The Sovereign Love of God

An Examination of Romans 9

by Bruce Reeves


June 23,24,26,27, 2005, Bruce Reeves debated Calvinistic Baptist Gene Cook on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Arkansas. The first two nights Mr. Cook affirmed, “The scriptures teach that the alien sinner is forgiven of his past sins by faith only, before and without water baptism.” The last two nights Brother Reeves affirmed, “The scriptures teach that water baptism is necessary in order for the alien sinner to be forgiven of his past sins.” I moderated for Brother Reeves. Brother Reeves had wanted to discuss Romans nine in detail during the debate but failed to have the opportunity. In the last speech of the last night Mr. Cook introduced his Calvinistic explanation of Romans nine. Since Brother Reeves had no opportunity to respond, this was both unfair and a violation of the rules of honorable debate. I called a point of order and objected. Mr. Cook stated his determination to proceed, and his two moderators endorsed this. The debate was finished under protest. Many in the audience, even Baptists, were disgusted by this ploy. The following material is the material Brother Reeves would have presented had it been possible.

Keith Sharp

The text under consideration in this article forms the most contested territory in the debate over Calvinistic theology and its consequences concerning the character of God and man’s salvation.[1] While it is true that a comprehensive consideration of Biblical teaching reveals that the notions of Calvinism are erroneous, we make a gross mistake if we do not take the time as students of the scripture to consider the significance of this context in the presentation of the theme of the epistle to the Romans.

It is an exegetical mistake to isolate Romans 9 from the rest of the epistle. Actually, Romans 9-11 is recognized by most scholars as a single cohesive argument forming the climax of Romans 1-11. After having demonstrated that both Jew and Gentile were guilty before God (Romans 3:9, 19, 20) and were, thus, in need of grace through a submissive faith in the Lord, it was important that the chief Jewish objections to the faith of Christ be answered definitively.

In this text Paul addresses three of the most prominent Jewish objections to the gospel, which all centered on the singular truth of God’s expression of mercy to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. In doing so, Paul offers an inspired response to those who would attempt to restrict God’s mercy to physical Israel (Romans 11:32).

Brian Abasciano offers insight into the meaning of this text as it relates to the book of Romans as a whole,

On a literary level Romans 9-11 completes the exposition of the theme of the epistle (1.16-17), a summary statement of the gospel, by explaining the priority of the Jew and by defending the gospel Paul has presented at length against its most compelling objection ~ how the ... gospel can be the fulfillment of Judaism/the Old Testament and its promises to Israel when the vast majority of Jews had rejected Christ and were therefore excluded from God's salvation and promises to them [p. 31].

Paul’s Sympathy for Israel (Romans 9:1-5)

The introductory statements of this section frame the rest of the discussion of God’s sovereignty in salvation. Paul writes, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:1-3). Why would Paul have such sorrowful grief over Israel being lost if the doctrine of unconditional election were true? Paul’s sincere desire for the redemption of all men was in harmony with God’s love for all of mankind (Romans 10:1-3; 11:15; John 3:16; I Timothy 2:4; II Peter 3:9).

The apostle was saddened at the present condition of his people in light of the Lord’s divine purpose in the election of physical Israel.

"Who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen" (Romans 9:4-5).

Ironically, God had chosen Israel in order to bring the Messiah into the world to bless all who would seek him by faith and now they were the very ones who were rejecting the promised Christ (Romans 1:1-5).

The First Objective: God's Faithfulness

If the Gospel Is True, Then God Has Been Unfaithful to Israel (Romans 9:6-13)

Paul answers the Jewish accusation that the gospel would result in God being unfaithful to His promise to Israel by demonstrating that His word had not failed in anyway.

