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CHAPTER XI. - John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Romans 
Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Romans, trans. from the original Latin by the Rev. John Owen (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1849).
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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.
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,
3. Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
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.
5. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
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.
1. Dico igitur, Num abjecit Deus populum suum? absit: etenim ego Israelita sum, ex genere Abrahæ, tribu Beniamin.
2. Non abjecit Deus populum suum quem præcognovit. An nescitis in Elia quid scriptura dicat? quomodo appellet Deum adversus Israel, dicens,
3. Domine, Prophetas tuas occiderunt, et altaria tua diruerunt, et ego relictus sum solus, et quærunt animam meam.
4. Sed quid dicit ei oraculum?1 Reservavi mihi ipsi septem millia virorum, qui non flexerunt genu imagini Baal.
5. Sic ergo et hoc tempore, reliquiæ secundum electionem gratiæ supersunt:
6. Quòd si per gratiam, jam non ex operibus; alioqui gratia, jam non est gratia: si verò ex operibus, jam non est gratia; alioqui opus, jam non est opus.
1.I say then, &c. 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, &c. 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 favour 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, ch. iii. 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, &c. 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 favour 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 honour 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 favour.1 So he says to the Galatians, that they had been known by God, (Gal. iv. 9); for he had anticipated them with his favour, 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, &c. 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 favour 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 offence, 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 favour 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 dulness? 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 ב, beth, which is rendered in the Greek by ἐν, in, is often taken in Hebrew for of.
How he appeals to God, &c.1 It was certainly a proof how much Elias honoured 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 plaint 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, &c. 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.1 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.2
So then also at this time, &c. 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 gratutious election.
6.If through grace, it is no more by works, &c. 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 absurb 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.1
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.
7. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded
8. (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear) unto this day.
9. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense unto them:
10. Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.
7. Quid ergo? Quod quærit Isræl, non est assequutus;2 electio autem assequuta est, reliqui vero excæcati fuerunt;
8. Quemadmodum scriptum est, Dedit illis Deus spiritum compunctionis, oculos ut non videant, et aures ut non audiant, usque ad hodiernum diem.
9. Et David dicit, Fiat mensa eorum in laqueum et in captionem et in offendiculum et in retributionem ipsis:
10. Obscurentur oculi eorum ne videant, et dorsum eorum semper incurva.
7.What then? What Israel seeks, &c. As he is here engaged on a difficult subject, he asks a question, as though he was in doubt. He intended, however, by expressing this doubt, to render the answer, which immediately follows, more evident; for he intimates, that no other can be given; and the answer is,—that Israel in vain laboured to seek salvation, because his attempt was absurd. Though he mentions here no cause, yet as he had expressed it before, he certainly meant it to be understood in this place. For his words are the same, as though he had said,—that it ought not to seem strange, that Israel gained nothing in striving after righteousness. And hence is proved what he presently subjoins concerning election,—For if Israel has obtained nothing by merit, what have others obtained whose case or condition was not better? Whence has come so much difference between equals? Who does not here see that it is election alone which makes the difference?
Now the meaning of the word election here is doubtful; for to some it seems that it ought to be taken in a collective sense, for the elect themselves, that there may be a correspondence between the two clauses. Of this opinion I do not disapprove, provided it be allowed that there is something more in the word than if he had said, the elect, even this,—that he intimates that there was no other reason for obtaining their election, as though he said,—“They are not those who strive by relying on merits, but those whose salvation depends on the gratuitous election of God.” For he distinctly compares with the whole of Israel, or body of the people, the remnant which was to be saved by God’s grace. It hence follows, that the cause of salvation exists not in men, but depends on the good pleasure of God alone.
And the rest have been blinded.1 As the elect alone are delivered by God’s grace from destruction, so all who are not elected must necessarily remain blinded. For what Paul means with regard to the reprobate is,—that the beginning of their ruin and condemnation is from this—that they are forsaken by God.
The quotations which he adduces, collected from various parts of Scripture, and not taken from one passage, do seem, all of them, to be foreign to his purpose, when you closely examine them according to their contexts; for you will find that in every passage, blindness and hardening are mentioned as scourges, by which God punished crimes already committed by the ungodly; but Paul labours to prove here, that not those were blinded, who so deserved by their wickedness, but who were rejected by God before the foundation of the world.
