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294

CHAPTER XXIII

ISRAEL'S FALL OVERRULED, FOR THE WORLD'S BLESSING,
AND FOR ISRAEL'S MERCY

Romans xi. 11-24

THE Apostle has been led a few steps backwards in the last previous verses. His face has been turned once more toward the dark region of the prophetic sky, to see how the sin of Christ-rejecting souls is met and punished by the dreadful "gift" of slumber, and apathy, and the transmutation of blessings to snares. But now, decisively, he looks sunward. He points our eyes, with his own, to the morning light of grace and promise. We are to see what Israel's fall has had to do with the world's hope and with life in Christ, and then what blessings await Israel himself, and again the world through him.

I say, therefore, (the phrase resumes the point of view to which the same words above (ver. 1) led us,) did they stumble that they might fall? Did their national rejection of an unwelcome because unworldly Messiah take place, in the divine permission, with the positive divine purpose that it should bring on a final rejection of the nation, its banishment out of its place in the history of redemption? Away with the thought! But their partial fall189189Παράπτωμα: so we venture to render the word here, where its compound form gets a special point from its neighbourhood to the simple verb πίπτειν (πέσωσι). is the occasion of God's 295 salvation (ἡ σωτηρία) for the Gentiles, with a view to move them, the Jews, to jealousy, to awake them to a sight of what Christ is, and of what their privilege in Him might yet be, by the sight of His work and glory in once pagan lives.

Observe here the divine benignity which lurks even under the edges of the cloud of judgment. And observe too, thus close to the passage which has put before us the mysterious side of divine action on human wills, the daylight simplicity of this side of that action; the loving skill with which the world's blessing is meant by the God of grace to act, exactly in the line of human feeling, upon the will of Israel.

But would that "the Gentiles" had borne more in heart that last short sentence of St Paul's, through these long centuries since the Apostles fell asleep! It is one of the most marked, as it is one of the saddest, phenomena in the history of the Church that for ages, almost from the days of St John himself, we look in vain either for any appreciable Jewish element in Christendom, or for any extended effort on the part of Christendom to win Jewish hearts to Christ by a wise and loving evangelization. With only relatively insignificant exceptions this was the abiding state of things till well within the eighteenth century, when the German Pietists began to call the attention of believing Christians to the spiritual needs and prophetic hopes of Israel, and to remind them that the Jews were not only a beacon of judgment, or only the most impressive and awful illustration of the fulfilment of prophecy, but the bearers of yet unfulfilled predictions of mercy for themselves and for the world. Meanwhile, all through the Middle Age, and through generations of preceding and following time also, Christendom did little for Israel 296 but retaliate, reproach, and tyrannize. It was so of old in England; witness the fires of York. It is so to this day in Russia, and where the Judenhetze inflames innumerable hearts in Central Europe.

No doubt there is more than one side to the persistent phenomenon. There is a side of mystery; the permissive sentence of the Eternal has to do with the long affliction, however caused, of the people which once uttered the fatal cry, "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matt. xxvii. 25). And the wrong-doings of Jews, beyond a doubt, have often made a dark occasion for a "Jew-hatred," on a larger or narrower scale. But all this leaves unaltered, from the point of view of the Gospel, the sin of Christendom in its tremendous failure to seek, in love, the good of erring Israel. It leaves as black as ever the guilt of every fierce retaliation upon Jews by so-called Christians, of every slanderous belief about Jewish creed or life, of every unjust anti-Jewish law ever passed by Christian king or senate. It leaves an undiminished responsibility upon the Church of Christ, not only for the flagrant wrong of having too often animated and directed the civil power in its oppressions of Israel, and not only for having so awfully neglected to seek the evangelization of Israel by direct appeals for the true Messiah, and by an open setting forth of His glory, but for the deeper and more subtle wrong, persistently inflicted from age to age, in a most guilty unconsciousness—the wrong of having failed to manifest Christ to Israel through the living holiness of Christendom. Here, surely, is the very point of the Apostle's thought in the sentence before us: "Salvation to the Gentiles, to move the Jews to jealousy." In his inspired idea, Gentile Christendom, in Christ, was to be so pure, so beneficent, so happy, finding manifestly in 297 its Messianic Lord such resources for both peace of conscience and a life of noble love, love above all directed towards opponents and traducers, that Israel, looking on, with eyes however purblind with prejudice, should soon see a moral glory in the Church's face impossible to be hid, and be drawn as by a moral magnet to the Church's hope. Is it the fault of God (may He pardon the formal question, if it lacks reverence), or the fault of man, man carrying the Christian name, that facts have been so wofully otherwise in the course of history? It is the fault, the grievous fault, of us Christians. The narrow prejudice, the iniquitous law, the rigid application of exaggerated ecclesiastical principle, all these things have been man's perversion of the divine idea, to be confessed and deplored in a deep and interminable repentance. May the mercy of God awaken Gentile Christendom, in a manner and degree as yet unknown, to remember this our indefeasible debt to this people everywhere present with us, everywhere distinct from us;—the debt of a life, personal and ecclesiastical, so manifestly pure and loving in our Lord the Christ as to "move them to the jealousy" which shall claim Him again for their own. Then we shall indeed be hastening the day of full and final blessing, both for themselves and for the world.

