With the eighth chapter, the discussion of the plan of salvation, and of its immediate consequences, was brought to a close. The consideration of the calling of the Gentiles, and the rejection of the Jews, commences with the ninth, and extends to the end of the eleventh. Paul, in the first place, shows that God may consistently reject the Jews, and extend the blessings of the Messiah's reign to the Gentiles, Romans 9:1-24; and in the second place, that he has already declared that such was his purpose, vers. 25-29. Agreeably to these prophetic declarations, the apostle announces that the Jews were cast off and the Gentiles called; the former having refused submission to the righteousness of faith, and the latter having been obedient, vers. 30-33. In the tenth chapter, Paul shows the necessity of this rejection of the ancient people of God, and vindicates the propriety of extending the invitation of the gospel to the heathen, in accordance with the predictions of the prophets. In the eleventh, he teaches that this rejection of the Jews was neither total nor final. It was not total, inasmuch as many of the Jews of that generation believed; and it was not final, as the period approached when the great body of that nation should acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, and be reingrafted into their own olive tree. So that we have in this and the following chapters,
1st. Paul's lamentation over the rejection of the Jews, is. 1-5.
2nd.The proof that God had the right to deal thus with his ancient people, Romans 9:6-29.
4th. The consolation which the promises and revealed purposes of God afford in view of this sad event.
In Entering On The Discussion Of The Question Of The Rejection Of The Jews, And The Calling Of The Gentiles, The Apostle Assures His Brethren Of His Love For Them, And Of His Respect For Their National Privileges, Vers. 1-5. That His Doctrine On This Subject Was True, He Argues,
1. Because It Was Not Inconsistent With The Promises Of God, Who Is Perfectly Sovereign In The Distribution Of His Favors, Vers. 6-24.
2. And Secondly, Because It Was Distinctly Predicted In Their Own Scriptures, Vers. 25-29. The Conclusion From This Reasoning Is Stated In Vers. 20-33. The Jews Are Rejected For Their Unbelief, And The Gentiles Admitted To The Messiah's Kingdom.
AS the subject about to be discussed was of all others the most painful and offensive to his Jewish brethren, the apostle approaches it with the greatest caution. He solemnly assures them that he was grieved at heart on their account; and that his love for them was ardent and disinterested, verses 1-3. Their peculiar privileges he acknowledged and respected. They were highly distinguished by all the advantages connected with the Old Testament dispensation, and, above all, by the fact that the Messiah was, according to the flesh, a Jew, verses 4, 5.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 1. I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, etc. There are three ways in which the words in Christ, or by Christ, may here be understood.
1. They may be considered as part of the formula of an oath, I (swear) by Christ, I speak the truth. But in oaths the preposition πρός, and not ἐν, is used. In a few cases, indeed, where a verb of swearing is used, the latter preposition occurs but not otherwise. In addition to this objection, it may be urged that no instance occurs of Paul's appealing to Christ in the form of an oath. The case which looks most like such an appeal is 1 Timothy 5:21, "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels," etc. But it is evident from the mention of the angels, that this is not of the nature of an oath. Paul merely wishes to urge Timothy to act as in the presence of God, Christ, and angels. This interpretation, therefore, is not to be approved.
2. The words in Christ may be connected with the pronoun I. 'I in Christ,' i.e., as a Christian, or, 'In the consciousness of my union with Christ, I declare,' etc. So the words are used in a multitude of cases, "You in Christ," "I in Christ," "We in Christ," being equivalent to you, I, or we, as Christians, i.e. considered as united to Christ. See 1 Corinthians 1:30, "Of him are ye in Christ," i.e. 'By him ye are Christians, or united to Christ;' Romans 16:3, 7, 9; 1 Corinthians 3:1, and frequently elsewhere.
3. The words may be used adverbially, and be translated after a Christian manner. This also is a frequent use of this and analogous phrases. See 1 Corinthians 7:39, "Only in the Lord," i.e. only after a religious manner, in the Lord being equivalent with in a manner becoming or suited to the Lord. Romans 16:22, "I salute you in the Lord." Philippians 2:29, "Receive him, therefore, in the Lord;" Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:18.
The sense of the passage is much the same, whether we adopt the one or the other of the last two modes of explanation. Paul means to say that he speaks in a solemn and religious manner, as a Christian, conscious of his intimate relation to Christ.
I say the truth, and lie not. This mode of assertion, first affirmatively, and then negatively, is common in the Scriptures. "Thou shalt die and not live," Isaiah 38:1. "He confessed, and denied not," John 1:20. There is generally something emphatic in this mode of speaking. It was a solemn and formal assertion of his integrity which Paul here designed to make.
My conscience also bearing me witness; συμμαρτυρούσης, my conscience bearing witness with my words.
In the Holy Ghost. These words are not to be taken as an oath, nor are they to be connected with the subject of οὐ ψεύδομαι, 'I, instructed, or influenced by the Holy Ghost, lie not;" but rather with συμμαρτυρούσης, his conscience bore this testimony guided by the Holy Spirit, Spiritu Sancto duce et moderatore, as Beza expresses it.
VERSE 2.That I have great heaviness, etc. This it is which Paul so solemnly asserts. He was not an indifferent spectator of the sorrow, temporal and spiritual, which was about to come on his countrymen. All their peculiar national advantages, and the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom which they had wickedly rejected, were to be taken away; they were, therefore, left without hope, either for this world or the next. The consideration of their condition filled the apostle with great and constant heaviness. The sincerity and strength of this sorrow for them he asserts in the strongest terms in the next verse.
VERSE 3. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, etc. The word anathema (Attic ἀνάθημα Hellenistic ἀνάθεμα,) means any thing consecrated to God, τὸ ἀνατιθέμενον τῷ Θεῷ, as Suidas explains it. The Attic form of the word occurs in the New Testament only in Luke 21:5. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word to which it answers occurs very frequently, and probably the root originally meant to cut off, to separate. Hence, the substantive derived from it, meant something separated or consecrated. In usage, however, it was applied only to such things as could not be redeemed, and which, when possessed of life, were to be put to death. It is evident from the passages quoted in the margin, that the word usually designates a person or thing set apart to destruction on religious grounds; something accursed.
In the New Testament the use of the Greek word is very nearly the same. The only passages in which it occurs, besides the one before us, are the following; Acts 23:14, "We have bound ourselves under a great curse, (we have placed ourselves under an anathema,) that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul." The meaning of this passage evidently is, 'We have imprecated on ourselves the curse of God, or we have called upon him to consider us as anathema.' 1 Corinthians 12:3, "No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed (anathema);" 1 Corinthians 16:22, "Let him be anathema maranatha;" Galatians 1:8, 9, "Let him be accursed (anathema)." In all these cases it is clear that the word is applied to those who were regarded as deservedly exposed, or devoted to the curse of God. In this sense it was used by the early Christian writers, and from them passed into the use of the church. "Let him be anathema," being the constant formula of pronouncing any one, in the judgment of the church, exposed to the divine malediction.
Among the later Jews, this word, or the corresponding Hebrew term, was used in reference to the second of the three degrees into which they divided excommunication (see Buxtorf's Rabbinical Lexicon.) But no allalogous use of the word occurs in the Bible. Such being the meaning of this word in the Scriptures, its application in this case by the apostle admits of various explanations. The most common interpretations of the passage are the following.
As those men or animals pronounced anathema in the Old Testament were to be put to death, many consider the apostle as having that idea in his mind, and meaning nothing more than 'I could wish to die for my brethren,' etc. But the objections to this interpretation are serious. Even in the Old Testament the word expresses something more than the idea of devotion to death. An anathema was a person devoted to death as accursed; see the passages quoted above. And in the New Testament this latter idea is always the prominent one.
The connection is also unfavorable to this interpretation. The phrase is, "accursed from Christ." How are the words from Christ to be explained? Some say they should be rendered by Christ. 'I could wish myself devoted to death by Christ.' But this is an unusual use of the preposition (ἀπό) which our version correctly renders from; and the whole expression is, besides, unusual and unnatural. Others, therefore, say that the passage should be rendered thus: 'I could wish from Christ, that I might be devoted to death.' But this, too, is an unusual and forced construction.
Others think that Paul has reference here to the Jewish use of the word, and means only that he would be willing to be cut off from the church, or excommunicated. In this view the word Christ is commonly taken for the body of Christ, or the church. But, in the first place, this is not a scriptural use of the word anathema, and is clearly inapplicable to the other cases in which it is used by the apostle; and, in the second place, it gives a very inadequate sense. Excommunication from the church would not be a great evil in the eyes of the Jews.
Others render the verb which, in our version, is translated, 'I could wish,' I did wish. The sense would then be, 'I have great sorrow on account of my brethren, because I can sympathize in their feelings, for I myself once wished to be accursed from Christ on their account.'
1. But, in the first place, had Paul intended to express this idea, he would have used the aorist, the common tense of narration, and not the imperfect.
2. It is no objection to the common translation, that the imperfect indicative, instead of some form of the optative, is here used, and that, too, without an optative particle, see Acts 25:22.
3. This interpretation does not give a sense pertinent to the apostle's object. He is not expressing what was his state of mind formerly, but what it was when writing. It was no proof of his love for his brethren that he once felt as they then did, but the highest imaginable, if the ordinary interpretation be adopted.
4. The language will hardly admit of this interpretation. No Jew would express his hatred of Christ, and his indifference to the favors which he offered, by saying he wished himself accursed of Christ. Paul never so wished himself before his conversion, for this supposes that he recognized the power of Christ to inflict on him the imprecated curse, and that his displeasure was regarded as a great evil.
The common interpretation, and that which seems most natural, is, 'I am grieved at heart for my brethren, for I could wish myself accursed from Christ, that is, I could be willing to be regarded and treated as anathema, a thing accursed, for their sakes. That this interpretation suits the force and meaning of the words, and is agreeable to the contest, must, on all hands, be admitted. The only objection to it is of a theological kind. It is said to be inconsistent with the apostle's character to wish that he should be accursed from Christ. But to this it may be answered,
1. Paul does not say that he did deliberately and actually entertain such a wish. The expression is evidently hypothetical and conditional, 'I could wish, were the thing allowable, possible, or proper.' So far from saying he actually desired to be thus separated from Christ, he impliedly says the very reverse. 'I could wish it, were it not wrong; or, did it not involve my being unholy as well as miserable, but as such is the case, the desire cannot be entertained.' This is the proper force of the imperfect indicative when thus used; it implies the presence of a condition which is known to be impossible. Speaking of the use of the imperfect ἐβουλόμην in Acts 25:22, Dr. Alexander says: "Most interpreters, and especially the most exact philologists of modern times, explain the Greek verb, like the similar imperfect used by Paul in Romans 9:3, as the indirect expression of a present wish, correctly rendered in the English version. The nice distinction in Greek usage, as explained by these authorities, is that the present tense would have represented the result as dependent on the speaker's will (as in Romans 1:13, 16, 19; 1 Corinthians 16:7; 1 Timothy 2:8); the imperfect with the qualifying particle ἄν would have meant, I could wish (but I do not); whereas this precise form is expressive of an actual and present wish, but subject to the will of others, 'I could wish, if it were proper, or if you have no objection.'
2. Even if the words expressed more than they actually do, and the apostle were to be understood as saying that he wished to be cut off from Christ, yet, from the nature of the passage, it could fairly be understood as meaning nothing more than that he was willing to suffer the utmost misery for the sake of his brethren. The difficulty arises from pressing the words too far, making them express definite ideas, instead of strong and indistinct emotions. The general idea is, that he considered himself as nothing, and his happiness as a matter of no moment compared with the salvation of his brethren.
Brethren according to the flesh. Paul had two classes of brethren; those who were with him the children of God in Christ; these he calls brethren in the Lord, Philippians 1:14, holy brethren, etc. The others were those who belonged to the family of Abraham. These he calls brethren after the flesh, that is, in virtue of natural descent from the same parent. Philemon he addresses as his brother καὶ ἐν σαρκὶ καὶ ἐν Κυρίῳ, both in the flesh and in the Lord. The Bible recognizes the validity and rightness of all the constitutional principles and impulses of our nature. It therefore approves of parental and filial affection, and, as is plain from this and other passages, of peculiar love for the people of our own race and country.
VERSE 4. The object of the apostle in the introduction to this chapter, contained in the first five verses, is to assure the Jews of his love and of his respect for their peculiar privileges. The declaration of his love he had just made; his respect for their advantages is expressed in the enumeration of them contained in this verse.
Who are Israelites, i.e., the peculiar people of God. This includes all the privileges which are afterwards mentioned. The word Israel means one who contends with God, or a prince with God. Hosea 12:3, "He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God." As it was given to Jacob as an expression of God's peculiar favor, Genesis 32:28, its application to his descendants implied that they too were the favorites of God.
To whom pertaineth the adoption. As Paul is speaking here of the external or natural Israel, the adoption or sonship which pertained to them, as such, must be external also, and is very different from that which he had spoken of in the preceding chapter. They were the sons of God, i.e., the objects of his peculiar favor, selected from the nations of the earth to be the recipients of peculiar blessings, and to stand in a peculiar relation to God. Exodus 4:22, "Thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Israel is my son, even my first-born;" Deuteronomy 14:1, "Ye are the children of the Lord your God;" Jeremiah 31:9, "I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born." As the whole Old Testament economy was a type and shadow of the blessings of the New, so the sonship of the Israelites was an adumbration of the sonship of believers. That of the former was in itself, and as common to all the Jews, only the peculiar relation which they sustained to God as partakers of the blessings of the theocracy. The latter, common to all the true children of God under any dispensation, is that relation in which we stand to God in virtue of regeneration, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and adoption into the household of God.
And the glory. These words are variously explained. They may be connected with the preceding, as explanatory of the adoption, or as qualifying it, and the two words be equivalent to glorious adoption. But as every other specification in this verse is to be taken separately, so should this be. Others understand it, of the dignity and distinction of the theoretical people. It was their glory to be the people of God. In the Old Testament, however, that symbolical manifestation of the divine presence which filled the tabernacle and rested over the ark, is called the glory of the Lord. Exodus 40:34, "A cloud covered the tent of the congregation; and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle;" Exodus 29:43, "There will I meet with the children of Israel, and the tabernacle shall be sanctified by my glory." Leviticus 16:2, "I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy-seat;" 1 Kings 8:11, "The glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord;" 2 Chronicles 5:14; Haggai 2:7; Revelation 15:8. By the Jews this symbol was called the Shekinah, i.e., the presence of God. Besides this, the manifestation of God's presence in general is called his glory; Isaiah 6:3, "The whole earth is full of his Glory," etc. It is probable, therefore, that Paul intended by this word to refer to the fact that God dwelt in a peculiar manner among the Jews, and in various ways manifested his presence, as one of their peculiar privileges.
The covenants. The plural is used because God at various times entered into covenant with the Jews and their forefathers; by which he secured to them innumerable blessings and privileges; see Galatians 3:16, 17; Ephesians 2:12.
The giving of the law, (ἡ νομοθεσία) the legislation. The word is sometimes used for the law itself (see the Lexicons); it may here he taken strictly, that giving of the law, i.e., the solemn and glorious annunciation of the divine will from Mount Sinai. The former is the most probable; because the possession of the law was the grand distinction for the Jews, and one on which they peculiarly relied; see Romans 2:17.
The service means the whole ritual, the pompous and impressive religious service of the tabernacle and temple.
The promises relate, no doubt, specially to the promises of Christ and his kingdom. This was the great inheritance of the nation. This was the constant subject of granulation and object of hope. See Galatians 3:16, "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made;" ver. 21, "Is the law against the promises of God?" So in other places the word promises is used specially for the predictions in reference to the great redemption, Acts 26:6.
VERSE 5.Whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, etc. The descent of the Jews from men so highly favored of God as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was justly regarded as a great distinction.
And of whom. The and here shows that whom refers, not to the fathers but to the Israelites, to whom pertained the adoption, the law, the service and of whom Christ came. This was the great honor of the Jewish race. For this they were separated as a peculiar people, and preserved amidst all their afflictions. As it was true, however, only in one sense, that Christ was descended from the Israelites, and as there was another view of his person, according to which he was infinitely exalted above them and all other men, the apostle qualifies his declaration by saying as concerning the flesh. The word flesh is used so often for human nature in its present state, or for men, that the phrase as to the flesh, in such connections, evidently means in as far as he was a man, or as to his humble nature, Romans 1:3. In like manner, when it is said Christ manifested or came in the flesh, it means, he came in our nature, 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:2, etc.
Who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. There is but one interpretation of this important passage which can, with the least regard to the rules of construction, be maintained. The words ὁ ὤν are equivalent here to ὅς ἐστι, as in John 1:18; 12:17; 2 Corinthians 11:31.
Over all, i.e., over all things, not over all persons. The πάντων is neuter, and not masculine; see Acts 10:36, 1 Corinthians 15:28. It is supremacy over the universe which is here expressed, and therefore this language precludes the possibility of Θεός being taken in any subordinate sense. In the Greek fathers, ὁ ἐπὶ πάντων Θεός is the constantly recurring designation of the supreme God. So exalted is its import, that some of them used it only in reference to the Father, who, being the first Person in the Trinity, was, they say, alone as a person, God over all. It is not the relation of the persons of the Trinity, however, which is here brought into view, but simply the true and supreme divinity of our Lord. Paul evidently declares that Christ, who, he had just said, was, as to his human nature, or as a man, descended from the Israelites, is, in another respect, the supreme God, or God over all, and blessed for ever. That this is the meaning of the passage, is evident from the following arguments:
1. The relative who must agree with the nearest antecedent. There is no other subject in the context sufficiently prominent to make a departure from this ordinary rule, in this case, even plausible. "Of whom Christ came, who is," etc. Who is? Certainly Christ, for he alone is spoken of.
2. The context requires this interpretation, because, as Paul was speaking of Christ, it would be very unnatural thus suddenly to change the subject, and break out into a doxology to God. Frequently as the pious feelings of the apostle led him to use such exclamations of praise, he never does it except when God is the immediate subject of discourse. See Romans 1:25, "Who worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for evermore;" Galatians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 11:31. Besides, it was the very object of the apostle to set forth the great honor to the Jews of having Christ born among them, and this, of course, would lead to his presenting the dignity of the Redeemer in the strongest light. For the greater he was, the greater the honor to those of whose race he came.
3. The antithesis, which is evidently implied between the two clauses of the verse, is in favor of this interpretation. Christ, according to the flesh, was an Israelite, but, according to his higher nature, the supreme God. On any other interpretation there is nothing to answer to the τὸ κατὰ σάρκα. These words are used in distinct reference, and for the sake of the clause who is over all. Why not simply say, "of whom Christ came?" This would have expressed everything, had not the apostle designed to bring into view the divine nature. Having, however, the purpose to exalt Christ, in order to present in the highest form the honor conferred on the Jewish race in giving the Messiah to the world, he limits the first clause. It was only as to the flesh that Christ was descended from the patriarchs; as to his higher nature, he was the supreme God. See the strikingly analogous passage in Romans 1:3, 4, where Christ is said, according to one nature, to be the Son of David, according to the other, the Son of God.
4. No other interpretation is at all consistent with the grammatical construction, or the relative position of the words. One proposed by Erasmus is to place a full stop after the words Christ came, and make all the rest of the verse refer to God. The passage would then read thus:—"Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came. God blessed for ever. Amen." But this is not only opposed by the reasons already urged, that such doxologies suppose God to be the immediate subject of discourse, or are preceded by some particle which breaks the connection, and shows plainly what the reference is, etc.; but, apart from these objections, no such doxology occurs in all the Bible. That is, the uniform expression is, "blessed be God," and never "God be blessed." The word blessed always stands first, and the word God after it with the article. Often as such cases occur in the Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, there is, it is believed, no case of the contrary arrangement. In Psalm 68:19 (Septuagint 67:19), the only apparent exception, the first clause is probably not a doxology, but a simple affirmation, as in the old Latin version, Dominus Deus benedictus est. In the Hebrew it is, as in all other cases, Blessed be the Lord, and so in our version of that Psalm. See also Psalm 31:21; 72:18, 19; 41:13; 68:35; 89:52; Genesis 9:26, Exodus 18:10, and a multitude of other examples. In all these and similar passages, the expression is Blessed be God, or blessed be the Lord, and never God blessed, or Lord blessed. This being the case, it is altogether incredible that Paul, whose ear must have been perfectly familiar with this constantly recurring formula of praise, should, in this solitary instance, have departed from the established usage. This passage, therefore, cannot be considered as a doxology, or an ascription of praise to God, and rendered God be blessed, but must be taken as a declaration, who is blessed; see Romans 1:25, "The Creator, who is blessed for ever." 2 Corinthians 11:31, "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed for evermore." See Matthew 21:9; Luke 1:68; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3; in these and all other cases, where, as here, the copula is omitted, it εὐλογητὸς ὁ Θεὸς. Where the relative and verb are used, then it is not an exclamation but an affirmation, as Romans 1:25: τὸν κτίσαντα, ὅς ἐστιν εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας. ·Αμήν. 2 Corinthians 11:31: ὁ Θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ—ὁ ὢν εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας; and here, Χριστὸς, ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων Θεὸς, εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας. ·Αμήν. To separate this passage from the class to which it obviously belongs, and to make it a solitary exception, is to do violence to the text. A second method of pointing the verse, also proposed by Erasmus, and followed by many others, is to place the pause after the word all. The verse would then read, "Of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all. God be blessed for ever." This avoids some of the difficulties specified above, but it is subject to all the others. It breaks unnaturally the connection, and makes a doxology out of a form of expression which, in the Scriptures, as just stated, is never so used.
5. There is no reason for thus torturing the text to make it speak a different language from that commonly ascribed to it; because the sense afforded, according to the common interpretation, is scriptural, and in perfect accordance with other declarations of this apostle. Titus 1:3, "According to the commandment of God our savior." "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and (even) our Savior Jesus Christ," Titus 2:13; see Philippians 2:6; Colossians 2:9, etc., etc.
Over all is equivalent to most high, supreme. The same words occur in Ephesians 4:6, "One God, who is above all." This passage, therefore, shows that Christ is God in the highest sense of the word.
Amen is a Hebrew word signifying true. It is used as in the New Testament often adverbially and is rendered verily; or, at the close of a sentence, as expressing desire, let it be, or merely approbation. It does not, therefore, necessarily imply that the clause to which it is attached contains a wish. It is used here, as in Romans 1:25, for giving a solemn assent to what has been said. "God who is blessed for ever, Amen."'To this declaration we say, Amen. It is true.'
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. The Holy Ghost is ever present with the souls of the people of God. He enlightens the judgment and guides the conscience, so that the true and humble Christian often has an assurance of his sincerity, and of the correctness of what he says or does, above what the powers of nature can bestow, ver. 1.
2. There is no limit to the sacrifice which one man may make for the benefit of others, except that which his duty to God imposes, ver. 3.
3. Paul does not teach that we should be willing to be damned for the glory of God.
1. His very language implies that such a wish would be improper. For in the ardor of his disinterested affection, he does not himself entertain or express the wish, but merely says, in effect, that were it proper or possible, he would be willing to perish for the sake of his brethren.
2. If it is wrong to do evil that good may come, how can it be right to wish to be evil that good may come?
3. There seems to be a contradiction involved in the very terms of the wish. Can one love God so much as to wish to hate him? Can he be so good as to desire to be bad? We must be willing to give up houses and lands, parents and brethren, and our life also, for Christ and his kingdom, but we are never required to give up holiness for his sake, for this would be a contradiction.
4. It is, in itself, a great blessing to belong to the external people of God, and to enjoy all the privileges consequent on this relation, ver. 4.
5. Jesus Christ is at once man and God over all, blessed for ever. Paul asserts this doctrine in language too plain to be misunderstood, ver. 5.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. Whatever we say or do, should be said or done as in Christ, i.e., in a Christian manner, ver. 1.
2. If we can view, unmoved, the perishing condition of our fellow-men, or are unwilling to make sacrifices for their benefit, we are very different from Paul, and from Him who wept over Jerusalem, and died for our good upon Mount Calvary, verses 2, 3.
3. Though we may belong to the true Church, and enjoy all its privileges, we may still be cast away. Our external relation to the people of God cannot secure our salvation, ver. 4.
4. A pious parentage is a great distinction and blessing, and should be felt and acknowledged as such, ver. 5.
5. If Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, if he has a nature like our own, how intimate the union between him and his people; how tender the relation; how unspeakable the honor done to human nature in having it thus exalted! If Jesus Christ is God over all, and blessed for ever, how profound should be our reverence, how unreserved our obedience, and how entire and joyful our confidence! ver. 5.
6. These five verses; the introduction to the three following chapters, teach us a lesson which we have before had occasion to notice. Fidelity does not require that we should make the truth as offensive as possible. On the contrary, we are bound to endeavor, as Paul did, to allay all opposing or inimical feelings in the minds of those whom we address, and to allow the truth, unimpeded by the exhibition of any thing offensive on our part, to do its work upon the heart and conscience.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
THE apostle now approaches the subject which he had in view, the rejection of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles. That God had determined to cast off his ancient covenant people, as such, and to extend the call of the gospel indiscriminately to all men, is the point which the apostle is about to establish. He does this by showing, in the first place, that God is perfectly free thus to act, vers. 6-24, and in the second, that he had declared in the prophets that such was his intention, verses 25-33.
That God was at liberty to reject the Jews and to call the Gentiles, Paul argues,
1. By showing that the promises which he had made, and by which he had graciously bound himself, were not made to the natural descendants of Abraham as such, but to his spiritual seed. This is plain from the case of Ishmael and Isaac; both were the children of Abraham, yet one was taken and the other left. And also from the case of Esau and Jacob. Though children of the same parents, and born at one birth, yet "Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated," is the language of God respecting them, vers. 6-13.
2. By showing that God is perfectly sovereign in the distribution of his favors; that he is determined neither by the external relations, nor by the personal character of men, in the selection of the objects of his mercy.
This is proved by the examples just referred to; by the choice of Isaac instead of Ishmael, and especially by that of Jacob instead of Esau. In this case the choice was made and announced before the birth of the children, that it might be seen that it was not according to works, but according to the sovereign purpose of God, verses 6-13.
Against this doctrine of the divine sovereignty, there are two obvious objections, which have been urged in every age of the world, and which the apostle here explicitly states and answers. The first is, that it is unjust in God thus to choose one, and reject another, at his mere good pleasure, ver. 14. To this Paul gives two answers:
2. He exercises this right, as is evident from the case of Pharaoh, with regard to whom he says, "For this same purpose have I raised thee up," verses 17, 18. The second objection is, that if this doctrine be true, it destroys the responsibility of men, ver. 19. To this also Paul gives a twofold answer:
1. The very urging of an objection against a prerogative which God claims in his word, and exercises in his providence, is an irreverent contending with our Maker, especially as the right in question necessarily arises out of the relation between men and God as creatures and Creator, verses 20, 21.
2. There is nothing in the exercise of this sovereignty inconsistent with either justice or mercy. God only punishes the wicked for their sins, while he extends undeserved mercy to the objects of his grace.
There is no injustice done to one wicked man in the pardon of another, especially as there are the highest objects to be accomplished both in the punishment of the vessels of wrath, and the pardon of the vessels of mercy. God does nothing more than exercise a right inherent in sovereignty, viz., that of dispensing pardon at his pleasure, verses 22-24.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 6. It has already been remarked (Romans 3:3), that it was a common opinion among the Jews, that the promises of God being made to Abraham and to his seed, all his natural descendants, sealed, as such, by the rite of circumcision, would certainly inherit the blessings of the Messiah's reign. It was enough for them, therefore, to be able to say, "We have Abraham to our father." This being the case, it was obvious that it would at once be presented as a fatal objection of the Jews, that it was inconsistent with the promises of God. Paul, therefore, without even distinctly announcing the position which he intended to maintain, removes this preliminary objection. It is indeed peculiarly worthy of remark, as characteristic of the apostle's tenderness and caution, that he does not at all formally declare the truth which he labors in this chapter to establish. He does not tell the Jews at once they were to be cast off; but begins by professing his affection for them, and his sorrow for their destiny; thus simply, by implication, informing them that they were not to be admitted to the Messiah's kingdom. When he has shown that this rejection involved no failure on the part of God in keeping his promises, and was consistent with his justice and mercy, he more distinctly announces that, agreeably to the predictions of their own prophets, they were no longer the peculiar people of God. The remark, therefore, which Calvin makes on ver. 2, is applicable to the whole introductory part of the chapter.
"Non caret artifico, quod orationem ita abscidit, nondum exprimens qua de re loquatur; nondum enim opportunum erat, interitum gentis Judaicae aperte exprimere."
In verses 2, 3, in which he professed his sorrow for his brethren, and his readiness to suffer for them, it was, of course, implied that they were no longer to be the peculiar people of God, heirs of the promises, etc., etc. This, Paul shows, involves no failure on the part of the divine promises.
Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect, etc. That is, 'I say nothing which implies that the word of God has failed.' The simplest explanation of the words οὐχ οἷον δὲ ὅτι, is, not as that, i.e., I say no such thing as that. It is thus an elliptical phrase for οὐ τοῖον δὲ λέγω οἷον ὅτι, non tale (dico,) quale (hoc est) excidisse etc, Winer, § 64. 6. Others give οὐχ οἷον δέ; followed by ὅτι, the force of οὐχ οἷόν τε followed by an infinitive, viz., it is not possible. This, however, is not only contrary to usage, but to the context. Paul does not intend to say that it is impossible the promise should fail, but simply that his doctrine did not conflict with the promise. God had not bound himself never to cast off the Jews; and therefore what the apostle taught concerning their rejection did not involve the failure of the word of God. Meyer, who generally defends the apostle from the charge of violating Greek usage, assumes that he here confounds two forms of expression, οὐχ οἷον ἐκπέπτωκεν and οὐχ ὅτι ἐκπέπτωκεν. He agrees, however, with the explanation quoted above from Winer. The word of God means anything which God has spoken, and here, from the connection, the promise made to Abraham, including the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Hath taken none effect, literally, hath fallen, i.e., failed. "It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail," literally, to fall, Luke 16:17. So this word is used frequently. The reason why the rejection of the Jews involved no failure on the part of the divine promise, is, that the promise was not addressed to the mere natural descendants of Abraham.
For they were not all Israel which are of Israel, i.e., all the natural descendants of the patriarch are not the true people of God, to whom alone the promises properly belong. The word Israel may refer either to Jacob or to the people. 'All descended from the patriarch Jacob called Israel, are not the true people of God;' or, 'all belonging to the external Israel are not the true Israel;' i.e. all who are in the (visible) Church do not belong to the true Church. The sense is the same, but the former explanation is the more natural. In the following verse the apostle distinguishes between the natural and spiritual seed of Abraham, as here he distinguishes between the two classes of the descendants of Israel.
VERSE 7. Neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children. In this and the following verses the sentiment is confirmed, that natural descent from Abraham does not secure a portion in the promised inheritance. The language of this verse is, from the context, perfectly intelligible. The seed, or natural descendants of Abraham, are not all his children in the true sense of the term; i.e., like him in faith, and heirs of his promise. So in Galatians 3:7, Paul says, "They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." This verse is part of the sentence begun in the preceding verse. It presents the same idea in a different form. 'All the descendants of Israel are not the true Israel, neither are all the seed of Abraham his (true, or spiritual) children.'
Children, viz., of Abraham. Others supply τοῦ Θεοῦ, "the seed of Abraham are not all children of God." This is true, but it is not what the apostle here says. His object is to show that the promises made to the children of Abraham were not made to his natural descendants as such.
But in Isaac shall thy seed be called. As the word rendered called sometimes means to choose, Isaiah 48:12, 49:50, the meaning of the phrase may be 'In Isaac shall thy seed be chosen.' 'I will select him as the recipient of the blessings promised to you.'
2. To be called is often equivalent to be, to be regarded, as Isaiah 62:4, "Thou shalt not be called desolate," i.e., thou shalt not be desolate. Hence, in this case, the text may mean, 'In Isaac shall thy seed be,' i.e., he shall be thy seed. Or,
3. After Isaac shall thy seed be called,' they shall derive their name from him.'
Shall be named, i.e. shall be so regarded and recognized. 'Not all the children of Abraham were made the heirs of his blessings, but Isaac was selected by the sovereign will of God to be the recipient of the promise.' This is the general meaning of the passage; but here, as before, it may be understood either of the individual Isaac, or of his descendants. 'Isaac shall be to thee for a seed;" or, 'Through Isaac shall a seed be to thee.' The former is the more consistent with the context, because Paul's immediate object is to show that natural descent from Abraham did not make a man one of his true seed. Ishmael was a son of Abraham as well as Isaac, but the latter only was, in the spiritual sense of the term, his seed. The Greek here answers exactly to the original Hebrew, 'In Isaac a seed shall be called to thee, or for thee.' That is, 'Isaac (not Ishmael) shall be to thee a son and heir.' God therefore is sovereign in the distribution of his favors. As he rejected Ishmael notwithstanding his natural descent from Abraham, so he may reject the Jews, although they also had Abraham as a father.
VERSE 8. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God. The simplest view of this verse would seem to be, to regard it as an explanation of the historical argument contained in the preceding verse. 'The Scriptures declare that Isaac, in preference to Ishmael, was selected to be the true seed and heir of Abraham, that is, or this proves, that it is not the children of the flesh that are regarded as the children of God, etc.' This suits the immediate object of the apostle, which is to show that God, according to his good pleasure, chooses one and rejects another, and that he is not bound to make the children of Abraham, as such, the heirs of his promise. It is very common, however, to consider this passage as analogous to that in Galatians 4:22-31; and to regard the apostle as unfolding the analogy between the history of Isaac and Ishmael, and that of the spiritual and natural children of Abraham; Isaac being the symbol of the former, and Ishmael of the latter. As Ishmael, "who was born after the flesh, (Galatians 4:23,) is i.e., according to the ordinary course of nature, was rejected, so also are the children of the flesh; and as Isaac, who was born "by promise," i.e. in virtue of the promised interference of God, was made the heir, so also are they heirs, who in like manner are the children of the promise, that is, who are the children of God, not by their natural birth, but by his special and effectual grace. The point of comparison, then, between Isaac and believers is, that both are born, or become the children of God, not in virtue of ordinary birth, but in virtue of the special interposition of God. In favor of this view is certainly the strikingly analogous passage referred to in Galatians, and also the purport of the next verse. Besides this, if Paul meant to say nothing more in this and the following verse, than that it appears from the choice of Isaac that God is free to select one from among the descendants of Abraham and to reject another, these verses would differ too little from what he had already said in vers. 6, 7. It is best, therefore, to consider this passage as designed to point out an instructive analogy between the case of Isaac and the true children of God; he was born in virtue of a special divine interposition, so now, those who are the real children of God, are born not after the flesh, but by his special grace.
The children of the promise. This expression admits of various explanations.
1. Many take it as meaning merely the promised children, as child of promise is equivalent to child which is promised. But this evidently does not suit the application of the phrase to believers as made here, and in Galatians 4:28.
2. It may mean, according to a common force of the genitive, children in virtue of a promise. This suits the context exactly. It assigns to the genitive ἐπαγγελίας; in this clause the same force that σαρκός has in the preceding. Isaac was not born after the ordinary course of nature, but in virtue of a divine promise. See Galatians 4:23, where the expressions born after the flesh, and born by promise, are opposed to each other. It is, of course, implied in the phrase children in virtue of a promise, that it is by a special interposition that they become children, and this is the sense in which Paul applies the expression to believers generally.
In Galatians 4:28, he says, "We, as Isaac was, are the children of promise." Believers, therefore, are children of the promise in the same sense as Isaac. The birth of Isaac was κατὰ πνεῦμα supernatural; believers also are the children of God in virtue of a spiritual or supernatural birth. This is the main idea, although not the full meaning. The children of promise are those to whom the promise belongs. This is what the apostle has specially in view in the passage in Galatians. He there desires to show that believers are the true children of Abraham, and heirs of the promise made to the father of the faithful. This idea, therefore, is not to be excluded even here. Isaac was not only born in virtue of a promise, but was, on that account, heir of the promised blessing. The former, however, as just stated, is the prominent idea, as appears from the following verse. Comp. John 1:13. "Who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." This idea seems to be included in the apostle's use of the expression. Galatians 4:28, "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise," and 3:29, "Ye are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise;" see, too, Galatians 3:18, 22; Romans 4:16, "To the end the promise might be sure to all the seed." Though this idea seems to have been in the apostle's mind, the second explanation is most in accordance with the context.
Are counted for the seed, i.e. are regarded and treated as such. "Not the natural descendants of Abraham are the children of God, but those who are born again by his special interposition, are regarded and treated as his true children." See the same form of expression in Genesis 31:15.
VERSE 9. For this is the word of promise, at this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. Literally, (the word of) the promise is this word. This verse is evidently designed to show the propriety, and to explain the force of the phrase, children of the promise. Isaac was so called because God said at this time I will come, etc. This is not only a prediction and promise that Isaac should be born, but also a declaration that it should be in consequence of God's coming, i.e. of the special manifestation of his power; as, in scriptural language, God is said to come, wherever he specially manifests his presence or power, John 14:23; Luke 1:68, etc. The apostle does not follow exactly the Hebrew or the Septuagint. He gives the substance of Genesis 18:10; and 18:14. The words כָּעֵת חיָּה at the living time, either tempore vivente, i.e. redeunte, or, the time being, i.e. the current time, are rendered by the LXX. and the apostle, κατὰ τὸν καιρὸν τοῦτον, at this season. That is, when this season of the year returns again.
VERSE 10. And not only (this); but when Rebecca had conceived by one, (even) by our father Isaac. Not only does the case of Isaac and Ishmael prove that the choice of God does not depend on natural descent, but on the sovereign will of God, but that of Rebecca evinces the same truth still more clearly. In the former case, it might be supposed that Isaac was chosen because he was the son of Sarah, a free woman, and the legitimate wife of Abraham, whereas Ishmael was the son of a maid-servant. In the choice between Jacob and Esau, there is no room for any such supposition. They had the same father, the same mother, and were born at one birth. Here, assuredly, the choice was sovereign. The original is here elliptical, something must be supplied to complete the sense. On the principle that an ellipsis should, if possible, be supplied from the immediate context, winner, Meyer, and others, supply the ellipsis thus: 'Not only did Sarah receive a promise of a son, but Rebecca also.' In this view the construction of the passage is regular; otherwise, an irregularity, or change of grammatical construction, must be assumed in ver. 12. 'Not only Rebecca—it was said to her.' To this however, it is objected, first, that the promise was not made to Sarah, but to Abraham; and secondly, that no promise was made to Rebecca. Others, therefore, prefer supplying simply, did this happen. That is, not only was Isaac chosen instead of Ishmael, although both were the sons of Abraham, but also Rebecca Then we must either assume a grammatical irregularity, or the nominative (Rebecca) must be taken absolutely; or we can supply some such phrase as, Rebecca also proves this, i.e. the sovereignty of God in election. These questions do not affect the sense of the passage. The apostle proceeds with his historical proof that God, according to his own good pleasure, does choose one and reject another. He has therefore the right to cast off the Jews.
VERSE 11. For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, etc. The force of for is clear by a reference to the preceding verse, and the object of the apostle. 'Not only does the case of Isaac and Ishmael evince the sovereignty of God, but that of Rebecca and her children does the same, in a still more striking manner, for the decision between her children was made previously to their birth, for the very purpose of showing that it was not made on the ground of works, but of the sovereign pleasure of God.' This is an example which cannot be evaded. With regard to Ishmael, it might be supposed that either the circumstances of his birth, or his personal character, was the ground of his rejection; but with regard to Esau neither of these suppositions can be made. The circumstances of his birth were identical with those of his favored brother, and the choice was made before either had done any thing good or evil. The case of Ishmael was, indeed, sufficient to prove that having Abraham for a father was not enough to secure the inheritance of the promise, but it could not prove the entire sovereignty of the act of election on the part of God, as is so fully done by that of Jacob and Esau. This passage shows clearly that the design of the apostle is not simply to show that natural descent from Abraham was a title to Messianic blessings, but that works also were excluded; that the choice of God was sovereign.
