IF YOU ARE TODAY EITHER ‘WILLING’ OR ‘RUNNING’ FOR GOD, IT IS BECAUSE GOD HAS MADE YOU SO!
“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but OF GOD that showeth mercy.” [Romans 9:16]
The apostle emphatically reasserts that God is absolutely sovereign in bestowing His mercy on whomsoever He wills. For what else could these words mean? He that willeth is certainly the man that is willing to receive the grace of God, that longs for the salvation of Christ, seeks for it, knocks at the door of the kingdom of God, asks for the blessing of God’s mercy.
And he that runneth is the man that has entered into the strait gate and is already running the race, walking in the narrow way. The figure of running is derived, as more often in Scripture, from the running in the race. It denotes an earnest endeavor, keen interest in the salvation of God, the strife to enter in, to attain to the goal, the battle of faith, of walking in the way of sanctification. The apostle, therefore, asserts in the 16th verse that salvation is not of him that wills it, desires it, and seeks it, and asks for it; nor of him that earnestly endeavors to attain it, and strives to enter in; but only of God that showeth mercy.
Now it is very plain that these words cannot mean that he who wills, seeks, and knocks, and earnestly desires to be saved, and prays for it, and he that strives to enter into the kingdom of God and the rest that remaineth for the people of God, shall not be saved. For, first of all, the very opposite is true, according to all Scripture. Whosoever will shall surely be saved. He that fights the battle of faith shall surely have the victory. He that runs the race shall surely receive the crown. Nor does the apostle deny this in the words of our text. But he says that salvation is not of him, but of God that showeth mercy.
The ultimate source of anyone’s salvation, the reason why a man is saved, must not be sought in the fact that he wills or runs in distinction from others that do not will and do not run; it lies only in the mercy of God.
Not to man, not to his will or endeavor, it must be attributed that he is saved and that God is merciful to him; but to the sovereign mercy of God alone. That mercy is first, not the will or endeavor of man. That mercy of God is the ultimate cause even of a man’s running and willing, his seeking and knocking and praying, of his entering into the strait gate, and of all his earnest endeavor to obtain the crown of life. If it were not so, man could not be saved.
Never would we of ourselves, we, who are dead in trespasses and sins, repent of sin, become broken-hearted, seek the grace of forgiveness, and wash our garments in the blood of the Lamb. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; it is only of God that showeth mercy, even that a man wills and runs. That mercy precedes his willing and all his running. It is the deepest cause of his willing and of all his striving to enter into the kingdom of God.
Such is the plain meaning of the apostle’s words.
And this is true consolation for every sinner that truly comes to Christ, as well for every believer that strives to enter into the rest that remaineth for the people of God. When you see a man bowing his head with shame and beating his breast in consternation, and when you hear him utter the prayer of the publican, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” then you must not say to him, “God will surely be merciful to you, for you will and desire to seek His mercy”; but you may tell him this: “Brother, God surely was already merciful to you, for that repentance and sorrow over sin, that contrition and that prayer for mercy were not of you, but of God that showeth mercy.”
And the same may be said to the believer that earnestly strives to persevere in the way of sanctification. When you ask the question why one willeth and another willeth not, why one runneth and persevereth and another does not, the only answer of the Word of God is that God is merciful to whom He will be merciful, and hath compassion on whom He will have compassion. He is absolutely sovereign in the bestowal of His mercy.
Therefore, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord! [2Cor 10:17]