Dear Church Family,
In our continuing study of the Westminster Confession of Faith in the adult Sunday school class, two weeks ago, we examined the third chapter of the Confession: “Of God’s Eternal Decree.” This chapter of the Confession deals with a difficult topic. It’s difficult because our finite minds cannot comprehend the fullness of the character of God in His sovereignty – we are limited by our own finitude and creaturliness. Yet, the Scriptures clearly teach that God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass (WSC 7).
And so, by way of explanation of this important doctrine, the Confession summarizes the teaching of the Bible in this area over the course of eight paragraphs. These eight paragraphs may be paired together in four couplets to teach the following truths:
(1) WCF 3:1-2 – God has foreordained everything, but not based on foreknowledge.
Unfortunately, some try to limit God’s sovereignty by describing His decrees simply in terms of foreknowledge. In this way of thinking, God looks forward in time to see what will happen, and then because He is not constrained by time and space, He then decrees in eternity past that which He foresaw in the future. This doesn’t affirm God’s sovereignty, however, it simply makes Him out to be a good observer.
Certainly, God knows and foresees all future events; however, the God’s Word goes further to declare that He not only foresees all things, but that He works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). God’s purpose is unchangeable (Hebrews 6:17). A sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from our Heavenly Father’s will (Matthew 10:29), and even the hairs of our heads are all numbered (Matthew 10:30). God not only gives life and breath to all things, but He has also determined our appointed times and boundaries of our habitations (Acts 17:25-26).
(2) WCF 3:3-4 – Some are predestined to eternal life, others foreordained to death; this number is fixed.
God is sovereign over all things, including salvation. This means that God saves those whom He has predestined to eternal life and foreordained the rest to eternal death. Again, some try to side-step this teaching of Scripture by describing God’s election by way of mere foreknowledge. And so, some might say, God knows those who will choose Him and thus ‘predestines and elects’ them based upon each individual person’s choice. Again, this denies God’s sovereignty and makes His will subservient to the will of His creation.
In contrast, the Bible teaches that in love, God predestined some men and angels to eternal life (Ephesians 1:5-6; 1 Timothy 5:21). Those who belong to Christ were chosen by Him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). We can make no claim to having chosen Christ; rather, He has chosen us (John 15:16). Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2), and at His return, He will send forth His angels to gather the elect (or chosen ones) to Himself (Matthew 24:30-31).
(3) WCF 3:5-6 – Predestination is unconditional, yet accomplished by way of particular means.
God’s decree of election is not based upon any foreseen faith in the individual or merited by the elect in any way. Rather, based solely upon His free and sovereign choice, God chose to redeem and save a people for Himself. In explaining this doctrine of unconditional election, the Apostle Paul gives the example of Rebekah’s twin sons, Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:10-24): “though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” (Romans 9:11-13)
Just so, God has mercy and compassion on whom He wills. Salvation does not depend upon man who wills or runs, but upon God who has mercy (Romans 9:16). The Potter has a right to do with His clay as He pleases (Romans 9:20-24; Jeremiah 18:6). And, because God has predestined the end (salvation), He also has foreordained the means: effectual calling, justification, adoption, sanctification (Romans 8:30; 10:12-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:13), and perseverance (1 Peter 1:5). These means are only appropriated to the elect (John 17:9; Romans 8:28).
(4) WCF 3:7-8 – God’s decree includes passing by some; and, a proper understanding of predestination ought to give assurance to the children of God and inspire them renew their obedience.
God’s judgements are unfathomable (Romans 11:33); therefore, the doctrine of the “high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care” (WCF 3:8). So, in the final paragraph of this chapter of the Confession, we find the practical benefit for believers. Some decry the doctrine of election, assuming that it will lead to ambivalence, spiritual sloth, or a lack of zeal in evangelism. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A proper and reverential understanding of the doctrine of election provides three practical benefits for those who confess Christ. First, it inspires and encourages believers to obey the will of God, seeking after new obedience (2 Peter 1:5-11). Second, it causes us to praise His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6, 12). Third, it gives assurance that He who began the good work of salvation will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:33; Luke 10:20).
Let us praise God for His glorious electing grace!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch