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Romans xi. 25-36

THUS far St Paul has rather reasoned than predicted. He has shewn his Gentile friends the naturalness, so to speak, of a restoration of Israel to Christ, and the manifest certainty that such a restoration will bring blessing to the world. Now he advances to the direct assertion, made with a Prophet's full authority, that so it shall be. "How much rather shall they be grafted into their own Olive?" The question implies the assertion; nothing remains but to open it in full.

For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, this fact in God's purposes, impossible to be known without revelation,198198Such is the normal meaning of μυστήριον in the N. T. It is a thing which in itself may or may not be what we mean by "mysterious." But it is a thing which mere observation and reasoning cannot à priori arrive at; God must disclose it. but luminous when revealed; (that you may not be wise in your own esteem, valuing yourselves on an insight which is all the while only a partial glimpse); that failure of perception (πώρωσος), in a measure, in the case of many, not all, of the nation, has come upon Israel, and will 308 continue until the fulness199199Πλήρωμα is the practical realization of an ideal. of the Gentiles shall come in, until Gentile conversion shall be in some sense a flowing tide. And so all Israel, Israel as a mass, no longer as by scattered units, shall be saved, coming to the feet of Him in whom alone is man's salvation from judgment and from sin; as it stands written (Psal. xiv. 7, Isai. lix. 20, with Isai. xxvii. 9), "There shall come from Sion the Deliverer; He shall turn away all impiety (ἀσεβείας) from Jacob; and such they shall find the covenant I shall have granted, 200200So we paraphrase αὕτη αὐτοῖς ἡ παρ' Ἐμοῦ διαθήκη. such shall prove to be My promise and provision, 'ordered and sure,' when I shall take away their sins," in the day of My pardoning and restoring return to them.

This is a memorable passage. It is in the first place one of the most definitely predictive of all the prophetic utterances of the Epistles. Apart from all problems of explanation in detail, it gives us this as its message on the whole; that there lies hidden in the future, for the race of Israel, a critical period of overwhelming blessing. If anything is revealed as fixed in the eternal plan, which, never violating the creature's will yet is not subject to it, it is this. We have heard the Apostle speak fully, and without compromise, of the sin of Israel; the hardened or paralysed spiritual perception, the refusal to submit to pure grace, the restless quest for a valid self-righteousness, the deep exclusive arrogance. And thus the promise of coming mercy, such as shall surprise the world, sounds all the more sovereign and magnificent. It shall come; so says Christ's prophet Paul. Not because of historical antecedents, 309 or in the light of general principles, but because of the revelation of the Spirit, he speaks of that wonderful future as if it were in full view from the present; "All Israel shall be saved."

We read "no date prefixed." As far as this chapter is concerned, years and days are as if they were not. On the whole, surely, a large range of process is in his view; he cannot expect to see fulfilled within a narrow season the accomplishment of all the preliminaries to the great event. But he says nothing about this. All we gather is that he sees in the future a great progress of Gentile Christianity; a great impression to be made by this on the mind of Israel; a vast and comparatively sudden awakening of Israel, by the grace of God, however brought to bear; the salvation of Israel in Christ on a national scale; "the receiving of them again"; and "life from the dead" as the result—life from the dead to the world at large. However late or soon, with whatever attendant events, divine or human, thus it shall be. The "spiritual failure of perception in part" shall vanish. "The Deliverer shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." "All Israel shall be saved."

"Believest thou the Prophets?" The question, asked of Agrippa by St Paul, comes to us from this prediction of his own. "Lord, we believe." Our Master knows that for us in our day it is not easy. The bad air of materialism, and the profound and stolid fatalism which it involves, is thick around us. And one symptom of its malign influence is the growing tendency in the Church to limit, to minimize, to explain if possible away, from the Scriptures, the properly and distinctively superhuman, whether of work or word. Men bearing the Christian name, and bearing 310 it often with loyal and reverent intention, seem to think far otherwise than their Lord thought about this very element of prediction in the holy Book, and would have us believe that it is no great thing to grasp, and to contend for. But as for us, we desire in all things to be of the opinion of Him who is the eternal Truth and Light, and who took our nature, expressly, as to one great purpose, in order to unfold to us articulately His opinion. He lived and died in the light and power of predictive Scripture. He predicted. He rose again to commission His Apostles, as the Spirit should teach them, to see "things to come" (John xvi. 13). To us, this oracle of His "chosen Vessel" gives us articles of faith and hope. We do not understand, but we believe, because here it is written, that after these days of the prevalence of unbelief, after all these questions, loud or half articulate, angry or agonizing, "Where is the promise?" the world shall see a spiritual miracle on a scale unknown before. "All Israel shall be saved." Even so, Lord Jesus Christ, the Deliverer. Fill us with the patience of this hope, for Thy chosen race, and for the world.

