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Romans 11:1.—Μὴ ; Did God cast off His own people? Observe the aorist. When God accepted a universal Church from all nations in Christ, did He by so doing cast off His own people the Jews? God forbid! God did not cast off the Jewish nation when He admitted all nations to His Church, for I, who address you in the name of Christ, am a Jew (Wordsworth). There may be a general falling away seemingly, and yet a large number remain faithful. Elijah did not see and know all. We may mistake.
Romans 11:4.—The reason why the Septuagint sometimes used the feminine, and why St. Paul adopts it here, appears to be because not only a heathen god but a goddess also was worshipped under the name of Baal, and because by this variety of gender the reader is reminded that there was no principle of unity in the heathen worship, and thus the vanity of the worship itself is declared (Wordsworth). ὁ χρηματισμός, a response from God, oracle.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 11:1-5
The divine response to the human complaint.—St. Paul argues from the known to the unknown. A master of the deductive process. God has not cast away His people; for I am saved who “am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” Here is definiteness which precludes the idea of forgery; here is an appeal to the national instinct. God has not cast away His people, for God’s act and word show that His love is unchangeable. Paul, an Israelite, is saved. Elias is comforted by the assurance that a remnant is always preserved by God.
I. A lonely man’s complaint.—Great men stand alone. By material means we may reach to physical heights; but we cannot climb to those heights where intellectual and moral giants dwell. We cannot always understand their lofty motives and moral purposes. Elijah was a man of the wilderness; he was lonely from necessity, and this loneliness rendered him despondent. What a mournful wail comes from the depths of his stern nature! “Lord, they have killed Thy prophets,” etc.
1. Spiritual workers have their times of trial. All workers have their difficulties; spiritual workers have their special difficulties. Elijah’s life seemed to be spent in battling with difficulties. His complaint was that his moral work did not succeed. Elijah, in the sorrow of his heart, in the depression that overtook him on account of seeming failure, claims our sympathies.
2. Spiritual workers have troubles of their own making. Elijah had ground for complaint; but things were not so bad as they appeared. Blessed are the hopeful! But do not let popular preachers rave against the unpopular and despondent Elijahs. Our helpful sympathies should go out towards the lonely souls weeping under the juniper trees and craving for death.
3. Spiritual workers must ask, “What saith the answer of God?” They must look to God and away from themselves. The wise man’s words are true: “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” We are shortsighted; we take narrow views; we think things are going wrong if they are not moving according to our notions. God’s ways are above ours; His remnants are mightier and more glorious than human majorities.
II. A merciful God’s response.—The answer of God came sweetly to Elijah in the time of his trouble. The richness and sweetness of the divine voice are noted in times of trouble; the silence and darkness of trouble’s night are cheered by the eternal music which is lost to the soul in the bright day of prosperity. God speaks to the souls of His faithful ones in their despondency. The words give peace and encouragement; they teach right views of life. The answers of God should hush the complaints of men. The answer of God makes known:
1. The greatness of the divine reserve force. When God answers out of material nature, we are astonished at the greatness of the reserve force. Human blindness says not one is left: Omniscience shows seven thousand. Complainers say nature is being exhausted: God’s answer is the continued richness of nature and the opening out of fresh fields of supply. Complainers say monotheism is dead: God’s answer is the muster-roll of seven thousand. Complainers say Protestantism is dying, that semi-popish churches are most crowded: God’s answer is—I have a reserve force; the truth shall prevail, falsehood must work to its own unmasking, and the heart of civilisation is this day true to the eternal principles of right. Let us not wait under our juniper trees, but go forth and fight the prophets of Baal.
2. The faithful ones are hidden. These seven thousand men hidden from the gaze even of a good man like Elijah. God’s children are often as hidden ones. Their worth as well as their number is hidden—comparable to fine gold, but esteemed as earthen pitchers. Call to remembrance the former times when God’s children were hidden in deserts, in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. Let us be thankful to God for our times; let us use our privileges; let us unfurl the banner of the truth; let us maintain our spiritual freedom.
3. The remnant which is to be considered. Elijah has his descendants. They are good mathematicians, but poor reckoners; they count easily; they are good at addition, subtraction, and multiplication. They do not reckon up the remnant; God would have us reckon up the remnant. Noah was a remnant, but from him came mighty peoples. The Jews were a remnant, but what influence they have exerted! The followers of the Crucified were only a remnant, but they soon overtopped the world’s majorities. Our reformers were only as a remnant, and yet they filled England with light. There may be a remnant still. We vote with majorities to-day; but it might be safer to side with the remnant left according to the election of grace. Reckon the remnant; measure its moral force; estimate its spiritual power; see if it is being impelled by divine ideas. Is it a remnant according to the election of grace? We for our part are not afraid of the remnants when they are on the side of the evil: the remnants on the side of the good must be omnipotent. If the remnant have in it a Paul and a Peter, it shall outlive all the majorities of time.
The practical question: If God were to tell some modern Elijah, “Yet I have reserved unto Myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal,” would God reckon us among the noble band? Do we bow the knee to our own images? Are we guilty of modern idolatry? Are we bowing to the images of the nineteenth-century Baals? Or are we bowing at the footstool of the Creator? Do we acknowledge His guidance in the affairs of life? Do we trust Him in all darknesses? Can we for Him stand alone against a multitude of false prophets?
Romans 11:3. Divine reservation.—The Mohammedan saying quoted by Tholuck is interesting, that “God never allows the world to be without a remainder of seventy righteous people, for whose sake He preserves it.” This thought is encouraging to all despondent Elijahs. We cannot see or know all. This may be a necessary discipline for our faith. Ignorance arises from our limitation, and in this state of limitation we must walk by faith and not by sight. And faith will lead us to lay hold of the wisdom, power, and love of God. Holding by these, we shall not be without light in the darkest night, not be without hope even in our moments of despondency; and in spite of despondency we shall continue in the pathway of faithful adhesion to duty. This is one of the pleasing and relieving features in Elijah’s character, that though despondent and almost despairing he was not recreant to the voice of duty. He stood alone against the prophets of Baal. Alone, yet not alone, for God was with him. Alone, yet not alone, for he was unknowingly supported, as we may well believe, by the prayers and sympathies of some, if not all, of the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. We may say that it would have looked better of them if they had come forth from their hiding-places and had rallied round Elijah in the day of battle. But we do not know all, and must not be too ready to blame. Perhaps after all they helped very effectually by their secret prayers, by their silent but forceful sympathies. Ah, we know not how far these may reach! How little true faith we have in the power of prayer and in the help of sympathy! If it be at all true that the world is preserved for the sake of the righteous people, then we may rightly suppose that the influence of the righteous is far-reaching. An invisible host helped Elijah in the day of conflict. Shall we not also believe that we are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses? Let the thought of isolation be destroyed by the thought of God’s hosts in reserve. He has His purposes; let us believe that they are wise and good.
I. God’s reservations are perfect.—The number seven is the perfect number in the sacred writings, and may here be fittingly employed to indicate the perfection of the divine reservation. God has reserved to Himself seven thousand—a perfect host to set forth the perfection of the divine plan and the divine purposes. Whether the number stated be either a literal or an allegorical assertion, we may rightly make use of its allegorical teaching. It opens out before our minds the perfection of the divine reservations. If God be perfect in wisdom, power, and goodness, then we may rest assured that perfection marks and attends all the steps of His divine and mysterious processes. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing. The glory of His perfection is made known by His reservations as well as by His revelations. In fact, there cannot be perfection without concealment and reservation. The great mind cannot reveal itself to the shallow soul; yea, the great mind cannot reveal itself to kindred souls. The mind is greater than its own revelations. It agonises with mighty thoughts which it cannot express. And so the perfect God cannot reveal Himself to the imperfect creature. God has no limit in mastering His own thought movements; but surely there is no irreverence in saying that God is limited in this particular, that His perfection cannot be communicated to our imperfection. The perfection of His nature implies and indicates the perfection of His plan. His reserve forces speak of the perfection of His restraining power. Imperfect man does not indulge himself in reserve forces. He has no self-restraint. If he have seven thousand things or people at his disposal, he wishes to show them on his parade ground. Even when self-interest tells him not to make a display of his wealth, he breaks through all considerations of a prudential character, and lets the world into his secret. The child has no secrets; its mind is too small and open. The man-child, through the imperfection and vanity of his nature, is often hurrying to display his wealth. God is great and perfect, and His revelations are only the faint indications of the infinite nature of His resources. Elijah is shown, and he was in himself a host. But Elijah speaks to us of God’s seven thousand.
II. God’s reservations cannot be either seen or counted.—For aught we know to the contrary, Elijah was keen-eyed enough—certainly he possessed the vision of the seer. He could see into some of the mysteries of the infinite movements. He was one of the characters in the olden time who were before their age, and saw what other men did not see; and yet he had no knowledge of the seven thousand hidden away in the recesses of the divine keeping. What blindness of vision! Seven thousand righteous ones in that early period of the world’s history, when the population could not be very extensive, and yet Elijah had not the pleasure of their acquaintance. A man might be pardoned if he lived in London and did not know that there were seven thousand righteous amongst its teeming millions; and yet what shall be said of Elijah, who thought that he stood alone, and was ignorant of a mighty but unseen army? But we are often possessed of the Elijah-like blindness. How little we know! How blear-eyed is our vision! The microscope does not reveal to us the laws and methods by which the atom is ruled and guided. There are mysterious pathways far beyond the range of the best-constructed telescope. God’s reserve forces can be neither seen nor counted. We talk very glibly of seven thousand, but we fail to grasp the meaning. The numbers of God are not recorded in human mathematical treatises, and vast beyond the mathematician’s power of computation. Lo, these are part of the divine ways! How little is known of them! We see and hear the Elijahs. God’s seven thousand move in solemn and wondrous silence. Elijah’s name is written on the page of the world’s greatest book; Elijah’s fame and greatness are sounded in the world’s ear. We do not know the name of one of those seven thousand; they have no earthly fame. God is so great and has so much patience that He can keep in reserve the large number of seven thousand. What are we when God can hold back so many? Let us learn our littleness and God’s greatness; let us pray for divine light and help.
