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Romans 9

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Our “Plan of the Epistle,” given at page 290, gives what our Commentary on these chapters will, we trust, show to be the true current of the apostle’s argument and thought. But it is well known that since the time of Augustine, in the fourth century, and later, of John Calvin, this chapter has been wrenched from the train of the apostle’s argument and made the basis of what is called the Doctrine of “Divine Sovereignty,” “Predestination,” and “Unconditional Election and Reprobation.” These dogmas were unknown or rejected by the Church of the first three centuries, and by the great majority of Christendom in all ages. But as they have been inherited from Calvin by a large share of the Protestant Church, even of America, and are taught in most of our commentaries on Romans, such as those of Barnes, Hodge, Stuart, and Schaff’s Lange, our exposition is obliged to follow their example, and assume a somewhat controversial air, in order to render clear and conclusive the ancient and true view. For our replies we have usually selected the popular and, in many respects, valuable commentary of Mr. Barnes, as being a mild yet explicit statement of unconditional predestination.

Unconditional predestination implies, comprehensively, that God unconditionally, and without any previous foresight or foreknowledge, foreordains whatever comes to pass, sin and the damnation of the sinner therefore not excepted. As God foreordains, or eternally decrees, the holiness of the saint, and rewards him with glory for the holiness decreed, so, on the other hand, he decrees the sin of the sinner, and then damns him eternally for the sin decreed.

According to unconditional election, God does from the number of foreordained sinners (namely, all mankind) select a certain definite number of individuals, without any regard to anything in them, and does from his mere good pleasure omnipotently fasten upon them holiness and everlasting life, while the others, being left in the sin and misery in which they were eternally foreordained to be born and to exist, are sent to eternal damnation for such foreordained sin and misery.

The view of the ancient Christian Church may be stated as follows.

The omniscient God, foreknowing from all eternity all things possible, did in view of such foresight, originally select the plan of his own conduct, preferring of all possible actions or plans of action that which is best. Adopting for the highest reason a system of free-agents, he does, in view of what he knows that in every possible case any free-agent will do, so plan his own conduct as, without violating the freedom of the agent, to prevent evil in the greatest attainable degree, and to secure the highest amount of good. He, therefore, endures sin, but neither approves, foreordains, necessitates, decrees, or permits it; and the sinner is punished not for God’s decree, but for his own avoidable sin. God’s comprehensive plan is thus so far contingent as that it recognises the free acts which the free agent is able to withhold; yet, inasmuch as, whichever way the agent will do, His foreknowledge of all is perfectly accurate, so the Divine Mind can neither be deceived in its expectations or frustrated in its purposes.

As to election, the true doctrine of the Church is that God, being eternally holy, does prefer and elect to himself all beings who are holy, or who do freely by his grace accept and consent, in faith, to become holy, with him; and so every human free-agent accepting God’s terms is in time elected, according to an eternal purpose of election. On the other hand, all in opposition to God’s holiness, freely preferring and persisting in sin, become reprobated, with an eternal reprobation, to everlasting death.

Mr. Barnes maintains that the elect are “a definite number” of individuals, (see his note on Romans 9:15) predestinated personally from all eternity, (see note on Romans 8:30,) without any foresight of any thing (even faith) in the individual, (see note on Romans 9:11;) that they are chosen to holiness, (see note on Romans 8:29,) and that they cannot fall away, (see note on Romans 8:30.) The reprobate are to unbelief, (see note on Romans 9:15,) and to hell; and it is just as fated, and just as right thus to predestinate a man to sin and damnation, as it is to make one less beautiful, wealthy, or intelligent than another, (see note on Romans 9:12; Romans 9:21,) as, for instance, to make a Barnes inferior to a Bacon. Like most amiable men, Mr. Barnes dwelt mostly on the bright side of the doctrine, the glories of election, and shrunk from energetic statements of reprobation. Yet he implied the worst points of the doctrine unequivocally. And the whole and the worst of the doctrine is conclusively embraced in the single proposition, (contained in Mr. Barnes’ confession of faith,) “God has from eternity unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” No reasoning can make those words mean less than that God unconditionally decrees the sin and damns the sinner for the sin decreed.

The stern genius from whom this dark and sullen system is named, John Calvin, frames it into language like the following:

“No one can deny but God foreknew Adam’s fall, and foreknew it because he had ordained it so by his own decree.” Inst., Book III, chap. 23, sec. 7.

“The wills of men are so governed by the will of God that they are carried on straight to the mark which he has foreordained.” B. I, ch. 16, sec. 8.

“Many indeed (thinking to excuse God) own election and yet deny reprobation; but this is quite silly and childish. For without reprobation election itself cannot stand; whom God passes by, those he reprobates.” B. III, chap. 23, sec. 1.

“All men are not created for the same end, but some are foreordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation. So, according as every man was created for the one end or the other, we say he was elected or predestinated to destruction.” Chap. 21, sec. 1. To these views we object: 1. They make God the responsible author of sin. 2 . They destroy the free-agency of Man 1:3 . They render all penalty for sin unjust. 4. They destroy all divine government by transforming it into a mere machinery. 5. They degrade God and destroy the divine sovereignty by sinking the sovereign into a mere machinist. 6. They impute infinite cruelty to God by making him decree the sin and damn the sinner.

It is important to note that the Jews of Paul’s day, the opponents with whom he here argues, held to predestination, endeavouring, like modern Calvinists, to unite some sort of free-will with it. Thus Josephus says: “The Pharisees ascribe all to fate and to God, and yet allow that to act right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of man, although fate does cooperate in every action.” Wars, II, 8, 14. They believed also that every Jew was predestinated to eternal life. John the Baptist at the beginning encountered their “We have Abraham to our father.” (Matthew 3:9.)

