came to reveal his goodness, which he had determined from eternity to display no less than his justice, God sent his Son to assume our nature in every part, except as far as it inclined to sin, in order that, being our brother and equal, he could be a mediator, to make a sacrifice for us to divine justice, which must remain holy and inviolate, no less than his goodness. Thereby the world might be sure both of the appeasing of the justice and the presence of the goodness of God. For since he has given his Son to us and for us, how will he not with him and because of him give us all things? What is it that we ought not to promise ourselves from him, who so far humbled himself as not only to be our equal but also to be altogether ours? Who can sufficiently marvel at the riches and grace of the divine goodness, whereby he so loved the world, that is, the human race, as to give up his Son for its life. This I regard as the heart and life of the Gospel [hos Evangelii fontes ac venas esse duco]; this is the only medicine for the fainting soul, whereby it is restored to God and itself. For none but God himself can give it the assurance of God’s grace.
This paragraph outlines a thoroughly Trinitarian and evangelical doctrine of God’s “determination” from all eternity. Zwingli stresses the riches of God’s goodness such that his justice serves his beneficent design for human nature. The overflow of his goodness resulted in his determination to send his Son to be our “brother and equal.” The Christological matrix of Zwingli’s doctrine of God’s eternal determination stands out from the outset. God has, from all eternity, determined to send his Son to save the world. As the next paragraph proves, the election of God serves the doctrine of sola gratia and sola fide.
Hence there is left neither justification nor satisfaction based on our works, nor any expiation nor intercession of the saints, whether on earth or in heaven, for those who live by the mercy of God. For this is the one sole mediator between God and men, the God-man Christ Jesus. The election of God, however, stands and remains firm, since those whom He elected before the constitution of the world He so elected as to choose to himself through his Son; for he is holy and just as he is good and merciful. All his works therefore savor of mercy and justice. Election therefore properly savors of both. It is of his goodness that he has elected whom he will; but it is of his justice that he has adopted his elect to himself and joined them to him through his Son as a victim offered to satisfy Divine justice for us. . .
Election is single. God has elected us before the constitution of the world “through his Son” as an expression of his holiness, justice, goodness, and mercy. There is no hint of a decree of reprobation or an ordination unto wrath. Election serves to heighten and objectify the grace of God and ground the sacrifice of the cross in his eternal counsels. Election is expounded in terms of Christology since it is understood as the gracious activity of God in Christ.
Finally, Zwingli’s Ratio Fidei also briefly treats election in the course of explaining the nature of the church. Here again, election is single not symmetrically double, unto salvation without mention of any causal determination to damnation. We should also note that, according to Zwingli, one comes to the assurance of one’s election by faith. One may not always be sure about another’s election, but one can be certain that he is elected by God through the ministry of the Spirit who enables us to call upon God as our Father. There is nothing speculative, philosophical, or deterministic about Zwingli’s doctrine. Neither does it immobilize anyone by causing them to doubt their election. Believe and you may be certain of your election.
Of the Church, then, we think as follows: The term Church is variously used in Scriptures. For those elect ones whom God has destined to eternal life. It is concerning this Church that Paul speaks when he says that it has no spot or wrinkle. This Church is known to God alone; for he only, according to the word of Solomon, knows the hearts of the sons of men. But, nevertheless, those who are members of this church know themselves, since they have faith, to be elect and members of this first Church; but they are ignorant with regard to other members. For it is thus written in the Acts: “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” [Acts 13:48]. Those, then, who believe are ordained to eternal life. But who truly believes no one knows but the one who believes. He then is certain that he is elected of God. For according to the word of the Apostle, he has the Spirit as a pledge, by whom he is sponsored and sealed, and knows himself to be free and made a son of the family and not a slave. For that Spirit cannot deceive. As He declares God to be our Father, we call upon Him as Father with assurance and boldness, being firmly persuaded that we shall obtain eternal inheritance because we are sure that the Spirit of God has been poured out into our hearts. It is certain, then, that we shall obtain an eternal inheritance because we are sure that the Spirit of God has been poured out into our hearts; for those who believe are ordained to eternal life.
Telling references to election appear in connection with Zwingli’s treatment of Good Works in his posthumously published semi-symbolic confession Expositio fidei christianae (1531). The Reformation conviction of sola gratia must be defended against every foreign incursion of merit, especially in the church’s doctrine of good works. Here election functions as a safeguard against any possible synergistic misunderstanding. In his article “On faith and works” he writes:
It is therefore by the grace and goodness of God alone, which He has abundantly poured out on us in Christ, that eternal bliss is attained. What, then, shall we say of the passage of Scripture adduced above, in which a reward is promised for a draught of cold water and the like? This to wit: That the election of God is free and gratuitous [Electionem dei liberalem esse ac gratuuitam]; for He elected us before the constitution of the world, before we were born. God therefore did not elect us on account of works, but he elected us before the creation of the world. Our works therefore have no merit. But when he promises a reward for works it is after the manner of human speech; “for,” says Augustine, “what wilt Thou, O good God, remunerate except Thine own work? For since it is Thou that workest in us both the willing and the doing, what is left for us to claim for ourselves?”
Bucer, aided by Capito and Hedio, in great haste produced the so-called Tetrapolitan Confession of 1530 as an expression of the faith of the four imperial cities (Strasbourg, Constance, Memmingen, and Lindau) to be presented at the Diet of Augsburg. The document seeks a via media between Luther and Zwingli. It is the first attempt by Bucer to compose an “evangelical union symbol.” In its twenty-three chapters only once (Art. IV, Of Good Works) is mention made of foreknowledge and predestination, and there it is merely a conflated quotation of Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 2:9. Nevertheless, in Article III (Of Justification and Faith) the Gospel is given a firm grounding in the work of the Father’s drawing, the Son’s revealing, and Holy Spirit’s regenerating. The words foreknowledge, election, and predestination are not mentioned, but the evangelical understanding that “salvation is of the Lord” is prominent.
For since it is our righteousness and eternal life to know God and our Savior, Jesus Christ; and it is so impossible for this to be the work of flesh and blood that it is needful for it to be born anew; and we cannot come to the Son except by the Father’s drawing, nor know the Father except by the Son’s revelation; and Paul has written so expressly that it is not of us nor of works—it is evident enough that our works can help nothing toward our becoming righteous from the unrighteous ones which we were born; because as we are by nature the children of wrath, and on this account unrighteous, so we are unable to do anything just or pleasing to God. But the beginning of all our righteousness and salvation must proceed from the mercy of the Lord, who from his own favor and the contemplation of the death of his Son first offers the doctrine of truth and his Gospel, those being sent forth who are to preach it; and, secondly, since “the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit,”, he causes a beam of his light to arise at the same time in the darkness of our heart, so that now we may believe his Gospel preached, being persuaded of the truth thereof by his Spirit from above, and then, relying upon the testimony of this Spirit, may call upon him with filial confidence and say, “Aba, Father,” obtaining thereby sure salvation, according to the saying: “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The First Confession of Basel (1534), composed by Oecolampadius and Myconius, was the first Reformed confession to contain a separate paragraph on election. This confession was published by Council of Basel with a preface by the bürgermeister on January 21, 1534 It is essentially the work of Oecolampadius, being revised upon his death in 1531, by his successor, Oswald Myconius. The confession consists of twelve short articles in the following order: God, Man, God’s Care for Us, Christ, the Church, the Lord’s Supper, Excommunication, Church Polity, Faith and Works, Judgment Day, Adiophora, and Against the Error of the Anabaptists. The first article (Of God) contains a single sentence paragraph confessing the doctrine of election.
We believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, one holy, divine Trinity, three Persons and one single, eternal, almighty God, in essence and substance, and not three gods. We also believe that God has created all things by His eternal Word, that is, by his only begotten Son, and preserves and strengthens all things by his Spirit, that is by his power; and therefore, God sustains and governs all things as he created them.
Hence we confess that before he created the world God elected all those whom he willed to bestow the inheritance of eternal salvation [Dannenhar bekennend wir das Gott vor und ee er die welt erschaffen, alle die erwölt habe, die er mit dem erb ewiger seligkeit begaben will]. Scripture texts: Rom. 8:29, 30; 9:11-13; Eph. 1:4-6.
Since this statement offers little more than a restatement of key biblical phrases, it cannot possibly be misunderstood as setting out a deterministic conception of God—even if the doctrine is subsumed under the article on God. Election is not confessed here philosophically or cosmologically. Neither does it flow out of the doctrine of God as a metaphysical, logical deduction as in some forms of medieval and seventeenth-century Reformed scholasticism. On the contrary, It is interesting to note that it is directly tied to the Trinitarian confession of that precedes it. The Triune God himself is the God who elects to bestow eternal salvation. The same Father who created through his Son and preserves and sustains all things by the Spirit—this God has elected from all eternity the inheritors of eternal salvation. Eternal salvation is thereby anchored in the gracious freedom of the Triune God of creation. No mention is made of reprobation or damnation. The soteriological purpose of the doctrine of election is prominent.
The First Bohemian Confession (1535), authored by John Augusta (d. 1572) and revised at Luther’s suggestion, was presented to King Ferdinand. Although he rejected it, this confession became the symbolic formula for the Polish Calvinists and the exiled Bohemian Brethren in Poland (1555). The article defining justification (Art. VI) briefly denies the possibility that “one can have this faith by his own power, will or choice; since it is the gift of God who, where and when it seems good to Him, works it in man through the Holy Spirit.” Predestination and election are not discussed in this confession.
At a diet held in Prague in 1575, a second Bohemian Confession was presented to Emperor Maximilian II (1564-1576), who thereupon promised the Lutherans, Calvinists, and Brethren religious liberty. McNeill describes this document as “Melanchthonian rather than typically Calvinist.” Nevertheless, it was received by the Bohemian Calvinists as an accurate statement of faith. The people of God are designated “elect” in the Second Confession in connection with the discussion on the nature of the Church. The elect children of God are those “true and faithful Christians, all of whom as a whole and without exception are holy with a holiness imputed in Christ and begun in them by the Holy Spirit; and these only God deigns to call his sheep. . .”
What we now call the First Helvetic Confession of 1536, has also been called the Second Confession of Basel. The Confession was written up by the committee of Bullinger, Grynaeus, Myconius, Judae, and Megander appointed by the conference of Swiss Reformed delegates who met at Basel on January 20, 1536, in order to prepare for the Pope’s own announced general council scheduled to meet in Mantua in 1537. Bucer and Capito, although not part of the committee, assisted in the composition of the twenty-seven articles of the confession, especially the article on the Lord’s Supper. These two especially had high hopes to further doctrinal concord between Luther and the Swiss churches, and so were anxious to frame a confession that would unite the churches in their common faith. Articles 9-11 of the First Helvetic Confession are relevant to our investigation.
Article 9. Free Will. We ascribe free will to man because we discover (experimur) in ourselves that we do good and evil knowingly and deliberately. We are able to do evil of ourselves but we can neither embrace nor fulfill the good unless we are illumined, quickened and impelled by the grace of Christ. For God is the one who effects in us the willing and the doing, according to his good pleasure. Our salvation is from God, but from ourselves there is nothing but sin and damnation (us gott ist unnser heyl, us uns aber jst nüt dann sünd und verdampnus).
While synergism is denied in this article, a radical monergism that traces back to God every act of man, including his sin and evil, is definitively denied. The doctrine of man’s will is treated in an evangelical way. Man is responsible for his own acts, while God is solely responsible for man’s salvation. No attempt is made logically to penetrate philosophical and cosmological questions about causality that might arise because of this paradoxical way of confessing God’s free agency in salvation.
Article 10. How God has saved man through his eternal counsel [durch sin Ewigen Ratschlag]. Although man through his own guilt and transgression justly incurs eternal damnation and has come under the righteous wrath of God, yet God, the gracious Father, has never ceased to be concerned about him. We can perceive and understand this sufficiently, clearly and plainly from the first promise and from the whole law by which sin is awakened through not wiped out, and from Christ the Lord who was appointed and given for that purpose.
This article introduces the “eternal counsel” of God for man’s salvation. Man is saved through God’s eternal counsel. In the First Helvetic Confession election is not expounded as a separate article or doctrine, nevertheless, it clearly undergirds the evangelical theology of the Confession. What else does election mean but that “our salvation is from God” and that “from ourselves there is nothing by sin and damnation.” Thus, we can only be saved “through the eternal counsel” of God “the gracious Father,” who in spite of man’s incursion of eternal damnation, “has never ceased be concerned about him.” The First Helvetic Confession evidences no interest in the question of reprobation. The counsel of God is confessed as the eternal ground of the Christian’s salvation, not as origin of a causal series that embraces all men’s destinies. Furthermore, man incurs eternal damnation “through his . . . guilt and transgression.” He will be damned of his own fault even though “the gracious Father has never ceased to be concerned about him.” Christ, therefore, has been given for the “purpose” of fulfilling God’s promise to mankind. He is preeminently the elect one, who took on our human nature in order that we might inherit eternal life:
Article 11. Concerning Christ the Lord and what we have through him. This Lord Christ, a true Son of God, true God and man, assumed a true human nature, with body and soul, in the time thereto appointed by God from eternity [hat jnn der zyt, die got von Ewygkeyt har darzu bestimpt]. He has two distinct natures in one single, indissoluble Person. The assumption of human nature took place in order that He might quicken us who were dead and make us joint heirs of God. This also is the reason He has become our brother. . .
