Romans 11Our apostle having shown, in the end of the foregoing chapter, that the Jews would be rejected, and the Gentiles called, begins this chapter by answering a great and popular objection. Some hereupon might be ready to say, "If this be so, then God has cast away his covenant people, violated his covenant promise, forgot the seed of Abraham his friend." He answers by his accustomed form of denial, God forbid: and then proceeds to show, that the rejection of the Jews was not total: God did not reject them all, but the unbelieving part of them only. And this he proves by producing himself as an instance in the case; I myself, says he, am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
As if he had said, "I am myself a Jew by nature and nation; not a proselyte converted to the Jewish faith, but a Jew by lineal descent, of the seed of Abraham, according to the flesh; yet am not I cast off by God; therefore God has not cast away all his people."
Learn hence, How many unbelievers soever God rejects, he will not cast away one soul that sincerely believes in his Son. and gives up himself to the obedience of the gospel. Believers are God's jewels; he will not cast them away. They are his children, his portion, his inheritance; he will never cast them off. They are united to him by the bond of the Holy Spirit, and he has engaged himself to them by the bond of an everlasting covenant. Believers love God and his truth for ever, and the God of truth will love them for ever. God has not cast away his people.
Here we have a second argument to prove that God would not wholly cast off the Jewish church and people; namely, because he had foreknown them; that is, had chosen the body of them to be a special and peculiar people to himself, above and before all the people of the earth; and had also foreknown, that is, foreseen, that many of them would, through the assistance of his Holy Spirt, savingly believe on the promised Messias. God never did, never will cast away such, either among Jews or Gentiles.
Another instance is here produced, to prove that God had not suffered all the Jews to apostatize and fall away through unbelief; and that is, the instance of Elias, in whose days there was such a general revolt among the Jews from the worship of the true God to Jeroboam's idolatry, that he thought himself alone. But God assures him, there was not such a dearth of saints as he feared, he having reserved to himself seven thousand true and faithful worshippers of himself, who had never bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
Learn hence, That even in times of universal apostacy and epidemical degeneracy, God has a number to stand up for, and witness to, his name and truth, and that the number of them is more than we either imagine or believe. God has ever had, and always will have, a seed to serve him, which shall be accounted to him for a generation; and although the number of revolters be great, yet the number of the righteous is not small.
Here we have St. Paul making application of the foregoing example to the present case. As Elias was not alone in the corrupt state of Israel then, so neither was the apostle alone now, in this time of general rejection of the Jewish church and nation. God had a number then, he has a remnant now, which, according to his free and gracious purpose, are brought to believe in his Son. Although the Jews who believed were few in comparison of them that were rejected, called therefore a remnant, which is but small and little in respect of the whole piece; yet there were many thousands of them that did believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and obtained, no doubt, salvation by him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousand Jews there are which believe. Acts 21:20.
Observe farther, The conclusion which the apostle doth infer and draw from the fore-mentioned assertion "If a remnant be saved, according to the free purpose and gracious election of God, then 'tis not upon the consideration of the merit of their own works; they are not justified and accepted for the works of the law, otherwise grace is no more grace: for what need is there of grace, where men have continued in all things written in the law to do them? for the man that doeth those things shall live in them. But, on the other hand, if it be of works that we are justified and accepted, then it is no more of grace, otherwise work is no more work."
Learn hence, 1. That such as are chosen in Christ to be a people near unto God, are put into this state by mere grace, and unmerited favour.
Learn, 2. That grace comes in to supply the defect of our works, and to procure pardon for the non-performance of them, according to the tenor of the law. God was good to man before his fall, in making him his creature; he is gracious to man since his fall, in recovering him to the divine favour, by restoring him to the divine likeness.
The fabric of grace in the hearts of his people goes up, as did the building of the second temple, with shouts and acclamations, Grace! grace! and every stone in the building of our salvation, from the foundation to the superstructure, is all free-stone; Otherwise grace is no more grace.
Observe here, 1. What the apostle affirms concerning the main body of the Jewish nation, they obtained not what they sought after; that is, deliverance by the Messiah, justification and righteousness by the works of the law. This they sought, but found not; yet the election hath obtained it; that is, the chosen generation of believers, seeking righteousness and life in a gospel way, namely, by faith in Christ the Mediator, have obtained it. And the rest were blinded; by what, and by whom?
