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[In Part I. of his Epistle (chaps. 1-8) Paul presented the great doctrine that righteousness and salvation are obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. But the unbelief of the Jews excluded them Generally from this salvation, yet "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). The doctrine, and the situation engendered by it, raised before the minds of Paul’s readers several great questions, such as these: How could Scripture, which promised blessings to the Jews, be fulfilled in a gospel which gave blessings to Gentiles to the exclusion of Jews? The covenants to Abraham guaranteed blessings to his seed, how, then, could the gospel be the fulfillment of these covenants when it brought blessing and salvation to the Gentiles, and rejection and damnation to the Jews, the seed of Abraham? It is for the purpose of answering these and kindred questions which naturally arose out of the doctrine of the first part of his work, that this second part was written. As these questions arose out of the history of Israel, Paul naturally reviews that history, so Tholuck calls this second part of his work "a historical corollary." The apostle’s effort is to show that the gospel of Christ, while it conflicts with the false doctrinal deductions which the Jews drew from their history, agrees perfectly with all correct deductions from that history.] I say the truth in Christ [This is not an oath. Some modern, and most of the earlier, commentators suppose it is; but they forget that Deuteronomy 6:13 is repealed at Matthew 5:33-37 . If it were an oath, we would, in the absence of any verb of swearing, have the Greek preposition pros ("by") with the genitive, but instead we have en ("in") with the dative. His asseveration is, however, as solemn and binding as an oath, and is designed to give vehement emphasis to his words--comp. 2 Corinthians 2:17 : as though he said, "I speak the truth, for Christ is true, and I am a member in Christ, and he himself, therefore, speaks through me"--comp. Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21], I lie not [Such a coupling of the positive and negative for purposes of emphasis is common to Scripture. See Deuteronomy 33:6; Isaiah 38:1; John 1:20], my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit [my conscience, though enlightened, guided and made more than literally sensitive and accurate by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, still testifies that in this I am wholly and unequivocally truthful],
that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart. [Paul, in the depth of his passion, does not deliberately state the cause of his grief, but leaves it to be implied. His grief was that the gospel had resulted in the rejection of his own people, the Jews. He had closed the first part of his Epistle in a triumphant outburst of praise at the glorious salvation wrought by the gospel of belief in Christ, but ere praise has died on his lips, this minor wail of anguish opens the second part of his Epistle because Israel does not participate in this glad salvation. "The grief for his nation and people," says Poole, "he expresseth, 1. By the greatness of it; it was such as a woman hath in travail; so the word imports. 2. By the continuance of it; it was continual, or without intermission. 3. By the seat of it; it was in his heart, and not outward in his face." And why does Paul asseverate so strongly that he feels such grief? 1. Because only himself and God (and God had to do with him through Christ and the Holy Spirit) knew the hidden secrets of his bosom. 2. Because without some such asseveration the Jews would hardly believe him in this respect. Even Christian Jews looked upon his racial loyalty with suspicion (Acts 21:20-21); what wonder, then, if unbelieving Jews recorded him as the most virulent enemy of their race (Acts 28:17-19), and believed him capable of corrupting any Scripture to their injury, of inventing any doctrine to their prejudice, of perverting any truth into a lie to work them harm? (See 2 Corinthians 6:8; 2 Corinthians 1:17; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 4:1-2; 2 Corinthians 7:2; etc.) In their estimation Paul was easily capable of giving birth to this doctrine of salvation by faith for no other end than the joy of pronouncing their damnation for their unbelief. Yea, they could readily believe that his joy expressed at Romans 8:31-39 was more due to the fact that Israel was shut out from salvation, than that there was salvation. To thoroughly appreciate the full bitterness of the Jewish mistrust and hatred toward Paul we must remember the constancy with which for years they persecuted him, and that very soon after the writing of this Epistle they occasioned his long imprisonment in Rome, and relentlessly persisted in their accusations against him till they became the immediate cause of his martyrdom. Therefore, in expressing his sorrow over the rejection of Israel, Paul pledges his truthfulness in Christ for whom he had suffered the loss of all things, and in the Holy Spirit who was wont to strike down all lying Ananiases (Acts 5:3-5), for it was necessary, before another word be said, that every Jew should know that Paul’s doctrine was not his own, that it did not arise in his mind because of any spleen, malice, hostility, illwill, or even mild distaste for the Jewish people. On the contrary, his personal bias was against the doctrine which he taught; and none knew this so well as the Christ with whom the doctrine arose, and the Holy Spirit who inspired Paul to teach it.]
For I could wish [Literally, "I was wishing." Some therefore regard Paul as referring to his attitude to Christ while he was persecuting the church in the days before his conversion. But Paul is asserting his present love toward Israel, and his past conduct proved nothing whatever as to it. The tense here is the imperfect indicative, and is correctly translated "I could wish," for it indicates arrested, incomplete action, a something never finished; and it therefore often stands for the conjunctive. This potential or conditional force of the imperfect is, as Alford remarks, "no new discovery, but common enough in every schoolboy’s reading." Paul means to say that he never actually formed this wish, but could conceive of himself as going to the length of forming it, if admissible--if it were merely a question of love toward his countrymen, and no obstacle intervened] that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake [The root idea of anathema is anything cut or torn off, anything separated or shut up. In the Old Testament the inanimate thing devoted or anathematized was stored up, while the animate thing was killed (Leviticus 27:26-29). Compare the anathemas of Jericho and Achan (Joshua 6:16; Joshua 7:15; Joshua 7:22-26). But the New Testament prefers that use of the word which indicates spiritual punishment; viz., exclusion, banishment, as in the case of one resting under a ban (Galatians 1:8-9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 16:22), for Paul certainly ordered no one to be physically put to death. The idea of banishment is, in this case, made even more apparent by the addition of the words "from Christ." Paul therefore means to say, "I may, indeed, be regarded as an enemy of my people, delighting in their being excluded from salvation by their rejection of the gospel (as they indeed are-- Galatians 1:8-9; Galatians 5:4); but so far am I from doing this that I could, were it permissible, wish for their sakes that I might so exchange places with them that I might be cut off from Christ, and be lost, that they might be joined to him and be saved. For their sakes I could go into eternal perdition to keep them from going there." Men of prudent self-interest and cold, speculative deliberation regard Paul’s words as so unreasonable that they would pervert them in order to alter their meaning. They forget that Judah offered to become a slave in Benjamin’s stead (Genesis 44:18-34); that David wished he had died for Absalom (2 Samuel 18:33), and that the petition of Moses exceeded this unexpressed wish of the apostle (Exodus 32:32). They are blind to the great truth that in instances like this "the foolishness of God" (even operating spiritually in men of God) "is wiser than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). No man can be a propitiation for the souls of other men. Only the Christ can offer himself as a vicarious sacrifice for the lives of others so as to become in their stead a curse (Galatians 3:13), abandoned of God (Mark 15:34). But surely the true servant of Christ may so far partake of the Spirit of his Master as to have moments of exalted spiritual grace wherein he could wish, were it permissible, to make the Christlike sacrifice. (Comp. 2 Corinthians 12:15; Philippians 2:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:8; 1 John 3:16) In this instance we may conceive of Paul as ardently contemplating such a wish, for: 1. He had prophetic insight into the age-long and almost universal casting off of the Jews, and their consequent sorrows and distresses, all of which moved him to unusual compassion. 2. He had also spiritual insight into the torments of the damned, which would stir him to superhuman efforts on behalf of his people. 3. He could conceive of the superior honor to Christ if received by the millions of Israel instead of the one, Paul. 4. He could deem it a sweeter joy to Christ to give salvation unto the many, rather than merely unto the one, Paul. 5. He could contrast the joys his exchange might give to the many with the single sorrow of damnation meted out to himself alone, and could therefore feel some satisfaction in contemplating such a sacrifice for such a purpose. (Comp. Hebrews 12:2) 6. Finally, just before this he has asserted the possibility of one dying for a righteous or good man (Romans 5:7). If such a thing is possible, might not Paul be excused if he felt ready, not only to die, but even to suffer eternal exclusion from Christ, if his act could avail to save a whole covenanted people, so worthy and so loved of God, as Israel was shown to be by those honors and favors bestowed upon it, which he proceeds at once to enumerate? Under all the circumstances, therefore, it is apparent that such strong words and deep emotions are to be expected from one who loved as did Paul. For further evidences of his love toward churches and individuals, see 1 Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:3-4; Ephesians 1:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; Philemon 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:3-4; 2 Corinthians 11:28-29], my kinsmen according to the flesh [And here we have the first impulse for the strong expression of passion just uttered. In the Jew an ardent family affection, blending with an intense national pride, combine to form a patriotism unparalleled in its fervor and devotion]:
