Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, April 24th, 2024
the Fourth Week after Easter
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Romans 9

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verses 1-5

Romans 9:1-5

I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost.

The truth

Should be spoken always, and under all circumstances.

Should be spoken in christ.

1. As a Christian duty.

2. As in Christ’s presence.

3. In Christ’s Spirit.

4. For Christ’s honour.

Should be attended by conscience.

1. Enlightened.

2. Influenced.

3. Approved by the Holy Spirit.

May only be confirmed by direct appeal to God under very solemn and extraordinary circumstances. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Christ the sphere of spiritual being

“In Christ.” This was one of the apostle’s favourite expressions. All Christians according to him are “in Christ.” They have been “baptized in Christ” (Romans 6:3), i.e., they have been united to Christ by the baptism of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13); so that they are in Christ as if they were parts of His person, members of His body. When the apostle thinks of this union, he sometimes allows the relations of time past and time future to interpenetrate, so that to his eye believers have not only been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20) and buried with Him (Romans 6:4), but also raised with Him (Colossians 2:12; Colossians 3:1), and glorified with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). Christians have their Christian being in Christ. They are justified (Galatians 2:17), sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:1-31; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16), triumph (2 Corinthians 2:14), speak in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Corinthians 12:19). The personality of Christ had, to his transfiguring conception, become the sphere of his spiritual being and activity, so that what he did, in the express consciousness of his Christian state, he did in the realised presence of Christ, and thus all the nobler elements of his spiritual being were intensified and exalted. In such a mood how could he stoop to wilful misrepresentation? Realising that he was, so to speak, “interred” in Christ, he felt that in his ethical acts he was dominated by the power that ensphered him,” (J. Morison, D.D.)

Conscience and the Spirit

1. St. Paul does here a most difficult thing. He distinguishes two voices within, and his own voice from either. Conscience--the Holy Ghost--bearing me witness. These distinctions are important. Some confuse conscience and the Spirit, others leave the Spirit altogether out, and conscience alone recognised as the guide of man.

2. Conscience--which is, literally, co-knowledge--is a natural faculty. Like intellect, affection, or any other department of the man, conscience is rather a state than an ingredient of the person. We introduce confusion when we speak of the unit being as split into parts. Memory, will, conscience, and the rest, are, in reality, only so many conditions or moods of the one man.

3. Conscience is that state of the man in which he reviews and judges his own actions. It is natural to every man to ask of himself, Of what complexion is this thing which I have thought, spoken, or done, in regard to right and wrong? We cannot help it--it is a sign, therefore, neither of good nor evil--we must sit in judgment upon ourselves. Who is so happy as never to have passed an unquiet night in the remembrance of word spoken or deed done during the day? And yet there was no one to reproach him! The thing itself was unknown to the world. No matter! He was his own accuser, witness, judge, and executioner. But conscience also exercises a legislative as well as a judicial function. It says, This is right, do it--this is wrong, shun it--as well as, This was wrong, and thou hast done it, etc.

4. This conscience was without the gospel, and is still with it. See the case of Paul (Acts 23:1, of. 24:16; 2Ti 1:3, cf. 1 Timothy 1:19). As much towards man’s nature, as towards the law, Christ’s office was to elevate, to deepen, to perfect, not to abolish. Just as Christ took the instinct of patriotism, and turned it into a world-wide benevolence, or the love of those that love us (Matthew 5:46), and consecrated it into a universal charity; so He took the natural instinct which we call conscience, and both instructed it in the Divine law of which before it had but the dimmest conception, and also enabled it with that preventing grace which is the presence of the indwelling Spirit.

5. It is a great thing to be conscientious, but it does not make a man a Christian. St. Paul was conscientious, so were some Pharisees, and in these days of grace and the gospel there are conscientious lives which are both un-Christian and anti-Christian. But I am well assured of this, that for one man who lives a good life out of Christ, a hundred thousand are wallowing in the sty of sin for lack of Him. Even in those men who think themselves able to dispense with Him I can always notice some damaging deficiency, self-conceit, coldness, exclusiveness, or uselessness. All this makes me understand why St. Paul and the Master should make so much of that superadded gift, which is the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. There are those amongst us who have bitterly felt the powerlessness of conscience. They have suffered, resolved, hoped, struggled, but again and again they have found themselves no match for the strong man armed. We may blame, but the weak by nature may be made strong by grace. A man whose conscience has failed to give him the victory may find victory in Christ. It will be hard work for him; but prayer can prevail where resolution has faltered; the man whose conscience has been blunted may bare it set again and edged and made powerful by grace; he who knows what it is to have stifled and all but silenced the inward voice, may yet hear it again in new tones, but with new powers also, speaking of Christ crucified and the love of the Spirit.

6. The Church and the Church’s Lord can compassionate the feebleness which man never pities. The Physician came not for the whole but for the sick. This it is which makes His gospel so inestimably precious, and makes us weep for surprise and joy when we find Jesus sitting at meat with publicans and sinners, bidding welcome to sinful women, and drawing His loveliest parables from the history of prodigals, etc. Cry out to Him for the Spirit of adoption--and where nature fails, and conscience, prayer and the Spirit shall prevail and conquer yet! Most of all do I commend this to those who have sunk the deepest. But the gospel is a voice for all men. It addresses the moral man as well as the sinner. It says to him, St. Paul was no libertine; yet even he found his righteousness of no avail in the day of his trial. In the brightness of heaven’s light his fabric of self-assertion melted like snow. He cast away all trust in himself, and began to build quite afresh upon the one foundation which is Jesus Christ. How should it be otherwise with you?

7. Let so many of us as have risen into this higher life of grace and the Spirit see that we seek therein a liberty, not of sin, but of God. St. Paul himself exercised himself day by day to have always a conscience void of offence. Conscience in him was still the law; only it was a conscience not bounded by law, but enlarged and illuminated by the Spirit. When he described himself, for a moment, as without the law, he yet was careful to add, lest any should misinterpret him, being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ. (Dean Vaughan.)

Conscience, consciousness, and the Spirit

In order to do justice to the Greek idea it is necessary to cord together mentally the two words “conscience” and “consciousness.” In the usage of New Testament and Stoic philosophy the term almost always throws out into relief its moral import. Hence we read of a good and pure, and also of an evil, defiled and seared conscience, of a conscience toward God, and one void of offence. The moral character of the conscience in this acceptation of the term is strikingly represented by the derivation “conscientiousness.” In Hebrews 10:2 the psychological idea of conscience is predominant, and is strong in 2 Corinthians 1:12. Here it must not be lost sight of, but the moral idea is predominant. The conscientious principle within the apostle attested the veracity of his utterance when he said, “I am not lying.” It is worthy of note that the apostle allows himself the use of a popular representation of the conscience--viz., as if it were distinct from himself--reminding us of Adam Smith’s phrase, “the man within the breast.” Paul makes his appeal to this “man.” He had referred simply to himself when he said “I lie not.” That was his own proper testimony concerning himself. But either deliberately or instinctively realising that men often falsify even when they say “We lie not,” he turns to the “man within,” and listens till he hears him say, “True, thou liest not.” Of course the Romans could not look within the apostle’s breast and verify the concurrent testimony. There was but one person in the witness box, the apostle himself. But the apostle had not merely to satisfy the Romans; that might or might not be possible. He had to satisfy himself; and that was possible if he was honest. Thus it is that after his outward affirmation he turns in, and receiving inward confirmation, he, as it were, reaffirms. To all who know the man, such a solemn reaffirmation would render “assurance,” if that were possible, “doubly sure.” Once more, the apostle’s conscience bore witness “in the Holy Spirit.” Like the rest he “was a man full of the Holy Ghost,” so that at every point of his spiritual being he was touched and energised by the heavenly influence. There was still, it is true, the unimpaired principle of moral freedom in the centre of his being, in virtue of which it devolved on himself, as a real self-contained person, to welcome and cherish the hallowing influence. The man’s individual manhood was not absorbed into the infinite essence. Neither was his moral accountability merged or superseded. But he in his freedom had made his choice. “To him to live was Christ.” And hence all the avenues to the very centre of his being were habitually left open to the ingress of the Holy Spirit whom he neither resisted nor grieved. And when, therefore, his inward conscience bore concurrent testimony with his outward declaration, there was more than itself in the voice of that conscience. There was the echo of the voice of God’s Spirit. (J. Morison, D.D.)

That I have great heaviness.--

Paul’s concern for Israel

Its character.

1. Sincere.

2. Divinely inspired.

Its intensity.

1. Great.

2. Continual.

3. Self-sacrificing.

Its special grounds.

1. Their high privileges.

2. National affinity with Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Concern for other men’s souls

The persons about whom Paul felt this anxiety.

1. His worst enemies. If any of you in following Christ should meet with opposition, avenge it in the same way. Love most the man who treats you worst.

2. His kinsfolk according to the flesh. Charity must begin at home. He who does not desire the salvation of those who are his own kith and kin, “how dwelleth the love of God in him?” Is thy husband unsaved? Love him to Christ! Next to your homes let your own neighbours be first of all considered, and then your country, for all Englishmen are akin.

3. Persons of great privileges.

(1) They had privileges by birth--“Who are Israelites.” Many of you have the privilege of being born in the midst of gracious influences. Those poor gutter children start in the race of life under terrible disadvantages. And some of you have had everything in your favour; yet we tremble for you, lest you should be cast out, while many come from the east and from the west and sit down at the banquet of grace.

(2) They had the adoption, and enjoyed national advantages; and God has been pleased to adopt this nation, giving it special liberty, an open Bible, and the free proclamation of the gospel.

(3) They had the glory, i.e., God had revealed Himself in their midst from the mercy-seat in the bright light of the Shekinah. And in this very house of prayer the Lord has manifested His glory very wonderfully. Many hundreds have been turned from darkness to light in this place!

(4) They had the first hold of all spiritual gifts. They had seen God revealing His Son to them by types; but Christ is not so well seen in bleeding bullocks and rams and hyssop, etc., as He is seen in the preaching of the gospel.

4. Yet Paul had a great solicitude for these people because he saw them living in the commission of great sin. Although many of them were exceedingly moral and religious. The greatest of sins is to be at enmity with God. The most damning of iniquities is to refuse Christ. So many now value their external religiousness above faith in Jesus.

The nature of this anxiety. It was--

1. Very truthful. There was no sham about it, “I say the truth in Christ.” He did not fancy that he felt, but he really felt. He did not sometimes get up into that condition or down into it, but he lived in it. “I lie not,” he says. “I do not exaggerate.” For fear he should not be believed he asseverates as strongly as is allowed to a Christian man. Do we feel the same, or is it only a little excitement at a revival meeting? You must feel deeply for the souls of men if you are to bless them.

2. Very gracious. It was not an animal feeling, or a natural feeling; it was “in Christ.” When he was nearest to his Lord, then he felt that he did mourn over men’s souls. It was truth in Christ that he was expressing, because he was one with Christ. It is of no use to try to get this feeling by reading books, or to pump yourself up to it in private; it is the work of God.

3. Spiritual. The Holy Spirit bore witness with his conscience. I am sometimes afraid that our zeal for conversion would not stand the test of the Holy Ghost. Perhaps we want to increase our denomination, or enlarge our church for our own honour, or get credit for doing good. None of these motives can be tolerated; our concern for souls must he wrought in us by the Holy Ghost.

4. Most deep and depressing he had great heaviness, and he tells us that this did not come on him at times, but that he always felt it whenever his thoughts turned that way: I have “continual sorrow in my heart.” In his very heart, for it was not a superficial desire; a continual sorrow, for it was no fitful emotion.

5. Most intense (verse 3). Of course the apostle never thought of wishing that he could be an enemy to Christ, but he did sometimes look at the misery which comes upon those who are separated from Christ, until he felt that if he could save his kinsmen by his own destruction, ay, by himself enduring their heavy punishment, he could wish to stand in their stead. He did not say that he ever did wish it, but he felt as if he could wish it when his heart was warm. His case was parallel with that of Moses when he prayed the Lord to spare the people and said, “If not, blot my name out of the Book of Life.” When the heart is full of love even the boldest hyperboles are simple truths. Extravagances are the natural expression of warm hearts even in ordinary things. What the cool doctrinalist pulls to pieces, and the critic of words regards as altogether absurd, true zeal nevertheless feels. Christ “saved others, Himself He could not save.” Men are extravagantly prudent, dubious, profane; they may therefore well permit the minister of Christ to be extravagant in his love for others. Such a text as this must be fired off red hot; it spoils if it cools. It is a heart, not a head business. The apostle means us to understand that there was nothing which he would not suffer if he might save his kindred according to the flesh.

Its excellences. What would be the result if we felt as Paul did?

1. It would make us like Christ. After that manner he loved. He became a curse for us. He did what Paul could wish, but could not do. I want you to feel that you would pass under poverty, sickness, or death, if you could save those dear to you. I heard of a dear girl the other day who said to her pastor, “I could never bring my father to hear you, but I have prayed for him long, and God will answer my request. Now you will bury me, won’t you? My father must come and hear you speak at my grave. Do speak to him. God will bless him.” And he did, and her father was converted.

2. It will save us from selfishness. The first instinct of a saved soul is a longing to bring others to Christ. Yet, lest there should grow up in your spirit any of that Pharisaic selfishness which was seen in the elder brother, ask to feel a heaviness for your prodigal younger brother, who is still feeding swine.

3. It will save you from any difficulty about forgiving other people. Love mankind with all your soul, and you will feel no difficulty in exercising patience, forbearance, and forgiveness.

4. It will keep you from very many other griefs. You will be delivered from petty worries if you are concerned about the souls of men.

5. It will put you much upon prayer. That is the right style of praying--when a man prays because he has an awful weight upon him, and pray he must. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Concern for kindred

Its true expression.

1. Heartfelt compassion.

2. Earnest prayer.

3. Self-sacrificing zeal.

Its powerful motives.

1. Our brethren.

2. Specially privileged.

3. Dear to Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Home and foreign missions

The fervency of affection professed by Paul in this passage is all in behalf of his own countrymen; and yet none more zealous than he in the labours of a Christian missionary among the distant countries of the world. What gives more importance to this remark is the tendency in our own day to place these two causes in opposition to each other. It might serve as a useful corrective to look at Paul and at the one comprehensive affection which actuated his bosom, cleaving with all the devotedness of a thorough patriot to the families of his own land; and yet carrying him beyond the limits of a contracted patriotism among all the families of the earth. The truth is, that home and foreign Christianity, instead of acting upon the heart like two forces in opposite directions, draw both the same way, so that he who has been carried forward to the largest sacrifices in behalf of the one, is the readiest for like sacrifices in behalf of the other. The friends of the near being also, as they have opportunity, the most prompt and liberal in their friendship to the distant enterprise; recognising in man, wherever he is to be found, the same wandering outcast from the light and love of heaven, and the same befitting subject for the offers of a free salvation. We cannot therefore sympathise with those who affect an indifference to the Christianisation of the heathen till the work of Christianisation shall have been completed at our own door. Let them be careful, lest there do not lurk within them a like indifference to both, lest the feelings and the principles of all true philanthropy lie asleep in their bosoms; and they, unlike to Paul, who found room for the utmost affection towards the spiritual well-being of his own kinsfolk and the utmost activity among the aliens and idolaters of far distant lands, shall be convicted of deep insensibility to the concerns of the soul, of utter blindness to the worth of eternity. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)

Earnestness in promoting the salvation of others

We were going from Camden to Philadelphia some years ago very late at night after a meeting. It was a cold winter night, and we stood on the deck of the ferry-boat, impatient to get ashore. Before the boat came to the wharf, a man who stood on the outside of the chains slipped and dropped into the water. It is the only man that we ever saw overboard. It was a fearful night. The icicles had frozen on the wharf, and they had frozen on the steamer. The question was how to get the man up. The ropes were lowered, and we all stood with feverish anxiety lest the man should not be able to grasp the ropes, and when he grasped it and was pulled up on to the deck, and we saw he was safe, although we had never seen him before, how we congratulated him! A life saved! Have we the same earnestness about getting men out of spiritual peril? Do we not go up and down in our prayer-meetings, and our Christian work, coldly saying, “Yes, there is a great deal of sin in the world; men ought to do better. I wish the people would become Christians. I think it is high time that men attended to their eternal interests”; and five minutes after we put our head on the pillow we are sound asleep, or from that consideration we pass out in five minutes into the utmost mirthfulness, and have forgotten it all. Meanwhile there is a whole race overboard. How few hands are stretched out to lift men out of the flood! how few prayers offered! how earnest opportunities! how little earnest Christian work! (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Verses 4-5

Romans 9:4-5

Who are Israelites.

The literal and the true Israelites

The literal enjoyed the adoption as God’s people among whom God revealed Himself gloriously--the true enjoy the adoption of sons and the glorious indwelling of the Spirit.

The literal were privileged with the patriarchal covenants and the giving of the law--the true are privileged with the New Testament covenant, and the dispensation of the Spirit.

The literal rejoiced in the Levitical service, and the promises of better things to come--the true worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in the hope of eternal life.

The literal could boast of the fathers and anticipate the Messiah--the true have their apostles, martyrs, and confessors, and look for the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The Israelites and their privileges

The name Israelites was a most honourable one, and dear to them all. The relationship which it signalised was fitted to remind them that by the condescension of the Omnipotent One, there was something “princely” within their reach (Genesis 32:28; Hosea 12:3).

The adoption. Under the Old Testament the Divine adoption realised itself specifically in the collective theocratic people as a people (Exodus 4:22; cf. Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 11:1). The collective people were for great theocratic purposes adopted into a relation of Divine sonship, and thus into a relation of peculiar Divine privilege; not, however, because of a feeling of partiality in the heart of God toward a section of His human family, but because His benignant Messianic purposes, widespreading to the ends of the earth, required some arrangement of the kind. Such was the Divine plan in Old Testament ages. The Israelites were God’s “son,” “daughter,” or “daughter of His people.” At times the representation tended anticipatively toward the grander principle of personal individuality; as when it is said, “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me.” But it was reserved for the New Testament age to give emphasis to the idea of personal individualism in relation to the Divine adoption (John 1:12; Galatians 3:26; 1 John 3:1).

The glory. The reference is to that peculiar symbol of the Divine presence which guided the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness, overshadowing them by day and illuminating them by night (Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:19). This was in some external respects God’s glory par excellence (Exodus 24:16). It was a magnificent symbol of Divine guidance and protection, and was denominated “the Shekinah.” Wherever it was to be found, there God was to be found; not indeed as in His palace-home, the “house not made by hands,” but as in His temporary tent beside His tented people in the period of their pilgrimage--a very present Helper and Defence.

The covenants. These were engagements on the part of God to confer distinguishing privileges on the patriarchs and the Israelites in general, on condition of responsive appreciation on their part, and the observance, in all the affairs of life, of His regulative will (Genesis 15:1-6; Genesis 17:1-8; Genesis 17:15-19; Exodus 19:1-9). But these engagements, while thus involving, as is suggested by the Hebrew term Berith, a certain ineradicable conditionality, were at the same time in accordance with the Greek suntheke, spontaneous and unencumbered dispositions of goods and distributions of benefits, just as if they had been actually “willed” to them by testamentary deed. God “disposed” of certain portions of His means and goods for the benefit of His national son, though it was impossible that He could alienate the goods from Himself, or alienate Himself from both His present usufruct and His perpetual right of property.

The giving of the Law, i.e., the Divine legislative enactments published from Sinai, and constituting in their sum the code which is known as the “moral law.” It is incomparably the best of all bases for the innumerable details of practical jurisprudence. It goes back, indeed, in its form to that primitive era when duty was, to a most preponderating extent, identified with moral self-restraint. Hence its injunctions are wisely set forth in negations. But when the detailed expanse of the decalogue is condensed into the summation of the duologue, the phase of representation is become affirmative; and nothing can excel the duological enactments in comprehensiveness, completeness, simplicity, and direct authority over the reason and the conscience.

The service, i.e., the temple service--a grand ritual, here regarded as a Divine appointment or grant of grace. Being in its many and varied details instinct with practical significance, it was fitted to recall to the minds of the worshippers what was due to God on the one hand, and how much was graciously provided by Him on the other.

The promises--announcements of coming favours--avant-couriers of the favours themselves, and sent forth to stimulate expectation and support the heart. All the Old Testament dispensations were replete with Messianic promises. His coming was “the promise”--the one running promise made to the fathers (Acts 13:32), and involved all other Messianic blessings, such as the atonement, the kingdom of heaven, the reign to be continued “as long as the sun,” the “new earth,” the “inheritance of the world” (Romans 4:13-14). It involved peace, joy, hope, all of them unspeakable and full of glory (Romans 5:1-11).

The fathers--the patriarch fathers, the band of whom Abraham was the leader and typical representative. They were far indeed from being men without blemish. But perhaps most of the sinister bars in their escutcheon were parcels of the heritage which they had received from their ancestors. But notwithstanding their blemishes they were at once childlike in faith and reverential in spirit. Their thoughts rose up on high. They “sought a heavenly country and looked for a city whose builder and architect was God” (Hebrews 11:10-14). It was no little advantage to be descended from such sires.

The Christ. The Messiah emerged from among the Hebrews, and thus “salvation was of the Jews.” It was their crowning prerogative. Jesus was a Jew. But His own people knew not their privilege, and they perceived not that it was the time of tide in the day of their merciful visitation (John 1:11; cf. Matthew 21:39). When the apostle said “so far as His human nature was concerned,” his mind was already mounting the infinite height which rose beyond. “Who is over all, God, to be blessed for ever.” (J. Morison, D.D.)

Israelites and their privileges

To no nation under the sun does there belong so proud, so magnificent a heraldry. No minstrel of a country’s fame was ever furnished so richly with topics; and the heart and fancy of our apostle seem to kindle at the enumeration of them. They were first Israelites, or descendants of a venerable patriarch--then, selected from among all the families of the earth, they were the adopted children of God, and to them belonged the glory of this high and heavenly relationship; and with their ancestors were those covenants made which enveloped the great spiritual destinies of the human race; and the dispensation of the Law from that mountain which smoked at the touch of the Divinity was theirs; and that solemn temple service where alone the true worship of the Eternal was kept up for ages was theirs; and as their history was noble from its commencement by the fathers from whom they sprung, so at its close did it gather upon it a nobility more wondrous still by the mighty and mysterious descendant in whom it may be said to have terminated--even Him who at once is the root and the offspring of David, and with the mention of whose name our apostle finishes this stately climax of their honours--“of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all God blessed for ever. Amen.” They are far the most illustrious people on the face of the world. There shines upon them a transcendental glory from on high; and all that the history whether of classical or heroic ages hath enrolled of other nations are but as the lesser lights of the firmament before it. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)

The covenants.

The term itself bears a special Messianic meaning, as always having in view the fidelity of God to the design of human redemption through the sacrifice of His Son. The Hebrew Berith almost always translated in the LXX. by diatheke, signifies, not a compact as between man and man, but the disposition or arrangement assumed by the one supreme purpose of grace. Unlike human compacts it is invariably connected with sacrifice. The Hebrew contains an allusion to the custom of cutting and passing between the parts of a divided animal on the ratification of a covenant. The first express revelation of the covenant to Abraham (Genesis 15:18) gives the key to all its history. There all is based on a free Divine promise. The animals divided denoted the two parties to the great transaction; and the flame passing through was God, in His future Son, the Shekinah, uniting the parties alone, and thus ratifying His own covenant. The New Testament term diatheke does not preserve the original allusion; but it is never disconnected from the idea. The one covenant of grace has been ratified by an eternal sacrifice; which is at the same time the death of the Testator, who disposes the promise of eternal inheritance according to the counsel of His own will.

The covenant of redemption, or of grace, has always been connected with Christ, its unrevealed Mediator. As its Mediator He is the medium through whom, or rather in whom, all its blessings are conveyed: that grace which is the one name and blessing of the covenant, the free bestowment of favour on sinful man, or “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Therefore the term, which has a wider meaning than its relation to a compact, may be applied to Christ as the yet unknown Redeemer who was at once the ground of the covenant, and its promise, and its virtual administrator. After He came and was revealed, it is the term surety that more precisely expresses His mediatorship in the order of grace: in His Divine-human atoning personality, He is the Pledge to man of the bestowment by God of all blessings procured through His atoning work, and the Pledge to God on behalf of mankind of compliance with all the conditions of the covenant. In the Old Testament the future Redeemer is not termed either the Mediator or the Surety; though He was in the profoundest sense both as the Angel or “Messenger of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1), and Himself the embodied Covenant reserved for the future (Isaiah 49:8). What was thus given to Him by promise becomes the heritage of His people through faith, who as “Christ’s are heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:18-19; Galatians 3:29).

This one covenant has taken three forms in the history of revelation.

1. As entered into with mankind, represented by Adam, its revelation began with the Fall, was ratified for the world with Noah, and was con- firmed to Abraham as the representative of all believers to the end of time.

2. But the covenant with Abraham for the world in all ages also introduced the special compact with his descendants after the flesh. The latter was established through Moses, its mediator; and blended the covenant of grace with a covenant of works. The law was given by Moses; and as an appended form or condition of the original institute of grace, perpetually convicted the people of their sin and impotence, drove them to take refuge in the hope of a future grace, the ground of which was kept before them in the institute of sacrifice.

3. Finally the new covenant, established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6), was ratified in the death of Christ. It was at once the abrogation of the Mosaic, or later old covenant, so far as concerns its national relation and its legal condition, and the renewal unto perfection of the more ancient covenant, always in force and never superseded, with mankind. (W. B. Pope, D.D.)

The giving of the law.--

1. The act as described (Exodus 20:18; Deuteronomy 4:32, etc.).

2. The law itself. System of laws given (Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Psalms 147:19-20). A distinction exalting Israel above every other nation, served--

(1) For instruction.

(2) For restraint.

(3) For conviction.

Prepared the way for the promised Saviour (Galatians 3:21). Its observance brought national blessings in its train. (T. Robinson, D.D.)

The service of God.--A technical term for Divine worship. The apostle is detailing the privileges which constituted Israel a peculiar people. This was one of the most conspicuous. For the service of Jehovah was distinguished from all heathen cults:--

In its origin. This was Divine. God Himself arranged the whole Hebrew ritual down to its minutest details. Man was not left to his own blind instincts as to the manner in which his Maker was to be approached. No doubt all worship was Divine in its origin, and were we able to thread the labyrinths of heathen devotion we should arrive ultimately at a primitive revelation. But this is impossible; and the great mass of heathen worship is the offspring of irrational superstition when it was not the device of a fraudulent priesthood.

In its nature.

1. It was spiritual. The forms were materialistic as all forms must necessarily be; but it was not mere form as heathen worship was. Time after time it was carefully explained that the sacrifices, etc., were symbolic, and that without the corresponding spiritual reality they were an abomination to Deity. To what an extent this was realised by the best spirits of the nation, the Psalms and prophets abundantly testify.

2. It was intelligent. The heathen worshipped “they knew not what.” To worship all the objects presented to their devotion was an impossibility, and had it been possible, ineffectual, for prayers offered to one God would have been neutralised by those offered to another. And the intelligent heathen, while he conformed to the superstitions of his fellow-country-men, knew the host of Olympus to be a myth. The Hebrews knew whom they worshipped. The Shekinah glory was a standing evidence of the Divine existence and presence, and the revelations of His character from time to time exhibited Him as worthy of the homage of rational beings.

In its effects. These were--

1. Humbling. The whole system was calculated to reveal the Divine greatness and holiness on the one hand and human insignificance and sinfulness on the other, and thus was discouraging to pride and self-confidence. It was not the fault of the system if men thanked God that they were not as other men were. Heathen worship encouraged no such notions of God or man, and hence humility was never a heathen virtue.

2. Joyful. God was served with gladness; and the joy of the Lord was the people’s strength for services. The great festivals are proofs of this. Heathenism had plenty of hilarity, but little joy. How could it have had when their worship brought no manifestation of the Divine presence and no consciousness of the Divine favour?

3. Moral. Holiness unto the Lord was the legitimate and only issue of the Mosaic system: whereas we know that many heathen gods were served with obscene rites, and that the whole tendency of idolatry was degrading to intellect, heart and life. Conclusion: The comparative value of heathen and Hebrew worship may be seen in their devotional manuals. To estimate this let the Book of Psalms be read side by side with the Vedas, Shasters, etc. (J. W. Burn.)

The promises.--

1. Of blessings in general (Leviticus 26:43; Deuteronomy 28:1-14).

2. Of the Messiah in particular. Given various times and in various ways (Hebrews 1:1; Romans 1:2). Some already fulfilled in Christ’s first coming (Acts 3:18; Acts 3:22-26). Others yet to be fulfilled in Israel’s experience (Ezekiel 37:1-28; Isaiah 66:1-24.). All the promises of God, yea and amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). Gentiles by faith made fellow-heirs of the promises (Ephesians 3:6; Galatians 3:29). Promises all fulfilled at Christ’s second appearing (chap. 11:26; Acts 1:6; Acts 3:19-21). Mentioned last as the transition to Christ Himself. (T. Robinson, D.D.)

Whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.--

The fact of facts in human history

Here is--

The crowning fact in Jewish history. “Of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came.” In the preceding verses the apostle points to the most illustrious facts in the history, facts in which the Jews passionately gloried. They were “Israelites.” No national appellation in their estimation was so distinguished as this; Greek and Roman were contemptible by its side. Theirs was the “adoption.” To them pertained the “glory.” They had the “covenants.” The covenants with Abraham, with Jacob, and with Moses, were with them. To them pertained the “giving of the law.” The best commentary on these words is to be found by Moses himself (Deuteronomy 4:32-36). To them also pertained the “service of God.” He mentions these in order to prepare the way for the announcement of a fact before whose splendour all others pale their lustre, and that is this: “Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came.” This was the crowning fact of their history. He does not disparage the other facts; on the contrary, he is patriotically proud of them. When will the Jew come to see that Jesus of Nazareth is the glory of Israelitish history? Here is--

The greatest fact in human history.

1. There are many great facts in the history of the world.

(1) Physical, such as deluges, earthquakes, wars, pestilences, etc.

(2) Political, such as the rise and fall of empires.

(3) Social, such as discoveries in science, inventions in art, reformations in customs and manners.

(4) Religious, such as the birth, growth, and decay of theological systems and ceremonial observances.

2. But of all facts there is not one approaching the great one in the text, viz., that Christ Jesus came into the world.

(1) No fact is better attested.

(2) No fact is so central in the world’s history as this.

(3) No fact involves such vital influence to the world as this. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Christ is

I. God

1. Supreme.

2. Infinite.

3. Eternal.

Over all.

1. Nature.

2. The world.

3. Heaven.

Ever blessed.

1. Self-sufficient.

2. Holy.

3. Good; hence--

4. Happy.


1. Conscience.

2. Gratitude.

3. Hope--say, Amen. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Christ over all

In the sublimity of His origin. All others came into existence in the natural order of generation, received a bias to wrong from their parents, and never in the case of the best quite lost their earthliness. On the contrary, Christ came down from the pure heavens of God. He had a pre-incarnate existence (Proverbs 8:1-36.; John 1:1-2). He was in the bosom of the Father, and while there was morally over all.

In the character of His doctrines. These were--

1. Realities of which He Himself was conscious. They were not matters of speculation. All the forms and voices of eternal truth were matters of consciousness to Him.

2. Moral in their influence. They are so congruous with man’s sense of right, consciousness of need, feeling of God, desire for immortality, that the believing soul sees them as Divine reality.

3. Pre-eminently Divine. They concerned God Himself, His words, thoughts, feelings, purposes. Christ does not teach what men call sciences; but God Himself, the root, centre and circumference of all truth.

In the affection of the father.

1. No one shared the Divine love so much as He. God loves all. He is love. But Christ is His “well-beloved,” and as such He loves Him with infinite complacency.

2. None ever deserved it as Christ did. He never offended the Father in His conduct, or misrepresented Him in His teaching. He always did those things which pleased Him.

3. None ever had such demonstrations of it. “All power is given unto Me.”

In the extent of his endowment. “God giveth not His Spirit by measure unto Him.” “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell.”

In the necessity of His mission. Faith in Him is essential to man’s eternal well-being. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Christ over all, God blessed for ever

Let us in imagination pass the angel guardians of those gates where no error enters, and, entering that upper sanctuary which no discord divides, no heresy disturbs, let us find out who worship and who are worshipped there. The law, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve,” extends to heaven as well as to earth; so that if our Lord is only the highest of all creatures, we shall find Him on His knees--not the worshipped, but a worshipper; and from His lofty pinnacle, and lonely, and to other creatures unapproachable pinnacle, looking up to God, as does the highest of the snow-crowned Alps to the sun, that, shining above it, bathes its head in light. We have sought Him, I shall suppose, in that group where His mother sits with the other Marys, sought Him among the twelve apostles, or where the chief of the apostles reasons with angels over things profound, or where David, royal leader of the heavenly choir, strikes his harp, or where the beggar, enjoying the repose of Abraham’s bosom, forgets his wrongs, or where martyrs and confessors and they which have come out of great tribulation, with robes of white and crowns of glory, swell the song of salvation to our God which sitteth on the throne. He is not there. Rising upwards, we seek Him where angels hover on wings of light, or, with feet and faces veiled, bend before a throne of dazzling glory. Nor is He there. He does not belong to their company. Verily He took not on Him the nature of angels. Eighteen hundred years ago Mary is rushing through the streets of Jerusalem, speed in her steps, wild anxiety in her look, one question to all on her eager lips, “Have you seen my Son?” Eighteen hundred years ago on those same streets, some Greeks accosted a Galilean fisherman, saying, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Now, were we bent, like His mother on finding Him, like those Greeks on seeing Him, to stay a passing angel, and accost him in the words, “Sir, we would see Jesus,” what would he do? How would his arm rise, and his finger point upward to the throne as he fell down to worship, and worshipping to swell that flood of song which in this one full stream mingles the name of the Father, and of the Son--Blessing and honour and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever. Such a glorious vision, such worship, the voices that sounded on John’s ear as the voice of many waters, the distant roar of the ocean, are in perfect harmony with the exalted honour and Divine dignity which Paul assigns to Him who is “over all, God blessed for ever.” (T. Guthrie, D.D.)

Christ’s supremacy

Over spirits (Matthew 8:16).

Over nature (verse 26; 17:27).

Over man (John 2:14-16; John 18:6). (T. Robinson, D.D.)

Christ’s supremacy

Over what. Over--

1. The sublimest created intelligences (Hebrews 1:1-14.).

2. The greatest human potentates (Revelation 19:16; Psa 110:1. cf. Matthew 22:43; Mat 11:42).

3. The most glorious of material edifices (Matthew 12:46).

4. The universe of matter as its Creator (John 1:3).

5. The universe of mind as its Ruler and Judge (Matthew 28:18; John 5:22; John 5:25).

6. His Church as its Redeemer, Legislator, Sovereign (Colossians 1:18-19).

7. In a word--all things (Colossians 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:27).

Why? Can there be any other answer but that in the text?--because He is God. (J. W. Burn.)

The Divine supremacy of Christ

Various constructions have been put on these words in order to set aside so clear an assertion of the Godhead of Jesus; but most of the highest authorities agree in regarding the present construction as most true to the original: and, if so, a more full and unmistakable declaration of Christ’s Divinity it is almost impossible to conceive. Were it our intention to argue the point of our Redeemer’s Godhead, we would look upon the question--

1. In the light of general history, and develop three facts.

(1) That the system of Jesus has become one of the most mighty powers in the human world, and is evidently tending to universal dominion. The Anglo-Saxon race is, in its literature, laws, customs, institutions and spirit, mightily influenced by it, and that race is rapidly advancing to the throne of the world.

(2) That there was a period in the history of the world when this mighty creed had no existence. When Homer sang, and Socrates reasoned; when Alexander fought his campaigns, and Demosthenes hurled his fulminations over Greece, Christianity was not.

(3) There was everything in the external history of the Founder of Christianity, as well as in the spiritual purity of its doctrines and precepts, to have led one antecedently to suppose that it would never make any way in the world. Christ was born of a despised people; lived in the most obscure part of their country; and came of humble parents; and so thoroughly did His doctrines clash with the feelings, and prejudices, and habits of the people, that the proclamation of them ended in His being executed as a malefactor. These facts show that the power which Christianity has gained in the world is a phenomenon which cannot be explained on the hypothesis of His being nothing more than a mere man; and that gives a strong presumption in favour of His Divinity.

2. In the light of Divine revelation, we would also state three facts.

(1) That whoever created the universe is our God, by whatever name you call the great originating agent. We cannot form an idea of a higher being than a Creator.

(2) That the Bible unquestionably refers the work of creation to Christ (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16).

(3) As a necessary conclusion, that unless the Bible is false, Christ is God. But our object is to offer a few remarks concerning Christ’s Divine supremacy, which is--

co-extensive with the universe. “Over all.” How much is included in this “all!” The visible and invisible, the proximate and remote, the minute and vast, the material and the spiritual. The subjects of His dominion may be divided into four classes. Those which He governs--

1. Without a will; all inanimate matter and vegetable life. Plants germinate, grow, and die; oceans ebb and flow; stars and systems revolve by His will entirely. They have no will.

2. With their will. All irrational existences have volition. By this they move. They cannot move contrary to their instinct. Whether they roam in the forest, wing the air, or sport in mighty oceans, they move with their will, and He controls them thus.

3. By their will. Holy intelligences He governs thus. He gives them laws, and supplies them with motive, and leaves them free. They move by their will, yet He governs them.

4. Against their will. These are wicked men and devils. He makes their “wrath to praise Him.” He is “over all” these.

Exercised with perfect happiness. “Blessed for ever. He is the blessed and only Potentate.” Christ is happy on the throne. If so, we infer--

1. That He can have no doubt of His capacity to meet every conceivable emergency. The sovereign who doubts his power can never be happy. How many monarchs, like Herod, are miserable from fear? “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Christ has “all power.” He is not afraid of insurrections or rebellions.

2. That He can have no misgivings as to the rectitude of His position. The monarch who has got power by fraud or violence, by treading on the rights of others if he has conscience, can never be happy on his throne. But Christ has a consciousness that He has a right to the power He wields. His subjects are His creatures, His property, etc.

3. That He must be ever under the sway of benevolent affections. Envy, anger, revenge, ambition, are all the fruits of selfishness, and are elements of misery; and they cannot co-exist with benevolence.

4. That happiness is the law of the universe. He that is happy ever seeks to make others so. Misery is an accident; happiness is a necessity; for Christ’s being is a necessity. Misery had a beginning; happiness is eternal. Misery is local; happiness is universal. The misery of the universe, as compared with the happiness, is only as one blighted leaf in an immeasurable forest.

Heartily acquiesced in by the good. “Amen”; i.e., So be it--I would have it so.

1. Conscience says amen to Christ’s supremacy.

2. Gratitude. What has He done for us! Recount His victories--His mercies.

3. Hope. What higher security can we have, either for the future well-being of our race or selves than this? (D. Thomas, D.D.)

The Deity of Christ

In defence of the received version of our text, we have to urge--

That it is in strict conformity with every principle of just interpretation. It violates no rule of construction; it infringes on no idiom of the Greek language; it deviates from no general usage of the sacred writers. There is no rude disjointure of the passage; no referring of the terms “who is” to a person afterwards to be named, instead of the person named before; no mutilation of the passage; no addition; but--so far as the English language will admit of it--the very order is preserved in which the passage stands in the original.

The qualification of the statement, that the Messiah was of the Israelites only “according to the flesh,” strongly countenances, not to say renders necessary, this reading; involving, as it does, the supposition that there was something else, according to which He was not of them; and at least justifying the conclusion that if anything else be named before the final closing of the sentence by which the contrast can be completed, and according to which the Messiah was not of the Jews, it was intended to be so taken and applied. Now, in our text that something else is clearly pointed out--namely, His Deity. According to the flesh, He is of the Israelites; according to another, and a Divine nature, He is over all, God blessed for ever. Thus the contrast is complete; both parts of the antithesis are supplied, and our Emmanuel is seen to be precisely as St. John represented Him--truly man, and truly God.

That this is the proper rendering of the text we argue from the existing ancient versions of this epistle. The most ancient of the versions of the New Testament, and that which stands highest in critical authority, is the Old Syriac, made, some suppose, before the death of the apostle John, but certainly at the close of the first century, or the beginning of the second. This ancient version thus renders the passage:--“And from them was manifested Messiah in the flesh, who is God that is over all; whose are praises and blessings to the ages of ages. Amen.” Nothing can be more clear than this; nothing more express. The version which stands next to the Syriac, and which may be said almost to rival it, is the Old Latin, denominated the Italic. This was executed, as is supposed, at the beginning of the second century, and is of no small importance in Biblical criticism. It renders our text thus;--“From whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is over all things, God blessed for ever. Amen.” The Ethiopic, translated in the fourth century, omits the words “over all,” and reads--“Of whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is God blessed for ever. Amen.” And the Armenian, translated at the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century, reads--“Of whom the Christ came according to the flesh; who is also over all things, God blessed for ever. Amen.”

All the ancient Christian writers who have either professedly cited or translated the passage, or who have referred to the apostle’s design in writing it, have given the construction for which we are contending. Irenaeus, who flourished in the second century, and who was the disciple of Polycarp, who had been personally acquainted with the apostle John, speaking of the generation of Jesus Christ, says--“He is called God with us, lest by any means one should conceive that He was only a man; for the Word was made flesh, not by the will of man, but by the will of God; nor should we, indeed, surmise Jesus to have been another, but know Him to be one and the same God. This very thing St. Paul has interpreted. Writing to the Romans, he said--‘Whose are the fathers, and of whom Christ came according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever.’” Tertullian, about the year 211, writes thus:--“I will follow the apostle; so that if I have occasion to mention the Father and the Son together, I will use the appellations God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Lord. But when I am speaking of Christ alone, I will call Him God; as the apostle says, ‘of whom is Christ, who is,’ saith he, ‘God over all things, blessed for ever.’” And in another passage Tertullian states:--“Paul also hath called Christ very God: ‘Whose are the fathers, and of whom Christ came according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever’” Cyprian, who wrote about the year 240, thus cites the passage, in a work written to prove that Christ is God:--“Of whom are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is God over all, blessed for ever.” Novatian, about the year 251, thus expostulated with the opposers of the Saviour’s Godhead:--“But if, when it belongs to God alone to know the secrets of the heart, Christ looks into the secrets of the heart; but if, when it belongs to God alone to forgive sins, Christ forgives sins; but if, when it is not the possible act of any man to come down from heaven, Christ in His advent descended from heaven; but if, when no man can utter this sentence, ‘I and my Father are one,’ Christ alone, from a consciousness of His Divinity, declared, ‘I,’ etc.; but if the apostle Paul, too, in his writings says, ‘Whose are the fathers, and of whom is Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever,’ it follows that Christ is God.” Athanasius, about the year 326, states:--“Paul thus writes in his Epistle to the Romans: ‘Of whom are the fathers, and of whom Christ came according to the flesh, who is over all, God.’” Here, by not adding the doxology, “blessed for ever,” Athanasius has incontrovertibly proved that he understood the words as applying to Christ. Theodoret, Epiphanius, and Gregory of Nyssa have quoted them in the same manner. Hilary, who wrote A.D. 324, has left the following testimony:--“Paul was not ignorant that Christ is God, saying, ‘Of whom are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all things, God.’” And, now, what shall we say to this? If the consent of the whole professing Christian world--with the exception of a few individuals within the last three centuries--be not sufficient to prove the proper construction of a passage like this, on what authority are we to depend? But if it be sufficient, then an inspired apostle has assuredly written that “Christ is over all, God blessed for ever.” (Thos. Allin.)

Blending of the human and Divine in Christ

The picture produced in the stereopticon is fuller, rounder, and more natural than the same picture seen without the use of that instrument. But to produce the stereoscopic picture there must be two pictures blended into one by the use of the stereopticon, and both the eyes of the observer are brought into requisition at the same time, looking each through a separate lens. Thus Christ is only seen in His true and proper light when the record of His human nature and the statement of His Divine are blended. It is a flat, unfinished Christ with either left out. But it is as seen in the Word, with the moral and mental powers of our being both engaged in the consideration, and thus only, that we get the full and true result.

Pre-eminence of Christ:--We have seen in mountain lands one majestic peak soaring above all the rest of the hills which cut the azure of the horizon with their noble outline, burning with hues of richest gold in the light of the morning sun; and so should the doctrine of Christ incarnate, crucified, risen, and reigning, be pre-eminent above the whole chain of fact, doctrine, and sentiment which make up the sublime landscape--the magnificent panorama--which the Christian preacher (or teacher) unfolds, and makes to pass in clear form and brilliant colour before the eyes of his people’s faith. (Evangelical Magazine.)

Christ’s Divine human personality

Christ’s humanity.

1. Real flesh.

2. Of the seed of Abraham.

3. Compassed about with infirmities.

Christ’s divinity.

1. Supreme.

2. Eternal.

3. Blessed for ever. Amen. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Verses 6-13

Romans 9:6-13

Not as though the Word of God hath taken none effect.

God’s faithfulness vindicated

The apostle’s language is abrupt and broken, and fitly represents his feelings. He had felt his spirit drawn onward and upward as he proceeded with his enumeration of the high prerogatives of his countrymen, till at length he found himself climbing the ladder which Jacob saw, add which leads directly to “glory, honour, and immortality.” He was, as it were, “caught up” in a rapture, and carried “off and away.” Ere he was let down again, he had exclaimed, with fulness of heart, “Amen.” But, unable for the present to proceed farther in that sublime rapture, he as it were recalls himself, and returns to the melancholy fact which is bewailed in Romans 3:1-31; Romans 3:1-31. The fact, however, as a fact is not expressly stated. The statement is semi-smothered under the intensity of the writer’s feelings. Yet the enumeration of theocratic prerogatives finds a place in the writer’s record just because there was oppressively present to his mind and heart the fact that his countrymen in general had, through their rejection of Jesus the Messiah, ousted themselves from the privileges of “the kingdom of heaven.” They were refusing to be “Israelites indeed,” and were virtually passing on themselves sentence of spiritual expatriation. Confronting that fact, he says, is a spirit of recoil.

The case is not such as that the Word of God has fallen out of its due fulfilment. The melancholy fact referred to might and would occasion much embarrassment to multitudes of men, but it would and could not embarrass the Divine Moral Governor, nor frustrate His promises even in relation to Israel. Jewish disbelief and self-deposition, melancholy as they were, were yet within the sphere of the full overrulement of God.

1. The apostle specifies the Word of God, i.e., the Word spoken by God through His prophets to Israel, and in substance preserved in “the volume of the book.” On the one side it was simply predictive, on the other it was distinctly promissory; but in both respects a distinguished and distinguishing share of blessing was held out to the “peculiar people.”

2. The Word of God has not failed of fulfilment, literally, has not fallen out. The idea is transfigured from a heavenly occurrence, as when from the back of some burden-bearer an article falls and is lost.

For not all who are of Israel are Israel The apostle lays down a far-reaching principle. God had an ideal in view when He made choice of Israel to be His peculiar people. He had grand aims for future ages--aims that are yet to be realised in all peoples (Genesis 12:3, etc.). The selected people could not all at once grasp the grand idea. It was not to be wondered at. Neither would God be exacting. Still, His idea must not be pushed aside or reversed, like an inverted pyramid; still less must it be trampled under foot. For God was not shut up to Israel. If needful, He could find in the evolution of the ages an Israel beyond Israel, or an Israel within Israel. As regards the old Israel, if it should persist in misunderstanding its position and mission, fancying itself to be the indispensable centre of the whole human circle, it could be told, in that language of events which makes epochs in history, that its candlestick was removable, and would be removed for a lamp that would actually give light. There were Israelites and Israelites. There were those in full possession of the name, but entirely without the inward ideal that gave it significance, and there could be those without the name, but with the inward ideal, though yet only struggling like a star through the mists of ignorance and imperfection (Romans 2:29). In this verse the two kinds of Israel are brought into juxtaposition. Not all who are the progeny of the patriarch Israel are truly and ideally the Israel “to whom pertaineth the adoption.” God, therefore, will not break His promise, though He refuse to fulfil it to those who have forfeited, by their unbelief, all right and title to an illustrious position and name. He is free to oust those who have persistently abused their high prerogative, and to introduce in their room a people who would seek to rise to the level of their high calling. (J. Morison, D.D.)

The work of God’s Word

God is the first cause of all things--sin excepted. All things were created by Him and for Him; but that which is effect to God, is often cause in other relations and connections. You Christians are God’s workmanship, but at the same time you are causes. Oh, do not underrate your influence as Christians. You can scarcely rise to a correct estimate of it, so immense is it. Well, we say that the gospel, so far as its authorship is concerned, is an effect; but so far as its power in the world is concerned, it is a cause, and a glorious cause.

1. We may expect it to be a mighty cause if we look at its nature. “The Word of the truth of the gospel” is a direct revelation from God of a wonderful provision which He has made by His Son, and through the Holy Ghost for the salvation of men. It is like the planting of a new sun of twofold power in our firmament.

2. We may expect the gospel to be a mighty cause if we look at the commission issued respecting the preaching of it: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” The preachers are mocked, cruelly mocked, by this commission, and the world is cruelly mocked by the preaching, if it be intended that the word of God’s grace should take none effect.

3. We may expect the gospel to be a mighty cause if we connect with the promise of our Saviour’s presence with the preachers, the extraordinary ministry of the Holy Ghost. Why is the Holy Ghost sent to reprove the word of sin? And why did the Son of God promise to be with the first preachers always, if this word is to be of none effect?

4. We may expect the gospel to be a powerful cause if we consider the representations which are given concerning it. It is said to be glorious and everlasting, and the power of God unto salvation. It is called incorruptible seed, and the sword of the Spirit.

5. And we may expect the gospel to continue to be a powerful cause if we notice its first effects as recorded in our New Testament, and its subsequent effects as chronicled in uninspired writings; or if we look at all which the gospel is doing now, and remember that the nature of the gospel is such that the application of it does not exhaust it, and that time does not impair it. We would direct every Christian to his own condition as a saved man, and upon this ground would plead with you never to think, or feel, or speak, or act as though the Word of God had taken none effect. One soul saved is a marvellous effect--an effect in some respects more wonderful than even creation itself. Now trace the effect of the word of the truth of the gospel upon a man’s mind. What is it like? It is like opening eyes which had always been blind. The effect of the word of the truth of the gospel is like unstopping deaf ears. The man hears that which he had never heard before. He hears God speaking to him. The effect of the Word of God upon him who believes it is to loose the dumb tongue. The man has spoken before, but never to God, or, if before to God, then as Cain spake to Him, and not as a child speaks to a father, that is, to a good father. The man now confesses his sin to God, as he feels the burden of his sin to be unbearable. The effect of the word of the truth of the gospel upon a man--still keeping to this illustration--is to strengthen the arms, so that work and conflict which appeared impossible are now undertaken as an easy task. The word of the truth of the gospel cleanses the hands--yes, the hands of the murderer from blood, and the hands of the thief from dishonesty, and the hands of the slothful from indolence, and the hands of the covetous from the rust and the canker of hoarded gold and silver. The Word of God effects that which is like restoring sensation and motion to withered and exhausted nerves. It quickens and arouses all the sensibilities and powers of soul and spirit--calling into life and activity godly love and godly hope, and godly joy, and all the moral and religious sensibilities and powers of soul and spirit--so that he who was as dead is now alive again, and God speaks to him as alive again. The Word of God--and perhaps we should have remarked this first--also changes the heart. Oh, brethren, do not think of the Word of God as though it had none effect; or if you be discouraged, just open your eyes, and see whether the ground of discouragement is not often to be found in the simple fact, that when Christians present the gospel to their fellow men they do not present it as God presents it. (S. Martin.)

The election of grace

Is independent of external preferences and human merit.

1. The phrase--

(1) Implies the eternal purpose of God to save them that believe;

(2) proceeds from free grace;

(3) is determined by the reception or non-reception of the truth, which is an act of free-will.

2. The proof supplied by the history of the elect people.

(1) By the difference in the moral condition of the Israelites (Romans 9:6; chap. 2:28, 29).

(2) By the different relations in which the immediate descendants of Abraham stood to God (Romans 9:7-8; cf. Matthew 3:9; John 8:39). The same difference obtains in the Christian Church.

Is dependent upon Divine promise.

1. The whole work of grace is matter of promise, and affords hope of a better life.

2. This is shown by the examples quoted (Romans 9:9; Romans 9:13).

3. Hence it follows that we can only be partakers of the promise by a believing reception of it. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The freedom of God’s election

They had been so highly privileged, and were yet cast out. “Oh, what a fall was there!” But God’s promise had not come to naught, for as the history of their ancestry showed, the purposed working out of God’s plans for the salvation of the world--for which alone Israel had been chosen--was not committed rigidly to all Israel, but only to such of them as God should choose. And in this matter of choosing God was perfectly free. Note--

God’s purpose for the world. A Creator’s love must embrace His whole creation; a Father’s, all His children. God is the Father of mankind, even though all have fallen from Him. Any purpose of salvation must therefore comprehend all men in its wide scope, and only the wilfulness of man can prevent the accomplishment of its purpose. God has purposed the redemption of the world in Christ (Ephesians 3:11), but by reason of man’s debasement the accomplishment of the purpose must needs be gradual. One great central work shall be wrought--God’s work through Christ; but up towards this the preparatory work must lead, and away from this the fulfilment must conduct. An education of the world; a great power of salvation; a world-wide application of the power.

An elect people. The election dealt with in these chapters, which has no reference to the election of individuals to eternal salvation, was the election of a people who should conduct the world toward Christ by way of preparation, and afterwards conduct Christ’s power to the world by way of application. In the matter of preparation the exclusion of this people from others was needful first, because of the abounding corruptions of the world. Sometimes this is the only safety: “Come out and be separate!” But a scattering was needful afterwards. So the captivities, overruled by God; so the dispersion in later times. For the subsequent evangelisation there must be concentration first, that the new power of life might be fully realised; a scattering afterwards, that the new power might touch the uttermost ends of the earth (Acts 8:4).

The freedom of the election. In such work God’s hands cannot be tied, and surely He may choose whom He will; and the history of the past abundantly illustrates the freedom with which God has worked. First, God chose Abraham. The Jews would not complain of the freedom of election here. Again, of Abraham’s sons He chose the later-born, showing that the matter of priority of natural claims could not weigh with Him; and of Isaac’s twin sons before their birth He chose the later-born, showing that nothing done by the elected one constituted a claim on His electing grace. Neither Ishmaelites nor Edomites were rejected of God from personal salvation, but as regarded taking a special part in the work of the world’s salvation, they were reprobate. So, then, God had acted freely in the choice of Abraham, and in narrowing down the election among Abraham’s seed. Was it to be wondered at that in the fulness of time He should act freely still, and elect only a remnant of the people to the work of evangelisation of the world, this work so soon to be entrusted also to Gentile workers themselves? The same principle still holds good. God elects us according to His sovereign will for work in His kingdom. Let us learn, as a first lesson, absolute submission--nay, the unquestioning fealty of love. (T. F. Lockyer, B.A.)

The Word of God taking effect

I well remember a time when this truth was brought home to me by the ease of one to whom I was permitted to minister during the closing days of his life. He was one who had stood foremost among the thoughtful and wise of this world; but he did not feel the full power of the Word of Life. I felt considerable anxiety. I thought that much depended on the way in which, in these closing scenes of life, I presented to him the vital and saving truths of Christianity. If presented in any over-confident way by one whom, perhaps, he would have considered less cultivated than himself, I felt--and I remember the anxiety with which I felt it--all ministrations might have done harm. I humbly conferred with my own poor heart, and I thus reasoned with my anxiety; “Let me read from God’s Word some more than usually appropriate portion in such a case. But let me read God’s Word alone, and leave that Word to work in this heart. My words, I am confident, will be as nothing. I will read alone the Word of Life.” The portion I chose was that contained in the last seven or eight chapters of St. John’s Gospel. I read perhaps about twenty verses at a time--not more; and I added only the very simplest comments where comments seemed to be necessary; and I remember well--it is a memory ever pleasant with me and that often encourages me--how the words seemed to find their way into the sick man’s heart; how I saw shadows on the brow passing slowly away; how often the common human eye could observe the mystery of God’s Word finding its way to the heart. I remember once or twice humbly testing whether it was so by staying away almost purposely, and found, on my return, that not I, but the reading of the Word of Life, had been sadly missed. I read onward and onward, and I am confident--I am speaking now with carefully chosen words--that those words of life brought that soul very close to our saving Lord. The incident produced a very great effect upon me; and I never hear any one speak lightly of what is called “the mere reading of the Word of God” without having this as a proof that there is in this blessed Book alone, without word or comment, a power and a force that no human language can describe. (Bp. Ellicott.)

The Word of God taking no effect

In some the Word of God takes no effect.

1. They do not repent.

2. Do not believe.

3. Are not saved.

Their unbelief cannot impugh the efficiency of God’s Word.

1. It takes effect on others.

2. Would in them, but for their unbelief.

3. Must ultimately take effect in their final condemnation. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

For they are not all Israel which are of Israel.--Here is--

A solemn fact--not all Israel, etc. Some possess the name, the form, but deny the power.

The reason of it--not that the Word of God is without effect. Some realise its power, but others believe not, and to them the arm of the Lord is not revealed. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The distinction between the external and the true Church

Its origin (verse 6).

1. Not in the purpose of God, for His promise respects all (1 Peter 3:19).

2. But in the conduct of men, who hold fast the form, and deny the power.

Its nature (verse 7-13).

1. The external depends upon parentage, education, prejudice, etc.; the true upon the promise of God.

2. The external rests in works; the true in the grace of God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children; but in Isaac shall thy seed be called.

The true seed of Abraham is called

1. Not in Ishmael, but in Isaac.

2. Not by a natural, but by a spiritual birth.

3. Not by the will of man, but by the purpose of God in Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The true children of Abraham

Not by a natural, but by a spiritual birth.

1. The example of Abraham.

2. Its application--natural advantages avail nothing, but a new birth in Christ the true seed of promise.

Not of works, but of grace.

1. The case of Esau and Jacob.

2. Election determined not by merit, but grace, and suspended on faith. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The true heirs of grace

Exemplified. Not all the children of Abraham.

1. Ishmael the child of nature, Isaac the child of promise.

2. Ishmael rejected, Isaac appointed heir.


1. Those who are born of the flesh are not the children of God, but those who are born of the Spirit.

2. According to the promise made in Christ. These are the true heirs of salvation. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise.--


Of the flesh. Children by mere natural generation, viz.--

1. Ishmael and his descendants.

2. Abraham’s sons by Keturah, and their posterity.

3. The natural descendants of Abraham in general. Unbelieving Jews were children of the flesh as truly as was Ishmael.

Of the promise. Born entirely in virtue of a promise, viz.--

1. Isaac.

2. Believers whether Jews or Gentiles (Romans 4:16-17; Romans 4:16-17; Galatians 3:29).

3. Isaac a type of believers--

(1) As born according to Divine promise.

(2) By supernatural power (Genesis 17:5; Isaiah 53:10-12; John 1:13; John 5:25; John 6:44-45; John 6:65).

Of God.

1. Children in God’s esteem, and by God’s appointment.

2. Those to whom He will be a God as He was to Abraham (Genesis 17:7). Children of the flesh distinguished from the children of God (John 1:13). (T. Robinson, D.D.)

Children of the flesh and of the promise

Within the family circle of Abraham there were children who should never have been. They were not really wanted in the world. Their existence was attributable to the unrefined manners of the age. Hence they might be called “children of the flesh.” The designation was sufficiently explicit, and could stand appropriate antithesis to that of “the children of promise,” and thus the Messianic children of God. Such were Isaac and then Jacob, and their legitimate descendants. God promised these to Abraham, and they were at once children of the promise, and the Messianic children of God. To the exclusion of all other descendants they were reckoned for the Messianic offspring by God. He had sovereign right to choose, and He exercised His right. The phrase “children of God” is susceptible of varied applications. All men are His offspring (Acts 17:28), and thus His children. The pure, the benevolent, and the unrevengeful, these in particular are His children (Matthew 5:45). And if from among the lapsed any rise up and earnestly urge their way toward purity, etc., then all these are emphatically “the children’ of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). Having received Christ they have “power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12). Jesus Himself is the Son of God in the highest sense But in the passage before us the designation is restricted to those who were His Messianic children. Viewed in unity, they are His national sons, His firstborn (Exodus 4:22). Viewed in individuality they are His theocratic sons and daughters. (J. Morison, D.D.)

The children of the promise

St. Paul as a Christian patriot was ready to sacrifice his everlasting fellowship with Christ if it could ensure the salvation of his fellow countrymen. But, alas! the fact of the rejection of Jesus and His gospel by many of the Jews must be accepted. And when the apostle turns to history, he finds that there has been no wholesale salvation of either the descendants of Abraham and Israel, but a certain proportion only became children of promise. How can these facts be dealt with under the Divine government? It is to this the apostle devotes himself in the present passage.

God’s judgment upon any man is not determined by the qualities of his natural disposition.

1. God did not elect to privilege either all the children of the patriarch, or even those whom we would incline to elect. Abraham had eight children (Genesis 25:2), yet only one became the “child of promise.” Isaac had two, but only the younger became the child of promise. Moreover, when we consider Ishmael and Esau, we are inclined to consider them the more manly and noble. They may have become “sons of the desert,” but there is something in them that commands our admiration. Of course we see in them purely natural endowments. They live lives of sense rather than of faith, and are what we call now worldly men. Their natures are as interesting as pure worldliness of spirit will allow.

2. Now let us suppose that God’s electing love had laid hold on these well-made “noblemen of nature,” and had passed by their feebler brothers, the mediative Isaac, the cowardly Jacob; would not an outcry have resulted against a God who professed to be a Father, and yet could favour the strong and pass by the weak? But, as Dr. Leonard W. Bacon says, “God does not cast out His crippled and deformed children to perish. He holds to a stricter and sterner responsibility the sons that are nobly endowed. He is not the gentleman’s God, nor the Redeemer of persons of fine culture and instincts, but the Saviour of the lost. And by many a story as strange as this of Jacob and Esau He has shown to the generous and highminded that there is a possible way of ruin for them; and to those who know in their own sorrowful consciences, and by the scorn of others, that they are not of noble strain, that there is a way by which they may find salvation.”

The children of the promise have been led to prize it and to trust in the faithful Promiser. Both Isaac and Jacob were children of the promise in this sense, that their mothers would never have borne them had not God sustained their hope of children by the promise of a seed. But Esau was included in this promise as well as Jacob. There was, however, another and better promise, about all the families of the earth being blessed through a particular seed. In other words, the promise of a Messiah was held before them as their highest hope. Now Ishmael and Esau despised this arrangement; they did not feel indebted to posterity, as many a worldly mind thinks still. But Isaac and Jacob got interested in the promised blessing, and were led to trust Him who uttered it. Their very weakness led them to lean on One mighty to save, and they were pardoned, accepted, and in due season sanctified. God’s electing love thus moves along lines where there is the likelihood that poor, crippled, crushed souls will learn to trust God who is mighty to save. It is harder for a rich man, e.g., to trust God than for a poor man; hence God has “chosen the poor, rich in faith,” etc. (James 2:5). It is harder to get able-bodied, healthy men to trust God than the sick and sorrowing; and hence we find that the Jobs and Asaphs are made, by God’s grace, to show to the unbelieving world that they can serve God for nought, etc. (Job 1:9; Job 13:15; Psalms 73:1-28.). And so, as Dr. Bacon again says, “Be of good comfort. You shall be saved not only in spite of your faults and infirmities, but from them. Faith in God is the vital air of all true nobleness. In this air the stunted germs of human virtue unfold and blossom. Without faith their fairest growths tend to shrivel and decay. For lack of faith in God, the noble gifts of Esau are of no avail. He shuts himself out a willing stranger to the covenants of promise, having no hope, without God in the world. He moves, a wandering star, in a track without a centre, on towards, blackness of darkness. By faith the low nature of that “worm Jacob” is by and by redeemed from the power of evil, and, transformed in character and name, becomes the prince that hath power with God.”

God’s electing love and reprobating hate cannot be charged with injustice. In analysing God’s love for the children of promise Paul traces their election to God’s good pleasure (verse 15). And if mercy be undeserved favour, then He may justly give it to whomsoever He pleaseth. On the other hand, those who are passed by, having no claim to better treatment, simply receive the reward of their deeds. And here it may be well to guard against a false view of God’s hatred of Esau. It is not to be inferred that God hated Esau before he was born and had any opportunity of doing evil. When we consult the passage (Malachi 1:2) here quoted by Paul we find it refers to the judgment of Edom in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, 996 years later. Without being blessed like his brother, Esau received his home “in the fastness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven.” His indifference had cost him his right of primogeniture, and he could no more receive it back (Genesis 27:33-37; Genesis 27:33-37; Hebrews 12:16-17); yet the law prescribed “Thou shalt not have the Idumean in abomination, for he is thy brother,” and God endured ten centuries of hardness of heart before He said “I have hated Esau.” That is to say, God’s reprobation of Esau is not to be confounded with His election of Jacob. The opposite of election is not reprobation, but non-election; and no human being has any evidence that he is not elected. The opposite of reprobation is approbation, and we are all reprobated by God so long as we do not accept Christ. Election rests on the good pleasure of God; reprobation on His holiness, which leads Him to antagonise what is unholy. (R. M. Edgar, D.D.)

Election not the ground of our faith

We are not to make election a ground for our faith, but our faith and calling a medium or argument to prove our election. Election, indeed, is first in the order of Divine acting--God chooseth before we believe--yet faith is first in our acting--we must believe before we can know we are elected; yea, by believing we know it. The husbandman knows it is spring by the sprouting of the grass, though he hath no astrology to know the position of the heavens: thou mayest know thou art elect, as surely by a work of grace in thee, as if thou hadst stood by God’s elbow when He wrote thy name in the Book of Life. (W. Gurnall.)

For this is the word of promise.--

God’s word of promise

1. Is unmerited and free.

2. Surpasses human thought.

3. Removes every difficulty.

4. Is suspended on faith. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Verse 8

Romans 9:8

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.

St. Paul’s wish

A considerable group of expositors have regarded the first moiety of this verse as parenthetical, “I have great heaviness and sorrow of heart (for I myself used to wish to be accursed from the Messiah) for my brethren,” etc. The apostle is supposed to be referring to his own infatuation during the time of his antagonism to Christ and Christianity, for the purpose of obliquely depicting, from the standpoint of his own experience, the lamentable condition of his countrymen, and of thus accounting for the overwhelming sorrow under which he was suffering. Others, without the mechanical parenthetical expedient, give substantially the same interpretation, “I was wishing, viz., at a former period, not now.” But it is impossible that the apostle was speaking historically. The expression is a Greek idiom meaning, “I could pray or wish to God”--an idiom which grew out of the imperfect or incomplete tense, “I was praying.” If it were wished to represent the act as completed some other tense would be required. Take another instance (Galatians 4:20). “I could wish (for reasons obvious enough, and if my ether engagements did not forbid) to be once more in the midst of you.” Or (Acts 25:22) “Agrippa said to Festus, I also could wish to hear the man myself” (viz., if it were not, O Festus, trespassing too far on your indulgence). So in the case before us “I could wish to God to be vicariously an anathema for my kinsmen, if my conceptions of my duty on the one hand, and of God’s wisdom and will on the other, would allow me to carry forth into completion such a desire and such a prayer. The apostle did not actually desire to be an anathema. He knew that such a desire would never be Divinely fulfilled, and hence he did not cherish it. A wise man keeps his desires under control. A pious man takes God’s desires and purposes into account, and does not entertain any desire which he knows to be at variance with the Divine will, or with the arrangements that are dependent on the Divine will. Hence it is that the apostle does not say, “I desire,” but only “I could desire.” So far as he was concerned, he was ready for the self-sacrifice, provided it was legitimate, and could be efficacious. It would not, however, have been of avail, and hence the wish was never fully formed. The potential did not pass into the actual. It is true that the potential translation of the verb, though doubtless the only correct one under the circumstances, is nevertheless an imperfect reflection of the original “imperfect” tense. The tense is a time, not a potency; but it is a past tense incomplete. Hence the real idea of the word is “I was desiring.” The desire rose up in the apostle’s heart, and to a certain extent he allowed it, yet only to a certain extent, for a higher desire struck in and controlled it--the desire to be in perfect accord with God’s desire and will. Hence it hung suspended, and remained imperfect. It was conditional, and the condition that would have brought it to maturity was never forthcoming. Thus the embryo desire was in reality but a potency. It may now be further noticed that the word means properly “I could pray.” The word is so rendered in 2 Corinthians 13:7; James 5:16, and has really that meaning in 2 Corinthians 13:9; 3 John 1:2; Acts 27:29. In the last text they lifted up their desires to their gods and prayed for the break of day. The word only occurs elsewhere in Acts 26:29. “If I might venture to use the liberty of openly expressing the fulness of my feeling, I would audibly lift up my prayer to God.” Hence our text is admirably expressed in our idiomatic “I could wish to God.” It is impossible to believe that St. Paul ever presented such a prayer. The utmost stretch of conceivability extends no farther than this--that the apostle felt, time after time, the incompleted uprising of an impulse to pray that if it were compatible with all great interests, permission might be given him to be, by the sacrifice of his own happiness, the means of rescuing his infatuated countrymen from their doom. Such sacrifice he would gladly make, if it were among the moral possibilities. (J. Morison, D.D.)

Paul’s wish

The word “accursed” often signifies no more than being devoted to temporal death, or being made a sacrifice of (Deu 21:23, cf. Galatians 3:16), and the words “from Christ” may signify” after Christ,” i.e., after His example (2 Timothy 1:3). The verse then would read thus: “I could be content, nay, I should rejoice to be made a sacrifice myself, as Christ has been before me, for my brethren.” (D. Waterland, D.D.)

Accursed from Christ

The solutions that have been offered of this difficult text group themselves under one or other of the three following alternatives.

If his Jewish kinsmen could only thereby be saved, Paul could himself sublimely consent to be finally damned. Many have so understood him, and applauded the sentiment as the climax of the morally sublime, as exhibiting “ a love stronger than death,” because stronger than even hell. But is this a Christ-like love? When did Christ consent to be made a curse in a sense so vile, or incur a doom so final? For me to wish myself accursed from Christ for any end whatever, would be to wish not only doom, but sin. So far from glorifying God, it would but dishonour and contradict Him, for it would be to choose as a means of good what God brands as the very quintessence of evil.

A qualified and softened sense that falls short of final doom.

1. Some have taken the phrase, “accursed from Christ,” to mean temporal death, in proof of which appeal is made to the prayer of Moses in Exodus 32:32. But Moses’ expression for temporal death presents no parallelism whatever to the apostle’s expression. Moreover, if Paul meant temporal death, what could he mean by “from Christ”? Temporal death, so far from separating the believer from Christ, cuts short all seeming separation. Anathema originally denoted the act of depositing gifts in temples, and also the votive offerings themselves. These were of course sacred and irrevocable. When the gift was a living creature, beast or man, the life was devoted in sacrifice. Hence “devoted “ stands for “doomed.” In the spiritual sphere the doom thus expressed was utter and final. As “anathema from Christ” the life, what less could it be? This we find to be its intensity of meaning in all the other places in which the word occurs in the New Testament (Act 23:14 1 Corinthians 16:22; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 1:8-9). Thus the words “accursed from Christ” refuse to be softened down. Whatever final damnation may mean, all that they mean. Nor will it in the least help the matter to resort to the forms of Jewish excommunication, for in its milder form of expulsion from the synagogue, the phrase before us is far too strong, and is never once so employed: while in its direr form of thorough Jewish malediction, it embraced all the terrors of “eternal judgment.”

2. Turn we now to the opening expression “I could wish.” The tense in the original is the imperfect: and the explanation given is “I was wishing, only it was no use.” But if Paul wished, in any degree and for any reason, to be “accursed from Christ,” he wished what was wrong. If he wished, or professed to wish, an acknowledged impossibility, he simply trifled with his readers, and with his tragic theme. And if he did not really wish at all, then his words reduce themselves at best to a simple extravagance. That be far from our apostle (see verse 1).

The historical interpretation remains.

1. The tense used is the imperfect, and the most literal rendering would be, “I wished.” In Galatians 1:13 the same tense occurs, and that, too, in an affirmation very parallel to the one before us. Had our translators rendered that imperfect tense there as they have done here we should have had, “I could persecute.”

2. Again note that the word “myself” stands connected with the word “wished.” “For I myself used to wish to be accursed from Christ.” This makes it clear that he takes us back to his unconverted past. It is as if he had said, “I myself used to hurl those curses which you are now launching at the Nazarene. I, even I, once dared the doom you now defy, and it is because I once did so, and now see the terrible doom I incurred, that I feel such sorrow for my kinsmen.”

3. But how Paul could be said to wish this dreadful anathema for his brethren’s sake? Granting that the connection is the true one the answer would be, Paul did all this as a zealous Jew, devotedly attached to his nation, and thinking that he was doing them, as well as God, service by those dreadful maledictions. But the clause is clearly parenthetical. The sorrow, not the wish, is for his brethren.

4. But if the words “accursed from Christ” mean nothing less than final doom, how, even in his unconverted state, could Paul have wished that? The answer is that the Jewish anathema was double-edged. It might be launched directly at Jesus, and doubtless it often was by Paul amid his breathings of “threatening and slaughter.” But it might also take the more indirect form of imprecating direst anathemas upon himself if he espoused the cause of the Nazarene.

5. But while recalling the past he cannot forget the present. To his unbelieving sense the anathemas at that past period meant one thing. To his now Christianised sense they are seen to have meant infinitely direr things than he then conceived. He now saw that the Nazarene was no false Messiah, but the true; hence the significant use of the article in the original, “accursed from the Christ.” He wished, and willed, that rejection of Christ which leads to the curse of utter and irremediable woe.


1. Let the reckless dealer in common oaths beware. His lightly uttered blasphemies may have more momentum than he thinks. Your oaths may fasten on your soul a lasting curse.

2. Be not hasty in your conclusions. Paul once allowed himself to be borne away by the current. He had need to “save himself from that untoward generation.” So have we from ours. We may have to breast the current that would else float us past Christ, and drift us to ruin.

3. See how remote Christianity is from Pharisaism. The Pharisees scowled on Jesus because He was the friend of sinners. They cared for no man’s soul. Now, if we want a picture the very opposite of that, we may behold it here in Paul. But that same Paul was himself once a Pharisee. And lo! here he stands stripped of the last shred of his Pharisaic cloak, and dissolved in tender tears for the souls of his fellows!

4. We have here a splendid example of love to our deadly foes. This word “anathema” may remind us of what dire anathemas those very Jews pronounced over this same Paul (Acts 23:14). And how does he repay them? By returning blessing. So well had he caught the spirit and conned the lesson of his Master (Matthew 5:44-45).

5. We have also here a spirit-stirring example of love to souls as souls. It was the spiritual condition and prospects of his Jewish kinsmen that wrung his heart; but Gentiles drew forth this tender concern no less than Jews.

6. How solemn is human life! How tragic is human ruin! How saddening to reflect that such tragedies are hourly enacting themselves under all the sheet-lightning play of laughter and shallow merry-makings of the world! “Life is real, life is earnest.”

7. How vitally indispensable is the gospel; for is it not implied in our apostle’s statement that there is life only in Christ? Separation from Christ is here assumed to be separation from bliss, and to be identical with curse.

8. And how free is that gospel! No reprobating decree; else these tears of Paul, if tears of sympathy for men were tears of antipathy and even treachery in relation to God. The grace of God that hath appeared “brings salvation unto all men.” It is brought to our very door. It is pressed upon us, but not forced. The issue rests with our own free will. Paul the persecutor acted out his “wish,” or choice; and so with equal freedom did Paul the preacher (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). (J. Guthrie, M.A.)


The word was originally employed to denote what was by way of consecration put up in a temple. The “anathema” might be an offering of gratitude for deliverance or some other blessing; or it might be, in the ages of spiritual darkness, a kind of sacred bribe presented to the deity. But whatever it was it would, if of convenient shape and bulk, be hung up on a pillar, or suspended on the wall of the shrine. It thenceforward belonged to the god, and it would have been not only theft but sacrilege for any one, even a priest, to have appropriated it. When the term was adopted by the Greek-speaking Hebrews it was used in exchange for the Hebrew cherem, which had for its radical import the idea of severance. Whatever was by Divine arrangement utterly “cut off” from any man’s enjoyment was cherem to that man. God reserved its use. It was His cherem. If it were a thing that still continued fit for human use, God might assign it to His peculiar servants for their benefit (Leviticus 27:21; Numbers 18:14; Ezekiel 44:29), or if that were not desirable He might put it entirely out of the way, or doom it to destruction (1 Kings 20:42). Such devotement to destruction is often desirable in a world such as ours, so polluted, perverted, abused. There are things which cannot be turned to better account than to be utterly destroyed. There are moral nuisances which can only be swept away by “the besom of destruction.” Among these moral nuisances are morally leprous and festering men, who “will not” be healed of their contagious sores. These and their infected rookeries must be swept away. The sooner the better for society at large. God will be glorified in the work of destruction. Hence “anathema,” which at first meant something valuable devoted to a god, came, when applied within the sphere of the moral government of the living and true God, to denote objects which had become irreclaimably corrupt, and which consequently He wisely doomed to be destroyed. The apostle disintegrating one particular line of Hebrew thought from amid the complexity of ideas that were woven around the word felt at times that, if the ethical element were eliminated from the case, he could submit to be himself destroyed, even from “the presence of his Lord,” if thereby his kinsmen could be constituted heirs of everlasting life and bliss. The destruction of which he thought was thus the annihilation, not of his being, but of substantial elements and factors of well-being. (J. Morison, D.D.)

Anathema from Christ

St. Paul closes the previous chapter with the triumphant confidence that “neither death nor life,” etc., should be able to “separate him from the love of God which is in Christ.” The inventory of possible separating forces is comprehensive enough, but it is not exhaustive. The apostle omitted one potentiality which, alas! is constantly separating men from the love of Christ--self. The citadel which can resist any combination of external adversaries may fall through the voluntary act of the garrison within. The gate which cannot be battered down can be opened. Men cannot be driven from Christ, but they can “go away.” But in his rush of inspired feeling St. Paul would not entertain the thought of himself as withdrawing from the love of Christ, and naturally so. He knew himself too well to admit for one moment the likelihood of a guilty abandonment of One who was his “life.” There was no possibility of spiritual murder, nor probability of spiritual suicide. But the rush of feeling over he now in cool thought recollects that separation from Christ and His love was not only conceivable and possible, but, in certain circumstances, even desirable; and not from a sinfully selfish motive, but for one Divinely philanthropic. His “heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved” (Romans 10:1). How much depended upon the gratification of that desire in relation to the Jews themselves, to the kingdom of Christ, and Christ Himself, he goes on to show. How was this devoutly wished for consummation to be reached? He had used every means within his power, and had sacrificed every interest but one--his interest in Christ. Could the salvation of his countrymen be accomplished by the sacrifice of this? Would a self-devotion paralleled only by that which extorted the “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” suffice? If so he asked to drink of the same cup, and be baptized with the same baptism--knowing, unlike the sons of Zebedee, what he asked. To secure the world’s redemption the Master did not shrink from the Divine abandonment; to secure the effectual application of that redemption to his kinsmen the servant would not shrink from the abandonment of his Master. The greatness of the issue overshadowed the magnirude of the personal sacrifice. Let us ponder--

The wonderful wish. What did it mean?

1. Dismissal from the work of Christ. This was the apostle’s joy, and not all the persecutions of this world nor all the allurements of the next could tempt him even to wish that he could abandon it. Yet anathema from Christ meant dismissal after all he had accomplished, and prohibition against attempting any more. The labourer was willing to set aside that another might continue and reap the fruits of his labour; the warrior was willing to resign the weapons of the warfare and the laurels of the victory to other hands.

2. Alienation from the friendship of Christ. What the friendship of Christ was to the apostle may be gathered from what he gave to win it, what he did to cherish it, his own testimony to its surpassing worth and the recorded instances of its tenderness and power. This was the effectual consolation of the lonely man in the strange city, in the presence of raging mobs amidst the perils of shipwreck, and at last in the Roman dungeon. Measure then what it must have been for Paul to perfect it. Dissolution of union with Christ. Review his own illustrations of what this oneness was: that between head and body, husband and wife, tree and branches, foundation and building, etc. Christ and Paul were one in life, one in mind, one in heart. Yet Paul was willing to be anathema from all this.

4. Eternal abandomnent by Christ. Life would have been unendurable but for Christ, yet Paul did not shrink from the prospect of eternity without Him.

The wonderful wish viewed in the light of its ultimate purpose. Many have become anathema from Christ, abandoned His work, renounced His friendship, sundered the union between them and gone away into everlasting destruction from His presence, for the lowest and most selfish motives. The labour has been felt to be too hard, the friendship too exacting, the union so self-crucifying, and the heaven so holy and so far away. Or association with Christ has barred the way of pleasure, riches, advancement, and renown. In Paul’s case self was absolutely annihilated. Christ was all to him, he was willing to renounce that all if by that means others might have it. He was only one, his kindred were many. He was content that he, the unit, should be sacrificed so that the multitude might be blessed. His wish in this view of it was--

1. That his beloved work in other hands might be more successful. Hitherto he had only aroused the hatred of his kinsmen to his Lord. He wished, therefore, to stand aside if another agency could win their love.

2. That by his exclusion from it the circle of Christ’s friends might be indefinitely enlarged. If mere prejudice against himself were keeping his brethren away, he would gladly forego all the blessed privileges connected with Christ’s companionship, if his brethren would only come and accept them instead. He would, if possible, view with gratitude from a distance the unceasing spread of Christ’s influence, and the constantly augmenting number of Christ’s friends.

3. That the whole race of which he was but a solitary member might become one with Christ at his expense. He saw what this would mean for the world. A Christianised Judaism as a moral force would be irresistible. He, then, would not stand in the way of this.

4. That heaven might be now richly peopled by his exclusion. The thought of the great body of his kinsmen anathema from Christ for ever was so terrible that, if lawful, he would renounce his heavenly hopes that they, instead of himself, might be for ever with the Lord. Conclusion:

1. The wish marks the advance of Christianity beyond all the world’s conceptions of philanthropy. Many sublime sacrifices had been made, but where is the record of such a wish as this? Read it in the light of Romans 5:7-8.

2. The wish could not be gratified. Paul could have devoted himself without sin; but Christ could not have consented. Even such an end could not justify such a means. Christ loves the world, but He loves the individual, and such an individual as Paul could not be sacrificed for the world without the sacrifice of Christ’s own love and equity as well.

3. The carrying out of the wish is unthinkable. Anathema from Christ from such a motive would necessarily bind more closely to Him. The means of repulsion are the very means of attraction. Paul’s wish is the very spirit of Christ; and for Christ to have allowed it would have been for Christ to deny Himself. (J. W. Burn.)

The vicariousness of gospel philanthropy

Its strong substitutionary craving. Paul wishes here to suffer for the sake of his brethren. All love is in a sense substitutionary. It suffers for others. The more love a being has in a world of suffering, the more vicarious agony he must endure. Love loads us with the infirmities and sorrows of all around. Christ came here with an infinite love for the whole world; and by an eternal law of sympathy He suffered for the world. But there is, moreover, a craving in love to suffer instead of its object. Does not the mother desire to suffer instead of the babe that lies on the bed of anguish? Substitution of this kind is the law of love.

Its self-sacrificing power. The apostle not only desired to suffer instead of his brethren, but to suffer the greatest evil, to sacrifice his all for them. He desired to be anathema from Christ. What does this involve? “Terrible enough,” says Dean Plumptre, “would have been that word ‘anathema’” if it had brought with it only the thoughts which a Jewish reader would have associated with it. To come under all the curses, dark and dread, which were written in the book of the law; to be cursed in waking and sleeping, going out and coming in, in buying and selling, in the city and in the field; to be shunned, hated as a Samaritan was hated, shut out from fellowship with all human society that had been most prized, from all kindly greeting of friends and neighbours. This was what he would have connected with the words as their least and lowest meaning. The Christian reader, possibly the Jewish also, would have gone yet further. The apostle’s own words would have taught him to see more. To be ‘delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh’; to come under sharp pain of body, supernaturally inflicted, and to feel that that excruciating agony or loathsome plague was the deserved chastisement of a sin against truth and light, and to be shut out from all visible fellowship with the body of Christ, and therefore from all communication with Christ Himself; to be as in the outer darkness while the guests were feasting in the illumined chamber, here too to be shunned by those who had been friends and brothers. This would have been the Christian’s thoughts as to excommunication in the apostolic age. But beyond all this the apostle found a deeper gulf and a more terrible sentence. To be anathema from Christ, cut off for ever from that eternal life which he had known as the truest and highest blessed-ness, sentenced for ever to that outer darkness, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, this was what he prayed for if it might have for its result “the salvation of his brethren.” Gospel love involves self-abnegation. Self sinks as love rises. Christ is the highest example. He loved us, and He gave Himself for us. Here is the cause and the effect. Love is the high priest of the soul; it offers the whole self.

Its soul-saving aim. Why did Paul wish to sacrifice himself? What was the grand object he had in view? The spiritual salvation of his countrymen. The vicarious love of the gospel endures and craves sufferings, not merely or mainly to serve men materially and temporarily, but chiefly spiritually and eternally; to save their souls. It counts no perils too great, no sufferings too distressing, no sacrifices too exacting, in order to redeem immortal spirits from ignorance, selfishness, worldliness, guilt, misery, hell. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

The extravagance of holy love

One of my hearers used to keep puzzling himself fearfully with that passage in Scripture about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. He went and looked at Dr. Gill about it, he went to Thomas Scott about it, and he went to Matthew Henry about it; and these good divines all puzzled him as much as they could, but they did not seem to clear up the matter. The good man could not understand how Jesus Christ could say as He did, “How often would I have gathered thee, but thou wouldst not!” One day he received more grace, and got to have a love for souls, and then the old skin of narrowmindedness which had been large enough for him once began to crack and break, and he went to the passage then, and said, “I can understand it now; I do not know how it is consistent with such and such a doctrine, but it is very consistent with what I feel in my heart.” And I feel just the same. I used to be puzzled by that passage where Paul says that he could wish himself accursed from God for his brethren’s sake. Why, I have often felt the same, and now I understand how a man can say in the exuberance of his love to others, that he would be willing to perish himself if he might save them. Of course it never could be done, but such is the extravagance of a holy love for souls that it breaks through reason, and knows no bounds. Get the heart right and you get right upon many difficult points. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Heroic devotion

For an example of heroic devotion let us go, not to our own sacred book, but to a heathen story in the “Mahabharat.” Have you read of Yodhishtera, the stainless king, who, on account of his pure life and tender pity for all that lives, is allowed to enter heaven without tasting death? But, arrived in the presence of the immortal gods, he misses the faces of brothers and friends whom he had loved and lost, and bliss is not blissful to him, and he cries, “Show me those souls; I cannot tarry where I bare them not. Heaven is there where love and faith make heaven; let me go. I do desire,” he said, “that region, be it of the blest, as this, or of the sorrowful, some other where, where my dear brothers are. So where they have gone there will I surely go.” He quits the heaven he has gained, and hellwards turns. But while he traverses the place of dread, again the angels invite his return. He answers, “Go to those thou servest tell them I come not thither; say I stand here, in the throat of hell, and here will abide, nay, even perish, if my well-beloved may win ease and peace by any pain of mine.” Are we going backward? Have we no passion for saving?--no sympathy with the “them also I must bring”?

“Heaven is not heaven to one alone;

Save thou one soul, and thou mayest save thine own.”

(Mrs. E. Campagnac.)

A passion for souls

All the great revivalists of the Church have had what has been Galled a passion for souls. John Smith, the mighty Wesleyan preacher, used to say, “I am a broken-hearted man; not for myself, but on account of others. God has given me such a sight of the value of precious souls, that I cannot live if souls are not saved. Oh, give me souls, or else I die!”

Verses 10-12

Romans 9:10-12

And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by … our Father Isaac.

The election of Jacob and the rejection of Esau

1. Not personal, but national.

2. Not to eternal salvation, but to earthly privileges.

3. Not determined by works, but by grace.

4. Not intended to establish the doctrine of unconditional election to eternal life and the predestination of others to eternal damnation, but the unconditional election of the Gentiles to the benefits of the gospel and the national rejection of the Jews. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Lessons from the case of Esau and Jacob

1. As in Rebeeca’s womb there was a striving between Esau and Jacob, so in every true Christian there is a combating between corruption and grace; and as Esau is the elder, so is corruption.

2. As in Isaac’s family there was a profane Esau as well as a godly Jacob, so is the visible Church a mixed company, as our Saviour teaches by divers parables. Examine how thou standest in the Church, whether as an Esau or as a Jacob.

3. Esau is Isaac’s eldest son, yet rejected. Birth, degrees, and blood are to be regarded, and are especial favours of God, yet they further not election. As it was rather a disgrace for Esau to come of virtuous parents, because he was no better, so do thou account of thyself; then is the blood of thy famous ancestors thy credit when thou art like them in virtue. Better the honour of our families should begin than end in us.

4. Esau is disinherited, and yet God gave a law that the firstborn should not be deprived of his birthright, namely, without just and weighty cause. (Elnathan Parr, B.D.)

For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand not of works, but of Him that calleth.--

God’s sovereignty

1. He has the indisputable right to determine the conditions of individual life.

2. Exercises the right freely without reference to future conduct.

3. Does not thereby interfere with the possibility of personal salvation, but provides for it. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Election: how to be regarded

The doctrine ought never to be a stumbling-block in the way of your entertaining the overtures of the gospel. Leave it to God Himself to harmonise those everlasting decrees, by which He hath distinguished between the elect and the reprobate, with His present declarations of goodwill to one and to all of the human family. Your business is to let the decrees alone, and to cast your joyful confidence upon the declarations. Should an earthly monarch send a message of friendship to your door, must you reject it either as unintelligible or unreal because you have not been instructed in all the mysteries of his government? Because you cannot comprehend the policy of his empire, must you therefore not receive the offered kindness which has come from him to your own dwelling-place? And ere you can appreciate the gift which he holds out for your single and specific acceptance, must you first be able to trace all the workings and all the ways of the vast, the varied, superintendence which belongs to him? It is truly so with God, who, although presiding over a management which embraces all worlds and reaches from everlasting to everlasting, has nevertheless sent to each individual amongst us the special intimation of His perfect willingness to admit us into favour; and must we, I ask, suspend our comfort and our confidence therein till we, the occupiers of one of the humblest tenements in creation, and only the creatures but of yesterday--till we shall have mastered the economy of this wondrous universe and scanned the counsels of eternity? (T. Chalmers, D.D.)

The means and end of predestination

Upon the principles of Christian predestination, you are still not less inconsistent; because you go about to separate two things which are inseparably joined together, viz., the end and the means which lead to it; and then you fly to the old threadbare objection of Papists, Quakers, and Arminians--“if I am elected, I shall be saved, do what I will; if I am not elected, I must be damned, do what I can.” Now, this is the abuse of the doctrine, but by no means the doctrine itself, holiness of heart and life being the middle link of that chain which connects God’s eternal decree with the execution of that decree in the salvation of all His elect. And if you can cast your eyes upon the Christian world in general, you will find that real practical religion is more to be found among those who adopt the Scripture plan of predestination than among those who reject it. But let us have recourse to a familiar illustration of the point in hand. When archbishop Chicheley founded All Souls’ College, in Oxford, he made a decree that they who in future times were founder’s kin should succeed to the fellowship of that college, in preference to all others. This decree is inviolable in the choice of the candidates; but I never heard of one that intended offering himself who reasoned after this manner: “ If I am founder’s kin, I must succeed, do what I will, or even whether I offer myself or not.” No; but they all go about to prove their pedigree and relationship to the founder, and for this purpose they anxiously search the old book entitled “Stemmata Chiciliana,” and apply themselves diligently to their probation exercises, in order that no requisite may be wanting on their parts. Now, my dear--, produce your pedigree, and learn your exercise, and the thing is done. Take but the same pains (though surely you ought to take more) to prove your relationship to the great Founder of the universe, whose decree is that none shall partake of His spiritual blessings but those who bear a relationship to Him through faith in Jesus Christ; apply yourself to the study of that old book the Bible, from which alone you can trace your descent, and study your exercise as becomes a candidate for a heavenly fellowship with God and glorified spirits. Set about this in earnest, and I will venture my own soul upon the safety of yours; for though I cannot climb up into heaven to read God’s decree, yet I shall be very certain, from that middle link of the chain which is let down upon earth, that it is in your favour. (Sir Richard Hill, M.A., letter to a friend.)

The Divine call

The word “calleth,” when applied to moral agents, assumes the possession of free will. They are “called,” not compelled or necessitated. According to the nature of the case, a “call” may assume the form either of a summons or an invitation. It may sometimes be allied to a commandment, sometimes to an entreaty. In the case before us, where reference is to prerogative, which in its inner ethical content may be either welcomed and prized, or spurned and stamped under foot, the call may be essentially of the nature of a Divine invitation. Some of God’s greatest blessings He simply provides and confers without sending forth an invitation. To the enjoyment of others, He gives invitation, and, as it were, says, “Ho, every one! come ye.” Some such invitation is addressed to persons, some such to peoples. And in both cases invitation may pave the way for further and ulterior invitation. They who “have,” in the sense of accepting what has been proffered, and of keeping and prizing what they have got, to them shall be given, and they shall “have” more abundantly. Invitation to them will follow invitation, till the highest blessing is reached; and they find in their delightful experience that blessed are they who are God’s invited guests to the everlasting banquet of bliss. To all the highest blessings there is a Divine “call” or “invitation” “For whom He did foreknow … them He also glorifies” (Romans 8:29-30). (J. Morison, D.D.)

Verse 13

Romans 9:13

Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Jacob loved, but Esau hated

It is evident that to the writer it was a mystery why God should “love” Jacob more than Esau. He even goes so far as to imply that, at first sight, it has the character of “unrighteousness” in God. But he instantly crushes the thought (Romans 9:14). St. Paul makes it the basis of some thoughts about “election.” It would be impossible that there should be a God of infinite knowledge and no “election.” But there are only two right uses of it--viz., to humble and leave God in His unapproachable greatness, and to comfort the tried and harassed believer.

To a mere superficial reader, it seems very strange that God should love Jacob and hate Esau.

1. Esau’s picture is well drawn. He “was a clever hunter, a man of the field”--what we should call “a man of the world.” He loved pleasure, and had a clear eye for any present advantage. We could not call him immoral, and, by the side of Jacob, he stands up the better man. He was far more sinned against than sinning. He had some fine traits. He was irritable, even to the point of saying that he would kill his brother! But he was forgiving, and his passion quite passed away. He bought what he might, probably, have taken by force. He never once deceived his father and mother. He spoke to his father respectfully and reverently. If he thought lightly of “the birthright” at one time, he was very earnest about it at another. He showed consideration at least the second time, in the selection of his wives (Genesis 28:8-9). And Esau was most generous afterwards, at Peniel, e.g., even at the moment when Jacob was treating him with suspicion, fear, and cunning (Genesis 33:1-20.) He was unwilling to take anything at Jacob’s hand, but, with great delicacy, when Jacob urged him to take it, he took it, and added, “Let us go, and I will go before thee.” And when Jacob declined it, he said, “Let me now leave with thee some of the folk that are with me.” And the last thing we read of him is an act of modest thoughtfulness (Genesis 36:7).

2. The patient life of Jacob is a sad contrast. His besetting sin is deceitfulness. He takes advantage of his brother’s hunger, and gets “the birthright” by what was almost cheating. To his apparently dying father, he tells, acts, asserts, and re-asserts a lie! And before he goes away he makes no confession or apology. He deceives his master and father-in-law, Laban, and runs away and outrages his feelings. And even to his generous brother he acts trickily.

Where, then, is the solution of the verdict, “Jacob have I loved,” etc.? We go down into the sanctuary of a man’s real life.

1. Esau seems to have never cared for God at all. He had no crime; but he certainly had no grace. There is not a prayer, nor any recognition of the fatherhood or the sovereignty of the Almighty. His “birthright” is little or nothing to him; and a present gratification comes before any future advantage. He tries, even with “tears,” to change his father’s resolve that Jacob should have the property. But there is no repentance. The “birthright” is valuable to him in a secular point of view; but he is utterly indifferent to its spiritual nature.

2. Jacob seeks the blessing by wrong means; but he values it. He makes his peace with God the very night after. His life at Syria is such that Laban was constrained to say, “I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.” He traces everything he had to God. He wrestles all night in prayer. He goes up to Bethel, and renews his covenant when God bids him. He puts away all his wives’ strange gods before he goes there. He secures God’s permission and blessing before he ventures to go down into Egypt. He is careful when there to separate his family from idolators, and he makes good confession before Pharaoh. In his last act he talks to his children with grandeur, and most piously, and shows his faith by charging his sons to bury him in the land of promise.


1. Jacob had great sins, but they were falls! He rose; he repented; and he was forgiven. The child of God comes out, and grace prevails.

2. Esau was, in a worldly sense, moral, but godless. Not very wrong with man, but never right with God.

3. Suppose you had two sons. The one lived a perfectly correct life; but you were nothing to him. The other often grieved you; but he loved you, and was sorry when he hurt you. Which would be the one you loved?

4. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. Then how is it with ourselves? The world is very much made up of “Esaus” and “Jacobs.” Some lead very correct lives. What is God? A cypher. Where is God? Nowhere. Others are really religious. They love God. But they do many, many inconsistent and very bad things. They repent; they are forgiven. And the correct, moral people of the world see the sins of the religious people, and suspect and despise them. And the religious people scarcely remember how very inferior they are in many things to the world.

5. Then what will be to the Jacobs? They will be punished, as Jacob was, by a retributive justice. They will go through several ordeals of purification. They will suffer even to the fire! But they will be saved! And what to the Esaus who live and die Esaus? A retributive justice too. No God in them; then no God for them! No birthright! No blessin! No repentance! (J. Vaughan, M.A.)

Jacob loved and Esau hated

In what sense.

1. Comparatively, not absolutely.

2. As representatives of a race, not as individuals.

3. In reference to earthly, not heavenly privileges.

How is God’s justice and mercy vindicated in this ordination? He is the Supreme Sovereign, who specially privileges some, but blesses all.

What has this example to do with the question of individual salvation?

1. Nothing as to its possibility, for all may be saved.

2. Nothing as to its conditions, for all must be saved by grace through faith.

3. Yet much as to special privilege and increased responsibility. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Esau hated and Jacob loved

Some light is thrown on the strong verb “hated” by other passages in which it is employed (Matthew 6:24; Luke 14:26; John 12:25). In these statements there is certainly no intention of conveying an idea of malice. There is in them, just as in the Saviour’s remark regarding the camel and the needle’s eye, something of bold hyperbolism. Such hyperbolisms are common and rife enough, in the language both of literature and every-day life. They give piquancy to speech, and are relished by “all the world.” So “Esau I hated” is comparative, not absolute; and there is really more in the representation than in the reality, just because a phraseological foil was wanted. The idea is, that in the treatment accorded to the Edomites there was a conspicuous absence of that favour which distinguished the Divine treatment of the Hebrews and vindicated the expression, “Jacob I loved.” In truth, there was now no room for national forgiveness to Edom. The cup of their iniquity they had filled to the brim, and it was now time that they should be compelled to drain to its dregs the cup of merited retribution. It was otherwise with Jacob in the days of Malachi (chap. 1.). God, although greatly provoked, had not dealt with that people according to their desert. In wrath, He had remembered mercy. Through the influence of Ezra and Nehemiah over the kings of Babylon, many families were encouraged to return to the desolated city. The streets were restored. The walls were rebuilt. The temple was reconstructed, and an appreciable amount of prosperity once more rolled over the land. “God loved Jacob”; for with all the waywardness and faithlessness of the peculiar people, they were still, in virtue of their Messianic destination, like a peculiar treasure to God. They were the casket which contained the heavenly jewel; and, for the jewel’s sake, the casket was carefully kept and guarded. It was otherwise with Edom. Like many surrounding peoples, they had a time of merciful visitation. Their local habitation had many advantages; they were blessed in “the fatness of the earth and the dew of heaven,” and were sheltered within the munition of rocks; and, had they been willing to be good, they might have had a constant flow of prosperity. But they became highminded, aggressive, selfish, morally rank to heaven with rottenness, and were involved at last in the overflow of Babylonian devastation (Mal 1:4, cf. in contrast the case of Israel, verse 5). We have additional evidence in these statements of the prophet’s reference to peoples as distinguished from individuals in the plural “we,” “ye,” etc. The apostle’s argument is irrefragable. Pure patriarchal descent on the part of Israel was insufficient to ensure everlasting Messianic blessings; for it was utterly insufficient on the part of Edom to secure those temporal advantages which were conferred on the Hebrews till the fulness of time. (J. Morison, D.D.)

Esau hated and Jacob loved

Note that--

1. In speaking of Jacob or Esau, either as men or as nations, neither Genesis nor Malachi nor St. Paul have eternal salvation in view; the matter in question is the part they play regarded from the theocratic standpoint, as is proved by the words “to serve.”

2. Esau, though deprived of the promise and the inheritance, nevertheless obtained a blessing and an inheritance for his descendants.

3. The national character inherited from the father of the race is not so impressed on his descendants that they cannot escape it. As there were in Israel many Edomites, profane hearts, there may also have been many Israelites, spiritual hearts in Edom. Compare what is said of the wise men of Teman (Jeremiah 49:7), and the very respectable personage Eliphaz (notwithstanding his error) in the book of Job. (Prof. Godet.)

Jacob loved

This is seen all through his history.

1. In the promise made before his birth.

2. The vision of Bethel (Genesis 28:12, etc.).

3. The blessing in Padanaram (Genesis 31:5; Genesis 31:9).

4. The vision there (verse 11-13).

5. The command given to Laban concerning him (verse 24).

6. The blessing given him at Peniel (Genesis 32:28-29).

7. The command to go to Bethel and the vision there (Genesis 35:1; Genesis 35:9; Genesis 35:11). (T. Robinson, D.D.)

Jacob and Esau

Why was it that God loved Jacob and hated Esau?

This is a fact. Ask an Arminian about election, and at once he begins to sharpen the knife of controversy. But say to him, “Ah, brother I was it not Divine grace that made you to differ? Was it not the Lord who called you out of your natural state and made you what you are? “Oh, yes,” he says, “I quite agree with you there.” Well, then, why is it that one man has been converted, and not another? “Oh, the Spirit of God has been at work in this man,” that God does treat one man better than another is not very wonderful. It is a fact we recognise every day. There is a man that, work as hard as he likes, he cannot earn more than fifteen shillings a week; and here is another that gets a thousand a year? One is born in a palace, while another draws his first breath in a hovel. Here is a man whose head cannot hold two thoughts together; here is another who can dive into the deepest of questions; what is the reason of it? God has done it. He has made some eagles, and some worms; some He has made lions, and some creeping lizards; He has made some men kings, and some are born beggars. Do you murmur at God for it? No. What is the use of kicking against facts? God does in matters of religion give to one man more than to another. He gives to me opportunities of hearing the Word which He does not give to the Hottentot. He gives to me parents who trained me in the fear of the Lord. He does not give that to many of you. He places me afterwards in situations where I am restrained from sin. Other men are cast into places where their sinful passions are developed. Again, He brings one man under the sound of a powerful ministry, while another sits and listens to a preacher whose drowsiness is only exceeded by that of his hearers. And even when they are hearing the gospel the fact is God works in one heart when He does not in another.

1. Look at Jacob’s life. You are compelled to say that from the first hour that he left his father’s house God loved him. Why, he has not gone far before he has the Bethel experience. Laban tries to cheat him and God suffers it not, but multiplies the cattle that Laban gives him. When he fled God charges Laban not to speak to Jacob either good or bad. When his sons had committed murder in Shechem, and Jacob is afraid that he will be destroyed, God puts a fear upon the people, and says to them, “Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophet no harm.” And when a famine comes over the land, God has sent Joseph into Egypt to provide for him and his brethren. And see the happy end of Jacob. It was that of “a man that God loved.”

2. On the other hand, God did not love Esau. He permitted him to become the father of princes, but He had not blessed his generation. Where is the house of Esau now? Edom has perished.

Why is this?

1. Why did God love Jacob? There was nothing in Jacob that could make God love him, but much that might have made God hate him it was because God was infinitely gracious, and because He was sovereign in His dispensation of this grace. Let us look at Jacob’s character. As a natural man he was always a bargain-maker. Read what he says after the glorious experience and promise at Bethel (Genesis 28:20; Genesis 28:22). While he lived with Laban what miserable work it was! He had got into the hands of a man of the world, and whenever a covetous Christian gets into such company, a terrible scene ensues. The whole way through we are ashamed of Jacob; we cannot help it. Now, if the character of Jacob be all this there could have been nothing in him that made God love him, and the only reason why God loved him must have been because “He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy.”

2. Why did God hate Esau? The two questions are entirely distinct, so one answer will not do for both. Why does God hate any man? Because that man deserves it; no reply but that can ever be true. There are some who answer Divine sovereignty; but I challenge them to look that doctrine in the face. Do you believe that God created man and arbitrarily, and for no other reason than that of destroying him for ever? Well, if you can believe it, I pity you that you should think so meanly of God, whose mercy endureth for ever. Sovereignty holds the scale of love, it is justice holds the other scale. Who can put that into the hand of sovereignty? That were to libel God. Did Esau deserve that God should cast him away? Yes, what we know of Esau’s character clearly proves it. Esau lost his birthright; but he sold it himself and for a mess of pottage. Oh, Esau, it is in vain for thee to say, “I lost my birthright by decree.” God is not the author of sin. And the doctrine is that every man who loses heaven gives it up himself. God denies it not to him. He will not come that he may have life. But, says one, “Esau repented.” Yes, but what sort of a repentance was it? As soon as he found that his brother had got the birthright he sought it again with tears, but he did not get it back. He sold it for a mess of pottage, and he thought he would buy it back by giving his father a mess of pottage. So sinners say, “I have lost heaven by my evil works; I will easily get it again by reforming.” No, you may sell heaven for carnal pleasures, but you cannot buy heaven by merely giving them up. You can get heaven only on another ground, viz: the ground of free grace. You think that Esau was a sincere penitent; but when he failed to get the blessing, what did he say? “I will slay my brother Jacob.” That is not the repentance that comes from the Holy Spirit. But there are some men like that. They say they are very sorry and then they go and do the same that they did before. On this whole matter read verse 22. Observe that God had nothing to do with fitting men for destruction. They do that. God only fits men for salvation. At the last day the righteous shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them; but the wicked shall go “into everlasting fire, prepared”--not for you but--“for the devil and his angels.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The mystery of God’s love

A gentleman who thought Christianity was merely a heap of puzzling problems, said to an old minister, “That is a very strange statement ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’” “Very strange” replied the minister; “but what is it that you see most strange about it?” “Oh, that part of course about hating Esau.” “Well, sir,” said the minister, “how wonderfully are we made and how differently constituted. The strangest part of all to me is that He could ever have loved Jacob. There is no mystery so glorious as the mystery of God’s love.” (N. T. Anecdotes.)

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

The unimpeachable righteousness of God in the dispensations of His mercy and justice

He acts on immutable principles.

1. These principles are fixed (verse 15).

2. Are independent of human will and action (verse 16).

3. Respect both mercy and justice (verse 17).

4. Are the same in application to all. He has mercy on the penitent, withdraws His Spirit from the impenitent (verse 18).

He has a perfect right to determine those principles and direct the application of them.

1. Men are apt to complain (verse 19).

2. But unreasonably, because God is the Supreme Sovereign (verse 20). He can mould as He pleases, whether to honour or dishonour.

These principles are always applied in mercy.

1. Even vessels fitted for wrath are endured with much long-suffering, affording ample room for repentance.

2. While the riches of His glory are displayed in the vessels of mercy.

3. And there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for the righteousness of faith is unto and upon all that believe. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Unrighteousness with God is a thing

Abhorrent to human sense.

1. We could then have no confidence in Him.

2. There would be no security for moral order and happiness.

3. No hope in the future.

Inconceivable. Because opposed to all our notions of Divine perfection, whether derived from revelation, conscience, or reason.


1. Either in the dispensations of His mercy or justice.

2. Because contrary to His nature.

3. Hence seeming injustice, whereever it occurs, must be referred to human ignorance. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Righteousness of the Divine administration

All the unutterable woes of the depraved residuums of our great cities are taking place under the administration of a God of kindness and love. There is provision in New York for food and raiment, and thousands there are that wander through the streets hungry and naked. There is provision in New York for health and strength, and thousands there are that writhe in anguish on beds of sickness. There is provision also in the heart of God for every miserable creature that has erred, and thousands there are that curse and blaspheme with remorse in hospitals or in lazar-houses, or in the midst of the vermin and filth at the bottom of society. All that takes place, though God, who is God of love and benevolence sees it; all this takes place though nature is ordained to promote happiness; all this takes place, though the structure of society and the structure of individual men are designed to promote happiness; all this takes place, though God’s government is for the promotion of happiness; all this takes: place, though the interior nature of God and His everlasting decree aim: at happiness. And yet, men are found who, with these facts staring them in the face, rise up and say, “God is too good to punish men!” Why, there never was an assertion so flung in the face of facts. The administration of God is full of goodness; but goodness in the Divine administration is employed according to law. (H. W. Beecher.)

God righteous in all His ways

Going up among the White Mountains some years ago, I thought of that passage in the Bible that speaks of God as weighing mountains in a balance. As I looked at those great mountains, I thought: Can it be possible that God can put those great mountains in scales? It was an idea too great for me to grasp; but when I saw a bluebell down by the mule’s foot on my way up Mount Washington, then I understood the kindness and goodness of God. It is not so much of God in great things I can understand, but of God in little things. Here is a man who says: “That doctrine cannot be true, because things do go so very wrong.” I reply: “It is no inconsistency on the part of God, but a lack of understanding on our part.” I hear that men are making very fine shawls in some factory. I go in on the first floor and see only the raw material, and I ask: “Are these the shawls I hear about?” “No,” says the manufacturer, “go up to the next floor”; and I go up, and there I begin to see the design. But the man says: “Do not stop here, go to the top floor of the factory, and you will see the idea fully carried out.” I do so, and having come to the top, see the complete pattern of an exquisite shawl. So in our life, standing down on a low level of Christian experience, we do not understand God’s dealings. He tells us to go up higher if we would know. We go up higher and higher until we begin to understand the Divine meaning with respect to us. God says, Go up higher, and we advance until we stand at the very gate of heaven, and there see God’s idea all wrought out--a perfect idea of mercy, of love, of kindness, and we say: “Just and true are all Thy ways.” It is all right at the top; all right at the bottom. Remember, there is no inconsistency on the part of God, but it is only our mental and spiritual incapacity. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.--

Moses and Pharaoh

Moses an example of God’s mercy and grace.

Pharaoh an example of God’s justice.

Both examples of God’s righteousness. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Mercy is

An act of sovereign will.

A display of unmerited grace.

Consists with infinite justice.

Is dispensed with consummate wisdom. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Mercy abused

To sin because mercy abounds is the devil’s logic. He that sins because of mercy is like one that wounds his head because he hath a plaster, he that sins because of God’s mercy shall have judgment without mercy. Mercy abused turns to fury. Nothing sweeter than mercy when it is improved, nothing fiercer when it is abused; nothing colder than lead when it is taken out of the mine, nothing more scalding than lead when it is heated; nothing blunter than iron, nothing sharper when it is whetted. “The mercy of the Lord is upon them that fear Him.” Mercy is not for them that sin, and fear not; but for them that fear, and sin not. (T. Watson.)

Mercy, alternative of

When the Romans attacked a city it was sometimes their custom to set up a white flag at the city gate. If the garrison surrendered while the white flag was up, their lives were spared; after that the black flag was run up, and every man was put to the sword. Sinner, to-day the white flag of mercy is out. Surrender to Christ and live before the black flag of death and doom takes its place.

Mercy, importance of

Mercy is in the air we breathe, the daily light which shines upon us, the gracious ram of God’s inheritance. It is the public spring for all the thirsty, the common hospital for all the needy. It is mercy that takes us out of the womb, feeds us in the days of our pilgrimage, furnishes us with spiritual provision, closes our eyes in peace, and translates us to a secure resting-place. It is the first petitioner’s suit, and the first believer’s article, the contemplation of Enoch, the confidence of Abraham, the burden of the prophetic songs, and the glory of all the apostles, the plea of the penitent, the ecstasies of the reconciled, the believer’s hosanna, the angel’s hallelujah. Ordinances, oracles, altars, pulpits, the gates of the grave, and the gates of heaven, do all depend upon mercy. It is the load-star of the wandering, the ransom of the captive, the antidote of the tempted, the prophet of the living, and the effectual comfort of the dying: there would not be one regenerate saint upon earth, nor one glorified saint in heaven, if it were not for mercy. (J. Hamilton, D.D.)

Mercy, manifold

As John Bunyan says, all the flowers in God’s garden are double; there is no single mercy: nay, they are not only double flowers, but they are manifold flowers. There are many flowers upon one stalk, and many flowers in one flower. You shall think you have but one mercy; but you shall find it to be a whole flock of mercies. Our beloved is unto us a bundle of myrrh, a cluster of camphor. When you lay hold upon one golden link of the chain of grace, you pull, pull, pull; but lo! as long as your hand can draw there are fresh “linked sweetnesses” of love still to come. Manifold mercies! Like the drops of a lustre, which reflect a rainbow of colours when the sun is glittering upon them, and each one, when turned in different ways, from its prismatic form shows all the varieties of colour; so the mercy of God is one and yet many; the same, yet ever changing; a combination of all the beauties of love blended harmoniously together. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The sovereignty of Divine mercy


The text does not mean that God is not merciful to all--

1. Favours some to the disadvantage of others.

2. Is not disposed to save all.

3. Distributes His favours capriciously.

4. Saves any without the co-operation of their own will.

It means that God’s purpose in redemption is independent of man.

1. That its conditions are fixed without the will of man.

2. That the will or efforts of man cannot supersede these conditions. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The Divine sovereignty

When it is affirmed that the sovereignty of God is absolute, it is simply meant that He is a Being who can do whatever He pleases. “None can stay His hand, or say to Him, what doest Thou?” He is not accountable for His deeds to any superior. “He giveth not account of any of His matters.” But as He can do whatever He pleases, so He will fulfil His pleasure. He “does according to His will in the army of heaven,” etc. “My counsel shall stand,” etc. But while God is thus absolute sovereign, this absolute sovereignty does not determine for Him what it is right that He should please to do. Something else is indispensable, viz., His peculiar intelligence. In it, and in it alone, does God find the idea of right, an idea without which there could be no ethical imperative uttering itself in the affirmative “I ought.” It is the highest glory of God, that He should, and that He always does please, to do only what is right. In Him is no darkness at all. He exercises His sovereignty in doing only what is “holy and just and good.” His sovereignty is itself “holy and just and good.” The apostle’s adduction of the oracle addressed to Moses is a decided argumentative success. Men, without exception, are the subjects of God’s sovereign sway. It cannot be disputed. So therefore are the Jews in particular; universally so. And yet “all have come short of the glory of God”; so that there is unless there supervene some great change or new creation, overhanging all, both Gentiles and Jews, a lurid thundercloud of doom. Is there room for hope? The asseverations, “I shall have mercy,” etc., seem to assume that there is forgiveness with God, that He may be had in reverence (Psalms 130:4). But there are limits to His pardoning grace. He “keeps mercy indeed for thousands” (Exodus 34:7), but He will by no means clear those whose guilt has deepened into impenitence. There is a sin that never hath forgiveness (Mark 3:29). Who then shall be pardoned? Just those whom it pleases God to pardon--“He will have pardoning mercy on whomsoever,” etc. And who are these? Under the Old Testament the category of the pardonable was not clearly revealed. Under the new none need walk in uncertainty. Those who put their trust in Christ shall be pardoned. And as regards those who are destitute of this revelation, see Romans 2:13-15. Their responsibility is measured by their opportunity. And it lies entirely with God’s sovereignty to determine who shall be the recipients of His bounty. In the statements “On whomsoever I have,” or am having, “mercy,” etc., there seems to be the conveyance of the idea that God was already in absolute spontaneity at work forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin. The favourite work of Divine grace, however, is so great, august, and far-reaching in its ethical influence that none but the Highest could reasonably undertake it, or carry it through. “There is none who can forgive sins but God only.” There is hence, on the part of God, the well-grounded assumption of a very lofty prerogative, which is tantamount to an assertion that He will not suffer any one, not even Moses, to interfere with the administration of His bounty. He is resolved to dispense His bounty to whomsoever He pleases. (J. Morison, D.D.)

The Divine sovereignty: its infinite graciousness

As God’s throne is a throne of holiness, so it is a throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). A throne encircled with a rainbow, “in sight, like an emerald” (Revelation 4:3); an emblem of the covenant, betokening mercy. Though His nature be infinitely excellent above us, and His power infinitely transcendent over us, yet the majesty of His government is tempered with an unspeakable goodness. He acts not so much as an absolute lord as a gracious sovereign and obliging benefactor. He delights not to make His subjects slaves; exacts not of them any servile or fearful, but a generous and cheerful obedience. He requires them not to fear or worship Him so much for His power as His goodness. He requires not of a rational creature anything repugnant to the honour, dignity, and principles of such a nature; nor anything that may make it weary of its own being, or of the service it owes its sovereign. He draws it by the cords of a man; His goodness renders His laws as sweet as honey and the honeycomb to an unvitiated palate and a renewed mind. And though it be granted He hath full disposal of His creature as the potter of His vessel, yet His goodness will never permit Him to use this sovereign right to the hurt of a creature that deserves it not. As not to punish the sinner would be a denial of His justice, so to torment the innocent would be a denial of His goodness. It is as much against the nature of God to punish one eternally who hath not deserved it as it is to deny Himself and act anything foolishly, and unbecoming His other perfections which render Him majestical and adorable. (S. Charnock, B.D.)

The Divine sovereignty: real and merciful

Conspiracies have at various times sprung up to deprive the Supreme of this peculiar glory--to deny Him a will. Men would fain substitute a law of nature for the living God. They conceive of an unthinkable principle like gravitation; they think of a power like the sea, lashing itself and raging and advancing without a purpose or a plan, floating a ship and sinking a stone with equal indifference, and continuing afterwards its unmeaning roar. I love this chapter; it is a sublime protest against an atheistic human philosophy. I can have no communion with a mere mechanical omnipotence--a sort of infinite ocean that heaves eternally by laws to which it is subject; saving me if I continue to make myself sufficiently buoyant before I am cast on its cold, uncaring bosom; and swallowing me up with the same relentless regularity if I make the leap before I be light enough. This omnipotent principle is not my Saviour; I need as my Saviour the living God who loves me, and whom I may love in return--the God who looked on me when I was lost, and loved me when I was worthless--who saved me from hell and made me His child. I need from my God not merely a general aspect of benevolence towards the world, under which some of the most vigorous agonisers may struggle into heaven; I need not only permission to save myself, but a hope that the Infinite sees me, knows me, pities me, loves me, grasps me, and holds me in the hollow of His hand, safe against all dangers, until He bring me safe to His eternal rest. (W. Arnot, D.D.)

Justification by free grace vindicated

“For He saith to Moses, I will,” etc. As if He should have said, “My doctrine of justification, by the free grace and pleasure of God through believing, is so far from rendering Him unrighteous, that Himself plainly asserteth the substance of it in saying thus unto Moses. Meaning that inasmuch as all men having sinned are become obnoxious unto Me, I am resolved to use my prerogative, and to show mercy unto whom I please, not upon such who shall be obtruded upon Me by men, or who shall judge themselves worthy. The repetitions are very emphatical, and import in the highest degree a resolvedness in God to dispense His favour according to His own pleasure, and not according to the thoughts of men. When the clouds pour out rain in abundance it is a sign they were full of water. In like manner, when a man reiterates any purpose, it argueth a fulness of that which is thus uttered, and that the heart could not discharge itself by one expression. Now we know who those are on whom God is everlastingly resolved to show mercy, viz., those who believe in His Son (2 Corinthians 1:19-20). And upon this account the gospel, which asserteth this purpose of God, is termed the everlasting gospel (Revelation 14:6), i.e., one the tenor and contents whereof shall never be altered. Here God fully declares who they are on whom He will have mercy, viz., believers. Neither are all the angels in heaven nor men upon earth able to take Him off from this His purpose. For that is to be considered by the way that the apostle clearly speaketh here of that grace or mercy of God which relateth to the salvation of men. But whereas the Scripture speaks of two sorts or degrees of grace, one which precedes faith, and consists partly in the gift of His Son, partly in calling them by the gospel, and vouchsafing means and opportunities unto them for repenting and believing; and another, which is subsequent. The question may be, of which the apostle speaks. I answer of the latter.

1. God makes no such difference or distinction of men in His preventing grace as the words before us manifestly imply (Hebrews 2:9; 1 Timothy 2:6; Acts 17:30; Matthew 20:16, etc.).

2. The whole discourse of the apostle in the context is not concerning preventing grace or mercy, but subsequent, as, viz., concerning justification, adoption, etc.

3. And evident it is that the apostle’s intent is to declare the Jews to be excluded from that grace and mercy, as in telling them that the children of the flesh are not the children of God, but the children of the promise (Romans 2:8), that “the elder should serve the younger,” and that the “purpose of God stands not of works,” etc. Certain it is that these Jews were not excluded from preventing grace, for they were called of God by the apostles, yea, and by Christ Himself, and this by means so efficacious that our Saviour affirmeth that even the men of Tyre and Sidon might or would have been converted by them (Matthew 11:21). Therefore the grace or mercy spoken of in the words in hand must needs be subsequent. And if so it cannot be understood of any such mercy in God towards men by which men, yet unregenerate, are enabled, much less necessitated, to repent or believe, but of that mercy which is vouchsafed unto them who do now repent and believe. So that the meaning of the words, “I will have mercy on whom,” etc., is as if God should have said, I will justify, adopt, and glorify persons under what qualifications soever I Myself please, and will not be ordered or taught by men what I have to do, or what becometh Me to do, in this kind. As regards what God actually said to Moses (Exodus 33:16), it appears that Moses (Exodus 33:13; Exodus 33:16)had desired of God that He would consider that the Jews were His people, and that He would please lead them that so it might be known in the world that both he and his people had found grace in His sight. This God grants. Upon this Moses makes a further request, viz., that God would show him His glory (Exodus 33:18). To this God answers, “I will make all My goodness pass before thee,” etc., giving the reason hereof in the words cited by the apostle, “Let no man take offence that I should do that in a way of favour for thee, which I neither shall do to any of the people besides, nor ever did to any of thy fathers, nor to any man after thee; nor do thou imagine that I am anyways a debtor unto thee of that grace which I deny unto others, for I am debtor unto no man, and will dispense My favours, and so My mercies, only unto such persons as I please.” Now many of those whom God decreed upon their believing from eternity to justify, and adopt, apostatise from, and make shipwreck of their faith (as the Scripture in many places testifieth), from whom He hath peremptorily threatened to take away the grace of justification which before He had conferred upon them. Therefore the emphatical import of the apostle’s expression, “I will have mercy on whom I have” (now or at present) “mercy,” respects the same species, not the same persons of men; being as if He had said, To that sort or kind of men to whom at this day I show mercy (viz., in pardoning their sin and justifying their persons, meaning believers), I will show the like mercy at all times hereafter to the world’s end. Or rather thus, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,” i.e., I will not be taken off by men or by angels from showing the grace or mercy of justification and adoption unto those (i.e., that kind of men)

to whom I at this day show this grace or mercy, and these are such who believe. (John Goodwin.)

Arrogance of arraigning God

They say the head of the great river Nilus could never yet be found. It has been sought for, and many have travelled possibly some thousands of miles, but yet it cannot be found. But the head of Nilus will be found before men find any cause of Divine love beyond the Divine will. It speaketh a wonderful arrogance in men to make God accountable for His acts of Divine grace; what greater arrogance and vanity can be imagined than this? When a poor creature will not himself be brought to an account why he gives one beggar money and not another, or why he giveth to one child a greater portion than to another (though they both be the acknowledged fruit of his body), that yet this worm should dream that God must be accountable to his reason, why He showeth mercy to this man and not to another, when they are both the work of His hands. It is certainly enough to say, “He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy; and extend compassion to whom He will extend compassion.” What pride, what arrogance is this, not to allow to God, whom we confess to be the supreme and most free agent, the liberty which we will yet claim and challenge for another! This is flat rebellion against the Lord of all, whose sovereignty it dares to question. (John Collinges.)

So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.--

Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth

For ages this chapter has been a battle-ground for theological dispute. Doctrines have been raised here most degrading to man--most derogatory to God. The first thing, therefore, is to brush away the clouds of false opinions with which theological polemics have enveloped it. The verse is not meant to express the idea--

1. That the Great Father does not show mercy to all mankind. This would be contrary to facts. Reason, consciousness, and the Bible unite in declaring that it is “of the Lord’s mercy that we have not been consumed.” Man’s existence is to be traced to the fact that he lives every moment by mercy, and mercy bears him up from hell.

2. That God gives to some men favours that He withholds from others, which is a truth too obvious for debate. You see this unequal distribution of the Divine favour--

(1) In natural endowments. No two men are alike in natural endowment.

(2) In our secular condition.

(3) In the means of spiritual improvement.

Some are” born heathens, etc., So that however humbling to our pride it may be, yet God does bestow favours on some which He withholds from others. But here Paul would not argue a point so palpable to his opponents.

3. That the Infinite Father is not disposed to save all. This is opposed to His own most positive and frequent declarations. “I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner.” “Let the wicked forsake his way,” etc. This is also contrary to the universality of His remedial provisions. “God so loved the world,” etc. “He is a propitiation … for the sins of the whole world.”

4. That the Infinite Father distributes His favours capriciously. We are unable to discover them, but that He has the highest reasons for His conduct we are bound to believe. The Infinite intellect never acts without reason, and Infinite love never acts unkindly. His mighty operations are under the sway of intellect; His intellect is under the sway of love.

5. That willing and running, or human efforts, are not essential to salvation.

(1) There are blessings bestowed upon us independent of our willing and running. This is the case, e.g., with natural endowments. If we have inferior powers the blame is not with us; if we are above the average the credit is not ours. It is sometimes the case too with our temporal condition. Sometimes riches come to a man without any effort or will of his own, and with poverty the same, but not always.

(2) It is ever true, however, of mental and moral excellence. We do not say that God cannot make a man intelligent and virtuous irrespective of his own conduct, but we have never heard of such cases. God’s regular method to enlighten the ignorant, to reform the depraved, etc., is by the earnest use of their own faculties. The Bible gives us to understand--

(a) That without my willing and running I cannot be saved. The work of a man in obtaining his salvation is compared to husbandry, building, battle, racing; all laborious occupations. In one word, so far from willing and running not being required, we must agonise to enter in.

(b) That when there are the right running and willing, salvation is sure to be obtained. Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened.” “He that cometh to Him He will on no account cast out.” Running and willing therefore cannot be dispensed with. What then does it mean? Simply this--that the original reason of salvation is in God and not in man. A truth this which is no sooner propounded than adopted by universal intelligence as an axiom. If there be a God He must be the primordial cause not only of all existence, but of all good throughout His vast and ever-extending universe. Then “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth”--

That God’s determination to save mankind came. Human effort had nothing to do in starting the eternal idea. “Who being His counsellor hath taught Him?” God’s ideas are as old as Himself. There is no succession of thought in the Eternal Mind. One all-seeing, all-embracing, infinite thought is His. “Known unto God are all His works, redemption included, from the beginning of the world.” We are saved, then, “not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace,” etc. Had He not determined to save humanity we never could have been saved, and His determination is entirely independent of all “willing and running.”

That God’s condition of salvation was formed.

1. It is God’s plan to work by means. The principle of mediation fills and rules the universe.

(1) It is so in the material world. God acts upon one thing through the instrumentality of another. One body is moved, one life is produced, one creature is supported by another.

(2) It is so in the mental world. One mind guides, educates, moulds another.

(3) In the moral world God’s method here is to save the world by Christ. He is in Christ “reconciling the world unto Himself.” “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son,”etc. “What the law could not, do,” etc. This is a settled condition. “There is no other name,” etc.

2. Now what has human “willing or running” to do with this plan of salvation? Nothing.

(1) The plan is eternal, and therefore no creature could have had an influence in its formation. “The Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world.”

(2) The plan transcends all finite thought. It could not have “entered into the heart of man to conceive” of such a thing.

To supersede God’s established method of salvation. Perhaps this passage especially refers to the Jew, who had an idea that he should be saved on the ground of patriarchal descent. And Paul wishes to impress him with the fact that no amount of effort on that condition would save him. He might will and run intensely and for ever, but it would be of no service. There is a Divine way to reach Divine results. There is a Divine way to cultivate the soil, to navigate the ocean, to build houses, to get a well-informed and well-disciplined intellect, and if these are not observed labour will be lost. It is so in man’s salvation. There is a Divine way, which, if not observed, all the willing and the running will go for nothing. The heathen, the Mahometan, the Jew, the Deist, may will and run, but their labour must prove futile, since they observe not the way. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth

Abraham willed that the blessing should be given to Ishmael; Isaac willed that it should be given to Esau; and Esau ran to hunt for venison that it might be regularly conveyed to him. But they were all disappointed; for it was God’s will that it should be given to Isaac and Jacob. (B. Field.)

God’s will and man’s will

(Text and Revelation 22:17):--

1. The great controversy which has divided the Church upon the question of “the will” has been fraught with incalculable usefulness, for it has thrust forward the two great doctrines of human responsibility and Divine sovereignty.

2. In this controversy, however, mistakes have arisen from two reasons. Some have altogether forgotten one order of truths. Like Nelson they have put the telescope to the blind eye, and then protested that they could not see. On the other hand, others have pushed a truth too far. You know how often things are injured by over-praise; how a good medicine comes to be despised because a quack has advertised it as an universal cure. So puffery in doctrine leads to its dishonour. You have seen those crystal globes, in which, as you walk up to them, your head is ten times as large as your body, and in another position your feet are monstrous and the rest of your body small. Many go to work with God’s truth upon the model of this toy; they magnify one capital truth till it becomes monstrous; they minify another till it becomes forgotten. Let us note that--

Salvation hinges upon the will of God, and not upon the will of man. “ It is not of him that willeth,” etc.

1. This may be argued from analogy. There is a certain likeness between all God’s works. If a painter shall paint three pictures, or an author write three books, there will be certain qualities running through the whole which will lead you to see that they are the same man’s “work.” Now turn your thoughts--

(1) To the works of creation. There was a time when these works had no existence. With whom did God then take counsel? Did it not rest with His own will whether He would make or not? And when He willed to create, did He not still use His own discretion as to what and how He would make? You see running through creation, from the tiny animalculae up to the tall archangel, this working of God’s own will. Well, then, does He reign in creation and not in grace?

(2) The works of Providence (Daniel 4:35). From the first moment of human history to the last God’s will shall be done. And as surely as God’s will is the axle of the universe and the great heart of Providence, so in grace, despite man’s hardness of heart, His own purposes will be fulfilled.

2. The difficulties which surround the opposite theory are tremendous. The theory that salvation depends upon our own will--

(1) Makes the purpose of God contingent. Christ may die, but it is not certain that He will redeem any, since the efficacy of the redemption rests not in its own intrinsic power, but in the will of man accepting it.

(2) Makes man, practically, the supreme being. The Lord intends good, but He must wait on His own creature to know what his intention is.

3. Ponder the known condition of man. On the theory that man comes to Christ of his own will, what do you with texts which say that he is dead?

4. It is consistent with the universal experience of all God’s people that salvation is of God’s will. I have never yet met with a man even professing to be a Christian who ever said that his coming to God was the result of his unassisted nature. Universally the people of God will say it was the Holy Spirit that made them what they are.

5. To the law and to the testimony. Each part of the whole process of salvation is attributed to God’s will.

(1) The preparation (Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 1:9; Ephesians 1:11).

(2) Regeneration (John 1:13; James 1:18).

(3) Sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

(4) Preservation, perseverance, resurrection, and eternal glory (John 6:39).

Man’s will has its proper place in the matter of salvation (Revelation 22:17).

1. According to this and many other texts it is clear that men are not saved by compulsion. When a man receives the grace of Christ he does not receive it against his will.

2. Nor is the will taken away, for God does not come and convert the intelligent free-agent into a machine. We are as free under grace as ever we were under sin; nay, we were slaves when we were under sin, and when the Son makes us free we are free indeed.

3. But though the will of man is not ignored, the work of the Spirit, which is the effect of the will of God, is to change the human will, and so make men willing in the day of God’s power, working in them to will and to do of His own good pleasure. The work of the Spirit is consistent with the original laws and constitution of human nature. Now, how is the heart changed in any matter? Generally by persuasion. A friend sets before us a certain truth in a new light, pleads with us, and our hearts are changed towards it. So the Spirit makes a revelation of truth to the soul, whereby it seeth things in a different light, and then the will cheerfully bows that neck which once was stiff as iron.

4. This gives the renewed soul a most blessed sign of grace. If thou art willing, depend upon it that God is willing.

5. Then, when a man has any willingness given to him, he has a special promise. Before he had that willingness he had an invitation. My text is a special call to some of you. Are you willing to be saved? Then the Lord says to you, “Whosoever will, let him come.” You cannot say this does not mean you. You are willing, then come and take the water of life freely. “Had not I better pray?” It does not say so; it says, take the water of life. “But had not I better go home and get better?” No, take the water of life, and take it now. God says, “Here is a special invitation for you; you are willing; come and drink.” Don’t say, “I must go home and wash my pitcher.” No preparation is wanted. When the crusaders heard Peter the hermit, they cried out at once, Dens vult!” and every man plucked his sword from its scabbard, and set out to reach the holy sepulchre. So come and drink, sinner; God wills it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verses 17-18

Romans 9:17-18

For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up.


1. How can we reconcile it with the Divine justice and mercy that a man should be brought upon the stage of life to illustrate the powerlessness of the creature who presumes to measure himself against the will of the Creator? The truth is, that such passages of Holy Scripture state only one side of the complete truth, viz., God’s sovereignty. They do not notice, as other passages, man’s persistent free-will and entire responsibility. God raises up men like Pharaoh to be what he became by their own resolve and rejection of the light which might have saved them.

2. Pharaoh was not without means of shrewdly suspecting something of the true character and mission of Israel. His bearing before Moses implies this, and it may be gathered from independent considerations. The earliest religion of Egypt had belief in one supreme power, and this had only become degraded into idolatry in the course of long ages. The secret of the ancient truth was still preserved by the priestly colleges attached to the temples, and each monarch could, if he wished, be initiated into it. This was the wisdom of the Egyptians in which Moses was learned. Then in the dynasty which immediately preceded, the king had actually endeavoured to restore the worship of one God under the crude form of devotion to the sun’s disc. When Moses stood before Pharaoh, he therefore touched a chord, if not of sympathy, at least of apprehension, in the conscience of his royal hearer, and the conduct of Pharaoh was of a man who wishes not only to awe an opponent, but to crush his personal misgiving. Thus it was that he was by turns obdurate and yielding, until at last he engaged in the enterprise which led to the triumph of Israel. The event, indeed, is not mentioned in the inscriptions on the monuments--no national disasters ever are, but its effects are written on the face of history, and Pharaoh’s name is remembered as that of one whose destiny it was to show forth the power of Him whose will he resisted. Note:--

The pathetic and awful spectacle of the growth of a human being into an attitude of fixed opposition to the all-Holy and almighty God.

1. No man becomes utterly evil all at once; he is only, perhaps, half conscious of the change which is slowly but surely going on within him. There was a time, no doubt, when Pharaoh was a bright, thoughtless boy, with a kind mother, and, as he grew up, he was probably, at first, and generally, well-meaning according to his lights, and his actions might have been at any rate first shaped in part by the traditions of his family, or the necessities of his position. But these were not irresistible, and at last the work of hardening was complete, and by a well-known licence of language God is said to have done that which He permitted--to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

2. Throughout the ages of Jewish history no name more represents emphatic hostility to the honour of God, or the discomfiture which, sooner or later, awaits that hostility, than that of Pharaoh. As the Jew passed in review the names of the enemies of his people, none seemed to loom so large. And as the Christian looks back, he, too, sees in the enemies of God’s people that which the Jews saw. But with his clearer faith he knows that they are dark shadows on earth of that invisible spirit who can mould man into being his instrument. Isaiah’s description of the descent of the King of Babylon into the world of the dead melts insensibly into the more awful picture of the fall of Satan. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” And in the same way the words which Moses addressed to Pharaoh are less true of mortal man than the fallen archangel. Satan had his time of trial, he was not forced to be the Prince of Evil, he became it in the abuse of his free will. But having chosen to be the first-born of rebellion, he was not simply a disturbing force: the evil which God could not have created He might control; in the vast universe there was a function assigned to the apostle of universal revolt. “For that cause have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee,” etc., a power exhibited when our Lord by His Cross spoiled principalities and powers, and destroyed him that had the power of death.

3. And Satan is only an instance of that which takes place in human experience. And the gradual growth of the spirit of resistance culminates at last, not in the triumph of the rebel, but in his being assigned an awful place in the plans of the Divine providence, in which he is to illustrate the justice of the Omnipotent.

Some good natural qualities may exist in a man who, nevertheless, perhaps, dies as an opponent to the will of God.

1. There is a bust of Pharaoh in the museum at Cairo, and as we stand before the grave, but by no means unkindly Coptic face, it is difficult to think that it represents a human being to whom these stern words were addressed in the name of the All-Merciful. And yet that this is possible is a matter of experience. A man may be respectable, and even interesting, and yet throughout his life opposed to God through some warp in the will or lack of sensitiveness in the conscience. And this is much more dreadful than when a thoroughly bad man is opposed to God. That Nero should burn the Christians in order to amuse the Roman populace and divert public attention from his own wrong-doing, seems to be quite natural, considering who Nero was. But contrast Nero with Julian. Julian was a man whom to know was to respect. It is true that he had advantages which were unknown to Nero; he knew what the Christian life was, and what it could be, and yet he devoted his great powers to uprooting Christianity and restoring Paganism. But he died, owning that the Galilean had been too strong for him. If he had been an idle, profligate sensualist, his case would have been less pathetic. Julian seems like Pharaoh to have been raised up, that the crucified and risen Redeemer might show in him His power, and His name might be declared in all the earth.

2. These examples apply on a smaller scale. Good natural qualities--industry, justice, temperance, kindliness, etc.

are consistent with a general drift of life which is opposed to God’s will; they are no guarantee that a man has that tenderness and sensitiveness of conscience which will enable him to see the line of duty in difficult circumstances, which will save him from the misery of finding himself at the last among those who have fought against God. Have we not, perhaps, reason to fear lest we ourselves should be of the number of petty Pharaohs who will illustrate God’s power rather than His mercy on the Day of Judgment?

How easily those who are in superior and engrossing positions may be fatally blinded to the highest and best interests of others who are dependent upon them. Pharaoh, no doubt, had his head and hands full of great affairs of state--too full, he may have thought, to give much time to the complaints of a troublesome tribe of Asiatic bondsmen. He closed his eyes, ears, and heart when he ought to have kept them wide open to all the indications of God’s will and human needs round him, and so he drifted on to his ruin. May not something of the same kind occur to any who are entrusted by Providence with the care of others--not only the rulers of nations and churches, but the great employers of labour, and the heads of educational institutions, and the fathers and mothers of families? An Israel may be close round them, to whose real wants they are insensible, but of which they have had ample warning, and meanwhile time is passing, and they are approaching some catastrophe: the ruin of families, societies, institutions may be due to some fatal insensibility on the part of those who direct them, some inability to enter into their moral and spiritual requirements.

There is here great comfort for those who desire to serve God in the conviction that in the end He will triumph over all His opponents, however long the triumph be delayed. Pharaoh was sitting on his throne in all the pride of the Egyptian monarchy’s brightest days when Moses dared to tell him that he was raised up to set forth the power of God. God allows much evil to exist. This is a distress and perplexity to His servants. Wait, and you will see. If God is patient, it is because He is eternal. Pharaoh for a while was borne with, remonstrated with, before the Red Sea closed upon him and his army. Still more sure of this should we Christians be who can gaze into the empty sepulchre, and who know that He who has left it holds the keys of hell and of death. Sin may still be strong, death may still be terrible, Satan still a standing menace, but these enemies will only illustrate our Redeemer’s power. (Canon Liddon.)

The case of Pharaoh

The subject in question is not the wicked disposition which animates Pharaoh, but the entire situation in which he finds himself providentially placed. God might have caused Pharaoh to be born in a cabin, where his proud obstinacy would have been displayed with no less self-will, but without any notable historical consequence; on the other hand, He might have placed on the throne of Egypt at that time a weak, easy-going man, who would have yielded at the first shock. What would have happened? Pharaoh in his obscure position would not have been less arrogant and perverse; but Israel would have gone forth from Egypt without eclat. No plagues one upon another, no Red Sea miraculously crossed, no Egyptian army destroyed; nothing of all that made so deep a furrow in the Israelitish conscience, and which remained for the elect people the immovable foundation of their relation to Jehovah. And thereafter also no influence pronounced on the surrounding nations. The entire history would have taken another direction. God did not therefore create the indomitable pride of Pharaoh, as it were, to gain a point of resistance and reflect His glory; He was content to use it for this purpose. This is what is expressed by the following words: “that thus,” not simply “that” (cf. Exodus 15:14-15; Joshua 2:9-10; Joshua 9:9)

. What is meant by the term “hardening,” and what leads the apostle to use the expression in verse 18? It signifies to take from a man the sense of the true, the just, and even the useful, so that he is no longer open to the wise admonitions and significant circumstances which should turn him aside from the evil way on which he has entered. The word cannot signify in Exodus 4:14, anything else, as God’s act, than it signifies as the act of Pharaoh, when it is said that he hardened himself. Note carefully that Pharaoh’s hardening was at first his own act. Five times it is said of him that he himself hardened or made heavy his heart (Romans 9:7; Romans 9:7; we do not speak here of Romans 7:3; Romans 7:3, which are a prophecy), before the time when it is at last said that God hardened him (Romans 9:12); and even after that, as if a remnant of liberty still remained to him, it is said for a last time that he hardened himself (Rom 9:34-35). It was a parallel act to that of Judas closing his heart to the last appeal. Then, at length, as if by way of a terrible retribution, God hardened him five times (Romans 10:1; Romans 10:20; Rom 10:27; Romans 11:10; Romans 14:8.). Thus he at first closed his heart obstinately against the influence exercised on him by the summonses of Moses and the first chastisements which overtook him; that was his sin. And thereafter, but still within limits, God rendered him deaf not merely to the voice of justice, but to that of sound sense and simple prudence: that was his punishment. Far, then, from its having been God who urged him to evil, God punished him with the most terrible chastisements for the evil to which he voluntarily gave himself up. In this expression we find the same idea as in παραδιδόναι (God gave them up), by which the apostle expressed God’s judgment on the Gentiles for their refusal to welcome the revelation which He gave of Himself in nature and conscience (Romans 1:24; Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28). When man has wilfully quenched the light he has received and the first rebukes of Divine mercy, and when he persists in giving himself up to his evil instincts, there comes a time when God withdraws from him the beneficent actions of His grace. Then man becomes insensible even to the counsels of prudence. He is thenceforth like a horse with the bit in his teeth, running blindly to his destruction. He has rejected salvation for himself; he was free to do so; but he cannot prevent God from now making use of him and of his ruin to advance the salvation of others. From being an end, he is degraded to the rank of means. Such was the lot of Pharaoh. Everybody in Egypt saw clearly whither his mad resistance tended. His magicians told him, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). His servants told him, “Let these people go” (Exodus 10:7). He himself, after every plague, felt his heart relent. He once went the length of crying out, “I have sinned this time; the Lord is righteous “ (Romans 9:27). Now was the decisive instant; for the last time, after his moment of softening, he hardened himself (Romans 9:33). Then the righteousness of God took hold of him. He had refused to glorify God actively, he must glorify Him passively. The Jews did not at all disapprove of this conduct on God’s part as long as it concerned only Pharaoh or the Gentiles; but what they affirmed, in virtue of their Divine election, was, that never, and on no condition, could they themselves be the objects of such a judgment. They restricted the liberty of Divine judgment on themselves, as they restricted the liberty of grace toward the Gentiles. Paul in our verse re-establishes both liberties, vindicating God’s sole right to judge whether this or that man possesses the conditions on which He will think fit to show him favour, or those which will make it suitable for Him to punish by hardening him. Thus understood--and we do not think that either the context of the apostle or that of Exodus allows it to be understood otherwise--it offers nothing to shock the conscience; it is entirely to the glory of the Divine character. (Prof. Godet.)

The case of Pharaoh

Note the present tense, “the Scripture says.” It is not a thing of the past; there is an element of timelessness in the utterance. If the Scripture ever spoke at all, it continues to speak. It speaks to the autocrat of Egypt in no faltering tone. Greater than He was at work, who indeed had raised him up--not merely to the throne of Egypt, nor from the sickness of boils and blains; for no mention is made of illness but (see also Zechariah 11:16; Matthew 11:11; John 7:52) in the sense of among men, on the stage of the world. God said, “Let him be, and he was.” He became a man and a monarch. He had a place in the Divine plan--to display the Divine power. In those idolatrous days the minds of thoughtful men were perplexed by the “gods many “whose reality was assumed by less considerate minds. Pharaoh scorned the authority of the God of the Hebrews (Exodus 5:2). who now appealed to various demonstrations of His peerless power--a kind of proof readiest for argument, and most adapted to the spirit of the age and that of the tyrant. It requires, in some measure, a wise mind or a benevolent heart to appreciate exhibitions of wisdom or benevolence; but it requires little more than a capacity for terror to appreciate exhibitions of power. Pharaoh was compelled time after time to pause and reflect, but continued unsubdued, and the voice of retribution is first heard in the words, “that I may display,” etc., pointing ultimately to the catastrophe of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:9-11). But the Hebrew says, “That I might show thee”--conveying the idea of mercifulness which goes before retribution which is to be reluctantly resorted to only in the sad event of mercy being spurned. The LXX., however, “show in thee,” uses a liberty in harmony with the acknowledged principles of the Divine government, and so Paul held himself justified in adopting it. The display of peerless power was in the first place for the instruction of Pharaoh; and it was only when that was repelled that the Lord turned to the dread alternative which runs onward, “and that My name might be published in all the earth,” i.e., “failing thy repentance.” The intervenience of latent conditional clauses is common in both promises and threatenings--e.g., in “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” there is a latent condition, “and if thou persevere in thy faith.” In the reverse threat, “He that believeth not shall be condemned,” there is a corresponding intervenience, “and persisteth in his unbelief.” Jonah’s message to the Ninevites is a case in point: and on this principle we are to interpret this solemn warning to Pharaoh. “I raised thee up that I might show thee (Hebrews) My power, and failing thine improvement of this instruction that by thy overthrow My name may be magnified, all the world over, above all the gods.” (J. Morison, D.D.)

The character and history of Pharaoh

However clearly we may perceive the correctness and force of any abstract truth, it will usually make a more deep and definite impression when illustrated by some example. We are assured, for instance, of the omnipotence of God; but who does not find his own conceptions of it more definite and impressive when he turns to its illustrations in his own frame or in the wonders of creation? It is as adapted to this tendency that the Scriptures supply us with so many illustrative examples of their sentiments and requirements. This observation will be found applicable to the present subject--the sovereignty of God in dispensing the blessings of His saving grace. He tells us that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and He illustrates this by the cases of Saul of Tarsus and the dying thief. He tells us that “whom He will He hardeneth,” and illustrates it in the case of the proud Egyptian monarch. Note--

Some of the most prominent and instructive points connected with Pharaoh’s character. And history.

1. His bold and impious defiance of Divine authority. “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice, to let Israel go?” This spirit is too often evinced still in those who meet the appeals of God with, “What is the Almighty that we should serve Him?” “Our lips are our own: who is Lord over us?”

2. The severe and repeated discipline to which he was subjected in order to humble and subdue this feeling. It is needless to repeat the ten plagues. These were not only most afflictive in themselves, but marked in the mode of their occurrence, a line of separation being so strikingly drawn between the Israelites and the Egyptians. How frequent are the instances in which God, to humble the sinner’s pride, subjects him to providential visitation!

3. The powerful but still defective impressions of which he was the subject. Of this the narrative supplies repeated evidence in the various compromises into which he seeks to enter, which were revoked as soon as the visitation was withdrawn. And so sinners, while Divine judgments press upon them, what sorrow will they express, and what salutary purposes they will form; and though, like Herod, they would do many things, yet, like him, they refuse compliance on some, and fail to give up the heart to God.

4. The persevering hostility he continued to discover. If his heart somewhat relented under suffering, it seemed in every quiet interval to become increasingly determined (Exodus 10:10-28). All this does but illustrate what is still going on in many a sinner, who having been for a time alarmed, discovers, as the sense of danger gradually subsides, a mind rendered only the more callous.

5. The striking but awful visitation by which Pharaoh was at last overthrown. None hath hardened himself against God and prospered.

The vindication of the divine conduct toward Pharaoh.

1. God placed him in a situation adapted to develop the peculiar tendency of his sinful disposition, which appears to have been proud superiority. God afforded scope for the special display of this feeling by placing him on a despotic throne. God may still act toward some on the same principle, but it should be remembered that the very circumstances which expose to greater danger will only render superiority to them the more striking and honourable: and that where, as in the case of Pharaoh, an individual fails, he does so by his own act.

2. God afforded to him the most ample evidence of the folly and danger of his continued resistance.

(1) He had the plainest proof that Moses and Aaron were the accredited messengers of God.

(2) The displays of the Divine power were such as must have forced on his mind the consciousness of his own impotence.

(3) He was made to perceive how plainly all these exercises of Divine wrath were entirely and only in consequence of his own determined obduracy.

3. God designed in this case to exhibit an impressible example of the fearful danger of a proud and impious defiance of Divine authority.


1. How proper and important the prayer which Christ has taught us--“Lead us not into temptation.”

2. How fatally defective and delusive those religious impressions and purposes which are founded on present alarming apprehensions of danger, while the heart remains unhumbled and in love with sin.

3. How vain and hopeless ultimate resistance to Divine authority.

4. How earnestly should we deprecate the thought of being abandoned to a hardened state of mind.

5. Let no humble and penitent sinner be discouraged by this illustration of God’s righteous justice. (H. Bromley.)

Lessons from the case of Pharaoh

The sovereignty of God is a great fact. Deity is the one primal cause, of which all secondary causes are but effects. All things owe their existence to Him. What are called laws of nature, are but the modes by which God works. Not a sparrow can fall to the ground without His permission. God rules among men as certainly as among suns and stars. The destinies of nations as surely obey His will as the revolutions of planets.

God’s decrees are irrespective of the actions of men (verses10-13). The strong Hebraistic expression means, Jacob have I chosen, and Esau have I rejected, which was contrary to the usual law of primogeniture. There is no injustice in this. Our Lord has told us that “Offences must needs come, but woe to the man by whom they come.” The crucifixion of Christ was “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,” brought about: yet it was “by wicked hands” that Christ was “crucified and slain.” Happy are we if we do God’s will; but the work will be done whether we do it or not. God is independent of human agency, though He employs it to accomplish His purposes.

God’s doings must always be characterised by justice, truth, mercy, and love. If Pharaoh was created only to be damned, and if God all along intended he should not let the people go, such conduct would be--

1. Unjust and cruel on the part of God. To turn the heart of any one to hate is a dreadful act, even in a man, where the influence may be resisted. How much more so where an Omnipotent Being is operating! Upon this principle all the plagues of Egypt were shocking cruelties. The doctrine that some men are predestinated to eternal life and others to damnation, regardless of the actions of either, is monstrously unjust.

2. Not in harmony with His truth. For upon this principle God deliberately deceived the Egyptians. The message was, “Let My people go,” etc. On the Calvinistic theory, Moses was either aware of God’s purpose or he was not. If he knew that Pharaoh was secretly influenced by God, so that he could not let the Israelites go, then the whole thing is a solemn mockery, the leading characteristic of which is deception. But if he did not know, then he was himself deceived by God, an idea which is too shocking to be thought of. A God of truth could not thus act.

3. Opposed to God’s mercy and love. “The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all His works.” Here, however, we should have a terrible exception.

In election and the hardening of men’s hearts God does not destroy their freedom. This hardening is of different kinds, and has reference to various subjects.

1. Great national events. The whole of this chapter refers to the state of the Jews. Paul expresses great sorrow for his people, that they were in danger of being cut off from their long enjoyed blessings. He then goes on to show that their privileges no longer specially appertained to them. God had now determined to elect a Church for Himself out of all nations. The Jews prided themselves greatly on being the seed of Abraham. Paul shows them from their own history that only a portion of that seed had enjoyed the boasted privileges (verses 6, 7, 10, etc.). And even in the case of these all had not equally shared the blessing. “For they are not all Israel which are of Israel.” A great part of the ten tribes who had been carried into captivity had never returned. There are therefore three exclusions, and the argument is that there might be yet another. The whole affair is one of peoples, not individuals. The election of Isaac and Jacob and the rejection of Ishmael and Esau had nothing to do personally with any one of them. A reference, in the case of the elder serving the younger, is made to Genesis 25:23, but Esau never did serve Jacob personally. The other quotation is from Malachi 1:2-3, and certainly refers to the Edomites. Was there then unrighteousness, i.e., unfaithfulness, with God? By no means, because it was a general principle laid down in the Mosaic law, and one which consequently they were bound to acknowledge, “I will have mercy,” etc. These words are from Exodus 33:19, a reference to which will show that they have no relation whatever to the pardon of sin, but applying to the granting of special privileges. And how true they are! In our time we see one nation or people favoured with blessings which are denied to another. “So then it is not of him that willeth,” etc.

2. The position of individuals in society. God gives to us all different places and work. One man rolls in wealth, another has to struggle with poverty. This man is endowed with a genius which shalt cause his name to ride down the ages; and that, just the necessary brain power to play his lowly part on life’s stage. In this there is no injustice. God dispenses His favours as He will. Our business is to play the part allotted to us, consistently, conscientiously, and energetically.

3. Life and death. These also are in the hands of the Lord. The infant dies almost before it has begun to live. The youth full of promise passes away in “life’s green spring.” Men die in the prime of life, and in the decrepitude of age. Is this unjust? No. Death is no respecter of persons or of ages. And He who was dead and liveth for evermore, holds the keys of Hades and of death. We shall each live our appointed time, and then no power on earth can save us.

4. Salvation. In some places it is said that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and in others that God hardened it. Both are strictly correct. The rejection of truth and the abuse of our privileges ever tend to harden the heart. This is a spiritual law as certain in its operation as the law of gravitation. As soon as Pharaoh saw a respite from his afflictions, his heart was hardened. And how often do men make all kinds of promises, but no sooner does relief come than we fall back again into a state worse than the first. “The sun,” says Theodoret, “by the force of its heat, moistens the wax and dries the clay, softening the one and hardening the other; and as this produces opposite effects by the same power, so through the long-suffering of God, which reaches to all, some receive good and others evil; some are softened and others hardened.”

Man is therefore responsible, and is left without excuse. The freedom of the will is a fact testified to by the consciousness of every man. When, in accordance with this freedom, we depart from God, the fact is a terrible one. And the difficulty of returning becomes greater day by day. The remorse that we experience testifies to the fact that we feel our responsibility. Necessitarians at every moment of their lives give the lie to their faith. As we are free, then, our business is to use our freedom aright. Our duty is to love God and keep His commandments. “Father Eternal! Thine is to decree; mine, both in heaven and earth, to do Thy will.” (G. Sexton, LL.D.)

Pharaoh no unconditional reprobate

The benefit or indulgence offered by God unto Pharaoh time after time, upon condition of his repentance and dismission of his people, as, viz., his immunity from further plagues or judgments from God, show that the means vouchsafed were effectual, and sufficient to have wrought him to repentance. The proffer or promise of a benefit upon the performance of such or such a condition supposeth a sufficiency of power to perform this condition. To promise anything upon other terms is rather an insultation over the weakness of him to whom the promise is made, than any matter of kindness which the nature of a promise still imports. The promise of a reward of a thousand pounds made unto a cripple upon condition he will run twenty miles within an hour’s space, is merely to deride such a man in his misery. Therefore certainly Pharaoh, God by many promissory intimations signifying that upon his repentance the judgments threatened should not come upon him, is hereby shown to have had power to fulfil the condition.

Pharaoh, by the means vouchsafed, did several times truly repent of his obstinancy, and gave order for the dismission of the people (Exodus 10:16-17; Exodus 12:31-32, etc.). Therefore he was--questionless--in a sufficient capacity to have repented and dismissed the people. That afterwards he repented of this repentance, and returned to his former obdurateness, is no argument that his former repentance was not true. Yea, if this repentance had been hollow or counterfeit, his repenting of it had been no sin. And besides, if the tree--as our Saviour saith--be known by the fruit, that repentance of Pharaoh, which produced--

1. Confession of sin committed both against God and men (Exodus 10:16).

2. Application by way of entreaty unto the saints to pray unto God for him (Exodus 10:16).

3. An express order with encouragement unto Moses and Aaron, to expedite the departure of their people according to the commandment of God, and this in as ample manner as themselves desired it (Exodus 12:31-32); that repentance must needs be conceived to have been a true repentance. And, doubtless, had Pharaoh persisted in that repentance, and not relapsed into his former provocation--which he was no ways necessitated unto--he had escaped that dreadful stroke from Heaven, which he met with in the Red Sea. (John Goodwin.)

An impenitent sinner in relation to God’s mercy

Powerfully does Paul, in this chapter, argue down the narrow predestinarianism of the Jews. They concluded that, being the lineal descendants of Abraham, they were predestinated to the mercy of God. The apostle’s method of combating this dogma may be briefly stated:--

1. He assures them of the deep interest he felt in them, and of the high estimation which he had formed of their privileges.

2. He affirms that God did not dispense His mercy on the principle of patriarchal descent.

3. That God’s mercy is ever bestowed on the principle of sovereignty alone. This he illustrates--

(1) By God’s declaration to Moses (verse 15). This language does not mean--

(a) That He does not show mercy to all men; this would be contrary to fact.

(b) Nor that He gives to some favours which He does not bestow on others. This is true, but this is not the truth here.

(c) Nor that He bestows all His mercies irrespective of conduct. This is always true of existence, with all its native attributes and talents, sometimes true of temporal circumstances, but never true of mental and spiritual excellence.

(d) Nor that He is not disposed to save all. This would be contrary both to His positive assurances and remedial measures.

(e) But it means simply that the reason of mercy is ever in Himself, and not in the creature (verse 16).

(2) By God’s declaration to Pharaoh. The passage leads us to consider an impenitent sinner:--

As raised up from affliction by the mercy of God. Pharaoh and his people had just been visited with the distressing plague of “the boils.” Jehovah condescends to restore the monarch to health. It is in relation to this recovery that these words were spoken. It was mercy that was dealing with this man. Why else was his probationary day lengthened out after the first warning had been delivered? Why else were there so many and varied influences employed to subdue his rebellious will? With one volition of the Almighty mind he would have ceased to be. What hindered that volition? Nothing but mercy. This is but a striking example of God’s ordinary dealing with all sinners here. Mercy afflicts and restores. This fact is testified--

(1) By the Scriptures.

(2) By every sinner’s consciousness.

As morally impressed by the mercy of God. There are two kinds of power--physical and moral. These differ not in source; each has its source in mind. But their objects differ: the one acts on matter, and the other on intelligent natures. Which did Jehovah purpose showing forth in Pharaoh? Undoubtedly the moral. His physical power could be seen far more gloriously in earthquakes and storms, etc., than in alternately afflicting and restoring the body of Pharaoh, or in any of the plagues. Besides, a man does not require a higher manifestation of physical power than he has everywhere around him. It was moral power--power over the monarch’s mind and heart--that the Almighty sought now to exercise. “In thee.” It was everywhere out of him, But why show this power in him? It must have been either to promote holiness in him, or sin, and who will dare say it was the latter? It was to turn Pharaoh from the error of his ways that this power was employed; and this is ever God’s aim with the impenitent sinner. There were two things connected with this power in Pharaoh which always characterise its operations--

(1) It was sin-convicting. Several times, when this power was working in him, did he exclaim, “I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.” Cain, Belshazzar, Felix, Judas, and others, have felt the same. The great aim of God in thus making His power bear on the sinful world is to “convince it of sin, of righteousness,” etc.

(2) It was resistible. Pharaoh resisted it: it would not be moral, and man would not be responsible were it otherwise. We cannot resist the physical power of God, but we can His moral. The Jews did always resist the Holy Ghost.

As strikingly manifesting the mercy of God. “That My name might be declared,” etc. The name of God is frequently employed as expressive of His goodness. God’s dealing with Pharaoh declares throughout all times that it is--

1. Longsuffering. How long the Almighty condescended to strive with this man!

2. Earnest. See how numerous and varied the means employed.

3. Terminable. Mercy at last took her wing, delivered him up to justice, and you know his fate. I know no more impressive commentary than God’s dealing with Pharaoh on “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner,” etc.

As incidentally hardened by the mercy of god. Verse 18 is Paul’s conclusion from God’s declaration. It is nothing more than a strong method of reasserting the principle that the reason of mercy is not in the creature, but in the Creator. How did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?

1. Not by intention. This is contrary to the purpose stated, which was to “show “ His sin-convicting and soul-saving power in him; and this, too, is repugnant to all our highest and most truthful notions of God’s purity and benevolence.

2. Not by fitness of instrumentality. Examine the means employed, and you will discover a wonderful adaptation to an opposite end.

3. Not by any positive agency for the purpose. This is unnecessary. The sinner is hardened, and harder he will become, if he be ]eft alone. Divine agency is required not to harden, but refine--not to destroy, but to save.

4. How, then? In the same way as He hardens the heart of that man who year after year listens to the most powerful sermons, and still remains in his sin. Pharaoh’s hardening is a typal fact. The ministry of the prophets had its Pharaohs; so had that of Christ, and of the apostles. The gospel proves the savour of death unto death, as well as of life unto life.

Conclusion: This solemn fact is suggestive of two things:

1. The native energy of soul. It can get good out of evil, and evil out of good; transmute food into poison, and poison into food. It is made to be not the servant, but the sovereign of circumstances.

2. The moral perverseness of soul. Instead of using this power to subordinate evil to good, it does so to subordinate good to evil--makes mercy a destroyer. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Divine sovereignty and human responsibility

First to the right, then to the left, the road was ever ascending but always twisting, and thus, by easy marches, we were able to reach the summit of the pass; a straight line would have been shorter for the eagle’s wing, but no human foot could have followed it. Nobody called us inconsistent for thus facing about; we kept the road, and no one could complain. If we honestly desire to gain the heights of Divine truth, we shall find many zigzags in the road: here our face will front Divine sovereignty with all its lofty grandeur, and anon we shall turn in the opposite direction, towards the frowning peaks of human responsibility. What matters it if we appear to be inconsistent, so long as we keep the highway of Scripture, which is our only safe road to knowledge! Angels may, perhaps, be systematic divines; for men it should be enough to follow the Word of God, let its teachings wind as they may. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.--

God’s sovereignty

Its display in the exercise of--

1. Mercy.

2. Justice.

Its harmony with the doctrine of free grace.

Its use.

1. For conviction and conversion.

2. He might have hardened you--may yet do it if you repent not. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Pardon or harden

Since God is not baffled by men’s infatuation, but can turn to account even obdurate Pharaohs, we may rest assured that He will either pardon or harden. The English “on whom He will” is fitted to bring out a volitional idea, but this is not quite so prominent in the Greek. It is “wish” rather than “will” that is expressed (see 2 Corinthians 12:6; 2 Corinthians 12:6; Galatians 4:9; Galatians 6:12; Galatians 4:20). God has mercy on whom He “desires” to have (verses 15, 16) pardoning mercy. The great alternative is “and whom He desires He hardens.” There is a sphere of things in which God does not desire to have any recourse to this dread alternative (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). In that sphere judgment is “His strange act,” but there are assuredly circumstances which make it right for God to desire to brand with His hardest stigma persisted-in iniquity. Paul speaks of “hardness” manifestly because his mind had been brooding over the career of Pharaoh. Hardness when predicated of the neck denotes unyieldingness, but when predicated of the heart, as here, insensibility. This insensibility might be predicated either in respect of the duty of permitting Israel to depart; or in respect of the danger that was impending over him in case of his refusal; or of an interblending of both. Which is the insensibility affirmed of Pharaoh? Before determining the answer it may be noted that whichever it was there can be no real difficulty as to God’s action on the monarch’s heart. It is psychologically impossible that such determined impenitence as his can be cherished, and yet produce no effect on the sensibilities of the heart. Faith and penitence always work; so do unbelief and disbelief. In such necessary working God’s hand must needs be imminent, but all the blame must be attached to the man himself. He alone furnished the reason why God hardened him, and hence he is sometimes said to have hardened his own heart, just as believers are said to purify theirs. Whether the induration, then, was such a penal condition as consisted of insensibility to duty, or to danger, or to the two intertwined there is no difficulty in supposing it to be by the hand of God.

1. But there is a critical reason why we give the preference to insensibility to danger. There are three words in Hebrew employed in this case. One is employed twice (Exodus 7:3; Exodus 13:15), another seven times (Exodus 8:32; Exodus 8:32 (28), 9:7, 34, 10:1; 1 Samuel 11:6; see also Exodus 7:14). The third occurs twelve times (Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:13; Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:19; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 9:35; Exodus 10:20; Exodus 10:27; Exodus 11:10; Exodus 14:4; Exodus 14:8; Exodus 14:17). Now the latter is a term that naturally suggests insensibility to danger, for in its intransitive form it properly means to be strong, and is translated (Joshua 23:6; 2 Samuel 10:12; 2Sa 13:28; 1 Chronicles 19:13; Ezra 10:4; Psalms 31:24; Psalms 31:24 (25); Isaiah 41:6) to be of good courage, to be courageous; while in its transitive form, it properly means to make strong, and is actually translated (Deuteronomy 1:38; Deuteronomy 3:28; 2Sa 11:25; 2 Chronicles 35:2; Psalms 64:5 (6); Isaiah 41:7) to encourage. When such a term is used to denote penal induration, it is natural to suppose that the hardness will be somewhat allied to a spirit of courage, and consequently that it will consist of a kind of dreadnaught spirit. There will be something of hardiness in it; indeed some strong accentuation of foolhardiness.

2. Exegesis warrants the same conclusion. The passages which deal with the monarch’s obduracy are more easily explicable on the hypothesis that his hardness was infatuated hardness and insensibility to danger. Look, e.g., at Exodus 14:16-17; Exodus 14:16-17. Pharaoh was intoxicated with his own high sufficiency. A penal blight had fallen on his reason. Rushing onward in daring recklessness, he and his chivalry were penally swept into destruction. And thus the Lord, by inflicting on them, first the most insensitive obduracy, and secondly the most tragical termination of their career, got Him honour upon Pharaoh and upon all his host. “Pharaoh,” says Fry, “had not, in immediate consequence of his hardiness, any more sinfulness in his heart than he had previously; but he dared to do more.” In selecting the word “hardens” the apostle suggests a parallel between Pharaoh and the Israelites. There was something ominously Pharaonic in the spirit of the unbelieving Jews. (J. Morison, D.D.)

St. Paul’s theology

(text, verses 19-21, and Romans 5:5-8):--

1. The former of these two passages read by itself, without anything to qualify it, sounds like a naked assertion of the sovereignty of God; and as based on mere power. It seems as if St. Paul were saving that the might of God is the measure of His right; that, having made us, He is perfectly at liberty to do what He pleases with us. I say, “It seems so”; because we know that St. Paul cannot mean to assert this, for otherwise he must have forgotten what he had written in our second text.

2. In a passage like this a great deal depends upon the tone which one reads into it, and the feeling with which one reads it. Now this ninth chapter must not be separated from the tenth and the eleventh, which together form one indivisible section, and ought to be, and must be read together, if we are to understand them at all. The tone of the whole is then easily discoverable from its commencement in Romans 9:1-5, and from its conclusion in Romans 11:30-33.

3. The commentators seem generally to take it for granted that, in my first text, St. Paul is arguing with captious objectors and presumptuous cavillers, whom he is putting down with a high hand. But it is, to say the least, worth our while to consider whether St. Paul is not stating frankly his own difficulties and solving them as best he can, and really working his own way, painfully and laboriously, through the darkness into the light. Viewed in this aspect the passage becomes infinitely more interesting, instructive, and pathetic. We should be sorry to think that St. Paul had set an example of that high-handed dealing with doubts and difficulties which has always proved so disastrous. But if he knew, as he seems to have known, what it was not to stifle, but to face and fight, his doubts; then his example may be of the greatest possible service to us, even though his difficulties were not ours.

4. Yet are they not ours? If God’s will acts in this sovereign, arbitrary way--hardening this heart, softening that, as chance or caprice may direct--what then? Is not the ground of human responsibility cut from beneath us? What room is there, then, for moral disapproval, and for retributive justice? Nor do we evade the difficulty by throwing the difficulty back one step, and saying, “It is by the operation of a law of man’s nature as God created it, that he who will not turn at last cannot. And God, who established that law of man’s nature, is said in Scripture to do that which occurs under it, or results from it. He has framed at His pleasure the moral constitution of man, according to which the rebellious sinner is at last obdurate. “This is the old, old puzzle, which has haunted men’s minds from the very first--now by one name, now by another: liberty and necessity. The moment we begin to reason upon this problem, we are lost in perplexity. The interplay of the Divine will and the human can never have its path determined by any calculus yet discovered. As soon as it is attempted, one or other of the two forces is sure to be omitted from the calculation, and to disappear altogether. We are left either with a naked sovereignty on the Divine side, accompanied by an absolute bondage on the human side; or else we are left with a Divine will which is no will at all.

5. At this point we feel what a difference it makes in our text, whether we regard it as an endeavour to put down objectors, or whether we regard it as a debate in Paul’s mind with doubts and difficulties. In the first case we can all see that it only removes the difficulty to a point at which it ceases to press against the reason only to press more vehemently against the conscience and the moral sense. For it may well be asked, “Is, then, man, with all his capacity of suffering, and his sense of right and wrong, merely as the passionless clay in the potter’s hand. If so, what are we to think of the Creator? Does the fact of creation invest the Creator with unlimited rights, unaccompanied by any corresponding responsibilities? Or does it answer most nearly to that earthly relation of parent and child which, whilst establishing the parents’ claim to the obedience of the child, establishes also the child’s claim to the love and care of the parents?” St. Paul’s reply is very different, if we regard it as a caution, addressed to himself, as he goes sounding on his dim and perilous way, through problems which human reason is all incompetent to solve. It is, then, tantamount to saying, “What am I, that I should dare to exercise my speculation upon such a theme as this--I, who am but a finite being in the hands of Infinite power?”

6. Now, this attitude of mind is the true philosophic attitude, for “The foundation of all true philosophy is humility.” And this is the attitude which St. Paul is most careful to inculcate elsewhere, e.g., “Now we see through a mirror”; the reflection only, not the object itself--“darkly”; more exactly, “in a riddle”--“but then, face to face.” And this is the attitude which our Lord inculcates, bidding us “humble ourselves, and become as little children.” And this, indeed, is the attitude which, the more earnestly and seriously we inquire into questions of all kinds, the more do we find ourselves compelled to adopt. The more the circle of our knowledge enlarges, the larger becomes the circumference, at every point of which we feel our ignorance, and have the sense of vastness and mystery forced upon us.

7. St. Paul, however, does not leave the matter so. We can leave many problems unsolved--this of the relation of the human will to the Divine amongst others--when we have settled it clearly in our own minds, how we shall think of God--of His character, of His purpose and feeling towards his human creation: not till then. As we read chaps. 9-11., carefully and as a whole, we feel that St. Paul makes little or no progress towards a solution of his doubts, until we reach Romans 11:32-33. He rises above his own efforts to reason the thing out, in the strength of a fresh perception of that unsearchable glory of God, which may be safely trusted to do nothing but what is wise, just, and loving. This perception does not come through any process of reasoning, but breaks upon his soul like light. He escapes at one bound from the trammels of his own logic, in the sense of that grace and love of God in Christ, of which he writes in our second text.

8. Very few of us will be able to follow the course of St. Paul’s argument in these three chapters. But all of us can seize that point of view of his, which enables him to trust the future of his beloved Israel--to the unsearchable grace and wisdom of God. Where had he learned that trust? Not at the feet of Gamaliel; not through all his vast stores of Greek and Rabbinical learning; not through any exercise of his own quick intelligence and acute reasoning powers; but at the foot of the Cross. It was there and thence that he had learned the boundless charity of God; had learned to trust himself to that charity; had learned (harder lesson!) to trust his loved ones to that charity. (Dean Vaughan.)

Verses 19-20

Romans 9:19-20

Thou wilt say then unto me, why doth He yet find fault?

The proper attitude of man towards Divine mysteries

The full spirit of this part of Paul’s reply may be brought out by considering it as addressed to the objector--

As a man. Considering the appeal in this light, it impresses a lesson of great practical importance, namely, to beware of arraigning, with irreverent rashness and self-sufficiency, the procedure of the Divine Being, as represented to us by Himself. Nothing, surely, can be more unbecoming in any creature. Nothing can mere strikingly display the sad predominance in the human heart of that aspiring pride which was originally infused by the tempting assurance, “Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.” The folly, indeed, of refusing to admit whatever does not come within the limit of our comprehension, can be equalled only by its impiety. There must be parts of the Divine procedure whose principles and reasons are beyond the depth of even archangelic intellects. It is a maxim of essential importance, on all such subjects, that we should not allow that which we do know to be displaced from our confidence by that which we do not know. We have the fullest assurance of the righteousness of the Supreme Ruler. Surely, then, we ought not to allow ourselves to be startled into scepticism because, in His revealed procedure, we may find particulars, the secret of which we are unable fully to penetrate. Shall we, then, on the one hand, question the prescience of God, because we may be at a loss fully to discern its consistency with the freedom and accountableness of man?--or, on the other hand, shall we loose men from their moral responsibility, and convert them into mere irresponsible pieces of machinery, because we may not perfectly discern the link of harmony between man’s accountableness and God’s foreknowledge? And especially when we recollect that the mystery of mysteries is not a doctrine, but a fact--not a discovery of revelation, but an event independent of revelation altogether--which revelation does not originate, but which it finds, and on which it proceeds--the existence of moral evil itself under the government of the infinitely Holy and Good! There is no denying the fact; but the mystery of the fact has baffled the wits of the wisest from the beginning till now. Shall we, then, refuse the remedy, because we cannot fully explain why the evil itself was permitted to exist?

As a sinner. “Who art thou?”--not only a creature, short-sighted, and ignorant, but a guilty, condemned creature. How unspeakably unreasonable and presumptuous is the language of the objector when regarded in this light? And here we might introduce anew, with augmented force, the proper terms for such a creature in presenting himself before “the God with whom he has to do.” Of whom ought he, then, to think? Should it not be of himself? Of what ought he to think? Should it not be of his own transgressions and his own deserts? He has an account of his own--what to him are the accounts of others? Is he to stand out against the justice of God in his own sentence, till he sees whether God deals with others exactly as He does with him? What has he to do with others? As a sinner, he stands at the bar of heaven, charged with his own guilt, and has to answer for himself. If there be any ground on which he can impeach the righteousness of the Judge in his own sentence, let him advance his plea. But if he himself, as a sinner, is justly condemned, is not the posture that becomes him that of a suppliant for mercy? Oh, if instead of “replying against God,” by presuming to pick faults in His general administration, each sinner would but “look to himself”--ponder his own guilt--and in the name of the one Divine Mediator, cast himself at the feet of his Judge with the brief petition of the publican, all then would be well. He should find mercy, as sure as God “delighteth in it”; and, because He delighteth in it, has provided for its honourable exercise. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)

Truth not to be tampered with

No man has any right to make that which he believes to be the truth of God any less exacting, less sharp or clear, because he thinks his fellow-men will not accept it if he states it in its blankest and baldest form. I read an incident in a newspaper the other day that seems to illustrate this point. A tired and dusty traveller was leaning against a lamp-post in the city of Rochester, and he turned and looked around him and said, “How far is it to Farmington?” and a boy in the crowd said, “Eight miles.” “Do you think it is so far as that?” said the poor tired traveller. “Well, seeing that you are so tired, I will call it seven miles.” The boy, with his heart overflowing with the milk of human kindness, pitied the exhausted traveller, and chose to call it seven miles. I know that I have seen statements of the truth that have dictated the same answer. Never make the road from Rochester to Farmington seven miles when you know it is eight. Do not do a wrong to truth out of regard for men. (H. W. Beecher.)

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?--

Presumption rebuked


The temerity of man. He arraigns--

1. God’s perfections.

2. Procedure.

3. Government.

Its merited reproof. Such conduct is--

1. Impertinent.

2. Wicked.

3. Foolish. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Pride--in dictating to God

The petty sovereign of an insignificant tribe in North America every morning stalks out of his hovel, bids the sun good-morrow, and points out to him with his finger the course he is to take for the day. Is this arrogance more contemptible than ours when we would dictate to God the course of His providence, and summon Him to our bar for His dealings with us? How ridiculous does man appear when he attempts to argue with his God! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

God does not reason

A gentleman examining some deaf and dumb children wrote up the question, “Does God reason?” One of the children immediately wrote underneath. “God knows and sees everything. Reasoning implies doubt and uncertainty; therefore God does not reason.”

Verses 21-23

Romans 9:21-23

Hath not the potter power over the clay?

The potter and the clay

The material of which humanity is composed. Represented by clay.

1. Mean.

2. Powerless.

3. Plastic.

The sovereign right of God to mould it to His will. A vessel to--

1. Honour.

2. Dishonour.

The consistency of this doctrine with human free agency.

1. God determines our physical and temporal conditions.

2. Not our eternal doom. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The potter and his clay

“Hath he not power?” Yes, he has, is the answer the apostle expects, and he is right, and God the Almighty Potter has unchallengeable power over His clay. Let it be noticed--

That paul does not refer to physical force, i.e., that God, in virtue of His almightiness, is able out of the same lump to make one vessel to honour and another to dishonour. The word is not, δύναμας ability to do, but ἐξουσία--authority, prerogative right. God is not under any obligation to confer equal honour or dishonour upon all. He will be doing no wrong, although He make a difference.

We are not to look upon God’s prerogative as unconditional.

1. True, the prerogative of the literal potter is absolute. He may do with his clay what he pleases, although it may be ridiculous, and ultimately ruinous to him. He may add inappropriate ingredients and spoil his clay: stupidly attempt to make fine vessels out of coarse clay; he may misshape his vessels, mar them, or when the whole batch is fashioned take an iron rod and dash them into shivers. If the clay, wheel, time, rod, be his own, he may set as absurdly as he pleases.

2. But then this absolute right will not shield him from the criticism of his fellows. They may not say “No, this won’t be permitted; you are ill-using your clay.” But they will be at perfect liberty to say what Jonathan Edwards said of the devil, “that he is one of the greatest fools and blockheads in the world.”

3. Again, men are not like clay in all respects, e.g., they are possessed of rights. Man has a right to be treated with justice; to be furnished with ability to do his duty, if he is to be held responsible for not doing it to have the gate of heaven opened to him if he is to be blamed for not entering in. Man must have some power of formative self-control “unto honour,” if he is to be blamed for being fashioned into a vessel “unto dishonour.”

4. All this being the case, God’s power over the human clay is not utterly unconditional. His right to do with it as He pleases is, by His own benevolent arrangement, modified by rights which He has conferred on His creatures. He has not reserved the right to do wrong. It cannot be the case, then, that God has reserved the right to deal tyrannically with His poor human creatures. If they are held responsible to Him for the shape their character assumes, then something is due to them as the basis of their accountability.

The statement cannot be quoted in favour of unconditional reprobation. There are, indeed, beings who deserve universal reprobation, and, therefore, Divine; and there is future reprobation; but is it right to so magnify the Divine sovereignty as to exclude from the circle of Divinity, justice, righteousness, goodness, wisdom, mercy, and love? Such inversion of theology would be akin in monstrosity to the wild political aphorism that monarchs reign by Divine right and can do no wrong.

What, then, was the apostle’s aim in propounding his query? Why should he be solicitous to show that God has a right to turn some of the race into a condition of dishonour, and others into a state of glory? The reason is that in chaps, 9-11, he is discussing the relation of his countrymen to the gospel. Alas! the great mass were unbelieving. What then? Would they, notwithstanding, be all turned on the Divine wheel into vessels of honour? The Jews contended that they would. It was the Gentiles only who were to be fashioned into vessels unto dishonour. “No,” says the apostle, “you are wrong, my countrymen. It is with intensest sorrow that I say it. It is the penitent and believing only who shall be saved. And the Almighty Potter, who has us all on His wheel, has right, out of the same lump of Jews and Gentiles, to turn one man, even though he be a Gentile, provided he be penitent and believing, into a vessel of glory, and vice versa.” The apostle had evidently the representation of Jeremiah 28:1-17, in his eye. If a vessel becomes marred in the hands of the potter, then, instead of proceeding with it, he crushes the clay together and fashions it into another kind of vessel. God desired to fashion the Jews into a glorious vessel, when, lo! it became marred in His hand, and He had to make it into another--unto dishonour. The vessel was marred, not because of any imperfection in the Potter’s manipulation, for He is not liable to mistakes. Some bad and coarse ingredient had been by some enemy flung in, so that only a coarser vessel than what was desired could be made of it. Application: God is not willing that any should perish, i.e., He does not wish to have any vessels fashioned unto dishonour. He would have all to be beautiful and honourably serviceable, i.e., all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Jesus, speaking to the impenitent, says, “I would, but ye would not,” and just because men will not they spoil the clay that is in the Almighty Potter’s hand. (J. Morison, D.D.)

The potter and the clay

The question proposed.

1. A seemingly needless one.

2. Proposed as an argument for conviction.

The answer implied. That God is--

1. The Creator of all things.

2. The arbitrator of the destiny of everything.

3. That He has, as such, a right to create and plan out as He thinks fit.


1. Do not question God’s authority.

2. Submit to all His decrees with humility. (J. H. Tasson.)

The potter and the clay

Against the hard absolutism of the parable of the potter and the clay the righteous instincts of the heart have often protested. Responsibility without freedom strikes us as despotic and unjust. If we are whirled about on the potter’s wheel of an inflexible fate, it seems intolerable that we should be denounced for taking the shape it has given us. And what maddens us the more is that not being free, we should yet be called into account and held responsible. No effort of ours, it seems, can alter our destiny; yet the stain of demerit clings to us if we fail to shape it. It is like charging the rivers with guilt for their inability to run up a hill when God’s decree of gravitation forbids it. All this we find, or think we find, in the image of the potter and the clay. And no doubt, read in its connection with the rest of the passage, it seems a vindication of the right of God to do what He likes--of His right to be arbitrary, to make selections on principles of favouritism. An image or argument, however, that lands us in such a conclusion--that issues in a disproof of the righteousness of God, carries in it its own condemnation. As the impersonation of eternal justice, He must choose and do what is fair--what commends itself to our pure moral instincts. He must reverence the laws He has stamped on our nature. He must live out from the perceptions of the right He has given us to live by. The image of the potter and the clay, of the vessels made to honour and the vessels made to dishonour, are emblematic of certain inequalities that prevail among men. You have these two inequalities; first, as to our sphere in life; secondly, as to our moral constitution. Now, let us look at this question a little more closely. First, one man’s lot is favourable to the cultivation of the Christian temper, while another’s is not. That, I suppose, is inevitable. As there are some races who seem to exist only to be the serfs of the world, delvers in the field, toilers in the mine, so there are individuals elected by Divine decree, fashioned of dull and lethargic temper, to whom all life in the higher human interests has been denied. They cannot rise to the far empyrean, fanned by the wing of the albatross and the eagle; but must be content to skim with heavy flight near the earth’s surface. Well, if the Potter has made them so, let them so accept the destiny and the doom assigned. Let them do that in the strong conviction that the great Judge will take into account the conditions of life in which He placed them, and ask only if their achievements were equal to their opportunities. To them, little having been committed, from them little shall be required. Your sphere, your work in life, then, is the element given you in which to work out whatever greatness of character is possible within it. It defines your opportunities. These may be few, narrow, unpoetic. But there they are: and faithfulness within them will secure for you the same cordial greeting given by God to him who, having ten times your chances, gives back to the great Householder no more in proportion than you. Secondly, there are diversities of nature among men. You have one man with a sweet nature in him, perfectly and rightly disposed towards goodness and God. You have another, with whom life is a ceaseless struggle, who cannot put the victor’s foot on his frailties, and who at the end will die, having redeemed little of the wilderness within from its waste and wildness to the peaceful fruitfulness of the garden of God. It strikes you as unfair to ask these men to live in equal nearness to God. It is like asking the vessel made of common earth to have the glitter and beauty of Etruscan ware. Now, what are we to say to those hapless souls to whom fate has denied the moral materials of which the saintly character is formed--whom the Potter has made of common clay? That they will be condemned for not being the richest porcelain? for not attaining the moral beauty which the rigorous necessity of destiny and providence forbid? Surely not? A fine nature is a communicated blessing. It is not the acquisition of one’s own will--not the fruit of one’s own endeavour. No merit is ascribed to a man who is what he is because of something given him, not acquired by him. If much has been given in a man’s moral endowments, much will be required of him; but to whom little has been given, of him little shall be asked. The ideal man of angel temper is different from the ideal man of a dull and sluggish soul. Both may be perfect after their kind. The injustice will not come in till God expects from both vessels the same finish and beauty. The clay vessel may be perfect as a bit of delf; it has its own perfection: the vessel made to be a bit of alabaster or Etruscan ware cannot have more. In conclusion, then, our lot and our nature--whatever these are, tractable or intractable--are given us as the element and the materials out of which we are to evolve a certain ideal character. The lot and the nature are our fate--for them we are not responsible. The character is the product of our own freewill--for it we shall answer. (James Forfar.)

To make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour.--

Honour and dishonour; or, the work of the sinner and the work of God


That all men are made of one common nature. “We,” as the old prophet has it, “are the clay, and Thou our Potter, and we are all the work of Thy hand.” Notwithstanding the vast variety in colour, conformation, habit, etc., there is such a correspondence, both in the physical and spiritual structure of all the races as to corroborate the declaration that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men.” Let us not be satisfied in admitting the truth of this doctrine, but--

1. Reverence the rights of all. Nothing can justify us in offering the slightest indignity to that right which belongs to man as man.

2. Sympathise with the woes of all. If we love not our brother “whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen?”

3. Diffuse that gospel which is the great want of all. Man, the world over, is a brother; out from the deeps of his heart there rises a cry for the help the gospel offers.

That of men made of the same nature, part is being “fitted for destruction,” and part for glory. The word destruction does not refer to existence, but to happiness. It is here put it antithesis to glory, i.e., all that is blissful in being. Now, it is here implied that there are certain men being framed for the destruction of all happiness, and others for all that is glorious. There are three things which show the truth of this.

1. The inevitable tendency of the two great principles that rule mankind--selfishness and love, or sin and holiness The one tends to the decrease of happiness, and the other to its increase; the one fits for destruction, and the other prepares for glory. A man under the influence of selfishness is one whoso nature is undergoing a rapid process of deterioration. There is a blight in his atmosphere that shall leave his spiritual territory barren. There is a disease in his system that shall, bring on death.

2. The actual experience of mankind. Take two men as types.

(1) One shall be Saul. He had, undoubtedly, a good mental, as well as a “goodly” corporeal constitution, and on him the “Spirit of the Lord” once moved. But the man was selfish; and this selfishness continued to fit him for “destruction,” until, in the cave of Endor, he exclaims, “God is departed from me.”

(2) The other shall be David. He was but a shepherd bey, having nothing peculiarly great either in bodily or mental make, but his soul developed itself under the reign of Divine love, which led him to “serve his generation.” And you see this youth, in almost every step of his life, getting into new power and rising into new glory. Now, all this is abundantly confirmed by Scripture, which represents all men as pursuing two paths, the one to destruction, and the other to glory--some sowing to the flesh, and reaping corruption, and some to the Spirit, and reaping everlasting life.

That whilst God could have. “fitted” men for destruction, His work is to “prepare” them for glory. We are not ignorant of the objection that God is represented as blinding men’s eyes, making their hearts fat, and their ears heavy, and as hardening the heart of Pharaoh. True. But when such works are referred to God they must be referred to Him in an occasional, not in a causal--an incidental, not an intentional-a permissive, not a predestinating sense. Otherwise, indeed, moral evil is a Divine institution. Observe--

1. That the apostle does not affirm that God has ever fitted any being for destruction; and there are reasons to believe that He has never done so.

(1) There is analogy. Ask the astronomer or the microscopist if they have found one living thing formed for dishonour, or made for torture?

(2) There is the human constitution. Whether you look at it--

(a) Physically, with its varied members and organs, so exquisitely formed and put together, walking erectly, fronting the world with eyes on heaven, and lord of all that lives beneath the stars, or--

(b) Psychologically, with an intellect to reduce the universe to truth, and bear it along triumphantly in its path of thought, and a soul to mingle in the worship of seraphs, and delight in God,”--can you affirm that man was made for dishonour?

(3) There is the conscience. Does the conscience ever testify to the ruined sinner that he was made for destruction? No. Were this the case there could be no remorse--no moral hell. “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

2. The apostle does affirm that God prepares men for glory; and there are abundant reasons to believe the fact.

(1) There is the spiritual influence of nature. This influence you may call beauty in the flowery fields, sublimity in the surging main, glory in the “terrible crystal,” or divinity in all; but whatever you call it, there is nothing in it to fit “for destruction,” but everything to prepare for glory. I often wonder how men can sin abroad, in the bright fields of holy nature.

(2) There is the special system of mediation, including the communications of God to humanity during the first four thousand years, the mission of Christ, the ministry of the gospel, and the agency of the Spirit. In view of all this, who can maintain, for a moment, the notion that God fits men for destruction?

That the history of all men, whatever their destiny, illustrates the character of God. In relation to the destroyed, there is the manifestation of “long-suffering,” “power,” “ wrath”; and in relation to the saved, there is the manifestation of the “riches of His glory.” Conclusion: Learn--

1. That the most solemn attribute of thy nature is the power to misappropriate the blessings of God. Yonder are two plants side by side, rooted in the same soil, visited by the same showers, and shone on by the same sun; the one transmutes all into what will poison life, and the other into that which will sustain it. So the very elements that are preparing the men by thy side for glory--by the perverse use of thy moral freedom--may be fitting thee for destruction.

