|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
8:28-31 That is good for the saints which does their souls good. Every providence tends to the spiritual good of those that love God; in breaking them off from sin, bringing them nearer to God, weaning them from the world, and fitting them for heaven. When the saints act out of character, corrections will be employed to bring them back again. And here is the order of the causes of our salvation, a golden chain, one which cannot be broken. 1. Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son. All that God designed for glory and happiness as the end, he decreed to grace and holiness as the way. The whole human race deserved destruction; but for reasons not perfectly known to us, God determined to recover some by regeneration and the power of his grace. He predestinated, or before decreed, that they should be conformed to the image of his Son. In this life they are in part renewed, and walk in his steps. 2. Whom he did predestinate, them he also called. It is an effectual call, from self and earth to God, and Christ, and heaven, as our end; from sin and vanity to grace and holiness, as our way. This is the gospel call. The love of God, ruling in the hearts of those who once were enemies to him, proves that they have been called according to his purpose. 3. Whom he called, them he also justified. None are thus justified but those that are effectually called. Those who stand out against the gospel call, abide under guilt and wrath. 4. Whom he justified, them he also glorified. The power of corruption being broken in effectual calling, and the guilt of sin removed in justification, nothing can come between that soul and glory. This encourages our faith and hope; for, as for God, his way, his work, is perfect. The apostle speaks as one amazed, and swallowed up in admiration, wondering at the height and depth, and length and breadth, of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. The more we know of other things, the less we wonder; but the further we are led into gospel mysteries, the more we are affected by them. While God is for us, and we keep in his love, we may with holy boldness defy all the powers of darkness.
Verses 29, 30. - For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. And whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Thus is introduced the doctrine of predestination. This is indeed a principal passage on which theological theories with regard to it have been built. It, with the context, is the basis of the definition of predestination in Art. 17. It is, therefore, of great importance to consider carefully what the apostle here really says, and appears most obviously to mean; it being the duty of the expositor to pay regard to this only, in view of the language used, the way it is introduced, and any cognate passages that may throw light upon it. We may observe, in the first place, that it is plain that more is spoken of here than national election, or predestination to a state of privilege, which is the subject especially treated in ch. 9. Individual predestination is in view; and this not to gospel privileges only, but also carrying with it the result of glory. But it still remains to be seen whether such predestination is regarded as
(1) absolute, i.e. irrespective, with regard to its final result, of the condition of man's use of grace given; and, if so, whether
(2) arbitrary, i.e. irrespective of the Divine foreknowledge of what men would be, and themselves deserve. The Calvinistic view is that God from all eternity, of the mere good pleasure of his will, selected certain persons out of mankind to be the heirs of glory; the Arminian is that he foresaw from all eternity who would, in the exercise of their own free-will, respond to his purpose, and, in virtue of such foreknowledge, preordained them to glory. It is hardly necessary to consider whether there is any countenance given to the view that predestination ensures salvation, however a man may live; the obligation of actual holiness in Christians being (as we have seen) so strongly insisted on all along. If, then, the Calvinistic theory should appear to be supported, it must be with the proviso that predestination of necessity carries with it the grace of perseverance in good works, or at any rate a true conversion before the end, as well as final glory. Let us, in the first place, observe the way in which St. Paul introduces the subject, so as better to understand his drift. He has been speaking of the trials and imperfections of the present life, and urging his readers not to be discouraged by them, on the ground that, if they continue to "live after the Spirit," these things will by no means hinder, but rather further, the final issue. To strengthen this position he introduces the thought of God's eternal purpose; in effect thus: Your being in the state of grace in which you now feel yourselves to be, is due to God's eternal purpose to call you to this state, and thus in the end to save you. It is impossible that the circumstances in which he places you now, or any power whatever, should thwart God's eternal purpose. But it is not of necessity implied by anything that is actually said that the persons addressed might not themselves resist the Divine purpose. In fact, their own perseverance appears to be presupposed already, and they have been urged to it all along, as though their use of grace depended on themselves. Hence the apostle in this passage does not really touch the theoretic questions that have been raised by theologians, his purpose being simply the practical one of encouraging his readers to persevere and hope. We may now examine the successive expressions in the passage, and see what they imply. In ver. 28 the context shows πάντα to have especial reference to external circumstances of trial, and not at all to men's own sins. Calvin, commenting on it, quotes St. Augustine as saying, "Peceata quoque sua, ordinante Dei providentia, sanctis ideo non nocere ut potius corum saluti inserviant;" but while he assents to this proposition, he denies, with truth, that any such meaning is intended here. It may be observed, in passing, that Augustine's proposition, though it sounds strange, may, in a certain sense, be accepted as true: "We must continually err in order to be humble; our frailty and sins are the tools that God uses" (General Gordon's 'Letters to his Sister,' p. 371). Further, τοῖς κλητοῖς cannot be understood as limiting τοῖς ἀγαπῶσι τὸν Θεὸν, as though among those that love God only some are "the called;" nor can κατὰ πρόθεσιν be understood as limiting κλητοὶ, as though even of the called not all are called with the purpose of saving them. Only a preconceived idea could surely have suggested such an interpretation of the verse. In ver. 29 (γιγνώσκειν bearing the sense of "to determine," as well as of "to know") προέγνω may possibly mean "predetermined" rather than "foreknew." Elsewhere in the New Testament, when used of men, it has the latter sense (Acts 26:5; 2 Peter 3:17). When used of God, it may, as here, have either meaning (cf. Romans 11:2; 1 Peter 1:20); but in the text last referred to the first meaning seems more probable. So also of πρόγνωσις in Acts 2:23 and 1 Peter 1:2. The distinction would not be of much importance but for the fact that the sense of "foreknew" has been pressed in support of the Arminian view; viz. that Divine predestination was consequent on the Divine foreknowledge of what men would be. It would not, indeed, really prove this view, since it might only mean that God knew beforehand the objects of his intended mercy. Calvin, though translating praecognovit, strongly rebuts the Arminian inference, saying, "Insulsi colligunt illi, quos dixi, Deum non alios elegisse nisi quos sua gratia dignos fore praevidit." Again, "Sequitur notitiam hanc a bene placito pendere, quia Deus nihil extra seipsum praeseivit quos voluit adoptando, sod tantum signavit quos eligere volebat.' Προώρισε (which might, perhaps, be better rendered preordained, which is its proper meaning, so as to avoid the necessary idea of irresistible destiny which is commonly associated with the word predestinate) must be taken, not absolutely, but in connection with συμμόρφους. That the elect should in the first place be "conformed to the image of Christ" is all that is, here at least, denoted as preordained by God. The expression, συμμόρφους τῆς εἰκόνος, etc., may be understood, from the preceding context, to refer, primarily at least, to participation in Christ's sufferings (cf. Hebrews 2:10). Coming to ver. 30, we find the following sequence:
(1) eternal foreknowledge (or eternal purpose),
(2) preordination to fellowship with Christ,
(3) calling (to acceptance of the gospel),
(5) glorification. Ἐδικαίωσε (4) means the participation in God's δικαιοσύνη, the passing into a "state of salvation" through faith in baptism. But what is meant by ἐδόξασε (5) has been a subject of discussion. Some, in view of the aorist, not future, tense of the verb, understand it of sanctification subsequent to justification, regarded as participation in the glory of the Divine holiness. Others, in view of the significance of the word itself, understand future glory, the aorist being accounted, for by the apostle's taking in one view the whole process of salvation with its final result, which is contemplated as accomplished. Perhaps both ideas are included, present sanctification being regarded as the commencement and earnest of the full glory to be revealed in "the sons of God" hereafter. In any case, we are not bound by what is here said to conclude that final glory of necessity follows the previous stages. For the apostle may be only setting forth the process and result when grace is not resisted. But certainly he implies that, when the result is glory, all is to be traced, not to man's initiation or deservings, but to Divine grace, and the Divine purpose of mercy from eternity. In the remainder of this chapter the apostle rises into a strain of glowing eloquence, into a very song of triumph, in view of the assured hope of faithful Christians. Faithfulness, be it once more observed, is presupposed throughout the passage, which is quite wrongly understood as encouraging confidence in any on the ground of their conviction that they are certainly, even in spite of themselves, predestinated to glory: it only encourages perseverance in spite of trial on the ground of our feeling that, if we do persevere, we cannot fail, because God is on our side, and it is his eternal purpose to save us.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
For whom he did foreknow,.... The foreknowledge of God here, does not intend his prescience of all things future; by which he foreknows and foretells things to come, and which distinguishes him from all other gods; and is so called, not with respect to himself, with whom all things are present, but with respect to us, and which is eternal, universal, certain, and infallible; for in this sense he foreknows all men, and if this was the meaning here, then all men would be predestinated, conformed to the image of Christ, called by grace, justified and glorified; whereas they are a special people, whom God has foreknown: nor is this foreknowledge to be understood of any provision or foresight of the good works, holiness, faith, and perseverance of men therein, upon which God predestinates them to happiness; since this would make something out of God, and not his good pleasure, the cause of predestination; which was done before, and without any consideration of good or evil, and is entirely owing to the free grace of God, and is the ground and foundation of good works, faith, holiness, and perseverance in them: but this regards the everlasting love of God to his own people, his delight in them, and approbation of them; in this sense he knew them, he foreknew them from everlasting, affectionately loved them, and took infinite delight and pleasure in them; and this is the foundation of their predestination and election, of their conformity to Christ, of their calling, justification, and glorification: for these
he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son; having perfect, distinct, special knowledge of them, joined with love to them, he predetermined, or fore-appointed them in his eternal mind, in his everlasting and unchangeable purposes and decrees to this end, conformity to the image of Christ; which is not to be understood of the Spirit of Christ: God's elect indeed are chosen to be holy, and through sanctification of the Spirit, but are never said to be conformed, made like to the Spirit, nor is the Spirit ever called the image of Christ; but this designs either likeness to Christ as the Son of God, or conformity to him in his human nature. There is indeed a great disparity between the sonship of Christ, and of the saints; he is the eternal and natural Son of God, he is the one and only begotten Son, they are adopted ones, yet in some things there is a likeness; as he is the Son of God, so are they the sons of God, though not in the same sense; as he is a beloved Son, so are they; as he is the firstborn with respect them, they are the firstborn with respect to angels; as he has an inheritance, so have they; moreover, he has a very great concern in their sonship; the predestination of them to it is by him; the blessing itself is founded on union to him, on their conjugal relation to him, and his assumption of their nature; it comes to them through his redemption, and is actually bestowed on them by him; and this conformity to Christ as sons, will mere fully appear hereafter, when they shall be like him, and see him as he is: or this may be understood of the saints' conformity to Christ in his human nature, both here and hereafter: here in holiness; the image of God was in in his first creation, this is defaced by sin; and in regeneration, the image of Christ is stamped, his grace is wrought in them, his Spirit is put into them, to enable them to walk in him, and after him: this will be complete hereafter, and will consist in perfect holiness, being freed from the very being, as well as the power and guilt of sin; in perfect knowledge of everything that will tend to their happiness; and in glory like to Christ, both in soul and body:
that he might be the firstborn among many brethren; the persons among whom Christ is the firstborn are described by their relation, "brethren"; to one another, being related to the same Father, regenerated by the same grace, taken into the same family, and heirs of the same glory; and to Christ, which relation, as brethren to him, is not merely founded on his incarnation, but in their adoption; and which is evidenced by their regeneration, and doing the will of his Father; an which relation he owns, and is not ashamed of: they are also described by their number, "many"; for though they are but few, when compared with the world; yet they are many, a large number, considered by themselves; and among these, Christ is the "firstborn"; he is the firstborn of God, the begotten of the Father, he is the first begotten, and as such he is the only begotten; he is the firstborn of Mary, she had none before him, and he is the only one that ever was born in the manner he was; he is the first begotten from the dead, his resurrection is called a begetting, and he was the first in time that rose from the dead by his own power, and to an immortal life, and the first in causality and dignity. Christ is the firstborn with respect to all creatures in general; he was begotten of the Father before all creatures were; he is the first cause of them all, the governor, basis, and support of them: and he is the firstborn with respect to the saints; who are of the same nature with him, are made partakers of the divine nature, are sons in the same family, though not in the same class of sonship: moreover, this character may regard not so much birth as privilege which belongs to Christ as Mediator; who, as the firstborn had, has the blessing, the government, the priesthood, and the inheritance; all which is owing to, and is one end of divine predestination. The Cabalistic (m) writers among the Jews give the name of "firstborn" to the second Sephira, number, or person, "Wisdom", which answers to the Son of God.
(m) Vid. Cabala Denudata, par. 1. p. 200. & par. 2. p. 7.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
29. For—as touching this "calling according to his purpose" (Ro 8:28).
whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate—foreordain. In what sense are we to take the word "foreknow" here? "Those who He foreknew would repent and believe," say Pelagians of every age and every hue. But this is to thrust into the text what is contrary to the whole spirit, and even letter, of the apostle's teaching (see Ro 9:11; 2Ti 1:9). In Ro 11:2, and Ps 1:6, God's "knowledge" of His people cannot be restricted to a mere foresight of future events, or acquaintance with what is passing here below. Does "whom He did foreknow," then, mean "whom He foreordained?" Scarcely, because both "foreknowledge" and "foreordination" are here mentioned, and the one as the cause of the other. It is difficult indeed for our limited minds to distinguish them as states of the Divine Mind towards men; especially since in Ac 2:23 "the counsel" is put before "the foreknowledge of God," while in 1Pe 1:2 "election" is said to be "according to the foreknowledge of God." But probably God's foreknowledge of His own people means His "peculiar, gracious, complacency in them," while His "predestinating" or "foreordaining" them signifies His fixed purpose, flowing from this, to "save them and call them with an holy calling" (2Ti 1:9).
to be conformed to the image of his Son—that is, to be His sons after the pattern, model, or image of His Sonship in our nature.
that he might be the first-born among many brethren—"The First-born," the Son by nature; His "many brethren," sons by adoption: He, in the Humanity of the Only-begotten of the Father, bearing our sins on the accursed tree; they in that of mere men ready to perish by reason of sin, but redeemed by His blood from condemnation and wrath, and transformed into His likeness: He "the First-born from the dead"; they "that sleep in Jesus," to be in due time "brought with Him"; "The First-born," now "crowned with glory and honor"; His "many brethren," "when He shall appear, to be like Him, for they shall see Him as He is."
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