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Bible Commentaries
Romans 9

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This chapter opens in some degree a new train of thought and argumentation. Its main design probably was to meet objections which would be alleged against the positions advanced and defended in the previous parts of the Epistle. In the previous chapters, Paul had defended the position that the barrier between the Jews and Gentiles had been removed; that the Jews could not be saved by any external advantages which they possessed; that all were alike guilty before God; and that there was but one way for Jews and Gentiles of salvation - by faith in Jesus Christ; Romans 1:0; Romans 2:0; Romans 3:0. He had stated the benefits of this plan Romans 5:0, and showed its bearing in accomplishing what the Law of Moses could not effect in overcoming sin; Romans 6:0; Romans 7:0. In Romans 8:0 he had stated also on what principles this was done; that it was according to the purpose of God - the principle of electing mercy applied indiscriminately to the mass of guilty Jews and Gentiles. To this statement two objections might arise: first, that it was unjust; and second, that the whole argument involved a departure from the promises made to the Jewish nation. It might further be supposed that the apostle had ceased to feel an interest in his countrymen, and had become the exclusive advocate of the Gentiles. To meet these objections and feelings, seems to have been the design of this chapter. He shows them,

  1. His unabated love for his countrymen, and regard for their welfare; Romans 9:1-5.

(2)He shows them from their own writings that the principle of election had existed in former times - in the case of Isaac Romans 9:7-13; in the writings of Moses Romans 9:15; in the case of Pharaoh Romans 9:17; and in the prophecies of Hosea and Isaiah Romans 9:25-29.

(3)He takes occasion throughout the chapter to vindicate this principle of the divine administration; to answer objections; and to show that, on the acknowledged principles of the Old Testament, a part of the Jewish nation might be rejected; and that it was the purpose of God to call others to the privileges of the people of God; Romans 9:16, Romans 9:19-23, Romans 9:25-26, Romans 9:29-33.

The chapter, therefore, has not reference to national election, or to choice to external privileges, but has direct reference to the doctrine of the election to salvation which had been stated in Romans 8:0. To suppose that it refers merely to external privileges and national distinctions, makes the whole discussion unconnected, unmeaningful, and unnecessary.

Verse 1

I say the truth - In what I am about to affirm respecting my attachment to the nation and people.

In Christ - Most interpreters regard this as a form of an oath, as equivalent to calling Christ to witness. It is certainly to be regarded, in its obvious sense, as an appeal to Christ as the searcher of the heart, and as the judge of falsehood. Thus, the word translated “in” ἐν en is used in the form of an oath in Matthew 5:34-36; Revelation 10:6, Greek. We are to remember that the apostle was addressing those who had been Jews; and the expression has all the force of an oath “by the Messiah.” This shows that it is right on great and solemn occasions, and in a solemn manner, and thus only, to appeal to Christ for the sincerity of our motives, and for the truth of what we say. And it shows further, that it is right to regard the Lord Jesus Christ as present with us, as searching the heart, as capable of detecting insincerity, hypocrisy, and perjury, and as therefore divine.

My conscience - Conscience is that act or judgment of the mind by which we decide on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of our actions, and by which we instantly approve or condemn them. It exists in every man, and is a strong witness to our integrity or to our guilt.

Bearing me witness - Testifying to the truth of what I say.

In the Holy Ghost - He does not say that he speaks the truth by or in the Holy Spirit, as he had said of Christ; but that the conscience pronounced its concurring testimony by the Holy Spirit; that is, conscience as enlightened and influenced by the Holy Spirit. It was not simply natural conscience, but it was conscience under the full influence of the Enlightener of the mind and Sanctifier of the heart. The reasons of this solemn asseveration are probably the following:

(1) His conduct and his doctrines had led some to believe that he was an apostate, and had lost his love for his countrymen. He had forsaken their institutions, and devoted himself to the salvation of the Gentiles. He here shows them that it was from no lack of love to them.

(2) The doctrines which he was about to state and defend were of a similar character; he was about to maintain that no small part of his own countrymen, notwithstanding their privileges, would be rejected and lost. In this solemn manner, therefore, he assures them that this doctrine had not been embraced because he did not love them, but because it was solemn, though most painful truth. He proceeds to enumerate their privileges as a people, and to show to them the strength and tenderness of his love.

Verse 2

Great heaviness - Great grief.

Continual sorrow - The word rendered “continual” here must be taken in a popular sense. Not that he was literally all the time pressed down with this sorrow, but that whenever he thought on this subject, he had great grief; as we say of a painful subject, it is a source of constant pain. The cause of this grief, Paul does not expressly mention, though it is implied in what he immediately says. It was the fact that so large a part of the nation would be rejected, and cast off.

Verse 3

For I could wish ... - This passage has been greatly controverted. Some have proposed to translate it, “I did wish,” as referring to a former state, when he renounced Christ, and sought to advance the interests of the nation by opposing and defying him. But to this interpretation there are insuperable objections.

(1) The object of the apostle is not to state his former feelings, but his present attachment to his countrymen, and willingness to suffer for them.

(2) The proper grammatical construction of the word used here is not I did wish, but I could desire; that is, if the thing were possible. It is not I do wish, or did wish, but I could desire ἠυχόμην ēuchomēn, implying that he was willing now to endure it; that his present love for them was so strong, that he would, if practicable, save them from the threatened ruin and apostasy.

(3) It is not true that Paul ever did wish before his conversion to be accursed by Christ, that is, by the Messiah. He opposed Jesus of Nazareth; but he did not believe that he was the Messiah. At no time would he have wished to be devoted to destruction “by the Messiah,” or “by Christ.” Nothing would have been more terrible to a Jew; and Saul of Tarsus never doubted that he was the friend of the promised Messiah, and was advancing the true interests of his cause, and defending the hopes of his nation against an impostor. The word, therefore, expresses a feeling which the apostle had, when writing this Epistle, in regard to the condition and prospects of the nation.

Were accursed from Chest - Might be anathema by Christ ἀνάθεμα εἶναι ἀπὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ anathema einai apo tou Christou. This passage has been much controverted. The word rendered “accursed” (anathema) properly means,

(1) Anything that was set up, or “set apart,” or consecrated to the gods in the temples, as spoils of war, images, statues, etc. This is its Classical Greek meaning. It has a similar meaning among the Hebrews, It denoted what was set apart or consecrated to the service of God, as sacrifices or offerings of any kind. In this respect it is used to express the sense of the Hebrew word חרם cherem “anything devoted to Yahweh, without the possibility of redemption.” Leviticus 27:21; Leviticus 27:29; Numbers 18:14; Deuteronomy 7:26; Joshua 6:17-18; Joshua 7:1; 1 Samuel 15:21; Ezekiel 44:29.

(2) As what was thus dedicated to Yahweh was alienated from the use of him who devoted it, and was either burnt or slain and devoted to destruction as an offering, the word came to signify a devotion of any thing to destruction, or to complete ruin. And as whatever is devoted to destruction may be said to be subject to a curse, or to be accursed, the word comes to have this signification; 1 Kings 20:42; Isaiah 34:5. But in none of these cases does it denote eternal death. The idea, therefore, in these places is simply, “I could be willing to be destroyed, or devoted, to death, for the sake of my countrymen.” And the apostle evidently means to say that he would be willing to suffer the bitterest evils, to forego all pleasure, to endure any privation and toil, nay, to offer his life, so that he might be wholly devoted to sufferings, as an offering, if he might be the means of benefiting and saving the nation. For a similar case, see Exodus 32:32. This does not mean that Paul would be willing to be damned forever. For,

  1. The words do not imply that, and will not bear it.

(2)Such a destruction could in no conceivable way benefit the Jews.

(3)Such a willingness is not and cannot be required. And,

  1. It would be impious and absurd. No man has a right to be willing to be the “eternal enemy” of God; and no man ever yet was, or could be willing to endure everlasting torments.

From Christ - By Christ. Grotius thinks it means from the church of Christ. Others think it means “after the example of Christ;” and others, from Christ forever. But it evidently means that he was willing to be devoted by Christ; that is, to be regarded by him, and appointed by him, to suffering and death, if by that means he could save his countrymen. It was thus the highest expression of true patriotism and benevolence. It was an example for all Christians and Christian ministers. They should be willing to be devoted to pain, privation, toil, and death, if by that they could save others from ruin.

My kinsmen ... - My countrymen; all of whom he regarded as his kinsmen, or relations, as descended from the same ancestors.

According to the flesh - By birth. They were of the same blood and parentage, though not now of the same religious belief.

