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A Short and Pithy Defence of the Doctrine of the Holy Election and Predestination of God
Gathered out of the first chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians
Addressed to a dear friend
By John Bradford
And treating briefly but most perfectly, godly, soundly, and pithily, of God's holy election, free grace, and mercy in Jesus Christ
A letter written to a dear friend of his, wherein he treats briefly, but most perfectly, godly, soundly, and pithily, of God's holy election, free grace, and mercy in Jesus Christ.
Dated October 22, 1554.
Faith in God's election, I mean, to believe that we are in very deed the children of God through Christ, and shall be for ever inheritors of everlasting life through the grace alone of God our Father in the same Christ, is of all things which God requires of us, not only the principal, but also the whole sum. So that without this faith there is nothing we do that can please God. And therefore God first requires it by saying, I am the Lord thy God &c., (Exod. xx.;) that is, I remit thy sins, and give thee my Holy Spirit, and I will keep thee for ever. And our Saviour would have us persuaded of this when we come to pray, and therefore teaches, yea, he commands us to call God our Father, whose power were not infinite, as we profess in the first article of our belief, where we expressly call him our Almighty Father, if we doubt his final favour. And therefore I cannot but marvel at some men, who seem to be godly, and yet are in this behalf too malicious both to God and man. For what is more seemly to God than mercy, which is most magnified by the elect children of God? And what is more seemly for man than humility, which is not and cannot be truly, except in the elect of God; for they alone reckon nothing at all due to themselves but damnation, that their whole glory may be in God, only and for ever. But notwithstanding this, there are those who have gone about together, to set abroad enormities from the doctrine of God's most holy and comfortable election and predestination, although that doctrine has more advantages than all the whole world are able to conceive, much less to express. For what destroys enormities so much as it does? It overthrows the most pestilent papistical poison, the doubting of God's favour, which is the very dungeon of despair and contempt of God. It destroys the heathenish opinion of fortune (or chance, editor). It comforts most comfortably under the cross and casts down all cogitations, which would else cover us with sorrow and grief, by telling us that all things shall turn for the best. (Rom. viii.) It makes us modest, and puts away pride in prosperity, by pulling from men the thought of their meriting or deserving. It forces men to love, and carefully to labour for their brethren, utterly preventing the despising of any. It excites to piety, and is the greatest enemy of ungodliness that can be, by teaching us of what dignity we are, of what value even our bodies are, as temples of the Holy Ghost and members of Christ. It causes a real desire for our home in heaven, and so leads us to despise this world, and the things which this world values. It makes man wholly and continually be careful not for himself but for others, and for the things which are for God's glory. It helps very much to the true understanding of the scriptures, and preserves from errors, by causing us to know what is to be attributed to the law, to the gospel, to the ministry, to the vocal word (the spoken word, editor), to them Old Testament, to the New Testament, to the sacraments, to faith, to works, to prayer, to penance, to God, to man, &c. For by the Spirit of election we see and know Christ, in whom dwells all the riches and treasures of knowledge. It sets up Christ's kingdom, and entirely overthrows the wisdom, power, choice, and ability of man, that all glory may be given to God alone.
But why do I try to reckon the advantages proceeding from the doctrine of God's election, for they are innumerable? This is the sum, that where a Christian man's life has respect to God, to man, and to himself, to live godly, justly, and soberly, all is grounded upon predestination in Christ. For who lives in a godly manner but he that believes? And who believes but such as are ordained to eternal life? (Acts xiii.) Who lives justly but such as love their neighbours? And whence springs this love but from God's election before the beginning of the world, that we might be blameless by love? Who lives soberly but such as are holy? And who are they but those alone who are endued with the spirit of sanctification, which is the seal of the election of us who believe? (Eph. i., 2 Cor. ii.)
Wherefore, my dearly beloved in the Lord, I have undertaken to write something to you and for your sake in this matter, which I have sent you herewith, as well to be a help to you therein, as also to be a pledge of my anxious love and hearty desire which I have for your continuance in the truth, (wherein I trust you stand at present,) when I am dead and burned, as I fully expect as soon as God shall give leave to his enemies, for my benefit and endless joy in Christ. To Him, as to a most faithful Pastor, from the bottom of my heart I commend and bequeath you, beseeching him to watch over you night and day as over one of his poor lambs, and to keep you out of the claws of the lion, and the mouth of the wolves, to his glory and your eternal joy and comfort in him. Amen.
There is neither virtue nor vice to be considered according to any outward action, nor according to the will and wisdom of man, but according to the will of God. Whatsoever is conformable thereto is virtue, and the action that springs thereof is laudable and good, however otherwise it appear to the eyes and reason of man, as was the lifting up of Abraham's hand to have slain his son. (Gen. xxii.) Whatever is not conformable to the will of God, is vice, and the action springing thereof is to be disallowed and taken for evil; and that so much the more and the greater evil, by how much it is not consonant and agreeing to God's will, although it seems far otherwise to man's wisdom, as was Peter's wish of making three tabernacles, (Matt. xvii.) and the request of some who would have had fire to have come down from heaven from a zeal to God, &c. (Luke ix.)
Now the will of God is only known as it is set forth in his word; therefore according to it must vice and virtue, good and be judged; and not according to the judgment, wisdom, reason, and collection of any man, or of the whole world, if all the angels in heaven should take their part.
But this word of God, which is written in the canonical books of the Bible, plainly sets forth unto us, that God has of his own mercy and good will, and to the praise of his grace and glory in Christ, elected some and not all, whom he has predestinated unto everlasting life in the same Christ; and in his time calls them, justifies them and glorifies them, so that they shall never perish and err to damnation finally.
Therefore to affirm, teach, and preach this doctrine has in it no hurt, no vice, no evil; much less then has it any enormity (as some affirm) to the eyes and spirit of them which are guided, and will be, by the word of God.
That God, the eternal Father of mercies, before the beginning of the world, has of his own mercy and good will, and to the praise of his grace and glory, elected in Christ some, and not all of the posterity of Adam, whom he has predestinated unto eternal life, and calls them in his time, justifies them, and glorifies them, so that they shall never perish or err to damnation finally; that this proposition is true, and according to God's plain and manifest word, by the help of his Holy Spirit which in the name of Jesus Christ I humbly beseech his mercy plenteously to give to me at this present and for every to the sanctification of his holy name; is what by the help. I say, of his Holy Spirit, I trust so evidently to declare, that no man of God shall be able by the word of God ever to impugn it, much less to confute it.
In the first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, they apostle says thus: "Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which has blessed us with all manner of blessings in heavenly things by Christ; according as he has elected or chosen us in him before the foundation of the world was laid, that we should be holy and without blame before him through love; and has predestinated us (or ordained us) through Jesus Christ, to be heirs unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherewith he has made us accepted in the Beloved, by whom we have received redemption through his blood, and the forgiveness of our eight, according to the riches of his grace. Which grace he has shed on us abundantly in all wisdom and understanding, and has opened unto us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in himself, to have it declared when the time was full come, that he might gather together all things by (or in) Christ, as well the things that are in heaven, as the things that are on earth, even in (or by) him. By (or in) whom we are made heirs, being thereto predestinated, according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the decree (or counsel) of his own will, that we which hoped before you in Christ, should be unto the praise of his glory; in whom ye also hoped after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; wherein ye also believing, were sealed with the holy Spirit of promise which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption (or full fruition) of the purchased possession unto the praise of his glory."
These are the words of Paul, which I have faithfully translated according to the very text in the Greek, as by the judgment of all that are learned, I desire to be tried out of which words of Paul we may well perceive everything affirmed in my proposition, as I will give occasion plainly to them that will to see it.
First, the apostle shows that the cause of God's election is of his good will, in saying, that it is through his love whereby we are holy and without blame, also 'according to the good pleasure of his will, according to his good pleasure purposed in himself, according to his purpose which works all things after the counsel of his own will.'
Secondly, the apostle plainly shows, that election was before the beginning of the world, in saying, that we were 'chosen before the foundation of the world' was laid; and afterwards in calling it 'the mystery of his will purposed with himself in time to be declared.'
Thirdly, the apostle so flatly and plainly sets forth that election is in Christ, that I need not here repeat it. 'We (says he) are chosen in him; we are heirs by him; we are accepted by him; we are gathered together in him,' &c.
Fourthly, that election is of some of Adam's posterity, and not of all; we may plainly see, if we consider, that he makes the true demonstration of it, believing, hoping, and having the earnest of the Spirit. 'In whom ye hoped (says he) after ye heard the word,' &c.; in whom ye believed, were sealed up, &c. Again, in attributing to the elect forgiveness of sins, holiness, blameless living, being in Christ, &c. 'That we should be holy, says he, &;c. we have received forgiveness of sin', &c. Who sees not that these are not common to all men? 'All men have not faith,' says Paul, 2 Thess. iii. 'None believed (says Luke) but such as were ordained to eternal life' (Acts xiii.;) none believe but such as 'are born of God;' (I John v.;) none believe truly but such as heave good hearts, and keep God's seed, to bring forth fruits by patience. (Matt. xiii.)