III. God’s reservations are for moral purposes.—He rescues seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. God permits the existence of the Baal worshippers; He looks after and promotes the existence of the righteous remnant. But how is it when the righteous are killed? How is it when the prophets of the Lord are killed by the wicked Jezebels? He has still a righteous remnant of a hundred prophets hidden away by fifty in a cave. The death of the other prophets will create mantles of greater consecration for the living prophets. God only permits a good man to die when that good man’s death will be more productive than his life. The slaughtered prophets speak from their tombs of truth and righteousness. Seven thousand righteous—a sweet, saving, wholesome remnant according to the election of grace. Seven thousand good men and women as seed corn to fill the world with the golden grain of divine truth! The seven thousand are gone, and have left no name behind; but their righteous testimony is not destroyed; their saving influence floats along the stream of time. They are not dead. A good man can never die. The voice of goodness is eternal. The helpful sympathy and influence of the seven thousand have cheered and strengthened many Elijahs sorrowing over the failure of their life-work. Failure? There is no failure with God; there can be no failure in God’s work. Selfishness speaks of failure. Benevolent faith says we cannot fail. God’s kingdom must be established in the earth.
Romans 11:6. The remnant saved owes all to divine grace.—The gospel is a way of salvation by free, unmerited favour, as opposed to all self-righteousness. It may be humiliating to be able to contribute nothing to our own salvation, but to have to accept it full and free from a risen Lord; yet salvation through humiliation is better, surely, than being lost. “Grace,” says Dr. R. W. Hamilton, “is free favour; it can be related to no right and contained in no law. It is extrajudicial: whenever bestowed, it depends upon the mere will of him who exercises it, or upon, what is the same thing, his voluntary pledge and agreement. If this latter be withdrawn, there may be a forfeiture of integrity and fidelity, but it is only so far unjust to those deprived of it that a claim arose out of it; but no injustice accrues to them, considered in their original circumstances. A simple test of grace is presented by the following inquiries: Ought it to be exercised? Can it be righteously withheld? If we affirm the one, if we deny the other, it may be obligation, debt, reason—it cannot be grace, for this principle never owes itself to its object; and in not showing it, the person still is just. If there be any necessity for it, save that of demerit and its misery, it “is no more grace.” By keeping the meaning of the term steadily in view, then, it will be seen that no injustice is done any who decline salvation by free grace and insist on some form of self-righteousness. For the latter is pure favouritism, and the former can alone be adopted by a God who is no respecter of persons.—R. M. E., in “Pulpit Commentary.”
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 11:1-5
The words denote merely that Paul was a descendant of Abraham.—“For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.” Interpreters have conceived various reasons for the mention of the tribe to which the apostle belonged. But there seems to be no other reason for it but that it was customary with the Jews, in stating their descent from the patriarchs, to mention the tribe through which their descent was traced. The words denote merely that the apostle was a descendant of Abraham, entitled to all the privileges of an Israelite; and the inference which he means his countrymen to deduce from them is, that, by believing in Christ, he is a member of the Church of God as it now exists under the Christian dispensation. He is therefore an instance of the continued favour of God to all of His ancient people who believe the gospel, and an example to prove that all of them are not rejected. He then solemnly repeats his affirmation that God hath not totally rejected the Israelites. There is no reason to think that this is meant to represent the exact number of the faithful worshippers of God in Israel at that period. The number mentioned seems rather intended to denote an indefinite and very considerable number. This answer furnishes a warning against those gloomy views of human nature which lead some pious men to think that, because wickedness seems to them to abound, there are few sincere worshippers of God; and especially against that uncharitable spirit which leads the zealot to presume that none but those who concur in his views of religion can expect to enjoy the favour of Heaven.—Ritchie.
The Lord’s people a chosen remnant.—It is the part both of wisdom and of love to guard our statements against misconception. We are of necessity constrained sometimes to state truth in strong and general terms; but in all such cases it becomes us to anticipate and to remove, as much as in us lies, all occasion for misapprehension or mistake; we should make everything so clear that the ignorant should have nothing to ask, the captious nothing to object. St. Paul was ever alive to this duty; he foresaw and answered every objection that could be urged against the truths he maintained. He had in the preceding chapter spoken of the Gentiles as adopted into God’s family, whilst the Jews, for their obstinate disobedience, were cast off. Hence it might have been supposed that God had cast off His people altogether: but he tells them that this was not the case; for that he himself, though a Jew, was a partaker of all the blessings of salvation; and that as in the days of Elijah there were among the Jews more faithful servants of Jehovah than was supposed, so it was at that time—“there was a remnant,” and a considerable remnant too, “according to the election of grace.” We will—
I. Show that God’s people are a chosen remnant.—The Lord has at this day a remnant of chosen people. In every age of the world there have been some faithful worshippers of Jehovah. Even in the antediluvian world, when all flesh had so corrupted their way that God determined to destroy them utterly, there was one pious man who boldly protested against the reigning abominations, and with his family was saved from the universal deluge. Abraham, Melchizedek, and Lot were also rare instances of piety in a degenerate age, as were also Job and his little band of friends. In Israel too, even under the impious and tyrannic reign of Ahab, there was an Elijah who was a bold and faithful witness for his God. Thus at this day also there are some who serve their God with fidelity and zeal. Neither the example of the multitude nor the menaces of zealots can induce them to bow down to Baal, or to walk after the course of a corrupt world. They are not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world; nor will they conform to it in its spirit and conduct; they will have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but they will rather reprove them. To serve, to enjoy, to glorify, the Lord Jesus Christ is all their desire; and they “cleave unto Him with full purpose of heart.” They are, however, but a remnant. We are persuaded that there are many Nicodemuses and Nathanaels at present in the shade who yet in due time will come forth to light and be “burning and shining lights” in their day and generation. There may be at this day thousands in the world who in the sight of God are “faithful and beloved,” though they have not at present any name or place in the Church of Christ. Yet, after all, in comparison of the careless and ungodly world, they will be found “a small remnant,” “a little flock.” And for their distinguished privileges they are altogether indebted to the love of God. We should not state these things in a crude and rash way. We know they are deeply mysterious; and we are most anxious to—
II. Guard this doctine against abuse.—Much is this doctrine hated; much, too, is it abused; but however hated, or however abused, it is the truth of God, and therefore must be maintained. Let none, however, pervert it, or draw false conclusions from it. Let none say: If this doctrine be true, no blame attaches to me. If this doctrine be true, I may sit still till God shall come and help me. If this doctrine be true, I am in no danger whatever I may do. That no solid objection lies against this doctrine will appear whilst we—
III. Suggest the proper improvement of it.—It should encourage all to seek for mercy at God’s hands, it should fill all who are the subjects of it with the deepest humility, and it should stimulate them also to universal holiness.—Simeon.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 11
Romans 11:1-5. Brave the perils of ridicule.—“As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of a fool,” and he is a poor invertebrate creature who allows himself to be laughed down when he attempts to stick to his principles and tries to do what he believes to be right. “Learn from the earliest days,” says Sidney Smith, “to inure your principles against the perils of ridicule; you can no more exercise your reason if you live in the constant dread of laughter, than you can enjoy your life if you are in constant terror of death.” No coward is greater than he who dares not to be wise because fools will laugh at him. Elijah bore more than ridicule: he exposed himself to death.
Romans 11:4-5. Salvation by grace.—Some are all their days laying the foundation, and are never able to build upon it to any comfort to themselves or usefulness to others; and the reason is, because they will be mixing with the foundation-stones that are only fit for the building. They will be bringing their obedience, duties, mortification of sin, and the like unto the foundation. These are precious stones to build with, but unmeet to be first laid to bear upon them the whole weight of the building. The foundation is to be laid in mere grace, mercy, pardon in the blood of Christ; this the soul is to accept of and to rest in merely as it is grace, without the consideration of anything in itself, but that it is sinful and obnoxious to ruin. This it finds a difficulty in, and would gladly have something of its own to mix with it; it cannot tell how to fix these foundation-stones without some cement of its own endeavours and duty, and because these things will not mix they spend fruitless efforts about all their days. But if the foundation be of grace, it is not at all of works, otherwise grace is no more grace. If anything of our own be mixed with grace in this matter, it utterly destroys the nature of grace, which if it be not alone, it is not at all.—Biblical Museum.
Romans 11:6.—εἰ δὲ χάριτι, by grace, thus not of works. Salvation must be either by one or the other.
Romans 11:7. The election.—The faithful remnant which has profited by the free grace given to it by God. Were hardened.—πώρωσις is a medical term applied to the induration of the flesh or bones so as to become like porous stones.
Romans 11:8.—A spirit of stupor, numbness, insensibility; that bewilderment or stupefaction which is the result of conscience awakened too late. The Hebrew word, as well as the Greek, is often used to signify a permission of that which we can hinder.
Romans 11:11.—Did they stumble in order that they should fall? They have swerved aside from the right path, but they have not fallen down utterly so as never again to rise. They have fallen aside so that the Gentiles might excite them to rise.
Romans 11:12.—Wealth of [to] the world—that is, a rich mine of blessing to a whole world, by occasioning the admission of all nations into the birthright of Israel.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 11:6-12
Human folly and divine grace.—St. Paul’s clearness of thought and precision of expression are brought out in the sixth verse. Grace and works cannot be combined in human salvation. If salvation be a free gift, it cannot be earned. Here is shown St. Paul’s anxiety to establish foundation principles. Having mentioned election by grace, he cannot pass on to the discussion of his main topic without striving to leave his readers under no misapprehension. Grace is eliminated if the blessing be earned; works as a ground of merit are excluded if the blessing be freely bestowed. Salvation is so precious that it is above human price. It cannot be bought with silver, neither can it be valued with the pure gold of earth. Human efforts cannot reach divine heights. Ethical systems have failed for human salvation. Moralities have no redeeming force. The grace of God that bringeth salvation has done an effective work, and is destined to work to a still larger extent. Human efforts have shown human folly.
I. Human folly.—
1. Goes on a bootless errand. Israel seeks, and does not find. Seeking their own righteousness, they could not possibly find; for all human righteousness is as filthy rags. Seeking human ideas in a Divine Messiah, they could not find; for He came to reveal the divine thought, to incarnate and unfold the divine idea of love and redeeming mercy. Seeking to establish themselves as the Church and people of God, they could not find; for He would have a pure Church, a people not guided by pride and self-will. Seeking gain, they could not find; for that which they thought to be gain was bitterest loss. Human seekers are divine losers. Folly seeks, and never finds; it mistakes the true way and the right soul end. We seek for pleasure, and find pain. We seek for riches, and find soul poverty. We seek for fame, and sink into obscurity. We seek for righteousness, and cannot get away from the sense of guilt.
2. Produces stupor. A spirit of slumber passes over the frame of the morally insensate. How often is the Jew a remarkable example of the possibility of combining great worldly sharpness and intellectual power with moral blindness and darkness! The Jew hath eyes to see material beauty and a prospect of material gain; but it does not follow that the Jew hath eyes to see moral beauty. There are glad prospects which his vision never beholds. And the Jews have many brethren among the Gentiles—unseeing eyes behind the eyes which can see the ways of commerce, the steeps of politics, and even the beauties of nature as science can unfold—unhearing ears behind the ears that can be thrilled with the harmonies of nature, with the swelling strains of music, with the rhythmical measures of poetry. Christ the light-bringer and sight-producer must pour the light of heaven upon the visual orbs of the foolish sleepers.
