For most of my life as a Christian I have attended various branches of the church that are aligned, to a greater or lesser degree, with the theological tradition known as, broadly speaking, “Reformed”. Therefore, I am a Calvinist, a predestinarian, absolute sovereignty of God affirming ‘Anglo Calvinist”. Just like Calvin, just like many Anglicans, and as it turns out just like Paul.
Interestingly enough though, as big as Calvin and Paul and others are on the absolute sovereignty of God, and election and foreknowledge and all the rest we (Paul, Calvin myself and many, many others) are limited in our understanding of these doctrines to just that; our understanding. In other words while I love how the doctrine of Divine Foreknowledge is formulated in the 39 Articles, I especially affirm the “Divine” part. Therefore, while I teach and preach in accordance with this doctrine I also understand that I am not privy to the secret councils of God. I am not, Calvin was not, nor was Paul.
Do you mean to say (our imaginary interlocutor asks) that in his ministry and his letters Paul had no certain knowledge of his audience election?
Well sort of.
To begin let me say that Paul is clear in his affirmation of election, foreordination, perseverance of the saints etc. However, it is also clear that Paul wrote to warn of the dangers of apostasy. The question is then how can Paul, on the one hand, affirm the perseverance of the saints, and on the other warn of apostasy?
The answer, as it turns out, is found in his understanding of the covenant. When Paul spoke and wrote to folks of the dangers of apostasy, he did so based on covenant. In others words when Paul wrote, “all those who have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ” he meant it, and it was from that viewpoint (the viewpoint of being in the covenant, or in Christ) that he operated. To put it in a concise fashion not all who are in the covenant are decretaly elect. We can though, like Paul, assume them to be as such as long as they remain connected to the visible manifestation of Christ body (the church), and so speak to them as elect. It s that simple.
But, what about those that commit apostasy? Well as no small number of theologians have noted you have to apostatize from something. Just as to be cut off, you have to cut off from something. Those who are elect from the foundation of the world will never do that, just as sure as those that apostatize have.