Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Romans 9:27), that "a remnant shall be saved." He himself is a living proof, he says, that God hath not utterly cast away his people. "For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin" (ver. 1). But those who have been rejected have suffered the just and natural punishment of their own unbelief. Two practical lessons are here taught.
I. A WARNING TO THE UNCHARITABLE. Even in the most corrupt Churches there may be true believers. This lesson is practically illustrated by Elijah's mistaken or exaggerated view of the state of Israel in his time. "Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal" (vers. 3, 4). How little Elijah knew of the true state of affairs! There is always a great danger, even amongst those who are most zealous for the truth, of depreciating or under-estimating the good that is in others. Want of charity to others may sometimes be found even in good men. Their very zeal leads them to depreciate others. If others do not come up to our standard of Christian doctrine, or Christian character, or Christian work, we are apt to imagine that they are not Christians at all. No doubt these other seven thousand servants of God were to blame for not having declared themselves more openly on the Lord's side. Had they taken their proper place, and done their duty, they would have encouraged Elijah's heart and sustained his hands; they would have made him feel that he was not alone in his efforts for the true and right; and they might even have prevented his flight. But there was no excuse for Elijah's wholesale condemnation of every one in Israel except himself. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart." Especially in these latter days, when there are so many divisions amongst Christians, we need to cultivate that charity "which thinketh no evil," which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
II. A WARNING TO THE CARELESS. One of the great dangers of our time is indifference. Many who regularly attend our churches do so as a mere matter of custom or respectability. They hear the Word of God, but it has no power on their hearts, no influence upon their lives. The fate of rejected Israel is a solemn warning to the careless and indifferent (vers. 7-10). If we do not use our privileges, they will one day be taken from us. The neglect of talents or opportunities is as much a sin as the abuse of them. Men very soon become gospel-hardened. Hence the "more convenient season" to which they look forward never comes. They cease to think seriously about their souls; they cease to have any desire for salvation. The spirit of slumber comes upon them - that fatal sleep of spiritual indifference. Their eyes are darkened, and they do not see how fast they are hurrying to their own destruction. Oh, how it becomes us to urge upon men the present acceptance of the present offer of salvation, the present performance of the duties that lie at their door! - C.H.I.
Romans 9:1-29) that God has the right, in his governance of human affairs, to take an instrument or lay it aside as he will; and (Romans 9:30 - 10:21) that, in using this right, he acts, not arbitrarily, but according to reasons which approve themselves to his infinite wisdom. He will now show that even the unbelief of the elect people, and their consequent rejection by God, shall be made to contribute to the consummation of his purposes in the salvation of the Gentiles and the final salvation of the Jews themselves. But are the Jews even now wholly rejected? No, in truth, but only partially. As a people they are, though this only for the present, but not indiscriminately and totally. For the apostle himself is an Israelite; there is also a remnant of Christian Jews, as in the ancient days a remnant were true to God; and as for the majority, they are blinded in their unbelief, and hence self-excluded from the election of grace.
I. THE ELECTION OF GRACE.
1. There had been times of national reprobation in the past, but in the darkest day there had been gleams of light. For example, the times of Ahab: Elijah's despair, and the seven thousand. So at intervals, more or less, throughout their history, from Moses onwards. And yet in the worst times some were true to God.
2. So it was even now. Truly the Jewish people had forfeited the privilege of its election, viz. its mission to the Gentiles as heralding the gospel of Christ. But while the people was "cast off," as it might seem, in its collective capacity, it was not reprobated in its totality as consisting of individuals. Still there was the remnant. And in these latter days of Christian history have not individual Israelites played a distinguished part? e.g. Neander.
3. Yea, even the apostle of the Gentiles himself was an Israelite, of the purest blood; and the very fact that he, an Israelite, was "a chosen vessel" was sufficient to show that God had not "cast off" his people. And in him the Jewish people might almost be said to be fulfilling its office of heralding to the Gentiles the gospel of Christ. He did their work, and right well.
II. THE REPROBATION OF UNBELIEF. While the election, then, was very true, and never withheld from Israelites as such - how could God deal so with them? - yet there was a very terrible reprobation of Israelites alongside the election.
1. Had it not been so in the past? The wilderness-history; the monarchy; the captivities. Yes, truly, reprobation was no new thing.
2. And now: priests, people. Yes, alas! "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." But this gives us the secret of the reprobation; it was their unbelief. It had been so from the beginning: "An evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12). And this unbelief had blinded them, and hardened them; it had been as a stupor. And the very things in which they boasted themselves, their spiritual privileges, these had been to them a snare. "Now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth." Let us remember that we may frustrate by our unbelief God's best purposes concerning us. And also that we do not merely lose the blessing which our privileges are designed to give, but they themselves are perverted to our blindness and spiritual ruin. Our "table" is "made a snare, and a trap." - T.F.L.
I. PAUL IS HIMSELF AN EXCEPTION TO THE GENERAL REJECTION OF THE GOSPEL ON THE PART OF THE JEWS. (Ver. 1.) To the question which in the Revised Version is put, "Did God cast off his people?" the apostle virtually answers, "By no means; I am myself a proof to the contrary." Paul had, like his compatriots, gone about to establish his own righteousness; for years he had been taking that "roundabout way;" but he had been led by his interview with his risen Lord to see in the crucified Nazarene the Messiah of promise, and he had accepted salvation from his holy hands. No arrangement of God prevented any Jew from entering the charmed circle of Christ's fellowship and identifying himself with the Christian Church. The once-despised Messiah was waiting to receive all that cared to call upon him for his help. It was, of course, a salvation all of grace. Self-righteousness was sacrificed in the process; but it was in consequence the more thoroughly Divine. Consequently, it was the Jews who kept themselves out of the promise and the blessing, and no preventive ordinance of God.
II. THE SAVED EXCEPTIONS ARE ALWAYS MORE NUMEROUS THAN WE IN OUR DOWNCAST CONDITION IMAGINE. (Vers. 2-5.) The apostle goes back for comfort to the case of Elijah. In his days religion was in a desperate condition. One by one had Jezebel cut off God's prophets, so that Elijah, as he looked over the doomed land, fancied he was the only witness left. The whole nation, in his judgment, had conformed to the idolatry of the court, and his were the only knees which had not bowed to Baal. It was this view of things which Elijah laid before the Lord. But to his surprise he is informed that God has still seven thousand worshippers who have not bowed to Baal nor kissed the idol. Matters were better than Elijah imagined. There was a larger remnant, according to the election of grace, than he could have anticipated. The same lesson is to be learned at a later period in Hebrew history, in connection with the restoration of the exiles to Canaan. In the restored remnant God had a larger proportion of faithful witnesses than to the outward eye was apparent; and they became a seed of blessing in the promised land. It is so, let us believe, always. We cannot see all the good which has been accomplished through the gospel. We must let God "write up the people," and make out his own statistics. Our reckoning, like Elijah's, will usually be astray. God has "hidden ones," unknown to most, and his cause is not the hopeless one which pessimists suggest.
III. THE REMNANT SAVED OWES ALL TO DIVINE GRACE. (Ver. 6.) For the gospel is a way of salvation by free, unmerited favour, as opposed to all self-righteousness. It may be humiliating to be able to contribute nothing to our own salvation, but to have to accept it full and free from a risen Lord; yet salvation through humiliation is better, surely, than being lost. "Grace," says Dr. R. W. Hamilton, "is free favour; it can be related to no right, and contained in no law. It is extra-judicial: whenever bestowed, it depends upon the mere will of him who exercises it, or, upon what is the same thing, his voluntary pledge and agreement. If this latter be withdrawn, there may be a forfeiture of integrity and fidelity, but it is only so far unjust to those deprived of it, that a claim arose out of it; but no injustice accrues to them, considered in their original circumstances. A simple test of grace is presented by the following inquiries: Ought it to be exercised? Can it be righteously withheld? If we affirm the one, if we deny the other, it may be obligation, debt, reason, it cannot be grace, for this principle never owes itself to its object; and in not showing it, the person still is just. If there is any necessity for it, save that of demerit and its misery, 'it is no more grace.'" By keeping the meaning of the term steadily in view, then, it will be seen that no injustice is done any who decline salvation by free grace and insist on some form of self-righteousness. For the latter is pure favouritism, and the former can alone be adopted by a God who is no respecter of persons.
IV. THE REJECTED JEWS WERE JUDICIALLY BLINDED. (Vers. 7-10.) Now, when we consider what the Jews generally were seeking after, we can see justice in their rejection. Their idea was essentially ambitious; they wanted a military and worldly Messiah to put them at the head of the nations of the earth. This vaulting ambition overleaped itself and fell on the other side. They obtained not what they were seeking for. But the election, the humble-minded who were ready to be saved by grace, got their salvation and their place in Messiah's spiritual kingdom. A spiritual Messiah satisfied their longings, while the proud, self-righteous worldlings were sent empty away. Now, what the apostle here notices is that their worldly spirit led to spiritual blindness. They were so engrossed with the table of self-righteousness and ambition that they could not see the offers and education of God's Mace. This blindness comes in the very order of nature, and is judicial. Engrossed with purely worldly ideas, they get unable to see the gracious opportunities or to appreciate them. And so they experience a fate which they richly deserve. May God preserve us all from judicial blindness! - R.M.E.
I. THEIR PAST HISTORY.
1. They were the chosen people of God. This is an absolutely unique distinction so far as races of men are concerned. All who are believers on the Lord Jesus Christ, of whatever nation they may be, are in that sense the chosen people of God. But no single nation can ever claim to be the chosen people of God, except the Jews.
2. They were chosen to be a blessing to the world. The promise to Abraham was, "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." Wherever they went they carried with them the knowledge of the one true God; they have been a testimony to the nations of God's faithfulness and justice; and at the same time they executed God's judgments upon the nations for the preserving and purifying of the world. The Jews have been the historians of the world. A Jewish hand wrote the history of the creation. Jewish hands wrote the history of Israel's connection with Egypt and Assyria and other great nations, which modern discoveries of ancient monuments and relics are confirming more strongly every day. When the Greek historian Herodotus, who has been called "the father of history," was only beginning to write, Nehemiah, the last of the Old Testament historians, was already beginning to write. The Jews have been the teachers of the world. Unto them were committed the oracles of God. They prepared the way, too, for the coming of the Saviour.
3. Even in their humiliation and dispersion they have brought blessing to the world. "The fall of them" has been "the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles" (ver. 12). "Through their fall salvation has came "to the Gentiles" (ver. 11). "God hath not cast away his people whom he foreknew. He is still the God of Israel. The Jews may be despised, they may be hated by men, they may be neglected even by Christians who owe so much to them; but they are still the chosen people of God, bringing blessings even in their fall to those that despise them.
II. THEIR FUTURE PROSPECTS.
1. There is hope for Israel in the promises of God. As surely as God predicted the dispersion of the Jews, and that came to pass, so surely has he predicted a restoration of the Jews, and this also will come to pass. Many eminent Christians believe that there will be a literal restoration of the Jews to Palestine. It is remarkable that the late Mr. Lawrence Oliphant, in his book 'The Land of Gilead,' advocates, not for Christian reasons at all, but as a mercantile man, the colonization of Palestine by Jews, on the ground that they are the natural cultivators of the land, and that the country has never prospered except under Jewish proprietorship. But we are more specially concerned with the promises of their spiritual restoration. The Old Testament prophecies are full of these. "But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me" (Isaiah 49:14-16). Again, we are told that it is but for a moment that God's face is hidden from his people; and that in Israel's restoration "all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob" (Isaiah 49:26). And here in the New Testament, even after Israel's rejection of the Messiah, St. Paul emphatically reasserts the certainty of Israel's restoration. Though they, the natural branches, were broken off for a time, "God is able to graft them in again" (ver. 23). "Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in" (ver. 25). But when that time comes "all Israel shall be saved" (ver. 26). God will yet be as the dew unto Israel.
2. In the present position of the Jews there are many things that point to a bright future for God's ancient people. Though scattered among the nations, they still preserve their identity and individuality. They have not been absorbed or assimilated by the larger and stronger races among whom they are placed. This in itself would seem to point to a great future in store for them. Not only so, but it points to a great blessing in store for the nations by means of them. "If the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (ver. 15). When M'Cheyne returned from Palestine, he preached a sermon from the words, "To the Jew first," advocating Christian missions to the Jews on the ground that judgment will begin with the Jews, on the ground of God's special love for the Jews, on the ground of peculiar access to the Jews, and on the ground that the Jews, if converted, will give life to the whole world. This last is a point which deserves more attention than it receives. From their peculiar position, scattered throughout the nations, and being of an industrious and commercial disposition, the Jews are specially fitted to do missionary work. Reach the Jews as a people, bring them under the influence of the gospel, and through them you reach the whole world. Many writers who have given careful attention to this subject are of opinion that the success of missions to the heathen will be comparatively small until the Holy Spirit will enable the Jews to acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah, until he employs them as his instrument in the proclamation of the gospel among the nations. The Prophet Zechariah seems to favour that view when he says, "In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you" (Zechariah 8:23).
III. PRACTICAL LESSONS ENFORCED BY THIS SUBJECT.
1. The necessity of personal faith. While we consider God's dealings with Israel for their unbelief and disobedience, let us consider our own relationship to God. "Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee" (vers. 20, 21). Christian profession and Christian privileges will not save us, unless we have a personal and living union with Jesus Christ the Saviour.
2. The duty of sympathetic efforts on behalf of Israel. "For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy (vers. 30, 31). God will fulfil his promises of the conversion of Israel just as he fulfils all his promises - by the use of means; by the missionary efforts of the Christian Church. - C.H.I.
I. Israel may still be the elect people. God chose them from the first, doubtless for some special fitness of spiritual temperament, to be his chief workers in the world. In Abraham he called them forth; in Isaac, in Jacob, he blessed them. The fathers of the race had worked for him, responding to his election: they were thus holy unto the Lord. But they were only the firstfruits; they were the root. The whole portion of the human race represented by them were to be similarly set apart for God's proposes; the branches springing from that root were to blossom and bear fruit likewise. And so, even in the future, this now unbelieving people might fulfil their primal mission, turning unto the Lord.
II. Israel's reprobation works for the world's salvation. So close is the connection in which Israel stands to the world's salvation, that even now, reprobate people as they are, salvation springs from them, and from the very facts which occasioned their own stumbling. The cross - oh, how has that symbol of shame become the object towards which all the nations turn! "To the Jews a stumbling-block:" nevertheless, Christ crucified draws all men unto him! Their very fall, then, is the riches of the world; their loss the riches of the Gentiles. Out of them, even in their ruin, must the world's deliverance come; for "salvation is of the Jews."
III. What sort of salvation, then, shall be for the world when all Israel shall be saved? This is the final outlook of the apostle's prophecy. And for this he does so glory in his apostleship. For the very salvation of the Gentiles now, without the Jews, must in time provoke the Jews to jealousy; they must one day look on with hungry, wistful eyes as they see the multitudes that have come from the east and west, and north and south, sitting down at the table of God. And when they turn unto their own Christ, and receive the new life of his gospel, oh, what an electric thrill shall pass through the whole world! It shall be, even to the converted Gentile nations, as life from the dead. "The light which converted Jews bring to the Church, and the power of life which they have sometimes awakened in it, are the pledge of that spiritual renovation which will be produced in Gentile Christendom by their entrance en masse. Think, ibr example, again, of the labours of such men as Neander (see Godet, in loc.). The future is full of glorious hope. But meanwhile how much loss is occasioned by their continued unbelief! Let us beware that the purposes of God through us are not in like manner frustrated; that, being designed to some high mission for the world's good, we do not make void the election of God. - T.F.L.
Psalm 76:10). Hence the blind course pursued by the Jews is made the opportunity for the Gentiles. Paul, when the Jews would not receive the gospel, turned to the Gentiles, and had his success as apostle to the heathen. But the Gentiles, in their turn, are to contemplate the restoration of the Jews to God's favour, and to work for it. Israel is to be yet gathered into God, and when this desirable consummation comes, it will be as life unto the rest of the world. The future of Israel is what the apostle consequently in this paragraph discusses. And -
I. THE FALL OF ISRAEL OPENED UP A WAY FOR THE SALVATION OF THE GENTILES. (Vers. 11, 12.) There is a strange unity in the human organism, so that when one part suffers another part is saved. How often, by applying a blister to an external part, the inflammation of an internal part is relieved! We have the same law of vicarious suffering obtaining in the human race. It is an organic whole on a vastly larger scale. And so we find one race suffering for the benefit of the others. Take the case of France, for example, and do we not see in it a nation which has been suffering from governmental experiments since before the Revolution, and becoming thereby a beacon and a blessing to the other nations of the earth? In the very same way, the Jewish nation, through rejecting Jesus, led to the evangelization of the Gentiles; and, as the "tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast," the children of Israel have been among the most precious proofs of the Divinity of our Scriptures. Their fall has thus been the riches of the world; the diminishing of them has been the riches of the Gentiles. The sad fate which made exiles and aliens of Israel has led to the acceptance and sonship of the Gentiles. Moreover, the apostle argues that the fulness of the Jews, when this comes round, will be the condition of still more abundant blessing to the Gentile nations. A suffering nation leads to the blessing of other nations; when the suffering shall cease, still more abundant blessing shall be the result.
II. THE APOSTLE OF THE GENTILES HOLDS BEFORE THEM THE HOPE OF STILL MORE ABUNDANT BLESSING WHEN THE JEWS ARE GATHERED IN. (Vers. 13-15.) As's skilful apostle, he wants to play the one against the other. He would stir up the Jews to jealousy by showing them how much the gospel has benefited the Gentiles; in this way he would try to save some of them. On the other hand, he would hold before the Gentiles the hope of far greater blessing when the Jews would be gathered in, and so set the Gentiles upon the enterprise of saving the Jews. Israel will thus be a stimulus to missionary enterprise. A great revival of spiritual life is to be expected through the ingathering of the Jews. So great will it be as to be properly compared to a resurrection, "life from the dead;" consequently the Gentiles, as a matter of spiritual profit, should seek the salvation of Israel. In this way Paul promotes the amity of the nations. He shows that in mutual good will is to be found their very highest good.
III. FROM THE HOLINESS OF THE JEWISH FIRSTFRUITS, AND OF THE JEWISH ROOT, THE APOSTLE FURTHER ARGUES TO THE HOLINESS OF THE LUMP AND THE BRANCHES. (Ver. 16.) Now, the apostle here speaks of the benefit and blessing which the Jewish stock had already been to the world. Some take the reference in the firstfruits and root to be to the fathers referred to in ver. 28; the idea being that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were "holy," that is, set apart, and so are their descendants to be. Others take it as referring to the elect Jews, such as Paul and the eleven, who, being saved, rendered hopeful the salvation of their fellows. But we think the firstfruits and root can only apply fully to him who was the real Firstfruits and "the Root out of the dry ground." The apostle's argument in this case would be this: If Jesus, the seed of Abraham and real root of the true Israelitish race, has been such a pre-eminent blessing to the race, how much may we expect when the Jewish lump and the Jewish branches get consecrated to God as he has been! In this way the apostle follows up his suggested hope, enlarges it, and makes it the fountain of enterprise, with a view to the conversion of the Jewish race. We should not forget that the most influential and life-giving individual who ever lived in this world was a Jew; and, while we can never expect any of his countrymen to come up to his standard of blessing, we may and ought to expect that the conversion of Christ's race to God must be of pre-eminent service to all the other nations of the earth. And as a matter of fact, Jews like Neander, who have got converted and consecrated, have become mighty blessings to their fellow-men. And so we hope great things from the first fruits and the root.
IV. THE APOSTLE WARNS THE GENTILES THAT THEIR ENGRAFTING INTO THE OLIVE TREE OF CHRISTIANITY CARRIES WITH IT SERIOUS RESPONSIBILITIES. (Vers. 17-24.) The Jews who have rejected Christ are branches broken off the real Root. In their place the Gentiles have been engrafted, so that the "eternal sap" proceeding from Christ the Root, and which should otherwise have sustained these Jews, passes over to the Gentiles. But now a fact about the olive tree is utilized by the apostle. Van Lennep tells us, in his work on the Holy Land, that "the olive tree grows to so great an age that the old wild root sometimes conquers the better graft, so that the fruit deteriorates, and the tree must needs be grafted anew" (p. 125). It is this fact which the apostle makes the ground of his warning. If the Gentiles, forgetting that it was solely through God's grace they had been grafted in, got infected with Jewish pride and self-righteousness, so that their fruit-bearing deteriorated, there would be nothing for it but through a new engrafting of the better Jewish stock to restore the olive tree to fruitfulness. God's severity to the broken-off Jewish branches should make the Gentiles very humble and very earnest, lest it come round upon themselves. They should continue in the enjoyment of God's goodness by exercising humble faith and ardent effort. If they will not discharge their responsibilities, they may expect likewise to be broken off. Unfaithful nations have been cut off - the candlesticks and Churches have been removed.
V. ISRAEL'S PARTIAL BLINDNESS IS PERMITTED UNTIL THE FULNESS OF THE GENTILES IS COME IN. (Ver. 25.) To prevent the Gentiles being wise in their own conceits, the apostle explains the mystery that Israel's blindness has been permitted that the fulness of the Gentiles should be gathered in. The Gentiles have now their chance supplied. Their ingathering into Christ's kingdom is God's great present purpose. Missions to the heathen, the continuance of Paul's work, are to be prosecuted m the hope of abundant ingathering. The privileges of the gospel are thus laid at the door of the heathen. In this way the great pioneer missionary, St. Paul, would foster the twofold missionary enterprise; he would have the most earnest effort put forth that the heathen nations should be gathered in; he would also have the saved Gentiles to seek still greater blessing through the ingathering of the Jew.
VI. ISRAEL AS A NATION IS TO BE SAVED AS THE CROWNING ACT OF GOD'S MERCY. (Vers. 26-32.) When it is said, "All Israel shall be saved," it cannot mean that every individual Jew is to come right at last. Paul's doctrine is not
"That not one life shall be destroyed, but evidently that Israel in its national capacity shall yet be gathered home to God. As touching the election, the Jewish nation or race is beloved for the fathers' sakes. And God's gifts and callings are without repentance. Consequently, we ought to entertain the hope that the Jewish nation shall yet be restored to God's favour and be saved. And this is to be done through the mercy extended to the Jews by the saved Gentiles. In other words, the Jewish problem is to be solved by a mission to them from the Gentiles. In this way God has overruled the unbelief of Jews to the conversion of the Gentiles, and the conversion of the Gentiles is next to be utilized for the ingathering of the Jews. When the fulness of the Gentiles is followed by the conversion of the Jewish people, we may expect that unprecedented spiritual life and power and energy shall then be experienced over universal Christendom. May the consummation so desirable be hastened! - R.M.E.
but evidently that Israel in its national capacity shall yet be gathered home to God. As touching the election, the Jewish nation or race is beloved for the fathers' sakes. And God's gifts and callings are without repentance. Consequently, we ought to entertain the hope that the Jewish nation shall yet be restored to God's favour and be saved. And this is to be done through the mercy extended to the Jews by the saved Gentiles. In other words, the Jewish problem is to be solved by a mission to them from the Gentiles. In this way God has overruled the unbelief of Jews to the conversion of the Gentiles, and the conversion of the Gentiles is next to be utilized for the ingathering of the Jews. When the fulness of the Gentiles is followed by the conversion of the Jewish people, we may expect that unprecedented spiritual life and power and energy shall then be experienced over universal Christendom. May the consummation so desirable be hastened! - R.M.E.
I. THEY WORK BEST WHO ARE PROUD OF THEIR OFFICE. Such freely devote the necessary time, thought, and energy to the efficient discharge of their duties. It becomes a "labour of love;" the heart quickens the circulation of the blood for all the activity requisite to faithful stewardship. Men can grow to like what at first was irksome, as we often see in prosecuting any study in science or art, till the subject and pursuit fascinate. We get clearer and more extensive views of the achievements possible. The apostle saw that the reception of the Gentiles might provoke the Jews to godly jealousy and fruitful emulation, and that the entry of the Jews into the Christian Church would prove a stimulus and revival to all. It is the office, not the holder, which is to be magnified. Where men have strutted like peacocks, airing their vanity; where Bumbledom has been harsh and overbearing, and man, "drest in a little brief authority, has played fantastic tricks," the chief regard has been paid to self instead of to the service rendered. To glorify our ministry is to remain humble, and tender in heart, lest the ministry should be discredited and its use diminished.
II. ALL WORK IS HONOURABLE TO WHICH GOD HAS APPOINTED US. To receive a commission from an illustrious sovereign lends dignity to a task, and it is this thought of a Divine mission which has upheld many a hero at his post of toil and peril. In the great house of God vessels of every capacity and form and texture are needed, and whilst we may covet the best gifts and the noblest service, no department is despicable. Said Lincoln the president, when taunted with his former menial occupation, "Didn't I do it well?" How may we know that we are in the right place? By the character of our work. Does it tend to happiness and usefulness, lessening misery and vice, supplying real wants, and elevating not degrading mankind, not ministering to base passions and low appetites? By success therein. Paul could point to the "signs of an apostleship." Though some honest labourers may have to wait for the crowning harvest, they can yet discern tokens of its advent, which forbid despondency. By the strength of the inward impulse. There must be a "call," a necessity within ratified by compulsion without. By the way they have been led. Has not the cloudy pillar guided our steps, the road being blocked in other directions? Our post is to be abandoned only when a higher position manifestly offers itself.
III. WORK DIRECTED TO THE SALVATION OF MEN CANNOT BE TOO HIGHLY ESTEEMED. As apostle of the Gentiles, Paul was charged with a splendid embassage. What hearts were cheered, what minds illumined, what consciences freed from gloom, what holiness and philanthropy effected, by the preaching of Christ crucified and exalted for the redemption of men! We do not disparage aught that ministers to men's temporal comfort, that enlarges their knowledge of this present world and their mastery over its varied contents, that embellishes their homes and quickens their sensibility to pure sources of delight; yet to turn a soul from the error of his ways, to save from spiritual death, to instil into the breast enthusiastic loyalty to the cause of God, this connecting as it does the transitory with the eternal, preparing the spirit for a nobler exercise of capacity in a boundless congenial sphere hereafter, making earth the pathway to heaven, this must be allowed to be the highest, most awe-stirring mission that can engage our attention and engross our powers. Let those set apart to this work entirely or partially, prize their functions! Pastors, deacons, teachers, visitors, members of committees, etc., down to the very doorkeepers of God's house, may exult in all that appertains to this vocation, may be conscious that therein they are co-operating with God and the angels. If great thoughts and little souls do not harmonize, neither does it become us to ally grand endeavours with mean conceptions. Behold this title glittering with heavenly radiance, "the work of the Lord." This enterprise occupies the heart of the ascended Saviour, as it filled his life here below. - S.R.A.
Numbers 15., where the ordinance is given that before the Israelites ate of the food of Canaan a portion of the dough should be taken as a cake offering to the priests. This was a recognition of God's sovereignty, of his care and goodness, and by this acknowledgment the entire food was hallowed.
I. THE APPLICATION TO THE APOSTOLIC ARGUMENT CONCERNING THE FUTURE Or ISRAEL. The Jews as a nation seemed cast away, stripped of former privilege and dignity. Yet, since the patriarchs and prophets and priests had been declared holy unto the Lord, and had served him according to his appointment, the remainder of the people must be accounted sacred, and thus the apostle was led to expect the future salvation of Israel when it should turn to the Lord. The inner life of the tree should be restored and invigorated, and then the branches should again acquire beauty and fruitfulness. They were still "beloved for the fathers' sakes."
II. THE SAME METAPHOR APPLIES TO THE RELATIONSHIP OF CHRIST TO HIS PEOPLE. His holiness wraps them round. Not only were individual institutions and officers symbolical and prophetical of the Messiah, but the nation as a whole typified the Son of promise. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." This explains many references of Old Testament passages to Christ by the evangelists and apostles. The nation was the "servant" of God, by which title, therefore, Jesus Christ is constantly designated. Israel as a whole was claimed as God's peculiar possession. By right of redemption, and the death of the firstborn in Egypt, the tribe of Levi was allotted to Jehovah in recognition of his lien upon Israel, and the number of the firstborn over and above the number of that tribe was balanced by a money payment. Yet Israel was "a holy nation unto the Lord," and the service of the priesthood represented, not superseded, the service of the nation. So is Jesus Christ termed "the Firstborn from the dead," and the Christian Church is "the general assembly of the Firstborn." Christ sanctified himself for his people, that his merits might attach to them. We talk much today of the solidarity of the race, and this helps us to realize how the leaven leaveneth the lump. Great men are seen to be universal property; the use of their gifts blesseth all mankind. As one takes a common tool and by deft handling convinces us of what it is capable; as one cultivates his estate as a nursery and pattern for all gardens; as another enlarges the domain of science whereby the navigator, the manufacturer, the thinker, and the consumer all reap a benefit; so did our Saviour teach us how much may be made of human life, how grand and pure and beneficent it may become, and by his sacrifice opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Well may we rejoice in his work! Our High Priest before the throne sanctifies all who come to God through him. At the jubilee festivities the Queen of Hawaii claimed precedence as a sovereign, and, her credentials being authenticated, her claim was granted; so may we, as the brethren of Christ, lift up our heads, being made "kings and priests unto God." It is our connection with him that ennobles our condition.
III.. SOME PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS TO CONDUCT AND PROPERTY. To consecrate the heart to God covers all the life, sanctifies all the issues which flow from it. Here is the difference between religion and morality; here is the reason why some of the characters of Scripture are called "saints," in spite of infirmities and lapses. The setting apart of Sunday as the Lord's day hallows all the week. We are then what we are not able to be at other times, free from secular engagements and absorbed in devotion. And like a garden well watered in the early morn, the busy life retains its vigour and freshness through the heated hours which follow. The dedication of youth is a consecration of the after-life. Youth is like the morning of the day, and should be watered betimes with the dews of prayer. Prayer should be the foundation-stone of each enterprise. "When first thy eyes unveil, give thy soul leave to do the like; give God thy first thoughts then, so shalt thou walk with him all day, and in him sleep." The devotion of a tithe or gift blesses all the increase. The beauty of recurring seasons may fail to arouse because of the very regularity of their succession. Nature's constant stream of blessings may lull the soul into forgetfulness of the Giver. Hence the rites prescribed to Israel. "The altar unlocks the reaping gate." The first grains feed the altar, the first sickle cuts an offering for God. The common household routine of baking is transfigured by the appropriation of a part of the dough to religious uses. And this, not as a burden, a hateful tax, but a task of love. Not instead of hearty devotion, but as an outward emblem of gratitude. The followers of Christ are to bless the world. They are "begotten through the Word of truth to be a kind of firstfruits of God's creatures." They are as salt to preserve, as light to illumine. All brought into contact with them should be the better because they were called with a holy calling.
CONCLUSION. The topic reminds us of our certain resurrection to heavenly activity and glory. Christ was the Firstfruits of them that sleep. Sad to us the interval when we see our friends no more; death's icy hand has grasped them, and the worms do their work. Yet as Christ rose, so shall the seed spring up, we know not how. Death's seeming triumph is a defeat. They shall be changed and glorified; the crumbling dust shall shine brighter than the noonday sun. - S.R.A.
I. First, the position of these Gentiles in the kingdom of God. "Grafted in among them." They had been "without God in the world;" but now, what a glory was theirs! made "partakers of the Divine nature"! And, being saved, charged as the heralds of God to carry this salvation to the ends of the earth] Truly, they had become "partaker of the fatness of the olive tree." And so they seemed to be in the place of the broken-off branches; they were "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." Out of the very ruin of the Israelites had come their salvation; in the very room of the rejected Israelites they stood. Here was a transfer of blessing.
II. But this very position was fraught with danger. "Glory not;" "Thou standest by thy faith." The danger of false pride was not an imaginary one; Gentiles probably did glory over the Jews. Nay, do they not glory still over these "unbelievers"? Do they not sometimes persecute them even to death? But how false was the pride! They were only grafted branches, borne by the ancient root of Israel. And yet they deported themselves with such consequence, and affected to despise their neighbour branches, as well as those that had been broken off. Another danger was involved in this: false, uncharitable pride was perilously near to a damnable unbelief; it was indeed that unbelief begun. Why had these branches been broken from the ancient tree? "Because of their unbelief." Was not the same excision impending over unbelief still? Instead, then, of pride, let them cherish a holy fear, and walk humbly with their God. For most surely, if God spared not the natural branches, neither would he spare them.
III. Once again, if faith was the condition of a part in the kingdom of God, and unbelief alone incurred exclusion from its benefits and work, then these very Jew. s, unbelieving as they now were, might, in the time to come, by faith become again partakers: "God is able to graft them in again." God is severe indeed, and all wilfully wicked ones incur his wrath; he cuts off his very chosen ones if they cherish an evil heart of unbelief. But God is good, and none shall ever seek his face in vain. And seeking him, and finding him, they shall surely be restored to their forfeited place. Think of the history of the Gentiles - their long abandonment because of unbelief. But God receives them freely as instruments for his work. "Much more shall the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree." Let us learn how terribly we may fall, and therefore be not high-minded. But let us also learn how gracious and forgiving is the God of love, and how he will heal our backslidings, and will not remember our sins. - T.F.L.
I. WE HAVE AN IMPARTIAL GOD TO DEAL WITH. An arbitrary capricious monarch may select favourites, and dispense his gifts without regard to the moral worth of the recipients. Gentiles receiving an account of the river of Divine love abandoning its previous channel and inundating with a flood of blessing the surrounding parched lands, might be lapped into a false security, as if this blessing once granted could not again be withheld, no matter what the use made of the fertilizing influences vouchsafed. This would be to overlook the fact that it was for reasons the Jews were stripped of their exclusive advantages, and that the same reasons of abuse and ingratitude might cause the story to be repeated in the case of Christians, boastful of their position of knowledge and close access to God, and omitting to cultivate the appropriate graces and duties.
II. THE LAW AND AIM OF GOD'S GOVERNMENT IS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Here we ascend to that essential attribute of God which is the guide and end of his dealings with his creatures. Well-being cannot be separated from well-doing. In no other way can the Almighty make his people happy than by inducing them to practise what is "lovely and of good report." Christ died to save men from their sins. His offering frees men from the overwhelming burden of their past enormities, wipes off the score against them, but requires the pursuit of holiness as the consequence and token of their forgiveness. The bearing of good fruit is the sure criterion of the improved condition of the tree. The rose which blooms not tells not of proper grafting. Faith in Christ admits to his kingdom, and continued faith showing itself by works of obedience keeps us united to the source of prosperity and progress. Heaven needs a prepared people to enter into its bliss and service. Greatly do men err, therefore, who plume themselves on their conversion and go not on unto sanctification of life.
III. HISTORY TEACHES US HUMILITY. History is God in action. The facts of history are naught apart from the revelation of a Divine order they bring to the illumined mind. The fate of Israel is a tablet whose letters of fire should brand themselves on the memory as a declaration of the forbearing goodness of God to the faithful, and his ultimate severity to the disobedient. God changes not; what he has done he may do again. If "the natural branches" were not spared, why should he spare the objects of his after-clemency when they too turn aside to rebel counsels? The story of the antediluvians swept away by a torrent of righteous indignation; of the inhabitants of Sodom smitten in their pride and idleness; of the Canaanites "spued out" of the laud for their wickedness; of Babylon and Nineveh, where civilization was a hot-bed of vice, its riot and fumes extinguished by the desert sands; of Judas, who by transgression fell from his apostleship; of the temple at Jerusalem profaned by its guardians and then given over to the flames; of the candlesticks removed when the Churches of Asia "lost their first love;" - all these are so many voices echoing the warning of the text, "Be not high-minded, but fear." God spares long, but at last the thunderbolt falls. Sin marches to its destined grave.
IV. THE DECEITFULNESS OF OUR HEARTS CALLS FOR CONSTANT VIGILANCE. Human nature remains true to itself, brings forth the same fruit in all ages. Even in the renewed nature of the Christian, "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit." The serpent of evil is scotched, not killed. Our environment exposes us to unceasing attacks. At any moment of relaxed tension, the foe may assault and carry the fortress. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." The Saviour emphasized the caution, "What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch!" Children are often reckless because they perceive not the danger; wise men neglect no precautions. Our safest course is to be intent on "the things that accompany salvation," to fill the hands with beneficent activities, to engage the thoughts on noblest themes. Press toward the goal, and no enchanted meadow shall beguile our steps. Like earnest competitors, read the rules carefully and sedulously conform to them. Prayerful meditation on the Scriptures, humble confidence in God, and the opening of the heart to the sway of the blessed Spirit, will correct any wrong attitude, and enable us to persevere to the end. "Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us," etc. - S.R.A.
I. THE DUALISM. As Godet very strikingly says, "The entire course of the religious history of the world is determined by the antagomsm created among mankind by the calling of Abraham, between a people specially destined by God to receive his revelations, and the other nations given over to themselves. From that moment (Genesis 12.) there begin to be described those two immense curves which traverse the ages of antiquity in opposite directions, and which, crossing one another at the advent of Christianity, are prolonged from that period in inverse directions, and shall terminate by uniting and losing themselves in one another at the goal of history."
1. The early period of the history of the world, after the call of Abraham, consisted of the contrast between believing Israel and the unbelieving nations. The Gentiles, as the beginning of the Epistle reminded us, were given over to their ignorance and sin. Why? Because they "were disobedient to God." Theirs was a negative discipline to fit them for the reception of the truth. They were "shut up unto disobedience," that they might be prepared to receive unmerited mercy at the hands of God. And the discipline did its work. For them there came a "fulness of the times." They became sick of their own endeavours after wisdom and righteousness, and when Christ was preached unto them they received him. How had it been with the Jews? They were chosen by God to receive his truth, and the preparations for his salvation, in trust for the world. Theirs was a positive discipline. But the same sinful nature was in them as in the Gentiles, and it operated against the truth. They became hardened. Their very privileges became a snare to them. And at last, the "fulness of the times" having arrived for them also, when their own Christ came unto them, they received him not!
2. The later period of the world's history, after Christ, consisted of a contrast, which itself was in contrast with the former one. The Jews were given over, are given over still, to their hardness of unbelief. They are the stoutest opponents of the gospel. They are "enemies." God was compelled to cast them off, that the gospel which they refused might be set free for the acceptance of the world. And the Gentiles are reaping the benefits of their rejection still. Not as dogs, eating the crumbs from the children's table, but themselves admitted to the forsaken festal board.
II. THE UNIVERSALISM. The dualism shall not always last; God is preparing the way for the religious fusion of all the peoples of the world; they shall become one in Christ.
1. The gospel which the Jews despised, and the salvation of their own Saviour, is leavening the Gentile world; the nations, one by one, are passing out of heathendom into Christendom. Apart from the question of the conversion to true spiritual religion of individuals, the world is being won for Christ.
2. But what of Israel? "The fulness of the Gentiles" shall "come in; and so all Israel shall be saved." Oh, the strange irony of history! By the agency of the Israelites the world should have been won; now by the example and agency of Gentiles the Israelites shall be won. Yes; the hardening was but "in part," some being believers from the first; but likewise only temporary - "until." For they are still the people fitted by their gifts for God's great work, and therefore his call is not revoked. And the very working of their disobedience, as in the case of the heathen nations once, is but to fit them to receive his grace. And according to their own prophecies the Deliverer shall come, and "from Jacob" ungodliness shall be turned away. So then God will "have mercy upon all." Let us learn his ways of judgment. He will give us up to our sins, if we persist in cherishing them, till we repent. But let us learn also his marvellous love: repenting, he will receive us freely! - T.F.L.
I. HIS UNSEARCHABLE WISDOM. "Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom of God!" says the apostle (ver. 33); and again he asks, "Who hath been his counsellor?" (ver. 34). Beyond all human wisdom is the wisdom of God - a wisdom self-sufficient; derived from no other source; a wisdom of which, indeed, all human wisdom is but the faint reflection, the outcome and the overflow. Take the very wisest of men - men like Socrates, Plato, Seneca, or Bacon: how foolish were some of their thoughts, their proposals, or their actions! Take the very wisest man whom you know, and he will be glad sometimes to take counsel of some one else. Indeed, in this the wise man shows his wisdom. It is fools who despise reproof, and who will not take advice. But God needs no advice. He makes no mistakes. This thought of the unsearchable wisdom of God teaches us a lesson of faith and trust. God's dealings are often mysterious to us, but there is an infinite wisdom behind them all. He doeth all things well. It teaches us also a lesson of obedience. God's way is always wisest, safest, best, happiest. It might be said to us as Moses said to the children of Israel, "Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me. Keep therefore and do them, for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."
II. HIS UNSEARCHABLE KNOWLEDGE. We have made much progress in scientific knowledge in this nineteenth century, and yet how very limited, after all, is human knowledge! How many things in chemistry, in geology, in astronomy, are still unrevealed! Even of a single science no man can say that he knows all about it, though he may have given a lifetime to the study of it. And then few men are masters of more than one branch of knowledge. Life is too short to do more than touch the surface of things. But the knowledge of God is unsearchable. "Oh the depth of the riches of the knowledge of God!... Who hath known the mind of the Lord?" (vers. 33, 34). Nothing is hidden from him. Every part and path of the universe is known to him. Every nation is known to him - its national history, its national sins. Every family is known to him. The joys and sorrows of every home, he knows them all. The secret thoughts, the secret motives, the secret plans of every life, he knows them all. This thought carries with it great comfort. "Your heavenly Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." He knows all our difficulties and all our wants. And as we look forward to the future, to the judgment-seat, is there not a comfort in feeling that God's judgment upon us will be a perfectly fair one, because it will be based upon a complete and accurate and perfect knowledge of our lives? Our motives may be misunderstood by men; but God knows all about them. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." It carries with it also solemn warning. If God knows all about me, how careful I should be to live as in his sight! How careful I should be to live as in the presence of the judgment-seat! "For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; nor hid, that shall not be known."
III. HIS UNSEARCHABLE MERCY. "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" Here God's unsearchable wisdom and knowledge are represented as co-operating in his plan of universal mercy. Here again what depths there are that we cannot fathom! How very unmerciful men are at the best! How harsh the judgments even of professing Christians! and how limited and narrow are sometimes their views as to the possibility of the salvation of others! But the mercy of God is wider than all our creeds, and broader than the judgments of individual Christians. What a depth, what a breadth of mercy is revealed in those words of Christ, "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life"! Whosoever! In that word there is hope for the guiltiest of sinners who will repent of his sin, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. So, while we speak of the unsearchable things of God, we do not take the agnostic position. We do not say that God is unknown and unknowable. We do not know the depth of his wisdom and knowledge and mercy; but we do know that he possesses and manifests all these sublime qualities in his dealings with men. There are mysteries in God's providences, but there is one great truth which will bring peace to every soul that acts upon it; which will bring every soul that acts upon it into the eternal presence and fellowship of God: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." There are thoughts that are unsearchable about God, and yet they are thoughts that we can feel within our spirits as the very power of God unto salvation, even as we can feel the warm sunshine on our faces though we cannot walk along the bright pathway by which it comes. Jesus Christ is God's "unspeakable Gift;" yet many can say of him," I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day." The love of God is called "the love of God, that passeth knowledge;" and yet many have experienced its power in their hearts. The peace of God is a peace "that passeth all understanding;" yet many have known how, in a time of disquietude or trial, that peace, like a sentinel, has kept our hearts and minds in quiet confidence and calm security. "Now we know in part; but then shall we know even as also we are known." - C.H.I.
I. He has shown forth the belief and unbelief of man, and the marvellous way in which God, foreknowing all, has yet woven the web of history so that the wrath of man shall praise him. But man is lost in awe and wonder in presence of such knowledge and wisdom as are here Ñ
"A vast, unfathomable sea, II. Man, then, has not had, cannot have, fellowship with God in the working out of such a high history. Man may indeed have worked, but God has overworked. And even man's wickedness has been caught up into the general procession of God's designs. But man has neither known his Maker's mind, nor certainly has he counselled him with wisdom. And yet did the arrogant Israelite think to have merited aught from God? as though he had given him, forsooth, by his vain services, that it must be recompensed him again? This was indeed to arrogate to himself that knowledge of God's mind, and counsellorship of his ways, which were impossible, and to affect which was preposterous, and darkly like blasphemy. But the apostle has already cast these presumptions down, even to the dust. III. It only needs now that he reassert, once for all, the utter freedom of the actions of God, which he has argued, and at the same time the almightiness and goodness of his ways, as also previously set forth. "Of him." He is the primal Fount of creation and of history. All things proceed forth from him, therefore surely he may put down one and set up another. "Through him." The very sins of men are open to his pre- vision, and their folly and blindness, and the results therefore do not take him by surprise; but rather they are allowed for in the great plan of his world-kingdom, and therefore through him they may be said to work their way. "To him." The very sins which he allows, and their consequences, adverse as they may seem to be to his plans, he can so control that they shall work for ultimate good. To him? Yes, to The perfecting of his wise plans. And these plans of his wisdom? They are all in love. Therefore to him we will ascribe the glory evermore. Amen. Oh how utterly we may trust him, if we will! For only our persistent sin can shut us out from the might of his marvellous love. "Here, then, I doubt no more,
II. Man, then, has not had, cannot have, fellowship with God in the working out of such a high history. Man may indeed have worked, but God has overworked. And even man's wickedness has been caught up into the general procession of God's designs. But man has neither known his Maker's mind, nor certainly has he counselled him with wisdom. And yet did the arrogant Israelite think to have merited aught from God? as though he had given him, forsooth, by his vain services, that it must be recompensed him again? This was indeed to arrogate to himself that knowledge of God's mind, and counsellorship of his ways, which were impossible, and to affect which was preposterous, and darkly like blasphemy. But the apostle has already cast these presumptions down, even to the dust.
III. It only needs now that he reassert, once for all, the utter freedom of the actions of God, which he has argued, and at the same time the almightiness and goodness of his ways, as also previously set forth. "Of him." He is the primal Fount of creation and of history. All things proceed forth from him, therefore surely he may put down one and set up another. "Through him." The very sins of men are open to his pre- vision, and their folly and blindness, and the results therefore do not take him by surprise; but rather they are allowed for in the great plan of his world-kingdom, and therefore through him they may be said to work their way. "To him." The very sins which he allows, and their consequences, adverse as they may seem to be to his plans, he can so control that they shall work for ultimate good. To him? Yes, to The perfecting of his wise plans. And these plans of his wisdom? They are all in love. Therefore to him we will ascribe the glory evermore. Amen. Oh how utterly we may trust him, if we will! For only our persistent sin can shut us out from the might of his marvellous love.
"Here, then, I doubt no more,
I. WHILE GOD IS KNOWABLE, HE SURPASSES ALL OUR CONCEPTIONS IN HIS WISDOM AND HIS WAYS. (Ver. 33.) While believing in the radical error which underlies the agnostic philosophy, we must at the same time admit that God's wisdom and knowledge, his judgments and his ways, are past our comprehension. Just as a child may know, that is, be acquainted with, his parent, while at the same time he is utterly unable to follow him into the regions of pure mathematics, comprehend the differential or integral calculus, or the new department of quaternions; so a Christian may know God as he reveals himself in Christ, and yet stand in awe before his unsearchable judgments. It is God's glory to conceal a thing. If we saw through the whole administration of God, if there were no mystery or perplexity in his dealings, we should be living by reason and not by faith. It is more consonant with our finiteness in its relation to the infinite God that we should be asked to trust God, even when we see no reason for his action, when clouds and darkness may be round about his throne. What we have to consider, therefore, is the proper attitude of the Christian before the profundities of God. It surely should be one of humility, of reverence, and of thankful praise. Now, the partiality of Paul's revelation may be profitably contrasted with the fulness of revelation as claimed by Christ. For he claimed to have all that the Father doeth shown to him (John 5:20). Nothing was or is concealed from Jesus. God's ways were not unsearchable to him.
II. MEN SHOULD NOT IN CONSEQUENCE DICTATE TO GOD, OR TRY TO BE BEFOREHAND WITH HIM. (Vers. 34, 35.) Now, when the matter is put broadly in this way, it seems shocking presumption for men to set themselves up as superior persons, capable of dictating to the Eternal. Yet is this not the meaning of a large amount of the pessimistic literature of our time? If the pessimists had only been consulted, they could have planned a much better world than God has given us! His management has been, in their view, a mistake; and the only redeeming feature in the business is that he has somehow created the pessimists with judgments and powers superior to his own] It is time, surely, that these lamentations over a system of things so very imperfectly understood as yet should cease, and that creatures so finite should humble themselves before the Infinite, and acknowledge his superiority in all things.
III. AT THE SAME TIME, THE APOSTLE CONCLUDES THAT GOD IS HIS OWN LAST END IN EVERYTHING. (Ver. 36.) It seems a hard thing to take in, yet the more it is pondered the truer if appears. "The supreme Sun of the spiritual universe, the ultimate Reason of everything in the world and work of grace, is the glory of God. Whole systems of truth move in subordinate relation to this; this is subordinate to nothing." "There was nothing," wrote Robert Haldane to M. Cheneviere of Geneva, "brought under the consideration of the students which appeared to contribute so effectually to overthrow their false system of religion founded on philosophy and vain deceit, as the sublime view of the majesty of God, which is presented in these concluding verses of the first part of the Epistle, 'Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things.' Here God is described as his own last End in everything that he does. Judging of God as such a one as themselves, they were at first startled at the idea that he must love himself supremely, infinitely more than the whole universe, and consequently must prefer his own glory to everything besides. But when they were reminded that God in reality is infinitely more amiable and more valuable than the whole creation, and that consequently, if he views things as they really are, he must regard himself as infinitely worthy of being most valued and loved, they saw that this truth was incontrovertible. Their attention was at the same time turned to numerous passages of Scripture, which assert that the manifestation of the glory of God is the great end of creation; that he has himself chiefly in view in all his works and dispensations; and that it is a purpose in which he requires that all his intelligent creatures should acquiesce, and seek to promote as their first and paramount duty. Passages to this effect, both in the Old and New Testaments, far exceed in number what any one who has not examined the subject is at all aware of." Now, if our idea of God is high enough, we shall conclude that he stands in such perfect relations to his creatures that in seeking his own glory he is at the same time seeking their highest good. Of course, we have the power of resisting this claim of God, and setting ourselves in opposition to his glory; yet this will not defeat his purpose, but be overruled for his praise. It is not selfishness in the most high God to seek his own glory; he is so perfect in his love as to be incapable of selfishness. His glory conflicts with the real good of none of his creatures.
IV. WE OUGHT IN CONSEQUENCE, LIKE THE APOSTLE, TO RAISE OUR DOXOLOGY. It is when from the heart we sing our doxology to this perfect Being that we are rising up into our spiritual birthright and joy. How different Paul's doxology from the agnostic deliverances before the unknown God! It is possible to adore and praise a God whose judgments are unsearchable, because the guiding principle of his perfect nature is love. May we all be led to praise him! - R.M.E.