Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
ROMANS, ix, 25 - 33

"As he saith also in Osee, 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, there shall they be called the children of the living God. Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: for he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness; because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrha. What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith; but Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness,hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law: for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed."

VER. 25. ‘As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people which were not my people; and her beloved which was not beloved.' The apostle, with his usual skill and dexterity of argument, addressed himself as a Jew to the Jews; and so brings their own scriptures to bear upon them. He first quotes a prophecy from Hosea regarding the Gentiles; and of whom it is most distinctly stated that they were to be admitted to the same favour, by which the children of Israel had been specialised, and from which themselves had heretofore been outcasts. He thus takes shelter under the old and venerable authorities, which the very people against whom he contended held in equal reverence with himself, and proves that it is no new idea - this extension of the family of God, in such a way that other nations might enter into the same close relationship with Him of His people, which had hitherto been confined to the descendants of Israel.

Ver. 26. ‘And it shall come to pass, that in the place where is was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there shall they be called the children of the living God'.
This verse seems necessary for describing the precise manner in which the extension was to take place. It had been no unwonted thing for Gentiles to become proselytes; but still the land they occupied was regarded as an outcast region of heathenism, and they looked to Judea as the Holy Land - to Jerusalem as the priestly and the consecrated place whereunto they looked as the great metropolis of religion, and whither many of them repaired every year to join in the solemn services of the temple. It was not in this sense however that the coming enlargement was to be brought about. In the language of our Saviour to the woman of Samaria, the hour was at hand when neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem the Father was to be worshipped. Even the local affinity, between the true religion and the country or the cities of the people of Israel, was forthwith to be dissolved; and in every nation he that feared God and worked righteousness was to be accepted of Him. Still proselytes from every nation under heaven came to Jerusalem at the time of their great festival; but now, without any such annual migration, a priesthood and a religious service and an acceptable worship were th be established in the very seats of idolatry. - in the place where it was said unto them Ye are not my people, there shall they be called the children of the living God.

Ver. 27.
‘Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.'
The prophecy of Hosea respected the Gentiles; and is quoted for the purpose of reconciling the children of Israel to their participation, in what had been hitherto the distinguishing privileges of but one people. The prophecy of Isaiah respects Israel itself; and is quoted for the purpose of showing, and from the mouth of their greatest Prophet, that, although God had uttered promises in behalf of a seed numerous as the sand of the sea-shore, yet that He regarded not these promises as broken although they were made good only to a remnant of them. That prophecy referred, in the first instance, to a fell destruction which came on the children of Israel, and reduced them to but a remnant - proving it to be no strange thing in God, to have abandoned to their ruin a vast majority of the children of Abraham, even notwithstanding the word of promise which He had made to the patriarch; and therefore that this promise would be as little falsified now as it was then, although the great bulk of the nation should be reft of the divine favour, and but a small fraction of them should remain in that favour by embracing Christianity. ‘Esaias also crieth concerning them, Though the number, the predicted and promised number to Abraham, of descendants who should spring from him, was that they should be as the sand of the sea, yet but a remnant shall be saved.'

Ver. 28
. ‘For he will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.'
This alludes to the work of vengeance, that in His righteous indignation was executed upon the children of Israel; and that, by a sudden and overwhelming invasion of their enemies. The same work was speedily to be done over again by the forces of the Roman empire; and, in like manner as the truth of Gods promise to Abraham stood unimpeachable and firm because of the remnant that survived the sweeping destruction of these former days - so the impending destruction of the latter days would also leave a remnant which should vindicate the word of God from the charge of having taken none effect.

Ver. 29.
‘And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodom, and been made like unto Gomorrha.'
The Lord of Sabaoth signifies the Lord of Hosts. Had He left no remnant, had He made a clean and total destruction of Israel, then it would have shared in the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah - cities of which now no vestige is to be found, and of - whose people the descendants are altogether lost in the history of our species. It is not so with the Jews. A goodly number of them were obedient uxtto the faith, and in them all the blessings promised to Abraham had their richest accomplishment. Even those who stood obstinately out in their rejection of the Saviour were not all cut off; and their posterity maintain a separate and a monumental character to this very day - at once affording a most impressive evidence of that special part which the Divinity takes in their affairs; and forming a reserve, as it were, for the fulfilment of such a restoration upon them as shall pour a lustre on all the prophecies which have been delivered in their behalf; and make it obvious, that, after the many dark reverses and humiliations which this singular people have undergone, that, after all, there is not a promise which has been uttered to their patriarchs of old which has not obtained a splendid verification in the subsequent history of the race.

