There is a distinct break in the Epistle at this point. The subject of the preceding chapters, the development of the gospel scheme, has been worked up to a climax. We might imagine that at the end of chapter 8 the Epistle was laid aside, and the Apostle now begins upon a new topic, in the discussion of which, however, he still retains the same vein of deep emotion that had characterised his latest utterances. This new topic is the relation of the Christian system just expounded to the chosen people. And here, after a few opening words of patriotic sympathy (Romans 9:1-5), the Apostle discusses: (1) the justice of their rejection (Romans 9:6-29); (2) its causes (Romans 9:30 to Romans 10:21); (3) its compensations and qualifications (Romans 11:1-32); with a closing doxology (Romans 11:33-36). The section including these three chapters is complete and rounded in itself.
(1) I say the truth in Christ.—The meaning of this expression seems to be, “From the bottom of my soul, in the most sacred part of my being, as a Christian man united to Christ, I make this solemn asseveration.”
My conscience.—Here, as in Romans 2:15, very much in the modern sense of the word, the introspective faculty which sits in judgment upon actions, and assigns to them their moral qualities of praise or blame. “This conscience of mine being also overshadowed with the Holy Spirit, and therefore incapable of falsehood or self-deception.”
Accursed from Christ.—Separated from Christ, and devoted to destruction. Does not the intensity of this expression help us to realise one aspect of the Atonement—“being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13)? (The Greek word for “curse” is different, but comes to be nearly equivalent.)
The glory.—The Shechinah, or visible symbol of God’s presence. (Comp. Exodus 16:10; Exodus 24:16; Exodus 40:34-35; 1 Samuel 4:22; 1 Kings 8:10-11; Ezekiel 1:28; Hebrews 9:5.)
The covenants.—Not the two tables of stone, but the several compacts made by God with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 15:1-21; Genesis 17:1-22; Genesis 22:15-18; Genesis 26:2-5; Genesis 26:34; Genesis 28:13-15; Genesis 35:9-12; Genesis 46:3-4).
The service of God.—The temple service and ritual.
The promises.—Especially the Messianic promises, a term correlative to the “covenants” above.
Who is over all, God blessed for ever.—These words are a well-known subject for controversy. Trinitarian and English interpreters, as a rule, take them with the punctuation of the Authorised version, as referring to Christ. Socinian interpreters, with some of the most eminent among the Germans, put a full stop after “came,” and make the remainder of the verse a doxology addressed to God, “Blessed for ever be God, who is over all.” Both ways are possible. The question is, Which is the most natural and probable? and this is to be considered, putting altogether on one side prepossessions of every kind. We are not to read meaning into Scripture, but to elicit meaning from it. The balance of the argument stands thus:—(1) The order of the words is somewhat in favour of the application to Christ. If the clause had really been a formal doxology, the ascription of blessing would more naturally have come at the beginning in Greek as in English, “Blessed be God,” &c. (2) The context is also somewhat in favour of this application. The break in the form of the sentence becomes rather abrupt on the other hypothesis, and is not to be quite paralleled. Intruded doxologies, caused by a sudden access of pious feeling, are not uncommon in the writings of St. Paul, but they are either worked into the regular order of the sentence, as in Romans 1:25, Galatians 1:5, or else they are formally introduced as in 2 Corinthians 11:31; 1 Timothy 1:17. (3) But on the other hand, to set somewhat decidedly against this application, is the fact that the words used by the Apostle, “Who is over all,” and the ascription of blessing in all other places where they occur, are referred, not to Christ, but to God. (Comp. Romans 1:25; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 4:6.) There is, indeed, a doxology addressed to Christ in 2 Timothy 4:18; it should, however, be remembered that the Pauline origin of that Epistle has been doubted by some, though it is also right to add that these doubts do not appear to have any real validity. The title “God” does not appear to be elsewhere applied to our Lord by St. Paul, though all the attributes of Godhead are ascribed to Him: e.g., in Philippians 2:6 et seq., Colossians 1:15 et seq. In 1 Timothy 3:16, which would be an apparent exception, the true reading is, * Who was manifested,” and not “God was manifested.” On the other hand, St. John certainly makes use of this title, not only in John 1:1; John 20:28, but also in the reading, adopted by many, of John 1:18, “God only begotten” for “Only begotten Son.” Weighing the whole of the arguments against each other, the data do not seem to be sufficient to warrant a positive and dogmatic conclusion either way. The application to our Lord appears perhaps a little the more probable of the two. More than this cannot be said. Nor is a stronger affirmation warranted by any considerations resting on the division of authorities.
