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Romans 9

The apostle’s concern that his countrymen were strangers to the gospel. (1-5) The promises are made good to the spiritual seed of Abraham. (6-13) Answers to objections against God’s sovereign conduct, in exercising mercy and justice. (14-24) This sovereignty is in God’s dealing both with Jews and Gentiles. (25-29) The falling short of the Jews is owing to their seeking justification, not by faith, but by the works of the law. (30-33)

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The apostle’s concern that his countrymen were strangers to the gospel

1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.

3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

The promises are made good to the spiritual seed of Abraham

6 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

9 For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.

10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

Answers to objections against God’s sovereign conduct, in exercising mercy and justice

14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.

15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.

17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.

19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?

20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

24 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,

This sovereignty is in God’s dealing both with Jews and Gentiles

25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.

26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.

27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:

28 For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.

29 And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.

The falling short of the Jews is owing to their seeking justification, not by faith, but by the works of the law

30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.

31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 3. I wished myself to be an anathema from Christ.[1] The word anathema, according to its derivation, signifies a thing separated or laid apart for some particular use. Hence it was put to signify things given and consecrated to God, which therefore used to be presented and hung up in temples. 2. The word also was applied to signify things whose destruction was resolved upon, that is, men or things separated for destruction, as sometimes, men deputed to be sacrificed to the gods to appease their anger. This signification was according to the Hebrew word cherem, and the Syriac word horma, as Numb. xxi. 3. He called the name of that place Horma, that is, anathema; because it was to be entirely destroyed. See 1 Mac. v. Hence anathema was also used for a curse, and to anathematize, to curse. See Acts xxiii. 14. The sense of this place is differently expounded. Tolet, by the word I wished, or I did wish, thinks that S. Paul might speak of the time before his conversion, when out of a false zeal, he wished to be separated from Christ, and from all Christians: and that he brings this to shew his brethren how zealous he had been for their religion. But this wish of S. Paul is generally expounded as proceeding from the great love and charity he had, when he was an apostle, for the conversion and salvation of his brethren, the Jews, who mostly remained obstinate and incredulous: and some will have it to be no more than a hyperbolical expression of his great love and affection for them. Others, with S. Jerom, ep. ad Algasiam, tom. iv. p. 203. Ed. Ben. think that by this way of speaking, S. Paul signifies himself willing to be sacrificed, by undergoing any death for their conversion: but S. Chrys. (hom. xvi.) thinks this far short of the sublime charity of S. Paul; for by such a death, says he, he would not be separated from Christ, but would be a great gainer by it; since by that means he would soon be free from all the troubles and sufferings of a miserable life, and blessed with the company and enjoyment of Christ in the kingdom of his glory. He, and many others, think that S. Paul was so troubled and grieved to the heart at the obstinacy of the unbelieving Jews, at their blasphemies against Christ, and their eternal perdition, that an extraordinary charity and zeal for God’s honour, and their salvation, made him wish even to endure a separation from Christ, and from the glory prepared for him in heaven, though not from the love, or from the grace of Christ. If this, says S. Chrys. seems incredible to us, it is because we are far from such heroic dispositions of the love of God, and of our neighbours. Wi. — The apostle’s concern and love for his countrymen, the Jews, was so great, that he was willing even to suffer an anathema, or curse, for their sake; or any evil that could come upon him, without his offending God. Ch.

Ver. 4-5. To whom belongeth the adoption of children. Lit. whose is the adoption. He mentions the favours which God had done to his people, the Jews. As, 1. That God had adopted them for his elect people. 2. That he had glorified them with so many miracles. 3. That he had made a particular covenant and alliance with them. 4. Given them a written law. 5. Prescribed the manner they should worship him. 6. Promises of divers blessings. 7. Who are from the Fathers. Lit. whose are the Fathers; i.e. who descended from the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, &c. 8. Of whose race, i.e. of the family of David, Jesus Christ, as man, was born. — Who is over all things God,[2] blessed for ever. Amen. Though the apostles did not often, in express words, call Jesus Christ the God, lest the heathens, when they were not sufficiently instructed, should imagine that there were many gods, (as divers of the fathers take notice) yet here, and in several places, they clearly delivered the divinity of our Saviour, Christ. The Socinians might here observe, that the apostle calls him the God blessed for ever, and with the Greek article. Wi.

Ver. 6-7. Not as though the word of God hath failed in his promises made to Abraham, and the patriarchs. The Jews pretended that the promises were made to them only, and to those that were of their race, and that the Gentiles were not to partake of them. S. Paul shews them their mistake, by telling them who are to be esteemed the true children of Abraham, and of the patriarchs, according to the promises which God made, and who are not. Wi. — All are not Israelites, &c. Not all, who are the carnal seed of Israel, are true Israelites in God’s account: who, as by his free grace he heretofore preferred Isaac before Ismael, and Jacob before Esau, so he could, and did by the like free grace, election, and mercy, raise up spiritual children by faith to Abraham and Israel, from among the Gentiles, and prefer them before the carnal Jews. Ch. — Neither are all they, who are of the seed of Abraham, his true spiritual children, to whom these promises were made: nor are all they who are descended from Isaac the children of these promises nor are all they true Israelites, to whom these blessings were promised, although they are descended from Israel; but only they who are the children of the patriarchs by faith in Jesus, the Messias, in whom God promised that he would bless all nations. Wi.

Ver. 9. To prove that the children of Abraham are the children of the promise, he adduces the passage of Scripture: “I will come in a year’s time, and Sara shall have a son.” Gen. xviii. This promised child was Isaac, the true son of the promise of God, and of the faith of Abraham; and not the son of the flesh, for Ismael was this as well as Isaac; but he was granted to the prayers of Abraham, a child of the grace and mercy of God. All the faithful, therefore, of whatever race or nation they may be, are in this sense the children of Abraham, by being gratuitously chosen by God, and by the fidelity in which they are imitators of Abraham. Calmet.

Ver. 10. &c. And not only she (Sara) brought forth Isaac, who was the only child of Abraham, to whom the promises descended, though he was the father of Ismael, by Agar, and of all the Ismaelites. And lest the Jews should say that the Ismaelites, though descending from Abraham, according to the flesh, were not to be reputed as his children for another reason, because they came of Agar, who was only the handmaid of Sara; he brings them another example to which they could make no such reply; to wit, that Rebecca also at once had two sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob; where, though Esau was the first-born, these promises were not reputed as made to him, and his descendants, the Idumeans, who were equally the descendants of Isaac, yet not the favourite people, nor the children of God, as the Jews saw very well. Wi. — Not yet born. By this example of these twins, and the preference of the younger to the elder, the drift of the apostle is, to shew that God, in his election, mercy, and grace, is not tied to any particular nation, as the Jews imagined, nor to any prerogative of birth, or any foregoing merits. For as, antecedently, to his grace, he sees no merit in any, but finds all involved in sin, in the common mass of condemnation; and all children of wrath; there is no one whom he might not justly leave in that mass; so that whomsoever he delivers from it, he delivers in his mercy: and whomsoever he leaves in it, he leaves in his justice. As when, of two equally criminal, the king is pleased out of pure mercy to pardon one, whilst he suffers justice to take place in the execution of the other. Ch. — Nor had done any good or evil. God was pleased to prefer, and promise his blessings to the younger of them, Jacob, declaring that the elder shall serve the younger; that is, that the seed of the elder should be subject to that of the younger, as it happened afterwards to the Idumeans. And the prophet, Malachy, said of them, I have loved Jacob, but hated Esau, and turned his mountains into a desert, &c. — That the purpose of God, his will, and his decree, (see the foregoing ch. v. 28.) might stand according to election, might be, not according to any works they had done, or that he foresaw they would do, but merely according to his mercy. And though the preference which God gave to Jacob was literally true, as to temporal benefits; yet S. Aug. observes in divers places, that Jacob was a figure of the elect or predestinate, and Esau of the reprobate; and that as Jacob and his posterity was more favoured, purely by the mercy of God, without any merits on their side; so are God’s elect, whom he has called, and to whom, according to his eternal purpose, he decreed to give eternal glory, and special graces to bring them thither. Wi.

Ver. 14. What shall we say, then? Is there injustice with God, when he bestows special favours and benefits on some, and not on others? He answers, by no means. And he justifies almighty God’s conduct, v. 22. In the mean time, it is certain that there is no injustice in not giving what another has no right to: and besides all men having sinned, deserved punishment. If then, he shews mercy to some, it is an effect of his goodness and liberality only which they do not deserve. If he leaves others in their sins, they are only punished according to their deserts. His mercy shines upon his elect; and his divine justice is displayed against the wicked and the reprobate, but only according to what they have deserved. Wi.

Ver. 15-16. I will have mercy, &c. Then it is not of him that willeth, &c. By these words he again teaches that God’s call and predestination of those whom he has decreed to save, is not upon account of any works or merits in men, but only to be attributed to the mercy and goodness of God. See S. Thom. of Aquin on this chap. lect. iii. See S. Aug. Encher. c. xcviii. Epis. 194. in the new Ed. Ep. 105. ad Sixtum de lib. Arbit. c. xxv. &c. Wi.

