A friend of mine asserts that no truth of Scripture moves him like that of election. When he thinks of the ignorant home in which he grew up, his friends and relatives still in darkness and his good-living neighbours still on the broad road to hell, tears of joy well up in his eyes at God’s amazing sovereign love that chose him and bypassed others more worthy than he. Election is truly a precious doctrine for it guarantees our salvation. Those whom God loved from all eternity He will bring at the end of the day to heaven and they can never be lost. It ought to provoke praise and worship in our hearts. Meditate and think deeply upon your election by God. Surely it will stir us up to love Him who first loved us.
What is Election?
Election is God choosing out of mankind a people for Himself, to be His beloved, His children, enjoying eternal life and everlasting fellowship with Him in heaven. He planned to make the world for His own glory to show forth His wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. He made man to please Him and to enjoy Him and to respond to Him in worship. In His inscrutable wisdom, and for the revelation of His own glory, He also planned the fall of man. From amongst the masses of fallen and perishing mankind whom He must damn to hell for their sins he set his love upon some, the elect, whom He determined to save though because of His own infinite justice the cost would be massive. It is set out in Romans 9:10-13 with great clarity ‘And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated’.
When were we Elected?
Before Jacob and Esau had done good or evil, and irrespective of any good or evil that they might do, God loved Jacob. Election took place before we were born, before we were conceived or had any existence, before the world was created, before time began. Since it was before time there never was a time when God did not love us. Amazing! God is eternal and from all eternity we were chosen. When there was nothing but God we were in the mind of God as His beloved. This is a great mystery
Election and the Cross
The cross is at the very centre of the Christian gospel. Some people believe in election but refuse to accept limited atonement — the teaching that Christ died specifically for the salvation of the elect and for theirs alone. Informally they are known as ‘Four Point Calvinists.’ However if Christ died for everyone, then everyone will be saved. He has paid the price that divine justice demands for their sins. Alternatively all that Christ achieved on the cross was to make salvation possible and what really saves, and distinguishes between one person and another, is something else, e.g. a person’s faith. Faith then becomes a work which merits salvation. The praise and glory for saving a man is at least in part transferred from Christ to the man who believes. Away with such a thought! ‘Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen’ (Rev 1:5-6). Jesus distinguishes between those who are and are not his sheep. The Father has given the sheep to Him (Jn.10:26). He states that as the good Shepherd He lays down his life for the sheep (v.11). Election and limited atonement cannot be separated.
Election and Arminianism
Calvinism and Arminianism are opposites. Calvinists fully accept and rejoice in election. Arminianism is unhappy with unconditional election. Surely, it is argued, such election undermines completely human responsibility and turns men and women into robots who cannot be held responsible for their lost condition. This point is countered by the Apostle Paul when he says: ‘Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?’ (Rom.9:20-21). Arminians argue from what Paul says earlier, ‘Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son’ (Rom.8:29), that election is based upon God foreknowing something about us, e.g. that we were going to believe. However, the Scripture does not mention that God predestinated on the basis of foreknowing something about us, but rather just that He foreknew us, i.e. that he foreloved us and knew us in a special way. God’s foreloving is God electing us unconditionally, setting His electing love upon us, and all the good that we will ever do is because of this electing love. It is not that we drew out His love to us. There is nothing in us as fallen human beings that attracts God to us. We deserve nothing and salvation is all of grace.
Election and the New Birth
Scripture clearly describes the state of the unconverted as dead in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1) and therefore totally unable to save themselves or even to take one step in that direction. ‘There is none that doeth good, no, not one’ (Rom.3:12). The first thing that must happen before someone can be saved is that they must be born again or he spiritually raised from the dead. This is the new birth and Jesus explains that it is being born of the Spirit, by God the Spirit’s work (Jn.3:6). All who are in the elect, and only those, are, when God’s planned time comes, born again and that is the beginning of the work of God in their souls. The Holy Spirit irresistibly applies to them the redemption purchased by Christ specifically for them.
Election and Human Responsibility
Some unconverted people argue that since salvation is all God’s work there is nothing for them to do but to sit back and enjoy life and if they are in the elect they will eventually be saved. This is never taught in Scripture. Everywhere the message to the sinner is, ‘Repent and believe.’ The wicked are commanded to flee from the wrath to come. Men and women are exhorted to seek the Lord while He may be found. Encouragement is given: ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out’ (Jn.6:37), and ‘Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Rom.10:13). Men and women will not end up in hell because they were not elected, but because of their sins and their refusal to repent and believe the gospel. Election is not meant as a barrier to keep the sinner from Christ but is a great comfort to the battle-weary Christian that God will surely save him and that he will never perish. ‘My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand’ (Jn. 10:29).
William Macleod, Glasgow, is editor of the Free Church Witness, from which magazine this editorial is taken with permission.