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The Sovereignty of God in Salvation (Romans 9)

Introduction

If Romans 8 has the distinction of being the high-water mark of the New Testament, chapter 9 has the dubious honor of teaching one of the most emotionally volatile doctrines of all the Bible, that of election. This chapter is so troublesome to some Bible teachers that they would prefer it not to be in Scripture. One of the pastors I regard most highly in terms of his ministry in my life told me that he would try not to teach on chapter 9, even if he were teaching through the Book of Romans chapter by chapter.

Romans 9 is vitally important to the Christian, not only in the sense that it provides a basis for the theological doctrine of election, but in that it has great bearing on our spiritual life. If salvation finds its origin in the will of the creature, rather than in the will of the Creator, then I can never be fully assured of my salvation, for I may someday lose my faith in God, or I may decide to reject my faith altogether. If the salvation of others is not in the control of God, then I have little reason to pray for the salvation of the lost.

But if salvation finds its origin in the will of God, then I know that I am forever secure as a Christian, for even though I may change, God is immutable. Since it was He Who purposed my salvation and He cannot change, then my salvation is as certain as the One Who is its source. If salvation is that which is determined by God, then I may come to Him in prayer with the confidence that He is both able to save, and that He takes pleasure in saving as well as in answering my prayers.

Romans 9–11 were vitally important to the apostle Paul as he penned this epistle. Paul was a Jew—today we would call him a fulfilled or completed Jew, but a Jew just the same. Paul had taught that the Christian faith was no innovation, certainly not opposed to Old Testament revelation, but rather the fulfillment of all that the Jews had hoped for. In chapter 4 Paul taught that Abraham himself was saved by faith and not by works, and that the kind of faith required for salvation today is precisely the same kind as that exercised by Abraham.

But herein lies Paul’s problem. If the gospel which Paul preached was the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament anticipated, then why was it that the Jews were missing out on its blessings? Why were scores of Gentiles who never had this hope coming to Christ while the vast majority of the Jews were still unbelieving, failing to realize the blessings of God?

Beyond this there is the question of the righteousness and integrity of God, for it would appear that He has purposed that which He failed to bring to pass. Then, too, the reliability of the Word of God is not beyond question, for all that the Old Testament promised to the Jew seemingly is being frustrated. To this problem, the apostle devotes himself for the next three chapters.

It must be emphasized here that chapters 9–11 are a package, and that the answer to the dilemma of the unbelief of Israel cannot be adequately answered by any one of these three chapters. Chapter 9 speaks to the unbelief of Israel by stating that God did not purpose to save all Israel. In other words, God didn’t choose those who disbelieve. In chapter 10 Paul presses on to state that neither did Israel choose God. In chapter 11 Paul shows how God purposed the unbelief of Israel to accomplish the salvation of the Gentiles, and that the hopes of the nation Israel are yet to be fulfilled, for the unbelief of Israel is neither complete nor permanent.

Romans 9:1-5 pose the problem which underlies the entire section. Why is Israel in unbelief in spite of all the privileges they experienced in the past, and in spite of the promise of blessing for the future? Verses 6-13 answer the question by insisting that God never promised these blessings to every physical descendent of Abraham, but only to those who were children of Abraham by faith. If the masses of the nation Israel are not saved because they are not elect, then there are two objections to the doctrine of election which must be responded to: the charge of injustice (verses 14-18) and the claim that man is therefore not accountable before God (verses 19-23). Paul concludes by turning the tables and asserting that the Word of God, far from being frustrated by the unbelief of Israel, was being fulfilled (verses 24-29).

The Problem Posed:
Why Has Israel Failed in Spite of All Her Privileges?
(9:1-5)

Paul’s Sincere Sorrow (vv. 1-3). The charge of the Jewish community against the apostle was that he was no friend of theirs. They claimed that the gospel which Paul preached was opposed to all that Israel had stood for and hoped for. Paul does not begin to deal with the dilemma of the Jews until he has established the fact that he is no enemy, but a grieving friend; in fact, if he could do so he would be willing to suffer the wrath of God for his people if by this means they could be brought to salvation (v. 3).

Israel’s Failure Highlighted By Her Privileges (vv. 4-5). Israel’s unbelief was not so much to be considered ‘because of’ as ‘in spite of,’ for she had privileges no other nation could claim. They were ‘Israelites,’ and as such they could claim these seven particulars. (1) They could claim national adoption (cf. Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1); (2) they were eye witnesses of the revelation of God’s glory, such as the splendor of the theophanies and the shekinah glory; (3) they were the beneficiaries of the divine covenant46 made by God with His people; (4) they were the recipients and custodians of the Law of God given at Sinai; (5) they had the privilege of the temple service, the “prescriptions for divine worship”;47 (6) they also were the recipients of the many promises of God, many of which were yet future; and (7) they had a lineage that any nation could be proud of; their forefathers were the patriarchs, and they were the nation through whom the Messiah came.

In spite of these great privileges the Jews as a nation were not experiencing the blessings which one might rightfully expect. It is not explicitly stated but Israel’s problem is the widespread unbelief and failure to arrive at the blessings which they had been waiting for.48

Although Israel Has Failed, God’s Word Has Not
(9:6-13)

On the surface of the issue it might seem to some that Israel’s failure is to be explained as God’s failure—that it is really the Word of God that has failed, since what it appears to have promised has not come to realization. Paul approaches the problem by first of all clarifying just what the Scriptures promised. The error of assuming God’s Word to be at fault is two-fold. First of all the Scriptures never promised blessing to every physical descendent of Abraham. Second, the basis of God’s blessing is not to be found in one’s physical relationship to a particular forefather, but rather to one’s spiritual relationship to God by faith.

As Paul introduces the subject of election, there is something we are to understand about it. The devout, but unbelieving, Jew not only delighted in it, but depended on it. The Jew was a devout believer in the doctrine of election—that is the doctrine of corporate election. They relished the thought that God had selected them from all the nations of the earth to be the recipients of all the blessings and privileges described by Paul in verses 4 and 5. They had no problem in viewing all the other nations as the ‘non-elect.’ They were perfectly content to relegate the heathen to hell.

Paul uses the theological position of the Jews as the starting point of his argumentation, but he presses their theology much farther than they intended. He takes the principle of election which they accepted on a national level, and applies it on an individual level.49 If Israel could delight in their national election, then their dilemma of why so many Israelites disbelieved could be explained on the basis of individual election. Why were so many Jews failing to arrive at God’s promised blessings? Because God hadn't chosen them to be blessed by salvation. While Israel’s erroneous claim on God’s blessing was based upon their ancestry and their works, the cause of blessing was God’s calling by free choice. Such a claim must be documented, so Paul turns to the example in Israel’s history of Isaac and Jacob.

The Example of Isaac, Not Ishmael (vv. 7-9). If blessing was guaranteed by physical relationship to Abraham, then many Gentiles would have the same claim as did the Jews for Abraham was the father of more than just Isaac. Ishmael would have equal claim to the blessings of the Jews if physical lineage was the sole cause of blessing. But as the Scriptures stipulated: “Through Isaac your descendants will be named” (Romans 9:7b, Genesis 21:12). Ishmael was the result of Abraham’s feeble efforts to bring about what God had promised, but Isaac was the product of God’s work in fulfillment of His promise of a son.

The Example of Jacob, Not Esau (vv. 10-13). To some, the example of Isaac might not be convincing because each child had a different mother. If this is a problem, it will be swept away by the example of Jacob and Esau, for they had the same father and mother; in fact, they were the offspring of the same conception, since they were twins.

Surely all must grant that God specified the blessing to come through the seed of Jacob, and not Esau. This confirms again that the blessings of God do not belong to men purely on the basis of origin. But what is the basis of God’s designation of Jacob over Esau? The Jews would claim that it was because of some obligation which God had to Jacob, but the Genesis narrative does not support such a claim. God’s choice was not conditioned by any human activity or instrumentality, but was determined solely on the free choice of God.

God’s choice was apart from custom or tradition, for tradition would have granted supremacy to the first-born child, Esau. Neither was God’s choice influenced by any good which would be done by Jacob, or any evil done by Esau, for Paul insists, “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” (Romans 9:11).

Of course, God knew what Jacob and Esau would do, but His choice was not a result of this knowledge. Indeed God’s choice of Jacob was in spite of such knowledge, for he was a rascal.50

What, then, was the basis of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau? God acted not out of any obligation, but rather out of His sovereignty, and thus chose freely on the basis of His own will. The election of God is not based upon the works of the individual, but on the will of God. “… in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls” (Romans 9:11b). As the Scripture says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13, Malachi 1:2f).51

Let us be sure we fully understand what Paul has said about divine election, for there are many misconceptions of this doctrine. Some would explain election in this way: God is voting for us; Satan, against us; and we must break the tie. Others have said that God has determined a certain number of elect, but not the specific individuals—that is up to us. Others seem to say that God has elected us ‘in Christ’ and therefore, whoever are in Christ are the elect. Again, this leaves the ultimate determination of who the elect will be to the elect themselves. This is the position, apparently, of W. B. Riley, when he states, “The soul’s election depends upon the soul’s choice. Thou, my friend are the only person who can settle this question of election. It is not settled in Heaven; it is settled on earth. It is not settled of the Lord; it is settled by man.”52

Even a casual reading of Romans 9 demands that we hold an entirely different position than those just mentioned, for the election of men to eternal salvation is the work of God, and I am grateful for it. If my election depended upon me casting my vote in favor of God, I would be forever damned, for my unregenerate will would always vote against God, for as an unbeliever I was dead in my sins, and by nature God’s enemy and a child of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 3:10-18). No other kind of election could be attributed to a God Who is truly sovereign than that which is described by Paul in Romans 9, for sovereignty implies absolute freedom and complete independence of action. God’s decisions are not contingent upon ours. Our decisions are contingent upon His.

Here, then, is the answer to the problem of Jewish unbelief. Israel’s unbelief was not a failure of the Word of God, but an outworking of the will of God. Israel failed because God willed it so. God’s reason for Israel’s unbelief will be explained in chapter 11, but for now we must accept the fact that God, far from being obliged to bless every Jew on the basis of his ancestry, is free to choose whomever He wills and to reject whom He wills. Such was evident from God’s previous dealings with the nation.

Election Defended
(9:14-23)

Perhaps one of the strongest lines of evidence for election being defined as God’s absolutely free choice of those who will be saved is to be found in verses 14 and 19. In these verses, two objections to what Paul has taught about election are raised. The first is, “It isn’t fair!,” and the second is “It (unbelief) isn’t my fault!” Now neither of these objections are valid unless Paul has indeed taught that God chooses men on the basis of His own free will, apart from man’s will or his works. If Paul wasn’t teaching the doctrine of election, then all he had to do was to answer these questions by saying, “You have completely misunderstood what I have been saying.” The fact that he answers these objections demands that we understand Paul’s teaching just as his objectors did—that of an act of God independent of men.

In fact, it is interesting that every time I have had the occasion to teach the doctrine of election it has never failed that the same objections that are raised in verses 14 and 19 are raised from the audiences I teach. It is, therefore, vital that we come to understand Paul’s defense of his position on the doctrine of election, for we, too, will need to use these same lines of defense to answer our objectors.

(1) It Isn’t Fair (vv. 14-18). Do you mean to tell me that if God has chosen me to be saved I will be saved in spite of myself, and that if God has not chosen me, there is no hope for my salvation? Why that isn’t fair at all! Why should one person go to heaven and another go to Hell, just on the whim of God. Put in its simplest form that is the objection of verse 14: “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” (Romans 9:14). The problem is that the objector is arguing the point of justice, while Paul is speaking of mercy. Justice speaks of men getting what is rightfully theirs. God’s justice has already been discussed in chapters 1-3. The justice of God demands that the death penalty be paid by every man, woman, and child, for, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). If we demand that God be just and just alone then every soul would spend eternity in Hell.

Election has nothing to do with justice, it is a matter of mercy. We are speaking of the grace of God when we speak of election. Mercy withholds punishment which is rightfully deserved. The guilty criminal cries for mercy before his judge. Grace goes even beyond mercy in that it bestows that which is completely undeserved. Any man whom God chooses to save is a man who deserves to die, for “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The penalty which should be paid by the elect sinner has been paid by the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ. In addition to this, this sinner is declared righteous in the Person of Jesus Christ, and he is made a son of God and a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:15-17). This is grace!

As someone has rightly said, “The question should not be, ‘Why has God not saved all men?,’ but ‘Why has God saved any?’” We do not deserve the grace of God, and we dare not call God unjust because He has withheld His grace from some and bestowed it upon others. I believe it was Bill Gothard who used the illustration (to prove a different point) of a man who walks down our block giving out $1000 bills—to every other house. Now what right do we have, if we have been passed over, to confront this man and charge him with injustice? How much time would a police officer give us if we tried to file a formal complaint? The issue is not one of justice, but one of grace.53 God is absolutely free to bestow His grace on whomever He chooses, and He is not one whit guilty of injustice for withholding it from any or all men.

Paul illustrates this point by contrasting God’s activity in the lives of two men who were contemporaries of each other, Moses and Pharaoh. To Moses, God exercised mercy, and toward Pharaoh God exercised His justice. God was just in both cases, and interestingly, God used both men to further His purposes. God raised up Moses to be a deliverer of His people and a type of Messiah to come. God raised up54 Pharaoh to display His great power and to proclaim His glory: “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” (Romans 9:17).

Stifler reminds us that, “God’s glory is promoted in the overthrow of a sinner as much as in saving one.”55

To press this point further, the hardening of Pharaoh was an act of grace so far as the Jews were concerned, for it provided the occasion of their release. All Moses had asked for initially was to let the people of Israel go into the wilderness for a time to worship God (cf. Exodus 5:1). The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart occasioned the ten plagues, which more than answered the challenge of Pharaoh, “ Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?” (Exodus 5:2). More than this, his unbelief brought about the release of the nation from its bondage. This is precisely what the unbelief of Israel is accomplishing today.56

(2) It Isn’t My Fault (vv. 18-23). But doesn’t the case of Pharaoh raise another problem? If God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that He accomplished His purposes, if God is truly sovereign and His will is inevitable, then how can He blame us for our rebellion? Far worse than the charge often heard, ‘the devil made me do it,’ is the protest found here, ‘God made me do it.’

This question Paul refuses to answer immediately and reserves his response to the charge until the next two chapters. What Paul does attack vigorously is the attitude which occasions such a response. “Do you realize, O man, what you are doing?” “You, have set yourself above God, and have gone far beyond your privileges as a mere creature, to challenge the Creator of the universe!” “You’re completely out of line!”

I am reminded of the Book of Job where Job begins to challenge the wisdom and the justice of God in dealing with him as He had. The final chapters record for us the rebuke of God, the Creator, of a mere creature. “Where were you, Job, when I placed the heavens?” “What part did you have in the creation of the universe?” “What did you contribute to My works?” It is at this point that Job places his hand over his mouth and remains silent.

It is at this point that Paul has figuratively placed his hand over the mouth of the objector, reminded him of who he is, and more important, Who he is objecting to. God is the potter; we are the clay. God is just in disposing of us just as He wills. And we have no right to challenge His sovereignty, but we must submit to it or be crushed by it. We can be either a Moses or a Pharaoh. As a Moses we are the recipients of God’s grace, and we are vessels which God will employ to demonstrate His mercy. If we rebel we will be used as Pharaoh, and by our hardening we will be vessels by which God will reveal His wrath on sin. Either way, God is free to dispose of His creatures, and either way we will bring glory to Him. But, oh, what a difference for us!

I am fascinated by Paul’s reference to the fact that both vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath are made from the same lump. The same lump (Romans 9:21) is not the lump of innocent and deserving individuals, but the same barrel of rotten apples.57 Each of us deserve the wrath of God, but God has delayed His judgment of all in order to reveal His mercy toward some.

Just as God had chosen to bestow His blessings on the nation Israel, now He is blessing the Gentiles. Just as He once selected individual Jews to receive His grace, so He is choosing out some of the Gentiles for blessing as well (Romans 9:23).

God’s Word Is Not Being Frustrated, But Rather Fulfilled
(9:24-29)

The original charge (v. 6) was that the Word of God was somehow failing due to the failure of the nation Israel to turn to her Messiah and her blessings. After correcting a misconception as to the basis for blessing (not physical descent, but faith; not on the basis of man’s will or works, but on the basis of God’s sovereign will) in verses 6-13, and then answering certain objections (verses 14-23), Paul now concludes this section by reminding his readers that both the hardening of Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles was foretold in the Old Testament. The point is not that the Scriptures have been frustrated by Israel’s unbelief, but that they have been fulfilled. This Paul proceeds to show by quoting several Old Testament passages.

Salvation of Gentiles Foretold (vv. 24-26). Verse 24 returns the focus to the question at hand, the unbelief of many Jews and the salvation of many Gentiles. God’s choice of vessels of mercy was not intended to come only from the nation Israel, but from the Gentiles as well. The prophet Hosea spoke of this when he wrote: “I will call those who were not my people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’ 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” (Romans 9:25, 26; Hosea 2:23; 1:10).

Hosea was the prophet who was to marry a harlot. His relationship with his adulterous wife was a picture of Israel’s infidelity to God. Because of the infidelity of Israel, God disowned them, so that they were no longer His people. But God also promised that after their chastening He would once again draw them to Himself and call them His people.

Technically, this passage referred to God’s relationship to Israel. But Paul saw in this passage a principle. This principle was that God was going to restore to Himself a people that was not His own (just as Israel had become). This principle could equally apply to the Gentiles as it could to the adulterous nation Israel.58

A Remnant in Israel Promised (vv. 27-29). In verses 27-29, Paul turns to the prophet Isaiah to show that God’s judgment demanded severe punishment on disobedient Israel, so that the vast majority of the nation would perish. But in this message of punishment was a ray of hope, for God promised to preserve a remnant, and in this remnant rested Israel’s hopes for future blessing.

The context of Isaiah’s prophecy was that of the apostasy of the northern kingdom of Israel and the judgment of God through the Assyrians. Although God’s judgment was devastating (‘quick and thorough,’ v. 28), there was the promise of the preservation of a small remnant, without which Israel’s hopes would have been destroyed.59

Again in this passage, Paul deals with the presumption of the Jews exhibited in the opening verses of this chapter that God was obliged to save all Israel. These verses in Isaiah confirm Paul’s contention that God’s covenant promise never contemplated the salvation of all Israel.

Summary

Why were so many Israelites failing to experience the blessing of God? Why were the Gentiles finding this blessing? Because the sovereign God is not obligated to choose on the basis of works or on the basis of ethnic origin. Just as God elected to bless the nation Israel above others, just as God chose Jacob and not Esau, Moses and not Pharaoh, so He has chosen only a remnant of the Israelites at the present time, while He is calling out a people to Himself from the Gentiles as well. God is not unjust in choosing some and rejecting others because it is an issue of grace and mercy, not justice. We dare not question the choices of the sovereign God lest we step far beyond our prerogatives as mere creatures. Even in the Old Testament, the things which are now taking place were predicted in principle.

Conclusion and Application

There is much more at stake in these crucial verses than the defense of some theological doctrine, although that is certainly important. There is at stake the character of God and our proper attitude toward His sovereignty.

We should not leave this chapter without a spirit of wonder and adoration. We dare not focus on the question, “Why not others?,” but should exclaim “Why me!” The wonder of it all is that God chose us by His own free will, and in spite of what we are or will become. What a keynote for worship!

The doctrine of election is a doctrine of grace and of salvation. We should look on the bright side of it, and not endeavor to look on the dark side of it. The great Calvinist, Benjamin B. Warfield, underscored this when he wrote,

When Christ stood at the door of Lazarus’ tomb and cried, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ only Lazarus, of all the dead that lay in the gloom of the grave that day in Palestine, or throughout the world, heard his mighty voice which raises the dead, and came forth. Shall we say that the election of Lazarus to be called forth from the tomb consigned all this immense multitude of the dead to hopeless, physical decay? It left them no doubt in the death in which they were holden and to all that comes out of this death. But it was not it which brought death upon them, or which kept them in its power. When God calls out of the human race, lying dead in their trespasses and sins, some here, some there, some everywhere, a great multitude which no man can number, to raise them by his almighty grace out of their death in sin and bring them to glory, his electing grace is glorified in the salvation it works it has nothing to do with the death of the sinner, but only with the living again of the sinner whom it calls into life. The one and single work of election is salvation.60

Second, we should look at this doctrine of election as one of great comfort for it instructs us that our salvation is the work of God, that our salvation was initiated by an act of God and not by the activity of man. Our salvation is as secure as its foundations, and, my friend, there is no surer foundation for our salvation than the elective will of God. My will can change, but God’s cannot. Therefore, my salvation is as secure and certain as the immutability of God. If He does not change (and so the Scriptures say, James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8), then my salvation is secure, for it began with His will and it rests on His immutability.

