Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XVII (Part 2)

Section II. — Scriptural Proof.

IN investigating the Scriptural doctrine of Election, it is of the utmost consequence to keep close to Scripture itself, and to keep clear of philosophy. The subject of God’s foreknowledge and predestination must be full of difficulty, and our question can only be, what is revealed to us, not what may be abstract truth.

The disputes between the Calvinists and Arminians took, unhappily, a metaphysical, almost more than a Scriptural turn. The Calvinists were unable to believe in the contingency of events certainly foreknown, and in the absolute sovereignty of God, if limited by His knowledge of the actions of subordinate beings. The Arminians, truly contending that an action was not made compulsory because it was foreseen, held it inconsistent with the justice of God to destine some to be saved and others to be lost. Both argued from natural religion; and both gave weighty reasons for their inferences. But both should have seen that there was a limit to all such investigations, which no human intelligence could pass; and that those very arguments which reduced their adversaries to the greatest difficulties, might often, if pursued further, have told against themselves.

It is quite certain that, if we carry out our investigations on such subjects to their fullest extent, we must at length reach a point which is impassable, but where we are at least as much in difficulty and darkness as at any previous step in our course. Thus, why God, who is all holy and merciful, ever permitted sin to exist, seeing He could have prevented it; why, when sin came, not only into the creation, but into this world, He did not wholly, instead of partially, remove its curse and power; why the child derived it from its parent; why the unsinning brute creation is involved in pain and death, the wages of sin; why, whereas one half of the infants who are born die before the age of reason and responsibility, yet God does not cause all to die in infancy who, He foresees, will, if they live, live wickedly: — these and like questions, which puzzle us as to the omnipotence, the justice, or the goodness of God, and which neither Scripture nor philosophy will answer, ought to teach us that it is not designed that we should be satisfied on these deep subjects of speculation, concerning which Milton has described even angelic beings as lost in inextricable difficulty.

There is another line of reasoning, which has been taken in this controversy, somewhat more bearing on practical questions, and yet leading us beyond the reach of human intelligence. The Calvinist feels deeply that all must be ascribed to the grace of God, and nothing to the goodness of man. Therefore, he reasons, all holiness must come from an absolute decree; for, if not, why does one accept grace, another refuse it? If the grace be not irresistible, there must be something meritorious in him who receives, compared with him who resists. Both indeed may resist God’s grace; but he indeed who resists the least, so as not to quench the Spirit, must be considered as relatively, if not positively, meritorious. The Arminian, on the contrary, admitting that merit is not possible for man, yet contends that the belief in an irreversible decree takes away all human responsibility, makes the mind of man a mere machine, and deprives us of all motives for exertion and watchfulness. Even these arguments lead us to difficulties which perhaps we can not solve. We are clearly taught to believe, that sinful man can deserve no good from God, and derives all he has from Him. We are also taught to feel our own responsibility in the use of the grace given us, and the necessity of exerting ourselves in the strength of that grace. There may be some difficulty in harmonizing the two truths; but we have no right to construct a system based upon one of them, and to the exclusion of the other. If we cannot see, as many think they can, that they form part of one harmonious whole, we must be content to accept them both, without trying to reconcile them.

Now the doctrine of Calvin rests on two premises: 1. That election infallibly implies salvation. 2. That election is arbitrary. The Arminians admit the first premiss, which is probably false, and reject the second, which is probably true. If we would fairly investigate the question, we must begin by a determination not to be biassed by the use of words, nor to suffer ourselves to be led by a train of inductive reasoning. The former is a mistake which prevails extensively on almost all religious questions, and is utterly subversive of candour and truth; the latter is altogether inadmissible on a subject so deep as that under consideration.

To begin with the old Testament, a portion of Scripture too much neglected in this controversy, we read much there of God’s election: and it is perhaps to be regretted, that our authorized translation has used the words choose, chosen, choice, in the old Testament, and the words elect and election in the new Testament, whereas the original must be the same in both, and the ideas, contained under both phrases, identical.

Now who are the persons spoken of in the old Testament as God’s elect or chosen people? Plainly the seed of Abraham, the children of Israel. Let us then observe, first, the ground of their election; secondly, to what they were elect?

It is quite apparent, from innumerable statements of Moses and the prophets, that the cause or ground of God’s election of the people of Israel was not, as on the Arminian hypothesis, foreseen faith, but God’s good pleasure, springing from motives unknown to us. It was not for “their righteousness, for the uprightness of their heart, that they went in to possess the land.” The Lord did “not give them the good land to possess for their righteousness: for they were a stiff-necked people” (Deut. ix. 5, 6). “Only the Lord had a delight in their fathers to love them, and He chose their seed after them above all people” (Deut. x. 15). “The Lord will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake; because it hath pleased the Lord to make you His people” (1 Sam. xii. 22). “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people … I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. xxxi. 1, 3). “I have loved you, saith the Lord, yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord; yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau” (Mai. i. 2, 3): a passage, which, as explained by St. Paul (Rom. ix. 13), clearly expresses God’s purpose to choose the seed of Jacob in preference to that of Esau, irrespectively of the goodness of the one or the other.

The Arminian hypothesis, therefore, of foreseen faith is clearly inapplicable to the election spoken of in the books of the old Testament. The cause and ground of it was plainly God’s absolute irrespective decree. But then to what was the election so often mentioned there? We have discovered its ground; can we discover the correct idea to be attached to the action itself?

It is evident that the whole Jewish nation, and none but they, were the objects of God’s election. “O children of Israel …. you only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos iii. 1, 2). “Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God; the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. vii. 6). “The Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and He chose their seed after them, even you among all people, as it is this day” (Deut. x. 15). “The Lord hath avouched thee this day to be His peculiar people, as He hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments: and to make thee high above all nations which He hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God” (Deut. xxvi. 18, 19). And, “What one nation in the earth is like thy people, like Israel, whom God went to redeem for a people to Himself? . . . For Thou hast confirmed to Thyself Thy people Israel, to be a people unto Thee for ever: and Thou, Lord, art become their God” (2 Sam. vii. 23, 24). “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance” (Psal. xxxiii. 12). “The Lord hath chosen Jacob unto Himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure” (Psal. cxxxv. 4). “Thou, Israel, art My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend … I have chosen thee and not cast thee away” (Isai. xli. 8, 9). “Yet now hear, O Jacob, my servant, and Israel whom I have chosen” (Isai. xliv. 1). “For Jacob, My servant’s sake and Israel Mine elect” (Isai. xlv. 4). “Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, The two families which the Lord hath chosen, He hath even cast them off?” (Jer. xxxiii. 24.)

All these passages tell exactly the same tale, and explain to us the nature and object of God’s election, as propounded under the old Testament. Were the Jewish people, who are thus constantly called God’s elect, elected to an unfailing and infallible salvation of their souls? Most assuredly not. Nay, they were not elected to infallible possession even of all the temporal blessings of God’s people. Victory over their enemies, entrance into, in the first place, and then quiet possession of, the promised land were made contingent on their obedience to God’s will (see Deut. vii., viii. passim). But that to which they were chosen, was to be God’s “peculiar people,” — to be “a holy people,” consecrated to the service of God, — to have the covenant and the promises, and to be the Church of God. Yet still, there was “set before them life and death, cursing and blessing:” and they were exhorted to “choose life:” “that they might dwell in the land which the Lord sware to their fathers” (Deut. xxx. 19, 20).

We see therefore, first, that the cause of God’s election was arbitary; secondly, that the election itself was to blessing indeed, but it was the blessing of privilege, not of absolute possession. And even of those chosen to be brought out of Egypt, and to become God’s people in the wilderness, by abusing their privileges, all but two perished before they reached the promised land; and those chosen to live in Canaan, as God’s Church and people then on earth, were continually provoking God’s indignation, and bringing down a curse instead of a blessing upon them.

The seed of Abraham then, the children of Israel, were the only elect people of God at that time upon earth; but their election was to the privilege of being God’s Church, the subjects of His Theocratic kingdom, the recipients of His grace, and the depositaries of His truth. This is the whole nature of election, as propounded to us in the Law and the Prophets. If there were any further election, and of what nature it may have been, as far as the old Testament went, was one of the “secret things, which belong to the Lord our God.”