Neither having done good or evil. The design of the introduction of these words is expressly stated in the next clause. It was to show that the ground of choice was not in them, but in God; and this is the main point in regard to the doctrine of election, whether the choice be to the privileges of the external theocracy, or to the spiritual and eternal blessings of the kingdom of Christ.
That the purpose of God, according to election, might stand. This is the reason why the choice was made prior to birth. The original here admits of various interpretations, which, however, do not materially alter the sense. The word rendered purpose, is that which was used in the previous chapter, ver. 28, and means here, as there, a determination of the will, and of itself expresses the idea of its being sovereign, i.e., of having its ground in the divine mind and not in its objects. Hence, in 2 Timothy 1:9, it is said, "Who Hath called us not according to our works, but according to his own purpose, etc., see Ephesians 1:11; 3:11. The words (κατ· ἐκλογήν) according to election, are designed to fix more definitely the nature of this purpose. The word election often means the act of choice itself, as 1 Thessalonians 1:4, "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God." In this sense, the clause means, 'the purpose of God in reference to election, or in relation to this choice.' This view of the passage is perfectly consistent with the context. The choice was made prior to birth, in order that the true nature of the purpose of God in reference to it might appear. It is objected to this interpretation that the ἐκλογή (election) follows the πρόθεσις; (the purpose) and not the reverse. This does not amount to much. It relates merely to the order of conception. We can conceive of God's electing some to eternal life, and then purposing to save them, as well as his purposing to save them and then electing them. The real meaning is expressed by giving κατ· ἐκλογήν an adjective force, the electing purpose, electivum Dei propositum, as Bengel renders it. Others give ἐκλογή here the sense of free choice, or free will. 'The purpose according to free choice,' for, 'free or sovereign purpose.' Many commentators adopt this view of the passage. This is, perhaps the most common interpretation. But as the word does not occur in this sense in the New Testament, the former mode of explanation is perhaps to be preferred.
Should stand, i.e. should be established and recognized in its true character, that is, that it might be seen it was not of works, but of him that calleth. This purpose of God, in reference to election, or the choice itself, is not of works, i.e. does not depend on works, but on him that calleth. It is not to be traced to works as its source. That is, as plainly as language can express the idea, the ground of the choice is not in those chosen, but in God who chooses In the same sense our justification is said to be "not of works," Galatians 2:16, and often; i.e. is not on the ground of works; see Romans 11:6; 2 Timothy 1:9. The language of the apostle in this verse, and the nature of his argument, are so perfectly plain, that there is little diversity of opinion as to his general meaning. It is almost uniformly admitted that he here teaches that the election spoken of is perfectly sovereign, that the ground on which the choice is made is not in men, but in God. Commentators of every class unite in admitting that the apostle does here teach the sovereignty of God in election.
Unde sensus totius loci sic constituitur; ut appareret, quicquid Deus decernit, libere eum decernere non propter hominis meritum, sed pro sua decernentis voluntate.—Koppe.
Ut benevola Dei voluntas maneret, ut quae non a meritis cujus quam pendeat, sed benefactore ipso.—Noesselt.
Das der Rathschluss Gottes fest stehe, als ein solcher, der nicht abhange von menschlichen Verdiensten, sondern von dem gnädigen oder freien Willen Gottes
'That the degree of God might stand firm, as one which depended not on human merit, but the gracious or free will of God.'—Flatt.
And even Tholuck makes Paul argue thus,
"Dass wie Gott, ohne Anrechte anzuerkennen, die äussere Theoklatie und mancherlei Vortheile übertrug wem er wollte, er so auch jetzt die innere dem überträgt, oder den darein eingehen lässt welchen er will."
That as God, without recognising any claims, committed the external theocracy and manifold advantages to whom he pleased, so also now he commits the internal to whom he will, or allows whom he will to enter it.' To the same effect Meyer says,
"Er wollte nämlich dadurch für immer festsetzen, dass sein zufolge einer Auswahl unter den Menschen eintretender Beschluss, mit den Messianischen Heile zu beglücken, unabhängig sei von menschlichen Leistungen, und nur von seinem, des zuni Messiasheil Berufenden, eigenen Willen dependire."
His design was to establish, once for all, (the principle) that his purpose in reference to the choice of those who were to enter the Messiah's kingdom, was independent of human conduct, and was determined by the will of him who calls.
The opposers of the doctrine of personal election endeavor to escape the force of this passage, by saying that the choice of which the apostle speaks, is not to eternal life, but to the external advantages of the theocracy, and that it was not so much individuals as nations or communities which were chosen or rejected. With regard to this latter objection, it may be answered,
1. That the language quoted by the apostle from the Old Testament is there applied to the individuals, Jacob and Esau; and that Jacob, as an individual, was chosen in preference to his brother; and that Paul's whole argument turns on this very point.
2. That the choice of nations involves and consists in the choice of individuals; and that the same objections obviously lie against the choice in the one case as in the other.
With regard to the former objection, that the choice here spoken of is to the external theocracy and not to eternal life, it may be answered,
1. Admitting this to be the case, how is the difficulty relieved? Is there any more objection to God's choosing men to a great than to a small blessing, on the ground of his own good pleasure? The foundation of the objection is not the character of the blessings we are chosen to inherit, but the sovereign nature of the choice. Of course it is not met by making these blessings either greater or less.
2. A choice to the blessings of the theocracy, i.e. of a knowledge and worship of the true God, involved, in a multitude of cases at least, a choice to eternal life; as a choice to the means is a choice to the end. And it is only so far as these advantages were a means to this end, that their value was worth consideration.
3. The whole design and argument of the apostle show that the objection is destitute of force. The object of the whole epistle is to exhibit the method of obtaining access to the Messiah's kingdom. The design here is to show that God is at liberty to choose whom he pleases to be the recipients of the blessings of this kingdom, and that he was not confined in his choice to the descendants of Abraham. His argument is derived from the historical facts recorded in the Old Testament. As God chose Isaac in preference to Ishmael, and Jacob in preference to Esau, not on the ground of their works, but of his own good pleasure, so now he chooses whom he will to a participation of the blessings of the kingdom of Christ: these blessings are pardon, purity, and eternal life," etc., etc. That such is the apostle's argument and doctrine, becomes, if possible, still more plain, from his refutation of the objections urged against it, which are precisely the objections which have ever been urged against the doctrine of election.
VERSE 12. It was said to her, the elder shall serve the younger. These words are to be connected with the 10th verse, according to our version, in this manner, "Not only this, but Rebecca also, when she had conceived, etc., it was said to her, etc." According to this view, although the construction is irregular, the sense is sufficiently obvious. As it was said to Rebecca that the elder of her sons should serve the younger, prior to the birth of either, it is evident that the choice between them was not on account of their works. It has been said that this declaration relates not to Jacob and Esau personally, but to their posterity,
1. Because in Genesis 25:23, whence the quotation is made, it is said, "Two nations are within thy womb, and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger."
2. Because Esau did not personally serve Jacob, although the descendants of the one were subjected to those of the other. It is no doubt true that the prediction contained in this passage has reference not only to the relative standing of Jacob and Esau as individuals, but also to that of their descendants. It may even be allowed that the latter was principally intended in the annunciation to Rebecca. But it is too clear to be denied,
1. that this distinction between the two races presupposed and included a distinction between the individuals. Jacob was made the special heir to his father Isaac, obtained as an individual the birth-right and the blessing, and Esau as an individual was cast off. The one, therefore, was personally preferred to the other.
2. In Paul's application of this event to his argument, the distinction between the two as individuals, was the very thing referred to. This is plain from the 11th verse, in which he says, "The children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil," etc. It is, therefore, the nature of the choice between the children that is the point designed to be presented.
As to the objection that Esau never personally served Jacob, it is founded on the mere literal sense of the words. Esau did acknowledge his inferiority to Jacob, and was in fact postponed to him on various occasions. The main idea, however, is that Esau forfeited his birthright. Jacob was preferred to his elder brother, and constituted head of the theocracy. In a spiritual or religious sense, and therefore in the highest sense, or in reference to the highest interests, Esau was placed below Jacob, as much as Ishmael was below Isaac. This is the real spirit of the passage. This prophecy, as is the case with all similar predictions, had various stages of fulfillment. The relation between the two brothers during life; the loss of the birthright blessing and promises on the part of Esau; the temporary subjugation of his descendants to the Israelites under David, their final and complete subjection under the Maccabees; and especially their exclusion from the peculiar privileges of the people of God, through all the early periods of their history, are all included. Compare the prediction of the subjection of Ham to his brethren; and of Japheth's dwelling in the tents of Shem, Genesis 9:25-27.
VERSE 13. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. These words are quoted from Malachi 1:2, 3, where the prophet is reproving the Jews for their ingratitude. As a proof of his peculiar favor, God refers to his preference for them from the first, "Was not Esau Jacob's brother, saith the Lord; yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, etc." This passage, as well as the one quoted in ver. 12, and just referred to, relates to the descendants of Jacob and Esau, and to the individuals themselves; the favor shown to the posterity of the one, and withheld from that of the other, being founded on the distinction originally made between the two brothers. The meaning therefore is, that God preferred one to the other, or chose one instead of the other. As this is the idea meant to be expressed, it is evident that in this case the word hate means to love less, to regard and treat with less favor. Thus in Genesis 29:33, Leah says, she was hated by her husband; while in a preceding verse, the same idea is expressed by saying, "Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah," Matthew 6:24; Luke 14:26; "If a man come to me and hate not his father and mother," etc." John 12:25. The quotation from the prophet may be considered either as designed in confirmation of the declaration that the elder should serve the younger; or it may be connected in sense with the close of the 11th, 'God is sovereign in the distribution of his favors, as it is written, Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated;' the distinction made between these two individuals being cited as an illustration and confirmation of the apostle's doctrine.
The doctrine of the preceding verses is, that God is perfectly sovereign in the distribution of his favors, that the ground of his selecting one and rejecting another is not their work, but his own good pleasure. To this doctrine there are two plausible objections; first, it is not consistent with the divine justice, ver. 14; second, it is incompatible with human responsibility, ver. 19. To the former the apostle answers, first, God claims distinctly in his word this prerogative, ver. 15: and secondly, he obviously exercises it, as is seen in the dispensations of his providence, ver. 17. Here again the sense is so plain that commentators of all classes agree in their interpretations. Thus Meyer says, "God does not act unjustly in his sovereign choice; since he claims for himself in the Scripture the liberty to favor or to harden, whom he will."
VERSE 14. What shall we say then, is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. The apostle, according to his usual manner, proposes the objection to his own doctrine in the form of a question, denies its validity, and immediately subjoins his reason; see Romans 3:5; Galatians 3:21. The obvious objection here presented is, that it is unjust in God, thus, according to his own purpose, so choose one and reject another. This Paul denies, and supports his denial by an appeal, in the first place, to Scripture, and the second, to experience. It will be remarked that these arguments of the apostle are founded on two assumptions. The first is, that the Scriptures are the word of God; and the second, that what God actually does cannot be unrighteous. Consequently any objection which can be shown to militate against either an express declaration of Scripture, or an obvious fact in providence, is fairly answered. And if, as is almost always the case, when it militates against the one, it can be shown to militate against the other, the answer is doubly ratified.
VERSE 15. For God saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I Will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. The connection and argument are obvious. 'It is not unjust in God to exercise his sovereignty in the distribution of his mercies, for he expressly claims the right.' The passage quoted is from the account of the solemn interview of Moses with God. In answer to the prayer of the prophet for his people and for himself, God answered, "I will proclaim my name before thee, and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, etc." Exodus 33:19. It is, therefore, a formal declaration of a divine prerogative. The form of expression I will do what I will, or I do what I do, is here, as in Exodus 16:23; 2 Samuel 15:20, designed to convey the idea that it rests entirely with the agent to act or not, at his pleasure. The ground of decision is in himself. In the connection of this verse with the former, therefore, it is obvious that Paul quotes this declaration to prove that God claims the sovereignty which he had attributed to him. In order to avoid the force of this passage, many deny that it expresses the sentiment of the apostle. They consider this and the following verses as the objections of a Jewish fatalist, a mode of interpretation so obviously inconsistent with the context, and even the proper force of the words, that it is mentioned only to show how hard it is to close the eyes against the doctrine which the apostle so clearly teaches.
Gottes Erbarmen und Huld sei lediglich von seinem eigenen unumschränkten Willen abhängig; auf wen eimnal sein Erbarmen gerichtet sei, dem werde er's erweisen.—Meyer.
God's mercy and favor depend solely on his own sovereign will, he will manifest that mercy towards him to whom it has been once directed. Tittmann, in his Synon. in N.T., says that the difference between οἰκτείρειν and ἐλεεῖν is, that the former denotes the feeling experienced in view of the sufferings of others, and the latter the desire to relieve them. The difference is very much the same as that between our words compassion and mercy.
