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A Biblical Perspective on Election
by John McPherson
I am re-publishing this article which was somehow lost on the database here. I originally posted it under the title: "Introducing a Biblical Soteriology: Part Two - Election". I think a re-introduction of this material will probably be timely in relation to recent discussions here in the area of soteriology.I am re-publishing this article which was somehow lost on the database here. I originally posted it under the title: "Introducing a Biblical Soteriology: Part Two - Election". I think a re-introduction of this material will probably be timely in relation to recent discussions here in the area of soteriology.
We now come to the most sensitive and potentially volatile element in Calvinist doctrine and thinking. The belief in God’s “pre-selecting” some to be saved and (by default) the rest to be damned, is the very heart and soul of this position. And underlying this issue is the individual’s perceptions and understanding of God Himself in terms of His attributes (and, by extension, His Character, Nature and Will). Thus, it is with a great sense of the need for delicacy and gentleness that we approach this subject and examine the texts used to substantiate the “Sovereign Grace” (Calvinist) perspective.
When the Calvinist speaks of “Sovereign Grace” he/she is thinking of God’s imposition of “saving faith” upon the individual, rendering that formerly utterly insensible heart (supposedly impervious to the Truth and gospel) vulnerable and responsive. Within the Calvinist viewpoint [as seen in my previous article "The Total Depravity of Calvinism"], the unregenerate individual is utterly “dead in trespasses and sins” and completely incapable of even the remotest interest in or understanding of the Truth, apart from a supernatural work of God in his heart and mind. Apart from God’s “sovereign grace” extended to the person, enlightening the mind, quickening his/her heart and arousing/inspiring saving faith – that person will remain an “enemy of the Truth and gospel”. The latent hostility to the Truth within each unsaved person renders them resistant and completely closed to it apart from God’s supernatural intervention within them. God’s “taking the initiative” permits the person’s mind and heart to acknowledge the Truth as valid and real, and unlocks his/her awareness of God, making it possible for that person’s innermost spiritual needs to be met in subsequent spiritual rebirth. This is the Calvinist, “Sovereign Grace” perspective.
Much of the confusion on this subject has to do with the Calvinist’s failure to remain historically and textually contextual in his treatment of the Scriptures. The First Century Jewish spiritual economy is actually in view in every case, in the texts used to support the Calvinist’s view of man’s purported “Total Depravity”, universally. The “universal application” is neither permissible nor justifiable in the Calvinist’s textual support.
The same holds true, as will be seen, for the “Sovereign Grace” position on “Unconditional Election”. It is formally defined thus:
The Westminster Confession states the doctrine thus: "By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated to everlasting life, and others are foreordained to everlasting death.
"These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
"Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace.
"As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Whereby they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
"The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice."
I’m about to take issue with the Westminster Confession - an exercise I don't take lightly.
The Calvinist understanding of the concepts of “predestionation” and “election” are based on the Scriptures in the following manner:
The first question which we need to ask ourselves then, is, Do we find this doctrine taught in the Scriptures? Let us turn to Paul's letter to the Ephesians. There we read: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before Him in love; having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will," 1:4, 5. In Romans 8:29, 30 we read of that golden chain of redemption which stretches from the eternity that is past to the eternity that is to come, — "For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He foreordained, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified." Foreknown, foreordained, called, justified, glorified, with always the same people included in each group; and where one of these factors is present, all the others are in principle present with it.
Paul has cast the verse in the past tense because with God the purpose is in principle executed when formed, so certain is it of fulfillment. "These five golden links," says Dr. Warfield, "are welded together in one unbreakable chain, so that all who are set upon in God's gracious distinguishing view are carried on by His grace, step by step, up to the great consummation of that glorification which realizes the promised conformity to the image of God's own Son. It is 'election,' you see, that does all this; for 'whom He foreknew, . . . . . them He also glorified'."
Clearly, Eph. 1:4,5 is one of the primary texts used to substantiate this position. It is instructive, at the outset, to note that only two verses out of the passage are given consideration, here. In effect – these texts are removed from their surrounding context and treated as though they have universal application in terms of the spiritual state of all of mankind and the opportunities for salvation available to all men. Here are those verses with their context:
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 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: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”
The careful exegete of the Scriptures will first of all take note of the fact that this passage is riddled with personal pronouns. The normal, contextual, historical reading of this passage, in effect, LIMITS the application (according to the natural understanding of its original intent) to the ORIGINAL RECIPIENTS and those who were the immediate subject of its contents. PAUL and THE EPHESIAN BELIEVERS are those who were referenced by these pronouns. By extension, a soundly Biblical argument can be made for including ALL of the “elect” of the NT era or period in these pronouns. But as will be seen in our consideration of the “thumbnail sketch” of “election” in Romans, the “process of election” was unique and particular to the history of God’s Old Covenant People and the history of THEIR “world”. When that “world” ceased to exist in 70 AD, the “election process”, whereby God “elected” those who were His, spiritually, according to the faith of Abraham, from within the Old Covenant Nation/world. Thus, Eph. 1:4,5 really has no “universal application” to ANYONE beyond 70 AD. In fact, verse 12 (emphasized in bold type, above) clearly ANCHORS this passage in that period, by pointing out that the whole “electing process” had a unique purpose involved with the original converts to Christianity – bringing glory to God in a highly unique way, historically.
