Election and Reprobation

By Thomas Clarkson (1806)

Sect. I

Quakers believe from the foregoing accounts, that redemption is possible to all—Hence they deny the doctrine of election and reprobation—do not deny the texts on which it is founded, but the interpretation of them—as contrary to the doctrines of Jesus Christ and the Apostles—as making his mission unnecessary—as rendering many precepts useless—and as casting a stain on the character and attributes of God.

It will appear from the foregoing observations, that it Is the belief of the Quakers, that every man has the power of inward redemption within himself, who attends to the strivings of the Holy Spirit, and that as outward redemption by the sufferings of Jesus Christ extends to all, where the inward has taken place, so redemption or salvation, in its full extent, is possible to every individual of the human race.

This position, however, is denied by those Christians, who have pronounced in favor of the doctrine of election and reprobation; because, if they believe some predestined from all eternity to eternal happiness, and the rest to eternal misery, they must then believe that salvation is not possible to all, and that it was not intended to be universal.

The Quakers have attempted to answer the objections, which have been thus made to their theory of redemption; and as the reader will probably expect that I should notice what they have said upon this subject, I have reserved the answers they have given for the present place.

The Quakers do not deny the genuineness of any of those texts, which are usually advanced against them. Of all people, they fly the least to the cover of interpolation or mutilation of scripture to shield themselves from the strokes of their opponents. They believe, however, that there are passages in the sacred writings, which will admit of an interpretation different from that which has been assigned them by many, and upon this they principally rely in the present case. If there are passages, to which two meanings may be annexed, and if for one there is equal authority as for the other, yet if one meaning should destroy all the most glorious attributes of the supreme being, and the other should preserve them as recognized in the other parts of the scripture, they think they are bound to receive that which favors the justice, mercy, and wisdom of God, rather than that which makes him appear both unjust and cruel.

The Quakers believe, that some Christians have misunderstood the texts which they quote in favor of the doctrine of election and reprobation, for the following reasons:--

First, because if God had from all eternity predestinated some to eternal happiness, and the rest to eternal misery, the mission of Jesus Christ upon earth became unnecessary, and his mediation ineffectual.

If this again had been a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, it never could have been overlooked, (considering that it is of more importance to men than any other) by the founder of that religion. But he never delivered any words in the course of his ministry, from whence any reasonable conclusion could be drawn, that such a doctrine formed any part of the creed which he intended to establish among men. His doctrine was that of mercy, tenderness, and love; in which he inculcated the power and efficacy of repentance, and declared there was more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repented, than over ninety-nine just persons who needed no repentance.

By the parable of the sower, which the Quakers consider to relate wholly to the word or spirit of God, it appears that persons of all description were visited equally for their salvation; and that their salvation depended much upon themselves; and that where obstacles arose, they arose from themselves also, by allowing temptations, persecutions, and the cares of the world, to overcome them. In short, the Quakers believe, that the doctrine of election and reprobation is contrary to the whole tenor of the doctrines promulgated by Jesus Christ.

They conceive also, that this doctrine is contrary to the doctrines promulgated by the Evangelists and Apostles, and particularly contrary to those of St. Paul himself, from whom it is principally taken. To make this Apostle contradict himself, they dare not. And they must therefore conclude, either that no person has rightly understood it, and that it has been hitherto kept in mystery; or, if it be intelligible to the human understanding, it must be explained by comparing it with other texts of the same Apostle, as well as with those of others, and always in connection with the general doctrines of Christianity, and the character and attributes of God. Now the Apostle Paul, who is considered to intimate, that God predestined some to eternal salvation, and the rest to eternal misery, says, that “God made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth;” that, in the Gospel dispensation, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free.” He desires also Timothy “to make prayers and supplications and intercessions for all men;” which the Quakers conceive he could not have done, if he had not believed it to be possible, that all might be saved.  “For this is acceptable, says he, in the sight of our Savior, who will have all men to be saved; for there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.” Again, he says, that “Jesus Christ tasted death for every man.” And in another place he says, “The grace of God, which bringeth salvation, has appeared unto all men.” But if this grace has appeared to all, none can have been without it. And if its object be salvation, then all must have had sufficient of it to save them, if obedient to its saving operations.

