************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head I, Articles 7,10-11 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 24, 2013
Canons, Head I, Article 7,10,11
"What is Election"
We are guilty sinners. We deserve damnation in the fires of hell. Do you know how to get rid of your guilt?
Get a brown paper bag. Take a deep breath. Place the bag securely over your mouth. Blow all your guilt out. Dispose of the bag immediately. Can you believe someone was actually selling a pack of ten of these "Disposable Guilt Bags" for $2.50 each. And, even more incredible, they have sold hundreds of these kits. This shows the desperation of a lost-in-sin mankind.
Step by step, as I said last time, the Canons have been carefully unfolding for us the truth concerning salvation and divine predestination. We all know that only those are saved who believe in Jesus. What we want to know is, "Who are those who believe in Jesus?" Last time, in looking at Article 5, we found out that only those believe who are given the gift of faith by God. And, in Article 6, we are told that it is by means of His eternal decree that God decides to whom He gives faith. Today, in Articles 7, 10, and 11 we learn all about the what, why, how, and purpose of this eternal decree of election.
I The What of Election
A The first question we ask has to do with the what of election. "What is election?" In talking of election, the Canons speak of God's purpose. "Election [or choosing] is God's unchangeable purpose."
Purpose emphasizes the idea that all things regarding salvation are fixed by wisdom divine. Purpose emphasizes that there is a plan, a blueprint – of His own making – that God is following.
The word "purpose" is used because of the Arminians. The Canons, remember, are written against the Arminian viewpoint. The Arminians don't believe in the purpose of God; rather, they speak of election as indefinite and conditional. This is the greatest error of the Arminians. Their viewpoint adds an element of imprecision and indecision to the mind of God. They say the end result depends upon man and his faith response to the Gospel.
B The Canons state two qualities of God's purpose of election. First, in Article 7, they describe it as being "before the foundation of the world." This comes from our Scripture reading (Eph 1:4). It carries the idea of being beyond time. It carries the idea of eternity.
Election is before the foundation of the world. Election is beyond time. Election is from eternity. Meaning what? Meaning election cannot have anything to do with us. Meaning election is not based upon something we do. Meaning election is not God's reaction to our behavior. Election takes place in eternity, before the foundation of the world.
C Second, in Article 11, the Canons further describe God's purpose of election as being "unchangeable." Election is from eternity and election is unchangeable. The two truths, of course, are interrelated: that which is unchangeable is necessarily eternal, and that which is eternal is necessarily unchangeable. From eternity to eternity God is unchangeable. From eternity to eternity God is the same in all the infinite fulness of His being. There is no increase or decrease in His being and power, no changing of His mind and will. And, as God is, so is His purpose of election. He does not change His purpose or His decrees.
God and His decrees are unchangeable! How unlike everything else in life. We sing and we pray, "Change and decay in all around I see. O Lord who changes not, abide with me" (PH #442). For instance, we so easily break our promises. We change our mind. We change our way of doing things. A couple of months ago I read a news story about a website entitled "change.org." It bills itself as the web's leading platform for social change.
God's election purpose is unchangeable. A consequence of this, according to the Canons, is that God has chosen "a definite number of people out of the entire human race." This means the full number of the elect is unchangeable. God does not add to the number of the elect when He sees someone doing something good. Nor does God subtract from the number of the elect when one of those He has chosen falls into sin.
The knowledge of this should give us unspeakable comfort. Because it means no one who is presently numbered among the elect can forever fall away and be lost. This is what Jesus means when He says, "all that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (Jn 6:37). Yes, you may stumble and fall into sin. Yes, your sin may be grievous. But it in no way will result in the loss of your election.
II The Why of Election
A The second question we ask has to do with the why of election. "Why does God pick the elect? And how does He decide whom to pick; what are the standards, the yard-stick, that He uses?"
The Canons answer these questions by speaking of "sheer grace." Election is based upon "sheer grace."
Now, what is grace? As we found out from Article 1, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been His will to leave the entire human race in sin and misery. He is under no obligation to save anyone. So on man's part grace is unmerited, undeserved, unearned favor. On God's part grace is an act of incredible kindness and love and mercy towards fallen sinners. "Grace" is God's undeserved favor. Grace means we do not get what we deserve. In fact, grace means we get exactly the opposite of what we deserve.
Someone was speaking of their spiritual journey. He said, "God did His part, and I did my part." This sounds Arminian to me.My brothers and sisters, this is true for all of us. We do the sinning and God, out of grace, does the saving.
But then he said, "God's part was the saving, and my part was the sinning."
This too contradicts the teachings of the Arminians. They wrongly believe that God is obligated to save some. They wrongly believe that God is obligated to elect those whom He has foreseen as believing and obeying. But if God is obligated, it is no longer grace – for grace is undeserved, unearned mercy for sinners. Furthermore, if God is obligated to elect some, then neither He nor His election purpose is sovereign.
So, the first reason God elects anyone is because of His grace, sheer grace.
B Again we ask, "Why does God pick the elect? And how does He decide whom to pick; what are the standards, the yard-stick, that He uses?" "Sheer grace" is only part of the answer given by the Canons. The other part of the answer is "the free good pleasure of his will." God chooses whom He chooses because He delights to choose them. God elects whom He elects because He takes pleasure in electing them. God predestines whom he predestines because it pleases Him to predestine them.
Now, we can go a step further and ask, "Why does God delight in them, why does He take pleasure in them, why does it please Him to elect them?" There is a negative and a positive answer to these questions. The negative answer is that there is absolutely nothing about the elect themselves that causes God to choose them. Says the Canons,
Those chosen, were neither better nor more deserving than the others, but lay with them in the common misery.God elects out of a fallen human race. So the elect have nothing to boast about. And they certainly can't think themselves better than the non-elect. Consider the case of Jacob and Esau. When the children were not yet born, and had done nothing either good or bad, Rebecca was told, "The older will serve the younger" and "Jacob I love, but Esau I hated" (Rom 9:10-13).
When it comes to election we can make no distinction between people. We can't say one person is better or more deserving than any other. Rather, it is God Himself Who makes the distinction. In a remarkable passage in Deuteronomy, we read of God's election of Israel:
(Deut 7:6-8) For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (7) The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. (8) But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.God chose Israel for reasons known only to Himself, and not because of any good works or great faith or anything else He foresaw in His chosen people. That is the negative answer to why God chooses anyone.
The positive answer is: keep silent! God chooses whom He chooses, He elects whom he elects, He predestines whom He predestines, and we have no idea why. And, it is not ours to ask why either. It is only the free and sovereign good pleasure of God that decides. Paul says,
(Rom 9:20-21) But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" (21) Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? Keep silent! It is not ours to ask why!
III The How of Election
A The third question we ask has to do with the how of election. "How does election take place? How do the elect become elect?" In this connection the Canons speak of Christ. They tell us that God "chose in Christ." He did this "in Christ." And, He gives the "chosen ones to Christ to be saved."
Election is "in Christ." That's what Paul says in our Scripture reading. God chooses in Christ. "In Christ." This is a phrase used to describe our oneness with Christ. God makes election real in our lives through our mystical union with Christ. Apart from union with Christ, election is not and cannot be real in our lives and means nothing.
Ephesians 1 is filled with what God does for us "in Christ." In Christ, God blesses us with every spiritual blessing (vs 1). In Christ, God chooses or elects us (vs 4, 11). In Christ, God adopts us as children (vs 5). In Christ, God gives us His glorious grace (vs 6). In Christ, we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (vs 7). In Christ, God makes known to us the mysteries of His will (vs 9). In Christ, God brings all things together in heaven and on earth (vs 10). In Christ, we hope (vs 12). And, in Christ, we have a deposit of our future inheritance (vs 14). This is all ours "in Christ."
As I said, we are elect "in Christ." We are elect in fellowship with Christ. We are elect in union with Christ. But I want you to notice what that means. According to the Canons, this means we are drawn into Christ's fellowship through His "Word and Spirit." Many people today want to think God uses magic, a wave of His cosmic wand, to draw us into Himself. But it is nothing like that. He uses His Word and His Spirit. Many think that is too plain, too ordinary, to unexciting. But fellowship with God and His Son happen no other way – it is always through the Word and the Spirit. And, the ordinary place this happens is within the church at worship. That's where we ordinarily find the Word and the Spirit.
B Again we ask, "How does election take place? How do the elect become elect?" "In Christ" is only part of the answer. The other part of the answer is "in Christ from beginning to end." God not only elects in Christ, but in Christ He also calls them, justifies them, and glorifies them. Says the Canons:
[God] decided to give the chosen ones to Christ to be saved, and to call and draw them effectively into Christ's fellowship through his Word and Spirit. In other words, he decided to grant them true faith in Christ, to justify them, to sanctify them, and finally ... to glorify them.
We see here that God's election purpose includes all of salvation. God leaves nothing to chance. In Christ, God has laid out the full salvation of His elect. So there is nothing unsure about election. There is nothing doubtful or conditional about election. There is nothing that can make the elect unelect.
Finally, we want to ask about the purpose of election? "What is God's purpose in election? Why does He bother to elect anyone?" God's ultimate purpose is not the salvation of the elect. God's ultimate purpose is not to pluck some hell-bent soul from the everlasting fires. As far as the Canons are concerned, God's ultimate purpose centers on His glory:
God did all this in order to demonstrate his mercy, to the praise of the riches of his glorious grace.
So, with the psalmist we say, "Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness" (Ps 115:1).
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