"But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son’" (Romans 9:6-9)
It was not that God had failed in His promise, but the Jews had developed a false sense of security and misunderstanding of the promise itself. Not all of those who were members of physical Israel were a part of spiritual Israel (Romans 9:6). Paul clearly differentiates between the “children of the flesh” and the “children of the promise.” The “children of the promise” are those who are the true seed, i.e. those who believe.
“Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer… Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith…and if you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:7-9, 13-14, 29).
Paul uses Hebrew parallelism and flips appositional phrases in order to emphasize his point. He uses the term “seed” in two different ways to demonstrate that the Jews had missed the application of the seed promise. One time Paul uses the phrase “seed of Abraham” to reference physical Israel (Romans 9:7), whereas he uses the phrase “counted for the seed” (Romans 9:8) to reference those who are spiritual Israel. He is distinguishing between the “children of God,” as the class of believers and the “children of the flesh,” as the class of unbelievers (Romans 4:11, 12, 16). It was imperative that his hearers come to understand that it is not physical descent, but spiritual descent that comprises the faithful of God (Romans 2:28-29).

Isaac was not personally elected unconditionally before the foundation of the world, but he was saved from his sins by faith (Hebrews 11:20). Paul’s point in Romans 9:9 is not about Isaac’s personal salvation, but God’s decision that he constitute a part in the lineage which brought the Messiah into the world, “For this is the word of promise, ‘At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son” (Romans 9:9, cf. Genesis 18:14). Again it must be emphasized that the phrase “word of promise” identifies the provision of the Messiah for the whole world through the Jewish people: i.e. “Sarah shall have a son.”

It cannot be over-emphasized that God’s word had not failed, because physical Israel had fulfilled the purpose for which God had chosen them as a nation. The choice of God in accordance with His divine purpose, to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham, would stand through the lineage of Jacob, not Esau.

“And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated’” (Romans 9:10-13)

The belief or unbelief of Israel would not alter the purpose of God to offer mercy to all nations through Christ. Paul wrote, “For what if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” (Romans 3:3). God’s choice to use ethnic Israel to fulfill His purpose was not dependent upon their goodness, evil, or works, but God’s faithfulness (9:16; 11:28).

Those who argue that this passage refers to God’s unconditional election of particular individuals to salvation do so in spite of the context not because of it. Paul’s statement that “the older will serve the younger” is a quotation from Genesis 25:23, “And the LORD said to her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.’” Historically, Esau never personally served Jacob, yet the Edomites, as Esau’s descendents, did serve Israel, the descendents of Jacob (Genesis 33:4, 5; II Samuel 8:13, 14).

Scripture demonstrates that God’s love of Jacob and hatred of Esau did not refer to their personal salvation, but to God bestowing His blessing upon the nation of Israel. Long after the decease of both Jacob and Esau the scripture records the following:

"‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. ‘Yet you say, 'In what way have you loved us?' Was not Esau Jacob's brother?’ says the LORD. ‘Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated, and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness’" (Malachi 1:2, 3).

So why do we read of Isaac being chosen over Ishmael and Jacob being chosen over Esau? It was important for Israel to understand that even their place in the provision of the Messiah was by God’s sovereign choice. The ones not chosen (Ishmael and Esau) are not thereby condemned to hell; they are simply excluded from having a part in the working out of God’s redemptive plan. Jehovah had the sovereign right to choose how he would work out His redemptive purposes and through whom He does so.

If the election of Romans 9:11 is that of personal salvation then there are grave consequences regarding the nature of God, for the election of this verse was not based on any good or evil that Jacob or Esau did. The logical conclusion for the proponent of Calvinism is that all those who are damned to hell are not condemned ultimately because of their “evil,” but due to the fact that God did not have any redemptive love for them.