Again, if the doctrine of election and reprobation be true, then the recommendations of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, and particularly of Paul himself, can be of no avail, and ought never to have been given.  Prayer is inculcated by these as an acceptable duty. But why should men pray, if they are condemned before-hand, and if their destiny is inevitable? If the doctrine again be true, then all the exhortations to repentance, which are to be found in the scriptures, must be unnecessary. For why should men repent, except for a little temporary happiness in this world, if they cannot be saved in a future? This doctrine is considered by the Quakers as making the precepts of the Apostles unnecessary; as setting aside the hopes and encouragements of the Gospel; and as standing in the way of repentance or holiness of life.

This doctrine again they consider as objectionable, in as much as it obliges men to sin, and charges them with the commission of it. It makes also the fountain of all purity the fountain of all sin; and the author of all good the dispenser of all evil. It gives to the Supreme Being a malevolence that is not to be found in the character of the most malevolent of his creatures. It makes him more cruel than the most cruel oppressor ever recorded of the human race. It makes him to have deliberately made millions of men, for no other purpose than to stand by and delight in their misery and destruction. But is it possible, the Quakers say, for this to be true of him, who is thus described by St.  John—“God is Love?”



Quakers’ interpretation of the texts which relate to this doctrine—These texts of public and private import—Election, as of public import, relates to offices of usefulness, and not to salvation—as of private, it relates to the Jews—These had been elected, but were passed over for the Gentiles—Nothing more unreasonable in this than in the case of Ishmael and Esau—or that Pharaoh’s crimes should receive Pharaoh’s punishment—But though the Gentiles were chosen, they could stand in favor no longer than while they were obedient and faithful.

The Quakers conceive that, in their interpretation of the passages which are usually quoted in support of the doctrine of election and reprobation, and which I shall now give to the reader, they do no violence to the attributes of the Almighty; but, on the other hand, confirm his wisdom, justice, and mercy, as displayed in the sacred writings, in his religious government of the world.

These passages may be considered both as of public and of private import; of public, as they relate to the world at large; of private, as they relate to the Jews, to whom they were addressed by the Apostle.

The Quakers, in viewing the doctrine as of public import, use the words “called,” “predestinated,” and “chosen,” in the ordinary way in which they are used in the scriptures, or in the way in which Christians generally understand them.

They believe that the Almighty intended, from the beginning, to make both individuals and nations subservient to the end which he had proposed to himself in the creation of the world. For this purpose he gave men different measures of his Holy Spirit; and in proportion as they have used these gifts more extensively than others, they, have been more useful among mankind. Now all these may be truly said to have been instruments in the hands of Providence, for the good works which they have severally performed; but, if instruments in his hands, then they may not improperly be styled chosen vessels. In this sense the Quakers view the words “chosen,” or “called.” In the same sense they view also the word “preordained;” but with this difference, that the instruments were foreknown; and that God should have known these instruments before-hand is not wonderful; for he who created the world, and who, to use an human expression, must see at one glance all that ever has been, and that is, and that is to come, must have known the means to be employed, and the characters who were to move, in the execution of his different dispensations to the world.

In this sense the Quakers conceive God may be said to have foreknown, called, chosen, and preordained Noah, and also Abraham, and also Moses, and Aaron, and his sons, and all the prophets, and all the evangelists, and apostles, and all the good men, who have been useful in spiritual services in their own generation or day.

In this sense also many may be said to have been chosen or called in the days of the Apostle Paul; for they are described as having had various gifts bestowed upon them by the spirit of God.  “To one was given the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge; to another the ‘discerning of spirits;’ to another prophecy; and to others other kinds of gifts. But the self-same spirit worked all these, dividing to every man severally as he chose.” That is, particular persons were ‘called by the spirit of God, in the days of the Apostle, to particular offices for the perfecting of his church.

In the same sense the Quakers consider all true ministers of the Gospel to be chosen. They believe that no imposition of hands or human ordination can qualify for this office. God, by means of his Holy Spirit alone, prepares such as are to be the vessels in his house. Those therefore, who, in obedience to this spirit, come forth from the multitude to perform spiritual offices, may be said to be called or chosen.

In this sense, nations may be said to be chosen also. Such were the Israelites, who by means of their peculiar laws and institutions, were kept apart from the other inhabitants of the world.

