Results tagged “election” from Reformation21 Blog

Dueling for Christ at Dort?


As everyone in the Reformed world surely knows by now, 2019 marks 400 years since the Synod of Dort wrapped up proceedings and bequeathed to the Protestant Reformed family of churches that glorious statement of Reformed doctrine known as the Canons of Dort. Commemoration and celebration of Dort and her Canons properly began last November, in conjunction with the start date of the Synod. Celebrations will, one presumes, conclude this May, which marks the month the Canons of Dort were officially promulgated by the Synod. Commemoration and celebration are certainly in order, although we must, as ever, take care to keep commemoration from devolving into commercialization, a danger that attends centenary celebrations and threatens, through the process of historical simplification that naturally attends commercialization of historical events, to subvert rather than support critical and constructive engagement with the past.

Regardless, one episode in Dort's proceedings less likely than others to receive attention, but arguably deserving it, is the duel that almost took place between Reformed delegates in January of 1619 during Dort's 65th session. The immediate occasion of conflict was disagreement about how to interpret Paul's declaration in Eph. 1:4 that God "chose us in him [i.e., Christ] before the foundation of the world," disagreement that reflected more fundamental disparity in lapsarian positions (that is, positions on how to relate God's eternal decree of election to his decree to permit the Fall).

Franciscus Gomarus, a Dutch delegate at Dort, expressed, relative to this text, his opinion that Paul's words identified Christ -- the incarnate Son of God -- as the means by which God's decree of election was and is realized, and so as the foundation (fundamentum) of the benefits bestowed in time upon God's elect, but not as the foundation of divine election per se. Gomarus's opinion reflected his supralapsarian perspective. Supralapsarianism situates God's decree of election several logical steps before God's decree of the Son's incarnation, and so names the incarnation (and life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ) as the means by which God's decree of election is realized.

Matthias Martinius, the delegate from Bremen, took exception to Gomarus's reading of Eph. 1:4, believing it failed to do justice to Paul's assertion of our election in Christ. Martinius essentially accused Gomarus of twisting Paul's words to read something like this: "God chose us before the foundation of the world and brought that choice to fruition in him." Gomarus, in other words, reduced Christ to the "effector of our election." Martinius believed Paul's words required recognition of the incarnate Son as "the author and procurer" of election in addition to the means by which election is realized. Martinius's argument theoretically reflected his own infralapsarian position. Infralapsarianism makes God's decree of election logically subsequent to God's decree to permit the Fall (thereby making fallen and culpable, rather than fallible and morally neutral, human beings the objects of election and reprobation), and so places God's decree of election in closer proximity to God's decree of the incarnation. That said, it could be argued that Martinius's lapsarian scheme failed just as much Gomarus's to make adequate sense of Eph. 1:4, since both traditional lapsarian positions place the incarnation -- the event that permits us to name the eternal Son as Jesus Christ -- after the decree of election. Regardless, Martinius's intent was clear; he wished to do justice to Scripture's teaching that God elects believers in Christ (and so, somehow, with a view already towards the incarnation of the Son).

In any case, Gomarus was not impressed with Martinius's words. According to John Hales, an English divine who observed and reported events at Dort to England's ambassador Dudley Carleton, Gomarus stood when Martinius spoke and declared, "Ego hanc rem in me recipio," that is, "I take this thing [i.e., these words] to be against me." Gomarus then, Hales writes, threw his glove upon the floor, "require[d] the Synod to grant them a duel," and expressed his confidence that his reading of Eph. 1:4 could withstand criticism from Martinius. To all appearances, Gomarus judged Martinius his inferior both in swordmanship and exegetical ability, unless, of course, his intention was to be martyred for the supralapsarian cause (and so, perhaps, to further it).

Thankfully, Gomarus's challenge came to nothing, not by virtue of any apparent retraction on his part (in fact, he renewed his challenge at day's end), but rather by virtue of Martinius's more peaceful disposition and the collective moderation of the Synod.

That collective moderation was ultimately reflected as much in the Synod's Canons as it was in Gomarus's failed efforts to secure a duel with/from his peers. The Synod ruled certain theological positions out of bounds, but very intentionally crafted Canons that would preserve the diversity of Reformed views represented at the Synod (regarding both the precise object of election/reprobation and the way in which Christ's efficacious sacrifice for the elect on the cross should be calibrated against the effect, if any, his death had upon the reprobate). To the extent that Gomarus's failure to bring delegates to physical blows reflects a profound truth about the spirit and work of the Synod of Dort more broadly, perhaps that failure is in fact worth celebrating. (Failed-duel day, anyone? Our church calendar is so thin...We need something to tide us over to Reformation day.)

The Reformed world will always have its Gomaruses, i.e., less moderate individuals, who perhaps fail to temper theological conviction with Christian charity and respect for the distinction between fundamental and secondary doctrines. Some present-day Gomarusus in our midst seem determined, somewhat ironically it must be said, to capitalize on Dort's anniversary by denying that much diversity of opinion and/or generosity of spirit actually prevailed there, despite the overwhelming scholarly consensus that such diversity existed and, for that matter, reflected the spirit of Reformed theology and practice from its inception (think Zurich Consensus, and see, on Dort itself, works by John Fesko, Anthony Milton, Robert Godfrey, and Jonathan Moore). Efforts to revise Dort's history in this direction are driven, of course, by contemporary agendas, and they serve (again, somewhat ironically, it must be said) to subvert the tolerance for differing convictions on secondary doctrines and generosity towards peers necessarily entailed in genuine respect for, and subscription to, the historic Reformed confessions in some specific manifestation (say, the Three Forms of Unity). Conviction regarding theological matters is, of course, commendable (relative to Dort, I'm an infralapsarian particularist of the Owen/Turretin variety, if anyone cares). Challenging others within one's confessional camp to duels and/or rewriting history to undermine a Reformed brother's (or sister's) opinions, assuming such opinions genuinely fall within confessional boundaries, is less commendable.

I'm confident, however, that a spirit of moderation will prevail in the confessional Reformed world, and will, indeed, continue to accommodate both the Gomaruses and the Martiniuses among us. Some intentional effort towards that end on our part, aided by some historical awareness, wouldn't hurt things.

Forget Nostalgia!

Following the election on Tuesday night many are still reeling with surprise from the results. Some are in shock, some are incensed, some are delighted, and still others have taken this opportunity to decry the result as a sign of declining public virtue. The tendency in moments like this is to look to the past and wish that we could be decent people again ruled by decent men. There is a temptation for us to indulge in nostalgia for elections past and for a brighter age when morality was held in higher esteem than it seems to be in our own day.

Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, has an extended discussion of Ecclesiastes 7:10, which reads: "Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this." As I was reading Bridges's remarks on this verse, I sensed that what he had to say there speaks to our own national moment. He wrote:

National changes may bring national declension. Increasing wealth and luxury may relax the tone of public morals. But - it may be asked - 'Is it not the ordinary habit of the old men of the generation to give undue worth and weight to the records of bygone days?' Has not each succeeding generation left a protest against the degeneracy of its predecessor? Yet in a general view 'God has always been good, and men have always been bad,' and "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecc. 1:9; 3:15).

The case therefore involves a 'doubtful problem and a foolish question.' For thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this. The picture of a golden age, and the loveliness and purity of the primitive era, are now confessedly only the day-dreams of imagination. Take then the broad features of the present day. After due allowance has been made for the fearful discoveries of ignorance and depravity - yet mark the spread of true religion - the large provision for the temporal comfort of the poor - the widely diffused blessings of Scriptural education - the influence of civil and religious liberty - and, above all, the extended circulation and preaching of the glorious Gospel throughout the world - Would it not be hard to produce former days better than these? "Blessed are the eyes that see the things that ye see!" (Luke 10:23-24).

After all - 'it is folly to cry out of the badness of the times, when there is so much more reason to complain of the badness of our hearts (if men's hearts were better, the times would be mended); and when there is such reason to be thankful that they are not worse; but that even in the worst times we enjoy many mercies; that help to make them, not only tolerable, but comfortable.' 

The question has been well asked - 'If the times are bad, what are we doing to mend them?' Have not we helped to make them bad? And do not murmuring complaints make them worse? Could we change clouds for sunshine, would it be for our real good? Is not the arrangement of the infinitely wise and gracious Father more of our true advantage than the dictates of our poor human folly? It was not our lot to be born in former, and - as is supposed - better days. But surely it is our duty to gather all good out of the seeming evil, and cheerfully to submit to what we cannot change. "Murmerers and complainers" belong to every age. Leave God's work to him, and let us attend to our own work, which is - not so much to change the world, but to change ourselves - to "serve our own generation by the will of God," and to 'let the badness of the age in which we live make us more wise, more circumspect, more humble.'

Brighter days are before us - each day brightened with the hope of a near-coming salvation. O Christian! "Salvation nearer." What a quickening glow! (Rom. 13:11). Faith, hope, diligence, perseverance, watchfulness - all stir up the bottom springs of the heart (1 Peter 1:13). The earnest is "joy unspeakable." What will the consummation be?

Rather than dwelling in the past, or fearing the future, Bridges suggested that it is our responsibility to act in the day and time in which we have been born and to use the time that we have been given with wisdom.

Praying for Our New President-Elect

What has been termed the most contentious and discouraging Presidential election in my lifetime has finally come to an end. America has spoken. For many Christians, a Trump presidency marks the end of a now fractured Republican Party's fall from unity, integrity, wisdom and stability. For others, our President-Elect Trump's victory is a welcomed win for the religious right in the stand against the current progressive regime's perceived threat to religious freedom, national security, economic stability and Judeo-Christian bio-ethics in America. Whether you are discouraged or elated by the outcome of the election, here are some ways that we should be praying for President-Elect Donald Trump:

Pray that the Lord would give President-Elect Trump biblical wisdom as he, his cabinet and his administration face some of the most daunting challenges of our lifetime. Pray that he and Vice President-Elect Pence will together seek the Lord in His word and in prayer. Our new president will have the unique challenge of being our commander-in-chief. He will lead our military in protecting our citizens and will, therefore, need enormous wisdom to navigate unique defense challenges.

Pray that the Lord would protect our new President. President-Elect Trump and his family will inevitably be the object of threats from wicked men and women. We must pray for their safety during a time of national division. Similarly, we must pray that the Lord keeps our country internally at peace during a time when it is rife with division. 

Pray that the Lord would surround President-Elect Trump with men and women who will serve as wise and competent counsellors. Pray that he would seek out that counsel on a regular basis in order to make good decisions for the future of our country. 

Pray that President-Elect Trump would follow through with his promise to appoint supreme court justices who will protect the unborn. Millions of babies continue to be slaughtered in the womb every year in our country. We must pray that the Lord would bring this unparalleled evil to an end. We must not become callused to this greatest of evils. We should long for a day when the most helpless image bearers are protected in the womb. After all, "God's designated place of safety...has become, tragically, the most unsafe place in the world." 

Pray that our new President would care deeply for the poor and the needy in our country. We must not only pray that he will make wise decisions that will result in a healthy economy, but that he will genuinely care for the well-being of the economically impoverished citizens of our land. 

Pray that President-Elect Trump will defend religious freedom in such a way that men and women in our land will be free to worship and to live out their faith without fear of unjust imprisonment. While many have suggested that persecution would help awaken the church in America from materialistic complacency and compromise, we should never want to be persecuted for worshiping and serving Jesus in truth. The Apostles never wanted persecution for the church in the world, the anticipated it. 

Whether we are discouraged or elated by the election of Donald Trump, we are called to be subject to him. If we are discouraged, we must remember that God commands us to respect, honor and pray for him--as we are for all those who God puts in authority over us (Rom. 13:1, 5, 7; 1 Pet. 2:13-14, 1 Tim. 2:1-2, Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17). This is not a time for disrespectful banter--it is a time for prayer. 

On the other hand, if we are elated by the election of Donald Trump, we must pray that the Lord's purposes would triumph over our now President's unbiblical actions. After the 2008 election of Barack Obama, Ligon Duncan wrote an outstanding post--from which I have borrowed much--in which he suggested that we have a responsibility to pray that God's purposes would overrule any unjust Presidential decision making. He wrote:

"Where our new president opposes or undermines biblical moral standards in our society, fails to uphold justice for the unborn, undermines religious liberties or condones an ethos that is hostile to the Gospel, we will pray for God's purposes to triumph over our President's plans and policies." 

It is just as appropriate for us to pray accordingly for President-Elect Donald Trump. Now is not the time for compromising biblical standards in the name of political interest--it is a time for us to pray to the infinitely righteous God who rules over all. 

Whatever our response to the recent news that Donald Trump has been elected our next President, we need to be praying for him and his administration. The next four years will potentially bring unprecedented new dangers and challenges to our nation. Now is not the time for bickering or banter--it's time to bring our new President (and all of our leaders) to the throne of grace and to the One who rules over all. 

Time to Bury the Bibles?

Few things bring out the hysteria in all of us like a presidential election. Perhaps only the close of a millennium (anyone remember Y2K?) can compete for catapulting Americans into a posture of fear and anxiety about their nation's collective future (or lack thereof). Don't get me wrong. I like to indulge in a bit of anxiety just as much as the next guy. And as I've contemplated, over the past few months, the direction our country might take under the leadership of candidate A or candidate B, I have often felt like I was nine years old again, reading a choose-your-own-adventure book where I'd managed to pursue a plot line with no remaining positive outcomes.

If asked, I suspect many American Christians would judge this most recent election the worst in our country's history (in terms, that is, of the perceived quality of their choices for supreme leader). But according to Daniel Dreisbach--in an article titled "The Wall of Separation" written several years ago for Christian Today--American Christians in election year 1800 felt just as worried, if not more so, than American Christians have in recent days about the future of their country under the leadership of either prospective president. The rather grim choice of leaders facing voters in 1800 was between the incumbent John Adams and Adam's own vice-president, Thomas Jefferson, two men who had played pivotal roles in the founding of the young nation.

The biggest problem early nineteenth-century Americans had with Jefferson was his purportedly suspect religious views and his supposed sympathy for the revolutionaries who had turned France on its head a decade earlier. Actually, the two worries went hand in hand. The French revolution, whatever aims it originally embodied, had evolved into pronounced efforts in 1792 and 1793 (during Robespierre's "reign of terror") to eradicate Christianity entirely from the country (the "de-Christianization of France"): Christian Scriptures and artifacts were destroyed; Church buildings were converted into stables or temples consecrated to Human Reason; towns, streets, and squares were stripped of their Christian names; the seven day (Christian) week was replaced with a more "rational" ten day week and the year of the French revolution was declared "year one" in the new dating system. Many Americans assumed that Jefferson's election would set America on a similar course, and that hard won religious freedoms of recent years would be forfeited.

Jefferson's stated religious convictions did little to assuage such fears. To be sure, Jefferson's religious views were considerably more conservative than those of the atheistic revolutionaries across the Atlantic who were championing the Cult of Reason. His views were closer, perhaps, to those of Robespierre, who himself championed the Cult of the Supreme Being as an alternative to the blatantly atheistic Cult of Reason. But to most Americans that seemed a distinction without a difference. Most Americans--quite rightly, in fact--recognized that you either accept God's own revelation of himself at face value or not, and that a "God" made in man's own image offers little improvement upon no God at all. In other words, Americans appropriately saw through Jefferson's claim to be a "real Christian" since the Christianity he embraced disallowed Christ's deity, Christ's virgin birth, Christ's resurrection, and other biblical accounts of the miraculous. The Gazette of the United States summarized Americans' perception of Jefferson's religious convictions when, shortly before the election of 1800, it declared a vote for Jefferson equivalent to a vote for "NO GOD".

But to many Americans, Jefferson was the lesser of two evils. Adams, after all, was the incumbent (and who ever likes that guy?). Plus he was a Presbyterian, and many Americans -- though not most, as things turned out -- deemed Presbyterianism one degree worse than rabid atheism. No matter his suspect religious views, Jefferson remained particularly popular among New England Baptists who were more invested (for obvious reasons) than other religious identities in disestablishment. Fears that Adams was secretly plotting to impose Presbyterianism on the nation in toto seemed to be reaching fulfillment when Adams called for a national day of fasting and prayer during his time in office -- no doubt Adams intended that everyone should pray to the Presbyterians' God!

In the end, of course, Jefferson won. And, as Dreisbach observes, that fact led some American Christians to bury their bibles in their back yards or hide them down their wells (presumably above the water line), confident that governmental forces would be knocking on their doors shortly to inaugurate the de-Christianization of the United States of America.

Of course, those authorities never came knocking. In fact, the bulk of the peoples' worst fears about what would come after 1800 never materialized. And, to bring it back to the present, I'm guessing the worst of our present-day fears about what's coming under our now president-elect probably won't be realized either. In part, that truth is simple testimony to our tendency towards hyperbolic anxieties. In even greater part, it's testimony to the fact that, come what will, "God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne" (Psalm 47:8).


A Political Paradigm Shift for Christians

With the 2016 Presidential election drawing near, Bible-believing Christians are as divided over their votes as at any time in recent memory. Very few offer support to Hillary Clinton, given her rabid support of abortion and disrespect for religion. The divide instead comes between Christians who plan to hold their noses and vote for Donald Trump and others who refuse to endorse such a scandalously ungodly man. On the one hand, we hear, "Save the Supreme Court!" On the other hand, "Disassociate from evil!" What we are really hearing is the shattering of a paradigm, in this case the evangelical willingness to compromise politically with "lesser evils" in pursuit of public good. A couple of realities are making this approach less palatable to many believers:

  • First, Christian involvement in politics has not succeeded in rallying a "moral majority" that will keep America from going down the tubes. The reality is that our generation has witnessed a spiritual and moral disaster of biblical proportions, even though "Christian" candidates have often won the elections. In this situation, increasing numbers of believers wonder if the pursuit of political power might be doing more harm than good. Might it be that the moral influence of Christians has been greatly lessened because we are seen to compromise on principle? Might the hypocrisy of, say, abandoning our moral convictions for the sake of a couple of Supreme Court seats (itself a most uncertain hope), actually speed the culture's rejection of Christian ethics? 
  • Second, we ask the question if the gaining of political power is the correct objective for Christians at all. True, followers of Jesus are citizens of the secular realm and have a duty to serve there as salt and light. But shouldn't the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 at least make our witness to the gospel and the character of God a higher priority? And if our political compromises have the effect of making a mockery of our witness, should we not stop making these compromises? In short, shouldn't we consider making gospel integrity a higher objective than political success?
  Whatever happens in next week's national election, it is clear that Christians need to think about an entirely new paradigm when it comes to political engagement. Do we consider a third party that would be explicitly Christian (following the example of Abraham Kuyper in the Netherlands)? Such a course would have cons as well as pros, but perhaps the time has come to give it serious thought. In the meantime, this unsettling election surely calls for believers to pause and reflect biblically. To this end, let me suggest 3 biblical principles that can inform not only our future paradigm but also our voting decisions in the coming national election:

  1. The Christian must trust in God, not in man. Psalm 118:8-9 says, "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes." Armed with this faith, there is no reason for Christians to support ungodly men or women as a "necessary means" to our survival and success. We have a sovereign, almighty, covenant-keeping God who cares for us. Why would we disgrace that faith by selling our support to political candidates of either party who behave in a morally contemptuous manner? Here is the question the world wants to know about us: Who do we trust, in God or in princes? 
  1. The Christian must aim for faithfulness, leaving the outcome to the Lord. This is not to say that Christians remain uninvolved in political or other public affairs. But being a Christian surely limits us from endorsing blatant sin and giving public support to grossly ungodly candidates. As Psalm 97:10 says, "O you who love the Lord, hate evil!" To this the pragmatists answer, "But the Supreme Court!" But the psalmist continues: "[The Lord] preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked."
  1. The Christian must prize the name and reputation of Jesus and think first about the spread of his gospel message of salvation. From this perspective, government persecution is not the greatest evil we should fear. The church often flourishes spiritually when under oppression. But the church is always crippled by hypocrisy and betrayals of our message. Far above any fear we should have of secularist oppression, Christians should dread a compromise to the public integrity of our witness to Christ and his kingdom.
  I find that these principles do not permit me to give public support (or my vote) to either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for the simple reason that the lesser of two evils remains evil. I do not believe it is my duty to "win the election," but rather to conduct myself according to biblical standards of truth and grace.   I do not want to send a message to the world that my fear of tyranny and persecution is stronger than my faith in God to rule and protect. I know that many of my fellow believers disagree with this, either because they evaluate the candidates differently or fear that compromise is simply necessary at this hour. While I beg to differ, can we at least start a discussion after this election about our strategy for political engagement in the midst of a culture that happens to be the mission field for our witness to Jesus and his saving grace?


The World's True Hope

Americans have come to one of the more exciting portions of the quadrennial election cycle in the national conventions of the two main parties. This invariably means non-stop media attention, partisan revelry, messianic symbolism, and the occasional significant speech. Without dwelling on the details, it may suffice to say that Christians are considerably less enthusiastic in 2016 than in prior years. The evangelical hope of cultural power through political engagement has dimmed, both on the left and on the right. American Christians look to the political parties and see little hope for the values and principles we have held dear.

Instead of confronting this situation with dismay, biblical minded Christians will have seen this coming, based on the Scripture's assessment of secular culture and history. Consider the very start of secular culture in Genesis 4. Here, we may deduce precisely the values and priorities that have in time captured American culture. It all started in Genesis 4:17, when Cain "built a city." (It was probably a fairly small walled town, but it was a start for human culture.) Its founding premise was self-will in place of reliance on God's will. There can be little doubt that Cain built his city as protection from the threat of harm, since he expressed this very fear in Genesis 4:14. Yet Cain did not need walls, for God had promised him protection (Gen. 4:15). Moreover, Cain's punishment for slaying his brother Abel was to remain "a wanderer on the earth" (Gen. 4:14). That didn't fit Cain's plan at all, so usurping God's will through self-will, he founded secular culture in his own city.

Notice, too, how Cain names his city. Throughout Genesis, godly people named places for the praise of God's glory. Not Cain! "He called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch" (Gen. 4:17). What Cain cared about was the glory of his own achievements and those of his progeny. Likewise, secular culture is all about self-glory, with no concern for the glory of God.

Fast forward few hundred years to the seventh from Adam in the line of Cain, Lamech and his three sons. Here we see how secular culture is fixated on the sensual and worldly, with no concern for godly spirituality. Genesis gives the names of Lamech's two wives (imagine that - a reinvention of marriage!) and his daughter. Without giving the details, they all refer to the beauty and sex appeal of the women. How we have evolved since then! Then we consider the staggering achievements of Lamech's sons, who between them pioneer economics, the arts, and science (Gen. 4:20-22). These are good things in and of themselves, just as American culture is extraordinarily impressive in its worldly achievements. Noticeably absent, however, is worship and the knowledge of God. If Lamech founded a university, it would have impressive colleges of business, arts, and science, but alas no school of divinity.

So here was the founding of secular culture, based on the brilliant talents of the earliest humans. It is impressive and forward moving! But it is also self-willed, self-glorying, and sensual/secular. Sound familiar? Were we expecting something different due to American exceptionalism? The biblical fact is that once the influence of God's Word has receded from public life, there is no other possible trend for fallen human society. To cap it off, Lamech determines to use these cultural achievements not for civic refinement but to cement a tradition of rivalry and war (see Lamech's song, Gen. 4:23-24, undoubtedly performed in gangsta rap.)

As the Democratic and Republican conventions meet this month prior to squaring off in the fall, a biblical analysis of them is bound to see far more in common than in distinction. To be sure, there are meaningful differences in the two parties and I would never say they don't matter. But as twin secular movements, they are bound to draw from the playbook of Cain and his offspring. Thus, both conventions will give no place for God's Word, will glory in men, women, and earthly prowess, will highlight the fleshly desire for pleasure and prosperity, and both will take up the combative militancy of Lamech: "I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me" (Gen. 4:23). To be fair, much of this is what political parties are supposed to do: they need to care about the economy, promote their own candidates, and sharpen swords against enemies, even if their primary enemies are sadly one another. But for the moral and cultural concerns of the followers of Christ, the likelihood of hope emerging from a now strictly secular process was never going to be great.

So where are Christians to look in seeking for hope in 2016? This answer is given in the last two verses of Genesis 4, which recount the line of the godly through Adam and Eve, Seth, and then Enosh. Here is the great statement that should fuel the imagination of Christians in America today: "At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord" (Gen. 4:26). Here we see the church in its infancy: in worship, prayer, witness, and faith in Jesus Christ.

Let me work this out briefly. Notice, for the first time in biblical history that there is public gathered worship of the people of God. While Cain and his line built their city, Seth and his family made of the church their spiritual city. Calling on the name of the Lord means that they worshiped according to God's self-revelation. They put their focus upwards towards God and prayed publicly. (Is there any greater indictment of evangelicals amidst the cultural ruin of our time that we still have so few prayer meetings?) They bore testimony to God and his saving promise (notice in verse 25 that Eve named Seth as the new "offspring" to replace Abel - i.e., she was trusting in the promise of the Savior through her line - Gen. 3:15). Their hope was in the Savior to come and they bore testimony to him before the world.

The world before the flood is a microcosm of all history. Genesis 4 details stunning earthly achievements and growing power in Cain's secular line. The church's spiritual presence seems so small in comparison. But Adam's line through Seth kept meeting, praying, and proclaiming the promised Savior. While Lamech's sons pioneered arts and industry, Seth's sons promoted worship according to God's Word. Throughout those long centuries, God preserved and blessed his godly people. In time, God's judgement fell on the wickedness of Cain's culture and by Genesis 6 all that was left in the world was the church.

What is the hope to which Christians should be looking in this world? Our hope is not in the secular city, which in time always reverts to the Cainite mean. Our hope is in God, on whom we call, to whom we pray, to whom we offer worship, and for whom we proclaim the saving work he has done and is doing through his Son, Jesus. This means that the world's true hope is in the faithful Christian church. So if you find yourself frustrated watching CNN or FOX News, perhaps you might turn off the television and gather for family worship. While I would never want to discourage Christians from legitimate callings in the public arena, you will find true hope by investing in your church. If there is to be a Christian hope for America in our time it will be because what was said of the line of Seth is said of us: they "began to call upon the name of the Lord." And let us not forget the gospel promise that goes alongside: "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13). There is the true and only hope for the world in 2016. Centered on this hope, Christians need not be dismayed after all.


Results tagged “election” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 10.3

iii. 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.
God has wrapped some things in a cloud of mystery. We dare not venture into the darkness of such mysteries with the feeble light of our speculations, but must rest content in the beams of light shining from the Word. One such mystery is God's purpose in the death of those mentally incapable of understanding the gospel, whether infants or adults.

We cannot say that such persons are sinless. David confessed that he was in sin from the moment of his conception in his mother's womb (Ps. 51:5). Sinners go astray from their infancy, showing their inward corruption even in early childhood by speaking lies (Ps. 58:3). Nor can we say that they are free from guilt, for their death shows that they are bound up in Adam's fall and condemnation, even before they commit any willful act of transgression against the law of God (Rom. 5:14, 18). Children and mentally impaired adults, "descending from [Adam and Eve] by ordinary generation" (WCF 4:3), are included in the "all" who sinned in Adam and fell with him in his transgression. 