You may thus briefly untie this knot,—that the origin of the impiety which provokes God’s displeasure, is the perversity of nature when forsaken by God. Paul therefore, while speaking of eternal reprobation, has not without reason referred to those things which proceed from it, as fruit from the tree or river from the fountain. The ungodly are indeed, for their sins, visited by God’s judgment with blindness; but if we seek for the source of their ruin, we must come to this,—that being accursed by God, they cannot by all their deeds, sayings, and purposes, get and obtain any thing but a curse. Yet the cause of eternal reprobation is so hidden from us, that nothing remains for us but to wonder at the incomprehensible purpose of God, as we shall at length see by the conclusion. But they reason absurdly who, whenever a word is said of the proximate causes, strive, by bringing forward these, to cover the first, which is hid from our view; as though God had not, before the fall of Adam, freely determined to do what seemed good to him with respect to the whole human race on this account,—because he condemns his corrupt and depraved seed, and also, because he repays to individuals the reward which their sins have deserved.1
8.Given them has God, &c. There is no doubt, I think, but that the passage quoted here from Isaiah is that which Luke refers to in Acts, as quoted from him, only the words are somewhat altered. Nor does he record here what we find in the Prophet, but only collects from him this sentiment,—that they were imbued from above with the spirit of maliciousness, so that they continued dull in seeing and hearing. The Prophet was indeed bidden to harden the heart of the people: but Paul penetrates to the very fountain,—that brutal stupor seizes on all the senses of men, after they are given up to this madness, so that they excite themselves by virulent stimulants against the truth. For he does not call it the spirit of giddiness, but of compunction, when the bitterness of gall shows itself; yea, when there is also a fury in rejecting the truth. And he declares, that by the secret judgment of God the reprobate are so demented, that being stupified, they are incapable of forming a judgment; for when it is said, that by seeing they see nothing, the dulness of their senses is thereby intimated.1
Then Paul himself adds, to this very day, lest any one should object and say, that this prophecy had been formerly fulfilled, and that it was therefore absurd to apply it to the time of the gospel: this objection he anticipates, by subjoining, that it was not only a blindness of one day, which is described, but that it had continued, together with the unhealable obstinacy of the people, to the coming of Christ.1
9.And David says, &c. In this testimony of David there is also made some change in the words, but it is not what changes the meaning. For he thus speaks, “Let their table before them become a snare, and their peaceful things a trap;” there is no mention of retribution. As to the main point there is sufficient agreement. The Prophet prays, that whatever is desirable and happy in life might turn out to the ruin and destruction of the ungodly; and this is what he means by table and peaceful things.2 He then gives them up to blindness of spirit and weakening of strength; the one of which he expresses by the darkening of the eyes, and the other by the incurvation of the back. But that this should be extended almost to the whole nation, is not to be wondered at; for we know, that not only the chief men were incensed against David, but that the common people were also opposed to him. It appears plain, that what is read in that passage was not applied to a few, but to a large number; yea, when we consider of whom David was a type, there appears to be a spiritual import in the opposite clause.1
Seeing then that this imprecation remains for all the adversaries of Christ,—that their meat shall be converted into poison, (as we see that the gospel is to be the savour of death unto death,) let us embrace with humility and trembling the grace of God. We may add, that since David speaks of the Israelites, who descended according to the flesh from Abraham, Paul fitly applies his testimony to the subject in hand, that the blindness of the majority of the people might not appear new or unusual.
11. I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.
12. Now, if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
13. For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
14. If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.
15. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?
11. Dico igitur, Num impegerunt ut corruerent? Absit: sed eorum lapsu salus contigit gentibus in hoc, ut ipsi ad æmulationem provocarentur.
12. Si verò eorum lapsus divitiæ sunt mundi, et imminutio eorum divitiæ gentium, quanto magis complementum ipsorum?
13. Vobis enim dico gentibus, quatenus certè ego gentium sum Apostolus, ministerium meum illustror,
14. Si quomodo ad æmulationem provocavero carnem meam, et aliquos ex ea salvos fecero:
15. Si enim rejectio eorum, reconciliatio est mundi, quid assumptio nisi vita ex mortuis?
11.Have they stumbled, &c. You will be greatly hindered in understanding this argument, except you take notice, that the Apostle speaks sometimes of the whole nation of the Jews, and sometimes of single individuals; for hence arises the diversity, that onewhile he speaks of the Jews as being banished from the kingdom of God, cut off from the tree and precipitated by God’s judgment into destruction, and that at another he denies that they had fallen from grace, but that on the contrary they continued in the possession of the covenant, and had a place in the Church of God.
It is then in conformity with this difference that he now speaks; for since the Jews for the most part rejected Christ, so that perverseness had taken hold almost on the whole nation, and few among them seemed to be of a sane mind, he asks the question, whether the Jewish nation had so stumbled at Christ, that it was all over with them universally, and that no hope of repentance remained. Here he justly denies that the salvation of the Jews was to be despaired of, or that they were so rejected by God, that there was to be no future restoration, or that the covenant of grace, which he had once made with them, was entirely abolished, since there had ever remained in that nation the seed of blessing. That we are so to understand his meaning is evident from this,—that having before connected a sure ruin with blindness, he now gives a hope of rising again; which two things are wholly different. They then, who perversely stumbled at Christ, fell and fell into destruction; yet the nation itself had not fallen, so that he who is a Jew must necessarily perish or be alienated from God.
But by their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles, &c. The Apostle asserts two things in this place,—that the fall of the Jews had turned out for salvation to the Gentiles; but to this end—that they might be kindled by a sort of jealousy, and be thus led to repentance. He no doubt had an eye to the testimony of Moses, which he had already quoted, where the Lord threatened Israel,—that as he had been provoked by them to emulation through their false gods; so he also, according to the law of retaliation, would provoke them by a foolish nation.
The word here used denotes the feeling of emulation or jealousy with which we are excited, when we see another preferred before us. Since then it was the Lord’s purpose that Israel should be provoked to emulation, they were not so fallen as to be precipitated into eternal ruin; but that God’s blessing, despised by them, might come to the Gentiles, in order that they might at length be also stirred up to seek the Lord, from whom they had fallen away.
But there is no reason for readers to weary themselves much as to the application of this testimony: for Paul does not dwell on the strict meaning of the word, but alludes only to a common and well-known practice. For as emulation stimulates a wife, who for her fault has been rejected by her husband, so that she strives to be reconciled again; so it may be now, he says, that the Jews, seeing the Gentiles introduced into their place, will be touched with grief for their divorce, and seek reconciliation.
12.And if their fall, &c. As he had taught us that after the Jews were repudiated, the Gentiles were introduced in their place, that he might not make the salvation of the Jews to be disliked by the Gentiles, as though their salvation depended on the ruin of the Jews, he anticipates this false notion, and lays down a sentiment of an opposite kind, that nothing would conduce more to advance the salvation of the Gentiles, than that the grace of God should flourish and abound among the Jews. To prove this, he derives an argument from the less,—“If their fall had raised the Gentiles, and their diminution had enriched them, how much more their fulness?” for the first was done contrary to nature, and the last will be done according to a natural order of things. And it is no objection to this reasoning, that the word of God had flowed to the Gentiles, after the Jews had rejected, and, as it were, cast it from them; for if they had received it, their faith would have brought forth much more fruit than their unbelief had occasioned; for the truth of God would have been thereby confirmed by being accomplished in them, and they also themselves would have led many by their teaching, whom they, on the contrary, by their perverseness, had turned aside.
Now he would have spoken more strictly correct, if, to the fall, he had opposed rising:1 of this I remind you, that no one may expect here an adorned language, and may not be offended with this simple mode of speaking; for these things were written to mould the heart and not the tongue.
13.For to you Gentiles I speak, &c. He confirms by a strong reason, that nothing shall be lost by the Gentiles, were the Jews to return again to favour with God; for he shows, that the salvation of both is so connected, that it can by the same means be promoted. For he thus addresses the Gentiles,—“Though I am peculiarly destined to be your Apostle, and ought therefore with special care to seek your salvation, with which I am charged, and to omit as it were all other things, and to labour for that only, I shall yet be faithfully discharging my office, by gaining to Christ any of my own nation; and this will be for the glory of my ministry, and so for your good.”2 For whatever served to render Paul’s ministry illustrious, was advantageous to the Gentiles, whose salvation was its object.
And here also he uses the verb παραζηλσαι, to provoke to emulation, and for this purpose, that the Gentiles might seek the accomplishment of Moses’ prophecy, such as he describes, when they understood that it would be for their benefit.
14.And save, &c. Observe here that the minister of the word is said in some way to save those whom he leads to the obedience of faith. So conducted indeed ought to be the ministry of our salvation, as that we may feel that the whole power and efficacy of it depends on God, and that we may give him his due praise: we ought at the same time to understand that preaching is an instrument for effecting the salvation of the faithful, and though it can do nothing without the Spirit of God, yet through his inward operation it produces the most powerful effects.
15.For if their rejection, &c. This passage, which many deem obscure, and some awfully pervert, ought, in my view, to be understood as another argument, derived from a comparison of the less with the greater, according to this import, “Since the rejection of the Jews has availed so much as to occasion the reconciling of the Gentiles, how much more effectual will be their resumption? Will it not be to raise them even from the dead?” For Paul ever insists on this, that the Gentiles have no cause for envy, as though the restoration of the Jews to favour were to render their condition worse. Since then God has wonderfully drawn forth life from death and light from darkness, how much more ought we to hope, he reasons, that the resurrection of a people, as it were, wholly dead, will bring life to the Gentiles.1 It is no objection what some allege, that reconciliation differs not from resurrection, as we do indeed understand resurrection in the present instance, that is, to be that by which we are translated from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life, for though the thing is the same, yet there is more force in the expression, and this a sufficient answer.
16. For if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
17. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive-tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive-tree;
18. Boast not against the branches: but if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
19. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.
20. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
21. For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
16. Quòd si primitiæ sanctæ, etiam conspersio; et si radix sancta etiam rami:
17. Si verò ex ramis quidam defracti sunt, tu verò oleaster quum esses, insitus es pro ipsis, et particeps factus es radicis et pinguedinis oleæ;
18. Ne contra ramos glorieris: quòd si gloriaris, non tu radicem portas; sed radix te.
19. Dices ergo, Defracti sunt rami, ut ego insererer.
20. Bene; propter incredulitatem defracti sunt, tu verò fide stabilitus es; Ne animo efferaris, sed timeas.
21. Si enim Deus naturalibus ramis non perpercit, vide ne qua fit, ut et tibi non parcat.
16.For if the first-fruits, &c. By comparing the worthiness of the Jews and of the Gentiles, he now takes away pride from the one and pacifies the other, as far as he could; for he shows that the Gentiles, if they pretended any prerogative of honour of their own, did in no respect excel the Jews, nay, that if they came to a contest, they should be left far behind. Let us remember that in this comparison man is not compared with man, but nation with nation. If then a comparison be made between them, they shall be found equal in this respect, that they are both equally the children of Adam; the only difference is that the Jews had been separated from the Gentiles, that they might be a peculiar people to the Lord.1
They were then sanctified by the holy covenant, and adorned with peculiar honour, with which God had not at that time favoured the Gentiles; but as the efficacy of the covenant appeared then but small, he bids us to look back to Abraham and the patriarchs, in whom the blessing of God was not indeed either empty or void. He hence concludes, that from them an hereditary holiness had passed to all their posterity. But this conclusion would not have been right had he spoken of persons, or rather had he not regarded the promise; for when the father is just, he cannot yet transmit his own uprightness to his son: but as the Lord had sanctified Abraham for himself for this end, that his seed might also be holy, and as he thus conferred holiness not only on his person but also on his whole race, the Apostle does not unsuitably draw this conclusion, that all the Jews were sanctified in their father Abraham.2
Then to confirm this view, he adduces two similitudes: the one taken from the ceremonies of the law, and the other borrowed from nature. The first-fruits which were offered sanctified the whole lump, in like manner the goodness of the juice diffuses itself from the root to the branches; and posterity hold the same connection with their parents from whom they proceed as the lump has with the first-fruits, and the branches with the tree. It is not then a strange thing that the Jews were sanctified in their father.
There is here no difficulty if you understand by holiness the spiritual nobility of the nation, and that indeed not belonging to nature, but what proceeded from the covenant. It may be truly said, I allow, that the Jews were naturally holy, for their adoption was hereditary; but I now speak of our first nature, according to which we are all, as we know, accursed in Adam. Therefore the dignity of an elect people, to speak correctly, is a supernatural privilege.
