At the outset of this study we promised to establish the fact of individual election 'beyond reasonable doubt'. Before we could do that, it was imperative that we firmly establish the fact of man's condition under sin as the proper backdrop for a legitimate understanding of God's selective election of individuals. Also, we desired to show from the record which John gave to us that the issue is not a matter that should be reserved for seminarians and theologians, but rather is an issue with which every serious disciple of Jesus Christ must come to grips and to which every real disciple will acquiesce. At the heart of living in the light is the issue of a continuous and present need for dealing with the eruptions of the sin that dwells within. That cannot be done if there is a false confidence in the ability of the flesh -- even if that confidence is no greater than the mere belief that faith is the product of human volition apart from the effective grace of God. Therefore, having attempted to establish these two crucial concepts in the beginning, we have come to the issue of whether, in fact, there is Biblical proof that God did indeed make specific and individual choice among men of those for whom he would go to any length necessary to secure their salvation.
Before we leap off into the proof that assuredly exists, we must make a pertinent comment about 'reasonable doubt'. We have already established that men 'under sin' are unreasonable and illogical. To claim to be able to prove to such men that anything which they do not want to believe is true, is to claim too much. For men who are unreasonable and obstinate in their commitment to their own theology regardless of the evidence, there exists no such compelling "proof". For those who have a sensitivity to Truth and a Spirit-imparted capacity to understand it, the biblical evidence of God's individual election of men is overwhelming. Thus, though we claim to be able to give proof beyond reasonable doubt, we are perfectly aware that many will not be persuaded by it. The fault will not lie in the revelation of God. It will be in the hearts of men who do not want to admit their utter depravity and its requirement that God override all obstructions in order to bring them to faith. And, it will lie in our lack of skill in presenting that revelation to men.
Nonetheless, we, believing that God will persuade His elect and compensate in their hearts for our weakness, will hereafter show the proof of which we spoke.
Many who object to this doctrine of individual election have taken in hand to attempt to show that the Bible presents a 'collective election' without any particularity. They have done so by looking into many of the texts of Scripture that mention the matter specifically. In this process they have made two major errors. First, they have been so militantly against the possibility of finding individual election to be a fact that they have been blinded to many of the contextual facts that establish it to be so. That they were so militant guaranteed, apart from special intervention by God in grace, that they would not find what they did not want to find. And, second, they overlooked the fact that God often establishes a truth without using the specific word-group which is the focus of the discussion. Therefore, before we go into some of those specific texts to show that the contexts have been overlooked, we will begin by showing that God clearly and unequivocally established the fact of individual election in another way.
The first verse that we want to consider is:
"And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15; KJV).
Regardless of whatever else might be implied by this verse, it, in its context, clearly declares that the 'Book of Life' is the final criterion in the determination of who ends up in the Lake of Fire. Let us consider these contextual facts:
Now, let us also consider this verse:
"And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:27; KJV).
In this place the Scriptures clearly declare that only those whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life may have access to the New Jerusalem.
This raises two questions which we desire to address at this point so that they may be put behind us. First, is the "Book of Life" and the "Lamb's Book of Life" the same book, or are they two different books? The answer to that question can only be finally determined if we allow the function of the book, or books, to be the determining factor. There are those who resist the idea that the same author would call the book "the book of life" in one place, and then later call it "the Lamb's book of life". That resistance is not legitimate when one looks at the context and becomes aware that the city is the "Lamb's wife" -- thus establishing a reason for the author to make his readers aware that the criterion for entrance is also the Lamb's. That the criterion for entrance is the Book of Life is stated, but that book is the Lamb's book. Also, the fact that it is the Book of Life that keeps men out of the Lake of Fire and the Lamb's Book of Life that gives them entrance into His city (for which Abraham and all of his seed have looked) argues that the books are one and the same.
Then, there are those who argue that the Lamb's Book of Life is a matter that is restricted to Israel. Is this restriction legitimate? Even if it were sustainable that Israel alone will inhabit the city and the Church and the nations were to be relegated to the new earth (and it is not), verse 24 plainly tells us that the kings of the earth are going to bring their glory and honor into it. Therefore, even if Israel alone has resident privileges, all the others who will go in and out will have to have their names written in the Lamb's Book of Life according to verse 21.
Therefore, everyone who has access into the presence of the Lamb has his name in the Book of Life which belongs to the Lamb. All whose names do not appear there are cast into the Lake of Fire.
This means, therefore, that the question of eternal destiny is determined by the question of whether one has his name in the Book of Life at the time of the Judgment and the opening of the gates of the City. It is our contention that what the Scriptures teach about the Book of Life will determine the issue of election that is before us.
Therefore, let us begin at the beginning of Scriptural revelation regarding this Book:
"Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book" (Exodus 32:32-33; KJV).The context of these verses is the account of Moses' discovery of the people's worship of the golden calf in the wilderness. He is greatly upset because of their gross idolatry and has told them that he "will go up unto the Lord" and "peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin" (Exodus 32:30; KJV). Let us note the following facts of the verse in its context:
The next place in divine revelation that makes clear mention of this matter of the Book of Life is Psalms 69:28:
"Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous" (KJV).
Here David is praying about his enemies. He requests that God will blot them out of the "book of the living". In his statement, he clearly implies that both the righteous and the unrighteous have their names in that book. It is his request, however, that God erase all the names of the unrighteous so that only the names of the righteous remain. This request makes more plain the declaration of John in Revelation that the book has become the criterion for determination of eternal destinies. If God answers the prayer and blots out the names of the wicked, then only the names of the righteous will be there, and the book can serve both at the Judgment of the Great White Throne and at the gates of the City.
Also, that David calls it 'the book of the living' indicates that it contains all of the names of those who 'live'.
Therefore, we know from these first two references that all men have their names in the Book of Life during their lifetimes -- both the wicked and the righteous. We also know that God will blot out some names -- those of the wicked.
In the New Testament we have more revelation concerning this matter in Luke 10:20:
"Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven" (KJV).
This is a rather odd exhortation from what we know so far. Jesus addresses these words to seventy disciples to whom He had given instructions to preach the gospel. They came back rejoicing because they had been able to exercise such power as to cast out demons. His words were that there was a greater cause for rejoicing -- your names are written in heaven. The oddity exists because we have already seen that EVERYONE'S name is written in heaven, but not everyone can cast out demons. Why the superior cause of rejoicing?
To add to this we have Philippians 4:3-4:
"And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice" (KJV).
Paul's mention here of the fact that these believer's names are in the Book of Life produces the same exhortation for rejoicing that Jesus gave to the seventy. The question remains: Why? If everyone's name is in the Book of Life, what does the believer have to rejoice about over the unbeliever? One might say that it means entrance into the holy City since he is a believer. That is only true if his name cannot be blotted out.
But, let us go on to Revelation 3:5:
"He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (KJV).
Here we have a promise. But what does it mean? There are those who would have us to believe that we really cannot rejoice that our names are written in heaven -- until, on our death bed, we are able to look back on our lives and see that we have overcome. Otherwise, say they, this verse teaches that one's name can be blotted out if one sins in a sufficiently grave manner. If that is so, there is no real basis for rejoicing until the point of death -- unless there is some guarantee that one will overcome. And, where will that guarantee come from? The capricious will of men?
Let me here repeat myself: we have no real basis for rejoicing simply because our names are written in the Book of Life. Everyone's name is written there! Those who have cause for rejoicing must have some basis for that cause. That basis must be the permanence of the name's record in the book. And, that basis must either be arrogance ("I know that I will not stoop to be unfaithful to God because of who and what I am") or faith ("I know that, even though I am very prone to stumble, my God will keep His Word to me"). It is our contention that the basis for rejoicing is the fact that God has written our names permanently into the Book of Life if we have believed His promise of life through Jesus Christ.
