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The Apostle having now fully established the Doctrine of Justification by Christ, and shewn the blessed Effects of it in the Heart and Conscience; here enters upon the Doctrine of God's original and eternal Purpose in Election. He treats of the Case of Israel in Abraham's Seed; and towards the close of the Chapter, shews the same Doctrine, in the Call of the Gentiles.
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, (2) That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. (3) For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: (4) Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; (5) Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
Perhaps no passage in the word of God is more difficult to apprehend, than the one at the opening of this Chapter. Here is the Apostle, in his regenerate state, entering with such warmth and earnestness of soul, into the spiritual and eternal concerns of Israel after the flesh, that he professes a wish to be accursed from Christ for the accomplishment of their salvation, And, he appeals to Christ for the truth of it. Yea, God the Holy Ghost bears him witness he saith in his own conscience, that it is so. That Paul might feel, as he saith he did, great sorrow of heart in the view of his brethren after the flesh being shut out of Christ's kingdom, is very probable. Natural feelings are very strong feelings. But here Paul is speaking as under the most fervent gracious impressions. And yet both nature and grace seem to be in direct opposition to what Paul here wished. For it is contrary to the first law of nature, to wish a man's own damnation. And, it is contrary to all the finer feelings of grace, to contemplate, much less wish, being forever separated from Christ upon any consideration whatever. It is a most difficult passage to apprehend. We meet with an instance in the first view somewhat similar, when Moses, the man of God, prayed so fervently for Israel, that he begged his name might rather be blotted out of the book of God than Israel, Exodus 32:32 . But the book here alluded to, most probably meant the book of temporal life, and not the eternal. Paul's is a much higher note: Accursed from Christ. Indeed none but one, even the God-Man Christ Jesus, could bear the curse, and be made a curse for his redeemed. It was his peculiar honor and glory, Galatians 3:13 . I must leave the passage as I found it, for I am free to confess it is attended with too much difficulty of apprehension for me to explore. One improvement may be drawn from it; when we behold such an ardent zeal for the welfare of immortal souls in the Apostle, to take shame in the recollection, how cold and lifeless all of the present hour are, who minister in holy things, in the ministry of the word and ordinances. Oh! for a fervency of spirit, both in ministers and Churches! Lord the Holy Ghost! pour out of thy blessed influences, and cause a revival in this our day and generation!
Let it be observed, concerning those of whom the Apostle speaks, that the privileges they are here said to have enjoyed, were not spiritual. They were Israelites, because descended from Jacob by natural descent, which made them so far honorable in that alliance. But they were not of the spiritual seed, concerning whom it was said, in Isaac shall thy seed be called, Genesis 21:12 . Neither is the adoption here spoken of, that adoption which is of grace, but nature. God separated this one family, with whom might be deposited the shadows and types of the covenant in Christ. But all these were designed no further, than to minister to that better covenant established upon better promises, Hebrews 8:6 . Paul felt, however, a very high regard for Israel after the flesh, in that they were not only his brethren, as a nation, but also as the Lord had so distinguished them with such unspeakable blessings, in their peculiar national character, with his ordinances, and above all, in that high honor that Christ after the flesh should come, w ho is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen!
Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: (7) Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. (8) That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. (9) For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. (10) And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (11) (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) (12) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. (13) As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
The Apostle seems to have found his soul relieved at the opening of this verse, in calling to remembrance that the true Israel of' God, notwithstanding the Israel after the flesh were shut out, had all the blessings of the covenant in Christ designed them. The people, the true Israel of God, whom Jehovah formed for himself, were still, and everlastingly must be, his chosen generation, his peculiar people, a royal priesthood. God called them a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation, Exodus 19:6 . And Paul here makes the distinction between nature and grace, between Israel after the flesh, and after the spirit. He runs up the subject to the fountain head of the appointment, and in the everlasting purpose, counsel, will, and pleasure of Jehovah, shews how the Church was chosen in Christ from the beginning; nothing in the children of promise, who were the happy partakers of it, predisposing to the mercy, or in the smallest degree contributing to it, because the thing was done before they were born. Paul most plainly and decidedly shews this, and confirms it by quotations from the Old Testament scripture. If the Reader will consult the scriptures referred to, and compare them with one another, the subject Paul had in view to establish will appear in its obvious sense and meaning, Genesis 25:21-27 ; Malachi 1:3 ; Galatians 4:28 , to the end.
