One of the strongest passages in the Bible teaching the Doctrine of Election is found in Romans 9. Jacob is chosen over Esau. “For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. 10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; 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;) 12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Rom. 9:9-13)
When Paul seeks to expound on election, he uses an example of two men. The two men are brothers. And not only are they brothers, they are twin brothers. They have the same parents, the same social background, and the same godly upbringing. Yet one believes in and loves the Lord, and the other does not. One is loved by the Lord, and the other is not. Paul belabors the point that one is preferred before either is born.
The word, before, raises the question of Gods’ foreknowledge. Arminians argue that election is based upon God’s foreknowledge. which they take to means that, in eternity past God looks down the corridors of time so that He can know in advance what will happen. Then, on the bases of that foreknowledge, God chooses them. Appeal is made to the words of St. Peter. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.” (1 Peter 1:2)
While it is true that God foreknows who the elect are, the basis of God’s foreknowledge is His sovereign selection. Election is “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” meaning in execution of His fore arranged scheme. The word implies not simply a perception of the future, but the forming of a decision. The death of Christ was foreknown by God the Father before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20), and so is the election of every person. Both are according to God’s divine plan. “For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Rom. 8:29)
In Romans 9, Paul addresses the issue of the foreknowledge of God. Paul says that the twins were not yet born, and had done nothing, and still God loved Jacob, but hated Esau. When the Bible says that the twins had done nothing, good or evil, good or bad, that includes making a positive decision of being God consciousness. Jacob and Esau had not made a decision on any matter in life, including whether or not they would believe in the Lord. The foreknowledge of God saw they had done nothing to merit Jacob being chosen, or Esau being hated. Why? So that the sovereignty of God might be established in choosing whom He will, not arbitrarily, but according to His own good purpose.
Had God looked down the corridors of time and foresaw, meaning God came into knowledge, that one day Jacob would believe in him, Jacob’s belief would be a good thing. Arminians would have the Church believe that because God’s foresaw Jacob’s faith, He loved Him, and chose him.
But that is not what the Scriptures teach. Before the children were born, before they had done good or evil, God loved Jacob and hated Esau. There is a strange silence here in Scripture with respect to the Arminian point of view. Had God wanted to make clear that His choice of Jacob over Esau was based upon His knowledge that Jacob would one day make a future decision to love the Lord, and so be worthy of being elected, and loved, that would have been stated. But Paul strongly insists that there was nothing in Jacob, or Esau, that would merit divine favor. Only God’s sovereign grace is in view. They had done neither good, nor evil. It is God’s choice, according to God’s purpose that must stand. Individuals have absolutely nothing to do with God’s choice, or God’s purpose, when the Divine decree is being made. God’s sovereign will stands alone. God establishes His purpose before any person can do good or bad.
Romans 9 is totally opposed to the Arminian view of election being based upon God’s foreknowledge. It is God’s purpose which is in view, not man’s good works, or good decisions. The supreme good work is to place one’s trust in Jesus. “Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” John 6:29)
In Romans 9, Paul is clearly teaching that it is not because of human works that a person is elected to salvation. It is solely on the grace and sovereign choice of God. Election is based on Him who calls. While the Arminian view makes the final decision to rest on a human choice, the Biblical view of salvation makes the final decision to rest on God’s sovereignty.
Some people hear this explanation of Romans 9 and wrongly conclude they are not among the elect. There is an assumption that they have not been chosen to salvation. That may be a false assumption. There is a test that can be taken to determine if a person is numbered among the elect of God. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:31)
Other people discern the true meaning of Paul’s teaching in Romans 9, and conclude that God is not fair in loving one person more than another. They reduce God to a human father image, and decide since they would not love one child more than another, neither should God, nor will He. Their God is too small. Their theology too shallow. Their understanding of divine sovereignty is nonexistent, when such unworthy views of God are concluded.
When God chose Jacob over Esau, He declared that the elder was to serve the younger. This was done to show the supremacy of God the Father in determining what individuals will do, regardless of social customs, or human expectations. So not only does God foreordain who the elect shall be, not only does God foreordain salvation, He foreordains service, and the order thereof. What shall we say then? Is there injustice with God? No. Not at all. May it never be. “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” (Rom. 9:14)
The idea that the sovereignty of God is tarnished, or diminished, is an unworthy thought. God forbid that such a dark thought about God be entertained. And yet, that is what happens. Many devout Armenians rail against those who proclaim the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation, and debase man’s part in the matter. They do not want a God who loves one person over another. So they tell God He must die to save every single soul, not just His own. (Matt. 1:21). They tell God He must give every person an opportunity to be saved, and leave it up to their free will to decide. Everyone has a choice, but God. In Romans 9, Paul throws off the shackles of men’s vain imaginations about the Lord to declare that in God there is no unrighteousness. Moreover, God will have “mercy on whom He will have mercy.” (Rom. 9:18)
Paul is a teacher. He knows what his teaching will do to men’s minds, and emotions. As a teacher, Paul anticipates the reaction of his listeners. He anticipates their question. Therefore, Paul raises the rhetorical question on his own in anticipation, so he can answer it before the question is asked by someone else. It is an effective teaching tool. Paul knew someone would cry out against the sovereignty of God in loving Jacob and hating Esau, and say, “That is not fair!” Or, “That is not just!” The apostle is quick to assert that God is not unfair. God is not unjust. It is impossible for God to be unrighteous.
It is instructive to observe that the question of God being fair, or unjust, is never raised with the Armenian view. Why? One answer is that the Armenian view appeals to man’s pride. He gets to make the final decision. Man gets to determine whether or not he is saved. Salvation is up to his own choice. The flesh loves that idea. What the pride of man resents, and resists, is a sovereign God.
A Reformed minded Christian might take comfort in the fact that the same question raised against the doctrines of grace today, is the same question Paul anticipated when he wrote his epistle to the Romans.
A protest is raised against the idea of a Divine sovereign choice being made on behalf of an individual before they have done good or evil. It just sounds unfair. However such a position might sound, Paul argues that it is not unfair, or unjust for God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Rom. 9:15)
Paul does not resolve the issue of election, and predestination, on the fact that God’s choice on behalf of individuals is for their own good. Rather, Paul contends that there is a Divine prerogative. The potter has power over the clay to shape it any way He wants, and to design it for any purpose that is desired. If God wants to make one vessel to display His honor, grace, and mercy, such as Moses, He has that prerogative. If God wants to make another vessel, like Pharaoh, to manifest His wrath, He has that prerogative.
God’s Love God’s Hatred God’s Mercy God’s Wrath
Jacob Esau Moses Pharaoh
The whole teaching of Romans 9 is that some people receive a mercy that others do not. No one receives injustice, and everyone receives justice. There is justice in God showing mercy. There is justice when God displays His wrath against sin. Esau is not selected as an object of Divine mercy, but then, God is under no obligation to show mercy to Esau.
There is something else. God’s desire to show mercy to some, is based on the Fall. Election is unto salvation. There would be no need for election if there were no Fall, and individuals did not need salvation. God could have left all men in a state of sin and judgment, but He decided to save some to the praise of His glory. Jacob received mercy. Esau received justice. God had mercy on Moses. God did not have mercy on Pharaoh. In so acting, God was not unjust.
The problem that many have, is that God does not treat Jacob and Esau, or Moses and Pharaoh equally. Here is the heart of the issue. The creature rises up to stand in judgment, and condemn the Creator for acting in a manner in which the creature does not deem to be honorable, just, or equal. The creature has a thought. If God is gracious to one person under the Law, He should be gracious to the other one equally. When God does not treat everyone equally, the creature becomes angry, and accuses God of unrighteousness, unfairness, and being unjust.
When a person demands that God be merciful to everyone, thoughts about mercy cease because mercy, by definition is without an obligation. Mercy is something that is done voluntarily. God is not bound to show mercy to anyone, let alone everyone. God says to men, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” God’s mercy is not extended because He is obligated, or because He is pressured by His creation. God’s mercy is extended because of the goodness of His own heart.
If an Armenian unites with the Humanist, and the Atheist, to say to the Divine, “You are not a merciful God”, he is doing something that is beyond shameful. It borders on blasphemy because God is being told He should have done something He has not done. Be careful what you think, and what you say against God. How dare the creature, whose every breathe is drawn according to Divine mercy of common grace, stand in judgment upon the Creator. God is not lacking in mercy, but God is selective to whom He will show mercy.
Here is the conclusion of the matter. “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Rom. 9:16) The Armenian view, says that salvation, and receiving God’s mercy, depends ultimately on man, and not on God. Salvation is decided by man’s choice. Election depends upon human choices.
The Bible says that salvation, and receiving God’s mercy, depends on God, and not on man. Salvation does not depend on man’s will, or good works, but upon God showing mercy. God is free to love one person and to hate another. The word hate, when used in association with God, is a difficult concept for many. In the English, the word hate conveys a posture of malice. Christians are forbidden to hate people. We are to love our enemies.
However, there is another way to understand the word hate without a connotation of malice. Speaking of his enemies, the Psalmist said, “I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” (Psalm 139:22) There is something called a holy hatred. It is a hatred of sin, injustice, and treachery.
There is also a holy hatred of individuals. The text says, “Esau have I hated.” The text does not say, “Esau’s sin have I hated.” What the text does say, is that there is the absence of the special Divine favor being shown to Jacob. The antithetical Hebrew parallelism is clear. To the same degree that God loves Jacob, He hates Esau. God does not have any inward feelings of malice towards Esau. But God does, without the particular mercy He gives to Jacob. Jacob was given a gift that Esau did not receive.
The showing of God’s mercy to Jacob, and the hatred of God for Esau, has given way to theological speculation over the centuries as to whether or not there is something called Double Predestination. Two main views of Double Predestination are often set forth.
The Symmetrical View of Predestination
The first position is that of Equal Ultimacy, or, the Symmetrical View of Predestination. This means that predestination has two sides: election, and reprobation, or, salvation, and damnation. The idea is that since God works to predestinate individuals to eternal life, He also works to predestinate individuals to damnation. There is a positive decree to show mercy to the elect, and there is a positive decree of reprobation meaning rejection, disapproval, condemnation, and censure.
In the heart of the elect, such as Jacob, God unilaterally entered into the heart to create faith, so that at the point of gospel hearing, the person believes in the Lord. In the heart of the reprobate, God intrudes into their heart to create evil, or unbelief so that their damnation is assured, “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? 39 Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, 40 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.” (John 12:38-40) There is a positive action in the lives of both the elect and the reprobate. Faith is created in the life of one person, while unbelief, and hardness of heart, is created in the life of the reprobate. This is the Symmetrical View of Predestination.
An Alternative View
It is true that predestination is double in this sense. Some people are elect, and some are not. However, the framework for this view is Positive…..Negative. Positively, in the case of the elect, in mercy, God does intrude into the heart to sovereignly bestow faith, so that faith in Jesus can be exercised. Negatively, God simply leaves the rest of mankind to themselves, to walk after the imagination of their own heart (Jer. 9:14) God says, “So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.” (Psalm 81:12)
The idea is that God does not have to actively create unbelief in the heart of the reprobate or evil, He simply has to pass them over. This is the view that has been overwhelmingly embraced by Augustinians and Calvinist.
God’s work in the heart of the reprobate is negative, or passive, rather than positive, or active. The reprobate does what they want to do. They do not want God in their thoughts or lives. “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves. 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” (Rom. 1:24-32)
God does not have to create evil in the heart of the reprobate, they do that naturally by being left on their own. God does not have to predestinate them to damnation. He simply passes them over, and, like water running downhill, the wicked will run into hell. A natural consequence of unbelief is a hardening of the human heart. True, the text says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not in an active way, but in a passive way. There is a direct hardening, and there is an indirect hardening. There is an active hardening of the human heart, and there is a passive hardening of the human heart. The same sun which melts the butter hardens the clay.
There are two ways God could have hardened the heart of Pharaoh. First, God could have intruded into Pharaoh’s life, and created evil in the heart of Pharaoh. God could make Pharaoh sin. But that would be a violation of His essence. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:13-15) It would not be right for God to force Pharaoh to sin, and then punish Him for that sin.
Second, God could simply leave Pharaoh to his own sinful nature, which is what God did. God did not arrest Pharaoh’s sinful heart to the point that Pharaoh was converted. God simply controlled, and directed the impulses of Pharaoh, towards His own Divine design. God did restrain Pharaoh from becoming utterly wicked, but again, God was under no obligation to invade Pharaoh’s heart and convert him, as God did with Moses. When God passively allowed Pharaoh to manifest the evil that was in his heart, it was a form of Divine judgment upon the ruler of Egypt. In this sense, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
The same experience of Pharaoh is repeated in the heart of every reprobate. The more the gospel is heard and rejected, the harder the heart becomes. In this divine drama, a person, like Pharaoh, hardens their own heart. All God does is to remove the restraints. Every individual is responsible for the hardening of their own heart.
A Final Observation
Some Arminians teach that the selection of Jacob over Esau really represents the selection of Israel over the Arabs, or, one nation over another nation. This belief is based on the words of the Lord to Rebekah. “And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:21)
There is no contextual support for this position. The attempt of the Arminian to make election general, and not personal, fails, for nations are made of individuals. Furthermore, if it is wrong for God to select an individual for Divine favor, why it is right for Him to select a whole nation for Divine favor? The concern of the Armenian is not resolved by spiritualizing, and generalizing Jacob and Esau.
A plain, natural, and simple reading Romans 9 will lead any Christian to the conclusion that salvation is of the Lord. The salvation of a soul is based upon God’s electing foreknowledge, and sovereign will to have mercy one whom He will have mercy, and to allow the heart of others to be hardened. Rejoice, Christian, and be grateful, that you have been chosen to receive God’s saving mercy. Believe that God is never unjust, or unrighteous.