2. That the most momentous work in the world is the formation of character. It is either a soul-saving or a soul-destroying process. What wouldst thou think of a man who stood casting portions of his property into the bosom of the rolling river? But if thou art forming an ungodly character, thou art doing worse folly than this, thou art wasting thy spiritual self. That vessel which the architect, either from recklessness or ignorance, is constructing on a principle which necessarily unfits her to stand the swelling surges and the hostile gale, you would say, is “fitted for destruction,” so, in very truth, is thy character if built on the principle of selfishness. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Vessels of honour and dishonour

Who can say of himself, or of his fellow, whether his is a life of honour or of dishonour? I have seen side by side, amid the heirlooms of a great historic English house, a goblet of massive gold, rich with costly gems, and beside it a common earthern vessel, with broken handle and with battered edge. Which of these is a vessel made unto honour, and which to dishonour? The one has stood amid the blaze of light and the flash of jewels, filled with rare wine, at the banquet table of a king, where mistresses laughed, and where libertines blasphemed; and the other has borne water to the parched lips of dying soldiers, amid the smoke and dust of battle. Which, now, is the vessel made to honour, and which to dishonour? (T. T. Shore, M.A.)

What if God, willing to show His wrath … endured … vessels of wrath … and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy.

Vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy

The sentence is elliptical. Supposing God to have done so, and for certain ends--what then? The apostle does not fill up the sentence himself, but leaves it to be filled up by his readers agreeably to the principles he had been laying down. Would there be unrighteousness with God?

The parties spoken of.

1. “The vessels of wrath,” i.e., the “vessels to dishonour” of verse 21.

(1) The wrath of God is invariably pointed against sin (chap. 1:18; Ephesians 2:1-3). It is judicial, not personal; righteousness demanding the punishment of iniquity--“angry with the wicked,” and insisting on the execution of the law. Sovereign wrath is a contradiction. Sovereign mercy is not. It expresses the unalienable right of the Supreme Ruler to show favour freely to the undeserving. The very word “mercy” implies “desert of evil” in its objects. But from the idea of the right of God to inflict suffering on the undeserving, we shrink with horror, for it would ascribe to God the right to do wrong. All punitive infliction presupposes desert. The bestowment of good does not. The latter, then, belongs to sovereignty; the former, to equity.

(2) The sins of men are freely committed. They are done with the choice of their wills. Otherwise there could be no such thing as sin. If a man were used as a mere machine, he could not be a sinner. Every sinner is sensible that neither, on the one hand, is he constrained to evil, nor, on the other, restrained from good. To say that man cannot will what is good is to employ terms most inconsiderate and misleading. What hinders him from willing? Only the absence of right dispositions. But the indisposition is just the want of will; and, there being no other inability in man than this, to say he cannot will resolves itself ultimately into the will not to will; inasmuch as he is kept from willing good by nothing but his aversion to good.

(3) These are truths sufficiently plain, and they serve to show the meaning of the expression “fitted to destruction.”

(a) More is meant than mere destination or appointment. “Fitted” includes particularly the idea of congruity between the character and the destruction. The question, then, comes to be--how are they thus “fitted” and by whom? In finding an answer to this question, observe the marked difference between the expressions on both sides of the alternative. God fits the “vessels of mercy,” but the vessels of wrath are only “fitted for destruction” i.e., self-fitted, fitted by their impenitent and obdurate sinfulness. The blessed God cannot be regarded as directly “fitting men for destruction” by any influence from Him (James 1:13-16; Ezekiel 15:6-8).

(b) And, as God cannot make men wicked, neither should He be considered as appointing men to sin--unless it be in the simple sense of leaving them, in punitive abandonment, to the hardening influence of its wilful perpetration (Jude 1:4).

2. The vessels of mercy.”

(1) The very idea of mercy excludes all desert on their part, and all obligation on the part of God. “Vessels of mercy” implies that whatever there may be of good in them, that good is something which they do not deserve, and which God is, in no respect, bound to bestow.

(2) This being the case, their previous “preparation to glory” is an act of pure sovereignty. “Making them meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

The conduct of God towards them.

1. It is the same to both. The expression “Enduring them with much long-suffering” is used, it is true, only in reference to the former; but it is necessary, to complete the sense, that it be, as it were, carried forward, and considered as if repeated, in regard to the latter.

2. The long-suffering of God is one of the most wonderful facts in the history of our apostate race. It was manifested in His dealings with the antediluvian world, and in the whole course of His procedure toward the Jewish people. It has been manifested all along, and continues to be, in the experience of the race at large, and in the life of every individual. Who is there, of all the children of men, that is not the subject of it?

3. The idea implies the existence of a tendency in a contrary direction. The holiness of God is infinitely opposed to all sin, and while His holiness abhors it, His justice calls for its punishment. In proportion, then, to the strength of these principles of the Divine character, is the difficulty of forbearance with the workers of iniquity.

4. By this long-suffering, the great majority of men, alas! are only encouraged in evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11). They thus criminally, because wilfully, abuse the Divine goodness; and thus “fit themselves for destruction” (Romans 2:4-5). But others dealt with in the same “long-suffering,” alter very protracted and obstinate resistance of the means of grace, relent, believe, and are saved. Toward both there has been shown “much long-suffering.” To many a believer--especially to such as have been converted later in life than others--might I make an appeal for the truth of this.

The design or object of this conduct here supposed by the apostle. Suppose God does as the potter does: “what if” this were the case? It is evident that the question is intended to involve another question: Would there be any ground of complaint? Who, with any just cause, could say a single word against the procedure? Remember that men are not here spoken of as creatures, but as sinners--guilty subjects of God’s moral government, breakers of His law-all alike obnoxious to the visitation of His punitive justice. The general principle, then, is this--that God, the Supreme Ruler, so orders His rectoral procedure towards sinful men, as that He may most effectually secure the glory of His own character and government. Let us look at both sides of the alternative.

1. In God’s longsuffering towards those who ultimately perish, what is His course? He lengthens out their period of trial. He applies every mode of treatment, in itself, as a moral means, fitted to bring them to repentance. In doing this, He provides for a satisfactory display of righteousness in their final condemnation; so that none can say that they perished unwarned, untried, uninvited. In the forbearance of God, they have found opportunity for repentance, and they have guiltily misimproved it; converting it into an opportunity of further and further showing the evil principles and dispositions by which they are actuated, and which are the grounds of their sentence of death in the judgment. As an exemplification of our meaning, take the case of the flood (cf. 1 Peter 3:19-20; 2 Peter 3:9)

. And as it was with the antediluvian sinners, so was it with the Jews. God’s judgments on them were not only deserved, but by His whole procedure toward them shown to be deserved ere they were inflicted. Their “mouths were stopped.” And thus it will be at last. God the Judge has determined that He will not only be just in His sentences of condemnation, but show Himself just. Who will venture to find fault with this?

2. Of the other side of the alternative the import is sufficiently obvious. The “riches of His glory” evidently signifies here “His glorious riches”--and that means, as evidently, the riches of His mercy. The glorious riches of God’s mercy are made known by salvation in general having been provided; by the means of its provision; and by every individual instance of salvation bestowed. But “the riches of His mercy” are more signally displayed in some cases of salvation than in others. In particular eases, by His “forbearance and long-suffering,” He prepares wonderful exemplifications of the exuberant abundance and untrammelled freeness of this grace. Let this apostle himself tell us of his own ease, as an instance in point (1 Timothy 1:12-16).


1. There is a tendency at present to dwell too exclusively on the Divine love, and to make too little of the other attributes of the Divine character. Because the atonement is universal, and the gift of Christ is the highest expression of love, therefore Divine love must be love without distinctions. As if, because the atonement has been made for all, in order to there being a consistent ground on which all might be invited to pardon, therefore there can be and must be no distinctions in the saving application of the atonement. God says, “A new heart also will I give you,” etc. Does He do this alike to all?

2. While it is right for us to look at both sides of the alternative, it is especially delightful for us to contemplate Him “preparing for glory the vessels of mercy.” His time of preparing them is very various. He can fit them in a moment: while sometimes the preparation extends through many a year. He spares them sometimes as instruments for His use in preparing other “vessels of mercy” for the same glory with themselves. And then, when He takes them to the inheritance of the glory for which He has prepared them, and which He has prepared for them--how delightful our emotions in looking after them. Be has taken these vessels where He may put them to uses more glorifying to Him, and more honourable to themselves, than any use He could make of them in their imperfect state below! (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)

Vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy

Vessels of wrath.

1. Whom does this phrase describe? Not persons pre-ordained to wrath, but deserving of wrath.

2. How are they fitted for destrucion? Not by Divine operation, but by their own wilful impertinence.

3. How does God use them? For the display of His justice and power.

4. How is the righteousness of the Divine procedure vindicated?

(1) By His patient forbearance.

(2) By the opportunity afforded for repentance.

(3) By the offers of His grace.

Vessels of mercy.

1. Their determination.

(1) Not by unconditional election.

(2) But by the reception of mercy and belief of the truth.

2. Their preparation--

(1) In life.

(2) By grace.

(3) Through the sanctification of the Spirit.

3. Their use. To display the riches of God’s glory--His wisdom, love and power in their salvation.

4. Their destiny--glory.

(1) In the perfection of their nature and happiness.

(2) In the presence of God.

(3) For ever.

5. The foundation of all their happiness. The sovereign grace of God in Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy

A certain minister, having changed his views on certain points of Divine Truth, was waited upon by an old acquaintance, who wished to reclaim him to his former creed. Finding he could not succeed in his object, he became warm, and told his friend that God had “given him up to strong delusion,” and that he was “a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction.” “I think, brother,” was the response, “you have mistaken the sense of the passage you last referred to. Vessels are denominated according to their contents. A chemist, in conducting a stranger through his laboratory would say, ‘This is a vessel of turpentine, that of vitriol,’ etc., always giving to the vessel the name of the article it contains. Now when I see a man full of the holy and lovely spirit of Christ, devoted to His service and imitating His example, I say that man is a vessel of mercy, whom God hath aforetime prepared unto glory; but when I see a man full of everything but the spirit of the Bible--opposed to God’s moral government, seeking his own things rather than the things of Christ, and filled with malice, wrath, and all uncharitableness, I am compelled to consider him ‘a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction.,” (Biblical Museum.)

The vessels of wrath

The doctrine of reprobation is a malicious libel on mercy. It is an attempt of Satan to graft his own character upon the Lord; and to make Him whose name is “Love” like him whose nature is hatred. Consider--

The characters here described.

1. Wrath means far more than anger--and it becomes a stronger word as the capacity for wrath increases. “The king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion.”

(1) Now measuring upwards in this way, what must God’s wrath be, whose every attribute is illimitable? and the very infinitude of His mercy proves what must be the extent of His wrath.

(2) And are there any creatures exposed to this? Yes, it must be so where sin is. It is far more anomalous to suppose moral guilt existing and God not angry, than it is to imagine rebels and a king unmoved, or children fiends in human shape and the father indifferent. The wrath of God must come, in the very nature of things, upon the children of disobedience. He that committeth sin must be a vessel of wrath by nature, and if that nature be not changed, a double portion of wrath abideth on him.

2. Mark the term which expresses the reception of this anger--“vessels”; not leaves, which hold the storm-drop for an instant and then allow it to trickle off, but vessels retaining it. You may say, “Such a load as God’s wrath must crush me”; and in one sense it will; but in another it will not; you will have powers of endurance as great as the saint’s power of enjoyment. Hard and impenitent hearts are “treasuring up wrath against the day of the wrath.” Wrath shall come upon them, as Paul says, “to the uttermost.”

3. And moreover the sinner is a vessel “fitted for destruction.” What by? Sin. He who wills not the death of the sinner is not likely to fit him for dying. We prepare ourselves for destruction; “Oh, Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.”

God’s conduct towards them. He endures them with much long-suffering. How much let your unnumbered sins declare. Why! any forbearance in your case were much long-suffering. All the day long has God been stretching forth His hand to “a disobedient and gainsaying people.” He gives you mercies, and you take them as your right: He gives you privileges, and you abuse them; He gives you a Saviour, and you “crucify Him afresh”; He offers you His Spirit, and you “do despite to that Spirit of grace.” Now is not a moment’s forbearance, in such a case, long-suffering?

The reasons for such conduct.

1. “To show His wrath.” Yet how could He show His wrath by long-suffering towards sinners? It appears that such a course would hide and not show it. Now the word translated “show,” means to point out as with the finger; and in this way God throws into the strongest relief His wrath.

(1) He develops His own character of love; He opens out His plans of mercy for years. Well! some may say, “This tolerance of guilt speaks an indifference to it.” You are wrong; the Lord’s long-suffering is but a blue sky on which you see in fearful and distinct outline the massive storm-cloud as it rolls over the sinner’s head and then bursts; it is but the sweet and natural beamings of the Lord’s countenance which gives His frown a doubly appalling blackness; it does not lessen His anger; it does not qualify His abhorrence of sin; it does not subtract from, but it adds to, the final display of His just indignation.

(2) And in another sense it shows it, for it clearly explains its real character. It is not the wrath of man, or he had struck at once. But the Lord is “slow to anger”; He wills not the death of the sinner; and when at last His wrath is seen, it is that of a Judge who punishes, not “con amore” but “ex officio.” The Lord delights in mercy, not in punishment. Wrath must come at last, but it comes with a slow foot. Mercy flies; anger creeps. Patience lingers and lingers at the threshold, keeping punishment knocking at the door. God’s endurance is indeed the interpreter of His wrath; it shows that His final destruction of “the vessels of wrath” is not that of an enemy gloating over the fall and death of his foe, but it is that of a father slowly, solemnly, and necessarily banishing a base and incorrigible son for ever from His presence.

2. “To make known His power.” But how can power be made known by a refusal to exert that power? Forbearance is often a more splendid achievement than all the labours of Hercules put together. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” The Lord’s endurance is one of the most signal displays of His omnipotence. When I gaze upon the scene around Calvary, I look upon a more stupendous proof of power than when I behold the hundred and eighty-five thousand corpses of Assyrian warriors, all smitten by the angel of the Lord in one night. And when I look around upon this congregation, and necessarily think of many among you as vessels of wrath endured, enemies of God treated with much long-suffering, I see in each one of you a monument of the Lord’s power as notable as in the case of that weeping, wailing, and lost soul. But, lastly, God’s long-suffering makes known His power, by giving greater prominence at last to His power of punishing. It is like the stillness before a storm: you may hear a whisper; the rustle of a leaf is noticed; and when the first roll of thunder comes pealing throughout the hushed air, making the ground shake and the rocks resound, its fearful voice is the better articulated owing to the previous stillness; the thunder, like God’s power, is made known by the calm which preceded. And what is the conclusion of the whole matter? First of all, by the light of God’s Word, and by the aid of prayer, inquire whether you are vessels of wrath or vessels of mercy? Are you united to Christ by a living faith, or alienated from God by wicked works? And if the result of this inquiry be a conviction that you are still a vessel of wrath, oh! tremble over the fact. That vessel becomes more capacious every day; every mercy and long-suffering despised is an enlargement. What will it hold at last if you go on and on increasing its size, and making it fitter and fitter to hold more of that wrath which shall fill but never burst it. Step and pray for grace to arrest this self-fitting for destruction. Pray that the Lord’s Spirit may transform you from a vessel of wrath into a vessel of mercy. Pray that His much long-suffering may melt your hard heart, and make you long to have His love instead of His wrath shed abroad in your soul. Pray that the blood of Christ may, as it were, rinse out the polluted vessel, wash away all the wrath, and fill to the brim with mercy--fill it now; and for ever and ever fill it, as throughout eternity that vessel grows larger. (D. F. Jarman, B.A.)

Vessels of mercy

The vessels.

1. They are made of the same lump as the vessels of wrath. Thou who hast hope of heaven look back to the miry clay whence thou wast drawn! There was nothing in thee by nature better than that which is found in any other man. Had He left thee to thyself, thou hadst been as base and vile as others. If there be a difference in thee, the difference is of grace and not of nature.

2. They are as much as any other portion of the clay, entirely in the potter’s hand. Had the potter willed to leave that mass of clay alone, we should have been vessels of wrath most surely. Hell’s thistles grow self-sown, but God’s wheat needs a husbandman. Vessels of mercy fit themselves for destruction, but grace alone can prepare a soul for glory. If the Lord had permitted the whole human race to perish He would have been infinitely just. If He had chosen to spare a few, that would have been an act of surprising mercy. Inasmuch, however, as He hath taken so much of the clayey mass, as to make vessels of mercy innumerable as the stars of heaven, unto His name be all the glory.

3. God’s chosen ones: are--

(1) “Vessels.” A vessel is not a fountain, not a creator of the water, but a container. So the redeemed are not fountains by nature, out of whom there springeth up anything that is good. At one time they are full of themselves, but grace empties them, and then as empty vessels they are set in the way of God’s goodness, God fills them to the brim with His loving-kindness, and so are they proved to be the vessels of His mercy. Remember all that God asks of thee in order to thy salvation is, not to do anything, but to holdout thine empty hand and take all thou wantest. The elect of God are vessels only. They may afterwards give out to others, but they can only give out what God has put in them. They may run over with gratitude, but it is only because God has filled them with grace; they may stream forth with holiness, but it is only because the Lord keeps the supply overflowing.

(2) “Vessels of mercy.” In order that they may be such it is necessary that they should be sinful and miserable. Pity may be given to the miserable, but mercy must be bestowed upon the sinful. For a judge to talk of mercy to the innocent would be to insult them; and for the philanthropist to offer pity to the happy would be but to mock them. The redeemed are not vessels of merit but vessels of mercy.

The potter at his work. When a potter is about to make a vessel he does not take up the clay and put it on the wheel and then leave it to chance. No--

1. He has his plan. So it is with our Divine Potter. He takes the poor sinner; He puts him on the wheel, and as that wheel revolves the potter looks and sees in that clay a future something which does not appear to the vessel. “It does not yet appear what we shall be”; but the Potter knows, “He will present us without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.”

2. He makes the outlines in the clay. You may have seen the man at work. Perhaps at the very first moment you may form a rough guess of what the whole thing is to be, though the elaboration you cannot yet discover. Certain it is, that the moment a man begins to be separated for heaven by the grace of God in his soul, you may see the outlines of what he is to be. There is--

(1) Faith in Christ.

(2) Love to Christ.

(3) A hope that maketh not ashamed, and a joy which makes glad his countenance.

It is but the bare outline, for the glory which excelleth is not there. The vase is only in its embryo, but yet sufficiently developed to give a prophecy of its finished form.

3. The gradual completion of the article. There will not always be in you the bare outline, but as time goes on there will be some of the beautiful lines and filling-up. The Christian will be getting more and more like his Master. And if we can see here on earth vessels getting ready for perfection, and if those vessels have so much beauty in them, what must they be when at last they shall be finished. If this world be fair, how much fairer shall the new world be.

The potter’s mark upon his vessels. In all manufactories there is always some trade-mark which is not to be imitated, and without which no vessel is the genuine production of the professed maker. You may know to-day whether you are a vessel of mercy by the Master’s mark upon you.

1. That mark is--calling. Has Divine grace called you out of darkness into marvellous light? for if so, it is not a matter of question as to whether you are ordained to eternal life.

2. That is a mark which no man can put upon you. The earnest minister may cry aloud and spare not, but it is in vain calling to deaf ears. The Lord alone can so speak, that the deaf, nay, the dead, must hear. Hast thou ever, then, felt a calling which is not of man, neither by man? Has the voice of mercy so said, “Come to Jesus,” that thy heart has said “Thy face, Lord, will I seek”? Has He said to thee, “Mary,” and hast thou said. “Raboni”? Has He cried to thee, “Zaccheus make haste and come down,” and hast thou come down and received Him in thine house. Hast thou had that call, for if so, thou hast the mark of the Potter upon thee.

3. As this is a mark which no man can put upon you, so it is one which no man can take away from you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Vessels of mercy

Why believers are compared to vessels. The figure suggests the idea of--

1. Capacity. Capable of being filled. Their value is in their emptiness (2 Kings 4:3-6). Sense of need.

2. Reception. The first thing needed, when emptied, is to receive. Mercy (Romans 9:23; 1 Timothy 1:16). Pardon (Acts 26:18). The engrafted word (James 1:21). Christ (Colossians 2:6). Power (Acts 1:8).

3. Possession. To hold what is put into them. The Word of God (Colossians 3:16; John 15:7). Not leaky (Hebrews 2:1).

The honour conferred on these vessels.

1. They bear God’s Name (Acts 9:15). Character (Deuteronomy 28:10). Service (Deuteronomy 10:8).

2. They contain God’s treasure {2 Corinthians 4:7). The vessel--frail and worthless. The treasure--all powerful and priceless.

3. They are used in God’s service (2 Timothy 2:21). Their meetness consists in being set apart--cleansed--filled. (E. H. Hopkins.)

Vessels of mercy

They are such in their--



Condition. Mercy--

1. Pervades their thoughts.

2. Is uttered in their words.

3. Is expressed in their actions.

4. Beams in their looks.

5. Glows in their prayers.



Glorification. Application:

1. If thou be a vessel of mercy, let love and gratitude prompt thee to commend that mercy to others which thou hast received.

2. If a vessel of wrath, let nothing divert you from earnestly seeking mercy at the Cross of Christ. (Evangelical Preacher.)

The mystery of God in human history

His design. To display His--

1. Glory.

2. Power.

3. Mercy.

4. Wrath.

His procedure.

1. He endures patiently with sinners.

2. Allows them to work out their own ruin.

3. Confers the riches of His grace on them that believe.

4. Prepares them for glory.

His righteousness.

1. He calls all men to repentance.

2. Offers them His mercy in Christ.

3. Both Jews and Gentiles. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Even us whom He hath called.--

The called

Who are called.

1. Not the righteous.

2. But sinners--both of the Jews and the Gentiles.

How are they called.

1. By the gospel.

2. By the ministration of the Word.

3. By the Spirit of God.

Unto what are they called? To the enjoyment of--

1. Pardon.

2. Holiness.

3. Heaven, (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Verses 25-33

Romans 9:25-33

As He saith also in Osee, I will call them My people, which were not My people.

The calling of the Gentiles

Their former condition.

1. Not My people.

2. Not beloved.

Their gracious call--an act of--

1. Sovereign will.

2. Unmerited.

3. Effected by the gospel.

Their lofty privilege--called to be the sons of the living God--

1. Through faith.

2. In Jesus Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

A people who were no people

(text and Hosea 2:23):--

1. We accept the supreme authority of Holy Scripture: every word of it is truth to us.

2. Yet we attach special weight to words which are the personal utterances of the Lord, as here.

3. Still more are we impressed when a Divine message is repeated, as here.

4. “God saith” still what He said long ago. Come, then, anxious souls, and hear the story of God’s grace to His chosen, in the hope that He may do the like for you. Observe concerning the Lord’s people--

Their original state.

1. They not only were not “beloved,” but they were expressly disowned. Their claim, if they made any, was negatived. This is the worst case that can be; worse than to be left alone. This conscience, providence, and God’s Word all appear to say to men who persist in sin.

2. They had no approval of God. They were not numbered with His people, and were not “beloved “ in the sense of complacency.

3. They had not in the highest sense obtained mercy. For--

(1) They were under providential judgment.

(2) That judgment had not become a blessing to them.

(3) They had not even sought for mercy.

4. They were types of a people who as yet have--

(1) Felt no application of the blood of Jesus.

(2) Known no renewing work of the Spirit.

(3) Obtained no relief by prayer; perhaps have not prayed.

(4) Enjoyed no comfort of the promises.

(5) Known no communion with God.

(6) No hope of heaven or preparation for it.

It is a terrible description, including all the unsaved. It is concerning such that the promise is made--“I will call them My people.” Who these are shall be seen in due time by their repentance and faith, which shall be wrought in them by the Spirit of God. There are such people, and this fact is our encouragement in preaching the gospel, for we perceive that our labour will not be in vain.

Their new condition.

1. Mercy is promised.

2. A Divine revelation is pronounced. “I will say, Thou art My people.” This is--

(1) Done by the Spirit of God in the heart.

(2) Supported by gracious dealings in the life.

3. A hearty response shall be given. “They shall say, Thou art my God.” The Spirit will lead them to this free acceptance.

(1) As a whole, they will say this with one voice.

(2) Each individual will say it for himself in the singular. “Thou.”

4. A declaration of love shall be made. “I will call her beloved,” etc. Love shall be enjoyed.

5. This shall be perceived by others. “They shall be called,” etc. Their likeness to God shall make them to be called the children of God, even as the peacemakers in Matthew 5:9. Thus every blessing shall be theirs, surely, personally, everlastingly.


1. We must give up none as hopeless; even though they be marked out by terrible evidence to be not the people of God.

2. None may give up themselves in despair.

3. Sovereign grace is the ultimate hope of the fallen. Let them trust in a God so freely gracious, so mighty to save, so determined to bring in those whom it seemed that even He Himself had disowned, whom everybody had abandoned as not the people of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A great reversal

Whether the original reference of the prophet is to the ten tribes or to the Gentile world is immaterial, since St. Paul employs the quotation to illustrate his contention that it is the purpose of Him who is Eternal Wisdom and Unchanging Righteousness to transfer privilege and blessing from those who pretended to an ancestral claim to them, unto those who had usually been regarded as aliens and reprobates--even the “sinners of the Gentiles.” If this phase of Divine action has to some extent lost its interest, the principle it illustrates is ever important.

The highly favoured may abuse their advantages and lose them. Consider the case of the Hebrews.

1. Their special prerogatives in religious knowledge and means of spiritual improvement.

2. Their rebellion and apostasy in yielding to idolatry.

3. Their frequent chastisements, especially in the captivity, and their subsequent humiliations.

4. The repetition of their insensibility and disobedience in the rejection of the Christ.

5. The final catastrophe which overtook the nation in the destruction of Jerusalem and the final dispersion.

The less favoured may be, in God’s providence, exalted to privilege. Consider the case of the Gentiles.

1. The publication of the gospel to them by Paul upon its rejection by the Jews.

2. The acceptance by many of the glad tidings intended for the enlightenment and salvation of men.

3. The position taken by Gentile converts in the diffusion of Christianity.

4. The subsequent conversion of the Roman empire.

5. The course of Christian history which may all be traced to the operation of this wonderful principle.


1. They act foolishly who rely on their privileges.

2. They are wise who, grateful for their privileges, are concerned so to use them that they may become the vehicles of the highest blessing to themselves, and to those over whom their influence may extend.

3. They who are cast down because their circumstances seem unfavourable should not forget that those who were “not God’s people” became “His people,” “His beloved,” “the children of God.” (Prof. Thomson.)

The character and privileges of the saints

What they were.

1. “Not My people.” Who’s then? Men do not occupy neutral territory, nor are they an independent republic. God’s people own and serve Him as their Sovereign and Master--dread alternative then, those who throw off this allegiance become the slaves and subjects of the prince of this world, doing homage to him in their sentiments, and serving Him in their lives. And such were some of you.

2. “Not beloved.”

(1) Because unlovely and unloving. “Alienated and enemies in their minds by wicked works.” How could God love in the sense here mentioned those who defied His authority, broke His commandments, and made bad that which He pronounced “very good.”

(2) Therefore--

(a) The wrath of God abideth on them--rests as long as the provoking cause remains.

(b) The coming wrath menaces them.

What they are.

1. “My people.”

(1) They belong to God. He has bought them; He has taken them to be His peculiar possession; they gladly acquiesce in the Divine proprietorship. How safe and happy this makes them! “If God be for us, who can be against us?”

(2) They are God’s people.

(a) A homogeneous people. They are not His as so many scattered units, but His as a body, a Church. United to Him they are bound to one another for mutual protection, edification, comfort and general usefulness.

(b) A royal people. A kingdom. The Church is not a mere school of thought, but a kingdom of priests unto God. God’s people are royal in their birth, bearing, privileges, duties, and hopes.

(c) A people with a destiny. While some peoples have fulfilled their destiny, and others have theirs trembling in the balance, and others yet again all uncertain of theirs that of the people of God is sure. They and only they are to inherit the earth. That destiny is being fulfilled every day, and will be perfectly fulfilled when “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,” etc.

2. “Beloved.”

(1) God’s anger is passed away from them. What then? What happens when the clouds rollaway at noon-day? So when the clouds of our rebellion and sinfulness pass away from before His countenance we bask in His smile. So--

(2) They are the objects of His complacency. He sees in them that which fills Him with delight--His beloved Son’s purchase and image. Hence--

(3) They are the subjects of His special care (Romans 8:39). And--

(4) They await the highest manifestations of His favour.

3. “Children of God.”

(1) They are born from above, and become partakers of the Divine nature.

(2) They are adopted into the Divine family.

(3) They are heirs of Divine possessions.

How they become what they are

1. By sovereign grace. There was no merit in them, but every demerit. Had not God chosen them they had never chosen God.

2. By compliance with the conditions laid down by sovereign grace. Repentance and faith. (J. W Burn.)

And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people.

Hope for the outcasts:

Their condition--“Not My people.”

1. Without God.

2. Without knowledge of the truth.

3. Without hope.

Their happy change.

1. Adopted.

2. Transformed.

3. Admitted to fellowship with God--the true source of life and happiness. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The sovereignty of God

The miserable condition of “this people” at the first--“Not My people.” What an awful position is that of nations, families, or men where they are not God’s people. What privileges they lose! What anticipations they are without! How empty their existence! How fearful their prospects! It is evident that nations have been under this denomination. There was not a country, except the Jewish, in ancient times that knew anything about the living God. And at the present day there are those nations which revel in their ignorance of Divine truth. Besides which, even in Christian lands, only a small proportion truly serve the Lord God.

The blessed condition of “this people” at the last. There is a remark-able contrast. They are the same people. But their condition is changed. They are to become not only God’s people, but God’s children, not only His servants, but His heirs. The change is a remarkable one, for it--

1. Involves a change of nature, disposition, heart, character, and it manifests the power of Divine grace which can so transform “stones” into children.

2. Alters the condition and future of those who are its subjects. They look forward to a period of blessedness in a Father’s house. (J. J. S. Bird, M.A.)

Though the number of … Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.--

The example of Israel a warning to the world

Judgement begins at the house of God.

Cannot be arrested by numbers or force.

Is exceedingly terrible--only a remnant saved.

will be complete.

Will de executed in righteousness.

Will be sudden and summary. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The rejection of the Jews



Judicial--in righteousness.

Terribly fulfilled--only a remnant saved.

Mixed with mercy.

Alleviated by hope--a seed left. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The remnant saved

Our text is a quotation from Isaiah, and is intended to show the great disparity, in point of number, between the believing and the unbelieving Israelites.

Though multitudes appear to be the people of God, yet those who are so in reality are comparatively few.

1. The children of Israel according to the flesh were numerous “as the sand of the sea.” The promise of Genesis 22:17 was in great measure fulfilled in Moses’s time (Numbers 23:9-10). When they went down into Egypt they were only seventy-five persons; but when they came out from thence, all told, they probably amounted to three or four millions. Yet they are not all Israel (1 Corinthians 10:1-11; Hebrews 4:1-2; Hebrews 4:11). The Jews also in our Lord’s time were very numerous; but the greater part of them perished in their unbelief, and were at length dispersed and ruined as a nation (Matthew 23:34-39; 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16).

2. Those also who profess religion have in all ages been very numerous, yet the number of the truly pious is very small.

(1) How many who are called Christians are entirely ignorant of the fundamental truths of Christianity (Isaiah 29:11-12).

(2) How many rest in outward privileges and performances.

(3) How many selfish worldlings there are who follow Christ for the loaves and fishes.

(4) What shall we say of those heartless and barren professors, who bring forth no fruit; or if any, it is to themselves, and not to God.

They are called a remnant, “a remnant that shall be saved.” With respect to the Jews in the apostles’ time, only a small part of them were brought to believe in Christ; and though some thousands were converted in one day, the far greater number continued in obstinate unbelief. Instances of conversion since that time have been very rare. We are assured, however, that at the appointed time the Redeemer will come, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And with respect to the Gentiles, there has ever been and will be, even in times of the grossest darkness and corruption, a remnant according to the election of grace.