How can they be saved? God's ordinary way of saving sinners is to call them effectually through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14). In fact, though there are many religions in the world, there is no other name but Jesus by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Those who follow other religions have no relationship with the true God and have no hope (Eph. 2:12). 

But the Bible sheds a beam of light when it reveals that God can save infants. John the Baptist was leaping for joy in Elizabeth's womb when he heard the voice of Mary, the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:41-44). The unborn child was already filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15). There is much we don't understand, but clearly God had saved the infant in the womb and moved him to rejoice in Christ. Therefore, we know that God is able to save sinners with underdeveloped or impaired mental capacities.

The Confession declares this comforting truth, but does so cautiously, saying that God saves "elect infants" and "elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word." God will have mercy on those whom He will have mercy (Ex. 33:19). The Confession does not say whether all persons in the world dying in infancy are elect, or only some. The Westminster divines evidently felt that we should not rush in to dogmatize where Scripture is silent. 

However, we can hope in the character of God. "Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations" (Deut. 7:9). He is our covenant God, whose blessings overflow to us and to our children. After David's infant son perished because of the consequences of David's sin, he had the faith to say, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (2 Sam. 12:24). Certainly the covenant people of God may entrust their children and childlike ones into the hands of a faithful God. David celebrates God's covenant faithfulness and reminds us that behind the promise stands the unchanging love of God:
      Unchanging is the love of God,
      From age to age the same,
      Displayed to all who do His will
      And reverence His Name.
      Those who His gracious covenant keep
      The Lord will ever bless;
      Their children's children shall rejoice
      To see His righteousness.
      --Psalm 103:17, 18 (The Psalter, No. 278:4, 5)
Thus, we affirm that, based on God's character and His covenant commitments to His own, that it is His normal way to save children of believers whom it pleases Him to take away in infancy. That's why the Canons of Dort say, "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" (1.17). This principle is also applicable to the mentally impaired, so that we believe that God's normal way is sovereignly and mysteriously to call them to life eternal in Christ by placing the seed of regeneration in their souls.  

Chapter 5.6, 7

vi. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous Judge, for former sins, does blind and harden, from them He not only withholds His grace whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts; but sometimes also withdraws the gifts which they had, and exposes them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and, withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan, whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God uses for the softening of others.

vii. As the providence of God does, in general, reach to all creatures; so, after a most special manner, it takes care of His Church, and disposes all things to the good thereof.

The Confession concludes its teaching on divine providence by distinguishing between the ways in which God governs the unrighteous and the loving care that he constantly gives to his people.

With regard to the ungodly, there are certain things that God does to confirm them in their ungodliness, such as blinding their eyes to the truth of his word. This is what God sometimes did to Israel (see Isa. 6:9-10; Rom. 11:7-8). Part of God's righteous judgment against sin is the hardening of the sinner's heart.

But when the Confession talks about the ways in which God's providence affects unbelievers, most of the things it mentions are things that God does not do for them. He does not give them his saving grace. He does not persuade their minds of the truth of his Word, or open their hearts to his love. He does not protect the gifts that he has given to them, whether spiritual or otherwise. He does not deliver them from temptation or protect them from the power of Satan.

In short, God abandons the wicked to their wickedness, which is only just. As a result of this hard providence, the ungodly are unable to profit from the means of grace, such as prayer or the preaching of God's Word. God becomes so hateful to them that such divine gifts harden their hearts instead of softening them.

All of this stands in absolute contrast to the loving care that God provides for his own people. While it is true that his providence rules over all, he shows special grace to the true followers of Christ, or the church. Indeed, he promises to work everything for our good (Romans 8:28). 

Dr. Philip G. Ryken is the president of Wheaton College.