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Observations On Romans, Chapter Nine

Category Articles
Date August 25, 2005

From ‘The Eternal Predestination Of God’, a treatise by John Calvin, 1552.

The salvation of believers depends upon the eternal election of God for which no cause or reason can be rendered but his own gratuitous good pleasure. God calls [converts], justifies, and glorifies, no one but him whom he had ordained unto eternal life. Conversion is the seal or ratification of his eternal election. Let those roar at us who will, let them pretend this truth to be against the goodness or justice of God. But if we do God an injury who set his election above all other causes, Paul taught this doctrine long before us. Let these enemies of God dispute the matter with the Apostle. ‘Therefore’, Paul says in Romans 9:18, ‘he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and on whom he will he hardeneth’, that is, he resolves salvation solely into the will of God.

The rejection of Christ by the Jews, who called themselves the church, was a great obstacle and a formidable barrier to the weak, therefore the Apostle undertakes to explain their unbelief in the following manner: he by no means makes the fleshly seed the legitimate children of Abraham; but accounts the children of promise alone for the seed, and those were the children of promise whom God chose before they were born. Therefore the rejection of Christ by the Jewish nations was not a failure in God’s purposes; that those who professed to be the church should oppose the truth ought not to make believers stumble. No, but just as Jacob and Esau were separated in the womb to a different destiny, so the Apostle assigns the cause of the present difference – the unbelief of the Jew and the salvation of Gentiles – to the counsel of God.

But our opponents assert that grace was offered to both Jacob and Esau; and one was willing to accept, what by his free will he could accept; and the other refused it. So that, election they say, depends on the future works or will of man which God foresees; God foresaw how men would react to the truth. But the Apostle takes for a fact what is wholly overlooked by these excellent theologians – that all men are alike unworthy, and equally corrupt – they dream of some good in man, but the Apostle, knowing the true nature of man, knew that none would be obedient unless they were first elected.

Paul knew that election without works would raise the objections of men, which he anticipates by stating what carnal would reply against this doctrine in verses 14 and 19: ‘Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?’ If indeed the solution is so plain and satisfactory – that God offers grace to all, and only makes a difference from respect to their future works – there would be no need to anticipate objections, for none would object against the justice of that. When our opponents place the cause of election or reprobation in the works of men’s coming lives, they seem to escape and solve this very objection which Paul supposes them to put. Whence it is fully evident, that the Apostle was not instructed in this new wisdom. For be it so – that works foreseen are the cause of election – then the Apostle introduces these men quarrelling with the justice of God quite out of place; and were it so, why does he not say so, instead of entangling himself deeper and asserting that the cause of the difference between Jacob and Esau rested in the will of God alone? Why then did he turn to Moses, and bring forward God’s own claim and free right to exercise his mercy as, and towards whom, he pleased? For God declared he would be the Master, Lord, and Arbiter, of his own mercy. He did not say that his choice of them depended on themselves, but rather that he would spare whom he would spare, as being bound by no necessity to choose either one or another. And the Apostle next infers, that which of necessity follows from the above declaration of God to Moses, that ‘it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.’ For if the salvation of men depends on the mercy of God alone, there can be absolutely nothing left for men to do, will, or determine, in the matter of salvation. ‘Most absurd’, therefore says Augustine, ‘is the cunning device of certain ones who spin, out of these important questions, a conclusion that there is a kind of concurrence, or half-way meeting, between the mercy of God and the endeavours of man – as if Paul meant, that men can do very little . . . whereas the Apostle reduces man to nothing, that he may give all to the mercy of God. Paul does not answer the objection that he knew would be raised by the interpretation of election invented by our adversaries – “Because God foresaw their future works.” The Apostle does nothing of the kind. On the contrary, he introduces the all-conclusive Word of God to Moses, “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” Where are merits now! Where are works either past or future, either fulfilled or to be fulfilled, as by the power or strength of free will! Does not the Apostle openly declare his mind in commendation of free grace only?’

The Holy Spirit condemns in this chapter the impious pride of all who measure the justice of God by their own comprehension, and who presume to subject the tribunal of God to their own judgment – ‘O man who art thou that repliest against God!’ Let them beware therefore, who assert that they vindicate the justice of God and fear lest it be endangered by the doctrine of election. Such men speak according to their own natural understanding. God would have us know that his honour is not to be protected by our lies. God himself not only rejects such a protection as this, but declares in the Book of Job, that it is hateful to him. Let such defenders take care, lest by affecting greater caution than the Lord prescribes in his Word, they become guilty of madness and folly. For believers to praise the goodness of God worthily it is necessary to know how much we are indebted to him; those who remain ignorant of the cause of the difference between themselves and others have never yet learned to render unto God the glory due unto him for making that difference. The justified may learn from the condemnation of the rest what would have been their own punishment had not free grace stepped in.

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