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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Romans 11

Verses 1-36

The Doctrine of Election

Romans 11:5

The argument of the three chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, the reading of which we conclude this morning, is one of the most difficult of the Bible. It suggests problems concerning the moral government of God which perplex, if they do not appal, the mind which entertains them.

I. Now it was one of those deep problems that confronted the mind of St Paul when he had surrendered to the victorious Christ and had been received into the fellowship of His disciples in the Straight Street at Damascus. Never for a moment did he waver in his allegiance to the exalted Nazarene or doubt the reality of the vision, to which from the first he had not been disobedient. But the blinding of his natural sight in the early hours of his new and startling experience was typical of that readjustment of focus which the strange and marvellous fact, thrust thus unexpectedly into his spiritual consciousness, demanded of the exclusive Pharisee when he found himself called to be a universal missionary to the nations. He had now to meet the prejudice which hitherto he had shared. If Jesus, with his subversive claim, were indeed the Messiah, as by his conviction no less than by his allegiance he was now bound to declare Him, why this obstinate rejection on the part of Israel itself? This is a problem which must present itself under various aspects in every age to the followers of the Crucified, when they are brought face to face, as we are in Manchester today, with the stubborn, persistent fact of the Hebrew race, which, thrusting itself into our commerce, our government, our social life, yet maintains the identity of its exclusive customs, its worship of the God of Abraham, its obstinate refusal of the cross of Christ. No one can ignore the Hebrew people. No one can deny to them a zeal of God which puts many Christians to shame, a genius for religion which makes it the crowning characteristic of the race. No attitude towards them is more unworthy of the philosopher or the historian than that antipathy which is the sad inheritance of centuries nominally Christian, and with which the Gentile has abundantly repaid the proud superiority of the Jew.

II. If we are to understand the argument by which St. Paul vindicates the righteousness of God in His dealings with the chosen people, we must first of all be in sympathy with his spiritual apprehension of the power and love of Christ. Those whose faith is an inherited tradition rather than a living experience may well rise from the problems of the world's religious beliefs in the spirit of intellectual scepticism. God's purpose of love must first of all meet you, my brother, in the practical issues of your personal life before you can discuss its methods and its mystery in relation to the universal history of mankind. By the very limitations of your human destiny which involve you in the responsibilities for which God calls you to account, the sins for which Christ atones, the guilt from which the cross redeems, you are precluded from occupying the position of the impartial critic of the relations between God and His world. St. Paul only began to write the ninth chapter of the Romans when he had finished the wonderful eighth. 'The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.' Only when he had received the assurance for himself that to them that are in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation did the message of the redemptive love for the world shed the light of its benediction over the tangled story of the painful earth. So the rejection of God's ancient people is itself luminously explained by the Apostle, as evidence not of the caprice, still less of the impotence, of a faithless Creator, but of those unfailing methods which in every age have marked the progress of God's universal purpose of redemption.

(a) And first there is the Divine method of selection. God works 'according to election'. God is choosing every day, every hour, every moment Two men are in one bed; two women grinding at the mill; one is taken, the other left. And it is this selective method of Divine working which St. Paul sees in the ancient history of Israel. God never gives away the mode in which He will be true to His own promises. He is able of the very stones to raise up children to Abraham. That is what he means when he compares the story of Jacob and Esau. Children of one birth surely they, at least, might claim an equal share in the blessing of Abraham. But, even when St. Paul wrote, the facts of history were irrefragable. And today the Bedouin scours the barren sand, the hand of the Israelite is on the forces which move the world. We are always telling our Lord God how He must fulfil His Word, and He is always disappointing our faithless and unfounded claim.

(b) The second principle of Divine action upon which St. Paul insists is the old prophetic teaching of the remnant This again is universal in its application. The infallibility of majorities is no more a fact of the eternal order than the Divine right of kings. If Cæsar is not Divine, neither is the voice of the people the voice of God. A critical investigation of the contents of Christianity, an impartial view of the origins of the Church, reveal its character, not as a protest against the Hebrew polity, but as a true and legitimate expansion of the commonwealth of Israel. And what would Christianity have been without that spiritual genius which passed with the faithful remnant across the breach which Christ had made in the middle wall of partition which separated the Gentile from the household of God? A shallow estimate of missionary effort as a narrow commercial enterprise is content to measure values in the kingdom of God by repeating the unworthy statement that it costs £2000 to convert a Jew. Two thousand pounds! Why, it cost a miracle to convert St. Paul, but the work was cheap at the price. Millions have had reason to give thanks for the 'remnant according to the election of grace'. That remnant is the promise of the future which St. Paul himself greeted from afar. 'If the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead!'

(c) And lastly, the act by which God redeems is an act of grace. The power of the cross, its immense claim on the adoring gratitude of the children of men, is the wonder of the free favour of a loving Father which is there displayed. 'Not by works done in righteousness which we did ourselves but according to His mercy He saved us.'

J. G. Simpson, The Guardian, 19th August, 1910.

References. XI. 7. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 67. XI. 11. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 424. XI. 12. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 258. XI. 13. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 79; ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 236. XI. 15. G. C. Lorimer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. pp. 205, 220. XI. 16-21. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 359. XI. 17-24. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p, 16. XI. 22. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 174. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 130; ibid. vol. x. p. 177. XI. 25. Ibid. vol. vii. p. 268. XI. 25, 26. D. Heagle, That Blessed Hope, p. 90. XI. 26. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 141. XI. 29. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 426. XI. 32. J. Carter, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 367. Bishop Browne, Sermons on the Atonement, p. 1.

The Depth of God's Wealth

Romans 11:33

It is a familiar thought of the Old Testament that it is not possible to give anything to God, because everything is already His. While the contemplation of human wealth is apt to provoke envy, covetousness, and the evils into which the love of money leads, it is possible that the contemplation of the Divine wealth may enlarge our minds and liberate us from all the cramping and paralysing effects of greed. Nothing has a more salutary and sobering effect than to bring forcibly before the mind this universal ownership of God; to pass through the possessions of the world and to mark on each thing in succession the owner's name. Though the world and its contents is but a grain of His wealth, it is certain that everything here, without exception, belongs to Him.

I. Now as this depth of God begins to be revealed to us, does it not invest with a certain absurdity our strident proprietary claims? The greater part of men seem to be entirely occupied in obtaining what can by no possibility belong to them; clutching at goods which prove to be inalienably another's; and involving themselves in the terrible responsibility of using what is not theirs. What's Mine's Mine, is the title of a noble book of George Macdonald's. The gist of the book is to show that the apparent truism is indeed a fallacy. The truth is exactly the opposite; what's mine is not mine, it is God's.

II. Let us state this truth now emerging into sight a little more carefully. For any man to own anything without reference to God, the real Owner, involves a spiritual offence, which may easily develop into a spiritual disease; and the disease may soon be mortal. The effect of the love of money is seen in degradation, bondage, misery, crime, spiritual death.

III. But there is also a mystery of love in this depth of the Divine wealth. Christ always laid stress on the thought that we should not be of anxious mind about material things. The heavenly Father will clothe and feed His children. What a lamentable illusion is that which custom, the unbelief of the world, and personal sin, have thrown around our eyes! A great part even of Christian people are constantly worried about ways and means, and have no faith in the depth of the wealth of God. How utterly misplaced is your anxiety, how essentially Godless is your worry! Look into the depth of the wealth of God, and have faith in Him.

R. F. Horton, The Trinity, p. 57.

Romans 11:33

When all is said and done the rapt saint is found the only logician. Not exhortation, not argument, becomes our life, but paeans of joy and praise.

Emerson.

'I found it,' says Adam Bede in George Eliot's romance, 'better for my soul to be humble before the mysteries of God's dealings, and not be making a clatter about what I could never understand.' One truth discovered, one pang of regret at not being able to express it, is better than all the fluency and flippancy in the world.

Hazlitt.

Nowhere so much as in the writings of St. Paul, and in that great Apostle's greatest work, the Epistle to the Romans, has Puritanism found what seemed to furnish it with the one thing needful, and to give it canons of truths absolute and final. Now, all writings, as has been already said, even the most precious writings and the most fruitful, must inevitably, from the very nature of things, be but contributions to human thought and human development, which extend wider than they do. Indeed St. Paul, in the very Epistle of which we are speaking, shows, when he asks, Who hath known the mind of the Lord? who hath known, that is, the love and Divine order of things in its entirety that he himself acknowledges this fully.

M. Arnold, Culture and Anarchy.

Romans 11:33

We see His working and we sorrow: the end of His counsel and working both hidden, and underneath the ground, and therefore we cannot believe. Even amongst men, we see hewn stones, timber, and a hundred scattered parcels and pieces of our house, all under-tools, hammers, and axes, and saws; yet the house, the beauty and the use of so many lodgings and ease-rooms, we neither see nor understand for the present; these are but in the mind and heart of the builder as yet We see red earth, unbroken clods, furrows, and stones; but we see not the summer, lilies, roses, the beauty of a garden.

Samuel Rutherford.

Romans 11:33

When Richard Baxter was dying, someone reminded him of the good which his works had produced. He replied, 'I was but a pen in God's hands, and what praise is due to a pen? 'When extremity of pain constrained him to pray for release, he would check himself with the words, 'It is not fit for me to prescribe when Thou wilt, what Thou wilt, and how Thou wilt!' 'Oh, how unsearchable are His ways, and His paths past finding out! the reaches of His Providence we cannot fathom! Do not think the worse of religion for what you see me suffer.' When asked how he did, he replied Almost well.

Dr. Stoughton, History of Religion in England, vol. v. p. 135.

References. XI. 33. J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 142. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 320.

Romans 11:36

The motto of Whittier's poem The Overheart.

References. XI. 36. Archbishop Maclagan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 72. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 672.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Romans 11". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/romans-11.html. 1910.