The Scriptures make it very clear that Election to salvation is in no way conditioned by or dependent upon anything that distinguishes the saved from the unsaved prior to the day of their effectual calling to become members of the blameless family of God. It is "of the same lump" that both saved and unsaved are constituted (Rom. 9:21). There is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:22, 23). As persons before God the elect have nothing inherent in their character to make them to differ from the non-elect that was not received either by genetic endowment or the conditioning of circumstances. Wherever we imagine we can detect differences we have to ask the question, "Who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Cor. 4:7). "We all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others" (Eph. 2:3).
Sometimes it is argued that there are differences between us, even though these differences are due to divinely overruled providential circumstances, so that there is really no room for boasting about them. But could not God choose us, then, on the grounds of these foreseen differences which we owe to Him in the first place and which He has been pleased to ordain as useful to his purposes in particular ways? Election might then be based on foreknowledge of special aptitudes which are not to our credit but are advantageous to God.
Undoubtedly there is an election which is not to salvation but to the fulfillment of a specific duty or to the playing of a role. We see this in the case of Judas Iscariot. The Lord said, "Have I not chosen [elected] you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (John 6:70). Judas Iscariot was chosen. But his being chosen was not to salvation. He had an awesome part to play in the plan of redemption. Since he thus fulfilled a role for which he was appointed as one of the elected apostles, was God just in punishing him? "Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault, for who hath resisted his will?" (Rom. 9:19). And the answer must be that no man is ever condemned simply for fulfilling the Lord's will. Actions in themselves are not so judged. It is the intent of the heart behind the action that is judged, not the action itself. The same act performed by two agents, one with evil intent and the other with sorrow, believing that God is calling him to such action, may fulfill the same end in carrying forward the purposes of God, but the two agents will certainly be judged differently--the one for his evil intention, and the other for his good. Cyrus was chosen of God (Isa. 45:1-4) to provide for the return of God's people to the Promised Land, because their society was required there to form the receptacle for the Lord Jesus' ministry and witness on earth; yet Cyrus was evidently not elected unto salvation.
To be elected to an evil task or to fulfill an evil role is not necessarily to be elected to an unusual condemnation. Condemnation is destined and therefore predestined, for all who have failed to achieve the moral perfection that God requires of man. Those elected specifically to salvation do not face this condemnation. But it is not because of the mere fact of Election: it is because they are elected to salvation. There are many kinds of election. The Lord Jesus Christ was "elect," but certainly not elect unto salvation (1 Peter 2:6). And the elect angels were not elected to salvation, but apparently elected never to fall (1 Tim. 5:21). The non-elect angels who fell, fell by being disobedient--not because they were elected to disobey.
Thus it comes about that among those who raucously added their voices to the murderous crowd shouting, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" were some who later were saved by reason of the very death of the One whom they in their wickedness condemned to be crucified. These men were not more wicked than others. They were men caught up in circumstances which gave their fallen nature exceptional opportunity to reveal itself. Circumstances favoured their wicked propensities which were therefore expressed in ways that the wicked propensities of other men have not had opportunity to find expression. But there is no difference fundamentally between us; it is all a matter of opportunity. Natural man, whether yet to be the object of God's favour by Election to salvation or not to be the object of that favour, is everywhere of the same stuff. We are all potentially capable of the worst crimes, until we are re-created in Christ Jesus.
David, Israel's most noble king, and Ahab, Israel's most wicked one, both alike coveted and ended up as murderers. Uriah the Hittite was as surely murdered by David, who coveted his wife, as Naboth was murdered by Ahab, who coveted his vineyard. And both men, curiously enough, lacked the moral courage to carry out the murder personally. David had his general do it for him, and Ahab his wicked wife. It is no wonder that the Reformers spoke of us all as "miserable sinners," for so we are.
Then what advantage is it to a man to be a child of God as David was, as opposed to being a child of the devil like Ahab? The answer is clear enough in Scripture. Ahab was totally indifferent to his wickedness; David in the deep penitence of his soul wrote Psalm 51. The difference is not in the action itself but in what the doing did to the doer. David was not mistakenly chosen by God because God thought he was essentially a good and noble man incapable of any great wrongdoing. He was not chosen of God because he was great, but he became a great saint because he was chosen of God. It was the Spirit of God who brought David to the writing of Psalm 51 and thus distinguished him so radically from Ahab in spite of the similarity of their behaviour in their selfish exercise of power.
As we have already seen, the grace of God does not search for men who are willing to accept it, although the Lutherans finally adopted essentially this position even as the Arminians did. The grace of God makes men willing, not finds men willing. It is as Romans 9:15 and 16 says: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." It should be borne in mind that the first part of this sentence is a quotation from the Old Testament (Exod. 33:19), demonstrating that God has always acted on this principle.
Nor are some men elected to salvation because God foresees that they will believe, but because He foreknows that none will. But for the Election of God the Lord would have died in vain. All alike are "concluded in unbelief" (Rom. 11:32) so that God's mercy is unconditional. As Calvin put it (Inst. III.xxii.8): "The grace of God does not find men fit to be chosen but makes them fit." And Augustine said: "Man is converted not because he wills to be, but he wills to be because he is ordained to election." Or again, as J. I. Packer has observed, "Where the Arminian says 'I owe my election to my faith,' the Calvinist says 'I owe my faith to my election.'" (1)
Now the battle lines are drawn more critically within the ranks of those who do not question the fact of Election. Shakespeare said, "The nearer in blood, the nearer bloody," and there are no quarrels so bitter as between those who stand together upon some great doctrine which is rejected by the vast majority of other men. Calvinists and Arminians alike accepted the fact of Election unequivocally. It is not the fact of Election which is in question between them, but the basis upon which that Election is established. Even among themselves not all Calvinists are entirely agreed upon all points, for many who call themselves Calvinistic have rejected one of the Five Points, the Point which is to be discussed in the next chapter, namely, Limited Atonement. But these differences do not cause the same bitter divisions as do differences of opinion respecting the basis of Election. The Arminians, including in this respect both Lutherans and Methodists, accept the fact of Election since they accept the Word of God which speaks of Election so frequently. But they hold that it is based upon foreknowledge, God's foreknowledge of man's response. The Calvinists hold that such foreknowledge is not the basis of Election since there is no merit in any individual which could be the subject of that foreknowledge. Calvinists hold that the basis of Election is entirely concealed, one of those matters hidden from us in the secret counsels of God (Deut. 29:29). It is not based, we believe, upon any foreseen merit or anticipated worthiness of the individual. It can only be said to be "according to his good pleasure" (Eph. 1:5). Why it should please God to elect one man and pass another by is never revealed.
Arminians, broadly speaking, hold that Election is based upon God's foreknowledge of who will actively cooperate with God in the saving of his own soul. Lutherans hold that it is based upon God's foreknowledge of who will not resist his invitation to accept salvation as an outright gift. Wesleyans believe that it is based upon God's foreknowledge of who will persevere to the end. All have certain key texts to which they appeal and to which they give the weight of emphasis necessary to counterbalance the testimony of the rest of Scripture as a whole.
That Election is based on foreknowledge seems to be clearly stated in Romans 8:29, a key verse in this controversy and indeed the only verse which seems clearly to support the thesis: "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren." Let us therefore consider this key passage carefully and examine some of the implications which follow if the word foreknowledge as used in this instance means what we customarily assume it to mean.
First of all, it should be observed that almost all modern versions of a scholarly nature have rendered this passage in such a way as to suggest that they do not view the word foreknowledge in its commonly accepted sense. They have evidently understood it to mean something rather different from ordinary foresight. The truth is not found merely by an appeal to majority opinion, yet if the majority can be shown to be not unduly biased but to have been guided by principles of sound scholarship even where they disagree with the evangelical position respecting the nature of the Gospel of Grace, then majority opinion carries extra weight. In many versions, the rendering adopted is not based on a prejudice towards Calvinism for the translators are often not Calvinistic in their private theology. Their testimony sometimes carries even greater weight when it is borne in mind that many of these translators do not view with any sympathy the idea of verbal inspiration. By ordinary standards of assessment with respect to personal bias, the broad testimony of the translations which follow is impressive because there is a measure of agreement as to the meaning of the passage in question even among those who would not agree on many other crucial issues which hinge upon it.
Here are some excerpts from eleven of the best-known modern versions. As will be observed by those who know the backgrounds of these translations, they were by no means all produced by evangelicals, much less by men of Calvinistic persuasion. To avoid any appearance of an attempt to build a case by special ordering, I have simply set them down in alphabetical order. I have also carefully respected the use of capitals by the original authors, a use which can have significance since it sometimes reflects the author's reverence and respect for his subject.
Alternative Renderings of Romans 8:29
1. An American Translation (Smith and Goodspeed; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1923) "For those whom he had marked out from the first he predestinated to be made like his Son."
2. The Emphasized Bible , (Joseph B. Rotherham; Grand Rapids Kregel, 1959): "For whom He fore-approved He also foreappointed to be conformed unto the image of his Son."
3. Good News for Modern Man (London British and Foreign Bible Society, 1966): "For those whom God had already chosen he had also set apart to become like his Son."
4. The Holy Bible in Modern English (Ferrer Fenton; London: Black, 1903): "For He previously knew them, and appointed them to conformity with the image of his Son."
5. The Jerusalem Bible (ed. Alexander Jones; New York: Doubleday and Co., 1966): "They are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son."
6. The New English Bible (Oxford University Press and Cambridge, 1970): "For God knew his own before ever they were, and also ordained that they should be shaped to the likeness of his Son."
7. The New Testament: A New Translation, Vol. 2 (William Barclay; London: Collins, 1969): "For long ago, before they ever came into being, God both knew them and marked them out to become like the pattern of his Son."
8. The New Testament: A New Translation (James Moffatt; New York. Hodder and Stoughton, no date): "For he decreed of old that those whom he predestined should share the likeness of his Son."
9. The New Testament: An Expanded Translation (Kenneth S. Wuest; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961): "Because those whom He foreordained He also marked out beforehand as those who were to be conformed to the derived image of His Son."
10. The New Testament A Translation in the Language of the People (Charles B. Williams; Chicago Moody Press, 1937): "For those on whom He set His heart beforehand He marked off as his own to make like His Son." (A footnote says Literally, foreknew, but in the LXX used as translated.)
11. The Twentieth Century New Testament (Chicago Moody Bible Institute, 1967): "For those whom God chose from the first he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son."
One further rendering is worthy of note, though it is not strictly a translation but an interpretation. The Amplified New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958) reads: "For those whom He foreknew--of whom He was aware and loved beforehand--He also did predestinate from the beginning (foreordaining them) to be molded in the image of His Son (and share inwardly His likeness)." The interesting point here is the introduction of the idea of loving beforehand as an essential part of the meaning of the word foreknow in this passage. It is fully justified as will be seen.
By contrast many valuable modern translations have made no attempt to clarify the sense of the text beyond giving a more or less conventional rendering. This is true of The New International Version and of The New American Standard Version, which is beloved by many who still appreciate the "old English" aura of the King James Version.
On the other hand one may read a paraphrase such as The Living Bible and suddenly become aware of the extent to which Arminianism underlies the theology of some of the great evangelists of our time, whose ministry is so wonderfully blessed of God and yet whose presentation of the Gospel seems to leave the final decision with man himself. The strong recommendation which such men give to The Living Bible cannot but contribute in the end to a faith that is indeed saving yet basically betrays the true Gospel by its emphasis on the part man plays in his own salvation. By such men, Predestination is assumed to be based upon a foreknowledge by God of a deserving earnestness and humility of spirit in those who will, because of a meritorious assessment of their own need, accept the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior. Their salvation is seen to depend upon their willingness to accept, and the fact that God foresees their willingness to accept is thus made the basis of their Predestination. That these have willingness where others do not implies a difference between men in their unregenerate state, a difference which Scripture does not recognize. To shift the crux of the matter one step further back and say that this willingness arises from the gracious softening influences of God the Holy Spirit does not ease the problem, because we still have to ask, Why does the Holy Spirit succeed in softening only these hearts and not the hearts of others? We are hemmed in on both sides until we have to confess either that the Election of God is based on something that is secret and unrelated to the recipient of grace, or that the individual determines his own destiny by his response. Then we must ask further, Why do some respond and not others? And the only answer we can give is that those who respond are in some fundamental way better people. Either God is sovereign and Election is an expression of God's will, or man is sovereign and Election is an expression of God's foreknowledge. The Living Bible reveals the author's choice of alternatives by rendering Romans 8:29 as follows: "For from the very beginning God decided that those who came to him--and all along he knew who would--should become like his Son."
This breathes Arminianism and the sovereignty of man, and a certain inherent goodness and merit in all those who become the elect of God. God knows who will come to Him, and on the basis of this foreknowledge makes his plans for them. He decides what He will do with them after they have decided what they will do with his grace. The ultimate decision rests with the individual, not with God.
As we have already noted, it is not necessary for the individual to be able to formulate or even to recognize the sovereignty of God's grace, in order to be a genuine believer. And thus there are many earnest believers among us who are indeed God's elect and yet live by the supposition that God is really their choice. God did not choose them: "they made their decision for God." But the Lord Jesus said, "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16). That this emphasis upon human decision is indeed the emphasis of the great evangelistic campaigns of today is sadly true. And because the decision is accredited to the individual himself, evangelism is largely committed to exploiting techniques of persuasion. And because these techniques as developed by the world have proved so effective in the market place they tend to be uncritically adopted in the evangelistic campaign.
To the Calvinist, the tactic of persuasion is less important: not unimportant, but less so. Much more important is the assurance that God's Word will bear fruit as He sees fit (Isa. 55:11) because God is sovereign and the responsibility for the fruitfulness of the Gospel is not ours but God's. The whole emphasis is thus placed upon the sovereign grace of God and not upon the persuasive powers of the evangelist. It is equally important that the newborn child of God should realize it has not been his own faith, his own decision, his own repentance, his own yielding, his own commitment, his own earnestness, his own sincerity, his own anything--that brought about his new birth. His new birth is entirely the result of, and is timed by, the sovereign grace of God from whom he received his faith, his repentance, his yielding, his everything. Salvation is a gift of God whether we strive for "results" by pressure or merely present the truth, trusting that God knows what He is about. Such evangelistic pressuring has resulted in the birth of untold numbers of premature babies in Christ who, unless they receive the same kind of personal and constant (often even heroic) care that hospitals provide for premature babies, spend the rest of their Christian lives trying to catch up, forever demanding milk when they should be receiving meat. Strong men in the Lord are men brought up on strong meat in the Word.
Spiritual babies kept on the bottle when they should have been weaned from milk and given meat are slow to mature and many never do so.
In these various excerpts from versions of the last hundred years, it is clear that the use of the word also (kai in the original Greek) separates the foreknowing from the Predestination. The text does not say that "He knew that they would be saved" but (a) He foreknew them and (b) also predestined them to be perfected as saints. The majority of the versions quoted follow the King James Version by introducing the word also. The omission of also changes the whole meaning of the passage. It makes the two clauses dependent and causally related. To say "whom He did foreknow, He predestinated" is to make Predestination dependent upon foreknowledge. To say "whom He did foreknow, He also predestinated" is clearly to separate the two divine activities. Each of the two clauses stands in its own right as a separate statement of fact.
The difference is important, for in point of fact the word foreknew, in this context is probably not being used in the common English sense of mere foresight. As noted in Williams' rendering the word has more than one meaning, and judging by the above eleven translations, this fact was recognized implicitly. The most explicit version is that of Williams, who attaches to the word the specific sense of "loving concern," a meaning which the Greek word can actually carry.
The Septuagint (LXX) Greek rendering of the Hebrew Scriptures produced by a group of Jewish scholars sometime in the third century B.C. provides us with a valuable insight as to how the Jews of our Lord's day used many important words which reappear in the Greek of the New Testament. The word rendered foreknow in Romans 8:29 is proegno, the third person singular aorist indicative of proginosko, which commonly means "to know beforehand," "to be previously acquainted with." But this basic meaning can be understood in two rather different ways in Greek. It can mean to have known someone previously or it can mean to know something in advance. In Acts 26 5 Paul wrote, "who knew me from the beginning if they would but testify...," using this word proginosko. The context favors the idea of previous acquaintance with somebody rather than a foreseeing of future history.
The Septuagint translated the Old Testament Hebrew word yada, which means "to know," "to regard," "to care for," by the Greek word ginosko. In his treatment of ginosko in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Bultmann comments that the compound form proginosko has the more basic meaning of foreordaining or electing rather than merely foreknowing, even as yada can also mean "to elect." In Romans 11:2 the implication, he believes, is that in this previous acquaintance God had been caring for his children. A parallel to this kind of usage may be observed in 2 Timothy 2:19: "The Lord knoweth [ginosko] them that are his," by which we are surely to understand that He recognizes them that are his by caring for them in a special way. By contrast, there are those who are turned away from being favoured, to whom the Lord addressed the fatal words in Matthew 7:23--"Depart from Me...I never knew you"--where the word ginosko again appears.
The Old Testament equivalent, as we have noted, is the Hebrew word yada. It is found in Psalm 1:6: "The Lord knoweth [i.e., cares for] the way of the righteous; but the ways of the ungodly shall perish." In Psalm 31:7 David wrote: "I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy; for Thou hast considered my trouble; Thou hast known [i.e., cared for] my soul in adversities." And so also in Nahum 1:7: "The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth [i.e., cares for] them that trust in Him."
One of the most striking Old Testament examples of this use is found in Genesis 18:19: "For I have known [Abraham] that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him." In the original, the Hebrew is rather explicit in conveying a slightly more complex meaning. Understood as the King James Version has rendered it, this looks simply like foresight: "I know he will do this and that, and so I shall bring upon him this and that...." The Hebrew actually says: "For I have known him in order that he may command," etc. The text is most explicit here: there is no ambiguity. The words in order that appear in the original. A number of modern versions have taken cognizance of this fact and so rendered it. These include Rotherham's The Emphasized Bible, Smith and Goodspeed's The Complete Bible: An American Translation, The New American Standard Version, The Revised Standard Version, Ferrar Fenton's The Holy Bible in Modern English, the French Crampon Bible, The Jerusalem Bible, a new translation of the Jewish Publication Society which is simply called The Torah, and Today's English Version (The Good News Bible) just issued.
Here, then, we have a clear case of personal acquaintance which becomes the reason for something predestinated with respect to the subject's future. It is not a case of foresight but of foreordination. "I have cared for Abraham in order that certain things may happen to him in the future." The foreknowing (used in this sense) did not signify foresight of future events but deliberate ordination of those events. What God is assuring his children in Romans 8:29 is not that He has foreseen our favourable response to his call when the time comes and has therefore decided that we shall duly be conformed to the image of his Son. It is rather that He loved us in anticipation and determined, for reasons entirely hidden from us, that we should be conformed to the image of his Son by(an act of his sovereign grace. And though we often despair of this conforming ever being fulfilled, yet we have this assurance that He who hath begun a good work in us will carry it on (epiteleo) until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
If such an interpretation should appear strained, it does so only because we have habitually depended upon the King James Version for so many years and therefore assume the more familiar sense to be the true one. Those who are persuaded that our Election is based on foreknowledge will be reluctant indeed to surrender the only text in Scripture which they can point to that seems clearly to support such a view. That the rest of Scripture either by implication or by plain statement does not support such a view will tend to be neglected. The fact that so many modern translations, written by men individually or in committees, translate Romans 8:29 in a way which shows that the sense is not really that which the Arminians have favoured is a very powerful argument against the Arminian claim. Certainly many of these translations, if they do have a bias, would tend to be towards Arminianism. Yet the translators have refrained from allowing their bias to guide their translation.
The rest of Scripture, Old and New Testaments alike, clearly puts the basis of God's elective choice entirely outside the subject's own worthiness. In the Old Testament this is quite explicit:
I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins (Isa. 43:25).It is purely a matter of his good pleasure and the only other certain thing about it is that the choice was made before the foundation of the world.
[God] hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world...having predestinated us into the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of his will (Eph. 1:4, 5)Now there are two questions which demand serious consideration since they challenge the justice of God if they are answered amiss. In the first place: Is God by electing some on an apparently arbitrary basis in no way dependent upon their worthiness or unworthiness to be chosen, thereby automatically condemning the rest to punishment whether they are worthy to be punished or not?
God hath from the beginning chosen you unto salvation (2 Thess. 2:13).
Who hath saved us and called us with a holy calling...according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Tim. 1 9).
[The names of the elect are]...written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (Rev. 17 8).
Formulated in this way, the question inevitably invites reasonable objection. But should the question be so formulated? Is man condemned to reprobation simply because he is not elected to salvation? The answer must be a most emphatic No! He is condemned to punishment for his sins, not for his non-election.
It may be helpful to use an analogy we have previously considered. Suppose ten men are in prison, justly incarcerated for crimes of which they are proven guilty, and let us also suppose for the sake of simplicity that each man has committed a similar crime. Then let us further suppose that the Governor of the State or the Premier of the Province in which they are prisoners has the right to grant a reprieve for one of the men. Since all the men are in prison with equal justification, the choice of the one to be set free is, from the point of justice, an indifferent one. All are equally guilty and any one of them might therefore be granted the reprieve with equal justification. None are less guilty or more guilty.
