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BIBLE STUDY COMMENTARY
< 451101 > ROMANS 11:1-36
IN this chapter the Apostle first denies that the whole of the nation of Israel was indiscriminately rejected, for, as he had already intimated, there was to be a remnant saved, and of that remnant he holds himself forth as a noted example. He then brings again into view the sovereignty of God, in reserving this ‘remnant according to the election of grace.’ In the next place, he affirms that, though blindness in part, as had been expressly foretold, had happened to Israel, yet, seeing that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, the period must arrive when, according to the repeated promises of Scripture, all Israel shall be saved. They shall be brought in with the fullness of the Gentiles, when the wisdom and the goodness of God, in His dealings towards both, will be finally unfolded, and the assembled universe shall with one voice acknowledge that God is all in all, and that of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things, to whom the glory shall be ascribed through the endless ages of eternity.
Dr. Macknight imagines that a Jew, and Mr. Stuart that an objector, is here and in other places in this Epistle introduced as disputing with the Apostle. Such a supposition is not only unnecessary but groundless.
When Paul begins with the words, I say then, he states in a manner familiar to the best writers, a very obvious and probable objection which he was about to remove. Hath God cast away His people? God forbid. — Some might conclude, from the previous declarations of the Apostle, that the whole Jewish nation was now rejected of God, and for ever excluded from the blessings of the Gospel. This inference he strongly disclaims, and shows that God designed even now to reserve for Himself a people out of the Jews as well as out of the Gentiles, while, hereafter, it is the Divine purpose to recall the whole nation to Himself. Paul therefore answers his own pointed interrogatory, by rejecting the thought with his usual energy, while, to strengthen his denial, he further exhibits himself as a signal example of one not cast away. Had his doctrine involved the total rejection of the Jews, he would have pronounced his own condemnation. For I also am an Israelite of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. — Besides being an Israelite, Paul here states that he was of the seed of Abraham. This was implied in his being an Israelite, but it is not needless tautology. A charge is often brought of tautology when the reiteration of an important truth is made for the purpose of giving it redoubled force.
Although, in declaring himself an Israelite, he virtually claimed a direct descent from Abraham, yet it was a fact of no ordinary moment, and one therefore on which he emphatically dwells. It is his object to impress on the minds of his readers a sense of its intrinsic importance, as well as to recall to their recollection the covenant of God with Abraham, which confirmed the promises made to him respecting his descendants. This was much to the Apostle’s purpose, in affirming that God had not cast away the children of him who was called the friend of God. Paul likewise adds that he was of the tribe of Benjamin. It was doubtless an honor to deduce his lineage through a tribe which adhered to the true worship of God, and had not revolted from the house of David. The fact, too, of his being enabled with certainty to trace his pedigree from Benjamin was sufficient to establish the purity of his origin, and to prove that he was not merely found mingled with the nation, but was, in the expressive language which he elsewhere adopts, ‘a Hebrew of the Hebrews,’ an Israelite by birth, parentage, and unbroken hereditary descent. The design of the Apostle is evidently to magnify his privileges, that he may produce the conviction that he has no interest in teaching anything derogatory to the just pretensions of his countrymen.
Ver. 2. — God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew. Wot ye not what the Scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Ver. 3. — Lord, they have killed Thy prophets, and digged down Thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
This he had strongly denied; and the reasons by which he supports this denial form the subject of nearly the whole of the remainder of the chapter.
He first proves, from the beginning of the 2nd verse to the end of the 10th, that a remnant was at present preserved, although the rest were blinded; and, from the 11th to the 33rd verse, that the whole nation shall at last be restored. God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew. — The term people, in the preceding verse, refers to the whole of Israel as the typical people of God, but is here restricted to the elect among them who were His true people, and are distinguished as ‘His people which He foreknew.’
God had cast off the nation, but even then He had a people among them whom from eternity He foreknew as His people. The word foreknow, as formerly observed, signifies to know before, or it denotes a knowledge accompanied by a decree, or it imports a preconceived love, favor, and regard. Divine foreknowledge, in the first of these senses, is God’s foresight of future existence and events, and His eternal prescience of whatever shall take place in all futurity. This foreknowledge is not only to be distinguished from God’s decree, by which everything future comes to pass, but must be considered in the order of nature as consequent and dependent upon the determination and purpose of God. For the futurity of all things depends on the decrees of God, by which every created existence and event, with all their circumstances, are ordered, fixed, and ascertained. Being thus decreed, they are the objects of foreknowledge; for they could not be known to be future unless their futurity was established, and that by the Divine decree. God foreknew all things that were to come to pass, by knowing His own purposes and decrees. Had God determined or decreed nothing respecting future existences by creation and providence, there could have been no foreknowledge of anything whatever. Because, therefore, this foreknowledge of God necessarily implies and involves His decrees, His foreknowledge is in the inspired writings sometimes accompanied by the mention of His decrees; as, for example, ‘Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,’ Acts 2:23. And it is sometimes put for the decree, as in the following passage, where the word here translated foreknew is rendered fore-ordained: ‘Who verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world,’ 1 Peter 1:20. In the third sense, as taken for a knowledge of love and approbation, it signifies, as in the verse before us, to choose and recognize as His own. God had not cast away His people whom He had before loved and chosen, for the Apostle alleges this foreknowledge as the reason why God did not cast away His people.
The people of God, whom He foreknew, were those whom He chose from all eternity, according to His sovereign pleasure; and in this sense the expression is clearly explained, when they are declared, in the 5th verse, to be a ‘remnant according to the election of grace,’ and when it is said, in the 4th, that God had ‘reserved’ to Himself His true worshippers in the time of Elijah. This proves the correctness of Calvin’s observation, ‘that foreknowledge does not mean a certain speculative view, by which the uncreated Cause of all effects foresaw the character of every individual of the human family, but points to the good pleasure of the decree of the Sovereign Disposer of all events, by which He hath chosen for His children those who were not yet born, and had no power to insinuate themselves into the favor of the Author of all happiness. Thus ( Galatians 4:9), Paul says, they are known of God, because He prevents by His grace and favor, and calls them to a knowledge of Christ.’ Wot ye not what the Scripture saith of Elias? — The quotation from the Old Testament Scriptures, which the Apostle here brings to bear on the point in question, fully establishes the view that has been given of the preceding passage. There was an elected remnant in the days of Elijah, when things were at the worst; and so, at the time when the Apostle wrote, there was also an elected remnant whom God had reserved. How he maketh intercession to God against Israel. — First Kings 19:10, cited by Paul,’ says Calvin, ‘contains no implication, but a mere complaint.
Since, however, his complaint implies a total despair of the religion of the whole Jewish nation, we may rest assured that he devoted it to destruction.’ But Paul’s comment may assure us that Elijah, at the time referred to, not only complained but interceded against Israel. The Apostle spoke by the Spirit that indicted the words in which Elijah’s complaint is recorded, and we should not look for a voucher for such testimony. Such a mode of strengthening the Scriptures is only to weaken them. It teaches us to undervalue the inspired commentary of the New Testament, unless we can produce some other confirmation. Elijah, when solemnly interrogated by the Lord why he was in the place where he was then found, away from the proper scene of his ministry, accounted for his flight to save his life, which seems to have been without any Divine admonition, by complaining of the apostasy of the nation. As this was an exposure of their wickedness, and, had it been true in all its extent, would have led to their destruction, it was in effect intercession against Israel. But the answer of God showed that he was mistaken. God had even then reserved to Himself a goodly number, who had not apostatized from His worship.
From these words, in this answer of God, I have reserved to Myself, we learn that if any are preserved from false worship, if any are brought to the knowledge of God, it is by His special influence and agency, and not owing to themselves. Such favored individuals are said to be ‘reserved’ by God. How different is this from the views of multitudes who profess Christianity! It is a comfort to think that in the worst times there may be many more of the people of God than we are apt to imagine. Bowed the knee. — This shows that any overt act of idolatry, or any compliance with the requirements of false religion, renders men unworthy of being accounted the true servants of God. So Job, in declaring the integrity of his conduct towards God and man, says, ‘If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness, and my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand, this also were an iniquity to be punished; for I should have denied the God that is above.’
Ver. 5. — Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
This is the object of the reference to the election in the times of Elijah, and renders the words at the beginning of the 2nd verse quite definite. As there was a remnant then reserved by God, so there is a remnant now. Both were necessary for the preservation of the nation. The seven thousand were its salt in Elijah’s time, as were the remnant here spoken of during its present blindness. According to the election of grace. — Than this nothing can be more explicit. God had formerly reserved for Himself, by His gracious influence and special agency, a small number in Israel; and in the same way, at the time when the Apostle wrote, He had reserved, according to His sovereign choice, a remnant of that nation. And to set aside every idea that this election was the reward of an inherent good foreseen in those chosen, or of anything meritorious performed by them, the Apostle adds that it was of grace. It was an unconditional choice, resulting from the sovereign free favor of God.
