Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
ROMANS, x, 14 - 21. "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? as it is written, how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did not Israel know? First, Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."

THE gospel should be preached to every creature - . it being a universal message from heaven to earth, co-extensive with the species; and not only to be carried forth over all, but to be pressed on the specific acceptance of each. A commission thus universal should have had at our hands a universal fulfilment; but we have only to open our eyes, and see how palpably short it has come of this - both internally or within the limits of Christendom, and externally or abroad and over the face of the world. And yet we affect to wonder, as if it were something mysterious and inscrutable, at the partiality of the Divine government, in having limited the blessing of the Christian religion to so small a portion of the human family. Before carrying the reproach so far upward, we had better first take account of our own immediate share in it; and deal with the proximate cause of this phenomenon, ere we take cognizance of any of its remote and anterior causes. We complain of a limited Christianity, but there was no limit in the terms of that commission which was put into our hands at the outset of this dispensation - and that in the form of a precept, Go and promulgate this gospel every where; accompanied with a promise, Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. It is not time to charge the Almighty, or to arraign the methods of His administration - till we have enquired in how far this precept has been carried into operation; and then what the instances are in which, when the precept was fully acted up to, this promise has ever been withheld. Man’s prone and precipitate inclination is to reckon with his God, and to leave unsettled all the while that reckoning which we ought first to hold with ourselves, - a transgression this both of piety and of sound philosophy - it being the dictate of each, instead of speculating on His part in the matter which is secret and belongs unto Him, fully to examine how we stand acquitted of our own part which is revealed and belongs to us and to our children.
Ver. 14, 15. ‘How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things !‘ These verses give the first answer, the answer which is readiest and most within reach, to the question - How is it that the whole earth is not Christianised? God could, by an exercise of power and unlimited sovereignty, achieve this result at the instant bidding of His voice - even as on the first day of creation, He said let there be light, and there was light. But God hath, in the exercise of a wisdom, to us perhaps inscrutable, yet in perfect analogy with the many thousand processes of nature and providence, He hath chosen to ordain an instrumentality for the diffusion of the Christian religion over the world. Now it so happens that men are component, nay the chief parts of this instrumentality; and we should first enquire how they have done their part - so as to ascertain whether it be not we the men who are in fault, before daring to lay the fault upon God.

It is a sound doctrinal theology which acknowledges, amid the countless diversity of operations around us, that it is God who worketh all in all. But God worketh by means; and when a certain prescribed human agency enters into that system of means which He hath intituted, it is a sound practical theology to labour as assiduously in the bidden way, as if man worked all. It is one of the highest points of Christian wisdom, to combine the utmost dependence on God with the utmost diligence in the prosecution of all those activities which He Himself hath appointed....insornuch that though the Holy Spirit be the undoubted agent of every conversion, Paul held it no infringement on orthodoxy, to say as much as that, under our present economy, the conversion of the world, without the instrumentality of men, is impossible.

‘How shall they believe, unless they hear? How shall they hear without a preacher? How shall they preach except they be sent?’ He himself was converted, by a direct communication from heaven, apart from all converse with flesh and blood, receiving the gospel not of man nor taught it by man, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ - yet none more strenuous than he, in affirming the necessity of human co-operation, in the great work of evangelising the world. Not but that he imagined, in every instance as well as in his own, that faith is not of ourselves but is the gift of God; and that even when conveyed by the preaching of one man into the mind of another, it is but the pouring from one earthen vessel to another of a treasure which had come down from heaven - so that whenever, in any age or country of the world, that precious faith which is unto salvation is deposited in any heart, it is established by a supernatural agency, and standeth there not in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. It is for Him however, and not for us, to make choice of His own pathway for the conveyance of His own blessings, and the propagation of His own spiritual influences into the souls of men; and if He choose to make one man His vehicle for the transference of light and grace into the heart of another, it is the part of him whom He has thus selected as His instrument, to labour with all his might and assiduity in the sacred duties of that vocation whereto he has been called. This preference for the agency of men in the work of Christianisation is conspicuous in every age of the church; and at no time more than in the first age, even though it was the period of miracles and supernatural visitations. We have often looked on the history of the conversion of Cornelius as a striking illustration of this. God could have worked a saving faith in the heart of Cornelius, by an immediate suggestion from His own Spirit, or through the mouth of an angel. And He did send an angel to Cornelius, not however that he might preach the gospel to him, but that he might bid him send for Peter, and receive that gospel at the lips of a fellow-mortal. And God also sent to Peter a communication from heaven to prepare him for the message - thus doubling as it were the amount of miraculous agency, in order that the gospel might be heard by a yet unconverted child of Adam, not through the medium of a supernatural and angelic, but through the medium of a natural and a human utterance. Yet not so as that the natural should supersede or displace the supernatural - for while Peter spake, the Holy Ghost fell on all them who heard.

