Catechetical sermons preached in PCC Evening Worship Services, Feb 2013 to Dec 2017
WSC 20a of 107
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.Ephesians 1:3-6
WSC 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life,1 did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.21 Eph 1:4; 2 Rom 3:20-22; Gal 3:21,22
We have been working our way slowly through the doctrine of our Shorter Catechism. We considered previously what the apostle Paul has to say about the effects of the Fall from Ephesians 2. We saw that because of the Fall, all mankind descending from Adam by ordinary generation are credited with Adam’s guilt and inherited his sin nature. From this original sin proceeds all actual sins. Man is as wicked as can be in principle. Of course, in practice, we are not as wicked as can be because of our instinct of self-preservation. Nevertheless, because of our guilt and sin, we are children of God’s wrath by nature, and so, made liable to all miseries of this life, to death itself and to the pains of hell forever.
We cannot save ourselves because all our righteous deeds are filthy rags in the sight of God. We cannot pay for our sins, nor can we win a place in heaven by good works. What hope, then, do we have? The answer is found in the next question of our Shorter Catechism.
WSC 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery? A. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a redeemer.
This is a beautiful declaration that brings together a few crucial verities. It presents the doctrine of election, highlights the covenant of grace, and introduces the Redeemer.
In our present study, we want to consider the doctrine of election captured in the phrase, “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life.”
Much of these words are taken from Ephesians 1:3-6, our sermon text.
These words are part of a long sentence stretching to verse 14. It is one sentence because the apostle Paul’s heart is, I believe, filled to overflowing as he wrote it. The words were bursting out of his heart. So when they came out, they flowed like a mighty torrent.
We may liken this passage to a grand and majestic waterfall. We may name this great waterfall “God’s Sovereignty in our Salvation” or “God’s ultimate purpose in Christ.”
Most waterfalls have only one level. Some have two levels, like Yosemite Falls in the Sierra Nevada. But this one has three levels. It has an upper fall, middle fall and lower fall.
It is really one waterfall because the water of truth flows from the upper fall to the middle to the lower fall. So, from afar, it is one great waterfall with three levels. The upper fall is described in verses 3-6. We may call it “Election by the Father.” The middle fall is described in verses 7-12. We may name it “Atonement by the Son.” Finally, the lower fall is described in verses 13-14. We may call it “Sealing by the Spirit.”
We will only be looking at the Upper Falls for our present purpose.
To study this waterfall, we must examine the great rocks over which the water of truth flows. And there are six great rocks at this upper fall.
- The first rock, which we may name “Author,” reminds us that God the Father is the source of all spiritual blessings, which he bestows through Christ.
- The second rock, “Time,” teaches that God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
- The third rock informs what the purpose of our election is. We may call it “Purpose.”
- The fourth rock, “Plan,” tells us that God has planned to bring to pass his purpose for us.
- The fifth rock may be named “Basis.” It reveals the reason underlying God’s choice of us.
- The sixth rock is “Goal.” We see in it the goal of what the Lord did and is doing for us.
1. The Author of Election
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4a According as he hath chosen us in Him.v. 3-4a
Our election is the beginning and source of all the spiritual blessings that the saints in Christ enjoy. To elect is to choose (v. 4). “He hath chosen us in Him,” says Paul. We are saved only because we have been chosen or elected in Christ.
But who is He who elected us? Who is the author of our election? The author, according to Paul, is God the Father. He calls Him the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because the Lord Jesus Christ is the God-Man. He is fully God and fully man. As man, the Father is God to him. As God, He is the eternally begotten son of the Father.
God the Father is the first person of the Godhead. He represents God Triune. He is the source of all spiritual blessings that all united to Christ enjoy. The heavens belong to Him, and all the blessings of heaven come from His hand.
He dispenses these blessings to all who are united to Christ. He begins this great act of blessing by choosing whom He will bless.
He would not bless everyone. He would not love everyone, or everyone would be saved. He would bless only those whom He elected. He will not have mercy on everyone. He will only have mercy on whom He would have mercy (Rom 9:15). These are those who he has foreknown or marked out to love in election.
But when did this election take place? Let’s look at the second rock.
2. The Time of Election
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.v. 4a
God’s act of election took place before the foundation of the world. We may say it was before time began. Time began with creation. Before creation, there was no change. Therefore, there was no time. There was eternity. It was ‘then’ that God conceived of having a body of rational creatures created in His own image to enjoy fellowship with Him. It was ‘then’ He chose us and all His sons and daughters who ever lived and will ever live.
God is perfect in His knowledge. He knew everything about us before He even created the world. He knew all things because all things would come to pass according to His sovereign will. So He knew your name. He knew what kind of person you would be, what kind of family you would come from, what kind of background you would have. He knew when you would first hear the gospel, and when and how you would become a believer.
He knew everything about you because He planned everything about you before the foundation of the world. And He has been sovereignly bringing to pass everything He has planned for you.
But why did He elect us?
3. The Purpose of Election
…that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.v. 4b
He elected us so we might be holy and without blame before Him in love. For many years I have followed Henriksen and other modern commentators and read the words “in love” as qualifying the following verb, “having predestinated.” But upon further study, I think John Calvin, Charles Hodge and our translation are right.