Article 12. The Purpose of Evangelical Doctrine. Consequently in all evangelical teaching the most sublime and the principle article [das höchst und fürnempst houptstück] and the one which should be expressly set forth in every sermon and impressed upon the hearts of men should be that we are preserved and saved solely by the one mercy of God and by the merit of Christ. . .
The doctrine of election does not occupy the “central” or “principle” article in this Reformed confession. That position is clearly reserved for the Gospel of the mercy of God. No theological or metaphysical deductions are made from the doctrine of election. God’s eternal counsel, determining that Christ should take on human flesh for the salvation of man, stands behind this Gospel as the guarantor of its eternal efficacy. The doctrine of election, when discussed in isolation from Christology and soteriology (as it tended to be treated in post-Reformation, seventeenth-century dogmatics) is often carried out in such a way that the electing God is not understood seriously as the one who elects in Christ. Instead, theologians degenerate into speaking of “the will of God” and the “decree of God” (decretum Dei) in such a way that erects a Deus nudus or Deus exlex “behind” or “back of” Christ. In contrast, Article 11 of the First Helvetic Confession speaks of the eternal election or determination (bestimmen) by God of the humanity of Christ. By means of Jesus Christ God enacts in history his eternal counsel to save mankind. The doctrine of election is confessed in the First Helvetic Confession in a Christological, soteriological matrix that guarantees its pastoral value for the assurance of doubting souls.
Calvin and the Symbols of the Genevan Church
Two symbolic documents were produced in the early years of the Reformation in Geneva: the Lausanne Articles and the Geneva Confession of 1536. The Lausanne articles, although never official adopted by Geneva were propounded by its pastor Guillaume Farel at the Lausanne disputation of October 1, 1536. They were delivered as representative of the core theological theses of the Reformation of French-speaking Swiss cantons. These articles contain no discussion of election or predestination. Once Calvin had joined Farel in Geneva, he produced a brief confession of faith that would summarize the evangelical doctrines outlined in the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). The Genevan Confession (1536) contains 21 articles. The only article that even hints election is Article 10, “All Our Good in the Grace of God,” which immediately precedes the article on faith:
Art. 10. In order that all glory and praise be rendered to God (as is his due), and that we be able to have true peace and rest of conscience, we understand and confess that we receive all benefits from God, as said above, by his clemency and pity, without any consideration of our worthiness or the merit of our works, to which is due no other retribution than eternal confusion. . .
Calvin’s treatment of election in his 1536 Institutes occurs in chapter 2 as a part of his exposition of the “fourth part” of the Apostle’s Creed (“I believe in the Holy Catholic church). There is no discussion of reprobation or any symmetrically conceived double decree. The doctrine of election is given an explicitly Trinitarian and Christological shape in this early exposition.
“But those who, not content with Christ, strive to penetrate more deeply, arouse God’s wrath against themselves and, because they break into the depths of his majesty, from his glory cannot but be oppressed. For since Christ our Lord is he in whom the Father, from eternity has chosen those he has willed to be his own and to be brought into the flock of his church, we have a clear enough testimony that we are among God’s elect and of the church, if we partake in Christ. Then, since the very same Christ is the constant and unchangeable truth of the Father, we are by no means to doubt that his word truly proclaims us the Father’s will as it was from the beginning and every shall be. When therefore by faith we possess Christ and all that is his, it must certainly be established that as he himself is the beloved Son of the Father and heir of the kingdom of heaven, so we also through him have been adopted as children of God, and are his brothers and companions in such a way as to be partakers of the same inheritance; on this account we are also assured that we are among those whom the Lord has chosen from eternity, whom he will ever protect and never allow to perish.
Calvin’s Catechismus ecclesiae Genevensis (1545) was dedicated to the “faithful ministers Christ who preach the pure doctrine of the Gospel in East Friesland.” In the dedication Calvin expresses that his burden in writing this catechism was the unity of the churches. The catechism was written as an expression of the pure doctrine upon which the Reformed churches were founded. The doctrine of election is expressed in six different questions (Q. 27-29, 93, 96, and 100). Calvin divides his exposition of the Apostles’ Creed into four parts: “The first refers to God the Father; the second concerns his Son Jesus Christ, and also includes the entire sum of man’s redemption. The third part concerns the Holy Spirit; the fourth the Church and the divine benefits vouchsafed to it” (Q. 18). The first occurrence of the doctrine of election is found in questions 27-29, which conclude Calvin’s catechetical exposition of the first article of the Apostle’s Creed.
Q. 27. Why then do you call God merely creator, when it is much more excellent to defend and preserve creatures in their being, than once to have made them? A. This term does not merely imply that God so created his works once that afterwards he took leave of them [ut illorum postea curam abiecerit]. Rather, it is to be held that the world, as it was once made by him, so now is preserved by him, and that similarly both the earth and all other things persist only in so far as they are sustained by his virtue and as it were his hand. Besides, since he has all things under his hand, it also follows from this that he is the supreme ruler and lord of all. Hence from his being Creator of heaven and earth, we are to understand that it is he only who with wisdom, goodness and power rules the whole course and order of nature; who is the author of both rain and drought, hail and other storms, as also of serenity; who fertilizes the earth of his beneficence, or again renders it sterile by withdrawing his hand; from him also both health and disease proceed; to whose power finally all things are subject and at whose nod they obey [cuius denique imperio subiaceant omnia et nutui obsequantur].
Question 27 does not actually mention election or predestination, but rather focuses on God’s wise and good providential control over his creation. Calvin uses biblical language and imagery to convey the truth that God’s Fatherly care and control extend over all of creation. He has not absented (abeo) himself from his creation, but takes personal, detailed interest in it. Calvin’s last comment that all things are “subject” to God and “obey” his command surely is not meant to establish a species of metaphysical determinism. Calvin goes on in the next question to discuss God’s control over evil:
Q. 28. Now what shall we say of wicked men and devils? Shall we say that they too are subject to him? A. Although he does not govern them by his Spirit, yet he checks them by his power, as with a bridle, so that they are unable even to move unless he permits them to do so. Further, he even makes them ministers of his will, so that they are forced, unwilling and against their inclination, to effect what seems good to him.
Calvin affirms the biblical truth that Satan and his fallen angels are “subject” to and “governed” by God, but he does not here confess that their wicked deeds are predestined by God such that their wickedness and rebellion is directly caused by God. God does not govern them “by his Spirit” in the same way that he does the good angels and his people. Here we see Calvin’s concern to articulate the fundamental asymmetry in God’s dealings with men and angels. Although he works in us all faith, righteousness, and every good thing, God “checks” and “permits” and “forces” wicked men and devils “against their inclination, to effect what seems good to him.” And Calvin confesses this not because he is interested in establishing some abstract idea of God’s absolute power or fill out his “system” by drawing out as many logical implications of predestination as he can. On the contrary, he has a pastoral concern, as we discover in the next question.
Q. 29. What benefit accrues to you from the knowledge of this? A. Very much. For it would go ill with us, if anything were permitted wicked men and devils without the will of God; then our minds could never be tranquil, for thinking ourselves exposed to their pleasure. Only then do we safely rest when we know them to be curbed by the will of God and, as it were, held in confinement, so that they cannot do anything but by his permission, especially since God himself undertakes to be our guardian and the captain of our salvation.
It is God the Father as the “guardian and captain of our salvation” that insures that wicked men and devils are “permitted” to do nothing against his own will. Such knowledge strengthens the weak and faltering soul who may be buffeted by the persecutions of evil men and the temptations of Satan. The knowledge that God’s enemies can do nothing “but by his permission” insures that nothing in the universe can threaten the salvation of the one who trusts in the Father. There is no evidence here of philosophical or metaphysical determinism or of an overly curious mind that delights in prying into God’s secret counsel. Calvin’s expounds these truths in the context of the Gospel as pastoral assurance to his flock that “nothing can separate them from the love of God in Christ” (Rom. 8:39).
Three more questions on the church also briefly describe the doctrine of election:
Q. 93. What is the Church? A. The body and society of believers whom God has predestined to eternal life.
Q. 96. In what sense then do you call the Church holy? A. In this sense, that all whom God chooses he justifies, and remakes in holiness and innocence of life (Rom. 8:29), so that in them his glory may be displayed. This is what Paul intends, when he affirms that Christ sanctifies the Church which he redeemed, that it might be glorious and free from all stain (Eph. 5:25).
Q. 100. But is it possible to know this Church other than by the faith with which it is believed? A. There is indeed also a visible Church of God, which he has described to us by sure signs and marks. But strictly this question concerns the company of those who, by secret election, he has adopted for salvation; and this is not always visible with the eyes nor discernible by signs.
The fact that Calvin does not treat the doctrine of predestination as a corollary to his doctrine of God’s transcendence or as a logical deduction from any of his attributes, but subsumes his only explicit mention of predestination under the doctrine of the church and her justification and sanctification, leads to the conclusion that he is confessing this doctrine an evangelical way. This fact becomes even clearer when we consider the French Confession of Faith.
The origins of the Confession de foy (1559) are complex. From the beginning of the Reformation in France, the churches were liable to severe persecution. The Genevan church in French-speaking Switzerland served both as refugee camp and headquarters for the often underground church in France. Various confessions came out of the Reformed churches in France, but the last and enduring confession was composed from a draft written by Calvin and revised at a secret meeting of the French church in Paris on May 223, 1559; presented to King Francis II with a new preface in 1560; and at the colloquy of Poissy (1561) offered by Beza to Charles IX as the Reformed confession of faith. Although the details of its origin and use in the Reformed churches cannot concern us here, it should be noted that the confession gained explicit approval from Calvin, Beza, and other key leaders in the Reformed churches. The doctrine of election is confessed in three separate articles.
Art. VIII. We believe that he not only created all things, but that he governs and directs them, disposing and ordaining by his sovereign will all that happens in the world [Eph. 1:11; Prov. 16:4]; not that he is the author of evil, or that the guilt of it can be imputed to him, as his will is the sovereign and infallible rule of all right and justice; but he has wonderful means of so making use of devils and sinners that he can turn to good the evil which they do, and of which they are guilty [Acts 2:23; 4:27]. And thus, confessing that the providence of God orders all things, we humbly bow before the secrets which are hidden to us, without questioning what is above our understanding [Rom. 9:19-20]; but rather making use of what is revealed to us in Holy Scripture for our peace and safety, inasmuch as God, who has all things in subjection to him, watches over us with a Father’s care, so that not a hair of our heads shall fall without his will. And yet he restrains the devils and all our enemies, so that they can not harm us without his leave [Matt. 10:30; Job 1:12; 2:6; Matt. 8:31; Jer. 19:11].
Here again, as in Calvin’s Genevan Catechism, the doctrine of providence contains a confession of God’s “disposing and ordaining by his sovereign will all that happens in the world.” Once again, also, one must carefully note the purpose or use of the confession of this certainty—to assure the Christian that God’s Fatherly care and concern for him is no mere wish or impotent desire on God’s part. God even makes use of devils and evil deeds in order to turn to good the evil which they perform in defiance of God. Thus, the article very carefully describes God’s providential work so as to insist that God is not the author of evil since “his will is the sovereign and infallible rule of all that is right and just.” This may seem paradoxical to the creature. Nevertheless there is one will of God, which is “the sovereign and infallible rule of all right and justice.” There is no dark, capricious God “behind” the Father. He has revealed his will for our salvation in Christ. Thus, the confession forbids curious minds from prying into “secrets which are hidden from us” and “questioning what is above our understanding.” The next article moves from God’s providential will to his eternal counsel of grace in Christ.
Art. XII. “We believe that from this corruption and general condemnation in which all men are plunged, God, according to his eternal and immutable counsel, calls those whom he has chosen by his goodness and mercy alone in our Lord Jesus Christ, without any consideration of their works [Rom. 3:2; 9:23; 2 Tim. 2:20; Titus 3:5, 7; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9], to display in them the riches of his mercy [Ex. 9:6; Rom. 9:22]; leaving the rest in this same corruption and condemnation to show in them his justice. For the ones are not better than the others, until God discerns them according to his immutable purpose which he has determined in Jesus Christ before the creation of the World. Neither can any man gain such a reward by his own virtue, as by nature we can not have a single good feeling, affection, or thought, except God has first put it into our hearts [Jer. 10:23; Eph. 1:4-5].