who are Israelites [The first distinction of the chosen people was their descent from and right to the name "Israel": a name won by Jacob when, wrestling, he so prevailed with God that he was called Israel, or prince of God (Genesis 32:28), and also won for himself the unique honor of having all his descendants bear his name, and be accepted as God’s covenant people]; whose is the adoption [i. e., the Sonship. Israel is always represented as the Lord’s son or first-born, in contradistinction to the Gentiles, who are his creatures-- Exodus 4:22-23; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:1; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 11:1; Malachi 1:6], and the glory [The glory of having God manifested visibly as their friend and protector. This glory was called the Shekinah and appeared in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22), and rested on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:16) and on the tabernacle (Exodus 29:43), and in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38; Leviticus 9:23-24), and enlightened the face Moses (Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18), and filled Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8:10-11), and is thought to have abode between the cherubim, over the mercy-seat of the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:22; Exodus 29:43; Hebrews 9:5), whence it is also thought that the ark itself is once called "the glory of Israel"-- 1 Samuel 4:21], and the covenants [Especially the Messianic and promised-land covenants given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to which may be added the covenants with Aaron (Exodus 29:9) and Phinehas (Numbers 25:10-13), and those made with Israel on the plains of Moab (Numbers 25:10-13) and at Shechem (Joshua 24:25), and the throne covenant with David-- 2 Samuel 7:12-17], and the giving of the law [It was given at Mt. Sinai directly from the person of God himself, and its retention in Israel was a notable mark of distinction between them and all other people, for it placed them under the divine government, as the peculiar heritage of Jehovah], and the service of God [The order of praise and worship in tabernacle and temple under charge of Levites and priests and explained at length in the Epistle to the Hebrews. "The grandest ritual," says Plumer, "ever known on earth, with its priests, altars, sacrifices, feasts, and splendid temple"], and the promises [The term "promise" is about the same as "covenant" (Acts 2:39; Romans 15:8; Galatians 3:16; Ephesians 2:12; Hebrews 11:17). If there is any distinction to be drawn between the two words, covenant is the larger, including threatenings as well as assurances of grace. In the promises the threatenings are omitted, and the details of the good are enlarged];
whose are the fathers [At Hebrews 11 we have the list of the chief of these fathers. They were Israel’s pride and inspiration. "The heroes of a people," says Godet, "are regarded as its most precious treasure." The three pre-eminent "fathers" were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-- Exodus 3:6; Exodus 3:13; Exodus 3:15; Exodus 4:5; Matthew 22:32; Acts 3:13; Acts 7:32], and of whom [i. e., of or descended from the fathers] is Christ as concerning the flesh [Paul’s enumeration of Israel’s endowments ends in this as the climax of all their glories when coupled with the statement as to the divine nature of this Christ. But to this climax Israel failed to attain. They accepted neither the humanity nor divinity of Christ, hence Paul’s grief], who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. [These words have quite a history. None of the so-called Ante-Nicene Fathers (theologians who wrote prior to A. D. 325) ever thought of contorting them from their plain reference to Christ. Even among later writers, but two--Diodorus of Tarsus (bishop in A. D. 378; died in 394) and Theodore of Mopseustia (A. D. 350-429)--ever questioned their reference to Christ. Then came Erasmus (A. D. 1465-1536). This fertile genius seems to have exerted all his ingenuity on this passage, for, by changing the punctuation, he made it read four different ways, two of which have attracted some notice. The first of these reads thus: "Of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all. Blessed be God for ever. Amen." This effort to cut off the last clause and make a benediction of it is open to several objections; we note two. 1. It is too abrupt. 2. It is not grammatical if taken as a benediction, for to be in correct form eulogetos ("blessed") should precede Theos ("God"), but, instead, it follows it, as in narrative form (Romans 1:25; 2 Corinthians 11:31), which it is. The second reading makes the whole passage a benediction, thus: "Of whom is Christ concerning the flesh. Blessed for ever be God, who is over all. Amen." To this reading it may be properly objected: 1. That a benediction is contrary to the apostle’s mood and thought. He is mourning over the rejection of Israel. Though he does recount the endowments of Israel, why should he burst forth in ecstatic benediction when all these endowments only brought the heavier condemnation because of Israel’s unbelief? 2. Why should he leave his analysis of Christ unfinished (compare the finished, similar analysis at Romans 1:3-4) to wind up in a benediction, when he might have finished his analysis and thereby laid, in a finished climax, a better basis for a benediction? 3. Again, the eulogetos still follows the Theos, when it should precede it to form a benediction, as it does above twenty times in Scripture (Luke 1:68; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3; etc.). 4. The ho oon, "who is," stands naturally as in apposition to the preceding subject, ho Christos, "the Christ," and if by any unusual construction it has been meant to be taken in apposition to Theos, "God," it is hardly conceivable that we should have had the participle oon, "is" (literally "being"), which under such a construction is superfluous and awkward. This untenable reading would soon have been forgotten, but, unfortunately, Meyer has given respectability to it by a long argument in its favor; in which he insists that the reading, "Christ. . . who is over all, God blessed for ever," is contrary to the invariable teaching of Paul, who always recognizes the subordination of the Son to the Father and who does this by never calling the Son "God"; always reserving that title for the Father. It is true that Paul recognizes this subordination, and generally does it in the way indicated, but he does it as to Christ the unit; i. e., Christ the united compound of God and man. But Paul is here resolving that compound into its two elements; viz., Christ, man-descended after the flesh; and Christ, God after the Spirit. Now, when thus resolved into his elements, the divine in Christ is not described as subordinate to the Father, nor is the full measure of deity withheld from him. On the contrary, John and Paul (whom Meyer conceives of as disagreeing as to the Christ’s subordination) agree perfectly in this, only Paul is even clearer and more explicit in his statement. John begins with our Lord before his divinity became compounded with humanity, and calls him the Word. "In the beginning," says he, "was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Surely there is no subordination indicated by John in treating of the separate divine nature of our Lord. Then he tells of the compounding of that divine nature with the human nature. "And the Word," says he, "became flesh, and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Here, then, is that compounding of divinity and humanity which we call Jesus, and this Jesus is, according to John, subordinate to the Father. On this important point John lets the God-man speak for himself. "The Father," says Jesus, "is greater than I" (John 14:28). Now let us compare this teaching with the doctrine of Paul. "Have this mind in you," says he, "which was also in Christ Jesus: who, existing in the form of God" (that is, when he was what John calls the Word; when he was not as yet compounded with humanity), "counted not the being on an equality with God" (here Paul is more explicit than John in asserting our Lord’s unsubordinate condition before he became incarnate) "a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men" (equivalent to John’s "the Word became flesh," after which follows the statement of subordination; viz.); "and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross," etc. (Philippians 2:5-11). To one, therefore, who carefully compares these passages, it is apparent that according to apostolic doctrine Jesus, the unit, is subordinate to the Father, but when Jesus is separated by analysis into his component parts, his divine nature is God, and equal with God (Colossians 2:9). At Romans 1:3-4 this divine nature is called "Son of God"; here it is called "God over all, blessed for ever." So Meyer’s contention against the reading of the text is not well taken. The natural reading refers the words to Christ, and there is good Scriptural reason why this should be done, for all things here said of Christ rest on Scriptural authority; for (1) he is called God (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:1; Philippians 2:5-11; John 20:28; Titus 1:3; Titus 2:13; Titus 3:4; Titus 3:6; Colossians 2:9 . Comp. 1 Timothy 2:5 with Acts 20:28; and the "my church" of Matthew 16:18). (2) The term eulogetos may be fittingly applied to him, for it is even applied to mere men by the LXX. (Deuteronomy 7:14; Ruth 2:20; 1 Samuel 15:13), and is no stronger than the term "glory" (2 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 13:21; 2 Timothy 4:18). (3) Christ himself claims to be "over all" (John 3:31; Matthew 28:18), and it is abundantly asserted that such is the case (Philippians 2:6-11; Ephesians 1:20-23; Romans 10:12; Acts 10:36). So complete is his dominion that Paul deems it needful to expressly state that the Father is not made subordinate (1 Corinthians 15:25-28). The whole passage, as Gifford well says, constitutes "a noble protest against the indignity cast upon him (Christ) by the unbelief of the Jews."]
