The doctrine we have considered in the
preceding chapters is vitally related to other key doctrines of the Bible, such as total
depravity, election, and effectual calling. This was vividly brought home to me in the
early 1980s when I was distributing Dr. James P. Boyces Abstract of Systematic
Theology to graduates of our Southern Baptist seminaries. With each hook I enclosed a
little survey sheet consisting of
Do you believe that Dr. Boyce is biblically correct in his chapter on Effectual Calling?
Do you think his view of the Doctrine of Election is the biblical teaching?
In Chapter 28, Dr. Boyce sets forth several views of the Atonement. Which view do you believe to be the biblical view?
Please comment on Chapter 12: The Will of God.
One of the survey responses will
illustrate my point that the doctrine of free will is vitally related to other biblical
doctrines. This prudent young seminarian did not realize how profound his answers were. He
said, No, Dr. Boyce was not biblically correct on his views of election because if
Boyce was correct on his view of election, man would not have a free will. He was
one hundred percent correct. If man had a free will, Boyce was wrong on his view of
election. The young seminarian may have been wrong about Boyce, but he was right in his
Three years later I received a letter from this fine young man informing me that, after much study (particularly of the first chapter of Ephesians), he had changed his view: Boyce was biblically correct on the doctrine of election and effectual calling, lie now had a correct, biblical view of mans will. (This young man is now teaching at Midwestern Baptist Seminary.) Our view of free will has a profound effect on other major doctrines of the Christian faith. Now I wish to consider the biblical doctrine of election as it relates to free will. The Bible nowhere uses the expression free will, but it has a lot to say about the will. For instance, John 5:40, But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. In this little verse our Lord is telling us four fundamental and necessary things:
Every man is spiritually dead and dead men need life (come to Me that you may have life).
This life is found only in Christ (come to Me).
There is life in Jesus Christ only for those who come for it (one must come).
No one by nature ever will come (you are not wiiling to come).
This verse lays the groundwork for the
blessed doctrine of unconditional election. It expresses the biblical view of the will:
You are not willing to come to Me. Left to himself no one will come to Christ.
This is the biblical teaching on free will. You are not willing. B.B. Warfield
used to say,
What is the use of arguing about whosoever will when we live in a world of whosoever will nots. This universal condition of will nots makes the doctrine of unconditional election necessary if any one is to be saved.
The preacher might borrow the eloquence of Demosthenes, he may beg you on his knees with heartfelt tears in his eyes, he might show you the horrors of hell and the joys of heaven, the sufficiency of Christ, and your own lost condition, but still none will come unless the blessed Spirit that rested on Christ should draw you. That is the practical outworkings of the bondage of the will.
You mean that I cant come to Christ if I will? No, I do not mean that at all; in fact, it is as simple as this: if you will, you are welcome; but without that effectual call, who will? Did you ever meet a Christian who said, I came to Christ without the power of the Spirit? Let me assure you that if anyone ever came without the power of the Spirit, you may be very sure he went away again without the power of the Spirit. No, every Christian must put his hands to his heart and say:
Grace tauqht my soul to pray,
And made my eyes oer flow;
Twas grace that kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.
No Christian will say, I sought God
before he sought me. Even the Arminian will sing, 0 yes! I do love Jesus
because he first loved me (1 John 4:19). The Arminian view of election is that it is
conditioned upon mans will, and he does not believe that will is limited by
I would like to present a clear definition of the doctrine of unconditional election as stated by J.P. Boyce, founder and first president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention (18721879, 1888). His definition of unconditional election is found in his Abstract of Systematic Theology and is taken from his sermon by that title.
The theory... of [Calvinists as to election] is that God (who and not man is the one who chooses or elects) of his own purpose (in accordance with his will, and not from any obligation to man, nor because of any will of man), has from Eternity (the period of Gods 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 a 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 because of any merit or work of theirs, nor of any value to him of them (not for their good works, nor for their holiness nor excellence, nor their faith, nor 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): but of his own good pleasure (simply because he was pleased so to choose).8
(Boyce used the following Scripture
verses in support of his position: Ephesians 1:46, 11; Matthew 11:2526; 2
Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 1:2630; Acts 13:48; 1 Timothy 1:9; Romans
8:2830; 9:11-24 33; Revelation 13:8; 17:8; Ephesians 2:13; John 1:13,
3:38; 5:2 1; 6:37-65; 15:16; 17:2; James 1:18.)
This definition is clear. Dr. Boyce believed and taught unconditional election. For him this election to salvation was not based upon Gods looking into the future, seeing which men would choose Him, and then electing those men to salvation. Rather, our Baptist fathers preached the God of absolute and indisputable sovereignty, who chose His elect with nothing moving Him with respect to whom He chose except His own good pleasure and distinguishing mercy.
The doctrine of election holds a very prominent place in the Scriptures. It meets us everywherein both the Old and New Testaments. Everyone who believes the Bible must believe something about election. He may not have the correct meaning, hut he must believe something about it. The Arminian believes something about election, though he doesnt believe the biblical teaching on the subject. Election, however, has one meaning.
Election does not destroy the will. Obviously, the sinner must have a will in the matter. It is absurdity to say the sinner loves, believes, etc., against his will or by compulsion. The sinner must will: he must will to take the broad way, or he must will to take the narrow way. His will is essential to all these movements of his soul. But in what state do we find his will? We find it is wholly set against the truth. Every will since the fall is entirely opposed to God and His Word. Man needs no foreign influence, no external power, to make him reject the truth; that he does by nature. He hates it with his whole heart. When a sinner then comes to receive the truth, how is this accomplished? Does he renew himself? Does he change the enmity of his will by the unaided act of his will? Does he of himself bend back his own will into the opposite direction? Does he, by a word of his own power, cause the current that had been flowing downhill to change its course and power, causing it to flow upward? Does his own will originate the change in itself and carry the change into effect? Impossible! The curYent would have flowed forever downward had it not been arrested in its course by something stronger than itself. The sinners will would have remained forever in depravity and bondage, had it not another Will, far mightier than itself, coming into contact with it, and altering both its nature and course, working in the sinner both to will and to do. Was the sinner willing before this other Will met his? No! Was he willing after? Yes! Then it is plain that it was Gods will, meeting and changing the sinners will, that made the difference. Gods will was first.
It was Gods will that began the work and made the sinner willing. He never would have willed had not God made him willing. Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power. It is the power of Jehovah applied to us that makes us willing. Until that power is applied, we are unwilling. It is His hand, operating directly upon the soul, that changes its nature and its bent. Were it not for that, our unwillingness would never be removed. No outward means, no motives, would be sufficient to effect the change; for all these means and motives are rejected by the sinner. Nor does he become willing even to allow the approach or application of these means or motives until God makes him willing. To speak of his being changed by that which he rejects is as absurd as to speak of a mans being healed by a medicine which he persists in refusing. Can the Ethopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? (Jer. 13:23). Does God then hinder sinners from believing and willing? By no means. He hinders none. They are their own hindrance. You are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. Not one soul would be saved if left to his own will. But in His infinite mercy, God does not leave them to their own wills. He puts forth His mighty power on some to make them willing. Were it not for this, all would be lost, for all would reject the Savior.
But some profane objector says, Does God make men to be damned? Let me in a few words answer the miserable atheism of such an objection. This is precisely the argument of the Socinians, Universalists, and Deists against the existence of such a place as hell. If you speak of hell or everlasting fire to such, their answer is, Did God make men to damn them? And however abominable and unscriptural their notion is, it is at least consistent with their own theory. Making God to be all love and nothing else, they think it inconsistent with His love that He should allow such a place as hell in the universe. They do not believe in hell, and so they must ask such a question.
God did not make men in order to damn them. He did not make the angels who kept not their first estate, in order to damn them. He did not make Lucifer for the purpose of casting him out of Paradise. He did not make Judas for the purpose of sending him to his own place. God made manevery man and every thingto glorify Himself. Every creature, man, and angel must do this, either actively or passively, either willingly or unwillingly: actively and willingly in Heaven, or passively and unwillingly in hell. This is Gods purpose and it shall stand. God may have many other ends in creation, but this is the chief one, the ultimate onethe one which is above all the others and to which all the rest are subordinate.
In this sense, then, plainly, God did not make men either to destroy them or to save them. He made them for His own glory. If the question is asked, Did God make the devil and his angels only to damn them?, I answer, He made them for His own glory. They are lost forever, but does that prove that He made them to destroy them? He kept their companions from falling (and so they are called the elect angels,) while He did not keep them. But does this prove that he made them to destroy them? They fell, and in a moment they were consigned to everlasting chains. He made no effort to save them; He sent no redemption to them. But does that prove that he made them only to destroy them? If ever such an accusation could be preferred against God, it must be in the case of the angels, to whom no salvation was sent. It cannot be said of man, to whom salvation has come.
Whatever is right for God to do, it is right for him to decree. If Gods casting sinners into hell is not wrong or unjust, then His purposing to do so from all eternity cannot be wrong or unjust. So you must either deny that there is a hell or admit Gods right to leave sinners to themselves to go to their own place to dwell there forever. There is no middle way between Calvinism and Universahism.
Let me merely call your attention to two passages of Scripture which would be good for those to ponder who ask such a question:
The LORD has made all things for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom (Prov. 16:4).
The Scripture says to the Pharaoh, For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth...What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? (Rom. 9:17, 22).
Texts like these are not to be explained
away or overlooked. They are part of Gods holy Wordjust as much as God
is love. And if one class of texts is to be twisted or turned away from, why not
another? Let us look both in the face, and let us believe them both, whatever difficulty
we may find in reconciling them. Our first duty is to believe, but there is nothing in the
Bible which we need to shrink from believing. For an empty-headed man will be wise,
when a wild donkeys colt is born a man (Job 11:12).
Let me close this important chapter with a brief warning to those who reject and speak against the blessed doctrine of election:
It is not wise to make derogatory remarks about what is in the Bible, whether you understand it or not.
It is not wise to reject what the Bible teaches on any subject, especially if you have not studied what the Bible says about it.
It is not wise to make a hobby out of any one doctrine. Although this doctrine is of vital importance, it is only one doctrine and must not be separated from all Christian truth.
It is not wise to reject any doctrine because it has been abused and misused. All the key doctrines have been perverted.
If it were not for election, your will would take you to hell. You can only get rid of election by getting rid of the Bible. My foremost reason for believing in election is because it is clearly and plainly taught in the Bible.
What Election is Not
Election is not salvation but unto salvation (2 Thess. 2:13, 14; Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29, 30).
Election is not exclusive of means (2 Thess. 2:14; Eph. 1:5, 13; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:2).
Election is not a respecter of persons (Rom. 9:1824). Fame, wealth, wisdom, position, etc., did not cause God to have respect for some and thus elect them (Job 34:19). All being ungodly, none could have been saved had he not shown grace to some.
Election is not salvation regardless, but unto salvation through the redemption of Christ, applied by the Spirit through the gospel (John 6:37; Rom. 10:17; 1 Thess. 1:45; 2 Thess. 2:13, 14; Acts 13:48).
Election is not opposed to the gospel, but the gospel is a means in accomplishing elections purpose (see Scriptures already cited).
Election is not an enemy of righteousness, but through its appointed means it causes those once ungodly to live godly (Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 1:410).
Election is not based on unforeseen faith or works, but it produces faith and works. (Rom. 9:1116; 11:5, 6; Phil. 1:6; 1 Tim. 1:9; Eph. 2:840; Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 3:5; Rom. 12:3; Eph. 4:7; Acts 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:25.
Election does not shut the door of salvation but opens that door for all those who come to Christ (John 6:37, 44, 63; 10:9; 14:6).
Election is not a hindrance to gospel preaching, but it assures the gospel of success (Isa. 55:11; John 10:27; 6:37, 45; 17:20, 21; Acts 15:14; 16:14; 18:27; 2 Tim. 2:9, 10).
Election is not of the Jews only (Rom. 9:24; 11:58, 11, 12, 25; John 11:52).
Election is not merely to service but to salvation (2 Thess. 2:13, 14; 2 Tim. 2:10).
Election is not fatalism but is the work of God (1 Thess. 1:4; Rom. 8:28, 30).
Election does not destroy mans so-called free will. The will of man is his desire, wish or choice. His choice is sin (John 3:19, 20; 5:40; 3:11; 2:2, 3; 4:1719; Jer. 17:9; 13:23; etc.). Man freelychooses sin, and by Gods grace, the elect freely choose Christ (Ps. 65:4; 110:3; John 6:44, 65; Acts 13:48). Lazarus freely rotted, but at the word of Christ, he freely came forth (John 11); and so do the elect of God.
Election is not anti-missionary but gives the foundation for missions (John 6:37; 17:20, 21; 2 Tim. 2:10; Isa. 55:11; 2 Pet. 3:9, 15).
Election does not destroy the responsibility of man. Men are responsible with whatever light they have, be it conscience (Rom. 2:15), nature (Rom. 1:1920), written law (Rom. 2:1727), or the gospel (Mark 16:1516). Mans inability to do righteousness no more frees him from responsibility than does Satans inability to do righteousness.
Election does not make God unjust. His blessing of a great number of unworthy sinners with salvation is no injustice to the rest of the unworthy sinners. If a government pardons one convict, is it injustice to the rest? (1 Thess. 5:9)
Election does not discourage convicted sinners but welcomes them to Christ. Let him who thirsts come (Rev. 22:17). The God who saves is the God who has elected men unto salvation. He is the same God who invites.
Election does not discourage prayer. To the contrary, it drives us to God, for He it is who alone can save. True prayer is the Spirits prompting; and thus will be in harmony with Gods will (Rom. 8:28).
Election is not of man. Some say, God votes, the devil votes, and man votes. The Bible teaches that election is not of the devil and man but of God (1 Thess. 1:4; John 10:16; 1 John 4:10, 19).
Election is not of reason but of revelation. At first itdoes not appeal to mans reason; but when man accepts Gods Word, it is seen to be the only thing that could be reasonable (Matt. 20:15).
Unbelievably, many people do not know
that election is in the Bible. Worse yet, the biblical teaching on the subject
has been very little discussed, taught, or preached. Someone once must have thought it
important because it is in our Baptist Faith and Messaqe: Election is the
gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, sanctifies, and glorifies
It is not only in our Articles of Faith, but we sing it in many of our hymnsthe second stanza of The Churchs One Foundation begins Elect from every nation...
More importantly, it is in the Bible; and if only one point is made in this chapter, let it be that everyone who believes the Bible must believe in election.
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