Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
ROMANS, ix, 4 - l0,12.

"Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger."

Verse. 4.
"Who are Israelites, to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises."
After the utterance of his affection for the Jews, he enters upon the record of their distinctions; and to no nation under the sun does there belong so proud, so magnificent a heraldry. No minstrel of a country’s fame was ever furnished so richly with topics; and the heart and fancy of our apostie seem to kindle at the enumeration of them. They were first Israelites, or descendants of a venerable patriarch - then, selected from among all the families of the earth, they were the adopted children of God, and to them belonged the glory of this high and heavenly relationship; and with their ancestors were those covenants made which enveloped the great spiritual destinies of the human race; and the dispensation of the Law from that mountain which smoked at the touch of the Divinity was theirs ; and that solemn temple service where alone the true worship of the Eternal was kept up for ages was theirs ; and as their history was noble from its commencement by the fathers from whom they sprung, so at its close did it gather upon it a nobility more wondrous still by the mighty and mysterious descendant in whom it may be said to have terminated - even Him who at once is the root and the offspring of David, and with the mention of whose name our apostle finishes this stately climax of their honours - 'of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all God blessed for ever. Amen.’ They are far the most illustrious people on the face of the world. There shines upon them a transcendental glory from on high ; and all that the history whether of classical or heroic ages hath enrolled of other nations are but as the lesser lights of the firmament before it.

Ver. 5
. ‘Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all God blessed for ever. Amen.’
We do not insist upnn this very unequivocal expression of our Saviour’s divinity, in proof of the doctrine. This is not necessary, for in every simple and unsophisticated mind an intstantaneous belief must be lighted up - provided only that the Bible is held to be true. There is a delusion to which the controversial style of almost all our theology has given rise - that our chief business with every doctrine of Christianity is to prove it. Now this is not true. Our chief business with every doctrine is to proceed upon it. To bring it home to our conviction, there may be often, as in the present instance, no need of argument - for it may effectually be brought homne, and that immediately, by a simple and authoritative statement. And it is a deep practical delusion, that after you have lodged a truth in the understanding where it lies stored among the other articles of your orthodoxy, your concern with it is all over; and you may now regard it as a matter settled and set by. Now, instead of this, your concern with it is only yet beginning; and, so far from being done with it because you now have reached a faith in its reality, that faith is but the commencement of those various influences which it is fitted to have upon the heart and history of a believer. The effect of our controversial theology is to make us regard the doctrine itself as the ultimate landing place, at which when we arrive we may go to rest.

But in Scripture, instead of the place at which we land, it is in fact regarded as the place from which we start. A doctrine is never revealed to us merely for its own sake. It is for the sake of something produced by itself, and therefore ulterior to itself. In the contests of human authorship, the terminating object is to gain the intellect of man to some doctrinal position. In this book of divine authorship, the intellect is but the avenue through which a new impulse may be given to his affections, or a new direction may be impressed upon his conduct And thus the divinity of our Saviour so far from being but one of the articles or abstractions of a metaphysical creed, is proposed to us in the Bible chiefly for the moral and spiritual account to which it is capable of being turned; and, agreeably to this, let us very briefly advert to two of those lessons which may be urged upon you from the consideration that Christ is God.

The first lesson is that of condescension to those of lower estate than ourselves. This is the very lesson which the apostle urges upon the Philippians; and it is just for giving enforcement and a motive to this plain and practical and every-day morality of the Christian life, that he announces to us the divinity of the Saviour. He brings down this mystery from heaven, for the purpose of lighting up by it a mutual kindness between man and man upon earth - So that in his hand, instead of being as iti the hand of Athanasius a firebrand to burn up and to destroy, it is that mild and peaceful luminary, which sheds over the face of human society the radiance of a virtue the most beautiful and the most gracious. "In lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves;" and "look not every man on his own things but every man also on the things of others;" and "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

It is for the enhancement then of this moral lesson, that we are told of the dignity of that Personage who lighted upon our world, and that on an errand of beneficence and mercy to is sinful generations - that it was not the visit of some fellow subject from some distant place of the creation, but a visit from the Sovereign Himself, who owned all creation as His monarchy, and upholdeth all the things that are therein by the word of His power - that the earth which we tread upon was on that occasion honoured by the footsteps, not of angel or of archangel, but by the footsteps of God manifest in the flesh - and that He, in bowing Himself down to the lowliest offices of humanity for our sakes, did so for the purpose of an example as well as for the purpose of an expiation, even that we might look on no living and created thing as beneath the notice or the condescension of our services. The distance upward between us and that mighty mysterious Being who let Himself down from heaven’s high concave upon our lowly, platform, surpasses by infinity the distance downward between us and any thing that breathes. Under the impulse of such a contemplation, not only might the lordliest of us all condescend to the wretched and worthless of our own species, whom either misfortune or crime has made the veriest outcasts of humanity; but we feel ourselves carried by it beyond and beneath the limits of our species, and that it should extend the compassionate regards of every Christian over the whole of sentient and suffering nature. The high court of parliament is not degraded by its attentions and its cares in behalf of inferior creatures - else the sanctuary of heaven has been degraded by its counsels in behalf of the world we occupy; and in execution of which the Lord of heaven Himself relinquished the highest seat of glory in the universe, and sojourned amidst contempt and cruelty and contradiction of sinners in this its humble and accursed territory.

By our benevolence to all that is beneath us, we only imitate the glorious munificence that is above us; and though we have now lingered for such a time upon these few verses, that even the beauties of a lesson so delightful must not tempt us to expatiate any further - yet we cannot refrain from one observation on the contrast which is suggested by it between the theology of the Bible, and the theology although made up of the very same doctrinal positions but urged by human expounders in the spirit of a fierce and intolerant dogmatism. That article of faith which in the one theology is a moral principle, and carries us forward at once to its moral application, so that we instantly find ourselves in the midst either of the most easy and familiar graces, or of the most noble virtues by which our nature can be adorned - undergoes in the other theology a transmutation into a thing of another air and aspect altogether, a dry hard ferocious metaphysical dogma, glaring frightfully upon us with an eye of menace, and set round in characters of dread and denunciation against all who shall refuse to fall down and worship it. This is not the way in which the triumphs of genuine orthodoxy are won; and the man, who exemplifies the godlike virtues of Him who is at once our God and Saviour, will do more to recommend the truth as it is in Jesus, than the stoutest and sturdiest polemic who has nought but the armour of controversy to brandish in its cause. The benign condescensions of a Howard who went about continually doing good, will do more to accredit that evangelical system which he embraced so cordially, than the boisterous invectives of a Horsley - even with all the might and momentum of that polemic arm which he lifted in defence of it. It is not that his victory was doubtful, or that on the field of conflict with his adversary he did not achieve a. most signal and conclusive triumph. But it was a triumph on the arena of intellect alone; and there is not a truth in Christianity, which is not divested of more than half its power to convince and conciliate, if, propped up only by argument, there is no exhibition given of its mastery over the affections and the principles of our moral nature. It is not by the warfare of argument, but by the meekness of wisdom, that we obtain the conquests of the faith. It is when urged in the gentle and peaceable spirit which is from above that truth is omnipotent, instead of being urged in that wrath of man which worketh not the righteousness of God.

The second lesson is founded on the subservience of this doctrine to the peace of the believer, even as the first is founded on its subservience to his charity. We have already said that the divinity of Christ enhanced the worth of His example, in those condescending services which He rendered to the world. We now say that His divinity enhanced the worth of that expiation, which to us is the most precious of His services. - However unfathomable in all its depth, that mystery might be which angels desired to look into, certain it is, that the most unlettered Christian can apprehend a sufficiency, and can draw a comfort from the reflection that the Saviour who died for him was God. There is none, we deem, who has ever trembled at the thought of that offended sacredness against which he has sinned, who has not felt a most significant and a most substantial consolation from the thought that there is an equal sacredness in the atonement which has been made for sin. There is none who has been duly arrested by a sense of that guilt, against which the truth and the justice and the holiness of the divinity are all leagued together for its everlasting condemnation; who, if a solid and satisfying hope have arisen from the midst and the profoundness of this despair, does not feel that it is intimately linked with the divinity of Him, who poured out His soul unto the death - even that the world’s guilt might be washed away. That the dignity of the sacrifice which has been made is commensurate to the dignity of the law which has been violated - that the force of the divine wrath against moral evil has had the force of a divine propitiation to neutralise it - that if the sin of the transgressor brought forth an arm of infinite strength to destroy, the sacrifice for sin is one of such prevailing force and efficacy as to have brought forth an arm of infinite strength to save him - In all this, my brethren, there is something more than the unmeaning jingle of a mere sonorous or scholastic antithesis. There is many a disciple who feels it to be the very ahiment of his confidence and peace, that Christ is God over all blessed for ever, Amen.

Ver. 6.
‘Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel which are of Israel.’
He had just said of his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh, that they were Israelites; and that to them belonged the promises. And yet it might appear that these promises had not been verified upon them - seeing that they were on the eve of being rejected by God, for that by this time they had rejected His Son. This calls out the apostle to a vindication of God’s truth in the promises which He had made of old respecting this people. His word in these promises had not failed in its effect, although the whole of nominal Israel should not be saved. All the descendants of Israel were named after his name, but that did not constitute them to be of the true Israel - in like manner as he had said before that he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God.

Ver. 7.
‘ Neither because they are the seed of Abraham are they all children, but in Isaac shall thy seed be called.’
The promise was given to Israel - yet it no more followed from this that all the descendants of Israel should have an interest therein, than that all the seed of Abraham should be included in the fulfilment of the promised blessing - because, when announced to him at the first, it was nakedly and generally expressed, without any restriction of it to one part of his seed more than to another. In the twelfth chapter of Genesis, it is stated that the Lord appeared unto Abraham and said, that "unto thy seed will I give this land." Yet we afterwards read in the twenty-first chapter of a very numerous division of his posterity, who were to have no part in this inheritance, even the descendants of Ishmael- " for in Isaac shall thy seed be called," and the bondwoman and her son were cast out accordingly. This part of the Old Testament history is adverted to in another of Paul’s epistles; and for the very purpose of illustrating the distinction between the nominal and the true Israel, between the children of the flesh and the children of the promise, between the earthly Jerusalem which then subsisted in the bondage of her yet unextinguished ritual and the Jerusalem which is above and is free - and so of vindicating that great step of the divine administration, by which so many even of Israel’s natural descendants were put forth of God’s spiritual kingdom, and admittance was given to the men of other tribes and other families.

Ver. 8.
‘That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.’
The object of the apostle is to break down that confidence in the flesh (as he terms it in his epistle to the Phillippians) by which his countrymen were so generally blinded; and in virtue of which they arrogated so much of what might be termed a religious nobility to themselves, just because of their literal descent from the patriarch Abraham. To meet and rectify this imagination, he goes back with them to their own primeval history. He first shows how Isaac superseded Ishmael - how the child of faith, born out of due time and in opposition to all the likelihoods of nature, superseded the child of ordinary descent and in whose birth there was nothing of the miraculous - thereby giving one instance of a disinheritance that God had passed even on the posterity of the patriarch in whom they gloried; and of another posterity being formed for him in virtue of a gracious promise on the part of God, and of a faith in that promise on the part of man. It is thus that he laboured, by such types and symbols as their own history furnished, to bring down the arrogance of those who vaunted in Abraham as their father, and said "we be his seed and were never in bondage to any man." It is thus that he prepared the understandings of those whom he addressed for another disinheritance - even of those who grounded all their imagined privileges on a carnal obedience, and sought not to be justified by faith. And it is thus also that he typified by Isaac, the child of promise and givç’n out of the course of nature and experience to that patriarch who against hope believed in hope, all those who shall afterwards walk in the steps of faithful Abraham, and become the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus - who are born again, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Ver. 9.
‘ For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come and Sarah shall have a son.'
In this verse he specifies the limitation that was actually made on the general promise unto Abraham’s seed, - whereby the descendants of Ishmael, although they could plead the same natural relationship to the patriarch, were nevertheless exeluded from that more close and peculiar relationship to God, into which he was pleased to admit. the descendants of Isaac.

Ver. 10, 12.
‘And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac.. . it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.’
He here states a further limitation, and shows still more strikingly of how little avail the genera1 promise given at the first was, for all and every of the descendants of Abraham. There might appear a good natural reason why Isaac should be preferred before lshmael - the son of the wife before the son of the bondmaid; and besides, as this preference took place after their births and after the insolent behaviour of the one in mocking the other, it might warrant the idea that his rejection was a thing of desert and of moral government, and not a thing of absolute and antecedent sovereignty on the part of God, it therefore brings this out more unequivocally, when the election is made between two children of the same mother; and, moreover, when, in opposition to the natural claims of seniority, the elder is rejected and the younger is chosen. There is even something in this latter peculiarity, that might be made to bear on the fulfilment which took place in the days of the apostle, when the first were made last and the last first; or, in other words, when the Jews that ancient people were rejected, and God, in the course of His now more advanced administration, chose the Gentiles in their place. This was matter of prophecy and preordination anterior to the birth of the children, as is evident from the intimation of God himself to Rebecca, of which we read in the book of Genesis. And as by the former instance of a limitation on the general promise, the apostle teaches that the children by faith and by miraculous regeneration have the preference over the children of nature - so, by the present instance, he rather points to the sovereignty of God. In looking to the one, we are led to connect an admission into the great spiritual family with the new birth that takes place in men upon earth. In looking to the other we are led to connect it with tile mysterious counsels and destinations of eternity, with the high purposes of God in heaven.

