Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans

ROMANS, xi, 26 - "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. 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! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen."

VER 26.All Israel. Some would interpret the clause thus - All of Israel who are to be saved. All of them who are ordained to eternal life. There is as much of force in these interpretations as to make it possible, nay we think even likely, that the meaning here of the word all, is not such an absolute and entire totality, as to include each and every one of the nation at the time of their predicted conversion. Yet something more must be conveyed by the term, than that merely all the elect were to be saved - for, whether many or few, this holds true of them in every age. The 'all' must be held to denote so general, as should amount to a national conversion; and as the part in the verse foreging signifies some, though so very few as to make an insensible fraction of believers among the Jewish people - so theall of the verse before us, signifies at least so many as should form a great corporate change from Judaism to Christianity, and so as to leave the unbelievers, if any, but an insensible fraction of the whole.

'Out of Zion'. The passage referred to is Isa. lix, 20 - where the prophet represents the Deliverer as coming to Zion, while the apostle represents Him as coming from Zion. These two inspired men reveal to us a glimpse of one and the same process, though at different but perhaps nearly, if not altogether contiguous parts of it - the one stating a previous ingress of the Saviour to Jerusalem, the other a consequent egress in the prosecution of His great undertaking. The light of prophecy here, as in many other instances, but permits us to contemplate the event as a general reality, without enabling us to enter on very full or explicit details of it. Its still undoubted futurity however, is manifest from this - its being spoken of in the language of prediction both in the Old Testament and the New; and a prediction which has not had the semblance of a fulfilment since the days of the apostles.

Ver. 27
.For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. The conversion intimated here is described in substantially the same terms in Jeremiah, xxxi, 33, 84, and in Hebrews, viii, 8 - 12; x, 16, 17. It consists of the same steps, and is attended with the same blessed results all the world over; and in every instance, whether of Jew or Gentile, who is turned to Christianity. The taking away of their sins in this passage seems a blotting out of the guilt incurred by their transgression of God's laws - as equivalent to what in the other passages is said to be a remembrance (in judgment) of their sins and iniquities no more. The turning away of their ungodliness is their sanctification, even as the other was their justification; and is equivalent to what is spoken of elsewhere, its a putting of those laws - from the condemnation of having broken which they were delivered - of putting these laws into their hearts, and writing them in their minds. The covenant with each individual believer is one and the same, in all ages and among all nations.

Ver. 28
.As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father's sakes. Their being enemies for the gospel sake - points to the subservience of Jewish infidelity, as the instrument of diffusing Christianity through the world. We know that historically the rejection of the gospel by the Jews was followed up by its large and rapid furtherance among the Gentiles; nor can we doubt that this passage in the administration of God's providence had its deep-laid reasons, whether we fully comprehend them or not, in the counsels of the Divine policy. - Again their being beloved for the father's sake, points to the regard which God had for Abraham, and to the promise which He made this patriarch, even in the form of a reward for his faithfulness - that He would signalize his posterity, and make them a blessing to the nations of the earth. This is analogous to other instances in the procedure of the Almighty's government. - as when for the sake of David and other good kings, He continued His favour to Jersalem and the kingdom of Judah. And yet this final salvatien of the Jews, though thus holding on the worthiness of their fathers, holds also on election, and so on the sovereignty of God. It is as touching the election, that they are beloved for the father's sake. To those who have made a profound study of this arduous topic, there will appear no discrepancy between these two things; and indeed their perfect harmony is often as obvious to the wisdom of a plain Christian, as it is to the man of philosophic discrimination. There is no incompatibility whatever between the order of an administration being fixed, and fixed from all eternity, and yet its being a moral administration. Whether a process be absolute and irreversible is one question. What the special terms of that process are, or what the footsteps in it which follow each other, is another. It is the latter question which determines the character of the process; and should the former question be resolved in the affirmative, this, so far from changing or giving uncertainty to the character of the process, just rivets and makes it all the more sure. Give me a process, all the parts and connections of which are bound together by an adamantine necessity; and this hinders not but that in the laws and tendencies and particular sequences of such a process, we may read both its own character and the character of Him who has ordained it - and all the more distinctly and surely, if the process be indeed unalterable. If in any human government, the deed of virtuous patriotism were generally followed up by the acknowledgment of a public reward - this might serve to characterise it as being on the whole a virtuous government; and surely it would not dilute, but rather stamp and confirm this character the more if, instead of being thus followed up generally, it were so followed up always. In like manner, if, under the divine government, goodness were always followed up in the long run by enjoyment; and righteousness, though even after a series of discouragements in the way of trial, by happiness and honour; and holiness by heaven; and, in a word, the regeneration of every creature into a state of perfect moral excellence, by his secure and immortal well-being - no one could question the title of such a government to the highest moral reverence, and a title all the more firmly established, if these several effects followed in the train of their respective causes with the unexcepted constancy of an order that never changed.

We are aware of certain transcendental difficulties, which we forbear to grapple with; but assuredly the task of harmonising the character of an administration as being of perfect moral goodness, with the characteristic of its strict and rigorous and irrevocable necessity, is not one of them - even though a necessity settled and ordained in the counsels of the Almighty from everlasting. And thus particularly might the future and final salvation of the children of Israel be viewed as the fruit of a primeval decree of election, seen as at once the fruit and the reward of the obedience of Abraham. The first does not supersede the second; nay the second one of the stepping-stones along which the first is carried, and will at length be made good. Nay it will require another great stepping-stone, ere the decree is consummated - a work of grace in the hearts of Abraham's children; their turning to the Lord, that the veil which now blinds them might be taken away; their deep and mournful penitence, and that worked in them by the Spirit of God; and lastly, their biding not in unbelief, and their ungodliness being turned away.

Ver. 29.
For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. That is, repentance on the part of God. What He hath resolved, he shall certainly fulfil. "God is not a man that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" His original purpose, and promise too, respecting the children of Israel, in his own good time, will be accomplished; and the necessary gifts will then be imparted, as well as the necessary calling brought to bear upon them for carrying it into effeet. This calling, as being in execution of the decree of election, must, of course, be internal and efficacious - as distinguished from the ordinary and outward calling, such as that wherewith they were plied at the time of the Saviour, and which then proved ineffectual, the things belonging to their peace being hidden from their eyes. At the calling of our text, their eyes shall be opened, and they shall behold Him whom they have pierced, and say Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.3 Ver. 30, 31.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. It is obvious, as we have already said, that there was a connection, and that too in the way of promotion and subserviency, between the unbelief of the Jews and the Christianity of the Gentiles. This is again affirmed in the verse before us; and a sort of parallelism founded on it, between the respective changes already experienced in part, and to be completed afterwards, on these two great divisions of the human family. What the Gentiles had been in times past when they believed not, the Jews were now. The Gentiles passed out of their former unbelief, and obtained mercy through the unbelief of the Jews. The Jews will pass out of their present unbelief and obtain mercy, not through the unbelief, but through the mercy bestowed upon the Gentiles. We can see how the grace of God is magnified by a mercy bestowed on men in a previous state of rebellion and apostaey. Its display is all the more illustrious, in that it is shed forth on men in a state of resolute hostility or of deep and settled alienation, rather than on men in a state of expectancy and desirousness of the blessings from heaven which they need; and so it serves to brighten and enhance the character of Him, whose thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor ways as our ways - that His mercy should thus descend on places the darkest and most repulsive, whether on the depravity of the heathen world or on the obstinacy and perverseness of the children of Israel.

The analogy between the two cases of the Jews and Gentiles, is, that each shall at length have obtained mercy - making transition thereunto from their own previous state of unbelief. The distinction is, that the Gentiles arrived at their blessing through the unbelief of the Jews: The Jews will arrive at theirs through the mercy before shown to the Gentiles. One can perceive how the Jews might have been confirmed in their arrogant, exclusive, and unsocial spirit, had Christianity sprung up amongst them, and taken possession of their nation under the direct and immediate influence of our Saviours teaching, the Author and Finisher of our faith. It might then have come forth upon the world as Judaism perfected, and in such a way, as, instead of humbling the Jews, might have inflamed still further their extravagant sense of superiority over all the other nations of the earth. But coming as it will through the medium of a previous Gentile Christianity, this strong national partiality, this fond and rooted prejudice of many ages, may at length give way - when, so far humbled as to take from us that true religion in the attitude of recipients, which, otherwise, they might have conferred on us in the attitude of dispensers. It is thus, perhaps, that by a lengthened course of preparation, the training of a spiritual husbandry carried onward through a series of centuries, the world may come to be matured for the establishment within its limits of one great spiritual family - "where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all, and in all."

There may be reason to believe from other passages and other prophecies in Scripture, that there remains to be yet revealed an infidel antichrist, and so a general falling away from the gospel among the nations of Christendom; but this is not one of these passages. The unbelief in which God hath concluded all, is first the unbelief of the Gentile world before the promulgation of the gospel, out of which they then emerged into Christianity ; and second, the present unbelief of the Jews, out of which they also will emerge into Christianity when the time of their restoration comes. It is the present unbelief of the Jews which is spoken of in this verse; but it is the past, and not a future unbelief, of the Gentiles which is there spoken of. It is thus that the apostle adjusts and balances, and if I may so say, equalises the account between the Jews and Gentiles - a main topic with him, from the commencement and throughout the whole of his epistle. He had before spoken of their common vices. He now speaks of their common infidelity - that, after representing both as having fallen into one and the same abyss, he might reconcile both to one and the same method of recovery; and, along with this, establish the great doctrine of justification by faith, as the common and equal footing on which both are taken into acceptance with God. The whole of his argument, whilst intended to harmonise the two parties into one, is fitted also to humble each of them, and especially the Jews. Yet one cannot fail to perceive how studious he is of mitigating to the uttermost the painfulness of his demonstration - that he might give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God, but please all men in all things, not seeking his own profit but the profit of many, that they may be saved. In the execution of this task, he acquits himself with a tact and a delicacy and an address altogether worthy of the most accomplished courtier - yet only with the skill of this profession, and not with its duplicity; for on the ground of principle, and when aught of truth had to be defended or of error to be rebuked and put down, none more resolute in assertion or more fearless in remonstrance than Paul. This union of an uncompromising firmness with a delicacy the most sensitive, we had almost said the most tremulous, lest unnecessary violence should be done to the feelings of other men - we have always held to be a leading character in the mind and manner of this great apostle.

Ver. 33, 34.
0h, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellar? It were well to discriminate the precise sentiment of that sublime effusion, wherewith the apostle here concludes and sums up the whole of this contemplation. We should say in the general, that they are the natural rather than any of the moral attributes of the Divinity, which have evoked it. It is not of His mercy that the apostle now makes mention; nor yet of His justice; nor yet of His unswerving truth or fidelity; nor yet of His holiness or dread antipathy to sin. They are His wisdom and knowledge, and the depth of the riches of these, which he celebrates in this place; and the unfathomable mystery, both of His counsels and processes; and lastly, the absolute and entire ownership, and therefore disposal or sovereignty which God has of creation - seeing that He is at once the origin and the end of all things. It is true that His judgments, if not His ways, stand related to the principles of His righteous administration - Yet here they are not spoken of as righteous, but simply and generally as inscrutable. The jurisprudence of a lawgiver cannot be appreciated rightly, but by a reference to its moral character - which, indeed, is the most important element of all in the reckoning. But the very thing affirmed here respecting the jurisprudence of Him who is the great Lawgiver of heaven and earth, is, that in our present state at least it is not appreciable by us, that it is beyond our reckoning; and though a time be coming when the mystery of God shall be finished, and we shall be enabled to say, not only "Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty," but "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints," and thy judgments are made manifest" - Yet now must we join the apostle in the utterance of our text - How unsearchable are these judgments, and these ways how past finding out! In attending to what that specifically was which called forth this high exclamation from the apostle, we cannot but feel that we are not altogether in a fit state fully to sympathise with him. The events which thus excited him to reflection have been too long familiar to us. And this rejection of the Jews, or admission of the Gentiles, or even reunion of both into one faith and one family - so long as but read of in prophecy, and not yet seen in living fulfilment - these as little move us, as do any of those great historical changes which have long passed over the world, and are now as current as household words in the pages of well known authorship.

But we must not estimate from our indifference now, the effect which such a revolution then must have had, and especially in all the force and freshness of its novelty on a Jewish understanding - before the wonder and recency of the great passing changes had subsided; or men, with the education and prejudices of an Israelite, had recovered from the sensation of that violence inflicted on all their previous habitudes of thought and feeling, when God abandoned His ancient people, and made proffer to all men of those blessings and distinctions which till now had been exclusively theirs. And there was something more in it than a reversal to excite surprise. There was an enlargement which must have served mightily to expand the mental perspective, particularly of those Christian Jews, who had just cast off the limitations that so fettered and confined the general understandings of their countrymen. It was a transition from the local to the universal.

This enlargement of view from a country to a world in the economy of the Divine word, was fitted to awaken and amplify the mind of its admiring observers - just as a few centuries ago, when in the economy of the Divine workmanship, the mystery of these sensible heavens was laid open, and the human mind made its large and lofty transition from the view of a world to the view of universe. Relatively to the state of previous conception at each of these periods, there is a striking similarity between them; and the respective discoveries, the one moral or spiritual the other natural, are fitted to beget a like sense of greatness - whether in the objects contemplated, or in the magnificent designs of Him whose government reaches to all ages and embraces all worlds. It was a mighty stretch at the earlier of these periods, when the view was carried forward from a single nation to the whole human family; and mightier still at the later of them, when carried forward from the earth we live upon to the vast, and for aught we know, the boundless assemblage of those suns and systems which Astronomy hath unfolded.

The mind of the apostle seems, in the passage now before us, to have fully shared in the first of these expansions, and even elsewhere to have bordered, nay actually to have entered on the second of them - when on this very theme of a one Christianity for Jews and Gentiles, he tells us of Him from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, and by whom all things were created, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; and then gives us to know, of this evolution in the government and history of the church, that it was meant as an illustration to the whole universe of the manifold wisdom of God. But these are reflections on the greatness rather than on the incomprehensibility of the King eternal and immortal - on the riches and extent of His creation, rather than on the mysteriousness of His government; and bespeak more the admiration of a magnificence beyond all our previous conceptions, than our wonder in the contemplation of depths and difficulties utterly beyond our present understanding. Now it is not mere expansion in the field of view which calls forth or exhausts the whole sentiment of this passage - as the adoption, for example, of a whole species, instead of but the people of a single nation, into one and the same spiritual family. It is not so much the magnitude of the result, as the rationale of the process, which engages and baffles the mind of the apostle; and which therefore he pronounces to be unsearchable, and past finding out.

It is the selection of one household from a world left in darkness and alienation from God - it is the committal to them of the divine oracles, and the preservation amongst their descendants of the true knowledge and worship of the Deity - it is the history of this singular people, through whom was kept up the only remaining intercourse between heaven and earth; and which was finally broken off, after the dealing of many centunes, in the various forms of chastisement at one time and of mercy or endurance at another, till the perversities of stiff-necked and rebellious Israel could be no longer tolerated, and the things of peace and salvation were henceforth hidden from their eyes - it is contemporaneously with the rejection of the Jews, the call of the Gentiles just awoke from the profound lethargy of ages, during which the millions of unvisited and unblest heathenism were suffered to perish in their iniquities - and then, to close the enumeration, it was the prospect still at the time of Paul, of another dreary nay a double millennium of exile and moral wretchedness for his own outcast countrymen, ere the goodly consummaion should arrive, or the latter-day glory was to shine forth on a then happy and regenerated earth - These are the eventful changes in the contemplation of which the mind of our apostle seems to be labouring, as if the footsteps of a series which he felt himself unable to trace, or at least unable to ccount for. And certainly to us it does look inexplicable, that the same God who could will as we imagine into present effect, an instant and universal blessedness - that He should rather choose to compass the fulfilments of His wisdom and goodness by so lengthened, so laborious a pathway.

The difficulty is a thousand-fold aggravated when we think of the failures, the abortions, the woful and wide-spread degenenacies, lighted up by intevals few and far between of the good or the beautiful in the moral history of the world. We cannot but wonder at such a preparation being right or necessary, ere the secure, the everlasting empire of truth and righteousness shall be ushered in. And yet these are parts of a scheme, and of a scheme in progress, reaching forward to a great and glorious accomplishment, though by initial stages of darkness depravity and disorder, the full meaning or effect of which we cannot comprehend. They are the deep-laid movements of a policy to us inscrutable; and as we have just borrowed an analogy from one of the sciences, we may here avail ourmelves of another, and point to the yet hidden enigma of those sucsessive creations which geology has unfolded, and which prove the developments both of animal and spiritual existence to be alike inexplicable. There is the profoundest mystery in both; and whether we try to explore the moral or the physical departments of His administration, it is good to feel the infinity of our distance from Him, whose way is in the sea, and whose path is in the great waters, and whose footsteps are not known.For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor?

Ver. 35, 36
.Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. These verses strike at the root of that lofty pretension which it is the great aim of the apostle to overthrow - that of man having any rightful claim upon God, who is at once the origin and the end of all things. To Him we owe not all the objects of enjoyment merely, but all our capacities of enjoyment. This is a theme too big for utterance, and more to be dwelt upon in thought than dilated on in language - the entire subordination of the creature to the Creator, of the thing formed to Him who hath formed it, by whose care it is that we consist or keep together, and whose right hand upholds us continually. It is our part even here, and in the dimness of our present embryo being, to award Him all the glory. This will be the song of our eternity, when we shall see Him as He is, and know even as we are known. Psalm lxxvii, 19.
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