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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Romans 9

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-33

Romans 9:1. I say the truth in Christ, I lie not. These forms of speech are equivalent to a solemn oath, and emanate from a heart deeply imbued with the sentiments of the Saviour, who often wept over his unhappy country. The holy apostle, having placed the church on a hill in the preseding chapter, turns his weeping eyes towards his kinsmen after the flesh, who were enraged against him, because he had denied them salvation by the works of the law, and had defended the gentiles as co-equal heirs of new- covenant blessings. On their behalf he prays, and in the fulness of his heart, that they might be saved, knowing that they might yet be grafted into the olive tree.

Romans 9:3. I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren. Like Moses, who prayed that his name might be blotted out, if Israel were destroyed, he was willing to bear the execration of the church, and to be accounted a vagabond on the earth, if his sufferings might but effectuate their conversion. He regarded them, though now his enemies, as a sacred nation, because of their high vocation; because they were favoured with the covenant, the lively oracles, and the throne of glory, from whose line the Messiah had descended, according to the promise. He regarded them as children of the fathers, the holy patriarchs, the most noble and distinguished of the human race, the morning stars of the ancient day.

Romans 9:4. Who are Israelites, and to whom belong by birth the eight subsequent prerogatives.

(1) Adoption. Thou shalt say to Pharaoh, Israel is “my son,” even my “firstborn.” Exodus 4:22. Ye are “the children” of the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 14:1. —

(2) The glory. I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat, from between the cherubim. Exodus 24:16; Exodus 25:22. —

(3) The covenants, often renewed and enlarged, for the new covenant was implied and included in the old. —

(4) The giving of the law in its moral glory, and ceremonial grandeur. What nation had God so nigh to them, and statutes so holy? Here the regal power and independence of the Israelites were comprised. —

(5) The service of God. λατρεια, cultus; all the worship of the tabernacle and the temple, equally binding on prophets, priests and people. —

(6) The promises, of the Messiah and his kingdom. The effusion of the Holy Spirit, Joel 2:28; the conversion of the gentiles, the blessing both of the old and the new covenant. Leviticus 26. Deuteronomy 28. Jeremiah 31 :2 Peter 1:4. These were given that we might be made partakers of the divine nature. —

(7) Whose are the fathers. Here is the nobility of the jews, descended from illustrious men, whose Seed was heir of the world. —

(8) The eighth and last blessing is the lineal descent of Christ, in the line of Abraham and of David.

Romans 9:5. Christ — who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. Christ, the Angel of the covenant, the Word and Wisdom of God, in the bosom of the Father before the world was, presided over the human race from the beginning. He was with Adam in paradise, with Noah in the ark, with the patriarchs in their pilgrimage, with Moses at the bush. He gave the Hebrews the law, and the λατρεια, or worship, and the promises. So the christian fathers have taught by common consent. He dwelt enthroned in the sanctuary, and finally was made flesh, and dwelt among us. St. Paul enumerates these privileges, of which Christ is the consummation, that the jews might be converted to the Lord. In all the gospels and epistles this foundation is laid, the rock of ages, while, on the contrary, the enemies of his godhead try to take it away. They cannot find any copy in which the text is wanting, they would therefore transpose the words, and read, “God, who is over all, be blessed for ever.” Against these enemies of the faith, Erasmus cites Origen, as adducing this text to prove the divinity of Christ. He also quotes the words of Basil, who affirms that it cannot be otherwise understood. To which I would add, Theophylact, who in his commentary on this place rebukes the Arians for their vain attempt.

Romans 9:6. They are not all Israel which are of Israel; the children of the promise are accounted for the seed: Romans 9:8. It was the sin of the jews to arrogate the highest notions of privileges from their patriarchal birth: “the temple of the Lord are we.” This distinction was a masterly stroke of Paul. The rabbins had taught in succession, that gross offenders should not enjoy life in the Messiah’s kingdom; that in hades there are two roads, the one for good men, and the other for the bad. Our Saviour makes the same distinction in Luke 9:60. “Let the dead bury their dead.” The Lord by the same wise and gracious sovereignty said to Rebekah when pregnant with twins,

Romans 9:12. The elder shall serve the younger. Such was the pleasure of God, irrespective of any moral excellence in either of the twins, Jacob and Esau, who at the time of the promise were unborn. Jacob he loved, and Esau he hated, according to the Hebrew adage, that the eldest son was hated when superseded in his father’s estate. The Lord did the same in the case of Reuben, by giving the sceptre to Judah. The same in Jesse’s house, by anointing David, the youngest of his eight sons. What then has this to do with the notion of men’s personal and eternal election, or reprobation to life and death? The Lord is good to all, though he does what he pleases among the kingdoms of the world.

