From Faith Pulpit, Spring 2019. Used with permission.
The term Reformed theology means different things to different people. For some, this term simply refers to the “doctrines of grace” which are also known as the five points of Calvinism. The five points of Calvinism are:
- Total depravity: Sin has affected all areas of our personality so that no one seeks after God.
- Unconditional election: God’s choice of some to be saved was not based on foreseen merit or faith.
- Limited atonement: God’s purpose in sending His Son was to actually save and preserve the elect.
- Irresistible grace: Sooner or later, all who have been chosen will come to faith in Christ.
- Perseverance of the saints: Those who are truly elect and thus saved will persevere.
For others, in addition to Calvinism, Reformed theology includes Covenant theology. This view is taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, adopted in AD 1646, which was produced by and authoritative for Presbyterians.
Certain Calvinistic Baptists in London wanted the dominant Presbyterians to know they were not a sect, but rather very similar to them, so they produced a modified Baptist edition of the Westminster Confession, known as the Second London Confession of Faith (LBCF) which was adopted in AD 1689. Here is a website that compares these two Confessions, noting differences and similarities: www.proginosko.com.
Covenant theology centers its teaching around two major covenants:
The Covenant of Works:
The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience to Him as their creator, yet they could never have attained the reward of life but by some voluntary condescension of God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant. (LBCF, VII:1)
God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart, and a particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it. The same law was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables. (LBCF, XIX:1,2)
The Covenant of Grace:
The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give forth the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling the elect, and begetting in them faith and repentance; in this promise the gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and [is] therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners. (LBCF, XX:1)
Moreover, man having brought himself under the curse of the law by his fall, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life, his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. (LBCF, VII:2)
This covenant is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament; and it is founded in that eternal covenant transaction that was between the Father and the Son about the redemption of the elect; and it is alone by the grace of this covenant that all the posterity of fallen Adam that ever were saved did obtain life and blessed immortality, man being now utterly incapable of acceptance with God upon those terms on which Adam stood in his state of innocency. (LBCF, VII:3)
It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, his only begotten Son, according to the covenant made between them both, to be the mediator between God and man; the prophet, priest, and king; head and saviour of the church, the heir of all things, and judge of the world; unto whom he did from all eternity give a people to be his seed and to be by him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified. (LBCF, VII:3)
My evaluation of these issues:
I. The doctrines of grace evaluated from Romans 8:28-30
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (NKJV)
Notice the following truths from these verses:
Romans 8:28 begins with certain knowledge: “And we know…”
The promise is not that all things which happen are good; rather the promise is that all things work together towards a goal that is called good. Liquid vanilla tastes bitter but when mixed in the right amount with other ingredients, the end result is good.
God being in control of all that occurs. The blessed reality that all things work together for good rests on the fact that God determines or permits everything that comes to pass.
This promise is not made to all human beings, but only to believers. They are the ones who love God; they are the ones who are “the called according to His purpose.”
God’s purpose is explained in verses 29 and 30 and involves His determination to do five things to the same people:
(a) He foreknew these people. This is where scholars disagree. Foreknowledge might be passive awareness or it might be knowledge based on God’s involvement.
(b) He predestined the people whom He foreknew to be conformed to Christ’s image, an event that takes place at Christ’s return (1 John 3:2) and is described as being glorified. (Romans 8:18-21, 30)
(c) He called the same people He foreknew and predestined. This calling is only for those whom God foreknew and predestined. This calling produces an affirmative response because these people are not only called but also justified. This is why “those who love God” in verse 28 are believers.
(d) He justified the same people whom He foreknew, predestined, and called. This is where the glory of the cross can be seen. How can people know with certainty that they are part of the people whom God has foreknown, predestined, and called? Only by means of their justification!
This passage tells us that the ones God foreknew are the ones He also predestined and called. But God’s Word tells us that we can know we are justified: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1); “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9, NKJV).
(e) He glorified all those whom He justified. None will be lost.
(Next: The origin and nature of the church evaluated.)
Myron J. Houghton is the Senior Professor of Systematic Theology and director of the Master of Arts Theological Studies program at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary. He taught at Denver Baptist Bible College and Theological Seminary before coming to Faith in 1983. His earned degrees include the following: BA, Pillsbury Baptist Bible College; BD, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary; ThM, Grace Theological Seminary; PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary; MLA, Southern Methodist University; MA St. Thomas Theological Seminary; ThD, Concordia Seminary.