THE BIBLE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION
By JAMES PETEGRU BOYCE (1827-1888)
Founder and first president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville); president of the Southern Baptist Convention 1872 – 1879, 1888. Boyce is regarded as one of the outstanding Baptist theologians of the nineteenth century.
THE CALVINISTIC THEORY
1. THEORY STATED. The theory of Calvinists as to election is that God (not man) of to his own purpose (in accordance with his will, and not from any obligation man, nor because of any will of man), has from eternity (the period of God’s action, not in time in which man acts), determined to save (not has actually saved, but simply determined so to do, and to save, not merely to confer gospel or church privileges upon) a definite number of mankind (not the whole race, nor indefinitely merely some of them, nor indefinitely a certain proportionate part; but a definite number), as individuals (not the whole or part of the race, nor of a nation, nor of a church, nor of a class, as of believers or the pious; but individuals), not for or merit or work of theirs, nor of any value to him of them (not because of any for their good works, or their holiness, or excellence, or their faith, or their spiritual sanctification, although the choice is to a salvation attained through faith and sanctification; nor for their value to him, though their salvation tends greatly to the manifested glory of his grace); was but of his good pleasure (simply because he pleased so to choose).
An analysis of the foregoing statement will show that this theory holds as to election, that:
1. It is an act of God, and not in any sense the result of the choice of the elect.
2. It has been with God an eternal purpose.
3. It is an election to salvation, and not to outward privileges.
4. This election, or choice, is one of individuals and not of classes.
5. It was made without respect to the action or merits of the persons elected.
6. It was made simply according to God’s own good pleasure.
2. PROOF. Whether we should believe this doctrine or not depends entirely upon whether it is taught in the Scriptures. We have no other possible way of knowing anything upon the subject. We must therefore look to the Scriptures alone for the truth.
Before proceeding, however, with the direct proof that the doctrine of election, as stated above, is taught in the Scriptures it should be remarked that the words election and elect are used in the word of God in various senses. They sometimes signify a choice to office, whether made by man or God. Compare: Luke 16: 13 (Christ’s choice of the twelve apostles), Acts 1:21-26 (the selection of an apostle in the place of Judas), Acts 9:15 (Saul as a chosen vessel), I Peter 2:6-3 (Christ spoken of as the cornerstone, elect, precious, etc.). They sometimes signify the choice of Israel to their peculiar national privilege of being the chosen, or separated, people of God: „The God of this people Israel chose our fathers” (Acts 13:17). Again they are used of a choice of salvation made by an individual: „Mary hath chosen the good part which shall not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42).
But in a large majority of cases these words have reference to the choice of salvation either in the purpose of God or the act of choice by God.
We will now take up the proof that the words are used in this last sense. Our aim will be to sustain, point by point, the doctrine of election as stated above.
Election an act of God, and not in any sense the result of the choice of the elect. The inquiry here is not an inquiry into the reason for the election, but simply as to the agent. The simple question now is, Does God choose the elect? We are not concerned at this point whether it is of his own purpose, or because he foresees that they will believe, or for any other reason. The sole question now is, Is the election an act of God? The fact on this point would appear more clearly if we were to exchange the common word choice or chosen with the equivalent word elect. The following passages are sufficient, although the examples are far more numerous.
• John 13: 18: „I know whom I have chosen.”
• John 15:16: „Ye did not choose me but I chose you” (not to their offices as apostles but) „that ye should go and bear fruit.”
• Rom. 8:33: „Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s chosen ones?”
• Rom. 9:15: „I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”
• Eph. 1:4: „Even as he chose us in him.”
• Eph. 1:11: „Having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will.”
• 2 Thess. 2:13: „God chose you from the beginning unto salvation.”
(2) Election and eternal purpose or choice, on God’s part. Another important fact to be shown is the eternity of election in opposition to the idea that it was in time. The proof on this point is two fold. There are passages which show that the election took place before existence in this world or before the world began, and there are those which actually declare that it was eternal. Between the two classes of passages there is really, however, very little difference, as from the nature of the case, what took place before time must have been in eternity, and besides, the object of proof of an eternal election is simply to show that it was not dependent on human action, but simply on the will of God alone.
a. Those which show that the election took place before man’s existence, or before the world began:
• Jer. 1:5: „Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee.”
• Matt. 25:34: „Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
• Eph: 1:4: „Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”
• 2 Thess. 2:13: „But we are bound to give thanks to God alway for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto Salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.”
• Compare also the language used as to the names written in the Lamb’s book of life. Rev. 13:8: „And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him (that is the beast), every one whose name has not been written in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain from the foundation of the world.”
• Rev. 17:8: „And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, they whose name hath not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast how that he was, and is not, and shall come.”
• Referring to the adherents of the Lamb as persons „with him,” it is said in verse 14, „They that are with him are called and chosen and faithful.”
• Rev. 21:27: „And there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean or he that maketh an abomination and a lie: but only they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
b. The passages which distinctly declare that this, which may be thus inferred to have been an eternal election, is really such:
• Eph. 3:11: „According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
• 2 Tirn. 1:9: „Who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal.”
(3) Election to salvation, and not to mere external privileges. The next point to be proved is that this is an election to salvation, and not to mere external privileges. This is proved by such passages as the following:
• John 10:26: „Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” Verse 27: „My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
• Rom. 3:28-30: „We know that to them that love God al1 things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose.” Paul now proceeds to tell who these are. „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.” This passage shows that foreknowledge foreordination to holiness, calling, justification, and a state of glory, are inseparably connected, and hence that the election from which they proceed is to salvation.
• Eph. 1:4-9: This passage speaks of our being chosen before the foundation of the vorld, „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, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved: in whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he purposed in him.”
• 2 Thess. 2:13: After referring to others who were to have the same outward privileges, but upon whom God would send strong delusion, the apostle says in this verse, „For we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, for that God chosen you from the beginning unto salvation” etc.
• I Peter 5:10: „The God of all grace who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ,” etc. Here the apostle is speaking of that effectual calling, which is the result of election, and tells us that it is a call unto eternal glory.
(4) An election of individuals and not of classes. This position needs to be explained. It is not denied that the elect that are to be true believers, and that true believers are the elect. The character of the elect does not, therefore, enter into this question. The issue is simply, Does God choose all who shall believe? and are they as such his elect? or, Does he choose his elect, and will they, as such, believe? Is belief the result of God’s election, or is God’s election the result of man’s faith? Upon this point the proof is very clear:
• Acts 14:48: „As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” This is a historical statement made subsequent to the event, not by man’s knowledge, but by inspiration.
• Eph: 1:4, 5: „Even as he chose us in him . . . having foreordained us unto adoption as sons.”
• 2 Thess. 2:13: „But we are bound to give thanks to God alway for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” Here the choice is made to salvation, and the means to salvation, sanctification and faith are indicated, no prerequisite or means being stated as to election. It is not as believers that they are elected, but as elected, that they are saved.
• Rom. 8:29: „Whom he foreknew he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son.” The foreknowledge here is of persons, not of personal acts, not of those whose faith he fore-knew, nor, as would be essential to their theory, is it of the class of believers as such. The Arminian theory would require the substitution of the words „as believers,” or „you as believers,” instead of those which are used.
It is not, therefore, to the class of believers, but to individuals, that election refers. But, it may be asked, does it not refer to them in that character? Did not God choose those whose faith he foresaw? This will be fully answered before this discussion is closed.
(5) Without respect to the action or merits of the persons elected. This is merely a negative form of the same fact stated by the next point affirmatively. It is better therefore, to unite this with the succeeding one, which is,
(6) Simply according to God’s own good pleasure. The last point to be noticed in this theory is that the election was made through the mere good pleasure of God. Of course it is not meant that God acted arbitrarily or capriciously in electing certain persons out of the universal ruin to make them objects of his special constraining grace. God never acts without good and sufficient reasons. And if God had seen fit to tell us why he chose some, with the purpose that whatever the rest might do, these at least should certainly be brought to salvation, we should, doubtless magnify and extol his wisdom in so electing. But he has not seen fit thus to explain. He has acted of his own sovereign will, according to his own good pleasure. One thing we do know. he has not made the election because of any action or merits of the persons elected. He has made it because, as sovereign, he had the right so to make it, and because, for reasons satisfactory to himself, it was his good pleasure to do so.
Several classes of passages may be cited in proof of this point. Some of these simply affirm a choice by God’s sovereign will; others, while asserting this, also deny merit in those elected; and still others represent the fact of sovereignty by asserting a choice of such persons as would not ordinarily be chosen. The following are some of the passages which prove these points:
a. Such as simply assert sovereign will.