Some people indeed argue, that, if one person or body of persons is predestined to light and privilege, and another is debarred from them, it is one and the same thing as if one was predestined to salvation and another to damnation; for, if the one is not certainly saved, the other is certainly lost: and so, if election to glory be not taught, reprobation to damnation is. But this is, first of all, an example of that mode of induction which is so objectionable in questions of this sort. And next, it remains to be proved, either that privilege leads of necessity to salvation, or that absence of privilege leads inevitably to damnation. However, it will, no doubt, be generally conceded that the Jew was placed in a more favourable state for attaining salvation than the Gentile, and that, as we have seen, from an arbitrary decree of God. This, it will be said, is as inconsistent with our ideas of justice, as anything in the system of Calvin or Augustine. Admit this, and you may as well admit all. The question, however, still remains the same; not what men are willing to admit, but what the Bible reveals. This election to light and privilege is evidently analogous to those cases which we see in God’s ordinary Providence: some born rich, others poor; some nursed in ignorance, others in full light; some with pious, others with ungodly parents; and now too, some in a Christian, others in a heathen land; some with five talents, others with but one. Why all this is, we cannot tell; why God is pleased to put some in a position where vice seems all but inevitable, others where goodness seems almost natural, we know not; nor again, as has been said before, why He does not ordain that all who He foresees will be wicked, should die in infancy. We know and see, that such is His pleasure. The secret motives of His will we are not told, and we cannot fathom. We are left to believe that, though hidden from us, they must be right. What we are taught is, how to avail ourselves of the privileges, whatever they may be, which we have; to escape the dangers, and profit by the advantages of our position. This is practical, and this is revealed truth.

To return to the old Testament. As we have seen, we there read much of election; and it is always election of a certain body of persons, by an arbitrary decree, to the blessings and privileges of being of the Church of God. And we observe another thing, namely, that, whereas none but the Israelites were elected to such privileges then, there were yet many prophecies of a time when other persons, individuals of other nations, should be chosen by God, and made partakers of the same privileges with the Jews, — the same privileges enhanced and exalted. Nay, the Jews are threatened, as a body, with rejection from privilege for their sins; a remnant only of them being to be retained in the possession of blessing; and with that remnant, a host from other nations to be brought in and associated.

When we come to the new Testament, we must bear in mind that the Apostles were all Jews, but their mission was to proclaim that the Jewish Church had passed away, and to bring in converts to the Christian Church. Especially St. Paul had to found a Church among the Gentiles, and to bring the Gentiles into the fold of Christ. Nothing therefore could be more natural, or more in accordance with the plan of the Apostles, than, as it were, to apologize to the Jews, and to explain to the Gentiles the new condition which the Almighty had designed for His Church in the world. It would be most natural that they should enlarge upon the truth that in God’s eternal counsels there were general purposes of mercy for mankind, to be effected by means of bringing persons into Christ’s Church, and therein by the graces of His Spirit conforming them to the likeness of His Son; that though hitherto His mercy in this respect had been confined to the Jews His further plans having been hid for ages and generations, yet now it was revealed that the Gentiles should with the Jews be fellow-heirs (see Col. i. 25, 26, Eph. iii. 5, 6); that, therefore, whereas heretofore the seed of Abraham had been the only chosen people of God, yet now the whole Catholic Church, composed of both converted Jews and Gentiles, were His chosen people; and God, who, of His good pleasure, for a time elected only the Jews, had, by the same good pleasure, now chosen individuals both of Jews and Gentiles, to be members of His Church and heirs of the grace of life. In thus reasoning, it is most natural that the Apostles should constantly compare the state of Christians with the state of the Jews, and so continually use old Testament language, adopting the very expressions of Moses and the prophets, and simply applying them to the altered condition of the world, and to the enlarged condition of the Church. Thus, were the Jews constantly spoken of as a holy people, as called and chosen of God? In like manner, St. Paul begins scarce any Epistle without calling the Church addressed in it either holy, called, or elect (see Rom. i. 6, 7;[1] 1 Cor. i. 9, 24; 2 Cor. i. 1; Eph. i. 1; Phil. i. 1; Col. i. 2; 1 Thess. i. 4; 2 Thess. ii. 13; 2 Tim. i. 8‒10; Heb. iii. 1, &c.). Were the Jews spoken of as “a peculiar people, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exod. xix. 5, 6)? St. Peter addresses the Christian Church as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, that they should show forth the praises of Him who hath called them out of darkness into His marvellous light; which in times past were not a people, but now are the people of God.”[2] So too, in his very first salutation of the Church, composed as it was of Jewish and Gentile converts, he calls them “strangers or sojourners, scattered abroad, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. i. 2); where, like St. Paul, he no doubt uses this expression with special reference to the objection which the Jews made to the calling of the Gentiles. They thought that God’s plan was only to call the children of Israel. But no! the Apostle speaks of the Church (a Gentile as well as a Jewish Church) as chosen and preordained, by a foreknown and predestinated counsel of God, kept secret hitherto, but now made manifest.[3]

This mode of treating the question is nowhere more apparent than in the opening of the Epistle to the Ephesians. There St. Paul is addressing a Gentile Church. Having first saluted its members, as “the holy persons in Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus,” he at once proceeds to give God thanks for having blessed the Christian Church with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus, according as He had chosen that Church in Him before the foundation of the world; the object of such election being, that it might be made holy and without blame before him in love; God having predestinated its members to the adoption of children (as the Jews had of old been children of God), through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace (Eph. i. 3‒6). He then proceeds to speak of the Church’s blessing in having redemption through the Blood of Christ, and says, that now God has made known His hitherto hidden will, that in the dispensation of the fulness of time all things were to be collected together under one Head in Christ, both things in heaven and things on earth (vv. 9. 10). And he continues, that in Him “we (that is, those who have believed from among the Jews) have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to His purpose,” &c. “In whom ye also (ye Gentile Christians) trusted, after that ye heard of the word of truth” (vv. 11‒13).[4]

The Apostle next proceeds to give thanks for their conversion and faith, and to pray for their further grace and enlightenment (Eph. i. 15, 16; ii. 10). He reminds them of their former Gentile state, when they were without Christ, and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel (ii. 11, 12); and tells them, that now they are brought nigh by Christ, who hath broken down the partition wall between Jews and Gentiles, and reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to God in one body, preaching peace to the Gentiles, who were far off, and to the Jews, who were nigh (vv. 13‒17). He says, that they are therefore now no longer far off from God, but are made fellow-citizens of the same city, the Church, with the saints, and of the same household of God, and are built on the same foundation, and all grow together to one holy temple in the Lord (vv. 18‒22). All this was a mystery, in other ages not made known, but now revealed to apostles and prophets by the Spirit, namely, that it had been part of God’s eternal purpose of mercy that Gentiles should be fellow-heirs with Jews, both members of the same body, the Church, and partakers of the same promise in Christ by the Gospel (iii. 3‒6).

The Churches, which the Apostles thus addressed as elect, and on which they impress the blessings and privileges of their election, are still treated by them as in a state of probation, and their election is represented, not merely as a source of comfort, but also as full of responsibility. Thus, to the Ephesians, of whose election we find St. Paul spoke so strongly in the first chapter, he says, “I … beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Ephes. iv. 1). And he thenceforth continues through the whole of the remainder of the Epistle, teaching them how to live, so as not to forfeit their blessings — not to be “like children tossed to and fro” (iv. 14) — not to “walk henceforth as other Gentiles” (17) — not to grieve the Spirit (30) —not to be partakers with fornicators and unclean livers, who have no inheritance in God’s kingdom (v. 1‒7) — to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (11) — to “walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise” (15) — not to be “drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Spirit” (18) — to “put on the whole armour of God, that they might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,” knowing that they had a contest against wicked spirits; that so they might “be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (vi. 11, 12, 13).

Just similar is his language to other Churches. Thus, the Philippians, whom he calls “saints,” he bids to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. ii. 12; compare iii. 12‒16). The Colossians, whom he speaks of as having been “translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son,” he bids “to put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved,” all Christian graces (iii. 12‒17); and to avoid all heathen vices (iii. 5‒9); and that on the very principle that they were to consider themselves as brought into a new state in Christ (iii. 9, 10). The Thessalonians, whom he tells that he “knows their election of God” (1 Thess. i. 4), he warns against sloth and sleep (1 Thess. v. 6), urges them to put on Christian armour (v. 8, 9), exhorts them not to “quench the Spirit” (v. 19). And to Timothy he says of himself, that he “endures all things for the elect’s sake;” and that, not because the elect are sure of salvation, but in order that “they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. ii. 10).

In exactly the same manner, St. Peter, as we have seen, addresses those to whom he writes as “elect,” and whom he calls “an elect generation,” (1 Pet. i. 2; ii. 9): but he still urges them to “abstain from fleshly lusts,” (ii. 11); to “pass the time of their sojourning here in fear,” (i. 17); to be “sober and watch unto prayer” (iv. 7); to “give diligence to make their calling and election sure” (2 Pet. i. 10); to “beware lest, being led away with the error of the wicked, they fall from their own steadfastness” (2 Pet iii. 17).

