Martin Bucer (1491-1551) on Election

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in God who Ordains



OUR ELECTION TO an eternal inheritance is the first theological theme dealt with by Paul in this Epistle to the Ephesians. He is reminding the Ephesians of the benefits God had conferred upon them, and so he begins with the first and greatest of them all, namely, his eternal election and embrace whereby before all time he embraced both the Ephesians themselves and all his own to give them eternal life and salvation. Paul says that the efficient cause of this is the sheer grace of God and the merit of Christ. (The word ‘grace’ (gratia) here signifies the free (gratuita) favor and goodwill of God, although in addition, the free gifts of God are also figuratively spoken of as ‘grace’ in the Scriptures.)1 The final causes of our election are holiness of lie and the glory of God, the chief end being not the holiness of our lives but the very glory of God, the ground and the goal of the creation of all things and of our regeneration. [20] The second subject treated in this Epistle is our calling and faith.

We should always keep the aim of the writer in view. Now the aim of this Epistle is the increase of godliness, both in the Ephesians and in ourselves, not merely in knowledge but in practice, and nothing less than eternally, to the end that a strengthened faith may blossom forth more profusely in every good work. Most appropriately, therefore. the apostle begins with the praise of God and with our immutable election, the knowledge of which both immeasurably strengthens faith and actively kindles in us a’ zeal for purity. So the thanksgiving we meet here not only attests Paul’s perfect love but also stimulates a like gratitude in the Ephesians, Thus he writes. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’. In this verse he summarily recounts the benefits of God, and calls them to the remembrance of both the Ephesians and ourselves. The Hebrew word brk, to bless, sometimes means to bestow a benefit and sometimes to praise. When it is used of God, it denotes his showering us with benefits, but when it is predicated of ourselves, then it means to praise and give thanks. And indeed God is worthy of all praise and thanksgiving, ‘who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing’. Chrysostom2 takes these blessings of ours as though they were being directly contrasted with the blessings of God’s ancient people, because to them God promises and presents only temporal blessings but to us ‘spiritual’ ones. But God did promise and present to that people too spiritual blessings as well, as the book of Deuteronomy everywhere bears witness, when God says that he has chosen that people to make them share in the enjoyment of all good things, including even eternal life. And when he is treating of temporal goods, he also requires them to call upon his name.3 We too, like them, need the good things of this life, and ask for them in prayer, and receive them; hence we pray, ‘Give us today our daily bread.4 Anyone who possesses the gift of faith is blessed by God with a spiritual blessing; that is to say, he is justified, he is given faith and hope and love and increased in the same, he is made a partaker of Christ and of his heavenly kingdom.

‘In the heavenly places’: this phrase varies in meaning, for on occasions it denotes the very abodes of evil spirits; Paul speaks elsewhere of treacherous powers of wickedness active in the heavenly places,5 But here it is taken to indicate those blessings which come to the elect by the gift of Christ, for already they live the life of heaven. For Christ dwells in our hearts and will not desert us even until the consummation of the world; he comes to the man who loves the Father, and abides with him.6 Therefore, although the saints fall into sin every day, nevertheless by their higher nature7 they are heavenly. Our faith and our sanctification are heavenly, and are bestowed by Christ who is in heaven, and we keep company with him through faith and ardent desire. Paul adds ‘in Christ’,8 because it is through his righteousness and merit that all the godly obtain all good things.

This, then, is Paul’s argument. You ought to be grateful to him who has freely given you all things–election, adoption, calling, faith, etc. On God’s part these gifts stand unshakable; nevertheless, we must be zealous that for our part too they may become ever more firmly established, for although it is true that all the elect are preserved and never completely fall away, we must take care to avoid falling away even for a moment by committing sin. The man who reflects deeply on his election by God before he was born is set on fire with an amazing longing and desire to cleave to the benefits of God, and to acknowledge his Benefactor in every part of life.

There are some who are of the opinion that we should not speak of God’s election before the congregation. But as we are called to magnify among men the benefits of God, surely we cannot pass over in silence what is the greatest of them al. Following Paul’s example we must celebrate God’s election, for the consideration of election must lead to the strengthening of faith among men, and it is pointless to fear that mention of it might induce laxity of life and religion as a whole.

The word ‘election’ is used in two senses. Sometimes it denotes an external election. to an office, as in ‘Have I not chosen the twelve of you, and one of you is a devil?’9 The traitor Judas was indeed chosen for the apostolate, but he was not elected to [21] the inheritance of eternal life. On other occasions, however, ‘election’ is used of the designation by the pure grace of God, of some out of the general mass of lost mankind, to attain to the knowledge of the will of God and finally to eternal lie. It is of this election that the text here speaks and that Christ also speaks when he says, ‘I know whom I have chosen’.10 If the remembrance and consideration of this election were forbidden us, gracious God, how should we resist the devil? For whenever the devil subjects our faith to testing–and never does he rest from so doing–then we must on every occasion have resort to our election and meditate upon it-and meditate to such effect that we banish every doubt. For if we lack this certainty of faith, if we are not convinced of it, we cannot look forward to eternal lie nor acknowledge God as our Father or Christ as our redeemer–in short, no element of true religion or genuine love of God can reside in us. We must therefore overthrow the view that we should silence every mention of election in the assembly of the faithful.

The text continues, ‘that we should be holy and blameless before him’. The goal of election is that we should know God, love and worship him, and live according to his will. Moreover, Paul says that God chose us ‘in himself’, lest we should think there is any merit in ourselves. In our election God had regard only to himself and his Son, and not ourselves. Read Augustine, where he refutes the error of Pelagius and retracts his former opinion.11 Foreknowledge of what we were to do or of future faith in us, was in no sense the cause of our election. ‘For the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, indeed they are folly to him, and he is unable to understand them.12 (Read also Chrysostom and Jerome on the same point.13 It is the mark of Antichrist to exalt nature over against grace so that he may reign in the stead of Christ: careful precautions must therefore be taken against his devices. Moreover, divine choice and human choice work on different principles,14 and this is why Augustine reveals, from this very serious disagreement among the most learned Fathers on a major article of the faith, how perilous it is in controversies of this kind to lean on human opinion rather than on the Scriptures.15 For then, one of two evils necessarily follows: either the dispute is permanently unresolved, or else one side is worsted and opinions are held without the support of knowledge.

Paul deals with election in its proper context in Romans 8. When the saints pass through sore affections, and are cast into the midst of misfortunes, most of them would lose their faith in the glory promised to the sons of God if they did not rely upon this support and stay. For it will surely come to pass, whatever they have to undergo, that they will be glorified at the last; nothing can debar them from their inheritance which is in Christ Jesus. Our mediator is eternal, and we are eternally united with Him; our union with Christ is unbreakable and cannot be other than everlasting, Now both a blessing as great as this and its revelation through faith are not within our own power but are entirely the merciful gifts of Christ alone. For as we have said already, of ourselves we cannot even conceive thoughts of this nature, but he himself is the sole author of our every spiritual blessing, our faith, our possession of the Spirit, and, to sum up everything in one word, our complete regeneration.

In this context let us also consider the eloquence and excellence of the Holy Spirit who infinitely surpasses all the Fathers for all their strong points, So lucidly and clearly does the Holy Spirit himself ascribe our whole salvation to the goodness and love of God through Christ, without, however, intending us to be completely inactive16 but to work it out, both in ourselves and among our fellows, according to the measure of the grace of God in us.

‘That we might be holy and blameless’: the Hebrew word temîmîm signifies ‘whole’, such as it befits elect believers, the servants of God, to be, far removed. that is from earthly desires. Paul adds ‘before him’, because this is not the blamelessness of the two-faced heart of the hypocrites, for God perceives the hiddenness of the heart. Perhaps the reader will comment, ‘Here Scripture says “that we should be holy and spotless before him”, and yet it is clear from the Psalm that it is impossible for anyone to be holy and spotless before him, for “no man living will be justified in his sight”.’17 We reply in these terms: of our own merits no man will ever be justified before God, but in his mercy for the sake of his Son he reckons the perfection of the Son’s will to be in [22] the elect. This is how we are to understand the verse, ‘Who shall bring any accusation against God’s elect?’, and it is in this sense that Elizabeth and Zachariah are said to be ‘righteous before God’ .18 And it is this holiness and uprightness that confirms our conscience, because it is the work of the Holy Spirit who is the surest pledge of life eternal. For this reason John says. ‘The man who keeps the commandments knows that he is of God’.19 Those who lack the confirmation of this favorable testimony of conscience cannot be assured of their election nor of the hopes in store for the elect. But yet let all believe, let all repent, let all hear the words of the gospel and God’s counsel of election. also let their faith in this infallible election be steadfast, let the elect finally be holy and blameless: yet in such wise wil they be holy, elect, believing, etc. that their righteousness, their election, their faith, etc. are always imperfect, and cannot appear in God’s sight without receiving condemnation. But on account of the merit of Christ we are considered blameless. and our imperfection is forgiven–rather it is even made perfect. Our purity stands in this, that God has absolved us through Christ; therefore, none of the elect can be condemned. Where there is remission of sins, there is faith, adoption, salvation, and perfect purity, imparted by God and received by us through Christ.

