"GOD over all." Here is another gentle emphasis on the divine
supremacy. First we have had a picture of what Paul would have done if he had been running
things. He would willingly be accursed for Israel. Now the gentle impetus of the inspiring
Spirit carries his vision to the fact that it is God who is running the universe,
and if he once was willing to be accursed, he now wills that God should be blessed. God's
plan and purpose was more perfect than his. He who was over all was able, because
He was over ALL, to turn Israel's failure into His own success. If He was over all then
there could be no such thing as failure from His standpoint. If He was over all
then even Israel's failure to respond to this eightfold blessing was part of His purpose.
If He was over all He who allowed Israel to stumble was able to raise them up again
in His own likeness.
But the ground of His praise is not in the present but in the future.
If it were merely in the present it would have been "God over all be blessed."
The ground of praise lies in futurity "in the ages." It is as if Paul says,
"We look at the present and see failure. We look at Israel and see gloom. But we look
on and we see the ages, and up and see God over all, and gloom becomes glory and the
thought of curse is changed into tribute of blessing." Much of the "vision"
that we read of in current theology is the vision of a cross-eyed man. Orthodoxy, as it
exists today, cannot help but make us squint. So we have, been trained to view creation as
God's grand experiment. An experimenting God! But this loathsome thought is nursed
in the bosom of theological culture, and we who have imbibed its virus have therefore read
this sixth verse as if it were a consoling reflection on the part of Paul that despite the
failure of that experiment on Israel as a whole, it was not a total failure.
"Not as implying that the word of God had altogether failed." If we hold
this dishonoring idea we shall have an impression in our minds of God's relation to
creation as like that of the owner of a worn out automobile--continually tinkering with it
in order to make it go. We would suggest that the right way of reading this verse is
"not as implying that the word of God has fallen at all." "And God said,
light be, and light was." Genesis one gives us a graphic picture of the
efficiency of the word of God in the world of matter. It is not less efficient in the
world of mind. It never fails.
How this verse suggests to us the assurance of Isaiah 55: 11! If it has
accomplished fully the purpose of God, then God never meant to save the nation, as a
nation, at that time. If it had been sent forth to save them all, and had come back with
but a little handful of souls, did it accomplish that which God pleased? You see it is the
idea of the dilapidated auto again. But the Word of God has never been compelled to go to
the garage for repairs!
In Abraham we have a concrete exhibition of Free-will and Sovereignty.
As an Arminian he did the best he could: tried to help God out of His difficulty--and
produced ISHMAEL! Free-will has filled the world with Ishmaels. When a Christian leaves
his appointed sphere of simple witness, and takes a hand in politics to help repair the
world, he is marrying Hagar. When he thinks he is called to victory instead of perpetual
defeat; and when he thinks the puny might of man can effect what the power of God may
alone accomplish--he is marrying Hagar. O beloved reader if "Jerusalem above is the
mother of us all," is it not also true that Hagar has been the wife of us all, and
Ishmael our offspring? Arminian "ability" was the father of Ishmael, but it took
divine sovereignty to produce Isaac from that which approximated physical death.
How powerless the creature is is again emphasized by Paul in the eighth
verse. "Children of the PROMISE." The law is a demand--"thou shalt."
The Gospel is a promise--"I will." The law was given simply that it might turn
us upside down and knock the Arminianism out of us. When it has done so, and when we have
taken the law itself into the presence of God, asking Him in grace to turn its precepts
into prophecies, its gloom is transmuted into glory. "Thou shalt have no other
gods" is a dazzling forecast of that future day when Israel shall really know
And now Paul, still keeping in mind the unfailing potency of the Word
which ever accomplishes the pleasure of the Almighty, defines the word of promise in
relation to Isaac. "According to this season I WILL RETURN." While God is away,
and a state of separateness exists, Hagar is taken and Ishmael born. Man makes a botch of
things while God is away. Sin entered while God was away. The serpent spoke,
Eve listened, and Adam fell while God was away. Sarah suggested, Abraham hearkened,
and Ishmael was born while God was away. But--and this is the quintessence of the
gospel, and the hope of Israel and mankind--"I will return."
"I will . . . and Sarah shall"--blessed mingling of promise
and prophecy. But notice the wording "according to this season." I know not just
what the allusion may be. It may be physical, but it probably transcends the merely
physical. At the very least it suggests that there is a schedule according to which God
acts, and He always acts according to schedule. Prophecy is God's time-table of history
and God's trains are never late. There is a right time for God to act, and the ripe-time
is the right-time. God never harvests the crop until it is ripe, and his harvests never
rot ungathered in the field--"according to this season I will return."
In verses five and six Paul's allusion to the word of God was preceded
with a reference to the ages--the hours on the dial- plate of Time. God's clock of the
eons, in which the centuries are as moments, is never fast and never slow; nor does it
strike outside the appointed hour. "In the fullness of time" Christ personal was
born into the world (Gal.4:4). "In the fullness of the seasons" the world of
redeemed creaturedom with Christ personal its appointed head will round out to maturity
the proportions of Christ mystical--creation's goal. In the fullness of the seasons
"God will return," and rehead the Universe in Christ (Eph.1:11.
Arminianism, however, is one of mankind's perpetual diseases, and so we
find it thriving lustily in Abraham's descendants who had not learned Abraham's lesson in
regard to Hagar. Verse 11 gives us "not of works" and Jacob evidences this.
"Jacob have I loved." Why? Analyze him and his history, and find me some reason
why you should love him; then analyze him again and tell me the reason why God should love
him. Perfection cannot love imperfection: Righteousness cannot love unrighteousness. How
then, and why, did God love Jacob who was neither right nor perfect? Here we are touching
on the mystery of the gospel. Was Jacob's character so like God's that that was
the reason of His love? Think then, if you can, that the God you bow the knee to is merely
a Jacob drawn to the scale of the infinite! Well may you shudder at the thought.
The answer has really been given already in the case of Isaac "I
will return and Sarah shall." God went away, and Jacob wriggled and plotted and
planned, just as Abraham did, in relation to Hagar and Ishmael. God went away, and Jacob
tried to help God along by buying the birthright. But God in effect said, "I will
return...and Jacob shall."
Well may we contrast the divine promise in Genesis 28:12-15 with
Jacob's in verses 20-22. Jacob's was a promise with an "if." God's contained no
"if."--and if it had it would have been no promise to frail, erring
Jacob. Look up Genesis 32 at your leisure and see what happened when God returned. Then
Jacob came to an end of his Arminianism, and clung with a broken thigh to One who would
give a blessing that could never be earned.
In Genesis 32 Jacob becomes Israel. In Romans 9 Israel has become Jacob
"NOT OF WORKS." Not occasioned by effort, physical or mental.
Not purchased by deed of hand or heart. Not to be won by a nod of the head or a movement
of the will. Not conditioned by the taking of an attitude. Not subject to the saying of a
word, or the thinking of a thought. Channelled thru the will, the emotions, the
mind, if you like, but not conditioned by them. In God's economies these creature
powers act as operating means, though none of them may ever be an effecting cause.
"Not of works"--good, bad, or indifferent. Not of attempt,
effort, or intention. How can a deaf man "hear?" How can a paralyzed man
"come?" How can a dead man "will?" Human sweat can never earn divine
salvation. Human agony can never earn divine repose. Humanity cannot raise itself by
tugging at its religious bootstraps.
"Not of works" would sour the sweetness of Heaven itself to a
legal soul, and transform Paradise into a Hell to every Pharisee. Much rather would such
an one spend an eternity lauding the excellence of one meritorious act of his own than a
single moment in self-forgetful wonder at the marvels of the Omnipotent's handiwork!
"Not of works" constitutes Heaven's highest glory to the humble soul. It adds
melody to its music, and increases the rapture of its joys. If the glory of the Lord so
fills the house that the priests may not stand to minister in the Presence, much less may
the Pharisees strut and plume themselves where sinless angels veil their faces and adore.
"Where then does the action of my will come in?" Read it
again (Rom.9:11). Note how it says nothing whatever of your thinking, your
intending, your willing, or your purpose, but "that the purpose of God
according to election might stand, not of works." "Oh, then it is a
matter of what God wills?" Yes, now you have it. It is God's intention, God's
will, and God's purpose, not yours at all. "Then it is not of me at
all?" Read it once more, "not of works, but of Him that calleth." It is not
"of him that listeneth," as if the "listening" to the call was a
purely human thing entirely "free" and under no determination whatever. The
calling includes the listening. The "will to listen" is "of Him that
calleth." "He maketh the deaf to hear." Thus it is that when He
works He at once places a negative between His working and all fancied human
ability-- "not of works."
"Not of works . . . Jacob." That proves it, doesn't it? We
have already considered the marvel of God's love to Jacob. We should not, however, be
guilty of the grave error that has disgraced so much of our thought on this subject, by
thinking that God went out of His way to specially hate Esau. Nor, on the other hand,
should we imagine for a moment that He had to force Himself to love Jacob. Humanity does
that. Deity never. There is no compulsion in His love. There is no venom in His hate. The
simple difference between God's relation to Jacob and to Esau was that He looked upon Esau
as He was, and He looked upon Jacob as He was to be. He regarded Jacob in the future
tense, whereas for the time then being He chose to regard Esau in the present tense alone.
