Earlier Studies –
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section One – Authority, Revelation, and Scripture
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Two – Theology Proper
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Three – The Decrees of God
- Studies in The Baptist Catechism: Section Four – Our First Parents, Sin, and the Fall
Q.23: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A. God having out of His mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life,1 did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.2
2Romans 3:20-22; Galatians 3:21-22
The Baptist Confession teaches us that “the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election.” In so doing, we are told that the result will be a certain “matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel,” (The Baptist Confession of 1677/1689, 3.7). God’s remedy to all that we observed in the previous section of our study is found in His sending of a Redeemer.
This Redeemer was not merely sent on a search and rescue mission for any who would, of their own good nature, choose Him. Rather, He was sent specifically to rescue His bride, those whom the Father had chosen in Him and given to Him for His own glory. As we study these great and glorious truths, let us pray that God would bring about in us the results listed in The Baptist Confession: praise, reverence, and admiration of God, along with humility, diligence, and abundant comfort.
Today, we arrive at simultaneously one of the most difficult doctrines of the Bible to teach to the modern mind and, yet, one of the most encouraging doctrines of the Bible. We do not say that this doctrine is merely doctrinal; it is biblical. Doubtless, the honest reader of the Bible must admit that the doctrine of election is a major reoccurring theme throughout its pages. The question is not whether or not the Bible teaches on election. The question is what the Bible means by election.
For starters, we ought to ask if the Bible’s teachings on the matter are clear or less clear. Scripture itself is clear in all matters to do with essential doctrines and essential practices. However, not all Scriptures are as clear to all or alike plain in themselves. Many doctrines require much digging and interpretation by other Scriptures.
“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them,” (Ibid., 1.7).
The question is whether the Bible’s teaching on election is clear or not so clear. The Reformed confessions make plain that the Bible’s teaching on election is laid forth in very clear and plain terms. There is no ambiguity as to the meaning it intends in its usage of the term. Some may attempt to distort its meaning and impose cryptic interpretations upon it, but they do so out of theological and philosophical impulses, not exegetical ones.
We find the doctrine of election in the apostles’ usage of several terms. For our study, let us focus on just three: chosen / elect, predestined, and foreknown. Let us take each of these terms in turn. First, the apostles tell us that we are chosen by God. Clearly, we have already established the necessity of our being chosen. As a result of the original guilt that is ours in Adam, the original sin we inherit from him, and the actual sin that we commit every day, none of us is deserving of God’s mercy and grace. We each have inherited an estate of sin and misery. We each deserve hell. Furthermore, none of us choose God, but we each follow slavishly after gods of our own making. Left to our own devices, we are the condemned ones who choose to remain as we are. If we are to be reconciled to God, He must intervene. He must choose either all or some upon whom to place His great mercy and grace.
What does the Bible mean when it uses the terms chosen and elect, though? First, it means that we are individually chosen of God. When a king or a people choose the high-ranking individuals who will lead their armies, they do not choose the whole nation for the task and then offer that any and all volunteers who step forward will have been chosen. When an officer is said to be chosen, that is an individual honor that is being bestowed (Exod. 15:4; Judg. 20:16). When God called out Israel (Deut. 7:6-7; Ps. 105:43), He did not claim to choose both Jacob and Esau and then leave it to them to choose whether they wanted to be His chosen people. The choice was His, and He set His love upon Jacob (Rom. 9:10-13).
We see this concept interspersed throughout our experience on this earth. No child likes to be chosen last for sports. When playing soccer or kickball, team captains are usually selected by the group. Then, the team captains go through and pick from the group each kid that they would like to have on their respective teams. The choice falls to the captains, not to the group. They do not each say, “I choose the group. Now, choose for yourselves.” The same is true in our understanding of adoption. In a family with six kids—three biological children and three adopted—the unique mark that falls upon the ones who were adopted is the fact that they were chosen by their parents. Out of all the other kids that might have been chosen from among the orphans that needed homes, their parents chose them. Children raised by their biological parents do not have this unique privilege.
As children of God, we each have the privilege of knowing that we were chosen in this way. “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father,’” (Rom. 8:15; NKJV). Each person who is truly saved has been adopted by God, engrafted into His family, divinely chosen. Yet, it is important to note that the choosing occurs far prior to the receiving of the Spirit of adoption. As the Catechism states, we were elected “from eternity past.”
“4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,” (Ephesians 1:4-5; NASB).
Here, we come to our second word touching election: predestined. We are told in Ephesians 1:5 that we were predestined to this adoption. That is what is meant when we are told that we were chosen before the foundation of the world. It means that God’s unique, choosing love was placed upon specific spiritual orphans, and He determined from eternity past the ones upon whom He would set His adopting love and the ones upon whom He would not.
Paul tells us that it was “In love” that we were predestined to this adoption. We must ask ourselves, then, what we know about the God who is said to have placed His love upon us. Does He learn anything? Does He adapt His eternal decrees to meet with new knowledge He has obtained from His observance of us? No. What God knows, He has known from all eternity. What He has decreed will come to pass. “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’” (Isa. 46:10; NKJV). What we see, then, is that God’s love for us did not have a beginning. God determined before the foundation of the world, in eternity past, in His infinite, eternal knowledge, that He would set His love upon His elect. For this end, we have been predestined.
Here we come to our third term. What God has loved from eternity past He has loved because of His eternal, infinite knowledge. Thus, the apostles make clear that we are predestined of God precisely because we are foreknown of Him. Some have claimed that the foreknowledge of God means that He foreknows our choice of Him, and thus that He retroactively chooses us. Stop and think what this claim does to our doctrine of salvation, though. If we are chosen because of our choosing, we are ultimately chosen because of something in us. We have reason, then, for boasting. This is the first flaw in this interpretation of the term.
Secondly, this interpretation is flawed because our actions (such as choosing God) are nowhere to be seen in any of the texts that speak of God’s foreknowledge of His elect. Rather, we are told in Ephesians 1:4-5 that we are predestined to adoption in love. It is out of God’s adopting love, then, that we are each made children of God. In 1 Peter 1:2, Peter writes that we are chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God,” (NKJV). Nowhere is our choosing of God mentioned. Nowhere is our ability to muster up our own faith mentioned. Nowhere do we find any room for boasting in this verse. Rather, we are chosen precisely because of God’s foreknowledge.
The term for knowledge here is an intimate term denoting a special love that is placed upon the object. In verse 20, when Jesus is said to be foreknown (the verb form of the term used in vs. 2), we know that Peter means an intimate knowledge that the Father had of the Son in eternity. To know someone in the Bible is to have a close, personal, intimate connection. We are told that, when Adam knew Eve, she conceived and bore a son (Gen. 4:1). To be known of God, then, is to be set apart in His particular love.
We are set apart in His particular love for a particular purpose, though. According to the Catechism, we are elected for everlasting life. This means that our election is ultimately eschatological. It points us forward to the last things. It has its roots in eternity, and it secures our place in eternity. Thus, while election is not sufficient in and of itself to save us, it certainly is of utmost necessity in our salvation from the beginning all the way to end.
The Covenant of Grace
Here we come to a great contrast within the Catechism. The estate of man under Adam is a truly wretched estate. In Adam, due to his failure to keep the Covenant of Works, we inherit an estate original guilt and original sin and, as sinners, we actually sin and incur the wrath and judgment of God. We further inherit an estate of misery marked by all the pain and suffering of this world, death, and hell. In Christ the last Adam, due to His perfect obedience, we inherit an estate of salvation. All who are in Christ have Him, not Adam, as their covenant Head. This is what has come to be known as the Covenant of Grace.
A moment’s hesitation before moving forward is wise. Just what is a covenant? we might ask. According to Walter J. Chantry, a covenant is “a sovereignly given arrangement by which man may be blessed,” (Chantry, Covenant Theology: A Baptist Distinctive, pg. 91). Had Adam and his posterity remained faithful to that first covenant, man would have remained in an estate of holiness, innocence, and joy with all of the blessings of communion with God and abundant provision from His hand. That was the sovereignly given arrangement, but man chose the curse instead of the blessing.
In the Covenant of Grace, God initiates a far greater arrangement. Rather than relying on a finite, fallen man to provide our covenant obedience, all who are in Christ have a Mediator who has perfectly obeyed the Father on their behalf. Thus, they have been transferred from enslavement to the Law, which they could never fulfill, to freedom as sons of the Most High. They do not rely on their own power, nor even could they, but merely on the power of Christ to save. This reliance upon Christ is what the Bible simply and regularly calls faith or belief. Hence, the Covenant of Grace is a covenant of faith, and believers’ covenant, a credo-covenant.
“20because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction,” (Romans 3:20-22; NASB; emphasis added).
This Covenant, in its ultimate fulfillment through the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, is what the Bible calls the New Covenant. All of the benefits of the Covenant of Grace were there from the Fall itself. Even in the issuing of the respective curses to the serpent, the woman, and Adam, God provided a promised Seed in which man might find salvation if he looked to Him and not to Adam (Gen. 3:15). Doubtless, as the firstborn, Cain was expected to be that promised seed, but he turned out to be a murderer (Gen. 4:1-8). Not only had Cain become a murderer, but his descendants proved to be unfaithful as well (Gen. 4:19-24).
God preserved His promise, though, through the line of Adam and Eve’s third son: Seth. At the birth of Seth’s first child, Enosh, it is recorded that men began to call upon the name of the Yahweh (Gen. 4:26). For several generations, the line of Seth continued to call upon the name of Yahweh. One of his descendants, Enoch, even walked so closely with God that he did not die, but was simply taken straight to be with God (Gen. 5:24), but not before he had a son. Eventually, however, this god-fearing line of Seth was enticed by the daughters of men, married them, and turned away from God (Gen. 6:1-3). By this generation, only one of Seth’s line was found to still be faithful to Yahweh: Noah. Remembering His promise to Adam and Eve, God destroyed all the world with a flood, but preserved the line of His promised Seed by granting Noah and his family safe passage on the ark (Gen. 6:13-9:1).
The promise of the Seed was further channeled through the line of Abraham and God’s promise to bless him and his Seed. As Sam Waldron explains in A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession, the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant build upon one another such that the temporal, earthly blessings promised to Abraham are conditioned upon the covenant faithfulness of Israel under the Mosaic Covenant (Waldron, A Modern Exposition, pg. 108). The requirement of covenant faithfulness through obedience was only binding toward the end those temporal blessings, though (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:18-21; 17:1-8). Those who continued to look forward to the Seed (Gen. 15:1-7), as did Abraham, received a greater, eternal inheritance (Gal. 3:6-9; 15-29). Likewise, all who like Moses consider the reproach of Christ to be greater than the treasures of this world (Heb. 11:24-25) are heirs of a greater promise than those earthly, temporal land promises granted under the Mosaic Covenant.
The law, then, was given to the people of Israel under the Mosaic Covenant, but the law was not merely granted as a condemning principle. It operated instead as a condemning principle with a purpose: to render us hopeless and drive us to the Seed in whom we are saved only by mercy. Thus, the promises were granted to those of faith alone from the fall of Adam and Eve until this very day.
“21Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe,” (Galatians 3:21-22; NASB).
So we see that, from Adam until now, salvation has always been all of grace. From Adam to Christ, that faith was in the promised Seed. From Abraham to Christ, the promise was bound up within a specific bloodline and, from Moses to Christ, it was largely to be found within specific borders and governed by specific laws. The temporal, earthly blessings of the covenant were furthermore granted to all who were within those borders and governed by those laws without respect to their own personal faith. At the first advent of Christ, though, all of those temporal scaffolds were discarded as unnecessary, and the Covenant of Grace broke through the borders and bloodlines.
Christ mobilized His people and gave them a new command, which is not really a new command: to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; cf. Gen. 1:28; 9:1; 12:1-3; 17:3-8). This multiplication is a multiplication not of physical offspring, but of those who believe as Abraham believed (Gal. 3:7). Now, men of all stripes regardless of household, nation, or ethnicity, are being brought into the estate of salvation by the great and gracious covenant struck by God and conditioned upon the obedience of His Son alone. All praise and glory be to God alone!