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ELECTION: THE DOCTRINE STATED 

J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) 

 

Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.—1 Thessalonians 1:4 have firstly to state the doctrine of election. What is it? What does it mean? Accurate statements on this point are of great importance. No doctrine of Scripture, perhaps, has suffered so much damage from the erroneous conceptions of foes and the incorrect descriptions of friends as that which is now before us. 

 

The true doctrine of election I believe to be as follows: God has been pleased from all eternity to choose certain men and women out of mankind whom, by His counsel secret to us, He has decreed to save by Jesus Christ. None are finally saved except those who are thus chosen. Hence, the Scripture gives to God’s people in several places the names of “God’s elect,” and the choice or appointment of them to eternal life is called “God’s election.” 

 

Those men and women, whom God has been pleased to choose from all eternity, He calls in time by His Spirit working in due season. He convinces them of sin. He leads them to Christ. He works in them repentance and faith. He converts, renews, and sanctifies them. He keeps them by His grace from falling away entirely and finally brings them safe to glory. In short, God’s eternal election is the first link in that chain of a sinner’s salvation of which heavenly glory is the end. None ever repent, believe, and are born again, except the elect. God’s election is the primary and original cause of a saint’s being what he is. 

 

The doctrine here stated, no doubt, is peculiarly deep, mysterious, and hard to understand. We have no eyes to see it fully. We have no line to fathom it thoroughly. No part of the Christian religion has been so much disputed, rejected, and reviled as this. None has called forth so much of that enmity against God which is the grand mark of the carnal mind. Thousands of so-called Christians profess to believe the atonement, salvation by grace, and justification by faith, and yet refuse to look at the doctrine of election. The very mention of the word to some persons is enough to call forth expressions of anger, ill-temper, and passion. 

 

But, after all, is the doctrine of election plainly stated in Scripture? This is the whole question that an honest Christian has to do with. If it I The Doctrine Stated 11 is not in the Book of God, let it be forever discarded, refused, and rejected by man, no matter who propounds it. If it is there, let us receive it with reverence as a part of divine revelation and humbly believe, even where we are not able to understand completely or explain fully. What then is written in the Scriptures? “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa 8:20). Is election in the Bible, or is it not? Does the Bible speak of certain persons as God’s elect or not? 

 

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ says: “For the elect’s sake the days shall be shortened” (Mat 24:22). “If it were possible they should deceive even the elect” (Mar 13:22). “He shall send his angels, and they shall gather together his elect” (Mat 24:31). “Shall not God avenge his own elect?” (Luke 18:7). 

 

Hear what St. Paul says: “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” (Rom 8:29-30). “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” (Rom 8:33). “God hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). “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” (2Ti 1:9). “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2Th 2:13). 

 

Hear what St. Peter says: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1Pe 1:2). “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure” (2Pe 1:10). 

 

I place these eleven texts before my readers, and I ask them to consider them well. If words have any meaning at all, they appear to me to teach most plainly the doctrine of personal election. In the face of such texts, I dare not refuse to believe that it is a scriptural doctrine. I dare not, as an honest man, shut my eyes against the plain, obvious sense of Bible language. If I once began to do so, I should have no ground to stand on in pressing the gospel on an unconverted man. I could not expect him to believe one set of texts to be true, if I did not believe another set. The eleven texts above quoted seem to my mind to prove conclusively that personal election is a doctrine of Scripture. As such I 1 propounds – puts forward an idea for consideration by others. 12 Free Grace Broadcaster • Issue 255 must receive it, and I must believe it, however difficult it may be. As such, I ask my readers this day to look at it calmly, weigh it seriously, and receive it as God’s truth. 

 

After all, whatever men may please to say, there is no denying that the election of some men and women to salvation is a simple matter of fact. That all professing Christians are not finally saved, but only some; that those who are saved owe their salvation entirely to the free grace of God and the calling of His Spirit; that no man can at all explain why some are called unto salvation and others are not called—all these are things that no Christian who looks around him can pretend for a moment to deny. Yet what does all this come to but the doctrine of election? 

 

Right views of human nature are certain to lead us to the same conclusion. Once admit that we are all naturally dead in trespasses and sins and have no power to turn to God; once admit that all spiritual life in the heart of man must begin with God; once admit that He Who created the world by saying, “Let there be light,” must shine into man’s heart and create light within him; once admit that God does not enlighten all professing Christians in this manner but only some and that He acts in this matter entirely as a sovereign, giving no account of His matters—once admit all this, and then see where you are. Whether you know it or not, you admit the whole doctrine of election! 

 

Right views of God’s nature and character, as revealed in the Bible, appear to me to bring us to the same position. Do we believe that God knows all things from all eternity, that He governs all things by His providence, and that not even a sparrow falleth to the ground without Him? Do we believe that He works all His works by a plan, like an architect of perfect knowledge, and that nothing concerning His saints, as His choicest and most excellent work, is left to chance, accident, and luck? Well, if we believe all this, we believe the whole doctrine that this paper is meant to support. This is the doctrine of election. 

 

From Old Paths: Being Plain Statements of Some of the Weightier Matters of Christianity (London: Charles J. Thynne, 1898)

J. C. Ryle (1816-1900): Bishop of the Anglican Church; born at Macclesfield, Cheshire County, England, UK. 

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