XVII. Election of Grace

The doctrine of the election of grace, or eternal predestination, has been revealed for the comfort and assurance of faith of cross-bearing Christians. It is not a speculative doctrine but eminently practical. All human perversions of this doctrine, however, which depart from the truth of Scripture, are the result of speculation, and do not impart comfort, but produce either doubt and despair or carnal security. Neither is this doctrine one which is remote from practical Christian life and experience, or which lies on the periphery of Christian teaching, but rather one which, as it is taught in Scripture, squares with the experience of every true Christian, and is most closely entwined with the central doctrines of our most holy Faith. For from the Scripture passages which treat of eternal election we learn that God has from eternity resolved to do for His Christians what He has effected in them in time. Hence we may define the election of grace as the act of God by which from eternity out of pure grace for Christ’s sake and by way of the means of grace He has decreed to bestow those blessings on the Christians which through His call they now enjoy, namely, conversion, justification, sanctification, and preservation in faith. This definition is derived from Rom. 8:28–30, which reads: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” Here we have an unbroken and unbreakable chain from the first link, “whom He did foreknow,” in eternity before the world was, to the last link, “them He also glorified,” in eternity when this present world shall be no more. To anyone acquainted with the Greek language the verb which is translated “foreknew” plainly implies a “knowledge with affection and effect” or “knowledge as His own.” But also to the attentive reader of the English Bible the connection in which this word is used and the series of consequences flowing from it conveys the same assurance. For Scripture assures us that God by His omniscience from eternity knows all about everyone; but not everyone is by God’s ordination conformed to the image of His Son, and through conversion and justification led unto eternal glory. Moreover this text does not speak of anything that God knew about men — their faith, piety, perseverance, etc. — but it says: “whom He did foreknow, them He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son … whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” The object of the verb “foreknow” and of all the verbs is personal not factual. The text does not speak of what He foreknew about the people of His choice, but that He foreknew the people themselves as His own and chose them to be His own, and predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His Son, and called or converted them to faith in His Son, and through such faith justified them, and finally glorified them (the past tense used futuristically, because that future glorification is as certain as though it had already occurred, as indeed it is already accomplished in God’s timeless purpose). And this chain of consequences is unbreakable. Every one whom He has in eternity foreknown as His own, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son; and every one whom He has thus foreordained, He also calls; and every one whom He has thus called or converted, He also justifies; and every one whom He has thus chosen, foreordained, converted, and justified, He will assuredly glorify. Not one of His elect can ever be lost. What a glorious comfort!

Thus Scripture traces back to eternal election as its cause, in the first place, the sum total of spiritual blessings imparted to Christians in time, Eph. 1:3–6: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 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: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved;” secondly, and specifically, their call, 2 Tim. 1:9: “God 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;” thirdly, their conversion or their faith in the Gospel, Acts 13:48: “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed;” or, as summed up in Rom. 8:28–30, quoted above, their call, justification, and glorification. All these divine dealings are comprehended in the eternal act of election. Thus those who have followed through the previous chapters of this book, or any orthodox presentation of the way of salvation, in orderly sequence up to this point, learn nothing new in the study of this doctrine except that God from eternity purposed to do for His Christians what He effects in them in time. In the doctrine of eternal election a person can go astray only if he has previously forsaken the teaching of Scripture regarding the way of salvation, which is a way of grace.

It is important, therefore, that we consider eternal election in its proper setting. Scripture states: “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). Here it is taught that election did not occur in a bare manner, as though God without means should have simply appropriated His elect unto Himself by His bare almighty hand. No; the choosing from eternity took place by means of “sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” God thrust His electing hand into the Word of the Gospel; the Gospel is the net by which the elect are plucked from the jaws of the devil.

Thus if we are asked by someone: “Am I elect?” we immediately ask the inquirer: “Do you believe the Gospel?” If he answers: “By the grace of God I do believe the Gospel,” then we shall answer his original question: “You can and should count yourself among the elect.” But if the inquirer raises an objection to our question concerning his faith in the Gospel, in some such fashion as the following: “What has my faith to do with it? If I belong to the elect, I shall and must be saved; but if I do not belong to the elect, I shall and must be lost, no matter whether I now believe or not:” then we shall have to answer that we cannot discuss election in this manner, for there is no such absolute eternal election without faith in the Gospel. Election is a comforting doctrine for believers because it assures them that the faith God has bestowed upon them is a carrying out of His eternal purpose of grace. But election is no concern of the unbeliever. He cannot comfort himself with the Scriptural doctrine of election, for there is no evidence that the doctrine applies to him. If he is elect he will be brought to faith. But only after that can he rightly concern himself with the doctrine of election. This practical way of regarding eternal election in connection with God’s revelation of His grace in the Gospel is the only correct and Scriptural way of using this doctrine. So important is this matter to the confessors of our Church who drew up the Formula of Concord of 1577, that they expounded the practical bearing of the doctrine of election in the famous “eight points” in such a simple and direct and clear manner that we are impelled to include the entire quotation (Concordia Triglotta, p. 1069) in this article as a presentation to which every Christian who accepts the Scriptural doctrine of election will necessarily agree:

“God in His purpose and counsel ordained:

“1. That the human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who, by His faultless obedience, suffering, and death, has merited for us the righteousness which avails before God, and eternal life.

“2. That such merit and benefits of Christ shall be presented, offered, and distributed to us through His Word and Sacraments.

“3. That by His Holy Ghost, through the Word, when it is preached, heard, and pondered, He will be efficacious and active in us, convert hearts to true repentance, and preserve them in the true faith.

“4. That He will justify all those who in true repentance receive Christ by a true faith, and will receive them into grace, the adoption of sons, and the inheritance of eternal life.

“5. That He will also sanctify in love those who are thus justified, as St. Paul says, Eph. 1:4.

“6. That He also will protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and the flesh, and rule and lead them in His ways, raise them again, when they stumble, comfort them under the cross and in temptation, and preserve them.

“7. That He will also strengthen, increase, and support to the end the good work which He has begun in them, if they adhere to God’s Word, pray diligently, abide in God’s goodness, and faithfully use the gifts received.

“8. That finally He will eternally save and glorify in life eternal those whom He has elected, called, and justified.”

Who, then, are the elect? The elect are not all men; the elect are not those actually saved plus those who “for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13) and “die in their sins” (Ezek. 3:20); the elect are only the actually saved children of God, since Scripture teaches that all the elect are surely saved, John 10:27, 28: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand.” Christ will never allow one who is trusting in Him (not in himself) for preservation in faith to fall from faith. Therefore Christians can and should be sure of their eternal election, for they are addressed as elect in Holy Scripture and are comforted with their eternal election; “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13); “having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself (Eph. 1:5); “knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God” (1 Thess. 1:4). To the Christians all things must work together for good, “who are the called according to His purpose.”

The way to become sure of one’s eternal election is by faith in the Gospel of Christ, since eternal election is revealed through the Gospel, 2 Tim. 1:9, 10; 2 Thess. 2:13, 14. The Gospel of Christ is a declaration of God’s love to the world, in which the lost sinner is assured that God is not angry with him but loves him, and loves him so much (John 3:16) that He gave His Son to become incarnate, suffer, and die for him. This is the argument of the apostle Paul in Rom. 8:31, 32. Hence also Luther writes: “Behold the wounds of Christ and His blood shed for you, and from these predestination will shine forth.” Indeed a Christian must first have put the Gospel in its manifold attestation (Word of the Gospel, Baptism, Lord’s Supper, Absolution) out of his sight before he can be uncertain of his election.

The relation of faith to the election of grace is two-fold. In the eternal act of election the faith worked by the Holy Ghost is the means of election: “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). “God in His counsel, before the time of the world, decided and ordained that He Himself, by the power of His Holy Ghost, would produce and work in us, through the Word, everything that pertains to our conversion” (Concordia Triglotta, p. 1077, par. 44).

If we ask, however, as to the relation in which the faith which the Christians have in time stands to their election, Scripture teaches that their faith is an effect or consequence of their eternal election: “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). “The eternal election of God … is … a cause which procures, works, helps, and promotes our salvation and what pertains thereto” (Concordia Triglotta, p. 1065, par. 8).

The purpose of the doctrine of election is not the denial or restriction of universal grace (for Scripture clearly teaches universal grace, as has been demonstrated in the chapter on “Saving Grace,” Chapter V), but the confirmation of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, as is evident, for instance, from Rom. 9:16: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” Scripture does not teach an election of wrath or predestination to damnation. The Scriptural doctrine of election is the doctrine of the election of grace. It belongs wholly to the Gospel. We close with a strong assertion of this truth from the Formula of Concord (Concordia Triglotta, p. 1093, par. 92): “For, as the apostle testifies, Rom. 15:4: ‘Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.’ But when this consolation and hope are weakened or entirely removed by Scripture, it is certain that it is understood and explained contrary to the will and meaning of the Holy Ghost.”