To that bright coming day the Apostle points us now, more directly than ever: But if their partial fall190190Παράπτωμα: see above p. 294. be the world's wealth, and their lessening (ἥττημα), their reduction, (a reduction in one aspect to a race of scattered exiles, in another to a mere remnant of "Israelites indeed,") be the Gentiles' wealth, the occasion by which "the unsearchable wealth of Messiah" 298 (Eph. iii. 8) has been as it were forced into Gentile receptacles, how much more their fulness, the filling of the dry channel with its ample ideal stream, the change from a believing remnant, fragments of a fragmentary people, to a believing nation, reanimated and reunited? What blessings for "the world," for "the Gentiles," may not come through the vehicle of such an Israel? But 191191Read δὲ not γάρ. It is the "but" of a slight pause and resumption. to you I speak, the Gentiles192192The converts of the Roman Mission were surely Gentiles for the most part. See further below, ver. 25. to you, because if I reach the Jews, in the way I mean, it must be through you. So far indeed as I, distinctively I (ἐγώ), am the Gentiles' Apostle, I glorify my ministry as such; I rejoice, Pharisee that I once was, to be devoted as no other Apostle is to a ministry for those whom I once thought of as of outcasts in religion. But I speak as your own Apostle, and to you, if perchance I may move the jealousy of my flesh and blood,193193Τὴν σάρκα μου: we venture to write "flesh and blood" as the nearest equivalent in our parlance to the vigorous Greek, "my flesh." and may save some from amongst them, by letting them as it were overhear what are the blessings of you Gentile Christians, and how it is the Lord's purpose to use those blessings as a magnet to wandering Israel.194194It will be seen that we punctuate the Greek here as follows: Ὑμῖν δὲ λέγω τοῖς ἔθνεσιν (ἐφ' ὅσον μὲν οὖν εἰμὶ ἐγὼ ἐθνῶν ἀπόστολος, τὴν διακονίαν μου δοξάζω) εἴ πῶς κτλ. The thought of his "glory" in his "ministry" is surely parenthetical; thrown in to remind them that his plea for Israel means no change of heart towards his Gentile converts, or any wavering in the certainty that in Christ they are as completely "the people of God" as Israel is. The "main line" of the sentence runs past this parenthesis: "To you Gentiles I speak, in the hope of moving the jealousy of the Jews." His hope is that, through the Roman congregation, this glorious open secret will come out, as they meet their Jewish neighbours 299 and talk with them. So would one here, another there, "in the streets and lanes of the City," be drawn to the feet of Jesus, under the constraint of that "jealousy" which means little else than the human longing to understand what is evidently the great joy of another's heart; a "jealousy" on which often grace can fall, and use it as the vehicle of divine light and life.

He says only, "some of them"; as he does in the sister Epistle; 1 Cor. ix. 22.195195Cp. too 2 Cor. iii. 14-16 with this whole passage. He recognizes it as his present task, indicated alike by circumstance and revelation, to be not the glad ingatherer of vast multitudes to Christ, but the patient winner of scattered sheep. Yet let us observe that none the less he spends his whole soul upon that winning, and takes no excuse from a glorious future to slacken a single effort in the difficult present.

For if the throwing away of them, their downfall as the Church of God, was the world's reconciliation, the instrumental or occasioning cause of the direct proclamation to the pagan peoples of the Atonement of the Cross, what will their reception be, but life from the dead? That is to say, the great event of Israel's return to God in Christ, and His to Israel, will be the signal and the means of a vast rise of spiritual life in the Universal Church, and of an unexampled ingathering of regenerate souls from the world. When Israel, as a Church, fell, the fall worked good for the world merely by driving, as it were, the apostolic preachers out from the Synagogue, to which they so much longed to cling. The Jews did anything but aid the work. Yet even so they were made an occasion for world-wide good. When they are 300 "received again," as this Scripture so definitely affirms that they shall be received, the case will be grandly different. As before, they will be "occasions." A national and ecclesiastical return of Israel to Christ will of course give occasion over the whole world for a vastly quickened attention to Christianity, and for an appeal for the world's faith in the facts and claims of Christianity, as bold and loud as that of Pentecost. But more than this; Israel will now be not only occasion but agent. The Jews, ubiquitous, cosmopolitan, yet invincibly national, coming back in living loyalty to the Son of David, the Son of God, will be a positive power in evangelization such as the Church has never yet felt. Whatever the actual facts shall prove to be in the matter of their return to the Land of Promise197197This chapter is silent on that great matter. (and who can watch without deep reflection the nation-less land and the land-less nation?) no prediction obliges us to think that the Jews will be withdrawn from the wide world by a national resettlement in their Land. A nation is not a Dispersion merely because it has individual citizens widely dispersed; if it has a true national centre, it is a people at home, a people with a home. Whether as a central mass in Syria, or as also a presence everywhere in the human world, Israel will thus be ready, once restored to God in Christ, to be a more than natural evangelizing power.

Let this be remembered in every enterprise for the spiritual good of the great Dispersion now. Through such efforts God is already approaching His hour of blessing, long expected. Let that fact animate and give a glad patience to His workers, on whose work He surely begins in our day to cast His smile of growing blessing.

301

Now the argument takes a new direction. The restoration thus indicated, thus foretold, is not only sure to be infinitely beneficial. It is also to be looked for and expected as a thing lying so to speak in the line of spiritual fitness, true to the order of God's plan. In His will, when He went about to create and develop His Church, Israel sprung from the dry ground as the sacred Olive, rich with the sap of truth and grace, full of branch and leaf. From the tents of Abraham onward, the world's true spiritual light and life was there. There, not elsewhere, was revelation, and God-given ordinance, and "the covenants, and the glory." There, not elsewhere, the Christ of God, for whom all things waited, towards whom all the lines of man's life and history converged, was to appear. Thus, in a certain profound sense, all true salvation must be not only "of" Israel (John iv. 24) but through him. Union with Christ was union with Abraham. To become a Christian, that is to say, one of Messiah's men, was to become, mystically, an Israelite. From this point of view the Gentile's union with the Saviour, though not in the least less genuine and divine than the Jew's, was, so to speak, less normal. And thus nothing could be more spiritually normal than the Jew's recovery to his old relation to God, from which he had violently dislocated himself. These thoughts the Apostle now presses on the Romans, as a new motive and guide to their hopes, prayers, and work. (Do we gather from the length and fulness of the argument that already it was difficult to bring Gentiles to think aright of the chosen people in their fall and rebellion?) He reminds them of the inalienable consecration of Israel to special divine purposes. He points them to the ancient Olive, and boldly tells them that they are, themselves, only a graft of a wild stock, 302 inserted into the noble tree. Not that he thinks of the Jew as a superior being. But the Church of Israel was the original of the Church. So the restoration of Israel to Christ, and to the Church, is a recovery of normal life, not a first and abnormal grant of life.

But if the first-fruit was holy, holy is the kneaded lump too. Abraham was as it were the Lord's First-fruits of mankind, in the field of His Church. "Abraham's seed" are as it were the mass kneaded from that first-fruits; made of it. Was the first-fruits holy, in the sense of consecration to God's redeeming purpose? Then that which is made of it must somehow still be a consecrated thing, even though put aside as if "common" for awhile. And if the root was holy, holy are the branches too; the lineal heirs of Abraham are still, ideally, potentially, consecrated to Him who separated Abraham to Himself, and moved him to his great self-separation. But if some of the branches (how tender is the euphemism of the "some"!) were broken off, while you, wild-olive as you were, were grafted in among them, in their place of life and growth, and became a sharer of the root and of the Olive's fatness,—do not boast over the torn-off branches. But if you do boast over them—not you carry the root, but the root carries you. You will say then, The branches were broken off—that I might be grafted in. Good: true—and untrue: because of their unbelief they were broken off, while you because of your faith stand. They were no better beings than you, in themselves. But neither are you better than they, in yourself. They and you alike are, personally, mere subjects of redeeming mercy; owing all to Christ; possessing all only as accepting 303 Christ. "Where is your boasting, then?" Do not be high-minded, but fear, fear yourself, your sin, your enemy. For if God did not spare the natural branches, take care lest He spare not you either. See therefore God's goodness and sternness. On those who fell, came His sternness (ἀποτομία, not ἀποτομίαν); but on you, His goodness, if you abide by that (τῇ) goodness, with the adherence and response of faith; since you too will be cut out otherwise. And they too, if they do not abide by their (τῇ) unbelief, shall be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. For if you from the naturally wild olive were cut out, and non-naturally (παρὰ φύσιν) were grafted into the Garden-Olive, how much more shall those, the branches naturally, be grafted into their own Olive!

Here are more topics than one which call for reverent notice and study.