And against Jesus they retorted, “We be Abraham’s seed;” as if this Abrahamic descent secured their salvation and rendered Christianity unnecessary. Their proverbial maxim was, “All Israel have their portion in the world to come.” So Rabbi Bechai, commenting on a passage of the Pentateuch, says, “The Gentiles are ordained to hell; Israel to life.” Wetstein on Acts 13:48. The early Christian fathers, like Paul, encountered the same doctrine of unconditional election of all Jews. Says Justin Martyr: “Ye (Jews) expect to be saved because ye are the lineally descended children of Jacob.” Again, “Your rabbies deceive both themselves and you, supposing that the everlasting kingdom shall be assuredly given to them who are lineally descended from Abraham, even although they be sinners and unbelievers, and disobedient toward God.” (See notes on Romans 1:17; Romans 2:25.)

With this proud expectation of salvation by blood and circumcision by birth and works Paul’s Christianity, salvation by faith in Christ, came into deadly issue. This battle, begun by Stephen, (Acts 6:13; Acts 7:2,) pervades Paul’s whole history in Acts, as apostle of the Gentiles, both in contest with the Jews and Judaistic Christians. The battle, bitter and deadly from the Jewish side, began at their first driving him, to escape death, from Jerusalem, (Acts 9:23-30,) continued through a whole series of plots, persecutions, waylayings, and attempts at assassination. As soon as he had finished the writing of this epistle, being about to take ship from Corinth to Jerusalem, he was obliged, by a Jewish plot, to change his plan, and prosecute his journey by land. (Acts 20:3.)

Of this issue the Epistle to the Romans is a summary. The first eight chapters (with a slight reference to the Jewish issue in chapter 3) do in most magnificent argument state the positive Christian theory. But as the theory of faith-justification assumes the rejection by God of unbelieving Jews, the three ensuing chapters (9, 10, and 11) meet that great question.

After expressing profound grief at unbelieving Israel’s downfall, (Romans 9:1-5,) Paul maintains that from the patriarchs downward it was the spiritual Israel by faith that was accepted, and the false Israel by unfaith that was rejected, (Romans 9:6-13;) that this accords with Old Testament history, (Romans 9:14-18,) with the true principles of free-agency and probation, (Romans 9:19-24,) with ancient prediction, (Romans 9:25-29,) all presupposing that the law of acceptance by faith and rejection by unfaith underlies the whole history, (Romans 9:30-33.)

Verse 1

1. St. Paul’s great Grief at Israel’s Rejection , Romans 9:1-5 .

1. In Christ Some commentators have strangely rendered this as an oath by Christ. The phrase is parallel with in the Holy Ghost in this verse, and both are parallel to the phrases in Christ in a great number of passages.

The Christian, as such, is in Christ; his whole words and works are wrought in Christ. (See note on Romans 6:3.)

Lie not As doubtless the Jewish zealots in the synagogue disputes had often charged him with doing.

My conscience The moral self speaking within him.

In the Holy Ghost As if his moral being were imbued and impregnated by the Holy Spirit. To the Jews, therefore, he offered three witnesses: his moral man, his intellectual man, and God.

Verse 3

3. I could wish Not I did wish, nor I do wish; but, if it were a thing permissible, either in the fact or in the wish, then I could wish. The apostle, then, does not rally form or entertain the wish, but he comes as nigh to it as the right allows. (See note on Matthew 26:39.)

Accursed The Greek would be, I could wish myself an anathema from Christ. An anathema in the Jewish ritual was a thing consecrated to God. It was thereby God’s own property, no longer man’s. Hence it was required to be destroyed, and could not be redeemed. (Leviticus 27:28-29.) Cities, edifices, and their inhabitants were thereby devoted to destruction, as Jericho, (Joshua 6:17; Joshua 6:21,) and as, also, were the cities of the Canaanites. They were “sacred to perdition.” So in the New Testament Christ is made a curse, an anathema for us.

What the apostle, therefore, in his human affections could wish is, that he might take the place of his race and suffer an equivalent of its sufferings in its stead, that the race might be saved from them. This would not be wishing to commit their sin nor contract their guilt any more than Christ so did (as Revelation Gilbert Haven in the “Methodist Quarterly” has ably shown) for the human race. It simply would have sought to be their substitute in suffering. As to the question whether he included all the sufferings of eternal death, we may say that in a human hypothetical wish of this nature we are not to suppose that all the literal results are specifically thought through. Doubtless the example of Christ was most present to his mind, whose suffering was not eternal.

Even to the present day the Arabians will say, let my soul be a ransom for thee. The whole ritual system of substitutive victims dying for the sinner kept the eastern mind in full possession of the solemn thought of substitutive suffering. And so Paul’s deep human heart would have said to Israel, Think you I predict your future woes from hatred? I would go with you through the whole mass of misery, and suffer it in your stead.

From Christ In separation from him, as the Jews were; or (as Mr. Haven strikingly develops it) separated from Christ as Christ in his hour of darkness was from God.

My brethren, my kinsmen By this tender reiteration the apostle bespeaks his deep affection.

Verse 4

4. Israelites Their loftier title, derived not from Jacob, the supplanter, nor, like Jews, from a single remnant tribe (Judah) alone; but derived from their great founder, and from his name given as wrestler and overcomer with God.

Paul in these two verses enumerates the glories of Israel in the true enthusiasm of an Israelite, to show how he sympathized in Israelite greatness. The passage is parallel with Romans 3:2; Romans 2:17-20, where see notes.

The adoption By which Abraham and his race were called from among the nations to be the sons of God. (See note on Matthew 2:15.)

The glory The Shekinah, upon the mercy seat between the cherubim and at other times. (See note on Acts 7:2.)

Covenants Formed with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at different times, (Genesis 15:9-21; Genesis 17:4; Genesis 17:7; Genesis 17:10; Genesis 26:24; Genesis 28:13,) and with all Israel at Sinai, (Genesis 24:2; Genesis 24:8, etc.)

