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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Part V: Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of Anglican Faith: Predestination


Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of Anglican Faith

A book by David Broughton Knox (Sydney: Anglican Church League, 1967). Revised 1976.

The author: Canon David Broughton Knox, B.A., A. L. C. D., B.D., M.Th., D. Phil. (Oxford), was Principal of Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia. Ordained in 1941 he served in an English parish and as a chaplain in the Royal Navy before becoming a tutor at Moore College 1947-53. On leave in England he was tutor and lecturer in New Testament at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford 1951-53 and Assistant Curate in the parish of St. Aldale's, Oxford. He became Vice Principal of Moore College in 1954 and Principal in 1959. He was elected Canon of St. Andrew's Cathedral in 1960. His other books include "The Doctrine of Faith in the Reign of Henry VIII" (London: James Clarke, 1961).

David Broughton Knox also founded George Whitefield College in South Africa in 1989.



Chapter 4

Predestination

Predestination is the sheet anchor of the doctrine of grace. This is illustrated by the Epistle to the Romans in which St. Paul establishes that our salvation rests on God's grace exclusively. He cites the two twins, Esau and Jacob, as the classic example, commenting 'Though they were not yet born and had done nothing, either good or bad, in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, she [Rebecca] was told, "The elder will serve the younger"' (Romans 9:11-12, R.S.V.).

So in the Thirty-Nine Articles the doctrine of election is fundamental to the sovereignty of grace. Article 17, the longest of the Articles, deals with topic. (1) Its first sentence affirms that all who reach heaven do so because before the foundation of the world God chose them and unalteringly decreed to confer on them this benefit. (2) The second sentence lists the seven stages of the progress of the elect from 'curse and damnation' to 'everlasting salvation' -- God's call, their response through grace, their free justification, their adoption as God's sons, the formation of a Christlike character within them, their expression of this in a life of good works, 'and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.' We note here the two-sidedness of grace: God's sovereign initiative works through the faculties of our nature. God calls, we respond; God justifies, adopts, sanctifies, we live out a Christian life and finally attain to everlasting felicity. But our response is not to be regarded as our own contribution to our salvation but is itself God's gift, 'They through grace obey', 'At length, by God's mercy, they attain'.

It is the same group of persons who pass through these seven stages, and in this respect the article is reminiscent of St. Paul's 'golden chain' in Romans 8:29 f. However, in these two opening sentences the Article does not go beyond Augustine in affirming the irresistibility of grace and the effectual character of God's call. The indefectibility and perseverance of the saints is not touched on till the third sentence which comprises the second paragraph. In this third sentence the Article sides clearly with Calvin, going beyond Augustine who taught that the gift of perseverance is not given to all the regenerate and that it is consequently possible to fall from a state of salvation and be eternally lost. The consequence of this possibility is that no one would know whether he is elect, apart from a special personal revelation from God. Thus Thomas Aquinas wrote: 'No one can know whether he has sanctifying grace' (Summa Theol. II. 112. 5); and the Council of Trent affirmed: 'Except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God has chosen unto Himself' (Session VI, Chapter 12). However, in its second paragraph Article 17 affirms (3) that our predestination and election in Christ may be known to us and be the subject of our meditation, yielding 'sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort'. (4) This knowledge or certification of our election results from knowledge of the promises of God, and from our perception of the working of God's Spirit within us. Consequently we know that we are within the unbroken chain of God's purposes of blessing leading to eternal felicity. (5) This knowledge yields not only 'comfort' but increase in active godliness. For love kindles love, and a knowledge of God's steadfast love in delivering us from the curse and damnation we deserve and leading us without fail to 'eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ', fervently kindles love towards God.'

A perception of the working of the Spirit of Christ in us is the assurance that God has adopted us as sons and chosen us in Christ; but an absence of this Spirit is no sign that a man is not elect (for all the elect begin in this state!). Nevertheless it may be so construed by the spiritually unenlightened, as experience shows. The Article, recognizing this, affirms (6) that the doctrine of predestination is a doctrine for the believer.

The Christian should always view the doctrine of predestination from the standpoint of his position in Christ. Looking backward he sees God's eternal grace choosing him in Christ, calling him, adopting him, glorifying him. As he looks forward he rejoices in the sure hope of salvation, for God is faithful, who called him and will confirm him to the end (I Corinthians 1:8; Philippians 1:6; I Thessalonians 5:24). However, if it is separated from our experience in Christ and from our faith in God, it becomes a merely speculative doctrine (for example in the phrase, 'once saved always saved' which contains no reference to God at all). It then has no religious value, and some of its apparent deductions may run counter to Christian conduct. Consequently in the Article's fourth sentence and last paragraph it is affirmed (7) that we must regulate our deductions from the doctrine of predestination by the plain teaching of Scripture; for example (a) we must not despair of God's promises, arguing that we are non-elect, nor (b) must we presume on our election to the neglect of the clearly revealed will of God as to our duty and the way we are to live our lives.