1. The imagery of the Olive, with its root, stem, and branches. The Olive, rich and useful, long-lived, and evergreen, stands, as a "nature-parable" of spiritual life, beside the Vine, the Palm, and the Cedar, in the Garden of God. Sometimes it pictures the individual saint, living and fruitful in union with his Lord (Psal. lii. 8). Sometimes it sets before us the fertile organism of the Church, as here, where the Olive is the great Church Universal in its long life before and after the historical coming of Christ; the life which in a certain sense began with the Call of Abraham, and was only magnificently developed by the Incarnation and Passion. Its Root, in this respect, is the great Father of Faith. Its Stem is the Church of the Old Testament, which coincided, in the matter of external privilege, with the nation of Israel, and to which at least the immense majority of 304 true believers in the elder time belonged. Its Branches (by a slight and easy modification of the image) are its individual members, whether Jewish or Gentile. The Master of the Tree, arriving on the scene in the Gospel age, comes as it were to prune His Olive, and to graft. The Jewish "branch," if he is what he seems, if he believes indeed and not only by hypothesis, abides in the Tree. Otherwise, he is—from the divine point of view—broken off. The Gentile, believing, is grafted in, and becomes a true part of the living organism; as genuinely and vitally one with Abraham in life and blessing as his Hebrew brother. But the fact of the Hebrew "race" in root and stem rules still so far as to make the re-ingrafting of a Hebrew branch, repenting, more "natural" (not more possible, or more beneficial, but more "natural") than the first ingrafting of a Gentile branch. The whole Tree is for ever Abrahamic, Israelite, in stock and growth; though all mankind has place now in its forest of branches.

2. The imagery of Grafting. Here is an instance of partial, while truthful, use of a natural process in Scripture parable. In our gardens and orchards it is the wild stock which receives, in grafting, the "good" branch; a fact which lends itself to many fertile illustrations. Here, on the contrary, the "wild" branch is inserted into the "good" stock. But the olive-yard yields to the Apostle all the imagery he really needs. He has before him, ready to hand, the Tree of the Church; all that he wants is an illustration of communication and union of life by artificial insertion. And this he finds in the olive-dresser's art, which shews him how a vegetable fragment, apart and alien, can by human design be made to grow into the life of the tree, as if a native of the root.

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3. The teaching of the passage as to the Place of Israel in the divine Plan of life for the world. We have remarked on this already, but it calls for reiterated notice and recollection. "At sundry times, and in divers manners," and through many and divers races and civilizations, God has dealt with man, and is dealing with him, in the training and development of his life and nature. But in the matter of man's spiritual salvation, in the gift to him, in his Fall, of the life eternal, God has dealt with man, practically, through one race, Israel. Let it never be forgotten that the "sundry times and divers manners" of the apostolic Epistle (Heb. i. 1) are all referred to "the prophets"; they are the "times" and "manners" of the Old Testament revelation. And when at length the same Eternal Voice spoke to man "in the Son" (ἐν Ὑιῷ), that Son came of Israel, "took hold of Abraham's seed" (Heb. ii. 16), and Himself bore definite witness that "salvation is from the Jews" (John iv. 24). Amidst the unknown manifoldness of the work of God for man, and in man, this is single and simple—that in one racial line only runs the stream of authentic and supernatural revelation; in the line of this mysteriously chosen Israel. From this point of view, the great Husbandman has planted not a forest but a Tree; and the innumerable trees of the forest can get the sap of Eden only as their branches are grafted by His hand into His one Tree, by the faith which unites them to Him who is the Root below the root, "the Root of David," and of Abraham.

4. The appeal to the new-grafted "branch" to "abide by the goodness of God." We have listened, as St Paul has dictated to his scribe, to many a deep word about a divine and sovereign power on man; 306 about man's absolute debt to God for the fact that he believes and lives. Yet here, with equal decision, we have man thrown back on the thought of his responsibility, of the contingency in a certain sense of his safety on his fidelity.197197"To our safety our sedulity is required." Hooker, Sermon on the Perpetuity of Faith in the Elect (at the close of the sermon). See the whole sermon, with its temperate and well-balanced assertion of the power of grace. "If you are true to mercy, mercy will be true to you; otherwise you too will be broken off." Here, as in our study of earlier passages, let us be willing to go all along with Scripture in the seeming inconsistency of its absolute promises and its contingent cautions. Let us, like it, "go to both extremes"; then we shall be as near, probably, as our finite thought can be at present to the whole truth as it moves, a perfect sphere, in God. Is the Christian worn and wearied with his experience of his own pollution, instability, and helplessness? Let him embrace, without a misgiving, the whole of that promise, "My sheep shall never perish." Has he drifted into a vain confidence, not in Christ, but in privilege, in experience, in apparent religious prosperity? Has he caught himself in the act of saying, even in a whisper, "God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are"? Then let him listen in time to the warning voice, "Be not high-minded, but fear"; "Take heed lest He spare not thee." And let him put no pillow of theory between the sharpness of that warning and his soul. Penitent, self-despairing, resting in Christ alone, let him "abide by the goodness of God."


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