Ver. 17. For the Scripture saith to Pharao, &c. S. Paul had shewn that there was no injustice in God by his giving special graces to the elect; now he shews that God cannot be accounted unjust for leaving the reprobate in their sins, or for punishing them as they deserve; for this purpose he brings the example of Pharao, who remained hardened against all the admonitions and chastisements of him and his kingdom. — Have I raised thee up, placed thee king over Egypt; I have done so many miracles before thee, I have spared thee when thou deservedst to be punished with death, and at last shall punish thee with thy army in the Red Sea, that my name may be known over all the earth. Wi.

Ver. 18. And whom he will, he hardeneth.[3] That is, permits to be hardened by their own malice, as it is divers times said in Exod. that Pharao hardened his heart. God, says S. Aug. is said to harden men’s hearts, not by causing their malice, but by not giving them the free gift of his grace, by which they become hardened by their own perverse will. Wi. — Not by being the cause, or author of his sin, but by withholding his grace, and so leaving him in his sin, in punishment of his past demerits. Ch.

Ver. 19. &c. Thou wilt say, therefore, to me, &c. The apostle makes objection, that if God call some, and harden, or even permit others to be hardened, and no one resisteth, or can hinder his absolute will, why should God complain that men are not converted? S. Paul first puts such rash and profane men in mind, that is unreasonable and impertinent for creatures to murmur and dispute against God their Creator, when they do not comprehend the ways of his providence. — O man,[4] who art thou that repliest against God? This might stop the mouths, and quiet the minds of every man, when he cannot comprehend the mysteries of predestination, of God’s foreknowledge, his decrees and graces, or the manner of reconciling them with human liberty. He may cry out with S. Paul again, (c. xi. 33.) O the riches of the wisdom, and of the knowledge of God! how incomprehensible are his judgments, and how unsearchable his ways!Shall the thing formed, &c. Hath not the potter power, &c.[5] To teach men that they ought not to complain against God and his providence, when they cannot comprehend his works, he puts them in mind of their origin. Every one may say to God, with the prophet Isaias, (vi. 48.) Lord, thou art our Father, and we are but clay; thou art our Maker who framed us, and we are all of us the work of thy hands. Hath not the potter power as he pleaseth, out of the same lump of clay to make some vessels for honourable uses, and some for less honourable. S. Chrys. observes very well, that this comparison must not be extended further than the apostle designed; which was to teach us, how submissive we ought to be to God, in what we do not understand; but we must not pretend from hence, nor from any expression in this chapter, as divers heretics have done, that as vessels of clay are destitute of free will and liberty, so are men. This is against the doctrine of the Catholic Church, and against the Scriptures, in many places. Wi. — The potter. This similitude is used, only to shew that we are not to dispute with our Maker: nor to reason with him why he does not give as much grace to one as to another: for since the whole lump of our clay is vitiated by sin, it is owing to his goodness and mercy that he makes out of it so many vessels of honour; and it is no more than just that others, in punishment of their unrepented sins, should be given up to be vessels of dishonour. Ch.

Ver. 22-23. And if God, &c. He now gives the reason why God might, without any injustice, have mercy on some, and not on others; grant particular graces and favours to his elect, and not equally to all; because all mankind was become liable to damnation by original sin: the clay that all are made of, is a sinful clay; and as S. Aug. says, was become a lump and mass of damnation. Every one had sinned in Adam. Now, if out of this sinful lump and multitude God, to shew the richness of his glory, and superabundant mercy, hath chosen some as vessels of election, whom he hath decreed to save, and by special graces and favours to make partakers of his heavenly kingdom; and to shew his justice and hatred of sin, hath left others as vessels of his wrath and justice, to be lost in their sins, which for a time he bears patiently with, when they deserved present punishment, who can say that he hath done unjustly? Wi.

