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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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ELECTION . The idea of election, as expressive of God’s method of accomplishing His purpose for the world in both providence and grace, though (as befits the character of the Bible as peculiarly ‘the history of redemption’) especially in grace, goes to the heart of Scripture teaching. The word ‘election’ itself occurs but a few times ( Acts 9:15 ‘vessel of election,’ Romans 9:11; Romans 11:5; Romans 11:7; Romans 11:28 , 1 Thessalonians 1:4 , 2 Peter 1:10 ); ‘elect’ in NT much oftener (see below); but equivalent words in OT and NT, as ‘choose,’ ‘chosen,’ ‘foreknow’ (in sense of ‘fore-designate’), etc., considerably extend the range of usage. In the OT, as will be seen, the special object of the Divine election is Israel ( e.g. Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 7:7 etc.); but within Israel are special elections, as of the tribe of Levi, the house of Aaron, Judah, David and his house, etc.; while, in a broader sense, the idea, if not the expression, is present wherever individuals are raised up, or separated, for special service (thus of Cyrus, Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-6 ). In the NT the term ‘elect’ is frequently used, both by Christ and by the Apostles, for those who are heirs of salvation ( e.g. Matthew 24:22; Matthew 24:24; Matthew 24:31 ||, Luke 18:7 , Romans 8:33 , Colossians 3:12 , 2 Timothy 2:10 , Titus 1:1 , 1 Peter 1:2 ), and the Church, as the new Israel, is described as ‘an elect race’ ( 1 Peter 2:9 ). Jesus Himself is called, with reference to Isaiah 42:1 , God’s ‘chosen’ or ‘elect’ One ( Matthew 12:18 , Luke 9:35 RV [Note: Revised Version.] , Luke 23:35 ); and mention is once made of ‘elect’ angels ( 1 Timothy 5:21 ). In St. Paul’s Epistles the idea has great prominence ( Romans 9:1-33 , Ephesians 1:4 etc.). It is now necessary to investigate the implications of this idea more carefully.

Election, etymologically, is the choice of one, or of some, out of many . In the usage we are investigating, election is always, and only, of God. It is the method by which, in the exercise of His holy freedom, He carries out His purpose (‘the purpose of God according to election,’ Romans 9:11 ). The ‘call’ which brings the election to light, as in the call of Abraham, Israel, believers, is in time, but the call rests on God’s prior, eternal determination ( Romans 8:28-29 ). Israel was chosen of God’s free love ( Deuteronomy 7:6 ff.); believers are declared to be blessed in Christ, ‘even as he chose’ them ‘in him’ the One in whom is the ground of all salvation ‘before the foundation of the world’ ( Ephesians 1:4 ). It is strongly insisted on, therefore, that the reason of election is not anything in the object itself ( Romans 9:11; Romans 9:16 ); the ground of the election of believers is not in their holiness or good works, or even in fides prÅ“visa , but solely in God’s free grace and mercy ( Ephesians 1:1-4; holiness a result, not a cause). They are ‘made a heritage, having been foreordained according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will’ ( Ephesians 1:11 ); or, as in an earlier verse, ‘according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace’ ( Ephesians 1:6 ). Yet, as it is axiomatic that there is no unrighteousness with God ( Romans 9:14 ); that His loving will embraces the whole world ( John 3:16 , 1 Timothy 2:4 ); that He can never, in even the slightest degree, act partially or capriciously ( Acts 10:34 , 2 Timothy 2:13 ); and that, as salvation in the case of none is compulsory, but is always in accordance with the saved person’s own free choice, so none perishes but by his own fault or unbelief it is obvious that difficult problems arise on this subject which can be solved, so far as solution is possible, only by close attention to all Scripture indications.

1. In the OT . Valuable help is afforded, first, by observing how this idea shapes itself, and is developed, in the OT. From the first, then, we see that God’s purpose advances by a method of election, but observe also that, while sovereign and free, this election is never an end in itself, but is subordinated as a means to a wider end. It is obvious also that it was only by an election that is, by beginning with some individual or people, at some time, in some place that such ends as God had in view in His Kingdom could be realized. Abraham, accordingly, is chosen, and God calls him, and makes His covenant with him, and with his seed; not, however, as a private, personal transaction, but that in him and in his seed all families of the earth should be blessed ( Genesis 12:2-3 etc.). Further elections narrow down this line of promise Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau (cf. Romans 9:7-13 ) till Israel is grown, and prepared for the national covenant at Sinai. Israel, again, is chosen from among the families of the earth ( Exodus 19:3-6 , Deuteronomy 4:34 , Amos 3:2 ); not, however, for its own sake, but that it may be a means of blessing to the Gentiles. This is the ideal calling of Israel which peculiarly comes out in the prophecies of the Servant of Jehovah ( Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26 ) a calling of which the nation as a whole so fatally fell short ( Isaiah 42:19-20 ). So far as these prophecies of the Servant point to Christ the Elect One in the supreme sense, as both Augustine and Calvin emphasize His mission also was one of salvation to the world.

