Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
ROMANS, xi, 6 - 10.
"And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.",

THERE is one very obvious distinction between the electing grace of God, and the other sorts of it which have now been specified. In the election of any man thus favoured and thus signalised, God stood alone. The act took place before that the man was born, nay before the foundation of the world. It is not only prior to all the other forthputtings of Divine grace, but it gives birth to them all. If it be true that none but the elect shall obtain the kingdom of heaven; and it be also true that unless we are justified, and unless we are made holy, we shall not enter therein - then must every elect sinner have both the justifying and the sanctifying grace put forth upon him, ere that he reaches his final destination; and the connection is not more inseparable between any consequents in nature or history, and the antecedents from which they have sprung, than that which binds together the justification and the sanctification which take place on earth with the election which took place in heaven - the one, in fact, being the source or the fountain-head whence the others flow. They follow each other like the links of a chain stretching backward to the eternity that is past; and forward to the eternity which is to come.

Paul enumerates a few of these links, not all of them contiguous, - for other links than these he mentions, and intermediate between them, could be supplied both from other Scripture and from experience."Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also sanctified; and whom he sanctified, them he also glorified."

We have already said of the great and primary act of grace, the grace of election, that at the time of passing it, God was the alone party; and in this respect it stands distinguished from the other or subordinate acts of grace. For in these last man bears a part - nay we should hold it the evidence of a sensitive and extreme, and in fact ill-understood orthodoxy, to shrink from the assertion, that in these last man acts a part. By saying so,we infringe not in the least on the supremacy of God; nor abridge by ever so little the agency of His grace, as being all in all in the business of man's salvation. It is most true that He worketh all in all; but He worketh on every distinct subject of His power agreeably to its distinct and characteristic nature. When working in the world of inorganic matter, He does not change the elements or bereave them of their respective properties and forces; but upholding them in these, and preserving the distinction between them - He maketh the winds and the waters and the lightnings, and even the inert and solid earth we tread upon, the instruments of His pleasure. When He worketh in the animal or vegetable kingdoms, He reverses not one law or process of physiology; but operating on every thing according to its kind, and without violence done either to the generical or specifleal varieties of each - still it is He who"causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herbs for the service of man, that he may bring forth food out of the earth;" and it is He also, who maintains the powers and the instincts of every living creature, as when in the sublime language of Job, "He giveth to the horse its strength and clotheth his neck with thunder."

And it is even so in the moral world. Every where He is all in all - supreme in the higher as in the lower departments of nature; and yet neither obliterating the characteristics, nor overbearing the functions of any individual thing in which or by which He is pleased to operate - whether it be a plant, or an animal, or finally a man - over whom He has the entire and resistless sovereignty, yet exercises it with perfect conformity to all the feelings and faculties of his moral nature - his conscience - his intelligence - his choice - and the whole busy play of his emotions and purposes and endeavours. God worketh all in all, and as completely in man as in any other of His creatures. But what is it that He worketh in him? He worketh in him to will and to do. So that there is room both for the sovereign grace of God the Creator; and the spontaneous acting of man the creature. In all that is good, and therefore agreeable to God's good pleasure, the creature acts just in the degree, be it great or small, in which the Creator actuates, And therefore it is that in those acts of grace, which, as contradistinguished from its great and primary act, or the grace of election, we termed its subordinate acts - we say not merely that man bears a part, but even acts a part - As in believing, though faith be indeed the gift of God; or in understanding, though it be the Spirit who opens the unstanding to understand the Scriptures; or in attending, though it be the Lord that openeth the heart to attend, as He did that of Lydia; or in praying, though it be from above that the Spirit of grace and supplication is poured upon us; or in willing, though it be God alone who makes us willing for good in the day of His power; or in striving, though we can strive mightily only according to His working who worketh in us mightily; and finally, in the business of purifying ourselves and perfecting our own holiness, though this can only be as fellow-workers with God, who have not received His grace or His promises in vain, when God will dwell in us and walk in us.

In all these instances there is a grace put forth from on high, and this responded to by being acted on from below. This may serve to establish our discrimination between the primary act of grace, even that of election, in which man has no part, and the subordinate acts, in which man has a part - and termed by us subordinate, not only because posterior in time, but because dependent in the order of cause and effect on the preordination from which they all have germinated. It is obvious that man had no part in the primary act, any more than he has had a part in his own creation. But it is alike obvious that he has a part in the subordinate acts, though a part of as entire subjection as is that of the clay in the hands of the potter. It is a part however; and such a part as properly and characteristically belongs to a willing, understanding, purposing, and. acting creature. And so he believes, perhaps after enquiry and prayer, in order to his justification; and he obeys, with prayer and painstaking both, in order to his sanctification; and while nothing is more true than that by grace alone he is saved, yet in perfect harmony with this, and as being a grace which both teaches and enables him to live soberly righteously and godly - it is equally true that it is for him to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling.

