by Horatius Bonar
“Many are called, but few are chosen.” — Matt. 22:14
“As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” — Acts 13:48
“What does the word [election] mean in common speech? When we speak of the election of a member of parliament, does that mean that the member first chose himself, and then the people chose him, because he had chosen himself? Or when we speak of the election of a minister, do we mean that he first chose himself, and then the people chose him, because he had chosen himself? No such theory of election would be listened to for a moment in such matters. Election has but one meaning there. It means the people’s choosing their representative by a distinct act of their own will, or the congregation choosing their minister by an equally distinct act of their own will. And shall man have his will, and shall not God have his? Shall man have his choice, and shall not God have his?
But let us take an instance from the Bible. What does God’s choosing of Abraham mean? He is a specimen of a sinner saved by grace; a sinner called out of the world by God. Well, how did this choosing take place? Did not God think of him long before he ever thought of God? Did not God choose him long before he ever thought of choosing God? Were there not thousands more in Chaldea that God might have chosen, and called, and saved, had he pleased? Yet he chose Abraham alone. And what does the Bible call this procedure on the part of God? It calls it election. ‘Thou art the Lord, the God who didst choose Abraham, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees.’ —Nehemiah 9:7. Does any one say, Oh, but God chose Abraham, because he foresaw that Abraham would choose him. I answer, the case is precisely the reverse of this. He chose Abraham just because he saw that otherwise Abraham would not choose him. It was God’s foreseeing that Abraham would not choose him, that made election necessary. And so it is with every sinner. So it is with us.
God chooses us, not because he foresees that we would choose him, or that we would believe, but for the very opposite reason. He chooses us just because he foresees that we would neither choose him nor believe of ourselves at all. Election proceeds not upon foreseen faith in us, but upon foreseen unbelief.
The truth is, that election has no meaning, if it be not the expression of God’s will in reference to particular persons and things,—saying to each, thus and thus shalt thou be, not because thou choosest to be so, but because I, the infinite Jehovah, see fit that thou shouldest be so. To one creature he says, thou shalt be an angel, to another, thou shalt be a man. To one order of beings, thou shalt dwell in heaven, to another, thou shalt dwell on earth. To one man, thou shalt be born in Judea, where my name is named and my temple stands; to another, thou shalt be born in Egypt, or Babylon, where utter darkness reigns. To one he says, thou shalt be born in Britain, and hear the glad tidings; to another, thou shalt be born in Africa, where no gospel has ever come. Thus he expresses his will, and who can resist it? Who can find fault, or say to him, what doest thou?
Men may object at being placed thus entirely at the disposal of God, but the Apostle’s answer to such is, ‘Nay but, 0 man, who art thou that repliest against God?’ Election, then, is the distinct forthputting of God’s sovereign will, for the purpose of bringing a thing to pass, which, but for the explicit forthgoing of that will, would not have come to pass.”
– Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
Excerpt from: Truth and Error, or Letters to a Friend on Some of the Controversies of the Day, 1850