Election and Predestination
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him.” Put the stop right there. “In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.”
In the third verse the apostle gives thanks to “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the source of all our blessings—“who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” And now he carries our minds back to the past eternity that we may be brought to realize that salvation is altogether of God, not at all of ourselves. An old hymn puts it this way:
“Tis not that I did choose Thee,
For, Lord, that could not be,
This heart would still refuse Thee,” But Thou hast chosen me.”
And again in another that we know well, we are taught to sing:
“Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wand’ring from the fold of God;
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood.”
It was God himself who purposed our salvation in the past eternity. It is Jesus Christ who wrought out our salvation upon the cross when the fullness of time had come. It is God the Holy Spirit who convicts us and brings us to confession and to a saving knowledge of the grace of God as revealed in Christ. We cannot take any credit to ourselves for our salvation. A little boy was asked, “Have you found Jesus?” He looked up and said, Please, sir, I didn’t know He was lost, but I was and He found me.” We did not have to do the seeking after Him, He sought us because of the love that was in His heart from eternity.
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.” This, of course, is the truth of election. Again and again believers are spoken of as elect people, as children chosen of God. Mr. Spurgeon said, “God certainly must have chosen me before I came into this world or He never would have done so afterwards.” He set His love upon us in the past eternity. This troubles people sometimes and yet how could it be otherwise? God who is infinite in wisdom, with whom the past and the future are all one eternal now, purposed in His heart before the world came into existence, that He was going to have a people who would be to the praise and glory of His grace for all eternity, and He looked down through the ages and saw us as those for whom He would give His Son in order to add to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is wonderful to see how intimately the joy of Christ and our salvation are linked together. John Bunyan said, “Oh, this Lamb of God, He had a whole heaven to Himself, myriads of angels to do His bidding but these could not satisfy Him. He must have sinners to share it with Him.”
You notice in verse three he uses the double title, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is God who purposes it this way, it is God who plans, it was God who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world and, notice, it is not that He chose the Church as such, but He chose every individual who was to be a member of that Church, to be one with Christ for eternity. You say, “I do not understand that.” I don’t either. Whenever I come to consider a subject like this, God’s electing grace and predestinating love, I remind myself that the Word says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). But it may help us a little if we consider this apart from the question of the fall of man.
Before the world was made, before sin came in, God chose us in Christ to be with His Son for all eternity. The fact that sin came in did not alter God’s purpose. He is still going to carry it out in spite of all that Satan has done to wreck His fair creation. The purpose of God is according to His grace, grace to those that could not earn it, that did not deserve anything but eternal judgment. Somebody has well said, “The truth of election is a family secret.” It is not something that we go out and proclaim to the world. We read, “Cast not your pearls before swine” and swine, you know, are unclean. We are not to go to unsaved men in the uncleanness of their sin and talk about election. They would not understand it at all but it is a family secret that God loves to whisper in the ears of His beloved children.
It has been pictured in this way. Here is a vast host of people hurrying down the broad road with their minds fixed upon their sins, and one stands calling attention to yonder door, the entrance into the narrow way that leads to life eternal. On it is plainly depicted the text, “Whosoever will, let him come.” Every man is invited, no one need hesitate. Some may say, “Well, I may not be of the elect and so it would be useless for me to endeavor to come, for the door will not open for me.” But God’s invitation is absolutely sincere, it is addressed to every man. “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). If men refuse to come, if they pursue their own careless, godless way down to the pit, whom can they blame but themselves for their eternal judgment? The messenger addressed himself to all, the call came to all, the door could be entered by all but many refused to come and perished in their sins. Such men can never blame God for their eternal destruction. The door was open, the invitation was given, they refused and He says to them sorrowfully, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” But see, as the invitation goes forth every minute or two some one stops and says, “What is that?” “The way to life,” is the reply. “Ah, that I might find the way to life! I have found no satisfaction in this poor world.” We read, “She that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.” “I should like to know how to be free from my sin, how to be made fit for the presence of God.” And such an one draws near and listens and the Spirit of God impresses the message upon his heart and conscience and he says, “I am going inside: I will accept the invitation; I will enter that door,” and he presses his way in and it shuts behind him. As he turns about he finds written on the inside of the door the words, “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.” “What!” he says, “had God His heart fixed on me before ever the world came into being?” Yes, but he could not find it out until he got inside. You see, you can pass the door if you will, you can trample the love of God beneath your feet, you can spurn His grace if you are determined to do it, but you will go down to the pit and you will be responsible for your own doom.
There is no such thing taught in the Word of God as predestination to eternal condemnation. If men are lost, they are lost because they do not come to Christ. When men do come to Christ, they learn the wonderful secret that God has foreknown it all from eternity, and that He had settled it before the world came into existence that they were to share the glory of His Son throughout endless ages. D.L. Moody used to say in his quaint way, when people talked about the subject of election, “The whosoever wills are the elect and the whosoever won’ts are the non-elect.” And so you can settle it for yourself whether you will be among the elect of God or not.
When asked to explain the doctrine of election a …brother once said, “Well, it’s this way, the Lord done voted for my salvation; the devil done voted for my damnation, and I done voted with the Lord, and so we got into the majority.” The devil seeks my eternal loss and God seeks my eternal blessing, and my heart says, “I will.” I then know that I am among those chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Let me link this up with another Scripture, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “But we are bound to give thanks always 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.” There you have the purpose of God in the past eternity. God had from the beginning chosen you unto salvation, and He is carrying out His purpose through the work of the Holy Spirit and belief of the truth on the part of the one who hears the message.
Then again listen to the Apostle Peter. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Peter 1:2). There you have exactly the same order. God the Father foreknew us from eternity but it was up to us whether or not we would yield to Christ. When we did yield in the obedience of faith, we took our places beneath the sprinkled blood of Jesus and our salvation was eternally assured. People try sometimes to put the whole responsibility upon God and say, “If God has not chosen me, I cannot be saved.” If you will trust in Christ, you may know that God has chosen you.
You remember that rather striking illustration that the Spirit of God himself gives us in the last of the book of Acts. When Paul and his company were on their way to Rome, a terrific storm arose and they were casting out some of the cargo in order to lighten the ship, but finally they gave up in despair. And then an angel appeared and spoke with Paul, and Paul called for the captain of the ship and said, “Be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, ‘Fear not, Paul’ thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee” (Acts 27:22-24). There was God’s foreknowledge. Every one in that ship would be brought through safely, they would all land in Italy, not one of them would be lost. But a little while afterwards Paul noticed something going on among the sailors. They were fitting out a boat and were preparing to launch it into the sea, putting some provisions into it and getting ready to cut away and leave the ship. And Paul said to the captain, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31). Had he not already told them that none should perish? That was God’s side. Then he said, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved”—that was their side. They were responsible to see that no one left the ship, and so it is in regard to the doctrine of election and man’s responsibility. Every one who is saved will be in heaven because he was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, and yet, every man who is ever saved will be there because as a poor guilty sinner he put his personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. You may say, “I can’t harmonize this.” You do not need to; just believe it and go on your way rejoicing.
Look a little farther, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him.” God, who foresaw all who would put their trust in Christ, provided a means whereby all our sin and iniquity could be settled for, in order that we might be presented holy and without blame before Him. This, of course, involves the work of the cross. Redemption was not an afterthought with God, it was all provided for when He decided to bring into existence creatures who could give Him voluntary love and service.
The question may be asked, “Why did not God who knows all things create a race of people who could not have sinned, who could not have spurned Him nor hated Him but who would always have done that which was right in His sight, who would always have loved and obeyed Him? Is not God in some sense responsible for sin because He created a creature weak enough to sin? Could He not have created one so strong that he could not have sinned?” Certainly He could. He could have made creatures that could not have failed Him. He has given us samples of this in the lower world. He has made creatures who never deviate one hair’s breath from the purpose of their being. Dr. Leander Keyser, who is not only a great theologian, but a great naturalist, says, “I have studied birds for over forty years and have had thousands of them under my observation, and I say to the honor of the bird kingdom that I have never known an unchaste bird.” Do you see what that means? God makes those little feathered creatures to act according to His own thought for them. Think of the Mourning Dove who, if it loses its mate, remains widowed all of its life. God has constituted it that way, and could have so constituted mankind that they could not have deviated from the path of rectitude. But the determination to create a man or woman who could give Him loyal obedience, loving service, and voluntary devotion, necessitated the creation of a man or woman who could turn away from God if they wanted to, refuse to obey Him if they so desired. Otherwise there would have been no freedom in their love, devotion, reverence, and affection, and God was willing to take all the risk that He did take in order to have beings in this universe who would give Him, glad and free-hearted, love and devotion. So when sin came in, the Saviour was given and the seed of the woman has bruised the serpent’s head and now through the work of Christ, God can present us in His glorious presence holy and without blame in Him. It is not what we are naturally in ourselves but what we are in Christ Jesus.