Now we hold it of capital importance, both for rightly dividing the word of truth arid for the guidance of our practical Christianity, clearly to understand - that there is nothing in the consideration of the primary grace passed in heaven long ago, which should in the very least affect or embarrass the part we ought to take on earth in that subordinate grace wherewith we have presently to do. We are the more anxious to press this home, because of the imagination - that the one is a barrier in the way of our dealing freely and confidently with the other, just as is prescribed and plainly laid down for us in Scripture... Whatever your capacity may be for the doctrine of election - whether it be a strong meat which you are able for; or, if fit only for the milk which serves to the nourishment of babes, you ought not to meddle with it - this cannot change, nor should it in the slightest darken, those stable categories of Scripture, that concern either the duties to be done by all, or the calls and the promises which are there held out to all.

This doctrine must be profitable to some at least, else it would have formed no part or parcel of Scripture, though perhaps it may not yet have been profitable to you.- nay in danger, it may be, of being so perverted and misunderstood, as to be wrested by you to your own hurt. God may at length, or He may not, reveal even this unto you, as He does to others who are perfect. But be this as it may - let that great and primary deed of grace which took place amid the counsels of the past eternity, and was transacted when God stood alone - let that be to you a lofty and transcendental theme which you cannot lay hold of, but which must remain an inaccessible mystery till the time cometh when you shall know even as you are known There is, posterior to this and subordinate to this, a grace, in the operation of which God standeth not alone, but which He brings to bear on earth's lowly platform - that here it may circulate at large and come into busy converse with the hearts and among the habitations of men. Of this grace as placed within the reach of all, it is the duty of all to avail themselves."Ask, and ye shall receive: Seek, and ye shall find" Pray for the Holy Spirit, and He shall be given to you - Believe, and yeshall be saved; and, in order to this belief; give earnest heed to the things which are spoken - These are all so many parts and manifestations of that subordinate, or as it may be termed, of that accessible or available grace whereof I am now speaking, and of which each man is called on to avail himself; and that without once bestowing a thought or a conjecture on the question, whether he has or has not a part in the grace of election. These are the revealed and the patent and the palpable things we have to do with here; and they ought not to be complicated with the hidden things, which lie far out of sight among the viewless eminences of the region that is above us. We cannot in any possible way change our election, or make it surer than it is in itself. Neither can we make it surer than it already is unto God. Yet there is a way, and that, too, a way of diligence in certain things, by which we may make it sure unto ourselves - " for if ye do these things ye shall never fall."

No doubt it is by the election of grace, that a remnant of Jews was preserved to the exclusion of the rest of the nation;, but there is no such election as should forclose the application to that outcast people of all that available grace, the means and instruments of which have been so amply put into our hands. It was upon their seeking wrongly, and not on election (ix, 32) that their rejection immediately or proximately turned; and again upon their seeking rightly will their restoration as immediately turn. “If they bide not still in unbelief," they will certainly be recalled; and there is nothing respecting them in the book of secret destiny which will hinder this result. Let the things which are written there be as impenetrably shrouded as they may, our way is clear - which is, to ply the children of Israel with the offers of salvation, and give no rest to God in prayer till He make Jerusalem a praise upon the earth. And for speeding onward the work of home Christianity our way is equally clear - which is, for ministers, on the one hand, to preach it urgently and freely in the hearing of every man; and for aspiring disciples, on the other, to read and to supplicate and to reform the evil of their doings, and not only to seek but to strive, nay even to press with all vigour and violence into the kingdom of heaven, till they take it by force.

Ver. 6.
‘And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.' For the full and clear exposition of this remarkable verse, it must be taken to pieces, that several distinct things may be adverted to. ‘And if by grace.' If what by grace? Look to the preceding verse. ‘There is a remnant according to the election of grace, and if by grace. If it be by grace that there is a remnant - or if it be of grace that God has elected; or, looking to the anterior verse, if God have reserved them to Himself by grace. The apostle is here making statement of the cause or origin to which the selection of a certain number as God's own peculiar people, is to be referred. Their selection is by grace - a matter of mere favour - of free generosity and goodwill, and so altogether a gift on the part of God.
Then is it no more of works. Grace is not only the cause of God having reserved a certain.number to Himself; but it is the sole cause. He makes mention of another and a rival cause which has often been assigned for this preference of the elect by God; but he does so for the purpose of rejecting it - and thereby fortifies the simple assertion which he had made, or makes a more strenuous asseveration of it. He utterly repudiates the idea of its being a reward or recompence for works done, or we may add, for works foreseen. It is not of works in any way; but altogether a thing of sovereign and spontaneous bounty. It is a present, not a payment - a thing freely conferred by God, not rightfully claimed or challenged by man. Yet though not of or by works, it may be to works. That is a different matter. Though it is not because we have lived righteously that we are made the objects of this grace, yet because the objects of this grace are we both taught and enabled to live righteously.

"Not of works, lest any man should boast." Yet, after all, created unto good works - for the same God who ordains to everlasting life, ordains also the heirs of a blissful eternity to walk in them. It is interesting to observe that the same high and absolute terms which guarantee the final salvation of the elect, guarantee also the virtuousness of their character and conduct. They are ordained, it is true, to eternal life - yet are they ordained also to walk in good works.And they are predestinated to be His children - yet predestinated to be conformed unto the image of His Son. And they are chosen before the foundation of the world - yet chosen to be holy, and without blame in love. And they are elect according to foreknowledge - yet is it an election sealed and confirmed by the sanctification of the Spirit, as well as belief of the truth. Otherwise grace is no more grace. By this clause there is an advance made in the apostle's argument; and we are made to know of grace and works, that, not only are they distinct, but in the matter at issue they are opposites, or incompatible, nay mutually destructive the one of the other. What is earned by service is not received as a gift. As far as you make it a thing of favour, you annihilate it as a thing of merit; or as far as you make it, a thing of merit, you annihilate it as a thing of favour. Neither must we understand it to be so far of works and so far of grace, or compounded and made up as it were of these two categories. The doctrine of the apostle here, as of the New Testament everywhere, is, that God's friendship is either of works wholly or of grace wholly. There is no intermediate ground between the first and second covenants - the one being altogether of works, and the other altogether of bounty. It is not of works in part and of grace in part, but either of grace entirely and works not at all, or of works entirely and grace not at all. It is by grace and not of works by ever so little, lest to the extent of that little any man should boast, or lest to the extent of that little it should be of debt. These two elements are not only separated, but placed in opposition to each other, and so in fact as to make it a war of extermination between them. The attempt of piecing the one to the other, or of mixing together the two covenants, is utterly repudiated in Scripture, as fatal to the peace of the believer, and subversive of the whole economy of the gospel.

"But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work'. This whole clause is by critics of greatest authority rejected as an interpolation. (But Bible-believing Christians reject the critics! ed.) It is but an expression, or more properly a reiteration of the same truth; and signifies that, of the two elements in question, as grace would utterly dispossess works from having ought to do in the matter of our acceptance with God, so works would as wholly and effectually dispossess grace. That this holds true of God's electing grace is quite obvious, both from the nature of the grace itself and from other parts of Scripture. The children of election are made so before that they are born, or had yet done either good or evil - and this that the purpose of God might stand according to election, and not of works, but of Him that calleth. In the act of choosing or predestinating at the first, works could have no place; and grace was all in all. Then God was alone. Out and out the destiny of the blest to their everlasting happiness is a thing of His determination - a determination including, no doubt, the previous or preparatory works of each, as well as his final salvation, but still a determination which was at once the primary cause and fountain-head of both. And, what to us at least is of practically greater importance, the same holds true not of electing grace merely, but of justifying grace also. We hold it as being of prime and vital magnitude, for else the gospel were nullified, that we should understand our justification to be altogether of grace, and not in the least, not at all of works. Our meritorious acceptance with God, or as it may be termed our judicial right of entry into heaven, rests upon a basis that is one and homogeneous, consisting of but a single ingredient, even that of grace - grace through the righteousness of Christ - at least to the utter exclusion of our own works as the other ingredient, the admixture whereof, though in but the smallest item or iota, would operate as a vitiating flaw to deteriorate, nay utterly pervert the pure quality or essence of that which constitutes the available righteousness of a sinner before that Lawgiver, of whose throne justice and judgment are the habitation.