Answer 1. By their own sin and prejudice; and then,
2. By the just judgment of God, leaving them to their own ignorance and obstinacy, for shutting their eyes against the clear light of the gospel; and by giving them over to Satan, the god of this world, who blindeth the eyes of them that believe not, 2Cor 4:4.
Observe, 2. The direful judgment which followed upon this dreadful sin; they shut their eyes, and said, they will not see; God closed their eyes, and said, they shall not see. Because they would not obey the Spirit of God, which would have awakened and enlightened them, God gave them up to a spirit of slumber, stupidity, and blindness; that is, he permitted them to continue and lie under those prejudices against the true Messiah, which they had taken up and entertained in their minds.
Learn hence, That no greater judgment can befall a people, than a sottish stupidity of mind and insensibility of spirit; whereby they are drowsily careless of their salvation, and know not the things belonging to their peace, although they be before their eyes. This was the case with the chief body of the Jewish nation, and continues to be still their case: they have eyes, and see not; ears, but hear not, unto this day.
The apostle proceeds here to declare unto us, that the general unbelief and hardness of heart which was found amongst the rejected Jews, was not to be wondered at, because it was prophetically foretold by holy David, in the person of the Messiah, of whom he was a type, that his own people the Jews should extremely injure and wrong him, oppress and vex him: for which wickedness he foretells what dreadful and tremendous judgments should come upon the Jews; namely,
That their table should be made to them a snare, a trap, and a stumbling-block; that is, that all their pleasant and delightful things should become the instruments of their destruction.
That their eyes be darkened, that they may not see. The darkening of their eyes signifies the taking away of the judgment and understanding from a people.
And the bowing down of the back always, intimates and implies their grovelling upon this earth; their relishing and savouring nothing but earthly things, never lifting up either head or heart to God.
Now all this which David spake of the wicked Jews in his time, the apostle applies and adapts to the incredulous and unbelieving Jews in his days, to whom the very preaching of the gospel was an occasion of obduration and hardness of heart.
Learn here, 1. That to the obstinate and obdurate enemies of God, the best things become baneful, and through their own corruption become the instruments and means of their own destruction. Let their table be made a snare, a trap, and a stumbling-block.
Learn, 2. That to be deprived of the use of our judgment and understanding, especially in things pertaining unto God, is a very dreadful judgment. Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see.
3. That imprecations are to be used very warily, and only in weighty matters. These and other expressions of David, which look like imprecations, may as well be accounted prophetical predictions, foretelling what will come upon obstinate sinners, rather than praying that evil may come.
Great is the sin and danger of using imprecations lightly, either upon ourselves or others. Some persons use them to gain credit to what they say; but this will not do with wise men, who frequently observe, that persons most guilty are most apt to call for vengeance upon themselves, that they may be thought guiltless.
Lord! how do some sinners wish and call for that at which the devils tremble!--I mean damnation.
Alas! it slumbereth not; within a moment or two thou shalt feel what thou wilt not fear.
Our apostle had in the preceding verses proved the rejection of the Jews not to have been total; here he proves, that it shall not be final, but that they shall be generally called before the end of the world.
Here they stumbled, says he, that they should fall? that is, "Have they so stumbled and fallen as never to rise more?" Are they utterly forsaken and cast off?" No such thing; but God in his just and righteous judgment hath permitted them to fall, that they having obstinately refused the gospel, it might be preached to the Gentiles; and their receiving of the gospel, God will in his infinite wisdom make use of, to provoke the Jews to jealousy and emulation, seeing themselves so far outstript by those whom they contemned and despised, and in the close make this jealousy and emulation a mean and occasion of the Jews conversion.
Learn hence, That emulation and jealousy doth heat and heighten the mind of man to an eager pursuit fo the best things.
Observe it in the instance before us: the salvation of the Gentiles bred emulation in the Jews. "What! say the Jews, shall the Gentiles go away with heaven alone, when we thought the vilest people upon earth?
Come, let us put in for a part and share in gospel mercies and privileges with them." Thus they were provoked to emulation, and this emulation occasioned their conversion.
As if the apostle had said, "If the casting off the Jews was so profitable to the Gentile world; if the Gentiles have been such great gainers by occasion of the sin and fall of the Jews; how much more, when they shall become Christians, will they add to the fulness, the glory, and greatness of the Christian church?"
Observe here, The wonderful wisdom, the astonishing goodness, the overruling providence and power of God, in causing the fall of the Jews to be the occasion of God's manifesting his abundant grace in the conversion of the Gentiles, and spreading the plentiful knowledge of Christ over all the world; and also in causing the general conversion of the Jews, towards the end of the world, to confirm the faith of the believing Gentiles.
Observe here, 1. The honourable office which St. Paul was called to; namely, to be an apostle, and the apostle of the Gentiles.
2. The honour which God put upon him in the faithful execution of that office: (1.) In making him instrumental for calling many of the blind and ignorant Gentiles to the obedience of the faith:
(2.) In provoking the Jews (whom he called his own flesh, because of his own nation) not to suffer the Gentiles alone to go away with the privileges of the gospel, but to put in for a share with them: If by any means I may provoke to emulation.
As if the apostle had said, "O that I could once see an holy emulation take hold of my countrymen; that rather than not believe at all, and be saved, I might see them at last believe for anger, or for very shame, and go to heaven in a holy chafe."
Observe, 3. What an argument the apostle makes use of, why all persons should greatly desire the general conversion both of Jews and Gentiles to the faith of Christ.
As the casting away of the Jews at present, will be the reconciling of the world; that is, by an occasion of sending the gospel to the Gentiles all the world over, whereby they become reconciled unto God; what will the receiving of the Jews again into the grace and favour of God, and the communion of the visible church, be to you Gentiles are brought into it, that it will be looked upon as a new life, or resurrection from the dead.
Here the apostle produced another argument to prove the universal restoration of the Jews unto the grace and favour of God before the end of the world; and it is drawn from the covenant of God made with Abraham, (as the root of the Jewish nation,) which said, I will be thy God, and the God of thy seed.
Now the argument runs thus: "As the branches follow the nature of the root, so do the Jews follow the condition of Abraham, and the holy patriarchs, with respect to the outward privileges of the covenant. Was the root holy? so are the branches holy; not inherently, but federally holy, being called, consecrated, and separated from the world unto the service of God. If then Almighty God, by entering into covenant with Abraham, hallowed to himself all his posterity, even as the first-fruits hallowed the whole lump; in like manner will God, in his own good time be so mindful of the Jews, the posterity of Aabraham, as to bring them again nigh unto himself in remembrance of his holy covenant; so that they shall be his people, and he will be their God."
Learn hence, That the Jews, though at present cast off by God, are still an holy people, they are under an hereditary dedication to God, they have a federal holiness, as descending from holy progenitors, with respect to whom the love and compassion of God are towards them, and they shall in his own time be called and converted by him. And therefore, in the mean time, the Jews are not to look upon themselves with desperation, nor should the Gentiles look upon them with disdain. The first -fruits being holy, the lump is also holy: the root being holy, so are the branches also.
The design and scope of our apostle in these words, is to exhort the believing Gentiles not to despise and reproach the rejected and unbelieving Jews; and he draws an argument from the condition of the Gentiles, both past and present: in their past condition they were like a wild olive-tree we understand to visible church of God; by the root he means Abraham, he was the root of the olive-tree, the Jewish church.
But how so? Answer Not the root by way of cmmunication, but in a way of adminstration; not by way of communication, as if either Jew or Gentile did receive any sap of spiritual life from him, as branches receive a natural life from the root; for thus Christ alone is the root of the church. But Abraham alone was the root of the church. But Abraham was the root of the olive-tree in a way of administration, the Lord calling him forth as the first man with whom he was pleased to treat, and enter into covenant with.
Again, by the fatness of the olive-tree, we are to understand all outward privileges and ordinances, all spiritual benefits and blessings, which belong to the Jewish church.
By the branches of the olive-tree, we are to understand the members of the Jewish church; and by the wild olive, the Gentile world.
Now though the Gentiles, through rich grace, were instated in the privileges of the Jews, yet the apostle foresaw, that instead of thankfulness to God for the favours received from him, they would be puffed up with pride, and accordingly he advises them not to be high-minded, but fear; as if he had said, "O ye Gentiles, your state is nigh, let your hearts be humble. The Jews are fallen; and unless you walk in holy fear, you cannot stand: unbelief ruined them, take heed that pride doth not ruin you; for the just and holy God is no respector of persons. He that spared not the natural branches, will no more spare thee."
From the whole learn, 1. That man is naturally a very proud creature; and although he has nothing but what he has freely received, yet is prone to boast.
2. That man is especially apt to magnify himself, and to glory over those who are fallen before him, either into sin, or under affliction.
