Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

ROMANS, xi, 11 - 22.
"I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? For I speak to you Gentiles, in as much as I am the apostle of theGentile, I magnify mine office; if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead? For if the ftrst-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; boast not against the branches : but if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off."

ONE of Paul’s maxims was, that, for the sake of the gospel, he should be all things to all men; and, more especially, that to the Jews he should be as a Jew. No one could practise with greater skill or delicacy than he did, the art of conciliating those whom he addressed though, of course, he carried this only so far as truth and principle would let him. Nothing could be more sturdy and determined than his resistance, as we may see in his whole Epistle to the Galatians, when any great or cardinal doctrine of the gospel was trenched upon, though by ever so little. Yet when it possibly could be avoided, none more sensitively fearful of giving offence than he was; and when unavoidable, which it very generally was, he was always at the greatest pains to soften it to the uttermost. Even in the verses which we have just quitted, and in which he had to pronounce an awful sentence of abandonment and utter degradation upon his countrymen the Jews, still he does it as a Jew - interposing their own writers as a sort of screen between him and them; and, as if more effectually to secure their conviction though not their acquiescence and consent, speaking to them not in his own person, but in the persons of their most revered prophets and holy men of old.

And in the succeeding verses we can very obviously see, with what congeniality, as if to redeem and compensate the seventies which he had just uttered, he breaks forth on the coming enlargement of the children of Israel; and with what exquisite wisdom he manages, if I may so speak, between them and the Gentiles, with both of whom he at the time is jointly holding converse - claiming kindred with the one because of his office, and with the other because of his relationship. In short, unlike to the polemics of our modern day, and yet as uncompromising and bold as any of them - whenever an agreeable thing can be said, he says it - So that while, in truth and substance, he had the stern integrity of an old prophet when dealing with principles - he, in manner, had the pliancy and nice perception of an accomplished courtier when dealing with persons - and all this for the sake of the gospel, all for the purpose of gaining some.

Ver. 11.
‘I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall! God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealorusy.’

And so in this verse be hastens to inform them, and that with all promptitude and decision, that theirs was but a temporary stumble - what the stumbling-block was he had before told them - not an irrecoverable fall. After laying his rebuke on the perversities of men, he looks onward with the eye of a prophet to the yet unfulfilled purposes of God, in whose hand men are but the instruments of His policy; and who causes even their very sins redound to His own glory; and subserve the accomplishment of all His pleasure. When as a preacher be views them morally, he connects these sins with the wickedness of man - When as a prophet he views them historically, (for prophecy is but history in anticipation, or the history of the future,) he looks to them in connection with the sovereign power of God - first put forth at election by Him who ordains all, afterwards carried into effect by Him who worketh all in all throughout the successions of nature and providence.

One of these successions he distinctly announces in the verse now before us, when he affirms the fall of the Jews to have been the salvation of the Gentiles - as if these two events stood related to each other in the way of cause and effect, or of antecedent and sousemeut. The same connection he reasserts several times in certain clauses of the verses which follow, and which we may now single out, and thus save the necessity of our again adverting to them - as in the 12th verse, where we are told that the fall of the Jews was the riches of the world, and the diminution of. them the riches of the Gentiles; and in the 15th verse, where we read that the casting away of them was the reconciling of the world; and in the 28th verse, where we learn, that by their treatment of the gospel they became the enemies of God for the sake of the Gentiles, to whose benefit therefore this rejection of the Jews was in some way subservient; and finally, in the 20th verse, which gives us expressly to understand, that through the unbelief of the Jews mercy was obtained by the Gentiles - All suggesting the idea of a metaphysical sequence, or of a connection between these two events in the order of cause and consequence; and this again has set curiosity on edge to discover what the ligament could be which so bound together the infidelity of the Jews with the faith of the Gentiles, or what the operating influences were in the first which could bring the second in its train.

Now if God affirm that the two are thus linked together, it is our part so to believe it, whether all the cementing links and influences have or have not been submitted to our observation. We hold it the more necessary to premise this, because we think that with all men’s powers of exploration, they have not been able thoroughly to unravel the process which intervenes between the rejection of the gospel by the Jews, and either the diffusion or acceptance of the same gospel among the other nations of the earth. It may have been partially but not fully explained, either in regard to the efficient or the final causes which are concerned in it - so that lt remains in great part still a mystery in the counsels of God, of which the most we have to say is, that such is the will and the appointment of Him our Almighty Sovereign. We must not expect; that, at least in our present state, we shall ever so master the philosophy of the question, as to leave no room for the exclamation of the apostle, O the depth and unsearchableness of God’s judgments, and how past finding out! Yet let us not forget that, in the language of Job, there are parts of His ways which do lie open to our observation, though it be indeed a little portion that we know of Him. And of His ways as of His works, it is well that they should be sought out of all them who have pleasure therein - as far as they are shone upon by the lights, whether of Scripture or of experience.

Let us attend then a little to what these enquirers have got to say about this question, and what the fruit of the consideration which they have bestowed on it. There are certain palpable things which lie on the surface, as it were, of this hidden mystery; and which it were quite legitimate to notice. Had Christianity been received by the great bulk of the Jewish nation, and had they in consequence been animated by that spirit of proselytism which - essentially characterised it - a spirit heretofore new to them, though under its influence now they might have laboured for the diffusion of their, new faith over the whole earth - still it might well be imagined, that coming as it would with one mind and by one effort, from the whole people, it was but a development of their old Judaism, still unchanged, or changed only in this, that, whereas it used to be tolerant though unsocial, it had now become restless and aggressive, - making inroads on all other countries which they had hitherto let alone. It might have been most plausibly conceived, that such a national enterprise, sanctioned by all the authorities of their state, as well as by the enthusiasm of a unanimous population, would have provoked a national resistance everywhere; and far more readily awakened the suspicion of those ambitious designs, which would array every community whom they invaded, in an attitude of all the more resolute and prepared hostility against them.

Nothing, it might with all seeming fairness be reasoned, nothing could more effectually disarm this adverse imagination, than that the new religion should be carried abroad by a few persecuted outcasts, whom the Jews as a nation had disowned - a better vehicle surely for a religion which was to owe all its triumphs to the unaided force of principle and truth over the consciences of men. It was thus in fact that it first made way upon the earth - protected for a time, rather thau withstood by the Roman authorities; and certainly not calling forth the whole power of the empire against it, till it had acquired a magnitude which alarmed the civil magistrate for the safety of existing institutions, but not at the same time till it had acquired a strength which weathered and survived all his efforts for its extermination. And as this great national resistance of the Jews, with the consequent dispersion over all countries both of Jews and Christians, acted most powerfully as second causes for the propagation of Christianity at its outset in the world - So it has further been contended, that to us who look retrospectively on past ages, the evidence for the truth of our religion is thereby presented in a far more impressive form than it would otherwise have been - the testimony of its first disciples being thus far more decisively tried and found to be of purest stamp and quality, when thus delivered and then persevered in before the presence of these resolute and implacable adversaries, who yet could not overthrow it; but who rather have contributed and that mightily to its strength, both as the depositaries, and the unexceptionable, because hostile witnesses for the elder Scriptures of our faith, and so for all the corroborative argument, whether of doctrine or of prophecy, that is contained in them.

And certain it is, that we have an evidence before our eyes in the present state of the Jews, which, but for their unbelief persisted in for so many centuries, we could not have appealed to - the evidence of their singular preservation, unprecedented in all other history; and bespeaking the special providence of God, both in upholding this wonderful people as a. remnant of former revelations, and in reserving them for fulfilments and further evolutions in the scheme of the Divine administration which are yet to come. Altogether it is a phenomenon charged with argument on the side of Christianity; and having in it all the power of a living voice, to rebuke, if not the infidelity, at least the neglect and heedlesaness of those who look on the Bible and all its revelations, as a thing of nought.

Such are some of the explanations which might be given for the actual footsteps of the Divine procedure, in thus regulating the advances of Christianity throughout the world. Nor does it hinder but that they might be sound and good explanations, although they very much proceed on the natural influence of circumstances, as they were brought to bear upon human nature, such as it is. For though it lies within the power of God to overrule all the ordinary influences for the furtherance of His designs - yet we know it to be the general policy of His administration that He should be exceedingly sparing of any conflict with, or that there should be an exceeding rarity of deviations from, the laws and the regular processes which He Himself has established; and so with the exception of a few select miracles to accredit His various revelations, it seems the rule of the Almighty’s government, that its purposes shall be carried into effect in the uniform course of things, and not by a series of violations upon that uniformity. And thus it is that it comes within the philosophy of history to assign what the connections and methods were, by which the unbelief of the Jews opened a way for the gospel, and so as to speed its progress and acceptance among all other nations.

But yet though in this way we may have a deal of valid and satisfactory reasoning on the relation or the subserviency of one event to another, under our existing economy of moral and physical causes - there remains unresolved, and we think in our present state unresolvable, the transcendental question, Why such, an economy was instituted, so as to necessitate evil that good might follow, and so as to postpone for many centuries and generations the reign of universal virtue and happiness in the world. It is well for man to be made sensible of the limit within which his faculties are beset and encompassed; and so as to acknowledge, with all his certainty of a thing that so it is, his own profound ignorance of how it is. Let our attempts then be successful as they may, to explain the actings and reactings of Jewish infidelity and Gentile faith upon each other, they must carry us at last to the inscrutable will of God; nor do they supersede that apostolic reflection which follows, and which we again anticipate, of "0 how unsearchable his judgments, and his ways past finding out !"
Yet with all this sense of a present darkness and a present difficulty, it is our unbroken confidence, that what we know not now we shall know afterwards; when we join in the triumphant song of eternity, "Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints !"
‘For to provoke them to jealousy.’ But however unable to make out the whole meaning and mystery of this procedure by reasons of our own, yet when Scripture condescends to give a reason, we may adopt it with all safety, as part at least, if not the whole of the explanation. The effect stated in this verse was predicted by Moses many centuries before (x, 19). The calling of the Gentiles tended to provoke the Jews to jealousy or emulation; and the use of this, we are told by the apostle in the 14th verse, was, that it ‘might save some of them.’ And in future verses of this chapter the same thing is hinted at, as iti verse 26th, where, after mention has been made of the fulness of the Gentiles to come in, it is represented that so all Israel shall be saved; and in verses 30th and 31st, where it is intimated, that in like manner as the; unbelief of the Jews was the medium through which mercy comes to the Gentiles, so the mercy shown to the Gentiles was afterwards the medium through which mercy should come to the Jews.

And the impellent cause for this result we gather from the clause now before us, even that the sight of Gentile Christianity had in it something which moved a desire on the part of the Jews after, and so as to turn them to the faith - when no longer biding in; unbelief, they shall be again graffed into their own olive tree. (Ver. 23.) We cannot say that we have seen much yet of the distinct operation of this motive among the children of Israel. Indeed there has been little hitherto of conversion to Christianity from among the Jews, when compared with the whole bulk and body of the people; but even in the individual cases of such conversion, we are not aware that the principle adverted to in the text has had much of an efficient or actuating influence, for bringing about this change from one religion to another. Before we could affirm this, we should require to know more the history of particular conversions, and have greater access to the minds of those who have undergone the transition, than we have had thd privilege of enjoying. We cannot therefore say how far the observation of Gentile Christianity, and of its good effects on those who had embraced it, has acted as a provocative on the Jewish mind, and impelled to such efforts and enquiries as may have led in more or fewer instances to the faith of the gospel.

But as the great national conversion is yet to come - so we can anticipate how the motive specified in our text might gather strength with the lapse of time and in the course of successive generations. In the first place, their own hopes of the Messiah on whom they still calculate as a Prince and Deliverer yet to come, other than Jesus Christ the holy Son of God, must every year become more languid; and at length, we should imagine, when all the periods of their computation have run out, must finally expire. And in the second place, it lies with us to fulfil the part which is here assigned to the Gentiles. We should make Christianity the object of emulation and desire to the Jews and to all others, by our exemplification of it.

Let us not wonder that this influence has hitherto come so little into play. This is not altogether owing to Jewish insensibility. The failure is ours - at least as much, if not more, than theirs, if their minds have not been excited to an attention or a respect or a longing after Christianity, it is because we have done so little, or done nothing at all, to excite them. The light of our religion has not so shone upon them, as to make it glorious in their eyes. It may have told in the first ages, when the very heathon could exclaim, "Behold these Christiana how they love each other. But it ought to be no surprise to us, that, when Christianity declined, as a moral force, which the apostle ascribes to it, should decline also - so that men would cease either to imitate or admire it. This its constraining and attracting power is obviously discernible in apostolic times, as may be gathered from distinc and reiterated traces in the book of Acts; 1 and perhaps for a century or two it may not have altogether expired. But we are not to marvel that we so entirely lose sight of it in the miserable degeneracies which followed - as in the middle ages, when, instead of their examples or their guides, Christians became their fierce and contemptuous persecutors; or even in the present times, when such a wretchedly inadequate exhibition is still made, either of the virtues of the gospel or of its consequent effect on the peace and prosperity of men.

We have, indeed a mighty distance and declension to recover, ore we can make the Jews emulous to be what Christians are - whether by an exhibition of the grace and beauty which our faith imparts to the character of its individual professors, or of its beneficial influences on the well-being of society. Were they made distinctly to see what Christianity does, for the virtue and happiness of men, we can understand how the principle of the text might, even at this day, come into powerful operation. But as it, is, the sad imperfection of Gentile Christianity operates as a barrier in the way of Jewish conversion. It is this which makes the task of a Christian missionary among the Jews all the more arduous; and lays an awful responsibility on us, if, instead of being instruments for the furtherance of the great design unfolded in this passage, by adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things, we shall, by an opposite conduct, inflict a discredit and injury on the religion which we profess, and so as to hinder its progress in the world.

We are here distinctly told by what sort of efficacy it is, that the disciples of our faith, in the very act of being its patterns, might become its propagators among God’s ancient people - even by the exhibition of its virtues, and so of the health and melody which dwell in the habitations of the righteous. Some devoted men there have been, the apostles of our modern day, who, single-handed, and with the force of the Christian argument seconded by the demonstration of their own example, have, through the grace of God, effected genuine conversions here and there among the children of Israel. They have been the instruments of saving some (ver. 14). But ere a general effect can be anticipated from this cause, there must be a far more general representation of the worth of Christianity - and that both in its family and social pictures, as well as in those occasional specimens which one person has given after another of its ennobling and beautifying influences on the characters of men. If we would be fellow-workers with God in His great and gracious designs for the recovery of the whole earth; and. if we would not, as far as in us lies, incur the guilt of’frustrating the objects of His Divine adminiatration - it mightily concerns us how we should comport ourselves before the eyes of this select and peouliar nation, whom the Father of the human family at one time separated from all the people of the world, and for whom the highest moral destinies are yet in reserve. If it be through our mercy they are to obtain mercy let us remember that is a mercy which saves us by the washing of regeneration; and that the graces of this regeneration must appear palpably and convincingly before their view, ere we can expect that we shall entice them either to the love or admiration of the gospel. Did they but see the evidence of God being in the midst of us, whether in our preparation for the Day that is to come, or in the promise which never fails to go along with these of the life that now is - if they but witness in bright exemplification in our persons the virtues of our holy religion, its exalt faith, its heaven-born charity, its unwearied patience under calumnies, it.s ethereal sanctity, and withall its gentleness of spirit and tenderness for every thing which breathes - did they but observe the effect of these, not merely in gracing the individual possessor, but in upholding the spectacle of peaceful and well-ordered homes, of happy and harmonious neighbourhoods in every territory which Christianity blest and enlightened by its presence - Did all this stand forth in manifest and undeniable contrast with the selfishness and impiety a moral degradation of their own acquaintances, then men of their own kindred - then should we be no loss to understand, how it is that Gentiles might provoke Jews to jealousy and emulation; and when the process was by which, through the mercy bestowed on the former, mercy at length accrued the latter also.

Such then is our part in this scheme of moral government, and such the mighty importance of our right bearing toward the Jews. We have a task and a duty laid upon us for the fulfilment of their restoration; and, accordingly, the rest of the passage now on hand is mainly taken up with the manner in which we Gentiles ought to comport ourselves towards them. We shall therefore close our observations on the verses or clauses of verses which remain, by briefly noticing the points and proprieties of our incumbent conduct to the now scattered tribes of Israel. No wonder then that the conversion of the Jews should all this while have been at a stand, when our treatment of them has for so many a long century been utterly and diametrically the reverse of that which the apostle here prescribes to us. Verily if theGentiles once were, when the Jews looked with intolerance and disdain on all the world besides, this has been amply repaid by the wholesale contempt and contumely which these outcast people have since received at the hands of all the nations. Truly we are in fault in having thus made them a reproach and a by-word over the whole earth; and though the part we have acted be the fulfilment of a prophecy, this for us is no extenuation - any more than for the murderers of our Saviour, in that with wicked hands they did that which God had predetermined should be done. It would have been more godlike, had we held them beloved for their fathers’ sakes, (ver. 28). The sacredness of their origin might well have given them some place of sacredness in our consideration. The descendants of such ancestors should have been honoured be cause of them - for, ‘if the root be holy, so are th branches,’ (ver. 16). So ought this latter clause of the verse to be understood - while as to the former clause, ‘If the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy ‘ - we incline to the view of those who regard the first-fruits as the first Jewish converts to the faith - to whom the apostle appeals as proof, because samples of the capabilities of the whole nation for readmission to the great spiritual family. Nay he argues for their greater capability, (ver. 24) Seeing that they were the natural, and we only the exotic branches of the olive tree which now bears us, (ver. 17) they being by descent, and we by faith the children of Abraham, who is the father of the faithful, and from whom our Saviour, the Son of David according to the flesh, came.

We are therefore told to boast not against the branches, (ver. 18) - more kindred than we are to the root which bears us; and which, though for a time broken off, will at length be graffed in again. Our part meanwhile is to be more lowly and diffident of ourselves and more reverential of the Jews - ’ Thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.’

Ver. 19 - 22.
‘Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well because of unbelief they were broken off, and tho standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.’

These verses are instinct with principle, the full exposition and enforcement of which would require a succession of sermons. We shall but state the leading ideas which they are fitted to suggest. This passage altogether is an argument by which the apostle would repress the arrogance of the Gentiles, because they now occupied the place which the Jews before monopolized; and what, with this view, he presses on their attention, is the tenure of that occupancy which they now gloried in - a tenure, the due consideration of which would annihilate all boasting, and lead them to carry with all humility and meekness the privileges wherewith they were invested. They held them altogether on the footing, not of their own merits, but of another’s goodness - and which goodness they can only continue in by the respect and reference of their minds towards it - for without such respect or reference there can be no faith, and it is by faith we stand. The whole distinction, whether of superior happiness or superior, honour, conferred on us by the gospel, is exclusively and altogether of grace-not a thing worked for, but a thing given: And the precise office of faith is to receive it on this footing, to see and acknowledge it as a gift, and to depend for it on the truth and liberality and withal power of the Giver; trusting that what He had promised, He was able and also willing to perform (iv, 21).

It is thus that faith essentially carries one out of himself, and by its very nature must, at every moment of its exercise, accredit another with the blessings which itself cannot earn, but only can appropriate as the fruit of a generosity from without. It is thus that faith necessarily excludes boasting, as much so as one antagonist principle must displace and exterminate the other which is opposed to it. And th also nothing could be more pertinently adduced restrain the boasting of the Gentiles against the Jews - ‘against the branches ‘ - than the consideration that themselves were standing only by faith, and that therefore they should not be high-minded, but fear. But how, it may be asked, can faith and fear exist contemporaneously in the same bosom? Does not the one fitted to supplant the other? is not faith or confidence allied with courage, rather than. with timidity or terror? Does not faith work by love, and is it not said of perfect love that it casteth out fear? What then can be the object of the fear in my text ? - a fears it seems, which might co-exist with faith - for while the apostle tells these Gentile that they cay only stand by faith, he bids them at the same time not to be high-minded, but fear. To these questions a reply might be given from two contiguous verses in the Epistle to the Hebrew - -the last verse of the third, and the first verse the fourth chapter. The Israelites were kept out of their promised land because of unbelief; and I therefore fear that we, for the same reason, shall fall short of our promised land. The fear is lest we fall away from the faith, lest we lose sight of unseen objects, and so by an evil heart of unbelief depart from the living God. Nature is prone forget the things of faith, and to lose all sight sense of these in the objects of vision; and therefo is required to give earnest heed to these things, for fear she at any time should let them slip.

A man who unable to swim, has fallen among the waves and had a rope thrown out to him, would know what it is to have faith and fear in contemporaneous operation within his heart: and in very proportion to his fearful distrust of himself, would he cling to the support that had been extended to him from above. The child who is beginning to walk, alike distrustful of his own strength, keeps firm hold on the nurse who leads him; and his faith and fear, so far from conflicting forces, work most harmoniously into each other's hands. And so the Christian, aware of there being no sufficiency in himself to withstand the temptations of an evil world, keeps fast and firm hold of that grace and sufficiency which he knows to be in God; and so the moral dynamics of the gospel will be found in perfect keeping with the machinery of the human constitution, with the laws and the working of man's moral nature. The goodness and the severity of God, as brought into juxtaposition in the 22nd verse, would require a treatment which we forego for the present, and more epecially as we have made it the subject of a distinct sermon. We recur to the apostle's argument respecting the Jews.
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