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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 11

 

 

Verse 1

1. The Palliation amid Aggravation of Israel’s Present Condition, Romans 11:1-10.

1. Cast away—Wholly and irrecoverably? Not wholly, for there is an accepted minority. Not irrecoverably, for an entire future generation will be restored to Divine favour. Israel is, therefore, prospectively, as well as in the past, “his people.”

I—A very signal I. The stern proclaimer of Israel’s downfall is a living proof that the downfall is not absolute. The apostle’s own person is pledge of God’s continued mercy to Israel; and proof that it is not his mercy, but their faith, that has failed.

An Israelite—Not by proselytism, but by pure blood of Abraham; not of dubious relationship, but duly authenticated as to tribe; that tribe not born of Leah, or a bonds-woman, but of beloved Rachel—the tribe which with Judah formed the substantial stock of the Israel of Paul’s age.


Verse 2

2. Yet what would have been the condition of the human race if continued without the Redeemer is a very theoretical question. It would apparently have been in a state of spiritual death, without power of self-recovery, which, if perpetuated by a natural immortality, would have become a necessary, eternal, living death. The whole, being imposed despotically upon the race, would have been irreconcilable with the benevolence and justice of God; and it is for this very reason that we may hold that the race would not have been thus perpetuated. The condemnation (Romans 5:18) of the race, theoretically viewed, would have consisted in the absence of the Divine Spirit, the want of all those moral qualifications which Divine Holiness could approve, and the natural impossibility of any true happiness or blessedness. But the whole, being necessitated, could not amount to a real desert of judicial penalty from a just God.


Verse 3

3. Again, we may contemplate the race as a body of living men, under Christ, but unregenerate. Their condemnation, then, arises from their native pravity responsibly sanctioned by their own free act, and their rejection of Christ and holiness. (Note on John 3:19.) Men, then, are damned by nature, damned by justice, and even “damned by grace.” It is in this view of men that Paul calls them “by nature children of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3.)


Verse 4

4. Finally, what is the condition of the infant at birth, or rather at the first instant of personal existence, under the headship of Christ.

On this point we may note:

1. As descended from Adam, separated from the tree of life, he inherits Adam’s mental and bodily nature, and is thus (as described in our notes on Romans 5:12) a sinner, as being sure, under a full probation, to sin; and a mortal as being sure in the conditions to suffer and die. Thus far he is in the position of condemnation, yet never liable, before actual apostasy, to damnation.

2. Under Christ he is (as said by Dr. Fisk as quoted on Romans 5:18) in a position of non-condemnation or justification unto life; he is endowed even in infancy with the blessed spirit, (Luke 1:15; Luke 1:44; he possesses, as Watson says, “a seed of life;” and, living or dying, is an heir of heaven.

3. Our seventeenth Article of Faith pronounces him entitled to receive baptism as the “sign of regeneration”—baptism being the “outward sign of an inward grace.” (Note Luke 1:59.) He is thus held a virtual believer. He is entitled to all the privileges of a believer so fast as he shows himself, in time, fitted and desirous to take upon himself the responsibilities of a believer.

4. Hence it is essentially the doctrine of our best writers, in beautiful harmony with Arminian theology, that all actual sinners are actual apostates from a state of grace. Thus Dr. Fisk says that “sin is not imputed” until their “making their depravity the object of their choice.”

Fletcher (who explicitly teaches infant regeneration) says they “have sinned away the justification of infants.” And Wesley (who also taught the regeneration of baptized infants, and implied that of all others) says, “Children who are baptized, dying before they commit actual sin, are saved;” so that by actual sin they fall from a state of grace.

Have mercy upon all—God never (as predestination affirms) concluded all under eternal damnation, or compulsory desert of hell, in order that he might, of his own “mere good pleasure,” from pure “divine sovereignty,” pick out a part and leave the rest to their awful, unavoidable fate. Nor does it avail to tell us that these so left deserve nothing at the hand of God. Every creature deserves at least justice at the hand of God. (Note on Romans 11:35.)