The opponents of the doctrine of election maintain that men are chosen on account of their good works foreseen. But here it is expressly declared by the Apostle that it is not on account of works at all, whether past, present, or future. What, then, is the source of election/ Grace. — It is an election of grace, or free favor; that is, a gratuitous election, not by the merit of works of any kind, but purely from the favor of God. Grace and works are here stated as diametrically opposite and totally irreconcilable.
If, then, election is by grace, it is not of works; for this would imply a contradiction. Grace would not then be grace. Here we have the warrant of Scripture for asserting that a contradiction is necessarily untrue, and that no authority is sufficient to establish two propositions which actually contradict each other. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work. — Many suppose these words are spurious, because they are wanting in some manuscripts, and because the idea is substantially included in what has been already stated. This reason, however, is not conclusive, and those who build on such a foundation show little knowledge of Scripture. It is not useless to reverse the idea, and draw the same conclusion from the converse. It is far more likely that human wisdom has in some manuscripts omitted this passage, than that it should have been transcribed from the margin into the text.
In the foregoing verses, as well as in the eighth and ninth chapters, the doctrine of election is stated in the clearest manner. This doctrine, as implying the total inability of man to recover himself from guilt and ruin, and the necessity for this end of Divine interposition, has ever been highly offensive to human pride and human wisdom. These and the preceding strong statements of it, can never be silenced; but they have often been subjected to the most violent perversions. Every artifice of human ingenuity has been employed to turn away the Apostle’s words from bearing on the point; but it has been employed in vain; and nothing will ever be able to reconcile these statements to the mind of the natural man.
But, after all, what does this doctrine assert that is not necessarily and obviously implied in every other doctrine of the Gospel? Are all men by nature dead in sin? If so, he that is made spiritually alive, must be made so by Him who alone gives life; and it is nothing short of Divine sovereignty that constitutes the difference between him and those who remain in death and enmity to God. Are Christians represented as being born again? Does not this refer men’s spiritual existence to the sovereign choice, and mercy, and agency of their heavenly Father? Are Christians saved by faith? If faith be the gift of God, salvation by faith implies election. Why, then, should the Scriptures be wrested to avoid the admission of a doctrine which is not only essential to their consistency with themselves, but which the whole system of Christianity implies?
The salvation of every individual of the human race who partakes of it must be wholly gratuitous on the part of God, and effected by His sovereign grace. Sinners could have no claim upon God; His justice demanded their punishment, and they could plead no right to mercy, which, if admitted, would make mercy justice. The sending of His Son, therefore, into the world to save sinners, was an act of free grace; and Christ, accordingly, is spoken of as God’s gift. ‘He gave His only begotten Son,’ John 3:16. ‘Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift,’ 2 Corinthians 9:15. It is no impeachment of the mercy of God, that all the fallen angels perished, and that upon the whole of them justice took its course. Could it then have been impeached, if in like manner God had left all men to perish? and if not, can it be so because only a part of them are left under that condemnation into which they have fallen, while to another part, He, who ‘hath mercy on whom He will have mercy,’ has extended that mercy? These truths, when unreservedly admitted, greatly contribute to promote in Christians, in contemplating the distinguishing goodness of God to them, joy in the Lord, and to their bringing forth all the fruits of the Spirit It leads them to admire the mercies of God, who hath brought them from darkness to light, and hath saved and called them with an holy calling, not according to their works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given them in Christ Jesus before the world began, 2 Timothy 1:9; whereby they have the hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, ‘promised,’ in like manner, ‘before the world began,’ Titus 1:2.
The fact that the doctrines of election and of the Divine sovereignty are so clearly taught in Scripture, is a most convincing proof that they are not the invention of man. Such a view could not have suggested itself to the human mind, and, if suggested, could not have been pleasing to its author. As little would it be calculated to serve the purpose of an impostor, being universally unpalatable to those intended to be gained as converts. Nothing but the supposition of their truth and Divine origin can account for their being found in the Bible. ‘It is a glorious argument,’ says President Edwards, in his Enquiry respecting the Freedom of the Will,’ of the divinity of the Holy Scriptures, that they teach such doctrines, which in one age and another, through the blindness of men’s minds, and strong prejudices of their hearts, are rejected as most absurd and unreasonable by the wise and great men of the world; which yet, when they are most carefully and strictly examined, appear to be exactly agreeable to the most demonstrably certain and natural dictates of reason.’ If the Scriptures, he observes, taught the opposite doctrines to those which are so much stumbled at, viz., the Arminian and Pelagian doctrine of free will, and other modifications of these errors, it would be the greatest of all difficulties in the way of the internal evidence of the truth of the Bible.
Ver. 7. — What Then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
What then? — What is the result of all that the Apostle had been saying?
It is this: Israel as a nation hath not obtained righteousness, of which it was in search, ch. 9:31; but the election among them — the chosen remnant reserved by God, spoken of above — hath obtained it. Can anything more expressly affirm the doctrine of election? And the rest were blinded. — How strong is this language! How can it be softened by the most subtle ingenuity, so as to make it agreeable to the taste of the natural man? The election had received the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ; but the whole nation besides not only did not attain to the righteousness of which they were in search, but were blinded. This is a hard saying, who can hear it? It is God’s saying, and it is unsafe to reject it. It is the duty of His people, as little children, to receive it with meekness.
The election of a sinful creature is an act of the free and sovereign will of God; while his punishment is not a sovereign or arbitrary act of Divine authority. God does not punish without an existing cause in the guilty.
Condemnation supposes positive criminality. Men are in themselves sinful, and commit sin voluntarily; and for their punishment, they are hardened, and finally perish in their sins, and their destruction is the execution of a just sentence of God against sin. Their sins, which are the cause of their destruction, are their own; while the salvation of those whom God chooses and calls to Himself is His gift. God knows what men left to their own inclinations will do; and as to those who are finally condemned, He determines to abandon them to their depraved inclinations, and hardens them in their rebellion against Him. But as to His determination, by grace, to cause the sinner to believe, to will, and to obey, it requires a positive interposition of Divine power — a power which creates anew, which no one merits or deserves, and which God vouchsafes or withholds according to the counsel of His own will. Conformably to this, we see through the whole of the Scriptures, that when men are saved they are saved by the sovereign grace of God, and when they perish, it is by the appointment of God, Jude 4, through their own fault.
Mr. Stuart asserts that it is not necessary to understand this as a prediction, in the appropriate sense of the word. But it is most undoubtedly a prediction; and although it was adapted to describe the Jews at a preceding period, the Holy Spirit, as from Paul’s application we are bound to believe, intended it to describe the people of Israel in the time of the Apostles. The same thing that in one sense is ascribed to God, in another is ascribed to man. Although, by the decree and providence of God, Israel was blinded, yet the blame was their own. The Jews, at that period, had the light of natural understanding, yet they did not see what was exhibited with the clearest evidence. This is still the case. Multitudes who are distinguished for their intellectual vigor and mental powers, are altogether blind in spiritual things. Unto this day. — Some join this with she words of the Prophet, and others make it the additional observation of Paul. In whatever way this is understood, they are equally the words of the Apostle, for he applies them to the case in hand.
Ver. 9 — And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompense unto them; Ver. 10. — Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.
And David saith. — It is highly erroneous to suppose, with Mr. Stuart, that the Apostle quotes these passages merely to illustrate a general principle. In this sense they could be of no use. But they are eminently to the purpose as predictions. Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompense unto them. — Let them experience misery and disappointment in their daily occupations and concerns, and let them find those things, of whatever description — whether sacred or common — which were calculated to be for their welfare and advantage, a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a punishment to them. For the hope of retaining their temporal kingdom, they rejected the Lord Jesus Christ, and by this means they lost the kingdom also, with all temporal prosperity, John 11:48,50. Mr. Stuart observes, ‘It is enough to say, at present, that the Apostle, in making this quotation, need not be supposed to design anything more than to produce an instance from the Psalm, where the same principle is developed as is contained in the assertions which he had made; i.e., the ancient Scriptures speak of a part of Israel as blind and deaf, as in deep distress and under heavy punishment because of their unbelief and disobedience. What happened in ancient times may take place again; it has, in fact, happened at the present time.’ How trifling would be the conduct of the Apostle, according to this representation of Mr. Stuart? Are all these quotations made just for the purpose of showing that something in some way similar happened long ago? Is this likeness merely accidental? Whatever application the words might have to David and David’s times, their import as a proper prediction is clear, and since they are so appropriated by the Apostle, ought never to be questioned. These words of the Old Testament Scriptures are too strong to represent anything else, in their full extent, but the fearful blindness of the Jews in the time of the Messiah, when they saw His miracles, and nevertheless did not perceive their import; when they heard, yet did not listen to the calls of His Gospel. Then, truly, their heart was made fat, and their ears heavy, and their eyes were closed, John 12:40; and then, by the issue, it appeared that God would not convert them, because He would not any more at that time do them good.
The predictions concerning their spiritual blindness, as well as the denunciations contained in these verses, have been literally accomplished.