3. Turns divine blessings into curses. The table becomes a snare, a trap, and a stumbling-block. How true of the mere sensualist! The table spread with dainties becomes a physical snare; it is a stumbling-block to physical health, and more, also a hindrance to intellectual growth, death to moral life. Human folly turns divine blessings into curses. Amid both material and moral bounties we should learn to distinguish between use and abuse.
II. Divine grace.—
1. Leads on a fruitful errand. God has no vain seekers in His kingdom. God’s elect always obtain. They are wounded, but never beaten. They may be faint with pursuing, but somehow they must reach the goal. They may be cast down, but can never be destroyed in the royal part of them: the essential greatness of their manhood will survive every battle-field. They obtain and possess eternally soul treasure.
2. Endows with moral sensibility. God’s elect have eyes to see the unseen. They pierce farther than either the range of the telescope, or the ken of the philosopher, or the scrutiny of the scientist. The eyes of the faithful require no earth spectacles. They see afar off, and as they see the vision grows and brightens. They hear sounds which earth’s ear-trumpets cannot catch. They hear eternal voices; the whispers of the infinite are richer to them than the loudest choruses of time.
3. Educes salvation. Out of the fall a gracious rise. Destruction ministers to salvation. True temporally: the fall of one nation the rise of another. True spiritually: the fall of the Jew the rise of the Gentile. How true that Christ by His fall brought salvation! He conquered when He fell.
Romans 11:12. Human falls.—The Fall popularly used of Adam’s sin and loss of happiness in Eden. Not so used in the Bible (only in margin). Used here of Israel’s loss of land and privileged position. What St. Paul says of Israel’s fall here gives us teaching about man’s fall from Eden.
The Fall a sad event for man. Before it no sin, no pain, no death. Yet not altogether bad for man, or God, the all-good, would never have allowed it to happen. Israel’s falls sad, yet each produced good. First, led to stricter observance of religion afterwards. Second, helped towards dissemination of Christianity. So with man’s fall. Banishment from Eden:
1. Threw man on his own resources, developed energy.
2. Gave him knowledge of self, compelled him to seek God in a way he could not have done before.
3. Pain brought out sympathy.
4. Previous to Fall human race innocent, yet like a child; afterwards sinful, yet like a man.
5. More to God’s glory to be worshipped by child who fell and came back again than by child who did not, could not fall. Our Lord says so (Matthew 18:12-13). Two sorts of fall while climbing a cliff: fall downwards to destruction; fall forwards, from which you rise bruised, but continuing ascent. Man’s fall latter.
1. When grumbling at toil;
2. When suffering pain.—Dr. Springett.
Grace and works opposed to each other as grounds of salvation.—In reference to the doctrine of grace St. Paul maintained a most watchful and “godly jealousy.” On points of a less vital nature he was ready to concede as far as possible; but on the point of salvation by grace through faith he was firm and immovable. He would not give way for a moment, even though all the college of apostles had opposed him, or an angel from heaven had professed to have received a commission to proclaim anything that was inconsistent with it. In the superstructure of our religion there might be errors, yea, considerable errors, as he tells, and yet our souls be saved. Injurious indeed they would be, extremely injurious, to our welfare; but still they would not be utterly subversive of our hopes. But if the error affected the foundation of our religion, he declared it to be utterly incompatible with our final salvation. This jealousy of his is peculiarly visible in the words which we have just read. They were not necessary to the apostle’s argument. In the preceding context he is showing that God has among the Jews as well as among the Gentiles a chosen remnant: but having called them “a remnant according to the election of grace,” he lays hold on the opportunity to confirm his favourite position that salvation is altogether of grace—so entirely of grace as absolutely to exclude works altogether from having any share in meriting or procuring it. The observation thus introduced deserves the deeper attention, because it shows how near to the apostle’s heart the truth was that is contained in it. Let us then, in considering this observation, attend to:—
I. The truth of it.—The observation is simply this, that salvation must be altogether of grace or altogether of works; for that the two cannot possibly coalesce, since each of them excludes the other, as light and darkness. Now this observation is true in reference to every part of our salvation. The truth of the apostle’s observation being established, we proceed to show—
II. The importance of it.—We have already called your attention to the way in which the observation is introduced, and which we conceive marks very strongly the importance of it in the apostle’s mind; and we may notice the same from the very pointed way in which the observation is made. The apostle seems determined that nobody shall misunderstand him; and he has effectually secured his object in that particular. To show the importance of his observation, then, we say that it establishes beyond all doubt the freeness and fulness of the gospel salvation, and it secures against all invasion the honour of God. It makes clear the path of the true penitent. On the observation thus explained we ground a few words of advice. Accept with gratitude this free salvation, and give no occasion for the objections that are raised against it. Recommend and adorn it by a holy conversation. Show by your lives what the proper tendency and effect of grace is. We are told that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation teaches us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live righteously and soberly and godly in this present world.” Show, then, by all your dealings with men what true righteousness is; show by your perfect self-government in all your tempers, dispositions, and habits what true sobriety is; and show by the spirituality of your minds and the heavenliness of your lives wherein true godliness consists. This will recommend the gospel more effectually than all the encomiums that can be lavished upon it, and will operate more strongly to convince men of its excellence than all the arguments that can be urged. Let it be seen, then, that whilst you magnify and extol the grace of God, you are the truest friend of good works; for that though you exclude them from your foundation, you display them in your superstructure, and in fact raise them higher and of a nobler quality than any other people in the universe.—Simeon.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 11:6-10
The restoration of the Jews a blessing to the Gentiles.—“The ways of God are in the great deep, and His footsteps are not known.” They are utterly inscrutable to us. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are His ways and His thoughts above our thoughts.” We cannot see the end of any one of His dispensations. Who could ever have conceived the designs of God in suffering Joseph to be sold into Egypt? Yet did God intend by that dispensation to keep the whole Egyptian nation from perishing by famine; yea, and the very persons who sold him thither. No less mysterious are His dealings with the Jews. They are cast off, they are led captive of all nations. Yet are they suffering for the good of all people amongst whom they dwell, and even for their own ultimate advantage also. This is strongly asserted in the passage before, where their fall is said to be “the riches of the Gentiles,” as their recovery also will be in a far more signal manner and degree. We presume not to think that we can ever fathom this deep mystery. Yet will it be profitable for us to consider it as far as it is revealed; and therefore we shall endeavour, according to the light given us, to show you what an interest the Gentiles have in God’s dealings with the Jews, particularly in—
I. Their present dispersion.—This was designed of God for the salvation of the Gentiles. The fall of the Jews has led to the salvation of the Gentiles. The present rejection of the Jews is ultimately designed also even for the good of that benighted people. But still richer benefits will flow to the world from—
II. Their future restoration.—That the Jews will in due time be converted to Christianity is certain, and the effect of this upon the Gentiles will be blessed in the extreme. From this subject the following reflections naturally arise: What compassion should we feel for the Jewish nation! How should we fear and tremble for ourselves! How earnestly should we labour for the conversion of the Jews! God has decreed that they shall be converted, and we have reason to believe that the period fixed for it in the divine counsels is not far distant. It is a fact that multitudes in the heathen world are expecting a change in their religion. The Mohammedans and Hindus throughout our Eastern empire are strongly impressed with this idea; and the exertions making in every possible way for the conversion of the heathen world warrant us to hope that “their fulness” will speedily commence. At all events, “we are debtors to the Jews,” and should seek to discharge our debt. Though they are at this time “enemies for our sakes, they are still beloved for their fathers’ sakes”; and if, notwithstanding their present enmity against Christ, they are beloved of God for their fathers’ sakes, should they not be beloved of us? Think how indebted we are to their fathers, to those who, at the peril of their lives, brought the glad tidings of salvation home to us; and should we not labour to recompense all this in acts of love to their descendants? It is a favourite notion with many that to attempt the conversion of the Jews is a hopeless task. But what ground is there for such a desponding thought as this? Are they further off from God than the Gentiles were when the gospel was first published to them? or is it a harder thing to convert them than to convert us? God expressly tells us that it is a work of less difficulty. “If thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?” Despair not, then, of doing them good; but exert yourselves in every possible way for their conversion to the faith of Christ. You are told that, “if they abide not still in unbelief, they shall be graffed in again.” Seek, then, to convince them of the truth of Christianity, and to bring them to the knowledge and love of their Messiah. If you desire only the conversion of the Gentile world, you should begin with the Jews, because it is the fulness of the Jews that is to operate on the Gentiles, and to effect, as it were, among them “a resurrection from the dead.” But it is for God’s sake whose people they are, and for Christ’s sake who bought them with His blood, and for your own sake who must give an account of the talents entrusted to your care, that I call upon you to be workers together with God in this great cause; and if you have any sense of God’s “goodness to you,” seek to avert and terminate “His severity to them.”—Simeon.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 11
Romans 11:13. Practical preaching.—A practical preacher is one who knows what he means to say and says it in the simplest words, who hits something because he aims at something, who acts in the spirit of the Baptist’s noble words about his Master, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” When Demosthenes had done speaking, the Athenians said, “Let us fight Philip.” When Cicero ceased, the Romans said, “What a fine orator!” After hearing Massillon at Versailles, Louis XIV. said to him, “I have heard many great orators in this chapel, and have been highly pleased with them; but for you, whenever I hear you I go away displeased with myself, for I see more of my own character.” Preachers magnify their office when they lead their hearers to be displeased with themselves and think much of Christ.
Romans 11:22. God is love.—Mr. Spurgeon relates that he deemed it a strange thing when he saw on a country weathercock the motto “God is love,” and he. asked his friend if he meant to imply that the divine love can be fickle as the wind. “No,” said he; “this is what I mean—whichever way the wind blows God is love; though the cold north wind, the biting east wind, still God is love, as much as when the warm, genial breezes refresh our fields and flocks.” God is love both in severity and in goodness. Whatever be the divine aspects, the divine nature is love.
Romans 11:15.—The apostle awaits a boundless effect of blessing on the world from the future conversion of the Jews, which will be as life from the dead.
Romans 11:16.—Firstfruit denotes the representative offerings by which the whole mass is consecrated to God.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 11:13-22
The right method of magnifying.—St. Paul was no empty boaster. No vain words fell from his lips. He was humble, and yet his humility did not prevent him asserting rightful claims and vindicating his position. He magnified his office by deeds as well as words. He here says: I magnify my office so that the Gentiles may be encouraged and the Jews have no reason to be disheartened. St. Paul magnifies his office:—
I. By identifying himself with his hearers.—He speaks to the Gentiles, not as an exclusive Jew, but as one of themselves. He goes down to their position in order to raise them to his own high level. He is a Jew, and yet the apostle of the Gentiles. The preacher must identify himself with his hearers by love, by genial sympathy, by manly effort, if he is to do them good.
II. By seeking the salvation of some.—“And might save some.” The impelling idea of apostolic ministration. One might listen to some preachers Sunday after Sunday, and never discover that the gospel was a remedial scheme for the salvation of men. One might suppose that Christ had come on a useless errand when He came to give His life a ransom for many. The salvation of some should be the consuming desire of every preacher.
III. By entertaining a large hope.—Despairing men cannot make the best preachers. The general without hope is on the way to defeat. A preacher without hope cannot successfully rescue the perishing. St. Paul had large hope. The casting away of the Jewish nation was a ground of hope. He does not wail amid the ruins, but rises by their means to joyful expectations. The casting of them away is the reconciling of the world. The view expands before his eager vision. The receiving of them is life from the dead. A bright era is in the happy future. The valley of apostolic vision is not a valley of dry bones. The world is not to be for ever a vast moral sepulchre. Spiritual life shall animate the race; moral wastes shall quickly become gardens of the Lord; spiritual deserts shall speedily rejoice and blossom as the rose. Let hope animate the preacher, and he will lead to great successes.
IV. By investigating divine methods.—Some preachers have only one text. Other preachers, with several texts, have only one sermon. Other preachers, with several sermons, have only one round of elementary topics. St. Paul keeps prominent the way of salvation by faith. Christ crucified is central, and other topics are circumferential. St. Paul can give milk to babes, and meat for strong men. Indeed, the men must be very strong who can assimilate St. Paul’s strong meat. How skilfully he treats the subject of the breaking off the Jewish branches? The unbelieving Jews are broken off, while the believing Gentiles are grafted in. The wild olives become fruit-bearing and glorious because the root and fatness of the eternal olive tree are imparted—a beautiful figure of the working of divine grace. Wild olives are both grafted and changed. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.” Successfully to graft requires skill; but what skill is required to graft a wild olive and make it rich! This skill is only possible to the Divine. Philosophy, education, ethical systems, cannot graft and change. The wild olive retains its wildness. Divine grace can and does both graft and change. Wild olives become part of the fruitful tree. Even hearts of stone are turned to flesh.
V. By considering the totality of the divine nature and the divine proceedings.—“Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God.” The God of some preachers is maimed. He is fashioned according to their tastes or their peculiar theological tenets. Severity hides the goodness, or goodness is made to obliterate the severity. The modern theologian has an all-father for a God,—an all-father whose children rule the world; an all-father who is never to be seen, and who exists merely for the happiness of His family, the word “happiness” referring mostly to present benefits. True to the perfection of the divine nature and to the reading of history and of providence, we are compelled to behold both the goodness and the severity of God.
VI. By making deep subjects have a practical bearing upon life’s morals and manners.—Teachers of homiletics tell us that the conclusion is the proper place for application in every style of treatment. Can the earnest preacher wait for his conclusion? Can he always restrain the swelling tides of his soul by the weak barriers of homiletical rules? Can a St. Paul preach for an hour, if modern light and leading would allow him to speak so long on the sublimest themes, and then say, “And now a few words by way of application”? St. Paul is always applying. After a few sentences he cautions against unseemly pride: “Boast not against the branches.” He proceeds a little further, and then cautions against presumption: “Be not high-minded, but fear.” He may preach election and predestination; but according to some he is not logically consistent, for he appends, “if thou continue in His goodness.” Is burning love ever logically consistent?
Romans 11:22. The goodness and severity of God.—Man is often so perverse as to tempt God to strike, and then God must strike sternly. It seems as if we were bent on challenging God to do His utmost to try how much we can endure. Yet the goodness of God is everywhere manifest.
I. The history of God’s dealings with the Jews a great parable of mercy to man.—Through all the ages of their history they were the children of sparing, delivering, redeeming mercy. Their national history was zooted in redemption. Every defeat, every captivity, was not unto death, but life. Paul, summing up the whole history, breathes the same strain. But there is a dark side. Life is not the one thing needful. It may be the most terrible of gifts. And the Jews, spared, endured sharpest agonies. Their final overthrow is the saddest act in the tragedy of history. Mark their modern persecutions. The world’s outcasts.
II. The principle of the divine method in which the goodness and the severity are thus intertwined.—Psalms 99:8 expounds it. The goodness is for us; the severity is for the sins and follies. This involves a principle little in tune with those who hold that man is homogeneous.
1. Man’s nature is in an unnatural condition, lapsed, fallen under the dominion of an alien power. There is strong internal discord. “Flesh lusteth against.” etc.
2. God has declared Himself man’s helper in the grand enterprise of life. God is really the author of the enterprise. It is God’s revelation of Himself which reveals sin (Romans 7:7-13), God kindles in the soul the hope of conquering it.
3. The severity is the hand of help which He brings to us in the working out of the great problem of our lives. He distinguishes between us and our sins, and He trains us to distinguish. The one He crushes, the other He saves. No light treatment of sin in the Bible. Modern philosophy says, Do not trouble too much about sin. Heaven’s philosophy says, Be in anguish about sin, because God lives to trouble it; and the soul that loves it drinks to the dregs life’s cup of bitterness.
4. It is with you to hail the severity and convert it to mercy, or to cling to your sin and convert it to doom. The severity not inconsistent with abounding mercy. God does not, will not, in our state of trial, recognise that our sins and ourselves are one. If deliverance from sin be the end of it, what matters the anguish of the moment? But if you continue with sin, you hate your own soul and love the gates of death.—J. Baldwin Brown.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 11:22, etc
Final perseverance not Paul’s doctrine.—The above section is a complete and designed disproof of the doctrine held by Calvin and others, but not by Augustine, that all who have been justified will be saved. For after assuming (chaps, Romans 5:9; Romans 8:16-17) that his readers are already justified and adopted as sons and heirs of God, Paul here solemnly and emphatically warns them that unless they continue in faith and in the kindness of God they will be cut off. The words “broken off,” used of the unbelieving Jews, evidently denote a “separation from God,” which, if it continue, will end in eternal death. Hence Paul’s sorrow. That the words “cut off,” used as a warning to the believing Gentiles, have the same sense is proved by the comparison of Jews and Gentiles, and by the contrast of being “cut off” and continuing in the kindness of God. Dr. Hodge asserts under Romans 11:22, but without proof, that Paul speaks, not of individuals, but “of the relation of communities to the Church and its various privileges.” But of this Paul gives no hint whatever. And as yet he has not mentioned in any way either the Church or its privileges, but has spoken only of the relation of individuals to Christ. On the other hand, the words “some of them” (Romans 11:14), “some of the twigs” (Romans 11:17), “they that fell” (Romans 11:22), point us to individuals. The word “thou,” which does not always refer to an individual, is proved to do so here by its contrast with “some of the twigs.” Can we conceive that Paul would support this urgent and personal appeal by warning the Roman Christians that if they do not continue in faith, although they will themselves be brought back and be finally saved, the Roman Church will perish? It has been suggested that Paul speaks of that which is possible in the abstract, but which will never actually take place. But could a mere abstract possibility call forth the earnest tones of Romans 11:20-22? The warning would have no force to readers who believed that God had irrevocably purposed to exert upon them irresistible influences, which would secure without fail their final salvation. He tells them to “fear.” But an intelligent man will not be moved by fear of that which he knows will not happen—that certain lines of conduct lead towards a certain goal will not affect us if we are sure that the goal will not be reached. We may be moved by consequences which lie on the way to the goal, but only by such as lie within the range of possibility. There are many serious considerations which, even if Calvin’s doctrine were true, would prompt us to cling to faith. But to seek to deter his readers from unbelief by speaking of what both he and they knew could never come would be unworthy of an apostle. I notice that Acts 27:31—a passage very different from that before us—is the only instance given by Dr. Hodge of the mode of speech which he supposes that Paul here adopts. He says that “it is very common to speak thus hypothetically.” But I do not know of a similar instance in the Bible. It may be said that Paul refers to a personal and possible, but only temporary, separation from Christ, and that those who fall will be certainly restored. I admit that such a separation would be exceedingly hurtful, though not fatal, and would be worthy of Paul’s warning and his readers’ “fear.” But we cannot accept this important limitation without plain Scripture proof; and I hope to show that no such proof exists. Moreover the contrast between this temporary fall, which on this supposition is all that could happen to the Gentiles, and that which happened to the Jews would destroy the parallel on which the argument rests, and would increase rather than lessen the high-mindedness of the Gentiles. We now ask, Has Paul said anything elsewhere which compels us to set aside what all would admit to be the plain meaning of his words if they stood alone? Hodge says that “Paul has abundantly taught in chap. 8 and elsewhere that the connection of individual believers with Christ is indissoluble.” I thankfully acknowledge that chap. 8 supplements the teaching of this section and guards it from perversion. But we have seen that it does not contradict or modify in the least the plain meaning of the words before us. And I do not know of any other passage in the epistle which even seems to teach the doctrine in question. This doctrine is also contradicted by Romans 14:15, which assumes the possibility of the perdition of a “brother for whom Christ died.”—Beet.
We estimate God by ourselves.—In the prosecution of this discourse we shall first endeavour to expose the partiality, and therefore the mischief, of two different views that might be taken of the Godhead; and, secondly, point your attention to the way in which these views are so united in our text as to form a more full and a consistent representation of Him. We shall then conclude with a practical application of the whole argument.
