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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Predestination: The Confidence of Election

(The following sermon was preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Longwood, Florida on January 4, 2009. I did not follow the outline exactly and some illustrations were added during the delivery which are not included in the main body of the sermon. Also, some details and Scripture references included here were left out in the actual delivery of the sermon. You can listen to the audio of the sermon by clicking here.)

Predestination: The Confidence of Election

Texts: Psalm 19; Psalm 139:1-16; Isaiah 42:1-16; Ephesians 1:1-23


All things whatever arise from, and depend on, the divine appointment; whereby it was foreordained who should receive the word of life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; and who should be justified and who should be condemned. - Martin Luther

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (ESV)

Introduction:

Probably one of the most controversial topics of the Bible is predestination and this has been so ever since the Protestant and English reformations. This morning I would like examine the biblical doctrine of predestination and how it is to be applied in our understanding of God and in our understanding of the Gospel itself.

The story is told of a group of theologians who were discussing the tension between predestination and free will. Things became so heated that the group broke up into two opposing factions.

But one man, not knowing which to join, stood for a moment trying to decide. At last he joined the predestination group. "Who sent you here?" they asked. "No one sent me," he replied. "I came of my own free will." "Free will!" they exclaimed. "You can't join us! You belong with the other group!"

So he followed their orders and went to the other clique. There someone asked, "When did you decide to join us?" The young man replied, "Well, I didn't really decide--I was sent here." "Sent here!" they shouted. "You can't join us unless you have decided by your own free will!"

I. The first reason for this strong opposition to predestination is a lack of understanding of the Holy Scriptures.

For one thing, few people have a proper understanding of the Bible. This reminds me of a minister who was talking to a little girl about the Bible:

Minister: Do you know what's in the Bible?
Little Girl: Yes. I think I know everything that's in it.
Minister: You do? Tell me.
Little Girl: OK. There's a picture of my brother's girlfriend, a ticket from the dry cleaners, one of my curls, and a Pizza Hut coupon.

Obviously, the first step in understanding and comprehending Scripture is to open it and read it from cover to cover. The best way to read the Bible is to compare Scripture with Scripture. As Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV) 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.1

II. The second reason we refuse to recognize predestination is that we do not accept that God is sovereign over all.

Who woke you up this morning? Did you wake yourself up? Did you give yourself your heartbeat or did you give yourself the breath that sustains your very life during the night and when you arose from your sleep this morning? Our first lesson from the Old Testament makes it clear that God is the one who gives us life:

Isaiah 42:5 Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:

Acts 17:25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.2

V. 28 ‘In him we live and move and have our being;

God is in control of all things that happen:

God's election in both the OT and in the NT is always specific and particular and not general. Election means to literally choose or elect. And this election is always God's choice preceding any human choices made. Ephesians 1:4-5 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, (ESV)

Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (ESV)

God chooses one nation or group or tribe of people over other groups. Speaking to the Hebrews God says in Deuteronomy 7:6-8 “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (ESV)

2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (ESV)

God chooses certain individuals over other individuals in the Bible. God chose Abraham out of all the pagans of his time. Nehemiah 9:7 You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. (ESV)

God also chose Moses and David and a host of others in the OT. Jesus himself chose his disciples. If you are a Christian, God chose you personally to be His prized possession.

John 10:3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (ESV)

2 Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (NKJV)

Your name is written in the Lamb's book of life: Revelation 3:5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. (ESV)

Revelation 13:8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. (ESV)

III. The third reason we refuse to recognize predestination is that we fail to see that the Church of England at the time of the English Reformation was a confessional church.

The Book of Common Prayer beginning in 1549, 1559, and 1662 sought to give a biblical or scriptural liturgy which would teach the doctrines of grace as understood by the Lutheran and Calvinist and Zwinglian Reformers on the European continent and the English Reformers in England.

The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion are a confession of faith expressing a systematic summary of the basic and essential doctrines which we understand the Bible to teach. Confessions of faith which are drawn up by church councils function like a creed. They summarize what we believe the Bible has to say about certain issues. The only difference between a confession of faith and a creed is that usually a confession of faith is much more detailed and specific on issues involving salvation or how we are saved.

Anyone who says they believe no creed but the Bible will be misleading you because everyone has an interpretation and an understanding of what they believe the Bible says. Thus, having a short and concise confession of faith as most modern Evangelical churches do, leaves the door wide open for private interpretations of Scripture instead of a more “universal” or “catholic” understanding of the Bible which we can all agree upon.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are therefore binding doctrine for all who would be faithful to the Anglican and Reformed tradition and we must accept them at face value in their most plain statements. I would highly encourage you to read the Thirty-Nine Articles and to read them in light of Scripture.

The Archbishop of Canterbury in the 16th century, Thomas Cranmer, had a profound theological mind and thoroughly understood the Scriptures and the efforts made toward reforming the Roman Catholic Church which was going on in Europe and sought to bring that same reformation to the Church of England. Cranmer sought to correct Roman Catholic doctrine because he said that it was not in fact catholic or universal!

According to Cranmer, the catholic faith is in fact the Evangelical faith which was taught from the beginning in apostolic doctrine handed down from Jesus and the Apostles and then recorded in Holy Scripture. Oxford professor Diarmaid MacCulloch at a lecture in Canada in 2003 said:

It is inaccurate to label Cranmer a Protestant. Rather, he was an "evolving evangelical" along Lutheran lines. And like fellow reformer John Calvin... he believed in predestination and in the need to rid the church of its corruption and opulent excesses. "He had no concept of a Church of England, but of an international Protestantism. He was the reverse of an Anglican."


Furthermore, The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Article XVII specifies the Anglican Reformed Church's understanding of the teaching of the Bible on the doctrine of Predestination:

Of Predestination and Election

Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation as vessels made to honour. Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and at length by God's mercy they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination and our Election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the devil doth thrust them either into desperation or into wretchlessness [recklessness] of most unclean living no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in Holy Scripture; and in our doings that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God.


IV. The fourth reason we struggle with the difficult doctrine of predestination is that we refuse to recognize that ultimately the doctrine of predestination is biblical.

First off, concerning God's holiness and justice the Bible clearly says that we are undeserving of salvation and that the mass of humanity as a whole is under God's wrath because we are all guilty of Adam's original sin and we are all actual sinners. This explains why God can choose Jacob over Esau before they are born and before they ever do good or bad. It is because they are both guilty of Adam's sin before birth and because they are to be part of Adam's descent. So both are contemplated in God's mind as sinful. It is God's sovereign choice and is in no wise chance or capriciousness on God's part. He will choose whom He will choose.

Romans 5:12-14 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (ESV)

Romans 3:10-12 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (ESV)

We are spiritually dead and unable to respond to God's call to repentance and to accept Jesus Christ.

Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, (ESV)

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.

Ephesians 2:5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

Before conversion we are slaves to sin. Unless God raises us from spiritual death, we will continue on in our rebellion blinded to the fact that we are headed to hell.

John 8:31-36 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (ESV)

Romans 6:16-18 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (ESV)

Before we are regenerated we have no “free” will because the will is in bondage to sin. Thus, only God Himself can raise us from the dead. The problem isn't that we are merely sick. The problem is we were spiritually dead and the dead cannot raise themselves from the dead.

V. God did not look at the future and see that you would choose Christ and be a good person. For that would mean that salvation is still based on your one good work of believing.

Before He decided to create God looked into the future and saw that the entire human race, the mass of mankind and every single person would be sinful and that no one would be good. God should have damned the whole human race because of Adam. Instead God unconditionally chose to save certain individuals who were sinful and just as worthy of hell as the rest. And these elect who did not deserve mercy were shown mercy. We all deserve to be cut off because none of us is righteous. That is what would be fair. That would be justice. But instead of justice and receiving what we deserve, we receive the mercy and forgiveness of God.

There are those who say we should not preach on controversial subjects in the Bible. If that be the case, we should not preach the cross, for the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles:

1 Corinthians 1:18-24 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (ESV)

It is precisely because Martin Luther read the Bible that he came to understand that the crucial issue of the Gospel message is whether or not we have free will. In 1525 Luther wrote a letter to Erasmus, the Roman Catholic scholar who was defending free will against Luther's more biblical view of the bondage of the will. In that letter, Luther praises Erasmus for seeing the crux of the matter:


“I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account—that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such like—trifles, rather than issues—in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed for the vital spot.”


In other words, the Gospel stands or falls on the issue of free will.

In his paper explaining Martin Luther's doctrine of predestination Brian G. Mattson points out that Luther was unwilling to compromise Scriptural truth for the sake of an unholy fellowship: 4

Luther argues against the Erasmian thesis of the cooperative will on the grounds that the human will is bound by sin as a result of the fall of man. Erasmus fully realized the implications of Luther's strong statement of God's sovereignty. He writes that if this teaching of God's sovereignty is proclaimed, “Who will try and reform his life?” Luther lashes back, “I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! God has no time for your practitioners of self-reformation, for they are hypocrites. The elect, who fear God, will be reformed by the Holy Spirit; the rest will perish unreformed.” Erasmus pushes the point: “Who will believe that God loves him?” Luther stands his ground: “I reply, Nobody! Nobody can! But the elect shall believe it; and the rest shall perish without believing it, raging and blaspheming, as you describe them. So there will be some who believe it.”

This is the central point Erasmus makes in his Diatribe, that God's sovereignty should not be emphasized to the point that the freedom of man's will is usurped. Luther fires volley after volley, arguing that unless the sovereign God changes the heart of man, none shall accept the gospel. He writes:
  • God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realises [sic] that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another—God alone.


Thus Luther affirms the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation. In this same passage, Luther also goes on to speak of those who are not elect, that is, the reprobate. He realizes that his theology will not allow him to speak only of the elect, but of the non-elect as well. He writes:

  • Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though he saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus' words) 'to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.' If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death.
End Quote.




Conclusion:

We as confessing Anglicans ought to be most happy to agree with the Holy Scriptures and with our own confession of faith, The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which are completely Augustinian and in agreement with Luther and Calvin that there is in fact no free will. Since the vast majority of the Protestant Reformers understood the Bible to teach the doctrine of Predestination, we also should accept it as a biblical doctrine which brings comfort to those of us who have accepted Christ, though it brings the opposite to those who stubbornly refuse to accept the invitation of Scripture to repent and believe that Jesus Christ died for lost sinners chosen before the foundation of the world. It literally is God who saves us. Since we cannot trust ourselves to endure to the end, the doctrine of predestination gives us confidence and assurance that God will indeed save us by His sovereign grace because He has chosen us and predestined us by name from before the foundation of the world. Our salvation is guaranteed.




Benediction:

Jude 24-25 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (ESV)





1 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
2 Ibid.
3 “The enigma of Thomas Cranmer,” by Ron Csillag. Dec 1, 2003. In, The Anglican Journal. http://www.anglicanjournal.com/opinion/analysis/033/article/the-enigma-of-thomas-cranmer/
4 From: http://www.contra-mundum.org/essays/mattson/Luther-predestination.pdf

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