In coming to a doctrine which divides men into antagonistic camps, we must first attempt to establish a biblical foundation for the doctrine. It is the purpose of this chapter to make this attempt. That God has chosen for Himself certain individuals, who, because of that choice, will inherit the blessings of the eternal kingdom of righteousness, will be shown to be beyond reasonable debate at a later point in this study. WHY He has done so will be at least partially shown in this part of our study.
There are those who argue that God has made no such individual selection of certain men within the vast stream of mankind. They do so erroneously -- making grave errors in the process of interpreting inerrant Scriptures and in the process of making the mental linkages between the various texts (this latter process is what I have called "doing theology"). Much of the opposition to the doctrine of individual election is found around the false assumption that this doctrine is the reason why men hold to the other "Calvinistic" doctrines of: total depravity, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the inevitable perseverance of the saints. That Calvin may have considered the doctrine of individual election as fundamental to the rest of his "system" we will not affirm or deny. However, it is not legitimately held as foundational. It is the doctrine of the depravity of man which makes the doctrine of individual election comprehensible. Those who argue that the entire "system" stands or falls with the doctrine of individual election do so erroneously.
First, there are few "systems" of theology that do not have glaring faults. They also, however, contain some truths. No system stands or falls on the basis of one point. Systems of theology are man-made. As such they contain both the strengths and weaknesses of men. Some have been more finely honed by the constant scrutiny of men of God than others, and thus have less error. But all are yet unperfected. The attempt to undercut a whole system by making that system stand upon one of its details is a foolish attempt. It makes it easier to hold up to ridicule, but it is not an honest endeavor.
Second, only the declarations of God make doctrines "necessary". If men can not make sense of what God has declared, the problem is in their finiteness and foolishness. The earnest student of scripture will make it his primary goal to discover what God has declared. Then, he will attempt to make all of the parts of those declarations fit inside his head. If he succeeds to any extent, he is profited. If he fails to some extent, he must not ridicule the legitimate interpretations of texts which he cannot make fit his system.
Because Paul, in the "gospel of God", began with the human condition "under sin", it is reasonable to assume that he, under inspiration, knew that it was the condition of man that makes God's choice of some men for salvation understandable. It was only after laying the basic groundwork regarding the issue of man's condition that he began to deal with those concepts which swirl around the fact of individual election.
Because he did, we shall also.
It is a biblical fact that it is the condition of man "under sin" that makes it necessary for God to selectively intervene with some men so that they will comprehend His grace and "believe" unto salvation. Because it is such, it is necessary that we delve into this matter to see what man's condition actually is. In this process we will be appealing to several Biblical texts in their context in order to show man's condition.
The first such text is Romans 3:9-18:
"What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes." (KJV).
At the beginning of our consideration of these verses we must first understand why Paul penned them. They fall at the end of his treatment of both the condition of the non-Jews and the moralistic Jews in regard to sin. The question raised in verse nine, "What then?", indicates that Paul is now calling for some kind of conclusion to the things that he has written. The next question, "Are we better than they?", indicates that some of the folk whom he addressed might think this to be the logical conclusion. That it is not is plainly declared; "No, in no wise". These questions and this answer establish that Paul is looking for a conclusion, but one which does not pit the Jew against the Gentile in terms of a moral superior/inferior.
At this point we want to inject the observation that Paul's anticipation of a conclusion by some that they are "better" than others indicates his understanding of the very dominant characteristic of men to seek to elevate themselves above their peers by some means. It is clear from the way he ends chapter three of Romans that this issue of feeling superior to another and boasting of that superiority is a major problem in man--especially in relation to the gospel of God. Therefore, this anticipation indicates that Paul is about to pull the props out from under the arrogant and the self-righteous.
Then, with the words "we have before proved" Paul pointedly addresses the legitimate conclusion to his teaching. He here declares that his intent in his words from chapter 1, verse 18 through chapter 3, verse 8 was "to prove" that both Jews and Gentiles "are all under sin". Often, in the process of interpreting Scripture, we are left with simple declarations by the author, from which we must attempt to see his intent or purpose. This is not so here. Here we have a plain statement of the intent which motivated Paul's writing of Romans 1:18-3:8. His intent was to prove that both Jews and Gentiles are all "under sin".
But, what does it mean to be "under sin"? The answer must be found in Paul's own statements in the section covered by that phrase. To begin, to be "under sin" means to be so dominated by sin that, in spite of knowledge, men pursue unrighteousness in antagonism toward the Truth. Note Paul's words in Romans 1:18-23. The climax of his "proof" that the Gentiles are "under sin" is found in Romans 1:32:
"Who KNOWING the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, BUT HAVE PLEASURE IN THEM THAT DO THEM." (KJV; capitals mine for emphasis).
This is irrational. It is the height of rebellion. It is sheer stupidity and mocks the righteous judgment of God. But, it is a fact of the condition of the Gentiles and "proves" that they are so dominated by sin as to be irrational, stupid, and suicidal. It "proves" that they are "under sin" because they act against knowledge.
Then, in respect to those who made some use of their moral judgment, Paul said that they were "under sin" in that they thought that they would escape the righteous judgment of God simply because they had the capacity to criticize others for their sins. Thus, in Romans 2:3, Paul clearly teaches that being "under sin" means to be illogical--to entertain a false notion of exemption from the wrath of God simply because of "a sense of morality". This is nonsense, but it is the effect of being "under sin".
And, finally, in dealing with the specific failure of the Jewish mentality, Paul says:
"Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorest idols, dost thou commit sacriledge? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?" (Romans 2:21-23; KJV).
These words show clearly that being "under sin" for the Jew meant to be dominated by sin so entirely that the Word of God, though perceived clearly in what it declared, was not believed so that personal acceptance and practice of it resulted.
Then, to climax his argument that the Jews were "under sin" in spite of the fact that they had every advantage, Paul wrote Romans 3:1-8. In those verses he clearly established that the Jew had every advantage--the chiefest of which was "the oracles of God". But, in spite of the possession of those oracles, they did not believe. Was their unbelief something they could alter? Paul does not address that question in this context, but it is clear that the unbelief of Israel in spite of her possession of great advantages was "proof" that the Jews, like the Gentiles, were "under sin".
Therefore, we have seen that Paul's concept of being "under sin" was one in which the person dominated by sin is irrational, rebellious, illogical, and unbelieving. And, since one is unbelieving and irrational while "under sin", he must have the domination of sin broken before he can become rational and believing. Can he, by the strength of his volition restore his rationality and overcome sin's domination so that faith becomes possible? If he can, being "under sin" is no great problem. But, the text pointedly declares that being "under sin" is a problem of great magnitude.
Having declared, then, that his material in Romans 1-3 was "to prove that both Jew and Gentile are under sin", Paul moved further into what being "under sin" means. He began to quote from several Old Testament sources to put the final touch on his doctrine of man being "under sin". He very effectively sews these verses together (without violating the contexts in which they are found) to produce an Old Testament summary of the doctrine of man "under sin". These verses are recorded in Romans 3:10-18.
The first declaration is:
"There is none righteous, no, not one."
What does this mean? At least one opponent of the doctrine of individual election says that this is a use of hyperbole. He argues that it is an overstatement of the truth--because there have always been a remnant of people who are righteous before God. That is a neat bit of fanciful hermeneutics. It is also a deliberate sidestepping of the very issue that lays the groundwork for a proper understanding of divine election.
This statement has to be taken in view of its context--both in Romans and in the Psalms whence it was taken. The contextual subjects in view in the claim, "there is none righteous", in Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 are the "fool" in verse 1, and the "workers of iniquity" of verse 4. The "none righteous, no, not one" of Paul's context in Romans 3 are "both Jew and Gentile". To say that the statement is an example of hyperbole is to say that some of the "fools", some of the "workers of iniquity", some of the "Jews", and some of the "Gentiles" are, in fact, righteous. To make such a claim in the face of clear Biblical revelation that all have sinned is ludicrous. "But," one will object, "some of the fools, workers of iniquity, Jews, and Gentiles, have believed and are thus righteous". That is true. But, they are no longer of the category of fools, workers of iniquity, Jews, or Gentiles when they have believed.
Paul says there are three categories of mankind:
"Give none offense, neither to the JEWS, nor to the GENTILES, nor to the CHURCH OF GOD" (I Corinthians 10:32; KJV; capitals mine).
He also declares that once a person has become a member of God's church, he is no longer of the category of "workers of iniquity":
"...Do not be deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. AND SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU..." (I Corinthians 6:9-11; KJV; capitals mine).
Therefore, to call Paul's quote of Psalm 14:1 an example of hyperbole is wishful thinking--attempting to make man out to be better than he is by saying that Paul was making him out to be worse than he is. There are none outside of the "Church of God" who are righteous; no, not even one.
At this point, it is necessary to see something about the "righteousness" which characterizes the "Church of God". It is not a righteousness which owes its existence to the personal acts of the Church. It is, rather, a righteousness which has been conferred upon the Church by decree. In reality, it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, for Paul says:
"But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and RIGHTEOUSNESS, and sanctification, and redemption" (I Corinthians 1:30; KJV);
"for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD in him" (II Corinthians. 5:21; KJV);
"Even the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference..." (Romans 3:22; KJV).
Therefore, from this we can see that Paul's meaning in his declaration that, "there is none righteous, no, not one", is that "in and of themselves, there are none righteous--not even one". This is a critical fact for our understanding. When Paul declared that there were no Jews or Gentiles who were righteous, he was declaring that, in themselves, they had no righteousness. We know this to be true because EVEN GOD'S CHURCH (the only category of men in this present time who are, in fact, righteous) is only righteous because Christ's righteousness has been imputed to it by decree. So, the effect of Paul's claim that there are no righteous Jews or Gentiles, when understood in view of their own activities and motive, covers all men--even God's Church.
That is an important fact to keep in mind as we go to the next thing Paul says about those who are "under sin":
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Romans 3:11; KJV).
Again, unless we go with the hyperbole cop-out, we must understand that those who are outside of the church do not understand, nor do they seek after God. This is another critical fact that we must come to grips with: men who are "under sin" do not understand, nor seek after God. In fact, as we shall show later, they are not even able to do so--because they are under sin. Their actions have been so dominated by sin that they cannot claim righteousness and, now, Paul says that their minds and interests have been so dominated by sin that they do not understand, nor even do they have any interest in seeking an understanding.
The rest of Paul's characterization in Romans 3 is also only properly understood when seen from the perspective of their domination by sin. The Old Testament held and taught no illusions about man's inner character apart from divine grace. Paul's appeal to the Old Testament authors in his presentation of the scriptural proof that all men apart from divine grace are "under sin" was the climax to his presentation of man's condition. It is this condition that makes God's choice of some to be objects of grace comprehensible. The doctrine of individual election must be understood in view of the fact that, left alone, no man would seek after God. That God pursues some to the point of their conversion is the glorious truth of grace.
There are some who would object at this point. They would say that we have this matter all backwards. Their claim is that man must seek God in order to be saved. We have just claimed that God seeks man so that he is saved. Now, it is true that the New Testament lays the responsibility upon man to seek after God. However, it is also true that the New Testament claims that there are no men who, in and of themselves, live up to that responsibility. That the responsibility rests upon man is the basis for judgment. That God actually does the seeking in those lives which are saved is the doctrine of grace. Note what Paul says in Romans 9:16:
"So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy" (KJV).
Here it is plainly said that becoming an object of the mercy of God is not "of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth". Now, it is true that if a man desires mercy of God and seeks after Him, he will be given mercy and the knowledge of God. The bug-a-boo is that that IF is only theoretical if that man is "under sin". We have already shown that this is true to Paul's concept of sin's domination of man.
And, with Paul's statement of Romans 9:16 history fully concurs as is recorded in Romans 9:10-13 (where God pre-empts both the "willing" and "running" of Jacob and Esau, before they were even born, with a sovereign decree); in Romans 9:17 (which is Paul's concluding example of divine prerogative in operation, exclusive of Pharoah's "will" or "effort" ["runneth"]); and in Romans 9:30-31 where Paul says:
"What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which FOLLOWED NOT after righteousness, HAVE ATTAINED to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, WHICH FOLLOWED AFTER the law of righteousness, HATH NOT ATTAINED to the law of righteousness" (KJV).
So, the Gentiles, who were not seeking God, were found of Him; and the Israelites who were active seekers of legal righteousness, did not find it. Neither the Gentiles, nor the Jews, were seeking God. But, God was seeking the Gentiles--and they attained to the justification that He freely offers to all who believe.
