Not as though the word of God has taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:…
We have seen St. Paul as a Christian patriot ready to sacrifice his everlasting fellowship with Christ if it could ensure the salvation of his fellow-countrymen. But, alas! the fact of the rejection of Jesus and his gospel by many of the Jews must be accepted. And when the apostle turns to history, he finds that there has been no wholesale salvation of either the descendants of Abraham or of Israel, but a certain proportion only became children of promise. How can these facts be dealt with under the Divine government? It is to this the apostle devotes himself in the present passage.
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: