Description: A series of classes on the 'Doctrine of Salvation' using Berkhof's book 'Systematic Theology'.
The Doctrine of Salvation 3
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Let us pray. Father, we praise you that we are able to experience your freshness in our inner
spirits. We thank you that it comes as a breeze from heaven from the Holy Spirit in accordance with
the oneness between our wills and yours. Father, we thank you for that and we thank you that we can
come into a deeper and deeper oneness. Thank you Father that just as when we’re married we can come
to know each other more and more and become more and more one person, so it is with you. We can
come into a greater and deeper oneness and the peace can become more intense and more restful, and
it can expand and extend to every part of our personalities. We thank you for that Lord.
We trust you that this afternoon as we share the truths about you there will light up some new area
of peace for us and we will come into some deeper healing in regard to our personalities. Father,
most of all that you yourself would grow bigger in us; you would be glorified and would be more
manifest in us. We ask this in your name and for your sake. Amen.
Now if you look at the assignment sheet you’ll find that we’re at 4/11 and I suggested that last
time for assignment three, you would study this chapter in Berkhof’s book Summary of Christian
Doctrine pages 121 through 123 and therefore, that today we’d deal with what you’d studied which is
the whole subject of common grace. Before dealing with that subject, I promised I would mention
very quickly a possible approach to predestination because Gus asked about it and because Berkhoff
would differ with us, probably, more on this subject than perhaps on any other. Although, how you
deal with predestination in a few minutes I don’t know, but I think I can explain the approach to
Predestination is indicated in many verses in the New Testament. Predestination is the teaching
that God has arranged our lives in such a fixed way that we have to act out what he has already
arranged. In other words, he has predestined us to do and be certain kinds of people and you find
that in Ephesians 1:4-6 and its one of the easier verses to deal with. “Even as he chose us in him
before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined
us,” and I think in King James it might be, “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus
Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”
That is fairly easy to deal with because the word there is “prooridzo” and it means “predesigned” so
he “predesigned” us. So verse 5 would read, “He predesigned us in love to be his sons through Jesus
Christ.” In other words, all that verse is saying is that was God’s original intention for the
whole world. It isn’t saying he predesigned us in this room to be with him in heaven, whereas the
fellow who shot Robert Kennedy was predesigned to go to hell. It means God predesigned us all, in
love, to be his sons through Jesus Christ. It’s simply that some of us have not accepted that plan.
Now that’s one of the easier verses to deal with, but many of the verses that are called
“predestination verses” in the Bible simply fall under that category; that it was something that God
planned, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we have fulfilled it. So the emphasis in verse 5 is that
he predesigned all of us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his
There are some other verses that are a little more difficult to deal with, yet I think you can make
sense of them. Romans 9:18, “So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart
of whomever he wills.” And if you had no verse in scripture such as Jesus weeping over Jerusalem
saying in Matthew 23:37, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers
her brood under her wings, and you would not.” If you had no verses like that that indicated that
Jesus wanted something to happen, but men were able to refuse his will and frustrate his will, then
you would have to take a verse like this and say that God has us just like puppets. He either says,
“I’m going to forgive him” or “I’m not going to forgive him.”
But when you’re faced with a verse like Jesus weeping over Jerusalem saying, “I would have gathered
you as a hen gathers her brood,” or when you find Jesus doing his best to get Judas to accept him
and Judas simply refusing, you have to face the fact that God has given us free will.
[Question inaudible 7:47] Matthew 23:27?
Matthew 23:37, “I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her brood but you would not.” In other
words, Jesus is saying, “My best wish for you was that you’d come to me, but you wouldn’t come.”
Now in the face of that clear evidence and other evidence of people like Judas that men can, by
their free will refuse God, you have to face the fact that verse 18 does not mean that God just
decides whom he’s going to forgive and whom he’s not going to forgive. In other words all the verse
is saying is that when a person does not obey God, then God hardens his heart or his conscience.
And you know it yourself; every time you disobey, your conscience becomes harder and harder and
becomes more seared. That ties up with Hebrews 3:12-13 where the emphasis is placed on man and his
responsibility for hardening his heart. “Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil,
unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day,
as long as it is called ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
In other words, the emphasis there is placed on you being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The
more you sin the more you become deceived that you’re not doing wrong at all and the more your
conscience becomes hardened. So it seems to me that verse 18 fits into the other teaching in the
Bible that your conscience is hardened as you disobey, and all God is saying is, “I will harden the
heart of those who disobey me. I will have mercy on those who obey me.”
Now you may say it’s not really necessary to say that. But loved ones, you would see the sense of
it if you knew the mess that some of the Hindus get into with the attitudes of their gods. Even the
Jews thought that God loved the holy prostitute in the temple. So there are all kinds of the
wildest immorality that gods have been made to approve of and that even the Jews used to try and
make Jehovah approve of. It was very important that God would state, “I’m going to harden the heart
of these people and I’m going to have mercy upon these people.” So my explanation for verse 18 is
that “whomever” is a class of people, it is not individuals, it is a class of peoples. “Whomever”
is either a class of disobedient people or a class of obedient people.
Now, if you go down to verse 22 I think it’s important to see the meaning of the Greek verbs there.
Romans 9:22-23, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured
with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of
his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.” At first glance it
seems that those two verses are saying what if God, who wanted to show his wrath and make known his
power, has made vessels of wrath just to be destroyed “In order to make known the riches of his
glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”
In other words, it seems to be saying at first sight that God has made some people like Pharaoh to
be opponents of his will so that through them he could show his mercy to those who have been made to
obey his will until you begin to look at the Greek verbs. Then you find, for instance, that in “What
if God desired to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience the
vessels of wrath made for destruction,” the Greek verb there when translated “made” means “fitted
for destruction” or “fit for destruction” because it’s the only thing they’re good for. It’s what
they forced themselves into. They’ve ended up “fit only for destruction” and that’s the emphasis
there. That emphasis is backed up when you see that it says, “What if God has endured with much
patience.” I mean, it’s kind of corny if God made them evil and then he pretends he’s enduring them
with much patience, and he makes them trials to himself and then he says, “Look how good and
virtuous I am; enduring them with much patience,” when he knows fine well the poor souls couldn’t do
anything else but oppose him.
So there’s a logical contradiction there and that reinforces the suggestion that that means he’s
endured with much patience the vessels of wrath that now have made themselves fit only for
destruction. Whereas in verse 23 it’s, “In order to make known the riches of his glory for the
vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand,” the Greek verb means that he has prepared them
beforehand for Glory. He prepared us all beforehand to be vessels of mercy. In other words, that
gets back to Ephesians 1:4-6, that we were predesigned to be vessels of mercy, but some of us have
so worked in our own lives that we have become vessels of wrath that are fit only for destruction.
[Question inaudible 14:39]
In Romans 8:29-30 you can see in the Greek it’s the same “prooridzo” “For those whom he foreknew he
also predestined,” or he predesigned them, “to be conformed to the image of his son, in order that
he might be the first-borne among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and
those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” So for us
the important words were “those whom he foreknew”; that God can foreknow what a person is going to
do with his will and that he can pre-design that person to be conformed to the image of his Son, but
the first step is with the person themselves; they can decide either to obey God or not, and then
God is able to foreknow, he’s able to read their minds, he’s able to see what they’re going to do.
Even in the same way you can get to know the kinds of things your dog does. I know, for instance,
that about six o’clock when I say “amen” at the end of a prayer, my dog gets up and is ready to go
home! So I can know that he’ll do that, and yet I’m not making him do it. Now because the Father
can do that with us, that doesn’t mean he makes us act that way.
Now for some of us it’s a real difficulty to see the difference between foreknowing and
foreordination, but loved ones there is a difference and I think that’s what comes out there in that
Romans passage. Any questions?
I’m just trying to see if this concept I was given I can [inaudible 16:39] the concept of
predestination is like a stranger was standing [inaudible 16:50] and there’s a curve coming up
[inaudible 16:58] that they were both over on the wrong side of the road and you knew what was going
to happen but it was the action of those cars individually that was going to create [inaudible
17:10] not the stranger [inaudible 17:12]
That’s excellent. Yeah, I think that’s it: I think it’s the whole truth that the Father can see
exactly where this series of actions is going to lead. He can see it and he can know it. Of
course, not only that, we would feel in a deeper way that God can foreknow that that thing is going
to happen not just because he has observed it often happening, but because he knows the way we
operate. He knows the kind of people we are.
Now loved ones, it’s not all easy and I’m not pretending to solve the problem today, but I think
there is some possible approach to it along these lines that will make sense.
