Rev. Gise Van Baren
Election as a doctrine of the church is often either
little understood, or emphatically contradicted. There is either
ignorance of this truth, or a deliberate misunderstanding of it.
What is the scriptural truth of election? We could
define election as God's eternal, sovereign, gracious decree by which He
chooses a church as the body of Christ, with all of its individual
members, each in his own place, to eternal salvation and glory.
Let us examine the various parts of this definition
In the first place, election is that decree of God by
which He chooses a definite number of individuals to salvation
and glory. God is not uncertain of who will be saved and will spend
eternity with Him in heaven. He knows each of His people by name, since
He has chosen each of them; and those names He has recorded in the Book
of Life. Scripture speaks of election this way in
Acts 13:48: "As many as were ordained to eternal life,
believed." Again, concerning Jeremiah we read (1:5), "And before I
formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth of
the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the
nations." Now I know that this applies to Jeremiah in particular, but it
is very evident in this passage that God did sanctify him and did
prepare him before he was ever born. God chose Jeremiah. Again, we read
Romans 9:13, "As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I
hated." That is not an indefinite number, but God pointed out
definite individuals. Before they were ever born, God said, "I have
loved Jacob; I have hated Esau."
In the second place, the doctrine of election teaches
that the members of the church are chosen as a body of Jesus
Christ, with each member in his unique place. There are illustrations in
Scripture which present the church as a body. The apostle Paul speaks of
that church in
I Corinthians 12:12: "For as the body is one, and hath many members,
and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also
is Christ." Now a body is a living organism. One cannot add members to
that body or take any away. As soon as one tries that, he has an
incomplete body or a monstrosity. A body normally has ten fingers, two
hands, two arms, two eyes, one nose—that is all. Take away any of these
members, or add to them, and one does not have a complete body anymore.
God also chooses unto Himself a church as the body of Christ, that is,
individual members each in his own particular place in that body. God
has a place for each member, each elect of God, in that body. One's
place may not always seem very important in man's eyes, but it is his
unique place. Just as the little finger is an insignificant member, it
is nevertheless necessary in order to make the body complete; that
finger has a place and function. So too, the truth of election
emphasizes the fact that God chooses each individual member for a
specific place in Christ's body—and that place he must and
In the third place, election is centred in Jesus
Christ. One can never speak of election apart from Him. We read in
Ephesians 1:4, "According as He hath chosen us in him (Christ)
before the foundation of the world ..." That is the truth one finds
throughout Scripture. God chooses His people as members of Christ.
In the fourth place, election teaches that God
chooses a people unto eternal salvation and glory. God does not simply
but He has an end or goal in mind. That eternal goal was that He
would bring His people to heaven. I quote, for instance, from
Romans 8:29-30: "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." So the final purpose of that eternal
election whereby God chooses His people is that He may glorify them
through Christ to the honour of His own Name.
Finally, election takes place in eternity. It is not
an action taken only in time. It is an act of God that took place in His
counsel or plan before time even began. Consider once again the passage
Ephesians 1:4: "According as He hath chosen us in [Christ] before
the foundation of the world ..." What does this mean? This phrase
suggests that God chose before there was any creation, before
there was time or space. Before the foundation of the earth, there is
only God. He has chosen, then, a people in Christ from all eternity in
His counsel. This is the testimony of Scripture.
In connection with the truth of election, the
question is often asked, "Is election conditional or unconditional?"
That is, did God choose His people on the basis of some action they must
perform first—or did He choose them freely and independently? Was
election conditioned on something man must first do—or did God choose
certain people simply because it was His good pleasure to do so?
Scripture itself teaches that election rests solely upon the decree of a
sovereign God, and has nothing to do with any action man must first
Sad to say, however, this is not the thinking of many
today. The view that seems to have swept the church world of our day is
that election is dependent on the will of man and not God. Election
depends on the act of man in accepting Christ. God chooses those who
first choose Him. This view has its roots in the Netherlands, and was
first propounded in the year 1610. Its most influential proponent at
that time was a man named James Arminius. Since his time this error
concerning election has become synonymous with his name. It is called
Arminius himself wrote concerning this view of
election, "But it [election] signifies the decree by which God
determines to bestow salvation on someone, then Faith foreseen is prior
to election. For as believers alone are saved, so only believers are
predestined to salvation. But the Scriptures know no Elect, by which God
precisely and absolutely has determined to save anyone without having
first considered him as a believer. For such an election would be at
variance with the decree by which he hath determined to save none but
believers" (Writings of Arminius, vol. I, p. 380).
Obviously, Arminianism, when it speaks of election,
speaks of it as conditional. Arminianism will not say that God elects,
and therefore we believe; but it says that God elects those whom
He foresees will believe. Arminianism maintains that election is
dependent ultimately upon a positive response by man. When man accepts
Christ, and perseveres in that, then God says, "I will elect you."
