Election Defined

by Michael Bremmer

Michael Bremmer

Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof defines election as:

"That eternal act of God whereby He, in His sovereign good pleasure, and on the account of no foreseen merit in them, chooses a certain number of men to be the recipients of special grace and eternal salvation" (Berkhof, Systematic Theology , P.114).

The Canons of Dort state:

"Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He hath, out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and foundation of salvation."

By election, then, Calvinists mean:

  • (1) Out of fallen humanity God chose certain persons unto salvation. God elects people.
  • (2) The number of God's elect is fixed.
  • (3) God does not elect individuals based on foreseen merit of any kind, including faith. Election is an act of God's sovereign choice.
  • (4) God's election and calling are invincible.
  • (5) The purpose and motive of God's election are His glory, "To the praise of His glorious grace!"

Many differences exist between Arminians and Calvinists, but the fundamental difference between Calvinists and Arminians regarding the doctrine of election is the basis of election. By basis I mean the reason God elects anyone unto salvation. For the Calvinist, the basis of election is the sovereign purpose and grace of God. Arminians, however, differ widely among themselves on this issue.

Dake , for example, in his Dake's Annotated Reference Bible , writes:

"This is what God chose before the over throw of Lucifer's world - that all of the new race of Adam who accepted Jesus Christ should be holy and without blame before Him in love. It is this plan that is chosen for all believers, not the individual conformity of any one person to that plan. The final choice is left up to the individual and not God. All are called and chosen to become holy before God in love if they want to accept this plan and choice of God, but only those who meet the conditions will be so blessed . .. This is the true meaning of election and predestination wherever found in Scripture . . . That is, the plan is predestined and foreknown, not individual conformity to that plan" (NT. 213).

According to Dake, God predestined and foreknew the plan. The FLSB (Full Life Study Bible), however, says that the church is foreknown and predestined:

"Concerning election and predestination, we might use the analogy of a great ship on its way to heaven. The ship (the church) is chosen by God to be His very own vessel. Christ is the Captain and pilot of this ship. All who desire to be part of this elect ship and its captain can do so through a living faith in Christ, by which they come on board the ship. As long as one is on the ship, in company with its captain, he is among the elect. If he chooses to abandon the ship and Captain, he ceases to be one of the elect. Election is always union with the Captain and Ship" (P. 1847).

Another view is election only means God chooses communities and nations to external blessings of the gospel, that God ordains some communities and nations to the true knowledge of the faith and privileges of the gospel. This knowledgeable Calvinists do not deny. Calvinists do deny, however, that this is the only election in the Scriptures. The Scriptures, as we will see, also speak of individual election. Lastly, some teach that God elects those whom He foresees will believe and persevere till the end. This is perhaps the most popular Arminian view on election.

Refuting these views separately is not necessary. If we examine the fundamental principles they share in common and refute these, then we disproved the Arminian views. For example, one common element to three Arminian views is that election is not individualistic. In other words, God does not elect people. God elects the plan, or the Church, or, lastly, God elects nations or communities. As mention earlier, Calvinists do not deny that these are real elections taught in the Scripture. Calvinists do deny that these are the grounds of election unto salvation. If therefore we prove that God elects individuals unto salvation, then these three Arminian views are wrong.

Another common element to all Arminian views is that election is conditional. We must do something to be elected. We must join the plan, or become part of the body, or believe, then we become the elect. Therefore, if we prove that election is unconditional, then all Arminian views are wrong.

Lastly, since foreknowledge is an intricate part of divine election, all Arminian views must explain foreknowledge within the parameters of their particular view on election. For example, according to Dake only the plan of God is foreknown. If, then, we prove that the proper understanding of foreknowledge is the Calvinist view, then all Arminian views are wrong.