So that it is plain (faith being a demonstration of God's election to them that are of years of discretion) that all men are not elect, because all men believe not; for 'he that believes in the Lord, shall be as Mount Sion,' (Psalm cxxv.) that is, he shall never be removed; for if he be removed, that is, finally perish, surely he never truly believed. But why go I about to light a candle in the clear sun-light, when our Saviour plainly says that all are not chosen, but only few? 'Many are called, (says he, Matt. xx.) but few are chosen.' And in the second chapter to the Ephesians the apostle plainly says, that the great riches of God's mercies, through his exceeding great love has saved them, before their parents and many other Gentiles, which were excluded from Christ, and strangers from the promise, hopeless, godless, &c. Wherethrough we may be occasioned to cry, Oh! the depths of the judgments of God, (Rom. ii.) who is just in all his doings, and holy in all his works, extending his mercy after his good pleasure and will over all his works. (Psalm cxlv.)
Fifthly, that God has predestinated these, who are the elect unto everlasting life in Christ, the apostle also declares in the words before written, in saying, 'And has predestinated us through Jesus Christ to be heirs unto himself' Again, 'By him (says he) ye are made heirs, and predestinated to the praise of his glory.' So says the apostle, (Rom. viii.) 'Whom he has predestinated, them he has predestinated to be like fashioned unto the shape of his Son.' And Christ therefore says, 'Rejoice in this, your names are written in heaven.' (Luke x.)
Sixthly, that the end of election is to the praise of God's glory and grace, the apostle shows in saying, we are predestinated to be holy and without blame before God, &c.; in saying, we are predestinated to the glory of his grace', and in also, 'unto the praise of his glory, so that nothing can be more manifest.
Seventhly, that predestination is not without vocation in God's time, and justification, the apostle here teaches in bringing us to the consideration of hearing the word of truth, believing and receiving the Holy Spirit, remission of sins, &c. "In whom" (says he) "ye have hoped, after that ye heard the word of truth," &c. Again, "By whom ye have redemption, that is, remission of sins, through the shedding of his blood," &c. also "He has in his full time declared the mystery of his will," &c. Unto the Romans the apostle shows it most manifestly, in saying, 'whom he has predestinated, them he calls, whom he calls, them he justifies;' whereby we may see that predestination or election is not universal or of all, for all are not justified.
Eighthly, and last of all, the apostle here also very plainly shows, that election is so certain, that the elect and predestinate to eternal life shall never finally perish or err to damnation, in saying, that they are predestinate to the praise of God's grace. He says not, to the praise of his justice, to the praise of his wisdom, to the praise of his power, although he might most truly say so; but he says, 'to the praise of his grace,' which were not grace, if there were any respect at all of works on our behalf; for then were grace not grace. (Rom. xii.) If there should be any condemnation of the elect and predestinate to eternal life, it must needs be because of their sins; but where would be the praise of God's grace then, which is the end of God's election? Shall we not by this means make God's election without an end, and so without a head, and so no election at all, as some would have it further than they elect themselves? Let such fear they shall not find the benefit of God's election, because they seek it as the Israelites did, and not as the elect, which not only find it, but also obtain it. (Rom. xi.) The others are blinded, as it is written, God has given them the spirit of unquietness, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, even to this day, &c. (Psalm lxix.) Again, he shows the certainly of salvation to them that are elected in saying, that they are accepted in the Beloved, once accepted and beloved in Christ, and ever beloved; for whom he loves, he loves to the end. (John xiii.) And God's gifts are such that he cannot repent him of them, (Rom. xi.;) and therefore, says Christ, "I know whom I have chosen," attributing to election the cause of final perseverance. By which Judas was seen not to be elected to eternal life, although he was elected to the office of an apostle, as Saul was elected to the office of a king: which kind of election is to be discerned (distinguished, editor) in reading the scriptures, from this kind of election which I speak of now, that is, from election to eternal life in Christ. Thirdly, he shows the certainty of the salvation of the elect, by calling them heirs. For if we are heirs of God, then are we fellow-heirs with Christ, to be afflicted and glorified with Christ, (Rom. viii.;) and therefore says he, 'according to the decree of his own will.' Lo! he calls it a decree or counsel, Which shall stand; as Isaiah says, 'the counsel of the Lord shall stand.' (Isa. xlvi.) Fourthly, he shows this certainty, by saying, that 'they are elect and predestinated to the praise of God's glory, which we should more care for, than for the salvation of all the world.' This glory of the Lord is set forth, as well in them that perish, and are reprobates, as in the elect: and therefore St. John, bringing in the place of Isaiah, speaking of the reprobate, says, (John xli.) that Isaiah spoke that when he saw the glory of the Lord. This glory of the Lord to be set forth by us, is a great mercy and benefit of God: I am assured, that if the very devils and reprobates did not repine hereat, but were thankful that they might be ministers in any point to set forth God's glory; I am assured (I say) that they should find no hell nor torments: their hell and torments come of the love they have to themselves, and of the malice, envy, and hatred them have against God and his glory. Let them tremble and fear, that may not away with (who cannot endure, editor) the glory of the Lord, in election and reprobation.
Let not their eyes be evil, because God is good, and does good to whom it pleases him. (Rom. ix.) He does wrong to no man, nor can do, for then he were not righteous, and so no God. He cannot condemn the just, for then were he untrue, because his word is contrary; he cannot condemn the penitent and believer, for that were against his promise. Let us, therefore, labour, study, cry, and pray for repentance and faith; and then we cannot be damned, because we are the blessed of the Father before all worlds; and therefore we believe, therefore we repent. (Matt. xxv.) And forasmuch as it pertains to us who are within, to see and to speak of those things which are given unto us of God in Christ, (1 Cor. ii.,) let us labour hereabouts, and leave them that are without to the Lord, who will judge them in his time. (1 Cor. v.) The apostle prayed for the Ephesians, for no other wisdom and revelation from God than that whereby they might know God, (Eph. i.) and have their minds illuminated to see what they should hope for by their vocation, and how rich the glory of his inheritance is in his saints. Further than this I think it unseemly for us to search, until we have sought out how rich God's goodness is, and will be to us his children which we can never do fully; but the more we go thereabout, and the more we taste his goodness, the more we shall love him, and loath all things that displease him. This, I say, let us do, and not be too busy in searching the majesty and glory of God, or in nourishing in anywise the doubting of our salvation, whereunto we are ready enough, and the devil goes about nothing else so much as that; for by it we are dull to do good to others, we are so careful for ourselves. By it we are more dull to do good to ourselves, because we stand in doubt whether it profits us or not; by it we dishonour God, either in making him as though he were not true, or else as though our salvation came not only and altogether from him, but hanged partly on ourselves; by it the devil will bring men at length to despair and hatred of God. Doubt once of the salvation, and continue to do so, and surely he will ask no more. It was the first thing wherewith he tempted Christ: "If thou be the Son of God, &c. (Matt. iv.) It is the first and principal dart that he casts at God's elect; but as he prevailed not against Christ, no more shall he prevail against any of his members, for they have the shield of faith, which quenches his fiery darts. (Eph. vi.) They praise God night and day, (Luke xviii.;) how then should they perish? The angels of the Lord pitch their tents round about them, (Ps. xxxiv.,) how then should Satan prevail. They are borne in the hands of the angels, lest they should hurt their feet at any stone; God has given commandment to his angels over them, (Ps. xci.;) the angels are ministers unto them, (Heb. i.;) their names are written in the book of life, and therefore Christ bade them rejoice, (Luke x.,) as Paul does the Philippians, in the fourth chapter, for nothing shall separate them from the love wherewith God loves them in Christ Jesus, (Rom. viii.,) who says, that it is impossible for them to err finally to damnation, (Matt. xxiv.,) for he is their light to illumine their darkness, (Ps. xviii.;) they are given to him to keep, and he is faithful over all God's children. He says he will keep them so that they shall never perish. (John vi. x.) After they believe, they are entered already into everlasting life, (Heb. iii.,) Christ has set them there already, (John v. vi.;) he has committed them into his Father's hand by prayer, which we know is sure, (John xvii. Heb. v.;) and therefore neither death, hell, devils, nor all power, sins, nor mischief, shall ever pull us out of our Head's hands, (Rom. viii., John x.,) whose members we are; and therefore receiving of his Spirit, as we do, we cannot but bring forth the fruits thereof, though now and then the flesh fail us. But the Lord, even our Lord, be praised, who is stronger in us than he which is in the world. (1 John iv.) He always puts under his hand, that we lie not still as the reprobates, whose piety is as the morning dew, (Hosea vi.,) soon come, and soon gone, and therefore they cannot continue to the end. Cannot! no, they will not if they could, because they hate God and his glory, and therefore hate all them that seek it and set it forth; whereas the elect love all men, and seek to do all men good in God, suspending their judgments of others, that they may stand or fall to the Lord, and not to them, (Rom. xiv.)
If the matter of election and predestination be so fully set forth to God's glory, and to the comfort of his church out of this one place of Paul to the Ephesians, how may we suppose this matter is set forth in the whole body and books of the canonical Scripture, whereto I had rather send thee, good reader, with this candle-light which I have now given thee, than in a matter so manifest make more ado than needs,
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