Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
ROMANS, xi, 1 - 2. "I say then, hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the Scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace."

In the preceding chapter we are told of the perfect and unqualified freeness of the gospel - insomuch that it may be held forth, nay urged, with all simplicity and earnestness on the acceptance of every man; and in virtue of this, whosoever calleth on the name of the Lord shall be saved. It follows therefore, that there is not a human creature under heaven, from whom the offers of this said gospel ought to be withheld; and it is on the undoubted truth of this position that we have founded at least one reply to a question put, and sometimes in the form of a charge or complaint against the equity of the Divine administration, Why the blessings of Christianity should be so limited in point of extent, or, Why a religion, expressly designed for all mankind, should have appropriated or taken full possession of so small a part of the human family? Our answer then was, that, ere we arraigned the policy or procedure of the Almighty in this matter, we should first hold a reckoning with ourselves, and determine whether we stand exempted from all censure and crimination on account of it. Certain it is, that a full and unrestricted commission has been put into our hands - Go unto all nations, Go and preach the gospel unto every creature. Have we fulfilled this task? Before speculating on the part which God may have had in this result, would it not be well to enquire how far we stand acquitted of our own part in it? Ere we put the question, why is it that all men do not believe - is there not another question which seems to have the natural precedency, Have all men been preached unto? Have missionaries yet gone abroad over all the dark places of the earth; or, even at our own doors, has the message of salvation been enough sounded forth, or pressed with sufficient importunity on the attention of all the families within the limits of Christendom? If in this we have failed or fallen short, which we have most glaringly, it is scarcely for us at least to charge God with partiality - the God who has put into our hands so liberal and large a warrant, and accompanied it with the promise too, that, in the discharge of it He would be with us always even unto the end of the world. Have we worked enough under the precept; or prayed enough over the promise? It is scarcely for us at least to cast reproaches on the high government of Heaven, ere we first addressed ourselves and that with diligent hands and dependent hearts, to our assigned task upon earth; and then, after having overtured the gospel to all men, seen whether, as the effect of a universal proclamation, a universal Christianity did not follow in its train.

But this, however justly or pertinently it may be said, is yet far from a complete or adequate solution of the phenomenon in question. It is not enough to tell us that the gospel might be declared unto all men, and that all who believe shall be saved - when in point of fact all do not and will not believe it. As to the objective presentation thereof, there might be the utmost possible latitude and freeness in the gospel; but, in order to its taking effect, there must also be a subjective consent thereto on the part of those to whom it is addressed. Now it appears from thousands and thousands more of successive specimens, in the as many different localities where the experiment has been tried, that all who hear the gospel, even however rightly and authoritatively preached to them, do not obey the gospel; and this difference, this subjective difference between one man and another, is a fact or phenomenon which remains to be accounted for. We shall not here say over again what we have already said, when, expounding former chapters in this epistle, we were led to discuss the high topic of predestination. We then admitted, and still with all confidence repeat, that while there is diversity of operations, it is God who worketh all in all - that He is throned in universal sovereignty - as supreme in the inner and unseen world of spirits, as He is absolute and uncontrolled in fixing all the events which belong to the visible history of nature and providence. On this principle, we cannot look to the fact of one man believing the gospel, without connecting it with the fact that God has ordained it so - and neither can we look to the fact of another man disobeying the gospel, without connecting it with the fact that God has left it so. If asked to assign the reason of God having so done, or the cause of this difference between one man and another, and that with the view of explaining or vindicating the counsels of the upper sanctuary - we have no other answer to make, but make it frankly and immediately, that we cannot tell. At an earlier stage of this exposition, we have attempted to draw what we conceive to be the limit between the knowable and the unknowable in this question; and have also there stated the principles on which I hold, that, whatever difficulty there may be in explaining the procedure of God, this carries in it no excuse for the wickedness of man. The moral certainties in the one field, are not in the least bedimmed or overshaded, by the metaphysical obscurities which rest on the other and the more arduous field of speculation. Man’s unbelief, if resolvible into man’s wilfulness, and our Saviour does resolve it into the evil of their own doings, stands as clearly out a rightful object of condemnation, whether the policy and jurisprudence of Heaven are thrown open to our view, or shrouded in deepest secrecy. If the question be put, Why are some only preached unto, and not all? we reply, that as far as this proceeds from the indifference of those called Christians to the souls of the perishing millions around them, the fault lies clearly with man. If the question be put, Why do some only of those preached unto believe and not all? we reply, that as far as this proceeds from the love of darkness and the power of depravity, the perversity and the fault still lie clearly with man. But if the question be put, Why is it that the Spirit from on high selects some only, whom He disposes to receive and obey the gospel, and not all? we confess ourselves overawed by the difficulties of a theme so transcendentally and so hopelessly above us; and would join the apostle in saying, Who art thou, 0 man, that repliest against God?

