Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.…
I. THE ISRAELITES HAD ONE GOOD QUALITY while they wanted another, AND THE APOSTLE MAKES THEIR POSSESSION OF THIS THE REASON OF HIS PRAYER — "For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God." One would think that, if they wanted both, they would stand in greater need of his prayers; and the mystery is, how their having something good should be the moving cause why Paul should pray for their salvation, an intimation that if they had not been in the possession at least of this he would not have prayed for them.
1. The explanation is this. It is only the prayer of faith that availeth, and in proportion as this faith is staggered or weakened prayer loses its efficacy — e.g., you have not the same heart in praying for some unlikelihood as in praying for what is agreeable to the will of God. You cannot pray so hopefully for a confirmed reprobate as for a man in whom you perceive some lurking remainders of good. Paul was not yet discouraged about the Jews. He still observed one good point, even that very zeal which once actuated himself. And so he still could hope and pray for them.
2. From such an argument there may be constructed a powerful appeal to arrest the headlong way of that moral desperado, who, hastening on from one enormity to another, is fast losing all the delicacies of conscience, and whom the Spirit, tired and provoked by stubborn resistance, is on the eve perhaps of abandoning. Know, then, that your friends behold the progress of this impenitency, and supplicate Heaven on your account. But the time may arrive when your impiety shall look so desperate that to supplicate in faith is beyond them. And is it not time to retrace your footsteps, unknowing as you are how soon the very parents who gave yea birth may weep but cannot pray for you!
II. That must have been a valuable property, in virtue of which the Jews could still be prayed for. But THAT MUST HAVE BEEN A MOST IMPORTANT PROPERTY FROM THE WANT OF WHICH THEY EVENTUALLY PERISHED. Had they added knowledge to their zeal they would still have remained the favourites of Heaven.
1. From their actual history we may learn what a serious want this is. That day of their visitation, in the prospect of which our Saviour shed tears, came upon them just because they "knew not the things which belonged to their peace." It is true that the extermination came upon them because they had killed the Prince of Life. But it was, as Peter and John testify, through ignorance that they did it, and had they known, Paul says, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. Let us not, then, underrate the importance of knowledge in religion, nor be under the imagination that ignorance is not a responsible or not a punishable offence.
2. But in addition to the historical proofs of the importance of religious knowledge, there is abundance of still more direct proof. The knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ is said to be eternal life, and many are said to perish for lack of knowledge. Christ shall come "to take vengeance on those that know not God." Knowledge and ignorance in fact are dealt with, even as righteousness and sin are dealt with.
3. Now the question is, ought this in moral fairness to be? The difficulty is to conceive on what ground the views of the understanding should be made the subjects of reckoning. Man is held to be responsible for his doings, which he can help; but not for his doctrines, which they say he cannot help. But we affirm that his belief in certain circumstances (and Christianity is in these circumstances) is that which he can help. It is by an act of the will that you set yourself to the acquisition of knowledge. It is by a continued act of the will that you continue a prolonged examination into the grounds of an opinion. It is at the bidding of the will, not that you believe without evidence, but that you investigate the evidence on which you might believe. It is in no way your fault that you do not see when it is dark. But it is in every way your fault that you do not look when either the light of heaven or of heaven's revelation is around you. It is thus that the will has virtually to do with the ultimate belief, just because it has to do with the various steps of that process which goes before it. Where there is candour, which is a moral property, the due attention will be given; when there is the opposite of candour — moral unfairness — the due attention will be refused, and the man will be landed in the state of being wrong intellectually, but just because he is wrong morally.
4. You find a most impressive exemplification of this in the history of those very Jews. During the whole of our Saviour's ministry upon earth they were plied with evidences which, if they had but attended to, would have carried their belief in the validity of His claims. But the belief was painful to them, and at all hazards they resolved to bar the avenues of their minds against the admittance of it. Theirs was not the darkness of men whom no light had visited, but of men who obstinately shut their eyes.
5. And this for our admonition. In this our day the want of faith is still due to the want of a thorough moral earnestness.
(T. Chalmers, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.