(6) Not as though.—The scholar will observe that there appears to be here a mixture of two constructions, “the case is not such that,” and “I do not mean to say that,” “I do not intend to say that the case is such as that.”
Taken none effect.—“Fallen through,” or “failed of its accomplishment.”
Of Israel—i.e., descended from Jacob. (Comp. Genesis 32:28.) The promise of God was indeed given to Israel, but that did not mean roundly all who could claim descent from Jacob without further limitation.
Of the promise—i.e., not merely “promised children,” but “children born through the miraculous agency of the promise;” the promise is regarded as being possessed of creative power. (Comp. Romans 4:18-20.)
At this time—i.e., at the corresponding time of the next year.
Here we have the doctrine of election and predestination stated in a very unqualified and uncompromising form. And it does indeed necessarily follow from one train of thought. However much we lay stress on freewill, still actions are the result of character—the will itself is a part of character; and character is born in us. Of the two elements which go to determine action, outward circumstances, and inward disposition, neither can be said strictly to be made by the man himself. If we follow this train of thought, then it would certainly appear that God, or the chain of natural causes set in motion and directed by God, made him what he is. In other words, he is elected and predetermined to a certain line of conduct. This is the logic of one set of inferences. On the other hand, the logic of the other set of inferences is just as strong—that man is free. There is an opposition irreconcilable to us with our present means of judging. We can only take the one proposition as qualified by the other.
This ambiguity also appears to exist in the Hebrew, where it is a disputed question whether the words refer to age or to the comparative strength of the two peoples. In either case, it is the nations that should spring from Esau and Jacob that are meant.
(14) Is there unrighteousness?—Again, as in Romans 3:5, the Apostle anticipates a possible objection. Does not this apparently arbitrary choice of one and rejection of another imply injustice in Him who exercises it? The thought is not to be entertained.
Raised thee up.—Brought into the world and on to the scene of history.
Show my power.—By the plagues of Egypt and by the overthrow of Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea.
He hardeneth.—The doctrine of the divine sovereignty is here expressed in its most trenchant and logical form. In Exodus 8:32; Exodus 9:34; Exodus 13:15, &c., the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is attributed to his own act. That act may, however, be regarded as a part of the design of Providence. God’s decrees include human free-will, without destroying it. But how they do this we cannot say.
For the imagery of the clay and the potter, compare Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:3-10.
(22) What if . . .—The sentence in the original is incomplete. In its full form it would run, “If God willing to show His wrath” . . . (what can man reply?) This latter clause is dropped or lost in the course of the argument. The best and simplest expedient to supply its place is that adopted in the Authorised version, inserting “what” in italics at the beginning: “What if,” &c. There is a second suppression later in the sentence. At the end of Romans 9:23 we should have to insert some such clause as “He reserved His glory for them,” in order to make the sentence strictly grammatical. These irregularities are due to the Apostle’s habit of dictating, and to the lively flow of his thoughts.
Willing.—While His will was (ultimately) to execute His wrath and display His sovereign judicial power, nevertheless He bore with evildoers, and gave them time for repentance.
Osee.—“It may be questioned whether this word should be pronounced as a dissyllable, the double e being regarded as an English termination, as in Zebedee, Pharisee, &c., or as a tri-syllable, the word being considered as a reproduction of the Greek form of the name.” (Lightfoot, On Revision, p. 156, n.)
A remnant.—Rather, the remnant, with an emphasis upon the word. “The remnant, and only the remnant.”
Shall be saved.—In the original, shall return—i.e., as it is explained in the previous verse, “return to God.” St. Paul has followed the LXX. in putting the consequences of such conversion for the conversion itself.
A seed.—Equivalent to the “remnant” of Romans 9:27. The point of the quotation is, that but for this remnant the rejection of Israel would have been utter and complete.
The great reason for the rejection of Israel and for the admission of the Gentiles is that the Gentiles did, and that they did not, base their attempts at righteousness upon faith. Righteousness is the middle term which leads to salvation. The Gentiles, without seeking, found; the Jews, seeking in a wrong way, failed to find it.
(30) Which followed not after righteousness.—Not having a special revelation, and being inattentive to the law of conscience.
Attained to righteousness.—By accepting the offer of Christianity, and especially the Christian doctrine of justification by faith.
That stumblingstone.—Christ. When Christianity, with the justification by faith which goes with it, was offered to them, they “were offended,” and refused it.
Shall not be ashamed.—So, too, the LXX. The Hebrew is, “Shall not make haste.”