From the pen of David McKay:
There is probably no easier way to start a theological argument than by mentioning ‘predestination’. Debates about the subject by theologians in the course of the Church’s history have been long, complex and often highly charged emotionally. Such is the reputation acquired by predestination that many earnest Christians take it as a mark of wisdom and maturity to avoid discussion of the subject altogether.
That is understandable, perhaps, but sad. At the heart of predestination as it applies to the people of God (when it is usually termed ‘election’) are two precious truths about God: He is sovereign and He is loving. It is in Covenant Theology that these truths are set out in their biblical harmony. The God of the covenants is a loving Lord, absolutely sovereign and perfectly loving.
God is sovereign
The God of the covenants is the God ‘who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will’ (Eph. 1:11). The glorious salvation which the Apostle Paul describes so magnificently in this chapter is but a demonstration of the sovereignty of God which governs all things. As Charles Hodge comments on this verse, ‘Every thing is comprehended in his purpose, and everything is ordered by his efficient control.’
…The God of the covenants, however, is not at any man’s beck and call. He may not be defined in any way we choose: He is who He says He is in His revelation. More than that, He may be approached only in the way He lays down. The terms of His covenant are for acceptance, not negotiation. Sinners enter a covenant relationship with the Lord on His terms or not at all. Covenant Theology thus acknowledges God’s supremacy and assigns to man his proper place of subordination. Human pretensions are humbled, something our fallen nature rebels against, yet, without such humbling, salvation will never be ours. A culture which in many ways exalts human powers and potential will not want to hear such a message, yet the Church is not faithful to her covenant Lord if any other gospel is preached. We know too that our sovereign God is able to change the human heart so that such a message is accepted willingly.
The God who establishes covenant relationships is not only sovereign, He is perfectly and infinitely loving. ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16). Indeed it is the love of God, along with zeal for the glory of His name, that has resulted in His raising up a covenant people for Himself. In the Covenant of Works, God’s love for Adam is evident in every blessing that He provided. In the Covenant of Redemption the mutual love of the Persons of the Trinity is clearly demonstrated as God lays the foundations for the salvation of sinners. In the Covenant of Grace God’s redemptive love for a people chosen in eternity is central. In the covenants sovereignty and love meet in perfect harmony, as they are always in harmony within the Trinity.
We find this truth well stated by William Hendriksen in his comments on Ephesians 1:11: ‘although everything is included in God’s universe-embracing plan and in its effectuation in the course of history, there is nothing in this that should scare any of the children of God. Quite the contrary, for the words clearly imply that the only true God, who in Christ loves his own with a love that passes all understanding, acts with divine deliberation and wisdom.’
The God of the covenants is love, and the Bible shows that the most wonderful characteristic of that love is that it is lavished on sinners, on the totally undeserving. Indeed the objects of God’s love are worse than undeserving: they are positively deserving of eternal punishment on account of their sins. The wages they have earned are death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23), and yet we read in Romans 5:8 the amazing statement, ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ No human mind could have imagined such love.
Such goodness and love directed to those who deserve only punishment is termed ‘grace’ and the covenant which brings salvation to sinners is rightly called the Covenant of Grace. The Lord is ‘the God of all grace’ (1 Pet. 5:10). All through the Bible the grace of God is a freely-given gift. Nowhere is this brought out more clearly than in Paul’s descriptions of salvation, particularly of justification. Thus we read in Romans 3:24 that God’s people are ‘justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ *
*McKay, D. (2001). The Bond of Love: Covenant Theology and the Contemporary World (49,53-54). Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications.