ROMANS REVEALS further unfoldings of the glorious truth of election, beyond those we have considered in Paul's earliest epistles, to the Thessalonians. As in every higher class in school, the lessons are broader and deeper, In condensed form Rom.8:28-30 presents a rich display of precious truth concerning our election. "Now we are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God, who are called according to the purpose that, whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand, also, to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be Firstborn among many brethren. Now, whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also."
This divine declaration teaches us what it was that preceded His choice, or selection, that is
The proper meaning of this term, which is easy enough to understand, can be fixed very exactly in the Scriptures. It is used to explain the cause of that tragic voyage on which Paul, as prisoner, was taken to Rome. We read as follows: "Now the harbor possessing no fitness for wintering, the majority gave counsel to set out thence..."
Further, "Now, the south wind blowing gently supposing their purpose to hold..."
(Acts 27:12,13). Here the purpose was the result of counsel. The verbs of this word are rendered intend, resolve, and plan. In this relationship we can readily see the counsel to be the result of planning, intending, resolving, before it is put into execution. Literally it is a BEFORE-PLACing. So Paul placed it before him to go to Rome (Rom.1:13). Applying it to our text (Rom.8:29) we see that God placed it before Him to choose special ones, in this case those who are members of the body of Christ. Elsewhere we read of the counsels of the heart (1 Cor.4:5) and the purpose of heart (Acts 11:23), so there can be no doubt that this is a purpose of God's loving heart, for, as we shall see later, His love made Him long for such a goal. Here we should also observe that the reconciliation of all was likewise involved in a divine purpose, called the purpose of the eons (Eph.3:11), seeing that the object of election is to choose God's fellow workers through whom He will bring it about.
Paul continues to reveal further important phases of the doctrine of election as follows: "...whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand..."
God's purpose speaks only of the divine plans for a selection. Foreknowledge and predesignation speak of undertaking the task itself.
Basically, God's foreknowledge is not confined to members of Christ's body, but embraces all His creatures. He knew them all before they consciously existed, and so He found none who would cause Him or move Him to undertake a selection. His judgment of all was already settled at that time. "Not one is just—not even one. Not one is understanding. Not one is seeking out God. All avoid Him: at the same time they were useless. Not one is doing kindness: there is not even one"
(Rom.3:11,12). But God's foreknowledge, of which Paul speaks in reference to the ecclesia, goes deeper. There He wished to recognize those who were candidates for election, and in this He was guided only by the purpose of His heart. Now, however, He unites with this His eye, for designate denotes SEEize in the original. His eye picks out those whom He will later call to a high position in grace. Here again we have definite divine choosing. Designation shows that God even at that time, saw all mankind before Him, and now His eye designates those whom He wished to associate with His Son in carrying-out His grand calling. Designation is a divine indication of some out of a whole mass. In a narrower sphere we may apply the pre- to our call out of the world. But God's call is not the first act when a human believes. He was designated before for this. Yes, long before our creation this was done by God. But at this stage God's revelation has not progressed sufficiently that it could be said what event was meant by the "pre-" or "before." That we do not learn until we are given the concluding revelations about the ecclesia.
By this labor of love on God's part long before we existed, he set before Him an exalted aim: "to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be Firstborn among many brethren"
(Rom.8:29). All will eventually be saved and happy, but for the members of the body of Christ God has prepared a particularly high privilege. We will be conformed so closely to the Son that we will appear to be His brothers. And this elevation, at the same time, serves to bestow on Christ the pre-eminence, according to God's will that in all, He may be becoming first (Col.1:18).
The continuation of this divine predesignation is found in the earthly experience of the one concerned, for "whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also"
(verse 30). Again it is emphasized that no others attain to a living faith in Christ but those whom God has predesignated. Yet the apostle goes still further, and shows what follows his call: "and whom He calls, these He justifies also: now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also."
The gift of justification we receive immediately after our call. It is the first gift of His grace, which sets our previous life right before God. With a single act this matter is finished and put in perfect order.
