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|“The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep SILENCE before him.”|
“We are born lions, tigers, wolves and bears, until the Spirit of Christ tames us, and from wild and savage beasts forms us to be mild sheep” (Calvin).
Man Cannot Save Himself
Man in his fallen condition is condemned in his sin and has no ability whatsoever to gain entrance into heaven. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one … For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:10–23). “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; … For to be carnally minded is death; ... Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:5–8).
Left on his own, the natural, sinful man is destined to eternal destruction. If the Holy Spirit does not convict him of sin, he would be unconscious of his lost condition and would have no desire for the things of God. Man is so totally corrupted by his sin that he is incapable of choosing God. He is selfish and proud, and continually disobeys God. He has no strength whatsoever to keep the Ten Commandments. As a matter of fact, he breaks the Commandments every day.
Unless the Holy Spirit of God works in the heart of the totally depraved sinner, he will never come to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved. As Paul has said, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom 9:16). A sinner saved by God’s grace contributes nothing at all to his salvation. It is purely by God’s mercy that a sinner is saved. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8–9).
Man’s Salvation Is God’s Choice
The doctrine of unconditional election follows necessarily from the doctrine of total depravity. If man is totally incapable of saving himself from sin, it follows that salvation can only come to him by the pure grace and election of God. God’s election of man to salvation is not conditional upon any virtue, foreseen or otherwise, in fallen humanity. Our salvation is “not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8–10). The faith by which we are saved is “a gift of God.” “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom 3:27–28). “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Tit 3:5).
It ought to be understood that God’s decree of election is not at all based on foreknown faith. God did not look down through the ages to see just who would be good enough to believe in His Son, and then chose them on the basis of their faith. Such a notion does not glorify God but man, and is clearly erroneous. The Bible teaches that the foreknowledge of God is not passive but active. He knew us before time, and chose us even before we existed or did anything good or bad (Rom 9:11, 16). Ephesians 1:5 makes it quite clear that it was He who chose us directly and deliberately out of His own good will and pleasure, and not vice versa. As Jesus said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16).
Election in the Scripture frequently refers to God’s eternal and purposeful choosing of a people from among the sinful mass of humanity and appointing them to obtain everlasting life through His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. According to Calvin, “Every part of our salvation depends on election.” Unconditional election, then, bases our salvation wholly upon the grace of God. As the saying goes, “If anyone is saved, God does all the saving.” “Amazing grace—how sweet the sound—that saved a wretch like me.” “We are believers because we have been elected” (Calvin).
God Became Man to Save Sinners
The doctrine of limited or particular atonement is succinctly expressed by Augustine, “Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect.” Calvin accepts this as correct in his commentary on 1 John 2:2, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
The Calvinistic system of doctrine affirms the atonement of Christ to be universal in three respects—that it is sufficient, applicable and offered to all. There is nothing inadequate in Christ’s redemptive work on earth that would make it inapplicable to any member of the human race in any earthly circumstances. The atonement is absolutely infinite in its value and thus in its potentiality. No sinner will be lost for lack of a sufficient atonement. There is really no reason why any Calvinist should hesitate to use the words of Wesley’s great hymn:
Lord, I believe were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast the ransom fully paid,
Thou hast a full atonement made.
Although the atonement is universal or unlimited in its sufficiency, applicability and availability, it must be noted that the atonement is limited or particular in its intention, design, and ultimate results. It is not every single human being but only those whom God had elected that will be saved. There is a special sense in which Christ is the Mediator for His elect, and not for all. He said, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine” (John 17:9). Within the decrees of God, the atonement was intended to accomplish precisely what it does accomplish. It accomplishes the salvation of the elect of God; it furnishes the ethical and logical ground for common grace (Rom 3:25); and it renders the lost ethically and logically inexcusable (Rom 1:20).
God Calls Sinners to Be Saints
“When Christ sets out to save a people, He saves them!” (Machen). If God has elected to save a people, and has provided for the certainty of their salvation, it follows that He will infallibly accomplish that salvation. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, “All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it” (10:1–2).
God calls His chosen ones individually to Himself. There are two kinds of call: the outward call and the inward call. The outward call is a general call of the gospel to both the elect and non-elect issued by the preacher which by itself does not save. If the sinner is to be saved, he must receive the inward call. The inward call is a special call whereby the Spirit convicts the heart of sin, and enables the sinner to understand the gospel, and to believe in Christ. The gift of faith is imparted at this time. The outward call can be resisted, but no one can effectively or finally resist the inward call (John 6:37, 44, Rom 8:14, 30).
God Preserves His Saints to the End
“Once saved—always saved.” The elect of God will never lose their salvation because it is God who preserves them to the very end. God’s special providential preservation of His people will cause them to persevere in their faith to the very end. A person who is truly born again will reach heaven one day because God always keeps His promises and He never fails.
Jesus made this very clear in John 10:27–29, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
Concerning the perseverance of the saints, the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.
“This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof” (17:1–2).
One of Calvin’s repeated sayings is the exhortation, “Presume upon the veracity of God.” In simple modern English, we should say, “Take God at His Word.” Calvin says, “But, as for us, since we see that sinners are enjoined by the oracles of God to entertain a hope of salvation, let us joyfully presume so far on His veracity as to reject all confidence in our own works, to depend solely on His mercy, and venture to cherish a hope of happiness. He who said, ‘According to your faith be it unto you,’ (Matt 9:29) will not deceive us.” “God vouchsafes to those whom he has determined to call to salvation special grace” (Calvin). The God who has called us home will surely lead us safely home as He promised.
Christians are commanded and exhorted to preach the Gospel throughout the world to all mankind. God has promised emphatically and repeatedly that “whosoever” commits himself to Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour, “whosoever” believes and trusts in Him, will infallibly be saved to an eternal life of blessedness. The doctrines of election and atonement do not contradict the Great Commission of Christ (Matt 28:18–20).
As a matter of fact, it is precisely because God has chosen some to be saved that makes the preaching of the gospel effective and fruitful. If God had not chosen anyone to be saved, no one would be saved. Man in his totally depraved condition can never and will never come to the Saviour on his own.
And so God graciously invites all men to salvation, and the Spirit makes them able to accept that invitation. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev 22:17). “God offers his word indiscriminately to the good and bad; but it works by his Spirit in the elect; … as to the reprobate … it renders them without excuse” (Calvin). We are to preach the gospel to every class of men, and assure every man that if he would repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ he would be saved.
The Calvinistic doctrine of God’s election and predestination gives great assurance in our preaching of the gospel and training of young people for pastoral, missionary, and evangelistic work. We have a very reassuring and joyful doctrine of evangelism and salvation: “God has chosen a people in Christ, from before the foundation of the world. He has provided in Christ for the certainty of their salvation, and for their progress in grace. He has made to all men the universal offer of salvation by faith in Christ. If, therefore, you will put your faith and confidence in Christ as your personal Saviour, you can know, with the infallible assurance of the Word of God, that you are one of His elect. ‘Take God at His Word!’”
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