As the end of my seminary training neared, I had to give thought to what I would do after graduation and just where that might be. In the back of my mind, it seems I had determined that Houston, Texas, was one place I would not want to go. Although I never verbalized that Houston was off limits, somehow it became apparent to me that I would not seriously consider inquires from there. At that point in time, I inwardly removed Houston from the black list of my heart, “All right, Lord, even Houston,” I sighed. That night, a call came from a group in Houston, which I neither initiated nor invited. While I did give the ministry opportunity consideration, I must admit some relief when it did not materialize.
As much as we like to believe we are fully submissive to the sovereignty of God, virtually all of us have areas we have consciously or unconsciously fenced off, as though God could be “sovereign” in some areas of our life but not in others. Most Christians profess to believe in the sovereignty of God but refuse to grant it to operate in certain areas. Death is usually assigned to the category of God’s sovereignty because we have no control over it anyway. Disasters are considered matters of divine sovereignty with even unbelievers referring to certain disasters as “acts of God.”
Much of evangelicalism refuses to grant God sovereignty when it comes to the salvation of sinners, as though this refusal actually could change the fact of His sovereignty. They are willing to grant God much of the credit for the work of Christ on the cross and the Holy Spirit’s work in drawing men to faith. But they are not willing to admit God is in complete control (for this is precisely what sovereignty is—complete control) of the salvation of lost sinners. Granted men have a role to play in this process, but clearly God is in control, complete control, of the process.
This debate over the relationship between God’s role in salvation and man’s may seem to be reserved only for academicians. But this is not true, for the sovereignty of God in salvation is a most crucial doctrine, as Martin Luther claimed:
“Therefore, it is not irreverent, inquisitive, or trivial, but helpful and necessary for a Christian, to find out whether the will does anything or nothing in matters pertaining to eternal salvation.… If we do not know these things, we shall know nothing at all of things Christian and shall be worse than any heathen.… Therefore, let anyone who does not feel this confess that he is no Christian. For if I am ignorant of what, how far, and how much I can and may do in relation to God, it will be equally uncertain and unknown to me what, how far, and how much God can and may do in me.… But when the works and power of God are unknown in this way, I cannot worship, praise, thank, and serve God, since I do not know how much I ought to attribute to myself and how much to God. It therefore behooves us to be very certain about the distinction between God’s power and our own, God’s work and our own, if we want to live a godly life.”58
What does it mean when we say that God is sovereign in salvation? Charles H. Spurgeon has said it about as well as can be said by men:
“First, then, DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY AS EXEMPLIFIED IN SALVATION. If any man be saved, he is saved by divine grace and by divine grace alone; the reason of his salvation is not to be found in him, but in God. We are not saved as the result of anything that we do or that we will, but we will and do as the result of God’s good pleasure and the work of His grace in our hearts. No sinner can prevent God; that is, he cannot go before Him, cannot anticipate Him. God is always first in the matter of salvation. He is before our convictions, before our desires, before our fears, and before our hopes. All that is good or ever will be good in us is preceded by the grace of God and is the effect of a divine cause within.”59
“Again, the grace of God is sovereign. By that we mean that God has an absolute right to give that grace where He chooses and to withhold it when He pleases. He is not bound to give it to any man, much less to all men; if He chooses to give it to one man and not to another, His answer is, ‘Is thine eye evil because mine eye is good? Can I not do as I will with mine own? I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.’”60
Scripture says the same thing, just as clearly and emphatically:
44 “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44).
65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65).
48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).
14 And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14).
34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:34-36).
30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
2 Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
Those who are saved are saved because God has chosen them for salvation. The Holy Spirit has given life to a dead spirit and understanding to a mind blinded by sin and by Satan. Those who are saved may be said to choose God, but only after God has first chosen them for salvation:
16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” (John 15:16).
The other side of the equation is also true. Those who are eternally lost are lost because God has not chosen them for salvation:
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 And He said, “Go, and tell this people ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’ 10 Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, and their eyes dim, Lest they see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed” (Isaiah 6:8-10).
3 And I saw one of his heads as if it had been slain, and his fatal wound was healed. And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast; 4 and they worshiped the dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” 5 And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies; and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. 6 And he opened his mouth in blasphemies against God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 And it was given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them; and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. 8 And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Revelation 13:3-8).
8 “The beast that you saw was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come” (Revelation 17:8).
Do not misunderstand what is being said here. In order to be saved, men must trust in Jesus Christ as God’s provision to save lost sinners. And when they do so, it is because God has given them the heart to do so. Men exercise faith out of the heart God has given them to believe:
6 “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
Likewise, when men are eternally lost, it is because they have chosen to reject God’s revelation (Romans 1:18ff.) and His provision for salvation in Jesus Christ. Why do lost sinners go to hell? They perish because they have not chosen God. They also perish because God has not chosen to rescue them from their sin and rebellion. In the simplest terms, men go to hell not only because God decreed it, but because they deserve it (see Revelation 16:4-7).61
Many texts like those cited above clearly reflect that salvation is not our work but God’s, and that we contribute nothing to it which He has not already given to us by His grace. We will turn in this lesson to a text which establishes even more forcefully than the previous texts the sovereignty of God in salvation. The sovereignty of God in salvation can be inferred from a number of biblical texts, and it is claimed or clearly stated by other texts. But the ninth chapter of Romans is devoted to establishing the sovereignty of God in salvation. It is the issue in view and the conclusion of the entire chapter. It is not merely implied, or even stated; it is declared, proven, and even defended against some of the popular objections to this truth. For this reason, we shall trace Paul’s inspired logic through the first 24 verses of Romans 9.
1 I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
In the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans, Paul sets down the most detailed and reasoned explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1:18–3:20, Paul establishes the doctrine of man’s depravity—that sinful, fallen condition of every human being, without exception—which places sinners under the sentence of divine condemnation with no human hope of salvation apart from divine intervention. In 3:21-5:21, Paul explains the divine provision whereby sinners may be justified by faith in Christ. In chapters 6-8, Paul speaks of the present and future implications of this justification by faith.
Up until now, Paul has spoken of both Jews and Gentiles as the recipients of justification by faith. In chapters 9-11, he sets out to show that the unbelief of the Jews and the salvation of the Gentiles are not evidences of a failure on the part of God’s Word, but rather a very unexpected but precise fulfillment of His Word. In chapter 9, Paul shows that the doctrine of election is a manifestation of God’s sovereignty in salvation, and that it explains the unbelief of many Jews, as well as the conversion of many Gentiles. Simply put, those many Jews (and Gentiles) who have rejected the work of Jesus Christ and who are therefore eternally lost, are illustrative of the sovereignty of God in salvation. And those Gentiles (and Jews) who have come to faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah are saved as the outworking of the sovereignty of God in salvation.
Before considering the details of this passage, two important observations must be noted concerning the text as a whole. These observations are necessary because of those who do not want to acknowledge the sovereignty of God in salvation (including especially the doctrine of election). They seek to avoid the subject by insisting Paul is speaking here of corporate election, not individual election, and that this election is not to salvation or eternal torment, but rather for certain blessings. The text compels us to strongly differ with this view and to oppose it.
First, we should observe that verses 1-5, reinforced by verses 22-23, insist that salvation is in view and nothing less. In simple terms, Paul is talking about heaven and hell, who goes there, and why. Paul is greatly distressed because his fellow-Israelites are lost and under divine condemnation. Why else would he say he is willing to be accursed, separated from Christ, for the sake of his brethren (Romans 9:3)? The cure should be no more severe than the malady, and thus we see that the malady is that of eternal doom.
Second, we observe that the text is not about corporate election but individual election. To say that election is corporate fails to understand that this is precisely what the passage is written to refute. The Jews loved the doctrine of election, because they wrongly applied election corporately to the offspring of Abraham.62 They thought of themselves as the elect of God and all others as the non-elect. They thought all Jews were going to heaven and all Gentiles to hell. A few token memberships to heaven might be granted to a few Gentiles, but these would have to become Jewish proselytes. Election, viewed in this way, was a delight to the Jews. But this is not the election which the Word of God teaches.
This is exactly the kind of “election” Paul opposes. In Romans 9, Paul proves that God’s election is not corporate, and that not all the physical descendants of Abraham or Jacob (also named Israel) were recipients of God’s promised blessings. The failure of the nation Israel with regard to Messiah was not a failure of God’s Word, but the failure of those who presumed the promised blessings of God were corporate—intended to include all of the Jews and to exclude the Gentiles. Therefore, in Romans 9:6-18, Paul cites three illustrations of God’s individual election: Isaac, not Ishmael (9:6-9); Jacob, not Esau (9:10-13); and Moses, not Pharaoh (9:14-18).
According to Paul, the problem of Jewish unbelief (in Jesus as the Messiah) and Gentile belief is not to be explained away as though God’s promises have failed. Rather, God’s blessing of salvation have never been granted on the basis of who men are or what they do. Salvation has always been on the basis of divine election. No “worthy” people are chosen because none are worthy. Those who are chosen are the unworthy, whose salvation is due solely to the sovereign grace of God. In this chapter of Romans, Paul insists that God ultimately determines the eternal destiny of men. Only those He has chosen will choose Him. Those whom He has rejected will persistently reject Him. God chooses some to be saved and ordains the rest for eternal condemnation. In Romans 9, Paul not only demonstrates the truth of this from the Old Testament Scriptures, he also raises the objections the doctrine of election precipitates. He then answers them in a way which defends the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation.
In verses 1-5 Paul, reveals his heart concerning his fellow-Israelites. He writes not as a traitor to his nation, but as a true patriot. He loves his fellow-Israelites and would sacrifice his life for their salvation if he could. He writes with a broken heart and a sincere desire to see his own people saved.
The pitiable spiritual condition of the nation Israel is not due to lack of exposure to God; rather, it is in spite of unparalleled spiritual privileges God heaped upon the Jews. Their unbelief, in spite of the many privileges God granted to them, set them apart from others. Consider some of their privileges:
In spite of her many privileges, Israel’s condition illustrates a principle closely related to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation or, more simply, divine election: God’s salvation is not directed toward the privileged, whom we might deem worthy of salvation, but to those pathetic souls who are unworthy of it, whom the unbelieving world considers undeserving to receive it.
The scribes and Pharisees could not fathom why Jesus would associate with “sinners.” Our Lord’s answer was not what they wanted to hear:
29 And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:29-32).
Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians are not flattering to the saints either, for they emphasize that salvation is the result of God’s choosing and that those He chooses are not those whom we would expect:
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, 29 that no man should boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
Two things are said in this text which should keep any Christian from becoming proud or taking any credit for their salvation. First, it is God who has done it all. It is “by His doing” that anyone is saved (verse 30). It is He who has (first) chosen us, not we who have chosen Him (John 15:16). Second, we dare not boast in ourselves as Christians because the kind of people God most often chooses are those who are foolish, weak, and base (verses 27-28). If one would boast in his salvation, he must boast in the Lord, for salvation is of the Lord.
Judaism’s error is the assumption that being a partaker of Israel’s national privileges (those listed above in verses 4-5) assured one of also being an individual partaker of the blessing of eternal salvation. John the Baptist attacked this error early in the Gospels:
8 “Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:8-10).
Salvation is not determined by one’s ancestry or race; it is not determined on the basis of any privileges one may have enjoyed. Salvation is based solely on God’s individual election, resulting in faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.
Some wrongly assume that growing up in a Christian home assures them of the blessing of salvation. There are privileges involved in being a part of a Christian family (see 1 Corinthians 7:12-14), but there is no assurance that growing up in a Christian home will save you. Many Christian parents feel guilty if one of their children does not trust in Christ, but they have no control over this matter. All they can do is to live out their faith in obedience to the Scriptures in the context of the family and recognize that salvation is of the Lord. Growing up in the midst of Christians is no guarantee of salvation, just as growing up in a pagan environment does not doom one to unbelief. Just as we cannot take pride in our own salvation, or that of any other, neither should we blame ourselves when those we love reject the gospel we have embraced.
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is a word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
A first glance suggests something has gone wrong. If many Jews are rejecting Jesus as their Messiah and many Gentiles are coming to faith in Him, is this not the reverse of what God promised? Has something gone wrong with God’s plan? More pointedly, have the promises of God failed? Has the Word of God failed (verse 6)? Paul immediately informs us there has been no failure with the Word of God. He is about to prove that the Word is actually been fulfilled by what is taking place among the Jews and the Gentiles. The plan of God for the salvation of men is being fulfilled not as we would have expected (see Romans 11:33-35), but just as God has promised.
The doctrine of divine election is the only adequate explanation for widespread Jewish unbelief and for many Gentiles coming to faith. This is important to us because, in the final analysis, the ultimate explanation for unbelief and faith is divine election. How does one explain the unbelief and consequent judgment of men? The answer is two-fold. First, men are lost because they have not chosen to accept God’s provision of salvation in Jesus Christ. Second, they are lost because God has not chosen them. In Romans 9, Paul’s emphasis is on the second reason.
The Jews’ error, that all Jews are elect and thus should be saved, was based upon their wrong assumption that all Israelites are God’s elect, the true Israel of God. The Jews assumed that because they were physical descendants of Abraham, they were guaranteed a place in the kingdom of God. Paul corrects this misconception, informing us that just because one is a descendant of Jacob (or Israel), he or she is not necessarily a true Israelite.63 Neither is every child of Abraham one of the “children of God.”
If being a physical descendent of Abraham is not the basis for one’s entrance into the blessings of salvation, what determines who receives these blessings? The answer is simple: divine election. The “children of God” are those who are the “children of promise” (9:8). God promised Abraham he would have a child, and that through this child, God’s promises would be fulfilled. Ishmael was not that child. Ishmael was the result of Abraham and Sarah’s efforts to produce a son through means other than what God intended—a surrogate wife and mother, Hagar. Of these two “sons” of Abraham, only one was the son of promise—Isaac. And so not all the descendants of Abraham were the recipients of the promised blessings of God. God chose Isaac, and He rejected Ishmael. Did God’s Word fail because Isaac was chosen and Ishmael was rejected? Not at all, because God’s promise was only given to Isaac.
Some might object that the principle of election can hardly be established on the evidence of God’s choice of Isaac and His rejection of Ishmael. After all, these sons had the same father but a different mother, and the mother of Ishmael was a concubine. No wonder Ishmael was rejected, and Isaac was chosen. Paul therefore moves on to his second illustration of election, God’s choice of Jacob and His rejection of Esau (verses 10-13). These two sons were born of the same parents and were even the product of the same union. They were twins. No two sons could be more similar, and yet God rejected the one and chose the other.
God’s choice of Jacob over Esau is contrary to all that we would have expected. By custom, the first-born son received the birthright, and yet God indicated His choice of the younger son to Rebekkah before Jacob or Esau were even born:
21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord answered him and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is so, why then am I this way?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. 23 And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples shall be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:21-23).
God indicated His choice of Jacob over Esau before their birth without regard to any works either son would do. Some insist God chooses whom He does because He knows beforehand they will choose Him. They suppose God chooses those who will be most beneficial to His work. Too often I hear people commenting on what a dynamic Christian someone would become if they were only saved. They should be taken back by Paul’s words which indicate that God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was made without any regard to what they could or would do, apart from their works. It is not that God was ignorant of what these two would do; rather, His choice was made without regard to their deeds. His choice was a declaration and demonstration of His sovereignty:
11 For though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger” (Romans 9:11-12).
We should not fail to note that when God chose Jacob over Esau, He did so in spite of Isaac’s strong preference for Esau (it was his Rebekkah who favored Jacob, while Isaac preferred Esau, Genesis 25:28), and in spite of Isaac’s efforts to reverse the blessing so as to fall on Esau (Genesis 27). Before it began, Jacob was God’s choice, and Esau was rejected. When it was all over, Jacob was the son who received God’s blessing, not Esau. Lest we think God’s choice of Jacob did not also include His rejection of Esau, Paul reminds us,
13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13).
God’s sovereignty was demonstrated in His choice of Jacob and in His rejection of Esau.
14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires (Romans 9:14-18).
Paul raises a question which expects a negative response: “There is no injustice with God, is there?” If we doubt what response is expected (the Greek text makes it clear), Paul’s response removes all doubt: “May it never be!” I prefer the older translation of the King James Version, “God forbid!” Of course, God is free from any accusation of injustice. If this question presupposes the answer, it also presupposes the reason for asking it. Paul is teaching divine election. God chooses one and rejects another, and when God chooses a person for salvation, He always does so on the basis of grace, bestowed by His sovereign choice and not on the basis of works. If Paul were not teaching the doctrine of election, this question would be inappropriate and not even deserve an answer. But Paul was teaching on election, which is why he raises the question of justice.
