April 2008 • Volume XI, Issue 24
Source of the Church (2)
Ephesians 1:3-5 is far from the only passage in God’s
Word in which the Holy Spirit teaches the churches about the church’s
election in Jesus Christ.
The congregation at Thessalonica was probably only a
few months old, yet Paul wanted them to be sure of their eternal
election, speaking of it at the beginning of his letter: "Knowing,
brethren beloved, your election of God" (I Thess. 1:4). There are
congregations today, hoary with age, which do not have this knowledge,
and the last thing that their ministers would want to teach them is
unconditional election. This is disgraceful and totally opposed to
In case the Thessalonians missed it in his first
epistle, Paul refers to their election in his second inspired letter to
them: "we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren
beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning
chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and
belief of the truth" (II Thess. 2:13). The apostle thanked the Triune
God for their election, especially in this context (vv. 3-12), because
it is the grace which comes to us from election alone (v. 13) that keeps
us, unlike the reprobate (v. 11), from the apostasy, corrupt worship,
lying miracles and false teaching of the man of sin (vv. 3-4, 8-10) and
the "mystery of iniquity [which] doth already work" (v. 7).
Peter also taught the election of the church to the
churches. At the start of his first inspired epistle, he addresses the
saints in "Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (I Peter
1:1), as "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father"
(v. 2). Their election, issuing in their "sanctification of the Spirit"
(v. 2), made them "strangers" in this world (v. 1) and the recipients of
"grace" and "peace" (v. 2). Peter ends this same letter by reminding
them not only of their election but also of that of the church at
Babylon: "The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you,
saluteth you" (I Peter 5:13). In his next epistle, Peter wants them to
be convinced of their election, by seeing the fruit of the effectual
call in their lives: "give diligence to make your calling and
election sure" (II Peter 1:10). This living, humble knowledge of
your election, he states, will keep you from becoming "barren,"
"unfruitful" or "blind" (vv. 8-9) and it will enable you to persevere:
"for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall" (v. 10). Instead, we
will see the "entrance … into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ" open wide to us through a healthy, God-honouring
faith (v. 11).
In Colossians 3:12, the Holy Spirit instructs us that
the consciousness of our gracious election works graciousness in us:
"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels
of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering."
Election is far from a cold, dry, joyless, loveless doctrine. It is
God’s eternal, unconditional love and choice of us! Away with the
blasphemous talk of some, who refer to God’s dearly beloved and
blood-bought people (Deut. 7:6-8; John 3:16) as "the frozen
chosen"—profane language inspired by Satan!
Paul, that "wise masterbuilder" (I Cor. 3:10) whom
Almighty God "appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the
Gentiles" (II Tim 1:11), considered the knowledge of the election of the
church vital for Christian ministers. The true "gospel according to the
power of God" is this: "[He] hath saved us, and called us with an 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"
(vv. 8-9). This is the gospel manifested in the incarnation, cross and
resurrection of our Saviour (v. 10) and which Paul and all in the true
line of apostolic succession preach (v. 11). This gospel of God’s Word,
including the church’s election (v. 9), is the "sound words" (v. 13) and
"the good thing … committed" (v. 14) to Christian ministers, which they
must "hold fast … in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (v. 13)
and "keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us" (v. 14).
Later in this same pastoral epistle, the apostle
explains that election is crucial in understanding the apostasy of some
church office-bearers and members. Hymenaeus and Philetus had embraced
and taught preterism, claiming that "the [general] resurrection is past
already" (2:17-18). Their heresy spread like gangrene (v. 17) and
overthrew "the faith of some" (v. 18). What were the saints to make of
the apostasy of these two teachers and some of their fellow church
members? Does this mean that true believers can actually fall away and
perish? Can our regeneration, calling, justification and adoption be
negated? Do God’s faithfulness and promise fail? Are Christ’s sacrifice
and intercession for us weak and unavailing? NO! "Nevertheless the
foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth
them that are his" (v. 19)!
Other passages in the NT epistles could also be
considered, especially Romans 8, 9 and 11. For the sake of brevity, I
will also omit references to the other NT books and the OT Scriptures.
It will suffice to say that the election of the church is taught
throughout the Bible from cover to cover. It must be believed, rejoiced
in and preached as part of the whole counsel of God.
Next time (DV), we shall consider the practical
significance and comfort of the election of the church. Rev. Stewart
Who Are Saved? (2)
I wrote a piece in the last News under the
title: "Who Are Saved?" I wish now to respond to some correspondence on
that article: "I don’t have a problem with the answer given to this
question (except, perhaps, how the last paragraph was worded) but I
would suggest that elect infants, for example, who are utterly incapable
of hearing or believing the gospel and of exercising faith, are
nevertheless saved when regenerated and brought into union with Christ
and by having the merits of His sinless life, sacrificial death and
resurrection, indeed, His righteousness, applied and imputed to them.
The gospel, the Person and work of Christ alone, saves and saves 100% of
the time. However, I would submit that faith is not without exception
the instrument of salvation."
It is interesting that the Westminster Confession
addresses itself to this question: "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are
regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when,
and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons, who
are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word"
The Canons of Dordt also express themselves
on this question: "Since we are to judge of the will of God from His
Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by
nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace in which they, together
with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to
doubt of the election and salvation of their children whom it pleaseth
God to call out of this life in their infancy" (I:17)
It is true that some infants are saved by the power
of God’s grace, even though they never hear the gospel. This is very
obviously the implication of the articles quoted above. Both speak of
infants who die in infancy. I would even broaden that a bit and include
in infants who die in infancy the elect children of believers who die
I am somewhat reluctant, however, to agree totally
with this statement: "elect infants ... are utterly incapable of hearing
or believing the gospel ..." God works powerfully in mysterious ways. I
would not rule out the possibility that elect children who die before or
soon after birth are capable of hearing the gospel. We do not know what
effect the Psalms a mother sings while pregnant, the godly conversation
of a covenant family in the home, and the singing and preaching in
church that comes to an unborn child, has on an elect, though unborn,
baby. Doctors tell us that within minutes of birth a baby is able to
recognize the voice of its mother and distinguish it from other voices.
Cannot a child, born again by the wonder of regeneration and united to
Christ by faith, hear the voice of its heavenly Father? God works "when,
and where, and how he pleaseth."
I also take exception to the last statement of the
letter: "I would submit that faith is not without exception the
instrument of salvation." I insist (and I have an idea the correspondent
would not dissent) that if we remember that faith is, first of all, the
bond that unites us to Christ, then faith comes with regeneration.
Regeneration unites the elect with Christ because faith is a part of
regeneration. It is true that there may not yet be the exercise of faith
but even here we must be careful. We do not know very much about a
newborn child. I have seen newborn children at a very young age respond
to a Psalm, a prayer, even the sacrament of baptism when administered.
Child psychologists tell us that many things have influence on a newborn
babe: the colour of the walls in the nursery, the loving "baby-talk" of
a mother, the music played (whether a Psalm or raucous rock), the
general atmosphere of the home (whether peaceful and happy or riotous
and characterized by squabbling). The Lord’s voice is powerful enough to
give new birth to an unborn child; is it so hard to imagine that the
Lord’s voice is powerful enough to elicit a response—even though it be
in a very infantile way?
There are also children who are born with severe
mental handicaps. Sometimes these handicaps are so severe that the child
can show almost no response to stimuli. But we must be careful that we
do not deny that God can work in strange and marvellous ways in His
elect in spite of the severest of handicaps. I have stood at the bedside
of dying saints who lay in a coma for days before dying. I have held
their hand, told them to squeeze my hand if they heard me, and read to
them from Scripture and prayed with them. They could and did squeeze my
hand. The Spirit of Christ is very powerful and His work is greater than
we can imagine. We must not sell short His power.
Nevertheless, the main point of the correspondent’s
letter was only that, at least as far as we can tell, in the case of
infants (and those severely mentally handicapped) God saves His elect
without the preaching of the gospel. With that I agree; I thank the
correspondent for calling this to our attention. Prof. Hanko
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