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Paul's Great Sorrow for Unbelieving Israel—Unbelieving Despite an Eight—Fold Preeminence. Verses 1 to 5.
The Real Israel, however, were an Elect, not a Natural Seed: God’s Sovereignty in Election Defended. Verses 6 to 29.
The Astonishing Conclusion! The Gentiles, not Following after Righteousness, Attain to it by Simple Faith; Israel, Following after a Law—Method, Stumble at the By—Faith Way,—at Christ! Verses 30 to 33.
IN ROMANS NINE, Ten, and Eleven, Paul turns aside from that glorious exposition of Grace, in the first eight chapters, to the explanation of God’s present dealing with Israel. God had committed Himself to bless this nation; and lo, now it is nationally set aside, while Paul’s message goes out to all nations without distinction between Jew and Greek! Where, then, is the Divine faithfulness? How reconcile God’s former condition of blessing,—through circumcision, the Law with its observances, the temple with its presence of Jehovah in the Holy of Holies, and the separateness of the elect nation, Israel, from all others:—how reconcile all this with such a by faith “no difference” message as Paul has been preaching to us—in the first eight chapters? A message, indeed, which he resumes from Chapter Twelve to the close, magnifying God’s present mercy to the Gentiles; and ending up the Epistle as he began it, with the words: “My gospel, (revealing a heretofore hidden secret), is sent forth unto all the nations unto the simple obedience of faith”!
The question, therefore, is, how to reconcile the “no distinction between Jew and Greek” message that Paul is here preaching, with God’s former manner of speech to Israel, concerning which the Psalmist sings:
“He showeth His word unto Jacob,
His statutes and His ordinances unto Israel.
He hath not dealt so with any nation;
And as for His ordinances, they have not known them”
And not only so, but the whole book of Psalms, for that matter; yes, and the prophets, also!
Now it will not do merely to go back to Israel’s idolatrous history, and denounce the nation; or even to our Lord’s awful utterance, as He finally left their temple:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her own brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Luke 13:34, 35).
It will not do to say they were a disobedient people, and God has rejected them entirely, and has brought blessing out to the Gentiles instead. Nor will it do, in these three chapters, merely to go forward to Ephesians (2:14-16) and say, “Christ is our peace, who hath made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity [between them], even the Law of commandments in ordinances; that He might create in Himself of the two One New Man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in One Body unto God through the cross.” Furthermore, it will not do to go on into Colossians and say concerning this new man, the Body of Christ, that “there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). All these things are true for us who are in Christ. But it is the facts as they are set forth in Romans, that we must examine if we are to study Romans. And God, here in Romans, sets forth His ways in the past, and His ways in the future, with this chosen earthly nation, Israel.
That God should so signally honor this nation Israel as to reveal His awful presence on Sinai, and speak in an audible voice to them, giving to them and them alone His holy “fiery Law,”—this fact must have its true place with us.
“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and from the one end of heaven unto the other whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever a people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou has heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that Jehovah your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?” (Deut. 4:32-34.)
I say, for God to do all this, and then publicly set this nation aside, and send a Paul to all nations without distinction of Jew or Gentile, preaching salvation apart from the Law, and by simple faith, instead of by “the Jews’ religion”; promising blessings, and that even heavenly blessings, inconceivably beyond those promised to Israel,—this was an astounding thing! The trouble with us Gentiles is, that we have become accustomed to it, we take it for granted. God’s plans and ways with Israel do not concern most Christians.
There is no more striking example of the deadly and deadening self-confidence into which human beings so quickly drift when they find themselves objects of Divine goodness: “Man that is in honor, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish” (Ps. 49:20).
One has only to look about Christendom to see at once the evidence of this fateful delusion. Behold the “state” churches, the great cathedrals, the vested choirs and magnificent music; and the “church calendars” with their man-invented feast days, “holy” days, “Christmas-tides,” “Lenten” periods, “Easter” services,—all that goes to make up the so-called “Christian religion”! And the high talk of the Gentiles about Israel as God’s “ancient people”: whereas God has never had and never will have any people, any elect nation, but earthly Israel!
When we reflect that, after He has “caught up in the clouds” His Church saints, our Lord is coming back to this earthly people Israel, and will establish them in their land, with a glorious millennial temple and order of worship, to which the Gentile nations must and will submit: then we see that the present time is altogether anomalous! It is a parenthesis, in which God is making a “visit” to the Gentiles, to “take out of them a people for His name”;—after which, James tells us, our Lord “will Himself return,” and “build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen” (Acts 15:16), on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem, where David lived.
Romans Nine, Ten, and Eleven become an essential part of Christian doctrine in this respect: that while they do not set forth our salvation or our place in Christ, as do the first eight chapters, yet they unfold to us our relative place in God’s plans, along with national Israel’s place. They also reveal to us several matters absolutely essential to our proper estimate of God and His ways; and, properly believed, they “hide pride” from us: bringing in as they do the great fact that both ourselves and (in the future), the saved Remnant of Israel, are the objects of sovereign Divine mercy. We discover ourselves in Chapter 9:23 to be “vessels of mercy,” as will future Israel discover themselves to be, by the example of the mercy shown to us. The grace of God has been spoken of in this Epistle often before; but not until these chapters is mercy named; and until mercy is understood, grace cannot be fully appreciated.
In Luke 1:78 (margin) we read of the “heart of mercy” of our God; and in Ephesians 2:4, that God is “rich in mercy.” God proclaimed His name to Moses: “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in loving-kindness and truth” (Ex. 34:6). God’s mercy is the sovereign going forth of His heart to us sinful wretched creatures; His grace follows, in His pardoning our guilt; and His loving-kindness is His proceeding with us in abundant goodness thereafter.
1 I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. 3 For I could pray that I myself were [cast out] accursed from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh: 4 who are Israelites; whose is the [Divine national] adoption and the [earth-manifested] glory, and the covenants, and the custodianship of the law, and the sanctuary service, and the promises; 5 whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed unto the ages. Amen.
This most remarkable paragraph naturally divides itself into two parts:
1. Verses 1 to 3: Paul’s constant yearning pain for the unbelieving Israelites, his brethren and kinsmen,—a yearning to which he declares the Spirit bears witness, which could, were it right, go the length of his being lost if they could be saved! Thus Moses prayed: “If thou wilt not forgive them, blot me, I pray thee, out of Thy book, which Thou hast written!” (Ex. 32:32, 33.)194194Bishop Moule remarks upon the impossibility of Paul’s really making such a prayer: “To desire the curse of God would be to desire not only suffering, but moral alienation from Him, the withdrawal of the soul’s capacity to love Him. Thus the wish would be in effect an act of ‘greater love for our neighbor than for God.’ Again, the redeemed soul is ‘not its own’: to wish the self to be accursed from Christ would thus be to wish the loss of that which He has ‘bought and made His own.’ But, the logical reason of the matter apart, we have only to read the close of Chapter 8, to see how entirely a moral impossibility it was for Paul to complete such a wish.” Dear old Bengel searchingly says, “It is not easy to estimate the measure of love in a Moses and a Paul. For our limited reason does not grasp it, as the child cannot comprehend the courage of warriors!”
2. Verses 4 and 5: The rehearsing of eight matters which belonged to Israel,—yea, and yet belong to Israel, in spite of all their unfaithfulness. As Jehovah says to Jeremiah:
“If these ordinances [of the sun, of the moon, of the stars and of the sea] depart from before Me, saith Jehovah, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever. Thus saith Jehovah: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, then will I also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith Jehovah” (Jer. 31:35-37).
