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THE LORD’S PEOPLE A CHOSEN REMNANT
Romans 11:5. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
IT is the part both of wisdom and of love to guard our statements against misconception. We are of necessity constrained sometimes to state truth in strong and general terms: but in all such cases it becomes us to anticipate, and to remove, as much as in us lies, all occasion for misapprehension or mistake: we should make every thing so clear, that the ignorant should have nothing to ask; the captious nothing to object. St. Paul was ever alive to this duty: he foresaw and answered every objection that could be urged against the truths he maintained. He had in the preceding chapter spoken of the Gentiles as adopted into God’s family, whilst the Jews, for their obstinate disobedience, were cast off. Hence it might have been supposed, that God had cast off his people altogether: but he tells them, that this was not the case; for that he himself, though a Jew, was a partaker of all the blessings of salvation: and that, as in the days of Elijah, there were among the Jews more faithful servants of Jehovah than was supposed, so it was at that time; “there was a remnant,” and a considerable remnant too, “according to the election of grace.”
Shew that God’s people are “a chosen remnant”—
The Lord has at this day a remnant of faithful people—
[In every age of the world there have been some faithful worshippers of Jehovah. Even in the antediluvian world, when all flesh had so corrupted their way that God determined to destroy them utterly, there was one pious man, who boldly protested against the reigning abominations, and, with his family, was saved from the universal deluge. Abraham, Melchizedec, and Lot, were also rare instances of piety in a degenerate age; as were also Job, and his little band of friends. In Israel too, even under the impious and tyrannic reign of Ahab, there was an Elijah, who was a bold and faithful witness for his God. Thus at this day also there are some who serve their God with fidelity and zeal. Neither the example of the multitude, nor the menaces of zealots, can induce them to bow down to Baal, or “to walk after the course of a corrupt world.” “They are not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world;” “nor will they conform to it” in its spirit and conduct: they will “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but will rather reprove them.” To serve, to enjoy, to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, is all their desire; and they “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart.”]
They are however but a remnant—
[“The world at large lieth in wickedness.” The broad road that leadeth to destruction is crowded; whilst those who enter in at the strait gate, and walk in the narrow way that leadeth unto life, are few [Note: Matthew 7:13-14.]. True it is, that the servants of God may now, as in Elijah’s days, be more numerous than we imagine: there may be many, who, being remote from public ordinances, are unknown; or, from being poor, are unobserved; or, from peculiar diffidence, are kept from joining themselves to the Lord’s people; or, from their weakness, are not yet able to encounter the opposition which they expect to meet with. We are persuaded that there are many Nicodemuses and Nathanaels at present in the shade, who yet in due time will come forth to light, and be “burning and shining lights “in their day and generation. We mean not by these observations to express an approbation of worldly shame, or of the fear of man: for it is the duty of every Christian to “confess Christ” boldly, and to “follow him without the camp bearing his reproach:” but so it is, that, from a variety of causes, some of the Lord’s people remain unknown to us, and will be found at the last day, if not before, among the “hidden ones,” that were known to God and accepted of him: and it is a comfort to think, that, as “there were seven thousand men in Israel who had not bowed their knee to Baal,” whilst Elijah conceived himself to stand alone, so there may be at this day thousands in the world who, in the sight of God, are “faithful and beloved,” though they have not at present any name or place in the Church of Christ. Yet, after all, in comparison of the careless and ungodly world, they will be found “a small remnant,” “a little flock [Note: Luke 12:32.].”]
And for their distinguished privileges they are altogether indebted to the electing love of God—
[All by nature are alike “dead in trespasses and sins;” and if not quickened by divine grace, must continue dead even to the end. Look into the Scriptures, and see if you can find so much as one who raised himself to newness of life. Did the converts on the day of Pentecost? Did Paul? Did Lydia? Did any make themselves to differ, or present to him what they had not previously received from him [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]? Can you find one that did not say with St. Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am?” Was there one to whom God did not “give to will, as well as to do, and that of his good pleasure?” To all without exception must it be said, as it was to the Apostles, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. God, in choosing men, has no respect to any thing but his own glory. He is not moved by any thing in them, either present or foreseen: “he loves them, because he will love them [Note: Deuteronomy 7:6-8.];” and in predestinating them unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, he does it “according to the good pleasure of his own will” and “to the praise of the glory of his own grace [Note: Ephesians 1:5-6.].”]
We would not state these things in a crude and rash way. We know, they are deeply mysterious; and we are most anxious to,
Guard this doctrine against abuse—
Much is this doctrine hated: much too is it abused: but, however hated, or however abused, it is the truth of God, and therefore must be maintained. Let none however pervert it, or draw false conclusions from it. Let none say,
If this doctrine be true, no blame attaches to me—
[What! No blame attaches to those who live in sin; to those who live “without God in the world!” Has any one compelled you. to act thus? Have you not been free agents in every thing that you have done? What if you were not able of yourselves to fulfil the will of God, did not God exhort you to come to him for grace and strength, and did he not promise to give grace sufficient for you? Has there not been much that you might have done, which yet you have neglected? and much that you might have abstained from, which yet you have committed? Will any one go into the presence of Almighty God and say, ‘I sought thee, but thou wouldst not hear: I endeavoured to the utmost of my power to comply with all thine injunctions; but thou withheldest from me the assistance that was necessary: I chose thee, but thou rejectedest me without a cause?’ No: profane as many are, there is not a man to be found in the universe who will dare thus to insult his God. We all have a consciousness that sin at least is our own, whatever holiness may be: it is the fruit of our own choice, the work of our own hands: and every man who has not on the wedding garment in the last day, will be dumb before his God, and not have one word to say in vindication of himself, when the Master of the feast shall order him to be tied hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness [Note: See Matthew 22:11; Matthew 22:13.].]
If this doctrine be true, I may sit still, till God shall come and help me—
[Where, we would ask, do the Scriptures countenance any such inference as this? They invariably enjoin the use of means, and promise a blessing to those who use them in a dependence upon God; “Ask and ye shall have, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you; for every one that asketh, receiveth, &c.” Will you after this sit down and say, “I will not ask?” Be it so; you are helpless in yourselves, and incapable of doing any thing that is truly good: but so was the man with the withered arm: yet, when our Lord said to him, Stretch out thine arm, did he reply, ‘Lord, I cannot?’ No: he attempted to fulfil his Lord’s command; and in the attempt was strengthened to perform it. So is it your duty to use the means to the best of your power, in obedience to God’s command, and in dependence on his grace: and if you do so, you are assured that “you shall never seek his face in vain.” You should do as much for yourselves, as if you had in yourselves an all-sufficiency for all things: but, whilst doing it, you should remember, that “your sufficiency is of God” alone. This is precisely what St. Paul has taught us. He addressed persons who were asleep, yea, dead; yet did he bid them awake, and act; and promised, that in obeying his injunctions they should obtain from Christ all needful aid: “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light [Note: Ephesians 5:14.].”]
If this doctrine be true, I am in no danger, whatever I may do—
[Does any one who professes to believe the doctrine of election make this use of it? He needs nothing more to prove, that he at least is not of God’s elect: for, if there be one mark of a reprobate more strong and decisive than another, it is that of “turning the grace of God into licentiousness.” There is not a word in all the book of God that gives any man a hope of salvation whilst he lives in sin. On the contrary, it is expressly declared, that, “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” If we are “chosen of God before the foundation of the world,” it is “that we may be holy, and without blame before him in love [Note: Ephesians 1:4.]:” if “we are chosen to salvation, it is through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.].” God will never make his own Son “a minister of sin.” If he save us at all, it will be from our sins, and not in them. Hear how indignantly God rejects the idea of his leaving men at liberty to sin: “Behold, ye trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will ye commit all manner of sins, and come and stand before me in this house which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord of Hosts [Note: Jeremiah 7:8-11.].” Yes; God does see it; and whoever maintains such a delusion as this, shall ere long find, to his cost, “whose word shall stand; God’s, or his [Note: Jeremiah 44:28. with Galatians 6:7-8.].”]
That no solid objection lies against this doctrine, will appear, whilst we,
Suggest the proper improvement of it—
It should encourage all to seek for mercy at God’s hands—
[If God’s election were determined only by some good that was naturally inherent in man, and man’s hope of the Divine favour were built on some superior excellence that was in him above others, who could venture to cherish any hope at all? Certainly there would be a fearful prospect for those who have long continued in their sins: for they would naturally say, How can God ever look with compassion on such a sinner as me? The old therefore, and the dying, would at once be driven to despair. But when we are told, that God “has mercy on whom he will have mercy,” and dispenses his blessings freely to whomsoever he will, the vilest sinner in the universe may say, ‘Then I will not despair: I know, I have nothing whereby to recommend myself to him: but he is at liberty to shew mercy to the very chief of sinners: and in that character will I apply to him, that he may glorify himself in me.’ This is a just and scriptural way of arguing: and it in may be adopted by all who “know the plague of their own heart,” even though they may have lived in sin throughout their whole lives, and be now come to the borders of the eternal world: they may say, ‘His grace is his own; he may dispense it as he will; and, where sin has abounded, His grace may superabound. He chose Paul in order “that in him he might shew forth all long-suffering for a pattern” to the Church in all ages; and I will hope, that in me also he will shew, before the whole assembled universe, how far his grace can reach.’ This is the true, legitimate, and only use which an unconverted sinner should make of God’s electing love.]
It should fill all who are the subjects of it with the deepest humility—
[Many ignorantly imagine, that the idea of God having elected us would fill us with pride: and if his election had respect to some goodness in us above others, and were founded on our superior merits, there were some ground for pride. But when God, in ordaining men to life, has respect only to his own sovereign will and pleasure, and to the manifestation of his own glory, no man has any ground to boast: nor will any man who is a partaker of this grace wish to boast. On the contrary, he will be disposed rather to say with the profoundest adoration, “What was I, Lord, that thou shouldest visit me?” This is the effect which the conferring of an undeserved favour has on every humble mind. Elizabeth, when the blessed Virgin, after her miraculous conception, came to visit her, exclaimed, “Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me [Note: Luke 1:43.]?” How much more then will the saint be filled with wonder that the Lord himself should come, and take up his abode within his very soul! Again; when Mephibosheth was told by David that his Father’s property should be restored to him, and that he should cat continually at the king’s table, “he bowed himself, and said, What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am [Note: 2 Samuel 9:7-8.]?” How much more then will the child of God abase himself as the most unworthy of mankind, when the King of kings, of his own sovereign love and mercy, tells him, that all the glory of heaven shall be his, and that he shall feast for ever at the marriage supper of the Lamb! This was the effect produced on Paul, who, because there was no word in the whole Greek language sufficiently strong whereby he might express his sense of his own unworthiness, made a word for himself, that places him beneath the least and lowest of all the saints of God: he calls himself, “less than the least of all saints.” That is our proper appellation; and the more just sense we have of God’s electing love, the more ready we shall all be to adopt it for our motto.]
It should stimulate them also to universal holiness—
[If we be “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a peculiar people, it is that we may shew forth the praises of Him that hath called us out of darkness into marvellous light [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.].” Yes; we are “created unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” We are to be as “lights in a dark place;” as “a city set upon a hill:” we are to be “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.” Man expects this of us: and God also expects it of us. Man will naturally say, ‘What proof do these people give that they are the elect of God? If we look at them, what do we find in them more than others?’ These expectations are reasonable: and, if you are not more holy than others, they may reasonably say, that you are hypocrites and deceivers. I would call upon you then to shew by your fruits that you are trees of the Lord’s planting. I call upon you to “shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life” in the whole of your conversation. Hear the exhortation of an inspired Apostle: “Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye [Note: Colossians 3:12-13.].” These are the graces that ye are called to exercise, and these are the fruits whereby ye are to be known. By thus exhibiting to the world the mind that was in Christ, you will prove your title to the character of his saints as “called, and chosen, and faithful [Note: Revelation 17:14.].”]
GRACE AND WORKS OPPOSED TO EACH OTHER AS GROUNDS OF SALVATION
Romans 11:6. If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
IN reference to the doctrines of grace, St. Paul maintained a most watchful and “godly jealousy.” On points of a less vital nature, he was ready to concede as far as possible; but on the point of salvation by grace through faith he was firm and immoveable. He would not give way for a moment, even though all the college of Apostles had opposed him [Note: Galatians 2:5.], or an angel from heaven had professed to have received a commission to proclaim any thing that was inconsistent with it [Note: Galatians 1:8-9.]. In the superstructure of our religion there might be errors, yea, considerable errors, as he tells us, and yet our souls be saved. Injurious indeed they would be, extremely injurious, to our welfare; but still they would not be utterly subversive of our hopes. But if the error affected the foundation of our religion, he declared it to be utterly incompatible with our final salvation [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.].
This jealousy of his is peculiarly visible in the words which we have just read. They were not necessary to the Apostle’s argument. In the preceding context he is shewing that God has among the Jews, as well as among the Gentiles, a chosen remnant: but having called them “a remnant according to the election of grace,” he lays hold on the opportunity to confirm his favourite position, that salvation is altogether of grace; so entirely of grace, as absolutely to exclude works altogether from having any share in meriting or procuring it.
The observation thus introduced deserves the deeper attention; because it shews how near to the Apostle’s heart the truth was that is contained in it. Let us then, in considering this observation, attend to,
The truth of it—
The observation is simply this, That salvation must be altogether of grace, or altogether of works; for that the two cannot possibly coalesce; since each of them excludes the other as much as light and darkness. Now,
This observation is true—
[The Apostle has before drawn the distinction between “a reward of grace, and a reward of debt [Note: Romans 4:4.].” And it is clear, that if a thing be a gift, it cannot have been earned; and, on the other hand, if it have been earned, it cannot be a gift. It is true, the sum required may bear no proportion to the blessing bestowed: but still, however small the sum be, it is, as far as it goes, a price paid for the thing obtained: and whether that be more or less, it equally destroys the notion of a free gift. We readily concede, that all the works that Paul himself performed would be as nothing in comparison of eternal life: but yet, if it be only a thousandth part of his works that has been paid for eternal life, that life is so far earned by works, and ceases to be a gift of grace: and though we may admire the goodness of God in giving heaven for so small a consideration, the person to whom it is given will have to boast that he paid for it the consideration that had been demanded of him.]
It is true in reference to every part of our salvation—
[It is true in reference to our first election of God. If God chose us on account of some good works which he foresaw we should perform, those works must to all eternity be acknowledged as the true ground of our salvation; and our salvation must therefore be of works, and not of grace.
We are not now inquiring, whether any such works as would be proper to influence God’s mind, can be performed by man, by man too in his fallen state, and unassisted by his God: (these are points which at the present we leave untouched:) we are only shewing now, that, supposing such works to be wrought, and God’s election to be determined by them, election would be of works, and not of grace.
In like manner, if our justification be on account of any work of ours, we may boast that it has been not a mere act of grace and mercy for Christ’s sake, but a debt paid to us for something done by us. As to the comparative value of the work and the reward, we again say, that it is nothing to the purpose: it may serve to illustrate the goodness of God in annexing so great a reward to so small a work; but still the reward so conferred bears, and must ever bear, the character of a debt, and not of a gift.
To this it may be objected, that good works are represented in the Scripture as objects of reward, nay more, as forming the measure of that reward. This is true: but it does not in the least degree militate against the position before stated. Let us bear in mind what the Apostle’s statement is: it is this, that if, in any part of our salvation from first to last, our works form the meritorious ground of our acceptance with God, our salvation is not of grace, but of works; and that consequently, if salvation be of grace, all works of ours must be excluded as forming the ground of our acceptance with him. But this is not contradicted by any thing which God may do after we are accepted of him. The whole case is then altered:
The works done, are done, not in our own strength, but by the operation of God’s Spirit within us.
They are done, not in order to purchase heaven, but to manifest our love to God, and promote his glory.
They come up to God, not as claiming any thing on account of their own intrinsic excellence, but as washed in the Redeemer’s blood, and perfumed with the incense of his all-prevailing intercession.
They come, not as demanding a recompence on the footing of justice, but as owing all their hope of acceptance to God’s free and gracious promises.
They come, not to set aside the grace of God, but to illustrate, adorn, and magnify it.
If any one of these works were to arrogate to itself the office of recommending us to God, its value would be lost; and so baneful would be its influence, that it would destroy the value, and prevent the reward, of all the other works that the person had ever done.
Hence then it is evident, that though God may, for the magnifying of his own grace, bestow gifts upon his children, that can be no reason why man, whilst an enemy to God, should, on the footing of justice, for the gratifying of his own pride, demand of God a reward of debt. God is at liberty to give what, and when, and to whom, he will: and whatsoever, of his own free grace, he has promised, he most assuredly will perform: but this gives no right to man to claim what God never has promised, and what he has in ten thousand places declared he never will give.
We again therefore revert to our position, and say, that, if salvation be by grace, it cannot in any respect, or any degree, be of works: and, consequently, works must be for ever renounced as a ground of our acceptance with God, and we must look for every thing from grace, free grace, alone.]
The truth of the Apostle’s observation being established, we proceed to shew,
The importance of it—
We have already called your attention to the way in which the observation is introduced, and which, we conceive, marks very strongly the importance of it in the Apostle’s mind. And we may notice the same from the very pointed way in which the observation is made. The Apostle seems determined that nobody shall misunderstand him: and he has effectually secured his object in that particular.
To shew the importance of his observation then, we say, that,
It establishes beyond all doubt the freeness and fulness of the Gospel salvation—
[In many places, both in the Old and New Testament, does God guard his people against arrogating any thing to themselves. He warns the Jews by Moses, that they would be ready to indulge this propensity, but that his mercies to them had been in no respect the fruit of their own goodness, but wholly of his free and sovereign grace [Note: Deuteronomy 9:4-6.]? The only thing which they could behold on a retrospect, and which they ought to look back upon with never-ceasing shame, was, one continued scene of wickedness and provocations [Note: Deuteronomy 9:7. Compare Ezekiel 36:31-32.]. Thus St. Paul again and again reminds us, that it was “not by works of righteousness which we had done, but according to his own mercy that God had saved us [Note: Titus 3:5.]:” and still more plainly in another epistle, that “he had saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began [Note: 2Ti 1:9].” But the words of our text are so strong, that no one can attempt to get over them, without shewing, that he is manifestly “wresting” them from their proper, and obvious, and only meaning. Be it known then, that salvation is, and ever must be, of grace, from first to last. Our election from eternity, our justification in time, and our glorification when time shall be no more, are all the fruits of God’s free and sovereign grace: the foundation was laid in grace; the superstructure is raised by grace; and “when the head-stone shall be brought forth, we must still cry, Grace, grace unto it [Note: Zechariah 4:6-7; Zechariah 4:9.].” There is not a soul in heaven that must not to all eternity say, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”]
It secures against all invasion the honour of God—
[Men are ever attempting to rob God of his glory: they cannot endure that all the honour of their salvation should be given to God alone. When they see the crown placed on the Redeemer’s head, they feel as if they themselves were injured and dishonoured. They think that some part of the glory belongs to them; that their works must be considered, in part at least, as forming the ground of their justification; and that God’s election of them was determined by his foresight of their superior goodness. But, when they come to these words, and see what an insuperable obstacle they oppose to all such vain conceits, they find that there is no alternative left them, but to earn salvation by a perfect obedience to the law, or to accept it as the free gift of God in Christ Jesus. They see, that, to blend the two is impossible; and that, if they do not accept salvation wholly by grace, they are forced altogether upon the covenant of works, and are cut off from all hope in Christ Jesus [Note: Galatians 5:2-4.]. This alternative they dare not for a moment to adopt; and therefore they are constrained to give to God the glory due unto his name, and to acknowledge Christ both as “the Author, and the Finisher, of their faith [Note: Hebrews 12:2.].” In a word, they are made willing to “glory in Christ alone.”]
It makes clear the path of the true penitent—
[Persons in the earlier stages of repentance are apt to be much perplexed. They think they ought to have something of their own to unite with Christ’s merits, or at least something to recommend them to his favour. But this they cannot find: and the more they discover of the evil of their own ways, the farther they appear to be from possessing any of those qualifications which they desire. This greatly alarms them; and makes them fear it would be presumptuous in such unworthy creatures as they to hope in Christ. But when they see the force of the Apostle’s observation, they are convinced, that hitherto they have proceeded on wrong grounds, and that the only true way of going to Christ, is, to go with all their sins upon them, and receive salvation from him as the purchase of his blood, and the gift of his grace. This, when once seen, dissipates all the clouds and darkness that have obscured their way, and makes their path to life as clear as the sun at noonday. They see themselves in the predicament of the wounded Israelites, when directed to look to the brazen serpent; or of the jailor, when bidden to believe in Christ. They believe; they look; they live.]
On the observation thus explained we ground a few words of advice—
Accept with gratitude this free salvation—
[Do not suffer the pride of your hearts to rise against it. Do not grudge unto God the honour of saving you by his own grace. Were you sinking in the midst of the ocean, would you refuse deliverance, unless you were left to earn it, or some of the honour of your preservation were to be assigned to you? Be not then such enemies to yourselves as to reject a free salvation from death and hell. You know full well, that you did nothing to induce God to send his only Son into the world: you know also that you contributed nothing to Christ, to give perfection to his obedience, or virtue to his sacrifice. You must know too, if you are not blinded even to infatuation, that you can do nothing which does not need mercy on account of its own imperfections. Be prevailed upon then to accept with thankfulness a free and full salvation: you can add nothing to what Christ has done and suffered for you: and the consequence of attempting to add any thing will be inevitable and eternal ruin. Let Christ have all the honour of his own work, and you shall have all the benefit.]
Give no occasion for the objections that are raised against it—
[Those who are averse to the doctrines of grace, always represent the favourers of those doctrines as embracing them in order the more quietly to live in sin: and if they can find a person who turns the grace of God into licentiousness, they will not be contented with blaming him, but will cast the blame on the Gospel itself, and represent such conduct as the natural result of such principles: and one such instance of hypocrisy will be made a subject of great notoriety, when a thousand instances of blameless and exemplary piety will be overlooked. Be careful then, brethren, to give no occasion for such observations. Be careful not to cast a stumbling-block before the ungodly world; for, if there be a “woe to the world because of offences,” there will be a ten-fold heavier “woe unto him by whom the offence cometh.” Be watchful against the incursions of sin, and the temptations of Satan; “that he who is on the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.”]
Recommend and adorn it by a holy conversation—
[Shew by your lives what the proper tendency and effect of grace is. We are told that “the grace of God which bringeth salvation, teaches us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live righteously, and soberly, and godly in this present world.” Shew then, by all your dealings with men, what true righteousness is: shew, by your perfect self-government in all your tempers, dispositions, and habits, what true sobriety is: and shew, by the spirituality of your minds and the heavenliness of your lives, wherein true godliness consists. This will recommend the Gospel more effectually than all the encomiums that can be lavished upon it, and will operate more strongly to convince men of its excellence than all the arguments that can be urged. Let it be seen then, that whilst you magnify and extol the grace of God, you are the truest friends of good works; for that, though you exclude them from your foundation, you display them in your superstructure, and, in fact, raise them higher, and of a nobler quality, than any other people in the universe.]
THE RESTORATION OF THE JEWS A BLESSING TO THE GENTILES
Romans 11:11-12. I say then, Have they [the Jews] stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
“THE ways of God are in the great deep, and his footsteps are not known:” they are utterly inscrutable to us: “as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are His ways above our ways, and His thoughts above our thoughts.” We cannot see the end of any one of his dispensations. Who could ever have conceived the designs of God in suffering Joseph to be sold into Egypt? Yet did God intend by that dispensation to keep the whole Egyptian nation from perishing by famine, yea, and the very persons who sold him thither. No less mysterious are his dealings with the Jews: they are cast off: they are led captive of all nations: yet are they suffering for the good of all the people amongst whom they dwell; and even for their own ultimate advantage also. This is strongly asserted in the passage before us, where their fall is said to be “the riches of the Gentiles,” as their recovery also will be in a far more signal manner and degree.
We presume not to think that we can ever fathom this deep mystery: yet will it be profitable for us to consider it as far as it is revealed: and therefore we shall endeavour, according to the light given us, to shew you, What an interest the Gentiles have in God’s dealings with the Jews; particularly in,
Their present dispersion—
This was designed of God for the salvation of the Gentiles—
[Doubtless the Jews richly merited this judgment: and therefore, whatever good may be designed for others, no injury is done to them. And God too, if he had pleased, might have vouchsafed mercy to the Gentiles, without rejecting the Jews: his heart was large enough to embrace both, and his power to save them both. But he, in his own infinite wisdom, ordained otherwise. It is not for us to inquire, Why he acted thus? It is sufficient for us that he has seen fit to do so: and “he giveth not account to us of any of his matters.” This advantage from it at least we see, that he has by this means exhibited, in a contrasted view, “his severity to them, and his goodness to us [Note: ver. 22.];” and consequently, has illustrated and glorified at the same time his apparently opposite perfections of justice and mercy. But, however this may be, so he has ordained, and so he has done: and it is an undoubted fact, that,]
The fall of the Jews has led to the salvation of the Gentiles—
[The very circumstance of the Gospel being rejected by the Jews, was favourable to the reception of it among the Gentiles; inasmuch as it demonstrated, that there was no confederacy among the Jews to deceive them; that the Apostles, who brought the tidings of salvation to them at the peril of their lives, were men of strict integrity; and that the Scriptures which the Jews so unwittingly fulfilled, must be true. And the conduct of the Jews in relation to the Gospel did actually produce this effect. Their enmity against it at the very first promulgation of it caused them to persecute the Church with the utmost vehemence: that persecution drove multitudes of Christians (almost all except the Apostles) from Jerusalem, and scattered them through all Judζa and Samaria: and the people, so scattered, “went everywhere preaching the word:” so that, instead of suppressing the Gospel, as they hoped, the Jews were instrumental to the sending forth of thousands, all at once, to preach it [Note: Acts 8:1; Acts 8:4.]. Again, when Paul and Barnabas had preached to the Jews, as they had hitherto invariably done in the first place, at Antioch, the inveterate malignity of the Jews determined them henceforth to preach to the Gentiles, agreeably to the command which had been given them in the Scriptures: and the consequence of this was, that multitudes of the Gentiles immediately embraced the Gospel, and “glorified the word of the Lord [Note: Acts 13:46-48.].” Thus, “the fall of the Jews became the riches of the Gentiles,” inasmuch as it was the occasion of the tidings of “reconciliation being published to the Gentile world,” and “the unsearchable riches of Christ” being scattered in rich profusion over the face over the whole earth.]
The present rejection of the Jews is ultimately designed also even for the good of that benighted people—
[God designed that the transfer of his blessings to the Gentiles should “provoke to jealousy” his own forsaken people: and St. Paul, in preaching to the Gentiles, had that very object in view, namely, “to provoke to emulation those who were of his own flesh, and thereby to save some of them.” Whilst possessing exclusively all the tokens of God’s favour, they were regardless of it: but when they saw that the gifts of miracles and of prophecy were transferred from them to the Gentiles, and that the Gentiles were made happy in the enjoyment of their God, they were led to inquire more candidly into the truths delivered by the Apostles, and thus were in very many instances converted to the faith. Nor can we doubt but that the same effect would yet more frequently flow from that cause, if the lives of Christians continued to be such as they were in the apostolic age.]
But still richer benefits will flow to the world from,
Their future restoration—
That the Jews will in due time be converted to Christianity, is certain—
[When St. Paul asked, Whether their fall was final and irrecoverable, he shuddered at the idea, and declared, that God had certainly no such purpose respecting them: that, on the contrary, he had entered into covenant with them to restore them in due season, and to confer on them, as well as on the Gentiles, all the blessings of redemption. The period he had fixed in his divine counsels was, “When the fulness of the Gentiles should come in;” that is, when there should be among the Gentiles such a measure of concern about the Gospel, as should shew that the time for their fuller and more general reception of it was arrived [Note: ver. 25–27. compared with Isaiah 59:20-21.]. (It is the commencement and not the close, of this period, that must be understood by “the fulness of the Gentiles being come [Note: πλήρωμαcorresponds with ἥττημα. As soon as the fall of the Jews commenced, the benefit began to arise to the Gentiles; and as soon as the time for the more general conversion of the Gentiles shall commence, the time for the conversion of the Jews will commence also.].”) Then shall “the fulness of the Jews” also be brought in. Multitudes in every place shall then begin to be converted to the faith; and with greater or less rapidity will the whole nation be turned to the Lord. “The first-fruits were holy; and so is the lump: the root was holy; and so are the branches.” Hence their restoration is assured to them; for “God’s gifts and calling are without repentance [Note: ver. 16, 29.].”]
