Preaching and The Doctrine of Election
The doctrine of election is often slandered as the enemy of missions, evangelism and a passionate faith in Jesus Christ. Few things could be further from the truth. In reality, this doctrine is a great motivation to missions and evangelism and it leads to a great love and joy in Christ. In addition, the doctrine of election brings great comfort to the soul of the minister as he preaches the gospel.
Stating the Doctrine
Calvin sets the importance of knowing and understanding God’s purposes in election when he writes the following:
We shall never be clearly persuaded, as we ought to be, that our salvation flows from the wellspring of God’s free mercy until we come to know his eternal election, which illumines God’s grace by this contrast: that he does not indiscriminately adopt all into the hope of salvation but gives to some what he denies to others.
Predestination is God’s marking off beforehand individuals to their eternal destination. Hidden in the councils of eternity past, before we did anything, God determined what our eternal state would be. The first time we hear such a thought, it can be difficult to grasp (let alone accept). Nonetheless, this is the clear teaching of the Scriptures. In Ephesians 1:5 Paul says, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” Far from being a horrible decree, this is the decree of grace. It is the foundation of our salvation through faith in Christ.
Concerning election, J. L. Dagg writes, “All who will finally be saved, were chosen to salvation by God the Father, before the foundation of the world, and given to Jesus Christ in the Covenant of Grace.” The elect are a definite number of people chosen by God according to His own free grace. He was not moved by anything in them (seen or foreseen). Only the elect will be saved. But, the elect will be saved.
Jesus Himself said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). In His high priestly prayer He said, “I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours” (John 17:9). Clearly, Jesus believed in election and was moved to prayer by it. He was certain that His Father would accomplish all His purposes.
A Word about Preaching
Preaching is the main task of the preacher. This is so because normally, by God’s design, saving faith is “brought into being through the preaching of the Word.” Further, as the Confession goes on to say, such saving faith is increased and strengthened through preaching. William Perkins, in his The Art of Prophesying writes:
There are two parts to prophecy: preaching the Word and public prayer. For the prophet (that is, the minister of the Word) has only two duties. One is preaching the Word, and the other is praying to God in the name of the people.
God, in His sovereign governance of the world, has decided to use men to share the gospel and be the instrument of bringing others to faith in Jesus Christ. As such, preaching is a great privilege. There is no greater or higher calling on earth. On the other hand, preaching is also an awesome responsibility. We who are earthen vessels are given the task of calling fallen men, women, and children to believe. This they can only do if God in His sovereign grace should grant them faith and repentance. From this perspective, we must ask, “Who is sufficient for such things?”
How Election Helps Preaching
As we rejoice at our calling and tremble at the responsibility, the doctrine of election offers six helps to the soul of the minister as he preaches the truth.
First, the doctrine of election assures the preacher of “success.” As the preacher proclaims the great truths of the Scripture and beckons sinners to throw themselves upon the mercy of Christ Jesus, he knows that the elect will respond with faith and repentance. Certainly, no man knows how many are numbered among the elect in the congregation of those who hear him preach. Nonetheless, any man may know that the elect will come to faith in Christ, for this has been decreed from before the foundation of the world.
Election keeps the preacher proclaiming the unadulterated truth of God during the dry seasons. When others turn aside to new measures or to a new message, the gospel preacher will plod on, proclaiming justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. He stays the course knowing that the elect will come to faith in Christ.
Second, the doctrine of election causes the preacher to be in awe of God. It is amazing to consider that God in His great mercy has chosen a man to be counted among the redeemed. It is humbling to consider that Christ Jesus has shed His blood for your salvation. It is overwhelming to consider that the Holy Spirit has mercifully applied the work of Christ to your soul. In addition to such awe-inspiring thoughts, the preacher is confronted with the fact that God has not only called him to faith in Christ but also has called him to be the herald of that good-news to other fallen human beings. It is a wonder that God uses sinners to bring others to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
As with salvation, so with a man’s call to preach, this decision is hidden in the eternal counsel of God. A man is not called to preach because of his goodness. He is not called to preach because he is the best specimen of Christianity available. Oh, no! He is called to preach because God in His mercy has determined to call him. As we read of Jeremiah’s call and Paul’s call, this divine decision is made before we are born (Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15).
Third, the doctrine of election brings freedom and joy to the preacher as he carries out his gospel task. In order to see the freedom and joy, all one need do is to consider the implications of preaching if there were no doctrine of election. Without election, who would dare preach? Without this glorious, God-honoring doctrine, the preacher would have no assurance that anyone would be saved. Under such a misunderstanding, the preacher would never have any confidence in the efficacy of the truth he was sent to proclaim.
On the other hand, if for some reason, the preacher did begin to preach, how could he ever stop? If you take away the doctrine of election, then the salvation of the hearer to some extent relies upon the preacher. He must be clear enough, engaging enough, comprehensive enough, or some other thing enough. Certainly, no honest man could ever believe that he has what it takes to convince and convert a sinner apart from the election of God. Under such pressure, the preacher would not be able to stop preaching until everyone present believed—or at least until everyone present gave a verbal consent to the message.
However, when a man believes the Bible and hence the doctrine of election, then there is great joy and freedom in the act of preaching. With a biblical view of salvation, the preacher is better able to know his duty as well. The preacher is responsible for proclaiming the gospel. He is to open the biblical text and make clear, piercing application to the hearts and minds of his hearers. The results, whether of faith and repentance or sneering and jeering, are in God’s hands. The response of faith or rejection is God’s responsibility—not the preachers. So, at the end of the day, if the preacher has been true to the Word and clear in his presentation, then he can sleep soundly knowing he has done what he has been commissioned to do.
Within any gathering of people, the likelihood is great that some are elect and some are reprobate. The elect will come to faith in God’s time and God’s way. Perhaps it will please God to bring them to faith during this proclamation of the truth. The reprobate will not come to faith. They will be passed over and left in their sin. The distinction and division between the two groups is hidden within the eternal council of God. So, the preacher proclaims the truth and leaves the results with God.
Fourth, the doctrine of election guides the prayers of the preacher. We have confidence to pray for the salvation of the men, women, and children that we know because God has invited us to make such petitions. As we look out into our community, we do not know everyone who lives around us. As evangelists and servants of social ministries, we reach out into our community seeking to be used of God to bring people to Christ. But as men of prayer, in our prayer closets and studies, we do not have the names of everyone who needs our intercession. So what can we do? We can pray the doctrine of election.
We can ask God to bring His elect to faith in Christ. We can ask that it would please our Heavenly Father to use the message we are working on to be the means of bringing one or more of His chosen ones to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We can pray that the little words and conversations we have throughout the day will push God’s elect toward Christ and redemption. In other words, we ask that God would bring to pass in time that which He has decreed in eternity concerning the salvation of the people who live in our community.
Fifth, the doctrine of election brings a blood-earnestness to the proclamation of the gospel. On the surface, this may not appear to be the case. For many will hear of the doctrine of election and reprobation and say if that is so, then there is nothing to be done. But such reasoning is false, dangerous, damnable, and close to heretical. The fact of the matter is that there are men, women, and children, who hear us each time we open our mouths who will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. We will give an account to our God and Savior for the way we preached.
Jeremiah warns, “Cursed is he who does the work of the LORD with slackness” (48:10a, ESV). It is a great privilege to be called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The privilege also carries great responsibility. But along with the warning against negligence, the doctrine of election brings great promise and comfort.
We can be bold in proclaiming the truth. We do not have to back off for fear that if we offend a man and he refuses to hear the gospel again, then we are responsible for his damnation. Oh no. If we have told the truth, then his blood is on his head. And so with boldness and conviction, we point our listeners to Jesus Christ and the eternal life that He grants to everyone who believes in Him. Today is the day of salvation. Since it is, we demand faith of our listeners.
Finally, the doctrine of election brings great praise to God. At the end of the day, the preacher knows that anyone who professed faith under his ministry did not do so because of him. The preacher will not pat himself on the back for the number of people he led to Christ or saw profess faith or that he baptized. But he will praise God for each one of them as he petitions the throne of grace to keep and hold those men, women, and children near the cross of Christ. God is to be glorified for the way in which He allowed the preacher to participate in bringing the eternal decree to bear in time.
The doctrine of election succors the soul of the preacher as he carries out his God-given task. In times of discouragement, it brings the promise of “success.” In times of pride in our accomplishments, it counters with humility. And everywhere along the way, it keeps the preacher cognizant of the great end of his task: The Glory of God Alone!
1John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. by Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1960), 3:21:1 (921).
2Thomas J. Nettles, By His Grace and for His Glory (Lake Charles, LA: Cor Meum Tibi, 2002), 272.
3Unless noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible.
4J. L. Dagg, Manual of Theology (1857; reprint, Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1982), 305.
5A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689. Rewritten in Modern English, (Leeds: Cary Publications, 1975), 14.1 (36).
6William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying (1592; reprint, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 7.