What We Teach Concerning Election

by August Pieper
translated by Michael Koepke

This article was originally published in 1910 in Vol. 7 of the Theologische Quartalschrift. As the article itself implies, the writers of these theses intended them to be a clear statement on the teaching of election for the Wisconsin Synod. Of course, disputes over this particular doctrine plagued the early years of the American Lutheran Church, so the desire for an accurate exposition of the Biblical doctrine of election is certainly understandable.


The teaching of election to everlasting life is not the same as that in Ezekiel 33:11, II Peter 3:9, I Timothy 2:4, and other places where God’s revealed will of universal grace is clearly written in many places in the Scriptures. For that reason, the teaching of election is a matter of faith for all Christians.


Election consists in this—that God out of perpetual compassion and because of the previously procured merit of Christ and his prepared intention before the laying of the foundations of the world chose and ordained us, whom he blessed at that time with all kinds of spiritual blessings in heavenly goodness previously procured through Christ. He chose and appointed us to obedience, to the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, and to adoption to himself in the sanctification of the Spirit and in the faith of the truth, so that we might receive salvation.

Therein the phrase eo ipso was included, to call us through the Gospel, justify us through faith, seal us with the Holy Ghost, sanctify us in the faith, preserve us until the end, and lead us to everlasting life and glory.

In this intention, provision, election, and prescribing, God made us his own possession so securely that we will certainly be saved and we will not be able to be led astray in the end. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.


This everlasting intention, provision, election and prescribing, God also faithfully carries out at that time for us, and by this he allowed us to know the secret of his will, called us with a holy calling, gave us a new birth into a living hope, made us righteous and acceptable through faith, and sealed us with the Holy Ghost. By this he sanctifies us through the Holy Ghost and keeps us in faith through his power unto everlasting life.


All of this (namely the everlasting intention, provision, election, and prescribing of God for our righteousness, and his faithful fulfillment of everything for us) is not in any way a result of good in or with us, neither an alleged unintentional opposition from us, nor our foreseen faith or perseverance in faith, but entirely the opposite: The eternal election of God, as it is described above, and its fulfillment at that time, is by pure grace in Christ, who is the reason for everything spiritually good in us: namely for everything that is not opposed to God, for all faith and all perseverance in faith, and also alone for our entire salvation and everything that belongs to it. This election powerfully creates, works, promotes, and perfects, as it is written in Hosea 13:9, “Israel, you bring disaster upon yourself, because your salvation stands alone in me.”


As the eternal election of God itself [in one sense] concerns only us Christians, and [in another sense] concerns everyone, so also the doctrine of election speaks only about Christians and concerns only the pious children of God, who stand in faith and in sanctification, and who with fear and trembling produce their salvation, but yet it concerns everybody somewhat as well. This doctrine is given to us:

  1. For comfort against all trials—that we should recognize namely from the holy Gospel, which is given to us in the external Word, Baptism, and Holy Communion, and which does not lie, that we, not by chance, but by the eternal intention, provision, election, and prescribing of God, came to the Gospel as to the method through which God wants to and will fulfill for us our eternal election. Upon this our salvation is so firmly grounded that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

  2. For humility—that we recognize more and more thoroughly that we have been brought to the Gospel, to Christ, to adoption and to the inheritance of everlasting life (and until now have been preserved in these things) without all of our worthiness, merit, or assistance, yea despite all of our unworthiness, guilt, and opposition, by the pure grace of the God of compassion—and that we more and more ardently learn to praise God for his grace.1

  3. For holy zeal—that we all the more eagerly procure our salvation with fear and trembling, striving after that which is on high, making use of the Gospel for our edification, pursuing sanctification and the fear of God, taking off the old man and putting on the new, striving after eternal life with patience in good works, and also making our calling and election certain.


This doctrine of election stands as a security for the simple faith along with the teaching of the sincerity of God’s will that all people be saved. It also stands as a security for the teaching of the converting and soul-saving power of the Word and the Sacraments, along with the teaching of temporary believers, and of the righteous condemnation of unbelievers. All of these teachings are in divine harmony. This doctrine of election along with these other teachings likewise comes from the same God, who does not contradict himself, and who is clearly revealed in Holy Scripture. Our present intellect however is not able to recognize this harmony of teaching, since this harmony has not been revealed to it. Therefore the doctrine of election was not allowed to be made for the objective of intellectual speculation, be it that one outside the Gospel seeks to discover the hidden council and will of God, which is unfathomable, concerning his own or another man’s election or non-election—or that one wants to place this teaching in rational harmony with the teaching of the temporary believers or of the teaching of God’s will that all people be saved or of the condemnation of the unbelievers—which itself cannot be accomplished without contradiction of Scripture in one or another of these teachings.

*Comment:** The above representation of the doctrine of election was given at the particular request of the president of our synod. We give this over to the public with his consent, so that it can be used wherever a need for it exists.

  1. The unbeliever applies this teaching to himself, as he does the entire Gospel as a whole, so that from this teaching he infers his damnation. This he does simply through his unbelief. That is the law message of the conscience, but that message receives this false form as a result of unbelief, so that it is mixed in with the doctrine of election. In this respect, damnation is entirely a natural human condition, and his thinking is correct, and the Scriptures support it in Romans 9:17-21. But one should keep this out of the doctrine of election because the Scriptures do not speak of these things as the same teaching. 

The faculty of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary articulates a position on the doctrine of election.

 Nov 16, 2006