[Question inaudible 20:01]
If you want to look at Romans 1:21, it does reinforce this idea that God has planned that certain
results follow from certain actions on man’s part. “For although they knew God they did not honor
him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds
were darkened.” So it was a result of them refusing to acknowledge God that certain things
happened. Verse 26 carries on the same theme, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable
In other words, he didn’t just look down at the world and say, “These people are going to be
prostitutes, these are going to be homosexuals.” He looked down and he saw, “These people are
turning against me so I’m going to withdraw my restraining grace from them,” and then he gave them
up to these things.
[Question inaudible 21:17]
2 Thessalonians 2:10-12, “And with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because,” so
you get that combination there in verse 9, “The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan
will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deceptions for
those who are to perish.” And immediately when we see that kind of phrase we wonder — who are the
ones to perish and then think its God that made them perish. But then it goes on, “Because they
refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make
them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had
pleasure in unrighteousness.” And there you get again the way the Bible points out that deception
results from disobedience, but the Bible puts it in terms of something that God sends upon people,
yet he only sends it upon them because they’ve already taken a certain attitude towards him of
When you get down to it, predestination is not such a bear if you take the verses one-by-one. I
think where people get into trouble is that they take the predestination verses and then forget
verses such as that verse in Matthew 23:37 where free will is obviously taught. It seems to me very
important to remember what we shared before; that truth is truth held intention. The truth of God,
the infinite mind of God, is trying to get over to our silly little finite minds certain truths, and
it’s a bit like the physics major who knows that in some sense you can describe light in terms of
rays and in some sense you can describe light in terms of particles; you can almost describe it
either way. But the simple freshman student thinks, “This is a contradiction.” And it seems as the
infinite mind of God is trying to get his truth into these little finite minds of ours he has to
say, “In some sense it’s this, but in some sense it’s this.” And if you really think of it, is that
not the problem that every parent has as a child gradually grows up? You tell them, “John you
shouldn’t do this.” But later on you have to modify things because in certain cases the parent
thinks, “John, you should not move without me telling you.” But yet in certain other senses, “Yes
John, I do want you to get undressed for bed without me coming up every night and telling you to get
undressed for bed.”
So we’re always faced, in ordinary natural human knowledge, with this problem of stating
contradictions that in some way manage to get the truth over.
[Question inaudible 24:30]
I think that’s it Ken. I think that the Father does it all in absolute pure justice and he
determines to what extent this man is refusing, and refusing, and refusing, until he comes to the
point where he has trampled God’s name so much in the mud that it would obviously do far more harm
to his own plan for the whole universe to keep this man’s heart soft, than it would be to harden his
heart to the point where it’s just impossible. And it seems to me in a sense its cooperation
between God and that man.
I saw it not so much as God hardening the heart, but God having to withdraw his softening grace from
the heart. See, at this moment all our hearts, because of our rebellion against God, ought to be
beyond the point of being softened at all. But God has shed abroad in us a softening grace, part of
common grace, where he keeps our hearts soft, yet he can only keep doing that up to a certain point.
There comes a point where we resist him so much that he would be overriding our free wills if he
continued to soften our hearts and I think that’s more the explanation than that God hardens the
I think there comes a time where the Father knows, in all his pure justice, that, “If I continue to
soften the heart of this person I would be contradicting my own decision to make them
self-determining individuals and creatures.”
[Question inaudible 26:31] only call you so long so he calls you and you keep refusing and keep
procrastinating [inaudible 26:49] you’re doing it [inaudible 26:56]
It will tie up with Revelation 3:20 where it’s the Spirit speaking to the churches. We use it in
regard to our individual salvation, “Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man hears my voice
and open the door I will come into him and sup with him and him with me.” But God is a gentlemen
and the Holy Spirit is a gentlemen and will only come in if he is invited in and asked in. It would
tie up also with that verse early on in Genesis, I don’t know exactly where it is but it’s in the
first few chapters that says something like, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” “There
is a limit to how far my Spirit will strive because I have to respect the free will of my
[Question inaudible 18:13]
I remember thinking that when somebody said, “What about predestination, or even what about eternal
security; can you ever be lost?” I don’t want you all to agree with me, but in my own heart from
the Bible I think you can be lost. But in my own experience I’d have to testify it is incredible
how patient the Father has been with us. Yet you cannot extrapolate from your own personal
experience; you have to go to his word.