Therefore, first, let us deeply reflect on this thing of Paul’s unceasing pain over Israel, lest in our Gentile shallowness we miss the correct judgment of the importance of this event before God, that Israel, among whom He had dwelt, became disobedient, and were broken off from blessing; and lest in our own affections we become so narrowed as to have no yearning over Israel. Shall we let Paul, our great apostle, have this “unceasing pain,” this “great sorrow,” in his heart, all alone? Nay for Paul would not have shared the fact with us except he expected our sympathy in the Spirit. Let us not be like those thousands of grace-hating Jews in Paul’s day who kept following him in his blessed ministry, declaring that he was an apostate Jew, one really denying the faith of his fathers, bitter against his own race in order to curry favor among the despised Gentiles. They spread the report that Paul “taught all men everywhere against Israel and the Law and the temple” (Acts 21:28). How Christ-like was the love in Paul’s heart, that persisted even to be willing to be lost, for the unbelieving Israelites who were reviling him!
Second, let us enumerate and examine the eight respects in which the apostle here declares the nation of Israel differed before God from all other nations:
1. The Divine national adoption—“Thus saith Jehovah, Israel is
my son, my first-born” (Ex. 4:22). “Thou art a holy people unto
Jehovah thy God: Jehovah thy God hath chosen thee to be a people for His own possession,
above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6).
“You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2).
Let the nations, British, Americans, French, Germans, or whatever they be, lay this
to heart before it is too late! For as to God’s election of Israel as His chosen
nation, it is absolute and eternal,195195 The envy of other races and nations towards God’s elect nation
Israel has always existed. But there is a mild phase and a virulent phase of this
Gentile sin-disease that should be noted:
First, the mild phase: this is Anglo-Israelism, the teaching that the Anglo-Saxons, especially Britain and America (Britain as Ephraim and America as Manasseh!) are the “lost ten tribes” who, carried away East across the Euphrates in God’s Judgment,—turned East into West and landed at the British Isles! No; British and Americans are lost, but they are not The Ten Tribes!
Second, the virulent phase of this jealousy and envy towards elect national Israel appears in “anti-Semitism,” or anti-Jewism; and has lately been carried to new depths of pagan infamy by Hitler in Germany. For this phase of Gentile envy rejects Scripture. Mr. Hitler hates the Jews and declares for “pure Aryan blood”—(pray where would you find it?). Carrying his boasting hatred to its logical conclusion, he rejects the Word of God as authority, and turns back to the old pagan gods of Northern Europe.
Now all hatred of national Israel arises from rebellion against Divine sovereign election. We know that Israel has failed God: but God declares He will not fail them finally, whereas the hate of modern Gentiles (wiser than God—for are they not the “moderns”?) would seek to crush Israel and exalt Gentiledom. Of course, it will end in the Antichrist, but the Lord Jesus will end him, and all Gentile boasting, at “the forthshining of His arrival” (II Thess. 2:8, Rotherham). as He says in Isaiah 66:22: “As the new heavens and new earth [of Rev 21 and 22] shall remain before Me, so shall your seed and your name [Israel] remain.”
2. The glory—We all know how God’s presence accompanied Israel as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night through the sea and through the wilderness, and then filled the tabernacle! No other nation has had or will have God’s presence thus. God said:
“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them . . . And thou shalt put the mercy-seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee . . . And there I will meet with thee” (Ex. 25:8, 21, 22).
And concerning the dedication of Solomon’s temple we read,
“It came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking Jehovah, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised Jehovah, saying. For He is good; for His loving-kindness endureth forever; that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of Jehovah, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of Jehovah filled the house of God” (II Chron. 5:13, 14).
3. The covenants—With “covenants” Gentiles have absolutely nothing actively to do.196196It is indeed an infinitely blessed fact that all who believe share in the benefits of that “everlasting covenant” of Heb. 13:20, made between the Father and the Son, on these conditions: that if the Son would come to earth and die for our sins, the Father would bring Him again from the dead as the great Shepherd of the sheep, Paul says in I Corinthians 11:25, “In like manner also the cup, after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood.” (The “New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” has not yet been made; for we read that it will be made after these [Gentile] days. See Acts 15:13-16.) When our Lord said therefore, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood,” He must, we believe, refer to that covenant of Heb. 13:20; to which covenant, as we have said, the Father and the Son were parties. Even concerning the New Covenant to be made in the future with Israel, God says in Rom. 11:27: “And this is the covenant from Me unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” It is no longer blessing conditioned on their obedience, but it is the day of Jehovah s “power” to Israel (Ps. 110:3), not merely a “visitation” (Luke 19:41-44). In Genesis Fifteen God made a covenant with Abraham, and gave to his earthly seed the token of circumcision. In Genesis Twenty-two, God “confirmed” the promise to Abraham’s Seed, which is Christ (Gal. 3:16). With David God made an earthly kingdom-covenant,—that one of David’s descendants should sit upon his throne forever (II Sam. 7:13); as we find Gabriel announcing to Mary in Luke 1:32, 33. God says He will make a New Covenant in the future with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah (Heb. 8:8-12 , quoted from Jer. 31:31, ff), in connection with which He promises to “bring Israel back into their land,” to “take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, to put His Spirit within them, to cause them to walk in His statutes, and keep His ordinances, and do them” (Ezek. 36:24-27).
4. And the custodianship of the Law—It was a great thing to be entrusted with God’s holy Law, as we have seen in Chapter 3:2. Let me here repeat that every writer of Scripture is an Israelite. No other nation has ever been even directly spoken to, as a nation, by God: except to be warned, as were Egypt by Moses, and Nineveh by Jonah. There were written messages,—as Isaiah 13-23; but these were given to Israel, concerning other nations.
5. And the sanctuary-service—The Greek word here (latreia), refers to those religious ordinances prescribed to Israel by God in connection with the tabernacle-worship, and afterwards the temple-worship, which will be resumed in the Millennium, as we read in the last nine chapters of Ezekiel. (The ordinances and offerings then will be memorial, rather than prophetic, as in the days before Christ died.)
Note carefully that such outward form-worship belongs to the nation of Israel, and not to Christianity. To introduce it into Christianity is to return to paganism. For Paul plainly classifies the forms and ceremonies of Judaism as now belonging with “the weak and beggarly religious principles” which heathen Gentiles engage in! (Gal. 4:9, 10.)
Until the “Aryans” (whoever they are) have been led out from all other races by God Himself in manifest presence, and have had a “fiery law” given them from heaven as had Israel, let them stop their mouths, and also stop their ears from any vain pagan prophet! And let the Gentiles all humble their miserable pride. What have they to do with the Law that God committed to Israel? or with the Jewish Sabbath, which God said was a token of His covenant with that chosen people? (Ex. 31:12-17.)
6. And the promises—God’s salvation-promises were lodged in Abraham; His kingdom-promises, in David. No promises were made to Gentile nations as such. For the gospel now proclaimed is not a promise, but the announcement of a fact to be believed; and it is not preached to nations as such, but to individuals—good news to sinners everywhere. But to Israel, promises, thousands of them, were committed,—as a nation.
Now we do not have to become “Israelites” in any sense whatever to enjoy God’s salvation in Christ.197197Some accurate book setting forth the absolute difference between the Church and Israel should be read, such as Israel and the Church, by James H. Brookes; or Mr. Blackstone’s (W. E. B.) always excellent Jesus Is Coming. The nation of Israel has been set aside for the present as the vessel of Divine blessing to the world, while the Gentiles, as set forth in Chapter Eleven, have now the privileged place, and Jews and Gentiles come individually, upon believing, into a heavenly inheritance. Nevertheless, “the promises” pertain nationally to Israel, and to no other nation as such.
7. Whose are the fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are directly referred to; and Jacob’s sons also, especially Joseph, and Judah the vessel of royal promise and blessing to Israel (Ps. 77:15; 80:1; 81:5; Gen. 49:8,10; Heb. 7:14). Our hearts include Moses, Samuel, David, and the prophets when we think of Israel and remember “the fathers.” But it is especially to Abraham, “the father of all them that believe,” that our grateful memory turns; for, although we have no connection with Israel, we do have indeed a vital connection with Abraham, as his “children.”
8. And of whom is Christ as to the flesh—who is over all God
blessed unto the ages! Amen.198198 The questions concerning both Romans 9:5 and I Timothy 3:16
have arisen from the mists of doubt rather than from the heights of childlike faith
in God’s revelation of the deity of Christ. See Alford’s excellent and exhaustive
note on 9:5, from the end of which we quote:
“No conjecture arising from doctrinal difficulty is ever to be admitted in the face of the consensus of mss. and versions. The rendering given above is, then, not only that most agreeable to the usage of the Apostle, but the only one admissible by the rules of grammar and arrangement. It also admirably suits the context: for having enumerated the historic advantages of the Jewish people, he concludes by stating one which ranks far higher than all,—that from them sprung, according to the flesh, He who is God over all, blessed forever.” In Chapter 1:3 God’s Son is said to be “born of the seed of David according to the flesh”; in John 1:14, we read: “The Word became flesh”; in Hebrews 2:16: “He taketh hold of the seed of Abraham”; and in Matthew 1:1, it is: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.”
Now this is an astonishing honor to Israel,—infinitely outranking all others: our Lord, “the Mighty God” (Isa. 9:6), is, “according to the flesh,” an Israelite! For two other things are immediately affirmed of Him: He is over all, and He is God blessed unto the ages. The words “over all” are partly explained in I Corinthians 15:27: “He [God the Father] put all things in subjection under His [Christ’s] feet.” But in John 1:1, 3: “The Word was God. All things were made through Him.” As in Col 1:16, 17: “All things were created through Him and unto Him; and by Him all things consist” (hold together); so that Christ is indeed “over all, God blessed forever”! (As to this ascription of deity to Christ, see Kelly’s Notes on Romans, pp. 165-171.)
And now Paul falls back upon the sovereignty of God, accomplishing thereby three things:
First he defends himself (and all of us) against the charge of teaching that God had been unfaithful in His promises toward Israel; (2) he shows that Israel’s own Scriptures had foretold their temporary rejection, and the salvation of the Gentiles; and (3) he shows the great future blessing which will come to Israel, in God’s sovereign MERCY. Let us read the text:
6 But it is not as though the word of God hath come to nought. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel; 7 neither, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children: but. In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 That is, It is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed. 9 For this is a word of promise, According to this season willI come, and Sarah shall have a son. 10 And not only so; but Rebecca also having conceived by one,—by our father Isaac: 11 for [the children] being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God, according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth, 12—it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13 Even as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.
The great revealed truth of the sovereignty of God perplexes many, disturbs others, and some take occasion to stumble at it.
Verse 6: But it is not as though the word of God hath come to nought—Paul here refers to those great promises God had made to Abraham, then to Isaac, then to Jacob; conferring blessing upon their seed, announcing Himself as God of Israel, giving them by oath the land of Palestine, placing in David’s line the promise of perpetual royalty on earth; prophesying a great and glorious future for Israel, not only in the coming Millennium, or 1000 years kingdom here, but in the new earth which follows that (Isa. 66:22). Paul’s immediate explanation (for it looked as if these Divine promises had lapsed) was that not all that are of Israel are really Israel before God.
Verse 7: Neither, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children: but. In Isaac shall thy seed be called. I know, said our Lord, that ye are Abraham’s descendants; but if you were Abraham’s children you would do the works of Abraham. “If God were your Father, ye would love Me. Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:37 to 44). To regard religious privilege as spiritual reality is the very deadliest delusion. The real sons of Abraham are defined in Gal. 3:7: “Know therefore, that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham.” However, in the present passage, the point is not that Abraham’s real children are those that believe, but that Divine sovereign calling lies behind all. As God said to Abraham concerning Ishmael, “Nay, but Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. But My covenant will I establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year” (Gen. 17:19-21). The direct quotation is from Gen. 21:12, when Ishmael was cast out. “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” This is Divine sovereign action. Now Paul explains it:
Verse 8: That is, it is not the children of the flesh that are children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed. What does the apostle mean by “The children of the promise are reckoned for a seed”? It is most necessary that we perceive that Paul is speaking here, not of man’s believing a promise and therefore being written down as one of God’s children; but on the contrary, of the promise (of God to Christ) that characterizes the existence and calling of all the real children of God. He expounds this in the next verse.
Verse 9: For this is a word of promise, According to this season will I come, and Sarah shall have a son—The quotation is from Genesis 18:10. Read the connection there carefully. Isaac, the coming child, did not believe the promise in order to be born! But, God promised Isaac to Abraham, and kept His promise by a miracle. When Isaac was born, therefore, he was a child of promise,—a promised child, in God’s sovereign will.
Verses 10, 11: And not only so, but Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac—for the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth,—
In the former passage it is brought out that Isaac was a child of promise, not merely of natural generation. In the present passage the Divine sovereignty—“the purpose of God according to election”—is seen extending still further than birth, to the disposition of the condition and affairs of the children thus promised. The elder shall serve the younger, is not only a prophecy that Jacob would inherit and obtain the Divine blessing, and that his seed (as in the days of David and Solomon) would be temporarily triumphant over the Edomites, Esau’s descendants; but also looks far into the future beyond the brief triumph of the Herodians, the Edomites, in the days of Christ and the apostles, to the day when, as Balaam was forced against his will to prophesy:
“There shall come forth a Star out of Jacob,
And a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel,
And shall smite through the corners of Moab,
And break down all the sons of tumult.
And Edom shall be a possession;
Seir also shall be a possession, who were his enemies;
While Israel doeth valiantly” (Num. 24:17, 18).
“And they [Israel and Judah when the Lord returns, agrees Isaiah], shall put forth their hand upon Edom and Moab, and the children of Ammon shall obey them” (Isa. 11:14).
Verses 12, 13: The elder shall serve the younger, and, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated—These words are chosen from the first and from the last books of the Old Testament. As to “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” a woman once said to Mr. Spurgeon, “I cannot understand why God should say that He hated Esau.” “That,” Spurgeon replied, “is not my difficulty, madam. My trouble is to understand how God could love Jacob!” All men being sinners, we must allow God to “retreat into His own sovereignty,” to act as He will. You and I may say, Esau proved himself entirely unworthy of the covenant blessings, for he despised them. This, however, will be seen to be a shallow view of the statement of the eleventh verse, that the prophecy of their future was told to their mother while the children were yet in her womb, not having done anything good or bad. For the Divine statement concerning His own election, and His providence that carries out that election, is very plain, that it is not of works but of Himself, who gives the creature his calling. We have already in Romans seen and believed that righteousness is not of works but of Divine grace—uncaused by us. Now let us just as frankly bow to God’s plain statement that His purpose according to election is likewise not of human works. That is to say, the favor of God to the children of promise (to those whom He has given to Christ) is not procured by their response to God’s grace, but contrariwise, their response to God’s grace is because they have been given to Christ.
