Romans 9
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
F. ELECTION (Cch. 8, 9–11)

It is almost needless to say that the Election spoken of in ch. 8 &c. is variously explained. A large and important school of Theology (the Arminian) interprets it as a personal election, but contingent upon foreseen faith and perseverance. Another school[58] interprets it as an election not personal at all, but (so to speak) social; an election, like the election of the Jewish Nation, not to life eternal but to a vantage-ground for attaining it.

[58] Or, more properly, other schools, with important differences among themselves in other respects.

Without forgetting for a moment the awful mysteries of the subject, we yet feel that both these theories, with all (and it is very much) that can be said for them, do not fit the language of ch. 8. and of St Paul’s (not to quote St John’s) general teaching. “Not according to our works” is surely the tone of this chapter and of the whole previous epistle, and of the next three chapters. And it seems to us impossible, on any other theory than that of a Personal Election to Life, antecedent to “our works” and mercifully prevailing in its purpose, quite naturally to explain the tone of rapturous joy which marks the closing passages of the chapter.

In the Seventeenth English Article, a masterpiece of careful expression, this result of the humble belief in an Election personal and effectual (but, observe, taking effect through moral means,) is strongly stated:—“The godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort, to godly persons, &c.”

See the whole Article; and especially the closing paragraph, in which the word “generally” is technical, and means “with regard to the genus;”—i.e. probably, mankind. The Article warns us to begin with faith in the promises to man as man, not with the question of personal election.


See note on chap. Romans 8:30, on the original word.

On this great mystery, brought up with such stern force in ch. 9, we quote a few sentences from one who certainly spoke from no cold or unsympathetic heart—Martin Luther. His Prœfatio in Ep, ad Romanos (translated into Latin from Luther’s German by his friend Justus Jonas) is indeed, as Tholuck describes it, “admirable, and breathing the very spirit of St Paul.” There is a very noble contemporary English paraphrase of it, by Tyndale, from which we take the following passage (Tyndale’s Doctrinal Treatises, Parker Soc. Edition, p. 505):—

“In the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters he (Paul) treateth of God’s predestination, whence it springeth altogether whether we shall believe or not believe … By which predestination our justifying and salvation are clean taken out of our hands, and put in the hands of God only. For we are so weak and so uncertain, that, if it stood in us, there would of a truth be no man saved; the devil, no doubt, would deceive us. But now is God sure, that His predestination cannot deceive Him, neither can any man withstand or let Him; and therefore have we hope and trust against sin.

“But here must a mark be set to those unquiet, busy, and high-climbing spirits which begin first from an high (sic) to search the bottomless secrets of God’s predestination, whether they be predestinate or not. These must needs either cast themselves down headlong into desperation, or else commit themselves to free chance, careless. But follow thou the order of this Epistle, and noosel thyself[59] with Christ, and learn to understand what the Law and the Gospel mean, and the office of both the two; that thou mayest in the one know thyself, and how thou hast of thyself no strength but to sin, and in the other the grace of Christ; and then see thou fight against sin and the flesh, as the seven first chapters teach thee. After that, when thou art come to the eighth chapter, and art under the cross and suffering of tribulation, the necessity[60] of predestination will wax sweet, and thou shalt well feel how precious a thing it is. For except thou have borne the cross of adversity and temptation, and hast felt thyself brought into the very brim of desperation, yea, and unto hell-gates, thou canst never meddle with the sentence of predestination without thine own harm, and without secret wrath and grudging inwardly against God; for otherwise it shall not be possible for thee to think that God is righteous and just … Take heed therefore unto thyself, that thou drink not wine, while thou art yet but a suckling. For … in Christ there is a certain childhood, in which a man must be content with milk for a season, until he wax strong and grow up unto a perfect man in Christ, and be able to eat of more strong meat.”

[59] I.e. find shelter, as a child with a nurse. This striking clause is not in the Latin of the Præfatio.

[60] Necessitas, fixed certainty.

And to the last, surely, the dark problems that gather round the central and insoluble mystery of Sin will be safely approached only with the remembrance that “the Judge of all the earth” will “do right;” that He is the Eternal, and that His “ways” must therefore be “past finding out;” and that He “so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son.”


In the last note but one on Romans 9:22 we have alluded to the tenet that the lost are personally and positively fore-doomed to ruin. To this tenet Calvin was led, not by a passionless rigidity, from which his deep and sensitive temperament, and truly ample mind, were far removed; but by the conviction that it was inexorably demanded by Scripture and reason. But St Augustine, the great patristic teacher of Predestination, carefully avoided such a tenet; teaching that, however little we can fathom the mystery, man’s sin, running its proper course, is the only cause of man’s ruin; while yet special grace is the only cause of his salvation.

I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,
Ch. Romans 9:1-6. The problem of Jewish unbelief: Paul’s distress in view of it

1. I say the truth in Christ, &c.] The discussion of the case of Israel occupies tins chapter and the next two. On the general subject thus introduced, we offer a few remarks. (See also Introduction, I. § 26.)

(1) The dedication of this large section to this special case is not out of proportion. Israel not only was immensely important as the Depositary of Revelation for ages past and the possessor as such of inestimable privileges, (Romans 9:4-5,) but at the time of St Paul it formed the vast majority of all professed believers in the God of Revelation. The unbelief of the great majority of Israel was therefore not only a distress to the Christian’s heart, but a perplexity to his mind, and so needed very special treatment and explanation.

