Assurance of Grace
The Word of God in II Peter 1: 10 admonishes believers to make their calling and election sure. In fact, it exhorts them to give diligence to do so. And it emphasizes the importance of this spiritual diligence on the part of believers by adding, first, that doing this they shall never stumble, and, secondly, that thus the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ shall be richly supplied unto them.
It is evident, then, that we have something to do with election.
However, this may all be very well for those who are doctrinally lazy and ignorant, who are satisfied with a gospel they can write on their thumbnail; for him who has his delight in the truth of God's Word, who is founded in the truth of the whole counsel of God, such an attitude can never be satisfactory. Why should the Holy Scriptures so frequently speak of this truth if it were not the purpose of God that we should be instructed in it? And how dare we claim that we have nothing to do with it, and that it is an impracticable doctrine, if the Bible exhorts us that we shall make our calling and election sure, and that we shall give diligence to do this? Surely, this exhortation places us before the question: how can we do this? What can we do to make our calling and election sure? And before we can even begin to answer this, we must determine the meaning of this exhortation.
Election is the eternal fountain head of grace and salvation. It is the eternal good pleasure of God according to which, for His own name's sake and with absolute sovereignty, He chose out of the whole human race a church ordained unto eternal life and glory. It is not based on any foreseen goodness or faith in man, as if some were better or more willing than others: for then the elect would have something whereof to boast in themselves. On the contrary, election is sovereign and free. It downs all man's pride. And it means that God is the Lord also in the matter of salvation. And this tru th is not based on a few isolated passages of Holy Scripture, but is so taught throughout the Bible that it is presented as the foundation of our faith. For the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ "hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." (Ephesians 1:3, 4) And He has "predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved." (Ephesians 1:5, 6) And "we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own wil1." (Ephesians 1:11) "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." (Romans 8:29, 30) Election is not something that is hid from us, but revealed as the eternal fountain of all the blessings of salvation that are bestowed upon us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
But the text in Peter also speaks of the calling: "give diligence to make your calling and election sure." There can be no doubt that the calling unto salvation is meant. And that, too, is the work of God. It is that wonder of God's grace whereby the sinner, who is dead through trespasses and sins, who is without God in the world and stands in enmity against God, is translated from death unto life, from darkness into light, so that he hears the voice of the God of his salvation speaking to him through Christ Jesus, embraces Him as his Lord and Redeemer, and finds rest for his soul; and whereby, too, he leaves the way of sin and unrighteousness, repents, and has a new delight in the law and precepts of his God. Of this calling the apostle Peter had spoken in the beginning of this same chapter in which he admonishes us to make our calling and election sure, when he wrote: "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." (vss. 3, 4)
We may notice that in the exhortation to make our calling and election sure the calling is mentioned first. The reason for this is not that actually the calling precedes election: for the very opposite is true. Election is the source of all our salvation, also of the calling: whom He hath predestinated, them He also called. (Romans 8:30) But the reason must be found in the fact that the apostle here admonishes believers to give diligence to make their calling and election sure. This cannot mean, of course, that our election and calling are not sure with God, and that it depends on us, on our faithfulness and perseverance, to make them sure. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. But it does mean that we must put forth effort to make them sure for our own consciousness, so that we are established in the faith and live and walk in the joyful assurance that we are children of God, that we are heirs of eternal life, that with body and soul, for time and eternity, we belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, and that nothing can ever pluck us out of His hand, nor separate us from the love of God in Him. This is the reason, no doubt, why the apostle mentions the calling, and not election, first. It is, of course, quite impossible to make sure of our election first, and then of our calling.
But some may, perhaps, ask: why should it be necessary to give diligence to make our calling and election sure? Does it require special effort to become sure of our eternal salvation? Does not a Christian know that he is saved, that God called him out of darkness into His marvelous light, and is he, therefore, not spontaneously sure of his calling and election? Does he not believe in Christ, and is not his salvation a matter of his experience? Why then should he give diligence? Why should he put forth special effort to make his calling and election sure?