The function of Peter was the same with that of a minister or missionary in the present day - it was to tell Cornelius the words by which he and all his house should be saved. And the function of the Holy Ghost for the purpose of giving demonstration and efficiency to the word, is the same now as ever - He falls on us still even as He did on them at the beginning. Let no man put asunder the things which God hath joined; but let all in deed and in performance strive mightily for the spread and prevalence of the gospel on the earth, and give no rest to God in prayer, that by His grace He might work in them mightily. The application of all this to the question of missions, whether home or foreign, is quite obvious. Let these be multiplied to the uttermost, so as to fill up all the vacancies which are within, or to spread abroad over all the mighty spaces which are beyond the limits of Christendom. Yet all will be useless and effete, if unblest or unaccompanied by the Spirit of God. Some there are, men of devotion, like many perhaps of the Puritanic age, who have a contempt for machinery, and who think to succeed by prayer alone for the extension of our Redeemer’s kingdom. Others there are, men of bustle and enterprise, like many perhaps of our present age, who live, if not in the contempt, at least in the neglect of supplication; and think to succeed in the work of Christian philanthropy, by the busy prosecution of those schemes and societies which have recently sprung up in the religious world. Neither will do singly - neither the human instrumentality alone without the agency from above; nor yet the celestial agency, which refuses to come forth but through an earthly apparatus which itself prescribes, and to the working of which it gives all its vitality and all its vigour. ‘Without the conjunction of these, both the men of prayer and the men of performance will fall short of the: object which their hearts are set upon. He who knows rightly to divide, or rather rightly to compound the word of truth, knows how to conjoin these, and so gives himself wholly, not to prayers alone or to the ministry of the word alone - but like the apostles of old to prayer and the ministry of the word. The one sets up and works a machinery upon earth. The other brings down from heaven that inner element which actuates the movements,and imparts to them all their living energy. It is to this prolific union of devout and desirous hearts with busy hands, that the church of Christ - stands indebted for all its prosperity, in those seasons of gracious revival, when the frequent and earnest preaching of the word has been preceded or accompanied by a spirit of frequent and importunate prayer. Thus alone can the word of God be caused mightily to grow and to prevail - be it in a household, or a parish, or an empire, or through the world at large.

‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.’ Nothing can exceed the admirable tact and sagacity, wherewith Paul adapts his argument to the tastes and partialities of those with whom he at the time is holding converse. In an upright and honourable sense he was all things to all men. To the Greeks he was a Greek - as in his address to the people of Athens, when he quoted from their own poets, and reasoned with them from the mythology of their nation. And to the Jews he was a Jew - as in the passage before us, in which we can discern the same principle of accommodation - as indeed in all his recorded addresses to the men of that nation, when he never fails to quote abundantly their own prophets, and to reason with them out of their own Scriptures. And the quotation before us seems eminently fitted to subserve, what was evidently a great object with Paul, throughout the whole of this epistle - that of reconciling his countrymen to the admission of the Gentiles into a religious equality with themselves. It is taken from one of their own most illustrious writers, to whom they could not turn back, without reading in almost imniediate contiguity with the passage to which he refers them, of the salvation of the Gentiles along with the comfort of their own people and the redemption of Jerusalem. "The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all tile nations (Gentiles); and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God."’ But how could they behold that salvation - or, to understand their seeing in the mental sense of the terni, how could they believe in it, unless they were told of it, unless it was preached to them, unless messengers were sent to them as well as to God’s peculiar and favoured people? In other words, as the Gentiles were under the gospel economy to be made partakcrs of the same faith, and so of the same high privileges with themselves, and as they could not believe without hearing, nor hear without a preacher - - it was necessary that the message of life should be propounded to them also: And thus he vindicates his own peculiar apostleship, in that he was commissioned as a chosen vessel to bear the, tidings of salvation before the Gentiles as well as the children of Israel.