Many pretend to find a difficulty in regard to the threatenings denounced against the enemies of God in the Psalm, but the difficulty arises from their own erroneous views of the subject. Does it imply a malicious or revengeful temper to utter the dictates of the Spirit of God, whoever may be the Object of the Divine denunciations? This is not merely trifling, but blasphemous.
To represent this passage otherwise than as a prediction, gives a false view of the sixty-ninth Psalm, from which the quotation is taken, which contains so illustrious a prophecy of our Lord Jesus Christ. God had announced by David, in that Psalm, the maledictions it records in connection with crimes committed by the Jews. Those here quoted, in the 9th and 10th verses, immediately follow the prophetical description in the Psalm of their treatment of the Messiah. It should also be observed, that during the whole period of the former dispensation, God employed the most powerful external means to bring them back to Himself, so that they were entirely without excuse.
The <196901> sixty-ninth Psalm consists of three parts. The first respects the violent persecutions which the Lord Jesus Christ experienced from His enemies and the Jews. The second part is a prediction of the fearful judgments of the Lord, especially upon the traitor Judas. The third part regards the exaltation of Jesus Christ to glory, and the success of the Gospel. First, the prophetical characters of the Psalm are representative of the extraordinary sufferings of Him of whom it speaks, and of the reproaches against Him — sufferings and persecutions which would be both exaggerated were they limited to those persecutions which David endured at the hand of His enemies. Secondly, the cause of His sufferings is ascribed to His love of God. ‘For Thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered My face. I am become a stranger unto My brethren, and an alien unto My mother’s children. For the zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon Me.’ Now, we do not read that David was ever persecuted on account of his religion, nor that he suffered because of His love to God.
Thirdly, although the words, ‘They gave Me also gall for My meat; and in My thirst they gave me vinegar to drink,’ may be understood figuratively of David, they cannot be literally applied to him, but they apply literally to Jesus Christ.
The first division of the Psalm, which foretells the ruin of the persecutors, is too strong to be understood of the persecutors of David, as appears from what is said from the 22nd to the 28th verses inclusive, which conclude with these awful words: ‘Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into Thy righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.’ It cannot be said that the enemies of David were absolutely cut off from the covenant of God; but these words were fully accomplished on the body of the nation of the Jews, when they did not attain, as the Apostle says, to the law of righteousness, and refused to submit themselves unto the righteousness of God. They were, therefore, blinded or hardened; the awful maledictions contained in the verses before us descended on their devoted country, and thus they were blotted out of the book of the living, and were not written with the righteous.
In the third part of the Psalm, the deliverance vouchsafed by God is declared: ‘Let Thy salvation, O God, set me up on high,’ which signifies the ascension of the Lord to heaven. It is afterwards said, ‘I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock that hath horns or hoofs,’ which marks the abolition of the legal sacrifices.
Finally, the filling of the earth with the glory of God is declared. ‘Let the heaven and earth praise Him, the seas, and everything that moveth therein.’ This is too great to be applied to the temporal deliverances which God vouchsafed to David, the fame of which did not extend so far. It must, then, be ascribed to the glory which God received after the exaltation of Jesus Christ, as He Himself said, ‘ Father, glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee.’
The words in the beginning of the 9th verse of this Psalm, ‘The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up,’ are applied to the Lord Jesus Christ, John 2:17; and the concluding words, ‘The reproaches of them that reproached Thee, are fallen upon Me,’ by Paul, Romans 15:3. ‘They gave Me also gall for My meat; and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink,’ is applied in the three Gospels, by Matthew, and Mark, and John, to what took place at His crucifixion. The words contained in the 25th verse, ‘Let their habitation be desolate, and let none dwell in their tents,’ are applied to Judas, Acts 1:20, who may be considered in this matter as the representative of the nation. ‘Let their table become a snare before them,’ verse 22, is quoted by the Apostle in the verse before us, predicting the condition of the Jewish nation when he wrote. And are all these passages to be considered as quoted by way of accommodation, and not as predictions? Such an interpretation is not only erroneous, but is degrading to the Holy Scriptures, and utterly at variance with their true meaning.
Ver. 11. — I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
Having proved that God had not cast away His people, by referring to the fact that even then a remnant, according to the election of graces was preserved, Paul supports his denial of their rejection by the consideration that in process of time the whole nation shall be restored. This restoration, as has been already remarked, forms the subject of nearly the whole remainder of the chapter. I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? — This is the Apostle’s own question, and does not, as Dr. Macknight and Mr. Stuart allege, proceed from an imaginary objector. It naturally springs out of the declaration made in the four preceding verses concerning the blindness of those called ‘the rest,’ in contradistinction to the remnant comprehended in the election. The question is, ‘Has the great body of the Jewish nation stumbled, that they should fall for ever, and is this the purpose of their fall?’ Paul replies by a strong negative. Nothing was further from the purpose of God with respect to His ancient people. They had stumbled, as was said, ch. 9:32, ‘at that stumbling-stone,’ according to the predictions of the Prophets respecting Christ; but still it was but a temporary stumbling, from which the nation will finally recover. God had a double purpose in this. His design in their stumbling was not that they should fall for ever, but rather that through their fall salvation should come to the Gentiles, and that, through this, the nation of Israel might ultimately receive the Messiah. To provoke them to jealousy. — It is probable from this, that the Jews will be excited, by seeing God’s favor to the Gentiles, to reflect on their own fallen condition, and to desire to possess the same advantages. When the Jews can no longer hide from themselves that the God of their fathers is with the nations whom they abhor, they will be led to consider their ways, and brought again into the fold of Israel. This is according to the prophecy already quoted by the Apostle in the 19th verse of the preceding chapter.
It was in this manner, then, that God purposed to bring the Jewish nation finally to submit to Him, in order that they might receive His blessing; and thus in His sovereignty He overrules the fall and ruin of some for the salvation of others. His awful judgments against the audacious transgressors of His laws, warn the beholders to flee from the wrath to come; and, on the other hand, the conversion of men who have been notorious sinners, excites others to seek the salvation of Christ. Who can calculate what extensive, permanent, and glorious effects may result throughout the whole creation, and in eternal ages, from the fall of angels and men — from the redemption of God’s people in Christ — from His dispensations towards the Church and the world? Ephesians 3:9-11. We ought to remember that the Lord may have infinitely wise and gracious motives for His most severe and terrible judgments. Thus did the fall of the Jews become the occasion of the Gentiles being enriched with the inexhaustible treasures that are in Christ, so that the justice, the wisdom, and the faithfulness of God were glorified in this awful visitation.
Ver. 12. — Now, if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?
In the foregoing verse, the Apostle had said that through the fall of the Jews salvation was come to the Gentiles; he had also intimated that they should be recovered from their fall. This might lead the Gentiles to apprehend that, in the restoration of the Jews, they might in like manner he cast off. To this Paul now answers, that, on the contrary, if the fall of the Jews be the riches of the Gentiles, much more so will be their restoration.
The temporary fall of the Jews was fraught with the richest blessings to the rest of the world. Their rejection of the Messiah was the occasion of the assuring of the great sacrifice for sin, and of the Gospel being preached to all nations. In consequence of their rejecting the testimony of the Apostles, the remnant who believed fled from the persecution of their countrymen, and, being scattered abroad, went everywhere preaching the word. Besides, the Jewish nation, which had been constituted the witnesses of God, Isaiah 43:10, and to whom the oracles of God had been committed, have firmly preserved their sacred trust, even amidst all their unbelief and consequent sufferings. In this we discern an illustrious proof of the Divine origin of the Old Testament Scriptures which testify of the Messiah; while the preservation of the Jews as a distinct people amidst and the changes and revolutions of ages, stands forth a lasting miracle, not to be explained on natural principles, furnishing incontestable evidence of the truth of the Gospel.
Thus the diminishing of the Jews was the aggrandizement of the Gentiles; for, in the inscrutable counsels of Jehovah, His gift of salvation to them was connected with the degradation and downfall of His ancient people.
But here the Apostle goes the assurance that the fullness of the Jews — their restoration as a body, when they shall acknowledge Christ as the Messiah — will yet prove a far greater blessing to the Gentiles. It will be connected with a calling of the nations to an extent beyond anything yet witnessed, and also with a great enlargement of their knowledge of the Gospel. This was consistent with what is said in the sequel of that prediction to which Paul had just referred. In the same way, Moses, after foretelling the many evils that were to come upon his nation, and of the calamities that were to be heaped upon them, concludes the whole by predicting all that the Apostle here declares: ‘Rejoice, O ye nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance to His adversaries, and wise be merciful unto His land and to His people,’ Deuteronomy 32:43.