Thus much at all events is clear in the apostle’s argument. There was a promise given to Abraham in regard to his posterity; yet one branch of that posterity was rejected without invalidating the truth of the promise. After this first restriction the promise was to the seed of Isaac; yet one great division of his offspring was also rejected, without those Jews against whom the apostle now reasoned deeming the promise to have been at all violated. Last of all it was restricted to Jacob or Israel; and what the apostle argues is, that a still further rejection might take place even of his descendants, and yet God not be chargeable with having uttered a promise that was of none effect. As with all the former and successive excisions that were made on the posterity of Abraham, still a portion was reserved on whom the promised blessings had their verification or their fulfilment - so, in the tremendous excision that was about to take place by the utter destruction of the Jewish polity, a remnant might be saved. And not only so, but by movements yet undisclosed in the womb of futurity, and by the new light which these should evolve on the sense and bearing of the ancient prophecies, might there be evinced such an enlargement of the family of Abraham, as should harmonise with all the former passages of Scripture history in regard to it, and, so far from falsifying, shed a lustre of consistency and truth over all its declarations.

I have the feeling on this part of our chapter, that, without a very extended comparison of passages both in the Old and the New Testament, which were more properly addressed through the medium of authorship to a student in his closet than from the pulpit to a listener in the church, I cannot make full exhibition of those mystic harmonies between the one and the other, which, though less obvious to the general eye, are, to the devoted enquirer after the truth and meaning of the sacred volume, both most satisfying and most precious; and which serve to convince him that it is one wondrous design which runs through this composition of many ages - one great presiding spirit that has harmonised and that actuates the whole. We feel most thoroughly persuaded, that, without entering upon the regions of fancy at all, even the most literal and sober of our ordinary Christians, if he only give time and patience to the study, will reap the most substantial conviction of a marvellous, a supernatural, accordance between the two dispensations; and that, as on the hand he will find even the books of Moses to be impregnated with gospel - so, on the other hand, he will find the doctrine which apostles taught, after being visited with the light and enlargement of Pentecost, to be but the expansion of an earlier dawn, the development of truths that were dimly shadowed forth in the imagery of the Mosaic ritual. We ask but the perseverance of his attention, and without any aid from the imaginative faculties of his nature, we promise him the discovery of many traces and analogies that are now hidden from his eyes; and which, as evincing that the one economy has given its impress to the other, will, at the same time, evince that both are the productions of a loftier and more recondite wisdom than that of man, and that both have proceeded from the same author.

And this holds, not alone in the peculiarities of the Jewish ceremonial, but also in the passages of the Jewish history - which things, says the apostle of one of its plainest narratives, are an allegory. It is thus that the age of our earliest patriarchs was but the morning of a lengthened day, whose gradually increasing light shone more brightly along the track of its advancement; but still shone on the same truths now disclosed to the eye in fuller manifestation - even as the sun in the firmament has not altered the landscape on which there rested his twilight obscurity a few hours before, but only invests the same objects in a clearer element of vision, only irradiates the whole more gloriously.

And I might here advert to a very frequent experience of Christians; and that is their growing relish, a they advance in life, for the types, and the prophecies, and the sketches of character, and the strains of olden inspiration, and the many beauteous passages of most pleasing and picturesque history, and the description of that whole machinery even to the minutest parts - in it of Israel’s figurative or symbolical church, which are so abundantly met with in the Old Testament. Even those stories which wont to charm them in early boyhood, while they preserve all the delight of this association, now recur to them with the force of an augmented interest, because they now see them to be throughout pervaded by the character and the meaning of their own spiritual dispensation. Like the disciples of Emmaus their hearts burn within them, while their understandings are opened to understand these scriptures; and when recognising Christ in every page, they are made to behold the bearing and the significancy of the things which are written in the law of Moses and in the Prophets and in the Psalms concerning Him.

