Q: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A: God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a redeemer.
Ephesians 1:4-5: Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.
How much theological weight can one question and answer hold!? In this question, we have both the doctrine of election and the doctrine of the covenant of grace. Both are essential to understanding what we would call the "Reformed" (or Calvinist) faith. These two doctrines-the doctrine of God's sovereign election in salvation and the doctrine of the covenant (Covenant Theology), are at the heart of our understanding of salvation. But beyond that, they are at the heart of understanding the grace of God.
The last few questions of the confession give us little reason to hope. Mankind is fallen. When Adam fell in the garden, the whole of the human race fell with him. We are guilty because Adam's sin is imputed to us. But not only are we guilty on that level. We are also guilty because we sin, and we sin often. We've seen what our sin has cost us. It cost us fellowship with our creator. Instead of living in fellowship and in peace with God, he, because of our sinful state, has turned his face away in wrath, and rightfully so. But here is the turning point in the confession. God did not leave all mankind to perish. He should have. He could have, and it would have been a glorious display of his perfect justice and righteousness. But he didn't. Instead, God, in his grace and mercy, established a new covenant with man. A covenant that was not based upon our obedience, but rather, would be kept by God himself. This covenant was first spoken of in Genesis 3 when God promised that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent's head. It was spoken of again in Genesis 15 when God made his covenant with Abraham. And again with David. And again with Jeremiah. All throughout the Old Testament, the Covenant of Grace was renewed. It is an everlasting covenant, and one that we can trust because it is one that God himself satisfies completely. Were we to play any role in the covenant, we would have no hope. The covenant would be broken, just as we broke the Covenant of Works. But the Covenant of Grace is upheld by God, fulfilled by our redeemer, our new "Federal Head", the "Second Adam", Jesus Christ, as he lived a life of perfect obedience (thus fulfilling the covenant of works), as he took on death and hell at the cross (taking the punishment we deserve), and rose again from the dead (assuring us that God has found satisfaction in Christ's work on behalf of his people). This grand Covenant of Grace is how God has always saved and redeemed his people.
But the question is, how does fallen man become part of God's people? How do we become part of this covenant body, this redeemed people of God? We've seen how devastating sin is. Paul would write in Romans 3 about the total effects of the fall. He would write (summarizing several Psalms, Proverbs and passages from Isaiah), "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one...There is no fear of God before their eyes.” So if that is our true condition, if no one seeks for God or understands, if all have turned aside, if none of us fear God, if we are truly dead in our sins, how is it that we can ever hope to enter into this covenant people? God's sovereign election is the Bible's answer to this. God, in a wonderful act of grace and mercy, has chosen some to everlasting life. We are given faith. We are given eyes to see and ears to understand. We are given a new heart. We are raised from the dead (Eph. 2:4), made alive in Christ, brought into his covenant family. This is not our own work. This is not the result of a choice we made. Rather, this is the sovereign will of God being worked out in our lives, resurrecting us from the dead so that we can call on Christ as our savior and be brought into God's covenant family. The work of election, God's sovereign predestination of individuals to salvation, to be brought into the Covenant of Grace, is a glorious work of grace and mercy!
This week's catechism is huge. I can't write all that needs to be said on this subject, and no doubt if these are new doctrines for you, you have many questions. We recently had our first New Member's Class at Proclamation PCA. Because of facility limitations and time, we had to go through these teachings very quickly as well. Below are several resources that can help you explore these doctrines much more deeply. Some of these books can be found on the shelves of our church office, and we would be glad to share them with anyone who has interest in reading more.
The Doctrine of Election:
Putting Amazing Back into Grace-Michael Horton
The Doctrines of Grace-James Montgomery Boice
Introducing Covenant Theology-Michael Horton
The Christ of the Covenants-O. Palmer Robertson