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Romans 9:13-24 - Homilies By C.h. Irwin

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.

Here is one of the most difficult problems touched on in the whole of this Epistle, and one of the most difficult problems in the whole range of human thought. It cannot be said that the apostle fully explains it. He does indeed suggest arguments which are sufficient to meet some of its difficulties. But how to reconcile human responsibility with Divine sovereignty remains a problem as difficult as that of reconciling the existence of evil with the power and righteousness and benevolence of a merciful God. Our wisdom is to bow with reverence in presence of these great mysteries, and to say, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"


1. God's sovereignty is exercised in righteousness. The objection is commonly made that to choose some and reject others would be an unrighteous act on the part of the Almighty. But God's choice of any one is not on the ground of deserving at all, but on the ground of his own mercy. It is not of works, but of grace. "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I wilt have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy" ( Romans 9:15 , Romans 9:16 ). God's choice of the Jews was free, and therefore he was free to reject them and to choose others. But if the Jews were rejected, they were rejected because of their own unbelief.

2. God's sovereignty is exercised in mercy. While the apostle takes a high view of the sovereignty of God, and asks, "Hath not the potter power over the clay?" ( Romans 9:21 ), yet at the same time he shows that God uses that sovereignty, not with arbitrary power, but with mercy. "What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known"—that is, God who must vindicate his own character, who will by no means clear the guilty, who must punish sin, what if he nevertheless—" endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?" In other words, "You who would question the justice of God's dealings with Israel forget how much endurance and patience and forbearance he exhibited towards them." If we consider God's dealings with ourselves must we not all admit that he has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities?

II. MAN 'S RESPONSIBILITY . Another very common objection to the doctrines of Divine sovereignty and election is that, if these be true, man is not responsible. "Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?" ( Romans 9:19 ). But here comes in the great truth of the freedom of the will. Human responsibility is there, whether we admit it or not. We are free agents, to choose between the good and the evil. Our conscience tells us this when it accuses us of guilt. The very condemnation of conscience is in itself a testimony to the freedom of the will and human responsibility. There would be no accusing voice within if we did not feel that we were free agents. Daniel Webster, the great American statesman, was once dining with a few friends in New York. In the course of the evening he was asked by the gentleman who sat next to him, "Mr. Webster, what is the greatest thought that has ever occupied your mind?" Pausing for a moment, he replied, "The most solemn thought that ever occupied my mind is the thought of man's responsibility to God."—C.H.I.

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