How then can God choose to save one man and harden another and not be accused of injustice? The answer is very simple: grace. Salvation is a matter of divine grace sovereignly bestowed upon those whom God chooses as its recipients. Grace is about something wonderful which God gives to guilty sinners who are not worthy of God’s blessings. Justice is about people getting what they deserve. It is unjust when men labor for their employer and are not paid. It is unjust when a guilty criminal is not punished. God is not unjust to condemn sinners to the eternal torment, because they are getting just what they deserve. Furthermore, God is not unjust in saving men. The punishment for sinners whom God has saved has been borne by the Lord Jesus Christ, who died in the sinner’s place, bearing the wrath of God. God is therefore just in condemning men to bear the penalty they deserve, and He is just in saving men, whose penalty Christ has borne:
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).
Note the tone of Paul’s words in Romans 9:14-18. They are not apologetic. Paul is not shuffling his feet, hesitant as to how he should respond. He is bold and confident. He is incensed that any might even suggest that God is unjust in election. He is not interested in defending God as much as in declaring God’s sovereignty.
God is not unjust in the salvation of sinners who deserve the eternal wrath of God (verses 15-16). Neither is God unjust in the condemnation of sinners like Pharaoh, whose heart God hardened (verses 17-18). Moses and Pharaoh are more than just contemporaries who faced off at the exodus. Moses was the man who appears to have been next in line to be the Pharaoh of Egypt. God spared Moses, appointing him to lead His people out of bondage. And God appointed Pharaoh to be the one who would refuse to release these people from bondage and whose resistance would provide the occasion for God’s power to be declared throughout the whole earth.
Through Moses, God displayed His grace. When God began to reveal His glory to Moses in Exodus 33 (climaxing in chapter 34), He declared that His mercy was to be sovereignly granted to whomever He chose. The reason any person received grace was not to be found in that person, the recipient of His blessings, but in God, the Blessor. Grace is unmerited favor, and thus it must be sovereignly bestowed, for no one would ever be worthy of it. If one could be worthy of God’s favor (which no one can), God’s blessings would not be on the basis of grace but of works. But because no one is worthy of divine favor, every blessing of God is granted on the basis of grace, with no deciding factor other than God’s sovereign choice.
God spoke directly to Moses (verse 15) and indirectly (through Moses and the Scripture) to Pharaoh (verse 17). Pharaoh was chosen too but for a very different role and destiny. He was raised up so that God’s power could be displayed because of his stubborn opposition. God’s victory over Pharaoh, through the plagues and then through the parting of the Red Sea, was widely proclaimed (see Exodus 15:14-16). God was glorified through the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart just as He was glorified through Moses.
Here is a very important truth which seems to escape many Christians. Many seem to think God suffers some kind of defeat when lost sinners do not repent and come to faith in Him. They suppose God is glorified only through the salvation of the lost and not through the condemnation of stubbornly resistant sinners. In fact, God is glorified through the salvation of sinners and through the condemnation of sinners. God reveals His mercy in saving sinners and His power in triumphing over those who oppose Him. God is not embarrassed by those who reject Him. He does not “need” to save men in order to be glorified by them.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.
There is an answer for this question, but Paul is not going to respond to the question raised until after he has made a very important point. Verse 19 is not just a question; it is an insult because it questions the integrity of God. It is actually an indictment against God, a protest. It does not seek an answer; it senses that in asking the question, God is silenced.
In this chapter, Paul has been teaching the sovereignty of God. Centuries before Paul lived, God brought a Babylonian king to his knees. This great king learned some very important lessons about sovereignty. Nebuchadnezzar learned first that while God grants men a certain degree of sovereignty on earth (see Daniel 2:37; 9:18f.), ultimately only He is sovereign:
34 “But at the end of that period I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’ 36 At that time my reason returned to me. And my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom, and my counselors and my nobles began seeking me out; so I was reestablished in my sovereignty, and surpassing greatness was added to me. 37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Daniel 4:34-37).
35 “And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What has Thou done?’”
Sovereignty means that the one who is sovereign is in complete control, above questioning by any subordinate. Paul is very sensitive to this fact and thus immediately reacts, rebuking the attitude of the questioner. Who is man to question God? God is the Creator, and it is His prerogative to use His creations (men) any way He chooses. Men are His creation, and they have no right to question their Creator. If God chooses to use one of His vessels to bring Him glory by being a vessel prepared for destruction, that is His right. If God chooses to bring glory to Himself by making another vessel as a vessel of mercy, a vessel which He will save, that too is His prerogative.
God’s power is demonstrated by the outpouring of His wrath on sinners, as it was at the Exodus. God’s mercy and grace is demonstrated by the outpouring of His grace on unworthy sinners, saving them in spite of their sin. His delay in destroying the “vessels of wrath” is purposeful, allowing Him time to show His grace to the “vessels of mercy.” And these “vessels of mercy” include some who are Jews and some who are Gentiles.
I am constantly amazed at how slowly the disciples (and I!) grasped our Lord’s teaching. Even after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, we see that the apostles were slow to embrace the teaching of the Old Testament and of Jesus in the Book of Acts. In Acts 1:8, Jesus told them:
8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
This was but a repetition of what Jesus had already commanded the disciples before His death:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis mine).