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. (15) For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (16) So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. (17) For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. (18) Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
The Apostle here enters upon the justification of the doctrine he is establishing the proofs of in this chapter. He shews upon principles of common sense and right reason only, that the doctrine of Election is as clearly proved as any one circumstance in the ordinary transactions of life. And he manifests the justice and equity of God in the appointment. And that he might carry every force of argument with him, he opens the subject in his usual way of a question. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid! There can be none in God's choosing or rejecting, when neither that choice or rejection is induced by anything out of himself, The children, when chosen or rejected, not being born, and consequently not having done either good or evil, can have had no hand in the business, but the whole is referred into the sovereign will of God. Hence, therefore, the children chosen cannot complain, for to them the sovereign will of God is an act of favor wholly undeserved. And the children rejected cannot charge God with injustice, since they have no claim to any favor, or right, which on terms of strict justice they could demand. Thus the matter stands. And here it must stand, and will stand, to all eternity, in opposition to all the querulous arguments and ungodly reasoning of men.
I do not mean to follow the subject any further than what the Apostle hath done. God's own declaration, which Paul quotes, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion; is with me final, unanswerable, and satisfactory. And the instance of Pharaoh most express in point. But I would beg the Reader to remark with me one circumstance, which I confess in my view is particularly striking, It hath through grace satisfied my mind for many long years concerning the sovereignty of God.
Among the carnal world, there is nothing that excites the bitter hatred of the human heart equal to the exercise of God's sovereignty, on the doctrine of election and reprobation. Every son and daughter of Adam, while in the unrenewed state of an unregenerate mind, riseth up in rebellion against it. And yet, wonderful to relate, there is not one of the whole race, either son or daughter, but what, in the proceedings of their own life from day to day, absolutely preach and practise the doctrine both of election and reprobation in all they do or say. From the wayward capricious temper of the little child, to the petulancy and ill-humour of the man of grey hairs, they manifest this in their pursuits and desires, in the objects of their approbation or dislike, their predilection or hatred, almost every hour. They have their choice and aversions, as it respects, their company, their food, their dress, their pleasures, their conversations. If at their daily table there is a variety of dishes, to pamper the appetites of the luxurious, (as through the bounty of a bountiful God too often such persons in a shameful profusion abuse that bounty to the gratification of their unbounded lusts,) they will choose here or there, reject, or dislike, as their fancy directs them. And this without either rule or reason, either wisdom or good sense, nay, sometimes to their sorrow, in inducing sickness, and a thousand evils, and death. And should any venture to call them in question, either in their judgment or conduct, what anger sometimes hath followed? Is this preaching and practising election and reprobation, or is it not? And preaching and practising both with an high hand of sin and folly, and not unfrequently in numberless instances of injustice, dishonesty, and fraud! But, when the Judge of all the earth, who cannot but do right, declares, that he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth, the proud unhumbled heart of man riseth in boilings of the most deadly anger, and complains of the righteous decree. So then there is but One Being in the Universe capable of acting with a sovereignty of power and wisdom, whose election and reprobation must be founded on an unerring standard of what is right; and He, according to fallen man's judgment, shall be the only one precluded from the exercise of this privilege! Such is the blindness and desperately wicked state of the heart of man by the fall!
Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? (20) 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? (21) Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? (22) What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: (23) And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, (24) Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? (25) As he saith also in Hosea, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. (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. (27) Isaiah also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: (28) For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. (29) And as Isaiah said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrah. (30) What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. (31) But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. (32) Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; (33) As it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumblingstone and rock of offense: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
The doctrine is here supposed to be taken as granted. God's sovereignty shall no longer be disputed, saith the daring sinner. Be it so, if it must be so. But why doth he yet find fault? Here's impudence to the full. Here's practical contempt of God, worse, if possible, than even denying his very Being! But in what a beautiful way and manner hath the Apostle taken the question, and answered it. How conclusive and satisfactory is the similitude of the Potter and the clay, in relation to forming vessels of what shape, figure, form, or usefulness he pleaseth. And who ever ventured to call in question the Potter's power, or the Potter's wisdom, when exercising his pleasure, in making one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor? There is however this difference (and to which the figure could not reach,) between the Almighty Potter in his ordinations, and the earthy Potter in his. The vessel and the clay are both the Lord's own, for the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; all are his by creation, first forming the clay, and then man out of it. So that had God, when he made man from the earth, made any other creature instead of man, there would have been no injustice done! for the earth, and the man made out of the earth, were both equally the Lord's. But this could not be the case with the earthy potter. The clay he made his vessels from was already made to his hands, and not his. And his formings could be no other than clay, however one vessel might be designed for honor, and another for dishonor, Isaiah 64:8 ; Jer 18:1-6 ; 2 Timothy 2:20-21 .
Reader! I detain you over these verses, and over this doctrine altogether, only to make one or two observations from the whole. And, first, I beg you to remember that God's sovereignty stands just where it did from everlasting, after all that hath been said of it, or written against it. God is not accountable to his creatures for his conduct. It is enough to know that God cannot do wrong. He is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works. His sovereignty is one of his distinguishing attributes. And that sovereignty is founded in perfect rectitude. Let the pride and arrogancy of men or devils cavil at it, the answer is the same, My counsel (saith Jehovah) shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure, Isaiah 46:10 .
Secondly, It is one among the many precious signs of grace in the heart, when the mind and affections are brought over to the conviction, not only that God's sovereignty distinguisheth his Almighty character, but that all the Lord appoints is right. A child of God, when seeing anything which appears to him mysterious in the divine administration, concludes, that it is his defect, and not the Lord's, which renders it so. I was dumb, (said one of old, under some sharp exercise,) I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it, Psalms 39:9 . All must be right, and all cannot but be finally well, for it is the Lord's doing. This is a blessed frame of mind, when we not only bend to the Lord's appointment, but bend with holy faith and satisfaction. I cannot discover God's path, but I am sure that God's ways are right. His sovereignty is my security.
Thirdly, When we behold the great mass of men rejecting the sovereignty of God with the scriptures of God in their hand, and having all the advantages of the ordinances of the Gospel, we awfully discover how far our nature must be sunk in rejecting the counsel of God against their own souls. The very truths of God, when brought before such a character, only serve to discover yet more and more his natural enmity to God, and the aversion he hath to God's gracious decrees by Christ. On the other hand, where the heart is brought to the unceasing acknowledgment of the divine Sovereignty, there a conviction accompanies it of being taught of God. Paul had no sooner God's Son revealed in him, than immediately he conferred not with flesh and blood, Galatians 1:15-16 . And Paul here gives his unqualified belief to the purpose of God according to election, verse 11 (Romans 9:11 ).
I must not dismiss this subject, before that I have first called the attention of the Reader to that sweet and precious conclusion Paul makes, from the doctrine of election, in the inducing holiness of life and godliness. The Apostle, speaking of the properties of distinguishing grace, saith, that except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we should have been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrah. The Prophet, before the Apostle, had many ages before declared, that the remnant of Jacob, that is, the seed of Christ, should be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as showers upon the grass, Micah 5:7 . And thus the Church of Christ is in every age distinguished. For while the earth, in the unawakened nature of Adam, is like the dry barren heath of the desert, which knoweth not when good cometh, the droppings of grace upon the heritage of God makes it flourish and blossom as the rose. And it is the Church which preserves the world from instantly perishing. If all the Lord's family were gathered out, as Lot and his household were, from the cities of the plain, destruction would soon follow, Genesis 19:23-24 . So that the doctrine of election is the very doctrine of godliness. The Lord preserveth the world for the Church's sake. And the holiness of the Church in Christ, is the sole cause wherefore the world standeth. The same day in which Noah entered into the ark, the flood came and destroyed the world by water, Genesis 7:16-17 . The same hour in which Lot went out of Sodom, the Lord rained down fire from heaven and destroyed them all, Genesis 19:22 . Oh! how sure is it, that the earth oweth its present continuance to the lives of the faithful in the land. And how very sure also, that the doctrine of election is a doctrine according to godliness. As he who hath called his people is holy, so are they holy in all conversation and godliness. Reader! may the Lord give a gracious apprehension of these things, that we may both give diligence to make our calling and election sure. For, (saith the Apostle,) if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly, into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 1:10-11 .
How sure, how certain, and how unalterably fixed, are the ways and purposes of Jehovah. From eternity the whole is ordered in all things, and sure; and through the whole time-state of the Church, God's purposes have been, and must be, fulfilled. As in the eternity of the Lord's nature, so in his ordinations there can be nothing liable to change. His sovereignty is the rule of all his actions, and his will and pleasure the invariable standard of good.
Sweetly, in relation to his Church, all is planned in wisdom; and nothing can arise to alter his ways towards his people. Electing love gave birth to the Church in Christ. And in the instance of Jacob and Esau it hath been shewn, that not only before the children had done any act of good or evil, but, that the purpose of election might stand, it was said, that the elder should serve the younger; so that electing grace preserved what electing love had began. Reader! it is very blessed when the proud sails of human confidence give way to the sovereign decrees of God; and we hail God's appointments as the result of God's favor to his Church in Christ. Oh! the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Romans 9". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30