As our readers will recall from our previous article, Mr. Boer is writing on the subject of “Election and Missions” in the Reformed Journal. He makes a plea for the doctrine of election and also advocates that election should be a part of the contents of the preaching on the mission field, since we are to follow the example of Paul to preach the whole counsel of God. This we find highly commendatory, except for the fact that Mr. Boer does not believe in election, neither as it is taught in Scripture nor as it is maintained in our Confessions. What he pleads for is actually nothing more than a divine selection, for he defends the position that Israel in the old dispensation was selected of God from among the nations of the earth to bring the good tidings of salvation to all nations, that is, to declare to every individual “God loves you,” and, “Christ died for you.” He maintains that also Christ is the Elect of God solely for that same purpose. And this is the purpose of the election (or selection) of the church in the new dispensation, as well as of the individual believer. God chooses the church and the individual believer to declare to every person on the earth the universal love of God and the universal atonement of the cross.
That this is contrary to the teaching of Scripture must be evident to anyone who carefully studies the Word of God. Boer would never subscribe to the definition that speaks of election as the eternal and sovereign decree of God to lead the Church as the body of Christ, with all its individual members, each in his own position, to eternal salvation and glory. And yet this is the plain teaching of Scripture. Besides, Boer will have nothing of the definition of reprobation that speaks of reprobation as the eternal and sovereign decree of God to determine some men to be vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction in the way of sin, as manifestations of His justice, and to serve the purpose of the realization of His elect church. And yet, this also is the doctrine of the infallible Word of God.
It is not difficult to show, nor for the reader to see that these definitions are indeed the truth of God.
We turn to Ephesians 1:3-6. “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 (see R.S.V.) 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.”
I am quoting this entire doxology because every verse emphasizes God’s sovereign predestination. In verse 4 the apostle states, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.” In verse 5 he adds, “In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children.” (I prefer the Revised Standard version here, since it takes the phrase “in love” with verse 5 instead of with verse 4, as the Authorized Version does. Both translations are possible, but to join the words “in love” with verse 5 fits better with the entire idea of the doxology.) And in verse 6 Paul stresses, “According to the good pleasure of his will.”
1. Paul speaks of election. He tells us that God chooses His people in Christ. Christ is first. He is theElect, and all the elect are chosen in Him. He is the Head of the Body; all the elect are so many members in the body of Christ. Together they form a unity, from which not a single member can be subtracted without destroying the unity, and to which not a single member can be added without creating a monstrosity. Christ and His people are one harmonious whole, chosen of God “from before the foundation of the world.” Christ and His Church are first, and the founding of the world follows, also in God’s decree. That is, the creation of the world and all history must serve for the gathering, defending, and preserving of God’s elect. “All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” I Cor. 3:22, 23.
2. Paul also speaks of the basis for this sovereign election. For in verse 4 he adds, “In love having predestinated us.” God determined beforehand the destiny of Jesus Christ, that in Him all fulness of glory should dwell eternally. Col. 1:19. God also determined the destiny of all those given to Christ, the members of His Body according to the election of grace, that they should be glorified with Christ forever. And this implies that God also determined the destiny of those who are outside of Christ, who perish in their sins. They are the chaff that must serve the wheat, but is finally burned with fire. See, for example, the parable of the wheat and the tares, Matthew 13:24-30; Hebrews 6:7, 8.
But then we must not overlook the fact that God has predestinated His people in love. Scripture always stresses that eternal love as the basis and reason for our election. God’s people are Christ’s sheep, for which He lays down His life. In fact, God’s love for them is so great (even as they have their own central place in “the world” of John 3:16) that God gave His only begotten Son for them. Paul makes it still more emphatic by adding that God spared not His Son, but gave Him over unto the accursed death of the cross for all of us. That love is the love of the Father for His children, of the Husband for His wife, of the covenant God for His elect in Christ. That love is particular, as Paul says: “In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children in Jesus Christ.” But then Prof. Dekker and others must not say that this love is universal, for as soon as they say that this love is universal they deny God’s eternal predestination, which limits that love to the elect.
3. The apostle Paul also points to the purpose of God’s sovereign election. For in verse 5 he says, that God has predestinated us unto “the adoption of children in Jesus Christ.” The purpose is not, as Boer would have it, that now the church can perform its duty to declare to the whole world the universal love of God and the universal atonement of Christ. No, Paul teaches the very opposite. We are predestinated unto the adoption of children. Now there can be no doubt about it that this eternal adoption is limited to the elect. It certainly does not include all men. Adoption is a legal term, for adoption is realized only by due process of law. God has made out the adoption papers for those who are chosen in Christ. These adoption papers are sealed with the blood of Golgotha. They have individual names written upon them. And these individuals make up the family of God, the sum total of all the elect. These, and these alone have the eternal right to be called the sons of God. These have all the rights of sons. They have the right to regeneration, the right to faith, the right to conversion, the right to justification, the right to sanctification, the right to joy, peace, hope, and every other conceivable blessing of salvation. They have this solely as the elect in Christ Jesus.
Paul expresses this same purpose of divine predestination in Romans 8:29, 30, where we read, “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.”
a. Here also Paul speaks of eternal foreknowledge which is rooted in love.
b. According to this eternal foreknowledge Christ is the Firstborn among many brethren. He is the eldest Son of the family. The size of that family is determined eternally.
c. These brethren look like their Elder brother, Christ, for they are appointed to be in His likeness, in order that they may dwell with Him to tell the praises of Father in and through Him eternally.
d. This entire family has its destiny determined by God, for before God they are eternally called, justified, glorified.
e. Our salvation is an established fact before God. It does not depend upon whether the saved are faithful in bringing the Gospel to others, no more than it depends upon our personal choice. For “all that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” is Jesus’ own conviction. Moreover, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:37, 44.
4. Finally, we should not fail to notice that in Ephesians 1:3-6all this is ascribed to the good pleasure of God’s will. God delights in His own sovereign decree, and therefore delights in the fact that He has predestinated us unto the adoption to sons in Christ Jesus. God is pleased to show forth the glory of His Name in all His matchless virtues by saving His elect through the dark way of sin and grace. He shows the glory of salvation on the dark background of righteous judgment in eternal condemnation in hell. All things, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth must show forth the praises of the Creator. Every knee must bow and every tongue must confess that Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.
Jesus recognizes this sovereign good pleasure in the fruits of His own ministry. He had just upbraided the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not. The Lord had been faithful to His calling as the greatest missionary this world has ever known, no, rather, as the only missionary who accomplishes all the mission work of God through His faithful servants in all ages. But the result of His personal labors in those cities wherein he had been devoting so much of his time and effort was that they repented not. And for that Jesus upbraids them. Yet at the same time He ascribes the entire outcome of His ministry to the sovereign good pleasure of God. In that He finds peace, for He rejoices in the good pleasure of our God. Therefore Jesus says, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things (Notice, Thou hast hid these things) from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them (divine revelation, giving eyes to see and hearts to understand) unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
And when the apostle Paul faces this same profound truth in Romans 9, where he concludes: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth,” he humbly declares: “Nay but, O man, (mere speck of dust), who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?”
Returning once more to that extremely significant passage in Ephesians 1, we find that the ultimate goal of God’s eternal predestination is His own praise. For Paul adds that we are predestinated to the adoption to sons “to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted (“graced us,” literally) in the beloved.” God’s grace shines forth in all its dazzling splendor as pure grace, nothing but grace in all its riches. God freely, sovereignly graces His people with a reflection of His likeness. He makes them beautiful even as He is beautiful, attractive as sons and daughters of the ever-adorable God. And the sole purpose is that this people may tell His praises forever.
And before we leave this passage, we may not fail to note the very personal element in the text. Paul speaks of “us.” God blesses us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. God chooses us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him. God has predestinated us unto the adoption of sons, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He has made us pleasing to Him in His Beloved, Christ Jesus. The strong emphasis on that “us” shows how much this means to the sincere believer, that his soul finds rest in the sovereign, unchangeable good pleasure of God; Our “unspeakable consolation” (as the Canons express it) is found in our God. Our eternal security rests in Him. When we glory we can glory only in the LORD! We can only say with the apostle, Blessed be God. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Yea, blessed be His Holy Name forever and ever!