Very pleasant as to the mind of good Bishop Horne were the songs of Zion, when every morning called him anew to their study, and every evening found his spirit more satisfied than before with their richness - very pleasant to many a humble Christian, are the things which God, at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets. It is as if the delights of imagination were superadded to the delights of piety, when the doctrines of the New are beheld in the drapery of the Old dispensation; and if there be any aged here present, who, exempted from the cares that engrossed the morning or the middle of their days, can now afford to live and to look more heaven-ward than before - we promise them, not a different gospel in the earlier from what they have found in the later scriptures, but the same gospel seen through a veil of ever brightening transparency, and heightened by the zest of many dear and youthful remembrances. It is thus that, in the study of the Old Testament, the faded spirits, the dim and the decaying lights of age have been revived again; and in the solace and satisfaction of its repeated perusal, they have experienced of the things that be recorded there, that they are written, not alone for older generations, but for our admonition also to whom the latter ends of the world have come. We are aware that some will concur with us, in looking upon these as the befitting studies of age, just because they regard all typical and all prophetical interpretations as so many senilities - even as Voltaire, in the examples which he has quoted of the aberrations of the human understanaing, along with the case of Roger Bacon having written upon watchcraft, brings forward also that of Sir Isaac Newton having in his declining life written a oommentary upon the book of Revelation. Now fully admitting, as we do, that manifold have been the divisions and the vagaries of those who have adventured too far either on the field of prophecy or in the work of spiritualising the Old Testament, yet we confidently affirm, that none can enter upon this walk of contemplation with intelligence and candour, without being satisfied of a most substantial accordancy between the Old and the New Testaments - that they are indeed the two witnesses of Heaven speaking the same things; and, instead of emitting such cross lights as are fitted to bewilder the eye of the observer, they are the two candlesticks which man hath not planted, but which stand before the God of the whole earth.

And as to our great philosopher, who transferred his mighty intellect from the study of the works of God to the study of his word, this may have taken place at the decline of his years, but not most certainly at the decline of his understanding. The truth is that he felt a kindredness between his old and his new contemplations - that after having seen farther than all who went before him into the godlike harmonies of the world, he was tempted to search and at length did behold the traces of a wisdom no less marvellous in the godlike harmonies of the word - that after having looked and with stedfastness for years on the mazy face of heaven, and evolved thencefrom the magnificent cycles of astronomy, he then turned him to Scripture, and found, in the midst of now unravelled obscurities, that its cycles of prophecy were equally magnificent - and whether he cast his regards on the book of Revelation or on the book of Daniel, who, placed on the eminence of a sublime antiquity, looked through the vista of many descending ages, and eyed from afar the structure and the society of modern Europe, he, whose capacious mind had so long been conversant with the orbits and the periods of the natural economy, could not but acknowledge the footsteps of the same presiding divinity in the still higher orbits of that spiritual economy which is unfolded in the Bible, And while we cannot but lament the deadly mischief, which the second-rate philosophy of infidels has done to the inferior spirits of our world; we feel it an impressive rebuke on their haughty pretensions, that all the giants and the men of might in other days, the Newtons and the Boyles and the Lockes and the Bacons of high England, have worshipped so profoundly at its shrine.

But chief of these is our great Sir Isaac, who, throned although he be by universal suffrage as the very prince of philosophers, is still the most attractive specimen of humanity which the world ever saw; and, just because the meekness of his Christian worth so softens while it irradiates the majesty of his genius: And never was there realised in the character of man so rare and so beauteous a harmony, that he who stands forth to a wondering species of loftiest achievement in science, should nevertheless move so gently and so gracefully among his fellow-men - not more honoured for the glory he won on the field of discovery, than loved by all for the milder glories of his name - his being the modest the unpretending graces of a child-like nature - his being the pious simplicity of a cottage patriarch. It must be owned however, that with all the sound philosophy which he evinced in the general question of the Christian evidences - even as Bacon did in the general view which he gave of the methods of investigation - So, as the latter failed in his more special disquisitions on the particular phenomena and laws of Nature - did the former alike fail, there is good reason to believe, in his understanding both of particular texts in the Bible, and particular doctrines of Christianity.

Go to Lecture 72
Go back to Romans index

Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Interests | Links | Quotes | Photo-Wallet