All this is in the same spirit and tone. It is, allowing for the change of circumstances, just as the prophets addressed the Jews. The prophets addressed the Jews, and the apostles addressed Christians, as God’s chosen people, as elect, predestinated to the Church, to grace, to blessing. But then, they urge their blessings and election as motives, not for confidence, but for watchfulness. They speak to them as having a conflict to maintain, a race to run; and they exhort them not to quench the Spirit, who is aiding them, to beware lest they fall from the steadfastness of their faith, to be sober and watch to the end.

Let us turn next to the Epistle to the Romans. In the ninth chapter more especially, St. Paul considers the question of God’s rejecting the unbelieving Jews, and calling into His Church a body of persons elected from among Jews and Gentiles. The rejection of his fellow-countrymen he himself deeply deplores; but there was a difficulty and objection arising, which he sets himself directly to solve. God has chosen Israel for His people. He had given them “an everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David.” Could then the rejection of the Jews be explained consistently with God’s justice, His promises, and His past dealing with His people? Objections of this kind the Apostle replies to. And he does so by showing that God’s dealings now were just as they had always been of old. Of old He gave the promise to Abraham, but afterwards limited it to his seed in Isaac. Then again, though Esau and Jacob were both Isaac’s children, He gave the privileges of His Church to the descendants of Jacob, not to those of Esau; and that with no reference to Jacob’s goodness; for the restriction of the promise was made before either Jacob or Esau were born; exactly according to those words by Malachi, where God, speaking of His calling of the Israelites, says, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Rom. ix. 6‒13.) This restriction therefore of God’s promises, first to Isaac, and then to Jacob, corresponded exactly with His purposes now revealed in the Gospel, namely, to bring to Christian and Church privileges that portion of the Jews who embraced the Gospel, and to cast off the rest who were hardened in unbelief. From verse 14 to verse 19, St. Paul states an objection to this doctrine of God’s election, which he replies to in verse 20. The objection he states thus, “Shall we say then that there is injustice with God?” For the language of Scripture seems to imply that there is, God being represented as saying, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,” which shows that it is of God’s mercy, and not of man’s will. Again, it is said to Pharaoh, “For this cause have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee.” So that it seems to be taught us, that God shows mercy on whom He will, and hardens whom He will. It may therefore be reasonably said, why does He yet find fault with the sinner; “for who hath resisted His will?” (w. 14‒19). This objection to God’s justice the Apostle states thus strongly, that he may answer it the more fully. His reply is, that such complaints against God for electing the Jewish people, and placing Pharaoh in an exalted station, and bearing long with his wickedness, are presumptuous and arrogant. “Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour?” (vv. 20, 21).[5] Shall man complain because God ordained the Jews for a place of eminence in His Church, or raised Pharaoh as king of Egypt to a position of honour, and yet a position in which he would only the more surely exhibit his wickedness? We know not the secret motives of God’s will. What if the real reason of all this were, that “God, willing to manifest His wrath, and to make His power known,” as He did with Pharaoh, so now also has endured with much long-suffering the unbelieving Israelites, who are “vessels of wrath” already “fitted to destruction,” in order “that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared for a position of honour, even on us, who are that Church of Christ, which He hath now called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (vv. 20‒24).

If we will cast aside preconceived doctrines and conventional phraseology, it will surely appear that such is the plain meaning of this memorable chapter. The Apostle is explaining the justice of God’s dealings, in having long borne with the Jewish race, and now casting them off and establishing a Church composed partly of the remnant of the Jews, partly of Gentile converts. Herein He only acted as He had ever done, calling first the seed of Abraham His chosen, then the seed of Isaac, elected from the elect, and again (elected once more out of them) the seed of Jacob; and as He had borne long with Pharaoh’s wickedness, that He might make him the more signal monument of His vengeance, so perhaps it was with the Jews. He had borne long with them, partly in mercy, and partly that He might magnify His power, and show the severity of His justice.