Ver. 24. &c. Whom also he hath called, &c. That is, he hath called some of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles, to be vessels of election, as he foretold by his prophet Osee, (ii. 24.) I will call them my people, that were not my people, . . . and I will make them the children of the living God. And as it was also foretold by the prophet Isaias, of all the numerous nation of the Jews, only a remnant shall be saved, by their obstinacy in not receiving, and refusing to believe in, their Messias. For finishing his word, and reducing it by his justice to a little, because the Lord will bring to pass his word reducing it to a small compass upon the earth. The sense and construction of this verse is equally obscure in the Greek and in the Latin text: the true sense seems to be, that finishing his word, or fulfilling his promises to Israel, those that are to be saved, will be reduced by his justice for their sins, to a few; because, though he bring to pass his word, and his promises, the saved among the Israelites will be reduced to a small compass, in comparison of the great number of the Gentiles. This exposition agrees with the rest of the text, and with what follows, and was foretold by Isaias, (c. i. 9.) that unless the God of Sabaoth (of hosts) had, through his mercy, left them a seed, a small number, they would all in a manner have deserved to be utterly destroyed, like Sodom and Gomorrha. Wi. — What I say, shall come to pass, that in those places, viz. Greece, Italy, &c. where those who are strangers to the worship of the true God dwell, and have been called, on account of their profane worship, not my people. In those very places, they shall receive the true worship of God, and by this means shall become and be called the children of the living God. He is so particular as to place, lest the Jews should imagine that the Gentiles would be converted like their former proselytes, and either dwell in Judea, or repair to it at certain stated times. Thus the apostle repeats what Jesus Christ had before said to the Samaritan woman. The hour will come when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you adore the Father. Estius. John iv. — A remnant. That is, a small number only of the children of Israel shall be converted and saved. How perversely is this text quoted for the salvation of men of all religions, when it speaks only of the converts of the children of Israel. Ch. — S. Paul is here speaking of the reprobation of the Jews, and of the vocation of the Gentiles, and foretells that a remnant, or small number of the children of Israel shall be converted, and saved. In the sense of S. Paul, we sincerely hope, and confidently trust, that a remnant of all will be saved through a timely conversion. But we no where read, in the Old, or New Scriptures, that a remnant of all will be saved, as if it were a matter of indifference to what society or connexion a Christian was joined. A.

Ver. 30-32. What then shall we say? Or what shall we conclude from these testimonies of the Scripture, but this paradox, as S. Chrys. calls it, that they who sought for justice, or sanctification, found it not, and they who did not seek it, found it; that is, the Jews, who sought for this justice by the works of their law, which they magnified so much, have not attained to that law that could make them just; whereas the Gentiles, who had no such written law to confide in, have only sought to be justified by the faith and law of Christ, by which they have met with justice, and sanctification? Wi. — Behold what was wanting to the justice of the Jews! Scrupulous observers of the ceremonial law: esteeming too much their power, and pretended justice, they regarded the gospel and faith in Christ as of no advantage. Running in the path of the commandments with zeal, but without circumspection, they struck against Jesus Christ, who became to them a stumbling-block. They rejected him: they refused to believe. Thus did their works become dead works, without any fruit for eternity. Calmet.

Ver. 33. Why then have not the Jews been justified? because they stumbled at the stumbling-stone: that is, the doctrine of Christ crucified has been a scandal to the Jews, at which being offended, they would not own him for their Messias. Yet whosoever believeth in him, and follows his law and doctrine, shall not be confounded, but obtain justification and salvation. Wi.

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[1] V. 3. Anathema esse a Christo, anathema einai apo tou Christou. From anathesthai. See anathema, and anathema in Legh’s critic. sac. See S. Chrys. hom. xiv. p. 136. Ed. Sav. where he says, that to expound S. Paul, as if he wished to die for Christ’s sake, is a childish exposition, not worthy of the great charity of S. Paul, that is deserves no confutation: ouk esti tauta, ouk esti . . . oude gar antilegein pros taouta axion. He thinks that S. Paul was willing to be separated, not from the love of Christ, (God forbid) but from the glory of the kingdom of heaven; Pag. 135. allotriothenai ouchi tes agapes autou, me genoito, alla tes apolauseos ekeines kai tes doxes.

[2] V. 5. Qui est super omnes Deus benedictus in sæcula. Amen. o on ep ponton theos eulogetos eis tous aionas, Amen.

[3] V. 18. Et quem vult indurat. &c. S. Aug. l. de Gra. & Lib. Arb. c. 23. Deus induravit cor Pharaonis, & ipse Pharao per Liberum Arbitrium. Quærimus meritum obdurationis & invenimus: merito namque peccati, universa massa damnata est: nec obdurat Deus impertiendo malitiam, sed non impertiendo misericordiam: . . . quærimus autem meritum misericordiæ, nec invenimus: quia nullum est, ne gratia evacuetur, si non gratis donetur, sed meritis redditur. Obduratio Dei est, nolle miserere, &c. Pharao, says S. Chrys. was a vessel of anger, but his was from himself; kai par eautou.

[4] V. 20. O homo, tu quis es? &c. The apostle, says S. Chrys. (p. 141.) does not say, that this cannot be answered, but that such questions are impertinent, because we cannot understand what God does, &c. ou legei oti adunaton toiauta luein, &c.

[5] V. 21. Annon potestatem habet figulus, &c.? S. Chrys. (p. 142.) expressly takes notice, that we must not by this comparison pretend that man has not free-will, &c. entautha ou to autexousion anairon. &c.