Now the dispute is, if any persons should be said to have been chosen in the scripture language, for what purpose they were so chosen. The favorers of the doctrine of election and reprobation, say for their salvation. But the Quakers say, this is no where manifest; for the term salvation is not annexed to any of the passages from which the doctrine is drawn. Nor do they believe it can be made to appear from any of the scriptural writings, that one man is called or chosen, or predestined to salvation, more than another. They believe, on the other hand, that these words relate wholly to the usefulness of individuals, and that if God has chosen any particular persons, he has chosen them that they might be the ministers of good to others; that they might be spiritual lights in the universe; or that they might become, in different times and circumstances, instruments of increasing the happiness of their fellow-creatures. Thus the Almighty may be said to have chosen Noah, to perpetuate the memory of the deluge; to promulgate the origin and history of mankind; and to become, as St. Peter calls him, “a preacher of righteousness” to those who were to be the ancestors of men. Thus he may be said to have chosen Moses to give the law, and to lead out the Israelites, and to preserve them as a distinct people, who should carry with them notions of his existence, his providence, and his power. Thus he may be said to have chosen the prophets, that men, in after ages, seeing their prophecies accomplished, might believe that Christianity was of divine origin. Thus also he may be said to have chosen Paul,( and indeed Paul is described as a chosen vessel) to diffuse the Gospel among the Gentile world.

That the words, called or chosen, relate to the usefulness of individuals in the world, and not to their salvation, the Quakers believe from examining the comparison or simile, which St. Paul has introduced of the potter and of his clay, upon this very occasion.  “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” This simile, they say, relates obviously to the uses of these vessels. The potter makes some for splendid or extraordinary uses and purposes, and others for those which are mean and ordinary. So God has chosen individuals to great and glorious uses, while others remain in the mean or common mass, undistinguished by any very active part in the promotion of the ends of the world. Nor have the latter any more reason to complain that God has given to others greater spiritual gifts, than that he has given to one man a better intellectual capacity than to another.

They argue again, that the words “called or chosen,” relate to usefulness, and not to salvation; because, if men were predestined from all eternity to salvation, they could not do any thing to deprive themselves of that salvation; that is, they could never do any wrong in this life, or fall from a state of purity: whereas it appears that many of those whom the scriptures consider to have been chosen, have failed in their duty to God; that these have had no better ground to stand upon than their neighbors; that election has not secured them from the displeasure of the Almighty, but that they have been made to stand or fall, notwithstanding their election, as they acted well or ill, God having conducted himself no otherwise to them, than he has done to others in his moral government of the world.

That persons so chosen have failed in their duty to God, or that their election has not preserved them from sin, is apparent, it is presumed, from the scriptures. For, in the first place, the Israelites were a chosen people. They were the people to whom the apostle addressed himself, in the chapter which has given rise to the doctrine of election and reprobation, as the elected, or as having had the preference over the descendants of Esau and others. And yet this election did not secure to them a state of perpetual obedience, or the continual favor of God.  In the wilderness they were frequently rebellious, and they were often punished. In the time of Malachi, to which the Apostle directs their attention, they were grown so wicked, that “God is said to have no pleasure in them, and that he would not receive an offering at their hands.” And in subsequent times, or in the time of the Apostle, he tells them, that they were then passed over, notwithstanding their election, on account of their want of righteousness and faith, and that the Gentiles were chosen in their place.

In the second place, Jesus Christ is said in the New Testament to have called or chosen his disciples. But this call or election did not secure the good behavior of Judas, or protect him from the displeasure of his master.

In the third place, it may be observed, that the Apostle Paul considers the churches under his care as called or chosen; as consisting of people who came out of the great body of the Heathen world to become a select community under the Christian name. He endeavors to inculcate in them a belief, that they were the Lord’s people; that they were under his immediate or particular care; that God knew and loved them, before they knew and loved him; and yet this election, it appears, did not secure them from falling off; for many of them became apostates in the time of the Apostle, so “that he was grieved, fearing he had bestowed upon them his labor in vain.” Neither did this election secure even to those who then remained in the church, any certainty of salvation; otherwise the Apostle would not have exhorted them so earnestly “to continue in goodness, lest they should be cut off.”

The Quakers believe again, that the Apostle Paul never included salvation in the words “called or chosen,” for another reason. For if these words had implied salvation, then non-election might have implied the destruction annexed to it by the favorers of the doctrine of reprobation. But no person, who knows whom the Apostle meant, when he mentions those who had received and those who had lost the preference, entertains any such notion or idea. For who believes that because Isaac is said to have had the preference of Ishmael, and Jacob of Esau, that therefore Ishmael and Esau, who were quite as great princes in their times as Isaac and Jacob, were to be doomed to eternal misery? Who believes that this preference, and the Apostle alludes to no other, ever related to the salvation of souls? Or rather, that it did not wholly relate to the circumstance, that the descendants of Isaac and Jacob were to preserve the church of God in the midst of the Heathen nations, and that the Messiah was to come from their own line, instead of that of their elder brethren. Rejection or reprobation too, in the sense in which it is generally used by the advocates for the doctrine, is contrary, in a second point of view, in the opinion of the Quakers, to the sense of the comparison or simile made by the Apostle on this occasion. For when a Potter makes two sorts of vessels, or such as are mean and such as are fine and splendid, he makes them for their respective uses. But he never makes the meaner sort for the purpose of dashing them to pieces.

