Reformed Spirituality

But God, Who Is Rich in Mercy

By Simon PadburyAugust 21, 2018
In Unconditional Election5 min read
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But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us...
Ephesians 2:4

God has created all things out of nothing. He is now providing us with our life, our breath and all that we have. It is in God, and entirely because of him, that we live and move and have our being (Genesis 1; Acts 17:25,28; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3).

It is God who sends springs of water into the valleys, who clothes the earth with vegetation, and who feeds all animals (Psalms 104). It is God that causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine (Matthew 5:45).

God has predetermined all the events of human history. All that ever happens—whether good or harmful, peaceful or destructive, in mercy or in justice—all comes from the hand of almighty God (see Exodus 4:21; 7:3,13; Psalms 115:3; 135:6; Proverbs 21:1; Isaiah 45:7; Acts 17:25-28; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3).

The all-knowing, all-powerful, all-governing, all-upholding, all-providing God has always known what he will sustain and provide and do. Nothing makes God change what he has willed and planned to do in any part of his creation. God is never thwarted, nor is he compelled to do anything against his will.

God himself says so: “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10; see also Acts 15:18; Romans 8:29,30; 11:36; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). He is the one true God, who “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).

Many have tried to avoid the clear meaning and force of this Biblical teaching in order to defend what they regard as human “free will”. But note that it is here plainly stated, that all things are worked by God in accordance with his own will.

Nothing happens by “random chance”. There is no random chance anywhere in the universe. Neither does anything occur merely as a consequence of natural laws. And neither does anything happen merely as a consequence of human, angelic or demonic influence.1

All that ever happens, happens because God has sovereignly decreed it from eternity past. God’s eternal decree of providence includes all that happens in our lives—good or evil.

It Is God Who Chooses

If it is true that God has pre-determined all things, then it must also be true that God has pre-determined who among the fallen sinners of mankind he will save from their sins and who he will leave in their sins.

And this too is a doctrine taught in the Bible.

The doctrine of Divine election (i.e. that God chooses to save some and not others) is also often contested and denied. But the word “elect” (or “election” etc.) is used twenty-three times in the New Testament—and it always refers to God’s selecting of some particular people in order to save them.

The word “predestinate” and its variants is used four times, again always referring to this same doctrine. And many times the word “chosen” is used in referring to this same doctrine too.

There is no doctrine of “universalism” in the Bible. God does not save the entire human race from the condemnation to hell.

God has predestined some fallen sinners to salvation, while he leaves the others to face the consequences of their sins as reprobates2—i.e. rejected (Romans 8:29,30; Ephesians 1:5,11; 2 Corinthians 13:5-7).

The Lord Jesus Christ did not save everybody when he died on the cross. But he saved a definite number of individual people. These people accumulate throughout the ages to become “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (Revelation 7:9,10).

The Bible teaches that those who reject Christ will be condemned to hell on the Day of Judgment. God has “committed all judgment unto the Son”; and the Son says to those on his left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed…” Thus they go into “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (Matthew 25:4 John 5:22; 1; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).

No-one who currently refuses to believe in Christ, or who rejects Christ, will have any problem with the thought that they may not be among God’s elect. In fact, they prefer not to be among the elect!

However, there are many genuine Christians who for a while (perhaps for many years) struggle with the doctrine of election.

They see the references to election and predestination in the Bible. They totally respect the Bible as the word of God—and therefore they cannot ignore these Scriptures or remove them. But they have difficulty accepting election and predestination at first because of the belief system taught by their church, in which the activity of God in this world tends to be ignored.

They are being taught to believe that God is not God over everything.

Denying That God Is God

If people attend one of the better Protestant churches where some remnants of the old Reformed Christian faith are still taught (or where, we thank God, they are being rediscovered), then they will learn something about the sovereignty of God in the preaching.

By asserting that God is “Sovereign” Reformed Christians mean that there is none higher; God has supreme power and authority that none can dispute, challenge or resist in any way.

God is God in the fullest sense of the word.

What God decides or decrees is unalterable. No-one can change God’s plans or prevent his providences—for if that were possible, then it would not be God who is the Sovereign over all things.

Also, the term “permit” should be properly understood. God does permit us to sin; but this does not mean a bare permission—it is a permission which carries with it a certainty that the permitted act will actually occur, because all things—even sins—are included in God’s sovereign decree over all things. For God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).

God was the author of human nature but he is not, in any sense, the author of our sins. Our sins are an expression of our fallen human nature, proceeding from our own corrupt hearts.

The doctrine of unconditional election2 is the foundation upon which the true, Biblical Gospel of “salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone” is built. (These are four of the great “Five Solas” of the Protestant Reformation: sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria—the other being sola Scriptura: Scripture alone.)

If a church rejects unconditional election, it will be logically constrained to abandon each of the other four points of Calvinism in favour of Arminianism (however, some resist the force of the logic and they endeavour to maintain an inconsistent 4-point or 3-point system for a while).

And along with their departure from these Biblical doctrines, that church will also be logically constrained to minimise the doctrine of God’s providence sooner or later. God will be imagined to have less and less to do with this world.

Sadly, it is common to hear from church pulpits these days the teaching that while some things are caused by the occasional Divine intervention, in general things are caused by natural laws, random chance, human free will and the influence of angels and demons. Some churches teach that angelic and demonic interventions are rare. Others teach that they are everywhere moving things around (but not as second causes under God).

All of these false doctrines make God less than God—less than the God of the Bible.

Chapter 6 of God’s Grace In Our Experience.

To be continued.

  1. Reformed theologians refer to these as “second causes”.
  2. The word reprobate means “disapproved (of)” by God, and therefore condemned.

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