Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HIS SORROW FOR THE LOST. He says that he has "great heaviness and continual sorrow" for Israel, his kinsmen according to the flesh. This sorrow is intensified by many considerations.
1. He thinks of their great privileges. "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; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came" (vers. 4, 5). It was indeed a saddening reflection to think that a people so highly honoured by God should depart from him. They had the Law for their guidance; the fathers for their example; Christ Jesus, God's own Son, for their Messiah and Deliverer; and the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the promises for their encouragement and inspiration. Yet they crucified their King, and hardened their hearts against God's messages of mercy. Great privileges make our guilt the greater if we reject Christ.
2. He thinks of the world's obligation to them. The Jewish people have been the benefactors of the whole world. They have been the channel through which blessings have come to other nations. How sad that they themselves should forfeit the Divine blessing by their impenitence and unbelief! So also it would be sad if our British nation, which by its missionary enterprise has brought so many blessings to other nations, should itself depart from the truth as it is in Jesus, and fall into the depths of materialism and infidelity.
3. He thinks of his own relation to them. "My brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Those who are connected with us by ties of blood or common nationality should be the objects of our special solicitude and sympathy. Many Christian people are full of sympathy for the heathen in India, or China, or Africa, who never think - except, perhaps, with indifference or contempt - of the poor and ignorant and oppressed among their own countrymen at home. The strikes among working men in England, the discontent among the crofters of Scotland, disaffection and outrage in Ireland, - does not much of the responsibility for these things lie at the door of the Christian people of these nations? Thoughtlessness and indifference with regard to those around us bring their own retribution.
II. HIS SELF-SACRIFICING SPIRIT. St. Paul did not confine himself to mere sentiments or words. "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (ver. 3). He had already given proof, in a very practical way, of his desire for the salvation of Israel. Wherever he went, "he preached Christ in the synagogues" (Acts 9:20) as he had opportunity, thereby subjecting himself more than once to bitter persecution and attack. The true Christian patriot will sacrifice himself for the good of his country and fellow-countrymen. He will sacrifice his prejudices of class and creed, he will sacrifice even the favour and friendship of those of his own rank, if by so doing he may better reach the poor and degraded and ignorant. Have we ever known what it is to have heaviness and continual sorrow of heart for our fellow-countrymen, and to bear reproach and opposition in our efforts to do them good? - C.H.I.
I. THEIR ANCESTRY. "Whose are the fathers;" "Who are Israelites." Nations pride themselves most on the heroes of their history, and they delight to trace their descent from men of renown. How is it with this nation? They are sprung from the patriarchs, of more than heroic fame. Abraham, God's friend, the man of whom in his communings with God amidst the corruptions of the world it might be said, "His soul was like a star, and dwelt apart;" Isaac, the quiet, meditative man, whose deeds made no blaze of excitement among men, but with whom was "the secret of the Lord;" and Jacob, whose day rose so murky and dark, but whose sunset was of the most glorious - so mean, yet afterwards so strong; a supplanter and deceiver among men, who yet became a prince of God, one around whom the heavens opened, and whom God touched : - these were the fathers of the race! They, then, themselves were Israelites, princely ones with God.
II. THEIR DIGNITIES.
1. The adoption. According to God's message to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:22), "Israel is my son, even my firstborn." God is dealing with nationalities as with individual men, and in calling the nations to himself he summons Israel as the firstfruits from among the peoples.
2. The glory. To Jacob in his dream the glory of the opened heavens had appeared; the Israelites in their journeyings were led by a cloud that from its dark depths shot radiance; the same glory, as of God, shone in the Shechinah of the holiest place. Theirs was this symbol of an ever-present Deity.
3. The covenants. How many times had God said to the patriarchs, "Surely blessing I will bless thee"! And these covenants were perpetuated in the abiding covenant with the chosen people.
4. The giving of the Law. Having adopted them as his firstborn son, and shown them his glory, and made with them a covenant, he had trained them, in fatherly wisdom, by the Law, which was designed to be their schoolmaster in all high and holy things.
5. The service. And trained in righteousness, they were trained likewise in godliness - priests of the most high God.
6. The promises. They were emphatically a people of hope; their whole history pointed towards better things to come.
III. THEIR BOON TO THE WORLD. "Of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." "The patriarchs, from whom the people sprang, are as it were its root; the Messiah, who sprang from the people, is as it were its flower" (Godet). But let us notice two antitheses.
1. "Of whom is Christ. This people was called and trained that it might give birth, humanly, to the world's Deliverer. A high calling! But though from them, he is not to be their exclusive possession: Over all? From them springs the world's Christ. Oh that they had known their high destiny! why it was that they were a nation of priests!
2. "As concerning the flesh. Humanly his origin was from them. Not a Jew, but a true, perfect Man, fashioned from Jewish human nature. All tender human sympathies of soul, as well as faculties of human body, were his to link him to his brethren among men. But in him, the Man, was an inhabitation, an incarnation of the Divine: God blessed for ever. Oh, wondrous truth! Here was the truest Shechinah, tabernacling in the world and for the world! the Word made flesh"! Here the truest fulfilment of Israel's dream - the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on man. Such the world's heritage: God is ours! But this inheritance the ancient Israelites have given to the world. May he not well grieve that they have despised their own boon? And may he not well set himself to grapple with the problem - How can such an elect people be rejected of God? - T.F.L.
regained," and how Christian experience culminates in a triumphant assurance. But the apostle could not contemplate this as a mere personal matter. He could not rejoice in personal salvation and be indifferent to the salvation of his brethren. The case of his countrymen accordingly comes forward for review, and in the review of it the apostle is seen as the Christian patriot. Though the "apostle of the Gentiles," he has lost no interest in his Jewish countrymen. The subject raised in this section is, consequently, the important one of Christian patriotism. Now, there are some who imagine that we have in these terms a real contradiction. Their notion is that the true Christian is so occupied with a future world as to have little interest in a present one. Is not heaven the fatherland of the believer? is he not taught to regard himself as a citizen of the better country? is he not to live as if already within its pearly gates? and gill he not in consequence lose real interest in the world that now is, and pass through it as a mere "pilgrim and stranger"? While this is perfectly true, it is also true that the Christian may and ought to be the very best of patriots, and Christian patriotism the very best form of patriotism. St. Paul's case is one in point. He was the very finest specimen of a Christian which our era has produced. He laid the emphasis on the future world as few have ever done. He lived as if within the gates of the eternal city. And yet, in his relations to his fellow-countrymen, he was the truest and wisest of patriots. Up to a certain period Saul of Tarsus had been a trusted national leader. It was to him the chief priests committed their policy of persecution; and right zealously had he carried it out. Under the notion that the Christians were the enemies of their country and religion, the Jews, and Saul as their chosen instrument, thought that they did God service when they imprisoned and murdered them. Had it been asked who was the greatest patriot among all the Jews, the reply would have been unanimous - Saul of Tarsus. His patriotism was thoroughly unscrupulous; it stuck at nothing. But when the risen Saviour meets and conquers him on the road to Damascus, the arch-persecutor becomes a meek and lowly Christian. And now he seeks out Jews instead of Christians, not to persecute them, however, but if possible to persuade them to become Christians too. The result is he is persecuted, and has to flee; yet the process is repeated in the missionary tours which characterize his life. To the Jews first, and then, when they reject his message, he turns to the Gentiles. He might, indeed, have given up the Jews with good reason. "Surely," says Colani, "if the Christian was held to break the chains which bound him naturally to a nation, never, to a certainty, had any man been so completely delivered therefrom as the apostle." He might have said, moreover, that he was set apart for the mission to the Gentiles. Yet, in spite of all their persecutions, he will give them the first place in his affections and in his evangelistic work. Indeed, he seems to gravitate instinctively and at all hazards to Jerusalem, prepared to sacrifice life and, as it would seem, everlasting happiness, if it would save them. And indeed, when we look into Paul's life we see at once a cosmopolitanism and a patriotism - a cosmopolitanism which embraced all Gentile nations, and a patriotism which would have made any sacrifice for his own beloved Jews. In contrast with this, pagan patriotism will be found to be politic rather than patriotic. Cities, not broad fatherlands, were the tiny footholds for which the citizens were ready to make sacrifices. They had not under paganism any broad or liberal views such as Christianity produced. Christianity transformed selfish citizenship into disinterested patriotism.
I. THE CHRISTIAN PATRIOT WILL EMPHASIZE THE GOOD QUALITIES OF HIS COUNTRYMEN. (Vers. 4, 5.) Paul is particular in bringing out the good qualities of the Jews. Though they had persecuted him, his only revenge was in doing them service by preaching to them Christ as their true Messiah. And when he found them unwilling to receive his message, "great heaviness and continual sorrow" seem to have settled in his heart. This consuming interest, moreover, was kept alive by the consideration of the good qualities of his countrymen. To them, as he rejoiced to think, pertained "the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever." He looked into Jewish history and noted with satisfaction how his nation had been acknowledged and honoured in connection with God's revelation of himself. The Jewish genius was in the sphere of religion. He studied also the great capacities of his countrymen, and it was his downright conviction that if they were once won to Christ, their advent to the Christian cause would be as "life from the dead." His fellow-countrymen seemed to him the most magnificent of latent possibilities, embodiments of great and noble qualities which simply were waiting to be consecrated to Christ. And it is here that enlightened Christian patriotism must begin. Let us take the good points, not the bad, in our fellow-countrymen. Let us consider what splendid possibilities they are, and then let us try, by God's blessing, to have these qualities consecrated to our Lord and Master.
II. THE CHRISTIAN PATRIOT WILL NOT EXCUSE HIMSELF FROM SERVING HIS COUNTRYMEN UNDER THE PRETENCE OF SOME SPECIAL MISSION. There are some people who are so occupied with special work as to have no time, as they certainly show little taste, for what is patriotic. They imagine they have got a dispensation from all patriotic service. But if any one ever had such a dispensation, it was assuredly the Apostle Paul. As soon as he was converted, he was told he was to be the apostle of the Gentiles. Immediately he blooms into a man of cosmopolitan aims and desires. The whole world becomes his parish, and all men his charge, Might he not, in such circumstances, plead for a division of labour, and leave the Jews to the care of Peter and of the eleven? Especially when he had tasted the bitterness of their persecution against him, might he not have well excused himself on the plea of his special mission? He might - but, blessed be God, he did not. Though the apostle of the Gentiles, he was so patriotic as to have the Jews and their interests always on his heart. It pained him evermore to think that these splendid possibilities were being wasted in a vain endeavour to stem the tide of Christianity that he knew was on the flood, and would reach, in spite of all opposition, its fulness. And so we see this Christian patriot laying siege of set purpose to the Jewish synagogues on his way; preaching the gospel to the Jews until they would hear no longer; praying for them, writing Epistles about them, and perhaps one to them; in short, doing anything that a patient, pertinacious, persevering, converted Jew could do for his kinsmen according to the flesh. In view of Paul's special mission, then, no man has any right to excuse himself, as some indeed do, from patriotic service.
III. THE CHRISTIAN PATRIOT WILL RECOGNIZE THE SALVATION OF HIS COUNTRYMEN AS THE MOST IMPORTANT BENEFIT THEY CAN RECEIVE. It is certainly remarkable that St. Paul, in all his work among the Jews and references in his writings to them, keeps steadily before his mind and theirs that their conversion to Christ would be the greatest boon they could possibly receive. He gets involved in no controversy about patriotic politics, but devotes himself to the promulgation of what he believes to be the best religion for the Jews and for any man. He tried, accordingly, to bring them into sympathy with Christ. He preached the Messiahship of Jesus on the ground of the Jewish Scriptures. He showed that there was promised first a suffering and then a glorified Messiah; and that Jesus, now risen and reigning, embodied all their hopes. He understood their prejudices, for he had himself shared them; he met them manfully, and tried to carry conviction to their hearts. The result may have been and often was disappointing. The patriot was misunderstood, was despised, was rejected, was forced to flee from city to city, was mobbed, stoned, imprisoned, and at last martyred, all because bright as a star above him all the time shone the single purpose of getting his countrymen converted to Christ. Now, the same duty lies before all of us. The most patriotic effort any one can put forth is to get all one's fellow-countrymen brought into fellowship with Christ. Other policies may be questioned and questionable, but the one about which there can be no question is the patriotic one of getting all we can influence in our country converted to the faith in Christ. Let us be his "living epistles," and we shall be "known and read of all men."
IV. THE CHRISTIAN PATRIOT WILL RE READY FOR ANY SACRIFICE TO SECURE HIS KINSMEN'S SALVATION. We have seen how Paul exposed himself for his Jewish countrymen. He was prepared for risks. His poor body might be battered, stoned, killed, but Paul was quite ready for such eventualities. Nay, the passage before us shows that he was ready for a still greater sacrifice. If it had been possible for him to secure their salvation by becoming "anathema," that is, separated from Christ, he was patriotic enough for this. In other words, Paul was ready to forego his own heaven if by doing so he could bring his brethren to it. How many Christians have risen to such a patriotism? Self-sacrifice for their country may have been faced - but self-sacrifice only for a time. Glory beyond the shadows makes compensation for the pain and the parting here. But self-sacrifice for eternity - this is no less than Paul's idea. Let us be patriotic as Paul was, and our country shall be every way the better for our being reckoned among her sons. - R.M.E.
I. THE SUPREME DISTINCTIONS OF LIFE ARE THOSE WHICH CONCERN OUR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD. All the items particularized are connected with the Divine manifestations granted to Israel. The apostle cares little for the story of military prowess, or even of skill in literature; but all that appertained to the knowledge and worship of God, this was worth dwelling upon. It becomes a speedy test of judgment when we know the things on which a man prides himself. Does he point with chief delight to his acquisition of lands or goods, or to his rank in society, or to his fame in science or. art circles? or does he account his position in the family of the Most High, and the revelation vouchsafed of Divine mercy and grace, as his possession of greatest worth? Which in our hearts do we deem the most highly favoured nation - Greece, or Rome, or Israel? The true wealth and place of a modern empire should be reckoned, not according to its material resources and fighting strength, but rather by its widespread distribution of moral and religious truth. This means real refinement and enduring prosperity. Many opportunities occur to all of us to exhibit our, genuine opinion in the lives we lead, the money and time devoted to the highest pursuits, the notions cherished in the family, the books read, and the amusements indulged in. Missionary enthusiasm rests on a sure basis when the value is perceived of an acquaintance with the things of God. Such a knowledge is the best legacy that can be bequeathed to children.
II. THE HIGHEST RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES WILL NOT PROFIT UNLESS USED ARIGHT. In spite of their advantages, the Jews were found wanting, and, like unfruitful branches, were broken off. Before the exile they fell into idolatry, and sought to nullify their glory by equalling the abominations of the heathen. Could a stronger proof be furnished of the seductiveness of sinful practices and the blindness of man? And the coming of Christ was a further testing season. Their "zeal of God" was shown to be unintelligent, depending upon external rather than spiritual views of religious grandeur and service. It behoves us not only to enjoy but to improve our privileges. Attendance at the sanctuary, the public prayers and reading, unless they exert a living influence upon us, increase our condemnation, as the presence and works of Christ multiplied woes upon the cities of the sea. The tendency is strong that would lull our souls into comfortable dreams of security, from which there could only be a terrible awakening. The religious pride of the Jews hardened into fossilism - an unreceptive soil for new truth. Instead of guiding their steps by the Law, they looked at it till they were dazzled by its glare, and could not recognize the coming of the "Light of the world."
III. THE ADVANTAGES ENJOYED BY NATIONS OR INDIVIDUALS ARE NOT CONFERRED FOR THEIR OWN EXCLUSIVE BENEFIT. The Israelites were stewards of the mysteries for the world around and the times to follow. Very important functions they discharged, keeping the lamp of truth alight, preventing the world from lapsing into barbaric atheism. Especially in relation to Christianity do we discern these advantages as preparatory. The "sacrifices" had respect to the offering of Christ, and in part explain its meaning. The "Law" acted as a pedagogue to bring us to the school of Christ. The temple "service" illustrates the obedience of the Christian priests, and the promises fulfilled confirm our faith. Israel was a nursery where choicest plants were reared with which to stock the wilderness till it should blossom as the rose. And the same principle holds good of every advantage the goodness of our God bestows. The Christian Church is to be as a city set on a hill; its members are lights in the world, pilgrim-soldiers, ambassadors for Christ. It is ours to guard the gift entrusted, to transmit to others the revelation received, the spiritual heirlooms of liberty and intelligence, lest we fail to deliver up a proper account of our stewardship. - S.R.A.
Romans 9:6-13 with Romans 9:24-32
I. THE PROMISE WAS A SPIRITUAL PROMISE.
1. It was a promise of spiritual blessing. "In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed."
2. It was a promise made on spiritual conditions. It was not a promise made to Abraham's children according to the flesh, for then Ishmael and his children would have been partakers of it. "In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed" (vers. 7, 8). Isaac was Abraham's son, not in the ordinary course of nature, but by reason of the special promise of God, and Abraham's faith in it. Many think they have a claim on God's promises who forget that every promise has a condition attached to it, and who fail to fulfil that condition.
II. ABRAHAM'S TRUE CHILDREN ARE THOSE WHO EXHIBIT ABRAHAM'S FAITH. "For they are not all Israel, who are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children" (vers. 6, 7); "The Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith" (ver. 30). The same thought is brought out in Romans 4:9-17. Abraham's righteousness was the righteousness of faith. He had this faith when he was yet uncircumcised, "that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised" (Romans 4:11). Hence the Gentiles who exhibit Abraham's faith are heirs of the same promise and partakers of the same righteousness. There is no violation of the Divine promise in rejecting those who are Abraham's seed according to the flesh, but who do not exhibit Abraham's faith, and in including those who are Abraham's true spiritual children, because they exhibit Abraham's faith, though they are not his seed according to the flesh. God looketh on the heart. "In every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him." External forms and outward privileges will not save us unless we have the change of heart which is required of all who would enter into the kingdom of God. "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature."
III. GENTILES AS WELL AS JEWS WERE INCLUDED IN THE PROMISE. The apostle not only argues by inference, but also from God's specific statements. "As he saith also in Hosea, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved" (ver. 25). The Jews were too much inclined to limit the Divine promises to themselves only, though there were many clear indications in the Divine Word that, while they were God's chosen people, other nations also were to be partakers of the blessing conveyed through them. We may so pride ourselves upon our privileges, while we neglect our duties, that at last even the privileges themselves shall be taken away. - C.H.I.
I. GOD'S PURPOSE FOR THE WORLD. A Creator's love must embrace his whole creation; a Father's must go forth towards all his children. God is the Father of mankind, even though all have fallen away from him; any purpose of salvation must, therefore, comprehend all men in its wide scope, and only the wilfulness of man can prevent the perfect accomplishment of the purpose. God has purposed the redemption of the world in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:11), but by reason of man's debasement through sin the accomplishment of the purpose must needs be gradual. One great central work shall be wrought - God's work through Christ; but up towards this the avenue of preparatory work must lead, and away from this the avenue of fulfilment must conduct. An education of the world; a great power of salvation; a world-wide application of the power,
II. AN ELECT PEOPLE. The election dealt with in these chapters, which has no reference whatever to the election of individuals for eternal salvation, was the election of a people who should conduct the world towards Christ by way of preparation, and afterwards conduct Christ's power to the world by way of application. In the matter of preparation, an exclusion of this people from others was needful first, because of the abounding corruptions of the world. Sometimes this is the only safety: "Come out, and be separate!" But a scattering was needful afterwards. So the captivities, overruled by God; so the dispersion in later times. In the subsequent evangelization there must be concentration first, that the new power of life might be fully realized; a scattering afterwards, that the new power might touch the uttermost ends of the earth (vide Acts 8:4).
III. THE FREEDOM OF THE ELECTION. But surely, in such a work of grace, God's hands cannot be tied? surely he may choose whom he will for the great purpose of the world's salvation? Even so. We can conceive nothing other; and the history of the past abundantly illustrates the freedom with which God has worked. First, God chose Abraham; the Jews would not complain of his freedom of election here. Again, of Abraham's sons he chose the later-born, showing that the matter of priority of natural claims could not weigh with him. And of Isaac's twin sons, before their birth, he chose again the later-born, Jacob, showing that nothing done by the elected one constituted a claim on his electing grace. Neither the Ishmaelites nor the Edomites were rejected of God from personal salvation, but as regarded taking a special part in the work of the world's salvation they were reprobate. So, then, God had acted freely in the choice of Abraham, and in the narrowing down of the election among Abraham's seed. Was it to be wondered at that, in the fulness of the times, he should act freely still, and elect only a remnant of the people to the work of evangelizing the world? This work so soon to be entrusted also to Gentile workers themselves. The same principle still holds good: God elects us, according to his sovereign will, for work in his kingdom. Let us learn, as the first lesson, absolute submission; nay, the unquestioning fealty of love. - T.F.L.
I. GOD'S JUDGMENT UPON ANY MAN IS NOT DETERMINED BY THE QUALITIES OF HIS NATURAL DISPOSITION. When we take up the cases here given, we see that God did not elect to privilege either all the children of the patriarchs, or even those we would incline to elect ourselves. St. Paul mentions the children of Abraham; and, as the history shows, he had eight (Genesis 25:2), yet only one becomes the "child of promise." Isaac also had two sons, but the younger, not the elder, becomes in his turn the "child of promise." Moreover, when we consider Ishmael and Esau, who are apparently both before Paul's mind, we are inclined to regard them as more manly and noble men than their brothers Isaac and Jacob. They may have become "sons of the desert," yet there is something in both the rejected men which commands our admiration. Of course, we see in them purely natural endowments. They live lives of sense and sight rather than of faith. They live solely under the power of things seen, and are what we now call worldly men. Their natures are as interesting and as noble as pure worldliness of spirit will allow. Now let us suppose for a moment that God's electing love had laid hold on these well-made "noblemen of nature," with all their physical force and muscular power, and had passed by their feebler brothers, the meditative Isaac and the cowardly Jacob; would not violent outcry have surely resulted against a God who professed to be a Father, and yet could favour the strong and pass by the weak? It is plain that an electing love which moved along such lines as these would have been denounced by all serious and thoughtful men. But, as a recent preacher has said, "the Father in heaven is a considerate Father. He does not cast out his crippled and deformed children to perish. He holds to a stricter and sterner responsibility the sons that are nobly endowed by birth and nature. He is not the gentleman's God, nor the Redeemer and Saviour of persons of fine culture and beautiful instincts. He is, and from the beginning has been, the Saviour of the lost. And by many a story as strange as this of Jacob and Esau he has shown to the honourable and generous and high-minded that there is a possible way of ruin for them; and to those who know in their own sorrowful consciousness, and by the scornful words or looks of others, that they are not of noble or generous strain, that there is a way by which such as they may find salvation and the eternal favour of God."
II. THE CHILDREN OF THE PROMISE HAVE BEEN LED TO PRIZE IT AND TO TRUST THE FAITHFUL PROMISER. Both Isaac and Jacob were children of the promise in this sense, that their mothers would never have borne them had not God sustained their hope of children by the promise of a seed. But Esau was included in this promise as well as Jacob. There was, however, another and a better promise - a promise about all the families of the earth being blessed through a particular seed. In other words, the promise of a Messiah was held before them as their highest, hope. Now, Ishmael and Esau despised this arrangement; they did not feel indebted to posterity, as many a worldly mind thinks still. But Isaac and Jacob got interested in the promised blessing, and were led to trust him who uttered it. Their very weakness and cowardice led them to lean upon One mighty to save, and they were pardoned, accepted, and in due season sanctified. God's electing love thus moves along lines where there is the likelihood that the poor, crippled, crushed souls will learn to trust God who is mighty to save. It is harder for a rich man, for example, to trust God than it is for a poor man; hence God has "chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom" (James 2:5). It is harder to get able-bodied men, who never knew what a day's sickness is, to trust God than it is to get the sick and the sorrowing; and hence we find that Jobs and Asaphs, who have been plagued all the day, and who are in deep waters almost constantly, are made by Divine grace to show to the unbelieving world that they can serve God for naught, that even though he slays them, yet will they trust in him (Job 1:9; Job 13:15; Psalm 73.). And so, as the writer already quoted says, "Be of good comfort, all whose need of salvation is deepest and most inward. You shall be saved, not only in spite of these shameful faults and infirmities which you abhor in yourself and which God abhors; you shall not only be saved, blessed, loved, in spite of them;-you shall be saved from them - and that is a greater thing. Faith in God is the vital air of all true human nobleness. In this air the stunted germs of human virtue unfold and blossom. Without faith, their fairest, strongest growths tend to shrivel and decay. For lack of faith in God, the noble gifts of Esau are of no avail. He shuts himself out, a willing stranger to the covenants of promise, having no hope, without God in the world. He moves, a wandering star, in a track without a centre, on towards blackness of darkness. By faith, the low nature of that 'worm Jacob' is by-and-by redeemed from the power of evil, and, transformed in character and in name, Jacob the supplanter is changed to Israel the prince that hath power with God' (Bacon, ut supra).
III. GOD'S ELECTING LOVE AND REPROBATING HATE CANNOT BE CHARGED WITH ANY INJUSTICE. NOW, in analyzing God's love for the children of promise, the apostle distinctly traces their election to God's good pleasure. He has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and compassion on whom he will have compassion. And if mercy be "undeserved favor," that is to say, if no one deserves it or is entitled to it, then he may justly give it to whomsoever he pleaseth. On the other hand, those who are passed by and hardened, having no claim to better treatment, receive simply the due reward of their deeds. And here it may be well to guard against a false view of the statement about God's hatred of Esau. It is not to be inferred that God hated Esau before he was born and had any opportunity of doing evil. When we consult the passage here quoted by Paul, we find it refers to the judgment of Edom in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. It is in Malachi 1:2: "Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord; yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness." To quote an acute writer upon this very subject, "Esau is left in his inferiority before his birth, but he is not hated, in the sense of the prophet, until nine hundred and ninety-six years later, when King Nebuchadnezzar put his mountains to desolation. Without being blessed like his brother, Esau received his home 'in the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above.' His indifference had cost him his right of primogeniture, and he could no more receive it hack (Genesis 25:32; Genesis 27:33-37; Hebrews 12:16, 17); yet the Law prescribed respect for him,' Thou shalt not have the Idumaean in abomination, for he is thy brother;' and God endured ten centuries of hardness of heart before he said, 'I have hated Esau.' That is to say, God's reprobation of Esau is not to be confounded with his election of Jacob. The mistake made by many in thinking of these subjects is in taking reprobation as the opposite of election - as if God decreed men's reprobation in the exercise of the same pure sovereignty in which he decrees the election of others. But so far from this being the case, election and reprobation rest upon two distinct portions of the Divine nature. The opposite of election is not reprobation, but non-election; and no human being has any evidence that he is not elected. The opposite of reprobation is approbation, and we are all reprobated by God so long as we do not accept of Christ, and have him in us, cur Hope of glory. Election rests on the good pleasure of God; reprobation on his holiness, which leads him to antagonize and loathe what is unholy. I cannot do better than quote the elder Robert Hall, in his admirable little treatise, 'Help to Zion's Travellers.' He says, "Reprobation in Scripture always stands opposed to, and is the natural negative of, approbation, whether it respects the state of a person, the frame of his mind, or the nature of his actions. Hence, vile professors are compared to the alloy or dross frequently mixed with metal, which on trial is found to be base or deficient in quality; therefore reprobate silver shall men call them, because God has rejected them (Jeremiah 6:30). So in the text, 'Know ye not that Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?' the apostle's obvious meaning is that such are destitute of real worth. For however splendid a profession be, yet, without Christ, all will be found mere refuse at last: therefore he puts them upon close examination, lest they should be deceived by appearances, thinking themselves something, while in fact they are nothing. Hence in the next verse he adds, 'But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates' (2 Corinthians 13:5, 6); and in ver. 7 he says, 'Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates.' Thus he considers reprobation and approbation as natural opposites. Again, men of corrupt minds are said to be reprobates concerning the faith, i.e. destitute of a true understanding of the truth (2 Timothy 3:8). And the abominable and disobedient are unto every good work reprobate (Titus 1:16). Agreeably, therefore, to this view of reprobation, those vile affections to which the Gentiles were given up are called a reprobate mind (Romans 1:26, 28, 29). Meaning that their dispositions and conduct were odious, and could not possibly be approved of, either by God or good men. From the above considerations, it evidently appears that election and reprobation are not inseparably connected, nor even so much as related as kindred ideas, and that reprobation does not intend an absolute appointment to eternal misery, for such may still find mercy as Paul did; but that it is the awful opposite to Divine approbation, whether it respect persons, principles, or proceedings." Hence we are not to think that either Esau or Pharaoh was unfairly dealt with. Their histories show that they had their fair chance of accepting God's plan and submitting to him. But preferring their own course, and to fight rather than submit, they became the object of God's righteous reprobation and leisurely wrath. God is slow to anger; but when it comes about, it is seen to be wen deserved. At close quarters, the injustice charged against God is seen altogether to disappear, - R.M.E.
I. GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY.
1. God's sovereignty is exercised in righteousness. The objection is commonly made that to choose some and reject others would be an unrighteous act on the part of the Almighty. But God's choice of any one is not on the ground of deserving at all, but on the ground of his own mercy. It is not of works, but of grace. "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I wilt have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy" (vers. 15, 16). God's choice of the Jews was free, and therefore he was free to reject them and to choose others. But if the Jews were rejected, they were rejected because of their own unbelief.
2. God's sovereignty is exercised in mercy. While the apostle takes a high view of the sovereignty of God, and asks, "Hath not the potter power over the clay?" (ver. 21), yet at the same time he shows that God uses that sovereignty, not with arbitrary power, but with mercy. "What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known" - that is, God who must vindicate his own character, who will by no means clear the guilty, who must punish sin, what if he nevertheless - " endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?" In other words, "You who would question the justice of God's dealings with Israel forget how much endurance and patience and forbearance he exhibited towards them." If we consider God's dealings with ourselves must we not all admit that he has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities?
II. MAN'S RESPONSIBILITY. Another very common objection to the doctrines of Divine sovereignty and election is that, if these be true, man is not responsible. "Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?" (ver. 19). But here comes in the great truth of the freedom of the will. Human responsibility is there, whether we admit it or not. We are free agents, to choose between the good and the evil. Our conscience tells us this when it accuses us of guilt. The very condemnation of conscience is in itself a testimony to the freedom of the will and human responsibility. There would be no accusing voice within if we did not feel that we were free agents. Daniel Webster, the great American statesman, was once dining with a few friends in New York. In the course of the evening he was asked by the gentleman who sat next to him, "Mr. Webster, what is the greatest thought that has ever occupied your mind?" Pausing for a moment, he replied, "The most solemn thought that ever occupied my mind is the thought of man's responsibility to God." - C.H.I.
I. MOSES. Next to the Christ, perhaps none has played so conspicuous a part in the history of the world's salvation as Moses. Prepared from his birth for the great work of his life: trace his history with this in view. Called forth at last to step into the arena; and, when the antagonism was past, set forth by God as the great legislator for his race. And here, for his inauguration into the great work, the vision of God's goodness (Exodus 33:19). But, while God would thus equip him and make him strong, had he a claim upon God's call and fashioning and favour? No; it was all of God's free choice. Another might have been chosen - another called, equipped, and blessed. God had his reasons, doubtless, but these are in the background here. The question is one of freedom. Can God select whom he will for his saving purposes, or is he tied by any supposed claims on the part of individuals or of peoples? There is only one answer that God is perfectly free in this matter: "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," etc. Surely, if God showed this freedom in the case of Moses, he might show it equally in the case of the "remnant," and of the Gentiles.
II. PHARAOH. God's great purposes were to be wrought out the more effectually by antithesis; even as all his purposes are wrought out by the antithesis of good and evil. Moses was the great deliverer; Pharaoh was the great resister.' And as Moses set forth judgment and mercy from God, Pharaoh set himself against God, and hardened his heart yet more and more. And at last his own conspicuous overthrow must publish abroad to all nations and all time that with a mighty hand God had set his people free. And could Pharaoh rightly complain that God made him play this conspicuous part, against his own will, in the salvation-purposes of God for the world? No, in truth. As an individual, he had perfect liberty of choice, and God undoubtedly willed his salvation; his sinful resistance of God was not ordained by God. But God, foreseeing the sin, determined to make even the wrath of man to praise him; and though Pharaoh's co-operation with Moses would have achieved the object well, yet his resistance of Moses, as God's messenger, was so overruled as to redound to the effectuation of God's will. God certainly had the liberty to make his self-hardening tributary to the fulfilling of his own designs. And if he had the right to reprobate Pharaoh from a voluntary co-operation, and yet control his resistance to the same end, might he not equally reprobate unbelieving Israel from a voluntary co-operation now, and - for this truth now comes into the foreground in their case - make even their reprobation to subserve his designs? Let us remember that God will use us, whether we will or not, for the work of his kingdom. But let us seek to be used as willing instruments, and, as we have no claim to be used in this way or that, seeing that God's purposes are sovereign, let us pray, "What wilt thou have me to do?" T.F.L.
I. AS UNREASONABLE PRESUMPTION. If it be regarded on the ground of mere right, has not God a right to do what he will with his own? It is certain that his will is wise, righteous, and merciful; but the question now is one of prerogative. And God, the Absolute One of the universe, is surely not to come to the tribunal of creaturely judgment? It is even as though the clay were to judge the action of the man that fashions it, and say, "Why didst thou make me thus?" The potter has a right over the clay; he may do as he will. He may make the vessels, some for meaner use, some for nobler; and the clay cannot question his deeds. So cannot man question God. He deals with mankind for historical purposes as the potter with the clay. God takes clay, begins to fashion it for purposes of honour, casts it aside, takes other clay and puts it to the use for which the former portion was first it)tended: are we in a position to say, "Why?" God knows best! The race of mankind is dealt with by God according to his own wisdom, and there are vessels of mercy unto glory, and vessels of wrath unto destruction. Egypt was a vessel of wrath, while Israel was taken for fashioning into a vessel of mercy; by-and-by Israel, as a nation, becomes a vessel of wrath, and a new people, of Jews and Gentiles, is the vessel unto honour. God knows what he is doing best. But all shall subserve his glory. Just as Pharaoh's stubbornness was made by God the occasion for a greater display of delivering power, so the stubbornness of the Jews, and their wickedness even unto the crucifixion of their Lord, were made subservient to the world's salvation. And while the wrath towards some was for mercy towards others, yet towards the children of wrath long-suffering was shown, not merely that the purpose of mercy towards others might be more conspicuously and effectually fulfilled, but that they, had they repented, might have mercy shown them. The very wrath is in love.
II. AN UNSCRIPTURAL PRESUMPTION. The presumption was not only unreasonable in itself, but according to their own Scriptures it was altogether unwarranted. Hosea (Hosea 2:23; Hosea 1:10) had spoken words of prophecy concerning the ten scattered tribes, which involved the same principle as that on which God was acting now - the right to reprobate for idolatry, and the right to restore. And, as they had lapsed into idolatry, and as they were furthermore so intermingled with the Gentiles that a definite separation might be impossible, theirs was not only a new election, as of Gentiles themselves, but actually involved the election of Gentiles also. Isaiah, too (Isaiah 10:22, 23), speaking of Israel, sets forth the other principle, or another aspect of the same, on which God was dealing with the world now - his right, while reprobating Israel from the great work of the world's salvation, to spare a remnant, with whom the Gentiles should be joined, and who with the Gentiles should form the new Church for the extension of the kingdom of God. So, then, their Scriptures pointed to this very selfsame, twofold principle for the formation of the new society. And all their history, as recorded in the Scriptures, had been one repeated manifestation of the same. Yes, God had the right, and he had already used it from the beginning, to take or set aside, as he would, nations or individuals, in the great economy of the redemption of the world. The apostle goes on to show (ver. 30 - Romans 10:21) that there were reasons for God's dealings in all cases, and what, in the main, these reasons were; also (ch. 11.) that the very reprobation of Israel now, in accordance with such reasons, should ultimately redound to the good of the world. Let us remember this for ourselves as a nation. We may think, "God hath not so dealt with any people." But - he does not pledge himself rigidly to deal so with us to the end. Our earnest question must be - not captiously, or he would not answer, but devoutly, and he will answer - Why are we now exalted? and how may we secure a continuance of his blessing which maketh rich? And so for ourselves, as individuals, we can ask no more important question than - How may I become "a chosen vessel," "a vessel unto honour, meet for the Master's use" (Acts 9:15; 2 Timothy 2:21)? - T.F.L.
I. THE VESSELS OF WRATH FITTED UNTO DESTRUCTION. And here I cannot do better than translate from a writer already quoted. In his little-known work, 'La Predestination,' Monsell says, "The all-important point for the interpretation of these verses is to decide when the act of forming the vessels took place; does this operation represent the predestination, or the moral government of God in actual time? A word of ver. 23 decides this question, without giving ground for the least hesitation; this word is the key of the whole passage, and, strange to say, it is omitted by Luther and by the French translations anterior to that of Lausanne. It is the word 'afore' - 'which he has prepared afore for his glory.' The predestination of the vessel, then, is not its fabrication; it precedes it. Thus, then, when God is compared to a potter who fashions the clay, the question is about his actual treatment of sinners. They are before him one identical mass, vile and shapeless; to make the one portion vessels unto dishonour, to make them promote his glory without bettering their condition, is to treat them according to their nature; to make the other portion vessels unto honour is to treat them according to his grace which has been given them in Christ before the foundation of the world. As to the vessels of wrath, God is not the Author of their nature, but only of their form; he has fashioned them, but he has not ' prepared' them; their form is already a merited punishment; he shows therein his wrath. Could one believe that God was irritated against those who would be such as he had wished them to be? Would he need 'a grand long-suffering' to endure his own work in the state which he had himself determined? Has he raised with one hand what he has overturned with the other? Such a doctrine ends by doing violence to that reason in the name of which it has outraged our moral sentiments." It is clear, then, that the potter's relation to the vessels of wrath is that of the fashioner of material made ready to his hand. He is not to be blamed if the coarse Clay will only make a dishonoured vessel. The preparation of the clay, the contraction of its coarse character, has been anterior to the potter's disposal of it. All he can do is to determine the destination which suits the nature of the provided clay. In the very same way, God is not to be held responsible for the coarse characters sinners contract in the process of their development. They have exercised their freedom in reaching the condition when, like clay, they lie before the great Potter's wheel. All that God can be held responsible for is the form as vessels of dishonour they are to take; and if he shows his deserved wrath in disposing of them as dishonoured vessels, he is acting well within his rights. It is in the disposal of incorrigible sinners, in suffering long with them, and in at last dooming them to destruction, that he displays the severe side of his character - that side without which he could not ensure our respect. As for this wrath of God, it has been very happily denominated by some of the Germans "the love-pain (Liebesschmerz) of God." And there can be no doubt that with his long-suffering there enters a large element of pain. These wrecked lives are not disposed of by God without due sensi- bility. He grieves over them as in human form he grieved over doomed Jerusalem.
II. THE VESSELS OF MERCY PREPARED AFORE UNTO GLORY. It is much pleasanter, however, to turn to the vessels of mercy - the vessels which God fashions into "vessels unto honour, fitted and prepared for the Master's use." He can and does take men like Isaac and Jacob, whose natural qualities are not of the highest and noblest, and out of their unlikely characters he can by his grace make what is pure and holy. Of Jews and Gentiles he has called a proportion, and they have become Christ-like, and so glorious. And here we have to notice:
1. That in this way God has made known the riches of his glory. For if these elect ones had not become the subjects of God's grace, much of God's rich glory would have remained unknown. The fall of man and his deterioration have furnished God with splendid opportunities for the revelation of his glorious love and transforming power. The whole universe has profited by the manifestation of the riches of God's glory in the vessels of mercy.
2. In the formation of the vessels of mercy God was not working without a plan. Just as a skilful potter, in the formation of some specially fine piece of porcelain, spends anxious thought upon its form and ornamentation, so God afore prepared the vessels of mercy unto glory. The predestination of grace is simply the due foresight and prearrangement of God. There is nothing fortuitous; nothing of chance-work about God's acts of grace. "There is," says Monsell, "in our chapter only one predestination, that of grace; and not only that, but the words of the apostle are weighed and chosen to prevent all misapprehension: the one are ready or fit for perdition, the other are prepared for glory; the first, it is not God who has made them ready - on the contrary, he endures them 'with a grand long-suffering;' the latter, it is God who has prepared them - still more, he has prepared them afore. Were it not for the care with which the idea of reprobation is here put aside, I should never have supposed that such a dogma had presented itself to the spirit of a sacred writer. Paul makes on purpose an antithetic parallelism, as he had done (Romans 6:23) between wages and gift, and this parallelism finds itself in all the members of the sentence. God shows his anger towards the wicked, and the riches of his glory towards the saved; but the latter, the mercy, is altogether gratuitous. If he wishes to make his power known (ver. 22), it is not his power to create evil, but to punish it; and how to punish evil if not by evil, how to show his anger towards the clay unless by making the vessels unto dishonour?
3. It is faith which makes the vessels glorious. After quoting several prophecies about the elect remnant, the apostle proceeds to point out that faith in the one case, and the lack of it in the other, made all the difference. The Jews for the most part stumbled at the idea of a crucified Messiah. They would not trust him, but busied themselves about building up their own righteousness. Self-righteousness became their ruin. But the Gentiles, on the other hand, not seeking self-righteousness, went forward and believed in Jesus, and the faith transfigured them. They found that "whosoever believeth on Jesus shall not be ashamed." And faith in the risen Lord, ever present with them according to his promise, made them noble men and women, ready to witness for Christ even unto the death. It is thus that God in his sovereign mercy makes men and women "vessels unto honour," fitting them by the gift of faith for service here on earth, and preparing them for still more glorious service in the life to come. As Ray Palmer sweetly sang, so may we -
"My faith looks up to thee, "When ends life's transient dream,
"When ends life's transient dream,
I. THE POTTER CLAIMS ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO DEAL WITH THE CLAY AS HE THINKS FIT. His arbitrary power does not signify the absence of proper reasons for his selection. As in the calling of Israel to peculiar service and responsibility and honour, so everywhere can an election be discerned. We do not start in the race of life with exactly similar equipment, though we live in tabernacles of clay. If the physical and spiritual powers are the same in essence, like the particles of "the same lump," yet the faculties of some have been well trained from the beginning, and their natures have developed under favourable conditions. Here is a lesson of resignation. He is happiest who accepts the will of God as revealed in his lot, assured that God's decision has ample justification. Even the Stoic philosophy could declare that if man knew the plans of the Superintendent of the universe, and saw them in their completeness, he would at once acquiesce in the determinations of the Arbiter of his destiny. This is the truth which mingles with the error of Mohammedan fatalism. We have to do all that lies within our power, and leave the result with him who is wise and merciful. For the Potter is our Father in heaven. How much of the vexation and worry of life is due to a conceit of our capacity, and perhaps to a jealousy of the position and attainments of our neighbours! Be content to fill a lowly place. And the time is at hand when "the pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar."
II. THE POTTER HAS NO DESIRE FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF HIS WORKMANSHIP. He cares not to waste his clay, nor to employ it in a manner to secure its speedy extinction. It is a pain to God to see his gifts abused, his image degraded, his work marred. He is said in ver. 22 to "endure with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath." A lesson of hopefulness is here. The Most High will not break his vessels in pieces as long as they are fit for any use, for any post, though humble and insignificant. "Potter and clay endure," howe'er the wheel of life may turn and fashion the material into altered shapes. If the light of God shines in a vacuum, no brightness is observable. An empty heaven were a dreary home for a God of love, a silent temple for him who glories in the praises of his people and his works.
III. THE POTTER PREFERS TO CONSTRUCT THE CHOICEST VESSELS. The noblest ware pays him best, and he lovingly exerts his skill on specimens of highest art. Deny not to God the delight which every artist feels in the finest productions of his genius! The most polished mirrors best reflect his glory. A lesson of aspiration therefore. "Covet earnestly the best gifts." God has made his clay instinct with will and energy; he takes pleasure in the improvement of the vessels, that they may be brought into his sanctuary. It will mightily assist our struggles to be sure that the Captain longs "to bring many sons unto glory." - S.R.A.
1. The previous history of the Gentiles, from the religious point of view, is set forth in this - that they "followed not after righteousness." That is, they sought not justification with God. For a subjective righteousness they did seek after, as is witnessed by the earnest inquiries of the great ethical leaders, e.g. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; and of their poets and historians, who also sought to set forth the principles of right. But as to an objective righteousness, a being right with God, this was not in all their thoughts. They regarded God as not much troubling himself with human conduct, and sin itself as rather a defect, an ignorance, than something for which man is gravely culpable. So, in this sense, it was emphatically true that they "followed not after righteousness."
2. But of the same Gentiles it is said, of their acceptance of Christ's gospel, that they "attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith." The dormant conscience awoke; the weakness of their ethical systems was revealed; the exceeding guilt of sin, as well as the exceeding love of God, was set forth in the cross of Christ; and being stricken to the heart, and crying, "What must I do to be saved?" they were ready, nay, eager, to respond to the blessed command, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." And, accepting the great salvation, they stood as justified in the presence of him who forgiveth for the sake of Christ. They "attained to righteousness."
1. The history of the Jews is stated, by way of contrast to that of the Gentiles, as consisting in this - that they "followed after a Law of righteousness." The wording is most accurate. They followed a Law, which was designed by God to teach them their sin, and lead them to look to his free grace, through Christ, for pardon; but it was not this "end of the Law" which they in reality followed, but rather the Law itself. They made an end of the means, and thus entirely subverted its design; for instead of learning by the Law their sin, they sought, by a supposed fulfilment of its precepts, to make themselves just before God. So, instead of learning to be poor in spirit, they learned an arrogant self-complacency; instead of coming to God's grace for pardon, they thanked God they were not as other men, and stood before him self-justified.
2. What was the result? They "did not arrive at that Law;" not at its true purport, its ultimate design. And so the real law of justification, the being saved by grace through faith, was hidden from their eyes. To them the Rock of Ages was "a Stone of stumbling, a Rock of offence." Oh, let us learn, from the history of the past, that there is shame for us, and shame only, if we seek to make ourselves just before God. But, accepting freely the grace which is freely given, we shall prove, "He that believeth on him shall not be put to shame." - T.F.L.
Isaiah 8:14). Jesus himself alluded to the same idea when he said to the chief priests and Pharisees, "Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the Head of the corner?" And then he added, to show the evil results of rejecting him, "And whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Matthew 21:42, 44). The Stone of stumbling, the Rock of offence, and the Stone against which men fall to their own destruction, - all these convey the same truth. It is a truth which conveys a solemn warning - the danger of rejecting Christ. How is it, then, that men stumble at Christ?
I. THERE ARE SOME THINGS IN CHRIST'S LIFE AND WORK AT WHICH MEN STUMBLE. I do not mean to say that there is anything in the life and work of Jesus Christ at which men ought to stumble, but such is the depravity of the human heart, such is the power of the great enemy of souls, that men find difficulties even in the way of salvation. They raise mental objections to the very way in which the Creator of the world wants to give them a share in his heavenly inheritance, and have their doubts as to whether there might not be some other way, some other Teacher, some other Saviour, just as good as the eternal Son of God, who, in his matchless love, gave himself to die for the redemption of their souls.
1. Christ is a stumbling-stone to many because of the way in which he came into the world. So it was when he was on earth. Men asked the question, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" And when he was come into his own country, they said, "Whence hath this Man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's Son? And they were offended in him" (Matthew 12:54-57), or stumbled at this difficulty of his lowly parentage. And yet there should be no difficulty, no stumbling-block in this; for Jesus came in the very way and in the very place it had been predicted several hundred years before that he would come. Micah had predicted the place of his birth when he spoke of Bethlehem, and Isaiah the manner of his birth when he spoke of the miraculous event of a virgin who should conceive and bear a son, and call his name Immanuel. That which is a stumbling-block to many ought to be a strength and confirmation of faith in the Son of God.
2. Others, again, find a difficulty in the surroundings of his daily life. It was with the poor and lowly that he chiefly mingled; he ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and his intimate followers and disciples were chosen mainly from the humbler walks of life. Here, however, is the very proof that Christ was indeed Divine. God is no respecter of persons. Had Christ been a mere man, with an ambition to found an earthly kingdom, he would have sought the society of the great; he would not have put away from him all the attempts to make him a King. But his kingdom was not of this world. The very persons whom he chose to be its first ambassadors and founders were in themselves a proof that their religion was Divine. Without earthly rank or riches, without learning or worldly influence, they went forth from an obscure province of the Roman empire, and, only by the power of the words they spoke, founded a religion which today is placing a girdle round the world, and before whose mighty power the temples of heathenism and the mosques of the Mohammedan are destined yet to fall. God hath indeed chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. This fact also about Jesus Christ, his lowly surroundings and his humble followers, instead of being a stumbling-block, should be a strength to faith.
3. There are many who find a great difficulty in the death of Christ. St. Paul said that in his day Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. And it is the cross of Christ that is the stumbling-block to many at the present day. They are willing to regard Christ as the greatest of all teachers, as a beautiful and holy example, but they can see no meaning in the atonement. They stumble at the cross. They call the preaching of salvation by the sufferings of Christ "a doctrine of blood," Be it so. And if you take the doctrine of blood out of the Bible, how much of it have you left? Was it not the shedding of blood that was the feature of Abel's sacrifice, which, because it foreshadowed the need of an atonement for sin, was preferred to that of Cain, in which there was no recognition of guilt or unworthiness? The lamb which God himself provided for a burnt offering in lieu of Abraham's intended sacrifice; the lamb slain, and the blood sprinkled on the door-posts of the Israelites in Egypt; the sacrificial offerings of the Mosaic Law; - were not all these but types, pointing to the great Sacrifice, and teaching the children of Israel their need for his atonement? But those who accept Christ as a great Teacher, and reject the doctrine of his atonement, are hardly consistent. It seems incredible how any one can accept the gospel narrative of Christ's own teaching, without believing that he taught that his death was a sacrifice. Just immediately after he entered on his ministry, he permitted John the Baptist to say of him, "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world." He himself said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." Such words plainly convey that not only would there be the power of a good example in the life of Christ, but that there would be a healing, saving power in his death when he was lifted up upon the cross. He speaks of laying down his life for the sheep; and when he instituted the Lord's Supper, he clearly indicated that his sufferings on the cross were to be the leading thought in that commemoration, and that those sufferings were endured on behalf of his people. "This is my body, broken for you;!" "This cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for the remission of sins." If men stumble at the cross, they stumble at the very threshold of the gospel. "Without the shedding of blood is no remission." If men find a difficulty in the cross, they find a difficulty in the most convincing evidence given to men of God's love for the world and of the desire of Jesus Christ for their salvation. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Instead of stumbling at it, let me cling to it, let me live under its power. "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us who are saved it is the power of God."
II. THERE ARE SOME THINGS IN THEMSELVES WHICH CAUSE MEN TO STUMBLE AT CHRIST.
1. Christ is a Stumbling-block to human pride. If we are to be saved by Jesus Christ, then we must confess ourselves to be guilty sinners, we must lay aside all trust in any merit of our own, all hope of heaven because of our own good works. This is a stumbling-block to many. Penances are no stumbling-block. Men will freely inflict on themselves fastings and bodily sufferings, to purchase for themselves, as they think, the pardon of their sins and the hope of heaven; but simply to accept the salvation provided by Jesus Christ - when they are asked to do this, they hesitate, they raise difficulties, they entertain doubts. God's way of salvation is too simple for many. If he would bid us do "some great thing" we would gladly do it. Here, again, is it not plain that such a cause of stumbling is unreasonable? If I will not take God's way of getting to heaven, how can I expect to get there by any other? And if there could be any other way, what necessity was there for God to give up his own Son to death for us all?
2. Christ is a Stumbling-block to human sins. Many would like to get to heaven, but they do not like to give up their sins. Many are inclined to ask, "May one be pardoned, and retain the offence?" How unreasonable to choose a few hours of sin and to destroy both body and soul, rather than to follow that Saviour whose service is perfect peace, and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore!
3. Christ is a Stumbling-block to human selfishness. Many who are not the slaves of grosser sins are nevertheless the slaves of worldliness and self. They fear that Christ's service would be too much of a restraint upon them. They know that they cannot serve God and mammon. Their conscience tells them that if they would be conformed to this world and imitate the customs and fashions of those around them, they must violate. the precepts and incur the displeasure of Christ. And so they make their choice, like Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. They are not prepared for the service of him who said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." But how great is the loss of those who for any of these reasons reject Christ! - C.H.I.
I. THE WORK OF CHRIST A DIVINE APPOINTMENT. "Behold, I lay in Zion" etc. There were hints and predictions of the gospel in nature, providence, and Jewish symbolism. And now that the purpose of grace has been clearly manifested, we can everywhere trace intimations corroborative of the significance of the Saviour's mission, though we might not without this key in our hands have discovered the opening of the locks. Much in the mystery of redemption transcends expectation. Who could have invented a narrative of such Divine condescension? And many things connected with the intercession of Christ recall the language of Leviticus, "I have given it you to make atonement for your souls." Christ is God's Gift to our fallen world. He came according to the flesh an Israelite; he came to Zion, and in the midst of his own people made his soul an offering for sin.
II. THIS WORK A STUMBLING-BLOCK TO SOME. The people in Zion could not understand how a Galilaean Prophet could become a Corner-stone of a nobler edifice than they had ever beheld. They had respect to the outward meanness of the Messiah, and could not comprehend his spiritual glory. They were unprepared for a system that secured righteousness, not by human merit and obedience to statutory and ceremonial regulations, but by faith in the Righteous One. A Messiah crucified was the reversal of every hope. And when the gospel was proclaimed to the Gentiles, multitudes could see in it naught to evoke their admiration or claim their intellectual homage. It humbles pride, makes severe demands upon our power of credence. The facts are extraordinary, and the doctrines based thereon run counter to many a deep-rooted, warmly cherished prejudice. And thus the preaching of Christ becomes "a savour of death."
III. A SURE FOUNDATION TO BELIEVERS. Three translations of the original word are found in the Authorized Version - "shall not make haste," "shall not be confounded" "shall not be ashamed." These terms all lay stress on the durableness of Christian hope. When the hail "sweeps away the refuges of lies," he that trusteth in the Lord shall find he has not believed in vain; his Ark survives the flood, his Tower withstands the assault of the foe. The consciousness of peace and satisfaction which the disciple of Christ enjoys must ultimately be accepted as the strongest weapon in the controversy, the plainest indication of the reconcilement of the natural and the supernatural. A foundation which bears unmoved the strain of a heavy superstructure cannot be treated as worthless. According to our position, then, as in the camp of Israel or of Egypt, will the Divine cloud minister light or darkness, succour or bewilderment. - S.R.A.