NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson VII)
Charles Hodge adds his insights on verse 6 to those of the others. He accepts this verse as an exegetical comment on the last clause of the preceding one. If the election spoken of is by grace, it is not founded then on works, for the two things are incompatible. This was no doubt the Apostle’s desire to keep the unmerited gift of the election of individuals by grace in clear view. This, in turn, would also keep the enjoyment of the blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom right before our eyes. Paul would not otherwise have stopped in the middle of his discourse to insist that we prioritize this idea.
This verse also serves to illustrate several declarations of the Apostle in chapter nine. For example, in Romans 9:11 people are said to be chosen in a sovereign manner, not according to their good deeds, the same as it is said here in verse 6. It is obvious that any charitable deeds a person might do in the future were excluded as all others. Any choice founded upon what may happen in the future may then include anything a person may speculate will happen. Consequently, it would not be accredited to grace, in the sense asserted by the Apostle here. In the second place, the choice which is here declared to be so entirely gratuitous is being chosen to become part of the kingdom of Christ. This is evident from the whole context, and especially from verse 7. It was from this kingdom and all its spiritual and eternal blessings that the Jews, as a body, were eliminated, and to which “the remnant according to the election by grace” was admitted.1
Frédéric Godet shared his thoughts on verse 6 by saying that the Apostle wished to express the idea, that if Israel possesses this privilege of always preserving within their bosom a faithful remnant, it is not because of any particular merit they have acquired by their good deeds; it is purely a matter of grace on the part of Him who chose them. The moment the idea that a person could merit consideration for being elected by God through good deeds us accepted, it immediately threatens to take away from grace its character of freeness. Why add such an idea to God’s plan? It proved to be a matter of grace by which the loyalty of the remnant was maintained that forced God to reject the masses that did not believe. That’s why such rejection cannot be seen as injustice. If there were, on the part of Israel as a nation, the slightest hint of their good deeds being considered as merit for their election, then the whole idea of the remnant being reserved based on grace would have lost its validity.2
Charles Ellicott takes issue with the KJV rendering of verse six. In the Authorized Version, it reads: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” However, in the Greek, it is rendered: “And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For, in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is – free and undeserved.”3 As Ellicott sees it, the preservation of the remnant cannot be due to grace and works at the same time; it must be due to one or the other.4 And since it is impossible by works, then only grace remains.
John Stott believes we must keep in mind that grace is God’s merciful kindness to the undeserving, so that if His election is by grace, then it has nothing to do with good deeds according to the Law. If it were, grace would no longer require gratitude. It is refreshing, in our era of relativistic fog, to see Paul’s resolve in maintaining the purity of verbal meanings. His objective is to insist that grace excludes works, that is, God’s initiative excludes ours. If you confuse such opposites as faith and works being equal in strength and value, then words will simply lose their meaning.5
Douglas Moo adds his support of this concept by saying that for him grace means that works have no role to play in God choosing and blessing whomever He pleases. Such an act is entirely free and it is God’s prerogative to elect His choice to receive His favor by grace. If those blessings were, in fact, possible by our works, God would not be granting His blessings freely, and grace would no longer be grace. Rather, it would become blessings that God would begrudgingly have to give due to merit.6
And Jewish scholar David Stern joins in by noting that in verse 6 Paul reiterates what he said about legalistic works apart from trust in God, and how they are incompatible with grace. This requires no effort or prior deeds, only trust. But here the emphasis is on the relationship between good works and being chosen: works that please God must follow selection by Him, not precede it.7 So by now everyone in Rome should have a clear understanding that salvation is God’s choice, not theirs; that God’s choice is made possible by His grace, not by how good a person may claim to be; and God’s decision cannot be swayed one way or the other because He already decided before the world began.
Verses 7-8: So this is what happened: The people of Israel did not obtain the blessings they were striving for. Rather, the ones God selected got His blessings, but the rest became as hard as rocks. As the Scriptures say, “God caused the people to fall asleep. God closed their eyes so that they could not see, and He closed their ears so that they could not hear. This continues until now.8”
At this point, we must ask the question: What prompts God to send His Spirit to pick out someone He wants led to Christ for salvation? God gave a clue by what He said through His prophets. Moses, for instance, said to the children if Israel just before they entered the Promised Land: “From there you shall seek Yahweh your God, and you shall find Him, when you search after Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”9 Then David told his son Solomon: “If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever.”10 And through Jeremiah God told all those who would listen: “Then you will call to Me. You will come and pray to Me, and I will hear you. When you look for Me, you will find Me. When you wholeheartedly seek Me, I will let you find Me, declares the LORD.”11 In other words, all that mankind sees above them and all around them is God’s invitation for them to come and get to know Him better. It is then from these that God makes a selection as to who will be His and who will not.
