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Bible Commentaries
Romans 9

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Verses 1-8


Romans 9:1. I speak in Christ the truth.—Not to be rendered, “I speak the truth in Christ.” The apostle, not as a man merely, but as a member of Christ, in His name, as His apostle.

Romans 9:2.—λύπη, ὀδύνη, sorrow and pang.

Romans 9:3.—St. Paul considers personal happiness subordinate to the general salvation.

Romans 9:4.—The glory, the Shekinah; the covenants frequently repeated; the service of the tabernacle and temple; the true worship of God.

Romans 9:5.—“In this passage five distinct assertions concerning our Lord, His incarnation, His existence from everlasting, His supremacy, His divinity” (Dr. Wordsworth). “Although εὐλογημένος is used by Christ, εὐλογητός never is. Had Paul wished to teach in this verse that Christ is God, he might have done so, and put his meaning beyond doubt, by writing ὅς ἐστιν, as in Romans 1:25. Consequently the word ὤν lends no support to the former exposition” (Dr. Beet).

Romans 9:6.—ἐκπέπτωκεν, has been void, as כָפַל (Joshua 21:0).

Romans 9:7.—κληθήσεται, be named, and obtain celebrity.

Romans 9:8.—τέκνα τ. ἐπαγγελίας, for τέκνα ἐπαγγέλμενα, those to whom pertained the felicity promised to Abraham. Heirship of God’s blessings derived from the realisation of special promises.


St. Paul’s intensity.—St. Paul was a thorough man, and did not believe in half measures. His spirit was always raised to a high degree. If he was opposed to Christianity, he showed himself an opponent to be dreaded. He was an intense persecutor. If he was in favour of Christianity, he showed himself an ardent admirer. The Christian religion has produced no more fervent and devoted adherent. Paul’s spirit manifests itself in this opening passage.

I. The intensity of his defence.—He declares his truthfulness as one who speaks from the Christ standpoint. The truth in Christ should be the preacher’s aim—the truth from Christ, the truth as Christ’s ambassador, the truth as from one who is united to the Spirit of truth. Let us get into the light of Christ, and then we shall be delivered from all falsehood, and conscience will bear a true witness. A Christ-enlightened conscience is the only reliable witness. The witness of conscience must coincide with the witness of the Holy Ghost.

II. The intensity of his love.—Such was his love that his soul endured the mourning of sorrow and the harrowings of a great pang. His love had the bitter as well as the sweet aspect. All true love has its intense anguish. Jesus loved and Jesus wept; Jesus loved and Jesus sighed. Paul loved, and in consequence had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart. Love glides on the pleasant stream. The sun shines overhead; the banks are gay with flowers; sweet fragrances delight the senses; pleasant songs gladden the heart. But love is not always a smooth passage. The wail of distress harrows the soul; storms have to be encountered. Love’s earthly portion is often great heaviness and continual sorrow in the heart.

III. The intensity of his patriotism.—He loved his country and his kinsmen according to the flesh. Such was his patriotism that he could wish himself “accursed from Christ.” Whatever this may mean, it shows Paul’s intensity. He was willing for any sacrifice. He would fall, if by his fall his kinsmen could rise. Too many of our so-called patriots sell their patriotism at a good price. They rise by means of swelling words. They profess self-sacrifice, and live in luxury; the country is impoverished, and they are enriched. What Paul was in words he was in deeds. Self-sacrifice was his creed and his practice. He laboured for the universal good, and earthly emolument was not his reward. He was not one of your good men who manage to make “the best of both worlds.” If he were not accursed from Christ, he was accursed from earth royalties. Patriotism is inspired by a sense of the country’s greatness and glory. Paul had an exalted view of the privileges with which the Israelites were favoured. They were the adopted children of God. The Shekinah shed a heaven light on their pathway; the covenants sustained a connection with heaven; the service of God exalted; the promises cheered; the moral code placed them in the forefront of nations, and is to-day the backbone of highest forms of civilisation. All these glories culminated in the glory of giving to the world the divine-human Man, the representative of manhood; the one entire and perfect chrysolite. Well indeed might Paul love that nation from which as concerning the flesh Christ came.

IV. The intensity of his perception.—Long before our day Paul knew that things are not what they seem. He distinguished between the semblance and the reality; between the being and the not-being; between the phantasm of a man and the glorious reality of a man; between an Israelite who might be known by the cast of his physical features or by the cunning of his mercantile transactions, and the Israelite who might be known by the glory of his moral manhood and by showing himself the honourable and grand heir of all the ages. The children of the promise are counted for the seed—children fashioned according to the divine ideal. The children of the flesh are not the children of God. The children of the promise are the children of the Promise-giver. The children of the Spirit are the offspring of the eternal Spirit. They rise above all materialism; they move in highest realms. Are we children of the promise? Are we living the higher life? Are we seeking and serving Christ-like aims and purposes?

Romans 9:1-3. Christian zeal.—One thing he would not part with, the love of Christ. That love he would have with him wherever he was, wherever God might place him. Who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus? That he could not lose, for none can lose it who part not willingly from it. But the presence of Christ, the blissful glory of His countenance, the joy of being with his Master, the entrancing, transporting vision of Him who had called him while he was persecuting Him—this, the very bliss of eternity, the blessed-making sight of God, St. Paul was ready to forgo, if so be his Redeemer might be the more glorified and the souls of his kinsmen after the flesh. They, to whom the promises appertained, might be saved and joined to the heavenly choirs who adore the Master whom he loved. St. Paul would not be separated from the love of Christ; but he could endure to think of being separated, in place, in sight, in joy, from Christ Himself. “I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ.” He willed, like the thing devoted, separated to God, and sacrificed to Him, to be cut off from all besides; yet not from God, but from the presence of God. He who had been the “off-scouring of the world” could have borne to forfeit the very sight of God, if so be God Himself might thereby be the more glorified and souls might be won to Him and live to Him eternally. Such was an apostle’s fervour, such an apostle’s love. Great must be the preciousness of zeal for souls, that God put into his soul such a thought as this, that he could bear even to be separated from the sight of Him whom His soul loved, if so be greater glory might so be gained to Him and there were more to love Him. Precious indeed in the sight of the Lord is true zeal for souls—precious indeed, because there is nothing in the whole world so precious as the soul of man redeemed by the blood of Christ. Not the whole world, sun, moon, and countless hosts of heaven, would be as the very dust in the balance weighed with one soul for which Christ died. Great and divine you would think the office to uphold in being and direct in their courses all those heavenly lights which brighten our day and make our night serene and calm. When Joshua bid the sun and the moon stand still, it is said, “There was no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord hearkened unto the voice of a man.” Great was it when, at the prayers of Elijah and Elisha, St. Peter or St. Paul, death gave back its slain—when, at apostles’ prayers, the blind saw, or the deaf heard, or the lame walked. But greater far is it when one human soul is won out of the jaws of Satan to adore its Redeemer forever.… It is the greatest work in which God employs man; for it is the greatest work of God Himself. It is the end for which God the Father made all besides; for which God the Son became man; for which God the Holy Ghost pleads with, calls, sanctifies, indwells man, and unites him unto God. The salvation of man is the combined work of the holy Trinity. They together ordained it; they in union brought it about; and in this their work they join in with themselves the work of man. But, then, zeal which would be heard must be self-denying. “Charity begins at home.” Wouldst thou have true zeal, be zealous with thyself. First have pity on thine own soul, and then have zeal for the souls of others. And so it is a blessing to thee to be asked to aid in any act of spiritual mercy. It is a twofold blessing to thee, in that it is an offering to Him, the good Father, thy blessed Maker, thy tender Redeemer, and He will repay thee; it is a means of denying thyself, putting restraint upon thyself, giving up to God some self-indulgence which the rather hindered thee in taking up thy cross and following Christ. It is to exchange a weight which clogs thee for wings which shall bear thee towards thy God.—Pusey, D. D.


Accursed from Christ.”—The word translated “accursed,” which in the marginal reading is rendered “separated,” sometimes means also “cut off” or “destroyed.” Now, if we take it in this sense, the difficulty will be in a great measure removed; for the words will mean merely that the apostle was willing to be cut off, or to suffer death, if by that means he could save his countrymen from the calamities impending over them. But the expression “separated from Christ” is unfavourable to this view of the meaning; for these words usually imply “separated from the favour of Christ,” and consequently from the hope of salvation through Him. This difficulty, however, is at least diminished when it is borne in mind that Paul often denominates the Christian Church “the body of Christ,” and that sometimes the phrase “to be in Christ” seems to mean nothing more than being “a member of the Church of Christ.” Now, if we take the words rendered “accursed from Christ,” or rather “separated from Him,” to mean “separated from the Church of Christ,” or “cut off by a violent death from the communion of the Church,” we shall have a meaning suitable to the circumstances. For the Jews were not cut off from being the Church of God, and destined to be destroyed; and it was not unnatural for the apostle to say that he would willingly submit to this fate in their stead if that could save them. This interpretation is the more probable, that the word translated “accursed,” or “separated,” is the common Scripture term for denoting “excommunicated,” or “cut off,” from the communion of the visible Church. “If any man love not the Lord Jesus, let him be anathema” (the word here employed)—cut off from the privileges of a Christian and the communion of the Church. It is true that cutting off from communion of the Church was, according to the opinion of the time, equivalent to cutting off from the hope of salvation. But this opinion rested on no authority; and consequently St. Paul, in saying that he was willing to submit to this fate in place of his countrymen, does not mean that he was willing to submit to eternal condemnation for them—a wish which it seems hardly possible for him to have expressed.—Ritchie.

Not one must perish.—Tholuck reminds us that Paul’s eye falls on the mighty company of the subjects of the Old Testament theocracy, which, offering as a whole a hostile resistance to the Christian scheme of salvation, seems on that ground to deserve total rejection. Paul’s conversion to Christianity did not rob him of love for his own nation. Cast out, despised of them, he does not give them up. He still hopes for their salvation.

I. The apostle shows his wariness. In full keeping with Christ’s warning, “Be wise as serpents,” etc. He has to win a prejudiced people. Hence he identifies himself with them; and it is as brother pleading with brother, a case of winning to Christ “making a difference.”

II. Paul is moved to godly sorrow at others’ danger.—As though “Woe is me if,” etc. He follows out Christ’s injunction, “Bless them that curse you.” Shows how the forgiving spirit of Christianity works in Christ’s true followers.

III. While pleading, Paul does not spare where blame is demanded.—He shows the Jews that if they are not received by God they have themselves to blame. Salvation is for every one. No exclusiveness, no favouritism, no respect of persons, in the scheme of redemption. To Jews, and all others, if they are lost, pride and wilfulness, and not God’s exclusion, are their ruin. It is not God who shuts the door against us.

IV. A true child of God is willing to be a cross-bearer for the sake of those in peril.—“I could wish myself accursed.” Here is Christ mirrored in His follower. Christ willing to spend and be spent, even treading the sad way of sacrifice, that men might be saved. Paul a worthy follower, imitating Christ in this full surrender of self; ready for the great extremity, if by so doing he could save some; This is true surrender of self for the good of others. This is true self-sacrifice; and self-sacrifice is a principle pre-eminently Christian.

V. A noble ancestry does not save us from sin’s penalties.—

1. The Jews were naturally proud of their descent—a chosen people, a royal priesthood. But this ancestry brought its dangers. It fostered pride, self-confidence, blinded the sense of any need of reformation or penitence. Yet our blessings are not founded on our merits, but on the free grace of God. It was so with the Jews; it is so with everyone.
2. Our privileges render the guilt of rejection and forgetfulness the more manifest. Jews were of one blood with Christ; yet they set Him at defiance, denounced Him, rejected Him. Thus they rejected Him who is blessed for ever, “God over all.” Little do we know, sometimes, the extremity to which our pride takes us, the terrible guilt we incur.