Sometimes it seems like some of us [inaudible 28:48] for a while it really leads them to a place
where they’re [inaudible 28:58]
That’s right. In that sense the hardening can be a method that God uses to bring a person to their
senses. And who knows, but when he explains everything to us in heaven he’ll show us how his wrath
was a vital way to let people know that they had gone too far. In ordinary everyday life you must
admit that that was one of the benefits of the law being hard and fast about certain crimes. It
often brought a person to see they’d gone too far and they better change what they were doing. Do
you not think one of the problems today is that people do not have the advantage of that because you
can get around the law, you can get around penalties? That someway or other you can go to jail for a
week and then get out on parole and fight the case for three years? Do you not think that one of
the most blessed things in life is to have a final moral authority, a final end stop, past which you
cannot go – like (President Harry)Truman’s statement “The buck stops here?” Isn’t it vital to have
some place beyond which you cannot be immoral?
I think it is loved ones. We all like to think that the more licentious we get, the more we like to
think it’s better to give them plenty of rope, but I think that’s dangerous. When you meet a dear
one who has completely lost the distinction between right and wrong it’s impossible to do anything
with that person. I don’t know how many of you are Catholics, but I know I used to see the great
value among Catholics was that they had a great sense of the holiness of God. And honestly, in some
ways a Catholic has an easier time coming into salvation than many of us who were brought up in
liberal protestant churches where anything goes, and we had no sense of right or wrong.
A dear one who was brought up in the Catholic Church has a great sense that they need forgiveness
and indeed, many times that’s the problem; you have such a sense of condemnation, but at least that
is a precondition of being forgiven. Whereas when you’re in that proud position where you just
don’t feel any need to be forgiven, then you have to go through the agony of the hammer of God’s law
blasting your heart into bits.
I don’t want to go too far on it but I think that’s the problem we’re having in churches. I think
we’re preaching love, love, love, and gospel, gospel, gospel to dear ones who don’t feel any need of
a gospel and don’t feel any need of God’s love. They’re just happy; they do what they want and
don’t think it matters anyway.
[Question inaudible 32:08] they aren’t really one; they don’t [inaudible 32:22] unless it changes
your life through the Holy Spirit [inaudible 32:35] and God had [inaudible 32:40].
That’s right, yes, I agree. And it seems Gus that it’s possible for that to happen because two
things are taking place. Enough Christians aren’t living Christ like lives so that it is obvious to
a person who has not received Jesus’ Spirit that they have not received Jesus’ Spirit and secondly,
that we who preach and teach the word are not preaching and teaching a high enough standard. We
lower the standard to the level where a good humanist with a strong will can live up to it by his
own power and by the help of books like I’m Okay You’re Okay, or The Power of Positive Thinking
whereas it seems to me if you preach the level of life that God promises – boy, it is an agonizing
thing for you because you keep on saying, “I cannot do it.” But it eventually drives you into the
place where you realize, “I cannot do it on my own,” and you’re driven to seek the Holy Spirit and
it seems that that is a vital thing.
But loved ones, I think I mentioned to you before, I remember the agony I faced in the Methodist
Church when I started to preach that way. They just felt, “You’re calling us all sinners.” I never
would dare to call them sinners, but they felt that they were sinners and they felt, “This isn’t
your job, your job is to reassure us and comfort us and make us feel good.” So I know that it’s
really agony to come into that.
Maybe we’ve strayed a bit from the subject, but yes I think it’s vital to see that there is someone
who will harden your heart, or withdraw his softening grace if you keep on, you can only go in that
direction so long, and the sooner we realize it the better. I don’t know about you all, but I think
I played it fast and loose as far as I could. Once the Holy Spirit filled me Andrea, then I began
to love God because of God, but I think there was a long period in my life when, if I could have
gotten into heaven with a free ticket and done what I wanted, I would have done it. I suspect we
human beings are all the same kind of chancers — we will manage it if we can.
Now I do agree with you that when the Holy Spirit takes over, then you love God and you rejoice to
do his will and you want to do it. You want to do not only what he demands of you but all those
things that are pleasing in his sight. It becomes like a good marriage because you’re anxious not
only to do what she would like you to do, but you’re anxious to do anything that would make her
happy or please her or please him. But before that point I think the other is pretty important.