Verse 4

Who are Israelites - Descended from Israel, or Jacob; honored by having such an ancestor, and by bearing a name so distinguished as that of his descendants. It was formerly the honorable appellation of the people of God.

To whom pertaineth - To whom it belongs. It was their elevated external privilege.

The adoption - Of the nation into the family of God, or to be regarded as His special people; Deuteronomy 7:6.

And the glory - The symbol of the divine presence that attended them from Egypt, and that finally rested over the ark in the first temple - “the Shechinah;” Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 25:22.

And the covenants - The various compacts or promises which had been made from time to time with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and with the nation; the pledges of the divine protection.

The giving of the law - On Mount Sinai; Exodus 20:0; compare Psalms 147:19.

And the service of God - The temple service; regarded by them as the pride and ornament of their nation.

And the promises - Of the Messiah; and of the spread of the true religion from them as a nation.

Verse 5

Whose are the fathers - Who have been honored with so illustrious an ancestry. Who are descended from Abraham, Isaac, etc. On this they highly valued themselves, and in a certain sense not unjustly; compare Matthew 3:9.

Of whom - Of whose nation. This is placed as the crowning and most exalted privilege, that their nation had given birth to the long-expected Messiah, the hope of the world.

As concerning the flesh - So far as his human nature was concerned. The use of this language supposes that there was a higher nature in respect to which he was not of their nation; see the note at Romans 1:3.

Christ came - He had already come; and it was their high honor that he was one of their nation.

Who is over all - This is an appellation that belongs only to the true God. It implies supreme divinity; and is full proof that the Messiah is divine: Much effort has been made to show that this is not the true rendering, but without success. There are no various readings in the Greek manuscripts of any consequence; and the connection here evidently requires us to understand this of a nature that is not “according to the flesh,” i. e., as the apostle here shows, of the divine nature.

God blessed forever - This is evidently applied to the Lord Jesus; and it proves that he is divine. If the translation is fairly made, and it has never been proved to be erroneous, it demonstrates that he is God as well as man. The doxology “blessed forever” was usually added by the Jewish writers after the mention of the name God, as an expression of reverence. (See the various interpretations that have been proposed on this passage examined in Prof. Stuart’s Notes on this verse.)

Verse 6

Not as though ... - Not as though the promise of God had entirely failed. Though I grieve thus Romans 9:2-3, though I am deeply apprehensive for the nation, yet I do not affirm that all the nation is to be destroyed. The promise of God will not entirely fail.

Not all Israel - Not all the descendants of Jacob have the true spirit of Israelites, or are Jews in the scriptural sense of the term; see the note at Romans 2:28-29.

Verse 7

Are they all children - Adopted into the true family of God. Many of the descendants of Abraham were rejected.

But in Isaac - This was the promise; Genesis 21:12.

Shall thy seed ... - Thy true people. This implied a selection, or choice; and therefore the doctrine of election was illustrated in the very commencement of the history of the nation; and as God had then made such a distinction, he might still do it. As he had then rejected a part of the natural descendants of Abraham, so he might still do it. This is the argument which the apostle is pursuing.

Verse 8

They which are the children of the flesh - The natural descendants.

These are not the children of God - Are not of necessity the adopted children of God; or are not so in virtue of their descent merely. This was in opposition to one of the most settled and deeply cherished opinions of the Jews. They supposed that the mere fact of being a Jew, entitled a man to the blessings of the covenant, and to be regarded as a child of God. But the apostle shows them that it was not by their natural descent that these spiritual privileges were granted; that they were not conferred on people simply from the fact that they were Jews; and that consequently those who were not Jews might become interested in those spiritual blessings.

But the children of the promise - The descendants of Abraham on whom the promised blessings would be bestowed. The sense is, that God at first contemplated a distinction among the descendants of Abraham, and intended to confine his blessings to such as he chose; that is, to those to whom the promise particularly appertained, to the descendants of Isaac. The argument of the apostle is, that “the principle” was thus established that a distinction might be made among those who were Jews; and as that distinction had been made in former times, so it might be under the Messiah.

Are counted - Are regarded, or reckoned. God reckons things as they are; and therefore designed that they should be his true children.

As the seed - The spiritual children of God; the partakers of his mercy and salvation. This refers, doubtless, to spiritual privileges and to salvation; and therefore has relation not to nations as such, but to individuals.

Verse 9

For this is the word of promise - This is the promise made to Abraham. The design of the apostle, in introducing this, is doubtless to show to whom the promise appertained; and by specifying this, he shows that it had not reference to Ishmael, but to Isaac.

At this time - Greek, According to this time; see Genesis 18:10, Genesis 18:14. Probably it means at the exact time promised; I will fulfil the prediction at the very time; compare 2 Kings 4:16.

Verse 10

And not only this - Not only is the principle of making a distinction among the natural descendants of Abraham thus settled by the promise, but it is still further seen and illustrated in the birth of the two sons of Isaac. He had shown that the principle of thus making a distinction among the posterity of Abraham was recognised in the original promise, thus proving that all the descendants of Abraham were not of course to be saved; and he now proceeds to show that the principle was recognised in the case of his posterity in the family of Isaac. And he shows that it is not according to any natural principles that the selection was made; that he not only made a distinction between Jacob and Esau, but that he did it according to his good pleasure, choosing the younger to be the object of his favor, and rejecting the older, who, according to the custom of the times, was supposed to be entitled to special honor and rights. And in order to prove that this was done according to his own pleasure, he shows that the distinction was made before they were born; before they had formed any character; and, consequently, in such a way that it could not be pretended that it was in consequence of any works which they had performed.

But when Rebecca - The wife of Isaac; see Genesis 25:21, Genesis 25:23.

Verse 11

For the children being not yet born - It was not, therefore, by any works of theirs. It was not because they had formed a character and manifested qualities which made this distinction proper. It was laid back of any such character, and therefore had its foundation in the purpose or plan of God.

Neither having done any good or evil - That is, when the declaration Romans 9:12 was made to Rebecca. This is a very important passage in regard to the question about the purposes of God.

(1) They had done nothing good or bad; and when that is the case, there can be, properly speaking, no moral character, for “a character is not formed when the person has not acquired stable and distinctive qualities.” Webster.

(2) That the period of moral agency had not yet commenced; compare Genesis 25:22-23. When that agency commences, we do not know; but here is a case of which it is alarmed that it had not commenced.

(3) The purpose of God is antecedent to the formation of character, or the performance of any actions, good or bad.

(4) It is not a purpose formed because he sees anything in the individuals as a ground for his choice, but for some reason which he has not explained, and which in the Scripture is simply called purpose and good pleasure; Ephesians 1:5.

(5) If it existed in this case, it does in others. If it was right then, it is now. And if God then dispensed his favors on this principle, he will now. But,

(6) This affirmation respecting Jacob and Esau does not prove that they had not a nature inclined to evil; or a corrupt and sensual propensity; or that they would not sin as soon as they became moral agents. It proves merely that they had not yet committed actual sin. That they, as well as all others, would certainly sin as soon as they committed moral acts at all, is proved everywhere in the Sacred Scriptures.

The purpose of God - Note, Romans 8:28.

According to election - To dispense his favors according to his sovereign will and pleasure. Those favors were not conferred in consequence of the merits of the individuals; but according to a wise plan “lying back” of the formation of their characters, and before they had done good or evil. The favors were thus conferred according to his choice, or election.

Might stand - Might be confirmed; or might be proved to be true. The case shows that God dispenses his favors as a sovereign. The purpose of God was thus proved to have been formed without respect to the merits of either.

Not of works - Not by anything which they had done either to merit his favor or to forfeit it. It was formed on other principles than a reference to their works. So it is in relation to all who shall be saved. God has good reasons for saving those who shall be saved. What the reasons are for choosing some to life, he has not revealed; but he has revealed to us that it is not on account of their works, either performed or foreseen.

But of him that calleth - According to the will and purpose of him that chooses to dispense those favors in this manner. It is not by the merit of man, but it is by a purpose having its origin with God, and formed and executed according to his good pleasure. It is also implied here that it is formed in such a way as to secure his glory as the primary consideration.

Verse 12

It was said unto her - By Yahweh; see Genesis 25:23.

The elder - The oldest son, which was Esau. By the law of primogeniture among the Hebrews, he would have been entitled to special honors and privileges. But it was said that in his case this custom should be reversed, and that he should take the rank of the younger.

