Election

In Christian theology this normally refers to the divine choice of persons to salvation. There are differences of approach to this, however. Augustine, Luther, and Calvin all held a doctrine of unconditional election, in which the choice is sovereign and in no way dependent upon anything in man. Arminius and Wesley held that it was conditional and was dependent upon the individual's faith, foreseen by God. Karl Barth* held that election applies primarily to Christ and so to mankind as seen in him. In the Barthian type of theology, therefore, election is not inconsistent with universalism, although by no means are all Barthians universalists.

In the OT, election terminology is applied to Abraham and to Israel, the election of which latter is a mystery of the divine love. The Son of God is seen in the NT to be God's Elect One (Matt. 12:18; Luke 9:35; 1 Pet. 2:4,6). Believers are chosen in Christ (Eph. 1:4), for only in him do we know God. This is a pretemporal election (Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13). It is also according to divine foreknowledge, a term which has been understood historically in several ways. Christians are exhorted to make their calling and election sure, in a context which lays great emphasis on the moral qualities of Christian living (2 Pet. 1:10).



Theocratic election


It proceeded from God’s love.

The election proceeded from God’s love and this love was not constrained by any eminence in might or righteousness belonging to Israel (Deut 4:37; 7:6-8; 9:4-6). Israel was the fewest of all peoples and they were also a rebellious and stiffnecked people (9:7-13). It was, therefore, of His own sovereign good pleasure that God loved them and took delight in them. Election arose from the free determinations of His loving will.

It was unto separation.


It was unto obedience.


It became specialized.

The election became more specialized in reference to certain tribes and persons for distinct functions and prerogatives (Num 16:5; Deut 18:1-5; 1 Sam 10:24; 2 Sam 6:21; 2 Chron 6:6; Ps 78:68).

It did not guarantee the eternal salvation of all who were comprised in it.


Messianic election


Soteric election

Though closely related to the foregoing aspects, election to salvation is distinct. It is distinct from Israel’s ethnic election in that it insures the salvation of its objects and distinct from Christ’s election in that the latter is not to salvation but to office for the accomplishing of salvation. In the OT much emphasis falls on ethnic election. In the NT ethnic election recedes to the background and the terms “elect” and “election,” when the action of God in reference to men is in view, are used with few exceptions (cf. Acts 13:17; Rom 11:28) of the election unto life and salvation. The revelatory data establish its characterizing features.

Eternal.

Ephesians 1:4 is explicit to this effect. The election in Christ was “before the foundation of the world.” The same is implied when Paul says that God “saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal” (2 Tim 1:9 ASV). Whether the concluding clause refers to the “calling” or to the “grace” (the latter alternative is distinctly to be preferred), we are, in any case, pointed to God’s eternal counsel, and the analogy of Paul’s teaching (Eph 1:4, 9; cf. Rom 9:11) would require that this counsel include election. We cannot think in terms of eternity because we are creatures and are temporally conditioned. But we must think of eternity and it is of faith to believe that the fountain from which salvation emanates is the eternal purpose of God. All the other features of election cannot be properly construed except as they are related to its origin in the mystery of God’s eternal will.

Sovereign.


Gracious.


Immutable.


In Christ.

The only place where this feature is expressly intimated is Ephesians 1:4. Much debate has arisen respecting the import. Since there are no parallel passages to shed light on the precise meaning, we shall have to be content with the unanswered questions which we are disposed to ask. Christian faith is resigned to the unsolved mysteries with which revelation confronts us. Election in Christ is, however, a datum of revelation to be received and obscurity respecting certain implications should not be allowed to eclipse the truths and relationships involved of which we do know.

God the Father is the subject of election; it is His distinguishing action and He who initiates the whole process of salvation. That the ultimate source resides in the Father is the sustained witness of Scripture and faith is greatly impaired if this is not recognized and appreciated. But this action of the Father may not be dissociated from Christ nor conceived of apart from Him. How the action of the Father relates itself to Christ we are not able to define; this belongs to His unsearchable counsel. Nevertheless it is of the essence of our faith in the Father’s electing grace to know that in the fount of salvation the elect were never contemplated apart from Christ, that union with Christ was constituted in the decree of election. The people of God prize the mediation of Christ in all phases of redemption accomplished and applied. They should also prize the relation to Christ constituted in eternal election.

