Having not been able to complete the scheduled Bible study for the mid-week service, I threw together some notes on the ninth chapter of Romans. It is not often I go ‘old school’ by scribbling on the nearest blank piece of paper. After teaching the study, I proceeded to broaden my notes for future reference. As the notes set forth a statement on High-Calvinism, I’ve chosen to include them with the online resources of the AHB. There are two sets of notes—the handwritten scribble is what I used in the pulpit (I haven’t bothered typing them out); the typed notes are what I jotted down after teaching the study.
The key to unravelling the teaching on election (in particular, the Father’s work in the Covenant of Grace) is found in verses 6-13 and 21-23.
1. Two Illustrations (6-13).
(1) Abraham’s Seed (6-9).
Of this man’s seed, he had two sons—Ishmael and Isaac. However, the promise of grace was given to Isaac and withheld from Ishmael. Interpretation: (1) One man’s seed represents the whole mass of the human race; (2) The two sons represent two groups of the human race—the elect and the non-elect; (3) The promise of grace withheld from Ishmael is representative of the promise of grace withheld from all the non-elect.
(2) Rebecca’s Womb (10-13).
Of this woman’s womb, she had two sons—Esau and Jacob. However, the promise of grace was given to Jacob and withheld from Esau—“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”. This choice was predicated on love and hate—and it was made before the children were born, or either man did good or evil. Interpretation: (1) Esau represents the non-elect, Jacob represents the elect; (2) The one womb represents the whole mass of the human race—and, since this election/reprobation was decreed before the elect/non-elect were born, or before either group had done good or evil, so this affirms that God made His choice before determining the human race would be brought into the would under the curse of the law.
2. One Analogy (21-23).
The Potter and the Clay. There is one lump of clay, out of which two vessels are made—a vessel of honour, and another of dishonour. As Potter, God has the right to make different kinds of vessels to the praise of the glory of His grace and justice. Interpretation: (1) The one lump of clay represents the whole human race; (2) The two vessels represent the elect/non-elect; (3) The making of these vessels was out of the same lump of unmarred clay—that is, just as God chose Jacob and rejected Esau before either man had done good or evil, so God chose the vessels of honour/dishonour before the lump of clay (human race) was marred by sin; (4) Having made this choice between the members of the human race, God then chose to bring them all into the would under the curse of the law (through Adam’s sin and condemnation); (5) Forthwith, the vessels of dishonour (non-elect) become the vessels of wrath (fitted for hell), and the vessels of honour (elect) become the vessels of mercy (prepared for heaven); (6) Henceforth, the non-elect are called “Esau”, “Vessels of Dishonour” and “Vessels of Wrath”—from eternity, they are hated of God and left to themselves, fitted unto destruction according to the justice of God’s sovereign judgment; the elect are called “Jacob”, “Vessels of Honour” and “Vessels of Mercy”—from eternity, they are loved by God and set apart for God, prepared unto glory according to the riches of His sovereign grace.
From this teaching, we discover the beauty of salvation, set forth in the eternal and gracious covenant of God. Broadly speaking, God the Father has set apart a remnant of the human race by electing love—they are designated the “vessels of honour”; it is the vessels of honour that God the Son has covenanted with the Father to redeem—henceforth, the vessels of honour become the “vessels of mercy”; it is the vessels of honour/mercy that God the Spirit has covenant with the Father and the Son to sanctify—henceforth, the vessels of honour/mercy become the “vessels of sanctification” (2 Tim 2:20,21). (1 Pet 1:2; 2 Cor 13:14; 2 Thess 2:13,14; Eph 1:3-14)
Objection: It may be objected that the elect are called the “children of wrath” in Ephesians 2:3—if so, then this would make the elect and non-elect both the “vessels of wrath”, and therefore the pigeonholing of the two groups, as outlined in Romans 9, loses its integrity.