It was not a mechanical love in the one case, and a mechanical hatred in the other. His
love to Jacob and His hatred to Esau both flowed freely and naturally from the perfections
of His Being. His love was not weakness, nor was His hatred wickedness. His love for
Jacob, and His hatred for Esau were both of them exhibitions of His justice. He did
not lower the laws of His righteousness in order to love Jacob, nor did He make them more
drastic so that He might hate Esau the more intensely. He hated Esau because He was a
loving God! Nor would He be a God of love except He hated everything that was
not good for Esau, and as long as Esau, was allowed to cling to those hateful, hurtful
things, so long did he thrust himself into the sphere in which God's anger burned. Love
must hate all that which challenges its authority. And all this is really anticipated by
Paul when he queries, "Is there unrighteousness with God?" "Far be
it," cries the great apostle as he flings the base suggestion aside. "No,
no," he would say, "He is righteous when He loves, He is righteous when He
hates, in all that He does He is the God all holy. God may have hated Esau, but He did not
make him hateful. This on the principle that while you have to grow roses, orchids, and
other flowers of fragrant bloom, weeds grow themselves. No one has ever had the
slightest trouble in growing weeds. But before God could love Jacob He had to do a lot of
Nor need we hesitate to recognize the fact that if it is not our
listening but God's calling, not our working but God's willing, then why He should choose
to give this one and not that the listening ear, or work His will in one and not another
is an enigma which human reason is not able to solve, and which divine revelation does not
offer to explain. So we are prepared for the way that Paul gives mere prying curiosity a
stinging slap in the face. Nor, indeed, was this Paul's, but God's rebuff to mere idle
questioning. Why I, should have been born in the nineteenth century and not in the first;
why I should have been born in America and not in the wild mountains of Afghanistan; why I
should have been nursed by a Christian mother instead of a cannibal one; these are alike
the workings of that "purpose of God according to election." "It is not of
him that willeth." I chose neither the twentieth century, the American continent, nor
the Christian mother. I didn't will them. I didn't work for them. God
willed them, and I'm here. The same God who wills generation wills regeneration; and my
being in Christ is no more a matter of my willing than my being born in America is, or
was, a matter of my choosing.
We should not think that any one moment of time can tell all that may
be told of God. The full scroll of all the ages alone will suffice to reveal the eonian
God. The volume of a solitary era can never reveal what takes the whole library of the
eons to make plain. So if we read in an introductory chapter that God hated Esau, we learn
in a later, fuller one, that He loved the world, and so He must have loved the man He
hated. Though the waves may roar on its surface, the ocean is untroubled in its
unfathomed depth. Nor could Esau, nor Pharoah, nor Nero, nor Judas work or will themselves
out of that cosmic love, any more than they could either work or will themselves into
it. God hates, but He is not hatred. He both loves, and is Love. We may attempt to state
the difference between His love and His hatred thus: His hatred is dispensational, His
love is eternal; His hatred is as temporary as is the sin that calls it forth, and on
which it rests; His love is as eternal as the righteousness on which it feeds. Hatred is a
passing phase: Love an eternal revelation. Jacob have I loved for ever, but Esau have I
hated for a time.
But if Jacob was a vessel of mercy and Esau a vessel of wrath we have
the same vivid contrast shown in God's word to Moses, and His message to Pharaoh. He
speaks of mercy to the one, and of wrath to the other. Here Moses is the vessel of mercy
and Pharaoh the vessel of wrath. What Moses willed is not of sufficient consequence to
have passing mention in this fifteenth verse. Four times over God says "I will."
"I will have mercy...I will have mercy; I will have compassion...I will have
compassion." You can't squeeze man into it sideways. Its language is foolproof. It
locks my willing and my listening outside. It evicts everything except myself as the
passive, inert recipient of undiluted grace.
It would seem as if the main purpose of our institutions for training
theologians was to impart an ability to dilute scriptures like the seventeenth verse with
a stream of apology and equivocation. They cannot be said to justify their existence. But,
theologians notwithstanding, let us note that God's will is just as prominent here as it
is in the case of Moses. "For this cause I have raised thee up, that I might shew my
power in thee, that my name might be declared." And the absolute control of
the All-Ruler is shown by the kind of illustration chosen by Him to illustrate His
supremacy in the sphere of will. As clay in the hand of a potter so is man in the purposes
of his Maker. Does the illustration prove more than our creeds allow us to think, or
teach? The solution of the difficulty is simple. Either cut out God's illustration, or
man's creed. One must go.
