Monday, June 26, 2006

3. The Biblical Doctrine of Election emphasises Union with Christ

While Karl Barth draws entirely false conclusions from Scripture's teaching that election is in Christ, we must not allow this error to detract from this glorious aspect of the doctrine and it is worth dwelling upon the positive side of this truth. Election in Scripture is not an impersonal,
fatalistic form of predestination such as Muslims profess, it is uniquely Christ-centred. As William Perkins put it, "to dreame of any election out of him, is against all sense". Election is in Christ and through Christ.

This is clearly expressed in the Canons of Dordt: "From eternity He has also appointed Christ to be the Mediator and Head of all the elect and the foundation of their salvation." (I.7). The Father first chose Christ to the office of Mediator, and so He is called God's elect, Isa. 42:1. Since the elect were chosen in Christ, it necessarily follows that He was first chosen. Therefore they were predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son as the "first-born among many brethren" Rom. 8:29. Thomas Goodwin expresses this quaintly: "In the womb of election He, the Head, came out first, and then we, the members".

The Lord Jesus Christ was not, as it were, an after thought in relation to election, or simply the means to make the decree of election effectual. AW Pink asserts that Christ was predestinated for higher ends than simply the saving of His people. As the God-Man he was chosen for God Himself to delight in, so that God might behold all His perfections in union with a creature. Being united to the second person of the Godhead, the man Christ Jesus was exalted to a closer union and communion with God than any other so that the Lord speaks of Him as "the man that is my fellow" (Zech. 13:7), and "mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth" (Isa. 42:1).

Calvin referred to Christ as the mirror of our election in two important senses. First, from God's point of view "he must have first looked on our Lord Jesus Christ before he could choose and call us" (Sermons on Ephesians 33). This reflects that Christ was chosen first in order of nature but does not mean that Christ or his merits are the ground or conditions of election. The merits of Christ are the effects and not the causes of election. It was God's free love that sent Christ and therefore he could not be the cause of electing love. It has been well said that election does not find men in Christ, but puts them there.

Second, Calvin says that from our point of view Christ "is the mirror on which we must cast our eyes and look, when we desire to come to the knowledge of our election (Sermons on Ephesians 48)". We are to come to Christ "To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:4-5). We must go to Christ before we seek to be sure of our personal election. It is a grievous error to instruct seekers to be sure of their election before they close in with Christ or instead of closing in with Christ. We must be sure to be in Christ before we can hope to be sure of our election.

2. The Biblical Doctrine of Election is Ungeneralised

There have been various attempts to generalise election - many subterfuges to avoid what Scripture makes clear. Some have spoken of two kinds of election one election to faith (non-effectual) and another to salvation (effectual). Others have tried to say that election to glory is simply a general decree about salvation but there are no general and uncertain decrees only what Acts 2:23 calls the determinate counsel of God. Some have tried to teach that only the act of faith in the abstract was elected, but Scripture only speaks of people as the objects of election.

Then there is the view that God was not choosing some and rejecting others but merely "desiring" something in regard to sinners without being the cause of it. The Free Church of Scotland Declaratory Act of 1892 replaced the Westminster Confession's teaching on predestination by simply stating a vague conviction in: "the divine purpose of grace toward those who are saved". The liberal theologian Karl Barth taught yet another variation, that all men who have lived or will live were elected in Christ.

In contrast to all this error we must assert from the Bible that election is individual, personal, specific, and particular. God has made a distinction between some men and others. "Many be called, but few chosen" (Mat. 20:16); the apostle Paul (Rom. 11:7) distinguishes between "the election" and "the rest". Rom. 9 shows that there was personal election unto salvation within
the external election of Israel, "they are not all Israel who are of Israel" (9:6, 8). The names of the elect are said to be written in the book of life, while others are expressly said not to be written there, Rev. 17:8. They are a number which no man can number but are nevertheless known unto God.

