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The golden chain of salvation (1)
‘And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified’ (Romans 8:30)
These memorable words are part of what has been called the ‘golden chain of salvation’. I think it was given this name by a Westminster divine called John Arrowsmith. He said that God lets down this golden chain from heaven to draw up all his people.
The golden chain is God’s. He designed it and made each link. He didn’t make the links and then depend on man’s ability to connect them up into a chain, but forges the chain together himself through his own power, purpose and love.
In 1955 an Indian Hindu and mystic named Rao announced 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 one end of the pool, and then 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.
He blamed his failure to perform this miracle on the other people’s unbelief. But God does not hang the forging together of the chain on the ability of man, because we mess everything up, but on his own loving, gracious purposes. He determined, planned and accomplished it all.
This golden chain was fashioned in the foundry erected on Mount Golgotha. In the heat of Calvary, the Saviour forged each link and joined them together as he obeyed his Father even to dying on a cross. He foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified. It is all the action of God, all his work. Salvation is of the Lord.
Two of those links came into operation in eternity past — foreknowledge and predestination; two during our lives — calling and justification; and the last one in heaven — glorification. But notice that glorification is also written in the past tense like the other four divine decrees.
The first link in the chain is foreknowledge. For God to know us is to love us. Adam knew his wife Eve with a passionate knowledge; God knew his people Israel with a loving, caring knowledge. Foreknowledge is God cherishing people, in Christ, before they love him. We love him because he first loved us.
His foreknowledge is proactive; he takes the initiative. He does not sit back and see how things are going to pan out, hoping for the best.
God’s foresight alone would not be a blessing. To know that God has seen everything I have ever done is no comfort to me, but to realise that God loves me in spite of all he knows about me is amazing grace!
What God foresaw was a world of sinners dead in trespasses and sins, with hearts at enmity against him; it was a valley of dry bones. He foresaw sinners saying, ‘We will not have this man ruling over us’.
He foresaw men without the Spirit of God, refusing the things that come from him because the gospel is foolishness to them. And yet God loved many of these sinners beforehand. Nor is his foreknowledge the knowledge of passive observation, looking on in surprise and saying, ‘Ooh! Ah! So he did this! Wow! She did that!’ It is not the mere gathering of facts.
On the Internet there are chat rooms where people discuss ideas. Some get involved, and argue and debate, but others just visit the sites to read what is going on. These visitors are called ‘lurkers’.
Each lurker is a fly on the wall, observing but saying nothing. But God’s foreknowledge is not that of a lurker nor of a celestial fly on the wall.
To change the metaphor, he is not like John Simpson the famous BBC war correspondent, gathering and reporting facts as he observes them. Rather, God knows people personally. There is love and friendship for ever in this word ‘foreknowledge’.
Foreknowledge is not God judging a history-long beauty pageant, in which there are criteria for beauty such as face, figure and personality. In a sense the winner of these contests has chosen herself through her own beauty, talent and pleasant personality. The judges merely recognise the facts of the case for that person.
But God’s foreknowledge of his people is not a beauty contest. It is not God looking at us, ticking all his boxes and saying, ‘I’ll certainly make her one of my children, and him, and her’.
It is not him allowing people effectively to choose themselves based on their own merits and accomplishments. It is not the Lord stating the qualifications for winning the prize and then looking to see who the winners are.
Rather, 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 my choice. I choose you, though you are nothing. I am planning to make something of you through what Jesus Christ, my only begotten Son, has already done for you and will do in you by the work of the Spirit’.
He saw us with all our liabilities, poverty and shame and still loved us and made us his bride. He 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, but the ‘Why me?’ of happy wonder.
It is like the ‘Why me?’ of the happy husband who says, ‘Why did she ever accept me?’ and 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 with 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.
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, during Sunday morning worship you may say, ‘When church is over this morning, I’m going to go home and 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 theorising. You are just announcing a personal decision. You know you’re going to have roast lamb; your wife bought the lamb this week and 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. Even though you think you know what’s going to happen, you can’t totally control the future.
God is not like that. His foreknowledge doesn’t simply mean that he knows by looking down the corridors of history at what’s going to happen, because he’s God and can see it all.
He certainly foresees everything, but that 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, believer, he loved you first and foreknew you in Christ.