Coming up next on Renewing Your Mind… As we come to the last section of chapter 3, section 8, we get to the what I call so what part of the doctrine. We've been studying for several sessions the difficult concept of God's eternal decrees, of predestination, election, and all that goes with it. And this doctrine, of course, is one of the most controversial issues that Christians debate all the time. And so having looked at the doctrine and the content of the doctrine, we ask the question finally, so what?
What difference does it make? And that's what's being answered here in this last segment. It begins by saying, the doctrine of this high mystery of predestination.
Let me just stop there. Two words jump out at me by the Westminster divines. That the doctrine of predestination is first of all acknowledged to be a mystery. That there are elements to the doctrine of predestination that in this world, in this life, we do not yet understand. God has been pleased to reveal some of it, but obviously not all of it.
So it remains to some degree at least shrouded in mystery. Now that's no reason for us to then pass it off as irrelevant or insignificant because though the Bible does not reveal all there is to know presumably about the doctrine of predestination, it certainly does make it clear that there is such a thing as predestination. As I've said at the beginning, the term predestination was not invented by Martin Luther or John Calvin or by St. Augustine, but it is right there in the text of sacred Scripture. Not to mention the word predestination, but also the word election, and the term elect is found abundantly throughout Scripture. So as I said at the beginning, if we're going to be biblical in our theology, it's not a question of whether we have a doctrine of predestination. We have to have a doctrine of predestination. The question is, is our doctrine of predestination the correct one, the biblical one?
Because obviously there is a biblical doctrine of election and predestination. Now it mentions the fact that mystery attends this doctrine, but even that term is qualified by the adjective high. It's not just any garden variety mystery that is associated with the doctrine of election, but this is a high mystery. Not that the mystery is more mysterious than all other mysteries, but that it is a mystery that attains a high and holy and very important and significant doctrine. Mystery, yes, but it's a high mystery. This is not one of the insignificant details of the Bible. Of course, I don't believe there are any insignificant details of the biblical revelation, but it can't just simply be dismissed as a technical point for scholars to deliberate only. But the doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care.
A couple of things I want to say about that. This is almost verbatim drawn from the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. Calvin, who is so famous for his Calvinism and for his doctrine of predestination and election, was perhaps more vocal on this point than any of the Reformers that the doctrine of predestination is so weighty, and in many ways so difficult, and can create so much confusion and bitterness and contentiousness in the church that it has to be handled in a way that it is characterized by profound wisdom. It's not to be dealt with flippantly. It's not to be dealt with superficially.
It's not to be dealt with bitterly or contentiously. But it is to be dealt with, as the Confession says, with a special prudence and care. This doctrine demands that not just ordinary wisdom and no ordinary care, but a special care. We have to be very careful with it and very wise with it. But some have taken that to mean that since it is a high mystery, and since to deal with it requires special care and special prudence, the safest thing to do is don't deal with it at all. But notice that it says before we talk about special prudence and care that this high mystery is to be dealt with. It is to be dealt with. It's biblical.
It's at the heart. In fact, Martin Luther called the doctrine of election the core ecclesia, the heart of the church, so that it's a core doctrine of the Christian faith, a central doctrine of the biblical revelation, and therefore it is to be dealt with, but recognizing that it's a mystery and recognizing that it is to be dealt with with a special care and a special prudence. But men attending the will of God revealed in His Word and yielding obedience thereunto. When I wrote my book, Chosen by God, I went out of my way at the beginning of the book to say to the reader that this is a difficult doctrine, one that people stumble over and struggle with sometimes for many years and often are led into a different direction from the classic position and so on. And so I was very almost patronizing in the early parts of the book trying to acknowledge the difficulty of it, and I even confessed that I was a Christian five years before I finally was dragged kicking and screaming against my will to submit to the biblical doctrine.
And I'll mention more about that anecdotally in just a moment. But towards the latter part of the book, after going through all of the biblical evidence, I said, if you are Arminian, and if you have looked at this and you have rejected the classical doctrine of predestination, and if you've rejected the Reformed doctrine of predestination, if indeed as I believe it is the biblical doctrine of predestination, then you need to repent of it because to deny something that the Bible clearly teaches and not just here and there but repeatedly and manifestly teaches is to be disobedient to the Word, and to be disobedient to the Word is to sin against God. One of the things I teach my students in seminary is that theological error is rooted in sin, and that's kind of shocking to them. You remember when the only president of the United States to be forced to resign his office was Richard Nixon, and when the United States went through that upheaval of Watergate and the rest, Richard Nixon went on national television, and he said to the people finally before he resigned, he said, I made a mistake, but I'm not a crook.