Did the disciples immediately seek to evangelize Gentiles in the Book of Acts? Certainly not. Indeed, they resisted it. The evangelization of Gentiles happened in spite of the apostles more than because of them, another evidence of God’s sovereignty in salvation. It took intense persecution to scatter the Jewish believers from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1ff.). It took a dramatic and repeated divine vision to get Peter to go to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, and preach the gospel (see Acts 10:1ff.). And when word reached the ears of the Jewish leaders of the Jerusalem church, Peter was called on the carpet and rebuked for preaching to Gentiles (Acts 11:1-3).
Peter’s argument was too compelling. They had to admit that God must have intended to save Gentiles too, but notice what they did once they acknowledged this—nothing:
15 “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” 19 So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:15-21).
Had it not been for that anonymous group of Hellenistic Jews, who did not know any better than to share their faith with Gentiles, the predominantly Gentile church in Antioch would never have been established (humanly speaking, of course).
When we come to verse 24 in Romans 9, Paul wants his readers to understand that the salvation of many Gentiles and the unbelief of many Jews should have come as no surprise. He now turns to the Old Testament to show that far from God’s promises having failed by Gentile faith and Jewish unbelief, His promises are being fulfilled.
23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’ 26 And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of THE LIVING God.” 27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be AS THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED; 28 for the Lord will execute His word upon the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become as Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” 30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, And he who believes in Him WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED” (Romans 9:1-33).
All whom God chooses to save are lost sinners, dead in their trespasses and sins, captives not only to their own sins, but to Satan himself, not one bit different from those who will spend eternity in hell (see Ephesians 2:1-3). Those whom God saves do not seek Him; they are saved apart from seeking to be righteous (Romans 9:30-33). They are saved not because of what they are or because of what they will be or could be (Romans 9:11). They are chosen and saved, not because of any decision they make for God; rather the decision to trust God is the result of His doing, not man’s (John 1:12: Acts 13:48; 16:14; Philippians 1:29; 2:12-13). Through His Spirit, God regenerates the one dead in his trespasses and sins, giving both life and faith so that the individual is now drawn to Him (John 6:44) and expresses faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, a faith which also comes from God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Corinthians 4:7); salvation is thus regarded as the work of the sovereign God—not men (Romans 9:11, 15-16; 11:36; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31; Hebrews 12:2).
Are some distressed that God chooses some and not others? They should not be! When God chooses to save anyone, He chooses one who would never have first chosen Him. Michael Horton puts it this way,
“Essentially, election is God’s making the decision for us that we would never have made for Him.”64
We should be grateful that God elects some to salvation; otherwise, no one would ever have been saved. If God looked down the corridors of time and chose those who would choose Him, He would have chosen none, for none would have chosen Him (see Romans 3:10-18).
If God were to have chosen those who were worthy of His salvation, He would have chosen none. Election is the choice of a sovereign God to save some. Election is based solely upon God’s grace, not upon any merit of our own. Election is the outworking of grace, and the only means by which sinners could be saved. It is not a doctrine to agonize over, but a doctrine over which we should rejoice. It is the basis for gratitude and for praise. As Paul will say in chapter 12:
1 I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2, emphasis mine).
The conclusion to chapters 9-11 of Romans is no begrudging acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty but joyful praise for His sovereignty:
33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
The sovereignty of God is an incentive to pray for the salvation of the lost and a source of comfort when some reject His offer of salvation in Christ. Knowing that God is sovereign in salvation is a great incentive to witness, because I know God will accomplish His purposes. In spite of my failures in presenting the gospel, and the blindness of those to whom it is preached, God is the One who saves. My labor and yours in evangelism is never in vain. Even when men reject the gospel, God is glorified in the preaching of His gospel, whether men believe it or not. He is glorified both by the salvation of sinners and by the eternal punishment of sinners.
Ultimately, men are not saved because we have convinced them or even because they have (first) decided to choose to believe in God. Men are saved because God has chosen them, enlightened and illuminated them by His Spirit to understand the gospel, and effectually called them by opening their hearts to respond to the gospel. Who would you rather have in control of men’s eternal destiny, sinful men or a loving, merciful, and sovereign God? To whom would you rather appeal for the salvation of men? He is a God who loves us and who delights to answer our prayers. Let us rejoice that the salvation of our loved ones is ultimately in His hands, and that we can beseech Him to save them. And when loved ones reject the gospel, we know that He is able to save. When loved ones die without coming to faith, we know this did not take God by surprise but is a part of His great eternal plan.
Often in our presentation of the gospel, I fear we misrepresent God and demean His glory in the picture we convey to the lost. The gospel must not be viewed as God begging and pleading with sinners hoping desperately that they will choose Him. The gospel is a command, and we proclaim this to lost sinners. We know we cannot convince men of their sin or cause them to turn to Christ, but God can and does for all He has chosen. Let us never portray a “wimpy” God, who is dependent on the decisions of men, rather than the true God, who always achieves what He purposes.
No wonder the gospel is offensive to lost sinners who wish to think they are “masters of their fate,” the “captains of their souls.” We are not in control. Lost men are sinners, who have offended a righteous and holy God and who are destined for eternal hell. They cannot do anything to save themselves. They must acknowledge their sins and cast themselves upon the mercy of God as made available in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, who died to pay the penalty for men’s sins and to offer unworthy sinners His righteousness. The gospel is a glorious offer to lost sinners, who know they can do nothing to save themselves. The gospel is an offense to the self-righteous, who think they are saved on their own, by their own merits.
Have you acknowledged your sin and guilt? Have you submitted to the sovereign God of the universe and accepted His provision for your salvation? I cannot convince you or convert you. I can tell you that your sins merit you an eternity in hell and that God by His grace has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to take the sinner’s place and to give men His righteousness. He has promised that His Spirit will convince lost sinners of their sin, of His righteousness, and of eternal judgment. Will you submit to God by receiving His way of salvation, the only way of salvation? I pray that you will.
Consider these thoughts on the relationship between regeneration and belief:
All men are dead in their trespasses and sins, unresponsive to God, and unable to do anything to change their condition (see Ephesians 2:1-3). Those dead in their trespasses and sins do not understand God; they do not grasp the gospel or seek God. They are destined for divine wrath, hopeless apart from divine grace and intervention.
Faith is a gift which God gives to those whom His Spirit has regenerated, thus enabling and causing God’s chosen to respond to the gospel by trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Regeneration precedes belief. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit, giving life to one who is spiritually dead. This new life is expressed by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God is the initiator, the first cause, and man’s faith is thus the result of God’s work in man.
This means that salvation is ultimately the work of God. He is the initiator; we respond (see 1 John 4:19). He is the author and the perfecter/finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). He will complete what He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6). Rightly, we find God described as the cause of men’s faith (Acts 13:48; 16:14).
The other (incorrect) view is that man first acts, trusting in God, and then God responds by bestowing salvation, in response to man’s faith. In this case, man is the first cause. The problem with this view is that it contradicts Scripture. It denies the sovereignty of God and denies the depravity of man. How can a dead man, who hates God and does not seek Him, suddenly, on his own initiative, turn to God in faith (see Romans 3:9-18)?
Many are the objections to divine sovereignty. Let us raise a number of them and offer a biblical response.
(1) Foreknowledge sometimes refers to one’s previous knowledge about someone. In the Scriptures it is also used of a choice made ahead of the time. And to “know” sometimes means “to choose” (Genesis 18:19, see marginal note; Jeremiah 1:5) and to “foreknow” sometimes means to “choose ahead of time.” In Romans 11:2 and 1 Peter 1:20, “foreknew” cannot mean simply “knew about ahead of time.” It has to mean, “chose or selected ahead of time.”
(2) If God’s choice of those whom He would save was based upon his foreknowledge of those who would choose Him, no one would be saved because of human depravity (see John 6:37, 44; Romans 3:9-18). No one would choose God unless God first chose us, regenerated us, and gave us the faith to respond to the gospel.
(3) If God’s choice of us is determined by our choice of Him, then we are the initiators of salvation, and God is the responder. This contradicts Scripture (Hebrews 12:1-2; Philippians 1:6, etc.), and it is inconsistent both with the sovereignty of God and with the nature of grace.
Men are called upon to repent and believe in Jesus Christ to be saved. Men are saved by faith. All those who come to Him, who call upon the name of the Lord, will be saved (John 6:37; Romans 10:13). But this response which men are required to express is the result of God’s sovereign saving work, and not the cause of it (John 1:12).
Not at all. Divine sovereignty is the basis for human responsibility:
“Many have most foolishly said that it is quite impossible to show where Divine sovereignty ends and creature accountability begins. Here is where creature responsibility begins: in the sovereign ordination of the Creator. As to His sovereignty, there is not and never will be any end to it!”65
This statement expresses a warped view of God’s sovereignty and of man’s depravity. If God did not intervene and overcome our lethal malady of sin and rebellion, no one would ever be saved. The gospel is impossible apart from divine intervention and enablement. When God saves us, He makes the dead alive, He removes our spiritual blindness with sight, He opens our heart to respond, and He gives us a new nature which desires God. If it is not technically correct to say God overrides our will, He most certainly does change our nature and our will.
The subject of God’s sovereignty in salvation is vitally important:
“‘Therefore, it is not irreverent, inquisitive, or trivial, but helpful and necessary for a Christian, to find out whether the [human] will does anything or nothing in matters pertaining to eternal salvation.… If we do not know these things, we shall know nothing at all of things Christian and shall be worse than any heathen.… Therefore, let anyone who does not feel this confess that he is no Christian. For if I am ignorant of what, how far, and how much I can and may do in relation to God, it will be equally uncertain and unknown to me what, how far, and how much God can and may do in me.… But when the works and power of God are unknown in this way, I cannot worship, praise, thank, and serve God, since I do not know how much I ought to attribute to myself and how much to God. It therefore behooves us to be very certain about the distinction between God’s power and our own, God’s work and our own, if we want to live a godly life.’”66
Sovereignty is diametrically opposed to everything natural and fallen in us, and it is completely consistent with what the Bible teaches. Men naturally reject the sovereignty of God and only supernaturally do they receive it. Do you resist it? We should not be surprised. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God is one which no one would naturally believe unless the Scriptures clearly taught it and the Spirit of God changed our hearts to embrace it. Do you wish to know the truth of the matter? Study the Scriptures, and ask God to give you understanding.
“The reason people today are opposed to it [election] is because they will have God to be anything but God. He can be a cosmic psychiatrist, a helpful shepherd, a leader, a teacher, anything at all. . . only not God. For a very simple reason—they want to be God themselves.”67
“It is a measure of our self-centeredness that we would even despise God for loving us before we loved Him.”68
Rejecting or resisting the sovereignty of God in salvation is a very serious matter:
“This doctrine [the sovereignty of God] shows the unreasonableness and dreadful wickedness of your refusing heartily to own the sovereignty of God in this matter. It shows that you know not that God is God. If you knew this, you would be inwardly still and quiet; you would humbly and calmly lie in the dust before a sovereign God and would see sufficient reason for it.