Ver. 16, 18 - 21. ‘But they have not all obeyed the Gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?...But I say, Have they not heard! Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did not Israel know? First, Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto, a disobedient and gainsaying people.’ We have already said that ere we charge God with partiality in that the blessings of the Christian religion are so limited, we should first acquit ourselves of the universal commission to go and make a tender of these blessings to every creature under heaven; and so make trial of the promise which accompanies this injunction -"Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." But ere we bring this experiment to any thing like a full and finished completion, we are anticipated by a decisive fact, and from which we know beforehand, that though the gospel were preached to all, and by competent messengers too, sent forth by God Himself - yet that all would not receive it. It had been so preached in many distinct neighbourhoods even by prophets and inspired apostles - yet without effect upon many, who heard but did not believe, it was prophesied by Esaias, that all should not obey the goepel, even though brought to their doors, or though reported to them, and so placed within the reach of their hearing it.

‘Lord, who hath believed our report!’ Or who hath believed the hearing which they have heard of us? The word translated report in this verse is the same with that translated hearing in the next. There could be no mistake then as to their hearing. ‘But I say, Have they not heard! Yes, verily.’ He might have given historical proof of this, by quoting his own experience and that of his colleagues in the apostleship - who had so often in the past course of their ministry lifted their testimony in the hearing both of countrymen and others who rejected it - to whom they preached the gospel, which, though to some it was the savour of life unto life, was to many the savour of death unto death. But in order to trace the line of continuity in this whole passage, we must look to the verses more in connection with each other.

Ver. 16 - 21. ‘But they have not all obeyed the Gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But I say, Did not Israel know! First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you. But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.’ It is obvious that one main design of this epistle is to establish the common ground, on which Jews and Gentiles now stand under the Christian dispensation - in regard first, to the like disease or condemnation that were upon them both; then to the like remedy which they equally stand in need of; and, most offensive of all, or what required the most strenuous effort on the part of the apostle in reconciling to it the minds of his own countrymen, the same free appliance of that remedy to all upon the face of the earth, - which involved the admission of those, who were before aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, to the same faith and the same high privileges with themselves. This aim, which from first to last he never lets go or loses sight of, appears so early as in the first chapter, where he speaks of the gospel (1, 16) as being the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. After which, he enters more distinctly and at greater length on the theme in the second chapter (ii, 17 - 29), where he argues for the common religious footing on which these two now stand - evidently not without the apprehension, or rather the actual experience of a strong repugnance on the part of the Jewish mind to the conclusion which he was labouring to establish. He then - as if a truth revolting to the prejudices of those whom be was addressing should be unfolded gradually - he ventures, if I may say so, in the third chapter, on terms of greater expressness and particularity - charging the Jews with the same sinfulness as the Gentiles (iii, 9); and holding forth to both the same salvation, even that righteousness by faith which is unto all and upon all who believe (iii, ‘22) ‘for there is no difference ‘ - no difference he certainly means between Jews and Gentiles, though he does not here make use of these designations, as if he shrunk at first from naming the two, when for the first time he places them on the same even platform of acceptance with God. Yet ere the chapter closes, and as if waxing bolder in the progress of his argument, he does make distinct utterance, though under an aspect of greater generality, of the one Father in heaven being the God not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles - nay of His justifying the one whom he there calls the uncircumcision, in the same way that He justifies the other whom he distinguishes as the circumcision, which titles he keeps by throughout the whole of his remaining argument in the chapter which follows. He had experienced the sensitiveness of the Jewish prejudices, when the name of the Gentiles was introduced in connection with any such preferment as brought them up to a level with the men of their own nation - more especially on the occasion of that public address he made in person to a great multitude at Jerusalem, who heard him patiently till this word escaped from him; "and they gave him audience unto this word" ‘ - after which there were no bounds to their indignation.

