Every person who has any respect for the Bible will admit that there is a doctrine or teaching about ELECTION. Concerning this doctrine Christendom has split into two camps. Those denominations which believe salvation to be wholly of divine grace apart from any human merit at any and every point, have made deliberate statements in their confessions of faith, while those who have a place for human merit have left the matter out of their confessions. For example, when Mr. Wesley broke with the Church of England, he made certain changes in The Thirty Nine Articles, eliminating entirely the Seventeenth which relates to Predestination and Election. However, Mr. Wesley did express himself on the question. In one place he speaks thus: "The Scriptures tell us plainly what predestination is: it is God's foreappointing obedient believers to salvation, not without, but according to His foreknowledge, of all their works from the foundation of the world." God, from the foundation of the world foreknew all men's believing or not believing. And according to this, His foreknowledge, He chose or elected all obedient believers, as such to salvation.
Mr. Wesley has made the issue clear: those who believe election is conditioned upon something good foreseen in the sinner as the ground of the Divine choice are rightly called Arminians, while those who deny anything good in the sinner as the ground of the choice are rightly called Calvinists. In another place Wesley says that Arminians believe election is conditional. What does the Bible say? Paul speaks thus in #Ro 11:5,6: "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more of grace: otherwise work is no more work." Paul is alluding to conditions in Israel in the days of Elijah, who felt that he was the only true worshipper of God left in the land. God corrected the prophet by saying, "I have reserved to myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal." The obvious meaning is that God had graciously intervened to prevent the seven thousand from following the multitude into idolatry. "Even so, " says Paul, referring to the believing remnant of his day, who were naturally no better than the unbelieving mass, but who had been graciously chosen to salvation. To the same effect, the Apostle says to the Corinthians: "For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what has thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" (#1Co 4:7).
Spurgeon strikes oil when he says that those who do not believe in election as a matter of doctrine, do believe it in their hearts as a matter of experience. He was once preaching to a congregation composed largely of Methodists. They shouted their approval of his message until he said, "This brings me to the doctrine of election." Expressions of disapproval became evident, whereupon, Mr. Spurgeon told the audience that they did believe the doctrine of election, and that he would make them shout "Hallelujah" over it. And this was the way he did it. He wanted to know if there were any difference between them and the wicked, such as drunkards, harlots, and blasphemers. They all united in saying there was a difference. He then put the question of who made the difference, saying that whoever made the difference, should have the glory of it. "Did you make the difference?" To this question they all said "NO". He then told them that the Lord made the difference, and asked them if they thought it was wrong for Him to make a difference between them and other men? They agreed it was not wrong. Spurgeon then concluded by saying, "Very well then; if it was not wrong for God to make the difference, it was not wrong for Him to purpose to make it, and that is the doctrine of election." Then they cried, "Hallelujah, "just as the preacher said they would. The martyr, John Bradford, once watched officers of the law as they led a criminal to prison, and exclaimed, "There I go but for the grace of God."
Every real believer, when on his knees, subscribes to the doctrine of unconditional election. No person can really pray while boasting of anything good in and of himself. "Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (#Lu 18:10-14). Sovereign grace will come out in prayer, though it may be left off the platform. No saved man will get on his knees and claim before God that he made himself to differ from other who are not saved. And in praying for the lost we supplicate God to convict them of sin and convert them to faith in Christ. We do not depend upon the freedom of their wills, but beseech God to make them willing to come to Christ, knowing--that when they do come to Christ, He will not cast them out "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (#Joh 6:37). It is told that a Methodist minister once heard a Presbyterian, "That was a pretty good Armenian sermon." "Yes, "replied the Presbyterian, "We Presbyterians are pretty good Arminians when we preach, and you Methodist are pretty good Calvinists when you pray."
In praying for the lost just what are we asking God to do? What did Paul ask God to do for Israel? Did he not ask Him to spiritually enlighten them so that they would cease trying to save themselves and trust Christ for the righteousness they were trying to establish for themselves? "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (#Ro 10:1-4). It appears shocking to believe that any aspect of salvation is conditioned upon anything the sinner can do apart from the inwrought grace of God.
Nearly all declarations of faith published by Baptists have dealt with the subject of election. The writer might state that he is in agreement with all these confessions since they are in virtual agreement with one another. The historic Baptist position on election has been succinctly and clearly stated in the "Abstract of Principles" of the Louisville Seminary. Article V of this confession reads as follows:
"Election is God's eternal choice of some persons unto everlasting life--not because of foreseen merit in them but of his mere mercy in Christ---in consequence of which choice they are called justified and glorified."
In harmony with the above statement several things may be said by way of amplification:
1. Election is God's choice. It is God's choice in eternity of those He will save in time. There must be selection or universalism. The word election is associated with God, not with man. "And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days" (#Mr 13:20), speaks of the elect, whom He elected, rendered in the King James version: "The elect whom he hath chosen." The theology that God votes for us, the devil votes against us, and that we cast the deciding ballot is entirely outside the pale of Scripture teaching, and is almost too ridiculous to notice. Our Lord said to His disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." "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:" (#Eph 1:4); "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (#2Th 2:13). Self election is a bad form of self-righteousness.
2. Election is God's choice of some persons. Universal election is a contradiction of terms. This is too obvious to need argument. In "What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded" (#Ro 11:7) Paul says that the election (elect) hath obtained salvation, and the rest were blinded.
3. Election is God's eternal choice. In #Eph 1:3,4 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:" we read of the spiritual blessings we have in the heavenlies, "According as he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world." In #2Ti 1:9 Paul says that God "hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began."
4. Election is God's gracious choice. This means that there was nothing in the creature as the cause or ground of the choice, "but of His mere mercy in Christ." Unconditional election finds illustration in the case of Jacob and Esau, "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" (#Ro 9:11). This naturally gives rise to the human objection: "Is there unrighteousness with God?" Paul replies in the negative and then asserts God's sovereignty: "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth" (#Ro 9:18). God's own sovereign pleasure alone determines or selects the object of His mercy.
5. Election is unto salvation. It is not denied that there has been a Divine Choice of nations to external privileges and blessings, nor that individuals have been chosen to particular service; but we affirm that the Scriptures also teach an election of individuals to everlasting life. "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:" (#2Th 2:13). Election is not salvation, but unto salvation, which means it was before and not after salvation. Men are saved when they trust Christ not when they were elected. Eisenhower was not president when he was elected, but when he was inaugurated. There was not only an election to but also an induction into the office. And so God's elect are inducted into the position of saintship by the effectual call the quickening work of the (Holy Spirit) through which they become believers in the gospel. "That no flesh should glory in his presence" (#1Co 1:29).
6. Election is a challenging doctrine. Article IX of the New Hampshire Confession says in part: "That it (election) may be ascertained by its effects in all who truly believe the Gospel; that it is the foundation of Christian assurance; and that to ascertain it with regard to ourselves demands and deserves the utmost diligence." Peter exhorts to diligence in making our calling and election sure by which he means to make it sure to ourselves. There is ever the danger of one taking his salvation for granted without due evidence of it. No unbeliever or nominal Christian has any right to take comfort from the doctrine of election. This is the children's bread. Sometime ago the writer attempted to witness to a man concerning his need of a Saviour. He used the doctrine to justify his indifference, nonchalantly saying that when God got ready to save him He would do it. I said, "There is truth in what you say, but it is not the truth you need, for unless you repent and believe you will go to hell."
Many are the objections brought against the doctrine of unconditional election. Sometimes the objectors are loud and furious. The tirades of Mr. Wesley against the doctrine make one sick at heart. And many Baptists have been almost as harsh.
Right here we criticize the critic, for he who makes this objection limits both God's mercy and His power. He admits that God's mercy is limited to the believer and that all others will experience the wrath of Divine justice. But our critic denies God's power in causing the sinner to believe without doing violence to the human will. In conversion God does not slay the human will, but only the enmity of it. At this point we must face two selfevident propositions. First, if God is trying to save every member of Adam's fallen race, and does not succeed, then His power is limited and He is not the Lord God Almighty. Second, if He is not trying to save every member of the fallen race, then His mercy is limited. We must of necessity limit His mercy or His power, or go over "boots and baggage, "to the Universalists' position. But before doing that, let us "to the law and to the testimony, "which says, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.... Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy and whom he will he hardeneth" (#Ro 9:15-18). There is not space here for exegesis except to say that in hardening the sinner, God does not infuse a sinful nature, but allows the sinful nature to develop its natural enmity. The writer has always preferred the word preterition to reprobation in describing God's dealing with the non-elect. In hardening God leaves the sinner to himself, so far as efficacious grace is concerned; in mercy He makes new creatures in Christ Jesus.