Should serve - Shall be subject to; shall not have the authority and priority, but should be inferior to. The passage in Genesis Genesis 25:23 shows that this had reference particularly to the posterity of Esau, and not to him as an individual. The sense is, that the descendants of Esau, who were Edomites, should be inferior to, and subject to the descendants of Jacob. Jacob was to have the priority; the promised land; the promises; and the honor of being regarded as the chosen of God. There was reference here, therefore, to the whole train of temporal and spiritual blessings which were to be connected with the two races of people. If it be asked how this bears on the argument of the apostle, we may reply,

(1) That it settles “the principle” that God might make a distinction among people, in the same nation, and the same family, without reference to their works or character.

(2) That he might confer his blessings on such as he pleased.

(3) If this is done in regard to nations, it may be in regard to individuals. The principle is the same, and the justice the same. If it be supposed to be unjust in God to make such a distinction in regard to individuals, it is surely not less so to make a distinction in nations. The fact that numbers are thus favored, does not make it the more proper, or remove any difficulty.

(4) If this distinction may be made in regard to temporal things, why not in regard to spiritual things? The principle must still be the same. If unjust in one case, it would be in the other. The fact that it is done in one case proves also that it will be in the other; for the same great principle will run through all the dealings of the divine government. And as people do not and cannot complain that God makes a distinction among them in regard to talents, health, beauty, prosperity, and rank, neither can they complain if he acts also as a sovereign in the distribution of his spiritual favors. They, therefore, who regard this as referring only to temporal and national privileges, gain no relief in respect to the real difficulty in the case, for the unanswerable question would still be asked, why has not God made all people equal in everything? Why has he made any distinction among people? The only reply to all such inquiries is, “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight;” Matthew 11:26.

Verse 13

As it is written - Malachi 1:2-3. That is, the distribution of favors is on the principle advanced by the prophet, and is in accordance with the declaration that God had in fact loved the one and hated the other.

Jacob - This refers, doubtless, to the posterity of Jacob.

Have I loved - I have shown affection for that people; I have bestowed on them great privileges and blessings, as proofs of attachment. I have preferred Jacob to Esau.

Esau - The descendants of Esau, the Edomites; see Malachi 1:4.

Have I hated - This does not mean any positive hatred; but that he had preferred Jacob, and had withheld from Esau those privileges and blessings which he had conferred on the posterity of Jacob. This is explained in Malachi 1:3,” And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness;” compare Jeremiah 49:17-18; Ezekiel 35:6. It was common among the Hebrews to use the terms “love” and “hatred” in this comparative sense, where the former implied strong positive attachment, and the latter, not positive hatred, but merely a less love, or the withholding of the expressions of affection; compare Genesis 29:30-31; Proverbs 13:24, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes;” Matthew 6:24, “No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other,” etc.; Luke 14:26, “if any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, etc.”

Verse 14

What shall we say then? - What conclusion shall we draw from these acknowledged facts, and from these positive declarations of Scripture.

Is there unrighteousness with God? - Does God do injustice or wrong? This charge has often been brought against the doctrine here advanced. But this charge the apostle strongly repels. He meets it by further showing that it is the doctrine explicitly taught in the Old Testament Romans 9:15, Romans 9:17, and that it is founded on the principles of equity, and on just views of the sovereignty of God; Romans 9:19-23.

God forbid - Note, Romans 3:4.

Verse 15

For he saith to Moses - Exodus 33:19.

I will have mercy - This is said by God when he declared expressly that he would make all his goodness pass before Moses Exodus 33:19, and when, therefore, it was regarded, not as a proof of stern and inexorable justice, but as “the very proof of his benevolence,” and the highest which he thought proper to exhibit. When people, therefore, under the influence of an unrenewed and hosthe heart, charge this as an unjust and arbitrary proceeding, they are resisting and perverting what God regards as the very demonstration of his benevolence. The sense of the passage clearly is, that he would choose the objects of his favor, and bestow his mercies as he chose. None of the human race deserved his favor; and he had a right to pardon whom he pleased, and to save people on his own terms, and according to his sovereign will and pleasure.

On whom I will have mercy - On whom I choose to bestow mercy. The mode he does not explain. But there could not be a more positive declaration of these truths,

  1. That he does it as a sovereign, without giving an account of the reason of his choice to any.

(2)That he does it without regard to any claim on the part of man; or that man is regarded as destitute of merit, and as having no right to his mercy.

(3)That he will do it to any extent which he pleases, and in whatever time and manner may best accord with his own good pleasure.

(4)That he has regard to a definite number and that on that number he intends to bestow eternal life; and,

  1. That no one has a right to complain.

It is proof of his benevolence that any are saved; and where none have a claim, where all are justly condemned, he has a right to pardon whom he pleases. The executive of a country may select any number of criminals whom he may see fit to pardon, or who may be forgiven in consistency with the supremacy of the laws and the welfare of the community and none has a right to complain, but every good citizen should rejoice that any may be pardoned with safety. So in the moral world, and under the administration of its holy Sovereign, it should be a matter of joy that any can be pardoned and saved; and not a subject of murmuring and complaint that those who shall finally deserve to die shall be consigned to woe.

Verse 16

So then - It follows as a consequence from this statement of God to Moses. Or it is a doctrine established by that statement.

Not of him that willeth - This does not mean that he that becomes a Christian, and is saved, does not choose eternal life; or is not made willing; or that he is compelled to enter heaven against his own choice. It is true that people by nature have no desire of holiness, and do not choose eternal life. But the effect of the influences of God’s Spirit on the heart is to make it “willing in the day of his power;” Psalms 110:3. The meaning here is evidently, that eternal life is not bestowed because man had any original willingness or disposition to be saved; it is not because he commences the work, and is himself disposed to it; but it is because God inclines him to it, and disposes him to seek for mercy, and then confers it in his own way. The word “willeth” here denotes wish or desire.

Nor of him that runneth - This denotes “strenuous, intense effort,” as when a man is anxious to obtain an object, or hastens from danger. The meaning is not that the sinner does not make an effort to be saved; nor that all who become Christians do not “in fact” strive to enter into the kingdom, or earnestly desire salvation, for the Scriptures teach the contrary; Luke 16:16; Luke 13:24. There is no effort more intense and persevering, no struggle more arduous or agonizing, than when a sinner seeks eternal life. Nor does it mean that they who strive in a proper way, and with proper effort, shall not obtain eternal life; Matthew 7:7. But the sense is,

  1. That the sinner would not put forth any effort himself. If left to his own course, he would never seek to be saved.

(2)That he is pardoned, not “on account” of his effort; not because he makes an exertion; but because God chooses to pardon him.

There is no merit in his anxiety, and prayers, and agony, on account of which God would forgive him; but he is still dependent on the mere mercy of God to save or destroy him at his will. The sinner, however anxious he may be, and however much or long he may strive, does not bring God under an obligation to pardon him any more than the condemned criminal, trembling with the fear of execution, and the consciousness of crime, lays the judge or the jury under an obligation to acquit him. This fact, it is of great importance for an awakened sinner to know. Deeply anxious he should be, but there is no merit in his distress. Pray he should, but there is no merit in his prayers. Weep and strive he may, but in this there is no ground of claim on God for pardon; and, after all, he is dependent on his mere sovereign mercy, as a lost, ruined, and helpless sinner, to be saved or lost at his will.

But of God that showeth mercy - Salvation in its beginning, its progress, and its close, is of him. He has a right, therefore, to bestow it when and where he pleases. All our mercies flow from his mere love and compassion, and not from our deserts. The essential idea here is, that God is the original fountain of all the blessings of salvation.

Verse 17

For the Scripture saith - Exodus 9:16. That is, God saith to Pharaoh in the Scriptures; Galatians 3:8, Galatians 3:22. This passage is designed to illustrate the doctrine that God shows mercy according to his sovereign pleasure by a reference to one of the most extraordinary cases of hardness of heart which has ever occurred. The design is to show that God has a right to pass by those to whom he does not choose to show mercy; and to place them in circumstances where they shall develope their true character, and where in fait they shall become more hardened and be destroyed; Romans 9:18.

Unto Pharaoh - The haughty and oppressive king of Egypt; thus showing that the most mighty and wicked monarchs are at his control; compare Isaiah 10:5-7.

For this same purpose - For the design, or with the intent that is immediately specified. This was the leading purpose or design of his sustaining him.