Paul points out to his readers in Rome that this is what happened to many Jews. Through Abraham’s calling, they were invited to be part of God’s elect. But many of them did not find what they were looking for because they took the wrong road. That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired Solomon to say to those who rejected the truth when it was presented to them: “They will call on Me, but I will not answer. They will look for Me, but they will not find Me. Because they hated much learning and did not choose the fear of the Lord. They would not listen when I told them what they should do. They laughed at all My warnings.”12
As Jesus made His way to Jerusalem preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God, many came up to Him and asked how many would be saved from the punishment of sin. Jesus told them that it won’t be easy, and many will try to get in on their own but they won’t make it.13 Then the writer of Hebrews uses Jacob and Esau as examples of those who are part of Abraham’s promise. Jacob was renamed Israel as he wrestled with the angel and went on to become the father of all Israelites. But Esau gave up his birthright for a bowl of porridge. Says the writer: “He did not get it even when he asked for it with tears. It was too late to make right the wrong he had done.”14
So, Paul says, those that God has chosen to be part of the kingdom, were chosen by grace not by any works that they did to deserve it. Paul made this clear to the Thessalonians: “Christian brothers, the Lord loves you… It is because God has chosen you from the beginning to save you from the punishment of sin. He chose to make you holy by the Holy Spirit and to give you faith to believe the truth.”15 In other words, when Paul came preaching the truth of the Gospel, they saw the light. Some turned to the light as they heard God’s call while others turned from the light and rejected the call.
In fact, it is as though they were blinded by the light or had their eyes covered so they couldn’t see the light and understand what it meant.16 But in reality, they closed their eyes to the light. That’s why Jesus quoted Isaiah when He said to His disciples who couldn’t understand why so many turned away from the truth: “I speak to them in picture-stories. They have eyes but they do not see. They have ears but they do not hear and they do not understand.”17 And Paul confessed to the Corinthians that many of the Jews who came out to hear him preach walked away unfazed. He said: “Their minds were not able to understand… They do not see that Christ is the only One Who can take the covering away… But whenever a man turns to the Lord, the covering is taken away. The heart is free where the Spirit of the Lord is.”18 And to the Thessalonians Paul had this warning about those who turn away from the light: “Those who are lost in sin will be fooled by the things he can do. They are lost in sin because they did not love the truth that would save them. For this reason, God will allow them to follow false teaching so they will believe a lie. They will all be guilty as they stand before God because they wanted to do what was wrong.”19
The quote from Isaiah that Paul uses here to make his point, comes from an interesting situation. Conditions in Jerusalem had reached such a point that she faced defeat and possible extinction from not only the fury of nature but also the force of her enemies. Isaiah referred to Jerusalem by her symbolic name “Ariel,” which means “victorious with God.” Spiritually speaking, the Jews had become drunk with the wine of the world, and it appeared that there was no way for salvation to come through His neglected Word. Isaiah describes this frustrating situation with an illustration. He writes: “For you this whole prophetic vision has become like the message in a sealed-up scroll. When one gives it to someone who can read and says, ‘Please read this,’ he answers, ‘I can’t, because it’s sealed.’ If the scroll is given to someone else…with the request, ‘Please read this,’ and he says, ‘ But I can’t read.’”20
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 554
2 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 New Living Translation Interlinear, published by Tyndall
4 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Douglas J. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10
9 Deuteronomy 4:29 – World English Bible
10 1 Chronicles 28:9 – English Standard Version
11 Jeremiah 29:12 -14a
12 Proverbs 1:28-30
13 Luke 13:24
14 Hebrews 12:17
15 2 Thessalonians 2:13
16 Isaiah 44:18
17 Matthew 13:13; See John 12:40
18 2 Corinthians 3:14-17; (see 4:4)
19 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12
20 Isaiah 29:11-12