The Full Preterist readily appreciates the significance of terms like “world” (v.4). The “elect” of the NT period (pre-AD 70) were uniquely “elected” unto salvation from within the Old Covenant “world” (Gk. “cosmos”) from the very inception of that “world” in the giving of the Law to Moses. THIS is the true intent and force of Eph. 1:4,5. Once again, Calvinism errs in its treatment of the context of these verses.
Romans 8:29,30 is cited, also, as supportive of the perspective that the saints of God TODAY are “elected” unto salvation and their/our spiritual rebirth was “foreordained” from eternity past (before the creation of theplanet). Here, again, is the surrounding context:
26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. “
Again, the careful student and exegete of the Scriptures is confronted with a passage riddled with personal pronouns. These in and of themselves establish the originally intended application of the passage as particular and exclusive to those to whom it was originally addressed (inclusive of the author, too, obviously). The intent of these letters of Paul’s was that they be circulated among the saints of the pre-70 AD era and thus they represent, by extension, God’s perspective on the spiritual economy of THEIR day, exclusive and unique to THEM.
My question to the Calvinist is this: Are YOU “killed all day long” and “counted as sheep for the slaughter” on a daily basis (per the level of persecution experienced by the original NT believers)? Obviously the answer must be, resoundingly, NO. The next question is: “Is Christ Jesus STILL “at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us”?? Again – for the Full Preterist – the answer is quite obviously – NO. He returned, removed His NT Church Bride, wed her, judged/destroyed the Old Covenant “world”, and took His place on His own Throne as Sovereign Ruler and Potentate over the Kingdom of Heaven. It should be exceedingly obvious that there is no “universal application” to all spiritually reborn saints for all of time and eternity in this passage. None whatsoever. The NT “elect” were the focus of the passage, exclusively. THEIR number was forever complete and fulfilled in 70 AD.
Of special note, before we move on, is Rom. 8:28. This is probably the most misapplied, misunderstood text in Scripture. Contextually, it referred exclusively to those “called according to the purpose of God” in terms of the final days of judgment and destruction of the Old Covenant “world”. The “elect” had a very unique role to play in THAT period of history, so for THEM, “all things worked together for good”. It cannot be deduced from this text that just because one loves God, that therefore “all things will work together for good”, ultimately, for that person, TODAY. In actual fact, this text has NO application to the believer of today. Those who were “called/chosen for the purposes of God” in THOSE days had a highly unique “calling” or “election” and God worked all things out for good, ultimately, for THEM.
Romans 9:6-29 provides us with a thumbnail sketch of the historical “election process” as God developed and performed it uniquely and exclusively within the Old Covenant “world” and its history:
6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, "In Isaac your seed shall be called." 8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. 9 For this is the word of promise: "At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son." 10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15 For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." 18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. 19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? 22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
25 As He says also in Hosea: "I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved." 26 "And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the living God." 27 Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved. 28 For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth." 29 And as Isaiah said before: "Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, We would have become like Sodom, And we would have been made like Gomorrah."
It is highly instructive to note that the entire passage is focussed on entities and people who played very significant roles in the history of the Old Covenant “world” of ancient Israel. At the end of this account, we discover that God’s termination of that “world” would have left them like Sodom and Gomorrah (forever terminated as a race and People, with no continuing “seed”), but since God “elected” a “remnant” from WITHIN that Old Covenant “world” and People, they were NOT left utterly destitute and unrepresented forever. However, the application of Isaiah’s prophecies to this “process of election” in vss. 27-29 clearly indicate that God’s “finishing the work and cutting it short in righteousness” and “making a short work upon the earth” involved the conclusion, forever, of the “work of election”. When the Old Covenant “world” was terminated, the “election process” was brought to an end. There was no longer a “world” or civilization from within which God was “electing” people to be His by faith alone.
All of this, ultimately, affects our view of God’s “omniscience” (a term not found in the Scriptures). IS God REALLY “all-knowing” in terms of all of humanity for all of time and eternity? Does He REALLY foreknow all human events and has He really “pre-determined” who will be saved and who won’t be? As we have seen, the texts used by Calvinists to support their claims that this is, indeed, the case, are contextually inaccurate and misinterpreted/misapplied. Their true application was to the First Century “elect” of the pre-AD 70 era. The application of these texts is exclusive to THEM and THEIR spiritual situation.
Isaiah 46:9,10 is often misapplied to God’s supposed predetermination of all of human history from the inception of His material, physical creation in terms of this planet, universe and mankind.
9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.”
I included v.11 as a contextual clarifier. God’s “declaration of the end from the beginning” was His pre-blueprinting of the history of the Old Covenant “world” and People. He laid out their history from beginning to end BEFORE He brought them into existence at Mt. Sinai. God did NOT predetermine all of human history and preserve it somewhere as a pre-existing entity. Such a spurious notion CANNOT be derived, contextually, from Isaiah 46. Rather, God pre-planned the history of Israel, and His prophecies took the form of pre-releases of His plans. He “leaked” His plans to His people regularly, in order to provide them with fair warning. He had the power to bring to pass all that He proclaimed beforehand would happen, and He did so. Forewarning His People in no way provided anyone with the ability to thwart His plans.
