Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Thomas Goodwin on election in Christ: what it is


See here and here for parts one and two of this series that has been left hanging in the air for some months. 

Having ruled out several deficient ways of understanding the believer's election in Christ, Goodwin proceeds to give his positive exposition of the subject. 

1. Christ, the federal head of the elect 

The Puritan divine construes election in Christ in federal terms. He does not use the language of "federal headship" that is often found later Reformed theology, but his treatment has a distinct federal flavour. "Jesus Christ in election is head of the elect. He was from the first considered and ordained by God as a Common Person, to represent us." (p. 70, Exposition of Ephesians: Chapter 1 to 2:10). Goodwin draws an analogy between Adam and Christ. All humanity were created in Adam. As the first man (1 Corinthians 15:47), Adam acted in a representative capacity. "Thus in choosing Christ God looked on him as a Common Person, as a second Adam, and chose us in him." (p. 71). But the fact that elect were chosen in Christ as a 'Common Person' does not mean that God's people were not chosen individually and personally. "God did not choose in the general... he knoweth the very persons fully and particularly; yea and distinctly viewed them when he elected them. And notwithstanding he thus chose us as distinct persons from Christ, yet still our election is in Christ. (p. 71). 

It is because the Son of God was chosen as Head of the elect in eternity that he assumed our nature and came to redeem the people of God in the fullness of time. But even prior to the incarnation Christ acted as Mediator of the covenant of grace. He was a Common Person to the fathers under the Old Testament, forgiving their sins by virtue of the atonement he would one day perform on their behalf (p. 73). 

Election in Christ is the foundation of the covenant of grace. "And so a covenant was struck between God and us, through Christ's representing us, as the covenant of works was between God and us considered in Adam. And thence it is that Christ, by the prophet Isaiah is called 'our covenant'." (p. 75). That believer's election is in Christ guarantees they will  receive the blessings of the covenant. Goodwin cites Paul's words in 2 Timothy 1:9, 'the grace that was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.' If God chose his people in themselves, the apostle could have written that he purposed to give them grace before the world began. But Paul says that grace was actually given to the elect in Christ Jesus, as he stands as a 'Common Person' representing his people who are chosen in him. "God in the act of choosing us gave us to Christ, and in giving us to Christ he chose us." (p. 74). 

2. The order of election 

According to Goodwin, Christ was chosen first, and we in him. "Jesus Christ was the Head of election, and of the elect of God; and so in order of nature first, though in order of time we were elected in him. In the womb of election he, the Head came out first, and then we, the members." (p. 74). Note that in saying that Christ was chosen first and we in him, Goodwin is careful to say that he is speaking of an order of nature rather than time. This is because the expositor is mindful that Paul teaches that we were chosen in Christ "before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4), which Goodwin takes to mean "from eternity" (p. 77). He reasons, "Before the world was there was nothing but eternity. If you look past the world, you put your head up into eternity." (p. 77). Goodwin tentatively construes Paul's words in a slightly supralapsarian sense, agreeing with those who understood the words "before the foundation of the world" to refer to the order of God's decrees, not simply to the act of creation. He sees this as a further evidence of God's love for his elect, that "he chose you before he purposed the world; he preferred you to all the world." (p. 78). The seventeenth century Puritan almost anticipates modern day multiverse theory saying, "Value God and his love more than all the world, though there were millions of them." (p. 79). This might seem like rather abstract theologizing, but as ever with the Puritans, Goodwin's  theology is put to practical use,
Fear not the ruin of kingdoms, not of the world, for your being depends not on either of them; God chose you before all worlds. Let kingdoms totter, and mountains be thrown in the midst of the sea, 'we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken,' Heb. xii.28. (p. 80).
3. Chosen in him

And so Thomas Goodwin offers a federal explanation of election in Christ. Jesus is not the meritorious cause of our election. God chose his people simply out of love and free grace. But neither is union with Christ merely the goal of election. The Puritan would not have agreed with the words of Louis Berkhof, that Christ was merely  'the mediate cause of the realisation of election' (see here). The elect were chosen in Christ as a Common Person, the second Adam, the Head of God's new humanity who cannot be considered, even in the predestinating decree of God apart from Christ or outside of Christ, "For God chose you in him; the being you had was in him before the world was." (p. 77). As Herman Bavinck put it,
It is not that Christ was thereby the ground and foundation of election; but the election of the church is the very first benefit bestowed on the church; and even this benefit already occurred in union with Christ, and above all it has its goal, not as its foundation, that all other benefits - rebirth, faith and so forth - will be imparted to the church by Christ. In this sense, then, the election of Christ logically precedes our own. (Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 2, p. 404) 
Besides a certain "holy Baines" (p. 70) or "Mr. Baines" (p. 78) Goodwin refrains from citing sources for his views on election in Christ. But what he says is certainly in keeping with the teaching of John Calvin. Admittedly, Goodwin's highly developed federalist construction is not found in the Reformer, but Calvin insisted that we are not chosen in ourselves, to the end that we might be united to Christ, but we are loved and elected in him. Hence it is foolish, harmful and dangerous to contemplate election apart from Christ. He is the mirror of our election,
But if we are elected in him, we cannot find the certainty of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we look at him apart from the Son. Christ, then, is the mirror in which we ought, and in which, without deception, we may contemplate our election. For since it is into his body that the Father has decreed to ingraft those whom from eternity he wished to be his, that he may regard as sons all whom he acknowledges to be his members, if we are in communion with Christ, we have proof sufficiently clear and strong that we are written in the Book of Life. (The Institutes of the Christian Religion III:24:5). 
Robert Letham, who  is critical of Berkhof's stance on election in Christ argues, "Thus, our entire salvation is received in Christ, election included. Union with Christ is existent at the point of our election in eternity." (The Work of Christ, Robert Letham, IVP, 1993, p. 55-56). Salvation is by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Prior to faith in Christ a person remains subject to the wrath of God upon their sin (Ephesians 2:3 cf. John 3:36). But the gift of faith itself is granted by virtue of the people of God being chosen in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-4). Goodwin comments, "if all be given us in Christ, then faith also [is given us], as we are considered already chosen in Christ" (p. 66).

The Puritan expositor's Christocentric doctrine of election is grounded in sound biblical exegesis and is consistent with the best insights of Reformed theology. It is deeply pastoral, pointing the believer to Christ in whom we are chosen, rather than leaving us mystified and unsure in the face of God's inscrutable decree. Above all, Goodwin gives due honour to the God, who gave us grace in Christ Jesus before the world was made. He calls us to love the electing God more than a million worlds.

In the next and concluding post in this series I plan to consider what Goodwin has to say on God's purpose in electing his people in Christ. 

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