Some of you remember that. Right at the time that he did that, I happened to be visiting Capitol Hill and was being entertained by one of the senators at that time, and we were in an elevator going to the senate dining room, and he looked at me and he said, if Richard Nixon would have said what I did was wrong and I'm sorry, he would still be president. Because there's a difference between making a mistake and doing something that you know is wrong. You know, when you give the wrong answer to a math problem, that's not necessarily completely a moral failure. But if you cheat on the math test, you've done more than make a mistake.
You've done something unethical that requires repentance, and so you see the difference. But most people who deny the biblical doctrine of predestination do it not out of an attempt to be belligerent or recalcitrant against the hearing of the Word of God, but they've simply made a mistake in their thinking. However, when we make a mistake in handling the Word of God, you have to back up and say, why do we make the mistake? I'm sure I make mistakes in handling the Word of God, and I know that there are two major reasons that incline me to make mistakes in interpreting the Bible.
The first one is one of the basal sins of the human heart, slothfulness. When I mistake the Scriptures, it's usually because I'm lazy, and I haven't loved the Lord my God with all of my mind. I have looked at passages, studied a few things about it, but I haven't treated the subject exhaustively. I haven't applied my whole mind to everything that the Bible teaches about a given subject. There are many areas of the content of the Bible about which I remain ignorant, all of which is to my shame because I have not been absolutely diligent meditating in the Word day and night like I should be if I were perfectly sanctified. And so that's one of the main reasons for error in biblical understanding is because we haven't really done our homework.
We haven't really studied the matter to the degree that we should. But even more important is not so much the sin of sloth as the sin of pride. There's something about this doctrine that slays our pride, and we don't want to believe it because somehow it insults our understanding of God, who we think God is or should be. And we like to hold on to the idea that I've had something to do that contributed to my coming to faith in the first place and cling to that illusion that my salvation was at least in part my own doing.
Because the doctrine of election rather than engendering pride makes you realize you have nothing in which to boast except in Christ and His work in your behalf. But notice that the framers of the Westminster Confession are talking here about obedience to the Word, and I said I would give you an anecdote about that. I told you already that I struggled with this doctrine for five years, rejecting it even though I had it set forth to me by some of the most brilliant people I ever met, some of the most godly people I ever met, my mentor in college who was the head of the philosophy department and had an advanced degree in theology as well, was reformed in his theology. He explained this to me in depth, and I graduated from that college and from his influence, still an Arminian. I had a visiting professor at that college who had an international reputation as a theologian, studied the gospel of John under him, under which he explained the doctrines of grace and the gospel of John, and I still resisted his brilliance. Then I went to Pittsburgh Seminary and the King of the Calvinists taught there, John Gerstner, who was the most brilliant theologian I've ever met anywhere in the world, and Gerstner didn't convince me. That job came ultimately to Paul, the Apostle, and I was driven to the Apostle Paul by Jonathan Edwards, and it was reading Edwards that finally got me through, but I had this card that I had this card that I had in my study in seminary that said, you are required to believe, to preach, and to teach what the Bible says is true, not what you think it should say is true. And that convicted me because I realized that my resistance to the doctrine of election was not exegetical but psychological.
I didn't like it. But finally, Romans 9, I tried every which way. I tried every way that Arminians tried to tell me today how to get past Romans 9.
I've been there, done that, and many, many ones that they haven't even thought of yet to try to get out from underneath the weight of the biblical testimony of Romans 9, and I realized I couldn't do it. And so I reluctantly acquiesced to the doctrine. I said, alright, if that's what the Bible teaches, and that's the Word of God, there's something I'm missing here, but I have to accept this, and so I will.
And two things happened after that. One, God has a sense of humor and a sense of proportionate justice that I fought the doctrine so long, He made me a spokesman for it to people who fight it their whole lives, and so I've had to be on the other side of the aisle for forty years and put up with all of the objections that I was raising myself before and try to be patient with people, remembering that there but for the grace of God went I for so many years. But in any case, not only that, but it wasn't long after I acquiesced to the doctrine that I began to see the sweetness of it, the loveliness of it, and how greatly it magnified God.
And to me the doctrine of election in no way casts a shadow of a character of God, but rather it just bursts forth with the fullness of the glory of His grace. I mean to this day I'm still amazed by grace that a God who is as holy as God is would ensure the salvation of a single person amazes me, because I don't think He owed salvation to anybody, and I know He didn't owe it to me. And I know that I couldn't have been further away in my heart from the things of God than I was the night I met Christ. Just as the Apostle Paul was as zealous for his opposition to the church until Christ unilaterally, supernaturally, and immediately changed him on the road to Damascus, so God interrupted me in mid-stride.
