<450901> ROMANS 9:1-33 THROUGH the whole of the doctrinal part of this Epistle, Paul has an eye to the state and character of the Jewish nation, and the aspect which the Gospel bears towards them. In the preceding chapters, he had exhibited that righteousness which God has provided for men, all of whom are entirely divested of any righteousness of their own, ‘none being righteous, no, not one.’ He had discoursed largely on the justification and sanctification of believers, and now he proceeds to treat particularly of the doctrine of predestination, and to exhibit the sovereignty of God in His dealings both towards Jews and Gentiles. The way in which, in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters, he so particularly adverts to the present state and future destination of the Jews, in connection with what regards the Gentiles, furnishes the most ample opportunity for the illustration of this highly important subject.
In the eighth chapter, the Apostle had declared the glorious and exalted privileges of the people of God. But it was impossible for one so ardently attached to his own nation, and so zealously concerned for the welfare of his countrymen, not to be touched with the melancholy contrast which naturally arose to his mind, as he turned from these lofty and cheering contemplations to consider the deplorable state of apostate Israel. If there was a people upon earth to whom, more than to another, the blessings of the Gospel belonged as a birthright, it was assuredly to the descendants, according to the flesh, of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. But they had willfully rebelled against their God; they had rejected the Messiah, and consequently forfeited the rights and immunities secured to their forefathers by covenant. Their condition was therefore itself well calculated to awaken the sympathies of Paul; while at the same time it was necessary to vindicate the faithfulness of God, and to prove that the rejection of the Jews was by no means opposed to the absolute security of God’s elect, on which he had been so largely expatiating. This subject is therefore discussed in the three following chapters; and as it is one of the greatest importance, so also it is introduced in a manner the most appropriate and the most affecting.
Scarcely has his sublime conclusion to the eighth chapter terminated, when, at the beginning of the ninth, the triumphant language of victory is exchanged by the Apostle for the voice of commiseration, in which he bewails the apostasy of his countrymen. He does not dwell so much upon the magnitude of their guilt, as he does upon the memory of their ancestral glory and ancient privileges. He strongly affirms the ardor of his affection for them as his brethren, and feelingly deplores the misery of their rejected condition. Finally, he turns from this scene of ruin and degradation, to declare that their apostasy, though general, was not universal, and to predict the dawn of a brighter day, which shall yet make manifest the truth and faithfulness of their covenant God, whose purposes concerning Israel had evidently alike included their present rejection and future restoration.
The rejection of Israel, Paul proves to have been from the earliest periods of their history prefigured by God’s dealing towards them as a nation. For, after declaring that ‘they are not all Israel which are of Israel,’ he adduces various and conclusive testimonies in confirmation of this truth, and thus forcibly illustrates the conduct of God towards the natural descendants of Abraham. In following this course of argument, he draws a solemn and most impressive picture of the sovereignty of God in the general administration of His government, and asserts the distinction which God makes between vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy, in order ‘that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.’ He further affirms the calling of a portion both of Jews and Gentiles, with whom in combination he classes himself as one of those ‘called of God,’ concerning whom he had, in the preceding chapter, so largely discoursed. The introduction of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, as well as of a remnant or portion of the Jews, being thus clearly intimated, he shows that both of these events had been expressly foretold by the Prophets, who had also affirmed that except the Lord of Sabbath had left them a seed, the national ruin of Israel would have been as complete as that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Apostle had thus two great objects in view. In the first place, he illustrates the sovereignty of God as exhibited in the infallible accomplishment of the Divine purposes predicted by the Prophets, which led to the national rejection of the Jews, with the exception of a remnant who were saved by grace. In the second place, he proves that the poses of God were equally fulfilled in bringing in the Gentiles; and this he does in such a way as to cut off, on their part, all pretensions to everything like merit, desert, or worthiness, since, without seeking for it, they attained to the righteousness which is of faith.
Having established these two important truths with great force and clearness, Paul accounts for the fact of the Jews having stumbled at and rejected the Messiah. He shows that the Messiah had been characterized by the Prophets as ‘that stumbling stone’ which God had laid in Zion; and that the Jews stumbled in consequence of their ignorance of the righteousness which God had provided in the fulfillment of His violated law, and of their vain attempt to establish a righteousness of their own.
His discussion of this topic is thus most appropriately introduced. It is also in the last degree important, as furnishing additional confirmation of the sovereignty of God, which is here exhibited in the certainty of the accomplishment of His purposes; while it is testified how well merited was that punishment of rejecting and casting off the great body of the Jews. Paul sums up the whole, by appealing, at the end of the tenth chapter, to the testimonies of Moses and Isaiah, in confirmation of what he had advanced. But still, as the apostasy was so general, it might be concluded that God had for ever cast off the Jewish nation, and had thus made void the promises made to the fathers. This error he once more encounters and largely confutes in the eleventh chapter, where he shows most conclusively that, in whatever form it presents itself, it cannot abide the test of truth. So far is this from being the case, that, in the infallible dispensations of God, a period will arrive when the Redeemer shall come out of Zion, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob; when the whole of Israel shall, as one people, be brought within the bond of that new covenant established with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, of the blessings of which they shall all partake. The three following chapters thus hold a very distinguished place in this most instructive Epistle, and exhibit in a manner the most comprehensive, as well as conspicuous and edifying, the sovereignty of God in the government of the world, and the character of His dealings towards men in the whole of the Divine administration.
As the nation of Israel were types of the true Israel, and as their rejection might seem, as has been observed, to militate against the security of the people of God, it was necessary in this ninth chapter to enter fully upon the subject. It was, however, one sure to be highly offensive to the Jews; and therefore Paul introduces it in a manner calculated, as far as possible, to allay their prejudices against him, while at the same time he does not in this matter shun to declare the whole counsel of God, for the instruction of those to whom he wrote.
After expressing the grief with which he contemplated his countrymen, without specifying its cause, he enumerates their distinguished privileges as a nation. He then adverts to their being rejected of God, though not directly mentioning it; and begins with observing that it could not be said that among them the word of God had taken none effect. God had promised to be a God to Abraham and to his seed; and although the greater part of Israel were now cast off, that promise had not failed. When God said to Abraham, ‘In Isaac shall thy seed be called,’ He intimated that the promise did not refer to all his children, but to a select number. Isaac was given to Abraham by the special promise of Jehovah; and further, in the case of Rebecca, one of her children was a child of promise, the other was not, and this was intimated before they were born. In order to silence all objections against this proceeding, as if the Almighty could be charged with injustice, Paul at once appeals to the sovereignty of God, who disposes of His creatures as to Him seems good. Especially he refers to what God had said to Moses, as recorded in the Scriptures, when He made all His goodness to pass before him, that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, — thus intimating that His favors were His own, and that in bestowing or withholding them there was no room for injustice. Against this view of God’s sovereignty, the pride of man, until subdued by grace, rises with rebellious violence; but such is its importance — such its tendency to abase the sinner and exalt the Savior — that Paul dwells on it in both its aspects, not only as exhibited in the exercise of mercy on whom He will, but also in hardening whom He will. In acting both in the one way and the other, he declares that God contemplates His own glory. This leads the Apostle immediately to the election of those whom God had prepared to be vessels of mercy, both from among the Jews and the Gentiles. These in reality were the only children of promise of whom Isaac was a type, Galatians 4:28. On the other hand, the rejection of the great body of Israel, so far from being contrary to the Divine purpose, had been distinctly predicted by their own Prophets. He closes the chapter by showing that, while this rejection had taken place according to the counsel of God, its immediate occasion was the culpable ignorance and prejudice of the Jews themselves in seeking acceptance with God by their own righteousness, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God brought in by the Messiah.
The manner in which Paul has treated the subject of this chapter, furnishes an opportunity of illustrating the doctrine of election to eternal life, to which, in the one preceding, he had traced up, as to their origin, all the privileges of believers in Christ. It likewise gives occasion to exhibit the sovereignty of God as all along displayed respecting the nation of Israel In this manner the astonishing fact is at the same time accounted for, that so great a portion of the Jews had rejected the promised Messiah, while a remnant among them at that time, as in every preceding age, acknowledged Him as their Lord. Mr. Stuart says that ‘with the eighth chapter concludes what may appropriately be termed the doctrine part of our Epistle.’ But if the sovereignty of God be a doctrine of Divine revelation, this assertion is evidently erroneous. Without the development of this important doctrine, which accounts for the fact of the election of some, and the rejection of others, the Epistle would not be complete.
Ver. 1. — I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost.
I say the truth. — The Jews regarded the Apostle Paul as their most determined enemy. What, therefore, he was about to declare concerning his great sorrow on account of the present state of his countrymen, would not easily procure from them credit. Yet it was a truth which he could affirm without hypocrisy, and with the greatest sincerity. In Christ. — Paul was speaking as one united to, and belonging to, Christ — acting as in His service. This is a most solemn asseveration, and implies that what he was affirming was as true as if Christ Himself had spoken it. A reference to Christ would have no weight with the Jews. It appears, therefore, that the Apostle adopted this solemn language chiefly with a view of impressing those whom he addresses with a conviction of his sincerity, and also to prove that what he was about to say respecting the rejection of the Jewish nation did not arise, as might be supposed, from any prejudice or dislike to his countrymen. I lie not. — this is a repetition, but not properly tautology. In certain situations an assertion may be frequently in substance repeated, as indicating the earnestness of the speaker. The Apostle dwells on the statement, and is not willing to leave it without producing the effect. My conscience also bearing me witness. — For the sincerity of his love for the Jewish nation, the Apostle appeals to his conscience. His countrymen and others might deem him their enemy: they might consider all his conduct towards them as influenced by hatred; but he had the testimony of his conscience to the contrary. In the holy Ghost. — He not only had the testimony of his conscience, but what precluded the possibility of his deceiving, he spoke in the Holy Ghost — he spoke by inspiration.
Ver. 3. – (for I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ) for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Many interpretations have been given of this passage. Calvin supposes that Paul, actually in ‘a state of ecstasy,’ wished himself condemned in the place of his countrymen. ‘The additional sentence,’ he says, ‘proves the Apostle to be speaking not of temporal, but eternal death; and when he says from Christ, an allusion is made to the Greek word anathema, which means a separation from anything. Does not separation from Christ mean, being excluded from all hopes of salvation?’ Such a thing is impossible, and would be highly improper. This would do more than fulfill the demands of the law, — it would utterly go beyond the law, and would therefore be sinful; for all our affections ought to be regulated by the law of God. Some understand it of excommunication. But the Apostle could not be excommunicated by Christ, except for a cause which would exclude him from heaven, as well as from the church on earth. He could not be excommunicated without being guilty of some sin that manifested him to be an unbeliever. It is not possible that one speaking in the Holy Ghost could wish to be in such a state. Paul’s affection for his countrymen is here indeed expressed in very strong terms, but the meaning often ascribed to it is not for a moment to be admitted. That any one should desire to be eternally separated from Christ, and consequently punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, is impossible. The law commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves, but not more than ourselves, which would be the case, if to promote his temporal or spiritual benefit we desired to be eternally miserable. It should also be recollected, that it is not only everlasting misery, but desperate and final enmity against God, that is comprised in Paul’s wish as it is generally understood.
It represents him as loving the creature more than the Creator. But who could ever imagine that the desire of being eternally wicked, and of indulging everlasting hatred to God, could proceed from love to Christ, and be a proper manner of expressing zeal for His glory? It would be strange indeed if Paul, who had just been affirming, in a tone so triumphant, the impossibility of the combined efforts of creation to separate him from the love of Christ, should, the moment after, solemnly desire that this separation should take place, for the sake of any creature, however beloved.
To understand the meaning of this passage, there are three observations to which it is of importance to attend. In the first place, it is the past, and not the present tense, which is employed in the original. What is rendered ‘I could wish,’ should be read in the past tense, ‘I was wishing, or did wish,’ referring to the Apostle’s state before his conversion. The second observation is, that the verb which in our version is translated ‘wish,’ would have been more correctly rendered in this place boast; ‘for I myself boasted, or made it my boast, to be separated from Christ.’ For this translation, which makes the Apostle’s meaning far more explicit, there is the most unquestionable authority. The third observation is, that the first part of the 3rd verse should be read in a parenthesis, as follows: ‘I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart (for I myself made it my boast to be separated from Christ) for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.’ By the usual interpretation, the Apostle is understood to say, ‘I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart,’ and without stating for whom or for what, to add, ‘I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.’ But it appears evident that these words, for my brethren, form the conclusion of the above expression, I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. Paul had himself formerly made it his boast to be separated from Christ, rejecting Him as the Messiah; and to prove how much he sympathized with the situation of his countrymen, in the bosom of his lamentation over their fallen state, he appeals to his former experience, when, before his conversion, he had been in the same unbelief, and personally knew their deplorable condition. He also intimates his sorrow in such a manner as to show that he is far from glorying over them, having been himself as deeply guilty as they were; while, according to the doctrine he was inculcating, it was in no respect to be ascribed to his own merits that he was happily delivered from that awful condemnation in which, with grief, he beheld them now standing.
Paul’s sorrow was for those whom he calls his brethren. This does not respect a spiritual relationship, as the term brethren so generally denotes in the New Testament, but natural relationship, as Paul here explains it when he adds, my kinsmen according to the flesh. His sorrow for them is the subject of his testimony, which, in a manner so solemn, he had confirmed in the preceding verse. Instead of glorying over their calamities and rejection, he forgot his own wrongs, and their cruel persecutions, in the inexpressible affliction with which he contemplated their obstinate unbelief with all its fatal consequences. In this we may discern a characteristic of a Christian. He who has no sorrow for the perishing state of sinners, and especially of his kindred, is not a Christian. No man can be a Christian who is unconcerned for the salvation of others.
Ver. 4. — Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.
Paul here recognizes and enumerates the great external privileges belonging to the Jews, which aggravated his profound sorrow, on account of their rejection of the Messiah, and their consequent deplorable condition. Who are Israelites. — That is, the most honorable people on earth; the descendants of him who, as a prince, had power with God. They had the name, because that of Israel was given to Jacob their father by God, when vouchsafing so striking a pre-intimation of His future manifestation in the flesh. Adoption. — That is, the nation of Israel was a nation adopted by God as a type of the adoption of His children in Christ Jesus; and in that typical sense, in which they were the children of God as no other nation ever was, they are frequently spoken of in Scripture, Exodus 4:22; Jeremiah 31:9-20. In this way our Lord Himself recognizes them, when anticipating their rejection, He says, ‘The children of the kingdom shall be cast out,’ Matthew 8:12. Glory. — This most probably refers to the manifestation of the glory of God over the mercy-seat in the sanctuary.
God, too, set His tabernacle among the Israelites, and walked among them, which was their peculiar glory, by which they were distinguished from all other nations, Deuteronomy 4:32-36 The glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud that went before them in he wilderness. It often filled the tabernacle and the temple. His house was the place of His glory. Covenants. — The covenant with Abraham, and the covenant at Sinai, in both of which they were interested, and all the solemn engagements which God had entered into with mankind, were lodged in their hands and committed to their custody. Giving of the law. — To them the law was given at Mount Sinai; and they were the only people on earth so distinguished by God. The service of God. — This refers to the tabernacle and temple service, or Mosaic institutions of worship. All other nations were left to their own superstitious inventions; the Jews alone had ordinances of worship from God. Promises. — The Jews had received the promises, both temporal and spiritual, especially those that related to the Messiah, Acts 2:39.
Ver. 5. — Whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Whose are the fathers. — The Jews numbered among their illustrious progenitors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, with others to whom God had been pleased to manifest Himself in a manner so remarkable. Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came. — This was the completion of all the privileges which the Apostle here enumerates. It was a signal honor to the Jewish nation, that the Messiah was by descent an Israelite. Concerning the flesh. — This declares that He was really a man having truly the human nature, and as a man of Jewish origin. At the same time it imports that He had another nature. Who is over all, God blessed for ever. — This is a most clear and unequivocal attestation of the Divine nature of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every engine of false criticism has been employed by those who are desirous to evade the obvious meaning of this decisive testimony to the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ; but they have never even plausibly succeeded.
The awful blindness and obstinacy of Arians and Socinians in their explanations, or rather perversions, of the word of God, are in nothing more obvious than in their attempts to evade the meaning of this celebrated testimony to the Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ. They often shelter themselves under various readings; but here they have no tenable ground for an evasion of this kind. Yet, strange to say, some of them have, without the authority of manuscripts, altered the original, in order that it may suit their purpose. There is no difficulty in the words — no intricacy in the construction; yet, by a forced construction and an unnatural punctuation, they have endeavored to turn away this testimony from its obvious import. Contrary to the genius and idiom of the Greek — contrary to all the usual rules of interpreting language, as has often been incontrovertibly shown — they substitute ‘God be blessed,’ for ‘God be blessed for ever;’ or, ‘God, who is over all, be blessed,’ instead of, ‘who is over all, God blessed for ever.’ Such tortuous explanations are not only rejected by a sound interpretation of the original, but manifest themselves to be unnatural, even to the most illiterate who exercise an unprejudiced Judgment. The Scriptures have many real difficulties, which are calculated to try or to increase the faith and patience of the Christian, and are evidently designed to enlarge his acquaintance with the word of God, by obliging him more diligently to search into them, and place his dependence on the Spirit of all truth. But when language so clear as in the present passage is perverted, to avoid recognizing the obvious truth contained in the Divine testimony, it more fully manifests the depravity of human nature, and the rooted enmity of the carnal mind against God, than the grossest works of the flesh.
After speaking of the Messiah’s coming through the nation of Israel, in respect to His human nature, the Apostle, in order to enhance the greatness of this extraordinary distinction conferred upon it, here refers to His Divine nature, to union with which, in one person, His human nature was exalted. The declaration of His coming in the flesh clearly imports, as has been remarked, that Christ had another nature. When it is said, John 4:3, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh — which could not be said of a mere man, who could come in no other way — it shows that He might have come in another way, and therefore implies His pre-existence, which is asserted in a variety of passages of Scripture. Of such passages there are four orders. The first order consists of those where His incarnation is ascribed to Himself. ‘Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me; and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple,’ Malachi 3:1. These words manifestly prove that His incarnation, and the preparation for it, such as the mission of John the Baptist, was a work of the Messiah Himself, and consequently that He existed before His incarnation. The same truth is declared, when it is said, ‘For as much, then, as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself took part of the same; for verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham,’ Hebrews 2:14,16. Here His taking upon Him flesh and blood is represented to be by an act of His own will. The same truth is taught where He is introduced as addressing the Father in these terms. ‘Sacrifice and offering Thou wouldst not, but a body hast Thou prepared me: in burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast had no pleasure: then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do Thy will, O God,’ Hebrews 10:5,7; and again, ‘Jesus Christ, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant,’ Philippians 2:6.
Here we are taught that Jesus Christ Himself took this form, and consequently existed before He took it.
The second order of passages, asserting the pre-existence of our Lord, are those which expressly declare that Jesus Christ was in heaven before He came into the world. ‘No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven.’ And a little after, ‘He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: He that cometh from heaven is above all,’ John 3:13-31. ‘The bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven,’ John 6:33,41,50,51,58. ‘For I came down from heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me,’ John 6:38. ‘What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before? ‘ John 6:62. ‘And now, O Father, glorify Thou me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was,’ John 17:5.
A third order of passages ascribes actions to Jesus Christ before His birth. ‘By whom,’ says the Apostle, God ‘made the worlds,’ Hebrews 1:2, which signifies the creation of the universe; and verse 3, ‘upholding all things by the word of His power,’ which signifies His providence; and verse 10, ‘And Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of Thine hands.’ This is part of the response of the Father in the <19A225> 25th verse of the 102nd Psalm to His Son, complaining that He had weakened His strength in the way, and praying not to be taken away in the midst of His days; to which the Father immediately answers, ‘Thy years are throughout all generations,’ and continues His reply to the end of the Psalm. ‘One Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things,’ 1 Corinthians 8:6, which implies both creation and preservation. ‘Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature; for by Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him, and for Him; and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist,’ Colossians 1:15,16. Here Jesus Christ is declared to be the Creator of all things. This is also affirmed concerning Him before His incarnation, John 1:3. ‘Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit; by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison,’ 1 Peter 3:19. The Son of God preached by His Spirit to the inhabitants of the earth before the flood, who are now in the prison of hell, which supposes His existence before He was born.
A fourth order of passages clearly proves the pre-existence of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a man, which is preferred before me; for He was before me,’ John 1:15,30. He could not be before John unless He had existed prior to his birth, since John was born before Him. ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am,’ John 8:58. ‘But thou, Bethlehem-Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,’ Micah 5:2. ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.’ ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.’ ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last,’ Revelation 1:8-11, 22:13.
To all these passages must be added that of Proverbs 8:(compared with 1 Corinthians 1:24), where Wisdom is declared to have existed when God formed the universe; and also John 1:1, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Than this last passage nothing could more explicitly declare the pre-existence and Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There are few of the predictions concerning the Messiah in which His two natures are not marked. In the first of them, ‘the seed of the woman’ denotes His humanity; while the words, ‘He shall bruise thy head,’ declare His divinity. In the promise to Abraham, His humanity is marked by the words, ‘in thy seed;’ while in what follows, ‘shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,’ we read His divinity. ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth’ — this is His divinity. ‘Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold’ — this is His humanity. ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son’ — this is His humanity; ‘and shall call His name Immanuel’ — this is His divinity. ‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given’ — this marks His humanity. ‘The government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father’ — these words denote His Godhead. There are multitudes of other passages in the Prophets to the same purpose.
In the same way the two natures of Jesus Christ are spoken of in numerous passages in the New Testament. ‘The Word was God,’ and ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.’ ‘Made of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness.’ ‘God was manifest in the flesh.’ The same distinction appeared in His actions, and almost all His miracles. Finally, this truth discovers itself in all the most remarkable parts of His economy. In His birth He is laid in a manger as a man, but it is announced by the hallelujahs of angels, and the ‘wise men,’ led by a star, come to adore Him as God. At the commencement of His public ministry He is baptized in water, but the heavens open to Him, and the Father proclaims from heaven, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ In His temptation in the desert He suffers hunger and thirst, but angels come and minister to their Lord. In the garden of Gethsemane He seems as if he were ready to sink under the agonies He endures; but more than twelve legions of the angelic host stand ready to fulfill His mandates, and prostrate His enemies in the dust. In His death He hangs like a malefactor upon the cross, but as Jehovah He bestows paradise upon the dying robber.
In completing the enumeration of the signal honors conferred on the nation of Israel, after having declared that of them the Messiah, as concerning the flesh, came, the reason is obvious why the Apostle immediately referred to our Lord’s Divine nature. Had he spoken only of Christ’s coming in the flesh, it would not have enhanced as he intended the high and unparalleled privileges by which his countrymen had been distinguished. It was necessary, both for this end, and in order fully to portray the character of Him of whom he spoke, to subjoin, ‘who is over all, God blessed for ever.’
This addition, then, is not superfluous, or that might have been omitted. It is indispensable, being essential to the Apostle’s argument.
To this great truth respecting the coming of God manifest in the flesh, as the foundation on which the whole work of redemption rests, the Apostle subjoins, Amen . In the same way he adds Amen to the expression, ‘who is blessed for ever,’ Romans 1:25, applying it to the Creator. Amen signifies truth, stability, or is an affirmation, or expresses consent. In the New Testament Jesus Christ alone makes use of this term at the beginning of sentences, as a word of affirmation. In this sense it appears to be employed at the end of each of the four Gospels. In the Gospel of John only have we any record o£ the Lord using this word more than once in the same sentence, Amen, amen, or Verily, verily. The Lord employs it again and again in His Sermon on the Mount, the purpose of which, it would seems was to impress on the minds of His hearers both the truth of what He said, and its importance. Luke, who records this term less frequent than the other evangelists, sometimes substitutes in place of it a simple affirmation, Luke 9:27; Matthew 16:28. Jesus, in addressing the seven churches of Asia, after dividing his glorious attributes and names amongst them, finally denominates Himself ‘the Amen,’ Revelation 3:14; and God is called the God Amen, Isaiah 65:16. The Apostle John, in his ascription of praise to the Redeemer, adds Amen, as he does in the contemplation of His second coming in glory to judge the world, Revelation 1:6,7; and also in closing the canon of Scripture, when he repeats the declaration of Jesus, that He will come quickly, and after his prayer that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with all the churches to which he writes, Revelation 22:20,21. The Lord Himself makes use of this term when He declares that He liveth, and was dead, and is alive for evermore, Revelation 1:8.
Ver. 6. — Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel which are of Israel.
Not as though. — That is, my grief for the state of the Jewish nation, and their rejection by God, does not imply that with regard to them anything said in the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel which are of Israel. — Here is the explanation of the mystery that the Jews, as a nation, had rejected the Messiah: they are not all true Israelites in the spiritual sense of the promise, who are Israelites after the flesh. The Jews might object, and say that if they were cast off and rejected, then God is unfaithful, and His promises are ineffectual. To this Paul answers by making a distinction among Israelites. Some are Israelites only in respect of their carnal descent, and others are children of the promise. ‘The proposition of the Apostle,’ says Calvin, ‘is that the promise was given in such a manner to Abraham and his seed, that the inheritance has no particular regard to every one of his descendants; and it hence follows, as a consequence, that the revolt of certain individuals from the Lord, who derive their birth from the father of the faithful, has no effect in preventing the stability, permanence, and steadfastness of the Divine covenant. The common election of the Israelitish nation does not prevent the Sovereign of infinite holiness from choosing for Himself, according to His secret counsel, whatever portion of that people He has determined to save. When Paul says they are not all Israel which are of Israel, and afterwards, neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children, he includes all the descendants of the father of believers under one member of the sentence, and points out by the other those only who are true and genuine sons of the friend of God, and not a degenerate race.’ Through the remaining part of this chapter, the Apostle shows that the rejection of the Messiah by the great body of the Jewish nation was neither contrary to the promises nor the purpose of God, but had been predetermined and also typified in His dealings towards individuals among their progenitors, as recorded in the Scriptures, and also there predicted. This furnishes an opportunity of more fully illustrating the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in choosing some to everlasting life, which had been spoken of in the 29th and 30th verses of the preceding chapter, and of His rejection of others.
Ver. 7. — Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children. — In the preceding verse the Apostle had shown that there was a difference among Israelites; now he refers to a difference in the seed of Abraham. The error of the Jews was, that they thought they were the children of God by being the children of Abraham. But in this, as the Apostle declares, they were in error. The promise to Abraham and his seed was not made to him and all his descendants in general, but to him and a particular seed. As the children of Abraham, they were all, indeed, in one sense the children of God. God says to Pharaoh with respect to them, ‘Let my son go.’ But the natural sonship was only a figure of the spiritual sonship of all believers of every nation. None but such are the spiritual seed of Abraham, whether among Jews or Gentiles. But in Isaac shall thy seed be called. — Reckoned, chosen, or called into existence, as it is said respecting the birth of Isaac in the fourth chapter, ‘God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.’ The Messiah, who was emphatically the seed of Abraham, says ‘The Lord hath called Me from the womb, Isaiah 49:1.
He was called into existence in His human nature, and to His office of Mediator, in the line of Isaac. And Israel was called or chosen as God’s people, Isaiah 48:12. ‘Hearken unto Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called.’ In this sense the expression called is used in the end of the 11th verse. By thus appealing to the declaration of God to Abraham, that in Isaac his seed should be called — and reckoned more especially the seed of Abraham — the Apostle showed that, notwithstanding the defection of the great body of the nation of Israel which he so much deplored, it was by no means the case that the word of God had taken none effect; for from the beginning a distinction had been made among the descendants of Abraham, indicating that they are not all Israel which are of Israel. Only a part of that nation, which he calls a remnant, verse 27, and afterwards ‘a remnant according to the election of grace,’ ch. 11:5, was to participate in the spiritual blessings to be conveyed by promise. ‘When,’ says Calvin, ‘we see in the two first sons of the patriarch, the younger chosen by a recent promise ( Genesis 21:12; Hebrews 11:18), while the older was yet living, how much more might this take place in a long line of descendants! This prediction is taken from Genesis 17:20, where the Lord answers Abraham, As for Ishmael, I have heard thy prayers, but the blessing shall be granted to the son of Sarah, and the covenant established with Isaac. It hence follows as a consequence that certain individuals are, by a singular privilege, chosen from the elect people of the Jews, in whom the common adoption is ratified and rendered efficacious.’ It may be further remarked that when it is said, ‘In Isaac shall thy seed be called,’ it did not imply that all the descendants of Isaac were to be the spiritual seed of Abraham. Only such were to be so who belonged to that seed to which the word, being used in the singular, emphatically and exclusively applied, as the Apostle declares, Galatians 3:16, ‘Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many, but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.’ The meaning, then, of the declaration, ‘In Isaac shall thy seed be called,’ is, that as all Abraham’s posterity were not to be the peculiar people whom God was nationally to adopt as His children, but only such as should descend from Isaac, so not all the Jews are the true sons of God, but only such as, like Isaac, are children of the promise. Here it is evident, as also from Galatians 4:28, that Isaac the child of promise was typical of all believers.
Ver. 8. — That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
That is, or this explains, the declaration, ‘In Isaac shall thy seed be called.’
It is intended to show that not carnal descent, but being included in the promise, constituted the true spiritual seed. This clearly establishes the difference between the sonship of Israel after the flesh, and the sonship of Israel after the Spirit. The nation of Israel stood in a relation to God in which no other nation was ever placed; but only a part of them enjoyed a spiritual relation. Hence the distinction here noted, that the children of the flesh are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted for the seed a distinction which the Apostle also makes, ch. 2:28, between being a Jew outwardly, and a Jew inwardly. These distinctions are explanatory of the declaration, ‘In Isaac shall thy seed be called,’ and of the rejection of the other children, though the seed of Abraham. In the Epistle to the Galatians, 4:22, it is said that ‘Abraham had two sons, the one by a bond maid, the other by a free woman.’ This appears in the original history to be a merely accidental and unimportant matter; but in that place we are taught that it was a shadow of futurity. Ishmael, who was of the bond woman, it is said, was ‘born after the flesh.’ This denoted that though he was descended from Abraham according to the laws of nature, he was not a son of Abraham’s faith. Isaac was also in a certain sense born like Ishmael after the flesh, because he was naturally descended from Abraham; but not of the flesh merely, nor of the flesh naturally, — for according to the course of nature he never would have been born, — but at the same time he was more. He was not only a son of Abraham’s flesh, but his son as born after the Spirit, because he was given to Abraham, after, by the course of nature, he could not hope for children.
All this indicated the distinction that existed in the nation of Israel, between those who, notwithstanding their being born in the line of Isaac, were the seed of Abraham merely by carnal descent, and not the children of God by a spiritual regeneration. Only these last were the children of the promise, as Isaac was, who were all one in Christ Jesus, and therefore in the highest sense Abraham’s seed, and ‘heirs according to the promise,’ Galatians 3:29 — heirs of all the spiritual blessings secured to Abraham by promise. ‘Paul,’ says Calvin, ‘now deduces from the prophecy a proposition containing his whole meaning, intent, and aim. For if the seed is called in Isaac, not in Ishmael, and this latter is no less a son of the patriarch Abraham than the former, all his children by lineal descent cannot be reckoned as his seed; but the promise is in an especial and peculiar manner fulfilled by some, but has not a common and equal regard to all. Children by lineal descent mean such as are not distinguished by a more excellent privilege than their being offspring by blood; children of the promise are those who are peculiarly marked out and sealed by their Heavenly Father.’
The birth of Isaac was by promise, and without a miracle it would never have taken place. But the birth of Ishmael was not by promise, but in the ordinary course of nature. Thus the children of God specially promised to Abraham were those who, according to the election of God (who had chosen Isaac in preference to Ishmael), were to come into a spiritual relation with Christ, who is emphatically the promised seed in the line of Isaac, Galatians 3:16. To them the spiritual blessings were restricted, while only the temporal advantages of the national covenant belonged to the whole of Israel. This was intimated in God’s dealings with Abraham.
Ver. 10. — And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; Not only in the case of Isaac was the election limited to him as the son of promise, but also in a still more remarkable instance was this truth indicated in the case of the two sons of Isaac. They were conceived by Rebecca of the same husband, yet God chose the one and rejected the other. An original difference between Isaac and Ishmael might be alleged, since the one was born of the lawful wife of Abraham, the free woman, and the other was the son of the bond woman; but in the case now brought forward there existed no original difference. Both were sons of the same father and mother, and both were born at the same time. The great distinction, then, made between the two brothers could only be traced to the sovereign will of God, who thus visibly notified, long before the event, the difference of the Divine purpose, according to election, towards the people of Israel.
Ver. 11. — (For the children being not yet born, neither have done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) In the case of Isaac and Ishmael, it might still be said, that as the latter, as soon as he came to years, gave evidence of a wicked disposition, this was a sufficient reason for preferring Isaac. But here, in a parenthesis the Apostle shows that the preference was given to Jacob independently of all ground of merit, because it was made before the children were capable of doing either good or evil. This was done for the very purpose of taking away all pretense for merit as a ground of preference. Had the preference been given to Jacob when he had grown up to maturity, there would have been no more real ground for ascribing it to anything good in him; yet that use would have been made of it by the perverse ingenuity of man. But God made the preference before the children were born. That the purpose of God according to election might stand — This was the very end and intention of the early indication of the will of God to Rebecca, the mother of the two children. It was hereby clearly established that, in choosing Jacob and rejecting Esau, God had respect to nothing but His own purpose. Than this what can more strongly declare His own eternal purpose to be the ground of all His favor to man? Not of works but of Him that calleth. — Expressions indicating God’s sovereignty in this matter are heaped upon one another, because it is a thing so offensive to the human mind. Yet, after all the Apostle’s precaution, the perverseness of men still finds ground of boasting on account of works. Though the children had done neither good nor evil, yet God, it is supposed, might foresee that Jacob would be a godly man, and Esau wicked. But had not God made a difference between Jacob and Esau, Jacob would have been no better than his brother. Were not men blinded by opposition to this part of the will of God, would they not perceive that a preference on account of foreseen good works is a preference on account of works, and therefore expressly contrary to the assertion of the Apostle — Not of works, but of Him that calleth? The whole ground of preference is in Him that calleth, or chooseth, not in him that is called. ‘Paul,’ says Calvin, ‘had hitherto merely observed, in a few words, the difference between the carnal sons of Abraham; namely, though all by circumcision were made partakers of the covenant, yet the grace of God was not equally efficacious in all, and the sons of the promise enjoy the blessings of the Most High. He now plainly refers the whole cause to the gratuitous election of God, which in no respects depends on men, so that nothing can be traced in the salvation of believers higher than the goodness of God; nothing in the destruction of the reprobate can be discovered higher than the just severity of the Sovereign of the world. The first proposition of the Apostle is the following: — As the blessing of the covenant separates the nation of the Israelites from all other people, so the election of God separates the men of that nation, while He predestinates some to salvation, others to eternal damnation. The second proposition is, that there is no other foundation of election than the mere goodness and mercy of God, which embrace whom He chooses, without paying the least regard to works, even after the fall of Adam. Third, the Lord in His gratuitous election is free and unrestrained by the necessity of bestowing the same grace equally on all; He passes by such as He wills, and chooses for His own according to His will. Paul briefly comprehends all these propositions in one clause, and will afterwards consider other points. The following words, when they were not yet born, neither had done any good or evil, show that God, in making the difference between them, could have paid no regard to their works, which did not yet exist. Sophists, who state that God may elect from among mankind by a respect to their works, since He foresees from their future conduct who may be worthy or deserving of grace, attack a principle of theology which no Christian ought to be ignorant of; namely, that God can regard nothing in the corrupt nature of man, such as that of Jacob and Esau was, by which He may be induced to do them kindness. When, therefore, Paul says that neither of the children had done any good or evil, we must add also the opinion which he had already formed in his mind, of their both being children of Adam, sinners by nature, not possessed of a single particle of righteousness. Besides, although the vicious and depraved nature, which is diffused through the whole human race, be of itself sufficient to cause damnation before it has shown its unholiness by any act or deed, and Esau therefore deserved to be rejected, because he was by nature a child of wrath, yet to prevent the least difficulty, as if the state of the elder was worse with respect to the perpetration of any offense or vice than that of the younger, it was necessary for the Apostle to exclude the consideration both of transgressions and of virtues. I confess, indeed, that it is true that the near cause of reprobation is our being all cursed in Adam; but Paul withdraws us in the meantime from this consideration, that we may learn to rest in the naked and simple good pleasure of God, until he shall have established this doctrine, that the infinite Sovereign has a sufficiently just cause for election and reprobation, in His own will. He here urges, in almost every word, the gratuitous election of God; for had he considered works to have any place in our election, he would have stated the remuneration due to their performance. But he opposes to works the purpose of God, which consists in the good pleasure of His will. And to remove all doubts and controversy concerning the subject, he adds, according to election, and closes in a striking manner, — not of works, but of Him that calleth. The opinion, therefore, that God elects or reprobates every one according as He foresees good or evil in us, is false, and contrary to the word of eternal truth.’
