Arminian Today

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A Quick Thought on A Sermon From Romans 9:19-24

I listened to a sermon by a Calvinist Bible teacher on Romans 9:19-24.  A few quick points first that he made from the text.

1.  Election has a dark side to it (v. 22).

2.  (In his view) God does not elect the reprobate to damnation but simply passes over them, choosing not to save them.

3.  Yet this view is fair as Paul argues in verses 19-21 because of God’s sovereign choice and because of the nature of sin.

4.  This view does not negate the necessity of evangelism but enhances it as we realize that God alone saves sinners through what we preach (v. 24).  Because we don’t know who the elect are, we must preach a universal call to salvation (John 3:16).

My short review:

I note first that this brother is passionate for the gospel.  I don’t want to come across as saying that Calvinists are not passionate about Christ.  That is simply not true.  I could hear in his preaching a hunger for Christ and a desire to be biblical.  He quoted from John Piper, Charles Spurgeon, and John MacArthur so I know that he is reading and listening to men of God.

That said, I disagreed with his message in part.  I agree that God is sovereign in salvation.  Arminians never contend against this.  He is sovereign in sending of His Son.  He is sovereign in drawing sinners to Himself through the gospel.  He is sovereign in choosing to save those who believe the gospel by His grace.  I fully concur with my Calvinist brother that God is sovereign in salvation (Jonah 2:9).  Yet I disagree that sovereignty must mean that He arbitrarily chooses to save some and damn others.  I know this brother argued that he disagreed with the view called “double predestination” but to do so is to disagree with Calvin.  Calvin said this about election:

In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on his gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom he devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals his elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of his name and the sanctification of his Spirit, he affords an indication of the judgement that awaits them.

Yet if Calvin’s view of God’s sovereignty is correct then it follows that God does in fact choose whom He will save and whom He will condemn.  This is both logical and follows through on the theological ramifications of unconditional election.  To simply assert that you disagree with Calvin here is not enough.  You must biblically show why you disagree with Calvin.  I disagree with Calvin because I disagree with him over the sovereignty of God.  Not that I deny God’s sovereignty but rather I deny that God causes all things in the universe.  I believe God controls all things but He does not cause all things even if you argue that He causes all things through secondary means.

Further, I believe that the hyper-Calvinists or the hardshell Baptists are consistent in their view of double predestination.  If God has elected some to salvation then it logically follows that He has elected others to damnation.  Even if you argue that He doesn’t elect them to damnation but simply allows them to continue in their unbelief for His glory, who first made the decision for them to be in unbelief but God?  How can we escape making God even the author of sin?  As A.W. Pink wrote, “Not only did God know Adam would eat of the forbidden fruit, He decreed it” (The Sovereignty of Godp. 249).

By the way, R.C. Sproul likewise struggles with Romans 9:21.  He notes that verses  20-24 do in fact teach double predestination but he himself struggles with this view since he is not a hyper-Calvinist.  Sproul admits that verse 21 seems to be saying that God makes men sinners.  The best Sproul can do is simply to assert that both types of vessels come from the same lump of “fallen” clay and God is glorified through saving one batch of clay when He could condemn them both.  (see Sproul’s book Chosen by Godp. 153).

Lastly, I disagree with this Calvinist brother over his usage of Romans 9:19-24 and unconditional election to salvation.  Why would God prepare a human being for eternal punishment?  How can Paul say in verse 22 that God “has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” if in fact it was God who first made them vessels of wrath to begin with?  Further, the text never says that God prepared men for wrath.  Thomas Oden correctly notes that while God permitted defiance in the human will, it was not His antecedent rejection of them which hardened them.  Rather, those who say “no” to grace become hardened.  Oden writes, “Grace is given sufficiently and does not become insufficient merely by being unreceived” (The Transforming Power of Gracep. 91).

Adam Clarke notes that Romans 9 is primarily about Israel and the Gentiles.  The lumps then would be God’s choosing of Israel and the Gentiles.

Arminius noted that God made all men into vessels but men, by rejecting God, become sinners.  The vessels of wrath are thus that way by choice and not by God’s decree.

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