Category Archives: Election
The doctrine of God’s divine election of unworthy sinners is a humbling truth. Or to use Spurgeon’s words, “a sense of election causes a low opinion of self.” That is the bullet point under which the following quote from Spurgeon comes to us, as recorded in a sermon delivered on July 1, 1888:
Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.
At some point every Christian has frankly evaluated their own sin and has stood amazed by the grace of God. This leads us to ask the question: Why would God send his pure and eternal Son to be smudged and murdered at the hands of vile sinners—for me? Or said more directly: Why does God love me?
The answer to this question is simple and profound.
In a sermon on John 3:16, Puritan Thomas Manton (1620–1677) answers the question this way—
Love is at the bottom of all. We may give a reason of other things, but we cannot give a reason of his love … Why did he make so much ado about a worthless creature, raised out of the dust of the ground at first, and has now disordered himself, and could be of no use to him? We have an answer at hand: Because he loved us. If you continue to ask, But why did he love us? We have no other answer but because he loved us, for beyond the first rise of things we cannot go. And the same reason is given by Moses, Deuteronomy 7:7–8: “The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people, for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you…” That is, in short, he loved you because he loved you. All came from his free and undeserved mercy; higher we cannot go in seeking after the causes of what is done for our salvation.*
Similarly, in his devotional treasure, Light and Truth, Horatius Bonar’s (1808–1889) writes that God does not love us because of Christ’s work on the cross. Bonar writes—
This free love was not produced or purchased by Christ’s death. That love existed before in all its largeness and freeness. Christ’s death did not increase that love. It was wide as the heart of God, and could not be increased. Christ’s death did not make the sinner a more suitable object for that love. The sinner was loved before; and it was love to the sinner that made the Father send the Son: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” That love rested on the sinner before. His circumstances as a sinner, so far from quenching God’s love to him as a creature, increased it; for they added all the amount of misery, and gloom, and exposure to eternal ruin, which called up that profound and unutterable compassion which a father feels toward a prodigal child that has ruined himself. Nothing in us, nothing in the world, nothing in heaven or earth, nothing in man or angel produced the love of God. It was uncreated, unbought, undeserved, and unfathomable. God loved the sinner because He was God, and because the sinner was a sinner. That is the end of the matter.**
God loves you because he loves you.
This is a simple question with a profound answer.
In a sermon on John 3:16 (“God so loved, that he gave…”), Puritan Thomas Manton makes the following point on God’s indescribable love towards sinners in sending His Son:
“Love is at the bottom of all. We may give a reason of other things, but we cannot give a reason of his love. God showed his wisdom, power, justice, and holiness in our redemption by Christ. If you ask why he made so much ado about a worthless creature, raised out of the dust of the ground at first, and had now disordered himself, and could be of no use to him, we have an answer at hand: Because he loved us. If you continue to ask, But why did he love us? We have no other answer but because he loved us; for beyond the first rise of things we cannot go. And the same reason is given by Moses, Deuteronomy 7:7–8: ‘The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people, for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you…’ That is, in short, he loved you because he loved you. All came from his free and undeserved mercy; higher we cannot go in seeking after the causes of what is done for our salvation.”
–Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, 2:340–341.
Today we received a question from TSS reader, Jason Dalton. He asks:
I’ve been listening to J.I. Packer’s RTS “History and Theology of the Puritans” on iTunes U that you graciously pointed out awhile back. It is very enjoyable, and I am very grateful to RTS for making it free to the public. Thank you for letting more people know about it.
Dr. Packer goes on a bit of a long tangent about supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism in the lectures and comes down very strongly against supralapsarianism.
I still have much to learn on the subject, but I believe I would label myself as a supralapsarian. My hero is John Piper, and it is from him that I have come to believe that God’s glory and Him displaying all facets of that glory is the most preeminent goal in all the universe.
Seeing from your post that Jonathan Edwards liked William Perkins, did Jonathan Edwards consider himself a supralapsarian, do you know? Do you think John Piper would consider himself a supralapsarian?
Thank you for any knowledge you might be able to pass on. Thank you for all your work. God has used it to bless me.
Great question, Jason!
Let me define the terms for those interested in this question but lost in the terminology. It’s a question of timing. What did God decree first, second, etc.? A supralapsarian believes that God first decrees (or elected) some for salvation, then decreed creation, the fall and then redemption. He elects some and then decrees to create them, decrees the fall and redemption to establish this relationship with the elect. An infralapsarian however believes God first decrees creation, then the fall, then election and redemption. So the question is this: Did God decree the elect before decreeing the fall (supralapsarian) or does He decree election after decreeing the fall (infralapsarian)?
This is a noteworthy distinction although some of my favorite theologians simply throw their hands in the air and say the order of decrees is not revealed in Scripture (see John Frame for example).
Now, about your question specifically. Yes, William Perkins was supralapsarian and, yes, Edwards liked Perkins. I’m uncertain of Piper’s official position, though.
From what I’ve read Jonathan Edwards reacted against the supralapsarian position. I say that based upon John Gerstner’s conclusion in his multi-volume work The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Ligonier: 1992). Gerstner writes:
“he [Edwards] refutes the fundamental argument of the supralapsarians. They contend that the last thing in execution was always the first in intention. That is, the actual reprobation and salvation of some proved that this was the original intention behind the creation, fall, salvation and damnation. Edwards critiques this … man was not created that he should be converted or reprobated. … God decreed the fall of man, yet Edwards sees this as an anti-supralapsarian. As we shall show in the Edwardsian doctrine of man, the Holy Spirit was Edwards’ donum superadditum. Adam’s failure to call upon Him was the occasion of the fall. God did not first harden Adam’s heart; this wicked deed was Adam’s own doing” (2:161, 164).
Clear as mud? Great question. Does anyone else have insight into answering this question?
Ferguson: Supporting the imperatives to holiness
At the 2007 Banner of Truth conference this Spring, Sinclair Ferguson made the following note after reading Titus 2:11-13 (“For the grace of God has appeared … training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions”). He says,
“The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of those imperatives. The Apostles do not make the mistake that’s often made in Christian ministry. [For the Apostles] the indicatives are more powerful than the imperatives in gospel preaching. So often in our preaching our indicatives are not strong enough, great enough, holy enough, or gracious enough to sustain the power of the imperatives. And so our teaching on holiness becomes a whip or a rod to beat our people’s backs because we’ve looked at the New Testament and that’s all we ourselves have seen. We’ve seen our own failure and we’ve seen the imperatives to holiness and we’ve lost sight of the great indicatives of the gospel that sustain those imperatives. … Woven into the warp and woof of the New Testament’s exposition of what it means for us to be holy is the great groundwork that the self-existent, thrice holy, triune God has — in Himself, by Himself and for Himself — committed Himself and all three Persons of His being to bringing about the holiness of His own people. This is the Father’s purpose, the Son’s purchase and the Spirit’s ministry.”
- Sinclair Ferguson, message from the 2007 Banner of Truth Conference, Our Holiness: The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase.
Along with Titus 2:11-13, Ferguson cited 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Romans 8:28-29 and 15:16. Ferguson preached from John 15:9 the next day where Jesus’ call for fruitful disciples is wrapped in His call for them to “Abide in my love.” Ferguson challenges preachers to root the commands to be holy in the grace of our electing Father, the work of His Son on the Cross and the ongoing work of the indwelling and filling Spirit towards our holiness. The challenge is not to avoid the commands, but make certain our indicatives are strong enough to support them. Preaching from the indicatives assumes the preacher is first living daily in the indicatives of God in his private study.
This all-embracing predestination
“The determination of the existence of all things to be created, or what is to be camellia or buttercup, nightingale or crow, hart or swine, and equally among men, the determination of our own persons, whether one is to be born as boy or girl, rich or poor, dull or clever, white or colored or even as Abel and Cain, is the most tremendous predestination conceivable in heaven or on earth; and still we see it taking place before our eyes every day, and we ourselves are subject to it in our entire personality; our entire existence, our very nature, our position in life being entirely dependent on it. This all-embracing predestination, the Calvinist places, not in the hands of man, and still less in the hand of blind natural force, but in the hand of Almighty God, sovereign Creator and Possessor of heaven and earth; and it is in the figure of the potter and the clay that Scripture has from the time of the prophets expounded to us this all-dominating election. Election in creation, election in providence, and so election also to eternal life; election in the realm of grace as well as in the realm of nature.”
- Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, as quoted by Loraine Boettner in the excellent book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (P&R; 1932) p. 17.
Click here to access previous posts in the Humble Calvinism index.