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God’s Election of Israel


I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

6 It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, 7and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. 9For this is what the promise said, “About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” 10Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. 11Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” 13As it is written,

“I have loved Jacob,

but I have hated Esau.”

14 What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For 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 it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. 17For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.

God’s Wrath and Mercy

19 You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; 23and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ”my people,’

and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ”


“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’

there they shall be called children of the living God.”

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; 28for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.” 29And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us,

we would have fared like Sodom

and been made like Gomorrah.”

Israel’s Unbelief

30 What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; 31but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. 32Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33as it is written,

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall,

and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

14. What then shall we say? etc. The flesh cannot hear of this wisdom of God without being instantly disturbed by numberless questions, and without attempting in a manner to call God to an account. We hence find that the Apostle, whenever he treats of some high mystery, obviates the many absurdities by which he knew the minds of men would be otherwise possessed; for when men hear anything of what Scripture teaches respecting predestination, they are especially entangled with very many impediments.

The predestination of God is indeed in reality a labyrinth, from which the mind of man can by no means extricate itself: but so unreasonable is the curiosity of man, that the more perilous the examination of a subject is, the more boldly he proceeds; so that when predestination is discussed, as he cannot restrain himself within due limits, he immediately, through his rashness, plunges himself, as it were, into the depth of the sea. What remedy then is there for the godly? Must they avoid every thought of predestination? By no means: for as the Holy Spirit has taught us nothing but what it behoves us to know, the knowledge of this would no doubt be useful, provided it be confined to the word of God. Let this then be our sacred rule, to seek to know nothing concerning it, except what Scripture teaches us: when the Lord closes his holy mouth, let us also stop the way, that we may not go farther. But as we are men, to whom foolish questions naturally occur, let us hear from Paul how they are to be met.

Is there unrighteousness with God? Monstrous surely is the madness of the human mind, that it is more disposed to charge God with unrighteousness than to blame itself for blindness. Paul indeed had no wish to go out of his way to find out things by which he might confound his readers; but he took up as it were from what was common the wicked suggestion, which immediately enters the minds of many, when they hear that God determines respecting every individual according to his own will. It is indeed, as the flesh imagines, a kind of injustice, that God should pass by one and show regard to another.

In order to remove this difficulty, Paul divides his subject into two parts; in the, former of which he speaks of the elect, and in the latter of the reprobate; and in the one he would have us to contemplate the mercy of God, and in the other to acknowledge his righteous judgment. His first reply is, that the thought that there is injustice with God deserves to be abhorred, and then he shows that with regard to the two parties, there can be none.

But before we proceed further, we may observe that this very objection clearly proves, that inasmuch as God elects some and passes by others, the cause is not to be found in anything else but in his own purpose; for if the difference had been based on works, Paul would have to no purpose mentioned this question respecting the unrighteousness of God, no suspicion could have been entertained concerning it if God dealt with every one according to his merit. It may also, in the second place, be noticed, that though he saw that this doctrine could not be touched without exciting instant clamours and dreadful blasphemies, he yet freely and openly brought it forward; nay, he does not conceal how much occasion for murmuring and clamour is given to us, when we hear that before men are born their lot is assigned to each by the secret will of God; and yet, notwithstanding all this, he proceeds, and without any subterfuges, declares what he had learned from the Holy Spirit. It hence follows, that their fancies are by no means to be endured, who aim to appear wiser than the Holy Spirit, in removing and pacifying offences. That they may not criminate God, they ought honestly to confess that the salvation or the perdition of men depends on his free election. Were they to restrain their minds from unholy curiosity, and to bridle their tongues from immoderate liberty, their modesty and sobriety would be deserving of approbation; but to put a restraint on the Holy Spirit and on Paul, what audacity it is! Let then such magnanimity ever prevail in the Church of God, as that godly teachers may not be ashamed to make an honest profession of the true doctrine, however hated it may be, and also to refute whatever calumnies the ungodly may bring forward.

15. For he saith to Moses, etc. 296296     The quotation is from Exodus 33:19, and literally from the Septuagint. The verb ἐλεέω is to be taken here in the sense of showing favour rather than mercy, according to the meaning of the Hebrew word; for the idea of mercy is what the other verb, οἰκτείρω, conveys. Schleusner renders it here and in some other passages in this sense. The rendering then would be — “I will favour whom I favour,” that is, whom I choose to favour; “and I will pity whom I pity,” which means whom I choose to pity. The latter verb in both clauses is in Hebrew in the future tense, but rendered properly in Greek in the present, as it commonly expresses a present act. — Ed. With regard to the elect, God cannot be charged with any unrighteousness; for according to his good pleasure he favors them with mercy: and yet even in this case the flesh finds reasons for murmuring, for it cannot concede to God the right of showing favor to one and not to another, except the cause be made evident. As then it seems unreasonable that some should without merit be preferred to others, the petulancy of men quarrels with God, as though he deferred to persons more than what is right. Let us now see how Paul defends the righteousness of God.

In the first place, he does by no means conceal or hide what he saw would be disliked, but proceeds to maintain it with inflexible firmness. And in the second place, he labours not to seek out reasons to soften its asperity, but considers it enough to check vile barkings by the testimonies of Scripture.

It may indeed appear a frigid defence that God is not unjust, because he is merciful to whom he pleases; but as God regards his own authority alone as abundantly sufficient, so that he needs the defence of none, Paul thought it enough to appoint him the vindicator of his own right. Now Paul brings forward here the answer which Moses received from the Lord, when he prayed for the salvation of the whole people, “I will show mercy,” was God’s answer, “on whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” By this oracle the Lord declared that he is a debtor to none of mankind, and that whatever he gives is a gratuitous benefit, and then that his kindness is free, so that he can confer it on whom he pleases; and lastly, that no cause higher than his own will can be thought of, why he does good and shows favor to some men but not to all. The words indeed mean as much as though he had said, “From him to whom I have once purposed to show mercy, I will never take it away; and with perpetual kindness will I follow him to whom I have determined to be kind.” And thus he assigns the highest reason for imparting grace, even his own voluntary purpose, and also intimates that he has designed his mercy peculiarly for some; for it is a way of speaking which excludes all outward causes, as when we claim to ourselves the free power of acting, we say, “I will do what I mean to do.” The relative pronoun also expressly intimates, that mercy is not to all indiscriminately. His freedom is taken away from God, when his election is bound to external causes.

The only true cause of salvation is expressed in the two words used by Moses. The first is חנן, chenen, which means to favor or to show kindness freely and bountifully; the other is רחם, rechem, which is to be treated with mercy. Thus is confirmed what Paul intended, that the mercy of God, being gratuitous, is under no restraint, but turns wherever it pleases. 297297     These two words clearly show that election regards man as fallen; for favour is what is shown to the undeserving, and mercy to the wretched and miserable, so that the choice that is made is out of the corrupted mass of mankind, contemplated in that state, and not as in a state of innocency. Augustine says, “Deus alios facit vasa irae secundum meritus; alios vasa miserieordiae secundum gratiam — God makes some vessels of wrath according to their merit; others vessels of mercy according to his grace.” In another place he says, “Deus ex eadem massa damnata originaliter, tanquam figulus, fecit aliud vas ad honorem, aliud in contumeliam — God, as a potter, made of the same originally condemned mass, one vessel to honor, another to dishonor.” “Two sorts of vessels God forms out of the great lump of fallen mankind.” — Henry

16. It is not then of him who wills, etc. From the testimony adduced he draws this inference, that beyond all controversy our election is not to be ascribed to our diligence, nor to our striving, nor to our efforts, but that it is wholly to be referred to the counsel of God. That none of you may think that they who are elected are elected because they are deserving, or because they had in any way procured for themselves the favor of God, or, in short, because they had in them a particle of worthiness by which God might be moved, take simply this view of the matter, that it is neither by our will nor efforts, (for he has put running for striving or endeavour,) that we are counted among the elect, but that it wholly depends on the divine goodness, which of itself chooses those who neither will, nor strive, nor even think of such a thing. And they who reason from this passage, that there is in us some power to strive, but that it effects nothing of itself unless assisted by God’s mercy, maintain what is absurd; for the Apostle shows not what is in us, but excludes all our efforts. It is therefore a mere sophistry to say that we will and run, because Paul denies that it is of him who wills or runs, since he meant nothing else than that neither willing nor running can do anything.

They are, however, to be condemned who remain secure and idle on the pretence of giving place to the grace of God; for though nothing is done by their own striving, yet that effort which is influenced by God is not ineffectual. These things, then, are not said that we may quench the Spirit of God, while kindling sparks within us, by our waywardness and sloth; but that we may understand that everything we have is from him, and that we may hence learn to ask all things of him, to hope for all things from him, and to ascribe all things to him, while we are prosecuting the work of our salvation with fear and trembling.

Pelagius has attempted by another sophistical and worthless cavil to evade this declaration of Paul, that it is not only of him who wills and runs, because the mercy of God assists. But Augustine, not less solidly than acutely, thus refuted him, “If the will of man is denied to be the cause of election, because it is not the sole cause, but only in part; so also we may say that it is not of mercy but of him who wills and runs, for where there is a mutual cooperation, there ought to be a reciprocal commendation: but unquestionably the latter sentiment falls through its own absurdity.” Let us then feel assured that the salvation of those whom God is pleased to save, is thus ascribed to his mercy, that nothing may remain to the contrivance of man. 298298     The terms “willing” and “running” are evidently derived from the circumstances connected with the history of Esau. “In vain,” says Turrettin, “did Esau seek the blessing. In vain did Isaac hasten to grant it, and in vain did Esau run to procure venison for his father; neither the father’s willingness nor the running of the son availed anything; God’s favour overruled the whole.” But the subject handled is God’s sovereignty in the manifestation of his favour and grace. Esau was but a type of the unbelieving Jews, when the gospel was proclaimed, and of thousands of such as are in name Christians. There is some sort of “willing,” and a great deal of “running,” and yet the blessing is not attained. There was much of apparent willing, and running in the strict formality and zeal of Pharisaism, and there is much of the same kind still in the austerities and mechanical worship of superstition, and also in the toils and devotions of self-righteousness. The word or the revealed will of God is in all these instances misunderstood and neglected.
   Isaac’s “willingness” to give the blessing to Esau, notwithstanding the announcement made at his birth, and Rebecca’s conduct in securing it to Jacob, are singular instances of man’s imperfections, and of the overruling power of God. Isaac acted as though he had forgotten what God had expressed as his will; and Rebecca acted as though God could not effect his purpose without her interference, and an interference, too, in a way highly improper and sinful. It was the trial of faith, and the faith of both halted exceedingly; yet the purpose of God was still fulfilled, but the improper manner in which it was fulfilled was afterwards visited with God’s displeasure. — Ed.

Nor is there much more colour for what some advance, who think that these things are said in the person of the ungodly; for how can it be right to turn passages of Scripture in which the justice of God is asserted, for the purpose of reproaching him with tyranny? and then is it probable that Paul, when the refutation was at hand and easy, would have suffered the Scripture to be treated with gross mockery? But such subterfuges have they laid hold on, who absurdly measured this incomparable mystery of God by their own judgment. To their delicate and tender ears this doctrine was more grating than that they could think it worthy of an Apostle. But they ought rather to have bent their own stubbornness to the obedience of the Spirit, that they might not surrender themselves up to their gross inventions.

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