A Response to Dr. Richard Land’s Presentation on Unconditional Election, Part 3a. Romans 9 in Ironside’s Lectures
2. C.S. Lewis’ Philosophy of God’s Relationship to Time
3. Romans 9
In discussing the biblical doctrine of election, the Christian must carefully consider Romans 9. This chapter, among other texts in Scripture, is foundational to the Calvinistic understanding that God’s election of sinners to salvation is not conditioned upon anything within those sinners who are chosen for salvation. In responding to the appeal to Romans 9 in order to establish Unconditional election, Dr. Land (both in his presentation and during the Question and Answer session) directed those present at the John 3:16 Conference to H.A. Ironsjde’s comments on this chapter. Dr. Land also responded to Romans 9 through offering a framework to distinguish Abrahamic election from salvific election.
a. In Ironside’s Lectures
Readers of this post are encouraged to view Ironside’s writings on Romans and to determine for yourselves if the comments I make below are accurate. I base my comments on Ironside’s Lectures on the Epistle to the Romans, which was also reprinted in the Kregel Ironside Expository Commentary on Romans and Galatians.
In exploring any commentary on Scripture, I have found the three following questions to be helpful in evaluating what I read: i. What major theological presuppositions does this author bring to the text? ii. Are this author’s comments consistent with Scripture? iii. Are this author’s comments internally consistent?
The following is a consideration of Ironside’s Lectures on Romans structured by the questions above:
i. What major theological presuppositions does this author bring to the text?
Ironside was a well-known dispensationalist, and his dispensationalism is made explicit a few times during his comments on Romans 9 (Ironside mentions God’s “dispensational ways,” His “dispensational dealings,” etc.). Now, this is not the place to engage in a lengthy discussion of the controversy between dispensationalism and covenant theology, but I must simply note that Romans 9 in itself is not a major proof-text for dispensationalism (though Romans 11, which Ironside considers to be in the same thematic section of this epistle, certainly does have bearing on the dispensational/covenant theology controversy); Ironside gets his dispensational framework due to inferences derived (rightly or wrongly) from other texts of Scripture, and then reads this framework into Romans 9. The reader can judge for yourself whether this is an appropriate way to read the Bible, but in any case I would argue that Ironside’s dispensationalism, with its emphasis on two distinct groups- the Jewish nation and the Christian church- who can both claim the status of God’s “chosen people,” is what allows him to teach that the election referred to in Romans 9 is only an election of nations to temporal blessings.
ii. Are this author’s comments consistent with Scripture?
Ironside’s comments are not consistent with Scripture in that there are inconsistencies within his exegesis of Romans 9 and there are inconsistencies concerning the author’s exegesis in contrast to the Apostle’s intention in writing Romans 9.
– Inconsistencies within Ironside’s exegesis of Romans 9: Ironside’s comments on some verses of Romans 9 contradict other verses within Romans 9. An example of this can be seen in regards to a comment on Romans 9:15, “For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Ironside writes:
Observe, you do not get the negative. He does not say, “I will condemn whom I will condemn, or I will reprobate whom I will reprobate.” There is no such thought in the mind of God…
But the reader will note that you do, in fact, “get the negative.” For “the negative” the Bible gives the example of Pharoah in Romans 9:17, “For the Scripture says to Pharoah, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'” The divinely inspired commentary on this quotation is provided in the next verse, Romans 9:18, “So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills” [emphasis added]. Ironside actually gives an insightful comment on Romans 9:17-18, writing:
He turns next to speak of Pharaoh, for it is evident that one cannot logically accept the truth already demonstrated without recognizing the fact that God does give some up to destruction and leave them to perish in their sins.
The above comment is, however, inconsistent with his earlier statement regarding Romans 9:15, which speaks to Ironside’s internal inconsistencies, as further explored in sub-section iii., below.
– Inconsistencies concerning Ironside’s exegesis in contrast to the Apostle’s intention in writing Romans 9: Ironside is greatly concerned with introducing the will of Man into this text. Ironside alludes to John 3:16, “‘God so loved the world,’ and therefore every child of Jacob or of Esau may be saved who will.” Ironside quotes the text found in Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, and Romans 10:13 that, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Commenting on Romans 9:16, Ironside writes, “[God] is not setting aside the will of man.” The problem with this allusion, this quotation, and this statement just listed is that each is used in such a way as to obfuscate, rather than to clarify, the text. It is true that the Apostle Paul is not denying that there is any relationship between the human will and receiving salvation, but part of what the Apostle is doing in this text is to look beyond the question of the relationship of the human will to the reception of salvation; to ask, ‘Why would a sinner call upon the name of the Lord? Why would an unbeliever come to believe in Christ? Why are some hearts opened to the gospel, whereas other hearts are hardened?’ And the answer that the Apostle Paul gives for such questions does not lie in the will or actions of Man, but in the sovereign grace of God: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). The import of this text is not understood when one refuses to comment on this text, instead jumping to other sections of Scripture, which address different topics.
iii. Are this author’s comments internally consistent?
Ironside is insistent that Romans 9 has nothing to do with personal salvation. Commenting on verses 11-13, he writes, “There is no question here of predestination to heaven or reprobation to hell; in fact, eternal issues do not really come in throughout this chapter…The passage has to do entirely with privilege here on earth.” Ironside asserts that Romans 9:15 concerns Israel “nationally.” In his comments on Romans 9:19 and following, Ironside writes, “the apostle simply has inview privilege here on earth…” But Ironside is not consistent in maintaining that the election in this chapter is a national election to temporal blessing. The Apostle uses soteriological language in writing this text, and so we catch the commentator constantly introducing soteriological concepts as well. If this were not the case, why would Ironside even mention (as noted above) John 3:16 or Romans 10:13 in relation to Romans 9- if Romans 9 were only addressing temporal blessings, as he asserted, then these clearly soteriological passages would have no relevance to this text. Ironside rightly observes that Romans 9 speaks of God giving Pharaoh up to destruction and leaving him in his sins- that the discussion of Pharaoh logically flows from the previous argument- but how can this soteriological discussion of Pharaoh bear any logical connection to the rest of Romans 9 if it is bounded on both sides by a discussion of an election that is entirely natural and temporal?
In conclusion: Ironside’s dispensationalism provides the framework by which he interprets Romans 9 (I think that he would have agreed with this assessment, and I think that this must be explored further by anyone who agrees with his commentary), Ironside’s commentary on Romans 9 is inconsistent with Scripture and is internally inconsistent. For a consistent commentary on Romans 9 from a Reformed Baptist perspective, I would direct readers’ attention to Dr. James White’s commentary, which can be heard HERE.