In Deut. 28:15-68, when God foretold the ultimate end of His Old Covenant People in horrendous tribulations, suffering and curses – He effectively established what their “end” would be, at the outset or “beginning” of their “world”. As Romans 9 also informs us, He was intrinsically involved in the development of their history from the outset. He pre-planned and guided its course, throughout the progress of time and circumstance, generation after generation, until the final end of that “world” and People (70 AD).
I could go on and on to examine other texts and passages seemingly (when viewed within the futurist, rather than Full Preterist paradigm) having a “universal”, perpetual application to all people and believers for all of time. But we as FPs know that there is no contextual, historical basis for reading ourselves into the personal pronouns of the Scriptures. The immediate application of the “election” passages is the ONLY legitimate application of them. This is apparent within their own, immediate context.
In closing, I have three more logical and philosophical considerations for Calvinists, and those who hold to this view of God’s “omniscience”:
a. If God is truly “omniscient” in terms of ALL future human events, people and circumstances and HAS “predetermined” all things within this physical, material realm – then God is bound by His own pre-legislated decree. He has pre-determined HIS OWN ACTIONS ALSO. He is no longer a “free-will agent” Himself. He is bound by His own Nature and Character, and has no choice but to interact with man according to the requirements of His Person and Being. Thus, He is reduced to the role of a “divine computer program” on “AutoComplete”. He is no more than an automaton and has “painted Himself into a corner”, volitionally. We who understand the God of the Bible, on the other hand, know that God is NOT so foolish as to do something of this nature. In His infinite wisdom, He chose NOT to pre-determine ALL of human history. The only history so pre-legislated and blueprinted was that of the Old Covenant “world” and its People. Period.
b. God is fully capable of sovereignly LIMITING Himself in terms of His foreknowledge, power and Presence in order to more effectively and freely interact with finite man. As will be seen in my article devoted to the attributes of God (to be posted, here, some time next week), this is PRECISELY how the Scriptures reveal God and His attributes. God reveals Himself to man as LIMITED in His knowledge of the specifics involved with the thinking, will and heart of individuals. The exceptions are those He specifically devoted Himself to INVESTIGATING, personally and thoroughly. God fully understands human nature and the mechanics of His material creation, so He is able to forecast the future exceedingly accurately. But His knowledge is PREDICTIVE, NOT the result of the “pre-determination” of all things.
c. IF “election” was a universal principle operative within mankind at large, on a global scale – it would be no more than a “natural law”. It would be part of the fabric of the natural realm itself, and hardly noteworthy, beyond a passing mention or two, in the Scriptures. They certainly wouldn’t make the big deal of it that they do in the New Testament. Texts such as those identifying Christ Jesus as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” should yield a “So what?” from Calvinists, as this is no more than what is normal and natural, since ALL things are “fore-ordained, pre-determined, etc.”. Christ’s death and ministry would be no different, and nothing unusual in terms of the foreknowledge and predeterminations of God. But of course, the Calvinist fails to see the inconsistency in his perspective, here. Such statements are treated as being of great import and significance, indicating the uniqueness of the ministry of Christ, when they fail to understand that HIS ELECTION ITSELF WAS UNIQUE TO HIM AND HIS FOLLOWERS.
I trust the force and clarity of these contextually accurate treaments of the texts involved with the whole issue of “election” will provide those who browse this article with fresh, new insight into the Scriptural representation of God, His Will, Mind and Person – particularly in relation to His uniquely “elected” People of the Old Covenant “world”.
One more text should be considered within the scope of this discussion. Eph. 2:8,9 are commonly misrepresented as indicative of God’s sovereign imparting of saving faith to the individual, as a provision of the ability to acknowledge and favorably respond to Him. As we have already seen, the context established in chapter 1 is exclusively the First Century, pre-AD 70 era in which Paul and the Ephesian believers lived. Just as there was no application extending beyond AD 70 to anyone alive in our day in that passage, so there is none in this also.
“1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
4But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Note the abundance of personal pronouns. These conclusively establish the context as exclusively First Century, pre-AD 70 and particular to the NT saints (the Ephesians in this case). Even if it can be argued that the FAITH and not just the gift of the grace in providing a means of salvation in Christ Jesus was the “gift of God”, it must be noted that this was written TO and FOR the “elect” of the First Century. NO-ONE alive today or for the last 2,000 years, approximately, has been a member of this unique group of “elect” believers – those who “first trusted in Christ” (see Eph. 1:12). God “prepared beforehand” certain works and ministries UNIQUE and EXCLUSIVE to the NT saints (see v.10) when He pre-blueprinted the history of the Old Covenant “world” and its final, terminal generation in particular (from within which the last of His “elect” were redeemed).
May our Saviour’s Truth, righteousness and glory be magnified and made manifest in all of our deliberations and considerations here!
Serving the Truth,