Hats off to blog regular Maroun for citing a great argument of this sort in an open forum combox, from St. John Chrysostom, who wrote:
Of what honor, of what blessedness are these words? And He said not, Take, but, “Inherit,” as one’s own, as your Father’s, as yours, as due to you from the first. For, before you were, saith He, these things had been prepared, and made ready for you, forasmuch as I knew you would be such as you are.And in return for what do they receive such things? For the covering of a roof, for a garment, for bread, for cold water, for visiting, for going into the prison. For indeed in every case it is for what is needed; and sometimes not even for that. For surely, as I have said, the sick and he that is in bonds seeks not for this only, but the one to be loosed, the other to be delivered from his infirmity. But He, being gracious, requires only what is within our power, or rather even less than what is within our power, leaving to us to exert our generosity in doing more.But to the others He saith, “Depart from me, ye cursed,” (no longer of the Father; for not He laid the curse upon them, but their own works), “into the everlasting fire, prepared,” not for you, but “for the devil and his angels.” For concerning the kingdom indeed, when He had said, “Come, inherit the kingdom,” He added, “prepared for you before the foundation of the world;” but concerning the fire, no longer so, but, “prepared for the devil.” I, saith He, prepared the kingdom for you, but the fire no more for you, but “for the devil and his angels;” but since ye cast yourselves therein, impute it to yourselves. And not in this way only, but by what follows also, like as though He were excusing Himself to them, He sets forth the causes.(Homily 78 on Matthew 25:1-30; NPNF 1-10]
This put in my head the idea of doing a Scripture study of "prepare" and "called" and "predestined" and other similar terms, in relation to heaven, to see if these are ever used in a parallel fashion of hell as well, so that there is an equivalence: "prepared (etc.) for heaven" / "prepared for hell." Matthew 25 shows that this is not the case. What do other related passages teach us about this?
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[all Bible passages: RSV]
Green highlighting = allusions to heaven or election
Blue highlighting = "prepare" motifs
Red highlighting = hell or damnation motifs
Green highlighting = allusions to heaven or election
Blue highlighting = "prepare" motifs
Red highlighting = hell or damnation motifs
Matthew 25:34, 41 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world';. . .  Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels';
Matthew 20:23 He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."
Mark 10:40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.
John 10:27-28 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;  and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.
John 14:2-3 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
John 17:2-3 since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.
Acts 13:46, 48 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. . . .  And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
We see precisely what the Catholic Church -- and Orthodoxy and Lutheran and Arminian and Wesleyan Protestantism -- teaches, and what Calvinism rejects: God didn't select the damned from all eternity; they judged themselves by rejecting the gospel, making themselves "unworthy of eternal life." But those who would attain eternal life were ordained or predestined to that, though not without their free will consent.
Romans 1:6-7 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ;  To all God's beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: . . .
Romans 2:6-8 For he will render to every man according to his works:  to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;  but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.
Note the lack of equivalent descriptions: to the elect God will "give eternal life." But for the reprobate "there will be wrath and fury": a more neutral description that doesn't on the face of it seem to imply predestination from all eternity.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Again, we see a lack of parallelism: the fate of the damned is more passive in relation to God's hand in it, whereas the predestination of the elect is the positive "free gift of God".
Romans 8:28-30 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Romans 9:23-24 in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory,  even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
Romans 11:2, 5 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. . . .  So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.
1 Corinthians 1:2, 9 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: . . .  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:24 . . . those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, . . . (cf. 7:20-22, 24; Eph 4:1, 4; Col 3:15; 1 Thess 4:7; 1 Pet 1:15; 2:9, 21; 3:9; 2 Pet 1:3)
1 Corinthians 2:9 But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him,"
2 Corinthians 5:4-5 For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
Galatians 1:15 . . . he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace,
Yet Galatians 1:6 shows that this call and grace is not irrevocable or irresistible; i.e., not ordered by God apart from our free will, since it can be deserted: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel".
Ephesians 1:3-8 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,  to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace  which he lavished upon us. (cf. 1:9, 11-12)
Ephesians 1:17-20 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might  which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places,
Colossians 3:12 . . . God's chosen ones . . .
1 Thessalonians 1:4 For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you;
1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
The latter passage might be interpreted as implying the possibility of being predestined to damnation, and indeed this is logically possible, but it doesn't necessarily follow from this language. In the absence of positive assertions elsewhere in Scripture of predestination to damnation (along with positive ones about election: see, e.g., Acts 13:48; Rom 8:29-20; Eph 1:4-5; Rev 13:8 elsewhere in this paper) , it is more plausible to interpret this as simply saying, "God did not do x in our case" -- theologically extrapolated in light of the absence of cross-reference corroboration to, "God does not do x."
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire,  inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
The damned are in that horrible state not only because of the fall of Adam and Eve and God's decree from all eternity, but precisely because they did "not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus." Judgment as to whether one is saved or not is consistently rendered on this basis in Scripture. I found, in fact, 50 passages asserting this notion; this not only asserts aspects of Calvinism and TULIP, but also the sola fide doctrine of larger Protestantism. Cf. Heb 5:9: "he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him".
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
This is very interesting insofar as the calling seems to take place at the time the confession is made, rather than from all eternity; there can be different senses of "call" in the Bible, as with most words, but it is fascinating that "eternal life" seems directly tied with individual acceptance rather than God's predestination. Again, we see the mysterious paradoxical existence of free will alongside predestination. Both are asserted in Scripture, so the Bible student must accept both; not rule one out because some man-made tradition dictates it.
2 Timothy 1:9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago,
Hebrews 9:15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.
Hebrews 11:16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
1 Peter 1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappado'cia, Asia, and Bithyn'ia,  chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: (cf. 2:4, 9)
1 Peter 5:10 . . . the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ . . .
Jude 6-8 And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day;  just as Sodom and Gomor'rah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.  Yet in like manner these men in their dreamings defile the flesh, reject authority, and revile the glorious ones.
Behavior and rejection of God is the cause for damnation, not a predestined decree by God that made it impossible for the fate of the damned to be otherwise.
2 Peter 2:1, 15 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.. . .  Forsaking the right way they have gone astray . . .
This contradicts Calvinism all over the place (a very fitting thing for the first Catholic pope to do!). If these are people who never were saved (as a Calvinist would say), then how can it be stated that Jesus "bought them"? That would refute Limited Atonement, since Jesus only "buys" those who are indeed saved and of the elect, and Perseverance as well, since they were bought by Jesus but yet later denied Him. Secondly, they are here sentencing themselves and in effect casting themselves into hell (with free will and post-Fall rebellion against God), rather than God decreeing and ordaining and predestining and deciding that from all eternity.
They were once "in" the "right way," otherwise they could not be described as "forsaking" it. Nor can one go "astray" from a state one was never in. Peter states in 2:17 that "for them the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved," but this is not the same as saying it was predestined for eternity that they should go there. This is one of many many cases where the Bible teaches one thing, Calvinism another. Later in the chapter, Peter makes a very strong denial of Perseverance of the Saints and Irresistible Grace:
2 Peter 2:20-22 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first.  For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.  It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire.
These people escaped "the defilements," meaning they were in good graces with God by means of Jesus' work. They went from a "bad" state to a "good" one. They left their "vomit" but then later returned to it. When Peter says "they are again entangled in them and overpowered," it is yet more proof that they were in the pool of the saved and the justified, but went back to their old ways. If indeed this was not possible: that no one can ever go from one state to the other, then the very words "again" and "escaped" and "turned back" comparisons of one state over against another (with these folks having been in both camps) would be perfectly senseless; literally nonsense. But we can't accuse inspired Scripture of that, so it must be Calvinism that is the nonsense.
While we're on the theme of additional disproofs of Calvinism, here is another refutation of Limited Atonement:
Acts 3:26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.
God doesn't select just a few for His elect and let the others go to hell by His non-action. He desires to save "every one".
Revelation 13:8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, every one whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.
Revelation 17:8 . . . the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world . . .(cf. 17:14: "called and chosen and faithful")
There is no "book of death," as if that were predestined from all eternity, too. There is only a "book of life": positive predestination for the elect, but not predestined reprobation, or negative predestination (or, double predestination).
See also the biblical use of "elect" -- referring to those who will be eschatologically saved and attain heaven, but never applied to the damned (Matt 24:22, 24, 31; Mk 13:20, 22, 27; Lk 18:7; Rom 8:33; 11:7; 2 Tim 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Pet 1:10).
There are only a few passages I could find in my fairly comprehensive scriptural survey that imply that God predestines the damned to their fate:
Romans 11:7-10 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it sought. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,  as it is written, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that should not see and ears that should not hear, down to this very day."  And David says, "Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution for them;  let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs for ever."
This language of "hardening," I have explained adequately, I think, in several past papers, showing that it is pungent Hebraic idiomatic language for God's Providence. He utilizes men's sin for His purposes and plan, but it doesn't follow that He Himself hardens anyone apart from their own previous free will decision (or that He ever is the author of sin and evil). See:
Supposed Contradiction Between 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 (God or Satan as Cause?)
Did God Harden Pharaoh's Heart? (Does God Positively Ordain Evil?) (vs. [atheist] "DagoodS")
Reply to a Calvinist Critique Concerning the "Hardening of Pharaoh's Heart" (vs. Colin Smith)
Even beyond the argument from use of biblical language and anthropomorphic language with reference to God, this cannot logically apply to predestination from eternity anyway, unless it is applied to a supralapsarian scenario, whereby God predestined even the fall of man (rather than it being a free choice). Supralapsarianism is rejected by the majority of Calvinists throughout history. Many Calvinists claim that even John Calvin rejected it (my position is that he was indeed a supralapsarian).
If it is an eternal decree of hardening, it had to apply to the state of man before the fall, because at that time he was good, since God created him good. But this would entail a good God after a good creation deliberately decreeing that certain of his good created men would be damned. They were created to be damned. This would clearly make God the author of evil and cast serious doubts on His character as a loving, merciful God and His justice. That is supralapsarian, and we can readily see why even most Calvinists, historically, and presently, reject it.
The same Scripture cannot apply to infralapsarianism because after the fall, the whole of humanity was in sin and fallen; therefore, men (all men) already were hardened and He couldn't have chosen from the whole group to harden some. If they already were in such a state, then God couldn't have decreed that some should attain to that, unless He had in fact decreed it before the fall ever took place, or (more accurately, if we want to get technical) as applied logically to pre-fallen man.
Romans 11:28-32 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.  For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.  Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience,  so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy.  For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. (cf. 1 Peter 2:8)
This looks like a very difficult passage for a Calvinist to explain according to his system. The Jews are described as "enemies of God" insofar as they largely rejected the gospel. Yet they are also described as of the elect, since "the call of God" is "irrevocable." If this call of God can never be affected by free will, then it looks like Paul is here teaching that all Jews will be saved, since they are elect and chosen. But we know that to not be the case. Therefore, Paul's type of language and idiom must somehow explain his thought otherwise. To top it off, he says that "God has consigned all men to disobedience" (that is, they all fell). That doesn't work with Calvinism, either, because according to them, He only consigned some to that. Nor does having "mercy upon all" fit into the Limited Atonement schema. For the Calvinist, God doesn't even desire of decree mercy for all; He does so only for some: the elect.
The Great Calvinist Bible Argument: their favorite by far, and one trumpeted endlessly, is Romans 9. Here is the portion that Calvinists employ to defend their theological system of TULIP:
Romans 9:6-24 But it is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,  and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but "Through Isaac shall your descendants be named."  This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants.  For this is what the promise said, "About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son."  And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,  though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call,  she was told, "The elder will serve the younger."  As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!  For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."  So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy.  For the scripture says to Pharaoh, "I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth."  So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills.  You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"  But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me thus?"  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction,  in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory,  even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
This seems very strong and invulnerable, but it is also almost unique in the Bible, in its pattern of argument or presentation, as we can see from all the other scriptures collected above. Is there a way to exegete this in a fashion that is consistent with a non-Calvinist interpretation of predestination and election, over against the distinctive Calvinist doctrines of TULIP?
One possible (and to me, quite plausible) way of providing a non-Calvinist take of Romans 9 came from Protestant apologist James Patrick Holding, drawing in turn from scholar Marvin Wilson's Our Father Abraham, and the notion of Hebrew "block logic". Wilson's writings include A Workbook for New Testament Greek: Grammar and Exegesis in First John and Dictionary of Bible Manners and Customs (with highly respected Evangelical scholars Edwin Yamauchi and R. K. Harrison). Holding writes:
Let me state further that Wilson's "block logic" comment is further substantiated by points made in Pilch and Malina's Handbook of Biblical Social Values, which describes the ancient mind as one practiced in dualistic thought. Put another way, there is no "middle ground" where neutral value is assigned, and expressions are made in terms of "black and white". I would add that Wilson is far from my only source; nor are Pilch and Malina, as indeed in the same article I go on to relate the matter to Ecclesiastes, based on solid OT scholarship. . . .
Hebrew "block logic" operated on similar principles. "...[C]oncepts were expressed in self-contained units or blocks of thought. These blocks did not necessarily fit together in any obviously rational or harmonious pattern, particularly when one block represented the human perspective on truth and the other represented the divine. This way of thinking created a propensity for paradox, antimony, or apparent contradiction, as one block stood in tension -- and often illogical relation -- to the other. Hence, polarity of thought or dialectic often characterized block logic." Examples of this in practice are the alternate hardening of Pharaoh's heart by God, or by Pharaoh himself; and the reference to loving Jacob while hating Esau -- both of which, significantly, are referred to often by Calvinist writers.
Wilson continues: "Consideration of certain forms of block logic may give one the impression that divine sovereignty and human responsibility were incompatible. The Hebrews, however, sense no violation of their freedom as they accomplish God's purposes." The back and forth between human freedom and divine sovereignty is a function of block logic and the Hebrew mindset. Writers like Palmer who proudly declare that they believe what they read in spite of what they see as an apparent absurdity are ultimately viewing the Scriptures, wrongly, through their own Western lens in which they assume that all that they read is all that there is.What this boils down to is that Paul presents us with a paradox in Romans 9, one which he, as a Hebrew, saw no need to explain. "..[T]he Hebrew mind could handle this dynamic tension of the language of paradox" and saw no need to unravel it as we do. And that means that we are not obliged to simply accept Romans 9 at "face value" as it were, because it is a problem offered with a solution that we are left to think out for ourselves. There will be nothing illicit about inserting concepts like primary causality, otherwise unknown in the text.. . . as we have noted, expression in extremes is not a characteristic of Hebrew thought alone.Second and more importantly, Paul was a Hebrew; he quotes from sources in Hebrew . . . and communicating in Greek changes neither of these points. Indeed, lingusitic studies by such as Casey indicate . . . that bilingual interference points to Paul preserving his Hebrew linguistic and thought-forms, even as he communicates in Greek. . . .It remains that Paul is not making a logical argument, any more than God made one (or had to) before Job. Indeed, the example of Job points to what I am talking about, and what Wilson otherwise relates: The Hebrews had experienced God personally at Sinai; it would be absurd to come to such people and say (for example), "You need the logic of the kalam cosmological argument to prove that God exists." . . . Romans 9 is no "answer" at all in the Western sense; like the book of Job, it is God from the whirlwind saying, "That's none of your concern.". . . I agree that mercy and compassion -- the offering of covenant kinship and consideration -- are free. It is once we are within that relationship that rewards and punishments begin to come into play . . . Nevertheless this does not prove in any sense that God did not create people with certain characteristics that suited His purposes. . . . And yes, there does remain a contrast, in my view, between mercy and hardening: It is the stark contrast between covenant concern and non-covenant disregard. And yes, the will of God is to decide who He enters into kinship relationships with. But no, this still doesn't eliminate characteristics as a factor in God choosing people for specific assignments; and it does not eliminate free choice of humans as a factor in salvation . . .
For more on this sort of analysis of Hebrew "block logic" and Hebrew thought in general, see:
The Hebrew Mind vs. the Western Mind (Brian Knowles)
Hebrew Thought Compared to Greek (Western) Thought (N'tan Lawrence)
The Bible Idea of Time: How Archaic Hebrew Thought Is Constructed Differently than Our Thought Today (Kerry A. Shirts)
Biblical Paradox: Does Revelation Challenge Logic? (David Basinger, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 1987, 205-213)
St. John Chrysostom interpreted this passage in a non-Calvinistic fashion also:
Paul says this in order not to do away with free will but rather to show to what extent we ought to obey God. We should be as little inclined to call God to account as a piece of clay is."
(Homilies in Romans 16, NPNF 1 11:467)
God does nothing at random or by mere chance, even if you do not understand the secrets of his wisdom. You allow the potter to make different things from the same lump of clay and find no fault with him, but you do not grant the same freedom to God! . . . How monstrous this is. It is not on the potter that the honor or dishonor of the vessel depends but rather on those who make use of it. It is the same way with people - it all depends on their own free choice."
(Homilies on Romans 16.46; NPNF 1 11:468)
Methodist commentator Adam Clarke provides another plausible non-Calvinist take on Paul's mention of Jacob and Esau:
Verse 12. The elder shall serve the younger] These words, with those of Malachi, Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated, are cited by the apostle to prove, according to their typical signification, that the purpose of God, according to election, does and will stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; that is, that the purpose of God, which is the ground of that election which he makes among men, unto the honour of being Abraham's seed, might appear to remain unchangeable in him; and to be even the same which he had declared unto Abraham. That these words are used in a national and not in a personal sense, is evident from this: that, taken in the latter sense they are not true, for Jacob never did exercise any power over Esau, nor was Esau ever subject to him. Jacob, on the contrary, was rather subject to Esau, and was sorely afraid of him; and, first, by his messengers, and afterwards personally, acknowledged his brother to be his lord, and himself to be his servant; see Gen. xxxii. 4; xxxiii. 8, 13. And hence it appears that neither Esau nor Jacob, nor even their posterities, are brought here by the apostle as instances of any personal reprobation from eternity: for, it is very certain that very many, if not the far greatest part, of Jacob's posterity were wicked, and rejected by God; and it is not less certain that some of Esau's posterity were partakers of the faith of their father Abraham.
. . . Verse 21. Hath not the potter power over the clay] The apostle continues his answer to the Jew. Hath not God shown, by the parable of the potter, Jer. xviii. 1, &c., that he may justly dispose of nations, and of the Jews in particular, according as he in his infinite wisdom may judge most right and fitting; even as the potter has a right, out of the same lump of clay, to make one vessel to a more honourable and another to a less honourable use, as his own judgment and skill may direct; for no potter will take pains to make a vessel merely that he may show that he has power to dash it to pieces? For the word came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work upon the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hands of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. It was not fit for the more honourable place in the mansion, and therefore he made it for a less honourable place, but as necessary for the master's use there, as it could have been in a more honourable situation. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation-to build and to plant it; is it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them. The reference to this parable shows most positively that the apostle is speaking of men, not individually, but nationally; and it is strange that men should have given his words any other application with this scripture before their eyes.
Verse 22. What if God, willing to show his wrath] The apostle refers here to the case of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and to which he applies Jeremiah's parable of the potter, and, from them, to the then state of the Jews. Pharaoh and the Egyptians were vessels of wrath-persons deeply guilty before God; and by their obstinate refusal of his grace, and abuse of his goodness, they had fitted themselves for that destruction which the wrath, the vindictive justice of God, inflicted, after he had endured their obstinate rebellion with much long-suffering; which is a most absolute proof that the hardening of their hearts, and their ultimate punishment, were the consequences of their obstinate refusal of his grace and abuse of his goodness; as the history in Exodus sufficiently shows. As the Jews of the apostle's time had sinned after the similitude of the Egyptians, hardening their hearts and abusing his goodness, after every display of his long-suffering kindness, being now fitted for destruction, they were ripe for punishment; and that power, which God was making known for their salvation, having been so long and so much abused and provoked, was now about to show itself in their destruction as a nation. But even in this case there is not a word of their final damnation; much less that either they or any others were, by a sovereign decree, reprobated from all eternity; and that their very sins, the proximate cause of their punishment, were the necessary effect of that decree which had from all eternity doomed them to endless torments. As such a doctrine could never come from God, so it never can be found in the words of his apostle.