This was a figure of the spiritual election, for in no other point of view is it here to the Apostle’s purpose. Not only did God choose one of these sons, who were equal as to their parentage, but chose that one who was inferior in priority of birth, the only point in which there was a difference.
He chose the younger son, contrary to the usual custom of mankind, and contrary to the law of primogeniture established by God Himself respecting inheritances in the family of Jacob. The dominion of the younger, then, over the elder, flowed, as is shown in the nest verse, from God’s love to the one and hatred to the other; thus proving the election of the one and the reprobation of the other. This strikingly exemplified the manner of God’s dealings towards the nation of Israel, in discriminating between those who were the children of the flesh, and the others who were the children of God. How much instruction do these words, ‘The elder shall serve the younger,’ contain, as standing in the connection in which they are here placed, as well as in that part of Scripture from which they are quoted! They practically teach the great fundamental doctrines of the\parPRESCIENCE, thePROVIDENCE, theSOVEREIGNTY of God; His\parPREDESTINATION,ELECTION, andREPROBATION.
As it is written. — Here and elsewhere it is remarkable that the writers of the New Testament, and our Lord Himself, generally, or at least very often, simply say, It is written,. This is on the principle that the word Scripture signifies the word of God. Scripture literally signifies writing, and may refer to any writing; but in the appropriated sense, it signifies the written word of God. It is written, then, signifies, it is written in the word of God. When the Apostles refer in this manner to the Scriptures, they do it as adducing authority which is conclusive and not to be questioned.
The words here quoted from Malachi expressly relate to Jacob and Esau.
The Prophet likewise declares the dealing of God towards their posterity, but the part here referred to applies to the progenitors themselves. God is there reproving the people of Israel for their ingratitude, and manifesting His great goodness to them in loving their father Jacob, while He hated his brother Esau, and gave him a mountainous, barren country, as a sign of His hatred. Thus God preferred Jacob before Esau without respect to the goodness or wickedness of either, attaching good things to the one, and evil to the other, before they were born. And this quotation by the Apostle is intended to prove that the purpose of God, in choosing who shall be His children according to election, might stand, not by works, but of Him that calleth, verse 11, which shows that all along the reference is to spiritual and eternal blessings, shadowed forth, as is usual in the Prophets, by things that are temporal and carnal. In the same place God likewise declares His dealings towards the posterity of Esau; but the words here quoted expressly refer to Jacob and Esau personally. The Apostle is speaking of heads of nations; and in God’s dealings towards them is found the reason of the difference of the treatment of their posterities. The introduction of Jacob and Esau personally, presents an emblem of this, while the design is to show that some among the Israelites were the children of God, and not others. That the Apostle quotes these words in reference to Jacob and Esau personally, is clear, since he speaks of them before they were born, and declares their conception by one mother, of one father, which could not be said of their posterity. Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. — Jacob was loved before he was born, consequently before he was capable of doing good; and Esau was hated before he was born, consequently before he was capable of doing evil. It may be asked why God hated him before he sinned personally; and human wisdom has proved its folly, by endeavoring to soften the word hated into something less than hatred: but the man who submits like a little child to the word of God, will find no difficulty in seeing in what sense Esau was worthy of the hatred of God before he was born. He sinned in Adam, and was therefore properly an object of God’s hatred as well as fallen Adam. There is no other view that will ever account for this language and this treatment of Esau. By nature, too, he was a wicked creature, conceived in sin, although his faculties were not expanded, or his innate depravity developed, which God, who hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and hardeneth whom He will, and who giveth no account of His matters, did not see good to counteract by His grace, as in the case of Jacob, who originally was equally wicked, and by nature, like Esau, a child of wrath and a fit object of hatred.
It is not unusual to take part with Esau who was rejected, against Jacob who was the object of Divine favor. Everything that can be made to appear either amiable or virtuous in the character of Esau is eagerly grasped at, and exhibited in the most advantageous light. We are told of his disinterestedness, frankness, and generosity; while we are reminded that Jacob was a cool, selfish, designing man, who was always watching to take advantage of his brother’s simplicity, and who ungenerously and unjustly robbed his elder brother of the blessing and the birthright.
This way of reasoning shows more zeal for the interest of a cause than discretion in its support. Instead of invalidating, it only serves to confirm the truth it opposes. While it is evident that Jacob possessed the fear of God, which was not the case with respect to Esau, — and therefore that the one was born of God, and the other remained a child of nature, — yet there is so much palpable imperfection and evil in Jacob, as to manifest that God did not choose him for the excellence of his foreseen works. In maintaining, then, the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, it is by no means necessary to vindicate the conduct of Jacob towards his brother.
Both he and his mother were undoubtedly to blame, much to blame, as to the way in which he obtained his father’s blessing, to the prejudice of Esau, while the revealed purpose of God formed no apology for their conduct. That sin is an evil thing and a bitter, Jacob fully experienced. His conduct in that transaction led him into a maze of troubles, from which through life he was never disentangled. While Jacob was a man of God, and Esau a man of the world, there is enough to show that the inheritance was bestowed on the former not of works but of grace.
Nothing can more clearly manifest the strong opposition of the human mind to the doctrine of the Divine sovereignty, than the violence which human ingenuity has employed to wrest the expression, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. By many this has been explained, ‘Esau have I loved less.’ But Esau was not the object of any degree of the Divine love, and the word hate never signifies to love less. The occurrence of the word in that expression, ‘hate father and mother,’ Luke 14:26, has been alleged in vindication of this explanation; but the word in this last phrase is used figuratively, and in a manner that cannot be mistaken. Although hatred is not meant to be asserted, yet hatred is the thing that is literally expressed. By a strong figure of speech, that is called hatred which resembles it in its effects. We will not obey those whom we hate, if we can avoid it. Just so, if our parents command us to disobey Jesus Christ, we must not obey them; and this is called hatred, figuratively, from the resemblance of its effects. But in this passage, in which the expression, ‘Esau have I hatred’ occurs, everything is literal. The Apostle is reasoning from premises to a conclusion. Besides, the contrast of loving Jacob with hating Esau, shows that the last phrase is literal and proper hatred. If God’s love to Jacob was real literal love, God’s hatred to Esau must be real literal hatred. It might as well be said that the phrase, ‘Jacob have I loved,’ does not signify that God really loved Jacob, but that to love here signifies only to hate less, and that all that is meant by the expression, is that God hated Jacob less than he hated Esau. If every man’s own mind is a sufficient security against concluding the meaning to be, ‘Jacob have I hated less,’ his judgment ought to be a security against the equally unwarrantable meaning, ‘Esau have I loved less.’
But why, it may be asked of those who object to the plain meaning of the words, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated, and insist that their import is that God loved Esau less than Jacob — why should God love Esau less than Jacob, and that, too, before the children were born, or had done good or evil? Can they explain this? Would it not involve a difficulty which, even on their own principles, they are unable to remove? Why then refuse to admit the natural and obvious signification of the passage? If God says that He hated Esau, are we to avoid receiving God’s testimony, or justified in employing a mode of torture in expounding His words? If, again, Esau, as some insist, were the better character, why was Jacob preferred to him?
Others translate the word in the original by the term slighted. But if God had no just ground to hate Esau, He could have as little ground for slighting him. Why should Esau be unjustly slighted before he was born, more than unjustly hated? However, those who entertain a proper sense of man’s guilt by nature, will be at no loss to discern the ground of God’s hatred of Esau. Both Jacob and Esau were, like David, shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, and were in themselves sinners. Esau was justly the object of hatred before he was born, because he was viewed in Adam as a sinner. Jacob was justly the object of God’s love before he was born, because he was viewed in Christ as righteous. That the terms love and hatred are here to be understood in their full and proper import, is evident from the question put in the 14th verse, and answered in the 15th, 16th, and 17th verses, with the conclusion drawn in the 18th. ‘Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.’
Compassion is a sign of love, and hardening a proof of hatred. And, besides this, the expression, ‘Esau have I hatred,’ is not stronger than what the Apostle applies to all men when he says that by nature they are the children of wrath, dead in trespasses and sins, and consequently objects of the hatred of the holy and just God. All of them are so in their natural state, as considered in themselves, and all of them continue to be so, unless delivered from that state by the distinguishing grace of God. To be hated on account of Adam’s sin and of their own corrupt nature, is common to all men with Esau who are not of the elect of God; and in Esau’s case this is exhibited in one instance. Nothing, then, is said of Esau here that might not be said of every man who shall finally perish.
There are few commentators, however, who have not wavered more or less in their explanation of this passage. Mr. Hodge, Professor of Biblical Literature in the Theological Seminary at Princeton, America, gives here the following most erroneous interpretation: ‘It is evident that in this case the word hate means to love less, to regard and treat with less favor.’ This false gloss completely destroys the import of the passage, on which no one who understands the doctrine of the fall, and consequent condemnation of all men in Adam, ought to feel the smallest difficulty. In its obvious and literal meaning, what is said of Jacob and Esau must be true of all the individuals of the human race before they are born. Each one of them must either be loved or hated of God.
The opinion held by some, that it may be questioned whether God be ever said to hate any man, is contrary to the revealed character of God. This sentiment appears to be near akin to that of the heathen philosophers, who held it as a maxim that God could not be angry with any one. Like many other unfounded dogmas, it stands in direct opposition to the whole tenor of the Scriptures, which represent God as angry with the wicked every day, and hating all workers of iniquity, Psalm 5:5. Does not the passage above quoted, which declares that men are by nature children of wrath, express this hatred of sin in the strongest manner; and especially of Adam’s sin, on account of which all men are children of wrath by nature?
In innumerable passages of Scripture, God ascribes to Himself hatred.
Men, however, are averse to this. What, then, can be done? The Scriptures must be explained in a forced manner; and while they say that God hates sinners, they are made to say that He does not hate them. Nothing can be more unjustifiable than this method of tampering with and perverting the word of God, and nothing can be more uncalled for. Hatred in itself is not sinful. That which is sinful ought to be hated; and though there is a mixture of evil in man’s hatred of evil, yet there is the same mixture of evil in his love of good. In God’s hatred of sinners, as in all His attributes, there is nothing of sinful feeling. We are not able to comprehend this attribute of the Divine mind; but every other attribute has also its difficulties. We must in this, and in all things, submit to God’s word, and believe it as it speaks, and not as we would have it to speak.
Respecting God’s hatred of sin, and the punishment of transgressors, the late Dr. Thomson refers in his sermons to the following passages: — ’Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them. The wrath of God has been revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men. Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, will be rendered to every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile. God is love; but it is also said, that God hates all workers of iniquity; — that the Lord revengeth, and is furious; — that His wrath cometh on the children of disobedience. The assertion that God is angry with the wicked every day, is just as level to our apprehension, as the assertion that God loves them that fear Him. We know that His anger is expressed in rebuking, chastening, punishing those who have provoked it, as we know that pity helps, relieves, comforts those who stand in need of its interposition. God is as certainly holy to hate sin, and just to inflict merited punishment on the sinner, as He is good and merciful, and compassionate to the guilty and the miserable for whom He interposed.’ ‘I cannot help reverting to what I formerly observed respecting the necessity of attributing love to God no further than His own word has warranted, and no further than is consistent with that revelation of His character which He Himself has given us. A greater snare cannot be laid for your piety and your judgment, than that which consists in making love His paramount or His only perfection. For whenever there is a consciousness of guilt, and a dread of responsibility, it must be comfortable to have a God who is divested of all that is frowning and indignant towards transgressors, and clothed with all that is compassionate and kind. And whenever there is a soft or a sentimental temperament at work, that representation of the Divine nature must be peculiarly pleasing and acceptable. And whenever men wish to have a religion which will be without any rigorous exactions of self-denial and of duty, and without any tendency to excite apprehension and alarm, the same predictions must exist for a supreme Ruler in whose benevolence all other qualities are absorbed and lost. And, accordingly, not only is this partial and unscriptural view of the character of God adopted as the leading principle of certain systems of theology, but it is held and cherished and acted upon by multitudes, whose sole concern in matters of faith is to have not what is true, but what is agreeable, and who find in the tenet we are speaking of, the most soothing and satisfying of all persuasions, — that God loves every one of His creatures with such an affection as is depicted in the Gospel. I warn you against the delusion — so dishonorable to the Holy One, the Everlasting Father — so ruinous to all who have surrendered themselves to its influence — so inconsistent with what you read in the book of inspiration — so destructive of that mystery of godliness and of grace which has been made known to us in Jesus Christ.’
The Scriptures teach us that judgment has passed upon all men in Adam, and that it is altogether of grace that any of the human race are saved. Mr.
Tholuck, in his exposition of this chapter, may speak most irreverently of God as destroying His hapless creatures, and quote the Apocrypha, which asserts that God does not abhor anything which He has made, from which it would follow that He does not abhor devils for whom everlasting fire is prepared; but the uniform doctrine of Scripture is, that man is self-destroyed, and that it was God’s eternal purpose to make known His manifold wisdom by the redemption of the Church, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. When the Savior was first announced, Genesis 3:15, mankind were divided into two classes, the one to be saved, the other to be lost. To the latter God did no wrong. He left them under condemnation, as is here exemplified in the case of Esau, while He plucked the former, like Jacob, as brands from the burning; and we are expressly told that in this case of Jacob and Esau the reception of the younger, and the rejection of the elder, which were declared previously to their birth, was in order that the purpose of God according to election might stand. This doctrine of the election of some and the rejection of others was also illustrated in Abraham, an idolater, and in the nation of Israel, to whom God showed His word, while He left all other nations to walk in their own ways. Had the whole of Adam’s race perished, God would only have dealt with them as He did with the fallen angels. Why then, it may be said, preach the Gospel to all men? Because it is the appointed means of the salvation of sinners; and while all naturally reject it, God makes His people willing in the day of His power, and produces in them faith by what they hear. Paul endured all things for the elect’s sake.
He used the means, knowing that God would give the increase. The election thus obtain life, and the rest are blinded by the God of this world.
Ishmael was rejected, and Isaac was chosen before he was born; and in the same way Jacob the younger was preferred to Esau his elder brother — Jacob was loved, but Esau was hated.
The passage in Malachi, from which these words, ‘Esau have I hated,’ are quoted by the Apostle, proves what is meant by the expression in the verse before us. ‘I have loved you, saith the Lord: yet ye say, Wherein hast Thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever.’ Here the Prophet first speaks of Esau personally as Jacob’s brother, which clearly indicates the meaning attached by the Apostle to the quotation. It implies, too, that Jacob had no claim to be preferred to his brother. Afterwards, in the denunciation, Esau’s descendants are spoken of under the name of Edom, when the singular is changed for the plural, and the past time for the future and the present.
The denunciation of indignation for ever upon the Edomites, and the call of God to Israel to observe the difference of His dealings towards them, shows what is meant by God’s love of Jacob, and His hatred of Esau.
The declarations of God by the Prophet in the above quoted passage are fully substantiated throughout the Scriptures, both in regard to His loving Jacob and hating Esau personally; and likewise in regard to the indignation which He manifested against Esau’s descendants. Jacob is everywhere spoken of as the servant of God, highly honored by many Divine communications. Jacob wrestled with God, and had power over Him, and prevailed, Hosea 12:4,5. With his dying breath, when he declared that he had waited for the salvation of the Lord, he was honored to announce as a prophet the future destinies of his sons, and, above all, to utter a most remarkable prediction concerning the advent of the Messiah. Jacob during his life was the object of many special blessings. He died in faith, Hebrews 11:13,21; and of him the Redeemer Himself has testified that, with Abraham and Isaac, he is now in the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 8:11. Concerning Jacob, such is the decisive testimony of the Scriptures, which cannot be broken.
In the life of Esau, nothing is recorded indicating that he had the fear of God before his eyes, but everything to prove the reverse. The most important transaction recorded concerning him is his profane contempt for God’s blessing in selling his birthright, manifesting his unbelief and indifference respecting the promise to Abraham. We see him also taking women of Canaan as his wives, although he had the example before him of Abraham’s concern that Isaac should not marry any of the daughters of that country. In this we observe that he held as lightly the curse denounced against Canaan as he did the blessing promised to Abraham. We next see him deliberately resolving to murder his brother. ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand, then will I slay my brother Jacob.’
