Verse 39. Nor height-of honour, nor depth-of ignominy, nor any other creature, oute tiv ktisiv etera, (nor any other thing whatever,) shall be able to separate us, who love God, from the love of God, which he has vouchsafed to us in Christ Jesus. See Whitby. And for farther observations on the subject of the 29th and 30th verses, see at the end of the chapter.
1. THE confidence expressed by the apostle at the end of this chapter, is as rational as it is bold. On the premises laid down by him, in reference to which he has most logically conducted his whole argument, the conclusion to which he arrives is as natural and forcible as it is legitimate. The permanency of the Christian Church, in all the tribulations it has endured from pagans and papists, is a full proof of the correctness of the apostle's reasoning. The true followers of Christ can never be forsaken by him. And his Church, which is founded on the rock, can never be shaken down by the tempests of persecution. And what God does for his Church in general, (the collective body of those who believe in the Lord Jesus, love, and obey him,) he does for every individual in that body: no man that trusts in him can be confounded. While the love of God is in his heart, and the work of God in his hand, he may be as fully persuaded as he is of his own being, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other thing whatsoever, shall be able to separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. The reader who has any knowledge of what is great, commanding, and sublime in composition, will not hesitate to add here, with Dr. Taylor: "The conclusion of this chapter is the most elegant and sublime piece of writing I remember ever to have read. It is founded on the grand and solid principles of the Gospel; it breathes the true spirit of Christian magnanimity; raises our minds far above all things created; and shows, in a bright and heavenly view, the greatness of soul and the strong consolation which the Gospel inspires. God grant that it may stand clear before our understandings, and be transcribed into all our hearts! They who despise the Gospel despise all that is great, and happy, and glorious!" 2. The doctrine of the necessity of personal holiness, so clearly and strongly laid down in the former part of this chapter, should be deeply considered by every person professing godliness; and while from the seventh chapter they learn that they have an infected and morally diseased nature, they should learn from the eighth that to destroy the work of the devil was Jesus Christ manifested; and that no soul can be said to be saved by Jesus Christ who is not saved from its sins. What a full proof is it of the fallen state of man, that there should be found persons professing Christianity more fervent in their pleadings for the necessary continuance of indwelling sin, than they are for the mind that was in Christ. The seventh chapter, because there are some expressions which, being misunderstood, seem to favour this doctrine, is read and incessantly quoted: the eighth chapter, though given by the same inspiration, yet because it so strongly shows the necessity of being saved from all sin, is seldom read and scarcely ever quoted! 3. The restoration of the brute creation to a state of happiness has been thought by several to be the doctrine of ver. 19-25. In the notes on those verses I have given reasons against this opinion, and have proved that the Gentiles, and not the irrational part of the creation, are the persons of whom the apostle speaks; nor can any consistent interpretation be given of the place, if it be applied to the brute creation. But, although this doctrine is not contained in the above verses, it does not follow that the doctrine itself is not true. Indeed, there are several reasons which render the supposition very probable. 1. The brute creation never sinned against God, nor are they capable of it, and consequently cannot be justly liable to punishment. But the whole brute creation is in a state of suffering, and partake of the common infirmities and privations of life, as well as mankind: they suffer, but who can say that they suffer justly? As they appear to be necessarily involved in the sufferings of sinful man, and yet neither through their fault nor their folly, it is natural to suppose that the Judge of all the earth, who ever does right, will find some means by which these innocent creatures shall be compensated for their sufferings. 4.
That they have no compensation here, their afflictions, labours, and death prove; and if they are to have any compensation, they must have it in another state. 5. God, the fountain of all goodness, must have originally designed them for that measure of happiness which is suited to the powers with which he had endowed them; but, since the fall of man, they never had that happiness; and, in their present circumstances, never can. 6. In reference to intelligent beings, God has formed his purposes in reference to their happiness on the ground of their rational natures. He has decreed that they shall be happy if they will, all the means of it being placed within their power; and, if they be ultimately miserable, it is the effect of their own unconstrained choice. Therefore his purpose is fulfilled, either in their happiness or misery; because he has purposed that they shall be happy if they please, and that misery shall be the result of their refusal. 7. But it does not appear that the brute creation are capable of this choice; and it is evident that they are not placed in their present misery through either their choice or their sin; and if no purpose of God can be ultimately frustrated, these creatures must be restored to that state of happiness for which they have been made, and of which they have been deprived through the transgression of man. To say that the enjoyments which they have in this life are a sufficient compensation, is most evidently false; for, had not sin entered into the world, they would have had much greater enjoyments, without pain, excessive labour and toil, and without death, and all those sufferings which arise from its predisposing causes. Nor does it appear that they have much happiness from eating, drinking, and rest, as they have these only in the proportion in which they are necessary to their existence as the slaves of men. Therefore, allowing that they have even gratification and enjoyment in life, they have much less than they would have had had not sin entered into the world; and consequently they have been deprived of the greater portion of the happiness designed for them by their bountiful Creator. 9. It is therefore obvious that the gracious purpose of God has not been fulfilled in them; and that, as they have not lost their happiness through their own fault, both the beneficence and justice of God are bound to make them a reparation. 10. Hence it is reasonable to conclude that, as from the present constitution of things they cannot have the happiness designed for them in this state, they must have it in another.
4. On the subject of the foreknowledge of God, some observations have been made at the conclusion of the notes on the second chapter of Acts.