The effect of this upon the Gentiles will be blessed in the extreme—
[The Jews being dispersed over the whole world, the change wrought on them will attract universal attention: and carry such conviction with it to the minds of the beholders, as nothing can withstand. Besides, the Jews feeling the truth and importance of the Gospel themselves, will, as in the apostolic age, become preachers of it themselves; and their Gentile neighbours, knowing what enemies to Christianity they lately were, and seeing the wonderful revolution that has taken place in their minds, will be led to inquire into the Gospel themselves, and will be constrained to yield to its influence. So rapid will their conversion be, that they will “flock to Christ even as doves to their windows,” and “a nation will be born in a day.”
We have before shewn the beneficial effects which have resulted to the Gentiles from the fall of the Jews: and if such inestimable benefits have been conferred on the world by their fall, “how much more” shall the same, and greater, benefits arise from “their fulness?” Mark the force of the argument here. The Jews, when the Gospel was preached to them, rejected, blasphemed, and opposed it with all their might: but when they themselves shall be converted by it, they will embrace it most cordially, they will cry mightily to God for the success of it, and they will labour to the uttermost to diffuse the knowledge of it throughout the world. If then their rejection of it was so productive of benefit to the Gentile world, how much more shall their acceptance of it be! if their blasphemies against it, how much more their prayers for its diffusion! if their most envenomed opposition to it, how much more their zealous co-operation in extending the knowledge of it! We have seen the former; and we may with certainty infer the latter.]
From this subject the following reflections naturally arise:
What compassion should we feel for the Jewish nation!
[Once were they the most highly-favoured people upon earth: the privileges which were exclusively conferred on them, almost exceed belief — — — But how degraded are they now! they are “a hissing, and a reproach, to the whole earth [Note: Jeremiah 29:18.].” Yet behold, such are they become for us! Incredible as it may seem, “they were broken off, that we might be engrafted on their stem [Note: ver. 19.]:” they were disinherited, that we might possess their property [Note: ver. 28, 31.]. Can we consider this, and feel no compassion for them? Can we pass them by, as the priest and Levite did, and shew them no mercy; especially when God has told us, that the very end for which he has had mercy upon us, is, that we may be the means of extending that mercy unto them [Note: ver. 28, 31.]? Even in reference to the wants of the body, God has said, “If a man see his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” How much more then is this true respecting the wants of the soul! Beloved brethren, judge yourselves in reference to this matter; and try your love to God by the measure of your compassion to his benighted people: and never think that your own souls are right before God, till you have learned to pity, and pray for, and to seek the salvation of, “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”]
How should we fear and tremble for ourselves!
[Highly favoured as the Jews once were, they are now outcasts from God, and monuments of his just vengeance: and, if we abuse our privileges, a similar fate awaits us also. “If God spared not the natural branches,” says the Apostle, “take heed lest he also spare not thee [Note: ver. 21.].” It was “for their unbelief that they were broken off: and it is by faith that we stand. O then, be not high-minded, but fear [Note: ver. 20.].” Fear “lest there be in you also an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” Do not imagine that a mere outward profession of Christianity is of any value: no, it is “a seeing of Him who is invisible:” a “walking by faith, and not by sight:” it is the exercise of that “faith which is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen;” in a word, it is “a life of faith upon the Son of God, who has loved you, and given himself for you.” This, beloved, is the life to which you are called by the Gospel: and it is by such a life that you are to “provoke the Jews to emulation:” and, if you live not in this way, or, having begun to live thus, turn away from it, it would be better for you never to have heard the Gospel; yea, it were better that you had been born Jews, or heathens, and infinitely “better that you had never been born” at all.]
How earnestly should we labour for the conversion of the Jews!
[God has decreed that they shall be converted: and we have reason to believe that the period fixed for it in the Divine counsels is not far distant. It is a fact, that multitudes in the heathen world are expecting a change in their religion: the Mahometans and Hindoos throughout our eastern empire are strongly impressed with this idea: and the exertions making in every possible way for the conversion of the heathen world, warrant us to hope, that “their fulness” will speedily commence. At all events, “we are debtors to the Jews,” and should seek to discharge our debt [Note: Romans 15:27.]. Though they are at this time “enemies for our sakes, they are still beloved for their fathers’ sakes [Note: ver. 28.]:” and if, notwithstanding their present enmity against Christ, they are beloved of God for their fathers’ sakes, should they not be beloved of us? Think how indebted we are to their fathers, to those who, at the peril of their lives, brought the glad tidings of salvation home to us: and should we not labour to recompense all this in acts of love to their descendants? It is a favourite notion with many, that to attempt the conversion of the Jews is a hopeless task. But what ground is there for such a desponding thought as this? Are they farther off from God than the Gentiles were, when the Gospel was first published to them? or is it a harder thing for God to convert them than to convert us? God expressly tells us, that it is a work of less difficulty: “If thou wert cut out of the olive-tree, which is wild by nature, and were graffed, contrary to nature, into a good olive-tree, how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive-tree [Note: ver. 24.]?” Despair not then of doing them good; but exert yourselves in every possible way for their conversion to the faith of Christ. You are told, that “if they abide not in unbelief, they shall be graffed in again: for God is able to graff them in again [Note: ver. 23.].” Seek then to convince them of the truth of Christianity, and to bring them to the knowledge and love of their Messiah. If you desire only the conversion of the Gentile world, you should begin with the Jews; because it is the fulness of the Jews that is to operate on the Gentiles, and to effect, as it were, among them, “a resurrection from the dead [Note: ver. 15.].” But it is for God’s sake, whose people they are; and for Christ’s sake, who bought them with his blood; and for your own sake, who must give an account of the talents intrusted to your care, that I call upon you to be workers together with God in this great cause: and, if you have any sense of God’s “goodness to you,” seek to avert and terminate “his severity to them [Note: ver. 22. with 2 Corinthians 2:16.].”]
NEGLECT OF THE JEWS REPROVED
Romans 11:17-21. If some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
IT is surprising, considering how minutely the Apostle has explained the subject contained in this chapter, and how strongly he has marked its almost unparalleled importance; it is surprising, I say, that it should so little have attracted the attention of the Christian world. The Apostle, after contemplating it, exclaimed, “O the depths!” But we, after having read his statement times without number, have seen no depths in it; or, at least, none which we have been at all disposed to fathom. There is one point in particular, which, in considering this subject, we have overlooked; and that is, that God still regards the Jews as to a certain degree, his peculiar people; and that, notwithstanding their degradation and depravity, there is a holiness about their whole nation, and a halo, as it were, around the head of every individual belonging to it. The offering of the first-fruits to the Lord sanctified the whole harvest; and the offering of a cake of the first of the dough sanctified the whole lump [Note: Lev 23:10-17 and Numbers 15:19-21.]. Thus the consecration of the patriarchs to Jehovah conferred on all their posterity a relative kind of holiness: and still more did the separation of Abraham unto the Lord, as “the root” of that elect people, impart a federal holiness to all the branches that should ever spring from it. This relative or federal holiness attached to the whole nation; to the ten tribes, as well as the tribes of Judah and Benjamin: and it adhered to the Jews during their captivity in Babylon, as well as before and after that period. It still continued, also, many years after their crucifixion of their Messiah, and after their privileges had been transferred to the Gentile world. The Apostle, in the words before my text, speaks of it as yet existing: and therefore it must exist at this time, because the reason of the thing exists as much as ever: “If the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” And on this is grounded the admonition to the whole Christian Church, “Boast not against the branches.”
Now, by marking thus the connexion of our text with the preceding context, we shall see the propriety of noticing the use which we are to make of the rejection of the Jews. This awful dispensation should fill us with,
Compassion for them—
There is here, as you will perceive, a fact acknowledged—
[“Some, even very many, of the branches have been broken off from the olive-tree which God’s right hand had planted: and we Gentiles, who were only a wild olive-tree, have been graffed into their stock, and are with them at this moment partaking of the root and fatness of the olive-tree.” This fact it is impossible to deny. They, instead of enjoying the ordinances of God’s worship, as in former ages, are scattered over the face of the whole earth, and are utterly incapable of worshipping God according to their law. They have no temple, no priest, no altar, no sacrifice, wherewith to approach their God. But these blessings are transferred to us; and we enjoy them in all their fulness. Through the one sacrifice once offered upon Calvary, we have the most intimate access to God, and a rich effusion of his blessings upon our souls whensoevever we draw nigh unto him in his Son’s name. There is not a privilege that was ever enjoyed by the most favoured of God’s saints in the days of old, but we possess the same, so far as our necessities require it.]
But mark the sad abuse of it that prevails—
[Instead of feeling compassion for the Jews in their present degraded state, we are ready to look down upon them with contempt, and to exult over them, as objects of God’s merited indignation. Thus we “boast against the branches,” and indulge a secret satisfaction in their fall. In fact, we treat them nearly in the way in which they formerly treated the Gentile world. They regarded the Gentiles as “dogs;” and actually designated them by that opprobrious term: and, though that term is not in use amongst us in reference to the Jews, the contempt expressed by it is as deeply rooted in our hearts as ever it was in theirs. But they, in comparison of us, had reason on their side: for the Gentiles, whom they despised, had no knowledge of God whatever, but were bowing down to gods of wood and stone: whereas the Jews are still worshippers of the true and living God; and have been distinguished by him above all other people upon earth; yea, and are still distinguished by his peculiar care, and are reserved as objects wherein he will yet be more than ever glorified; and as instruments, too, whereby he will hereafter dispense his richest blessings to the whole world. Are these, then, to be treated with contempt? Are these to be regarded as “branches, against which it becomes us to boast?”]
Let us hear God’s own correction of this abuse—
[In what have we any right to glory over them? Have they ever been indebted to us, or received any benefits at our hands? Have not we, on the contrary, received from them every blessing that we enjoy? What knowledge have we of God, that has not been transmitted to us from them? What hope have we towards God, that has not arisen from communications made by them? What comfort have we in life, which is not administered by them? What hope have we in death, which is not founded upon information derived from them? What glory can we look for in another world, but that which has been unveiled to us by them? Take from us the instruction which we have received from them, and we shall be reduced at once to all the darkness and misery in which our early ancestors were involved, and in which the whole heathen world are at this very moment immersed. Admirable is the illustration which the Apostle gives us of this truth. Conceive a “branch boasting against the root;” and saying, ‘I am more exalted than thou, and more estimable in every respect. Behold my foliage, and my fruit: what hast thou of worth or beauty, in comparison of me?’ How would this arrogance be silenced in a moment, by the answer which the root would of course return! ‘You boast of your beauty and your fruitfulness. Whence did you derive them, but from me? What would you ever have possessed, if it had not been communicated to you by me? Instead of boasting therefore over me, acknowledge your obligations to me, and confess that all which you either are or have, you have derived from me.’ Thus, in relation to all that we possess or hope for as the people of the Lord, we stand indebted to the Jews; whilst they, on the contrary, owe nothing to us; but rather have reason to execrate us, for withholding from them the light we have enjoyed, and putting every obstacle in their way, to perpetuate their ruin. What, then, should be our feelings towards them? what, but the tenderest compassion for their state, and the most earnest desire to restore them to God’s favour?]
To our pity for them we should add,
Watchfulness over ourselves—
What use is commonly made of their rejection, may be seen in the self-vindicating reply which is here anticipated—
Thou wilt say then, “The branches were broken off that I might be graffed in.” The Apostle attempts not to deny this awful and mysterious truth: yea, he accedes to it; saying, “Well,” it is so. But, granting this, is it any reason for boasting against them? Is it not rather a reason for pitying their undone condition? Were we to see a man deprived of his paternal inheritance, and perishing with hunger; and were we informed, that he had been disinherited, merely that we, who had no worthiness in ourselves, and no relation to his father, might possess his estates; should we feel disposed to glory over him and insult him? Should we not rather wish to administer to him such relief as he stood in need of, if we could do it without injury to ourselves? Would not a want of such consideration for him be justly accounted the greatest cruelty?]
But hear the phenomenon accounted for—
[True it is that God has broken them off, and graffed us in; and that he has “broken them off, that he might graff us in.” But we are mistaken if we think that God has in this matter acted altogether as a sovereign. In the first choice of Abraham and his posterity, he did exercise his sovereignty: but, in rejecting them, he acts upon the grounds of strict justice. And this is a distinction which we are too apt to overlook. In the bestowment of his favours, God finds his motives solely in his own bosom; but in the execution of his judgments, he finds them solely in the conduct of those whom he resolves to punish. They have brought upon themselves his displeasure by their inveterate unbelief. Though they saw all God’s wonders in Egypt, and at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness, they were always full of unbelief, and ready to trust in gods of their own creation, rather than in him. Nay, more: when they had seen all the evidences of Christ’s Messiahship, instead of believing in him, they cried, “Away with him! crucify him! crucify him!” For these iniquities God cast them off: and in their rejection it becomes us to see and acknowledge the righteousness of his ways. Had it pleased God so to order it, he could have united us with them on the same stock, which would have borne both as easily as one: but God saw fit to make the Jews monuments of his righteous indignation against sin: and, when we ourselves are so prone to sin, it ill becomes us to triumph over them. Bear in mind this proceeding,]
And attend to the instruction founded upon it—
[Hear what the dispensation says to you: “You stand by faith;” and have the same reason to tremble for fear of God’s judgments as they had. If they had continued to exercise faith in God, they had never been cast out: nor shall you, if you “live altogether by faith in the Son of God, who loved you, and gave himself for you.” But if you distrust God, and rebel against him, and rely on any thing of your own, instead of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s anger will smoke against you in like manner; and you also will become monuments of his righteous indignation. If God spared not the natural branches, there is no reason to think he will spare those which have been taken from a wild olive-tree, and graffed in among them. The improvement, therefore, which you are to make of this dispensation, is, “Be not high-minded, but fear.” Put away all your self-preference and contempt of others: and, under a consciousness of your liability to fall, beg of God to strengthen your faith; and endeavour to “walk in the fear of the Lord all the day long.”]
And now, brethren,
Accept thankfully this reproof—
[You cannot but be sensible, how shamefully the Jews have been neglected, not only by you, but by the whole Christian world, these seventeen hundred years. Any excuse has been quite sufficient to justify your indifference for their welfare. “The time for their national conversion is not come.” Was it come, then, eighteen hundred years ago? Who has spoken more strongly respecting their rejection than St. Paul? Yet did he labour with all earnestness, if by any means he might save some. And this also we ought to do, even though we had eighteen more centuries to wait for this event. But the time, we have reason to think, is very near at hand; as events, no less than the prophecies, appear to indicate. But, be this as it may, I call on you to blush and be confounded for having so long boasted against them; and henceforth, by every possible means, to concur in promoting their conversion to the faith of Christ — — —]
Follow diligently the counsel given you—
[Improve the situation, wherein, through God’s tender mercy, you are placed. Are you partakers of the root and fatness of the true olive-tree? See to it, that you bring forth such fruits as this root produced in former days — — — Look at Abraham, David, Isaiah, Daniel, Paul; and see that the grace of God operate as effectually in you as it did in them. And when you call to mind what efforts were made by the holy Apostles for your benefit, let a measure of the same love animate you in behalf of those in whose place you stand — — —]
AGAINST PRIDE AND SECURITY
Romans 11:20. Be not high-minded, but fear.