Long after, although restrained from violence, he goes out to meet him with an armed force. At last he turns his back on the habitation of his fathers, and departs for ever from the land of promise. Towards the conclusion of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the sale of his birthright is referred to, and where Jacob is numbered among those who both lived and died in faith, Esau is characterized as ‘a profane person,’ Hebrews 12:16. The same word, translated profane, is employed by Paul in his enumeration to Timothy of the most horrible vices, when speaking of the ‘ungodly, of sinners, and of unholy persons,’ 1 Timothy 1:9. The selling of his birthright proved Esau to be an unbelieving, profane, and ungodly man, and the Apostle warns believers not to act according to his example. The birthright conferred a double inheritance among the Hebrew patriarchs, and likewise pre-eminence, because it was connected with the descent of the Messiah; and they to whom this right belonged were also types of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. Despising the birthright proved that he despised the high distinction respecting the coming of the Messiah, and also the eternal inheritance of which the land of Canaan and the double portion of the firstborn were typical. Here the question of Esau’s character as an ungodly man is decided by the pen of inspiration long after his death. And is this ‘profane person,’ who not only despised the birthright fraught with such unspeakable privileges, but who had deliberately made up his mind revengefully to murder his brother in cold blood, to be viewed as he has been represented, as amiable, disinterested, and virtuous, in defiance of every moral principle, and in direct opposition to the testimony of the word of God?
Such is the account which the Scriptures give of Esau personally; and how fully the denunciations above quoted from the Prophet respecting his descendants were accomplished, we learn from numerous passages throughout the Scriptures, as Ezekiel 25:12,14; Joel 3:19; Amos 1:11, and elsewhere; and from the whole of the prophecy of Obadiah, where the destruction of Edom, and the victories of the house of Jacob, are contrasted. ‘But upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau: for the Lord hath spoken it.’ Is it then in the unambiguous testimony of Scripture respecting Esau personally, as a profane person, and respecting his descendants, ‘the people against whom the Lord hath indignation for ever,’ — is it among the many indications of God’s goodness to Jacob, — that we find any countenance given to the imagination that God loved Esau only in a less degree than He loved Jacob? When men, by such methods as are resorted to on this subject, pervert the obvious meaning of the word of God, in order to maintain their preconceived systems, it manifests deplorable disaffection to the truth of God, and most culpable inattention to His plainest declarations.
It is evident that the quotation from the Old Testament of these words, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,’ is here made by the Apostle with the design of illustrating the great truth which he is laboring through the whole of this chapter to substantiate; namely, that in the rejection of the great body of the Jewish nation, as being ‘vessels of wrath,’ while He reserved for Himself a remnant among them as ‘vessels of mercy,’ verses 22, 23, neither the purpose nor the promises of God had failed. In proof of this, Paul asserts that all the seed of Abraham were not the children of God, and that God had plainly exhibited this truth in distinguishing and choosing Isaac, that in his line, in preference to that of Abraham’s other children, the Redeemer should come; and in further proof, he adduces the still stronger example of God’s loving Jacob and hating Esau, choosing the one and rejecting the other. And as the manner of God’s procedure is so contrary to the opinion which men naturally form of the way in which He should act, the Apostle immediately after affirms that in this there is no unrighteousness in God, and fully proves in what follows, that so far from being contrary to His usual mode of procedure, it is strictly in accordance with it, both in showing mercy on the one hand, according to His sovereign pleasure, and, on the other, in displaying His hatred of those whom He hardens. Having thus asserted that such is God’s manner of acting towards men, which, being established, ought to stop every mouth, the Apostle at once shuts the door against all impious reasonings on the subject, and indignantly demands of any one who should dare to controvert this view of the subject, — Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?
Such persons, then, as deny that the expression, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,’ imports literal love of the one and literal hatred of the other, viewing it as an isolated declaration, detached from its connection, and judging of it from their preconceived opinions, as if such a manner of acting were unworthy of God, not only disregard the usual legitimate rules of interpreting language, and employ a most unwarrantable mode of torture in expounding these words, but prove that they misapprehend the whole drift of the Apostle’s argument, and have no discernment of his purpose in introducing this example. For how would God’s rejection of a part of the nation of Israel as ‘vessels of wrath,’ and His reserving a remnant among them as ‘vessels of mercy,’ be illustrated by His loving Esau only less than Jacob? Does the idea of loving less consist with the idea held forth in the expression vessels of WRATH?
Several commentators deny that the declaration, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,’ has any reference to their personal, spiritual, and eternal state. ‘It is certain,’ says Dr. Doddridge, ‘the Apostle does not here speak of the eternal state of Jacob and Esau, nor does he indeed so much speak of their persons as of their posterity, since it is plainly to that posterity that both the prophecies which he quotes in support of his argument refer.’ On this Mr. Fry remarks, ‘If so, the force and pertinency of the Apostle’s reasonings are lost. In attending, however, to the Apostle’s argument in the passage before us, it will appear plain to every inquirer, who is not biased by the apprehension of certain Consequences, supposed to result from this interpretation, that St. Paul does certainly consider Jacob and Esau to be personally referred to, and concerned in these prophecies which he quotes; and that with them personally, and not altogether with their respective seeds, has his argument to do. The Apostle is showing that the rejection of the natural descendants of the patriarchs does not argue a breach of that word of God, which promises eternal mercies to Abraham and his seed, because by that seed was not intended all the seed born to Abraham after the flesh, but a seed of true believers, of whom Abraham, in the view of God, was the constituted father. In confirmation of this, he refers to the case of Ishmael, who was rejected, and of all the other children of Abraham being passed over in silence, Isaac remaining the only seed to inherit and to entail the promise. Again, as a still more striking proof that the word of promise discriminated a particular seed, and addressed not the children of the flesh universally, the Apostle instances the cases of Jacob and Esau. The first of these is chosen of God, and invested with the promised blessing; the other is rejected, and that in circumstances, as he points out to us, which plainly show that of the descendants of the patriarchs, God, according to His will and pleasure, would make some, and not others, to be counted to Abraham for a “seed” in a spiritual sense, to be of the children of God. It is evident, therefore, that the Apostle means to assert that Jacob was counted for one of “the” spiritual “seed,” was “a child of God,” and that Esau, though one of “the children” of Abraham “according to the flesh,” was “not a child of God,” nor “counted for the seed;” and, moreover, that it was the election of God, and no merit or demerit of the parties, which made this difference between them. It follows that whatever these prophecies may refer to besides, if we admit that the Apostle understood them, they do refer most certainly to Jacob and Esau personally; nay more, are quoted by the Apostle with this reference alone. For though in these prophecies, as they stand in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, a doom was certainly pronounced, which affected very materially the posterity of Jacob and Esau, and the children of the former were elected to privileges, from the inheritance of which the children of the latter were excluded, yet the Apostle does not quote the prophecies in this sense. That were in fact to overturn his own argument.
Because, if what was prognosticated of the respective posterities of the persons mentioned in the prophecies were the object in view, it would prove that the children of the flesh, as far, at least, as the children of Israel were concerned, were counted for the seed. But the Apostle’s argument goes to prove that the reverse is the case, — that they are not all Israel who are of Israel. With respect to the natural privileges and the pre-eminence which was given to Jacob and denied to Esau, as the representatives of their respective seeds, it would not stand true that they were not all Israel who were of Israel. The privileges in question had been enjoyed by the children of the flesh, and have just been enumerated as possessed by those very Israelites whose rejection from being the children of God the Apostle is now deploring, while, at the same time, he proves that rejection not contrary to the promises made to the fathers. We may therefore safely conclude that the Apostle does not so much speak of the posterity, as of the persons of Jacob and Esau; and that he knew the prophecies he quotes in support of his argument not to refer alone to that posterity; and consequently that it is certain he does speak of the eternal state of Jacob and Esau.’
The whole of the context throughout this ninth chapter, as well as the concluding part of the eighth, proves that respecting Jacob and Esau the reference is to their spiritual and eternal state. At the 29th verse of the preceding chapter, the Apostle, after exhibiting to believers various topics of the richest consolation, had traced up all their high privileges to the eternal purpose of God, and had dwelt in the sequel on their perfect security as His elect. In the beginning of this chapter, he had turned his eye, with deep lamentation, to the very different state of his countrymen, who, notwithstanding all their distinguished advantages, had rejected the Messiah. This gave occasion for enlarging on the sovereignty of God in the opposite aspect to that in which he had treated it in respect to believers.
In reference to believers, he had spoken of God’s sovereignty as displaying itself in their election, and now, in reference to the great body Of the Jews, as manifested in their rejection. By this arrangement, an opportunity was afforded most strikingly to exhibit that doctrine, by personal application in both cases.
It is evident that Paul, throughout this chapter, refers not to the external condition of the Jews, which was indeed involved in their rejection of Christ, but to their spiritual state, as rejecting the righteousness which is of faith, and stumbling at that stumbling stone, verse 32. He observes that not only at that time, but in former ages, according to the testimony of their own Prophets, a remnant only should be saved. And, besides, while the whole tenor of his discourse makes it obvious that he is treating of their spiritual and eternal condition, this is conclusively evident from what he says in the 22nd and 23rd verses above referred to, where he speaks, on the one hand, of the vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction, and, on the other, of the vessels of mercy, prepared unto glory. These two verses, were there no other proof, evince beyond all doubt what is his object. His lamentation for his countrymen was not called forth on account of the loss of their external privileges, the destruction of Jerusalem, and their expulsion from their own land. Had it been so, he must have included himself, and also those Jews whom, in the 24th verse, he says God had called. But so far is he from representing these to be in a lamentable state, that he describes them, along with himself, as vessels on whom the riches of the glory of God was made known; while, by the contrast, it is evident that by the wrath and destruction of which the others were vessels, he means something very different from temporal calamities. The vessels of the one description were the ‘remnant’ which should be saved, the ‘seed’ which the Lord of Sabbath had left, verses 27, 29. The vessels of the other description were these who were as ‘Sodom, and had been made like unto Gomorrah,’ which suffered the vengeance of eternal fire. What trifling, then, what wresting of this important portion of the word of God, what turning of it entirely away from its true meaning, to represent this chapter, as so many do, as treating of the outward state of the Jews, or to deny, with others, that the spiritual and everlasting condition of Jacob and Esau are here referred to! If the eternal condition of Abraham and of Judas be determined in the Scriptures, so also is that of Jacob and Esau; and no meaning, which, from whatever motive, any man may affix to the whole tenor of Scripture respecting them, will alter their condition. It is better to submit to the word of God on this and every other subject, taking it in its obvious import, than to be deterred from doing so on account of consequences from the admission of which we may shrink back. All Scripture will thus be profitable to us for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, while we are sure that the Judge of all the earth will do right.
On the whole, we see with what propriety the Apostle here introduces the different states of Jacob and Esau, the one beloved of God, the other hated. Besides elucidating the subject in question respecting God’s dealings with the nation of Israel, and of the word which He had spoken taking effect, they illustrate by particular examples both sides of the important doctrine of God’s sovereignty in the election, and of His justice in the reprobation of fallen men. For, by acting in this manner, God has clearly shown that He is the Sovereign Master in their calling and election, and of their rejection — that He chooses and rejects as seems good to Him any of the sinful race of Adam, all of whom are justly objects of His displeasure, without regarding natural qualities which distinguish them from one another.
What is said of Jacob and Esau in the Old Testament, in the place to which Paul refers, is both historical and typical. It relates, in the first view, to themselves personally, the elder being made subservient to the younger by selling his birthright. In consequence of that act, the declaration, The elder shall serve the younger, was verified from the time when it took place. All the rights of the firstborn were thus transferred to Jacob, and the inheritance of Canaan devolved on him by the surrender of his ungodly brother. At length Esau was compelled to leave that land, and to yield to Jacob. When the riches of both of them were more than that they might dwell together,’ ‘Esau,’ it is said, ‘took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance which he had got in the land of Canaan, and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob, Genesis 36:6.
Whatever, therefore, might have previously been the opposition of their interests, in this the most important act of his life relating to Jacob, Esau was finally made subservient to his younger brother. And this subserviency, in yielding up the inheritance which naturally belonged to him, continued during the remainder of their lives; so that the declaration, ‘The elder shall serve the younger,’ was, after various struggles between them, personally and literally fulfilled. In the second view, as being typical, what is said of them relates, on the one hand, to the state of Israel after the flesh, trampling on and forfeiting their high privileges, hated of God, and vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and, on the other hand, to the vessels of mercy which God had afore prepared unto glory.
In loving Jacob, God showed him unmerited favor, and acted towards him in mercy; and in hating Esau, He showed him no favor who was entitled to none, and acted according to justice. Had God acted also in justice without mercy towards Jacob, He would have hated both; for both were in their origin guilty in Adam, wicked and deserving of hatred. The Apostle unveils the reason why this was not the case, when he afterwards says that God has mercy on whom He will have mercy. The justice of God in hating Esau was made fully manifest in the sequel by his abuse of the high privileges in the course of providence bestowed upon him.
Notwithstanding all the advantages of instruction and example with which, beyond all others of the human race (with the exception of the rest of his family), he was distinguished, Esau despised his birthright, fraught with so many blessings, the natural right to which had been conferred on him in preference to his brother Jacob, and lived an ungodly life. If Jacob, who was placed in the same situation proved himself to be a godly man, it was entirely owing to the distinguishing grace of God. If it be objected, why was not this grace also vouchsafed to Esau? it may as well be asked, why are not the whole of mankind saved? That this will not be the case, even they who oppose the sovereignty of God in the election of grace cannot deny. Besides, will they, who affirm that God chooses men to eternal life because He foresees that they will do good works, deny that, at least, God foresaw the wickedness of Esau’s life? Even on their own principles, then, it was just to hate Esau before he was born; and, on the same ground of foreseeing his good works, it would have been just to love Jacob. Or will they say that this hatred should not have taken place till after Esau had acted such a part? This would prove that there is variableness with God, and that He does not hate to-day what He will hate to-morrow. Where, then, is the necessity for any one, whatever may be his sentiments, to resort to the vain attempt to show that, when it is said God loved Jacob and hated Esau, it only means that He loved Esau less than Jacob? As well may it be affirmed that, when, in the prophecy of Amos 5:15, it is said, ‘Hate the evil, and love the good,’ the meaning is, that we ought to love evil only in a less degree than good. But the truth is, that all opposition to the plain and obvious meaning of this passage proceeds from ignorance of, or inattention to, the state of death and ruin in which all men by nature lie, and from which no man can be recovered by any outward means alone, however powerful in themselves. This cannot be effected by anything short of the unmerited and invincibly efficacious grace of God, operating in the heart of those on whom He will have mercy according to His sovereign good pleasure. Undoubtedly God was under no more obligation to save any of the human race than He was to save the fallen angels. If He save any man, it is because He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, or as seemeth good to Him. According to those who oppose this manner of acting, God was under an obligation to send His Son into the world to save sinners.
From the 7th to the end of this 13th verse, we have an incontestable proof of the typical nature of the historical facts of the Old Testament, by which God was pleased to exhibit a picture or representation of spiritual things, and of His dealings respecting the people of Israel, as well as what related to His Church in the future economy. This typical import is fully recognized in various places in the New Testament, showing, as the Apostle declares in the 15th chapter of this Epistle, that ‘whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning,’ and also when he speaks of what took place respecting Israel in their journey from Egypt, which is equally applicable to so many other events. ‘Now all these things happened to them for examples,’ literally, types, 1 Corinthians 10:6-11. This proves that these occurrences were expressly ordained by Divine wisdom to be ‘a shadow of things to come.’ All this, too, we may collect from those types and figures of the Old Testament, which would have been wholly inconclusive, unless, by a particular destination of the providence of God, they had been really instituted to prefigure future events. By many it is indeed affirmed that such historical facts as the Apostle in these verses refers to, are only accommodated to the allegorical meaning. This unfounded allegation, so derogatory to the Holy Scriptures, and utterly repugnant to their character as a revelation from God, I have exposed in various parts of this work. I have adverted to it more fully, because, as formerly observed, it brings a palpable charge of falsehood and dishonesty against the inspired writers, representing them as quoting the language of the Holy Spirit in a meaning which He did not intend to convey, and as confirmatory of their own doctrine, when they knew that what they advanced was merely a fanciful accommodation of words. Although this degrading opinion is so much countenanced by such writers as Tholuck and Stuart, and by many others, I am not aware that it has hitherto attracted all that attention, and been marked with that abhorrence, which it so justly merits. Nothing is more clear than that such historical facts and occurrences as those to which Paul in the foregoing passages appeals, were divinely ordered and adapted to represent spiritual things; and it is of great importance in the present day, when interpreters are so much inclined to overlook the types of the Old Testament, to take every proper opportunity of placing them in their true lights and pointing out the important purpose which they were intended to serve in the future economy, and for which they are referred to as in the passages before us. f47
The Apostle anticipated the objection of the carnal mind to his doctrine.
Does not loving Jacob and hating Esau before they had done any good or evil, imply that there is injustice in God? This objection clearly proves that the view taken of the preceding passage is correct. For it is this view which suggests the objection. Is it just in God to love one who has done no good, and to hate one who has done no evil? If the assertion respecting loving Jacob and hating Esau admitted of being explained away in the manner that so many do, there could be no place for such an objection.
And what is the Apostle’s reply? Nothing but a decided rejection of the supposition that God’s treatment of Jacob and Esau implied injustice. By asking the question if there be unrighteousness with God, he strongly denies that in God there is here any injustice; and this denial is sufficient.
According to the doctrine which he everywhere inculcates, consistently with that of the whole of Scripture, God is represented as infinitely just, as well as wise, holy, good, and faithful. In the exercise of His sovereignty, therefore, all that God wills to do must be in strict conformity with the perfection of His character. He cannot deny Himself; He cannot act inconsistently with any of His Divine attributes.
Ver. 15. — For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
What is the ground on which the Apostle here rests his denial that there is unrighteousness with God? He makes no defense or apology for God, attempts no metaphysical distinctions, but rests solely on the authority of Scripture. He produces the testimony of God to Moses, declaring the same truth that he himself affirms. This is quite enough for Christians. It is not wise in them, as is often the case, to adopt a mode of vindicating God’s procedure, so very different from what He Himself employs. How many go about to justify God, and thereby bring God to the bar of man!
