A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Exhibition of Divine Sovereignty in Election
The Problem Stated
It is possible for a Christian of redeemed heart to be full of unspeakable joy, and at the same time have sorrow. In chapter 8, Paul is up in the heavens - joy unspeakable - and in the next moment he is telling us that he has great sorrow and heaviness of heart. Every Christian has that experience. It is a paradox. You have unceasing joy in the Lord, and yet in the very midst of your joy there may be unceasing pain and sorrow for some loved on, some "kinsman according to the flesh, who is out of Christ.
The Jew might have brought the charge against Paul that he did not care for his kinsmen. They might have said, "He is so wrapped up in this new gospel that he has forgotten all about his people." So he starts out, "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing pain in my heart."
The first verse sets forth the reality of his grief, and the second the intensity of it. The third verse implies that his sorrow was sacrificial. There is a mystery in that verse. "For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ." What does the word "accursed" mean? It means utterly lost forever! Can you imagine a man who has come to know what it is to be in Christ, wishing that he might be lost forever, if only his kinsmen might be saved? It doesn't seem right, does it?
Recall a similar request back in the Old Testament. There came a time when Moses went up in the mountain to get the Ten Commandments. While he was up there, the people melted their gold ornaments and made a molten calf; and when Moses came down he found the people of God naked, dancing before a molten calf, and saying, "These are the gods that brought us up out of Egypt." Moses broke the tables of stone in his hand and rebuked them. God was going to destroy the whole nation. They deserved to be destroyed. Moses threw himself upon his face before God, as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. "You have sinned a great sin; and now I will go up unto the Lord. Peradventure I shall make atonement." Can a man make atonement for sin? No. Moses was beyond his depth here. He was wrong, but he says, "Perhaps I can save you." Moses returned to Jehovah: "Oh, this people have sinned a great sin and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if Thou will forgive their sin -" That sentence was never finished. There is a dash there. "And if not" - what then? "Blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written." Moses is asking God to destroy him along with the people, if forgiveness is not possible. Notice the answer. God rebukes him: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, "him" will I blot out of my book."
Moses was ready to perish with his people; Paul now wished that he too might be accursed for his kinsmen's sake. Only Paul goes beyond Moses. Moses says, "If this people perish, then Lord blot me out - let us die together." Paul says, "Let me die that they might live!" But there is a difference. The apostle Paul could never have completed that wish. Paul, knowing what it meant to be in Christ, could never say that as it is in our version. The translation does not convey the true sense. Paul himself said, "You are not your own. You are bought with a price." How then could he have said this in Romans 9:37? Notice what he did say: "For I could wish." The Greek tense is the imperfect, incomplete. "It was in my heart to wish it, but I never completed it. That is the way I feel about my people, but when I come to wish myself accursed there is something that stops me." It is an uncompleted wish and was never completed. "I could wish, if God would let me, but He won't. I could do it, if it were permissible, but it is not." No man has a right to say, "Let me bee accursed and let this man be saved," because as Christians we are no longer our own.
Paul sets forth the position of Israel in verses 4 and 5, and while his sorrow was deep because these were his own brethren, yet his sorrow was made more acute by the position of the nation. He refers to them as "Israelites," not "Jews." "Israelite" is the theocratic name. "Israel" was the name given to Jacob (Genesis 32:28). The word means "God striveth through you." They were the only nation that God ever called a son.
"Whose is the adoption and the glory" - that is, God's manifested presence was with them, the Shekinah glory. "And the covenants" - God has covenanted with this people as He has covenanted with no other people on the earth. "Giving of the law" - no other nation had a code of laws that God gave, even though other laws are founded on those laws. "Service of God" - the temple ritual, the sacrificial system - all that service of God that was rendered. "The promises" - the Messianic promises were to Israel alone. "The fathers" - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David - all those great men belonged to Israel, not to the Gentiles.
Now Paul comes to the climax - "of whom is Christ" but he guards the statement with the phrase, "As concerning the flesh". Suppose he had said, "Of whom is Christ." We might have thought of Him just as a human being then. "Of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh." The Holy Spirit is careful to protect the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only "according to the flesh" is He of Israel, born of a virgin. His humanity came from Israel, but He was the "bread that came down from heaven."
Now Paul refers to the other side of His nature. "God blessed forever." That is, "according to the flesh" He was a man of Israel, but in His own true inner personality, He "is over all, God blessed forever!" Men who do not believe in the deity of Christ have tried to get around this passage. They have tried to put a period after "flesh" and make the last a doxology, making it refer to God the Father instead of Jesus Christ. It only means a wresting of the Greek language to do it that way. It ought to read as we have it in our version.
The apostle Paul has faced the problem of Israel rejecting the gospel, and yet he declares that there is still the adoption. Israel as a nation still has the promises. That is the problem Paul has summed up here. Israel has rejected the gospel and yet they are still holding their position in the Old Testament.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 61 - "The Explanation Offered")