THE deep mysteries of our religion are calculated at once to encourage sinners, and to humble saints. The sovereignty of God is a great depth; and it was awfully displayed in the rejection of the Jews, and the admission of the Gentiles into his Church. This is the subject of which the Apostle speaks in the whole context: and he makes use of it as the means of provoking to emulation the Jews themselves, and at the same time of guarding the believing Gentiles against self-preference and self-security.
In considering his exhortation, we shall,
Explain its import—
The former part of it contains a dissuasive from pride—
[The proper tendency of religion is to produce humility: but, through the corruption of our nature, pride will take occasion even from the grace of God itself, to rise in our hearts. What self-complacency will sometimes arise from a consciousness of our superior attainments in truth and holiness! What acrimonious severity towards those, who dishonour their profession! And what contemptuous disregard of those who are yet immersed in ignorance and sin! Together with this self-preference we are also too apt to indulge a secure and self-depending spirit, and to think “our mountain so strong, that we can never be moved [Note: Psalms 30:7.].” But as the former disposition is most hateful to God [Note: Isaiah 65:5.], so the latter also is an object of his utter abhorrence [Note: Jeremiah 17:5.Proverbs 28:26; Proverbs 28:26.]. In both these views therefore it becomes every believer to attend to the Apostle’s advice, and, instead of entertaining too high an opinion of his own wisdom, strength, or goodness, to “think soberly [Note: Romans 12:3.].”]
In the latter part the Apostle recommends humility and watchfulness—
[By “fear,” we are not to understand a slavish dread of God’s wrath; for that, so far from being opposite to pride, is in many cases the offspring of it. That which is here recommended is, a holy jealousy over ourselves, lest by any means we be tempted to walk unworthy of our high privileges, and thereby provoke God to deprive us of them. We are in the midst of an ensnaring world, beset with many and subtle adversaries, and ready to be beguiled by a treacherous and deceitful heart. Hence, like St. Paul himself [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.], we are necessitated to use the utmost circumspection, diligence, and self-denial, lest, after all our exertions, our labour prove in vain.]
To shew the importance of this exhortation, we shall,
Point out the reasons of it—
Many reasons might be assigned: but we shall content ourselves with noticing three:
We have no stability in ourselves—
[As all our ability and inclination to what is good, are derived from God at first, so must we receive continual supplies from him, even as of light from the sun. Without his constant superintendence, both the visible world, and the new creation in the soul of man, would soon revert to their original chaos. This the Apostle elsewhere urges as a motive to diligence [Note: Philippians 2:12-13.], and, in the words before us, to humility and care. Nor can we well have a more powerful argument; for if “we stand by faith” only, and not by any wisdom or strength of our own, it becomes us to maintain a spirit suited to our weak and dependent state.]
Others, apparently as safe as we, have been rejected—
[Many have long made a profession of religion and departed from it at last [Note: 1 Timothy 1:19.]. Demas stands as an awful monument of human weakness [Note: 2 Timothy 4:10.]. Lot’s wife is pointed out to us in the same view [Note: Luke 17:32.]. The Jews, who were brought out of Egypt, and yet were destroyed in the wilderness, are expressly set forth as examples to us [Note: Jude. ver. 5. 1 Corinthians 10:11. See also Jeremiah 7:12.]. And, above all, the rejection of the Jewish nation for their iniquities, after they had been so long the peculiar people of God, speaks loudly to us. This in particular is urged by the Apostle in the words following the text [Note: ver. 21, 22.]; and it teaches us, never so to value ourselves either on our relation to God, or our experience of his goodness, as to forget, that we also may be rejected, if we do not rely upon him, and unreservedly devote ourselves to him.]
That which was the ground of the rejection of the Jews, is very prevalent in us—
[God had given to the Jews a revelation respecting the Messiah: but they disbelieved his record, and rejected his Son: and for this their unbelief they were “broken off from the olive” which God’s right hand had planted. A still clearer revelation God has given unto us: and is there not much unbelief in our hearts with respect to it? Are even the most advanced Christians so much affected with the declarations of God’s word, as they would be, if faith were in constant and perfect exercise? Alas! the faith that realizes things invisible, and gives a present existence to things future [Note: Hebrews 11:1.], is found in but few, and operates but weakly in the best: and, if it should wholly fail, Satan would sift us as wheat, and we should be found chaff at last [Note: Luke 22:31.]. When therefore we consider how weak our faith is, and that it is “by faith we stand,” we have reason to fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into God’s rest, any of us should seem to come short of it [Note: Hebrews 4:1.].]
We shall conclude the subject with some suitable advice—
Bear in mind what you once were—
[To “look to the rock whence we were hewn, and to the hole of the pit, whence we were digged,” will be a good antidote to pride. While we remember what we were, we shall see no reason but for humiliation and thankfulness before him, who has made us to differ both from others and from our former selves [Note: Titus 3:3-6. 1 Corinthians 4:7.].]
Consider what you still are—
[You are, we trust, “brands plucked out of the fire:” true; but you still bear the marks of the fire upon you; and have a disposition to catch fire again, the very instant you are exposed to temptation. Let every one view himself in this light; and he will see need enough of attending to the exhortation in the text.]
Be aware of the deceitfulness of your own hearts—
[In ten thousand instances we must have seen how liable we are to err even in things wherein we are most confident. So blinded are we at times by pride, passion, or interest, that we think ourselves right, when others evidently perceive, that we know not what spirit we are of. Let us be aware of this tendency to deceive ourselves; and beg of God both to search our hearts, and to guide our feet.]
Guard against temptations to sin—
[Many are the temptations that assault us from without. From these we should flee, shunning both the occasions and the very appearance of evil. Many also are our temptations from within. These we should resist in their very first rise. We may easily extinguish a fire at its commencement, when all our efforts may be baffled, if we suffer it to proceed. For all is that direction necessary, “Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation.”]
Live wholly in dependence on the power and grace of Christ—
[Without this, all our other efforts will be fruitless. All “our fresh springs are in Christ,” “without whom we can do nothing.” “Except he keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” Let us then “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” Then, though weak, “we shall be able to do all things:” and though fiercely assaulted, we shall be “more than conquerors.”]
THE DISPENSATIONS OF GOD TOWARDS JEWS AND GENTILES
Romans 11:22-24. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shall be cut off. And they also, if they abide not in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?
AMONGST those who believe the Holy Scriptures, no doubt is entertained, but that the Jews, who have engaged more of God’s regard than any other nation upon earth, are yet destined to act a most important part upon the theatre of the world. They are at present, it is true, so scattered and degraded, that, according to all human appearance, they are, so far at least as respects them in their national capacity, irrecoverably sunk. But though for their multiplied iniquities they are cast off by God, their rejection is neither total nor final:—not total; for there is yet among them “a remnant according to the election of grace:” nor final; because God has determined, that in due season he will restore them to his favour, and unite them with the Gentile Church, as one fold under one Shepherd. This is fully declared in the whole preceding and following context: and justly is it represented as a most mysterious dispensation; so mysterious, that the Apostle, after contemplating it, exclaims, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God? how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out [Note: ver. 33.]!”
The points particularly noticed are, the rejection of the Jews; the calling of the Gentiles to fill their place; and the restoration of the Jews to their lost and forfeited inheritance. Of this complicated dispensation I propose, at this time, to speak; and, in accordance with my text, to Mark , 1 st, Its true character; and 2dly, Its final issue.
Let us notice the character of this dispensation—
It is spoken of by the Apostle as a mixture of “goodness and severity: on them that fell, severity; but towards us Gentiles, goodness.”
That we may have a clear insight into the subject, we will mark it, first of all, as exhibited in a plain statement of facts; and then, as viewed through the medium of a most striking illustration.
The facts which we have to mention are all plain and acknowledged.
The Jews were once God’s highly-favoured people. They had been chosen in Abraham, according to God’s sovereign will: and when they were multiplied in Egypt, they were brought out from thence with mighty signs and wonders, and taken by God under his own peculiar care and protection. There was given to them a revelation of God’s will, written upon stones by the very finger of God himself. Statutes also, and ordinances, were delivered to them, that they might know how to serve God acceptably, and to secure a continuance of his favour. During the space of forty years, God, in a cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night, guided them through a trackless wilderness, and provided them with every thing necessary for their support. At last he brought them into the promised land; and drove out before them seven nations, greater and mightier than they, and gave them such prosperity and power as rendered them the admiration and envy of surrounding nations. In the tabernacle, and afterwards in the temple, God manifested himself to them by a visible symbol of his presence; accepting their services, and communicating to them his richest blessings. In a word, he shewed that he regarded them as his peculiar people, and that he was, in a pre-eminent and appropriate manner, their God. From time to time he visited them with mercies and with judgments, if by any means he might prevail upon them to live obedient to his will. But they rebelled against him; and provoked him at last, especially by the murder of their Messiah, to cast them off. Accordingly, he gave them up into the hands of the Romans, and scattered them as dust over the face of the whole earth; depriving them, not only of his own immediate presence, but of all power to serve him according to their appointed ordinances; so that they are the only people upon earth who are incapable of serving their God in the way which their own consciences would dictate, and their own religion requires. In this state they have been kept almost eighteen hundred years, living monuments of God’s righteous indignation, and a proverb of reproach to the whole world. That, however, which most of all marks the “severity” of God towards them, is, that they are given over to judicial blindness and obduracy; so that, with the Scriptures in their hands, and with the plain accomplishment of them before their eyes, they cannot see the fulfilment of them in their Messiah, or repent of the evil which they have committed in putting him to death. “They are blinded,” we are told, “according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompence unto them; let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway [Note: ver. 7–10.]!” This is, beyond all comparison, the heaviest judgment that can be inflicted upon man in this life; because, when subjected to it, he lives only to “fill up a greater measure of iniquity,” and to “treasure up for himself wrath against the day of wrath.” This is the unhappy state of the whole Jewish nation at this time; so that it may well be said, in relation to them, “Behold the severity of God; on them that fell, I say, severity.”
If we turn our attention to the Gentile world we behold in them a no less striking display of God’s “goodness.” They were sitting universally in darkness and the shadow of death; and being given up to their own hearts’ lusts, they were living in all manner of abominations. Their very religion was nothing but a compound of wickedness and superstition. But, whilst they were in this state, altogether “without God, and without hope,” God was pleased to send his Gospel to them, and to render it effectual for their conversion; so that what God has said in reference to them, is literally true, “I am found of them that sought me not; I am made manifest unto them that asked not after me [Note: Romans 10:20.].” Thus, from amongst us idolatrous Gentiles, has he chosen to himself a people, whom he regards as “a crown of glory, and a royal diadem in his hand [Note: Isaiah 62:3.].” To us has he given a fuller revelation of his will than ever he gave to his ancient people: the light which to them was only like the early dawn, shines before us with the splendour of the noon-day sun. We, too, have a far nearer access to God than they, and a more filial spirit in our walk before him. The Holy Spirit, who was neither generally nor freely given to them, is on us “poured out abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” “He takes of the things that are Christ’s, and shews them plainly to us;” yea, the great work he has undertaken, is to “glorify Christ” in our hearts. The interpositions of God in our behalf are not indeed so visible as formerly; but they are not a whit less real, or less important; or rather, I should say, they exceed the former expressions of his love, as much as the concerns of the soul and of eternity exceed those of time and sense. If, then, we observe with awe his “severity” to his ancient people, must we not behold with admiration and gratitude his “goodness” to us? In fact, his mercies to them were mere shadows of those vouchsafed to us: so that we may well exclaim with the prophet, “How great is his goodness! how great is his beauty!”
But the character of this dispensation will yet more fully appear, if we view it through the medium of the image by which it is illustrated.
The Apostle represents the Jewish Church as an olive-tree planted by the hand of God himself, and watered with the dews of heaven. For a time, it brought forth fruit: but, after a season, it became barren, and disappointed wholly the expectations of the divine Husbandman. At last, Almighty God determined to express against it his merited displeasure, and to display in it his righteous indignation. Accordingly, he broke off, in quick succession, all its branches, and scattered them over the earth, as warnings to an ungodly world. In every place under heaven has he caused them to be despised and trampled under foot: and, from being the joy and admiration of the whole earth, they are become “a hissing and a curse,” to all who behold them.
Not willing, however, that the stem should stand in all its naked deformity, God has taken, from a wild olive, branches to supply the place of those which have been broken off. The wild olive was in itself as worthless as any tree of the field, and utterly incapable of bringing forth any fruit at all: but, by engrafting its branches into the good olive, and making them partakers of its root and fatness, God has rendered them “fruitful in the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.” Thus are the Gentiles now growing in the very place of the Jews who have been broken off, and enjoying all the privileges which in former ages belonged exclusively to them. But, to see this in its true light, we must contemplate the end that awaits them both; the scattered branches withering, and shortly to be gathered as fuel for the fire; and the engrafted scions forming a noble tree, luxuriant and fertile beyond all former precedent, and shortly to be transplanted to the paradise of God, a glorious and eternal monument of God’s power and grace. Say whether, if this image be realized in our minds, we must not adore both the severity and the goodness of God, acknowledging equally the justice of the one, and the unbounded riches of the other?
Such is the character of this dispensation, which we now proceed to consider,
In its final issue—
It will be observed, that in the dispensation, as far as we have hitherto considered it, the sovereignty of God is most conspicuous. It was altogether of God’s sovereign will and pleasure that he chose Abraham out of an idolatrous world, to make him the head and father of an elect seed. It was no less an act of sovereignty in God to confine his blessings to the line of Isaac, whilst Ishmael, an elder son, was overlooked. The same sovereignty was displayed, also, in the descendants of Isaac; Jacob the younger being chosen to the exclusion of Esau, “whilst they were yet in the womb, and consequently could have done neither good nor evil,” to be the ground of God’s future dispensations towards them. It was also purely of his own sovereign will and pleasure that God chose the Gentiles to inherit the blessings which the Jewish people had forfeited and lost. It is impossible to view this matter in any other light; and we must be as blind as the Jews themselves, if we do not see that we ourselves are monuments of God’s sovereign grace, in that we behold the full radiance of the Sun of Righteousness, whilst on millions of our fellow-creatures not so much as one ray of his light has ever shone. But, whilst in these things we acknowledge the sovereignty of God, we hesitate not to declare, that, in their final issue, God will proceed altogether in a way of righteous retribution. This I conceive to be the true way of reconciling those systems, which are supposed to be so opposite, and which have produced so much contention in the Church of God. I repeat it; In its commencement, every blessing is the fruit of free and sovereign grace; but in its termination, it is administered to us, not in a way of merit indeed, but on principles of perfect equity, according to our respective characters and attainments. And the subject before us will now furnish us with a fit occasion for maintaining the latter position, as we have already asserted and maintained the former.
God will ultimately deal with us, us Gentiles, according as we improve, or abuse, the privileges vouchsafed unto us. His goodness will operate to our ultimate advantage, only on the supposition that “we continue in his goodness; for otherwise, we also, like the Jews themselves, shall be cut off.”
To enter into the full meaning of these words, let us consider what we ourselves should expect of a scion which we had engrafted on a fertile stock. We should expect it to produce fruit answerable to the advantage conferred upon it. In husbandry, indeed, we engraft a good scion on an inferior tree; whereas God engrafts a worthless scion on a good tree. But the ultimate effect is to be the same: we expect it to bring forth good fruit. Now what are the fruits which God’s people of old produced? They may be comprehended in these three—repentance, faith, and obedience: and these may therefore most justly be expected of us. It may well be expected that we humble ourselves before God for all our former unfruitfulness, and mourn over all the corruptions of our nature, and all the evils of our lives. This we should do like the Prodigal: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” Even if we had been as holy as Job himself, we must, like him, “abhor ourselves in dust and ashes.” Under a sense of our guilt and desert of condemnation, we must cry to God for mercy, and “flee for refuge to the hope that is set before us,” even to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Saviour of fallen man. We must renounce utterly every other hope; and desire, like St. Paul, “to be found in Christ, not having our own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in him.” We must also surrender up ourselves to God, “living not to ourselves, but to Him who died for us and rose again.” As the scion ceases to be connected with the stock from which it has been taken, and lives wholly by that into which it is engrafted, and for the use of him who has separated it for himself, so must the true Christian be, in spirit, dead to the world; and must live for that Saviour, to whose grace and favour he owes every blessing he enjoys.
But this is only a part of what is comprehended in the words of our text. By “continuing in his goodness,” there is intimated a danger of apostasy, to which we are continually exposed. A scion, however favourable its situation may be, is exposed to storms and tempests, which may break it off; or to unfavourable seasons, which may prevent the ripening of its fruit. But the person that is engrafted into the good olive must suffer nothing to prevail against him, nor any thing to destroy his fruits. On the contrary, every thing that has a tendency to endanger his steadfastness, or impair his fertility, must cause him to cleave the more steadfastly to Christ, and to receive the more abundantly, out of his fulness, the grace which he stands in need of. In this way he must “endure even to the end, if ever he would be saved:” for it is only “by a patient continuance in well doing, that he can ever attain eternal life.” This is fully declared in the passage before us: Yes, the Apostle Paul, who is so often and so justly referred to as maintaining the doctrines of grace, is certainly not a whit less strenuous in asserting our liability to fall and perish, if we be not constantly watching against temptation, and crying daily to our God to hold us up. “Be not high-minded,” says he, “but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God: on them that fell, severity; but towards thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise, thou also shalt be cut off.” What can be plainer? And how do all human systems vanish before such declarations as these [Note: It is worthy of remark, that whilst Calvinists complain of Arminians as unfair and unscriptural, in denying personal, though they admit national, election, they themselves are equally unfair and unscriptural in denying the danger of personal apostasy, whilst they admit it in reference to churches and nations. It is lamentable to see the plain statements of Scripture so unwarrantably set aside for the maintaining of human systems. Happy would it be for the Church, if these distinctions were buried by the consent of all parties, and the declarations of Holy Writ were adhered to by all, without prejudice or partiality!
The Author’s views of this subject are simply these. All good is from God, dispensed by him in a way of sovereignty according to the counsels of his own will, and to the praise of the glory of his own grace. All evil, whether moral or penal, is from man; the moral, as resulting from his own free choice; the penal, as the just and necessary consequence of his sins. The Author has no doubt but that there is in God’s blessed word a system: but it is a far broader system than either Calvinists or Arminians admit. His views of that system may be seen in the Preface to this Work.
]! And says not our Lord also the same? Yes, precisely the same: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned [Note: John 15:6.].” Here is precisely the same idea as in my text. Our Lord speaks of all his people as engrafted into him. The fruitful branches he purges and prunes, in order to render them more fruitful: but the unfruitful branches are broken off, and cast into the fire. Thus it is, and thus it shall be: and it becomes every person, who professes to have been engrafted into the true olive-tree, to look well to his ways: for if he improve not duly the Lord’s goodness to him, or, having begun to do so, continue it not to the end, he shall surely perish; and the very profession that he has made, and the advantages he has enjoyed, will only aggravate his final condemnation. If an unbelieving Jew must perish for rejecting Christ, much more shall the disobedient Christian, who “crucifies him afresh, and puts him to an open shame.”
Towards the Jews, also, will God proceed upon the same principle of equitable retribution. In the days of old, he always returned in mercy to them, when they sought him with penitence and contrition: and at this very hour would he restore them to his favour, if they would “look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn.” The Apostle affirms this in our text, saying, “And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in again.” We are apt to imagine that the blindness and obduracy of the Jews are utterly incurable. But there is nothing impossible with God: “He is as able to graff them in again,” as ever he was to graff in scions from amongst the Gentiles. Indeed, whatever we may imagine to the contrary, the restoration of the Jews is a far easier matter than the conversion of the Gentiles: for the Gentiles are altogether ignorant of the very first principles of religion: they have every thing to learn: they do not so much as know that there is one supreme God; much less have they any idea how they are to find acceptance with him. But the Jews have a perfect knowledge of the unity of God: they are instructed also in relation to his will, having in their very hands a transcript of his law. They possess also the prophecies relating to the Messiah, whom they confidently expect. Nothing is wanting to them, but to have the veil taken from their hearts, so that they may see their prophecies accomplished in the Lord Jesus. The very moment their eyes are opened to behold him as the true Messiah, they will possess all that the most favoured of the Christian world possess; and in a moment, as on the day of Pentecost, will the work of grafting them into their primitive stock be effected. This we are apt to overlook; but we are told it plainly in our text: “If they abide not still in unbelief, they shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou, thou Gentile, wert cut out of the olive-tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed, contrary to nature, into a good olive-tree, how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own, olive-tree?” No one need be told this in relation to the engrafting of a natural scion: it carries its own evidence along with it. If a scion will grow on a foreign stock, much more will it, if graffed into its own parent stock. Such, then, is the advantage which the Jews possess over every other people upon earth. It is to their own stem that they are to be restored. The recollection, therefore, of what God has done in the conversion of the Gentiles should dispel all our fears in reference to the Jews, and encourage our efforts to restore them to God.
But, before we proceed to enforce this duty, it will be proper to bring the subject home to ourselves; and to urge on all a due improvement of the privileges which we ourselves enjoy.
We all profess to be branches of the good olive-tree: and we are entitled to regard ourselves in this light precisely as the Jews of old did, and as our blessed Lord has taught us to do, when he spake of himself as the true vine. But he distinguished between fruitful branches which were approved by him, and barren branches which were to be broken off and burned. Consequently, our external privileges will be of little service to us, if they be not improved in a way of fruitfulness. Let us, therefore, examine our fruit from day to day, and see whether it be such as the goodness of our God entitles him to expect? Let us inquire, whether in heart, as well as in profession, we are separated from the wild and worthless olive, on which we originally grew. We all acknowledge, in our Catechism, that we were, “by nature, children of wrath;” and that, at the time of entering into our baptismal engagements, we were “made the children of grace.” Let us inquire, therefore, whether this engrafting have really taken place, not in profession only, but by an actual union of our souls with Christ? Are we living on him, and receiving daily, out of his fulness, such communications of grace as are really productive of the fruit which he himself, during his sojourning on earth, brought forth? In him we find a perfect deadness to the world and all its vanities. Is there the same in us? It was his meat to do the will of his heavenly Father. Is there “the same mind” in us? Have we a resemblance to him in our whole spirit and conduct? and are we “walking in all things as he walked?” I ask not, whether we are perfect; for there is imperfection in the best of men: but, are we aiming at perfection, and panting after it, and labouring to be “pure, even as Christ was pure?” If we be living branches of the true olive, we must of necessity, in these matters, resemble Christ; and to imagine ourselves vitally united to him, whilst in the general course of our lives we bear fruit altogether different from his, is fatally to deceive our own souls. We know assuredly, that, as Christ inspected the barren fig-tree, and denounced a curse against it on account of its barrenness, so will the heavenly Husbandman inspect our fruit, and deal with us according to it. It is in vain, therefore, to deceive ourselves: for his judgment will stand; and it will be according to truth. We may “call darkness light, and evil good:” but he will not do so: and if, notwithstanding all his warnings, we will continue to expect his approbation in any other way than that of continued fruitfulness in the fruits of righteousness, we have nothing to expect but a speedy and everlasting excision. Let any one go to Shiloh, and see what the Lord did for the wickedness of his people there: or let him go to Palestine and the Seven Churches of Asia, and see what an unfruitful olive has reason to expect. Shall we say, ‘But this was done to Churches only, and not to individuals?’ What, I ask, are Churches, but congregated individuals? And who is authorized so to limit what God has not limited; or rather, I should say, Who will presume to deny what God has so frequently and so plainly affirmed? Woe be to that man who shall rest his soul on any such distinction as this! I declare, before Almighty God, and in his sacred name, that every soul amongst you who either continues barren, or, under any circumstances whatever, ceases to be fruitful after the example of his Lord and Saviour, “shall be cut off,” and cast into everlasting fire. This warning is, in the first place, given by the Apostle to the Christian Church: and let every one of us receive it as addressed to his own soul in particular. And may God of his infinite mercy so impress it on our minds, that we may never cease to tremble at it; and seek that fruitfulness which will be our best evidence of union with Christ, and the surest pledge of our ultimate acceptance with him!
Having thus endeavoured to enforce a due improvement of our own privileges, permit me now, in a respectful manner, yet with Christian fidelity, to ask, whether we be not called, by a sense of gratitude to God and of compassion for man, to make somewhat of an united effort for the restoration of the Jewish people to the privileges they have forfeited?
We have heard from God himself, that the obstacles to this are far less than those which have been already overcome in reference to the Gentiles; so that there is no just ground of discouragement on that head. He who has been able to graff in the branches of the wild-olive, can easily re-instate the natural branches: and in the same way that he effected the one, he will effect the other. It was by the instrumentality of holy men of old that God wrought effectually on the Gentile world: and it is by exertions of a similar kind that he will restore the Jewish people [Note: Isaiah 62:10-12.]. We know what self-denying efforts were made by the Apostles and the primitive Christians for our salvation: and such are the exertions which we should make in behalf of our Jewish brethren. Indeed, if it were possible, we are bound by tenfold greater obligations to labour for them, than ever their ancestors were for us: for we actually stand in their place, which has been vacated by them, in order that we might fill it. Hear what is spoken in the chapter before us: “Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well:” ‘it is true,’ says the Apostle: ‘and however mysterious the fact may appear, I cannot deny it.’ What a view, then, is here opened to us! The Jews were broken off, in order that we Gentiles might be grafted in. What, I would ask, should be our feelings at the sight of a Jew? Should we not be filled with compassion towards him? and should not the contemplation of our own privileges cause our bowels to yearn over him? Should not that truth be instantly brought to our minds, “Thou wast broken off, that I might be graffed in;” and I am occupying, as it were, the place which thou hast vacated for me? Who can entertain for a moment such a reflection as this, and not pant for an opportunity to bring him to a renewed enjoyment of his lost inheritance? Methinks, every one of us, surveying the branches scattered over the face of the earth, and contemplating God’s assured purpose to restore them to himself, should say, “God helping me, I will never cease to labour till I have been the happy means of reinstating one withered branch in its own olive-tree. For this I will labour: for this I will pray: for this I will combine my exertions with others, that, by united efforts, we may accomplish what cannot be attained by individual exertion.” Is not this reasonable? Is not this what God may well expect at our hands? Is it not a duty which we should have performed long ago? Is not the deplorable state of the Jewish people at this time in a great measure owing to the grievous neglect of Christians, who, for seventeen hundred years, have acquiesced in their rejection from God, without any serious efforts for their restoration to him? As for the excuses which we make for this neglect, we know, and our own consciences tell us, that they are only a cloak for our own supineness. If we even believed the impracticability of human efforts, should we not, at least, implore for them the interposition of their God? But our prayers in secret have been as true an index of our minds towards them, as our efforts in public. Let us take shame to ourselves on account of our past neglect; and let us now address ourselves to our duty; determined, at least, to obtain this testimony both from God and from our own consciences, that, whether successful or not in our labours for them, “We have done what we could.” Our every effort will be pleasing to God: and, though he should refuse to confer on us the honour we affect, of raising up the tabernacle of David that is broken down, he will at least accept our pious inclinations, and, in the presence of the whole assembled universe, will say to each of us, “Thou hast done well, in that it was in thy heart.”
THE FUTURE SALVATION OF ALL ISRAEL
Romans 11:25-27. I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
IT is surprising, how indifferent even pious Christians are on the subject of the future restoration of the Jews. Though the Scriptures speak so much of it, the generality are contended to be altogether ignorant of God’s designs respecting them. Yet, in the midst of their ignorance, they are as decided in their sentiments on this subject as if they had made it their peculiar study, and were able to explain all the prophecies relating to it. Some will tell us, confidently, that the time for the conversion of Israel is not yet come; and that, when it shall be come, it shall be effected by miracle: and that, consequently, it is both unnecessary and presumptuous in us to attempt it. But, “brethren, I would not have you ignorant of this mystery;” more especially because it is in this chapter so plainly and so fully unfolded to our view. To aid you in contemplating the state of the Jews, I will endeavour to point out,
The period allotted for their present blindness—
The blindness of the Jewish people is most awful—
[Their prophecies respecting the Messiah are most clear [Note: Refer to the most striking; and particularly the 53d chapter of Isaiah.] — — — And the accomplishment of them in the Lord Jesus Christ is most strongly marked in the New Testament — — — Yet is there “a veil upon their hearts;” so that they cannot see either what the prophecies imported, or how they are accomplished [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:15.]. This, indeed, is “happened to” that nation only “in part.” “A remnant” there are, and ever have been, whose eyes have been opened to see the light which shines around them: but “the rest are and have been blinded,” according to that prediction respecting them, “God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this day [Note: ver. 8.].”]
This blindness will last “till the fulness of the Gentiles come in [Note: εἰσέλθῃ, shall be fully come.]”—
[These words are much misunderstood. Some suppose “the fulness of the Gentiles” to mean the completion of the period allotted for the continuance of the Roman empire; whilst others think it refers rather to the period when all the Gentiles shall have been brought into the fold of Christ. I conceive that neither of these is the true import of the words; but that they speak of the time when the general conversion of the Gentiles shall commence. It cannot mean the completion of that great work; because the fulness of the Jews will precede that [Note: ver. 12.]. But when the Gentiles begin on a more extended scale to embrace the Gospel, then shall the veil be taken from the hearts of the Jews also; and they shall, if not universally, yet with few exceptions, be converted to the faith, and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their Messiah, and worship him as their God [Note: That πλήρωμαhere, and πληρωθῶσιin Luke 21:24, refer to the commencement, rather than to the close, of a period. See, in the Greek, John 7:8. Luke 9:51.Acts 2:1; Acts 2:1.].]
Such is the change which, at the allotted period, shall take place; and such,
The event that awaits them at the termination of it—
Here let me call your attention to,
The event itself—
[“All Israel shall be saved.” Hitherto, even in the best ages, there have been but few that truly feared God: the great mass of the people have been ungodly; and the saints have been but as a remnant of them. But in that day “a spirit of grace and of supplication will be poured out upon them in a more abundant measure; and they will look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn, even as one mourneth for his only son [Note: Zechariah 12:10.]:” and “they will all fear the Lord, from the least of them even unto the greatest of them:” yea, so universal shall be the prevalence of real piety amongst them, that “every vessel in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness to the Lord; and there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts [Note: Zechariah 14:20-21.].”]
The certainty of it—
[It is here assured to them by a special promise; and that promise is ratified by an unchangeable covenant. The promise is recorded by the Prophet Isaiah [Note: Isaiah 59:20.]; and, with a slight but unimportant variation, cited by the Apostle. That this promise had not been fully accomplished in the apostolic age, is evident, from the way in which it is cited by the Apostle: for it is clearly considered by him as referring to a period yet future, a period when “all Israel shall be saved.” What the Lord Jesus Christ has already effected among them, and what he has wrought also in the Gentile world, shews what he will do at the appointed season: he will, by the power of his word and the effectual operation of his Spirit, “turn away all ungodliness from Jacob;” and make them “a holy nation, a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
This is confirmed to them by an everlasting covenant. In the first covenant, the promises were all conditional; and being violated by them, it was altogether annulled. But by the new and better covenant, of which Christ is the Surety, God engages to “write his laws in their hearts, and to put them in their inward parts:” and not only “not to depart from them himself, but to put his fear in their hearts, that they may not depart from him.” Thus, at the same time that he takes away their former sins by forgiveness, he will prevent the recurrence of them by his grace, and secure to them the full blessings of his salvation [Note: Compare Jeremiah 31:31-34. with Hebrews 8:8-12.].]
Let me, in conclusion, call your attention to “this mystery.” Consider,
Its aspect on the Jews—
[How melancholy their present state of “blindness!” — — — and how glorious the prospects held out to them! — — —]
Its proper effect upon your own minds—
[It is lamentable to observe how “wise” the generality of Christians are “in their own conceits,” in reference to this matter: how contemptuously they speak of the Jews, as if they were by nature worse than ourselves; and as if they were never again to be restored to the favour of their God. But, if we bear in mind what they once were, and what they are yet destined to become, we shall regard them with veneration, for their fathers’ sakes, and seek their welfare with earnestness for their own sakes — — —]
THE JEWS STILL BELOVED OF GOD, FOR THEIR FATHERS’ SAKE
Romans 11:28-29. As concerning the Gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
IT is strange, that, when so much is spoken in the Holy Scriptures respecting the Jews, they should occupy so little the attention of the Christian world. We see them as monuments of God’s indignation; but never inquire, or but superficially inquire, either into the reasons of his conduct towards them, or into his ulterior designs respecting them. Were we to say that they were enemies to God for our sakes, we should be told that it was impossible: and were we to speak of them as yet objects of God’s love, we should so astonish our hearers, as to make them cry out, in the language of Ezekiel’s auditors, “Ah, Lord God, doth he not speak parables [Note: Ezekiel 20:49.]?” But the whole of their present state is a “mystery [Note: ver. 25.],” a great and stupendous mystery [Note: ver. 33.], into which we shall do well to search. For the assisting of you in this inquiry, I have selected the words which we have just read; wherein are declared,
The mystery of God in relation to his ancient people—
“As concerning the Gospel, they are enemies for our sakes”—
[That they are enemies to God and his Christ, has been abundantly manifested, by their conduct towards all who prophesied of Christ; by their crucifying of the Lord of Glory, when he had put himself in their power; and by their determined rejection of his Gospel, when, with such abundant evidence of its divine origin, it was preached unto them. Unhappily, we have still but too plain proofs that this enmity continues unabated. They hate the Gospel precisely as they did in the apostolic age, and reject its gracious overtures with disdain.
Now, whence is it that God has suffered their enmity to rise to such an height, and to rankle in their bosoms with such inveterate malignity? The Apostle tells us, He has suffered it “for our sakes.” But how “for our sakes?” What interest can we have in it? This we will endeavour to explain.
God originally chose the Jews for his peculiar people, and vouchsafed to reveal himself exclusively to them. When, by their abuse of his blessings, they had “provoked him to become their enemy [Note: Isaiah 63:10.],” he determined to make himself known to the Gentiles, and to transfer to them the blessings which had been so wantonly despised. Therefore he cast off the Jews, and adopted the Gentiles in their place.
But it may he asked, Why should he cast off the Jews, in order to make room for the Gentiles? Was not the heart of the infinitely gracious Jehovah capable of embracing both? And might not the blessings of salvation, like the light and warmth of the sun, be enjoyed by both at once, without any loss or injury to either? I answer, God, no doubt, could have admitted both to enjoy his favour at the same time: but, for reasons best known to himself, he did not see fit to do so. He had displayed his sovereignty in the choice of the Jews: and now he would glorify the same perfection in the choice of the Gentiles also. His grace is his own; and he will dispense it to whom he will, and at what time he will, and in what measure he will; “nor will he give account to us of any of his matters.” It is not for us to say to him, “What doest thou?” It is our part to acquiesce, with all humility and gratitude, in his sovereign dispensations; and, in reference to them all, to say, with our blessed Lord, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight [Note: Matthew 11:25-26.].” Having, then, determined to introduce us to the blessings of salvation, he suffered them to reject these blessings, that so a way might be made for us, to occupy their place, and to possess their inheritance.
This does, I confess, appear a strange and almost incredible statement: and, if it were founded on one particular expression of the Scriptures, we might well doubt the justness of it. But this truth is so often repeated, that we cannot possibly entertain a doubt respecting it. The Apostle tells us, that, “through their fall, salvation is come unto the Gentiles:” that their fall was the riches of the world; that the diminishing of them was the riches of the Gentiles; and that the casting away of them was the reconciling of the world [Note: ver. 11, 12, 15.]. Thus is it unequivocally declared, that the communication of salvation to us was the effect and consequence of their rejection. Shall I go farther than this, and say, that the communication of salvation to us was also the end of their rejection? Yes; mysterious as this is, it is unquestionably true: for the Apostle acquiesces in this very position as undeniable: “Thou wilt say, then, the branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well: because of unbelief they were broken off [Note: ver. 19, 20.]:” that is, I acknowledge the truth of your position; though, for the vindication of God’s character, I must say, that his breaking of them off from the stock was not a mere act of sovereignty on God’s part: they deserved it richly; and brought it on themselves by their own obstinacy in unbelief: nevertheless, you are right in what you say respecting God’s intentions towards you: he did break them off, that you may be graffed in upon their stock: and the whole of this mysterious dispensation towards them has been permitted “for your sake.”
But think not that they are cast off for ever: for,]
“As concerning the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes”—
[The Jews were chosen in Abraham their father; and all his posterity were comprehended in the promises made to him: not indeed in their individual capacity, (for then no one of them, not even Judas himself, could have ever perished,) but nationally, and in their collective capacity; and to them, sooner or later, shall all the promises be fulfilled. The rejection of the great body of the nation had taken place when the Apostle wrote this epistle: but yet he said, that “even at that present time there was among them a remnant according to the election of grace [Note: ver. 5.].” And so may we say at this time; “There is a remnant,” whom God, from time to time, is gathering in from among them, and especially through the instrumentality of the Hebrew New Testament, which to a great extent, is now circulating among them in different quarters of the globe: and, as in the covenant made with Abraham, not all his descendants were comprehended, but only those who should proceed from Isaac and from Jacob; so in the loins of those who are yet alive are millions of millions comprehended; and of them also an elect remnant. And who shall say how many of them “are ordained to eternal life?” Sure we are, that they will be numerous as the stars of heaven; or rather, “as the sands upon the sea-shore, innumerable.” At whatever period these shall come into the world, God will call them to the knowledge of himself; and give them, if not the possession of the land of Canaan, yet the possession of that better inheritance, which Canaan typified, and which was assured to them in the promises that were made to Abraham. Those promises were not made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for themselves only, but for their seed: and “not a jot or tittle of those promises shall ever fail;” all shall be fulfilled in their season: and from respect to the fathers to whom they were made, are the present generation of their descendants yet loved; and to the latest generations shall the elect among them be loved, even as the fathers themselves were loved. Thus, “as touching the election, are that people,” notwithstanding all their enmity, “yet beloved for their fathers’ sakes;” as God has said: “I know the thoughts that I think towards you; thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end [Note: Jeremiah 29:11.].”]
All this is secured by,
The determined purpose of his mind towards them—
Exceeding strong is the assertion with which the Apostle confirms the foregoing declarations. The general and unqualified manner in which the assertion is made, will lead us to notice it,
As a general truth—
[Certain it is, that “God’s gifts and calling are without repentance.” Whatever God has given, of spiritual and eternal blessings, he has given in consequence of “his own eternal purpose, which he purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.]. The favoured persons were not originally chosen on account of any superior goodness that was, or would be, in them [Note: Deuteronomy 9:6.]; but they were “predestinated to the enjoyment of those blessings, according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will [Note: Ephesians 1:11.].” These are strong expressions, I confess: but they are the declarations of God himself; and they reflect the strongest light on the subject we are now considering. For God is an unchangeable Being; as he has said: “I the Lord change not [Note: Malachi 3:6.].”
That there have been occasions on which he has been said to “repent,” I acknowledge: for we are told that he “repented he had made man [Note: Genesis 6:6.]:” as also, “that he had raised Eli to the priestly office [Note: 1 Samuel 2:30.];” and, that he had made Saul king over Israel [Note: 1 Samuel 15:11; 1 Samuel 15:28-29.]. On one occasion, God himself says, to those whom, after having brought them out from Egypt, he had determined to exclude from the promised land, “Ye shall know my breach of promise [Note: Numbers 14:34.].” But we must distinguish between his purposes and his dispensations. His dispensations he may, and does, change: but he changes them agreeably to his eternal purpose, which was, to continue his favour to his people, whilst they should walk worthy of it; and to withdraw it from them, when they should have so abused it, as to render any longer forbearance on his part injurious to the honour of his moral government. But in himself “there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning [Note: James 1:17.]:” “nor will he ever forsake his people, for his great name’s sake; because it hath pleased him to make them his people [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.].” “Whom he loveth, he will love unto the end [Note: John 13:1.]:” and of those whom he hath given to his Son, he will suffer “not so much as one to be lost, or ever to be plucked out of his hand [Note: John 17:11-12; John 10:28-29.].”
But let us more particularly mark this truth,]
As bearing upon the point immediately before us—
[The Prophet Micah marks with very peculiar accuracy the distinction between God’s favour as promised to Abraham, and as conferred on Jacob. To Abraham it was altogether “mercy;” because it was promised by God to him and his seed freely: but to Jacob it was “truth;” because it was an accomplishment of the promise previously made: “Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old [Note: Micah 7:20.].”
Now the promises made to Abraham, and his believing seed, were all ratified with an oath, and confirmed with an everlasting covenant [Note: Hebrews 6:13-14.]: and God gave this double assurance for the more abundant consolation of his people; as the Apostle informs us: “God willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it with an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us [Note: Hebrews 6:17-18.]. On this, then, we rely, even on the immutability of God’s covenant; and from this we infer the certainty that God’s ancient people will be restored to him in due season. Notwithstanding their present disconsolate condition, God’s “eye is yet over them for good;” and, notwithstanding their inveterate hostility to the very name of Christ, he still “loves them;” and never will repent of the gifts he has bestowed upon them, or of the calling wherewith he has called them: for “He is not a man, that he should lie; nor the son of man, that he should repent [Note: Numbers 23:19.].” We may say therefore with the Apostle, in the preceding context, “All Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion, the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is God’s covenant with them, when he shall take away their sins [Note: ver. 26, 27.].”]
I now confidently make my appeal to you; and ask,
Do we not find here a just occasion for gratitude?
[We admire, as well we may, the blessedness of God’s chosen people in the days of David and Solomon, especially when compared with the blindness and ignorance of the heathen nations around them. But far more elevated is our state at this day, inasmuch as the effusion of the Holy Spirit upon us is more abundant [Note: John 7:39. Titus 3:6.], and our advantages for fruitfulness are proportionably increased. Do but reflect on your situation as graffed on the good olive-tree; and look upon the stock, the wretched, worthless stock, from which you have been taken: shall not this mercy fill you with unutterable joy? Verily, if you do not bless, and magnify, and adore the goodness of your God, “the very stones will cry out against you.”]
Have we not here, also, a loud call for our compassion?
[Come, and survey the ground on which the olive-tree is growing: see how it is strewed with branches, with dead and withered branches, that have been broken off from the stem: and then consider that they have been reduced to this state “for your sakes,” and “broken off on purpose that you might be graffed in [Note: ver. 19, 20.].” Look on them, I say, and tell me whether your bowels should not yearn over them; and whether you ought not to exert yourselves to the utmost in their behalf? Did we but bear in mind this mysterious truth, methinks it would be impossible for us to view a Jew and not weep over him, and pour out our souls in fervent intercession for him, and labour to the uttermost to effect his restoration to the Divine favour.]
Is there not also abundant encouragement for our exertions?
[That “God is able to graff in again” the natural branches, we can have no doubt. And is he not engaged to do so, by promise and by oath? Why, then, do we not seek to be instrumental in this blessed work? If we believe that they are yet “beloved of God,” should we not make them objects of our love? Come, let us do this: let us say with ourselves, ‘God helping me, I will never cease to work, till I have been instrumental in graffing in again some one branch. I see that there is nothing but unbelief that separates them from God; and I will, by every means in my power, endeavour to convince one, that Jesus is the Christ, the Saviour of the world.’ Would we but all adopt this resolution, and implore help from God to carry it into effect, what might we not hope for in the space of a few years? Surely God would hear the united prayers of his people, and favour their united efforts with success. If only we would “give him no rest,” and “take no rest ourselves,” till we had succeeded in our efforts, we should soon prevail, and behold Jerusalem once more a praise in the earth [Note: Isaiah 62:1; Isaiah 62:6-7.].”] [Note: If there be a collection in aid of their conversion, the audience might be urged to shew the measure of their love by the extent of their donations.]
THE GOSPEL GIVEN TO US AS A DEPOSIT FOR THE JEWS
Romans 11:30-31. As ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.
ONE can scarcely conceive how such a chapter as that before us should be in the hands of Christians, and be read by them from time to time, and yet the great subject of the restoration of the Jews, and of their union with the Christian Church, be as little known as if no information whatever had been given respecting it in the Bible. Till of late, it should seem as if there had been as thick a veil upon the hearts of Christians, in relation to it, as there has been upon the hearts of the Jewish people in relation to Christianity itself. Methinks the words which I have just read to you, if there had been no other, were sufficient to unfold to us the whole plan of Divine Providence in relation to this matter. For in them we see,
The mysterious way in which God has dispensed his blessings to mankind—
Mark the plan, as it is here developed—
[The whole world having departed from God, they were, with the exception of one family, overwhelmed by an universal deluge. The surviving family soon followed the footsteps of their ancestors; and the whole world, in the space of less than five hundred years, was again involved in darkness and idolatry. It pleased God then to give a new revelation of himself to one single individual, and to confine the knowledge of himself, not to his descendants generally, but to his descendants in the line of one particular son. But that revelation being merely oral, it was preserved only by tradition. Then, after about four hundred and thirty years more, God, for the first time, vouchsafed to man a written revelation. Yet was this written word confined to that single people. The rest of the world, for the space of four thousand years, were left without any written instruction from on high, and were given up to the delusions of their own hearts. Our Lord himself said he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; and he forbad his Disciples to enter into any city of the Samaritans, to instruct them. But at last, when this nation had so abused the light afforded them, as to reject and crucify their Messiah, God took it away from them, and imparted it to the Gentile world, who hitherto had lain in darkness and the shadow of death. Yet, alas! it is to but a small part of the Gentile world that this light is come, notwithstanding it has shined these eighteen hundred years. But it is God’s purpose that, in due season, it shall spread over the face of the whole globe; and that they, to whom the knowledge of his will has been now committed, shall be his instruments for communicating it to all the rest of mankind, both Jews and Gentiles.]
Now I call the whole of this mysterious—
[St. Paul calls it so, in the chapter before us [Note: ver. 25.]: and so great a mystery did he consider it, that, in the contemplation of it, he exclaimed, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out [Note: ver. 33.]!”
But consider these four things: the long delay; the partial bestowment; the subsequent transfer; the final restoration: and every part of it will appear an inscrutable mystery.
That God should leave the world in ignorance for two thousand years—that he should then make himself known to one man only, and confine the knowledge of himself for two thousand more years in one particular branch of that man’s family—that then he should cause the candlestick to be removed from that people; and be set up amongst the idolatrous Gentiles, who had been left to themselves for four thousand years—that eighteen hundred years more should elapse, and the light be not yet spread amongst the Gentiles generally, or restored to the Jews—who does not see, in this whole dispensation, the sovereignty, the uncontrollable sovereignty, of the Most High, who imparts to every one so much only as he himself sees fit, and that too in the time and manner which seems best to his unerring wisdom? The Apostle illustrates this by an olive-tree, the branches of which were broken off, that others might be engrafted on it, and that, at a future period, they might be engrafted again on their own olive-tree [Note: ver. 17–24.]. And, truly, in the whole of this mysterious appointment we must acquiesce, saying, “Even so, Father; for so it hath seemed good in thy sight [Note: Matthew 11:26.].”]
But, though we cannot comprehend this mystery, we know, for certain,
The design of God in it—
This is two-fold;
To provoke the Jews to jealousy—
[Moses himself, who gave to the Jews God’s written word, told them, that they would, by their obstinate unbelief, provoke God to withdraw his mercy from them, and to transfer it to the Gentile world: “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God: they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation [Note: Deuteronomy 32:21.].” This passage St. Paul expressly cites in the preceding context [Note: Romans 10:19.]; and informs the Jews, that God, having in vain dealt with them in the way of mercy and of judgment, was now anxious to try another way, and to influence them through the operation of another principle, the principle of envy; if by any means he might prevail upon them to turn unto him. And, doubtless, this was well calculated to impress their minds with penitential sorrow for their past sins, and with an ardent desire to be restored to his favour. They saw all that their most favoured saints had ever enjoyed now transferred to the Gentile world, whom they had been accustomed to despise as dogs; and pardon, and peace, and holiness, and glory, now imparted to a people whom they had deemed incapable of such blessings; whilst they themselves were given up to judicial blindness and obduracy. True, indeed, this operated rather to increase their anger, than to produce humility: but God’s end was mercy; though they, through their incorrigible perverseness, made it only an occasion of bringing down upon themselves yet heavier judgments. This is a point which we are too apt to overlook. God never intended finally to cast them off, but only to reject them for a season; until, by beholding his mercy vouchsafed to the idolatrous Gentiles, they shall be prevailed upon to humble themselves before him, and to implore a restoration of their forfeited inheritance:—”I say, then, have they stumbled, that they should fall (for ever)? God forbid: but rather, through their fall, salvation is come unto the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy [Note: ver. 11.].”]
To provoke the Christian world to love—
[Mark with care the expression in my text: “They, the Jews, have now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy [Note: Some, on account of the construction of the Greek, and the position of the word ἵνα, have translated the passage differently. But that position of the word ἵνα is common in St. Paul’s writings (see 1 Corinthians 9:15. 2 Corinthians 2:4.Galatians 2:10; Galatians 2:10. Ephesians 3:17.): and, beyond a doubt, our translators have given the true import of the passage. The other translation would destroy the parallelism altogether, and, in fact, the sense also.].” God might, if he had seen fit, have admitted the Gentiles to a participation of his blessings in conjunction with the Jews. But this was not the plan which he, in his unerring wisdom, had ordained. He determined to manifest his displeasure towards the Jews, on account of their rejection of the Messiah; but at the same time to shew mercy to them through the instrumentality of the despised Gentiles. To the Gentiles he gave a yet clearer and fuller revelation than that which he had given to the Jews: and he gave it, not for their benefit only, but as a sacred deposit for the Jews, and as a talent to be improved for their especial use. In bestowing the Gospel on the Gentiles, he said, in fact, ‘Here is salvation for you: but, remember, you must not confine it to yourselves. You must make use of it for the instruction and salvation of the Jews. From you I withheld the light which I bestowed on the Jews: but I do not intend that the light which I am now bestowing upon you should be withheld from them: on the contrary, I purpose that it shall be imparted to them: and I intend to make you my channel of communication to them. See to it, therefore, that you improve this mercy aright, and that you labour incessantly for their good; for I grant this mercy to you, not for your own benefit only, (though, doubtless, it is for yourselves in the first instance,) but for them also, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.’
Thus, in the whole of this dispensation, God has acted in a sovereign way, yet also in a way of mercy;—of mercy to the Jews, whom he would provoke to jealousy; and of mercy to the Gentiles, whom he would provoke to love.]
Permit me now to ASK,
What use have you made of this Gospel for yourselves?—
[Have you “believed it?” Have you, by faith in it, been brought to God? Have you been led to admire and adore the goodness of God, in that, when he withheld his blessings from his own highly-favoured and peculiar people, he conferred them upon you, who were alike unworthy of them, and might well have been left to perish, on account of your abuse of the light with which he had favoured you, and which, small as it was, was sufficient to acquit or to condemn you, according as you conducted yourselves in reference to it? In a word, have you seen the “mercy” of God, as revealed in the Gospel? and are you transported with it, as offering “mercy” to your souls? Does that “mercy,” as bought for you by the precious blood of Christ, form the one ground of all your hopes, and the one spring of all your joys? Remember, if the feebler light vouchsafed to Abraham, and Moses, and David, wrought so powerfully on them, as to guide their feet into the paths they trod, much more should your superior light elevate your souls, and transform you into the very image of your God — — —]
What use have you made of the Gospel for your Jewish brethren?—
[Alas! how little have any of us answered the end for which the Gospel has been committed to us, or ever considered the design of God in bestowing it upon us! It is perfectly surprising, that for so many centuries we should have altogether overlooked our Jewish brethren: as if God himself had never given us any charge respecting them; or rather, as if his charge had been, “Into any city of the Jews enter ye NOT:” when, in fact, the command has never been repealed, “Preach my Gospel, to the Jews first, and also to the Gentiles.” Indeed, my brethren, great guilt attaches to us on this account. “What would you yourselves say to your steward, if, when you had committed to him a sum of money for the relief of your distressed neighbours, he had withheld from them your bounty, and had expended it altogether on himself? Yet that were no crime, in comparison of that of which you have been guilty; because the loss occasioned by his dishonesty could, at the worst, only issue in the temporal death of those whom he defrauded; whereas the negligence of the Christian world has issued in the death of men’s souls, yea, of millions of immortal souls, who, if the means which God has put into our hands for their good had been duly improved, might have been saved with an everlasting salvation. Let there be an end of this neglect, my beloved brethren; and now begin, with all assiduity and diligence, to redeem the time that you have lost. Truly, you owe much to your Jewish brethren: and I call upon you to pay your arrears; (“for their debtors ye are “to a vast amount [Note: Romans 15:27.];) and now, by your personal efforts, or through the instrumentality of others, impart to them the mercy which you yourselves have received. Nor do I suggest this as a matter of advice merely, but as an absolute command from God himself. It is not a thing left to your option. You have a trust; and you must discharge it. I call upon you, then, if you have any sense of the mercy vouchsafed to your own souls, to act as faithful stewards to your God, in dispensing mercy to his “beloved,” though suffering and out-cast people.]
THE UNSEARCHABLENESS OF GOD’S WAYS
Romans 11:33. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
ON whatever side we look, we are surrounded with mysteries; yea, we are a mystery to ourselves. The works of creation, and providence, and redemption, are all mysterious; and the more we know of them, the more we shall be disposed to exclaim, “O the depths!” Perhaps no one of the children of men ever had so deep an insight into the great mysteries of the Gospel as the Apostle Paul: yet, when he had unravelled them in a way that no other man ever did, he was constrained to acknowledge, that there were in the Gospel, treasures unexplored, and mines unsearchable, and riches of wisdom that far surpassed the conceptions of any finite intelligence. This is a truth which we ought to be well acquainted with: for, till we are made sensible of it, we shall never regard the Gospel with that reverence and admiration which ought ever to exist in our minds towards it. Let us then contemplate the unsearchableness of God’s “judgments,” that is, of the means he has appointed for our salvation, and the incomprehensibility of his “ways,” by which he dispenses that salvation to fallen man.
He is altogether incomprehensible,
In the way he has provided for the salvation of men—
His sending his only dear Son to he the surety and substitute of fallen man—
[From having been early instructed in that great mystery, the incarnation of the Son of God, we hear of it without emotion: but when we contemplate, that the Creator of heaven and earth became a creature, in the likeness of sinful flesh; that in order to his being formed immaculate, he was born of a pure Virgin through the operation of the Holy Ghost; and that, being so born, he did actually become a curse for us, and “bear our iniquities in his own body on the tree;” we are lost in wonder. We are not only at a loss to comprehend it, but seem as if we could not believe it; so strange, so almost impossible, does it appear: and if it were not confirmed in such a way that it is impossible to withhold our belief, we should be ready to account it blasphemy to assert such a fact, and madness to believe it. But the fact is so: and as, at the first revelation of it, it filled all heaven with wonder, so will it do to all eternity: “the height and depth and length and breadth of the love” displayed in it, will never be explored.]
His saving men by a righteousness not their own—
[This seems no less unsearchable than the former. Supposing that God had sent his Son to expiate our guilt, we should at least expect that he would require man to work out a righteousness for himself, and to obtain salvation by his obedience to the law. But, blessed be his name! he has not required any such thing. He requires men indeed to be righteous, and to obey his law: nor will he save any man who does not in these respects endeavour to fulful his will. But he does not require man to fulfil his law, in order to work out a righteousness whereby he may be justified: on the contrary, he requires men to renounce all dependence on their own righteousness, and to seek for acceptance solely through the righteousness of Christ. A perfect righteousness of our own we could not have: and therefore God sent his own Son to obey the precepts of the law, as well as to suffer its penalties, and by his own obedience unto death, to “bring in an everlasting righteousness,” “which should be unto all, and upon all, them that believe.” Thus the vilest sinner in the universe, the very instant he truly believes in Christ, becomes possessed of a righteousness commensurate with the utmost demands of God’s perfect law, a righteousness in which he stands before God without spot or blemish. How wonderful is this! how inconceivable to any finite capacity, that God should, I had almost said that God could, appoint such a way for the restoration and salvation of fallen man!]
His bringing out of man’s fall more glory to himself, and more good to man, than if man had never fallen—
[The dishonour done to God by the fall of man was beyond all conception great: yet is the honour done to him by man’s recovery infinitely greater. True it is, God would have been equally glorious in himself, if man had never been restored: but his perfections would never have been so displayed in the sight of his creatures. It would never have been known that mercy constituted any part of his character; whilst it is, in reality, that perfection in which he most delights. Nor would his justice have appeared so awful in the destruction of the whole human race, as it appears in inflicting death upon his only dear Son, when standing in the place of sinners. But suppose that mercy might have been exercised towards sinners in some other way; how could justice have borne any part in their salvation? But now justice is as much engaged on the side of a believing penitent as mercy itself; and the penitent, whilst he entreats God to be merciful to himself, may entreat him also to be just to his Beloved Son, who paid the full price for his redemption: yes, he may hope in the very justice of God, who is “a just God and a Saviour,” and can be “just, and yet the justifier of all them that believe.” What an inscrutable mystery is here!
But we must notice also the good that accrues to man. Suppose man had never fallen, he would have had but a creature’s righteousness, and consequently a reward only proportioned to it: but now the believer has the righteousness of the Creator himself, even the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “made righteousness unto us,” and is therefore “called, The Lord our Righteousness.” I may add too, that the believer is actually more safe than Adam was in Paradise. Adam had his own safety, and that of all his posterity, committed into his hands: and what the event was, we know by bitter experience. But God has now committed his chosen people to the hands of his own Son, that he may redeem them by his blood, sanctify them by his Spirit, and “preserve them blameless unto his heavenly kingdom.” Now Jesus himself tells us, that “of those who were given him, he lost none,” nor ever would lose one; for that “none ever could, or ever should, pluck them out of his hands.” The Father has no longer trusted us, so to speak, with our own destinies: he has treasured up our life and strength in Christ Jesus: “our life is hid with Christ in God:” and because Christ himself is our life, we, at his appearing, shall appear with him in glory.”
Say, now, brethren, whether “these judgments be not indeed unsearchable, and these ways past finding out?” — — —]
Glorious as that part of our subject is, we leave it, in order to mark the mysteriousness of God’s dealings with men,
In the way in which he imparts that salvation to them—
And here we would notice his conduct,
Towards the world at large—
[This is the point to which St. Paul in our text more especially refers: he has throughout the whole chapter expatiated upon the rejection of the Jews, the calling of the Gentiles, and the final restoration of the Jews themselves: and from the view of those mysterious dispensations he is led to make the exclamation before us. Consider then these points. Consider his first separating to himself a people in the person of Abraham, who was an idolater, like all the rest of the world. Yet he took not all of his seed; but only the seed of Isaac, excluding Ishmael from all participation of the promised blessings. Yet neither did he take all of Isaac’s seed; but rejected Esau, the elder, and took Jacob, the younger; and that too by a special order, “whilst they were yet in their mother’s womb, and consequently could have done neither good nor evil.” Is there nothing wonderful in this? Who could have conceived that God should vouchsafe such mercy to any; or that, vouchsafing it, he should dispense it in so sovereign a way? Yet so he did; and the fact is undeniable. In due time he multiplied the posterity of Jacob, and brought them out of Egypt, and led them through the wilderness, and put them into possession of the promised land, and communicated to that family exclusively the means of salvation for the space of two thousand years. Here we might ask, If God was not merciful, why did he choose any? and if he was merciful, why for so long a period did he exclude any? But “God’s ways are in the great deep.” “He giveth not account to us of any of his matters.”
At last, for their iniquities he cast off his chosen people; and made the rejection of them the occasion and the means of calling in the Gentiles. Who shall explain this mystery? Who shall tell us the reasons why God acted thus? Who shall tell us why the Gentiles were not called before; or why they were called then; and especially why God made the fall of the Jews to be the riches of the Gentiles, and the salvation of the world? Will any one undertake to account for these things?
But the deepest part of this mystery yet remains to be noticed. God has still purposes of love towards his rejected people, though he has cast them off almost eighteen hundred years; and intends to make the more general awakening of the Gentiles the means of bringing back again to him the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and of engrafting them again upon their own stock, from which they have been so long broken off, and on which the Gentiles have been so long graffed in their stead: and then he will make that very restoration of the Jews the means of converting the whole world; so that it shall be as if there were a general resurrection of all the saints to live again upon the earth, all mankind being united under one head, the Lord Jesus Christ, and all constituting one fold under one Shepherd. What shall we say to these things? Was there not reason for Paul, in the prospect of them, to exclaim, “O the depths!” Truly “God’s judgments are a great deep [Note: Psalms 36:6.]:” “He doeth great things and unsearchable, and marvellous things without number [Note: Job 5:9.].”]
Towards individual believers—
[In reference to these also we must say, that “God’s ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts; but as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are his ways high above our ways and his thoughts above our thoughts.” Observe the objects of his choice: Who arc they? Are they such as human reason would select? He takes a Manasseh, who had filled Jerusalem with the blood of innocents; a Mary Magdalen, who had been possessed by seven devils; a Saul, that was a proud, blaspheming, cruel, blood-thirsty persecutor; and he leaves the young man, who, in his own opinion at least, had kept all God’s commandments from his youth up: yes, publicans and harlots were admitted into his kingdom freely and in vast multitudes, whilst the Scribes and Pharisees were given over to final obduracy. What shall we say to this? The fact is unquestionable; and we can only say, as our Lord did in the contemplation of this great mystery, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
Mark farther the manner in which he calls them to himself. Some he calls with terror, as the jailor; and others with the gentle drawings of his love, as Nathanael: some by the instrumentality of his ministers; and others by the secret operations of his Spirit, without the intervention of any outward means: some suddenly, as Matthew; others gradually, as Apollos: some in early life, at the third or fourth hour; and others on a dying bed, at the eleventh hour.
His mode of completing in them the good work must also be noticed. Some he leads through deep waters, as David; whilst others have comparatively a smooth and easy passage: some, like Peter, are suffered to fall into grievous sins; whilst others, like Paul, persevere in an unblemished course even to the end.
In all these things the sovereignty of God is most conspicuously displayed: and St. Paul has a peculiar reference to that in the exclamation before us. He asks, “Who hath first given to the Lord?” Who has laid him under any obligation to confer his blessings upon him? If any such person can be found, let him come and prefer his claim; and I pledge myself, says he, that “it shall be recompensed unto him again.” And then he goes on to declare, that God, as a mighty Sovereign, does every thing purely of his own will, and for his own glory: for that “of him, (as the Author,) and through him, (as the Disposer,) and to him, (as the End,) are all things: and that to him must all the glory be given for ever and ever [Note: ver. 35, 36.].”
Such are God’s judgments, and such his ways: but “how little a portion of him is known [Note: Job 26:14.]!” This however we must say, that though “clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne.”]
See then from hence,
What is the proper posture of a sinner’s mind—
[We should not presume to sit in judgment upon God, arraigning either the declarations of his word, or the dispensations of his providence. What know we either of the one or of the other? “We were but of yesterday and know nothing:” and “if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know [Note: 1 Corinthians 8:2.].” We are not to imagine, that, because there are many things in God’s word above our ability to comprehend, they are therefore not true; or that, because in his providence there are many things which we cannot account for, they are therefore not good. We should remember, that the wisdom of man is foolishness with God: and that “though vain man would be wise, he is born like a wild ass’s colt [Note: Job 11:14.].” Let a sense of our extreme ignorance then lead us to a meek submission to our God; and let us, whenever difficulties occur, satisfy ourselves with this reflection, that, “what we know not now, we shall know hereafter.”]
What is the truest felicity, both of saints and angels—
[To search into the great mystery of godliness is right, provided we do it with humility and godly fear. And, if we look to God to teach us, “he will by his Spirit shew us, what no unassisted eye ever saw, or ear heard, or heart conceived.” Yes, He will teach us “the deep things of God:” he will exhibit to our view “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” and give us an insight into that mystery of a crucified Saviour, “in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” What do we suppose were the feelings of the Apostle, when, from a view of the unsearchableness of God’s judgments, he cried out “O the depths!” Can we conceive a sublimer joy than he at that time experienced? The angels are constantly employed just as he was at that time. We are expressly told, that they are “always desiring to look into” the great mysteries of redemption; and, no doubt, from every discovery they make, their joy is exceedingly enhanced. We cannot doubt but that the felicity of the saints in glory will very principally consist in this, in admiring and adoring those dispensations of grace and mercy, which here they so superficially beheld, but which then will he more fully unfolded to their view. Let this then, brethren, be your employment now: it will be a heaven upon earth: and the more enlarged are your discoveries of your Redeemer’s glory here, the more will you be prepared and fitted for the enjoyment of it in a better world.]
GOD ALL IN ALL
Romans 11:34-36. Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
GOD is represented in the Scriptures as “a jealous God.” And well he may be so: for it is not fit that any portion of “his glory should be given to another.” But man is ready, on all occasions, to arrogate something to himself. Hence it becomes the servants of God to exercise extreme vigilance in relation to this matter; and to claim for God the honour due unto his name.
In the chapter before us, the Apostle has been setting forth the mysterious designs of God in relation both to Jews and Gentiles. It had pleased God, for two thousand years, to confine the knowledge of himself to Abraham and his descendants: but at length he saw fit to cast off them, and to transfer his blessings to the Gentiles. In due season, however, it is his purpose to restore to his favour his ancient people, and, through their instrumentality, to diffuse the knowledge of himself over the face of the whole earth. Now, in the whole of this work, it is obvious that God has acted “according to the counsel of his own will;” and that to no creature in the universe is there left any room to boast. Hence St. Paul, in the words which we have read, ascribes all the glory to God alone.
Let me call your attention to the component parts of this sublime passage:
His unrestricted challenge—
Who will venture to claim any merit to himself in reference to redemption at large?—
[Of whom did God take counsel, when he determined to save a ruined world? Who suggested to him a hint respecting the substitution of his own Son in the place of sinful man? Who proposed to him so strange a way of reconciling all his own glorious perfections, and of making all the rights of justice, and truth, and holiness, to consist with the exercise of mercy? — — — Or who ever did any thing to merit at his hands such an interposition in his favour? If there be any one so vain as to arrogate any thing to himself in this respect, let him bring forward his claim, and substantiate it before God, “that he may be recompensed” according to it. But we have no fear that this challenge will be accepted by any upon earth, or any one in heaven itself. The whole work of salvation is God’s, and God’s alone—the result of his wisdom, and the gift of his grace — — —]
Who will venture to claim any merit to himself, in reference to the application of this redemption to his own soul?—
[Who can ascribe any thing to his own wisdom? or who to his own goodness? Who will venture to reverse the saying of our Lord; and, in direct opposition to him, to assert, that “he first chose the Lord, and not the Lord him [Note: John 15:16.]?” What disposition or ability had any one of you to turn unto the Lord, till “He, of his own good pleasure, gave you both to will and to do [Note: Philippians 2:13.]?” Or what had you done for him, that merited this favour at his hands? The salvation itself, and the faith by which you have embraced it, have been both, and equally, the gift of God [Note: Ephesians 2:8.]; and, whatever you may have attained, “by the grace of God you are what you are [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.].”]
In connexion with this, let us consider,
His unqualified assertion—
Every good thing the Apostle refers to God, distinctly asserting him to be,
The Source of all—
[God is the one fountain of all good. The fallen angels could as easily have devised a way of salvation as we. We must, of necessity, go back to the period when God proposed to his Son to become our substitute and surety, and promised to him a seed, who should, if I may so speak, remunerate all the sufferings he should endure for us [Note: Isaiah 53:10.]: from that covenant must all our blessings be traced; and in accordance with it shall they all be vouchsafed — — —]
The Author of all—
[Not only did every thing spring from God, as the fruit of his sovereign love; but every thing was wrought in us by. his power and grace. We could as easily form a new world, as we could form the new creature in our own bosoms: “He that must work us to this self-same thing, is God [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:5.].” In its rise, its progress, and its consummation, no other hand can be seen but His. Nor is good alone to be traced to him; for he is, so far as permission goes, the author of evil also. Moral evil indeed cannot be ascribed to him, any further than as permitting it for wise and gracious ends: but penal evil, in whatever way it comes, and from whatever hand it proceeds, may be referred to him, as its proper author. The Sabeans and Chaldeans destroyed the property of Job; yet Job regarded them only as instruments in God’s hands, and received the visitation precisely as if it had proceeded from God himself, without the intervention of any secondary cause [Note: Job 1:21.] Thus must we also do: for “there is not either good or evil in the city, but the Lord hath done it [Note: Amos 3:6.].”]
The End of all—
[God in every thing seeks his own glory, and from every thing will assuredly bring glory to himself. From the fall of man, from the very crucifixion of Christ himself, has his glory been educed: but never has he designed that man should glory [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:29.]. Be it so, then, that you are enjoying salvation in all its fulness: you must, to the latest hour of your life, say, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name, be the praise [Note: Psalms 115:1.]” — — —]
A just view of the two former points will prepare us for,
His appropriate acknowledgment—
To God he gives the glory. And who amongst us will not cordially add his “Amen?”
We must do it upon earth—
[Our hearts should be duly sensible of our obligations to him, whether for temporal or spiritual blessings. To whom can we ascribe it, that we were brought into the world in a Christian land, where the light of revelation shines; and not in the midst of heathen darkness? To whom do we owe it, that we were made to hear the glad tidings of salvation, which are so faintly proclaimed even by the established messengers of Christ; and that we were enabled to receive them into our hearts, when so many pour contempt upon them, as of no value? Surely, “it is God who has made you to differ;” and to him must you ascribe all the praise.]
You will do it in heaven—
[Do you hear amongst the heavenly hosts one who is taking honour to himself? No: there is but one sound amongst all the celestial choir: all are singing praises to God and to the Lamb. And doubtless the saints in glory now see how much they are indebted to God “for events which once they deemed calamitous and adverse.” Anticipate, then, that time; and now begin to acknowledge, in every thing, whether painful or pleasing, the wisdom, and goodness, and power, and faithfulness, of your God. And remember, that the more you have been enabled to do for God, the more you are indebted to God, by whose grace alone you have been empowered even to think a good thought [Note: 1 Chronicles 29:13-14.].]
Now, from this subject you may surely learn,
[“The ways of God are a great deep,” and “his paths past finding out.” But when you reflect that neither men nor devils can exceed the commission they have received from him, surely you should say in all things, “It is the Lord: let him do what seemeth him good [Note: 1 Samuel 3:18.]” — — —]
[View your mercies, which are more in number than the sands upon the sea-shore; and see if you can trace them to any source but God. And are they all the fruits of his love, and the effects of his power, and do they not call for gratitude at your hands? Methinks your every word should be thanksgiving, and your every breath be praise.]
[Doubtless there will be many circumstances that will be dark, and at present inexplicable: but you must never forget, that “though clouds and darkness be round about him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne [Note: Psalms 97:2.].” You have seen already, that, in numberless instances, he has brought good out of evil; and that you have had reason to bless him as much for things which have been contrary to your desires, as for things which have been gratifying to flesh and blood. Learn, then, to trust him for the future; and, under the darkest dispensations, learn to say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 11". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29