• Such are Matt. 24:40-41 and Luke 17:33-36. These declare the sovereign choice of God by showing such choice exercised as to persons in the same situation, so that the one shall be taken and the other left; „two men on one bed”; „two women grinding at the mill”; „two men shall be in the field”; one of each shall be taken and the other left.
• John 3:3-8: Regeneration is here spoken of as essential to entrance into the kingdom of God. This precedes any act on which election is said by any to depend Yet the sovereignty of God in this is declared in verse 8: „The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
• John 6:37, 39, 44, 64, 65: „All that which the Father giveth me shall come unto me . . This is the will of him that sent me, that of all that which he hath given me I should lose nothing No man can come to me except the Father which sent me draw him…. Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who it was that should betray him. And he said, For this cause have I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it be given unto him of the Father.”
• John 15:16: „Ye did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that ye should go and bear fruit.” The object to be attained cannot be the cause.
• John 17:2: „As thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that whatsoever thou hast given him to them he should give eternal life.” (See also verse 6-12).
• Acts 22:14: Ananias says to Paul, „The God of our fathers bath appointed thee to know his will.”
• Eph. 1:5: In the fourth verse having referred to God’s choice of us before the foundation of the world, he says in this fifth verse: „Having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace.” In verse 11 we are said to be predestinated to our inheritance „according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will.”
• James 1:18: „Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.”
b. Such as deny merit in the persons elected as well as assert the sovereign choice of God. Ezek. 36:32: In this passage after describing the blessings connect ed with the new dispensation and the gift of the Spirit and the new heart which he would give them, gifts which the Calvinistic theory regards as the result of election, but which the Arminian maintains to be its cause, God adds: „Not for your sakes do I this saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your ways, 0 house of Israel.”
• John 1:11-13: „He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
• In Rom. 9:11-16 election is illustrated by the case of the twins „The children being not yet born, neither having done anything, good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth . . . So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”
• Rom. 11:5, 6: „Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. But if it is by grace, it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.”
c. Such as so describe the persons chosen. as to imply this. Matt. 11:25, 26: „At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and under-standing and didst reveal them unto babes; yea, Father, for so it was well pleasing in thy sight.”
• Luke 4:25-27: Christ illustrates this sovereignty of God by mentioning that many widows had been in Israel, yet had only a heathen widow been blessed; and again many lepers cured. „Of a truth I say unto you, There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah . . . and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarepath in the land of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
• Acts 26:12-23: Paul’s description of his personal condition at his conversion shows that God chose him not for his merits but from his own good pleasure.
• I Cor. 1:26-30: „For behold your calling, brethren, how that not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called; but God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world that he might put to shame the things that are strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are despised, did God choose, yea, and the things that are not, that he might bring to naught the things that are, that no flesh should glory before God. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus,” etc.
• Gal. 1:15, 16: Paul says, „When it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach,” etc.
• Eph. 2:1-13: The desciption of the condition of those who were dead in trespasses ,and sins, and in that state were quickened, proves that the quickening and salvation was due to no merit of their own.
The tests thus exhibited under these three classes prove conclusively that not on account of their own merits, but because of the good pleasure of God, does he choose men. They have been presented at some length, because this is after all the point upon which all that is important in this controversy turns. For, although other matters are equally essential to the doctrine, the whole opposition arises from an unwillingness on the part of man to recognize the sovereignty of God, and to ascribe salvation entirely to grace.
This proof, however, has been by no means exhausted, the attempt having been to select some only of the numerous passages, and mainly such as from their conciseness allow of presentation in full. Let the Scriptures be read with reference to this doctrine, and every passage marked which indicates God’s dealing with men as an absolute sovereign, and also every declaration which ascribes election or the fruits of it to his choice and not to the will or acts of men, and every illustration afforded that this is God’s usual method, and it will appear that scarcely any book of Scripture will fail to furnish testimony to the fact that in the acts of grace, no less than those of providence, God „doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.” (Dan. 4:3-5)
(Taken from ABSTRACT OF SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY by J. P. Boyce, now out of print.)
Editors Note: This article, in it’s entirty, was copied from „The Biblical and Historical Faith of Baptists on God’s Sovereignty”