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Romans xi. 1-10

A PEOPLE disobeying and contradicting. So the Lord of Israel, through the prophet, had described the nation. Let us remember as we pass on what a large feature in the prophecies, and indeed in the whole Old Testament, such accusations and exposures are. From Moses to Malachi, in histories, and songs, and instructions, we find everywhere this tone of stern truth-telling, this unsparing detection and description of Israelite sin. And we reflect that every one of these utterances, humanly speaking, was the voice of an Israelite; and that whatever reception it met with at the moment—it was sometimes a scornful or angry reception, oftener a reverent one—it was ultimately treasured, venerated, almost worshipped, by the Church of this same rebuked and humiliated Israel. We ask ourselves what this has to say about the true origin of these utterances, and the true nature of the environment into which they fell. Do they not bear witness to the supernatural in both? It was not "human nature" which, in a race quite as prone, at least, as any other, to assert itself, produced these intense and persistent rebukes from within, and secured for them a profound and lasting veneration. The 283 Hebrew Scriptures, in this as in other things, are a literature which mere man, mere Israelite man, "could not have written if he would, and would not have written if he could."183183I borrow the phrase from the late Prof. H. Rogers' Supernatural Origin of the Bible inferred from Itself, a book of masterly thinking and reasoning. Somehow, the Prophets not only spoke with an authority more than human, but they were known to speak with it. There was a national consciousness of divine privilege; and it was inextricably bound up with a national conviction that the Lord of the privileges had an eternal right to reprove His privileged ones, and that He had, as a fact, His accredited messengers of reproof, whose voice was not theirs but His; not the mere outcry of patriotic zealots but the Oracle of God. Yea, an awful privilege was involved in the reception of such reproofs: "You only have I known; therefore will I punish you" (Amos iii. 2).

But this is a recollection by the way. St Paul, so we saw in our last study, has quoted Isaiah's stern message, only now to stay his troubled heart on the fact that the unbelief of Israel in his day was, if we may dare to put it so, no surprise to the Lord, and therefore no shock to the servant's faith. But is he to stop there, and sit down, and say, "This must be so"? No; there is more to follow, in this discourse on Israel and God. He has "good words, and comfortable words" (Zech. i. 13), after the woes of the last two chapters, and after those earlier passages of the Epistle where the Jew is seen only in his hypocrisy, and rebellion, and pride. He has to speak of a faithful Remnant, now as always present, who make as it were the golden unbroken link 284 between the nation and the promises. And then he has to lift the curtain, at least a corner of the curtain, from the future, and to indicate how there lies waiting there a mighty blessing for Israel, and through Israel for the world. Even now the mysterious "People" was serving a spiritual purpose in their very unbelief; they were occasioning a vast transition of blessing to the Gentiles, by their own refusal of blessing. And hereafter they were to serve a purpose of still more illustrious mercy. They were yet, in their multitudes, to return to their rejected Christ. And their return was to be used as the means of a crisis of blessing for the world.

We seem to see the look and hear the voice of the Apostle, once the mighty Rabbi, the persecuting patriot, as he begins now to dictate again. His eyes brighten, and his brow clears, and a happier emphasis comes into his utterance, as he sets himself to speak of his people's good, and to remind his Gentile brethren how, in God's plan of redemption, all their blessing, all they know of salvation, all they possess of life eternal, has come to them through Israel. Israel is the Stem, drawing truth and life from the unfathomable soil of the covenant of promise. They are the grafted Branches, rich in every blessing—because they are the mystical seed of Abraham, in Christ.

I say therefore, Did God ever thrust away His people? Away with the thought! For I am an Israelite, of Abraham's seed, Benjamin's tribe; full member of the theocratic race (Ἰσραηλίτης), and of its first royal and always loyal tribe; in my own person, therefore, I am an instance of Israel still in covenant. God never184184We attempt to express the aorist thus, with hesitation. thrust away His people, whom He 285 foreknew with the foreknowledge of eternal choice and purpose.185185See above, p. 237. That foreknowledge was "not according to their works," or according to their power; and so it holds its sovereign way across and above their long unworthiness. Or do you not know, in Elijah, in his story, in the pages marked with his name, what the Scripture says? How he intercedes before God, on God's own behalf, against Israel, saying (1 Kings xix. 10), "Lord, Thy prophets they killed, and Thy altars they dug up; and I was left solitary, and they seek my life"? But what says the oracular answer (ὁ χρηματισμὸς) to him? "I have left for Myself seven thousand men, men who (οἵτινες) bowed never knee to Baal" (1 Kings xix. 18). So therefore at the present season also there proves to be (γέγονεν) a remnant, "a leaving" (λεῖμμα), left by the Lord for Himself, on the principle of (κατὰ) election of grace; their persons and their number following a choice and gift whose reasons lie in God alone. And then follows one of those characteristic "foot-notes" of which we saw an instance above (x. 17): But if by grace, no longer of works; "no longer," in the sense of a logical succession and exclusion; since the grace proves (γίνεται), on the other principle, no longer grace. But if of works, it is no longer grace; since the work is no longer work.186186This last sentence, "But if of works, etc.," is only doubtfully supported by documents. But it bears, to our mind, strong internal marks of genuineness. It is at once too difficult, and too deeply related to the context, to look like the insertion of a scribe. That is to say, when once the grace-principle is admitted, as it is here assumed to be, "the work" of the man who is its subject is "no longer work" in the sense which makes 286 an antithesis to grace; it is no longer so much toil done in order to so much pay to be given. In other words, the two supposed principles of the divine Choice are in their nature mutually exclusive. Admit the one as the condition of the "election," and the other ceases; you cannot combine them into an amalgam. If the election is of grace, no meritorious antecedent to it is possible in the subject of it. If it is according to meritorious antecedent, no sovereign freedom is possible in the divine action, such freedom as to bring the saved man, the saved remnant, to an adoring confession of unspeakable and mysterious mercy.

This is the point, here in this passing "foot-note," as in the longer kindred statements above (ch. ix.), of the emphasized allusion to "choice" and "grace." He writes thus that he may bring the believer, Gentile or Jew, to his knees, in humiliation, wonder, gratitude, and trust. "Why did I, the self-ruined wanderer, the self-hardened rebel, come to the Shepherd who sought me, surrender my sword to the King who reclaimed me? Did I reason myself into harmony with Him? Did I lift myself, hopelessly maimed, into His arms? No; it was the gift of God, first, last, and in the midst. And if so, it was the choice of God." That point of light is surrounded by a cloud-world of mystery, though within those surrounding clouds there lurks, as to God, only rightness and love. But the point of light is there, immovable, for all the clouds; where fallen man chooses God, it is thanks to God who has chosen fallen man. Where a race is not "thrust away," it is because "God foreknew." Where some thousands of members of that race, while others fall away, are found faithful to God, it is because He has "left them for Himself on the principle of choice of grace." Where, amidst a widespread 287 rejection of God's Son Incarnate, a Saul of Tarsus, an Aquila, a Barnabas, behold in Him their Redeemer, their King, their Life, their All, it is on that same principle. Let the man thus beholding and believing give the whole thanks for his salvation in the quarter where it is all due. Let him not confuse one truth by another. Let not this truth disturb for a moment his certainty of personal moral freedom, and of its responsibility. Let it not for a moment turn him into a fatalist. But let him abase himself, and give thanks, and humbly trust Him who has thus laid hold of him for blessing. As he does so, in simplicity, not speculating but worshipping, he will need no subtle logic to assure him that he is to pray, and to work, without reserve, for the salvation of all men. It will be more than enough for him that His Sovereign bids him do it, and tells him that it is according to His heart.