The words used in the original Greek and Hebrew for election are personal, individual and particular. The main OT word for election bahar, expresses the idea of deliberately selecting someone or something after carefully considering the alternatives. The word implies a decided preference for, sometimes positive pleasure in, the object chosen. The OT also uses the
verb to know in the sense of love in relation to election e.g. Amos 3:2. When the NT speaks of foreknowledge it usually therefore means those who were foreloved. The NT always uses the verb to choose eklego in the middle voice, with a reflexive sense i.e. to 'choose out for oneself'.

The Canons of Dordt make it clear that "not all men are elect but that certain ones have not been elected" (I.15) and that the elect "a certain number of specific men" (I.7). The Westminster Confession refers to those predestined as "particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished" (III.4.).

Monday, June 19, 2006

1. The Biblical Doctrine of Election is Undeniable

Scripture teaches election to everlasting life for individuals as distinguished from the external election of nations such as Israel under the Old Testament. It is said that there is no book in the Bible where election is not expressly stated, clearly implied or at least illustrated. It is not
therefore a marginal topic in Scripture, indeed the words "elected" and "chosen" in one of their forms are used well over one hundred times. Various other expressions are used to describe election, such as: 'purpose', 'foreknowledge', 'predestination', 'obtaining salvation', 'being ordained to eternal life', and 'being written in the book of life'.

Besides being undeniably stated in Scripture, it is also indisputably a work of God alone. We read of 'your election of God' (1 Thess. 1:4). 'He hath chosen us' (Eph. 1:4); He hath appointed us 'to obtain salvation' (1 Th. 5:9). Those chosen are called “His own elect” (Luke 18:7). Moreover, the Greek word for predestinate prohoriz┼Ź, is only ever used with God as subject.

It is also undeniable that election is accomplished in eternity. “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4); “According to the eternal purpose which He purposed” (Eph. 3:11); “. . . according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9).

Every Christian must therefore believe in a divine and eternal election or deny the very plainest expressions of Scripture. The puritan Christopher Love usefully defines election as “an act of God, whereby, from all eternity, He purposes within Himself, of His own pleasure and will, to bring a certain number of men unto salvation by Jesus Christ”. We have seen that it is an eternal act of God alone but there are further aspects of election to establish from this definition, viz. that election is solely of God's own pleasure and will, and that it is not generalised but concerns “a certain number of men”.

Friday, June 09, 2006

unconditional election: introduction

While all of the truths of the Word of God require a reverent and careful handling, the mysterious but glorious doctrine of predestination is one that demands the utmost care in our dealing with it. The Westminster Confession counsels that: “The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care”. We must have the right attitude towards election, as the Puritan Anthony Burgess wisely notes: “This truth may be handled either sinfully or profitably; sinfully as when it is treated only to satisfy curiosity, and to keep up a mere barren speculative dispute.... This point of election... is not to be agitated in a verbal and contentious way, but in a saving way, to make us tremble and to set us upon a more diligent and close striving with God in prayer, and all other duties”. Our first priority is to make sure of our salvation in Christ, only then can we truly appreciate election. You and I may have an interest in the doctrines of grace but what is that if we do not have the grace of the doctrines? We must all confess our need of a closer acquaintance believingly and experientially with this high and holy doctrine of God's sovereign grace. May the Most High enable us by His Spirit and grant to us true humility in seeking to consider this precious truth out of His Word.

In considering unconditional election, it is important to begin by defining accurately the full character of the biblical doctrine of election. The Arminian doctrine of election errs by denying that it is unconditional but it is just as possible to err fundamentally on other aspects of the doctrine of election even while holding to an unconditional election. I will seek therefore to establish briefly these aspects under 4 headings, and then to deal with unconditional election, its objections and implications in more depth under 4 separate headings. Since the letter U is significant for election as part of the TULIP acronym each of the headings begins with this letter.

