Q20: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A: God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life (Eph. 1:4), did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer (Rom. 3:21-22).
I. This question of the Catechism unfolds the wonderful account of God’s mercy towards sinners.
A. This doctrine is called unconditional (or unmerited) election.
1. It is by God’s grace and power alone that sinful man escapes the estate of sin and misery.
II. Election is found in both Testaments.
A. Old Testament.
1. The first clear statement of election is in connection with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; cf. Neh. 9:7).
a. Within two generations of Abraham, God’s discriminating purpose is clear: Jacob over Esau (Gen. 25:23ff).
2. Through the election of the fathers, Israel became God’s elect nation (Deut. 4:37; 7:6-8; 10:15; 14:2), and for this reason God entered into covenant with them (Ex. 19:3ff).
a. Within the national election God exercises an individual election, by which He distinguishes Isaac from Ishmael and Jacob from Esau (Rom. 9:1-3).
(1). Election cannot be separated from the covenant. Redemptive history culminates in Christ.
3. Only Israel had God “known” (Amos 3:2; cf. Ps. 147:20).
(1). Intellectual (Jn. 2:24).
(2). Intimacy: special and peculiar objects of God’s favor.
(a). God knows His sheep (Jn. 10:14, 27).
(b). God never “knew” some (Matt. 7:23).
4. God chooses and causes to approach (Ps. 65:4).
5. The “elect” will inherit the kingdom (Isa. 65:9, 15, 22).
B. New Testament.
1. Sample of verses.
a. “…many are called, but few chosen” (Matt. 20:16).
b. False teachers will try to deceive the “elect” (Matt. 24:24), whom the angels will gather on the last day (Matt. 24:31).
c. “…the elect‘s sake, whom He chose…(Mk. 13:20).
d. Paul endured all things “for the sake of the elect” (2 Tim. 2:10).
e. Paul was a bondservant and apostle “according to the faith of God’s elect” (Tit. 1:1).
f. Peter wrote to the “pilgrims of the Dispersion” who are the “elect according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Pet. 1:1), a “chosen generation” (2:9).
2. Etymology. The three Greek words denoting election have a primary meaning of chosen by divine action (they are never used with man as the subject and God as the object), and a secondary meaning of “choice” or “precious.” The selection involves thoughtful and deliberate consideration. They are used about 50x collectively.
a. Eklegomai is a verb which means “to pick or choose out for one’s self”, one from among many, with the accessory idea of kindness, favor, and love (“choice” 1x; “choose” 19x; “choose out” 1x) [Mk. 13:20; Lk. 10:42; Jn. 6:70; 15:16; Eph. 1:4].
b. Ekletos is a noun which signifies “chosen out, select” (“chosen” 16x; “elect” 7x) [Matt. 22:14; Lk. 23:35; 1 Pet. 2:4, 9].
c. Ekloge is also a noun, meaning “a picking out, choosing” (“chose” 1x; “election” 6x) [Rom. 11:5].
3. Election is also apparent in external conditions.
a. Nobody controls the circumstances of his birth: country, time, race, family, wealth, poverty, vocation, gifts, talents, disposition, etc.
b. Outward conditions can control destiny. Where there is no gospel, one perishes (cf. Acts 16:6-10).
III. Election is unconditional and was purposed in eternity.
A. Unconditional election is clear from numerous passages: there is no condition in man that warrants God’s electing love.
1. Necessarily follows from Original Sin (cf. Rom. 5:12).
a. There is no good in man that God could foresee to base His choice upon (Rom. 3:10; 7:18).
2. God “loved” Jacob but hated Esau before either had done good or bad, that His “purpose” (Gk., prothesis) of election might stand (Rom. 9:10-13), which is not of works; nor is it of man’s willing or doing (Rom. 9:16; cf. Jn. 1:13).
3. Election is by grace, not of “works…” (Rom. 11:5-6; cf. 2 Tim. 1:9).
4. God “chose” the elect “in Him,” i.e., in Christ (Eph. 1:4; cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-31).
a. “According to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5).
(1). “Pleasure” (Gk., eudokia), “delight, pleasure; wish, desire, will”.
(2). “Will” (Gk., thelema), “God’s gracious determination” (Eph. 1:5, 9, 11).
b. “According to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself” (Eph. 1:9).
c. “Predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).
(1). “Predestined” (Gk., proorizo), “to determine or decree beforehand.”
5. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you, I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
6. The Ordo Salutis speaks to both unconditional and eternal; note the past tense of “glorified” (Rom. 8:28-30).
B. That election is in eternity is clear from numerous passages.
1. “Before the foundation of the world.…” (Eph. 1:4; cf. Matt. 25:34).
2. “…grace given to us in Christ before time began.…” (2 Tim. 1:9).
a. God does not change (Mal. 3:6), therefore His counsel/plan does not change (Isa. 46:10).
