Herman Witsius (1636–1708): Predestination in Covenant Theology


This passage from the covenant theologian Herman Witsius (1636–1708) bases predestination in biblical sources, and, once again, displays the Reformed attentiveness to the original biblical languages. Covenant theology has been thought to temper the severity of orthodox predestinarian doctrine by holding that God’s decrees always operate in the context of a gracious covenantal relationship with humanity. The stress in the opening paragraph on the election of Christ himself was taken further in the 20th century theology of Karl Barth. This excerpt is from Witsius’ Economy of the Covenants, Book 3, Chapter 4:

“The beginning and first source of [the covenant of grace] is Election, both of Christ the Saviour and of those to be saved by Christ. For even Christ was chosen of God, and, by an eternal and immutable decree, given to be our Saviour; and therefore he is said to be foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:20). And they whom Christ was to save were given to him by the same decree. They are therefore said to be chosen in Christ (John 17:6). That is, not only by Christ as God and consequently the elector of them, but also in Christ as Mediator… to be saved by his merit and power and to enjoy communion with him…

We thus describe it: Election is the eternal, free, and immutable counsel of God about revealing the glory of his grace in the eternal salvation of some certain persons [cites Eph. 1:4-6]. We call election the counsel of God, by which term we mean that which is commonly called decree. Paul on this subject calls it προθεσις, the ‘purpose’ or ‘fore-appointment’ of God. This term appears very choice to the apostle… and denotes a sure, firm, and fixed decree of God which he can never repent of and which depends on nothing out[side] of himself [i.e. not on human merit] but is founded only in [God’s] good-pleasure [cites 2 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:28; 9:11]…

This election to glory is not some ‘general’ decree of God about saving the faithful and the godly who persevere in their faith and piety to the end of their life; but a particular designation of certain individual persons, whom God has enrolled as heirs of salvation…

The very term προοριζειν, ‘to predestinate,’ which the apostle more frequently uses on this subject, does not obscurely discover this truth. For as οριζειν signifies ‘to point out’ or ‘ordain’ a certain person [cites Acts 17:31; 10:42; Rom. 1:4]… so προοριζειν, as applied to the heirs of eternal life, must signify ‘to enroll,’ ‘to write down’ some certain persons as heirs in the eternal testament.”


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