It is true, and commonly agreed, at least among orthodox Protestants, that the atonement occurred in history, in the acts of Christ in His crucifixion and resurrection. We individually are justified, that is, have that atonement applied to us, also in history, at the time we believe.
However, there is an additional element in Scripture: the planning of that atonement, not in history, but before the world was even created.
This is described in several places in Scripture. Look especially at Ephesians 1:4: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him." Who chose? Us? No, God the Father chose. When? When I raised my hand? When I went up at the altar call? No, but before the foundation of the world. Not just before I decided, and not just before I was born, but before any material thing existed. Chosen because I am holy and blameless? Definitely not! But rather that I could become holy and blameless.
The same concept appears in the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:34: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." What is the promised blessing? A kingdom! One that started at the cross, or the resurrection, or when I believed? No! Rather, it is a kingdom that was prepared for me before the world was even created. The kingdom existed before the world did! And again in the words of Jesus in John 17:24: "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me
where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because you loved Me
before the foundation of the world." This is a more-explicit description of the intra-Trinitarian covenant, that decision by the Persons of the Trinity that the Father decreed to give a people, i. e., the Church (Ephesians 5:25), to the Son, before the creation. That means that the sovereign election of Ephesians 1 is not about us, but about Christ. Not for our glory, but for His! Notice the "in Him" in Ephesians 1:4 above. While we are certainly not worthy, He just as surely is! Revelation 5:9: "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were
slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe
and language and people and nation."
Lastly, look at Revelation 17:8: "The dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of
life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast." This verse refers to a separate group of people, those who have not been chosen to be holy and blameless. This is the other side of the coin, the doctrine of reprobation. Just as God was glorified in hardening the heart of Pharaoh, He is glorified also in the hardening of all those who refuse to believe. Paul warned unbelieving Israel of this truth in Romans 9:18: "He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills."
I have written before about abortion as a modern revival of Molech worship, and of its promotion by apostate clergy, but now I want to speak of its eternal consequences, both by the women who have an abortion and for those, clergy or otherwise, who justify it.
In Leviticus 20:2-5, God gave this warning through Moses: "Say to the people of Israel, Any one of the people of Israel or of the
strangers who sojourn in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech
shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him
with stones. I Myself will set
Molech Receiving a Sacrificed Child
My face against that man and will cut him off from
among his people, because he has given one of his children to Molech, to
make My sanctuary unclean and to profane My holy name. And
if the people of the land do at all close their eyes to that man when
he gives one of his children to Molech, and do not put him to death, then
I will set my face against that man and against his clan and will cut
them off from among their people, him and all who follow him in whoring
God makes a serious declaration here. Anyone who gives a child to be aborted is to be put to death. And that isn't just mothers. Notice that he says "that man." God doesn't recognize absentee fatherhood. Fathers are responsible for what happens to their children. Why? Because they make the church unclean and profane the name of God. God takes it personally when we kill one of our children, because our children are His children (Ezekiel 16:20, I Corinthians 7:14).
Moses also gave a warning beyond that to a baby's parents. He says also, that, "if the people close their eyes when he gives his children to Molech," what will God do? He will set His face "against that man and his clan." "Clan" refers to the extended family. If the kin of this couple ignore their plight, abandon them, or simply overlook their sinful attitudes, then God's judgment will fall on them, as well. If a woman is in a situation where she feels so hopeless that she has no other options, that says that her family is failing to step up to its responsibilities of blood and before God. They will suffer the consequences, too.
It is true that this part of the Mosaic code is not part of our modern legal code. However, notice that God's warning does not rest on civil government for enforcement. Rather, He says that He will set His face against all involved. They will not be allowed to enjoy benefits in life from their wicked hatred of God, His word, and the lives of their preborn children.
I have written before on the doctrine of some, asserting an "age of accountability," but it is bears addressing again. It seems to be so commonplace as to be taken for granted, even in the face of Scriptures to the contrary.
In Isaiah 48:6-8, that prophet tells us, "From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago;before today you have never heard of them,lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’ You have never heard, you have never known,from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously,and that from before birth you were called a rebel." In this passage, God is speaking. He has just rebuked unbelieving Israel, because she had ignored the warnings of judgment given them down through their history (see, for example, Deuteronomy 28:15-68). He tells them, If what I have told you before hasn't affected you, well, here's some new stuff to scare you straight. The part on which I want to focus is the final clause of verse 8: "From before birth you were called a rebel." I don't if it shocked Israel, but I know it will be news to many American Christians. i have heard it said many times that a child cannot commit sin, because he doesn't have an understanding of right and wrong. But what does God say? That even the preborn child is waving his fist in the face of God! This is not the only place where Scripture says this. In Psalm 51:5, King David said of himself, "in sin did my mother conceive me." Not just from birth, but from conception! And in Psalm 58:3, the same writer says, "The wicked are estranged from the womb;they go astray from birth, speaking lies." There is no concept here of innocent children! rather, both Isaiah and David tell us that the smallest child, apart from regeneration in Jesus Christ, is a spitting viper of sin (Psalm 58:4)! By this truth, I am not suggesting the opposite extreme, that the child is without hope of eternal life. After all, John the Baptist was regenerate in the womb (Luke 1:44). This is why the writers of the Westminster Confession of Faith X:3 wrote, "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how He pleases: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word." They were concerned for parents of children who died, or were somehow incapacitated from hearing the Gospel? Were those children lost to perdition? No, the divines answered, not out of their imaginations, but because of the promises of God's word!
"How great are Your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; but You, O Lord, are on high forever. For behold, Your enemies, O Lord, for behold, Your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered." - Psalm 92: 5-9 An attitude has become dominant that holds that the free will of men trumps the will of God. According to this attitude, we are supposed to believe that God issues a command, but man can refuse, leaving God to shake His head and say, "Oh, pooh! Well, if that's the way you feel, there's nothing I can do about it." Anyone who can imagine a god like that has no understanding of the God of the Bible, as we can see in the verses above. God is God, and we are not. That means that, if it serves His purpose, He can change the will in the believer (Philippians 2:13), or glorify Himself by smashing the rebellion of the unbeliever. We see this in His actions regarding the Pharaoh of Egypt, leading up to the Exodus. He says to Moses (Exodus 14:4), "I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get
glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I
am the LORD." Notice, too, Exodus 4:21, 7:13, 14:17, Ezekiel 28:22, and Romans 9:17-18.
The god of the popular conception is a wuss, eager to forgive, but otherwise passive, at the beck and call of mere men. In contrast, the God of the Bible is all-powerful and expects men to be at His beck and call!
The church continued writing its experience of God after the death of the Apostles. I certainly admit and teach that that post-apostolic literature is not Scripture. It is not inspired. The writers were not infallible, and, therefore, their writings were not inerrant. They were, however, helpful in establishing the understanding that they had of the teachings of the Apostles.
One of those texts is an anonymous epistle called the Didache, or "The Teachings of the Twelve." It was written approximately in 97AD, so, soon after the death of John, the last surviving Apostle. We find this in 7:1-3: "Concerning Baptism. And concerning baptism, baptize this way:
Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of
the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living
water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in
warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the
name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit."
My point in bringing this up is that it addresses the claims of Oneness Pentecostals that Trinitarian baptism was invented by the Council of Nicea, and did not exist before that time. In addition to denying the authenticity of the baptismal formula in Matthew 28:19, they claim that their view is supported by the baptisms in Acts, which are in some variation of "in the name of Jesus."
The above passage demonstrates two important things: first, the doctrine of the Trinity was taught from the beginning, not created later; and second, that the church used the Trinitarian baptismal formula from the beginning, as well. It proves that the Oneness historical claims are false, inventions for the sake of defending their doctrine, not supported by any evidence. Even their claim regarding Matthew 28:19 has zero textual support, since all of the manuscripts (at least, so far discovered) contain the traditional text: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The Oneness doctrine is the invention of men, not of the Holy Spirit. When I have brought this passage to the attention of Oneness believers, their only response was, "It's a lie!" That is a convenient response to evidence against a pet doctrine.
One of the most horrible teachings, to my mind, of the cults is that a person cannot know for sure that he has eternal life. The Roman Catholic Church says that it is presumptuous to be assured of heaven. The Church of Christ says that a person can be a believer today, and then be an unbeliever tomorrow. For them, one can be confident if one dies right now, but there can be no assurance for tomorrow. Most Arminians aren't that extreme. They claim that one can have assurance right now, but the future holds no certainty.
Those views turn the Christian walk into a terror! The person has come to understand the eternal consequences of sin, but is not set free of that fear of death.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (XVIII:1) says something wonderful on this topic: "Although hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves
with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and
estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish: yet such as truly
believe in the Lord Jesus, and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk
in all good conscience before Him, may in this life be certainly assured
that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory
of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed."
On what basis did the divines assert this wonderful truth? It is all over Scripture, the word of God! Here are just a few examples.
In Job 19:25-27, we read, "For I know that my Redeemer lives,and at the last He will stand upon the earth.And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God,whom I shall see for myself,and my eyes shall behold, and not another." That patriarch, even after all of the horrible things that have happened to him, looks with confidence to the day when he will stand before his redeemer in the resurrection.
In a better-known passage, Psalm 23:4-6, King David wrote, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Like Job, David was in a dark period in his life, but his confidence is in the knowledge that he would "dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Not "I might"; not "I hope so." But "I shall."
In Isaiah 26:1, that Prophet proclaims, "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." And in Isaiah 32:17, he adds, "The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever." Notice the use of "peace" in both verses. The believer has no reason to fear for his eternal security, but rather can have have peace.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul adds his testimony in Romans 8:38-39: "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor
height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to
separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Isn't that wonderful? Isn't it liberating? There is nothing in creation, even our own weakness, that can cause us to lose God's love.
The same Apostle also said, in II Timothy 4:6-8, "The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day." He is contemplating the approach of the end of his life. Is he shivering in fear? Is there trepidation in his words to his apprentice? No! Rather, he expresses absolute confidence in his eternal reward.
The next time some priest or preacher claims that the believer cannot be certain of heaven until he gets there, remember these verses. And this is not an exhaustive list. That man is a false teacher. He wants you to depend on him for your confidence, rather than on Jesus. Flee that place!That is the surest mark of a cult.
My name is Chris Cole. I have lived in the Charlotte, NC, area for over thirty years, and have been an active Presbyterian during most of that time. I love the Westminster Confession of Faith as a beautiful expression of my own personal beliefs.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I prefer the English Standard Version of the Bible, and all quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise stated.
I have a number of reviews of Reformed books on Amazon. There is a link to them in the Reformed links below.
"Seeing [that] the Lord of lords, the Lord Jesus, is so ready (never was there king so ready to hear a subject as Jesus is), [even] if thou wert the vilest body that goes, a thief, a harlot, etc., yet if thou wilt say this, 'Lord, remember on me, and give me a part of thy kingdom'; - if thou prayest to him from a penitent heart, with confidence and assurance, I promise unto thee, heaven and earth shall go [fall] together ere thou wantest [lack] thine asking. Seeing [that] our Lord Jesus is so liberal [free-giving], then seek more than enough, more than a kingdom, and thou shalt get more. The only cause why we want [lack] is in us: we have no hearts to seek it." - Rev. Robert Rollock, Scottish Presbyterian minister, about 1590, in a commentary on Luke 23:42-43