‘The decision is yours … Now it is all up to you … God has done all he can to save you, the rest us up to you. You must choose Christ for yourself … You must make the final decision!’
How often we have heard statements like those from the pulpit or the podium. But whose choice is it, this matter of eternal salvation? Our Lord Jesus Christ has answered the question very plainly: ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you’ (John 15:16).
Divine election is a very humbling, and, at the same time, a very encouraging and blessed doctrine. It is humbling to know that we would never have chosen Christ. Our sins were so many, our hearts were so hard, that we would never have sought the Lord.
Yet, it is exceedingly comforting to hear our Saviour say: ‘I have chosen you’, or (in Jeremiah’s prophecy): ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee’ (Jeremiah 31:3).
The natural heart
Our Lord Jesus Christ loved us long before we ever loved him. He loved us even when we were dead in sin. Had he not loved us, we would never have loved him. Had he not chosen us, we would never have chosen him.
Language could not be clearer. Our Saviour tells us that man, by nature, will never choose God, for ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2:14).
It is true, in one sense, that every believer chooses Christ. But this is the result, not the cause, of Christ’s choosing him.
The natural ear is so deaf that it cannot hear. The natural eye is so blind that it cannot see. The natural heart is so hard that it cannot feel. Man sees no beauty in Christ. He feels no need of Christ. He has no desire for Christ.
Only when God, by almighty grace, opens the blind eye, unstops the deaf ear, quickens the dead heart, and gives strength to the withered hand, is the sinner made willing to seek Christ. Only then is he given the strength of faith to embrace the Saviour.
This is what I am driving at: all who come to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ were chosen by God in eternal love. And that divine choice secures their faith and holiness in Christ.
What does the term election mean? Accurate statements on this doctrine are essential. No doctrine in the Bible has suffered so much damage from the erroneous views of its foes and the inaccurate statements of its friends.
Election may be defined in this way: God has been pleased from all eternity to choose certain people whom he has determined to save by the righteousness and shed blood of Christ. None are finally saved except those whom he has chosen. Therefore, the Word of God calls his people ‘the elect’. And their choice, or appointment to eternal life, is called ‘the election of God’.
All whom God was pleased to choose in eternity were redeemed by Christ at Calvary. All who were chosen and redeemed are (in due season) called to salvation and eternal life by the Holy Spirit. He convinces them of sin. He leads them to Christ. He works repentance and faith in them.
He keeps them by his grace from falling away. He brings them all safely to eternal glory. In short, election is the first link in the chain of salvation, of which eternal glory is the end (see Romans 8:28-30).
All who are redeemed, justified, called, born again, and brought to faith in Christ are elect. The primary and original cause of the saint’s being what he is, is God’s eternal election.
Election in Scripture
The Bible is our whole authority. It does not really matter whether the Reformers and the Puritans taught the doctrine of election. It does not matter whether Gill and Spurgeon taught it. It does not even matter whether the Baptist and the Presbyterian creeds teach it. Does the Word of God teach this doctrine?
If so, we must embrace it. If not, we must reject it and refuse to hear those who teach it. ‘To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them’ (Isaiah 8:20).
The Arminians boast of preaching ‘Ye must be born again’. In this they are correct. The necessity of the new birth ought to be loudly proclaimed.
However, they decry those who preach divine election, saying that it is an insignificant doctrine, taught only in a few isolated verses. But ‘election’ is mentioned fifty-one times in the New Testament alone. Surely, it must be of some importance!
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught election (Matthew 24:22,31; Mark 13:20,22,27; Luke 18:7; John 17:2, 8-9). The early churches heard the message of election (Acts 13:48). The apostle Peter spoke of election without hesitation (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:10).
The apostle John spoke of the ‘elect lady’ and the ‘elect sister’. The apostle Paul felt that the doctrine of election needed thorough and frequent exposition (Romans 8:29, 30, 33; 9:11-16; Ephesians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:9).
The plain fact is, you cannot turn to any part of the New Testament without being confronted with the doctrine of divine election. Surely those who claim to be preachers of God’s Word ought to follow the examples of the apostles and our Lord and proclaim this doctrine?
God’s election of men to salvation is gracious and free, absolute and sovereign. It is an unconditional act of sovereign mercy. He did not choose us because he foresaw that we would repent and believe on Christ. Our repentance and faith are the result of God’s election, not the cause of it (John 10:16, 26; 15:16; Acts 13:48).
God’s election is personal. He did not choose a mass of nameless faces, but individual sinners, calling them his sheep, his sons and daughters. This election of grace is also eternal and immutable (Ephesians 1:4).
When the triune Godhead existed alone in glorious self-sufficiency, we who now believe were chosen in covenant mercy. God chose us because of his eternal love and sovereign pleasure, simply because he would be gracious.
Furthermore, we were chosen ‘in Christ Jesus’, not apart from him. Chosen to be saved through him, united with him, glorified with him, and made like him (Romans 8: 29).
Then, again, behold God’s strange choice! He chose not the noble, but the common. Not the wise, but the foolish. He chose not the self-righteous, but confessed sinners. All in order that ‘no flesh should glory in his presence … that according as it is written, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord”’ (1 Corinthians 1:29,31).
Let all who are born again confess: ‘By the grace of God, I am what I am’ (1 Corinthians 15:10). With Josiah Conder, let us sing of God’s electing love:
Tis not that I did choose thee,
For, Lord, that could not be;
This heart would still refuse thee,
But thou hast chosen me.
My heart owns none before thee;
For thy rich grace I thirst;
This knowing, if I love thee,
Thou must have loved me first.