But it is not as though the word of God hath come to nought. [Or, as Fritsche translates, "The matter, however, is not so as that the word of God had come to nought." Paul is answering the reasoning of the Jew which runs thus: "You speak of God’s covenants and promises given to the fathers and enlarged in the Scriptures, yet you say the Jew has failed to receive the blessings guaranteed to him by God in those covenants and promises. If such is the case, then you must admit it that the word of God has failed of fulfillment." Paul begins his answer by denying the failure of the word of God, and proceeds to prove his denial. But his argument is not rigidly polemic; it is rather a heart-to-heart discussion of well-known historic facts which show that God’s present enactments, rulings and executions harmonize perfectly with those of the past, which, too, have been heartily and unanimously approved by the Jews. "No," is then Paul’s answer, "the word of God has not come to nought in Israel’s rejection, for it (in the Old Testament), as you well know and approve, taught and worked out in precedent and example the same principles and same distinctions which are today affecting the rejection of Israel." God has not changed, nor has his word failed: it was Israel which had changed and failed.] For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel [The Jews would never have regarded Paul’s reaching as subversive of the promises or word of God if they had not misconstrued the promises. They read them thus: "The promises guarantee salvation to all Jews, and the Jews alone are to be saved." Paul begins his argument by denying the correctness of their construction of God’s word. "The word of God has not failed," says he, "because God has cast off a part of Israel (the fleshly part represented by the Jews), for God’s word is kept as long as he keeps covenant with the other part (the spiritual part, represented by the Christians, principally Gentiles), for you are wrong in thinking that all the descendants of Jacob are reckoned by God as Israelites, or covenant people, and also wrong in supposing that Israel has only fleshly children, and no spiritual children." This argument apparently concedes for the moment that God’s covenant was to give Israel salvation, which was not really the case. God’s covenant was to provide the sacrifice in his Son, which would afford the means of salvation, conditioned on faith and obedience]:
neither, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children: but [as God said to Abraham-- Genesis 21:12], In Isaac shall thy seed be called. [I. e., the children of Isaac alone shall be known distinctively as thy children, the heirs of thy covenant. Here, again, Paul attacks a second false construction which the Jews placed upon the promises. They said: "We must all be saved because we have Abraham for our father (Matthew 3:9). If God does not save us, he breaks his word with Abraham." "Here again ye err," says Paul, "for at the very start when Abraham had but two sons, God rejected one of them, casting Ishmael off, and choosing Isaac; and later when Abraham had many sons God still refused all but Isaac, saying, The sons of yours which I shall call mine shall descend from Isaac alone."]
That is, it is not the children of the flesh [of Abraham] that are [reckoned or accounted as] children of God; but the children of the promise are reckoned for a seed. [Are accounted the children of God through Abraham. Fleshly descent from Abraham, of itself and without more--i. e., without promise--never availed for any spiritual blessing (Galatians 4:23). "This," says Trapp, "profiteth them no more than it did Dives, that Abraham called him son" (Luke 16:25). So flesh avails neither then nor now, but promise. Paul proceeds to show that Isaac was a son of promise, and whatever covenants or promises availed for his children came to them because they, through him, became symbolically sons of promise, Isaac typifying Christ, the real son of promise given to Abraham (Galatians 3:16), and Isaac’s posterity typifying the real children of promise, the regenerated sons of God begotten unto Christ through the gospel (Galatians 4:28; John 1:12-13). So as Abraham had a fleshly seed according to the first promise, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called," these being Jews; so he had a spiritual seed according to the second promise, "In thee and in thy seed shall all the nations (Gentiles; but not excluding Jews) of the earth be blessed," these being Gentiles. Hence, if the two promises were each kept with the two parties to whom they were severally given, the word of God was not broken, and his promise had not failed. But such was indeed the case, for God kept his word with the fleshly seed, fulfilling to them the fleshly promise that Christ should be born of their stock (John 4:22; Galatians 3:16), and to the spiritual seed he was fulfilling the spiritual promise granting them eternal life through that faith in Christ which made them spiritual children of Abraham, the father of the faithful (Galatians 3:7-14). So it was not two promises to one seed, but two promises to two seeds, and each promise was kept of God to each promisee. And why, says Paul, do we call Isaac the son of promise? Because he was not born according to the natural law of the flesh, his mother being past bearing, but contrary to nature and by reason of the divine power, working to fulfill the promise of God, which promise is as follows]
For this is a word of promise [this is the saying or promise that brought Isaac into being, and made him a child of promise and not of natural birth-- Genesis 18:10], According to this season [Godet translates, "Next year at the moment when this same time (this same epoch) will return"] will I come [to fulfill my promise], and Sarah shall have a son. [This fixing of the definite time (an exact year from the date of the promise) when the child of promise should be born, is extremely significant. Ishmael was alive when this promise was given. But what Jew would have justified him in urging a claim as against the promised Isaac? Later, in the days of Daniel, a time limit was set for Christ, the greater Son of promise, by which it is made sure that he would begin his ministry in A. D. 26. If Ishmael had no reason or right to complain that he and his offspring (though he was established as a son) were stood aside for Isaac and his offspring, what right had Isaac in his turn to complain if God set a date when he and his offspring (though established son as was Ishmael) should in like manner be stood aside for the greater Son of promise, the Christ and his offspring? God fixed the dates in each case, and the dates in Daniel 9:24-25 are equally explicit with Genesis 17:21 . The Christ, "the anointed one, the prince," was to appear at the end of sixty-nine weeks of years, or in A. D. 26, and at the full end of the seventy weeks, or eight years later, in A. D. 34, the time "decreed upon thy [Daniel’s] people" came to an end. The Holy Spirit that year emphasized the rejection of fleshly Israel and the acceptance of the children of promise (believers in Christ, his spiritual offspring) by withdrawing from the Jews and appearing upon the household of Cornelius, the firstfruits of the Gentiles (Acts 10). God gave Ishmael only one year’s warning, and no especial call to repent, or opportunity to save himself in any way. But through Daniel, Israel had five hundred years of warning, and was invited of Christ and of all his apostles (even being invariably invited first, by Paul the apostle to the Gentiles) to become joint children of promise with the Gentiles; a joint relationship wherein they were bound by every circumstance to obtain and hold the pre-eminence. Surely, then, the word of God had not failed as to them, but they had failed as to it.]
And not only so [Not only is Ishmael rejected for the promised Isaac, but even Isaac’s seed, his two sons Esau and Jacob, are made the subject of choice by God, showing that even the seed of the children of promise may be so sifted that part may be received and part rejected, for God indeed did this, accepting Jacob and rejecting Esau]; but Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac [Now, it might be objected by the Jew (unjustly in view of the fact that four of the tribes of Israel were descended from bondwomen) that his case was not parallel to that of Ishmael, for Ishmael was the son of a bondwoman (an Egyptian), and was of a mocking, spiteful disposition (Genesis 21:9). Ishmael’s rejection, therefore, was justifiable, while the exclusion of the Jew by Paul’s so-called gospel was utterly unwarranted. To this Paul makes answer by citing the cases of Jacob and Esau. They had one father, Isaac the child of promise; and one mother, Rebecca the well beloved, approved of God; they were begotten at one conception, and were twins of one birth, yet God exercised his right to choose between them, and no Jew had ever questioned this, his right of choice. Yea, the unbounded freedom of choice was even more clearly manifest in other details which Paul enumerates]--
for the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good [as might be supposed of Jacob] or bad [as might be presumed of Esau], that the purpose of God according to election [choosing] might stand [might be made apparent and be fully and finally confirmed], not of works, but of him that calleth [not a choosing enforced on God by the irresistible, meritorious claims of man, in keeping the law of works, human and divine; but a free choosing on God’s part manifested in his calling those who suit his purpose],
it was said unto her, The elder shall serve ["Servitude," says Trapp, "came in with a curse, and figureth reprobation-- Genesis 9:25; John 8:34-35; Galatians 4:30 "] the younger. [I. e., Esau shall serve Jacob. It is evident from these words that Jacob and Esau do not figure personally, but as the heads of elect and non-elect nations, for personally Esau never served Jacob. On the contrary, he lived the life of a prince or petty king, while Jacob was a hireling, and Jacob feared Esau as the man of power. But the nation sprung of the elder son did serve the nation descended from the younger. "History," says Alford, "records several subjugations of Edom by the kings of Judah; first by David (2 Samuel 8:14)--under Joram they rebelled (2 Kings 8:20), but were defeated by Amaziah (2 Kings 14:7), and Elath taken from them by Uzziah (2 Kings 14:22); under Ahaz they were again free, and troubled Judah (2 Chronicles 28:16-17; comp. 2 Kings 16:6-7)--and continued free as prophesied in Gen 27:40; till the time of John Hyrcanus, who (Jos. Ant. 13:9, 1) reduced them finally, so that thenceforward they were incorporated among the Jews."]