VI. Does not this strong feeling on Paul’s part suggest God’s tenderness to the sinner?—Saving the vilest. Paul so knew his Lord that he knew there was pardon wherever there was penitence. The old gospel story was in his mind; and he was constrained to tell it, to plead with them as one who must give account. Mercy is offered even to those who challenge Heaven to bruise and crush them. Shall we not come to Christ for mercy?—Albert Lee.

Paul does not wish to be damned.—Paul does not teach that we should be willing to be damned for the glory of God.

1. His very language implies that such a wish would be improper. For in the ardour of his disinterested affection he does not himself entertain or express the wish, but merely says, in effect, that were it proper or possible, he would be willing to perish for the sake of his brethren.
2. If it is wrong to do evil that good may come, how can it be right to wish to be evil that good may come?

3. There seems to be a contradiction involved in the very terms of the wish. Can any one love God so much as to wish to hate Him? Can he be so good as to desire to be bad? We must be willing to give up houses and lands, parents and brethren, and our life also, for Christ and His kingdom; but we are never required to give up holiness for His sake, for this would be a contradiction.—Hodge.

I wished myself accursed.”—The more I consider the passage, I am the more satisfied that the first part of the third verse should be rendered in the past time and thrown into a parenthesis—“For I myself wished to be accursed from Christ.” The considerations in support of this rendering are strong:—

(1) It is literal. The other is not. I wished, not I could wish, is the simple and direct rendering of the verb. To make it conditional it should be in another tense or have a particle of conditionality prefixed to it. If instances to the contrary, they are exceptions to the rule.

(2) The sense is complete without the parenthesis.
(3) It gives a natural connection to the second verse, which otherwise it wants.
(4) The emphatic expression I myself is in this way most naturally explained. It evidently has the sense of, I myself as well as they—I too, like them, wished to be accursed from Christ. Our translators have shown that this emphatic expression does not naturally suit the ordinary interpretation, by omitting it—“I myself could wish “would not be natural; and they have therefore separated the myself from the I.

(5) It affords an interesting and beautiful sense. It assigns the reason of his “great heaviness and sorrow of heart.” The reason lies in the recollection of what he himself had been. He too had rejected Jesus, and thought he should do many things against His name.—Dr. Wardlaw.

Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came.”—The Christ, according to the prophecies that went before, was to be the seed of Abraham and of David. It was pre-eminently in this sense that “salvation was of the Jews.” They gave birth to the Saviour. In this, God put the very highest honour upon the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by bringing from among them the human nature of IMMANUEL. The “horn of salvation for Jews and Gentiles was raised up in the house of God’s servant David.” The expression “as concerning the flesh,” or “as far as respects the flesh,” or “as to His human nature,” is a phrase which prepares us to expect something more. It is a phrase which most assuredly we should never think of using respecting any mere man. It instantly suggests the question, What was He else?—what was He not according to the flesh? There is an obviously designed antithesis, the taking away of which divests the words of all their force and meaning, and converts them into a useless and unnatural pleonasm, which adds weakness instead of strength and propriety to the expression and the sentiment. The antithesis is fully brought out by what follows: “Who is over all, God blessed for ever.” We need not wonder that the adversaries of our blessed Lord’s divinity have been sadly put to it with this most simple and explicit declaration of that all important and essential article of gospel truth. The most commonly approved gloss is that which converts the last clause of the verse into a doxology—either making the stop in the enumeration at the word “came,” or at the word “all.” In the former case the doxology is, “God who is over all be blessed for ever! “in the latter simply, “God be blessed for ever!”—Dr. Wardlaw.


Romans 9:3. Ambrose and Nazianzen.—Out of the greatest zeal to God and love to his countrymen, the apostle wisheth himself anathema—that is, not to be separated from the Spirit and grace of Christ (for so he should have sinned), but from the comforts of Christ, the happiness that comes in by Christ, as one well interpreteth it. Charitas exuberans optatetiam impossibilia, saith Luther—his over-abounding charity wisheth impossibilities; but his wish was voluntas conditionata, saith one. His love to the Church was like the ivy, which, if it cleave to a stone or an old wall, will rather die than forsake it. Somewhat like to this holy wish was that of Ambrose, that the fire of contentions kindled in the Churches might (if it were the will of God) be quenched with his blood. And that of Nazianzen, that (Jonah-like) he might be cast into the sea, so by it all might be calm in the public.—Trapp.

Verses 9-16


Romans 9:13. As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated—There is no necessity to soften the “hated” into “loved less”; the words in Malachi proceed on the fullest meaning of ἐμίσησα (Wordsworth). The words refer to temporal conditions (Alford).

Romans 9:14.—τί οὖν ἐροῦμεν. Formula used in the Jewish schools; employed by Paul as dealing with Jews.


St. Paul’s deep things.—Augustine asks, How can man understand God, since he does not yet understand his own mind, with which he endeavours to understand Him? This question comes home to the candid and reflective nature. If we were properly penetrated with the sense of our own littleness, we should not presume to compass the infinite greatness. “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?” Zophar’s questions have only one answer. Neither science nor philosophy nor theological criticism; can find out the Almighty to perfection. A part of the divine ways alone is known. Paul has given a glimpse of the unknown parts, and we cannot pierce the darkness which revelation has not cleared. It is our wisdom to accept the known and wait patiently for the all-revealing light of that realm where there are no clouds. In a docile and praying spirit let us study St. Paul’s mysterious utterances. In this passage we have:—

I. The word of promise.—In this promise we find contained a divine visit and a divine gift. God has not left the world. He is ever present, and by special interventions He gives proof of that presence. He breaks in upon the laws of nature by the intervention of higher laws, and thus declares that all law emanates from His eternal mind. He is always about us, but there may be special seasons when our vision is cleared, and then He may be said to “come.” He is ever giving sons, but He gave to Joseph and Mary a special Son, that the world might more fully rejoice in the love and nearness of the Father. God’s special gifts are the outcome of His general gifts. The miraculous gives proof of divine agency at work in the ordinary. Sons born to the young Sarahs of time are no less God’s gifts than the sons born to a Sarah when nature’s powers were in decay. Let us believe in God’s presence and in God’s promise.

II. A word of mystery.—A word, many words, of mystery. “The elder shall serve the younger. Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Divine declarations coincident with historical records, with the facts of experience. The elder shall serve the younger. The older nation serves the younger. And so with individuals. Joseph commands the service of his brethren. The enterprising youth of the family goes from the homestead, and the elder members stay at home and become his subordinates. The elders of time serve the younger ones who have just risen up to appreciate the greatness of the service. Here is the mystery. Why should some elder ones be doomed to service? Why should some younger ones command service? Why should Jacob be loved and poor Esau hated? Does God put a premium on the cunning plotters who can overreach their fellows? Does infinite Wisdom love the Jacobs who know how to feather their nests, and hate the Esaus whose prudence and worldly caution are overmastered by passion? This cannot be. We hope for a world where the needful light will be thrown on divine proceedings. Even Paul may not have fathomed the depth of meaning hidden in the words, “Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated.”

III. A word of sovereignty.—God’s mercy does not move along the channels cut by human limitations. His mercy is guided by His sovereignty. His compassion is under the control of His will; and surely that will is both compassionate, just, and intelligent. Whatever happens, whatever doctrinal views may be broached, whatever seeming partiality may appear in divine allotments, our souls must hold on to this truth, that there is no unrighteousness with God, no injustice with Him who is the perfectly just.

IV. A word of mercy.—All is “of God that showeth mercy.” Shining above all other words is the sweet word “mercy”; crowning and giving effect to all other deeds is the glorious deed of mercy. Mercy is the darling attribute. It encircles the eternal throne; it spans the earth like a rainbow of many attractive colours. Shrinking from the awful attribute of divine sovereignty, we find refuge in the attribute of mercy as revealed in the method of our salvation by Jesus Christ.


Divine sovereignty and freewill.—I must pause again here to remind the student that I purposely do not enter on the disquisitions so abundant in some commentaries on this part of Scripture by which it is endeavoured to reconcile the sovereign election of God with our freewill. We shall find that freewill asserted strongly enough for all edifying purposes by this apostle when the time comes. At present he is employed wholly in asserting the divine sovereignty, the glorious vision of which it ill becomes us to distract by continual downward looks on this earth. I must also protest against all endeavours to make it appear that no inference lies from this passage as to the salvation of individuals. It is most true that the immediate subject is the national rejection of the Jews; but we must consent to hold our reason in abeyance, if we do not recognise the inference that the sovereign power and free election here proved to belong to God extend to every exercise of His mercy—whether temporal or spiritual, whether in providence or in grace, whether national or individual. It is in parts of Scripture like this that we must be especially careful not to fall short of what is written, not to allow of any compromise of the plain and awful words of God’s Spirit, for the sake of a caution which He Himself does not teach us.—Alford.

The privileges of Jews and Christians.—It is generally thought an office of love to conceal from persons any truths the recital of which will afford them pain; but true love will rather stimulate us to declare such truths as are necessary to be known, though it will incline us to declare them with the greatest tenderness and circumspection. An admirable pattern presents itself before us in the text. The apostle was about to enter on a subject most offensive to the Jews, but a subject that ought in no wise to be concealed from them—namely, the determination of God to cast off their nation, and to engraft the Gentiles on their stock. But as it would be thought that he was actuated only by a spirit of revenge, he declares to them in the most solemn manner, and appeals to God for the truth of it, that, so far from wishing their hurt, he was affected with the deepest sorrow on their account, and that there was nothing he would not do or suffer if it might but be the means of saving them from the impending ruin. His enumeration of the privileges which they abused and his pathetic lamentation over them may well lead us to consider:—

I. The exalted privileges enjoyed by true Israelites.—The Jews as a nation were favoured beyond all the nations upon earth. But their privileges were only a shadow of those enjoyed by true Israelites. But by how much the more exalted our condition under the gospel is, by so much the more may we see—

II. The disposition we should manifest towards those who despise these privileges.—The expressions used by the apostle admit of different interpretations. But in whatever sense they be taken, they certainly import that we should be deeply concerned about their state, and we should account nothing too much to do or suffer for their salvation. Inference: How far are they from a Christian spirit who not only use no means for the salvation of others, but oppose and thwart them that do! How earnest should every Christian be in seeking his own salvation!—Simeon.

God does not owe favours.—He gives not as a thing due, but as a fruit of His love, which does not imply that therein He acts arbitrarily. Such a supposition is excluded precisely because the giver in question is God, who is wisdom itself, and who thinks nothing good except what is good. The principle here laid down included God’s right to call the Gentiles to salvation when He should be pleased to grant them this favour. The words, “of him that willeth, of him that runneth,” have often been strangely understood. There have been found in them allusions to the wish of Isaac to make Esau the heir of the promise, and to Esau’s running to bring the venison necessary for the feast of benediction. But Isaac and Esau are no longer in question, and we must remain by the example of Moses. It was neither the wish expressed in his prayer nor the faithful care which he had taken of Israel in the wilderness which could merit the favour he asked; and as no man will ever surpass him in respect either of pious willing or holy working, it follows that the rule applied to him is universal. So it will always be. Israel, in particular, should understand thereby that it is neither their fixed theocratic necessities nor the multitude of their ceremonial or moral works which can convert salvation into a debt contracted toward them by God, and take away from Him the right of rejecting them if He comes to think it good to do so for reasons which He alone appreciates. But if the words of God to Moses prove that God does not owe His favours to any one whomsoever, must it also be held that He is free to reject whom He will? Yes. Scripture ascribes to Him even this right. Such is the truth following from another saying of God in reference to the adversary of Moses, Pharaoh.—Godet.

Providence and freewill.—Now these two facts, that there is a will in man, that the universe shows marks of providence and design, are so evident when taken singly, the one from the immediate witness of our own consciousness, and the other as an inference hardly avoidable from the facts which science and history bring before us, that we ought to suspect any attempt to obliterate one or the other by bringing them into collision. I speak not now of pious efforts to make them explicable together, to enable us, if I may say so, to put our finger on the. point of contact between man’s will and the divine power that acts upon it: such phrases as “irresistible grace,” “unconditional decree,” “co-operating grace,” will at once serve to recall them and to suggest their difficulties. But any one who watches at all the drift of the current of modern thought will see another set of influences at work. Two thoughts occur which in leaving this subject ought not to be passed over. First, our Church, in her article on predestination, draws a distinction between the effect of the study of it on the good and on the bad, the sincere believer and the unbeliever. To the godly it is “full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable consolation”; whilst it leads the carnal to “wretchedness of unclean living.” Our own hearts tell us that the distinction is just. There cannot be a more perilous symptom of the moral state than where men profess to abandon the struggle with their passions because they think they have no choice but to succumb, thus clasping to their arms that loathsome body of death which they were intended to escape from through divine aid. On the other hand, it does not detract from the sweetness of self-approval to ascribe to God alone all the good that we find within us. The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart—that is, He withdrew from it His grace, without which it must needs be hardened, because the lost king did not wish to retain it, and had hardened himself in stubborn resolution against the Lord. Sin, then, is sometimes punished with sin. If any one begins to neglect prayer, he finds it day by day easier to do so without compunction. If any one is pursuing a course of sensual vice, he feels that the protecting sense of shame grows daily weaker in him and the craving lust more imperious. And at a certain stage in his dreary, downward course the Lord hardens his heart. God is not responsible for his sin; but when he has repelled the voice of conscience and the warning of his Bible and the entreaties of friends, then grace is withdrawn from him, and sin puts on a judicial character, and it is at once sin and punishment. Oh, beware of that cumulative power of sin! Human actions admit of three degrees: where the choice is perfectly free, as it is in light and indifferent matters; where the choice is fettered with motives hardly resistible; and an intermediate condition, where motives exist to sway but not to coerce our choice. Every sin we commit adds weight to the motives that endanger our freedom. See the folly of those who allow themselves to continue in sin, believing that hereafter, as their passions cool, they will forsake their evil ways. It is a fearful danger to immerse the moral nature in uncleanness, meaning to escape from it at a future time. Every day makes repentance more difficult; and who can tell when the face of God may be wholly averted from you, so that He will harden your heart? And even if you escape this, the bitter recollection of many a past sin will cleave to you even after your repentance.—Archbishop Thomson.


Romans 9:13. The mystery of God’s love.—A gentleman who thought Christianity was merely a heap of puzzling problems said to an old minister, “That is a very strange verse in the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans—‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’ ” “Very strange,” replied the minister; “but what is it, sir, that you see most strange about it?” “Oh, that part, of course,” said the gentleman patronisingly and with an air of surprise, “ ‘Esau have I hated is certainly very strange.” “Well, sir,” said the old minister; “how wonderfully we are made, and how differently constituted! The strangest part of all to me is that He could ever have loved Jacob.” There is no mystery so glorious as the mystery of God’s love.

Verses 17-24


Romans 9:17.—According to Sir G. Wilkinson, the Pharaoh here meant was Thothmes III., not drowned, but overthrown in the Red Sea. Reigned twenty-five years after that event. So Jewish tradition carried on afterwards a vigorous war with the northern nations. Sculptured records of his successes still preserved in the monuments he erected. Gave encouragement to the arts of peace. Founded numerous buildings in Upper and Lower Egypt and in Ethiopia. Made extensive additions to the temples at Thebes. Improved Coptos, Memphis, and Heliopolis by his taste for architecture. From caprice and love of change made columns with reversed capitals at Karnak. The last king of the nineteenth dynasty, Si Pta Menephtha, ‘the light of the sun,” was not buried in his own tomb, and may have been this Pharaoh. Others say Thothmes II. Two astronomical notes of time on contemporary monuments of his successor, Thothmes III., or Rameses the Great, show the accession of the latter and consequent death of the former to have taken place on the Egyptian day answering to May 4–5, 1515 B.C., or, astronomically verified, the twelfth of the second spring moon, the Hebrew second month (Stones Crying Out).

Romans 9:18.—σκληρύνει, hardens (indurat). Pharaoh’s heart hardened by God in fact by His longsuffering and delay of punishment.

Romans 9:23.—ἐνδείκ. applied to wrath as known before, γνωρ. to grace as yet comparatively unknown.


Divine liberty.—There must be in all discussions about the divine nature and the divine proceedings questions which can never be satisfactorily settled, in this world at least. This is not to be considered astonishing, if God be infinitely great and men be infinitely little. We can only fringe the boundless realm of the infinite greatness. All we appear to do in the settlement of our difficulties is to push the difficulty a little further back. We explain but never answer fairly the questions: Whence sin? Why moral evil? How is it that a Pharaoh hardens himself against light and reason, and to his own undoing? Why not have humility enough to confess our ignorance, to acknowledge that there must necessarily be much in the infinitely great, in the eternally vast and complex, which must be beyond our comprehension? We at least do not presume to settle points above reason, though, when all is seen, not contrary to reason. We simply pray that some heavenly light may be shed upon our pathway.

I. Let us then observe that divine liberty is not arbitrary.—Not arbitrary in the sense of being despotic or capricious. The God of love is no reasonless despot; the All-wise cannot be capricious. We talk of our fellows as having their little caprices. But if we think of the unchangeable God as being capable of change in any direction, we can never rightly suppose that He changes without sufficient reason. We are not to speak of God as having mercy on whom He will have mercy, as if the divine will were the mere faculty of moving from one being to another in the way of favour without any wise reason. If God is self-determined solely by His own judgment, it is because that judgment is regulated by infinite wisdom and goodness.

II. Divine liberty then is ruled by the great law of right.—What is right? Is it dependent upon the will of Deity? Is it antecedent to that will? We should say, concomitant. The will of God is coeternal with moral right and fitness. However the law of right arises, one thing is certain, that divine liberty is not opposed to the morally right. God is eternally free, but He is not free to do wrong,—free, because God never wishes to do wrong. Divine freedom is never human licentiousness. God does not will “to show His wrath,” either to display His divine liberty or to give vent to revenge. “What if God, willing to show His wrath,” etc. St. Paul does not affirm that God does show His wrath. God makes His power known in the marvellous way in which He endures so much longsuffering. Let us believe in the eternally right, the morally fit. Let us rise above all difficulties by grasping to our hearts the truth that God can do no wrong.

III. Divine liberty is guided by all-wise though inscrutable purposes.—“Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up.” Even with the help of a St. Paul we cannot read the strange language of the divine purposes. The very alphabet we cannot master; the verbs have intricate moods and tenses which we cannot follow. The Pharaohs of time are dark mysteries. The sound of the rolling waters deadens our ears, so that we cannot catch the lessons of divine movements. God’s purposes are inscrutable because of their far-reaching sweep, because of the infinite wisdom according to which they are planned. Let folly bow with reverent head in the presence of all-wise purposes. One purpose is revealed that God’s name may be declared throughout all the earth. God’s name is written in nature. God’s new name of love is written in revelation. God’s name of power and of wisdom is declared in the rise and fall of nations, in the downfall of tyrannies, in the overthrow of unrighteous thrones, in the destruction of foolish and tyrannical Pharaohs. Let us move, regulate our lives, in harmony with the revealed purpose of infinite wisdom.

IV. Divine liberty is directed to gracious ends.—The divine Potter has made known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had afore prepared unto glory. The riches of God’s glory are seen in the vessels of mercy. As the human potter takes pride in the vessels that show his skill and that are raised to positions of honour in the earthly palace, so we venture to assert that the divine Potter glories in the vessels of mercy that are raised to positions of honour in the heavenly mansions. The heart of infinite love must be touched with compassion whenever a poor, blind, misguided Pharaoh is engulfed with his hosts by the resilient waters. Whatever may be our perplexities, whatever may be our creeds, let us hear this song rising clearly above every other sound, and sweetly charming away all our doubts and fears—“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” This truth we may further learn, that God’s power and glory cannot be declared by numerous vessels showing incompleteness, inadequacy, incompetence, on the part of the divine Potter. Imagine a human potter having his workshop well-nigh full of vessels that none would wish to purchase. Such a potter would soon be bankrupt. Are we to imagine the divine Potter, the infinite Architect of the universe, the essential Goodness, the unerring Wisdom, forming vessels that will for ever redound to His discredit? Vessels of mercy in large numbers will brilliantly reflect infinite goodness and wisdom as they adorn, as so many monumental pillars, the boundless temple of God’s gathered worshippers. Let us learn, not to find fault with divine proceedings, not to suppose that we can understand everything, not even in thought to resist the divine will, for that will is on the side of goodness and moves in mercy to man. Above all things let us heartily obey the divine call. He calls from sin to holiness, from ruin to salvation in Christ Jesus, from the spoiling agency of the satanic potter to the repairing and glorifying agency of the divine-human Potter. Oh to be monumental vessels of divine grace and mercy in the vast storehouse of divine curiosities! Vessels of mércy! What exquisite skill they display! What richness of spiritual texture! What beauty of moral tints! How they shine in the unclouded light that radiates about the eternal throne!

Romans 9:21. The sovereign right of God.—Some aspects of the Deity may be less pleasing to contemplate than others. The pride of man rejoices not at first in the thought of the Majesty which overawes his littleness and compels him to submission. Yet as a hard flint forcibly struck emits a bright spark, and as a rough husk often covers a sweet kernel, so these stern views of the Almighty may, if reverently faced and meditated upon, yield salutary, ennobling, and even comforting reflections.

I. The Potter claims absolute right to deal with the clay as He thinks fit.—His arbitrary power does not signify the absence of proper reasons for His selection. As in the calling of Israel to peculiar service and responsibility and honour, so everywhere can an election be discerned. We do not start in the race of life with exactly similar equipment, though we live in tabernacles of clay. If the physical and spiritual powers are the same in essence, like the particles of “the same lump,” yet the faculties of some have been well trained from the beginning, and their natures have developed under favourable conditions. Here is a lesson of resignation. He is happiest who accepts the will of God as revealed in his lot, assured that God’s decision has ample justification. Even the Stoic philosophy could declare that if man knew the plans of the Superintendent of the universe and saw them in their completeness, he would at once acquiesce in the determinations of the Arbiter of his destiny. This is the truth which mingles with the error of Mohammedan fatalism. We have to do all that lies within our power, and leave the result with Him who is wise and merciful. For the potter is our Father in heaven. How much of the vexation and worry of life is due to a conceit of our capacity, and perhaps to a jealousy of the position and attainments of our neighbours! Be content to fill a lowly place; and the time is at hand when “the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like bowls before the altar.”

II. The Potter has no desire for the destruction of His workmanship.—He cares not to waste His clay, nor to employ it in a manner to secure its speedy extinction. It is a pain to God to see His gifts abused, His image degraded, His work marred. He is said in Romans 9:22 to endure “with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath.” A lesson of hopefulness is here. The Most High will not break His vessels in pieces as long as they are fit for any use, for any post, though humble and insignificant. “Potter and clay endure,” however the wheel of life may turn and fashion the material into altered shapes. If the light of God shines in a vacuum, no brightness is observable. An empty heaven were a dreary home for a God of love, a silent temple for Him who glories in the praises of His people and His works.

III. The Potter prefers to construct the choicest vessels.—The noblest ware pays Him best, and He lovingly exerts His skill on specimens of highest art. Deny not to God the delight which every artist feels in the finest productions of his genius. The most polished mirrors best reflect His glory. A lesson of aspiration therefore. “Covet earnestly the best gifts.” God has made His clay instinct with will and energy; He takes pleasure in the improvement of the vessels, that they may be brought into His sanctuary. It will mightily assist our struggles to be sure that the Captain longs “to bring many sons unto glory.”—S. R. Aldridge.

The parable of the potter and the clay.—Let us notice:—

I. What it does not teach.—Starting from a perfectly sound and correct view as to God’s absolute sovereignty and His right to dispose of men as He pleases, some have thought that St. Paul brings in his reference to the potter and his clay in order to show that in the exercise of that sovereignty God makes some souls to destruction, and that those so made have no ground of complaint. Now whatever truth there may be in such a notion as this, a close examination will show that it is not “the whole truth”—still less is it “nothing but the truth.” God is sovereign Lord, and He has a right to dispose of us all as He will. But that He exercises these rights in any arbitrary or cruel way, reason and Holy Scripture alike lead us to deny. “God is love.” The foreordaining of any creature to everlasting misery is utterly inconsistent with love.

II. Its origin in the sphere of manual industry.—[For description of the potter’s work, see quotation from Thomson’s The Land and the Book on p. 323.] Sometimes it would happen that on account of defect in clay or other cause vessel would be spoiled in process of formation. Potter would crush it up and reduce it once again to shapeless mass, which he would afterwards fashion into perhaps a quite different form. The clay which appeared unfit to make one kind of vessel he would make into another.

III. Its place in Old Testament prophetic teaching.—St. Paul has in his mind the opening verses of Jeremiah 18:0 (vide Romans 9:1-6). Jeremiah’s parable was spoken of the Jewish nation: “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay in the potter’s hand, so are ye in Mine hand, house of Israel.” God had a right to mould them as He chose. They rebelled. The vessel was marred in His hand. Yet He strove with them again and again. At length, notwithstanding God’s purposes towards them for good, they so rebelled that they were cut off. In following chap. 19 this terrible fact also foreshadowed in figure. Prophet again receives command from God—this time to take an earthen bottle which has been baked and hardened in the fire. He is to go forth into the valley of Hinnom, and there break the bottle in the sight of the ancients and priests, and in doing so to say, “Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again.” God will strive with sinners again and again, but the hardened and impenitent cannot be allowed to resist His will.

IV. Its bearing upon St. Paul’s argument.—In the opening verses of this chapter the apostle gives expression to his grief that Israel should be hardening their hearts against the gospel. God’s word and promise regarding them have not failed, for all who are Jews naturally are not Jews spiritually, and are therefore not heirs of the promise. Of the seed of Abraham only one son, Isaac, was chosen; of Isaac’s two sons one was utterly rejected. Is God unjust, then? asks the apostle. Impossible! he would reply; God has an absolute right to love and to hate whom He will. And he gives instances illustrating the fact that God has proclaimed pity towards some and meted out retribution to others (Romans 9:17-19). The question next arises, Why doth He yet find fault? If, i.e., wickedness be the result of God’s will, what becomes of man’s responsibility? If a man be bad, can he help it? Who can resist the will of God? This question is stated by the apostle as one which a Jewish objector might and probably would urge. And he treats it as absurd. “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” Quite true. But St. Paul shrinks back aghast from the horrible supposition that God would predestine any creature to eternal woe. And thus he will not say that God “created vessels of wrath” or “prepared them for destruction”; but he asks: “What if God, willing to show His wrath, and make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” The vessels of wrath were fitted, not by God, but by themselves, for destruction. Like Pharaoh, they hardened themselves in sin. Their evil character, like Jeremiah’s earthen bottle, had assumed so permanent a shape that no reforming process was possible. The vessels of mercy, on the other hand, were made such by God’s grace moulding and fashioning them into the form that He willed.

V. Its meaning to ourselves.—Clearly this:

1. That God’s purpose is to prepare unto glory all those whom He has called into His Church (Romans 9:21). The potter has a design in view in connection with every lump of clay which he takes into his hand. And God too has a design, a purpose, in every life. He is shaping us into that form which He deems most fitting. Every life has not the same purpose. One is fitted for one sphere of duty, another for another, just as the potter makes vessels of innumerable shapes. And yet each life is successful if only its own particular purpose be fulfilled. A life is no failure because it is lowly and put only to lowly uses, so long as it attains the end for which God designed it. The potter takes the clay into his hand. We are taken in hand by God when made members of His Church; and His first work in us is the forming of our souls aright. The first question is, not as to what we do, but as to what we are—what shape or form our character has taken. The potter makes vessels of various shapes, sizes, tints. God is making characters of various kinds, dealing with souls, fashioning lives, and thus preparing them “unto glory.” Having taken somewhat of the form which God willed, we may then be put to some further end—used for good—employed in the carrying out of some of God’s purposes of grace, and thus the preparation for glory will be advanced a further stage.

2. That we may so resist the will of God as to alter our own destiny, though we can never alter God’s purpose. The potter, when his work is marred, presses the day back again into a shapeless lump, and makes a vessel perhaps of quite another kind. And so, when a man has failed to profit by one kind of earthly discipline, God may subject him to another. There are afflictions which crush a man for a time, soften his heart and make it liable to receive new impressions, and thus he may be led on to begin a new life and be actuated by new aims and hopes. The character which would not assume one good form may thus be made to assume another. Still, the renewed process may fail, for some vessels are “fitted” (alas! by themselves) “to destruction.”

Practical lessons:

1. Thankfulness to God for the revelation of His will towards us. He has willed that a place of honour and usefulness in His kingdom shall be ours. That will shall be done unless we harden ourselves against it. 2 Warning. Beware of resisting God’s Spirit. Beware of the danger of the hardening process. Even if the vessel be remade, if afflictions soften, and the soul be renewed, the process is a terrible one. The preparation for glory is not the work of an instant.

3. Self-examination, Are we earnestly and prayerfully acting out the terms of our baptismal covenant? By our neglect to do so His work is marred, the preparation unto glory ceases to go forward.

4. Heartfelt prayer. Let our petitions ever be offered that God’s will may be done in us and our will conformed to His, so that, under the shaping and fashioning influence of His hand, each may at length become “a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).—G. E. P. Reade.

Romans 9:20. The potter and the day.—Two points insisted on:

1. God’s almightiness. He can do whatever He likes. (We do not say He does, but He can do.)

2. Man’s weakness. God allows him to sin.

Two objections made by some men:

1. How can God make on purpose to destroy? Answer: Nowhere stated that He does so.

(1) Similitude looks other way: no potter begins to make anything on purpose to destroy it.
(2) Statement that God is father looks other way.

(3) Statement that all things are made for God’s good pleasure (Revelation 4:11) looks other way.

2. Why should God blame us if we are so powerless? How it has been answered: Man, though weak, not an automaton or machine: has a will; can reasonably be blamed for sin. How it is answered here: How can we find fault with absolute Maker, who forms all for good purpose—with absolute Father, who brings all children into the world for good? If they disobey, who can blame Him for punishing them for their good and good of others?

Power, anger (righteous), longsuffering, must be shown. These considerations must be set over against each other: God’s power, God’s purpose; man’s weakness, man’s responsibility.—Dr. Springett.


The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.—What effect did all these signs and wonders of God’s sending have upon Pharaoh and his servants? Did they make them better men or worse men? We read that they made them worse men—that they helped to harden their hearts. We read that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go. Now how did the Lord do that? He did not wish and mean to make Pharaoh more hard-hearted, more wicked—that is impossible. God, who is all goodness and love, never can wish to make any human being one atom worse than he is. He who so loved the world that He came down on earth to die for sinners and take away the sins of the world would never make any human being a greater sinner than he was before—that is impossible and horrible to think of. Therefore, when we read that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, we must be certain that that was Pharaoh’s own fault; and so we read it was Pharaoh’s own fault. The Lord did not bring all these plagues on Egypt without giving Pharaoh fair warning. Before each plague He sent Moses to tell Pharaoh that the plague was coming. The Lord told Pharaoh that He was his Master, and the Master and Lord of the whole earth; that the children of Israel belonged to Him, and the Egyptians too; that the river, light and darkness, the weather, the crops, the insects, and the locusts belonged to Him; that all diseases which afflict man and beast were in His power. And the Lord proved that His words were true in a way Pharaoh could not mistake, by changing the river into blood, and sending darkness and hailstones, and plagues of lice and flies, and at last by killing the firstborn of all the Egyptians. The Lord gave Pharaoh every chance. He condescended to argue with him as one man would with another, and proved His word to be true, and proved that He had a right to command Pharaoh. And therefore, I say, if Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, it was his own fault, for the Lord was plainly trying to soften it, and to bring him to reason. And the Bible says distinctly that it was Pharaoh’s fault; for it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, he and his servants, and therefore they would not let the children of Israel go. Now how could Pharaoh harden his own heart, and yet the Lord harden it at the same time? Just in the same way as too many of us are apt to make the Lord harden our hearts by hardening them ourselves, and to make, as Pharaoh did, the very things which the Lord sends to soften us the causes of our becoming more stubborn, the very things which the Lord sends to bring us to reason the means of our becoming more and more foolish. This is no old story with which we have nothing to do. What happened to Pharaoh’s heart may happen to yours, or mine, or any man’s. Alas! it does happen to many a man’s and woman’s heart every day; and may the Lord have mercy on them before it be too late! And yet how can the Lord have mercy on those who will not let Him have mercy on them? Suppose a man to be going on in some sinful habit. He comes to church, and there he hears the word of God by the Bible or in sermons, telling him that God commands him to give up his sin, that God will certainly punish him if he does not repent and amend. God sends that message to him in love and mercy to soften his heart by the terrors of the law and turn him from his sin. But what does the man feel? He feels angry and provoked: angry with the preacher; ay, angry with the Bible itself, with God’s words. For he hates to hear the words which tell him of his sin; he wishes they were not in the Bible; he longs to stop the preacher’s mouth; and as he cannot do that, he dislikes going to church. He says, I cannot, and, what is more, I will not, give up my sinful ways, and therefore I shall not go to church to be told of them. So he stops away from church, and goes on in his sins. So that man’s heart is hardened just as Pharaoh’s was. Yet the Lord has come and spoken to that sinful man in loving warnings, though all the effect it has had is that the Lord’s message has made him worse than he was before—more stubborn, more godless, more unwilling to hear what is good. But men may fall into a still worse state of mind. They may determine to set the Lord at naught; to hear Him speaking to conscience, and know that He is right and they wrong, and yet quietly put the good thoughts and feelings out of their way, and go on in the course which they know to be the worst. How many, when they come to church, harden their hearts, not caring enough for God’s message to be even angry with it, and take the preacher’s warnings as they would a shower of rain—as something unpleasant, which cannot be helped, and which therefore they must sit out patiently and think about as little as possible! And thus they let the Lord’s message to them harden their hearts.—Charles Kingsley.

The potter at work.—I have been out on the shore again, examining a native manufactory of pottery, and was delighted to find the whole biblical apparatus complete and in full operation. There was the potter sitting at his “frame “and turning the wheel with his foot. He had a heap of the prepared clay near him, and a pan of water by his side. Taking a lump in his hand, he placed it on the top of the wheel (which revolves horizontally) and smoothed it into a low cone, like the upper end of a sugar-loaf; then thrusting his thumb into the top of it, he opened a hole down through the centre, and this he constantly widened by pressing the edges of the revolving cone between his hands. As it enlarged and became thinner he gave it whatever shape he pleased with the utmost ease and expedition. This, I suppose, is the exact point of those biblical comparisons between the human and the divine Potter (Jeremiah 18:6). And the same idea is found in many other passages. When Jeremiah was watching the potter the vessel was marred in his hand, and “so he made it again, another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.” I had to wait a long time for that, but it happened at last. From some defect in the clay, or because he had taken too little, the potter suddenly changed his mind, crushed his growing jar instantly into a shapeless mass of mud, and beginning anew, fashioned it into a totally different vessel.—Thomson, “The Land and the Book,” p. 520

God’s work in shaping our lives.—The wheel of time spins fast, but not carrying us away, changing but not destroying each separate individuality. In providence there are wheels within wheels. We do not understand their meaning. The clay is pressed now below into a solid base, now above into a dainty rim, but it is difficult to see what the final outcome will be till all is finished. So our lives are pressed on one side and on another; something which in our eyes is indispensable is taken away, something which to us seems needless is added. But out of the dizzy whirl, the rush and confusion of life, God is steadily working out His purpose.—W. F. Adeney, “Pulpit Commentary.”

Men harden themselves.—The sins of men are freely committed. They are the effects and indications of evil dispositions of heart; and they are done with the free consent and choice of their wills. No sin could expose to wrath otherwise; nay, otherwise there could be no such thing as sin at all; all sin implying, in the very idea of it, the consent of the will. The very essence of all that is sinful lies in this. If a man were used, either by God or by a fellow-sinner, as a mere physical machine, he could not be a sinner. Now, every man who sins, sins with his will. Make what you like of God’s secret purposes, it is a matter of fact which there is no questioning that they do, in no way and in no degree, interfere with the perfect liberty of the agent. Every sinner is sensible that he acts from choice; that neither, on the one hand, is he constrained to evil, nor, on the other, restrained from good. To say, in regard to the latter—that which is good—that man cannot will it, is to employ terms most inconsiderate and misleading. What hinders him from willing? It is obvious that the word cannot must mean a moral inability. It is neither more nor less than the absence of right dispositions. But the indisposition to that which is good is just, in other words, the want of will to that which is good; and there being no other inability whatever in man than this moral inability—this unwillingness—to say he cannot will resolves itself ultimately into he will not will, inasmuch as he is kept from willing good by nothing but his aversion to good. All that can properly be meant by human freedom is the absence of all constraint and of all restraint. Man is at liberty to do whatever he wills; and if he does not will good, what is it that prevents him but his love of evil? He likes evil, and dislikes good; and therefore, in practice, chooses and does the one, and rejects and refrains from doing the other. These are truths sufficiently plain and simple; and they serve to show the meaning of the expression which follows—“fitted to destruction.”—Dr. Wardlaw.

God’s long-suffering.—It is evident that the idea of “patience and long-suffering” implies the existence of a tendency in a contrary direction, arising from something in the nature or character of the Being by whom it is exercised, and that the difficulty of its exercise bears proportion to the strength of that tendency. Now, the holiness of God is infinitely opposed to all sin. He hates it with a hatred that is properly and absolutely infinite. “He is of purer eyes than to behold evil; neither can He look upon iniquity.” And while His holiness abhors it, His justice calls for its punishment—its punishment to the full extent of its deserts. In proportion, then, to the strength of these principles of the divine character is the difficulty (if it be lawful so to express it) of forbearance with those by whom it is practised—the workers of iniquity. By considering the amount of evil thought and felt, and said and done, in this world of ours every successive moment, I might set the amount of the longsuffering of a holy God before your minds in many and impressive lights. But I must forbear; it would lead me too far away from my one point. Now, by this longsuffering, the great majority of men, alas! are only encouraged in evil—hardened in their unbelief and impenitence and ungodly courses: “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). They thus criminally, because wilfully, and from the love of evil, abuse the divine goodness; and, by the abuse of it, “fit themselves for destruction”: “Despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:4-5). Others, dealt with in the same “longsuffering,” are at times, after very protracted and obstinate resistance of the means of grace—of the word and providence of God (His word in all its variety of appeals and motives, and His providence in all its variety of dispensations, prosperous and adverse)—subdued to repentance, “turned to God.” Their hearts relent, they believe, and are saved. Toward both of these classes of persons there has been shown, on the part of God, “much longsuffering.” To many a believer—especially to such as have been converted later in life than others—might I make my appeal for the truth of this. Many a heart would melt, and many an eye would glisten with the tear of shame and of humble and grateful joy, in recollecting the past and comparing it with the present, and reflecting how long they held out against a longsuffering God; ay, and to many an unbelieving sinner, now going on in his trespasses, in despite of the patience of a holy, sin-hating, but merciful God, who is still “waiting to be gracious,” might I make a similar appeal—an appeal to which, whatever impression it might make or fail to make upon his heart, his conscience would secretly and faithfully, and perhaps stingingly, respond.—Dr. Wardlaw.

The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.—Oh, my friends, this is a fearful thought—that man can become worse by God’s loving desire to make him better! But so it is. So it was with Pharaoh of old. All God’s pleading with him by the message of Moses and Aaron, by the mighty plagues which God sent on Egypt, only hardened Pharaoh’s heart. The Lord God spoke to him, and His message only lashed Pharaoh’s proud and wicked will into greater fury and rebellion, as a vicious horse becomes the more unmanageable the more you punish it. Therefore it is said plainly in Scripture that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart—not, as some fancy, that the Lord’s will was to make Pharaoh hard-hearted and wicked. God forbid! The Lord is the fountain of good only, and not He but we and the devil make evil. But the more the Lord pleaded with Pharaoh and tried to bend his will, the more self-willed he became. The more the Lord showed Pharaoh that the Lord was king, the more he hated the kingdom and will of God, the more he determined to be king himself and to obey no law but his own wicked fancies and pleasures, and asked, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?”—Charles Kingsley.

The potter and clay.—But some may say, Is not that a gloomy and terrible notion of God that He cannot change His purpose? Is not that as much as to say that there is a dark necessity hanging over each of us; that a man must be just what God chooses, and do just what He has ordained to do, and go to everlasting happiness or misery exactly as God has foreordained from all eternity; so that there is no use trying to do right or not to do wrong? If I am to be saved, say such people, I shall be saved whether I try or not; and if I am to be damned, I shall be damned whether I try or not. I am in God’s hands, like clay in the hands of the potter, and what I am like is therefore God’s business and not mine. No! The very texts in the Bible which tell us that God cannot change or repent, tell us what it is that He cannot change in—in showing lovingkindness and tender mercy, longsuffering and repenting of the evil. Whatsoever else He cannot repent of, He cannot repent of repenting of the evil. It is true we are in His hand as clay in the hand of the potter. But it is a sad misreading of Scripture to make that mean that we are to sit with our hands folded, careless about our own way and conduct—still less that we are to give ourselves up to despair because we have sinned against God: for what is the very verse which follows after that? Listen: “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as clay is in the hands of the potter, so are ye in My hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a kingdom, to pull down and destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil which I thought to do to them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in My sight, that it obey not My voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.” So that the lesson which we are to draw from the parable of the potter’s clay is just the exact opposite which some men draw. Not that God’s decrees are absolute, but that they are conditional, and depend on our good or evil conduct. Not that His election and His reprobation are unalterable, but that they alter at that instant at which man alters. Not that His grace and will are irresistible, as the foolish man against whom St. Paul argues fancies, but that we can resist God’s will, and that our destruction comes only by resisting His will: in short, that God’s will is no brute, material necessity and fate, but the will of a living, loving Father.—Charles Kingsley.

God’s sovereignty not to be arraigned by men.—There are some persons so partial to what we may call the high doctrines of the gospel that they can scarcely endure to hear anything else: they are like persons whose taste is vitiated by strong drink or highly seasoned food; they have no appetite for anything which does not savour of their favourite opinions. This is a great evil in the Church, not only as injuring the souls in whom it exists, but as tending exceedingly to strengthen the prejudices of others against the doctrines which are so abused. Those who are thus disposed towards “the deep things of God” fancy themselves edified merely because their corrupt taste is gratified; but their edification is not real and scriptural, for if it were it would incline them to receive with meekness and humility every word of God, whereas they treat with contempt everything which seems to savour of plain, practical religion. We regret exceedingly that such persons exist; but we must not on their account run into an opposite extreme, and keep these doctrines altogether out of sight: we must not shun to declare unto men the whole counsel of God. Whatever is revealed in the sacred records must be brought forth in its season; nor are we at liberty to “withhold from men anything that may be profitable unto them.” We therefore address ourselves to every subject in its place, though on such subjects as that which is before us we would do it with fear and trembling, conscious how unable we are to do justice to it, and fearful lest by any means we should make it an occasion of offence to those who are not prepared for the investigation of it. The sovereignty of God is to the proud heart of man an unpalatable subject; but in the passage before us we are called to vindicate it against the objections of those who are disposed, like the Jew in our text, to contend against it. To place the matter in its true light, we shall consider:—

I. The point at issue between the objector and St. Paul.—St. Paul had intimated that the Jews were to be rejected from, and that the Gentiles were to be admitted into, the Church—an offensive subject to the Jews. They are represented as declaring that if God exercise sovereignty in this way, the blame of man’s condemnation must be transferred to God Himself, since it was impossible for a man to resist His will. To this objection we must now reply—

II. The apostle’s determination of it.—St. Paul, hearing such a blasphemous objection as this, “Why doth God yet find fault? for who hath resisted His will?” replies to it in a way of just reprehension. “O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” Consider thyself as a creature; consider thyself as a sinner. In a way of sound argument two things St. Paul proceeds to substantiate against his objector—one, that God had a right to dispose of everything according to His sovereign will and pleasure, and the other was that in the way He had hitherto disposed of them and had determined still to dispose of them He was fully justified. We may conclude with suggesting—

III. The proper improvement of the subject, which offers important hints to objectors. Strange that even Christians should determine what will and what will not consist with the divine attributes! But be assured as the heavens are high above the earth, so are His thoughts and ways higher than yours. There are many who speak of the deep things of God as if they were as plain and intelligible as the simplest truth that can be mentioned. It becomes you doubtless to investigate, and as far as possible to understand, every truth of God; but in things so infinitely above the reach of human intellect it becomes you to be humble, modest, diffident. To all persons without exception, you have other things to do than to be wasting your time about unprofitable disputes—you are now under the hands of the Potter. The question that most concerns you is, For what are you preparing? In order to ascertain this you need not look into the book of God’s decrees, but simply examine the state of your own hearts. Are you diligently seeking after God? Are you living by faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, washing daily in the fountain of His blood, and renewed daily by the operations of His Spirit? This will mark you vessels of honour; and the want of this is sufficient to stamp you vessels unto dishonour.—Simeon.

