Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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April 2008 • Volume XI, Issue 24


Election, the Source of the Church (2)

Ephesians 1:3-5 is far from the only passage in God’s Word in which the Holy Spirit teaches the churches about the church’s election in Jesus Christ.

The congregation at Thessalonica was probably only a few months old, yet Paul wanted them to be sure of their eternal election, speaking of it at the beginning of his letter: "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God" (I Thess. 1:4). There are congregations today, hoary with age, which do not have this knowledge, and the last thing that their ministers would want to teach them is unconditional election. This is disgraceful and totally opposed to apostolic Christianity!

In case the Thessalonians missed it in his first epistle, Paul refers to their election in his second inspired letter to them: "we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (II Thess. 2:13). The apostle thanked the Triune God for their election, especially in this context (vv. 3-12), because it is the grace which comes to us from election alone (v. 13) that keeps us, unlike the reprobate (v. 11), from the apostasy, corrupt worship, lying miracles and false teaching of the man of sin (vv. 3-4, 8-10) and the "mystery of iniquity [which] doth already work" (v. 7).

Peter also taught the election of the church to the churches. At the start of his first inspired epistle, he addresses the saints in "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (I Peter 1:1), as "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (v. 2). Their election, issuing in their "sanctification of the Spirit" (v. 2), made them "strangers" in this world (v. 1) and the recipients of "grace" and "peace" (v. 2). Peter ends this same letter by reminding them not only of their election but also of that of the church at Babylon: "The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you" (I Peter 5:13). In his next epistle, Peter wants them to be convinced of their election, by seeing the fruit of the effectual call in their lives: "give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (II Peter 1:10). This living, humble knowledge of your election, he states, will keep you from becoming "barren," "unfruitful" or "blind" (vv. 8-9) and it will enable you to persevere: "for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (v. 10). Instead, we will see the "entrance … into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" open wide to us through a healthy, God-honouring faith (v. 11).

In Colossians 3:12, the Holy Spirit instructs us that the consciousness of our gracious election works graciousness in us: "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering." Election is far from a cold, dry, joyless, loveless doctrine. It is God’s eternal, unconditional love and choice of us! Away with the blasphemous talk of some, who refer to God’s dearly beloved and blood-bought people (Deut. 7:6-8; John 3:16) as "the frozen chosen"—profane language inspired by Satan!

Paul, that "wise masterbuilder" (I Cor. 3:10) whom Almighty God "appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles" (II Tim 1:11), considered the knowledge of the election of the church vital for Christian ministers. The true "gospel according to the power of God" is this: "[He] hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (vv. 8-9). This is the gospel manifested in the incarnation, cross and resurrection of our Saviour (v. 10) and which Paul and all in the true line of apostolic succession preach (v. 11). This gospel of God’s Word, including the church’s election (v. 9), is the "sound words" (v. 13) and "the good thing … committed" (v. 14) to Christian ministers, which they must "hold fast … in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (v. 13) and "keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us" (v. 14).

Later in this same pastoral epistle, the apostle explains that election is crucial in understanding the apostasy of some church office-bearers and members. Hymenaeus and Philetus had embraced and taught preterism, claiming that "the [general] resurrection is past already" (2:17-18). Their heresy spread like gangrene (v. 17) and overthrew "the faith of some" (v. 18). What were the saints to make of the apostasy of these two teachers and some of their fellow church members? Does this mean that true believers can actually fall away and perish? Can our regeneration, calling, justification and adoption be negated? Do God’s faithfulness and promise fail? Are Christ’s sacrifice and intercession for us weak and unavailing? NO! "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his" (v. 19)!

Other passages in the NT epistles could also be considered, especially Romans 8, 9 and 11. For the sake of brevity, I will also omit references to the other NT books and the OT Scriptures. It will suffice to say that the election of the church is taught throughout the Bible from cover to cover. It must be believed, rejoiced in and preached as part of the whole counsel of God.

Next time (DV), we shall consider the practical significance and comfort of the election of the church. Rev. Stewart

Who Are Saved? (2)

I wrote a piece in the last News under the title: "Who Are Saved?" I wish now to respond to some correspondence on that article: "I don’t have a problem with the answer given to this question (except, perhaps, how the last paragraph was worded) but I would suggest that elect infants, for example, who are utterly incapable of hearing or believing the gospel and of exercising faith, are nevertheless saved when regenerated and brought into union with Christ and by having the merits of His sinless life, sacrificial death and resurrection, indeed, His righteousness, applied and imputed to them. The gospel, the Person and work of Christ alone, saves and saves 100% of the time. However, I would submit that faith is not without exception the instrument of salvation."

It is interesting that the Westminster Confession addresses itself to this question: "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word" (10:3).

The Canons of Dordt also express themselves on this question: "Since we are to judge of the will of God from His Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy" (I:17)

It is true that some infants are saved by the power of God’s grace, even though they never hear the gospel. This is very obviously the implication of the articles quoted above. Both speak of infants who die in infancy. I would even broaden that a bit and include in infants who die in infancy the elect children of believers who die before birth.

I am somewhat reluctant, however, to agree totally with this statement: "elect infants ... are utterly incapable of hearing or believing the gospel ..." God works powerfully in mysterious ways. I would not rule out the possibility that elect children who die before or soon after birth are capable of hearing the gospel. We do not know what effect the Psalms a mother sings while pregnant, the godly conversation of a covenant family in the home, and the singing and preaching in church that comes to an unborn child, has on an elect, though unborn, baby. Doctors tell us that within minutes of birth a baby is able to recognize the voice of its mother and distinguish it from other voices. Cannot a child, born again by the wonder of regeneration and united to Christ by faith, hear the voice of its heavenly Father? God works "when, and where, and how he pleaseth."

I also take exception to the last statement of the letter: "I would submit that faith is not without exception the instrument of salvation." I insist (and I have an idea the correspondent would not dissent) that if we remember that faith is, first of all, the bond that unites us to Christ, then faith comes with regeneration. Regeneration unites the elect with Christ because faith is a part of regeneration. It is true that there may not yet be the exercise of faith but even here we must be careful. We do not know very much about a newborn child. I have seen newborn children at a very young age respond to a Psalm, a prayer, even the sacrament of baptism when administered. Child psychologists tell us that many things have influence on a newborn babe: the colour of the walls in the nursery, the loving "baby-talk" of a mother, the music played (whether a Psalm or raucous rock), the general atmosphere of the home (whether peaceful and happy or riotous and characterized by squabbling). The Lord’s voice is powerful enough to give new birth to an unborn child; is it so hard to imagine that the Lord’s voice is powerful enough to elicit a response—even though it be in a very infantile way?

There are also children who are born with severe mental handicaps. Sometimes these handicaps are so severe that the child can show almost no response to stimuli. But we must be careful that we do not deny that God can work in strange and marvellous ways in His elect in spite of the severest of handicaps. I have stood at the bedside of dying saints who lay in a coma for days before dying. I have held their hand, told them to squeeze my hand if they heard me, and read to them from Scripture and prayed with them. They could and did squeeze my hand. The Spirit of Christ is very powerful and His work is greater than we can imagine. We must not sell short His power.

Nevertheless, the main point of the correspondent’s letter was only that, at least as far as we can tell, in the case of infants (and those severely mentally handicapped) God saves His elect without the preaching of the gospel. With that I agree; I thank the correspondent for calling this to our attention. Prof. Hanko

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