The apostle now enters on a new section of the epistle in Romans 9-11, the main object of which is to reconcile the indiscriminate call of Gentiles and Jews with the special promises made to Israel. In this task he overthrows the fleshly pretensions of those who rested on nothing but a line of natural descent from Abraham; he proves that special promise has from the first been the principle of God; he points to sovereign mercy as the only hope for a people such as even Israel had shown themselves to be; he annihilates the poor and selfish and proud reasoning which arraigns the rights and righteousness of God, when the fact is that man is utterly unrighteous before Him; he demonstrates that according to the Jewish prophets Israel would be rejected, Gentiles called, and only a remnant of the ancient people saved; he shows that their rejection was owing to their failure in meeting the law of righteousness which they had deliberately chosen instead of the righteousness which grace gives by faith, while the Gentiles received it gladly, Christ being the grand test for both; he insists that this did not hinder his love and prayer for Israel that they might be saved, but salvation could only be by accepting Christ the end of the law for righteousness to the believer according to the secret of grace intimated in Deuteronomy 30, supported and carried out by Isaiah 28:16 and Joel 2:32, which last opens the door of faith to more than Israel, even to those who, if they had not the law, might hear the glad tidings of good things (Isaiah 52), which God sends out. He points out that the very unbelief of this on the part of the Jews fulfils Isaiah 53; that the Psalms (Ps. 19) attest the wide-spread universal message of God, and that, while the law warned them of God’s provoking them to jealousy by a no-people, the prophet (Isaiah 65) is bolder still and explicitly announces God found by those who sought Him not (Gentiles), while Israel are condemned as a disobedient and gainsaying people. But the apostle would not close the subject without the most distinct statement, as well as proof from the prophets themselves, that God had not finally cast off His people Israel: first, there is always a remnant according to the election of grace, of which the apostle himself was witness; secondly, their fall was expressly to provoke Israel to jealousy, and therefore not to reject them even for a time; and, thirdly, on the ruin of the Gentile by unbelief and slight of God’s goodness as of Israel before, all Israel shall be saved according to the written word of God (Isaiah 59), all His ways of mercy and wisdom causing the apostle to burst forth into thanksgiving and adoration. Such is the general outline and argument, which maintains responsibility on the one side and the promises of God on the other, and reconciles the indiscriminate ways of God in the gospel now with the accomplishment of a special glory for Israel as well as the general blessing of Gentiles or the nations in the age to come on earth. Heavenly grace is not in question here. Hence it is the olive tree, not the one new man, of which we read.
The apostle then begins this most instructive episode, in which he explains the ways of God, with the solemn assurance of his fervent affection, and hence his distress for Israel in their present low estate and exposure to judgment.
“Truth I say in Christ; I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in [the] Holy Spirit, that I have great grief and unceasing pain in my heart, for I was wishing33 — I myself — to be a curse from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to flesh.” (Ver. 1-3.) It is plain that he alludes there to the love Moses had proved so well, as God records it in the law; and he intimates that he loved them not a whit less. It was a wish that had passed through his soul. He does not refer to the days of his Pharisaism; for great as his zeal was, his love as a Christian and an apostle was far deeper as well as wholly unselfish. In his old unenlightened condition there was no question of such a feeling for them; as he had no right sense of their peril any more than of his own. On the other hand he does not lay it down as the deliberate wish of his present mind; but as a passionate self-sacrificing desire which had been in his heart, impossible no doubt, but evincing the strength of his burning love for Israel, as well as his sense of their extreme peril and utter ruin.34 Hence he dwells on his ties of relationship with them.
This leads him to speak of their privileges. Those who hate others lose no opportunity of detracting from them and denying at any rate favours that seem peculiarly theirs from God. Love makes the most of what is possessed by its object. Judged by such a test, there could be no doubt of the love of the apostle who sets out the marks of God’s goodness to Israel as none else had ever done before, not even Gamaliel, least of all his Sadducean enemies. Who could produce from tradition, yea, from the living oracles themselves such a bright roll as Paul here unfolds before those who ignorantly taxed him with making light of the blessings God had vouchsafed to his kinsmen according to flesh? “who are Israelites, whose [is] the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the lawgiving and the service and the promises; whose [are] the fathers, and of whom [is] Christ as to flesh, that is over all God blessed unto the ages. Amen.” (Ver. 4, 5.)
Thus he gives them the divinely conferred name of victory with God and man, which they derived from their father Jacob; then he alludes to the name Jehovah deigned to call them by in His summons to Pharaoh — “my son, my firstborn.” Next he directs attention to the shechinah or glory-cloud which led out the people from Egypt through the wilderness into Canaan. After this he speaks of those solemn covenants which God made first with the fathers, but assuredly at least including that which He will make in the latter day with the sons. Then he names the lawgiving, before which all the boasts of ancient or modern times are but the merest smoke compared with the blaze of Sinai or the marvellous condescension which deigned from the tabernacle to treat of their least as well as greatest matters. The religions services or ordinances of worship next follow; for they justly claim to be the only ritual with its priesthood which God ever instituted for a people on earth. This however would have been short indeed without “the promises;” as these naturally are followed by “the fathers,” and all is crowned by the Messiah. And here beyond doubt the apostle does not hide His glory. Let the Jews say all they might of Him whom they expected, they can never rise above what Paul delights to tell of Messiah. Alas! they would fain lower Him to the measure of their own desires; and, worse still, modern unbelief in Christendom answers to the old darkness of Judaism. The apostle however does not more surely lay down His descent from the fathers as to flesh, than His proper Godhead in His other and divine nature, “He that is” (says he) “above all God blessed for ever. Amen.” A more illustrious testimony there cannot be. But Satan for a while had blinded the eyes of Israel, so that they forsake their own mercies and deny a truth which, did they but see it, they would recognize as both their brightest jewel and the solid ground of all their hoped for blessing.
Very needless difficulty has been raised about the terms
ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων
Θεός. The Noetian heretics of old drew from this and other scriptures that God the Father suffered. Others in opposing so flagrant an error were too anxious to restrict
ὁ ἐπὶ πάντων to the Father, especially as He is unquestionably so qualified in Ephesians 4:6. But there is no real difficulty; and it is only ignorance or heterodoxy which finds any; for scripture is plain in attributing not merely
θεότητα to Christ. He is God, as is the Father, and also the Holy Ghost. They are each and all styled Jehovah, the name incommunicable to the creature, let it be ever so exalted. The Son did not deem it a matter of plunder to be on equality with God. He emptied Himself in taking a servant’s shape; whereas even the archangel is at best but a servant and never can be other: it is Michael’s blessedness and part to be serving God. Not so the Son: He humbled Himself to take the place of a servant, being in His own proper nature and dignity infinitely above it. He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; He had only known what it was to command; but, taking that position in communion with the love and counsels of the Father, He was therein the perfect pattern of all lowly obedience. How base to take advantage of His grace to despise His glory!-to be so occupied with the humiliation to which He stooped to glorify God the Father, and show us both God and man in His own person and ways, and above all to accomplish redemption — to be so filled, I may say, with the circumstances of shame into which He went down in love as to forget who He is in Himself that for us descended so low! No; He that was the perfect man was very God, equally with the Father and the Holy Ghost. All things were made not only by Him but for Him.
But is not this true of the Father? Assuredly: yet this in no way impeaches the title of the Son. Scripture is plain as to both. God as such in the true and full sense is and must be supreme. This attaches to the persons in the Godhead. Differences there may be and are; but not in this. To deny supremacy of the Son or of the Spirit is to fall into the Arian heresy or the Macedonian. No doubt, as in Ephesians 4:5, Christ is contradistinguished as “one Lord” from the Father; and so similarly in 1 Corinthians 8:6. This however, far from derogating from His intrinsic divine glory, only shows us another glory which He receives as the exalted man who is made Lord and Christ. He, and He distinctively, has the official place of lordship, though of course as a term of dignity it belongs alike to Father, Son, and Spirit; and so any one can see who will take the trouble of comparing the scriptures.
There is no discrepancy in the authorities here that affects the sense, as in 1 Timothy 3:16. Manuscripts and versions proclaim the truth with an unwavering voice: Christ is over all, God blessed for ever. The notion that
Θεός is wanting in the citation of the early ecclesiastical writers is a mistake. They all read as we do, unless we conceive that Chrysostom omitted
ὤν, as, the Augian and Boernerian MSS. did
κατὰ σάρκα, which was probably mere inadvertence. What the Pseudo-Ignatius (ep. Tars.) or the Constit. Apostol.35 may say is of no moment. As to Athanasius, not only is it not true that he ever wrote
περὶ δὲ τοῦ εἷναι ἐπι πάντων Θεὸν τοῦ σταυρώθεντα φοβοῦμαι (“I fear to say that the crucified One is God over all”), but it was not even the Pseudo-Athanasius who is so represented, but the Pseudo-Arius in answering the citation of this passage. Wetstein therefore was wrong here and betrayed his Arian animus. (See Athanasii Opp. i. 125 B, ed. Col. 1686.) Erasmus is equally wrong in thinking that Cyprian and Hilary left out “Deus;” for it is only omitted by careless editors, and is found in all good copies. As to Origen, his wildness was such as to weaken the weight of his assertions; but what he does say, in answer to Celsus’ charge that the Christians made Christ God the Father or greater still, is that, while some might be hasty enough to aver
τὸν Σωτῆρα τὸν μέγιστον ἐπὶ πᾶσι Θεόν· ἀλλ᾽ οὔτι γε ἡμεῖς τοιοῦτον οἱ πειθόμενοι αὐτῳ λέγοντι, κ.τ.λ. Now I do not admit that Origen (contra Cels. 7:14) was justified in quoting the last clause of John 14:28 (which he misquotes) where it was a question of the Son’s Deity, while the text speaks of His place of earthly subjection. But even he does not go so far as to deny supreme Godhead to the Son; he does deny, as all taught of God must, the monstrous folly that the Son has power over God the Father. The doubtful opinion of Eusebius may indeed be cited, who did restrict, it would seem,
τὸν ἑπὶ πάντων Θεόν to the Father;36 but it is well known that he was feeble as to the great truth of Christ’s Godhead if not an Arian. But these seem really all who have been exaggerated into “multi patres qui Christum
τὸν ἐπὶ πάντων Θεόν appellari posse negant” (Griesbach in loco), save indeed that by manifest fallacy it is assumed that to call the Father so is to deny it of the Son. But this is only the mistake handed down through Wetstein to the critic of Jena. The fact is that the fathers as a whole applied our text to the Lord Jesus without a suspicion of its incompatibility with Ephesians 4:6. They are both equally true, is the Father and the Son are equally God. I grant that they speculated dangerously sometimes; and of their crude assertions controversy and heresy have availed themselves: the latter to cover its aberration from revealed truth; the former to make councils or the Pope the only securer of the truth, as against the earlier fathers and (what is worse) holy scripture. But from Irenaeus to Theophylact among Greeks, and from Tertullian to the middle ages among the Latins, it could be easily shown that the passage was accepted as we have it now in the Authorized Version and in the ordinary orthodox sense. Cyril of Alexandria is most express in contradicting from this text the Emperor Julian who was rash enough to say that Paul did not speak of Jesus as God. Nor is there a single name of sound reputation opposed to this.
The ingenuity of criticism however, having neither various readings nor ancient versions to invoke, is not content with misrepresenting the testimony of the early christian writers and has strained itself in the most violent efforts to effect a diversion by the help of points; as it is well known that they are wanting in the most ancient copies. The Complutensian editors punctuate fairly. Erasmus, not in his earlier editions but later, suggested a period after
σάρκα, as had been done before by the writers of two MSS. of the eleventh and twelfth centuries usually numbered 5 and 47 in the conventional list of Pauline copies. Lachmann and Tischendorf acted on this; and Vater clenched the rent quite as effectually by putting the cut-off clause or clauses within marks of parenthesis ended by a note of admiration. Now not only is this severance, however managed, in opposition to the mass of punctuated manuscripts, all ancient versions and citations, but, what is of more weight still, it is contrary to the invariable idiom employed to express such a blessing (or on the contrary a curse). The regular formula is to open the sentence with
εὐλογητός or some kindred word.37 Here therefore to bear regularly the desired punctuation the words should have run: —
Εὐλογητὸς ὁ ἐπί π. θ., the
ὤν in this case being worse than useless. The only apparent exception produced is from the Septuagint of Psalm 67, (68) 19
, κύριος ὁ θεὸς εὐλογητός. But judging by the old Latin quoted in Holmes’ and Parsons’ note, “Dominus Deus benedictus est,” it is no exception, because it is an assertion about God, not an ejaculatory blessing. The latter follows immediately; and then the usual order appears. The former clause may indeed be an interpolation; as there is no Hebrew text to found it on.
Further, the incongruity of such a doxology here, remembering the apostle’s grief just expressed and the relation of the Jews to the Messiah, is also a decisive disproof; and, lastly, it would utterly mar the beautiful antithesis so characteristic of the apostle, even in the opening of this very epistle, in which he contrasts the human line of the Messiah with His divine dignity.
Another mode of punctuating, also suggested by Erasmus (who perhaps did not know that a Viennese MS. 71 of the twelfth century, represents it), and adopted by Locke, places the stop after
πάντων with a shorter clause taken as the blessing, and is even more objectionable, as it is pressed by the additional difficulty that we ought in that case to have the article with
Θεός. It should stand
Εὐλογητὸς ὁ Θεὸς εἰς τ. αἱ. ἀμήν. But after all it would not effect what is desired, for it would connect
ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων with the Christ; and it is impossible to have a stricter predication of supremacy. It is not merely, as Hippolytus and others thought, that the Father delivered all things to the Son, an important but different truth. Here we have what He is; and He is over all, being essentially divine.
Conjectural emendation of the text is another device of unbelievers to defraud the Lord of His glory; but this may be dismissed into its native obscurity. Even the Grotian expedient of dropping
Θεός is contrary to all authority of MSS., and would be useless if conceded; for
ὁ ὢν ἐπὶ πάντων is the strongest affirmation in itself of divine supremacy. Quite as futile was the effort to lower the sense of
Θεός by reference to 2 Thess. 2:4, and to translate the clause here, “who is as God,” etc. For, first, the supposed analogy is cast out of that verse on the best authority; and secondly, it would tell, if genuine, in the opposite way; for certainly the man of sin will not claim to be God in an inferior sense. The absence of the article is a sign that character is meant to be conveyed, and has nothing to do with inferiority. Compare Romans 1:21.
On the whole then the reader may rest assured of both the text and the sense of this most impressive testimony to Christ the importance of which may be in some measure inferred from the evident desire of so many since the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants, without reckoning Arians or Unitarians, who have done what they could to neutralize its force. Thanks be to God who vouchsafes the truth to be in us and to abide with us for ever.
Two things then the apostle had asserted with the utmost strength in the preceding verses of the chapter — his burning love for his brethren after the flesh and consequent grief at their low estate and danger; and his sense of their privileges far fuller and stronger than their own, demonstrated above all in his estimate of their Messiah’s glory whom they depreciated and had even rejected to their own ruin. This last however is not openly said but unmistakably implied; for the apostle treats their difficulties with the utmost delicacy, caring for their souls with a love truly divine. Whether the expression of his grief then or of that glory of Christ which they refused in unbelief raised the question, which the free grace preached to the Gentiles indiscriminately with the Jews of itself put in the most direct form, whether such a proclamation of grace to every soul, Jew or Greek, be compatible with the special promises to Abraham and to his seed? The Israelite instinctively resented the gospel as annulling his distinctive place of favour, and viewed the apostle’s deep concern for their salvation through faith in Jesus as an impeachment of God’s pledges to their nation as vouchsafed to their fathers. How could this plighted troth be sure, if the Messiah had come and been rejected by them? if the door was now as open to the Gentile as the Jew? Where the value of the promises in either case? Did not the apostle’s teaching clash with the trustworthiness of the divine word to Israel? This is fully met now.
“Not however as though38 the word of God hath failed; for not all those that [are] of Israel [are] Israel; nor because they are Abraham’s seed, [are] they all children, but, In Isaac shall a seed be called to thee.39 That is, [it is] not the children of the flesh that [are] children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned for seed; for this word [is] of promise, According to this season40 I will come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only [so], but Rebecca also, having conceived by one,41 Isaac our father (for not yet having been born, nor having done anything good or bad, in order that the purpose of God according to election should abide, not of works but of him that calleth), it was said to her, The elder shall serve the younger, according as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Ver. 6-13.)
The reasoning is as conclusive as it is concise and clear, founded on proofs from Old Testament facts and words which a Jew certainly could not gainsay. Did he reason from the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? From this very history the apostle refutes their unbelieving abuse of all. The word of God therefore retains all its force. Man only, the Jew specially, is proved to be faulty. Their objection assumed that God was bound to bless the entire race in natural descent from Abraham. But this would open the promises to the Ishmaelites. Not so, cries the Jew: the promise is only in the line of Isaac. Then, might the apostle rejoin, the natural descent is an unsound principle; for this embraces the Arabs sprung from Abraham after the flesh no less than the Jews. They themselves therefore to exclude the Ishmaelites must fall back on the promise tied to the line of Isaac. Promise therefore, not flesh, decides. How the answer of the apostle exemplifies the truth of the Jew and circumcision that God praises, stated already in the end of Romans 2, needs no proof. Hence it is equally said of Israel and of Abraham’s seed. It is universally true. Fleshly descent alone insures no inward blessing. The Israelite indeed in whom is no guile is more than one of Jacob’s posterity: all of Israel are not Israel, nor are Abraham’s seed all children. Compare John 8:37, 39. God must be left free; and He is pleased to call Isaac, not Ishmael after the same sort. The call flows from grace and is inseparable, in the restrictive personal sense here intended, from choice. Far from disputing it, the Jew could not hear the case without falling under its irresistible force; for he wished not to take in the sons of Ishmael and must therefore agree to the necessity of God’s call, not mere natural line, in order to constitute an adequately valid claim. And this is made more telling by the striking circumstance that Isaac was born in an exclusively natural way like Ishmael but according to a distinct word of promise on God’s part.
The apostle follows up the argument by a still closer instance; for Ishmael was born of a slave, a concubine, Isaac of the wife. But what of Rebecca? She was in no sense a bondmaid, but bore to Isaac twin sons. No case can be conceived therefore more in point. Yet without the children being yet born or having done anything good or ill which could determine between them, God revealed His purpose respecting the younger or lesser of the two, so that election might thus stand fixed and indisputable where His authority is owned.
Hence the apostle contrasts the call of God with works, rather than our faith, so as to cut off the poor semi-Pelagianism of such as Chrysostom of old or Tholuck of late, which would make election governed by the foreseen superiority of one to the other. Language cannot more precisely contradict this, the natural thought (not of natural men only but) of reasoning or imaginative saints. Esau had done no ill to disqualify him, Jacob no good to qualify him; but, before either of the twins was born, God in the exercise of His sovereign will chose that the greater should do service to the lesser. Such was His purpose. Their works had nothing to do with the matter and are excluded, so as to rest all on the caller, God Himself.
On the other hand, there is no ground favourable to that absolute reprobation which Calvin deduces from this place.42 Not a syllable is hinted as to hating the unborn Esau in Genesis 25. Man hastily infers reprobation of the one from the choice of the other. This is unfounded. Out of two who have no claim to choose one to a superior place is to exercise will; but to show favour in one case is not therein to condemn the other. They were in themselves both born in sin, as they no doubt grow up in sins. This is to be obnoxious to condemnation, which turns on man’s sins, not on God’s purpose. It is not Jehovah’s word to Rebecca, but by Malachi which speaks of hating Esau. It was at the very close of the Old Testament, after Esau had displayed his unrelenting enmity to Israel. The love to Jacob thus was free; the hatred had moral grounds in Esau.
The assertion of divine sovereignty, though a necessary truth which springs out of the very nature of God, is repulsive to the natural mind. Yet no other thought consists with right, when the subject is duly weighed; and every scheme which man substitutes is unworthy of God and unbecoming to man. The doctrine which denies God His majesty is self-convicted of falsehood; equally so that which would represent Him as indifferent either to sin or misery. He is light; and light is incompatible with the allowance of the darkness which reigns in the heart and ways of man. He is love; and love is invariably free and holy. Doubtless He is almighty and He will judge the sin which despises or rebels against Him as well as the offences which the world seeks to deal with. And what is the universal state of mankind, which this Epistle had carefully proved not of the Gentile only, but yet more of the Jew who boasted of the living oracles which condemned his iniquity and transgression? It had stopped every mouth and brought in the whole world guilty before God.
When a sinner is awakened by the Holy Spirit to his own guilt and state before God, he owns this frankly, and justifies God in condemning himself, though crying for mercy which to his adoring wonder he finds already proclaimed to him in the gospel.
But man as such, ignorant of himself and of the true God, disputes the fact of his own utter and inexcusable evil and looks not to God, but rather writhes under His word and cavils at His ways. This, as it is the feeling of natural men in general, so particularly found expression in the probable objection which a Jew might feel. This the apostle confronts. “What then shall we say? [Is there] unrighteousness with God? Far be it. For to Moses he saith, I will show mercy on whomsoever I show mercy, and will compassionate whomsoever I compassionate.” (Ver. 14, 15.) That is, it is mere mercy and compassion on God’s part wherever shown, not only without desert but in full view of the most grievous and destructive demerits. No one who feels his own real wrongs against God ever raises a question of righteousness with Him. Confounded at the sight of his guilty insubjection and disobedience and in short ungodliness, he is struck dumb before the concurrent and continual proof of the astonishing goodness and patience of God, were it only in dealing with Israel. So to the Jew (and of course for the profit of ourselves and all the world) the apostle alleges the solemn and most gracious words of Jehovah to His servant in Exodus 33. So apt a testimony, among almost countless passages applicable in principle, there is not in the Bible.
Consider the circumstances, and the conclusiveness of his answer will be apparent, though at first sight it might seem singular to meet such a question with such a citation. And can anything he more characteristic of divine revelation than this? Haste pronounces that irrelevant and unreasonable which, when fairly and fully searched, proves alone right and true, alone suited to meet man as he is, alone consistent with the character and glory of God.
The national history was scarce begun before all was morally ended by their idolatrous apostasy from Jehovah at the foot of Sinai, where the people with Aaron at their head danced naked before the golden calf. Unrighteousness with God! There was assuredly the grossest unrighteousness in Israel; and what could righteousness with God do but call aloud for their irrevocable condemnation? On that ground the objecting Jew, like the unbelieving Gentile, only shuts himself up to sure and unsparing judgment; for there can be no doubt of man’s guilt, and justice on God’s side has but to pronounce and execute the sentence of perdition.
Is God then bound to this and nothing else? He must be, on the blindly suicidal principle of man self-righteous yet unrighteous, who in his hurry to blame God forgets that it would be to his own helpless ruin. But God, though He can justly answer a fool according to his folly, may not in His grace. He has resources in Himself on which to fall back.
So in the passage before us the people disowned that Jehovah had delivered them from the house of bondage in their cry, “As for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.” (Ex. 32:1) Thereon Jehovah not only plagued the people for their idolatry (ver. 35), but told Moses to go up thence, “thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt into the land which I sware,” etc. Forthwith Moses pitches the tabernacle without the camp, so that every one who sought Jehovah might go out there. But he does more; he there intercedes for the people, insists that they are Jehovah’s people, and would turn the assurance of going with himself into one of going with him and them. “For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? Is it not in that thou goest with us? So shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.” Then, when Moses beseeches Him to manifest His glory to him, He says “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of Jehovah upon thee, and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
Thus the bearing of the declaration is as evident as it is appropriate and unanswerable. For a people in such a case to harbour the thought of unrighteousness with God is a monstrous forgetfulness not only of their actual state in relation to Him but of their only hope in His sovereign mercy. Once before they took the ground of righteousness in accepting the law; but before the tables of stone were brought down, they had forfeited every thing by their infraction of the most fundamental precept of the law. Hence hope there could not be, unless in His compassion. They had shown out what they were, and the sooner because of their self-confidence. Now it remained to learn what God is; and this is His word even in presence of the foul dishonour they had done Him: “I will show mercy on whomsoever I show mercy, and I will compassionate whomsoever I compassionate.”
Things were no better in the apostle’s day. For the people had meanwhile so gone on in idolatrous rebellion that God at length swept them away, first Israel by the Assyrian, then Judah by the Babylonian. And now the returned remnant were under Roman bondage, and had been guilty of rejecting their Messiah, as well as of quarrelling with God’s grace to the Gentiles. It is plain then that man is apt to be most self-righteous when he has least reason for it. “Not this man but Barabbas” cried they all. “We have no king but Caesar” answered the chief priests. Their moral degradation was complete; their faith was null and void. Ill would it have become such a people at such a time to ask “Is there unrighteousness with God?” It is just there, however, that the human spirit is most ready to dispute with God.
But the word is exceedingly broad and deep: where does it put any man? where the sinner? We Christians should surely know that only grace saved or could save us, as it called us with an holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. When a soul is truly broken down and judges itself with integrity and a spiritually enlightened conscience, how sweet is the feeling that there is righteousness nowhere fully, truly, and intrinsically but with God, confessing its own manifold and utter unrighteousness, and welcoming His own expression of sovereign mercy! It is only hard self-righteousness which holds out and disputes. Faith bows before the God of mercy and blesses Him. If only low and bad enough in my own eyes, I shall be but too thankful for the mercy that was sovereign enough to come down and find out me; if I can rest on the word of truth, the gospel of salvation, for such a sinner as myself, shall I pare down or narrow the indiscriminate riches of His grace to any other? “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” There may be an allusion to the frustration of Isaac’s notorious wish, and of Esau’s efforts to gain through the chase, and of Jacob faulty enough to lose all by his trickery but for sovereign mercy which secured to him the promise. It is certainly the conclusion of grace against man’s vain confidence in his own will and exertion.
But the greater the grace, the greater the sin of resisting God in it. Hence the other side needs to be presented. For the God who shows mercy is the judge of all, and will prove what it is to set at nought all that He is. So Pharaoh did of old; and what was the consequence? “For the scripture saith to Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” (Ver. 17.)
The king of Egypt was a thoroughly selfish, cruel, and profane man when God first sent him a message by Moses and Aaron. The effect of the summons on such a spirit was to bring out his blasphemy against Jehovah and more savage oppression of Israel. And as sign and his miracle told on his conscience, but evil desires and counsels prevailed, Pharaoh became incomparably worse till the obduracy of the king shocked his servants, and even after the concession was wrung out, false hopes of vengeance on Israel lured him and them to find a grave within the opened waters of the Red Sea. God thus made a most striking example of Pharaoh, not a mere exposure of his malice, but of His own power on that background, so that His name might be thus told abroad in all the earth. Never does God make a man bad; but the bad man Pharaoh, made yet worse by his resistance of the most striking divine appeals, He made manifest, raised up as he was from among men to such a height, that his downfall might tell on consciences far and wide throughout the world. Hard at first, God sealed him up at length in a judicial hardening. Such He warned the Jews by Isaiah should be the case with their impenitent hearts, and so He executed it when they rejected Christ (John 12) and the Holy Ghost’s appeal in the gospel. (Acts 28:25-28.) “So then to whom he will he sheweth mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” In both cases the unrighteousness is solely with man, who is, as far as he is concerned, irremediably evil and ruined; before God acts either in grace or in judgment for the display of His own great name to the wide, rich, and endless blessing of all who heed His word. He is always holy but always free. On the other hand fallen man is always evil and deserves condemnation. God freely acts in grace here, freely acts in judgment there, that any soul may beware of provoking His indignation and learning what He is in his own destruction, and that the guiltiest of sinners may know that no man is too far gone to be beyond reach of His mercy. I speak of man as such, not of such as have believed through grace.
These verses present a fresh objection, and the apostle’s answer worthy of all attention not only in itself but as an inspired specimen of the best method of meeting a cavil, first with a moral remonstrance and then more directly.
“Thou wilt say then to me, Why then doth he yet find fault? For who withstandeth his purpose? Nay but thou, O man, who art thou that answerest again to God?” (Vers. 19, 20.)
The objection seems founded on the absoluteness with which the mercy of God as well as His hardening had been asserted by the apostle just before. The unbroken will of man avails itself of this to resolve all question of good and evil into the divine purpose. But this is a mere human deduction which loses sight of the moral glory of God as well as the responsibility of the creature. It offends therefore against first principles, and would destroy all truth, holiness, and righteous judgment.
Undoubtedly the purpose of God does stand, and there is no creature which does not in the end subserve His will: yet Satan, little as he intends it, only clenches it most when he seems most to succeed by his lies and destructive power in thwarting and persecuting those who are precious in the Lord’s eyes. Take the cross itself as the plainest and most unanswerable example. But should this enfeeble our moral judgment of creature wickedness? Does it deny the fact that Satan and man are responsible for all they do against Him, or that both must be punished for it? Hence Peter taxes the men of Israel with the guilt of crucifying the Messiah: “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God ye have taken and by hands of lawless men have crucified and slain.” How different is the holy and perfect word of God! Everything is in its place, not one side only but both. God has His determinate counsel and foreknowledge. The Jews played their evil part, the Gentiles theirs. They together, however at variance in thoughts and feelings, manifested their characters and their guilt; but in the very same fact they fulfilled the prophets and gave occasion to the display of the holiest judgment of God and the accomplishment of the work of His grace.
Hence the ground of reasoning is wholly fallacious. The probation of man discovered his evil state, the fruit of his first departure from God who was dishonoured by him when all was very good, and whose every fresh trial only served to demonstrate with increasing evidence the depth and extent of sin and the irremediableness of the flesh. The wisdom of God is such that He can and does turn all that man pursues in his heartless folly to the account of His purposes; but this is altogether independent of man’s will which is always and inexcusably evil. Not only therefore is God free to censure man, but He will judge him for all by the Lord Jesus at the last day.
If it were true, as Calvin says, that those who perish were destined to destruction by the will of God, the case were hard indeed. But scripture never really speaks thus, and the language of the texts usually cited in support of such a decree, when closely as well as fairly examined, invariably avoids such a thought, however near it may seem to approximate.
In truth it is but the expression of the heart anxious to gather an excuse for its own wilful evil and a plea against judgment from the irresistible will of God. Yet better is known in the heart of hearts all the while. It is never said in scripture that sin was God’s purpose; but man fallen under sin is the platform where He does display His ways, counsels, and even Himself. God did not make any man to be evil; but from all (being evil already) He does choose according to His sovereign will and show mercy to some, not all, though all be no more guilty than the some may have been. It would be perfectly just to destroy all. But if pleased to spare whom he will, who shall say to Him, nay? It would be to set up a claim of superiority over God, and is really an attempt to judge Him. Now whenever a sinner is converted, he feels and owns the just judgment of God, even though such a recognition sanctions the execution of the divine sentence against one’s self, yet withal never quits in despair, but looks and cries, feebly at first perhaps but with increasing earnestness, for mercy.
Cavils of the sort always presuppose the conscience not yet searched and the will not bent and broken before God. Neither insinuations of unrighteousness with God, nor the plea of the necessity of man’s sinning as a part of God’s purpose, could satisfy, or emanate from, a repentant soul. So the apostle first of all answers with a rebuke: “Nay but thou, O man, who art thou that answerest against God? Shall the thing moulded say to him that moulded, Why didst thou make me thus?” Is it possible a man so speaks? It is equally irreverent and unholy. As this challenge why God (whose purpose is so firm, inflexible, and sure of fulfilment) should any longer find fault, blots out moral government and denies the difference of good and evil, so the audacity which disputes against God and practically defies His right to condemn wrong, proceeds on the assumption that He is bound to save every one alike, or at least to punish none; that is, bound to be worse than the basest of those who despise and rebel against Him, bound to a moral indifference which they would not tolerate in their wives or children, in their family connections, in their servants or their tradesmen! Such is the worth of human reason when it does not surrender to the word of God. The fall is ignored, and its ruinous consequences. God did not form man as he is, but good and upright; and He warned him of his danger and of the inevitable issue of disobedience. In every point of view therefore the ground of unbelief is as false as it is also a forgetfulness of the majesty of God and of the due attitude of the creature toward Him.
The apostle takes occasion to affirm the sovereign title of God in the most unqualified way. “Hath not the potter authority over the clay out of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour?” Whatever the holy boldness of this language, however it is singularly free from swerving to the right hand or the left, it would be easy to prove by countless witnesses how prone the best and wisest of uninspired men have been to err, even with this divine chart before their eyes to guide them. But it is easy to slip on either side: the hard thing is to hold only to the truth of scripture, and not to speak where it is silent. The apostle does not say that God has exercised the right which He beyond just question possesses; but the divine title is maintained in its integrity. We shall see in the next two verses how the right is used; but it was due to God and wholesome for man that His absolute right should be owned. How seldom those who talk of rights seem to think that God has any! They are absorbed in themselves, in man: God is in none of their thoughts. Yet surely if any rights are to be respected, His ought to be the foremost whose sovereign will gave us being and all things. If we count ourselves entitled to do what we will with our own, what can we say of Him to whom belong ourselves and all that we have?
His right then over man as over every other creature is incontestable: a right which unbelief disputes only because it has never seriously thought of the matter, or it yields to a spirit of manifestly outrageous presumption and rebelliousness. There are no rights if the Creator has none: if they exist at all, His must be absolute over us as creatures. He can form as He pleases and assign to us a position high or low in the scale of creation as it seems fitting in His eyes. In the verses which follow there is the further consideration that we are not only creatures but sinners, which necessarily must bear its bitter fruit and judgment from God. But His sovereign title it was important to affirm in itself before the introduction of the actual state or the doom of man.
The absolute authority of God over the creature has been so laid down that none can fairly dispute it. But this is far from being the whole case: His power is unlimited, His title incontestable. “And if God, wishing to show his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy which he before prepared for glory, us whom he also called not from among Jews only but from Gentiles?” (Ver. 22-24.)
The mind of God was to display His wrath in this evil world and to make known His power where men easily and willingly forget Himself. But the way adopted was admirable and worthy of His nature. Arbitrariness there was none, but “much long-suffering.” So He bore long with the corruption and violence of guilty man. Could man then justly tax God either with lack of compassion for himself or with haste to mark his iniquities? Impossible that a holy God could have fellowship with evil or be indifferent to it! But instead of promptly blotting out of this life the rebellious creatures who make of the world a field for incessant warfare against what they know of God, or who at least live negligent of His will though He has revealed it fully, the history of the world since nations began is the fullest proof of endurance on God’s part. He never made them as they are; but the sin of man now fallen He endured spite of countless and constant provocation. They sinned, they transgressed, they despised His mercy, they braved His wrath; but He endured with much long-suffering.
Sinful men thus living in enmity against God are here styled “vessels of wrath,” on the one hand; as those who believe are designated “vessels of mercy” on the other. They are objects respectively of wrath and of mercy, and are figuratively supposed to contain each that quality which will issue in destruction or in glory.
But there is a shade of difference as distinct as it is refined and profoundly true which no reader should overlook. The vessels of wrath are said to be “fitted for destruction.” But it is neither said nor implied here, or anywhere else, that God fitted them for it. They were fitted by their sins, and most of all by their unbelief and rebelliousness against God. But when we hear of the faithful, the phrase is altogether different, “vessels of mercy which he before prepared for glory.” The evil is man’s, and in no case is it of God; the good is His and not our own. Not the saints, but God prepared the vessels of mercy for glory. More strictly He prepared them beforehand with a view to glory. That is, it was not their preparation while on earth, His only when the glory arrives. The apostle affirms here that God prepared them before unto glory. It was His doing. None doubts that they became by grace obedient, holy, and thus morally conformed to His nature; but it seemed good to the Holy Spirit to dwell here only on God’s preparation of the vessels of mercy beforehand for glory. Thus the riches of His glory are made known upon the vessels of mercy, for so they are called, not vessels filled with these or those spiritual qualities, however true this might be, but vessels of mercy.
But in this passage as elsewhere there is no sufficient reason to depart from the ordinary meaning of “glory” or to give the word the sense of God’s mercy. Nor does Ephesians 1:12 sanction this, where glory maintains strictly its own distinctive place, as will appear to him who thoughtfully weighs verses 6, 7, 12. The word grace is undoubtedly and most properly left out of the last, where grace is not intended to be expressed any more than in verse 14 where it could not be. The Spirit looks onward to the day when the purpose of God shall be accomplished.
Such is the inheritance when the excellence of what God has given and made us shall be displayed. But the relationships to Himself which His infinite love has brought us into, and in which He has revealed Himself are far deeper. Hence the word in verse 6 is “to the praise of the glory of his grace,” the fulness of the revelation of Himself, as in verse 7 the abundant resources of His goodness, in view of our misery and guilt as once sinners. In all this then I see exact discrimination, not the confusion of different thoughts or words. No doubt then the wrath of God, long impending but long kept back, while He is sending forth the message of the mercy He delights in, will at length burst on those who have despised His warnings, but who will then prove what it is to be vessels of wrath. And the vessels of mercy will then be displayed in those scenes of divine excellence which no evil or failure shall ever sully.
Thus lost man will in the end be compelled to justify God and to take the entire blame on his own shoulders, who preferred to trust Satan as his friend and adviser rather than God; while the saved, however dwelling in bliss, will know and make known all as the riches of His glory, themselves debtors to His mere but unfailing and unfathomable mercy.
But the moment mercy is thus fully before the apostle’s mind, he by the Spirit turns to the magnificent proof and exhibition God gave of it in calling — not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. The law distinguished and separated the people which was under it from all other nations which were not. Grace, as it supposes the total worthlessness not of the Gentiles only but also of the Jews, so it goes out and calls in not from Jews only but from Gentiles. Distinctions may be in place where there is still hope of man and the trial proceeds. Not so when the probation of the most favoured has ended in irremediable guilt and helpless total ruin. Then the door opens for mercy; and if God is pleased to exercise it, can the Jew pretend that the Gentile is not at least as good an occasion for mercy as himself? The greater the need, the misery, the darkness, the greater is the room for God to prove the depth and extent of His grace. On the footing therefore of His own mercy has God called (for it is a question of calling, not of governing a people already subsisting before Him under His law) even “us not from Jews only but also from among Gentiles.” (Ver. 24.) He calls in grace, freely to all, shut up to none, from Jews certainly but from Gentiles too.
The quotations taken from Hosea are worthy of all consideration, both in themselves and in the comparison of the references here and in 1 Peter 2:10. Some feel the difficulty; others, who do not seem to see anything particularly to be noted, prove how little they enter into the deep wisdom of God here displayed.
The call from among Gentiles is not the question with Peter, who accordingly does not cite Hosea 1:10. He contents himself with using Hosea 2:23, which he does not hesitate to apply even then to such of the Jews as came to the one foundation stone and became thus themselves living stones. Writing to the strangers of the dispersion throughout a part of Asia Minor, he had only the believing Jews directly before him. Hence there is remarkable force in telling them that they were a chosen generation and a royal priesthood. This their fathers attempted to make their own at Sinai on condition of their own obedience; and, as we know, broke down immediately as well as unceasingly ever afterwards, till the final sentence was pronounced and God by Hosea pronounced the Jew Lo-ammi (not my people). The apostle now, addressing those who had received the rejected Messiah, not only predicates unconditionally of them under the gospel what was only offered to their fathers under a condition which utterly failed, but shows that they do not need to wait for the glorious kingdom of the Messiah to be revealed before they can be assured of the gracious reversal of the old sentence: “which in time past (says he) were not a people, but are now the people of God, which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” The shining of grace from Christ risen on those that are His assures even now, not yet indeed of the setting aside of the power of evil in the world, but of the bringing the believing Israelites addressed into distinct, present, and known relationship with God. If the many still persevered in their unbelief and its bitter consequences, this did not hinder God from cheering the godly remnant by the apostle’s employment of the prophet.
Our apostle cites the same scripture as Peter uses, and more fully too; but he also cites Hosea 1:10 almost precisely as it stands in the Alexandrian copy of the LXX. Is it then certain that he quotes these two passages from Hosea as applicable to the Gentiles being called to be the people of God? This is generally assumed43 as manifest from the words themselves, and from the transition to Israel in verse 27, though many who say so confess that in the prophecy they are spoken of Israel, which, after being rejected and put away, was to be again received into favour by God.
But it is always well for the believer to search narrowly an assumption of the kind, more especially when an apparent discrepancy is thereby insinuated between the Old Testament and the New. It is wise to try our own hypothesis over and over again, for we may rest assured that the One divine author cannot slight a word He has written. “Scripture cannot be broken.” Is the assumption itself well grounded? We need not then dwell on the answers which are attempted to the difficulty which appears to me made by those who seek to answer it — answers with which those who give them seem themselves by no means satisfied, and no wonder. The question is as to the precise aim of the Spirit. For myself I cannot doubt that He contemplated the Jews and the Gentiles in the two citations from Hosea; for if He meant only the Gentiles in both, why quote them in so peculiar an order? Why place the fragment of Hosea 1:10 after that of 2:23? If on the other hand He means to illustrate the call of grace under the gospel first to the Jews, spite of their having lost their distinctive name of relationship, nothing can be more natural and appropriate than his use of Hosea 2:23 before 1:10 is quoted; and thus the apostles Paul and Peter are seen to be not only in perfect harmony with each other, but in their application exact to the evident bearing of the prophet. The common error sets all three in opposition. The very order too agrees precisely with the verse before (24) in Romans 9 which is followed up by the citations.
But if this be so with the employment of Hosea 2:23 by the two apostles, if they both expressly apply to converted Jews that which the prophet expressly wrote of them and of them only, what of Romans 1:10? This, it is freely granted, may not be so obvious, but in my judgment it is on mature consideration no less sure. Yet why should the latter part of the verse refer to the sons of Israel because the former does? Let it be observed that there is a striking break or at least offshoot in the middle of the verse, which might most naturally prepare the way for another disclosure of God’s purposes of grace. I allow that it is somewhat veiled; but this was proper and intended. The turning aside to call in Gentiles was intentionally concealed till the time came; but when it did come, enough was found, expressed hundreds of years before by the prophets, to prove that all was ordered and left room for and justified in passages here and there, which could scarcely have prepared any beforehand for so momentous a change but fell in with it expressly when it was a fact. So there is to my mind a similarly rapid transition in Isaiah 65:1, 2, of which the apostle makes use somewhat later in this very argument, and gives us divine certainty that, as verse 1 applies to the call of Gentiles, so verse 2 goes even farther than the early half of Hosea 1:10, for it intimates the rejection of Israel. The apostle guided by the Spirit was tender to his brethren after the flesh and would not yet set before them so unpalatable a truth. All he is proving here from Hosea is that, as the ruin of Israel does not preclude but rather gives occasion for the call of grace in the gospel to the Jews spite of their dreadful estate, so the same prophet very remarkably leaves room for Gentiles to come in on a ground which shall yet bless Israel beyond measure and number. “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said unto them, not my people, there it shall be said unto them, The sons of the living God.” I see no more reason to doubt that Gentiles were not by accommodation but directly and primarily meant in this striking portion than in the first verse of Isaiah 65. The same apostle who warrants the application of two verses of Isaiah in Romans 10 warrants the application of two verses of Hosea in Romans 9. The call of Jews and Gentiles he attests in the latter; the coming in of Gentiles and the rebellion of Israel he proves from the former.
Thus there is no ground whatever for the idea that the inspired Paul does violence to the prophet by applying to Gentiles what was written about Jews; or that the principle on which he quotes is merely that of analogy, instead of direct divine authority. Still less is it true that God makes so light of the ground on which He set Israel as to allow the theory that the nations had ever been in any similar position before the call of Israel, or that Israel has lost it irrevocably to let the Gentiles in, and thus merge all for the future on one common level. Not so: the Gentiles have not stood by faith, but become highminded and will surely, because of unbelief, be broken off the olive-tree, whereon they are now grafted; and as surely the Jews, not continuing in unbelief but truly repentant and blessing Him who is coming in the name of Jehovah, will be once more in sovereign mercy graffed into their own olive-tree. This will not be under the gospel. For as concerning the gospel they are enemies for our sakes, jealous that we should meanwhile receive the truth and hating the grace which saves the vilest through Him whom they cast out. “But as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes,” as will be demonstrated in that day, when it will be no longer the call of indiscriminate goodness as now, which ignores all earthly distinctions and unites to Christ in heaven, but the fulfilment of the magnificent purposes of God for the world, according to which the Israel of that day, converted and restored to their land, will be the most intimate and honoured and important instrument here below for the universal blessedness of the race and the earth. As the election of Israel was before the gospel was sent out, so it will be after the gospel shall have finished its heavenly work. Then the purposes of God for Israel, which came to naught under the first covenant, will be made effectual and stand for ever under Messiah and the new covenant.
Meanwhile, if any from Israel are blessed, it is on the principle of God’s having called them, spite of the people being Lo-ammi, and giving them to obtain mercy anticipatively now, as the remnant will another day at the end of this age. But mercy now, as we of all men should know best, is not confined to them, but has called from among Gentiles also. Thus the two citations of Hosea were each equally required; and only the latter of the two used by Paul as the apostle of Gentiles, and in fact writing to saints at Rome, who were even more numerously Gentile than Jewish. Hence the reason and beautiful propriety of our finding the latter part of Hosea 1:10 not in Peter’s Epistle but in Paul’s.
But there is another feature, not palpable to the careless eye, but most real and in the highest degree confirmatory of a Gentile reference as originally intended of God in the close of Hosea 1:10. Thus the Holy Spirit does not say merely (as Dean Alford for instance like others ancient44 or modern) “as a general assertion, that in every place where they were called ‘not His people,’ there they shall be called ‘His people’.” If Gentiles were not His people, like the Jews now for a time, those who receive the gospel are called, not “His people” merely as the Jews shall be, but “sons of the living God.” It is the special well-known title which grace now confers on all who hear the rejected One who speaks from heaven; and the emphasis is brought out the more powerfully, because it is said so expressly of Gentiles who never enjoyed the title of the people of God, if scripture is to rule our thoughts. There is thus a propriety in the new title which suits the actual state of things, rather than the millennial day and the relationship of restored Israel; and this too pre-eminently fitting in with the call of Gentiles, who, if by the Holy Spirit made willing to take the place of dogs, find “the crumbs” richer fare than those ever tasted who once were free of the Master’s table.
The apostle now goes a step farther. He had shown from Hosea the grace which will reverse the solemn sentence of displeasure pronounced on the Jew in view of the captivity in Babylon, as well as the rich mercy for the Gentile to which the gospel lends so bright a light. He cites Isaiah 10 for God’s ways with His people in view of the Assyrian. “Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: for [he is] completing [the] matter and cutting short in righteousness, because a matter cut short will [the] Lord make on the earth.” The prophet looks onward to the close of the sorrowful history of the chosen people, when the Assyrian, whom God first employed as the rod of His anger, will no longer be a just object of dread, and those who used to stay themselves on a staff which smote them, or even on that broken reed, Egypt, shall stay themselves on Jehovah the Holy One of Israel in truth. It is the great crisis of prophecy, the end of the Lord with His people who prove Him to be very pitiful and of tender mercy, whatever the rough roads and stormy skies meanwhile. Israel may have been ever so numerous; yet not the mass but the remnant shall be saved. For He is finishing and cutting short the matter in righteousness. It will be no question then of patient mercy, but a matter cut short will the Lord make on the earth or land. And this is not the only testimony of the kind: from the beginning we read to the same effect. “And as Esaias hath said before, Unless [the] Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and been made like as Gomorrha.” Because He was dealing in righteousness with Israel, they should be cut down to the uttermost; because He was faithful to the mercy promised, His gracious power would hinder such a total extermination as befell the guilty cities of the plain. The remnant should be saved, a seed for sowing the earth afresh, when they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which Jehovah their God has given them. Great then shall be the day of Jezreel, when Jehovah will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth, and the earth shall hear the corn and the wine and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel. Ere it comes judgment must take its course; but in the end mercy glories over judgment, and the remnant, saved by grace, by grace is made a strong nation.
Plainly however, as the prophets lacked not the assurance of mercy to the Gentiles, so they still more abounded in warnings of judgment on Israel. This then was not the new testimony of grace which the Jews so keenly resented as interfering with their ancient privileges. Let them beware of fighting against God who had taught both these truths in the living oracles specially entrusted to themselves, and their boast, though certainly but little understood. If they therefore quarrelled with such a sentence, it was evidently not so much with Paul as with Isaiah and the Holy Spirit who had inspired him.
What a witness on the other hand of divine truth, of indiscriminate grace, that the gospel, in itself unprecedented and wholly distinct both from what was seen under the law and what will be when the kingdom appears in power and glory, does nevertheless find its justification from words both of mercy and of judgment uttered hundreds of years before by the various servants God sent to declare His message to His people! But as they blindly despised them and rejected His word then for idols, so now they fulfilled them yet more in the rejection of Christ and hatred of the grace which, refused by them, sought and was received by Gentiles, and thus yet more proved the word divine to the confusion of the unbelief which is as blind as it is proud and selfish.
Thus the case on both sides has been set out with the clearest testimonies of the prophets. It only remains to draw the conclusions so far.
“What then shall we say? That Gentiles that pursued not righteousness attained righteousness, yea, righteousness that is of faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, arrived not at a law of righteousness.” (Ver. 30, 31.) Such precisely had been the bearing of the living oracles to which the Jews justly pointed as their peculiar treasure from God; yet these oracles declared unequivocally what was borne out by the actual facts. The Jews were completely broken as a nation. They had enjoyed the most singular favours: how was it now? Why their disruption? Why the carrying away to Babylon? why their subjection without so much as the shadow of a king of their own to the iron dominion of Rome? I speak not, it was useless to speak to them, of still worse impending. If they neglected the words of Isaiah, if they sought not into the visions of Daniel, it was vain to expect that they would heed the warnings of the Lord Jesus. But their own prophets amply sufficed to interpret the actual state around them and to prove that Jewish rebelliousness to God was as certainly revealed beforehand as Gentile acceptance of His mercy; and these are precisely the great and invariable characteristics of the time that now is, which Christianity supposes and Judaism denies. In the Gentiles grace is displayed and triumphs; by the Jews it is for the present refused and calumniated. Yet does all this only accomplish the prophecies every Jew owns as divine. That Gentiles, spite of their dark ignorance, their utter indifference to God, should be brought to the right way, not of law indeed (the Jews need not be jealous of that) but righteousness on the principle of faith, righteousness outside themselves, by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, so that it might be through faith; that Israel, zealously in quest of a law of righteousness, had not reached it, was not more patent, if the gospel be true, than if the ancient prophets be accomplished.
The moral ground also is as plain as the word of God. For the pretension of man to take his stand before God on his own obedience of law is refuted; as on the other hand grace avowedly goes out to the basest and most careless, giving and forming what is good, as well as putting away the evil to the praise of divine mercy, but withal righteously; yet it is no righteousness of law, but rather of faith, so as to be open to those who knew not the law, as well as to such of Israel as were broken down as to self and taught of God to receive only of His grace in Christ. Thus God has glorified Himself as truly as He has convicted the first man of entire hollowness and constant failure.
Israel then has not come to a law of righteousness. “Wherefore?” As it was through no lack of privileges from God, so it was from no want of their own efforts in pursuing after it. But they pursued wrongly. They overlooked, as unbelief ever does, both God and themselves; alike what is due to His majesty, what necessarily flows from His nature; and again, what sin has wrought in the moral ruin and incapacity as well as guilt of man: in short, “because [it was] not of faith but as of works.45 They stumbled at the stone of stumbling, even as it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; and46 he that believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Ver. 32, 33.)
Sinful man understands duty to obey with a commensurate reward annexed to success; and he is ever slow to conceive his own failure and inability to meet the just requirements of God. The last thing he likes to do is to take all the blame of his evil on himself, unless it be to accredit the God he has wronged with real and perfect goodness toward himself in spite of his wrong against Him. But of all men the Jews were the least disposed to it and the most obstinate in their own thoughts. For why, reasoned they, should we have the law of God if it be not to attain acceptance with God by our faithful observance of its precepts? Where else is its value and its use? Error fatal to the ancient people, how much more in Christendom, where the gospel tells the wreck of Israel on this very rock of offence, that men who hear and bear the name of the Lord should not repeat it to their own yet surer destruction!
Unbelief of grace, self-righteousness, is far more inexcusable now than of old. For Christ the Son of God is come and has accomplished redemption; and the glad tidings God sends forth on the express ground of universal ruin in man that he may thankfully receive another, even Jesus, and rest on His work before God with peace and joy in believing. But men, baptized men, stumble still, as Israel stumbled, at the stone of stumbling, the Lord Jesus. If they felt their own real state, how would they not bless God for such a Saviour! But they were proud, and blind withal. They were satisfied with their own obedience, at any rate with their own efforts. They stumbled at the stumbling-stone; but the same Christ delivers the believer from hurt, from shame, from confusion. He was set, as Simeon said to Mary, for the fall and rising again of many in Israel and for a sign to be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed: no otherwise said Isaiah. (Isa. 28:16.)
33 There is no doubt that the imperfect will bear the idiomatic sense given in the Authorized Version: “I could wish.” (Comp. Acts 25:22; Gal. 4:20.) The question is, whether the apostle does not go farther here and affirm that he had actually so wished, not soberly, but still as a fact, not that he did or could so wish as a fixed principle. So the Vulgate’s “optabam,” supported by the other ancient versions apparently, spite of the Latin of the Polyglott. Erasmus gives “optarem,” and in the same sense E. Schmid, Schott, Naebe, etc.
34 Jesus alone could have this as His distinctive suffering and boast in love. It was to endure all and be made a curse and sin, and this not only for His brethren according to flesh but for His worst enemies. And in this, at cost of all, He lets us know what God is in love to us, but in His righteousness withal.
35 Even these spurious pieces seem to be only opposing the Patripassian or Sabellian notion (i.e., that the God and Father suffered), and affirming that He who did suffer was Jesus, not His God and Father who is over all.
36 I am pained, but bound, to protest once more against such words as are allowed to continue from edition to edition in Dean Alford’s work (in loco). “That our Lord (says he) is not in the strict exclusive sense,
ὁ ἐπὶ πάντων Θεός, every Christian will admit, that title being reserved for the Father.” Every clause is a grievous blunder. Our Lord is in the strictest sense what He is said not to be, for
ὁ ὣν ἐπὶ π. θ. is even stronger than
ὁ ἐπὶ π. θ. Nor is it true that the Father is such in the “exclusive” sense, as he says; nor is it reserved for Him in a sense stricter than for the Son. He allows that Christ is
ἐπὶ πάντων Θεός. Yet this, though true, is not what the apostle teaches, but a proposition about Christ still more stringent than his expositor essays to deny. I trust and am willing to believe that the Dean of Canterbury wished neither to lower our Lord nor to adhere to a most objectionable statement; and therefore would one beg the correction on so grave a matter of words which neither faith nor yet logic can justify. To reason from human order to the divine nature and relations is ground as unsafe as it is false. No doubt in the creature, being essentially limited, the highest place for one excludes another. But it is the direct road to the worst gulf of error so to think of the Godhead, as to which we have only to believe what is revealed from on high. This may be hard to the natural mind; but it is unambiguous, and too clear for faith to deny or explain away.
37 Even Socinus was clear-sighted enough to see this and honest enough to acknowledge it.
38 The version of Beza, E. Schmid, etc. (which Bucer adopted before them, and Macknight since), “It is not possible,” errs, not so much in requiring
τε as Calvin remarked (for it may dispense with this particle) as in the absence of the infinitive after it. Besides, even were it grammatically admissible, the other sense is better.
39 Or, thy seed.
40 Or, time.
41 There is no insuperable difficulty, I think, in
ἐξ ἑνός. There was in this case a single mother, also one father. Its object is to give emphasis to both, in contradistinction to the former case.
42 “Tamen ut discamus in nudo et simplici Dei beneplacito acquiescere, abhoc quoque intuitu nos tantisper Paulus subducit, donec hanc doctrinam stabilierit, Deum in suo arbitrio satis justam eligendi et reprobandi habere causam.” Joh. Calvini in omnes Pauli Ap. Epp. i. 121, Halis Sax. 1831.
43 “The meaning (says Calvin in loc.) is evident: but there is some difficulty in the application of this testimony; for no one can deny but that the prophet in that passage speaks of the Israelites. For the Lord, having been offended with their wickedness, declared that they should be no longer His people: He afterwards subjoined a consolation, and said, that of those who were not beloved He would make some (?) beloved, and from (?) those who were not a people He would make a people. But Paul applies to the Gentiles what was expressly spoken to the Israelites!” Again, a very different mind writes thus in our day on Hosea 1:10, “Both St. Peter (?) and St. Paul tell us that this prophecy is already, in Christ, fulfilled in those of Israel, who were the true Israel, or of the Gentiles to whom the promise was made, In thy seed shall all nations be blessed, and who, whether Jews or Gentiles, believed in Him. The Gentiles were adopted into the Church, which, at the day of Pentecost was formed of the Jews, and in which Jews and Gentiles became one in Christ . . . . . . . And so St. Peter (?) says that this scripture [expressly commenting on the latter part, which Paul only applies to the Gentiles now called] was fulfilled in them, while still scattered abroad through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (Dr. Pusey’s Minor Prophets.) On Hosea 2:23 the latter is still bolder: “This which was true of Israel in its dispersion was much more true of the Gentiles. These too, the descendants of righteous Noah, God had cast off for the time, that they should be no more His people [not so; the Gentiles never had been as such in relationship with God as called nations, nor was Israel itself or any other people yet chosen], when He chose Israel out of them . . . . . . . . in reversing His sentence, He embraces in the arms of His mercy all who were not His people, and says of them all that they should be My people and beloved . . . . . . . Israel was not multiplied by itself, but through the bringing in of the Gentiles.” It will have been noticed from the queries, or without them by the careful reader, that both are obliged to depart, by their system of thought, from the language of the text.
44 It may be instructive to show by the following extract from Theodoret’s comment that the errors of theology were introduced or at least sanctioned by the ablest of the early fathers.
ταῦτα δὲ ὁ Θεὸς οὐ περὶ τῶν ἐθνῶν, ἀλλὰ περὶ τῶν αὐτῶν εἴρηκε τῶν Ἰουδαίων. τῳ γὰρ Ὡσηὲ κελεύσας λαβεῖν γυναῖκα πόρνην, καὶ μέντοι καὶ μοιχαλίδα, οὕτω τὰ γεννηθέντα παιδία προσαγορευθῆναι ἐκέλευσε, τὸν μὲν οὐ λαόν, τὴν δὲ οὐκ ἠγαπημένην, τὰ συμβησόμενα, Ἰουδαίοις προλέγων, ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως πάλιν ὑπέσχετο αὐτοῖς χρηστά, ὅτι καὶ οὐ λαὸς κληθήσεται λαός, καὶ ἡ οὐκ ἠγαπημένη, ἠγαπημένη. σκοπήσατε τοίνυν, φησὶν, ὅτι καὶ ὑμεῖς οὐκ ἀεὶ τῶν αὐτῶν ἀπελαύσατε· ἀλλὰ ποτὲ μὲν λαός, ποτὲ δὲ οὐ λαός, καὶ πάλιν μὲν ἐχρηματίσατε καὶ ποτὲ μὲν ἠγαπημένη, εἶτα οὐκ ἠγαπημένη, καὶ πάλιν ἠγαπημένη. οὐδὲν τοίνυν ἀπεικὸς οὐδὲ ἐπὶ τοῦ παρόντος γεγένηται. συνήθως γὰρ ἀπεβλήθητε· ἀλλὰ κᾳν πάλιν θελήσητε. καὶ γὰρ τὰ ἔθνη οὐ λαὸς ὄντες, νῦν λαὸς χρηματίζει. (Opera, ed. Schulze, tom. iii. p. 108.) Chrysostom is to the same effect.
45 There is excellent evidence to show that
πᾶς have been inserted by the copyists to add force, clearness, or symmetry to the apostle’s citations from Isaiah. But there is nothing so good as the divine word as He gave it.
46 Copyists probably added
πᾶς from Romans 10:11.