Predestination and Preaching

Of the myriad objections and misrepresentations which have been and continue to be brought against the doctrine of predestination two are extremely serious. It is alleged that the doctrine itself cannot be preached. It is also commonly held that the Reformed Churches cannot preach election and reprobation on the mission field. In fact, it is said that the Reformed Churches which maintain the doctrine of predestination cannot do mission work because of that very fact. Neither of these charges is new. Enemies of the truth have been saying these things literally for centuries. 

The great Synod of Dordrecht met the first of these objections head on when it declared:

“As the doctrine of divine election by the most wise counsel of God, was declared by the prophets, by Christ Himself, and by the apostles, and is clearly revealed in the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, so it is still to be published in due time and place in the Church of God, for which it was peculiarly designed, provided it be done with reverence, in the spirit of discretion and piety, for the glory of Gods most holy name, and for enlivening and comforting His people, without vainly attempting to investigate the secret ways of the Most High.

Acts 20:27; Romans 11:33, 34; Romans 12:3; Hebrews 6:17, 18.


(Canons I, Article 14)

It is not our purpose to present a detailed exposition of this significant article of our Creed. For that the reader is urged to consult the detailed, excellent commentary on the Canons, The Voice Of Our Fathers, written by my colleague, Prof. H.C. Hoeksema. Hoeksema’s exposition of this article may be found on pages 219-233. Notice, however, that the Creed stresses that the doctrine of election is still to be preached in due time and place in the church of God. There are several reasons why this doctrine must be preached in the church. 1) It was declared by the prophets. The entire Old Testament speaks of election and reprobation. Immediately after the fall God reveals the distinction between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. God puts enmity between them (cf. Genesis 3:15). The two seeds can be easily traced along the lines of Abel, Seth (elect), and Cain (reprobate). In the generations of Shem, Abraham is chosen and called to be the “father of many nations.” Isaac and not Ishmael is the son of promise. God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were born or had done any good or evil (Romans 9:10-13). Israel is chosen among the nations, though she was no better or more honorable than the other nations. For further proof consult the following passages: Exodus 33:19Deuteronomy 4:37, 7:7Psalm 89:3, 89:19ff., Ps. 105:6Isaiah 6:9-11, 40:1, 41:8, 42:1, 43:1-7, 21, 44:1-8, 45:4, 46:9, 10, 48:9, 10, 49:16. These are just a few of the many passages which prove the point that the prophets declared the doctrine of election. 2) This truth was proclaimed by Christ Himself. It may even be said that the truth of election ran through all of Jesus’ preaching. It was the heart of the preaching of our Lord. So much is this true that when He was opposed and when His work appeared fruitless Jesus took comfort in the truth of election and reprobation. He told the Pharisees in no uncertain terms: “Ye are not of My sheep” (John 10:26-30). When the Lord preached that beautiful sermon on the Bread of Life, at which many of His disciples were offended and walked no more with Him, He said: “All that the Father giveth Me, shall come unto Me, and him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37ff.). At one point in His ministry Jesus thanked the Father for hiding according to His good pleasure the mysteries of the Kingdom from the wise and prudent and revealing them unto babes (Matthew 11:25-27). Christ openly proclaimed this truth. 3) The Apostles also proclaimed this truth, as is plain from many passages of the New Testament. The following are a few of those many: Romans 8:28-39Romans 9:11ff.; Ephesians 1I Peter 2:5-8. What the fathers of Dordt were intent to show is that from the very beginning of its history and all through the ages the doctrine of election has been preached by and in the church I and, therefore, must still be preached today. 

This does not mean that ministers ought to preach an occasional “election” sermon. The doctrine of predestination runs as a golden thread throughout all of Scripture. The preacher who will be faithful to his calling and who confesses with the apostle Paul, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God,” will naturally preach this truth. Predestination will be the heartbeat of his every sermon. It will be that because, as the fathers say, this truth was “peculiarly designed” by God for the church. God intended this truth to be for the lively comfort of believers and their children. Indeed it has been rightly said of the doctrine of election that it is “the heart of the church.” Therefore it must be proclaimed in the church. It will be proclaimed if the church through its preachers faithfully expounds the Holy Scriptures, for this precious truth is found on every page of Holy Scripture. 

The second charge, namely, that because they maintain the doctrine of predestination the Reformed Churches cannot do mission work, is utterly false. It is said that the doctrine of predestination cannot be preached on the mission field. If one wants the doctrine of predestination he may have it but he must not preach it on the mission field. This means that one can be Reformed at home and Arminian on the mission field. What nonsense! The Apostles and indeed our Lord Jesus did not hesitate to proclaim this truth openly and sharply in the mission context! The church today must do no less. It is also said that the doctrine of predestination makes it impossible to address the gospel to all men. This charge is repeatedly and unjustly hurled at the Protestant Reformed Churches by opponents of this precious truth of the Gospel. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Historically this has not been the case in the -Reformed Churches. The Reformed Churches have always been active in missions. Their Confession states: “Moreover, the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel” (Canons II, Article 5). The Canons go on to state that the fact that many who are called reject the gospel and perish in unbelief is not the fault of the gospel but is to be imputed to themselves (II, 6). Those who believe and are saved are indebted solely to the grace of God (II, 7). The ground for this is given in the next article of the Second Head Of Doctrine: “For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing on them alone the gift of justifying faith, Thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.” What could be plainer than this? Let no one say the Reformed Churches do not believe is missions or that they have at best little concern for missions because of the doctrine of predestination. 

What is more, it is only those churches which preach and teach and defend the whole counsel of God (which has predestination as its heart) which can properly be engaged in mission work. The sole foundation of missions is. God’s eternal good pleasure in Christ. This is the teaching of Scripture and of the Confessions of the Reformed Churches. God has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world His people. It pleases God to save His elect in Christ through the terrible way of the cross. God’s good pleasure is to reveal His glory in the redeemed in Christ in the new heavens and earth. These elect are found in every nation, tribe, and tongue. It pleases God to gather these elect in Christ out of all nations by means of the preaching of the Word by the church through the office of the ministry. The fruit of that preaching throughout the ages is that the multitude which no man can number is gathered to appear before the throne of God and sing His praise forever (cf. Revelation 7). This good pleasure of God is the foundation of the command of Christ to His church: “Go ye into all the world preaching and baptizing. . .” (Matthew 28Mark 16). 

From a practical point of view this great truth has implications for the church as it engages in the preaching of the gospel to the nations. The church may do this work joyfully and in the full confidence that there will be fruit upon these labors. The elect are there, in the nations! God will gather them by means of the preaching. That’s His good pleasure! Christ will bring the “other sheep” into the fold. They too shall hear His voice and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd! (cf. John 10, 17). All of this is accomplished by the grace of the sovereign God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The church need not and must not resort to all kinds of gimmicks to attract people. All the church must do is what the Ring of the church told her to do: preach, teach, and baptize. When many reject the gospel which the church preaches, the church may still be encouraged. The fault lies not with the gospel! Not at all! The preaching of the Word is the means to salvation for the elect but a means to destruction for unbelievers. The Word is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4). The faithful church and missionaries who preach “all the counsel of God” may confess with the Holy Apostle: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (II Corinthians 2:14-17).