John Owen – On Election and Particular Atonement in the Gospel Call


(1.) The decree of election, considered absolutely in itself, without respect to its effects, is no part of God’s revealed will; that is, it is not revealed that this or that man is or is not elected. This, therefore, cannot be made either argument or objection against anything in which faith or obedience is concerned. For we do not know it; we cannot know it; it is not our duty to know it; knowledge of it is not proposed as useful to us — indeed, it is our sin to inquire into it. It may seem to some to be like the tree of knowledge of good and evil seemed to Eve: good for food, pleasant to the eyes, and much to be desired to make one wise. All secret, forbidden things seem so to carnal minds. But men can gather no fruit from this tree except death. See Deu 29.29. Whatever exceptions, therefore, are laid against this decree as it is in itself, whatever inferences are made on supposing this or that about a man being elected or not, they are all unjust and unreasonable. Indeed, they are proud contentions with God, who has appointed another way for discovering it, as we will see afterward.

(2.) God sends the gospel to men in pursuit of his decree of election, and in order for its effectual accomplishment. I do not dispute what other end it has or may have, in its indefinite proposal to all; but this is the first, regulating, and principal end of it. Therefore, in preaching it, our apostle affirms that he “endured all things for the sake of the elect, that they might obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory,” 2Tim 2.10. So beforehand, God commanded Paul to stay and preach the gospel at Corinth, because “he had many people in that city,” — namely, in his purpose of grace, Acts 18.10. See chap. 2.47, 13.48.

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Michael Boling – The Glorious Blessing of Adoption (Ephesians 1:3-6)


(This was my contribution to the Servants of Grace series on Ephesians).

Ephesians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

I remember as a child the ordeal that was waiting to be chosen for the kickball team. Since I was pretty good at this particular playground activity, I was typically one of the first few chosen for a team. With that said, there were always those not particularly athletic who because of their lack of skill, were chosen last to participate.

Why mention such a memory? It reminds me of a certain reality when reading a passage such as Ephesians 1:3-6. In this pericope, the Apostle Paul speaks of God the Father through His Son, choosing and adopting us into His family in accordance with His divine will. Notice one thing that is absent from this passage in relation to my trip down memory lane? It is the important fact that while it was my ability to kick the playground ball that granted me access and belonging to a team during recess, there is no such notion involved with being adopted by God into His family. Let’s explore this concept a bit further.

Paul begins by praising God for a particular blessing. What God has given His people is beyond comprehension. The very idea the God of the universe, the Creator of all things would even consider adopting us into His family is an amazing act of grace. What did I do to deserve such a gift? Nothing. Being chosen is counted by Paul as a wondrous blessing bestowed on undeserving wretched sinners.

Theologians call this the doctrine of Election. It is the belief that God before the foundation of the world chose us to be His through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. Being chosen to be the people of God is not a Pauline only notion. Conversely, it has its roots in the Old Testament. Peter O’Brien saliently notes, “Her (Israel’s) election was due solely to God’s gracious decision; it had nothing to do with Israel’s choice or righteous behavior. It was because the Lord loved her and kept the oath he had sworn to her forefathers that he chose her for himself.” [1]

Being chosen by God to Himself has connected with it an action on the part of the one being chosen. Paul declares the very substance of the spiritual blessings he discusses “include election to holiness, a statement as God’s sons and daughters, redemption, and forgiveness, the gift of the Spirit, and the hope of glory.” [2] We are chosen by a holy God. The only proper response to this wonderful blessing is to be holy and blameless.

Trevor Burke reminds us, “Just as in the ancient world all sons, including those who had been adopted, were expected to behave in a manner that would not discredit their father or besmirch the family name, so it is the responsibility for spiritually adopted sons belonging to the divine household to live scrupulously and blamelessly by bringing glory to their holy, heavenly Father.” [3]

To be in a relationship with God has at its core the necessity to be holy and blameless, to be children who bring glory and honor to their Father in heaven. When we are obedient children of God, following His precepts provided in Scripture, we bring glory and honor to God’s holy name. We also declare to the world that we are in love with our heavenly Father.

As obedient children, we must desire to live by the rules of our Father has outlined to us in His Word. Scripture repeatedly declares that if we love God, we will keep His commands, His “House Rules”. If we say we love the Father, as His children we will be obedient to that which He has declared are the boundaries by which we are to live our lives. We will do so because we truly understand the Father “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”.

