Firstly, let it be understood that we have no question as to whether ‘predestination’ is a true scriptural doctrine. When we speak of perils and side-tracks we do not include this doctrine in them essentially. Rightly interpreted and understood, the doctrine of election is of very great importance and value. Wrongly interpreted and related, because it is so great, there are few things more calculated to create confusion and spiritual arrest. Secondly, in what we say we do not claim to have any new revelation or special authority. Indeed, we only put forward our thought as a suggestion and in the form of a question. There may be more in it than that, but, whether we are wrong or right, we are determined to pursue the note of warning, because we have no small experience of many people of God being brought into limitation and division by this very thing. The thing itself may be right, but it must not be everything. If it is made that, then it can defeat its own purpose.
There has been more recently a considerable revival of what is called ‘Reformed Doctrine’ (or ‘Theology’); that is, the teaching of the Reformers. Foremost (or almost so) among these is that which is especially associated with the name of Calvin. Indeed, it has become generally known as ‘Calvinism’. It is the doctrine of predestination. There are very few subjects which have resulted in more controversy, divided teachers and followers, and led to greater confusion and perplexity.
We are not taking up the controversy on one side or the other, but we do suggest, by way of question, that one consideration may not have been given sufficient place. It may have escaped the eye of the exponents, or, if it has been facing them, they may have refused it adequate attention. The fact is that this matter of predestination has issued in very strong controversy, and not a little resentment or bitterness, for one reason. The reason is that it has been so much – if not entirely – related to, and confined to, salvation. Is it not possible that predestination, and its kindred terms, has nothing more to do with salvation than a relative connection? Supposing that it was taken out of that association, in its main conception, and put into relationship with Divine Purpose – i.e. Predestination to a Divine Purpose, the Purpose being the governing everything? Supposing, further, that salvation and purpose are, respectively, the way and the end, but that the purpose is much more than salvation, so that it is possible to have salvation but miss the full purpose? Would not this solve many problems and explain much of the teaching of the Bible?
Look at several contexts in the Bible, especially in the New Testament, where the words “predestinated”, “foreordained”, “elect” are definitely used.
1. This matter is almost, if not entirely, related to Christians after they have become such. All the instruction, exhortations, warnings, provisional ‘ifs’, and so on, are directed, not toward salvation or its conservation, but toward purpose, and that at the end or hereafter. It is all focused upon ‘making the calling and election sure’. It is bound to an all-governing statement: ‘foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son’.
2. Then note how closely this is connected with the Church as a corporate Body, and only to individuals as related to that Body. It is the Church that explains and answers election. Indeed, the designation “elect” is a collective-singular word; that is, the individuals are looked upon as one corporate entity – ‘The Elect’. ‘Chosen in Christ’ relates to the Church. If we discern the particular function and vocation of the Church in the coming ages as governmental and administrative, implying the supreme place with Christ and His throne, and therefore implying that there will be other categories and ranks in the eternal Kingdom, we get beyond redemption and salvation to their full meaning. It is the purpose that gives meaning to election. Believers are “the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
3. The New Testament is very largely built upon the possibility of a great loss, even after justification by faith. Paul himself was deeply concerned about this “prize of the on-high calling”, and that he might apprehend that for which he had been apprehended. Was he fearful of losing his salvation? Or was it what he called “the prize”?
4. Lest anyone should introduce here the argument of grace and works, let us hasten to point out that in Ephesians, where ‘predestination’ and the Church are most fully mentioned, and exhortations, urgings, and ‘walking worthy of the calling’ are so characteristic, grace is mentioned no fewer than twelve times. Grace is far more wonderful in relation to the immense and glorious Purpose than it is in basic salvation. Works and merit do not come into it. The greater the glory the greater the grace.
In the Old Testament, which is the book of foreshadowings of heavenly things in earthly matters, we read of the ‘portion of the firstborn’ in families. Israel was the firstborn in the family of nations. Their vocation was to be related to the nations, a sign and covenant to the peoples. For that, not merely for their own salvation, they were an elect nation. To them was given the portion of the firstborn, particularly in connection with the purpose. This they despised and lost by reason of pride, exclusiveness, and self-centredness.
The Church is ‘the church of the firstborn ones, whose names are, written in heaven’ (Heb. 12:23). It is not earthly, but heavenly. To the Church belongs the peculiar “calling”, position, and vocation of an eternal and heavenly sort. This is what is called ‘partnership in a heavenly calling’, and “the on high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Heb. 3:1; Phil. 3:14).
To the Church as such, and in relation to her function in the ages to come, belongs the election; but to allow election to set aside perseverance (Phil. 3:12-15, etc.) is to make nonsense of all that teaching and admonition that is represented by such words as: “Give… diligence to make your calling and election sure”, or “Walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called” (2 Pet. 1:10, Eph. 4:1).
There is a salvation which is “so as by fire”, with the inheritance lost. There is a reigning with Christ with which a big provisional ‘if’ is connected.
We know only too well that the great and complicated subject of predestination cannot be solved or dismissed by a simple formula, but we have no doubt that election is governed by inheritance, to which salvation is relative and but the beginning. True, salvation is essential to the inheritance, but the inheritance is more than salvation – it is ‘The Purpose’ itself.
For want of space we must break off here. We may take up this governing issue in relation to other ‘perils’ later. In the meantime let us re-emphasize that the thing that matters is that no ‘truth’, ‘doctrine’, theory or teaching, whether it be good or doubtful, must ever be allowed to become either an end in itself, or a sidetrack. It must never be taken out of the essential context of God’s full purpose.