Rom_9:6. They are not all Israel who are of Israel.
EVIL as have been the dispositions of those who have set themselves against the doctrines of the Gospel, we have been greatly indebted to them: since they have called forth statements which we should never otherwise have received; and have drawn from the Apostles of our Lord a disclosure of their inward motives and principles, which nothing but an absolute necessity for the vindication of their own character could ever have elicited. The epistle before us is full of objections, started against every doctrine which the writer of it maintained. In the former part of the third chapter the objections are urged with a pertinacity and boldness, which compelled the Apostle to say respecting the persons who so urged them, that “their damnation was just [Note: Rom_3:8.].” In the sixth and seventh chapters, the objections against both the Law and the Gospel gave rise to an elucidation of them, so clear, that there can be no doubt entertained respecting their proper use, or their transcendent excellence. In the chapter which we are about to consider, the Apostle begins with expressing his deep and continual sorrow on account of the judgments impending over the Jews for their obstinate rejection of their Messiah. He then anticipates an objection which would be brought against him; namely, that if, as he had supposed, the Jews were to be cast off, the word of God, which had promised all manner of blessings to Abraham and his seed, would be made void. But to this he replies, that the promises were made to Abraham and his spiritual seed: and that all others, however they might be descended from him after the flesh, would assuredly be cast off, since “all were not Israel, who were of Israel;” neither, because they were the natural seed of Abraham, were they necessarily to be numbered amongst the children to whom the promises were made [Note: ver. 6, 7.].
Now, in considering this reply, I shall notice,
The affirmation itself—
It is here supposed that the whole nation of Israel possessed the same advantages, and, in appearance, enjoyed the same blessings. Yet the Apostle distinguishes between some of them and others; and affirms, that some had claims and privileges, to which the others were not entitled. This was true respecting them: and it is true at this time, also, in relation to ourselves. For, as then, so now also,
All are not objects of the same electing love—
[It is undeniable, that God chose Abraham out of an idolatrous world, and gave to him a promise of blessings which were withheld from others of the human race, and which had never been merited by him. To his seed also were these blessings promised; but not to Ishmael, who was then alive: no; they were entailed on a son who should afterwards be born, and should be born too after that neither the father nor the mother could, by reason of their advanced age, expect any progeny. Here, then, was the same sovereignty manifested as in the selection of Abraham himself. In the children of Israel, too, was the same sovereignty displayed: for, even whilst the twins were in their mother’s womb, God’s determination respecting them was made known; and it was appointed that the blessings of the covenant should descend to the younger in preference to the elder: as it is written, “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, it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger [Note: ver. 11, 12.].” In this, the intention of God to display his sovereignty in the disposal of his blessings is expressly asserted, as the end for which he made the appointment at that precise time: for it was impossible that they should have done either good or evil previous to their birth; and, consequently, nothing of theirs could be the ground of God’s dispensation towards them.
The same point is no less clearly seen in the objections which are urged against it.
The objector replies, that, if this doctrine be true, God must be unrighteous, since he withholds from one, what he gives to another [Note: ver. 14.]. Now, what room can there be for any such objection as this, except on the supposition that the Apostle has been mantaining the sovereignty of God in the disposal of his favours? On any other supposition, it would be impossible for the idea to arise, that there was, or could be, “unrighteousness with God.” The Apostle’s answer shews the same: for he proves that the doctrine which he had maintained was declared to Moses, when God said to him, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion [Note: ver. 15.].” And the conclusion which the Apostle draws from the whole clearly confirms the same: “So, then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy [Note: ver. 16.].” I ask again, What room could there be for such an answer, and such a conclusion, if the Apostle had not asserted and maintained the doctrine of election as exercised by God according to his own sovereign will and pleasure?
But the same is pursued still farther.
St. Paul, not contented with having established his point, prosecutes it yet farther; and declares that God had exercised the same sovereignty in raising Pharaoh to the throne of Egypt, and in making use of the pride and obduracy of that haughty monarch as the means of displaying his own almighty power, and of confirming the word which he had previously declared to Moses [Note: ver. 17, 18.]. And this calls forth another objection: “Thou wilt say, then, unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted his will [Note: ver. 19.]?” Here again, you will perceive, is an objection which could not possibly arise, but on the supposition that the Apostle is maintaining the absolute sovereignty of God. And his answer to it proves the same: “Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say unto him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour [Note: ver. 20, 21.]?” Of all the images that could ever be thought of, it would not be possible to find one which could more strongly illustrate the sovereignty of God than this. It is here indeed supposed, that all men are alike corrupt and sinful, all one mass of sin; no part of which has any greater claim upon God for mercy, than the potter’s clay has on him for distinguishing favours at his hands.
