WCF 3.5 — Pastoral Comments

Posted on May 20, 2018 by admin

3.5 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,1 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:2 and all to the praise of His glorious grace.3

1 Eph 1:4, 9, 11; Rom 8:30; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Th 5:9; 2 Rom 9:11, 13, 16; Eph 1:4,9; 3 Eph 1:6, 12.

In the 4th century, a serious controversy concerning the doctrine of salvation erupted between the Church Father, Augustine of Hippo and a British monk by the name of Pelagius. Pelagius did not believe in Original Sin. He insisted that all man can by their own efforts, come to salvation. Accordingly Pelagius denied the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace and predestination, which Augustine affirmed. In AD 418, under Augustine’s leadership, Pelagius was declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage. Pelagius died not too long after that. But his heresy would live on especially in a modified form known as semi-Pelagianism. Semi-Pelagians believed that God’s grace is necessary for salvation, but man must still exercise his freewill in co-operation with God. This eventually became the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. It took the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century under Luther and later Calvin to turn God’s people back to the biblical position of Augustine.

But sometime after the Reformation, Semi-Pelagianism again reared its ugly head. This time it was through the teaching of James Arminius, and so became known as Arminianism. Amongst other things, Arminianism teaches that God chose the elect on account of His foreknowledge that they would believe in Christ, do good works and persevere in their faith. Arminianism was condemned as a heresy by the Synod of Dort in 1618, almost exactly twelve hundred years after the Council of Carthage.

But like Pelagianism, Arminianism continued to thrive in some sectors in the church. For example, prior to the Westminster Assembly, the English Archbishop William Laud was apparently promoting Arminianism as a tool to bring the Church of England back to Rome. It is not surprising, therefore, that quite a number of paragraphs in our Confession are devoted to firmly establishing the tenets of biblical doctrine denied by Arminianism. Such is the case with the present paragraph.

In particular, we are here given to confess several inter-related truths:

First of all, election took place “before the foundation of the world” (cf. Eph 1:4).

Secondly, election is entirely the choice and act of God without any influence from anything outside of Himself (cf. Eph 1:9-11). It is entirely “according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will” with no “conditions” or “causes” in the realm of creation affecting Him.

Thirdly, the elect are “chosen…in Christ” (cf. Eph 1:4, 5, 7 etc). In other words, the basis of election and predestination is Christ and is intricately tied to what He has eternally promised to do for the elect under the Covenant of Grace.

Fourthly, none are elected on the basis of God’s “foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance” on their part. The apostle Paul is clearly asserting this when he highlights that God loved and chose Jacob over Esau before they were born (cf. Rom 9:10, 13).

Fifthly, the elect are chosen “unto everlasting glory” (Rom 8:30) to “the praise of [God’s] glorious grace” (cf. Eph 1:6, 12, 14). That is to say that God will see to it that the elect will be preserved unto glory, and their eternal salvation will redound to God’s praise and glory.


Westminster Confession of Faith — With Brief Pastoral Comments
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