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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
 www.frcsr.com/fellowship/melville/
 
Title:Election is the fountain of every saving good
Text:CD 1 art 9-11 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2020-06-28
Added:2021-12-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation: ESV

Book of Praise: 2014

Psalm 147:1,2

Psalm 147:6

Hymn 66:1,2,3

Hymn 83:1,2

Read:  Jeremiah 24; Isaiah 46

Text:  COD Chap 1, art 9-11; R.E. chap. 1, no 5.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every Christian, from whatever church background he might be from, will hold to some sort of doctrine concerning divine election.  Anybody who reads the Bible will learn that God chooses, or elects, some people to eternal life.  And anybody who reads the Bible will also learn that others are not chosen, or elect, to eternal life.  As far as this goes, all Christians who believe that the Bible is true are in agreement.  Where we are not all in agreement, however, is in our understanding as to who God elects, how he elects them, and why God chooses some, and not others, to eternal life.   The basic point of difference is this:  Some people will teach that our faith, our holiness, and our godliness is the cause of God electing us to eternal life, whereas others will teach that our faith, our holiness, and our godliness is the result of God electing us to eternal life.  Or, to put it as a question:  Did God elect you because he knew that you would believe, or do you believe because you are one of God's elect?

  But that leads on to another question:  does it really matter?  If we all love Jesus, does the way you understand God's election really make any  difference?  What's the point of it all?  Why did they have a big international synod, the Synod of Dort, about this in the 1600s, and why do we have this taught in the Canons of Dort today? 

  This afternoon I wish to teach from articles 8,9 and 10 of chapter 1 of the Canons of Dort in the light of God's Word, and especially what we read in Jeremiah 24 and Isaiah 46.  By doing so I intend to explain what we as Reformed Christians believe concerning election and also describe the rich comfort and assurance that we receive from this.  I preach God's Word to you under this theme:

Election is the fountain of every saving good

1. Election is based on God's good pleasure

2. Election is assured through God's unchangeable character

 

1. Election is based on God's good pleasure

The theme that I have chosen for this afternoon's sermon, "Election is the fountain of every saving good" is a line that is taken out of chapter 1, article 9 of the Canons of Dort.  This theme is meant to clearly state that our faith, holiness, godliness, and perseverance are not the cause of our election, but the fruit of our election.  It is because God elected us to eternal life that we believe, and not the other way around.  This afternoon I wish to explain this further by directing your attention to the Bible passages we read together, beginning with Jeremiah 24.

Jeremiah was a prophet who lived in Jerusalem at the time of the exile, and chapter 24 explains that some people, including King Jeconiah, also known as Jehoiachin, along with the officials of Judah, the craftsmen and the metal workers, had already been taken into exile.  That had happened in 598 BC.  The rest of the people remained in Jerusalem, and Zedekiah was made in king in Jeconiah's place.  Because only some people had been taken into exile at this point of time, and because both the city and the temple in Jerusalem were still standing, those who remained in Jerusalem became proud.  They asked why it was that they got to stay behind whereas others had been deported to Babylon and they concluded that the reason for this was that they were good whereas those in Babylon were bad.  But they were wrong, and so God gave Jeremiah a vision to tell the what was about to take place.

  In his vision, Jeremiah saw two baskets of figs.  One basket had very good figs, the best of the best, whereas the other basket had figs that were so bad that they could not be eaten.  And what the Lord said about these baskets of figs, and what he meant by them, is very interesting when it comes to our understanding of why God chooses to elect some people to eternal life.  When the vision began with Jeremiah seeing two baskets of figs, you might have thought that the message would be that those in exile in Babylon were good figs and that on account of them being good, they would be blessed, whereas those left behind in Jerusalem were bad figs, and so they would be cursed.  But that's not what God is saying here.  Let's read again from Jeremiah 24:4-7.