Let a man's own deservings be admitted by ever so little, as forming part of his plea in law for the rewards of eternity; and the question would instantly be stirred - has that little been made out on which we should have aspirants for heaven of two sorts - First, they of more delicate and enlightened conscience, who always and with good reason dissatisfied with themselves, would be incessantly seeking rest and never finding it. Secondly, they of blunter moral sensibility, who, under their system. of at least a little human virtue to eke out the price or purchase-money for a place in heaven, can sit at ease, and just because they can make so little serve. The two elements of our text, the grace and the works, in the matter of justification, will not amalgamate - for let works but enter in proportion and degree however small: And it either, on the one hand, wakens up again all the jealousies and disquietudes of the old covenant; or infuses that mercantile and mercenary spirit which, labouring to drive a hard bargain for heaven, both limits the amount and secularises the character of our obedience - making it as unlike as possible, whether in respect of indefinite progress or willing alacrity and delight, to the services of heaven-born love and liberty.

We may hence see the moral purpose of the Epistle to the Galatians as part of the Bible. In the Epistle to the Romans, the doctrine of justification without works is presented with great force and fulness as a general proposition. In that to the Galatians, we have the apostolic treatment and disposal in a specific case of a claim put in, for one virtue at least, to a share in the office of buildiug up a meritorious righteousness before God - so as that consideration and a place might be given to it, however small or subordinate it may be, in the title-deed of Christians to the Jerusalem above. This was the solitary rite of circumcision - the main observance, if not the all, which the Jews contended for. To whom Paul would not give way, no not for an instant; but withstood to the face, in the spirit and with the determination of a mortal. warfare - as if a question of life or death to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so he fought with all his might against it, giving no quarter - for he saw the evil of it in its full extent - That it would make the cross of none effect; and revive the bondage of other days; and reinstate the whole law, with its unsatisfied demands and unappeased terrors, over the consciences of men - so as to substitute the obedience, either of slavish dread or of a lifeless form, for the free and grateful and confiding services of the gospel.

We cannot but admire the exqsisite wisdom of thus keeping the ground of a sinner's acceptance with God intact and inviolable; nor let us wonder at the intense earnestness of Paul, when, in every form of strenuous asseveration, he maintains the doctrine of justification, not by faith, but by faith alone - as being the only solid foundation of peace, the only outlet and incentive to virtue along the career of a progressive holiness.

Ver. 7.
‘What then Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded'. The same apostle who tells the primary cause of the difference between Jews and Gentiles, by tracing it upward to the predestination of God, also tells us the proximate cause of this difference in the practice of men. Israel did not obtain that which he sought for, because he sought it wrongly, that is, by the works of the law utistead of faith. Only they of the election obtained it, and why ? - for the primary does not supersede the proximate - because they sought it rightly. Yet he recurs again from the part which men had in it to the part which God had in it, when in the last clause of this verse, taken along with a few succeeding verses, he tells us that ‘the rest were blinded.

Ver. 8 - 10.
‘According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear; unto this day-. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompence unto them: let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway. One might imagine that on the back of the assertion in the last clause, even that the rest were blinded - the question might be put, Who blinded them? and the answer be given in the verses now placed before you. We are sensible that this would be felt by many as a harsh and injurious representation of the Deity; and we are also aware of the softening expedients which have been resorted to, in order to mitigate or do it away. For this purpose ingenious men have drawn upon the hypothesis, that like as all matter is essentially at rest till put in motion by an external cause - so every created being, though endowed with both moral and intellectual capacities, is essentially devoid of all spiritual light or spiritual goodness, till these are communicated by Him who is the author of every good and perfect gift. It is thus that they would repel the charge of God being the author of sin, by denying that God makes men sin - for that He only withholds the grace which would make them righteous. And in like manner would they deny that God blinds the eyes of any, but that He only withholds the light which would make them see - insomuch that He is no more the author of spiritual, than the sun is the author or fountainhead of material darkness. And so they view the matter thus - That all which is evil springs from the creature or from beneath, but all which is positively good from the Creator - He often leaving men to themselves, but never putting Himself forth or operating efficiently upon them, save for the purpose of illuminating or making them holy.

Now for ourselves we feel it not necessary, either to adopt this hypothesis or decisively to reject it. For aught we know, there may be grounded on some deep-hid physical necessity, which we are not in circumstances either to affirm or deny - be that essential defectibility in every created thing which the schoolmen tell us of; and if so, it looks a plausible conclusion that all the direct moral influences put forth by God upon His creatures are on the side of what is good, - while all the evil which they exhibit is not worked in them by the Divinity, but only left to its own working, as it comes inherently and properly from themselves. We have no quarrel with this argument - for though not convinced by it, neither do we feel ourselves able to overturn it; and so long as it remains a plausibility which infidels cannot dispose of, then it rests on at least as good a footing as their own objection; and both therefore - both the hostile consideration of religions enemy, and the defensive consideration of its friend - may be kept alike at abeyance.

It is thus that we are sometimes led to look with indulgence on this one and that other scholastic ingenuity, conjured up for the protection of the faith - for though not in itself absolutely proved, yet, if incapable of being disproved, it may at least neutralise many an objection, intended by their authors as so many deadly thrusts at the Christian revelation - a revelation which stands secure on the basis of its own evidences, amid the conflicting and sometimes alike shadowy speculations both of its friends and its adversaries. But as we said before, for our own satisfaction these conjectural theories are in no demand with us; and though with some minds they should serve for the removal of stumbling blocks at which they might otherwise have fallen, yet for ourselves we can take these verses as they stand, and in their obvious meaning too - a meaning all too plain to require the exposition of them. We expect enigmas in theology as well as in nature; and as in the one department, we do not permit them to overbear the manifestation of the senses - so in the other, they ought not to overbear either the lights of history in favour of the Bible, or the manifestation of its truth unto our consciences.

And yet in these verses, hopelessly recondite and intractable as they might appear - we can read a lesson of signal value in practical religion. Even in philosophy, with the objects which we most familiarly handle, and the processes which pass most currently before our eyes, we are soon baffled and get beyond our soundings, when we attempt to trace present appearances into the past, though but a few steps back among the depths of causation. Let us not wonder then, if we shcnild find it to be the same in the spiritual processes of Christianity; or if there should be a distinction here too between things which we know how to deal with, and things which elude our every effort to grasp or comprehend them. This is remarkably exemplified in the subject-matter of the passage now before us. We can say little or nothing of anterior, and especially of first movements - just as little in fact as we can clear our way upward to the electing grace of God. And yet we can see thoroughly to the movements in hand, and wherewith we have thost emphatically and most urgently to tie. If we indulge in listless and spiritual sloth about the high matters of our salvation, God will give us the spirit of slumber. If we refuse to look with our eyes, God will take away that which we have, and so darken our eyes that we cannot see. If we hearken not diligently now at the call of principle, the conscience within will afterwards emit a feebler voice; and even the loudest remonstrances from without of the word and the preacher, may, in the growing obtuseness of faculties that we will not exercise, be altogether unheeded by the moral ear.

If the store of comforts wherewith Providence has blest us, prove but a snare and a provocative to our unbridled appetites - these too will be made to wax against our souls. In short, by that economy of grace under which we sit, there may be an ever-growing blindness and ever-growing hardness which follow judicially in the train of guilty indulgences; and, on the other hand, let the most be made of the light and the strength we at present have - and then, in the order of God's administration, or on the principle of the Holy Ghost being given to those who obey Him, this will be followed up by a supply of larger powers and larger manifestations. There then is a view of these particular Scriptures now before us, eminently subservient to the business of our discipleship as Christians; and, whatever obscurity may rest on the initial steps of this process - it is surely our part, among the actual steps of it in which we are now implicated, if we cannot solve the difficulties of the past, at least to busy ourselves with all diligence in the duties of the present - That is to awaken from our lethargies, and Christ will give us light; to order our conversation aright, and God will show us His salvation. These are the matters on hand wherewith we plainly have to do; and even the history of the Jews may be turned to the practical account which we are now making of them. For though the primary cause of their being cast off may be traced upward to a decree of election (ver. 5), its proximate cause was their own misconduct. Their personal rejection by God came on the back of their own rejection of the Saviour. They had withstood His miracles. They had turned a deaf ear to all His invitations. They had shut their eyes and steeled their consciences against such evidences of His mission as ought to have overpowered them; and the effect was, that it just hardened and blinded them the more - Insomuch that in the view of their approaching desolation, when the pitying Saviour wept over them, He pronounced as the final result of their impenitency in not minding the things which belonged to their peace - that now they were hid from their eyes. Well then did the apostle supplement the quotations from writers of an ancient period, by a clause which applied their description to the Jews of his own time - 'Unto this day.'
Go To Lecture 85
Go back to Romans index

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