Romans 8:30 “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
These memorable words are part of what has been called the Golden Chain of Salvation. I think it was given this name by one of the Westminster divines named John Arrowsmith, and it is a curious fact that he had only one eye losing one in an accident with a bow and arrow – John Arrowsmith. He is the one who said that God lets down this golden chain from heaven to draw up all his people. Children can learn verses about each specific link; they recite these verses, and they stand holding large pieces of cardboard cut into the form of a link on which are written each of these five Bible words. The children move closer together so that the separate links become a chain. The picture is vivid and simple enough. You can see it in your mind’s eye. I don’t think it would be improved by my printing it on my computer and projecting it on the wall by Powerpoint. You can imagine a great chain like one keeping an aircraft carrier moored in its berth.
This ‘Golden Chain’ is God’s. He designed it and he made each link. God has not made the links dependent on man’s ability to make the chain but on God’s power and purpose and love. In 1955 an Indian Hindu and mystic named Rao announced that he could walk on water and a large crowd gathered in Bombay around a swimming pool to see him do this. He stood in silence for a moment at the end of the pool and then he took a step forward and plunged right to the bottom of the pool. He came out of the water gasping and angry and turned on the crowd, wagging his finger, “One of you is an unbeliever,” he said. Do you understand? He blamed his failure to perform this miracle on other people’s unbelief. God did not hang these five links on the ability of man because we mess up everything, but on his own loving, gracious purposes. He determined and planned and accomplished this.
The Golden Chain were fashioned in the foundry erected on Mount Golgotha. In the heat of Calvary the Saviour forged each link and joined them together in this order as he obeyed his Father – even to dying on a cross. He foreknew, and he predestined, and he called, and he justified, and he glorified. It is all the action of God; it is all his work. Salvation is of the Lord. You will also see that two of those links came into operation in eternity past, foreknowledge and predestination. Two of those links come into operation during our lives, calling and justification, and the last one comes into operation in heaven, glorification, but you will notice that it too is written in the past tense just like all the other four divine decrees.
- THE FIRST LINK IS FOREKNOWLEDGE.
For God to know is to love. Adam knew his wife Eve with a passionate knowledge. God knew his people Israel with a loving, caring knowledge. It is God cherishing people before they loved him. We love him because he first loved us. God’s foreknowledge is what we call a proactive knowledge, in other words, God takes the initiative. He does not sit back and see how things are going to pan out hoping for the best. The foresight of God is not a blessing. To know that God has seen everything I have ever done is not any comfort to me, but to realise that God loves us in spite of all he knows about us is amazing grace! What God foresaw was a valley of dry bones. What God foresaw was a world of sinners dead in trespasses and sins. What God foresaw was each heart at enmity against God. What God foresaw was sinners saying, “We will not have this Man ruling over us.” What God foresaw was men without the Spirit not accepting the things that come from the Spirit of God, because the gospel was foolishness to them. And yet many of these sinners God loved beforehand. God’s foreknowledge is not the knowledge of passive observation, God looking in surprise and saying, “Oooh! Ah! So he did this! Wow! She did that!” You understand that foreknowledge is not a non-intrusive gathering of facts.
On the Internet there are chat rooms where people discuss ideas. Some get involved and express their opinions and argue and debate, but others just visit the site and read what is going on. There is a name for those visitors. They are called ‘lurkers.’ They are a fly on the wall. They observe but they do and say nothing. God’s foreknowledge is not the foreknowledge of a celestial fly on the wall. I can change the metaphor radically. God is not like John Simpson the famous BBC war correspondent gathering and reporting the facts as he’s observed them. God knows these people personally. God loves them. There is friendship for ever in this word ‘foreknowledge.’
Foreknowledge is not God judging a history-long beauty pageant, so that there are certain standards for what real beauty is, your face and your figure are beautiful, but you’re not a dumb blonde. Your personality is also attractive and the judges have these criteria and they judge the girls one by one according to these standards. They each award them points. In a sense the winner has chosen herself through her own beauty, and her own talent and her own pleasant personality. The judges have merely recognized this fact and acknowledged it when they have chosen here.