Article XII confesses the evangelical doctrine of election unto salvation. Five important points should be noted. First, supralapsarianism is ruled out in this article. God elects men to salvation as homo lapsus, that is, “from this corruption and general condemnation in which all men are plunged.” There is no doctrine of reprobation, but rather of God’s preterition, his “leaving the rest in this same corruption and condemnation.” Second, God’s election proceeds “by his goodness and mercy alone in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The “alone” is significant. There is no other basis or motive in God’s election of sinners other than his “goodness and mercy.” The confession avoids the specter of an arbitrary selection based on some dark, hidden purposes known only to God. It also does not speak of predestination or election unto damnation. Third, not only is election motivated by the love of God, but he has chosen us “in our Lord Jesus Christ” and his immutable purpose is determined “in Jesus Christ.” God predestines in Christ. There is no evidence that the doctrine of election has been cast in terms of a deterministic logico-causal nexus; instead we have a clear confession of election as a corollary to the Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ. Fourth, not only does God’s election originate in his mercy and grace, but his declared end in electing his people is to “display the riches of his mercy.” Finally, even though the confession does not use the language of causality, it does clearly state that the wicked are not made wicked by God, but “left” in the corruption and condemnation that they justly deserve. The question of the relation of God’s eternal counsel to the fall and the origin of evil is left an unaddressed mystery.
The two articles that follow Article XII speak to the question of God’s universal salvific will.
Art. XIII. We believe that all that is necessary for our salvation was offered and communicated to us in Jesus Christ. He is given to us for our salvation, and “is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption”: so that if we refuse him, we renounce the mercy of the Father, in which alone we can find a refuge.
Art. XVI. We believe that God, in sending his Son, intended to show his love and inestimable goodness towards us, giving him up to die to accomplish all righteousness, and raising him from the dead to secure for us the heavenly life [John 3:16; 15:13].
The dogmatic doctrine of election has its ground in the proclaimed and believed Gospel of God’s freely granted grace in Jesus Christ. The doctrine of election must be understood and articulated as another form of the proclamation of the Gospel. The dogmatic, confessional presentation of the Gospel ought not to lead us to raise questions that take us behind or beyond the will of God expressed in the Gospel. Commenting on John 6:40, Calvin warns, “And if God’s will is that those whom he has elected shall be saved by faith, and he confirms and executes [exsequitur] his eternal decree [aeternum suum decretum] in this way, whosoever is not satisified with Christ but inquires curiously about eternal predestination desires, as far as lies in him, to be saved contrary to God’s purpose. The election of God in itself is hidden and secret. The Lord manifests it by the calling with which he honors us.”
Art. XXI. We believe that we are enlightened in faith by the secret power of the Holy Spirit, that it is a gratuitous and special gift which God grants to whom he will, so that the elect have no cause to glory, but are bound to be doubly thankful that they have been preferred to others. We believe also that faith is not given to the elect only to introduce them into the right way, but also to make them continue in it to the end. For as it is God who has begun the work, he will also perfect it.”
This is the last reference to election in the French Confession of Faith. Election is clearly expounded as a corollary of the Reformation doctrine of grace, a guard against Pelagian and synergistic errors and a confirmation of our trust, but as such it is secondary, not primary. In the French Confession of Faith, then, the doctrine of predestination emerges in connection with God’s providence as comfort for the believer (Art. VIII), but finally, the definitive doctrine of election is confessed as the eternal backdrop of God’s gracious justification of sinners in Christ (Art. XII, XIII, XVI, and XXI).
Two English Confessions
The reign of “Bloody Mary” in England forced many who confessed the Reformation faith into exile. Fleeing to the cities of the Continent where they sought freedom to confess the Gospel, about 18,000 found refuge principally in Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Emden, Zurich, and Geneva. There they organized their own English-speaking congregations. In 1555, the city of Geneva granted the English exiles the privilege of citizenship and then found them a suitable place of worship. John Knox and Christoper Goodman were chosen by the congregation as pastors. The small congregation had great influence on the future direction of the Reformed church. The scholars and pastors of the 186-member church produced a church order and service book that became a standard for later Reformed worship, a metrical version of the Psalms that was widely used in England and Scotland, and a translation of the Bible (the Geneva Bible ) that served as the standard Reformed Bible well into the next century. They also produced a Confession of Faith (1560), the authorship of which is uncertain. Although it was probably the work of Whitingham, it certainly received Knox’s approval and the early editions also bore the statement: “and approved by the famous and godly learned man, John Calvin.” The four articles of this confession follow the pattern of Calvin’s four-fold exposition of the Apostles’ Creed (Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and Church). References to election occur in articles 3 (Holy Spirit) and 4 (Church).
Art. III. Moreover, I believe and confess the Holy Ghost, God equal with the Father and the Son, who regenerates and sanctifies us, rules and guides us into all truth, persuading us most assuredly in our consciences that we are the children of God, brethren to Jesus Christ, and fellow-heirs with him of life everlasting. Yet notwithstanding it is not sufficient to believe that God is omnipotent and merciful, that Christ has made satisfaction, or that the Holy Spirit has this power and effect, except we do apply the same benefits to ourselves who are God’s elect.
Art. IV. “I believe therefore and confess one holy Church which (as members of Jesus Christ the only Head thereof) agree in faith, hope, and love, using the gifts of God, whether they be temporal or spiritual, to the profit and furtherance of the same. This Church is not visible to man’s eye but only known to God, who of the lost sons of Adam has ordained some as vessels of wrath to damnation [Rom. 9:21-22], and has chosen others as vessels of his mercy to be saved [Rom. 9:23; Eph. 1:4-6, 11-2]. In due time he also calls them to integrity of life and godly conversation, to make them a glorious Church for himself. . . 
This confession contains the only explicit reference to an ordination unto damnation. One should note, however, that the word “ordained” is the only extra-biblical word used; the language used in the confession is taken largely from the text of Romans 9. Moreover, the “double ordination” of Art. IV cannot be construed as a reference to a supralapsarian doctrine of double predestination. The prepositional phrase “of the lost son’s of Adam” warns against such a reading. Neither does the text construct a causal tree whereby man’s lostness can be traced back to its root in God’s absolute power or will. God’s ordination of some as vessels of wrath presupposes their lost condition. Rigid logical and determinist lines of thought cannot be imputed to the confession’s brief statement. The references to election do not proceed from a logicized conception of God’s transcendence, but rather, occur within the discussion of the application of salvation and of the constituency of the Church of Jesus Christ.
This Confession of Faith was brought back and used in Scotland for a few years in the late 1550’s as the leaders of the evangelical movement there labored for the legalization of the Reformation church. But in 1560, the Reformation Parliament approved a new confession, known as the Scots Confession, drawn up by John Knox and his colleagues. The Confession is composed of twenty-five articles, only two of which make any reference to the doctrine of election. The Scots Confession stands out among the Reformation symbolic documents for its decidedly Trinitarian, theocentric, and therefore evangelical shape and content. This is particularly true of the way in which the doctrine of election is Christologically confessed. At the heart of the mystery of election is the wondrous conjunction of God and man in Christ. Christ is the elect one. Only in him may we contemplate our election. Chapter VII (“Why the Mediator had to be true God and true man”) is very short, but wonderfully placed after the doctrine of the incarnation and before the chapter on election: “We acknowledge and confess that this wonderful union between the Godhead and the humanity of Christ Jesus did arise from the eternal and immutable decree of God from which all our salvation springs and depends.” The eternal and immutable decree of God has to do first with the Son’s incarnation in history. Our salvation “springs and depends” upon the execution of this decree of God. The next chapter on election unpacks this relationship.
Chapter VIII. Election. That same eternal God and Father, who by grace alone chose us in His Son Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world was laid, appointed Him to be our head, our brother, our pastor, and the great bishop of our souls. But since the opposition between the justice of God and our sins was such that no flesh by itself could or might have attained unto God, it behooved the Son of God to descend unto us and take himself a body of our body, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, and so become the Mediator between God and man, giving power to as many as believe in Him to be the sons of God; as he himself says, “I ascend to My Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.” By this most holy brotherhood whatever we have lost in Adam is restored to us again. Therefore we are not afraid to call God our Father, not so much because he has created us, which we have in common with the reprobate, as because he has given unto us his only Son to be our brother, and given us grace to acknowledge and embrace Him as our only Mediator. Further, it behooved the Messiah and Redeemer to be true God and true man, because He was able to undergo the punishment of our transgression and disobedience, and by death to over come him that was the author of death. But because the Godhead alone could not suffer death, and neither could manhood overcome death, he joined both together in one person, that the weakness of the one should suffer and be subject to death—which we have deserved—and the infinite and invincible power of the other, that is, of the Godhead, should triumph, and purchase life, liberty, and perpetual victory. So we confess, and most undoubtedly believe.
The most significant fact about this article on election in the Scots Confession has to be the explicitly Christological, even Trinitarian matrix of the doctrine. The reality of election is set out and explained in terms of the gracious purposes of the Father and the Son toward sinful humanity. According to the Scots Confession the hypostatic union between God and man occupies the heart of the mystery of election. The election of the humanity of Christ unveils the pattern of our election in Christ. Christ is himself the elect one, and in him our election is certain because of his atoning mediation. No evidence can be found in this confession of an arbitrary election or determination that takes place apart from Christ or behind his back (so to speak), since Christ himself is the true image of God’s character and purposes. Perhaps the majesty of this Trinitarian and soteriological confession of election can only be appreciated against the tendency of later seventeenth-century Reformed confessions to “abstract” the doctrine of election and predestination from its proper Trinitarian, Christological, and therefore evangelical context. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), for example, expounds the doctrine of God’s decree with noticeably different concerns. Consider the first three paragraphs of Westminster’s chapter “Of God’s Eternal Decree”:
1. God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
2. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.
4. These angels and men, thus predestined, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
In contrast to the way of Westminster, the Scots Confession expounds election in terms of Christology from the start. Election can only be understood as the eternal activity of God in Christ. God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). Westminster’s treatment of predestination is abstracted from Christology and the Trinity. Thus, the church’s understanding of the ultimate character of God himself is impoverished and ultimately imperiled. The Westminster tradition gives the distinct impression of a predestination or eternal purpose of God that takes place apart from Christ or “outside of” and “before” Christ. Furthermore, the order is different in the Scots Confession. In the Scots Confession Christ is determined before the foundation of the world “to be our head, our brother, our pastor, and the great bishop of our souls.” Christ is the elect one (prädestinatio christi) and our election is consummated when we are given to partake of the “most holy brotherhood” is restored to us through Christ. This constitutes a thoroughly evangelical way of confessing the doctrine of election, a confession without any hint of philosophical baggage or interest in cosmological/metaphysical questions of causality and freedom.
The Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession
What we have discovered so far concerning the fundamental soteriological confession of the doctrine of election in the sixteenth-century Reformed symbolic documents will also characterize the next two confessional documents. The Heidelberg Catechism was composed by Heidelberg’s professor of theology Zacharius Ursinus (d. 1583) and the city’s main pastor Caspar Olevianus (d. 1587). The first edition was published by Fredrick III in the Palatinate on January 19, 1563. It was intended as a summary of the best of Lutheran and Reformed theology to instruct simple Christians in the evangelical way of the Reformation. The doctrine of election cannot be said to occupy a central or defining place within this catechism’s system of doctrine since it is mentioned in only three questions (Q. 31, 52, and 54). The first two references occur as part of the explanation of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed.
Q. 31. Why is he called Christ? A. Because he is ordained [verordnet] by God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Spirit, to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who fully reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption [der uns den heimlichen rath und willen Gottes von unser erlösung volkomlich offenbaret]; and our only high priest, who by the one sacrifice of his body has redeemed us, and ever lives to make intercession for us with the Father; and our eternal King, who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us.
Q. 52. What is it to you that Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead? A. That in all my sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted head, I look for the very same One who has before offered himself for me to the judgment of God, and removed from me all curse, to come again as Judge from heaven; who shall cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall take me, with all his chosen ones to himself [mich aber sampt allen außerwehlten zu jm], into heavenly joy and glory.
The same pattern emerges here as in other Reformed confessions. The explanation of election is placed in connection with the doctrine of Christ and salvation. As in the Scots Confession, Christ is the preeminent elect one. He is the one “ordained by God the Father.” Furthermore, God’s purpose in foreordaining Christ was so that he might be “our chief Prophet and Teacher” and unveil for us the “secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption.” The secret counsel and will of God here does not function as a dark, unknown purpose hidden in the arcane will of a capricious God behind Christ; rather, the work of God “fully reveals” what was secret and hidden before Christ. God’s will in Christ is for our redemption. God’s electing will and his saving work in Christ are inseparably conjoined.
Q. 54. What do you believe concerning the holy catholic Church? A. That out of the whole human race, from the beginning to the end of the world, the Son of God, by his Spirit and Word, gathers, defends, and preserves for himself unto everlasting life, an elect communion [eine auserwählte Gemeine] in the unity of the true faith; and that I am, and forever shall remain, a living member of the same.
This last reference to election helps explain the meaning of the Church. Heidelberg has expanded on Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed in his Small Catechism. The “elect communion” are those of true faith that are gathered, defended, and preserved by the Son of God unto everlasting life. Since these three questions represent the entire substance of the doctrine of election as confessed by the Heidelberg Catechism, there can be no denying that predestination does not function in this document as a central dogma or as the logical construct of logico-causal theological deduction. The Gospel context is foundational for Ursinus and Olevianus when confessing the doctrine of election.
During the Spanish inquisition in the Lowlands, the need arose for a definitive statement of faith that would unite Reformed Christians. Guido de Bres (1522-67) and colleagues composed what is called the Belgic Confession, the first draft (1559) of which was sent to Calvin, who approved it. The Belgic Confession is modeled after the French Confession (1560) so that it contains thirty-seven articles in the same order. The doctrine of election is confessed in Article XII (Of Divine Providence) and Article XVI (Of Eternal Election).
Art. XIII. Of Divine Providence. We believe that the same God, after he had created all things, did not forsake them, or give them up to fortune or chance, but that he rules and governs them, according to his holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment [ut nihil in hoc mundo absque ipsius ordinatione eveniat; twenty-five separate Scripture passages are cited as proof-JM]; nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed [quamvis tamen Deus peccatorum quae fiunt neque autor neque reus sit]. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that he orders and executes his work in the most excellent and just manner even when the devil and wicked men act unjustly [Matt. 8;31-32; John 3:8]. And as to what he does surpassing human understanding we will not curiously inquire into it further than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God which are hid from us [Rom. 11:33-34], contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which he has revealed to us in his Word without transgressing these limits. This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father, who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under his power that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow, can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies that, without his will and permission, they can not hurt us. And therefore we reject that damnable error of the Epicureans who say that God regards nothing, but leaves all things to chance.
The “same God” refers to the Holy Trinity as confessed in the preceding articles, not to some vague, undefined natural notion of God. The Father orders all things for the sake of his Son by means of the Holy Spirit. God’s ordination of all things finds its place here in the chapter on providence, not because of the logical constraints of a deterministic system of doctrine, but because Christians need consolation: “we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father.” The Christian ought to be certain that his “most gracious and heavenly Father” has control of all things—that nothing happens apart from his appointment. This comprehensive ordering of all things, however, does not mean that God directly causes all things. God “orders and executes” his own works according to justice even as “the devil and wicked men act unjustly.” God cannot “be charged with the sins which are committed,” and so can never be guilty as the author of sin and evil His work with reference to evil is characterized as “restraining the devil and all our enemies that, without his will and permission, they cannot hurt us.” His is not the author of sin and evil. Consequently, the Belgic Confession’s article on providence directs doubtful and troubled Christians to the will of their all-powerful Father in heaven, who orders all things, including Satan, demons, and wicked men, so mysteriously and perfectly that “they can not hurt us.” The pastoral purpose of this article is evident.
The Belgic Confession contains one brief, very precisely worded article on election unto salvation:
Art. XVI. We believe that all the posterity of Adam, being fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such as he is; that is to say, MERCIFUL AND JUST: MERCIFUL, since he delivers and preserves from this perdition all whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable council, of mere goodness has elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respect to their works [pro gratuita sua bonitate in Jesu Christo Domino nostro elegit et selegit, absque ullo operum eorum respectu]: JUST in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves [reliquos in lapsu et perditione, in quam sese praecipitaverant, relinquendo].
Rather than finding a rationalistic predestinarian system grounded on a speculative doctrine of the will of God, we discover a Christocentric confession of election emphasizing soteriology not causality. God’s election takes place against the backdrop of the fall. The fallen posterity of Adam are mercifully elected out of God’s mere goodness in Christ Jesus the Lord. Logical symmetry does not enter the picture. God’s relation to those outside of Christ is not described with the language of foreordination, predestination, or election; rather, God “leaves others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.” Damnation is justly meted out, but remains the shadow, the fearful antipode against which the Christian’s election stands out in sharp relief. The light of God’s mercy shines in his deliverance of the elect in Christ Jesus, without any respect to their works. The Christian’s salvation must be traced back solely to God’s grace and mercy apart from works. At the center of the Belgic Confession’s theological concern is the confession of God’s mercy in Christ. The doctrine of election serves to ground the Gospel in God’s eternal and unchangeable council, not as the foundation of a theological system-building project that serves logically to tie everything together in the will of God.
The Second Helvetic Confession
The last Reformed work to consider is the Second Helvetic Confession (1566). It will serve well to introduce our conclusions, since the doctrine of election receives a much fuller treatment—one that gathers together and confirms everything we have been observing about the fundamental shape and content of this doctrine according to the churchly Reformed documents. The Second Helvetic Confession was written by Heinrich Bullinger (d. 1575) as a filling-out of the First Helvetic Confession. Even thought this confession was the work of a single author and not commissioned by any one church, it became one of, if not the most widely respected Reformed confessions.
The first mention of election is found in Chapter VIII (Of Man’s Fall, Sin and the Cause of Sin). After paragraphs outlining the fall of man, the nature of sin, the curse of death, and original sin, the confession devotes one paragraph to explain that “God is not the author of sin, and how far he is said to harden” (Deus non est author peccati, et quantenus indurare dicatur). This paragraph is especially interesting in light of the Formula of Concord’s explicit discussion of God’s hardening (SD XI, 39-41, 57, 84, 85). The Second Helvetic Confession begins by citing Scripture references that deny God’s complicity in evil and sin:
It is expressly written: “Thou art not a God who delights in wickedness. Thou hatest all evildoers. Thou destoyest those who speak lies” (Ps. 5:4ff.). And again: “When the Devil lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Moreover, there is enough sinfulness and corruption in us that it is not necessary for God to infuse into us a new or still greater perversity. When, therefore, it is said in Scripture that God hardens, blinds, and delivers up to a reprobate mind, it is to be understood that God does it by a just judgment as a just Judge and Avenger. Finally, as often as God in Scripture is said or seems to do something evil, it is not thereby said that man does not do evil, but that God permits it and does not prevent it, according to his just judgment, who could prevent it if he wished, or because he turns man’s evil into good, as he did in the case of the sin of Joseph’s brethren, or because he governs sins lest they break out and rage more than is appropriate. St. Augustine writes in his Enchiridion: “What happens contrary to his will occurs, in a wonderful and ineffable way, not apart from his will. For it would not happen if he did not allow it. And yet he does not allow it unwillingly but willingly. But he who is good would not permit evil to be done, unless, being omnipotent, he could bring good out of evil.” Thus wrote Augustine.
This paragraph is self-explanatory. God is not the cause of sin or evil. He does not harden morally “neutral” men. His hardening is a just judgment, not an arbitrary selection of some for damnation. The Formula of Concord makes the same point: “On the contrary, as God has ordained in his counsel that the Holy Spirit would call, enlighten, and convert the elect through the Word and that he would justify and save all who accept Christ through true faith, so he has also ordained in his counsel that he would harden, reject, and condemn all who, when they are called through the Word, spurn the Word and persistently resist the Holy Spirit who wants to work efficaciously in them through the Word” (SD XI, 40). The Second Helvetic Confession concludes this chapter on man’s fall and the cause of sin with a warning against illegitimate speculative inquires:
Curious questions. Other questions, such as whether God willed Adam to fall, or incited him to fall, or why he did not prevent the fall, and similar questions, we reckon among curious questions (unless perchance the wickedness of heretics or of other churlish men compels us also to explain them out of the Word of God, as the godly teachers of the Church have frequently done), knowing that the Lord forbade man to eat of the forbidden fruit and punished his transgression. We also know that what things are done are not evil with respect to the providence, will, and power of God, but in respect to Satan and our will opposing the will of God [sed et mala non esse quae fiunt, respectu providentiae Dei, voluntatis ac potestatis Dei, sed respectu satanae et voluntatis nostrae, voluntati Dei repugnantis]
The Second Helvetic Confession directs men to the Word of God for access to God’s will for man. Disputations and investigations into the relationship between predestination and the fall of man are profitless. It is enough to know that God forbade man to eat of the tree and that man rebelled against God’s explicit will. This is the origin of evil. The Second Helvetic Confession does, however, make a telling concession in passing. Sometimes it is necessary that heretics and other churlish men be answered (Erasmus, Pighius, etc.), and this may require theologians and pastors (Luther, Calvin, etc.) to write, lecture, or preach on this subject. Nevertheless, such questions as God’s causal connection with the fall are not normally proper subjects for Christian preaching and confession. The Second Helvetic Confession seems to allow that such polemic works have a different function than ecclesiastical confessions.
Chapter X (Of the predestination of God and the election of the saints) contains the longest treatment of this subject in any of the sixteenth-century symbolic texts.
1. God has elected us out of grace [Deus elegit nos ex gratia]. From eternity God has freely, and of his mere free grace, without respect to men, predestined or elected the saints, whom he wills to save in Christ [Deus ab aeterno praedestinavit vel elegit libere et mera sua gratia, nullo hominum respectu, sanctos, quos vult salvos facere in Christo], according to the saying of the apostle, “God chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). And again: “Who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave to us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:9).
2. We are elected or predestined in Christ [In Christo electi vel praedestinati sumus]. Therefore, not without means [non sine medio], though not according to any merit of ours, but in Christ and according to Christ [in Christo et propter Christum], has God elected us; even those who are grafted in Christ by faith [ut qui jam sunt in Christo insiti per fidem], these he has elected; truly the reprobate are those outside of Christ [reprobi, vero, qui sunt extra Christum], according to the word of the apostle, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are situated in [the] faith. . .” (2 Cor. 13:5).
3. We are elected to a definite end [Electi sumus ad finem certum]. Finally, the saints are chosen in Christ by God for a definitive purpose, which the apostle himself explains when he says, “He chose us in Him for adoption that we should be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption to be his sons through Jesus Christ that they should be to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph. 1:4ff.).
Predestination properly evidences the free grace of God in Christ, not the transcendent power or will of God. God’s gracious will is revealed in Christ. The Second Helvetic Confession contains no doctrine of reprobation such that God’s predestination forks off in two directions to create some for damnation and others for eternal life. The doctrine present here is radically asymmetrical. Furthermore, God has not merely predestined the means whereby men can save themselves if they so choose, but he has elected them to a “definite end.”
4. We should have a good hope for all [Bene sperandum de omnibus]. And although God knows who are his, and here and there mention is made of the small number of the elect, yet we must hope well of all, and not rashly judge any man to be a reprobate. For Paul says to the Philippians, “I thank God for you all” (now he speaks of the whole church in Philippi), “because of your fellowship in the Gospel, being persuaded that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is also right that I have this opinion of you all” (Phil. 1:3ff.).
5. Whether few are elect [ An pauci electi]. And when the Lord was asked whether there were few that should be saved, he does not answer and tell them that few or many should be saved or damned, but rather he exhorts every man to “strive to enter the narrow door” (Luke 13:24): as if he should say, It is not for you curiously to inquire about these matters, but rather to endeavor that you may enter into heaven by the straight way [Vestrum non est de his curiosius inquirere, sed magis anniti, ut per arctam viam coelum ingrediamini].
The confession warns against questioning whether one is elect or not. It cites Paul’s own practice of treating entire churches as elect. All things considered, the community of Christians must be considered the elect of God.
6. What is to be condemned in this matter [Quae damnanda in hac causa]. Therefore we do not approve of the impious speeches of some who say, “Few are chosen, and since I do not know whether I am among the number of the few, I will enjoy myself [genium meum non fraudabo].” Others say, “If am predestined and elected by God, nothing can hinder me from salvation , which is already certainly appointed for me, no matter what I do [nihil impediet me a salute certo iam definita, quicquid tandem designavero]. But if I am in the number of the reprobate, no faith or repentance will help me, since the decree of God cannot be changed [Si vero sum de reproborum numero, nulla me vel fides vel poenitentia iuvabit: cum definitio Dei mutari non possit]. Therefore, all doctrines and admonitions are useless.” Now the saying of the apostle contradicts these men: “The Lord’s servant must be ready to teach, instructing those who oppose him, so that if God should grant that they repent to know the truth, they may recover from the snare of the devil, after being held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim. 2:23ff.).
7. Admonitions are not in vain because salvation proceeds from election. Augustine also shows that both the grace of free election and predestination, and also salutary admonitions and doctrines are to be preached (de Dono Perseverantiae, chapt. 14).