The Article confines itself to discussing 'Predestination to Life'. It does not touch on reprobation (or preterition). [Charlie's comment: But Article 17 does say that the non-elect are under God's sentence: . . . so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness of most unclean living no less perilous than desperation.] The omission is not a denial of the doctrine of reprobation, as is sometimes assumed, but a recognition of the over-whelming predominance of the doctrine of predestination to life in the treatment of the subject in Scripture, compared with the mystery of reprobation which is only touched on in half a dozen passages in Scripture. Predestination to life is a constant topic of Scripture, and consequently appropriately finds a prominent place in the Articles.

The seventeenth Article not only accompanies Calvin beyond the point where Augustine stopped short, but it effectively excludes an Arminian interpretation of predestination. Arminius, a Dutch theologian of the early seventeenth century, following many predecessors stretching back to the days before Augustine, based God's predestination not on His good pleasure (and so entirely within Himself) but on His foresight of how a man would respond to the opportunities of repentance and faith granted him. For Arminius, God's predestination (or decision about a man's future) follows the foresight of man's own decision. In this way the scriptural word 'predestination' is retained, but is evacuated of any real meaning. However, the Article clearly excludes this Arminian interpretation, for such a doctrine that our predestination is dependent on the exercise of our own will could never be twisted to become 'a most dangerous downfall' were an unspiritual person to have it 'continually before his eyes', for it is the very thing which such people normally imagine to be the case. Nor could it ever lead to desperation or unclean living, for it bases 'predestination' entirely on the quality of a man's continual response to the Gospel.

These warnings of the Article confirm that its subject is the doctrine of absolute and unconditional election, for they deal with false and erroneous deductions which are sometimes made from this doctrine. The warnings are irrelevant in Arminian 'predestination'.

Article 18 concludes the group of articles (9-18) which deal specifically with individual salvation. It anathematizes the latitudinarian spirit which would open the gate of heaven to all who live a decent life. The doctrine of predestination (as expounded in Article 17) particularizes salvation and grounds it exclusively on Christ's merits and God's free gift; but the logical outcome of rejection of this doctrine is that God's salvation is generalized into the possibility of salvation, so that actual salvation comes to depend on the quality of a man's response, and not exclusively on God's grace. The quality of this response becomes the essential differentiating element in salvation. The doctrinal tendency to find a place for man's will in the ground of his salvation reaches its logical conclusion in the view 'That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law, and the light of Nature'. This view the Article anathematizes, 'For holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.' (See Acts 4:12). If we think of our natural state as sinners as being 'without God', and 'children of wrath', and spiritually 'dead' (Ephesians 2) the doctrine of Articles 17 and 18 is unavoidable.

Article 18 contains the only anathema in the Thirty-Nine Articles. Significantly enough it is directed against the full-blown form of the doctrine that salvation depends on man's own works; for it was this doctrine of works that was the basic quarrel that the Reformers had with the papal system of religion. At the time of the Reformation their opponents would have agreed with the Reformers in the sentiments of Article 18. But in the passage of the centuries the Roman doctrine of works has expressed itself within the Roman Communion in very similar language to that anathematized by the Article. Thus Hans Kung has written: 'Yvonne (a Protestant) . . . can win eternal life if she lives according to her conscience and keeps God's commandments.'i Kung speaks similarly of how 'a pagan . . . can be saved'.ii Support for this doctrine of salvation through following the light of conscience is sometimes sought in the Epistle to the Romans, chapters one and two. But in these chapters the apostle is not dealing with the salvation of the Gentiles but with the responsibility involved in possessing a conscience, and the culpability that comes from not following it. He concludes this argument: 'We before laid to the charge both of Jews and Greeks, that they are all under sin . . . ' For they are all under law, either of Scripture or of nature, 'that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight' (Romans 9:9, 19f, R.S.V.). The possibility of salvation through the light of nature is no longer a private opinion amongst Roman Catholics but has been endorsed by the Second Vatican Council. In paragraph 16 of its Constitution On the Church, which was promulgated in November 1964, the Second Vatican Council declared:

The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place among these there are the Moslems . . . Those also can attain a salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.

It is difficult to see how in practice this is distinguishable from Pelagianism.


[For previous chapters of this book see: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4.1.]

iThat the World May Believe, p. 5.
iiIbid., p. 83.

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity.
The Collect.

O GOD, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man's understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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