The theme of the book of Romans thus
far has been the system of faith by which man can be saved. The need of
salvation has been adequately presented by showing how neither the Jew
nor the Gentile could obtain salvation through previous systems under which
they had lived. They had lived under different kinds of laws of works;
the Jew under a written law of works given by God at Sinai through Moses,
and the Gentile under a law of works, a moral law, written on their consciences,
and, to some degree, of their own making. The result was that the Jews
had failed to live perfectly under the law of Moses (and nobody could),
while the Gentiles had simply degenerated into conduct and situations of
the most abominable nature. Only by the gospel could man be saved. Spiritual
life was to belong to man only in the system of obedient faith which had
its merit in the blood of Christ, graciously given by God. This system,
therefore, because all men need salvation, was universally offered to Gentile
and Jew alike; that is, on the same terms. Such had always been God’s intention
and design since before the foundation of the world.
The Jews had been God’s chosen people
for a special purpose. It was through them the promises made to Abraham
were fulfilled. The greatest of these promises was the blessing for all
men through Christ. The chosen people now are those who come to God by
the gospel system or scheme. Men are saved by “the righteousness of God,”
or the plan devised and designed by the Lord Himself rather than some other
way. The way of salvation now operative is similar in principle to the
way Abraham was justified. Paul at this point in the epistle has adequately
discussed peace with God, spiritual life, and release from the wages of
sin that belong to children of God who have become His children through
the system of obedient faith that the book of Romans presents.
By the guidance of the Holy Spirit,
Paul concerns us with the condition of the Jews since most (though not
all) had rejected the system of Christ. In discussing the Jews, and God’s
use of them, he also discusses others whom God has used to bring about
the system of faith by which man is saved.
1 I say
the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in
the Holy Ghost, 2 That I have great heaviness and continual
sorrow in my heart. 3 For I could wish that myself were accursed
from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:
4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and
the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the
promises; 5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning
the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.
Paul opens his remarks with strong terms
insisting that the message he bears is truth, not only stemming from the
Holy Spirit’s use of Paul’s experiences, but because of additional revelation
from the Holy Spirit Himself. Paul carried in his heart grace concern,
even sorrow, over the spiritual condition of the Jews. So great was this
sorrow that he was personally willing to be lost if that would have accomplished
the salvation of his fellow-countrymen in the flesh. He does not for a
moment suggest that such would be possible, but it is an expression of
a willingness at self-sacrifice, and the extent of his concern as Israelites.
In other words, he realizes that the Israelites had formerly enjoyed a
special relationship with God, and were God’s chosen people, even though
they were chosen for a specific and limited purpose, and not chosen because
of their own merit. Fleshly Israel had obtained adoption, and had been
glorified as children of God, and enjoyed His care. They were the ones
with whom God had made covenants. To them God had given a law. They had
been in God’s service, and they and their fathers were the ones to whom
and through whom God’s promises were offered. Israel in the flesh was the
very nation to which Jesus Himself belonged. (The mention of Christ being
“over all” proclaims His preeminence.) Of all people who had advantages,
and should have recognized Christ, and enjoyed salvation by the system
of God devised through Christ, the Israelites were that people. About eight
special advantages they had are listed here: adoption, glory, covenants,
law, service, promises, the heritage of their fathers, and Christ.
6 Not as though the
word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which
are of Israel: 7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham,
are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the
children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.
9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah
shall have a son.
Even with special advantages, the Israelites
had not accepted God’s plan. Indeed, they had rejected the very One, Jesus
Christ, who was the executor of the plan. Earlier in this epistle, chapter
three and verse three, Paul took note of that rejection. But even with
that rejection, the plan God devised through the Jews was not made void.
(It is well to refer to comments made on chapter three about the rejection
by the Jews of Christ, and how it made no material effect whatever upon
the overall plan of salvation that God developed and delivered.) While
the Jewish rejection of God’s system did not nullify, nor invalidate the
system, it did mean that those who were of fleshly Israel, formerly God’s
chosen people, were not God’s chosen people any longer. The phrase, “For
they are not all Israel which are of Israel,” means that those who are
of fleshly Israel no longer possess a special relationship to God by virtue
of their physical birth. Just being a descendant of Abraham did not mean
they were approved of God, nor were they of the spiritually chosen Israel.
Those who were of spiritual Israel were those who were children of promise;
that is, those who had become spiritual children of God because God had
kept His promises made unto Abraham about blessing all nations through
his seed, who is Christ. Therefore, salvation is based upon a person’s
response to God’s system of salvation through Christ, and not upon one’s
physical relationship with Abraham. On that relationship with Abraham is
what the Jews, heretofore, had relied in order to be considered favorable
before God. (Study Galatians 3:28, 29 with verses seven and eight.)
To show from the record that such
was the case, Paul cites the statements concerning the birth of Isaac,
the child of promise. As Isaac was a child of promise, people can be spiritual
children of God by the promise which is fulfilled by, in, and through Christ.
We also learn that God decided to
use Issac, the child of promise, as the descendant of Abraham through whom
the Messiah would come rather than some other descendant of Abraham, such
as Ishmael, or one born unto Abraham through Keturah, whom he married after
10 And not only
this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;
11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any
good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand,
not of works, but of him that calleth;) 12 It was said unto
her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13 As it is written,
Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
To further show that one is a child of
God through the system involved in the promise made, Paul notes how God
decided that it would be through Jacob, rather than Esau, that the system
would come into reality. Even before the time the twins, Esau and Jacob,
were born, God had predetermined which one He would use for this purpose.
This was done in spite of the fact that Esau was the eldest of the two.
Of course, considering the nature of the two men, even with all the flaws
of character that are often obvious in the life of Jacob, it is evident
that God chose the better one for the linage through whom the Savior would
come. Because one proved better than the other, the statement of verse
thirteen is made that Jacob was loved and Esau hated. The significance
is that Jacob allowed himself, in spite of early failings in youthful life,
to be used, and God loved him for it, while Esau was of such a nature that
he brought the wrath of God against himself.
We would make a mistake to conclude
that God had determined to love one and hate the other even before they
were born. He did predetermine to use one rather than the other before
they were born. Also, it would be a mistake to conclude that God made each
of these men the way they proved themselves to be. God did not force one
to be better than the other, or force one to be worse than the other. The
choice was still their own as to how they would order their lives. The
truth being presented here is that God used one rather than the other.
He predetermined to do so. The foreknowledge of God regarding the nature
of the two could well have been what motivated God’s attitude toward each,
and determined His choice of Jacob. This paragraph shows how God used people
of many natures and situations to bring His plan into reality. But the
main point for us is that the system, as well as its gradual revelation,
14 What shall
we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but
of God that showeth mercy.
This seems to be an answer to an anticipated
objection to the way God operated in producing the system of faith by using
various and sundry people in a variety of ways. Paul states that the way
God used people was in no sense unrighteous. Once again in this book we
find Paul using the very emphatic term, “God forbid,” to deny any unrighteousness
on the part of God. Rather than God being unrighteous, the methods and
means God used were merely the demonstration of His divine right as God.
It was as had been stated to Moses in Exodus 33:19, “I will have mercy
on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have
This does not say God deliberately
or arbitrarily withheld mercy and compassion from anyone, nor does He now.
Rather it asserts that God has the power, and the right, to determine and
decide what must be done, how it is to be done, and through whom He will
accomplish His purposes. This does not say God forces anyone against his
will to do anything. Rather it asserts that God uses the will and actions
of men to accomplish what He wants done. Man is not the one who determined
these things one way or the other. Man is not the one who holds the power
of decision regarding the actions of God. Man should not attempt to criticize
God for the way God uses divine wisdom. The One who “calls the plays,”
so to speak, is God, and He alone has that right. This passage is a powerful
assertion of the right of God to act as God without objection from any
17 For the scripture
saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that
I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout
all the earth. 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have
mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
Another example of the use of God’s power
and His use of men was God’s use of Pharoah. You are encouraged to go back
to the Old Testament into the events recorded in Exodus and see how God
used Pharoah in bringing deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Often
the Scriptures speak of the hardening of Pharoah’s heart. It is said that
God hardened his heart. It is also stated that Pharoah hardened his own
heart (Exodus 7:3; 8:15).
The way God hardened the heart of
Pharoah was by giving Pharoah a command that Pharoah chose not to obey;
namely, allow Israel to go free. This was the role of God in hardening
Pharoah’s heart. God did not directly, nor against Pharoah’s will, harden
Pharoah’s heart. The only thing one reads of God’s actions is that He sent
to Pharoah through Moses His word of instruction. Pharoah chose to remain
stubborn and resistant to submission to the Word of the Lord. God used
Pharoah’s disposition of disobedience to display and manifest God’s own
power. The events that transpired became widely known among all nations
then and now, yet to the glory of the power of God. But God did not force
Pharoah to respond or react the way Pharoah did. This was Pharoah’s own
choice. God took advantage of that situation, overcame the obstacle that
Pharoah placed before the plan of God, and showed that man cannot thwart
the will of the Lord.
So once again, Paul shows by Abraham,
Isaac, Jacob, and Pharoah that God is the One “calling the plays.” Paul
repeats the teaching of verse fifteen in verse eighteen.
19 Thou wilt say
then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing
formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one
vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? 22 What if
God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with
much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels
of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 24 Even us,
whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Again Paul seems to anticipate some
objection some might raise against the way God has done things, and Paul
answers the question, “If these people who were wicked were used to accomplish
the overall purpose of God, why are they faulted for what they did? Who
could resist the will of God?”
Before answering directly as he does
later, Paul reminds man that man does not assume a proper stance to question
what God has done. “Who art thou that repliest against God?” Man
is never so out of line than when he brings into question, or raises objection,
against God’s actions. So many times when men do not understand why God
has done thus and so, before they will accept what God has done they feel
they have a right to subject God to an inquisition, and force from God
a kind of explanation for His actions that will satisfy them. To use the
words of Paul, “God forbid!” Paul shows the indiscretion of such a thing
by saying, “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast
thou made me thus?” He is quoting from Isaiah 45:9. The thing formed is
of such a lesser position than that which did the forming that it is totally
out of line for such a thing as that to occur. As the potter has power
over the clay that he uses, so God has the right and power to use men as
He sees fit. It is as much out of place for the thing formed to question
the one who forms (for the clay to question the potter), as for man to
We must be cautious lest we be tempted
to draw the analogy of the potter and clay beyond legitimate realms. The
potter does, indeed, have power over the clay to use it to make whatever
he may choose without consultation with the clay. Like so, God has the
power to use man without having to consult man’s will or wishes in the
matter. But again, the potter is somewhat limited by the clay depending
upon the quality of the clay. Some clay is more suitable for one use than
for another. God is somewhat limited in His use of man depending upon the
quality of man. We must ever keep before us the fact that God did not,
and still does not, force man to be bad or good. God made man a creature
of choice with the power to exercise that choice. But God often used good
men and evil men according to their choices to accomplish His purposes.
Having shown, now, that man has not the right to question God, Paul proceeds
to give answer to the question raised. He is leading to the explanation
of the use of the Jews as well as others.
While the matter being taught is presented
in question form in verses twenty-two through twenty-four, we can state
it in a declarative way. God, willing to show His power and wrath against
that which is evil, endured many things from many people that really deserved
destruction because they had fitted themselves for destruction. He did
this so that His riches of glory might be manifested on those who would
partake of His mercy. These who became vessels of mercy had been predetermined.
God had determined who would and would not be a vessel of mercy; that is,
who would or would not be the recipient of God’s mercy. This is not to
say that God had determined which specific individuals would be recipients
of His mercy, but He had determined what class of people would be the vessels
through which His mercy would be carried to the world, and what class of
people upon which His mercy would be realized.
It was the function of the Jew to
be the one through whom the mercy of God through the Messiah would be made
known. Furthermore, those who became the recipients of the mercy of God
included all those whom God called, whether Jew or Gentile.
God calls men now through the gospel
being preached to them (Second Thessalonians 2:14). This implies that men
must respond favorably to the call of the gospel by rendering obedience
to that which the gospel commands. Both Jews and Gentiles, men of every
nation, were the vessels of mercy on whom God had shown the riches of His
glory. Indeed, God had used many people in many circumstances in the gradual
unfolding and presentation of the system of faith, the scheme of redemption,
the system of salvation, but it was intended for the benefit of men of
every tribe and tongue. The few that were used to bring the system of salvation
to reality were used for the benefit of people everywhere. Paul now turns
to show from prophetic statements that such had always been God’s intent
to use the Jews and others for the benefit of all men.
25 As he saith also
in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her
beloved, which was not beloved. 26 And it shall come to pass,
that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there
shall they be called the children of the living God. 27 Esaias
also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel
be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: 28 For
he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short
work will the Lord make upon the earth. 29 And as Esaias said
before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma,
and been made like unto Gomorrha.
Paul refers to two prophecies by Hosea,
and two by Isaiah, concerning the Gentiles and the Jews. Keep in mind that
Paul had under consideration the spiritual condition of the Jews, primarily,
from the first of the chapter, and the use of them and others in bringing
the fulfillment and completion of the system of salvation. He had shown
that salvation was not for Jews only, but also for Gentiles, in verse twenty-four.