8. Whether we are elected [An simus electi]. We therefore find fault with those who outside of Christ ask whether they are elected from eternity [qui extra Christum quaerunt, an sint ab aeterno electi]. For what has God decreed for them from all eternity [statuerit Deus]? For the preaching of the Gospel is to be heard, and it is to be believed; and it is to be held as beyond doubt that if you believe and are in Christ, you are elected [et pro indubitato habendum, si credis ac sis in Christo, electum te esse]. For the Father has revealed unto us in Christ the eternal purpose of his predestination [Pater enim praedestinationis suae aeternam sententiam], as I have just now shown from the apostle in 2 Tim. 1:9-10. This is therefore above all to be taught and considered to us in Christ. We must hear what the Lord himself daily preaches to us in the Gospel, how he calls and says: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Also, “It is not the will of my Father that one of these little ones should perish” (Matt. 18:4). Let Christ, therefore, be the looking glass, in whom we may contemplate our predestination [Christus itaque sit speculum, in quo praedestinationem nostram contemplemur]. We shall have a sufficiently clear and sure testimony that we are inscribed in the Book of Life if we have fellowship with Christ, and he is ours and we are his in true faith [Satis perspicuum et firmum habebimus testimonium, nos in libro vitae insciptos esse, si communicaverimus coum Christo, eet is in vera fide noster sit, nos eius simus].
9. The temptation with reference to predestination [Tentatio praedestinationis]. With regard to the temptation associated with predestination—there is hardly any more dangerous—we are confronted by the fact that God’s promises apply to all the faithful [or all those who possess faith; quod promissiones Dei sunt universales fidelibus], for he says: “Ask, and everyone who seeks, shall receive” (Luke 11:9f.). This finally we pray, with the whole church of God, “Our Father who art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9), both because by baptism we are ingrafted into the body of Christ, and we are often fed in his church with his flesh and blood unto life eternal. Thereby being strengthened, we are commanded to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, according to the mandate of Paul.
One can hardly fail to notice the similarities between the Second Helvetic Confession and the Formula of Concord’s Article XI. The Formula warned that an errant doctrine of election might lead to soul-destroying questions that could never be answered as well as faith-quenching doubts that might lead to despair.” Paragraphs 6-7 in the Second Helvetic Confession warn against similar “logical” deductions in the Christian life. Paragraph 8 squelches another “curious question” fully in accord with the Formula. Man may be tempted to believe that he can intrude into God’s beyond in order to obtain some answer about his destiny. But the effort is futile. In effect, such a search would have to be conducted outside of Christ and his Word, since according to the Gospel, all who trust in Christ have been drawn by the Father and can be assured of their election. The Second Helvetic Confession understands election only “in Christ,” that is, only as a corollary to the Gospel. Furthermore, election is understood in tandem with God’s revealed will and not as some secret or hidden will that might be ascertained apart from the Gospel. The “book of life” faithfully mirrors the faithful fellowship a Christian experiences with Christ by faith. The speculum of election is Christ as he is revealed in the Gospel.
Having examined the specific content of the Lutheran and Reformed ways of confessing the doctrine of election, we are now in a position 1) to summarize and characterize the Reformed confessional doctrine of election, and 2) to compare and contrast the Reformed and Lutheran confessional traditions in the sixteenth century. As we summarize the doctrine of election in these Reformed texts, we cannot help but do so with the pastoral concerns of the Formula’s Article XI in the background. All along in our exposition of the Reformed confessions and catechisms we have been looking for similarities and dissimilarities between the two approaches. Two lists will suffice to summarize our findings in the light of the Formula’s concerns.
First, according to the symbolic documents surveyed in this paper, the sixteenth-century Reformed confessional and catechetical content of the doctrine of election shows no evidence of
1. Originating in extra-biblical reasoning (cf. EP XI, 16; SD XI, 1-3). The Reformed confessions and catechisms have been careful to use biblical phraseology as far as possible, explicitly grounding the confessed doctrine in biblical truth.
2. Being framed, explained, or “captured” by philosophical (Aristotelian, Stoic, Ramist, etc.) or metaphysical categories and terminology (cf. SD XI, 3). This follows from the first point, but ought to be made explicit. There is no evidence of the Reformed doctrine having taken its shape from pressure from any supposed logical, theological, or philosophical “system.” The doctrine of predestination is not subjected to alien philosophical pressure in these symbols.
3. Overburdening the doctrine of election with overly subtle distinctions and overextending the biblical doctrine with illegitimate logico-deductive implications. The documents surveyed here have not introduced scholastic distinctions and metaphysical subtleties. On the contrary, they have confessed rather simply the profound doctrine of God’s merciful election in Christ as a corollary to and defense of sola gratia. The Reformed symbols invent no new doctrine of predestination unknown in the catholic tradition of the Western church, nor do they inaugurate a new Reformed “scholasticism.”
4. Being characterized by or preoccupied with speculative “prying” into God’s secret counsels apart from the Gospel of Christ (cf. EP XI, 6; SD XI, 9, 33, 89). The Reformed confessions and catechisms that have provided a fuller treatment of the doctrine have all warned against “curious questions” as a temptation attending the high doctrine of predestination (see especially Second Helvetic Confession VIII and X, 6-8).
5. Functioning as a “central” dogma, from which other doctrines are systematically deduced such that the result is a rationalizing, predestinarian system of theology.
6. Grounding in an abstract, speculative doctrine of the will or Power of God (as in Nominalism). The Reformed confessions, therefore, do not even hint at a terrifying, incapacitating conception of God as arbitrary and capricious (cf. SD XI, 9, 91). Election does not mean that God wields some dark, irrational power of potentia absoluta.
7. Constructing a symmetrical, supralapsarian predestinatio gemina such that God is efficient cause of sin, evil or damnation as (eodem modo) he is the absolute, efficient cause of righteousness and salvation (cf. EP XI, 3; SD XI, 6-7, 79-82).
8. Identifying God as the cause of sin. Nothing in these Reformed symbols would lead one to conclude that God is the cause or author of the fall, sin, or unbelief (cf. SD XI, 7-8, 62-64, 79-81). On the contrary, this is explicitly and forcefully denied in almost every Reformed confession and catechism.
9. Establishing a casually deterministic understanding of the relationship between God and the universe which results in a metaphysical determinism in terms of a necessitas rerum which cannot be changed under any circumstances.
10. Bifurcating the will of God such that a Christian is confronted with a secret, hidden will of God that is in contradiction to his revealed will in Christ and in the Gospel. The Reformed confessions betray no hesitation in proclaiming God’s genuine and serious intention that all men come to repentance and believe the gospel (cf. EP XI, 10, 12, 13, 17-18; SD XI, 17-18).
11. Being overburdened with polemics that have no impact on the simple Christian’s full apprehensive of the Gospel of God’s unconditional grace in Christ (cf. EP XI, 13, 16, 22; SD XI, 91, 93).
12. Embracing any form of synergism. The Reformed confessions and catechisms allow no decretum conditionatum ordained by God intuitu fidei or contingent on anything in man (aliquid in homine) (cf. SD XI, 88, 89).
13. Denying or compromising the universality of God’s grace in Christ or the genuine offer of Christ in the Gospel to all men (cf. SD XI, 28-32, 34-36).
14. Insensitivity to the pastoral needs of tender consciences who need the assurance of God’s gracious eternal counsel in Christ toward them (cf. SD XI, 45-47, 90-93).
15. Attempting to explain God’s causal relationship to the fall, sin, and damnation using an extra-biblical distinction between praescientia and praedestinatio or electio (contra EP XI, 1-5; SD XI, 4-6).
This last denial calls for some explanation, since this is the one place that the Reformed and Lutheran ways appear to diverge. The Reformed documents examined here show no evidence of making a systematic distinction between foreknowledge and predestination as a way to explain the difference between God’s relation to damnation and salvation. If the distinction between foreknowledge and predestination is offered by the Formula as a rational solution to the problem of the origin and cause of evil, then it is an extrabiblical one at best. The Bible itself does not offer this solution. It may appear to exonerate God from any complicity in evil, but at what cost? The Formula utilizes the concept of vorsehung as praescientia to describe God’s relation to evil and unbelief (SD XI), even though the Bible never speaks this way. As Preus notes, in the Formula’s discussion of election, “Foreknowledge is usually spoken of in an unbiblical and ecclesiastical sense, meaning that God knows in advance all that occurs but is not necessarily the cause of such events and occurrences.”
The biblical testimony, however, mostly connects God’s foreknowledge (proginosko; prognosis) with his special love for his people (Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:2, 20), not with his advance knowledge of historical events. These passages do not say that God foreknew “faith” or foresaw some human activity; rather, he foreknew certain people. “Knowing” is used here in the strong Hebraic sense of intimate love. “Those whom he foreknew” (Rom. 8:29) means “Those whom he fore-loved.” From all eternity God has fore-loved, that is, foreknown his people. The one place in the New Testament where we might allow that proginosko is used in the sense of praescientia (Acts 2:23) will nevertheless permit no separation of divine foreknowledge from divine foreordination. Paul uses one definite article in the phrase “the fixed purpose and foreknowledge of God” in order to connect these two nouns in the closest possible way. God’s foreknowledge of Christ’s death included his planning and willing it to occur. It was God’s fixed (horismene; settled, determined) purpose. God predestined the most wicked act ever perpetrated by mankind—Christ’s death. “Herod and Pontius Pilate . . . have assembled . . . to accomplish whatsoever your hand and purpose predestined (proorizo) to occur” (Acts 4:27-28).
The Formula at its best recognizes the inexorably paradoxical, mysterious nature (Geheimnis) of this question for human reason (SD XI, 52, 55, 64). Read in the best light, the Formula’s foreknowledge/predestination distinction might be treated as a manifestation of the concern to avoid any hint of determinism that might indict God as the author of evil (auctor mali), not as a rational explanation of the mystery of evil. Clearly, this is the use to which the Formula puts the distinction, and this is fully consistent with the Reformed way of confessing predestination unto salvation while remaining silent about the relation between God’s eternal counsel and the origin and existence of evil. If the Reformed symbolic texts do not explain the asymmetry of election and damnation by means of the distinction between praescientia and predestinatio, they nevertheless do not thereby deny asymmetry in favor of a full-blown determinism traced back to the transcendence of God. They merely refuse to penetrate the mystery.
Second, having listed our conclusions negatively above—what the Reformed confessions do not say—we now complement this with a positive statement of the shape and content of the doctrine of election in these symbolic texts. The doctrine of election as confessed in these sixteenth-century symbolic documents
1. Shows abundant evidence for its foundational kerygmatic, evangelical orientation. The doctrine of election is presented as a powerful support and ground for the biblical doctrine of justification (cf. SD XI, 14-24).
2. Carefully maintains biblical language in its exposition and avoids philosophical terminology and categories.
3. Faithfully teaches that God has elected individual Christians to eternal salvation and rejects any kind of “general election” of the means of salvation (cf. SD XI, 21-23).
4. Explains election as the eternal ground and guarantee of sola gratia and justification by faith. The doctrine of election is nothing else but God’s absolute and efficient causality in salvation (cf. EP XI, 12; SD XI, 14, 43). All forms of synergism are excluded.
5. Consistently presents election as “in Christ” (Eph. 1:4) and often grounds the Christians election in a praedestinatio Christi. (cf. EP XI, 6, 13; SD XI, 25-26, 65-67).
6. Provides a Trinitarian context that avoids any hint of an abstract, hidden predestinating God that exists “behind” or “back of” Christ—a decretum absolutum abstracted from Christ and the Gospel. Jesus Christ is the only true speculum or “book of life” in which one can know God’s gracious will (cf. EP XI, 6; SD XI, 13, 26, 52, 65, 89).
7. Consistently speaks of gaining assurance of one’s election through faith in Christ as he is faithfully revealed in the Gospel as it is communicated in Word and Sacrament. Nothing in these creeds is calculated to leave Christians in despair about their salvation because they do not have access to the eternal counsel of God. In Christ and the Gospel everyone has access to the will of God (cf. EP XI, 9, 13; SD XI, 76-77).
8. Indicates the variety of ways in which Reformed communities placed the doctrine in the order of confession. Some set the doctrine in the context of God and Trinity or providence. Others place it after sin or within a discussion of justification. Still others subsume it under the doctrine of Christ or within a discussion of conversion or the church. Nevertheless, the doctrine always serves the needs of the individual believer in his relationship with God and the world.
9. Gives no encouragement or comfort to men who might presume on their election apart from faith in Christ and a diligent use of the “means of grace” (cf. EP XI, 14; SD XI, 10, 21).
10. Affords the believer assurance that there is no force or person (angelic or human) that can thwart God’s absolute decree to save all those who sincerely repent and trust in Christ for eternal life (cf. EP XI, 13; SD XI, 20, 50).
11. Shows the kind of pastoral sensitivity in framing the doctrine that the Formula of Concord requires (cf. EP XI, 1, 16, 22; SD XI, 1-3, 10-13, 45-49, 68-77, 89-95).
The Reformed symbols faithfully communicate the biblical and evangelical doctrine of election in so far as they do not make divine preterition part of their explicit teaching (the Confession of the English Congregation in Geneva, 1556, being the sole exception). Using Berkouwer’s metaphor, for the biblical writers as well as for the Reformed confessions the light of God’s gracious election of his people in Christ must be publicly confessed and believed and the shadow of God’s justice in passing by others must never be elevated to the same status and place in the confession of the church. The American Princeton Reformed scholar B. B. Warfield made a similar observation about the sixteenth-century Reformed Confessions and Catechisms. He observes how carefully the sixteenth-century Reformed symbolic documents maintain a soteriological emphasis. So much so that the doctrine of “sovereign preterition” is not explicitly defined and receives “merely incidental treatment.” Warfield, however, turns this universal omission into a positive statement: “Clearly the omission of allusion to reprobation is not to be interpreted in such instances as arguing any chariness as to the doctrine: it may rather be supposed to be omitted just because it is so fully presupposed” That may be one way to interpret the evidence, but is certainly less than “clear.”
It is much more likely, as Berkouwer notes, that the early Reformed symbolic documents outline “the essential structure of the doctrine of election.”
From a deterministic point of view one would have to speak simultaneously of election and rejection. The necessitas of determinism does not permit a single preference or variation or emphasis or a “more or less,” and it does not allow to speak of election as being primary. But in the light of Scripture, the “disturbed” balance in the Confessions is not only understandable but completely legitimate. For the Confessions did not mean to give an explanation of how everything, in the same causal manner, is derived from God. When they spoke of the light of election they also spoke of the shadow, but never with any trace of parallelism.
Surely this explains the emphasis in the Reformed confessions, even if it does not answer other questions about the shape and content of the doctrine of election in non-confessional contexts. Such questions, however, take us beyond the scope or our present study. Whatever validity these charges (in our first list above) might have against later seventeenth-century school-based Reformed theology or even against sixteenth-century non-symbolic Reformed documents, they hardly apply to the churchly confessions under consideration here. Why do later Reformed confessions show evidence of a more school- or academy-oriented construction? The 16th century documents are ecclesiastical, pastoral, confessional, and soteriological in content, shape, and scope. The 17th century documents tend to be more school-oriented, institutional or clerical, polemical, and cosmological. What accounts for this shift? Do the seventeenth-century confessions and catechisms trace their roots back along the trajectory established in extra-ecclesiastical dogmatics among sixteenth-century theologians?
In conclusion, both in the Lutheran and Reformed confessional symbols of the sixteenth century the doctrine of election had its ground in the restored Gospel of God’s freely granted grace in Jesus Christ. The doctrine of election was consistently confessed in both confessional traditions as another form of the proclamation of the Gospel. Schlatter’s observation serves well as a conclusion to our study: “We express once again the whole gracious gift of God, the whole Gospel, when we state: God has elected us.” The evidence has shown that none of these dogmatic, confessional presentations of the eternal Gospel tempted simple Christians to raise questions that take them behind or beyond the Gospel—no more so than the biblical revelation of election itself. The sixteenth-century Lutheran and Reformed churches’ confession of election avoided all “vulgar” philosophical constructions of time, causality, anthropology, etc. No independently fabricated concept of God (e.g., one speculatively deduced from his omnipotence or omnicausality) was allowed to determine the church’s confession of election. The doctrine of election, therefore, emerges in these documents as a corollary of the Gospel and not of some universally conceived ontological ideas about God, man, or the cosmos. The recovery of the Gospel most certainly impacted the sixteenth-century theologians’ understanding of these cosmological realities, and we have abundant evidence of confessional theologians in both camps who sought to work out the scholarly implications of God’s eternal counsel for cosmological questions. Even so, the sixteenth century church managed to keep its own confessional documents free of school-based metaphysical and cosmological speculation. These academy-oriented issues were not allowed to disfigure the church’s public confession of God’s gracious electing love in Christ. Throughout the sixteenth century, the public, ecclesiastical confessions of the churches continued to remain faithful to the truth that “The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel.” Barth’s two criteria for “full publicity” of the doctrine of election agree with the Formula of Concord and are met by the sixteenth-century Reformed confessional documents:
The basic demand by which any presentation of the doctrine must be measured, and to which we ourselves must also conform, is this: that (negatively) the doctrine must not speak of the divine election and rejection as though God’s electing and rejecting were not quite different, as though these divine dealings did not stand in a definite hierarchical relationship the one with the other; and that (positively) the supremacy of the one and subordination of the other must be brought out so radically that the Gospel enclosed and proclaimed even in this doctrine is introduced and revealed as the tenor of the whole, so that in some way or other the Word of free grace of God stands out even at this point as the dominating them and the specific meaning of the whole utterance. It is along these lines that it will be proved whether or not the doctrine is understood in conformity with the Bible and therefore with divine revelation. Only if understood in this way can it lay claim to the full publicity within the church defended by Calvin. If not understood in this way, then even as a secret wisdom for theologians it can have no real significance, or rather it can have only a very dangerous significance.
I. Primary Sources: Texts and Translations
Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche. Herausgegeben im Gedenkjahr der Augsburgishen Konfession 1930. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1930; Elfte Auflage, 1992.
Cochrane, Arthur C. Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1966.
Consensus Tigurinus. English Translation by Ian Bunting. Journal of Presbyterian History 44 (1966):45-61.
Knox, John. The Works of John Knox. Laing, David, ed. Edinburgh, 1846-64.
Müller, E. F. Karl, ed. Die Bekenntnisschriften der reformierten Kirche: In authentischen Texten it geschichtlicher Einleitung und Register. Leipzig: A. Deichert, 1903.
Niemeyer, Hermann A., ed. Collectio confessionum in Ecclesiis Reformatis Publicatarum. Leipig, 1840.
Reid, J. K. S. , ed. and trans. Calvin: Theological Treatises, vol. 22 of Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954.
Schaff, Philip, ed. The Creeds of Christendom. Vol. 3, The Evangelical Creeds. Harper and Row, 1931; Baker reprint, 1990.
Tappert, Theodore G., et al., trans. and eds. The Book of Concord: the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959; reprinted 1983.
The Westminster Confession of Faith. 1647. Reprint, Edinburgh: F. P. Publications, 1976.
Zwingli, Huldreich. Huldreich Zwinglis Sämtliche Werke. hg. v. E. Engli, G. Finsler, et. al. (Berlin, Leipzig, Zurich, 1905-). Vols. 88ff., Corpus Reformatorum.
________. On Providence and Other Essays. Edited by William John Hinke. Duraham, NC: The Labyrinth Press, 1983 .
II. Books and Periodicals
Adam, Gottfied. Der Steit um die Prädestination im ausgehenden 16. Jahrhundert. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1970.
Althaus, Paul The Theology of Martin Luther. Translated by Robert C. Schultz. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1966.
________. Die Christliche Wahrheit: Lehrbuch der Dogmatik. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1949.
Barth, Karl Church Dogmatics. Vol. 2, Part 2: The Doctrine of God. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, eds. Translated by G. W. Bromiley. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957.
Baugh, S. M. “The Meaning of Foreknowledge.” In Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, eds., The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995.
Berkouwer, G. C. Studies in Dogmatics: Divine Election. Translated by Hugo Bekker. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960.
Buis, Harry. Historic Protestantism and Predestination. Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1958
Burchill, Christopher J. “On the Consolation of a Christian Scholar: Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583) and the Reformation of Heidelberg.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 37 (Oct. 1986): 568-83;
Daniel, David P. “Calvinism in Hungary: The Ecclesiastical Transition to the Reformed Faith.” In Andrew Pettegree, Alastair Duke, and Gillian Lewis, eds., Calvinism in Europe: 1540-1620. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
de S. Cameron, Nigel M, ed. Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Elert, Walter. The Structure of Lutheranism. Translated by Walter A Hansen. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1962.
Gerhard, Johann. Loci Theologici. Vol. 3, ed. Edward Preuss. Berlin: Gustav Schlawitz, 1865.
Graham, W. Fred, ed. Later Calvinism: International Perspectives. Volume XII, Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies. Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, Inc., 1994.
Kittelson, James M. “Marbach vs. Zanchi: The Resolution of Controversy in Late Reformation Strasbourg.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 8.3 (1977): 31-44.
Koch, Ernst. Die Theologie der Confessio Helvetica Posterior. Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1968.
Koelpin, Arnold. No Other Gospel: Essays in Commemoration o fthe 400th Anniversary of the Formula of Concord, 1580-1980. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1980.
Kolb, Robert. “Nikolas von Amsdorf on Vessels of Wrath and Vessels of Mercy: A Lutheran Doctrine of Double Predestination.” Harvard Theological Review 96 (1976): 325-343.
Lohse, Bernhard. Martin Luther: And Introduction to his Life and Work. Translated by Robert C. Schultz. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.
McNeill, John T. The History and Character of Calvinism. London: Oxford, 1954.
Muller, Richard A. “Calvin and the ‘Calvinists’: Assessing the Continuities and Discontinuities Between the Reformation and Orthodoxy,” Calvin Theological Journal 30 (1995): 345-75. Part two. Calvin Theological Journal 31 (1996): 125-60.
________. Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988).
Noll, Mark A., ed. The Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991.
Nugent, Donald. Ecumenism in the Age of the Reformation: The Colloquy of Poissy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974.
Pieper, Fancis. Conversion and Election. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1931.
Prestwich, Menna., ed. International Calvinism 1541-1715. London: Oxford, 1985.
Preus, J. A. O. The Second Martin: The Life and Theology of Martin Chemnit. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1994.
Preus, Robert, “The Doctrine of Election as Taught by the Seventeenth Century Lutheran Dogmaticians.” Quartalschrift 55.4 (1958): 229-261.
Raitt, Jill. The Colloquy of Montbéliard: Religion and Politics in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Oxford, 1993.
Reid W. Stanford , ed. John Calvin: His Influence in the Western World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982.
Rosin, Wilbet, and Robert D. Preus, eds. A Contemporary Look at the Formula of Concord. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978.
Schaff, Philip, ed. The Creeds of Christendom. 3 Volumes. Harper and Row, 1931; Baker reprint, 1990.
Schlatter, Adolf Das christliche Dogma. Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1923.
Schlink, Edmund Theology of the Lutheran Confessions. Translated by Paul F. Koehneke and Herbert J. A. Bouman. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961.
Schmid, H. Die Dogmatik der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche. 1893
Schneckenburger, Matthias . Vergleichende Darstellung des lutherischen und reformirten Lehrbegriffs. Herausgegeben durch Edw. Guder, vol. 1. Stuttgart, 1855.
Sommerlath, Ernst.. Der Christliche Glaube. 3rd. Ed., Hamburg: Furche-Verlag, 1956.
Sönderlund, Rune. Ex praevisa Fide, Zum Verständnis der Prädestinationslehre in der lutherischen Orthodoxie. Arbeiten zur Geshichte und Theologie des Luthertums, New Series, vol. 3, Bengt Hägglund and Heinrich Kraft, eds. Hannover: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1983.
Spitz, Lewis W., and Wenzel Lohff. Discord, Dialog, and Concord: Studies in the Lutheran Reformation’s Formula of Concord. Philadelphia: Fotress Press, 1977.
Staedtke, Joachim. Glauben und Bekennen: Vierhundert Jahre Confessio Helvetica Posterior: Beiträge zu Ihrer Geschichte und Theologie. Zürich: Zwingli Verlag, 1966.
Stephens, W. P. The Theology of Huldrych Zwingli. Oxford: Oxford Universty Press, 1986.
Tóth, Kálmán D. “The Helvetic Reformation in Hungary.” In W. Stanford Reid, ed., John Calvin: His Influence in the Western World Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982.
Visser, Derek, ed. Controversy and Conciliation: the Reformation in the Palatine, 1559-1583. Alison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1986.
Walser, Peter. Die Prädesination bei Heinrich Bullinger im Zusammenhang mit seiner Gotteslehre. Zürich: Zwingli-Verlag, 957.
Warfield, Benjamin B. Studies in Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1932.
The First Confession of Basel (1534) was the first Reformed symbolic document to give the doctrine of election a separate treatment—more than forty years before the Formula of Concord (1577). This temporal discontinuity, however, may not be all that doctrinally significant. Although it is true that early Lutheran symbols find no separate place for the doctrine of election, this fact might be little more than an accident of history. Reformed churches experienced controversy over this doctrine from the start and so tended to include explicit articles on election in their confessions and catechisms. Lutherans also looked to the Augsburg confession (1530) as a model confession, while the Reformed churches had no similar authoritative model to establish the basic outline of articles to be confessed. Furthermore, the influence (and authorship!) of Calvin and Luther on the shape and content of the confessions emerging in their respective communions cannot be overlooked. Luther does not give the doctrine of election the kind of systematic weight that Calvin does. None of these considerations necessarily imply that the sixteenth-century Lutheran and Reformed churches were fundamentally at odds over the confessional doctrine of election. A full historical and theological explanation for this confessional divergence lies beyond the scope of this study.
After quoting the Formula of Concord’s fundamental concern—that the preaching of the Gospel not lead to either despair or false assurance (SD XI, 91-92)—Karl Barth notes: “This could not be said against Calvin and the Calvinists except through misunderstanding, or with reference to certain inferences which seriously embarrass their teaching. The Calvinists themselves might well wish that they had done so more emphatically in order that misunderstanding might have been avoided” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 2, Part 2: The Doctrine of God, G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, eds., trans. by G. W. Bromiley [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1957], 15; hereafter = CD). However many discontinuities may have existed between the way Lutheran and Reformed theologians taught this doctrine in books, tracts, lectures, and disputations, this does nothing to damage our central thesis concerning the essential theological unity of confessional substance. Reformed communities did emphatically link their doctrine of election with the Gospel in their public confessional articles. Any “embarassment” that might have resulted from their other more philosophical, polemical, or scholastic works does not concern us here. It does not lie within the scope of this essay to examine the entire debate between Lutheran and Reformed theologians concerning predestination and election.
All of the Reformed confessions and catechisms conceive of predestination as the result of justification; election is expounded as the objective ground for the material principle of the Reformation (see Matthias Schneckenburger, Vergleichende Darstellung des lutherischen und reformirten Lehrbegriffs, herausgegeben durch Edw. Guder, vol. 1 [Stuttgart, 1855], 32). “Schneckenburger argues that the Reformed doctrine of predestination cannot be conceived as a consequence of the idea of God and his attributes since the characteristic of Reformed systematics is not the objective determination of the doctrine of predestination but the personal assurance of election by the grace of God. . . . Schneckenburger finds a continuity throughout the Reformed systems of the sixteenth century in this conception of predestination as the result of justification, the subjective or material principle of the Reformation, seeking out its objective ground” (Richard A. Muller, Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins [Durham, NC: The Labyrinth Press, 1986], 4).
Tappert, et al., trans. and eds., The Book of Concord: Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959), 661. All English references to Lutheran confessional or catechetical documents, unless otherwise noted, are from the Tappert edition.
Kolb, Robert. “Nikolas von Amsdorf on Vessels of Wrath and Vessels of Mercy: A Lutheran Doctrine of Double Predestination.” Harvard Theological Review 96 (1976): 325-343.
See Robert A. Kolb, “Historical Background of the Formula of Concord” in A Contemporary Look at the Formula of Concord, Rosin, Wilbert, and Robert D. Preus, eds., (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1978), 29-33, 53-56.
Ioannis Calvini opera quae supersunt omnia (59 vols. Corpus Reformatum. Brunswick: C. A. Schwetschke and Son [M. Bruhn], 1863-1900), 6:225-404 (hereafter = CO); Calvin’s Calvinism: Treatises on the Eternal Predestination of God and the Secret Providence of God, trans. by Henry P. Cole (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987). For a discussion of the literature in these tract wars see W. de Greef, The Writings of John Calvin, trans. by Lyle D. Bierma (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993). In the dedication to the Consensus pastorum Genevensis ecclasiae Calvin reminds the reader that assurance of salvation can only be found in Christ. We should fix our gaze upon Christ, since only in him is eternal life revealed and offered to us. One should not attempt to pry into the hidden decrees of God. Nevertheless, the one who embraces the promise of the Gospel will recognize that God’s grace and mercy are rooted in his eternal decree since it is he who opened our eyes and elected us in Christ before we were conceived in the womb.
Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559 Edition), ed. John T. McNeil, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vols. 20-21 of Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 3.21-24 (hereafter = Inst).
Jill Raitt, The Colloquy of Montbéliard: Religion and Politics in the Sixteenth Century, (New York: Oxford, 1993), 45. See also Donald Nugent, Ecumenism in the Age of the Reformation: The Colloquy of Poissy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974).
Zanchi’s predestinarian theology was largely dependent on Thomistic philosophical and metaphysical categories. The principle of causality plays a large part in his doctrine of God, indicating that he appropriated scholasticism’s ontological and epistemological presuppositions as well as its form and method. Zanchi’s doctrine of predestination, however, does not compare to Beza’s supralapsarianism, since he views man as creatus et lapsus under the decree. For more on Zanchi’s theology see Christopher Burchill, “Girolamo Zanchi: Portrait of a Reformed Theologian and His Work, “ Sixteenth Century Journal 15.2 (Summer 1984): 185-207; John Patrick Donnelly, “Calvinist Thomism,” Viator 7 (1976): 441-455; “Italian Influences on the Development of Calvinist Scholasticism,” Sixteenth Century Journal 7 (April 1976): 81-101; Gründler, Otto, Die Gotteslehre Girolamo Zanchis und ihre Bedeutung für seine Lehre von der Prädestination (Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1965); Richard A. Muller, Christ and the Decree, 110-125; and Joseph N. Tylenda, “Girolamo Zanchi and John Calvin,” Calvin Theological Journal 10 (1975): 101-141. For an account of the debate between Zanchi and Marbach see James M Kittelson, “Marbach vs. Zanchi: The Resolution of Controversy in Late Reformation Strasbourg,” The Sixteenth Century Journal 8.3 (1977): 31-44.
Lietzmann, Bornkamm, Volz, eds., Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, herausgegeben im Gedenkjahr der Augsburgishen Konfession 1930 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1930; Elfte Auflage, 1992), 1066, 21-22 (hereafter = BS). All German references from the Formula of Concord are taken from BS, in loc. cit.
See Preus, A Contemporary Look, 277; and J. A. O. Preus, The Second Martin: The Life and Theology of Martin Chemnitz (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1994), 321-325.
SD XI, 14; BS, 1068, 28.
BS, 1070, 9.
BS, 1070, 44-46.
BS, 1078, 44-45.
BS, 1077, 5-6.
BS, 1078, 35-36.
I am relying on the common distinctions between what is believed, taught, and confessed by the church. “Without setting rigid boundaries, we shall identify what is ‘believed’ as the form of Christian doctrine present in the modalities of devotion, spirituality, and worship; what is ‘taught’ as the content of the word of God extracted by exegesis from the witness of the Bible and communicated to the people of the church through proclamation, instruction, and churchly theology; and what is ‘confessed’ as the testimony of the church, both against false teaching from within and against attacks from without, articulated in polemics and in apologetics, in creed and in dogma” (Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), vol. 1 in The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1971), 4. I will not, however, examine polemical and apologetical documents in expounding the Reformed churches’ public, ecclesiastical confession of the doctrine of election. I will confine myself to sixteenth-century symbolic documents used by the various churches to give form to their public confession of faith.
The four works are the Sixty-seven Articles of Zurich (1523), the Ten Theses Berne (1528), An Account of Faith (the Fidei ratio prepared for the Diet of Augsburg, 1530), and An Exposition of the Christian Faith (published posthumously by Bullinger in 1531).
Hermann A. Niemeyer, ed. Collectio confessionum in Ecclesiis Reformatis Publicatarum (Leipzig, 1840), 18.
William John Hinke, ed., On Providence and Other Essays (Durham, NC: The Labyrinth Press, 1983 ), 39; Niemeyer, 19.
Hinke, 39-40; Niemeyer, 19-20.
Hinke, 43-44; Niemeyer, 22-23.
Hinke, 266; Niemeyer, 58.
Philip Schaff, ed., The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1, The History of Creeds (Harper and Row, 1931; Baker reprint, 1990), 529.
Arthur C. Cochrane, ed., Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1966), 58; E. F. Karl Müller, ed., Die Bekenntnisschriften der reformierten Kirche: In authentischen Texten it geschichtlicher Einleitung und Register (Leipzig: A. Deichert, 1903), 57, 23-46 (hereafter = BSR).
Cochrane, 91; BSR, 95, 14-15.
John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (London: Oxford, 1954), 283-284.
Niemeyer, 793; see also Benjamin B. Warfield, “Predestination in the Reformed Confessions,” in Studies in Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932), 153.
BSR, 103, 2-3.
BSR, 103, 5-12.
BSR, 103, 13-20.
BSR, 104, 1-9.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), translated and annotated by Ford Lewis Battles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986), p. 60 (Inst. 2, 24); Joannis Calvini opera selecta, eds., Peter Barth, Wilhelm Niesel, and Doris Scheuner (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1926-52), 1: 88 (hereafter = OS).
Calvin had produced earlier catechisms to train the youth of Geneva and Strasbourg (see W. De Greef, 132f.), but his 1545 catechism culminates his own catechetical efforts.
The Catechism of the Church of Geneva, in J. K. S. Reid, ed. and trans., Calvin: Theological Treatises, vol. 22 of Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), p. 93. The Latin text of the Catechism is found in Joannis Calvini opera selecta, eds., Peter Barth, Wilhelm Niesel, and Doris Scheuner (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1926-52), 2:59-157 (hereafter = OS). That Latin edition is later than the French, incorporating Calvin’s own emendations and corrections to the original document.
Reid, 94; OS, 2:78:1-17
Reid, 94; OS, 2:78, 18-23.
Barth draws out the implications of Calvin’s refusal: “We must resist the temptation to absolutize in some degree the concept of choosing or electing. We must not interpret the freedom, the mystery and the righteousness of the election of grace merely as the definitions and attributes of a supreme form of electing posited as absolute. We must not find in this supreme form as such the reality of God. Otherwise we shall be doing what we ought not to do. We shall be forging and constructing (out of this very characteristic) a supreme being. And it is difficult to imagine how the description of the activity of this being can ever become a Gospel. If the distinctive and ultimate feature in God is absolute freedom of choice, or an absolutely free choice, then it will be hard to distinguish His freedom from caprice or His mystery from the blindness of such caprice” (CD II/2, 25).
Reid, 94; OS, 2:78, 24-32.
Reid, 102-3; OS, 2:88, 23-24; 89, 11-6; 90, 4-9.
See Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 1:490-498; Brian G. Armstrong, “Semper Reformanda: The Case of the French Reformed Church, 1559-1620,” in Later Calvinism: International Perspectives, W. Fred Graham, ed., volume XII, Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, Inc., 1994), 119-138.
Cochrane, 147; OS 2:312, 24-313, 19.
Cochrane, 148-49; OS 2:314, 19-36.
Cochrane, 149, 150; OS 2:315, 1-6; 316, 1-5.
Comm. on John 6:40 (CO, 47, 147); cf. Inst. 3.21.1. Calvin is willing to formulate the problem of God’s will in reprobation as a paradox unavailable to the creature’s reasoning power. “Although to our apprehension the will of God is manifold, yet he does not in himself will opposites, but according to his manifold wisdom (as Paul calls it, Eph. 3:10), transcends our senses, until such time as it shall be given to know how he mysteriously wills what now seems to be adverse to his will” (Inst. 3.24.17; cf. 1.18.3; 3.20.43). The advent of Christ will reveal God’s one will to save mankind, but until then, for the mind of the time-bound creature, God appears to have two wills. Commenting on Matt. 23:37 Calvin notes: “We fully believe that God’s will is simple and one; but as our minds do not fathom the deep abyss of secret election, in accommodation to the capacity of our weakness, the will of God is exhibited to us in two ways.” (CO 83, 644). When he expounds passages such as 1 Tim. 2:4f. and 2 Tim. 2:19, Calvin is not shy about articulating God’s universal salvific will. “By exhibiting to all the Gospel and Christ the Mediator God shows that he wishes all men to be saved” (CO 80, 246). “The fruit of the sacrifice by which he made atonement for sins extends to all” (CO 80, 268). “The mystery is that ‘souls’ perish who are bought be the blood of Christ” (CO 82, 165). God’s perfect will to bring light and life to all through Christ is fully revealed in the Gospel; so much so that his judgment must be an accidental (or alien) characteristic of God’s action. Calvin explains 2 Cor. 3:7: “It happens accidentally that the Gospel is the source of death, and accordingly is the occasion of it rather than its cause, inasmuch as it is in its own nature salutary to all” (CO 78, 42). Whatever else Calvin teaches about the reality of reprobation, it cannot be conceived of on the same level as or symmetrical with election to salvation. Neither the Word, the Gospel, nor the sacraments minister judgment per se but per accidens. With regard to the difficult saying of Jesus in Mark 4:11-22, Calvin explains: “The doctrine is not strictly speaking or by itself, or in its own nature, but by accident (per accidens), the cause of blindness. . . . When the Word of God blinds or hardens the reprobate, it belongs truly and naturally to themselves, but it is accidental as respects the Word” (CO 83, 361). The Gospel binds and looses, as Jesus says in Matt. 16:19, but the latter “does not belong to the nature of the Gospel, but is accidental (accidentale)” (CO 83, 475). Again: “The Gospel is preached for salvation. This is what properly belongs to it, but believers alone are partakers of that salvation. In the meantime, its being an occasion of condemnation to unbelievers—that arises from their own fault. Thus Christ came not into the world to condemn the world (John 3:17), for what need was there of this, inasmuch as without him we are all condemned? Yet he sends his apostles to bind, as well as to loose, and to retain sins as well as to remit them (Matt. 18:19; John 20:23). He is the light of the world (John 8:12) but he blinds unbelievers (John 9:39). He is a rock, for a foundation, but he is also to many a stone of stumbling (Isa. 8:14). We must always therefore distinguish between the proper office of the Gospel and the accidental one (so to speak), which must be imputed to the depravity of mankind, to which it is owing that life to them is turned into death.” (Comm. on 2 Cor. 2:15; CO 78, 34).
See “Scots Confession” in Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, Nigel M. de S. Cameron, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 751-752.
In addition to this confession, Knox also published in the same year a lengthy doctrinal treatise on election: “An answer to a great number of blasphemous cavillations written by an Anabaptist, and adversarie to God’s eternal Predestination” (The Works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (Edinburgh, 1846-64), vol. 5, 19-468). Knox argues that without this doctrine of election Christians would not fully appreciate their utter dependence upon God’s unbounded mercy and grace in Christ. For Knox the doctrine of election is the corollary to sola fide; in defending the doctrine, one defends the utter freedom and unconditional nature of God’s grace in Jesus Christ and his Gospel.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647; reprint, Edinburgh: F. P. Publications, 1976), 28-29.
Mark A. Noll, ed., The Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), 133-136.
See Christopher J. Burchill, “On the Consolation of a Christian Scholar: Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583) and the Reformation of Heidelberg,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 37 (Oct. 1986): 568-83; and Derek Visser, ed., Controversy and Conciliation: the Reformation in the Palatine, 1559-1583 (Alison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1986).
BSR, 690, 32-691, 2.
BSR, 696, 6-15.
BSR, 696, 30-36.
Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1, 502-8.
Cochrane, 197; BSR, 237, 1-19
Although less well known, the Hungarian Confession (Peter Mélius Juhász, 1570), also contains a very Trinitarian shaped confession of election: “Out of the Word of God we call Him Father, God, and Jehovah, having life in himself, existent from none, wanting all beginning, who from eternity without any beginning or change begot out of his own Person as it were the character and splendor of his glory, the only begotten Son—through whom He from eternity foreknew and disposed all things, and in the beginning created, and conserves them, and saves his elect by justifying them, but condemns the impious” (Warfield, p. 155). Here, in this late Reformed confession, even after the strong influence of Beza on Peter Mélius Juhász, it’s author, the doctrine of election has a very decidedly Trinitarian, soteriological, and therefore pastoral shape. Although numerous local confession were framed as the Reformation moved into Hungary in the sixteenth century, the Confessio Catholica (also known as the Confessio Debreciensis or Agrovallensis) is one of the last and most well known of the Reformed Hungarian confessions (being published in the Syntagma confessionum). For the full text see BSR, 265-376. On the origin and development of Reformed theology in Hungary see David P. Daniel, “Calvinism in Hungary: The Ecclesiastical Transition to the Reformed Faith,” in Andrew Pettegree, Alastair Duke, and Gillian Lewis, eds., Calvinism in Europe: 1540-1620 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 205-230; and Kálmán D. Tóth, “The Helvetic Reformation in Hungary,” in W. Stanford Reid, ed., John Calvin: His Influence in the Western World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 155-160.
 The Hungarian Confession also contains a powerful paragraph denying God’s complicity in evil. “As it is altogether impossible that things that are in direct repugnance to one another and are mutually destructive can be the efficient and formal cause of their contraries; as light is not the cause of darkness, nor heat of cold (Psalms 5, 46, 61, 66, 80, 84, 114, 135); so it is impossible for God, who is Light, Righteousness, Truth, Wisdom, Goodness, Life, to be the cause of darkness, sin and falsehood, ignorance, blindness, malice, and death; but Satan and men are the cause of all these. For God cannot ex se and per se do things that he prohibits and on account of which he condemns” (Warfield, 155).
Cochrane, 199-200; BSR, 238, 43-239, 3.
The Hungarian Confession makes explicit what is only implicit here in this confession. God’s election is not arbitrary or capricious: “As he who justly renders to those who work equally an equal reward, and who gives to the undeserving, out of grace and voluntarily, what he will, is not a respector of persons; so God would have acted justly, if out of debt, according to justice and his own law, he had rendered death and condemnation as the stipend of sin to all who deserve it. And, on the other hand, when for the sake of his Son, out of the plenitude of his grace and in his freedom of will, he gives to the undeserving righteousness and life, this is not prosopoliptis, that is, he is not a respector of persons, as it is said . . . [quoting Matt. 20]” (Warfield, 156).
Cochrane, 235-237; BSR, 178, 5-179, 22.
Cochrane, 236-37; BSR, 179, 20-22.
Cochrane, 240; BSR, 181, 29-39.
Cochrane, 240-1; BSR, 181, 40-182, 4.
Cochrane, 241-242; BSR, 182, 5-43.
“Such a view, however, leads many to draw and formulate strange, dangerous, and pernicious opinions and causes and fortifies in people's minds either false security and impenitence or anxiety and despair. As a result they trouble themselves with burdensome doubts and say: ‘Since God has foreordained his elect to salvation “before the foundations of the world were laid” (Eph. 1:4) and since God's foreknowledge can never fail and no one can ever change or hinder it (Isa. 14:27; Rom. 9:19, 11), therefore if I have been foreknown to salvation, it will do me no harm if I live in all kinds of sin and vice without repentance, despise Word and sacraments, and do not concern myself with repentance, faith, prayer, and godliness. On the contrary, I shall and must be saved since God's foreknowledge must be carried out. But if I am not foreknown, then everything is in vain, even though I were to hold to the Word, repent, believe, etc., since I cannot hinder or alter God's foreknowledge’” (SD XI, 10).
References to Article XI of the Formula appear in parenthesis as references to parallel concerns.
Muller has put to rest the caricature that Reformed sixteenth-century Orthodoxy developed a theological method that sought to deduce an entire theological system from a single principle or dogma. These are not deductive systems teased out of a central dogma of predestination. See Richard A. Muller, “Calvin and the ‘Calvinists’: Assessing the Continuities and Discontinuities Between the Reformation and Orthodoxy,” Calvin Theological Journal 30 (1995): 345-75 and part two, Calvin Theological Journal 31 (1996): 125-60.
According to Barth, the doctrine of election’s “content is instruction and elucidation, instruction and elucidation which are to us a proclamation of joy. It is not a mixed message of joy and terror, salvation and damnation. Originally and finally it is not dialectical but non-dialectical. It does not proclaim in the same breath both good and evil, both help and destruction, both life and death. It does, of course, throw a shadow. We cannot overlook or ignore this aspect of the matter. In itself, however, it is light and not darkness. We cannot, therefore, speak of the latter aspect in the same breath” (CD II/2, 13). Barth’s comments serve as accurate appraisal of the doctrine of election in these Reformed confessions.
Furthermore, once this all-important terminological distinction is made, it is almost immediately ignored—the term vorsehung is used as a synonym for election (SD XI, 10, 12)!
Robert Preus, “Predestination and Election,” in Preus, A Contemporary Look, 272. We might also wonder about the lurking imperialism of praescientia . It seems that wherever the idea of prescience has gained admittance as a solution, it has grown in power and has finally broken through the boundaries to which it was at first confined. The distinction between “knowing” and “election” seems to have been refined later on such that the voluntas universalis antecedens (over all men) was followed via prescience by the volutas consequens in connection with the faith which had been foreseen by God. For example, Schmid, understands that salvation is intended for everyone, according to voluntas universalis, but that the actual decision of salvation embraces only part of mankind. God’s foreknowledge embraces “who these will be, and this foreseeing is then the basis upon which the counsel of God, encompassing only a certain number of people, is an eternal counsel” (H. Schmid, Die Dogmatik der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche (1893), 193-195). See also Gerhard’s view that Christ is the causa electionis and “etiam fidei intuitum decreto electionis esse includendum.” Only those are elected whom God has foreseen that they would truly believe and would persevere in that belief till the end. See Johann Gerhard, Loci Theologici, vol. 3, ed. Edward Preuss (Berlin: Gustav Schlawitz, 1865), 86. Gerhard rejects faith as a causa meritoria or efficience electionis, since God has not elected us propter fidem; nevertheless, he does elect us intuitu fidei in Christ. Gerhard represents the systematization of the synergistic potential in the foreknowledge/predestination distinction. Thus, once foreknowledge is introduced into the theological system in the extra-biblical sense of praescientia, even single predestination is gobbled up and lost. Even though the Word of God does not allow for a symmetrical doctrine of predestination, one should be careful that a criticism of symmetry does not degenerate into a denial or limitation of the counsel of God over all things. Paul Althaus notes that in later Lutheran theology “election” as God’s gracious freedom towards man tends to be relativized by an emphasis on God’s “foreknowledge” of man’s proper use of the objective means of grace. “In the doctrine of predestination of non-Thomist and Old Lutheran-Orthodox dogmatics, this independence (of the divine will from the human posture) is transformed into its precise opposite, the essential dependence of the decisive divine salvific will on the human posture. It is not necessary to state that this theory represents a deterioration away from the New Testament and from the theology of the Reformers. The idea of predestination is perverted and falsified.” Paul Althaus, Die Christliche Wahrheit: Lehrbuch der Dogmatik (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1949), II, 435.
S. M. Baugh, “The Meaning of Foreknowledge” in Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, eds., The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), 183-200.
“Since the sinner cannot believe by his own power but, on the contrary, faith is created by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament; since, moreover, not all who hear the Gospel and receive the sacraments are saved but only those who believe, no solution remains in the final analysis but to find the difference between the saved and the lost sinners in God’s action and therefore also in God’s counsel. Nevertheless it is striking that the twofold predestination, though never denied in the Augsburg Confession, is peculiarly passed over in silence, and the same is true of the Apology, the two Catechisms, and the Smalcald Articles” (Edmund Schlink, The Theology of the Lutheran Confessions, trans. by Paul F. Koehneke and Herbert J. A. Bouman (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), 290.
“The primary ground of the doctrine of predestination, of the emphasis on God’s absolute and efficient causality in salvation, and of the stress on the doctrine of God and his decree is justification by faith alone” (Muller, Christ and the Decree, 5).
Kolb’s characterization does not appear to accurately describe the doctrine of election as confessed in the Reformed symbols: “While Reformed orthodoxy agreed that sinners are responsible for their own sin, it also taught that God had predestined the reprobate to hell. Reformed theologians put the Evangelical doctrine of election into a more rigid, logical, systematic framework and accorded predestination a much more important part in their doctrinal system than did the Lutherans” (Kolb, “Nikolas von Amsdorf,” 326). Indeed, one might question whether such a statement accurately captures the genuine heart of the Reformed doctrine of election as the sum of the Gospel.
Warfield, “Predestination,” 223.
G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Divine Election, trans. by Hugo Bekker (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1960), 194-5.
See Lynne Courter Boughton, “Supralapsarianism and the Role of Metaphysics in Sixteenth-century Reformed Theology,” Westminster Theological Journal 48 (1986): 63-96. Also, Richard Muller notes the rich variety of ways that Reformed theologians had of articulating the doctrine of election: “An examination of the sixteenth-century systems and, indeed, of the seventeenth-century systems written before 1630 reveals a variety of structures and several different placements of the doctrine of predestination. Heppe, unfortunately, adopted an arrangement of doctrine quite atypical of the sixteenth century and not even representative of the theology of Beza: he even cites Calvin on predestination under the doctrine of God and trinity. Several important theologians—Polanus, Trelcatius the younger, Gomarus, Maccovius, Zanchius—did indeed set the decree into the context of the doctrines of God and trinity, and, alone among the writers of his time Maccovius chose to place the decree above the doctrine of the Trinity in the locus concerned with the divine essence and attributes. Calvin, however, had stated the doctrine of predestination in the context of faith and justification. He was followed by Bucanus. A similar soteriological interest is also evidenced by the placement of predestination in the systems of Vermigli, Musculus, and Ames. Others, influenced perhaps by the powerful ecclesiology of Calvin, discussed predestination as part of the doctrine of the church: Urinus, Danaeus, Perkins. Others still, sensible of the bond between the causality of election and the historical work of Christ, discussed the doctrine of predestination in association with their Christological exposition: Keckermann, Walaeus, the ‘Leiden Synopsis,’ Downham” (Richard A. Muller, Christ and the Decree, 3-4).
Lutheran seventeenth-century systematics, of course, are not altogether free from similar problems, even if their scholasticism seems to have followed a different trajectory. See Preus, Robert, “The Doctrine of Election as Taught by the Seventeenth Century Lutheran Dogmaticians” Quartalschrift 55.4 (1958): 229-261; and Rune Sönderlund, Ex praevisa Fide, Zum Verständnis der Prädestinationslehre in der lutherischen Orthodoxie, Arbeiten zur Geshichte und Theologie des Luthertums, New Series, vol. 3, eds. Bengt Hägglund and Heinrich Kraft (Hannover: Lutherisches Verlagshaus, 1983).
Adolf Schlatter, Das christliche Dogma (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1923), 518.
Karl Barth, CD II/2, 34.
Ibid., 18. One ought to be able to appreciate Barth’s criteria for “full publicity” without buying into his own peculiar doctrine of election and reprobation.