Our Bible-Presbyterian churches follow the system of doctrine commonly known as “the Reformed Faith” as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) – an organised summary of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. The WCF contains an orderly sequence of doctrines that are related to the salvation of mankind. From the 18th Century, this sequence has come to be known as the “order of salvation,” or “ordo salutis” in Latin.
The order of salvation begins with the doctrine of predestination. The WCF affirms this in its 3rd chapter: “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF 3.1). Thereafter, chapters 10 to 18 describe subsequent phases of man’s salvation. Collectively they lay down the principles ordained by God to accomplish His decree in saving His elect.
Such an order attempts to express the way in which God, by His grace through the Holy Spirit’s conviction, grants salvation to sinners. Therefore it involves both what God does and how His Spirit will convict man to respond to the Gospel in salvation.
Predestination consists of two parts, namely, “election” – unto eternal life, and “reprobation” – the predetermination of the wicked unto everlasting condemnation.
We are told in Romans 8: 29 that “whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate”. The predestination of man unto eternal life is in line with God’s foreknowledge. The order here is logical and not chronological. Eph 1: 4-7 reiterates this truth: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”
God’s foreknowledge does not mean that He chose the elect based on their foreknown faith or obedience. Rather, the Lord chose those whom He would save “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph 1: 5).
The concept of God’s foreknowledge to elect Israel as His chosen people is clearly recorded in the Holy Scriptures – Deut 7: 6-8: “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. 7 The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: 8 But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
Though Jesus the Son of God subjected Himself to the will of His Father in the work of redemption as the sacrificial Lamb of God, this does not mean that He played no part in election. In a parting discourse to His disciples, Jesus told them, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (Jn 15: 16).
Moreover, Christ took upon Himself the role of Mediator to fulfill every requirement of God’s law to purchase for His elect an eternal inheritance (Heb 9: 15). Salvation is therefore entirely the work of God in Christ from beginning to end.
Dearly beloved, what is our response to these doctrines of predestination and election that exalt the only wise God and His grace upon sinful man? Let us take heed to chapter 3 paragraph 8 of the WCF: “The doctrine of this 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. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation, to all that sincerely obey the gospel.”
May we receive these blessed doctrines by faith with thanksgiving. What a great comfort and assurance to know the wonderful truth that God has chosen us in love even from before the foundation of the world. God Who has elected us will draw us to Himself (Jn 6: 44). He will keep us until the very end (Jn 10: 28-29). Like the psalmist, let us proclaim our gratitude for God’s grace toward us a sinful and unworthy people: “Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (Ps 40: 5).
- Bro Kelvin Li