How do we reconsile God's election and man's free will?

Some have become concerned as regards their unsaved relatives and the doctrine of election; they cannot understand how the difficulty of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is to be met.

That, however, is a poor reason for not believing them both. We do not need to range ourselves in men’s categories and take sides with Arminians, those who hold the responsible freedom of man’s will, or with Calvinists who believe equally firmly in God’s sovereignty; we believe in both, not as a mixture, but as entireties.

If our gospel is limited or hampered by views of God’s sovereignty, we may be sure that we hold it wrongly.

As has been said, we pray as though all depended on God’s grace; we preach as though all hinged on man’s faith. Really the difficulty need not trouble us. It meets us, if we think of it, in every action of our life. Certainly God is Sovereign; “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15: 18). God knows what will happen; He forsees; He chooses; He disposes. What can we do therefore? What is to be, will be. “We must wait for Him” to do all. On the contrary, we know we have a responsibility to fulfil and no accusations of Arminianism need turn us aside.

Let us take a simple illustration:—Supposing we have friends returning to the homeland from U.S.A.; but within sight of land the ship catches fire and everyone on board is in great peril. Now nothing is more certain than that God knows all, who will be saved and who will not be, but will that deter the most convinced Calvinist from seeking to bring help to those in danger and straining every nerve to reach them in time? We ask God’s help, and we thank Him when our friends are brought safely to land, but if everyone sheltered behind the purposes of God, and sat down and did nothing, then most probably those in danger would be lost. Now, if we would not act like this in temporal affairs, why do so in spiritual things? We are not called to examine the book of God’s decrees, but by prayer and effort to bring our relatives under the sound of the Gospel. The Lord did not send His disciples to preach election to every creature, nor the Gospel to all the elect (for we do not know who they are), but the Gospel to every creature. When Paul thanked God for the election of the Thessalonians in chap. i. 4 of the first Epistle, he did not cite some wonderful vision or spiritual experience through which they had passed, to justify this conviction, but he based it on: (1) the way they received the Gospel, and (2) the effects of the Gospel on their lives, summed up in verse 9 as “turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven.” Generally when man’s responsibility and God’s electing grace are mentioned on the same page of Scripture, it is the former that comes first. Thus in John 5:40 the Lord said to the Jews, “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life” (not ye cannot), and in the following chapter (v. 44) we hear His words, “No man can come to Me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him.” See also Acts 13:46, “Seeing ye put it (the Word of God) from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles”; and then two verses on, “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” In Acts 18: 8, “Many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed, and were baptized,” and in v. 10, “I have much people in this city.”

We must not limit the Gospel message as a bona fide proclamation of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as the means of salvation, available for all, for “God wills all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” and “Christ gave Himself a ransom for all,” that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”; and the last message in the Scriptures to the unsaved is, “Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will let him take the water of life freely.” Those who have believed the Gospel and who have the humble confidence that they are amongst God’s chosen ones, give glory to Him alone, and seek to make their calling and election sure. Perhaps there was never a more direct and specific promise from God of safety to any company than to Paul’s ship-companions: “There shall be no loss of any man’s life among you.” “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee”; and Paul added, “I believe God.” This was God’s sovereign act (Acts 27:22-25), but in verse 31 —when the sailors were about to flee out of the ship—Paul uttered the warning words, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.” This gives the human responsibility side, to which both saint and sinner should give good heed. It should be understood that this reply is limited to the subject of the question before us, and hardly touches on the great subject of the eternal counsels from the believer’s standpoint.