The Righteousness of God Harmonized with His Dispensational Ways
God’s Past Dealings with Israel in Electing Grace
Having carried us all the way from the distance and bondage and condemnation of chapters 1, 2, and 3 to the glorious freedom and justification and eternal union with Christ of chapter 8, the apostle now turns to consider another phase of things altogether. He well knew that many of his readers would be pious, godly Jews who had accepted Christ as their Messiah and their Saviour, but who were passing through a time of great perplexity and bewilderment as they saw their own nation apparently hardened into opposition against the gospel and sinners of the Gentiles turning to the Lord. They were aware that the prophets predicted a great work of God among the Gentiles, but they had always been accustomed to think of this as following upon the full restoration and blessing of Israel, and, indeed, as flowing from it. Israel should blossom and bud and fill the face of the whole earth with fruit. The Gentiles should come to her light and find happiness in subjection to her. Now all the prophecies on which they had based their expectations seemed to have failed of fulfilment. How could Paul reconcile his proclamation of free grace to the Gentiles everywhere, apart from their submission to the rights connected with the old covenant? In the three chapters that are now to occupy us, the apostle meets this question, and that in a masterly way, showing how the righteousness of God is harmonized with His dispensational ways. This part of the epistle may be separated into three sub-divisions. Chapter 9 gives us God’s past dealings with Israel in electing grace; chapter 10, God’s present dealings with Israel in governmental discipline; and chapter 11, God’s future dealings with Israel in fulfilment of prophecy.
Opening our Bibles, then, to chapter 9, who can fail to be touched by his earnest words in regard to his brethren after the flesh? He insists that he loves them tenderly, that his heart is constantly burdened because of them. No one could possibly love them more than he did. They, perhaps, thought him estranged from them because of his commission to give the gospel to the nations, but it is very evident, both here and throughout the latter part of the book of Acts, that though he magnified his office as the apostle to the Gentiles, there was always a great tugging at his heart to get to his own people and bear testimony to them. His ministry was ever to the Jew first and then to the Greek.
There is a difference of opinion among men of piety and scholarship as to the exact meaning of verse 3: Did it mean to say that there were times when he had actually wished, if it were possible, to save his brethren by being himself accursed from Christ; that he would have been willing to submit to this? Or is he simply saying that he understands thoroughly the feeling of the most earnest Jew, who in his mistaken zeal detests the Christ, because he himself had at one time actually desired to be accursed from Christ as standing with his brethren after the flesh? If we accept the latter view, we see in this verse simply an expression of the intensity of his feelings as an unconverted Jew. If, as the present lecturer is inclined to do, we accept the former explanation, then we put him on the same platform with Moses, who cried, “If it be possible, blot me out of Thy book, only let the people live.” But whichever view we finally accept, our sense of his deep interest in his people becomes intensified as we read.
He enumerates, in verses 4 and 5, the great blessings that belong to Israel. He says that to them pertain the adoption (literally, the son-placing), and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the ritual service, and the promises. “Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”
Consider these blessings in their order:
First: The son-placing. God had owned the nation of Israel as His son. It is not the New Testament truth of individual adoption as we have it in the epistle to the Ephesians and as we have already considered it in Romans 8; in fact, it is not individual here at all, but national. God could say of Israel, “Out of Egypt have I called My son;” and, again, “You only have I known of all nations that be upon the earth.” They were His, and He owned them as such.
Secondly: The glory. Glory is manifested excellence. And through them God would manifest the excellence of His great name. They were His witnesses.
Third: The covenants. Observe that all the covenants pertain to Israel; that is, the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, the Davidic covenant, and the new covenant. All belonged to them. Believers from among the Gentiles come under the blessings of the new covenant, because it is a covenant of pure grace. But God has Israel and Judah in view when He says, through the prophet, “I will make a new covenant with you.” When our Lord instituted the memorial supper, He said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins.” The blood of the covenant has already been poured out, but the new covenant has not yet actually been made, though it shall be eventually with the earthly people. Meantime, redeemed Gentiles come under all the spiritual blessings of that covenant, and indeed all the others in a manner far beyond anything that Old Testament prophets ever could have anticipated.
Fourth: The giving of the law. We have already seen that the law was given to Israel. It addressed itself to Israel. It was never given to Gentiles as such, though all men become responsible in regard to its provisions when it is made known to them.
Fifth: The ritual service. God ordained a ritual service of marvelous meaning and wondrous beauty in connection with both the tabernacle and the temple of old, but there is no hint of ritualistic practices of any kind for the Church of God as such. In fact we are warned against them in unmistakable terms in Col. 2.
Sixth: The promises. The reference, of course, is to the many promises of temporal blessing under Messiah’s reign in the kingdom age.
Seventh: The fathers, Ahraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs, these belonged to the earthly people. The heavenly people have no genealogical list to consult; they are cut off entirely from earthly lineage. The Church was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. But in Israel we see the descendants of the fathers, though, as the chapter goes on to the show, they are not all reckoned of Israel who are of Israel after the flesh.
Of this people Christ came, born of a virgin— a real man in a true body of flesh and blood with a rational spirit and soul; nevertheless, as to the mystery of His person, God over all, blessed forever.
To the faithful Jew who had banked upon the promises of God to Israel, it would appear that in large measure these promises had failed; otherwise, why would Israel nationally be set to one side and the Gentiles be in the place of blessing? But the apostle now proceeds to show that God has ever acted on the principle of sovereign grace. All the special privileges that Israel had enjoyed were to be attributed to this principle. God took them out from among the nations as an elect people, separating them to Himself. But He ever had in mind a regenerated people as the people of the promise. Not all who were born of Israel’s blood belonged to Israel, as recognized by God. Neither because of the natural seed of Abraham were they necessarily children of promise. In electing grace God had said to Abraham, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” He chose to pass over Ishmael, the man born after the flesh, and take up Isaac, whose birth was miraculous. In this He illustrates the principle that “they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God. Children of promise are counted for the seed.” What a staggering blow is this to the pretensions of those who boast so loudly in our day of what they call the universal fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. The children of the flesh, we are distinctly told, are not the children of God. And in this statement we have, emphasized, the same truth that our Lord declared to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Isaac was the child of promise. God said, “At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.” Naturally, it would have been impossible for the promise to be fulfilled, but God wrought in resurrection power, quickening the dead bodies of Isaac’s parents, and the word came true.
Then again, in the case of the children of Isaac and Rebecca, we see the same principle of electing grace illustrated. We are told that:
“(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (vers. 11-13).
What a tremendous amount of needless controversy has raged about these verses! Yet how plain and simple they are, viewed in the light of God’s dispensational dealings. There is no question here of predestination to heaven or reprobation to hell; in fact, eternal issues do not really come in throughout this chapter, although, of course, they naturally follow as the result of the use or abuse of God-given privileges. But we are not told here, nor anywhere else, that before children are born it is God’s purpose to send one to heaven and another to hell; to save one by grace, notwithstanding all his evil works, and to condemn the other to perdition, notwithstanding all his yearnings for something higher and nobler than he has yet found The passage has to do entirely with privilege here on earth. It was the purpose of God that Jacob should be the father of the nation of Israel, and that through him the promised Seed, our Lord Jesus Christ, should come into the world. He had also pre-determined that Esau should be a man of the wilderness— the father of a nation of nomads, as the Edomites have ever been. It is this that is involved in the prenatal decree: “The elder shall serve the younger.” And be it observed that it was not before the children were born, neither had done any good or evil, that God said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” These words are quoted from the very last book of the Old Testament. We find them in Malachi 1:2, 3. Let me read them:
“I have loved you, saith the Lord, yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.”
Observe what is in question:—God is pleading with the sons of Jacob to serve and obey Him, on the ground that He is doubly entitled to their obedience, first, because He is their Creator, second, because of the privileges, the earthly blessings He has given them. Comparatively speaking, He has loved Jacob, and hated Esau. That is, He gave to Jacob a beautiful fatherland, well-watered, productive, delightful for situation; He gave them, too, a holy law, pastors, shepherd-kings to guide them, prophets to instruct them, a ritual system full and expressive to lead their hearts out in worship and praise. All these things were denied to Edom. They were the children of the desert. We do not read that a prophet was ever sent to them, though they were not left without some knowledge of God. Esau received instruction from the lips of his parents, but for a morsel of bread he sold his birthright. And his descendants have ever been characterized by the same independent lawless spirit. Dispensationally, Jacob was loved, Esau hated. There is no reference to the individual as such. “God so loved the world,” and therefore every child of Jacob or of Esau may be saved who will. But no one can dispute the fact that Jacob and his descendants enjoyed earthly privileges, and spiritual, too, that Esau and his children had never known. Is God unrighteous in thus distinguishing between nations? Is He unrighteous, for instance, to-day in giving to the peoples of northern Europe and of America privileges that the inhabitants of central Africa and inland South America have never known? By no means. He is sovereign. He distributes the nations of men upon the earth as seems good to Himself, and though He takes up one nation in special grace and passes by another, that does not in the slightest degree hinder any individual in any nation from turning to God in repentance, and if any men anywhere under the sun, in any circumstances whatever, look up to God, no matter how deep their ignorance, confessing their sin and crying out for mercy, it is written, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Paul quotes the word of God to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
Observe, you do not get the negative. He does not say, “I will condemn whom I will condemn, or I will reprobate to eternal destruction whom I will reprobate.” There is no such thought in the mind of God, who “desireth not the death of the sinner, but that all should turn to Him and live.” When were these words spoken to Moses? Turn back to Exodus 33:19. Read the entire passage, and note the occasion on which God used them. Israel had forfeited all claim to blessing on the ground of law; they had made a calf of gold and bowed down before it, even while Moses was in the mount receiving the tables of the covenant. Thus they had violated the first two commandments before they were brought into the camp, after having declared but a few days before, “All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and be obedient.” Because of this, God was about to blot them out from the face of the earth, but Moses, the mediator, pleaded their cause in His presence. He even offered, as we have seen, to die in their stead, if that might turn aside the fierce anger of the Lord. But now observe the wonders of sovereign grace: God took refuge in His own inherent right to suspend judgment, if it pleased Him. And so He exclaims, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” He spared the people, thus making them a wondrous witness to His grace. Apart from this sovereign grace no one would ever be saved, because all men have forfeited title to life through sin. Israel, nationally, owed all their blessing to God’s mercy and compassion, when in righteousness they would have been cut off from the land of the living. If it pleased God now to take up the Gentiles and show mercy to them, what ground had Israel to complain?
So, then, exclaims the apostle, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” He is not setting aside the will of man; he is not declaring that no responsibility to run in the way of righteousness rests upon man; but he is declaring that, apart from the sovereign mercy of God, no man would ever will to be saved or run in the way of His commandments.
He turns next to speak of Pharaoh, for it is evident that one cannot logically accept the truth already demonstrated without recognizing the fact that God does give some up to destruction and leave them to perish in their sins. Pharaoh was a Gentile, the oppressor of Israel. To him God sent His servants demanding submission. In his pride and haughtiness, in his brazenness and wickedness, he exclaimed, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?” He dares to challenge the Almighty, and God condescends to accept the challenge. He says:
“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.”
He is not speaking here of a helpless babe. The words have no reference to the birth of Pharaoh; they have to do exclusively with the outstanding position that God gave him in order that he might be a lesson to all succeeding generations of the folly of fighting against God. The Greeks used to say, “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” It was a principle that even the heathen could plainly discern. We see the same principle still: an Alexander, a Caesar, a Napoleon, a Kaiser permitted to climb to the very summit, almost, of human ambition, only to be hurled ignominiously into the depths of execration at last.
And so God demonstrates that He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardeneth. He is the moral governor of the universe and He worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will. “None can stay His hand, nor say unto God, What doest Thou?” If men dare to rush ruthlessly upon the thick bosses of the Almighty they must experience His righteous wrath.
Beginning with verse 19, and going on to the end of the chapter, the apostle undertakes to meet the objection of the fatalist, the man who says, “Well, granting all you’ve been saying, then God’s decrees are irresistible and I myself am but an automaton, moved about at His will, absolutely without responsibility. Why does He find fault? What ground can there be for judgment of a creature who can never will nor run but as God Himself directs? To resist His will is impossible. Where, then, does moral responsibility come in?”
Such objections to the doctrine of the Divine Sovereignty have been raised from the earliest days. But, inasmuch as we have already seen that the apostle simply has in view privilege here on earth, those objections fall to the ground. The privileged Jew may fail utterly to appreciate the blessings lavished upon him, and so come under divine condemnation; while the ignorant barbarian, bereft of all the blessings of civilization and enlightenment, may, nevertheless, have an exercised conscience that will lead him into the presence of God. At any rate, it is the height of impiety for puny man to sit in judgment upon God. It is as though the vessel wrought upon the wheel should turn to the potter and ask, indignantly, “Why hast thou made me thus?” Clearly, he who has the intelligence to form vessels out of clay has the right to make them of such shape or size or for such use as he deems best. Of the very same lump of clay he may make one vessel unto honor, to be displayed upon the sideboard to admiring throngs, and another unto dishonor, for use in a scullery, and altogether without beauty or attractiveness. If God, the great Former of all, willing to manifest both His anger and His power, endures, with much long-suffering, vessels that call down His indignation because having a will, which the work of the potter has not, they deliberately fit themselves for destruction, shall anyone find fault if He manifests the riches of His glory in His dealings with other vessels of mercy which He has had in view for the glory of His Son from eternity? And such vessels of mercy are the called of God, whether Jews by birth or Gentiles also. Passage after passage from the Old Testament is called into requisition to show that this is nothing new in God’s ways with men, and that the prophets have foreseen just such a setting aside of Israel and taking up of the Gentiles as has already taken place. Hosea testified that God has said, “I will call them My people which were not My people, and her beloved which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass that in the place where it was said unto them, ‘Ye are not My people’, they shall be called the children of the living God.” Israel forfeited all title to be called His people. During the present dispensation, when grace is going out to the Gentiles, they would be set to one side nationally, as by-and-by the same grace that is now being shown to the nations will be manifested again to them, and they shall once more be called the children of the living God. Isaiah prophesied that although the number of the children of Israel should be as the sands of the sea, yet of this vast throng only a remnant should be saved, and that in the day of the Lord’s indignation, when He would be executing His judgment upon the earth. The same prophet saw the sin of the people as the sin of the cities of the plain, and exclaimed, “Except the Lord of hosts hath left us a seed, we should be as Sodom, and be made like unto Gomorrah.”
What then, is the conclusion? Simply that the unrighteous Gentiles have, through grace, attained to a righteousness which is of faith. They followed not after righteousness, but God in righteousness pursued after them and made known His gospel, that they might believe and be saved. Israel, on the other hand, to whom He had given a law of righteousness, were even more guilty than the Gentiles, for they refused to follow it and therefore they missed that righteousness which the law would have inculcated.
Why did they miss it? Because they failed to realize that is it only to be obtained by faith, and that no man, by his own power, can ever keep that Holy and perfect law. When God sent His Son into the world, who is the embodiment of all perfection, in whom the law was fulfilled perfectly, they knew Him not, but stumbled over the stumbling stone of a lowly Christ when they were expecting a triumphant King. They realized not their need of one who could accomplish righteousness on their behalf, because they lacked faith. And so they fulfilled the Scripture in condemning Him. But, nevertheless, wherever He is individually received by faith, He saves the soul that trusts Him, though the nation has stumbled and fallen. According as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone, and a rock of offence, and whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.” When He came in grace the first time, Israel refused Him. But “the stone that the builders rejected is made the Head of the corner.” When He comes again He will be as the stone, falling in judgment upon the Gentiles, whereas Israel then repentant and regenerated will see in Him the chief corner stone.
God’s Present Dealings with Israel in Governmental Discipline
Having, as we have seen, vindicated in a masterly way the righteousness of God in setting aside Israel nationally because of unbelief, and taking up the Gentiles during the present dispensation of grace, the apostle now goes on to show that this deflection of the nation as such does not in any wise involve the rejection of the individual Israelite. The nation as such is no longer looked upon as in covenant relationship with God, nor will it be until it comes under the new covenant at the beginning of the millennium; when “a nation shall be born in a day;” but the same promises apply to any individual member of the house of Israel as to any individual Gentile.
In the first three verses the apostle expresses his yearning desire and prayer for his kinsmen. He longs and prays that they may be saved, for though Abraham’s seed after the flesh, they are “lost sheep,” and need to be sought and found by the Good Shepherd just as truly as those “other sheep” of the Gentiles. But the pitiable thing is that, although lost, they do not realize their true condition. Filled with a mistaken zeal for God, marked by an outward adherence to Judaism as a divinely-established system, they are earnestly trying to serve the God of their fathers, but not according to knowledge; that is, they have refused the fuller revelation He has given of Himself, His mind, and His will through Christ Jesus. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”
The term “God’s righteousness” is used here somewhat differently to the general expression, the “righteousness of God.” We have seen heretofore that the righteousness of God is used in two ways: It is God’s consistency with Himself, as one has expressed it, and thereby becomes the great sheet-anchor of the soul, because in the gospel God has revealed how He can be just and the Justifier of those who put faith in Christ; the sin question has been settled in a righteous way, as God’s nature demanded that it should be, ere He could deal in grace with guilty men. The second aspect is that of imputation. God imputes righteousness to all who believe. Therefore Christ, and Christ Himself, is the righteousness of the believer. We are thus made, or constituted, the righteousness of God in Him according as it is written in the book of the prophet Jeremiah:
“This is His name whereby He shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness” (Jehovah Tsid-kenu).
But in these three verses where the apostle says, “They being ignorant of God’s righteousness,” it seems plain that he simply means that they are ignorant of how righteous God really is; therefore they go about attempting to establish a righteousness of their own. No man would think of doing this, if he realized for a moment the transcendent character of the divine righteousness. The utter impossibility of producing a righteousness of works suitable for a God of such infinite righteousness would cause the soul to shrink back in acknowledgement of his own helplessness. It is when men reach this place that they are ready to submit themselves unto that righteousness of God which has been revealed in the gospel. When I learn that I am absolutely without righteousness in myself; that is, without such a righteousness as is suited to a righteous God, then I am glad to avail myself of that righteousness which He Himself proclaims in the gospel, and in which He clothes me when I trust in Christ. “For Christ is the end (i.e., the object for the consummation) of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” The law proposed a righteousness which I could not furnish. Christ has met every requirement of that holy law, He has died under its penalty; He has risen from the dead; He is Himself the righteousness which all need.
In the verses that follow, the apostle contrasts legal righteousness or a “by works righteousness” with this “in faith righteousness.” He cites from Moses, who describes legal righteousness in the solemn words, “The man which doeth those things shall live by them” (See Lev. 18:5). This is law in its very essence, “Do and live.” But no man ever yet did that which entitled him to life, for “if a man should keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all”; that is, he is a lawbreaker. He has not necessarily violated every commandment. But a thief is as truly a lawbreaker as a murderer. And the law having been violated, even once, man’s title to life thereunder is forfeited.
Now the righteousness which is of faith depends upon testimony that God has given. Again the apostle quotes from Moses, who, in Deuteronomy 12:13, 14, presses upon the people the fact that God has given testimony which man is responsible to believe. The testimony there, of course, was the revelation from Sinai. But the apostle takes up Moses* words, and in a wonderful way under the guidance of the Spirit, applies them to Christ. “Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)” Christ has already come down. He has died. God has raised Him from the dead. And upon this depends the entire gospel testimony.
Therefore he goes on to say, “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.” The gospel has been proclaimed; they have heard it; they are familiar with its terms. The question is: Do they believe it and confess the Christ it proclaims as their Lord? For in verses 9 and 10 he epitomises the whole matter in words that have been used of God through the centuries to bring assurance to thousands of precious souls, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus” (or literally, Jesus as Lord), “and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” The heart is simply another term for the real man. The apostle is not trying to draw a fine distinction, as some preachers do, between believing with the head and believing with the heart. He does not occupy us with the nature of belief; he does occupy us with the object of faith. We believe the message that God has given concerning Christ. If we believe at all, we believe with the heart. Otherwise we do not really trust. “With the heart” man believeth. The confession here is not, of course, necessarily the same thing as where our Lord says, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven.” This is rather the soul’s confession to God Himself that he takes Jesus as Lord.
He then cites another Old Testament scripture from the book of the prophet Isaiah (ch. 28:16), which declares that “Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.” In this way he proves that the universality of the present gospel faith is in no wise in conflict with the revealed word of God as given to the Jew of old. “Whosoever” includes the whole world. Already he has established the fact in Chapter 3 that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, so far as sin is concerned. Now he gives the other side of the “no difference” doctrine. “The same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him, for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” To call upon the name of the Lord is, of course, to invoke His name in faith. His name speaks of what He is. He who calls upon the name of the Lord puts his trust in Him, as it is written, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, and the righteous runneth into it and is safe.”
The Jew had been accustomed to think of himself as the chosen of the Lord, and as the one to whom was committed the testimony of the one true and living God. Therefore the objector naturally asks, and Paul puts the very words in his mouth, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” And he follows this question with another: “And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?” And this again with a third question: “How shall they hear without a preacher?” Nor are the objections ended with this, for again he says: “And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” The Jew believed in God; he had heard of Him; to him preachers had proclaimed the message, and these preachers had been sent of God. But who authorized anyone to overleap the Jewish bounds and go with the gospel of peace to the Gentiles?
In reply to the objector, Paul reminds him that Israel who had all these privileges had not responded as might have been expected; not all had obeyed the gospel. And this, too, was foreseen by the Old Testament prophets. Isaiah sadly asked, “Lord, who hath believed our report?” indicating that many who heard would refuse to accept this message. But then the objector answers, “You admit, Paul, that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word, or the report of God.” “Yes,” he replies, “but have they not heard? Is there any people so utterly dark and ignorant that the word of God in some form has not come to them, thus putting them into responsibility?” Psalm 19 testifies that the voice of God may be heard in His creation: the sun, the moon, the stars—all the marvels of this wonderful universe—testify to the reality of a personal Creator. And so the Psalmist says, “Their sound went unto all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world.”
It is not a new thing, then, for God to speak to Gentiles. All that is new about it is that He is now speaking more fully, more clearly than He ever spoke before. He is now proclaiming in unmistakable terms an offer of salvation to all who trust His word. And did not Israel know that God was going to take up the peoples of the nations? They should have known, for Moses himself said: “I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.” And Isaiah, with uncompromising boldness, declares: “I was found of them that sought Me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after Me.” Surely words like these could only apply to the heathen of the Gentile world. And as for Israel, with all their privileges, concerning them God had said: “All day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.” The subject is continued in the opening verses of the next chapter, in which, as we shall see, the apostle shows how God is getting His election, even out of Israel, during the present dispensation. But we will consider the entire chapter in one address, and so I forbear further comment now, save to insist that the gist of the present portion is evidently this: during the present dispensation, when grace is going out to the nations, beyond the bounds of the Jewish race, this does not involve the utter rejection of Israelites, but it does imply the end of special privilege. They may be saved if they will, but on exactly the same terms as the despised Gentile. The middle wall of partition is broken down, but grace is offered through Jesus Christ to all who own their guilt and confess His name.
God’s Future Dealings with Israel in Fulfilment of the Prophetic Scriptures
This eleventh chapter is most illuminating in regard to God’s dispensational plan. We have already seen how His past dealings with Israel proved His righteousness in acting toward the Gentiles as He now does, despite the covenant made with the earthly people. Then in chapter 10 we have seen that although the nation as such is set to one side, this does not in any way hinder the individual Israelite from turning to God and finding that same salvation which He, in His sovereignty, is proclaiming through His servants to the Gentiles. In the first part of our present chapter, verses 1 to 6, the subject of chapter 10 is continued and brought to a conclusion. The question is asked: “Hath God cast away His people?” By no means. Paul’s own experiences proved that this was not the case; for he was an Israelite, of the natural seed of Abraham, and of the tribe of Benjamin; yet he had been laid hold of by the Spirit of God and brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. And what was true of him might be true of any other. What had really happened was simply the fulfilment of the words of the prophet Elijah in a wider sense than when he spoke in Ahab’s day. The nation had rejected every testimony sent to it. As a people they had killed the prophets and defiled Jehovah’s altar. But as in Elijah’s day, God had reserved seven thousand to Himself who had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal, so “at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” God rejects the nation, but grace goes out to the individual.
The great thing, however, for Israel to understand is that, if saved at all, they are saved exactly as Gentiles are saved, and that is by grace. Grace, as we have seen, is unmerited favor. Yea, we may put it even stronger: it is favor against merit. This precludes all thought of work. If merit of any sort is taken into consideration, then it is no more grace. On the other hand, if salvation be of works, this leaves no place whatever for grace, because it would take from work its meritorious character. The two principles—salvation by grace and salvation by works—are diametrically opposed, one to the other. There can be no admixture of law and grace; they are mutually destructive principles.
Beginning with verse 7, the apostle now undertakes to show God’s secret purpose in connection with Israel in the coming day. What the nation sought it has failed to obtain; but the election (that is, those who are content to be saved by grace) do obtain it; and as to the rest, they are judicially blinded. Again he quotes from the Old Testament to show that this is in full accord with the prophetic Word. As Isaiah wrote, “God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;” and He shows that this is true unto this day. David, too, had written: “Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompense unto them: let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.” These terrible imprecations were fulfilled when the representatives of the nation deliberately rejected Christ and called down judgment upon the heads of their descendants when they cried in Pilate’s judgment hall, “His blood be upon us, and upon our children.” Rejecting Messiah, God rejected them. And many Christians have taken it for granted that He is through with them as a nation forever. This, the apostle now shows, is far from the truth. He asks, “Have they stumbled that they should fall?”; that is, utterly fall, fall without any hope or possibility of recovering. The answer again is, “By no means.” God has overruled their present defection to make known His riches of grace toward the Gentiles, and this, in turn, will be used eventually to provoke Israel to jealousy and to turn them back to the God of their fathers and to the Christ whom they have rejected. This recovery will be a means of untold blessing to that part of the world which has not yet come to a saving knowledge of the gospel. With holy enthusiasm he exclaims: “Now if the defection of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” It is well to note the use he makes of this word, “fulness,” as we shall come upon it lower down in the chapter. The fulness of Israel will be the conversion of Israel—the fulfilment of God’s purpose regarding them.
Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, and as such, he magnified his office; but he would not have the Gentiles for a moment think that he had lost his interest in Israel: rather he would see them stirred to emulation, that many might be saved from among them as they saw the grace of God going out to the Gentiles; on the other hand, he would not have the Gentile glory over the Jew because the latter was set aside and the former enjoyed the blessings that the Jew would have had, had he been ready to receive them. He continues his argument by introducing a parable, which brings out most vividly the divine plan. He says: “For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” That is, if, as they wander among all the nations, a disappointed and weary people, under the ban of the God of their fathers, the message of grace is going out to the Gentiles, and an election from them are receiving the message, what will it mean to the world as a whole when Israel nationally will turn back to the Lord and become in very truth a holy people, His witnesses to all nations?
“For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” If the regenerated remnant in Israel be indeed a people set apart to God, so eventually will the nation be to which they belong. And if the root of the covenant olive tree be holy (that is, Abraham, who believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness), so are all those who are really linked with him by faith. They were natural branches in the olive tree—Israelites by birth but not by grace, who were broken off. And in order that the promises of God to Abraham should not fail, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” the branches of the wild olive tree—the Gentiles—were grafted in among the remnant of Israel, and thus Jew and Gentile believing together, partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree. But now the grave danger is lest the Gentile should rest on mere outward privileges, and while linked with the children of the promise, should fail to appreciate for themselves the gospel of God, and so prove unreal. In that case, God will have to deal with the Gentiles as He had dealt with the Jews. And so we get the solemn warning: “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” Some might say, “Well, but the natural branches were broken off, that I, a Gentile, might be grafted in.” The answer is clear and distinct: “They were broken off because of unbelief, and thou standest by faith.” Therefore the admonition, “Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee.”
Do we need to pause to ask whether the Gentiles have valued their privileges? Is it not patent to every observing spiritually-minded person that conditions in Christendom are as bad to-day as they ever were in Israel? Do we not see apostasy from the truth everywhere prevalent? Are not the characteristic features of the last days, as depicted in 2nd Timothy 3, everywhere manifest? If so, may we not well be warned that the time is near when the unfruitful branches will be torn out of the olive tree and the natural branches, at last turning back to God, be grafted in again to their own olive tree?
In these dispensational ways we see manifested that goodness and severity of God, which has already been so clearly brought out in the ninth chapter: on those who fell, who refused to believe the testimony, severity; but toward ignorant and unworthy Gentiles, goodness, but this goodness only to be continued toward them if they continue to appreciate it, otherwise they, too, shall be cut off. Who can doubt that the day of the cutting off is near at hand, when the true Church having been caught up to be with the Lord, judgment will be meted out to unfaithful Christendom, and then God will turn back in grace to Israel, if they abide not still in unbelief, and they shall be re-grafted into their own olive tree, according to the power of the God of resurrection?
I recall an article by a well-known “higher critic,” which I read some years ago, in which he was ridiculing the idea of the apostle Paul’s inspiration because of his apparent ignorance of one of the first principles of horticulture: “Paul,” said he, “was actually so ignorant of the art of grafting that he speaks of grafting wild branches into a good tree, evidently not aware of the fact that it is customary to graft good branches into a wild tree.” It is clear that the reverend critic had never carefully read the apostle’s own words, as given in the next verse, or he would not have been caught in such a trap. Paul clearly indicates that his illustration is one which he well knew to be opposed to that which was ordinarily done. He says: “For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?”
No; Paul was not ignorant of horticulture, nor was the Holy Ghost ignorant, who was guiding him and inspiring him as he wrote. That which is not customary to man is often in full accord with the divine plan, as here.
And so, in verses 25-32, we see just what must take place before this re-grafting, and what will follow afterwards. “I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved.”
This, then, is one of the secret things hidden in the mind of God until the due time for its revelation: Israel will be blinded in part, but, thank God, only in part, until the present work of God among the Gentiles be completed. Here we have the second use of this word “fulness.” “The fulness of the Gentiles” is the completion of the work among the nations which has been going on ever since Israel’s rejection. This “fulness,” as we know from other scriptures, will come in when our Lord calls His Church to be with Himself, in accordance with 1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Corinthians 15. It is then that, “all Israel shall be saved.” We are not to understand by the term “all Israel” everyone of Israel’s blood, for we have already learned that “they are not all Israel who are of Israel, but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” So the remnant will be the true Israel in that glorious day when, “There shall come out of the Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob,” for God has said: “This is My covenant unto them when I shall take away their sins.”
So then, the apostle concludes, they are enemies of the gospel for the present time; but through their enmity grace goes out to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, according to the divine plan, they are still beloved for the fathers’ sakes, for God’s gifts and calling He never retracts; the promises made to the patriarchs and to David shall and must be fulfilled. Study carefully psalm 89 in this connection. And just as the Gentiles, who in time past had not believed God but have now obtained mercy through the Jews’ unbelief, so, in like manner, when the Gentiles prove unbelieving and are set to one side, Israel will obtain mercy when they turn back in faith to God.
Whether Jew or Gentile, all alike are saved on the same principle, “For God hath concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.”
The last four verses are in the nature of a Doxology. The apostle’s heart is filled with worship, and praise, and admiration as the full blaze of the divine plan fills the horizon of his soul. He exclaims: “O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!”
Apart from revelation none could have known His mind, just as no created being could ever have been His counsellor. No one ever earned grace by first giving to Him, in order that blessing might be recompensed; but everything is of Him, and through Him, and unto Him, to whom be glory forever. Amen.