The ultimate basis for the salvation of man lies in the recesses of eternity, emanating from the counsel of God’s will. Before the foundations of the world were framed, and before any creature was brought into being, it was by the eternal counsel of God, whereby He has determined the eternal destiny of all mankind.
God decreed in eternity. We know that decree as Predestination. It is the eternal counsel of God, whereby He has elected in Christ certain definite individuals of fallen humanity to salvation, and left the remainder in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.
The decrees are the beginning of God’s works in eternity, and they are eternal. God’s eternity is that perfection of God whereby He is exalted above time, so that with Him there is no past or future, only an eternal presence. The other works of God, those works in nature and grace, fall within the pale of time, but the decrees belong to eternity.
The decree of predestination is the concurrent act of the three persons of the Trinity, who are one in their counsel and will. Predestination was so decreed at the great Counsel of Peace or the Counsel of Redemption. Before anything was, the Scriptures tell us, the Triune God had thoughts of peace concerning the children of men, and that before He created a single being.
Now predestination consists of two parts, that of election and reprobation. Election is defined as: “That eternal act of God whereby He, in His sovereign good pleasure, and on account of no unforeseen merit in them, chose a certain number of persons to be the recipients of special grace and eternal salvation.” Since election is the expression of the sovereign will of God, it is immutable and therefore renders the salvation of the elect as certain. This is of great comfort to the believer because their final salvation does not depend on their uncertain obedience, but has its guarantee in the unchangeable purpose of God.
Election is from eternity and does not in any way depend on foreseen faith, as taught in Armenian doctrine. It is exclusively based on the sovereign good pleasure of God, who is also the originator of faith and good works. Paul wrote, “According to the power of God who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus, before the world began” (II Timothy 1:9). Peter greets the various churches throughout Asia Minor as “Being elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (I Peter 1:2).
This election is irresistible. It is possible for man to oppose its execution to a certain degree, but man’s opposition cannot and will not prevail. This does not mean that God simply by decree overpowers the human will in a manner, which is inconsistent with man’s free agency, but rather God can and does exert an influence on the human spirit, to make it willing.
The fact that God favors some and passes others by does in no way warrant the charge that God is unjust. If God owed forgiveness and eternal life to sinners, than it would be an injustice if He saved only a limited number of said sinners. However, we have no claim as sinners on the blessings, which flow from eternal election. Not only do we have no claim or right to call God into account for electing some, and passing by others, for we must admit that He would have been perfectly just if He had not saved any. Particularly since all mankind are born in sin, and having a corrupt nature, are inclined to hate God.
The very decree of election implies the existing fact of reprobation. If the all-wise God possessed of infinite knowledge has eternally purposed to save some, than it goes without saying that He also purposed, by that very fact to reject others.
Election and reprobation both determine with absolute certainty the end to which each is predestined, and the manners by which that end is realized. God will bring to pass by His own direct efficiency whatsoever He has decreed. While it can be said that God is the Author of regeneration, calling, faith, etc., and in that way brings their election to come to pass; it cannot be said that He is the author of their fall, nor the unrighteous conditions, and the sinful acts of the reprobate. God does not place any direct action upon them, or in any way cause them to realize their danger in being reprobate.
We must accept and uphold the doctrine of election as a fundamental truth, because election is one of the indispensable doctrines of grace. If we deny this doctrine, then it will inevitably lead in one way or another, to a denial of the truth that we are saved not by our works, but by grace alone.
There are those who claim the doctrine of election destroys all motivation to believe, because, one way or another, our destiny is set, and we can do nothing to change our situation. This line of reasoning assumes that God has determined the end without the means, when just the reverse is true. The event is determined with the means. For example, God having decreed that man shall live by the eating of food, however if we refuse to eat we shall die. Likewise, God has decreed that we shall be saved through faith, but if we refuse to believe, we will perish.
We now to turn the scriptural spotlight on God’s works in time, keeping in mind that without the works of God in eternity, as a foreshadow to the works of God in time, there would be no salvation for anyone. God’s works in time, relative to the salvation of the elect, are known to us as the doctrine of the application of grace, or more commonly, as the way of salvation. The way of salvation includes the following parts:
1. the calling, 2. Regeneration, 3. Conversion, 4. Faith, 5. Justification, 6. Sanctification, and 7. Glorification. Our God being a God of order, these parts constitute God’s orderly plan for the salvation of sinners.
As to the calling, God has entrusted the church with that responsibility, even as Jesus commanded his disciples saying, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned” (Mark 16: 15, 16).
