God’s Free Grace Made the Difference (Henry)

Matthew Henry's Commentary There’s an old hymn called, “How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place.” When we sang it last Sunday during worship, the following lines stuck out:

Why was I made to hear Your voice, and enter while there’s room,
when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast that sweetly drew us in;
else we had still refused to taste and perished in our sin.

Scripture says it this way: In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-5 NIV).  Paul also talks about this extensively in Romans 9, where he says that God’s election of some to salvation has nothing to do with their merit, but his mercy: I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion (Rom. 9:15).  Election is unconditional!  Matthew Henry wrote well on this theme as he commented on Romans 9:

All God’s reasons of mercy are taken from within himself. All the children of men being plunged alike into a state of sin and misery, equally under guilt and wrath, God, in a way of sovereignty, picks out some from this fallen apostatized race, to be vessels of grace and glory. He dispenses his gifts to whom he will, without giving us any reason: according to his own good pleasure he pitches upon some to be monuments of mercy and grace, preventing grace, effectual grace, while he passes by others.

The various dealings of God, by which he makes some to differ from others, must be resolved into his absolute sovereignty. He is debtor to no man, his grace is his own, and he may give it or withhold it as it pleaseth him; we have none of us deserved it, nay, we have all justly forfeited it a thousand times, so that herein the work of our salvation is admirably well ordered that those who are saved must thank God only, and those who perish must thank themselves only, Hos. 13:9.

Applying this general rule to the particular case that Paul has before him, the reason why the unworthy, undeserving, ill-deserving Gentiles are called, and grafted into the church, while the greatest part of the Jews are left to perish in unbelief, is not because those Gentiles were better deserving or better disposed for such a favour, but because of God’s free grace that made that difference.

 

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2217.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Election and Sovereign Grace (Boston)

The Whole Works of Thomas Boston, Volume 1: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1 In Ephesians 1 and Romans 9-11 Paul teaches what has been called unconditional election.  That is, the reason God has chosen some for salvation in Christ but not others is found in him and in his sovereign will.  Election is not based on man’s choice or faith, but on God’s sovereign good pleasure (eudokia; Eph 1:5b).  Thomas Boston explained this aspect of God’s sovereign grace in election quite well (I’ve edited the quote slightly to make it more readable):

Behold here the freedom and glory of sovereign grace, which is the sole cause why God did not leave all mankind to perish in the state of sin and misery…. He was no more obliged to the one than the other. Why did he choose any of the fallen race of men to grace and glory? It was his mere good pleasure to select some, and pass by others. He could have been without them all, without any blemish either on his happiness or justice; but out of his mere good pleasure he set his love on a select number, in whom he will display the invincible efficacy of his sovereign grace, and thereby bring them to the fruition of glory.

This proceeds from his absolute sovereignty. …If he had pleased, he might have made all the objects of his love; and if he had pleased he might have chosen none, but have suffered Adam and all his numerous offspring to sink eternally into the pit of perdition. It was in his supreme power to have left all mankind under the rack of his justice; and, by the same right of dominion, he may pick out some men from the common mass, and lay aside others to bear the punishment of their crimes. There is no cause in the creature but all in God. It must be resolved into his sovereign will.

So it is said in Romans 9:15 & 16 where God speaks to Moses, ‘I will have mercy, on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy.’ And yet God did not will without wisdom. He did not choose hand over head and act by mere will without reason and understanding. An infinite wisdom is far from such a kind of procedure. But the reason of God’s proceedings is inscrutable to us, unless we could understand God as well as he understands himself. The rays of his infinite wisdom are too bright and dazzling for our weak and shallow capacities. The apostle acknowledges not only a wisdom in his proceeding, but riches and a treasure of wisdom; and not only that, but a depth and vastness of these riches of wisdom; but was wholly incapable to give a scheme and inventory of it. Hence he cries out in Romans 11:33, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’ Let us humbly adore the divine sovereignty. We should cast ourselves down at God’s feet, with a full resignation of ourselves to his sovereign pleasure.

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 1, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 1 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 311–312.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Is Predestination Central in Calvinism?