God’s foreknowledge of his people is not a beauty contest. It is not God looking at us and ticking all his boxes and saying, “I’ll certainly make her one of my children, and him, and her.” It is not God effectively allowing people effectively to choose themselves based on their merits and accomplishments. It is not God stating the qualifications for winning the prize and then looking to see who the winners are. Foreknowledge is God saying to millions of sinners, “I love you not because you meet all my standards and not because you are in any way worthy of the choice. I choose you though you are nothing but I am planning to make something of you through what Jesus Christ my only begotten Son will do and by the work of the Spirit.
He saw us with all our liabilities and poverty and shame and he loved us and he made us his bride and determined to present us to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that we should be holy and without blemish. If you are a true believer in Jesus then God foreknew you from before the foundation of the world, and your response should be, “Why me?” Not the “Why me?” of complaint – “Why is it always me?” But the “Why me?” of happy wonder. I am talking of the “Why me?” of the happy husband who says, “Why did she ever accept me?” I am referring to the “Why me?” of the happy wife who asks, “Why did he ever want me?” We have no idea why we became the recipients of God’s love before the foundation of the world. We sing wi
th wonder, “Loved with everlasting love; led by grace that love to know.” We never deserved it; there was no beauty in us to win the divine pageant. It is amazing grace.
So God’s foreknowledge, says Ray Pritchard, is his divine ability to know what’s going to happen before it happens because he intends to make it happen. We see this in a limited way in our own experience. For instance, you may say, “When church is over this morning, I’m going to go home and I’m going to eat Sunday lunch. I know that. In fact, I know I’m going to have roast lamb.” How do you know that? You know it because you have already decided that you will do it. You aren’t guessing or theorizing. You are really just announcing a personal decision. You know you’re going to have roast lamb not only because your wife told you that’s what you were having but because you yourself have bought the lamb and you began to prepare it last night. But there is a limit to that kind of foreknowledge. Something could happen to change your plans. You could faint in the service and end up in hospital. You could have a crash on the way home. Lots of things could happen. So even though you think you know what’s going to happen, you can’t totally control the future.
God is not like that. God’s foreknowledge doesn’t simply mean that he knows by looking down the corridors of history what’s going to happen because he’s God and he can see what’s going to happen. That’s true, but it doesn’t go far enough. God knows what’s going to happen because he is sovereign over all the earth. He reigns over all creation. He knows what is going to happen because he either directly causes it or gives his permission for it to happen. Every event in the universe falls under one of those two categories—directly caused or divinely permitted. Knowing all about you he loved you first; he foreknew you.
- THE SECOND LINK IS PREDESTINATION.
This is a Bible word; a Holy Spirit word; a holy term. Two words, ‘pre’ and ‘destination’ are here. A destination is a final stop. You set off in your car or you get on the train and you are going somewhere, to Shrewsbury or to Swansea. That is where your trip ends. The prefix ‘pre’ means ‘before’. So what does predestination mean? It means to decide beforehand where you are going to end up. It means deciding, before you step aboard the train, where the journey is going to end.
Our text says that God has predestined you to reach a certain destination and what is that? Someday you will be like Jesus Christ. You’re going to be conformed to the likeness of God’s Son. On those days when we’re foolishly making a mess of being disciples of Jesus we have to remember this word, that God has taken personal responsibility to see that one day we will be like Jesus. If it all hung on me, or if it depended on you, then it would never happen. Me, transformed into the image of God the Son? As holy as he is holy? I say that if I had to do that then I’m a lost man. Impossible! But all things are possible with God. He has predestined us “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (v.29)
Paul says that God has decided not to treat rebel sinners the same way as he treated rebel angels and condemn every one of them to eternal darkness. He decided not to justly send them to hell but to send a number as great as the sands on the seashore to heaven to be changed into the image of his Son. The problem with the doctrine of predestination is not, Why didn’t he send them all to heaven? but Why did he send any of them? Why wasn’t he fair and just and treat them as they deserved? How amazing that at such a cost, bringing the judgment they deserved on the Lamb of God, and pardoning them, God not only loved them but he made up his mind that they would be like Christ. We believe this because Jesus taught it and rejoiced in it. He said, “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure” (Matt.11:25&26)
So, when predestination has homed in on a person it will find him out and call him to God’s destination – from wherever he sets out. Zacchaeus set out from Jericho. Abraham set out from idolatrous Ur. Nicodemus and Paul set out from the college of the Pharisees. Dionysius and Damaris were on Mar’s Hill in Athens when they set out, but they all reached the destination of being transformed to the image of God’s own Son. Of course they all heard the word of God and they obeyed it. They turned from the sin of unbelief. They repented of worshipping idols. They confessed their sins to God and surrendered their lives to him. They believed in their hearts in Jesus and they confessed with their lips that he was alive. They did that. We believe in moral responsibility and the accountability of man. We believe in obeying the Lord when he says, “Come unto me . . . Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ.” But what made us go to Christ and confess him with our lips?
