4. FAITH AND GOOD WORKS ARE THE FRUITS AND PROOF,
Neither predestination in general, nor the election of those who are to be saved, is based on God’s foresight of any action in the creature. This tenet of the Reformed Faith has been well stated in the Westminster Confession, where we read: “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet hath He not decreed any thing because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.” And again, “These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith; and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto; that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.
Foreseen faith and good works, then, are never to be looked upon as the cause of the Divine election. They are rather its fruits and proof. They show that the person has been chosen and regenerated. To make them the basis of election involves us again in a covenant of works, and places God’s purposes in time rather than in eternity. This would not be pre-destination but post-destination, an inversion of the Scripture account which makes faith and holiness to be the consequents, and not the antecedents, of election (Eph. 1:4; John 15:16; Titus 3:5). The statement that we were chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world,” excludes any consideration of merit in us; for the Hebrew idiom, “before the foundation of the world,” means that the thing was done in eternity. And when to Paul’s statement that it is “not of works, but of Him that calleth,” the Arminian replies that it is of future works, he flatly contradicts the apostle’s own words.
That the decree of election was in any way based on foreknowledge is refuted by Paul when he says that its purpose was “that we should be holy,” Eph. 1:4. He insists that salvation is “not of works, that no man should glory.” In II Tim. 1:9 we read that it is God “who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal.” Calvinists therefore hold that election precedes, and is not based upon, any good works which the person does. The very essence of the doctrine is that in redemption God is moved by no consideration of merit or goodness in the objects of His saving mercy. “That it is not of him that runs, nor of him that wills, but of God who shows mercy, that the sinner obtains salvation, is the steadfast witnesses of the whole body of Scripture, urged with such reiteration and in such varied connections as exclude the possibility that there may lurk behind the act of election consideration of foreseen characters or acts or circumstances — all of which appear as results of election.”2
Foreordination in general cannot rest on foreknowledge; for only that which is certain can be foreknown, and only that which is predetermined can be certain. The Almighty and all-sovereign Ruler of the universe does not govern Himself on the basis of a foreknowledge of things which might haply come to pass. Through the Scriptures the divine foreknowledge is ever thought of as dependent on the divine purpose, and God foreknows only because He has predetermined. His foreknowledge is but a transcript of His will as to what shall come to pass in the future, and the course which the world takes under His providential control is but the execution of His all-embracing plan. His foreknowledge of what is yet to be, whether it be in regard to the world as a whole or in regard to the detailed life of every individual, rests upon His pre-arranged plan (Jer. 1:5; Ps. 139: 14-16; Job 23:13, 14; 28:26, 27; Amos 3:7).
There is, however, one Scripture passage which is often pointed out as teaching that election or even fore-ordination in general is based on foreknowledge, and we shall now give our attention to it. In Romans 8:29, 30 we read: “For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren; and whom He foreordained, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” The word “know” is sometimes used in a sense other than that of having merely an intellectual perception of the thing mentioned. It occasionally means that the persons so “known” are the special and peculiar objects of God’s favor, as when it was said of the Jews, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth,” Amos 3:2. Paul wrote, “If any man loveth God, the same is known of Him,” I Cor. 8:3. Jesus is said to “know” His sheep, John 10:14, 27; and to the wicked He is to say, “I never knew you,” Matt. 7:23. In the first Psalm we read, “Jehovah knoweth the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked shall perish.”
In all of these passages more than a mental recognition is involved, for God has that of the wicked as well as of the righteous. It is a knowing which has as its objects the elect only, and it is connected with, or is rather the same as love, favor, and approbation. Those in Romans 8:29 are foreknown in the sense that they are fore-appointed to be the special objects of His favor. This is shown more plainly in Born. 11:2-5, where we read, “God did not cast off His people whom He foreknew.” A comparison is made with the time of Elijah when God “left for Himself” seven thousand who did not bow the knee to Baal. And then in the fifth verse he adds, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” Those who were foreknown in verse two and those who are of the election of grace are the same people; hence they were foreknown in the sense that they were fore-appointed to be the objects of His gracious purposes. Notice especially that Rom. 8:29 does not say that they were foreknown as doers of good works, but that they were foreknown as individuals to whom God would extend the grace of election. And let it be noticed further that if Paul had here used the term “foreknow” in the sense that election was based on mere foreknowledge, it would have contradicted his statement elsewhere that it is according to the good pleasure of God.
The Arminian view takes election out of the hands of God and puts it into the hands of man. This makes the purposes of Almighty God to be conditioned by the precarious wills of apostate men and makes temporal events to be the cause of His eternal acts. It means further that He has created a set of sovereign beings upon whom to a certain extent His will and actions are dependent. It represents God as a good old father who endeavors to get his children to do right, but who is usually defeated because of their perverse wills; nay, it represents Him as having evolved a plan which through the ages has been so generally defeated that it has sent innumerably more persons to hell than to heaven. A doctrine which leads to such absurdities is not only unScriptural but also unreasonable and dishonoring to God. In contrast to all this, Calvinism offers us a great God who is infinite in His perfections, who dispenses mercy and justice as He sees best, and who actually rules in the affairs of men.