Answer: The expressions/analogies used by Paul in Romans and Ephesians are different. In Romans, he refers to the non-elect as “vessels” of wrath, whereas in Ephesians he refers to the non-elect and elect as “children” of wrath. The analogy of “vessel” is used in Romans, in order to distinguish the absolute ends for which the non-elect and elect are made—the non-elect are “fitted to destruction”, whereas the elect are “prepared unto glory” (these are fixed ends). However, the analogy of “children” is used in Ephesians, in order to describe how the non-elect and the elect are brought into the world under the curse of the law. Paul writes—“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world…and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” The elect and non-elect are all the children of Adam, and in him, the children of wrath—in this, the elect and non-elect share common ground. However, the elect are only the children of wrath so long as they have not yet been born again—once the Spirit of God has imparted to their souls a new nature in Christ, they become the “children of God by faith in Christ Jesus”. In summary, the analogy of “vessel” is used to identify the elect’s salvation from the eternal viewpoint—they are called “vessels of honour” because of their eternal election; they are called “vessels of mercy” because of their eternal justification/adoption. On the other hand, the analogy of “children” is used to identify the elect’s salvation from an experiential viewpoint—they are called “children of wrath”, and then “children of God”, because of the experiential work of the Holy Spirit imparting to their souls a new life in Christ (new birth).
1. Duty-Faith is denounced by sovereign grace.
The blessings of the gracious covenant are exclusive privileges for the vessels of honour. No provision has been made, or promise secured, for the vessels of dishonour. (1) Both vessels are brought into the world under the curse of the law, and their duty is restricted to that law until God releases them from it; (2) Only the vessels of honour/mercy will be made into vessels of sanctification by the Spirit of God; (3) The initial work of sanctification is regeneration, and until the Spirit of God imparts a new life in Christ to the soul, the “children of wrath and disobedience” will remain spiritually dead in sin; (4) Once the Spirit of God imparts a new life in Christ to the soul, the vessel of honour/mercy/sanctification (child of God) becomes a partaker of the divine nature, and forthwith bears the fruit of the spirit (new nature in Christ); (5) Faith is a fruit of the new nature, which is exercised by the believer only after the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Henceforth, at no time is faith made the duty of the unregenerate—the non-elect, having no part in the blessing of the gracious covenant, remain forever duty bound to the covenant of works (and under its curse); the elect, being spiritually dead in sin, do not become partakers of faith experientially until they have been born again. And, even when the elect are born again, faith is better described as a fruit and blessing of the new nature in Christ, rather than a duty. (Jn 15:5; Gal 6)
2. The Free-Offer is inconsistent with sovereign grace.
We believe the gospel of sovereign grace should be freely preached (proclaimed) to all sinners, yet it is not to be foolishly and vainly offered to sinners. (1) To offer the gospel to sinners is foolish—first, it conveys the message that it is within the ‘will’ power of the sinner to be born again (this contradicts the whole gospel of sovereign grace); second, it requires of the preacher that he overstep his authority by making a promise of God’s love to the unregenerate, although he knows not if the sinner is a vessel of honour; third, it dishonors Jehovah and His gracious covenant by neglecting to distinguish the “wood and earth” from the “gold and silver”. (2) To offer the gospel to sinners is vain. Never will a sinner come to Christ of his/her own (free) will—Romans 8:7: “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” To offer Christ to sinners may make the preacher feel good about himself—that he is a humanitarian, charitable and magnanimous. However, none of his well-meant offers, or heartfelt pleadings or persuasive invitations will ever draw a sinner to Christ—these are not even the means through which the Spirit of God imparts new life to His people. Until the sinner is brought to Christ by the Spirit of God, the unregenerate will forever reject the offers of grace.
3. Love for the unconverted is enflamed by sovereign grace.
Preceding Paul’s teaching on the ‘high views’ of sovereign grace, he confessed with tears—Romans 9:2,3: “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Who is it that accuses the High-Calvinist of not having a passion for the unconverted? Who is it that seeks to marginalize the High-Calvinist, by alleging he has no love for the lost, or zeal to reach them with the gospel? Who is it that dismisses the High-Calvinist as “hyper”, charging him with not freely preaching the gospel to all sinners? When the gospel of sovereign grace is understood and consistently applied, it has the opposite effect than the foregoing assertions. The High-Calvinist will proclaim the gospel far and wide, to the regenerate and to the unregenerate (all sinners), having every confidence in the TriUne Jehovah, that He will save such as should be saved; He will edify such as should be edified. This is why the High-Calvinist has no time for a duty-faith message or a free-offer—he is too busy preaching a full and free gospel. And, when this gospel is faithfully proclaimed, he is assured of the same results following the message, as that which attended the preaching of Paul—2 Corinthians 2:14-16: “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life.” The “savour of death unto death” belongs to the “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction”; whereas the “savour of life unto life” belongs to the “vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory”.
Jared Smith served twenty years as pastor of a Strict and Particular Baptist church in Kensington (London, England). He now serves as an Evangelist in the Philippines, preaching the gospel, organizing churches and training gospel preachers.