As noted by theologian G. C. Berkouwer, “when the church of Christ understands her election, not as a fatum or a dominium absolutum, but as a sovereign, gracious, undeserved election, then she also understands her service to the Lord in the world, a service which is indissolubly connected with her election.” [4]

A true biblical doctrine of election is centered on the necessity of living in service to the One who elected us. Out of thankfulness to God who before the foundation of the world has unconditionally chosen His elect to fulfill His divine purpose, the body of Christ must be a light to the world, proclaiming the day of redemption is nigh.

If we boil Ephesians 1:3-6 to its basic fundamental message, Paul is reminding us that God chose us as His children through His Son for a purpose. That purpose is to have a relationship with us. This is really what adoption and election are all about. God chose us. He did not just choose us because He had nothing better to do with His time. Before the foundation of the world He chose us to be in a relationship with Him, to be His children, to bear His name, and to declare this glorious gift to a hurting world.


[1] Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1999), 99.

[2] F. F. Bruce, New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1984), 253.

[3] Trevor Burke, Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 43.

[4] G. H. Berkouwer, Divine Election (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1979), 327.

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John Piper – 2 Timothy 2:8–10, Part 3: Election Gives Evangelism Power

If God chooses some for salvation, why do we risk our lives to share the gospel? God’s sovereignty does not replace human effort in ministry; it fills it with power. In this lab, John Piper pulls at the tension and draws several conclusions about our personal ministry to the lost.

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John Piper – 1 Thessalonians 1:2–7, Part 3: Invincible Joy Confirms Our Election

That someone experiences joy when they hear the gospel does not necessarily confirm that they are elect. But a certain kind of joy does. In this lab, John Piper talks about what happens when true believers experience suffering because of their faith.

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John Frame – Election, Calling and Regeneration

John Frame


Election simply means “choice.” The doctrine of election is that, ultimately, it is God’s choice that determines whether someone will be saved or lost. To understand this, recall from chapter 1 the biblical emphasis on God’s comprehensive control over the world. Nothing happens in the world unless God wants it to happen. Recall also from chapter 2 that God’s decree is comprehensive; it covers absolutely everything. Whatever happens, happens according to the good pleasure of his will (Eph. 1:11). If God’s control is so profound, then certainly God also has ultimate and absolute control over human salvation. Ultimately, your salvation depends on whether or not God has chosen you in Christ, before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).

But before we look at this eternal choice, let’s look at another type of election that is more historical in its focus. I call it historical election, although even historical election is part of God’s eternal plan. Historical election is God’s choice of people not necessarily for eternal salvation but for various tasks in history. God chose Saul, for example, to serve as Israel’s king for a time (1 Sam. 9:17); but he later rejected Saul. God chose Jeremiah to be a prophet (Jer. 1:5). Jesus chose the Twelve to be his disciples, including Judas (Luke 6:13). He chose, or elected, Judas, even though he knew Judas would betray him. From the examples of Saul and Judas, you can understand that historical election is not election to eternal salvation (Mark 14:21; John 6:70-71). It is merely the choice of someone to serve a temporary purpose in God’s program.

The most important form of historical election is God’s choice of the nation Israel. God chose Israel from all the nations of the earth to be his special people (Deut. 4:37; 7:6). Scripture emphasizes that this choice was by grace, not Israel’s merit (Deut. 7:7-8; 9:4, 6). Israel wasn’t larger or better than the other nations. Yet, not all Israelites obtained eternal salvation. Many of them turned away from God, and he sent his prophets to draw up indictments against them (called covenant lawsuits, as Isa. 1:1-17). Only Jesus himself is the true Israel, the one who fully obeys God and who receives all the blessings of the covenant (Rom. 11:1-21) .

We may also say that the visible church today is historically elect. That is to say, church members belong to Christ in a special way, as Israel belonged to God. That gives them great privileges. Hebrews 6:4-6 says that church members “have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.” Nevertheless, some of them rebel against the Lord, and the writer says that it is impossible to restore these to repentance. Like Saul, Judas, and unfaithful Israel, they will be lost. In this historical sense, then, some people who are elect, chosen, may be finally lost.

