07. October 2012
Catechetical Sermon on Election from the Article XI, Formula of Concord.
When the Formula of Concord was written, there had not been a controversy yet over the doctrine of election. In the Reformed and Zwinglian churches this most comforting doctrine had caused quite a stir. Our Lutheran forefathers prophetically authored article XI of the Formula to prevent unnecessary disagreement and separation among their successors. That’s you. In our midst, despite this comprehensive summary of teaching of Holy Scripture, many have fallen off the wagon—so to speak—into either denying the consoling Word from God or taking it too far in way of the Calvinist. Despite the abuse or misunderstanding by others we ought to explain this teaching from the Scriptures and find in it the grace our Lord intends.
First, God sees and foreknows everything that is and will be, that is happening or will happen, whether good or bad. While He foresees and foreknows both good and evil, His gracious will is not that evil happen. All the perversity of the devil and your wicked wants and desires is restrained by His knowledge. He limits evil—how far it should go, how long it should last, and when and how He will hinder and punish it. Our Lord orders all to his glory and your salvation. The author of evil is fallen man and his father the Devil. In His foreknowledge God even uses our perversity to His glory. To everyone but the godly, this is an astonishing thing [1 Cor 2:7-8].
While God forsees and foreknows who will receive Him in faith, the source of this saving faith is His gracious will and pleasure in Christ Jesus. The Holy Scriptures say God predestines or elects us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ [Eph 1:4-5]. This means God himself causes and works everything needed for our salvation, start to finish.
I’m betting you can already guess how some react to this teaching. “If God causes me to believe and He already knows I will believe then I don’t need to do anything.” Or for others: “God has chosen some and damned others already. I’m a total screw-up and there’s no way I’m one of the elect.” When challenged by these questions, many pastors will just throw up their hands in a panic. The doctrine of election is not to strengthen self-confidence without repentance (“Look at what I did! I accepted Jesus!”) nor is to leave you hopeless and in despair (“No one could save me!”)
Too many people who call themselves Christian, including many who remain on the membership roster here fall into the former camp. They say they are a Christian, that God will save them no matter who they are or what they do, acting as if they are invincible. They sin without repentance. They ignore the Word preached and the Holy Sacraments. Prayer, faith, and a godly walk are forgotten. And then others fall into the latter, claiming that no matter how much they go to church, repent, believe and receive the Sacrament, they could be lovely to God.
Even believers trap themselves in these thoughts and have to be drug out of the pit of despair or humbled from the throne of self-righteousness. Here is the sure response to this delusion: Holy Scripture is inspired by God. It is given for a confidence boost but for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness [2 Tim 3:16]. Nor is it given to drive us to despair but rather that we have hope [Romans 15:4]. When these Scriptures speak of our election, they drive us to the Word, encouraging us to repentance, godliness, and to strengthen our faith with the assurance of salvation.
We should idly speculate about God’s foreknowledge. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. Instead we look to God’s revelation in Christ Jesus. His purpose, will, and counsel which for you belongs to your redemption, call, justification, and sanctification. [Those doctrines will have to be explained more fully at another time!]
Christ taught this doctrine in today’s parable of the Wedding feast. Those who have ears to hear and eyes to see will know the comfort and consolation of their election. God himself has given His Son to be your bridegroom and you his bride. In a splendid way, all those who come to the wedding feast are not merely guest but the chose bride. None of them are worthy of the Son but are redeemed and reconciled by His faultless obedience, suffering, and death. This righteousness is given to you in a spotless and brilliant wedding garment. Joined to the eternal Son of God, you too will live eternally.
All that He did for us and every benefit of this matrimony of Christ and His church are shown, offered, and given through His Word and Sacraments. God works salvation in us by His Holy Spirit through this Word when it is preached, heard, and pondered. Christ himself works on us, converting our hearts to repentance and preserving them in true faith. By this gracious working, we are justified before God, receiving adoption of sons, and the promised inheritance [Gal 3:19].
Not only that, His Spirit will sanctify us, that is, make us holy in love and all good works [Eph 1:4]. He will protect us from the devil, world, and our own flesh. He will rule and lead us, lift us up when we stumble, comfort us when under cross or in temptation, and preserve us forever. This work which He began in us at Holy Baptism, He strengthens and supports in those who cling to His Word, pray at all times, abide in God’s goodness, and use the gifts they have received [Matthew 25:14-30]. Finally, He will eternally save and glorify in life eternal all whom He has elected, called, and justified.
All this must be included in the doctrine of election or you will fall into error. Those who refuse to hear the Word and receive the Sacrament can no longer find comfort in election. Those who reject the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit will find no help when they refuse to repent. Those who reject their baptism will show up to the feast ashamedly naked and damned.
There is still yet a sticky wicket. How can we know and why or how can we perceive who are the elect and thus receive this doctrine for their comfort? Only the elect, whose names are written in the book of life are saved [Revelation 21:27]. We cannot use our reason or appearance who are the elect. We cannot plunge the murky depths of God’s hidden will.We turn to He revealed will made clear in Christ [Eph 1:9].
St. Paul tells us that “those whom He predestined [elected] He also called” (Romans 8:30). God calls through His Word, when repentance and forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in His name [Luke 24:47]. In today’s parable, the King called the guests that He wants to have at His Son’s wedding through the minsters He send out. He calls at the first, second, third, sixth, ninth, and even the eleventh hour.
This doctrine only bothers us if we fail to remember that the preaching of repentance and the promise of the Gospel are universal, belonging to all people. Thus, we preach to all nations. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son (John 3:16). Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)! Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). He does not wish any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God will work through His Word in the people He calls to enlighten, convert, and save them. The Holy Spirit wills by the Word to work salvation. It is God’s will that all receive the Word, believe it, and obey it.
You hear His voice. He knows you and you follow Him. You gladly hear the Gospel, believe in Christ for salvation, pray and give thanks, are made holy in love, with hope, patience, and comfort in suffering. All this may be weak in you and yet you hunger and thirst for righteousness. He has begun the good work in you. He will preserve it to the end, granted that you do not turn from Him, but hold firmly to Him unto the end. This is God’s revealed will in Jesus Christ.
Christ said “strive to enter through the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24). And in today’s Gospel parable He said: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” This does not mean that while God calls everyone He only means to save a few. He desires all to come to saving knowledge and faith. He desires none to be damned. Our God is loving and He is merciful in Jesus. This is certain and true. This is His will and promise for you. This is why He not only gives to you the promise of salvation in the Gospel in general but attaches it to testaments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper. As the baptized, you know the Gospel is for you. As you eat bread of life that is His flesh you receive the life of the world (John 6:51). The blood of Christ cleanses you of all sin (1 John 1:7).
This is why our churches have retained private Absolution. It is God’s command that you believe such Absolution. Jesus said you are truly reconciled to God as though you heard a voice from heaven, even though it sounded like your pastor [John 12:28-30]. This opportunity to hear the Gospel personally applied to you grants the certainty of Christ’s Word. He has elected you and has called you in repentance and faith.
Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit effective through the Word preached, heard, and considered, all are heathens. Some simply despise God’s Word, rejecting the invitation just like those of the parable. Others make great excuses about their farm or business and thus thrust aside the Word. And still others are openly hostile to the Word, blaspheming it and persecuting the church and her messengers. So, hearing the Word refuse to take it to heart, hardening it in sin. Some resist the truth they have learned by the Holy Spirit. Others persist in sin without repentance. Some make an outward show but truly do not believe. And still others try to find righteousness and salvation outside of Christ [Romans 9:31]. The heart of flesh is inclined towards nothing but evil.
The challenge of the doctrine of election for us is that God allows man to reject Him. The Holy Spirit calls, enlightens, and converts the elect through the Word [Romans 10:7]. He justifies and saves those who in true faith receive Jesus. In the same way, He hardens and condemns those who reject the Word and resist the Holy Spirit, even while the Holy Spirit is working in them through the Word. They are like the man of the parable who want the benefits but do not desire to be clothed in Christ’s grace.
Few receive the Word and follow it. Most despise the Word of invitation and will not come to the wedding (Matt 22:3-6). The cause of their contempt is not God’s foreknowledge or election but their own perverted will. The human will rejects the means of the Holy Spirit. The fallen will hates the Word preached or the Sacraments given. How often the Christ would gather by the Holy Spirit but many will not allow Him. People willfully turn away from Christ and His gifts, even after receiving them with joy. They instead love the filth of the world and redecorate their hard hearts to be homes for the devil.
This is as much as the Scriptures reveal to us on the mystery of election. If we abide by this teaching, it is useful, saving, and consoling. We are justified and saved without works or merits of our own, but purely out of God’s grace for Christ’s sake. Even before the foundation of the world was laid—even while we could do no good—we were chosen by grace in Christ for salvation, all according to God’s purpose.
God wants to know He is greatly concerned about your salvation. He provided for it from before the world was made and will preserve it in you until the end. You can be certain even while weak in spirit, tempted by evil, or even tormented by devil and the world, that this eternal purpose cannot be overthrown. Your salvation is sure in Jesus Christ, from whom no one can snatch you. Jesus will give you patience, consolation, hope, always working for the good even in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation. Not even the gates of hell can topple the church nor you His bride.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church