NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ELEVEN (Lesson XXIII)
So what do early church scholars think about the danger of some of the grafted Gentile branches falling off? Bishop Basil says that if that happens, God’s judgment will be in accordance with His grace, and the Judge will examine how they used the gifts bestowed on them.1 And to this we add Pelagius’ thought that if God did not spare those who sprang from the holy root because of their unbelief, how much less will He spare those He grafted that keep on sinning!2 While it is well accepted that Salvation is an integral part of God’s grace, not too many see that Judgment is also an intrinsic part of God’s grace. God will not punish out of anger, but out of sorrow and pity for those who recklessly and foolishly gambled away their opportunity for everlasting life and joy with Him.
John Calvin says there are two conditions we need to take into consideration and that two resulting feelings that will be produced. To begin with, he would have us always keep in mind the miserable condition of our nature; and how this can produce nothing but apprehension that develops into weariness, and anxiety that leads to despair. So it is extremely important that we be willing to fall down at Jesus’ feet and confess our brokenness, that we may call out to Him for forgiveness. But the apprehension we have comes from what we know about ourselves. But this need not keep us from leaning on His goodness so that it may calm our troubled soul. Our weariness should not hinder us from enjoying full comfort in His arms. Our anxiety must not prevent us from experiencing in Him real joy and hope. Our despair can drive us toward the arms of God instead of away from them. The next thing to consider is the fear, of which Paul speaks, that is set up as an antidote for any proud contempt. For everyone who claims for themselves more than what is given to them and becomes so secure that they despise others who have not reached their level, need to realize that our heart must not swell with pride and congratulate itself. The outcome can be spiritually fatal.3
Puritan Jonathan Edwards feels that the real message by Paul to the Gentiles was that their faith in Christ as Savior was not tied to what God did with the Jews before their time came nor will it be affected by what happens to the Jews in the future. He notes that our perseverance in keeping the faith is not only just because we were born-again but that it is an absolute necessity as part of for our salvation. The reason for such an influence and dependence is written in many Scriptures,4 That’s why here in verse 20 Paul tells the Gentiles that even the Jews, as branches, were broken off the tree because of unbelief, they were grafted to the tree by faith. So there is no reason to insist on being made invincible by some guarantee, but it is alright to feel secure by faith.5
Adam Clarke follows the same line of reasoning. He asks us to consider why is it that the Jews were pushed aside. Was it not because of their unbelief? So those Gentiles who stand by faith, those who were made partakers of God’s blessings by faith should not become high-minded. Instead, they should feel humbled and not exalt themselves according to their own estimation. Since the blessings of salvation and sanctification were received by faith and not by works there is then nothing to brag about on how much a person has done. It is all dependent upon the grace and mercy of God. The Jews once stood by faith in the Law, but that quickly gave rise to unbelief, and they fell. The Gentiles now stand by faith in Christ, but it is equally possible for them to be unfaithful once they stop believing. When this happens they will fall under Divine displeasure. So don’t be high-minded, but have reverence and respect for the One that saved you.6
Robert Haldane continues his emphasis on Paul’s admonition that Gentiles should be grateful for the role that Jews played in their receiving the Gospel. However, the Gentile believers might reply that the Jewish branches were broken off the True Olive Tree to make room for Gentile branches from wild olive trees to be grafted in. In a certain sense, this is admitted by the Apostle Paul. But unbelief was the cause of the fall of the Jews, while it is only by faith that the Gentiles remain grafted. So it wasn’t on account of their superior morals that they were grafted into the True Olive Tree since faith is the gift of God, bestowed on whom He will. This then leaves no room for boasting or self-appreciation.
Among the Gentiles who profess the faith, there will soon be a great falling away, and “the man of sin,”7 though he boasts of being exclusively the True Olive Tree — the only True Church — is broken off altogether, and doomed to inevitable destruction. It behooves all Christians to be humble, and to be careful that they too do not backslide in the same kind of predicament that the Jews found themselves in.
Also, Haldane feels that it should be a rare thing when one Christian perceives errors being made by other Christians, to glorify their own holiness while condemning the others. This is highly unbecoming. If a Christian understands any part of the will of God of which their brothers and sisters may still be ignorant, it is God that has made the difference. Remember, “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.”8 So if arrogance is permitted to take hold of anyone’s heart and mind, it is likely that God will bring them to their knees in repentance. To be this obnoxious and self-righteous is as bad, if not worse than the sin one is criticizing in another believer.9
Charles Hodge also remarks on this possible attitude of pride by the Gentiles. They must always keep in mind that they are not the root of the True Olive Tree, Christ is the root from which the tree came and into whom they were grafted in as branches. So there is no reason for Gentiles to pride themselves on the fact that the Jewish branches were broken off to make room for them. So this makes it clear that the Gentiles were not authorized to infer, from the fact that the Jews were rejected, that they were chosen. Nor should they believe they have grounds for being better than the Jewish branches still left on the tree.
So, the fact that some Jewish branches were broken off is admitted by Paul, but the inference drawn by the Gentiles of their superiority is denied by the Apostle. It was not for any personal considerations that the one was rejected and the other chosen. The Jews were spurned because they rejected the Messiah and the only right they were given to become part of a covenant relationship with God, which can only be retained by faith. The Gentiles will not be more secure just because they are Gentiles, any more than the Jews were safe because they were Jews. Therefore, instead of being high-minded, they should be humbled in reverence to the One who paid it all for their being part of the Chosen.10
Octavius Winslow comments on what Paul says in verse 20 about standing firmly in place by faith. For him, if there is any security for a believer, it’s because they stand firmly by faith. So why is it that some have been kept safe to the present moment? We have all seen tall cedar and oak trees blown over onto the ground; we’ve all witnessed many runners in a race that appeared to be “running,” but who, in the hour of temptation and weakness, gave up and dropped out of the race. We’ve also noted that when certain individuals were blessed with power and wealth in this world so as to become well-known and rise to a level of distinction and fame, made shipwreck of their so-called faith in God, and fell into various forms of lust and snares which ended up being their total ruin.
So why have you been kept safe up until now? Is it because your vessel weathered the storm, your feet are still planted firmly upon the rock? Because “you stand by faith.” – because the “faith of God’s elect” has kept you? And although you are deeply conscious of many who have departed from the faith because of weaknesses when they embraced this ungodly, ignorant world, would the same not bring upon you laughter and scorn. But you have never cut the anchor of your soul loose from Jesus the Rock. Instead, the Holy Spirit helped you see your sins, and under conviction, you confessed them and sought forgiveness through a fresh application of the atoning blood of Christ so you could continue to “walk and stand by faith.”
So now! If faith had not kept you, where would you be? Where would the temptation of the flesh have driven you? What sad consequences would sin have involved you in? But O my, that brokenness, that contrition, that mourning, that going afresh to the open fountain, does prove that there was still in you something which would not let you go! The cedar and oak may have fallen, but it was replanted again, stronger than ever. That vessel may have been tossed in the tempest, and even may have been damaged by the rocks and the waves, yet it has found its safe harbor. The “faith of God’s elect” has kept you firm and committed. So don’t be proud of yourself. Don’t be high-minded, but remain in awe and reverence of what got you through. You know that your own vigilance, and power, and wisdom, would be poor safeguards except for the indwelling Holy Spirit holding up that faith can never die.11
Calvin also tells us why any pride or self-confidence should be beaten down. This is especially true of the rejection of the Jews so the door for Gospel was opened to the Gentiles. It should never come across our minds without striking and shaking us with embarrassment. For what ruined them was that through resistless dependence on the dignity which they had obtained by self-righteousness, they despised what God had appointed by faith? They were not spared, though they were natural branches; what then shall be done to us, who are the grafted wild olive branches if we become arrogant beyond reason? But this thought, as it leads us to distrust our own strength, so it should tend to make us cleave more firmly and steadfastly to the goodness of God.12
Adam Clarke also has a warning about self-pride. If God in His infinite justice and holiness refused to tolerate sin in the people whom He foreknew, whom He had so long loved, cherished, miraculously preserved and blessed; be careful that He must not do the same to you. You can be certain that the same righteous principle in Him will cause Him to act towards you as He acted towards them if you sin in the same manner. So be careful that self-sufficiency and self-confidence do not lead you down the same path. Remember, therefore, the rock from which you were chiseled, and the quarry from which you were mined. Depend ceaselessly on God‘s free grace, that you may abide in His favor.13
1 Basil: Homily 20
2 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Hebrews 3: 6, 14; 6: 12
5 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (pp. 255-256)
6 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 222
7 2 Thessalonians 2:3
8 Proverbs 16:18 – Holman Christian Standard Bible
9 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp.538-539
10 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 573
11 Octavius Winslow: Personal Declension & Revival of Religion in the Soul, Ch. 3, Declension in FAITH.
12 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 222