The election in Christ, as shown above, must be construed in messianic terms and as relevant to the economy of salvation. This economy has its source in election and election is unto the salvation of its objects. It would be proper, therefore, to infer that Christ is contemplated in His messianic identity when it is said that the elect were chosen in Him. Election must not be thought of apart from the salvation which it insures, and salvation is inconceivable apart from Christ. One must conclude that election in Christ and the election of Christ are correlative and therefore not only to be conjoined in our thought but intrinsically inseparable by reason of the terms in which Scripture enunciates them.


The pivotal passage (Eph 1:4) has no precise parallel. It may be that Romans 8:29 expresses what is intended by election in Christ. If this is so, then “predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son” defines the import of “in Christ” and the purpose of the latter is to inform us that election had not been conceived of or determined by God the Father except in terms of the end to which it was directed, namely, conformity to the image of the Father’s only begotten. It can be said that this would provide a sufficient reason for the terms of Ephesians 1:4. In any case, Romans 8:29 informs us of what is implied in the election in Christ and, if it is not intended as definition, no other text is comparably rich in setting forth what is involved. For conformity to the image of God’s Son that He might be the firstborn among many brethren is the highest conceivable destiny for creatures.

Obligations.

All of God’s revealed counsel comes to us with demand. The kind of demand is determined by the specific content of what is revealed and by the relation we particularly sustain to God. It might be supposed that only believers should be concerned with election and that to unbelievers this truth of election is sealed. It is true that unbelievers cannot know themselves as elect of God, and it would be presumption for them to entertain the faith of their election or the conviction of their non-election. But the truth of God’s electing grace is revelation given to all to whom the Gospel comes. Unbelievers should be stirred by concern to use the God-appointed means for their salvation to the end that through repentance and faith they may come to know that they are elect of God. Election should be encouragement rather than discouragement to sinners seeking salvation. Election assures them that God does save and that the grace which saves is the same grace that has its fountain in election. Furthermore, the free overture of grace in Christ to all without distinction comes from God’s electing grace. Hence, it is a grave error to maintain that election either as to its truth or in its proclamation has no relevance to unbelievers. No part of God’s counsel may be withheld from men.

The obligations incident to election have special reference to believers.

They are to make their election sure

(2 Pet 1:10). This does not mean that they are to make it sure by effecting it, by causing it to be. It is God who elects and no agency of man enters into it or contributes to it. To make it sure means to make certain that it is a fact pertaining to ourselves. How this is to be done the Scripture makes plain. It is significant that a certain order is observed: “make your calling and election sure.” Though calling is likewise an act of God and of God alone, it is an act addressed to us and comes within our experience. Calling and election are always conjoined (Rom 8:28-30; 2 Tim 1:9) and from the certainty of our calling we may be assured of our election. Paul also indicates this order of thought (1 Thess 1:3, 4). It was from the “work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope” that he knew of the election of the saints, not by some esoteric or mystical insight into the hidden mysteries of God. The same process applies in the sphere of self-examination. Our thought proceeds upstream. Only from the fruit may we be assured of the ultimate root in divine election. Perplexity and confusion result from neglect of this order of human inquiry and faith.

The assurance of election should evoke gratitude and humility.

Salvation is all of grace and that this grace takes its origin from the sovereign good pleasure of God the Father in the counsel of His will from eternal ages should fill the believer with adoring amazement that he should have been chosen in love for life everlasting. Election constrains the praise of the glory of God’s grace (Eph 1:6, 12, 14) and to make it the occasion for presumption or pride is to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. “The thought of election should drive ransomed sinners to incessant doxologies and thanksgivings, as it does Paul” (J. I. Packer, “Election,” NBD [1962], p. 360). The fruit of gratitude is not license but constant care to “prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom 12:2 ASV), to be “sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ” (Phil 1:10; cf. Col 3:12).

The certainty of election imparts to the believer a sense of security.

Bound up with election is the immutable purpose of God. In this resides the security of God’s people and nothing will separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus (cf. Rom 8:33-39). The praise of God’s grace is intensified the more believers rely upon the faithfulness and power of God. His counsel stands fast and is the guarantee that the final issue will correspond with the love that election reveals.

Election to office

In the NT, as in the Old, there is election to specialized functions. It is to be distinguished from election to salvation in two respects.

