This article is about the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 3: predestination and the gospel.

Source: The Monthly Record, 1999. 2 pages.

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 3: Means and Ends This is the sixth and Final Article on Chapter Three of the Confession of Faith, Entitled "God's Eternal Decree"

Sections six through eight of this magisterial chapter in the Confession of Faith are concerned with the practical implications of the doctrine of God's decree. Although to many people the subject is abstract to the point of being 'brutal', the compilers of the Confession realised that the doctrine of God's sovereignty in the affairs of men had the most practical overtones. Three subjects are covered in the remainder of the Chapter.

Predestination and the Gospel‚§íūüĒó

The Confession of Faith reminds us that it was not simply the end of all things that God decreed. Properly speaking, the meaning of predestina­tion is to fix the end of something. But the decree of God is much broader and much more inclusive than this. "As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he ... foreordained all the means thereunto". By God's express will, and for God's glory, every medium through which sinners will be brought to the glorious end to which God has purposed to bring his own people has also been ordained by him.

The meaning of this is developed: those who fell in Adam are redeemed by Christ, called by the Spirit, justi­fied, adopted, sanctified and kept. None are redeemed, called or kept but the elect.

It is through the Gospel provision that the end of election is realised. God's highest regard is for his own glory, and the fulfilling of that end is effected through the sending of his Son to die for his people. So that, at last, Christ's work is election-shaped, just as election is Christ-shaped. It is a mistake to drive a wedge between the divine decree and the Gospel as if these were at variance. There is a fixed and unalterable ordaining of all who will at last enjoy the blessings of glory in the presence of God. There is also a full and free and unfettered offer of pardon to all who will repent. There is no contradiction and no asymmetry between these two facts.

Christ is, at last, the only meaning we can pour into the mystery of election. God's sovereign decree is the rock on which the house of salvation is built. He is the door, by whom alone there is access to that house. He is the chosen means of salvation, as those who come to him are the chosen heirs of salvation. Sinners come to him in order to be saved, not in order to be elected. But they come because they have been elected already, not because they have saved already.

Such concepts stretch our finite understanding. Yet the Confession does the Gospel great service by reminding us that God's decree is not arbitrary; it is full of evangelical interest. Of it, we could say that "such knowledge is too strange for us, too high to understand". Yet we must also say that Christ is near, even at our very door. Our concern as poor sinners is to lay hold upon him, freely offered as he is in the Gospel.

Predestination and the Rejection of the Gospel‚Üź‚§íūüĒó

Of the reprobate, the Confession simply says that God "passed them by". Mercy is his to give or withhold, and those who reject the offer of life and salvation are left by God under the power of sin and in its bondage.

The objection to this doctrine lies in its apparent injustice. "It's not fair", people say - God gives mercy to some but not to others. But at no point do sinners receive an injustice at God's hand. Those whom he leaves in sin receive the just reward of their sin; those whom he saves receives his undeserved mercy. Neither the saved nor the lost are ever victims of misjustice. Those who receive Christ, receive him freely under the power of grace; those who reject him, reject him freely under the power of sin.

The content of this doctrine must be modified by us in the light of the Bible's own insistence that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). His sovereign work in the affairs of men's souls is governed at every point by his unwillingness to condemn. If it is true of temporal afflictions that God does not willingly afflict the sons of men (Lamentations 3:33), then it must be true of their eternal afflictions also. Christ, the revelation of the one true God, must be the meaning of reprobation as he is the meaning of election. He re­gards the lost with no detached passion, but with a broken heart. The knowledge that God in his sover­eignty had hidden the mysteries of salvation from the wise and prudent (Matthew 11:25) was not enough to stop him weeping over their rejection of his offer of pardon. It led him rather to climb to a point where he could look at Jerusalem and weep for the intransigence and the hardness of men.

Our evangelism must recover the passion of Christ for the lost. God's withholding of mercy for the glory of his power and the praise of his justice are high, awe-inspiring doctrines. But never in Scripture do they temper the mandate of the church to make disciples of all nations. The doctrine of reprobation is the ultimate explana­tion of why men reject Christ. It is not a justification for that rejection, nor for our neglecting to plead with them to accept Him.

Predestination and Preaching‚Üź‚§íūüĒó

One might be tempted, given all the possible ramifications of this doctrine, to leave election unpreached. Not so, says the Confession. It is "revealed in the word" and therefore must be communicated to men.

Yet, possibly more than other doctrines, it requires "special pru­dence and care". The preacher is to handle the doctrines of the Bible in biblical proportion, and no undue weight or prominence is to be given to any. Yet the Confession is not slow to remind us of the pastoral implica­tions of election, calling men to more devoted obedience to the truth and yielding assurance of salvation. Objectors to election say: how can anyone be sure they are saved if this doctrine be true? The Confession says: how can anyone be sure they are saved unless this doctrine be true?

That assurance is what will yield, in the Confession's beautiful lan­guage, "admiration of God ... to all that sincerely obey the Gospel". May we come to admire the sovereign God of election, and rejoice in the mercy he extends to us in Christ!

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