committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs








By James Petegru Boyce (1827-1888)


Founder and first president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville); president of the Southern Baptist Convention 1872 - 1879, 1888. Boyce is regarded as one of the outstanding Baptist theologians of the nineteenth century.



  1. THEORY STATED. The theory of Calvinists as to election is that God (not man) of to his own purpose (in accordance with his will, and not from any obligation man, nor because of any will of man), has from eternity (the period of God's action, not in time in which man acts), determined to save (not has actually saved, but simply determined so to do, and to save, not merely to confer gospel or church privileges upon) a definite number of mankind (not the whole race, nor indefinitely merely some of them, nor indefinitely a certain proportionate part; but a definite number), as individuals (not the whole or part of the race, nor of a nation, nor of a church, nor of a class, as of believers or the pious; but individuals), not for or merit or work of theirs, nor of any value to him of them (not because of any for their good works, or their holiness, or excellence, or their faith, or their spiritual sanctification, although the choice is to a salvation attained through faith and sanctification; nor for their value to him, though their salvation tends greatly to the manifested glory of his grace); was but of his good pleasure (simply because he pleased so to choose).

An analysis of the foregoing statement will show that this theory holds as to election, that:

  1. It is an act of God, and not in any sense the result of the choice of the elect.

  2. It has been with God an eternal purpose.

  3. It is an election to salvation, and not to outward privileges.

  4. This election, or choice, is one of individuals and not of classes.

  5. It was made without respect to the action or merits of the persons elected.

  6. It was made simply according to God's own good pleasure.

2. PROOF. Whether we should believe this doctrine or not depends entirely upon whether it is taught in the Scriptures. We have no other possible way of knowing anything upon the subject. We must therefore look to the Scriptures alone for the truth.

Before proceeding, however, with the direct proof that the doctrine of election, as stated above, is taught in the Scriptures it should be remarked that the words election and elect are used in the word of God in various senses. They sometimes signify a choice to office, whether made by man or God. Compare: Luke 16: 13 (Christ's choice of the twelve apostles), Acts 1:21-26 (the selection of an apostle in the place of Judas), Acts 9:15 (Saul as a chosen vessel), I Peter 2:6-3 (Christ spoken of as the cornerstone, elect, precious, etc.). They sometimes signify the choice of Israel to their peculiar national privilege of being the chosen, or separated, people of God: "The God of this people Israel chose our fathers" (Acts 13:17). Again they are used of a choice of salvation made by an individual: "Mary hath chosen the good part which shall not be taken from her" (Luke 10:42).

But in a large majority of cases these words have reference to the choice of salvation either in the purpose of God or the act of choice by God.

We will now take up the proof that the words are used in this last sense. Our aim will be to sustain, point by point, the doctrine of election as stated above.

Election an act of God, and not in any sense the result of the choice of the elect. The inquiry here is not an inquiry into the reason for the election, but simply as to the agent. The simple question now is, Does God choose the elect? We are not concerned at this point whether it is of his own purpose, or because he foresees that they will believe, or for any other reason. The sole question now is, Is the election an act of God? The fact on this point would appear more clearly if we were to exchange the common word choice or chosen with the equivalent word elect. The following passages are sufficient, although the examples are far more numerous.

(2) Election and eternal purpose or choice, on God's part. Another important fact to be shown is the eternity of election in opposition to the idea that it was in time. The proof on this point is two fold. There are passages which show that the election took place before existence in this world or before the world began, and there are those which actually declare that it was eternal. Between the two classes of passages there is really, however, very little difference, as from the nature of the case, what took place before time must have been in eternity, and besides, the object of proof of an eternal election is simply to show that it was not dependent on human action, but simply on the will of God alone.

a. Those which show that the election took place before man's existence, or before the world began:

b. The passages which distinctly declare that this, which may be thus inferred to have been an eternal election, is really such:

(3) Election to salvation, and not to mere external privileges. The next point to be proved is that this is an election to salvation, and not to mere external privileges. This is proved by such passages as the following:

(4) An election of individuals and not of classes. This position needs to be explained. It is not denied that the elect that are to be true believers, and that true believers are the elect. The character of the elect does not, therefore, enter into this question. The issue is simply, Does God choose all who shall believe? and are they as such his elect? or, Does he choose his elect, and will they, as such, believe? Is belief the result of God's election, or is God's election the result of man's faith? Upon this point the proof is very clear:

It is not, therefore, to the class of believers, but to individuals, that election refers. But, it may be asked, does it not refer to them in that character? Did not God choose those whose faith he foresaw? This will be fully answered before this discussion is closed.

(5) Without respect to the action or merits of the persons elected. This is merely a negative form of the same fact stated by the next point affirmatively. It is better therefore, to unite this with the succeeding one, which is,

(6) Simply according to God's own good pleasure. The last point to be noticed in this theory is that the election was made through the mere good pleasure of God. Of course it is not meant that God acted arbitrarily or capriciously in electing certain persons out of the universal ruin to make them objects of his special constraining grace. God never acts without good and sufficient reasons. And if God had seen fit to tell us why he chose some, with the purpose that whatever the rest might do, these at least should certainly be brought to salvation, we should, doubtless magnify and extol his wisdom in so electing. But he has not seen fit thus to explain. He has acted of his own sovereign will, according to his own good pleasure. One thing we do know. he has not made the election because of any action or merits of the persons elected. He has made it because, as sovereign, he had the right so to make it, and because, for reasons satisfactory to himself, it was his good pleasure to do so.

Several classes of passages may be cited in proof of this point. Some of these simply affirm a choice by God's sovereign will; others, while asserting this, also deny merit in those elected; and still others represent the fact of sovereignty by asserting a choice of such persons as would not ordinarily be chosen. The following are some of the passages which prove these points:

a. Such as simply assert sovereign will.

b. Such as deny merit in the persons elected as well as assert the sovereign choice of God. Ezek. 36:32: In this passage after describing the blessings connect ed with the new dispensation and the gift of the Spirit and the new heart which he would give them, gifts which the Calvinistic theory regards as the result of election, but which the Arminian maintains to be its cause, God adds: "Not for your sakes do I this saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your ways, 0 house of Israel."

c. Such as so describe the persons chosen. as to imply this. Matt. 11:25, 26: "At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and under-standing and didst reveal them unto babes; yea, Father, for so it was well pleasing in thy sight."

The tests thus exhibited under these three classes prove conclusively that not on account of their own merits, but because of the good pleasure of God, does he choose men. They have been presented at some length, because this is after all the point upon which all that is important in this controversy turns. For, although other matters are equally essential to the doctrine, the whole opposition arises from an unwillingness on the part of man to recognize the sovereignty of God, and to ascribe salvation entirely to grace.

This proof, however, has been by no means exhausted, the attempt having been to select some only of the numerous passages, and mainly such as from their conciseness allow of presentation in full. Let the Scriptures be read with reference to this doctrine, and every passage marked which indicates God's dealing with men as an absolute sovereign, and also every declaration which ascribes election or the fruits of it to his choice and not to the will or acts of men, and every illustration afforded that this is God's usual method, and it will appear that scarcely any book of Scripture will fail to furnish testimony to the fact that in the acts of grace, no less than those of providence, God "doeth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth." (Dan. 4:3-5)

(Taken from ABSTRACT OF SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY by J. P. Boyce, now out of print.)

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