The latter is specifically the action of God the Father, as has been noted repeatedly. With the exception of Acts 15:7, where Peter, by implication, is represented as chosen to bring the word of the Gospel to the Gentiles, the election to special office appears as that exercised by Christ (Luke 16:13; John 6:70; 15:16, 19; Acts 9:15).

Election to office is not necessarily concomitant with election to salvation. The choice of Judas Iscariot shows this. Judas’ loss points up the necessity of observing the distinction because his loss is not to be construed as defeat of the election of grace or as an exception to the security it entails. The case of Judas likewise warns us that endowments for office are not of themselves the guarantee of salvation. The words of our Lord also advise us (John 17:12; 18:9) that the example of Judas is not the rule in the institution of Christ. The rule is what we find in John 15:16, 19 that those chosen to office are not of the world and bear the fruit that abides (cf. also John 17:16).

Elect angels

The angels that kept their first estate (cf. Jude 6) are called the elect angels (1 Tim 5:21). Election in their case differs from election as it pertains to men. These angels never sinned and so their election was not to salvation or redemption but to preservation and confirmation. Although they perform manifold functions in connection with the salvation of men, their election was not in Christ nor were they predestinated to the unsurpassable glory designed for the elect of mankind (cf. Rom 8:29; Heb 2:5, 10-16). But the services they perform for the heirs of salvation (Heb 1:14) are bound up with the confirmation they enjoy by reason of election. The elect of mankind in deriving untold blessing from the ministry of angels should know that this ministry the angels perform in gratitude to God for the election of which they are partakers.

See also Foreknow, Foreknowledge.

Bibliography

J. Calvin, Institutes, III, xxi-xxiv; J. Zanchius, The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination (E. T. 1930); A. Booth, The Reign of Grace (1949), 53-97; H. H. Rowley, The Biblical Doctrine of Election (1950); B. B. Warfield, “Predestination” in Biblical and Theological Studies (1952), 270-333; G. C. Berkouwer, Divine Election (1960); J. I. Packer, “Election” in NBD (1962).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

e-lekt’:

That is, "chosen," "selected."

In the Old Testament the word represents derivatives of bachar, elegit;

In the New Testament eklektos. It means properly an object or objects of selection.

This primary meaning sometimes passes into that of "eminent," "valuable," "choice"; often thus as a fact, in places where the King James Version uses "chosen" (or "elect") to translate the original (eg. Isa 42:1; 1Pe 2:6). In the King James Version "elect" (or "chosen") is used of Israel as the race selected for special favor and to be the special vehicle of Divine purposes (so 4 times in Apocrypha, Tobit and Ecclus); of the great Servant of Yahweh (compare Lu 23:35; the "Christ of God, his chosen"); compare eminent saints as Jacob, Moses, Rufus (Ro 16:13); "the lady," and her "sister" of 2 Jn; of the holy angels (1Ti 5:21); with a possible suggestion of the lapse of other angels. Otherwise, and prevalently in the New Testament, it denotes a human community, also described as believers, saints, the Israel of God; regarded as in some sense selected by Him from among men, objects of His special favor, and correspondingly called to special holiness and service.

See further under ELECTION. In the English versions "elect" is not used as a verb: "to choose" is preferred; eg. Mr 13:20; Eph 1:4.


(ekloge, "choice," "selection"):

Contents

I. THE WORD IN SCRIPTURE

II. THE MYSTERIOUS ELEMENT

III. INCIDENCE UPON COMMUNITY AND INDIVIDUAL

IV. COGNATE AND ILLUSTRATIVE BIBLICAL LANGUANGE

V. LIMITATIONS OF INQUIRY HERE. SCOPE OF ELECTION

VI. PERSEVERANCE

VII. CONSIDERATIONS IN RELIEF OF THOUGHT

1. Antinomies 2. Fatalism Another Thing 3. The Moral Aspects 4. "We know in Part" 5. The Unknown Future

I. The Word in Scripture.


II. The Mysterious Element.

Such impressions of depth and mystery in the word are confirmed by the other, passages. In Ro 9:11 the context is charged with the most urgent and even staggering challenges to submission and silence in the presence of the inscrutable. To illustrate large assertions as to the liberty and sovereignty of the Divine dealings with man, the apostle brings in Esau and Jacob, individuals, twins as yet unborn, and points to the inscrutable difference of the Divine action toward them as such. Somehow, as a matter of fact, the Eternal appears as appointing to unborn Esau a future of comparative disfavor and to Jacob of favor; a future announced to the still pregnant mother. Such discrimination was made and announced, says the apostle, "that the purpose of God according to election might stand." In the whole passage the gravest stress is laid upon the isolation of the "election" from the merit or demerit of its objects.