On the subject of the prescience and predestination mentioned here, ver. 29, 30, vast volumes have been written, and the Christian world greatly agitated and perplexed. These doctrines of men have very little place in the texts in question. After a long and serious investigation of this business, I am led to conclude that, whether the doctrine of the decrees be true or false, it does not exist in these verses.
No portion of the word of God has been more unhappily misunderstood than several parts of the Epistle to the Romans; because men have applied to individuals what belongs to nations; and referred to eternity transactions which have taken place in time.
We have already seen that one grand aim of the apostle in writing this epistle was:
1. To prove, to both Jews and Gentiles, that they were all under sin, and that neither of them had any claim either on the justice or beneficence of God; yet he, of his own free mercy, had revealed himself to the Jews, and crowned them with innumerable privileges; and, 2. That, as he was no respecter of persons, his mercy was as free to the Gentiles as to them, being equally their God as he was the God of the Jews, and therefore had, by the Gospel, called them to a state of salvation; and to this display of his mercy the two verses in question seem particularly to refer, and show us not what God will do for some selected individuals, but what he has already done for nations.
After having shown that the whole Gentile world was groaning and travailing in pain together, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God, he shows that it was, according to the affectionate purpose, proqesin, of God, that the Gentiles should be also called into the glorious liberty of the sons of God-into equal privileges with the Jews. He therefore represents them as objects of God's gracious foreknowledge.
That the word proginwskw, which literally signifies to know, or discern beforehand, and to know so as to determine, signifies also to approve, or love before, to be well affected to, is not only evident from [dy yada in Hebrew, but also from the simple verb ginwskw, in Greek, by which it is translated, and to which the compound verb repeatedly answers, without any extension of meaning by means of the preposition, as its use among the best Greek writers proves: and it is evident that the apostle uses the word in the sense of loving, being graciously affected to, Romans xi. 1, 2. I say then, hath God cast away his people, which he FOREKNEW, on proegnw; to whom he has been so long graciously affected? By no means.
As, therefore, he had been so long graciously affected towards the Jews, so has he towards the Gentiles. His call of Abraham, and the promises made to him, are the proof of it. The Jews, thus foreknown, were called into a glorious state of salvation, and endowed with privileges the most extraordinary ever bestowed on any people; as their whole history testifies. But is God the God of the Jews only? Is he not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, chap. iii. 29; and to prove this is the main subject of the ninth chapter. Now, as he is the God of the Gentiles, he foreknew, had from the beginning a gracious purpose to them as well as to the Jews; and, being thus graciously disposed towards them, he determined prowrise, from pro, before, and orizw, to bound, define, &c., he defined, circumscribed, and determined the boundaries of this important business from the beginning, that they also should be taken into his Church, and conformed to the image of his Son; and, as Jesus Christ was to be their pattern, it must be by his Gospel that they should be brought into the Church; and consequently, that bringing in could not take place before the revelation of Christ. Having therefore thus foreknown and thus predestinated them ALSO, he called them ALSO by the Gospel; he justified them ALSO on their believing; and he glorified them ALSO, dignified them also with the same privileges, blessings, honours, and Divine gifts: so that they were now what the Jews had been before, the peculiar people of God. The apostle, therefore, speaks here not of what they should be, or of what they might be, but of what they then were-the called, the justified, the highly honoured of God. See the note on Romans viii. 30.
It is strange that so obvious a meaning of the passage should not have been noticed; but the word doxazw, which we render to glorify, and by which we understand eternal beatification, which it is very seldom used to express, being taken in this sense in the passage in question, fixed the meaning of the preceding terms; and thus the whole passage was applied to things eternal, which had reference only to things in time. This seems to me to be the true key of the passage, and the whole scope of the epistle, and especially of the context, which shows that this is the sense in which it should be understood. The passages understood in this way illustrate the infinite mercy and wisdom of God; they show that whatever appearances his providential dealings may assume of partiality towards any particular people, yet he is equally the Father of the spirits of all flesh; hateth nothing that he hath made; is loving to all; that his tender mercies are over all his works; and that he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come unto the knowledge of the truth and be saved. Hence, whatever he did for the Jews he purposed to do for the Gentiles: if he foreknew, predestinated, called, justified, and glorified the former; he ALSO foreknew, predestinated, called, justified, and glorified the latter; having brought them into the same state of salvation, with a vast extension of blessings and higher degrees of honour. As the Jews forfeited their privileges, and now, instead of being glorified, instead of being highly honoured, and rendered illustrious, they are degraded, brought down, and rendered contemptible; because they have not made a proper use of their election, they are now reprobated; so a similar reverse awaits the Gentiles if they sin after the similitude of their transgression; and it is against this that the apostle so solemnly warns them, Romans xi. 20-22: Because of unbelief they (the Jews) were broken off-thou (the Gentiles) standest by faith. If God spared not the NATURAL BRANCHES, take heed lest he also spare not THEE. Behold the goodness and severity of God! on them which FELL severity; but toward THEE goodness, IF THOU CONTINUE in his goodness; otherwise THOU ALSO shalt be CUT OFF.
5. This is also a lesson of solemn instruction to Christians in general: God has called them into a glorious state of salvation, and has furnished them with every requisite help to enable them to work out that salvation with fear and trembling. As it is an awful thing to receive the grace of God in vain, (whether that grace imply the common benefits of the Gospel, or those especial blessings received by believing souls,) so every person professing godliness should be jealous over himself lest he should trifle with matters of eternal moment; for, should he even neglect so great a salvation, his escape would be impossible. Heb. ii. 3; and if so, to what severe punishment must they be exposed who despise and reject it?