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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Title:God reveals his gracious sovereignty in election for our comfort and his glory
Text:CD 1 art 18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Bible Translation: ESV

Book of Praise: 2014

Psalm 9:1,4,5

Hymn 1

Hymn 3:1,2

Psalm 106:23

Hymn 3:4,5

Read:  Romans 11-12:3

Text:  Romans 11:33-36; Canons of Dort chap 1, art 18


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

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

"Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgment and how inscrutable his ways!"  (Romans 11:33)

What an emotional doxology, what an exuberant song of praise from the apostle Paul!  In Romans 9 through to 11 the apostle Paul had been wrestling with a deep and troubling question:  why weren't more of his fellow Jews turning to the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ?  It was a question that grieved him so much that he wrote in chapter 9:2,

"I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart."

But now, at the end of chapter 11, he is neither complaining about it nor is he even sorrowful about it.  Instead, having considered God's sovereign work of election and reprobation he bursts into praise.  "O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!"

And that should teach us something.  That should teach us what our attitude and our response should be to the doctrine of election and reprobation.  "Not protest" the title for our Canons of Dort, chapter 1, article 18 says, "but adoration."  And so I preach God's Word to you under this theme:

God reveals his gracious sovereignty in election for our comfort and his glory

1. No complaints

2. Whole-hearted praise


1 No complaints

In this sermon teaching series on the Canons of Dort, we've come to the end of chapter 1.  We've learned what the Bible teaches us about divine election and reprobation.  We've learned that out of the entire human race that has fallen into sin, God has elected or chosen certain individuals to eternal life, while passing others by.  He's chosen us not because of anything good that we have done, nor because of any good that we might do, but he has chosen us simply because he is pleased to do so.   In that sense, God's election is unconditional.  As we learned in Ephesians 1:5-6,

"In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace."

Some people struggle with this doctrine.  Some people struggle with the fact that we can take no credit whatsoever for our salvation.  But we know it is true: salvation is of the Lord!

But there's another side to the teaching about election.  Because if God in his grace has elected certain individuals to eternal life, that means that he has passed others by and left them in their unbelief.  And that is indeed what God has done.  We call this reprobation.   But the teaching about reprobation can leave us feeling uncomfortable.  Is it fair of God, we might ask, for him to leave sinners in their sin?  Why would he do this?  Why would he elect some to eternal life but leave others to die in their sin?  How could a good and loving God do such a thing?  And, thinking and speaking in this way, some people have, some people have complained about this grace of undeserved election and the severity of righteous reprobation.  The fathers who were at the Synod of Dort in the 1600s and who put these Canons together knew that people thought this way and that the Arminians used this argument to argue against the doctrine of election.  And so they returned to this objection at the end of chapter 1 of the Canons, in article 18.  The first part of this article says,

"To those who complain about this grace of undeserved election and the severity of righteous reprobation, we reply with this word of the apostle: But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?  (Rom. 9:20).  And with this word of our Saviour:  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  (Mt 20:15)

Those who object or complain about election and reprobation are saying nothing new: such things were already said when the Bible was first written.  And so it is good to respond to this objection in the same way that the Bible does:  Wo are you, O man, to answer back to God?

And yet we do sometimes find ourselves answering back to God!  We do find this to be hard to accept and to understand.

One of the reasons for finding the teaching of God's election and reprobation to be hard to accept, however, is because it is so often misrepresented and misunderstood.  Some people seem to think that the doctrine of election and reprobation says that God condemns people to hell because they are reprobate.  In other words, some people seem to think that God chose to create innocent people so that he might damn them to hell.  But that's not true.  That is not what the Bible is teaching us.  We should never think or say that God condemns people to hell because they are reprobate.  No one can say that they will not be saved because God did not choose them.  Any person who is condemned will be condemned on account of their sin and unbelief.  Remember how we began our study of election and reprobation in the Canons of Dort.  We did not start with the idea that God is somehow dealing with innocent people whom he either decides to choose or reject.  Rather, we started with the reality of sin, that we have all sinned in Adam, that we all deserve eternal death, and that God would have done no one an injustice if he left us all in that state.  It is so important that we have this right understanding!

But there is something else that we also need to understand, and that is who God is and what he is doing in electing people to himself.  There is a danger that we get all theoretical when we talk about election and reprobation.  That's a danger not just because it makes this doctrine to be dry and hard, but because we can end up with a wrong understanding of how God is working for our salvation.  A wrong thinking about election and reprobation can lead to us thinking about God as though he is not really intimately connected with what is happening, as though he is distant and austere.  As though he is somewhat callous, unloving and unfeeling.  But that's not what God is like at all!  And so when we wrestle with deep and difficult teachings, such as the teaching about election and reprobation, we need to keep it real and we need to learn about these things in the context of what God is actually doing.  And that's how the apostle Paul worked through the doctrines of election and reprobation in Romans 9,10 and 11.

In Romans 9 through to 11, the apostle Paul was working through the question of why so many Gentiles were coming to the faith but so few Jews.  In Romans 11:1 Paul asked, "Has God rejected his people?"  Has he given up on them?  And the answer to that question is, Romans 11:1 says, "by no means!"  And verse 2,

"God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew."

And then, making it very personal, the apostle Paul used himself as an example of God's gracious work in election.  "Look at me!" Paul says.  He was an Israelite and, we know, he was even a persecutor of those who believed in Christ, but God had chosen him.  And not just Paul:  in times past, in the days of wicked king Ahab and the prophet Elijah, the LORD had kept for himself 7000 men who had not bowed the knee to Baal.  So also in the days of the apostle Paul, God would have mercy on whom he would have mercy, and he would bring his chosen ones to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.  And then Paul wrote in Romans 11:5-5,

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.

And so God has and will elect those who, in his grace, he has chosen to elect.

But now there is still another question to wrestle with.  What about those who seem hardened in their sin?  Should Paul - and should we - use what we know about election and reprobation to conclude that they must be reprobate and that we should give up any hope for them?  In other words, should we just praying for our children, our brothers and sisters, our loved ones or the people in our community if they make it clear that they are rejecting the gospel?  But the answer again is "No way!"  That's not the conclusion we should be reaching.  In fact, rather than use the doctrine of election and reprobation to complain that God is harsh or unloving, this doctrine shows him to be gracious and merciful!  In fact, in his infinite wisdom, God even uses this hardening for good.  And even with those who had hardened themselves in sin, God was not yet finished.  The apostle Paul went on to explain in Romans 11 that from those who had hardened themselves in unbelief - as, we know he himself had once done - God would gather a remnant for himself.

  And then, even more, Romans 11 explains how God would use the salvation of the Gentiles to bring the Jews to salvation.  The Jews would see the Gentiles' joy of faith, and the result would be that some of these Jews who up until that time had hardened their hearts would turn to Jesus Christ and be saved.  Romans 11:25-26 says,

"Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved."

And so God would bring his elect to himself.  Did Paul understand all of this?  No, he didn't.  Do we understand all of this?  No, we don't either.  But what we do understand is something of the grace of God in election.  God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but he will use all things to gather his people to himself.

And that's why we call these doctrines about election and reprobation "the doctrines of grace."  Because rather than show God to be stern, unmoving and unloving, they reveal to us something of the very heart of God.  These things teach us something about God's determination to elect his chosen ones to eternal life.  So therefore: no complaints.  No protest, but instead adoration.  That brings us to our second point,


2. Whole-hearted praise.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul was dealing with the deep things of God, and this is most certainly the case for chapters 9-11.  But the result of what Paul concluded in these chapters did not lead him to shrug his shoulders and say "It is all too hard", but instead it led him to an exuberant song of praise.

"Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!"  (Romans 11:33)

Verse 34 then says that when it comes to how God is working out his plan of salvation for each of his children, we cannot understand the mind of the Lord, but that does not stop us from praising him.  The very fact that God would show his goodness and his greatness by saving some to eternal life is so incredible that we can do nothing but praise him for it!

  "Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!"  These things are deep, so wonderful.  "My ways are not your ways" declares the LORD in Isaiah 55:8, "nor are your ways my ways."  There are things about God and there are matters to do with his decree of election that we cannot understand.  His wisdom, his knowledge, His understanding and his ways are beyond finding out.  But rather than complain about that, this is something to rejoice about!  Indeed, how great is our God!  Romans 11:34,

"For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?"

It's not for us to tell God what is right or what to do, nor is it for us to complain or to answer him back.  Rather, when we are tempted to speak back to God, let us in all humbleness echo the words of Job in the Old Testament who said in Job 42: 3,

"I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."

Because God is God and we are not.   And so let us leave things there, resting in the greatness and the wisdom of God.

And then moving on to Romans 11:35,

"Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" 

To whom does God owe anything?  The answer to that questions is obviously, "God owes nobody anything!"  Because since our salvation is of God from beginning to end, how could he owe this to us?  And therefore instead of speaking in such a way, we exclaim,

"For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be the glory forever."

He is the source of our salvation.  It is through his grace and power that we can be counted as those who are his.  And therefore to him along be the glory forever and ever!

And so it is, Chapter 1, article 18 of the Canons tells us, that we think about these mysteries concerning election and reprobation with reverent adoration, and we give our praise to God.

And it's not just praise with our lips, but praise with our lives.  We ended our Scripture reading this afternoon not at the end of Romans 11 but at the beginning of chapter 12.  And that's because what we read in Romans 12 and beyond is our response to what we know about God's work in election and salavation.  Romans 12:1 says,  "I appeal to you therefore brothers."  Therefore: because of what you have just been told.  Romans 12:1,

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."

What this means is that it is in response to God's electing love that we not only praise him but we also live for him.  The Canons of Dort will explain this in more detail in chapter 5 but already now it is good to see that a right understanding of election and reprobation not only leads to the praise of God's glorious grace, but it also leads to godliness.  To quote from the first half of the Canons of Dort chapter 5, article 12, rather than make us proud and complacent, these things must make us humble, reverent, and godly.  And that means, Romans 12 teaches us, that in presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice to the God of our salvation, we are not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  And as such we are to do that which is good and pleasing to the Lord.

And then, living for God in this way, rejoicing that our names are written in heaven, let us not be content with the assurance that our names are written in heaven, but pray that God might use us to call others also into the kingdom of his Son.  Let us pray that we might speak and live in such a way that others see and become jealous of the blessings that we have in Christ, so that they too might seek after God.  And then when they do, let us share with them the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Let us call them to come to Christ with the sure promise that whoever comes to him, our Lord will by no means cast out.  Because God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

And that's why the doctrine of God's election should not cause us to protest nor complain but instead lead us to praise and adoration.  Because God's work of election is not the work of a God who is callous, unloving and unfeeling but rather his work of election is the most wonderful display of his love for sinners.  Rather than leave us angry, confused and helpless, we may turn to our almighty and sovereign God with a sense of hope and of expectation.  Because he is good and he is gracious.  And those whom he has elected to eternal life will come and they will be saved.  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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