Ver.1 ‘I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.’ At the conclusion of the last chapter we find the apostle saying, that, all day long, or during the whole period of their political subsistence as a nation, God had held converse, whether in the way of remonstrance or entreaty, with the children of Israel - Sending them, from one age to another, prophets and righteous men, whom they slew and persecuted - till at length they crucified the Lord of glory, after which, by an act of terrible retribution, the whole Jewish economy, both civil and ecclesiastical, was utterly exterminated, or swept off by the 'besom of destruction' from the face of the earth. The question of our present verse follows quite naturally in the train of such a contemplation. Hath God then entirely rejected His ancient people? Hath He wholly and conclusively cast them away? to which question Paul’s answer is a.prompt and emphatic negative; and, in confirmation of which, he quotes himself as a specimen. He himself was an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham and tribe of Benjamin, or as he elsewhere says, an Hebrew of the Hebrews - yet, so far from being an outcast, was a convert to the new faith, and in full possession both of its hopes and privileges. It is perhaps somewhat gratuitous in some to imagine that he particularises his tribe, because it was the last and least of the twelve, and at one time indeed on the eve of its extermination - as all, the more striking illustration or proof, that, great and signal though the days of their calamitous visitation had been, yet "the Lord will not cast off his people,’ neither will he forsake his inheritance." But, instead of straining at ingenuities of this sort, let us be satisfied with the idea, that Paul meant nothing more by the specification of his tribe, than simply to authenticate his genealogy as a Jew, and so make it all the more palpable that he incurred no forfeiture thereby - seeing that he was not only himself gifted with the unsearchable riches of Christ, but commissioned to preach, and thus make a full: tender of them to others also.

Ver. 2, 3. ‘God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the Scripture: saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am: left alone, and they seek my life.’ God did not reject all Israel. He did not cast off those of: whom He foreknew, and who were the objects not: of his prescience only, but of His predestination to eternal blessedness. " Whom he did foreknow them he did predestinate." We are here reminded of the expression, that "they are not all Israel" Psalm xciv, 14. . which are of Israel." God knoweth His own. He hath known them from the beginning, and all His purposes regarding them shall stand.

And these gracious purposes of the Almighty often extend to a greater number than we think; and of this the apostle gives a most memorable historic illustration in the case of the prophet Elijah - who cast a despairing eye over the land of Israel, and could not recognise over the whole length and breadth of it, even so much as one true worshipper. He made complaint to God of a universal apostacy - grounding, as is often done in all sciences and all subjects, a hasty generalisation on his own limited and personal experience. But, God seeth not as man seeth. He knew the children of His own election, His own " hidden ones," as they have been termed; and could discern no less than seven thousand, when the prophet, gifted and endowed as he was, could not fix on a single individual. God knew them now as well as foreknew them (ver. 2) from all eternity; but it is altogether worthy of observation, that it is not by their election that He marks them out to Elijah. He does not read their names to him out of the book of life in heaven, or make any revelation of the secret purposes respecting them which He had from everlasting. He mingles them out to the prophet by a sensible and a present mark, by a great and palpable act of obedience to His will upon earth. ‘But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.’

Ver. 4
. Now we hold it of great theological importance to notice this peculiarity. God might have told Elijah of His primitive decree respecting these men. But no - He prefers telling him of their present doings. Known to Himself are all His works, and among the rest, the state of these seven thousand men from the beginning of the world; and on this high and transcendental ground, He could have told the prophet of their safety. But, instead of this, He chooses what may be called a lower and experimental ground, on which to indicate or make known to him the condition of these men as children of God’s own family. They had not bowed the knee to Baal; and this He thought to be ground enough on which to satisfy the mind of Elijah - thereby maintaining and exemplifying the distinction between the secret things which belong unto God, and the revealed things which belong to us and to our children.