For reasons not in any way related to the individual's worthiness or unworthiness, but in some way reflecting the Governor's or the Premier's good pleasure, reprieve is granted to one man and he is set free. Now it must be asked, Why are the remaining nine prisoners still in jail? Is it really because they were not released? It might at first appear to be so, but in actual fact these other nine men would all be set free if they had fulfilled their prison term. The reason they are not all set free is that they have not yet paid the full penalty of their misconduct. The nine who are left in prison are therefore in prison still, not because they were not reprieved, but because they were put in prison for their crimes and have not yet satisfied the demands of justice. The release of the one reprieved man has no bearing on the retention of the other nine. The reprieved man owes his freedom entirely to the graciousness of the one who has authorized it; the retention of the remainder is owing entirely to their own guilt. To argue that the election of one is the cause of the condemnation of the others is clearly irrational. Those who are granted saving faith and are accordingly redeemed are not the cause of the lost condition of those who remain under condemnation. As John 3:17 and 18 says specifically, "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world...He that believeth not is condemned already." The unbeliever is not condemned for his refusal of God's salvation. He merely remains under condemnation because he has not believed. The critical term in this case is the word already.
Consider another analogy. If I hold a ball in my hand it will not fall. If I let go, it does. But my letting it go does not cause its fall: letting it go merely allows it to respond freely to gravitation, which is the cause of its falling. This is easily recognized by the fact that in the absence of gravity I could release it and it would not fall. In a spacecraft, opening my hand would have no such effect. From this we see clearly that allowing something to happen is not at all the same as causing it to happen. God did not condemn the rest of men to perdition simply because He elected some to be saved. Those not chosen were already condemned by their own guilt and God has simply left them in that position. But it needs to be emphasized that those who are elected to be saved are originally in precisely the same situation. They are not elect because they are less guilty. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). All come from the "same lump" (Rom. 9:21).
If there should be ten apples lying in the grass under a tree and you stoop down, choose one, and pick it up, it would be irrational indeed to accuse you of placing the other nine on the ground. They fell there because they are subject to gravity. This is how they came to be there. You, by your selection, have merely raised one of them which was sharing the same debasement with the others.
For some years Calvin himself seems to have drawn the erroneous and (probably even to himself) unwelcome conclusion that Election to salvation has a necessary corollary "Election to reprobation." He never seems to have quite resolved this conclusion of false reasoning, because he did not see that it really is false. He wrote (Inst. III.xxiii.l) "Indeed, many, as if they wished to avert a reproach from God, accept election in such terms as to deny that anyone is condemned. But this they do very ignorantly and childishly since election itself could not stand except as set over against reprobation." Elsewhere, Calvin reaffirms this non sequitur by arguing: "Jesus said that 'every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up' (Matt. 15:13), which plainly means that all whom the heavenly Father has not deigned to plant as sacred trees in his field are marked and intended to destruction." But Matthew 15:13 is quite specific in saying that these bad seeds were not planted by the Father at all. They were planted by an enemy, as Jesus Himself had already made clear in a parable (Matt. 13:28).
Furthermore, it cannot be argued safely that the plants which He had not planted were actually intended for destruction unless we assume that God intended their planting. That the sinner reaps the harvest of his own sins is inevitable. This is part of the absolute moral law of the universe, as absolute as its physical laws though not always so immediately fulfilled as to consequences. Because of the existence of this moral fabric, the evil plantings were doomed, destined to be gathered and cast into the fire (Matt. 13:30). Since God sees the future as though it were the present, it was and is not inappropriate to speak of what is destined as being pre-destined. God did not need to do anything save only to allow the moral laws of his universe to work themselves out. Sinners are appointed to judgment as hailstones are appointed to fall to the earth. No divine intervention is required.
It is evident that God's foreknowledge would allow Him to predestine the non-elect to reprobation without making Him responsible for their sin. He foresees that because they are not elect to salvation, they will not believe and their destiny will be reprobation. God's foreknowledge of the elect stands in a different relationship, for in this case it is foreknowledge based on his own predetermination to elect them to salvation. The two cases are not parallel. Predestination to Election is not based upon foreseen faith but is the cause of that faith. Predestination to reprobation is based on foreseen unbelief. Such foreknowledge is reactive, not causative. Predestination to salvation is the ground (Lat. materia) of foreordained faith; Predestination to reprobation is the result of (Lat. propter) foreseen unbelief. In the first, Predestination is cause; in the second, Predestination is effect, for here Predestination is not the cause of unbelief but the consequence of unbelief.