This calling of men to be saved is divided into two parts: the external call, and the internal call. The message of these calls are the same to a point, namely, the preaching of the gospel message, and the rich and full offer of grace. Both calls present the well-meant offer of salvation, but here the similarity ends.
The external call comes by the Word, and comes to everyone who is privileged to hear it. This call touches the exterior of man but owing to his corrupt nature, inherited from the “Fall”, it does not reach into his soul. Being spiritually dead in trespasses and sin, he hears the call with his ears; however, the ear of faith has not been restored to him, thus preventing the message from reaching his soul.
Therefore, the Scriptures inform us that the external call is insufficient for salvation, as we read, “many are called, but few are chosen”.
The external call comes by the Word whereas the internal call comes by the Word and Spirit. The external call comes to all who are privileged to hear the gospel, while the internal call comes only to the elect. The external call is not saving and it is insufficient to cause the sinner to come to repentance, while the internal call, by means of the Spirit, who opens the heart to receive the call to repentance.
While it is the Spirit of God who brings life, we should not lose sight of the fact that salvation is the work of the Trinity. Each member of the Trinity has a specific part to play with respect to our salvation. First, it is God the Father who in His electing love determined to save a multitude of persons, so great that no man could number them. Secondly, salvation apart from the merits of Christ is utterly impossible and all together inconceivable, for it was Christ who by His perfect obedience and sacrifice has earned salvation for His people. Third, it is the work of the Holy Spirit who opens the heart to enable it to receive the Word unto salvation.
Therefore, salvation is truly the work of God, and man is not the captain of his soul, nor is he the master of his fate. It is God the Father who elects, the Holy Spirit who turns the hearts of the elect to Christ, and Jesus who is able and willing to present the believer as righteous before the Father.
The next part in the order of salvation is regeneration. This, too, is entirely the work of God. In regeneration man undergoes a revolutionary change, in which man himself is totally passive. This change is absolutely necessary if the sinner is to be made alive, and become a child of God.
Without regeneration man remains in his natural state of sin in which his understanding is darkened, his will perverse, and his affections unholy. What is it then that takes place by means of the revolutionary change in man? The Old Testament tells us: “And Jehovah Thy God will circumcise thy heart to love Jehovah with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that ye may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6); and again “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:24). This is what takes place in regeneration, and it is totally and completely the work of the Holy Spirit.
Looking to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was led to go out of the city, on a Sabbath afternoon, to the riverside, where prayer was wont to be made. He sat down and spoke to the women who were gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, heard Paul and attended to the things spoken of him. The Lord opened her heart, so that she received the Word and believed. Consequently, both she and her household were baptized the same day. Who then can deny that salvation is the work of God?
There is one interesting note to this revelation. There were a number of women there with Lydia who heard the same gospel message given by Paul, yet they did not respond. Why? The obvious answer is that God did not open their hearts to receive the Word and repent, and they having rejected the call returned to their homes unsaved. Out of the depravity and the corruption of their own hearts, have they willed not to believe?
God’s ways in dealing with sinful men is beyond our comprehension, and at times, we have troubled thoughts about the unsaved. We must remember that the unregenerate have no desire within themselves to be saved. Jesus gives us the reason saying, “how often would I have gathered thee together as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wings, and ye would not. Ye will not come unto me that ye may be saved” (Luke 13:34; John 3:40).
Conversion is the act of turning or becoming turned, from a sinful course to a life of obedience. A turning in conduct, whereby one who formerly wandered away from God, turns in his path and begins to walk toward God.
When man repents, his repentance is through grace given by God, given to him not only in a change of heart, but also to a change of life. Man is not passive in conversion as he is in regeneration, but remains active. In regeneration, God transforms the heart of stone and renders it into a heart of flesh. This must precede conversion, since the man with a heart of stone will not confess his sins nor confess faith in Christ.
These gifts of grace are especially active in conversion, namely knowledge of one’s sin and misery together with the gift of faith to believe. Such knowledge turns one to sorrow for sin, even as the gift of faith drives one to Christ. Thus, we must never lose sight of the fact that conversion is first of all, the work of God. It is God’s influence in the heart of a sinner, which causes him to turn. He is not forced to turn but his will is renewed, so that he desires to do what God wills.
Man is given certain measure of power to do as he wills, but in every act, he is dependant on the inspiration of God. Therefore, his conversion is first a work of God. In the act of conversion, God leads people in different ways in their conversion, so we must be careful not to dictate a certain method to all alike. The Philippian Jailor, under desperate circumstances cried out to Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” We must assume that Paul had presented him with the gospel, (external call) at one time or another. The Spirit working in his heart prepared him for such a time of crisis, and the result was a sudden and dramatic conversion.
On the other hand, there are those covenant children who are born and baptized in the church. They were given the blessings of the covenant of grace from early childhood. They were born again as children, and grew up in the service and fear of God. In such people there is no dramatic crisis, no conscious turning from a sinful life. Yes, they, too, were regenerated and converted, although we cannot say when. It could have happened at anytime under their religious training. The fact that they appear before the Elders to confess their faith in Christ is evidence that they have been converted.
In the command to repent, Divine grace is speaking. This command to repent is not a command of man, or even the minister of the gospel, but is the command of God. Repent ye and believe in the gospel. Man cannot claim spiritual ignorance as an excuse for disobedience.
When it comes to conversion much depends on the outward means of grace. They must be suitable to the needs of the heart, and proper training and teaching must be available for the seeking soul. The word of God is the means used by the Spirit to convict one of sin and lead one to Christ. Thus, the preaching of the word is a very important element in the means to conversion. The word must be preached in its entirety and adapted to various ages, and conditions of life.
God calls and man is duty bound to respond. Some say, “I am not ready yet!” Will you be ready when God calls? The Psalmist said, “So teach us to number our days” something no man can do. God will not ask whether or not you are ready, when He calls, you will go.
In the natural sphere, believing is to accept as true that which a person says, and in like manner, a saving faith is to accept as true that which God says in His Word. When we have heard about a matter, we can either accept it or reject it. When we believe we accept it as true, that is the manner of faith.
Saving faith is the living conviction wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit testifying that the gospel is true. Such a faith accepts the offer of the gospel, obeys the demands of the gospel, and puts his trust in the assurance of the gospel. Accordingly, we not only embrace Christ as Savior, but we also desire to obey Him as Lord.
This faith must be ascribed to God who has chosen His own from eternity in Christ and He calls them effectually in time and confers upon them faith and repentance. He rescues them from the power of darkness and translates them into the kingdom of his own Son. There are three essential elements of faith which are necessary in order that a person may believe, namely knowledge, conviction, and surrender.
The object of faith is God’s testimony, and to believe this testimony, we must have knowledge. It is a known fact that one cannot believe in something of which he has no knowledge, and the soul cannot desire or love what it does not know; this would be impossible! Therefore, God has given us His Word, that we might have the means to acquire this knowledge and it requires us to study diligently the word, to assure us regarding that Faith.
The more we know about God and His Word, the greater will be our confidence and ability to believe. The measure of our Faith can often be determined in accordance with the measure of knowledge we possess concerning God’s word. Man cannot place his faith in God, unless he has first lost faith in himself, this he will only realize through the study of the Scripture.
The second element of Faith is conviction. We learn from the Word that our knowledge concerning that Word should build within us a conviction of the truth of God’s Word, and one not only desires fervently to live by it, but if need be is prepared to die for it.
We are not presently being tested to the ultimate, as were our forefathers, who in refusal to deny their faith were fed to wild beasts, burned at the stake, or placed on the rack. However, the hatred of Christ and Christianity is building so rapidly, even in America, that Christians of our present day may soon be required to defend their faith in the face of severe persecution.
The third element of true faith is surrender. This is related directly to conviction. In this instance, the word “surrender” means that we surrender our life to Christ, in obedience to His word and will.
Many verses in the New Testament confirm what God had ordained in Genesis 3:15. God decreed from that time forth there was to be a line of demarcation established between Christianity and the World. Thus the Christian, in obedience, is to fight against all evil, and abstain from all worldliness, living his life in accordance with the Word of God. True faith therefore evidences itself in such obedience, and such obedience is impossible without faith.
Living the Christian life will inevitably bring conflict with the world. Satan is ever present to deceive us in an effort “to take away the word” (Mark 4:15). Consequently, the Christian finds himself struggling between the life he is living, and the life he knows he should be living. A conflict exists between what he is, and what he should be. This is expressed in the willful desires of the human heart as compared to the will of God for his life.
True faith is not only to surrender, but also to be glad you surrendered. The act of surrender is one of the fruits of faith and represents the life of thankfulness of which our catechism speaks. Only in complete surrender may one expect the peace of God to flood his soul.
Mr. Dow Haan is a member of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.