But while we note the variety and difference that exists here, we
should not overlook the fact that, vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy though they be,
both vessels are made by the Potter "out of the same lump." Thus Esau and
Jacob, one "loved" and the other "hated," were "out of the same
lump." Moses before the throne, a servant of God, and Pharaoh upon the throne an
enemy of God were, both of them, despite the differences that lay like yawning chasms
between them, "out of the same lump." A certain unity lay back of, and beyond,
the differences which were developed in the two kinds of vessel. How such a simple phrase
can puncture the bombast of human pride!
In the verses that follow, where the contrasting divisions of the human
race into Jew and Gentile, are referred to, it is well to remember that such distinctions
can be traced back, past their differences, to a common source and a common humanity in
Adam. Both Jew and Gentile, though one be nationally a vessel of mercy and the other a
vessel of wrath, are ultimately "out of the same lump." And not only so but the
vessels of wrath at one time become vessels of mercy at another; and those who were
vessels of mercy then become vessels of wrath now. This seems to be purposely shown in the
fact that whereas in chapter nine the Gentile Pharaoh's heart is hardened, in chapter
eleven (v.25) the position is reversed and while the Gentiles become vessels of mercy it
is now Israel's lot to be "hardened." That God's final purpose in His universal
pottery is not to make some "vessels of mercy" and some
"vessels of wrath" is clear in 11:32 where His declared will is not to have
mercy on some but on ALL.
In chapter ten (v.12) Paul reverts, it would seem, to the same thought.
All national and moral difference between Jew and Gentile is brushed aside. "For
there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek." Why? Because they are
"out of the same lump." That, too, is the lesson of this epistle's earlier
chapters where, as regards sin, as here in regard to grace, the same phrase
summarizes the historical lessons of racial degradation.
"There is no difference" (Rom.3:22). Man is levelled as
concerns both guilt and grace. Social class, intellectual attainment, and national
distinction are alike annihilated by the "no difference" of holy writ. The very
figure of the clay from which the potter molds his vessels suggests to us the truth of
man's earthly origin. "Dust thou art." Potter's mold! Yes, and in that handful
of red earth which the mighty Potter moulded into human form, in that "same
lump" lay, dormant and potential, the myriad varieties of saint and sinner alike.
Moses and Samuel and David the king were there. There also Isaiah, Daniel and Jeremiah.
There the Twelve, with the heroes and martyrs of the early church. The fools and the
philosophers of all earthly time were there. The heroes and the cowards, the noble and the
base, monks and martyrs, pirates and priests lay waiting the moment when they would be
molded into the part they were destined to play in the drama of the ages.
And thus is there "no difference." But if all have come
"out of the same lump," this involves the added thought that the vessels,
however much they differ, are all made by the same Master Potter. "For the SAME LORD
over all is rich unto all that call upon Him." The Potter is the Lord of the Clay. At
least in Scripture He is; but in theology the clay is the lord of the Potter, if
indeed it needs a Potter at all when it becomes what it wills and wishes to become! The
vessels are out of "the same lump," and they have the "same Lord."
Glory to His Name!
Is not this idea also in the background of chapter eleven? There we
have two trees; one "good" and the other "wild;" one a "tree of
mercy" and the other a "tree of wrath;" nevertheless, as both vessels are
out of the same lump so also are both trees, despite their difference, olive trees.
One is a "good" olive tree which we presume, like all good olives, has become so
through cultivation; the other has simply been left to itself. So was Israel in Egypt no
different physically, morally or spiritually from their Egyptian masters, and we can find
as little reason for loving whining, murmuring, and rebellious Israel, as we can for
loving their father Jacob in an earlier day. But God put Israel under
"cultivation." This was the Master Gardener's pleasure as making one vessel a
vessel of mercy was the pleasure of the Master Potter.
Just one more scripture in the eleventh chapter which reminds us of the
Potter in the ninth. "For if the firstfruits be holy so ALSO IS THE LUMP." Not
some of the lump but "THE LUMP." Vessels of wrath do not constitute the
"firstfruits." Pharaoh is not a specimen of the art of God. "Christ
the firstfruits." Is He holy? Then "if the firstfruit be holy, the lump
also is holy." But did He enter into and become part of that same lump?"
"As the children are partakers of flesh and blood he also himself took part of the
same." The art of the Master Potter is shown in the firstfruits Christ, and in
Him is exhibited the goal and the destiny of the human race.
Beyond the mystery of "the lump," we have the still deeper
mystery and truth of man's origin as sketched in that miniature Bible of Romans 11:36.
"Out of the same lump" may humble us in the dust. "Out of the same
God"--we bow in adoration before our heavenly Source. We are not merely one with the
clay, one with our fellow-creatures that the same Artist-Lord has formed from the same
material as ourselves but--surpassing wonder of wonders--we are one with the heavenly