When the Bible talks about election, “God’s elect”, or “the elect,” what does this mean? What is election? Obviously in this context it’s not people electing someone to office. Instead, it’s God’s electing someone to salvation in Christ (e.g. Mk 13:20, Rom 8:33; 1 Peter 1:1, etc.). The apostle Paul explains election with some detail in Ephesians 1:3-5, as many of our readers already know.
I like how Thomas Boston explained the nature of election as he reflected on Paul’s words in these verses. Below is a summary of Boston’s excellent explanation – a section he called, “The Properties of Election:”
- It is altogether free, without any moving cause, but God’s mere good pleasure. No reason can be found for this but only in the bosom of God. There is nothing before, or above, or without his purpose, that can be pitched upon as the cause of all that grace and goodness that he bestows upon his chosen ones. There was no merit or motive in them, as Christ told his disciples, John 15:16. ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.’ His choice is antecedent to ours. The persons who are singled out to be the objects of his special grace, were a part of lost mankind, the same by nature with others who were passed by, and left to perish in their sin.
- Election is eternal. They are elected from all eternity, Eph. 1:4 chosen before the foundation of the world, 2 Tim. 1:9. ‘He hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.’ All God’s decrees are eternal, Eph. 1:11. ‘We are predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. God takes no new counsels, to do which would be inconsistent with his infinite perfection. Because God is eternal, his purposes must p 307 be of equal duration with his existence.
- It is particular and definite. God has chosen a certain number of the children of men to life, whom he knows by name, so as they can neither be more nor fewer. Hence their names are said to be written in the book of life, Luke 10:20. Phil. 4:3 and others are said not to be written there, Rev. 17:8. Though they are known to none, yet God knows them all, 2 Tim. 2:19. And they are given to Christ, John 17:9. Therefore God’s decree of election is not a general decree only to save all that shall believe and persevere in the faith; for that way it might happen that none at all might be saved.
- It is unchangeable. Mutability is an imperfection peculiar to creatures. As the least change in God’s understanding, so as to know more or less than that hid from eternity, would be an instance of imperfection; the same must be said with respect to his holy will, which cannot be susceptible of new determinations. Though there are many changes in the external dispensations of his providence, which are the result of his will, as well as the effects of his power; yet there is no shadow of change in his purpose. No unforeseen occurrence can render it expedient for God to change his mind, nor can any higher power oblige him to do it; nor can any defect of power to accomplish his design, induce him to alter his purpose. Those who are once elected can never be reprobated. All that are elected shall most certainly be saved. None of them can be left to perish. For all the divine purposes are unchangeable, and must be fulfilled, Isa. 46:10.; and this in particular, 2 Tim. 2:19. Election is the foundation of God’s house, laid by his own hand, which cannot be shaken, but stands sure; and a sealed foundation, as men seal what they will have; a seal of two parts securing it; on God’s part, God loves and keeps them that are his, that they fall not away; on our part, the same God takes care that his elect depart from iniquity.
These great quotes are taken from pages 306-307 of Boston’s Works, volume 1
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015