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Commentary On Romans by Jean Calvin

Romans 9:6-9

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

6. Neque tamen, quasi exciderit verbum Dei: non emro omnes qui sunt ex Israele sunt Israelitae:

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

7. Nec qui sunt semen Abrabae, ideo omnes filii; sed in Isaac voca-bitur tibi semen:

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.

8. Hoc est, non qui sunt filii car-nis, ii filii sunt Dei; sed qui sunt filii promissionis, censebuntur in semen:

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

9. Promissionis enim verbum hoc est, Secundum hoc tempus veniam, et erit Sarae filius.

6. Not however, etc. Paul had been carried away by the ardour of his wish, as it were, into an excess of feeling, (in ecstasin,) but now, returning to discharge his office as a teacher, he adds what may be viewed as somewhat qualifying what he had said, as though he would restrain immoderate grief. And inasmuch as by deploring the ruin of his own nation, this inconsistency seems to follow, that the covenant made by God with the seed of Abraham had failed, (for the favor of God could not have been wanting to the Israelites without the covenant being abolished,) he reasonably anticipates this inconsistency, and shows, that notwithstanding the great blindness of the Jews, the favor of God continued still to that people, so that the truth of the covenant remained firm.

Some read, |But it is not possible,| etc., as though it were in Greek hoion te but as I find this reading in no copy, I adopt the common reading, Not however that it had failed, etc., and according to this sense, |That I deplore the destruction of my nation is not because I think the promise, given formerly by God to Abraham, is now void or abolished.|

For not all, etc. The statement is, -- that the promise was so given to Abraham and to his seed, that the inheritance did not belong to every seed without distinction; it hence follows that the defection of some does not prove that the covenant does not remain firm and valid.

But that it may be more evident on what condition the Lord adopted the posterity of Abraham as a peculiar people to himself, two things are to be here considered. The first is, That the promise of salvation given to Abraham belongs to all who can trace their natural descent to him; for it is offered to all without exception, and for this reason they are rightly called the heirs of the covenant made with Abraham; and in this respect they are his successors, or, as Scripture calls them, the children of the promise. For since it was the Lord's will that his covenant should be sealed, no less in Ishmael and Esau, than in Isaac and Jacob, it appears that they were not wholly alienated from him; except, it may be, you make no account of the circumcision, which was conferred on them by God's command; but it cannot be so regarded without dishonor to God. But this belonged to them, according to what the Apostle had said before, |whose are the covenants,| though they were unbelieving; and in Acts 3:25, they are called by Peter, the children of the covenants, because they were the descendants of the Prophets. The second point to be considered is, That the children of the promise are strictly those in whom its power and effect are found. On this account Paul denies here that all the children of Abraham were the children of God, though a covenant had been made with them by the Lord, for few continued in the faith of the covenant; and yet God himself testifies, in the sixth chapter of Ezekiel, that they were all regarded by him as children. In short, when a whole people are called the heritage and the peculiar people of God, what is meant is, that they have been chosen by the Lord, the promise of salvation having been offered them and confirmed by the symbol of circumcision; but as many by their ingratitude reject this adoption, and thus enjoy in no degree its benefits, there arises among them another difference with regard to the fulfilment of the promise. That it might not then appear strange to any one, that this fulfilment of the promise was not evident in many of the Jews, Paul denies that they were included in the true election of God.

Some may prefer such a statement as this, -- |The general election of the people of Israel is no hinderance, that God should not from them choose by his hidden counsel those whom he pleases.| It is indeed an illustrious example of gratuitous mercy, when God deigns to make a covenant of life with a nation: but his hidden favor appears more evident in that second election, which is confined to a part only.

But when he says, that all who are of Israel are not Israelites, and that all who are of the seed of Abraham are not children, it is a kind of change in the meaning of words, (paronomasia); for in the first clause he includes the whole race, in the second he refers only to true sons, who were not become degenerated.

7. But, |In Isaac shall thy seed be called.| Paul mentions this, to show that the hidden election of God overrules the outward calling, and that it is yet by no means inconsistent with it, but, on the contrary, that it tends to its confirmation and completion. That he might then in due order prove both, he in the first place assumes, that the election of God is not tied to the natural descendants of Abraham, and that it is not a thing that is included in the conditions of the covenant: and this is what he now confirms by a most suitable example. For if there ought to have been any natural progeny, which fell not away from the covenant; this ought to have been especially the case with those who obtained the privilege at first: but when we find, that of the first sons of Abraham, while he was yet alive, and the promise new, one of them was separated as the seed, how much more might the same thing have taken place in his distant posterity? Now this testimony is taken from Genesis 17:20, where the Lord gives an answer to Abraham, that he had heard his prayer for Ishmael, but that there would be another on whom the promised blessing would rest. It hence follows, that some men are by special privilege elected out of the chosen people, in whom the common adoption becomes efficacious and valid.

8. That is, They are not, etc. He now gathers from God's answer a proposition, which includes the whole of what he had in view. For if Isaac, and not Ishmael, was the seed, though the one as well as the other was Abraham's son, it must be that all natural sons are not to be regarded as the seed, but that the promise is specially fulfilled only in some, and that it does not belong commonly and equally to all. He calls those the children of the flesh, who have nothing superior to a natural descent; as they are the children of the promise, who are peculiarly selected by the Lord.

9. For the word of promise is this, etc. He adds another divine testimony; and we see, by the application made of it, with what care and skill he explains Scripture. When he says, the Lord said that he would come, and that a son would be born to Abraham of Sarah, he intimated that his blessing was not yet conferred, but that it was as yet suspended. But Ishmael was already born when this was said: then God's blessing had no regard to Ishmael. We may also observe, by the way, the great caution with which he proceeds here, lest he should exasperate the Jews. The cause being passed over, he first simply states the fact; he will hereafter open the fountain.

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