4 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 5 “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. 6 I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

There are a number of things to take note of here.  First of all, notice that God does not say that he would set his eyes on those in exile because they were good , but, verse 6, he would set his eyes on them for good.  Jeconiah, or Jehoiachin, was not a good king, and he and those who went into exile were not good people.  They went into exile because they had sinned.  But God was not finished with them.  Although God had sent them into exile, he would set his eyes on them for good, and bring the back to the land of Judah and Jerusalem.  And then see what he, God, would do in verse 6.

"I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up."

But now why would God do this?  Why would he bring those whom he sent into exile back and establish them once more in the land of Israel, with the promise that they would be with God forever?  The Arminian would say that God would do this because they, God's people in exile, were good figs, because they had repented and turned back to God.  The Arminian would say that first God's people Israel would have repented and turned back to God, and then God would treat them for good.  But Jeremiah 24 says something different.  Jeremiah 24 says that God did not treat them for good because they were good, but that he would treat them for good.  That's an important difference.  And that difference is made clear in verse 7.

7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

"I will give them a new heart to know that I am the LORD."  Do you see what God is saying here?  He would give them a new heart, they would then return to him with their whole new heart, and therefore they would be his people and he would be their God.  But it all starts with God.  It all starts with God giving them a new heart.  John Calvin wrote in his commentary on Jeremiah 24,

"How is it that a sinner returns to the right way and seeks God from whom he has departed?  Is it because he is moved to do so of himself?  No, but because God illuminates his mind and touches his heart, or rather renews it.  How is it that God illuminates him who has become blind?  Surely for this we can find no other cause than the gracious mercy of God." 

What God is teaching us here in Jeremiah 24 is that he does not choose or elect those who are good, but he makes good those whom he has chosen.  And that's the point that Canons of Dort chapter 1, article 9 is making when it says,

This election is not based on foreseen faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition, as a cause or condition in man required for being chosen, but men are chosen to faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, and so on. Election, therefore, is the fountain of every saving good, from which flow faith, holiness, and other saving gifts, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects. This the apostle teaches when he says, Even as he chose us (not because we were, but) that we should be holy and blameless before him (Eph 1:4).

Election is the fountain of every saving good from which flow faith, holiness, and so forth.  You are not elect because of your faith, your godliness, your holiness and perseverance, but instead your election is the reason for your faith, your godliness, holiness and perseverance.  God chooses to elect some to eternal life, and those whom he elects, he changes.  He gives them a new heart, he works faith, and he cultivates in them a desire to turn to him and to love him.

  But that is not because of us.  For how can anyone who is dead, how can anyone who needs a new heart before he can do anything, claim any credit for their election?  As John Calvin also wrote in his commentary on Jeremiah 24,

We do not indeed turn, unless we are turned; we do not turn through our own will or efforts, but it is the Holy Spirit's work."

And therefore our election is all of God.  As Chapter 1, article 10 of the Canons of Dort rightly says,

"The cause of this gracious election is solely the good pleasure of God."

But now what about the bad figs?  If it was only by God's grace and his good pleasure that those in exile in Babylon could be given a new heart so that they might therefore seek God and be blessed by him, was it then God's fault that Zekekiah and those remaining in Jerusalem would punished?  Of course not!  Zedekiah and those with him in Jerusalem had sinned and they deserved every bit of the punishment that was to fall on them.  But by his grace, out of a common mass of sinners, God adopted certain persons to be his own possession.  That was his will, and that was his work.  And we would do well to praise him for it.

 

2. Election is assured through God's unchangeable character

As Reformed Christians it is our conviction that the Bible teaches us that election is the fountain of every saving good.  As Reformed Christians it is our conviction that the Bible teaches us that God first elected us to eternal life and then, on account of that choice, he gave us a new heart, a new will and a new life.  God did not show his grace to those who were in exile in Babylon because they were good figs, but their becoming good figs was the result of the good that he showed to them while they were still bad.  Not everyone agrees with this.  In the Rejection of Errors no. 5, the Arminians taught that

"... faith, obedience of faith, holiness, godliness and perseverance are not fruits of unchangeable election to glory.  Instead they are necessary conditions and causes required and foreseen as accomplished in those who are to be fully elected."

In other words, the Arminian teaches that election is not based on God's good pleasure but instead on man's decision to believe.  And the Arminian will also teach that election is not the fountain of every saving good but the fruit of faith and obedience.  We are convinced, however, that the Bible teaches us something different. 

But does it really matter?  If we all love Jesus, does the way you understand God's election really make any difference?

Yes, it does matter, and yes it does make a difference.  It is, of course, most important that we believe all that God teaches us, and that we rightly handle the Word of Truth.  But the doctrine of election is also important because ultimately it is to be found in the person and the attributes of God.  In other words, the reason why God elects us the way that he does is because of who he is and what he is like.  And that gives us comfort, that gives us assurance.   The Canons of Dort chapter 1, article 11 says,

"As God himself is most wise, unchangeable, all-knowing and almighty, so his election can neither be undone and redone, nor changed, revoked, or annulled; neither can the elect be cast away, nor their number be diminished."

The people who hold to an Arminian understanding of election, an election that is ultimately to found in man, fail to comprehend the greatness of God.

Our second Scripture reading this afternoon was from Isaiah 46.  Isaiah's prophecies were also focused on the time of the Exile and in chapter 46 the LORD wished to impress upon his people that he is in control and that he will do what he has planned to do.  Indeed, nothing will stop him.  He is not like the gods of Babylon who needed to be carried on the shoulders of men, who could not move from the place they were set down, and who could not answer when one cried out to them in times of trouble.  No, our God is not like that.  Rather, he said in Isaiah 46:3-4,

3 “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; 4 even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save."

"I did all that!" God said.  "I have made, I will bear; I will carry and will saved."  Yes, "I am he."  And nothing is going to change that.  Jerusalem might soon be invaded, the temple destroyed and the city left in ruins, but God will still be God.  And so it says further in verse 8-11,

8 “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

He is God, and there is no one like him.  His counsel shall stand, he will accomplish all that he has purposed.  And there is no one and there is nothing that will get in the way.  And that's why chapter 1, article 11 of the Canons of Dort describes God as the One who is

"most wise, unchangeable, all-knowing and almighty."

And it is with this understanding of who God is and what he is like that we then look at our election.  Reflecting on this in his commentary on the Canons of Dort, Daniel Hyde wrote,

"One of the things that should strike us as we think about predestination and Christians' responses to it is that they forget their God.  If we would just remember what Scripture says about God's character, a lot of our debates would go away!"

It is because of who God is that God's decree of election is settled, that election is unchangeable.  If election was of us, we would surely be lost.  But because it is of God, we cannot be lost!  "My counsel shall stand" God said in Isaiah 46:10, "and I will accomplish all my purpose."

  Imagine what a source of comfort this was to God's people when they went into exile in Babylon.  They went into Babylon on account of their own sin.  But God was still God.  And He would still save.  He would do what He had planned.

And now what does that mean for us?  What does that mean in relation to the doctrine of God's election?  I quote once more from Daniel Hyde:

"To know God's character is the most comforting thing you can imagine in this life.  The reason is that to know who he is as unchangeable means he's unchangeable toward you too.  In other words, why is election so important, so practical for us as Reformed Christians?  It's not to win an argument.  It's not to figure God out.  It's not to show off how smart we are.  Election is so important and so practical to us because it gives us assurance that God is for us.  It gives us comfort when we are tempted.  It gives us comfort when we don't feel saved.  It gives us comfort when our lives are a mess and it feels there is no meaning or purpose.  Take this away and there's no reason to live!"

And therefore we teach the biblical doctrine of election.  Because it matters.  Because it is grounded in God's unchangeable character.  Because it calls us not to look within our own weak and sinful selves for the assurance of our election but instead to trust in the one who changes not and whose compassions they fail not.  Instead we trust in the One who is faithful and who will do what he has purposed.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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