Charles Simeon Commentary - Romans 11:5 - 11:5

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Romans 11:5 - 11:5

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Rom_11:5. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

IT is the part both of wisdom and of love to guard our statements against misconception. We are of necessity constrained sometimes to state truth in strong and general terms: but in all such cases it becomes us to anticipate, and to remove, as much as in us lies, all occasion for misapprehension or mistake: we should make every thing so clear, that the ignorant should have nothing to ask; the captious nothing to object. St. Paul was ever alive to this duty: he foresaw and answered every objection that could be urged against the truths he maintained. He had in the preceding chapter spoken of the Gentiles as adopted into God’s family, whilst the Jews, for their obstinate disobedience, were cast off. Hence it might have been supposed, that God had cast off his people altogether: but he tells them, that this was not the case; for that he himself, though a Jew, was a partaker of all the blessings of salvation: and that, as in the days of Elijah, there were among the Jews more faithful servants of Jehovah than was supposed, so it was at that time; “there was a remnant,” and a considerable remnant too, “according to the election of grace.”

We will,

I.       Shew that God’s people are “a chosen remnant”—

The Lord has at this day a remnant of faithful people—

[In every age of the world there have been some faithful worshippers of Jehovah. Even in the antediluvian world, when all flesh had so corrupted their way that God determined to destroy them utterly, there was one pious man, who boldly protested against the reigning abominations, and, with his family, was saved from the universal deluge. Abraham, Melchizedec, and Lot, were also rare instances of piety in a degenerate age; as were also Job, and his little band of friends. In Israel too, even under the impious and tyrannic reign of Ahab, there was an Elijah, who was a bold and faithful witness for his God. Thus at this day also there are some who serve their God with fidelity and zeal. Neither the example of the multitude, nor the menaces of zealots, can induce them to bow down to Baal, or “to walk after the course of a corrupt world.” “They are not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world;” “nor will they conform to it” in its spirit and conduct: they will “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but will rather reprove them.” To serve, to enjoy, to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, is all their desire; and they “cleave unto him with full purpose of heart.”]

They are however but a remnant—

[“The world at large lieth in wickedness.” The broad road that leadeth to destruction is crowded; whilst those who enter in at the strait gate, and walk in the narrow way that leadeth unto life, are few [Note: Mat_7:13-14.]. True it is, that the servants of God may now, as in Elijah’s days, be more numerous than we imagine: there may be many, who, being remote from public ordinances, are unknown; or, from being poor, are unobserved; or, from peculiar diffidence, are kept from joining themselves to the Lord’s people; or, from their weakness, are not yet able to encounter the opposition which they expect to meet with. We are persuaded that there are many Nicodemuses and Nathanaels at present in the shade, who yet in due time will come forth to light, and be “burning and shining lights “in their day and generation. We mean not by these observations to express an approbation of worldly shame, or of the fear of man: for it is the duty of every Christian to “confess Christ” boldly, and to “follow him without the camp bearing his reproach:” but so it is, that, from a variety of causes, some of the Lord’s people remain unknown to us, and will be found at the last day, if not before, among the “hidden ones,” that were known to God and accepted of him: and it is a comfort to think, that, as “there were seven thousand men in Israel who had not bowed their knee to Baal,” whilst Elijah conceived himself to stand alone, so there may be at this day thousands in the world who, in the sight of God, are “faithful and beloved,” though they have not at present any name or place in the Church of Christ. Yet, after all, in comparison of the careless and ungodly world, they will be found “a small remnant,” “a little flock [Note: Luk_12:32.].”]

And for their distinguished privileges they are altogether indebted to the electing love of God—

[All by nature are alike “dead in trespasses and sins;” and if not quickened by divine grace, must continue dead even to the end. Look into the Scriptures, and see if you can find so much as one who raised himself to newness of life. Did the converts on the day of Pentecost? Did Paul? Did Lydia? Did any make themselves to differ, or present to him what they had not previously received from him [Note: 1Co_4:7.]? Can you find one that did not say with St. Paul, “By the grace of God I am what I am?” Was there one to whom God did not “give to will, as well as to do, and that of his good pleasure?” To all without exception must it be said, as it was to the Apostles, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. God, in choosing men, has no respect to any thing but his own glory. He is not moved by any thing in them, either present or foreseen: “he loves them, because he will love them [Note: Deu_7:6-8.];” and in predestinating them unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ, he does it “according to the good pleasure of his own will” and “to the praise of the glory of his own grace [Note: Eph_1:5-6.].”]