The same subject is kept in view, more or less, throughout the two following chapters. In the 11th he again distinctly recurs to the bringing of a portion of the Jewish race into the Church of Christ, not indeed the whole nation — but restricted again, as it once was in Isaac, and afterwards in Jacob. He instances the case in which all Israel seemed involved in one common apostasy, and yet God told Elias that there were seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Even so it was at the time of the Gospel. All Israel seemed cast off, but it was not so; a remnant remained, a remnant was called into the Church, chosen or elected into it by the grace of God. “Even so at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” Rom. xi. 5.

We may now proceed to the passage which, even more than any of the preceding, may be considered as the stronghold either of the Calvinist or the Arminian. Each claims it as unquestionably his own. The passage is Rom. viii. 29, 30: “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.”

The Calvinist contends that the passage plainly speaks of predestination to eternal glory; the various clauses showing the progress, from the first purpose of God, through calling and justifying, to the final salvation of the elect soul. The Arminian replies, that, though it is true that the passage speaks of predestination to eternal glory, yet it is evidently on the ground of foreseen faith; for it begins with the words “whom He did foreknow;” showing that His foreknowledge of their acceptance of His grace was the motive of His predestination of their glory. That the Arminian has scarcely ground for this argument seems clear from the use of this word “foreknew” in Rom. xi. 2; where “God hath not cast away His people whom He foreknew,” can scarcely mean otherwise than “whom He had predestinated to be His Church of old.” But then, though it seems that the passage speaks of an arbitrary purpose, yet it cannot be proved to have any direct reference to future glory. The verbs are all in the past tense, and none in the future, and therefore cannot certainly be translated as future. Either “whom He hath justified, them He hath glorified,”[6] or “whom He justifies, them He also glorifies” would correctly render it; since the aorist expresses either a past or a present. Hence the passage was uniformly understood by the ancients as referring not to future glory of Christians in the world to come, but to that present glorification of the elect, which consists in their participation in the high honour and privilege bestowed by God upon His Church.[7] And, as they viewed it, so grammatical accuracy will oblige us to understand it. And if so, then we must interpret the passage in correspondence with the language in the Epistle to the Ephesians, and in the chapter already considered in the Epistle to the Romans. “Those whom God in His eternal counsels chose before the foundation of the world, His elect people, the Church, He designed to bring to great blessings and privileges; namely, conformity to the likeness of His Son, calling into His Church, justification, and the high honor and glory of being sons of God and heirs of the kingdom of heaven.”[8]

It would exceed our limits, if we were to consider all the passages bearing on this doctrine in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles. The parable of the vineyard (Matt. xx. 1‒16), and of the wedding feast (Matt. xxii. 1‒14), evidently speak the language of ecclesiastical election, the calling of the Jews, and then the election of the halt and maimed heathen from the highways and hedges into the Christian Church.[9]

In the Acts, we read of God’s “adding to the Church such as should be saved,” (τοὺς σωζομένους, those who were being saved,) where the words plainly mean that God brought into His Church those whom He chose to the privileges of a state of salvation[10] (Acts ii. 47).

In Acts xiii. 48, we hear of persons “believing, as many as were ordained to eternal life,” which sounds at first much like the doctrine of Calvin. But in the first place, the word here rendered ordained, is nowhere else employed in the sense of predestinated; and if it is to be so interpreted here, we must perforce understand it as meaning, that they were predestinated to the reception of that Gospel which is itself the way to eternal life, and which, if not abused, will surely lead to it. Otherwise the passage would prove, that all those who heard the Apostles and embraced the Gospel and the Church, must have been finally saved; a thing in the highest degree improbable, and wholly inconsistent with experience.[11]

In the Gospel of St. John we have two or three passages, supposed to speak markedly the language of Calvinism.

1. “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John vi. 37).

2. “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John vi. 39).

3. “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” (John vi. 70).

4. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no (man) is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand” (John x. 27‒29).

5. “Because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John xv. 19).

6. “Holy Father, keep through Thine own Name those whom thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Thy Name: those that Thou gavest Me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John xvii. 11, 12).

Some of these passages, taken by themselves, undoubtedly bear a very Calvinistic aspect, especially the second and the fourth. But if we take them altogether, they explain each other. The whole then seems a connected scheme. The Father gives a Church of disciples to His Son; who also Himself chooses them from the world. Those that the Father thus gives to the Son, assuredly come to Him, and are joined unto his fellowship.[12] It is not the will of God that any of these should perish. “He willeth not the death of a sinner.” “It is not the will of the Father that one of these little ones should perish.” Whilst our blessed Lord was on earth with His Church, He preserved and guarded it by His presence; and when He left it, He prayed the Father that He would guard and support His disciples, “not taking them from the world, but keeping them from the evil” (John xvii. 15). The faithfulness of God is pledged to support His tempted servants, and His greatness secures them against all dangers, and assures them, that none shall be able to take them out of Christ’s hands. Yet that their final perseverance and salvation are not so certainly secured, as that, because they have been given to Christ they can never at last be condemned, is evidenced by the case of Judas Iscariot, who, in the third and sixth of the above passages, is numbered with Christ’s elect,[13] and with those whom the Father had given Him; yet still is mentioned, as one who, notwithstanding Christ’s own presence and guidance, had fallen away and perished. He, like the rest, had been of Christ’s sheep, elect to discipleship and grace; but, having quenched the Spirit, and been unfaithful, he was not chosen to salvation.[14]

Whatever then be philosophically true concerning man’s freedom and God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge; the question which is practical to us is, How far has God revealed in His word the grounds of His dealings with us? If the foregoing investigation has been fairly conducted, we must conclude, that the revelation which has been given us concerns His will and purpose to gather together in Christ a Church chosen out of the world, and that to this Church and to every individual member of it He gives the means of salvation. That salvation, if attained, will be wholly due to the grace of God, which first chooses the elect soul to the blessings of the baptismal covenant, and afterwards endues it with power to live the life of faith. If, on the other hand, the proffered salvation be forfeited, it will be in consequence of the fault and wickedness of him that rejects it. Much is said of God’s will, that all should be saved, and of Christ’s death as sufficient for all men; and we hear of none shut out from salvation, but for their own faults and demerits. More than this cannot with certainty be inferred from Scripture; for it appears most probable that what we learn there concerns only predestination to grace, there being no revelation concerning predestination to glory.

The old Testament, our blessed Lord, St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. John, and after them the earliest Christian Fathers, seem thus in perfect harmony to speak of God’s election of individuals to His Church. Of any further election we cannot say that they did speak. New and more subtle questions were brought in by philosophers, like Clement and Origen, which were more fully worked out by the powerful intellect of St. Augustine, whose contact with philosophic heretics tempted him to philosophic speculations. In later times the disputations of the schoolmen still mingled metaphysics with theology; till the acute but over-bold mind of Calvin moulded into full proportion a system, which has proved the fertile source of discord to all succeeding generations. In the hands of the great Genevan divine it was not allowed to be quiet and otiose, but became the basis and groundwork of his whole scheme of theology. Much of that scheme was sound and admirable; but it was so made to bend and square itself to its author’s strong view of predestination, that it lost the fair proportions of Catholic truth.

Deep learning and fervent piety have characterized many who have widely differed in these points of doctrine. It is well for us, disregarding mere human authority and philosophical discussions, to strive to attain the simple sense of the Scriptures of God. But it is not well, when we have satisfied ourselves, to condemn those who may disagree with us; nor, because we see practical dangers in certain doctrines, to believe that all who embrace those doctrines must of necessity fall into evil, through the dangers which attach to them. Discussions on subjects such as this do not, perhaps, so much need acuteness and subtilty, as humility and charity.