The divine idea is mercy upon all, by mercy being placed within the power of all through Christ; or, as the parallel passage reads, “that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”


Verse 5

5. A remnant—Parallel to the seven thousand of the fallen Israel of old is the Christian Church of Paul’s day. They are denounced as renegades by the Jewish people; but Paul claims them as the pure Israel in the chosen Abrahamic line.

Election of grace—Just as Abraham is claimed from the Old Testament to have been justified and called on account of faith, and not by works, so the faithful seven thousand are claimed on account of their persevering faith in Jehovah in the midst of an apostasy to Baal.


Verse 6

6. If by grace… no more of works—Grace and works, the apostle now affirms, are a contradiction. Our faith is as free as our works, and our works as free as our will, that will possessing the full power in the given case to choose or refuse. (See sup. note to chap. 3.) If it be of compensative works, then it is no more gratuity or grace. Otherwise work or compensation is no more compensation or work. Each excludes the other.


Verse 7

7. What is the summary conclusion then?

The election—The elected on the faith condition. (See note on Romans 9:30-33.)


Verse 8

8. God hath given them—Because they would have it from him; just as God gives stupor and death to the man who swallows a large dose of laudanum. But he does this purely as the God of nature, carrying out the established laws of cause and effect. So upon the man who swallows moral opiates in order to a false repose, and who silences the voice of truth that he may not be awakened, God, sustaining the laws of cause and effect, will bestow the spirit of slumber. (See note on Acts 28:26.)


Verse 9

9. David saith—Psalms 6:23. Quote not verbally, but freely.

Table— Which should be a place of hospitable trust.

Stumblingblock—Note on Matthew 18:7.

Recompense—A retribution. For all these disastrous results are the retributive, as well as the natural, results of their own wilful wickedness. This law of retribution is expressed in the form of a prayer, as showing that inspiration fully endorses the result and demands its completion. (Revelation 18:6.)


Verse 10

10. Eyes be darkened—(See note on Romans 9:18.)

Bow… back—An image of fallen condition.


Verse 11

2. Resultant Benefits of Israel’s Fall to GentilesGlorious yet Conditional, Romans 11:11-22.

11. Stumbled… fall—Palliating the apostasy of the Jews, the apostle distinguishes between a mere stumble and a fall. The former indicates recoverability, the latter finality of failure.

Provoke… jealousy—Arouse them by the rich display of mercy through the Gospel to an emulation for seeking like blessings. Our Saviour confined his ministry to the Jews; for reason see note on Matthew 10. The apostles first preached to Jews. Paul first preached to Jews, and it was not until by them rejected that he said, “Since ye count yourselves unworthy of eternal life we go to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46.) And so at the Rome to which this epistle is written he said to the rejecting Jews, “The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear it.” (See Acts 28:28.) Thus did the fall of the Jews become the riches of the Gentiles.


Verse 12

12. Diminishing… fulness—Terms of contrast that serve to explain each other. Primarily they signify amount or number, and designate the small number of the Jews by conversion in the kingdom of God. They are the remnant of Romans 11:5. This is the best estate or aspect of modern Israel. It is the smallness instead of its largeness that first calls in the Gentiles. But their fulness of number, including their fulness of Gospel power in the latter day, will prove to be the riches of the Gentiles much more abundantly than their present scant.


Verse 13

13. I speak—As if he had both classes in the Roman Church within his eye and voice. Yet he truly spake to both races in the then future centuries.

Magnify—Hold it of high consequence by a bold exertion of its powers.


Verse 14

14. Provoke to emulation—(See note on Romans 11:11.)


Verse 15

15. Life from the dead—Or, rather, life from dead, or, plural, deads. (See note on Luke 20:35.) The recovery of the Jews from the apostasy will be as a resurrection. It is a very palpable violation of rational exegesis, by Alford and others, to make the apostle say that the reconversion of the Jews would be an actual bodily resurrection. Their conversion must really be the reversal of their apostasy. As the former was a fall of their souls from grace by unbelief, so the latter must be a recovery of their souls to grace by faith. Nor is there any proof from Scripture that the conversion of the Jews will be forthwith followed by the resurrection.


Verse 16

16. Firstfruit—The first product of the autumn of any kind offered to God was called firstfruit. Here, as the word lump indicates, it means the first dough for baking. In Numbers 15:20, the Israelites were commanded to offer a cake of their first dough for a heave offering. This ceremony indicated their gratitude to God for his gift of bread. And this first dough so offered was representative of the whole; upon the whole dough was now a consecration by which it could be gratefully and piously eaten, and in that sense holy. Firstfruit and whole lump were all of a piece.

Lump—The entire mass of dough for baking. In the apostle’s figure the Jews were to their first ancestors what the lump was to the first dough, sacredly set apart.

Root and branches are of the same nature. The root is the holy ancestry of the Jews; as branches they remain consecrated. And upon that changeless consecration the apostle bases the assurance of the restoration of the later generations.


Verses 16-24

16-24. The image of the olive tree—It is from its beauty and richness that the apostle selects the olive tree as an emblem of the Church of God. Some of the branches (the apostate Jews) are broken off, and from a wild tree new branches (the believing Gentiles) are grafted into the parent trunk.

But, amid their bloom and flourish, let the new grafts beware of forgetting their parasite position and proudly exulting over the severed branches. The latter were cut off for unbelief, the former may be for their pride—and thus is furnished a striking picture of God’s impartial dealing. How probable that the native branches will yet resume their place!


Verse 17

17. Wild… grafted in—The Church of all ages is a cultured olive tree, and Gentilism is a wild olive tree. Contrary to custom, at least western custom, the inferior graft is inserted into the superior trunk. Columella and Propertius are quoted, however, in support of the fact that the wild olive graft in the cultured tree gave freshness and vigour to its growth. This thought, however, forms no part of the apostle’s illustration.


Verse 18

18. Against the branches—Yet Christendom has boasted terribly against the branches! With such a warning from this Jewish apostle of the Gentiles in behalf of his kinsmen according to the flesh, how wonderful it is that the Christian ages have been so cruel and bloody to the Jew. This has been one of our crimes, and doubtless it has brought its penalties.


Verse 20

20. Unbelief… faith—These two words, expressing the conditions, negative and positive, in regard to salvation, explain why either the Jew or Gentile is called.


Verse 21

21. Natural branches—Who were born into the visible Church of God.

Thee—Who art called in from Gentile and heathen lineage.


Verse 22

22. Goodness… severity—These are the two alternatives from God, conditioned on the continue and the fall in man. To add to this that God has infallibly secured either one or the other, is to mar the apostle’s doctrine, destroy the freedom of man, and the moral government of God.


Verse 23

23. Abide… able—The exertion of God’s ability to graft them again into the true Church depends upon their not abiding in unbelief. The future restoration of the Jews is, therefore, intrinsically contingent. It is not absolutely secured by God, but being foreknown by God as future is recognized in his plan of his own divine conduct.


Verse 25

3. The full conversion of the Gentiles will result in the full Recovery of the Jews, Romans 11:25-32.

25. Mystery—A mystery of the divine counsel; a fact concealed until this time of revelation.

Conceits—Puffed up with your superiority to the fallen Jew.

In part—To a part of Israel.

HappenedTaken place, but not in the sense of accident.

Fulness of the Gentiles—We have little doubt that Paul’s mind half unconsciously here recurs to our Lord’s words in Luke 21:24 : “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the fulness of the Gentiles be gathered in.” (See our note on that passage.) By the word fulness we understand not necessarily absolutely all the Gentiles, but such a plenitude, foreseen by God, as will, as it were, drown out the infidelity of the Jews; and then the conversion of the Jews will reflow to drown out the unbelief of the Gentiles. Thereby a Christianity more or less pure and perfect may fill the earth.


Verse 26

26. All Israel—The apostle is speaking of the Israel existing at the time of the blessed plenitude of the Gentiles.

Saved—With a present and prospective salvation.

Written—Paul evidently begins in his quotation with Isaiah 59:20, but the rest of his quotation is a blending of different passages as from a mingled memory. From Zion is to Zion in the Hebrew. But the various clauses all taken together suit and authorize his purpose. A deliverer both to Zion and from Zion is to be the Saviour of Jacob.


Verse 28

28. Regarding the Gospel, they are its enemies; yet it is for your sakes, as its offer thereby has come to you. Had the Jew accepted the gospel it would have come to the Gentile from the Jew. But this was postponed, and the entire kingdom of God put back to the latter day, when Jew, converted by Gentile, shall turn and convert Gentile.

The election—The election of the Abrahamic line treated in Romans 9:6-14. This election, as has been shown, was conditioned on faith.

Fathers’ sakes—The line, in the wonderful providence of God, is even to the present day maintained in its separateness, reserved to the day of faith and salvation.


Verse 29

29. Without repentance—On the part, or in the mind, of God. As God foresees the end of all possible courses from the beginning, so he prepares his own plan of conduct as to meet any result. (Introduc. note chap. 9.) He is, therefore, under no liability to retract. Of his gift of mercy to Abraham, and his calling, he will never repent.


Verse 32

32. Concluded them all in unbeliefUnbelief, a state of entire disobedience.

Concluded—Inasmuch as they first so conclude themselves. The parallel passage in Galatians 3:22, reads: “But the Scripture hath concluded all (things, neuter gender) under sin that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” And the parallel thought is in Romans 5:18. The words suggest the following points, 1. The sentence of death resting personally upon Adam, but for the interposed Redeemer, would have closed his life, and foreclosed posterity. (Note on John 14:19.)


Verse 33

4. The Doxology closing the Argument.

33. Riches—Tholuck and others, including Alford, hold riches, wisdom, and knowledge to be three coordinates, dependent upon depth. It would then read, “O the depth of the riches, and wisdom, and knowledge of God!” Riches would then imply affluence of goodness and blessing; as rich in Romans 10:12, and riches, Philippians 4:19. That this is the true sense is probable from the parallelisms (well shown by Dr. Forbes) which follow. (See our Introduction to Romans.)

This passage is at once a sublime, rapturous apostrophe, and a rich commentary by the apostle on his whole previous argument. But it is plain that Paul is not a Calvinistic commentator. When Calvin surveyed his own scheme his shuddering comment was, “A horrible decree, I confess!” When Paul surveys this his own grand argument he exultantly exclaims, “O the depth of God’s bounty and wisdom!”

Riches—Both from its own force and from the parallel passages, to be taken as meaning God’s infinite resources for good to his creatures. His is a deep, yea, a bottomless treasury, pouring forth its streams of perpetual bounty. His wisdom is absolute skill in planning, as his knowledge is absolute accuracy in perceiving. As God’s knowledge foresees and comprehends all the possibilities of all possible things and courses, so his wisdom devises from himself the best course of all possible courses; and from the riches of his power and goodness he carries that course into perfect and glorious execution.

Judgments—Not so much his judicial is all his providential decisions as his ways are his modes of executing them.


Verse 35

35. Given… recompensed. This verse, in fact, forms the key-note to the apostle’s whole doctrine of the irreconcilability of grace and works. Our works cannot recompense God; hence they cannot purchase salvation; hence salvation must be by grace, that is, gratuity. Yet when it is said “we cannot deserve anything from God,” we must be careful not to deny that finite created beings are entitled to just dealing from their Creator. (See note on Romans 11:32.)


Verse 36

36. In the triad of this verse we recognise a dim reference to the distinctive attributes of the three persons of the Trinity.

Of him—Rather, from him, as primitive source.

Through him—As universal medium and agent.

To him—As End, to which all things redound. This third, however, would seem to refer to the Spirit only as finale deity after the economy of salvation closes. The triad in Ephesians 4:6, is more perfectly trinitarian, “Above all, through all, and in you all.” Alford very accurately says, “Though Paul has never definitively expressed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as a definite formula, yet he was conscious of it as a living reality.” Even the triad (Romans 11:33) of riches, wisdom, knowledge—source, medium, and result—is not without its trinitarian look. And to this mystic Trine is ascribed glory eternal under the unquestionable sense of a divine attribute. What a dim yet decisive adumbration of the three-one God!

The entire First Part or Argument (see “Plan”) is now closed. The very shape of the Epistle presents in type the great fact that our obligation to the duties of Life springs as a result from the doctrines of Christianity. Hence we title this Second Part:

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Romans 11:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/romans-11.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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