The Elect are those chosen by God for some special purpose
(Ps. 106:23; Isa. 43:20; 45:4). Among the Elect mentioned
in Scripture are Moses, the Israelites, Christ, angels,
and Christ's disciples.
Election is God's eternal decree to choose from sinners deserving
condemnation those whom He will Save, providing Salvation through
Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The source of Election is in God alone (John 6:37, 44; Eph. 1:4).
The cause is His compassionate Mercy and His own Glory.
The objects of Election are individual men (Matt. 22:14; John 15:19;
Rom. 8:29; 9:13, 15, 18 22).
Scripture employs a rich vocabulary to express several aspects of
God's sovereign election, choice, and predestination. Five types of
election call for distinction.
The most common NT reference to election is God's eternal election
of certain persons to salvation in Jesus Christ. The subject is
dealt with comprehensively in Eph. 1:3 - 11 and Rom. 8:28 - 11:36.
John Calvin, who became a major defender of the Reformed doctrine,
saw the whole doctrine of election summarized in Eph. 1. All the
Reformed confessions include divine election, but the Canons of
Dort, reflecting the controversy with the Arminians, provide the
greatest detail. Election is part of God's eternal decree and it
has a soteriological role: "That some in time are given faith by
God and that others are not given faith proceeds from His eternal
decree" (1.6). Election is then defined as "the unchangeable purpose
of God whereby, before the foundation of the world, out of the whole
human race, which had fallen by its own fault out of its original
integrity into sin and ruin, He has, according to the most free good
pleasure of His will, out of mere grace, chosen in Christ to
salvation a certain number of specific men, neither better nor more
worthy than other, but with them involved in a common misery" (1.7).
- There is only one reference to "the elect angels" (1 Tim. 5:21;
cf. 1 Cor. 6:3; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).
- Election to service or office is evident in God's sovereign choice
of David as Israel's king (1 Sam. 16:7 - 12) and in Jesus' choosing
of the disciples and apostles (Luke 6:13; John 6:70; 15:16;
Acts 9:15; 15:7).
- The election of Abraham's descendants to form the theocratic
nation of Israel is a common biblical theme (Deut.4:37; 7:6 - 7;
10:15; 1 Kings 3:8; Isa. 44:1 - 2; 45:4; 65:9, 15, 22; Amos 3:2;
Acts 13:17; Rom. 9:1 - 5). The election of Israel originated in
God's sovereign choice, expressed his covenantal love, and served
the goal of redemptive history culminating in Jesus Christ.
- The election of the Messiah is a fourth type of election.
Isaiah referred to the servant of the Lord as "my chosen one"
(42:1; cf. Matt. 12:18). Of the Synoptics only Luke refers to
Jesus as the Chosen One (9:35; 23:35). Peter echoes another
Isaiah reference (28:16) in 1 Pet. 1:20 and 2:4, 6. These
references indicate the unique mediatorial office of Christ and the
Father's pleasure in him. It is an election basic to the final type,
- election to salvation, with which the rest of this article is
Double predestination is the typical Reformed doctrine
of Dort distinguish election and reprobation because the Scripture
"declares that not all men are elect but that certain ones have not
been elected, or have been passed by in the eternal election of God.
These God out of His most free, most just, blameless, and
unchangeable good pleasure has decreed to leave in the common misery
into which they have by their own fault plunged themselves, and not
to give them saving faith and the grace of conversion" and "finally
to condemn and punish them eternally" for all their sins (1.15).
Predestination thus includes election and reprobation, and
reprobation involves both a sovereign passing by (preterition) and
a just condemnation.
Principles of Election
Six main features of election deserve attention.
- (1) Election is a sovereign, eternal decree of God. The elect have
been "predestined according to the plan of him who works out
everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Eph. 1:11).
God chose us in Christ "before the creation of the world" (Eph. 1:4).
God's sovereign decree is not arbitrary; "in love he predestined
us... in accordance with his pleasure and will" (Eph. 1:5; cf. Rom.
8:29). This perspective is reflected in the definition of election
quoted above from Dort (1.7).
- (2) The presupposition of God's eternal decree of election is that
the human race is fallen; election involves God's gracious rescue
plan. It is not based on human works or God's foreknowledge of
works (Rom. 9:11). The elect are chosen "to be holy and blameless
in his sight"; they are "adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ"
(Eph. 1:4 - 5). Hence election leads to "redemption through his
blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Eph. 1:7). The same perspective is
evident in Romans, for those whom "God foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (8:29). The
presupposition is that they are fallen, and hence God's
predestination includes calling, justification, and glorification.
This presupposition, that the fallen race is the object of
predestination, reflects the infralapsarian perspective which is
also that of the Canons of Dort (cf. I.1,8,15).