Ver. 13. — For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the Apostle of the gentiles, I magnify mine office: The Apostle continues, to the beginning of the 16th verse, to amplify still further what he had just announced, in proof that the salvation of the Gentiles is closely connected with God’s dealings towards the Jews. The Gentiles were largely blessed with the Gospel when it was rejected by the Jews; but they will be blessed with it to an unspeakably greater extent when the Jews shall be recalled. Paul was the Apostle of the Gentiles, and by uttering this prediction with regard to the Gentiles, at the period of the restoration of the Jews, he says he magnifies his office. He here addresses himself particularly to those in the church at Rome, who were of the Gentiles. For as he had been appointed their Apostle, he was desirous to commend his ministry among them, to assert the honor of his commission, and to prove its great importance in imparting to them the knowledge of the Gospel. He shows, with regard to the Gentiles, that its value was enhanced in proportion as a greater number of Gentiles will be saved. In this view, it is greatly for the interest of the Gentiles that the Jews should be brought back, and this should increase their efforts for their conversion.
Ver. 14. — If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.
The Apostle also desired to excite the attention of his countrymen by this view of Divine favor to the Gentiles. He endeavored to move them to emulation, that in this way they might be directed to Christ the Savior of sinners, and that some of them might be saved. He says some, not all, for he was aware that the body of the nation was at that time rejected, but he knew not who among them were of the remnant according to the election of grace, who, although still rejecting the Messiah, might, by means of the Gospel which he preached, be finally saved.
Here the Apostle further explains and illustrates the argument he had employed in the 12th verse. The Gospel was preached to the world only after Israel rejected it. This was not the result of accident; it was according to the fixed purpose of God. The middle wall of partition was then broken down. The command was given to preach the Gospel to every creature.
After the great sacrifice had been offered, it was no longer to be limited to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The world was to hear the Gospel; and thus the Gentiles received the grace of God only through the unbelief and rejection of the Jewish nation. But if the casting away of the Jews was such a blessing to the world, their recall will be a blessing unspeakably greater. It will occasion a revival among the Gentile churches, from a dead and almost lifeless state, which will resemble a resurrection. The numbers then converted will be as if all the dead had risen out of their graves. The Divine dispensations being at that period so far developed, and the prophecies respecting the rejection and restoration of the Jews so fully accomplished, no doubt will any longer be entertained regarding the Divine origin of the Holy Scriptures. A great additional light, too, will be thrown on those parts of them which at present are most obscure, so that, in the providence of God, the result will be an unexampled blessing both to Jews and Gentiles.
Ver. 16. — For if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
The whole of the Apostle’s argument goes to establish the restoration of Israel. He shows that they were not cast off, — first, by his own example; and, secondly, by referring to the remnant among them according to the election of grace, which proved that they were not devoted to destruction like Sodom and Gomorrah, ch. 9:29. It was true that the predictions of which he had spoken were fulfilled; but although, consistently with these, they had stumbled, it was not that they should irrevocably fall; but this was the way in which God had appointed salvation to come to the Gentiles. Even in this, however, God had their restoration in view; for the kindness shown to the Gentiles would be the means of provoking their jealousy, and great as were the benefits which accrued to the world from their fall, those of their restoration would be still greater. The verse before us contains a third argument to prove the future conversion of the Jewish nation.
The Apostle here employs two similitudes, one taken from the law, respecting the first-fruits, by which the whole of the harvest was sanctified; and the other from nature, by which, under the figure of a tree, he evidences the truth he is exhibiting respecting the final restoration of the whole nation of Israel. By the first-fruit some understand the first Jewish converts; but it rather appears that both the first-fruit and the root refer to Abraham, as the first-fruit to God, and the root of the Jewish nation. As Abraham was separated to the service of God, so, in the sense of a relative holiness, all his descendants in the line of Isaac were holy, standing in an external relation to God in which no other nation ever stood. But Abraham was also personally holy; and so, in every age, had been many of his descendants through the heir of promise; and so, also, shall be an innumerable multitude of them hereafter. For, according to the figure here employed, they shall as branches be grafted in again, and so all Israel shall be saved.
It is therefore here shown that the future conversion of Israel is guaranteed by the peculiar covenant relation in which they stand to Abraham.
Although the whole nation had never been internally holy, they had all along been in a peculiar manner separated or consecrated to God, in the same way as, according to the law, the first-fruits of the harvest were consecrated; for when the corn was kneaded, a cake of the first of the dough was to be given to the Lord, Numbers 15:19-21; and thus the whole of the harvest was set apart or sanctified, 1 Timothy 4:5. On this ground, Moses, even when reminding the Israelites of their unhallowed rebellion against God in the wilderness, declared, ‘Thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself,’ Deuteronomy 7:6. And a little after, when rehearsing to them their several rebellions, and informing them that the Lord had pronounced them to be ‘a stiff-necked people,’ and when he claims the heavens and the earth, and all that they contain, as the property of Jehovah, he says to Israel, ‘The Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and He chose their seed after them, even you, above all people,’ Deuteronomy 10:15, and Deuteronomy 4:37, 14:2, 26:19, and 32:8, 9. ‘God,’ it is also said, ‘heard their groanings, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them,’ Exodus 2:24. Moses assured the people, the Lord ‘will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which He swore unto them,’ Deuteronomy 4:31. And it is said by the Prophet Isaiah 43:21, ‘This people have I formed for Myself.’ In like manner, when Samuel was in the strongest terms reproaching Israel for their rebellion, in forsaking the Lord and choosing a king, he still exhorts them to serve the Lord, notwithstanding their past wickedness. ‘For,’ he adds, ‘the Lord will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake; because it hath pleased the Lord to make you His people,’ 1 Samuel 12:22. Innumerable declarations to the same effect are interspersed throughout the Old Testament. The Apostle’s argument then is, that as the lump is holy through the offering of the first-fruit, and as the tree derives its character from the root, so the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whom the Lord chose, were set apart by solemn covenant for His service and glory.
In consequence of God’s love to the fathers, He delivered them from Egypt, and separated them by the Sinai covenant from all other nations as His peculiar people. But while that transaction announced the most important purposes, it was not faultless, Hebrews 8:7. It pointed out their duty, but did not communicate those dispositions which are essential to obedience. It was therefore only a figure for the time then present, imposed on them for a season, Hebrews 9:9,10, and intended to be introductory to a better covenant established upon better promises, by which the law was to be put in their inward parts, and God was to be a God to them in a higher sense than He was by that first covenant. This was taught them in the land of Moab, where God promised to circumcise their heart and the heart of their seed, and is repeated by Isaiah 59:21, Jeremiah 31:31, and referred to by the Apostle in the 26th and 27th verses of the chapter before us. Thus Israel has been set apart as a holy people, devoted to the service of God, since the call of Abraham. Their unbelief has not made the faithfulness of God of none effect. Their rebellions have all been subservient to His eternal purpose. The tree was of the Lord’s right-hand planting, a noble vine; many of the branches have been broken off, but still the root remains, bound round, as it were, ‘with a band of iron and brass;’ and the branches shall be grafted in again, by their partaking of the faith of Abraham. And as they were God’s witnesses when enjoying His blessing in the land of Canaan, Isaiah 43:10,12, 44:8, and are His witnesses in their rejection, and in being ‘left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain, and as an ensign on a hill,’ Isaiah 30:17, so shall they be His witnesses in their restoration. In God’s treatment of them we see His abhorrence of sin. In them we behold a memorial of the severity of God, Romans 11:22; but in them shall also be witnessed a nobler monument of His goodness.
The Apostle’s argument, then, amounts to this — that as the lump is holy, through the offering of the first-fruits, so this is a pledge that the lump, or body of the nation, will yet be made holy. The restoration of Israel is not only plainly asserted by the Apostle here, but it is essential to the fulfillment of the parable exhibited in God’s dealings with the nation of Israel. That nation was a type of the true Israel, and in God’s dealings with them all the great doctrines of the Gospel are exhibited. It was therefore necessary that Israel should be restored, otherwise the parable which shadows forth the final preservation of the people of God, declared in Romans 8:35, would have been incomplete. We see the sovereignty of God in choosing Israel, in bestowing on them so many advantages, in punishing them so severely, and making the whole to redound to His own glory and the salvation of all who are ordained to eternal life. They have been the chosen instruments employed for the salvation of the world; and their last end, after all their wanderings, and all their rebellions, and all their unbelief, shall exhibit them as the true circumcision, who rejoice in Christ Jesus. When, therefore, the calling of the Gentiles and the rebellion of Israel are announced in the strongest terms, it is immediately added, ‘Thus saith the Lord, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, destroy it not, for a blessing is in it; so will I do for My servants’ sakes, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of My mountains; and Mine elect shall inherit it, and My servants shall dwell there,’ Isaiah 65:8. ‘As a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves, so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof,’ Isaiah 6:13. All this accords with those repeated declarations of Scripture already referred to, in which it is said that the Lord will never forsake His people, for His great name’s sake. It likewise accords with the numerous and peculiar privileges conferred on Israel as a nation, as enumerated in the ninth chapter of this Epistle, and summed up in these words, ‘Whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came.’ And consistently with the whole, it is declared in the sequel of the chapter before us, that the time is coming when all Israel shall be saved, and the natural branches, or descendants of Abraham, shall be grafted in again into their own olive tree. On these grounds it is evident that, while those whom the Apostle calls the ‘rest’ of Israel, had in the meantime fallen, and although successive generations should behold Jerusalem forsaken, and Israel wandering without a home through the world, yet the restoration of the nation shall hereafter testify the unchangeable faithfulness of that God who, in dividing to the nations their inheritance, ‘set the bounds of the people, according to the number of the children of Israel.’
