On the Epistle to the Romans 9

Romans 9  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The doctrine of the epistle closes with chapter 8. The two principal questions which concern man as a sinner-his guilt and his sinful condition; in other words, what he has done and what he is-have been fully treated. Christ died for our sins, so that we (believers) are justified; and we have died with Christ, so that we are delivered from the power of sin and the flesh. All the deeds of the flesh are forgiven us, and we are no more in the flesh, but in Christ. There is, therefore, no more condemnation for us, and no more separation from God.
But this doctrine, complete in itself, still left a difficult question unanswered; that is, in respect to the condition of the Jews. The apostle has clearly demonstrated that the Jew is guilty because he has transgressed the law, and that consequently there is no difference between the Jews and the heathen; all have sinned, are guilty before God, and subject to His judgment. The Jews could not deny that they had transgressed the law; but they could appeal to the unconditional promises made to them in Abraham and their other forefathers. Now chapters 9-11 meet these difficulties.
There are undoubtedly unconditional promises made to the Jewish nation. But, in the first place, they are not all Israel that are of the stock of Israel; and what is still more important, they have rejected Him in whom these promises were to be fulfilled, and in whom their fulfillment was offered to them, thereby losing all right to such fulfillment " they stumbled at that stumbling-stone." But then, after that all blessing, for them no less than for the heathen, is become a matter of pure mercy, the apostle shows that God, who is unchangeably faithful, will in grace accomplish all that He has promised. We find the proof of these principles in chapters 9-11.
In the first place, the apostle gives expression to his unalterable love for his people. His heart was filled with sorrow at their rejection; yea, so far was he from being indifferent as to this, that he would rather have seen himself accursed, separated from Christ, than the beloved people. As Christ Himself, when from the summit of the Mount of Olives He saw Jerusalem stretched out before His eyes, wept over it on account of the hardness of heart of the people, or as Moses once (Ex. 32:3232Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. (Exodus 32:32)) interceded for the idolatrous people, so here we find the apostle giving expression to the same feelings of love and sorrow. This wish was not the expression of serious and calm deliberation, neither did it belong to the moment then present; but it had arisen from a heart deeply oppressed by the thought of the rejection of the people beloved of God-his kinsmen according to the flesh. It was the exclamation of a heart unable to repress its overwhelming feelings. He enumerates their privileges up to the Messiah descended from them according to the flesh, for his heart was yet full of all that appertained to them in connection with God. Moreover, he does not speak as if the word of God had failed in its object, " For they are not all Israel which are of Israel, neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children." In Isaac only had the seed the children's place before God. The children of the flesh are not on that account children of God, but the children according to the promise are alone counted for the seed. Ishmael did not belong to this seed of God; for the word, " At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son," is a word of promise, and does not refer to Ishmael. If it be objected, " But Hagar was only a bondwoman, a concubine," such, however, was not the case with Rebekah; and to her it was said concerning the children which should be born of her-of her only, and at the same time, and that before they were born, or had done either good or evil (that the purpose of God according to the election of grace might stand)-" The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written: Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." If, then, the Jews would not recognize God's sovereignty, but desired to take their stand upon their descent from Abraham after the flesh, they must also allow the Edomites and Ishmaelites to have part in the promises; this, however, they would not tolerate.
However, important as this may be, it is not all that the apostle has to bring forward as proof of his position. He asks, " Is there unrighteousness with God? Far be the thought." According to His divine title He can without doubt show mercy to whom He will, as He says also to Moses, " I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." " So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." And what was the occasion on which God spoke thus to Moses? When Israel had made the golden calf, at a time when God, if He had not retreated into His own sovereignty in which He was free to show grace, must have destroyed the whole nation except Moses and Joshua; so that then, according to the carnal Jewish principle, the Ishmaelites and Edomites must have become heirs of the promises, while Israel would have been shut out. We find the same principle in Israel's deliverance out of bondage in Egypt. God had not made Pharaoh's heart bad, it was so already; but He hardened it, that He might glorify His name and power in al! the earth. Thus He shows mercy to whom He will, and whom He will He hardens. His ways with Israel were a clear and indisputable proof of it; for otherwise their enemies would have become heirs of the promises, but they themselves would have been excluded, and the glorious beginning of their history would have been falsified.
Further, the apostle proceeds to consider the doctrine which is connected with this exposition, and applies the whole to the ways of God with Israel and with the heathen of that time, anticipating the objections of the flesh. What becomes, then, of man's responsibility? Why does God still impute sin to man? Who hath resisted His will? The apostle answers these questions in a threefold manner. First, as creatures of God we have not the right to judge His actions; that which is formed cannot say to Him who formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? This absolute right of God forms the foundation of the apostle's argument. If the rights of the creature must be maintained, how much more then must the Almighty God have His own? He judges men, but men are not competent to judge Him. The apostle here comes to facts, and shows how God had endured the wicked with much long-suffering, in order to make known His power despised by them, and has revealed His wrath against hardened wickedness in them; how, on the other hand, He makes known the riches of His glory in the vessels of mercy which He had afore prepared unto glory. God is not subject to the opinions of men; but the order of His revealed ways is, that He endures the wicked for whom judgment is meet, and prepares the vessels of mercy for glory, that is to say, Christians from among the Jews and Gentiles. The force and bearing, thus, of the apostle's argument is this: If God is not entirely free to act according to His election and His determinate purpose, and the Jews would rely upon their natural descent (as they actually did), then they must admit the Ishmaelites; but if they refuse their admittance on the pretext that Ishmael was the son of a slave, on no pretext can they reject the Edomites. Not only so, but with the single exception of the family of Moses, and perhaps that of Joshua, the Jews themselves would have had to be excluded, because it was only by the will of God that they were spared at Sinai. Since, however, God does what He wills, He also saves souls from amongst the Gentiles, as it is written in Hosea. The apostle says, in verse 24, " Us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles." Accordingly verse 25 has its application to the people of Israel; verse 26, however, to the Gentiles, who are not called His people, but " sons of the living God." Peter, writing to the Jews, quotes only the first passage. Paul brings forward besides a passage from the prophet Isaiah, in proof of God's having foreseen and predicted the setting aside of Israel. A remnant only should be spared; had this not been the case they would have " been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrha."
The Gentiles, who followed not after righteousness, had then attained to righteousness, but the righteousness which is of faith; whilst Israel, following after the law of righteousness, missed the mark. And why? Because they sought righteousness by means of the law, and not by faith. " For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone and rock of offense: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed."