Election vs. Foresight
As it is impossible to deny the reality of divine election upon even a cursory reading of the scriptures, it appears that the method common in many Baptist and other Protestant circles, in an effort to unite election with the human perspective of fairness and free will, is to redefine election, to strip it of any real power. You may hear reasoning such as “God looked down the corridors of time to see who would believe” and so elected them. I expect that many through the ages, and perhaps even some on this site (as the archives may attest), have aptly used scripture to show the problems with such a notion (logical inconsistencies aside), but as I have recently been reading Calvin on this, several relevant excerpts of his are given below. It is copied from the John Allen translation, as I’ve become somewhat accustomed to that one. The emboldened fonts are added here.
It is a notion commonly entertained, that God, foreseeing what would be the respective merits of every individual, makes a correspondent distinction between different persons; that he adopts as children such as will be deserving of his grace, and devotes to the damnation of death others, whose dispositions he sees will be inclined to wickedness and impiety. Thus they not only obscure election by covering it with the veil of foreknowledge, but pretend that it originates in another cause [other than God’s good pleasure]. Nor is this commonly received notion the opinion of the vulgar only, for it has had great advocates in all ages….
God’s sovereign election of some, and preterition [passing by] of others, they make the subject of formal accusation against him….
Now, it is of importance to attend to what the Scripture declares respecting every individual. Paul’s assertion, that we were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4), certainly precludes any consideration of merit in us; for it is as though he had said, our heavenly Father, finding nothing worthy of his choice in all the posterity of Adam, turned his views towards his Christ, to choose members from his body whom he would admit to the fellowship of life. Let believers, then, be satisfied with this reason, that we were adopted in Christ to the heavenly inheritance, because in ourselves we were incapable of such high dignity. He has a similar remark in another place, where he exhorts the Colossians to “give thanks unto the Father, who had made them meet [fit] to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints.” (Col. 1:12) If election precedes this grace of God, which makes us meet to obtain the glory of the life to come, what will God find in us to induce him to elect us? Another passage from this apostle will still more clearly express my meaning. “He hath chosen us,” he says, “before the foundation of the world, according to the good pleasure of his will, that we should be holy, and without blame before him” (Eph. 1:4-5); where he opposes the good pleasure of God to all our merits whatsoever.
Calvin summarizes his main theme in this, showing that the scripture,
stating them to have been “chosen that they might be holy,” fully refutes the error which derives election from foreknowledge; since Paul, on the contrary, declares that all the virtue in men is the effect of election… This overturns any means of election which men imagine in themselves… For say, ‘Because he foresaw they would be holy, therefore he chose them,’ and you will invert the order of Paul. We may safely infer, then, If he chose us that we should be holy, his foresight of our future holiness was not the cause of his choice…
And what consistency would there be in asserting, that things derived from election were the causes of election? A subsequent clause seems further to confirm what he had said – “according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in himself.” (Eph. 1:9) For the assertion, that God purposed in himself , is equivalent to saying, that he considered nothing out of himself, with any view to influence his determination.
– excerpts from “Institutes of the Christian Religion”, Book III, Chapter XXII
While here Calvin may appear to be dealing with outward works, he shows in other places that this divine catalyst of election certainly applies to our will also. Perhaps in a future post more on this would be warranted. For now suffice it to say that immediately following Paul’s exhortation to believers to “work out” their salvation, he plainly states, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13) Now, if even we as those regenerated have need for God to grant us wills to please Him, how much more those still in need of conversion?