- (3) Election is "election in Christ"; election involves rescue from
sin and guilt and receiving the gracious gifts of salvation. Election
in Christ is evident in the words already quoted from Eph. 1:4 - 5,
11, and Rom. 8:29. Christ is not merely a subsequent means to
effectuate a decree of election; election is in Christ and through
Christ. This is clearly expressed in the Canons of Dort: "He has. . .
chosen in Christ to salvation.... From eternity He has also appointed
Christ to be the Mediator and Head of all the elect and the
foundation of their salvation. Therefore He decreed to give to Christ
those who were to be saved, and effectually to call and draw them
into His fellowship through His word and Spirit" (I.7). Thus God's
election is in Christ, and Christ is both the foundation of election
and the foundation of salvation. Calvin also referred to Christ as
the mirror of our election.
- (4) Election involves both the elect's salvation and the means to
that end. This is already evident in the repeated references to
election in Christ, but it is made even more specific. God chose
the elect "to be holy and blameless in his sight, . . . to be adopted
as his sons" (Eph. 1:4 - 5); the elect are those whom God
"foreknew. . . predestined. . . called. . . justified. . . glorified"
(Rom. 8:29 - 30). God chose the elect "to be saved through the
sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth"
(2 Thess. 2:13). Hence the preaching of the gospel is
indispensable in effecting God's election (Rom. 10:14 - 17; cf. Acts
18:9 - 11). The salvation of the elect has its decretive origin
before time, is realized through means in history, and culminates in
This is echoed in the Canons of Dort: "He decreed to give them true
faith in Him, to justify them, to sanctify them, and, after having
powerfully kept them in the fellowship of His Son, finally to
glorify them, for the demonstration of His mercy and the praise of
the riches of His glorious grace" (I.7). This feature of election
negates the objection that if one is elect, one will be saved
regardless of whether or not one believes. It also excludes the
objection that election leads to a libertine spirit; unbelief and
careless living are inconsistent with the scriptural doctrine of
- (5) Election (as well as reprobation) is individual, personal,
specific, particular. Ephesians refers repeatedly to "us" and "we"
in connection with election (1:4 - 5, 12). In Romans, Paul refers to
"those" whom God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and
glorified (8:29 - 30).
Rom. 9 indicates that personal election unto salvation was
operative within the election of Israel. Paul states that "not all
who are descended from Israel are Israel" (9:6, 8) and he shows
that "God's purpose in election" distinguished between Isaac and
Ishmael, between Jacob and Esau (9:7, 11 - 13). This is also the
implication of the expressions in John 6:37 - 40; 10:14 - 16, 26 -
29; 17:2, 6, 9, 24. Hence the Canons of Dort refer to election as
the selection of "a certain number of specific men" (I.7) and also
state that "not all men are elect but that certain ones have not
been elected" but passed by in God's decree (I.15).
The Westminster Confession expresses this even more emphatically
when it refers to the predestined as "particularly and unchangeably
designed, and their number so certain and definite that it cannot
be either increased or diminished" (III.4). The Arminians held to
an indefinite, conditional election, the election of those who
believe. The Reformed view took the above Scripture references
seriously as well as the comforting assurance that nothing "shall
separate us from the love of Christ" and that "in all these things we
are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Rom. 8:35 - 39).
Particular, personal election leads to the believer's comfort and
does not promote carelessness or false confidence.
- (6) Finally, the ultimate goal of election is the glory and praise of
God. Election to salvation involves personal privilege, blessing,
security, and comfort for the elect. But Scripture makes clear that
it is "to the praise of his glorious grace" that everything leads
(Eph. 1:6). The elect have been chosen and predestined "in order
that we. . . might be for the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:12). God's
goal is "to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under
one head, even Christ" (Eph. 1:10; cf. 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:9; Matt.
13:27 - 30; 24:31). When Paul finished his long discussion of
election in Romans, he concluded with doxology (Rom. 11:33 - 36).
That praise is also echoed in the Reformed confessions; the final
glorification of the elect is "for the demonstration of His mercy
and praise of the riches of His glorious grace" (Canons of Dort
I.7). The Westminister Confession concludes its discussion of God's
eternal decree and predestination with similar words: "So shall this
doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God;
and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to those that
sincerely obey the Gospel" (III.8).
F H Klooster
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
G C Berkouwer, Divine Election; L Boettner, The
Reformed Doctrine of Predestination; J Calvin, Institutes 3.21 - 24;
P Y De Jong, ed., Crisis in the Reformed Churches: Essays in
Commemoration of the Great Synod of Dort, 1618 - 1619; F H Klooster,
Calvin's Doctrine of Predestination; B B Warfield,
"Predestination," in Biblical Doctrines, "Predestination in the
Reformed Confessions," in Studies in Theology, and "Election,"
in Selected Shorter Writings of B B Warfield, I.
The individual articles presented here were generally first published
in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed
on the Internet in May 1997.
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