Blessed be God!
In his epistle to the Ephesians, the great missionary, the apostle Paul, approaches the church with the beautiful doxology, Blessed be God!
One cannot help but wonder how many sermons begin on that plane today. This is especially true because the present day preaching has long departed from a God-centered gospel, and even from a Christ-centered gospel to a man-centered gospel. It is said that the preaching must be timely in the sense that it discusses all the social and political problems of the day; it must have as its purpose to improve social conditions, and to “win souls for Christ,” or to bring people to a “decision” for Christ. And the complaint is often raised that this can never be accomplished by an emphasis on the exalted theme of the apostle Paul that finds its keynote in the joyful praise: Blessed be God.
As a result, the doctrine of election is hardly mentioned, even though our fathers spoke of it as the car ecclesia, the heart of the church. Too often predestination is referred to as belonging to the hidden things of God, and therefore should not be a part of the contents of a sermon. Or again, sovereign election is said to be in conflict with the preaching of the general, well-meant gospel-offer to all nations and individuals. And it is even repeatedly stated that this is a cold, meaningless doctrine that contradicts the responsibility of man, causes the listeners to become careless and profane, and actually hinders all sincere mission endeavors. This objection is raised so often, that by this time it is simply accepted as an established fact even in Reformed circles, that sovereign predestination and missionary preaching are mutually exclusive. You cannot maintain the one and also the other. You must preach a universal love of God or you fail to preach the gospel.
And it follows that everyone who slights the doctrine of election must also deny particular atonement. No one will question the fact that sovereign election and particular atonement go hand in hand. If you deny the one, you must also deny the other. If, for example, you were: to try to maintain that God elects a certain number of people to eternal salvation, but that Christ died for all, you would be forced to the conclusion that some might possibly enter heaven who were not even elect. And that is an absurdity. But if you adopt the statement, “God loves all men,” you must also accept as its corollary, “Christ died for all men.” This is also implied in a general, well-meant offer of salvation. And that also leads to absurdity. For if Christ died for all, then in many instances the precious blood of God’s only begotten Son was shed in vain! God puts forth every possible effort to save, even wants to save, and makes salvation possible for all men, but is frustrated in His purpose by mere man. God strives for what He cannot attain. But a helpless, disappointed God is the worst of blasphemy!
Scripture teaches the most perfect harmony between God’s sovereign election and His particular atonement. Allow me to quote only the triumphant conviction of Paul himself in Romans 8:29, 30: “For whom He did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
And therefore we can also say with the apostle, “Blessed be God!”
Because He Is The God Of Sovereign Predestination.
This is exactly the gospel that the apostle proclaims to the church in the passage from Ephesians 1 that I referred to before. Let me quote the entire passage: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 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: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”
No one can fail to notice that the apostle extols our God as blessed forever, because He has blessed us in Jesus Christ. Immediately two things are brought to our attention: First, that God is called “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” emphasizing that all our salvation is from God in Christ from eternity to eternity. Second, that God blesses us in Christ, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.” Eternal election is the source and fountain head of all our salvation. This was also the conviction of the fathers of the Reformation. See Canons I, articles 6 and 7.
But then Paul also calls attention to the fact, that our eternal election is rooted in God’s predestination. And this predestination finds its deepest cause in the very heart of God, in His distinctive love for His people. The apostle writes, (as the Revised Version correctly translates the text) “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Who can fail to see that:
God’s predestination is rooted in His eternal, peculiar love for His people in Christ.
God’s predestination is unto the adoption of sons. Our adoption, our right to be sons, as well as our right to share the blessing of sons, follows solely from eternal good pleasure. Before God we always are sons, always are His peculiar possession, always are the heirs of all His riches in Christ Jesus.
God’s predestination is, finally, according to the good pleasure of His will. Every single elect has his own place in that one harmonious unity of the Body of Christ. Every elect, to change the figure, is a stone in God’s temple, each one fitting exactly in his divinely appointed place. Out of the stone heap of a fallen human race, where we lay as so many ugly, misshapen, filthy stones, God removes us by His sovereign grace to give us each our own place in His temple, to show forth the glory of His Name. When every stone has been fitted in, and the temple is complete, there will be no stones left that were intended to be placed in the edifice, nor will there be any ugly gaps that would eternally deface the unity and harmony of God’s Church.
According to the second chapter of this same epistle (verses 17-22) the preaching of the Word serves exactly that purpose throughout history, that the Son of God may gather His Church, erect the temple of the living God to the praise of His glorious grace in the Beloved.
Let anyone dare to say after carefully reading the epistle to the Ephesians that election is a cold, comfortless doctrine, that causes its hearers to become careless and profane instead of filling them with holy and prayerful adoration to repeat after the apostle: “Blessed be God!”
BECAUSE PREDESTINATION IS THE BASIS FOR OUR REDEMPTION
In the same sentence in which the apostle extols the sovereign electing love of God, he also speaks of our redemption. For in verse 7 we are told, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” That “in whom” refers back to Christ, Whose God and Father has chosen us in Him, in love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. God paid the price of our redemption in His Son on Golgotha. God sealed our adoption papers with the blood of the cross. There can be no doubt about that. But that means that God redeems us, because He loves us, and because in love He has predestinated us unto eternal life in Christ. Sovereign election and particular atonement can never be separated, because our election is the basis for the atonement of the cross. In this the apostle glories, and we glory with Him. For blessed be that God, of Whom, through Whom, and unto Whom are all things!
THIS GOSPEL OF THE LOVE OF GOD COMPELS THE PREACHER
Paul himself was compelled to preach that gospel, according to his own testimony. He writes in I Cor. 9:16, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.” This was not an arbitrary whim on his part, nor a mere outward compulsion. But as is evident from all his epistles, Paul experienced in his own heart and life the glorious wonder of the love of God revealed to him in Christ Jesus. Even that was sufficient to cause him to glory, as he writes to the churches of Galatia, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Yet when he writes of the necessity that is laid upon him, he refers to his calling as an apostle of Christ to proclaim the whole counsel of God. In his office he experienced the same compelling power that moved the prophets of the old dispensation, who were so filled with the Spirit of Christ that they eagerly testified to those to whom they were .sent: “So saith the Lord.” Paul also was under that divine constraint so that he could not escape it. It was the “must” that he had to fulfill, lest God’s woe or condemnation come upon him. And yet it was not a burden that he bore reluctantly; it was a calling that he was privileged to carry out, for he counted it a privilege to be “a servant (slave) of Jesus Christ”, Whose brand mark of ownership he carried about with him in the many bodily scars he had received for the sake of the gospel.
Even the contents of his message, no less than his calling, was such an impelling power in his life, that he traveled untiringly through the then known world, declaring that gospel wherever he could. He even spoke of a strong desire to go as far as Spain. Romans 15:24, 28.
Peter expressed that same necessity already when he stood before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem and defiantly told them, “We cannot but speak of the things which we saw and heard.” (Acts 4:20)
And our Lord Himself spoke repeatedly of His “must” to carry out the mandate laid upon Him by the Father. He did not hesitate to say that He laid down His life for His sheep. He added, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me (election), is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” But to the unbelieving Jews that opposed Him He said, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” (See John 10:26-29).
This same “must” impels any sincere preacher of the gospel, just because the gospel never loses its dynamic power. The Word of God is never dependent upon mere man, but is God’s own power unto salvation. Therefore Paul also confidently declares to the church at Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 1:16). And after he has made his powerful exposition of the sovereign good pleasure of God in showing mercy to some and hardening others through the gospel, he adds, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” (Rom. 9, 10)
All of which he concludes with a quotation from the prophet Isaiah, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things?”