And surely if God, even at the time of a special and extraordinary communication to one of His highest prophets - when telling him of these seven thousand men - reserved the secret of their predestination, and laid all the stress upon their practice - Surely it is not for us, unvisited by any such illumination, to explore the dark recesses of a past eternity, or seek to open the book of God’s decrees, that we may find the names of the persons who are recorded there. There is a better method, and one nearer at hand, by which to assure ourselves that we are the subjects of a blessed ordination, even by doing as these Hebrew saints in the days of Elijah, by keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. The Lord knoweth them that are His, and so knew them from all eternity. But man knoweth them that are the Lord’s in another way; and this in virtue of the perfect, the never-failing harmony, which obtains between the election and the sanctification. It is true that God predestinates to eternal life, but never without predestinating those whom He designs for this glorious inheritance to be conformed to the image of His Son. Election is anterior to character - Yet so unbroken is the connection between them, that character becomes a criterion by which to ascertain the election. For this we need not aspire to the inaccessible steeps which are above, but have only to persevere in the toils of our appointed task below. "The Lord knoweth them that are his," and some there are ,who love to carry upward their speculation there, even to the highest point of a high and supralapsarian Calvinism. Let not this supersede the carefulness wherewith every Christian should observe, nor yet the earnestness wherewith every Christian minister should urge the saying -"Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."

But there is something more in this verse which we have not yet adverted to - fitted to animate and cheer the heart of him who eyes with despondency the present moral and religious state, whether of the country or of the world. We mean the superiority by which God’s estimate, or the true estimate, of what was still good in Israel, exceeded in amount that of the prophet. The "even so" of the next verse warrants our making this application. - Elijah’s imagination was, that he stood alone; but. God knew better, and told him of seven thousand who were like-minded with himself. And so are there many in this our day, and sometimes the more saintly and spiritual are the most liable to this miscalculation, who, as they contemplate the prevalence of infidelity and wickedness around them, underrate the Christianity both of their own neighbourhood and of the nation at large. The number of God’s hidden ones may be greater than we think of - known only to Him, and in places where we have no suspicion of their existence. It is thus that the pleasing discovery is sometimes made within the bosom of vicinities and households where we least expected it; and many, we trust, even at short distances from our own habitation, are the unseen heirs of grace and immortality, whom we shall never recognise as such till we meet them in heaven. It were better certainly for the interests both of personal and public Christianity, that all real disciples of the truth as it is in Jesus, should know each other better, and company with each other more. And this makes our obligation all the more imperative of "confessing with the mouth the Lord Jesus,"’ or of coming forth with those frank and intrepid avowals which might "declare plainly that they seek a country" and thus, by leading to a greater mutual acquaintanceship, might bring these fellow-travellers to Zion more closely and constantly beside each other. It were well in these expcctants of a higher citizenship, these voyagers for heaven, to seek out each other by the way - and that not merely for a benefit to themselves, from the fellowship or communion of saints here; but for the greater command which it would enable them to wield over the moral destinies of the world. Union, it has often been said, is strength; but it is not in the secret, but in the ostensible union of the friends and followers of Christianity, that the great strength of their cause lies; and what with the greater force of that cementing principle which binds them together, as well as the mighty hold which their peculiar objects have over conscience, the highest faculty of our nature, we should look for the greatest possible results from their visible combination - in speeding onward the triumphs of the faith, or the full and final establishment in the world of the empire of Truth and Righteousness.

And it is not enough that we look to the state of Christianity as it now stands. We should look to Christianity in progress. For by however small a fraction we may compute its hold of our species now, a time is coming when we shall cease to count it by minorities and remnants. The eye of God not only explores the present; but, with a thorough cognizance of time as well as space, it reaches onward to the most distant futurity. He not only knows, but He foreknows. By the voice of an immediate revelation, He gave comfort to the despairing heart of Elijah, when He told him of the numbers, who, even at the time of what seemed an all but Universal defection and idolatry, still held by the true religion. And by the voice of prophecy in Scripture, He gives the like comfort to us, as we cast perhaps a desponding eye over the moral state and prospects of the world - in the bright perspective which He has there opened up to us, of the enlargement and the triumphs that still await the gospel of His Son. For amid all that is fitted to darken and discourage, we should recollect of the present that it is but the infancy of the Christian religion, and that we are yet among the struggles and the uncertainties of its embryo state. To have some idea of the glorious and magnificent expansion before us, we have only to look at the millennium of our regenerated world in the dimensions of prophecy, where every day is a year and every year is made up of centuries, insomuch that what may be termed the middle age of Christianity, is reckoned by only three years and a half, comprehensive though it be of many generations. And beyond this spectacle of blessedness and glory, we have the glimpse of further and larger developments, which, in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation, retire onward from the view till lost in the distances of eternity. Could we see the whole in the light of the Infinite Mind, the perfect wisdom and perfect goodness of all His purposes would be seen most gloriously; and as even in one of Israel’s darkest days, when He told of time seven thousand whom He reserved to Himself, He aileviated the brooding imagination of the prophet, and taught him: not to think so despairingly of the state of his nations could we be made to behold across our present day of small things, the evolutions of a greatness and prosperity still in reserve even for a world now lying in wickedness; or did the mighty and successive eras of the Divine administration rise in vision before us, then, instead of looking forward with dejection or dismay, we should lift up our heads and rejoice in the destinies of our species.

But though the apostle, in the course of this chapter, extends his regards to futurity; and lays before us, though in dim transparency, the varying fortunes both of Jews and Gentiles in distant ages - he has not yet quitted the consideration of matters as they stood at the time when he was writing, and accordingly tells us in the 5th verse, that even of his own countrymen there was at that moment a remnant who should be saved. We may indeed gather directly from the Scriptural narrative, the evidences of a goodly number of converts to the gospel, or at least of professing disciples, from among the children of Israel. We have first the apostles; and doubtless so many of Hebrew extraction, in the hundred and twenty who were with them on the day of Pentecost; and also of the tbousands who believed anterior to the calling of the gentiles; and further, all of that great company of the priests who were obedient to the faith - and in harmony with the assertion of Paul, that, 'Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.’

Ver. 5. Grace in the New Testament signifies either a gift, or the kindness which prompted the gift. There can be no misunderstanding of it, for example, in the former sense, whon in 1 Cor. xvi, 3, the apostle speaks of bringing their liberality to Jerusalem - that is, the fruit of their liberality, so rendered from the original word, commonly translated into grace throughout Scripture. And there can be as little misunderstanding of it in the latter muse, when the same Greek word is translated into favour in Luke, ii, 52, where we read, that Jesus increased in favour with God and man. In those instances where the gift is specified in connection with the grace which originated or conveyed it, this leaves no other meaning for the grace than the kindness, which is a very common and perhaps its primary signification. For example, "The grace of God that bringeth salvation," where salvation is the gift, and grace the kindness of the giver - "Grace reigneth unto eternal life," where eternal life is the gift, and grace the goodness which prompted it of Him whose gift it is - " Being justified freely by his grace," where the being justified or justification is the gift, and grace is the kind or generous dispositionof Him who hath conferred it.

And to close our list of instances with the verse which is before us - ’ The election of grace ‘ - where grace is the cause, election the effect; or where election is the gift, and grace is the kindness of the Giver to him on whom He hath bestowed it. It is thus that the election of grace has been defined gratuitous election - the election of pure kindness or good-will - the fruit of a generosity altogether spontaneous - a present in short, and not a payment in return for any service or in consideration of any merit on the part of him who is the object of it. Now this distinction between the kindness which prompts a gift and the gift itself; or between the generosity as it exists in the bosom of the dispenser and the fruit of that generosity, as imparted in the shape of a service done or a benefit rendered to him who is the object of it - in a word, between the beneficence and the benefaction, enables us to discriminate between the different kinds of grace, which, though all emanating from the same fountain, even the good-will of Him who is in heaven, yet are each characterised or specified, and so as to distinguish them from the rest, by the distinct and particular good done to him in behalf of whom the grace and goodness of the Father of all spirits has been exercised. Thus there might be a justifying grace, as when God justifies the ungodly; or a sanctifying grace, as when God bestows His Spirit to help our infirmities; or, comprehensive of both, a saving grace, as when it is said "by grace are ye saved, and that not of yourselves - it is the gift of God :" Or, finally, the grace of our present text, the electing grace, here termed the grace of election - that in the exercise of which He set His special love on certain of His creatures from all eternity, as on the seven thousand of Israel whom He reserved unto Himself, and who, in virtue of this His distinguishing favour, were borne onward in safety through all the dangers and temptations of their earthly pilgrimage, till admitted in secure and everlasting enjoyment to the blessedness of heaven.
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