We can fancy as if it were due to that admirable delicacy which is so palpably one of our apostle’s great characteristics - that if, when holding converse with Jews, he has occasion to mention the Gentiles as of equal rank and consideration with themselves, he does it so frequently under the cover of a quotation from their own Scriptures. It is obvious from the whole substance and texture of his argument in this epistle to the Romans, that he feels himself dealing throughout with Jewish understandings, and with men of Jewish education. He never loses sight of the Old Testament; but seems at all times glad of an opportunity, whenever he can fortify his reasoning by passages and illustrations taken out of these Scriptures. There is great richness of such allusion in the fourth chapter; nor is it wholly absent from the fifth and seventh; and makes a full reappearance in the ninth, onward to those verses wherewith we are now occupied. In an earlier part of the epistle which we have quoted, where the apostle speaks of the righteousness, by faith being unto all, he adds - "for there is no difference." And again in the part to which we have now come (x, 12) - in conjunction with those terms of glorious universality, "all" and "whosoever," he adds the very same words "for there is no difference" only telling us furthermore between whom -"no difference between the Jew and the Greek." He had before affirmed of Jews and Gentiles, that they laboured under the same disease, and that the same remedy was provided for them in heaven; and he is now employed in demonstrating, that, in order to the remedy having effect, the bearers of it on earth must carry it equally home to both - or that both must be alike preached unto, and plied with the same calls and overtures, by the messengers of a common salvation. And so he evidently feels himself again to be in contact with certain points of repulsion in the Jewish mind; and, for the purpose, of gaining access thereunto, recurs to his usual cxpedients - speaking to their own familiar recognitions, and reasoning with them out of their own Scriptures. He begins this work of quotation at the 5th verse, and continues it downward - till he had established the necessity of sending men over the world, to bring men to the faith of the gospel - Whence it follows, as the Gentiles by the new ceonomy were to have a part in the same salvation through the medium of the same faith with the Jews, that, in order to their believing alike, they must be preached unto alike, for how can they believe without hearing, or hear without a preacher! - which preacher or preachers must be sent to them; and this he confirms in the 15th verse by a passage taken from one of the most celebrated of their prophets.

But here he interposes in verse 16th, a needful and qualifying remark which might have been suggested indeed by another passage from the same prophet very near to the former one, and to which at all events the apostle expressly appeals. It follows not, that though preaching should be the ordinary or even the indispensable prerequisite to faith, it follows not that faith should always be the result of preaching. A given cause might be indispensable to a certain effect, and yet not always produce that effect. Though the hearing of the gospel were necessary to the believing of it, it follows not that all who hear should necessarily believe; and accordingly the apostle tells us, ‘They have not all obeyed the gospel ‘ - by which he undoubtedly means, that, of the all who have heard it so many have not obeyed it. And he fortifies this assertion by the quotation from Isaiah, ‘Who hath believed our report?’ The question implies that few had believed; but it also implies, that though belief does not alway follow in the train of a previously heard report, yet that when it does take place, it is always or generally in the order of this succession - Or, in other words - Though hearing is not always followed up by a subsequent faith as its effect - yet that seldom or never does faith arise in the mind, but from an anterior hearing as its cause.

And this explains the dependence of the 17th verse on the last clause of the 16th - a dependence more obvious to the reader of the original than it is in the translation; for the word ‘report’ in the one, and the word 'hearing’ in the other, are both rendered from the same term in the Greek. It helps also to impress the connection more strongly - that whereas in our English bibles the belief in the one verse and faith in the other, though they signify the same thing yet sound so differently, in the original the same radical is employed in both ; and these two verses would therefore have been translated more synonymously at least, if in the 16th it had been translated, Who hath believed in the hearing that we have sounded in his ears, (which though a complaint and implying therefore that few had believed, implies also that belief, if not the actual, was at least the proper consequent of hearing), which would have brought out the inference in the 17th more palpably, Therefore belief cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

The question, What plants have arisen from the seed which has been cast into the ground ? - clearly implies, that, while all seeds do not germinate into plants, yet a plant never arises but from a seed, and that the one is the proper and causal antecedent of the other. The question then is naturally started at this place, Whether the hearing indispensable to faith, has been carried abroad? - and a reply is given in the affirmative, couched in language all the more congenial to the Jewish ear, that it was taken from Scripture, and which conveys thus much at least, that the gospel ought to go forth as freely and universally throughout the world, as the light of the sun is spread abroad over the surface of it. And, in point of fact it had, even when the apostle was writing, been proclaimed far and wide beyond the limits of Judaism; and now there was no let or hindrance, in the nature and design of the economy itself, to restrain the diffusion of it through every place and territory where men were to be found., And accordingly it had sounded forth to the outskirts of the Roman empire, which was then spoken. of in terms that properly signified the whole of the habitable earth - insomuch that Paul says of the word of the gospel, "which is come unto you as it is in all the world," and "which was preached to every creature which is under heaven." 1 So that, to the question, Have men heard the gospel? - there could be no difficulty in giving the prompt and decisive reply, ‘ Yes verily.’

Ver. 19. After having replied in the preceding verse generally and for all mankind, the question is reiterated with a special reference to the children of Israel. Did not they in particular know ? - had they also the advantage of being made to hear and be acquainted with the subject-matter of preaching? This Paul might have replied to in a clear and decided affirmative - grounding it on the events of his own age. They had a preference over the Gentiles in every respect. They saw Christ in the flesh - they witnessed His miracles - they heard His discourses - even after His ascension, and a cornmission was left with the apostles to go and preach the gospel unto all nations, still the priority was given to them. For though the apostles went forth with the message of salvation over all the earth it was after beginning at Jerusalem; and in every place or nation they came to, it was ther practice to seek after the Jews and preach to them first - till wearied out by the obstinate rejection of their doctrine, they made this protest against it - Since you hold yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we turn to the Gentiles. Paul could have thus answered in his own person; but, as his general manner was, he goes back upon earlier times - for even then it may be said that the gospel was preached to those of that remoter period as well as unto us of the present day; and from the mouths of two of their own most honoured writers, he gives the same answer, and pronounces upon them the same condemnation. First Moses, who, on a former occasion, had said of them, " What nation is so great, that hath statutes -and judgments so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?" - this same Moses, who thus affirmed the knowledge of the people of Israel to be above that of all the other people upon earth, says afterwards, and in the words here quoted, that, as they had abused these privileges, God would transfer them to others who had not been so distinguished, and so provoke them to jealousy by a people who hitherto had been no pecuhiar people to Him; and anger them by a foolish nation, a nation destitute of the knowledge which had been so plentifully communicated to themselves. And in verses 20th and 21st, Isaiah expresses himself in still bolder and clearer terms. But the boldness which he ascribes to Isaiah, the apostle very distinctly intimates, that he felt himself treading on delicate ground - engaged as he was in telling the Jews of their national misconduct, and of the forfeiture which they had thereby incurred of the national honours, which at one time singled them out and signalised them above all the rest of the human family. "I was found of them that sought me not, I was made manifest to them that asked not after me." All day long had God stretched forth his hands unto Israel - addressing them, and bringing Himself near unto them, and giving the knowledge of His will and of His ways.They have not all obeyed the gospel, even though pressed upon their acceptance - for these Israelites, in particular, to whom the closest approaches had been made, and the fullest revelation had been given, turned out after all a disobedient and gainsaying people.

This somewhat unmanageable passage may be thus paraphrased. ‘There is no difference between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord and Maker of all, is rich to all who call on Him. For whosoever shall call on His name shall be saved. But how can they call on Him till they believe in Him, and how can they believe unless they hear of Him, and how can they hear but by a preacher?' And in order to this, preachers must be sent, even as those were of whom Isaiah speaks, when hailing them as the messengers of good, he exclaims, " How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" Yet it follows not that all who are thus preached unto shall believe. In point of fact, all did not put faith in the good tidings; and accordingly the same Isaiah complains of the smallness of their number - saying, Who hath believed our testimony? Yet though belief does not always come after, a testimony, a testimony always, or at least ordinarily comes before the belief - for faith cometh by hearing, though not by all or any sort of hearing, but the hearing only of the word of God. Has not this word then been proclaimed to all? Yes truly - the barrier between Jew and Gentile is now moved away; and the Sun of righteousness should be made as free and patent to all as is the sun of nature. But did Israel share in this light? Yes, and that in a more signal and preeminent way; But, unworthy as they proved themselves of the privilege, even their own legislator threatened the removal of their candlestick to the other and darker places of the earth; and the highest of their prophets told them in still more decisive terms, that those high preferments of which they boasted, should be taken away from them, and given to others - and that because of their continued resistance to a beseeching God, who had so long, but I vain, pressed on their acceptance the overtures o His great salvation. There are various and important topics for reflection presented throughout the passage which forms the ground-work of this Lecture. But we forbear the further consideration of them at present and all the more readily, that the opportunity for a future treatment of them will not be wanting in what remains of the epistle. For the views which have been already given by us of the 17th verse we refer to a Sermon published many years ago.
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