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Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries




VERSES 14—18.



IN the first five verses of this chapter, Paul, as we have seen, affirms, in the most solemn manner, his great heaviness and sorrow of heart, on account of the impending doom of the mass of his brethren and kindred, the Jews.

He also states certain circumstances connected with the Jews which made their then state, and consequent prospective doom, sources of such anguish to his mind. 1. He had himself once been in the same state of mind in which they then were, and exposed to the same doom that was impending over them. They were wishing themselves accursed from Christ. He had once willed the same thing relatively to himself. 2. They were the descendants of the holy patriarchs and the greatest honors and privileges attached to them, consequent on their relations as the messianic seed of such patriarchs.

In referring to the relations and privileges of his countrymen consequent on their patriarchal descent, Paul presents, in the strongest possible light, the very facts on which the Jew rested his hope of eternal life, and denied his exposure to any threatenings which God has denounced against sinners. Paul admits the facts, and admits them in all their length and breadth; but denies the conclusion which the Jew based upon them.

To sustain and demonstrate the truth of that denial is the object of the apostle, in all his reasonings from verse 6, and onwards through the chapter. He admits the patriarchal descent of the Jew, and the high honors and privileges pertaining to him as the messianic seed of Abraham. But the case of the Jew, in consequence of these facts, is not, he says, such that God's word of threatening has lost its curse-inflicting power in reference to him, because he is a Jew, any more than it has in reference to other sinners; and that for this reason all the natural descendants of Israel are not his spiritual offspring; nor, because men are the mere lineal descendants of Abraham, are they all his spiritual children. If this was so, as the Jew claimed that it was, then, whatever threatenings God may have denounced against sinners, such denunciations could have no efficacy as far as the Jew was concerned. He was curse-proof, consequent on his relations to Abraham. You are not curse-proof, is the argument of the apostle, for the all-sufficient reason, that all the lineally descended offspring of the patriarchs are not, as a matter of fact—a fact which you yourself acknowledge—their spiritual offspring, and, consequently, heirs with them of eternal life. To demonstrate the truth of this denial of the position of the Jew, is the object of the apostle in citing the cases of the descendants of Abraham, through Ishmael and Esau.

In reference to both these people, the Jew himself admitted the following conclusions, which were of the most vital bearing upon the apostle's position. 1. Their descent was really and truly patriarchal, and that of the posterity of Esau of the purest possible kind. 2. Yet such descent did not secure for them a place even among the messianic seed of Abraham. How, then, could such descent merely place the Jew among Abraham's spiritual offspring, and render him curse-proof against God's word of threatening? 3. That this descent did not, in fact, do this in reference to the posterity of Ishmael and Esau, the Jew himself confessed and affirmed. How presumptuous in him, then, to suppose that such descent could shield him from God's word of threatening, if he should reject God's righteousness!

To cut the Jew off from all hope resting on mere patriarchal descent, the apostle reminds him that God's purpose to elect one part of the descendants of Isaac as the messianic seed of Abraham, and to exclude the other, was announced when the ancestors of these peoples had neither merit nor demerit that could constitute them heirs of such election. Those ancestors were not yet born, and neither of them had done anything good or evil. If God made a discrimination among even the descendants of Isaac, in making up the messianic seed of Abraham, what reason had the Jew to conclude that a discrimination, if reasons, such as a rejection of God's righteousness, should demand it, would not he made among the posterity of Israel, in making up the spiritual offspring of Abraham?

That I have rightly explained the object of the apostle in his reasonings against the error of the Jew, and in the use which he makes of the cases of the descendants of Ishmael and Esau, I presume no one will doubt. How clearly is this shown in the conclusion which the apostle draws from the case of the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael, in verses 7 and 8, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called;" that is, your name shall be called upon your posterity descending through Isaac, and not upon those through Ishmael. Now mark the conclusion which the apostle deduces from this declaration: "that is," in other words, this example proves at "they which are children of the flesh, (mere lineal descendants of the patriarchs,) these are not (merely for that reason) the children of God." The Jew said they were, and were consequently, whatever they might do, shielded from God's word of threatening. The conclusion which Paul draws from the example of Isaac and Ishmael, shows that his object in adducing their case was to disprove the affirmation. For the express and avowed object of sustaining the same position, he proceeds to cite the case of Jacob and Esau. I have not, then, misapprehended the great object or design of the apostle in the portion of the chapter which we have already considered. This, I presume, all will admit. If this be admitted, two conclusions necessarily follow from that admission. 1. I have also rightly interpreted the particular passages of which the whole is made up; for I have so interpreted them, and only so, as to render their real meaning harmonious with the great design under consideration. No opposite or different explanations can be made to fall in with that design. 2. No place whatever is found, in the first thirteen verses of this chapter, for the doctrines of eternal and unconditional election and reprobation. Nothing that we have yet found even looks towards these doctrines.

