A Study of Romans 9:11
We were discussing the passage from Romans 9:10-13, and I will not take time now to quote it again. Only, in the present lecture I must call special attention to the words of verse 11: “(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.) ”
These words state very plainly that predestination is not based upon works or upon foreseen faith, but rests only in the good pleasure of the Most High.
We must bear in mind that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and of His free determination with respect to the salvation of men is not according to man. Many there are, and always have been, that object to this truth and all its implications. There were not many periods the history of the church of Christ in the new dispensation which she was strong enough to maintain and to confess the truth of God’s sovereign predestination in all its purity according to the Scriptures.
And ours is certainly not a time in which we expect that the faithful professors of this truth abound. Even those who officially profess to believe this truth usually prefer to keep silent about it; and when they are required to give an account of this strange, ambiguous attitude, they answer that the doctrine of sovereign predestination is a mystery, belongs to the hidden things of God with which we have nothing to do.
The revealed things, thus they argue, are for us and our children. And this revealed will, which in the minds of those who assume this ambiguous position usually implies that God is willing to save all and that the gospel is a general offer of salvation on the part of God, must have all the emphasis in the ministry of the Word and the preaching of the gospel of Christ.
The doctrine of a general will of God unto salvation is maintained alongside of the truth of sovereign election and particular grace and the former is emphasized to the exclusion of the latter. And when it is objected that such a position is absurd and untenable, the defenders of this position usually seek a haven of refuge in the well-known excuse that this is an insoluble mystery and that we must maintain both sides of this dilemma without curiously inquiring into the deep things of God.
This false and ambiguous position has proved more dangerous to the maintenance of the pure truth of Scripture concerning God’s sovereign predestination than professed free willism.
For under the Reformed flag the entire cargo of Arminian heresy is smuggled into the Church.
However, in this present lecture we are more concerned with the theory of the Arminians. They also pretend to believe in the doctrine of election and, of course, of reprobation. But they explain it in such a way that it is really contingent upon the works and the faith and the free will of man.
Granted, they say, that Scripture teaches personal election and reprobation and that this sovereign predestination determines the eternal state of the predestinated, this cannot possibly imply that God in predestinating has no regard for the character and works of those that are so predestinated. The ultimate ground upon which, and the reason why one is elected unto eternal life while another is rejected unto eternal desolation cannot be the mere sovereign good pleasure of the Most High. This, they claim would be arbitrary; it would present God as a cruel tyrant.
Predestination, therefore, rests on the part of God in His foreknowledge of the character and works of man, and on the part of man is based on his foreseen works and, therefore, ultimately on the free will of man. God elected, according to the doctrine of the Arminians, those whom He foreknew would be willing to believe in Christ and to persevere in that faith and He reprobated them that were by Him foreknown as unwilling thus to believe and persevere. Only thus, they claim, can man’s freedom be explained and maintained in the light of God’s predestinating purpose; and only on the basis of this presentation of the truth of election and reprobation can the gospel be preached that whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely.
We like to emphasize in this connection that the doctrine of predestination is not at all in conflict with the gospel promise that whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life. This we also preach without any distortion or limitation of the words. Surely, whosoever will may come. And what is more, they may have the assurance that they will be received, seeing that their will to come is already the fruit of God’s grace. The Lord Himself gives them the assurance that they that come unto Him He will in no wise cast out. And the promise of rest is for all that are laboring and heavy laden and will come unto Christ. No one will ever be able to say that on his part he was willing to come to Christ and to receive salvation, while God rejected him. But this is the difference between the pure Scriptural truth of predestination and its Arminian corruption, that according to the latter the will to believe is the ground of God’s election, while according to the former the will to come is the fruit and outcome of God’s predestinating grace.
But suppose we adopt for a moment for the sake of argument the Arminian conception.
God has foreknown from all eternity those who would believe in Christ and those who would reject Him; and He unchangeably predestinated the former unto eternal life and the latter unto everlasting damnation.
Would this really gain for man the so eagerly desired freedom to determine upon the matter of his own eternal state?
Is even then not the eternal state of the elect and of the reprobate immutably fixed and determined?
Can even God’s foreknowledge be changed?
To return to the words of our text, does not God unchangeably know that Esau will be wicked; that he will prove to be a fornicator, profane that he will despise his birthright if it is placed within his reach; that he will stumble at that stone, and that it were better for him had he never possessed the birthright, yea, that he never had been born?
And yet does not God sovereignly place him in the position of the firstborn and put the stone of stumbling in his way?
Furthermore, can it be said that while God eternally and unchangeably foreknew that Esau would be lost forever, according to the divine intention Christ died for him?
Speaking in general, is it conceivable that God seriously gave His only begotten Son unto the death of the cross for the salvation of them who in His foreknowledge are unchangeably predestined unto damnation?
It will be evident that the Arminian cannot be permitted to retain the semblance of the truth of God’s sovereign predestination. If one desires to present the salvation of man as contingent upon his own will, he must deny predestination in any form. One must choose between the sovereignty of man and the sovereignty of God. There is no alternative.
However, this Arminian presentation of the doctrine of predestination is contrary both to the context and to the text itself. Especially if we view the text in the light of what follows in the chapter, it ought to be very evident that the apostle had in mind no such view as that of the Arminians. For why should he in that case conceive of the objection which he himself expresses in the question, “Is there then unrighteousness with God?” or why again should he consider the other objection often raised by sinful men, “Why does he yet find fault, for who hath resisted his will?”
It is evident that, considered in the light of the Arminian view, these objections are simply meaningless and have no sense or force whatsoever. But also in conflict with the text is the view that God’s predestination rests upon His foreknowledge of the works of men. For the apostle emphatically states that the Word of God, which was the revelation of the purpose of God according to election, came to Rebecca before the children were born, neither had done good or evil. Had the Word of God come to Rebecca after the children had grown up and after it had become manifest that Esau was a wicked fornicator while Jacob was the true child of the covenant, she might have drawn the conclusion that God distinguished the brothers on the basis of their own works.
But now the purpose of God according to election must stand. Hence, this purpose is revealed to her before the children were born, neither had distinguished themselves by their works, whether good or evil. From this it is evident that it was God’s purpose to show unto Rebecca that His counsel of election and reprobation with regard to Jacob and Esau was entirely independent of their works and rested solely in His own sovereign good pleasure.
The text, therefore, makes it very plain that God’s predestination is absolutely sovereign and has nothing to do with the works or even the faith of man as a ground of His predestinating counsel. The only ground of His love of the elect and His sovereign hatred of the reprobate is in Himself. He chose to life and He rejected to death according to His sovereign will. He alone determined from before the foundation of the world who would and who would not have a place in that Church in which forever the glory of His grace will be manifest and shine forth.
We conclude, therefore, that the predestination of Jacob and Esau is a personal election and reprobation, that it is an election and reprobation unto eternal salvation and eternal desolation respectively, and that it rests in God’s sovereign good pleasure alone. And this truth is taught not only in this passage, but is corroborated by all of Scripture. Jacob and Esau are types of the elect and reprobate, for God “has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places with Christ, according as He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” See Ephesians 1:3, 4.
And in Christ “we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Ephesians 1:11.
To the unbelieving Jews the Lord says openly that they believe not because they are not of his sheep. John 10:26. His sheep are those whom the Father gave Him. John 10:29. And they hear His voice and follow Him, and He knows them and gives unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
In Mark 4:11, 12, we read that Jesus explains the purpose of His teaching in parables as follows: “And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”
In John 12:37-41 we read: “But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.”
And, to quote one more, in 1 Peter 2:7-9 we read: “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
It has often been objected to this doctrine that it offers no comfort to the wicked or to the sinner. But in reply we may ask:
Is there then any form of presentation of the gospel that could possibly comfort the wicked and the reprobate?
As long as a man walks in the way of iniquity, there is no comfort for him in the whole of Scripture. And the pure, unadulterated truth of predestination maintains even over against him, yea, over against all the workers of iniquity, and even over against the devil and his host, that God is God and that He executes His counsel and realizes His sovereign purpose even in them.
Not even in their wickedness and in their deliberate walking in the way of destruction and of everlasting damnation are they able to boast that in doing so they frustrate the will of God concerning them, or are effectively opposing the Most High. Even in hell they will have to confess on the one hand that God is righteous and that their condemnation is just, but also that their eternal desolation has its ultimate cause in God’s sovereign predestinating purpose. Hell will confess that God is good and that He is the sovereign God indeed.
But for the godly this doctrine is the ground of his assurance and the source of all his comfort. And comfort it is for him at every stage of his spiritual development and in all circumstances of his life.
Are you seeking?
Know, then, that you shall surely find: for the fact of your seeking is the indubitable evidence that God has sought you first.
Are you knocking?
It surely shall be opened unto you: for the fact of your knocking is already the fruit of His grace.
Are you weak and wavering?
His counsel shall surely stand, and you shall never perish.
Are you a confirmed believer?
You will know, then, that no one shall pluck you out of His hand: for He will perfect the work which He began and surely preserve His own even unto the very end, so that they can never be lost.
But not only is the truth of God’s predestination a source of rich consolation and a ground of firm assurance to the godly; it is also a reason for profound humiliation before God and men. After all, the Arminian doctrine is a proud error: for it teaches after all that salvation is based upon the works and free will of man. But the truth of sovereign predestination emphasizes that God is all and man is nothing. There is absolutely no reason to boast. And the end of the matter is: “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
By Herman Hoeksema