To return a little on our steps, in the matter of the Apostle's doctrine of the divine Choice: the reference in this paragraph to the seven thousand faithful in Elijah's day suggests a special reflection. To us, it seems to say distinctly that the "election" intended all along by St Paul cannot possibly be explained adequately by making it either an election (to whatever benefits) of mere masses of men, as for instance of a nation, considered apart from its individuals; or an election merely to privilege, to opportunity, which may or may not be used by the receiver. As regards national election, it is undoubtedly present and even prominent in the passage, and in this whole section of the Epistle. For ourselves, we incline to see it quite simply in ver. 2 above; "His people, whom He foreknew." We read there, what we find so often in the Old Testament, a sovereign choice of a nation to 288 stand in special relation to God; of a nation taken, so to speak, in the abstract, viewed not as the mere total of so many individuals, but as a quasi-personality. But we maintain that the idea of election takes another line when we come to the "seven thousand." Here we are thrown at once on the thought of individual experiences, and the ultimate secret of them, found only in the divine Will affecting the individual. The "seven thousand" had no aggregate life, so to speak. They formed, as the seven thousand, no organism or quasi-personality. They were "left" not as a mass, but as units; so isolated, so little grouped together, that even Elijah did not know of their existence. They were just so many individual men, each one of whom found power, by faith, to stand personally firm against the Baalism of that dark time, with the same individual faith which in later days, against other terrors, and other solicitations, upheld a Polycarp, an Athanasius, a Huss, a Luther, a Tyndale, a De Seso, a St Cyran. And the Apostle quotes them as an instance and illustration of the Lord's way and will with the believing of all time. In their case, then, he both passes as it were through national election to individual election, as a permanent spiritual mystery; and he shews that he means by this an election not only to opportunity but to holiness. The Lord's "leaving them for Himself" lay behind their not bowing their knees to Baal. Each resolute confessor was individually enabled, by a sovereign and special grace. He was a true human personality, freely acting, freely choosing not to yield in that terrible storm. But behind his freedom was the higher freedom of the Will of God, saving him from himself that he might be free to confess and suffer. To our mind, no part of the Epistle more clearly than this passage 289 affirms this individual aspect of the great mystery. Ah, it is a mystery indeed; we have owned this at every step. And it is never for a moment to be treated therefore as if we knew all about it. And it is never therefore to be used to confuse the believer's thought about other sides of truth. But it is there, as a truth among truths; to be received with abasement by the creature before the Creator, and with humble hope by the simple believer.

He goes on with his argument, taking up the thread broken by the "foot-note" upon grace and works: What therefore? What Israel, the nation, the character, seeks after, righteousness in the court of God, this it lighted not upon (οὐκ ἐπέτυχεν),187187The aorists sum up the manifold history. as one who seeks a buried treasure in the wrong field "lights not upon" it; but the election, the chosen ones, the "seven thousand" of the Gospel era, did light upon it. But the rest were hardened, (not as if God had created their hardness, or injected it; but He gave it to be its own penalty;) as it stands written (Isai. xxix. 10, and Deut. xxix. 4188188Such a combination of citations is a significant witness to the Apostle's view of the O. T. as, from its divine side, one Book everywhere.), "God gave them a spirit of slumber, eyes not to see, and ears not to hear, even to this day." A persistent ("unto this day") unbelief was the sin of Israel in the Prophets' times, and it was the same in those of the Apostles. And the condition was the same; God "gave" sin to be its own way of retribution. And David says (Psal. lxix. 22), in a Psalm full of Messiah, and of the awful retribution justly ordained to come on His impenitent 290 enemies, "Let their table turn into a trap, and into toils (θήρα), and into a stumbling-block, and into a requital to them; darkened be their eyes, not to see, and their back ever bow Thou together."

The words are awful, in their connexion here, and in themselves, and as a specimen of a class. Their purpose here is to enforce the thought that there is such a thing as positive divine action in the self-ruin of the impenitent; a fiat from the throne which "gives" a coma to the soul, and beclouds its eyes, and turns its blessings into a curse. Not one word implies the thought that He who so acts meets a soul tending upwards and turns it downward; that He ignores or rejects even the faintest enquiry after Himself; that He is Author of one particle of the sin of man. But we do learn that the adversaries of God and Christ may be, and, where the Eternal so sees it good, are, sentenced to go their own way, even to its issues in destruction. The context of every citation here, as it stands in the Old Testament, shews abundantly that those so sentenced are no helpless victims of an adverse fate, but sinners of their own will, in a sense most definite and personal. Only, a sentence of judgment is concerned also in the case; "Fill ye up then the measure" (Matt. xxiii. 32).

But then also in themselves, and as a specimen of a class, the words are a dark shadow in the Scripture sky. It is only by the way that we can note this here, but it must not be quite omitted in our study. This sixty-ninth Psalm is a leading instance of the several Psalms where the Prophet appears calling for the sternest retribution on his enemies. What thoughtful heart has not felt the painful mystery so presented? Read in the hush of secret devotion, or sung perhaps to some majestic chant beneath the minster-roof, they still tend 291 to affront the soul with the question, Can this possibly be after the mind of Christ? And there rises before us the form of One who is in the act of Crucifixion, and who just then articulates the prayer, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Can these "imprecations" have His sanction? Can He pass them, endorse them, as His Word?

The question is full of pressing pain. And no answer can be given, surely, which shall relieve all that pain; certainly nothing which shall turn the clouds of such passages into rays of the sun. They are clouds; but let us be sure that they belong to the cloud-land which gathers round the Throne, and which only conceals, not wrecks, its luminous and immovable righteousness and love. Let us remark, for one point, that this same dark Psalm is, by the witness of the Apostles, as taught by their Master, a Psalm full of Messiah. It was undoubtedly claimed as His own mystic utterance by the Lamb of the Passion. He speaks in these dread words who also says, in the same utterance (ver. 9), "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up." So the Lord Jesus did endorse this Psalm. He more than endorsed it; He adopted it as His own. Let this remind us further that the utterer of these denunciations, even the first and non-mystical utterer,—David, let us say,—appears in the Psalm not merely as a private person crying out about his violated personal rights, but as an ally and vassal of God, one whose life and cause is identified with His. Just in proportion as this is so, the violation of his life and peace, by enemies described as quite consciously and deliberately malicious, is a violation of the whole sanctuary of divine righteousness. If so, is it incredible that even the darkest words of such a Psalm are to be read as a true echo from the depths of 292 man to the Voice which announces "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, to every soul of man that doeth evil"? Perhaps even the most watchful assertor of the divine character of Scripture is not bound to assert that no human frailty in the least moved the spirit of a David when he, in the sphere of his own personality, thought and said these things. But we have no right to assert, as a known or necessary thing, that it was so. And we have right to say that in themselves these utterances are but a sternly true response to the avenging indignation of the Holy One.

In any case, do not let us talk with a loose facility about their incompatibility with "the spirit of the New Testament." From one side, the New Testament is an even sterner Book than the Old; as it must be of course, when it brings sin and holiness "out into the light" of the Cross of Christ. It is in the New Testament that, "the souls" of saints at rest are heard saying (Rev. vi. 10), "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" It is in the New Testament that an Apostle writes (2 Thess. i. 6), "It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them which trouble you." It is the Lord of the New Testament, the Offerer of the Prayer of the Cross, who said (Matt. xxiii. 32-35) "Fill ye up the measure of your fathers. I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes, and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth."

His eyes must have rested, often and again, upon the denunciations of the Psalms. He saw in them that which struck no real discord, in the ultimate spiritual depth, with His own blessed compassions. Let us not 293 resent what He has countersigned. It is His, not ours, to know all the conditions of those mysterious outbursts from the Psalmists' consciousness. It is ours to recognize in them the intensest expression of what rebellious evil merits, and will find, as its reward.

But we have digressed from what is the proper matter before us. Here, in the Epistle, the sixty-ninth Psalm is cited only to affirm with the authority of Scripture the mystery of God's action in sentencing the impenitent adversaries of His Christ to more blindness and more ruin. Through this dark and narrow door the Apostle is about to lead us now into "a large room" of hope and blessing, and to unveil to us a wonderful future for the now disgraced and seemingly rejected Israel.

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