But, does not Revelation 3:5 teach a solemn possibility of some who are numbered among the saints having their names blotted out of the book? It would appear so. First, however, we must consider how they are numbered among the saints and by whom they are so numbered. The context clearly declares that the one who is in danger of having his name blotted is "the angel of the church in Sardis". But, that God has reckoned him as a saint is denied by that same context. Thus, he is numbered among the saints BY THE SAINTS. But, he is not numbered among the saints BY GOD, whose reckoning is the more critical.
Let us prove this. First, who is the "overcomer"? Context gives us the answer.
The letter was addressed to the "angel of the church". The most likely identity of this "angel" is that he was the leading pastor/teacher, since the word "angel" simply means 'messenger' and does not necessarily refer to non-human angels (see Matthew 11:10 where the word 'anngelo' --- which is the word for 'angel' --- is translated 'messenger' and refers to John the Baptizer). The question is: what must he overcome? The answer is given in Jesus' rebuke/exhortation, found in 3:1-3. There He says, "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (KJV). To understand Jesus, we must understand that there is physical life and spiritual life. Likewise, there is physical death and spiritual death. One can be physically alive and spiritually dead, or physically dead and spiritually alive, or physically dead and spiritually dead, or, finally, physically alive and spiritually alive.
Therefore these words must be taken to refer to spiritual realities since the man is obviously physically alive. Thus, the words "thou are dead" mean he is spiritually dead, though very much physically alive. His 'reputation' for 'life' is an outward testimony that is persuasive enough to cause men to think he is a regenerated saint. Jesus' bone of contention with him is that, though he has done certain 'works' that have caused his fellow men to consider him a genuine believer (even to the point that they have made him their pastor/teacher), he is spiritually disconnected from Him "that hath the seven Spirits of God" (the Spirit being the Author of spiritual life in men). He is NOT A SAINT; he merely has the reputation for being one because of his impact upon the thinking of other men because of what they have seen him do. Thus, the only ones that this context tells us are in danger of having their names blotted out of the Book of Life are those who merely profess to believe in Christ and do a sufficient number of hypocritical acts to persuade others that their profession is genuine. If only those who would use this verse to claim that the elect can lose their salvation would consider the context!
We can also receive further instruction if we look at what Jesus exhorts. Be reminded that we have already seen how one can begin to be a disciple without being justified. That this one began the process of discipleship is declared (he 'received' and 'heard'). That this one began to show evidences of discipleship is declared (he began to do some 'works'). That he was about to go backwards in the process is declared (his works were "about to die"). That he never had come to justification is declared ("thou ... art dead"). That he was in danger of having his name blotted out of the Book of Life is undebatable. Jesus' instruction to him was the same that is given to all unbelievers: "repent". The implication is that the man had begun the process of becoming a disciple, but that something had come up between his beginning and the time of Jesus' confrontation of him that had caused him to begin to reject those truths which, if believed, would have brought him to justifying faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If he went back from those truths, he would never come to justifying faith. If he never came to justifying faith, his name would be blotted out of the Book of Life. If he 'overcame' the temptation to turn back from whatever truth it was that he did not want to believe, his name would not be blotted out.
But, there is yet another thing that we are told about the names in the Book of Life:
"And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8; KJV).
This verse is dealing with the 'beast' that arises out of the sea (Revelation 13:1).
The present discussion does not make necessary a particular discussion of who this 'beast' is -- that would only bring us into another, altogether different, debate in the area of eschatology (the study of future events). We can know these things without that identification:
There is. Revelation 17:8:
"The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is" (KJV).
