A Sermon by Rev. Martin L. Dawson, Pastor

         “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect . . . that the purpose of God according to election might stand” . . . “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated” . . . ”that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.” --Romans 9:6-23
         Let us pray . . . Holy Father, we confess that thy word is true altogether. It is pure and undefiled like that which is burned in a furnace seven times. We thank thee that in thy singular care thou hast preserved thy word down to this present day. We bless thee for the grace of the Holy Spirit which enlightens the word to our hearts. We pray now Lord, as we come to consider that which thou hast taught here, that we be given by thee to understand this doctrine because thou hast said it, and that, having embraced it, it may work in our hearts to bring forth the fruit of gratitude, thanksgiving, and godly living. In Christ’s precious Name we pray. Amen.
         “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” This is the great predestination chapter of the New Testament. Predestination is taught in all of Scripture. In fact, you’ll note that the apostle here in teaching clearly the doctrine of predestination to eternal life or eternal damnation, uses as his proof the Old Testament. Every proof he cites is from the Old Testament. There are some today who mistakenly think that the church of the New Testament is separate from the church of the Old Testament, but the truth is that from Genesis to Revelation, we have one word of God, and it is all true.
         When the apostles went into the world to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations, they proved that their doctrines were true from the Old Testament. St. Paul in this very book teaches the doctrine of justification by faith alone, through grace alone, from the Old Testament. That Abraham, five hundred years before the law, was saved by grace thru faith. That David, 1000 years after Abraham, and under the Jewish law, was saved by grace alone through faith. “Blessed is the one to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Ps.32:2), or if you read the book of Hebrews, the first chapter, the whole proof of the writer of Hebrews that Jesus Christ is the eternal Jehovah God is cited from the Old Testament proof.
         Well here we come to the most theologically clear and unmistakable, systematic doctrine of predestination in all the Bible, and that is the ninth of Romans. That it is so clear has given a great problem to those that deny this doctrine. They have a very difficult time getting around what the apostle clearly teaches here. Man is naturally frightened by the idea that God is really God. Luther was every bit as much a predestinarian as Calvin. Although the church that is called by Luther’s name retreated from this doctrine after Luther’s death, Luther, the great man of the Bible, believed as much in predestination as any Presbyterian. He said, “Let God be God.”
         That, you see, is what man is afraid to do. Satan promised our first parents that they could be God and somehow we still want that. And we’re afraid when we think that there is One in whose hands is our eternal destiny. That God is really God, not a mere spectator, a kindly grandfather in heaven who is waiting to intervene now and then, and bless, but He actually is a mighty God who controls the universe, having predestined all His creatures in all their actions for His glory and wise purposes.
         For you and me, as redeemed, it should be a great source of comfort and blessing to know that our Father in heaven is really in charge of all things, and that He can actually make everything work together for the good of those who love Him - even the Pharaohs of the world, and even the reprobate.
         Well this morning I want us to consider the apostle’s teaching on this doctrine of God’s electing love. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.” There are people whom God has eternally loved. Scripture calls them His “elect”. Ones whom He has chosen, not for anything in themselves. There are people whom God has eternally hated, and not because they are worse than others but because, for His own wise and inscrutable purposes, He has determined not to grant to them grace which no one deserves anyway. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.”
         Now the reason for the apostle’s writing this ninth chapter of Romans is that he wants to make plain that the salvation of all men, both Jews and Gentiles, is entirely of God. He is particularly concerned about his own people, the Jewish people. Why aren’t they all saved? They have the covenant, they had the sacraments, they had the word of God. Why aren’t they all saved? And the answer he gives is that they’re not all saved because they’re not all elect.
         In the visible people of God there are the elect and the non-elect. There are the Jacobs and there are the Esaus. They may all be members of the visible kingdom, having received the same visible sacraments but they’re not all really God’s spiritual children. Some are determined for salvation and some for everlasting perdition.
         Now the first example the apostle gives we find here in verse 8, and that’s Isaac and Ishmael. Here are two children, both sons of Abraham. And of course the Jews made much of this, the fact that one was a biological child of Abraham. That’s good enough for salvation. In fact, some rabbis taught that if you were a child of Abraham you couldn’t enter the gates of hell. Of course this is a great theological error. Salvation was never by race, it was always by grace. And it was the grace of electing love.
         Isaac and Ishmael, both children of Abraham: Isaac saved and Ishmael in hell today. That proves it’s not enough to be a child of Abraham, yet this example in itself might be inadequate to prove what Paul says he wants to prove, and that is the doctrine of election. That’s what he says when asked, “What’s your purpose, Paul?”. “That the doctrine of election might stand.” [Rom.9:11] So one might argue that Ishmael, after all, was born of a maidservant, while Isaac was born of a legitimate wife. So of course, Isaac was blessed while Ishmael was not. Paul, therefore, goes on to give an example where that objection may not be raised. And that example is Jacob and Esau.
         This demonstrates indisputably that salvation is of God’s predestination and not of man’s will. Look at Jacob and Esau. Here we don’t have two mothers and one father, we have the same parents. In fact, Jacob and Esau were born in the same birth, being twins. You talk about ‘nurture v. nature’ and environment and all that! Here are two who come into the world in exactly the same situation, same father and mother, same birth . . . and yet God’s eternal purpose for one is heaven and God’s eternal purpose for the other is hell. They both received the sacrament of infant circumcision. Both children were born under the visible covenant, but to make it unmistakably clear, listen to what Paul says: “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil . . . ” It was then that God said these words, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.” What Paul is saying here is that the profound difference between Jacob and Esau had nothing to do with anything in them, whether good or evil. It had everything to do with God and His eternal purposes.
         Jacob wasn’t chosen because he was good. As a matter of fact, if we compare the lives of Jacob and Esau, they were both scoundrels. Jacob was always in some kind of trouble that he got himself into, mainly because he was a cheat. Jacob was by nature a totally depraved sinner, and so was Esau. It wasn’t because they had done good or evil. They were still in the womb when God made this determination. It wasn’t that Esau was more evil than Jacob. It could be argued that he wasn’t. So what was the reason that God made this eternal distinction between them? The reason is in the great mystery of His love. God had every reason to hate Jacob as much as He hated Esau. Spurgeon once preached on this text and a woman came to him afterward. She said, “I have always had a problem with that text, Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.” Spurgeon replied, “I have always had a problem with it too. I could never understand how God could love Jacob!” It’s clear enough why God would hate Esau, but why wouldn’t He hate Jacob too?
         St. Paul said that God said this before they were born; before they had done anything good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth. The difference between them must be traced not to anything in them, but to God Himself and to His eternal purposes. In Him that calleth.
         Now many, including some rather good exegetes, have suggested that the word “hated” here should be understood to mean “loved less”. What is brought forth as a demonstration of this is the passage from St Luke’s gospel. In Luke 14:26 the Lord Jesus Christ says, “If any man hate not his father and mother, he cannot be my disciple.” Certainly, in that context, “hate” means love less. Our love for Christ should be so deep that even the dearest love which we have for our father and mother (which love is commanded by God) is like hatred, compared to our love for Him. Comparing scripture with scripture, we know that it’s God’s will that we love our parents. He tells us to. But Jesus is saying here that our love for Him must be so much greater than our love for parents (although natural and good), that the love for parents is hatred by comparison. That if they don’t like your religion and you have the true religion, and they don’t, you must take Christ and let them go.
         But is it right that in this context of Romans 9 hate means love less? Actually, I should not only say Romans 9, but also Malachi’s prophecy, the first chapter which St. Paul is quoting here. When God says that He hates Esau is He really saying that He just loves him less? If we look at the context, what God is saying is, and the entire teaching is, that Esau is a vessel of wrath, fitted by God’s hands for eternal damnation. Now it seems to me to be trifling with words to say that when God puts people in hell and says that he hates them, that he merely loves them less. I think that when He says He hates Esau, He means precisely that, else why would he damn him? Doesn’t scripture say that God is angry with the wicked every day? (Ps.7:11). Some people, in the name of Christianity, have erected an idol God, an idol Christ, a God who is not angry with the wicked every day, a God who does not hate the reprobate. No such God can be found in the scriptures. This is not the God who made heaven and earth, and before whom we shall all stand one day.
         The children, twins not yet born, having done neither good nor evil; yet one is loved by God and the other hated, that the purpose of God according to election might stand; an election that has nothing to do with man’s actions.
         Now in verse 14, Paul anticipates an argument. Paul anticipates the kind of argument that you will hear if you tell someone about the doctrine of predestination. “That makes God unrighteous. That’s not fair!” Sounds reasonable if we don’t understand what the Bible says about mankind and how he stands before God. But let me ask you this question: is it unfair to punish a criminal for his crimes? Every person God sends to eternal damnation is being given exactly no more than what he deserves. Is it unfair, that a criminal be punished? Wouldn’t we say rather that it’s unfair when a criminal isn’t punished? But you see, Paul’s citing this is proof that he is teaching absolute predestination. There would be no reason for this objection otherwise. If Paul had the theology that most modern American evangelicals have, he would say, “Oh, no, it’s not that God’s unfair. It’s entirely fair because you see the way He elects is by looking into the future to see who is going to believe, and then He elects those who do. So God elects those who elect themselves. So there’s nothing unfair about it.” That’s how the Arminian answers the question about election. But Paul gives no such answer, and knows of no such answer. Because it is entirely false! Rather, what Paul says is that God has the power and the right to do this, because man has forfeited all rights. Every man is before God as a criminal who deserves but one thing, and that is punishment. To charge God with unfairness in this is simply not to know what sin is or who God is.
         Well, how about the Jacobs then? Why aren’t they punished in the same way as the Esaus? If you’re a Christian, why aren’t you going to be punished, if that’s what you deserve? Do you, in fact, deserve the same punishment? Yes, indeed you do. When it comes to deserving, you deserve nothing more than God’s wrath and curse. Why then shall you not get it? Because God can lay aside his justice? No, he cannot do that without ceasing to be God. But because God’s full wrath and justice was laid upon a substitute for his elect. That is, God the Son bore His wrath and curse in their place. The Esaus are punished for their crimes. The Jacobs are also punished for theirs. But the difference is that because of God’s electing love, the Jacobs are punished not in themselves but in His own dear Son.
         “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion”. No one deserves my mercy, no one deserves my compassion. That’s why it is mine to give. And that’s why the doctrine of divine election must stand, being irrefutably illustrated by His hatred for Esau and His eternal love for Jacob. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth but of God that showeth mercy. If God has shown mercy to you, you are a Christian--you love the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. It had nothing to do with your wishing or willing or desires. It had nothing to do with your running or accomplishments or works, but had everything to do with God’s own eternal, wise benevolent and loving purpose. He decided to show mercy, and He has the right to show it to whom He will. That’s Paul’s conclusion here. Why is there this difference? Because God can show mercy on whom He will! And whom He wants to, He can harden.
         Now, St. Paul uses another example of predestination here in his argument, and that’s Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Here’s what the apostle says, “God said to Pharaoh, even for this same purpose have I raised thee up . . . ” God raised up the king of Egypt to be king. And then God gives his reason, “ . . . that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout the earth.” How many of you know that Pharaoh was no more evil than many men who have been saved? There are people rejoicing in the courts of heaven today who are far more evil than Pharaoh. Pharaoh was condemned because he deserved to be condemned and the saved were saved, not because of deserving it, but that God might show his mercy.
         It wasn’t God’s purpose to save Pharaoh. But why did He give him life? Why did He in fact raise him up and give him power and glory and a kingdom? God had a reason in doing that. The reason was, even though Pharaoh was a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction, he was going to work out a purpose in God’s divine plan. No, God didn’t make Pharaoh evil, Pharaoh was evil by nature. God simply left him alone to do what his nature inclined him to do. The Bible says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but what does that mean? It means that Pharaoh, as a totally depraved sinner, by nature totally evil, was by common grace restrained by God from being as bad as he could have been in this life. In order to harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he would do exactly what God wanted him to do, God didn’t make him evil, he just withdrew some of that grace (which is grace, meaning he didn’t deserve it) and allowed Pharaoh to do more and more of what he wanted. Read Romans 1. How does God punish the sinner? He allows him to do what he wants. It says in Romans 1 that the sodomite is a sodomite and the lesbian is a lesbian because God has allowed them to do what they want in order to punish them. He has hardened their hearts, given them over to a reprobate mind. Sin is the punishment for sin!
         So Pharaoh is allowed by God to be exactly what he wants to be. Then he is punished. Why? Not because God made him bad but because of his own evil. Therefore, He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardeneth.
         Let’s look at one last argument. This is another argument Paul is addressing and it’s one that everyone gets who believes what the Bible says about predestination. Verse 19, “Why doth he yet find fault?” If what you’re saying about election must stand, then what difference does it make what we do? God cannot hold us responsible if He predestines everything. Once again it is only in the arena of absolute predestination that this argument can be raised. It is always instructive to see that the opposition to predestination in Paul’s writings comes from those who oppose what the Bible teaches. “Who has resisted His will?” And Paul’s answer is this, referring to Jeremiah’s picture of the Potter and the clay in Jer.18:6, and to Is.64:8, “Hath not the potter power over the clay of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show his wrath and to make his power known endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath which are fitted to destruction?” What Paul’s answer means is this: all mankind are part of that lump of clay. This lump of clay is all fallen in Adam. It’s all under God’s wrath and curse. Now, doesn’t God, of this lump, have the right to make some vessels for eternal damnation, since that’s all that this lump deserves? And to endure them upon earth like Pharaoh because they are actually fulfilling some purpose of His before they go off to be punished forever? Doesn’t God also have the right of this same lump by the grace which He himself purchased on Calvary’s cross, miraculously to make some of them vessels of mercy, in preparing them for a kingdom of glory? Who can argue with that? “Shall the thing formed say unto him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus?” That’s Paul’s answer. God does two things by this that are very holy and righteous acts. The wicked who are condemned bring honor to God, displaying to all for eternity that He is a God of justice, no sin goes unpunished, that He hates evil. And then for the vessels of mercy, for all eternity they will rejoice and admire the wonderful love of God, that He took those who deserved just as much to be vessels of wrath, but made them vessels of His electing love, grace and mercy.
         That last point is very important because those who object to the doctrine of predestination taught in the scriptures, and especially those who are disturbed that it is taught so clearly by the Holy Ghost here in Romans 9, one of the desperate expedients to get out of what it says, is to say, “Well, when it says, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated” it’s simply talking about Jacob as a representative of the Jewish people and Esau as a representative of the Edomites. And so we’re talking about God’s predestination of two nations, not two individuals.” But wait, God is talking about two humans in the womb, two twins, two people. Forget for a moment what two nations came from them. But furthermore, if we look at the context, what sort of predestination is God talking about? Paul concludes the whole matter with this Potter and the clay. Esau is a vessel of wrath suited and fitted by God for destruction, and Jacob is a vessel of mercy, suited by God for eternal glory. No, Paul himself, if we will listen to him, is not talking about how He predestines nations, but how He predestines vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy: eternal bliss or eternal damnation.
         Now, in conclusion, it is certainly sobering and humbling for us to admit that God is really God. We do not deserve anything at His hand. When He shows mercy upon us and makes us to be His children, all the glory must be given to Him and nothing traced to ourselves. It’s not of him that willeth, it’s not of him that runneth, it’s not of having done good or evil. It has nothing to do with your character, nothing to do with your accomplishments. It has only to do with God and His electing love. The practical questions you must now ask are this: “Am I willing to trust God with my eternal destiny? Am I willing to repent of my sins and trust Christ alone to be my Savior, to love and to serve Him all of my days?” If I am not so willing, then, like Pharaoh, my heart is being hardened and fitted for destruction, which I deserve. But if I am so willing to love and serve God, then it was really not my willing, not my running, but God who showed me mercy and is fitting me for glory. If you are one who is a Christian, in your heart you can say, “I love him because He has always loved me.” (I John 4:19) Let us pray . . . Dear heavenly Father, how thy truth doth challenge the presuppositions of our fallen minds. O, God, may this truth burn up the dross that is in us, that we may see clearly the things of God, that we may give all glory and honor to the One who has eternally loved us before the world began, who determined even to die in our place that we might not die, but live forever, that the knowledge which we have of Jesus Christ is a gift which we cannot possibly ever deserve, but thou hast given it to us because of the unfathomable mystery of thine eternal electing love. Amen.
Copyright 1999 by Stratford Orthodox Presbyterian Church. All rights reserved.