Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.…
The apostle's heart yearns for his people. For he recognizes their sincerity in much of their grievous mistaking of the ways of God. They had zeal for God, though the zeal was unreasonable and irreligious. Unreasonable; for how can man make himself just before God, guilty and sinful as he is? and why should the Jew think that, if this were possible, only one small portion of the race should be suffered to work out its righteousness? Irreligious; for instead of the humility as regards one's self, and the charity as regards others, which are two essentials of the life in God, there was a proud self-assertiveness, and a narrow bigotry. They must learn that God's favour is by grace (vers. 5-11), and for all (vers. 12-21). We have here-the freeness of salvation.
I. THE ERROR OF THE JEWS.
1. Ignorance. "Of God's righteousness." That is, of the fact that the justification of a sinner can only come of God's free grace. Surely their Law might have taught them this: negatively, for it should have made them realize their own utter imperfectness and impotence; positively, for had they not read (Genesis 15:6) that Abraham was counted righteous through faith in God? and (Habakkuk 2:4) that all just ones shall live by faith?
2. Self-sufficiency. "Seeking to establish their own." That is (see Godet), as a monument, raised, not to God's glory, but to show forth their own achievements. Here was the pride of man, which must be brought down before any way can be made towards God (Matthew 5:3).
3. Disobedience. "Did not subject themselves." For the very faith whereby we receive God's free forgiveness is an act of submission, an abnegating of our false pride, a yielding to a way which is higher and better than our own (see Romans 1:5; Romans 6:17).
4. Frustration of the very purport of their own Law. "For Christ is the End of the Law." All was designed to lead to him; the holy commands were to make them know their guilt and weakness, and crave for pardon and grace; the sacrifices and ceremonies were at once to stamp the fact of sin more deeply into their consciousness, and to give them a glimmering hope of propitiation and purifying. To Christ all these things directly and indirectly tended; but the veil was on their eyes, that they "should not look steadfastly on the end of that which was passing away" (2 Corinthians 3:13).
II. THE TRUTH OF GOD.
1. "The righteousness which is of the Law was, that it should be done by man's efforts, conjoined with the grace of God. For, according to God's intent, grace was with the giving of the Law: pardon, for realized imperfection; help, for realized frailty; the coming of Christ, as the end of all its precepts and ceremonial. But if man would ignore this element of grace, there was nothing for him but a perfect fulfilling of an impossible righteousness! Doing it, he should live by it. They tried; the world has tried: the end thereof is death!
2. The righteousness which is of faith hath taught us better things.
(1) Not the severe effort of the soul, by ecstatic contemplation, to attain to communion with Heaven: the Buddhist, the Christian mystic. For Heaven has come down to earth; we have but to confess the Sonship of Jesus, and live a life in him who has hallowed all life. (Consider the Incarnation, and the gift of the Spirit, as illustrating the Word is nigh thee.") So, "the trivial round," etc.
(2) Not the painful anguish of the soul, as by a crucifixion, to make atonement for its guilt: the devotee, the ascetic. For the atonement is made, and, to testify its completeness, he has risen from the dead. We have but to believe this in our heart, and then, "there is now no condemnation." Yes, the faith which works by love: accepting with all our heart the free forgiveness which is through Christ's death, and acknowledging him with our whole life as our true Lord and King. So no shame, but perfect liberty and perfect love. - T.F.L.
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.