Even as it is written [Malachi 1:2-3], Jacob loved, but Esau hated. [Expositors of Calvinistic bias insist upon the full, literal meaning of "hatred" in this passage; but Hodge, whose leaning that way is so decided that he can see no more injustice in eternal than in temporal election (he apparently never weighed the words of our Savior at Luke 16:25; Luke 12:48; and kindred passages which show that temporal favors which are indeed bestowed arbitrarily are taken into account to form the basis of just judgment in the bestowal of eternal favors), is nevertheless too fair-minded an exegete to be misled here. He says: "It is evident that in this case the word hate means to love less, to regard and treat with less favor. Thus, in Genesis 29:33; Leah says she was hated by her husband; while in the preceding verse the same idea is expressed by saying, ’Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah’ (Matthew 6:24; Luke 14:26). ’If a man come to me and hate not his father and mother, etc.’ (John 12:25)." As this ninth of Romans is the stronghold of Calvinism, the arsenal of that disappearing remnant who believe in eternal foreordination according to the absolute decree of the sovereign will of God, we feel that a word ought to be said about the doctrinal trend of its sections. We therefore submit a few points. 1. It is rather odd that this chapter should be used to prove salvation by election when, so far as it bears on election at all, it is wholly an effort to justify God in casting off an elect people (Jews) and choosing a non-elect people (Gentiles). If, therefore, the chapter as a whole teaches anything as to arbitrary election, it is plainly this, that those who depend upon God to show partiality in electing some and condemning others, will either be disappointed as were the Jews, or surprised as were the Gentiles, for election will never work out as they suppose. For, after showing favor to Abraham’s seed for nineteen hundred years, God adjusted the balances, and, turning from Jews to Gentiles, made the first last, and the last first; the elect, non-elect; and the non-elect, elect. And now, the non-elect, having enjoyed the favors and privileges for a like term of nineteen hundred years, are now being called to account, and will, in their turn, be cut off. But if they are, it will be wholly their own fault, just as the rejection nineteen hundred years ago was by Israel’s fault, and not by arbitrary decree of God. 2. Moreover, Paul is not discussing salvation, or foreordination as to eternity. There is not one word on that subject in the entire ninth chapter. The apostle is introducing no new doctrine, no unheard-of and strange enormity like Calvinism. "The difficulty," as Olshausen aptly puts it, "and obscurity of the whole section before us are diminished when we reflect that it by no means contains anything peculiar; since the same ideas which so startle us in reading it, are also expressed throughout the whole of the Old as well as the New Testament. It is only their conciseness, their bold and powerful utterance, that lends them, as it were, an unprecedented appearance here." The apostle is speaking of the bestowal of temporal advantages and benefits, and is showing that these, even when relating to Messianic privileges, are bestowed according to God’s free will--they have to be! They are like other earthly benefits or privileges; for instance, the distinction as to new-born souls. It is God alone who must determine how each shall enter the world, whether as of the white, brown, red, black or yellow race, whether among the rich or poor. So also, rising a step higher, whether a soul shall have a perfect or a defective brain to think with, and whether it shall enter a Christian or a pagan home. Now, as God gave a promise to Eve, the same law of necessity made it compulsory that he choose arbitrarily what household should be the repository of that promise and thus perpetuate a lively expectation of its fulfillment. God therefore first chose the Chaldees among the nations, then, as second choice, he elected Abraham among the Chaldees; third, he chose Isaac from Abraham’s seed, and, fourth, Jacob from Isaac’s offspring. Up to this time there was a marked separation, both spiritual and geographical, between the elect and the non-elect, so that there was no confusion in anybody’s mind as to the inherent exclusiveness of election. But with Jacob a change came. His sons all dwell together, and during his lifetime till his last sickness no election was announced as to them until on his death-bed Jacob gave Judah the pre-eminence (Genesis 49:8-12). But Moses passes over this pre-eminence (Deuteronomy 33:7) and there was no segregation of Judah. In fact, other tribes seem to have overshadowed Judah in importance, notably that of Levi, all of whom were set apart as Levites for God’s service, and of which tribe also came Moses the lawgiver and Aaron the father of the priesthood. Moreover, many of the great judges came from other tribes, and the house of Benjamin furnished the first king. This community of interest, this privilege of enjoying the appurtenances and collaterals of election, should have taught Israel that the blessing promised was greater, wider and more gracious than the mere privilege of being the repository of that blessing, but, instead, it begot in them the mistaken idea that all the twelve tribes were elect. So, indeed, they were as to possessing the land, but they were not elect as to being repositories of the Messianic promise, which honor was first limited to Judah (1 Chronicles 5:2) and afterwards to the house of David (2 Samuel 7:12; Micah 5:2; John 7:42). Now, this is what Paul is discussing. With him it is a question of fixing a promise so that men may watch for its fulfillment in a certain race and family--a promise which, when fulfilled, brings blessings and benefits not confined to any race or family, but open and free to all who accept them, and denied to all who refuse and reject them, yea, even to the very race and family which have been the age-long repositories of the promise. And the point of Paul’s whole argument is this: As God was absolutely free to choose who should be the repositories of the promise, so is he absolutely free to fix the terms by which men shall enjoy the blessings promised, even if those terms (because of rebellion against them on the part of the repositories) work out the failure of the repositories to enjoy the blessings so long held by them in the form of unfulfilled promise. And what has all this to do with electing infants to eternal damnation? No more than the election which makes one child black and the other white, when both are born the same moment. In short, no temporal election, no matter how blessed, includes salvation to the elect or necessitates damnation upon the non-elect, for it is apparent to all that the election of the Gentiles as repositories of Christian truth does not save half of them, and the rejection of the Jews from this holy office damns none of them. Salvation is accorded the Jew who believes as freely as it is to the Gentile, and the unbelieving Gentile is damned with the unbelieving Jew, and rests under heavier condemnation because he sins against greater temporal privileges and advantages. In either case the temporal advantage or disadvantage will be duly considered in forming a just judgment (Luke 12:48). 3. It should be noted that Paul proves God’s right at any time to limit his promise. Thus the blessing to Abraham’s seed was first "nakedly and generally expressed," as Chalmers puts it. Then it was limited to one son, Isaac. Again it was limited to Isaac’s son, Jacob. Therefore, as God established his right of limiting the promise to those whom he chose in the inner circle of the promise, so he could in the gospel age limit the promise to spiritual to the exclusion of fleshly seed. This is not just what he did, but this is what he established his right to do, for if he could disinherit Ishmael after he had apparently obtained vested rights, and if he disinherited Esau before he was born, there was no limit to his right to disinherit, providing only that he kept within the promise and chose some one of Abraham’s seed, or the seed of some one of his descendants to whom a like covenant was given. Compare his offer to make Moses the head of a new people (Exo 32:10), which he was free to do, not having confirmed the rights in Judah pronounced by Jacob-- Genesis 49:8-12].
What shall, we say then? [The apostle makes frequent use of the semi-dialogue. Five times already in this Epistle he has asked this question (Romans 3:5; Romans 4:1; Romans 6:1; Romans 7:7; Romans 8:31). He begins with this question which calls out an objection in the form of a question, to which he replies with an indignant denial, which he backs up by a full and detailed answer, or explanation. The question called out is] Is there unrighteousness with God? [The indignant denial is as usual] God forbid. [Poole calls this "Paul’s repeated note of detestation." He uses it fourteen times. It expresses indignant, pious horror. Literally it is, "Let it not be;" but as this form of expression was too tame for our English ancestry who have ever held God’s name in that light reverence which makes free use of it for emphasis, we find it translated "God forbid" by Wyclif, Coverdale, Tyndale, Cranmer, the Genevan, etc. But the use of God’s name, being needless, is inexcusable. The import, then, of verse 14 runs thus: If God chooses arbitrarily, is he not unjust? and does he not thereby do violence to his moral character, his holiness? The apostle’s answer is unique; for it is merely a quotation from Scripture. His argument, therefore, rests upon a double assumption; first, that God is truly represented in the Scripture, and, second, the Scripture everywhere represents him as just, holy and perfect. Paul’s objector, in this case, would be a Jew, and any Jew would accept both these assumptions as axiomatic. If, therefore, Paul’s Scripture quotation shows that God’s power of choice is absolutely free, then the apostle by it has likewise shown that God’s arbitrary choices are nevertheless just and holy, and objection to them as unjust is not well founded. The arbitrary choice of a sinful heart is sinful, but the arbitrary choice of the Sinless is likewise sinless, just and holy partaking of his nature who chooses.]
For he saith to Moses [Exodus 33:19 . Surely if the Scripture generally was final authority to the Jew, that part of it would be least questioned wherein God is the speaker and Moses the reporter], I will have mercy on whom I have mercy [God chooses both the occasion and the object of mercy, and it is not regulated by anything external to him. That which is bestowed upon the meritorious and deserving is not pure mercy; for, as Shakespeare expresses it, "The quality of mercy is not strained"], and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. [Compassion is a stronger term than mercy; it is mercy with the heart in it. The words quoted were spoken to Moses when he requested to see God, and his request was in part granted. In expounding Exodus 33:19; Keil and Delitzsch speak thus: "These words, though only connected with the previous clause by the copulative vav, are to be understood in a causal sense as expressing the reason why Moses’ request was granted, that it was an act of unconditional grace and compassion on the part of God, to which no man, not even Moses, could lay any just claim." This interpretation is strengthened by the Old Testament reading, which runs thus: "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy," for the act was one of grace rather than of compassion. Let us remember that Paul is here addressing a hypothetical Jewish objector. The Jew, influenced by false reasoning on his law, held a theory that man’s conduct regulated God’s and that man took the initiative and that God’s actions were merely responsive. Such might, in some measure, have been the case had any man ever kept the law; but as things actually stood, to the subversion of all such things, it was evident from Scripture that Moses, the great lawgiver, himself had never been able to merit a favor at God’s hands, but, on the contrary, God granted that to him as a matter of gracious mercy which he could never claim as a matter of right; viz., not eternal life with God, but the mere momentary glimpse of the passing of God’s glory. Surely, with such a precedent before him, the rational, thoughtful Jew, whether of Paul’s day or of our own, could and can have small hope of gaining heaven by the works of the law. Since it is true that Abraham obtained favor by faith and Moses received it solely by grace, who shall win it by merit under the law?]
So then [With these words Paul introduces the answer to the question in Romans 9:14; as inferred or deduced from the citation in Romans 9:15; as though he said, "As a conclusion from what I have cited, it is proven that as to the obtaining of God’s favor"] it is not [the accomplishment] of him that willeth [of him that wants it], nor of him that runneth [of him that ardently strives, or offers works for it; as a runner does for his prize], but of God that hath mercy. [Many expositors, following Theophylact, refer this "willing" to Isaac, who sought to bless Esau against God’s choice in Jacob, and refer the running to that of Esau, who ran to get the venison. But that running of Esau was too literal; it lacked in that moral effort Godward which Paul’s argument implies. Others, as Meyer, Godet, etc., confine the willing and running to Moses, but this, too, is objectionable, as too narrow a base for so broad a principle. Paul includes Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Esau, Moses, and all like them. No man is chosen of God because he chooses or strives to be chosen till God has first chosen him (John 15:16-19). The first choice rests in the will of God. If God did not call all (John 3:16; Titus 2:11; Revelation 22:17) and choose all who respond by sincerely wishing and striving to be chosen, the dark side of Calvinism might indeed be true. Originally there was no curb to the freedom of God in dealing with fallen man save the unspeakable mercy and goodness of God. Justice at that time afforded no curb; for man was a sinner without means of propitiation or atonement, and stood condemned by justice. The verbal form "runneth," though it comes in abruptly, is not of special, but of general, reference ("him" being equivalent to "any one"), and indicates strenuous moral effect toward God, or salvation (Psalms 119:32). It is part of the old and familiar figure wherein life is regarded as a race or "course," moral effort being a "running" therein (see comment, Romans 9:31-32). This figure is so well known that it is customarily introduced thus abruptly (Acts 13:25; Acts 20:24; 2 Timothy 4:6-7). The use of the verb "to run" is as common as the noun "course," and is also brought in abruptly, as needing no gloss (Galatians 2:2; Galatians 5:7; Philippians 2:16; Hebrews 12:1 . Comp. Philippians 3:11-14 and 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; where the apostle elaborates the figure). These very references to Paul’s use of this figure afford abundant proof that after God chooses us (and he has now chosen us all, for he would not that any should perish, but that all men be saved, and come into the knowledge of the truth-- 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4; Romans 2:4; Titus 2:11: Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 18:32; Ezekiel 33:11), then everything depends upon our "willing" (Luke 13:34; Acts 13:46) and "running," for we ourselves having obtained of God’s free will and grace a calling and election, must of ourselves make that calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11); yea, we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling and the aid of God (Philippians 2:12), and must so "run" that we may obtain. Paul is here proving the unfettered freedom of the Almighty before he gave the gospel. A freedom which permitted him to give it when, how, where and to whom he chose, save as he had gradually limited himself, slightly, from time to time, by his promises. This freedom permitted him at last to give such a gospel that the self-righteous Jews saw fit to reject it and become castaways. Paul in all his argument says never a word about God’s limitations in the gospel after the gospel was given; for they have nothing to do with his argument which relates to God’s freedom when preparing the gospel and before the gospel was given. Failure to note this simple, obvious distinction has brought forth that abortive system of inexorable logic called Calvinism, which has gone near to attribute both the sins of man and the iniquities of the devil to God himself. God was free, but in his goodness he chose to provide salvation to those who would accept it on his conditions. Thus the Lord, being free, chose to be bound by his covenants and promises, even as the Lord Jesus, being rich, chose to be poor (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul proves God’s past freedom; no one save the Jew of his day ever denied it; but to say that Paul establishes a present freedom and absolute sovereignty in God, which robs man of his freedom to do right, or wrong: repent, or continue in sin; accept Christ, or reject him, etc., is to dynamite the gospel, and blast to shivers the entire rock of New Testament Scripture. Calvinism denies to God the possibility of making a covenant, or giving a promise, for each of these is a forfeiture of freedom, a limitation of liberty. According to Calvinism, God is absolutely free; according to the Scripture, he is free save where he has pledged himself to man in the gospel.]
For the scripture [Paul is still answering the question at verse 14 by Scripture citation] saith unto Pharaoh [We have had election choosing between Ishmael and Isaac, and Esau and Jacob: we now have it choosing between a third pair, Moses and Pharaoh. In the first case God blessed both Isaac, and Ishmael with promises (Genesis 17:20; Genesis 21:13; Genesis 21:18; Genesis 21:20); in the second case he blessed Jacob and withheld his promise from Esau; in the third case he granted favor to Moses, and meted out punishment to Pharaoh. Thus there is a marked progress in reprobation in the three non-elect characters, which is suggestive, since Israel was thrice given over to a reprobate mind, and each punishment was more intense. First, all were rejected in the wilderness, but all their children were permitted to enter the promised land-time, forty years; second, all were rejected at the carrying away into Babylon, and only a small body were permitted to return--time, seventy years; third, the race as a race was rejected in Paul’s day and only a remnant will, even at the end, be restored (Isaiah 10:22-23; Isaiah 1:9)--time, about nineteen hundred years], For this very purpose did I raise thee up [caused thee to occupy a time and place which made thee conspicuous in sacred history], that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth. [For the publishing of God’s name, see Exodus 15:14-16; Joshua 2:9-10; Joshua 9:9 . The dispersion of the Jews and the spread of Christianity have kept God’s name glorified in the history of Pharaoh to this day. Paul is still establishing by Scripture God’s freedom of choice. He chose the unborn in preference to the born; he chose between unborn twins; he chose between the shepherd Moses and Pharaoh the king. In this last choice Moses was chosen as an object of mercy, and Pharaoh as a creature of wrath, but his latter choice in no way violates even man’s sense of justice. Instead of raising up a weak and timid owner of the Hebrew slaves, God exalted Pharaoh, the stubborn, the fearless. And who would question God’s right to do this? Having put Pharaoh in power, God so managed the contest with him that his stubbornness was fully developed and made manifest, and in overcoming his power and stubbornness through the weakness of Moses, God showed his power. The transaction is very complex. God starts by stating the determined nature of Pharaoh (Exodus 3:19) and follows the statement with the thrice repeated promise, "I will harden his heart" (Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:3; Exodus 14:4 . Comp. Exodus 14:17). Once Jehovah says, "I have hardened his heart" (Exodus 10:1). Thrice it is said that his "heart was hardened as Jehovah had spoken" (Exodus 7:13; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 9:35). Once it reads that his "heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as Jehovah had spoken" (Exodus 7:22). Five times we read that "Jehovah hardened" his heart (Exo 9:12; Exodus 10:20; Exodus 10:27; Exodus 11:10; Exodus 14:8). Thus thirteen times (with Exodus 8:15; fourteen times) Pharaoh’s hardness of heart is said to be the act of God. (Comp. Deuteronomy 2:30; Joshua 11:20; Isaiah 63:17; John 12:40; John 9:39; Mark 4:12) Inexorably so? By no means: God would have gotten honor had he relented before matters reached extremes. Hence Pharaoh is called upon to repent (Exodus 10:3), and several times he is near repenting, and might have done so had not God been too ready to show mercy (Exodus 8:28; Exodus 9:27; Exodus 10:24). So there was sin in Pharaoh. We read that his "heart is stubborn" (Exodus 7:14); "was stubborn" (Exodus 9:7). "Pharaoh hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them, as Jehovah had spoken" (Exodus 8:15). "Pharaoh hardened his heart" (Exodus 8:32; 1 Samuel 6:6). "Pharaoh sinned yet more, and hardened his heart" (Exodus 9:34). As the hardening was the joint work of Pharaoh and God, and as Pharaoh sinned in hardening his heart, God’s part in the hardening was not an absolute, overmastering act. It was not even a persuasive act, as in cases of conversion. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by providing opportunity and occasion, as the narrative shows, and Pharaoh did the rest by improving the opportunity in the service of the devil. The same act of patience, forbearance and mercy which softens one heart, hardens another by delaying punishment, as we may see every day. The same sunshine that quickens the live seed, rots the dead one. The Jews approved God’s course toward Pharaoh, but resented the same treatment when turned upon themselves, ignoring the natural law that like causes produce like effects. God found Pharaoh hard and used him for his glory negatively. He found Israel hard and made the same negative use of them, causing the gospel to succeed without them, thus provoking them to jealousy-- Romans 10:19]
So then [see Romans 9:16] he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth. [This does not mean that God arbitrarily chooses the worst people upon whom to shower his mercies, and chooses those who are trying hard to serve him and hardens them that he may punish them. The point is that, in the absence of any promise or other self-imposed limitation. God is free to choose whom he will for what he will. As applicable to Paul’s argument, it means that God’s freedom of choice is not bound by man’s judgment or estimation, for he may prefer the publican to the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14) and may choose rather to be known as the friend of sinners than the companion of the rulers and chief priests, and he may elect the hedge-row Gentile to the exclusion of invited but indifferent Jews (Luke 14:23-24). God is bound by his nature to choose justly and righteously, but all history shows that man can not depend upon his sin-debased judgment when he attempts to specify what or whom God approves or rejects. Here we must be guided wholly by his word, and must also be prayerfully careful not to wrest it. In short, it is safer to say that God chooses absolutely, than to say that God chooses according to my judgment, for human judgment must rarely square with the divine mind. Had the Jew accepted Paul’s proposition, he might centuries ago have seen the obvious fact that God has chosen the Gentiles and rejected him; but, persisting in his erroneous theory that God’s judgment and choice must follow his own petty notions and whims, he is blind to that liberty of God’s of which the apostle wrote, and naturally--
"For, Och! mankind are unco weak,
An’ little to be trusted;
If self the wavering balance shake,
It’s rarely right adjusted!"]
Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he still find fault? [That God actually and always does find fault with sinners is a fact never to be overlooked, and is also a fact which shows beyond all question or peradventure that God abhors evil and takes no positive steps toward its production. Even in the case cited by Paul, where God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, the act of God was permissive, for else how could the Lord expostulate with Pharaoh for a rebellious spirit for which God himself was responsible? (Exodus 9:17; Exodus 10:3-4) Again, let us consider the case in point. If God hardened Israel by positive act, why did his representative and "express image" weep over Jerusalem? and why was the Book of Romans written?] For who withstandeth his will? [Since Paul is still justifying God in formulating a gospel which results in the condemnation of Jews and the saving of Gentiles, this objector is naturally either a Jew or some one speaking from the Jewish standpoint. This fact is made more apparent in the subsequent verses, for in them the apostle appropriately answers the Jew out of his Jewish Scriptures. The objection runs thus: But, Paul, if God shows mercy to whom he will, and if he hardens whom he will, then it is he who has hardened us Jews in unbelief against the gospel. Why, then, does he still find fault with us, since he himself, according to your argument, has excluded us from blessedness, and made us unfit for mercy? This reply implies three things: 1. God, not the Jew, was at fault. 2. The Jew was ill used of God, in being deprived of blessing through hardening. 3. The rewards of saints and sinners should be equal, since each did God’s will absolutely in the several fields of good and evil where God had elected each to work. To each of these three implications the apostle replies with lightning-like brevity: 1. It is impious, O man, to so argue in self-justification as to compromise the good name of God. 2. It is folly for the thing formed to complain against him that formed it. 3. Rewards and destinies need not be equal, since, for instance, the potter out of the same lump forms vessels for different destinies, whether of honor or dishonor. But it must be borne in mind that in the last of these three brief answers the apostle aims rather, as Alford says, "at striking dumb the objector by a statement of God’s indubitable right, against which it does not become us men to murmur, than at unfolding to us the actual state of the case." Let us now consider the three answers in detail.]
Nay but [One word in Greek,: viz., the particle menounge. "This particle is," says Hodge, "often used in replies, and is partly concessive and partly corrective, as in Luke 11:28; where it is rendered, yea, rather; in Romans 10:18; yes, verily. It may here, as elsewhere, have an ironical force. Sometimes it is strongly affirmative, as in Philippians 3:8, and at others introduces, as here, a strong negation or repudiation of what has been said." "I do not examine the intrinsic verity of what you allege, but, be that as it may, this much is certain, that you are not in a position to dispute with God"--Godet], O man ["Man" stands at the beginner and "God" at the end of the clause to emphasize the contrast. Man, thou feeble morsel of sinful dust, wilt thou wrangle with God!], who art thou that repliest against God? ["That chattest and wordest it with him" (Trapp). "Repliest" signifies an answer to an answer. It suggests, to those familiar with legal parlance, the declaration and answer, the replication and rejoinder, the rebutter and surrebutter to the limits both of human impudence and divine patience. Before answering the objection, Paul, therefore, felt it necessary to rebuke the impious presumption of the objector. It is permissible to fathom and understand what God reveals about himself, but it is not allowable for us, out of our own sense of justice, arrogantly and confidently to fix and formulate what principles must guide God in his judging. To do this is to incur the censure meted out to Job (Job 38:41). "No man," says Haldane, "has a right to bring God to trial." Man’s understanding is not adequate to such a task.] Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus? [In the Greek the form of the question indicates that a negative answer is expected. The question is not a quotation, but rather "an echo" of Isaiah 29:16 and Isaiah 45:9 . "Formed" implies, not creation, but subsequent ethical moulding. God does not create us evil, but we are born into a world which, if not resisted, will form us thus. This is the actual work of God in the case. If we find ourselves formed after the pattern of evil, can we, in the light of all that he has done in the gospel, censure God for our life-result? Being insensate, the wood can not quarrel with the carpenter, nor the iron with the smith. Being sensate, and knowing the grace of God, and his own free will, man also is silent, and can render no complaint. The free will of man is an offset to the insensibility of the wood and iron, and makes their cases equal, or, legally speaking, "on all fours." Inanimate material can not complain of malformation, for it lacks understanding of the facts; but man, having understanding, likewise can not complain, for the malformation was his own free choice. Speaking mathematically, the "free will" cancels the "lack of understanding," and leaves the animate and the inanimate equal, and therefore alike silent as to the results of the processes of moulding.]
Or [This word presents a dilemma, thus: Either the clay (thing formed) has no right to question, or the potter has no right to dictate. In the Greek the form of the question indicates the affirmative answer: "The potter has a right to dictate"] hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another [part of the lump a vessel] unto dishonor? [God is the potter, the human race is the clay, and the vessels are nations. Being under obligations to none, for all, having fallen into sin, had thereby forfeited his regard and care as Creator, God, for the good of all, made election that the Jewish nation should be a vessel of honor (Acts 13:17) to hold the truth (2 Corinthians 4:7; Romans 3:1-2), the covenants and the progenital line through which came the Messiah. Later he chose the Egyptians as a vessel of dishonor, to be punished for their abuse of the covenant people, and the murder of their little ones. In Paul’s day he was choosing Gentiles (Europeans) as vessels of honor to hold the knowledge of the gospel. This choosing and forming is to the prejudice of no man’s salvation, for all are invited in matters pertaining to eternal life, and each temporal election is for the eternal benefit of all. Potter’s clay and potter’s vessels are used to indicate national weakness (Daniel 2:41-44; Lamentations 4:2; Isaiah 41:25; Psalms 2:9; Revelation 2:26-27) and national dependence (Isaiah 64:8-12) and national punishment (Jeremiah 19:1; Jeremiah 10:13; Isaiah 30:14). It is a national figure (Ecclesiastes 3:10-12), yet it recognizes national free will (Jeremiah 18:1-12). In the single instance where it is used individually, it is employed by Paul in a passage very similar to this, yet clearly recognizing the power of human vessels to change destinies by the exercise of free will (2 Timothy 2:20-21). But no individual vessel is one of honor till cleansed by blood (Hebrews 9:21-22; Acts 9:15; Acts 22:14-16), and who will say that a vessel cleansed in Christ’s blood is one of dishonor? And we are cleansed or not according to our own free choice.]
