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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Why do some get the gift of faith?
Text:CD 1 Article 6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 95:1-3

Psalm 33:1-3

Psalm 33:5,6

Hymn 1

Hymn 78

Scripture reading:  Isaiah 46

Catechism lesson:  Canons of Dort 1.6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

All of us who have or have had young children have probably experienced it.  You tell your child something and then he or she says, “Why?”  Then you give an explanation which you think is suitable for your child.  But then they quickly ask again, “But why?”  That may go on for a minute or two and eventually you just get exasperated.  You give up and say, “Because I said so and don’t ask why anymore!”

In chapter 1 of the Canons of Dort we also follow a string of whys.  Why is all mankind condemnable before God?  Why did God send his Son?  Why did God send heralds of the joyful message of the gospel?  Why is there a two-fold outcome to the preaching of the gospel?  But eventually we reach a point where the whys have to stop.  The questions have to stop because there are no more answers.  There are no more answers because God hasn’t revealed everything to us.  In his wisdom, God holds back some things. 

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”  God has not disclosed everything about himself or his ways.  There are “secret things,” things he keeps to himself.  He reveals everything we need to know, but not everything we want to know.  Thus sometimes when it comes to our “why” questions we eventually reach a place where we can go no further and just have to accept what God has seen fit to say.

In article 6 of chapter 1 of the Canons, we’re getting to that place.  Article 5 answers the question as to why there’s a two-fold outcome to the preaching of the good news.  Unbelief is a sin, a rebellious and evil thing, and therefore unbelief is 100% the responsibility of the human being who disbelieves.  But when someone believes, faith is a good thing, and God is the source of all good things.  Faith is a gift of God, specifically a gift of God the Holy Spirit.  When someone believes it’s not because they’re such a good person or such a smart person, but because God in his sovereign grace has worked it in that person’s heart.  Faith is 100% the work of God – he’s the source.  But then you could ask:  why does God give some the gift of faith and not others?  That’s what we’re learning about this afternoon.  We’ll see that the answer has to do with God’s decree.  With the help of Canons 1.6, our focus is on God’s decree.  We’ll learn about its:

  1. Character
  2. Comfort

If we’re going to talk about God’s decree, then we need to be clear about what that means.  We need a definition.  I can’t find a better one than what’s in QA 7 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: 

“What are the decrees of God?  The decrees of God are his eternal plan based on the purpose of his will, by which, for his own glory, he has foreordained everything that happens.” [repeat

One of the key words in that definition is “plan.”  God has a plan.  His plan is based on his will, what he wants.  His plan controls everything that happens.  His plan controls everything that happens so that it all works out for his own glory.  God’s decree is always geared towards whatever will give him the praise and honour.

That definition is found in Scripture in places like Isaiah 46.  In that passage, God says there is no one like him.  He declares the end from the beginning – he lays out what is going to be done in history.  Verse 10 says that he has a counsel or plan which will stand and his purposes will be accomplished.  Verse 11 echoes the same thought.  God has a decree, he has a plan, and through this plan everything is under his control.

Included in that plan is deciding who will receive the gift of faith.  In his decree or plan, God chooses whom he will bring to faith in Jesus Christ.  In Acts 13:48, we read that after the gospel was preached some believed.  It’s put this way:  “…and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”  It doesn’t say, “as many as believed were appointed to eternal life,” but the other way around.  God’s decree led to the gift of faith being given.  This is also taught in Ephesians 1.  This is known as the doctrine of election.  Election is God’s choosing certain people to have faith so that they will be saved by Jesus Christ.  Election is part of God’s decree.  Election is explained in more detail in 1.7 of the Canons of Dort.  For now, we can also note that choosing some by its very nature means not choosing others.  In the words of 1.6, those not chosen are left “in their own wickedness and hardness by a just judgment.”  You have to really take note of the precise words:  they are left in their sinful state.  God leaves them or passes them by.  That happens in the fact that he chooses some, but not others. 

It also needs to be said that when God does that, he does no injustice to anyone.  Listen carefully.  No one deserves to be chosen or elected.  No one deserves to receive mercy from God.  No one deserves to get the gifts of faith and salvation.  No one deserves to have Christ as their Saviour.  We have no right to anything good.  We’re only entitled to punishment.  All have sinned against God and are equally worthy of condemnation – me, you, all of us.  Sometimes people will say that it’s not fair that God chooses some and not others.  When you use that word “fair,” you’re talking about what’s just.  What if all people were to be treated justly by God?  What if all people received what they deserved?  Then we would all be condemned, because that is justice.  You see the question isn’t, “Why doesn’t God choose everyone?”  The real question should be:  “Why does God choose anyone?  Why would he choose me?”  The answer to that again is God’s decree, coming from his good will and pleasure and aimed at his glory. 

Well, what else can we say about the character of that decree? 

It is eternal.  When we say “eternal,” we don’t mean that it will last forever (though it will).  Rather, it means that it was in place from eternity.  God’s decree or plan existed before the creation of the universe and, for that matter, even before the creation of time.  Actually, God’s decree transcends or goes above and beyond time.  That’s because God himself is not subject to time, he doesn’t live in time as his creatures do.  Yes, he acts in time and history in this world, but in himself, in his being, he is eternal -- which means that he is above and beyond time.  God is eternal, and therefore his plan too is eternal.  So, when he chose to give the gift of faith to some and not others, that took place in eternity. 

God’s decree is also universal.  That means that it encompasses absolutely everything and everyone.  Nothing and no one is exempt from God’s decree.  He is sovereign over all.  As Job 14:5 says, all our days have been determined.  Acts 17:26 tells us that God in his decree determined where every nation would live and for how long.  He rules over all these things.  Similarly, his decree covers every person and whether or not he will give to them the gift of faith. 

God’s decree is eternal, it is universal, and it is also immutable.  Immutable means that it is unchangeable.  When God has his plan, nothing and no one will change his plan.  That is because he is the immutable God, never changing in his essence and character.  Who God was at the beginning of the universe is who God will be to the end of the age and beyond.  God remains the same, and therefore so does his decree.  That’s why Psalm 33:11 says, “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”  God doesn’t make his plan in eternity and then go and change it down the track.  His decree, his plan once set in place is going to always be in place.  Loved ones, you can count on that. 

That’s where we tie into the comfort that Christians can take from God’s decree.  At the end of article 6 it actually says that we can take “unspeakable comfort” from God’s decree.  How?  It’s first of all comforting because you can be confident it’s not going to change from one day to the next.  God’s decree is stable, his plan is steadfast.  God is not fickle like human beings are.  We change our minds from one day to the next.  We make a plan and then something happens and we change our plan.  But God has a plan, he has a decree, and it is written in stone. 

Loved ones, that’s comforting because if you’ve been given the gift of faith, you know this was owing to God’s steadfast decree.  If that decree is unchangeable, if it’s steadfast and immutable, that gift of faith is yours for good.  God doesn’t decide to give you the gift of faith and then later on take it away from you.  If by his grace, you have Christ as your Saviour now through faith, then you can be sure that Christ will always be your Saviour through faith. 

There is more comfort in God’s decree when we reflect on the character of the one who makes the decree.  You could imagine a mighty dictator in a country somewhere.  He alone rules his country.   What he says is what gets done.  Nobody can argue with the dictator.  Nobody can make suggestions to the dictator.  He’s 100% in control and him only.  That dictator would be a human being and because he’s a human being, he’s going to be sinful.  He’s going to say and do things that are wicked.  His rule is not going to be perfect.  He’ll make plans and decisions that are flawed and that can cause trouble, especially because in a dictatorship there are no checks and balances, there’s no accountability.  This is why dictatorships are so horrific.  This is why generally the only people who like dictatorships are dictators.

God is not like that mighty dictator in that illustration.  God is 100% in control and he makes plans that lay out how things are going to happen.  And it’s true that no one can argue with God’s plan.  The difference is in the character of the Planner.  The Bible teaches us that God is good.  Scripture teaches us that God is filled with steadfast love.  Psalm 100:5 puts those two together:  “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”  Not only is God good and loving, he is also gracious and merciful.  He shows kindness to the undeserving – to us! 

Loved ones, there is comfort in God’s decree when we think on God’s character.  Because he’s good, loving, and gracious, his decree is going to reflect who he is.  His decree about who gets the gift of faith is good, loving, and gracious.  When he decided to give you the gift of faith, that was a demonstration of his goodness, love, and grace.  And whatever else he decided in his decree is equally reflective of his character.  Even when you can’t understand why he decreed one thing instead of another, the Bible teaches us that we can rest in the assurance that God will never compromise who he is.  He will never stop being who he is.  That’s guaranteed. 

There is a little more to say about God’s decree and the gift of faith.  For example, we ought never to presume to know God’s decree when it comes to other people.  You can’t pretend you know what God has decided about another person.  You might know someone who is presently unbelieving.  There might be someone you know right now who doesn’t see their need for a Saviour, they don’t see their sin, they don’t take God seriously -- they’re not a Christian.  But look, you don’t know where they will be a year from now or ten years from now.  So you can never say you know God’s decree about that person.  You can never say that God in his eternal decree has passed that person by and left them in their wickedness.  It could very well be that, after some time, the Holy Spirit comes to that person and brings them to faith.  Then you would obviously have been wrong about what you said about God’s decree.  Look, God’s decree is known only to God, not to you.  So don’t go around making pronouncements about people and their eternal destiny.  We can’t go around identifying people who are reprobates, definitely destined for damnation.  Only God knows for sure who those people are.  We don’t.  So be humble and be careful in the way you speak about others.

Like I said at the beginning, we also have to realize that here we come to an end of our “why” questions.  Why does God, in his eternal decree, decide to give the gift of faith to some and not others?  Because he wanted to.  Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.”  It pleased him to give the gift of faith to a certain number of people.  He didn’t do it because they were better or more worthy.  As the Canons of Dort say, all are equally worthy of condemnation.  No one is worthy of a gift of salvation.  God did it for reasons he alone knows.  We do know that those reasons are good and bring him glory.  But he hasn’t revealed those exact reasons to us and we have to be content with that.  We can go some distance in understanding God and his ways, but eventually we run up against the fact that his being God and our being his creatures means there are some things about him we’ll never understand.  If we did fully comprehend God, we would be his equals, on the same level as him.  But we’re not.  Compared to him, we’re like little children.  We keep asking our Father, “Why?”  And at a certain point, he says, “Enough with the questions.  From here, you just have to trust me that I know what I’m doing because I’m better, far greater and far wiser than you are.”  Loved ones, let’s keep trusting our mighty, good, and wise God.  By his decree, he’s in control of everything, and that’s always a good and comforting thing.  AMEN.                                            


Great Sovereign God,

With your Word, we confess you to be almighty, good, and powerful.  We believe you have an eternal, universal, and unchangeable decree.  It’s a decree that involves us.  We thank you that the gift of faith in Christ is ours through your decree.  Help us to value and treasure that gift.  With your Spirit, please give us more comfort from knowing who you are and what you have done.  Help us always to trust your love and power for us.  Father, please help us when we have doubts or questions about you and your ways.  We pray you would calm our hearts and make us realize we are just little children.  Give us a childlike faith to trust your Word always and what it says.                           

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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