I love the doctrines of grace, also known as Reformed Theology and Calvinism. The doctrines of election and predestination, once a confusing embarrassment to me are now a precious comfort. I’ve spent enough time on the other side of the fence on these doctrines earlier in my life that I have a lot of time for people that struggle with them. I don’t preach topical messages on these doctrines, and I try not to use the ‘hot button words’ in my sermons. I don’t shy from the doctrines when they come up texts that I’m preaching. I won’t compromise these biblical convictions even if people walk away from our church over my stand. However, I don't want them to leave without an honest discussion of the biblical foundation of these doctrines. A high view of God’s sovereignty in salvation is a non-negotiable for my ministry.
I’m currently reading The Old Evangelicalism by Iain Murray. Great book, but his chapter ‘The Cross – The Pulpit of God’s Love’ is brilliant. It is a great corrective to the harsh, bitter brand of Calvinism that I have encountered and gives Reformed Theology a bad name. When I know that an enquirer knows the categories of Calvinism and Arminianism, I have been known to respond to the question, “Are you a Calvinist” with the line, “Yes, but I try not to be a jerk about it.” That unfortunately solicits knowing chuckles.
Iain Murray includes a quote from a preacher named William Roberts in the context of a doctrinal controversy among Calvinistic Methodists in Wales many years ago. Unity among mostly like-minded preachers was being disrupted over precise applications of the Calvinistic doctrine. The title of the section in the chapter is, ‘Discussion of the doctrines of grace becomes dangerous when interest in them is more theoretical than practical.’
Asked if anyone was sufficient to the task of preaching on election, Roberts said:
I do not know who of us – if any – is such … But should you ever attempt it, strive to view it yourself, and to so present it to your listeners, in the relationships in which you find it in God’s Book. Particularly, do not keep it afar off in eternity; it will do no good to anyone there, Bring it down to the chapel, down to the midst of the people. There it will save. It is in its operation that we will understand election, if we will ever understand it.
Consider a large, complex machine, with its various wheels, pipes, hooks and chains, all interweaving and interlocking with one another. It is the engineer who understands its design and can explain it, in and of itself, its various parts, and the relationships of each part with the others so as to make one engine. But I can see it in operation. And an ordinary, illiterate man, knowing nothing of the laws of Mechanics and ignorant of the names which the engineer has for the various parts of the machine, he can make use of it and work with it to achieve the end that was in view when it was designed and built. And it would be ludicrous to see those ignorant workers proceeding to argue amongst themselves as to the composition of the machine, rather than using it to purpose.
When you preach election, preach of it at work. Beware of speculating boldly and investigating in detail into the workings of the internal parts of the machine, and avoid bringing your listeners into the same temptation. Show the worth and glory of the machine by demonstrating it at work. Show the worth of the election of grace by depicting it as saving those who cannot save themselves. That is the view of it given in the Bible, and that, as far as I know, is the only worth it holds for the sinner. If this were not so I do not think the Gospel would acknowledge any relationship to it. But, on the contrary, upon understanding election properly, we find that it not only belongs to the Gospel but that it is one of the sweetest parts of it … it is life itself for such a dull helpless, stubborn creature as myself that God has a provision, in his infinite grace, that meets my condition, and that he will never see in me anything that could turn out a disappointment to him, for he knew my whole history long before I knew anything of it myself.
-- Ian Murray, The Old Evangelicalism, Banner of Truth, 2005, pp. 125-126. Note: The first ellipsis is mine, the second is Murray’s