Ver. 30.
‘What shall we say then? - That the Gentiles which followed not after righteousness have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith'.
It might well disarm predestination of all its terrors, when we look to the way in which its fulfilments are practically brought about. There is the offer of a justifying righteousness made unto all; and they who accept, as the Gentiles in the present instance, are the objects of a blessed predestination. The reprobate are they who decline that offer. However tremendous it may look when viewed by us from afar, among the sublime and mysterious altitudes of that past eternity where be the primary links of a vast progression reaching from the decrees of the unsearchable God to the yet unrevealed destinies of all His creatures - certain it is, that God when, instead of being contemplated in His place at the commencement of this chain where He stands at so lofty and incomprehensible a distance away from us, is contemplated in the place He occupies at the present and the contiguous links, appears to us under a very different aspect from that in which our imagination arrays Him, when we cast our regards athwart the boundless interval of those ages which are past. And whether is it better, we ask, to take our impressions of the Divinity in the act of looking to Him as God at a distance - or in the act of listening to Him as a God who is at hand! Whatever He may have purposed or done then, when creation and all its issues were fixed by an act of preordination, that reached forward unto all and embraced all - this is what He is doing now. He is stretching out for your acceptance the title-deeds to an inheritance of glory. He is offering to put into your hands a right of entry into the city which hath foundations. He is making the issues of your eternity, at least, to turn upon this - whether, accepting of Christ's righteousness as a gift and so coming into possession of a valid plea for the honours and rewards of heaven, you shall obtain sure entrance thereinto; or, declining this offer and casting the die upon your own righteousness, you shall utterly fail of everlasting bliss.

Grant that you are the objects of a blessed predestination, here is the way in which you make it good - even by accepting through faith the righteousness of Christ as your meritorious plea of acceptance with God. Grant that any of you shall turn out to have been the objects of dire reprobation, this will not be without your refusal of an offer complied with by others, but made also unto you - made without reserve and without exception unto all. Let me entreat you then, once more, to forego the distant, and to take up with the near contemplation. Attend not to Gods past decrees, but to God's present dealings with, you - not to what He has written of you in that book of His secret counsels which is up in heaven, but to what He has written to you in that book of His open declarations which is now circulating freely on earth, and on a copy of which each may lay his hand. In the language of the next chapter - try not to pluck the secret of your destiny from heaven above, or from the recesses of that eternity which is behind - try not to fetch it into the light of day from the profundity that is under your feet, or from the yet untravelled depths of that eternity which is before; but take all your direction, and the guidance of every footstep, from the word which is nigh unto you. There you read of Gods beseeching voice - of His protestations, nay of His very oaths, that in your death He has no pleasure - of this proclamation the sound whereof reaches from the mercy-seat to the farthest outskirts of His sinful family, even that “whosoever calleth upon the name of his Son shall be saved." And. if, on looking across the medium of that endless retrospect where clouds and darkness at last terminate the vision, you could descry nought to cheer you into confidence, learn now to regard the present attitude, and hearken to the present accents of a God - all whose thoughts to those who seek after Him, are thoughts of graciousness, and who now holds Himself forth unto all as a God benign and placable and tender.

It is said of the Gentiles that they followed not after righteousness and yet obtained it. The righteousness of that law which was written in the books of Moses, they were generally ignorant of. The righteousness of that law which was written in their own hearts, they knew but they did not follow; but there was a righteousness followed after, even till it was finished, by Christ Jesus as the substitute of sinners. This was declared to them as a righteousness in which they might appear with acceptance before God - a declaration believed by many; and according to their belief so was it done unto them.

Ver. 31.
‘But Israel which followed after the law of righteousness hath not attained to the law of righteousness.'
The law of righteousness here is the same with the righteousness of the law. They strove by their obedience to its precepts after a right to its rewards. It was not with a view of simply adorning their character by the graces or virtues of the law, nor was it from the impulse of a love for its righteousness, that they so laboured. It was with the view of making good that condition, on which they conceived that the reward was suspended - after which they could challenge that reward as their due; as a thing that they had as much won as either the wages for which they had served, or the goods for which they had paid down the purchase-money. This was that after which they laboured, and this they fell short of. Their obedience did not come up to the high requisitions of the law, and so they missed of its reward. On the contrary, their disobedience, both in transgressing and in coming short - their sins, both of commission and of omission, brought them under its clear and decisive conclemnation. They may have fulfilled in some things, but they failed in many things; and though toiling with all the strenuousness of men whose eternity was at issue, none could overtake the whole length and breadth of its commandments.

