World Wide Study Bible


a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary

9. God's Sovereign Choice

1I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren's sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh: 4who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; 5whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. 6But it is not as though the word of God hath come to nought. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel: 7neither, because they are Abraham's seed, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8That is, it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed. 9For this is a word of promise, According to this season will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. 10And not only so; but Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac-- 11for the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, 12it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13Even as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. 14What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. 16So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy. 17For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth. 18So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will be hardeneth. 19Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will? 20Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus? 21Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? 22What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction: 23and that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared unto glory, 24even us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles? 25As he saith also in Hosea,

I will call that my people, which was not my people;

And her beloved, that was not beloved.

26And it shall be, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people,

There shall they be called sons of the living God.

27And Isaiah crieth concerning Israel, If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that shall be saved: 28for the Lord will execute his word upon the earth, finishing it and cutting it short. 29And, as Isaiah hath said before,

Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed,

We had become as Sodom, and had been made like unto Gomorrah.

30What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, who followed not after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith: 31but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by works. They stumbled at the stone of stumbling; 33even as it is written,

Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence:

And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame.

Select a resource above

11. For when the children, etc. He now begins to ascend higher, even to show the cause of this difference, which he teaches us is nowhere else to be found except in the election of God. He had indeed before briefly noticed, that there was a difference between the natural children of Abraham, that though all were adopted by circumcision into a participation of the covenant, yet the grace of God was not effectual in them all; and hence that they, who enjoy the favor of God, are the children of the promise. But how it thus happened, he has been either silent or has obscurely hinted. Now indeed he openly ascribes the whole cause to the election of God, and that gratuitous, and in no way depending on men; so that in the salvation of the godly nothing higher (nihil superius) must be sought than the goodness of God, and nothing higher in the perdition of the reprobate than his just severity.

Then the first proposition is, — “As the blessing of the covenant separates the Israelitic nation from all other people, so the election of God makes a distinction between men in that nation, while he predestinates some to salvation, and others to eternal condemnation.” The second proposition is, — “There is no other basis for this election than the goodness of God alone, and also since the fall of Adam, his mercy; which embraces whom he pleases, without any regard whatever to their works.” The third is, — “The Lord in his gratuitous election is free and exempt from the necessity of imparting equally the same grace to all; but, on the contrary, he passes by whom he wills, and whom he wills he chooses.” All these things Paul briefly includes in one sentence: he then goes on to other things.

Moreover, by these words, When the children had not yet been born, nor had done any good or evil, he shows, that God in making a difference could not have had any regard to works, for they were not yet done. Now they who argue on the other side, and say, that this is no reason why the election of God should not make a difference between men according to the merits of works, for God foresees who those are who by future works would be worthy or unworthy of his grace, are not more clear-sighted than Paul, but stumble at a principle in theology, which ought to be well known to all Christians, namely, that God can see nothing in the corrupt nature of man, such as was in Esau and Jacob, to induce him to manifest his favor. When therefore he says, that neither of them had then done any good or evil, what he took as granted must also be added, — that they were both the children of Adam, by nature sinful, and endued with no particle of righteousness.

I do not dwell thus long on explaining these things, because the meaning of the Apostle is obscure; but as the Sophists, being not content with his plain sense, endeavour to evade it by frivolous distinctions, I wished to show, that Paul was by no means ignorant of those things which they allege.

It may further be said, that though that corruption alone, which is diffused through the whole race of man, is sufficient, before it breaks out, as they say, into action, for condemnation, and hence it follows, that Esau was justly rejected, for he was naturally a child of wrath, it was yet necessary, lest any doubt should remain, as though his condition became worse through any vice or fault, that sins no less than virtues should be excluded. It is indeed true, that the proximate cause of reprobation is the curse we all inherit from Adam; yet, that we may learn to acquiesce in the bare and simple good pleasure of God, Paul withdraws us from this view, until he has established this doctrine, — That God has a sufficiently just reason for electing and for reprobating, in his own will. 293293     Archbishop Usher asks this question, “Did God, before he made man, determine to save some and reject others?” To this he gives this answer, — “Yes, surely; before they had done either good or evil, God in his eternal counsel set them apart.” It is the same sentiment that is announced here by Calvin But to deduce it from what is said of Jacob and Esau, does not seem legitimate, inasmuch as they were in a fallen condition by nature, and the reference is evidently made to anything done personally by themselves. Election and reprobation most clearly presuppose man as fallen and lost: it is hence indeed, that the words derive their meaning. That it was God’s eternal purpose to choose some of man’s fallen race, and to leave others to perish, is clearly taught us: but this is a different question from the one touched upon here, — that this purpose was irrespective of man’s fall, — a sentiment which, as far as I can see, is not recognised nor taught in Scripture. And not only Calvin, but many other divines, both before and after him, seem to have gone in this respect somewhat beyond the limits of revelation; it is true, by a process of reasoning apparently obvious; but when we begin to reason on this high and mysterious subject, we become soon bewildered and lost in mazes of difficulties. — Ed.

That the purpose of God according to election, etc. He speaks of the gratuitous election of God almost in every instance. If works had any place, he ought to have said, — “That his reward might stand through works;” but he mentions the purpose of God, which is included, so to speak, in his own good pleasure alone. And that no ground of dispute might remain on the subject, he has removed all doubt by adding another clause, according to election, and then a third, not through works, but through him who calls. Let us now then apply our minds more closely to this passage: Since the purpose of God according to election is established in this way, — that before the brothers were born, and had done either good or evil, one was rejected and the other chosen; it hence follows, that when any one ascribes the cause of the difference to their works, he thereby subverts the purpose of God. Now, by adding, not through works, but through him who calls, he means, not on account of works, but of the calling only; for he wishes to exclude works altogether. We have then the whole stability of our election inclosed in the purpose of God alone: here merits avail nothing, as they issue in nothing but death; no worthiness is regarded, for there is none; but the goodness of God reigns alone. False then is the dogma, and contrary to God’s word, — that God elects or rejects, as he foresees each to be worthy or unworthy of his favor. 294294     Nothing can be conceived more conclusive in argument than what is contained here. The idea of foreseen works, as the reason or the ground of election, is wholly excluded. The choice is expressly denied to be on account of any works, and is as expressly ascribed to the sovereign will of God.
   “He does not oppose works to faith, but to him who calls, or to the calling, which precedes faith, that is, to that calling which is according to God’s purpose. Paul means, that the difference between Jacob and Esau was made through the sole will and pleasure of God, not through their wills or works, existing or foreseen.”Poli. Syn.

   Yet some of the Fathers, as Chrysostom and Theodoret, as well as some modern divines, ascribe election to foreseen works. How this is reconcilable with the argument of the Apostle, and with the instances he adduces, it is indeed a very hard matter to see. One way by which the Apostle’s argument is evaded, is, that the election here is to temporal and outward privileges. Be it so: let this be granted; but it is adduced by the Apostle as an illustration — and of what? most clearly of spiritual and eternal election. He refers both to the same principle, to the free choice of God, and not to anything in man. “God foresaw the disposition of each.”Theodoret and Chrysostom “His election corresponds with the foreseen disposition of men.”Theodoret “It was done by the prescience of God, whereby he knew while yet unborn, what each would be.”Augustine These are quotations made by a modern writer (Bosanquet) with approbation: but surely nothing could be suggested more directly contrary to the statements and the argument of the Apostle. There is a mistake, I apprehend, as to the last quotation; perhaps similar to that made in quoting Augustine on the latter part of the 7th chapter of this Epistle, where the writer quotes a sentiment of Augustine, which he afterwards retracted, a thing which has been often done by the advocates of Popery, but by no means becoming a Protestant. — Ed.