The words ‘in love’ allow of two senses: either of our kindness and love towards our neighbor through which. imitating God himself as best we can through his Spirit dwelling within us, we eagerly do good to all men; or of the love of us in an objective sense. the love wherewith God has loved us–so that we have a further mention of the cause of our election, which is solely the boundless love of God with which he embraces us in his Son. Understand this phrase, therefore, of God’s love in embracing us in the Son, such that he adopts as beloved sons us who were by nature sons of wrath. Hence he does not choose the elect as though they possessed anything in themselves worthy of election. and those whom he leaves in the defilement in which they well born and live. can blame nothing but their own perversity, for in their whole being they are hostile to God.

‘Who predestined us that he might adopt us as sons through Jesus Christ’. Paul stresses Christ, because in him is found assurance of faith when we have him as our reconciler and the giver of perfect righteousness, and God as our supreme, unchangeable Father, through whose changelessness we can resist the devil and despair. But we cannot rely calmly on our own undoubtedly imperfect righteousness, nor can we show adequate gratitude for God’s most noble kindness. So let us abandon vain confidence in our own righteousness, and pray God to grant us to show ourselves in every part of our life thankful to him for such a boundless blessing.

The last final cause of our election is that everywhere the infinite goodness of God and the righteousness of Christ towards all men should be magnified and noised abroad, not because God is in need of our praise but because by our praise others are brought to salvation and to the blessedness he offers to all, as happened when the gospel was preached among the Gentiles.

From what has been said thus far, who can fail to see clearly that as much as the Spirit surpasses all the Fathers in wisdom, eloquence, love, etc., by so much the holy Scriptures and the doctrine of God excel all the teachings and writings of the Fathers? Therefore these heavenly controversies must be settled out of the word of God and the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Let us beware at this point of the philosophy of Plato and the like which has invaded and infiltrated the Church, as anyone can observe by reading the Fathers, from the fist to the last. They contain, indeed, much that is worthy of praise, they manifest a most celebrated and thorough learning, but no one is wiling to follow their authority and example in what is best in them.20 Whatever they have written contrary to the pure teaching of this passage has issued from an assessment of God’s election made on the basis of human choice.

To sum up: election is the pure gift of God; therefore it is grace, not reward. Read Augustine, for he provides certainly the clearest and plainest collection of evidence. Election, therefore, is the purpose and sure mercy of God from eternity before the creation of the world, whereby he separates those whom he will have mercy upon from the whole race of lost [23] mankind, and assigns them to eternal life out of his patently gratuitous mercy, before they could do either good or evil. Election is certain, I say, and immutable, through Jesus Christ the only begotten Son of God, our mediator, from eternity the destined head of the Church and our reconciler according to God’s own eternal and immutable counsel, that he might adopt us as sons and heirs and regenerate us to new lie, that we might be holy and blameless in his sight, to the glory of his grace, that through the blamelessness of our life and the confession of a pure faith his grace might be more widely known, and others might ever be entering upon true religion and the worship of God.

There remain two passages relating to this theme which we must explain in passing before we proceed with the exposition of Paul’s text. The fist is in Romans 9: “For to children not yet born, when they had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to election might continue, not because of works but because of his calling, to them it was said: ‘The elder shall serve the younger’, as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’,“21 Those words are not to be confined to the two individuals alone, but apply to the whole posterity of each family, and therefore to all the, righteous and all the unrighteous. In the same way, the second passage in Exodus 33, “I will be gracious to whom I will show grace, and I will have mercy on whom I am pleased to have mercy”,22 is not to be understood only of those for whom Moses was at that time interceding, but applies generally to all men. I said, however, that both these passages were relevant to this one in Ephesians because each speaks of God’s election, and teaches that both its strength and our salvation and its cause depend solely on the completely free will of God. But their words do not abolish man’s free will whereby we freely assent to God’s word through God’s Spirit dwelling in us; for his Spirit sets our enslaved will free. When God draws us to himself, we are not passive like wood or stone, but he grants us to will and to accomplish the very thing he works in us. And all the while in accordance with his good pleasure, he extends his glory; nor is there any injustice in him, but only in ourselves.

‘According to the good pleasure of hi will’: from what follows Paul shows that in election God follows only his own purpose, his own glory, love and mercy, and his own Son, Jesus Christ. But you will object, ‘If there is no place for any concurrence from man, he will be rendered more careless in his conduct’. But this is by no means the case. Indeed, the person who firmly believes that election proceeds solely from the will, love, and mercy of God, will be more warmly enthused for good works, while those who do not so believe seize every occasion for liberty in sinning.