1. There is and shall be a remainder, a part reserved out of the whole, as the word generally signifies (Isaiah 10:12 : Revelation 12:17). This implies--

(1) Paucity or fewness. Christ’s Church is a little city, and few men in it. A little flock, under the care of the great and good Shepherd; small when compared with the rest of the world, and with what it will be hereafter (Revelation 7:9). But in any one age, and especially in any one place, the Church of Christ is comparatively small; and if the chaff were separated from the wheat, it would be smaller still (Matthew 20:16).

(2) Choice or separation. God’s remnant is a chosen remnant, according to the election of grace; and this alone it is that secures its existence (Romans 8:29).

2. This remnant shall be saved, net only from the wrath to come, but also from innumerable evils in the present life (Isaiah 26:20; Ezekiel 9:4). But eternal salvation is chiefly intended, which includes--

(1). A deliverance from all evil and the fear of evil (Revelation 21:4).

(2) The possession of all good; perfect knowledge, holiness, peace; the true enjoyment of ourselves, and the most intimate communion with God.

3. The salvation of this remnant is certain, both from the promises of God and the engagements of the Redeemer. Christ must reign. Conclusion: If we have hitherto been indifferent about this salvation, let us take warning. If we have immortal souls, surely their interest demands our chief attention. Are we only nominal Christians, let us remember that an empty name will be of no avail hereafter; but if we are Israelites indeed, how delightful are our prospects! (B. Beddome, M.A.)

For He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness.--


Is the work of God.

Must be severely executed upon sinners--when God arises His procedure is rapid, righteous, complete. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Some points in the Divine procedure

Irrespective of the particular application of this prophecy by Paul there are certain fundamental and abiding principles that are worth attention.

Completeness. “As for God, His way, His method of operation,” is perfect. From the atom to the sun there is no flaw in His handiwork. It will be found to be the same when we review the course of history from the standpoint of eternity. Things are fragmentary now, but the very fragments are complete, and when fitted into each other as a compacted whole we shall say, “Thou hast done all things well.” “He will finish the work “--

1. Why? Because--

(1) His calculations are infallible who sees the end from the beginning.

(2) His resources are inexhaustible who has all power in heaven and earth.

(3) His determinations must take effect who “doth according to His will in the armies of heaven,” etc. Men fail because they neglect to take all the factors into account; because their resources are limited, or because they are irresolute. But there can be no failure when we take into account God’s omniscience, power, and sovereign will.

2. In spite of what?

(1) The cunning, malice, strength, and determination of His enemies. These are many, and to any other than God would be formidable.

(2) The ignorance, feebleness, apathy, and irresoluteness of His professed friends. These would lead any other than God to give up in despair.

3. What in?

(1) Creation, which when “finished” was pronounced very good.

(2) Providence. This is now in progress, but when “finished” no flaw will be detected in its procedure.

(3) Redemption. Redemption by price was “finished” on the Cross; redemption by power when heaven’s courts shall echo with “It is done.”

(4) Judgment. No one shall be missing from the great assize, and nothing will mar the completeness of the final awards.

Promptness. “Cut it short.” In creation, where God had only to deal with inert matter, this finds a perfect illustration. “He said, and it was done.” In dealing with men it is somewhat different, yet the same in the end. God is patient, is willing, and can afford to wail; but when the hour of destiny is struck His action is decisive and irrevocable. This is seen in--

1. The history of redemption. “When the fulness of the time was come,” when the preparatory work was “finished,” God sent His Son. “Down from the shining seats … He fled.” What a “short work,” too, the redeeming ministry was, and the expiating act.

2. The history of nations. The method of the Divine procedure with the antediluvians, the Canaanites, Babylon, Israel, and the Roman empire was first long-suffering, forbearance (chap. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:1-18.); and then, when the cup of their iniquities was full, how suddenly was it emptied and destroyed.

3. The history of men--

(l) In ordinary life. How long matters often are in coming to a climax, but how sharp and short is the decisive hour which determines temporal destiny.

(2) In salvation. The preparatory process may be protracted, but the soul passes from death into life in a moment.

(3) As regards the future. We may slumber in the dust for ages, but “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” we shall awake.

Righteousness. Without this the other two methods might fill us with terror. But it reassures us to know that in His providential government of the world, or in the salvation or judg-ment of men, God always acts--

1. From a right motive.

2. In a right way.

3. At the right time.

4. With right results. (J. W. Burn.)

Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma.--

The Lord of Sabaoth

The meaning of the term. Lord of hosts--of--

1. The whole universe, with its hosts of things animate and inanimate.

2. The hosts of the heavens.

3. The hosts of hell.

Why God is termed Lord of Sabaoth.

1. Because He is supreme Ruler of all.

2. To oppose the prevailing worship of the heavenly bodies.

3. To give us some idea of His almighty power and grandeur. (M. Thomson.)

The Divine considerateness

Sodom and Gomorrha were utterly wiped out. No human being remained to perpetuate the progeny of the inhabitants of the plain. It might have been so, and deservedly, with Israel; but it was not so, and graciously. A remnant was, and always has been left, notwithstanding the most frightful devastations--a seed to propagate the race. So in God’s procedure generally, where men and nations have not sinned past recovery. A seed of some sort is left, which, by sedulous cultivation, may result in future harvests. This principle may be illustrated in--

The history of humanity at large.

1. After the fall the human race might have been as Sodoma, but in wrath God remembered mercy. He left man not only life, but a promise which kept human hope from utter extinction; some relics, too, of the Divine image on which the Redeemer could take hold in fashioning the new man.

2. After the flood the family of Noah was left, not only to preserve the species, but to hand on the hope. The covenant with the Patriarch was but the first of a series which culminated in the fulfilment of the covenant of redemption. A second time the Lord of Sabaoth left a seed.

3. In the fulness of time, when the world was ripe for destruction, the gift of the seed saved it. The state of things depicted in chaps, 1 and 2 could not have gone on much longer but for the Divine interposition, which has at last changed the condition of the world. But for this it must have perished; as it is it lives, and has in it the germs of a total regeneration.

The history of nations.

1. Sometimes a few good men are left whose prayers, efforts, and influence save the nation from decay. Who can tell but that the preservation of the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal postponed the catastrophe of the Hebrew nation. What a different history France would have had but for the expulsion of the Huguenots. It is impossible to tell what would have become of England but for the godly few who remained to perpetuate the Puritan revival through the reigns of Charles II. and James II. 2. Sometimes the seed presents itself in the form of a gracious opportunity.

(1) The Reformation was such a seed. Contrast the destinies of the nations which accepted it with those that rejected it.

(2) The missionary impulse of the close of the last century was another. Great Britain and America yielded to it, and the material and moral prosperity of both has never since looked back.

The history of the individual. Here history repeats itself on a small scale.

1. Home reminiscences have often been as a seed perpetuating the life and moral character of a man. In temptation the remembrance of prayers offered or words uttered have made many a man stop short on the brink of ruin and retrace his steps into a nobler and better life.

2. The Word read or preached in myriads of instances has been such a seed.

3. So has some great affliction.

4. And some special summons to duty. (J. W. Burn.)

God’s judgments are

Richly deserved. Our sins are--

1. Multiplied.

2. Aggravated.

3. Obstinately persisted in--like Sodom, etc.

Mercifully alleviated.

1. A remnant is spared.

2. As a seed of promise.

3. Through sovereign grace. (J. Lyth, D. D.)

Verses 30-33

Romans 9:30-33

The Gentiles which followed not after righteousness have attained to righteousness … but Israel which followed after the law of righteousness hath not attained.

The gospel for the Gentiles

They needed it.

1. Were without righteousness.

2. Without the knowledge of it.

3. Without the desire for it.

It is adapted to their case. It reveals--

1. The righteousness of God.

2. Without works.

3. By faith.

4. In Christ.

It has been attained by many.

1. As the free gift of God.

2. As the source of unspeakable happiness.

3. May be attained by all. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The righteousness of the gospel

It is designed for sinners,

Offered to faith.

Impossible by works.

Because the self-righteous stumble at the Cross.

But the sinner is saved by faith. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The folly of rejecting the gospel

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

Christ rejected by Jews and accepted by Gentiles

The fact here stated was--

1. Plain and undeniable.

2. A verification of prophecy.

The instruction to be gathered from it.

1. That however earnest we may be after salvation, we shall never attain it if we seek it in a self-righteous way.

2. That however regardless we have been about salvation hitherto, we shall attain to it the instant we believe in Christ.

3. That however calumniated this way of salvation is, the very calumnies that are raised against it attest its truth. (C. Simeon, M.A.)

S.S.: or the sinner saved

Paul had two facts before him; the first was, that wherever he went preaching Christ certain Gentiles believed the doctrine, receiving at once forgiveness of sin and a change of heart; and although he had usually commenced his ministry in the synagogues, yet the Jews had almost everywhere rejected the Messiah, and at the same time missed the righteousness which they conceived they had obtained. Note--

A wonder of grace.

1. Certain men had attained to righteousness. Now that alone is a great wonder, for we are all sinners both by nature and by practice.

2. The wonder grows when we consider that these persons had attained to righteousness under great disadvantages; for they were Gentiles, considered by the Jews to be offcasts and outcasts given up to idolatry or to atheism and lusts. There are virtues for which the heathen had no name; and they practised vices for which, thank God, you have no name. They were ignorant withal of the requirements of the law, the light of which alone shone upon the seed of Israel. The strange thing is that such originally were those men who attained unto righteousness. Having no righteousness of their own, and being convinced that they needed one, they fled at once to the righteousness which God has prepared for all who believe in Christ. Are there not persons here whose condition is somewhat similar? You are not religious; but why should not you also attain to righteousness by faith? Wonders of grace are things which God delights in; why should He not work such wonders in you?

3. The marvel of grace was all the greater because, “They followed not after righteousness.” Some of them were thoughtful, just, and generous towards men, but righteousness towards God was not a matter after which they laboured. Gold or glory, power or pleasure, were the objects for which they ran. Yet when the gospel burst in upon the midnight of their souls they received its light with joy. They had not sought the Shepherd, but He had sought them, and, laying them on His shoulders, He brought them to His fold. They were like that Indian who, passing up the mountain-side pursuing game, grasped a shrub to prevent his slipping, and as its roots gave way they uncovered masses of silver. These Gentiles discovered in Christ the righteousness which they needed, but which they had never dreamed of finding.

4. These unlikely persons did really believe, and so attain to righteousness. They did not want hammering at so long as some of you do. At the first summons many of them surrendered. They rose at a bound from depths of sin to heights of righteousness. The apostle asks us, “What shall we say then?”

(1) Herein is seen the Sovereign appointment of the Lord. He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, He will fulfil His promise to His Son, “Behold, Thou shalt call a nation that Thou knowest not,” etc.

(2) This also is according to Divine prophecy. “I will call them My people, which were not My people,” etc.

3. This is, in fact, the gospel of the grace of God. That God smiles upon worthy people and rewards their goodness is not the gospel. The gospel is that God hath mercy upon the guilty and undeserving.

A marvel of folly: “Israel,” etc. These people--

1. Were very advantageously placed. They were of the chosen race, born within the visible Church, and circumcised, and brought up to know the law of Moses, and yet they had never attained to righteousness. There are those present who were nursed in the lap of piety; they have scarcely been a single Sabbath absent from the Lord’s house. Now that they have reached riper years they are still hovering around the gates of mercy, but they have not entered upon the way of life. I tremble for you who are so good and yet are not regenerate.

2. Were earnest and zealous in following after the law of righteousness. Alas! many who have never forgotten a single outward rite are nevertheless quite dead as to spiritual things. Nobody could put a finger upon an open fault in you, and yet you, at least, have a shrewd suspicion that all is not right between you and God. It is concerning such as you that Paul had great heaviness and continual sorrow of heart. You may be earnestly seeking righteousness in the wrong way, and this is a terrible thing.

3. Made a mistake at the very beginning. Israel did not follow after righteousness, but after “the law of righteousness.” They missed the spirit and followed after the mere letter of the law. They looked at “Thou shalt not kill,” “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” etc.; but to love God with all their heart was not thought of. They thought of what a man does, but they forgot the importance of what a man is. Escape from this error; be not so eager for the shell as to lose the kernel, so zealous for the form of godliness as to deny the power thereof!

4. Went upon a wrong principle--viz., that of works. This principle is wrong for--

(1) It exalts man.

(2) It ignores the great fact that you have sinned already. Are you going to be saved by your works? What about the past? If I am going to pay my way for the future, this will not discharge my old debts.

(3) It makes nothing of God. It shuts out both His justice and His mercy.

(4) It is impossible to you. You cannot perfectly keep the law of God, for you are sold under sin. Who can get clean water from a polluted spring? “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” But suppose you could outwardly keep the law of God out of a sense of obligation to do so, yet the work is not done unless you yourself are made right with God. Your heart must love God as well as your hands serve Him.

5. Fully developed their unrighteousness when they stumbled at Christ. Jesus Christ came among them, and became to them a rock of offence. They seemed to stand upright until then; but when He came among them, down they went into actual rebellion against the Lord and His Anointed. Yes, your moralists are the great enemies of the Cross. They do not want an atonement; they can hardly endure the doctrine. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Divine method of salvation

Its apparent contradictions (Romans 9:30-31).

1. According to human judgment those who most earnestly seek after righteousness should be the first to attain it.

2. But the Gentiles who sought it not have obtained the righteousness of faith.

3. While the Jews who followed after the law of righteousness utterly failed.

Its secret harmonies (Romans 9:32-33).

1. The righteousness is only by faith.

2. The Jews, who sought it by works, took offence at the Cross.

3. But the Gentile, conscious of his demerit, believed and was saved. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The reasonableness of God’s working

The question hitherto has been--How can God set aside an elect people? And the answer--God chooses whom He will for the carrying on His saving work. But now a reason is adduced. For although God does what He will, we may be sure He never wills what is not right. And here the great reason for the rejection of Israel and the choice of the Gentiles is this, that the former have failed to apprehend the nature of salvation, whereas the latter have received the proffered gift. Needs it any arguing that they are better fitted to work for God than the others?

The gentiles.

1. Their previous history, from a religious point of view, is that they “followed not after righteousness,” i.e., they sought not justification with God. For a subjective righteousness they did seek--witness Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and poets and historians who sought to set forth the principles of right. But as to an objective righteousness, a being right with God, this was not in all their thoughts. They regarded God as not much troubling Himself with human conduct, and sin itself as rather a defect than guilt.

2. Yet they “attained to righteousness.” The dormant conscience awoke; the weakness of their ethical systems was revealed; the guilt of sin and the love of God was set forth in the Cross, and being stricken to the heart, and crying “What must I do to be saved?” they were eager to respond to the command “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” etc.; and accepting salvation they “attained to righteousness.”

II. Jews.

1. Their history is stated by way of contrast. The wording is most accurate. They “followed a law” which was designed by God to teach them sin, and lead them to look to His free grace in Christ for pardon; but it was not this “end of the law” which they followed, but the law itself. They made an end of the means, and thus subverted its design; for instead of learning from the law their sin, they sought by a supposed fulfilment of its precepts to make themselves just before God. So instead of learning to be poor in spirit they learned an arrogant self-complacency; instead of coming to God’s grace for pardon, they thanked God they were not as other men, and stood self-justified.

2. What was the result? They “did not arrive at that law” not at its true purport, its ultimate design. So the real law of justification, salvation through faith, was hidden from their eyes. To them the Rock of Ages was “a stone of stumbling,” etc. Learn, then, from the history of the past that there is only shame for us if we seek to make ourselves just before God. By accepting freely the grace that is freely given, we shall “not be put to shame.” (T. F. Lockyer, B.A.)

Seeking after righteousness

They also gave to the world, by their ancient economy, a religion whose genius was the development of mankind. In other words, they gave to the world an ethical religion, as distinguished from a worshipping and superstitious religion. Although the Jew made manifest every office of devotion and reverence, and although you might select from the Jewish writers saints as eminent in observances as any others, yet the distinctive peculiarity of religion among the Israelites was that it had a practical drift as regards the conduct of men. It did not expend itself in lyrics and prayers of worship. It descended to the character of men, and sought first, and above all other faiths of that age, to develop manhood. For the whole flow of that word “righteousness” in the Old Testament is the equivalent of our word “manhood” in modern phrase, and seeking after righteousness was the distinctive peculiarity of the Hebrew religion. It bred a race of men who put into the building of themselves the attributes of truth, of justice, of humanity, of morality, of gentleness, and of humility. It reared men who had no equals, and with whom there was nothing that could compare in their own time. The Greeks built better temples than the Hebrews; but though the Hebrew hand never carved a marble, it did better--it carved men. Such was the very drift of their religion. And the apostle, having received the culture of Greece at the feet of his great teacher, and knowing what it meant, declared that his brethren sought after righteousness, but that they did not well understand what were the instruments by which the higher development of manhood was to be attained. They sought to develop righteousness by institutions; but Paul says that no race of people ever did or ever will, merely by institutions, develop the highest form of character. That must be done by following a living example under a heroic inspiration. (H. W. Beecher.)

No righteousness by the law

Man’s need of righteousness.

His unavailing efforts after it. Example of the Jew.

The cause of his failure. He seeks it not by faith, but by works, consequently stumbles at Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The unsuccessful seeker

What he seeks.

How he seeks it.

The disappointing result.

Because he stumbles at Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith.

This verse plainly teaches that the reason why one man is unsaved while others are saved is not in God, but in himself. So always (Romans 11:22; Romans 11:22 f; Matthew 23:37). This by no means contradicts verse18, but looks at the same subject from another point. The reason why any one criminal is put to death is, if justice be done, entirely in himself. But the question whether any criminals are to be put to death rests entirely with the legislature. Those who oppose capital punishment may leave out of sight the conduct of the criminal, and speak only of what it is expedient for the government to do. And the moralist may leave out of sight the expediency of capital punishment, and speak only of the consequences of sin. Or again, the motion of the withered leaves of autumn is due entirely to the wind. They do not in the least degree even co-operate to produce their own motion. But the stones on the wayside remain unmoved. The difference arises, not from a difference of the influence brought to bear on them, but simply from this, that while the leaves yield to, the stones resist, the influence which both alike experience. So with us. That believers are justified at all springs entirely from the undeserved mercy of God, and every step towards salvation is entirely God’s work in them. But the reason why when some are justified others are not, is that they put themselves by unbelief outside the number of those whom God has determined to save. When Paul replied to the objection that the gospel is inconsistent with the justice of God, he said that salvation is not a manner of justice at all, and that God bestows it on whom He will. But when explaining why the Jews have not obtained salvation, he says that the reason is in themselves. Observe also that their position is attributed not to their sin, but to their unbelief. (Prof. Beet.)

Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence.--It seems strange that Jesus the Saviour of men should be set before us in this way; but the great object is to cause us to consider what our own attitude is toward Christ. Am I clinging to Him as my Rock of Safety, or am I being repelled from Him as from a rock of offence? Jesus Himself alluded to the same idea (Matthew 21:42-44).

There are some things in Christ’s life and work at which men stumble.

1. The way He came into the world (Mat 12:54-57). The people stumbled at the difficulty of His lowly parentage. Yet why? for it was all predicted, and ought rather to confirm faith.

2. The surroundings of His daily life. It was with the poor that He chiefly mingled. Here, however, is a proof that Christ was Divine. God is no respecter of persons. Had Christ been a mere man with an ambition to found a kingdom, He would have sought very different society. The persons He chose for His ambassadors were themselves a proof that their religion was Divine. Without rank or riches or worldly influence, and only by the power of their words, they founded a religion which will one day conquer the world.

3. His death. This was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness. And now men, while willing to regard Christ as the greatest of teachers and sublimest of examples, stumble at His atonement. Yet it is this only that gives meaning to the Old Testament, and without it Christ’s own teaching is inexplicable, and to stumble at it is to find a difficulty in the most convincing proof of God’s love. Instead of stumbling at it they should find it as Paul did “the power of God.”

There are some things in themselves which cause men to stumble at Christ. Christ is a stumbling stone--

1. To human pride. If we are to be saved by Jesus we must as guilty sinners lay aside all trust in our own merits. God’s way of salvation is too simple. If He would bid us do or suffer some great thing we would gladly do it. But is not this again unreasonable? If I will not take God’s way of getting to heaven, how can I expect to get there by any other?

2. To human sins. Many would like to get to heaven, but do not like to give up their sins. But how unreasonable.

3. To human selfishness. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (C. H. Irwin, M.A.)

Christ a stumbling stone and rock of collision

1. These are astounding words. Who is the speaker? Not Paul, for he quotes Isaiah: not Isaiah, for in both passages (Isaiah 28:16; Isaiah 8:11; Isaiah 8:13-16) he ascribes them to Jehovah--one therefore who has a right to speak great and terrible things. What, or rather who, is referred to? It is none else than Jehovah Jesus.

2. When He, then, is represented under the alternative figure of a refuge and a stone of stumbling it is implied that men need a refuge. Why? Because men are everywhere pursued--pursued by penal evils, and that because they are themselves pursuing after evils of another kind. They love “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, or the pride of life,” and are keenly pursuing them. One man is making life subordinate to the ignoble pursuit of sensual indulgence, others to fame and power, myriads more to wealth. But the earth on which men live belongs to God, and He has therefore a right to rule in it and over it, and having this right and being holy His malediction is lying on every form of sinful gratification. Hence every nation is pursued by a host of evils, and is time after time driven to Divine means to stave them off for a season. In vain.

3. But, what, then, is to become of each mortal man, of nations, of the great world? Let us hear the voice of God. “Behold I lay,” etc. Every man’s refuge is in Jehovah Jesus. “There is none other name,” etc. Never till the world takes refuge on or in Him will it be happy, and as the world is but a world full of individuals, never will individual men be happy until they flee to Him.

4. But why, then, is He called “a stumbling stone and a rock of collision”? Is a stumbling stone a refuge? Is a rock of collision an asylum? Undoubtedly. It is just according as Christ is made use of as that He will be found to be one or the other. That which is our greatest boon when rightly used may become our utter ruin when abused. Fire and water are among our greatest blessings, but if a man will leap into a blazing furnace, or into a seething flood it will be his destruction. Look how steam engines have multiplied the comforts of life! But if a man will rush into machinery in full motion, all the world’s comforts will in one moment cease to be comforts available to him. The same principle holds good in the relation of Jehovah Jesus to men. If they use Him aright He will prove a sanctuary, but if they insist on going on as if He were not in existence at all then He will be a rock of dreadful collision, and they will rush upon Him and be broken and ruined. The Divine idea is this: if men will have none of Jesus, and run on in their way without deigning to look so low as to see Jesus, the interests they pursue must come into terrific collision with the interests He pursues; and whensoever the collision comes, they and they only, will suffer. They will be like fugitives from a flood, who dash with all their highest pressure of force full on, upon a jagged rock. The rock will remain uninjured; but they will fall and be broken, and the flood will overtake and overwhelm them. But there is the sweet addition to the potentous threatening “Whosoever believeth on Him,” the Rock of Ages, “shall not be ashamed.” His security is certain. The rain may descend, etc., but his hopes will not fail because they are founded upon the Rock. (J. Morison, D.D.)

Un-believers stumbling; believers rejoicing

Our apostle was inspired, and yet he was moved to quote the Old Testament, and thus he sets us an example of searching the Scriptures. The passage is composed of two Scriptures woven into one. A part is found in Isaiah 28:16; of which the apostle gives us rather the sense than the words, and another part in Isaiah 8:14. In the latter of these passages we have a striking proof of Christ’s divinity. Observe verse 13, “Sanctify the Lord of Hosts Himself … and He shall be for a sanctuary” to believers; “but a stone of stumbling,” etc. Isaiah utters a prophecy of the Lord of Hosts, Paul quotes it in reference to the Lord Jesus, plainly intending us to infer that Christ is no other than Jehovah. In his quotation from the former the apostle has omitted the words “for a foundation,” and has inserted the words of the other passage, “a stumbling stone, a rock of offence,” But the original prophecy serves to show that God’s real object in laying Christ in Zion was not that men might stumble at Him, but that He might be a foundation for their hopes; but the result has been that to one set of men Christ has become a sanctuary and a stone of dependence; and to others a stumbling stone. Note--

That many stumbling at Christ.

1. No sooner did He commence His ministry than men began to stumble at Him. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” was the question of those who looked for worldly pomp. “His father and His mother, we know,” was the whispered objection of His own townsmen. In His own country the greatest of all prophets had no honour. The Pharisee stumbled at Him, because He did not wash His hands before He ate, nor make broad His phylactery. He healed the sick upon the Sabbath; He had no respect for traditions, and befriended publicans and sinners. The Sadducee, on the other hand, detested Jesus, because His teaching had in it very much of the supernatural element. All His life long, in the high courts of Herod or of Pilate, or in the lowest rank of the mob of Judaea, Christ was despised and rejected of men. But the Jew was not alone in his offence at the Cross. The polished Greeks, when they heard Paul preach, they saw nothing flattering to their philosophy, and therefore they openly mocked. In every age Christ has been rejected by the very men whom He came to bless. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.”

2. However, we have very little to do with these past ages. There are amongst us some who stumble at Christ because of--

(1) His holiness. He is too strict for them. Christ offends men because His gospel is intolerant of sin.

(2) His plan of salvation by faith. They say, “What, are our good works to go for nothing?” This is too humbling.

(3) The doctrine He preaches, more especially the doctrines of grace. If we preach virtue some will say, “I enjoyed that discourse”; but if we preach Christ, and begin to talk about the deep doctrines which lie underneath the gospel, straightway they are angry. Ah! Christ will not shape His doctrine to suit thy carnal taste.

(4) His people and their inconsistencies. As though it is an excuse for going to hell because others do not walk straight to heaven. What if David falls and is restored, is this any reason why thou shouldst fall and never be restored? The shipwrecks of others should only make thee sail more carefully.

(5) The real objection, however, is Christ Himself. You will not have this man to reign over you. If thou hast no objection to Christ, accept Him.

3. Now let me reason with those who have made Christ a stumbling stone.

(1) Hast thou ever considered how much thou insultest God the Father by rejecting Christ? Would it not bring the blood into thy face if thou shouldst give thine only son to fight for thy country, and they to whom he was given should despise thee and thy gift?

(2) What a proof is here of thy sinfulness, and how readily wilt thou be condemned at the last when this sin is written on thy forehead. There will be no reason to bring up any other sins against thee. Thou hast objected to God’s dear Son, why need we any other witness?

(3) How will this increase thy misery? Dost thou think God will be tender over thee when thou hast not been tender with His Son? How can you escape if you neglect so great salvation? You have broken down the only bridge which could have led you into safety.

Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. Notice--

1. When those who trust Christ might be ashamed of having trusted Him.

(1) Well might they be ashamed if Christ should ever leave them.

(2) If Christ should fail them either as to providence or grace in times of trial and temptation.

(3) If Christ’s promises were not fulfilled.

(4) If when he came to die he should find no support. But have ye ever heard of a Christian who was ashamed in his dying hour?

2. Why they might be ashamed if such things were to come.

(1) We have ventured our all upon Christ. The world says you should never put all your eggs in one basket, and the world is quite right in human things. But here are we, we are depending everything upon one man. If He can fail us, we are of all men most miserable.

(2) We have given up this life for the next. The world’s proverb is, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” but we, on the other hand, have said that the bird in the hand is nothing at all, that the bird in the bush is everything. Now, if things should turn out wrong, and we have believed in vain, then we shall be ashamed of our hope, but not till then, and that shall be never.

(3) We began boasting before we had ended the battle. You have boasted in Christ; you have said that He is a sure foundation, but if He should fail you, why then you would be in the position of a man who boasted before the time. But we shall never be ashamed.

(4) We have actually divided the spoil; and oh! if the battle should be lost, then we should be ashamed. The French once, before the battle began, commenced selling the English captives, but then, fortunately, they never gained the victory. But you and I have already entered into our rest; and if it should be a delusion we should be ashamed, but not till then.

(5) Men are ashamed when they have made a bad speculation, because they have induced others to enter into it. You and I have been inducing others to embark in this great venture. Oh, sweet assurance, we have not preached cunningly devised fables, and shall never be ashamed.

3. Who are they who shall never be ashamed? “Whosoever believeth”--that is, any man who ever lived, or ever shall live, who believes in Christ, shall never be ashamed. Whether he has been a gross sinner or a moralist; whether he be a prince or a beggar, it matters not.

4. The text means more than it says, viz., the believers shall be glorified and full of honour. If thou trustest Christ to-day, it will bring shame from men, it will ensure trials, but it will also ensure honour in the eight of God’s holy angels and glory at the last in the sight of the assembled universe. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A common stumbling block

A preacher of the gospel had gone down into a coal mine during the noon hour to tell the miners of that grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. After telling them the simple story of God’s love to lost sinners--man’s state and God’s remedy, a full and free salvation offered, the time came for the men to resume work, and the preacher came back to the shaft to ascend to the world again. Meeting the foreman, he asked him what he thought of God’s way of salvation. The man replied, “Oh, it is too cheap: I cannot believe in such a religion as that!” Without an immediate answer to his remark, the preacher asked: “How do you get out of this place?” “Simply by getting into the cage,” was the reply. “And does it take long to get to the top? “Oh, no; only a few seconds!” “Well, that certainly is very easy and simple. But do you not need to help raise yourself?” said the preacher. “Of course not!” replied the miner. “As I have said, you have nothing to do but get into the cage.” “But what about the people who sunk the shaft, and perfected all this arrangement? Was there much labour or expense about it?” “Indeed, yes; that was a laborious and expensive work. The shaft is eighteen hundred feet deep, and it was sunk at great cost to the proprietor; but it is our only way out, and without it we should never be able to get to the surface.” “Just so. And when God’s Word tells you that whosoever believeth on the Son of God hath everlasting life, you at once say, ‘Too cheap!’--‘Too cheap!’ forgetting that God’s work to bring you and others out of the pit of destruction and death was accomplished at a vast cost, the price being the death of His own Son.” Men talk about the “help of Christ” in their salvation--that if they do their part, Christ will do His, forgetting, or not seeing, that the Lord Jesus Christ by Himself purged our sins, and that our part is but to accept what has been done.

A reliable salvation

My friends, I do not want to make an experiment about my own soul. I cannot afford to do it. I have but one soul to be saved or lost, and if you can show to me that this gospel of Jesus Christ is an experiment, I want nothing to do with it. I do not want to go on a trial trip. Some years ago, in the Canadas, there was a bridge built over an awful chasm. Far down beneath the waters rushed very violently. After this costly and beautiful bridge was done, the day for opening it came. Thousands of people assembled. Flags were flying, guns were sounding. There was a large coach drawn by six horses, a coach loaded with passengers, and at just the advertised moment, the architect of the bridge, to show that the structure was what it pretended to be, mounted the box of this coach, took the reins in his hands, and started, amid the huzzas of thousands and thousands of people. He drove on until he came to the centre of the bridge, when the timbers cracked, and all went down--some dashed against the abutments, some whelmed in the stream. You tell me that there is a bridge built for my soul over sin, and death, and hell, and you ask me to go on it, and ask me to take all these people on it. No; unless I am sure it is a safe bridge, But this is no experiment. We are not the first to go over it. Scores, and hundreds, and thousands have gone over it. “A great multitude that no man can number,” have gone over it. That bridge is buttressed at one end with the “Rock of Ages,” and at the other with the throne of the Lord God Almighty, and I am not afraid to trust it. Wilt you go with me to-day? Venture on Him. Venture wholly. No experiment about it. If it had been an unsafe salvation, your fathers and mothers would long ago have found it out. Oh, what a glorious salvation from sin, and death, and hell! Peter preached it at the Pentecost, and there went up the shout of three thousand delivered captives. Paul preached it in official circles, and the knees of Felix knocked together. Robert McCheyne preached it in Dundee until all Scotland was in a blaze. Richard Baxter preached it until Lord Jeffries trembled on the judicial bench, and James II turned pale on his iniquitous throne, and hundreds of souls started from Kidderminster for the saints’ everlasting rest. It has dried up rivers of tears. (T. De Witt Talmage.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/romans-9.html. 1905-1909. New York.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile