Goodness and Severity
James M. S. Tait, Lerwick
Our readers will recollect that the Epistle to the Romans falls into three clearly-defined sections-Chaps. 1 to 8, the Doctrinal section; Chaps. 9 to 11, the Dispensational section; and Chaps. 12 to 16, the Hortatory section.
At first sight, it might seem that the middle section, Chaps. 9 to LI, has no very close connection either with what goes before or with what follows after, and that, without loss to the genera! argument of the Epistle, these three chapters might be removed, and the exhortation or Chap. 12 made to follow immediately upon the doctrinal statements of Chap. 8. Closer examination, however, will show that such is not the case, but that, on the contrary, the matter of God's dealings with Israel lies right in the path of the Apostle's reasoning, and could not have been avoided without serious loss.
In Chap. 8, Paul lays, as it were, the topstone of a glorious edifice. He shows the security of the Christian to be dependent, only and always, upon God; the God who foreknows, predestinates, calls, justifies, glorifies. But Ck)d had another people, who also were "foreknown" of Him (Chap. 11. 1); a people whom He chose and railed, with whom he entered into covenant, and to whom He made promises of the most magnificent kind. Yet that people are now to all appearances disowned and set aside; and a question arises in the inquiring mind -the question, which is bluntly stated in Chap. 11. I "Hath God cast away His people?"
If the answer to that question is "Yes", what becomes of the security of God's people to day? The whole glorious edifice, which Paul has been erecting in the preceding chapters, is a palace built on the sand. If God, in spite of foreknowledge and premeditated purpose, has been unfaithful to His covenant and broken His promises to one people, what assurance can we have that He will keep His word to us?
Paul states the question, only to answer it with an indignant "God forbid"; and in the three chapters (9 to 11) he elaborates and justifies that answer. Broadly speaking, it might be said that in Chap. 9 he looks back upon God's ways with Israel in the past; in Chap. 10 he deals with their present position; and in Chap. 11 he looks forward to the future.
The first point, which he makes, is that the word of God has not fallen to the ground (9. 6). On the contrary, the Scriptures contain the clearest intimations that to set aside the first and to establish the second is one of God's chosen. ways of working. The Jews proudly claim to be the seed of Abraham and the children of Israel. True; but Abraham had two sons, of whom the elder (Ishmael) was set aside, and the younger (Isaac) recognized as the seed (9. 7/8). Again, Jacob inherited the blessing, not because he was the first-born, but because the first-born had been set aside.
Thus, in the very origins of their race, the Jews had forewarnings that they, God's first people, might one day be set aside in favour of another. The saying, "Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated," disclosed a principle of Divine dealing. That principle gave them their place of privilege; on that same principle, their privileges might-pass from them to Others,
But why docs God thus act, setting one aside and calling another? Paul anticipates that question, and proceeds to answer it in two ways. His first reply is that man, the mere creature of God's hand, has no right whatever to question, the sovereign will of his Creator. What if he should, in very deed, make one vessel for dishonour and another for glory? What if He should choose so to act, in His dealings with men, that the same dispensation of His hand should be the means of mercy to one, and. [he means of hardening another? He is sovereign; our part is to submit and to worship.
Such is Paul's first reply, as contained in verses 20/29 of Chap. 9. His second answer is given in verses 30/33; find here we look at (he problem from a different viewpoint. It is true, as we have seen, that God is not bound to vindicate Himself to us; true also that by reason of our human limitations we are incapable of comprehending the deep mysteries of His purpose; yet He has revealed sufficient, and we are capable of apprehending sufficient, to satisfy our hearts that He is neither unjust nor capricious in His dealings. So in his second answer, Paul dues give a "because" Lo man's "wherefore" (v. 52). He shows that God discriminates according to the presence or absence of Faith. Ishmael and Esau were set aside; both were men of the flesh, strangers to the principle of faith. Isaac and Jacob were chosen; they were both men of faith, whatever may have been their failings. So, similarly, Israel as a nation have lost their place of privilege, because they abandoned the principle of faith for the principle of law keeping. Gentile outsiders have attained to the righteousness, which the Jew failed to reach, because that righteousness is the "righteousness, which is of faith."
Chap, 9 opens with a passionate lament; Chap. 10 with a prayer. That is an indication of (.he difference in their contents. Chap. 9 shows Israel set aside nationally; Chap. 10 shows that, in spite of the setting aside, the individual Israelite has not been placed beyond the pale of God's grace. He no longer has any special privilege, but neither is he at any disadvantage, in comparison with the Gentile; there is just no difference between the two. The same Lord over ail is rich to all who call upon Him (v. 12). So the Apostle finds himself free to pray for his brethren according to the flesh that they might be saved (v. 1); and in that prayer he is thinking, doubtless, of the salvation of Chap. 10. 9/10 (the salvation enjoyed by believers of the present age on the principle of faith), rather than of the salvation of Chap. 11. 26., the national deliverance of a day yet future.
That future salvation is the glorious theme of Chap. 11 and with what triumphant confidence does the Apostle move forward through the chapter, magnifying the wisdom of God, and glorying in the matchless grace which is seen to underlie and interpenetrate all God's dealings with men.
First of all, he points out that in spite of national backsliding and judicial "blinding", God has always had, and still has, His remnant in Israel. Even now, there is "a remnant according to the election of grace"; a few brought into present blessing on the terms of Chap, 10. 9. So grace is still at work among the Jews; God has not cast off His people.
But what shall we say of the Lavish superabundance of grace which has been let loose to the Gentiles as the consequence of Israel's fall? Paul revels in this amazing display of God's ability to bring good out of evil. The wonder which fills his soul finds vent in glowing phrases "through their fall, salvation to the Gentiles"; "the fall of them the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles"; "the casting away of them . . . the reconciling of the world." Truly, there is matter for adoring worship in this manifestation of the goodness and severity of God.
But now Paul's prophetic eye surveys the future. He sees the Deliverer coming (v. 26); he sees all God's covenants fulfilled; he sees all Israel saved, and restored to more than all her ancient privileges; but with the wondrous difference that, whereas before her fall, Israel stood alone in the place of nearness, when she is restored, her restoration will usher in untold blessing for all. Linked with her in the enjoyment of covenant mercy will be the redeemed of this age, and the saved of every epoch to come. God shut all up together in unbelief that lie might have mercy upon all. (v. 32).
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!
Haymarket Bible School
"This School was established in 1946, to provide serious and systematic Bible study, first by means of evening sessions in London, and later by correspondence for the convenience of those living at a distance.
Each lecture-paper contains questions that can only lie answered by diligent searching of the relevant Scriptures themselves, and the very fact of taking such a Course is an incentive to regular study.
Answers to papers Site marked by members of the Bible School Committed personally, and there is full opportunity for raising additional queries in the course of study..
There are Jive Courses available directly on the Scriptures, also a Course on elementary New Testament Greek.
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Why This Article ? Readers who are fortunate enough to have been left undisturbed, to enjoy the remembrance of the Lord in simplicity, will hardly credit the determined attempts which are being made hi some quarters to hedge around the Lord's Supper with all kinds of rules and regulations. If they question the usefulness of going so fully into the question, we ask them to believe that this examination of the subject will be welcomed by many Christians, who are sorely perplexed by efforts to restrict their liberty and regiment their worship, under the plea of closer conformity to the Scriptures. Even those who are happily unfamiliar with such efforts, would do well, by careful consideration of what is here discussed, to fortify themselves against possible infiltrations of these devitalizing ideas.