As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
For ages this chapter has been a battle-ground for theological dispute. Doctrines have been raised here most degrading to man — most derogatory to God. The first thing, therefore, is to brush away the clouds of false opinions with which theological polemics have enveloped it. The verse is not meant to express the idea —
1. That the Great Father does not show mercy to all mankind. This would be contrary to facts. Reason, consciousness, and the Bible unite in declaring that it is "of the Lord's mercy that we have not been consumed." Man's existence is to be traced to the fact that he lives every moment by mercy, and mercy bears him up from hell.
2. That God gives to some men favours that He withholds from others, which is a truth too obvious for debate. You see this unequal distribution of the Divine favour —
(1) In natural endowments. No two men are alike in natural endowment.
(2) In our secular condition.
(3) In the means of spiritual improvement.Some are" born heathens, etc., So that however humbling to our pride it may be, yet God does bestow favours on some which He withholds from others. But here Paul would not argue a point so palpable to his opponents.
3. That the Infinite Father is not disposed to save all. This is opposed to His own most positive and frequent declarations. "I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner." "Let the wicked forsake his way," etc. This is also contrary to the universality of His remedial provisions. "God so loved the world," etc. "He is a propitiation... for the sins of the whole world."
4. That the Infinite Father distributes His favours capriciously. We are unable to discover them, but that He has the highest reasons for His conduct we are bound to believe. The Infinite intellect never acts without reason, and Infinite love never acts unkindly. His mighty operations are under the sway of intellect; His intellect is under the sway of love.
5. That willing and running, or human efforts, are not essential to salvation.
(1) There are blessings bestowed upon us independent of our willing and running. This is the case, e.g., with natural endowments. If we have inferior powers the blame is not with us; if we are above the average the credit is not ours. It is sometimes the case too with our temporal condition. Sometimes riches come to a man without any effort or will of his own, and with poverty the same, but not always.
(2) It is ever true, however, of mental and moral excellence. We do not say that God cannot make a man intelligent and virtuous irrespective of his own conduct, but we have never heard of such cases. God's regular method to enlighten the ignorant, to reform the depraved, etc., is by the earnest use of their own faculties. The Bible gives us to understand —
(a) That without my willing and running I cannot be saved. The work of a man in obtaining his salvation is compared to husbandry, building, battle, racing; all laborious occupations. In one word, so far from willing and running not being required, we must agonise to enter in.
(b) That when there are the right running and willing, salvation is sure to be obtained. Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened." "He that cometh to Him He will on no account cast out." Running and willing therefore cannot be dispensed with. What then does it mean? Simply this — that the original reason of salvation is in God and not in man. A truth this which is no sooner propounded than adopted by universal intelligence as an axiom. If there be a God He must be the primordial cause not only of all existence, but of all good throughout His vast and ever-extending universe. Then "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth" —
I. THAT GOD'S DETERMINATION TO SAVE MANKIND CAME. Human effort had nothing to do in starting the eternal idea. "Who being His counsellor hath taught Him?" God's ideas are as old as Himself. There is no succession of thought in the Eternal Mind. One all-seeing, all-embracing, infinite thought is His. "Known unto God are all His works, redemption included, from the beginning of the world." We are saved, then, "not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace," etc. Had He not determined to save humanity we never could have been saved, and His determination is entirely independent of all "willing and running."
II. THAT GOD'S CONDITION OF SALVATION WAS FORMED.
1. It is God's plan to work by means. The principle of mediation fills and rules the universe.
(1) It is so in the material world. God acts upon one thing through the instrumentality of another. One body is moved, one life is produced, one creature is supported by another.
(2) It is so in the mental world. One mind guides, educates, moulds another.
(3) In the moral world God's method here is to save the world by Christ. He is in Christ "reconciling the world unto Himself." "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son,"etc. "What the law could not, do," etc. This is a settled condition. "There is no other name," etc.
2. Now what has human "willing or running" to do with this plan of salvation? Nothing.
(1) The plan is eternal, and therefore no creature could have had an influence in its formation. "The Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world."(2) The plan transcends all finite thought. It could not have "entered into the heart of man to conceive" of such a thing.
III. TO SUPERSEDE GOD'S ESTABLISHED METHOD OF SALVATION. Perhaps this passage especially refers to the Jew, who had an idea that he should be saved on the ground of patriarchal descent. And Paul wishes to impress him with the fact that no amount of effort on that condition would save him. He might will and run intensely and for ever, but it would be of no service. There is a Divine way to reach Divine results. There is a Divine way to cultivate the soil, to navigate the ocean, to build houses, to get a well-informed and well-disciplined intellect, and if these are not observed labour will be lost. It is so in man's salvation. There is a Divine way, which, if not observed, all the willing and the running will go for nothing. The heathen, the Mahometan, the Jew, the Deist, may will and run, but their labour must prove futile, since they observe not the way.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.