NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER NINE (Lesson XXV)
Luther continues defending the sovereignty of God in making these choices of who will and who will not be saved. He points out that God desires to show both what He approves of and what He abhors; what will be blessed and what will be banished. That’s what He did in the case of Pharaoh and the children of Israel. So Luther asks, why would anyone want to stop God from carrying out His will? We could then inquire if they were trying to hide something? Could it be that they didn’t want to face the truth? When are people going to accept the fact that God created us the way we are, the same way a potter makes a vessel out of clay. So if a potter is permitted to form the clay according to his will, how much more is God permitted to do the same.1 To put it another way, it would be like a student telling the professor what they want him or her to teach so they can easily pass the test.
Fellow reformer John Calvin echoes the same thought by pointing out that Paul did not begin by giving a reason for divine election. In doing so, he would have made the cause obvious and, thereby, justify why one is chosen and another rejected. The reason for this is that the hidden things of God should never be subjected to the critical review of mankind. In addition, God’s mysteries are incomprehensible and beyond human understanding. That’s why Paul emphasizes that we are wasting time trying to figure out spiritual things we couldn’t understand if explained to us. These must be accepted by faith because whatever the cause, God’s predestination is perfectly fair and just.2
In light of God’s infinite wisdom in choosing His method of selection for His eternal purpose, it is hard to use human logic to form an illustration that may make it easier to understand. But for the sake of trying, we could say it would be like asking God why He made a caterpillar crawl on so many legs, that later will not be needed for that purpose, and then have this insect form a simple silk pad on the underside of a branch or twig to use as a hook-covered appendage called a cocoon and attaches it to this pad. It twists around, embedding its body firmly in the silk and then begins to shed its skin. The cocoon hangs upside down until the butterfly is ready to emerge. So the question is: Why didn’t God just go ahead and make it a butterfly, to begin with? We must accept the fact that God knew what He was doing and that was all His decision.
Along the same line, John Bengel notes that God was willing to tolerate Pharaoh’s hardheartedness and hardheadedness so that all could see it’s negative influence and hopefully draw those of the same mind and attitude out from their state of alienation and come to Him in repentance.3 It shows that God is willing to endure the insults of sinful people as they pretend to enjoy their continued good fortune in this life when He has every reason to consign them to death. But He keeps the path of grace and the gate of mercy open should they decide to accept His offer of forgiveness. However, some are like this caterpillar mentioned above, predestined for beauty and glory, but who refuses to go through the process of transformation and regeneration. So they continue to live out their lives crawling along the ground instead of flying through the air. As Bengel sees it, this long-suffering on God’s part always precedes any plan to let loose His wrath. His enduring mercy is never lacking right up until it’s time for Him to display His disfavor. No one can conclude from this that God has acted unfairly or prejudicially4.5
Robert Haldane gives us his guidance on this subject. He says that in verses 22 and 23 we find the components of the doctrine of predestination contained in a few words. Then the Apostle Paul gives his third and final answer to the objection stated in verse 19, tying God’s reasons for dealing with one person through acceptance and with another person through rejection. He exercises great patience with them. The one He sees as vessels of fury fitted for destruction as a result of their own sinfulness. This causes God to mark them for the day of judgment. So the question is, why would anybody be against God giving the same consideration to the opposite? Those who are vessels of mercy, thereby fitting them to manifest the riches of His glory, or His glorious grace, whom, by His sovereign election from eternity, and the sanctification of His Spirit has prepared them for glory. So if any of his potential critics were wanting an answer as to the process by which some vessels are made to serve God and some are not, Paul has made it clear that the grand object of God, both in the election and the rejection of some is that it all works out in the end to the praise, honor, and glory to His sovereign name. It is no wonder that when the doctrine of predestination is presented, that there are many who find it offensive. They want to chart their own course, so letting God do it for them seems to be very foolish.6
Albert Barnes gives us a clue to better understand the use of the word “displeasure” (wrath, in KJV) in this verse. He says this Greek word orgē occurs thirty-six times in the Last Covenant. Beside wrath, it is also translated into English as, “anger, vengeance, and indignation.” Its meaning is derived from the idea of the mind reaching out with excitement for some object. By analogy, it can also reflect someone’s violent passion of rejection – such as retaliation, or justifiable abhorrence. In other words, it ends up describing an earnest desire for revenge, or of inflicting suffering on those who have caused injury.7
It can also denote general indignation without seeking revenge. For instance, it says that on one occasion, “He [Jesus] looked around at them with anger.”8 In the Scriptures, it denotes punishment for sin; God’s anger or displeasure against transgression.9 As used by Paul here in verse 22 it is evidently employed to denote “severe displeasure against sin.” That is because sin is an evil of great magnitude. That’s why it is “right” for God to openly display His fitting displeasure against it. Some people think that God should hide His annoyance. That makes little sense. If He does not show His dissatisfaction how then would we know if we are pleasing Him or not? If God covered up His irritation, then people would accuse Him of being indifferent; that He couldn’t care less. Let God be God and accept Him for who and what He is and does.10
Henry Alford notes that some commentators have trouble with Paul’s thinking here, especially that He might unmercifully choose some human vessels to become recipients of His wrath without any consideration as to their possible salvation. So Alford says the real argument is this: What if God, in the case of the vessels prepared for destruction, along with His power and wrath also exhibited His willingness to wait until they could be led to repentance before carrying out judgment? Would this be the mystery which we cannot fathom,11 And in His having mercy on the vessels of mercy prepared for glory, He also manifests the riches of His glory at the same time? That would mean that in both cases God showed He is not a Divine Being who uses His power randomly but designed to bestow the riches of His goodness.12
Charles Hodge follows a similar pattern of thought. He says that the two objects which Paul specifies here are the manifestation of His wrath in the exhibition of His power in punishing the wicked. Hodge also notes that the word “wrath” (KJV) is used here (as in Romans 1:18), as God’s divine displeasure against sin. It is His calm, holy condemnation of evil, joined with the determination to punish those who commit it. The power of God is conspicuously displayed in the destruction of the wicked, no matter how mighty or numerous they may be. Although the inherent demerits for sin must always be regarded as the primary basis for the infliction of punishment, a reason which would always be enforced, resulting in no beneficial lifting of the misery scheduled for the wicked. God has so ordered that the grief sinners will incur is both a manifestation of His pure character in the punishment of sin, and the promotion of the holiness and happiness He has prepared for His righteous people throughout eternity.13
Frédéric Godet makes the point that God’s dealing with vessels of dishonor will also describe His dealing with vessels of honor. In verse 22, the relation between the participle “willing” (KJV); “choosing” (NIV), and the verb “endured” (KJV); “bore with great patience” (NIV), may be explained in two ways. They may be expressed in one way or the other with the conjunctions, when and because. In the first connection the meaning would be: “When He is willingly, instead of striking all at once, as He already purposed doing, He bore with great patience. Then, because He endured would signify that God’s patience had no other end than to let loose His growing wrath. The question is, would such long-suffering be worthwhile? It is obvious from Romans 2:4-5 that if the long-suffering produces this painful result, this is not the intention of Him who patiently waits, but the result of those who irresponsibly abuse His patience to harden themselves all the more.14
Verse 23: He waited with patience so that He could make known the riches of His glory to the people He has chosen to receive His mercy. God has already prepared them to share His glory.
Paul told the Ephesians: “Once you were under God’s curse, doomed forever for your sins. You went along with the crowd and were just like all the others, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air, who is at work right now in the hearts of those who are against the Lord.”15 But Paul goes on to express his gratitude that God took something so bad and transformed it into a living witness to His grace and mercy. And Paul told the Colossians that he was so grateful to the Father who was willing to allow us who once hid in darkness to now live openly in His Kingdom of light.16
Then, in writing to the Thessalonians, Paul shared this: “God has not chosen to pour out His anger upon us but to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ; He died for us so that we can live with Him forever, whether we are dead or alive at the time of His return.”17 In other words, God could have let us die as rebellious sinners to become a memorial to His judgment. But He decided to save us so that we could live as obedient soldiers, an example of His glorious grace. This was also part of Paul’s personal message to Bishop Titus: “At one time, we too were foolish and disobedient, deceived and enslaved by a variety of passions and pleasures. We spent our lives in evil and envy; people hated us, and we hated each other. But when the kindness and love for mankind of God our Deliverer was revealed, He delivered us. It was not on the ground of any righteous deeds we had done, but on the ground of His own mercy.”18
1 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 142
2 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9
4 Romans 9:19
5 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 317
6 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 484
7 See Colossians 3:8; 1 Timothy 2:8
8 Mark 3:5
9 Note, Romans 1:18; Luke 3:7; 21:23
10 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Romans 2:4
12 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 85
13 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 497
14 Frederic Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Ephesians 2:1-2
16 Colossians 1:12
17 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10
18 Titus 3:3-5