Romans 9 also shows as plainly as possible the gratuitous nature of election (Augustine presses the force of its testimony to excellent effect), as do the words, ‘I have chosen you, you have not chosen me.’23 Therefore, preparatory or other works have not saved those who have been saved, but grace alone. Moreover, the words of Romans 9 reveal the justice of God, because of course the wicked remain wicked by the just judgment of God. And the Holy Spirit’s words are quite clear in ascribing the hardness of heart, obtuseness of ears, and blindness of eyes in Pharaoh’s case, and therefore in all similar cases, not to the flesh or the devil but to God himself, who owes no man anything, and does nothing but with perfect justice. Therefore, if anyone objects, ‘If man for his part does nothing, as far as election is concerned, to concur with the divine working, God appears to be unjust in not giving the same prize to all men equally,’ we must reply in these terms: There is no parallel between God’s thoughts and ours. For we who have a law commanding us to do good, ought surely to keep this law if we do not want to be unrighteous. But God is bound by no such law, he is constrained by no precept, that he must show kindness to the lost and bestow salvation on the undeserving. Therefore, the argument is to be refuted, as Paul refutes it in Romans 9, by saying, ‘You, a man, who are you, to answer back to God?’24 And in chapter 11 of the same Epistle, he concludes this controversy in a manner which bids us acknowledge our frailty and simply believe what Scripture reveals to us from God, and refrain from setting ourselves up as judges of God.25 If we were to follow this, all difficulties and doubts would vanish. The wicked can blame no one [24] other than their own corrupt will and themselves, because they sin of their own accord and are the cause of their own perdition. In so far as God punishes sins by further sins, it is justice; in so far as they embrace and zealously pursue these punishments, they indict themselves and not God.

‘Whereby he had rendered us dear in the Beloved.’ There might follow here a treatment of justification and of the conforming26 of the Church, but as the subject will be expounded at greater length below on chapter 2,27 we will say only a few words at this stage. ‘He has rendered us dear and pleasing’; therefore we were born unpleasing and not dear, sons of wrath, rebels, laggards in every good work but prompt and impetuous for every sin, and this even after regeneration while we remain in this world. Paul adds ‘in the Beloved’, because of course he had nothing in him that the Father might hate. We have here a case of antonomasia,28 whereby Christ is declared the uniquely Beloved of the Father as the one through whom it behooves to be loved and received into favor all whom God so loves and receives.

Martin Bucer, “Election,” in Common Places of Martin Bucer, trans., and ed., D.F. Wright (England: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1972), 109-118. [Some reformatting; footnotes and values original; bracketed inserts original; some spelling modified; and underlining mine.]


1Cf. Rom. 12. 3, 6; 15. 15.

2Chrysostom, Homilies an Ephesians 1. 1 (PG 62, 11).

3Cf. Deut. (7) 5. 29, 12. 28, 30. 15-20, 6. 10-15, 26. 10 f.

4Bucer refers here to his exposition of chapter 2 of the Epistle below, Le., Lectures, pp. 70-80, where, after working though Eph. 2. 11-22, he enlarges on ‘our wonderful unty with the ancient people of God’, and discusses the points of similarity and difference between the Old and New ‘Testaments’. Matt. 6. 11.

5Eph. 6. 12; versutias malas.

6Phil. 3. 20 (Buoer~s word is conversatio), Eph. 3. 17, Mat. 28. 20, John 14. 23.

7secundum potio-rem patem sui.

8Merely Christo in the ten.

9John 6. 70.

10John 13. 18.

11Augustine, The Predestination af the Saints 7, 36 f. (PL 44, 964 f., 987 f.).

121 Cor. 2. 14.

13Chyrsostom’s teaching an election is undeveloped, and may without injustice be called ‘synergist’. Cf., for example, Homilies an Roman 14. 7, 18. 5, 19. 1 (PG 60, 532 f., 578 f., 583). Jerome wrote a Dialogue Against the Pelagians (PL 23, 495-590; cf. Epistle 133, CSEL 56,241-60), but deals very little with the issue of election and


14ratio diversa est divinae electionis, et humanae. Augutine makes the same point with reference to divine and human justice, Unfinished Work Against Julian 3. 27 (PL 45, 1257).

15It is not clear what precise passage(s) in Augustine, if any, Bucer has in mind. Cf. Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 2. 13, and Pseudo-Augustine, Predestination and Grace 2 (PL 44, 580; 45, 1666 f.).


17Cf. Rom. 3. 20 and Ps. 143. 2.

18Rom. 8. 33, Luke 1. 5 f.

19Cf. 1 John 2. 3, 3. 21 ff., 5. 2 f.

20quod in eis est excellentissimum, in eo, nema vult eorum authoritatem, et exemplum sequitur.

21Rom. 9. 11 ff., citing Gen. 25. 23 and Mal. 1. 2 f.

22Exod. 33. 19.

23John 15. 16

24Rom. 9.20.

25Rom. 11. 33 ff.


27Cf. Lectures, pp. 58-69, a locus on justification and redemption, in connection with Eph. 2. 4-10.

28‘The substitution of an epithet, ‘etc., or the name of an office or dignity, for a person’s proper name.’

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