(2) He distinctly foretells a future of grace and mercy for Israel, on a grand scale of conversion. A time is to come when “blindness in part” is no longer to characterize Israel as a people; that is to say, a time when unbelief, if existing still at all, shall be the exception, not the rule.

(3) He does not touch on any other than the spiritual aspects of that future. As to the question of a political, or local, restoration of Israel, or both, he is entirely silent whether to affirm or deny; and so in all his Epistles. So it is also in all the N. T. Epistles. St Paul’s great object here is (1) to explain the spiritual alienation of the mass of Israelites, and (2) to open the prospect of its blessed reversal.

in Christ] As a “member of Christ,” and so bound to inviolable truthfulness; and as speaking to other “members.” (Ephesians 4:25.)

I lie not] On this and similar appeals see on Romans 1:9.—The special reason for such words here is, perhaps, the thought that both Gentile Christians and unbelieving Jews (for different reasons) might think him now regardless of his earthly kindred, because so resolute in teaching the entire spiritual equality of all believers, Jew or Gentile. The Epistle might possibly be heard or read by unconverted Jews; and such words as these might reach their hearts.

my conscience also bearing me witness] Paul, as a man speaking to men, was corroborated (in his own consciousness) by Paul speaking to himself. Word and conscience coincided in statement.

in the Holy Ghost] Who, as the Sanctifier, pervades the conscience with new and intense light and sensibility. The reference is not to inspiration but to spirituality, of which he has said so much in ch. 8.

That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.
2. that I have, &c.] More lit. that I have great grief, and my heart has incessant pain.—Very wonderful, and profoundly true, is this expression of intense grief just after the “joy unspeakable” of ch. 8. The heart is capable of a vast complexity of emotions, and none the less so when it is “spiritual.” Cp. 1 Peter 1:6.—No doubt the expressions here are the more intense because of the contrasted recent view of the coming glory of believers, and their security in the love and covenant of God.

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
3. I could wish] Lit., I was wishing; the imperfect. A similar imperfect occurs Galatians 4:20; where lit., “I was desiring.” Without discussing the grammatical theory of the construction we may paraphrase, I was on the way to wish, or, I was in course of wishing. Two things are implied; the tendency to the wish; and the obstruction of it.—The Gr. for “to wish” here means specially to express a wish; almost, “to pray.” Paul’s love for Israel is such that, but for certain preventing reasons, he would form a wish to be cut off from Christ for their sakes.

myself] Strongly emphatic in the Gr. His intense love for his brethren constrains him to contemplate himself as their victim, if such a victim there could be.

accursed] Lit. an anathema; a thing devoted to ruin by a solemn curse. Such is the meaning of the word wherever else used by St Paul; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 1:8-9. (See Bp Lightfoot’s note on Galatians 1:8.) No milder meaning will suit the intensity of this passage. St Paul could even have asked for the extremest imaginable suffering possible for man—but for certain reasons in the nature of things which forbade him. These reasons may be given thus:—To desire the curse of God would be to desire not only suffering, but moral alienation from Him, the withdrawal of the soul’s capacity to love Him. Thus the wish would be in effect an act of “greater love for our neighbour than for God[40].” Again, the redeemed soul is “not its own:” to wish the self to be accursed from Christ would thus be to wish the loss of that which He has “bought and made His own.”—But, the logical reason of the matter apart, we have only to read the close of ch. 8 to see how entire a moral impossibility it was for St Paul to complete such a wish.—The words here were perhaps written with a tacit reference to the memorable passage, Exodus 32:32-33. The answer there given to the request of Moses would alone suffice to forbid the completion of any similar request thereafter.

[40] Rev. H. Moule’s Suggestive Commentary on this Epistle.

Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
4. Israelites] “The absolute name, that which expressed the whole dignity and glory of a member of the theocratic nation, of the people in peculiar covenant with God, was Israelite.” (Abp Trench, New Testament Synonyms.) It was thus distinguished from both Hebrew and Jew (Judœus,) of which (1) relates rather to language, and (2) to the national (rather than theocratic) difference between the People and the Gentiles.

the adoption] See Exodus 4:22; Hosea 11:1; also Deuteronomy 14:1; Isaiah 63:16. Israel, as a nation, was taken into a relationship with God altogether peculiar, as to nearness and affection. See Hosea 11:8 for some wonderful utterances of the Divine Paternity. This son-ship was indeed (unlike that in ch. 8) of the mass rather than of individuals. But it was a grant of high privilege and mercy.

the glory] In the special sense of the Shechinah, the mysteriously visible manifestation of the Divine Presence “between the Cherubim” on the mercy-seat. See Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2; Psalm 80:1; Psalm 99:1; Isaiah 37:16.—It does not appear that this Light was perpetual; but anywise it was a pledge of sacred privilege and a means of communication entirely unique on earth. This Shechinah is, in the Targums, often used as a paraphrase for the Holy Name, and in Isaiah 6:1 the LXX have the phrase “glory of God” where the Hebrew has the Holy Name.—This special reference of the word “glory” is more in keeping with the enumeration here than any wider reference.

the covenants] With Abraham, Moses, Levi, David. See Genesis 17:4; Genesis 17:11; Genesis 17:19; Exodus 31:16; Exodus 34:28; Malachi 2:4-5; Psalm 89:28; Psalm 89:34. The reference here is of course not (as in Galatians 4:24) to the Old and New Covenants of Works and Grace respectively.

the giving of the law] the Legislation. The privilege of the possession of a Divine Code is dwelt on, Deuteronomy 4:8; Nehemiah 9:13-14.

the service] The Gr. specially signifies the Temple-worship. Cp. Hebrews 9:1. The solemn round of ordinances, all “mysteriously meant,” under the Old Covenant is specially remarkable in contrast to the comparative absence of detailed directions for worship under the New.—The words “of God” are an explanatory addition in E. V.

the promises] Of the Land, and of the Messiah. The latter promise was a possession of Israel in the sense that it was to be fulfilled exclusively through, though not exclusively for, Israel. See John 4:22. In Him who is “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham,” (Matthew 1:1,) the great Fulfilment remains for ever a special glory of the ancient People.—Here, as everywhere, St Paul looks to the Prophecies as a preeminent reality in the dealings of God with Man. To him they were no “national aspirations,” but voices from eternity.

Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
5. the fathers] Cp. Romans 11:28. The reference is probably specially to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But David is also “the patriarch David;” Acts 2:29.—These sacred Persons are now mentioned, after the previous sacred Things, so as to usher in the mention of the Christ Himself.

of whom] out of whom; not merely “whose,” as in previous clauses; perhaps to keep the thought in view that He was not exclusively for Israel, though wholly of Israel.

as concerning the flesh] In respect of His human Parent’s descent He also was Jewish. His blessed Humanity was indeed, on the Paternal side, “of God;” (Meyer;) but this distinction is not in view here, where the plain meaning is that, by human parentage, He was Jewish.

who is over all, God blessed for ever] The Gr. may (with more or less facility) be translated, (1) as in E. V.; or (2) who is God over all, &c.;” or (3) blessed for ever [be] the God who is over all. Between (1) and (2) the practical difference is slight, but (1) is the easier and safer grammatically: between (3) and the others the difference is, of course, complete. If we adopt (3) we take the Apostle to be led, by the mention of the Incarnation, to utter a sudden doxology to the God who gave that crowning mercy. In favour of this view it is urged, (not only by Socinian commentators and the like, but by some of the orthodox, as Meyer,) that St Paul nowhere else styles the Lord simply “God;” but always rather “the Son of God,” &c. By this they do not mean to deny or detract from the Lord’s Deity, but they maintain that St Paul always so states that Deity, under Divine guidance, as to mark the “Subordination of the Son”—that Subordination which is not a difference of Nature, Power, or Eternity, but of Order; just such as is marked by the simple but profound words Father and Son.—But on the other hand there is Titus 2:13, where the Gr. is (at least) perfectly capable of the rendering “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.” And if, as St John is witness, it is divinely true that “the Word is God,” it is surely far from wonderful if here and there, in peculiar connexions, an equally inspired Teacher should so speak of Christ, even though guided to keep another side of the truth habitually in view. Now, beyond all fair question, the Greek here (in view of the usual order of words in ascriptions of praise) is certainly best rendered as in E. V.: had it not been for controversy, probably, no other rendering would have been suggested. And lastly, the context far rather suggests a lament (over the fall of Israel) than an ascription of praise; while it also pointedly suggests some allusion to the super-human Nature of Christ, by the words “according to the flesh.” But if there is such an allusion, then it must lie in the words “over all, God.”—We thus advocate the rendering of the E. V., as clearly the best grammatically, and the best suited to the context.—Observe lastly that while St John (John 1:1; John 20:28; and perhaps John 1:18, where E. V. “Son;”) uses the word God of Christ, and in John 12:41 distinctly implies that He is Jehovah, (Isaiah 6:5,) yet his Gospel is quite as full of the Filial Subordination as of the Filial Deity and Co-equality. So that the words of St Paul here are scarcely more exceptional in him than they would be in St John.

for ever] Lit. unto the ages; the familiar phrase for endless duration, under all possible developements, where God and the other world are in question.

Amen] The word is properly a Hebrew adverb (“surely”), repeatedly used as here in O. T. See e.g. Deuteronomy 27:15; Psalm 72:19; Jeremiah 11:5 (marg. E. V.).

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:
6–13. Limitations of the problem from facts of Divine election

6. Not as though, &c.] Here begins a paragraph, and with it the main subject of the rest of this chapter. St Paul has expressed his intense grief over the failure of the mass of his brethren to “inherit the promises.” He now, in the true manner of the Scripture writers, vindicates dicates the veracity and majesty of the Faithful Promiser. This he does by considerations on Divine Sovereignty and Election.

the word of God] The Promise to Abraham, that his seed should be blessed and a blessing.

hath taken none effect] Lit. hath fallen out, hath failed.

Israel—Israel] Probably (1) is the descendants, (2) the forefather, Jacob. The emphasis of the Gr. is not precisely as in E. V., but rather (with a slight paraphrase) “Israel” (as intended in the Promise) “is not the total of the descendants of Israel.”

Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
7. neither because, &c.] An illustration from manifest fact, to shew that an apparently inclusive promise may be limited. We may paraphrase: “Abraham’s descendants, again, are not all his ‘children’ in the sense contemplated, just because they are his descendants; on the contrary, there is a distinct limitation: ‘in Isaac and his line are they who shall bear the title of thy seed.’ ”—The cases of Israel’s and Abraham’s “children” are not here precisely parallel; because all Israel’s bodily descendants inherited a Promise, in some sense. But the second case illustrates the possibility of a limitation in the first.

In Isaac, &c.] The quotation is verbatim from LXX., Genesis 21:12, and literally according to the Hebrew. It is introduced without “It is written,” as being perfectly well known with its context. See on Romans 4:18.

That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
8. That is, &c.] We may paraphrase this verse, after the Gr.; “That is,” (in view of both the Romans 9:6-7,) “the children of God” (it being implied in the Promise that Abraham’s children should be also His,) “are not the mere bodily offspring of Abraham, no more and no fewer; rather, the children defined by special promise are taken to be the whole posterity in question.”

children of the promise] Perhaps in this phrase the Promise is quasi-personified; so St Chrysostom in Meyer. But see Luke 20:36 for a somewhat similar case. There the phrase “children of the resurrection” must mean “persons who partake resurrection glory;” but the special form of words is modified by the phrase “children of God” just preceding. So probably here the phrase “children of the promise,” for “persons defined by the promise,” is suggested by “children of the flesh” just preceding.

For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son.
9. of promise] Lit. of the promise; the promise just referred to in the illustrative case. The “children of God” among Abraham’s bodily descendants were to be limited within the descendants by Sarah; i.e. within Isaac’s line.

At this time] i.e. of the next year. (Genesis 18:10.) The quotation is nearly literally after the Hebrew, but varies (merely verbally) from the LXX.

Sara] The name of limitation. Hagar’s son was also “Abraham’s seed;” but not in the intention of the Promise.

And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;
10. And not only this] Here a still stronger example of sovereign choice occurs. Isaac and Ishmael had only one parent in common; Jacob and Esau had both. In the former case, the choice of Isaac was declared only after Ishmael’s birth and childhood; in the latter, the choice of Jacob was declared while both brothers were in the womb.—The Greek construction in Romans 9:10-12 is irregular, but perfectly clear.

by one] In contrast to the divided parentage of Abraham’s sons.

our father Isaac] Here named with emphasis, as shewing that even within the inner circle of promise (“In Isaac shall thy seed, &c.,”) there was still an election.

(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)
11. being not yet born, &c.] Nothing could go beyond this verse in stating that the reasons of the Divine Choice lie wholly within the Divine Mind, and not in the works and characters of the chosen.

the purpose of God according to election] So according to the best order of the Gr. words. Another order, not so well supported, gives “the purpose according to God’s election.” The meaning is the same in either case.—On “the purpose,” see last note on Romans 8:28.—“According to election”:—i.e. as determined, or characterized, by the sovereign Choice of the Divine Mind. In the case of Esau and Jacob, the “purpose according to election” does not, at least explicitly, mean a purpose of eternal salvation. But St Paul is evidently here treating the Divine Choice in the widest and most absolute respects; and the sovereign gift to Jacob of sacred privileges, determining his whole course and that of his posterity, is thus taken as illustrating the fact of an equally sovereign gift, to “whomsoever God will,” of the capacity to repent, believe, and love. Throughout the argument we must remember who the “elect” are in the grand special case in hand, viz. the “remnant” who actually (not only potentially) are true believers, under both the Old and New Dispensations. See especially Romans 11:2-8.


On the general subject of the Divine Election we may remark,

(1) That “the arguments of the Apostle are founded on two assumptions. The first is, that the Scriptures are the word of God; and the second, that whatever God actually does cannot be unrighteous. Consequently, any objection which can be shewn to militate against either an express declaration of Scripture, or an obvious fact in providence, is fairly answered.” (Dr Hodge, in loc.) It is almost needless to add that such a submission to the Divine Righteousness, while in one sense a surrender of reason, is in another its truest exercise. It is the surrender instinctively yielded by the soul which, conscious of its own sin, lies open to the full impression of the overwhelming purity and majesty of its Creator. It is absolute trust, under complete mystery, in Him who in one respect is truly known, but in another cannot (by the created being) be “found out unto perfection.” See Romans 11:33-36.

(2) It must be remembered that Divine Election affects a world not of righteous beings, nor even of neutral beings, but of “sinners,” “enemies” (ch. Romans 5:8-9.)[41] We come to face its mystery only when we have first faced, and owned, the unfathomable mystery of sin. We see it, not making the good evil, nor the evil arbitrarily worse, but judicially leaving the sinner to himself; (as we are bound to believe every sinner might righteously have been left; for otherwise Salvation would be our Right, not our Mercy;) save in cases—determined by the Divine Mind by reasons within Itself—in which, of mere mercy, a positive and prevailing influence intervenes, producing spiritual life, the life of repentance, faith and love.

[41] The abstruse questions which have been raised in controversy on this point may be fairly said to “intrude into” what lies wholly outside the Scripture Revelation.

(3) This view of the case, which is indeed full of distressing mystery, yet owes what is most distressing in it to the riddle which lies beneath all others connected with it—that of the Existence of Sin at all. But meantime it also assures us that while the will (influenced by sin) is the cause of ruin, it is also the will (influenced by grace) which, acting strictly as the will, lays hold on salvation. In neither case is the will forced, unless indeed we call every influence on the will compulsion, so far as it is successful. The lost “will not come;” the saved come as “whosoever will.” (John 5:40; Revelation 22:17.)

(4) The doctrine of Election is, in Scripture, never made the foreground of doctrine; and it is always so presented as also to assure us, however little we can reconcile the vast range of spiritual truths, that we are in the hands of Righteousness as well as Power, and that our will, affections, and aspirations, are perfectly real. Lastly, the doctrine, if studied in Scripture, is viewed always from the only safe view-point—the foot of the Cross.—See further, Appendix F.

might stand] i.e., continue to act on its necessary principle—“not of works, but of Him that calleth.”

of works] Based on, or resulting from, “works;” in the largest sense of “works;” actions whose aggregate is character.

calleth] See on Romans 1:6.

It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.
12. The elder, &c.] Verbatim as LXX. of Genesis 25:23—Of both Hebrew and Greek the literal rendering is The greater shall he bondsman to the less.

shall serve] In the personal history of Esau and Jacob this was not literally fulfilled; but it was so in spirit, in the subjection of Esau’s interests and privileges to those of Jacob. In the history of their descendants it was repeatedly fulfilled to the letter; and prophecy (as in other cases, e.g. that of Abraham,) regarded the ancestor and his descendants as solidaire.

As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
13. As it is written] In Malachi 1:2-3. Nearly verbatim from LXX.—The prophet is there appealing, in God’s name, to the people to remember His distinguishing and unmerited choice of Jacob over Esau to inherit the land. Not the quotation merely, but the context, is to the purpose here.

have I loved] Lit., and better, did I love; when I gave him the preference. So below, did I hate.

hated] Cp. Genesis 29:33; Genesis 29:30, for proof that this word, in contrast with love, need not imply positive hatred, but the absence of love, or even less love. One verse there tells us that Jacob “hated” Leah, the other that he “loved Rachel more.” See too Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26; John 12:25.

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
14–33. Electing Sovereignty: Vindication, Restatement and application

(A) Is God unrighteous?

14. What shall we say then?] Same words as Romans 3:5, Romans 4:1, Romans 6:1, Romans 7:7, Romans 8:31, Romans 9:30. St Paul often introduces thus an objection which is to be solved. The objection here is twofold; (1) “Is God righteous so to act?” (Romans 9:14,) and (2) “Is man responsible if He so acts?” (Romans 9:19.)

Is there unrighteousness with God?] On the Gr. rendered “with” see note on Romans 1:11. The words here, as the words there, may refer to a court of justice: “Is there injustice at His bar?

God forbid] See on Romans 3:4.—On the principle of the reply here, see long Note on Romans 9:11.

For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
15. For] The connexion is; “The thought of injustice in these acts of the Eternal Judge is all the more to be rejected because they follow a principle expressed in His own words; for He says to Moses, &c.” That the principle, so expressed, is absolutely right, is taken for granted. To the Apostle, God’s word is final and absolute. With Him nothing indeed can be capricious, but none the less His “judgments” must, to a vast degree, be “past finding out,” just because He is the Eternal.

I will have mercy, &c.] Exodus 33:19. Verbatim from LXX.—The English exactly represents the Hebrew, if it is noted that “will” throughout this verse might equally well be “shall.” In both Hebrew and Greek there is no explicit reference to “willing,” in the sense of “choosing.” However, the general sense plainly is, “In any case, through human history, wherein I shall be seen to have mercy, the one account I give of the radical cause is this—I have mercy.” It is to be thankfully remembered, by the way, that close to this awful utterance occurs that other equally sovereign proclamation, (Exodus 34:6, &c.) “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, &c.”

So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
16. of him that willeth] Not that human willing and running are illusions; but they are not the cause of mercy. They follow it; they may even be the channel of its present action; but they are not the cause. Its origin is not “of” them. Cp. Php 2:13.

runneth] The idea is of one actively moving in the path of right His energy may tempt him to think that he originated the motion; but he did not.—The word “runneth” belongs to St Paul’s favourite metaphor of the foot-race. See 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; Galatians 2:2; Galatians 5:7; Php 2:16.

For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
17. For] See on Romans 9:15. In this verse St Paul recurs to the question “Is there unrighteousness, &c.?” and replies to it, by citing not now a general Divine utterance (as in Romans 9:15) but a special utterance, to an individual.

the Scripture saith] For a similar personification of the inspired word see Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:22. Such phrases are a pregnant indication of the apostolic view of Scripture. (See below, on Romans 10:6.)

unto Pharaoh] Here quoted as an example of Divine Sovereignty. He appears as one who might (in human judgment) have been dealt with and subdued by a process of grace and mercy, but who was left to his own evil will. No evil was infused into him; but good influences were not infused, and his evil took its course.—It is instructive, and a relief in a certain sense, to read this passage in the light of the history of Exodus, where it is remarkable that the “hardening” (expressed in the Hebrew by three different verbs) seems to be attributed in ten places to the Lord and certainly in ten to Pharaoh himself; and where the narrative, in its living simplicity, at least shews how perfectly real was the action of the human consciousness and will.—But we must not think that this solves the mystery, nor must we lose sight of St Paul’s object in quoting Pharaoh’s case here—viz. to establish the fact of the sovereignty with which God shews, or does not shew, mercy.

Even for this, &c.] The quotation (Exodus 9:16) is mainly with LXX., but the first clause in LXX. runs, “and for this purpose thou wast preserved,” or “maintained.”

have I raised, &c.] Or, did I raise thee up. Lit. made thee stand. And this is better, for the special meaning seems to be that Pharaoh was not so much exalted to be king, as raised up and sustained under the plagues.—Here the Eternal gives “His glory” as a sufficient account of His action toward this individual soul and will.

Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
18. whom he will] The emphasis is of course on these words, in each clause: to us, the only account of the differences of His action is His Will. The following verses prove beyond fair question that St Paul means fully to enforce this truth, intensely trying as it is to the human heart. He lays it down without mitigation or counterpoise: not that there is no mitigation; but mitigation is far from his purpose here.—The deepest relief to thought in the matter is just this, that this sovereign and unaccountable will is His Will; the Will of the living God, the Father of our Lord. But it is none the less sovereign; and that is the point here.—Observe that the Gr. pronoun rendered “whom” throughout this verse is singular. The application is to individuals.

hardeneth] Judicially; by “giving up to the heart’s lusts.”

Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
(B) Is Man responsible?

19. Thou wilt say then] St Paul is still, as so often before, writing as if an opponent were at his side. How vividly this suggests that he had himself experienced the conflicts of thought which indeed every earnest mind more or less encounters! But conflicts do not always end in further doubts. Difficulties, often most distressing ones, must meet us in any theory of religion that is not merely evolved from our own likings; and difficulties are not necessarily impossibilities. At one point or another we must be prepared to submit to fact and mystery.

yet] Q. d., “why, after such statements of His sovereignty, does He go on to treat us as free agents?” Here is the second head of objection. God’s justice was the first; now it is man’s accountability.

who hath resisted] This is not the place to discuss the profound problem here suggested. It must be enough to point out (1) that St Paul makes no attempt to solve it. He rests upon the facts (a) that God declares Himself sovereign in His mercy; (b) that He treats man’s will as a reality: and he bids us accept those facts, and trust, and act. (2) The contradiction to the hint that “no man hath resisted” lies, not in abstruse theory, but in our innermost consciousness. We know the fact of our will; we know the reality of moral differences; we know that we can “resist the Holy Ghost.” On the other hand, the truth of God’s foreknowledge is alone sufficient, on reflection, to assure us that every movement of will, as being foreseen, could not be otherwise than in fact it is. And this is exactly as true of the simplest acts and tenderest affections of common life, as of things eternal: in each emotion of pity or joy we move along the line of prescience, a line which thus may be regarded as, for us, irrevocably fixed beforehand. But meanwhile in these things we feel and act without a moment’s misgiving (except artificial misgiving) about our freedom. Just so in matters of religion; but the special relations of sinful man to God compel these plain and even stern statements of the truth of God’s action in the matter, even in the midst of arguments and pleadings which all assume the reality of our will.

Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
(C) The Reply: Creative Sovereignty

20. Nay but] Same word as Romans 10:18, and Luke 11:28; (E. V., “Yea, rather.”) Q. d., “Rather than the position of a questioner, take that of a creature.”

man] The word is, of course, emphatic.

the thing formed] Lit. the thing moulded; the Potter and the Clay being in the writer’s thought.—Here lies the force of the “who art thou?” The case is not that of yielding to vastly greater power or subtler intellect, but of yielding to the Origin of your existence; to the Uncaused Cause of your conscience, will, affections, and all. The Sovereign is the Creator; are you, the Creature, really in a position to judge Him?—This clause is nearly verbatim from Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 45:9 (LXX.)—“Why hast thou made me thus?” is not a quotation.—In Isaiah 45:9, the words occur in a context of mercy. The mercy of God, as well as His severity, is sovereign and mysterious.

Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
21. the potter—the clay] This is the simile likewise in Isaiah just quoted, and in Isaiah 64:8. (Cp. Jeremiah 18:1-10.) It gets its force from the perfect pliability of the material. Certainly the illustration does not relieve the stern utterances it illustrates; nor is it meant to do so.—It must be remembered that the “clay” moulded by the Eternal here is not Humanity merely, but Humanity as sinful, and, as such, void of the least claim to furnish “vessels unto honour.” (See ante, long note on Romans 9:11.) This, however, is not the main thought here, but rather the immeasurable difference of position between the Creator and the Creature.

lump] Lit. kneaded mass. Same word as Romans 11:16; 1 Corinthians 5:6-7; Galatians 5:9.

one vessel unto honour, &c.] Cp., for similar language, 2 Timothy 2:20-21. The connexion there is akin to this, but such as brings out (what is not in view here) the moral results of sovereign grace. The special imagery of the potter and clay is absent there.

What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
22. What if God, &c.] The Gr. construction in Romans 9:22-23 is broken and peculiar. Rendered nearly lit., the verses run: But if God, choosing to demonstrate His wrath, and make known what He can do, bore with much longsuffering vessels of wrath, fitted unto ruin; and that He might make known the wealth of His glory on vessels of mercy, which He fore-prepared unto glory? The general drift of the passage, though thus grammatically peculiar, is yet clear.—The “but” suggests a certain difference between the potter’s work and that of the Creator and Judge; q. d., “If the potter’s right is so absolute, while the clay is mere matter and so has no demerit, the right of God over guilty humanity is at least as absolute; and meantime, even so, it is exercised with longsuffering.”

willing] having the will to. The Gr. verb is frequent of the sovereign Divine will and pleasure. See e.g. Matthew 8:3; 1 Corinthians 12:18.

to shew] to demonstrate. Same word as Romans 9:17 (“shew my power”), and Romans 3:25 (“to declare,” &c.). The justice and energy of His wrath against sin are both demonstrated in the doom of the impenitent.

endured, &c.] The special case of Pharaoh is in St Paul’s view, and is to be taken as an example. There we see on the one hand the sovereign will permitting sin to run its course, but on the other hand, in equal reality, warnings and appeals are addressed by God to a human conscience and will, time after time. From our point of view the two things are incompatible; but the Apostle assures us that both are real, and therefore compatible.

the vessels] Lit. vessels. But the article is rightly supplied. The two classes of “vessels” are exhaustive of mankind.—The word “vessel” is doubtless suggested here by the language of Romans 9:21. See next note.

of wrath] i.e. “connected with, devoted to, wrath.” So below, “connected with, marked out for, mercy.” The genitive need not imply a metaphor, as if the “vessels” were “filled with” wrath or mercy; such an explanation would be needlessly remote.—The same word in same construction occurs Acts 9:15, where lit. “a vessel of choice;” and probably the metaphor does there appear in the next words—“to bear my Name.” Cp. also 2 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:4, (where “vessel” = “body”;) 1 Peter 3:7. In those passages the metaphor is traceable to the idea of the body as the receptacle and casket, as it were, of the spirit. Here, as above said, the whole reference appears to be to the imagery of the potter’s work.

fitted] Made ready, suitable. Such indeed every “vessel of wrath” will prove to have been. It is remarkable that St Paul does not say “which He fitted.” A seemingly rigid logic may say that the lost must be as truly predestined to death as the saved to life; but such logic is faulty in its premisses: we do not know enough of the Eternal Mind and the nature of things to reason so[42]. It is at least to be noted that here, while the “preparation” of the saved for glory is expressly ascribed to God, that of the lost for ruin is so stated as to avoid such ascription. Meanwhile the deepest consciousness of human hearts, awakened to eternal realities, acquits God and accuses self.—St Paul, however, does not dwell on this. To relieve mystery is only a passing aim with him here.

[42] See further, Appendix H.

destruction] Ruin, perdition, the loss of the soul. See note on Romans 2:12 (on the word “perish;” where the Gr. is the verb cognate to the noun here).

And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
23. and that he might] Some such clause as “so acted,” or better, “so had patience,” must be mentally supplied. The idea of the patience of God seems to attach here to both parts of the statement: so far from acting in haste, He bore both with the persistent rebellion of the lost, and with the once equal rebellion, and then frequent failures, of the saved.

the riches of his glory] Same word as Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:16; Colossians 1:27; (in the last two places, however, the reference is different from that here). For comment, see Romans 8:18. The “glory” of God here is the bliss and exaltation in eternity which He will give to His saints. In that better life His endless “riches” of blessing will be evermore “made known” among the glorified, by being evermore conferred on them. For similar phrases, see Romans 2:4, Romans 11:33; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Php 4:19.

on] See on Romans 8:18, last note.

afore prepared] By the Divine process traced Romans 8:29-30. See also note above, Romans 9:22, on “fitted.”

Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
24. even us] Lit., and better, whom also he called, us, &c. The “also” or “even” goes with the verb, and seems to indicate that the “afore-preparation” is rather that of the electing purpose of God than that of personal sanctification (which is, however, the sure sequel of the other). Q. d., “He fore-ordained to glory the vessels of mercy, and then proceeded actually to call them to grace.”

hath called] Better, called. See on Romans 8:28.

not of the Jews only] Here St Paul reminds us of the special subject of this discussion; the apparent rejection of Israel. By the true heirs of Abraham was all along meant the church of the elect; those who should be “called” and should “love God.” In the Mosaic age these were but some of the bodily Israel; in the Christian age they were largely found outside that Israel. But in both cases the Promise, in its true intention, was fulfilling. He now quotes in proof of that true intention.

As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.
(D) Quotations in Application

25. Osee] In the Gr., Oseë or Hoseë; the equivalent of the Heb. Hoshea. Here, lit., in the Oseë; i.e., probably, “in the writings of Hosea.”

I will call, &c.] Hosea 2:23 (25 in the Heb.). The quotation does not agree with the LXX. The Heb. is, lit., “And I will have pity on the not-pitied-one (fem.), and I will say to the not-my-people, My people art thou.” St Paul here gives an equivalent for “pity;” the Divine equivalent, love; and otherwise quotes nearly with the Heb.—The first reference of the prophetic word was to the bringing back of the Ten Tribes to holy allegiance. The Apostle is guided to expound this as a type of the bringing in of the Gentiles to the chosen Israel of God.—The same text is quoted by allusion, 1 Peter 1:10; an important parallel passage.

her] The familiar personification of a church or nation.

And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.
26. And it shall come to pass, &c.] A new quotation, linked in one line with the last. Nearly verbatim with LXX. of Hosea 1:10 (Romans 2:1 in the Heb.). For a first and second reference see last note but one.—“In the place where:”—this, in the first reference, may mean the Sanctuary from which the restored Israelite should no more be excluded; in the second, the Church and Family of the Promise, regarded as a locality in the figure. For the doctrine, cp. Ephesians 2:19-22.

the children] For comment, see Romans 8:14, &c.; John 1:12; 1 John 3:1.

Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:
27. Esaias also] Better, But Esaias. There is a contrast: Hosea speaks of the bringing in of Gentile believers; Isaiah of the rejection of all Jews except Jewish believers.

crieth] Perhaps the word refers to the power and intensity of Isaiah’s prophetic manner. So Meyer.

concerning] The Greek preposition is lit. over; and possibly it may be rendered so here; as if the Prophet stood lamenting over the fallen. But this meaning is very rare in N. T., and especially in St Paul.