Here, John, under the inspiration of the Spirit, resolved the difficulty which his earlier statement had raised. He tells us that there is a category of men within those whose names are in the Book of Life, who have had their names written in that Book "FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD". And, though many whose names are in the Book will worship the beast, none whose names are in that Book since the foundation of the world will do so. This raises the issue of when the names were written in the Book. Obviously, since all who 'live' have their names in the Book, and multitudes of them will worship the beast, the difference between them and those who do not worship him must be in the TIMING OF THE WRITING OF THEIR NAMES IN THE BOOK.
Since a fundamental requirement of a name being in the Book is 'life' of some kind, it is reasonable to assume that many men have their names entered at the point of the beginning of their physical lives. Then, at the point of their physical deaths, their names are blotted out -- because they no longer qualify. Some would object at this point that the doctrine of individual election requires names to be written BEFORE the existence of the person -- and thus before he meets the requirements of the Book. No, the doctrine of individual election does not require that. The statement of Revelation 17:8 requires that. And, in establishing that, it also establishes the doctrine of God's individual election of men -- because His writing of their names into the book before their creation is INDIVIDUAL. How does one write NAMES collectively?
But, how can this be? Romans 8:30 tells us:
"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" (KJV).
This text clearly establishes that some things are done in the mind of God before history 'catches up' with His plan. In Romans 8:18-25 Paul plainly admits that glorification will not happen in history until the point of the "redemption" of our bodies. That it has already happened in the mind of God is seen from the past tense of the verb "glorified" in verse 30. That it will happen in history is His promise to us. That it is inevitable rests upon two things: first, because God has foreknown and predetermined it; and second, because He has declared it (and He cannot lie).
Thus, since God's perspective is that they shall surely live both in time and eternity, He is free to write their names in His Book before they actually live in history -- because their 'living' is guaranteed by Himself.
Thus it is also with the fact that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. He was not historically slain until sometime in or around A.D. 33. He was slain in the mind of God from the time in the eternal counsels that the Father and the Son agreed together to accomplish the plan. Since the Son's promise to the Father that He would come and die is as good as the Father's promise to us, the event was firmly established and no power of Satan or men could thwart it -- for the integrity of God was at stake and the power of God was available to see it through.
But, if we return to our text in Revelation 17, we will note that the primary characterization of those who refuse to worship the beast is that their names have been written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world. Thus, the Book of Life contains the names of 'overcomers'. But, their 'overcoming' does not arise from their strength of character or lack of inherent weakness. It arises from a fidelity to God which He works in them because He has chosen them to inherit the glory of His eternal kingdom. In other words, it is the faithfulness of God that prevents them from succumbing to the pressures to bow down to the beast.
So, as we have already said, since their names are recorded from the foundation of the world, God has, in fact, elected individuals for whom He will supply a sufficient grace for faith unto justification and for faith to resist the pressure to apostatize. So go the theories of those who would have us to believe in some vestige of virtue in men and take from our great and gracious God some of the glory of our salvation!
Therefore, to conclude this part of our proof that God has indeed chosen individuals unto salvation, let us summarize what we know from the revelation concerning the Book of Life:
We made a claim at the beginning of this part of our study that those who oppose the concept of individual election do so with two erroneous assumptions. They assume that God has not established the doctrine apart from the New Testament contexts where election is directly mentioned; and, they assume the doctrine is false before they ever get into a study of it. We have shown that the doctrine of the Book of Life leaves us with no recourse than to admit that God has written some individuals' names into this book from the foundation of the world. This is individual election established.
Now we want to show how some of the very texts which teach the doctrine have been distorted by men who were so against the idea that they could not see the contextual evidence for it.
First, let us consider Matthew 24:24:
"For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (KJV).
The objectors write this verse off by claiming that it is only true collectively. With that highly prejudicial assumption foremost in their thinking, they need not think clearly at all. With one fell swoop of their eis-egetical meat cleaver they think they have slain the doctrine of individual election. But, have they?
Note first of all that the timing of the arising of these false Christs is shown by the context to be the same period as that of the 'beast' of Revelation 13 and 17. Thus, the 'elect' that are being spoken of here are the same as the people of Revelation 17:8 who have their names written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world. The declaration is that they cannot be deceived. The false signs and wonders are going to be highly persuasive. The question is: How are these 'elect' KEPT FROM the deception that will catch all others in its web? Is it because of their superior intellect? No, else Matthew would have said, "...they shall deceive the very intelligent". Is it because they do not have the propensity to believe what they want to believe rather than what is true? No, for all men have that weakness. Is it because they naturally do not value their physical lives so that the threats of death do not phase them? No, else Matthew would have said, "...they shall deceive the very fearless". What is it that keeps these from being deceived? IT IS THEIR ELECTION. Since they are the elect of God, He will preserve them from the deception. He will not do this because they are something other men are not in terms of their natural state. He will do it because He has made a promise to His Son and to various men throughout history. He will work in their minds to give them understanding so that they can see the deception. He will work in their hearts to give them the faith to overcome. All of the non-elect will be deceived. All of the elect will be preserved.
That brings us to another distorted context, that of Romans 12:3:
"For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith" (KJV).
Some have written this verse off as having anything to say in respect to our subject. They have done so because if they have to admit that God must grant faith in order for men to be able to exercise it, their entire position of opposition to election will go 'down the tube'. Their rationale is that this verse does not apply to the debate since the debate centers upon justification and not sanctification. But, their antagonism to the Truth has blinded them to one very obvious fact. If believers have to be granted faith in order to function AS BELIEVERS, then how is it that UNBELIEVERS can exercise faith with out having to have it specially imparted to them? Surely, if faith is the product of man's volition, they who have already partaken of the tremendous benefit that the exercise brings would be more likely to exercise faith than those who yet see God as their enemy?! If believers have to have faith given to them in order to function, then unbelievers have a thousand-fold greater necessity! But, those who are so highly prejudiced cannot see it.
And, there is yet another:
"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain..." (John 15:16; KJV).
The use of this verse to establish the primacy of the choice of God over the choice of men has been objected to also. The reason? Theoretically because Jesus is referring to the apostolate here rather than to salvation. This is supposed to establish that sovereign selection from among the saved is permissible because those being selected from among them have already chosen to submit their wills to Him who chooses. The problem with the objection is that, again, prejudice against the Truth has blinded the eyes to the context. It is a scant three verses further in Jesus' conversation that He says:
"...I have chosen you OUT OF THE WORLD, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19; KJV).
Now, it all sounds very nice to say that Jesus did not mean to say that His choice of them was unto salvation but rather unto the apostolate. But, He Himself says that His choice was from among the world which hates believers and apostles. What Jesus said was that His choice of them was from among those who were inimical to the Truth. That that choice also included the purpose of apostleship for some is, quite frankly, beside the point. Thus, not only does the context demolish the objection, it also establishes the choice as individual in that the apostles were individually chosen.
It also needs to be said that Jesus' words, "ye have not chosen me", cannot be taken to mean that they did not at all choose Him. They have to be taken in the sense that their choice of Him was not the 'first cause' of their position before Him. That they were willing to serve Him after His effectual choice of them 'out of the world' can be easily shown from the gospels. That that willingness came as a result of His choice of them is the precise point that He was trying to make. The Scriptures clearly teach that the believer's ability to "work out his own salvation" springs from the fact that God works 'the willing and the doing' in him (Philippians 2:13). Thus, since Jesus chose them out of the world, they found it in themselves (being placed there of God) to choose Him and pursue His course for them as disciples and apostles. This denies the idea that God `forces men against their wills' to submit to Him. Instead, it shows that He alters the will before the choice is given.
Thus, John 15:16 yet remains a valid evidence of an individual election by God of men "out of the world".
Then, let us consider these facts about the way the words translated "elect", and "election", are used in the New Testament. The word group is used in some 48 different verses of the New Testament. Some of those verses do not have contexts which clearly solve the debate concerning collective election as opposed to individual election. However, in at least 19 of the 48 verses, it can be shown that the words mean 'to chose one out of several'. And, in NONE can it be shown that the meaning is to choose a group without simultaneously meaning that the particulars of the group have also been individually chosen. The idea that God chose a group and left the particulars to make their own decision is totally reverse to that of the Scriptures, which teach that God chose individuals that then, of necessity, made a group.
The primary support of such an idea as collective election is supposed to be derived from God's choice of the nation of Israel. Here, it is argued, God chose a group without specifying the individuals within the group. But, that is not true. God's choice of Israel was a choice of one from among many. That God's choice of a nation means that there were many individuals is beside the point. The election was individualistic in that God chose one nation from among many nations. In order to secure His plans for that one nation, He also chose individuals within that nation who would be His -- regardless. He will always preserve a remnant of individuals so that His plans for Israel can be fulfilled. This is Paul's point in Romans 9-11. The merely physical descendants of Israel are not God's Israel. Only the supernaturally produced seed of promise are ACTUALLY the elect, and the real Israel was that body of persons who were individually chosen of God and supernaturally regenerated (the supernatural quality of their regeneration being pictured by the supernatural quality of the generation of Isaac from a pair of sexually dead persons). Thus, instead of the unreasonable idea of a group election with no guarantee of individuals, the Scriptures teach the inevitability of the groups because of the election of their individual parts.
And, finally, let us consider Ephesians 1:4:
"According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him..." (KJV).
That our election was "in Him" and "before the foundation of the world" is indisputable. That that means that individuals were elected before the foundation of the world is also indisputable (not from this verse, but from what we know of the Book of Life). To make the election ONLY of Christ is to stretch the elasticity of the verse. Christ is the Elect One of God (Luke 23:35). Those who believe in Him are also God's elect (Titus 1:1). The choice was made by God in both cases. The volitional response was also guaranteed by God in both cases. The Son, as God, could no more turn down the request of the Father than He could sin. He was compelled by His nature to do what the Father desired of Him. That is what 'love' is all about. To refuse the Father would have been to place His desires above those of the Father. That would be selfishness. To be selfish is what sin is all about. Because the Son did not have a selfish bone in His body (I speak as a man) there was absolutely no possibility that He would, or could, turn down the Father's request. Therefore, though His choice was made willingly, it was not free from the compulsion of love and selflessness. Even God's will is not "free". It is the proper servant of His nature and is BOUND to do always what is right, loving, just, true, etc. (He CANNOT sin -- Hebrews 6:18 and James 1:13).
Jesus, as man, did have to submit Himself to that eternal agreement in time to bring history in accord with the eternal plan, but the fact that He would was promised by God from Genesis 3:15 and the fact that He did has forever established the surety of the Word of God -- including the eventual correspondence between the names of the elect written before the foundation of the world and the names of those who have access to the eternal city. That there is a lag between what God has declared and what has happened thus far is admitted. That history will come out as originally determined is not debatable.
So, to conclude, we have seen that the Scriptures plainly declare the individual election of men by God for salvation and entrance into the New Jerusalem. If men, who resist this conclusion, cannot rest in the clear teaching of the Scriptures on this point because of the 'problems' they think it brings up, let them be aware that 'wresting' the Scriptures to solve their problems may cause them greater ones. It is man's place to accept what God has plainly said. It matters not what problems their finite and partial understanding causes. God has no problem. And, we will not either if we accept what He has said and give ourselves to a patient and diligent search of His Word -- holding the false accusations of rebellious men in abeyance until we are given the light of understanding for those things that we understand not yet.
To debate the fact that the names of the elect have been written from the foundation of the world in a book that will keep them from the Lake of Fire and grant them access to the New Jerusalem, is to attempt to manipulate Truth.