‘Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

13 Feb 2005

Texts: 1 Thess. 1:4-7


            When Paul opens this letter, he writes out of a mindset of gratitude.  And what are the grounds of his joy?  They are the blessings, the marks of Christian authenticity which we noted last Sunday: the works of faith, the labors of love and the perseverance of hope.  But these all have their source in the electing love of God and that shall be our topic today.


            Many people have stumbled over the doctrine of election in the past and I hope that we shall not do so this morning.  Perhaps, it would help to review some simple, basic Christian facts of election.  We claim to believe that God has a plan.  Indeed, when mankind fell, God already had a plan.  That plan, known as the plan of salvation, has been revealed to us gradually through time.  Parts of that plan were revealed early in the history of redemption.  For example, we have the promise to Eve that her seed would bruise the head of the Adversary, namely, Satan.  We also have glimpses of the redemption yet to come in the types of the Old Testament.  Again, we may instance Abraham who foreshadows justification by faith, and Joseph lives out the role of redeemer/deliverer in the terrible famines that struck during his lifetime.  We even have in Moses a pre-figurement of the greater lawgiver who was yet to come--even Jesus Christ whom we worship as the Son of God.  Plainly I could go on and become even more specific and detailed, but there really is no need as the point is well made already.  The entire history of mankind is ordered according to the purposes of God.  The prophecies of the First Testament are fulfilled in the Second by the plan and purpose of God to send a redeemer, to reconcile lost sinners and to bring all things back into right relationship to Himself in order that He should receive honor, glory and praise forever and ever.


            We all could agree: God has a plan.  Now this is how electing love impacts the plan.  When God reaches into human time and space, He calls, sets aside and appoints certain persons to specific roles within the unfolding drama of redemption--those persons are recipients of God’s electing love.  Is it so shocking that God should do as He pleases with His Creation, with His creatures?!  Well, put that way, I should seriously doubt that anyone will object.   But when His plans and ours collide, when someone we love appears to be outside the electing love of God, then assent to God’s general, or over-all plan becomes much more problematic.  If sovereignty means that God may do as He pleases, with whom He pleases and how and when He pleases, Acts 9:16  for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake," something in us objects.  Indeed, something in us, the whiner  or peacock of pride in us squawks, “Unfair.”  We are quick to find grounds for our objection: “If God is sovereign like that, He would be showing partiality!  And we know that God shows no partiality.”  Excuse me.  Let’s be plain that what the scripture means by God being “no respecter of person” means that He is no respecter of person as man is a respecter of person.  God is plainly unimpressed with our status, wealth and position--we are swayed by such things, not God.  When it comes to a matter of justice, all considerations of social advantage are, in God’s court, completely repudiated.  We can receive justice from God because His motivations are pure and untainted--He takes no bribes.  His influence cannot be bought and sold; it is not a commodity and we can depend on that.


            In Genesis we read In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..  The Creator of the heavens and the earth is presented there as the originator, the One who takes the initiative.  When we speak of God’s electing love, we are speaking of the same creative activity.  The parallels are striking.  With regard to the creation of everything that is we read that God did so out of nothing.  God did not rearrange pre-existing stuff, energy or whatever.  There was nothing, God spoke and whatever He spoke came into being.  God’s electing love operates somewhat in the same fashion.  God chooses to love whomever He will and there is no pre-relationship necessary.  He loved us while we were yet enemies.[1] God is the originator of relationship.  So we read in scripture, 1 John 4:19  We love, because He first loved us.--it’s the same principle.  It is a matter of sheer grace, or unmerited favor and both can appear at first glance as exercises in partiality.  They are not.  But they are expressions of free will by the only One who actually possesses a free will--the Almighty of whom it is said all His designs are wise (Romans 16:27) and just ( Job 8:3  "Does God pervert justice Or does the Almighty pervert what is right?) and good ( Psa 25:8  Good and upright is the LORD; Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.  Psa 25:9  He leads the humble in justice, And He teaches the humble His way. Psa 25:10  All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.)   Psa 100:5  For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting, And His faithfulness to all generations.


            Divine election is a good reason for all those who are born-again to love each other--for each of those who are being saved are beloved of God.[2]  Furthermore, the existence of divine election accounts for the success of the gospel in Thessalonica and anywhere else. The success of the gospel anywhere and anytime depends upon the prior work of grace.  But the awakening is real.  It is tremendously exciting when the preaching of the word provokes conversion--evokes faith as a response to the word which is wholly dependent upon the prior workings of God.  Now the word is to be understood as rooted in Scripture--in the goods news that the promised Messiah was to be a suffering Messiah, one who embraced and made sense of human suffering for our sakes.  We suffer in part because of all the lesser pleasures, and second rate desires that hinder us from seeking the greatest and the best--life with God!  Secondly Paul insisted that the Messiah who was to suffer and to die and then to rise again was sent from God to accomplish a mission of redemption.  His suffering was particularly redemptive.  Thirdly, Paul demonstrated that this Messiah who came to suffer was none other than Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.  Christ was sent to suffer, to die, to rise and to reign forevermore.


            All who are effectually called and sanctified were from all eternity elected and chosen for salvation.  (See Footnote 2. Jeremiah 31 is addressed to the elect in Israel)  It is God’s own good pleasure that this happens at all.  What a slap in the face to human pride and sullen arrogance it is that all this unfolds completely independent of any considerations of a person’s merit, skill and ability.  The whole human enterprise is shown up for the vanity that it is.  Election then is a judgment of divine grace which exempts from the common destruction of fallen man those who accept their calling by faith. . . And, if we continue in our calling and in our faith, election prevails consciously in our hearts, lives and minds.


            This matter of divine election is knowable, as Paul asserts in 1 Theesalonians, by indirect evidence: that is, the workings in power, and in the Holy Ghost.  The best place to look for these evidences is in the realms of the spiritual fruits and the gifts.  Faith, hope and love are the virtues expressed through how we live, how we inhabit our place in the family of God as gifted and fruitful believers.  Accordingly the spiritual gifts have been distributed just as it pleases God in our midst, in His household, so to speak, the church.  And may the good Lord help us if we exercise the spiritual gifts apart from the fruits of gentleness, kindness, patience and self-control!  About the gifts, Paul speaks elsewhere of our marvelous diversity and essential interdependence: not all are hands, nor ears, nor feet--we are many members, but one body.  It is not merely that we need each other; we actually need the whole body if the various parts are to contribute their uniqueness.  These spiritual fruits and gifts make us wonderfully pure and diverse.


            Paul is grateful for the God-given success of his ministry in Thessalonica--for that is the sign and seal of his apostleship!  And that success was a surprise to him for even though he ascended to the third heaven, he did not read about the Thessalonians in advance, in the book of life.  No, he had to rely upon the evidences of the fruit and the gifts which follow upon the ministry of the word, just as we do.  He had to see that consciences were convicted and lives were changed--sin patterns, instead of being suppressed or denied, were amended!  That’s proof.  Let me spell this out a little more deeply: when we experience the mortifying influence of the gospel upon our lusts, when we find that we are being weaned from worldliness, when we worry more about the state of our own souls and more about divine approval than peer approval, then we may justly claim that we are becoming more spiritual.  To claim that the gospel came in the Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5) is Paul’s way of declaring that the power in the word attained its fulfillment in the hearers through the electing love of God in Thessalonica.  The gospel came then in full assurance, or in much fullness just as it can today--for the power is in the word. 


Rom 10:6  But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, "DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, 'WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?' (that is, to bring Christ down), Rom 10:7  or 'WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." Rom 10:8  But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART"-- that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, Rom 10:9  that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; Rom 10:10  for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. Rom 10:11  For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." Rom 10:12  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; Rom 10:13  for "WHOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." Rom 10:14  How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? Rom 10:15  And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GLAD TIDINGS OF GOOD THINGS!"


            Are you walking in full assurance of the truth of the gospel?  And do you understand that gospel to be centrally and primarily about the finished work of Jesus Christ: His life of obedience, His suffering, death for our sins and subsequent resurrection?  In the out-workings of this gospel of truth, do you find that the spiritual fruit are evident and the gifts effective?  Do you find that your love for the other Christians is growing--reflecting the “more and more” aspect of genuine, Spirit-filled Christian life?  These and other self-diagnostic questions are not asked to induce guilt or spiritual desperation, but they are offered as a means of self-assessment.  And if your answers are generally affirmative, humbly and honestly positive, you are one of the elect of God.  Here is the side of the Puritan’s work ethic we would do well to revive: sanctification is a growing process as we reach for the prize of the upward call to become like our blessed Savior.  What a great and glorious journey it is!


[1] He may choose to love a former atheist.  I say “former” because once the electing love of God comes to be for that person, it is certain that person will no longer be the atheist he was.  It seems to be the case that we were all atheists at one point in our lives.

[2] Regardless of when that fact breaks into our personal and particular time and space, we were in His counsels prior to the existence of all things. Jer 1:4  Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,Jer 1:5  "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations."  And Jer 31:3  The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” Romans 11:25-33 touches upon the mysteries of divine election as they relate to Israel  Verse 32 is particularly interesting: Rom 11:32  For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.  Election, it appears to me, is a time sensitive matter--God purpose to show mercy to all is diffused as it were through time.  In the O.T. God showed mercy to Abraham (partiality) with the purpose that all nations should through him be blessed (impartiality, or inclusive love).  Then it was the nation Israel who was formed to be a nation of priests (partiality) so that all nations would come to God (inclusion).  So, depending on where you put your foot down, the same divine program may appear either as partial, or as impartial.  Thus, the distinction while helpful must not be pushed too far--divine election should not be construed as being exclusive, or a matter of privilege, but as a matter of divine plan, or resolve even.