THE DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
By Wayne Camp
“God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation”
The matter can be settled only in the light of the word of God. I call on any reader who doubts that the Scriptures teach and New Testament churches were taught and believed the doctrine of unconditional election to reason with me from the inspired book of God. Go with me to the inspired book written as holy men of God were born along by the Holy Spirit. That is the final authority.
THE CHURCH AT THESSALONICA WAS TAUGHT THE DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
The church at Thessalonica was taught that this election was from the beginning and was unto salvation. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. This verse leaves no doubt in the matter. The expression “from the beginning” refers to eternity past, before the foundation of the world. In the first verse of the first chapter of John the eternality of the Word, the second Person of the holy Trinity, is set forth in very similar terms. John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. This church was taught that the election dates back to eternity past.
The verse under consideration also shows they were taught, and no doubt believed, that this election was unto salvation. Some will believe in election to anything but salvation. The man who is called of God to preach does not question the right of God to choose him for that work while bypassing many others whom he does not call. And, it was find for God to choose the nation of Israel to be his special nation while passing over much more glorious nations. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye [were] the fewest of all people: 8 But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. But, God does not dare choose some to salvation merely upon the ground of his sovereign determination. But, that is the case with the Thessalonians. It was not because God saw they would be saved and therefore chose them. The election had as its purpose that they would be saved. It was the basic reason for their salvation. From the beginning they were chosen unto that salvation.
They were also taught that one could know he was chosen. 1 Thessalonians 1:4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. God did the electing; they could know it because they had believed the gospel preached by Paul. They could know it because they had turned from idols to worship and serve the living God.
THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS WAS TAUGHT THE DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
Another New Testament church, the one at Ephesus, was also taught the doctrine of unconditional election. They were taught that the saved were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. Ephesians 1:4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. Several aspects of what they were taught and apparently believed are seen in this verse. It is obvious from this verse that God is the one doing the choosing. As Jesus said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16).
It is equally evident that this election is unconditional. They were chosen that they might be holy and without blame before God, not because he saw they would be holy and without blame. There was nothing in them, they were taught, that caused God to choose them. Were they not dead in trespasses and sins when he graciously quickened them into life? Ephesians 2:1 And you [hath he quickened], who were dead in trespasses and sins. Were they not walking according to the course of this world when he graciously regenerated them and called them unto himself? Ephesians 2:2-3 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: 3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
This congregation was also taught that their election by God was from before the foundation of the world. I have heard preachers suggest that our election takes place in time. Some foolishly and ignorantly say, “God voted for you, the devil voted against you, and you cast the deciding vote.” The problem is twofold. Satan is not a qualified voter or participant in this election that is of grace and unto salvation. And, you were not around to vote when the election took place—before the foundation of the world. How could the creature participate in an election which preceded the foundation of the world? And, as we have already seen, election is of God. It is not of God, of the Devil, and of self.
THE FIRST CHURCH ON EARTH WAS TAUGHT THE DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
Jesus taught the doctrine of election to the first church he established on this earth. He taught that those chosen in Christ were given to him. John 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. The reader is encouraged to take a close look at the verse. Notice that these were given to the Son by the Father before they came or come to him. They come because they were given and not given because they come. There is a vast difference in being given before you come to Christ and being given because you come to Christ. The former is an act of grace. The latter is a reward for coming and not of grace at all.
Jesus taught this doctrine and related doctrines, as we will see later, to his first church on this earth during his personal ministry. Consider a verse we used earlier.John 15:16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. Does this not indicate that his election of them preceded any choice they might make concerning Christ as Saviour? You are saved because I chose you, not because you chose me. Any choice you made was subsequent to mine. That is the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, Emanuel.
Again, Jesus said to these same members of that first New Testament church, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you“ (John 15:19). This election does not refer to election to special service for that election would be out of the church, or out of the saved. This is an election that is out of the world. They were part of the world but Christ had chosen them out of the world to be his people. His choice of them out of the world was the ground upon which he could now say, “Ye are not of the world.”