Let this reasoning be candidly considered, and the inference from it will be clear. Nothing but our high thoughts of self, and our low thoughts of God, could ever make us entertain a doubt about the truth which is here maintained. Indeed, we see it at this day, as well as in former ages. God chose the Jews of old, and distinguished them above the rest of the world: so he has done with the Christians now. Moreover, he had an Israel in the midst of an Israel then: and so he has now: a people within a people; a Church within a Church; an elect within a mass who are partakers only of external privileges. Yes, as then, even so at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace [Note: Rom_11:6.].]
All are not partakers of the same converting grace—
[The Jews had all the same ordinances of grace; but did not all make the same improvement of them. In the ministry of John the Baptist, those who were the least likely to receive his word were the most effectually impressed with it: “The publicans justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John; but the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him [Note: Luk_7:29-30.].” The twelve Apostles were chosen by our blessed Lord according to his sovereign will and pleasure; and for them were reserved advantages, not known to any others. To them our Lord explained in private the parables he delivered in public; saying to them, “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; but to others, in parables; that seeing, they may not see; and hearing, they may not understand [Note: Luk_8:10.].” To them, in like manner, was peculiar favour shewn after our Lord’s resurrection; for “then opened he their understandings to understand the Scriptures [Note: Luk_24:45.].” But see this matter yet more plainly in the Apostle Paul. He was full of wrath, “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” against the whole Church of Christ; and yet, whilst pursuing his murderous career, he was stopped, and converted by the grace of God; the Lord Jesus Christ himself appearing to him in the way, and revealing himself to him; whilst, of all who were present, not one except himself was permitted to hear the words that were spoken to him. Was here no proof of God’s electing love? Take the ministry of this Apostle: some received his testimony, and others rejected it. And whence was it, that, at Philippi, a poor woman, named Lydia, embraced the truth, whilst the magistrates and a great mass of the inhabitants joined in persecuting the ministers who proclaimed it? We are told, that “the Lord opened her heart to attend to the things that were spoken by Paul [Note: Act_16:14-15.].” The same words made one cry out, “Paul, thou art beside thyself;” and another, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian [Note: Act_26:22; Act_26:28.].” And is it not so at the present day? Are not still, as formerly, “many called, and few chosen?” Does not the Saviour himself, as preached unto men, still become a sanctuary to some, whilst he proves a stumbling-block and a rock of offence to others [Note: 1Pe_2:6-8.]? And whence is this? To what must it be traced, but to God’s electing love? Assuredly, to that does the Apostle trace it, in the case of his Thessalonian converts: for, in his first epistle to them he says, “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God; for our Gospel came not unto you in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance [Note: 1Th_1:4-5.].” So then it is in every instance, where persons are enabled to receive the word aright: “it is given them to believe [Note: Php_1:29.];” and “they believe through grace [Note: Act_18:27.];” or, in other words, they are “quickened from the dead [Note: Eph_2:1.],” and “made willing in the day of God’s power [Note: Psa_110:3.]:” and to God must they trace their new creation, as entirely and exclusively as the creation of the world [Note: Eph_2:10.]. To these “the word becomes a savour of life unto life; whilst to others it is made a savour of death,” to their deeper condemnation [Note: 2Co_2:16.].]
All are not heirs of the same eternal glory—
[All are not vessels unto honour. But this, however, must be remembered, that whilst it is God alone who prepares any to glory, the wicked fit themselves for destruction. This is marked, in a peculiar manner, in the chapter from whence my text is taken [Note: ver. 22, 23. See the Greek.]; and we must never forget it: for though the salvation of man is altogether of God, his condemnation is of himself alone, the fruit of his own wilful perseverance in sin. That those who are saved owe their happiness to God’s electing love, is clear from hence, that “God hath from the beginning chosen them to salvation [Note: 2Th_2:13.];” and “called them unto his eternal glory [Note: 1Pe_5:10.].” The process, as ordained in God’s mind, and executed in his dispensations, is thus declared in the chapter preceding that which we have been considering: “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified [Note: Rom_8:30.].” And, among those who are exalted to glory, there will be no difference in relation to this matter: they will all acknowledge that “they did not choose God, but God them [Note: Joh_15:16.];” and that “they loved him because he first loved them [Note: 1Jn_4:10; 1Jn_4:19.]:” and, in ascribing glory to his name, they will remember this saying, “To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and the Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen [Note: Rev_1:5-6.].”]