Romans 9:14. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? In giving the staff to Jacob without merit, or in denying it to Esau without demerit, was there any injustice? God forbid. He does the same in the church which he does in the state. When Moses had obtained life for the people, after worshipping the calf; when he had prevailed with God to revoke his word of sending his angel; and when he added, “My presence shall go with thee,” Moses, encouraged by these double disclosures of grace and mercy, ventured to ask what no mortal had asked before. “I beseech thee, show me thy glory.” And the Lord said, “I will make my goodness to pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” Exodus 33:19. He added the like gracious words on the sedition of Miriam and Aaron. Is there a prophet among you? To him will I make myself known in a vision, and will speak to him in a dream. But my servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all my house: with him will I speak mouth to mouth. Numbers 12:6. Certainly this peculiar grace conferred on Moses did not obstruct the salvation of other prophets. Why then should the jews feel aggrieved, that the converted gentiles should receive the grace promised by a succession of prophets, before they had done either good or evil? The next example, the case of Pharaoh, demonstrates that his justice is administered on the same principle of equity on which grace is conferred. In all these procedures, oh jews, I boldly ask, is there unrighteousness with God?

Romans 9:17. Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up. Exodus 9:16. ה עמדתיךְhe-êmadtica. Stare te feci, have I made thee to stand, to subsist, and kept thee alive. The LXX, διετηρηθης, thou art preserved from the pestilence and destruction. Pharaoh was often admonished of God that he should let the Hebrews go, and while the scourge was heavy on the land he yielded for the time; but as soon as the hail and thunder ceased, he again hardened his heart. He sinned on till the period of patience was past.

Therefore there is no unrighteousness with God. When Pharaoh, after six judgments, had hardened his own heart, and when he had despised the special admonitions of Moses, Exodus 8:29, he was evidently abandoned to a reprobate mind. God bade him fill up his measure, that he might visit the blood of the Hebrews on him, and on his cruel court.

But Pharaoh’s case, though aptly named here, is not the main case in the apostle’s eye. The real case was the jewish nation, who after hardening their hearts against the doctrine and miracles of Christ, had dreadfully destroyed the christians, and still persisted in impenitency and unbelief. Therefore their ruin is laid on their own heads. Acts 28:25. In the destruction of Pharaoh and his host he warned all princes from repeating the like crimes, and he dispersed the jews by such tremendous judgments, as to caution future ages against resisting the goodness of God, which would lead them to repentance. Is there then any unrighteousness with God in punishing the jews, and in conferring evangelical grace on the gentiles?

Romans 9:18. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. The Judge of all the earth does right. He has reasons for showing mercy to the contrite, and for sending the finally impenitent to perdition, though he does not always condescend to assign them. God saw the affliction of his people, and after much longsuffering, he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, not by prompting him to oppression and murder, but as the sun hardens the clay, to use the words of the chaste Theophylact, whereas grace softens the hearts of others under paternal correction.

Romans 9:19. Thou wilt say then, why doth he yet find fault, for who hath resisted his will? Had the three Lambeth articles, given in chap. 8., been true, that God has reprobated a world of men to eternal perdition, “merely for his own good pleasure,” then this objection had been what men ever did and ever will make: the wicked might say, ‘Why does he find fault; we live as we were made.’ This however is wide of the apostle’s aim; he abhorred the idea of such a dreadful fate, and disputed against stoicism at Athens. Acts 17:18. The spirit of his reply is astonishment, that thou, oh man, a worm of the dust, shouldst dispute the equity of a God, a father full of longsuffering even to the vessels of wrath. He did not leave Pharaoh to the hardness of his heart, till after the failure of the sixth judgment; and under the strokes, like many other Pharaohs, he often solicited the prayers of Moses, and promised the people manumission. Exodus 8:8; Exodus 9:27-28. What then could the Lord do with him, but send him to his own place? Man must not arraign his Maker, but wait till he shall demonstrate his equity by the completion of his plans.

Romans 9:20. Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? Paul does not here arraign the supreme Being for doing all his pleasure; but he denies that God can do any thing wrong. In a natural view we are all but worms of the dust, and like the plastic clay; and in a moral view we are all sinners. Who then will dare to arraign his Maker in putting down the Egyptians, and raising up the Hebrews to national glory? Is he unjust in raising the house of Eli, and then causing it to decline? St. Paul was himself a prophet, and a prophet of superior discernment; he foresaw all that would happen to the jews in the course of ten or twelve years, and the glory that would follow on the christian church. He therefore persists in vindicating providence in those awful visitations on the jews, and of what he calls the riches of his glory or righteousness manifested towards the gentiles.

Romans 9:21. Hath not the potter power over the clay? In a great house there are vessels of gold and silver, of wood, earth, and stone; some to honour and stone to dishonour, 2 Timothy 2:20, ad usum vilem et abjectum, to a low and abject use. The potter makes all his vases, the elegant and the mean, for real utility; and the God of order does not shiver the vessels of wrath with his rod of iron, though they be high in power like the king of Egypt, till after they have fitted themselves for destruction. Why then deny the sovereign potter the right of making wise distinctions between the plebeian and the prince, and of judging each with equity? What wrong have the jews sustained by the grace conferred on the gentiles?