God has elected us that we might be holy, set apart unto Him, and blameless as we enjoy a relationship of love with Him.
Man’s chief end is to glorify and enjoy God. To enjoy God is to love Him and to enjoy His love.
But God is holy, and therefore those who continue to walk in sin cannot enjoy His love. The apostle John puts it this way:
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.1 Jn 1:5-6
So that we might enjoy his love, God appointed that we should be holy and blameless. What does it mean by holy and blameless? I believe Paul is referring both to a perfectly holy and blameless standing in justification, as well as a relatively holy and blameless life in sanctification. In other words, God has chosen us to be recipients of His righteousness, both imputed and infused. This corresponds to the two parts of our original sin: our imputed guilt and our inherited sin nature. God has appointed us to wear the garment of the righteousness of Christ and to be indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, who makes us holy from within.
All these are so that we may enjoy His love. This is the purpose of election.
But how does God carry out this purpose? What is God’s plan for the elect? Consider the fourth rock of the waterfall.
4. The Plan of Election
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.v. 5
God would carry out His purpose of our election by predestining us unto the adoption of children.
What is the difference between election and predestination? To elect is to choose or to mark out beforehand. To predestinate is to determine the destiny of a person.
Election is God choosing a person to be saved. Predestination is God ordering the life of the person in such a way that he is saved. In election, our names are entered into the guest list of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. In predestination, the servants of the King are instructed in minute details about how and when we are to be brought to the supper.
Paul tells us that we are “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.” This means that God has not only elected us to salvation, but He has also foreordained and arranged our lives in such a way that we are led through the work of Christ to be adopted into His family. We must be brought to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb not as mere guests, but as the brothers and sisters of the Groom.
In other words, God has, from all eternity, determined whom He would have to be His sons and daughters. And He ordained that these would be born and live like orphans, like the prodigal son. But He would so order their lives that they eventually come to hear the gospel and be given the grace to believe in Christ and be adopted into His family.
This is what our election and predestination are all about.
But why did He choose us? In his sermon on predestination, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, insists that God chose those He knew would believe. “God, looking on all ages, from the creation to the consummation, as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all the children of men, knows everyone that does or does not believe,” he says.
Some years ago, I was teaching the doctrine of election to an adult Bible study class in California when a young lady stood up and politely told the class that she disagreed with what I was saying. She said she was sure she was a Christian because God saw that she was a “good girl” and foresaw that she would be a good Christian.
Is this what election is about? Does God elect based on His foreknowledge of how good we would be? If that is the case, then perhaps there is some truth to the illustration that some people use to describe election: “There is an election going on,” they say. “God’s got one vote; the devil’s got one vote, and now you must cast the deciding vote.”
But no, this is so far from the truth that it may be regarded as heresy. We were, after all, dead in sin and trespasses. There is no way we could have believed, except God elected us and gave us faith in the first place!
So what does Paul say is the basis of election? Let’s look at the fifth rock.
5. The Basis of Election
…according to the good pleasure of his will.v. 5b
Simply stated, God chooses us entirely based on His good pleasure, not what He foresaw about the individual.
During the early days of the Reformation, there were two great scholars. One was Martin Luther. The other was Desiderius Erasmus. Luther spoke highly of Erasmus and tried to persuade him to join the Protestant cause. But Erasmus would not. Eventually, the differences in the theological understanding of both men began to emerge.
One of the main differences, it turned out, was what God’s election and foreknowledge meant. Erasmus believed that God’s foreknowing of all things means that He saw all things before they happened. Luther disagreed. He believed that God foreknew all things because He foreordained all things, and so inevitably, He knows all things.
Who is correct? Luther was indeed correct! If God is sovereign, as the Scripture teaches us, then it must mean that all things happen according to His plan. The prophet Isaiah brings this truth out very clearly in Isaiah 46:9-11. Here, the Lord declares:
I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 …I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
God brings to pass His plan in every minute detail. He does not only know what will happen. He sees to it that it happens. This is especially so in the case of the salvation of His elect. According to Paul, they are predestinated unto adoption according to God’s good pleasure and will.
Left to ourselves, we can never come to a saving knowledge of God. We were dead in sin and trespasses, as we saw in Ephesians 2. And all our righteousnesses are by nature filthy rags in God’s sight, as Isaiah puts it. The only way we can be saved is by God’s election and predestination, and sovereign outworking of His plan of salvation in our lives.
By this sovereign power of God, He leads us to hear the gospel, and He changes our hearts through His Spirit. Or, to put it another way, He plants spiritual ears and eyes into our souls. We are made to see our guilt and helplessness on the one hand and the loveliness and sufficiency of Christ on the other hand. Then by faith, which is wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, we are made to believe in the Lord for our salvation. And thus, we are justified by grace through faith, and His Spirit indwells us and makes us the sons and daughters of God.
But why? Why does God want to make us—unworthy, unlovely sinners—His sons and daughters?
