Vos: What Points of Reformed Theology are Related to the Doctrine of Predestination?

vos_geerhardus_bIn Dogmatics Vol 1., p 98 Vos answers the question, “At what points is the doctrine of predestination or election related to the rest of Reformed doctrine as a whole?” In other words “What other areas in Reformed theology are connected or impacted from the doctrine of predestination?” Vos answers with five points: God’s Sovereignty, Human Inability, Mystical Union with Christ, and the Perseverance of the Saints.

First, the doctrine of predestination or election is a direct consequence of the Reformed concept (shaped by Scripture) of God’s sovereignty. During the period of the Reformation, one came to the doctrine of predestination one of two ways. Either starting with man and his salvation (Luther) or starting from the doctrine of God (Calvin and Zwingli). Starting with God, Calvin held that the creature, even at it’s highest importance, is still subordinate to God. Vos argues that to deny the doctrine of predestination is ultimately to deny the sovereignty of God. To deny the sovereignty of God is to go against the clear teachings of Scripture.

Second, the doctrine of human inability after the Fall is inseparably connected with the doctrine of predestination. Vos argues that we either hold both (human inability and predestination) or drop them altogether. Vos argues there are two options: 1. It (salvation) depends on God. or 2. It depends on man who will be saved. To accept that it depends on God is to accept predestination.

If one chooses that salvation depends on man we are saying that there is no difference between humanity today and Adam before the Fall. This is to posit that humanity has the same ability after the Fall that Adam had before the Fall. Or to state it differently, the Fall brought us no consequence. This condition would truly make it possible for the persons to decide for themselves. This is the position maintained by Pelagianism.

There is an other option for those who on one hand want to affirm that salvation depends on man and on the other hand want to maintain there is an inability possessed by all humanity. They could affirm that humanity was lacking in ability after the Fall but God does something to all humanity so they are able to make a decision to believe. But this solution has only moved the problem.

Vos illustrates the problem. He calls those who believe group A and those who reject group B. Then asks the question “What is it that made A believe?” It must have been something inherent in them that made them believe. And if there was something inherent in A that made them believe, it must have been something good. However according to the proposed solution, both A and B received the same grace. The only difference between A and B was that one good thing inherent in A that made A respond in faith. Without that one thing possessed by group A, group B continues in a state of disbelief. This ends up having to deny the inability that is inherent in humanity and has to hold that some have an ability that is inherent in them that others do not.

Third, predestination or election is related to mystical union and the body of Christ. When we understand that the elect form a body who must be fitted for each other we can see God’s election. Vos argues that if this mystical body of Christ was dependent on the free-will choice of man, then there is no guarantee that there would be a body of Christ. It must be that God decides and guarantees there will be those who believe to make up the body of Christ. Perhaps in laymen’s terms, a way to express this would be, “Is it possible that Jesus would die on the cross and no one respond in faith?” God guarantees that the Son dies and secures salvation for his people.

Fourth, Predestination is related to the doctrine of the merits of Christ. To deny election necessarily changes the doctrine of the merits of Christ that are applied to the elect. We hear about Christ saving us often. How has Christ has done this is by his doing. This work of Christ addresses particular aspects of our salvation. We could think of the work of Christ in two different categories, the active and passive obedience of Christ.  There is a debt of guilt that sinners have. And this guilt-debt is removed for those who believe. This guilt-debt is satisfied by Christ’s passive obedience (his suffering). There is also the reward of life given by his active obedience (law abiding life). In the redeemed all the merits of the Redeemer are applied by the Holy Spirit. What is it that is applied to the believer by the Holy Spirit? Vos states “Regeneration, faith, conversion”.

The point here is that if faith isn’t from the Holy Spirit, then it is a work of man. If faith is a work of man then faith is not a merit of Christ since it is something that originates in us. The doctrine of predestination affirms that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit and not a work of man. And it is a gift to man because it is a merit of Christ. Vos argues that those who would deny predestination will have to deny the merits of Christ.

Fifth, predestination also relates to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. The doctrine that those who are called will believe and be justified and ultimately glorified in heaven. Vos says that God, by sovereign election, decides “both coming into the state of grace and persevering of those who have once come into it.”

Vos argues briefly against some alternatives. It’s absurd to argue that God gives freedom to unregenerate sinful man to make the good decision to enter in. Then once they are in that blessed state of salvation, God in his sovereignty ensures they never leave the faith. This is absurd, Vos rightly states that this is crediting a freedom to the unregenerate but not the regenerate. And you can’t hold that God has sovereignly elected certain persons to come into a state of grace then gives them the freedom to fall away. A type of election in but works to remain in. Rather it is most consistent and biblical to see that God is sovereign over who will enter and ensures their salvation.

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