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Observe here, 1. The apostle's solemn asseveration or oath; he calls Christ and the Holy Ghost to witness for the truth of what he says, which is the very formality of an oath.
Learn thence, That it is not barely lawful, but in some cases expedient and necessary to assert and confirm by oath the truth and certainty of what we speak; in cases of great moment, which cannot otherwise be sufficiently confirmed a Christian may establish his saying by an oath.
Observe, 2. The persons whom the apostle swears by, Christ and the Holy Ghost; he calls them to be witness of the sincerity of his conscience in what he doth assert: I say the truth in Christ, &c.
But why doth the apostle swear by the name of Christ, and not rather by the name of God, seeing the Jews did not believe his divinity, and so were not like to give any whit the more credit to what was attested by him?
I answer, Probably to assert the Godhead of Christ, which the Jews generally denied, and therefore wanted that honour which was and is due unto it. None but God was to be sworn by; the apostle swearing by Christ, proves him to be truly and really God; as also the Holy Ghost; for an oath being an act of religious worship, and the apostle swearing by divinity, according to the words of Moses in Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. Deuteronomy 6:13
Observe, 3. As the apostle appeals to Christ and the Holy Ghost, so also to his own conscience, as the avoucher and witness of the truth of what he says, My conscience also bearing me witness.
Learn thence, That God has placed a conscience in every man, whose office it is to bear witness of all his words and actions; yea, of all his thoughts and inward affections. Conscience is God's register, to record whatever we think, speak, or act; and happy he whose conscience bears witness for him, and doth not testify against him; who can say with the apostle here, My conscience beareth me witness, that I lie not, but say the truth in Christ.
The original word signifies such sorrow as is found with women in travail; a sorrow continually affecting his heart, and afflicting his spirit, for his countrymen and kinsmen the Jews, upon the account of their obstinate infidelity, obduration of heart, and spirit of slumber which was fallen upon them, which had provoked God to resolve to cast them off, to reject their nation, and to scatter them up and down throughout the world.
Behold here, 1. What are the dismal effects and dreadful consequences of obstinate unbelief, under the offers of Christ tendered to persons in and by the dispensation of the gospel, without timely repentance; the issue will be final rejection, inevitable condemnation, and unutterable.
Behold, 2. The true spirit of Christianity: it puts men upon mourning for the sins and calamities of others in a very sensible and affectionate manner. Good men ever have been, and are men of tender and compassionate dispositions; a stoical apathy, an indolency of heart, or want of natural affection, is so far from being a virtue, or matter of just commendation unto any man, that the deepest sorrow and heaviness of soul, in some cases, well becomes persons of the greatest piety and wisdom.
Learn, 3. That great sorrow and continual heaviness of heart of the miseries of others, whether imminent or incumbent, but especially for the sins of others, is an undoubted argument, sign, and evidence of a strong and vehement love towards them. The apostle's great heaviness and continual sorrow for the Jews, his brethren, was a great instance and evidence of his unfeigned love and affection to them.
That is, "So great is my concern for the salvation of my brethren the Jews, that I could undergo the greatest misery and evil that can befall myself, to prevent their destruction."
This wish of St. Paul is plainly an hyperbolical expression of his great affection to his countrymen the Jews, and his zeal for their salvation, which was so intense and vehement, that were it a thing reasonable and lawful, were it proper, and could avail to the procuring their salvation, he could have wished the greatest evil to himself; for their sakes, not only to be excommunicated from communion with the church of Christ, but to be separated from Christ himself.
If it be said, that such a wish is sinful and unnatural, to desire the salvation of others, with our own damnation; I answer, True: And therefore the apostle's words are not an absolute and positive wish: He doth not say, I wish; but, I could wish: Just as we are wont to say, when we would express a thing to the height, which is not fit nor intended to be done by us; " I could wish so or so: I could even be content to do this or that."
Which kind of expressions no man takes for a strict and precise declaration of our minds, but for figurative expressions of a very great vehement passion. Thus here, the apostle says not, I wish, but I could even wish. Were it proper to make such a wish, I could even wish so great a blessing to my brethren, though with the loss of my own happiness.
Hence learn, 1. That it is neither lawful nor reasonable for any man to renounce his own eternal salvation, and to be willing to be damned upon any account whatever, be it for the good of the brethren, or for the glory of God himself. The very thought of such a thing is enough to make human nature tremble at its very foundation; for the desire of our own happiness is the deepest principle that God has planted in our natures: And to pretend a reason from the glory of God, is impossible,; because our damnation cannot make for the glory of God, unless by our own impenitency and willful obstinacy, we have deserved damnation.
Learn, 2. That such may be the ardency of a saint's affection towards others, and so fervent his desires for their conversion and salvation, that he may be willing to sacrifice himself, and all that is dear unto him in this world, for the accomplishing of that end: I could wish I were accursed from Christ for my brethren, &c.
Our apostle, to vindicate himself for bearing such a passionate affection to the Jews, and for being so highly concerned for their eternal welfare, doth in these two verses recount and sum up the high privileges and prerogatives belonging to the Jews above any other nation under heaven: namely these, They were Israelites, that is, the seed and posterity of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
To whom pertaineth the adoption; that is, national adoption, not personal; God adopting the nation of the Jews to be an holy people to himself, and Jews to be an holy people to himself, and calling them his sons and his first-born.
And the glory; that is, the covenant made with Abraham and Moses, the old and new covenant, And the giving of the law Jeremiah 31:32: it was the prerogative of this people, that all their laws, ceremonial, judicial, and moral were composed and delivered to them by God himself.
And the service of God: that is, they only had the true worship of God amongst them, and no other nation could have the like, but by being a debtor to them for it.
And the promise; that is, in general, all the blessings promised to them in the land of Canaan; and in particular, the promise of the Messiah, or God's gracious purpose and intention to send his Son into he world to accomplish its redemption.
Whose are the fathers; that is, the beloved fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were their ancestors, and they their offspring.
Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, that is, of which Israelites Chrsit came; the promsied Messias, according to the flesh or human nature, was their offspring even he who, according to his divine nature, was over all, God blessed for evermore.
Note here, 1. How the apostle reserves the greatest privilege for the last: Christ's being born one of their nation, and according to the flesh descended from the Jewish stock, this was the topping privilege.
Note, 2. That this restrictive clause, according to the flesh, plainly supposeth another nature in Christ, according to which he came not from the Israelites, which can be no other but the Divine Nature of Godhead, which in the following words is attributed to him: Who is over all, God blessed for evermore.
Which glorious title given to Christ as it highly exalts the prerogative of the Jews as being a people of whom so blessed and great a Person descended, so on the other hand it aggravates their sin and condemnation, in rejecting a person of such infinite worth and dignity, notwithstanding he descended from them.
Now from the whole, learn, 1. That a fullness or richness of instituted means of grace, for the true knowledge and worship of God, is matter of high dignation and gracious condescension from God to man: here the glory, the covenants, the service of God, &c. are numbered amongst the great and gracious respects vouchsafed by God to the Jews.
Learn, 2. That the highest privileges and vouchsafements from God may be conferred upon a people who are neither pleasing ot God, nor accepted with him. Such were the Jews, to whom the fore-mentioned privileges did belong: a people rejected by God for their obduracy and unbelief.
Learn, 3. That it is no small honour to be of the race of kindred of such as have been holy saints and faithful servants of the most high and holy God. The Jews here were very honourable, as they were the seed of Abraham; but much more so, had they trod in the steps, and done the works, of their father Abraham.
Learn, 4. That Jesus Christ, who was the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, was yet, according to his divine nature, Lord over all, God blessed for evermore; he is over all, that is, over all things, and over all persons; and he is blessed for evermore, which is the constant title given to him that is God, and to none but him.
The Socinians, to avoid the force of this text, which fully proves the divinity of Chrsit, turn the words into a thanksgiving for Christ, and read them thus: Of whom Christ was according to the flesh; God, who is over all, be blessed forever.
A manifest perversion of the sense of the apostle's words, which was to show that according to the flesh he descended from Abraham: but that he had another nature, which was not derived from Abraham, even a Divine nature, according to which he was over all, God blessed for evermore.
Here the apostle answers an objection against the rejection of the Jews: "If they cast off by God, what will become of the promise of God, made to Abraham, saying, I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed?
He answers, by distinguishing a two-fold seed that Abraham had. Some were only his carnal seed, or the children of his flesh; others were his spiritual seed, or the children of his faith.
Now the carnal seed of Abraham, born according to the course of nature, were not the children of God to whom the promise was made, but the children represented by Isaac, born by the supernatural power of the Spirit of God; these are to be accounted the true seed of Abraham, mentioned in the covenant, when God says, I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed.
So that the force of the apostle's argument lies thus: The rejection of such Jews, or such of Abraham's seed only who were so according to the flesh, cannot make the word or promise of God to Abraham and his seed of no effect, becuase he made no absolute promise to them as such.
But, says the apostle, none of those Jews, whose rejection I speak of, have any such promise made to them; therefore the rejection of some of Abraham's natural seed doth not, cannot make void the word and promise of God.
Learn hence, 1. That the promises of God to his children and people are firm and stable; they shall not be made void, but be accomplished and made good to those that have a title to them, and interest in them, and fulfill the conditions of them: not as though the word or promise of God has taken no effect, all are not Israel that are of Israel.
Learn thence, 2. That as all were not true Israelites of old that did bear the name of Israelites; so all are not true Christians at this day, who take upon them the name of Chrsit, and bear the name of Christians.
Learn, 3. That men are very prone to bear up themselves upon the piety of their ancestors, though strangers, in practice, to their piety; as the Jews boasted they were the seed of Abraham, but did not the works of Abraham, but did not the works of Abraham; whereas men are so far from being God's children, because they had godly parents, that Christ told the Jews, who came forth out of Abraham's own loins, that they were of their father the devil. John 8:44.
Our apostle having in the foregoing verses proved, from what was done in Abraham's family, that it was the purpose and pleasure of God to account only those for Abraham's seed who were the children of his faith, and to reject the rest for their unbelief; in these verses he prosecutes the same argument, by insisting upon another special dispensation of God in the family of Isaac, whose wife Rebecca had twins, namely Jacob and Esau, and had neither of them anything in them to move God to love the one and dislike the other: yet a preference was given to the one before the other.
So that the apostle's argument runs thus: "As Jacob and Esau were begotten of the same father, born of the same mother, laid together in the same womb, and had neither of them done anything at all to oblige or disoblige Almighty God; yet he was pleased to make a difference between them and their posterity after them, giving the beloved Canaan to Jacob and his seed, which by birth-right belonged to Esau and his offspring: so in like manner is it the will and pleasure of God, that the believing Gentiles should become heirs of the promise by faith in Christ, and that the unbelieving Jews should be rejected and cast off for their infidelity."
Learn hence, 1. That Almighty God chooses persons to the participation of divine favours.
Learn, 2. That the choice which God makes of men to the enjoyment of that special favour of being his peculiar people is not according to their external privileges or works, but according to his own free pleasures.
Learn, 3. That as Jacob's and Esau's being unborn, and having done neither good nor evil, is used as an argument to prove, that the choice of the one before the other could not be of works; so it is a strong argument against the preexistence of souls, and their being sent into bodies by way of punishment for former sins. For upon that supposition it could not be true, that the children had done neither good nor evil before they were born, seeing they might both have sinned in that state of pre-existence.
Learn, 4, and observe, That the apostle doth not say, That before the children had done either good or evil, God said, Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated: but only the elder shall serve the younger.
Hatred here may be taken two ways, either,
1. For a less degree of love; God preferring the seed of Jacob before the posterity of Essau, giving the former the good land of Canaan, to the latter the barren mountains of Seir.
Or, 2. If hatred be taken in the strictest sense, the God is said to hate Esau, that is, the Edomites, after their wicked and unnatural behaviour towards their brethren the Israelites; and upon that occaion see For thy violence against thy brother, Jacob, shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever Obadiah 1:10.
Nothing renders a person the object of God's hatred but sin; he doth not hate the devil himself, as he is his creature, but only as he is a sinner. God adjudges none to eternal perdition, but with respect to sin.
Observe, 5. That Jacob and Esau are not here to be considered personally, but collectively; for the Israel that descended from Jacob, and for the Edomites which sprang from Esau: for Esau in his own person did not serve Jacob, but the Edomites did which sprang from Esau: for Esau in his own person did not serve Jacob, but the Edomites did serve the Israelites. Thus the elder did serve the younger.
Again, it appears that Job and all his friends were of the posterity of Esau: God did not then hate the person of all the posterity of Esau, but only those of them who by their violence and wickedness rendered themselves the object of his hatred.
The apostle having by the two foregoing instances asserted his doctrine, concerning the purpose and decree of God to justify those that should believe in his Son, be they Gentiles or Jews: and consequently made it good, that no word or promise of God falls to the ground by the rejection of the unbelieving Jews; proceeds in this verse to demonstrate the righteousness of God in the execution of this his purpose.
Is there then, says he, unrighteousness or injustice with God? God forbid. As if the apostle had said, "Is there any cause to say, That God, who preferred the posterity of Isaac before that of Ishmael, and the seed of Jacob before the numerous offspring of Esau; is there any just reason to say, that God is no unjust in calling the Gentiles, and upon their faith owning them for his people, the spiritual seed of Abraham, and rejecting the Jews because of their unbelief? God forbid that we should accuse him of unrighteous dealing upon this account."
Learn hence, That God is just, infallibly and inflexibly just and righteous, in all his dealings with, and dispensations towards the children of men: Is there unrighteousness with God? That is, there is none, there can be none.
Learn, 2. That all such tenets or doctrines which reflect any manner of unrighteousness upon God, or charge him with hard dealing, ought to be disclaimed with the utmost abhorrency and detestation: Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
Observe next, How the apostle proves that there is no unrighteousness in this dispensation of God, in rejecting the Jews and calling the Gentiles, because he had said to Moses, he would show mercy, where, when, and to whom, or to what people, he pleased. If therefore, upon the infidelity of the Jews, he will call the idolatrous Gentiles, and receive them to be his people, who can accuse him of any injustice upon that account? Shall not Almighty God dispense his favours where and upon whom he pleases? May he not confer his kindness upon some, which he owes to none?
Learn hence, That God is absolutely and ultimately resolved to follow the counsel of his own will, in and about the justification of sinners; and whatsoever he doth, or resolves to do, his will being the rule of righteousness, is for that reason exactly just and undeniably righteous.
As if the apostle had said, "The foregoing instances abundantly show, That it is not of him that willeth; for Abraham willed that Ishmael might live to be partaker of the blessing promised to his seed, when he said, O that Ishmael might live before thee! Genesis 17:18 Nor is it of him that runneth: for when Esau ran to fetch venison for his father, that he might receive the blessing, Genesis 25:28 the wisdom of God saw fit to have it otherwise, and to confer the blessing upon Jacob; but it is of God that showeth mercy, that any one is chosen to be the seed to which the promise made to Abraham belongs, and so to be his church and people."
Learn hence, That it is of God's mere grace and mercy, that any sinners are called and admitted to the privilege of justification and adoption, upon any terms and conditions whatsoever. The reason why the sinful and unworthy Gentiles were called to be a people who were not a people, while the Jews were left out, and cast off for their obstinate unbelief, was not because the Gentiles were either more worthy or more willing, but from God's discriminating grace and mercy: It is not of him that willeth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
Our apostle here proceeds to remove another objection, namely, the seeming injustice or severity of rejecting the Jews, and reserving them to wrath, giving them up to an obdurate heart, because they would not accept of the way which the wisdom of God had appointed for their justification; namely, faith in his Son Jesus Christ. This he clears by another instance; to wit, that of Pharoah, who had so often hardened his own heart obstinately, and provoked God at last to harden him judicially. For this cause, says God, have I raised thee up; in the original it is, I have made thee stand; that is, "I have sustained thee, and kept thee alive, when thou deservedst, and mightest justly have expected, to be cut off by the several plagues inflicted on thee for thy obstinate hardness of heart, that I might shew my power in thee, &c.
Or, "I have patiently borne thy stubbornness for a long time, that my power and justice might more illustriously appear at last in that conspicuous judgment, which I will execute upon thee in the sight of all the nations of the earth."
Learn hence, That some sinners, whom the patience of God has long waited upon, are preserved of him, and raised out of great and imminent dangers by him, for this end; namely, to make them examples of his just indignation against stubborn and obdurate rebels, and that in the most illustruous and signal manner. For this cause have I raised thee up, that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
As if he had said, "From these scripture instances we may gather and conclude, that God may without the least injustice magnify his mercy, in sparing and pardoning some sinners, and render his justice glorious in punishing others; yea, in punishing sin with sin, hardening them judicially, who had hardened themselves obstinately."
Here observe, That God did not harden Pharaoh's heart by any positive act or influx upon it, by infusing any evil into it; for this would make God the author of sin; but he was hardened by way of judiciary tradition, after he had long hardened himself.
First, He was delivered up into the hand of Satan, who deluded him by the magicians counterfeiting the same miracle that Moses wrought; and this hardened him against the belief of any thing that Moses either did or said.
Secondly, He was delivered up to his own lusts, particularly idolatry, ambition, and covetousness; and these hardened Pharaoh's heart. As an idolater, he was loath to receive a message from the God of Israel, whom he knew not: Who is the Lord, says he, that I should obey him? I know not the Lord.
As an ambitious prince, it went to his very heart, to hear so mean a man as Moses control him in his own dominions, saying, Let the people go, that they may serve the Lord. This enraged him, to hear of any lord over that people but himself; and as a covetous man, he was loath to hear of parting with a people, by whose pains, in making brick, he had so great an income. Thus Pharaoh's affected hardness was followed with inflicted hardness.
Learn hence, That God doth justly deliver that man up to hardness of heart by way of punishment, who has often hardened his own heart against God by repeated acts of sin.
Juste toties cor ejus obduratur in paenam, Quoties ipse cor suum obduravit in culpam. Lightfoot.
Here the apostle brings in the unbelieving and rejected Jews making an objection against God: "If the case be thus, that God doth sometimes, and that justly, leave abdurate sinners to harden themselves, why is he offended at it, and complains of it? If God hardeneth us because he will, why doth he find fault with us for our hardness of heart? For who hath at any time resisted his will? How is it in our power to avoid being hardened, it it be his will that we should be hardened?"
Learn hence, That guilty sinners are full of hard thoughts of God, and very prone to think the divine dispensations unreasonable, if not unrighteous; but upon false and mistaken grounds: Why doth he find fault? Who hath resisted his will? To this objection the apostle returns a very smart answer, saying, Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God? Shall, &c.
In which answer, Observe, 1. A vehement objurgation or reproof.
2. A substantial vindication of the righteousness and wisdom of God in his proceedings with men.
Note, 1. The objurgation or reproof, drawn up in an interrogative form, which argues great intenseness of mind in the person speaking: Nay but, O man, who art thou?
As if the apostle had said, "What bold and unheard-of presumption is this, that man, blind and ignorant man, guilty, sinful man, obnoxious to wrath and eternal death, that he should undertake to reprove and censure, to judge and condemn the actions and dispensations of the most high and holy God, as if they were crooked and perverse, defective either in justice or wisdom!"
Learn hence, that it is no less than horrid and horrible presumption for so weak, sinful, and worthless a creature, as man is, to contest or dispute with the most high God about the wisdom or righteousness of any of his ways: O man, who art thou that repliest against God?
Note, 2. How the apostle vindicates the wisdom and righteousness of God in his proceedings with men in general, and against the Jews in particular; showing that there is no more cause to make this objection against God for rejecting the unbelieving Jews, and showing favour to the believing Gentiles, than for the pitcher to contend with him that formed it, why he made it of such a shape, and not of another figure; or for the clay, when it is marred and broken, to complain of the potter for making of one part of it a vessel unto honour, and the other unto dishonour.
Learn hence, That men who have made themselves obnoxious to the justice of God by a long-continued course of sin and disobedience against God, (as the unbelieving Jews here spoken of evidently did,) have no cause either to complain of God's severe proceedings against themselves, or of his favourable dispensations towards others. What just cause had the Jews, rejected for their own unbelief and hardness of heart, to murmur against God for showing mercy to the Gentiles, who submitted to the terms of mercy?
As if the apostle had said, "What though God doth not presently punish the obstinate and unbelieving Jews according to their desert, but beareth with them, and exercises forbearance towards them, and they go on by their continual rebellions to make themselves fit objects of his wrath; but he is pleased still with great gentleness and patience to bear with them as he did with Pharaoh; and if after all they be more hardened, as he was, by God's forbearance, what show of injustice, I pray, is it, of he punishes them at last with greater severity, as God did him? If he swallow up their nation, destroy their temple, ruin thier city, what injustice is it to destroy those, who, by making themselves objects of God's wrath, are fitted for destruction?"
Here note, That the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, are such as, the apostle sayeth, God endured with much long suffering; and therefore they were not made vessels of wrath by God, but by themselves; after they had filled up the measure of their sins, and thereby fitted themselves as vessels for destruction. God endured them with much long-suffering, though judgment at last took hold upon them to the uttermost.
Learn hence, That Almighty God may, without the least suspicion of injustice or unrighteousness, punish with the utmost severity such a person or a people, whom he hath long endured with much forbearance, to go on in course of sinning, if at last they repent not. This was the manner of God's dealing with the Jews here. His lenity towards the Gentiles is next expressed, ver. 22 That he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, &c.
As if the apostle had said, Can God be taxed with unrighteousness, in showing the riches of his glorious grace and mercy towards the despised Gentiles, whom he hath called to the faith of Christ, and thereby fitted and prepared them to be vessels of mercy? Hath he not just right to show his mercy to such persons who have submitted to the terms upon which he hath promised favour and acceptance, and to own them as his peculiar people, although they be not the natural seed of Abraham, seeing they are his spiritual?
Note here, That as the unbelieving Jews were called, in the former verse, vessels of wrath; so the believing Gentiles are called, in this verse, vessels of mercy; because as vessels are fitted and formed by the hand of the artificer for the use to which they are designed, in like manner are believers wrought by God and framed by his Holy Spirit, and made meet to receive the mercy of God, that is, the fruits and effects of his mercy, especially pardon of sin and peace with God.
Concerning the vessels of wrath, the apostle speaks passively; they are fitted for destruction: concerning the vessels of mercy, he speaks actively, that God has prepared them unto glory; that is, made them meet and fit by grace here for glory hereafter.
Learn thence, That the new creation of the saints, and all the spiritual workmanship that is found upon them, is to be ascribed unto God, and to the effectual working of his grace: He hath afore prepared them unto glory.
Learn, 2. That the fullest measures of glory hereafter shall be the portion of such, and only such, as are first prepared by grace and holiness to receive them here.
Learn, 3. That those only are vessels of mercy, prepared by God unto glory, who upon the evangelical call have been prevailed with, by faith and repentance, to answer the command and call of God: That he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessesl of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us whom he hath called.
Our apostle having hitherto vindicated the wisdom and righteousness of God in the rejection of the Jews, and calling of the Gentiles; lest the Jews should stumble and take offence at it, in these and the following verses he proves, that the calling of the Gentiles was long before foretold, both by the prophet Hosea, and the prophet Isaiah; by the prophet Hosea,
I will call them my people, which were not my people. Hosea 2:23
And, Instead of, ye are not my people, it shall be said, ye are the sons of the living God. Hosea 1:10
Which expressions signify and import God's receiving the Gentiles into the church as an act of free and undeserved mercy, whom the Jews looked upon as castaways, as strangers, as dogs; accounting themselves only to be of his family and household. Next he produces the testimony of Isaiah.
Here the apostle shows how the reduction of the obdurate Jews was foretold by Isaiah as well as Hosea: That although the number of the Jews, according to the flesh, were as the sand of the sea, yet the greatest number of them would be passed by for their unbelief, and a remnant only saved. This the prophet speaks of those Jews who escaped into the hand of Sennacherib; and the apostle makes the deliverance of those few, a type of them that should believe in Christ, and be saved by him.
And the prophet farther adds, That God would finish his work, and cut it short in righteousness; that is, God will make quick work with that incorrigible and unreclaimable people; such swift destruction shall come upon the multitude of evil doers in the land of Israel as shall bring them very low, cut them short, lop them off, so that they shall be left as a tree, of which only the stump remaineth. They shall be reduced to a small remnant, and a remnant only of that remnant shall be converted.
Now first, from the literal import of those words, Though Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant only shall be saved, we learn, That a numerous people or nation, among whom God hath been truly worshipped, and this for a long season, may, notwithstanding, for their wickedness be destroyed, and reduced by God to a very small number.
Secondly, from the typical import of these words, together with the apostle's scope in citing of them, we gather, that amongst those multitudes who are called by the gospel to believe on our Lord Jesus Christ, and who make profession of his name and truth, the number of those who will be at last eternally saved, will be but comparatively small and little; A remnant shall be saved.
As if the apostle had said, "Lord, what shall we say to this great mystery of grace, the calling of the Gentile world, and the cutting off and casting away most of the present Jewish nation? That the Gentiles who lived in ignorance and blindness, in sin and unrighteousness, should attain to righteousness by faith in Christ; and that the Israelites, who had God's own righteous law amongst them, and trusted to be justified by the observation of it, yet should not attain to that rightness which God accepteth. And wherefore have they not attained it? but because they sought not justification by that faith which God prescribeth for that end, namely, faith in the Mediator; but thought it must be attained by the works of the law, keeping all the ceremonial precepts, by which no flesh can be justified: and the reason why they sought it not by faith was this, They stumbled at the stumbling stone; that is, at the Lord Jesus Christ, taking offence at his poverty and mean condition in the world, and at the spirituality of his kingdom."
Learn hence, That the great humiliation of Christ in the days of his flesh, did prove a snare and occasion to many persons to despise and reject him, to stumble at him, and fall foul upon him. But in what respects is Christ called a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence?
Answer Negatively; not because he was by God designed, either intentionally or accidentally, to be such. All stumbling and offence-taking at Christ are accidental, proceeding from the depravity of man, not from the design of God. Much less were the Jews fore-appointed and ordained by God to stumble at his Son; for God appoints no man to do that which he prohibits all men from doing.
And as no man is necessitated by the decree of God, so neither is he constrained or necessitated by Satan, by his corruption, or any other instrument, to stumble or take offence at Christ; for actions necessitated upon men are neither demeritorious nor punishable. But positively Christ is called a stone of stumbling because men, willingly ignorant and wilfully perverse, do take offence at him.
Though God never designed or desired any man's stumbling at Christ, yet he knew and foresaw that many, very many, would stumble at him: and accordingly expressed him by a prophetical character answering the event, and predicting that which in time came to pass: Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling-block.
Observe here, 1. What use and office our Lord Jesus Christ is of to his church: he is a stone, a corner-stone, the chief corner-stone; a corner-stone for strength, the chief corner-stone for ornament and beauty. As the corner-stone bears the weight of the building, so doth Christ bear the weight of his church, and supports all the pillars and supporters of it; yet this precious corner-stone is accidentally and eventually a stone of stumbling, and rock of offence. Some are offended at the poverty of his person and the meanness of his condition, others at the sublimity and sanctity of his doctrine; some are offended at his cross, others at his free grace; but such as instead of being offended at him do believe on him, shall never be ashamed of, or confounded by, him.
Learn hence, That those who, according to the direction of the gospel, do believe on our Lord Jesus Christ, shall never have cause to be ashamed.
Here note, What they shall not be ashamed of, when and why they shall not be ashamed: 1. What the sincere believer shall not be ashamed of.
Answer He shall never be ashamed of his choice; he shall not be ashamed of his profession; he shall never be ashamed of the cause and interest of Christ, which he has owned and vindicated in the world: he shall never be ashamed of the work and service of Christ, nor of any time sincerely spent in that work and service; he shall never be ashamed of his reproaches and sufferings, tribulation and persecutions, for the sake of Christ.
In a word, he shall never be ashamed hereafter that he never was ashamed here, either of Christ and his gospel, his work and service, or his cause and interest.
Note, 2. When the believer shall not be ashamed; namely, when he is called forth to bear his testimony for Christ before the world, at the hour of death, and at the day of judgment: neither the dreadfulness of the day, nor the majesty of the judge, nor the number of the accusers, nor the impartiality of the sentence, nor the separation that shall then be made, will in the least cause him to be ashamed.
Note, 3. Why the believer shall never be ashamed.
Answer The cause of shame is removed and taken away, namely, sin; those only from whom he can reasonably fear shame, will never be ashamed of him; he can look God and Christ, his own conscience, and the whole world, in the face, without shame and blushing.
O! that sinners would now be ashamed of their unbelief, which otherwise will put them to eternal shame, and bring upon them everlasting confusion in the day of the Lord. Whosoever believeth on him shall never be ashamed; but he that believeth not in him, shame and the wrath of God abideth on him.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Romans 9". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12