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).

a. “Know” has two senses (see the original Hebrew word or Greek word).

(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).

Relevant quote from Gesenius:
Often used of the will, to turn the mind to something, to care for, to see about. Germ. nach etwas fehen. Gen. 39:6, לֹא יָדַע מְאוּמָה “he took care of none of his things;” Prov. 9:13; Prov. 27:23; Job 9:21 (opp. to מָאַס). Job 34:4, נֵדְעָה בֵנֵינוּ מַה־טּוֹב “let us see to it amongst ourselves what is good?” i.e. let us attend to it, let us investigate. In the other hemistich נִבְחֲרָה. Followed by בְּ Job 35:15, לֹא יָדַע בַּפַּשׁ “he does not regard iniquity.” Specially used—(a) of God as caring for men; Psalm 144:3; Neh. 1:7; followed by מִן Amos 3:2, “you only have I known (especially cared for) of all the nations of the earth.” Gen. 18:19, יְדַעְתִּיו לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה “him (Abraham) have I known (cared for, chosen) that he may command,” etc. Compare Psa. 1:6.—(b) of men regarding or worshipping God. Hos. 8:2; 13:4; Ps. 36:11; 9:11, יֹדְעֵי שְׁמֶךָ “those who know (regard or worship) thy name.” Job 18:21, “who regards not God,” an atheist, 1 Sa. 2:12.  source

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).

Relevant quote from William Hendriksen:
The foundation of the church, of its entire salvation from start to finish, hence surely also of its election, is Christ. Paul says, “He (“the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”) elected us in him.” The connection between verses 3 and 4 hinges on this phrase. One could bring this out in the translation as follows, “God the Father blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as in him he elected us.…” In other words, in time the Father blessed us in Christ, just as from all eternity he elected us in him. Though some maintain that this “just as” denotes no more than correspondence, in the sense that there is perfect agreement between the blessings and the election, for both are “in Christ,” it may well be asked whether this interpretation exhausts the meaning of the word used in the original. Aside from a point of grammar (for which see the footnote), it is the teaching of Paul that election from eternity and the further steps in the order of salvation are not to be considered as so many separate items but rather as links in a golden chain, as Rom. 8:29, 30 makes abundantly clear. Election, then, is the root of all subsequent blessings. It is as Jesus said in his highpriestly prayer, “… that to all whom thou hast given him he might give everlasting life” (John 17:2). See also John 6:37, 39, 44; 10:29. Hence, since election is from eternity, and since it is the foundation of all further blessings, and since it is “in him,” Christ is not only the Foundation of the church but its Eternal Foundation.

The question must now be answered, “How is it to be understood that it was in Christ that saints and believers were chosen?” The answer that is often given is this, that it was determined in the counsel of God that in time these people would come to believe in Christ. Though, to be sure, that, too, is implied, it is not a sufficient answer and fails to do justice to all that is taught by Paul and other inspired writers with respect to this important point. The basic answer must be that from before the foundation of the world Christ was the Representative and Surety of all those who in time would be gathered into the fold. This was necessary, for election is not an abrogation of divine attributes. It has already been established that in the background of God’s decree is the dismal fact that those chosen are viewed as being, at the very outset, totally unworthy, having involved themselves in ruin and perdition. Now sin must be punished. The demands of God’s holy law must be satisfied. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does not, by means of election, cancel his righteousness or abolish the demands of his law. How then is it ever possible for God to bestow such a great, glorious, and basic blessing as election upon “children of wrath,” and to do so without detriment to his very essence and the inviolability of his holy law? The answer is that this is possible because of the promise of the Son (in full co-operation with the Father and the Spirit), “Lo, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God; thy law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:7, 8. Cf. Heb. 10:5–7; Gal. 4:4, 5; Phil. 2:6–8). “In Christ,” then, saints and believers, though initially and by nature thoroughly unworthy, are righteous in the very sight of God, for Christ had promised that in their stead he would satisfy all the requirements of the law, a promise which was also completely fulfilled (Gal. 3:13). This forensic righteousness is basic to all the other spiritual blessings. Therefore,

“To thee, O Lord, alone is due
All glory and renown;
Aught to ourselves we dare not take,
Or rob thee of thy crown.
Thou wast thyself our Surety
In God’s redemption plan;
In thee his grace was given us,
Long ere the world began.”
(Augustus M. Toplady, 1774; revised by Dewey Westra, 1931)

William Hendriksen, Exposition of Ephesians, vol. 7, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 75–77.

a. “According to the good pleasure of His will” (Eph. 1:5).

(1). “Pleasure” (Gk., eudokia), “delight, pleasure; wish, desire, will”.

Relevant quote from Matthew Riddle:
The word ‘good-pleasure’ has two meanings: (1.) good-pleasure, what one pleases to do, because good to him, or (2.) benevolence, what involves good will to others. The former is the sense here, as the context plainly indicates. The freedom of God’s will is here asserted, and for us this thought is an all-important one. If God is not free, then our freedom is impossible. If He is not free, His benevolence is of little value to sinners.   source

(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).

(1). “Purpose” (Gk., protithemai, v. 9; Gk., prothesis, v. 11, “the setting forth of anything before the divine mind” [Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics]).

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.

Relevant quote from John Brown:
Q. Whet is reprobation?
A. It is God’s decree to permit unelected angels and men to fall into, and continue in sin, und to punish them for the same.
Q. Is sin the cause of reprobation?
A. Sin is the cause of damnation; but God’s sovereign will is the cause of reprobation, Rom. 9:11-28.
Q. Is not God partial, in appointing some to wrath, and others to happiness?
A. No; For though he give the elect what they deserve not, yet he inflicts nothing upon reprobates, but what they well deserve.
Q Doth reprobation oblige any to sin?
A. No; sin is. wholly the creature’s voluntary choice, Jam. 1:13.
Q. What is the end of reprobation?
A. The glory of God’s sovereignty and justice, Rom. 9:22.
Q. How should we improve this awful decree of reprobation?
A. By flying speedily to Christ, that we may see that we are not included in it, Isa 55:1-3.   source

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).


VII. Application.

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).

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