Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thomas Goodwin on election in Christ: introduction


Those words, 'he hath chosen us in him' have bred more controversy than any so few words almost in the whole Bible and do therefore require some time to open them. (Thomas Goodwin, Exposition of Ephesians, p. 65).   
The other week I started a series of sermons on "Union with Christ". Beginning at the beginning, or even before the Beginning, the first message was on Ephesians 1:3-6, "Chosen in Christ". In the course of sermon prep I looked up several modern commentaries, (F.F. Bruce, NICNT, F. Foukles, Tyndale,  & J. R. W. Stott, BST), but none of them had anything much to say on election in Christ. So, I pulled Lloyd-Jones' God's Ultimate Purpose off the shelf and glanced through his sermon on Ephesians 1:4 entitled, Chosen in Him. The good Doctor has some helpful things to say about election and predestination in general, but, despite the title, did not expound what Paul meant by "chosen in him". In desperation I turned to Hendrickson, who at least discusses what "chosen in him means", but virtually makes Christ the meritorious cause of our election, which isn't quite right. Charles Hodge is better in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, explaining the phrase in terms of Christ's federal headship, but, again he veers towards saying that God chose us in virtue of what Christ would do for us. This undermines Scripture's witness to election as God's purely gratuitous and loving choice of his people. 

In this instance, works of systematic theology provided a better guide as to the meaning of Paul's words than the Bible commentators. John Murray's treatment of Ephesians 1:4 in Redemption Accomplished and Applied stuck in my mind from reading him some years back (see this post). It wasn't too long ago that I'd studied Herman Bavinck on The Divine Counsel in The Reformed Dogmatics Volume 2 (see here). Also, Oliver Crisp gives valuable attention to this matter in his God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology (reviewed here). It only goes to show that simply relying on commentators in sermon prep can prove inadequate. Wider theological reading can really enrich our understanding of Scripture. But one commentator did not let me down. It was the Puritan Thomas Goodwin, who, in his day was regarded as the "Greatest Pulpit Exegete of St. Paul". Reading him was like entering another world where deep theological reflection go hand in hand with a sustained and detailed exegesis of the text. You'll find his work on Ephesians 1:4 in his Exposition of Ephesians: Chapter 1 to 2:10. In a series of posts I hope to try and sketch out something of Goodwin's insightful teaching on election in Christ. 


David Reimer said...

Thanks for this - whenever I read such a post, I always check to see what can offer. There are a number of copies of Goodwin's Works, it turns out. Volume 1 (or alternative scan) is available, as is most (all? 12 vols, anyway). Lookkng forward to reading a bit myself, and your further reflections!

David Reimer said...

No idea what happened to the links in my previous comment! Here they are as plain text:

Of course, Works volume 1 contains the relevant part of the Ephesians commentary.