We may not like His wrath. We may choke on the very idea of His wrath, but if you stop for a minute, for five minutes, no more than five minutes should it take you to think about the justness of a holy God displaying anger against sin. We don't like to talk about God's wrath.
We don't like to think about the wrath of God coming upon sinners. But the Bible is clear about this sober reality, and it's this reality that makes the good news so good. This is the Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind, and as we celebrate Reformation Month leading up to Reformation Day on Tuesday, we are featuring sermons from the book of Romans, a book that changed the course of Martin Luther's life and has been used by the Lord so significantly in the life of the church. Today we are in Romans 9, and when the topic of God's sovereign grace comes up, there are many questions that are raised, and one of them is found in today's text. So here's Dr. Sproul to help us navigate these weighty words of the Apostle Paul. Well, here we are coming to the end of the ninth chapter of Romans. Some of you may be disappointed about that while others are breathing a deep sigh of relief because Paul introduces the doctrine of predestination in chapter 8 of this epistle and then labors the issues that are closely connected to it throughout the rest of chapter 8 and through chapter 9.
And we have spent no small bit of time looking carefully at some of the difficult questions in which this doctrine is enshrouded. And so tonight we come near the end of chapter 9. I'm making no promises that we'll finish the chapter tonight, but I want to pick it up going back to repeat a little bit of what we covered the last time. We'll start at verse 19 in chapter 9 and read from there. So I would ask the congregation to stand for the reading of the Word of God. You will say to me then, why does he still find fault? For who has resisted his will? But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, why have you made me like this?
Does not the potter have power over the clay from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? And 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? That he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. As he says also in Hosea, I will call them my people who were not my people and her beloved who was not beloved. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, you are not my people, there they shall be called sons of the living God. And Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel, though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved. For he will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness because the Lord will make a short work upon the earth. As Isaiah said before, unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we would have become like Sodom, and we would have been made like Gomorrah. What shall we say then? The Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained to righteousness even the righteousness of faith, but Israel pursuing the law of righteousness has not attained to the law of righteousness.
Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were by the works of the law, for they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense, and whoever believes on him will not be put to shame. The inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God for His people.
Please be seated. Let us pray. Again, our Father, we cry unto Thee, send help. For as we struggle with these difficult passages in Your Word, we are indeed lost without the help of the Holy Spirit. And so we ask that You would send Him to open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts, to put Your light on this text, illuminate for our understanding, and cause us not only to embrace it, but to embrace it with joy and thanksgiving. For we ask it in the name of Jesus.
Amen. In our last time together, I spent some time looking at the question of election and reprobation, the issue of so-called double predestination, and I labored the distinction between a symmetrical view of election in which both on both sides of the issue God was seen to work in a similar manner, working faith in the hearts of the elect and working unbelief in the hearts of the reprobate. And we pointed out that that view of election and reprobation has been in the main rejected by orthodox Christians and orthodox Reformed theologians.
But we still faced some of the difficulties of the questions that Paul raised, beginning in verse 19. Why does he still find fault for who has resisted His will? But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to Him who formed it, Why have you made me like this?
Does not the potter have power over the clay from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? Now we looked at this passage already from one dimension. I want to look at it a little bit more closely tonight in light of another classic controversy within the Reformed tradition, a controversy that many point to, to exemplify the wasted effort of intellectuals and of theologians who want to discern how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and those who get caught up in the making of fine distinctions that have no edifying value for the people of God. And that controversy that is assumed to be so useless is that controversy historically between what is called supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. How many of you have ever even heard of the distinction between supran and infra? And again, it's been pointed to as one of those arcane principles of theology that angels don't take seriously. But as difficult and as controversial as that issue has been historically, it is not without significance. I believe it makes a big difference whether we come down on the side of supralapsarianism or if we come down on the side of infralapsarianism.
And you may be thinking, Pastor, you have a unique gift to answer questions that none of us is asking. But I would hope that you would ask this question because the question is provoked by the text that I have just read where Paul speaks about God making vessels of honor and vessels fit for destruction out of the same batch of clay. Now the debate between what is called supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism has to do with the relationship of God's decrees to election and to the fall. It has particular interest with the fall, which is what is called the lapse or the lapse of the human race into sin, hence the root of both terms, lapsarianism. So supra and infra have to do with God's involvement with the fall and the order of God's decrees with respect to election and the fall. Now there is one common misunderstanding that people have about this debate, one among many, I should add, in passing. Some people would put the two views this way, that the doctrine of infralapsarianism says that God's decree of election comes after the fall, where those who hold to supralapsarianism say that God's decree of election comes before the fall.
But that's a false distinction. Both sides understand that God's decrees regarding election and reprobation are rooted and grounded in eternity. It's not that God gives a decree to save people as an expression of His plan B after the original purpose of creation has been ruined by Adam and Eve's sin. And so after the fall of the human race, then God has to remedy this mess by coming up with a plan of salvation. No, both sides agree that God's sovereign plan of salvation was determined from the foundation of the world before the world was made, before there ever was an Adam, before there ever was an Eve, before there ever was a garden, and before there ever was a fall.
The question is not when the decrees were executed by God in His eternal plan, but rather the order of the decrees. And the significance of the debate is this. The infralapsarian position, which is the vast majority report of historic Calvinism and of Reformed theology, is that God's decree of election is made in view of the fall. Now why is that important? Well, the last time I mentioned, if Paul says that God takes this same batch of clay and out of one He makes vessels fit for destruction and others fit for honor, does that mean that in God's work of creation He planned from all eternity to make some people bad and other people redeemable?
No. The idea is that when God exercises His grace in redemption, that grace is applied to a mass of humanity, all of which are dead in sin and trespasses, and that God in His decree of election decrees to save some people out of that mass of what Augustine called that mass of perdition, that mass of fallen humanity. And so the decree of electing grace is made in light of the fall. In fact, if it were not made in light of the fall, it wouldn't even be a decree of grace. Now on the other side of the coin, the superlapsarian position teaches that God decrees the fall in light of His doctrine of election.
Let me say it again. God decrees the fall in light of His decree of election. So first of all, His first decree is to elect certain peoples to salvation and others unto reprobation. And in order to accomplish that eternal purpose, He decrees the fall of humanity.
And so the purpose of the fall is to provide that clay that is necessary in order for Him to choose some to salvation and others to reprobation. Am I going too fast? Are you following this so far? Some of you are looking at me with… what are you following you?
I don't see a bouncing ball up there. Let me say it again. Infralapsarianism teaches that God's decree of election is in light of His knowledge of the fall. And He chooses, knowing that the race is fallen, He chooses to save some out of that fallen humanity and be recipients of His redeeming grace.
The supralapsarian position says no. God plans to save some and to condemn others, and in order to make that possible, He decrees that the whole world would fall into ruin so that the purpose of the fall is to give us a condition that is necessary for God to show His grace and His wrath. Now the problem with that is then you have the violation of what we call the biblical a priori, that God is not the author or creator of sin. It's not that God chooses to create people in a fallen condition so then He can condemn them for eternal damnation, that it is not God's purpose to make people and force them to sin and then punish them for that sin.
Now the plot thickens. You say, oh, I'm so glad to know that you don't believe that God creates people wicked and then punishes them for their wickedness. I don't believe that. I don't think that's what Paul is teaching here. Yet at the same time, you have heard me say, if you've been here very often, here's where you have to be careful, and if you quote me, you better be accurate or I'll get after you, that quoting Augustine that we have to say in some sense in some sense.
Now that should alert you that it's a careful sense. In some sense, God ordained the fall. Now didn't I just make a super-Lapsarian statement?
No. In some sense, the purpose of His ordaining the fall was not so that He could have wicked people that He can punish forever. That's not His purpose. But I say, in some sense, He ordains the fall. Why do I say that? Well, I say it because of two reasons, as I've mentioned before. One is because God is sovereign.
Correct? Do we all agree on that? God is sovereign. He's sovereign over nature. He's sovereign over human history. He rules all things by His power and by His authority. He's sovereign over the disposition of His grace. We understand that.
And that nothing can happen in this world apart from God's sovereign action. If I'm going to steal your car tonight, and that is my plan that as soon as church is over, I'm going to the parking lot, and I'm going to steal your car. But I don't let you know the evil intent of my heart.
Aha! My evil intentions may be a secret to you, but they're not hidden from God. Who knows what I'm going to do before I do it? Who knows what I'm going to say before I say it? Who before a word is even formed on my lips, He knows it altogether. So God in heaven knows that my intent to this evening is to steal your car. You don't know it unless I tell you. Now, here's the question. It's a simple one.
You don't have to have an advanced degree in theology to answer this question. Does God have the power to stop me from stealing that car? Tell me, Hudson. Yes, sir.
Thank you very much. He gets an A on his homeschool report card for that. God certainly has the power.
Now, here's the more difficult question. Does He have the authority to stop me if He desires? Hudson? Yes, He does.
My friend Norman Geisler notwithstanding. But we would say that God has the authority and the power to prevent anything from happening that does in fact happen. And so, God can exercise His authority and His power and His sovereignty by stopping it from happening, or He can choose not to stop it. Aren't those His options always in every way? I mentioned this earlier when I said after 9-11, and the question that was on everybody's lips was, where was God on 9-11?
And my answer to that was He was the same place He was on 9-10 and on 9-12. And then we saw banners all over the country, bumper stickers everywhere with this plaintive cry, God bless America. But as soon as anybody suggested that it was possible that the destruction visited upon our nation was somehow in the plan of God, people shrunk back in horror saying that can't be. God is too loving and too kind as to ordain such a thing as that. Well, beloved, if we believe that God has the power and the authority to bless a nation, at the same time we have to believe that God has the authority and the power to withhold that blessing from the nation.
Although there weren't too many bumper stickers that I saw that said God damn America, but that's always the unspoken option to the prayer that He might bless America. So I've said all of that to say this, that in a certain sense, if the fall happened, we know that God knew it was going to happen, and we knew He could have prevented it, but He chose not to prevent it, not so that He could have a wicked batch of clay that He could exercise His sovereign decrees of election and reprobation. Well, why did He let the fall happen? I once talked to a man who said, you can exhaust anybody's knowledge with seven questions. Ask the first question, and when the person answers it, the second question is, why? And when the person answers that, you go to the third question, and that question is, why? And nobody, even Einstein, on any question, can go to the eighth level.
After the seventh time, somebody has to throw up their hands and say finally, I don't know. And you don't even ask me, ask me seven times why God let the fall happen before I say to you, I don't know. But I don't believe that it was to make His plan and decree of election and reprobation possible. We do know the answer that Scripture gives is that somehow this lapse into sin that produced a batch of fallen humanity and of fragile and corrupt clay was for His glory. Now we read in verse twenty-two these words. 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, comma. Now Paul's asking us a question here, and he's addressing this to the Roman Christians, but by extension he's addressing it to you and to me. And I would ask you the same question. Well, what if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make His power known, let me just stop right there.
What about that? Would you have a problem if for any reason God wanted to show His wrath? Do you have a problem with God desiring to demonstrate His power? Would there be anything wrong with a just and holy God displaying His wrath? Now you may struggle with that because you live in a culture that I've said repeatedly in a wholesale manner has rejected all concepts of wrath belonging to God. We have the idea that somehow it's beneath the dignity of God to be capable of wrath. I hope we answered that in the very first chapter of Romans when Paul began with the statement, now the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men. And I'll ask you again nine chapters later. What if God were pleased to manifest His wrath against evil?
Do you have a problem with that? Remember back in Genesis where God was going to visit His wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah? And Abraham came to Him and said, Will you punish the righteous with the wicked, the innocent with the guilty? Remember we looked at that, and I said, Here's Abraham the father of the faithful who falls into abysmal heresy by even suggesting the possibility that God would punish innocent people. Finally, Abraham comes to his senses and says to God, Will not the judge of all of the earth do what is right, far be it from you, O God, to punish the innocent with the wicked, to punish the righteous with the guilty? Abraham had no idea how far it is from God to do such a thing. The distance between God's likelihood of punishing the innocent with the guilty, the righteous with the wicked is infinite.
That's how far it is. It's absolutely unthinkable. And so when you come to this text and you read about Paul talking about God showing His power, showing His wrath for vessels fit for destruction, vessels fit for dishonor, don't for a minute allow your mind to think that God here is doing something by which He punishes innocent people, that He finds fault with those who are faultless. Will not the judge of all of the earth do what is right, and it is right for the judge of all of the earth to show His wrath? We may not like His wrath. We may choke on the very idea of His wrath, but if you stop for a minute, for five minutes, no more than five minutes should it take you to think about the justness of a holy God displaying anger against sin. Did Jesus sin when He made a rope out of cords, went into the temple in Jerusalem, kicked over the tables, and drove the money changers out of them in a fit of rage? Was it justifiable anger?
You know that it was. And what if God were pleased to show His wrath toward me? Do you ever think about that? Again we remember that every image that the New Testament speaks of of the last judgment speaks of all of us standing before the judgment seat of God with our mouths shut as the whole world is found guilty before Him.
You know, I've told you before that the little repartee I used to have with my dear departed friend Jim Boyce, we would fly to different places together, and I was a white knuckle flyer, and he loved the bumps and the feeling of exhilaration of flying through the air. And I'd be there and he'd… and nervous and looking out the window, and he'd say, what's the matter, R.C.? Don't you believe in the sovereignty of God?
And I said, Jim, that's my problem. I do believe in the sovereignty of God, and I know that He would be perfectly just to crash me into the ocean right now. That's why I'm nervous because even though I delight in my adoption into the family of God, I still fear God. Not just the fear of adoration and awe and reverence of which we speak, but sometimes stone cold fear of provoking Him, knowing that my justification is not on the line, knowing that I'll never experience condemnation at His hands, but I will experience and do experience His chastisement, His corrective wrath.
And when I receive it, it never occurs to me that it was unjust. And so Paul reminds us, what if God wanted to show His wrath? Do you have a problem with that? The only problem you have is that you wouldn't enjoy it, but you can't fault God for demonstrating His wrath. And what if God wants to make His power known? Oh, how this reminds me of the second psalm where the psalmist paints this picture of a summit meeting of the most powerful rulers of the world who come together and they join in conspiracy plotting against the Lord and against His anointed, declaring their independence, their autonomy from God, and they say, let us cast His bonds asunder.
Let us break His chains. And what's God's response? God looks down and sees these inter-continental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads all aimed at His throne in heaven, and He looks at them, and He laughs. He said, the Lord has them in derision.
What if we did that? If we took every arsenal of all power, amassed all of the power that is there on this planet, and aimed it at heaven, all God has to do is this, and it's over. Because who can withstand His power? But in the folly of our sin, in the hardness of our heart, in the stiffness of our neck, when we sin day in and day out and get away with it, we assume that God is powerless to do anything about it. That's a foolish assumption for any creature to make, because again and again and again in history, God will interrupt His forbearing. He will cease for a moment His long-suffering.
He will suspend temporarily His patience with you and His patience with me and reminds us who is sovereign. So Paul asks that sober and sobering question, what if God wants to show His wrath? What if God wants to display His power?
Do you have a problem with that? To make His power known, what if He endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had prepared beforehand for glory? What if God did all of these things in order to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy? You want to deal with the doctrine of predestination.
You want to argue about the concept in the abstract. You don't like the idea of God's sovereignty. You don't like the doctrine of election even though it's on every page in the Bible, and you choke on it day in and day out.
Try this on. What if He wants to make known the riches of His glory? You have any problem with that? There's a thesaurus here, a treasure, an immeasurable treasure, the treasure of His glory, which is likened here to riches untold, can never be counted. And you know that's what the doctrine of election is about. You must never study the doctrine of predestination in the abstract because, you know, in the final analysis, though it certainly involves God's sovereignty, certainly involves His omnipotence, certainly involves His omniscience, the bottom line of what this doctrine is about is about the riches of God's glory. Paul cannot think about these things for more than a minute without breaking into doxology, without crying out, oh, the depths of the riches of the glory of God. I told you in my own pilgrimage how I fought this doctrine for five years and finally was persuaded of it by Romans 9 with an assist from Jonathan Edwards and Martin Luther where I couldn't complain anymore about it, and finally I surrendered, I acquiesced, and I said still with an obstreperous heart, okay, I'll believe this doctrine because the Bible teaches it, but I don't have to like it. But in a very short time, contemplating the riches of the glory of God, I began to see the sweetness of this doctrine because what it screams is not so much sovereignty, but it screams grace, mercy, that is unfathomable. This doctrine, more than any other, reveals to us that grace really is amazing. We sing that song and seem to be unconscious of the words, amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a righteous, upstanding man like me. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found. Not because I was searching to find it, not because I pursued the truth, but because the hound of heaven found me with the sweetness of His mercy and of His grace. That's why in Reformed nomenclature, in the history of Reformed theology, when we talk about these doctrines like justification by faith alone, and we talk about the doctrine of election, and we talk about these things, we call them the doctrines of grace because that is the idea here.
That is the central portion of the text that we are considering. That He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy. He took from this corrupt mass of clay and selected from it what Augustine called this mass of perdition, and chose to make from that mass vessels of glory. And if you are in Christ Jesus, that's what He's done for you in His mercy and in His grace. He has made you a vessel of mercy that He prepared beforehand, before the foundation of the world for glory.
We're bound for glory, folks. That's the destiny of predestination, to be bound from God's eternal plan for eternal glory in His family. He prepared beforehand for glory even us whom He called, and we've already explored the meaning of that word call. Not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. And now to underscore the riches of this mercy in the central accent on grace, He goes back to the prophet Hosea. Remember those prophets Hosea and Amos, where Amos is sort of known as the prophet of justice, let justice flow down like an ever-rolling stream, where Hosea is known as the prophet of mercy and of grace. But that message and that lesson of mercy and grace that God taught Israel through the prophet Hosea came at great personal expense to Hosea. In order to show the riches of His glory, the sweetness of His mercy, God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute who was flagrant in her promiscuity and infidelity to the prophet. And the children that came from that union received the judgment of God.
And we read in the first chapter of Hosea these words, Now when she had weaned lo Ruhamah, she conceived and bore a son. And God said, call His name Lo Ami, which means not My people. For you are not My people, and I will not be your God.
Here the object lesson, dear friends, is an object lesson of divine rejection. God says to that nation of Israel, whom He has called to be His own, and He promised Abraham that His descendants would be as the grains of sand on the shore and as the stars in the sky. But because of their sinfulness, God finally stopped and said to them, You who are My people are now Lo Ami. You're not My people, and I will not be your God.
And Paul now introduces this motif that he's going to develop through the rest of the end of chapter 9 into chapter 10 and into chapter 11, how to show forth the riches of His grace. God in His mercy, who will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, called a people who were no people, His people. He's talking about us. We who were no people, by grace are now His people. We are the wild olive branch grafted into the root of the tree. We bring nothing to the table, nothing inherent that would make God be moved to include us in His kingdom. Our only hope is the riches of His glory, of His mercy, that those who were no people, by grace, are called His people.
That's what election is all about. Let's pray. Father, in our daily lives, the things that concern us, that which keeps us awake at night, are not worries about Your glory. We worry about our glory. We don't worry ourselves about the riches of Your glory, but of our own riches. Father, let us have a glimpse of the sweetness of Your grace, that we will stop complaining and carping against the sovereignty of Your mercy, which is our only hope in this world and in the world to come. Amen. By grace, we are now the people of God.
That was R.C. Sproul from a sermon he preached at St. Andrew's Chapel in Sanford, Florida. Dr. Sproul's study through Romans, even through these more weighty texts, all came together to form his expositional commentary on Romans. When you visit renewingyourmind.org with your donation of any amount, we'll send you this hardcover volume and also give you access to the ebook edition. So that's both the hardcover and ebook edition for your gift of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. This is the final Sunday that we'll be featuring a sermon from Romans and the final day that we'll be making this hardcover volume available. So visit renewingyourmind.org while there's still time. Next Sunday, we'll be in 1 Peter 3.15, as R.C. Sproul encourages each of us to always be ready to give a defence for the hope that's within you. So join us next Sunday here on Renewing Your Mind.
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