How much do you love explaining election to laypersons? While the doctrine is often a prickly point of misunderstanding and disagreement today, for the Reformers it was an important corrective to the works-based theology that had pervaded the church.

After leaving the Dominican order, Martin Bucer (1491-1551) was a leader of reform in Strasbourg before ending his career as a professor at Cambridge. Reflecting on Jesus laying claim to his sheep, Bucer, like many of his contemporaries, finds a lesson on the doctrine of election. Those who have been ordained to salvation hear the voice of Christ by receiving him through faith, and gifted with the Spirit, they are granted eternal life and become his imperishable flock.

The Gifted and the Sensual in the Wisdom of God

With these words Christ clearly teaches that all things depend on God’s election and that those to whom it has been given to be sheep can never perish. For here we hear that those only hear the voice of Christ, that is, receive him by faith, who are his sheep.

Now, how does it happen that there are some who will be sheep, that is, open to the teaching of Christ, and others not? No doubt because they are inspired by the good Spirit of God, and the others are not. For Paul attributes the knowledge of divine things to those who are gifted with the Spirit, and he deprives this knowledge from those who lack the Spirit, calling them “sensual.”

But how is it that they are granted the Spirit while others are not? No doubt because they are ordained to life, and the others are not. They have been given to the Son to be saved, and the others have not been so given. Therefore, let us give this glory to the Lord, that he may give the Spirit, without the help of our works.

John 1-12, ed. Craig S. Farmer, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, NT Vol. IV, p. 392.