Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Emil Brunner is one of the great systematic theologians of the early twentieth century. Our Faith was translated by John W. Rilling, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1954. This book prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 7: Eternal Election
Our life is "superficial" without depth or meaning so long as it does not have its roots in eternity. Either it has eternal significance or it has no significance at all. Temporal sense is nonsense. The Bible permits us to see this eternal depth: "thine eyes did see my substance yet being unperfect, and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them." We do not just happen to exist. Although we were begotten and born of our parents, we come from eternity, from the eternal thought and will of God. Before anything comes into existence it has been thought and willed by God, as the work of art is in the mind of the master before it is put on canvas or paper, or in stone. Deep, deep are the roots of our life. Far beyond all temporal visibility it roots in the divine invisibility, in the eternal "counsels."
It was something profound when this God-rooted quality of life was revealed to the author of the 139th Psalm. But we feel even the Psalmist had intimations given of a destiny as deep as his revealed origin. That God's eye saw us in eternity, signifies not only an eternal origin; it signifies an eternal destiny.
When God "beholds" a man, it is written. He looks upon him graciously. His face is against the man with whom He is angry. When a man is permitted to perceive that God sees him from eternity, when the eternally beholding eyes of God rest upon him and his view meets God's eternal vision, the greatest thing that can happen on earth transpires. A man then knows that God loves him from eternity and for eternity. God has- chosen me from eternity to eternity. That is the faith, the full, whole evangelical faith -- election from eternity. Such a man knows that he is saved without his effort, out of this evil world and age, out of the depravity of sin and death. It is God's grace alone. His mercy, His boundless love, His election alone is the basis of my salvation. That is a Christian's greatest joy. When the disciples returned to Jesus from their first independent missionary journey and enthusiastically reported how much they had been able to do by God's power, the Lord replied: Rejoice not that the spirits are subject to you, rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven! When a man knows that his name is written in the Book of Life, in the Book of Election, he knows whence comes the peace that passes all understanding. He has then climbed the highest mountain of faith, and there remains then in this life nothing higher than the preservation and the operation of this greatest, most glorious discernment.
This discernment, however, is not given to any one for the purpose of constructing theories or speculations on how it now stands with others. You are elected, and with you every one is elected who believes; every one is elected who has truthfully spoken the "yes" of decision for Christ. The elect in themselves are only "them that believe." And believers are those who in their hearts "have become obedient to the Word of God." Election dawns upon no one except in the full, independent, obedient and trustworthy decision of faith. It is to those, who have served the Lord by serving the least of this world, that the Lord speaks in the last Judgment "come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34). Election and obedience, election and personal decision of faith belong inseparably together in the Bible. One cannot play election off against decision, nor personal decision against election, tempting though that be to reason. Reason must bow here, yet dare not abdicate. How the two can be reconciled, the free eternal election of God and the responsible decision of man is a problem we cannot understand. But every believer knows they are compatible. "He came to his own -- and his own received him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." Without faith Christ means nothing to us; without Christ there is no faith. Which is more important -- light or vision? Stupid question! Vision and light belong together. Therefore, believe, and you will perceive that you are elected.
This is the message of the Scripture. But of double predestination -- that God has chosen one from eternity for eternal life and has rejected the other from eternity to eternal damnation, there is no word to be found in the Holy Scripture. One can scarcely avoid drawing this conclusion from the teachings of the Scripture. Logic always misleads in that direction. But the Scripture itself does not do it, nor should we. We should leave the Scripture as it is, unsystematic, in all its parts; other- wise we pervert its message. The Scripture teaches a divine predestination of election; it also teaches the judgment of the unbelieving. It teaches, too, that nothing happens without God's will, but it never teaches — let me repeat it -- even in one single word -- a divine predestination of rejection. This fearful teaching is opposed to the Scripture, while the doctrine of eternal election is not only according to the Scripture, but truly the center of the Holy Scripture, the heart of the Gospel reason cannot fathom this. That is always reason's fate with the Word of God. The dogma of Double Predestination is a product of human logic which can- not withstand the a-logical teaching of the Scripture. Let us rejoice in our eternal election, let us be wary of defection! Let us say with Paul: "We who are saved," and let us be warned of him: "He that standeth let him take heed lest he fall," for he cannot then escape the Judgment. The life of the Christian, like a door hung upon two hinges, must swing upon this promise -- and this warning. If it slips out of the one or the other it ceases to swing true.