John Charles Ryle ministered in East Anglia in the middle years of the 19th century before becoming the first (Anglican) bishop of Liverpool. His writings are refreshingly clear, robust, and heartfelt. He explains, defends and applies the evangelical faith with deceptive simplicity. Ryle deals with the doctrine of election in his book Old Paths. Here’s a summary:-
We are familiar with the idea of a general election to Parliament. But there is a greater election.
1. What is election?
‘God has been pleased from all eternity to choose certain men and women out of mankind, whom by his counsel secret to us, he has decreed to save by Jesus Christ.’ Those who God has been pleased to elect he in due course calls, convinces of sin, and leads them to Christ. He converts, renews and sanctifies them.
The doctrine of election is deep and mysterious. Some object to it. But it is a scriptural doctrine, Mt 24:22; Mk 13:22; Mt 24:31; Lk 18:7; Rom 8:29f; Rom 8:33; Eph 1:4; 2 Tim 1:9; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2; 2 Pet 1:10.
Some assert that there is in Scripture no election of individuals, but only of nations, churches and communities. But Paul distinguishes between God choice of the nation Israel, and those who have been elected to salvation, Rom 11:7.
Some tell us that election is not the doctrine of the Church of England. But Article 17 disproves this.
2. What cautions and safeguards are necessary?
Belief in the doctrine of election is not the same as either fatalism (‘It’s no use me doing anything about my own salvation’) or presumption (‘If I’m elect I shall go to heaven no matter what I do.’)
(a) The doctrine of election was never meant to destroy man’s responsibility for the state of his own soul. The Bible everywhere address us as responsible and accountable.
(b) The doctrine of election was never meant to prevent the free of the gospel.
(c) Election can only be known by its fruits. We do not have access to God’s secret counsels. But we can observe the fruit of the Spirit. We see a distant aeroplane coming in to land. We cannot see the pilot. But by the steady and controlled movement of the plane we can tell that a pilot is in control. When Paul remembered the faith, hope and love of the Thessalonian Christians he said, ‘We know that God has chosen you.’ (1 Thess 1:4, cf. 1 Pet 1:2; Eph 1:4; Rom 8:29).
(d) Election was never intended to prevent us making a diligent use of all means of grace. In the very writings that he teaches election and predestination, the apostle also urges prayer and other means of grace, Rom 12:12; Eph 6:18; 1 Thess 5:17; 1 Pet 2:2; 4:7.
(a) Do not refuse this doctrine. This is dishonouring to the word of God which teaches it. No more converts are gained by denying election. On the other hand, ‘to know and feel that God had purposes of mercy toward me before the foundation of the world, and that all the work of grace in my heart is the result of an everlasting covenant and an eternal election, is a thought full of sweet and unspeakable consolation.’
(b) Be sure to approach this doctrine from the right end. First go to the grammar school of repentance and faith, before entering the great university of election and predestination. The scheme of salvation is like a ladder, with God and his election at the top, and man and his faith at the bottom. God begins with election, and reaches down; but we must begin with faith and reach up.
(c) Remember to ‘give diligence, to make your calling and election sure’, 2 Pet 1:10. Election can be no surer in the sight of God. But it can be surer and more evident to ourselves. ‘Strive so to live and walk in this world that all may take knowledge of you as one of God’s children, and feel no doubt that you are going to heaven.’
Based on J.C. Ryle, Old Paths, 458-475