1. I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
1. Dico igitur, Num abjecit Deus populum suum? absit: etenim ego Israelita sum, ex genere Abrahae, tribu Benjamin.
2. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying,
2. Non abjecit Deus populum suum quem praecognovit. An nescitis in Elia quid scriptura dicat? quomodo appellet Deum adversus Israel, dicens,
3. Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
3. Domine, Prophetas tuas occiderunt, et altaria tua diruerunt, et ego relictus sum solus, et quaerunt animam meam.
4. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
4. Sed quid dicit ei oraculum? Reservavi mihi ipsi septem millia virorum, qui non flexerunt genu imagini Baal.
5. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
5. Sic ergo et hoc tempore, reliquiae secundum electionem gratiae supersunt:
6. And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
6. Quod si per gratiam, jam non ex operibus; alioqui gratia, jam non est gratia: si vero ex operibus, jam non est gratia; alioqui opus, jam non est opus.
1. I say then, etc. What he has hitherto said of the blindness and obstinacy of the Jews, might seem to import that Christ at his coming had transferred elsewhere the promises of God, and deprived the Jews of every hope of salvation. This objection is what he anticipates in this passage, and he so modifies what he had previously said respecting the repudiation of the Jews, that no one might think that the covenant formerly made with Abraham is now abrogated, or that God had so forgotten it that the Jews were now so entirely alienated from his kingdom, as the Gentiles were before the coming of Christ. All this he denies, and he will presently show that it is altogether false. But the question is not whether God had justly or unjustly rejected the people; for it was proved in the last chapter that when the people, through false zeal, had rejected the righteousness of God, they suffered a just punishment for their presumption, were deservedly blinded, and were at last cut off from the covenant.
The reason then for their rejection is not now under consideration; but the dispute is concerning another thing, which is this, That though they deserved such a punishment from God, whether yet the covenant which God made formerly with the fathers was abolished. That it should fail through any perfidiousness of men, was wholly unreasonable; for Paul holds this as a fixed principle, that since adoption is gratuitous and based on God alone and not on men, it stands firm and inviolable, howsoever great the unfaithfulness of men may be, which may tend to abolish it. It was necessary that this knot should be untied, lest the truth and election of God should be thought to be dependent on the worthiness of men.
For I am also an Israelite, etc. Before he proceeds to the subject, he proves, in passing, by his own example, how unreasonable it was to think that the nation was utterly forsaken by God; for he himself was in his origin an Israelite, not a proselyte, or one lately introduced into the commonwealth of Israel. As then he was justly deemed to be one of God's special servants, it was an evidence that God's favor rested on Israel. He then assumes the conclusion as proved, which yet he will hereafter explain in a satisfactory manner.
That in addition to the title of an Israelite, he called himself the seed of Abraham, and mentioned also his own tribe; this he did that he might be counted a genuine Israelite, and he did the same in his Epistle to the Philippians, Philippians 3:4. But what some think, that it was done to commend God's mercy, inasmuch as Paul sprung from that tribe which had been almost destroyed, seems forced and far-fetched.
2. God has not cast away, etc. This is a negative answer, accompanied with a qualifying clause; for had the Apostle unreservedly denied that the people were rejected, he would have been inconsistent with himself; but by adding a modification, he shows it to be such a rejection, as that God's promise is not thereby made void. So the answer may be divided into two parts, -- that God has by no means cast away the whole race of Abraham, contrary to the tenor of his own covenant, -- and that yet the fruit of adoption does not exist in all the children of the flesh, for secret election precedes. Thus general rejection could not have caused that no seed should be saved; for the visible body of the people was in such a manner rejected, that no member of the spiritual body of Christ was cut off.
If any one asks, |Was not circumcision a common symbol of God's favor to all the Jews, so that they ought to have been all counted his people?| To this the obvious answer is, -- That as outward calling is of itself ineffectual without faith, the honor which the unbelieving refuse when offered, is justly taken from them. Thus a special people remain, in whom God exhibits an evidence of his faithfulness; and Paul derives the origin of constancy from secret election. For it is not said here that God regards faith, but that he stands to his own purpose, so as not to reject the people whom he has foreknown.
And here again must be noticed what I have before reminded you of, -- that by the verb foreknow, is not to be understood a foresight, I know not what, by which God foresees what sort of being any one will be, but that good pleasure, according to which he has chosen those as sons to himself, who, being not yet born, could not have procured for themselves his favor. So he says to the Galatians, that they had been known by God, (Galatians 4:9); for he had anticipated them with his favor, so as to call them to the knowledge of Christ. We now perceive, that though universal calling may not bring forth fruit, yet the faithfulness of God does not fail, inasmuch as he always preserves a Church, as long as there are elect remaining; for though God invites all people indiscriminately to himself, yet he does not inwardly draw any but those whom he knows to be his people, and whom he has given to his Son, and of whom also he will be the faithful keeper to the end.
Know ye not, etc. As there were so few of the Jews who had believed in Christ, hardly another conclusion could have been drawn from this small number, but that the whole race of Abraham had been rejected; and creep in might this thought, -- that in so vast a ruin no sign of God's favor appeared: for since adoption was the sacred bond by which the children of Abraham were kept collected under the protection of God, it was by no means probable, unless that had ceased, that the people should be miserably and wretchedly dispersed. To remove this offense, Paul adopts a most suitable example; for he relates, that in the time of Elias there was such a desolation, that there remained no appearance of a Church, and yet, that when no vestige of God's favor appeared, the Church of God was, as it were, hid in the grave, and was thus wonderfully preserved.
It hence follows, that they egregiously mistake who form an opinion of the Church according to their own perceptions. And surely if that celebrated Prophet, who was endued with so enlightened a mind, was so deceived, when he attempted by his own judgment to form an estimate of God's people, what shall be the case with us, whose highest perspicuity, when compared with his, is mere dullness? Let us not then determine any thing rashly on this point; but rather let this truth remain fixed in our hearts -- that the Church, though it may not appear to our eyes, is sustained by the secret providence of God. Let it also be remembered by us, that they are foolish and presumptuous who calculate the number of the elect according to the extent of their own perception: for God has a way, easy to himself, hidden from us, by which he wonderfully preserves his elect, even when all things seem to us past all remedy.
And let readers observe this, -- that Paul distinctly compares here, and elsewhere, the state of things in his time with the ancient condition of the Church, and that it serves in no small degree to confirm our faith, when we bear in mind, that nothing happens to us, at this day, which the holy Fathers had not formerly experienced: for novelty, we know, is a grievous engine to torment weak minds.
As to the words, In Elias, I have retained the expression of Paul; for it may mean either in the history or in the business of Elias; though it seems to me more probable, that Paul has followed the Hebrew mode of speaking; for v, beth, which is rendered in the Greek by en, in, is often taken in Hebrew for of
How he appeals to God, etc It was certainly a proof how much Elias honored the Lord, that for the glory of his name he hesitated not to make himself an enemy to his own nation, and to pray for their utter ruin, because he thought that the religion and worship of God had perished among them: but he was mistaken in charging the whole nation, himself alone excepted, with that impiety, for which he wished them to be severely visited. There is however in this passage, which Paul quotes, no imprecation, but a complaint only: but as he complains in such a way as to despair of the whole people, there is no doubt but that he gave them up to destruction. Let us then especially notice what is said of Elias, which was this, -- that when impiety had everywhere prevailed, and overspread almost the whole land, he thought that he was left alone.
I have reserved for myself seven thousand, etc. Though you may take this finite for an indefinite number, it was yet the Lord's design to specify a large multitude. Since then the grace of God prevails so much in an extreme state of things, let us not lightly give over to the devil all those whose piety does not openly appear to us. It also ought to be fully imprinted on our minds, -- that however impiety may everywhere prevail, and dreadful confusion spread on every side, yet the salvation of many remains secured under the seal of God. But that no one may under this error indulge his own sloth, as many seek hiding-places for their vices in the hidden providences of God, it is right to observe again, -- that they only are said to be saved who continue sound and unpolluted in the faith of God. This circumstance in the case ought also to be noticed, -- that those only remained safe who did not prostitute their body, no, not even by an external act of dissimulation, to the worship of idols; for he not only ascribes to them a purity of mind, but that they had also kept their body from being polluted by any filthiness of superstition.
So then also at this time, etc. He applies the example to his own age; and to make all things alike, he calls God's people a remnant, that is, in comparison with the vast number in whom impiety prevailed: and alluding at the same time to the prophecy he had quoted from Isaiah, he shows, that in the midst of a miserable and confused desolation the faithfulness of God yet shone forth, for there was still some remnant: and in order more fully to confirm this, he expressly calls them a remnant that survived through the grace of God: and thus he bore witness that God's election is unchangeable, according to what the Lord said to Elias, -- that where the whole people had fallen away to idolatry, he had reserved for himself seven thousand: and hence we conclude, that through his kindness they were delivered from destruction. Nor does he simply speak of grace; but he now calls our attention also to election, that we may learn reverently to rely on the hidden purpose of God.
One thing then that is laid down is, -- that few are saved in comparison with the vast number of those who assume the name of being God's people; the other is, -- that those are saved by God's power whom he has chosen with no regard to any merit. The election of grace is a Hebrew idiom for gratuitous election.
6. If through grace, it is no more by works, etc. This amplification is derived from a comparison between things of an opposite character; for such is the case between God's grace and the merit of works, that he who establishes the one overturns the other.
But if no regard to works can be admitted in election, without obscuring the gratuitous goodness of God, which he designed thereby to be so much commended to us, what answer can be given to Paul by those infatuated persons, (phrenetici -- insane,) who make the cause of election to be that worthiness in us which God has foreseen? For whether you introduce works future or past, this declaration of Paul opposes you; for he says, that grace leaves nothing to works. Paul speaks not here of our reconciliation with God, nor of the means, nor of the proximate causes of our salvation; but he ascends higher, even to this, -- why God, before the foundation of the world, chose only some and passed by others: and he declares, that God was led to make this difference by nothing else, but by his own good pleasure; for if any place is given to works, so much, he maintains, is taken away from grace.
It hence follows, that it is absurd to blend foreknowledge of works with election. For if God chooses some and rejects others, as he has foreseen them to be worthy or unworthy of salvation, then the grace of God, the reward of works being established, cannot reign alone, but must be only in part the cause of our election. For as Paul has reasoned before concerning the justification of Abraham, that where reward is paid, there grace is not freely bestowed; so now he draws his argument from the same fountain, -- that if works come to the account, when God adopts a certain number of men unto salvation, reward is a matter of debt, and that therefore it is not a free gift.
Now, though he speaks here of election, yet as it is a general reasoning which Paul adopts, it ought to be applied to the whole of our salvation; so that we may understand, that whenever it is declared that there are no merits of works, our salvation is ascribed to the grace of God, or rather, that we may believe that the righteousness of works is annihilated, whenever grace is mentioned.