Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His Son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace.
—Canons of Dort, First Head of Doctrine, Art. 7
The Arminian View
The Arminian view of the doctrine of election is that God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected those only whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by or conditioned upon what man would do. The faith which God foresaw and upon which He based His choice was not given to the sinner by God through His Holy Spirit since man is able to make this choice by his own free will, according to Arminian doctrine.
Thus, the sinner’s choice of God, not God’s choice of the sinner, is the final cause for his election. But how does the Arminian answer the words of Scripture like I Pet. 2:9 where it speaks of Christians as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”? or II Thess. 2:13, which says, “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth”?
The Canons of Dort, First Head of Doctrine, Article 9, states: “This election was not founded upon foreseen faith and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition in man, as a prerequisite, cause or condition on which it depended; but men are chosen to faith and to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc.” Again, Acts 13:48 says, “And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”
Errors Surrounding This Doctrine
There are various errors which emanate from Arminians and others in understanding this doctrine of unconditional election. Everyone is obligated to deal with the subject since it is so clearly taught throughout the Bible. Even the Arminian must admit that this teaching of election exists. But in order to be consistent with the teaching of free will, he is forced to say that man made the first choice and God only responded to it.
Another error that enters Arminian thought is that God elected everyone! It is left up to man to accept his election in Christ or reject it. This latter idea certainly destroys the meaning of the word “election.” What is the point of mentioning it, if everyone gets chosen? What meaning does election have if everyone is elected? What this position does is give lip service to election while preserving the false idea that man still has the freedom to choose or reject it by the freedom of his own will.
The error in both of these teachings is that it allows God’s plan of salvation to rest with sinful men. God is the servant of man’s will. It is the sinner’s choice of Christ that is the final determining factor of whether God will save him. The sovereignty of God and His grace is destroyed. While many believe that the cross is a gift of grace, they also maintain that man’s coming to it in faith is man’s own work. We must realize that basic to Arminianism is the firm belief that Christ died to give all men an equal opportunity to believe, and God must depend on man to respond to the offer.
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.