Having shewn, I trust, the truth of the affirmation, I proceed to state,
The improvement to be made of it—
Amongst the diversified uses to be made of it, I will mention three:
It should teach us,
A holy fear and jealousy respecting ourselves—
[It is here admitted that we are of Israel: that, as the Jews had all been admitted into covenant with God by circumcision, so have we by baptism; and that, as “to them belonged the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises,” so do all the blessings of the Gospel belong to us [Note: Rom_9:4-5.], precisely in the same manner and to the same extent that the privileges of God’s ancient people belonged to them. But as, then, “all were not Israel who were of Israel,” so now all are not Christians indeed who are called by the name of Christ. Our descent from Christian parents will do no more than the descent of Israel from Abraham did for them. We are expressly told on this head, that the unconverted among them were not the true circumcision: they were only “the concision:” “the circumcision were those who worshipped God in the Spirit, and rejoiced in Christ Jesus, and had no confidence in the flesh [Note: Php_3:3.].” And this is the description of the true Christian: no one deserving that name who does not answer to that character. The Apostle further confirms this, when he says, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly: and circumcision is that of the heart; in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God [Note: Rom_2:28-29.].” Should we not then fear, lest we deceive ourselves, just as the Jews of old did? Should we not carefully “examine ourselves, and prove our ownselves, whether we be in the faith [Note: 2Co_13:5.]?” Should we not compare our character with that of the saints of old, to see whether we be “Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile [Note: Joh_1:47.]?” Let it be well settled in our minds, that we are not indeed children of Abraham, unless we “walk in the steps of Abraham [Note: Rom_4:12.],” and “do his works [Note: Joh_8:39.].”]
A humble acquiescence in reference to God—
[We are extremely prone to rise against the sovereignty of God, and to deny him the right of disposing of things according to his own will and pleasure. Yet we arrogate that right to ourselves; and if we were called unjust for bestowing our alms on one and not on another, we should indignantly reply, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own [Note: Mat_20:15.]?” But do what we will, we cannot deny the election of God in Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob? We cannot deny that there were given to the Jews means of grace, which were withheld from all the world besides. We cannot deny the same in reference to Christians at this day: for we have in our hands the blessed Gospel, which reveals unto us the way of salvation, whilst five-sixths of the world never so much as heard of Christ. Nay, more: of those who most dispute against the doctrine of election generally, it may be doubted, whether one can be found who, when deeply convinced of his own guilt and misery, will not go to God, and implore mercy for mercy’s sake, as much as the most zealous advocate of that offensive doctrine. He will scarcely venture to claim mercy on account of his own merits, whether past, present, or future. And, if he obtain a sense of God’s pardoning love, I much doubt whether he will deliberately refuse to make that acknowledgment, “By the grace of God I am what I am [Note: 1Co_15:10.].” That there are depths in this doctrine which we cannot comprehend, I readily admit. But, would the denial of it involve us in no depths? or is there any other doctrine of our holy religion which we can fully fathom? Let us know this, that whether we can comprehend God’s ways or not, “the Judge of all the earth will do right [Note: Gen_18:25.];” and whether we are pleased to acquiesce in them or not, “He will be justified in his sayings, and be clear when he is judged [Note: Rom_3:4.].” Let us, then, not presume to sit in judgment upon God, or dare to “charge him foolishly:” but let us make our supplication to him, assured that “none shall seek his face in vain;” and that “not one who shall come to him in his Son’s name shall ever be cast out [Note: Joh_6:37.].”]
An adoring gratitude, if we have been made partakers of his mercy—
[We cannot but see, whether the doctrine of election be true or not, that there is an Israel within an Israel; and that, whilst a small remnant only are truly alive to God, the great mass of the Christian world are as careless about salvation as even the Jews themselves. If, then, God has in mercy favoured us, and made us partakers of his grace, shall we “sacrifice to our own net, and burn incense to our own drag [Note: Hab_1:16.]?” God forbid. Let us rather bow with humble adoration before our God; saying, “Why me, Lord? Why am I taken, when so many others are left [Note: Luk_17:34-36.]?” In truth, this is the spirit that becomes us. Even for the favours conferred upon us in providence, it becomes us to bless and magnify our God, with a deep sense of our own unworthiness, and with a lively gratitude for such undeserved bounties. But for the blessings of his grace, O what thanks should we render unto the Lord! Hear the Psalmist, when contemplating these things: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul! and forget not all his benefits!” Let such be the state of our minds. Surely, the more we are sensible of our obligations to God, for his free, unmerited, and sovereign grace, the more profoundly we shall adore him, and the more determinately shall we serve him.]