“As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” –Romans 9:13
The Biblical doctrine of election remains one of the most unpopular and emotionally charged teaching in Christendom. Many pastors, teachers, and Christian authors are not simply opposed to the doctrines of grace, and God’s sovereignty in salvation, they are openly hostile to anyone who believes in election. Those who hold steadfast to the clear teaching of the Word of God are often driven from the local fellowship, directly or indirectly. Some are told not to teach, let alone discuss, the doctrine of election.
However, what the opponents of unconditional election cannot explain, are clear passages on the subject, such as Romans 9: 13. “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” The attempt to explain away the obvious meaning of this particular passage takes four forms.
First, the attempt is made to pit Scripture against Scripture. Rather than exegete the passage in context, individuals will divert attention to other verses such as John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Whatever John 3:16 teaches, it does not, and cannot contradict what is taught in Romans 9.
What John 3:16 teaches is that if any person believed in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they will never perish, but have everlasting life. What John 3:16 does not address is who will believe, and on what basis? That is why the whole counsel of God must be considered on any subject.
When the whole of Scripture is taken into consideration, the terrible truth emerges that man’s nature is corrupt to the point he cannot change who he is. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23). The nature of man must be taken into consideration in the matter of salvation. The natural man will act consistent with his nature, which is to reject God. “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). A person must be born again if they are to see the kingdom of God. God will sovereignly determine who will be born again. God will determine on whom He will have mercy. Salvation is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8,9).
Second, the attempt is made to deny the doctrine of election as taught in Romans 9 by teaching that Paul is speaking about nations, and not individuals. An appeal is made to Genesis 25:23. “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.”
It is true that, historically, the Arabs came from Esau, whereas the purity of Israel came from Jacob. In Genesis 25, the context speaks of two nations. However, in contrast, when Paul speaks about election in Romans 9, he mentions individuals, by name. Esau and Jacob are not presented as representative of two nations, but are presented as an illustration of God’s sovereign selection of one individual over another. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
This does not mean that God had no love for Esau, for the Bible does teach God’s love of benevolence. The good Lord makes “His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). The Bible also speaks of God’s love of complacency, or uncritical love. This is the type of love God has for His Son. “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16, 17). Compared to God’s love for Jacob, His love for Esau appears to be hatred.
The love of God for all sinners is manifested in the heart of Jesus towards the Rich Young Ruler. The Bible plainly says that, Jesus loved him. “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. 23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:21-23).
The complacent love of God for Jacob over Esau was based purely on His sovereign preference. “(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;)” (Rom. 9:11).
A third attempt to dismiss the doctrine of election from Romans 9 is to teach that Paul is teaching some people are elected to enjoy temporal blessings. Generally speaking, a person who is born in America is destined to have a better standard of living than someone born in a less developed nation.
In order to teach this astonishing concept in Romans 9, what Paul has said in Romans 1-8 must be dismissed, or re-framed. In context, in Romans 8, Paul has introduced the doctrine of predestination. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8:29, 30). Individuals are in view, not nations, and not temporal blessings of land, herds, and material wealth.
A fourth way the doctrine of election of individuals to salvation is dismissed from Romans 9, is by teaching the doctrine of prescience, or God’s foreknowledge of events. The argument is that God does elect individuals to salvation, but He does so based on His awareness of what a person will do when presented with the gospel. God looks down the corridors of time to see which way the volition of a person will go, and on the basis of their decision, He elects that individual.
Nothing could be more preposterous.
This teaching is a direct assault on Divine omniscience, for it necessitates God coming into knowledge based upon Him foreseeing something, rather than His foreknowledge being based on His own decree. But what does the text say? “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” (Rom. 9:11, 12).
The apostle Paul invites us to look at two boys, unborn, neither having done any good or evil. One is elected, the other is not. One is elected according to the purpose of God, not according to foreseen faith. Faith is a gift of God that was yet to be given to Jacob, therefore, it could not be the ground of his election.
The conclusion of Romans 9 is this. “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ,7 to the praise of His glorious grace;8 others being left to act in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of His glorious justice” (The 1689 Baptist Confession, Article III. Paragraph 3).
By way of application, what does election say to you?
“First, you ungodly ones, I will excuse you for a moment. There are many of you who do not like election, and I cannot blame you for it, for I have heard those preach election, who have sat down, and said, “I have not one word to say to the sinner.” Now, I say you OUGHT to dislike such preaching as that, and I do not blame you for it. But, I say, take courage, take hope, O you sinner, that there is election! So far from discouraging you, it is a very hopeful and joyous thing that there is an election.
What if I told you that none can be saved, none are ordained to eternal life, wouldn’t you tremble, and fold your hands in hopelessness, and say, “then how can I be saved, since none are elect?” But I say, there is a multitude elect, beyond all counting—a host that no mortal can number. Therefore, take heart, you poor sinner! Throw away your despondency—don’t you have the same chance at being elect as the other person? For there is an innumerable host chosen. There is joy and comfort for you! Then, not only take heart, but go and try the Master. Remember, if you are not elect, you will lose nothing by asking.
What did the four Syrians say? “If we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.” O sinner! come to the throne of electing mercy. You may die where you are. Go to God; and, even supposing He should reject you, suppose His uplifted hand should drive you away—a thing impossible—yet you, will not lose anything; you will not be more damned for that. Besides, supposing you are damned, you would have the satisfaction at least of being able to lift up your eyes in hell, and say, “God, I asked for mercy from You, and You would not grant it; I sought it, but You refused it.” That you shall never say, O sinner!
If you go to Him, and ask Him, you shall receive; for He never has refused anyone yet! Isn’t that hope for you? Even though there is an allotted number of elect, yet it is true that all who seek belong to that number. Go and seek; and if you should be the first one to go to hell, tell the devils why you are perishing—tell the demons that you are a castaway, after having come as a guilty sinner to Jesus. I tell you it would disgrace the Eternal–with reverence to His name—and He would not allow such a thing. He is jealous of His honor, and He would not allow a sinner to say that.
But, poor soul! know that you cannot lose anything by coming; there is yet one more thought—Do you love the thought of election this morning? Are you willing to admit its justice? Do you say, “I feel that I am lost; I deserve it; and that if my brother is saved I cannot complain. If God destroys me, I deserve it; but if He saves the person sitting beside me, He has a right to do what He will with His own, and I have lost nothing because of it.” Can you honestly say that from your heart? If so, then the doctrine of election has had its right effect on your spirit, and you are not far from the kingdom of heaven. You are brought to where you ought to be, where the Spirit wants you to be; and being so this morning, depart in peace; God has forgiven your sins. You would not feel that, if you were not pardoned; you would not feel that, if the Spirit of God were not working in you. Rejoice, then, in this. Let your hope rest on the cross of Christ. Don’t rest on election, but on Christ Jesus. Rest on Jesus—Jesus first, middle, and without end. Amen” (Election, Charles Spurgeon, 1834-1892)