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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.”

20. But, O man! who art thou? etc. 303303     “But” is not sufficiently emphatical here; μενοῦνγε; “yes, verily,” in Romans 10:18; “yea, rather,” in Luke 11:28; “doubtless,” in Philippians 3:8; it may be rendered here, “nay, rather.” — Ed. As it is a participle in Greek, we may read what follows in the present tense, who disputest, or contendest, or strivest in opposition to God; for it is expressed in Greek according to this meaning, — “Who art thou who enterest into a dispute with God?” But there is not much difference in the sense. 304304     “Quis es qui contendas judicio cum Deo;” τίς εἶ ὁ ἀνταποκρινόμενος τῳ Θεῳ “that repliest against God,” is the rendering of Macknight and Stuart; “who enterest into a debate with God,” is what Doddridge gives. The verb occurs once in another place, Luke 14:6, and “answer again” is our version. Schleusner says that ἀντὶ prefixed to verbs is often redundant. In Job 16:8, and 32:12, this compound is used by the Septuagint simply in the sense of answering, for ענה He renders it here, “cure Deo altercari — to quarrel, or, dispute with God.” — Ed. In this first answer, he does nothing else but beat down impious blasphemy by an argument taken from the condition of man: he will presently subjoin another, by which he will clear the righteousness of God from all blame.

It is indeed evident that no cause is adduced higher than the will of God. Since there was a ready answer, that the difference depends on just reasons, why did not Paul adopt such a brief reply? But he placed the will of God in the highest rank for this reason, — that it alone may suffice us for all other causes. No doubt, if the objection had been false, that God according to his own will rejects those whom he honors not with his favor, and chooses those whom he gratuitously loves, a refutation would not have been neglected by Paul. The ungodly object and say, that men are exempted from blame, if the will of God holds the first place in their salvation, or in their perdition. Does Paul deny this? Nay, by his answer he confirms it, that is, that God determines concerning men, as it seems good to him, and that, men in vain and madly rise up to contend with God; for he assigns, by his own right, whatever lot he pleases to what he forms.

But they who say that Paul, wanting reason, had recourse to reproof, cast a grievous calumny on the Holy Spirit: for the things calculated to vindicate God’s justice, and ready at hand, he was at first unwilling to adduce, for they could not have been comprehended; yea, he so modifies his second reason, that he does not undertake a full defence, but in such a manner as to give a sufficient demonstration of God’s justice, if it be considered by us with devout humility and reverence.

He reminds man of what is especially meet for him to remember, that is, of his own condition; as though he had said, — “Since thou art man, thou ownest thyself to be dust and ashes; why then doest thou contend with the Lord about that which thou art not able to understand?” In a word, the Apostle did not bring forward what might have been said, but what is suitable to our ignorance. Proud men clamour, because Paul, admitting that men are rejected or chosen by the secret counsel of God, alleges no cause; as though the Spirit of God were silent for want of reason, and not rather, that by his silence he reminds us, that a mystery which our minds cannot comprehend ought to be reverently adored, and that he thus checks the wantonness of human curiosity. Let us then know, that God does for no other reason refrain from speaking, but that he sees that we cannot contain his immense wisdom in our small measure; and thus regarding our weakness, he leads us to moderation and sobriety.

Does what is formed? etc. We see that Paul dwells continually on this, — that the will of God, though its reason is hid from us, is to be counted just; for he shows that he is deprived of his right, if he is not at liberty to determine what he sees meet concerning his creatures. This seems unpleasant to the ears of many. There are also those who pretend that God is exposed to great reproach were such a power ascribed to him, as though they in their fastidiousness were better divines than Paul, who has laid down this as the rule of humility to the faithful, that they are to admire the sovereignty of God, and not to estimate it by their own judgment.

But he represses this arrogance of contending with God by a most apt similitude, in which he seems to have alluded to Isaiah 45:9, rather than to Jeremiah 18:6; for nothing else is taught us by Jeremiah, than that Israel was in the hand of the Lord, so that he could for his sins wholly break him in pieces, as a potter the earthen vessel. But Isaiah ascends higher, “Woe to him,” he says, “who speaks against his maker;” that is, the pot that contends with the former of the clay; “shall the clay say to its former, what doest thou?” etc. And surely there is no reason for a mortal man to think himself better than earthen vessel, when he compares himself with God. We are not however to be over-particular in applying this testimony to our present subject, since Paul only meant to allude to the words of the Prophet, in order that the similitude might have more weight. 305305     The words in Romans 9:20 are taken almost literally from Isaiah 29:16, only the latter clause is somewhat different; the sentence is, “μὴ ἐρεῖ τὸ πλάσμα τῷ πλάσαντι αὐτὸ οὐ σύ με ἔπλασας — shall what is formed say to its former, Thou hast not formed me?” This is a faithful rendering of the Hebrew.
   Then the words in Romans 9:21 are not verbally taken from either of the two places referred to above; but the simile is adopted. — Ed.

21. Has not the worker of the clay? etc. The reason why what is formed ought not to contend with its former, is, that the former does nothing but what he has a right to do. By the word power, he means not that the maker has strength to do according to his will, but that this privilege rightly and justly belongs to him. For he intends not to claim for God any arbitrary power but what ought to be justly ascribed to him.

And further, bear this in mind, — that as the potter takes away nothing from the clay, whatever form he may give it; so God takes away nothing from man, in whatever condition he may create him. Only this is to be remembered, that God is deprived of a portion of his honor, except such an authority over men be conceded to him as to constitute him the arbitrator of life and death. 306306     The metaphor in these verses is doubtless to be interpreted according to the context. Not only Calvin, but many others, have deduced from it what is not consistent with what the next verse contains, which gives the necessary explanation. By the “mass” or the lump of clay, is not meant mankind, contemplated as creatures, but as fallen creatures; or, as Augustine and Pareus call them, “massa damnata — the condemned mass;” for they are called in the next verse vessels of wrath, that is, the objects of wrath; and such are all by nature, according to what Paul says in Ephesians 2:3; “we were,” he says, “by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
   “The words, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,’ imply that all deserved wrath; so that the lump of clay in the hands of the potter must refer to men already existing in God’s foreknowledge as fallen creatures.” — Scott

   In all the instances in which this metaphor is used by Isaiah and Jeremiah, it is applied to the Jews in their state of degeneracy, and very pointedly in Isaiah 64:8: where it is preceded, in the 6th verse, by that remarkable passage, “We are all as an unclean thing,” etc. The clay then, or the mass, is the mass of mankind as corrupted and depraved. — Ed.

22. And what, etc. A second answer, by which he briefly shows, that though the counsel of God is in fact incomprehensible, yet his unblamable justice shines forth no less in the perdition of the reprobate than in the salvation of the elect. He does not indeed give a reason for divine election, so as to assign a cause why this man is chosen and that man rejected; for it was not meet that the things contained in the secret counsel of God should be subjected to the judgment of men; and, besides, this mystery is inexplicable. He therefore keeps us from curiously examining those things which exceed human comprehension. He yet shows, that as far as God’s predestination manifests itself, it appears perfectly just.

The particles, εἰ δὲ, used by Paul, I take to mean, And what if? so that the whole sentence is a question; and thus the sense will be more evident: and there is here an ellipsis, when we are to consider this as being understood, — “Who then can charge him with unrighteousness, or arraign him?for here appears nothing but the most perfect course of justice. 307307     Critics have in various ways attempted to supply the ellipsis, but what is here proposed is most approved. Beza considered the corresponding clause to be at Romans 9:30, and viewed the intervening verses as parenthetic, “And if God,” etc., — “What then shall we say?” Grotius subjoined, “Does God do any wrong?” Elsner,” Has he not the power?” and Wolfius,” What canst, thou say against God?” Stuart proposes to repeat the question in Romans 9:20, “Who art thou?” etc. Some connect this verse with the question in Romans 9:20, and include the latter part of it and Romans 9:21 in a parenthesis. Whatever way may be adopted, the sense is materially the same. It has also been suggested that εἰ δὲ is for εἴπερ, since, seeing, 2 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Peter 2:3. In this case no apodosis is necessary. But we may take εἰ as meaning since, and δὲ as an iliatire, and render the three verses thus, —
   22. “Since then God willed (or, it was God’s will) to show His wrath and to make known his power, he endured with much forbearance the vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction;

   23. So he willed to make known the riches of his glory towards the vessels of mercy, whom he has fore-prepared for glory,

   24. Even us, whom he has called not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles.”

   The verb ἐστι, or ἦν, is often understood after participles, especially in Hebrew; and καὶ has the meaning of ‘so’ in some instances, Matthew 6:10; Acts 7:51; Galatians 1:9; and in some cases, as Schleusner says, without being preceded by any particle of comparison, such as Matthew 12:26, and 1 John 2:27, 28; but εἰ; here stands somewhat in that character.

   The beginning of Romans 9:23 presents an anomaly, if, with Stuart and others, we consider “willing:” or wills to be understood, as it is followed in the preceding verse by an infinitive, and here by a subjunctive mood. But Beza, Grotius, and Hammond, seem to regard the verb “endured,” to be here, as it were, repeated, which gives the same meaning to the passage as that which is given to it by CalvinEd.

But if we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being reprehended in this dispensation? But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.

And he has mentioned vessels, as commonly signifying instruments; for whatever is done by all creatures, is, as it were, the ministration of divine power. For the best reason then are we, the faithful, called the vessels of mercy, whom the Lord uses as instruments for the manifestation of his mercy; and the reprobate are the vessels of wrath, because they serve to show forth the judgments of God.

23. That he might also make known the riches of his glory, etc. I doubt not but the two particles καὶ ἵνα, is an instance of a construction, where the first word is put last; (ὕστερον πρότερον) and that this clause may better unite with the former, I have rendered it, That he might also make known, etc. (Ut notas quoque faceret, etc.) It is the second reason which manifests the glory of God in the destruction of the reprobate, because the greatness of divine mercy towards the elect is hereby more clearly made known; for how do they differ from them except that they are delivered by the Lord from the same gulf of destruction? and this by no merit of their own, but through his gratuitous kindness. It cannot then be but that the infinite mercy of God towards the elect must appear increasingly worthy of praise, when we see how miserable are all they who escape not his wrath.

The word glory, which is here twice mentioned, I consider to have been used for God’s mercy, a metonymy of effect for the cause; for his chief praise or glory is in acts of kindness. So in Ephesians 1:13, after having taught us, that we have been adopted to the praise of the glory of his grace, he adds, that we are sealed by the Spirit of promise unto the praise of his glory, the word grace being left out. He wished then to show, that the elect are instruments or vessels through whom God exercises his mercy, that through them he may glorify his name.

Though in the second clause he asserts more expressly that it is God who prepares the elect for glory, as he had simply said before that the reprobate are vessels prepared for destruction; there is yet no doubt but that the preparation of both is connected with the secret counsel of God. Paul might have otherwise said, that the reprobate give up or cast themselves into destruction; but he intimates here, that before they are born they are destined to their lot.

24. Whom he also called, etc. From the reasoning which he has been hitherto carrying on respecting the freedom of divine election, two things follow, — that the grace of God is not so confined to the Jewish people that it does not also flow to other nations, and diffuse itself through the whole world, — and then, that it is not even so tied to the Jews that it comes without exception to all the children of Abraham according to the flesh; for if God’s election is based on his own good pleasure alone, wherever his will turns itself, there his election exists. Election being then established, the way is now in a manner prepared for him to proceed to those things which he designed to say respecting the calling of the Gentiles, and also respecting the rejection of the Jews; the first of which seemed strange for its novelty, and the other wholly unbecoming. As, however, the last had more in it to offend, he speaks in the first place of that which was less disliked. He says then, that the vessels of God’s mercy, whom he selects for the glory of his name, are taken from every people, from the Gentiles no less than from the Jews.

But though in the relative whom the rule of grammar is not fully observed by Paul, 309309     It is an instance of Hebraism, the use of a double pronounwhom and us, governed by the same verb. — Ed. yet his object was, by making as it were a transition, to subjoin that we are the vessels of God’s glory, who have been taken in part from the Jews and in part from the Gentiles; and he proves from the calling of God, that there is no difference between nations made in election. For if to be descended from the Gentiles was no hinderance that God should not call us, it is evident that the Gentiles are by no means to be excluded from the kingdom of God and the covenant of eternal salvation.

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