After the Counsel of God’s Own Will

The doctrine of unconditional election is the foundation upon which the true, Biblical gospel is built.

By Simon Padbury 21 August 2018 9 minutes read

In the beginning, God created all things out of nothing. It is God who sends springs of water into the valleys, who clothes the earth with vegetation, and who feeds all animals (Psalm 104.10-30). It is God that causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine (Matthew 5.45). And he is now providing our life, our breath and all that we have (Genesis 1; Acts 17.25).

God has predetermined all the events of human history. All that ever happens—whether good or harmful, peaceful or destructive, in God’s mercy or in God’s justice—all comes from the hand of almighty God (see Exodus 4.21; 7.3,13; Psalm 115.3; 135.6; Proverbs 21.1; Isaiah 45.7; Acts 17.25-28; Colossians 1.17; Hebrews 1.3).

The all-knowing, all-powerful, all-governing, all-sustaining, all-providing God has always known everything that will happen in his universe. Nothing makes God change what he has willed and planned to do, anywhere, or at any time. God is never thwarted, nor is he compelled to do anything against his will. This is what God himself says: “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46.10). He is the one true God, who “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1.11; see also Acts 15.18; Romans 8.29-30).

Many have tried to avoid the clear meaning and force of this Biblical teaching in order to defend what they regard as human “free will.” But note that it is here plainly stated, that all things are worked by God in accordance with his will—his counsel, and his pleasure.

Nothing happens by “random chance.” There is no random chance anywhere in the universe. Neither does anything occur merely because of natural laws, or merely because of a human’s will, or by angelic or demonic influence.1

All that ever happens, happens because God has sovereignly decreed it from eternity past. God’s eternal decree of providence includes all that happens in our lives—good or evil.

God does permit us to sin. But this is not a bare permission—it is a permission which carries with it a certainty that the permitted act will actually occur, because all things (even sins) are included in God’s sovereign decree over all things.

God was the author of human nature, but he is not, in any sense, the author of our sins. Our sins are an expression of our fallen human nature, proceeding from our own hearts.

If it is true that God has predetermined all things, then it must also be true that God has predetermined who he will save from their sins and who he will leave in their sins. And this too is a doctrine taught in the Bible.

The doctrine of Divine election (i.e. God chooses to save some and not others) is also often contested and denied. But the word “elect” (or “election” etc.) is used twenty-three times in the New Testament—and it always refers to God’s selecting of some particular people in order to save them. For example, Peter refers to Christians as “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1.2; see also e.g. Matthew 24.31; Romans 8.22; 9.11,11.5,7,28; Titus 1.1; 1 Peter 1.2; 2 Peter 1.10).

The word “predestinate” and its variants is used four times (Romans 8.29-30; Ephesians 1.5,11), always referring to this same doctrine of divine election. For example, Paul says that this is true of Christians: “[God] having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Ephesians 1.5).

And sometimes, the word “chosen” (or its variants) is used in referring to this same doctrine. For example, Paul says: “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2.13; see also e.g. 1 Corinthians 1.27-28; James 2.5).

There is no doctrine of universalism in the Bible. God does not save the entire human race from condemnation to Hell for their sins.

God saves some people and not others. God has predestined some fallen sinners to salvation, while he leaves the others to face the consequences of their sins as reprobates2—in this case, disapproved of by God, and therefore they remain condemned—i.e. rejected (Romans 8.29-30; Ephesians 1.5,11; 2 Corinthians 13.5-7).

The Lord Jesus Christ did not save everybody when he died on the cross. But he saved a definite number of individual people. A number of people, each known to God but beyond our calculation. These people are accumulated into the Church of Christ throughout the ages, to become “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues” (Revelation 7.9-10). But this great multitude does not include every human being.

The Bible teaches that those who reject Christ will be condemned to Hell on the Day of Judgment. God has “committed all judgment unto the Son;” and the Son says to those on his left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed…” Thus, they go into “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (Matthew 25.4; John 5.22; 2 Thessalonians 1.9).

The doctrine of unconditional election3 teaches that in eternity past, God chose those whom he will save based upon his own will—not based on any foreseen worthiness in, or fulfillment of condition(s) by, in those saved.

The doctrine of unconditional election is the foundation upon which the true, Biblical gospel of “salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone” is built.4

If a church rejects unconditional election, then it will be logically constrained to abandon each of the other four points of Calvinism in favour of Arminianism.5 However, some resist the force of the logical inter-relation of these five doctrines for a while and they try to maintain an inconsistent 4-point or 3-point system. And along with their departure from these Biblical teachings, that church will also be logically constrained to minimise the doctrine of God’s providence sooner or later. God will be imagined to have less and less to do with this world.

Sadly, it is common to hear from church pulpits these days the teaching that while some things happen because of the occasional Divine intervention, in general things are caused by natural laws, random chance, human free will and the influence of angels and demons. (Some churches teach that angelic and demonic interventions are rare, while others teach that they are everywhere moving things around, but not as second causes under God.)

All these false doctrines make God less than God—less than the God of the Bible.

No person who (currently) refuses to believe in Christ, or who rejects Christ, will have any problem with the thought that they may not be one of God’s elect. However, there are many genuine Christians who for a while, perhaps for many years, struggle with the doctrine of Divine unconditional election.

They see the references to election and predestination in the Bible. They totally accept that the Bible is the word of God, and therefore they cannot ignore these Scriptures or remove them. But they have difficulty accepting election and predestination at first, because of the wrong teachings about God and salvation that are taught by their church, where the activity of God in this world tends to be ignored.

They are being taught that God is not God over everything.

If people attend one of the better Protestant churches where some remnants of the old Reformed Christian faith are still taught (or where, we thank God, they are being rediscovered), then they will learn something about the sovereignty6 of God in the preaching.

God is, as always, God in the fullest sense of the word. He is sovereign over all things. What God decides or decrees is unalterable. No-one can change God’s plans, or prevent his providences, or thwart his predestination.

  1. Reformed theologians refer to all these as second causes. ↩︎

  2. The word reprobate means unapproved or disapproved of. ↩︎

  3. Unconditional Election is the name given to the second of the five points (tenets) of Calvinism. ↩︎

  4. These are four of the great “Five Solas” of the Protestant Reformation: salvation is by God’s grace alone—without personal merit (sola gratia), justification is by faith alone—without works (sola fide), the salvation is by Christ alone—there are no other saviours, redeemers, or mediators between God and man (solus Christus), and all the glory, honour, thanks in salvation be to God alone—not anything we or anyone else has done (soli Deo gloria). The fifth sola of the Reformation is Scripture alone (sola Scriptura): God’s special revelation, namely the Bible, reveals the truth and therefore it is the only authority for Christian doctrine and practice (and indeed for any matter on which the Bible speaks, whether explicitly or implicitly, the Bible is true). For an explanation of the Five Solas, see The Five Solas of the Reformation on ↩︎

  5. Jakob Hermanszoon (better known by the Latinized form of his name, Jakobus Arminius, or James Arminius in English), was a professor of theology in the Netherlands in the 16th-17th Centuries. His views became the basis for the a movement of younger men who opposed the soteriological teachings of the Reformation. These men officially published their challenge in a document known as the Remonstrance (1610). The Dutch Reformed Churches’ Synod of Dort (1618-1619) was called together to discuss and respond to the Remonstrance (the Synod was also attended by delegates from Reformed churches of other countries). Their response is the document known as the Canons of Dort. Most people who essentially follow the Remonstrant teachings today know little or nothing about these things, and they usually don’t call themselves Arminians. Meanwhile, the Reformed system of gospel doctrines has become labelled as Calvinism, and believers of the old Reformed doctrines of salvation are often called Calvinists. ↩︎

  6. By asserting that God is sovereign, Reformed Christians mean that there is none higher; God has supreme power and authority that no-one can dispute, challenge or resist in any way. ↩︎