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Anglicanism Explored: On Predestination

Anglicanism Explored: On Predestination

By The Revd Dr Mark Pickles

Popular evangelicalism is awash with “Arminianism”.  (Arminianism denies the doctrine of predestination claiming that although human beings are sinful they do have the ability to respond to the gospel, it denies the “doctrine of irresistible grace of God” claiming that the will has the freedom to choose or reject Christ.)  Not only does Anglicanism unashamedly hold to the doctrine of predestination, its articulation of this doctrine in the Thirty-nine Articles is a superbly clear and pastorally sensitive explanation of this truth.  

Article XVII:

“Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God whereby  he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour.  Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling, they be justified freely, they be made sons of God by adoption, they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, they walk religiously in good works and at length by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity …the godly consideration and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable comfort to godly persons …because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God”.

This is not an embarrassed or hesitant proclamation of Predestination, rather it commends it as “sweet” and “pleasant” noting that its effect rightly grasped is to kindle a fervent love and comforting assurance to God’s people.  However, as wonderful as that truth is, anyone who has any experience of pastoral ministry, is also well aware that even amongst committed Christians this truth can lead to much disquiet.  What about those who are not Christians?  What about loved ones who have not yet come to Christ?  Furthermore, for those exploring the faith it can also prove to be a huge stumbling block.  What is the point of trying to understand the gospel or of seeking God, if He has not chosen you then there is nothing you can do about it?

Article XVII continues, “for curious and carnal persons lacking the Spirit of Christ to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination is a most dangerous downfall whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation”.

In other words, this is not a doctrine to preach and hold before those who are not Christians, it is rather a doctrine to expound as a means of assurance and comfort for professing Christians.  Those who have not yet come to Christ need to have the gospel offer of salvation and the invitation of Christ to come to him, preached to them.  

There is much wisdom, pastoral sensitivity and graciousness to be found here, typical of historic Anglicanism’s beautiful combination of doctrinal, biblical clarity and faithfulness combined with graciousness, generosity, and sensitivity.

The Revd Dr Mark Pickles serves as the Director for the North West Partnership in Chester.  Previously, he served as the Director of Anglican Training at Oak Hill.  This excerpt is from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism, pages 26-27.  Used with the author’s permission.