Explanation of Romans ix., verses 14—18.

We now advance to a direct consideration of the passage which I shall attempt to explain and elucidate in this lecture. In respect to the design of the apostle, in this passage, there can be no doubt. It is to answer an objection which a Jew would naturally urge against his position and argument in the preceding part of the chapter, and to answer it in such a way as to confirm and strengthen that position and argument. Permit me to ask a question or two here. Would the introduction of the doctrines of eternal and unconditional election and reprobation tend to any such result? What appropriate place could they have in such a connection as this? What tendency has such a doctrine to prove that God is not unjust in not making mere patriarchal descent the condition of eternal life? Can anybody in the wide world tell us how?

But to the passage itself, "What shall we say then?" that is, what conclusion shall we deduce from the doctrine which has been demonstrated as true in the preceding part of the chapter, to wit, that the Jew, merely because he is a lineal descendant of Abraham and the patriarchs, is not, for that reason merely, an heir of glory with Abraham, and curse-proof in respect to God's word of threatening denounced against all who reject God's righteousness, which is through faith in Christ? "Is there unrighteousness with God?" that is, is this the conclusion we shall draw from such a fact? Shall we conclude that if God does not save the Jew, however wicked, and doom to eternal death the Gentile, however holy,—and that simply because the one is and the other is not a descendant of Abraham and the other patriarchs, that therefore God is not righteous in his dispensations? "God forbid;" that is, it is not so by any means.

To show this, the apostle makes a direct appeal to what was recorded in the Scriptures, as having been said by God to Moses. The Jew acknowledged the divine authority of what was there written. If, then, Paul could show, that his doctrine was clearly and undeniably taught in the Jewish Scriptures themselves, the objection of the Jew against it would be perfectly silenced. This is the very appeal to which he now resorts: "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." The term "For," in the commencement of this verse, shows what Paul's object is in citing the words of God to Moses. There is not unrighteousness with God in dealing with the Jew according to the principle which I have laid down and established. "For he (God) saith unto Moses:" that is, the very doctrine which I maintain is affirmed in the declaration of God to Moses, which I will now cite. If this declaration, then, is rightly explained, it will be so explained as to affirm that doctrine. To show that it does contain this doctrine, let us now recur to the circumstances in which this declaration of God to Moses was made. The declaration is cited from Ex. xxxiii. 19. It was also made directly and immediately with reference to the Jews. Whatever principle of the divine administration, therefore, is contained in it, the Jew himself would acknowledge was applicable to him. What, then, were the circumstances in which this declaration was made? Moses had been for forty days and forty nights in the mount with God. During this time God had written the Ten Commandments with his own finger on the two tablets of stone. While this solemn scene was being enacted in the mount, the people in the camp had made a golden calf, and were around it engaged in the most obscene and idolatrous worship. God reminded Moses of the fearful fact, and proposed to him to destroy the whole people, and make of him a great nation. Moses entreated God not to do this, but to spare the people. He then went down among the people, destroyed their idol, inflicted due vengeance upon the heading idolaters, and then reascended the mount and besought the Lord to pardon the sin of the people. This petition and God's answer are found in Ex. xxxii. 32—34. "Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Therefore, now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee to behold, mine angel shall go before thee, nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them." Here you will observe that God answered the prayer of Moses so far as sparing the lives of the people was concerned. He peremptorily denied his request, however, as far as the petition for the pardon of their sin was concerned. He proposed to spare the people's lives, to permit an angel of his to go before them and head them into the promised land; but threatened to take his own presence from their midst, and not to head them in as his people. Moses afterwards appeared before God to get this fearful threatening of the withdrawment of the Shekinah removed. God heard him even here. "My presence (face) shall go with thee." Then Moses presented one petition in his own behalf. "I beseech Thee, show me thy glory." To this petition God also acceded. In doing so, however, he reminded Moses of the petition which he had presented for the pardon of the people. As far as this is concerned, is the divine response, my principles of administration are fixed and changeless. If you ask me to forgive those who are sinning against me, I cannot grant the request. I receive no dictation from creatures in respect to the conditions on which I shall pardon the sinner. On the other hand, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion;" that is, I have my own conditions on which I will pardon sin, and the petitions of no individuals, in behalf of those, whoever they may be, who have not complied with these conditions, can avail with me. This is the plain meaning of this remarkable declaration of God to Moses. Mark, now, its bearing upon the apostle's argument with the Jew. The Jew affirmed that although he should sin, and continue in it, he was shielded from the threatened curse, by his relations to Abraham. Paul adduces a ease in which even Moses prayed for the removal of the curse which hung over Jews themselves, who were yet in their sins: and God positively refused to grant his request, and left the curse still suspended, without mitigation, over the transgressor. No, says God. I cannot grant such a request. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," &c. How, then, could the Jew hope, while remaining in the same state, that the merits of Abraham would shield him from the curse which God still suspended over him? Such is the argument of the apostle in adducing this saying of God to Moses.

Observe, now, the conclusion which the apostle bases upon this declaration of God to Moses: "So, then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy;" that is, it follows from the declaration of God to Moses just cited. What is it that follows from this declaration? This: that the condition of mercy does not depend upon the will of him that seeks mercy, nor upon that of him who runs after it, but upon the will of God who shows or exercises mercy. If it belongs to God to dispense mercy, it belongs to him also to prescribe the condition on which he will dispense it. The Jew was seeking mercy and running after it; but, instead of inquiring after the condition on which God had promised to bestow it, he was prescribing conditions for God. He consequently remained ignorant of "God's righteousness" or method of salvation, and, in "going about to establish his own righteousness," refused to "submit to the righteousness of God." God had said to Moses, "I will have mercy," &c. It became the Jew, then, not to say God must save this man and destroy that; but to inquire who it is that God will bestow mercy upon; and, by becoming such, to receive that mercy himself.

The mistake of the high Calvinist, in his explanation of this passage, is this: he does not inquire what it is that "is not of him that willeth," &c., but concludes that the word "it" refers to conversion or election, instead of pardon. To suppose that this term refers to Conversion, or eternal and unconditional election, and not to the condition of pardon, is a violation of all the laws of interpretation. Nothing whatever has been said in the chapter about conversion or election, or any such doctrine, one way or the other. The condition of mercy on the other hand, is the point, and the only point at issue, in this connection, between the apostle and the Jew. The term "it," then, according to all the laws of language, must represent this idea. How important it was for the Jew to understand this great truth. He was earnestly seeking for mercy, and was running his round of ceremonies to obtain it, but was prescribing conditions of his own, instead of inquiring after God's way of life, and thus "submitting to God's righteousness." The truth, then, that he needed to be reminded of, is the fact that the condition of mercy does not depend upon the will of him that seeks it, nor upon that of him that runs after it, but upon the will of God who bestows it. This is the sentiment, and the only sentiment, expressed by the apostle in this passage.

In further confirmation of the truth thus clearly established, Paul next adduces the case of Pharaoh. "For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth." The term "for" connects this verse with what goes before, and shows that the object of the apostle, in adducing this case, is to elucidate and confirm the doctrine which he has just set forth. There must be something in this saying to Pharaoh, therefore, which bears directly and decisively upon that doctrine. The doctrine is this, that God will have mercy upon those who comply with his own divinely prescribed condition, and upon none others, whatever their relations or circumstances may be. What, then, is there in this inspired declaration to Pharaoh that elucidates and confirms this great truth? Let us see if we can find in it this important principle. The first clause of the declaration is this: "For this cause have I raised thee up." The Greek word here rendered "raised up" is applied when an individual is raised from any condition in which he was before, to a higher or different state. For example: If he is asleep, to raise up, means to awaken out of sleep; if he is dead, to raise from death to life; and if he is sick, to restore to health. The literal meaning of the original Hebrew word which the Greek term under consideration represents, in the connection in which it is found, (Ex. ix. 16,) means, to cause to stand. They indicate that Pharaoh had been raised up from some state in which he had been before these words were addressed to him. What was that state? Pharaoh and all his people had just been restored from the fearful plague of the "boils breaking out with blains upon man and upon beast." God appears before him, through his servants Moses and Aaron, and tells him that if he will continue to rebel against his word, he will go on with his judgments for the purpose of convincing Pharaoh and his people that there was "none like God in all the earth." "For I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the earth. For now I will stretch out my hand, that I may smite thee and thy people with pestilence, and thou shalt be cut off from the earth." In such a connection, and just as Pharaoh had been restored from such a disease, the words before us were addressed to him. "And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up." Raising from the bed of sickness, and restoration from the fearful disease which had just fallen upon him, was the raising up referred to. Calling into being, cannot be the meaning of these words in this connection. The words rendered raised up, never, I believe, have this signification. The idea of raising up to the throne of Egypt, is also too remote from the circumstances in which the words were uttered to be the raising up referred to.

But for what purpose was Pharaoh raised up? Two reasons are assigned, "that I might show my power in thee""and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth." What is the meaning of the first clause? Paul speaks of God's having "revealed his Son in him." The meaning in this case cannot be mistaken. It means not only that God made Christ known to Paul, but that a union was consummated between Paul and Christ, by means of that revelation. To reveal God's power in an individual, then, implies, that the individual has not only received the knowledge of God, but has come into harmony with the truth revealed to him. The first object of God, therefore, in restoring Pharaoh to health, and preserving him as he had done, was to secure, by means of that revelation, his salvation. The salvation of Pharaoh, then, was God's first object in all his dealings with him.

But what was the second? "And that my name might be declared throughout all the earth;" that is, through you, as a monument of grace, should you repent, or a monument of wrath, should my judgments fail of their primary object in respect to you, to bring about a consummation in which, for the salvation of the race, "God's name should be declared throughout all the earth." Such is the evident meaning of this very extensively misunderstood, and, consequently, fearfully perverted, passage. Instead of calling this unfortunate man into being, or raising him to the throne of Egypt, for the purpose of making him, for the terror of mankind, a monument of wrath, God is here revealed as sparing the guilty man, in the midst of the most terrific judgments, and restoring him from a deadly disease, with none other than purposes of mercy to him and to the race, with no intent of resorting to reprobating judgment, till all efforts to prevent such a doom had become perfectly hopeless.

To render the truth of this explanation still more evident, permit me to recur again to the connection in which this passage stands in Ex. ix. According to the celebrated Hebrew grammarian, Dr. Isaac Nordheimer, and many other learned biblical scholars, the preceding verse should be thus rendered: "For should I now stretch out my hand, and smite thee and thy people with pestilence, thou wouldst be cut off from the earth;" that is, should I bring down my judgments as I might do, you would be cut off from the earth, and thereby your probation being brought to a sudden and final termination, you would have no other opportunity to obtain mercy. In the 14th verse, God informs Pharaoh that for the purpose of securing his salvation and that of his people, by convincing them that there was "none like him (God) in all the earth," he would, "at that time, send all his plagues upon him, and upon his servants, and upon his people." In the next verse, the one above explained, to show the monarch how completely he was in God's hands, God reminds him that if he should, as he might do, "stretch out his hand and smite Pharaoh and his people with pestilence, (with destructive disease, instead of plagues, under which life might be preserved,) he would be cut off from the earth;" his probation thereby being at once terminated, and no further opportunity afforded him "for repentance unto life." Then, in the next verse, that cited by Paul, God adds, "And in very deed, for this cause," that is, to prevent thy destruction, by lengthening out thy probation, on the one hand, and by "showing thee my power" to secure thy salvation, on the other, "I have raised thee up," (restored thee to health, and preserved thee alive in the midst of my judgments.) This, God informed Pharaoh, was his direct and immediate design, as far as he as an individual was concerned. But he had another ulterior design. Through Pharaoh, as a monument of mercy—should he repent, or of judgment—should God's dispensations fail of their end, in respect to him is an individual, he designed, for the salvation of the race, to bring about a consummation in which "His (God's) name should be declared (revealed or made known) throughout all the earth." As a vessel of mercy or of wrath, Pharaoh was to be, in the hands of God, an instrument of good to the race. The latter God would not render him till all hope of his repentance was annihilated, by his incorrigible resistance to God's efforts for his salvation. Such, I repeat, is the real meaning of this very commonly misunderstood and fearfully perverted passage. When rightly expounded, it wears but one aspect, that of infinite benignity blended with beneficent but awful judgment, the only aspect becoming the face of God.

But how does this example bear upon the apostle's argument? The Jew maintained that no individual, a descendant of Abraham and within the pale of the Jewish community, could be lost. He was shielded against the curse of God, and secure of pardon, whatever his sins might be, in consequence of his relations to the patriarchs. It would imply unrighteousness in God, were a Jew lost, and a Gentile saved, whatever the character of either might be. To convince his countrymen, and that from their own Scriptures, that they were wholly and most fatally deceived, in holding such dogmas, Paul adduces the sayings of God to Moses on the one hand, and to Pharaoh on the other. In these passages the following great facts, bearing directly and most decisively upon the question at issue, stand most distinctly and undeniably revealed. 1. When expressly entreated, even by Moses, to pardon Jews, while in their sins, God refused to grant the request. How could the Jew, then, without repentance, expect to escape the judgment of God? 2. God pledged himself, even to Pharaoh, that he should be forgiven, if he would repent; and finally brought reprobating judgments upon that guilty man, only when all further efforts for his salvation were hopeless. The Jewish dogma, then, was in palpable opposition to God's own revealed principles of administration in respect to Jews and Gentiles both. The sentiments of Paul, on the other hand, involved no "unrighteousness in God," no forfeiture of his word, because they accorded perfectly with the express revelation of God, in the Jewish Scriptures themselves. 3. The Jew was, at that very time, in circumstances precisely similar to that in which Pharaoh was when God's message of mercy and judgment was conveyed to him, and should be admonished, by the final doom of that monarch, not to incur similar judgments, by hardening himself against God, as that man had done. Thus we see that the sayings of God to Moses, on the one hand, and to Pharaoh, on the other, were of most vital bearing upon the question at issue between Paul and his brethren the Jews. They were perfectly decisive of the whole argument.

We now advance to a consideration of verse 18, into which all the previous reasonings of the apostle culminate. "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth." The word "therefore" shows the connection of this verse with what goes before. The true sense of the verse obviously depends upon the meaning to be attached to the words "hath mercy" and "hardeneth." Of the meaning of the former words there can be no doubt. Mercy and pardon are synonymous terms, and are used in the same sense throughout the Scriptures, when applied to the same subject. The literal meaning of the term harden is, to render an object hard. When applied to moral agents it means, primarily, to render obstinate, reprobate; and, secondly, to render to such, as have rendered themselves reprobate, deserved retributions, in which case it stands opposed to, or is the opposite of, mercy. In this last sense it is obviously to be understood in the passage before us. As the meaning of the words "hath mercy" is known to be to bestow pardon, the meaning of the opposite term, "harden," must be, to render to those who render themselves incorrigible, deserved retributions. The meaning of the whole verse may be thus expressed. God, as is evident from what has been shown from the divine declarations to Moses and Pharaoh, has, in opposition to the Jewish idea, that in the exercise of mercy he is confined to the Jew, and of judgment to the Gentile, his own principles of administration, in conformity to which he pardons whom he will, and punishes whom he will. The idea is not that God renders holy whom he will, and sinful whom he will, or that he eternally elects or reprobates whom he will. The apostle has no reference either direct or indirect to any such dogmas. He is speaking exclusively in opposition to the Jewish error which confined the exercise of mercy and judgment to natural descent and outward condition, instead of its being dispensed according to character, without reference to any other circumstances. God, the apostle would assure us, is not, in his dispensations, bound down by any humanly prescribed conditions. He has his own principles according to which mercy and judgment are dispensed, and, if we would obtain the one and avoid the other, we must not go about to establish a righteousness of our own; but learn of God what his principles of administration are, and, by submitting to his righteousness, become partakers of the "great salvation."

The mistake of the high Calvinist, in his explanation of this passage, lies here. He assumes that the words "hath mercy" refer to conversion; whereas they never bear this meaning. While he assumes this, in opposition to all the laws of correct interpretation, he shrinks from the conclusion to which such a construction necessarily conducts us, to wit, that the opposite word, "hardeneth," must, in that case, mean to render sinful and confirm in sin. If the words "hath mercy" do refer to conversion, the term "hardeneth" must mean to render incorrigible in sin, which it would be impious in us to impute to God. No explanation of any passage which does, of necessity, impute such a principle to God, can be correct, or should be admitted as such.


1. In the Scriptures, God is, in some few instances, as in the case of Pharaoh, said to harden the hearts of individuals. What meaning should we attach to such declarations? In reply, I would remark that God is said, in the Scriptures, to bring an event to pass,—1. When he is the efficient cause of such event. 2. When he does that from which the event necessarily results. 3. When he does that which is the mere occasion, but in no sense the efficient cause, of the event. Thus, Christ, by his coming into the world, sent fire on the earth. In this last sense, exclusively, God hardens the hearts of creatures. He simply, in the accomplishment of his own benevolent purposes, does that, in resisting which, they harden their own hearts.

2. We now see how totally the apostle's reasonings and purposes, throughout this whole chapter, must be perverted to draw from it any such doctrines as that of eternal and unconditional election and reprobation. His fundamental aim must be wholly overlooked, and his entire course of argument turned from its true end, to make him teach any such doctrines.

3. What a divine aspect the dealings of God with Pharaoh wear, when rightly expounded, as contrasted with that which the high Calvinistic explanation puts upon the case! Mercy and judgment cannot be blended so as to wear a sweeter majesty and more awful love than in this example, when rightly understood. Yet high predestinarian explanation has imparted a spirit of gloom and terror to it, which has long thrown the glory, and love, and justice of God into a deep and dark eclipse.










Copyright 2002 Alethea In Heart Ministries

Eposition of Romans IX., Etc. By Asa Mahan - Romans 9 Commentary