F. B. Hole.
(Extracted from Scripture Truth Vol. 15, 1923, page 106.)
The Scriptural doctrine of election, if it be taken up in a merely intellectual way, is beset with many difficulties. It appears on the surface of things to come into instant collision with the equally Scriptural doctrine of man's responsibility to God. In the past, great schools of opinion have been formed around both doctrines, and fierce controversies have been waged. Today these controversies have waned, still many of those who do not go to the extreme length of such an obsession with one side as to deny altogether the other, but rather admit both, find considerable difficulty in putting both together in an intelligible way.
Romans 9, 10 and 11 are the great New Testament chapters on this important theme. The Apostle Paul is maintaining that in this age, having set Israel as a nation on one side, God has elected to extend mercy to the Gentiles. He consequently proceeds to show that God has uniformly acted in electing mercy; that Israel themselves would have been long ago destroyed as a nation had God not elected to have mercy on them after the sin of the golden calf; and, further, that they owed their original existence as a nation to that same election, in Isaac being chosen and not Ishmael, in Jacob being chosen and not Esau (Rom. 9:7-13).
In establishing, therefore, the truth of election the apostle carries us back to Genesis, to the son and grandson of Abraham. In these two men the principle of it was set forth. A comparison of the chapters in Genesis with the verses in Romans 9 is very illuminating.
First, in order, both historically and morally, comes Isaac. The apostle quotes the saying recorded in Genesis 21:12: "In Isaac shall thy seed be called," and his inspired comment on this is: "That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed." The flesh can produce nothing save what is flesh. This fact was plainly declared by the Lord Himself (John 3:6), and His death was the total setting aside and condemnation of flesh, its judicial end. Still God knew its character from the beginning. He knew it was a corrupt source and therefore a source of nothing but corruption. Hence He passed by Ishmael, the child of the flesh, and His election rested on Isaac, the child of promise, the son who had his origin in the resurrection power of God as expressed in His promise of earlier years.
The first illustration of election, then, clearly instructs us that God chooses what is OF Himself, and this involves the passing by of what is not of Himself but merely of man, man's will, or man's energy. This is doctrinally stated as regards ourselves: "The sons of God … which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13).
All this lies on the surface and is simple. The difficulty comes in when we remember that even believers were as much of the flesh as others; we are only "of God" as "born of God," and that God's election long preceded our new birth. In other words, we were not elected of God because born of God, but born of God because elected of God.
This leads us to remark upon the inspired fitness of Scripture in setting Isaac before us as primarily a type of Christ, and only secondarily a type of ourselves. The Lord Jesus was essentially the Son of promise, and just as Isaac was born on a resurrection principle, so He came into the world not according to the laws of nature, but according to the operation of the Holy Ghost, and "the power of the Highest" (Luke 1:35). The Virgin Mary was the vessel chosen for this wondrous entry of Him, whose goings forth had been from the days of eternity, into human life — a life so totally corrupted in us, but so perfectly spotless and holy in Him. He, therefore, is prophetically saluted — "Behold My servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom My soul delights" (Isa. 42:1). Truly, here is One elect, because God chooses what is of Himself.
The first man Adam and his race are like Ishmael, fallen, wild, untamed, and untamable. The second Man, the last Adam, is the chosen of God because of His own intrinsic perfections, but we who are of His race, we who are in Him, are also the elect of God. In Colossians 3:12-14 we are exhorted to "put on therefore as the elect of God, holy and beloved," all those beautiful traits of character which were seen in full measure and in perfect harmony in Christ Himself, who is in surpassing measure "THE ELECT OF GOD, HOLY AND BELOVED."
Thus far as to Isaac; but now turning to Jacob we find the apostle in Romans 9 pointing out the peculiar features of his case. Both he and Esau were children of one mother, and produced at one birth, for they were twins; Esau having first place by a few moments, according to nature. Again, however, God set aside the first, and selected the second, saying, "The elder shall serve the younger" (verse 12). The inspired comment on this in the preceding verse runs: "For the children not being yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calls," — showing us thus that God chooses because of what HE IS IN HIMSELF, and not because of what men may be as expressed in their works.
This brings us at once into the presence of that inscrutable mystery that lies at the heart of all divine truth. Turn where we will, whether to the material creation with its unsolvable problems, or to the questions that centre around the existence of Satan and sin, and their entrance into this world, or to the exercise of God's sovereign will and choice, which is now before us, we ultimately in our inquiries come to the facts so strikingly set forth at the close of these three chapters of Romans. In God's wisdom and knowledge there is a depth of riches that must always be beyond the sounding-line of the creature, however exalted. His judgments must be unsearchable, His ways past finding out to us (See Rom. 11:33-36). There, then, we have to stop, and rest on the assurance that because He is good all His arrangements and elections must be good also. "Thou art good, and doest good," said the believer of Old Testament days (Ps. 119:68).
God's election of Jacob, and consequent passing over of Esau, brought out another thing, viz., the wisdom and rightness of God's choice is always revealed in the after history, and thus His election always justifies itself in its results. Before Esau and Jacob were born the Divine word was "the elder shall serve the younger." A thousand years after their careers were over it was put upon record, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:13).
Had the choice been left to us in the early years of their career, we should have probably selected Esau with practical unanimity. His surface characteristics would have appealed to us. Without a doubt the average unconverted person would choose Esau rather than Jacob at any time, during their lives or a thousand years after. But not so the child of God. He perceives with God that though marked by many a surface blemish there was that in Jacob, fruit of God's work, which was of God, and, therefore, lovely and to be loved. God's choice is "not of works," i.e., of man's works, but "of Him that calls," i.e., of His own work. God's election and God's work go hand in hand. Why they go in any particular direction and not in another is a question utterly beyond our creature minds; nor should we be capable of understanding God's reasons, if He condescended to tell us, — so we verily believe.
But there is one thing of which we may be sure: God's choice is always "the election of GRACE" (Rom. 11:5). That God elects to judgment is an idea reached as the fruit of human reasonings upon this matter, which so completely transcends our reason; it is never so stated in Scripture. The Scriptural presentation of the case is that all are totally ruined with no point of recovery in themselves, and that God chooses to have mercy on some and, consequently, in them to work with life-giving power.
Though God does not elect for judgment, He does sometimes harden the hearts of wilful rebels. He may even pick up one such and "raise him up" (Rom. 9:17), i.e., exalt him to a place of great prominence and renown, as with the Pharaoh of the Exodus, in order to make a salutary example of him, and declare His own power and renown through all the earth. That, too, He does not only for His own name's sake but also for the blessing of men. It was ruin for Pharaoh but it was salvation for Rahab and her household who had heard of the fame of God's mighty hand, and, doubtless, it was salvation for many more besides. Pharaoh was one of those "vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction" — it does not say God had fitted them, they had fitted themselves by their sin and rebellion; there were also "the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared to glory" (verses 22, 23). Here Scripture does present God as the originator and worker. The vessels of mercy were such by His work.
The fact is, and let us gladly bow to it, God has the right to do what He pleases; and what He pleases, that will He do. Men may oppose, and God will judge. He may here and there harden an opponent's heart until he makes a most conspicuous fool of himself as did Pharaoh, and God will then glorify Himself in the presence of man's folly; but His election is always for blessing, and of grace; it is the expression of His mercy, so strikingly set forth in the latter part of Romans 11, just before the doxology which closes the chapter.
The difficulties which envelop this subject largely vanish if we begin with the full acceptance of the truth that man is a totally lost creature with no point of recovery in himself. In Romans 3:10-11, the word "none" is thrice repeated. We all easily acquiesce in the first, "There is none righteous." Still for an unrighteous man there is hope if only he recognizes his estate. Alas! "There is none that understands." That being so the only faint hope lies in a man being in some way attracted Godward so that he may begin to understand. Alas, once more! "There is none that seeks after God." Then hope is dead as far as man is concerned!
Do we all really admit this and recognize its force and implications? If so, we shall at once see that there is no hope save in God's electing mercy. There will never be any movement towards Himself and His blessing save as the fruit of His own work.
The parable in Luke 14 sets this forth. The supper was amply provided. It pictures the provision of grace, the result of Christ's work. All was, however, unavailing as far as recipients were concerned save as the fruit of the exertions of "the servant," picture of the Holy Spirit. Every soul that actually enjoyed the supper was there as the result of the servant's work. Christ's work provides the blessing, but none taste it save as coming under the sovereign work of the Spirit of God, and He acts in harmony with the purpose of God and the election of grace.
Let us bless God that we, too, have come into the embrace of that electing mercy, which first showed itself forth in the cases of Isaac and Jacob so long ago.