The Scriptures and Christian experience teach us that the very faith and repentance through which we are saved are themselves the gifts of God. “By grace have ye been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,” Eph. 2:8. The Christians in Achaia had “believed through grace,” Acts 18:27. A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved. Even the beginning of faith, the disposition to seek salvation, is itself a work of grace and the gift of God. Paul often says that we are saved “through” faith (that is, as the instrumental cause), but never once does he say that we are saved “on account of” faith (that is, as the meritorious cause). And to the same effect we may say that the redeemed shall be rewarded in proportion to their good works, but not on account of them. And in accordance with this, Augustine says that “The elect of God are chosen by Him to be His children, in order that they might be made to believe, not because He foresaw that they would believe.”
Repentance is equally declared to be a gift. “Then to the Gentiles also bath God granted repentance unto life,” Acts 11:18. “Him did God exalt with His right hand to be a Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins,” Acts 5:31. Paul rebuked those who did not realize that it was the goodness of God which led them to repentance, Rom. 2:4. Jeremiah cried, “Turn thou me and I shall be turned; for thou art Jehovah my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed,” Jer. 31:18, 19. What, for instance, had the infant John the Baptist to do with his being “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb?” Luke 1:15. Jesus told His disciples that to them it was given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but that to others it was not given (Matt. 13:11). To base election on foreseen faith is to say that we are ordained to eternal life because we believe, whereas the Scriptures declare the contrary: “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed,” Acts 13:48.
Our salvation is “not by works done in righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit,” Titus 3:5. We are encouraged to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who worketh in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. And just because God is working in us, we strive to develop and to work out our own salvation (Phil. 2:12, 13). The Psalmist tells us that the Lord’s people offer themselves willingly in the day of His power (110:3). Hence conversion is a peculiar and sovereign gift of God. The sinner has no power to turn himself unto God, but is turned or renewed by divine grace before he can do anything spiritually good.
In accordance with this Paul teaches that love, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, etc., are not the meritorious basis of salvation, but rather “the fruits of the Spirit,” Gal. 5:22, 23. Paul himself was chosen that he might know and do the will of God, not because it was foreseen that he would do it, Acts 22:14, 15. Augustine tells us that, “The grace of God does not find men fit to be elected, but makes them so”: and again, “The nature of the Divine goodness is not only to open to those that knock, but also to cause them to knock and ask.” Luther expressed the same truth when he said, “God alone by His Spirit works in us the merit and reward.” John tells us that, “We love because He first loved us,” I John 4:19. These passages unmistakably teach that faith and good works are the fruits of God’s work in us. We were not chosen because we were good, but in order that we might become good.
But while good works are not the ground of salvation, they are absolutely essential to it as its fruits and evidences. They are produced by faith as naturally as grapes are produced by the grape vine. And while they do not make us righteous before God, yet they are so united with faith that true faith cannot be found without them. Nor can good works, in the strict sense, be found anywhere without faith. Our salvation is not “of works,” but “for good works,” Eph. 2:9, 10; and the genuinely saved Christian will feel himself in his natural element only when producing good works. James points out that a man’s faith is spurious if it does not issue in good works. This is the same principle which Jesus set forth when He declared that the character of a tree is shown by its fruits, and that a good tree could not bear evil fruits. Good works are as natural for the Christian as is breathing; he does not breathe to get life; he breathes because he has life, and for that reason cannot help breathing. Good works are his glory; hence Jesus says, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify (not you, but) your Father who is in heaven,” to whom the credit is really due.
The Calvinistic view is the only logical one if we accept the Scriptural declaration that salvation is by grace. Any other involves us in a hopeless chaos of views which are contradictory to the Scriptures. There are, of course, mysteries connected with this view; and it is certainly not the view which the natural man would have hit upon if he had been called upon to suggest a plan. But to throw overboard the Scripture doctrine of Predestination simply because it does not fit in with our prejudices and preconceived notions is to act foolishly. To do this is to arraign the Creator at the bar of human reason, to deny the wisdom and righteousness of His dealings just because we cannot fathom them, and then to declare His revelation to be false and deceptive. “It is a dangerous presumption for men to take upon themselves, with unwashed hands, to unriddle the deep mysteries of God with their carnal reason, where the great apostle stands at the gaze, crying, ‘O the depth, how unsearchable . . .’ and, ‘Who knoweth the mind of the Lord!’ Had Paul been of the Arminian persuasion he would have answered, ‘Those are elected that are foreseen to believe and persevere!’”3 There would have been no mystery at all if salvation had been based on their good works.
Here we have a system in which all boasting is excluded, and in which salvation in all of its parts is seen to be the product of unalloyed grace, not founded on, but issuing in, good works.
Dr. Boettner was born on a farm in northwest Missouri. He was a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.B., 1928; Th.M., 1929), where he studied Systematic Theology under the late Dr. C. W. Hodge. Previously he had graduated from Tarkio College, Missouri, and had taken a short course in Agriculture at the University of Missouri. In 1933 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, and in 1957 the degree of Doctor of Literature. He taught Bible for eight years in Pikeville College, Kentucky. A resident of Washington, D.C., eleven years and of Los Angeles three years. His home was in Rock Port, Missouri. His other books include: Roman Catholicism, Studies in Theology, Immortality, and The Millennium.