However, the matter of our own salvation and of the assurance of our calling and election is not quite so simple. We should not speak and assume the attitude as if it were quite natural for the believer that he always live on the mountain tops of faith and in the bright and glorious sunshine of the full assurance of eternal glory. For to speak thus would be to ignore utterly the reality and actual position of the Christian in this world, and it would be contrary to the experience of every true believer. We must not forget that we are still in this world, not yet in heavenly perfection, and that in this world there are many forces that oppose our faith and that combine to deprive us of the assurance of our calling and election. First of all, salvation is heavenly, and we are earthly. Salvation belongs to the things which eye hath not seen, and ear hath not heard, and have never arisen in the heart of man. And the things that are seen engulf us on every side, have a strong hold on us, tempt us to seek the things that are below, rather than the things that are in heaven. Secondly, we lie in the midst of death, even though we have eternal life in us through Jesus Christ. We suffer and die as all men. How easy it would seem for that power of death, which is after all God's own hand, to persuade us that God is still against us, and that we are not His children! And then, there is our old nature, and there are the motions of sin in our members, and there is the world in the midst of which we live, tempting us from the way of righteousness. What Christian does not know by experience how his own sin can rise up against him, and for a time cast a dark shadow of fear and doubt over his soul? Mark you well, I do not say that it is right for the believer to live in doubt and fear as to his calling and election. But I do say that there is plenty of reason for the Christian in this world to heed the exhortation, "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure!"
But the question arises: how can this be done? What must we do to make our calling and election sure?
In the light of this exhortation we dare not, of course, assume the attitude that it is impossible for the believer in this life to be sure of his personal salvation and to live in that glad assurance. One meets with Christians occasionally who assume this stand. One can never be sure, say they, of his calling and election until he finally is glorified with Christ in heaven. The best we can do is doubt and hope for the best. But this would be disobedience to the Word of God in our text, which exhorts us to give diligence to attain to this assurance. Nor must we hope for and expect some sort of special revelation from God assuring us that He wrote our name in the book of life from before the foundation of the world. Such a hope would not only be vain because it will never be realized; but it would also be detrimental for our spiritual life. For if thus, by a special voice or vision from heaven, God would assure us of our eternal election and salvation, we would rest on this revelation and give no more diligence to make our calling and election sure. And ,the text evidently would have us put forth effort, give special diligence, in order to live and walk in the assurance of our calling and election. For the same reason one cannot appeal to certain mystical experiences, feelings, whisperings of the Spirit, or the like, for this assurance. Nor, finally, must he try to base his assurance of salvation on his conversion in the past. Many seem to make this attempt. They were converted several years ago, and they know it. They accepted Christ as their personal Savior there and then. And because they vividly remember this conversion of years ago, they know that they are saved today. But also this is contrary to the text, which does not tell us to appeal to some past experience, but to give diligence today and tomorrow, every moment of our life, to make our calling and election sure.
How, then, does one obtain this assurance of election and calling? I would answer this question as follows. First of all, it must be emphasized that also this assurance is a gift of grace and that it can rest only on the Word of God addressed to us. Only God can assure us of our salvation. On nothing less dare we base our assurance. But how does God speak to us? Always through the Scriptures. Apart from the Word of the gospel there is no Word of God to us. Hence, if we would make our calling and election sure, we must surely give diligence to read and study the Scriptures and to attend to the Word of God preached. But how do we know that God speaks to us personally? The answer is: He speaks to us by His Spirit, and thus applies the Word of the gospel to us personally, calling us evermore out of darkness to His marvelous light, and witnessing with our spirit that we are the sons of God. (Romans 8: 16) But here we must remember that this testimony of the Spirit that we are the sons of God is heard by us through the gospel only in the way of sanctification, the way of God's precepts, the way of repentance and conversion, the way in which the Spirit leads. In the way of sin and corruption, the way of the world and of the flesh, the Spirit does not witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
On the contrary, in that way we grieve the Spirit; and we receive the testimony that we are still in our sins. If, then, we would make our calling and election sure, we must give diligence to walk in the way of light and righteousness, to fight the good fight of faith, according to the calling wherewith we are called.
It is especially this element which the apostle Peter has in mind when he exhorts believers to make their calling and election sure. For in the context he admonished them to add on their part all diligence that they might supply virtue in their faith, knowledge in virtue, selfcontrol in their knowledge, patience in their self-control, godliness in their patience, brotherly kindness in their godliness, and love in their brotherly kindness. Giving diligence, then, to walk in that Christian way of faith and knowledge, of patience and godliness, of brotherly kindness and love, walking in the light with all the saints, and that, too, in the midst of a world that lieth in darkness, we shall hear the Word of God, through the Scriptures, by the Spirit, assuring us of the grace of our personal calling and election.
It is evident that this task is never finished, as long as we are in this life. One can never say: I made my calling and election sure long ago, and now I need give no more attention to that. On the contrary, the exhortation is for all of us, for every believer; and daily he must heed it. Every day he has need to live close to the Word of God in the Scriptures, to fight the battle of faith, that he may walk as a child of light in the midst of a world of sin, in order that in that way he may be conscious of the testimony of God's Spirit assuring him of his personal salvation. Only in that way, but in that way surely, can he walk in the glad assurance that he is Christ's, and that nothing can ever separate him from the love of God!
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