There’s much more to Reformed theology than the doctrines of grace (TULIP).  Similarly, there’s more to the doctrines of grace than predestination.  This needs to be said and repeated since some say that the central dogma of Calvinism is predestination, that predestination is at the core of the doctrines of grace.  Michael Horton gave some helpful points to refute this error:

  1. Calvin was not the first Calvinist.  The standard medieval view affirmed unconditional election and reprobation and held that Christ’s redemptive work at the cross is ‘sufficient for the world, efficient for the elect alone.’  …On even the most controversial aspects of predestination, Calvin’s view can scarcely be distinguished from that of Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine, and Gregory of Rimini.  …In fact, some of Luther’s strong comments in ‘The Bondage of the Will’ make Calvin moderate by comparison.
  2. Calvin was not the only shaper of the Reformed tradition.  Although his formative influence is justly recognized, he regarded himself as a student of Luther.  The Strasbourg Reformer Martin Bucer also left a decisive imprint on Calvin, as on a whole generation, including Archbishop Thomas Cramner.  …Heinrich Bullinger, John Knox, Jan Laski, Girolamo Zanchi, and Peter Martyr Vermigli were also among the many contemporaries of Calvin who shaped Reformed teaching, not to mention the following generations of leaders who refined and consolidated the gains of the sixteenth century.
  3. It is interesting that John Calvin never identified predestination or election as a central dogma.  He spoke of the doctrine of justification as ‘the primary article of the Christian religion,’ ‘the main hinge on which religion turns,’ the principal article of the whole doctrine of salvation and the foundation of all religion.’  Obviously he considered predestination an important doctrine.  But he was not only unoriginal in his formulation; he did not raise it to the level of a central dogma.  As B.B. Warfield has pointed out, Calvin’s emphasis on God’s fatherly love and benevolence in Christ is more pervasive than his emphasis on God’s sovereign power and authority.

“None of this is to diminish the obvious importance of election in Reformed theology, but it does serve to dissuade us from regarding it as a central dogma or as a uniquely Calvinistic tenent. …The truth is, there isn’t a central dogma in Calvinism, although it is certainly God-centered – and, more specifically, Christ-centered, since it is only in the Son that God’s saving purposes and action in history are most clearly revealed. …With Melanchthon and Bullinger leading the way, covenant theology emerged as the very warp and woof of Reformed theology.  Even this is not a central dogma, however, but more like the architectural framework.”

Michael Horton, For Calvinism, pp 28-30.

Shane Lems

God’s Decrees Are… (Boston)

The Works Of Thomas Boston: Volume 1 by [Boston, Thomas] The Bible teaches that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NIV). This means that whatever God decrees comes to pass and whatever comes to pass God has decreed.  This includes the details of creation, predestination, providence, and so forth.  I like how Thomas Boston defined the properties of God’s decrees using Scripture.  He said the following about God’s decrees:

  1. They are eternal.  God makes no decrees in time, but they were all from eternity. So the decree of election is said to have been ‘before the foundation of the world,’ Eph. 1:4.  …If the divine decrees were not eternal, God would not be most perfect and unchangeable, but, like weak man, should take new counsels, and would be unable to tell everything that were to come to pass.
  2. They are most wise: ‘According to the counsel of his will.’ God cannot properly deliberate or take counsel, as men do; for he sees all things together and at once. And thus his decrees are made with perfect judgment, and laid in the depth of wisdom, Rom. 11:33. ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God I how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’
  3. They are most free: ‘according to the counsel of his own will’; depending on no other, but all flowing from the mere pleasure of his own will, Rom. 11:34. ‘For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counselor?’  …So his decrees are all absolute, and there are none of them conditional. He has made no decrees suspended on any condition without himself.
  4. They are unchangeable. They are the unalterable laws of heaven. God’s decrees are constant; and he by no means alters his purpose, as men do, Ps. 33:11. ‘The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.’ Hence they are compared to mountains of brass, Zech. 6:1. As nothing can escape his first view, so nothing can be added to his knowledge.
  5. They are most holy and pure. For as the sun darts its beams upon a dunghill, and yet is no way defiled by it; so God decrees the permission of sin, …yet is not the author of sin: 1 John 1:5. ‘God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,’ Jam. 1:13, 17. ‘God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. With him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’
  6. They are effectual; that is, whatsoever God decrees comes to pass infallibly, Isa. 46:10. ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.’ He cannot fall short of what he has determined.

This is an edited summary of a larger helpful discussion on God’s decrees found in volume 1 of Boston’s Works.  It’s found on pages 158-159 for those interested.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Hypercalvinism, Election, and Godliness (Zanchi)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5 Hypercalvinism is a serious distortion of the gospel and the grace of God.  In hypercalvinist circles you’ll hear sermons on election and reprobation, but you’ll rarely hear calls to faith and repentance.  Hypercalvinists don’t want to sound Arminian so they usually don’t use terms like “receive Christ” or “flee to Jesus.”  Hypercalvinism shows up in practice too: if someone is elect, no need to worry about how he or she lives, speaks, or acts.  He’s elect, all is well – we need not be too concerned if he sleeps through sermons, swears like a sailor, or drinks too much on days that end with “y”.  So goes unbiblical the hypercalvinist logic.

Biblical preaching, however, not only explains election and reprobation, it also calls people (including professing believers) to repentance and faith.  Biblical, Calvinistic preachers are not afraid to use terms like “receive Christ,” and “flee to Jesus; come to the Lord!” True Calvinists bow to Scripture and admonish professing believers who are not living according to Scripture.  In fact, in Reformed theology, we teach that the doctrine of election leads to godly – not godless – living (see WCF 3.6, 8).  G. Zanchi, a 16th century Protestant Reformer, said one argument (among others) for the preaching of predestination is this:

..Namely, that, by it, we may be excited to the practice of universal godliness. The knowledge of God’s love to you, will make you an ardent lover of God: and, the more love you have to God, the more will you excel in all the duties and offices of love. Add to this, that the scripture view of predestination includes the means, as well as the end. Christian predestinarians are for keeping together what God hath joined. He who is for attaining the end, without going to it through the means, is a self-deluding enthusiast. He, on the other hand, who carefully and conscientiously, uses the means of salvation, as steps to the end, is the true Calvinist.

Now, eternal life being that, to which the elect are ultimately destined; faith (the effect of saving grace), and sanctification (the effect of faith), are blessings, to which the elect are intermediately appointed.  “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” (Eph. 1:4). “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).  “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God – Ye became followers of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:4, 6).  “God hath chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).  “Elect, according to the foreknowledge [or, ancient love] of God the Father, through sanctification of the spirit, unto obedience” (1 Pet. 1:2).

I appreciate Zanchi’s words and Scripture quotes: the biblical view of predestination includes the means as well as the end.  Election and godly living go hand in hand.  God has lovingly and graciously chosen his people not so they can live however they selfishly see fit, but so that they love him and obey him.  Obedience to God is one fruit of election.

The above quotation is taken from Augustus Toplady’s translation of G. Zanchi’s The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination found on p. 294 of volume 5 of Toplady’s Works.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Grace Makes Us Lovers of the Law (Augustine)

On Grace and Free Will by [St. Augustine] Here’s Augustine on love, law, grace, predestination, and choice:

Let no one, then, deceive you, my brethren, for we should not love God unless He first loved us. John again gives us the plainest proof of this when he says, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

Grace makes us lovers of the law; but the law itself, without grace, makes us nothing but breakers of the law. And nothing else than this is shown us by the words of our Lord when He says to His disciples, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” For if we first loved Him, in order that by this merit He might love us, then we first chose Him that we might deserve to be chosen by Him.

He, however, who is the Truth says otherwise, and flatly contradicts this vain conceit of men. “You have not chosen me,” He says. If, therefore, you have not chosen me, undoubtedly you have not loved me (for how could they choose one whom they did not love?). “But I,” says He, “have chosen you.” And then could they possibly help choosing Him afterwards, and preferring Him to all the blessings of this world? But it was because they had been chosen, that they chose Him; not because they chose Him that they were chosen.

Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 459–460.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Election: Is It Fair? (Cosby)

Rebels Rescued: A Student's Guide to Reformed Theology Rebels Rescued by Brian Cosby is a concise, clear, and easy to read resource on the doctrines of grace and the solas of the Reformation.  The subtitle is accurate: “A Student’s Guide to Reformed Theology.”  I thought the following section on election was helpful.  It starts with an illustration:

“…You find yourself out walking one day and see an elderly homeless man digging through a dumpster.  You have compassion on the man and so you decide to give him a hundred pounds.  He didn’t ask you, but you gave anyway.  Unbeknownst to you, somebody down the street sees you and comes running up to you demanding that you give him one hundred pounds as well.”

“Stop.  Think.  Are you obligated to give this second man the money?  Is he entitled to it?  Absolutely not.  But because of your generosity, there is a false sense of injustice – a false sense of thinking that you’re not being fair to the second man.”

“When we begin considering God’s eternal election of his people, before the foundation of the world, we must step back and ask the question: ‘What is fair?’  Is it fair that everyone goes to heaven?  Is God obligated to send everyone to heaven?  Remember – the wages of sin is death and hell forever (cf. Romans 6.23).  If we are all sinners, which we are, then the payment or the consequence of our sin is death and hell.”

“Therefore, in answer to our question, it would only be fair to send everybody to hell.  The fact that God elects some people for salvation points to his grace and love.  That God doesn’t elect others points to his holiness and justice.  Or to put it another way: by choosing some, he demonstrates his perfect love and grace.  By not choosing others, he demonstrates his perfect holiness and justice.  He is not obligated to save anybody.  But because he wanted to demonstrate the greatness of his mercy, he poured out his grace upon the beloved bride of Christ, the church.”

Brian Cosby, Rebels Rescued, p. 34-5.

Shane Lems