But what if I’m not elect?

Some opponents of Reformed theology argue that the doctrine of election produces unfeeling and fatalistic preachers: “If God has already chosen who will believe, what’s the point in preaching passionate and persuasive evangelistic sermons?”

However, although that’s (usually) an unfair caricature of Reformed truth, there’s no question that Reformed pastors sometimes have to counsel people who will say something like, “But if I’m not in the elect, there’s no point in believing in Christ. If my name’s not written in the Book of Life, then all my believing is in vain.” Some of those will be simply using election to excuse their inaction. However, others are genuinely concerned and confused.

Ralph Erskine deals with this pastoral challenge in his sermon on Isaiah 53v6: “I will give you for a covenant to the people” [Works, Vol 1, 128]. After some words on the covenant in general, Erskine shows how Christ is the covenant of the people, and then asks: “For whose benefit is He a covenant?”

Erskine is at pains to emphasize that “whosoever of all the people will subscribe to this covenant, and go into it by faith, shall have the everlasting benefit of it.” Then, as was commonly done in his day, he imagines a hearer asking, “But if I am not among the elect whose names are in that covenant, then surely my subscribing of it will be in vain.”

It’s here that Erskine provides wise and helpful guidelines for pastors to follow in counseling such anxious souls:

1. There are two copies of this covenant, two writs of this charter: the original and an extract.

2. The original is in heaven and contains all the names of all the elect that ever were, are, or shall be (Eph. 1:4). This original is locked up in the cabinet of God’s secret purpose and is marked “For God’s eyes only” (Deut. 29:29).

3. The extract is in the Bible, which God has revealed and put in your hands. “This copy of the covenant is sent open to you all to sign and subscribe, by giving faith’s assent and consent to the covenant of the people, Christ, as he is offered in the Gospel.”

4. In order to gather in the elect and to leave all others inexcusable, this faithful extract is “directed to all, and every one of you, giving you full and sufficient warrant to sign and subscribe for yourselves.” Christ is “a covenant of the people” as it is put in the verse.

5. You cannot possibly “see” your name in the original, till you have signed your consent to the copy which has been let down to earth.

6. If you sign the extract, then you may lay claim to the original, and “see” your name there (by “seeing” Erskine is referring to assurance of faith).

7. Although some who, by faith, subscribe the extract copy, are kept in the dark about their names being in the original, yet none shall “see” their names there (the original), but those who subscribe their names here (the extract).

I think Erskine does a great job here of balancing God’s sovereignty with human responsibility, and also of illustrating a difficult concept with a memorable image. I especially like the way that he leaves hearers without excuse, yet also inspires and motivates faith in Christ.

The Works of Ralph Erskine, Vol. 1, (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1991), 128-197. See especially pages 142-143.

If you can substitute “s” for “f” you’ll enjoy reading the sermon online here. See especially pages 189-191.

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What letter would you write to a gay son?

Five years ago, Redditor RegBarc ”came out” to his father. Shortly afterwards, his dad disowned him in a handwritten letter which RegBarc shared with the world on Tuesday, adding the comment: “This is how hate sounds.”


This is a difficult but necessary letter to write.

I hope your telephone call was not to receive my blessing for the degrading of your lifestyle. I have fond memories of our times together, but that is all in the past.

Don’t expect any further conversations with me. No communications at all.

I will not come to visit, nor do I want you in my house.

You’ve made your choice, though wrong it may be. God did not intend for this unnatural lifestyle.

If you choose not to attend my funeral, my friends and family will understand.

Have a good birthday and good life.

No present exchanges will be accepted.

Good bye, Dad

As I find it hard to believe that a true Christian would ever write such a letter, I’ve drafted a letter that I hope a Christian father would write (although I’m sure we all hope we’ll never have to write it).

My dear James,

I’d rather say this man-to-man and face-to face, and I hope I will have a chance to do so soon. However, to avoid misunderstanding, and to ensure that you have something in black and white you can keep and refer to, I want to make sure you know one thing: I love you, and I always will. I do not hate you, and I never will.

Our relationship will probably change a bit as a result of your chosen lifestyle, but my love for you will never change. I will continue to seek your very best, as I have always done. In fact, I will probably, by prayer and other practical means, seek your good as I’ve never done before.

Maybe you’ve been afraid that I will reject you and throw you out of my life. I want you to know that you will always be welcome in our family home. Text, email, phone regularly. I certainly will. We’d especially love you to come home for birthdays and for other special occasions. I hope we can continue to go fishing together and to share other areas of our lives.

Your male friend may also visit our home with you, but we will need to discuss certain boundaries. For example, I can’t allow you to share a room or a bed together when you are here, and I will not allow open displays of affection for one another, especially in front of the other children. If you stay with us, you will attend family devotions, and if you are with us on a Sunday, you will come to church with us to hear the Gospel.

Perhaps these boundaries are not going to be easy for you to accept, but please try to understand that I have a duty to God to lead my home in a God-glorifying manner. Psalm 101 commands me to prevent sinful behavior in my home. While extremely anxious to preserve a relationship with you, I am especially concerned that your siblings are not influenced into thinking your lifestyle is fine with God or us.

I know that you don’t like me calling your lifestyle and sexual practices a sin. However, remember I’ve always told you that I myself am a great sinner, but I have an even greater Savior. I hope the day will come when you will seek that great Savior for yourself. He can wash us snow-white clean. He is also able to deliver us from the bondage of our lusts and from everlasting damnation.

I will not bring up your sin and the Gospel every time we meet, but I do want you to know where I stand right up front, and also that I’m willing to speak with you about the Gospel of Christ anytime you wish.

I hope you will not call this message hate. This is how love sounds.

I will always be your Dad. And you will always be my son.

As I will never stop loving you, I will never stop praying for you.

With all my love,

Dad (Ps. 103:13).

Anything you’d say differently? Anything you’d add? 

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