From Word& Work, 1945

In Romans 11:5 Paul speaks of “a remnant according to the election of grace.” And he adds “if it is by grace it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” (Rom. 11:6.) That is, the election is not on the basis of personal merit, worthiness, and desert, but by the choice and call of God. This forestalls the idea that only a few extraordinary characters can hope to belong to the elect remnant; but (as in 1 Cor. 1:26f.) the principle of God’s choice is that “not many wise,” “not many mighty,” “not many noble” are called; but that “the foolish things,” the “weak things,” the “base things” are chosen, “that no flesh should glory before God.” The great mistake about “election” has always been due to the fact that men have not been able to separate the doctrine from fatalism on the one hand; and on the other they have brought it into conflict with the worldwideness of God’s love, and God’s desire that all men should be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Also they have never been able to harmonize “God’s sovereignty” and “man’s free agency.” So in the natural way of our limited minds, we have taken hold of one side of the truth and explained the other away. And how well men can do that! How completely and proudly each side could vanquish the other! But the child of God does not need to take partisan side, on this or any other Bible doctrine. All God has said is good and true to the believer. If we can harmonize the various statements it is well; if not, we do still believe them, and still preach and teach them as they stand.

      If your views of “election,” or “predestination,” relieve you of responsibility–either in the matter of your own earnest and faithful acceptance of the gospel, or as to your preaching of the gospel to all men–you may be sure your view of it is wrong. Whatever the sovereign choice of God may be, we must teach and preach the gospel to all, and the sinner must believe and obey it, as though there were no such thing. This question does not enter into the matter of a man’s individual acceptance of salvation at all; nor does it relieve any man of the necessity of obedience and watchfulness, nor for his concern for others. And most especially should it not be concluded that any man has ever been predestinated to be lost. For God was never willing that any should perish but would have all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

      But after you have come to God, upon your own free acceptance of His gracious invitation (“him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out”)–if you think a bit, it may dawn on you that (unless you think it all accidental) God has in some ways given you some very extraordinary help and opportunity–has directed your way, has borne [342] with you, has blessed you in many ways, drawn you, and that (apparently at least) as He has blessed few others. Perhaps you may come to realize that though you chose, it must have been because you had before been chosen. If you should ask yourself why–you will never be able to figure it out: one thing is certain–that it was not because in any wise you deserved it. The grace of God will seem wonderful and precious to you; and the realization that back of all your choosing, believing, obeying, back of all your life is the mighty purpose of God who began a good work in you and will finish it unto the day of redemption–that thought will be a strength to you in your utmost need. Then if that creates a deeper sense of gratitude and an all-the-greater sense of responsibility to lay hold on that for which you were laid hold on by Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12) and prompts you to give diligence to “make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) it is well–you have then rightly understood the doctrine of election.

God’s Elect

      People get confused over the fact that God is not a respecter of persons, yet has chosen certain ones above others to special advantages and blessings. But an even slight examination of the Bible reveals the fact that he evidently has always done so. He chose Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their seed after them. In the New Testament he chose apostles, most notably Paul; and often He spoke of His sheep, His people, yea, of “children of God,” although as yet they had never known the Lord. Before getting too much puzzled over how that can be, note clearly first the fact that so it is. The “what” always comes before the “how”; the fact before the explanation. Many deny the fact because they cannot square it with what they know, or think they know. This shuts the door to all further light. In the study of God’s word it is good to discern first and hold to the facts presented. The explanation, if any, can wait.

      Some have thought to cut the knot by saying: “God is not a respecter of persons, but He is a respecter of character.” Granting that this may often have seemed to be the case, it does not explain God’s principle of election. Oftener than not we can see no antecedent excellence or merit in the chosen ones of God. Abraham’s one commendation was not that he was a great good man, but that he believed God. Nor have we any reason to conclude that others would not have responded as whole-heartedly if God had revealed Himself to them as he did to Abraham. In Isaac we fail to see any outstanding virtues; and Jacob was not a better man, as men go, than Esau–in some respects not as good. The word of God forestalls any such conclusions that Jacob was in himself worthier than Esau; for in response to their mother’s inquiry of God–“the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil that the purpose of God according to [343] election might stand–not of works but of him that calleth, it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger; as it is written, Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated.” (Rom. 9:11-13.)

      “What shall we say then?” adds Paul–“Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” If He were minded to do us a wrong we would not be able to help ourselves; we would have no come-back whatever, for His power is absolute. But he never will or can do any human being an injustice. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5.) So likewise Israel, God’s elect nation, was not chosen as a nation because of any goodness or merit which they possessed (see Deut. 7:6-8; 9:4-6, 24; and 10:15). The New Testament leaders also, except for the electing grace of God would have been men of the common sort, in no way different from all other sinners. And we could hardly think that if Christ had appeared to any other hot-headed rabbi as he did to Saul on the road to Damascus that such a one would not have turned to Christ as Saul did. But He did not so reveal Himself to any other, either before or after. Such are the ways of God and who can stay his hand or say to Him, What doest thou?

What Men Are Elected For

      No man ever lights a candle for its own sake. When God bestowed upon any man or group of men special grace he always had a purpose beyond that man’s own (or that group’s own) blessing. He called Abraham, spoke to him, entered into covenant with him, led and directed and taught and protected and blessed him as He did no other man of his time–but at the same time stated his purpose: “In thee and in thy seed, shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” If He chose Isaac; and if He chose Jacob above Esau for reasons all His own–not because of their personal merit (Rom. 9:11), it was that through them all the nations of men might be blessed. If God chose their seed after them, the people of Israel, it was not because they were more than any other nation, nor because they were more righteous, for they were a stiffnecked and rebellious generation from their beginning (see Deut. 7:6-8; 9:4-6, 24; 10:15; and Ezek. 20)–but that through them He might eventually reach all the world: as the Lord Jesus declared, and as it is this day, “salvation is from the Jews,” (John 4:22). For God’s love was never less than world-wide. The apparent favoritism which He displays toward some is but His method of working for the blessing of all. In loving Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, Simon Peter, John, Paul, so especially, he loved all the rest of us. God’s elect were not his particular pets–they were called to be His instruments, His burden-bearers, His martyrs and scape-goats. High was their calling, heavy their lot in, life. [344]

      Moreover there was no getting out of it. Whether they would respond willingly or not was left with them–God does not force any man’s will. They may, like Jonah, seek to go to Tarshish when God sends them to Nineveh; or like disobedient Israel, try to be like other nations–but all in vain. (Ezek. 20:32.) Or they may, like Paul, gladly fall in with God’s will, and say “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” In either case they are to be used; “for the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.” Rom. 11:29.

      In one respect God’s elect are not to be envied; but in another how great are their advantages, and how happy and glorious is there position! On the one hand theirs is the severest discipline, the heaviest chastisement, and if willfully disobedient, the most terrible retribution; on the other hand theirs is the highest opportunity and glory and blessing. In the very chapter that foretells Israel’s awful sufferings, God foretells also their final restoration and vindication (Deut. 32); and presently, in view of all that is to come, He exclaims, “Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee, a people saved by Jehovah, the shield of thy help, and the sword of thy excellency!” (Deut. 33:29.)–If thou art a Christian today, be glad and thankful for you are one of God’s elect; yet rejoice with trembling and seek to fill by the grace of God, within your sphere the high place and position to which He has called you. (Phil. 2:12, 13.)

-R. H. Boll (1875-1956) was editor of Word & Work 1916-1956 and Minister of the Portland Avenue Church of Christ in Louisville, KY 1904-1956