What is Unconditional Election?

I have a fairly good idea what Arminians mean by their belief in conditional election, but Calvinists are not quite that clear. I have run across three separate definitions of unconditional election. All of these definitions were written by Calvinists. Classical Arminians would have no trouble agreeing with one them, while the other two would be problematic. I myself am inclined to agree with one of these two, but not the other.

One of these definitions was written by J. I. Packer. It is as follows: “This divine choice is an expression of free and sovereign grace, for it is unconstrained and unconditional, not merited by anything in those who are its subjects.” Classical Arminians agree that God’s choice in election of particular people was not based on good works, any merit in the creature or anything good that the creature could or was foreseen to do. Therefore an classical Arminian would agree with this while maintaining that election was conditioned on foreseen faith. This definition simply fails to distinguish the Calvinist position from the Arminian one.

A second definition is written by Spurgeon. It is as follows: “That God saves from corruption and damnation those whom He has chosen from the foundations of the world, not for any attitude, faith, or holiness that He foresaw in them, but of His mere mercy in Christ Jesus His Son, passing by all the rest, according to the blameless reason of His own free will and justice.” This definition is incompatible with Arminian teaching because it excludes foreseen faith as a condition of salvation. However, it does not exclude everything possible relating to the object of election. It is possible that he chose people in order to maximize the number saved by faith. This is a definition I favor.

A third definition is written by Loraine Boettner: “The Reformed Faith has held to the existence of an eternal, divine decree which, antecedently to any difference or desert in men themselves separates the human race into two portions and ordains one to everlasting life and the other to everlasting death.” This definition is also incompatible with Arminian theology. Although it could be interpreted the same as the above definition by Spurgeon; it seems best to interpret it as meaning that any differences, properties or relations at all in creatures, whether counterfactual or actual, played no part in God’s decision of election.

These three definitions are important. If the first definition is truly Calvinist, then the classical Arminian doctrine of election is also Calvinist! The second definition allows for a mediating position between Arminians and high Calvinists (third definition). So my question is this: is the second definition Calvinistic or not? If not, then would all Calvinists have to endorse the third definition as I have described it or would they instead be allowed a weaker definition?