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Five Smooth Stones – Election

Israel did not elect David.  Not even his nearest and dearest wanted David as king.

In 1 Samuel 16 we see the choosing of this king.  Yet it is not man's choice but God's. 

The LORD said... "I have chosen one of [Jesse's] sons to be king..."

Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed stands here before the LORD." But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."...

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, "The LORD has not chosen these."...

Then the LORD said, "Rise and anoint [David]; he is the one." So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.

Here is the LORD's election.  Not the firstborn Eliab, whose name (My God is Father) was clearly very well suited to the post of Christ!  The LORD rejects what man chooses.

His choice always confounds human wisdom.  We choose the rich and powerful.  He chooses the lowly and lifts them up.  This is just what we have been taught by Hannah's prayer at the beginning of the book:

e.g. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honour. (1 Sam 2:8)

How does this work out?  Hannah goes on...

"It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the LORD will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth. "He will give strength to His King and exalt the horn of His Anointed." (1 Sam 2:10)

The LORD chooses His Anointed - His Messiah or Christ - and strengthens Him in order to shatter the proud and powerful.  And Chapter 16 has shown us that even this choice has been counter to human intuitions.  The Israelite electorate did not choose David, the greatest Israelite kingmaker, Samuel, did not choose David, his brothers did not choose David.  The LORD chose David.  And He anointed him "in the presence of his brothers."

This is both a judgement and a comfort for David's brothers.  It is a judgement - they are not the chosen ones.  They have been passed over by the LORD. He has searched their hearts and found them wanting.  This must have been a bitter disappointment to them.  But, at the same time, there is great comfort.  Immediately these brothers have been made royalty!  Though in themselves they are not chosen, in their brother they belong to the royal household.  This election has thrust them down and brought them back up.

Now if chapter 16 was the LORD's choice of David, chapter 17 shows David choosing himself for his people.  In chapter 17 David comes to the front lines but already his brothers have forgotten or dismissed his identity.  They were there when he was anointed and they must have known Hannah's song - the anointed one would shatter the enemy (1 Sam 2:10).  But again, David is not man's choice.  He is not even the choice of his own brothers. (1 Sam 17:28)

In the end David takes matters into his own hands.  On the basis of the LORD's election, David basically chooses himself for Israel.  He convinces Saul to let him fight (v33ff) and effectively goes in Saul's place (Saul being the Israelite's giant (1 Sam 9:10) and the natural human choice for Champion).

The chosen king chooses himself to the post of Champion, no thanks to any human support.  He even rejects the armour of Saul and single handedly defeats the enemy.  No Israelite could say on that day 'I knew David could do it!'  Not even his own brothers could say 'I cheered him on.'  His own arm worked salvation for him.  And it was not even for a willing people.  He went into battle for those who had rejected him.

The victors on that day in the valley of Elah were not those who had previously backed the right champion.  They couldn't even claim to have voted for David.  They were simply those who found themselves, contrary to all their previous doubts and denunciations, caught up in the victory of another.  Dismay had turned to praise as they saw the LORD's chosen king who had chosen himself for them.  The stone the builders had rejected had become the capstone and - suddenly, unexpectedly - it was marvellous in their eyes (Ps 118:22).


Previous posts in this series have looked through the lens of David & Goliath to consider preaching, grace and faith.  In each case we have seen the temptation to approach these subjects without the Anointed King at the centre.  In such a vision, the battle scene simply boils down to an anaemic vision of the sovereignty of God and the eventual victory of His people.  But without an explicit Christ-centred-ness, what are we left with? 

Well, preaching becomes simply the rallying cry to soldier on.  Grace becomes simply God's sovereign empowerment for battle.  Faith becomes our work in trusting this sovereign God against all odds.  But all of this (ironically since this vision usually seeks to be ""God-centred"") focuses on ourselves.  For where do we look in this version of preaching?  To ourselves and our soldiering abilities - Are we faithful to His military briefings?  Where do we look in this version of grace?  To the (sovereignly empowered) works that God has wrought through us.  And so evidences of grace are found where?  In us.  And where do we look in this version of faith?  We test our own believing state, looking for this internal mental act within.   Without Christ-centred-ness at the heart of it, even ""God-centred-ness"" will turn us in on ourselves.

And this is also true in the realm of election.  Just as preaching, grace and faith should be turning us away from ourselves and explicitly to Christ, so election must be focused on Him.  I do not find grace or faith in me - I find it in Christ.  Similarly I do not find election in myself, I find it in Christ.