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Far be the thought! 15 For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. 16 So then. it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy. 17 For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee My power, and that My name might be published abroad in all the earth. 18 So then He hath mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardeneth.
We have now come upon that passage of Scripture against which the human mind—or rather heart, rebels most of all. For it sets the creature as he really is before God; not, indeed, as an automaton, nor in fatalistic compulsion,—otherwise there were no morals, and no appeal in the gospel.
Nevertheless, it will be our only safe path to receive just as God writes it down, the truth we find here.
Verses 14,15: What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Far be the thought! For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. We have only to remember the circumstances under which God thus spoke to Moses, to see the righteousness of God’s sovereignty in mercy. There had been the awful breach at Sinai: Israel had “changed their glory for the likeness of an ox that eateth grass.” The eternal ineffably glorious Jehovah in His indignation had said to Moses: “Let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation” (Ex. 32:10). Moses pleads for the people, and the next day offers, if God will forgive them, to be himself blotted out of God’s book! He said to the people: “I will go up unto Jehovah; peradventure I shall make atonement for your sin” (Ex. 32:30). Forty days and forty nights this devoted man lay on his face interceding for Israel, and God brought about, as we know, Moses’ mediatorship for Israel. (Study carefully Ex. 33; 34: especially Ex. 33:12-17; Ex. 34:1, 27, 28, 32.) God shows Moses himself favor; and finally extends it to all the people. And note, it is in this connection, and under these circumstances, and in answer to the personal request of His beloved servant: “Show me, I pray thee, thy glory,” that Jehovah says, “I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. 33:18, 19).
Now who can find fault with that? Unless Jehovah shows mercy,
Israel must all righteously perish. There was no resource left in man! God, whose
name is Love, must come out to man and come in mercy, or all is over! And here we
earnestly ask you to read the remarkable words of Darby, in the foot-note below.199199 Here the apostle shows Israel from their own history that they
must leave God to His sovereignty or else they must lose their promises; and then
that in the exercise of this sovereignty He will let in the Gentiles, as well as
the Jews. If, says Paul, you Israelites will take your promises by descent, we will
just see what comes of it. You say, we be Abraham’s seed, and have a right to the
promises by descent; for these Gentiles are but dogs, and have no right to share
with us in God’s promises. Well, if God has His sovereignty, He will in grace let
in these Gentile dogs! But now I will prove to you that you cannot take the promises
by descent. In the first place, ‘They are not all Israel which are of Israel’; yet
if it is by descent you must take in all Abraham’s seed, And if you take in Abraham’s
children, then you must take in Ishmael—those Arabians! Oh no, say they, we cannot
allow that; what! Ishmaelites in the congregation of Israel, and heirs of promise?
Yes, if by descent! You must take it by grace; and if it is by grace, God will not
confine this grace to you, but will exercise it toward the Gentiles.
“But now, to go further down in your history, you have Jacob and Esau; and if you go by descent, you must let in the Edomites by the same title as yourselves. But in verses 5 and 9, it says, ‘The children of the promise are counted for the seed’: so that it must rest on Isaac and Jacob, and Ishmael and Esau remain outside: therefore your mouth must now be closed as to descent, for your mouth is bound up by God’s saying, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’ He has chosen, according to His sovereign title, to bless you, and on that alone your blessing depends; as your own history shows, and your own prophetic testimony proves. You cannot rest it on a mere title by descent. But further, see how their (the Jews’) mouth is stopped: for when did God say, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy’? When every Israelite had lost all title to everything God had to give, then God retreated, if I may use the expression, into His own sovereignty, that He might not cut them off.”
[See Exodus 33:19, after the great breach made by Israel’s worshipping the golden calf, while Moses was standing in the mount with Jehovah!]
“By this act, Israel had forfeited everything: they had cast off the promises, which they had accepted on the condition of their own obedience (Ex. 19:8), and the God who made the promises, and who alone could fulfil them. Could God overlook this sin? Israel had undertaken to have the promises by their obedience; if God had dealt with Israel in righteousness, every one must have been cut off. What could God do, but retreat, as I said, into His own sovereignty? There He had a resource; for if any of them are to be spared, it must be in this way of mercy. ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.’ Man is entirely lost, so now God says, I will act for Myself. Taking a truth in connection with all other truth gives it its right and proper place, and its own Divine force.
“Say now, you Jews, (and you, my reader, ask yourself the question), will you be willing to be dealt with in righteousness? No, you would not! Then do not talk about it, until you can go to God on that footing. But if you have such a conviction of sin as stops your mouth about righteousness, and so excludes all boasting, you will rejoice in the ‘mercy’ and ‘compassion’ of God, who retreats into His own sovereignty, that He may know how to spare; because in this sovereignty He can show mercy.” It will accomplish in the heart which weighs it carefully that reconciliation of the sovereignty of God with God’s love and grace which is possible alone to faith; and it will also enlighten the mind concerning God’s dealings with Israel as recorded in these three great chapters of Romans.
Verse 16: So then it is not of him that willeth,
nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy—Oh, that this great verse might
sink into our ears, into our very hearts! Perhaps no statement of all Scripture
so completely brings man to an utter end. Man thinks he can “will” and “decide,”
God-ward, and that after he has so “decided” and “willed,” he has the ability to
“run,” or, as he says, to “hold out.” But these two things, deciding and holding
out, are in this verse utterly rejected as the source of salvation,—which is declared
to be God that hath MERCY. Human responsibility is not at all denied here: man ought
to will, and ought to run. But we are all nothing but sinners, and can do,—will
do, neither: unless God come forth to us in sovereign mercy.200200 God has come forth at Calvary! He has set forth Christ as a
propitiation through faith in His blood. Here is infinite love, displayed when human
sin was at its topmost height of frightful guilt and malignity. “Father, forgive
them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) were the words
spoken in tenderness to God the Father by God the Son at the moment wicked hands
were nailing Him to a cross of agony—spoken by One whose face was “marred more
than any man.”
Therefore in the gospel is power to turn men’s hearts, for it is the goodness of God that leadeth us to repentance. “That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in my Name,” said our risen Lord, He of the pierced hands and feet and side!
Verses 17 and 18: For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee My power, and that My name might be published abroad in all the earth. So then He hath mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardeneth.
Now in Pharaoh’s case, it is customary to emphasize the fact that he said: “Who is Jehovah, that I should hearken unto His voice to let Israel go? I know not Jehovah, and moreover I will not let Israel go” (Ex. 5:2).
But we must go back of that to Exodus 4:21: “And Jehovah said unto Moses, When thou goest back into Egypt, see that thou do before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in thy hand: but I will harden [lit., make strong] his heart, and he will not let the people go.”
“And I will harden Pharoah’s heart and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh will not hearken unto you, and I will lay My hand upon Egypt, and bring forth My hosts. My people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments” (Ex. 7:3, 4).
Now it is not necessary nor right to make God the author of Pharaoh’s stubbornness. No more is it right to insist that if God be a God of love He must save everybody, as all sorts of Universalists claim. Ex. 7:13, 14 records Pharaoh’s attitude after the first “wonder”; and then God’s report of Pharaoh’s heart-condition,—for God sees the heart: “And Pharaoh’s heart was hardened [lit., was strong], and he hearkened not unto them; as Jehovah had spoken.”
“And Jehovah said unto Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is heavy.’” Now the Hebrew word translated “heavy” or “hard” here, is frequently used of that which weighs down, as in Exodus 17:12: “Moses’ hands were heavy”; and in I Kings 12:10: “Thy father made our yoke heavy.” See especially Isaiah 1:4: “A people laden [lit., heavy] with iniquity.” On the whole, therefore, we are compelled to see that Pharaoh’s heart was left by God simply in its natural state,—heavy with iniquity. Unlike Jehoshaphat (II Chron. 17:6), his heart had never been “lifted up in the ways of Jehovah.” Unlike David, he had not even felt the weight of his sins, for David complains, in Psalm 38:4:
“Mine iniquities are gone over my head;
As a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.”
The word heavy here is the same Hebrew word which God uses to describe Pharaoh’s heart, in Exodus 7:14.
God had a perfect right to allow Pharaoh to remain (where we all would have remained, apart from Divine sovereign mercy!), in a disobedient. God-defying attitude: “Who is Jehovah that I should obey Him?” Pharaoh fulfilled the Divine counsels. The plagues his rebellion brought on, and his overthrow at the Red Sea, are celebrated in Exodus 15:14: “The peoples have heard, they tremble.” The pagan Philistines, even in Samuel’s day said: “These are the gods that smote the Egyptians with all manner of plagues in the wilderness” (I Sam. 4:7, 8). Jehovah’s name was indeed through this unregenerate rebel, Pharaoh, “published abroad in all the earth,” just as He said!
What God’s Word tells us as to His dealing with Pharaoh, explains “He hardeneth.” But nothing else than a subject heart of faith will enter, with reverent footstep, into the twice repeated words, “whom He will,” here. And we say boldly, that a believer’s heart is not fully yielded to God until it accepts without question, and without demanding softening, this eighteenth verse.
Paul in the Spirit forestalls the natural operations of man’s proud heart:
19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth He still find fault? For who withstandeth His will? 20 Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why didst Thou make me thus? 21 Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
In His infinite wisdom and knowledge God reads with unerring accuracy the operations of the human heart: “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh on the heart.” Man says, If I am not one of God’s elect, an object of His mercy, then I cannot do right, and God should not blame me. I asked an intelligent man in western Michigan if he had believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. He burst out into loud laughing, saying, “If I am elect, I will go to heaven; and if I am not elect, there is no use in my worrying about the question!” I rebuked him sternly, with these words: “‘God commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He hath ordained.’ ‘God’s commands are God’s enablings,’ and if you will hearken to Him, you will be saved. But you will not dare to say to God in that day, I could not come because I was not of the elect; for that will not be true! The reason you refused to come, will be found to be your love of sin, not your non-election!” God says, “Whosoever will,” and the door is open to all, absolutely all. God means “Whosoever”: and that is the word for you, sinner; and not election, which is God’s business, not yours!
Verse 20: Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it. Why didst thou make me thus? Literally, this reads: “O man, yes! but rather,—you! who are you, replying against God?”
Alford well says: “The words ‘yea, rather,’ take the ground from under the previous assertion and supersede it by another: implying that it has a certain show of truth, but that the proper view of the matter is yet to be stated. They thus convey, as in Luke 11:28, a rebuke,—here, with severity: ‘That which thou hast said may be correct human reasoning,—but as against God’s sovereignty, thy reasoning is out of place and irrelevant; the verse implying. Thou hast neither right nor power to call God to account in this matter.’ These verses are a rebuke administered to the spirit of the objection, which forgets the immeasurable distance between us and God, and the relation of Creator and Disposer in which He stands to us.”
And Stifler warns: “He who replies against God must mean that it is God’s hardening that deprives a soul of salvation; that if God did not interpose with an election and take some and leave others to be hardened, all men would have at least an equal opportunity of salvation. This is false. If God did not elect, none would be saved, for there is ‘none that seeketh after God’ (Rom. 3:11). And, men are not lost because they are hardened; they are hardened because they are lost; they are lost because they are sinners.
“God is not responsible for sin. He is under no obligation to save any one. Obligation and sovereignty cannot both be predicated of God. If He saves any one it is a sovereign act of mercy.”
Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it. Why didst thou make me thus?
Thus speaks also Jehovah by Isaiah:
“Woe unto him that striveth with His Maker! a potsherd among the potsherds of the earth! . . . Ye turn things upside down! Shall the potter be esteemed as clay; that the thing made should say of him that made it. He made me not; or the thing formed say of him that formed it, He hath no understanding?” (Isa. 45:9; 29:16.)
In the Scriptures, those who meet God, fall into the dust. “I am but dust and ashes,” said Abraham, and Job: “Mine eye seeth Thee, and I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
A “thing,” yea, and a formed thing, owing its very being to a Creator! Have we thus considered ourselves? Our only proper creature-attitude is one of faith, not questioning. As
“Frail creatures of dust,
And feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust,
Nor find Thee to fail.”
These are days of man-vaunting, and God-despising. But they shall soon end, and the very earth on which man’s legions marched in such pride, shall flee away “before the face of Him who sits upon the Throne”! (Rev. 20:11.)
Verse 21: Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? As concerns the right of the Divine Potter over the human clay, we need to go with Jeremiah to “the potter’s house”: “I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he was making a work on the wheels. And the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? Such as is the clay in the potter’s hands, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel” (Jer. 18:3-6). God called man “dust” in Eden (Gen. 2:7; 3:19). And, “The nations are as a drop of a bucket and are accounted as the small dust of the balance” (Isa. 40:15). When the apothecary would weigh an article accurately, he whisks out with a breath from the balances any former dust remaining therein: and there go the nations, all,—as regards greatness before God! Yet here is one atom of this “small dust” replying against God, saying, “What right has He to do thus with me?”
Now it will not do to answer, “God is love”; “God so loved the world.” True, indeed. But God is God, and the nations are “less than nothing, and vanity,” as you read in Isaiah 40:17, and in many other Scriptures. God has rights high above all our poor comprehension. We know that God will always act righteously. We are not God’s judges! God has a right “from the same lump of human clay to make one part a vessel unto honor, another unto dishonor.” No godly person challenges that right. Nay, godly people most reverently bow to it! “What would the ability to fashion be worth, if it were under the dictation of that which is to be fashioned?”
22 What if GOD, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endureth with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction: 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared unto glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?
Verse 22: What if GOD—the greatness of the Creator and the nothingness of the creature! God’s will is supreme and right, even to His being willing to show publicly His wrath—both at the day of judgment, and on through eternity. His holiness and righteousness will be exhibited to all creatures in His visitation of wrath upon the wicked:
And to make His power known—Job in astonishing words describes God’s power as seen in creation and providence, but adds:
“Lo, these are but the outskirts of His ways:
And how small a whisper do we hear of Him!
But the thunder of His power who can understand?”
But the day is coming when His power will be publicly exhibited in overwhelming and eternal visitation upon the vessels of wrath. Let us ponder this great passage:
What if GOD, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction?
Here we find:
1. That certain were fitted unto destruction. It is not said that
God so fitted them.201201 Nevertheless, we must let certain Scriptures lie Just as they
are, whether or not they consort with our conceptions, or whether we find ourselves
able to “reconcile” them with our “theological system” or not. We quote a few of
The wicked are estranged from the womb;
They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” (Ps. 58:3).
Jehovah hath made everything for its own end;
Yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov 16:4).
They stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed” (I Pet. 2:8).
“Again, when a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity,
and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall . . . die in his sin, and his righteous
deeds which he hath done shall not be remembered (Ezek 3:20).
“Because they had not executed Mine ordinances, but had rejected My statutes, . . . I gave them statutes that were not good, and ordinances wherein they should not live” (Ezek 20:24,25).
However, even in these passages, solemnly terrible as they are, we must separate God’s actions from man’s responsibility. God is not the author of evil; He tempteth no man; “He would have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” But in Chapter Two we find those who “despise the goodness and forbearance and long-suffering of God, not knowing that the goodness of God was meant to lead them to repentance.” Of such it is said that they “treasure up for themselves wrath in the day of wrath.”
2. God had, we next read here, in their earth-life dealt with these with much longsuffering. They never learned however, as Peter urged, to “account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (II Pet. 3:15). This longsuffering is the enduring on earth of ungrateful rebels by a God surrounded in Heaven by the glad, obedient hosts of light!
3. They thus became vessels of wrath: those in and through whom God could publicly and justly display His holy indignation against sin and godlessness,—for a warning to all ages and creatures to come.
4. Thus these came to that destruction unto which their sin had duly fitted them. Now this “destruction” is not at all that cessation of being, of which we hear so much from Satan’s false prophets in these days. But it is, according to II Thessalonians 1:7, 9, an eternal visitation of Divine anger “in flaming fire” from the very presence of the Lord Himself! It not only involves the final withdrawal of all mercy and long-suffering, but the eternal infliction of Divine punishment upon the bodies of the damned.
5. The terribleness of this is seen in the fact that this “destruction,” this visitation of punishment upon the persons of the lost, will be made the occasion of God’s exhibiting publicly both His holy wrath against sin, and also His power in the punishment of it. His hatred of sin is absolute,—and these will be made to experience it; His power is infinite, and these will be compelled to be an example of it.
6. In the words What if GOD—should proceed thus? all creature-questionings are stilled into awful silence, if not today, some day!
Verse 23: Then at the next words: And that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, we are just as silent as before, though in boundless, endless gratitude: for apart from mercy, we too had become “vessels of wrath.” As Paul says in verse 29: Except the Lord had dealt in mercy with us, we also “had become as Sodom!”
Note carefully that while it is God’s wrath and power that are to be made known in the “vessels of wrath”; and though the glory of God would be thus in His justice exhibited, He yet does not use the word glory in connection with the damnation of the wicked. In Exodus 15:11 Moses and the children of Israel do indeed celebrate the overthrow of Pharaoh, as setting forth God’s praise, saying,
“Who is like unto thee, O Jehovah, among the gods?
Who is like thee, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?”
Yet we must ever remember that God is love, from past eternity, and now, and forever. So that it is written: “He delighteth in mercy”—lovingkindness: (Micah 7:18); and, “As I live, saith Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11). God will not exult over the lost! witness Christ weeping over Jerusalem, and sorrowing over Judas (John 13:21); and the “lamentation” even over the fall of Lucifer (figured in the King of Tyre, in the remarkable passage of Ezekiel 28:11ff.).
But when God speaks in verse 23 of the vessels of mercy it is at once said that He afore prepared them unto glory, that is, for entering into His own glory (Romans 5:2), and that they will be the means of making known through eternity to come the riches of His glory. So He speaks in Ephesians 2:4 to 7 of His being “rich in mercy.” If it is true of us that where our treasure is our hearts will be; it is infinitely more true of God! God’s treasured riches are mercy and grace. Judgment, the execution of wrath, He calls His “strange work,” His “strange act” (Isa. 28:21). Mercy is the work dear to His heart!
Mark well here this word “afore.” For the whole process of our salvation is viewed from that blessed future day when we shall enter, through Divine mercy, into that glory unto which God “afore” appointed us, and for which He “afore” prepared us, in the work of Christ for us, and the application to us of that work, by the blessed Holy Spirit. All was “afore” arranged by God!
Verse 24: Even us, whom He also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles. How constant, in Paul’s consciousness, the owing all to God’s sovereign grace. “Prepared unto glory”202202Hodge’s remarks here are excellent: “The passive participle may be taken as a verbal adjective, fit for destruction. Of the vessels of wrath, it is simply said that they are fit for destruction; but of the vessels of mercy, that God prepares them for glory. Why this change if the apostle did not intend to intimate that the agency of God is very different in the one case from what it is in the other? God does not create men in order to destroy them. God did not make Pharaoh wicked and obdurate; but as a punishment for his sin, he so dealt with him that the evil of his nature revealed itself in a form, and under circumstances, which made him a fit object of the punitive justice of God.”—in past eternity, in sovereign election, and having a calling befitting that “preparing.” Surely no one can miss, in this apostle, the supreme consciousness that he is God’s,—not by his choice, but God’s own choice,—an eternally settled thing, uncaused by Paul! All believers will have the same consciousness, when they find, (as Paul found), along with their Divine election, that there is in them, in their flesh, “no good thing”!
Now the apostle, having declared that these “vessels of mercy” were “called,” both from Jews and Gentiles, adduces several plain Scriptures (which the gainsaying Jews should have laid to heart).
25 As He saith also in Hosea,
I will call that my people which was not my people;
And her beloved, that was not beloved.
26 And it shall be, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people,
There shall they be called sons of the Living God.
27 And Isaiah crieth concerning Israel,
If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea,
The Remnant shall be saved:
28 For He is bringing the matter to an end, and cutting it short in righteousness;
Because a matter cut short will the Lord make in the earth.
29 And, as Isaiah hath said before,
Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed,
We had become as Sodom, and had been made like unto Gomorrah.
Verse 25: I will call that my people which was not my people; and her beloved that was not beloved. Paul here, in a most remarkable way, takes from the prophet (Hosea 2:23) a passage that distinctly refers to Israel: as Peter, quoting the same place says: “Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God.” For here we see the “Remnant according to the election of Grace,” addressed by Peter, their Apostle. The nation after the flesh was apostate; but God views believing Israelites as perpetuating—not the national place, which has been forfeited for the present—but His lovingkindness to those which He had called His “people”; His “elect nation.” “To you first,” Peter said to Israel after Pentecost, “God, having raised up His Son, sent Him to bless you.” So that Paul and Peter are in perfect agreement that Hosea 2:23 fits believing Israelites.
And then we have Hosea quoted again! But now it is Chapter 1:10, last part.
Verse 26: And it shall be, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there shall they be called sons of the living God. Here now come the Gentiles,—according to verse 24. No Gentile nation was ever called a people of God! Nor are the Gentiles today called such. Although in the Millennium all the Gentiles “upon whom the Lord’s Name is called,” will seek Him (Acts 15:17); yet Israel are his elect people, always.
But now “some better thing” has been provided for us (Heb. 11:40) both Jewish and Gentile believers of this “day of salvation”: Sons of the Living God! See Galatians 4:1-7. The Spirit of God’s Son cries Abba, Father, in our hearts, who “partake of the heavenly calling.”
God’s infinite grace takes up those who were once (and that by our Lord Himself) called “dogs”—as compared with the “children”—nation of Israel, and gives them a heavenly calling: far above that of earthly Israel,—even when restored! “Sons of the Living God”—oh, let us give praise unto Him!
Verse 27: And Isaiah crieth concerning Israel, If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the Remnant shall be saved. Here the apostle takes another prophet, Isaiah, and quotes again from two passages; and again from the later one first. The 27th verse is from Isaiah 10:22. Some estimate the Jewish population as 20,000,000 (though that probably is too high). If we read Ezekiel 20:33-38, we see the Lord Jehovah, “with wrath poured out” bringing Israel out from the nations (He is beginning this now!); and cutting off “the rebels” amongst them,—the rebels against the national Divine calling as a separate nation to Jehovah. Only the Remnant will be left; for, as Isaiah says, “a destruction is determined!” How solemn these words! And let them sink into our foolish Gentile hearts; for only a “few men left” of all the nations, will enter the Millennium.
Verse 28: For He is bringing the matter to an end, and cutting it short in righteousness: Because a matter cut short will the Lord make in the earth. The ways of God should be the study of the saints. He waits long,—He forbears—He is silent: then He suddenly puts into execution an eternally-formed purpose! Thus it was at the Flood, and in the destruction of Sodom, and afterwards of the Canaanites. Also now, for a long season, God has been letting the nations go on in comparative quiet, filling up the earth with much the largest population ever known; and despite their various persecutions the Jews have also been relatively secure from that Divine “indignation” which all students of Scripture know is yet to be brought to a terrible “end” upon them. The awful words of Ezekiel 20:35, 36 are to be fulfilled—“cut short in righteousness.” The expression there “the wilderness of the people,”—where the Jews will have no national friend or refuge whatever, except Palestine; and Jehovah “entering into judgment” with them, “like as He entered into judgment with their fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt” (when he turned them back from Kadesh-barnea to die in the wilderness)—all this remains to be done,—and in “a short work.”
The Remnant shall be saved [the majority having been slain in the Great Tribulation] for He is ending up the matter [of His dealing with Israel] and cutting it short [in the time of “Jacob’s trouble”—the “forty-two months”; the “time, times, and a half”;—three and a half years, of Daniel’s Seventieth Week] in righteousness, because a matter cut short will the Lord make on the earth.
Every student of Scripture should be familiar by this time with the general “mould of prophecy.” Therefore we have boldly inserted in brackets the evident meaning here. It is the great crisis of prophecy here in view, the closing up not only of the times of the Gentiles, but of God’s dispensational dealings with national Israel, the Remnant of whom—a “very small Remnant”—will be saved; preserved through the Great Tribulation to bless the earth after the Lord returns. Any reader of Scripture will be astonished, and deeply edified if he will take a concordance and study God’s Word about the Remnant.203203See Gen. 45:7; Isaiah 1:9; 10:21,22; 11:11, 16; 46:3; Jer. 23:3; Ezek. 6:8; Amos 5:15; Mic. 2:12; 5:7, 8; Zeph. 2:7, 9; 3:13; Zech. 8:6, 11, 12.
God is now letting matters run on in general, both among the Gentiles and Israel. This will shortly be utterly changed, even to what scientists call the “laws” of the powers of the heavens—and a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. (See Author’s book on The Revelation, p. 140, ff).
This involves, of course, that the most of the natural children of Israel will be cut off; that it will be only the elect Remnant who will be saved and share in the Millennial Kingdom; which, as the prophecies concerning the “Remnant” abundantly testify, that Remnant will enjoy. (See last nine chapters of Ezekiel; Isa. 10:21, 22; and Chapter 35; Jer. 31:1-14.)
Verse 29: Israel might object to the doctrine of “the Remnant,” the
“election of grace” by God; but the quotation in verse 29, from Isaiah 1:9
shows that if God had not intervened in sovereign grace, they would have all become
as Sodom [in iniquity], and been made like unto Gomorrah [in their damnation]. It
was sovereign goodness that saved204204 ln these passages brought by the Spirit from the Old Testament
and fitting present times precisely, we are again face to face with the marvels
of God’s inspiration. William Kelly well says:
“What a witness of Divine truth, of indiscriminate grace, that the gospel, in itself unprecedented and wholly distinct both from what was seen under the Law and what will be when the Kingdom appears in power and glory, does nevertheless find its justification from words both of mercy and of judgment uttered hundreds of years before by the various servants God sent to declare His message to His people! But, as they blindly despised them and rejected His word then for idols, so now they fulfilled them yet more in the rejection of Christ and hatred of the grace which, refused by them, was sought and received by Gentiles, and thus yet more proved the word Divine, to the confusion of the unbelief which is as blind as it is proud and selfish” (Kelly, Notes on Romans, in loc). any Israelites,—just as it is sovereign goodness that saves any Gentiles.
Thus it becomes plain (for Israel is but a sample of the human race) that opposition to the truth of Divine elective mercy arises from ignorance of or blindness to the utter sinfulness and wholly lost state, of mankind. All would go to perdition unless God in mercy intervened!
30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, those not at all pursuing after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith: 31 but Israel, pursuing after a law [which should give] righteousness, did not arrive at [such a] law. 32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by works. They stumbled at the Stone of stumbling; 33 even as it is written,
Behold, I lay in Zion a Stone of stumbling, and a Rock of offence:
And he that believeth on Him shall not be put to shame.
We here have a most remarkable passage, full of the deepest consolation on the one hand, and warning on the other.
Here were the Gentiles, deep in the sin described in Chapters One and Two, occupied with superstition and idolatry. Paul said in Athens, a city full of idols, “I perceive that in all things ye are very religious” (lit.,“demon-fearing”). There was no seeking after righteousness before a holy God! Paul quotes in Chapter Three those Psalms which declare there is “none that seeketh after God.” For the Gentiles, of Antioch in Pisidia, for example, were not pursuing after righteousness; but here come Paul and Barnabas, preaching; and “the whole city is gathered together to hear the Word of God.” And when the Jews reviled the blessed gospel of grace,
“Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, and said, it was necessary that the word of God should first be spoken to you. Seeing ye thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life [How terrible!—dying men refusing life!] lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying,
I have set thee for a light of the Gentiles,
That thou shouldest be for salvation unto the uttermost part of the earth.
And as the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spread about throughout all the region” (Acts 13:44, 46-49).
Here is good news for bad men!—men who had never read the Old Testament Scriptures, nor “pursued after righteousness”; yet, though Gentiles, hearing the gospel and believing, they walk right into righteousness by faith, past the Jews, who had been pursuing after—what? a law that should give them righteousness. Note, we are not told that even the Jews were pursuing after righteousness, but after a law by which, through their self-efforts, they hoped to attain righteousness! They did not, like the Gentiles, as sinners, simply believe the good news of a God of grace. But although their own Law would have convicted them of sin if they had really heard205205So Paul to the Galatians: “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not HEAR the law?” (Gal. 4:21.) Paul himself, he tells us, was “alive apart from the Law once,”—although he knew the Law and gloried in it and observed its outward ordinances. But the day came, as he showed in Chapter 7, when he “heard” it; it became a distinct spiritual command to his soul to do the righteousness commanded. it, yet they kept pursuing after a Law whose requirements they could not meet but in possessing and pursuing after which, they gloried! It was all as-it-were-works,—a dream!
They did not arrive at that law,—it was always just ahead, out of reach! Why? Because they never directly trusted God! Having the conceit of the self-righteous,—that some day they would attain God’s final acceptance of their works, they never thought of needing God’s mercy, or of “simply trusting” Him, as they were,—as David does in Psalm Fifty-one!
So when Christ came, saying, “Transfer your trust from yourselves to Me! Moses gave you the Law, but none of you keepeth the Law”:—they turned in fury and slew the Righteous One!