Predestination of the vessel not its fabrication.—The all-important point for the interpretation of these verses is to decide when the act of forming the vessels took place. Does this operation represent the predestination or the moral government of God in actual time? A word of Romans 9:23 decides this question without giving ground for the least hesitation. This word is the key of the whole passage, and, strange to say, it is omitted by Luther and by the French translations anterior to that of Lausanne. It is the word “afore”—“which He has prepared afore for His glory.” The predestination of the vessel, then, is not its fabrication; it precedes it. Thus, then, when God is compared to a potter who fashions the clay, the question is about His actual treatment of sinners. They are before Him one identical mass, vile and shapeless. To make the one portion vessels unto dishonour, to make them promote His glory without bettering their condition, is to treat them according to their nature; to make the other portion vessels unto honour is to treat them according to His grace which has been given them in Christ before the foundation of the world. As to the vessels of wrath, God is not the author of their nature, but only of their form; He has fashioned them, but He has not “prepared” them; their form is already a merited punishment; He shows therein His wrath. Could one believe that God was irritated against those who would be such as He had wished them to be? Would He need “a grand long-suffering” to endure His own work in the state which He had Himself determined? Has He raised with one hand what He has overturned with the other? Such a doctrine ends by doing violence to that reason in the name of which it has outraged our moral sentiments. It is clear, then, that the potter’s relation to the vessels of wrath is that of the fashioner of material made ready to his hand. He is not to be blamed if the coarse clay will only make a dishonoured vessel. The preparation of the clay, the contraction of its coarse character, has been anterior to the potter’s disposal of it. All he can do is to determine the destination which suits the nature of the provided clay. In the same way God is not to be held responsible for the coarse characters sinners contract in the process of their development. They have exercised their freedom in reaching the condition when, like clay, they lie before the great Potter’s wheel. All that God can be held responsible for is the form as vessels of dishonour they are to take; and if He show His deserved wrath in disposing of them as dishonoured vessels, He is acting well within His rights. It is in the disposal of incorrigible sinners, in suffering long with them, and in at last dooming them to destruction, that He displays the severe side of His character—that side without which He could not ensure our respect. As for this wrath of God, it has been very happily denominated by some of the Germans “the love-pain [Liebesschmerz] of God.” There is in our chapter only one predestination, that of grace; and not only that, but the words of the apostle are weighed and chosen to prevent all misapprehension: the one are ready or fit for perdition, the other are prepared for glory; the first, it is not God who has made them ready—on the contrary, He endures them “with a grand long-suffering”; the latter, it is God who has prepared them. Still more, He has prepared them afore. Were it not for the care with which the idea of reprobation is here put aside, I should never have supposed that such a dogma had presented itself to the spirit of a sacred writer. Paul makes on purpose an antithetic parallelism, as he had done (Romans 6:23) between wages and gift, and this parallelism finds itself in all the members of the sentence. God shows His anger towards the wicked and the riches of His glory towards the saved; but the latter, the mercy, is altogether gratuitous. If He wish to make the power known (Romans 9:22), it is not His power to create evil, but to punish it; and how to punish evil if not by evil, how to show His anger towards the clay unless by making the vessels unto dishonour.—Monsell.


Romans 9:21. Vessels of honour and dishonour.—A certain minister, having changed his views of some parts of divine truth, was waited upon by an old acquaintance, who wished to reclaim him to his former creed. Finding he could not succeed in his object, he became warm, and told his friend in plain terms that God had given him “up to strong delusion,” and that he was “a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction.” “I think, brother,” replied the one who was charged with the departure from the faith with great calmness—“I think, brother, that you have mistaken the sense of the passage you last referred to. Vessels are denominated according to their contents. A chemist, in conducting a stranger through his laboratory, would say, ‘This is a vessel of turpentine, that of vitriol,’ etc., always giving to the vessel the name of the article it contains. Now when I see a man full of the holy and lovely Spirit of Christ, devoted to His service, and imitating His example, I say that man is a vessel of mercy, whom God hath afore-prepared unto glory; but when I see a man full of everything but the spirit of the Bible—opposed to the moral government of God, seeking his own things rather than those which are Christ’s—and filled with malice, wrath, and all uncharitableness. I am compelled to consider him ‘a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction.’ ”

Verses 25-29


Romans 9:25.—Refers not only to the gathering again of the Israelites rejected in the carrying away by Shalmaneser, but also of the Gentiles rejected at the building of Babel; remnants elected from both.

Romans 9:27.—Only few out of the ten tribes returned to Judæa; few left by Sennacherib; few brought to Christ.

Romans 9:28.—Alford seems to include both promise and threatening in λόγος, and makes the object of the citation a confirmation of “the certainty of the salvation of the remnant of Israel, seeing that now, as then, He, with whom a thousand years are as a day, will swiftly accomplish His prophetic word in righteousness.”


The not-beloved become beloved.—The late Mr. Spurgeon, in his sermon on “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” says: “This text means just what it says; it does not mean nations, but it means the persons mentioned. Jacob—that is, the man whose name was Jacob—Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. Take care how any of you meddle with God’s word. I have heard of folks altering passages they did not like. Our only power with the word of God is simply to let it stand as it is, and to endeavour by God’s grace to accommodate ourselves to that.” He will not even allow us to translate “Esau have I hated” by “the meaningless words ‘I love less.’ ” Fortunately we do not want. But if we are to follow the great preacher’s literalism, shall we find the doctrine of eternal predestination and election before time in the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth verses? He says in another place, “I may be as sure of my election as if I could climb to heaven and turn over the red roll and read my name in letters of gold. The Lord has given thee a test which never did fail yet, and never will.” How about those once not beloved? Are the names of the not beloved written in the red roll? He says that between calling and election there is an indissoluble union. Here God calls a people which were once not His people; therefore God elects those who were once not elected. As we understand the doctrine of election carried out to its extreme lengths, the elected always are and have been God’s people, and the effectual calling is only giving outward expression to the divine purpose. So again the non-elect are elected—the not-people of God become His children. Our conclusion is that repellent dogmatism on abstruse subjects is to be avoided. Positive assertions cannot bury difficulties. The reason of man cannot be stifled by swelling words. Humility is a becoming attitude in the presence of the sublimest topics that can engage human attention. We learn from the passage under discussion:—

I. Divine grace.—Whatever may be our views of predestination and election, we must hold fast to the doctrine of divine grace. If the gospel be a remedial scheme for the benefit of universal man, then we must not hamper that scheme by narrow views. Let us believe in the largeness and freeness of the divine mind; let God’s call move through the earth, giving forth its sweet measures as fully as God’s myriad songsters. God makes into His people those who were once not His people. He called the Gentiles; He called the British peoples. Let us adore God’s matchless grace. God calls, and all who hear and obey may become the children of the living God, the beloved of the eternal Love.

II. God’s righteousness.—Wonderful is the pleading of Jeremiah. “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I plead with Thee; yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously.” The prophet rises above seeming anomalies in the divine proceedings, and declares, “Righteous art Thou, O Lord.” Whatever may appear contradictory, yet let us rest assured that God’s finished work, that God’s completed plan, will vindicate the eternal righteousness. Righteous is the Lord, though He call that beloved which was not beloved, and though only a remnant of the elect nation be saved.

III. God’s provision.—A remnant is saved. A germinating force is provided. A remnant was saved from the deluged world; a remnant was saved from the destroyed cities. God has His remnants through all time, and these become the seed forces of great harvests. In darkest periods God has His sons of light. God’s germinating forces are good and true men. They are productive. They die; but the wheat dies, and over its tomb waves the golden harvest.

The remnant.—R.V., “It is the remnant that shall be saved.”

I. The doctrine of the remnant.—

1. Teaching of Old Testament prophecy. The text is quoted from Isaiah 10:22. Words there are, “A remnant of them shall return”—i.e., from the captivity, and thus be saved from ruin and extinction, which awaited the majority. Referring to that remnant (Romans 6:13), he speaks of it as a “holy seed.” In his eye small minority were a “holy seed,” but great majority unsound, and therefore doomed. “Drunkards and blind,” as he calls them—i.e., dissolute and foolish—constituting this majority, must perish; but its perishing = necessary step towards happier future. Foresees that remnant is not only to return and so be saved itself, but it is to be also a mighty power for the saving of others. A Prince of the house of David is to be born, who is to bring wondrous influences to bear upon the bad majority, and at length to reign over a state renewed, preserved, and enlarged, a great and glorious kingdom. No need to enter into question as to how soon prophet expected reign of Prince to begin. Enough to know such a Prince at length did come, and that His object was to found a kingdom not of this world. He came and accomplished His work. His followers at first a mere remnant—twelve apostles, one hundred and twenty disciples at Jerusalem—but its mission = through that Prince to save the world. Communities wherein no good remnant left; hopelessly doomed (Isaiah 1:9; cp. Romans 9:29).

2. Teaching of the text. At Pentecost strangers from Rome at Jerusalem. Perhaps, too, some of those libertini (freedmen) who heard St. Stephen may have been Romans. In any case St. Paul here addresses a Church which had been founded at Rome, chiefly Jewish, but also partly Gentile = small minority among vast population. They right; rulers of this world and vast majority of people all wrong. They = “holy seed,” which was to grow and wax strong; leaven, which was to extend itself till the whole was leavened. How this was done subsequent history of Christianity shows.

3. General statement. History, both sacred and secular, exhibits frequent periods where the corruption of human nature becomes painfully apparent in general depravity and vice. But God’s Spirit has never entirely forsaken the world. Except in cases where utter ruin has resulted, a reaction has in the course of time set in, and this has always begun not with the many but the few. Often when the majority have run headlong into sin and ruin, a minority have been saved—e.g., Flood, call of Abraham, Caleb and Joshua, etc. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Majority very apt to be wrong on vital questions. May be sometimes right, but as a rule lack principle and persistence. Today good impulses prevail, but gone to-morrow. [Contrast Sunday cry of “Hosanna” with Friday cry of “Crucify Him”; vacillation of crowds in every age; popularity of Savonarola with Florentines all gone in an hour, and the once powerful and attractive preacher publicly executed; instability of popular feeling in Reformation times and since.]

II. What saves the remnant?—Answer of:

1. Isaiah and prophets: “To order one’s conversation aright,” to “cease to do evil,” to “learn to do well,” to “delight in the law of the Lord,” to “make one’s study in it all the day long.”
2. Our blessed Lord: to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” to “become as little children,” to “do the will of our Father in heaven.”

3. St. Paul: to “have faith in Christ, the embodiment of righteousness” (Romans 9:30-32), and thus to have the heart and mind set upon those objects, aims, and actions of which righteousness is composed (Philippians 4:8).

III. Consolation for the saved remnant.—

1. Holding fast to that whereby the remnant is saved, there arises in the soul a peace which nothing else can give (Psalms 119:165). God’s laws of righteousness are eternal and unchangeable. We know what they are. The majority may seek to evade them; but the godly minority have the consolation of knowing that the eternal One is not only wise and good, but also powerful to “defend the right.” This thought has nerved on the saints and heroes who have often shone as lights in a corrupt age.

2. Their influence must sooner or later be felt. “Ye are the salt of the earth.” Their example and efforts have a tendency to purify. There is consolation in the thought of this.

IV. Warning from the doctrine of the remnant.—Not to be led astray by an evil majority (Exodus 23:2). An evil majority, headed by self-righteous scribes and Pharisees, lured Jerusalem to its overthrow. Massillon, preaching before the court of France in the days of Louis XIV., spoke of the last judgment—the great testing-time when the saved remnant shall be finally severed from all others besides—in terms so awfully vivid that when the climax of his discourse was reached the whole of that brilliant assemblage rose to their feet as one man, conscience-stricken, cut to the heart. But there was no real reformation. The fashion of the time was too strong. The righteous minority in France was too small, too weak, to save the nation from the crack of doom which burst in the Revolution nearly a century later. Beware of the authority which in these days it is too much the fashion to attach to mere majorities (Matthew 7:13-14).—G. E. P. Reade.

Romans 9:25-33. Paul elects the non-elect.—“As He saith also in Osee,” etc. This avowedly difficult passage deals with the doctrine of election, suggested by the question of the calling of the Gentiles. Paul here sets forth the groundwork of chaps, 9 to 11. He points out that the Israelites who were lost were ruined by pride, refusing to comply with the divine purposes. Some have built on this section of the epistle the doctrine of election, which Wesley thus expresses: “By virtue of an eternal, unchangeable, irresistible decree of God, one part of mankind is infallibly saved, and the rest infallibly damned, it being impossible that any of the former should be damned, or that any of the latter should be saved.” What is Paul’s attitude towards this? The whole chapter deals fully with the question.

1. Paul notes the unhappy fact that the Jews were rejected by God.
2. This he remarks in order to show that neither ancestry nor a man’s works will form any claim to justification.
3. He seeks to show that God has a free hand, is not bound down by any restriction at all. He has absolute right to do as He pleases, and name His own conditions for salvation. Hence He may reject the Jews who do not comply, and accept the Gentiles who do.
4. Paul, by his concluding statements, throws open salvation to all who are willing to accept Christ, even those whom the Jews thought were non-elect. The text suggests that Paul practically elects the non-elect.

I. Paul here teaches that salvation is for all who believe in Christ.—

1. Here he is in harmony with Peter, his contemporary. Peter (Acts 3:25-26) declared the blessing of redemption to be first promised to the Jews. But the very word “first” implied that it was to be sent to the Gentiles also. Paul agrees in Galatians 3:8.

2. He is in harmony with the psalmists, who teach that grace is not exclusive (Psalms 72:17; Psalms 102:15; Psalms 102:22; Psalms 117:1).

3. He is in harmony with the prophets, who recognise the breadth and length, the height and depth, of the divine redemption (Isaiah 45:22-23; also our text, Romans 9:25). Is not this pointing to the salvation of the human race? The minor prophets teach the same (Joel 2:28-31; Joel 3:12-21; Habakkuk 2:13-14; Zephaniah 2:11; Zephaniah 3:8-9; Malachi 1:11; Malachi 3:1-3; Malachi 4:1-3).

4. Paul is in harmony here with his other epistles, where he develops the doctrine of salvation for all who believe with great force (e.g., Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20). Is not this an election of the non-elect?

II. The once-indifferent may embrace salvation.—Romans 9:30. The Jews were first called; the Gentiles appeared to be excluded. The Jews exhibited this thought by their utmost scorn for Gentiles. But now, if willing to come, if accepting the conditions of salvation, they may be saved. Once they were outside the pale, because they followed not after righteousness, had no knowledge of it, no care nor thought about it. When they heard the gospel, they embraced it. Then its blessings were theirs. The moment of acceptance was the moment when the barriers of exclusion were broken down. It is so now. We are “non-elect” so long as we reject the gospel, and no longer.

III. There are no vested interests in the matter of salvation.—We may be Jews, having Abraham for our father; but that will not open the kingdom of heaven to us. Israel, the chosen people, not saved from disaster: only a remnant saved. We may say we are among the “elect”: that, if we do not live aright, will not save us. The question of elect or non-elect does not free us from active living faith in Christ. We must believe in Christ and live like Him.

IV. Outward observance of God’s laws will not secure our election.—Israel followed after the law, observed it to the letter, but had none of the spirit of righteousness. Jews harboured hate, secretly served other gods, etc.; and God rejected them, even while their altar fires were burning and their feasts were religiously observed. Why rejected? Because they sought not their salvation by faith, but by works. There was no inward righteousness. It was all outward show. “Not every one that saith,” etc. It is a case of the last being first and the first last. Any who may have the form of righteousness may miss its blessings, if they have not the power of godliness. At the last there will be a sifting; the unworthy will be set aside. In this sense “a remnant” only will be saved—only those who have loved righteousness and accepted Christ as their Saviour.

V. If any are lost, the fault is theirs.—They can never plead the existence of a hard-and-fast law that dooms some and delivers others. The lost are not so lost because of any decree of God. It is because they reject Christ and His offers of mercy. Therefore the need that preachers should still continue to plead with men, as those for whom they must give account. And therefore, also, the need and happy opportunity for the worst to come and plead forgiveness from the Saviour of men.—Albert Lee.


Paul’s design.—In the twenty-fourth verse the apostle explains whom he means by “the vessels of mercy”: “Even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” “To call,” as the word is used in Scripture, sometimes refers to the offer of salvation made by the preaching of the gospel, and sometimes to this offer rendered effectual by the co-operation of the Holy Spirit and embraced by those to whom it is proposed. Sometimes also, as in the next verse, it denotes to denominate in a particular manner—“I will call them My people”; and in this sense it often means to make them what they are called—“I will call them My people” being precisely equivalent to “I will make them My people.” Here the word is used in the last of these senses, and means “whom He hath called or constituted His people”—even us believers in Christ, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, whom God hath called to the obedience of the gospel, and thus constituted His Church and people. This application of the word, which is fixed by the following quotation, is a further proof that the preparation “for glory,” mentioned in the preceding verse, does not mean eternal glory, but merely the glorious distinction of being the Church and people of God. He goes on to show that the calling of the Gentiles, and the continuing of only a small portion of the Jews in the number of the people of God, need not appear incredible, seeing it might be clearly inferred from the Old Testament Scriptures (Romans 9:25), “As He saith also in Osee, I will call them My people which were not My people, and her beloved which was not beloved.” The quotation is taken from Hosea 2:23; but the apostle has inverted the order of the two clauses and slightly changed the language, though without altering the meaning. It has been thought that this prophacy relates primarily to the Israelites, and only in a secondary sense to the calling of the Gentiles. But the words are certainly most appropriate when applied to the Gentiles. “I will call them My people—that is, I will make them My people—which were not My people, and I will render her beloved which was not beloved,” are phrases which describe correctly receiving into the number of the people of God those who did not formerly belong to it. They do not so well describe restoring to the number of God’s people those who had belonged to it formerly. And as the apostle quotes the prophecy as descriptive of the calling of the Gentiles, we are authorised to hold this to be its proper application. To these prophecies, relating to the extension of the privilege of the people of God to the Gentiles, there is added another relating to the Israelites (Romans 9:26): “And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people, there shall they be called the children of the living God.” This prediction relates to the displeasure of God with His people on account of their sins, and His refusing to acknowledge them as His people—a refusal, however, which would be only temporal, for they would in due time be constituted “the children of the living God.” By joining these two quotations together, the apostle confirms the doctrine which he has been inculcating, that the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, were to have the offer of the gospel made to them, and to be admitted without distinction to share in the privileges of the people of God. But though the offer of salvation through Christ was to be given to Jews and Gentiles without distinction, it had been foretold that only a small number of the Jews would accept the offered mercy (Romans 9:27): “Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.” The quotation is from Isaiah 10:22, where the prophet alludes to the consequences of the destruction brought upon the ten tribes by the Assyrians. He “crieth concerning Israel,” said the apostle—that is, he openly and authoritatively declares—that though their number before their dispersion be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant—or, as it is in the original, the remnant—shall be saved from the general calamity, or return from their dispersion. This prediction is quoted as an illustration of the divine procedure in the present circumstances of the Jewish nation. For as the ten tribes were at that time scattered among the heathen, and ceased to be the people of God on account of their sins, a very small portion of them only escaping this calamity, so in the present times the great body of the nation would suffer a similar fate on account of the heinous guilt which they had contracted, the small number which believed in Christ only being continued a part of the Church and people of God.—Ritchie.

Verses 30-33


Romans 9:31.—νόμ. δικ., and not δικ. νομοῦ, because Israel and not the Gentiles had in the economy of mercy a law which taught what was right; law not making righteous, but declaring what is right.

Romans 9:32.—ὡς indicates the supposition that their works were good works.

Romans 9:33.—The Jews say, “The Son of David, i.e., the Messias, cometh not till the two houses of the fathers of Israel shall be taken away—to wit, the Head of the captivity of Babylon, and the Prince who is in Israel, as it is said, He shall be a stone of stumbling and a rock of ruin to the two houses of Israel, and many of them shall stumble and fall and be broken.” And the Chaldee Paraphrast upon the place says thus, “And if they will not obey or receive [Him], My word shall be to them for scandal and ruin to the princes of the two houses of Israel” (Dr. Whitby).


Unexpected results.—One of the errors of Judaism was exclusiveness. There was no salvation outside the Judaic system. All Gentiles were excluded. And here St. Paul not only corrects the mistake, but shows that even the Jews themselves might be excluded from divine righteousness while following their own system. Let us avoid contracted views; let not our religion warp our understanding. We may vaunt our privileges, and self-confidence may prove our destruction.

I. Opposite pursuits.—The Gentiles as a whole were not ethical. They did not eagerly pursue after righteousness. Israel had a glorious ethical system, and in their own way the Israelites followed after the law of righteousness. The latter had a lofty aim, while the former was not stirred by the ennobling ideal. Lofty aims must surely be good. It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Surely it is better to aim high and lose than never to rise above the common level. The shooter is wrong, not because he aimed high, but because he refused to be guided, and thus missed the mark. The man who seeks goodly pearls is following after the law of righteousness, is seeking for the true good, is yearning for soul rest. He is earnest, humble, and sincere, and finds the Pearl of great price. The seeker and the non-seeker obtain blessings in the sovereignty of divine administrations. The one gets the Pearl of great price, and the other finds the treasure hid in the field. The non-seeker is not to be applauded for his moral indolence. The seeker is not to be condemned for his moral diligence.

II. Unexpected results.—The Gentile finds that which he is not seeking. The Israelite misses that which he is pursuing. How true this often is to the ways of life! Results are contrary to our expectations. Like causes do not produce like effects. We follow after fame and reach wealth. We pursue pleasure and attain misery. Results are disappointing. Our purposes are broken off. Our projected castles reach no completion. Some men work hard and fail, while others without any stretching forth of effort grasp the prizes. The Gentiles and the Jews are found in all spheres and in all kingdoms.

III. The satisfactory explanation.—Israel failed. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith; they did not move according to the divine plan. We cannot pretend to give satisfactory explanations of all the unexpected results of time. Perhaps if we were endowed with far-reaching vision and a more acute understanding many a life’s inexplicables would disappear. Certain it must be that the life which is projected and prosecuted according to the divine plan cannot be a failure. We work from low results, and the end is disappointing. Moving according to the divine idea, we should reap divine fruition. Surely this must be so in the moral sphere. That blessing which the Gentile obtained is possible to the Jew. He that believeth shall be saved. The “he” is not specific, but generic. Only he that believeth. Whosoever will come may come. The divine thirst will not be assuaged until it finds the living water.

IV. The undesigned hindrance.—The Stone laid by God in Zion becomes a stumbling-stone and rock of offence. This is not the divine design. This Stone was chosen by God out of the eternal quarry as being most fitted for the erection of a spiritual temple. The Stone was selected by infinite wisdom, prepared by divine power, and was the expression of eternal love; and though the Stone was rejected by the foolish builders, the scribes and priests of this world, it was accepted by God, crowned with glory and honour. And God never placed this Stone in Zion to be a stumbling-block to any. Men stumble because blindness hath happened unto them in part; men stumble because human pride sets itself against divine love and wisdom. Humility would save from many a fall. He that is down need fear no fall. He that is little in his own eyes will see the greatness and preciousness of this Stone, and by its greatness will become spiritually great and noble and glorious. There is a blessed life-communicating quality in this Stone, so that those who are joined to it by faith become possessors of eternal life. By faith in this beloved Stone those not beloved become by divine grace the beloved children of God.

V. The projected effect.—Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed, shall not make haste, shall move through life with peaceful calmness, shall face death with undaunted courage, and stand unabashed in the ineffable splendours of the eternal light. They that follow after the law of righteousness in their own strength have reason to be ashamed as they see the immense distance between the endeavour and the achievement, between the mental would and the evil result. They that follow after the law of righteousness by faith in the righteous Mediator have no reason to be ashamed, for He strengthens the mental would and leads to moral accomplishment. Through Christ, when I would do good, the power to accomplish is present with me: that power comes from the strength-giving Saviour. Ashamed of my fruitless efforts, I may well be ashamed of the weakness of my faith, the dulness of my hope, and the coldness of my love. Ashamed of my connection with the Noblest of mortals and the Highest of immortals I shall surely never be. Can it be for one moment entertained that we should be ashamed of Him who has created in time the noblest heroes of the human race? Science has its votaries, philosophy its devoted adherents, literature its admirers, history grows eloquent about the pomp and circumstance of man; but rightly considered, it is highest glory to follow in the sublime train of Him who shall gather to Himself the selected spirits of all worlds. Immortal honours are the portion of the victorious Mediator, and those honours are shared by His followers.

Romans 9:33. Divine appointment, human disappointment, human satisfaction.—Many are the disappointments of life. Happy is the old age which can look back upon life without feeling that it is full of sorrowful memories. We may have to look back upon disappointments, but we shall not be filled with sorrow if we can feel that we have done our best, and that they have come upon us in spite of our best endeavours. But is such a retrospect possible? The wise and calm reflection of age will point us to many ways where we have gone wrong. The visions of youth have gone down into blackness. We have had noble aspirations, but ignoble performances. The stones of safety have been turned into stones of stumbling; rocks of beauty, glistening in the sunlight, have become rocks of offence. Blessed is the man who with divine light and leading has built upon the Rock of eternal beauty. Let us consider and endeavour to appreciate the wisdom of the divine appointment, and then we shall not be disappointed.

I. The divine appointment—“Behold, I lay in Zion.” The “beholds” of God are emphatic. They invite our attention to the consideration of the divine proceedings. The “beholds” of God are written in hieroglyphics on nature. There is the inaugurating voice directing attention to some great event or catastrophe about to follow. God writes a preface to all His greatest works. Noah’s ark is God’s “behold,” telling of the coming calamity; the intense calm of nature is a “behold,” speaking to us of the coming storm. The “beholds “of God are written in type and in figure and in plain speech in His moral dispensations. The Levitical dispensation is a sublime “behold,” drawing attention to the brighter dispensation beyond; the prophetical dispensation is a clearer “behold,” declaring the coming Messiah, sometimes in plainest terms. Thus it is in the passages from which St. Paul quotes in this wondrous text: Behold, says God, I lay in Zion a stone. Let the universe consider; let angels and men ponder; and the wisest will declare that the divine appointment is in every way excellent. This stone-laying:

1. Is good, for it is the work of a wise God. Our true conception of a God carries with it and implies the conception of a Being who is all-wise. We see wisdom in nature in many of her departments. What appears to us unwisdom may on further knowledge turn out to be highest wisdom. What we know not now we may know hereafter. And we are always met by the fact that a disturbing element has been introduced into nature. After all drawbacks there is sufficient in the world to convince the candid mind that a wise God has arranged this lower universe. If there be wisdom in the material much more is there in the moral realm. The God of wisdom laid the precious Stone in Zion. Can it be for one moment supposed that God waited for thousands of years before commencing this spiritual building, and then laid a stone which the least competent of builders would reject?

2. Safe, for it is the work of a God of power. The powerful will not dishonour himself by putting up that which is weak and insecure, if his ability and his resources are equal. The all-powerful God would not lay a stone in Zion which would crumble beneath the superincumbent edifice. So far the Stone has done no dishonour to the divine selection. It stands to-day. Time has gnawed no erasure on its beautiful surface. Living stones in vast numbers have been piled on this precious Corner-stone, and it upholds and gives life and firmness to all.

3. Beneficial, for it is the work of a God of love. God laid the Stone for the promotion of human well-being. In answer to the promptings of His infinite love and wondrous pity He laid this Stone, and it could not be, thus other than to serve a beneficial purpose. He laid it, not to be a stone of stumbling, but a stone of spiritual elevation, by and on which men might rise to the light and glory of the divine goodness. This Stone has been a beneficial rock to multitudes. It was laid in the dry and arid Zion, and transformed it at once into the sunny Zion which has warmed and cheered many hearts, which has lighted the otherwise dark pathway of many mortals. The wonder is how some of the stones were quarried and brought to their places which formed part of the temple. A greater wonder appears as we look at this spiritual Stone which is at once the foundation-stone and corner-stone of God’s Church-temple.

4. Available, for it is the work of a God of mercy. We must not localise God’s moral doings. In these days we visit Palestine as if God’s manifestations were only for one little tract of land. God’s Palestine is everywhere. He may work in one corner of the earth, but His glory fills the wide sphere. He laid the Stone in Zion; it is a movable stone, an omnipresent stone. Wherever there are living, believing stones of humanity, there God has laid His “living Stone,” to be to them a source of life and power. The Rock of shelter is in every land for all races. Let us seek to move with open eyes and receptive hearts.

II. The human disappointment.—Strange that a divine appointment should prove a human disappointment! Perhaps not so strange, if we remember that the human is ever fighting against the divine. The failure of the divine appointment is not in God, but in man. Is it not so that some of the best works, even those originated by human wisdom, have been to many as stones of stumbling and rocks of offence? Not only great moral but great material reformations have been opposed. Every great invention, every great improvement, has had to fight its way against the opposition of the foolish and the wicked. We are told that Christ would have done well enough if it had not been for a Paul. He has made dark that which was light, rendered difficult that which was plain. A nice and easy religion is that of the four gospels; but a repulsive and difficult religion is that of Paul. But if Paul were removed as a stone of stumbling, the next step would be to remove the Christ Himself as a stone of stumbling. We may rest assured that those who stumble at Paul would and do stumble at the Christ. Perhaps some want a Paul removed so that they may have a Christ and a religion after their own fashion. Christ was a stone of stumbling before Paul spoke or wrote a word, and Christ would still be a stone of stumbling if Paul and his epistles could be consigned to forgetfulness. Human sin, pride, and selfishness are always disappointed when they come face to face with that which seeks their overthrow. The modern notion is that we are all to be Christs, but we are a long way from the ideal. The Christlike men, the Christs of humanity, have been as stones of stumbling and rocks of offence to their fellows. A Christ of love and gentleness would be received in modern society; but how about a Christ who uses language not allowed in drawing-rooms, and calls men hypocrites and whited sepulchres? What about a Christ whose purity and unselfishness flash scorn upon our impurities, our meannesses, our hollowness, and our intense selfishness? Christ was a stone of stumbling to the Jews. They did their best to crush and destroy. If Christ were to revisit this sphere with only the origin and the credentials with which He appeared in Palestine, what would be His reception in our Christian countries? Would this Galilean Peasant be received in the palaces of peers? Would this unlettered Nazarene be allowed to preach in university pulpits? Would this Man of plain speech be allowed to shock the ears of fashionable congregations? If they will not hear sermons about Him, would they be more willing to hear Him preach when He would tell them to sell all that they had and give to the poor? A stone of stumbling and a rock of offence is the divine Stone; but, thank God, not to all, not by any means all.

III. Human satisfaction.—“Whosoever believeth in Him shall not be ashamed,” shall not be disappointed, shall not hurry away in terror and confusion, but shall realise peace, joy, and solid satisfaction. Believers should not be disappointed; for:

1. The entrance of Christ brings infinite content to the soul of men. A foundation-stone must not only rest in its place, but afford a resting-place to the stones it supports. Christ the foundation-stone affords a sweet resting-place to the lively stones of redeemed humanity. He imparts gracious content. The soul full of Christ is full of divine peace and repose. The soul cannot rest sweetly on any other stone. Discontent, restlessness, pervade the nature so long as Christ is absent. The soul was made for spiritual bread, and cannot be satisfied with the husks of time. We must feed on the Bread of life sent down from heaven.

2. Union with Christ gives proper proportion to life. Due proportion in an edifice cannot be secured if the foundation-stones and corner-stones be unfit and inadequate. How disproportionate are our lives! What a confused and disordered mass is the result of the life-building of a vast majority! If we would build aright, if we would construct so that part may answer to part in symmetrical order, then we must build on Christ, and in Christ, and up to Christ. A life well rounded and complete is the Christ-life. No true Christian has been disappointed when he has reached life’s close. Untold satisfaction will take possession of his nature when he is raised to be a monumental and ornamental pillar in the upper temple of our God.

3. Union with Christ gives strength to life. This Stone is a living stone. It has communicating properties. It is itself eternally and divinely strong, and imparts strength to all who are joined to it by faith. It is divinely adhesive, and makes fast to itself all believers, and sends its strength through all the lively stones of the spiritual edifice. Strong men are Christlike men—the most Christlike and the most giantlike. Even granite shall crumble and waste away; Christ-united stones will never be dissolved.

4. Union with Christ gives beauty and grace to life. Grace and beauty to a building are not possible if the foundation, corner, and top-stones be inadequate and incomplete. Every stone in a building seems to catch the grace and beauty of the whole structure. Every stone in God’s spiritual temple catches and shares the grace and beauty of Him who was and is altogether lovely, the very ideal of moral beauty, of spiritual loveliness. What grace and beauty are there in stones rolling in the gutter! And oh, how many are as stones rolling in the gutter! They are bespattered with the mire of low purposes, selfish and sensual aims and desires. There is grace and beauty in the stones cut, carried, and polished by the divine Artificer. These are monumental stones—monumental of divine grace and love, polished after the similitude of a palace.


Why the Jew failed.—As it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence; and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.” By the word translated “stumbling-stone” is meant any obstacle put in a person’s way, so as to make him stumble or fall, or anything that prevents him from accomplishing his design. In quoting the prophet’s metaphorical language, to show why the Jews failed to attain to the true principle of justification, the apostle brings together parts of two different prophecies, both relating, however, to the same subject, and concurring to make up the view of it which he presents. The first part is taken from Isaiah 8:14, where the Lord is said to be “for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both houses of Israel.” There can be no doubt that this prediction refers to the Messiah, and that it foretells the offence which the Jews would take at Him. He was not that great temporal deliverer to whom they fondly looked forward, and therefore they refused to believe on Him. The second part of the quotation is taken from Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste”; or, as the apostle quotes it, “shall not be ashamed.” There can be as little doubt that this is said in allusion to the Messiah; and it shows that none who believe on Him shall have reason to be ashamed of their faith, or have their hopes disappointed. The import of the general conclusion contained in the four last verses may be thus shortly stated: The Gentiles, notwithstanding their ignorance and wickedness, have had the offer of salvation made to them, and many of them have believed in Christ, been admitted into the Christian Church, and obtained the righteousness grounded in faith. But the great body of the Jews, although they enjoy a law which is of divine authority, have not attained a true righteousness, because, trusting that they would be justified by obedience to their law, they refused, as their own prophets had foretold that they would do, to believe in the Messiah, were therefore rejected from being the Church and people of God, and destitute of that only true righteousness which has its foundation in faith, and which will be followed with salvation. This passage suggests the following important remark: The reason why the Jews failed to obtain true righteousness was their seeking it on the principle of establishing a claim to divine favour by their legal obedience. But the apostle has already proved that it is utterly impracticable to establish any claim of this kind, seeing it is wholly impossible to give that unerring obedience to the divine law which it would require. It ought, then, to be steadily kept in mind, that it is not by works of righteousness which we have done that we become entitled to salvation; but that we must be saved by the mercy of God, extended through the Saviour, to those who possess the righteousness of faith. Faith in Christ, therefore, and reliance on Him for salvation, should lead the Christian to a uniform endeavour to obey the divine law; that thus possessing the righteousness which is of faith, he may be saved through the redemption that is in Christ.—Ritchie.


Romans 9:33. The folly of rejecting the gospel.—Now you may reject the gospel if you please; but wherein will your condition be improved? If on a ship where some pestilence is raging, the crew and the passengers throw the doctor and the medicine-chest overboard, and keep the pestilence with them, how much better are they off? Many there are who are bent on casting Christianity overboard, on getting rid of the Church and the priest and theology, and who art bent on keeping their sin and all its multitudinous train of mischiefs and evils. If men had become pure of heart, then there might be some reason in dispensing with superfluous ministrations; but, thus far, scepticism and the rejection of Christianity are only to make darkness darker, and sickness more fatal, and distress more painful.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/romans-9.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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