Perhaps this idea of Arminianism can be illustrated. Suppose one were to
place before you a weight of 1,000 pounds and were to command you to
lift that 1,000 pound weight above your head. You would rightly say, "I
can not." But were one to erect a system of pulleys with a rope, attach
the rope firmly to that weight, then say again, "Lift that weight," now
you would no longer be able to say, "I can not." Rather, you must now
say either, "I will," or, "I won't." Obviously, it is now within your
power to lift that weight. It is in this way that the Arminian also
views the sinner. When man fell, he could do nothing. He could not
accept Christ. He could not believe. But then God bestowed upon all men
a certain grace (comparable to the system of pulleys in the
illustration), so that all men have within them the power to believe if
they will. But if they refuse, they are forever lost.
What must one say of this teaching of Arminianism? It
ought to be clear that Arminianism essentially denies the sovereignty of
God. That God is sovereign means simply that God is God: He rules over
heaven and earth. He will never relinquish His power to any creature. He
will direct all things according to His sovereign purpose. God rules.
The view of Arminianism denies this. An Arminian will insist that he too
believes that the sinner is saved only by grace. But do not overlook the
fact that, according to Arminianism, every sinner has this grace
of God. What then makes one man to differ from another? Not God's grace,
but the will of man which either uses or refuses God's grace. One
exercises his will for Christ, another against Christ. The
final determination as to who is elect rests then upon man's act. Such a
teaching denies the sovereignty of God, for then the Sovereign,
infinite, eternal God must sit in His heavens and await the decision of
man in order to find out who will and who will not inherit His Kingdom.
That is a terrible error.
Calvinism insists upon the scriptural truth that God
unconditionally elects a people unto Himself from all eternity. Not only
John Calvin, but also the earlier church fathers, insisted upon the same
thing. St. Augustine (354-430), maintained that: "Faith, therefore, from
its beginning to its perfection is the gift of God. And that this gift
is bestowed on some and not on others, who will deny but he who would
fight against the most manifest testimonies of the Scripture? But why
faith is not given to all ought not to concern the believer, who knows
that all men by the sin of one came into must just condemnation. But why
God delivers one from condemnation and not another belongs to His
inscrutable judgments. And 'His ways are past finding out.' And if it be
investigated and inquired how it is that each receiver of faith is
deemed of God worthy to receive such a gift, there are not wanting those
who will say, 'It is by their human will.' But we say that it is by
grace, or Divine predestination."
Augustine's view was firmly founded on Scripture.
Throughout, Scripture teaches that election is not conditioned upon any
work or act of man.
Acts 13:48 states, "For as many as were ordained to eternal life,
believed." Now, which is first: belief or ordination? Plainly the
latter. Or we read in
John 15:16: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and
ordained you, that you should go forth and bring forth fruit ..." And in
I John 4:10: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he
loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Election
is surely unconditional according to all the teachings of Scripture.
Do you find comfort in such a truth? Some have
insisted that this doctrine provides no comfort. For, say some,
if one believes election, then the result will be that he becomes very
careless and profane on this earth. If God eternally determined that a
person is going to heaven, then what difference does it make what he
does? If he wants to sin, he will be saved regardless. Though he do no
good works, he will be saved anyway. Thus have many falsely presented
this truth of election!
But such is a distortion of this doctrine. It is
true: God has freely, eternally, sovereignly determined that His people
will enter into glory. Among that people is numbered the thief on the
cross—a most horrible sinner. Among them is numbered Peter who denied
Christ three times. Among them is numbered ourselves—also terrible
sinners. But does the doctrine of election allow one to sin if he
pleases? Scripture teaches that God has chosen us in order that
we should be holy and without blame (Eph.
1:4). See also
Ephesians 2:10. Election produces fruit: where there is no fruit of
righteousness, there is no evidence of election. Woe to the person who
dares to say, "I sin because it does not make any difference—I am
already either elect or reprobate." To paraphrase words of Christ, it
will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for one who never knew the
truth of election, than for one who knew it and used it as an excuse to
The sad situation today is that many Reformed men
what to hide this doctrine. These insist that it is too difficult for
the common people—and one surely must never speak of it on the mission
field. But Scripture never hides the truth of election—it is plainly
taught. In fact, Paul writes of it in detail to the churches of Rome and
Ephesus especially. These churches were composed largely of Gentiles who
had never had contact with the Word of God before. They were
taught of election. If it was not too difficult then, ought it to be too
difficult today for the people of our educated society?
How about yourself? Are you one of God's elect? That
question has troubled many people. Are you concerned about your
election—truly concerned? The reprobate wicked never care whether or not
they are elect. These only deny all of God's Word. But if you are
about your election, then you give evidence already in your
life and heart of the fruit of election.
Just a few more questions. Do you believe in the Lord
Jesus Christ? Do you love His church and His truth? Do you hate all of
your own sin? Then there is really no question, is there? You see within
you the fruit and proof of election. You are still a sinner as are all
God's people. Sometimes we wonder, "How could God choose one such as I?"
Yet the fruits of election are evident. If you believe, you have the
evidence that God has eternally chosen you in Christ. He did not choose
you because you believe, but your belief is the evidence and
proof that He has chosen you. Do you believe? Then blessed are you, for
yours too is the kingdom of heaven.