[Question inaudible 36:07]
No, it seems to me that there is a progressive hardening, and that God’s word to us is the word that
he gave through Ezekiel, “Break up your fallow ground.” Fallow ground is ground that has been left
untilled, and he’s continual word is “break up your fallow ground.” Charles Finney says the way to
do this is “Bring your mind to God’s word, check his word out, and apply it to your own heart. In
what way are you ungrateful and in what way is your prayer life not real, in what way are you not
loving other people? Break up your fallow ground by bringing yourself to real repentance.” And so,
Andrea, it seems to me that even as God is withdrawing his softening grace from a person, he is
sending all kinds of messengers to them to say, “Stop this hardening that is going on.” So it seems
to me it’s a progressive hardening that the Father draws out as long as he possibly can. Then do
you not think that we make these big repentances and say, “Oh yeah, I’m going to change my way. I’m
going to change my way” and then we fall back into the same old pattern?
Do you not think that especially in regard to coming into the fullness of the Holy Spirit you become
aware that whoever is angry with his brother is guilty of the judgment and you become aware of a
thing like anger in your heart because God just comes zeroing in on you? Everything you read points
to your anger. You try to get rid of that anger and you try to stop it and each time you try it’s
like putting your feet in quick sand because you seem to go deeper and deeper in each time you
struggle. You think that is part of God trying to get home to you that you cannot get free of anger
yourself, that you have to come to a place where you die to the rights that you’re trying to defend
by your anger. And don’t you think that in that sense part of God’s hardening is part of his method
of bringing you to the point where you see the radical nature of the remedy you have to enter into?
Do you not think we’re always looking for “light healings” as one prophet, I think it was Isaiah
said, “You have healed my people lightly.” We’re always anxious for light healings.
If we’re going to find an I’m Okay You’re Okay book, or The Power of Positive Thinking book, or a
book that can get rid of unclean thoughts or get rid of anger, we’ll take that route. We’ll take
any route other than bring the self to the cross, and don’t you think the hardening that God is
working in us is in order to bring us to the heart of the problem? So loved ones I think you have
to admit that even God’s dear wrath is a weapon that he uses to bring us to himself.
Now, I think you should read the chapter on “Common Grace” and if you have any questions you should
bring them up because you remember we said that the Holy Spirit expresses himself in a specific kind
of particular grace as well as in a general or common grace. And that he expresses himself in the
general common grace through the natural life that he has created; through holding the atoms
together, through conscience, and through a desire to worship, and through the law, and that all of
that involves some of the ways the Holy Spirit expresses his work. But really, our subject is the
specific ways in which he expresses himself in regard to redemption so I don’t think that I should
put us behind in our schedule just to go back on common grace.
I think that you should read the chapter, since that isn’t specifically the subject that we’re
dealing with in the series, but rather it’s the specific work of redemption that the Holy Spirit is
involved in. So if you read the chapter and note down any questions, I’d gladly give a few minutes
to questions next time we meet to “Common Grace.”
Then next time what I’d like to get into is the mystical union. I would like you to attempt
assignment four, page 124, which would in effect check your reading on the chapter on common grace
and I would suggest that you tackle the further study questions a, b, and c, and maybe you would do
written answers on those and you could hand them in.
So that would be assignment four and it would be due next time we meet along with the further study
questions on page 124. Any questions?
[Question inaudible 41:38] on page 121 there where it says, “Christ died for the purpose of saving
only the elect [inaudible 41:50].”
I think it is important, if you’re reading the chapter again, that one of the things I would have
commented on if we had had time to go through this chapter is that yes, Berkhof believes in a
limited atonement. That is; that Jesus died only for certain people that God himself had chosen.
We believe that Jesus has died for all, and that it’s a question the people who are lost are lost
because they refuse God’s provision for them. So Sunday’s sermon will be “Accepting or Rejecting
God’s Provision.” Now Berkhof could not preach a sermon like that, I think, because he would say
that you accept or reject God’s privilege because God has made you accept or reject it.
So it’s important that you read Berkhof to realize that all the time he is talking in terms of only
the elect being saved, and that the elect were picked out by God before the world was created. I
know it’s hard for some of us to understand how he could really believe that, but I think that it’s
important to see that he’s a dear brother and has lots of other truths.
I think we should end here, so I’ll pray.
Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with
us now and evermore. Amen.