III. Incidence upon Community and Individual.

It is observable that the same characteristic, the inscrutable, the sovereign, is attached in the Old Testament to the "election" of a favored and privileged nation. Israel is repeatedly reminded (see eg. De 7) that the Divine call and choice of them to be the people of God has no relation to their virtues, or to their strength. The reason lies out of sight, in the Divine mind. So too "the Israel of God" (Ga 6:16) in the New Testament, the Christian community, "the new, peculiar race," holds its great privileges by quite unmerited favor (eg. Tit 3:5). And the nature of the case here leads, as it does not in the case of the natural Israel, to the thought of a Divine election of the individual, similarly inscrutable and sovereign. For the idea of the New Israel involves the thought that in every genuine member of it the provisions of the New Covenant (Jer 31:31 f) are being fulfilled: the sins are remembered no more, and the law is written in the heart. The bearer of the Christian name, but not of the Christian spiritual standing and character, having "not the Spirit of Christ, is none of his" (Ro 8:9). The chosen community accordingly, not as it seems ab extra, but as it is in its essence, is a fellowship of individuals each of whom is an object of unmerited Divine favor, taking effect in the new life. And this involves the exercise of electing mercy. Compare eg. 1Pe 1:3. And consider Ro 11:4-7 (where observe the exceptional use of "the election," meaning "the company of the elect").

IV. Cognate and Illustrative Biblical Language.

It is obvious that the aspects of mystery which gather round the word "election" are not confined to it alone. An important class of words, such as "calling," "predestination" "foreknowledge," "purpose," "gift," bears this same character; asserting or connoting, in appropriate contexts, the element of the inscrutable and sovereign in the action of the Divine will upon man, and particularly upon man’s will and affection toward God. And it will be felt by careful students of the Bible in its larger and more general teachings that one deep characteristic of the Book, which with all its boundless multiplicity is yet one, is to emphasize on the side of man everything that can humble, convict, reduce to worshipping silence (see for typical passages Job 40:3,1; Ro 3:19), and on the side of God everything which can bring home to man the transcendence and sovereign claims of his almighty Maker. Not as unrelated utterances, but as part of a vast whole of view and teaching, occur such passages as Eph 2:8,9 and Ro 11:33-36, and even the stern, or rather awestruck, phrases of Ro 9:20,21, where the potter and the clay are used in illustration.

V. Limitations of Inquiry Here. Scope of Election.

We have sought thus in the simplest outline to note first the word "election" and then some related Scriptural words and principles, weighing the witness they bear to a profound mystery in the action of the Divine will upon man, in the spiritual sphere. What we have thus seen leaves still unstated what, according to Scripture, is the goal and issue of the elective act. In this article, remembering that it is part of a Bible Encyclopedia, we attempt no account of the history of thought upon election, in the successive Christian centuries, nor again any discussion of the relation of election in Scripture to extra-Scriptural philosophies, to theories of necessity, determination, fatalism. We attempt only to see the matter as it lies before us in the Bible. Studying it so, we find that this mysterious action of God on man has relation, in the Christian revelation, to nothing short of the salvation of the individual (and of the community of such individuals) from sin and condemnation, and the preservation of the saved to life eternal. We find this not so much in any single passage as in the main stream of Biblical language and tone on the subject of the Divine selective action. But it is remarkable that in the recorded thought of our Lord Himself we find assertions in this direction which could hardly be more explicit. See Joh 6:37,44,45; 10:27-29. To the writer the best summary of the Scriptural evidence, at once definite and restrained, is the language of the 17th Anglican art.: "They which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God’s purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity."

VI. Perseverance.

The anxious problem of PERSEVERANCE will be treated under that word. It may be enough here to say that alike what we are permitted to read as revealed, and what we may humbly apprehend as the reason of the case, tend to the reverent belief that a perseverance (rather of the Lord than of the saints) is both taught and implied. But when we ponder the nature of the subject we are amply prepared for the large range of Scriptures which on the other hand condemn and preclude, for the humble disciple, so gross a misuse of the doctrine as would let it justify one moment’s presumption upon Divine mercy in the heart which is at the same time sinning against the Divine love and holiness.

VII. Considerations in Relief of Thought.

We close, in view of this last remark, with some detached notes in relief, well remembering the unspeakable trial which to many devout minds the word before us has always brought.

1. Antinomies:

First in place and importance is the thought that a spiritual fact like election, which belongs to the innermost purpose and work of the Eternal, necessarily leads us to a region where comprehension is impossible, and where we can only reverently apprehend. The doctrine passes upward to the sphere where antinomies live and move, where we must be content to hear what sound to us contradictions, but which are really various aspects of infinite truth. Let us be content to know that the Divine choice is sovereign; and also that "his tender mercies are over all his works," that `He willeth not the death of a sinner,’ that "God is love." Let us relieve the tension of such submissive reliance by reverently noting how the supreme antinomy meets one type of human need with its one side, and with its other another. To the "fearful saint" the Divine sovereignty of love is a sacred cordial. To the seeking penitent the Divine comprehensiveness of love opens the door of peace. To the deluded theorist who does not love and obey, the warnings of a fall and ruin which are possible, humanly, from any spiritual height, are a merciful beacon on the rocks.

2. Fatalism Another Thing:

Further, we remember that election, in Scripture, is as different as possible from the fatal necessity of, eg. the Stoics. It never appears as mechanical, or as a blind destiny. It has to do with the will of a God who has given us otherwise supreme proofs that He is all-good and all-kind. And it is related to man not as a helpless and innocent being but as a sinner. It is never presented as an arbitrary force majeure. Even in Ro 9 the "silence" called for is not as if to say, "You are hopelessly passive in the grasp of infinite power," but, "You, the creature, cannot judge your Maker, who must know infinitely more of cause and reason than his handiwork can know." The mystery, we may be sure, had behind it supreme right and reason, but in a region which at present at least we cannot penetrate. Again, election never appears as a violation of human will. For never in the Bible is man treated as irresponsible. In the Bible the relation of the human and Divine wills is inscrutable; the reality of both is assured.

3. The Moral Aspects:

Never is the doctrine presented apart from a moral context. It is intended manifestly to deepen man’s submission to--not force, but--mystery, where such submission means faith. In the practical experience of the soul its designed effect is to emphasize in the believer the consciousness (itself native to the true state of grace) that the whole of his salvation is due to the Divine mercy, no part of it to his merit, to his virtue, to his wisdom. In the sanctified soul, which alone, assuredly, can make full use of the mysterious truth, is it designed to generate, together and in harmony, awe, thanksgiving and repose.

4. "We Know in Part":

A necessary caution in view of the whole subject is that here, if anywhere in the regions of spiritual study, we inevitably "know in part," and in a very limited part. The treatment of election has at times in Christian history been carried on as if, less by the light of revelation than by logical processes, we could tabulate or map the whole subject. Where this has been done, and where at the same time, under a sort of mental rather than spiritual fascination, election has been placed in the foreground of the system of religious thought, and allowed to dominate the rest, the truth has (to say the least) too often been distorted into an error. The Divine character has been beclouded in its beauty. Sovereignty has been divorced from love, and so defaced into an arbitrary fiat, which has for its only reason the assertion of omnipotence. Thus, the grievous wrong has been done of aischron ti legein peri tou Theiou, "defamation of God." For example, the revelation of a positive Divine selection has been made by inference to teach a corresponding rejection ruthless and terrible, as if the Eternal Love could ever by any possibility reject or crush even the faintest aspiration of the created spirit toward God. For such a thought not even the dark words of Ro 9:18 give Scriptural excuse. The case there in hand, Pharaoh’s, is anything but one of arbitrary power trampling on a human will looking toward God and right. Once more, the subject is one as to which we must on principle be content with knowledge so fragmentary that its parts may seem contradictory in our present imperfect light. The one thing we may be sure of behind the veil is, that nothing can be hidden there which will really contradict the supreme and ruling truth that God is love.

5. The Unknown Future:

Finally, let us from another side remember that here, as always in the things of the Spirit, "we know in part." The chosen multitude are sovereignly "called, .... justified, .... glorified" (Ro 8:29,30). But for what purposes? Certainly not for an end terminating in themselves. They are saved, and kept, and raised to the perfect state, for the service of their Lord. And not till the cloud is lifted from the unseen life can we possibly know what that service under eternal conditions will include, what ministries of love and good in the whole universe of being.