We would not state these things in a crude and rash way. We know, they are deeply mysterious; and we are most anxious to,

II.      Guard this doctrine against abuse—

Much is this doctrine hated: much too is it abused: but, however hated, or however abused, it is the truth of God, and therefore must be maintained. Let none however pervert it, or draw false conclusions from it. Let none say,

1.       If this doctrine be true, no blame attaches to me

[What! No blame attaches to those who live in sin; to those who live “without God in the world!” Has any one compelled you. to act thus? Have you not been free agents in every thing that you have done? What if you were not able of yourselves to fulfil the will of God, did not God exhort you to come to him for grace and strength, and did he not promise to give grace sufficient for you? Has there not been much that you might have done, which yet you have neglected? and much that you might have abstained from, which yet you have committed? Will any one go into the presence of Almighty God and say, ‘I sought thee, but thou wouldst not hear: I endeavoured to the utmost of my power to comply with all thine injunctions; but thou withheldest from me the assistance that was necessary: I chose thee, but thou rejectedest me without a cause?’ No: profane as many are, there is not a man to be found in the universe who will dare thus to insult his God. We all have a consciousness that sin at least is our own, whatever holiness may be: it is the fruit of our own choice, the work of our own hands: and every man who has not on the wedding garment in the last day, will be dumb before his God, and not have one word to say in vindication of himself, when the Master of the feast shall order him to be tied hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness [Note: See Mat_22:11; Mat_22:13.].]

2.       If this doctrine be true, I may sit still, till God shall come and help me

[Where, we would ask, do the Scriptures countenance any such inference as this? They invariably enjoin the use of means, and promise a blessing to those who use them in a dependence upon God; “Ask and ye shall have, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you; for every one that asketh, receiveth, &c.” Will you after this sit down and say, “I will not ask?” Be it so; you are helpless in yourselves, and incapable of doing any thing that is truly good: but so was the man with the withered arm: yet, when our Lord said to him, Stretch out thine arm, did he reply, ‘Lord, I cannot?’ No: he attempted to fulfil his Lord’s command; and in the attempt was strengthened to perform it. So is it your duty to use the means to the best of your power, in obedience to God’s command, and in dependence on his grace: and if you do so, you are assured that “you shall never seek his face in vain.” You should do as much for yourselves, as if you had in yourselves an all-sufficiency for all things: but, whilst doing it, you should remember, that “your sufficiency is of God” alone. This is precisely what St. Paul has taught us. He addressed persons who were asleep, yea, dead; yet did he bid them awake, and act; and promised, that in obeying his injunctions they should obtain from Christ all needful aid: “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light [Note: Eph_5:14.].”]

3.       If this doctrine be true, I am in no danger, whatever I may do

[Does any one who professes to believe the doctrine of election make this use of it? He needs nothing more to prove, that he at least is not of God’s elect: for, if there be one mark of a reprobate more strong and decisive than another, it is that of “turning the grace of God into licentiousness.” There is not a word in all the book of God that gives any man a hope of salvation whilst he lives in sin. On the contrary, it is expressly declared, that, “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” If we are “chosen of God before the foundation of the world,” it is “that we may be holy, and without blame before him in love [Note: Eph_1:4.]:” if “we are chosen to salvation, it is through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth [Note: 2Th_2:13.].” God will never make his own Son “a minister of sin.” If he save us at all, it will be from our sins, and not in them. Hear how indignantly God rejects the idea of his leaving men at liberty to sin: “Behold, ye trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will ye commit all manner of sins, and come and stand before me in this house which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Lord of Hosts [Note: Jer_7:8-11.].” Yes; God does see it; and whoever maintains such a delusion as this, shall ere long find, to his cost, “whose word shall stand; God’s, or his [Note: Jer_44:28. with Gal_6:7-8.].”]

That no solid objection lies against this doctrine, will appear, whilst we,

III.     Suggest the proper improvement of it—

1.       It should encourage all to seek for mercy at God’s hands—

[If God’s election were determined only by some good that was naturally inherent in man, and man’s hope of the Divine favour were built on some superior excellence that was in him above others, who could venture to cherish any hope at all? Certainly there would be a fearful prospect for those who have long continued in their sins: for they would naturally say, How can God ever look with compassion on such a sinner as me? The old therefore, and the dying, would at once be driven to despair. But when we are told, that God “has mercy on whom he will have mercy,” and dispenses his blessings freely to whomsoever he will, the vilest sinner in the universe may say, ‘Then I will not despair: I know, I have nothing whereby to recommend myself to him: but he is at liberty to shew mercy to the very chief of sinners: and in that character will I apply to him, that he may glorify himself in me.’ This is a just and scriptural way of arguing: and it in may be adopted by all who “know the plague of their own heart,” even though they may have lived in sin throughout their whole lives, and be now come to the borders of the eternal world: they may say, ‘His grace is his own; he may dispense it as he will; and, where sin has abounded, His grace may superabound. He chose Paul in order “that in him he might shew forth all long-suffering for a pattern” to the Church in all ages; and I will hope, that in me also he will shew, before the whole assembled universe, how far his grace can reach.’ This is the true, legitimate, and only use which an unconverted sinner should make of God’s electing love.]

2.       It should fill all who are the subjects of it with the deepest humility—

[Many ignorantly imagine, that the idea of God having elected us would fill us with pride: and if his election had respect to some goodness in us above others, and were founded on our superior merits, there were some ground for pride. But when God, in ordaining men to life, has respect only to his own sovereign will and pleasure, and to the manifestation of his own glory, no man has any ground to boast: nor will any man who is a partaker of this grace wish to boast. On the contrary, he will be disposed rather to say with the profoundest adoration, “What was I, Lord, that thou shouldest visit me?” This is the effect which the conferring of an undeserved favour has on every humble mind. Elizabeth, when the blessed Virgin, after her miraculous conception, came to visit her, exclaimed, “Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me [Note: Luk_1:43.]?” How much more then will the saint be filled with wonder that the Lord himself should come, and take up his abode within his very soul! Again; when Mephibosheth was told by David that his Father’s property should be restored to him, and that he should cat continually at the king’s table, “he bowed himself, and said, What is thy servant, that thou shouldest look upon such a dead dog as I am [Note: 2Sa_9:7-8.]?” How much more then will the child of God abase himself as the most unworthy of mankind, when the King of kings, of his own sovereign love and mercy, tells him, that all the glory of heaven shall be his, and that he shall feast for ever at the marriage supper of the Lamb! This was the effect produced on Paul, who, because there was no word in the whole Greek language sufficiently strong whereby he might express his sense of his own unworthiness, made a word for himself, that places him beneath the least and lowest of all the saints of God: he calls himself, “less than the least of all saints.” That is our proper appellation; and the more just sense we have of God’s electing love, the more ready we shall all be to adopt it for our motto.]

3.       It should stimulate them also to universal holiness—

[If we be “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a peculiar people, it is that we may shew forth the praises of Him that hath called us out of darkness into marvellous light [Note: 1Pe_2:9.].” Yes; we are “created unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” We are to be as “lights in a dark place;” as “a city set upon a hill:” we are to be “epistles of Christ, known and read of all men.” Man expects this of us: and God also expects it of us. Man will naturally say, ‘What proof do these people give that they are the elect of God? If we look at them, what do we find in them more than others?’ These expectations are reasonable: and, if you are not more holy than others, they may reasonably say, that you are hypocrites and deceivers. I would call upon you then to shew by your fruits that you are trees of the Lord’s planting. I call upon you to “shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life” in the whole of your conversation. Hear the exhortation of an inspired Apostle: “Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye [Note: Col_3:12-13.].” These are the graces that ye are called to exercise, and these are the fruits whereby ye are to be known. By thus exhibiting to the world the mind that was in Christ, you will prove your title to the character of his saints as “called, and chosen, and faithful [Note: Rev_17:14.].”]