I am sorry that it has taken me so long to respond. We receive a lot of questions regarding Calvinism, and Romans 9
receives the lion's share of the questions. I had considered writing an article on this chapter, focusing on the various Calvinistic arguments that are typically based in this chapter. Your good question finally pushed me into writing an article, but it is taking longer than I wanted. I hope to complete the article soon, but I want to answer your two questions before any more time passes.
Your questions are very good, as they represent some of the more powerful Calvinist proof-texts. Again, I think part of the answer lies in a proper understanding of the Bible definitions for calling, predestination, election, and sovereignty.
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
40 For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:37-44)
Yes, God did look into the future (accommodative speech for a timeless God) and foreknow a group of people, which He desired to save. He predestined those people by designing a plan that would both draw and redeem them (Romans 8:29-30
). (Before we go further, please note that this passage reveals a different order than taught in Calvinism. In Calvinism, God predestined out of His sovereignty and as a consequence, foreknew. But, in the Bible, God's predestination of the elect followed His foreknowledge - Romans 8:29
.) Therefore, the "giving" did precede the "coming", as you have correctly noted. As a consequence, these elect, predestined, and "given", as they are described in John 6:37
, will absolutely come to Jesus. But, why will they come? Is it because God predestined them apart
from their character and deeds (unconditional election), and now the Holy Spirit draws them irresistibly? Or, is it because God designed a plan that will always touch a certain type of individual, who has certain characteristics or desires, and now that plan (the gospel) does not fail to reach the type of people it was designed to reach?
As we saw in our last exchange, God is clearly seeking after humble people (I Peter 5:5-6
), people with some value of integrity (Luke 8:11-15
, seed fell on "good soil ... those with a noble and good heart"
), etc. - these people will answer the call and persist. God will not attempt to transform the consummately proud, arrogant, or dishonest. They will not answer the call, and if they do, their ongoing works will inevitably condemn them (Luke 8:13-14
). ... I do not doubt that God will draw all of His people out of the world through Jesus - not one will be missed. That is the point of the verse: the exact accuracy of God's calling. His word will not return unto Him void (Isaiah 55:11
Now, back to our context: Who does God will to be saved? See verse 40: "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes..."
Based on the passage, did God will that the elect would look to the Son, or did He elect that those who look to the Son will be saved? What has precedence - according to the verse? ... Even in Calvin's favorite proof-text, an overlooked verse evaporates any ambiguity! God has not predestined certain people and then irresistibly navigates them through the requirements. Instead, God is looking for a type of person, one who meets certain requirements - in this case, belief in His Son.
Now about, Romans 9:18-21
: This is easily the most convincing passage in the Calvinist's list of proof-texts. I will avoid trying to explain the background of the chapter here. Hopefully, the completed article can be sent to you soon. Let's just pick out a few points that show what the verse is not
teaching, because it is not teaching Calvin's brand of sovereignty!
21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
22 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,
23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:21-23)
Verse 21 is a reference from Jeremiah 18
, which shows that the context is clearly not supporting Calvinism, because in that passage, God is clearly reacting to the heart of the "clay". However, please just notice verse 22 here: "endured with much longsuffering"
. Now, you and I can discuss how we must exercise longsuffering in following through on projects or activities that we start. How often do we naively, ignorantly, accidentally, or even deliberately dig a hole for ourselves and must therefore labor to dig our way back out?
But God!? How can a perfect, omniscient, omnipotent God ever exercise longsuffering with Himself? If He has sovereignly decided, designed, and decreed these wicked machines, then He is really being longsuffering with Himself! How can He possibly exercise longsuffering with them, essentially Himself, unless He failed to foresee, control, or prepare for these exasperating beings? ... Or, unless He gave them an option, and He now forebears with their abuse of His freedom? ... If this passage teaches Calvinism, then it contradicts Calvin's view of supreme God. Since it is therefore self-contradictory, Calvinism is wrong - or this verse is wrong. (Truth does not contradict itself or Scripture - Titus 1:2, 9; John 17:17
So, what does this passage teach? Please allow me to push off a detailed discussion, because it will lead to more questions. FWIW, Whenever I discuss Romans 9
with someone, I like to reserve at least an hour of talking time. It's not difficult. It's just a big passage. ... In brief, I believe this passage does have glancing reference to God's "preparation" for the elect, especially verse 23. However, as we have discussed previously, the Bible clearly teaches that God foreknew some people and set about to save them (Romans 8:29-30
). Suffice it to say, this involved some "preparation".
However, the main point of this limited to passage is to exonerate God's right to judicially harden some people, like Pharaoh. (Please note God did not make Pharaoh wicked. God's efforts hardened an already wicked man. And, God's efforts were no different that those used to save the elect: instruction, discipline, leniency upon "repentance".) Backing out, this point is made to bolster the argument that God can save and condemn whomever He wants (and upon whatever basis He wants). This argument is made to explain why God is not required to save the Jews, just because they are Jews. This naturally leads to the explanation as to why the Jews were generally lost at that time: They had rejected Jesus and godly faith in general. This finally takes us back to Paul's overall theme for the book of Romans: Salvation through the gospel by faith
to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16
Lastly, Paul's letter to Timothy shows that the vessel's "preparation" is also
partially dependent upon the "vessel":
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. (II Timothy 2:20-21)
God's work in our salvation is the primary effort, and it is the only true "work". Our "works" are merely conditional requirements. They "earn" us nothing. However, that does not mean that we have no requirements. We do! God has done His part - the crucial, significant, and irreplaceable part. But, now, He is waiting on us. (Note accommodative speech again. He is a timeless God.)
I pray you find these helpful. If I did not satisfactorily answer your questions, please let me know. I too am just a student - subject to my biases and weaknesses, and I can overlook some crucial point just as easily as the next person. If you find that I have done so, or if you have additional thoughts, I would love to hear them. I think this is a vital point of difference that divides too many Christians, and the world needs united Christians more than ever (John 17:20-23
), and we need to be sure of God's plan of salvation more than ever, so we can rightly teach it to the world, as well as obey it ourselves!
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
May God help us to have a sincere love of truth,