Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

"And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree, which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree! For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief; even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all."

"The general injunction to missionary work is comprehensive of Jews as well as Gentiles - "Go preach the gospel to every creature" But the duty of, labouring for the conversion of God’s ancient people is furthermore laid on a distinct and special ground of its own. All that is said of them in Scripture serves to enhance the obligation of attempting, in every possible way, to find access among them for the doctrines and dispensation of the New Testament. This is an employment whereof we are told that the good of it will come back with double interest upon ourselves. Or rather, and without putting it into this selfish form, we learn from the Bible that the Christianity of the Jews will be followed up by a mighty enlargement in the character and state of Christlanity throughout the world - so that in labouring for this, we become in a peculiar manner the fellow-workers of God, and instruments in His hand, for prosecuting and carrying forward to its fulfilment one of the highest objects of His administration. It were the most germinant of all our missionary enterprises - or the one most prolific of a rich moral blessing to the great family of mankind. The full return of the Jews will be the riches, we are told, of all other nations (ver. 12); and by entering therefore on this peculiar walk, we may well be said to enter on the highest department of missionary labour, and in which we most harmonise both with the designs of Providence and the schemes of prophecy. The procedure of the first apostles in this respect might serve perhaps as a model for the apostolical work of our present day. They carried forth the gospel to all nations - yet beginning at Jerusalem. And into whatever city they entered, it was their general practice first to seek out the Jews - entering into their synagogues, and reasoning first with them out of their Scriptures. And when Paul arrived a prisoner at Rome, the first thing he did was to send for the Jews. They seem still to have acted in the spirit of that charge which our Saviour while on earth gave to His disciples, when He bade them go first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Nay the apostles expressly alleged a necessity for this order - even that the word of God should first be spoken to the Jews before they turned to the Gentiles.

At that time the unbelief of the Jews was a stepping-stone to the faith of the Gentiles and by their being first preached to, this unbelief came into open manifestation - which both served as an intimation for the apostles to desist, .aud seems not to have been without its influence on the new hearers to whom they then turned themselves. But this period of Jewish unbelief is now drawing to a close; and by a sort of reverse law, it is the faith of that people which will now be the steppingstone to a great and general expansion of Christianity among men. Surely then when the conversion of the Jews is so much more hopeful, the duty of preaching to them is not less imperative and at least greatly more attractive than before - and especially now that the ulterior good is arrived at by a medium so much more bright and beautiful, than that through which the first teachers of Christianity had to find their way ere they came into contact with the Gentiles. Theirs was a rugged path, from the rejection of the gospel by their own countrymen, to the proclamation of it over a world where it was yet unknown - And ours, on the other hand, we should feel an inviting path, from the reception of this same gospel by the children of Israel, to the spread and the revival of it among all nations. It is such a receiving as will be life from the dead (ver. 15). Under all the views of it, the evangelisation of the Jews should rank as a first and foremost object of Christian policy.

And here it occurs to us, that the exceeding rarity as yet of Jewish conversion, so far from a reason for despairing of future success, should, if taken in connection with the whole history of the case, lead rather to an opposite conclusion. It is through our mercy that they at length are to obtain mercy - or through the medium of Gentile Christianity, that the light of the gospel is to find entry into the hearts and understandings of this ancient people of God. We, whether by our example or our exertions or both, are, somehow or other, to be the instruments of effecting this mighty change in the Jewish mind; and the question is, how have we acquitted ourselves in this capacity - or what has hitherto been our treatment of those, who have been thus devolved on our custody and care, and of whom we may be said especially to have been put in charge! Looking then to this matter generally and historically through a succession of ages, we find this treatment to have been the very opposite of that which is here prescribed to us; and that, speaking in the gross, we have not only neglected the apostolic rule, but have actually reversed it - So that, instead of warming these outcasts of the Almighty’s displeasure by our kindness, or conciliating them by our respect, or inspiring them with confidence by our justice, or awakening their admiration of the gospel by our exemplification of its virtues and graces - we, in the great bulk and majority of our proceedings, have brought all the opposite influences to bear upon them, and done every thing we could to alienate and repel and put them to an impracticable distance away from us. Acting the tyrants and persecutors of a forlorn race, we have become the veriest abjects or offscourings of humanity in our hands. We know that at length their heart is to turn to the Lord, when they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced, and mourn for Him as for a first-born. But to hasten onward this consummation, we should turn from the evil of our way towards them, and mourn over all the insults and the wrongs which for two thousand years have been heaped on this people of noble ancestry and of still nobler destination.

It might be looked on as a strange inference to draw from our almost total want of success hitherto - that on this retrospect of Jewish obstinacy and hatred of the gospel for so many ages, we should ground the bright and hopeful anticipation, not of a few individual conversions as heretofore, but of their national return to Him, who is the Hope and Saviour of all the ends of the earth. But the inference is more sound and legitimate than it may be at first taken for. We count on this change of result in the Jewish mind, because we perceive a change in the causality which is being brought to bear upon it. On looking back to the sullen inveteracy of Jewish prejudice for so many ages, we cannot but observe that the instrumentality wherewith it has been plied is not only not the same, but the very opposite to that which the apostle would have put into our hands - whereas on looking forward, we can perceive that a reverse influence is to be put in operation; nor can we deem the conclusion to be illogical, when we reckon on the effect being different just from the cause being different.
It is like the promise of a first and hopeful experiment, and to which we address ourselves with all the greater confidence, that, instead of some gratuitous or hap-hazard trial in the hands of a projector, the very means are to be now set agoing, which are not only most fitted by nature to soften and disarm the antipathies of the human spirit, but which have been expressly sanctioned and enjoined in the oracles of a wisdom that is infallible. We speak not of the modern liberalism which but ministers to the secular pride and interest of this nation of aliens; and seeks for nothing further than their admission into courts and parliaments. We speak of the unutterable missionary longings now felt on their behalf; and of the efforts now making, not by single adventurers only, but by societies and whole churches, to recall these hapless wanderers, and entreat them by every moving argument to come within the limits, and be honoured as at once the highest ornaments and best-loved inmates of the spiritual family of God. There is doubtless a wide contrast,- between our hopes of the future and our recollections of the past - but not wider than the contrast between our haughty, injurious, and oppressive treatment of the Jews then; and the meekness, the gentleness, the perfect frankness and sincerity, the heart-breathing desires after their salvation, the earnest and affectionate persuasion, the unwearied, we hope the unconquerable kindness wherewith they will now continue to be assailed, in the face, it may be, of discouragements and insults - All to tell at length, we trust, with the omnipotence of Christian charity giving forth the authentic exhibition of herself in the whole bearing and demeanour of the men who thus long and thus labour, not perhaps for their civil immunities and privileges, but for the glories of a higher citizenship, for their readmittance to the household of God, as the great and one thing needful - mightily to be striven, and mightily to be prayed for.

Thus as the apostacy of the Jews led to the calling of the Gentiles; so will the Christianity of the Gentiles, when fully and consistently proceeded on, lead onward to the effectual recalling of the Jews. But the succession of benefits and blessings will not stop here - for, by a further step in the progress, will this conversion of God’s ancient people to the truth as it is in Jesus operate by a mighty reaction, in the further extension and establishment of the gospel throughout the world. We have the traces, nay the distinct intimations of this, in more than one clause of the passage now before us - as in verse 12th, where we are told that the fulness of the Jews will augment the riches of the Gentiles; and in verse 15, that, the receiving of them will be life from the dead. We gather the same information from other Scriptures both of the Old and the New Testament - as when Isaiah tells us (lx, 3), that "the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising;"and that the abundance of the sea, and the forces of the Gentiles shall be converted and come unto Israel (lx, 5) - whose seed shall be known among the Gentiles; and all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which God hath blessed (lxi, 9); for then will the Gentiles see their righteousness, and kings their glory (lxii, 2). This reflex influence, if it may be so termed, of Jewish upon Gentile Christianity, is still further intimatedby the Psalmist as follows - "Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion,"and "so the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory." Hear also the prophet Jeremiah - "I will cause the captivity of Judah, and the captivity of Israel to return, and will build them as at the first, and cleanse them from all their iniquity: And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nation’s of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them.” That the fulfilment of these prophecies is still to come, we may well conjecture from such passages as Isaiah, xliii, 18, 19; Jeremiah, xvi, 14, 15; xxiii, 7, 8. But the conjecture advances to a certainty, by the quotation of the apostle in Romans, xi, 26 - where he looks onward to the accomplishment as yet future of the glorious prediction of Isaiah in lix, 20 - ”. And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob" - the undoubted reference of Paul, when he alludes to it as a thing written, that “There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob."

We have already tried in some slight degree, to explain how it was, or what the connecting influences were, by which Gentile Christianity followed in the train of Jewish unbelief; and again, we have also said a little on the operation which this Gentile Christianity, when rightly exercised and fully manifested, should have, in opening the eyes of the Jews, and so turning them to the faith. But there‘s still a third sequence in this progression of moral changes, whereof prophecy tells us that so it will be-; and the curiosity of man prompts him, as in the other cases, to enquire, how it will be? And here too, we can to a certain extent meet the enquiry - for it appears pretty obvious, that a great national movement towards Christianity on the prrt of the Jews, and their actual adoption of a faith whichthey have so long held in detestation, must tell with mighty and decisive effect on the rest of the world. If the very existence of the Jews as a separate people be in itself the indication of a providence - a singular event in history, which demonstrates the part taken by Him who overrules all history in the affairs of men - how much more impressive will the evidence become, when this same people shall describe the actual evolution, which it was predicted they should do, more than two thousand years ago; shall, after the dispersions and the desolations of man's generations, reach at last the very landing-place, to which the finger of prophecy has been pointing from an antiquity so high as that of the patriarchal ages.

We know not if this splendid era is to be ushered in by palpable and direct miracle. We would not affirm this, but far less can we deny it. But should there be no such manifestation of the Divine power conjoined with this marvellous fulfilment, there will at least be such a manifestation of the Divine knowledge, as will incontestably prove that God has had to do with it; and so as that history shall of itself perform the office of revelation, or men will trace the finger of the Almighty in the events which are sensibly passing before their eyes. And besides, w have reason to believe of these converted Jews, that they will become the most zealous and successful of all nissionaries; or, like Paul before then the preachers of that faith which they persecuted in times past, and once laboured to destroy. It is said of a single Christian that he may be the light of the world. How much more will be a whole nation of Christians - glowing in the full ardour of their new-born convictions with apostolic fervour; and the very fruit of whose conversion will tell with a hundred-fold greater effect than even that of St. Paul, as a testimony or evidence for the faith. Verily like him, their great prototype, they will pre-eminently and emphatically be the apostles of the Gentiles; and there will be a light to lighten these Gentiles, in the very glory of the people of Israel. We must look to futurity for this great accomplishment - for, most obviously, it has not yet been realised. It will be "in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,. to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem"

This is all yet to come - else how could it be spoken, as an immediate sequence of its fulfilment - that "He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." But, after all, we are but attempting an explanation of the efficient causes in this process - which, though fully and satisfactorily made out, would still, leave the final cause of the whole an unresolved mystery. We may be able to follow and understand every step of a mechanism which has been set up for the production of a given result - yet not understand the meaning of the result itself, and still less the reason why such a process should have been instituted, rather than any other, for the purpose of making it good; especially if it be a process which involves in it the perdition, endless and irremediable, of the millions and millions more of many generations.

The difficulty is aggravated a thousand-fold, when the Author and Originator of the whole is a Being of infinite power, but a power under the direction of infinite goodness and wisdom - prone as we are to wish, and therefore to imagine, that He may have willed, - and by the energies which belong to Him, have also brought forth an instant creation of perfect light and perfect virtue; and secured it against all the inroads, by which either wickedness or woe could have ever entered. This is the mystery of God - not the glorious consummation of a regenerated world, but the deep-laid necessity for the evil which preceded it; and why it had to be reached by so long and dark and laborious a pathway, strewn as it were with the ruins of many successive ages. The origin of evil comes into view while we meditate on these things; and the difficulties of this transcendental question serve still more to beset and baffle our ambitious speculations. It might be felt by some to alleviate, though most certainly it does not resolve.the mystery, if we can state some analogy between the process laid down in this chapter and other parts or passages in the history of the Divine administration. For example, the apostle elsewhere tells us of the law having entered, that the offence might abound. It looks inexplicably hard, that the law, or aught whatever, should have come directly from God for such a purpose - or that sin might be multiplied: But the difficulty seems to be at least mitigated, if not wholly done away, when the apostle further tells us, that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” - a grace all the more illustrious, it is certain, from the magnitude and enormity of that guilt over which it triumphed. Nay we are told of another great moral design which was accomplished by sin being thus placed in connection with the law - “ that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful" - as if the worth and excellence of that which is good, and the exceeding deformity of that which is evil, were, by juxtaposition, brought into more bright and vivid manifestation. And the case before us looks like another specimen of the same thing - characteristic of the Divine administration; and in keeping with, or in the style, of its general policy. He had first illustrated the mercy of the gospel, and. all the more palpably, by its taking effect, at least chiefly and primarily, on the Gentiles, wholly given over to idolatry, and disfigured by all the atrocities of human wickedness - rather than on the decent, formal, well-seeming Jews, the professing worshippers of one God; whose vices, of deep and subtle and spiritual a character, did not glare so on the eye of general observation. But these, in their turn, and after ages of seemingly hopeless alienation, during which they acquit themselves with all the despite and defiance and resolved hardihood of outlaws - on these, obviously reared by Providence for some of its high designs, shall we yet behold the second great illustration of gospel mercy; all the more enhanced, it is certain, by its breaking forth in the train of Jewish perversity and Jewish unbelief, at length giving way, after they had stood their ground and been distinctly persisted in for many generations.

This is one undoubted effect of His having concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all (ver. 32). The one, so to speak, is set off by the other - like the effect of light and shade in painting; or when any object in nature is seen all the more strikingly and conspicuously because of the dark ground on which it is projected. In a school of virtue, one chief end is the enforcement of great moral lessons; and this. perhaps were best effected,by bringing out in boldest possible relief the evil of sin; and in all their beauty and brightness the characteristics of highest moral perfection, or, which is tantamount to this, the high and holy attributes of Him, in whom all perfection as well as all power have had their everlasting dwelling-place.

Now providence is preeminently a school of virtue;. and we may therefore expect that history, and in a more especial manner sacred history, where the manifestations of providence are seen in nearest connection with the designs of grace, will abound in such lessons. And accordingly, such is the manifest purpose of many revealed evolutions or passages in the history of the Divine administration - of God’s dealings with the world. We have already noticed that a law was brought in, and for the purpose that sin might become (or might appear) exceeding sinful - like a foul blot on a tablet of resplendent purity. . And though in a form of a question, yet it is no obscure hint which is conveyed, when Paul asks, Whether it might not be God’s will to show His wrath, His righteous indignation at moral evil, and to make His power known - when He destroys those vessels of wrath which He had before endured with much long-suffering. And in like manner would we infer, that it is to exhibit the Divine character in another of its phases - even the riches of His glory, specified in Ephesians, i, 6, as the glory of His grace - when we read, that, also after much long-suffering it may be, the long-suffering which -is termed salvation by the apostle Peter, He heaps His choicest perferments and blessings on the vessels of mercy, and thus makes known the riches of His glory.

One main end of the Divine policy in the government and final destiny of men seems to be manifestation - that both heaven and earth might learn thereby the more to hate all evil, to love and admire all worth and goodness and true greatness, whether in themselves or as exemplied by Him in whom all greatness and goodness are personified. In harmony with this view, we read of the Lord Jesus being revealed with His mighty angels, on that dread occasion when the glory of His power and sacredness shall be displayed in the destruction of sinners; and the glory of His infinite love for the holy in the triumph and happiness of the saints. And so his disposal of the church does not terminate in, but has an ulterior object to itself - even "to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known, by the church, the manifold wisdom of God."

There is evidently here a something pointed at beyond the immediate, concern which men have in the Divine procedure - a reference to the distant as well as to the future; and our felt ignorance of this larger and more comprehensive policy should serve to humble and chasten and repress our ambitious speculations. Yet though we see but in glimpses, we cannot fail to discern in Scripture the traces of a constant respect to manifestation as one great drift or design of God’s universal government - and that too the manifestation of contrasts, or of things made more striking and conspicuous in themselves, by being presented along with their opposites. So essentially and characteristically indeed is holiness a repugnance to moral evil, that some have been satisfied with this as a sufficient explanation for the enigma of its existence - that but for the reality, or at least the conception of evil, there could have been no exhibition of that jealous and invincible recoil from sin, wherewith perfect virtue must ever regard the opposite of itself. For our own parts, we can profess no absolute satisfaction with any of the solutions which have been proposed of these high mysteries. We look upon them all as hypothetical, and yet of use, because fully adequate to the work of silencing, and so placing in abeyance the infidelity alike hypothetical which has been grounded on the questions wherewith they deal. The real and effective evidence for the truth of the Christian revelation is thus left uninjured; and while we gladly accept of these friendly explanations for all that they are worth, we cannot view them to be so complete, as to leave no sense of a difficulty yet unfathomable, and no room for the apostolic reflection - "0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out !“
But we ought now to enter on a separate treatment of those few verses in the passage which might require any explanation. We must forbear the consideration of such prophetic views as are here suggested, and to which full justice could only be rendered in a distinct work.

Ver. 25.
‘In part.’ So great a part as to impress a cursory observer with its totality. It was not just this however - for a certain though very small proportion of the whole nation had been converted. Paul gladly avails himself of this, that he might be enabled to characterise the blindness only as partial; and so be allowed to soften, as his manner is, the representation which lie here gives to those Jews whom he is addressing in this epistle of the unbelief of their countrymen. -'Until,’ or ‘during,’ or ‘while.’ The season of Jewish unbelief will be that of Gentile conversion. We could not from this single verse infer, that, contemporaneous with the restoration of Israel, there was to ensue a remarkable enlargement of general Christianity in the world. This idea, however, might well be suggested by the expression - especially when taken in connection with other parts of the chapter and other prophecies of the Bible. Apart from these, the fulness might be understood to mean, not the great number who were to come in, but the whole number who should be converted, whether that number was great or small. The blindness was to continue while the elect among the Gentiles were gathering, be they few or many; or till all such of them as were ordained to eternal life should believe; or, more generally still,"until the times of the Gentiles should be fulfilled."- This leaves the extent of conversion among the Gentiles undetermined; and also leaves us at liberty to judge, whether, while there is reason to believe that about the time when the Jews are brought in there will be a great enlargement in the general Christianity of the world - whether that enlargement is to precede the Jewish conversion, or the Jewish conversion is to precede the enlargement. We are inclined to believe that, looking to these two events in the order of cause and effect, they will have a great reciprocal influence on each other - or that there will both be an action and a reaction. If it be a likelihood, on the one hand, that Gentile Christianity, when purified in its quality and made larger in its amount, shall, both by the exhibition of its graces and the efforts of its missionary zeal, tell with great and sensible effect on the obstinacy of Jewish unbelief - the likelihood is not less, that when a movement is once made on the part of these heretofore resolved aliens to the truth as it is in Jesus, it will tend mightily to open the eyes of all nations, so as to impress millions and millions more in favour of that gospel, whose predictions shall then be so illustriously verified; and to which so impiessive a testimony will be given, when its most inveterate, and long its most hopeless enemies, shall, after the lapse of many generations, look in mourning and bitterness to Him whom their forefathers had pierced, and, casting away their weapons of rebellion, shall fall down to worship Him. But our further remarks on particular verses, we must postpone to the next lecture.
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