GOD ELECTS PEOPLE

These are two of many scriptures that support the fact that God elects people (see Scripture Reference section for more): "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13.48). This verse makes it clear that election to eternal life is the cause, not the effect, of believing; and election unto salvation is personal, not corporate. God elects people for salvation. Obviously, Arminians must make this verse mean something other then what the normal reader would understand. The FLSB comments: "Some have understood this verse as teaching arbitrary predestination." The word "arbitrary," according to Webster's means, "not governed by principle, depending on volition; based on one's preference, notion or whim." I know of no Calvinist who understands election in this manner; nor does the comment's writer, for such a Calvinist does not exist. All Calvinists believe that God unconditionally elects some unto salvation; Yet His decree is not arbitrary. He is sovereign to be sure. He chooses whom He wills; but He acts according to His nature.

Furthermore, by saying that the Calvinistic view makes God's act of election arbitrary reveals the real nature of the Arminian objection: They will not bow to God's sovereignty. For the Arminian to say that because he can see no reason why God elects some and not others in the Calvinistic scheme, therefore God must act arbitrary, means the Arminian knows all of what God knows!

However, for the sake of discussion, we will assume that what the FLSB 's writer means is that God elects unconditionally. This Calvinists readily accept. The FLSB goes on to say: "However, neither the context nor the word translated ordained' (GK. tetagmenoi from tasso) warrant this interpretation. (1) v. 46 explicitly emphasizes responsibility in accepting or rejecting eternal life . . . " The Bible does teach clearly, plainly, and thoroughly, human responsibility of accepting or rejecting Christ, and this is what Calvinists have always said. So it is indeed a mystery how the writer can conclude: "The best rendering of tetagmenoi, therefore, is 'were disposed'; "and as many as were disposed to eternal life believed.' "

The writer of this comment tells us that since this passage emphasizes human responsibility, the word tetagmenoi means "to be disposed." This is truly a pathetic approach to hermeneutics! Nowhere in Scripture is tasso or the words derived from it, used in the sense "to be disposed." Why then assign a meaning to the word that has no such usage in Scripture? Noted scholar F. F. Bruce comments: "There is no good reason for weakening the predestinarian note here, as (e. g.) H. Alford does by rendering as many as were disposed to eternal life.' The Greek participle is (tetagmeuos) from (tasso), and there is papyrus evidence for the use of this verb in the sense of 'inscribe' or 'enroll'." (NTC: ACTS P. 267).

C. H. Spurgeon rightly observes: "Attempts have been made to prove these words do not teach predestination, but these attempts so clearly do violence to language that I will not waste time answering them . . . I read: 'as many were ordained to eternal life believed,' and I shall not twist that text but shall glorify the grace of God by ascribing to it every man's faith . . . Is it not God who gives the disposition to believe? If men are disposed to have eternal life, doest not He in every case dispose them? Is it wrong for God to give grace? If it be right for Him to give it, is it wrong for Him to purpose to give it? Would you have Him give it by accident? If it is right for Him to have purpose to give grace today, it was right for him to purpose to give it before that date-and, since He Changes not - from eternity."

On Acts 13.48 Dake comments: "The simple meaning is that God has appointed and provided eternal life for all who will believe." (NT. 139). In the English language, and for that matter Greek also, one reads from left to right, not, as Dake seems to do, right to left. The Scripture does not say that those who believe were appointed to eternal life, it says those who were appointed to eternal life believed .

The Second verse offered as proof that God also elects people unto salvation is 2 Thess. 2.13: "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because He has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and faith in the truth."

It is clear from the context of this passage that Paul is not speaking of the church, but people. They are chosen, not a plan or the Church.

ELECTION IS UNCONDITIONAL

Verses proving Election is unconditional are so explicit that they need no comment. See: Eph. 1.5-11; 2 Tm. 1.9; Jn. 15.16, 19; Mt. 11.25-26; Rom. 9.10-18; Ti. 3.5; Rom. 11.4-7; 1 Cor. 1.27-29.

FOREKNOWLEDGE

Since foreknowledge is a fundamental element of election, both Arminians and Calvinist's views of election must explain the relationship of foreknowledge to election. As we have seen, in the Arminian view some hold that the plan is foreknown. Others say God foreknows the Church. Lastly, in most popular Arminian view of election, God foresees who will believe and persevere and elects them. The Calvinistic view of foreknowledge is God from all eternity set His love and affection on certain people. These He "foreknew."

Nowhere in Scripture is it said that it is the plan, Church, or foreseen faith that God foresees as the basis of election to salvation. In Romans 8.29-30 Paul uses personal pronouns. It is "Whom He foreknew," not "what He foreknew."

Furthermore, Calvinism rejects election based on foreseen faith and perseverance for following reasons: (1) Assuming for the moment that God does elect those whom He foresees will believe. Where does this foreseen faith come from? If faith is produce in whole or in part by the person, then salvation is by works, (2 Tm. 1.9) the biblical doctrine of the total depravity of humanity is denied, and regeneration is no longer monoergistic. If, on the other hand, faith is a gift from God, as the Scriptures plainly say (Eph. 2.8-10; Philp. 1.29; 1 Cor. 4.7; 2 Pet. 1.2; Acts 5.31; Jn. 6. 6.44, 45. 65), then election, foreseen or otherwise, is still the result of God's sovereign choice.

(2) Since faith and repentance are gifts from God and the fruit of election, they cannot be the grounds or merit of God's electing grace. If God grants faith and repentance to some and not to others, and this is self evident, then it was God's purpose to give these gifts to some, and not to others. If the giving of faith and repentance are according to God's purpose, then faith and repentance cannot be the condition of election. In other words, it is impossible for the one event to be both the cause and effect . Faith and repentance cannot be both the grounds and fruit of election. (Eph. 2.8-10; 1.4; 1 Pet. 1.2; Acts 5.31; 1 Cor.4.7; Jn. 6.37, 39; 10.26; Acts 13.48; 18.27; Rom. 9.11, 18, 22; Eph. 1.4-5; 2 Thess. 2.13; Philp. 1.29).

(3) Nowhere in Scripture is it said that God elects based on foreseen faith. Scripture does say that God elects according to foreknowledge (1 Pet. 1.2), but it does not say this foreknowledge is foreseen faith. This is indeed strange. As often as the apostle Paul makes reference to election, one would think that Paul would somewhere mention that the basis of election is foreseen faith. But He does not do so; and considering the fact that many fiercely objected to the doctrine that he did teach, not to mention this supposed basis for election is a tactical blunder on Paul's part. For instance, had Paul mention in Rom. 9 that election is according to foreseen faith, no one would have objected to God choosing Jacob over Esau. However, because Paul apparently forgot to mention this in his teaching some objected, "Why does He still find fault? For who resist His will?" We will develop this thought in more detail later.

(4) "Foreordination in general cannot rest on foreknowledge, for only that which is certain can be foreknown, and only that which is predetermined can be certain." ( The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination , P. 99).

(5) Election based on foreseen faith is no election at all. Thornwell expressed this thought very well: "This scheme, which suspends election upon foreseen faith and perseverance, amounts to a downright denial of the doctrine altogether, or, if there is any choice in the case at all, it is the sinner choosing God, and not God the sinner. Arminians represent faith and perseverance as prescribed conditions of salvation. The man, therefore, who complies with the conditions of salvation obtains the blessings promise upon a principle very different from that of election. It is an abuse of language to say that an individual under these circumstances is chosen to receive the blessing . . . The Arminians, therefore, charge the Apostles and our savior Himself with an outrageous abuse and perversion of language when they represent them as using plain and familiar words in an acceptation they cannot bear." ( The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell , vol, 2, P. 126).

(6) Election grounded on foreseen faith and perseverance solves nothing for the Arminian. For if God foresees who will believe and on this ground elects them - which is no election at all - then the salvation of those He foresees is certain; and those whom He foresees not to believe, will never believe. In each case the destiny of the individual is forever fixed.

(7) Lastly, the Scripture states that the basis of our election is "the good pleasure of His will" (Eph. 1.5,9; Rom. 9.11-15;11.5; 2 Tm. 1.9).

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