There should be comfort as well as far as our unbelieving friends and loved ones are concerned. If the salvation of my friends and loves ones depends either on my ability to convince and persuade, or their willingness to receive the gospel, Heaven help us. But if their salvation is in the hands of God, I have every reason for encouragement. First of all, God is able to save. Second, God is desirous to save (1 Timothy 2:4). Third, God loves to answer the prayers of His children. I would much prefer to plead with God for the salvation of the lost, than to rely on myself or on the receptivity of the lost.

I will never forget an experience I had when I was preaching on the East coast several years ago. I went to a certain church to preach and to consider ministering there. Before I went, I warned these Christians that I was a thoroughgoing Calvinist. They said in effect, “That’s okay, some of our best friends are Calvinists.” When I arrived, I was quickly taken to lunch with the leading man in the church movement in that area, and he was a believer only in eternal security—we would call him a one-point Calvinist. He refused to accept man’s total depravity, unconditional election, and so on. When he began to put me through my paces, I turned the argument on him and asked him this question, “Brother, why do you pray for the salvation of the lost? If your doctrine is true, then God has already done all that He can so far as man’s salvation is concerned. He died on the cross to make salvation possible for all who decide to vote for God. For what then do you pray, since God has done all He can and the rest is between you and the lost?”

How wonderful it is to know that God has not only made salvation possible, but that God actually saves men.

Now it is possible that you are thinking to yourself fatalistically, just as the objector in verse 19. If I am not saved, it is really God’s fault and there is nothing I can do about it. And furthermore, there is no sense trying to be a Christian either, because if I am elect I will be saved in spite of myself. God forbid! I must give you enough of a preview of chapter 10 to remind you that the reason you will go to hell is because you have refused to believe in Christ as your Savior. No one has or will ever come to Him for forgiveness of sins and eternal life who will be turned away. Our Lord Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me; and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

The apostle Paul wrote in chapter 10, “For whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). If you have never come to trust in Jesus Christ for your eternal forgiveness and salvation, trust in Him just now. We are saved by ‘calling on the name of the Lord,’ by acknowledging our sin and His righteousness in the Person of Jesus Christ. We are saved by trusting in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf, apart from any contribution we could ever hope to make. And, ultimately, we are saved because God in His grace chose to open our hearts to respond to the gospel (Acts 16:14).

Finally, it would seem to me that there is nothing quite so telling about the spiritual condition of the Christian as his response to the sovereignty of God. The reason why so many Christians are repulsed by the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is that this is not really the kind of God they want. They want a god of their own making, rather than a God Who is supreme and sovereign.

Ultimately, to reject the sovereignty of God is to express our own depravity and sinfulness. We do not like to think of a God Who is in complete control over us. We want to be the ‘captain of our souls’ and the ‘master of our fate.’ My exhortation to each of us is, ‘let God be God.’ And thank God that He is Who He is, sovereign, holy, immutable, and not subject to the whims of mankind. To God be the glory!


46 “There is very weighty evidence (P. 46, B,D, etc.) for the singular reading ‘the covenant,’ in which case the covenant at Sinai (Ex. xxiv. 8) would be meant. But the plural should probably be preferred (cf. Eph. ii. 12); ‘the covenants’ will then include those made by God with Abraham (Gn. xv. 18, xvii. 4ff.), with Israel in the days of Moses (Ex. xxiv. 8, xxxiv. 10; Dt. xxix. 1ff.) and Joshua (Dt. xxvii. 2ff.; Jos. viii. 30ff., xxiv. 25), and with David (2 Sa. xxiii. 5; Ps. lxxxix. 28); not to mention the new covenant, promised in the first instance to ‘the house of Israel and … the house of Judah’ (Je. xxxi. 31).” F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1963), p. 185.

47 Ibid., p. 185.

48 We should not pass by verse 5 without noting the fact that this verse is perhaps the clearest statement from the pen of Paul on the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sanday and Headlam, after considerable discussion, affirm: “in these circumstances with some slight, but only slight, hesitation we adopt the first alternative and translate ‘Of whom is the Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.’” William Sanday, and Arthur C. Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1968, reprint), p. 238.

49 It is assumed by this writer that although Paul’s starting point is that of national election, he shortly presses to individual election. This view is supported by many commentators. Murray deals with this question extensively and concludes that the election of which Paul speaks is individual for several reasons: (1) Paul’s use of the terms ‘election’ and ‘purpose’ in other passages is clearly soteriological. (2) Corporate election doesn’t answer the question Paul has raised, only individual election does. (3) In Romans 11:5, 7 the same term ‘election’ is used in contrast with ‘hardening’ and there election is clearly referring to individual salvation. (4) The clause ‘not of works, but of him that calleth’ refers to the effectual calling of the sinner to salvation through the work of Christ. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1968), Vol. II, pp. 15-20.