Stephen Garrett, a Calvinistic Baptist, in expressing his view of Romans chapter 9 said,

"...Brother, when you talk about God loving somebody and God hating somebody, are you not talking about eternal salvation? He hated Esau before He was born and He says it was not based on any evil that he did" [1]

Gene Cook, Jr., a well known defender of Calvinistic theology said in discussion of this context,

"‘Non elect infants who die in their infancy will spend eternity in hell’ – I would answer true to that question, you have to be elect in order to be saved. If this question is false, then we should perform abortion, because abortion is the greatest evangelistic act that has ever taken place since the time that Jesus walked the face of the earth, because everyone of those children are going straight to heaven according to Mr. Brown’s theology" [2]

"So when he (Bruce Reeves) stands over here and says, ‘His’ (Gene Cook, Jr.) ‘God is a monster, his God is not fair, his God sends little babies to hell ... there is nothing they can do about it,’ he (Bruce Reeves) is really arguing against the God of the Bible..." [3]

"You just got up and heard Mr. Reeves make the argument that my version of God is a God who puts one baby on the saved list and another baby not on the saved list and I’m going to show you from Romans chapter nine that that’s what the Scripture says" [4]

It is here that it becomes painfully obvious that Calvinistic theology must ignore the immediate context of this section of scripture, as well as the remote context of scripture in order to uphold its position. Those who are willing to abuse this text to teach unconditional individualistic election take unwarranted liberties with scripture for one reason and one reason alone: to affirm their own theology. The view that would assert that “God is the first cause of all evil,”[5] “the devil does what God commands him to do, no more and no less”[6] and the total inherent inability of men to seek Christ by faith does not come to the book of Romans in an unbiased fashion. Calvinists have in many ways put all of their eggs in the basket of Romans nine and it is my conviction that this very text may be the key to removing the underpinnings of Calvinism: that is a false view of sovereignty!

The application of Romans 9 to unconditional individualistic election violates the very point that Paul was trying to make to the Jews, and that is, that God intended Israel to be the conduit for the provision of salvation for all who would believe. Those who will say that “God provided salvation for all men,” but foreordained from eternity that they would not and could not respond are guilty of illogical double-talk in order to avoid the necessary conclusion of their teaching. [7]

Second Objection: God's Righteousness

"If the Gospel is True, Then God Has Been Unrighteous in His Dealings with Us." (Romans 9:14-18).

The Jews were insulted by the truth that believing Gentiles would be included in spiritual Israel whereas unbelieving Jews would be excluded. Paul writes, "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not" (Romans 9:14). Paul affirms that God is righteous in offering mercy to the Gentiles through faith in Christ, as well as to believing Jews (Romans 9:30-33).

Israel was on dangerous ground in questioning both God and His gospel, "For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.' So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (Romans 9:15-17).

This passage is expressing God's willingness and right to extend His mercy to all men that seek Him by faith. After all, God had historically extended mercy to Israel in spite of themselves (Exodus 33:4-23; Romans 10:20, 21).

This portion of Romans has been terribly proof-texted by some to deny the ability of men to choose faith in Christ, when in fact its actual purpose is to defend God's sovereign choice for "whosoever wills" to come and take of the "water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17).

Paul writes, "So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy" (Romans 9:16). It is critical that we interpret this verse in light of the theme of the chapter. We see that, the will of the Jewish people notwithstanding, the invitation to salvation to all those who would believe fell into the realm of God's choice. The phrase "it is not of him that wills or runs" refers to "the word of promise" (Romans 9:9, 16), i.e. the offering of salvation to Gentile believers. The Jews' disdain for the scope of the gospel including Gentiles would never supersede God's plan to "show mercy." God's choice that physical Israel would bring the Messiah into the world and, thus, be a blessing to Jewish and Gentile believers could not be revoked even by those who rejected Christ (Romans 11:28; Ephesians 3:1-5). It is in this sense that God's Messianic promise was not based on the Jews' will, but His choice.

Why is the hardening of Pharaoh brought into the discussion at this juncture? The writer is not taking an unrelated excursion, but he is introducing a well known event in Israel's history which is meant to serve as a powerful illustration of the futility of resisting God's purpose to extend mercy.

"For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.' Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens" (Romans 9:17-18).

Albert Barnes precludes any intimation that God directly forced Pharaoh to do evil.

"Margin, in Exodus 9:16, 'made thee stand,' i.e. sustained thee . . . That is, I have kept thee from death; I have preserved thee from ruin; I have ministered strength to thee, so that thy full character has been developed. It does not mean that God had infused into his mind any positive evil or that by any direct influence he had excited any evil feelings, but that he had kept him in circumstances which were fitted to develop his true character."[8]

The scripture explains that God providentially allowed Pharaoh the opportunity to do what he desired to do by maintaining the circumstances that would allow him the ability to carry out his true wishes:

"For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up [or have spared you, NIV mg.] for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth" (Exodus 9:15-16).

How had Pharaoh been hardened? We read that God hardened his heart, but we also read that he hardened his own heart (Exodus 9:34; 10:1). The Lord confronted Pharaoh through Moses and commanded that he let Israel go. Pharaoh responded by refusing Moses' demands and, thus, hardened his own heart and rebelled against God and His word. The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart, in that, He provided the occasion for Pharaoh to respond as he did. When God tells a man to do something that he does not desire to do – He hardens by his truth. It has been said that "the same sun that softens butter, hardens clay."

It is worthwhile to note the similarities between Pharaoh and Israel. God providentially maintained Pharaoh in circumstances that permitted him to express his character and likewise God had shown mercy to Israel in order to bring the Messiah into the world (Galatians 4:4). Just as Pharaoh had rejected God's word to his own demise, likewise, Israel was rejecting God's word to their own condemnation (Romans 9:27-29). God's mercy and deliverance for his true people hardened those who remained in unbelief. This is a point that cannot be missed: God's purpose was not thwarted by their rebellion. If anyone should have remembered the end of Pharaoh it should have been the Jews. Yet, they were following in his footsteps by their attempt to interfere with his expression of mercy to those who would serve Him.

Third Objection: God's Fairness

"If the Gospel is True, God Has Not Been Fair In His Treatment of Israel" (Romans 9:19-33)

The Jewish defiance against the gospel's inclusion of Gentile believers, as well as its rejection of Jewish unbelievers escalates to a charge against God Himself, "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?'" (Romans 9:19).

The Jewish conception is that since God established Israel as His people through Abraham and through the Law, God is unfair if He rejects circumcised Jews who refuse to believe in Jesus Christ (Romans 2:17-24; 9:14). Basically they were blaming God for their own unbelief, as if they had caught God in the "horns of a dilemma." Their reasoning seems distorted, but it is similar to the discussion earlier in Romans, "But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous is He? (I am speaking in human terms). May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world … Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:5-6, 8).

How could God use the Jewish people to provide the Messiah and yet reject them due to their unbelief? The Jews' accusation against the gospel according to Paul was in reality slander against God Himself. To argue that God's use of unbelievers to accomplish His purposes renders Him responsible for their wickedness is slanderous.

The Calvinistic interpretation of this passage grants the Jewish argument Paul denies! It is only by divorcing Romans 9:10-24 from the surrounding context that this passage has been interpreted primarily in terms of unconditional individual election.

Paul rebukes the perverse rebelliousness of the unbelieving Jew,

"But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?" (Romans 9:20-21).

The unbelieving Jews had no right to demand God to be answerable to them - God sets the criteria for justification, not them (Romans 10:1-3). The Jews were attempting to obligate God to fulfill their false concepts of His purpose, which were contrary to Old Testament scripture.

The potter-clay metaphor has been sorely abused by Calvinistic expositors, but by reading the original Old Testament passages from which the apostle Paul is quoting we can receive a clearer understanding of his line of argumentation.

"Therefore the LORD said: 'Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, 14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.' Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the LORD, and their works are in the dark; They say, 'Who sees us?' and, 'Who knows us?' 16 Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; for shall the thing made say of him who made it, 'He did not make me'? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" (Isaiah 29:13-16)

Isaiah's use of the potter-clay metaphor evidently does not fit with the Calvinistic viewpoint. Notice that Isaiah says, "They have removed their hearts far from me." One is made to wonder how this fits with the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. Contextually, we observe the real meaning of the potter-clay metaphor when Isaiah warns the people of their disobedience.

"Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; for shall the thing made say of him who made it, 'He did not make me'? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?"

This is precisely why Paul employs the metaphor under consideration. The Jews had everything "turned around," by attempting to dictate to God who should be the recipients of the gospel invitation and what the conditions should be for salvation.

Jeremiah similarly uses the metaphor in his reproof of the people of God,

"The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: 'Arise and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.' Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 'O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?' says the LORD. 'Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it. Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus says the LORD: "Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return now everyone from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good. "' And they said, 'That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart'" (Jeremiah 18:1-12).

One might be interested to take note of the many aspects of Calvinism the context of Jeremiah contradicts. For instance, there was clay that was marred in the hand of the potter. Was it the clay's fault or the Potter's fault? Has God eternally decreed that unbelievers be damned? It is also obvious that he is addressing the nation of Israel, e.g. the phrase "O house of Israel." The potter-clay metaphor references the right of God to demand that certain conditions be met by His people and they were refusing to do so, just as the Jews were refusing to believe in Christ for salvation.

With the proper background to the citations Paul offers as the foundation for his reproof of unbelieving Jews we resume our study of Romans nine. God has chosen what He will do regarding the clay, (sinner), in that he has chosen to respond to the clay, (sinner), according to his/her repentance or lack of repentance.

By quoting the potter-clay metaphor Paul essentially tells the Jews that God will deal with men based on their repentance — as he has always said he would deal with them. The image is that of the vessel of dishonor blaming its position on the Potter, rather than humbly submitting to God. The Potter determines the standard or criteria of acceptance, i.e., vessel of honor or vessel of dishonor.

The writer now exonerates God's treatment of unfaithful ethnic Israel. His patience with them was not to be interpreted as either acceptance or indifference toward their sin.

"What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?" (Romans 9:22-24).

God's patience and grace was an overt expression of God's love and mercy and an indication that the greater glory redounds to God by the salvation of sinners than by their destruction.

The nature of the categories or classes, i.e. "vessels of his mercy" and "vessels of his wrath," is unchanging, but the inclusion of an individual in either category or class is based on that individual's own response to the offer of grace (Romans 10:1-3; 11:22).

The Calvinist cannot successfully harmonize his view of unconditional individualistic election with Paul's presentation of conditional election in Romans 11:16-33.

Both his explanation regarding the "natural branches," i.e. unbelieving Jews, being cut off and his warning to "wild branches," i.e. Gentile believers, about the possibility of their own apostasy demand a conditional view of election.

"But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, 'Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.' Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either. Behold the kindness and severity of God, to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again" (Romans 9:17-23).

There has been some controversy over the use of the term "prepared" (NASB) or "fitted" in Romans 9:22. The issue has been over whether or not it should be read in middle voice or passive voice, but at the end of the day none of this changes the meaning of the context. Scholars on both sides of the technical question end up in the same place and only a strained and biased perspective would lead one to ascribe to God responsibility for the condition of the "vessels of dishonor." Such an argument would violate his infinite holiness (I John 1:5).

The Greek word, "katertismena," is the accusative plural neuter form of the perfect participle passive of the verb "prepare," "make," or "create." However, since there is no separate form to express the perfect participle of this verb in the middle voice, the rule in Greek is that the perfect participle passive form would be used to express the middle sense if a writer had that intent. Since the form could have either a passive or middle sense, context and interpretation would determine in what sense the form should be taken. The middle voice expresses action that an object performs on itself.

This is why some scholars believe it should be read in the middle voice. The entry for "katartizo" in the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, pp. 418-19, has a reference to Romams 9:22. The entry reads: "...vessels of wrath, created for destruction or, ready (ripe) f. destruction, or, taking k. as a mid., having prepared themselves for destruction." W.E. Vine comments, "Fitted / Prepared. . . in Rom. 9:22 . . . the Middle Voice signifies that those referred to 'fitted' themselves for destruction."[9]

Furthermore, even the comments of some scholars who take it to be the passive form rules out any interpretation which would argue that God made these vessels as they were and then derives pleasure from damning them.

C.H. Spurgeon:

"Are there not some of you here present, who are being fitted for destruction? God is not fitting you, you are fitting yourselves, by daily developing and indulging the depravity of your heart. ...Are you not making yourselves ready to be as stubble fully dried, cast into the oven of his wrath? This is not to be laid to the charge of God, but at your own door the guilt must be. If you perish any one of you, on your own head shall be your blood. The eternal God is not guilty of the murder of men's souls, they that die and sink in hell are suicides; they have rejected mercy, they have despised the Savior, they have chosen sin and hated holiness" [Sermons on Romans].

John Gill:

"...these are said to be 'fitted for destruction', that is, eternal damnation; not by God, …but by Satan … and by themselves, by their own wickedness, hardness of heart, and impenitence, do they treasure up to themselves wrath, against the day of wrath, so that their destruction is of themselves.." [Comments on Romans 9:22].

William Hendriksen:

"Paul does not state who it was that prepared these people or made them ripe for destruction. From 9:18 some have drawn the conclusion that it was God. But here in v. 22 we are not told that it was God … But it is not at all impossible that the apostle wishes to present a contrast between the present passage and verse 23, where the active agent is mentioned, in order to show that here, in verse 22, the people themselves … were the active agents ..." [Commentary on Romans 9:22].

Indeed the best commentary on the Bible is the Bible itself. Paul identified those who chose unbelief as being their own worst enemy, "But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:5).

Paul supports his argument with scripture in a masterful manner. Israel's salvation was dependent upon faith in Christ as Messiah (Romans 10:1-3). The notion that Gentiles were to be a part of the body of Christ had been prophesied by Hosea (Romans 9:25-26). Additionally, the fact that there would be a remnant of physical Israel saved had been prophesied by Isaiah. All of Israel that would be saved, would be saved in the same manner as the Gentiles, i.e. through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 11:26).

In summary, we find that Paul's illustrations demonstrated irrefutably that the Jewish objections to the gospel were without merit and an expression of disrespect toward God Himself. He spoke of God choosing Jacob over Esau in order to demonstrate that God did not choose Israel as a nation for salvation, but that He chose Israel as a nation to provide the Savior. He spoke of Pharaoh's interaction with Jehovah in order to demonstrate that God sets the terms of mercy and not Israel.

Finally, he used the potter-clay metaphor in order to demonstrate from Old Testament scripture man's need and ability to repent and God's sovereign right to demand that he do so. May we all submit to the great God of heaven and come to appreciate his Sovereign Love in His
Son Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

  1. Garrett-Donahue Debate on Election.
  2. David P. Brown & Gene Cook, Jr. Debate, Feb 16, 2000.
  3. Reeves-Cook Debate, Gene Cook’s Fourth Negative, June 24, 2005.
  4. Reeves-Cook Debate, Gene Cook’s Fourth Negative, June 24, 2005.
  5. “Both evil and good come from God…So what happens when you emphasize the will of man, then evil becomes only associated, there is no sense in which God decrees evil, there is no sense in which God wills evil and so evil is only from the heart of man and from the heart of Satan, ... but we recognize as reformed Christians that those are secondary causes, that the first cause of evil is God, Himself ... Man does not resist evil when he is fulfilling the decrees of God” [Is God Schizophrenic? "The Two Wills of God,” Gene Cook, 8/12/05].
  6. “The devil is God’s devil. He does what God allows him to do, he does what God commands him to do, no more and no less.” [Reeves-Cook Debate, Quote played from a sermon by Gene Cook, Reeves third affirmative, June 24, 2005].
  7. Stephen Garrett has written on his blog, “I am confirmed in my ‘five point’ Calvinism, although I have come to see how God has a general love for all men, and has provided salvation for every man."
  8. Barnes' Notes, Romans, p. 206
  9. Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Words, p. 241