- e-lek'-shun (ekloge, "choice," "selection"):
I. THE WORD IN SCRIPTURE
II. THE MYSTERIOUS ELEMENT
III. INCIDENCE UPON COMMUNITY AND INDIVIDUAL
IV. COGNATE AND ILLUSTRATIVE BIBLICAL LANGUANGE
V. LIMITATIONS OF INQUIRY HERE. SCOPE OF ELECTION
VII. CONSIDERATIONS IN RELIEF OF THOUGHT
2. Fatalism Another Thing
3. The Moral Aspects
4. "We know in Part"
5. The Unknown Future
I. The Word in Scripture.
The word is absent from the Old Testament, where the related Hebrew verb (bachar) is frequent. In the New Testament it occurs 6 times (Rom 9:11; 11:5,7,28; 1 Thess 1:4; 2 Pet 1:10). In all these places it appears to denote an act of Divine selection taking effect upon human objects so as to bring them into special and saving relations with God: a selection such as to be at once a mysterious thing, transcending human analysis of its motives (so eminently in Rom 9:11), and such as to be knowable by its objects, who are (2 Pet) exhorted to "make it sure," certain, a fact to consciousness. It is always (with one exception, Rom 9:11; see below) related to a community, and thus has close affinity with the Old Testament teachings upon the privileged position of Israel as the chosen, selected race (see under ELECT). The objects of election in the New Testament are, in effect, the Israel of God, the new, regenerate race called to special privilege and special service. From one point of view, that of the external marks of Christianity, they may thus be described as the Christian community in its widest sense, the sense in which the sacramental position and the real are prima facie assumed to coincide. But from 2 Peter it is manifest that much more than this has to be said if the incidence of the word present to the writer's mind is to be rightly felt. It is assumed there that the Christian, baptized and a worshipper, may yet need to make "sure" his "calling and election" as a fact to his consciousness. This implies conditions in the "election" which far transcend the tests of sacred rite and external fellowship.
II. The Mysterious Element.
Such impressions of depth and mystery in the word are confirmed by the other, passages. In Rom 9:11 the context is charged with the most urgent and even staggering challenges to submission and silence in the presence of the inscrutable. To illustrate large assertions as to the liberty and sovereignty of the Divine dealings with man, the apostle brings in Esau and Jacob, individuals, twins as yet unborn, and points to the inscrutable difference of the Divine action toward them as such. Somehow, as a matter of fact, the Eternal appears as appointing to unborn Esau a future of comparative disfavor and to Jacob of favor; a future announced to the still pregnant mother. Such discrimination was made and announced, says the apostle, "that the purpose of God according to election might stand." In the whole passage the gravest stress is laid upon the isolation of the "election" from the merit or demerit of its objects.
III. Incidence upon Community and Individual.
It is observable that the same characteristic, the inscrutable, the sovereign, is attached in the Old Testament to the "election" of a favored and privileged nation. Israel is repeatedly reminded (see e.g. Dt 7) that the Divine call and choice of them to be the people of God has no relation to their virtues, or to their strength. The reason lies out of sight, in the Divine mind. So too "the Israel of God" (Gal 6:16) in the New Testament, the Christian community, "the new, peculiar race," holds its great privileges by quite unmerited favor (e.g. Tit 3:5). And the nature of the case here leads, as it does not in the case of the natural Israel, to the thought of a Divine election of the individual, similarly inscrutable and sovereign. For the idea of the New Israel involves the thought that in every genuine member of it the provisions of the New Covenant (Jer 31:31 f) are being fulfilled: the sins are remembered no more, and the law is written in the heart. The bearer of the Christian name, but not of the Christian spiritual standing and character, having "not the Spirit of Christ, is none of his" (Rom 8:9). The chosen community accordingly, not as it seems ab extra, but as it is in its essence, is a fellowship of individuals each of whom is an object of unmerited Divine favor, taking effect in the new life. And this involves the exercise of electing mercy. Compare e.g. 1 Pet 1:3. And consider Rom 11:4-7 (where observe the exceptional use of "the election," meaning "the company of the elect").
IV. Cognate and Illustrative Biblical Language.
It is obvious that the aspects of mystery which gather round the word "election" are not confined to it alone. An important class of words, such as "calling," "predestination" "foreknowledge," "purpose," "gift," bears this same character; asserting or connoting, in appropriate contexts, the element of the inscrutable and sovereign in the action of the Divine will upon man, and particularly upon man's will and affection toward God. And it will be felt by careful students of the Bible in its larger and more general teachings that one deep characteristic of the Book, which with all its boundless multiplicity is yet one, is to emphasize on the side of man everything that can humble, convict, reduce to worshipping silence (see for typical passages Job 40:3,1; Rom 3:19), and on the side of God everything which can bring home to man the transcendence and sovereign claims of his almighty Maker. Not as unrelated utterances, but as part of a vast whole of view and teaching, occur such passages as Eph 2:8,9 and Rom 11:33-36, and even the stern, or rather awestruck, phrases of Rom 9:20,21, where the potter and the clay are used in illustration.
V. Limitations of Inquiry Here. Scope of Election.
We have sought thus in the simplest outline to note first the word "election" and then some related Scriptural words and principles, weighing the witness they bear to a profound mystery in the action of the Divine will upon man, in the spiritual sphere. What we have thus seen leaves still unstated what, according to Scripture, is the goal and issue of the elective act. In this article, remembering that it is part of a Bible Encyclopedia, we attempt no account of the history of thought upon election, in the successive Christian centuries, nor again any discussion of the relation of election in Scripture to extra-Scriptural philosophies, to theories of necessity, determination, fatalism. We attempt only to see the matter as it lies before us in the Bible. Studying it so, we find that this mysterious action of God on man has relation, in the Christian revelation, to nothing short of the salvation of the individual (and of the community of such individuals) from sin and condemnation, and the preservation of the saved to life eternal. We find this not so much in any single passage as in the main stream of Biblical language and tone on the subject of the Divine selective action. But it is remarkable that in the recorded thought of our Lord Himself we find assertions in this direction which could hardly be more explicit. See Jn 6:37,44,45; 10:27-29. To the writer the best summary of the Scriptural evidence, at once definite and restrained, is the language of the 17th Anglican art.: "They which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by His Spirit working in due season; they through grace obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity."
The anxious problem of PERSEVERANCE will be treated under that word. It may be enough here to say that alike what we are permitted to read as revealed, and what we may humbly apprehend as the reason of the case, tend to the reverent belief that a perseverance (rather of the Lord than of the saints) is both taught and implied. But when we ponder the nature of the subject we are amply prepared for the large range of Scriptures which on the other hand condemn and preclude, for the humble disciple, so gross a misuse of the doctrine as would let it justify one moment's presumption upon Divine mercy in the heart which is at the same time sinning against the Divine love and holiness.
VII. Considerations in Relief of Thought.
We close, in view of this last remark, with some detached notes in relief, well remembering the unspeakable trial which to many devout minds the word before us has always brought.
First in place and importance is the thought that a spiritual fact like election, which belongs to the innermost purpose and work of the Eternal, necessarily leads us to a region where comprehension is impossible, and where we can only reverently apprehend. The doctrine passes upward to the sphere where antinomies live and move, where we must be content to hear what sound to us contradictions, but which are really various aspects of infinite truth. Let us be content to know that the Divine choice is sovereign; and also that "his tender mercies are over all his works," that `He willeth not the death of a sinner,' that "God is love." Let us relieve the tension of such submissive reliance by reverently noting how the supreme antinomy meets one type of human need with its one side, and with its other another. To the "fearful saint" the Divine sovereignty of love is a sacred cordial. To the seeking penitent the Divine comprehensiveness of love opens the door of peace. To the deluded theorist who does not love and obey, the warnings of a fall and ruin which are possible, humanly, from any spiritual height, are a merciful beacon on the rocks.
2. Fatalism Another Thing:
Further, we remember that election, in Scripture, is as different as possible from the fatal necessity of, e.g. the Stoics. It never appears as mechanical, or as a blind destiny. It has to do with the will of a God who has given us otherwise supreme proofs that He is all-good and all-kind. And it is related to man not as a helpless and innocent being but as a sinner. It is never presented as an arbitrary force majeure. Even in Rom 9 the "silence" called for is not as if to say, "You are hopelessly passive in the grasp of infinite power," but, "You, the creature, cannot judge your Maker, who must know infinitely more of cause and reason than his handiwork can know." The mystery, we may be sure, had behind it supreme right and reason, but in a region which at present at least we cannot penetrate. Again, election never appears as a violation of human will. For never in the Bible is man treated as irresponsible. In the Bible the relation of the human and Divine wills is inscrutable; the reality of both is assured.
3. The Moral Aspects:
Never is the doctrine presented apart from a moral context. It is intended manifestly to deepen man's submission to--not force, but--mystery, where such submission means faith. In the practical experience of the soul its designed effect is to emphasize in the believer the consciousness (itself native to the true state of grace) that the whole of his salvation is due to the Divine mercy, no part of it to his merit, to his virtue, to his wisdom. In the sanctified soul, which alone, assuredly, can make full use of the mysterious truth, is it designed to generate, together and in harmony, awe, thanksgiving and repose.
4. "We Know in Part":
A necessary caution in view of the whole subject is that here, if anywhere in the regions of spiritual study, we inevitably "know in part," and in a very limited part. The treatment of election has at times in Christian history been carried on as if, less by the light of revelation than by logical processes, we could tabulate or map the whole subject. Where this has been done, and where at the same time, under a sort of mental rather than spiritual fascination, election has been placed in the foreground of the system of religious thought, and allowed to dominate the rest, the truth has (to say the least) too often been distorted into an error. The Divine character has been beclouded in its beauty. Sovereignty has been divorced from love, and so defaced into an arbitrary fiat, which has for its only reason the assertion of omnipotence. Thus, the grievous wrong has been done of aischron ti legein peri tou Theiou, "defamation of God." For example, the revelation of a positive Divine selection has been made by inference to teach a corresponding rejection ruthless and terrible, as if the Eternal Love could ever by any possibility reject or crush even the faintest aspiration of the created spirit toward God. For such a thought not even the dark words of Rom 9:18 give Scriptural excuse. The case there in hand, Pharaoh's, is anything but one of arbitrary power trampling on a human will looking toward God and right. Once more, the subject is one as to which we must on principle be content with knowledge so fragmentary that its parts may seem contradictory in our present imperfect light. The one thing we may be sure of behind the veil is, that nothing can be hidden there which will really contradict the supreme and ruling truth that God is love.
5. The Unknown Future:
Finally, let us from another side remember that here, as always in the things of the Spirit, "we know in part." The chosen multitude are sovereignly "called, .... justified, .... glorified" (Rom 8:29,30). But for what purposes? Certainly not for an end terminating in themselves. They are saved, and kept, and raised to the perfect state, for the service of their Lord. And not till the cloud is lifted from the unseen life can we possibly know what that service under eternal conditions will include, what ministries of love and good in the whole universe of being.