Note also this comment by Stifler: “The subject is not one about nations, but about individuals, not one about ethnic supremacy or leadership, but about personal salvation.” James M. Stifler, The Epistle to the Romans (Chicago: Moody Press, 1960), p. 164.

50 “The selection then, was not made either on the ground of their character or on the ground of their works. To say that God foresaw the good character and good works of Jacob is to impart an idea that is repugnant to the logic of the statement here made by Paul and contradicted by the subsequent facts. Jacob’s history does not show him to be a better man morally than his brother; his very name indicates his character. … Human merit, present or foreseen, does not enter into God’s choice.” Stifler, p. 161.

51 “We must, therefore, recognize that there is in God a holy hate that cannot be defined in terms of not loving or loving less. Furthermore, we may not tone down the reality or intensity of this hate by speaking of it as ‘anthropopathic’ or by saying that it ‘refers not so much to the emotion as to the effect.’ The case is rather, as in all virtue, that this holy hate in us is patterned after holy hate in God.” Murray, Vol. II, p. 22. These words are a summary of Murray’s excellent argument on this point in pages 21-24.

52 Quoted by Samuel Fisk, Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Bros, Inc., 1973) p. 15.

53 “God’s grace is far wider than anyone could have dared to hope, but just because it is grace, no-one is entitled to it, and no-one can demand that God should give an account of the principles on which He bestows His grace, or that He should bestow it otherwise than in fact He does. Grace in its sovereignty may impose conditions, but it cannot be made subject to them.” F. F. Bruce, p. 191.

54 “In view of the preceding verse (Exod. 9:15), the verse quoted could be understood of the preservation of Pharaoh from being cut off from the earth in that particular instance by the pestilence of boils. But the term that Paul uses here, ‘raise up,’ is one that is used in the Greek Old Testament in the sense of raising up on the scene of history for a particular purpose (cf. Numb. 24:19; II Sam. 12:11; Job 5:11; Hab. 1:6. Zech. 11:16)” Murray, Vol. II, p. 27.

55 Stifler, p. 164.

56 “Historically, Pharaoh supplied the occasion for the deliverance of the people; if there had been no ‘Pharaoh of the oppression’ there would have been no ‘Exodus, and the proclamation of the Exodus (in Scripture, and in the Passover service) would never have taken place. Paul’s interpretation of this history is as clear as the history itself, though it involves the transference of imagery from Pharaoh to Israel. In the present time, Israel (like Pharaoh in his) exists for a double purpose, (i) to provide the occasion or context for a divine act of deliverance—that in which men are freed from the law, and thereby from sin and death; (ii) to act so as to cause the publication of God’s act of deliverance through all the world—which took place precisely because Israel rejected the Gospel (xi. 11, 15, 19, 25). Thus, as Pharaoh’s plans were overruled to God’s ends, so Israel’s self-will is to be overruled to God’s ends; and his ends are merciful.” C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (New York, Harper and Row, 1957), pp. 186-187.

57 “It must be borne in mind, however, that Paul is not now dealing with God’s sovereign rights over men as men but over men as sinners.” Murray, Vol. II, p. 32.

58 “There might appear to be a discrepancy between the purport and reference of these passages in the prophecy and as applied by Paul. In Hosea they refer to the tribes of Israel and not to the Gentile nations. There should be no difficulty. Paul recognized that the rejection and restoration of Israel of which Hosea spoke have their parallel in the exclusion of the Gentiles from God’s covenant favour and then their reception into that favour.” Murray, Vol. II, p. 38.

59 “In all cases, as Philippi says, ‘the fundamental thought is still this, that in the destruction of Israel and the salvation merely of a holy remnant, a divine judicial punishment is carried out.’ Here again Paul finds in escape from the Assyrian conquest an example of God’s government of Israel as it applies to the actual situation with which he is dealing.” Murray, Vol. II, p. 40.

60 “Election,” Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, I, John E. Meeter (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Col, 1970), p. 297.

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Related Topics: Theology Proper (God), Election