Romans 11:6: Unconditional election
- Not works
- By grace
The verse that casts its shadow over the whole of Romans 9-11 is 11:36, ‘For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.’ This is Paul’s grand conclusion and to conclude anything different is to have misunderstood his argument. Every part of our salvation is from God, ‘Salvation belongs to the LORD,’ Jonah 2:9. It comes from Him, is done through Him and all runs to Him so that He is the only one who can be thanked for every part of our salvation. He must get all the glory, ‘Not to us O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory,’ Psalm 115:1. This truth can be summed up in one word, ‘grace.’ Salvation is by grace alone, not grace and our additions. Not the addition of our motives, not the addition of our free choices, not the addition even of any foreseen choice it is all of grace. This is Paul’s point in Romans 11:6, ‘But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.’ Paul is talking about God saving Israel, and we have seen that God does this by acting in mercy and justice and saving a remnant not all. This action of choosing some Paul said in verse 5 is to be ‘chosen by grace.’ Paul has to press this home upon His hearers and he does this by adding verse 6 and showing us that grace and works are fundamentally opposed to each other, they are the opposite sides of the spectrum, they are mutually exclusive. As soon as you add works to salvation you automatically deny grace. As soon as you add anything of your own to the equation you pollute what God provides that can actually save.
This process of coming to see that all of salvation is by grace is not an overnight one, it is one that we grow into as our knowledge grows. Even a man like George Whitfield took a while to fully work out what it means that we are saved by grace. Whitefield lived from 1714-1770. From the age of twenty two until his death he was a famous open air preacher. J.C. Ryle called him ‘chief amongst the English Reformers of the 18TH Century.’ George Whitfield as a student at Oxford joined the holy club, other famous members of this club include John and Charles Wesley. ‘Its members practised early rising and lengthy devotions, and strove for a self-discipline which left no moment wasted throughout the day. At nightfall they wrote a diary which enabled them to scrutinise themselves for any fault. They partook of the Eucharist every Sunday, fasted each Wednesday and Friday, and hallowed the Saturday as a Sabbath of preparation for the Lord’s Day… They regularly visited Oxford’s prisons (the Castle and the Bocardo) and the Poor House, and each member contributed to a fund with which they relieved the needs of the inmates and maintained a school for the prisoner’s children. This program of endeavour, aided by these works of charity, they believed somehow ministered towards the salvation of their souls.’ Things came to a head for Whitefield who realised that for all his works he could not save himself, but needed to be born again. He was highly agitated and under much duress. This led to more works of asceticism. He stopped eating anything that tasted good and gave that money to the poor; he put on a patched gown and dirty shoes; he stopped speaking to his friends in public. He writes, ‘I constantly walked out in the cold mornings, till part of one of my hands was quite black. This, with my continued abstinence and inward conflicts, at length so emaciated my body, that at Passion-week, finding I could scarce creep upstairs, I was obliged to inform my kind tutor of my condition, who immediately sent for a physician for me.’2 When he had come to the end of his efforts and had nothing to offer he was saved by grace through faith. ‘God was pleased to remove the heavy load, to enable me to lay hold of His dear Son by a living faith, and by giving me the Spirit of adoption, to seal me even to the day of everlasting redemption.’3 He was not altogether free from his legalism, for the legalist in us dies very hard, but he began to learn of free grace and justification by faith only. Whitefield went to preach of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Today as we allow Paul to continue to teach our stubborn hearts on this point we will be considering how salvation is indeed by grace and not by works.