VERSE 16. So, then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, etc. If the ground of the decision or choice of the objects of mercy be in God, as asserted in ver. 15, then that it is not in man, is a conclusion which flows of course from the previous declarations. The word it refers to the result contemplated in the context, viz., the attainment of the divine favor, or more definitely, admission into the Messiah's kingdom. This result, when attained, is to be attributed not to the wishes or efforts of man, but to the mercy of God. That one, therefore, is taken, and another left, that one is introduced into this kingdom and another not, is to be referred to the fact asserted in the preceding verse, that "God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy." This seems plainly to have been the apostle's meaning. It is said, however, that the efforts here declared to be vain are those to the self-righteous; that Paul intends to say that the Jews, by the works of the law, could not attain the favor of God, etc. But no such sentiment is expressed by the apostle; it is all supplied by the commentator. The sentiment, moreover, is not only not expressed, but it is in direct contradiction to the language and design of the apostle. He says the ground of choice, or of admission into the kingdom of Christ, is not in us; this interpretation says it is in us. Paul says it is in God; this interpretation says, it is not in God. It is neither the will nor the efforts of men which determines their admission into Christ's kingdom. It depends on the sovereign will of God.
Neque in voluntate nostra, neque in conatu esse situm, ut inter electos censeamur: sed totum id divinae bonitais, quae nec volentes, nec conantes, ac ne cogitantes quidem ultro assumit.—Calvin.
This is not an interpretation peculiar to Augustinians. It is, as has been shown, the view of the passage adopted by commentators of every shade of doctrine.
Also ist's (nämlich Gottes Erbarmen und Huld zu empfangen) nicht von dem Wollenden noch von dem Laufenden abhängig, sondern von dem barmherzig scienden Gotte.—Meyer.
VERSE 17. For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, etc. The connection of this verse is with the 14th, rather than with the one immediately preceding. Paul is still engaged in answering the objection proposed in the 14th verse. There is no injustice with God, because he saith to Moses, 'I will have mercy,' etc. ver. 15, and because the Scripture saith to Pharaoh, for this purpose, etc. ver. 17. His second answer to the objection is, that God, in point of fact, does exercise this sovereignty, as is evident from the case of Pharaoh. Pharaoh was no worse than many other men who have obtained mercy; yet God, for wise and benevolent reasons, withheld from him the saving influences of his grace, and gave him up to his own wicked heart, so that he became more and more hardened, until he was finally destroyed. God did nothing to Pharaoh beyond his strict deserts. He did not make him wicked; he only forbore to make him good, by the exertion of special and altogether unmerited grace. The reason, therefore, of Pharaoh's being left to perish, while others were saved, was not that he was worse than others, but because God has mercy on whom he will have mercy; it was because, among the criminals at his bar, he pardons one and not another, as seems good in his sight. He, therefore, who is pardoned, cannot say it was because I was better than others; while he who is condemned must acknowledge that he receives nothing more than the just recompense of his sins. In order to establish his doctrine of the divine sovereignty, Paul had cited from Scripture the declaration that God shows mercy to whom he will; he now cites an example to show that he punishes whom he will.
Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up. This is what God said to Pharaoh, as recorded in Exodus 9:16. The meaning of the declaration may be variously explained. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word used in the passage quoted, means literally, I have caused thee to stand. This is understood by some as meaning,
1. I have called thee into existence.
2. By others, I have preserved thee.
3. By others, I have raised thee up as king.
4. By others, I have placed and continued thee in thy post.
Either of these interpretations admits of being defended on philological grounds more or less satisfactory. The first is sufficiently suitable to the word used by the apostle, but does not agree so well with the original. The Hebrew word עָמַד, in Hiphil, is used not only in the literal sense, to cause to stand, but also in the sense, to continue, to preserve, as in 1 Kings 15:4, and also to appoint (to office). The LXX. (changing the person) have, in Exodus 9:16, διετηρήθης, equivalent to vivus servatus es, thou hast been kept alive. Paul renders the Hebrew, ἐξήγειρά σε, which answers to the use of the word in Nehemiah 6:7, "Thou hast appointed (caused to appear) prophets; and Daniel 11:11, "The king of the south shall set forth a great multitude." In no case, however, is the Hebrew word used for calling into existence in the sense of creating. For the second, it may be urged that verbs in the form (Hiphil) used in the passage quoted, signify frequently the continuance of a thing in the state which the simple form of the verb expresses. Thus the verb meaning to live, in this form, signifies to preserve alive, Genesis 6:19, 20, 19:19, etc. Besides, the particular word used in Exodus 9:16, signifies to preserve, to canse to continue, in 1 Kings 15:4; 2 Chronicles 9:8; Proverbs 29:4, etc. The third interpretation is too definite, and supplies an idea not in the text. The fourth, which is only a modification of the second, is perhaps the nearest to the apostle's intention. 'For this purpose have I raised thee up, and placed thee where thou art; and instead of cutting thee off at once, have so long endured thy obstinacy and wickedness.' It is not the design of Pharaoh's creation that is here asserted; but the end for which God determined his appearance and position in the history of the world. Nor does the apostle refer Pharaoh's wickedness to God as its author, but his appearance at that period, the form in which the evil of his heart developed itself, and the circumstances attending its manifestation, were all determined by the providence of God, and ordered for the promotion of his infinitely wise and benevolent purposes.
That I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared in all the earth. This is the reason why God dealt with Pharaoh in the manner described. It was not that he was worse than others, but that God might be glorified. This is precisely the principle on which all punishment is inflicted. It is that the true character of the divine lawgiver should be known. This is of all objects, when God is concerned, the highest and most important; in itself the most worthy, and in its results the most beneficent. The ground, therefore, on which Pharaoh was made an object of the divine justice, or the reason why the law was in his case allowed to take its course, is not to be sought in any peculiarity of his character or conduct in comparison with those of others, but in the sovereign pleasure of God. This result of the argument Paul formally states in the next verse.
VERSE 18. Therefore hath he mercy on upon he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. This is the conclusion, not merely from the preceding verse, but from the whole passage, vers. 14-17. This perfect sovereignty in the selection of the objects of his mercy and of his judgment, Paul had attributed to God in ver. 11, and, in the subsequent verses, had proved that he claims and exercises it, both in reference to the recipients of his favor, ver. 15, and the objects of his wrath, ver. 15. The doctrine therefore, is fully established.
The latter clause of this verse, whom he will hardeth, admits of various explanations. The word may be taken either in its ordinary meaning, or it may be understood in its secondary sense. According to the latter view, it means to treat harshly, to punish. This interpretation it must be admitted, is peculiarly suited to the context, 'He hath mercy on whom he will, and he punishes whom he will.' Nor is it entirely destitute of philological support. In Job 39:16, it is said of the ostrich, "she treateth hardly her young." But, on the other hand, it is liable to serious objections.
1. It is certain that it is a very unusual sense of the word, and opposed to the meaning in which it frequently occurs. There should be very strong reasons for departing from the usual meaning of an expression so common in the Scriptures.
2. It is inconsistent with those passages in the Old Testament which speak of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart.
3. It removes no difficulty; for what, according to the usual sense of the word, is here said, is frequently said elsewhere.
1. The common sense of the word is, therefore, doubtless, to be preferred, whom he will he hardens. This is by many understood to express a direct and positive influence of God on the soul in rendering it obdurate, But, in the first place, this interpretation is by no means necessary, as will presently be shown; and, in the second, it can hardly be reconciled with our ideas of the divine character.
2. Others think that this phrase is to be explained by a reference to that scriptural usage, according to which God is said to do whatever indirectly and incidentally results from his agency; on the same principle that a father is said to ruin his children, or a master his servants, or that Christ is said to produce wars and divisions. Thus, Isaiah 6:10, the prophet is commanded to make the heart of the people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, etc., as though to him were to be ascribed the incidental effects of his preaching. In the same way the gospel is the cause of death (not of misery only, but of insensibility also,) to those who hear and disregard it.
3. Nearly allied to this mode of explanation is that which rests on the assumption that God is said to do what he permits to be done. Reference is made to such passages as the following. 2 Samuel 12:11, "I will give thy wives unto thy neighbor," i.e. I will permit him to take them. 2 Samuel 16:10, "The Lord hath said unto him, curse David." Isaiah 63:17, "O Lord, why hast thou caused us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear." Deuteronomy 2:30, "For the Lord thy God hardened his spirit (Sihon's,) that he might deliver him into thy hand." 1 Kings 11:23, "The Lord stirred up another adversary." Psalm 105:25, "He turned their heart to hate his people." In 2 Samuel 24:1, God is said to have moved David to number the people; but in 1 Chronicles 21:1, Satan is said to have provoked David to number Israel. From these and similar passages, it is evident that it is a familiar scriptural usage, to ascribe to God effects which he allows in his wisdom to come to pass. Hence, almost everything is, at times, spoken of as if it was produced by divine agency, although, in a multitude of other places, these same results are referred, as in some of the examples cited above, to their immediate authors. According to this mode of representation, God is understood as merely permitting Pharaoh to harden his own heart, as the result is often expressly referred to Pharaoh himself, Exodus 8:15, 32, etc.
4. But there seems to be more expressed by the language of the text than mere permission, because it is evidently a punitive act that is here intended, and because this view does not suit the other passages in which God is said to give sinners up to the evil of their own hearts, Romans 1:24, 28. It is probable, therefore, that the judicial abandonment of men "to a reprobate mind," a punitive withdrawing of the influences of his Holy Spirit, and the giving them up to the uncounteracted operation of the hardening or perverting influences by which they are surrounded, are all expressed by the language of the apostle. In this God does no more than he constantly, threatens to do, or which the Scriptures declare he actually does, in the case of those: who forsake him; and nothing more than every righteous parent does in reference to a reprobate son. This, in connection with the principle referred to above, (in No. 2,) seems as much as can fairly be considered as included in the expressions. De Wette here wisely says, that we are to exclude, on the one hand, the idea that God merely permits evil, and on the other, that he is its author, and to hold fast the doctrine, that evil is from man, and that God orders and directs it, and that to punishment. It is to be remembered that the hardening of the sinner's heart is itself punitive. It supposes evil, and is its punishment. As a ruined constitution is at once the inevitable consequence and the punishment of intemperance, so insensibility, obduracy of conscience, and blindness of mind, are the penal consequences of a course of sin, and become themselves the just ground of further punishment, because they are in their own nature evil. This we instinctively recognize as true in our moral judgments of men. A man whom a long course of crime has rendered perfectly callous, is, on account of his callousness, justly the object of execration and abhorrence. It is therefore not only a doctrine of Scripture (Romans 1:24) that sin is the punishment of sin, but a fact of experience.
Satis est, says Augustine, (Ad Sixtum Ep.,) interim Christiano ex fide adhuc viventi, et nondum cernenti quod perfectum est, sed ex parte scienti, nosse vel credere quod neminem Deus liberet nisi gratuita misericordia per Dominum nostrum Jesus Christum, et neminem damnet nisi aequissima veritate per eundem Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum. Cur autem illum potius quam illum liberet aut non liberet, scrutetur qui potest judiciorum ejus tam magnum profundum—verumtamen caveat praecipitium.
The Lutheran Church, after the days of Luther, endeavored to find a middle ground between the Augustinian and the semi Pelagian doctrine. In the Form of Concord it is taught that the choice of the vessels of mercy is to be referred to the good pleasure of God, but the passing by of the non-elect is to be referred to their voluntary resistance of his offered grace. Election is founded, according to this view, on the sovereignty of God, but preterition on the foresight of impenitence. This, however, seems to involve a contradiction; for if faith be the gift of God, the purpose to give it only to some, involves the purpose not to give it to others. Besides, it is the very object of the apostle in the whole context to teach the sovereignty of God in dealing with the vessels of wrath. This Olshausen admits.
"This reference," he says, "to the foreknowledge of God, although not unfounded so far as evil is concerned, tends rather to pervert than to elucidate the passage, inasmuch as the precise object of the apostle is to render prominent the sovereignty of the divine will."
VERSE 19. Thou wilt then say unto me, why doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted his will? This is the second leading objection to the apostle's doctrine. If it be true, as he had just taught, that the destiny of men is in the hands of God, if it is not of him who willeth, or of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy, what can we do? If the fact that one believes and is saved, and another remains impenitent and is lost, depends on God, how can we be blamed? Can we resist his will? It will at once be perceived that this plausible and formidable objection to the apostle's doctrine is precisely the one which is commonly and confidently urged against the doctrine of election. There would be no room either for this objection, or for that contained in the 14th verse, if Paul had merely said that God chooses those whom he foresees would repent and believe; or that the ground of distinction was in the different conduct of men. It is very evident, therefore, that he taught no such doctrine. How easy and obvious an answer to the charge of injustice would it have been to say, God chooses one and rejects another according to their works. But teaching as he does the sovereignty of God in the selection of the subjects of his grace and of the objects of his wrath, declaring as he does so plainly, that the destiny of men is determined by his sovereign pleasure, the objection (how can he yet find fault?) is plausible and natural. To this objection the apostle gives two answers;
1. That it springs from ignorance of the true relation between God and men as Creator and creatures, and of the nature and extent of the divine authority over us, vers. 20, 21;
2. That there is nothing in his doctrine inconsistent with the divine perfections; since he does not make men wicked, but from the mass of wicked men, he pardons one and punishes another, for the wisest and most benevolent reasons, vers. 22, 23.
