From Banner of Truth
Oh that they had such a heart in them that would fear me (Deuteronomy 5:29).
On October 23, 1740, after preaching the previous weekend in Northampton with Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, the great eighteenth century evangelist, made his way south along the Connecticut River to Hartford, then Wethersfield, and finally to Middletown. Nathan Cole, a farmer near Middletown, vividly records the excitement and power of Whitefield’s ministry on that occasion. Cole had been an Arminian (an eighteenth century theological liberal) who believed he could save himself by his good works. He became troubled in his soul when he heard Whitefield at the meeting house in Middletown say that the gospel was offered freely to all men, even though all were totally unable to embrace Christ, that they could do nothing to save themselves, that only the electing grace of God could render them acceptable to a holy God. Cole was convinced of his lost condition and was terribly convicted of his sin, and came to believe the doctrine of election, that he was utterly lost unless God chose to save him. He later found peace with Christ, left the established church, and joined a small group of believers called New Lights in nearby Kensington.
What do we mean by the doctrine of election and how does it apply in the proclamation of the gospel? First, by election we simply mean that God, according to his mere good pleasure and sovereign will, chose from all the peoples of the world, a peculiar people to be his own before he made anyone or anything. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way,
Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace. Chapter III, paragraph 5.
They did not choose Christ, rather he chose them, and appointed them that they should bear much fruit, and that their fruit should remain (John 15:16). Paul the Apostle repeatedly teaches this doctrine (Eph. 1:4-5, Rom. 8:29-30; 9:14-24, 2 Tim. 1:8-9) as do Peter (1 Pet. 2:9-10), and Jesus (John 6:35-39). It is not merely that God foreknew those who would choose to follow and obey him, rather it is that in spite of our rebellion and hard-heartedness, even though we would do nothing to deserve it, God, by a free act of his grace, according to the secret counsel of his most holy and wise providence, chose a people for himself from all the peoples of the world, making us into one family of God, transmuting time, space, ethnicity, and religion (Rev. 5:9-10, 7:9-12)
The benefit of God’s electing grace is to humble man and to exalt God. When believers truly understand that the entirety of their salvation, from beginning to end, is of God; and when unbelievers see that they are utterly lost, beyond hope in themselves, being stripped of their smug self-righteousness, then and only then will God smile with salvation on multitudes; for God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
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