Such is the method by which the Apostle in this verse continues to substantiate his declaration that God had not cast away His people. He had shown that their destruction could not have been intended, since a remnant was preserved; and he is now proving that, as a body, they shall finally be restored to God’s favor. In declaring the peculiar privileges of Israel, derived from their first progenitors, the Apostle, by exhibiting their distinguished superiority over all other nations, lays a foundation for the forcible warnings which, down to the 23rd verse, he proceeds to deliver to the Gentiles who had been received into the covenant of God. Mr. Stuart remarks of this 16th verse, that it is illustration rather than argument; but it is an illustration which has been adopted by the Spirit of God as a pledge of the event. If it be not argument, it is evidence, and is recorded as a revelation of the Divine purpose, that the lump, or body of the nation of Israel, shall yet be holy.
Ver. 17. — And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Before alleging anything further to prove the future conversion of the Jews, Paul here, and onwards to the 25th verse, continues to employ the figure of a tree and its branches. In doing so, he takes occasion to administer a salutary caution to the Gentile believers. In this and the following verses, down to the 25th, he warns them to beware of self preference, or of being puffed up against the Jews, on account of the blessings with which they themselves were now favored. The Jewish nation was God’s olive tree. They were all the people of God in a typical sense, and the greater part of God’s true people had been chosen out of them; but now, by their unbelief, some of the branches were broken off from the tree. By the term ‘some,’ as has been observed, verse 14, is meant not all, Hebrews 3:16; for it implies that others, as the Apostle had shown, verses 2-5, remained. And among, or rather instead of, those that were broken off, the Gentiles, who were a wild olive, having had no place in the good olive tree, are now made the children of Abraham by faith in Christ Jesus, Galatians 3:26-29. They were grafted into the good olive tree, whose root Abraham was, and were made partakers of his distinguished privileges. It has sometimes been remarked that there is no grafting in the olive tree. But this makes no difference.
The illustration from the process of grafting is the same, whether the operation be performed in the particular tree mentioned or not. Mr. Stuart says that the wild olive ‘was often grafted into the fruitful one when it began to decay, and thus not only brought fruit, but caused the decaying olive to revive and flourish.’ This, however, whether it be fact or not, is not to the purpose of the Apostle, for he is beating down the arrogance of the Gentile believers, and not pointing out the advantages they occasioned to Jews. Nor is the stock of the olive here supposed to be decayed, but to be full of sap and fatness, to partake of which, and not to benefit the fruitful olive, is the wild olive grafted into the tree.
Ver. 18. — Boast not against the branches: but if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
It is probable, from what is here said, that even in the Apostle’s time the Gentile believers were beginning to exhibit an overbearing disposition towards the Jews, and a complacent feeling of self-preference. At all events, the sin against which they are thus warned well describes the spirit that has long prevailed among the Gentiles who profess Christianity. What marvelous ignorance, folly, and vanity, are often displayed even in God’s people! Nothing but the constant lessons of the Spirit of God will teach them that all spiritual difference among men is by God’s grace. But if thou boast. — Whenever Gentile Christians feel a disposition to boast with respect to the Jews, let them remember not only that the Jews were first the people of God, but that the first Christians were also Jews.
The Jews received no advantage from the Gentiles; but, on the contrary, the Gentiles have received much from the Jews, from whom the Gospel sounded out — its first preachers being Jews, and of whom even Christ Himself, as concerning the flesh, came. The Gentile believers become the children of Abraham, and all the blessings they enjoy are in virtue of that relation. Hence the covenant, Jeremiah 31:31, includes all believers; yet it is said only to be made with the house of Israel and Judah.
Ver. 19. — Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off that I might be graced in.
Ver. 20. — Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear.
The Gentile believers might reply, that the branches were broken off to give place to them, and in a certain sense this is admitted by the Apostle.
But unbelief was the cause of the fall of the Jews, while it is by faith only that the Gentiles stand. It was not, then, on account of their superior merits that they were grafted into the good olive tree, since faith is the gift of God, bestowed on whom He will, and therefore leaves no room for boasting or self-preference. Among the Gentiles who professed the faith, there was soon a great falling away, and ‘the man of sin,’ though he boasts of being exclusively the good olive tree — the only true church — is broken off altogether, and doomed to inevitable destruction. It becomes all Christians to be humble, and to fear lest they also fall by error of the same kind. It is very usual, when they perceive the errors of other Christians, to glory over them. This is highly unbecoming. If a Christian understands any part of the will of God of which his brethren are still ignorant, it is God that has made the difference. A haughty spirit goeth before a fall; and if arrogance be indulged by any one, it is likely that God will give him up to some error as pernicious as that into which others whom he despises have fallen.
Ver. 21. — For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee.
This verse contains another argument by which the Apostle urges the Gentile believers to humility and watchfulness. If the natural branches were not spared, this was an additional reason why those whom He addressed should be on their guard lest they also should fall through unbelief. It appears also to be a prophetical intimation of the apostasy of the great body of the professors of Christianity under the mystery of iniquity.
Ver. 22. — Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell severity; but towards thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
The Apostle lastly enforces his warning to the Gentile believers by four concluding arguments: First, he calls on them to behold the severity of God’s strict justice in cutting off and casting out the unbelieving Jews.
Second, to consider His goodness in conferring unmerited favor on the Gentiles, who had attained that righteousness after which they were not following. Third, to remark the necessity of continuing in that goodness, by abiding in the faith of the Gospel; and, Fourth, to observe the assurance that if they abide not in the faith, they should be themselves cut off.
Men generally form in their imagination the character of God according to their own inclination. It is the duty of the Christian to take God’s character as it is given by Himself. His goodness is no evidence that He will not punish the guilty; and the most dreadful punishment of the guilty is consistent with the existence of supreme goodness in the Divine character. That God will yet lay righteousness to the line, and judgment to the plummet, is now seen in His treatment of Israel, whom He had so long spared after they had sinned against Him. Let none imagine, then, that He will spare them if guilty, because they have the name of being His people.
Rather let them dread the more terrible vengeance on that account. The evidence that we are the true objects of the goodness of God here mentioned, is, that we continue in it, by continuing in the faith of the Gospel. Continuing in goodness is not to be understood here to mean, our continuing in a state of integrity, according to Mr. Stuart. There is no real difficulty in the expression, continuing in God’s goodness. We continue in God’s goodness, by continuing in the faith.
Ver. 23. — And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.
The Apostle having, from the beginning of the 17th verse, pressed upon the believing Gentiles the necessity of humility, now reverts to the subject of the future conversion of the Jews. In order to furnish a new proof of this great event, he introduces a fourth argument (see exposition of verse 16), taken from the power of God. God is able to graft them in again. — According to the figure which the Apostle had been employing respecting the casting off and the restoration of that part of the Jewish nation that was blinded, comparing them to branches broken off, there might seem to be no probability that they could be restored. When branches are severed from a tree, they wither and cannot be replaced. Paul, therefore, here refers to the power of God. What is not done in nature, and cannot be effected by the power of man, will be done by God, with whom all things are possible. He is able to make the dry bones live, and to restore the severed branches of the Jewish nation. Some argue that, because the grafting of the Jews into the olive tree here spoken of is conditional, it is not promised.
But the Apostle’s design is evidently, even in this verse, to excite hopes by showing its possibility. There is no other ground of exclusion with respect to them but unbelief. If that sin were subdued, they would be received. God is able to graft them in if they believe, and He is able also to give them faith.
Ver. 24. — For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graced contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
The former argument, drawn from God’s power, is here further insisted on. The Jews were so obstinately prejudiced against the Gospel, that it seemed very improbable that they should ever embrace the truth. But the Apostle had declared the possibility of this being accomplished by the mighty power of God. He now shows its probability. If the Gentiles, he says, who were strangers to the covenants of promise, have been grafted into the good olive tree, how much more is it to be expected that the descendants of the patriarchs, to whom the promises were made, and who are therefore the natural branches, shall be grafted into their own olive tree?
Ver. 25. — For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, (lest ye should be wise in your own conceits,) that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
Having in the two preceding verses exhibited first the possibility, and next the probability, of the restoration of the Jews, according to the order of God’s providence, the Apostle, in this and the following verses, down to the 28th, goes on to prove the certainty of the future conversion and restoration of Israel. He here addresses the Gentiles as his brethren, thus expressing his affection for them, and stimulates their attention, by declaring that he was about to reveal to them a mystery — a thing hitherto hidden or unknown. The restoration of the Jews is called a mystery, for though declared in the Scriptures, it was not understood. And in this mystery there were two parts, both of which are here unfolded, — first, that blindness is happened to Israel in part only; and, secondly, that this blindness should continue till the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. This mystery was opened to prevent the Gentiles from being wise in their own conceits, that is, from being puffed up on account of the preference they now enjoyed. Ignorance of the Scriptures is the cause of high-mindedness in Christians. They are often arrogant and contemptuous through want of knowledge. In the absence of real knowledge, they often suppose that they have a true understanding of things with which they are still unacquainted, and are thus vain and conceited. Blindness in part is happened to Israel. — This does not mean that their blindness was only partial, and limited in degree, for it was total and complete; but that it did not extend to all Israel, but only to a part, though indeed the far greater part. It is a consolation that the Jews are under no exclusion that forbids the preaching of the Gospel to them, and using every effort for their conversion. Though the national rejection will continue till the appointed time, yet individuals from among them may at any period be brought to the knowledge of God. This fact is of great importance. They are excluded only through unbelief, and this unbelief is not affirmed of all, but only of a part. Until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. — Here is the clearest attestation that the blindness of the Jews will yet cease, not only as to individuals, but as to the body. It is not stated at what time this will happen, but it is connected with the fullness of the Gentiles. The fullness of the Gentiles is the accession of the Gentiles to the body of Christ. Here we have another glorious truth presented for our consolation. The world has hitherto groaned under heathen and antichristian idolatry, but the time will come when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ; and this will be closely connected with the recovery of the Jews from their unbelief. This declaration of the Apostle coincides with that remarkable prediction of our blessed Lord: ‘Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.’
Ver. 26. — And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: Here the Apostle further unfolds the mystery of which he would not have his brethren to be ignorant. In the foregoing verse he had declared that blindness had come upon Israel — that blindness which he had before shown was inflicted on part of the Jewish nation by the judgment of God, verses 8-10, which would continue till a certain period was accomplished.
He now declares that at that period all Israel shall be saved. The rejection of Israel has been general, but at no period universal. This rejection is to continue till the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in. Then the people of Israel, as a body, shall be brought to the faith of the Gospel. Such expressions as that ‘all Israel shall be saved,’ are no doubt, in certain situations, capable of limitation; but as no Scripture demands any limitation of this expression, and as the opposition here stated is between a part and all, there is no warrant to make any exception, and with God this, like all other things, is possible. As it is written. — ’ Whether Isaiah, in 59:20,’ says Mr. Stuart, ‘had respect to the salvation of Gospel times, has been called in question. But the contest seems to me very clearly to indicate this.’ But why are we to rest our conviction on this point on our view of the connection? The Apostle’s quotation of the words is ground sufficient to bear the conclusion. This method of treating the Apostle’s quotations of prophecy should be most strenuously opposed. That it is prophecy ought to be rested on the ground of its being quoted as prophecy. ‘And even if he had respect to temporal deliverance,’ Mr. Stuart continues, ‘there can be no difficulty in the Apostle’s using his words as the vehicle of conveying his own thoughts with regard to spiritual deliverance.’ There is indeed no difficulty in supposing that the same prophecy may, in its primary sense, refer to a temporal deliverance, and in its secondary, to a spiritual deliverance. But there is a very great difficulty in supposing that the Apostle would cite a prophecy respecting a temporal deliverance, which had no reference to the deliverance of which he was speaking. This would be very puerile. It would be worse than puerile — it would be a perversion of Scripture. It would be employing a false argument. There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. — Mount Zion was the special residence of the God of Israel; and out of Zion was to go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem, Isaiah 2:3. And though Israel has for a long time departed from Him, yet thither at length will the Redeemer return, and make His word and law powerful to restore them unto Himself. ‘He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth,’ Isaiah 11:12. The Deliverance, etc. — These words are quoted from Isaiah 59:20, ‘And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob.’ Here it is said that the Redeemer or Deliverer shall come to Zion; but if He come out of Zion He must have come to it previously; as it is said, Psalm 14:7, ‘Oh, that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion.’ Besides, it is added, He shall come, namely, out of Zion, to them who turn from transgression in Jacob; and such must have thus been turned by Him. We may be assured that the Apostle, speaking by the same Spirit as the Prophet, and directed by the Spirit to quote him, has substantially given the meaning of his words. If Jacob be turned away from transgression, it is this Deliverer who will accomplish the object.
In this prophecy, in the fifty-ninth chapter of Isaiah, God is represented as doing two things. One is, to reproach the Jews with the multitude and enormity of their transgressions; and the other, to promise to them the redemption of the Messiah, and by Him an everlasting covenant. When, therefore, all nations shall be given to the Messiah, and submit to His authority, the prophecies concerning Him will be fulfilled in their utmost extent, and His reign over all the earth will be established. After having subdued to Himself the whole of the Gentiles, He will not forget the family of Abraham, His friend, in whom, according to His promise, all the families of the earth were to be blessed. Jews and Gentiles shall be all united in Christ, and the whole earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. Then what is predicted by the Prophet Hosea 3:4, both concerning the present and future condition of the Jews, will all have been strikingly accomplished: ‘For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim. Afterwards shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.’ ‘Oh, that the salvation of the Lord were come out of Zion! When the Lord bringeth back the captivity of His people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad,’ Psalm 14:7.
The comings of the Deliverer to Zion is not to be understood of any personal appearance. Jesus Christ has personally appeared once on earth, and He will appear the second time when He comes without sin unto salvation. The Scriptures, however, speak in different ways of His coming, though not in person; as of His coming to set up His kingdom, John 21:22; His coming at death and for judgment, Matthew 24:44-50; His coming for chastisement, Revelation 2:5; His coming in grace and love, John 14:23; Revelation 3:20. And at the appointed time He will come to Zion in His power by His Spirit.
Ver. 27. — For this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
This refers to the verse which follows the one above quoted, Isaiah 59:21. ‘As for Me, this is My covenant with them, saith the Lord: My Spirit that is upon thee, and My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.’ These words are addressed to the Redeemer, the Restorer of Israel, when God shall take away their sins. This gracious covenant is fully developed, Jeremiah 31:31-34; and again, 32:37-40, where the declaration referred to in the foregoing verse, of turning away ungodliness from Jacob, is more fully expressed. The Apostle grounds his conclusion from the prophecy on the fact that God in these words speaks of a time when He would take away the sins of Israel as a body, and so all Israel shall be saved.
The first characteristic of this covenant to Israel, as declared by Jeremiah, is, that it will be eternal, in opposition to the former covenant, which was temporary and was disannulled. ‘Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt: which My covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord.’ But why shall it be eternal?
Why shall it not be broken as the first covenant was? The reason is, ‘I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ Here is a manifest distinction between this and the former covenant, in which the law was written outwardly in tables of stone; and therefore violated, as not being put in the hearts of the people. Under this covenant, too, it is said that they shall all know the Lord. He will fill their minds with the knowledge of Himself, by His Spirit communicated to them, which formerly He had not done. God, it is added, will also forgive their iniquity, and will remember their sin no more. This is peculiar to the evangelical covenant, which provides a real atonement for sin, which could not be removed by the sacrifices under the law. In these respects the covenant here referred to is distinguished from the former covenant, and will prove effectual for the salvation of all Israel.
Immediately after the annunciation of this prophecy, it is solemnly and repeatedly averred that it shall be an unchangeable covenant; and that, sooner than Israel shall again be cut off, the most inviolable laws of God’s providence in the government of nature shall be revoked. ‘Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of Hosts is His name: If those ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me for ever. Thus saith the Lord: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel, for all that they have done, saith the Lord.’
Israel, then, shall be restored to their own land, which God gave to Abraham for an everlasting possession. God hath said that He will make a full end of all the nations whither He had driven them, but He will not make a full end of them, Jeremiah 46:28. ‘Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all: and David My servant shall be king over them; and they shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in My judgments, and observe My statutes and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob My servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt, and they shall dwell therein, even they and their children for ever,’ Ezekiel 37:21,25. ‘And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God,’ Amos 9:15.
Ver. 28. — As concerning the Apostle, they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.
The Apostle next obviates an objection that might be brought against the future recall of the Jews. The great body of the nation — all whom the Apostle declared to be judicially blinded — were now the enemies of God with respect — to the Gospel. They had rejected God’s message by His Son, and thus proved themselves His enemies while they called Him their God. The Gentiles, then, might object, How can the Jewish nation ever be grafted in again, seeing they have thus refused to listen to God’s message of reconciliation? This the Apostle answers: first, he grants that they were indeed enemies to God, and were dealt with as enemies for their contempt and disbelief of the Gospel. In the next place, he says that this was for the sake of the Gentiles, or on their account. The rejection of the Jews was, in the inscrutable counsels of Jehovah, connected with and overruled for the salvation of the Gentiles. Some understand the words, ‘for your sakes,’ as importing that the Jews were enemies to God because of His sending the Gospel to the Gentiles. This no doubt gave the Jews great offense; but it was before this event that they rejected and crucified Christ. But as touching the election. — The election here spoken of is not the election to eternal life, as that of the remnant according to the election of grace, verse 5. The Apostle is now speaking of the great body of the nation, called the ‘rest,’ verse 7, namely, those that were blinded, and the branches broken off, who, in respect of the Gospel, ‘were enemies’ to God. This election is of the nation of Israel to be the people of God, in that sense in which no other nation ever was; according to which they are so often called His people, 2 Samuel 7:23,24, etc. The election of Israel ‘after the flesh’ was typical of the election of the true Israel of God — even all believers, contracted with those who, although of Israel, were not Israel, ch. 9:6. God had chosen the Jews to be a special people unto Himself, Deuteronomy 7:6, ‘Thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself.’ Yet they had not a heart to fear the Lord, Deuteronomy 5:29; and they belonged only to that covenant which made nothing perfect, according to which the law was given to them externally, and not written in their hearts, which consequently they braked Jeremiah 31:32.
On the ground of this national election of Israel, the Apostle Peter, when he called them to repentance, addressed them in these words: ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you and to your children,’ Acts 2:38. And again, ‘Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities,’ Acts 3:19,25,26. Beloved for the fathers’ sake — The election of the nation of Israel was made on account of their fathers, ‘Because He loved thy fathers, therefore He chose their seed after them.’ And again, ‘Only the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and chose their seed after them, even you, above all people, as it is this day,’ Deuteronomy 4:37, 10:15. It is immediately added, ‘Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked; ‘which proves that they were not Jews inwardly, Romans 2:28,29. Compared as they were to a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, their election as a nation was only external, as is verified throughout their whole history.
The Apostle here announces a general truth applicable to the case before him. The purposes of God are unchangeable, and His gifts and callings irrevocable, so that the nation of Israel cannot be deprived of what He engaged to do for them. What He has given them He will not withdraw, and His choice of them as His special people never can be altered. Calling is in this verse equivalent to election in the preceding. This election or calling as a nation cannot be revoked, and that national election was connected with and subservient to the election to eternal life of multitudes of their descendants, at the period when all Israel shall be saved. For this purpose it was, that in the destruction of Jerusalem the whole Jewish nation was not exterminated: ‘Except,’ said our blessed Lord, ‘those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened,’ Matthew 24:22. The term elect here cannot be applicable to those Jews who had then embraced the Gospel, for the tribulations of those days, even had they not been shortened, would not have caused their destruction, scattered as they were through many countries. It must refer to the elect of God in that future age, when all Israel shall be saved. It was for their sakes, who were to descend from the Jewish people, that the destruction of that people was limited, and for which God was pleased to preserve a part of them, and continues to preserve them to this day. The same reason, then, for this miraculous preservation, had likewise been given by the Prophet Isaiah, ‘thus saith the Lord, as the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for My servants’ sakes, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of My mountains: and Mine elect shall inherit it, and My servants shall dwell there, Isaiah 65:8.
Ver. 30. — For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief; Here, and in the following verse, the Apostle produces the last confirmation of his assertion that God had not cast away His people, which is further referred to in the 32nd verse, and is to this effect: as the Gentiles have experienced mercy after a long period of alienation from God, in like manner the Jews will at last receive mercy. Whether the original be translated have not obeyed or have not believed, it comes to the same thing. The unbelief or disobedience of the Gentiles in former times, after they lost the knowledge of the righteousness of God, preached to the world by Noah, 2 Peter 2:5, respected not His word, but the knowledge of God as revealed in His works. This unbelief or disobedience, during their heathenish state, although not so aggravated, is as properly a ground of their condemnation as the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews. It is on this account that the Apostle says, ch. 1:20, that they were without excuse; and, in ch. 2:12, that as many as have sinned without law (the written law) shall perish; and in the 14th and 15th verses, he assumes as the reason, that they had the work of the law — what it teaches — which they transgressed, written in their hearts. Yet have now obtained mercy. — The calling of the Gentiles out of the darkness and pollution of Paganism, was the result of the pure mercy of God. How different is the language of many on this subject! They seem to think that, as the heathens have not enjoyed the benefit of the revelation of grace, it would be unjust to condemn them for their transgressions. Through their unbelief — Nothing can be plainer than that in God’s plan it was necessary that the Jews should reject the Gospel, in order that it should be given to the Gentiles; yet why this was necessary we cannot tell. As far as appears to us, God might from the very first have made both Jews and Gentiles, to any extent, equally partakers of His grace, as He has promised He will do at last. Let us be satisfied that God has told us that a contrary mode of proceeding was necessary, without any vain attempts to develop the grounds of this necessity, which He Himself has not revealed.
The belief of many in the word of God appears not to go further than what they imagine they can account for. To anything beyond this they refuse to hearken. This is not faith.
Ver. 31. — Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.
God abandoned the Jews to unbelief, in order that their restoration might prove as signal an exhibition of mercy as the grace now bestowed on the idolatrous heathens. Had the Jews all received the Gospel at first, both they and the world at large would have been inclined to believe that they did not need the same conversion or the same grace as the Gentiles. This would have confirmed the view which they hold of themselves, as by hereditary descent from Abraham entitled to heaven, and the privileges of Messiah’s kingdom. But when they have crucified the Son of God, and continued in the most blasphemous rebellion against Him for so many hundred years, their conversion will display mercy as distinguished as the mercy that called the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, and were not seeking God. If the unbelief of the Jews was the occasion of showing mercy to the Gentiles, so the mercy shown to the Gentiles shall be the occasion of showing mercy to the Jews. Your mercy. The same mercy that saved the believing heathens, without any mixture of merit, shall save the Jews; and through the affect of that mercy shown to the Gentiles the Jews shall obtain mercy.
Ver. 32. — For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.
As the conclusion of the foregoing discussion respecting the restoration of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles, the Apostle here refers to the present state of the Jews, and the past state of the Gentiles. He declares the perversity and unbelief of all who have been saved, without exception, and shows that their salvation is solely the effect of the mercy of God.
God has shut them up in unbelief under the guilt and power of sin, like condemned criminals in prison, without any possibility of escaping, except by means of that salvation which, in His good pleasure, is provided for their deliverance. The Gentiles who believed had been formerly in this condition; now it was the case with the great body of the nation of the Jews.
God having thus been pleased alternately to shut up Jews and Gentiles in unbelief, it will thus appear that both the one and the other are called to the knowledge of Himself out of pure mercy. He had left men to walk in their own ways, having abandoned the nations of the earth to that state of blindness and misery in which they were plunged. During that period He only manifested Himself to the family of Abraham, and to small nation, by which He clearly testified that the communication which He chose still to hold with men proceeded solely from grace and His own good pleasure.
For if it had been in any manner due why was it not granted to all? Or if not granted to all, at least to the greater number, and not limited to so small a portion? Israel, however, forgot this distinguishing favor of God, and regarded it as a privilege necessarily attached to their descent from Abraham, not remembering that Abraham himself had been chosen from the mass of idolaters, and that they had been slaves in Egypt, addicted to the superstitions of that country. God was now pleased to shut up them also in unbelief, and to turn to those nations which neither knew Him nor were inquiring after Him. By doing so, His gratuitous mercy was revealed anew, and exhibited to men and angels. Besides this reason for the restriction of His peculiar revelation of grace at the beginning to the Israelites alone, it would seem that God purposed to allow the empire of Satan to attain all the power and extent of which it was capable, that, on the one hand, the greatness of human depravity might appear in all its direful effects, so that in the example of the miserable state of men thus abandoned to themselves, those whom God hath chosen may see, as in a faithful mirror, the hideousness of sin, as well as the necessity for the grace of God. On the other hand, by this means the work of the redemption of the Messiah is exalted, and its glory fully exhibited. At first God showed ‘His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel.’ And it is added, ‘He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them,’ <19E719> Psalm 147:19,20.
The Jews were thus preserved from idolatry, into which the other nations had fallen; and although the covenant under which they had been placed was abolished, they still continued under its bondage, Galatians 4:25.
God Himself hardened their hearts, and abandoned them to their deep-rooted prejudices, since they had rejected the Messiah. In this condition they have continued attached to that covenant, shut up in their adherence to it in unbelief, and thus separated from all other nations. But though this be a punishment, it is overruled in the wisdom of God, so that in the end He may show mercy to the whole nation. Their house has been left unto them desolate; they have rejected Him who would have gathered them to Himself as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings. But even in the moment of this rejection, Jesus announced that the day will arrive when they shall say, ‘Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.’
God then shut up both Jews and Gentiles together in unbelief, that He might in saving them manifest to both the same mercy. Had not the Jews rejected the Gospel at first, their ultimate salvation would not have so eminently appeared to be the glorious result of the exercise of God’s sovereign mercy.
Ver. 33. — O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!
Ver. 34. — For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counselor?
Ver. 35. — Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
Ver. 36. — For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
Before passing onward to the practical conclusions which flow from the grand and peculiar doctrines of the Gospel, the Apostle pauses to contemplate the ground which he had traversed; and, looking back upon the whole, he exclaims with astonishment and admiration, ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God How unsearchable are His Judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ In thus concluding the discussion of those deep and awful subjects which, in the former part of this Epistle, had successively engaged his attention, Paul most emphatically intimates the impossibility of comprehending the infinitude of the Divine attributes. But far from judging, like many, that we have nothing to do with such mysteries as the sovereignty of God in justifying ‘the ungodly,’ and choosing or rejecting sinners according to His own good pleasure, he had delighted to expatiate on the glorious perfections of Jehovah as displayed in these doctrines. And as they bear most directly upon the state and security of Christians, he designates them in the beginning of the next chapter the ‘mercies of God,’ involving all the blessings in store for Jews and Gentiles, and constituting the foundation and support of all his exhortations to practical duty. He thus teaches that these doctrines are conducive in the highest degree to the advancement of holiness, and that in no respect do they interfere with the responsibility of man.
Paul, however, by no means denies that these great truths are ‘hard to be understood’ by men who, accounting themselves ‘wise and prudent,’ refuse to receive the kingdom of God as ‘little children.’ On the contrary, he intimates the absolute impossibility of giving utterance to the boundless and unfathomable incomprehensibility of the Divine attributes as manifested in God’s dealings with the children of men. How often does the profane ingenuity of man pretend to fathom, and sometimes even dares to arraign, the inscrutable ways of Jehovah! But what a contrast does the Apostle’s language, in these concluding verses of this chapter, present to the vain and presumptuous speculations of some interpreters of Scripture!
Multitudes receive the testimony of God only so far as they can satisfactorily account for all the reasons and grounds of His conduct, when measured according to the petty scale of their limited capacity. How unbecoming in such a creature as man! Shall he who is but ‘of yesterday,’ and ‘knows nothing,’ who is born ‘like a wild ass’s colt,’ pretend to penetrate the counsels of the Omniscient!
If this great Apostle, enjoying as he did such unexampled privileges, favored as he was with such ‘abundance of revelations,’ and writing under the dictation of the Holy Ghost, was thus compelled to confess that the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God were unsearchable, how vain and idle are all the speculations and conjectures on the subject of this world’s wisdom! It is not difficult for one man to judge of the plans and designs of another. But the judgments of the Lord must, like their Author, be infinite, and consequently can neither be measured by a finite capacity, nor ascertained further than they are revealed from the fountain of light.
The Lord knows the hearts of His creatures; but the combined intellect of men and angels would be alike insufficient to penetrate the secrets of Deity The wisest of men need counsel from others. The angels, we are told, ‘desire to look into’ the works of their Creator, in order to make new acquisitions of knowledge. But the majesty of God stands alone in the universe. He needs no counselor; and neither in the work of creation, nor in the still more astonishing scheme of redemption, does He take counsel.
From the various ways in which men explain the revelation of God’s salvation of sinners, we see what advice they would have given had they been permitted to assist in devising a plan for the operation of Divine mercy. God’s plan of redemption is so deep and peculiar to Himself, that man does not comprehend it, even when it is presented to his view, unless the eyes of his understanding are enlightened by the Holy Spirit of God.
Well, then, may the Apostle exclaim, in the contemplation of the majesty of God, and the unsearchable riches of His wisdom and knowledge, Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counselor?
The same question substantially was put to Job, when the Lord answered him out of the whirlwind, and all the proud imaginations which he had conceived, in the agitation of his spirit, were in a moment humbled in the dust. ‘I know that Thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from Thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore I have uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.’ To the same effect also, the Psalmist David, in the <19D101> 131st Psalm, appeals to the Lord that he received the kingdom of God as a little child, and was not proudly attempting to scan the secret counsels of Jehovah ‘Lord,’ he exclaims, ‘my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child. Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and for ever.’ The Apostle, in addition to what he had declared of the unsearchableness of the Lord’s judgments, adds, as another reason why man should cease proudly to challenge the proceedings of his Maker, Who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? He thus at once declares the spring of all our knowledge, and consequently our inability to pursue our inquiries beyond the bounds of revelation; while at the same time he again reminds us how utterly impossible it is for a creature to bring his Creator under obligations. How absurd, how impious, must it then be to speak of the merit of our good works!
The conclusion to which the Apostle is conducted by all these considerations, is expressed in the last verse of the chapter. For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. — Here we have the grand truth which lies at the foundation of all religion.
All things are of God, for He is the Author of all; His will is the origin of all existence. All things are through Him, for all things are created by Him as the grand agent. All things are likewise to Him for all things tend to his glory as their final end.
Philosophers represent the communication of happiness as the chief end of man and of creation. But the Scriptures uniformly declare the glory of the Creator as the paramount object of all that takes place throughout the vast limits of the universe. To this the entrance of sin among angels and men is no exception. In itself sin is an affront to the majesty of God. But there can be no doubt that the results of sin, as well as of all the evil we behold in the world, shall signally enhance the glory of the Divine character. It was necessary in order to show God to be what He is. Had sin never existed, there would have been no opportunity of manifesting the righteous displeasure of God against it, and His justice in punishing it; nor of displaying His wonderful power in turning to His glory that which in itself is a dishonor to Him. This is the very reason given by the Apostle for God’s suffering the vessels of wrath. ‘What if God, willing to show His wrath, and make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.’
That God not only permitted, but willed the entrance of sin among men, is clear from the very creation of the world, and its adaptation to illustrate the work of redemption. From the nineteenth Psalm, there can be no doubt that the sun of the firmament was, from his first dawn, a glorious type of the Sun of Righteousness; and in his manner of enlightening the earth, a figure of Him who is the light of the world, as well as of the course and progress of the Gospel. The resting from the work of creation, and the first Sabbath, were calculated to shadow the rest of the Lord Jesus from the more important work of redemption, and the glorious and everlasting rest which remaineth for the people of God. The formation of Adam and Eve, and the relation of marriage, most evidently were regulated with reference to the future relation of Christ and His Church, Ephesians 5:32. Redemption, then, was in the view of God in the creation of man.
From all eternity it was purposed by Him ‘who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by (means of) the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord,’ Ephesians 3:9. Grace was given to His people in Christ Jesus, and eternal life was promised by God that cannot lie, before the world began, 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2.
It is not possible that God would have purposed the entrance of sin, had He not been able to turn it to His glory. No man would act in the way in which many consider God in this matter to have acted. Could any man foresee that what he was about to do would turn to his dishonor and injury, and would he not avoid it? And shall God will and foresee that sin should enter, and shall He permit its entrance, if it is ultimately to prove dishonorable to His character? To suppose that there were innumerable plans of creation present to the mind of the Creator, that each of them had advantages and disadvantages, and that God chose that which upon the whole was best, is nothing but disguised Atheism. This supposes that the Creator is neither all-wise nor all-powerful.
The universal apostasy of the nations of the earth from the worship of God, and the present apostasy of the Jews, are things apparently dishonorable to God, and which man with God’s power would not have permitted. But both are according to the counsel of God, and will redound to His glory. We cannot understand how this can be so. It is to us a depth unfathomable; but it is a truth which no Christian should find difficult to believe, because it is plainly testified in the word of God. The Apostle wonders at it, but does not pretend to explain it. His language in closing this subject is a recognition that the ways of Jehovah are beyond the grasp of the human intellect. ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’
Though Satan, then, is the God of this world, yet God is glorified in all the evil that Satan has introduced. In every part of Scripture, Jehovah is seen to be glorified: in His judgments as well as in His grace, in His wrath as well as in His mercy, in those who are lost as well as in those who are saved. However disagreeable this may be to the mind of the natural man, it is truly reasonable. Can there be a higher end than the glory of the Divine character? And can man, who is a fallen and lost creature, share with His offended Sovereign in the glory of his recovery? Such a thought is as incongruous as it is unscriptural. If there be hope for the guilty, if there be recovery to any from the ruin of the fall, it is the voice of reason, properly exercised, as well as of the Divine word, that it must come from God Himself.
The practical influence of the truth contained in these concluding verses is illustrated by the following extract from the Author’s ‘Letter, addressed, in 1824, to Mr. Cheneviere, the well-known Socinian, and yet Pastor and Professor of Divinity at Geneva.’ ‘There was nothing brought under the consideration of the students of divinity who attended me at Geneva, which appeared to contribute so effectually to overthrow their false system of religion, founded on philosophy and vain deceit, as the sublime view of the majesty of God presented in the four concluding verses of this part of the Epistle. Of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things.
Here God is described as His own last end in everything that He does.
Judging of God as such an one as themselves, they were at first startled at the idea that He must love Himself supremely, infinitely more than the whole universe, and consequently must prefer His own glory to everything besides. But when they were reminded that God in reality is infinitely more amiable and more valuable than the whole creation, and that consequently, if He views things as they really are, He must regard Himself as infinitely worthy of being more valued and loved, they saw that this truth was incontrovertible. Their attention was at the same time directed to numerous passages of Scripture, which assert that the manifestation of the glory of God is the great end of creation that He has Himself chiefly in view in all His works and dispensations, and that it is a purpose in which He requires that all His intelligent creatures should acquiesce, and seek and promote it as their first and paramount duty.