What if [With these words Paul introduces his real answer to the question asked in verse 19. The full idea runs thus: "I have answered your impudent question by an assertion of the absolute right of God, which you can not deny (Proverbs 26:5; Psalms 18:26). But what will you say if, etc." If the absolute abstract right of God puts man to silence, how much more must he be silent before the actual, applied mercy and grace of God which forbears to use the right because of his longsuffering pity toward the impenitent, and his forgiving leniency toward the repentant. Paul asserts the absolute right of God, but denies that he applies it. Herein he differs from Calvinism, which insists that he applies it] God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction [And now, O man, how silent must you be if it appears that God, although willing to show his displeasure against wickedness, and ready to show his power to crush its designs, nevertheless endured with much longsuffering evil men whose conduct had already fitted them for, or made them worthy of, destruction. Paul has already told us that the longsuffering of God is exercised to induce repentance, though its abuse may incidentally increase both wrath and punishment (Romans 2:4-11). It is not affirmed that God "fitted" these evil ones for destruction. "And," says Barnes, "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 fitted 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 25:34-41 . 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." No potter, either divine or human, ever made vessels just to destroy them. But any potter, finding a vessel suited to a dishonorable use, may so use it, and may afterwards destroy it. How the Jews "fitted" themselves for destruction is told elsewhere by the apostle-- 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16]:
and [A copula of thoughts, rather than of clauses: God spared the wicked because of longsuffering mercy to them, and because they could be used to aid him in making known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy. Without attempting to show that God’s patience with the godless aids him to win the godly, we will let it suffice to say that God spares the wicked for the sake of the righteous, lest the hasty uprooting of the former might jeopardize the safety of the latter-- Matthew 13:28-30] that [he showed longsuffering to the wicked, in order that] he might make known the riches of his glory [God’s glory is his holiness, his perfection; "riches," as Bengel observes, "of goodness, grace, mercy, wisdom, omnipotence"] upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared unto glory [It is much disputed whether the "glory" here mentioned is the temporal honor of being a church militant, a covenant people, a temple of the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22), a new dispensation of grace supplanting that of the law (glories won by the Gentiles, and lost by the Jews), or whether it refers to the glory of the land celestial, and the bliss of heaven. The context favors the latter view, for "glory" is the antithesis of "destruction" in the parallel clause, and destruction can refer to nothing temporal. By comparing the two parallel clauses, Gifford deduces the following: "We see (1) that St. Paul is here speaking, not of election or predestination, but of an actual preparation and purgation undergone by vessels of mercy to fit them for glory, before God ’makes known the riches of his glory upon them.’ Compare 2 Timothy 2:20-21; a passage which evidently looks back on this. (2) We observe that this preparation, unlike that by which ’vessels of wrath’ are ’fitted for destruction,’ is ascribed directly and exclusively to God as its author, being wholly brought about by his providence and prevenient grace. The idea of fitness, akin to that of desert, is ascribed only to the vessels of wrath. The vessels of mercy God has made ready for glory, but there is no idea of merit involved"],
even us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles? [The apostle ends his question with a clear specification of who the vessels of mercy are. They are those called impartially from both Jews and Gentiles. "In calling to salvation," says Lard, "God is equally merciful to all. He sends to all the same Christ, the same gospel; on them he spends the same influences, and to them presents the same incentives to duty. But beyond this he strictly discriminates in bestowing mercy. He bestows it on those only that obey his Son. On the rest he will one day pour out his wrath." We may add, that toward those who accept his call he is equally impartial in preparing for glory, giving them the same remission of sins, the same gift of the Holy Spirit, the same promises, etc. But the impartiality which the apostle emphasizes is that which gave no preference to the Jew.]
As he saith also in Hosea [Paul does not seek to prove his question about God’s grace to the wicked which he exercises instead of his right to immediate punishment -- that needs no proof. That God wishes to save all, and hath no pleasure in the damnation of any, has always been Scripturally plain. What he now seeks to prove is his last assertion about impartiality. He has shown out of the Scriptures that God has elected between the apparently elect; he now wishes to also show, out of the same Scriptures, that he has elected the apparently non-elect--viz., the Gentiles--and that the apparently elect, or Jews, are all to be rejected save a remnant. The first quotation is a compilation of Hosea 2:23 and Romans 1:10 . The translation is from the Hebrew, modified by the LXX., and by Paul, but not so as to affect the meaning. It reads thus:], I will call that my people, which was not my people; And her beloved, that was not beloved.
And it shall be [shall come to pass], that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, There shall they be called sons of the living God. [These verses originally apply to the to-be-returned-and-reinstated ten tribes, after the devastation and deportation inflicted by the Assyrians. To illustrate the stages in the rejection of Israel, Hosea was to take a wife and name his daughter by her Lo-ruhamah, which means, "that hath not obtained mercy" (1 Peter 2:10), which Paul translates "not beloved"; and the son by her he was to name Lo-ammi; i. e., "not my people." This symbolic action is followed by the prophecy (not yet fulfilled) that the day should come when "Lo-ruhamah" would be changed to "Ruhamah," "that which hath obtained mercy" or "beloved"; and "Lo-ammi" would be changed to "Ammi," "my people." Some expositors have been at a loss to see how Paul could find in this prophecy concerning Israel a prediction relating to the call of the Gentiles. But the prophecy and the facts should make the matter plain. By calling them "not my people," God, through Hosea, reduced the ten tribes to the status of Gentiles, who were likewise rejected and cast off. Paul therefore reasons that if the restoration of the ten tribes would be the same as calling the Gentiles, the prophecy indicates the call of Gentiles. All this is borne out by the facts in the case. The "lost tribes" are to-day so completely Gentile, that, without special revelation from God, their call must be the same as calling Gentiles. The word "place" (Romans 9:26) is significant. The land of the Gentiles, where the ten tribes are dispersed and rejected, and are become as Gentiles, is to be the place of their reinstatement and acceptance, and this acceptance shall resound among the Gentiles. This publishing on the part of the Gentiles is a strong indication of their interest, hence of their like conversion. Having shown by Hosea that the "no-people" or non-elect Gentiles are clearly marked in Scripture, as called and chosen, Paul now turns to Isaiah to show that of the elect, or Jewish people, only a remnant shall be saved. And this fact is the source of that grief which Paul mentions at the beginning of the chapter.]
And Isaiah crieth [in deep feeling, excessive passion-- John 1:15; John 7:28; John 7:37; John 12:44; Matthew 27:46] concerning Israel, If the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea [thus Isaiah minishes the promise given to Abraham (Genesis 22:17) and quoted by Hosea-- Hosea 1:10], it is the remnant that shall be saved:
for the Lord will execute his word upon the earth, finishing it and cutting it short. [Isaiah 10:22-23 . This prophecy, like that of Hosea, refers to the return of the ten tribes in the latter days, and is therefore an unfulfilled prophecy, save as it had a preliminary and minor literal fulfillment in the destruction of Jerusalem, a few years after Paul wrote this Epistle, which was the climax of rejection for the generation to which Paul wrote, and the full establishment of that age-long rejection of the majority which pertains unto this day. Daniel, dealing with its spiritual fulfillment, foretold that the labors of the Christ "confirming the covenant" with Israel would only last a week--a jubilee week having in it eight years, or from A. D. 26 to A. D. 34 (Daniel 9:27). How small the remnant gathered then! In the centuries since how small the ingathering! And, alas! now that we have come to the "latter days" and the last gathering, and the final literal and spiritual fulfillment of the prophecy, it gives us assurance of no more than a mere remnant still! Romans 9:28; as given in full by Isaiah, is thus happily paraphrased by Riddle, "He (the Lord) is finishing and cutting short the word (making it a fact by rapid accomplishment) in righteousness, for a cut-short word (one rapidly accomplished) will the Lord make (execute, render actual) upon the earth." When we consider that the Lord reckons a thousand years as but a day, how short was the spiritual privilege of the eight years exclusive ministry of Jesus and his apostles! and how brief was the forty years’ (A. D. 30-70) temporal privilege between the crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem! Isaiah’s word shows us that the final fulfillment will be also a brief season, a cut-short word, doubtless a repetition of Daniel’s week.]
And, as Isaiah hath said before [This may mean, Isaiah has said this before me, so that I need not prophesy myself, but may appropriate his word, or, as earlier expositors (Erasmus, Calvin, Grotius, etc.) render it, Isaiah spoke the words which I am about to quote earlier than those which I have already quoted, the latter being Isaiah 10:22-23; and the former being at Isaiah 1:9 . Since the apostle is proving his case by the Scripture and not resting it upon his own authority, the former reading seems out of place. It would be somewhat trite in Paul to state that Isaiah wrote before him! It is objected that the latter rendering states an unimportant fact. What difference can it make which saying came first or last? But it is not so much the order as the repetition of the saving that the apostle has in mind. Isaiah did not see some moment of national disaster in a single vision, and so cry out. He saw this destruction of all save a remnant in the very first vision of his book, and it is the oft-repeated burden and refrain of a large portion of his prophecies], Except the Lord of Sabaoth [Hebrew for "hosts"] had left us a seed [for replanting], We had become as Sodom, and had been made like unto Gomorrah. [Like "cities of which now," as Chalmers observes, "no vestige is found, and of whose people the descendants are altogether lost in the history or our species." (Comp. Jeremiah 50:40) In contrast with these, the Jews, though few in number, have ever been found in the kingdom of God. Since the section just finished is the stronghold of Calvinism, we should not leave it without noting that Simon Peter warns us not to put false construction upon it. He says: "Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things" (a new heaven and a new earth), "give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his [God’s] sight, and account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware lest, being carried away with the error of the wicked, ye fall from you" own stedfastness" (2 Peter 3:14-17). Now, Paul uses the word "longsuffering" ten times. Seven times he speaks of the longsuffering of men. Once he speaks of the longsuffering of Christ extended to him personally and individually as chief of sinners. Twice (Romans 2:4-11; Romans 9:19-29) he fills the measure of Peter’s statement, and writes that men should "account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation." As the first of these passages (Romans 2:4-11) has never been in dispute, it follows either that all have wrested it, or that none have wrested it, so that in either case its history does not comply with Peter’s description. The passage before us, then, is the one which the ignorant and unsteadfast have wrested, and that so seriously that it has compassed their destruction. In further support of this identification, note (1) that this passage was, as we have seen, addressed to the Jews, and it therefore answers to the "wrote unto you" of Peter’s letter, which was also addressed to Jews; (2) while "the longsuffering of God," etc., is not prominent in all Paul’s Epistles, as we have just shown, the doctrine of election, which is the stumbling-block here, is a common topic with the apostle. Since, then, Peter warns us against wresting this section, let us see who wrests it. According to Peter, it is those who get a soul-destroying doctrine out of it, and such is Calvinism. It is those who derive from it a doctrine which palsies their effort, so that, believing themselves impelled by inexorable will and sovereign, immutable decree, they hold they can do nothing either to please or displease God, and therefore cease to "give diligence that they may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his sight," and cease to "account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation," and thus, "being carried away with the error of the wicked" that human effort is of no avail, they cease to make any, and so "fall from their own stedfastness." Surely with so plain a warning from so trustworthy a source we are foolish indeed if we wrest this Scripture so as to make it contradict the doctrines of human free will and responsibility so plainly taught in other Scriptures.]
What shall we say then? ["Shall we raise objection, as at verse 14, or shall we at last rest in a correct conclusion? Let us, from the Scriptures and facts adduced, reach a sound conclusion." Paul’s conclusion, briefly stated, is this: God’s sovereign will has elected that men shall be saved by belief in his Son. The Gentiles (apparently least apt and prepared) have, as a class, yielded to God’s will, and are being saved. The Jews (apparently most apt and prepared) have, as a class, resisted God’s will, and are being lost.] That the Gentiles, who followed not after righteousness, attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith [The righteousness which the apostle has in mind is that which leads to justification before God. Righteousness is the means, justification the end, so that the word as here used includes the idea of justification. Now, the Gentiles were not without desire for moral righteousness. The Greeks entertained lofty ideals of it, and the Romans, following the legalistic bent of their nature, plodded after it in their systems of law and government; but as Gentiles they had no knowledge of a God calling them to strict account in a final judgment, and demanding full justification. Hence they were not seeking it. But when the revelation of God and his demand for justification, and his graciously provided means for obtaining it, all burst upon their spiritual vision, they at once accepted the revelation in its entirety; being conscious that they had no righteousness of their own; being, indeed, filled with its opposite (Romans 1:18; Ephesians 2:2-3). "Faith," the leading and initiatory part of the conditions of justification, is, by a form of synecdoche, employed to designate the whole of the conditions, so Bloomfield justly observes: "Faith in Christ implies a full acceptance of his gospel, and an obedience to all its requisitions, whether of belief or practice"]:
but Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. [Israel was not seeking justification. Their search was rather for a law that would produce in them a righteousness meriting justification. This craving arose from a proud, self-sufficient spirit, and God answered it by giving the law of Moses, for the express purpose of revealing their universal sinful weakness and insufficiency (Acts 15:10; Galatians 2:16), and need of a Saviour (Romans 7:24-25); wherefore Paul describes the law as "our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). Realizing the impossible task of attaining justifying righteousness by the law of Moses, the Jew began adulterating that law by traditions; but even the law thus modified gave small delusive hope, and the cry was still, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25; Luke 18:18). But to this solemn and awful question there were but two answers: (1) Keep the law of Moses (Matthew 19:17; Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:12), and when the Jew answered, "I can not," then (2) the "Follow me" of Christ (Matthew 19:21). Since no man could keep the law of Moses, all men were and are shut in by God to the one law of salvation through faith in Christ. No wonder, then, that the Jew, seeking relief by Moses, or by a third law, failed to find any law that satisfied his soul or operated with God. Godet calls this success of the uninterested Gentile, and failure of the Jew who made the search of righteousness his daily business, "the most poignant irony in the whole of history"; yet the cases of the two parties are not wholly antithetical, as Paul clearly shows, by the use of the word "righteousness" instead of "justification." If both parties had sought justification, the Jew would have no doubt been the first to find it. But the object of the Jewish search was a law which would give life, yet preserve his pride and self-conceit, and his search was therefore for an impossibility. The Master himself discloses the difference in heart between the Jew and the Gentile in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14). The humble spirit of the Gentile accepted righteousness as the gift of the humble Christ, but the proud Jew could not so demean himself as to place himself under obligations so lofty to One so lowly. Let us note that the words "follow after" and "attain" are agonistic; that is to say, they are technical words describing the running after the prize, and the grasping of it, as used in the Olympic games. Their presence here at the end of the argument shows that the "willeth" and "runneth" of Romans 9:16 also have the agonistic force which we gave to them in interpreting that verse. Paul’s conclusion explains the willing and running. It is folly to will and run contrary to the law and will of Him who, as supreme Sovereign, has laid down the immutable rules of the great race or game of life. The prize is the free gift of the King: there is no merit in running that can win it, when the running is random and contrary to rule, as the Jews suppose. There is no merit in running that can give a legal right to it, even when the running is according to rule, but there is in him who runs a moral fitness and aptness for the prize which makes it his, according to the will of him who called him to so run for it.]
Wherefore? [Why, then, did the Jews fail to find any law of life? Answer: Because there is but one such law, and they sought another.] Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by works. [In interpreting, we have contrasted the law of works with what we have called "the law of faith," but the apostle does not use this latter term: with him life it attained by "faith," though he treats it as a working principle in that he contrasts it with the other active principle, or law of works. In this verse, however, he drops the abstract altogether, and places the concrete "faith" and "works" in vivid opposition. It is not so much a question of law against law, and principle against principle; it is one of faith which appropriates the perfect righteousness of Christ, and of Jewish works which, scorning the garment of the purity of God, revealed in his Son, still clings to the filthy rags of self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, Phariseeism, etc.-- Philippians 3:4-14] They stumbled at the stone of stumbling [The language here still follows the metaphor of the race-course. The Jew, running with his eye on an imaginary, non-existing, phantom goal, and blind as to the real goal, stumbles over it and falls. The picture presented by the apostle suggests the sad truth that the Jew has run far enough and fast enough to win, but, as he has rejected the terms and rules of the race, his efforts are not counted by the Lord of the race. Christ was placed of God as a goal, and not as a stumbling-block; as a Saviour, not as a source of condemnation; but he is indeed either man’s salvation or his ruin-- Matthew 21:42-45];
even as it is written [The passage about to be quoted is a compound of the Hebrew at Isaiah 8:14 and the LXX. at Isaiah 28:16 . The first reads thus, "But he shall be . . . for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel," and the second, "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation . . . he that believeth shall not be in haste." The reader can see how the apostle, for brevity, has blended them; quoting only such part of each as suited his purpose], Behold, I lay in Zion [Jerusalem, the capital city of my people] a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence: And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame. [Why the LXX. substituted "not be put to shame," for "not be in haste," is not clear, though the meaning of the latter phrase is near kin to the former, conveying the idea of fleeing away in confusion. Shame, however, is a very appropriate word here, for it was the chief cause of Christ’s rejection by the Jews: they were ashamed of him (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:8). The apostle is justified by New Testament authority in regarding both these Scriptures as Messianic prophecies (1 Peter 2:6-8; Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11 . Comp. Psalms 118:22; 1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20); but it adds greatly to the weight of his argument to know that the Jews also conceded them to be such. "Neither of these passages," says Olshausen, "relates to the Messiah in its immediate connection, but they had been typically applied to him as early as the Chaldean and Rabbinical paraphrases, and Paul with propriety so applies them. The Old Testament is one great prophecy of Christ." And Tholuck says: "Jarchi and Kimchi also testify that it (Isaiah 28:16) was explained of the Messias." And our Lord was a stone of stumbling! As Moule exclaims: "Was ever prophecy more profoundly verified in event?" If he spake plainly, they were offended; and if he spake in parables, they were equally angered. If he healed, they took offense; and if he forbore healing, and refused to give a sign, they were likewise dissatisfied. If he came to the feast, they sought his life; and if he stayed away, they were busy searching for him. Nothing that he did pleased them, nothing that he forbore to do won him any favor. His whole ministry developed an ever-increasing distaste for his person, and animosity toward his claims. As a final word on this great chapter, let us note that God’s foreordination rejected the Jew by presenting a gospel which appealed to sinners, and was offensive to that worst class of sinners, the self-righteous. God sent his Son as Physician to the sick, and those who supposed themselves well, died of their maladies according to a reasonable, rational and equitable plan--but also a foreordained plan. This conclusion of the ninth chapter will be fully discussed in the tenth.]
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
First published online at The Restoration Movement Pages.
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Romans 9". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20