Here, however, it will naturally be asked Is there not, after all, a reason for these and similar elections in the greater congruity of the object with the purpose for which it was designed? If God chose Abraham, was it not because Abraham was the best fitted among existing men for such a vocation? Was Isaac not better fitted than Ishmael, and Jacob than Esau, to be the transmitters of the promise? This leads to a remark which carries us much deeper into the nature of election. We err grievously if we think of God’s relation to the objects of His choice as that of a workman to a set of tools provided for him, from which he selects that most suited to his end. It is a shallow view of the Divine election which regards it as simply availing itself of happy varieties of character spontaneously presenting themselves in the course of natural development. Election goes deeper than grace even into the sphere of nature. It presides, to use a happy phrase of Lange’s, at the making of its object (Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, etc.), as well as uses it when made. The question is not simply how, a man of the gifts and qualifications of Abraham, or Moses, or Paul, being given, God should use him in the way He did, but rather how a man of this spiritual build, and these gifts and qualifications, came at that precise juncture to be there at all. The answer to that question can be found only in the Divine ordering; election working in the natural sphere prior to its being revealed in the spiritual, God does not simply find His instruments He creates them: He has had them, in a true sense, in view, and has been preparing them from the foundation of things. Hence St. Paul’s saying of himself that he was separated from his mother’s womb ( Galatians 1:15; cf. of Jeremiah, Jeremiah 1:5; of Cyrus, Isaiah 45:5 etc.).

Here comes in another consideration. Israel was the elect nation, but as a nation it miserably failed in its vocation (so sometimes with the outward Church). It would seem, then, as if, on the external side, election had failed of its result; but it did not do so really. This is the next step in the OT development the realization of an election within the election, of a true and spiritual Israel within the natural, of individual election as distinct from national. This idea is seen shaping itself in the greater prophets in the doctrine of the ‘remnant’ (cf. Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 8:16-18 etc.); in the idea of a godly kernel in Israel in distinction from the unbelieving mass (involved in prophecies of the Servant); and is laid hold of, and effectively used, by St. Paul in his rebutting of the supposition that the word of God had failed ( Romans 9:6 ‘for they are not all Israel that are of Israel,’ Romans 11:5; Romans 11:7 etc.). This yields us the natural transition to the NT conception.

2. In the NT . The difference in the NT standpoint in regard to election may perhaps now be thus defined. (1) Whereas the election in the OT is primarily national, and only gradually works round to the idea of an inner, spiritual election, the opposite is the case in the NT election is there at first personal and individual, and the Church as an elect body is viewed as made up of these individual believers and all others professing faith in Christ (a distinction thus again arising between inward and outward). (2) Whereas the personal aspect of election in the OT is throughout subordinate to the idea of service, in the NT, on the other hand, stress is laid on the personal election to eternal salvation; and the aspect of election as a means to an end beyond itself falls into the background, without, however, being at all intended to be lost sight of. The believer, according to NT teaching, is called to nothing so much as to active service; he is to be a light of the world ( Matthew 5:13-16 ), a worker together with God ( 1 Corinthians 3:9 ), a living epistle, known and read of all men ( 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 ); the light has shined in his heart that he should give it forth to others ( 2 Corinthians 4:6 ); he is elected to the end that he may show forth the excellencies of Him who called him ( 1 Peter 2:9 ), etc. St. Paul is a ‘vessel of election’ to the definite end that he should bear Christ’s name to the Gentiles ( Acts 9:15 ). Believers are a kind of ‘first-fruits’ unto God ( Romans 16:5 , 1 Corinthians 16:15 , James 1:18 , Revelation 14:4 ); there is a ‘fulness’ to be brought in ( Romans 11:25 ).

As carrying us, perhaps, most deeply into the comprehension of the NT doctrine of election, it is lastly to be observed that, apart from the inheritance of ideas from the OT, there is an experiential basis for this doctrine, from which, in the living consciousness of faith, it can never be divorced. In general it is to be remembered how God’s providence is everywhere in Scripture represented as extending over all persons and events nothing escaping His notice, or falling outside of His counsel (not even the great crime of the Crucifixion, Acts 4:28 ) and how uniformly everything good and gracious is ascribed to His Spirit as its author ( e.g. Acts 11:18 , Ephesians 2:8 , Philippians 2:13 , Hebrews 13:20-21 ). It cannot, therefore, be that in so great a matter as a soul’s regeneration (see Regeneration), and the translating of it out of the darkness of sin into the light and blessing of Christ’s Kingdom ( Acts 26:18 , Colossians 1:12-13 , 1 Peter 2:9-10 ), the change should not be viewed as a supreme triumph of the grace of God in that soul, and should not be referred to an eternal act of God, choosing the individual, and in His love calling him in His own good time into this felicity. Thus also, in the experience of salvation, the soul, conscious of the part of God in bringing it to Himself, and hourly realizing its entire dependence on Him for everything good, will desire to regard it and will regard it; and will feel that in this thought of God’s everlasting choice of it lies its true ground of security and comfort ( Romans 8:28; Romans 8:33; Romans 8:38-39 ). It is not the soul that has chosen God, but God that has chosen it (cf. John 15:16 ), and all the comforting and assuring promises which Christ gives to those whom He describes as ‘given’ Him by the Father ( John 6:37; John 6:39 etc.) as His ‘sheep’ ( John 10:3-5 etc.) are humbly appropriated by it for its consolation and encouragement (cf. John 6:39; John 10:27-29 etc.).

On this experiential basis Calvinist and Arminian may be trusted to agree, though it leaves the speculative question still unsolved of how precisely God’s grace and human freedom work together in the production of this great change. That is a question which meets us wherever God’s purpose and man’s free will touch, and probably will be found to embrace unsolved element till the end. Start from the Divine side, and the work of salvation is all of grace; start from the human side, there is responsibility and choice. The elect, on any showing, must always be those in whom grace is regarded as effecting its result; the will, on the other hand, must be freely won; but this winning of the will may be viewed as itself the last triumph of grace God working in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13 , Hebrews 13:20-21 ). From this highest point of view the antinomy disappears; the believer is ready to acknowledge that it is not anything in self, not his willing and running, that has brought him into the Kingdom ( Romans 9:16 ), but only God’s eternal mercy. See, further, Predestination, Regeneration, Reprobate.

James Orr.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Election'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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