Have I raised thee up - Margin in Exodus 9:16, “made thee stand,” that is, sustained thee. The Greek word used by the apostle (ἐξήγειρα exēgeira), means properly, I “have excited, roused, or stirred” thee up. But it may also have the meaning, “I have sustained or supported thee.” That is, I have kept thee from death; I have preserved thee from ruin; I have ministered strength to thee, so that thy full character has been developed. It does not mean that God had infused into his mind any positive evil, or that by any direct influence he had excited any evil feelings, but that he had kept him in circumstances which were suited to develope his true character. The meaning of the word and the truth of the case may be expressed in the following particulars:

(1) God meant to accomplish some great purposes by his existence and conduct.

(2) He kept him, or sustained him, with reference to that.

(3) He had control over the haughty and wicked monarch. He could take his life, or he could continue him on earth. As he had control over all things that could affect the pride, the feelings, and the happiness of the monarch, so he had control over the monarch himself.

(4) “he placed him in circumstances just suited to develope his character.” He kept him amidst those circumstances until his character was fully developed.

(5) He did not exert a positive evil influence on the mind of Pharaoh; for,

(6) In all this the monarch acted freely. He did what he chose to do. He pursued his own course. He was voluntary in his schemes of oppressing the Israelites. He was voluntary in his opposition to God. He was voluntary when he pursued the Israelites to the Red sea. In all his doings he acted as he chose to do, and with a determined “choice of evil,” from which neither warning nor judgment would turn him away. Thus, he is said to have hardened his own heart; Exodus 8:15.

(7) Neither Pharaoh nor any sinner can justly blame God for placing them in circumstances where they shall develope their own character, and show what they are. It is not the fault of God, but their own fault. The sinner is not compelled to sin; nor is God under obligation to save him contrary to the prevalent desires and wishes of the sinner himself.

My power in thee - Or by means of thee. By the judgments exerted in delivering an entire oppressed people from thy grasp. God’s most signal acts of power were thus shown in consequence of his disobedience and rebellion.

My name - The name of Yahweh, as the only true God, and the deliverer of his people.

Throughout all the earth - Or throughout all the land of Egypt; Note, Luke 2:1. We may learn here,

  1. That a leading design of God in the government of the world is to make his power, and name, and character known.

(2)That this is often accomplished in a most signal manner by the destruction of the wicked.

(3)That wicked people should be alarmed, since their arm cannot contend with God, and since his enemies shall be destroyed.

(4)It is right that the incorrigibly wicked should be cut off. When a man’s character is fully developed; when he is fairly tried; when in all circumstances, he has shown that he will not obey God, neither justice nor mercy hinders the Almighty from cutting him down and consigning him to death.

Verse 18

Therefore hath he mercy ... - This is a conclusion stated by the apostle as the result of all the argument.

Whom he will he hardeneth - This is not stated in what the Scripture said to Pharaoh, but is a conclusion to which the apostle had arrived, in view of the case of Pharaoh. The word “hardeneth” means only to harden in the manner specified in the case of Pharaoh. It does not mean to exert a positive influence, but to leave a sinner to his own course, and to place him in circumstances where the character will be more and more developed; see the note at John 12:40. It implies, however, an act of sovereignty on the part of God in thus leaving him to his chosen course, and in not putting forth that influence by which he could be saved from death. Why this is, the apostle does not state. We should, however, not dispute a fact everywhere prevalent; and should have sufficient confidence in God to believe that it is in accordance with infinite wisdom and rectitude.

Verse 19

Thou wilt say then unto me - The apostle here refers to an objection that might be made to his argument. If the position which he had been endeavoring to establish were true; if God had a purpose in all his dealings with people; if all the revolutions among people happened according to his decree, so that he was not disappointed, or his plan frustrated; and if his own glory was secured in all this, why could he blame people?

Why doth he yet find fault? - Why does he blame people, since their conduct is in accordance with his purpose, and since he bestows mercy according to his sovereign will? This objection has been made by sinners in all ages. It is the standing objection against the doctrines of grace. The objection is founded,

  1. On the difficulty of reconciling the purposes of God with the free agency of man.

(2)It assumes, what cannot be proved, that a plan or purpose of God must destroy the freedom of man.

(3)It is said that if the plan of God is accomplished, then what is best to be done is done, and, of course, man cannot be blamed. These objections are met by the apostle in the following argument.

Who hath resisted his will? - That is, who has “successfully opposed” his will, or frustrated his plan? The word translated “resist” is commonly used to denote the resistance offered by soldiers or armed men. Thus, Ephesians 6:13, “Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand (resist or successfully oppose) in the evil day:” see Luke 21:15, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist;” see also Acts 7:10; Acts 13:8, “But Elymas ...withstood them, etc.” The same Greek word, Romans 13:2; Galatians 2:11. This does not mean that no one has offered resistance or opposition to God, but that no one has done it successfully. God had accomplished his purposes “in spite of” their opposition. This was an established point in the sacred writings, and one of the admitted doctrines of the Jews. To establish it had even been a part of the apostle’s design; and the difficulty now was to see how, this being admitted, people could be held chargeable with crime. That it was the doctrine of the Scriptures, see 2 Chronicles 20:6, “In thine hand “is there not” power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?” Daniel 4:35, “he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” See also the case of Joseph and his brethren, Genesis 50:20, “As for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.”

Verse 20

Nay but, O man ... - To this objection the apostle replies in two ways; first, by asserting the sovereignty of God, and affirming that he had a right to do it Romans 9:20-21; and secondly, by showing that he did it according to the principles of justice and mercy, or that it was involved of necessity in his dispensing justice and mercy to mankind; Romans 9:22-24.

Who art thou ... - Paul here strongly reproves the impiety and wickedness of arraigning God. This impiety appears,

(1) Because man is a creature of arraigning God. This impiety appears, Because man is a creature of God, and it is improper that he should arraign his Maker.

(2) He is unqualified to understand the subject. “Who art thou?” What qualifications has a creature of a day, a being just in the infancy of his existence; of so limited faculties; so perverse, blinded, and interested as man, to sit in judgment on the doings of the Infinite Mind? Who gave him the authority, or invested him with the prerogatives of a judge over his Maker’s doings?

(3) Even if man were qualified to investigate those subjects, what right has he to reply against God, to arraign him, or to follow out a train of argument tending to involve his Creator in shame and disgrace? No where is there to be found a more cutting or humbling reply to the pride of man than this. And on no subject was it more needed. The experience of every age has shown that this has been a prominent topic of objection against the government of God; and that there has been no point in the Christian theology to which the human heart has been so ready to make objections as to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.

Repliest against God - Margin, “Answerest again; or, disputest with God.” The passage conveys the idea of answering again; or of arguing to the dishonor of God. It implies that when God declares his will, man should be still. God has his own plans of infinite wisdom, and it is not ours to reply against him, or to arraign him of injustice, when we cannot see the reason of his doings.

Shall the thing formed ... - This sentiment is found in Isaiah 29:16; see also Isaiah 45:9. It was especially proper to adduce this to a Jew. The objection is one which is supposed to be made by a Jew, and it was proper to reply to him by a quotation from his own Scriptures. Any being has a right to fashion his work according to his own views of what is best; and as this right is not denied to people, we ought not to blame the infinitely wise God for acting in a similar way. They who have received every blessing they enjoy from him, ought not to blame him for not making them different.

Verse 21

Hath not the potter ... - This same sovereign right of God the apostle proceeds to urge from another illustration, and another passage from the Old Testament; Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” This passage is preceded in Isaiah by one declaring “the depravity of man;” Isaiah 64:6, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” As they were polluted with sin, as they had transgressed the Law of God, and had no claim and no merit, God might bestow his favors as he pleased, and mould them as the potter did the clay. He would do no injury to those who were left, and “who had no claim to his mercy,” if he bestowed favors on others, any more than the potter would do injustice to one part of the mass, if he put it to an ignoble use, and moulded another part into a vessel of honor.

This is still the condition of sinful people. God does no injustice to a man if he leaves him to take his own course to ruin, and makes another, equally undeserving, the recipient of his mercy. He violated none of my rights by not conferring on me the talents of Newton or of Bacon; or by not placing me in circumstances like those of Peter and Paul. Where all are undeserving, the utmost that can be demanded is that he should not treat them with injustice. And this is secured even in the case of the lost. No man will suffer more than he deserves; nor will any man go to perdition feeling that he has “a claim” to better treatment than he receives. The same sentiment is found in Jeremiah 18:6, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, etc.”

