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How Should We Understand the Doctrine of Election?

By Christopher Love


      The last doctrine I drew from these words was this: Christians should put forth a great deal of diligence to make sure to their souls that they are eternally elected by God to life and glory. In the prose cution of this I have gone over some questions. There are four difficulties or questions I am farther to insist upon in this point.

      First, is this election universal or not?

      Second, may a man who is once elected by God to salvation come to be damned, yes or no?

      Third, when God elects a man to life and glory, does He do it out of any foresight of faith, or any other grace He sees in man?

      Fourth, does this doctrine of election, that God in His own counsel has determined who shall be damned and who shall be saved, not take men off from any endeavors after their own salvation? Does it not make them desperate and cause them to ne glect the use of means, so that they shall say, "If I shall be damned, I shall be damned; and if saved, I shall be saved, let me live as I will"? Will this doc trine favor this desperate conclusion, yes or no?

      QUESTION 1. Is election universal or not? This is what the Arminians and papists mightily drive at. And here they lay down this conclusion, which they make unquestionable: there is such a thing as a cer tain universal election of God, without limitation or restraint of persons, whereby God determined to save all mankind by Christ who were fallen in Adam. This opinion was first drawn from Origen, who held that all creatures should be saved. And the papists and Arminians, mincing the matter to make it a little more plausible than did Origen, say that God in His purpose intended to save all mankind by Jesus Christ; but man fell away and walked contrary to these principles, so that the defect lies in them that they are not saved. And this divines call universal redemption.

      ANSWER. Now against this, I shall lay down sev eral Scriptures, and then take off the objections that seem to strengthen the opinion.

      In Jude 4, you read of "some that were of old or dained to condemnation." Therefore all could not be saved. 1 Thessalonians 5:9: "Some men are ap pointed to wrath, but we to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ." Therefore all men could not be within the purpose of God's first intention to save. Matthew 22:14: "Many are called, but few are chosen." Also Romans 11:7: "The Jews did not obtain what they sought for, but the elect obtained it, and the rest were hardened." 2 Timothy 2:20: "There are vessels of honor, and vessels of dishonor." The Scripture makes it a discriminating act of God that some He chose to life, and others from eternity in His coun sel He chose to wrath and condemnation. And these Scriptures will fully overthrow this opinion. And in deed the very word "choosing" constitutes it, which intimates a taking of some with an overlooking of others.

      But now let us view a little the arguments or Scriptures they abuse to strengthen this unsound opinion of theirs.

      One is 1 Corinthians 15:22: "As in Adam all died , even so in Christ shall all be made alive." Now, say they, every man died in Adam; every mother's child by Adam's fall became subject to death; even so in Christ shall every man be made alive. The Lord in tended that every man should have benefit by Jesus Christ.

      Now, I shall answer it in showing you the true in tent and scope of this Scripture. This universal phrase of making alive does not have reference to the saving of the soul, but to the resurrection of the body. And so the sense is this: in Adam, by virtue of his sin, every man came to die a natural death- so in Christ shall all be made alive; that is, so by Christ's power shall every man rise from the dead. And if you ask how I make that appear to be the intention of the text, I answer, the words themselves will make it plain. Verse 21 says, "By man came death, by man also came the resurrection from the dead"; that is, as by the man Adam came death, so by the man Christ shall come the resurrection from the dead: "for as in Adam all died." So that here you see this is brought in as a proof of the 2lst verse, intimating that this being made alive has no reference to the life of the soul, but only to the resurrection of the body, that as Adam by his sin brought death to all men, so Christ by His power shall raise all men from the dead, "every man in his own order." However, should it be granted that this making alive has reference to the life of the soul, it would bear no more but that all who are damned are damned as in Adam's loins, and all who are saved shall be saved as in the loins of Jesus Christ. And so this does nothing at all to prove what they call universal election.

      Another scripture (undeniable, they think) is Romans 11:32 where it is said, "God hath concluded all men under unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all." Now, say they, if God did an act to make men see their unbelief, and intended by this action to have mercy upon all, then God in His counsel in tended to save all.

      Now to this, "that He might have mercy upon all," I answer, this phrase (all) is not to be taken in an unlimited sense, as if He would have mercy upon all mankind; but it is to be taken in a restrained sense, that "God shut up all men in unbelief," that is, God made all believers see their own misery that He might have mercy on all those who believe. And if you ask how I prove this to be the meaning of the text, I answer, the Scripture makes it clear in Galatians 3:22: "The Scripture hath concluded all men under sin." (The very words forequoted.) But what's the limitation? Shall all men be saved? No, for mark the next words: "The Scripture hath con cluded all men under sin, that the promise by the faith of Jesus Christ should be given to them that be lieve." Now though Paul does not say thus to the Romans, yet, the words being the same, the restric tion holds good in both places. So that it is clear "that He might save all, or have mercy upon all." It does not mean "all" universally; but all, with the limitation of Paul here, all "them that believe."

