Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Covenant and Election (Lillback on Calvin)

In his The Binding of God, Lillback summarises the relationship between Calvin's conceptions of predestination and covenant in the following terms, in agreement with Hoekema as cited in the previous couple of posts.

The doctrine of sovereign election is that which explains why the covenant operates as it does. While Calvin hints at the idea of an eternal covenant in the Godhead, he is very clear that the covenant operates in time in union with the doctrine of election. This is true not only of the Israelites, but of Christians also. The covenant is not the same as secret election that infallibly secures salvation. Rather, the covenant is a general election that offers the promise of the benefits of the covenant. Only secret election ratifies the covenant in the case of any individual. Such is the covenant as viewed from the decree of God.

Nevertheless, the covenant has duties for men to execute. Thus man must not look to the decree for his salvation, but to the promises he finds in the covenant that he embraces by faith. Hence, the covenant creates an intermediate category of persons between those who are the ones rejected by God, and those who are elect. It is from this intermediate category that hypocrites arise, who later break the covenant by unbelief and disobedience. This type of covenant-breaking can even happen in the new covenant, since there are those admitted to the Church by baptism who will not be elect and who will not obey the covenant. Further there are those who come by profession of faith without a genuine working of grace. These too will ultimately show themselves to be non-elect by failing to fulfill the duties of the covenant. Nevertheless, those who enter the covenant sphere by baptism, even if not secretly elected, are really in the covenant.

For Calvin, the covenant is the place of salvation, but not all who are in the covenant will receive that salvation because of the mystery of divine election. Those who do not receive the grace of election are responsible for not fulfilling their covenant duties. They are those who have degenerated from sons of the covenant into illegitimate children. Such is Calvin's view of the hypocrite. Here we corroborate the views of Hoekema, Eenigenburg, Van Der Vegt, and Vanden Bergh vis-a-vis Polman and McClelland.