On Christmas Day, 1881, C. F. W. Walther was invited to preach on predestination at a church in Macoupin County, Illinois. This day also coincided with the church’s anniversary, and Walther took the opportunity to address the intimidating topic in light of Ephesians 1:3–6.
This sermon is featured in the newest volume in the Walther’s Works series, Predestination.
(Amerikanisch-Lutherische Epistel Pastille, pp. 271–78)
Lord Jesus, thanks, praise, glory, and honor be to You today, on the day of Your gracious and saving birth, that You not only came into the world to save us poor sinners, but also that You as the Good Shepherd followed us, who all like sheep have gone astray, called us to Yourself through the shepherd’s voice of Your sweet Gospel, brought us to faith in You, and also preserved us in the same until today.
We did not seek You, but You sought us; we did not come to You, but You came to us. You saw us lying in the blood of our sins, and behold, Your heart broke, and You said to us: “You shall live!”
Oh, Lord Jesus, You today once gave Yourself for us; today we give ourselves to You. Here is our heart! Take it, cleanse and adorn it for Yourself as Your dwelling, and rule in it until our death. Amen.
Some have felt that one should not preach about so mysterious a doctrine as predestination to ordinary Christians, that this is a doctrine only for the educated. But that is a great error. The doctrine of predestination, when it is properly treated, can never be harmful but must be highly profitable.
I have chosen a passage from the first chapter of Ephesians as my text for today. Under the guidance of the text, let me now speak to you concerning predestination, and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit I will answer five questions.
Who are those whom God has chosen?
The holy apostle gives us the answer to this question right at the beginning of our text: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us.”
Know this, beloved: For believing Christians the doctrine of predestination is not a terrible and frightening doctrine that must raise doubts about whether they will be saved because perhaps they have not been chosen. No, on the contrary, it is the most comforting doctrine there can be, which should make Christians entirely certain of their salvation.
So who are those whom God has chosen? The genuine believers.
When did this election take place?
For this question, too, the holy apostle gives a clear answer in our text, when he says: “Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” Therefore, election does not first take place in time.
O beloved, what a hot and inexpressibly great fire must burn in the heart of God toward us Christians, that He thought about us and resolved to elect us before we were born! That is a love which is higher than heaven, wider than the earth, deeper than the sea, and as long as eternity.
To what did God choose the elect?
Also for this question we find the answer of the Holy Spirit in our text: “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 in love to be His sons.” So there are two things, especially, to which God has chosen the elect, namely first, that they from the heart turn to Him and, second, that they be His dear children.
God has chosen us so that from the heart we turn to Him; for only through a genuine conversion of the heart can a person be “holy and blameless before Him.” God has chosen us that through faith in Christ we might become His dear children; for only through faith does a person become a dear child of God. Oh, how secure is your salvation, you beloved, chosen, believing children of God!
What are the reasons that moved God to choose them?
Our text answers also this question clearly in the following words: “He destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”
From this, we see that God had only two causes for choosing the elect for the adoption of sons and eternal salvation. First, “the purpose of His will;” second, “Jesus Christ.”
You see, my beloved, God did not foresee something good in His chosen ones which He regarded and which moved Him to choose them; but rather He saw them in the blood of their sins and yet said: “You shall live!”
What was it I want to ask each one of you believing Christians again—what was the cause that moved God to choose you? Nothing, nothing good in you but only God’s unspeakable grace and Christ’s most holy merit.
How shall a Christian properly use the correct doctrine of predestination for his salvation?
Our text, my beloved, does not give a particularly specific answer to this question, but from the way the holy apostle uses and applies the doctrine of predestination in our text, we can see clearly enough how it is to be used by every believing Christian.
Believers should find comfort in predestination, namely that they should consider it certain that they belong to the elect. You see, in this way all true Christians should use the doctrine of predestination. They should think: God has already “called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified me in the true faith,” and until now “kept me” in it.
The apostle also reminds the Ephesians that they have been elected by God in order that they “should be holy and blameless before Him.” To a proper use of the doctrine of predestination, therefore, Christians must also let themselves be admonished by it seriously to pursue sanctification and good works; they should also let themselves be warned against misusing this comforting doctrine by becoming secure.
Up then, beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord. Oh, remain steadfast! What does it matter if you are called fools now if your names are written in heaven?!
Therefore, in conclusion, I call to you in the words of the pious poet: Come then, O Christian, battle until death. Reject everything that will hinder you and dampen your courage. If you want to wear the crown of glory, you must venture for Jesus. The beautiful crown will rest only upon the head of the victors! Amen.
You can preorder Walther’s Works: Predestination now.
Sermon is adapted from Predestination by C. F. W. Walther, pages 313–322. © Concordia Publishing House.