The Lord himself taught Ananias the doctrine of unconditional election. When Ananias, a disciple in the city of Damascus, was commanded to go to the house of Judas to minister to Saul, who had just been converted on the road to Damascus, Ananias protested because of Paul’s reputation as a persecutor. But the Lord taught him something about the doctrine of unconditional election. Acts 9:15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. All the time Saul was making havoc of the churches, when he stood and approved of the slaying of Stephen, and when he was on his way to Damascus to continue his threatening and slaughter of Christians, he was one of God’s elect, a chosen vessel. That election certainly goes back to eternity. Paul was certain that he had already been chosen to salvation and to his great work when he was born. Galatians 1:15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace. He was marked out and set apart from the time of his birth. God did not have to wait for Saul to repent and believe on him before he could choose him. He had done that from the foundation of the world. And, there is not doubt this election was unconditional when you see how Saul lived right up until the time that God apprehended him on the road to Damascus. Philippians 3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. As this persecutor went angrily toward Damascus with the murder or imprisonment of Christians as his goal he was apprehended by the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ placed him under arrest. Sovereign love and grace pursued him with more power and determination than that with which he pursued Christians. Sovereign love sent forth the sheriff of the effectual call and placed the cuffs on him and he was regenerated and converted.
“Why was I made to hear his voice,
And enter while there’s room;
While thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come.
Twas the same love that spread the feast,
That sweetly forced me in;
Else I had still refused to taste,
And perished in my sins!
LUKE SET FORTH THE DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
Luke, the human writer of the inspired book of Acts wrote that all who believed did so because they were ordained to eternal life. Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. There is no way to get around the doctrine of unconditional election here. These believed because they were ordained to eternal life; they were not ordained to eternal life because they believed.
Luke was taught the doctrine of election by the Lord Jesus Christ. It was without hesitation that he wrote that these folks were ordained to eternal life before they believed. That is what Jesus taught in his ministry on earth. Therefore Luke left it for all New Testament churches to read and believe.
THE CHURCH AT ROME WAS TAUGHT THE DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
The church at Rome was taught that this election is purely of grace. Romans 11:4-6 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. 5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. Since it is of grace, it could not be of works, and must therefore be unconditional. We will explore this further under another head but must mention it from time to time as we continue to show that these first churches on this earth held to the doctrine of unconditional election.
The church at Rome was further taught that election is the ground of their justification and security. Romans 8:33 Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. God chooses. God regenerates the chosen. God grants faith to the chosen. The chosen repent and believe because of grace. Acts 18:27 And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace. It is obvious from the verses just preceding Romans 8:33 that the elect are the ones whom God calls and justifies. Since God justifies his elect, no one can successfully lay a charge against them. They are secure in the keeping of the Justifier.
They were taught that this purpose and grace of God given us in Christ before the foundation of the world was God’s purpose according to election. Romans 9:11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;). Again it is obvious that the Roman congregation was instructed in the doctrine of unconditional election. It is not of works. God’s purpose of election rests on nothing in man, nothing seen or foreseen. It solidly rests in the power of the great God to call those whom he has chosen. He chose them to salvation; he has the power and calls them to that salvation. He leaves nothing dependent on the whims of unregenerate sinners. He places the success of his great scheme and purpose of the salvation of his elect squarely on his own omnipotent shoulders. What a comfort this must have been to the church at Rome! What a comfort it should be to the Lord’s people in 1996! I am so thankful that God did not leave my salvation to my own whims. My unregenerate heart was deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. My carnal mind was enmity against God. It was not subject to the law of God nor could it be. But, what I was or was not was not the cause of my being chosen unto salvation. It was his mere pleasure, love and grace. It was his power that called me. Yes, I was chosen and called to salvation out of the sovereign love and grace of God.
YOUNG PASTORS WERE TAUGHT THE DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
The young pastors of those early churches were taught that the primary purpose of the preaching of the gospel is the salvation of the elect. 2 Timothy 2:10 Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. Paul had endured many things in order to preach the gospel. He explains to Timothy why he would suffer so. It was that the elect might obtain the salvation to which they were chosen. God uses means in the salvation of sinners. In the confession of faith found in The Baptist Way-book there is an excellent article on the doctrine of election. It says, in part, that election “comprehends all the means in connection the end.” The end (purpose) of election is the salvation of the elect and comprehended in the election are all the means to that end. 1 Corinthians 1:21 It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 1 Corinthians 4:15 In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Paul was convinced that it was the pleasure of God to use the preaching of the gospel in the salvation of his elect. He, therefore, was willing to endure much hardship to preach the gospel so that the elect would obtain salvation. In doing this he clearly set forth the doctrine of election to the young pastor, Timothy.
Furthermore, it is as obvious as the sun in a clear sky at midday, that this election, of which Paul wrote to Timothy, was before the actual salvation. Note that Paul endured all that he endured so the elect might obtain the salvation to which they were chosen. He was not trying to get the non-elect to be chosen. He was preaching the gospel which God has chosen as the means of bringing his elect into that salvation to which he has chosen them.
“We believe that election is the eternal purpose of God, according to which he graciously regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners,” says Article IX in The Baptist Way-book. And, Paul refers to that eternal purpose of God in his second letter to young Timothy. 2 Timothy 1:8-9 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; 9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.Paul taught this young pastor that our salvation is according to the purpose and grace of God given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. He dates this back into eternity. He declares that is without regard to anything in us, but is according to God’s own purpose and grace. He taught this young preacher unconditional, eternal election to salvation.
Paul also advanced the doctrine of election in his letter to another New Testament church pastor by the name of Titus. Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness. This verse indicates that there is a faith given to the elect that is not given to other people. We know that faith that believes to the saving of the soul is a gift of God. Philippians 1:29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake. Since all men do not have faith, and God gives that faith necessary to lay hold of Christ, it is apparent that it is the faith of God’s elect and is given only to the elect. Otherwise, why specify it as the faith of God’s elect? But, my point in this message is that this young pastor of a New Testament church was taught that there is an election that results in God giving a special faith to the elect that results in their obtaining the salvation to which they were chosen before the foundation of the world.
PETER TAUGHT PILGRIMS SCATTEDTHE DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
These early Christians in these New Testament churches were encouraged to make certain they were of God’s elect. As I have previously shown, this is something they were taught they could know. 1 Thessalonians 1:4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. They were taught that this knowledge of their election of God is something they should give diligence to ascertain. 2 Peter 1:10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.
There are many other Scriptures which abundantly show that these early churches of New Testament times were well instructed in the great doctrine of God’s sovereign election. As a matter of fact I have hardly scratched the surface. As I have prepared this I have before me a 25 page outline on the doctrine that includes many other verses of Scripture which I could have cited. But these should suffice to establish the fact they were taught and did believe this wonderful doctrine. That is the purpose and scope of this message. May God be pleased to add his blessings to his word.
Election is a truth divine,
As absolute as free;
Works ne’er can make the blessing mine;
‘Tis God’s own wise decree.
Before Jehovah built the skies,
Or earth, or seas, or sun,
He chose a people for His praise,
And gave them to His Son.
Eternal was the choice of God,
A sovereign act indeed;
And Jesus, the incarnate Word,
Secures the chosen seed.
He loved and chose because He would;
Nor did His choice depend
On sinners’ work, or bad or good,
But on His sovereign mind.
Nor law, nor death, nor hell, nor sin,
Can alter His decree;
The elect eternal life shall win,
And all God’s glory see.
He counsel stands for ever sure,
Immortal and divine;
And justice, mercy, truth, and power,
Unite to make it mine.