So the Jews stumbled. Now, it takes a spiritual mind and a subject heart to read with profit what is here. Were there Divine commands in the Law? Certainly. Were there hopes connected with fully keeping them? Certainly. “The man that doeth the righteousness which is of the Law shall live thereby” (Lev. 18:5; Rom. 10:5). Were there those that professed righteousness by the Law? Yes, on every side: Pharisees, priests, scribes,—who also became the crucifiers of Christ! But what else do we read in the Old Testament? We read from Genesis 3:15 throughout Scripture that there was a Seed, the Seed of the woman, the Seed of Abraham, the Seed of David, through whom alone salvation and blessing would come. “This is the name by which He shall be called, Jehovah our righteousness.” As David cried, “I will make mention of Thy righteousness, even of Thine only” (Ps. 71:16). But also it was also plainly written of Him, “They shall smite the Judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek”; and that He would “hide not His face from shame and spitting”; that He would be “despised and rejected”; that His hands and feet would be “pierced,” but that “through the knowledge of Himself, God’s Righteous Servant, [Messiah] should constitute many righteous” (Isa. 53:11). So He, Christ, the meek and lowly One, who went about doing them good, who healed them, loved them, and finally died for them,—became to them the Stone of Stumbling! And it was in Zion, where they had the Law, that this Stone of stumbling was to be laid. Now the only way to have Him is to believe on Him: otherwise, He was a Rock of offence. He offended all the claims of the Jews as “children of Abraham”; He offended all their false claims of righteousness, by the light which He was,—the Holy One. He offended the leaders of Israel, by exposing their sin. He offended the hopes of an immediate, carnal, earthly kingdom, by showing that only those poor in spirit and pure of heart would be in that kingdom. In short, He offended the nation by overthrowing its whole superstructure of works built on sand,—as-it-were-works!
However, there were those that believed on Him—the “poor of the flock,” and they were not then, and shall not be put to shame. (See comment on Chap. 10:11.)
Even so, today, the true gospel of Christ crucified, bringing
out our guilt and the danger of Divine wrath, offends men who would like to come
and “join the church” in their respectability! Respectability of what? Of filthy
rags!206206 Sir Robert Anderson relates: “A lady of my acquaintance, well
known in the higher ranks of London society, called upon me one day to ask for police
help, to relieve her from certain annoyances. Her evident distress at my inability
to give her the protection she sought, led me to remark that the peace of God in
the heart was a great antidote to trouble. “Ah,” said she, “if I were only like
you!” “If it depended on my merit,” I replied with real sincerity, “it is you who
would have the peace, not I”, Presently her manner changed, and with tears in her
eyes she told me something of her spiritual struggles. If she could be more earnest,
more devout, more prayerful, she was sure that God would accept her.
“I was greatly interested,” I remarked, “by what I heard about the supper you gave the tramps last week. Did they offer you anything for it? Of course, they had no money, but they might have brought you some of their coats and shirts!”
“If you had only seen their coats and shirts!” she exclaimed with a smile.
“Filthy rags they were. I’m sure,” said I, “and what you don’t believe is that in God’s sight ‘all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.’”
It is a humanly incurable delusion of the human heart that salvation is within the natural reach; and that at any time if a man will “make up his mind like a man,” and “hold out to the end,” God will certainly accept him. But this conception leaves out entirely the word “mercy.” The very name of this plan is Vain Confidence. It has doomed and damned its millions. For, salvation being altogether of God, the soul who is bugging the delusion that it is “of him that willeth,” “of him that runneth,” is making God a liar and walking in blind pride.
You ask. Is there not a place for human responsibility? Does not God command all men to repent? Does He not say: “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely?” He does. But the Ninth of Romans is no place to discuss that subject, and that because God does not here discuss it. You say, If Christ “gave Himself a ransom for all”; and God “would have all men to be saved”; if Christ “tasted death for every man,” if “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing unto them their trespasses,” and is now sending out His ambassadors to beseech men to be reconciled to God—how can these statements be reconciled with God’s words in verse 18: “So then He hath mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardeneth”?
Friend, who set you or me to “reconcile” (which means to reduce to the compass or our mental grasp) the sayings of the infinite God of truth? If I wait to believe the statements of God the Creator until I can “reconcile” them with my creature conceptions, that is not faith, but presumption.
Moreover, unless you receive both doctrines: on the one hand, that of the death of Christ for all, and the actual, bona fide offer of salvation through His cross, to all who will believe; and, on the other hand, that of the absolute sovereignty of the God who “hath mercy on whom He will, and whom He will, hardeneth,” you will neither believe Scripturally either doctrine, nor clearly preach either. You will be either preaching a “limited atonement”—that Christ died only for the elect; or, on the other hand, refusing to surrender to God’s plain statement of His sovereign election, you will preach that Christ having died for all, God’s election depends on man’s will. A shallow preacher in California cried, “It is election day: God is voting for you and the devil is voting against you, and you cast the deciding vote!” Of such antiscriptural statements the folly is evident. God distinctly says in Chapter 9:16: “It is net of him that willeth”; and in verse 11: “That the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth.”
You say, “What then shall we teach?” We answer: Teach the words of Scripture and let it go at that. God can “reconcile” His own Word!
Many years ago a widely-known and beloved teacher of God’s Word said to me, “I do not like to assert a truth too positively; I like always to teach a truth modified by any seemingly contradictory truth.” I had myself observed in his discussion of a Scripture doctrine his citation of “authorities”: “So-and-so says this; on the other hand, So-and-so says that: now take your choice.” But in his later years, because he was a constant and devoted reader of God’s Word, his manner of teaching quite changed: he was willing to take such a passage as the Ninth of Romans and teach it as it is, and say, “Thus saith the Lord”; and leave it there. And when there came up another line of truth that could not be “reconciled” with the first, in the mind of men, he taught this second truth also just as God stated it, and left it there.
Now if there is any passage of God’s Word in which He seems to say: I am Myself assuming all responsibility for what I here announce, it is this same Ninth of Romans.
But remember it’s closing words: “He that believeth on Him [Christ] shall not be put to shame!” God’s simple-hearted, trusting saints are quite ready, having received God’s great gift of Eternal Life in Christ, to await the day when they shall “know fully”—as they have been known. Meanwhile, they walk by faith, with humble hearts, subject to what God says.
GOD NECESSARILY SOVEREIGN IN SALVATION
1. Man was lost—he could not save himself.
2. He was guilty—none could pardon him but the God he had sinned against.
3. He was by nature “a child of wrath” not deserving good; nor being able to change his nature.
4. He was allied with God’s Enemy; and had a mind at enmity against God: a mind not subject, nor able to be subject to God’s law or will.
5. He knew he was doing things “worthy of death”; but not only persisted in them, but was in league-approval with those of like practice; he was “of the world,” not of God.
6. Therefore, if any move be made toward man’s salvation, it must come from God, not man.
7. God, being God, knew beforehand that the attitude of every man by nature toward his overtures would be to oppose them.
8. Since any real response to these overtures, therefore, must come from God’s grace, He must elect to overcome effectually man’s resistance, either
(a) In no case,
(b) Or, in every case,
(c) Or, in certain cases.
9. To hold God unable to overcome man’s resistance in any case is to limit His power.
10. But to hold that God is unwilling to have certain saved is to deny His repeated word—“Who would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”; “As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live.”
11. Therefore, it would seem that only in those cases in which it would no longer be consistent with God’s glory—that is, consistent with His holiness and righteousness, and His just government of His creatures, would God withhold, or refuse longer to employ. His gracious operations in behalf of any creature.
12. But, when we consider Election, we must remove our thoughts wholly from this world, the first Adam, the sin of man, and his “attitude” toward God. The purpose of God according to Election is “not of works, but of Him that calleth.” It is outside human history altogether. It is of God.
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