Listen to Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s experience of seeing this; “When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all by myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I don’t think the young convert is at first aware of this. I can recall the very day and hour when I first received those truths into my own soul – when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown all of a sudden from a babe into a man . . . One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon . . . The thought struck me, ‘How did you come to be a Christian?’ I sought the Lord. ‘But how did you come to seek the Lord?’ The truth flashed across my mind in a moment – I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that he was the Author of my faith, and the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day . . . I ascribe my change wholly to God” [Autobiography, i, 164-165]. So the first link in the Golden Chain is God foreknowing, and the second is God predestining us.
- THE THIRD LINK IS CALLING.
There is a sincere offer that God makes to all men and women that if they will turn from their sins and embrace his Son as their Saviour then he will pardon them for their sins. There is a general call that God makes to the world. It’s referred to in the words of Jesus, “Many are called.&r
dquo; The Lord gives a great invitation, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He wept over defying indifferent Jerusalem where he’d often preached. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37). Jesus longed to protect them with his saving power. He wept over their hostility. The Spirit of Christ in the prophet Ezekiel beseeched the people to turn in repentance. “”Turn! Please turn! Why will you die?” He told them that he took no pleasure in their deaths. There is a summons God makes to all men to repent. That is the general call which motivates us to evangelize and bring good news of a Saviour to all men.
There is also another divine summons that is specific, personal and inward. In every instance of the word ‘calling’ appearing in the New Testament (except for the word in the phrase, “Many are called”) it is this effectual summons of God that is being referred to. It is a call that has the desired effect; it creates a response. You get a letter; “Appear in Court on Friday”; it is an effectual call, a summons. That is what it is called My father’s twin brother traveled by train from Barnstable to Bristol Temple Meads. He was walking along the platform and the announcer was speaking over the Tannoy telling the people of train arrivals and departures. People were being urged to hurry along to certain platforms where certain trains were due to depart, but Uncle Bryn was hardly listening because he knew what he was going to do and where he was going. Then there came another announcement which was very different. It said, “Will Mr. Bryn Thomas from Barnstable please go to the Station Master’s Office?” He heard that call; it was specific and personal to him, and he responded. He went immediately. His child was ill and he was being asked to return home. All his plans changed. That is the effectual call. It is internal and specific. In other words, it not only issues the invitation, it motivates. It provides the ability or willingness to respond positively. It is God’s drawing to himself or bringing to spiritual-life the one who without that call would remain spiritually dead and far from him.
There is no greater illustration of this in the Bible than Jesus’ calling of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, who had died four days before. Lazarus in his grave is a picture of every human being in his or her natural state: dead in body and soul, bound with grave-clothes, lying in a tomb, sealed with some great stone. Let us call . . . let me preach to him, “Lazarus, Lazarus! Come forth, Lazarus! We want you back. We miss you. If you will just get up out of that tomb and return to us, you’ll find that everything is ready. We are all anxious to have you back. No one here is going to put any obstructions in your way. Please rise up Lazarus!” What? Won’t Lazarus come? Doesn’t he want to be with us? The problem is that Lazarus doesn’t have the ability to come back. The call is given, but he isn’t able to come. Ah, but let Jesus take our place before the tomb. Let Jesus call out, “Lazarus, come forth,” and the case is quite different. The words are the same, but now the call is no mere invitation. It is an effectual calling. In this call is an ability to respond. For the same God who originally called the creation out of nothing is now calling life out of death, and his call is heard. Lazarus, though he has been dead four days, hears Jesus and obeys his Master’s voice.
Now let us see those two calls, the general call of the gospel and the effectual calling of God, as we are told about them in Philippi in Greece when Paul visited the town. He heard that there was a group of women who were earnestly religious. They met together regularly near a river and they shared their concerns and they prayed together, and Paul searched for them and he found them. He introduced himself and began to preach to them all. That is the general call of the gospel to every person whom we can persuade to listen to us, and one at least of this riverside prayer group of women responded. Her name was Lydia. She received the personal effectual call, that summoned her to come and believe the gospel message and trust in Jesus Christ who was offered to her by Paul. Why did she of all the women there, respond to Paul’s message? Because God called her. Above the voice of Paul she heard God’s voice and she was constrained to believe. Here is how Luke describes this in Acts chapter 16; “We travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:12-14).
While her ears were still hearing the voice of Paul in a general call to repent and believe in Jesus her heart was hearing the Lord summoning her in this personal effectual call, and she responded to that. That was the reason she could respond to what Paul said and tell him she had become a follower of Jesus and wanted to be baptized. And it happens just like that today. We have all seen phenomena like it. It is not that there were some spiritual attributes present in a woman’s life life – just her out of a whole gang of women and this X factor that she had was the reason she was more susceptible to becoming a Christian. No. God acted and the Lord homed in on her heart and changed it. It had been closed to truth, and closed to Christ, but while Paul was speaking, at that time, God showed her that the message was true. Doesn’t that tell us never to stop preaching the gospel, and to tell all men and women that God is willing to save them? Then as we urge them to trust in the Saviour then God opens their hearts and calls them to himself. So we have foreknowledge, predestination and calling.
- THE FOURTH LINK IS JUSTIFICATION.
When a judge justifies an accused man he declares that he is a righteous man. He has heard all the evidence about his actions. The witnesses have all spoken up; his advocates have pleaded for him; the case for the prosecution has been made by those lawyers. The judge has heard it all. Now he speaks up with his legal conclusion, and he declares the accused a righteous man; he justifies him. Nothing changes in that man’s past. Nothing changes in that man’s recollection of what he has done. What changes is his status. He was an accused man; but now, to his wonder, he is a justified man. “Righteous,” says the Judge concerning the charges brought against him. “No condemnation,” the Judge declares. “You may go free. Case dismissed.” The change first is in his feelings, his wonder: “’Tis mercy all immense and free, and O my God it found out me.”
That is the meaning of justificat
ion, not making someone a righteous man but declaring someone to be righteous in the eyes of the law. There were two men praying in the Temple and Jesus was watching the scene. One man was full of himself and boasted of his righteous life. Outwardly he was a respectable member of society. The other man is described as a Publican, that is, a Jew who was employed in the tax-collection service of the Roman government. Hear how Christ described him: “the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said,`God, have mercy on me, a sinner’” (Lk. 18:13). What do you see here? Not a perfect man; a very imperfect man, but you also see contrition; here is penitence; here is a sense of sin. Out of that sense of sin is born a prayer for mercy. And that prayer for mercy receives an answer from God, as the sincere prayer for mercy always does, for Jesus said, “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk. 18:14). That day that man left home and he came with his past and all that he had done to the Temple, and when he went home the events of that past were unchanged. There is no way that any of the actions that he had done can be altered. But they can be pardoned; they can be forgiven by God, and his guilt can be washed away. God can show him mercy, and when he asked God for it, then God gave it to him. He went back home justified before God!
You know how a man comes to find justification before God? He finds justification at the foot of Golgotha’s cross on which the Prince of glory died. There the Lamb of God took away the sin of the world, and there we too must throw ourselves upon the mercy of Christ. This requires grace; indeed it does. The natural man is a man of pride. He rebels at the thought of pleading for pardon and forgiveness. He rebels at the very thought that his self-righteousness is but “filthy rags” in the sight of God. But when God is calling him effectually he will show that he is hearing the voice of God by repentance. Then he will pray as the tax-collector prayed and throw himself upon the mercy of Christ. This is the blessed fruit of the call of God to him.
What a different journey that tax-collector took returned home, though through the same familiar streets. How different, from leaving his home condemning himself, and then after confessing his sinfulness to God and asking for mercy, returning home justified by God. Paul writes in the opening words of chapter five of this letter, “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the fruit of justification: Peace with God. Are many people looking for peace these days! Most of them are not looking for peace with God, but they are not men and women at peace as your daily papers tell you. We live in a nation of unhappy restless people, and yet they have not located the seat of the trouble. They are not seeking peace with God through Christ, yet they are seeking peace within their own hearts and lives. Perhaps someone you love is evidently in that condition today. Perhaps you, for yourself, are seeking a peace you haven’t found. Let me tell you what the Word of God has to say about your condition. The Bible declares that the seat of your trouble is not, first of all, in the world around you, not in your job, not in your family, not in any external condition. The seat of your trouble is in your own heart which is estranged from God. When you have made peace with God, you will have peace in your soul and not before.
Hear me carefully. There is no little formula that I can give you. You will not find peace with God, nor can you find peace with God in religious mumbo-jumbo. You will find peace with God at the foot of Jesus’ cross. In other words you speak to God in the name of the Jesus who died and rose again. You go to God because of what Jesus has done. You are saying, “Deal with me in mercy for Jesus’ sake” and in penitence of heart, you seek and find forgiveness for your sin, and by faith receive the righteousness of Christ. In the day that you are justified before God, you will find peace, and not one day before.
- THE FIFTH LINK IS GLORIFICATION.
Why does Paul omit sanctification? Why isn’t that one additional sixth link in the chain coming between justification and glorification? Because it is made a part of glorification. Sanctification is glory begun; glory is sanctification consummated. He does not need to add another link, and here how daring is the apostle! The word ‘glorified’ is found in the aorist past tense, not the future tense. In other words, glorification is as absolutely certain as foreknowledge, as predestination, as calling and as justification. Being glorified is not a matter of speculation. It is not even a good possibility. It is absolutely certain. Glory shall be revealed in us. It’s as if it has been accomplished in us already, because we are joined to Christ, and Christ is in glory now in the midst of the throne of God. He is our head and we are his body, and it’s impossible for living head and living body to be separated. We are as glorified positionally and in our status this moment as we shall be when we see him and be in reality as glorious as he is.
This is a golden chain because not one link in it can be broken. This chain comes down from heaven and then it draws up to heaven all that the Father has given to the Son, not one of them being lost. This golden chain gives certainty to salvation. It is the work of God from beginning to end. It is all that Jesus Christ by himself has accomplished. He made every link in this chain, and he attaches that chain to us and he breaks all the chains of condemnation that link us to our wretched past. No chains of sin now can pull us to hell because chains of glory are drawing us to heaven. You have heard the expression that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and if there are five religious links and one of them is the work of man then it is hopeless. That weak link is going to break and then the chain is broken and down, down, down we fall. But if all the links are fashioned by Omnipotence then there is nothing that can destroy them.
You would not dream of driving along in your car, especially if there was ice and frost on the road, without tightening your safety belt around you. Click, clunk! If you did not have that holding you fast one sudden crash and you would be thrown through the windscreen to receive horrible injuries. Yet you are on a dangerous journey today to death, and judgment, and God. You can be lost; you can end up in the pit, but God has provided a wonderful golden chain to hold you safe. Is it wrapped around you? Have you asked God to wrap it around you? Won’t you keep asking until you know it’s got you eternally safe?
What a wonderful chain! Think on its five links. Often we are quite easily satisfied with the way things go on this earth because we have our health; because we have a relative degree of prosperity. Things are going pretty well for us – at least at present. So we soon forget about the golden chain and how it extends into glo
ry. Sometimes we become careless and we put aside God’s Word, the Bible; we might not even read it for days on end, and our prayers become so routine. Does the golden chain then mean anything to us?
Think again of this golden chain. It was planned before the world was made, it was formed by the life and death of God the Son. It will last throughout this age and on to everlasting, heavenly glory. Now we are in transition; we are traveling in a foreign land along the narrow way and on one side of us there is a bottomless pit and on the other side is a lake of fire. Only the golden chain of grace can keep us safe. God is offering you this golden chain of salvation. Wrap it around you! Ask God to attach it to you, the heavenly safety belt, to bring you to everlasting glory, keep you safe and secure until the end. There is nothing else like it. Put it on now! Don’t go home without it!
22nd July 2012 GEOFF THOMAS