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Wilhelmus a Brakel – The External and Internal Call

Thus far we have discussed the Surety of the covenant and the partakers of this covenant, the church. We shall now proceed to consider the ways in which the Lord brings these partakers of the covenant into the covenant, and how He leads them to the ultimate goal of eternal felicity. The first aspect of this way is the calling.The Calling: God’s Declaration of the Gospel to Sinners

The calling is a gracious work of God, whereby He invites the sinner by means of the gospel to exchange the state of sin and wrath for Christ, in order that through Him he may be reconciled to God and obtain godliness and salvation. By means of this calling He also, by the Holy Spirit, efficaciously translates His elect into this state.

The calling is a gracious work of God: “And (the king) sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:3, 14); “…Him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3); “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).

God calls neither by the law of nature nor by the works of nature , whereby, in doing good, He nevertheless does not leave Himself without witness to the heathen (Acts 14:17). “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him” (Acts 17:27). For in all this Christ is neither proclaimed to them nor are they exhorted to believe in Him. The heathen are subject to the covenant of works, and whatever God does in and toward them has reference to that covenant. They are thus obligated to live according to this rule, “Do this and thou shalt live.” Therefore neither the law of nature, nor God’s works belong to the calling; the heathen are not called.

This call also does not occur by way of the moral law of Scripture . The moral law must be viewed in a twofold sense: It must be viewed either in its demands, whereby it reveals the perfect conditions of the covenant of works, or in its purpose, as having been given to the church as a rule of life and as the standard for true holiness. In its first sense the law is preached to convict man of sin (Rom. 3:20), thus bringing man to despair of being saved by his works. Here the function of the law ends. If, however, Christ is simultaneously preached by means of the gospel, man, being rejected by the law, is allured by the gospel. Thus, wherever Christ is preached, the law functions as a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ (Gal. 3:24). The law, however, neither teaches about Christ nor calls to Him, and thus the moral law is not a functional element of the calling. This is different as far as the ceremonial law is concerned, which belongs to the gospel.

The true means whereby we are called, however, is the gospel. “Whereunto He called you by our gospel” (2 Th. 2:14). The word “gospel” means a good tiding , the content of which is as follows: “Poor man, you are subject to sin and to the wrath of God. You are traversing upon the way which will end in eternal perdition. God, however, has sent His Son Jesus Christ to be a Surety; in His suffering and death there is the perfect satisfaction of the justice of God, and thus acquittal from guilt and punishment. In His obedience to the law there is perfect holiness, so that He can completely save all who go unto God through Him. Christ offers you all His merits, and therefore eternal salvation.” He calls and invites everyone: “Turn unto Me and be saved, receive Me, surrender to Me, enter into a covenant with Me and you will not perish but have everlasting life.” This declaration is recorded in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. The first gospel declaration is found in Genesis 3:15, where we read that the Seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent . Since then, God has frequently and in various ways caused the gospel to be proclaimed (Heb. 1:1). “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them” (Heb. 4:2). Prior to the coming of Christ it was called the gospel of promises . “…separated unto the gospel of God, (which He had promised afore by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures)” (Rom. 1:1–2). Subsequent to Christ’s coming it is called the gospel of fulfillment . “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled” (Mark 1:14–15).

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Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones – Effectual Calling and Regeneration

Effectual Calling

As we now proceed to consider in detail what exactly it is the Holy Spirit does to us in the application of redemption, I would remind you that I am not insisting that the order which I shall follow is of necessity the right one, and certainly not of necessity the chronological one.

‘So how do you arrive at your order?’ asks someone. My answer is that I mainly try to conceive of this work going on within us from the standpoint of God in eternity looking down upon men and women in sin. That is the way that appeals to me most of all; it is the way that I find most helpful. That is not to detract in any way from experience or the experiential standpoint. Some would emphasise that and would have their order according to experience, but I happen to be one of those people who is not content merely with experience. I want to know something about that experience; I want to know what I am experiencing and I want to know why I am experiencing it and how it has come about. It is the child who is content merely with enjoying the experience. If we are to grow in grace and to go forward and exercise our senses, as the author of the epistle to the Hebrews puts it ( Heb. 5:14 ), then we must of necessity ask certain questions and be anxious to know how the things that have happened to us really have come to take place.

My approach therefore is this: there is the truth of the gospel, and we have seen already that it is a part of the work of the Holy Spirit to see that that truth is proclaimed to all and sundry. That is what we called the general call — a kind of universal offer of the gospel. Then we saw that though the external or general call comes to all, to those who will remain unsaved as well as to those who are saved, obviously some new distinction comes in, because some are saved by it. So the question we must now consider is: What is it that establishes the difference between the two groups?

And the way to answer that question, it seems to me, is to say that the call of the gospel, which has been given to all, is effectual only in some. Now there is a portion of Scripture which is a perfect illustration of this. The followers of Christ who were even described as ‘disciples’ were divided up into two groups. One group decided that they would never listen to Him again. They left Him and went home. And when He turned to the others and said, ‘Will ye also go away?’ Peter said, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the word of eternal life’ ( John 6:67–68 ). The one group disbelieved and went home, the others, who had heard exactly the same things, stayed with Him, wanted to hear more, and rejoiced in it. What makes the difference? It is that the word was effectual in the case of the saved in a way that it was not effectual in the case of the unsaved who refused it.

This, then, is something that is quite obvious. We can say that in addition to the external call there is this effectual call, and that what makes anybody a saved person and a true Christian is that the call of the gospel has come effectually. Let me give you some scriptures that establish that. The first, Romans 8:28–39 , is a great statement of this very thing. ‘We know,’ says Paul, ‘that all things work together for good to them that love God … ’ Not to everybody but ‘ to them that love God ’. Who are they? ‘To them who are called according to his purpose,’ and Paul goes on: ‘For 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.’ The saved are described as those who are called . And they have been called in a way that the others have not. That is, therefore, a scriptural statement of this effectual call.

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William Sasser – Objections to Election

One: It Is Unjust to Men.

“It makes God to be unfair to those who are not included in the purpose of salvation.”

Answer: Election does not deal simply with men as neutral creatures, but with sinful, guilty and condemned creatures. That any sinner should be saved is a matter of pure grace. Those who are not included in God’s purpose of salvation suffer only the due reward of their deeds. We may better praise God that he saves any, than charge him with injustice because he does not save all. God can say the following to all men, saved or unsaved:

Friend, I do thee no wrong.…Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own (Matt. 20:13, 15)?

The question is not whether a father will treat his children alike (remember some people are the Devil’s children), but whether a sovereign must treat all condemned rebels alike. It is obviously not true that a Governor who pardons one convict from the penitentiary is obligated to pardon all. Such logic is nonsense. In God’s government, there is still less reason for objection for mercy being shown to some; for God freely offers pardon to all.

Two: It represents God as partial.

“God appears in his dealings to be a respecter of persons.”

Answer: Since there is nothing in men that determines God’s choice of one over another, the objection is invalid.

It would equally apply to God’s selection of certain nations, as Israel, and certain individuals, as Cyrus, to be recipients of special temporal gifts. If God is not to be regarded as partial in not providing a salvation for fallen angels, he cannot be regarded as partial in not exercising the regenerating influences of his Spirit on the whole race of fallen men. The following verses are clear:

For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favour unto them (Psalms 44:3).

For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it (1 Cor. 4:7)

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John Newton – The Doctrines of Election and Final Perseverance – Excerpts from a letter

…Permit me to remind you in the first place, of that important aphorism, John 3:27 (which by the by seems to speak strongly in favor of the doctrines in question) ” A man can receive nothing, unless it be given him from heaven.” If you should accede to my opinions upon my persuasion only, you would be little benefited by the exchange. The Lord alone can give us the true, vital, comfortable, and useful knowledge of his own truths…It is not therefore by noisy disputation, but by humble waiting upon God in prayer, and a careful perusal of his holy word, that we are to expect satisfactory, experimental, and efficacious knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. I am persuaded that you are seeking in this way; If so, I am confident you shall not seek in vain. The Lord teaches effectually, though for the most part gradually. The path of the just is compared to the light , which is very faint at the early dawn, but shineth more and more to the perfect day.

If you sincerely seek the Lord’s direction by prayer, you will of course make use of his appointed means of information, and search the Scriptures. Give me leave to offer you the following advices, while you are reading and comparing spiritual things with spiritual. First, not to lay too great stress upon a few detached texts, but seek for that sense which is most agreeable to the general strain of the Scripture. The infallible word of God must, doubtless be consistent with itself. If it does not appear to us, the obscurity and seeming inconsistency must be charged to the remaining darkness and ignorance of our minds. As many locks whose wards differ, are opened with equal ease by one master key; so there is a certain comprehensive view of Scriptural truth, which opens hard places, solves objections, and happily reconciles , illustrates, and harmonizes many texts, which to those who have not this master-key,…appear little less than contradictory to each other. When you obtain this key, you will be sure you will have the right sense.

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