A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 9: A Summary.
Paul began this chapter with the paradox of Israel’s privilege and prejudice (1-5). How can her unbelief be explained?
It is not because God is unfaithful to his promises, for he has kept his word in relation to the Israel within Israel (6-13).
It is not because God is unjust in his ‘purpose according to election’, for neither his having mercy on some nor his hardening of others is incompatible with his justice (14-18).
It is not because God is unfair to blame Israel or hold human beings accountable, for we should not answer him back, and in any case he has acted according to his own character and according to Old Testament prophecy (19-29).
It is rather because Israel is proud, pursuing righteousness in the wrong way, by works instead of faith, and so has stumbled over the stumbling-block of the cross (30-33).
Thus this chapter about Israel’s unbelief begins with God’s purpose of election (6-29) and concludes by attributing Israel’s fall to her own pride (30-33). In the next chapter Paul calls her ‘a disobedient and obstinate people’ (10:21).
Liberal commentators are not lacking who insist that, by ascribing Jewish unbelief now to God’s purpose of election and now to Israel’s own blindness and arrogance, the apostle was contradicting himself. But that is a shallow conclusion, and inadmissible to anybody who accepts Paul’s apostolic authority. No, ‘antinomy’ is the right word to use, not ‘contradiction’. Dr. Lloyd-Jones sums up Paul’s position in these words: ‘In verses 6 to 29 he explains why anybody is saved; it is the sovereign election of God. In these verses (30-33) he is showing us why anybody is lost, and the explanation of that is their own responsibility.’
Few preachers can have maintained this balance better than Charles Simeon of Cambridge in the first half of the nineteenth century. He lived and ministered at a time when the Arminian-Calvanist controversy was bitter, and he warned his congregation of the danger of forsaking Scripture in favour of a theological system. ‘When I come to a text which speaks of election’, he said to J.J.Guerney in 1831, ‘I delight myself in the doctrine of election. When the apostles exhort me to repentance and obedience, and indicate my freedom of choice and action, I give myself up to that side of the question.’ In defence of his commitment to both extremes, Simeon would sometimes borrow an illustration from the Industrial Revolution: ‘As wheels in a complicated machine may move in opposite directions and yet subserve a common end, so may truths apparently opposite be perfectly reconcilable with each other, and equally subserve the purposes of God in the accomplishment of man’s salvation.’
Tomorrow: Romans 10:1-21: Israel’s fault: God’s dismay over her disobedience.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.