Divine intervention is required to halt this destined course of events, and the sovereign grace of God acts upon the same stuff of fallen man to change the destiny of some. As the prisoners who were in jail could blame no one but themselves, so the man who is reprieved can thank no one but his liberator. Those who suffer for their sins have themselves to thank; those who are elect have only God to thank. I think it virtually certain that there will be no recriminations in hell even as there will be no boasting in heaven, for the whole truth will then be known and acknowledged. God will not be blamed by the unsaved for their condemnation, for God's justice will be admitted by all (Rom. 3:19); while the saved will claim no merit, for God's grace will be admitted by all (Rev. 5:9, 10, 12). The elect will acknowledge that they were by nature the children of wrath "even as others" (Eph. 2:3).
Yet one more question still remains. If man's only hope of salvation lies in his Election, why does not God save all men? To this question we have only a partial answer and it is based on logic. Though human reason may be at fault in such matters, we cannot altogether escape the compulsion of this logic. There appear to be only four possible alternatives governing the Lord's actions in this matter. He can either save all by electing all, save none by electing none, save some but not others, or not create man with freedom of choice in the first place. Of course, without such freedom of choice man would have been a mere puppet, his worship would have been meaningless, his obedience as mechanical as that of the toy baby doll which can be wound up, and his devotion would have been a sham. He would have been less than an animal, a mere thing, a mockery of a creation with capacities that were entirely without purpose or reason.
Let us consider, then, the first three alternatives, assuming that man was created in the beginning with freedom to choose either to obey or disobey God's injunctions.
If God were to save all by electing all, what would be the implications? We know that man initially was given freedom to choose to obey or disobey. By his wrong choice, man forfeited his power to will God's will. As a consequence, in order to convert man back to the truth, God must override his will to enable him once more to be free to obey. It is true that He accomplishes this turning around by a gentle process of which the individual is normally scarcely aware. But it is a sovereign act, nevertheless, initiated by God not man. Unless this is done, man remains entirely impotent. All resurrections from death whether physical or spiritual are of this nature. The dead neither resist nor cooperate in the process. The process of giving life to the dead is one in which the dead are entirely passive. It cannot be otherwise. Life is not offered to them but conferred upon them. To this extent it is true to say that man's will is overruled, although there is a sense in which, if the analogy of death is preserved (and Scripture most assuredly preserves it), the dead are raised without either dissent or consent. To this extent they have no will at all in the matter. Continuance in a state of lifelessness being their natural course, that course is turned about contrary to what is natural to their being by an act of resurrection or revitalization that amounts to a second birth. And in this they certainly are overruled.
To save all by electing all therefore means to override what is natural to all, acting upon all despite themselves to reverse the consequences of the choice they were free to make, and invited to make, in Adam at the very beginning. Why, then, allow them to make an initial choice which was later to be wholly overridden? We conclude that if God elected all men to salvation He would be acting inconsistently with his original plan to create a race of free moral agents. We cannot reasonably believe that God would create one situation and then undo it by a second creative act which entirely negates the purpose of the first one. Why create such a race in the first place?
The second alternative fares no better. If in creating man God's purpose was to produce an order of beings with freedom to worship and serve their Creator with a full consciousness of what they are doing, only to find that they all reject the purpose for which they were created, and if there is no intention to take countermeasures of any kind to salvage the experiment in any way, then we must ask, Why create man to begin with?
And so we seem logically to be driven to the position of saying that since God as completely defeats his original purpose if He saves all men as He defeats his own original purpose if He saves none, He has but two courses open to Him: not to create man at all, or having done so to save at least some of them.
Yet one question still arises out of this dilemma which we will attempt to answer at the end of this work. The question is, Can the saving of a few out of so many justify the creation of so many whose fate (even though they determine it for themselves) seems so very terrible? Does the numerical imbalance have the same meaning in the light of eternity as it certainly seems to have to us who live in time? We will return to this when we come to consider the destiny of those who are not among the elect of God.
Meanwhile, as John Owen put it (Works, Vol. X, pp. 54 f.): "Before the foundation of the world, out of his own good pleasure, God chose certain men, determining to free them from sin and misery, to bestow upon them grace and faith, to give them to Christ, to bring them to everlasting blessedness, to the praise of his glorious grace." This seems to sum up all that we really know about God's purposes in the saving of the "some."
The elect are the Father's gift to the Son. For these He died, and these will come as gifts to Him at the appropriate time. They do not offer themselves, they are offered by the Father to the Son as a gift. "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out...This is the Father's will who hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing...And this is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one [of them] may have everlasting life" (John 6:37, 39, 40).
"No man can come unto Me, except the Father who hath sent Me draw him.... Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me except it were given unto him of my Father" (John 6:44, 65). "Ye have not chosen Me but I have chosen you" (John 15:16). "Of his own will begat He us with the word of truth" (James 1:18). What could be clearer?
Our salvation is entirely in the hands of God, the basis of his choice of any one individual over against another being unrelated to the worthiness or unworthiness of that individual. All whom He has chosen as gifts to his Son will be called, will hear the call, and will respond to the call. And only those will do so.
Whosoever wills to do so, may come because none wills to do so who is not already marked out as part of the Father's gift to the Son. And accordingly whosoever may, will come, that is, whosoever is able to come because enabled by the Father, will come because the Father has already prepared the way. Thus in the simplest possible terms it may be said, Whosoever will, may come and whosoever may, will come. And whosoever will not, cannot come. It is inwardly that the change is wrought, to free the will from its bondage to sin and death, enabling the refugee from God to turn about and seek his face instead of fleeing from Him. Election is unconditional, and in the end we surrender to his will unconditionally. As many as are ordained to eternal life do believe (Acts 13:48).
The rest of men are not condemned to unbelief but merely permitted to continue in their own way, being left where by nature they wish to be. Like the ratchet wheel that is unidirectional in its turning, they freely turn only in the direction that corresponds to the now fallen nature of man. Calvin summed up the matter in this way:
The efficient cause of our election is the good pleasure of the will of GodThe Lutherans argued that a man has at least this much that he can do towards his conversion, namely, that he can place himself in the position that he can hear the Gospel. To quote the words from the Formula of Concord (II.53):
The material cause is Jesus Christ
The final cause is the praise of the glory of his grace: and
The formal cause is the preaching of the Gospel by which the goodness of God overflows upon us. (2)
The person who is not yet converted to God and regenerated, can hear and read the Word of God externally because even after the Fall man still has something of a free will in these external matters, so that he can go to Church, listen to the sermon, or not listen to it.But this is surely to ignore the difference between listening to the words, and being alive to their meaning. It was only because God opened Lydia's heart that she actually heard inwardly Paul's words (Acts 16:14). We can see and not see, we can hear and not hear, even as Isaiah said (6:9, 10). We hear only the words, not their meaning; we see only the evidences, not their significances. As Moses said to the children of Israel (Deut. 29:2), they had seen all that the Lord had done before their eyes in the land of Egypt, and "yet the Lord hath not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear unto this day" (v. 4). There are two kinds of seeing, two kinds of hearing. Merely to be in the Lord's house is not any guarantee that the Word of the Lord proclaimed there will be heard inwardly or the truth seen and grasped by faith. A man may go to church for many reasons which have nothing to do with a conscious obedience to the Lord's command to hear his Word. Whether such a man goes or not has no necessary connection with his conversion. For God can speak to him just as fruitfully in other ways. He may recall to his mind some life-giving portion of his own Word long forgotten since it was first learned as a child. Or as a man walks, He may cause him to glance at a street sign with a Gospel message printed on it, or casually to pick up a tract blown by the wind into his path. The circumstances surrounding a man's conversion really have no necessary connection with his presenting himself in church and sitting there hearing the words with his outward ears. He need not by any means contribute even his presence within the sound of the Gospel to become suddenly and wonderfully born again into the blameless family of God. The Church with its conventional pulpit sermon is by no means always the vehicle of God's saving grace, and whether a man decides to subject himself to this vehicle has nothing to do with his Election except that it may be a means by which that Election is made effective.
In every sense, Unconditional Election is a direct corollary of Total Depravity. It must be. If we are wholly impotent to effect or assist in our salvation in any way, as totally impotent as a corpse is to assist in its own resurrection or as the newly formed body of Adam was to assist in its own animation, then our personal salvation must of necessity be unconditionally God's doing.
In any other view of the matter, the implication is that Christ saves us only with our help; and what this inevitably soon comes to mean is that we really save ourselves, though with God's help. To suppose that if we only preach the love of God persuasively enough men's hearts will be softened and they will acknowledge their need of the Lord and of his salvation is to wholly misrepresent the true nature of man's predicament as a sinner.
1. Introductory Essay in John Owen, Death
of Death, p. 7.
2. Quoted in Fred H. Klooster, Calvin's Doctrine of Predestination, p. 19.