      Another objection, or Scripture, they abuse is 1 Timothy 2:4: "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Origen grossly abuses this text, holding that it is the inten tion and will of God that all men should be saved. Now to take off this objection, we must first distin guish God's will, and then address this phrase "all," "Who will have all men to be saved."

      First, God's will. The schoolmen give this distinction: there is a will of God's good pleasure and there is God's signifying will. Now the will of God's good pleasure is that real purpose in God to save a man. And there is no man that in this sense God wills to be saved but he must be saved, but in this sense God does not will all men to be saved.

      But, second, there is God's significative will, that is, whereby in Scripture God tender salvation to every man who will lay hold upon Jesus Christ. And so God signifying will excludes no man from salva tion. But the ministers, if they preach to ten thou sand people, must tender Christ universally to them all because they know not which of them are elect and which reprobate; which of them shall be saved and which shall be damned. That is God's signifying will, and though God by this will tells you what ministers must do to tender Christ and salvation to all, yet it in no way follows that the determinate will of God's good pleasure is involved under this, as if all men should be saved. Perkins, in his writings, has this distinction: There is God's absolute will   and so He does not will all men to be saved-and God's conditional will, that if every man believed they should be saved, for God envies no man's salva tion. There is grace enough in God, and willingness enough in God, to save every man in the world.

      But there may be a more distinct answer given to this place. "God will have all men to be saved." All is taken sometimes in a distributive sense, and some times in a collective sense. In a distributive sense, for every man under heaven; and so God does not will all men to be saved. But sometimes in a collec tive sense, for all sorts and degrees of men, and so God intends to save all-that is, some of all sorts, and of all degrees of men in the world. And this appears if you mark the context. "He will have all men to be saved," that is, some of all sorts. Some kings and some great men, some rich and some poor, some princes and some beggars. And therefore the Apostle bids them pray for all men in 1 Timothy 2:1 4: "Pray for kings and for them in authority: for God will have all men to be saved." As much as if he should say, "Pray for kings, because God of His grace may save kings, as well as poorer men who have fewer encumbrances, fewer employments in the world, and fewer withdrawings in their own soul than they have. God will save all; salvation shall come to all sorts of men, and therefore you may law fully pray for them." And so Calvin judiciously ex pounds that God will have all sorts of men to obtain salvation by Jesus Christ; but it is not to be extended universally, as if every individual man and woman should be saved.

      These words are to be taken with these that fol low after, "God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Now that God will be willing to save those who come to the knowl edge of the truth is unquestionable: all who repent, Acts 17:30; all as opposed to God's practice during the time of the Old Testament, Romans 16:25.

      USE. Now, is this true, that election is not uni versal, but that some men are elect and others reprobate? Then, to wrap up this query in a short use, this should teach you all who are in the land of the living not to deceive yourselves. Lull not your selves to sleep in security, for maybe you are in God's counsel to save, maybe not. Peradventure you may be in God's thoughts for salvation; peradventure you may be in His counsel for damnation. And this should put you upon the work my text calls upon you for, to endeavor "to make your calling and election sure."

      Christopher Love, pages 289-290, Effectual Calling and Election, "A third delusion where men are deceived by the devil to think they are elected when they are not is this: If they cannot plead their educa tion and moral manner of living, or if they cannot plead their vocation, their last plea is the mercy of God. They hope God is a merciful God, and God did not make them just to damn them. They are God's creatures, made by Him, and the God who made them will save them. And hereupon they fasten their hopes that they are in the number of God's elect ones. This is a strong delusion, especially among ignorant people. And to this I shall answer in two particulars.

      First, men say that God is a merciful God; there fore they hope they are elect. I answer, it is true, God is a merciful God, yet God is as just as He is merciful. He is mercifully just and justly merciful. His mercy cannot encroach upon His justice, nor shall His jus tice encroach upon His mercy. One attribute shall not clash with another. He is no more merciful than He is just, nor is He more just than He is merciful.

      Second, though God is a merciful God, yet God's saving mercy is not so large as to extend to all crea tures that live whom He has made. You read in Isaiah 27:11: "This is a people of no understanding, therefore He that made them will not have mercy upon them, and He that formed them will show them no favor." Here you see, the prophet tells them, that the God who made them will damn them, and the God who formed them will show them no favor. So that God's mercy extends not so far as to reach to all the works of His hands; for, if so, the devils might claim salvation as well as man. For God made them when they were glorious angels as well as man; and, therefore, if all the works of God's hands should plead for salvation, they might as well come within the compass of God's election as wicked men do."

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