by William Perkins
Election is God’s decree whereby, on His own free will, He has predestined certain men to salvation to the praise of the glory of His name (Eph. 1:4–6; 1 Thess. 5:9). Far from being a tangential doctrine, election is the golden thread that runs through the whole Christian system. Moreover, election is the friend of sinners—and therefore a most blessed doctrine.
Election is God’s positive choice, by His sheer sovereignty, to love some out of His grace for salvation (Rom. 9:13–26; 1 Thess. 5:9). God’s election is in no way universal or general, for God did not ordain all mankind to be reconciled to Himself. Rather, those whom He foreknew, He predestined (Rom. 8:29). Here, foreknew is used in the sense of choosing or ordaining people (1 Peter 1:2; cf. Rom. 11:2). Because many have wrongly attributed divine knowledge of man’s future faith as causative of God’s decree, it is essential to note that God’s wise foreknowledge is both free and logically (in contrast to temporally) secondary to His willful ordination. Before the foundation of the world, God singled out and appointed some to salvation (2 Thess. 2:13). He did not appoint those whom He foreknew would be conformed to Christ; rather, those whom He foreknew (favorably chose), He predestined to be conformed to His own image.
Jesus Christ is the whole foundation of election. Christ was called of His Father from all eternity to perform the work of salvation for His people (Heb. 5:5; 7:22; 13:20). In Christ’s election to perform the work of salvation, Christ is not subordinate to the Father with regard to the decree itself since He has decreed all things with the Father (John 15:16), but He became subordinate in its execution through His servanthood and humiliation (1 Peter 1:20).
Election can never be separated from Christ, as the elect are so only in Christ. Furthermore, election is so closely linked to Christ, that, in order to understand the true nature of election itself, one must look to the ordaining of the Mediator (Isa. 42:1; Heb. 9:15). This is why any who struggle with understanding election must be brought to view election particularly in Christ, for in Him are all those who are chosen of God (Eph. 1:4). The believer is chosen in Christ as His own inheritance (Deut. 32:9; Ps. 2:8; Heb. 12:2; cf. John 6:39; 17:16; Eph. 1:11; 1 Peter 2:6, 9).
The covenant of grace is the means of election. This is God’s contract with His people in Christ regarding life eternal. In this covenant, God freely promises Christ to His people, who receive Christ’s benefits upon repentant faith (Hos. 2:18–20; Ezek. 36:25–27; Mal. 3:1).
The degrees of execution are the working out of election in the life of the believer. These are the steps by which God puts into action His eternal love (cf. Acts 13:48). For those whom God has elected to inherit eternal life, He has also ordained the subordinate means whereby, in steps, they attain their ordained end (Eph. 1:4–5; 2 Thess. 2:13; cf. John 6:37; Eph. 2:8–9). Without these steps, by which God puts into action His eternal love, salvation would be unobtainable (Rom. 8:29–30). Broadly speaking, these steps are known as effectual calling, regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Thus, salvation worked out experientially in the soul of the believer is inseparable from sovereign election in Christ. The decree in Christ and the experience in Christ are conceptually and realistically linked.
Sadly, some view election as a stumbling block to coming to Christ by faith. Unfortunately, their worry is not first “Have I Christ?” but rather “Am I elect?” Such have wrongly viewed election through a convoluted lens. It must be recognized that election is impossible to ascertain apart from the prior receiving of salvation by faith, upon which, with the resultant works, election is made sure (cf. 2 Peter 1:10). Furthermore, since Christ declares to all sinners, “Repent and believe, and you will be saved,” there need not be a question of one’s status, other than that of sinner. Thirsty sinners (Isa. 55:1); willing sinners (Rev. 22:17); heavy-laden sinners (Matt. 11:28); adulterous sinners (Jer. 3:1); lost sinners (Luke 19:10); and, yes, even the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)—to all the Lord declares, “Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of men” (Prov. 8:4). Therefore, as the Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, “Repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
William Perkins (1558–1602), often called “the father of Puritanism,” served as preacher at Great St. Andrew’s Church, Cambridge. The first volume of his works which are being reprinted by Reformation Heritage Books should be available in December of this year. This article is adapted from William Perkins, A Golden Chaine, chaps. 15, 31, 35–38, 48.