(1). The number of the elect and the non-elect is absolutely fixed in eternity (Lk. 10:20; Phil. 4:3).
C. There are elect angels (1 Tim. 5:21).
IV. Election necessitates reprobation: if some are chosen, obviously others are not.
A. Reprobation is by preterition. God passes over some and they continue in the sin they freely love, remaining faithless, unrepentant, and will be judged on their failure to worship the Creator who has revealed Himself to all (Matt. 25:14-46; Rom. 1:19-21; Rev. 20:12-15). There is no injustice with God, some get mercy; some get justice.
1. “Reprobate” (Rom. 1:20) means “base, failed to have met the test; unfit for something, rejected.”
2. God is sovereign and has the right to do whatever He pleases, nor can anyone question Him (Rom. 9:15-23; cf. Deut. 29:29).
3. God “hated” Esau (Rom. 9:13): “hated” carries sense of rejection and antipathy, as is clear from the context it is quoted from (Mal. 1:2-3); not simply “loved less” as it is sometimes translated (Deut. 21:15-17).
4. “Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (Rom. 9:21).
5. The passed over are spoken of as being “prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9:22-23; cf. Job 20:29; Prov. 16:4; 2 Thess. 2:11; 1 Pet. 2:8; Jude 4; Rev. 13:8).
6. There are non-elect angels (Matt. 25:41; 1 Tim. 5:21; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).
B. Reprobation is seen in the dual purpose of Christ’s preaching.
1. To the non-elect the Bible is a sealed book. Six times this is taught (Matt. 13:14-15; Mk. 4:12; Lk. 8:10; Jn. 12:40, Acts 28:27; Rom. 11:9-10).
C. Reprobation is evident in divine “hardening.”
1. God does not actively harden the heart, but rather He simply permits men to follow out their own evil impulses.
a. Man is born blind (1 Cor. 2:14) and hard of heart (Heb. 3:12-13).
b. Scripture says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but also that he hardened his own heart (Ex. 9:34; 10:1).
D. Reprobation has a purpose.
1. God is glorified by manifesting His justice (Isa. 5:16; Rom. 9:22-23).
2. Creates a greater abhorrence for sin, love for the Father, gratitude fueling holiness, and jealousy which reacted in salvation for the Jews (Rom. 11:11).
E. Reprobation is not explained.
1. Paul does not drag God off of His throne and set Him before our human reason to be questioned and examined (Rom. 9:18-21; cf. Deut. 29:29).
V. Election is based upon the “Covenant of Redemption.” The plan of God respecting the salvation of men was of the nature of a covenant, and was formed in eternity. The Father gave the Son a work to do; He sent Him into the world to perform it, and promised Him a great reward when the work was accomplished.
A. The parties in the covenant of redemption are the Father and the Son (as the representative person).
1. Christ is the Head of the covenant, the “elect One” (Isa. 42:1; 65:9; Lk. 23:35; 1 Pet. 2:4, 6).
B. The condition is Christ fulfilling all the demands of the law in order to receive the promise of life to give to His people.
1. At the beginning, Christ said that He had to be about His “father’s business” (Lk. 2:49).
2. Christ “finished the work” that the Father had sent Him into the world to do (Jn. 17:4, 18; cf. 10:15).
3. God “sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:9-10).
C. The promise of the Father is to grant eternal life to all those represented by the Son.
1. All the Father gives to Christ will come to Him for life (Jn. 6:37-40; cf. 10:29; 17:2, 9-12).
2. Only “in Him,” in union with Christ can any of the benefits be enjoyed.
VI. Election employs means and is unto holiness.
A. Chosen to be holy—predestined to adoption as sons (Eph. 1:4-5).
B. “God chose you for salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13; cf. 1 Thess. 5:9).
1. Hence, preaching is indispensable (Rom. 10:14-17; Acts 13:48; 18:9-11).
C. Election is to holiness (Col. 3:12; Tit. 1:1-3).
1. Predestined to be conformed to Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29).
A. Use, of knowledge.
1. Behold here the freedom and glory of sovereign grace, which is the sole cause why God did not leave all mankind to perish in the state of sin and misery, as He did the fallen angels.
2. Objections to election. [See Appendix B]
B. Use, of testing.
1. Do we contend with God over His utter sovereignty in salvation (Rom. 9:19-20)?
2. Do we claim some island of merit or effort that man has contributed to salvation (vv. 15-16)?
3. Can we defend unconditional election?
C. Use, of exhortation: sinners and saints.
1. Sinners. Nobody knows who the elect are, so you are commanded to believe upon Christ and repent from your sin (Acts 17:30). That is what is revealed to you; not the secret decrees of God (Deut. 29:29).
2. Saints. The doctrine of election is the ground of humility and adoration of God for the chosen, for it shows them that they owe the difference that is between them and others, solely to free grace. Press on to make your calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10), knowing that nothing can thwart electing grace (Rom. 8:33).