6. The Goal of Election
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.v.6
That is to say, ultimately, the goal of our election is that we might be vessels of God’s glory, trophies of His redeeming grace. By this grace, He has made us, who are unworthy and unlovely creatures, accepted as His sons and daughters, for the sake of His beloved Son.
In other words, we are redeemed so that we might be living epistles of God’s grace. This is to be so today, and it is to be so in eternity.
God elected and redeemed us so that today we may live and behave ourselves in such a way that our lives testify of and magnify God’s grace.
God elected and redeemed us also so that we would bear witness to God’s grace and wisdom in His great work of redemption for all eternity.
We must conclude. In this sermon, we studied how God the Father elected us unto salvation. We saw the author, time, purpose, plan, basis, and goal of election.
In this way, I hope we gained some insights into what our catechism, question 20, says when it speaks of “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life.”
But how should we respond to this doctrine?
As usual, allow me to address three groups of people: first, I will address those who know that they are among the some who are elected. Secondly, I will address those who are not sure. Thirdly, I will address those who do not care.
a. First, let me address you if you know you are among the some. God elected some to everlasting life. Now, we don’t know who is elected and who is not. But if you profess to be a believer, you effectively acknowledge that you are amongst the some.
You can’t be sure of your salvation, and at the same time, wonder if you are amongst the some. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, love Him, and seek to obey His commandment, you can be sure of your salvation and be sure you are amongst the some.
If you are among the some, then may I urge three virtues upon you. Cultivate these things by praying and meditating on Christ, your covenant head.
First, cultivate humility and seek to walk humbly before the Lord. No one who understands the doctrine of election can be proud like the Pharisees. If you understand election, you will understand that you did not deserve to be saved. Even your faith is entirely a gift of God. You were a wicked child of wrath, dead in sin and trespasses as others. So whenever you are offended or hurt by someone, seek to respond meekly by meditating on how Christ prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Secondly, cultivate love. Seek to walk lovingly and gratefully before the Lord. You were chosen in Christ so that you might walk before Him in love. Love the Lord as one who is forgiven. The Lord says concerning the woman who washed his feet with her tears: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Lk 7:47). Therefore since you know what you deserve and what God gave you instead, seek to walk in love and gratitude towards Him. Seek to lay down your life for Him and His kingdom in everything you do. Seek to do good works out of love and gratitude towards God.
Thirdly, may I urge you to cultivate holiness as Christ is holy. You have also been chosen to be holy and blameless before God. God has set you apart from the world, and quickened you, and equipped you with the ability to walk in righteousness. Will you not walk as one who is alive? Seek to be holy by obeying Christ, by imitating Christ and by seeking to magnify Christ.
Are you amongst the some? May the Lord grant you that you may be a humble, loving and holy child of God.
b. Secondly, I would address you if you are unsure if you are amongst the some.
I am speaking to you if you feel that you are outside Christ, but you are concerned whether you are amongst the some who are elected. To you, I have only one word: Obey!
None of us knows whether we are elected until we begin to obey the Lord. Moses tells us, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Dt 29:29).
God has chosen not to reveal His secret will. He has chosen not to mark out who are His elect visibly. But one thing is sure: many are called, few are chosen, and those who are chosen will hear the voice of Christ and obey Him.
If you are an adult still walking in unbelief or are not baptised, then the command of Christ for you is straightforward: Repent and believe in Him and be baptised for the washing of sin. The Lord Jesus says: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (Jn 6:37). Those who come to Him know that they are His sheep. They will obtain salvation in Him.
I am also speaking to you if you are a covenant child old enough to confess your faith but have not done so. You bear the sign and seal of the covenant. You belong to Christ. However, if you fail to make confession of faith when you should, you are despising the ordinance of the Lord and therefore cannot have assurance that you are amongst the some.
To you, I have only one word: Confess. The apostle Paul says:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.Rom 10:9-10
Only when you confess your faith will you have the assurance that you truly belong to Christ. Only when you have confessed your faith will you be sure that you are in Christ inwardly and not merely outwardly.
c. Finally, I would speak to you if you are here tonight and you care not whether you are amongst the some or not.
Well, let me say that, in some ways, it is not wrong for you to be unconcerned. Whether you are an elect or not is simply the wrong question to ask. However, there is a question you should ask, namely: Where will you go on the day that you have to leave this world? You know in your heart of hearts that your soul will live on after you die. But where will your soul go? The Bible tells us that there are only two destinations. One is heaven, where you will experience everlasting joy, peace and love in the presence of God. The other is hell, where you will experience God’s everlasting wrath forever.
Where will you go? This is a question you should answer because if you don’t address it today while you have the opportunity to, you may regret your failure for all eternity. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the day to secure your eternal blessedness.
You may not be bothered whether you are an elect. But you should be bothered about where you are going. Unless you repent of your sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will end up in hell. You know you are a sinner in your heart of hearts, don’t you? You know you will face the judge one day, don’t you? Your conscience testifies of these things. Your conscience is God’s deputy in your soul. Oh, do not shut off the voice of your conscience. Instead, take heed, turn away from your sin, and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ to plead with Him for salvation. Amen.