It is almost a pain to turn from this conspectus of the passage to a discussion of some of its details. But it is necessary; and for our purpose it need be only brief. Whatever the result may be, it will leave untouched the grandeur of the central promise.

1. "Until the fulness of the Gentiles come in." Does this mean that the stream of Gentile conversions shall have flowed and ceased, before the great blessing comes to Israel? Certainly the Greek may carry this meaning; perhaps, taken quite apart, it carries it more easily than any other. But it has this difficulty, that it would assign to the "salvation" of Israel no 311 influence of blessing upon the Gentile world. Now ver. 12 has implied that "the fulness" of Israel is to be the more-than-wealth of "the world," of "the Gentiles." And ver. 15 has implied, if we have read it aright, that it is to be to "the world" as "life from the dead." This leads us to explain the phrase here to refer not to the close of the ingathering of the Gentile children of God, but to a time when that process shall be, so to speak, running high.201201The aorist εἰσέλθῃ may rather gather up the great ingathering into one thought than mark a narrow crisis in it. That time of great and manifest grace shall be the occasion to Israel of the shock, as it were, of blessing; and from Israel's blessing shall date an unmeasured further access of divine good for the world.

As we pass, let us observe the light thrown by these sentences on the duty of the Church in evangelizing the Gentiles for the Jews, as well as the Jews for the Gentiles. Both holy enterprises have a destined effect outside themselves. The evangelist of Africa, India, China, is working for the hour of the "salvation of all Israel." The evangelist of the Hebrew Dispersion is preparing Israel for that hour of final blessing when the "saved" nation shall, in the hand of God, kindle the world with holy life.

2. "All Israel shall be saved." It has been held by some interpreters that this points to the Israel of God, the spiritual sons of Abraham. If so, it would be fairly paraphrased as a promise that when the Gentile conversions are complete, and the "spiritual failure of perception" gone from the Jewish heart, the family of faith shall be complete. But surely it puts violence on words, and on thought, to explain "Israel" in this whole passage mystically. Interpretation becomes an arbitrary 312 work if we may suddenly do so here, where the antithesis of Israel and "the Gentiles" is the very theme of the message. No; we have here the nation, chosen once to a mysterious speciality in the spiritual history of man, chosen with a choice never cancelled, however abeyant. A blessing is in view for the nation; a blessing spiritual, divine, all of grace, quite individual in its action on each member of the nation, but national in the scale of its results. We are not obliged to press the word "all" to a rigid literality. Nor are we obliged to limit the crisis of blessing to anything like a moment of time. But we may surely gather that the numbers blessed will be at least the vast majority, and that the work will not be chronic but critical. A transition, relatively swift and wonderful, shall shew the world a nation penitent, faithful, holy, given to God.

3. The quotations from Psalms and Prophets (verses 26, 27) offer more questions than one. They are closely interlaced, and they are not literal quotations. "Out of Sion" takes the place of "for Zion." "He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob" takes the place of "For them that turn from transgression in Jacob." "This is the covenant" takes the place of "This is His blessing." And there are other minute points of variation. Yet we reverently trace in the originals and the citations, which all alike are the work of prophetic organs of the Spirit, the great ruling thought, identical in both, that "the Deliverer" belongs primarily to "Zion," and has in store primarily a blessing for her people.

Are we, with some devout interpreters, to explain the words, "The Deliverer shall come out of Sion," as predicting a personal and visible return of the Ascended Jesus to the literal Zion, in order to the salvation of Israel, and 313 an outgoing of Him from thence to the Dispersion, or the world, in millennial glory? We deliberately forbear, in this exposition, to discuss in detail the great controversy thus indicated. We leave here on one side some questions, eagerly and earnestly asked. Will Israel return to the Land as Christian or as anti-Christian? Will the immediate power for their conversion be the visible Return of the Lord, or will it be an effusion of His Spirit, by which, spiritually, He shall visit and bless? What will be the attendant works and wonders of the time? All we do now is to express the conviction that the prophetic quotations here cannot be held to predict unmistakably a visible and local Return. If we read them aright, their import is satisfied by a paraphrase somewhat thus: "It stands predicted that to Zion, that is, to Israel, belongs the Deliverer of man, and that for Israel He is to do His work, whenever finally it is done, with a speciality of grace and glory." Thus explained, the "shall come" of ver. 26 is the abstract future of divine purpose. In the eternal plan, the Redeemer was, when He first came to earth, to come to, for, and from "Zion." And His saving work was to be on lines, and for issues, for ever characterized by that fact.

Assuredly the Lord Jesus Christ is, personally, literally, visibly, and to His people's eternal joy, coming again; "this same Jesus, in like manner" (Acts i. 11). And as the ages unfold themselves, assuredly the insight of the believing Church into the fulness and, if we may say so, manifoldness of that great prospect grows. But it still seems to us that a deep and reverent caution is called for before we attempt to treat of any detail of that prospect, as regards time, season, mode, as if we quite knew. Across all lines of interpretation of unfulfilled 314 prophecy—to name one problem only—it lies as an unsolved riddle how all the saints of all ages are equally bidden to watch, as those who "know not what hour their Lord shall come."

But let us oftener and oftener, however we may differ in detail, recite to one another the glorious essence of our hope. "To them that look for Him will He appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation"; "We shall meet the Lord in the air"; "So shall we be ever with the Lord" (Heb. ix. 28, 1 Thess. iv. 17).

We shall never quite understand the chronology and process of unfulfilled prophecy, till then.

Now briefly and in summary the Apostle concludes this "Epistle within the Epistle"; this oracle about Israel. As regards the Gospel, from the point of view of the evangelization of the world apart from Judaism, that "gospelling" which was, as it were, precipitated by the rebellion of Israel, they are enemies, on account of you, permitted, for your sakes, in a certain sense, to take a hostile attitude towards the Lord and His Christ, and to be treated accordingly; but as regards the election, from the point of view of the divine choice, they are beloved, on account of the Fathers; for irrevocable202202Ἀμεταμέλητα: literally, "unrepented-of," and so, "admitting no repentance," μεταμελεία, "change of mind." This is fairly represented by "irrevocable." are the gifts and the call of our (τοῦ) God. The "gifts" of unmerited choice, of a love uncaused by the goodness of its object, but coming from the depth of the Eternal; the "call" which not only invites the creature, but effects the end of the invitation;203203See above, p. 19. these are things which in their nature 315 are not variable with the variations of man and of time. The nation so gifted and called, "not according to its works," is for ever the unalterable object of the eternal affection.

May we not extend the reference of a sentence so absolute in its oracular brevity, and take it to speak the secret of an indefectible mercy not only to nation, but to individual? Here as elsewhere we shall need to remember the rule which bids us, in the heights and depths of all truth, "go to both extremes." Here as elsewhere we must be reverently careful how we apply the oracle, and to whom. But does not the oracle say this, that where the eternal Love has, without merit, in divine speciality, settled upon a person, there, not arbitrarily but by a law, which we cannot explain but which we can believe, it abides for ever? Still, this is a reflection to be made only in passing here. The immediate matter is a chosen people, not a chosen soul; and so he proceeds: For as once you obeyed not our (τῷ) God, but now, in the actual state of things, in His grace, found mercy, on occasion of their disobedience; so they too now obeyed not, on occasion of your mercy, in mysterious connexion with the compassion which, in your pagan darkness, revealed salvation to you,204204It is possible to render here: "they did not obey your mercy"; i.e., they refused submission to that Gospel in which you found embodied the mercy of God. But the balance of thoughts and sentences is in favour of the rendering above. that they too may find mercy. Yes, even their "disobedience," in the mystery of grace, was permitted in order to their ultimate blessing; it was to be overruled to that self-discovery which lies deep in all true repentance, and springs up towards life eternal in 316 the saving "confidence of self-despair." The pagan (ch. i.) was brought to self-discovery as a rebel against God indicated in nature; the Jew (ch. ii.) as a rebel against God revealed in Christ. This latter, if such a comparison is possible, was the more difficult and as it were advanced work in the divine plan. It took place, or rather it is taking and shall take place, later in order, and nearer to the final and universal triumph of redemption. For God shut them all (τοὺς πάντας) up into disobedience, that He might have mercy upon them all. With a fiat of judicial permission He let the Gentile develop his resistance to right into unnatural outrage. He let the Jew develop his into the desperate rejection of his own glorious Messiah. But He gave the fiat not as a God who did not care, a mere supreme Law, a Power sitting unconcerned above the scene of sin. He let the disease burst into the plague-spot in order that the guilty victim might ask at last for His remedy, and might receive it as mere and most astonishing mercy.

Let us not misuse the passage by reading into it a vain hope of an indiscriminate actual salvation, at the last, of all individuals of the race; a predestinarian hope for which Scripture not only gives no valid evidence, but utters against it what at least sound like the most urgent and unequivocal of its warnings. The context here, as we saw in another connexion just now, has to do rather with masses than with persons; with Gentiles and Jews in their common characteristics rather than taken as individuals. Yet let us draw from the words, with reverent boldness, a warrant to our faith wholly to trust the Eternal to be, even in the least fathomable of His dealings, true to Himself, true to eternal Love, whatever be the action He shall take.