As for the Gentiles, Hosea had spoken of the will of the Lord, and His
intent that the Gentiles, “those which were not my people,” would be among
those to be called. If salvation had not been extended to Gentiles as well
as Jews, this prophecy would have been proven false. As for the Jews, Isaiah
had remarked that many of the Jews would be lost, but a remnant would be
spared. This indicates that some Jews would favorably respond to the call
of God through the gospel. Such was actually the case. If all Jews had
rejected the Christ and His will, the Jews would have been as completely
destroyed as Sodom and Gomorrah; utterly destroyed. Because a remnant did
follow the Lord they were not destroyed. The phrase, “The Lord of Sabaoth,”
means the Lord of hosts, the Lord of many and all, with an emphasis on
the greatness of the Lord.
Verse twenty-eight needs special attention.
It first must be noted that in verse twenty-seven, Paul had quoted almost
verbatim the prophecy found in Isaiah 10:22. Verse twenty-eight follows
on the heels of this quotation, and seems to have just about the same frame
of understanding as Isaiah 10:23. But what follows it not a verbatim quotation.
While he does not quote the Isaiah passage precisely, he conveys the sense
of the Isaiah passage, guided by inspiration. The idea is, even though
there were many Israelites, fleshly descendants of Abraham, only a few
would be among those that were saved because most would reject the way
of God. The resulting condemnation would be a work that God would perform,
even to the termination of Israel as a special people as they had previously
been. The “short work” is the consumption of the disobedient. Righteousness
demanded this destruction of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians, and
that served as a type of the ultimate destruction of Israel. Paul applied
this in Romans to refer to the destruction of the Jewish nation that would
come at the hands of the Roman army in the year 70 A. D. Whatever be the
specific events that are suggested here (we do well not to be dogmatic
in what is not specified), the thrust of the passage is that the Jews rejected
God’s way, and those who did would themselves be rejected by God. More
than this we run a risk to conclude.
30 What shall
we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness,
have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not
attained to the law of righteousness.
Drawing a conclusion from what has been
written, Paul asks, “What shall we say then?” Indeed, what can we conclude
from all this revelation? First, Gentiles, which did not follow a righteous
path, and who did not have the law like the Jews, have now been included
among the saved. This was not accomplished by means of the law, or by their
own merit, but by the righteousness which is accomplished through the system
of salvation in Christ. On the other hand, the fleshly Israelites, who
had the law and other advantages, but did not live perfectly under it,
even with certain privileges, have been rejected as a nation because they
rejected the system of salvation given through Christ. Recalling again
that a remnant did accept the Christ, Paul refers here to the nation of
the Jews generally. The Jews as a nation did not receive the very system
of salvation that God had devised, and the very system to which they as
a nation had contributed so much in its development and revelation.
Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the
law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; 33 As it is
written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and
whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Why did the Jews now find themselves in
the deplorable spiritual condition that Paul describes? It was because
they did seek salvation by the system of faith, but persisted in their
attempts to be made righteous by holding to the old law that Christ fulfilled
and took out of the way at the cross (Colossians 2:14). The purposes and
functions of that law were accomplished. They held to a system that no
longer was operative. They stumbled over what should have been their stepping-stone
But even their stumbling had been
predicted. The “stumblingstone and rock of offense” refers to Christ. Those
who put their confidence in Christ, and the system of salvation delivered
through Him, would not be ashamed. But those who did stumble over Him by
refusing to accept Him produced their own shame and downfall. First Peter
2:8 also refers to Christ as “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
It is obvious from these verses in
the last of this chapter, as well as many other passages throughout the
New Testament, that Christ came to save. He is the Savior. He desires the
salvation of all men. Such was the mission He came to accomplish (Luke
19:10; First Timothy 3:15). Nonetheless, Christ does condemn and will condemn
those who reject the salvation He offers. While it is certainly true that
the Lord did not come primarily to condemn, the very nature of saving those
who favorably respond to the gospel also condemns those who do not favorably
respond. In this sense, the Lord is offensive to some, a stumbling block,
while being the Savior and salvation of others.
Paul had adequately described for
us the spiritual state of the Jew who rejected Christ as well as the spiritual
state of the Gentile who accepted Him. How ironic that the very ones God
used to produce a blessing to all nations turned from that very blessing,
and from the One through whom it was offered.
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