But when it comes to our glorification it is different. It is accomplished gradually by our being transformed into the image of Christ. It is an experience in our life, from glory to glory! (2 Cor.3:18). Now it takes place first in our inner, hidden man, while our bodies remain in humiliation. Yet these also will be transfigured to conform them to the body of His glory (Phil.3:21).
In Romans we find still further precious truth concerning our election. In Rom.9:11 God teaches an important fundamental which He uses in His intention that precedes His selection. It is practically illustrated by means of the twins Jacob and Esau! "For, not as yet being born, nor yet putting into practice anything good or bad, that the purpose of God may be remaining as a choice, not out of acts, but of Him who is calling, it was declared to her that, "the greater shall be slaving for the inferior..."
Without a long commentary being needed, these words say that in divine selection works do not decide. In the case of Jacob and Esau the proof is convincingly conclusive, for, when God set the inferior over the greater, both had not done any work whatever, and had neither good nor bad on their account. In God's purpose of election something entirely different decides.
Paul shows this also in the next chapter, where he points to the choice of Israelites in the body of Christ. "Thus, then, in the current era also, there has come to be a remnant (out of Israel), according to the choice of grace. Now if it is in grace, it is no longer out of works, else the grace is coming to be no longer grace. Now if it is out of works, it is no longer grace, else the work is no longer work"
(Rom.11:5,6). Works in the proper place in the life of the believer, are useful and good and pleasing to God. But in His purpose in election they are the greatest foes of grace. There it is impossible for both to exist together. A greater contrast cannot be imagined. Seeing that divine election is in grace, works must be banished from it. Our election is on the same basis as Paul taught Timothy when he wrote: "...Who saves us and calls us with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus..."
(2 Tim.1:9). And to Titus he wrote of our salvation, that it is the work of God's kindness and "not for works which are wrought in righteousness which we do..."
Under no circumstances dare we depart from this fundamental rule. To say of the divine motive underlying our election that God sees beforehand who will do well or ill during their lifetime and who are willing to accept Christ and who will reject Him, and that election is based on this foreknowledge, that were a lawless attack on the basic principles of divine procedure. Is a single born sinner worthy of being chosen? What does God say as to the place of the will in connection with election? "Consequently, then, it is not of him who is willing, nor of him who is racing, but of God, the Merciful"
(Rom.9:16). His gracious purpose is the only motive for our selection. That is the one safe and unchangeable basis. It could not be such if our works had anything to do with it.
After such rich expositions of our selection, Paul takes up another weighty aspect in the ninth chapter. He considers the lot of the non-elect along with it, and justifies God in His dealings with those to whom He reveals His wrath and leads them in the ways of judgment.
From God's unequal dealings with Jacob and Esau and from His rousing and hardening Pharaoh (17,18) the apostle deduces axioms which, for the immature in the faith, are too difficult to approve and grasp, such as, "Consequently, then, to whom He will, He is merciful, yet whom He will, He is hardening"
(18). In advance the apostle sees the contradicters coming, who use this truth to deny God the right to blame the non-elect, because He Himself, by choosing some beforehand, has created the class of sinners who never, in their lifetime, can come to a saving faith in Christ. To this arrogant presumption, born of a profound ignorance of God's marvelous methods of salvation, the apostle replies with the figure of the potter and his productions (19:24). He shows how utterly unseemly it would be if a vessel should reproachfully ask the potter, "Why do you make me thus?"
Even the vessel made for dishonor is never allowed to reproach him thus, seeing that, even if it has no honorable, yet it has a useful purpose.
With this picture as a background, Paul takes up the literal facts and shows that there is not the least unrighteousness with God when He does likewise. To fully reveal Himself, He must also display His power, His indignation and His judgments, for these divine attributes, in their activity, are indispensable helps in order to open up the doors of His heart for the outflow of His love for all His creatures. Therefore Paul does not timidly sidestep God's indignation, which He reveals to unbelievers, when he uncovers the divine depths of our selection, but rather turns God's ways in judgment with the non-elect into a background for our election.
In this contrast Paul uses a new term to describe our selection. As vessels of mercy God readies us before for glory. This expression, which also contains the indefinite before, unites all the divine activities through which He brought about our election, in one conception. In designating us "vessels of mercy" we are again reminded of the fact that His mercy is only for those who possess nothing in themselves. Appended to this, the text immediately mentions that which brings this divine favor into operation in our lives—our call: "us whom He calls also, not only out of the Jews, but out of the nations also".
Now it is important to notice that God, in referring to the non-elect as vessels of indignation, does not use the term before. Without any indication of time we read concerning them only that they are adapted for destruction. We must, therefore, keep far apart from our selection that which occurs to the rest of mankind, and never infer that, as a result of our preference, the others are doomed to damnation. In the grand preparations for the reconciliation of all, God set as counterpart to our election the reconciliation of the rest. Their adaptation to destruction is doubtless to be found there where all in Adam were constituted sinners through his disobedience. As elect we were called by God out of this destructive current, while the rest are carried on with it, in order to arrive at salvation by the way of judgment.
This early labor of God's love for us assures us the exalted title of "God's Elect," or chosen ones. Paul uses it in his ringing challenge, "Who will be indicting God's chosen ones?
" (Rom.8:33; Col.3:12). Indeed, who would dare to bring any charge against those for whom God entered the lists? Nothing in earth or heaven, past or future, is able to nullify our selection, which is rooted firmly in God's heart, nor to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians continues the series of revelations and illuminates a new aspect of our selection. We are made acquainted with a leading motive which governs this divine transaction, and leads us from that far height down into our everyday experience. Although works were no determining factor in choosing the elect, yet God did consider their future station in their earthly life. He knew and recognized these in advance, since He predestined the way of life for each one. The following gives us God's Word concerning this: "For you are observing your calling, brethren, that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many powerful, not many noble, but the stupid of the world God chooses, that He may be disgracing the wise, and the weak of the world God chooses, that He may be disgracing the strong, and the ignoble of the world, and the contemptible God chooses, and that which is not, that He should be discarding that which is, so that no flesh at all should be boasting in God's sight"
These words present a contrast in the classes into which mankind is divided—the high and the low. Since election is a matter of pure grace, it is much more adaptable to the stupid and the weak and the ignoble than to the wise and the strong and the noble, who have something in which the flesh can boast. If the ecclesia were composed mostly of the latter class, it would give the impression that those who rank high on earth are better fitted to be God's elect. Then, however, the flesh would have somewhat in which to glory. But since election is an act of God's grace, and to God alone belongs the glory, He makes a point of disgracing the wise, the strong and the noble of this world, who are prone to be conceited as regards the flesh. And He accomplishes this best by selecting those who are looked down upon by the world, and favors them with the transcendent riches of His love and grace, in order to make them competent for a part of the allotment of the saints, in light (Col.1:12). It is more clearly evident that the selection is purely of grace when those who are humble, and who cannot boast in the flesh are chosen. This principle was already applied in the choice of Jacob, the inferior, when he was set over Esau, the firstborn, to whom belonged the position and honor for "the greater shall be slaving for the inferior"
(1 Cor.1:26) suggests, however, that some of the noble and powerful of this world were chosen by God. And this must be, in order to make it evident that the power of His grace is sufficient to bring them down to the level of sinners. And, surely, that also adds to the glory of His grace when such noted and honored ones confess that their genuine joy and welfare is found only in the crucified and risen Christ.
In the passages which we have examined so far, God has informed us of the smallest details of our election, so that we might consider the revelation as almost complete. Yet there are some phases missing, for the question, When and where did God choose us? has not yet been answered. Besides, we have not yet been informed as to one of the principal purposes. This we will find in the epistle to the Ephesians, where so many another truth is perfected by adding what was missing in previous revelations.