Giving of the law The law-giving, the legislation, of which the centre was the two tables of the decalogue, and then the entire pentateuchal system.

The service The full and formal worship by which Israel, freed from idolatry, worshipped the true Jehovah.

Promises Of the Messiah and the salvation through him. Sad if Israel, to whom these promises were given, should himself fail of their fruition! (See note on Romans 9:6.)

Verse 5

5. The fathers Including not only Abraham and his patriarchal sons, but the whole wonderful pedigree running through Heber up to Adam. This recorded pedigree, the very pith of the human race, Israel alone had preserved. At one end (according to Luke’s list) was Adam and God, at the other Christ; so that Israel was the divine Adamic-Messianic race.

The flesh In antithesis with his being over all, God. So that we have here his double nature as human-divine.

Over all As he is humanly the descendant of all, so he is divinely the Over-all, the Supreme.

God This solemn epithet can here be no otherwise held than in apposition with Over all. It then stands indisputably as a title of Christ, as in Titus 1:3; Titus 2:13; John 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:16.

Antitrinitarian commentators have placed a full stop after all, and rendered the last clause God be blessed forever. But, 1. This destroys the above-named antithesis, and renders the phrase according to the flesh superfluous. 2. In all cases where the doxology of the kind supposed occurs in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, the word for blessed precedes the divine name Blessed be God. In this form the phrase occurs, according to Stuart, more than thirty times in the Old Testament.

Verse 6

6. Not as though The Jew must not imagine that Paul’s grief implies God’s unfaithfulness. The same denial as in Romans 3:3-4, where see our note.

Word Equivalent to promise in Romans 9:8. The great promise, as comprehensively embracing all the promises, is in Genesis 22:18: “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” This great faith-conditioned promise underlay all the prerogatives of Israel in Romans 9:4-5, above, including the Messiah and all the blessings comprehended in him.

Of Israel Literally, out from Israel; that is, born from Jacob.

Verses 6-13

2. Israel’s downfall is no proof that the PROMISE of God has failed of fulfilment; for the PROMISE was not to the seed by birth, but to the seed by faith , Romans 9:6-13 .

We are guided in the interpretation of this paragraph by the parallel passage, Romans 4:1-10. In that passage Paul shows, by the case of Abraham, as we have there noted, that the faith-condition underlies the very foundation of the Abrahamic covenant; that is, essential Christianity underlies Judaism. Here he defends the same view by the case of Abraham’s and Isaac’s children. Even they were truly saved neither by birth nor works, but, as he explicitly declares in 30-33, by faith. The faith-condition underlies even the patriarchal dispensation.

It strongly demonstrates the truth of our interpretation of this paragraph that we can trace through this entire ninth chapter two contrasted lines of character discriminated by faith and unbelief. The following two columns present to the eye the two contrasted characters of Faith and Unbelief in each successive verse:

Line of Unbelief Line of Faith.

Romans 9:6. Of Israel Israel.

“7. Seed of Abraham Children.

“8. Children of the flesh Children of God, children of promise.

“12. The elder The younger.

“18. Esau Jacob.

“15-18. Pharaoh Moses.

“18. Hardeneth Showeth mercy.

“21. Vessel unto dishonour Vessel unto honour.

“22, 23. Vessels of wrath Vessels of mercy. Destruction Glory.

“24. (Unbelieving Jews.) Even us, (Christian believers, Jew or Gentile.)


Verse 7

7. Children That is, children and heirs of the Abrahamic promise; for that promise includes the natural seed only as they are the faith-seed, and comprehends all the faith-seed of the earth, even though not natural seed.

In Isaac As the representative lineal personage in whose name all the faithful are called to be seed.

Verse 8

8. That is The apostle now reads into the literal words In Isaac shall thy seed be called their higher spiritual import.

Children of the flesh… of God… of the promise This threefold classification of children must be carefully analyzed. Children of the flesh does not mean, as Barnes defines it, merely “the natural descendants;” but all are children of the flesh who depend upon the flesh, that is, upon fleshy descent or circumcision (including all ritual and natural merit-works,) for justification. As all their regeneration is of the flesh, so they are children of the flesh. So our Lord says, John 3:6, That which is born of the flesh is flesh; (see note;) that is, is carnal. But those here specified by Paul are not the unregenerate simply, but the falsely regenerate through fleshly lineage, and what he calls (Hebrews 9:10) fleshly ordinances. But the conclusive proof-text is, Galatians 4:29, “But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born of the Spirit, even so it is now.” The now demonstrates that the Judaizers of Paul’s own day are by him held to be children of the flesh after the type of Ishmael of old, because they trusted in fleshly lineage and merit-works for justification. And so in Romans 4:1-12, (where see note,) justification by works and according to the flesh is the same thing.

On the contrary, the true believers “are the circumcision, and have no confidence in the flesh.” (Philippians 3:3.) That the phrase children of the flesh here has this meaning is made sure by its opposed phrases children of God, children of the promise. Forced by his creed, Professor Stuart would define children of God, “such children as God, according to the special promise to Abraham, would raise up for his posterity”! It is perfectly inadmissible, without some forcible reason, to make the phrase mean anything else than its ordinary sense in the New Testament, regenerate children of God, that is, by faith. That by children of the promise he means the regenerate by faith appears from Galatians 3:29: “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” And again, (Galatians 4:28,) “We, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of the promise.” And the whole passage (Galatians 4:21-31) affirms just this: The faith by which Abraham and Sarah so believed in God’s promise that Isaac was generated a child of the promise is typical of that faith by which every true believer is regenerated, and so becomes also an heir of the promise. (See notes on Romans 4:17-22.) Isaac was heir of the external prerogatives of the great Abrahamic-Messianic line by physical birth, and of its internal blessings by faith; true believers, now that the external prerogatives are abolished, are, with Isaac and “in Isaac,” the “seed called” to the internal blessings by like faith. And it is this meaning that the inspired apostle reads into the words, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.”

Verse 10

10. So then In more modern style this verse might be thus worded: So then the showing of mercy is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of God. On which note, 1. The showing mercy includes not only the particular act of mercy-showing, but the establishing the underlying rule, condition, or law of mercy-showing; 2. Commentators on both sides seem to us to have overlooked the fact that the him that willeth and him that runneth signify not the suppliant or candidate before Jehovah for his mercy, but an intermediate third person (like Moses) between Jehovah and the suppliant. Moses willed, and Moses eagerly ran to Jehovah, to induce him to waver. So Paul’s Jew is pleading and cavilling and menacing in behalf of God’s favour to Jewish unbelief. But divine wisdom will admit no foolish interferers. It will maintain the invariable laws of a just free-agency.

Verse 11

11. Neither… done… good or evil The apostle assumes here, 1. That no child can be responsible for its impulsive acts or emotions before its birth. 2. That no responsibility exists upon man for any thing done in any supposed state of preexistence.

Purpose… according to election Purpose in regard to election. The purpose of electing is antecedent and eternal, (Ephesians 1:11;) the act of election under the purpose is in time.

Him that calleth To works the apostle does not here oppose faith, as we might expect from his usual antithesis, but God himself. Rightly, because faith does, of itself, deny itself to be the cause of salvation, and ascribes all to God. (See note on Romans 3:24.) To be justified by works is to justify ourselves; to be justified by faith is to be justified gratuitously by God by him that calleth us to that very faith. As condition by us performed, and a means and method by God used, it is right to say in a subordinate sense that faith saves us. But the true, sole, original, and efficient Agent in our salvation is God. So that, as the apostle here maintains, our election is not of works, but of God.

Verse 12

12. Said unto her (Genesis 25:23.) Disquieted by the commotion of her unborn twins, Rebecca makes inquiry of Jehovah as to the reason, who replies: “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manners of people; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger.” By these impressive words the two entire races are figured as being embodied in the little persons of the unborn infants: Edomites in Esau, Israelites in Jacob.

The elder… younger Reversing the law of primogeniture, by which the younger was the inferior.

Shall Will; the simple future tense. The sentence is a prediction, not a decree. (Note on Acts 28:26.) It was fulfilled, not in the persons of the twin brothers, but in their descendants, the Edomites being finally destroyed.

Verse 13

13. Esau… hated Paul quotes the words of Malachi, uttered centuries afterward, concerning the Edomites, (under the name of Esau,) showing how the divine prediction is verified. The strong word hated needs no softening, as appears from the proof given of the hatred, namely, the positive devastation of his “heritage.” (Malachi 1:3.) The meaning ascribed by some commentators to the word, to love less, is hardly sustainable. Edom, as a prospective people, was foreseen as persistently Godless, and so divinely hated. And then, just as Israel personally represents, first, his natural seed, the Jews; and, second, the visible Jewish Church; and, third, his spiritual seed, by faith, Jew or Gentile, so does Esau represent, not only Edom external, but also the Edom spiritual, and reprobate by unfaith, whether descended from Esau or not, who, as such, are the just objects of divine hate. All this implies not that the evil of the Edomites or of Esau was decreed or necessitated, or that it secured the personal damnation of Esau or of any particular Edomite. Esau may have been saved; salvation was in reach of every Edomite.

On the above paragraph we may note: 1. The apostle sustains from beginning to end the doctrine that, even in patriarchal times, faith was the underlying condition of acceptance with God, and that, therefore, the promise of God in its true import, amid its various forms, has been completely fulfilled in the Christian Church notwithstanding the rejection of unbelieving Judaism. The train of thought in the paragraph thus lies in line with the train of thought through the entire epistle. 2. We are thus delivered from the absurdity of denying, as Barnes, that “God sees any thing in the individuals as ground for his choice” If a particular choice, or, what is the same thing, a choice of a particular object, presents in itself no ground of preference differencing it from millions of others, then it is a choice without a motive; and so (as Calvinistic writers themselves strenuously maintain) is no choice or election at all, but a mere chance stumbling upon the object. 3. On the words not of works, in Romans 9:11, Mr. Barnes says: “What the reasons are for choosing to eternal life he has not revealed, but he has revealed that it is not on account of their works, either performed or foreseen.” And has he not as plainly revealed that it is on account of our faith as that it is not on account of our works? The very purpose of 30-33 (besides hundreds of other texts) is to declare that it is on account of faith the Christian is accepted, and of unfaith that the unbelieving Jew is rejected. 4. That God’s choice of his elect is not “from nothing in them,” or for any mysterious unsearchable reason, is clear from God’s own word touching Abraham, the typical specimen, according to Paul, of all the elect. The reason God assigns for electing Abraham is given in Genesis 18:18-19: “I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they will keep the way of Jehovah, to do justice and judgment,” etc. Abraham was elected, therefore, for foreseen faith, evidenced by works. 5. The maxim of Augustine, “God does not choose us because we believe, but that we may believe,” is but half the truth. God does choose us, both because we believe and that we may believe. He chooses us from antecedent justifying faith unto a future persevering, fructifying, and glorifying faith. Our eternal election is based upon the antecedent eternal foresight of our free, excellent, yet non-meritorious faith, (see note on Romans 8:29,) non-meritorious in the sense of not meriting so great an election. (See note on Romans 3:24.)

Verse 14

3. Nor is God’s Rectitude impeached by Israel’s Downfall; for God’s Will (as he told Moses) will, in spite of Jewish dictation, extend mercy to faith, and (as He told Pharaoh) will execute wrath on persistent unbelief , Romans 9:14-18 .

14. Unrighteousness with God Unrighteousness in what respect?

Plainly in disregarding the law of lineage and substituting the law of faith as the basis of acceptance, thus endangering unbelieving Israel’s salvation.

The last previous paragraph defends the divine veracity; this the divine righteousness. Neither paragraph, be it noted, discusses the “Divine Sovereignty.”

God forbid (See note on Romans 3:4.) As the insolent Jew truly enslaves the Divine Will to the law of lineage making the pedigree the god of God so the apostle most austerely and indignantly declares the independence of God’s will over all such Jewish dictation in selecting the basis (faith) of acceptance.

Verse 15

15. For The two fors in this and the seventeenth verse show that Paul gives a reason in each case for maintaining God’s rectitude; first for the bright side, and next for the dark side of the divine dealings in his system of free-agency.

The predestinarian view makes Paul’s answer to the question, Is God unrighteous? be simply this: God is an absolute sovereign, and can do as he pleases, and will as he will, and therefore what he does is right. He can choose men to sin and death “for nothing in them,” and for no fault of theirs; and, because He is almighty, it is right. But,

1. Such a reply is not Pauline, as we have shown, (see note on Romans 3:4-5.) Paul’s doctrine is not that a thing is right because the Absolute One does it; but the Absolute does that which is intrinsically right.

2. The supposed answer is no answer at all. When I ask, Is a given act right? it is no reply to say the actor could do what he pleased, and could will as he willed, and therefore it was right. Power increased infinitely cannot change right. A creature can be supposably wronged by even an infinite being.

3. The predestinarian interpretation makes Paul pretend to give a reason, but really resort to force, and seek to frighten his opponent out of reasoning. Now even if thus silencing instead of convincing were not very mean, the pretending to give a reason when he gives no reason at all would be very mendacious.

4. Mr. Barnes (on Romans 9:15) argues that where all are guilty and worthy of death an executive may pardon a definite number without any just complaint from the unpardoned. Not, we reply, where his own previous decree has plunged the unpardoned into the sin and misery for which he condemns them.

5. Mr. Barnes argues that to predestinate unconditionally a man to sin and damnation is no more unjust than to make him inferior to his fellow “in regard to talents, health, beauty, prosperity, and rank.” It is just as right for God to make me a sinner, and send me to hell for being what he has decretively made me, as it is for him to make me less than a Solomon. (See his notes on Romans 9:12; Romans 9:21.) But,

( 1.) These temporal inferiorities are compensated by a large surplus of happiness that renders life desirable in spite of them; but for eternal damnation there is no compensation. Defenders of God’s benevolence, like Paley, point us to the great surplus of happiness over misery diffused by God among all living beings. Life itself is a happiness; and its cessation, death, is dreaded and avoided as the greatest of evils. Thus do all living beings, however inferior, consent, agree, and covenant with God gladly to accept life as long as he will graciously bestow it upon them. But who ever consents to be brought into existence a necessary sinner just as necessarily as a sparrow is not an eagle, or a zany is not a sage and for that necessity be sent to an eternal hell?

(2.) These varieties of rank and advantage, of superiority and inferiority, are necessary to a grand system of creation. The result is that, while there is disadvantage in the various parts, the highest advantage is attained for the whole, and such a degree of happiness is secured for every part as that part is glad to accept. But to produce one class of beings upon whom sin and damnation are resistlessly fixed ages before they are born, predetermining their wills to sin, and their souls to hell for that sin, is an awful crime to charge upon God. It is only when by wilful, persistent, undecreed, and unnecessary sin, a free agent violates the divine order, and thus deserves eternal expulsion and reprobation, that such a destiny can be justifiable.

(3.) Omnipotently to create an innocent being supremely miserable would be an act of unspeakable despotism; but there may be discerned in it a certain infernal frankness and magnanimity. But to take an innocent nature, such as man is before he is decreed a sinner, and decretively smear sin upon him as a ground of justly damning him to an eternal hell, is as mean and mendacious as it is despotic. The calling such dealings righteousness, justice, is what our moral nature, with all its intensity, pronounces a truly execrable falsity.

(4.) We offer no solution to the problem that amiable and clear intellects, like Albert Barnes, can not only advocate doctrines which are morally so abominable, but can advocate them with reasonings so futile. But we are almost compelled to believe, from such specimens of logic, that the divine penalty imposed upon the ablest intellects for holding the abhorrent dogma, is to be smitten with collapse in defending it.

Saith unto Moses (Exodus 33:19.) Moses coming down from Sinai, where he had received the law, finding the people immersed in idolatry, exclaims, Who is on Jehovah’s side? Forthwith the tribe of Levi step forth, draw swords, and execute upon the spot three thousand transgressors.

Next day (Exodus 22:22) Moses prays that if Jehovah will not spare the people, his own name may be blotted out from God’s book. Jehovah respects the profound unselfishness of the mistaken prayer, but sternly replies,” Whosoever hath sinned against me, HIM will I blot out of my book.” Such was the conditional rule and reason of the Divine will in inflicting wrath, (Exodus 32:15-33.) And this explains the dark side of the antithesis in Romans 9:18.

Moses again stands to intercede with God, (xxxiii, 12-19,) and, meeting a gracious reception, beseeches God, Show me thy glory. God consents, declaring, (the words quoted by Paul,) “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,” etc. And this explains the bright side of the antithesis in Romans 9:18.

God thus willed, in spite of Moses’ wish, to punish the guilty, and THE GUILTY ONLY; and he willed, in accordance with Moses’ wish, to show him his glory. Thus did God will as he was supremely pleased to will. Yet let four things be noted: First, this willing as he will does not mean willing without a reason, motive, or rule, but willing with a perfect right, reason, motive, and rule. Second. It does not mean that the reason, motive, or rule is an incomprehensible, mysterious, unrevealed, unknown one, but the fully revealed and perfectly just rule of impartially dealing with men as free agents. Third. The peremptoriness of this willing as he will, while it does not exclude either reason, rule, or a publication of reason or rule, does override the small caprice of the man who (as Moses) would doubt, cavil, or rebel against the infinite reason; and, Fourth, This willing as he will is a willing to deal with men, not “for nothing in them,” but according to their faith, and subsequently to their faith, and conditionally upon their faith. The wrongly praying Moses is the type of the weeping Paul, or even of the cavilling Jew, humanely wishing that God would spare the unfaithful people; yet God will inflexibly act on the known and universally published rules of righteous judgment. He will disregard human dictation, whether in form of prayer, weeping, or cavil, and so will have mercy on whom he will have mercy. And human reason, being finitely in the type of divine reason, when it comes to an understanding of the divine rules and reasons, does in its highest exertions profoundly approve the principles on which they are based. So that Paul’s logic is a full reply to his Jewish opponent.

In this interpretation we make no mistake. We have rightly interpreted God’s words to Moses as they are in the Old Testament. And on the perfectly just rule that, where possible, a quotation in the New from the Old Testament must be taken in its original sense, the passage means from the pen of Paul just what it means from the mouth of Jehovah.

Alford makes the apostle here teach “Divine sovereignty” solely and regardless of human freedom, (freedom, he says, is fully taught in other places,) from Paul’s habit of “insulating the one subject under consideration.” But, 1. Alford entirely mistakes the “subject” which the apostle here “insulates.” “Divine sovereignty” is not the “subject,” nor the question, in any part of the chapter. It is God’s “ unrighteousness,” (Romans 9:14, as there said in our note,) namely, Has not God the right, overruling the Jews, to sink the old narrow Judaic particularism in a new broad conditional universality? Has not God the right to do right? And, 2, Alford’s exposition not only makes the apostle leave human freedom out of view, but forces it out of existence by completely contradicting it, and making any assertion of freedom elsewhere to be false. 3. Alford forgets that in this very chapter the apostle takes care to assert human freedom, and so to assert it as to run it through all these instances, and so deny the absolutist interpretation in each and every case. (See notes on 30-33.)

I will… on whom I will This simple assertion, that God will accept whom he pleases, decides not the question, Whom does he please or will to accept? But, taken in its connexions, it plainly means that whereas the Jew wills that God should accept all Jews, God wills and will do as he wills to accept all true believers. Paul thus peremptorily asserts not the divine Will in disregard of reason, or in disregard of “anything in the individual,” or in regard to some unknown reason, or in absolute “divine sovereignty” over all things, but in entire independence of Jewish pedigree, merit, or dictation. The Jew prefers a system of predestinated birth-salvation; God prefers an equalized system of free-agency and will have his way. He will have his way in spite of the cavils of predestinarians, whether Judaistic or Calvinistic.

The rules by which God thus wills, and absolutely pleases, to have mercy, are abundantly revealed in Scripture. To reveal and publish them is, indeed, the great object of Scripture. The decalogue proclaims him a God “showing mercy to thousands that love me and keep my commandments.” “Let the wicked forsake his way, and return to the Lord, and he will have mercy. (Isaiah 55:7.) The pretence, therefore, that this verse presupposes some no-reason, or some unknowable reason, for his gracious preferences, is a figment and a folly.

Verse 17

17. Scripture saith In the words of Jehovah, (Exodus 9:16.)

Pharaoh Who claimed, like Paul’s Jew, to overrule God; and who, if human power could have overruled God, was the man of his age to do it; yet who was most peremptorily overruled by God, and reduced, like our Jew, to the level of a just probationary free-agency, under the most equitable divine administration.

Raised thee up Hebrew, Made thee to stand. The context in the Old Testament would seem to imply the causing thee to stand or survive amid the past destroying plagues. Though the greatest criminal in Egypt, he had been preserved alive, amid repeated plagues, for the purpose here announced. He had attained the acme of sin; he had forfeited life, and passed the day of grace. Hence it is that Paul selects him as a specimen and monument of wrath.

Show my power Years there had been in which God was earnest to show his mercy in Pharaoh; those years are past; the hour now is when he is made to live on earth, when he should be in hell, that God may reveal his true omnipotence in the land, and over the rulers, and over the gods of Egypt.

Verse 18

18. Hardeneth It is surprising how anxiously the very commentators who teach that from all eternity God decreed the sin and hardening of Pharaoh endeavour to soften this word, and maintain that the hardening is by no direct act of God, but by indirect effect. Surely, if God may predestinate Pharaoh’s hardness, then he may as well produce it by a direct touch of his hand. A true view, in its proper place, of God’s clearness from the sin of the creature enables us to assert, in its proper place, the full force of the divine sentence upon the sinner. And when we consider that this hardening, being the opposite of showing mercy, is a judicial act, performed upon one already past probation, it impeaches not God’s perfect rectitude to suppose that he executes it, according to the words, by direct act. It may have been God’s turning the key of mercy’s door upon him who had, without God’s decree or concurrence, forever closed it against himself. It may have been confirmatorily glazing with God’s own finger the surface of that heart already callous by its own act. This is just as righteous as it is for God to bar the gates of hell upon the finally damned, or for Jesus to say, Depart, ye cursed, etc.

The Jew now understands of Paul that the hardened Pharaoh is but a type of his own hardening self. The condemnation of Israel, for whom Moses prayed in vain, the overthrow of Pharaoh, whom Moses warned in vain, are figures of his own downfall, for whom Paul weeps in vain. And all because Supreme Righteousness will have its own way. It next follows that,

Verse 19

19. Thou… me The Jew and the apostle are now face to face.

Why… find fault? The Jew’s question, divested of its petulant words, is this: Since in our downfall, typified thus by Pharaoh’s overthrow, God, as you say, has it all his own way, why does he hold us Jews responsible?

Calvinists often tell us (as Barnes on the passage) that this is the very objection that Arminians make against Calvinism. Very true, we reply, and it is to a false Calvinistic view of the matter that the Jew objects. He understands that Paul is a predestinarian in his putting of the case, and against that putting his query is perfectly just. And Paul will reply, not by denying the validity of the objection to the fatalistic view, but by denying that the fatalistic view is the one he puts. So, after reproving the petulance of the phrase and spirit of the Jew, he proceeds to show that he himself maintains a doctrine of true equitable free-agency.

Really, the Jew assumes that by Paul’s view his own rejection was willed by God, and his sins as condition to his rejection. Had the apostle, indeed, said, “God has decreed your downfall, and foreordained your sins as the means to it,” the Jew’s question would have been just. But Paul, quite the reverse, maintained the non-necessity of any fall at all. He defends God’s right to establish a system of broad unlineal free-agency and of salvation conditioned upon faith in Christ, in which, as Israel himself is potentially included, there is no necessity for Israel to fall. Apostacy is Israel’s own free, undecreed, unforeordained, unwilled act; and Paul is writing this epistle to prevent that act.

Who… resisted… will? The Jew’s premises are, God willed my sin and downfall; my sin and downfall fulfil his will; the question then is, How I am to blame? If the premises are true, his question is irresistible.

Verses 19-23

4. No reply can be made against God for all this; for it accords with the universal principle of an equitable Free Probation, (19-23.)

For it accords with the law of a responsible probationary free-agency that, as a potter may, according to the temper shown by the clay, prepare the vessel for honour or for dishonour, so God, according to the temper and showing of a free-agent, may assign him to mercy or wrath.

Verse 20

20. Nay Stemming the tide of Jewish cavil, the apostle first, in this verse, rebukes his spirit, and in the verses following refutes his assumptions.

Repliest against God We are guided at this point by the parallel passage Romans 3:4-5 where see notes. We there learn that the man does not reply against God, who (as the Arminian) maintains that “God is surely true, holy, and just, and therefore a course of injustice cannot be truly affirmed of him; and, when affirmed, is false.” Such is the apostle’s own course. To reply against God is to assume a false course as pursued by him, and to reproach him for it. This is the course of the predestinarian and the Jew.

The thing formed Extreme cases may be conceived in which the thing formed might complain of its maker. A child has fair claims upon the parent that beget him. There are many conceivable cases of treatment toward a creature which would be intensely unjust in a creator. (See note on Romans 3:4-5.) But the apostle, reasoning with a believer in the Jehovah of the Bible, has a right to exclude such extreme cases from the argument. The thing formed by such a Creator may be promptly arraigned for a query audaciously imputing unconditional predestination to God.

Verse 21

21. Clay May be an image of perfect passivity. It may also, as possessed of alternative possibilities and pliabilities, be, as here, an emblem of free-agency. And the apostle’s question is, Has not God a right to create a free-agent, or to establish a system of equitable free-agency? Has not God the right to do right?

Power The Greek word implies just authority.

Same lump Inasmuch as the same free-agent has an alternative capacity for either course and for either result.

Unto honour In view of his faith and obedience.

Dishonour In view of his unbelief and sin.

Our reader will find the perfect demonstration of our exposition of this verse if he will turn to Jeremiah 18:1-10, and carefully study there the original of Paul’s figure.

Jeremiah, by divine command, goes “down to the potter’s house” to see the potter’s “work on the wheels.” “And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make it.” It is inferable from Romans 9:6-10 that the first intended vessel was a vessel of honour, perhaps a drinking cup or ornamental vase; but the other vessel, consequent upon the mar, was a “vessel of dishonour,” for the wash-room or bedchamber. And now comes the clear exposition of its symbolism of free-agency and divine impartiality.

“Behold, as the clay in the hands of the potter, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel! At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it: if that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them… If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then will I repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them.” Thus the clay was the house of Israel; according as were their temper and conduct would they be moulded into a vessel of honour or of dishonour. So that the very clay is a living free-agent, the Potter is a wise impartial divine Reason, and the being made a vessel of honour or dishonour is conditioned upon the voluntary temper and doing of the agent. Salvation and damnation depended upon a momentous pivotal IF; the two alternatives of that IF were “turn from evil” and salvation, or “do evil” and destruction. And this, the immutable law of God’s free government, enacted before the foundations of the earth were laid, is that eternal purpose of God according to election which is so unrevealed and so mysterious to Barnes, Stuart, Hodge, and the great mass of predestinarians, but perfectly transparent upon the whole surface of God’s word. And this passage is absolutely conclusive against Paul’s predestinarian Jew. The insolent predestinarian Jew flouts the idea that the house of Israel should be subject to the law of not predestined lineal salvation, but a fearfully precarious free-agency, and Paul shows him from Jeremiah’s potter and clay that it had always been so!

Verse 22

22. God The Almighty Potter.

Willing That is, will -ing, determining.

Show Not merely to feel, but to reveal in action, and in conspicuous cases, like Pharaoh, to make it memorable in history.

Wrath Of a perfectly just Being the wrath must be perfect justice, exerted in executive action. The Almighty Potter determines to show his wrath consequently upon the vessel’s determining persistently to show his perversity. So in Jeremiah 18:19, the potter’s vessel is broken after its living impersonations had persevered in final hardness.

Power known In penalty like a God.

Endured… longsuffering Both these expressions contradict the dogma that God predestinates the obduracy of the vessel of wrath. The apostle’s theory is not predetermination, but non-prevention of the sin. God endured, not decreed, with much longsuffering, not with a hypocritical “secret will” in its favour. The words endured, and in the next verse prepared, are instances of Paul’s aoristic tenses as explained in our notes on Romans 3:23; Romans 4:12; Romans 8:29.

Vessels of wrath Because persistent vessels of perversity.

Fitted Alike by their own obduracy and God’s forbearance. Mark St. Paul’s caution in saying that God himself prepared the obedient vessel for glory, (Romans 9:23.) He does not say that God prepared the vessel of wrath. As Fletcher of Madeley says, “Our salvation is of God; our damnation is of ourselves.”

Verses 22-23

22, 23. Of these two vessels, the perverse vessel and the obedient vessel, Paul now unfolds, in less figurative phrase, the different treatment at the hand of God. Of the former vessel, the original representative instance still is the Jews of Jeremiah, (chapters 18, 19,) who persist in their perversity, and are again (Jeremiah 19:1) typified by Jeremiah as a broken potter’s vessel, (passages which our readers should carefully study,) while their antitype is the unbelieving Jews of Paul’s day, with a specimen of whom Paul is now reasoning. Of the latter or obedient vessel, the primitive type is naturally Jeremiah and the few faithful of his day; and their antitype is the us of Romans 9:24, namely, Paul and his brother believers.

In these two vessels God unfolds by his dealings the absolute rectitude of his government and character. The perversity of the one he endures (not decrees or foreordains) for a due time in order that the world may duly read the lesson; in the latter he displays the riches of his glory in anticipation of final glory.

Verse 23

23. Make known Reveal in living instances.

Riches A beautiful term. These obedient vessels of mercy are filled up and laden with the very affluence of glory.

He had afore God had prepared them by glory for future glory beforehand. By the us of the next verse the apostle will show who these obedient vessels are, and so imply who the disobedient are.

Verse 24

24. Even us By a sudden turn the whole weight of the climax of the above argument comes down with a forcible emphasis upon the present company. Of the bright side and dark side of the above antithesis between vessels of glory and of wrath, between Moses and Pharaoh, between the elect and reprobate of entire history, the bright side belongs to us, the new living Church. And that by no birth, necessity, or accident; for (including Romans 10:18-21) it includes Jews and Gentiles. And this blessed dispensation he illustrates with touches of prediction from the old prophets.

But this paragraph, reserving the case of Gentile believers to Romans 10:18-21, describes believing Jews only. It parallels them with the old Jews restored from the Assyrian captivity, who, like the Jews gathered into the Christian Church, were but a remnant.

Verses 24-29

5. God’s right to establish this enlarged system of free-agency shown by predictions of the call of the Gentiles, (24-29.)

This presupposes the identity of the Church of Jesus with the spiritual side of the two lines above given, and the unbelieving Jews with the vessels of wrath, Romans 9:22.

Verse 25

25. Osee Hosea 2:23, quoted not verbally but in general sense. The Hebrew is: I will love her who was not beloved; I will say to her who was not my people, My people art thou. The apostle changes the order of the two clauses.

Verse 26

26. Come to pass Hosea 1:10. Both these passages describe the recovery of the Jews from their apostasy and from the Assyrian captivity.

Verse 27

27. Esaias Isaiah 10:22. The thought is: Innumerable though Israel be, but a remnant will be saved by faith in the Messiah. Thus Paul and the Jewish Christians had the consolation that the fewness of the number of Jews who embraced Christ was not unforeseen of God.

Verse 28

28. For The apostle’s words are nearly a verbatim quotation from the Septuagint, and so quite different from the English translation.

Verse 29

29. Esaias said before That is, he said this (Isaiah 1:9) before, or earlier in time than (Romans 10:20-21) the above quoted. The present passage corroborates the doctrine of the former, that the fewness of faithful Jews accords with divine foresight.

Verse 30

30. What… say then A reiteration of the first query of Romans 9:14, introducing the final answer to the query of that verse.

Followed not after A metaphor taken, not as Lange suggests, from a race, but rather from a hunt. The Gentiles did not even pursue the game, and yet attained it; the Jews pursued, but, wilfully and wickedly, in the wrong direction, and lost it. Yet, in a sense, the individual Gentiles who attained did seek by faith, though historically the mass of Gentiles had not sought.

Faith By this very false pursuit and failure of the Jews the faith was brought before the acceptance of the Gentiles, who heretofore had followed not after righteousness. Thereby they became the elect Israel and the vessels of mercy.

Verses 30-33

6. So that the faith condition reverts back through the whole chapter, and underlies God’s whole system of election and rejection, whether of Jew or of Gentile , Romans 9:30-33 .

Paul explicitly furnishes now the KEY, the secret of the Divine preference of a special Israel in Israel, (6-13,) of a mercy to Moses and a hardening upon Pharaoh, (14-23,) and, by special inference, of the prophesied reservation of a gracious remnant of fallen Judaism over the main mass, (24-29.) The key runs its solution through both columns of character given at our introduction to notes on 6-13. The entire secret is the faith-condition. The Gentiles attained to righteousness BY FAITH, Romans 9:30. But Israel hath not attained it, because they sought it not by faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law. (Romans 9:31-32.) It is by ignoring this, the apostle’s own solution of the whole chapter, that the predestinarian interpretation maintains itself.

Verse 31

31. The law of righteousness Without the definite article, and meaning a law of righteousness which proved not to be the true law of righteousness, and so resulted in failure.

Verse 32

32. Wherefore? This wherefore really asks what was the solution of the election and rejection of Romans 9:6-19, and the answer furnishes the solution. Reprobation is not antecedent to but consequent upon want of faith.

Works of the law Works unenlivened by the spirit of faith and love, and performed as if the drudgery entitled the performers to heaven. Hence the heart was regenerate and the soul unsaved.

Stumbled An image of mistake and failure. Yet the apostle will avail himself of its gentler meaning to distinguish the failure from a total irrevocable fall, (Romans 11:11.)

That stumbling-stone That famous one described by the prophets.

Verse 33

33. Behold This verse is a free blending together (after the manner of the Jewish writers) of Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16, both of which passages were applied by the Jews to the Messiah. (See our note on Matthew 21:42, and Luke 2:34.)

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Romans 9". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/romans-9.html. 1874-1909.
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