This brings us to our second major text:
"And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha" (Romans 9:29; KJV).
Here it is plainly declared that the natural inclination of humankind is to run to the immoral excess of Sodom and Gomorrah so that God brings cataclysmic judgment. The prophet is not speaking of foreign, Gentile, unregenerates whose headlong pursuit of sin brings them to disastrous confrontation with the holiness of God. He is speaking of a nation which had had every conceivable external advantage up to, and including, the written and verbal declaration of the Word of God. He is speaking of a nation to whom God had stretched forth His hands all the day long (Romans 10:21). That man, who is advantaged by God with all manner of benefits denied to others, so deliberately pursues his idolatry that, if left alone, he will become as the Sodomites and the people of Gomorrah, is insistent testimony to the power which sin exercises over the total person--intellect, emotion, and will. To claim that such men can overturn that power by the simple exercise of their wills is to attempt to foist yet another blindness upon men--the idea that they can generate faith of themselves without specific divine input. Faith in man's ability "to choose to believe" what he does not believe, is false confidence. Man has no such ability. Unless "the Lord of Sabaoth" acts to leave a "seed", there will be no seed--and the action of the Lord must be more than that which He did for the nation of Israel generally. The nation, generally, ran the way of Sodom.
At this point, because our text is out of the context of Romans 9-11, we must address ourselves to the issue of the purpose for the section. Some have objected to the concept of God's actual exercise of His sovereignty in relation to the salvation of individual men on the basis that this section of Paul's presentation of the "gospel of God" has been misunderstood. The objection has to do with the claim that Paul is not dealing with the salvation of individual men, but with the problem among Jewish believers that has arisen because of Israel's rejection of Jesus as the Christ. That claim, though it lends itself well to the theory that God is not actually exercising individual sovereignty (rather, He is supposed to be exercising a "collective" sovereignty over a nation instead of individuals) cannot stand the test of a thorough examination of the text.
In the first place, the setting of the text in the book of Romans sheds some light upon Paul's purpose for the section. It is couched between Paul's clear denial of the ability of ANYTHING to separate the foreknown elect from the God who chose them and his appeal to those elect to present themselves to Him as living, willing, sacrifices because of His great mercy in choosing them. This means, automatically, that these two elements of Paul's letter have a direct bearing upon this section.
But, what is that bearing? The most likely answer is that Paul wants to reinforce the impact of the security of God's elect so that they will willingly present themselves to Him for the "proving" of His "good, and acceptable, and perfect will" (Romans 12:2; KJV).
Why? What is it that threatens the believers in Rome? It is the "apparent" failure of the Word of God in respect to Israel's promised eternal kingdom. God had made promises concerning Israel's establishment in an eternal kingdom at the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah has come, been rejected, and gone. If God's promises to Israel are not sure, how can we be so confident that His promises to His elect will be sure?
Therefore, though the text is dealing with the national condition of Israel, that is not the primary thrust. The primary thrust has to do with how God's word remains true in the face of that national condition. And, that question is only raised because there are immature believers who did not understand God's clear prophecy in Daniel regarding a time period after the cutting off of the Messiah when God would have His face hidden from Israel so that Jerusalem would again be destroyed (Daniel 9:27 and context). It is Paul's intent to buttress the confidence of those immature believers by showing them that God's integrity stands when it is investigated against the backdrop of what He has already declared He would do.
Here is an analysis of the section under this thesis:
Now, having seen that the point of Paul's material in Romans 9-11 is dealing with the fact of God's continuing integrity so that immature believers can trust His word implicitly, we can go back to our text, Romans 9:29:
"And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha" (KJV).
This text is found in the segment that is dealing with God's sovereign prerogative. That segment deals with the fact that God's plans have been implemented which concern His dealing with the nations. That means that God has turned from dealing with national Israel. To preserve His plans for a future nation, He has, in spite of Israel's Sodom-like character, shown mercy to some--a remnant out of the number like the sands of the sea.
Because it is the final verse of this segment, we know that it is dealing with God's sovereign prerogative in showing mercy. The nation is like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. By right, it ought to be decimated like those were. But, God has the sovereign prerogative to show mercy. That He exercises it toward Israel's remnant and not toward Sodom is His right and He cannot safely be rejected for it.
The point, however, that we are attempting to make from this text is that it fully concurs with Paul's earlier declaration that man "under sin" is so bound by sin that his progress is always and inevitably toward Sodomy unless the Lord of Sabaoth sets the boundaries in divine mercy and grace. God had been pleased in the past to restrain Israel's progress in sin, but only because He exercised His right to show mercy on whom He chose. He is now turning His attention to His sovereign plans, which have to do with Hosea's prophecies, concerning those "not My people" whom He intends to make "My people". This turning of attention means that "though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved" (9:27), for Israel is, in character, like Sodom and Gomorrah, and God, though He will underwrite the salvation of a remnant in Israel because of His promises, has turned His attention to the nations.
Therefore, the human condition "under sin" is such that even if men did have free control over their volition, they would not exercise it to seek God. It ought to be clear by now that men are in bondage--mentally, emotionally, and volitionally. Israel, a nation with tremendous external advantages, is no different in basic heart-condition than Sodom. That Israel, with all of its advantages, was wholeheartedly pursuing the course of Sodom and Gomorrah is point-blank evidence that if God does not determine to intervene in a sovereign display of "having mercy" by keeping for Himself some who make up the nation, there will be none saved in Israel. This is why God has chosen to have mercy on certain individuals. If He left the issue open to the volitional response of men, there would not be any men saved.
This brings us to our third major text:
"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither CAN he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14; KJV).
It has been our contention from the beginning that man is so dominated by sin that, not only WILL he NOT seek after God, he CANNOT. It is this fact that we now want to address in order to establish that salvation is of grace because of divine election, and not of human "will" or "effort".
Before we pursue our consideration of this text in I Corinthians, we must first deal with the problem in some men's minds concerning this matter of man being required to do things that he cannot do. One of the major objections to the biblical concept of individual election centers on this notion that the assignment of responsibility necessarily establishes ability on the part of the one responsible. That it does not is clearly taught in the Scriptures in many places. Here are some examples:
"Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, WHY DOTH HE YET FIND FAULT? FOR WHO HATH RESISTED HIS WILL? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?" (Romans 9:18-20; KJV).
Here Paul clearly teaches responsibility without capacity. He knows the question will be raised on the basis of what he has said, and intercepts it. His answer, rather than being that of the opponents of his doctrine ("Oh, I did not mean to imply that God holds men responsible who cannot resist His will"), is, rather, that God can make man any way He wants to and not have to listen to any lip from him. Those who oppose the concept of responsibility without ability would do well to shut their mouths (though even this they cannot do!) lest they be held responsible for the words that proceed from them.
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Ephesians 5:25; KJV).
Those men who, in their pride of volition, think themselves to be able to completely give themselves up (with their needs, wants, and desires) for the sake of their wives as Christ did for the Church are totally blind to their egocentrism. Those so thinking are invariably having trouble with their wives for the wives KNOW how used they are in the name of "love".
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48; KJV).
If men have been given the ability to be like this simply because they have been commanded to be like this, why are there none like this--even among those who are the most committed to the lordship of Jesus Christ?
The fact is, many times the demands are made of men in the scriptures precisely because they have no capacity to obey them. Paul argues in both Romans 5:20-21 and Galatians 3:19-24 that this was precisely the point of the Law of Moses. In that law God made many demands of men who were dead in their sins and could not obey. He did it, in part, to push them into the admission of their incapacity. Once a man reaches this conclusion by the Word and the Spirit, it is but a small step to a cry for mercy--which cry the Lord will hear. However, as long as men hold on to their "capacity", they cannot partake of grace.
Now, let us return to I Corinthians 2:14. In this place Paul pointedly declares that the "natural man", who has not the Spirit of God, CANNOT receive the things of the Spirit precisely because he does not have that Spirit. Now, it is the gospel of which he speaks in the words, "the things of the Spirit". This is clearly discerned when we look backwards in the context to things that have been previously labeled "foolishness" in the minds of unbelievers. In I Corinthians 1:18 it is the preaching of the cross that is "foolishness", and in I Corinthians 1:23 it is "Christ crucified" that is "foolishness". These verses establish the prior context for our text. The "things of the Spirit" which are "foolishness" to the natural man are those doctrines which center about the crucifixion of Christ for the sins of men. Now, it is incontrovertible that this text plainly says that the natural man CANNOT know these things. How is it then that men everywhere proclaim man's ability to respond to the gospel by a faith that is not specifically produced of the Spirit?
The words that are translated "neither can he know them" are "ou dunatai gnonai". The "ou" is the most emphatic single-word negative of those possible to use in Greek. The "dunatai" comes from a word that is used all over the New Testament to denote capacity or ability. A literal translation of the phrase would be, "...he is not at all able to know..." the things of the Spirit. The reason that he is unable is that he lacks the Enabler, Who makes known the things of God (I Corinthians 2:11). Therefore, in the context of I Corinthians 1-2, Paul clearly demonstrates that man does not have the ability to understand and receive the truths of the gospel. Thus, not only does man not seek after God, he does not have the capacity to do so. His incapacity is based upon several factors, but his incapacity exists as a stark reality. Some other texts which deal with this incapacity are these:
"HOW CAN YE BELIEVE, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?" (John 5:44; KJV).
Here Jesus teaches that false priorities function as an effective block to the ability to believe. The question at this point is whether men who can not see the gospel as anything but foolishness have the ability to make the Author of that "foolishness" their first priority.
"For they that ARE after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that ARE after the Spirit the things of the Spirit...so that they that are in the flesh CANNOT please God." (Romans 8:5 KJV).
Paul is here describing a state of being; either "after the flesh" or "after the Spirit". The state of being "after the flesh" is described as "in the flesh". That men in that state CANNOT please God (and, surely, exercising faith falls into the category of things that please God) is bluntly said. The question here is whether a man can move himself out of the realm of the flesh by the strength of his will. Since the mind-set of the flesh in Romans 8:7 is one of enmity against God, the question is whether a man who hates God is able to want to please Him. Jesus taught that man cannot hate and want to please at the same time. So, it is plain that not only is man unwilling to please God, he is also incapable.
"Therefore they COULD NOT BELIEVE, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them" (John 12:39-40; KJV).
Some might object here that this was a judgmental response to the persistent willfulness of Israel. That is true, but it does not erase the fact that God hardened them so that they did not have the capacity of faith. And, who among us has not resisted God? Since all have, how is it that He has not hardened all? Was not the "chief of sinners" as bad as those in Israel? If not, how is he "chief"? If so, then he obviously was one whom God did not harden, but rather pursued until he turned to Him. That God did this for Paul but not for many in Israel is obvious proof that God made a selection of Paul that He did not make of others. This shows that God makes the choice.
"But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (II Corinthians 4:3-6; KJV).
Here, again, we have blunt testimony to the inability of man to respond to the gospel apart from the special working of God. The "god of this world" has blinded men so that they cannot perceive the "light of the glorious gospel". Some object that these who are so blinded are called by the text "them which believe not", and conclude from that that they are blinded because they do not believe. This argument cannot stand the test of the context. In Paul's words, even those who believe are shrouded in darkness until God commands the light to shine. Thus, the blindness precedes the light, which precedes the faith. Unbelief cannot be the cause of the darkness. Rather, the darkness is the cause of the unbelief. That they are not believing is perfectly true--but it is because they cannot see the light of the gospel. That God must shine the light, and that seeing the truth of the gospel leads to faith, is bold testimony to the fact that God selectively illumines certain men of His choice.
It has been the burden of this chapter to establish a foundation for the understanding of the doctrine of the individual election by God of men unto salvation. That foundation is laid in a proper understanding of man's inherent and characteristic flight from God. That man DOES NOT SEEK God has been established. There are none who, in and of themselves, seek after God. That man CANNOT respond to the requirement of faith has also been established. His internal priority scheme blocks his ability to believe; his inimical mind-set prohibits his belief in the "foolishness" of the cross; his rebellion sets him up as an object of hardening by God; and, his soul's enemy, the "god of this world", has effectively blinded his eyes so that he cannot see the light of the gospel. Thus, unless God specifically chooses to override all of these obstacles in the lives of individuals, those individuals will not and cannot believe in the gospel which is God's power for their salvation. This, happily, He does for those whom He has called, for:
"...unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ (is) the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (I Corinthians 1:24; KJV).