In objecting and quarreling about the righteousness of God’s laws and threatenings and His sovereign dispensations toward you and others, you oppose His divinity; you show your ignorance of His divine greatness and excellency and that you cannot bear that He should have divine honor. It is from low, mean thoughts of God that you do in your minds oppose His sovereignty, that you are not sensible how dangerous your conduct is, and what an audacious thing it is for such a creature as man to strive with his Maker.”69
In the Bible, the sovereignty of God is not a negative truth, a problem doctrine which one should avoid if possible; it is a positive doctrine which encourages, comforts, and motivates.
“Rightly did the later Mr. Spurgeon say in his sermon on Matt. 20:15, ‘There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their affliction, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation—the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands—the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne. On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne. They will allow Him to be in His worship to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow Him to be in His almonry to dispense His alms and bestow His bounties. They will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends His throne, His creatures then gnash their teeth, and we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter; then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust.”70
Why do you think men resist or reject the doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation? Why do Christians resist or reject God’s sovereignty in salvation when they grant God’s sovereignty elsewhere?
What is the relationship between God’s sovereignty in salvation and grace? Between God’s sovereignty in salvation and human depravity? Why must God’s grace be sovereign grace?
How does the sovereignty of God in salvation affect the gospel? How would the depravity of man and man’s resistance to the sovereignty of God in salvation tend to affect the gospel? [In other words, how would the natural or unsaved man rather have the gospel than the way it is?]
How do you think Paul’s conversion (as described in Acts 9, 22, 26) helped prepare him to address the subject of the sovereignty of God in salvation?
How should the biblical view of the sovereignty of God in salvation affect our prayers for the lost? Our motivation for evangelism? Our methods of evangelism? The message we proclaim in evangelism?
Does the sovereignty of God in salvation mean you might be one of the non-elect and that you could not be saved even if you wanted to be? Does it mean we cannot ever know if we really are saved, since salvation is God’s doing and not ours?
“The Scriptures give many examples of God’s freedom in selective grace. Near a pool in Jerusalem gathered ‘a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed’ (John 5:3). Yet, Christ pushes through the crowd and moves toward one man—just one person—and heals him from his paralysis. Now, you have to understand that this was a regular spot for a lot of people who hoped each new day was their day for the miracle. One would think that there would be some sort of healing line, but Jesus only intended to heal one man that day. Why didn’t He heal everybody? He could have; He had the power. But He did not choose to do so. Nevertheless, I have yet to hear a sermon on how unfair it was for Jesus to heal the man at the pool that day. Why should election be any different in the realm of our salvation?”71
“In election we come to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of the wilderness; the God of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ; the God who is anything but a frustrated deity who ‘has no hands but our hands’ and must pace heaven’s floors, ringing his hands, hoping people will ‘let Him have His way.’ This is the God who is everything but a co-pilot. ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (James 4:6 NASB).”72
“You may be thinking, ‘Election and evangelism—in the same breath? I’ve been told they’re mutually exclusive!’ I was told that too. But I can honestly say that evangelism never really meant what it means after having understood election. Sharing the faith with non-believers has become a burden to many and it was to me, until this truth changed my thinking. Election changes our evangelism on three levels: our message, our methods, and our motivation.”73
“But it may be objected, do we not read again and again in Scripture how that men defied God, resisted His will, broke His commandments, disregarded His warnings, and turned a deaf ear to all His exhortations? Certainly we do. And does this nullify all that we have said above? If it does, then the Bible plainly contradicts itself. But that cannot be. What the objector refers to is simply the wickedness of man against the external word of God, whereas what we have mentioned above is what God has purposed in Himself. The rule of conduct He has given us to walk by, is perfectly fulfilled by none of us; His own eternal ‘counsels’ are accomplished to their minutest details.”74
“Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him. So His own Word expressly declares: ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’ (Isa. 46:10); ‘He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand’ (Dan. 4:34). Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things ‘after the counsel of His own will’ (Eph. 1:11).”75
“This doctrine [the sovereignty of God] shows the unreasonableness and dreadful wickedness of your refusing heartily to own the sovereignty of God in this matter. It shows that you know not that God is God. If you knew this, you would be inwardly still and quiet; you would humbly and calmly lie in the dust before a sovereign God and would see sufficient reason for it.
“The most insanely daring thing that any man can do, the most exceedingly foolish thing any man can do, the most desperately wicked thing that any man can do, is to reply against God, to enter into controversy with God, to criticize God, to condemn God. Yet that is what many people are doing.”76
“What are we all, the very best of us? Vile—the best of us is but a loathsome sinner. We may not yet realize the fact, but it is true. Our lives have been shot through and through by sin. Yet you undertake to stand in the presence of this Holy God, in whose presence the seraphim veil their faces and their feet, and reply against Him, to suggest what God ought to do, to enter into controversy with God, to criticize God for things which He has seen fit to do, to murmur against God.”77
“He is . . . a Being of infinite wisdom. We look up at the starry heavens above our heads, we look at these wonderful worlds of light that stud the heavens by night. We think of the overwhelming things about their immensity and the incredible speed and momentum of their movements as they rush through space, and as we look up at them, if we are wise, we say, ‘Oh, God, what a Being of infinite wisdom as well as majesty Thou art that Thou canst guide these inconceivably enormous worlds as they go whirling through space with such incredible velocity and momentum.’”
“And yet many of you here tonight do not hesitate to look up at the infinitely wise God who made these wonderful spheres of light, who guides the whole universe in its wonderful, stupendous and bewildering course, and attempt to tell Him what you think He ought to do! Thou fool, art thou mad? No inmate of Patten ever did an insaner thing. ‘Who art thou?’ The wisest man on earth is but a child; the wisest philosopher does not know much; the greatest man of science knows but very little. What he knows is almost nothing in comparison with what he does not know. What he does know, even about the material universe, is as nothing compared with what he does not know.”78
“Suppose some child of thirteen or fourteen should take a book on philosophy setting forth the ripest product of the best philosophic thought of today and begin to criticize it, page by page. What would you think? Would you stand and look at the boy and say with unbounded admiration, ‘What a bright lad he is?’ No, you would say, ‘What a conceited idiot he is to undertake, at his age and with his limited knowledge, to criticize the best philosophic thought of the day!’ But he would not be so conceited an idiot as you or I would be were we to attempt to criticize an infinitely wise God for we are far less than children compared with the infinite God.”
“The most profound philosopher of today is but a little child compared with the Infinite God. And yet you, who do not make any pretensions of being a philosopher at all, take God’s Book, you a little child, an infant, take this Book which represents the best wisdom of God, and you sit down and turn it, page by page, and try to criticize it, and people stand and look at you and admire and say, ‘What a scholar!’ But the angels look down and say, ‘What a fool!’ And what does God say? ‘O man, who art thou that repliest against God? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord the Almighty and the Eternal] shall have [you] in derision’ (Ps. 2:4).”79
“It has never dawned on some people that even God could by any possibility know more than they know. It never dawned on me for years, and in those days I was a Universalist. I thought that all men would ultimately be saved. I was a Universalist because I had an argument for the ultimate salvation of everybody for which I could see no possible answer. I thought if I could not see an answer, why, no one could. So I challenged anybody to meet me on that argument and answer it. I went around with my head pretty high and said, ‘I have found an unanswerable reason for Universalism.’ I thought that I was a Universalist for all time and that anyone who was not a Universalist was not well posted.”
“One day it occurred to me that an infinitely wise God might possibly know more than I did. That had never dawned on me before. It dawned upon me also that it was quite possible that a God of infinite wisdom might have a thousand good reasons for doing a thing, when I, in my finite foolishness, could not see even one. So my fondly cherished Universalism went up in smoke.”
“If you get that thought, that an infinitely wise God may possibly know more than even you do, and that God in His infinite wisdom might have a thousand good reasons for doing a thing when you cannot see even one, you will have learned one of the greatest theological truths of the day—one that will solve many of your perplexing problems in the Bible.”
“Men try to lay hold of infinite wisdom and fancy that they can squeeze it down into the capacity of their pint-cup minds. But because they cannot squeeze infinite wisdom into their pint-cup minds, they say, ‘I don’t believe that Book is the Word of God, because it has something in it that I cannot understand the philosophy of.’ Why should you understand the philosophy of it? Who are you, anyhow? How much of a mind have you, anyhow? How long have you had it? How long are you going to keep it? Who gave it to you?”80
“It is not our business to find out the philosophy of things; it is not our business to see the reason of things. It is our business to hear what God has to say, and when He says it, believe it, whether you can understand the philosophy of it or not.”81
“There is one more class that is replying against God, that is the men who instead of accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior and surrendering to Him as their Lord and Master and openly confessing Him as such before the world, are making excuses for not doing it. Jesus says in John 6:37, ‘Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.’ God says in Revelation 22;17, ‘Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’ Anybody can come to Christ, and anybody who does come will be received and saved. Yet many of you, instead of coming, are making excuses for not coming. By every excuse you make you are replying against God, you are entering into controversy with God, you are condemning God, who invites you to come. You cannot frame an excuse for not coming and accepting Christ that does not condemn God. Every excuse that any mortal makes for not accepting Christ, in its ultimate analysis, condemns God.”82
58 Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), p. 117, as cited by Michael Scott Horton, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), p. 60.
59 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, vol. 4 (a message preached on August 1, 1858, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, cited by Warren Wiersbe, Classic Sermons on the Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1994), 114-115.
60 Spurgeon, as cited by Wiersbe, pp. 116-117.
61 We must also bear in mind that Satan has a hand in the unbelief of the lost, for he seeks to keep men from the gospel (Mark 4:3-4, 13-14), to blind men to the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4), and also to corrupt and distort the gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4, 13-15).
62 John the Baptist recognized and addressed this error when he told the scribes and Pharisees, “. . . do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).
63 Elsewhere, Paul makes a point of explaining that a true Israelite is a child of God by faith in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile (see Romans 4:16-17; Galatians 6:16). Incidentally, in Romans 4, Paul makes the point that Abraham was actually a Gentile (uncircumcised) when he became a believer (see 4:10-12).
64 Michael Scott Horton, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, p. 45.
65 A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 29.
66 Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), p. 117, as cited by Michael Scott Horton, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), p. 60.
67 D. James Kennedy, Truths That Transform (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1974), as cited by Michael Horton, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991), p. 43.
68 Michael Horton, p. 45.
69 Jonathan Edwards, taken from The Words of Jonathan Edwards (vol. 2, 1976), published by Banner of Truth Trust, as cited by Warren Wiersbe, Classic Sermons on the Sovereignty of God (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1994), p. 107.
70 A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 27.
71 Horton, p. 50.
72 Michael Horton, Putting The Amazing Back Into Grace, pp. 58-59.
73 Horton, p. 66.
74 Pink, p. 25.
75 Pink, p. 27.
76 Torrey, Wiersby, p. 45.
77 Torrey, p. 47.
78 Torrey, p. 48.
79 Torrey, p. 49.
80 Torrey, p. 57.
81 Torrey, p. 58.
82 Torrey, p. 58.