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Foreknowledge

from Great Doctrines Relating to Salvation by John B. Marchbanks

Not only did God foreknow us as His children but as we shall be in glory.

The Biblical doctrines of foreknowledge, election, and predestination have a close relationship to each other. We can readily see this when we observe three passages, the first of which links foreknowledge and predestination; the second, election and predestination; and the third, election and foreknowledge.

For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29).

According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, in love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will (Eph. 1:4, 5).

Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied (I Pet. 1:2).

In spite of these similarities, however, each of the three doctrines is distinct from the others and presents a unique aspect of our salvation.

In dealing now with the doctrine of foreknowledge, we must remember "the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33). There are doubtless things which we would like to know about foreknowledge that are not explained in God's Word. Let us be very careful to heed attentively what Scripture says, and to honor its silences. This will keep us from vain speculations which are not profitable.

The Bible gives seven direct references to foreknowledge:

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain (Acts 2:23).

Who knew me from the beginning [foreknew me], if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee (Acts 26:5).

For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29).

God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew (Rom 11:2).

Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ (I Pet. 1:2).

Who verily was foreordained [foreknown] before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you (I Pet. 1:20).

Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before [foreknow these things], beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness (II Pet. 3:17).

Foreknowledge itself simply means to know beforehand, or to have previous knowledge. This can be seen from the use of the word in Acts 26:5. Paul is giving his defense before King Agrippa, and he says: "My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning [foreknew me], if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee" (vs. 4, 5). Paul testified that the Jews who were his accusers had known  him beforehand, in  the  days of  his youth, and  that they possessed this previous knowledge about his life.

When we read about God's foreknowledge and its connection with our salvation, it does not simply mean that God foreknew who would believe the Gospel and thus chose them. It means rather that God knew us, that He was personally acquainted with us as His own before we existed or time began. To be sure, God foreknew who would believe, for He is God, "declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done" (Isa. 46:10). But believers were foreknown to Him as belonging to Him by redemption, "for whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29).

Let us notice the first mention of foreknowledge in the Bible. Very often the first mention of a subject gives the key to its meaning throughout all the Word. Peter was preaching on the day of Pentecost to the Jews who had been brought together by the unusual happenings which accompanied the descent of the Holy Spirit: "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that He should be holden of it" (Acts 2:22-24).

Here Peter relates foreknowledge to God's "determinate counsel." This means His determined, or appointed, or decreed, or specified counsel. His counsel means His volition, or purpose. Thus God decreed that for the carrying out of His purpose toward man, His Son should be delivered up for us, for He "spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" (Rom. 8:32). Thus our Lord Jesus Christ was foreknown as God's Lamb from eternity past, "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8).

We get practically the same message, and also the same meaning of foreknowledge, in I Peter 1:20 which, with its context, reads: "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained [foreknown] before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by Him do believe in God, who raised Him up from the dead and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God (vs. 18-21). The Lord Jesus Christ was known to God the Father as the Saviour even before the foundation of the world.

This brings us to the consideration of foreknowledge as it has to do with us and our salvation. Peter writes that believers are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (I Pet 1:2). We were chosen of God, then, because He foreknew us as His own. God’s Word does not tell us why God foreknew us as His own, and thus chose us. It surely was not because of any goodness or loveliness in us, for there is none. "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one...there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10, 12), and "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9).

God foreknew Israel as a nation also and, because He did, He will yet bring them to Himself. In anticipation of that, His watchcare has been theirs through the centuries of their dispersion and sufferings, for "God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew" (Rom. 11:2). And just as God chose them in His love and grace, so did He choose us in this present age, and there is no other way to explain why He foreknew us as His own. He spoke thus to Israel: "The LORD did not set His love upon you nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deut. 7:7, 8). God foreknew Israel simply because He loved her, and it is the same in our case.

Let us not fail, however, to notice another truth in I Peter 1:2. We were "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father," but there is another side to this truth. "Through sanctification of the Spirit," by His convicting work in our hearts, we were brought "unto obedience" to the Gospel message, which resulted in our cleansing and salvation by "sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ": the application of His shed blood to our hearts. Therefore, as we mentioned in connection with the previous study on election, we must always remember that the fact of foreknowledge, in which we Christians rejoice, does not alter the fact that God has a "whosoever will" Gospel for every unsaved person. The Lord Jesus said: "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink" (John 7:37). How blessed that we can with confidence tell any lost sinner that our Lord Jesus Christ "is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25)!

God not only foreknew us as His own, He foreknew us as we will finally be in glory. His purpose is to make us like unto His own dear Son, and "we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is" (I John 3:2). "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Rom. 8:28-30).

As we rejoice in the fact that we are God’s foreknown ones, let us heed the warning found in connection with the word in II Peter 3:17: "Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before [foreknow these things,] beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and for ever" (vs. 17, 18).

God's Word has given us many warnings about the dangers of false teaching, about which Peter writes in his second Epistle. To follow false teaching about the Person and work of Christ will rob us of our joy, our testimony and our reward at the judgment seat of Christ. We foreknow this, for God has plainly warned us. Let us therefore heed this prescribed remedy which is, by obedience to the Word, constantly to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Great Doctrines Relating to Salvation by John B. Marchbanks. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1970. Chapter 13.

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