A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Exhibition of Divine Sovereignty in Election
The Explanation Offered
In the face of this remarkable setting for Israel, somebody will say that the Word of God has not held true. But Paul says that is not so. The Word of God has been driven out of its course as a ship is driven. "They are not all Israel who are of Israel." There is the first hint of election.
In verses 7 and 10, Paul uses Abraham and Isaac, two instances from the Old Testament, to prove that God works on the principle of election.
Abraham had at least two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. The Jew would say the physical descent from Abraham makes him an Israelite. He declared any man born a Jew had a right to the promises of God. In contradistinction to this, Paul demonstrates that God never worked on that principle. What about Abraham himself? Though Ishmael was a son by physical birth, he is not an Israelite. God set Ishmael aside and chose Isaac instead. As he says, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." Here is a clear instance of election.
But someone might say, "Ishmael was not legitimate. He was born of an handmaid," which was true. So Paul takes the case of Jacob. What are the facts in this case? Two boys were born; they were twins. Jacob and Esau were twins; so that the Jew could not say, "Well, the one man had the prior right because he was the older." Here were two sons with the same father and the same mother, born at the same time. Not only so, but Esau was born first, and if there should be any priority on the ground of age, Esau should have had the priority. What did God do? He said, "The older shall serve the younger." Every Jew knew that. This was another instance of election, God working in absolute sovereignty (verse 11).
That is the answer to the Jew. God chooses according to His own sovereign will and sets aside all human ideas of merit and superiority.
Verse 12 states that this act of election was before they were born. Verse 13 declares the basis of that election, namely, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." That is a hard verse, but it need not disturb you if you remember the setting of it. You say, "Is it possible that God said that?" But He did not say it before they were born. It is from the book of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament (Mal. 1:2-3). It was only after Jacob and Esau had been born and had made their lives what they were, that God said, "One I loved, the other I hated." There was a reason for it. If there was an election in Israel, every Jew must admit from his own history that God works that way, choosing whom He will.
The Objections Answered
The moment you assert the election in this sense, men begin to object, and so Paul anticipates these objections and answers them.
"What shall we say then?" Is God unrighteous because He takes one man and sets aside another? "God forbid!" Away with the idea! He is going to take two cases - Moses and Pharaoh.
Paul works logically. He states his problem and then proves it from examples in the Old Testament. "For He saith unto Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." The incident recorded in Exodus 32 illustrates the same thing. Because of their idolatry at Mt. Sinai, they all deserved to be destroyed. What did God do? He destroyed three thousand and left the rest alive, when they all deserved to be destroyed.
Paul says, if you are going to say that God is unrighteous because He chooses one man and not another, then God was unrighteous at Sinai when He let you all live. Everybody should have died then, but God said, "I will have mercy." Grace, mercy, lovingkindness were the only reasons. If you do not like the doctrine of sovereignty and election, just remember that the only reason the nation was not absolutely destroyed then was because of the sovereign mercy of God.
God is also sovereign when it comes to bestowing His judgment. In the case of Pharaoh, God said, "I raised him up for this purpose, that I might show forth my Name." God does not say here that he "made" Pharaoh for this purpose. It means He made him to be in the place he was, He permitted him to be king of Egypt that through his very hardness God might show forth His power. God said, "Let my people go." Pharaoh said, "No!" Pharaoh hardened his heart. God said, "Let them go." Pharaoh said, "I won't let them go!" God poured out plagues upon him, and Pharaoh steeled his heart the more, until finally there came a time when God stepped in and He hardened Pharaoh's heart.
To understand this, let us imagine a man goes to beg and sets an alarm clock. The first morning it goes off, he gets up. But after a week he says, "I will sleep a little longer." There will come a time when he will not even hear the clock go off. You say, "that is a law of nature," but who is behind nature? In other words, the God-ordained psychological laws take their course, and it may be said that a man hardens himself, and yet in the ultimate sense, God hardens him. And so, the man goes into a church and hears the gospel, and first of all rejects it, then keeps on hardening his heart. Soon he will not need to harden his heart, the heart will just go on hardening. God will finally step in and keep on hardening the man's heart.
But Paul uses it here to show God's sovereign right. To borrow an illustration: here are two men; one takes poison, the other does not. Can a man take poison and escape the consequences? He cannot. Can a man reject God's counsel and expect to escape? He cannot!
The other objection is in verse 19: "Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will?" This man will insist, "If all this you say is true, if every man is as God made him, why does God find fault with my sinfulness? I am what I am. God made me this way." Thee is a subtle lie involved in that statement. God did make man, but He did NOT make the sinner what he is. However, Paul does not intend to argue that question. But He does give the man what he deserves, a rebuke. "O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" Who are you, to talk that way? A creature of the dust! And the contrast is between man and God. O man, who are you that you should reply against God? What right have you to say anything like that? What right have you to cavil even in the very presence of the sovereignty of God? None whatever! "Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why has thou made me thus?" Is that the way man can talk, for "hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor?"
Now perhaps that is the very crux of the problem of this chapter. You say, "That sounds terrible - that God has the right to take the clay and make one man a sinner and another a righteous man!' But he does not say that. God makes no man a sinner. Remember this: God takes the clay as He finds it, and the "clay" here is man who is already a sinner. "Thou art the potter, we are the clay." Paul is not talking about the creation of man. God created him goo, holy, and righteous, but the clay that the apostle is talking about here is sinful clay. Out of that clay every man stands alike. Every man is a sinner, every man deserves judgment. God has a right to pick out one man from that mass and have mercy upon him, and let the other man go if He wants to. Paul is not talking here about God creating man in sin. God did no such thing!
After Paul rebukes the objector here, he shows how God acts. What are the actual facts? "He endureth ... vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." God was merciful even in the case of men who deserved destruction. "That He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory."
Two different classes of vessels are referred to here - one class of vessels is fitted for destruction, the other is fitted for glory. Now, who fits the vessels for destruction? Does it say God did it? No, it does not say that. "Fitted for destruction" - the middle voice of the Greek verb means "that man fits himself for destruction". God never does that.
Who prepared these vessels for glory? God did that. If any man ever goes to hell (and a good many men will go unless they turn) it will be his own fault. It will be because he rejected the mercy and longsuffering of God. He will fit himself for destruction. On the other hand, if any man ever reaches heaven it will not be because he fitted himself for heaven, but because God fitted him for heaven!
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 62 -The Proof Given")