John Goodwin’s 531 page commentary on Romans 9 is the longest and most detailed account of Romans 9 I have read. I loved it. I will try to give a brief overview and highlight what I found to be some of his most insightful points. The structure of his work is as follows: a brief overview of the chapter to show how his view flows with the contours of the text, a detailed exposition of the text, a table of scriptures mentioned with some commentary on them, some general comments on interpretation, and some questions on answers on the broader implications of the text. The work also includes the “Banner of Justification”, which explains justification in detail and it includes “Agreement and Distance of Brethren” which highlights the differences between Calvinists and Arminians.
In his introduction, Goodwin explains two problems with the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9. First, they miss Paul’s point about justification by faith. They argue that if election is conditional on faith, then faith amounts to works. But this misses Paul’s point by 180 degrees. Second, they interpret verses 6-23 outside of the flow of the rest of the chapter.
Goodwin’s explains that just as physical decedents resemble their parents, spiritual decedents do as well. Abraham’s spiritual decedents resemble Abraham, in that they believe God’s promises for justification, so those who do not trust God are not Abraham’s spiritual children and God rejects them without any unfaithfulness to His promise.
The choice of Jacob and Esau teaches us that God does not have to honor works of the law or national lineage, but rather is free to call people to salvation through whatever terms He wants. The objection of injustice is that God has to reward the Jews for their good works. Paul responds God is being merciful, so He can show mercy however He likes. The objector wrongly assumes hardening is irresistible, but Paul corrects him by explaining God hardens through longsuffering, so those hardened may still repent.
- In verse 1, the expression “in Christ” is an oath
- In verse 6, the objection “for they are not all Israel who are of Israel” exceeds the Jews position. The Jews did not think all Jews were saved, so they would have agreed not all Israel are Israel. This shifts emphasis from nationality to the law. The Jews real objection was the word of God was of no effect (i.e. that the law given to Israel doesn’t really bring salvation.)
- In verse 8, Goodwin interprets “children of the flesh” as those seeking to obtain salvation through the works of the law.
- In verse 8, Goodwin interprets “that is” as an interpretation of “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”. The interpretation (see bullet point just above) is broader than the text, due to the allegorical nature of the OT text that Paul explains in Galatians 4.
- In verses 7-11, Ishmael had done evil when he was rejected and Isaac had done good, so the example of Jacob/Esau was necessary.
- Verse 16 isn’t about prevenient grace, but rather saving grace.
- In verses 17-18, hardening is either just God presenting the occasion for stumbling or God knowing that a person will sin, given the occasion (i.e. middle knowledge).
- In verse 22, hardening is via mercy and longsuffering, which could lead to repentance. This is demonstrated in that Pharaoh did repent, but repented of his repentance. (Ex 10:16-17)
- Hardening is part of God’s consequent will, and an accidental effect of His grace to bring us to repentance.
- Goodwin concludes vs 22-23 are the application of the illustration in verse 21. He supports this based on the “de” in verse 22. He points out that the KJV doesn’t translate “de”, but it should have been translated “and” showing the connection between verse 21 and verse 22-23. This use of de is similar to Luke 18:7: “and shall not God avenge his own elect”. So verses 22-23 explain how the potter example works.