Don’t Fret, Christian. This is All For You.

God is concerned with the salvation of His elect, for His glory.  That is His whole purpose and will.  I try to remind myself of that constantly, especially when I am feeling discouraged.

When I think of how few there are it seems sometimes that respond to the gospel, I remember that the right way to look at that is that God has infinite resources, and what a wonder that He is willing to lavish such tremendous resources on however many it is He chooses to save!  Just think, Christian, that though the world may not and does not know this, the whole of human history, all of politics, all the rage and thunder of war and strife, all has the purpose of bringing you to salvation and preparing you for the world He intends for you to inhabit in the future!  What a glorious truth.

God doesn’t need me to save people.  If He uses me to contribute to the salvation of a few, then that is a tremendous honor for me, and furthermore contributes to my own sanctification and holiness.  So He uses me, not for His benefit, but for mine.  So who am I to complain or be discouraged if He uses me to benefit many or few?  His will for me is perfect either way, and nothing will prevent Him from bringing home all His people.

So too, if America has decisively turned away from the gospel, that is no cause for us to despair unless we see God’s salvation in earthly terms.  Someone, no friend of Christianity, recently said that he suspects Christians mostly are upset at the recent Supreme Court ruling because of their loss of a dominant position in the culture.  And I think he’s partly right.  If instead we looked at it as just part of God’s sovereign plan to bring about the redemption of His elect, then we would recognize that even in this, we can have comfort.  It might not be fun for a while, but God’s will is nonetheless being done, and it’s all for His elect.  He doesn’t need America to accomplish His plans any more than He needs me.  He has used America to spread and foster the gospel in many ways in the past.  Now He may use America to bring persecution to His people, for the fires of persecution have always refined and purified His church.  When He is done with America, when America has served His purposes with regard to His elect, He will sweep America off the stage of history like a teacher wipes off her chalkboard.  The teacher has plenty of chalk.

This is all for you, Christian, and for me.  It’s all preparatory to what’s coming.  Keep your eyes on things above, not things on the earth.  Be active and busy in promoting good, in taking dominion, in preaching the gospel.  Not because God needs you, and not because you think your work on this earth will endure.  It won’t; it’s all going to be burned with fire, with all its works.  But it matters, because it’s all God’s plan to redeem His people and to prepare them for that glorious future in the new heavens and earth, our true home.

Divinizing the Will

The idea that the human will can ever be completely free, in the sense of an ability to choose beliefs or behavior totally free of influence from outside, is to divinize the will.  Everything about us as creatures is contingent- dependent on other things, our surroundings, our own nature.  Absolute independence is an attribute of God alone.  To predicate absolute independence of the human will is to predicate divinity of the human will, obviously a terrible error.

The Function of the Doctrine of Predestination

Some thoughts from the sermon today:

Alister McGrath, in his biography of John Calvin, asserts that the doctrine of predestination became much more important to subsequent generations of Reformers than it was to Calvin himself, that it became a lens through which everything else was viewed. I have not studied the later Reformers like Beza or Turretin enough to confidently assert that this is true, though it appears to me to be the case. What I do know is that people often do just this sort of thing, for reasons of group identity, which is what McGrath asserts about the later Reformation. Predestination attained a greater importance than it might have done otherwise for reasons of group identity- it was the doctrine that distinguished them from Lutherans. Group identity is a huge motivator in people’s behavior- that much is clear just from reading the headlines from the Middle East. And it seems all too common that we Reformed view the doctrine of predestination as important because it shows how we’re different than others.

But how does Scripture view the role that the doctrine of predestination holds in our theology and lives? In John 10, one of the strongest passages to present the doctrine, we see that it basically functions to help us understand other things, not as a goal of itself.

24 Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.
26 “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.
27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
28 “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.
29 “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
30 “I and My Father are one.”

Here, Jesus clearly teaches the doctrine- they don’t believe because they’re not His sheep. It is His Father who designates who are His sheep- He is the One who grants those sheep to Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t present this truth as an end goal of itself; He didn’t just one day start telling people about the doctrine of eternal election. He uses the doctrine to explain why it is that they reject Him- they don’t believe because they’re not His sheep. We see the same thing in John 6-

64 “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him.
65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

Here, the statement (which is just one of a series of similar statements in John 6- see verse 39 and 44 as well) comes directly as an explanation of why they reject Him- it is because it has not been granted to them by the Father to come to Him. This is the reason for the statement.

This is precisely one of the uses of the doctrine that people often shy away from- as an understanding of why people don’t come to faith. And yet this is exactly how Jesus uses the doctrine. When people reject the truth of Christ, we don’t want to ascribe that to God’s election- it feels harsh and unloving. We don’t know God’s election and so we cannot confidently assert that someone who rejects the gospel is not elect and will never accept the gospel. But if God is sovereign over our salvation, and determines our ability to come to faith, then at least we can say that the one who doesn’t come to faith was not predestined to come yet. The day may come when they will, but in the meantime we can stop beating ourselves up that we somehow didn’t present the gospel right and confidently assert what Christ asserts- “My sheep hear my voice”. In that case, all we have to do is do everything we can to assert that the words we are speaking are actually the words of Jesus, and not our own invention. If we speak the gospel faithfully, we can have complete confidence that Jesus’ sheep will respond.

The second way that this doctrine is used is to illustrate the true nature of our faith. And both in John 10 and in one of the other cardinal passages on this subject, Romans 8, predestination is presented as the grounds for our confidence as Christians. In John 10, Jesus describes what it means to be His sheep, granted to Him by the Father- they hear His voice, they follow, and nobody can ever take them away from Him. Why? Precisely because our Father who is greater than all has given them (us) to Jesus, and who is powerful enough to countermand the decree of the Father? Similarly in Romans 8, those three verses that every good Calvinist has memorized, 28-30, are presented not simply as teaching predestination for its own sake, but as the grounds of the complete confidence that the Christian can have that all circumstances and forces, both external and internal to himself, are working toward the goal of his salvation.

We as Reformed then ought not use the doctrine of predestination simply as a group identity marker, something showing how we’re different (and better) than other kinds of Christian. It should instead function in our lives as it does in Scripture- to help us understand why some accept the truth and others don’t, and to show us the true nature of the salvation which Christ has assured for us.