16. For if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
16. Quod si primitiae sanctae, etiam conspersio; et si radix sancta etiam rami:
17. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive-tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive-tree;
17. Si vero ex ramis quidam defracti sunt, tu vero oleaster quum esses, insitus es pro ipsis, et particeps factus es radicis et pinguedinis oleae;
18. Boast not against the branches: but if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
18. Ne contra ramos glorieris: quod si gloriaris, non tu radicem portas; sed radix to.
19. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.
19. Dices ergo, Defracti sunt rami, ut ego insererer.
20. Well; because of unbelief they were broken oft, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear:
20. Bene; propter incredulitatem defracti sunt, tu vero fide stabilitus es; Ne animo efferaris, sed timeas.
21. For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
21. Si enim Deus naturalibus ramis non perpercit, vide ne qua fit, ut et tibi non parcat.
They were then sanctified by the holy covenant, and adorned with peculiar honor, with which God had not at that time favored the Gentiles; but as the efficacy of the covenant appeared then but small, he bids us to look back to Abraham and the patriarchs, in whom the blessing of God was not indeed either empty or void. He hence concludes, that from them an heredity holiness had passed to all their posterity. But this conclusion would not have been right had he spoken of persons, or rather had he not regarded the promise; for when the father is just, he cannot yet transmit his own uprightness to his son: but as the Lord had sanctified Abraham for himself for this end, that his seed might also be holy, and as he thus conferred holiness not only on his person but also on his whole race, the Apostle does not unsuitably draw this conclusion, that all the Jews were sanctified in their father Abraham. 2
Then to confirm this view, he adduces two similitudes: the one taken from the ceremonies of the law, and the other borrowed from nature. The first-fruits which were offered sanctified the whole lump, in like manner the goodness of the juice diffuses itself from the root to the branches; and posterity hold the same connection with their parents from whom they proceed as the lump has with the first-fruits, and the branches with the tree. It is not then a strange thing that the Jews were sanctified in their father. There is here no difficulty if you understand by holiness the spiritual nobility of the nation, and that indeed not belonging to nature, but what proceeded from the covenant. It may be truly said, I allow, that the Jews were naturally holy, for their adoption was hereditary; but I now speak of our first nature, according to which we are all, as we know, accursed in Adam. Therefore the dignity of an elect people, to speak correctly, is a supernatural privilege.
Of what kind then is this fear? As the Lord bids us to take into our consideration two things, so two kinds of feeling must thereby be produced. For he would have us ever to bear in mind the miserable condition of our nature; and this can produce nothing but dread, weariness, anxiety, and despair; and it is indeed expedient that we should thus be thoroughly laid prostrate and broken down, that we may at length groan to him; but this dread, derived from the knowledge of ourselves, keeps not our minds while relying on his goodness, from continuing calm; this weariness hinders us not from enjoying full consolation in him; this anxiety, this despair, does not prevent us from obtaining in him real joy and hope. Hence the fear, of which he speaks, is set up as an antidote to proud contempt; for as every one claims for himself more than what is right, and becomes too secure and at length insolent towards others, we ought then so far to fear, that our heart may not swell with pride and elate itself.
But it seems that he throws in a doubt as to salvation, since he reminds them to beware lest they also should not be spared. To this I answer, -- that as this exhortation refers to the subduing of the flesh, which is ever insolent even in the children of God, he derogates nothing from the certainty of faith. And we must especially notice and remember what I have before said, -- that Paul's address is not so much to individuals as to the whole body of the Gentiles, among whom there might have been many, who were vainly inflated, professing rather than having faith. On account of these Paul threatens the Gentiles, not without reason, with excision, as we shall hereafter find again.
And here again it appears more evident, that the discourse is addressed generally to the body of the Gentiles, for the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God. Paul therefore declares to the Gentiles, that if they exulted over the Jews, a reward for their pride would be prepared for them; for God will again reconcile to himself the first people whom he has divorced.
1 There were two kinds of first-fruits: the sheaf, being the first ripe fruit, Leviticus 23:10; and the dough, the first kneaded cake, Numbers 15:20. It is to the last that the reference is here made.
The first-fruits are considered by some, such as Mede and Chalmers, to have been the first Jewish converts to Christianity -- the apostles and disciples; but this is not consistent with the usual manner of the Apostle, which is to express the same thing in two ways, or by two metaphors. Besides, the whole context refers to the first adoption of the Jewish nation, or to the covenant made with Abraham and confirmed to the patriarchs. -- Ed.
2 That the holiness here mentioned is external and relative, and not personal and inward, is evident from the whole context. The children of Israel were denominated holy in all their wickedness and disobedience, because they had been consecrated to God, adopted as his people, and set apart for his service, and they enjoyed all the external privileges of the covenant which God had made with their fathers.
Pareus makes a distinction between what passes from progenitors to their offspring and what does not pass. In the present case the rights and privileges of the covenant were transmitted, but not faith and inward holiness. "Often," he says, "the worst descend from the best, and the best from the worst; from wicked Ahaz sprang good Hezekiah, from Hezekiah descended impious Manasse, from Manasse again came good Josiah, and from Josiah sprang wicked sons, Shallum and Jehoiakim." But all were alike holy in the sense intended here by the Apostle, as they were circumcised, and inherited the transmissible rights and privileges of the covenant.
"The holiness," says Turrettin, "of the first-fruits and of the root was no other than an external, federal, and national consecration, such as could be transferred from parents to their children."
"The attentive reader," says Scott, "will readily perceive that relative holiness, or consecration to God, is here exclusively meant. . . . Abraham was as it were the root of the visible Church. Ishmael was broken off, and the tree grew up in Isaac; and when Esau was broken off, it grew up in Jacob and his sons. . . . When the nation rejected the Messiah, their relation to Abraham and to God was as it were suspended. They no longer retained even the outward seal of the covenant; for circumcision lost its validity and baptism became the sign of regeneration: they were thenceforth deprived of the ordinances of God." -- Ed.
3 There is a difference of opinion as to the precise meaning of the words
4 "Be not elated in mind -- ne animo efferaris;"
5 Some have deduced from what Paul says here the uncertainty of faith, and its possible failure. This has been done through an entire misapprehension of the subject handled by the Apostle. He speaks not of individuals, but of the Gentile world, not of living faith but of professed faith, not the inward change, but of outward privileges, not of the union of the soul to Christ, but of union with his Church. The two things are wholly different; and to draw an argument from the one to the other is altogether illegitimate; that is to say, that as professed faith may be lost, therefore living faith may be lost.
Augustine, in commenting on Jeremiah 32:40, says, "God promised perseverance when he said, 'I will put fear in their heart, that they may not depart from me.' What else does it mean but this, 'such and so great will my fear be, which I shall put in their heart, that they shall perseveringly cleave to me.'"
"As those," says Pareus, "who believe for a time never had true faith, though they seem to have had it, and hence fall away and do not persevere: so they who possess true faith never fail, but continue steadfast, for God infallibly sustains them and secures their perseverance." -- Ed.