The passage in Isaiah proves that God has the right of a sovereign over guilty individuals; that in Jeremiah, that he has the same right over nations; thus meeting the whole case as it was in the mind of the apostle. These passages, however, assert only the right of God to do it, without affirming anything about the manner in which it is done. In fact, God bestows his favors in a mode very different from that in which a potter moulds his clay. God does not create holiness by a mere act of power, but he produces it in a manner consistent with the moral agency of people; and bestows his favors not to compel people, but to incline them to be willing to receive them; Psalms 110:3, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” It should be further remarked, that the argument of the apostle here does not refer to “the original creation” of people, as if God had then made them one for honor and another for dishonor. He refers to man as fallen and lost. His argument is this: “Man is in ruins: he is fallen; he has no claim on God; all deserve to die; on this mass, where none have any claim, he may bestow life on whom he pleases, without injury to others; he may exercise the right of a sovereign to pardon whom he pleases; or of a potter to mould any part of the useless mass to purposes of utility and beauty.”

Potter - One whose occupation it is to make earthen vessels.

Power - This word denotes here not merely “physical power,” but authority, right; see Matthew 7:29, translated “authority;” Matthew 21:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:9; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24, “The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, etc.”

Lump - Mass. It denotes anything that is reduced to a fine consistency, and mixed, and made soft by water; either clay, as in this place, or the mass produced of grain pounded and mixed with water; Romans 11:16, “If the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy;” 1 Corinthians 5:6, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?”

One vessel - A cup, or other utensil, made of clay.

Unto honour - Fitted to an honorable use, or designed for a more useful and refined purpose.

Unto dishonour - To a meaner service, or more common use. This is a common mode of expression among the Hebrews. The lump here denotes the mass of people, sinners, having no claim on God. The potter illustrates God’s right over that mass, to dispose of it as seems good in his sight. The doctrine of the passage is, that people have no right to complain if God bestows his blessings where and when he chooses.

Verses 22-23

What if God ... - If God does what the apostle supposes, what then? Is it not right? This is the second point in the answer to the objection in Romans 9:19. The answer has respect to the “two classes” of people which actually exist on the earth - the righteous and the wicked. And the question is, whether “in regard to these two classes God does in fact do wrong?” If he does not, then the doctrine of the apostle is established, and the objection is not valid. It is assumed here, as it must be, that the world is “in fact” divided into two classes - saints and sinners. The apostle considers the case of sinners in Romans 9:22.

Willing - Being disposed; having an inclination to. It denotes an inclination of mind toward the thing proposed. If the thing itself was right; if it was proper to “show his wrath,” then it was proper to be willing to do it. If it is right to do a thing, it is right to purpose or intend to do it.

His wrath - τὴν ὀργὴν tēn orgēn. This word occurs thirty-five times in the New Testament. Its meaning is derived from the idea of earnestly desiring or reaching for an object, and properly denotes, in its general sense, a vehement desire of attaining anything. Hence, it comes to denote an earnest desire of revenge, or of inflicting suffering on those who have injured us; Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness and wrath, etc.” Colossians 3:8; 1 Timothy 2:8. Hence, it denotes indignation in general, which is not joined with a desire of revenge; Mark 3:5, “He looked round about on them with anger.” It also denotes punishment for sin; the anger or displeasure of God against transgression; Note, Romans 1:18; Luke 3:7; Luke 21:23, etc. In this place it is evidently used to denote “severe displeasure against sin.”sin is an evil of so great magnitude, “it is right” for God to be willing to evince his displeasure against it; and just in proportion to the extent of the evil. This displeasure, or wrath, it is proper that God should always be willing to show; nay, it would not be right for him not to show it, for that would be the same thing as to be indifferent to it, or to approve it. In this place, however, it is not affirmed,

  1. That God has any pleasure in sin, or its punishment; nor,
  2. That he exerted any agency to compel man to sin. It affirms only that God is willing to show his hatred of incorrigible and long-continued wickedness when it actually exists.

To make his power known - This language is the same as what was used in relation to Pharaoh; Romans 9:17; Exodus 9:16. But it is not probable that the apostle intended to confine it to the Egyptians only. In the following verse he speaks of “the vessels of mercy prepared “unto glory;” which cannot be supposed to be language adapted to the temporal deliverance of the Jews. The case of Pharaoh was “one instance, or illustration” of the general principle on which God would deal with people. His government is conducted on great and uniform principles; and the case of Pharaoh was a development of the great laws on which he governs the universe.

Endured - Bore with; was patient, or forbearing; Revelation 2:3. “And hast borne, and hast patience, etc.” 1 Corinthians 13:7, “charity, (love) beareth all things.” Luke 18:7, “will not God avenge his elect. though he bear long with theme?”

With much long-suffering - With much patience. He suffered them to live while they deserved to die. God bears with all sinners with much patience; he spares them amid all their provocations, to give them opportunity of repentance; and though they are suited for destruction, yet he prolongs their lives, and offers them pardon, and loads them with benefits. This fact is a complete vindication of the government of God from the aspersions of all his enemies.

Vessels of wrath - The word “vessel” means a cup, etc. made of earth. As the human body is frail, easily broken and destroyed, it comes to signify also the body. 2 Corinthians 4:7; “we have this treasure in earthen vessels.” 1 Thessalonians 4:4, “that everyone of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” - that everyone should keep his body from the indulgence of unlawful passions; compare Romans 9:3. Hence, also it means “the man himself.” Acts 9:15, “he is a chosen vessel unto me, etc.” compare Isaiah 13:5. In this place there is doubtless, allusion to what he had just said of clay in the hands of the potter. The phrase “vessels of wrath” denotes wicked people against whom it is fit or proper that wrath should be shown; as Judas is called “the son of perdition,” see the note at John 17:12. This does not mean that people by their very creation, or their physical nature, are thus denominated; but people who, from long continuance in iniquity, deserve to experience wrath; as Judas was not called “son of perdition” by any arbitrary appointment, or as an original designation, but because in consequence of his avarice and treason this was the name which “in fact” actually described him, or suited his case.

Fitted - κατηρτισμένα katērtismena. This word properly means to “restore; to place in order; to render complete; to supply a defect; to fit to, or adapt to, or prepare for;” see Matthew 4:21, “Were mending their nets.” Galatians 6:1, “restore such an one, etc.” In this place it is a participle, and means those who are suited for or “adapted to” destruction; those whose characters are such as to deserve destruction, or as to make destruction proper. See the same use of the word in Hebrews 11:3, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed” - beautifully suited up in proper proportions, one part adapted to another - “by the Word of God.” Hebrews 10:5, “a body hast thou prepared for me;” suited, or adapted to me; compare Psalms 68:10; Psalms 74:16. In this place there is not the semblance of a declaration that “God had prepared them, or fitted them for destruction.” It is a simple declaration that they were in fact suited for it, without making an affirmation about the manner in which they became so.

A reader of the English Bible may, perhaps, sometimes draw the impression that God had suited them for this. But this is not affirmed; and there is an evident design in not affirming it, and a distinction made between them and the vessels of mercy which ought to be regarded. In relation to the latter it is expressly affirmed that God suited or prepared them for glory; see Romans 9:23, “Which he had afore prepared unto glory.” The same distinction is remarkably striking in the account of the last judgment in Matthew 25:34, Matthew 25:41. To the righteous, Christ will say, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you, etc.” To the wicked, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels;” not said to have been originally prepared “for them.” It is clear, therefore, that God intends to keep the great truth in view, that he prepares his people “by direct agency” for heaven; but that he exerts “no such agency” in preparing the wicked for destruction.

For destruction - εἰς ἀπώλειαν eis apōleian. This word occurs in the New Testament no less than 20 times; Matthew 7:13, “Which leadeth to destruction.” John 17:12, “son of perdition.” Acts 8:20, “thy money perish with thee;” Greek, be for destruction with thee, Acts 25:16; Philippians 1:28, “Token of perdition.” Philippians 3:19, “whose end is destruction.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “the son of perdition.” 1 Timothy 5:9, “which drown men in destruction and perdition.” Hebrews 10:39, “which draw back into perdition; see also 2 Peter 2:1, 2 Peter 2:3; 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Peter 3:16, etc. In these places it is clear that the reference is to the future punishment of wicked people, and in “no instance” to national calamities. No such use of the word is to be found in the New Testament; and this is further clear from the contrast with the word “glory” in the next verse. We may remark here, that if people are suited or prepared for destruction; if future torment is adapted to them, and they to it; if it is fit that they should be subjected to it; then God will do what is fit or right to be done, and, unless they repent, they must perish. Nor would it be right for God to take them to heaven as they are; to a place for which they are not suited, and which is not adapted to their feelings, their character, or their conduct.

Romans 9:23

And that he might make known - That he might manifest or display. The apostle had shown (in Romans 9:22) that the dealings of God toward the wicked were not liable to the objection made in Romans 9:19. In this verse he proceeds to show that the objection could not lie against his dealings with the other class of people - the righteous. If his dealings toward neither were liable to the objection, then he has “met the whole case,” and the divine government is vindicated. This he proves by showing that for God to show the riches of his glory toward those whom he has prepared for it, cannot be regarded as unjust.

The riches of his glory - This is a form of expression common among the Hebrews, meaning the same as his rich or “his abundant glory.” The same expression occurs in Ephesians 1:18.

On the vessels of mercy - People toward whom his mercy was to be displayed (see Romans 9:22); that is, on those toward whom he has purposed to display his mercy.

Mercy - Favor, or pity shown to the miserable. Grace is favor to the undeserving; mercy, favor to those in distress. This distinction is not, however, always strictly observed by the sacred writers.

Which he had afore prepared - We are here brought to a remarkable difference between God’s mode of dealing with them and with the wicked. Here it is expressly affirmed that God himself had prepared them for glory. In regard to the wicked, it is simply affirmed that they “were fitted” for destruction, without affirming anything of the agency by which it was done. That God prepares his people for glory - commences and continues the work of their redemption - is abundantly taught in the Scriptures; 1 Thessalonians 5:9, “God hath appointed us, to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Timothy 1:9, “who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” See also Ephesians 1:4-5, Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28-30; Acts 13:48; John 1:13. As the renewing of the heart and the sanctifying of the soul is an act of goodness, it is worthy of God, and of course no objection could lie against it. No man could complain of a course of dealings designed to make people better; and as this is the sole design of the electing love of God, his deal, ings with this class of people are easily vindicated. No Christian can complain that God has chosen him, renewed him, and made him pure and happy. And as this was an important part of the plan of God, it is easily defended from the objection in Romans 9:19.

Unto glory - To happiness; and especially to the happiness of heaven Hebrews 2:10, “It became him, in bringing many sons unto glory, etc.” Romans 5:2, “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:17, “our light affliction worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” 2Th 2:14; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1 Peter 5:4. This eternal state is called “glory,” because it blends together everything that constitutes honor, dignity, purity, love, and happiness. All these significations are in various places attached to this word, and all mingle in the eternal state of the righteous. We may remark here,

(1) That this word “glory” is not used in the Scriptures to denote any “external national privileges;” or to describe any external call of the gospel. No such instance is to be found. Of course the apostle here by vessels of mercy meant individuals destined to eternal life, and not nations externally called to the gospel. No instance can be found where God speaks of nations called to external privileges, and speaks of them as “prepared unto glory.”

(2) As this word refers to the future state of individuals, it shows what is meant by the word “destruction” in Romans 9:22. That term stands contrasted with glory; and describes, therefore, the future condition of individual wicked people. This is also its uniform meaning in the New Testament.

On this vindication of the apostle we may observe:

(1) That all people will be treated as they ought to be treated. People will be dealt with according to their characters at the end of life.

(2) If people will suffer no injustice, then this is the same as saying that they will be treated justly. But what is this? That the wicked shall be treated as they deserve. What they deserve God has told us in the Scriptures. “These shall go away into everlasting punishment.”

(3) God has a right to bestow his blessings as he chooses. Where all are undeserving, where none have any claim, he may confer his favors on whom he pleases.

(4) He actually does deal with people in this way. The apostle takes this for granted. He does not deny it. He most evidently believes it, and labors to show that it is right to do so. If he did not believe it, and meant to teach it, he would have said so. It would have met the objection at once, and saved all argument. He reasons as if he did believe it; and this settles the question that the doctrine is true.

Verse 24

Even us ... - See Romans 1:16; Romans 2:10; Romans 3:29-30. To prove that the Gentiles might be called as well as the Jews, was a leading design of the Epistle.

Us - Christians, selected from both Jews and Gentiles. This proves that he did not refer to nations primarily, but to individuals chosen out of nations. Two things are established here.

(1) That the grace of God was not confined to the Jewish people, as they supposed, so that it could be conferred on no others.

(2) That God was not bound to confer grace on all the descendants of Abraham, as he bestowed it on those selected from the mass, according to his own will, and not of necessity “on the mass” itself.

Verse 25

As he saith also - The doctrine which he had established, he proceeds now to confirm by quotations from the writings of Jews, that he might remove every objection. The doctrine was,

  1. That God intended to call his people from the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

(2)That he was bound by no promise and no principle of obligation to bestow salvation on all the Jews.

(3)That, therefore, it was right for him to reject any or all of the Jews, if he chose, and cut them off from their privileges as a people and from salvation.

In Osee - This is the Greek form of writing the Hebrew word Hosea. It means in the book of Hosea, as “in David” means in the book of David, or by David, Hebrews 4:7. The passage is found in Hosea 2:23. This quotation is not made according to the letter, but the sense of the prophet is preserved. The meaning is the same in Hosea and in this place, that God would bring those into a covenant relation to himself, who were before deemed outcasts and strangers. Thus, he supports his main position that God would choose his people from among the Gentiles as well as the Jews, or would exercise toward both his right as a sovereign, bestowing or withholding his blessings as he pleases.

Verse 26

And it shall come to pass - It shall happen, or take place. This is a continuation of the quotation from the prophet Hosea Hosea 1:10, designed to confirm the doctrine which he was establishing. Both these quotations have the same design, and are introduced for the same end. In Hosea they did not refer to the calling of the Gentiles, but to the recalling the rejected Jews. God says, after the Jews had been rejected and scattered for their idolatry; after they had forfeited his favor, and been cast off as if they were not his people; he would recall them, and bestow on them again the appellation of sons. The apostle does not quote this as having original reference to the Gentiles, but for the following purposes:

(1) If God formerly purposed to recall to himself a people whom he had rejected; if he bestowed favors on his own people after they had forfeited his favor, and ceased to be entitled to the name of “his people:” then the same thing was not to be regarded as absurd if he dealt in a similar manner with the Gentiles - also a part of his original great family, the family of man, but long since rejected and deemed strangers.

(2) The dealings of God toward the Jews in the time of Hosea settled “a general principle of government.” His treatment of them in this manner was a part of his great plan of governing the world. On the same plan he now admitted the Gentiles to favor. And as this “general principle” was established; as the history of the Jews themselves was a precedent in the case, it ought not to be objected in the time of Paul that the “same principle” should be carried out to meet the case also of the Gentiles.

In the place - The place where they may be scattered, or where they may dwell. Or rather, perhaps, in those nations which were not regarded as the people of God, there shall be a people to whom this shall apply.

Where it was said unto them - Where the proper appellation of the people was, that they were not the people of God; where they were idolatrous, sinful, aliens, strangers; so that they had none of the marks of the children of God.

Ye are not my people - People in covenant with God; under his protection, as their Sovereign, and keeping his laws.

There shall they be called - That is, there they “shall be.” The verb to call in the Hebrew writings means often the same as “to be.” It denotes that this shall be the appellation which properly expresses their character. It is a figure perhaps almost unique to the Hebrews; and it gives additional interest to the case. Instead of saying coldly and abstractedly, “they are such,” it introduces also the idea that such is the “favorable judgment” of God in the case; see Matthew 5:9, “Peace-makers ...shall be called the children of God;” see the note on that place; also Romans 9:19; Matthew 21:13, “My house shall “be called” the house of prayer;” Mark 11:17; Luke 1:32, Luke 1:35, Luke 1:76; Isaiah 56:7.

The children of ... - Greek, Sons; see the note at Matthew 1:1.

Living God - Called living God in opposition to dead idols; see the Matthew 16:16 note; also Matthew 26:63 note; John 6:69 note; Acts 14:15 note; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 is a most honorable and distinguished appellation. No higher favor can be conferred on mortals than “to be” the sons of the living God; members of his family; entitled to his protection; and secure of his watch and care. This was an object of the highest desire with the saints of old; see Psalms 42:2; Psalms 84:2,” My soul thirsteth for God, the living God;” “My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

Verses 27-28

Esaias - The Greek way of writing the word “Isaiah.”

Crieth - Isaiah 10:22-23. Exclaims, or speaks aloud or openly: compare John 1:15. Isaiah brings forth the doctrine fully, and without any concealment or disguise. This doctrine related to the rejection of the Jews; a far more difficult point to establish than was that of the calling of the Gentiles. It was needful, therefore, to fortify it by some explicit passage of the Scriptures.

Concerning Israel - Concerning “the Jews.” It is probable that Isaiah had reference primarily to the Jews of his own time; to that wicked generation that God was about to punish, by sending them captive into other lands. The case was one, however, which settled a “general principle of the Jewish government;” and, therefore, it was applicable to the case before the apostle. If the thing for which he was contending - that the Jews might be rejected existed in the time of Isaiah, and was settled then as a precedent, it might exist also in his time, and under the gospel.

As the sand of the sea - This expression is used to denote an indefinite or an innumerable multitude. It often occurs in the sacred writings. In the infancy of society, before the art of numbering was carried to a great extent, people were obliged to express themselves very much in this manner, Genesis 22:17, “I will multiply thy seed ...as the sand which is upon the seashore;” Isaiah 32:12, Isaiah doubtless had reference to this promise; “Though all that was promised to Abraham shall be fulfilled, and his seed shall be as numerous as God declared, yet a remnant only, etc.” The apostle thus shows that his doctrine does not conflict at all with the utmost expectation of the Jews drawn from the promises of God; see a similar use of the term “sand” in Judges 7:12; 1Sa 13:5; 2 Samuel 17:11, etc. In the same manner great numbers were denoted by the stars of heaven, Genesis 22:17; Genesis 15:5.

A remnant shall be saved - Meaning a remnant only. This implies that great multitudes of them would be “cast off,” and “be not saved.” If only a remnant was to be saved, many must be lost; and this was just the point which the apostle was endeavoring to establish. The word “remnant” means what is left, particularly what may remain after a battle or a great calamity, 2 Kings 19:31; 2 Kings 10:11; Judges 5:11; Isaiah 14:22. In this place, however, it means a small part or portion. Out of the great multitude there shall be so few left as to make it proper to say that it was a mere remnant. This implies, of course, that the great mass should be cast away or rejected. And this was the use which the apostle intended to make of it; compare the Wisdom of Sirach, xliv. 17, “Noah ...was left unto the earth as a remnant when the flood came.”

Shall be saved - Shall be preserved or kept from destruction. As Isaiah had reference to the captivity of Babylon. this means that only a remnant should return to their native land. The great mass should be rejected and cast off. This was the case with the ten tribes, and also with many others who chose to remain in the land of their captivity The use which the apostle makes of it is this: In the history of the Jews, by the testimony of Isaiah, a large part of the Jews of that time were rejected, and cast off from being the special people of God. It is clear, therefore, that God has brought himself under no obligation to save all the descendants of Abraham. This case settles the principle. If God did it then, it was equally consistent for him to do it in the time of Paul, under the gospel. The conclusion, therefore, to which the apostle came, that it was the intention of God to reject and cast off the Jews as a people, was in strict accordance with their own history and the prophecies. It was still true that a remnant was to be saved, while the great mass of the people was rejected. The apostle is not to be understood here as affirming that the passage in Isaiah had reference to the gospel, but only that “it settled one great principle of the divine administration in regard to the Jews, and that their rejection under the gospel was strictly in accordance with that principle.”

Romans 9:28

He will finish the work - This is taken from the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 10:23. The Hebrew is, “The Lord God of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.” Or, as it may be rendered, “Destruction is decreed which shall make justice overflow; yea, destruction is verily determined on; the Lord Yahweh will execute it in the midst of all the land.” (Stuart.) The Septuagint and the apostle adhere to “the sense” of the passage, but do not follow the words. The phrase, “will finish the work,” means “he will bring the thing to an end,” or will accomplish it. It is an expression applicable to a firm purpose to accomplish an object. It refers here to his threat of cutting off the people; and means that he will fulfil it.

Cut it short - This word here means to “execute it speedily.” The destruction shall not be delayed.

In righteousness - So as to manifest his own justice. The work, though apparently severe, yet shall be a just expression of God’s abhorrence of the sins of the people.

Because a short work - The word here rendered “short” means properly that which is “determined on or decreed.” This is the sense of the Hebrew; and the phrase here denotes “the purpose which was determined on” in relation to the Jews.

Upon the earth - Upon the land of Israel; see the notes at Matthew 5:4; Matthew 4:8. The design for which the apostle introduces this passage is to show that God of old destroyed many of the Jews for their sin; and that, therefore, the doctrine of the apostle was no new thing, that “the Jews” might be excluded from the special privileges of the children of God.

Verse 29

And as Esaias said - Isaiah 1:9.

Before - The apostle had just cited one prediction from the tenth chapter of Isaiah. He now says that Isaiah had affirmed the same thing in a previous part of his prophecy.

Except the Lord of Sabaoth - In Isaiah, the Lord of Hosts. The word “Sabaoth” is the Hebrew word rendered “hosts” (armies). It properly denotes armies or military hosts organized for war. Hence, it denotes the “hosts of heaven,” and means:

(1) “The angels” who are represented as marshalled or arranged into military orders; Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:16; Colossians 2:15; Jude 1:6; 1 Kings 22:19, “I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him;” Psalms 103:21; Psalms 148:2.

(2) The stars; Jeremiah 33:22, “As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, etc.” Isaiah 40:26; Deuteronomy 4:19, etc. God is called the Lord of hosts, as being at the head of all these armies; their King and their Commander. It is a phrase properly expressive of his majesty and power, and is appropriately introduced here, as the “act of saving” “the seed” was a signal “act of power” in the midst of great surrounding wickedness.

Had left - Had preserved, or kept from destruction. Here their preservation is ascribed to God, and it is affirmed that if God had not interposed, “the whole nation” would have been cut off. This fully establishes the doctrine of the apostle, that God might cast off the Jews, and extend the blessings to the Gentiles.

A seed - The Hebrew in Isaiah means “one surviving or escaping,” corresponding with the word “remnant.” The word “seed” commonly means in the Scriptures “descendants, posterity.” In this place it means “a part, a small portion; a remnant,” like the small portion of the harvest which is reserved for sowing.

We had been as Sodoma - The nation was so wicked, that unless God had preserved a small number who were pious from the general corruption of the people, they would have been swept off by judgment, like Sodom and Gomorrah. We are told that ten righteous men would have saved Sodom; Genesis 18:32. Among the Israelites, in a time of great general depravity, a small number of holy men were found who preserved the nation. The design of the apostle here was the same as in the previous verses - to show that it was settled in the Jewish history that God might cast off the people, and reject them from enjoying the special privileges of his friends. It is true that in Isaiah he has reference to the temporal punishments of the Jews. But it settles “a great principle,” for which Paul was contending, that God might cast off the nation consistently with his promises and his plans. We may learn here,

  1. That the existence of religion among a people is owing to the love of God. “Except the Lord “had left us, etc.”

(2)It is owing to his mercy that “any men” are kept from sin, and any nation from destruction.

(3)We see the value of religion and of pious people in a nation. Ten such would have saved Sodom; and a few such saved Judea; compare Matthew 5:13-14.

  1. God has aright to withdraw his mercies from any other people, however exalted their privileges, and leave them to ruin; and we should not be high-minded, but fear; Rom, Matthew 10:20.

Verse 30

What shall we say then? - What conclusion shall we draw from the previous train of remarks? To what results have we come by the passages adduced from the Old Testament? This question is asked preparatory to his summing up the argument; and he had so stated the argument that the conclusion which he was about to draw was inevitable.

The Gentiles - That many of the Gentiles; or that the way was open for them, and many of them “had actually” embraced the righteousness of faith. This Epistle was written as late as the year 57 (see Introduction), and at that time multitudes of pagans had embraced the Christian religion.

Which followed not after righteousness - The apostle does not mean that none of the pagans had any solicitude about right and wrong, or that there were no anxious inquiries among them; but he intends particularly to place them in contrast with the Jew. They had not made it their main object to justify themselves; they were not filled with prejudice and pride as the Jews were, who supposed that they had complied with the Law, and who felt no need of any other justification; they were sinners, and they felt it, and had no such mighty obstacle in a system of self-righteousness to overcome as the Jew had. Still it was true that they were excessively wicked, and that the prevailing characteristic among them was that they did not follow after righteousness; see Romans 1:0. The word “followed” here often denotes to pursue with intense energy, as a hunter pursues his game, or a man pursues a flying enemy. The Jews had sought righteousness in that way; the Gentiles had not. The word “righteousness” here means the same as justification. The Gentiles, which sought not justification, have obtained justification.

Have attained to righteousness - Have become justified. This was a matter of fact; and this was what the prophet had predicted. The apostle does not say that the sins of the Gentiles, or their indifference to the subject, was any reason why God justified them, or that people would be as safe in sin as in attempting to seek for salvation. He establishes the doctrine, indeed, that God is a sovereign; but still it is implied that the gospel did not have the special obstacle to contend with among the Gentiles that it had among the Jews. There was less pride, obstinacy, self-confidence; and people were more easily brought “to see” that they were sinners, and to feel their need of a Saviour. Though God dispenses his favors as a sovereign, and though all are opposed by nature to the gospel, yet it is always true that the gospel finds more obstacles among some people than among others. This was a most cutting and humbling doctrine to the pride of a Jew; and it is no wonder, therefore, that the apostle guarded it as he did.

Which is of faith - Justification by faith in Christ; see the note at Romans 1:17.

Verse 31

But Israel - The Jews. The apostle does not mean to affirm that none of the Jews had obtained mercy, but that “as a people,” or acting according to the prevalent principles of the nation to work out their own righteousness, they had not obtained it.

Which followed after the law of righteousness - The phrase, “the law of righteousness,” means the law of justice, or “the just law.” That Law demands perfect purity; and even its external observance demanded holiness. The Jews supposed that they rendered such obedience to that Law as to constitute “a meritorious” ground of justification. This they had “followed after,” that is, pursued zealously and unremittingly. The reason why they did not obtain justification in that way is fully stated in Rom. 1–3 where it is shown that the Law demands perfect compliance with its precepts; and that Jews, as well as Gentiles, had altogether failed in rendering such compliance.

Hath not attained to the law of righteousness - They have not come to yield true obedience to the Law, even though imperfect; not such obedience as to give evidence that they have been justified. We may remark here,

  1. That no conclusion could have been more humbling to a Jew than this. It constituted the whole of the prevalent religion, and was the object of their incessant toils.

(2)As they made the experiment fully, and failed: as they had the best advantages for it, and did not succeed, but reared only a miserable and delusive system of self-righteousness Philippians 3:4-9; it follows, that all similar experiments must fail, and that none now can be justified by the Law.

(3)Thousands fail in the same attempt.

They seek to justify themselves before God. They attempt to weave a righteousness of their own. The moral man does this. The immoral man attempts it as much as the moral man, and is as confident in his own righteousness. The troubled sinner does this; and this it is which keeps him so long from the cross of Christ. All this must be renounced; and man must come as a poor, lost, ruined sinner, and throw himself upon the mere mercy of God in Christ for justification and life.

Verse 32

Wherefore? - Why? The apostle proceeds to state the reason why so uniform and remarkable a result happened. “They sought it not by faith, etc.” They depended on their own righteousness, and not on the mercy of God to be obtained by faith.

By the works of the law - By complying with all the demands of the Law so that they might merit salvation. Their attempted obedience included their prayers, fastings, sacrifices, etc., as well as compliance with the demands of the moral law. It may be asked here, perhaps, how the Jews could know any better than this? how should they know anything about justification by faith? To this I answer:

(1) That the doctrine was stated in the Old Testament; see Habakkuk 2:4; compare Romans 1:17; Psalms 32:1-11; Psalms 130:1-8; Psalms 14:1-7; compare Romans 3:0; Job 9:2.

(2) The sacrifices had reference to a future state of things, and were doubt less so understood; see the Epistle to the Hebrews.

(3) The “principle” of justification, and of living by faith, had been fully brought out in the lives and experience of the saints of old; see Romans 4:0 and Hebrews 11:0.

They stumbled - They fell; or failed; or “this was the cause why they” did not obtain it.

At that stumbling-stone - To wit, at what he specifies in the following verse. “A stumbling-stone” is a stone or impediment in the path over which people may fall. Here it means “that obstacle which prevented their attaining the righteousness of faith; and which was the occasion of their fall, rejection, and ruin.” That was the rejection and the crucifixion of their own Messiah; their unwillingness to be saved by him; their contempt of him and his message. For this God withheld from them the blessings of justification, and was about to cast them off as a people. This also the apostle proceeds to prove was foretold by the prophets.

Verse 33

As it is written - see Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16. The quotation here is made up of both these passages, and contains the substance of both; compare also Psa 118:22; 1 Peter 2:6.

Behold I lay in Sion - Mount Sion was the hill or eminence in Jerusalem, over-against Mount Moriah, on which the temple was built. On this was the palace of David, and this was the residence of the court; 1 Chronicles 11:5-8. Hence, the whole city was often called by that name; Psalms 48:12; Psalms 69:35; Psalms 87:2. Hence, also it came to signify the capital, the glory of the people of God, the place of solemnities; and hence, also the church itself; Psalms 2:6; Psalms 51:18; Psalms 102:13; Psalms 137:3; Isaiah 1:27; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 59:20, etc. In this place it means the church. God will place or establish in the midst of that church.

A stumblingstone and rock of offence - Something over which people shall fall; see the note at Matthew 5:29. This is by Paul referred to the Messiah. He is called rock of stumbling, not because it was the design of sending him that people should fall, but because such would be the result. The application of the term “rock” to the Messiah is derived from the custom of building, as he is the “cornerstone” or the “immovable foundation” on which the church is to be built. It is not on human merits, but by the righteousness of the Saviour, that the church is to be reared; see 1 Peter 2:4,” I lay in Sion “a chief cornerstone;” Psalms 118:22, “The stone which the builders rejected, is become the head stone of the corner;” Ephesians 2:20, “Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” This rock, designed as a corner stone to the church, became, by the wickedness of the Jews, the block over which they fall into ruin; 1 Peter 2:8.

Shall not be ashamed - This is taken substantially from the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 28:16, though with some variation. The Hebrew is, “shall not make haste,” as it is in our English version. This is the literal meaning of the Hebrew word; but it means also “to be afraid;” as one who makes haste often is; to be agitated with fear or fright; and hence, it has a signification nearly similar to that of shame. It expresses the substance of the same thing, namely, “failure of obtaining expected success and happiness.” The meaning here is, that the man who believes shall not be agitated, or thrown into commotion, by fear of want or success: shall not be disappointed in his hopes; and, of course, he shall never be ashamed that he became a Christian. They who do not believe in Christ shall be agitated, fall, and sink into eternal shame and contempt. Daniel 12:2. They who do believe shall be confident; shall not be deceived, but shall obtain the object of their desires. It is clear that Paul regarded the passage in Isaiah as referring to the Messiah. The same also is the case with the other sacred writers who have quoted it; 1 Peter 2:5-8; see also Matthew 21:42; Luke 20:17-18; Luke 2:34. The ancient Targum of Jonathan translates the passage, Isaiah 28:16, “Lo, I will place in Zion a king, a king strong, mighty and terrible;” referring doubtless to the Messiah. Other Jewish writings also show that this interpretation was formerly given by the Jews to the passage in Isaiah.

In view of this argument of the apostle, we may remark,

(1) That God is a sovereign, and has a right to dispose of people as he pleases.

(2) The doctrine of election was manifest in the case of the Jews as an established principle of the divine government, and is therefore true.

(3) It argues great lack of proper feeling to be opposed to this doctrine. It is saving, in other words, that we have not confidence in God; or that we do not believe that he is qualified to direct the affairs of his own universe as well as we.

(4) The doctrine of election is a doctrine which is not arbitrary; but which will yet be seen to be wise, just, and good. It is the source of all the blessings that any mortals enjoy; and in the case before us, it can be seen to be benevolent as well as just. It is better that God should cast off a part of the small nation of the Jews, and extend these blessings to the Gentiles, than that they should always have been confined to Jews. The world is better for it, and more good has come out of it.

(5) The fact that the gospel has been extended to all nations, is proof that it is from heaven. To a Jew there was no motive to attempt to break down all the existing institutions of his nation, and make the blessings of religion common to all nations, unless he knew that the gospel system was true. Yet the apostles were Jews; educated with all the prejudices of the Jewish people.

(6) The interests of Christians are safe. They shall not be ashamed or disappointed. God will keep them, and bring them to his kingdom.

(7) People still are offended at the cross of Christ. They contemn and despise him. He is to them as a root out of dry ground, and they reject him, and fall into ruin. This is the cause why sinners perish; and this only. Thus, as the ancient Jews brought ruin on themselves and their country, so do sinners bring condemnation and woe on their souls. And as the ancient despisers and crucifiers of the Lord Jesus perished, so will all those who work iniquity and despise him now.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Romans 9". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/romans-9.html. 1870.
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