by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that Election is the eternal purpose of God, according to which He graciously regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners; that being perfectly consistent with the free agency of man, it comprehends all the means in connection with the end; that it is a most glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, being infinitely free, wise, holy and unchangeable; that it utterly excludes boasting, and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, trust in God, and active imitation of his free mercy; that it encourages the use of means in the highest degree; that it may be ascertained by its effects in all who truly believe the Gospel; that it is the foundation of Christian assurance; and that to ascertain it with regard to ourselves demands and deserves the utmost diligence.

Sovereign Election

The purpose of discussing election is always pastoral in the Holy Scriptures (Rom 8, 9, Eph 1). It is seen as something that comforts believers and ought also to elicit praise from them. While the issues regarding election are complex indeed, the following discussion will be closely tied to the Scriptural purpose rather than the debates within or related to the doctrine of election. Of course, a definition is necessary for us to really know what we are talking about. It can be defined as the free action of God to choose individuals for salvation. This definition, however, has given way for some to say that he chooses usbased upon consideration of future acts of service or those individuals eventually choosing him. Thus we can helpfully add, God chooses individuals for salvation based upon nothing in that individual whatsoever, but solely out of his mercy and grace.

At first glance of course, this definition also presents some difficulty. It comes under fire in that “mercy and grace” cannot be a foundation for choosing some and not others. “Mercy and grace,” then, are accused of being a smokescreen for having nothing to say at all. And here they are correct. Though we wouldn’t use the same language, there are times when understanding doctrine must stop. We cannot probe the recesses of God’s mind and we are not meant to. It is precisely in the question, “Why does he choose some and not others,” that they have gone too far (as Paul says in the middle of Romans 9). Trying to piece together the theology contained in the Bible can be tricky business. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is one of the principle examples of where we must say there is deep mystery involved (others may include the event of the Fall or that marriage is a reflection of Christ and the church) because there is simply no Biblical warrant to go further. We rest with the previous definition.

Election should not be seen as an elementary school game of cosmic-dodge ball where Christ gets first pick and Satan second. The doctrine is closely related to the fact that man in his fallen condition hates God deeply and without remorse. Men so hate God that even great acts of love elicit mockery by the supposedly religious elite. Election is the first of many subsequent acts where God alters who we are. But, election is not haphazard. God does not just choose to change the suicidal destruction we bring about in our lives, he brings that very change to fruition. His sovereign election is brought about by events in our life that he has planned (which we call the providence of God). God is always intentional and deliberate in his actions, never unplanned or random. God’s sovereign choice to overcome our dark intentions terminates in our being brought into new life.

Martin Luther’s confessor, Staupitz, counseled him with the following words, “If you want to dispute about predestination, begin with the wounds of Christ, and it will cease.” But hang on, isn’t election completely fatalistic? If I can’t probe the depth of my soul and find a firm moral island to stand, should I conclude that I’m not elect? Isn’t my election based on my experience and personal holiness so much so that devoid of these things I can only conclude that I’m not elect and that I cannot become saved because salvation is the sovereign power of God and not in my own ability? Nothing is further from the truth. Election is never to be sought in place of Jesus Christ. Only in Jesus Christ will we find firm confirmation of that very election for in him is found the fruition of our election. Do you desire to make sure your election and gain assurance of salvation? Look to Jesus Christ. Look and grasp him. Know that in him is the great benevolence of the Father toward you and in grasping the Son, we share with the Son in his inheritance. We share in the delight which the Father has for the Son. We share in the joy of divine rest and peace. If these truths glimmer with familiarity, know that you are unshakably the Lord’s.

Sovereign Goodness

There remains as we think about God’s sovereign election and providence great distortion. In many ways, God has given us earthly images that help us to understand who he is toward us. Godly fathers on earth help us see what it means that God is our Father, likewise friends, brothers, marriage relationships. But few examples on earth can help us grapple with God’s sovereign rule. It’s a good step for us to take to admit at the outset that we need great help in understanding God’s providence. Calvin wrote of God’s providence, “Ignorance of providence is the ultimate of all miseries; the highest blessedness lies in the knowledge of it” (1.17.11).

Ultimately there is no foundation to understanding that God sovereignly rules over all things other than that he is supremely good and trustworthy. It is of course, with great ease that we attribute all good things that we experience to God’s gracious and kind providence. But when death, destruction, deception, dismay, and disappointment breeze through our front door, it is quite another story. There are easy ways to ‘excuse’ God for these events, but the Bible does not do this. Joseph’s misery brought forth a nation. Naomi and Ruth lost their loved ones and made way for Ruth’s offspring David…and Jesus Christ. Job endured the loss of everything he had to eventually experience greater blessings than he had before. All of the suffering that Christians endure has a telos (end), which is our sanctification and ultimate glorification. The redeeming of our suffering takes place most fully as we join the heavenly parade of martyrs and the many suffered people of God over the ages. Not only do we join them, but we join Jesus Christ who entered into the sovereign plan of God (Acts 2:23) and experienced the full force of God’s wrath. God is not the God who directs and guides events at a distance, but from within. He comes down into his own sovereign plan and experiences the deepest corners of our darkness.

With regard to the destruction in our lives, God is either asleep at the wheel, unconcerned with us, unable to help, or infinitely wise and involved to an end of which we cannot always see. We are often blind and confused concerning the events around us and in our lives. Yet there is one place of peace, light, and clarity – God’s good providence. This providence sets our eyes straight ahead to the eternal kingdom in whose streets we will one day walk. On these walks we will contemplate the full end of our earthly misery and joys. If God is good, utterly concerned, fully trustworthy, endlessly faithful, and truly filled with the same warm love of which the Bible attests, then we have this end on which to look – those streets.

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Demarest

Packer – Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Institutes 1.17