Though the number, &c.] Lit. If, &c. The quotation is from Isaiah 10:22-23. The lit. Heb. is “For though thy people Israel (or, O Israel,) be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall return thereof; the consumption decreed is overflowing in righteousness; for a final work and a decisive work doth the Lord execute in the midst of all the earth (or, land).” The LXX. reads; “Even if the people Israel become as the sand of the sea; their (or, the) remnant shall be saved. (He is) completing and cutting short in righteousness; because a work cut short will the Lord (or, Lord God of Hosts) do in the whole world.” St Paul adopts nearly the words of LXX.; again (as in Romans 9:25, and very often,) developing a second and deeper fulfilment where the first fulfilment lay in past events of Israelite history; e.g. here, in the comparatively small returns of the exiles, under Zerubbabel and Ezra. The “return,” in the Second Fulfilment, is a return to Christ, and thus equivalent to “salvation.”

the number of] These words are perhaps borrowed and inserted from Hosea 1:10; a verse close to the last quotation. (Meyer.)

a remnant] Lit. and better, the remnant.

shall be saved] In Heb., “shall return.” See last note but two.

For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.
28. for he will finish, &c.] These words agree closely with the letter of the LXX., but not with that of the Heb. They convey the point of the Heb., however, quite enough for the purpose of the quotation; and St Paul thus adopts them.—In some important documents the quotation ends with “cut it short;” but the evidence is not conclusive.—The main purport of this verse is clear: the Prophet foretells summary and severe judgments on Israel, such as to leave ere long only a “remnant” able and willing to “return.”—“In righteousness:”—i.e. “in righteous severity

And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.
29. And] Q. d., “And again, the small number of Jewish believers fulfils another prediction.”

said before] Lit., and better, hath said before; i.e. “as we have it in his book.”—“Before” refers not to the quotation of an earlier chapter, but to the words as a prediction. The quotation is from Isaiah 1:9, and exactly with LXX., which gives “a seed” where the Heb. gives the equivalent, “a small remnant.” St Paul instructs us that this passage not only describes a state of distress contemporary with the Prophets, but also predicts, through this as a type, the spiritual future.—“Sabaoth:—the Gr. transliteration of Ts’vâôth, the Heb. word meaning Hosts, Armies.

What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
30. What shall we say then?] Same word as Romans 9:14; where see note.

followed not after] To them no Revelation had pointed out “righteousness” as a goal of efforts.

righteousness] i.e., practically, Justification, which is the admission to Salvation.

have attained] Lit. and better, did attain; at their conversion; on hearing and receiving the Gospel, previously unsought and unimagined.

even] Lit. but; and so perhaps better: q. d., “but this righteousness was that which results from faith;” in contrast to the Jewish unbeliever’s ideal, given in Romans 10:3. The E. V., however, is equally true to the Greek idiom.

But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
31. which followed] Lit. following; and so better.

the law of righteousness] Not simply “righteousness,” as in Romans 9:30; because Israel had, what the Gentiles had not, the detailed revealed precepts. These precepts they “followed after,” i.e. strove to keep as a covenant of salvation. For this very reason they “did not attain to” them, i.e. they failed to reach the true use of the Law—its revelation of God’s will to be followed by His reconciled children, His people justified by faith.—“Of righteousness:”—this phrase may, as often, be explained to mean “connected with righteousness.” So the Law is connected, whether it condemns, acquits, or guides. Israel “followed after it” as an acquitting Law, in vain; and so failed to “attain to it” as a Law guiding in the path of peace. They strove by it to make themselves just, and so failed to walk by it as the justified.

hath not attained] Better (as in Romans 9:30) did not attain. Their whole history of effort and failure is summed up in one idea, and viewed as all past, (though numberless Jews were, and are, still making the same attempts,) because St Paul’s thought is fixed on the crisis of the calling of the Gentiles, after which the case of Israel took a new aspect in practice.

Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
32. Wherefore?] See ch. 4 for the fullest commentary on this verse.

as it were] Lit. and better, as; i.e. “under the belief that it could be so reached.”

works of the law] “Of the law” should be omitted, on evidence of documents.

that stumblingstone] Lit. and better, the stumblingstone; i.e. the Stone predicted, in the words now to be quoted.—“Stumblingstone:”—lit. stone of stumbling, as in E. V. of 1 Peter 2:8, where the same prophecy is quoted by allusion.

As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
33. Behold, &c.] The quotation is a combination of Isaiah 8:14; Isaiah 28:16, and is closely after the Heb., but widely differs from the LXX. of Romans 8:14. Both passages (q. v.) refer to the great Promise, which was proposed to Israel of old as a better ground of trust than earthly policy or religious formalism, but was rejected by the worldly majority. Here, as so often, St Paul is led to see in a promise which had a present meaning for Isaiah’s time, a revelation of truth for the whole history of Israel in relation to Him who is the innermost theme of all Scripture prophecy. In such cases the question “what did the Prophet intend?” is only subordinate to “what did his Inspirer intend?”—In the Speaker’s Commentary, on Isaiah 28, the paraphrase of the eminent Rabbi Rashi is quoted: “Behold I have established a King, the Messiah, who shall be in Zion a stone of proof.”

a stumblingstone and rock of offence] i.e. Christ, as the Object of humble and absolute confidence and hope. Cp. Psalm 118:22; Matthew 21:42; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11; 1 Peter 2:6-8.—“Offence:”—in its antique sense of an obstacle at which the foot trips.

shall not be ashamed] So too LXX. of Isaiah 28:16. The Heb. has “shall not make haste.” The idea is the same in both; to “make haste” was to be in the hurry of fear, as when a refuge breaks down before a foe; and so to be “ashamed of,” or bitterly disappointed in, the refuge.

In this prophetic passage St Paul is led to find (1) a prediction of Israel’s stumbling at the truth of Christ our Justification, and thus to re-assure minds disquieted by the sight of Israel’s unbelief; (2) a proclamation of Faith (reposed on Christ) as the means of salvation. See below, Romans 10:11.

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