Now notice in verse five we have another word that troubles people. We read, “In love having predestinated us.” You will notice that I began reading verse five with the last part of verse four. I put the period after the word, “Him”—“That we should be holy and without blame before him.” Our authorized version puts it this way, “That we should be holy and without blame before him in love,” but there is something deeper than that. I read it, “That we should be holy and without blame before him,” and then start the next sentence, “In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” One is not so afraid of the word predestinated when the sentence begins that way. There is no arbitrariness there but it is all “in love.” Predestination is a manifestation of the love of the Father. As it is God who chose us in grace, it is the Father who has predestinated us to the adoption of children. Nowhere in the Bible are people ever predestinated to go to hell and nowhere are people simply predestinated to go to heaven. Look it up and see. We are children in Christ to share His glory for eternity but predestination is always to some special place of blessing.
Turn to Romans 8:29, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Predestinated to what? Predestinated “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” You see predestination is not God from eternity saying, “This man goes to heaven and this man to hell.” No, but predestination teaches me that when I have believed in Christ, when I have trusted Him as my Saviour, I may know on the authority of God that it is settled forever that some day I am to become exactly like my Saviour. It settles the question of the security of my salvation. Whatever my present unsatisfactory experiences may be, some day I shall be altogether like the One who has redeemed me.
“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.” That word “adoption” perplexes some. They say, “Does it mean that we are only adopted children and not really born children? A born child is one thing; a child who is not at all related to the family, but is brought in and adopted is another. Does it mean adopted in that sense?” This word literally means, the full placing as sons. We might read it, “Having predestinated us unto the son-placing through Jesus Christ unto himself.’ It will help us to understand it if we bear in mind that in the days when our Bible was written, a man might have a number of wives and some who were really his slaves. He would have to select those children among whom he wished to divide his estate for he would not wish it divided among this motley company. He would take those whom he selected down to the forum and there confess them openly before the proper authority as his sons and then go through a ceremony of adoption. From that day on they were recognized as his heirs. We have been born into the family of God by regeneration and thus made children of God. We have received the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of adoption, and God has marked us out as those who will share everything with the Son for all eternity. We are adopted sons and born again children.
“In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Our Lord is the One through whom all this blessing comes. You know there is a beautiful passage in the Old Testament which speaks of the coming Saviour as a “nail in a sure place” (Isaiah 22:23). The simile is taken from the tent life of the Arabs. Pegs were fitted into the upright poles of their dwellings, upon which they hung their garments and blankets, and upon similar pegs the women hung the utensils they used. Scripture pictures all kinds of vessels hung on one of these nails fastened in a sure place, and it says, “And they shall hang upon him all the glory of his father’s house” (Isaiah 22:24). So the Lord Jesus Christ having accomplished redemption has become that “nail in a sure place,” and every one of us are hung upon Him. If the nail goes down, we all go down; if Christ fails, then we all go down together, but since Christ will never fail, then He will sustain every one of us right on to the very end. That is the truth that is revealed here.
How this truth of election and predestination and of sonship emphasizes the preciousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Say it over and over to your soul until your whole being is thrilled. “Lord Jesus I owe it all to Thee.” Then you will begin to understand why one enraptured with His love could sing:
“Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.”
Every blessing for time and eternity we owe to Him. Is it according to our poor thoughts? Oh no. According to our apprehensions, according to the strength of our faith, according to our devotedness? Not that. What then? “According to the good pleasure of His will.” You know some people are afraid of the will of God, really afraid of it. And yet it is the will of God that you and I who put our trust in the Lord Jesus should share the Saviour’s glory for all eternity, and every step along the way in which He is making His will known to us, it is only that we may become more and more conformed to Him down here. Oh, to be able to say from the heart, “I welcome Thy sweet will, O God.” The greatest mistakes any Christian can make is to substitute his own will for the will of God.
If you are still unsaved, the most fearful mistake you can ever make is to suppose that if you should yield yourself to the will of God, it would take away from your peace and happiness and joy. The only real peace, the only real happiness, the only real joy for created beings is found in falling in with the will of God. That will planned our redemption, that will purposed our salvation, and that will secures our place in the glory for all eternity.