  1. κλητοῖς, ἁγίοις, not as in our version, “called to be saints,” but, “called, holy,” as the Syriac.
  2. 1 Pet. ii. 9, 10. St. Peter has here adopted the very words addressed to the Jewish people in Exod. xix. 5, 6, xxiii. 22, as rendered by the LXX. Ἔσεσθέ μοι λαὸς περιούσιος ἀπὸ πάντων τῶν ἐθνῶν … ὑμεῖς δὲ ἔσεσθέ μοι βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα καὶ ἔθνος ἅγιον.
  3. Comp. 1 Pet. v. 13; where he speaks of the whole Church at Babylon as “elect together with” those churches to whom he writes.
  4. The force of the 14th verse is almost lost in our translation; its pecularity consisting in its use and adaptation of the old Testament language to the Christian Churc. The words rendered in our version, “until the redemption of the purchased possession,” mean more likely “with reference to the ransom of God’s peculiar people, or, of the people whom God hath made His own;” εἰς ἀπολύτρωσιν τῆς περιποιήσεως. See Exod. xix. 5, 6; xxiii. 22. So the LXX. read Malachi iii. 17, where it appears prophetic of the Gentile Church. Compare the language of St. Peter, quoted in the last note but one, who calls the Church λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν. St. Paul, (Acts xx. 28,) speaking to the Ephesians, calls them the Church of God, ἣν περιεποιήσατο διὰ τοῦ ἰδίου αἵματος. The expression appears to mean “the people whom God made His own,” so first applied to the Jewish, afterwards to the Christian Church. See Schleusner on this word, Hammond, Rosenmüller and Macknight on Ephes. i. 14, and on 1 Pet. ii. 9.
  5. See Jer. xvii. 2‒10. “The scriptural similitude of the potter and the clay is often triumphantly appealed to as a proof that God has from eternity decreed, and what is more, has revealed to us that He has so decreed the salvation or perdition of each individual, without any other reason assigned than that such is His will and pleasure: ‘we are in His hands,’ say these predestinarians, ‘as clay is in the potter’s, who hath power of the same lump to make one vessel to honour and another to dishonour,’ not observing, in their hasty eagerness to seize on every apparent confirmation of their system, that this similitude, as far as it goes, rather makes against them; since the potter never makes any vessel for the express purpose of being broken and destroyed. This comparison accordingly agrees much better with the view here taken; the potter, according to his own arbitrary choice, makes ‘of the same lump on vessel to honour, and another to dishonour,’ i. e., some to nobler and some to meaner uses; but all for some use; none with the design that it should be cast away and dashed to pieces: even so the Almighty, of His own arbitrary choice, causes some to be born to wealth or rank, others to poverty and obscurity; some in a heathen and others in a Christian country; the advantages and privileges bestowed on each are various, and, as far as we can see, arbitrarily dispensed; the final rewards or punishments depend, as we are plainly taught, on the use or abuse of these advantages.” — Archbp. Whately, Essays on the Writings of St. Paul. Essay III. on Election, an essay full of clear and thoughtful statements and elucidations.
  6. οὓς δὲ ἐδικαίωσε, τούτους καὶ ἐδόξασε.
  7. See Faber, Prim. Doct. of Election, who quotes from Whitby, Origen, Chrysostom, Œcumenicus, Theodoret, Theophylact, pseudo-Ambrosius, and Jerome, as concurring in this interpretation of “glorified.”
  8. I have myself little doubt that this is the meaning of the passage, divested of conventional phraseology, which cramps our whole mind in these inquiries. But I should wish to guard against dogmatizing too decidedly on such passages. I think this passage and one other (John vi. 37‒39) to be the strongest passages in favour of the theory of St. Augustine; and their full weight ought to be given them. Some sound and learned divines have thought, that the new Testament evidently speaks of election to grace, and that most of the passages on the subject relate to this, but that there are also passages which relate to a further election out of the elect, to glory.
  9. The words with which these two parables end, seem, at first sight, an exception to the use of the word elect in the Scriptures; namely, “Many are called, but few chosen:” πολλοὶ μὲν κλητοὶ, ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί. It is, however, merely a different application of the same term. Many are called to Christian privileges, but only those who make a good use of them are chosen to salvation. Notwithstanding, then, a different application of the word chosen, the principle laid down appears to be precisely the same.
  10. τοὺς σωζομένους. Dr. Hammond (on Luke xiii. 23, and 1 Pet. ii. 6, in which he is followed by Lowth on Isaiah i. 9, Ezek. vii. 6) considers this expression as synonymous with the “remnant” or “escaped,” שָׂרִיד, so often spoken of in the old Testament. The Syriac renders the words by [could not transcribe] qui salvi fiebant in cœtu vel ecclesia.
  11. See Hammond on this verse, and also his notes on Luke xiii. 23; 1 Pet. ii. 6.
  12. Compare John x. 16: “Other sheep I have, that are not of this fold” (Gentiles, not Jews): “them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice: and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
  13. Compare, “I speak not of you all; I know whom I have chosen,” (meaning Judas). John xiii. 18.
  14. I cannot see that any force is put upon the passages from St. John by the explanation and paraphrase in the text. It seems to me that, when all are compared together, no other sense can be attached to them. Yet, as above noted, the passsages marked 2 and 4, and Romans viii. 29, 30, are the passages most favourable to the theory of St. Augustine. And it is so fearful a thing to put a strained interpretation on the words of Christ, in order to adapt them to a system, that I would not willingly err, by pressing on others those interpretations which seem to me to be undoubtedly true.

E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

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