An Exposition of Romans 9
by Mitch Cervinka

... So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" ... 

The ninth chapter of Romans is considered by many to be one of the most compelling passages in the Bible in favor of the Calvinistic doctrines of predestination and unconditional election. Yet, there are those who assert that the "election" in Romans 9 is merely corporate—a choice of nations and not of individuals. In other words, it is asserted that Romans 9 is merely telling us that God chose the nation of Israel to be His special nation, to receive special benefits and privileges, but that the passage has nothing to do with the predestination of particular individuals unto salvation.

This treatise is intended to demonstrate that, on the contrary, the "election" taught in Romans 9 is 1) an election of individual persons, 2) it is unto salvation, and 3) it is predicated upon the sovereign pleasure of God alone, without any regard whatever for the individual's foreseen faith, cooperation or good works.

Election is unto Salvation.

The passage begins with an expression of the apostle's sorrow for his Jewish kinsmen...

Romans 9:1-4a - I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites,
He says that his great sorrow and unceasing grief is such that he could (almost) wish himself to be "accursed, separated from Christ" for their sake. Clearly, the occasion of his great sorrow and grief is that the greater part of the Jewish nation had rejected Christ, to their own eternal ruin. Paul returns to this thought at the beginning of chapter 10...
Romans 10:1 - Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.
It is noteworthy, therefore, that the ninth chapter of Romans is bracketed by two clear statements expressing the apostle's intense desire for the salvation of the Jewish people. The significance of this will become apparent as our study progresses, for the remainder of the chapter, and especially the statements made respecting the sovereign will of God, are presented to explain why it was that only a relative handful of the Jewish people had responded to their Messiah in faith.

The overarching issue in Romans 9 is this fact which so burdened the apostle: namely, the unbelief of his Jewish brethren. And thus when the apostle later states that God has mercy on whom He will, it is with a view to explaining why some Jews were being saved and others were not. The "election" taught in Romans 9 has to do with God's choice of certain individuals to be saved from their sin.

Did God fail to Honor His Promise of Salvation?

Next, Paul reminds us of the many and great blessings and benefits which God had conferred upon His covenant people...

Romans 9:4b-5 - to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Israel had many privileges and blessings indeed! Among the promises given to them was the promise that God would someday forgive their sins and write His law on their hearts and He would be their God and they would be His people...
Jeremiah 31:33-34 - "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
And yet, although Messiah had come, this promise seemed to remain unfulfilled. Why? Did God fail to honor His promise? This is precisely the question the apostle now addresses...
Romans 9:6 - But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel;
Please notice the explanation he gives... "For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel". This would have been a very startling statement to many of the Jews of his day, who often thought that to be a fleshly descendant of Abraham was to automatically incur the favor of God. Thus, he devotes most of the remainder of the chapter to proving, defending and clarifying this statement.

What does he mean by saying "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel"? Notice that he uses the term "Israel" in two distinct ways. The first instance speaks of those who are "Jews indeed"... i.e. those who are the heirs of God's promises and who manifest the work of His Spirit in their hearts and lives.The second instance speaks of the patriarch Jacob, to whom God gave the name "Israel", and whose twelve sons were the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Thus, Paul is saying that the fleshly descendants of Jacob are comprised of two classes of people... those who are "true Jews", and those who are not... those who were to be the recipients of God's promises and those who were not. This distinction was very evident during the life of Christ. The harlots and tax collectors repented of their sins and followed Christ, whereas the self-righteous Pharisees and Scribes would have nothing to do with Christ or repentance.

This concept of a "true Jew" was introduced earlier in the epistle, where Paul described the characteristics of a true Jew...

Romans 2:28-29 - For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
In the same way, our Lord referred to Nathanael as a "an Israelite indeed", distinguishing him from the hypocritical Jewish leaders...
John 1:47 - Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!"
Thus, when Paul says "they are not all Israel ...", he is using the term "Israel" to refer to those Israelites who truly loved their God, and upon whose hearts His law was written. In other words, he means "a true Jew" or "an Israelite indeed". Not every Israelite of Paul's day fit this description.

It is important, however, to notice the relation of the purpose of God to one's being a "true Jew". Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-32 and other similar passages promised that a day was coming when God would give the Israelites a new heart and a new spirit, and would cleanse them from their filthiness, and would forgive their sins and would cause them to joyfully obey His law. Paul's explanation that "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel" means nothing less than this: God's promise to save the people of Israel—by writing His law on their hearts and forgiving their sins—was not intended for every Israelite, but only for certain ones within the nation.

Election is Personal.

In verses 7-9, Paul presents "Exhibit A" to prove his thesis that not every Jew was to be an heir of the promise. He reminds his readers that Abraham had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac, and that, even though Ishmael was the firstborn, the inheritance was given to Isaac instead...

Romans 9:7-9 - nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED." That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. For this is the word of promise: "AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON."
We should recall that this was God's decision, not Abraham's. Abraham had wished that Ishmael would receive the promised inheritance, but God declared that Isaac was the child who would receive the inheritance...
Genesis 17:18-19 - And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before You!" But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him."
Note how the case of Isaac and Ishmael establishes Paul's premise in verse 6: Not every descendant of Abraham was to receive God's eternal promise. This was evident in the very first generation, since Abraham's very own firstborn son, Ishmael, was excluded from the covenant. This demonstrates the claim which Paul has set out to prove... namely, that just because a person is a child of Abraham does not mean that he is an heir of the eternal promises God made to Abraham.

There is, of course, no earthly reason why God could not have divided the inheritance between the two sons. Clearly, this is what happened in the case of Jacob's twelve sons... none of them was excluded from receiving the inheritance. Instead, they all received a share. But in the case of Isaac and Ishmael, one son was totally excluded from the promise, and this by the express will of God.

Paul is already hinting at the reason why Isaac was accepted and Ishmael was not, by distinguishing between "children of the flesh" and "children of the promise". Children of the flesh are born by natural procreation, but there is something supernatural about the birth of the children of promise...

John 1:12-13 - But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
God had promised an heir to Abraham, but as the years passed by, it became evident that Sarah had grown too old to bear a child. When Abraham and Sarah tried to produce the heir through their own ingenuity, they brought forth Ishmael. But there is a sense in which Ishmael was an impostor or a forgery, since he was the natural son of Abraham only, but not of Sarah. Abraham and Sarah had no ability to produce the "genuine article", and the best they could do was to produce a counterfeit.

But the true heir, Isaac, was the result of God's miraculous intervention, bringing about that which was impossible to Abraham and Sarah. God's miracle ensured that Sarah, and not her handmaid, would be the natural mother. In other words, Isaac was the son of God's sovereign purpose and supernatural power in the midst of human inability, and thus serves as a type of every true believer. Like Isaac, every "true Jew" is such because of a supernatural birth... namely, he has been "born again", or "born from above", miraculously, by the agency of the Holy Spirit regenerating his heart. Notice that such a miraculous birth is entirely of God.

Notice also that the choice of Isaac over Ishmael was a choice of individual persons. While it is true that the descendants of Isaac received certain privileges (see verses 4-5) which the descendants of Ishmael did not, Paul's concern here is with individuals. Isaac was an individual person, and so was Ishmael. The fact that the blessing of Isaac was to extend to some of his posterity is no argument against personal election.

Corporate election does not explain the problem which Paul sets forth at the outset of the chapter—namely, the unbelief of so many of the Jewish people. The Christ-rejecting Jews of Paul's day were not the fleshly descendants of Ishmael, so a "corporate election" interpretation of verses 7-9 would serve no purpose in Paul's discussion. Rather than saying that "All the descendants of Isaac have an advantage over the descendants of Ishmael," Paul is teaching that God, at the personal level, distinguishes between an Isaac and an Ishmael, choosing one to receive His eternal blessings, and passing the other by. The unsaved Jews of Paul's day were descendants of Isaac, not Ishmael, but this did not guarantee their salvation.

Election is Unconditional.

Thus, as Paul now demonstrates, just as it was not enough to be a descendant of Abraham, so also it is not enough to be a descendant of Isaac. Just as God had made a distinction in the first generation, so He also made a distinction in the second generation (and thus, by implication, He makes such distinctions in every generation)...

Romans 9:10-13 - And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED."
Isaac also had two sons. But this time it was different... these sons were twins, and both had Rebekah as their mother. Thus, there was no external reason (as there was in the case of Isaac and Ishmael) why one child should have been preferred above the other. Even so, God made a promise to Rebekah before the children were born... namely, that "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." God had a reason for stating this promise prior to the birth of the two sons, and Paul tells us what that reason is: " that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls...".

God's purpose in revealing to Rebekah the future relationship of the two children was not to prove that He could foresee the future. Nor was it because one of the children was (or was to be) more deserving (or more trusting) than the other. The reason is plainly stated to be "God's purpose according to His choice" (and we have no business trying to gloss over the fact that it was His choice) and "because of Him who calls". Notice that it is God's call, and not man's response to God's call, that is the basis why Jacob received the greater blessing.

If we still didn't fully get his point, he plainly tells us what His decision was not based on... "not because of works". This is the apostle's inspired verdict, based upon the observation that "the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad". Moreover, if the fact that "the twins were not yet born" rules out human works as a basis for God's election, then it likewise rules out their faith or decision to believe, for surely these unborn children were not exercising faith in the womb, nor struggling over the "decision" whether to trust in God!

Now we fully admit that God is omniscient and fully knew about the future deeds of Jacob and Esau (which would only demonstrate that both sons were to be rebellious sinners who fully deserved His eternal wrath). But the inspired apostle plainly states that the future behavior of the two brothers was not the basis of God's decision to exalt Jacob over Esau. Instead, it was "His choice" and "because of Him who calls".

Some will reply: "But, what about the statement 'THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER'—Surely, this prophecy is not saying that Esau would be lost and Jacob would be saved, is it? Isn't it simply saying that Jacob would be pre-eminent over Esau? Doesn't this prove that the passage is talking merely about "national privilege" and "temporal blessing" rather than salvation?"

If you ignore the context in which Paul quotes this prophecy, that would perhaps be a reasonable argument. However, the very reason why Paul cites this prophecy is to explain why God's promise to save His covenant people was not being fulfilled for the entire nation of Israel. When we read verse 12 ("THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER"), we need to read it in its context of verse 3 ("For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh") and verse 6 ("But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.") If we carefully follow Paul's train of thought in chapter 9, we will clearly see that Paul is quoting Genesis 25:23 to show that God's sovereignty, as illustrated in His treatment of Jacob and Esau, explains why some individual Jews were being saved and others were not.

It seems that there are many people who wish that the Holy Spirit had not inspired Paul (and Malachi) to write the words of verse 13 - "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." How people love to make excuses for this statement of holy Scripture! People seem shocked that God should have hated Esau. But the real shock is that an infinitely holy God should have loved a rebellious sinner like Jacob! Once we come to grips with the awesome holiness of God and the utter sinfulness of man, it will come as no surprise that God should have hated Esau. The real surprise is that He should have loved any of Adam's rebellious offspring!

Verse 13 is sometimes cited as evidence that the passage is speaking of "corporate" or "national" election, since this is a quotation from Malachi 1:2-3, which speaks of the way in which the Lord treated Esau's descendants...

Malachi 1:2-4 - "I have loved you," says the LORD. But you say, "How have You loved us?" "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the LORD. "Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness." Though Edom says, "We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins"; thus says the LORD of hosts, "They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the LORD is indignant forever."
However, this observation is no proof of "national" or "corporate" election. On the contrary, it demonstrates that God's hatred of the man Esau was so great that it extended to his posterity as well. If God had a hatred for Esau's nation, it was only an extension of His hatred for Esau himself. In any case, "corporate election" would still imply that God hated Esau's descendants (without providing a basis for His hatred of them).

Election is Not Unjust.

The apostle now anticipates that someone will raise the charge of injustice against his teaching...

Romans 9:14-16 - What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
This is absolute proof that Paul is teaching something that would shock many of his hearers. Any explanation of verses 1-13 is clearly false if it does not naturally lead to the objection of verse 14. This verse disallows the teaching of those who try to "soften" the statements of the preceding verses, by saying that election is based on God's foreknowledge of man's faith, or that the apostle is speaking of corporate election rather than individual election.

So how does the apostle answer the charge of injustice? Does he say that election is based upon God's foresight of human decisions? Does he say that election is corporate, not individual? Does he say that election is unto service rather than salvation?

No. He says none of these things. On the contrary, he answers the charge of injustice by saying that the basis for God's election is to show mercy and compassion. It is important to understand that the words mercy and compassion imply that we are guilty sinners who deserve God's wrath. Do you want justice from God? Then prepare to be condemned as a guilty sinner who deserves the everlasting terrors of hell!

Why isn't election unjust? Because it is an expression of mercy and compassion toward sinners who, in justice, deserve only God's wrath. God hated Esau justly because Esau was a sinner... a rebel against God's righteous government. Likewise, except for His sovereign mercy, He would have hated Jacob, Isaac, Abraham and every other sinner who ever lived. God's election of Jacob is an expression of His mercy toward Jacob... of saving and cleansing one who deserved nothing but wrath and indignation.

But why isn't it unjust for God to show mercy to rebellious sinners? How can a perfectly just God forgive sins without compromising His justice? ... In a word, by Substitution. God's justice demands that every sinner be punished. This would seem to make forgiveness impossible. But God punished His own Son for our sins and thereby satisfied His justice...

1 Peter 2:24 - and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

2 Corinthians 5:21 - He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Romans 3:26 - for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Nor was it unjust for Jesus to be punished for our sins. Not only did He suffer willingly for our sins, but because He was and is God the Son, He, as the offended Party, suffered in our place. God was not punishing a mere creature for our sins... that would have been unjust! Instead, God Himself—the Sovereign King against whom we had sinned—clothed Himself with humanity that He might Himself suffer as our Redeemer and Savior.

But, how is it that one person, in the space of six hours, could adequately pay for the sins of a multitude of sinners, each of whom deserved an eternity of conscious, unrelenting torment? The answer lies in the dignity of the Substitute. Jesus was no ordinary person. Yes, He was truly man, but He was not a mere man... He was God the Son in human flesh. True, it was His humanity and not His deity that died, but the person who died was nevertheless the same person who had dwelt with the Father for all eternity... this was God's beloved Son, His only-begotten, with whom He was well-pleased. Because He was and is so precious in the eyes of His Father, His six hours of anguish on the cross were of enough worth to pay for the sins of billions of universes filled with guilty sinners! (However, its design or purpose was to redeem God's chosen people, Ephesians 5:25; John 10:11; Acts 20:28; etc.).

In his reply to the charge of injustice, Paul quotes Exodus 33:19 to prove that God is free to show mercy and compassion to whomever He pleases...

Exodus 33:19 - And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion."
It is a common belief in our day that God loves all men and wants to have mercy on everyone. But the inspired apostle quotes the inspired prophet to say that God is selective in His display of mercy, grace and compassion... and that His choice is based upon His own sovereign will alone... "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION."

From this fact, the apostle draws the only possible conclusion: "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." If you want a religion where God's will is subject to man's will, then throw away your Bible and look elsewhere! Paul states plainly that God's display of mercy and compassion "does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs" instead, it depends "on God who has mercy."

Why then do those whom God has chosen will to trust Him and to do good works? Does God choose us because we first chose Him, or do we choose Him because He first chose us?

Philippians 2:13 - for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

John 6:65 - "... no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."

2 Timothy 2:25 - ... perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,

1 John 4:19 - We love, because He first loved us.

When God regenerates us, He makes us willing to love and trust Him. Our faith and repentance are evidence of the sovereign work of God in our hearts. We believe because He has taken away the stony heart and has given us a heart of flesh...
Ezekiel 36:26 - Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

God Also Has a Purpose for Those who will Never Believe.

Okay Paul... it's all well to speak about God's elective purpose in terms of compassion and mercy, but what about the ones He didn't choose? Aren't they likewise bound by His sovereignty? Where's the mercy in that?

Romans 9:17-18 - For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
To answer this question, Paul cites the example of Pharoah. God "raised up" Pharoah for a reason... and that reason is the same reason why God does anything else... to bring glory to Himself.

God gave great power and wealth to Pharoah, and put the Israelites under his authority for one particular reason... namely, so that God could demonstrate His power in judging the mightiest kings and their armies. If Pharoah had been a tender-hearted king, there would have been no "showdown" between God and Pharoah, where God's power and sovereignty could be clearly displayed. And so, God not only made Pharoah a powerful king, but He also made him a stubborn king who would oppose God's rightful appeals to "Let my people go!" (Exodus 10:3 and elsewhere).

Nine times in Exodus, we read that God hardened (or was going to harden) Pharoah's heart (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8). In addition, Exodus 14:17 says that God was going to harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they would pursue the Israelites into the sea...

Exodus 14:17 - "As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen."
Notice that God had a purpose for hardening the hearts of the Egyptians... namely, so that "I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen." Not that Pharoah and his army would willingly honor the Lord, but rather, that God's name would be honored by justly destroying Pharoah and his army in the sea.

Indeed, this brought such great honor to the Lord that, some 40 years later, when the Israelites prepared to attack Jericho, Rahab explained how the inhabitants of the city were terrified of the Israelites because of what God had done for them at the Red Sea...

Joshua 2:8-11 - Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, "I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
Thus, God hardened the heart of Pharoah and the Egyptians so that, by displaying His great power in bringing judgment upon them, He would magnify His great name among the nations.

But before we jump to the unwarranted conclusion that God actively made Pharoah more rebellious than he would normally have been, we must realize that, in addition to the ten verses which say that God hardened the heart of Pharoah and the Egyptians, there are five verses which say merely that "Pharoah's heart was hardened" (without saying who hardened his heart), and there are three verses which say that Pharoah hardened his own heart.

So, what do we make of this? Who hardened Pharoah's heart? When Pharoah's heart was hardened, was it sometimes God's doing, and other times Pharoah's doing? Did God cause Pharoah to harden his own heart against God? ... Or is there something more subtle going on here?

First of all, let's get one point firmly established in our minds... God did not cause Pharoah to sin. When Pharoah hardened his heart against the Lord, that was a sin... indeed, it was a very grievous sin! But God is never the author of sin. So, when Scripture says that God hardened Pharoah's heart, we cannot understand this to mean that God somehow infused sin into Pharoah, or forced him to be a greater sinner than he was before.

James 1:13 - Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
Instead, we need to understand that the evil we do is fully our own fault, and anything good we do (even if the "good" is a moderation of the evil we might otherwise have done) is because God intervenes to keep us from being as bad as we can be. Balaam tried to curse the Israelites, but God would not allow him to do it (Numbers 22). Satan wanted to sift Peter like wheat, but God would not permit him to do it (Luke 22:31-32). So God exercises a restraining influence on men and angels, to keep them from being as sinful as they naturally would be. This explains how unsaved people can so often do things that appear good or kind, even though their hearts are totally depraved.

In order to harden Pharoah's heart, God did not have to impart greater sinfulness to Pharoah. All he had to do was to relax his restraint upon Pharoah. Pharoah's heart was already inclined to evil (just as all of Adam's descendants are). Pharoah's heart was like a heavy stone, restrained from falling by a cord held by God's hand. God did not have to add to the weight of Pharoah's heart, nor did he have to push Pharoah's heart toward greater evil. All He needed to do was to let out some of the cord and Pharoah's heart would very naturally incline itself toward greater evil and stubbornness against God.

Even so, the degree to which Pharoah hardened his own heart was fully under God's control, and He chose to permit Pharoah to harden his heart against God's demand to release the Israelites from bondage.

God's Sovereignty does not Negate Man's Responsbility.

This absolute sovereignty, where even the hardness of Pharoah's heart is under God's complete control, leads to yet another objection anticipated by Paul...

Romans 9:19-24 - You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
Here, the apostle tackles the most common argument against the sovereignty of God:  If God has sovereignly willed even the decisions of men, and causes everything to come to pass according to His plans... including even the sinful stubbornness of Pharoah—then how can He justly hold us responsible? If my actions are ultimately determined by His sovereign will, then am I not merely a puppet? (Or, as is commonly charged, a "robot").[1]

It is interesting that Paul's intial response is to rebuke the person who asks such a question... "On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?" The objector supposes that he is dealing with mere philosophical questions, and that it is perfectly appropriate to raise an objection to such a shocking statement.

However, Paul views things somewhat differently. Paul is not like the Greek philosophers, who disputed over mere words and propositions... Paul is an inspired apostle, teaching us about the ways of the one true and living God. The first article of Paul's faith is this: God is God, and He is both free and just in whatever He does.[2] There is no question that He hardened the heart of Pharoah and the Egyptians—Scripture is very clear on this point! To raise the objection is to malign God's justice, or to challenge His right to govern His creation. The person who raises such objections puts creaturely interests above the interests of God. However, God and His glory are of the highest importance.

Every Christian should be fully assured that ...

If these truths reside in the foundation of our faith, we will never be so brazen as to raise an objection like "Why does He still find fault?" Most heretical doctrines would never be given serious consideration if people would simply begin with a proper view of God.

It is one thing to desire an explanation to teachings which, on the surface, seem to say that God is unjust. Having an explanation for such problems gives us greater assurance of what we believe. However, more often than not, when a person raises the objection that God's sovereignty would undermine human responsibility, the motive is not a sincere, humble desire to reconcile a seeming inconsistency in one's understanding of God. Instead, there is often a certain arrogance in raising such a question... as though we, though mere creatures, have the right to pass judgment on God and His ways with men, and it is this arrogance that the apostle rebukes when he says "On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?".

There is likewise great arrogance in assuming that we, though sinful, finite creatures, possess sufficient understanding to plumb the mysteries of God. Later in the epistle, the apostle makes it clear that the ways of God surpass the bounds of human comprehension...

Romans 11:33-34 - Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR?
Paul justifies his rebuke by appealing to the illustration of the Potter... "The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?" When answering an objection which calls into question either the sovereignty or the justice of God, the apostle's inspired response is to remind us that God is our Maker, and that He has the sovereign right to do with us as He pleases—just as a potter has the right to make various vessels from a lump of clay—some vessels for honor and others for dishonor. This is designed to remind us that we are mere creatures, formed by God for His own purpose and glory, and so we have no right to question His wisdom or justice in forming us to be what we are.

Man's perpetual error is to suppose that he is equal with God. There are many who would firmly deny that they are equal with God, but when they argue against God's sovereignty, they elevate their own reason and sense of justice as if they are qualified to sit in judgment upon God. God rebuked the Israelites for having such an exalted view of themselves, and such a debased view of God...

Psalm 50:21 (NIV) - "These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face."
The apostle continues his discussion of the potter by saying... "What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles."

Notice the parallel with the previous statement, that the potter has the right to make from the lump two kinds of vessels: "one vessel for honorable use and another for common use". Now, thinking of God as the divine Potter, he draws an analogy, speaking of "vessels of wrath" and "vessels of mercy". Notice how carefully the apostle has chosen his terms... these are not merely "vessels of destruction" and "vessels of blessing", but "vessels of wrath" and "vessels of mercy". The terms "wrath" and "mercy" imply that, in both cases, wrath is deserved. In the former case, the "vessels of wrath" deserve wrath, and, despite God's patient forbearance with them, this is what they will ultimately receive. In the latter case, the "vessels of mercy", although also deserving wrath, are pitied by God, and are given to His Son, Jesus, to be redeemed by His blood, forgiven of their sins and renewed by His Spirit, that they may receive "the riches of His glory."

This again demonstrates that the explanation which supposes that Paul is speaking merely of "corporate election", or of "election unto service" rather than unto salvation, is wholly unwarranted and contrary to the passage. The apostle speaks of "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction", which cannot mean mere temporal judgment, but refers to the everlasting torment of hell. It is contrasted with "vessels of mercy", and says that God wished "to make known the riches of His glory" upon them. This, likewise, does not speak merely of "national privilege", nor of mere temporal blessing, but of the everlasting blessedness of the saints, who alone will enjoy the glory of God. Notice that the plural term "vessels" views these as individual people, and not as a corporate entity, such as a nation or race of men.

Paul identifies these "vessels of mercy" as "even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles." Here, he includes not only himself and other believing Jews, but believing Gentiles as well, thus demonstrating that God's mercy extends beyond the geographical and genealogical borders of Israel. Finally, notice that he again ascribes full glory to God for our salvation by speaking of us as those "whom He called".

Although the term "called" sometimes refers to the external call whereby God commands all men to flee to Him (e.g. Matthew 22:14, "many are called, but few are chosen"), yet that is not its usage here. Here, Paul is referring to those who are "vessels of mercy" and says that they will receive "the riches of His glory". Here, as also in the previous chapter (Romans 8:30), Paul uses the term "called" to refer to the Holy Spirit's ministry of sovereignly regenerating the hearts of those whom God has chosen to receive salvation...

Romans 8:30 - and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
In the mind of the apostle, God's predestination and calling unfailingly result in justification and glorification for those who are predestined and called.

The Prophets Foretold the Blinding of Israel and the Survival of a Remnant.

Paul concludes his discussion by citing three prophecies in which God had declared that Israel was to be partially and temporarily rejected. The first prophecy is from Hosea 2:23 ...

Here, Hosea looks forward to a time when Israel will be restored. Paul, however, is not so much concerned with the restoration itself, as with the fact that Israel was to be, for a period of time, "Not-My-People". His point is that "Not-My-People" described the current situation, when so few of his countrymen had trusted in the Messiah. The good news of Hosea's prophecy is that Israel's blindness was not to be a permanent condition.

Paul explains this in a later chapter...

Romans 11:25-29 - For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, "THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB. THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS." From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Israel's present blindness is both partial and temporary. Paul says that a "partial hardening" has happened to Israel. And he says that this hardening will continue "until" the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. Paul, writing to the Gentile Christians at Rome, explains that, during this current time of hardening, "they are enemies for your sake", but that this time of hardening will someday come to an end because "they are beloved for the sake of the fathers" and because "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable". In other words, God had made promises to the Jewish patriarchs that He would one day save their fleshly descendants, and these promises ("gifts and calling") are irrevocable (since God cannot lie). It is clear that the apostle has in mind the future restoration of the Jewish people, since he refers to them in the third person as "they"... "they are enemies for your sake" and "they are beloved for the sake of the fathers", and he also calls them "Jacob" and contrasts them with the Gentiles.

Even so, in Romans 9:25-26, Paul's objective is to show that the present condition of Israel's rejection was prophesied by Hosea. The time of her restoration had not yet arrived.

Next, Paul cites Isaiah 10:22-23 as additional proof that "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel"...

Isaiah is very clear in stating that only a remnant of the Jewish people would be saved. This is precisely Paul's point in verse 6, and the point he has been developing in the intervening verses. This prophecy of Isaiah was very clearly fulfilled in Paul's time, for the believers among the Jews were but a small minority of the nation.

Finally, Paul cites Isaiah 1:9, again to show that Israel was to apostasize, with only a "posterity" to preserve her from utter destruction...


What the Jews Pursued, they did not Obtain
    What the Gentiles Obtained, they did not Pursue.

Paul now considers his teaching in light of the salvation of the Gentiles...

Romans 9:30-32 - What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."
There is great irony in the fact that the righteousness which the Jews zealously pursued, they never obtained, whereas the Gentiles, who never cared about righteousness, obtained it. Why was this?

The Gentiles obtained this righteousness by faith, but the Jews sought it through works. Please notice that the apostle never says the the Gentiles "pursued righteousness by faith". Rather, he says that they did not pursue righteousness. The apostle understands "faith" to be, not man's contribution to salvation, but rather God's gift to the elect individual. God gave faith to the Gentiles, and, along with this faith, they obtained righteousness.

This agrees with other statements of God's word, that faith is God's gift to man, and is not the result of man's independent "decision" to turn to God...

Ephesians 2:8-10 - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Philippians 1:29 - For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake ... to believe in Him ...

Acts 13:48 - When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Likewise, repentance and a receptive heart are said to be given by God to those whom He is pleased to give it...
2 Timothy 2:25 - with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,

John 6:65 - And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."

Acts 16:14 - A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

Only Israel is said to have "pursued" righteousness, but those who pursued it did not obtain it, because they pursued it in the wrong way. They attempted to make themselves righteous by devotion to God and conformity to His law. The end result, however, was not true righteousness, but a whitewash of hypocritical self-righteousness which merely concealed the corruption of their hearts.

When Christ, the true source of our righteousness, appeared, they rejected Him, thinking that they were righteous in themselves, and saw no need of the righteousness given by Christ. Thus, they stumbled over that precious stone of offense. Peter elaborates on this idea...

1 Peter 2:6-8 - For this is contained in Scripture: "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, "THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone," and, "A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE"; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
The Jewish leaders were the builders who rejected Him, but God placed Him as the capstone. It may be helpful to consider the construction of a pyramid. The builders keep rejecting the capstone because of its odd shape until the last stone is needed, and then, the stone which the builders kept rejecting is the only stone left, and has the perfect shape to complete the pyramid.

The meaning is that, although wicked men continually reject Christ, God has exalted Him to the highest place of honor. Indeed, their rejection of Him is ultimately the basis of His glorification, since their rejection of Him culminated in the crucifixion of our Lord, but it is His crucifixion and resurrection which pre-eminently displays the riches of God's mercy, grace, justice, wisdom and power.

Notice how Peter attributes their stumbling and disobedience to God's purpose and will... "to this doom they were also appointed". This echoes the teaching which Paul has set forth in this precious ninth chapter of Romans. Clearly, Peter and Paul were of one mind concerning God's sovereignty and its relation to human unbelief!


The entire ninth chapter of Romans is devoted to explaining the mystery of why so many Jews were rejecting the Messiah when God had promised the Jewish nation that He would give them a new heart and a new Spirit. Paul's inspired explanation is that God's promises were intended only for some of the Jews, not all. To prove his case, he cites Isaac and Ishmael, and also Jacob and Esau, where God's sovereign hand, of purposing to bless one individual and reject the other, was manifestly evident.

In the case of Isaac and Ishmael, he shows that God provides that which is impossible to man (just as it was humanly impossible for Sarah to bear a child at her advanced age). In the case of Jacob and Esau, he shows that God's choice is not based on human merit or decisions, for He had made His choice before the children had yet done (or willed) anything. Paul affirms that their destinies were based on His purpose, choice and calling.

Next, he addresses the charge of injustice, which is commonly leveled against the idea that God would choose some, but not others, unto salvation. His reply is that election is a matter of mercy rather than justice. God's justice demands that all men be condemned. If justice rules out election, it does so only because justice rules out mercy. However, the cross is the divinely-ordained solution to the problem of how God can be both just and merciful at the same time. Christ paid the penalty demanded by God's justice so that now, God is free to show mercy to whomever He pleases.

Paul cites the case of Pharoah to prove that God is free, not only to show mercy, but also to withhold mercy, and even to harden the hearts of men. This arouses some to object that, if this is true, then we must all be "robots", and God is unjust to hold us accountable for our sins. To this objection Paul issues a stern rebuke, reminding us that, as creatures, we have neither the right nor the understanding to pass judgment upon our Creator. God, as the Potter, has the right to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor—one vessel to be a vessel of wrath, fitted to destruction, and another to be a vessel of mercy, a recipient of the riches of God's glory.

In all, Paul's point is this... the reason why God did not save every single Jew was that, as God, He is under no obligation to save anyone. Every single person, whether Jew or Gentile, is a rebellious sinner who deserves nothing but God's eternal wrath and indignation. God is free, in mercy, to save whomever He pleases, but He is obligated to save no one.

Why does He not save everyone? Because His primary goal is to glorify Himself, and sometimes (as in the case of Pharoah), His purpose is better served by hardening and destroying the sinner, rather than in having compassion on him. Is this a difficult idea for us to accept? Perhaps. But it is the clear and faithful teaching of Scripture. We dishonor God and engage in deceit when we seek to twist the plain meaning of the apostle's words in an attempt to make the teaching more acceptable to our dim, deceitful understanding.

A few final observations:

  1. As an inspired apostle, Paul might have been content to make these assertions on his own apostolic authority. However, he cites many Scriptures to demonstrate that this is not a novel teaching, but is the consistent teaching of all of Scripture. Thus, we have double assurance that this is truly the teaching of God.
  2. The assertion that Romans 9 is about "corporate election" is ludicrous, given the numerous examples of individuals cited by Paul. Isaac, Jacob, Esau and Pharoah are explicitly cited, not as mere nicknames for the clans or nations they represented, but as individual persons who were either blessed or rejected by God.
  3. The assertion that Romans 9 is about "temporal blessing" rather than salvation is likewise ludicrous, given that the matter which so troubled the apostle at both the beginning and end of the chapter is the unbelief of his Jewish brethren. Moreover, the chapter is saturated with such salvation-related concepts as mercy, compassion, everlasting covenant, hardening, wrath,prepared for destruction and the riches of His glory. To argue that the chapter is not speaking of salvation is like trying to swim against the current of a mighty river.
  4. The assertion that God's election is ultimately based upon His foresight of what man would do is repeatedly rejected in this passage of Scripture. Over and over again, we read expressions of God's purpose, God's choice, and God's will, and denials that man's works or will play any part in it.
  5. The objections anticipated and answered by the apostle: "There is no injustice with God, is there?" and "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" are very familiar to the Calvinist, since such objections are often leveled against our beliefs. Any interpretation which seeks to circumvent these objections is patently false, because the correct teaching is the one which does incite and invite these objections.
The Jews rejected our Lord because they were blinded to His glory. Their minds were darkened so that they refused to even consider the possibility that He was the promised Messiah. Let us beware of a similar blindness when we confront God's sovereign election as it is taught in Romans 9!

Epilogue... A brief look at Romans 11:1-10.

In a sense, the eleventh chapter of Romans is a continuation of the ninth. The tenth chapter is a parenthesis in which Paul stops to consider why the Jews, although seeking righteousness, did not find it. But in the eleventh chapter, Paul returns to the question of Israel's unbelief, and considers whether God had rejected the very people whom He had separated for Himself...

Romans 11:1-4 - I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? "Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE." But what is the divine response to him? "I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL."
Paul assures us that "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew", and then compares his own situation to that of Elijah, who felt so isolated and abandoned that he imagined himself to be the only remaining Israelite who loved Jehovah. God's answer to Elijah (1 Kings 19:18) was that He had reserved for Himself seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Notice that it was God who "kept" for Himself these men. 1 Kings attributes their salvation to God's sovereign will.

Paul is saying that, while it may have seemed that God had abandoned Israel (i.e. by not converting all the Israelites), on the contrary, one should consider that God had not abandoned Israel altogether. After all, Paul himself was "an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." Moreover, there were many other Israelites who had trusted in Christ. On the day of Pentecost alone, 3000 were saved! (Acts 2:41) By the time Paul wrote Romans, there might easily have been 7000 or more Israelites who had come to Christ, drawing a close parallel to the life of Elijah.

Romans 11:5-10 - In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace. What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, "GOD GAVE THEM A SPIRIT OF STUPOR, EYES TO SEE NOT AND EARS TO HEAR NOT, DOWN TO THIS VERY DAY." And David says, "LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM. LET THEIR EYES BE DARKENED TO SEE NOT, AND BEND THEIR BACKS FOREVER."
In Romans 9:27, Paul had cited Isaiah 10:22 to demonstrate that God was going to save a remnant of Israel. He returns to this concept of the remnant again in 11:5.. Just as God had reserved a remnant of 7000 faithful men in Elijah's day, so also He had chosen for Himself a remnant in Paul's day. Paul ascribes this all to "God's gracious choice", and verse 7 provides an excellent summary of Romans 9:1-11:6 ...
Romans 11:7 - What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened;
Notice that Paul ascribes the salvation of the believing Israelites to the fact that God had "chosen" them, and affirms that those who were not chosen were instead hardened. In verses 8-10, Paul cites Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:22-23 to show that it was of God to harden their hearts. This echoes the teaching of Romans 9, which spoke of the hardening of Pharoah's heart, but now Paul asserts that, in the same way, God hardened the heart of many of the Jewish people so that they would stubbornly reject the Gospel.

The reason why He hardened them is answered in the remainder of chapter 11, but that's another story! Suffice it to say that God used Israel's blindness as an occasion to bring salvation to the Gentiles, and so that He could later show mercy to Israel, just as He is now showing mercy to the Gentiles.

The apostle Paul had perhaps more evangelical concern for his countrymen than any person who has ever lived since his time (see 9:1-3; 10:1), yet this did not keep him from fully acknowledging God's sovereignty in saving or condemning whomever He pleases, and in praising this sovereign God with all his heart. After all, Paul concludes chapter eleven with the following words...

Romans 11:33-36 - Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.


[1] We need to address this charge that God's sovereignty reduces man to a mere "robot" or "puppet". This sort of argument is based upon a very superficial understanding of what it means to say that God is in control of our decisions. For one thing, neither a robot nor a puppet is capable of cognitive thought. Obviously, a puppet has no capacity of thought whatever. And, even if a robot (i.e. a computer) is capable of processing information, it does not do so with any sense of cognition of what it is doing, nor of what it is acting upon. A computer is nothing more than a collection of switches (technically "gates") which are capable of storing and combining electrical states (0's and 1's), of accepting electrical signals from various devices (keyboard, mouse, modem, disk drives, etc.) and sending electrical signals to various devices (monitors, printers, modems, disk drives, etc.) based upon the electrical states present at the inputs and outputs of these gates. It is all very mechanistic, albeit somewhat complex, but never is there any form of actual consciousness or cognition.

Neither do robots and computers (much less puppets!) have any sense of affections or feelings. A computer can be instructed to print "I'm sad," or to display a sad face on its monitor—but this is all a facade—a computer cannot feel or experience joy or sadness, comfort or pain, peace or fear. When a computer makes a decision, it is purely deterministic, without any sense of comprehension or opinion of the decision made.

With men, however, it is different. Man does possess cognition and affections... we don't merely process information, but we have a sense of recognizing and forming opinions of the information we process. Moreover, man has a will, which means that he makes choices based upon his affections. We choose one thing over another because we value one thing over another, and this sense of value is very intimately bound up in our sense of desires or affections... Those who have holy affections will make holy choices, and those who have unholy affections will make unholy choices. The problem with man is that he is a sinner by nature... a sinner from birth. Thus, man freely makes choices (i.e. "freely" in the sense that no one outside of himself forces him "against his will" to make the choices he makes), but he constantly makes sinful choices because, at heart, he has sinful desires and appetities which form the basis on which he makes his choices.

Unregenerate man loves his sin and hates God. He does not possess even the smallest love for a holy, sovereign God, and so he has absolutely no incentive to truly submit himself to God or to love or trust God. Even when he hears the Gospel of the Cross, it is mere foolishness to him, and he often mocks the very idea that God would require such a bloody sacrifice. Puppets and robots, on the other hand, do not love sin, and they don't hate God, either. They don't even have a concept of sin or God, nor any capacity to love or hate anything!

When God regenerates the sinner, he gives him a new heart which does possess holy affections. This new heart has a love for God, a fear of God, a love of holiness, a hatred of sin, and so on. These holy affections provide new motivations and incentives which were never present before, and now the man freely chooses those things in which he now delights... trust in God, obedience to His Word, a desire to live a holy life, etc. It is this dynamic, that the will is governed by the affections, that distinguishes men from machines like robots and puppets.

Thus, the objection that man would have to be a mere puppet or robot if God were sovereign is simply false. The Calvinist affirms that man is a sinner... indeed, such a great sinner that nothing short of the miraculous grace of God can turn him away from his sin. Robots and puppets cannot sin. Unregenerate men, on the other hand, can do nothing but sin!

[2]We are not saying that God, because He is God, has the divine right to commit injustice. The old saying "Might makes right" does not apply. What we are saying instead is that God truly is just and right in all that He does, and that any appearance of injustice arises from our own distorted sense of justice. We should never assume that we, as mortal, finite creatures, have all the facts before us, nor that we possess a sufficient understanding of the infinite God and the grandeur of His ways, to be able to pass judgment on what He does. And, as sinful, depraved humans, fallen in Adam, we should expect our initial, natural response to be based upon a faulty concept of justice. One of the reasons why the apostle responded with a rebuke was that he recognized that the objection is prompted by our sinful nature, and does not hold God in proper reverence.

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