16 So then it [God’s mercy and compassion] is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy
Verses 14 and 15 argued that justice is not annulled by mercy, and now verses 16 to 18 argue that God’s mercy is not cancelled by human choice or effort.
16 So then
The “so then” can be translated “wherefore therefore”—“in view of the previous quotation I want to draw an inference.” Paul then drew a principle from the previous verse. The principle is that the way God establishes His scheme of salvation is purely His prerogative.
The inference from verse 15 is that salvation is not obtained by the will or striving of the human being. Salvation rests on God’s mercy and compassion, His system of salvation. The ultimate accountability for salvation is not man’s (Ro 9:16) but God’s (Ro 9:17). God does not base His plan for man on something in man but solely on His own council. God’s system of salvation by grace has nothing to do with individual choice.
it [God’s plan of mercy] is not of him who wills [volition], nor of him who runs [as an athlete],
The double contrast here of man’s willing and running is a contrast to God’s willing and doing. The idea is motivation and action. The willing and running sum up the totality of man’s capacity of his ability to please God. Even if men run like an athlete by giving intense effort, they cannot measure up to God’s character. All human effort results in condemnation. That is why God must provide the scheme of salvation. Human effort is not a factor in the way God elects to save, either in initial choice or in what one does with his or her choice. Salvation is not of man but of God.
but of God who shows mercy.
It is God’s covenant to Israel that is at stake with God showing His mercy. His mercy is at the heart of the covenant. The phrase “of God” shows that God is the source of mercy; we do not find the source of salvation in man.
We never get what we deserve; everything we have is of God by grace.
Our tendency is to assume that God peers over the mass of humanity and chooses one for condemnation and others for salvation. It is as if He sees something that is condemnable in people. This is how we choose, but it is not how God chooses. There is nothing redeemable in man. God always chooses on the basis of mercy. That mercy is not capricious for it cost the life of Christ. God’s purpose in election does not depend on man’s will or effort but on God’s mercy. No one makes an effort to be elected by God.
Ro 3:11, There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.
God did not see anything in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or any of us that would make Him choose us. He does not elect on any cause or condition in man. He always chooses according to His plan or scheme of salvation—by grace through faith. That is His mercy—He gives with nothing to base it on other than something in Himself and His plan. There is nothing that compels God to be merciful other than the cross of Christ.
God always bases the gospel on both of the two principles of justice and mercy.