From the defenses of Scripture doctrine, often resorted to, it might be supposed that God was on His trial before men, rather than that all shall stand before Him, and that the will of God is supreme justice. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. — That is, I will have mercy on whom I please — I will bestow My favors, or withhold them, as seemeth to Me good. God by this declaration proves that He is a debtor to none; that every blessing bestowed upon the elect flows from gratuitous love, and is freely granted to whom He pleases. The answer, then, of the Apostle amounts to this that what is recorded concerning God’s loving Jacob and hating Esau is in nothing different from His usual mode of procedure towards men, but is entirely consistent with the whole plan of His government. All men are lost and guilty in Adam; it is of mercy that any are saved; and God declares that He will have mercy or not upon men according to His own good pleasure. It is only of this attribute that such language as is contained in this passage can be employed. The exercise of every other attribute is at all times indispensable, and never can be suspended.
Ver. 16. — So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.
This is the conclusion from the whole. Salvation is not from the will of man, nor from his efforts in striving for it, but is entirely of God’s mercy vouchsafed to whom He pleases. What foundation, then, can be discovered in the word of God for those schemes of self-righteousness, which, in a greater or less degree, make salvation depend on man’s own exertions?
There may be here an allusion to Jacob’s desiring the blessing of the birthright, and his running to provide the venison by which he deceived his father; but his obtaining the blessing was solely the consequence of God’s good pleasure, for the means he employed for the purpose merited punishment rather than success. In like manner, the salvation of any man is not to be ascribed to his own good will and diligent endeavors to arrive at it, but solely to the purpose of God according to election, which is ‘not of works, but of Him that calleth.’ It is true, indeed, that believers both will and run, but this is the effect, not the cause, of the grace of God being vouchsafed to them. ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’ To whom is this addressed? To ‘the saints in Christ Jesus,’ in whom God had begun a good work, which He will perform until the day of Jesus Christ — to them who had always obeyed, Philippians 1:1,6,29, 2:12. But besides this, what is the motive or encouragement to work out their salvation? ‘For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.’ Here all the willing and doing of men in the service of God is ascribed to His operation in causing them to will and to do. The whole of the new covenant is a promise of God that He Himself will act efficaciously for the salvation of those whom He will save. ‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.’ ‘I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear Me for ever.’ ‘I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me.’ ‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them,’ Jeremiah 31,32; Ezekiel 36: In this way the means by which God’s elect are brought to Him, their calling, their justification, their sanctification, their perseverance, and their glorification, are all of God, as was shown in the preceding chapter, and not of themselves. ‘There is great folly,’ say Calvin, ‘in the argument that we are possessed of a certain energy in our zeal, but of such a kind as can effect nothing of itself, unless aided by the mercy of Jehovah, since the Apostle shows that we possess nothing of our own, by excluding all our efforts. To infer that we have the power either of running or willing, is a mere cavil, which Paul denies, and plainly asserts that our will or ardor in the race has not the smallest influence in procuring our election. On the ether hand, those merit the severest reproof who continue to indulge in sloth, that they may afford room and opportunity for the grace of God to act; since, although their own industry can accomplish nothing, yet the heavenly zeal inspired by the Father of Lights is endued with active efficacy.’
If any shall oppose the declaration of the Apostle, that it is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy, and assert that the salvation of man depends on conditions which he is obliged to fulfill, then it may be asked, what is the condition? Is it faith? Faith is the gift of God. Is it repentance? Christ is exalted a Prince and a Savior to give repentance. Is it love? God promises to circumcise the heart in order to love Him. Are they good works? His people are the workmanship of God created unto good works. Is it perseverance to the end? They are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. It is true that all these things are commanded and enforced by the most powerful motives, consequently they are duties which require the exercise of our faculties.
But they are assured by the decree of election, and are granted to the elect of God in the proper season; so that, in this view, they are the objects of promise, and the effects of supernatural and Divine influence. ‘Thy people,’ saith Jehovah to the Messiah, ‘shall be willing in the day of Thy power.’ Thus the believer, in running his race, and working out his salvation, is actuated by God, and animated by the consideration of His all-powerful operation in the beginning of his course; of the continuation of His support during its progress; and by the assurance that it shall be effectual in enabling him to overcome all obstacles, and to arrive in safety at its termination.
Ver. 17. — For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.
This verse stands connected, not with the 15th and 16th, which immediately precede it, but with the 13th and 14th. In the 13th verse, God’s love to Jacob and His hatred to Esau are declared. In respect to both, it is demanded in the 14th verse, if there be injustice with God. In the 15th and 16th verses following, the answer is given regarding the preference and love of God to Jacob. In this 17th verse, the Apostle replies to the question as it refers to God’s hatred of Esau. And the answer here is precisely similar to that given respecting Jacob. God’s love to Jacob before he had done any good was according to His usual plan of procedure; and on the same ground, His hatred of Esau before he had done any evil is also vindicated. Paul here proves his doctrine from the example of one to whom, in Divine sovereignty, God acted according to justice without mercy. The Scripture saith that God raised up Pharaoh for the very purpose of manifesting His own glory in his punishment. For the Scripture saith. — By the manner in which the Apostle begins this verse, we are taught that whatever the Scriptures declare on any subject is to be considered as decisive on the point. ‘What saith the Scripture?’ This is the proof to which the Apostle appeals. It should further be observed, that Paul ascribes to the Scriptures what was said by God Himself, Exodus 9:16. This expressly teaches us that the words of Scripture are the words of God. In the same manner, in the Epistle to the Galatians, it is said, the Scripture, ‘foreseeing that God would justify the heathen;’ and, ‘the scripture hath concluded all under sin,’ Galatians 3:8,22. Here the word of God is so much identified with Himself, that the Scripture is represented as possessing and exercising the peculiar prerogatives of God.
What is done by God, and what belongs only to Him, is ascribed to the Scriptures, — proving that they contain the very words of God. ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, 2 Timothy 3:16. The word Scripture is here taken in its appropriated meaning — being confined to the book of God. All that is written in it is divinely inspired; and what does writing consist of but of words? If any of these are not inspired, then all Scripture is not inspired. Every word, then, in the book referred to, is the word of God, dictated by Him of whom the writers were the instruments He employed, who spoke or wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Why are so many unwilling to admit this view of the inspiration of Scripture so much insisted on in the Scriptures themselves?
Is it on account of the difficulty of conceiving how words should thus be communicated? But is it easier to understand how ideas could be communicated? Do they believe that the Lord ‘opened the mouth of the ass’ of Balaam, and communicated the words which she spake? Is it then more difficult to communicate words to men than to a dumb animal? To speak of difficulties where Omnipotence is concerned, is palpably absurd.
Besides, all allow that in the parts of Scripture to which (making vain distinctions respecting inspiration, without the least foundation from any expression the Scriptures contain) they ascribe the inspiration of ‘suggestion,’ the very words were communicated to the writers. Those who deny the plenary verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, — who introduce various modifications of the manner in which they have been written, — neither can nor ought to entertain the same profound veneration for them as those who believe that, without any exception, from beginning to end, they are dictated by God Himself. The Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, — that is, the Scripture showeth how Moses was commanded to say unto Pharaoh, Exodus 9:16, — Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up. — Here is the destination of Pharaoh to his destruction. That I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth. — This is the end and design intended by it. It was not, then, by any concurrence of fortuitous circumstances that Pharaoh was seated on the throne of Egypt, and invested with the power he possessed when Moses was appointed to conduct Israel out of Egypt. He was raised up, or made to stand in that place, in order that, by his opposition, from the perversity of his heart, in him God might show His own power and exalt His own name. It is not merely alleged that God had not shown mercy to this king of Egypt, or that He had suffered him to go on in his wicked ways; but, in language which the unrenewed heart of man will never relish, it is declared, ‘Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.’ For this very end, the birth, the life, and the situation of Pharaoh were all of Divine appointment. This is language so clear that it cannot be guiltlessly misinterpreted. The unbelieving heart of man will revolt, and his ingenuity may invent expedients to soften this explicit declaration; but it never can be successfully evaded. All the shifts of sophistry will never be able fairly, or even plausibly, to explain this language in a sense that will not testify the sovereignty of God.
The above truth respecting Pharaoh is what the Scriptures declare; and we ought never to pretend to go further into the deep things of God than they go before us, but submissively to bow to every Divine declaration. We know that all sin will be found with man; but here we are taught that even the sin of man will turn out for the glory of God, and for this very purpose the wicked are raised up. If we cannot fathom this depth in the Divine counsels, still let us be certain that what God says is true, and must be received by us. We are assured that the Judge of all the earth will in all things act righteously, although we may not be able to comprehend His ways. Nor are we required to comprehend them. We are required to believe His word, and to believe that it is consistent with the eternal righteousness of His character. ‘Let us treasure,’ says Calvin, ‘the following observation in our minds, — never to feel the least desire to attain any other knowledge concerning this doctrine save what is taught us in Scripture.
When the Lord shuts His sacred mouth, let us also stop our thoughts from advancing one step further in our inquiries.’ Consistently with the vain attempts that have been made to reconcile the truth above affirmed with philosophy falsely so called, the whole subject of this chapter might be rejected, equally with that of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. It has accordingly been perverted by many who have explained it in such a way as to remove all the difficulties which it presents. Our Lord in one short sentence has declared the true reason of their finding it so hard to understand this chapter. ‘Why do ye not understand My speech? — even because ye cannot hear My word.’ It is also written for our warning. ‘Many, therefore, of His disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?’ There is no part of Scripture, the meaning of which is more obvious than that of this chapter. But if men will yield to the natural opposition of their minds to the truth it declares, and, wresting the plainest expressions, affirm that hatred signifies love, is it surprising that they are bewildered in following their own devices? f49
Here the general conclusion is drawn from all the Apostle had said in the three preceding verses, in denying that God was unrighteous in loving Jacob and hating Esau. It exhibits the ground of God’s dealings both with the elect and the reprobate. It concludes that His own sovereign pleasure is the rule both with respect to those whom He receives, and those whom He rejects. He pardons one and hardens another, without reference to anything but His own sovereign will, in accordance with His infinite wisdom, holiness, and justice. ‘Even so, Father,’ said our blessed Lord, ‘for so it seemed good in Thy sight.’ God is not chargeable with any injustice in electing some and not others; for this is an act of mere mercy and compassion, and that can be no violation of justice. Therefore hath He mercy On whom He will have mercy. — Paul here repeats for the third time, that God has mercy on whom He will have mercy, without intimating the least regard to anything in man as deserving mercy. The smallest degree of right in the creature would furnish reason for displaying justice, not mercy. Mercy is that adorable perfection of God by which He pities and relieves the miserable. Under the good and righteous government of God, no one is miserable who does not deserve to be so. The objects of mercy are persons who are miserable, because they are guilty, and therefore justly deserving of punishment. The exercise of mercy is a particular display of the grace or free favor of God. In no case can it be due to a guilty creature; it necessarily implies the absence of all right. A man can never have a right to mercy; and to talk of deserving mercy is a contradiction in terms. God, it is said, ‘delighteth in mercy,’ Micah 7:18; and in the proclamation of His name to Moses, this attribute is particularly signalized. ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious,’ Exodus 34:6. He is ‘rich’ and ‘plenteous’ in mercy, and ‘His tender mercies are over all His works.’
Mercy, however, is an attribute, the constant exercise of which is not essential to God, like that of justice, which can never, as has been remarked, for a moment be suspended. Mercy is dispensed according to His sovereign pleasure in regard to persons or times, as to Him seemeth good. Towards the fallen children of men it was gloriously displayed when God sent His Son into the world, which was purely a work of mercy, and not demanded by justice. But to the fallen angels mercy was not vouchsafed. And is this any impeachment of the mercy of God? If not, is it a just ground for complaint, that in order to manifest His hatred of sin, His mercy is not extended to a certain portion of the human race, who we know for certain shall perish? Thus God has mercy on whom He will have mercy. It is one of the fundamental errors of Socinians, and of many besides, to hold that the mercy of God must be necessarily and constantly exercised; while, reversing the order of Scripture, and all its representations of the character of God, they deny this necessity regarding His justice.
The same act, however, may be both an act of justice and an act of mercy in reference to different objects. The punishment of the enemies of God, the slaying of the firstborn in Egypt, the overthrow of Pharaoh and his host, the discomfiture of kings, and the transfer of their lands for an heritage to Israel, while they were acts of justice towards the enemies of His people, are all ascribed to the mercy of God to them, <19D601> Psalm ‘To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for His mercy endureth for ever: But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea: for His mercy endureth for ever: To Him which smote great kings: for His mercy endureth for ever: And slew famous kings: for His mercy endureth for ever: And gave their land for an heritage: for His mercy endureth for ever:
Even an heritage to Israel His servant: for His mercy endureth for ever.’
Mercy, then, which is a particular kind of Divine goodness, is sovereign; and to confer favors freely, consistently with Divine wisdom, does injury to no one. If God was only just, there would be no place for mercy; if He never acted as a sovereign benefactor, there could be no place for the plan of redemption. God may be considered under two different aspects, either as judging with equity, or as disposing at His will of His benefits; in other words, as a judge, or as a sovereign. Under either of these aspects, in whatever manner He acts, having nothing higher than Himself, He is the supreme God. Sovereignty, when this word is applied to God, signifies the arbitrary will of a benefactor, because that under the other aspects there is no place for the exercise of arbitrary will. In the exercise of His justice, God is sovereign in His judgments and His punishments, but not arbitrary, because He does not judge without demerit in the objects of His judgment.
When, therefore, He acts as Judge and Supreme Ruler, His acts are founded upon equity; but when He acts as Sovereign, His acts are founded upon His free favor, and dispensed with wisdom.
Whatever offense the human mind may take at the attribute of Divine justice, and its exercise in punishing the guilty, we should think that all men would eagerly embrace the view given in Scripture of the Divine mercy. Yet, in reality, the peculiar character of the mercy of God is as disagreeable to men as is His justice itself. The Divine mercy is not only sovereign, but, respecting its object, it is unlimited. Neither of these peculiarities is agreeable to the mind of man. Human wisdom views God as merciful, but that mercy it makes to extend equally to all, and unlimitedly to none. For persons not guilty of glaring sins, God’s mercy is not only expected by the world, but even claimed and demanded. To deny it to those who are sober and regular in their lives, would be looked on as both cruel and unjust. In the passage before us, however, we see that God’s mercy is sovereign, that it extends to one and not to another, while no man can give a reason for the preference of one and the rejection of the other.
The only reason God condescends to give is His own pleasure: ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.’ The unlimited character of the Divine mercy is a thing that ought to be most agreeable to every man. Even should any be so blind as not to perceive that they need such mercy for themselves, yet, if they loved mankind, they should rejoice that the Divine mercy is such as to extend to the chief of sinners. Constant experience, however, as well as the history of our Lord’s life, shows us that this is not the case. Instead of rejoicing in the extent of the Divine mercy, the heart of the self-righteous man will swell with indignation when he hears that mercy is extended to the vile and the profligate. Nothing in the conduct of our Lord gave such offense to the scribes and Pharisees as this peculiarity in His conduct of receiving sinners In the most prominent manner He exhibited this feature of mercy, and publicans and sinners heard Him, and received His doctrine, and turned from their sins unto God; while the proud, self-righteous Pharisees burned with indignation at the conduct of Christ in this instance. He was constantly upbraided as receiving sinners and eating with them.
Of the mercy of God, Dr. Thomson observes, ‘It cannot be that His mercy should be exerted at the expense or to the disparagement, in any the least degree, of one excellence which beautifies His nature, or upholds His government, or speaks His praise. His mercy is sovereign and gratuitous; and therefore it can only be displayed when every other quality that belongs to Him is fully maintained, and there is no sacrifice of the honor that is due to each, and of the consistency which pervades the whole.
Whenever His mercy cannot be exercised without refusing the demands of His justice, or without bringing into question the immutability of His faithfulness, or without denying the irresistible energy of His power, or without impeaching the infallibility of His wisdom, or without throwing suspicion on the absolute purity of His nature — in these cases His mercy cannot be exercised at all, for the exercise of it would involve some shortcoming in His perfection, which is necessarily unqualified and unlimited. It is only of this attribute that it can be said, ‘He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy.’ Of every other attribute it is requisite that we predicate positive and peremptory operation. He must be holy; He must be wise; He must be powerful; He must be just; He must be true; He must be each and all of these, whatever betide His universe; and if we, His apostate creatures, cannot be the objects of His mercy except by some surrender of the homage due to them, or some violation of the harmony that reigns among them, His mercy cannot save, and cannot reach us.’ And whom He will He hardeneth. — If God hath mercy on whom He will, He hardeneth whom He will. In hardening men, God does no injustice, nor does He act in any degree contrary to the perfection of His character. He does not communicate hardness or perversity to the hearts of men by any positive internal act, as when He communicates His grace. ‘Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man.’ Wicked men are not restrained by the holy influences of grace, but by the different restraints under which they are placed by Providence. They are hardened when these restraints are removed, and when they are left free to act according to the depraved inclinations of their own hearts, to which the Lord gives them up, Psalm 81:12; Acts 7:42; Romans 1:24,26,28. Or they are hardened by the communication of qualities which are neither good nor bad in themselves, but which may become either good or bad according to the use made of them, such as courage, perseverance, or other dispositions which may be employed for bad purposes. Men are also hardened when they are abandoned to the suggestions of Satan, of whom they are the willing slaves. Thus Judas was hardened by Satan, who had taken possession of him, and to whom he submitted himself, although most solemnly warned of his danger. When a man is entirely left to himself, the commands, the warnings, the judgments, the deliverances, and all the truths of Scripture become causes of hardness, of insensibility, of pride, and presumption.
Even the delay of merited punishment, and the deliverances from the plagues that fell on his country, were, in respect to Pharaoh, the occasion of hardening his heart. ‘Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil’ In these ways men’s hearts are hardened, through means that in themselves are calculated to produce the opposite effect.