Here the Apostle's voice, as we seem to listen to it, pauses for a moment, as he passes into unspoken thoughts of awe and faith. He has now given out his prophetic burthen, telling us Gentiles how great has been the sin of Israel, but how great also is Israel's privilege, and how sure his coming mercy. And behind this grand special revelation there still rise on his soul those yet more majestic forms of truth which he has led us to look upon before; the Righteousness of God, the justifying grace, the believing soul's dominion over sin, the fulness of the Spirit, the coming glory of the saints, the emancipated Universe, the eternal Love. What remains, after this mighty process of spiritual discoveries, but to adore? Listen, as he speaks again, and again the pen moves upon the paper:

Oh depth of wealth of God's wisdom and knowledge too! How past all searching are His judgments, and past all tracking are His ways! "For who ever knew the Lord's mind? Or who ever proved His counsellor?"205205He quotes nearly verbatim from Isai. xl. 13. Cp. Jerem. xxiii. 18. Or who ever first gave to Him, and requital shall be made to the giver (αὐτῷ)? Because out of Him, and through Him, and unto Him, are all things:206206Τὰ πάντα: the Greek gives us at once the items and the sum of the "all." to Him be the glory, unto the ages. Amen.

Even so, Amen. We also prostrate our being, with the Apostle, with the Roman saints, with the whole Church, with all the company of heaven, and give ourselves to that action of pure worship in which the creature, sinking lowest in his own eyes, yea out of his 318 own sight altogether, rises highest into the light of his Maker. What a moment this is, what an occasion, for such an approach to Him who is the infinite and personal Fountain of being, and of redemption! We have been led from reason to reason, from doctrine to doctrine, from one link to another in a golden chain of redeeming mercies. We have had the dream of human merit expelled from the heart with arrows of light; and the pure glory of a grace most absolute, most merciful, has come in upon us in its place. All along we have been reminded, as it were in fragments and radiant glimpses, that these doctrines, these truths, are no mere principles in the abstract, but expressions of the will and of the love of a Person; that fact full of eternal life, but all too easily forgotten by the human mind, when its study of religion is carried away, if but for an hour, from the foot of the Cross, and of the Throne. But now all these lines converge upwards to their Origin. By the Cross they reach the Throne. Through the Work of the Son—One with the Father, for of the Son too it is written (Col. i. 16) that "all things are through Him, and unto Him"—through His Work, and in it, we come to the Father's Wisdom and Knowledge, which drew the plan of blessing, and as it were calculated and furnished all its means. We touch that point where the creature gravitates to its final rest, the vision of the Glory of God. We repose, with a profound and rejoicing silence, before the fact of mysteries too bright for our vision. After all the revelations of the Apostle we own with him in faith, with an acquiescence deep as our being, the fact that there is no searching, no tracking out, the final secrets of the ways of God. It becomes to us wonderfully sufficient, in the light of Christ, to know that "the Lord, the Lord 319 God, merciful and gracious," is also Sovereign, Ultimate, His own eternal Satisfaction; that it is infinitely fit and blessed that, as His Will is the true efficient cause of all things, and His Presence their secret of continuance, so He is Himself their final Cause, their End, their Goal; they fulfil their idea, they find their bliss, in being altogether His; "all things are unto Him."

"To whom be the glory, unto the ages. Amen." The advancing "ages," αἰῶνες, the infinite developments of the eternal life, what do we know about them? Almost nothing, except the greatest fact of all; that in them for ever the redeemed creature will glorify not itself but the Creator; finding an endless and ever fuller youth, an inexhaustible motive, a rest impossible to break, a life in which indeed "they cannot die any more," in surrendering always all its blissful wealth of being to the will and use of the Blessed One.

In these "ages" we already are, in Christ. We shall indeed grow for ever with their eternal growth, in Him, to the glory of the grace of God. But let us not forget that we are already in their course, as regards that life of ours which is hid with Christ in God. With that recollection, let us give ourselves often, and as by the "second nature" of grace, to adoration. Not necessarily to frequent long abstractions of our time from the active services of life; we need only read on into the coming passages of the Epistle to be reminded that we are hallowed, in our Lord, to a life of unselfish contact with all the needs around us. But let that life have for its interior, for its animation, the spirit of worship. Taking by faith our all from God, let us inwardly always give it back to Him, as those who not only own with the simplest gratitude that He has redeemed us from condemnation and from sin, but who have seen with 20 an adoring intuition that we and our all are of the "all things" which, being "of Him," and "by Him," are also wholly "unto Him," by an absolute right, by the ultimate law of our being, as we are the creatures of the eternal Love.

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