Server Outage Notice: is transfering to a new Server on Tuesday April 13th

2367 sermons as of June 13, 2024.
Site Search powered by FreeFind

bottom corner

Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
 send email...
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:God's choosing can't be cancelled
Text:CD 1 Article 11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 100

Psalm 90:1,2

Psalm 102:1,10,11

Hymn 1

Psalm 147:1,2,6

Scripture reading:  1 Samuel 15

Catechism lesson:  Canons of Dort 1.11

* 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,

Just a few short years ago, just about every political party and persuasion agreed that marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.   Now they insist that marriage ought to be redefined to include same-sex relationships.  It’s so typical for human beings, isn’t it?  We can be so fickle.  Our minds can so easily change in so short a time.  We see it so often. 

What if God is like that?  The first chapter of the Canons of Dort teaches us about election.  Election is God’s choosing a definite number of specific persons to salvation in Christ.  Election is not based on anything we do, whether faith or good works or anything else.  Rather, election is based on God’s grace and his good pleasure.  But is God’s decree of election trustworthy?  If election is based on God’s good pleasure, might his good pleasure change at some point?  Can you be elect one day and then the next day you’re not? 

We’re asking if God is capricious.  If someone is capricious, it means that they might randomly change their mind about things.  You don’t know what you’re going to get from one day to the next, because they’re undependable – capricious.  Is God capricious?  There are definite consequences if he is.  Certainly, we lose out on comfort and security in our faith.  What comfort or security is there in election if God might change his mind about it?

Yet that’s exactly what the Arminians argued for in the days of the Synod of Dort in 1618-19.  The Canons of Dort have a section with each chapter entitled “Rejection of Errors.”  If you look at page 564 in your 2010 Book of Praise [page 571 in the 2014 Book of Praise], you’ll see Error 6.  It says, “Not every election to salvation is unchangeable.  Some of the elect can and do indeed perish everlastingly, notwithstanding any decree of God.”  In other words, the Arminians said that God might change his mind about you and your salvation.  What an awful idea!  Where is the comfort with a fickle God who might choose you at one point and then let go of you at another? 

Against that we confess the reassuring truth that God’s election is unchangeable.  God’s choosing can’t be cancelled.  That’s what we’re learning about this afternoon.  We’ll first look at how this is grounded in God’s character and then we’ll answer a question that’s often raised in connection with this.

The Canons of Dort leave no doubt about our election.  If you look at what it says in article 11, election cannot be undone and then redone.  Election is either done or it’s not.  Once God makes his decree of election it stands.  Election can’t be changed.  It can’t be revoked or taken back.  God is never going to say, “Oops, I made a mistake in choosing that person to salvation – I take it back.”  Election can’t be annulled.  In the past you sometimes heard of marriages being annulled.  If it came to light later that there was something that invalidated the marriage, then the marriage would be annulled.  Legally speaking, it would be as if it never happened.  If election would be annulled, it would be as if it had never happened.  But we confess that to be impossible.  Similarly, the elect can’t be cast away nor can their number be diminished.  God’s decree of election was made before creation.  It included a definite number of people and that number is never going to grow or shrink.  You could say that the number of the elect is written in stone.  It’s like the law of the Medes and Persians in the book of Daniel – it can’t be changed. 

The Canons of Dort are echoing what the Bible teaches on this.  Jesus said in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  “I will never cast out” – those whom the Father has given to Christ are the elect and they will never be thrown away.  Similarly, our Lord spoke about his sheep in John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  That’s security right there.  If you are one of the elect and you’re in Christ’s hand, you’re secure and you’re secure forever.  Your election can’t be reversed or cancelled. 

That’s grounded on something solid, or to say it better, it’s grounded on Someone solid.  This is grounded on God and his character.  Our unchangeable election is based on God’s perfections, his attributes.  That’s why we can be so confident about it.  Specifically, the Canons of Dort point out that God is “most wise, unchangeable, all-knowing, and almighty.”  When it uses the word “most” there, that’s pointing to the fact that God is each of these things perfectly.  He is perfectly wise, perfectly unchangeable, perfectly all-knowing, and perfectly almighty.  Let’s look at each of these.

Human beings can have a measure of wisdom.  The Bible is designed to help us grow in wisdom.  When we’re young, we might think a certain behaviour is okay.  But as we grow we get wiser from the Scriptures and we come to understand that our previous way of thinking and behaving was wrong.  We grow up, we get wiser, things change in our lives.  Even as we get older we’re growing, though we never have a perfect measure of wisdom.  We’re always growing and developing in that area, or at least we should be.

However, God is perfectly wise.  Romans 11:33 speaks of the depth of the riches of his wisdom – it’s an infinite depth because God has the perfection of wisdom.  Biblically speaking, that means that God always thinks and acts in the best ways.  God has the best plan and the best way to carry out his plan.  God has perfect wisdom and therefore when God made his decree about election, it was made perfectly wise.  There would never be any need to adjust it.  You don’t have to adjust what’s already perfectly wise.

God is perfectly unchangeable as well.  Unlike human beings who are fickle and unreliable, God never changes.  The theological term for this is “immutable.”  We say that God is perfectly immutable.  Who God is today is who God will be tomorrow.  What God was like before the foundation of the universe is what God will be like when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead.  Malachi 3:6 says, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”  You can count on God to be always the same.  When God makes up his mind about something or someone, his mind is made up.  When God made up his mind about election, that’s it.  God is immutable and so is his decree of election.  God is not going to backtrack and revisit his decree or overturn it.  It’s there and it is what it is.  And what it is, is what it will always be.  For believers, that’s a reassuring truth!

We also find reassurance in God’s perfect omniscience.  Omniscience is God’s perfection by which he knows everything.  Human beings are far from omniscient.  We don’t know everything.  Based on the knowledge we have on something at a certain point in time, we might make a decision.  But then later on, we get more knowledge, we learn more and then we have to change our previous decision.   Let’s say you decide to go out to a restaurant to eat.  It’s your favourite restaurant and it’s always been good.  When you arrive, you find that the restaurant is closed for renovations, so you change your decision and decide to eat somewhere else.  Stuff like that happens all the time.  It wouldn’t happen if we were omniscient.  If we were all-knowing, we would know the restaurant is closed, we wouldn’t have to learn it. 

But God is perfectly omniscient.  There’s nothing for him to learn.  He knows everything – he always has and he always will.  Psalm 147:5 says, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.”  He has perfect understanding, perfect knowledge of absolutely everything.  Therefore, there’s nothing that’s going to happen in this world that’s going to take him by surprise.  God is never going to say, “I didn’t know that would happen.  I better change my decision.”  Specifically, when it comes to election, since it’s not based on what we do, God is never going to have to revisit his decree concerning us.  He knew everything at the beginning, he knew all our sins and shortcomings, but his choice of us wasn’t based on how good we were or not.  It was based on his grace and good pleasure.  It’s going to stay the way it is. 

Last of all, we confess that God is perfectly almighty.  Another way of saying that is that he is omnipotent.  He is able to do everything – everything that’s consistent with his character.  When we say that God can do everything, we don’t mean that God can sin.  Sin is inconsistent with his character, with his goodness, holiness, and righteousness.  God can do anything consistent with his character.  He is almighty and perfectly so.  So his power and might never shift or adjust.  He doesn’t grow or diminish in power.  That is relevant to election too. 

Imagine if God were to change in his power.  Let’s say that he grows in power over time.  At a certain point, he didn’t have the power to make a decree about your election – you were too strong for him.  But later he’s strong enough to do it and overcome your power.  What kind of God would he be?  Or let’s say that he weakens in power.  At a certain point, he had the power to make a decree about your election – you were too weak to resist him.  But later, you grew in power and you were able to resist God’s decree of election and overturned it.  Again, what kind of God would he be?  Thankfully, these are just hypothetical scenarios, pure fiction.  God is perfectly almighty.  His power is never going to change.  No one is more powerful than he is, no one ever will be.  When he makes his decree of election, there’s no one that can stand in his way or change his decree.  It says in Isaiah 46 that he is God and there is no other.  In Isaiah 46:10, he says, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.”  He will because he is perfectly almighty. 

Therefore, God’s choosing can’t be cancelled.  It can’t be cancelled because of who God is and what he’s like.  Loved ones, election is a done deal and it’s as reliable and unchangeable as the God who decreed it.  That’s comforting, don’t you think? 

Still, there are questions that get raised.  People sometimes ask about God’s repentance.  There are Bible passages that appear to speak about God repenting or changing his mind.  That could lead us to one of two conclusions:  either there are contradictions in the Bible or the Arminians were right after all.  But there is a third possibility.  Maybe we haven’t understood those passages properly.  This afternoon we’re not going to go through all the passages of the Bible which appear to speak of God changing his mind about something or other.  Let’s just concentrate our attention on 1 Samuel 15. 

Earlier in the book of 1 Samuel, the people of Israel were without a king.  They looked around them at the other nations and they all had kings.  The people decided they needed one too and they agitated for one.  Finally, in 1 Samuel 9 and 10, God gave them a king in the person of Saul the son of Kish.  At first, Saul appeared to be a success.  However, in time his true heart began to show.  He was more interested in following his own will than God’s will.  That comes to a head in 1 Samuel 15. 

King Saul was commanded by God to annihilate the Amalekites.  These were mortal enemies of God and his people.  The Amalekites had blood on their hands, they were not innocent victims.  They also represented an ongoing danger to the security of the Israelites.  Saul was to go and attack them and erase their existence from the face of the earth. 

Sure enough, he defeated them, but he didn’t obey God’s commands.  He spared Agag the Amalekite king and he also saved the best livestock from the Amalekites.  God noticed Saul’s failure to obey.  He came to Samuel and said in verse 11, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.”  God regretted making Saul king.  The same thing is basically said at the end of the chapter, in verse 35, “And the LORD regretted that he made Saul king over Israel.”

The problem for many people comes with Samuel as he confronts Saul.  Samuel tells the king he has been rejected by God.  Like the torn robe, the kingdom has been torn away from Saul and given to someone else.  That’s where we find the verse many people stumble over, verse 29:  “And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”  Do you see the problem?  Verses 11 and 35 say that God regretted making Saul king.  But verse 29 says that God will not have regret because he is not a human being.  So what is it?  Does God have regret?  Does he change his mind or not?

Before I explain this, remember one important thing:  the Bible is not a human book.  It was given to us by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is perfect God.  He knows what he is doing.  We have these words together in the same narrative because the Holy Spirit put them here together.  It’s not an accident.  It’s not because of sloppy human beings who weren’t paying attention.  The Holy Spirit is behind this and he’s teaching us something here. 

The same word can be used in the Bible in two different senses.  It happens more often.  As a classic example, you could think of the way Romans speaks of justification and the way James speaks of justification.  Romans speaks of justification as God’s declaration that we are right with him, whereas James speaks of justification as the vindication of our faith before our fellow human beings.  There’s no contradiction between these two when you understand that.  Something similar is happening here in 1 Samuel 15.

Let’s take the meaning of verses 11 and 35 first.  What does it mean that God regretted making Saul king?  It doesn’t mean that he thought he had made a mistake earlier.  It doesn’t mean that he’s gone back on his decision and revised it in the light of the circumstances.  This language is meant to have us understand how God relates to human beings and how he reacts to them.  The Holy Spirit wants us to understand that God changes his attitude towards the people who rebel against him and reject him.  Because of Saul’s grievous sin, God was no longer pleased with Saul.  The relationship has changed.  God’s eternal decree is not in view here at all.  What’s in view here is how God interacts with human beings in time and space.  There is a real relationship, there is real interaction.  In this relationship, God is grieved.

You have to consider why God would reveal this.  It’s because there is a need for a king who will not grieve God or give him regret.  David would be that king, at least at times.  But even David fell and sometimes horribly.  There was a need for a greater king.  When King Jesus came, God said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  There would be no regret with that King, and he’s our King.  Not only is he our king, but we share his anointing.  If we are in Christ by faith, we are kings.  If we place our trust in this Saviour, God will never say about us, “I regret that I have made you a king.”

Now what about verse 29?  Here the context is different than verses 11 and 35.  The words in verse 11 were spoken by God to Samuel.  The words in verse 35 were written by Samuel to the reader.  But in verse 29, Samuel is speaking to Saul.  He delivers God’s judgment to Saul.  His kingdom is finished.  And when Samuel says in verse 29 that God does not lie or have regret, he’s saying to Saul that this judgment is fixed.  It will not be reversed.  This is the way it is, Saul.  God has said that and it’s not a warning.  It’s going to happen exactly this way.  This has been decreed and there’s no getting around it. 

So, when we’re thinking about election, verse 29 is more applicable than verses 11 and 35.  Election is an unchangeable part of God’s decree, just like Saul’s loss of the kingdom was an unchangeable part of God’s decree.  You see, verses 11 and 35 are not about God’s eternal decree, but about God’s relations and interactions with human beings in history.  Like in any real relationship, God can and does react to what the other party does in that relationship.  It’s not that it takes him by surprise, but he comes down to our level and uses this human language and the notions of human relationships to help us understand our relationship to him.  I think you’ll find that any place in the Scriptures that describes God’s repentance or regret fits with what we find in 1 Samuel 15.  It’s used to describe a change in God’s attitude toward someone within the context of a relationship. 

At the end of the day, the truth is that God does not and will not change his decree of election.  He cannot change it because of his character.  He never will change his election.  If you are one of his elect today, you will always be.  Loved ones, you should never doubt it or question it.  If you’re in Christ by faith, you can be confident that your election is firmly fixed.  Have you heard of indelible ink?  Indelible ink is ink that cannot be erased.  If you’re in Christ by faith, your name is written in the book of life with indelible ink.  There’s no one and nothing that can change that.  That’s the comfort of every Christian.  It’s a comfort which helps us to find our joy in God.  It’s a comfort for which we can thank and praise God daily.  AMEN.                       


Heavenly Father,

With your Word we confess that you are perfectly wise, perfectly omniscient, and perfectly omnipotent.  You are unchangeable and so also is our election.  This gives so much comfort and reassurance.  Thank you for who you are and what you have given in our election.  Thank you for revealing to us that we can trust you.  Father, thank you that we can wake up each day knowing that our election is secure.  Please continue to work in our hearts with your Word and Holy Spirit.  Please continue to strengthen our faith in you and in our Saviour Jesus.  Father, please help us to trust you as our loving Father.  Help us not to doubt your plan for us, help us not to doubt your goodness, your love, or your power.  Grant us all, young and old, a growing faith in you.  We pray that for our joy and for your glory. 


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

Please direct any comments to the Webmaster

bottom corner