When Robert Morrison was about to go to China, he was asked by an incredulous neighbour if he thought he could makes any impression on those Chinese. His curt reply was: "No, but I think God can." The writer often wonders why more sinners have not been saved in the past centuries, but he never attributes it to lack of power in God. If God could make children unto Abraham out of stones, then He is able to make children unto Himself out of all kinds of sinners.
2. It is objected that election damns a part of the human race.
But the objector is wrong. It is divine justice that condemns the whole race, and election keeps many from being damned. Election is for "the already condemned." Election neither puts sinners under condemnation nor keeps them there. Election is not unto damnation, but unto salvation. Election harms nobody, but saves a multitude no man can number. If we are to object to a doctrine that saves only a part of the human race, then we object to the gospel, for that is all the gospel does.
3. It is objected that election makes God unjust.
This objection betrays a bad heart. It obligates the Lawgiver to save the Lawbreaker. It makes salvation a Divine obligation. It reverses the position of God and the sinner. It puts the sinner on the throne and God at his feet. Salvation is not a matter of justice, but of mercy. It was not the attribute of justice that led God to provide salvation, but the attribute of mercy. Justice is simply getting what one deserves. Those who go to hell will have nobody to blame but themselves, while those who go to heaven will have nobody to praise but God.
4. It is also objected that election is opposed to the doctrine of "Whosoever Will."
But the objector is wrong again. Our view of election explains and supports the doctrine of "Whosoever Will." Without election the invitation would go unheeded and nobody would believe. It is not natural for the sinner to trust Christ, and this is because the carnal mind is enmity against God. Salvation through trust in a crucified Christ is a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek; it is only the called, both Jews and Greeks, who see in it the wisdom and power of God in salvation. Christ said, "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him (the one drawn, C.D.C.) up at the last day" (#Joh 6:44). The human will is free, but its freedom is within the limits of fallen human nature. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (#1Co 2:14). There must be the miracle of the new birth, for except a man be born from above he cannot see or enter into the kingdom of God.
The writer allows nobody to believe stronger in the doctrine of "Whosoever Will, "nor to preach it with more sincerity than he does. But he also believes that there would be no believers if the Holy Spirit did not convict the sinner of his helplessness and convert him to faith in Christ. The saved man is God's workmanship, the product of His grace.
5. It is still further objected that unconditional election destroys the spirit of missions.
This objection deserves serious consideration. It is admitted that some have allowed belief in the doctrine to paralyze missionary endeavour. But this was because they held a limited view of the doctrine; they failed to see that the gospel is the means by which the elect are saved. On the other hand, the greatest names in the missionary enterprise were ardent believers in unconditional election. William Carey, often called the father of modern missions, was a staunch Calvinist. Andrew Fuller, first secretary of the society that sent Carey to India, held tenaciously to the doctrine of unconditional election. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." Belief in election did not destroy the spirit of missions in Judson, Spurgeon, Boyce, Eaton, Carroll, Graves, Shields, and a host of other Baptist leaders. The First Baptist Church of Murray, Kentucky, once called by Dr. J.F. Love the greatest missionary church on earth, heard Boyce Taylor preach election for nearly forty years.
He who allows his belief of election to dampen his missionary ardour has a perverted view of the doctrine. Election does not determine the extent of missions, but the results of it. The gospel commission does not read, "to the elect" but "to every creature." If it should read "to the elect, "then we could not preach to anybody for the simple reason that the elect cannot be identified until they exercise faith which works by love. And such would already be saved, and hence the gospel would not be the power of God unto salvation. The gospel is for men as lost sinners, and not as elect sinners. God has His elect, but they are not our elect, and His elect cannot be known until they are saved. Witnessing is our business, taking care of the elect is His business. Let us be faithful to our task and leave the results with Him, remembering that Paul may plant and Apollos may water, but that God must give the increase.