The doctrine therefore in dispute, if viewed as a doctrine of general import, only means, in the opinion of the Quakers, that the Almighty has a right to dispose of his spiritual favors as he pleases, and that he has given accordingly different measures of his spirit to different people: but that, in doing this, he does not exclude others from an opportunity of salvation or a right to life. On the other hand, they believe that he is no respecter of persons, only as far as obedience is concerned: that election neither secures of itself good behavior, nor protects from punishment: that every man who standeth, must take heed lest he fall: that no man can boast of his election, so as to look down with contempt upon his meaner brethren: and that there is no other foundation for an expectation of the continuance of divine favor than a religions life.

In viewing the passages in question as of private import, which is the next view the Quakers take of them, the same lesson, and no other, is inculcated. The Apostle, in the ninth chapter of the Romans, addresses himself to the Jews, who had been a chosen people, and rescues the character of God from the imputation of injustice, in having passed over them, and in having admitted the Gentiles to a participation of his favors.

The Jews had depended so much upon their privileges as the children of Abraham, and so much upon their ceremonial observances of the law, that they conceived themselves to have a right to continue to be the peculiar people of God. The Apostle, however, teaches them, in the ninth and the eleventh chapters of the Romans, a different lesson, and may be said to address them in the following manner:--

“I am truly sorry, my kinsmen in the flesh, that you, who have always considered yourselves the elder and chosen branches of the family of the world, should have been passed over; and that the Gentiles, whom you have always looked upon as the younger, should be now preferred. But God is just—He will not sanction unrighteousness in any. Nor will he allow any choice of his to continue persons in favor, longer than, after much long suffering, he finds them deserving his support. You are acquainted with your own history. The Almighty, as you know, undoubtedly distinguished the posterity of Abraham, but he was not partial to them alike. Did he not reject Ishmael the scoffer, though he was the eldest son of Abraham, and countenance Isaac, who was the younger? Did he not pass over Esau the eldest son of Isaac, who had sold his birth-right, and prefer Jacob? Did he not set aside Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, the three eldest sons of Jacob, who were guilty of incest, treachery, and murder, and choose that the Messiah should come from Judah, who was but the fourth? But if, in these instances, he did not respect eldership, why do you expect that he will not pass you over for the Gentiles, if ye continue in unbelief?”

“But so true it is, that he will not support any whom he may have chosen, longer than they continue to deserve it, that he will not even continue his countenance to the Gentiles, though he has now preferred them, if by any misconduct they should become insensible of his favors.  For I may compare both you and them to an Olive-Tree. If some of you, who are the elder, or natural branches, should be broken off, and the Gentiles, being a wild Olive-Tree, should be grafted in among you, and with you partake of the root and fatness of the Olive-Tree, it would not become them to boast against you the branches: for if they boast, they do not bear the root, but the root them. Perhaps, however, they might say, that you, the branches, were broken off, that they might be grafted in. Well, but it was wholly on account of unbelief that you were broken off, and it was wholly by faith that they themselves were taken in. But it becomes them not to be high-minded, but to fear. For if God spared not you, the natural branches, let them take heed, lest he also spare not them.”

“Moreover, my kinsmen in the flesh, I must tell you, that you have not only no right to complain, because the Gentiles have been preferred, but that you would have no right to complain, even if you were to become the objects of God’s vengeance. You cannot forget, in the history of your own nation, the example of Pharaoh: you are acquainted with his obstinacy and disobedience. You know that he stifled his convictions from day to day. You know that, by stifling these, or by resisting God’s Holy Spirit, he became daily more hardened; and that by allowing himself to become daily more hardened, he fitted himself for a vessel of wrath, or prepared the way for his own destruction. You know at length that God’s judgments, but not till after much long suffering, came upon him, so that the power of God became thus manifested to many. But if you know all these things, and continue in unrighteousness and unbelief, which were the crimes of Pharaoh also, why do you imagine that your hearts will not become hardened like the heart of Pharaoh; or that if you are guilty of Pharaoh’s crimes, you are not deserving of Pharaoh’s punishment?”




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