Romans 9:23-24. That he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy — even on us. We have here the disclosure of St. Paul’s argument, that the rejection of the gospel by the jews opened an early way for the gentiles to enjoy the equal privileges of the covenant. “In thy Seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed;” yea, blessed with the shekinah, or glory to dwell with them, even as Hosea and all the prophets had foretold. Where then was there unrighteousness with God?

Romans 9:25. He saith also in Hosea, I will call them my people which were not my people. The nations living in idolatry, the servants of Satan, were not his people. God said to Moses, after the worship of the calf, “THY people whom THOU broughtest out of Egypt.” A luminous prophecy, that the gentiles should become the new Israelites, or peculiar people of God. Hence Peter calls the saints of Roman Asia, (as in the map of Paul’s travels) “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, to show forth the praises of Him who had called them out of darkness into marvellous light.”

Romans 9:28. He will finish his work: λογον, his word, which he hath spoken, and cut it short in righteousness. He will call in the gentiles to be one with the remnant of the Hebrew converts, and will quickly send the Roman armies to inflict his wrath on that obdurate nation. Such is the sense of the Mons testament. Car Dieu dans sa justice consumera et retranchera son peuple. Le Seigneur fera un grand retranchement sur la terre.

Romans 9:31-32. But Israel — hath not attained to the law of righteousness — because they sought it not by faith. They stumbled at the stumbling stone; and because the Lord called, and stretched out his hands all the day long to a gainsaying people, he would in the day of visitation laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear cometh. Then the departure of the glory from Israel to the gentile church, was not the effect of eternal reprobation for “his mere pleasure,” but for their unbelief. Thus all the prophets glorify God, and lay the whole blame, with many tears, on their infidel country. Their case was deplorable, but not finally so, as the sequel will prove.

REFLECTIONS.

The long continued disputes about the doctrines of grace, as well in Britain as in Holland, have occasioned much distress in the church. The idea of personal and eternal election to life, or reprobation to death, will often pierce the conscious mind: “Am I one of the Lord’s chosen, or am I passed by?” Happy was the primitive church in knowing nothing of these disputations. The gentile christians of Rome read St. Paul with delight, as the able advocate of their covenant rights against the arrogant assumptions of the jews. Not a thought entered their mind that St. Paul had the least design of denying salvation to any human creature. Oh no: the depths of deity belong to the deity alone; nor man nor angel can read the sealed book in the Father’s right hand.

In the fourth age St. Augustine defended the doctrines of grace against the Pelagians. His chief axiom was, “Lord, give the power, and command what thou wilt.” He in many places maintained an elect people, but also that all might be saved: his works abound with proofs of this sort. But Augustine was a very verbose and tedious writer, fully indicating an excess of imagination running beyond the reins of judgment. Ostervald, on the exercise of the ministry, says, St. Augustin ne fait rien qui vaille, surtout sur les Pseames; il se jette toujour dans des allegories fade. “Augustine composes nothing of merit, especially on the Psalms, where he always loses himself in tedious allegories.” Ed. Amsterdam, 1737, p. 25.

Towards the close of the fifth century, the council held in Chalons, a city of France, adjacent to Swisserland, condemned the opinions of those who had made a wrong use of Augustine’s doctrines of grace. Notwithstanding, those doctrines of personal and eternal election and reprobation obtained the ascendancy, not only in the cantons of the Swiss, but in adjacent places. John Gauden, who wrote the history of the Swiss churches, produces extracts from the sermons of their barbes of the eleventh and twelfth century, which demonstrate that those doctrines were then taught.

Gotescalcus of Rheims, a city adjacent to Swisserland, as Du Pin states at large in his ecclesiastical history of the ninth century, was degraded from his priesthood and beaten with rods, for preaching those peculiar tenets. Du Pin further states that his bishop made a collection of passages out of the fathers, to prove that predestination had never been taken in an ill sense before. — Gauther in Germany, and our late bishop Tomline, have done the same.

In Britain, the doctrines of absolute predestination have been favoured by propitious circumstances. When our divines fled from Mary’s fires, they found an asylum in Swisserland, and largely imported the books and the opinions of their benefactors. Dr. William Perkins also, in Oxford, was long a zealous preacher of those high doctrines, as the good Mr. Simeon has long been in Cambridge. Yet I am bound to speak the whole truth, that our thirty first article, and consecration prayer at the communion, which extend the atonement to the whole world, are in perfect unison with the Greek, the Latin, and the Lutheran churches. Let us then, if we disagree, improve the doctrines in these chapters so as to be wholly and without blame before the Saviour in love.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 9:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/romans-9.html. 1835.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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