We concluded our previous article with the remark that the promise of God, according to, is particular and wholly unconditional. It cannot be true, writes the apostle, that the word of God has taken none effect. God’s promise never fails. This, applied to the phenomenon of Israel’s rejection, can only be understood if we bear in mind, in the first place, that “in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” The children of the flesh are not the children of God; the natural seed of Abraham are not all children; only the children of the promise are counted for the seed. Hence, the promise of God never fails inasmuch as that promise was never intended for all. And, in the second place, the promise of God is only intended for the children of the promise. And the children of the promise are the children born of the promise, by the power of the promise. Hence, the promise of God never fails for it is God Himself Who fulfills His own promise in the people of His eternal good pleasure.
—We quote: “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth:) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
Let us note the following facts here. In the first place, verse 13 of this passage of the Word of God must retain its full significance. Attempts have been made to weaken this text, to read here: Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I loved less. Also Hodge would ascribe this interpretation to verse 13 of this chapter. This interpretation, however, is impossible. And this is abundantly evident from, where we read: “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast Thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, Thy people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever.” The meaning of these words is clear. The hatred of the Lord toward Esau, according to this passage, does not merely imply that Jehovah loved Esau less than Jacob, but it is hatred which will lay ‘Edom desolate; yea, they are a people against whom the Lord hath indignation even for ever.
Secondly, this election and reprobation of Jacob and Esau must be applied to them, personally. The attempt is made to nationalize their election and reprobation. God, it is said, would not hate individuals, such as Jacob or Esau. The words of the apostle must be understood in a national sense. Jacob and Esau are meant here as nations. And even as God’s love of Israel as a nation does not imply that all the Israelites were true children of the Lord, so also God’s hatred of the descendants of Esau, Edom, does not necessarily imply that all the Edomites were therefore children of wrath and of disobedience. In support of this view attention is called, first, to the fact that Malachi speaks of Edom, and, secondly, that the Lord Himself declares to Rebecca () that two nations or peoples would be born of her. To this we answer, in the first place, that any interpretation of this passage which would nationalize the expression of verse 13 must necessarily include the two persons, Jacob and Esau. We do not deny that Malachi speaks of Edom and that the Lord declares to Rebecca that two peoples would be born of her. However, to these peoples surely belong the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. But, in the second place, the passage in Romans 9 is surely and undeniably personal. We read of Rebecca and Isaac and of there twin sons, Jacob and Esau, and that the elder would serve the younger. In the book of Genesis we are told that Rebecca inquired of the Lord before the birth of her two sons. We are familiar with the answer of the Lord. Surely, whatever the Lord told her was literally fulfilled also in the lives of her two sons. Besides, Rebecca inquired of the Lord, did she not, concerning the two sons that were in her bosom and it is with respect to them that Jehovah answers her. And, finally, the apostle, Paul, is speaking in this context in Romans 9 of the children of Abraham. He is not speaking here of peoples, of nations, but of the natural children of Abraham. And having spoken in verses 6-8 of Isaac, he continues in verses 10-13 and calls attention to the individual children of Isaac and Rebecca. Verses 10-13, therefore, call our attention to the twin sons of Rebecca.
Thirdly, Jacob’s election and Esau’s reprobation are an election and reprobation unto salvation. Also this has been disputed. What we read here, it is said, is merely temporary and temporal. Esau, and his descendants, too, was merely rejected in the sense that he was cut off from the historical, temporal blessings of the Old Dispensation. This we grant. Esau and his descendants were indeed cut off from the covenant of God in the historical, Old Dispensational sense of the word. But, to be cut off in the Old Testament from these historical blessings implied nothing less than the separation from God’s eternal covenant. There was no salvation in the Old Dispensation apart from Israel. Hence, the election of Jacob and the rejection of Esau must indeed be regarded as an election and reprobation unto eternity. Need we prove that this is the idea of the apostle according to the context? Does he not write that he could wish himself accursed from Christ for the sake of his brethren according to the flesh? Does he not speak of the great heaviness and continual sorrow of his heart exactly because Israel, as according to the flesh, does not share the promise of the Lord, a promise which saves even unto the uttermost? Besides, verse 13 speaks of the love of the Lord toward Jacob and the hatred of Jehovah upon Esau. And does not verse 11 declare of the purpose of God that it according to election may stand?
What does this passage then teach us with respect to our present subject, the particular and unconditional character of God’s promise? Paul is discussing in Romans 9 the Word of promise of God and asserts that that promise did not fail, even though many Jews perished in the wilderness and the nation later was rejected because of its rejection of the Christ. In verses 4-6 he establishes the truth that the promise of Jehovah never fails because it is particular and is realized by the Lord Himself. And in the verses 10-13 the apostle continues to confirm this truth in the example of Jacob and Esau. Notice, please, the similarity of Jacob and Esau. They have the same parents. This could not be said of Isaac and Ishmael. They are twin brothers and are therefore of the same age. In fact, Esau is the older of the two. They have been born and raised in the same covenant sphere. From a natural point of view they have, therefore, everything in common. Why, then, according to the text, did Esau not receive the promise? Was the promise meant for him as well as for Jacob? Was it a covenant privilege or blessing for Esau that he was born in the sphere of the covenant? Is it true that he did not receive the promise because he rejected it? Indeed, he rejected the covenant of the Lord, trampled it under foot, and became in that sense a covenant breaker. To be sure, he revealed in all his actions that he desired no part of the covenant-fellowship of the Lord, that he was carnal and therefore loved the things below rather than the things above. But, does this imply that the promise of the Lord therefore failed in him? Was the promise of eternal life also meant for him and did the Lord reject him because he rejected the Lord? How clear and beyond the shadow of every doubt is the answer of the apostle! Paul declares that the Lord hated him before he ever did evil. For, we read, the purpose of God according to election must stand, that is, God fulfills His purpose as He has eternally willed it. Hence, Jacob and Esau illustrate the sovereignty of God. The promise of Jehovah did not fail in this instance because it was divinely intended only for Jacob. The promise of the Lord is particular and unconditional.
—We quote: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.”
In the verses 14-16 the apostle maintains the sovereign mercy of God and the fact that He is righteous because He is God. The question which is asked in verse 14, “Is there unrighteousness with God?, knows but one answer. And that answer reads: God forbid. Is God unrighteous? That is an impossible question. That question arises within the heart of the natural man. God is God! He does not merely act righteously. He is righteousness. And all His acts are verity and judgment. In verses 15 and 16 the sovereign mercy of God is clearly set forth. This mercy, we read, is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but alone of God that sheweth mercy. And emphatically we read: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. Moses, too, was compelled to learn this lesson in the wilderness. To him also the Lord revealed that His mercy and His favor did not rest upon the entire people that had been delivered out of the land of Egypt, but that He would have mercy upon whom He would have mercy, and that He will have compassion on whom He will have compassion. Hence, the teaching of these verses, as far as the particular and unconditional character of God’s promise is concerned, is clear. Does the mercy of the Lord depend upon us? Must we first will that mercy and compassion of Jehovah? Does it ever depend upon our willingness and readiness to accept or receive it? And, must we also run to the end? This is the Arminian presentation, is it not? We must not only will the mercy of God as far as our initial receiving of it is concerned, but we must also continue to will it unto the end. We must not only be willing to begin the race, but we must also run that race to its very end. The Arminian declares, therefore, that it is of him that willeth and of him that runneth. But, what saith the Scriptures? The Word of the Lord declares unto us that God’s mercy is upon him to whom He wills to be merciful, and His compassion is upon him to whom He wills to shew compassion. God, therefore, in the bestowal of His mercy and compassion is not prompted by the will of man but by His own sovereign will. Notice: the promise is particular and unconditional. The promise of salvation is divinely realized in those to whom the Lord wills to be merciful, upon whom He wills to bestow it.
In verses 17-18 the apostle calls our attention to the example of Pharaoh. That the Lord raised up Pharaoh does not merely mean that He elevated the Egyptian monarch to the throne. This would hardly exhaust the meaning of the apostle as far as the immediate context is concerned. In verse 17 we read that the Lord raised him up in order to shew His power in him and that Ilis name might be declared throughout all the earth. And the following verse declares that “whom He will He hardeneth.” All this, we say, hardly exhausts the meaning of the apostle when he declares that the Lord raised up Pharaoh in the sense that He elevated him to the Egyptian throne. We must bear in mind that the Lord raised up Pharaoh. Pharaoh, according to the position which he occupies in Holy Writ, is the vain, utterly foolish, and wicked Egyptian monarch, who conceived of the monstrous absurdity to question and oppose Jehovah’s sovereignty. As that wicked, monstrously godless, and foolish king he was raised up by the Lord. Step by step the Lord hardened him, so that he would increase in his wicked and inconceivable foolishness. It is true that we also read in the Scriptures that he hardened his own heart. Fact is, the Lord always operates, not apart from or contrary to the will and inclinations of man, but in harmony with the evil heart of man, so that the Lord’s operation and the lusts and inclinations of any individual man are always in complete harmony with each other. Pharaoh, therefore, step by step increased in his abominable wickedness and foolishness. But we must remember that the Lord is sovereign and that He hardened that monarch’s heart, so that Pharaoh, in all his foolishness and wickedness, was willed as such and raised up by the living God. Do we not read that the Scripture said this beforetime to Pharaoh? Did not Moses, in the name of the Lord, tell the Egyptian monarch beforetime what the Lord would do unto him ()? The hardened Pharaoh, therefore, is the fruit of the sovereign operation of the Lord. This is in harmony, not only with the Scriptural account in the book of Exodus, but also with the context of these words in Romans 9. Only then can we understand the apostle when he declares in verse 18 that “whom He will He hardeneth.” And only then do we understand the Word of God when we read in the verses 19-21 of the potter and the clay.
Upon the word of God concerning the divine raising up of Pharaoh follow the well-known words of verse 18: “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.” From a certain point of view these words are a repetition of what we read in verses 15-16. Both passages speak of the sovereign mercy of the Lord. The difference between these passages, however, is worthy of note. In verse 18 the apostle adds: “and whom He will He hardeneth.” This latter thought, we readily understand, receives all the emphasis in connection with what we read in the Scriptures concerning Pharaoh. We probably might not be too hesitant to subscribe to the first part of verse 18. If asked whether the mercy of the Lord is sovereign we probably would not hesitate to give an affirmative answer. However, we might be hesitant to subscribe to the second part of this particular text. To say that the sovereign will of God is the cause of our salvation is not difficult. But, we shrink back from the declaration that the will of the Lord is also the sovereign cause of the unbelief and wickedness of the sinner. The Arminian certainly refuses to endorse this statement of the apostle in verse 18. And the reformed man of infralapsarian persuasion is equally timid and hesitant as far as the endorsement of this declaration of the apostle is concerned. He does not hesitate to assert that we are saved only of divine, sovereign mercy. But, when discussing the reprobate sinner and his eternal desolation, he would rather say that the Lord leaves him in his misery, or, to quote the apostle now in the infralapsarian sense, I would read verse 18 as follows: “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and He refuses mercy to whom He wills to refuse mercy.” Yet, we must not hesitate to endorse also this statement of the apostle. The Scriptures, then, not only teach that the Lord sovereignly bestows mercy and salvation. But they are equally clear and lucid in their presentation of the truth that He sovereignly hardens. Unto the one He gives salvation and mercy, sovereignly; the other He hardens, also sovereignly. The Lord is responsible not only for the light but also for the darkness, not only for the children of the light but also for the children of darkness.
Indeed, also this text establishes the particular and unconditional character of the promise of God. That promise of God is surely not for all. Fact is, the Lord is merciful but He also hardeneth; He not only gives life but He also killeth! And then people continue to prate of an offer of salvation, of a desire of the Lord to save all who hear the gospel, when, according to the Scriptures it is God who, during the preaching of the gospel of God, softens the hearts of some but hardens the others whom He hates from before the foundation of the world. We may surely conclude that the Lord realizes His promise sovereignly only in the elect.
—We read: “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?”
Let us note the following. The question of verse 19, asked by the natural man to refute the truth of the Lord’s absolute sovereignty, is a wicked question and devilishly untrue. The wicked sinner here, if you please, presents the truth as if he would serve the Lord but cannot because he cannot resist God’s will, as if God ever works contrary to the will of man as a moral-rational agent. This is surely the wicked import of the question asked in this text. It is a fact, however, that there is never any conflict between God and man. The Lord always works sovereignly but also always through man as a moral agent. Never does an ungodly man complain because of his wickedness. The vessel of dishonor is perfectly or completely in harmony with the sin and darkness of his evil being. The question of verse 19 is, therefore, obviously wicked and devilishly untrue.
God, we read, is the Potter and man is the clay. The clay whereof the apostle speaks, that which the Lord makes according to the text, is not merely man as far as his natural, earthy existence is concerned. To teach merely that God makes men would certainly not provoke any adverse comment from the natural man. The Lord, we read, makes vessels unto dishonor. These vessels of dishonor are evidently the reprobates. Them, we read, the Lord makes. Indeed, we must maintain man’s responsibility. It is surely true that the Lord never operates contrary to the will and desire of men. The Lord, indeed, works through the will of man. But it is equally true that, although the Lord works through the will of man, He works sovereignly. The responsibility of man is, therefore, not to be regarded as a truth which runs parallel to the truth of God’s sovereignty, or even contrary to it, but it must be viewed as included in it, as subject to the truth that the Lord works all His good pleasure. And the truth is indeed that God has the power, the sovereign right and authority to do as He pleases, to glorify His Name as He would, to make of the one lump vessels unto honor in whom His soul delighteth and to make of the other lump vessels unto dishonor whom His soul hateth. And both are formed by the Lord, according to His sovereign good pleasure.
We, therefore, conclude that it is not man who determines God, but it is the Lord who determines man. Hence, the promises of the Lord are never, according to this portion of the Word of God, contingent upon man. Romans 9 clearly sets forth the particular and wholly unconditional character of the promise of the God of our salvation.