1. Firstly I want us to notice that The Biblical doctrine of Election is Undeniable. However we interpret it, we cannot avoid the fact that it is there in the Bible.
2. My second heading is that The Biblical doctrine of Election is Ungeneralised. Some try to generalise away the particularity of election but Scripture teaches that there are a definite number only that are the objects of electing grace.
3. Then in the third place we will consider that The Biblical doctrine of Election emphasises Union with Christ. Christ is the focus of election and not simply the means to bring it into effect.
4. Fourthly, The Biblical doctrine of Election is Unchangeable. Nothing can change God's purpose in election.
5. Then we consider the crux of the The Biblical doctrine of Election – that it is Unconditional. Nothing outside of God can be regarded as the basis for election.
6. Sixthly, The Biblical doctrine of Election is Unsearchable. We must accept that it is mysterious and we cannot exhaustively fathom its depths.
7. The Biblical doctrine of Election is Unchallengable – there are many objections against this doctrine but none can be sustained when considered in the light of truth.
8. And Lastly, the Biblical doctrine of Election is Useful. It is full of spiritual profit for the Christian.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Glory of Christ's Sufferings

The Scriptures speak of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ as the depth of His humiliation (Phil. 2:8) and a cross of shame that He endured (Heb. 12:2). Yet He could say for Himself “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.” (Jn 12:23). “Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” (Jn. 13:31). “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee” (Jn. 17:1).

The Lord Jesus Christ was showing himself to be the suffering Servant in whom the Father would be glorified (Is. 49:3). He that was called from the womb to be the Servant of the LORD, to bring Jacob again to Himself, though Israel would “be not gathered” but reject Him most cruelly and sinfully – yet would He be “glorious in the eyes of the LORD” (Is. 49:5). Few but the LORD saw Him as glorious in His sufferings. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:3). “All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head” (Ps. 22:7). Even the Father forsook Him with the Heaven of His felt presence so that He had to cry “hide not thy face from thy servant” (Ps. 69:17). Yet the exceeding poverty of Christ would be the riches of His people; His rejection of the Jews would be the riches of the Gentiles in whom He would be glorified as light unto them in their darkness (Is. 49:6; Jn. 12:22-23). “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him” (Acts 3:13).

The Lord Jesus Christ was troubled exceedingly at the thought of His sufferings (Jn. 12:27-29). Yet His desire is for the glory of the Father in it. There is a sense in which the glory which should follow the sufferings of Christ broke in upon the deep night of soul suffering that He experienced in prospect of His soul being made an offering for sin. The dark clouds of the wrath of God were gold-edged with glorifying His Justice, Mercy, Love and Holiness. His Holiness was glorified by sin being removed, the Justice of God was glorified when it was vindicated in the full execution of the punishment due to the sin of His people. His Wisdom found a way to satisfy Justice and Mercy together and His Faithfulness to His promises was magnified. The Love of God was glorified in effectually securing its objects. If by the deliverance from Egypt at the Red Sea, the LORD was become glorious in power and holiness (Ex. 15:6&11), how much more in the exodus that Christ accomplished at Calvary? Of this work of redemption it can be truly and preeminently said: “His work is honourable and glorious”. “He hath shewed his people the power of his works” “He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.” “The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein” (Ps. 111:2-6).

When the Lord Jesus Christ cried out “It is Finished” He was offering glory to God. “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorifythou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (Jn. 17:4-5). Thus He gave Himself “for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour” (Eph. 5:2). The glory of the LORD dwelt between the cherubim over the mercy-seat, and so it was that from this place of atonement that the glory of God shone forth (Ps. 80:1).

The glory of Christ was made great in this salvation (Ps. 21:5). Not only for the sufferings of death but even by the sufferings of death was He crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:9 margin). He was made perfect through sufferings (Heb. 2:10). He was glorified in His soul immediately and straightway (Jn. 13:32), this was in His sufferings but also as His human soul did at His death pass immediately into glory and as His body was raised up in glory at His resurrection on the third day.

Though it was the depth of Christ's humiliation when His heel was wounded, yet it was His greatest glory on the earth when He crushed the head of the old serpent (I Jn. 3:8; Heb 2:14). If David got himself a name in smiting the Syrians (2 Sam. 8:13-14), how much more did the Lord Jesus Christ in the day of His battle get that name which is above every name (Phil. 2:8-9)? Is not Christ “glorious in His apparel”, red with the blood of His enemies (Gen. 49:11), “travelling in the greatness of His strength” (Is. 63:1)? He would come victorious, leading Captivity captive as the King of glory. “Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle” (Ps. 24:7). Since these things are so, our resolve must be “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:8).