3. That the best preservative from falling, is humility and holy fear. If ever we stand in the day of trial, it is the fear of falling must enable us to stand. Take heed you do not fall, by thinking it is impossible to fall.
Be not high-minded, but fear. Timor tuus, securitas tua; Thy holy fear will keep thee from falling, when others' security and presumption will lay them on the ground. Let not a man that stands on the top of a tree boast of his height, but look to his hold.
Our apostle, in these and the following verses, proceeds in his exhortation to the Gentiles, not to insult over the rejected Jews, but to carry it towards them with great modesty and Christian humility; and he useth several arguments by way of motive to excite and quicken them thereunto.
The two first are drawn from the severity of God in cutting off the Jews, and the goodness and bounty of God in calling of the Gentiles; Behold the goodness and severity of God, &c. Justice and mercy, goodness and severity, are attributes or qualities eminently found in God; and contrary only in their effects upon men. The same God is merciful and severe, with respect to different persons and different qualifications. All mercy is not a virtue, but that which is consistent with other perfections of wisdom and righteousness.
The next argument is taken from the condition upon which the Gentiles hold their present standing in the favour and grace of God; namely, If they continue in his goodness; that is, if they walk worthy of this favour from God, and suitably to such a kind and gracious dispensation; otherwise they, the Gentiles, shall be cut off and cast away, as well as the stubborn and unbelieving Jews. The Lord is with a people only whilst they are with him; if they serve and seek him, he will be found of them; but if they forsake him, he will cast them off for ever.
The next argument to suppress arrogancy and pride in the Gentiles, and to prevent their insulting over the fallen Jews, is taken from the hopes of the Jews' restoration; which the apostle proves to be both possible and probable.
They shall be graffed in, if they abide not in unbelief; for God is able to graff them in again. As if the apostle had said, "The same God that rejected them, is able to restore them, and re-ingraff them; the only obstacle is their unbelief, and this God is also able to remove."
Lastly, He shows the probability as well as the possibility of the Jews' conversion; namely, because God had done that which was more unlikely already, to wit, in graffing the Gentiles, who were wild olives, into the true olive, which was more difficult and unlikely than to graff in the Jews again, which were natural branches.
The argument runs thus: "If the Gentiles, which were a kind of wild scion into a good stock; how much more shall the Jews, which are the natural branches of the good olive, be graffed again into their own olive-tree, to which they formerly did belong! The one is according to the order of nature, but the other is against and contrary to nature."
Learn hence, How improbable and unlikely, how difficult and impossible soever, the conversion and calling of the Jews to the Christian religion may seem to us, it is neither contrary to right reason nor true faith.
The greatest obstacle in the way of the Jews' conversion to Christianity, it is to be feared, lies in the wicked and scandalous lives of those that call themselves Christians.
Here the apostle fully proves, that the rejection of the Jews was neither total nor final; not total, because blindness in part only, happened unto Israel; that is, part of the Jews only are left in unbelief, and under the power of spiritual blindness. Nor is their rejection final, but for a time only; namely, till the fulness of the Gentiles be come in: that is, till the Gentile churches be advanced to an honourable state and fulness. And then all the Israel of God, the faithful seed of Abraham, and the main body of the Jews, shall make up the catholic church, and be saved from their unbelief; according to that gracious promise, The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob: and this is my covenant with them, My Spirit shall not depart from thy seed, nor thy seed's seed, from henceforth and forever. Isa 59:20,21.
Learn hence, That there shall be a general calling of the Jews to the faith of the gospel before Christ's second coming, is not only possible and probable, but infallible, sure, and certain, and that from the prophecies and predictions of the prophets of God; let us therefore believe it firmly, pray for it fervently, and live in the expectation of it continually.
Here we have two farther arguments to prove the general conversion of the Jews: the first is taken from the dignity of the Jews, they being the ancient people of God, whose father Abraham he chose, and made his first covenant with him and his seed; and therefore as to making the election of that nation to be an holy people to himself, they are beloved by God for their father's sake; that is, for the sake of Abraham their holy progenitor, who had the honour to be called the friend of God.
Though grace descends not from parent to child, yet many times the children of godly parents are very large sharers in outward privileges and blessings for their gracious parents' sake. The Jews here are said to be beloved of God for their father Abraham's sake, whilst for their unbelief and contempt of the gospel, they had rendered themselves the deserved object of God's hatred.
The second argument is drawn from the immutability and unchangeable nature of God; His gifts and callings are without repentance; that is, although the Jews have rendered themselves unworthy of the favour of God, yet the covenant having been once made with the fathers, and they having had the honour to be his special and peculiar people, God will never repent of his kindness to them, nor of his covenant made with them; but will certainly restore them to their former privileges and happy state; for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
Take the words relatively, and the note is this, "That the gifts and calling of God, whereby he was pleased to adopt the posterity of Abraham, and to engage himself by covenant to them, are inviolable, and such as shall never be reversed or repented of."
Observe lastly, the sad and deplorable condition which the Jews are at present in and under; they are enemies to the gospel. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sake; that is, because you Gentiles receive the gospel, therefore the Jews reject it, and for that reason are rejected by God. But this happened well to the poor Gentiles; for upon the Jews' refusal, the gospel was brought the sooner to the Gentiles, and they were converted by it.
Here we have the conclusion of the apostle's argument to prove the conversion and calling of the Jews towards the end of the world. The argument is drawn from a comparison of equals: "If God, after a long time of disobedience, receive the Gentiles to mercy, he will also, after a long time of infidelity, receive the Jews to mercy. If God hath called the Gentles to his grace after long idolatry, though God never promised to be their God, how much more will he recall his covenant-people from their infidelity in his own appointed time?"
So that the argument is from the less to the greater: If the infidelity of the Jews was an occasion of mercy to the Gentiles, much more shall the mercy showed to the Gentiles be an occasion of mercy to the Jews; and consequently their present infidelity shall be no obstacle to their conversion afterward.
That is, "Almighty God hath in wisdom and righteousness suffered both Jews and Gentiles successively, for some time, to remain under the power of unbelief and disobedience, that so he might in his own time fulfil the great counsel of his goodness, in showing undeserved mercy unto all, both Jew and Gentile."
Now from all the foregoing arguments, for the calling of the Jews, summed up together in this chapter, we may collect and gather, that the conversion of the Jewish nation to the Christian faith, has good foundation in the holy scriptures, and has been the received doctrine of the church of Christ in all ages of the church.
Here the apostle concludes the chapter with an awful admiration at the depth of the abundant grace and goodness of God in bearing with the infidelity of the Jews, and the obstinacy of the Gentiles; as also of his unsearchable wisdom in making first the rejection of the Jews a mean of calling the Gentiles, and then working upon the obstinate Jews by his mercy unto the Gentiles.
By judgments here, some understand the degrees and determinations of God's will; by ways, the administration of his providence, in order to the execution of those decrees: both which are secret, unsearchable, and unfathomable. There are mysteries of providence, as well as mysteries of faith, and both of them transcend our human understanding.
As if the apostle had said, "No creature ever did, or ever can, pierce into the mind of God, nor ever was called to be of his council. No creature ever did or can advise him, nor can any creature challenge God, as if he were indebted to him.
Who ever gave any thing to God that he did not first receive from him? Or who can merit any thing at his hands, seeing he owes us nothing? And if so, who hath reason to complain that God deals hardly with the Jews, in rejecting them, and preferring the Gentiles before them? Surely Almighty God may dispense a favour to some, which he owes to none."
Learn hence, That in those discriminating favours which God dispenses towards some of the children of men, no other reason can be assigned but his own good will and pleasure. This particularly appears in his ordering matters relating to the Jews and Gentiles, recorded in the foregoing chapter.
That is, all things are of God, as the author and efficient cause; all things are through him as the providential director, and preserving cause; and all things tend to him, as the ultimate end and final cause: therefore to him all praise, honour, and glory, ought for ever to be ascribed."
Learn hence, That God is the first cause, and last end.
He is the first cause; that is, he is the cause of all things besides himself, the fountain and original of all created beings; nothing was before him, but all things were created by him, and dependent upon him.
And as he is the first cause, so he is the last end, that is, all things tend to him as their ultimate end; their design and aim was the illustration of God's glory, and the manifestation of his divine perfections.
And if God be the first cause, let us with humility and thankfulness acknowledge him, admire and adore him, love and serve him, who is the author of our being, and the cause of all other beings.
And if he be the last end, let us refer all our actions to his glory; in all our natural actions, our civil actions, let the glory of God be our supreme aim, and ultimate end.
For if we do not now live unto him, we can never expect hereafter to live with him.
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