I. One partial and therefore mischievous view of the Deity is incidental to those who bear a single respect to His one attribute of goodness.—They look to Him as a God of tenderness, and nothing else. In their description of Him they have a relish for the imagery of domestic life, and in the employment of which they ascribe to Him the fondness rather than the authority of a father. It may be thought that surely He at whose creative touch all loveliness has arisen must Himself be placid as the scene or gentle as the zephyr that He causes to blow over it. At present we do not stop to observe that, if the divinity is to be interpreted by the aspects of nature, nature has her hurricanes and her earthquakes and her thunder, as well as those kindlier exhibitions in which the disciples of a tasteful and sentimental piety most love to dwell. Throughout all the classes of society, in fact, it is this beholding of the goodness without a beholding along with it of the severity of God that lulls the human spirit into a fatal complacency with its own state and its own prospects. Independent of all lofty speculation, and aside from the mysteries which attach to the counsels and determinations of a predestinating God, there is abroad on the spirits of men a certain practical and prevalent impression of His severity, to which we believe that most of this world’s irreligion is owing. Beholding the severity alone without the goodness, you feel it more tolerable for to live in the oblivion rather than in the remembrance of Deity. There is both a goodness and a severity; and this brings us to the second head of discourse, under which we proposed to point your attention to—
II. The way in which these two views of the Godhead were so united in the gospel of Jesus Christ as to form a more full and consistent representation of Him.—First, then, there is a severity. There is a law that will not be trampled on; there is a Lawgiver that will not be insulted. The great delusion is that we estimate God by ourselves, His antipathy to sin by our own slight and careless imagination, of the strength of His displeasure against much evil only by the languid and nearly extinct moral sensibilities of our own heart. We bring down heaven to the standard of earth, and measure the force of the recoil from sin in the upper sanctuary by what we witness of this recoil either in our own bosom or in that of our fellow-sinners upon this lower world. Now if we measure God by ourselves, we shall have little fear indeed of vengeance or severity from His hands. But along with this severity there is a goodness that you are also called upon to behold; and if you view both aright, you will perceive that they do meet together in fullest harmony. It is this, in fact, which constitutes the leading peculiarity of the gospel dispensation, that the expression of the divine character which is given forth by the severity of God is retained and still given forth in all its entireness in the display and exercise of His goodness. Were we asked to state what that is which impresses on the mercy of the gospel its essential characteristic, we should say of it that it is a mercy in full and visible conjunction with righteousness. The severity of God because of sin was not relaxed, but only transferred from the head of the offenders to the head of their Substitute; and in the depth of Christ’s mysterious sufferings has He made as full display of the rigours of His inviolable sanctity. That severity of God, on which we have so much insisted, so far from lessening or casting a shade over His goodness, only heightens and enhances it the more.
We must now conclude with a short practical application.—And, first, such is the goodness of God, that it overpasses the guilt even of the most daring and stout-hearted offender amongst you. Let him even have grown grey in iniquity, there is still held out to him the offer of that peace-speaking blood in which there resides the specific virtue of washing it utterly away. There is none whose transgressions are so foul and so enormous as to be beyond the reach of the Saviour’s atonement. But, again, in very proportion to this goodness will be the severity of God on those who shall have rejected it. There is reconciliation to all who will; but if ye will not, the heavier will be the vengeance that awaiteth you. The kindness of God is still unquenched, even by your multiplied provocations of His broken law; but quenched it most assuredly will be if to this you add the tenfold provocation of His rejected gospel. And, finally, let us warn you all, that no one truly embraces Christ as their Saviour who does not submit to Him as their Master and their Lord. No one has a true faith in His promises who is not faithful in the observation of His precepts. No one has rightly taken refuge in Him from the punishment of a broken law who still heedlessly and presumptuously gives himself up to the violation of that law; for then shall he be judged worthy of a severer punishment, seeing that he has trodden underfoot the Son of God, and accounted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing.—Chalmers.
Romans 11:25.—πλήρωμα is a word specially applied to ships. The full complement of the Gentile world shall enter the sacred vessel of the Church, the ark of salvation.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH—Romans 11:23-28
Dual aspects.—The gifts and calling of God are without repentance, and therefore God is unchangeable. There is no change in God, though there may appear change to men. God joins, then separates, then joins again. But faith is the cementing clay by which the branches are united to the vine. Faith lost, the sap ceases to flow and the branches fall off. Divine purposes work along the lines of human faith and human obedience. God is able to graft without faith, for we must not limit His ability—if we did, we might suppose Him grafting without faith, and yet not being able to make such branches fruitful. They might be united to the good olive tree, and yet not be possessed of any spiritual fatness. The promise is to faith; the blessing is obtained by believing. Let us be afraid of continuing in unbelief. Be not high-minded, but fear. If the natural branches were cut off, how careful should we be who were once branches wild by nature!
I. A dual method of working.—God’s ability is such that He can work both contrary to nature and in harmony with nature. God has grafted contrary to nature; how much more in accordance with nature! Many wild oleaster branches have been grafted, and have been wondrous specimens of the power of divine grace. Some of the noblest branches of the Christian tree have been wild Gentile branches. The ecclesiastical tree, primitive, mediæval, and modern, is crowded with many glorious branches of Gentile origin that suggest the most honoured names in the roll of the Church’s history. God can work contrary to nature, as nature is seen and described by short-sighted men. Miracles are contrary to nature—contrary to man’s nature, not contrary to God’s nature. Man’s nature is a circumscribed sphere, cribbed, cabined, and confined by men’s petty notions, which they call laws, and declare to be immutable and inexorable. God’s nature is a boundless sphere. His footsteps tread the vast unknown. The laws of men are only inductions from a part of the divine ways. The laws of God are hidden away in the infinite abyss. The laws of God, like the ways of God, like the sublime being of God, are unknowable. Our laws of nature are limited, for they are the expressions of limited minds—the readings of nature’s methods by finite intellects. For aught we know the laws of God are unlimited, being the expressions of an unlimited intellect. We do not know all the laws of God, even those expressed in nature’s operations. It does not become finite man to be wise in his own conceits. He should seek to be wise in the light of divine teaching and divine revelation.
II. A dual method of concealing and revealing.—God has His divine arcana. We remember a preacher discoursing in order to show that it was not to the glory of God to conceal a thing. Perhaps the proverbs of Solomon contained more wisdom than the utterances of the modern popular preacher. The glory of the Infinite is concealment. How can an infinite Being reveal Himself in fulness to a finite creature? What glory would there be about a God whom I could comprehend and reduce to my own level? The hero-worshipper ceases his homage when the hero appears to be stripped of transcendent and almost super humanqualities. Some ask for a knowable God—a being without any secrets, any mysteries, any hidden purposes. The reverent aspirations of my worshipping nature go out and up towards an unknowable God. The God of mystery is the God of sublime glory. The expanding and inquiring soul, even through eternal cycles, will fail to comprehend all the mysteries of the divine nature and the divine purposes. This is but to say that our littleness cannot contain God’s greatness, that the finite cannot receive and possess the Infinite. But God has mysteries which He reveals and explains; and the revelation tends to unfold the greatness of God, and to impress the receptive mind with a feeling of its own littleness. The revelation of one mystery opens out a wide prospect. Part of the divine ways is known, and we consider the dark unknown with profound awe. We ascend one mountain peak. It is very high, and its immensity subdues us with the sense of our own littleness as we see vaster heights beyond, as we consider that alps of divine nature on alps arise, and that it is hopeless for us to attempt to scale the divine altitudes. “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits.” The mystery of partial blindness to Israel is in a measure explained by the fact that it tends to the enlightenment of the Gentiles. The blindness is not final. The rejection of the Jews has two ends—the proximate and the final. “The proximate end was to facilitate the conversion of the Gentiles; the final end is to restore the Jews themselves by means of the converted Gentiles, and that to bring down at length on the latter the fulness of the divine blessing.”
III. A dual method of salvation.—Salvation for the Gentiles through the Jews; salvation for the Jews through the Gentiles. There shall come out of Zion a Deliverer. A mighty Deliverer has come out of the heavenly Zion to the earthly plains. He spoke in righteousness, travelling in the greatness of His strength, for He was mighty to save. And again in manifest and more victorious manner shall the Deliverer come out of the heavenly Zion and turn away ungodliness from Jacob; and Jew and Gentile shall embrace each other beneath the banner of mediatorial love. The Deliverer came with noiseless tread, with the silent but pervasive power of nature. And it may be that in the final ingathering there will be no miraculous interventions. All things will seem to be moving as before, until one day the Church will wake up to find herself pressed on all sides with ingathering adherents. Gladsome time when Jews and Gentiles shall love and worship the world’s great King—when the vast races of humanity shall bow, as one great army of the living God, beneath the spell of omnipotent and redeeming love!
IV. A dual emotional aspect.—“Enemies for your sakes. Beloved for the fathers’ sakes.” God is not a series of cold abstractions. God is emotional. Let us not be wise in our own conceits by pretending to explain the motions of hatred and love in a God. Perhaps, however, we may say divine hatred is the projection of human wrongdoing. Divine love is the projection of the divine attribute into humanity, removing human enmities, and filling the world with a new light. Let us fear lest we invoke divine enmity. Let us supplicate divine love. “Beloved for the fathers’ sakes.” Good fathers are a blessed heritage to their children. Here learn the greatness of man. He possesses a dual nature: one aspect stirs the divine enmity; another aspect elicits the divine love. God looks at the man and drives him from the divine presence. God looks again at the man and embraces him as beloved. Even in the expulsion there is a force of outreaching love. Is it not thus that we often appear to ourselves? We shrink with utmost loathing from one aspect, and then we taste some little comfort by the contemplation of another aspect. But oh to be beloved for the Son’s sake! The fathers of the race, the elected of God, were noble and beloved; but rising above all, and nobler than all, and more beloved than all, is the only begotten Son. Beloved for the Son’s sake! “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things!”—the needful, ofttimes more than the needful, in the present; the pleasant, the joy-inspiring, in the blessed future.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 11:23-28
Providence a school of virtue.—That the fulfilment of these prophecies is still to come, it appears pretty obvious that a great national movement towards Christianity on the part of the Jews, and their actual adoption of a faith which they have so long held in detestation, must tell with mighty and decisive effect on the rest of the world. If the very existence of the Jews as a separate people be in itself the indication of a providence, a singular event in history which demonstrates the part taken by Him who overrules all history in the affairs of men, how much more impressive will the evidence become when this same people shall describe the actual evolution which it was predicted they should do more than two thousand years ago, shall after the dispersions and the desolations of many generations reach at last the very landing-place to which the finger of prophecy has been pointing from an antiquity so high as that of the patriarchal ages! We know not if this splendid era is to be ushered in by palpable and direct miracle. But should there be no such manifestation of the divine power conjoined with this marvellous fulfilment, there will at least be such a manifestation of the divine knowledge as will incontestably prove that God has had to do with it, and so as that history shall of itself perform the office of revelation, or men will trace the finger of the Almighty in the events which are sensibly passing before their eyes. And besides we have reason to believe of these converted Jews that they will become the most zealous and successful of all missionaries; or, like Paul before them, the preachers of that faith which they persecuted in times past and once laboured to destroy. It is said of a single Christian that he may be “the light of the world.” How much more will be a whole nation of Christians! Verily, like Paul, the great prototype of the Jews, they will pre-eminently be the apostles of the Gentiles; and there will be a light to lighten these Gentiles in the very glory of the people of Israel. We must look to futurity for this great accomplishment, for, most obviously, it has not yet been realised. It will be “in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” This is all yet to come, else how could it be spoken, as an immediate sequence of its fulfilment, that “He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people”? In a school of virtue one chief end were the enforcement of great moral lessons; and this perhaps were best effected by bringing out in boldest possible relief the evil of sin, and in all their beauty and brightness the characteristics of highest moral perfection, or, which is tantamount to this, the high and holy attributes of Him in whom all perfection, as well as all power, have had their everlasting dwelling-place. Now providence is pre-eminently a school of virtue; and we may therefore expect that history, and in a more especial manner sacred history, where the manifestations of providence are seen in nearest connection with the designs of grace, will abound in such lessons. And accordingly such is the manifest purpose of many revealed evolutions or passages in the history of the divine administration, of God’s dealings with the world. One main end of the divine policy in the government and final destiny of men seems to be manifestation, that both heaven and earth might learn thereby the more to hate all evil, to love and admire all worth and goodness and true greatness, whether in themselves or as exemplified by Him in whom all greatness and goodness are personified. In harmony with this view we read of the Lord Jesus being revealed with His mighty angels on that dread occasion when the glory of His power and sacredness shall be displayed in the destruction of sinners, and the glory of His infinite love for the holy in the triumph and happiness of the saints. And so His disposal of the Church does not terminate in but has an ulterior object to itself, even “to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God.”—Chalmers.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 11
Romans 11:24-25. Beholding the deliverer.—On the occasion of President Lincoln’s visit to Richmond, as soon as his arrival became known, the coloured people whom he had delivered from bondage crowded around in wild enthusiasm. They gazed upon the wonderful man; they shouted, they danced; waved their handkerchiefs and hats; they cheered enthusiastically. Some cried, “Glory, glory!” others, “Thank you, dear Jesus, for this!” others, “God bless you, Massa Linkum!” others, “Bless de Lord!” What triumphal entry into Rome ever equalled this entry into Richmond by our delivering President? But ere long we shall all gaze on a Greater than he, with even greater satisfaction than those redeemed ones experienced.
Romans 11:24-25. Let us pray for the restoration of Israel.—Oh, shall we not lament the long rejection of the ancient people of God? Their seventy years in Babylon was nothing to this; yea, their four hundred and thirty years’ bondage in Egypt was nothing to this. Alas! how long—how long shall God’s anger last against that people? How long shall they be under the guilt of the blood of Christ, which they imprecated upon themselves and their posterity, saying, “His blood be upon us and our children”? Oh, pray—pray for that ancient people of God! Oh, pray that the blood of Shiloh may cleanse them from blood-guiltiness! When they were in favour with God, the believers among them had mind of us poor Gentiles, when we were the little sister that had no breasts; and now, when we are sucking at the breasts of gospel ordinances and sacramental solemnities, oh! shall we not mind them when “their breasts are cut off,” and we that were of “the wild olive tree,” are grafted in to partake of the root and fatness of the good olive tree? Oh, let us not boast against the branches!—“for if thou boastest, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” Let us not boast, but let us beg that they may be grafted in; “for if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?” The day of the return and conversion of the Jews will be a day of greater gathering to Shiloh, even among the Gentiles, than we have yet seen; and it would fare better with us if we were more employed in praying for them.
Romans 11:28-32. Providence always at work.—God’s work of providence is “His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.” It has no Sabbath, no night suspends it, and from its labours God never rests. If, for the sake of illustration, I may compare small things with great, it is like the motion of the heart. Beating our march to the grave since the day we began to live, the heart has never ceased to beat. Our limbs grow weary; not it. We sleep; it never sleeps. Needing no period of repose to recruit its strength, by night and day it throbs in every pulse, and constantly supplying nourishment to the meanest as well as to the noblest organs of our frame, with measured, steady, untired stroke, it drives the blood along the bounding arteries without any exercise of will on our part, and even when the consciousness of our own existence is lost in dreamless slumber
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 11:29-32
The unchangeableness of God’s attitude towards men.—It is difficult to comprehend that, while change and decay are recognised everywhere in men and in nature, these should not have any place with God. Our preconceived notions lead us to expect shifting policies. But in these points natural and spiritual law are unlike, whatever other harmony there may be. One truth is always before us concerning God—He changes not.
I. God’s intentions towards men are unchangeable.—I. This is shown by the fact that, notwithstanding men’s unfaithfulness, He does not repent of His gifts and promises. Yet some say God has repented—e.g., Genesis 6:6, where He repented that He had made man. In reality this only points out man’s limitation. He cannot think of God save as a magnified man, with man’s methods of thought and action. The true explanation of this is that God’s visible procedure towards man was altered. From being longsuffering and merciful He was about to show Himself a God of judgment. It is easy to conceive God’s grief that the mercy had so little effect and that judgment was called for. But, in point of fact, God’s feelings towards men were unchanged. It was simply a change in the method of treatment, but pointing to the same gracious end. A father, e.g., has the welfare of his child at heart. Kind treatment failing, he brings strong discipline to bear. So it is with a nation and the troublesome subjects. So it was with God in the treatment of man.
2. But if there be apparent change, it is in detail, not in purpose. “Changes take place above and around the fortress, but its massive buttresses still stand unmoved, and its battlements frown defiance at the strength of the foe.” Such is the parallel to God’s purpose concerning men. “He willeth not the death of a sinner,” etc. Since mercy will not keep the sinner in the path of righteousness, another method is pursued.
3. God may choose others, and not lose His first love—e.g., He turned to the Gentiles and called them; but He did not thereby lose His regard for the Jews. There was still the gracious plan for their redemption. Even when they passed into mischief and sorrow, and the Gentiles were invited to participate in redemption, He still was saying, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?” God’s heart too large only to have love for a Jew or a portion.
4. Apparent cruelty was in reality kindness. “Is error to be immortal because its eradication is painful? Is the mandrake to grow because its roots shriek when they are torn out of the ground?”
II. Only pure perversity can cause a sinner’s loss.—It is not God who changes, but the sinner who refuses. It is the grace of God which gives the Gentiles salvation, and only rebellious resistance to that grace which excludes the Jews. This suggests man’s freedom of action. He is no victim of fate. He may choose his attitude towards God, and may submit and serve, or be defiant. The rejection of the Jews was the natural result of their own obstinacy and hardness—not the result of a blind, hard fate against which they were powerless.
III. In spite of man’s wilfulness God has unchangeably adhered to His scheme of mercy.—“God’s gifts and calling admit of no revocation. Once given, they are given for ever.” The question is, Do we reject them? God’s constancy to His purposes shows:
1. The amplitude of His love—mercy offered to those who by no means deserved it.
2. Man, when lost, has been his own worst enemy, by having refused the offers of mercy.
3. The vastness of our debt to Him who decreed our salvation. While sin is universal, God’s love is equally unlimited; it traverses the whole range of sin. What is our response? The question may come to us, How much owest thou unto thy Lord? The difficulty is to answer how much; for the mercy we have received is so vast, so boundless, so undeserved—it is so much a gift of God’s free grace, large, unmerited, and free! We may not say less than this,—
“Here, Lord, I yield myself to Thee!
’Tis all that I can do.”
Romans 11:29-32. Temporal restoration not. promised.—There is nothing in this passage pointing to a temporal restoration of the Jewish nation, or to an Israelitish monarchy having its seat in Palestine. The apostle speaks only of a spiritual restoration by means of a general pardon and the outpouring of the graces which shall flow from it. Will there be a political restoration connected with this general conversion of the people? Or will it not even precede the latter? Will not the principle of the reconstitution of races, which in our day has produced Italian unity, German unity, and which is tending to the unity of the Slavs, also bring about Israelitish unity? These questions do not belong to exegesis, which confines itself to establishing these two things:
1. That, according to apostolical revelation, Israel will be converted in a body;
2. That this event will be the signal of an indescribable spiritual commotion throughout the whole Church. As Nielsen says: “Divine impartiality, after having been temporarily veiled by two opposite particularisms, shines forth in the final universalism which embraces in a common salvation all those whom these great judgments have successively humbled and abased.” There is therefore no inference to be drawn from this passage in favour of a final universal salvation (De Wette, Farrar, and so many others), or even of a determinist system, in virtue of which human liberty would be nothing more in the eyes of the apostle than a form of divine action. St. Paul teaches only one thing here-—that at the close of the history of mankind on this earth there will be an economy of grace in which salvation will be extended to the totality of the nations living here below, and that this magnificent result will be the effect of the humiliating dispensations through which the two halves of mankind shall have successively passed. The apostle had begun this vast exposition of salvation with the fact of universal condemnation; he closes it with that of universal mercy. What could remain to him thereafter but to strike the hymn of adoration and praise?—Godet.
Romans 11:29. Persistence of the divine gifts.—St. Paul having shown that the rejection of Israel was only partial, he next shows that it was only temporary—that God had not done with His people yet, but that they had still a great part to play in the spiritual history of the future.
I. The gifts of God are without repentance.—These two words, “without repentance,” are the translation of one word, and that one word occurs only twice in the New Testament,—here, and in the passage where the apostle, contrasting godly sorrow with the sorrow of the world, says that “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of”—that is to say, such repentance is followed by no regret; no man is ever sorry that he has repented of his sins. In like manner God’s gifts, once bestowed, are not lightly recalled. Freely given, they are steadily continued from age to age—they are “without repentance”; even when misused and neglected, they are made in some way to work out the gracious purpose of Heaven. This is true of His commonest gifts of all. The word translated “gifts” is one almost entirely peculiar to the apostle in the New Testament, and is used by him in the sense of an endowment of power. It is analogous to what we say ourselves when we speak of the gift of the poet or the musician, of the orator or the artist, meaning thereby special aptitude or faculty for doing something. In the passage before us St. Paul is speaking of a special endowment of power bestowed upon a nation; for a nation may be specially gifted as well as a man. It was theirs, by means of super natural revelation through prophet and seer, to minister to the God-consciousness of the human soul, to deal with the conscience and the religious life. “The spiritual thirst of mankind has for ages been quenched at Hebrew fountains” the profoundest thoughts of God and of His righteousness to be found anywhere in the world, the clearest and most fruitful ideas of His nature, His moral government, and His personal relations to the souls of men, have come to us from them. In modern days, as in ancient, God’s gifts have been steadily persistent, without repentance and without recall. We thank God for harvests and fruitful seasons; let us also thank Him for men who have pioneered our way to nobler realms of thought, for men who have spoken burning words of conviction to the national conscience, for men who have grappled with great social wrongs and done battle with injustice, for men who have helped to make vivid to us the spiritual world and our own personal responsibility to the God of our life. Nor must we think only of great men and great gifts. The humblest man you meet has his own proper gift of God. But we must not stop at the intellectual and practical gifts which God bestows upon men. In the spiritual region, as in the intellectual, each hath his own proper gift of that God who divides to every man severally as He will. The grasp of faith, the intensity of love, the power of sympathy, vary. This gift of the Spirit is the gift of God Himself, as an indwelling, ennobling, and sanctifying power to His creature.
II. The words before us speak of the call of God as well as of the gifts of God; and the call, equally with the gift, is without repentance.—God’s call takes various forms. This, which is true of nations, is true also on a smaller scale of our own personal lives. There are times when God breaks up a man’s surroundings and sends him forth to new scenes and circumstances, that He may make more of the man himself. The call of God may take another form—that of summoning us to special acts of service. The men who have made the noblest sacrifices and done the noblest work have been those who have heard most clearly the call of God in their souls, and have felt most surely that He gave them their work to do. When God gives us work to do, He gives power to do it; power comes upon us as we go. Finally, the call of God to some men is a call to break away from a sinful, godless life. Such calls come at times even to the worst of men. In other ways, too, the call comes. It comes sometimes in the shape of personal trouble sweeping down upon the man’s life. Perhaps he has been trying to make his life complete without God, trying to make his paradise here instead of yonder. And it may be that he seemed to succeed for a while; but only for a while. For changes come. The shadow fell where the love dwelt; there was a vacant chair, and when that chair became vacant the light of the house seemed to go out, and in the silence and desolation which followed God’s voice was heard calling the stricken heart to its true home and its true rest.—John Brown, D.D,
God’s conduct in the salvation of mankind.—This is the conclusion of the argument which Paul had pursued in regard to God’s conduct in the salvation of mankind. He seems to be overwhelmed with the sense of its unsearchableness. In many things do the depths of God’s wisdom and knowledge in man’s spiritual restoration appear. We remark five things:—
I. The manifestation of His righteousness in the restoration of rebels.—Human monarchs have shown their justice in crushing rebels, but God in restoring them.
II. The destruction of the spirit of rebellion in the restoration of rebels.—Human monarchs may deliver rebels, but they cannot destroy the spirit of rebellion. God does this.
III. The augmentation of the force of moral government in the restoration of rebels.—Human monarchs may weaken their government by saving rebels, but God strengthens the force of His moral administration by redeeming transgressors.
IV. The promotion of all the rights of His subjects in the restoration of rebels.—Human monarchs by delivering rebels endanger the rights of loyal citizens. God in the restoration of rebels promotes the rights of all. “O the depth of the riches,” etc.
V. The election of earth instead of hell as the scene for the restoration of rebels.—Homilist.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 11
Romans 11:28-32. Providence always at work.—God’s work of providence is “His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.” It has no Sabbath, no night suspends it, and from its labours God never rests. If, for the sake of illustration, I may compare small things with great, it is like the motion of the heart. Beating our march to the grave since the day we began to live, the heart has never ceased to beat. Our limbs grow weary; not it. We sleep; it never sleeps. Needing no period of repose to recruit its strength, by night and day it throbs in every pulse, and constantly supplying nourishment to the meanest as well as to the noblest organs of our frame, with measured, steady, untired stroke, it drives the blood along the bounding arteries without any exercise of will on our part, and even when the consciousness of our own existence is lost in dreamless slumber.
Romans 11:33.—Judgments are God’s decrees; and His ways are His ways of bringing them to pass. How just is Paul’s reflection upon the whole of his preceding remarks! God’s works in providence and grace are mysterious, and we may well exclaim, O the depth!
Romans 11:36.—God is the centre of all things; they come from Him. He is the universal Worker. All works contribute to His glory.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 11:33-36
A fathomless deep.—What sublime irony is contained in the two questions repeated from the Old Testament prophet! “Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor?” Imagine the savage, the child of the wigwam and the forest, whose instinct—for it can scarcely be called reason—is little keener than the instinct of the animals he seeks to entrap; presuming to advise the president of the British Association, the savage may plead ignorance in extenuation of his presumption. What plea shall the modern savant advance as he presumes to advise and to arraign infinite Wisdom? The best of us only know in part. Shall men of very partial knowledge and very scanty wisdom arrogate to themselves the high prerogative of being the counsellors of Him the depth of the riches of whose wisdom and knowledge is fathomless?
I. Here is a deep which is unfathomable.—Modern man is a marvel. He can plumb the ocean’s depths and scale the mountains’ heights with surprising accuracy. Is there any height or depth, length or breadth, placed beyond the bounds of his ken? Modern man is great at material measurements. His scales are nicely adjusted for weighing material substances. What scales has he for moral measurements? What plumb-line can go down to the fathomless deep of infinite wisdom, knowledge, and goodness? He fails; and his failure is seen by his poor attempts at criticism.
II. A deep which is inexhaustible.—As soon think of emptying the ocean with a cockle-shell as think of exhausting the treasures of divine goodness, wisdom, and knowledge. God’s material riches in this one planet are wonderfully abundant in supply. The mansions of earth are many, and are marvellously full of material riches. Her ample storehouses have been worked for centuries, and yet there is abundance. The earth is as radiant with beauty, the stars shine as brilliantly, the sun pours forth his rays as plentifully, and the clouds send down their rains as copiously as they did for the benefit of primeval man. If God’s material riches are so vast, what must be the intellectual and moral riches of that Being from whom proceeds all the glorious wealth of time!
III. A deep which is incomprehensible.—The depth of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge cannot be proclaimed. Poets may sing, but the poet’s song falls short of the lofty theme. Pulpit orators may declaim, but too often they only darken knowledge by well-sounding words; and sometimes the more darkness which is raised by high-swelling phrases, the better pleased are the unthinking portions of the audience. Philosophers may dream and formulate theories, but they show no right comprehension of infinite riches. If the riches cannot be proclaimed, much less can they be comprehended. I cannot comprehend my own mind. How, then, can I comprehend the mind of the Infinite? I talk about reason, memory, and perception; but who shall tell me what it is that reasons, remembers, and perceives? Who shall settle the disputed point whether conscience be original or derived, whether it be a separate faculty or the resultant of several faculties? Whence comes inspiration? How is it that at some times thoughts flash and burn with lightning-like speed and brilliance, and at other times there are no visions? A man’s own mind is incomprehensible. What about the infinite mind? Can I follow the penetrating gaze of Him who seeth all the secret things of darkness? Can I understand the nature of that knowledge to which the words “new” and “old” cannot have a meaning in our human sense? Can I comprehend the plans that overarch the sweep of mighty time? Thank God, though we cannot know all, we may know some. Complete knowledge is excluded; partial knowledge is our blessed privilege. The riches of God’s goodness fill the soul with adoring thankfulness.
IV. The human mind cannot counsel the divine mind.—For we do not know the mind of the Lord. What is the meaning of mind? What is my mind? Is it a material or an immaterial force? What is the mind of a God? What is the νοῦν of the infinite Ruler? What are the blessed tendencies of the eternal Spirit? What are the purposes and dispositions of the Godhead looking, as we say, far down the stream of ages? I cannot counsel to good purpose even an earthly statesmen in a critical state of the country’s affairs. A vast assembly of senators deliberate, but they fail to give the proper counsel. Who, then, shall be God’s counsellor? Of all the prime ministers of earth, who is fit to be the prime minister of the universal King? Gabriel himself cannot counsel. God requires no counsellor; He will bring all things to successful and triumphant issues.
V. The human mind cannot enrich the divine mind.—We only give what we have received. God is no man’s debtor. Still, God does not spurn our gifts. If we do what we can, God will recompense. If we give to Him our hearts, He will give back the gifts vastly improved.
VI. The human mind can glorify the divine mind.—Not by making it more glorious, but by proclaiming God’s glory. Let us show forth His glory with our lives as well as our lips; let us believe that thanks-living is the true thanksgiving. Let the adoring song arise. For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: of Him as the source; through Him as the channel, the directing agency; to Him as the great blissful centre of the whole system of things. To whom be glory for ever. Amen.
The splendour of the divine plan.—The apostle has been carrying on a very close and elaborate argument, in which, among other things, he proves that God’s intentions towards men are unchangeable. He then points out that if there appear to be any change, it is merely in detail and not in purpose; God has unchangeably adhered to His scheme of mercy for all. Paul then pauses to consider these things, and during that pause there rolls in upon him a sense of the splendour of the divine plan which he has been setting forth. Hence he is moved to exclaim, “O the depth,” etc. These verses suggest:—
I. The unbounded richness of God’s wisdom and knowledge.—One can almost imagine Paul unconsciously repeating parts of the old Scriptures to himself: such as Psalms 36:5-6—“Thy lovingkindness, O Lord,” etc.; or passages such as Job 5:9—“Which doeth great things and unsearchable,” etc; Job 9:10—“Which doeth great things past finding out,” etc.; Job 36:22, etc. God’s richness in wisdom seen in all departments:
1. In nature.
2. In the method of His treatment of the helpless.
3. In His care for the dependent—the sparrow, the needy human creature. These all wait upon Him, and are not disappointed.
“Too wise to err, too good to be unkind.”
As we look around, or into experience, or into the Scriptures, it is all the same—there are indications of boundless mercy, infinite compassion, the most touching care for His creatures. The humblest hearer has a part in this care, can come in all his poverty, temporal or spiritual, and receive a gift. All can say, “O the depth,” etc.
II. On earth we shall never fully comprehend God.—For many reasons.
1. The depths of His riches are so great. Ten thousand mercies only take us a small way down into the sea of His goodness.
2. Our own sense of His tenderness of judgment will never be adequate to His dealings. To man on earth, however wise and far-seeing, the ways of God are beyond discovery—“past finding out.”
3. In the whole of man’s history none have succeeded in finding out the full mind of God, not even God’s “friends.” He reveals just enough of Himself to serve His purpose, and no more; with that we must be content. A Persian one said, “The face of the beloved of God is covered with a veil. Except He Himself remove it off, nothing can tear it from Him.” Another has said, “From below, out of our misery, no path leads upwards to God. He being all-sufficient in Himself, must descend if man is to know Him.”
III. If on earth we can never fully comprehend God, we can surely never fully recompense Him.—For:
1. We do not even know the fulness of our debt—“Now I know in part.”
2. What is finite can never reckon satisfactorily with the Infinite. In order to fully recompense we must have wealth equal to the largeness of the gift. And how could that be when we compare ourselves with God? To meet unlimited demands there must be unlimited supply; and only can He who owns all things do this.
IV. Contemplating all this, how can we suppose that we have any claim on God for His mercies?—Whatever comes from Him is a gift, pure and simple, without the shadow of a claim. How great, then, the mercy that unfolded the scheme of a free salvation—that blessed the world with forgiveness in return for rebellion—that gave Christ and Christianity, with all their blessings, even to those who had turned away to follow their own wills!
V. Praise, then, is natural when thoughts of God’s goodness come.—It is so in other matters. The promptings of the heart are to praise when one has done us a great kindness. Opinion seems to demand it. If one be slow to acknowledge kindness, the world says he is ungrateful and unworthy of any further share. And so in connection with God’s gifts and kind dealings. Some one has said, “The right contemplation of divine verities should lead to the ascription of praise. The scheme of the gospel, coldly viewed, paves the way for doubt and cavil, while such an apostrophe as is contained in these verses strengthens our faith. In a word, suppressed praise is perilous to the spiritual constitution.” “O Lord, we will praise Thee,” etc. Finally, service ought to accompany the praise: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”—Albert Lee.
God His own last end in everything.
I. While God is knowable, He surpasses all our conceptions in His wisdom and His ways.—While believing in the radical error which underlies the agnostic philosophy, we must at the same time admit that God’s wisdom and knowledge, His judgment and His ways, are past our comprehension. Just as a child may know, that is be acquainted with, his parent, while at the same time he is utterly unable to follow him into the regions of pure mathematics, comprehend the differential or integral calculus, or the new department of quaternions, so a Christian may know God as He reveals himself in Christ, and yet stand in awe before His unsearchable judgments. It is God’s glory to conceal a thing. If we saw through the whole administration of God, if there were no mystery or perplexity in His dealings, we should be living by reason, and not by faith. It is more consonant with our finiteness in its relation to the infinite God that we should be asked to trust God, even when we see no reason for His action, when clouds and darkness may be round about His throne. What we have to consider, therefore, is the proper attitude of the Christian before the profundities of God. It surely should be one of humility, of reverence, and of thankful praise. Now the partiality of Paul’s revelation may be profitably contrasted with the fulness of revelation as claimed by Christ. For He claimed to have all that the Father doeth shown to Him. Nothing was or is concealed from Jesus. God’s ways were not unsearchable to Him.
II. Men should not in consequence dictate to God or try to be beforehand with Him.—Now when the matter is put broadly in this way, it seems shocking presumption for men to set themselves up as superior persons, capable of dictating to the Eternal. Yet is this not the meaning of a large amount of the pessimistic literature of our time? If the pessimists had only been consulted, they could have planned a much better world than God has given us. His management has been, in their view, a mistake; and the only redeeming feature in the business is that He has somehow created the pessimists with judgments and powers superior to His own. It is time, surely, that these lamentations over a system of things so very imperfectly understood as yet should cease, and that creatures so finite should humble themselves before the Infinite and acknowledge His superiority in all things.
III. At the same time the apostle concludes that God is His own last end in everything.—It seems a hard thing to take in, yet the more it is pondered the truer it appears. “The supreme sun of the spiritual universe, the ultimate reason of everything in the world and work of grace, is the glory of God. Whole systems of truth move in subordinate relation to this; this is subordinate to nothing.” “There was nothing,” wrote Robert Haldane to M. Chenèviere of Geneva, “brought under the consideration of the students which appeared to contribute so effectually to overthrow their false system of religion founded on philosophy and vain deceit as the sublime view of the majesty of God which is presented in these concluding verses of the first part of the epistle: ‘Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.’ Here God is described as His own last end in everything that He does. Judging of God as such a one as themselves, they were at first startled at the idea that He must love Himself supremely, infinitely more than the whole universe, and consequently must prefer His own glory to everything besides. But when they were reminded that God in reality is infinitely more amiable and more valuable than the whole creation, and that consequently, if He views things as they really are, He must regard Himself as infinitely worthy of being most valued and loved, they saw that this truth was incontrovertible. Their attention was at the same time turned to numerous passages of Scripture which assert that the manifestation of the glory of God is the great end of creation, that He has Himself chiefly in view in all His works and dispensations, and that it is a purpose in which He requires that all His intelligent creatures should acquiesce and seek to promote as their paramount duty. Passages to this effect, both in the Old and New Testament, far exceed in number what any one who has not examined the subject is at all aware of.” Now if our idea of God be high enough, we shall conclude that He stands in such perfect relations to His creatures that in seeking His own glory He is at the same time seeking their highest good. Of course we have the power of resisting this claim of God, and setting ourselves in opposition to His glory; yet this will not defeat His purpose, but be overruled for His praise. It is not selfishness in the most high God to seek His own glory; He is so perfect in His love as to be incapable of selfishness. His glory conflicts with the real good of none of His creatures.—R. M. E., in “Pulpit Commentary.”
A magnificent ascription of praise.—In this magnificent ascription of praise a long train of reasoning finds its climax. God’s redeeming plan has been traced from its conception in the eternal counsels, through its course in time in the believer’s call, justification, and sanctification, up to its culmination in the heavenly glory. The apostle has passed under review the relation in which both Jew and Gentile stood to the plan of salvation, arguing that there was no difference in the sight of the righteous law, that God had shut them all up into unbelief that He might have mercy on all. Then he bursts out in words of adoring wonder at the comprehensiveness and grandeur of the plan of divine mercy.
I. The riches of the divine perfections.—“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” This is a favourite mode of expression with St. Paul (cf. Romans 10:12; Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 4:19), and is meant to impress us with the wealth of the grace of God to guilty man. God’s riches are like a mine. The apostle has been digging in this mine, and when he comes to tell his fellowmen the treasures he has found, language seems to fail him, and he exclaims, “O the depth of the riches!” Like seams of unexhausted wealth in the bowels of the earth, so in the infinite heart of God are deep springs of love, riches of mercy and wisdom and knowledge, which no spiritual surveyor has yet touched. The apostle came back from his survey with a profound sense of the vastness of the field. Each attribute might furnish material for meditation. Knowledge and wisdom are here named, the one devising the plan and the other adapting the means to the end. The redeemed to all eternity will not exhaust the wealth of these attributes. Each new discovery will stir them to new songs of wonder and praise.
II. The unsearchableness of the divine methods.—“How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” God’s “ways” are as inscrutable as His perfections. His plans and methods of working are mysterious. The mystery of the call of the Gentiles was kept hid since the foundation of the world, but now made known in His dealings with a lost world without respect of persons, Jew and Gentile alike being included in His all-embracing mercy. Think of His “ways” towards individuals—e.g., Moses, Abraham, Saul of Tarsus. And how graciously He has dealt with us personally! He has at His disposal an infinite wealth of appliances and means of leading erring men to Himself. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”
III. The independence of the divine counsels.—“Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor?” These quotations from the Old Testament show the apostle’s acquaintance with Scripture and agreement in doctrine. The glory of human redemption belongs to God alone. He did not share His secrets with any created intelligence. None could have known His mind till He was pleased to divulge it, for He held counsel with none. He had no instructor. The great thoughts that are gradually taking form throughout the ages owe their conception to His sovereign mind. “With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him?” What a lofty view does this give us of God’s unaided wisdom and knowledge and sovereign will! No suggestion from man could improve or alter the divine procedure, or aid Him in working out His plans. Each generation has its little system which lives for a day and ceases to be; but God’s mighty plan lives on and develops from age to age. God is supreme, sovereign, independent of human wisdom or knowledge; and when His plan is complete, He alone shall bear the glory.
IV. The manifestation of the divine glory.—“For of Him, and to Him, and through Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever.” The gracious purpose which runs through the ages will, when completed, show the glory of its Author. Revelation is essentially an unveiling of God, the manifesting of His perfections being the ultimate end of the scheme of grace. The glory of human redemption belongs to Him alone. This is the goal to which the whole creation moves. God will be all and in all.
1. “For of Him are all things.” He is the first cause, the fountain-head of the stream of grace that flows through time. It originated in His eternal love and purpose.
2. “Through Him are all things.” It is through His sole presiding agency that the purposes of His love and grace are brought about. He that began the good work will carry it on to perfection.
3. “To Him are all things.” The redemptive forces which He launched on the world will seek their source when their work is done. The stream of grace which broke out from beneath His throne will, after refreshing generations of weary men, return to Him in circular flow, bearing on its bosom all that is worth saving from the wreck of a ruined world. And so the end and the beginning will meet in the far-off divine event. All things will be redeemed and reconciled—things in heaven and things on earth. And throughout eternity a redeemed and reconciled universe, viewing the height and depth and length and breadth of the redeeming plan, will ascribe all the glory to Him who reigns, Jehovah God alone.—D. Merson, B.D.
SUGGESTED COMMENTS ON Romans 11:33-36
A vast survey of the world.—Like a traveller who has reached the summit of an alpine ascent, the apostle turns and contemplates. Depths are at his feet; but waves of light illumine them, and there spreads all around an immense horizon which his eye commands. The plan of God in the government of mankind spreads out before him, and he expresses the feelings of admiration and gratitude with which the prospect fills his heart. The word “to Him” does not refer to God’s personal satisfaction, an idea which might undoubtedly be supported; for, as Beck says, “the egoism of God is the life of the world.” But it is more natural to apply the term “to Him” to the accomplishment of His will, in which His own glory and the happiness of His sanctified creatures blend together as one and the same thing. It has been sometimes attempted to apply these three prepositional clauses to the three persons of the divine Trinity. Modern exegesis (Mey., Gess, Hofm.) has in general departed from this parallel, and rightly. When Paul speaks of “God,” absolutely considered, it is always the “God and Father” he intends, without of course excluding His revelation through Christ and His communication by the Holy Spirit. But this distinction is not raised here, and had no place in the context. What the apostle was concerned to say in closing was that all things proceeding from the creative will of God, advancing through His wisdom and terminating in the manifestation of His holiness, must one day celebrate His glory, and His glory only. Never was survey more vast taken of the divine plan of the world’s history. First, the epoch of primitive unity, in which the human family forms still only one unbroken whole; then the antagonism between the two religious portions of the race created by the special call of Abraham—the Jews continuing in the father’s house, but with a legal and servile spirit, the Gentiles walking in their own ways. At the close of this period, the manifestation of Christ determining the return of the latter to the domestic hearth, but at the same time the departure of the former. Finally, the Jews, yielding to the divine solicitations and to the spectacle of salvation enjoyed by the Gentiles as children of grace; and so the final universalism in which all previous discords are resolved, restoring in an infinitely higher form the original unity, and setting before the view of the universe the family of God fully constituted.—Godet.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 11
Romans 11:33. Mysteries not to be pried into.—“Arriving in the city,” says the Rabbi Josuah, “I met a little boy carrying a covered dish. ‘What hast thou in that dish, child?’ demanded I. ‘My mother would not have covered it, master, had she wished its contents to be known,’ replied the little wit, and went on.”—From the Talmud.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29