But by whatever means the heart of men is hardened, they are regulated by God, who also determines that they shall succeed. We see this remarkably verified in the case of Ahab. ‘And the Lord said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail. Go out and do even so. Now, therefore, behold the Lord hath put a Lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil against thee,’ 2 Chronicles 18:21. ‘If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet; and I will stretch out My hand upon him, and will destroy him from the midst of My people Israel,’ Ezekiel 14:9. ‘Truly the Son of Man goeth, as it was determined; but woe unto that man by whom Me is betrayed,’ Luke 22:22. ‘Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain,’ Acts 2:23. ‘Of a truth against Thy holy child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done,’ Acts 4:27. ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient; whereunto also they were appointed,’ 1 Peter 2:8. This shows an ordination of God to the thing referred to, which thing was sinful. ‘There are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation.’ The persons here spoken of are said to be ordained to condemnation, which, whatever it may be supposed to be, implies pre-appointment to it by God, Jude 4. ‘Therefore, they could not believe, because Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and I should heal them,’ John 12:39. ‘According as it is written, God hath given them a spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this day,’ Romans 11:8. ‘And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness,’ 2 Thessalonians 2:11. It is nothing to the purpose to allege that this was in judgment for not receiving the love of the truth; whatever was the cause, God sent them strong delusion, so that they should believe a lie. In the same way it is said, Revelation 17:17, ‘God hath put in their hearts to fulfill His will, and to agree and give their kingdom to the beast.’ ‘Babylon,’ says Dr. Carson, in his History of Providence, ‘ was employed by Providence for the chastisement of His people, and commissioned to carry the Jews into captivity. Babylon was guilty in executing the will of the Lord, and was providentially destroyed by Him with an unexampled destruction. The Medes and Persians are sent by God to execute His vengeance on Babylon. He calls out their hosts and gives them victory, yet the Medes and Persians were excited by their own passions. Besides, says God, I will bring up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver; and as for gold, they shall not delight in it.
Their bows also shall dash the young men to pieces; and they shall have no pity on the fruit of the womb; their eye shall not spare children. How awful does Providence appear here! Even when savage idolaters violate every dictate of humanity, they are the executors of the judgments of the Almighty. While their conduct is most horridly guilty, in the Divine sovereignty it fulfills God’s will. Who can fathom this depth? In God’s dealings with Assyria and Babylon we ought to find a key to His providence in His dealings with the western nations of Europe. Does not Jehovah govern the world? Is there evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?’
In all the above acts relating to men, God proceeds in conformity to His justice. He is infinitely just in hating, hardening, and condemning sinners, in adjudging them to punishment for their wickedness, and in placing them in situations in which, in the free exercise of their evil dispositions, they will do what the Lord has appointed for His own glory. Thus God orders events in such a manner, that, as in the passages above quoted, the sin will, through the wickedness of men: certainly be committed, while He is not the author of evil, but, on the contrary, of good. He displays His holiness in the events and in their consequences. Men may employ all their art in wresting the above and similar passages, but they are recorded in the Scriptures, which are the word of God, and which cannot be broken. ‘The Lord hath made all things for Himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil,’ Proverbs 16:4. ‘Why dost thou strive against Him? for He giveth not account of His matters,’ — or answereth not, Job 33:13.
That God does not harden any man in such a way as to be the author of sin, is most certain. But there must be a sense in which He hardens sinners, or the thing would not be asserted. From His conduct with respect to Pharaoh, it is obvious that sinners are hardened by the providence of God bringing them into situations that manifest and excite their corruptions.
In the history of Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus, it is repeated ten times, that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh is also said to have hardened his own heart. This shows that there is a certain connection between God’s hardening the hearts of men and their voluntarily hardening their own hearts, so that when the one takes place the other does so likewise. It does not follow from this that God’s hardening the heart of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh’s hardening his own heart, are one and the same thing. This supposition, although adopted by many is contrary to the representations and the express words of Scripture. The just inference is, that there is one view in which Pharaoh hardened his heart, and another in which God is said to have hardened it. We should believe both; but to attempt to show the philosophy of their reconciliation, is to attempt to fathom infinity. In <19A525> Psalm 105:25, it is said with respect to the people of Egypt, that God ‘turned their heart to hate His people.’ Can anything be stronger or more clear than this passage? No doubt it was their own sin, but there is also a sense in which the thing was of God. Are we to deny this because we cannot explain the way in which God did this? On the same ground we might reject the doctrine of the Trinity, or any other of the incomprehensible doctrines of Christianity.
On this subject, Dr. Carson, in his book lately published, entitled, Examination of the Principles of Biblical Interpretation of Ernesti, Ammon, Stuart, and other Philologists, observes, ‘It is said that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh; it is said also that Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
What, then, is the lawful way to reconcile these two statements? The statements must both be true. There must be a sense in which God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, for this is as expressly asserted as that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. That this is not a sense implying that God is the author of Pharaoh’s sin, there cannot be a moment’s question. I may be asked how God could in any sense harden a man’s heart without being the author of sin a But the most assured belief of the fact does not require that an answer should be given to the question. A thing may be true, yet utterly inexplicable. God’s declaration is perfectly sufficient for the belief of anything which He testifies. Our reception of it does not imply that we know the grounds or nature of its truth. We receive it, not because we can explain how it is true, but because we know that God cannot lie. The Scriptures testify the fact; the fact, then, must be received as truth. The Scriptures do not testify the manner in which the thing is true of God; the manner, then, is not a thing to be believed, and consequently not a thing to be explained by man.... Many tell us that such assertions mean merely that God permits the thing which He is said to do. But is permission sufficient to secure accomplishment? God sent Joseph to Egypt; that is, it is said, He permitted his brethren to sell him. Nay, but it was God’s will, purpose, and plan, that Joseph should go down to Egypt, and His providence secured the event. “Now, therefore,” says Joseph, “be not grieved nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither! for God did send me before you to preserve life.” His brethren did it wickedly; God did it in mercy and in wisdom. We know that he did it entirely in consistency with man’s accountability; but the manner of this consistency is not a matter of revelation, and therefore it is impossible to attempt explanation. “ Romans 9:18,” says Ammon, “appears to be an obscure passage relating to the absolute decrees of God. Light may be thrown upon this by 1 Samuel 6:6, where Pharaoh is said to have hardened his own heart.”
How does 1 Samuel 6:6 throw light upon Romans 9:18? We might have expected rather that Ammon would have found a contradiction, as the one passage ascribes to God what the other ascribes to man. The passages indeed are consistent; but their consistency must be made out, not by obliging one of them to silence the other, but by the principle that they assert the same thing in a different view. Ammon’s plan, I presume, is to make Romans 9:18 recant, in order to harmonize with 1 Samuel 6:6.
But the honor of Scripture, and of God’s character, require that they should be reconciled in a way that renders both true.’
Calvin, in his commentary on Exodus, represents those as perverting the Scriptures who insist that no more is meant than a bare permission when God is said to harden the hearts of men. He speaks of such as frigid speculatores, diluti moderatores, to whose delicate ears such Scripture expressions seem harsh and offensive. They therefore, he observes, ‘soften them down by turning an action into a permission, as if there were no difference between acting and suffering, i.e., suffering others to act.’ Such, he says, who will admit of permission only, suspend this counsel and determination of God, wholly on the will of man; but that he is not ashamed or afraid to speak as the Holy Spirit does, and does not hesitate to approve and embrace what the Scriptures so often declares, viz., that God blinds the minds of wicked men, and hardens their hearts. In his commentary on the passage before us, Romans 9:18, to the same purpose he observes, ‘The word hardening, when attributed to God in Scripture, not only means permission (as some trifling theologians determine), but the action of Divine wrath; for all external circumstances, which contribute to blind the reprobates, are instruments of the Divine indignation. Satan also himself, the internal efficacious agent, is so completely the servant of the Most High, as to act only by His command.
The frivolous attempt of the school men to avoid the difficulty by foreknowledge, is completely subverted; for Paul does not say that the ruin of the wicked is foreseen by the Lord, but ordained by His counsel, decree, and will. Solomon also teaches that the destruction of the wicked was not only foreknown, but they were made on purpose for the day of evil’ ( Proverbs 16:4). f51 Some profess Calvinism, but affect to hold it in a more unexceptionable manner than it is held in the system in general. They seem to think that in the defense of that system, Calvin was extravagant, and that he gave unnecessary offense by exaggerated statements, and by language not warranted by the Scriptures. Such persons, it is presumed, are strangers to the writings of Calvin. Calvin himself is remarkable for keeping on Scripture ground, and avoiding anything that may justly be termed extravagant. No writer has ever indulged less in metaphysical speculation on the deep things of God than this writer. To support his system, it was necessary only to exhibit Scripture testimony, and he seems quite contented to rest the matter on this foundation.
What is called moderate Calvinism is in reality refined Arminianism. It is impossible to modify the former without sliding into the latter. If the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and of unconditional election be denied, regeneration and redemption must undergo a corresponding modification, and all the doctrines of grace will be more or less affected. While it is admitted that many of the people of God, through imperfect views of Divine truth, falter on the subject of election, it is a truth essential to the plan of salvation, and a truth most explicitly revealed. No truth in the Scriptures is more easily defended. The reason why many find it difficult to defend this doctrine is, that they suppose it necessary to account for it by human wisdom, and to justify the conduct of God. We have nothing to do with the grounds of the Divine procedure, we have to do only with the Divine testimony, that testimony which Mr. Tholuck so fearfully perverts. There are many who in words fully admit the doctrine of predestination, and at the same time neutralize it by dwelling exclusively upon God’s being love, and laying the blame of the whole world not being saved on the sloth of Christians.] That ordination, with respect to evil, is merely permission, is an opinion which cannot be maintained. Permission is not ordination in any sense of the term, and ordination is quite a different idea from permission. We may permit what we do not ordain, and when we ordain anything, we do more than permit it. But it will be replied, Does not this make God the author of sin? It is answered, that the sense in which God ordains sin is above our comprehension. It must be a sense in which He is not the author of sin — a sense, too, in which responsibility entirely rests with man. But the way in which this is true, we cannot explain. It is enough to know that God hath declared it. We are to believe Him on His own testimony, and to honor Him by submitting to whatever He declares. God tells us that He doth such things, He tells us also that men do these things. We should believe both assertions, though we cannot reconcile them. Does not God say in His word — ’As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts?’ Does He not say that His ways are past finding out? If we could fathom all the ways of God, the Scriptures could not be His word. What God reveals, let us know: what He conceals, let us not attempt to discover. God is from eternity; but we are of yesterday and know nothing.
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, as He declared from the beginning of the history He would do; but did not put evil into his mind. There was no need for this, for he was previously wicked like all mankind. God has no occasion to put evil into the heart of any, in order to their destruction, for in consequence of the curse of the broken law (from which God’s people alone are delivered), there is in no natural man anything good towards God, Romans 8:7. While He thus punished Pharaoh’s wickedness no more than his iniquity deserved, God, in doing so, displayed to His people Israel their security under His protection.
Here the Apostle obviates a third objection or cavil. The first was, that God is unfaithful, verse 6. The second, that God is unjust, verse 14. This third is, that God is severe and cruel. If God thus shows mercy, or hardens according to His sovereign pleasure, why, then, it may be asked, does He yet find fault with transgressors? This is the only objection that can be made to what the Apostle was stating. Thou wilt say, then, who hath resisted His will? If God wills sin, and if He is all-powerful, must He not be the author of sin? Mr. Fry here remarks, — ’The thought will frequently start in the mind of the inquirer: If Divine grace is bestowed on some, and withheld from others; especially if the sins and transgressions of men are so under the control of the Almighty, that they but serve His purposes, how is it that such blame and censure attaches to the sinner, and that such dreadful judgments are denounced against him? If our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say then, is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? This, it will be perceived, is no other than the difficulty so generally felt in attempting to reconcile the responsibility of man as a moral agent, with a pre-ordination of all events, after the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. This pre-ordination the Apostle had asserted and proved from the Scriptures.
From the Scriptures, at the same time, is evinced the complete responsibility of man as a moral agent: God’s finding fault; His remonstrances with transgressors; the declaration of their amenableness to a just judgment the manner in which the Gospel addresses them, and bewails their hardness and their impenetrable heart, unquestionably establishes this point. The proud wisdom of rebellious man indeed, almost dares to charge the oracles of God with inconsistency on this head; or, what is nearly as bad, takes upon itself either to explain away or to invalidate one part of the Scripture truth in order to establish the other, and, in apologizing for Him before His creatures, to make God consistent with Himself! Such is the wicked presumption of man; such, we may lament to add, is the officious folly of some who mean to be the advocates of revelation; and the weak and imprudent defense of a friend is as dishonorable often as the open accusation of an enemy.’
The objection stated in the verse before us is in substance the same as is urged to this day, and it never can be put more strongly than here by the Apostle. What, then, does he answer? This we learn in the subsequent verses, in which he charges upon those who prefer it, their great impiety in presuming to arraign the ways of God, and to take up an argument against their Maker.
Ver. 20. — Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
To the preceding objection, the Apostle, in this and the two following verses, gives three distinct answers. His first answer in this verse, similar to Isaiah 45:9, is directed against the proud reasonings of man who, though he be born like a wild ass’s colt, and being of yesterday, knows nothing, Job 11:12, presumes to scan the deep things of God, and to find fault with the plan of His government and providence, into which angels desire to look, while they find it incomprehensible. We are here taught that it is perfectly sufficient to silence all objections, to prove that anything is the will of God. No man, after this is done, has a right to hesitate or to doubt. The rectitude of God’s will is not to be questioned.
What men have to do is to learn what God says, and then to receive it as unquestionably true and right. Nay but, O man, who art thou? — And what is man that he should take upon him to object to anything that God says? The reason and discernment between right and wrong which he possesses is the gift of God; it must, then, be the greatest abuse of these faculties to employ them to question the conduct of Him who gave them.
The question of the Apostle imports that it is a thing most preposterous for such a creature as man to question the procedure of God. Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou formed me this? — Can anything be more presumptuous than for the creature to pretend to greater wisdom than the Creator? Any wisdom the creature possesses must have been received from the Creator; and if the Creator has the power of forming rational beings, must He not Himself be infinite in wisdom? And does it not insult the Creator to pretend to find imperfection in His proceedings? Why, as Thou art all-powerful, hast Thou formed me in such a manner that I am capable of sin and misery?
The rebellious heart of man is never satisfied with the Apostle’s answer, and still the question is, Why did He make men to be condemned? Let the Lord’s people be satisfied with the Apostle’s answer, and let it be sufficient for them to know that God has willed both the salvation of the elect, and the destruction of the wicked, although they are not able to fathom the depths of the ways of God. The Apostle tells us the fact, and shows us that it must be received on God’s testimony, and not on our ability to justify it. That God does all things right there is no question, but the grounds of His conduct He does not now explain to His people. Much less is it to be supposed that He would justify His conduct by explaining the grounds of it to His enemies. No man has a right to bring God to trial.
What He tells us of Himself, or of ourselves, let us receive as unquestionably right. ‘Paul,’ says Calvin, ‘doth not busily labor to excuse God with a lying defense. He would not have neglected refuting the objection, that God reprobates or elects, according to His own will, those whom He does not honor with His favor, or love gratuitously, had he considered it to be false. The impious object, that men are exempted from guilt if the will of God has the chief part in the salvation of the elect, or destruction of the reprobate. Does Paul deny it? Nay; his answer confirms this truth — that God determines to do with mankind what He pleases, and that men rise up with unavailing fury to contest it, since the Maker of the world assigns to His creatures, by His own right, whatever lot He chooses. If we cannot declare a reason why He vouchsafeth to grant mercy to them that are His, but because it pleaseth Him, neither also shall we have any other cause in rejecting of others than His own will; for when it is said that God hardeneth or showeth mercy to whom He will, men are thereby savored to seek no cause elsewhere than in His own will’ ‘Mere human reason,’ says Luther to Erasmus, ‘can never comprehend how God is good and merciful; and therefore you make to yourself a God of your own fancy, who hardens nobody, condemns nobody, pities everybody.
You cannot comprehend how a just God can condemn those who are born in sin, and cannot help themselves, but must, by a necessity of their natural constitution, continue in sin, and remain children of wrath. The answer is, God is incomprehensible throughout, and therefore His justice, as well as His other attributes, must be incomprehensible. It is on this very ground that St. Paul exclaims, “O the depth of the riches of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” Now, His judgments would not be past finding out, if we could always perceive them to be just.’
Ver. 21. — Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
This is the Apostle’s second answer to the objection contained in the 19th verse, in which, by another reference to Scripture, he asserts that the thing formed ought not to contend with Him that formed it, who has a right to dispose of it as He pleases. The words in the original, translated ‘power’ in this verse and the following, are different. The word here employed is variously applied as signifying authority, license, liberty, right; but in its application to God there can be no question that it denotes power justly exercised. The mere power or ability of doing what God pleases, cannot be the meaning, for this is not the thing questioned. It is the justice of the procedure that is disputed, and it is consequently the justice of this exercise of power that must be asserted. With respect to all other beings, the license, liberty, or right referred to, may be, as it is, derived from a superior; but in this sense it cannot refer to God. When, therefore, it is said here that God has ‘power,’ it must mean that He may, in the instance referred to, use His power in conformity to justice. The right has not a reference to a superior as conferring it, but a reference to His own character, to which all the actions of this sovereignty must be conformable.
Power, then, in this place, signifies right or power which is consistent with justice. It is this right or power according to justice that is here asserted.
When the potter molds the clay into what form he pleases, he does nothing contrary to justice; neither does God do injustice in the exercise of absolute power over His creatures. Out of the same original lump or mass He forms, in His holy sovereignty, one man unto honor, and another unto dishonor, without in any respect violating justice. Here it is implied that as there is no difference between the matter or lump out of which the potter forms diversity of vessels, so there is no difference in mankind, Romans 3:22; all men — both those who are elected, and those who are rejected, that are made vessels of mercy, or vessels of wrath — are alike by nature in the same condemnation in which God might in justice have left the whole, but out of which in His holy sovereignty He saves some, while He exercises His justice in pouring out His wrath.
That we are all in the hand of God as the clay in the potter’s hand, is humbling to the pride of man, yet nothing can be more self-evidently true.
If so, God has the same right over us that a potter has over the clay of which he forms his vessels for his own purposes and interest. The same figure as is employed by the Prophet Isaiah, in declaring the right that God had over him and all the people of Israel, God likewise employs, Jeremiah 18:6: ‘O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in Mine hand, O house of Israel.’ A potter forms his vessels for himself, and not for his vessels. This determines the question with respect to God’s end in the creation of man. Philosophers can discern no higher end in creating man than that of making him happy. But the chief end of the potter in molding his vessels has a reference to himself, and God’s chief end in making man is His own glory. This is plainly held forth in a multitude of passages in Scripture. Let man strive with his Maker as he will, still he is nothing but the clay in the hand of the potter. There cannot, indeed, be a question but that God will act justly with all His creatures; but the security for this is in His own character, and we can have no greater security against God’s power than His own attributes. God will do His creatures no injustice; but this is because justice is a part of His own character. Our security for being treated justly by God is in Himself. One vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. — Some endeavor to explain this as implying that certain vessels may be made for a less honorable use, while they are still vessels for the Master’s service. But it is not said that they are made for a less honorable use, but that they are made to dishonor, is the Apostle’s assertion. It is true, indeed, that even vessels employed for dishonorable purposes are useful, and it is equally true that the destruction of the wicked will be for the glory of God. If any are condemned at all, and on any ground whatever, it is certain that it must be for the glory of God, else He would not appoint it to take place.
On the verse before us, and the preceding, it is to be observed that the Apostle does not say that his meaning in what he had previously affirmed had been mistaken, and that he had not said that it was agreeable to the will of God that the hardness of men’s hearts should take place as it does; he implicitly grants this as truth, and that he had asserted it. And so far from palliating or softening down the expression to which the objection is made, if possible, he heightens and strengthens it. All mankind are here represented as originally lying in the same lump or mass; a great difference afterwards appears among them. Whence does this difference arise? The Apostle explicitly answers, It is God who makes the difference. As the potter makes one vessel as readily as he makes another, and each vessel takes its form from his hand, so God makes one man to honor and another to dishonor. And God’s sovereign right to do this is here asserted; and he who objects to this, the Apostle says, speaks against God. Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus? This representation is entirely consistent with all that the Scriptures elsewhere teach. In the fundamental doctrine of regeneration and the new creation in Christ Jesus, it is expressly inculcated, and is entirely coincident with the question, ‘Who maketh thee to differ from another?’ 1 Corinthians 4:7.
Ver. 22. — What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; In this and the following verse, in which the substance of the doctrine of predestination is contained in a few words, the Apostle gives his third and final answer to the objection stated in the 19th verse, subjoining the reasons of God’s different proceedings with one man and with another.
Hereby God manifests His great displeasure against sin, and His power to take vengeance on sinners; He exercises great patience towards them, seeing they are vessels of wrath fitted to destruction by their own wickedness, to which God shuts them up in His judgment. On the other hand, what can be said against it, if He proceed in mercy with others, thereby manifesting the riches of His glory, or His glorious grace, since they are vessels of mercy, whom, by His sovereign election from eternity, and the sanctification of His Spirit in time, He had afore prepared unto glory? The sum of the Apostle’s answer here is, that the grand object of God, both in the election and the reprobation of men, is that which is paramount to all things else in the creation of the universe, namely, His own glory. With the assertion of this doctrine, however offensive to the natural man, which must always appear to him foolishness, Paul winds up, in the last verse of the eleventh chapter, the whole of his previous discussion in this Epistle. What if God, willing to show His wrath. — Here the purpose of God, in enduring the wicked in this world, is expressly stated to arise from His willingness to show His wrath against sin. We see, then, that the entrance of sin into the world was necessary to manifest the Divine character in His justice and hatred of sin. Had sin never entered into the creation of God, His character would never have been fully developed. Let wicked men hear what God says in this place. They flatter themselves that in some way, through mercy, or because great severity, they suppose, would not be just, they will finally escape. But God here declares by the Apostle, that He has endured sin in the world for the very purpose of glorifying Himself in its punishment. How, then, shall they escape? And to make His power known. — The entrance of sin was also an occasion of manifesting God’s power and wisdom in overruling it for His glory. The power or ability of God, according to the original word used here, is different from the power (another word in the original) in the preceding verse, as is strikingly seen in this place. The 21st verse asserts the right of God to act in the manner supposed; this verse shows that His doing so was to manifest His wrath against sin, and His power to make even sin to glorify His name. Sin is in its own nature to God’s dishonor. He has overruled it so that He has turned it to His glory. This is the most wonderful display of power. Endured with much long-suffering. — How often do men wonder that God endures so much sin as appears in the world. Why does not God immediately cut off transgressors? Why does He not make an end of them at once? The answer is, He endures them for His own glory, and in their condemnation He will be glorified. To short-sighted mortals, it would appear preferable if God would cut off in childhood all whom He foresaw should continue in wickedness. But God endures them to old age, and to the utmost bounds of wickedness, for the glory of His own name. Vessels of wrath, — vessels ‘full of the fury of the Lord,’ Isaiah 51:20. Here Paul calls the wicked vessels, in allusion to the figure which he had just before used. Fitted to destruction. — They are vessels, indeed, but they are vessels of wrath, and by their sins they are fitted for destruction; and it is in the counsel of Jehovah that this shall be so.
Ver. 23. — And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.
In the preceding verse, Paul had declared that God exercised much long-suffering towards the vessels of wrath — that part of Israel which were not of Israel; and here he shows that it was the will of God to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy whom He had afore prepared unto glory. In men’s rejection of the salvation of Christ, the exceeding sinfulness of sin is manifested; and we learn that no external means, in truth, nothing short of almighty power, could save a guilty and lost creature. Those, therefore, who are called and saved are saved by a new creation; not effected by a word, as the old creation was, but by the power and calling of the Holy Spirit through the incarnation and death of the Son of God for the sins of His people, and His resurrection for their justification, made known in the everlasting Gospel.
In this verse it is implied that the awful ruin of the wicked is necessary for the full display of the riches of Divine mercy in saving the elect. Both the righteous and the wicked are by nature equally exposed to wrath; and the deliverance of the elect from that situation to be made heirs of glory; wonderfully illustrates the infinitude of mercy. The salvation of the elect is mercy, pure mercy; and it is wonderful mercy, when we consider what was the doom they deserved, and would have experienced, had they not been delivered by God through Jesus Christ. These vessels of mercy were previously prepared for their happy lot by God Himself. Which He had afore prepared unto glory. — In the preceding verse it is said that the vessels of wrath are fitted for destruction, and in this verse, that the vessels of mercy are prepared unto glory. The wicked are fitted for destruction by their sins, and the elect prepared before by God unto glory. No particular stress is to be laid on the word fitted , as if it could not apply to the righteous, for they also are fitted for glory. It is usual to say that the wicked were fitted by Satan and their own folly for destruction. No doubt Satan is concerned in it, but as no agent is asserted, it is not necessary to determine this. They also may be said to fit themselves; yet it appears that it is not the agent, but the means that the Apostle has in view. It is their sins which fit them for destruction. On the other hand, the elect are afore prepared unto glory. This cannot be by themselves, but must be by God as the agent. This is expressly stated: ‘Whom He hath prepared.’ The elect are not only afore prepared unto glory, but it is God who prepares them.
It is suggested, by what is said in this and the preceding verse, that God does not harden sinners or punish them for the sake of hardening or making them miserable, or because He has any delight or pleasure in their sin or punishment considered in themselves, and unconnected with the end to be answered by them, but He does this to answer a wise and important end. This great end is the manifestation and display of His own perfections; to show His wrath, and to make His power known, and to make known the riches of His glory. That is, He does it for Himself — for His own glory. It is also suggested that what God does in hardening sinners, and making them vessels unto dishonor, and enduring with much long-suffering those vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, is consistent with their being blamable for their hardness, and for everything which renders them dishonorable. Consequently it is also consistent with His high displeasure at their conduct, and proves that He may justly destroy them for ever for their hardness and obstinacy in sin. This is supposed and asserted in the words, otherwise sinners could not be vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. To allege that these scriptures import no more than that God permits sin, and orders everything respecting the event, so that if God permits, it will certainly take place, does not obviate any difficulty which has been supposed here to present itself. For this is still representing God as willing that sin should take place, or, on the whole, choosing that it should exist rather than not.
Many who admit the doctrine of predestination object to the use of the term reprobation, so often employed by the first Reformers, and the old and most esteemed Christian writers. In its place they would substitute the word rejection. But that word does not always convey the full import of what is intended by the term reprobation; and whether this term be used or not, all that is comprehended under it is strictly according to Scripture. Reprobation includes two acts: the one is negative, which consists in what is called perpetration, or the passing by of those who are not elected, — that is, leaving them in their natural state of alienation or enmity against God; the other is positive, and is called condemnation, — the act of condemning on account of sin those who have been passed by.
That first act consists in God’s simply withholding His grace, to which no man can have any claim. For this, accordingly, the Scriptures give no reason but the sovereign pleasure of God, who has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and who might justly have left all men to perish in their sins. In the second act, God considers man as guilty, and a child of wrath; and as on this account He punishes him in time, so from all eternity He has ordained to punish him. In electing sinners, then, or in passing them by, God acts as a sovereign dispensing or withholding His favors, which are His own, as to Him seemeth good. In condemning, He exercises His justice in the punishment of the guilty.
He may impart His grace to whomsoever He pleases, without any one having a right to find fault, since in regard to those whom He destines to salvation He has provided means to satisfy His justice. On the other hand, those who are guilty have no right to complain if He hath appointed them to wrath, 1 Thessalonians 5:9; 1 Peter 2:8; Jude 4; for God was under no obligation to exercise mercy towards sinners. Both these doctrines of election and reprobation are exemplified in the case of Jacob and Esau, in which there is nothing peculiar. Jacob was loved and chosen before he was born, and Esau before he was born was an object of hatred and reprobation. Under one or other of these descriptions, all who receive the above doctrines must be convinced that every individual of the human race is included. Whence comes it, then, that so many venture to set aside the obvious import of these words, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated? ’ The term reprobation has been used, then, because it expresses the idea intended, which the term rejection does not; if any are offended at it, it is to be feared that the offense taken is not at the word, but at its import.
Unless men reject the Bible, they must admit that all were condemned in Adam; and if they were justly condemned, there can be no injustice in leaving them in that state of condemnation, and punishing them as sinners.
It is only from the sovereign good pleasure and love of God that any of the human race are saved. He had no such love to the fallen angels, and they all perished; nor has He such love to those of the human race that shall perish, for He says, ‘Depart from Me, ye cursed, I never knew you.’ Men had no more claim upon God for mercy than the angels. Whatever may be thought of these things at present, God informs us that there is a day coming when His righteous judgment shall be revealed. Then He will be clear when He speaketh, and just when He is judged. No one shall then feel that he has been treated unjustly. Happy they whose high imaginations are cast down by the proclamation of mercy in the Gospel, and who receive the kingdom as Little children, becoming fools that they may be wise. The high imaginations of all will be cast down at last, but with very many it will be too late, except to make them feel their condemnation to be just.
In strict conformity with the truths contained in the above verses, it is said in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which contains so scriptural a summary of Christian doctrine: — ’The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.’ ‘The decrees of God are His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass. God executeth His decrees in the works of creation and providence. God’s works of providence are, His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all His creatures and all their actions.’ And again, ‘God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.’ ‘By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death.’ In these articles it is asserted that God fore-ordained, decreed, and willed the existence of all the evil which ‘comes to pass.’ It is also said that God brings His decrees or His will into effect by creation and His governing providence, by which, in the exercise of His wisdom and holiness, He powerfully governs His creatures, and superintends and directs, disposes and orders, all their actions.
According to the above truths, so well expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, to which so many profess to adhere as containing their creed, everything without exception, great and small, that has ever taken place, or shall ever take place in heaven, or on earth, or in hell has from all eternity been ordained by God, and yet so that the accountableness of the creature is not in the smallest degree removed. This is declared in the clearest manner respecting the greatest sin that ever was committed, even the crucifying of the Lord of glory. It took place according to the express ordination of God, yet the wickedness of those by whom it was perpetrated is explicitly asserted. ‘Truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined; but woe unto that man by whom He is betrayed’ Luke 22:22. ‘Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.’ ‘Who by the mouth of Thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ. For of a truth against Thy holy child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done,’ Acts 2:23, 4:25. The crucifixion, then, of the Messiah was ordained by God, ‘according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord,’ Ephesians 3:11, and was carried into execution by the wickedness of men, while God was not the author or actor of the sin. f53 Every objection that can be made against the ordination of God respecting any wicked act, lies equally against these last two declarations. The crucifixion of Christ was by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. If, then, the doctrine be chargeable with the consequences which some attribute to it, the admission of it in one case is just as impossible as in every case. It makes no difference how many evil actions are ordained, if it be admitted that one was ordained. The ordination of that one event must have been without reproach to the holiness of God, and this shows that the ordination of all others may be equally so.
Hitherto the Apostle had been showing that the promise of God was never made to the carnal seed of Abraham. This argument he began, ver. 6, 7, and had continued it till he comes to these words, in which he plainly states who are the true seed of Abraham and the children of the promise, even the called of God of all nations. The natural and easy manner in which, after several exemplifications, Paul here in a direct manner reverts to the main purpose of his discussion, ought not to be overlooked. Here he shows who are those vessels of mercy to whom he referred in the preceding verse. They are not only Jews but also Gentiles, and none of either Jews or Gentiles but those who are called by the Spirit and word of God. After expressing his unfeigned sorrow for the rejection of the Messiah by his countrymen in general, Paul had intimated at the 6th verse, that, notwithstanding this, the word of God had not been altogether without effect among them. He had next declared the reason why this effect had not been produced on the whole of them, namely, that all who belonged to that nation were not the true Israel of God, nor because they were descended from Abraham were they all his spiritual seed. This he had proved by the declarations of God to Abraham, and also by His dealings in regard to him, and especially respecting Isaac. In Isaac’s family God had in a remarkable manner typically intimated the same truth, and displayed His sovereignty in rejecting the elder of his sons, and choosing the younger.
Paul had further proved that this was according to God’s usual manner of proceeding, in showing mercy to some, and hardening others. God had, notwithstanding, endured with much long-suffering that great multitude of the people of Israel who proved themselves to be vessels of wrath fitted for destruction; and, on the other hand, had displayed the abundance of His free grace in preparing vessels of mercy both among Jews and Gentiles. The word of God had thus been effectual by His sovereign disposal to some among the people of Israel, corresponding with the examples which Paul had produced from their history; and in the exercise of the same sovereignty God had also prepared others among the Gentiles on whom He displayed His mercy. None of the Jews or Gentiles were vessels of mercy, except those whom He had effectually called to Himself.
This verse incontestably proves, contrary to the erroneous glosses of many, that the Apostle is here speaking of the election of individuals, and not of nations.
Ver. 25. — As He saith also in Osee, I will call them My people, which were not My people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.
In the preceding verse, the Apostle had spoken of those who were called among the Jews and the Gentiles, whom God had prepared unto glory. In this verse and the following, he shows that the calling of the Gentiles was not an unforeseen event, but that it was expressly foretold by the Prophets. God, by the Prophet Hosea 2:23, alluding to the calling of the Gentiles by the gospel says, I will say to them which were not My people, Thou art my people; that is, the Lord, at the period alluded to, would call to the knowledge of Himself, as His people, persons who were formerly living in heathenish, not having even the name of the people of God. And her beloved, that was not beloved. — The Jewish nation was typically the spouse of God. The Lord had betrothed Israel. But when Christ should come, He was to betroth Gentiles also, and to call her beloved that had not been beloved. Paul therefore shows, by this quotation, that the calling of these Gentiles as vessels of mercy was according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will — according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus.
Ver. 26. — And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not My people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.
Among the nations which formerly served idols, and of whom it was usually and truly said that they were not God’s people, there will be those of whom it shall be said that they are the children of the living God, Hosea 1:10. They shall be the children of the living God, in opposition to the dead idols or gods of their own imagination, which they formerly worshipped. This proves that, in their former state, they were without God in the world, Ephesians 2:12, 4:18; and consequently that the Scriptures hold out no hope for those Gentiles who are left uncalled by the Gospel. This awful truth, though so many are unwilling to receive it, is everywhere testified in the Scriptures. It is held forth in what is said of the empire of Satan, the God of this world; and also in the character everywhere given in Scripture of heathens, who are declared not to have liked to retain God in their knowledge, and to have been ‘haters of God.’ It is also held forth in all the passages that affirm the final doom of idolaters; as likewise in all that is taught respecting access to God by Him who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; for there is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved. Men may devise schemes to extend the blessings of salvation to those who never heard of Christ, but they are opposed to the plain declarations of His word. How thankful, then, ought we to be that we have lived not in the days of our heathen fathers, when God suffered them to walk in their own ways, but in the times when the Gospel has visited the Gentiles! How thankful, above all, if we have been made indeed the children of the living God! The nations of Europe are in general called Christians; but it is only in name that the great body of them bear that title. God will not recognize any as His children who are not born again of His Spirit, and conformed to the image of His Son.
Ver. 27. — Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: Having spoken in the 24th verse of those whom God had called, both among Jews and Gentiles, and having referred in the two preceding verses to what had been foretold of the Gentiles, the Apostle, in the verse before us and the two that follow, introduces the predictions relative to the Jews.
He quotes the Prophet Isaiah, as loudly testifying the doctrine which he is declaring. Hosea testifies with respect to God’s purpose of calling the Gentiles; and Isaiah, in the passage here quoted, 10:20-22, testifies of the rejection of the great body of the Jews, and of the election of a number among them comparatively small. The Israelites looked on themselves as being all the people of God, and on the Gentiles as shut out from this relation. The Prophet here shows that out of all those vast multitudes which composed their nation, only a remnant were to be among the number of the true Israel of God. Whatever fulfillment the prophecy had in the times of the Old Testament, this is its full and proper meaning, according to the Apostle.
At first sight, it might seem that the Prophet speaks only of the return of the Jews from the captivity of Babylon; but, in regard to this, two things must be remarked. One is, that all the great events that happened to the Jews were figures and types, representing beforehand the great work of redemption by Jesus Christ. Thus the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, their passage through the Red Sea, and through the wilderness, the passage of Jordan, and their entrance into Canaan, were representations of what was to take place under the Gospel as is declared, 1 Corinthians 10:11, ‘Now all these things happened unto them for examples (types), and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.’ Hence it follows that the deliverance from the captivity of Babylon, and consequently the predictions respecting it in Scripture, are typical of the future condition of the Church of Christ. This prophecy, then, has two meanings, — the first literal, the second mystical. The other thing to be remarked is, that in the work of God in regard to His Church, there being several gradations which follow each other, it often happens that the Prophets, who viewed from a distance those future events, join together many of them, as if they related only to one and the same thing, — which is a characteristic of the spirit of prophecy. The Prophet, then, in this place joins the temporal re-establishment of the Jews with the spiritual building up of the Church of Christ, although these two things are quite distinct and separate.
These words in this prophecy, ‘They shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth,’ can only have their full accomplishment in believers in Jesus Christ. The same is the case respecting the words, ‘The remnant shall return;’ for this returning or conversion denotes much more than that of the return of the Jews from Babylon — even that glorious turning to God which takes place by the Gospel. And when the Prophet says, Though Thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return it is clear that this is an allusion to the promise made to Abraham, that his posterity should be as the sand of the sea, and that he means to say that whatever confidence the Jews might place in that promise, taking it in a carnal and literal sense, yet that those who were saved would be a small remnant, whom God would take to Himself in abandoning all the rest to His avenging justice. As one event, then, in Scripture prophecy is often made to shadow forth and typify another, so the events of the Jewish history are made to illustrate the spiritual things of the kingdom of God. In this way the prophecies quoted in the New Testament from the Old are to be viewed, and not to be explained in a manner which ascribes to the Apostles of Christ that false and deceitful mode of quotation called accommodation, so disparaging to their character as stewards of the mysteries of God, and so degrading to the Holy Scriptures.
Ver. 28. — For He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness; because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.
This refers to God’s judgments poured out upon the Jews for rejecting the Messiah. They were then cut off manifestly from being His people. He cut short the work in righteous judgment. The destruction determined, denotes the ruin and desolation of the whole house of Israel, with the exception of a small remnant. It was to overflow in righteous judgment, which gives the idea of an inundation. But this not having place in the re-establishment of the Jews after the Babylonish captivity, must necessarily be understood of the times of the Gospel. It was then that the consumption decreed took place; for the whole house of Israel was rejected from the covenant of God, and consumed or dispersed by the fire of His vengeance by the Roman armies, with the exception of a small remnant. Formerly God had borne with them in their sins; but now, when they had heard the Gospel and rejected it, they were destroyed or carried away into captivity as with a flood. The Lord made a short work with them at the destruction of Jerusalem. This verse and the preceding confirm what is said in the 22nd verse, that although God endures the wicked for a time, He determines to punish them at last with sudden and overwhelming destruction.
Ver. 29. — And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrah.
This, again, verifies another prediction of Isaiah 1:9. It was no doubt fulfilled in the events of the Jewish history; but in its proper and full sense, it extended to the times of the Messiah, and predicted the small number of Jews who were left, and the purpose for which they were left.
The Jews who escaped destruction at the overthrow of their city by the Romans, were spared merely as a ‘seed’ from whence was to spring all the multitudes who will yet arise to Jesus Christ out of the seed of Abraham.
Had it not been for this circumstance, not one individual at that time would have been left. They would have been all cut off as Sodom and Gomorrah. ‘Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened,’ Matthew 24:22. Instead of remnant, the word employed by the Prophet, the Apostle substitutes the term seed, from the Septuagint translation, which, though the expression is varied, has a similar meaning, implying that after the whole heap besides was consumed, the remainder was reserved for sowing with a view to a future crop.
By this quotation from Isaiah, the Apostle proves that the doctrine of the unconditional election of individuals to eternal life — that doctrine against which such objections are raised by many — far from being contrary to the ideas we ought to entertain of the goodness of God, is so entirely consistent with it, that except for this election, not one of the nation of Israel would have been saved. Thus the doctrine of election, very far from being in any degree harsh or cruel, as many who misunderstand it affirm, is, as we see here, a glorious demonstration of Divine goodness and love.
Had it not been for this election, through which God had before prepared vessels of mercy unto glory, neither Jew nor Gentile would have escaped, but all would have remained vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. In the case of the angels who sinned there was no election, and the whole were cast down to hell Had there been no election among men, the whole must in like manner have perished.
Ver. 30. — What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith:
What shall we say then? — What is the result of all this discussion? The conclusion from the whole is, that those Gentiles who are called by God, of whom the Apostle had spoken in the 24th verse, who were not following righteousness, but were abandoned to every kind of wickedness, obtained true righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. This is an astonishing instance of mercy. Men who were ‘haters of God,’ and guilty of all abominations, as Paul had shown in the first chapter of this Epistle, were thus made partakers of that righteousness which is commensurate to all the demands of the law.
Ver. 31. — But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained so the law of righteousness.
Whatever objection might be made to the doctrine the Apostle was here inculcating, a clear proof was offered in the case of the Gentiles which he had adduced, of the truth he had advanced and illustrated by the examples of Jacob and Esau, namely, that the purpose of God, according to election, is unchangeable, and that salvation is not of works, but of Him that calleth.
And here was a wonderful instance of Divine sovereignty. The nation of Israel were following after righteousness, yet God, instead of giving it to them, bestowed it on those who were not even looking for it. How different is this from the ways of men! How does the proud heart of the self-righteous legalist revolt at such a view of the Divine conduct! Man’s wisdom cannot endure that God should in this sovereign way bestow His favors. But this is God’s way, and whoever will not submit to it, resists the will of God. Nay, whoever finds fault with it, attempts to dethrone the Almighty, and to undeify God. The whole plan of salvation is so ordered, ‘that no flesh should glory in His presence, but that, according as it is written, he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord,’ 1 Corinthians 1:31.
Ver. 32. — Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law: for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone; The Apostle here asks why the people of Israel did not attain to the righteousness they were seeking. The word ‘wherefore’ has no reference to election, or a supposed objection from it, as some understand. The question is asked to excite more attention to the answer; and the answer is, because they sought it in a way in which it is not to be found. The righteousness that answers the demands of the law, is the righteousness of God, which is received only by faith. The Jews, then, did not attain to it, because they sought it not by faith, but as of works of law. Some commentators lay stress on the phrase, ‘as it were by the works of the law,’ according to our translation, assigning as its meaning, that the Jews did not suppose they kept the law perfectly, but expected to make up for their deficiencies in one respect by abounding in others. But this is not well founded. The Jews sought righteousness ‘as by works of law;’ that is, as if righteousness was to be obtained by doing the works of the law. By the works of the law they could not obtain it, unless they perfectly obeyed the law. To this they could never attain. As, therefore, they would not submit to Christ, who alone has fulfilled the law, they failed in obtaining righteousness. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone. — That is, they stumbled at Jesus Christ. Instead of choosing Him as the elect, precious foundation-stone, on which to rest their hope, they rejected Him altogether. They looked for a Messiah of a different character, and therefore they rejected the Christ of God. The Apostle thus charges it upon the Jews as their own fault that they did not attain to righteousness.
They mistook the character of that law under which they were placed, by which, according to the testimony of their own Prophets, no man could be justified; and also the character of the Messiah who was promised, and so perverted that law, and rejected Him by whom alone they could be saved.
They thus verified the words of the Apostle, — ’The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ Of this Paul exhibits himself as having been an example. In the seventh chapter of this Epistle, he shows how entirely he once mistook the extent of the law; and in the beginning of the chapter before us, that he once made it his boast that he was opposed to Christ as the Messiah.
Ver. 33. — As it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone and rock of offense: and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.
As it is written. — The Apostle here confirms what he had just said concerning the stone of stumbling, by quoting from two places of Scripture, Isaiah 8:14, 28:16. The stumbling, then, of the Jews at Christ, the rock of offense, was predicted by the Prophets It should not, therefore, appear strange to those who lived in the times when it was accomplished. A stumbling-stone and rock of offense. — This language of the Prophet, applied by the Apostle to our Lord Jesus Christ, ought to be particularly observed, — ’Sanctify the Lord of Hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, and let Him be your dread. And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling, and for a rock of offense, to both the houses of Israel.’
As here the Prophet speaks directly of God, and the Apostle applies what he says to Jesus Christ, it is a conclusive proof that Jesus Christ is God, and that He is declared to be so both in the Old Testament and the New.
The designations of a stone, and a rock, are given to Jesus Christ, both presenting the idea that the great work of redemption rests solely on Him.
He is its author, the foundation on which it rests, the center in which all its lines meet, and their origin from which they proceed. He is to that work what the foundation-stone and the rock on which it is erected are to the building, sustaining it, and imparting to it form and stability. In another sense, He is a stone of stumbling, occasioning His rejection by those who, not believing in Him, are cut off from communion with God. Behold, I lay in Zion. — This stone, or rock — this ‘sure foundation’ — is laid by God, according to the Apostle’s reference, Isaiah 28:16, ‘Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone, a sure foundation.’ This stone was laid in Zion, the Church of God. It was laid by God Himself.
That it was ‘a sure foundation,’ which could not fail, is evident from all the promises of God concerning the Messiah, of upholding Him as His elect, and ensuring to Him success, dominion, and glory, in His character of Mediator, Isaiah 42:1-8, 49:7-9.
All the promises to the Church of old, of the Messiah as a future Savior, from the declaration made to our first parents in paradise, to the last prediction concerning Him delivered by the Prophet Malachi, demonstrate the impossibility that Christ, the foundation which God has laid, should fail. These promises were often renewed with great solemnity, and confirmed by the oath of God, as in Genesis 22:16-18. And in Psalm 89:3,4, it is said, ‘I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn unto David My servant, thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations.’ Nothing is more abundantly set forth in Scripture as sure and irreversible than this promise and oath to David. The Scriptures expressly speak of it as utterly impossible that the everlasting dominion of the Messiah should fail. ‘In those days, and at that time, I will cause the Branch of Righteousness to grow up unto David, for thus saith the Lord, David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Jacob.’ ‘If ye can break My covenant of the day, and My covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; then may also My covenant be broken with David My servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne,’ Jeremiah 33:15-21. David securely rested on this covenant concerning the future glorious work and kingdom of the Messiah, as all his salvation, and all his desire, and comforted himself that it was an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.
As being that foundation laid by Himself, which therefore could not fail, God proceeded to save sinners in virtue of the work of the Messiah before He appeared, as if it had been already accomplished. On this stone and rock the saints of old rested, and built their comfort. Abraham saw Christ’s day and rejoiced, and all the others died in the faith of His advent.
What a view does this give of the faithfulness of God, and the truth of the Scriptures; and what an inducement to rely securely upon the Rock of Ages! Its solidity is assured to us by Him whose voice shakes the heavens and the earth — by the revelation of the eternal purpose of God, which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, Ephesians 3:11. Rock of offense. — While the Messiah was indeed the sure foundation which God had laid, He was, notwithstanding, as it was written, rejected by the great body of the Jewish nation. Had they understood the language of their own Scriptures, they would have seen that, instead of receiving their Messiah when He came, the Prophets had declared that they would stumble at the lowliness of His appearance, and generally reject His claims. And whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. — But they did not all reject Him. Some of them, referred to in verse 24th, who were called of God, acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, sent of God, and were comforted and saved by Him. They were not ashamed to own Him before the unbelieving part of their brethren, and they shall not be put to shame before Him at His second coming. It might be supposed that the followers of the Messiah would be honored in every country; on the contrary, they are hated and held in contempt. But when all other refuges fail, when Christ comes to judge the world, they shall not be ashamed.
A free salvation becomes an offense to men on account of their pride.
They cannot bear the idea of being indebted for it to sovereign grace, which implies that in themselves they are guilty and ruined by sin. They desire to do something, were it ever so little, to merit salvation, at least in part.
Salvation by a crucified Savior was in one way opposed to the pride of the Jews, and in another to that of the Greeks. The Jews expected a mighty conqueror, who should deliver them from a foreign yoke, and render them so powerful as to triumph over all the other nations of the earth; and in order to reconcile with these ideas what the Scriptures said of His humiliation, some among them supposed that there would be two Messiahs. The Greeks expected, in a revelation from heaven, something accordant with the systems of their vain philosophy, which might exalt their false notions of the dignity of man, and enlarge their boasted powers of understanding. All the unconverted reason in the same way. Those among them who call themselves Christians suppose that, not being perfect, they have need of Christ as a Savior to compensate for their deficiencies, and to give weight to their good works. They do not believe that they obey the law perfectly, but suppose that what is wanting will be supplied by Jesus Christ. Thus, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. The doctrine of the cross is, in one way or other, misunderstood by him, and Jesus Christ is a stone of stumbling.
Many, by their forced criticisms, have in various ways perverted the meaning of this chapter. Among their other misrepresentations, they affirm that the Apostle does not speak of individual election to eternal life, but of the national election of the Jews. On the contrary, it is evident that in regard to the Jews he refers to their national rejection. The rejection of the Jewish nation, excepting a small remnant, according to the election of grace, which is again plainly declared in the beginning of the eleventh chapter, is the important subject which the Apostle illustrates by the examples and predictions he refers to, and the reasonings with which he follows them up.
The fact of a remnant of Israel being reserved by God for Himself, while the great body of the nation was abandoned to merited punishment, demonstrates that the election here spoken of is individual and not national. The Prophets everywhere speak of this small remnant chosen by God to display His mercy and goodness. ‘I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid,’ Zephaniah 3:13.
There is nothing which more clearly manifests the natural opposition of the mind of man to the ways of God, than the rooted aversion naturally entertained to the obvious view of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God held forth in this ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.
Self-righteous people, as is not to be wondered at, hold this doctrine in the utmost abhorrence; and many even of those, who are in some measure taught of God to value the great salvation, are reluctant to come to the serious study of this part of His word. Even when they are not able plausibly to pervert it, and when their conscience will not allow them directly to oppose it, with the Pharisees, they say that they do not know what to make of this chapter. But why are they at a loss on this subject?
What is the difficulty which they find here? If it be ‘hard to be understood,’ does this arise from anything but the innate aversion of the mind to its humbling truths? Can anything be more palpably obvious than the meaning of the Apostle? Is there any chapter in the Bible more plain in its grammatical meaning? It is not in this that they find a difficulty. Their great difficulty is, that it is too obvious in its import to be perverted. Their conscience will not allow them to do violence to its language, and their own wisdom will not suffer them to submit to its dictation. Here is the solution of their difficulties. But ought not believers to renounce their own wisdom, and look up to God, in the spirit of him who said, ‘Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth?’
Men may attempt to explain away the example referred to in this chapter, of God’s hardening Pharaoh’s heart. But still the truth remains, that for the very purpose of showing His power and proclaiming His name and sovereignty, God raised him up and hardened his heart. Many will not receive this, and resort to every means they can devise to neutralize or controvert it; but God has testified it, and the Apostle illustrates it by a striking figure. God makes one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor, with the same uncontrolled right as the potter has power over the clay, and out of the same lump he makes one vessel for the noblest purpose, and another for the basest uses. Where is sovereignty, if it is not here?
Could words express it if these words do not express it? Why, then, will men vainly struggle in so unequal a contest? Can they hope to succeed against God? If this doctrine be really declared in this chapter, of what avail will all their forced explanations be to deliver any of the enemies of God? ‘God is greater than man, why dost thou strive against Him? for He giveth not account of any of His matters.’ There are, however, too many, even of the disciples of Christ, who are disposed to explain away the sovereignty of God, and to give a view of our fall in Adam which considerably mitigates the extent of our ruin, and the magnitude of our guilt. The statements contained in this chapter are to such full of clouds and darkness. While they cannot altogether deny the truths it contains, they profess their inability to receive them in their plain and obvious meaning. ‘This doctrine of the sovereignty of God,’ says Dr. Thomson, ‘we believe to be one of the greatest stumbling-blocks in the Gospel to the advocates of universal redemption. They lay down a scheme of Divine love which they have framed only in part from the materials furnished by the Bible, and have otherwise fashioned according to the dictates of their own wisdom, and the sensibilities of their own hearts. And as it is inconsistent with this, so they cannot endure to consider the Supreme Being as communicating His benefits to men, or withholding them, according to the pleasure and counsel of His own will. God has said, ‘I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion, and whom I will I harden.’ But they have settled in their own minds that God must have compassion and mercy upon all, and that He must harden none. And in rebuke of this arrogance, we have only to say, Nay but, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why hast Thou made me thus?’
The doctrine of the sovereignty of God is derogatory to the pride of man; it lays all his high notions of independence in the dust, and reduces him, when acknowledged, to a sense of his utter helplessness and misery.
Happy, nevertheless, are they who have learned this lesson, for it is one which flesh and blood cannot teach, but only our Father which is in heaven. In the light of this chapter these see themselves as lying entirely in the hand of God, having nothing that distinguishes them from others, but His sovereign will and favor in their election. It is this view of their situation that brings down every high imagination, and levels to the dust every high thought. Here Divine sovereignty reigns in its most awful character; and nothing else, when it is fully acquiesced in, is so much calculated to tranquilize the mind of man, and to bring it into its proper position in relation to God. How many bitter reflections and how many vain regrets would be saved, were the Christian at all times habitually and practically to recognize the sovereignty of the Divine Disposer in all the events which happen in the world!
Whatever difficulties are found in the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, and in the truth that He ordains for His own glory whatever comes to pass, yet this, it is clear, is the doctrine of Scripture from beginning to end.
Every part of it represents God as ordering and directing all events; and without this, and were anything left to depend or be regulated by the will of His creatures, He would cease to be the supreme Ruler. Many things might occur which He greatly desired might never have taken place — an idea altogether incompatible with that which we are taught in His word to form of the almighty Ruler of the universe. If we lose sight of sovereignty, we lose sight of God.