Why doth he yet find fault? If God hardens us, why does he blame us for being hard. Gross as is this perversion of the apostle's doctrine on the part of the objector, Paul at first rebukes the spirit in which it is made, before he shows it to be unfounded. It is not the doctrine of the Bible, that God first makes men wicked, and then punishes them for their wickedness. The Scriptures only assert, what we see and know to be true, that God permits men, in the exercise of their own free agency, to sin, and then punishes them for their sins, and in proportion to their guilt. He acts towards them as a perfectly righteous judge, so that no one can justly complain of his dealings. This strictness in the administration of justice, is, however, perfectly consistent with the sovereignty of God in determining whom he will save, and whom he will permit to suffer the just recompense of their deeds.
Who hath resisted, rather, who resists, i.e. who can resist. The perfect ἀνθέστηκε (as ἕστηκεν) is present; see Romans 13:2.
His will, i.e. his purpose, βούλημα.
VERSE 20. Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed, etc. In these words we have both a reproof and an answer. The reproof is directed against the irreverent spirit, whence such cavils always arise. After the clear proof given in the preceding verses, that God claims this sovereignty in his word, and exercises it in his providence, it argues great want of reverence for God, to assert that this claim involves the grossest injustice. It is very common with the sacred writers, and with Christ himself, when questions or cavils are presented, to direct their answers more to the feeling which the question indicated, than to the question itself. Tholuck refers, in illustration of this remark, to John 3:3; Matthew 8:19, 20, 22; 19:16; 22:29. But in this case, besides this reproof of presumption in attempting to call our Maker to account, instead of considering that the mere fact that God claims any thing as his right, is evidence enough that it is just, there is a direct answer to the difficulty. The objection is founded on ignorance or misapprehension of the true relation between God and his sinful creatures. It supposes that he is under obligation to extend his grace to all. Whereas he is under obligation to none. All are sinners, and have forfeited every claim to his mercy; it is, therefore, the prerogative of God to spare one and not another; to make one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor. He, as their sovereign Creator, has the same right over them that a potter has over the clay. It is to be born in mind, that Paul does not here speak of the right of God over his creatures as creatures but as sinful creatures, as he himself clearly intimates in the next verses. It is the cavil of a sinful creature against his Creator, that he is answering; and he does it by showing that God is under no obligation to give his grace to any, but is as sovereign as the potter in fashioning the clay.
Nay, but, O man, μενοῦνγε. This particle is often used in replies, and is partly concessive and partly corrective, as in Luke 11:28, where it is rendered, yea, rather, in Romans 10:18, yes, verily. It may here, as elsewhere, have an ironical force. Sometimes it is strongly affirmative, as in Philippians 3:8, and at others, introduces, as here, a strong negation or repudiation of what had been said.
Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? See Isaiah 45:9. In this clause Paul presents mainly the idea of God's right, and in the subsequent verses he shows that nothing unjust is included in the right here claimed. We are at his mercy; and it is the height of irreverence and folly for us to call him to account for the manner in which he may see fit to dispose of us.
VERSE 21. Hath not the potter power over the clay, out of the same lump to make one vessel, etc., etc. The word ἐξουσία rendered power, means also authority and right. In this case it means, the lawful power or right; He not only can do it, but he has a perfect right to do it; see the use of the Greek word in Matthew 21:23; 1 Corinthians 8:9, and frequently elsewhere. This verse is merely an illustration of the idea contained in the last clause of the preceding. The Creator has a perfect right to dispose of his creatures as he sees fit. From the very idea of a creature, it can have no claim on the Creator; whether it exists at all, or how, or where, from the nature of the case, must depend on him, and be at his sovereign disposal. The illustration of this truth which follows, is peculiarly appropriate. When the potter takes a piece of clay into his hands, and approaches the wheel, how entirely does it rest with himself to determine the form that clay shall take, and the use to which it shall be destined? Can any thing be more unreasonable, than that the clay, supposing it endued with intelligence, should complain that the form given it was not so comely, or the use to which it was destined not so honorable, as those which fell to the lot of a different portion of the same mass? Are not these points on which the potter has a most perfect right to decide for himself, and regarding which the thing formed can have no right to complain or question? And so it is with God; the mass of fallen men are in his hands, and it is his right to dispose of them at pleasure; to make all vessels unto honor, or all unto dishonor, or some to one and some to the other. These are points on which, from the nature of the relation, we have no right to question or complain. The illustration here employed occurs elsewhere in Scripture, as in Isaiah 64:8, "But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art our Potter; and we all are the work of thy hands." See also Isaiah 29:16, and Jeremiah 18:3-6, "Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel which he made of clay was marred in the hands of the potter; so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter I saith the Lord. Behold, as clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel." In the sovereignty here asserted, it is God as moral governor, and not God as creator, who is brought to view. It is not the right of God to create sinful beings in order to punish them, but his right to deal with sinful beings according to his good pleasure, that is here, and elsewhere asserted. He pardons or punishes as he sees fit.
VERSES 22, 23. But 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; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, etc.? These verses contain Paul's second answer to the difficulty presented in the 19th verse. He had shown in vers. 20, 21, that in virtue of his relation to men as his sinful creatures, God is at perfect liability to dispose of them at his pleasure, pardoning one and punishing another, as seemeth good in his sight. He now shows that in the exercise of this right there is nothing unreasonable or unjust, nothing of which his creatures have the least right to complain. The punishment of the wicked is not an arbitrary act, having no object but to make them miserable; it is designed to manifest the displeasure of God against sin, and to make known his true character. On the other hand, the salvation of the righteous is designed to display the riches of his grace. Both in the punishment of the one class and the salvation of the other, most important and benevolent ends are to be answered. And since for these ends it was necessary that some should be punished, while others might be pardoned, as all are equally undeserving, it results from the nature of the case that the decision between the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy must be left to God. The apostle would, moreover, have it remarked, that even in the necessary punishment of the wicked, God does not proceed with any undue severity, but, on the contrary, deals with them with the greatest long-suffering and tenderness. Such seems to be the general purport and object of these difficult verses.
The attentive reader will perceive, that even with the insertion of the word what, which has nothing to answer to it in the original, and with a sign of interrogation at the end of ver. 24, the construction of the passage in our version remains ungrammatical and the sense incomplete. As the difficulty exists in the Greek text, and not merely in our translation, the explanations which have been proposed are very numerous. Many of these are presented and canvassed by Tholuck and Wolf, particularly the latter. There are three views taken of the connection, which are the most plausible.
1. The two verses are considered as both referring to the rejection of the wicked, for which ver. 22 assigns one reason, and ver. 23 another. 'What if God, willing to show his wrath, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath, so that also he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy,' etc. The treatment of the wicked was not only to display the divine displeasure against sin, but also, by contrast, his mercy towards his people. But, in order to make the two verses cohere in this way, it is necessary to transpose the words at the beginning of the 23rd verse, and read that also, instead of and that, which alters the sense materially, while for such a transposition there is no authority. Besides this, it makes ver. 23 too subordinate to ver. 22; that is, it makes God's dealings towards the vessels of mercy merely an incidental topic, instead of having equal prominence with his treatment of the vessels of wrath. From the context we are led to expect a vindication of his course, not only in the destruction of the latter, but in the salvation of the former.
2. A second explanation is to make the second clause of ver. 22 and the beginning of ver. 23 depend on the first words of ver. 22. 'God willing to show his wrath and make his power known, and (willing) that the riches of his glory should be known,' etc. This gives a good sense, though the construction is suddenly, and rather violently, changed at the beginning of ver. 23, "that he might make known," being substituted for the infinitive, "to make known."
3. Tholuck makes ver. 24 parallel with ver. 23, and explains the passage thus, 'God, willing to manifest his wrath, bore with the vessels of wrath; and that he might make known his mercy, called us,' etc. This gives a very good sense, but assumes the construciton to be irregular to a very unusual degree. Though the second method be somewhat irregular, it seems, on the whole, the least objectionable, and gives a sense obviously consistent with the context. The meaning of the apostle is sufficiently plain. He asks a question εἰ δέ, but if. 'What can be said if God, to manifest his justice, bears with the vessels of wrath, and to manifest his grace prepares the vessels of mercy?' There is nothing in this inconsistent with the character of God, or the rights of his creatures.
The two objects which Paul here specifies as designed to be answered by the punishment of the wicked, are the manifestation of the wrath of God, and the exhibition of his power. The word wrath is used here as in Romans 1:18, for the divine displeasure against sin, the calm and holy disapprobation of evil, joined with the determination to punish those who commit it. The power of God is conspicuously displayed in the destruction of the wicked, no matter how mighty or numerous they may be. Though the inherent ill-desert of sin must ever be regarded as the primary ground of the infliction of punishment, a ground which would remain in full force, were no beneficial results anticipated from the misery of the wicked, yet God has so ordered his government that the evils which sinners incur shall result in the manifestation of his character, and the consequent promotion of the holiness and happiness of his intelligent creatures throughout eternity.
God treats the wicked, not as a severe judge, but with much long-suffering. The expression vessels of wrath, no doubt suggests itself from the illustration of the potter used in the preceding verse; though the term vessel is used not infrequently in reference to men, Acts 9:15; 1 Peter 3:7.
Vessels of wrath, i.e. vessels to receive wrath, or which are destined to be the objects of wrath. This is a modification of the expression in ver. 21, σκεῦος εἰς ἀτιμίαν, vessel unto dishonor.
Fitted to destruction, κατηρτισμένα εἰς ἀπώλειαν. This phrase admits of two interpretations. The passive participle may be taken as a verbal adjective, fit for destruction. This leaves undetermined the agency by which this fitness was effected. Comp. 2 Corinthians 10:10; 1 Peter 1:8. In favor of this view is the change of expression adopted in ver. 23. Of the vessels of wrath, it is simply said that they are fit for destruction; but of the vessels of mercy, that God prepares them for glory. Why this change, if the apostle did not intend to intimate that the agency of God is very different in the one case from what it is in the other? Besides, as it is the object of the writer to vindicate the justice of God in these dispensations, it is specially pertinent to represent the vessels of wrath as fit for destruction in the sense of deserving it. The other interpretation assumes that the reference is to God, and that κατηρτισμένα has its full participle force; prepared (by God) for destruction. This is adopted not only by the majority of Augustinians, but also by many Lutherans and Neologists. This sense they say is demanded by the context. God is compared to a potter, who prepares one vessel to honor, and another to dishonor. So God prepares some for wrath and some for mercy. This, however, is not to be understood in a supralapsarian sense. God does not create men in order to destroy them. The preparation intended is that illustrated in the case of Pharaoh. God did not make him wicked and obdurate; but as a punishment for his sin, he so dealt with him that the evil of his nature revealed itself in a form, and under circumstances, which made him a fit object of the punitive justice of God. The dealings of God as a sovereign are often, by the Jewish writers, spoken of in the same terms as those here used; see Moed Katon, fol. 9, 1. Exiit filia vocis, dixitque eis; vos omnes ordinati estis ad vitam seculi futuri Megilla, fol. 12, 2. Memuchan, Esther 1:14, i.e., Haman. Cur vocatur nomen ejus Memucan? quia ordinatas est ad poenas. R. Bechai in Pentateuch, fol. 132. Gentes ordinatae ad gehennam: Israel vero ad vitam. Fol. 220, 4, Duas istas gentes vocat Salomo duas filias, dicitque ad gehennam ordinatas esse. Bechoroth, fol. 8, 2. R. Joseph docuit, hi sunt Persae, qui preparati sunt in gehennam. Wetstein on Acts 13:48.
VERSE 23. And that he might make known the riches of his glory, etc. The grammatical construction of this clause, as before remarked, is doubtful. The ἵνα γνωρίσῃ may depend on ἤνεγκεν he bore with the vessels of wrath in order that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy; or, they may be connected with κατηρτισμένα vessels prepared for destruction, in order that he might make known, etc. Or, we must assume that ἵνα γνωρίσῃ is used for the infinitive, and that this clause is coordinate with the preceding 'What if God, to manifest his wrath, bears with the wicked, and to make known his mercy, prepares others for glory.'
The vessels of mercy, i.e. those destined to mercy. The riches of, i.e., the abundance or greatness of his glory. The glory refers to the divine majesty or excellence which is glorious, that is, the proper object of admiration. It may be used of the divine perfections in general, or for any of the divine attributes in particular, for his power, as Romans 6:4, or his mercy, in Ephesians 3:16. Here it should be taken in its comprehensive sense, although from its opposition to the word wrath, the reference is specially to the mercy of God. That is the attribute most conspicuously displayed in the salvation of sinners.
Which he had afore prepared, προητοίμασεν. This word is used both in the sense of preparing beforehand, and of predestining. Many prefer the latter sense here; whom he had predestined to glory. Comp. Ephesians 2:10. But the context is in favor of the ordinary meaning of the word. God, as the potter, prepares or fashions the vessels of mercy unto glory. The word glory here evidently refers to the glorious state of existence for which God is preparing his people, and in hope of which they now rejoice, v. 2.
VERSE 24. Even us who hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. We are the vessels of his mercy, even we whom he hath called, i.e.effectually introduced by his Spirit into the kingdom of Christ; see Romans 8:28, 30. The use of the masculine relative οὕς, although the antecedent σκεύη ἐλέους is neuter, may be explained as a constructio ad sensum, or better as a case of attraction; οὕς taking the gender of the following ἡμᾶς. Winer, § 63, 1. How naturally does the apostle here return to the main subject of discussion! How skillfully is the conclusion brought out at which he has continually aimed! God chose Isaac in preference to Ishmael, Jacob in preference to Esau; it is a prerogative which he claims and exercises, of selecting from among the guilty family of men, whom he pleases as the objects of his mercy, and leaving whom he pleases to perish in their sins, unrestricted in his choice by the descent or previous conduct of the individuals. He has mercy upon whom he will have mercy. He calls men, therefore, from among the Gentiles and from among the Jews indiscriminately. This is the conclusion at which the apostle aimed. The Gentiles are admitted into the Messiah's kingdom, vers. 25, 26; and the great body of the Jews are excluded, ver. 27. This conclusion he confirms by explicit declarations of Scripture.
Ex disputatione, quam hactenus de libertate divinae electionis habuit, duo consequebantur: nempe Dei gratiam non ita inclusam esse in populo Judaico, ut non ad alias quoque nationes emanare, et in orbem universum effundere se posset: deinde ne sic quidem alligatam esse Judaeis, ut ad omnes Abrahae filios secundum carnem sine exceptione perveniat.—Calvin.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. No external circumstance, no descent from pious parents, no connection with the true church, can secure admission for men into the kingdom of Christ, vers. 6-12.
2. Paul teaches clearly the doctrine of the personal election of men to eternal life, an election founded not on works, but on the good pleasure of God. The choice is to eternal life, and not to external privileges merely.
1. Because the very point to be illustrated and established through this and the two following chapters, is the free admission of men into the Messiah's kingdom, and its spiritual and eternal blessings.
2. Because the language of the apostle seems of itself to preclude the other idea, in vers. 15, 16, and especially in ver. 18, "Therefore he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth." This is not applicable to the reception of men to a state of peculiar external privileges or their rejection from it.
3. The case of Pharaoh is not an illustration of the refusal to admit some men to peculiar privileges.
4. The choice is between the vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath; vessels of mercy chosen unto glory, not unto church privileges, and vessels of wrath who were to be made the examples of God's displeasure against sin.
5. The character of the objections to the apostle's doctrine shows that such was the nature of the choice. If this election is to eternal life, it is, of course, a choice of individuals, and not of communities, because communities, as such, do not inherit eternal life. This is still farther proved by the cases of Isaac and Ishmael, and Jacob and Esau, between whom, as individuals, the choice was made. From the illustration derived from the case of Pharaoh. From the objections presented in vers. 14, 19. From the answer to these objections in vers. 15, 16, 20, 23, especially from the passage just referred to, which speaks of the vessels of mercy prepared unto glory; which cannot be applied to nations or communities.
This election is sovereign, i.e. is founded on the good pleasure of God, and not on any thing in its objects.
1. Because this is expressly asserted. The choice between Jacob and Esau was made prior to birth, that it might be seen that it was not formed on works, but on the good pleasure of God, ver. 11. The same is clearly stated in ver. 16, It is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy;" and also in ver. 18, "Therefore he hath mercy on whom he will, etc." The decision rests with God.
2. Because otherwise there would be no shadow of objection to the doctrine. How could men say it was unjust if God chose one and rejected another according to their works? And how could any one object, as in ver. 19, 'that as the will of God could not be resisted, men were not to be blamed,' if the decision in question did not depend on the sovereign will of God? How easy for the apostle to have answered the objector, 'You are mistaken, the choice is not of God; he does not choose whom he will, but those who he sees will choose him. It is not his will, but man's that decides the point.' Paul does not thus answer. He vindicates the doctrine of the divine sovereignty. The fact, therefore, that Paul had to answer the same objections which are now constantly urged against the doctrine of election, goes far to show that doctrine was his.
3. That the election is sovereign, is taught elsewhere in Scripture. In 2 Timothy 1:9, it is said to be "not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace." Ephesians 1:5, it is said to be "according to the good pleasure of his will," i.e. his sovereign pleasure.
4. This view alone harmonizes with the doctrine, that all good thoughts and right purposes and feelings proceed from God, which is clearly taught in the Scriptures. For if the purpose not to resist 'common grace,' is a right purpose, it is of God, and, of course, it is of him that one man forms it, and another does not.
5. This doctrine is alone consistent with Christian experience. "Why was I made to hear thy voice?" No Christian answers this question by saying, because I was better than others.
3. The two leading objections against the doctrine of election, viz., that it is inconsistent with the divine character, and incompatible with human responsibility, are answered by the apostle. It cannot be unjust, because God claims and exercises the right of sovereign choice. It is not inconsistent with human responsibility, because God does not make men wicked. Though, as their Sovereign, he has a right to dispose of wicked men as he pleases. He can, of the same corrupt mass, choose one to honor, and the other to dishonor, vers. 14-23.
4. Scripture must ever be consistent with itself. The rejection of the Jews could not be inconsistent with any of God's promises, ver. 6.
5. The true children of God become such in virtue of a divine promise, or by the special exercise of his grace. They are born not of the will of the flesh, but of God, ver. 8.
6. Though children prior to birth do neither good nor evil, yet they may be naturally depraved. They neither hunger nor thirst, yet hunger and thirst are natural appetites. They exercise neither love nor anger, yet these are natural passions. They know probably neither joy nor sorrow, yet are these natural emotions, ver. 11.
7. The manifestation of the divine perfections is the last and highest end of all things, vers. 17, 22, 23.
8. The facet that the destiny of men is in the hands of God (that it is not of him that willeth, or him that runneth,) is not inconsistent with the necessity of the use of means. The fact that the character of the harvest depends on the sovereign pleasure of God, does not render the labor of the husband man of no account. The same God who says, "I will have mercy on whom I will," says also, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling." The sovereignty of God and the necessity of human efforts are both clearly taught in the Scriptures. At times the former, as in this chapter, at times the latter doctrine is most insisted upon. Neither should be forgotten or neglected, as both combine to produce the right impression on the mind, and to lead us to God in the way of his own appointment, ver. 16.
9. Men, considered as the objects of election, are regarded as fallen. It is from the corrupt mass that God chooses one vessel to honor and one to dishonor, vers. 22, 23.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. If descent from Abraham, participation in all the privileges of the theocracy, the true and only church, failed to secure for the Jews the favor of God, how foolish the expectation of those who rely on outward ordinances and church-relations as the ground of their acceptance, vers. 6-13.
2. The doctrine of the sovereignty of God in the choice of the objects of his mercy should produce,
1. The most profound humility in those who are called according to his purpose. They are constrained to say, "Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name be all the glory."
2. The liveliest gratitude, that we, though so unworthy, should from eternity have been selected as the objects in which God displays "the riches of his glory."
3. Confidence and peace, under all circumstances, because the purpose of God does not change; whom he has predestinated, them he also calls, justifies, and glorifies.
4. Diligence in the discharge of all duty, to make our calling and election sure. That is, to make it evident to ourselves and others, that we are the called and chosen of God. We should ever remember that election is to holiness, and consequently to live in sin, is to invalidate every claim to be considered as one of "God's elect."
3. As God is the immutable standard of right and truth, the proper method to answer objections against the doctrines we profess, is to appeal to what God says, and to what he does. Any objection that can be shown to be inconsistent with any declaration of Scripture, or with any fact in providence, is sufficiently answered, vers. 15, 17.
4. It should, therefore, be assumed as a first principle, that God cannot do wrong. If he does a thing, it must be right. And it is much safer for us, corrupt and blinded mortals, thus to argue, than to pursue the opposite course, and maintain that God does not and cannot do so and so, because in our judgment it would be wrong, vers. 15-19.
5. All caviling against God is wicked. It is inconsistent with our relation to him as our Creator. It is a manifestation of self-ignorance and of irreverence toward God, ver. 20.
6. What proof of piety is there in believing our own eyes, or in receiving the deductions of our own reasoning? But to confide in God, when clouds and darkness are round about him; to be sure that what he does is right, and that what he says is true, when we cannot see how either the one or the other can be, this is acceptable in his sight. And to this trial he subjects all his people, ver. 20-24.
7. If the manifestation of the divine glory is the highest end of God in creation, providence, and redemption, it is the end for which we should live and be willing to die. To substitute any other end, as our own glory and advantage, is folly, sin, and self-destruction, vers. 17, 22. 23.
8. The fact that God says to some men, "Let them alone;" that "he gives them up to a reprobate mind;" that he withholds from them, in punishment of their sins, the influences of his Spirit, should fill all the impenitent with alarm. It should lead them to obey at once his voice, lest he swear in his wrath that they shall never enter into his rest, vers. 17, 18.
9. We and all things else are in the hands of God. He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice, vers. 14-24.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
The conclusion at which the apostle had arrived in the preceding section, was, that God is at liberty to select the objects of his mercy, indiscriminately, from among the Gentiles and Jews. This conclusion he now confirms by the declarations of the Old Testament, according to which it is clear,
1. That those were to be included in the kingdom of God, who originally were considered as aliens, vers. 25, 26; and
2. That, as to the Israelites, only a small portion should attain to the blessings of the Messiah's reign, and of course, the mere being a Jew by birth was no security of salvation, vers. 27-29. The inference from all this is, that the Gentiles are called, and the Jews, as Jews, are rejected, vers. 30, 31. The reason of this rejection is that they would not submit to the terms of salvation presented in the gospel, ver. 32. As it had been long before predicted, they rejected their Messiah, taking offense at him, seeing in him no form or comeliness that they should desire him, ver. 33.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
VERSE 25. The first part of the general conclusion, contained in the 24th verse, is, that the Gentiles are eligible to the blessings of Christ's kingdom. This the apostle confirms by two passages from the prophecies of Hosea, which express the general sentiment, that those who, under the old economy, were not regarded as the people of God, should hereafter (i.e. under the Messiah) become his people. The first passage cited is from Hosea 2:23, which in our version is, "I will have mercy on her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people." The Hebrew, however, admits of the rendering given by the apostle, as the word translated to have mercy may signify to Love. The difficulty with regard to this passage is, that in Hosea it evidently has reference not to the heathen, but to the ten tribes. Whereas, Paul refers it to the Gentiles, as is also done by Peter, 1 Peter 2:10. This difficulty is sometimes gotten over by giving it a different view of the apostle's object in the criterion, and making it refer to the restoration of the Jews. But this interpretation is obviously at variance with the context. It is more satisfactory to say, that the ten tribes were in a heathenish state, relapsed into idolatry, and, therefore, what was said of them, is of course applicable to others in like circumstances, or of like character. What amounts to much the same thing, the sentiment of the prophet is to be taken generally, 'those who were excluded from the theocracy, who were regarded and treated as aliens, were hereafter to be treated as the people of God.' In this view, it is perfectly applicable to the apostle's object, which was to convince the Jews, that the blessings of Christ's kingdom were not to be confined within the pale of the Old Testament economy, or limited to those who, in their external relations, were considered the people of God; on the contrary, those who, according to the rules of that economy, were not the people of God, should hereafter become such. This method of interpreting and applying Scripture is both common and correct. A general truth, stated in reference to a particular class of persons, is to be considered as intended to apply to all those whose character and circumstances are the same, though the form or words of the original enunciation may not be applicable to all embraced within the scope of the general sentiment. Thus what is said of one class of heathen, as such, is applicable to all others, and what is said of one portion of aliens from the Old Testament covenant, may properly be referred to others.
VERSE 26. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said to them, Ye are not my people, etc. This quotation is more strictly conformed to the Hebrew than the preceding. It is from Hosea 1:10. The sentiment is the same as before. The combination of two or more disconnected passages in one quotation, is not unusual in the New Testament, and was a common practice with the Jewish Rabbins, who, as Surenhusius says, Interdum plura loca sacrae Scripturae in unum contrahi solent ad efficaciorem rei demonstrationem.
In the place where, ἐν τῷ τόπῳ οὗ, is by many understood of Palestine. The prophet predicts the ten tribes should be restored, and that they should be again recognised as part of the people of God in the very place where they had been regarded as apostates and outcasts. Others think that the apostle refers to the church,
in coetu Christianorum, ubi diu dubitatum est, an recte Gentiles reciperentur, ibi appellabantur filii Dei—Fritzsche.
Much the most common and natural explanation is, that the reference is indefinitely to the heathen world. Wherever, in every place, where the people had been regarded as aliens, they should be called the children of God. That is, those formerly not his people, should become his people.
VERSES 27, 28. The second part of the apostle's conclusion, ver. 24, is, that the Jews, as such, were not to be included in the kingdom of Christ, which, of course, is implied in all those predictions which speak of them as in general cut off and rejected. Two such passages Paul quotes from Isaiah The first is from Isaiah 10:22, 23.
Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved, for he will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. This passage is nearer the LXX. translation than to the Hebrew. The general sense is the same in both, and also in the apostle's version, 'However numerous the children of Israel might be, only a small portion of them should escape the judgments of God.' This being the case, it is evident that the mere being a Jew was never considered sufficient to secure the divine favor. The portion of the prophecy contained in ver. 27 is the principal point, 'Only a few of the Jews were to be saved.' What is contained in ver. 28 is an amplification, or states the converse of the preceding proposition. 'Most of the Jews should be cut off.' The passage in Isaiah, therefore, is strictly applicable to the apostle's object.
Our version of ver. 28 is consistent with the original. But it may also be rendered, "He will execute and determine on the judgment with righteousness, for a judgment determined on, will the Lord execute in the earth." The word (λόγον) rendered work in our version, means properly a word, something spoken, and may refer to a promise, or threatening, according to the context. Here of course a threatening is intended; the judgment threatened by the prophet in the context. The word (συντελῶν) rendered he will finish, means bringing to an end, and here perhaps, executing at once, bringing to an end speedily. And the term (συντέμνων) translated cutting short, may mean deciding upon. See Daniel 9:24, "Seventy weeks are determined (συνετμήθησαν) upon my people." But the ordinary sense of the word is in favor of our version, and so is the context. If it were allowable to take the same word in different senses in the same passage, the verse might be rendered thus, 'For he will execute the judgment, and accomplish it speedily, for the judgment determined upon will the Lord execute in the earth.' The same word is used in one of these senses, Daniel 9:24, and in the other in ver. 26 of the same chapter. See, too, an analogous example in 1 Corinthians 3:17, "If any man (φθείρει) defile the temple of God, him will God (φθερεῖ) destroy." Here the same word is rendered correctly, first defile, and then destroy. We may, therefore, render the last clause of the verse either as in our version, or as given above.
VERSE 29. The second passage quoted by the apostle is from Isaiah 1:9, Except the Lord of hosts had left as a seed, we had been as Sodom, been made like unto Gomorrah. The object of this quotation is the same as that of the preceding, viz., to show that being Israelites was not enough to secure either exemption from divine judgments or the enjoyment of God's favor. The passage is perfectly in point, for although the prophet is speaking of the national judgments which the people had brought upon themselves by their sins, and by which they were well nigh cut off entirely, yet it was necessarily involved in the destruction of the people for their idolatry and other crimes, that they perished from the kingdom of God. Of course the passage strictly proves what Paul designed to establish, viz., that the Jews, as Jews, were as much exposed to God's judgments as others, and consequently could lay no special claim to admission into the kingdom of heaven.
Paul here again follows the Septuagint. The only difference, however, is, that the Greek version has (σπέρμα) a seed, instead of a remnant, as it is in the Hebrew. The sense is precisely the same. The Hebrew word means that which remains; and seed, as used in this passage, means the seed reserved for sowing. The figure, therefore, is striking and beautiful. Lord of Hosts is a frequent designation for the Supreme God in the Old Testament. As the word host is used in reference to any multitude arranged in order, as of men in an army, of angels, of the stars, or of all the heavenly bodies, including the sun and moon, so the expression Lord of hosts, may mean, Lord of armies, Lord of angels, or Lord of heaven, or of the universe as a marshaled host; see 1 Kings 22:19, "I saw the Lord sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him;" 2 Chronicles 18:18, Psalm 103:21, Psalm 148:2, "Praise ye him, all his angels, praise ye him, all his hosts." In other passages, the reference is, with equal distinctness, to the stars, Jeremiah 23:22, Deuteronomy 4:19, and frequently. It is most probable, therefore, that God is called Lord of hosts in reference to his Lordship over the whole heavens, and all that they contain, Lord of hosts being equivalent to Lord of the universe.
VERSE 30. Having proved that God was free to call the gentiles as well as the Jews into his kingdom, and that it had been predicted that the great body of the Jews were to be rejected, he comes now to state the immediate ground of this rejection.
What shall we say then? This may mean either, 'What is the inference from the preceding discussion?' and the answer follows, 'The conclusion is, the Gentiles are called and the Jews rejected;' or, 'What shall we say, or object to the fact that the Gentiles are accepted,' etc. etc. So Flatt and others. But the former explanation is better suited to the Context, especially to ver. 32, and to the apostle's common use of this expression; see ver. 14, Romans 7:7; 8:31.
That the Gentiles which followed not after righteousness, have attained, etc. The inference is, that what to all human probability was the most unlikely to occur, has actually taken place. The Gentiles, sunk in carelessness and sin, have attained the favor of God, while the Jews, to whom religion was a business, have utterly failed. Why is this? The reason is given in ver. 32; it was because the Jews would not submit to be saved on the terms which God proposed, but insisted on reaching heaven in their own way.
To follow after righteousness, is to press forward towards it as towards the prize in a race, Philippians 3:14.
Righteousness, δικαιοσὺνη uniformly in Paul's writings, means either an attribute, as when we ascribe righteousness to God; or, what constitutes righteousness, i.e. that which satisfies the demands of justice or of the law, as when God is said to impute righteousness. That is, he ascribes to men, or sets to their account, that which constitutes them righteous in the sight of the law. Sometimes, however, the word includes by implication, the consequences of possessing this righteousness. This is the case in this passage. Those who sought after righteousness, sought to be regarded and treated as righteous in the sight of God; that is, they sought after justification. This, however, does not imply that δικαιοσύνη signifies justification. It means righteousness, the possession of which secures justification. Justification is a declarative act of God; righteousness is the ground on which that declaration is made.
Even the righteousness which is of faith, i.e. even that righteousness which is attained by faith. Throughout this verse, the word righteousness, as expressing the sum of the divine requisitions, that which full Is the law retains its meaning. 'The Gentiles did not seek this righteousness, yet they attained it; not that righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith,' Philippians 3:9. They obtained that which satisfied the demands of the law, and was acceptable in the sight of God.
VERSE 31. What the Gentiles thus attained, the Jews failed to secure. The former he had described as "not following after righteous less;" the latter he characterizes as those who follow after the law of righteousness. The expression law of righteousness may be variously explained.
Law may be taken in its general sense of rule, as in Romans 3:27, and elsewhere. The meaning would then be, 'They followed after, i.e. they attended diligently to, the rule which they thought would lead to their attaining righteousness or being justified, but they did not attain unto that rule which actually leads to such results.'
Law of righteousness is, then, norma juxta quam Deus justificat. This is the interpretation of Calvin, Calovius, Bengel, and many others. Or,
2. The word law may be redundant, and Paul may mean to say nothing more than that 'The Jews sought righteousness or justification, but did not attain it.' This, no doubt, is the substance, though it may not be the precise form of the thought.
3. Law of righteousness is often understood here as equivalent to righteousness which is of the law. This, however, is rather forced, and not very consistent with the latter clause of the verse, "Have not attained to the law of righteousness," which can hardly be so interpreted. Meyer, Tholuck, and others, take the phrase law of righteousness in both parts of the verse in what they call an ideal sense. The Jews strove to realize the justifying law, i.e., to attain that standard which secured their justification.
It is more common to take the words as referring to the Mosaic and moral law, as revealed in the Scriptures, in the former part of the verse, and in the latter, the law of faith. 'The Jews made the Mosaic law, (the law of works,) the object of their zeal, as the means of attaining righteousness, and therefore did not attain to that law (the law of faith, Romans 3:27,) which really secures righteousness.' They were zealous to attain righteousness, but failed. Why? The answer is given in the next verse.
VERSE 32.Because they sought it not by faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law. In other words, they would not submit to the method of justification proposed by God, which was alone suitable for sinners, and persisted in trusting to their own imperfect works. The reason why one man believes and is saved, rather than another, is to be sought in the sovereign grace of God, according to Paul's doctrine in the preceding part of this chapter, and Romans 8:28, 2 Timothy 1:9, etc.; but the ground of the rejection and condemnation of men is always in themselves. The vessels of wrath which are destroyed, are destroyed on account of their sins. No man, therefore, can throw the blame of his perdition on any other than himself. This verse, consequently, is very far from being inconsistent with the doctrine of the divine sovereignty as taught above. The force of the word rendered as it were, may be explained by paraphrasing the clause thus, 'as though they supposed it could be obtained by the works of the law.' (See 2 Corinthians 3:5, 13:7,) 'They sought it as (being) of the works of the law.'
For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone. That is, they did as it had been predicted they would do, they took offense at the Messiah and at the plan of salvation which he came to reveal.
VERSE 33. What it was they stumbled at, the apostle declares in this verse, and shows that the rejection of the Messiah by the Jews was predicted in the Old Testament.
As it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone, and a rock of offense; and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. This passage is apparently made up of two, one occurring in Isaiah 28:16, the other in Isaiah 8:14. In both of these passages mention is made of a stone, but the predicates of this stone, as given in the latter passage, are transferred to the other, and those there mentioned omitted. This method of quoting Scripture is common among all writers, especially where the several passages quoted and merged into each other refer to the same subject. It is obvious that the writers of the New Testament are very free in their mode of quoting from the Old, giving the sense, as they, being inspired by the same Spirit, could do authoritatively without binding themselves strictly to the words. The former of the two passages here referred to stands thus in our version, "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation; he that believeth shall not make haste," which is according to the Hebrew. The other passage, Isaiah 8:14, is, "And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both houses of Israel."
Isaiah 28 is a prophecy against those who had various false grounds of confidence, and who desired a league with Egypt as a defense against the attacks of the Assyrians. God says, he has laid a much more secure foundation for his church than any such confederacy, even a precious, tried cornerstone; those who confided to it should never be confounded. The prophets, constantly filled with the expectation of the Messiah, and, in general, ignorant of the time of his advent, were accustomed, on every threatened danger, to comfort the people by the assurance that the efforts of their enemies could not prevail, because the Messiah was to come. Until his advent, they could not, as a people, be destroyed, and when he came, there should be a glorious restoration of all things; see Isaiah 7:14-16, and elsewhere. There is, therefore, no force in the objection, that the advent of Christ was an event too remote to be available to the consolation of the people, when threatened with the immediate invasion of their enemies. This passage is properly quoted by the apostle, because it was intended originally to apply to Christ. The sacred writers of the New Testament so understood and explain it; see 1 Peter 2:6, Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11; compare also Psalm 118:22, 1 Corinthians 3:11, Ephesians 2:20, and other passages, in which Christ is spoken of as the foundation or cornerstone of his Church. The same interpretation of the passage was given by the ancient Jews.
The other passage, Isaiah 8:14, is of much the same character. God exhorts the people not to be afraid of the combination between Syria and Ephraim. The Lord of hosts was to be feared and trusted, he would be a refuge to those who confided in him, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to all others. This passage, too, as appears from a comparison of the one previously cited with Psalm 118:22, and the quotation and application of them by the New Testament writers refers to Christ. What is said in the Old Testament of Jehovah, the inspired penmen of the New do not hesitate to refer to the Savior; compare John 12:41; Isaiah 6:1; Hebrews 1:10, 11; Psalm 102:25; 1 Corinthians 10:9; Exodus 17:2, 7. When God, therefore, declared that he should be a sanctuary to one class of the people, and a rock of offense to another, he meant that he, in the person of his Son, as the Immanuel, would thus be confided in by some, but rejected and despised by others. The whole spirit, opinions, and expectations of the Jews were adverse to the person, character, and doctrines of the Redeemer. He was, therefore, to them a stumbling-block, as he was to others foolishness. They could not recognize him as their fondly anticipated Messiah, nor consent to enter the kingdom of heaven on the terms which he prescribed. In them, therefore, were fulfilled the ancient prophecies, which spoke of their rejection of Christ, and consequent excision from the people of God.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. Exclusion from the pale of any visible church does not of itself imply that men are without the reach of divine mercy, vers. 25, 26.
2. As the world has hitherto existed, only a small portion of the normal members of the Church, or of the professors of the true religion, has been the real people of God, vers. 27, 28, 29.
3. Error is often a greater obstacle to the salvation of men than carelessness or vice. Christ said that publicans and harlots would enter the kingdom of God before the Pharisees. In like manner the thoughtless and sensual Gentiles were more susceptible of impression from the Gospel, and were more frequently converted to Christ, than the Jews, who were wedded to erroneous views of the plan of salvation, vers. 30, 31.
4. Agreeably to the declarations of the previous portion of this chapter, and the uniform tenor of Scripture, the ground of the distinction between the saved and the lost, is to be found not in men, but in God. He has mercy on whom he will have mercy. But the ground of the condemnation of men is always in themselves. That God gave his saving grace to more Gentiles than Jews, in the early ages of the Church, must be referred to his sovereign pleasure; but that the Jews were cut off and perished, is to be referred to their own unbelief. In like manner, every sinner must look into his own heart and conduct for the ground of his condemnation, and never to any secret purpose of God, vers. 32.
5. Christ crucified has ever been either foolishness or an offense to unrenewed men. Hence, right views of the Savior's character, and cordial approbation of the plan of salvation through him, are characteristic of those "who are called;" i.e., they are evidences of a renewed heart, vers. 33.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans
1. The consideration that God has extended to us, who were not his people, all the privileges and blessings of his children, should be a constant subject of gratitude, vers. 25, 26.
2. If only a remnant of the Jewish Church, God's own people, were saved, how careful and solicitous should all professors of religion be, that their faith and hope be well founded, vers. 27-29.
3. Let no man think error in doctrine a slight practical evil. No road to perdition has ever been more thronged than that of false doctrine. Error is a shield over the conscience, and a bandage over the eyes, vers. 30, 31.
4. No form of error is more destructive than that which leads to self dependence; either reliance on our own powers, or on our own merit, ver. 32.
5. To criminal God, and excuse ourselves, is always an evidence of ignorance and depravity, ver 33.
6. Christ declared those blessed who were not offended at him. If our hearts are right in the sight of God, Jesus Christ is to us at once the object of supreme affection, and the sole ground of confidence, ver 33.
7. The gospel produced at first the same effects as those we now witness. It had the same obstacles to surmount; and it was received or rejected by the same classes of men then as now. Its history, therefore, is replete with practical instruction.
—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans