Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.…
St. Paul was not more distinguished as a saint and an apostle than as a patriot. His patriotism had a philosophy which discovered the cause of his country's evils, and a policy exquisitely fitted to remove them. Without ignoring its temporal interests, his main endeavour was to raise its benighted intellect to light, and turn the current of its moral sympathies into the channel of truth and holiness. It was not an occasional sentiment passing off in chanting national airs or delivering florid speeches; it was with him a "heart's desire and prayer to God." It was consistent with, and a development of, true philanthropy. The passion that inspires men to ruin other countries in order to aggrandise their own, has no affinity with the apostle's passion. The statesmen, warriors, kings, who violate the eternal rights of man, bring a ruinous retribution upon their country. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." The apostle's patriotism —
I. SOUGHT THE HIGHEST GOOD OF HIS COUNTRY. What was that? Augmented wealth, extended dominion, a higher state of intellectual culture? No, salvation. Salvation is the master-theme of the Bible, the great want of the race. It implies deliverance from all evil, and a right state of soul in which every thought shall be true, every emotion felicitous, every act holy, and every scene gleaming with the smiles of an approving God. This "heart's desire" implies a conviction —
1. That his countrymen needed salvation. Their physical blessings were great; his brethren "according to the flesh" lived in a beautiful country. "It was a land flowing with milk and honey." His countrymen had also the oracles of God, etc. Yet in spite of all this the apostle regarded his brethren as lost. He looked into the moral heart of his country, and he found that the soul was dead and dark under sin and condemnation; hence he sought their salvation. Whatever else a country has, if it has not true religion it is lost. This is its great want. Give it this, and every other good will come. All political and social evils grow out of moral causes, and godliness alone can remove these. It is profitable therefore unto all things.
2. A conviction that the salvation of his countrymen requires the interposition of God. Why else did he pray? The apostle believed in the adaptation of the gospel to effect the spiritual restoration of mankind. His triumphs he ever gratefully ascribed to the agency of God, and the co-operation of that agency was the grand invocation of his most earnest prayers. "I have planted, Apollos watered," etc. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord."
3. A conviction that this interposition of God is to be obtained by intercessory prayer. Hence he prays for others; hence he calls for others to pray for him and his apostolic coadjutors. I know not how prayer influences the Almighty, nor why it should; but I know that it does, and that it must be employed if human labour in His cause is ever to be crowned with efficiency. The true patriot is a man of prayer. Never did David act more truly a patriot's part than when he breathed this prayer to heaven: — "Let the people praise Thee, O God," etc.
II. RECOGNISED THE CHARACTERISTIC EVILS OF HIS COUNTRY.
1. Corrupt zealotism (ver. 2). He himself had been a Jewish zealot, and was therefore qualified to pronounce a judgment upon it. Zeal is an important element in every undertaking. There is not much success where it is not. But when it is dissociated from intelligence it is fraught with evils. Zeal when directed to wrong objects, when directed to right objects in wrong proportions, and when it cannot assign an intelligent reason for its action, is "zeal without knowledge." This zeal was one of the cardinal evils amongst the Jews. Knowledge and zeal should always be associated. The former without the latter is a well-equipped vessel on a placid sea without the propulsion of steam, billow, or breeze. The latter without the former is like a bark on the billows with propulsion and no rudder. Both combined is like a goodly ship trading from port to port at will, steering clear of dangers, coping gallantly with hostile elements, and fulfilling the mission of its masters.
2. Ignorance of Christianity (ver. 3). By "God's righteousness," here, we understand not His personal rectitude, but that merciful method by which He makes corrupt men right (Romans 8:2, 3). Of this method the Jews were "ignorant." Men perish for the lack of this knowledge. In the case of the Jew it was not only ruinous, but culpable. They had the means of knowledge.
3. Self-righteousness (ver. 2). They considered their own righteousness to consist in their patriarchal descent, and their conformity to the letter of the law. In this they gloried as that which distinguished them from all the nations of the earth, and which met the righteous claims of Heaven. The apostle himself once felt this to be his glory (Philippians 3.). The Pharisee in the temple was a type of the leading religious sect, and his language is expressive of its spirit.
4. Gospel rejection. "Have not submitted," etc. This is the grand result of all other evils, and the crowning sin of all. They refused the only Physician who could heal their diseases; the only Liberator that could break their fetters, the only Priest whose sacrifice could atone for their guilt. Such are some of the evils which Paul as a patriot discovered and deplored in his country. He is no patriot who shuts his eyes to his country's crimes, and pours into her ears the most fulsome eulogies. Call not this patriotism; call it moral obliquity.
III. PROPOSED THE RIGHT METHOD FOR SAVING HIS COUNTRY (ver. 4). Note —
1. That righteousness is essential to the well-being of the people. There is no true happiness without righteousness. All the social, political, religious, moral evils under which all men and nations groan, spring from the want of righteousness. As no individual can be happy until he has been made thoroughly right in heart, so no people or country can. This rectitude is the only element that can work off all the evils that afflict mankind, and give them the tone and blessedness of a vigorous health. This is the only key-note that can set the discordant elements of the world to music. The righteousness which is essential to the salvation of a soul, is that which alone "exalteth a nation."
2. That the grand aim of the moral law is to promote righteousness. Righteousness is the end of the law. The law was holy, just, and good. Conformity to it is righteousness in the creature (ver. 5).
3. That the righteousness which the law aimed to promote is to be obtained by faith in Christ (ver. 4). Christ did not abolish law, on the contrary He fulfilled it. He wrought out its principles in a grand life; He demonstrated its majesty in a wonderful death. Instead of releasing His disciples from obligation to the law, He brings the law to them with a mightier aspect and a greater force of motive. And the apostle's method of making the sinner righteous is by faith in Christ.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.