I wasn't seeking Him. I was running from Him as fast as I could, walking according to the way of this world, according to the power of the prince of the air, bitter and angry against all things religious when God in His mercy changed my heart. And again, when I began to see that it was God, that salvation is of the Lord, that it wasn't me, it wasn't me.
It became… I began to see it on every page of the Bible, and I wanted high once so long, missing it. And so we're encouraged here by the confession to yield obedience to what God reveals in His Word, thereunto me from the certainty of their effectual vocation, that from the assuredness of their effectual calling, be assured of their eternal election. This, as I mentioned earlier, that one of the great practical benefits of this, as Peter says, that we are to make our election sure because that feeds and generates confidence in us as we pursue growth in grace and in sanctification. So shall this doctrine afford a matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God. Three things. That this doctrine, if we understand it this way, should have an effect on us to increase our praise of God.
I mean we sing the doxology, but do we mean it? Praise God from whom all blessings flow. And the greatest blessing we have is our election. The greatest blessing we have is our being included in His family by adoption. The greatest blessing we have are all of the promises that come to us when we have faith, and that faith is a gift of God.
We didn't generate it. And more and more and more I study this doctrine of election, and I see that salvation is of the Lord, the more my soul sings the praise of God, which is just the opposite of those who hate this doctrine because one of the things that they genuinely struggle with is that they think that is that they think that this doctrine somehow casts a shadow on the goodness of God. There was an article in the paper about the tsunami controversy, and a local minister here was talking in agreement with Rabbi Kushner why do bad things happen to good people. You know if he has to think about whether God ordained this terrible catastrophe, no. The first thing that defines his understanding of God is that God is a God of love, and a God of love would never ordain a tragedy like this. He said, let the insurance companies call it an act of God. Really it's simply a natural disaster that has nothing to do with God because God is a God of love, alright. And he's also an impotent God who has no control over the ocean that He made. He has no control over the wind that He controls, no control over earthquakes that shock, you know this was just simply one of these accidents of nature. I read that, and I wanted to weep.
I read it in the paper. But that's basically the theology that is the majority report in our world today. Whereas this doctrine of the eternal decrees of God should abound to God, should abound to our praise.
What else? Reverence and admiration of God. It should increase our sense of awe. It should elevate our sense of adoration. And then what should it do to us? On the one hand, understanding this doctrine changes our attitude towards God, elevates our praise, adoration, reverence, and so on, and respect for Him.
But it also and likewise does what? End of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel. When we stop holding on to something that we believe entitles us to heaven, then we understand something of the biblical concept of humility.
Augustus' top lady understood it. There's no hymn that lauds this work of God more eloquently than Rock of Ages. That's why it's one of my favorite hymns. And my favorite part in the hymn is when top lady writes, nothing in my hand I bring. Nothing.
Not one thing. You know, as much as I've studied this doctrine, there are times I find myself thinking, well at least I did this, or I did that, and I almost feel like I'm entitled to a place in the kingdom of God. But the more we understand the doctrine of the free grace of God, the more we're driven to our knees not only to praise Him, but to break our own pride, realizing that there is nothing in us that was the grounds of God's choice of us. It should make us more diligent and give to us an abundance of consolation.
That's right. This doctrine is not a doctrine of terror. It's a doctrine of consolation. It's a doctrine of comfort. It's the comfort that Paul spoke of in Romans when he came to the end of his discussion on it, saying, if God be for us, who can be against us? That's the proper response to the doctrine of election.
WEBB I hope you caught that. This is not a doctrine of terror. It is a doctrine of consolation. That is food for thought, isn't it? We heard today that the majority of Christians reject predestination in one form or another, but it is a biblical doctrine, and we need to understand it.
You heard R.C. Sproul share his own struggle with it, and perhaps that's where you are right now. You've heard of election but really don't know what it's all about, or like me, you were raised in a tradition that rejects it. Let me commend Dr. Sproul's book, Truths We Confess. He provides helpful commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is the historic confession that explains predestination and other important doctrines. We'll be happy to send you the hardbound edition of this book when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. There are a couple of ways you can make a request.
One is by phone at 800-435-4343, or if you prefer, you can go online to renewingyourmind.org. Dr. Sproul has called the Westminster Confession one of the most important confessions of faith ever penned, and that's why I commend Dr. Sproul's book. It shows us how all of the doctrines in the Bible fit together. So request Truths We Confess when you go to renewingyourmind.org or when you call us at 800-435-4343. And in advance, let me thank you for your generosity. Your donations are what allow us to continue airing teaching series like the one we've heard this week. Well, I hope you have a wonderful weekend, and after worship and Sabbath rest on Sunday, I hope you'll join us again Monday for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-25 11:50:49 / 2022-12-25 11:59:13 / 8