So it is not the children of the flesh who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as offspring.
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.
For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.etc. The apostle is supposed to be referring to his own infatuation during the time of his antagonism to Christ and Christianity, for the purpose of obliquely depicting, from the standpoint of his own experience, the lamentable condition of his countrymen, and of thus accounting for the overwhelming sorrow under which he was suffering. Others, without the mechanical parenthetical expedient, give substantially the same interpretation, "I was wishing, viz., at a former period, not now." But it is impossible that the apostle was speaking historically. The expression is a Greek idiom meaning, "I could pray or wish to God" — an idiom which grew out of the imperfect or incomplete tense, "I was praying." If it were wished to represent the act as completed some other tense would be required. Take another instance (Galatians 4:20). "I could wish (for reasons obvious enough, and if my ether engagements did not forbid) to be once more in the midst of you." Or (Acts 25:22) "Agrippa said to Festus, I also could wish to hear the man myself" (viz., if it were not, O Festus, trespassing too far on your indulgence). So in the case before us "I could wish to God to be vicariously an anathema for my kinsmen, if my conceptions of my duty on the one hand, and of God's wisdom and will on the other, would allow me to carry forth into completion such a desire and such a prayer. The apostle did not actually desire to be an anathema. He knew that such a desire would never be Divinely fulfilled, and hence he did not cherish it. A wise man keeps his desires under control. A pious man takes God's desires and purposes into account, and does not entertain any desire which he knows to be at variance with the Divine will, or with the arrangements that are dependent on the Divine will. Hence it is that the apostle does not say, "I desire," but only "I could desire." So far as he was concerned, he was ready for the self-sacrifice, provided it was legitimate, and could be efficacious. It would not, however, have been of avail, and hence the wish was never fully formed. The potential did not pass into the actual. It is true that the potential translation of the verb, though doubtless the only correct one under the circumstances, is nevertheless an imperfect reflection of the original "imperfect" tense. The tense is a time, not a potency; but it is a past tense incomplete. Hence the real idea of the word is "I was desiring." The desire rose up in the apostle's heart, and to a certain extent he allowed it, yet only to a certain extent, for a higher desire struck in and controlled it — the desire to be in perfect accord with God's desire and will. Hence it hung suspended, and remained imperfect. It was conditional, and the condition that would have brought it to maturity was never forthcoming. Thus the embryo desire was in reality but a potency. It may now be further noticed that the word means properly "I could pray." The word is so rendered in 2 Corinthians 13:7; James 5:16, and has really that meaning in 2 Corinthians 13:9 3John 2; Acts 27:29. In the last text they lifted up their desires to their gods and prayed for the break of day. The word only occurs elsewhere in Acts 26:29. "If I might venture to use the liberty of openly expressing the fulness of my feeling, I would audibly lift up my prayer to God." Hence our text is admirably expressed in our idiomatic "I could wish to God." It is impossible to believe that St. Paul ever presented such a prayer. The utmost stretch of conceivability extends no farther than this — that the apostle felt, time after time, the incompleted uprising of an impulse to pray that if it were compatible with all great interests, permission might be given him to be, by the sacrifice of his own happiness, the means of rescuing his infatuated countrymen from their doom. Such sacrifice he would gladly make, if it were among the moral possibilities.
(J. Morison, D.D.)Deuteronomy 21:23, of. Galatians 3:16), and the words "from Christ" may signify" after Christ," i.e., after His example (2 Timothy 1:3). The verse then would read thus: "I could be content, nay, I should rejoice to be made a sacrifice myself, as Christ has been before me, for my brethren."
(D. Waterland, D.D.)
I. IF HIS JEWISH KINSMEN COULD ONLY THEREBY BE SAVED, PAUL COULD HIMSELF SUBLIMELY CONSENT TO BE FINALLY DAMNED. Many have so understood him, and applauded the sentiment as the climax of the morally sublime, as exhibiting " a love stronger than death," because stronger than even hell. But is this a Christ-like love? When did Christ consent to be made a curse in a sense so vile, or incur a doom so final? For me to wish myself accursed from Christ for any end whatever, would be to wish not only doom, but sin. So far from glorifying God, it would but dishonour and contradict Him, for it would be to choose as a means of good what God brands as the very quintessence of evil.
II. A QUALIFIED AND SOFTENED SENSE THAT FALLS SHORT OF FINAL DOOM.
1. Some have taken the phrase, "accursed from Christ," to mean temporal death, in proof of which appeal is made to the prayer of Moses in Exodus 32:32. But Moses' expression for temporal death presents no parallelism whatever to the apostle's expression. Moreover, if Paul meant temporal death, what could he mean by "from Christ"? Temporal death, so far from separating the believer from Christ, cuts short all seeming separation. Anathema originally denoted the act of depositing gifts in temples, and also the votive offerings themselves. These were of course sacred and irrevocable. When the gift was a living creature, beast or man, the life was devoted in sacrifice. Hence "devoted " stands for "doomed." In the spiritual sphere the doom thus expressed was utter and final. As "anathema from Christ" the life, what less could it be? This we find to be its intensity of meaning in all the other places in which the word occurs in the New Testament (Acts 23. 14 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 1:8, 9). Thus the words "accursed from Christ" refuse to be softened down. Whatever final damnation may mean, all that they mean. Nor will it in the least help the matter to resort to the forms of Jewish excommunication, for in its milder form of expulsion from the synagogue, the phrase before us is far too strong, and is never once so employed: while in its direr form of thorough Jewish malediction, it embraced all the terrors of "eternal judgment."
2. Turn we now to the opening expression "I could wish." The tense in the original is the imperfect: and the explanation given is "I was wishing, only it was no use." But if Paul wished, in any degree and for any reason, to be "accursed from Christ," he wished what was wrong. If he wished, or professed to wish, an acknowledged impossibility, he simply trifled with his readers, and with his tragic theme. And if he did not really wish at all, then his words reduce themselves at best to a simple extravagance. That be far from our apostle (see ver. 1).
III. THE HISTORICAL INTERPRETATION REMAINS.
1. The tense used is the imperfect, and the most literal rendering would be, "I wished." In Galatians 1:13 the same tense occurs, and that, too, in an affirmation very parallel to the one before us. Had our translators rendered that imperfect tense there as they have done here we should have had, "I could persecute."
2. Again note that the word "myself" stands connected with the word "wished." "For I myself used to wish to be accursed from Christ." This makes it clear that he takes us back to his unconverted past. It is as if he had said, "I myself used to hurl those curses which you are now launching at the Nazarene. I, even I, once dared the doom you now defy, and it is because I once did so, and now see the terrible doom I incurred, that I feel such sorrow for my kinsmen."
3. But how Paul could be said to wish this dreadful anathema for his brethren's sake? Granting that the connection is the true one the answer would be, Paul did all this as a zealous Jew, devotedly attached to his nation, and thinking that he was doing them, as well as God, service by those dreadful maledictions. But the clause is clearly parenthetical. The sorrow, not the wish, is for his brethren.
4. But if the words "accursed from Christ" mean nothing less than final doom, how, even in his unconverted state, could Paul have wished that? The answer is that the Jewish anathema was double-edged. It might be launched directly at Jesus, and doubtless it often was by Paul amid his breathings of "threatening and slaughter." But it might also take the more indirect form of imprecating direst anathemas upon himself if he espoused the cause of the Nazarene.
5. But while recalling the past he cannot forget the present. To his unbelieving sense the anathemas at that past period meant one thing. To his now Christianised sense they are seen to have meant infinitely direr things than he then conceived. He now saw that the Nazarene was no false Messiah, but the true; hence the significant use of the article in the original, "accursed from the Christ." He wished, and willed, that rejection of Christ which leads to the curse of utter and irremediable woe.
1. Let the reckless dealer in common oaths beware. His lightly uttered blasphemies may have more momentum than he thinks. Your oaths may fasten on your soul a lasting curse.
2. Be not hasty in your conclusions. Paul once allowed himself to be borne away by the current. He had need to "save himself from that untoward generation." So have we from ours. We may have to breast the current that would else float us past Christ, and drift us to ruin.
3. See how remote Christianity is from Pharisaism. The Pharisees scowled on Jesus because He was the friend of sinners. They cared for no man's soul. Now, if we want a picture the very opposite of that, we may behold it here in Paul. But that same Paul was himself once a Pharisee. And lo! here he stands stripped of the last shred of his Pharisaic cloak, and dissolved in tender tears for the souls of his fellows!
4. We have here a splendid example of love to our deadly foes. This word "anathema" may remind us of what dire anathemas those very Jews pronounced over this same Paul (Acts 23. 14). And how does he repay them? By returning blessing. So well had he caught the spirit and conned the lesson of his Master (Matthew 5:44, 45).
5. We have also here a spirit-stirring example of love to souls as souls. It was the spiritual condition and prospects of his Jewish kinsmen that wrung his heart; but Gentiles drew forth this tender concern no less than Jews.
6. How solemn is human life! How tragic is human ruin! How saddening to reflect that such tragedies are hourly enacting themselves under all the sheet-lightning play of laughter and shallow merry-makings of the world! "Life is real, life is earnest."
7. How vitally indispensable is the gospel; for is it not implied in our apostle's statement that there is life only in Christ? Separation from Christ is here assumed to be separation from bliss, and to be identical with curse.
8. And how free is that gospel! No reprobating decree; else these tears of Paul, if tears of sympathy for men were tears of antipathy and even treachery in relation to God. The grace of God that hath appeared "brings salvation unto all men." It is brought to our very door. It is pressed upon us, but not forced. The issue rests with our own free will. Paul the persecutor acted out his "wish," or choice; and so with equal freedom did Paul the preacher (Deuteronomy 30:19, 20).
(J. Guthrie, M.A.)cherem, which had for its radical import the idea of severance. Whatever was by Divine arrangement utterly "cut off" from any man's enjoyment was cherem to that man. God reserved its use. It was His cherem. If it were a thing that still continued fit for human use, God might assign it to His peculiar servants for their benefit (Leviticus 27:21; Numbers 18:14; Ezekiel 44:29), or if that were not desirable He might put it entirely out of the way, or doom it to destruction (1 Kings 20:42). Such devotement to destruction is often desirable in a world such as ours, so polluted, perverted, abused. There are things which cannot be turned to better account than to be utterly destroyed. There are moral nuisances which can only be swept away by "the besom of destruction." Among these moral nuisances are morally leprous and festering men, who "will not" be healed of their contagious sores. These and their infected rookeries must be swept away. The sooner the better for society at large. God will be glorified in the work of destruction. Hence "anathema," which at first meant something valuable devoted to a god, came, when applied within the sphere of the moral government of the living and true God, to denote objects which had become irreclaimably corrupt, and which consequently He wisely doomed to be destroyed. The apostle disintegrating one particular line of Hebrew thought from amid the complexity of ideas that were woven around the word felt at times that, if the ethical element were eliminated from the case, he could submit to be himself destroyed, even from "the presence of his Lord," if thereby his kinsmen could be constituted heirs of everlasting life and bliss. The destruction of which he thought was thus the annihilation, not of his being, but of substantial elements and factors of well-being.
(J. Morison, D.D.)etc., should be able to "separate him from the love of God which is in Christ." The inventory of possible separating forces is comprehensive enough, but it is not exhaustive. The apostle omitted one potentiality which, alas! is constantly separating men from the love of Christ — self. The citadel which can resist any combination of external adversaries may fall through the voluntary act of the garrison within. The gate which cannot be battered down can be opened. Men cannot be driven from Christ, but they can "go away." But in his rush of inspired feeling St. Paul would not entertain the thought of himself as withdrawing from the love of Christ, and naturally so. He knew himself too well to admit for one moment the likelihood of a guilty abandonment of One who was his "life." There was no possibility of spiritual murder, nor probability of spiritual suicide. But the rush of feeling over he now in cool thought recollects that separation from Christ and His love was not only conceivable and possible, but, in certain circumstances, even desirable; and not from a sinfully selfish motive, but for one Divinely philanthropic. His "heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved" (Romans 10:1). How much depended upon the gratification of that desire in relation to the Jews themselves, to the kingdom of Christ, and Christ Himself, he goes on to show. How was this devoutly wished for consummation to be reached? He had used every means within his power, and had sacrificed every interest but one — his interest in Christ. Could the salvation of his countrymen be accomplished by the sacrifice of this? Would a self-devotion paralleled only by that which extorted the "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" suffice? If so he asked to drink of the same cup, and be baptized with the same baptism — knowing, unlike the sons of Zebedee, what he asked. To secure the world's redemption the Master did not shrink from the Divine abandonment; to secure the effectual application of that redemption to his kinsmen the servant would not shrink from the abandonment of his Master. The greatness of the issue overshadowed the magnirude of the personal sacrifice. Let us ponder —
I. THE WONDERFUL WISH. What did it mean?
1. Dismissal from the work of Christ. This was the apostle's joy, and not all the persecutions of this world nor all the allurements of the next could tempt him even to wish that he could abandon it. Yet anathema from Christ meant dismissal after all he had accomplished, and prohibition against attempting any more. The labourer was willing to set aside that another might continue and reap the fruits of his labour; the warrior was willing to resign the weapons of the warfare and the laurels of the victory to other hands.
2. Alienation from the friendship of Christ. What the friendship of Christ was to the apostle may be gathered from what he gave to win it, what he did to cherish it, his own testimony to its surpassing worth and the recorded instances of its tenderness and power. This was the effectual consolation of the lonely man in the strange city, in the presence of raging mobs amidst the perils of shipwreck, and at last in the Roman dungeon. Measure then what it must have been for Paul to perfect it. Dissolution of union with Christ. Review his own illustrations of what this oneness was: that between head and body, husband and wife, tree and branches, foundation and building, etc. Christ and Paul were one in life, one in mind, one in heart. Yet Paul was willing to be anathema from all this.
4. Eternal abandomnent by Christ. Life would have been unendurable but for Christ, yet Paul did not shrink from the prospect of eternity without Him.
II. The wonderful WISH VIEWED IN THE LIGHT OF ITS ULTIMATE PURPOSE. Many have become anathema from Christ, abandoned His work, renounced His friendship, sundered the union between them and gone away into everlasting destruction from His presence, for the lowest and most selfish motives. The labour has been felt to be too hard, the friendship too exacting, the union so self-crucifying, and the heaven so holy and so far away. Or association with Christ has barred the way of pleasure, riches, advancement, and renown. In Paul's case self was absolutely annihilated. Christ was all to him, he was willing to renounce that all if by that means others might have it. He was only one, his kindred were many. He was content that he, the unit, should be sacrificed so that the multitude might be blessed. His wish in this view of it was —
1. That his beloved work in other hands might be more successful. Hitherto he had only aroused the hatred of his kinsmen to his Lord. He wished, therefore, to stand aside if another agency could win their love.
2. That by his exclusion from it the circle of Christ's friends might be indefinitely enlarged. If mere prejudice against himself were keeping his brethren away, he would gladly forego all the blessed privileges connected with Christ's companionship, if his brethren would only come and accept them instead. He would, if possible, view with gratitude from a distance the unceasing spread of Christ's influence, and the constantly augmenting number of Christ's friends.
3. That the whole race of which he was but a solitary member might become one with Christ at his expense. He saw what this would mean for the world. A Christianised Judaism as a moral force would be irresistible. He, then, would not stand in the way of this.
4. That heaven might be now richly peopled by his exclusion. The thought of the great body of his kinsmen anathema from Christ for ever was so terrible that, if lawful, he would renounce his heavenly hopes that they, instead of himself, might be for ever with the Lord. Conclusion:
1. The wish marks the advance of Christianity beyond all the world's conceptions of philanthropy. Many sublime sacrifices had been made, but where is the record of such a wish as this? Read it in the light of Romans 5:7, 8.
2. The wish could not be gratified. Paul could have devoted himself without sin; but Christ could not have consented. Even such an end could not justify such a means. Christ loves the world, but He loves the individual, and such an individual as Paul could not be sacrificed for the world without the sacrifice of Christ's own love and equity as well.
3. The carrying out of the wish is unthinkable. Anathema from Christ from such a motive would necessarily bind more closely to Him. The means of repulsion are the very means of attraction. Paul's wish is the very spirit of Christ; and for Christ to have allowed it would have been for Christ to deny Himself.
(J. W. Burn.)I. ITS STRONG SUBSTITUTIONARY CRAVING. Paul wishes here to suffer for the sake of his brethren. All love is in a sense substitutionary. It suffers for others. The more love a being has in a world of suffering, the more vicarious agony he must endure. Love loads us with the infirmities and sorrows of all around. Christ came here with an infinite love for the whole world; and by an eternal law of sympathy He suffered for the world. But there is, moreover, a craving in love to suffer instead of its object. Does not the mother desire to suffer instead of the babe that lies on the bed of anguish? Substitution of this kind is the law of love.
II. ITS SELF-SACRIFICING POWER. The apostle not only desired to suffer instead of his brethren, but to suffer the greatest evil, to sacrifice his all for them. He desired to be anathema from Christ. What does this involve? "Terrible enough," says Dean Plumptre, "would have been that word 'anathema'" if it had brought with it only the thoughts which a Jewish reader would have associated with it. To come under all the curses, dark and dread, which were written in the book of the law; to be cursed in waking and sleeping, going out and coming in, in buying and selling, in the city and in the field; to be shunned, hated as a Samaritan was hated, shut out from fellowship with all human society that had been most prized, from all kindly greeting of friends and neighbours. This was what he would have connected with the words as their least and lowest meaning. The Christian reader, possibly the Jewish also, would have gone yet further. The apostle's own words would have taught him to see more. To be 'delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh'; to come under sharp pain of body, supernaturally inflicted, and to feel that that excruciating agony or loathsome plague was the deserved chastisement of a sin against truth and light, and to be shut out from all visible fellowship with the body of Christ, and therefore from all communication with Christ Himself; to be as in the outer darkness while the guests were feasting in the illumined chamber, here too to be shunned by those who had been friends and brothers. This would have been the Christian's thoughts as to excommunication in the apostolic age. But beyond all this the apostle found a deeper gulf and a more terrible sentence. To be anathema from Christ, cut off for ever from that eternal life which he had known as the truest and highest blessed-ness, sentenced for ever to that outer darkness, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, this was what he prayed for if it might have for its result "the salvation of his brethren." Gospel love involves self-abnegation. Self sinks as love rises. Christ is the highest example. He loved us, and He gave Himself for us. Here is the cause and the effect. Love is the high priest of the soul; it offers the whole self.
III. ITS SOUL-SAVING AIM. Why did Paul wish to sacrifice himself? What was the grand object he had in view? The spiritual salvation of his countrymen. The vicarious love of the gospel endures and craves sufferings, not merely or mainly to serve men materially and temporarily, but chiefly spiritually and eternally; to save their souls. It counts no perils too great, no sufferings too distressing, no sacrifices too exacting, in order to redeem immortal spirits from ignorance, selfishness, worldliness, guilt, misery, hell.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
"Heaven is not heaven to one alone;
Save thou one soul, and thou mayest save thine own."
(Mrs. E. Campagnac.)
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