Election is God's choice of Christ (and His choice to fight for us) in spite of our doubts and denunciations.  Election is the gospel for Christ is the Elect One. 

Election is the Father's choosing of Christ contra to all our rejection of Him (Is 28:16; 42:1; 1 Pet 1:20).  If I ask myself whether I am choice in God's eyes the answer can only be a resounding No.  In myself I am repugnant, reprehensible, reprobate.  But in Christ I share His chosen status - I share His royal name, I share His family relations, I share His victory.  Election focuses us on Christ and only on ourselves when considered in Him.

Election (like grace or faith) becomes a dark truth whenever we turn our eyes to ourselves.  How quickly faith evaporates when we examine it - for faith is essentially looking away to Christ.  Election is the same.  Election is neither hidden in myself, nor is it merely hidden in an inscrutible divine will - election is hidden (and therefore revealed) in Jesus.  Notice that phrase from 1 Samuel 16:13 - 'Samuel anointed David in the presence of his brothers.' Election does not simply occur in the divine counsels of eternity.  Election is disclosed as it really is in Jesus Christ.  The electing Father declares His eternal choice to all as He points us to the One who tabernacled among us:

"Here is My Servant, Whom I uphold, My Chosen One in Whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations."  (Is 42:1)

Election is laid bare whenever we look to Jesus.  The eternal choice of God is on view in Christ.  To lay hold of this Elect One is to lay hold infallibly and eternally upon the election of God.  It lies outside ourselves, but precisely because of this it lies in the safest place for us. 

So where do we fit in all this?  Well where did we fit in with 'grace' or 'faith'?  Simply put, we found ourselves the happy recipients of them.  We found ourselves rejoicing in the victory of Christ when we saw Him.  It's no different with election.  At one time we doubted and denounced Him, now we trust and exalt Him and find ourselves (like David's brothers) benefiting from His chosen status.  And so all those who look away from self, who look to Jesus and say a belated but grateful 'yes' to God's choice of king, they find themselves participating in the chosenness of their Champion.  Their choice has done nothing.  His choice has done everything.  They do not look to themselves to understand their election since it really doesn't reside there.  It resides in Christ - the Elect One of God.

It's been a lengthy post already but I don't think I can do better than to quote Spurgeon once again.  This is perhaps my favourite quotation on the whole topic:

“Many persons want to know their election before they look to Christ, but they cannot learn it thus, it is only to be discovered by ‘looking unto Jesus.’ If you desire to ascertain your own election; after the following manner shall you assure your heart before God.  Do you feel yourself to be a lost, guilty sinner? Go straightway to the cross of Christ and tell Jesus so, and tell Him that you have read in the Bible, ‘Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.’  Tell Him that He has said, ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’  Look to Jesus and believe on Him, and you shall make proof of your election directly, for so surely as thou believest, thou art elect.  If you will give yourself wholly up to Christ and trust Him, then you are one of God’s chosen ones; but if you stop and say, ‘I want to know first whether I am elect’, you ask what you do not know. Go to Jesus, be you never so guilty, just as you are.  Leave all curious inquiry about election alone.  Go straight to Christ and hide in His wounds, and you shall know your election.  The assurance of the Holy Spirit shall be given to you, so that you shall be able to say, ‘I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him.’  Christ was at the everlasting council: He can tell you whether you were chosen or not; but you cannot find it out any other way.  Go and put your trust in Him and His answer will be - ‘I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.’  There will be no doubt about His having chosen you, when you have chosen Him.”  (‘Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.’ Morning and Evening, July 17.  1 Thess 1:4.)



14 thoughts on “Five Smooth Stones – Election

  1. kc

    More excellent doctrine brother! I'm afraid this is a bit of a hard sell to many these days.

    The Angelican Community is certainly being blessed in you and I'm jealous. ;-)

  2. glenscriv

    Thanks KC, far too kind as ever. I like the typo though - Angelican. Sounds like the Church of England mixed with a new-age commune! ;-)

  3. Si


    Thanks so much fo this post. I can't tell you how it has sharpened my thinking by being reminded that we must be Christ centred in our view of election and also the reminder that we cannot look within ourselves for matters of election but we look to Christ. Isaiah 42 says it all.

    As an additional point, I often hear people praying for someone and saying 'Lord if they're elect save them.' But I was reminded the other day by someone that the Bible never talks about unbelievers being elect in any way until they have looked to Christ for salvation and been saved! Glory.

  4. glenscriv

    Hi Si,

    That reminds me of an evangelistic group I was involved with which worked in the open air. For the first 6 months after I joined I was consistently surprised by what people prayed. Every time before we went out they'd pray, "Lord, please may we meet those who are yours... Lord, I pray we'd encounter some of your sheep today." I must be really slow on the uptake because I'd always think - 'hmm, I guess it'd be encouraging to meet other Christians, but I don't know why they're praying so fervently for this!!' And then it dawned on me - they're praying that they'd meet the elect who haven't yet believed. And it immediately struck me how odd it is to think of unbelievers as elect. Isn't it the weirdest thing to call a pagan 'the Lord's' or one of 'Christ's sheep'?? We'd never call an unbeliever 'holy' or 'righteous' or 'a brother' or any of the other benefits that come to us in Christ alone. But somehow people fall into the habit of thinking of some unbelievers as 'the Lord's people' and 'elect' - but they're not united to Christ! How are they the Lord's? How are they elect? They're not, but just as we are righteous only in the Righteous One, so we are elect only in the Elect One.

  5. Rich Owen

    Glen, just read this one. That was wonderful.

    Election is God's election of Christ in eternity and as you show above - that is consistent in the OT, and when we come to the NT, we go to Ephesians etc and can show the continuity of that view. Fab.

    But it still raises a few questions for me about Barth's election in Christ model...

    If people can gain election in time, what does this do to our ordo salutis? Should election appear twice - God's election/predestination of Christ in eternity which is the sum of the gospel, and also our becoming elect in him in time, which is the effect of this gospel of election in Christ? Barth seems to make predestination a timely thing and a corporate thing, bringing it forward to when the gospel is preached. The Christians are elect cause they are in Christ.

    There are two problems (maybe - i'm thinking out loud)

    Romans 8:29-30 seems to steer away from humanity's election being seated in God's election of Christ in this corporate sense, because it is dealing with individuals. It specifically talks about people being justified after first being foreknown, predestined and then called. That pushes election back to eternity, and we are now talking about individuals, not Christ as our elect head. The focus in Rom 8 is on the outcome for individuals. Paul differentiates between the predestining that occurs and the purpose of it. In Romans 8 they become two distinct things. He doesn’t predestine in the image of his son (whatever that would mean), but he but predestines so that people would be conformed to that image.

    That is my first headache... the second one is that Barth's model doesn't really help pastorally anyway, as the gift of faith is given by the spirit - there is still a choice of some being made for noble purposes, and some for ignoble. Some chosen to be in Christ and others not. I'm quite happy to think that is a Trinitarian action unlike Calvin, but whatever happens with my first headache, i still seem to be left with the second - how can anyone come to Christ to be in him, unless they are first called? John 6 etc???

  6. glenscriv

    Hi Rich,
    I might write more posts about this or I might consider it a bit risque. We'll see.

    On Rom 8, those chosen are, as you say, chosen for Christ - to be conformed to His likeness. But it's not as though we're talking about a different dynamic of salvation to the gospel that Paul has been expounding for 8 chapters. Throughout Romans we're dealing with the true Israel that is in Christ by grace through faith apart from works. The answer to the question 'Am I in this foreknown, predestined family of brothers for the Son?' is not differently answered to the question 'Am I in Christ, possessing the Spirit, free from law, wrath, sin and death.' I think it's a big mistake to try to approach those two questions in two different ways - as though the gospel was *one* answer to the salvation question and 'election' was somehow *another* answer.

    On John 6: There's a significant difference between the statements:

    'No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.'


    'No-one can come to me unless they are arbitrarily included in the secret will of the unseen God.'

    The electing God in John 6 is not a God whose decisions we're unclear about. The electing God is the Father who sends Jesus to save the world. Jesus does not talk about a secret will but about a Saving Father.

    And it is one thing to say:

    'The will of the Father is this - that everyone who believes in the Son will have life'


    'The will of the inscrutable God is that some (who knows who!?) are in and some (who knows who!?) are out.'

    'The Father who sent Jesus' is the choosing God and so this coming to Christ is a trinitarian dynamic. John 5 has already told us that the Father testifies to the Son through the Scriptures. And at the same time those Scriptures must be read in favour of Christ. (John 5:39ff) The way into the trinitarian life - which is eternal life (John 17:3) - is a way into a closed circle. It is a miracle. The Father must draw us to the Son. He does this through the Spirit (and by His word, which we cannot leave out of this discussion). Yet that Spirit and that word must be understood to be a Spirit and word of *Christ* - the Christ who is the One Sent from the Father.

    So you see none of this is an attempt to deny the sovereignty of God in salvation. It's a miracle when people find themselves on the inside of this circle of trust.

    NB: The word for 'draws' in John 6:44 is the word for Paul and Silas being dragged into the marketplace (Acts 16:19)!

    So it's a miracle to find yourself on the inside of this circle. But it's not a hidden miracle. It's completely on show in Jesus. When you're on the outside God makes it plain how you must come in. When you're on the inside you clearly know that you are inside.

    So it's a case of:

    - How do I know God and know that I know Him?

    - Look to Jesus!

    - How?

    - The Father is drawing you by the Spirit?

    - Really?

    - Yes. just read the Scriptures!

    - I have. They seem a dead letter to me.

    - Don't you realise they are the Father's testimony by the Spirit to His Son?

    - Says who?

    - Well... says the Son... through His Spirit.... on behalf of the Father

    - So let me get this straight, I need to come to Jesus to get to the Father. But to come to Jesus the Father needs to draw me. He does this through the bible, but only if I see the bible *as* a saving revelation of Jesus. Otherwise I'm left out in the cold.

    - That's right

    - So I need to know the Father through the Son by knowing the Son through the Father.

    - Now you've got it!

    - !!??

    You see it is a miracle but it's out there on show for all to see. God's sovereignty is from top to bottom a gospel sovereignty. Everything you need to know about His sovereignty is there IN the gospel offer (not standing behind the gospel offer secretly limiting its gratuity).

    Pastorally I think this does have huge payoffs because I can know my election simply by asking whether I'm in Christ. The question is 'Do I know the Son through the Father and the Father through the Son?' (Again, the Spirit-breathed word is at the heart of this). But if I can answer yes then I am definitely elect. I might wonder how this miracle happened and I suppose the best answer will be that through this whole gospel encounter I was dragged into eternal life by a gracious Father in spite of myself. But my election is not a hidden miracle *behind* Christ. It is the miracle opened out for all to see *in* the gospel of Christ.

    Again, God's sovereignty is from top to bottom gospel-sovereignty.

    Maybe that hasn't answered anything. Dunno. Over to you. What do you think?


  7. Rich Owen

    No, that has - it was very helpful. Thank you for such a complete reply. The reason I'm asking these questions is becuase I've been asked to do a little seminar on election and predestination for our home group, cause it keeps coming up. My genius plan was to present Arminianism and Calvinism and then to offer Barth as a lovely third way. (thank you Mr Hegel - don't tell anyone!)

    I'm still a bit confused tho - how would you exegete romans 8 29-30? Exegetically, the supralapsarian has a point here doesn't he?

  8. glenscriv

    should go to bed so I'll be brief.
    Barth called himself a purified supralapsarian. I think we should be supralapsarian - but in the right way. God has bound all people over to disobedience that He might have mercy on all (Rom 11:32). It's God's will to take His people through judgement to salvation - could we also say 'through reprobation to election'? Of course He does this all in Christ.

    btw similar issues brought up in my latest post:

    on Rom 8 I'd just say that the 'those' are clearly spoken of in family terms - brothers for the Son. What or who is foreknown? Well undeniably Paul is conceiving of a foreknown *body* of believers to be drawn into God's life. (The Adam and Christ stuff is very important - Paul speaks in far more corporate terms than we are used to) And this golden chain shows that the way in which brothers for the Son are created is entirely through the sovereign gospel call of the Father - remembering my last comment about God's sovereignty found IN not BEHIND the gospel. (btw - ask yourself whether Perkin's Golden Chaine looks *anything* like the gospel laid out in Romans 1-8 (or indeed the story of the bible!). Then ask yourself whether it's therefore a good understanding of these verses).

    Have you heard the new frameworks podcasts on Blackhams site? He's got a couple of sessions on election. It's very well balanced - and he labels his higher synthesis as the *Athanasian* position, which I think is a wise move!

  9. Pingback: Five Smooth Stones – Preaching « Christ the Truth

  10. Glen

    Thanks KC. Nice to hear from you :)

    I just remembered - this week is the blog's 7 year anniversary. You'd be one of the only original readers left - that deserves a prize!

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