Now observe the precise effect of this state of matters. However willing God might be that all these transgressors should be admitted into Heaven - yet this admittance of them might not be possible, so long as they on the other hand were not willing to be admitted there, but on the footing of a remuneration for their obedience. There might be enough of the disposition of kindness on the part of God to bestow heaven upon them as a present; but there might be a disposition on the part of man to decline it in this character, and to demand it as the term of a contract which they challenge the other party to fulfil. This brings the parties to a stand, and it is no light matter which they stand for. It is for a high principle of divine jurisprudence, of which we are taught in the Bible that there is a moral impossibility that it should be violated. Upon the difference between heaven as a thing of free grace to the sinner, or heaven as a thing of due and merited return to him for his obedience as it is, these just turns the difference between a vindicated and a dishonoured law.

This difference, man, obtuse and deadened as he is in all the sensibilities of his moral nature, might feel to be a slight one; but it was not ao felt among the pure and ethereal intelligences of the upper sanctuary. The angels who are there saw the dilemma, and looked on with most intense earnestness to the evolutions of that great problem by which it might be extricated. It was a question of pure and lofty jurisprudence; and, however shadowy it might appear to beings of our grosser faculties, and withal darkened and made dull in all our perceptions of what is due to Heavens high sacredness by the blight which sin has cast upon them - it was truly a question for which all heaven was put in motion; and en which the King who sitteth upon its throne, put forth the resources and the energies of a wisdom that is infinite. And His authoritative declaration to this our rebel world is, that - the sanctions of His law could not be nullified - that all creation must pass away rather than that any of its promises or any of its threatenings should fail - that the truth and justice and. righteousness of the Lawgiver, admitted of nothing short from the rigid execution of all its penalties - that sinners could not be admitted to His complacency, till their sin had been branded with the mark of an adequate condemnation; and, more particularly, that He would not descend to any compromise with those, who, instead of trembling as they ought lest the fire of. an offended jealousy should go forth upon ‘them to burn up and to destroy, persisted for their plea ot acceptance in an obedience so paltry and so polluted, as being honourable enough to the Law and as every way good enough for the exalted Lawgiver.

Ver. 32.
‘Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.'
This is a most important question, and a most instructive reply to it - more especially when we view it as given by the apostle newly emerged from the subject of predestination, on which he had just been arguing. All fresh as he was, my brethren, from the high topic of God's decrees, yet, on the moment that he turns himself to consider the reason why Israel fell short of the promised blessing, he lays it on the familiar topic of man's doings. The cause of their not attaining to righteousness, and so of their being excluded from life everlasting, is here resolved, not into the destinies of the Creator, but into the doings of His creatures - not into the predestination that is made by God above, but into the wrong and the wilfully wrong direction that is taken by man below. Instead of speculating on the incomprehensible mystery of that will in heaven by which some are elected unto life, he tells us of the way upon earth which all men should take in order to arrive at it. And the reason simply why the children of Israel missed the object of a blissful eternity, at least the only reason which either they or we have to do with, is that they took the wrong way. They sought a righteousness which might justify them before God by the works of the law; and this proved a stumbling-stone at which they stumbled and fell, and that very far short indeed of the goal to which they were pressing forwards. They tried to master the requisitions of the law, in order thereby to get at its reward; and the law proved too hard for them. They chose to enter the lists with the judgment of the law, and that judgment therefore must take effect upon them. They have sped according to their own choice. They threw their stake on the commandments of the law; and, not having won the length of perfect obedience thereunto, nothing remains but that they must abide its condemnation.
Now what they did, the natural legality of the human heart prompts the men of all ages to do. Our first, our natural tendency, is to seek after a righteousness - and that by a conformity to the rule of perfect righteousness. Did we attain the righteousness, we would thereby acquire a title to the reward but the universal fact is that none do attain; and hence, with all who persist in seeking life by the law, there is but one or other term of this alternative. They either live in the apathy of a false and an ill-founded peace, or they live in the alarm of a well-founded terror - on good terms with themselves because of their imagined adequate fulfilment of the demands of the law, or on bad terms with themselves because of their real distance and deficiency therefrom. And so they sink down into the state of mere formalists in obedience, or into the restless unconfirmed and withal most unfruitful as well as unhappy state of a perpetual fearfulness. In either state they are destitute of an availing righteousness for their acceptance with God. He will not, on the one hand, merely because men are satisfied with themselves, recognise the incomplete the tainted offerings of their human imperfection - as if they made out a full and satisfying homage to that law, all whose demands are on the side of a personal, spiritual and universal holiness. Neither, on the other hand, will He sustain the dread and the distress and the painful anxieties of those who are not satisfied with themselves as a sufficient homage done to His law. What He wants with them further is, that they should do, homage to His gospel It is well that they have such a true discernment of God's law, as clearly to perceive, that no effort of theirs can reach upward to its sublime and empyreal elevation. But is also essential, that they should have such a true discernment of His grace, as to perceive, that, by its condescensions and by its offers, it reaches downward even to a worthlessness as humbling and as polluted as theirs. It is right that they should defer to the terror of those penalties which are denounced by the one; but it is equally right that they should defer to the truth of those promises which are held forth by the other. They ought to tremble, when bethinking them of their violations of the law; but they ought to feel re-assured, and to cease from trembling, when bethinking themselves of the sufficiency of the gospel. If it be an offence to have done disobedience to the precepts of His authority, it is also an offence to have done discredit to the overtures of His good-will. And so we read of the fearful and the unbelieving, as well as of the presumptuously secure, that both alike have a place assigned to them in the abodes of condemnation.

Ver. 33.
‘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.'
Our only method of escape from this is by fleeing unto Christ, and casting a confidence upon Him which shall never be put to shame. He is represented as being to some a stumbling-stone and rock of offence. It were entering upon a subject far too wide for us at present, did we enlarge upon all the varieties of that repugnance which is felt by men towards Christ - the absolute nausea of some at the very utterance of His name - the utter distaste for all conversation regarding Him - the antipathy, nay even hatred, which rises in the bosoms of many against His peculiarly marked and devoted followers; and, along with the toleration which very generally obtains for a meagre and moderate and mitigated Christianity, the secret revolt and the open declaration against those who carry the doctrines and the demands of Christianity to what is apprehended to be a great deal to far. In a certain decent and regulated proportion, it is borne with; but very apt to be impatiently or indignantly flung at, when it offers to engross the whole heart, or to make too large or ostensible an inroad on the state and history of human affairs. But for a field of so much extent and latitude,we verily at present have no time; and must be content now with but one observation on a certain apparent crossness or contrariety - of sentiment in the doctrines of Christ and His Apostles - which has an effect rather to gravel the understanding, than to alienate the affections of men. We advert to the place which the law and the works of the law have in the theological system of the New Testament. - where at one time they are set aside as utterly insigthficant; and at another it seems to be represented as the very end, as the ultimate landing-place of Christianity, to make its disciples zealous and perfect and thoroughly furnished unto all good works. There is the semblance of a most obvious, nay very glaring inconsistency here, which does embarrass even honest enquirers; and put them at a loss for the right adjustment of this whole question. It is a question which stumbles them, which perplexes them, and has all the effect of a painful and puzzling ambiguity upon their minds. It is not too much to say that the disgrace and the disparagement which appear to be cast by the men, called evangelical, on the worth and the importance and the noble character of virtue, constitute at least one of the offences, one ground of strong and sensitive aversion, against the truth as it is in Jesus. I cannot pretend at present to a full deliverance upon this subject; and will therefore only suggest a distinction which can be stated in one sentence; and should, as far as that goes, be all the more memorable; and which, if duly pondered upon, will achieve for you I think the extrication of this whole difficulty. The distinction is between the legal right to heaven which obedience may be supposed to confer, and the moral rightness of obedience in itself. When the New Testament affirms the nullity of good works, it is their nullity from their not being perfect to the object of establishing our legal right to the rewards of eternity. When the New Testament affirms the value of good works, it is their value, even though not yet perfect, in regard to their moral rightness - which moral rightness brightens more and more unto perfection, till at length it passes into the sacredness of heaven, and. becomes meet for the exercises and the joys of eternity. A Christian utterly renounces all good works, as having any value in them to confer a legal right to heaven. And yet a Christian devotes himself assiduously to the performance of good works, as having in them that virtue of moral rightness which is in itself the very essence of heaven. For his legal right to heaven, his whole reliance is on the obedience of Christ, as that which hath alone won and purchased it. For his personal meetness for heaven, he plies all the strength that is in him, whether by nature or by grace, in order to perfect his own obedience.

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