************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head I, Articles 14,18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 12, 2013
Canons, Head I, Articles 14 & 18
(Scripture readings included in Article 18)
"The Proper Attitude to Predestination"
Predestination is never an easy subject to deal with. People are scandalized by this doctrine. They murmur against the grace of election and the severity of reprobation. "It's not fair," we are told, "that only some and not all are elect." "It's not fair that some have to face eternity in hell if God did not choose them to believe."
It is easy enough to quiet these people. All we have to do is take away the sovereignty of God; let God make His decrees, but let His decrees be dependent upon man's response to the Gospel. Or, all we have to do is take away hell and judgment. Or, all we have to do is declare universal atonement – that all are saved and none are lost.
We can do this to silence the complaints but is it worth it? Absolutely not! It isn't worth it because then God is no longer God, the Bible is no longer God's Word, and we have ripped out the foundations of our faith.
The doctrine of election is a difficult subject. But not because it is unbiblical. Not because there is not much evidence for it in Scripture. But because it is complex.
The doctrine of election can also be a touchy subject because those who are Reformed can be obnoxious about it. They sneer and look down upon those who are not Reformed. They use the doctrine of election to put down those they disagree with. Or, they use it to win an argument.
Articles 14 & 18 lay down two points when it comes to God's sovereign decrees of predestination. First, we are told that no matter how difficult it may be to understand, it must still be preached and taught. Second, we are told what is the proper attitude towards this difficult doctrine.
I Preaching & Teaching Predestination
A Article 14 tells us that just as divine election was "proclaimed through the prophets, Christ Himself, and the apostles ... so also today in God's church ... this teaching must be set forth." Election must be preached and taught in and by the Christian church.
There are some who say election and reprobation should not be taught because these teachings make people indifferent and wicked. According to these people, election snuffs out every incentive to have an active life of faith and conversion. So the less said about it, the better.
Remember what we learned when we looked at articles 12 & 13? We were reminded that election produces such fruit as faith, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for sin, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on. So instead of making men wicked and indifferent it makes them fruitful for this life and the life to come.
B The Canons tell us that the church is not to be silent about matters that are difficult to understand. The history of the church has shown us that the most effective way to kill a doctrine is not to attack it but to be silent about it from the pulpit and in the classroom. The teaching of the church becomes irrelevant and unknown when it is surrounded by a conspiracy of silence. There is nothing more dangerous to the church than when a truth of God's Word is silenced to death. That is the very worst. This is illustrated by what was found scratched into the wall of a German Concentration Camp after World War II:
They came first for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak.It is better that men openly oppose the truth than that they silence it to death. For when truth is silenced, false doctrine and false practice usually slip in through the back door.
C In preaching and teaching election the church follows the example of the Apostle Paul. In his farewell to the elders of Ephesus Paul says, "... I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (Acts 20:27). Like Paul, the church today must not hesitate to teach and proclaim the full counsel of God, including that which is difficult or unpopular.
But, as the Canons tells us, it wasn't only Paul who proclaimed divine election. This doctrine was proclaimed already in the Garden of Eden when the LORD said to Satan,
(Gen 3:15) "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."The struggle between the offspring of the serpent and the offspring of Eve can never be understood apart from the truth of predestination.
Furthermore, the entire Old Testament is a revelation of God's sovereign election. Abraham, not Lot, is chosen and called. Isaac is the child of the promise, not Ishmael. Jacob has God loved, but Esau He hated. Israel is chosen from among all the nations of the earth, although she was not better nor more honorable than any other.
In His prayers and parables and others teachings the Lord Jesus openly proclaimed the doctrine of election. In the parable of the Wedding Banquet, for instance, the Lord tells us, "... many are invited, but few are chosen" (Mt 22:14). In other places Jesus can speak of those given Him by the Father (Jn 6:37; 10:29; 17:6,9).
Peter speaks to God's "chosen people" (1 Pt 2:9) and to "God's elect, strangers in the world ... who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Pt 1:1).
We see that the truth of sovereign election is proclaimed in both the Old and New Testaments. Therefore, it must be proclaimed today as well. That's the point of Article 14.
D There is a message here for both pastors and congregations. There are pastors who think they have fulfilled their obligation according to this article if they occasionally mention election in a sermon. And, there are congregations who are satisfied when the preacher does this.
Needless to say, this is not what the Canons have in mind. The truth of divine, sovereign predestination is so important, and is so connected to grace and salvation, to misery and sin, to man's inability and God's supremacy, that it must be more than just occasionally mentioned in the church's preaching and teaching. Predestination is central to our faith and doctrine. So it must have its proper place in the church's preaching and teaching and learning ministry. We cannot afford to be apathetic about this doctrine. Nor can we dismiss it as being unimportant and irrelevant.
E However, all teaching and preaching about divine, sovereign predestination must be done in the right way. It must be done, says the Canons,
with a spirit of discretion, in a godly and holy manner, at the appropriate time and place, without inquisitive searching into the ways of the Most High.You don't preach reprobation, for instance, at the funeral of someone who has been leading a wayward life. You don't teach election to a class of preschoolers. And, you don't give new and baby Christians a crash course in predestination. You must exercise tact, compassion, and discernment.
When we teach and preach we need to keep two things in mind:
This must be done for the glory of God's most holy name, and for the lively comfort of his people.The doctrine of election is not presented to us in Scripture for idle speculation. It is not meant to satisfy our sinful curiosities about the hidden things of God. God did not reveal His eternal purposes to us so that we can debate and speculate. He did not reveal this so that those who are learned and devoted and zealous for election can look down on those who are not.
God revealed election to us to promote His own glory. God revealed election to us so that we might find comfort in a world full of sin and doubt; so that we who are sinful, weak, and full of fear might place our confidence in God Who is gracious, almighty and merciful beyond words.
II Attitude Towards Predestination
A Not only must divine predestination be taught, but we are also to have the proper attitude towards it. This is the subject of Article 18.
It deals first with those who are scandalized by election; these people complain or murmur about the grace of undeserved election and about the severity of a just reprobation. These people are scandalized by the teaching that were it not for the electing grace of God, all of us would remain unbelievers and all of us would experience the eternal judgment of God.
Do you know what the real problem is? These people refuse to start with the premise that the entire human race is sinful and fallen in Adam. They refuse to believe that no one will come to Christ unless God first changes their hearts and inclines them to believe.
Here we run afoul of two great secular mindsets that are alive and well in America: that all men are equal and that all are entitled to heaven. To someone who comes to the discussion of sin and grace with the assumption that all of us are equally entitled to God's mercy, the teaching of election sounds as though God were depriving us of something we deserve.
These people don't like an election that is free, unearned, undeserved. They don't like an election that is a matter of grace, not works. They don't like an election that is to faith rather than because of faith. For, this means we cannot do anything to save ourselves. And, this means we are so lost, so sinful, so wicked, so corrupt, that we deserve damnation rather than salvation.
I get the digital edition of Time Magazine. The digital edition always contains "ten pictures of the week."We cannot save ourselves. We cannot wash ourselves. We all need the cleansing blood of Jesus. We all need God's electing grace.
A couple of weeks ago one of the pictures showed hundreds of thousands of people washing themselves in the sacred waters of the Ganges River.
People walk for days and hundreds of miles in order to be cleansed.
But you know what? They all leave as dirty as they came because only Jesus is able to cleanse and wash.
At the same time the complainers don't like the severity of a just reprobation. They want a reprobation on the basis of foreseen sin or foreseen unbelief or foreseen rejection of Christ and the Gospel. To think someone is reprobate before they have had a chance to decide for themselves is to the complainers an abhorent doctrine.
What it comes right down to is that the complainers are upset with God Himself. It is God, His grace, and His judgment that they have problems with.
B How can we answer those who murmur and complain against God and His ways? Let us first realize that to complain this way is to rebel. It is unbelief. It is sin. It is the work of sinful pride. He who complains presumes to know better than almighty God.
Now notice the answer of the Canons. It refers, first, to the quote of Isaiah (29:16; 45:9) used by Paul in Romans 9. Let me quote the whole passage:
(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?Before the great and awesome Creator man is but a speck of dust. Man has no right to question or contradict or rebel against the infinite and sovereign God. When God speaks, there is only one attitude for man to assume: to shut his mouth, to be quiet, and to listen!
The second passage used by the Canons comes from the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. You remember, I am sure, what happened. Some workers were hired early in the morning, some at the third hour, some at the sixth hour, some at the ninth hour, and some again at the eleventh hour. At the end of the day every one of the workers got the same wages. The first hired workers complained about this even though the landowner gave them exactly what he had promised to give them. It is the landowner's response to their complaint that is quoted by the Canons:
(Mt 20:15) Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?
The point is clear, isn't it? If the lord of the vineyard can do as he pleases with his own money, then it is certainly true that the LORD of the universe is free to do as He pleases with the creatures of His hand. Just like the landowner doesn't have to answer to the workers, so the Lord does not have to give account for His actions to mere men. Just like the landowner can be as generous or stingy with his money as he wants to be, so the Lord can be as generous or as stingy with His grace as He wishes.
C Finally, we are told the true believer's response or attitude towards sovereign, free, divine predestination: a song of praise and adoration to God. We can never go wrong in singing a doxology of praise to God for great and wondrous are His doings, great and wondrous are His thoughts, great and wondrous are His ways. So we end by saying with the Apostle Paul:
(Rom 11:33-36) Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (34) "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (35) "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" (36) For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page