17.And if some of the branches, &c. He now refers to the present dignity of the Gentiles, which is no other than to be of the branches; which, being taken from another, are set in some noble tree: for the origin of the Gentiles was as it were from some wild and unfruitful olive, as nothing but a curse was to be found in their whole race. Whatever glory then they had was from their new insition, not from their old stock. There was then no reason for the Gentiles to glory in their own dignity in comparison with the Jews. We may also add, that Paul wisely mitigates the severity of the case, by not saying that the whole top of the tree was cut off, but that some of the branches were broken, and also that God took some here and there from among the Gentiles, whom he set in the holy and blessed trunk.1
18.But if thou gloriest, thou bearest not the root, &c. The Gentiles could not contend with the Jews respecting the excellency of their race without contending with Abraham himself; which would have been extremely unbecoming, since he was like a root by which they were borne and nourished. As unreasonable as it would be for the branches to boast against the root, so unreasonable would it have been for the Gentiles to glory against the Jews, that is, with respect to the excellency of their race; for Paul would have them ever to consider whence was the origin of their salvation. And we know that after Christ by his coming has pulled down the partition-wall, the whole world partook of the favour which God had previously conferred on the chosen people. It hence follows, that the calling of the Gentiles was like an ingrafting, and that they did not otherwise grow up as God’s people than as they were grafted in the stock of Abraham.
19.Thou wilt then say, &c. In the person of the Gentiles he brings forward what they might have pleaded for themselves; but that was of such a nature as ought not to have filled them with pride, but, on the contrary, to have made them humble. For if the cutting off of the Jews was through unbelief, and if the ingrafting of the Gentiles was by faith, what was their duty but to acknowledge the favour of God, and also to cherish modesty and humbleness of mind? For it is the nature of faith, and what properly belongs to it, to generate humility and fear.1 But by fear understand that which is in no way inconsistent with the assurance of faith; for Paul would not have our faith to vacillate or to alternate with doubt, much less would he have us to be frightened or to quake with fear.2
Of what kind then is this fear? As the Lord bids us to take into our consideration two things, so two kinds of feeling must thereby be produced. For he would have us ever to bear in mind the miserable condition of our nature; and this can produce nothing but dread, weariness, anxiety, and despair; and it is indeed expedient that we should thus be thoroughly laid prostrate and broken down, that we may at length groan to him; but this dread, derived from the knowledge of ourselves, keeps not our minds while relying on his goodness, from continuing calm; this weariness hinders us not from enjoying full consolation in him; this anxiety, this despair, does not prevent us from obtaining in him real joy and hope. Hence the fear, of which he speaks, is set up as an antidote to proud contempt; for as every one claims for himself more than what is right, and becomes too secure and at length insolent towards others, we ought then so far to fear, that our heart may not swell with pride and elate itself.
But it seems that he throws in a doubt as to salvation, since he reminds them to beware lest they also should not be spared. To this I answer,—that as this exhortation refers to the subduing of the flesh, which is ever insolent even in the children of God, he derogates nothing from the certainty of faith. And we must especially notice and remember what I have before said,—that Paul’s address is not so much to individuals as to the whole body of the Gentiles, among whom there might have been many, who were vainly inflated, professing rather than having faith. On account of these Paul threatens the Gentiles, not without reason, with excision, as we shall hereafter find again.
21.For if God has not spared the natural branches, &c. This is a most powerful reason to beat down all self-confidence: for the rejection of the Jews should never come across our minds without striking and shaking us with dread. For what ruined them, but that through supine dependence on the dignity which they had obtained, they despised what God had appointed? They were not spared, though they were natural branches; what then shall be done to us, who are the wild olive and aliens, if we become beyond measure arrogant? But this thought, as it leads us to distrust ourselves, so it tends to make us to cleave more firmly and steadfastly to the goodness of God.
And here again it appears more evident, that the discourse is addressed generally to the body of the Gentiles, for the excision, of which he speaks, could not apply to individuals, whose election is unchangeable, based on the eternal purpose of God. Paul therefore declares to the Gentiles, that if they exulted over the Jews, a reward for their pride would be prepared for them; for God will again reconcile to himself the first people whom he has divorced.
22. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
23. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.
24. For if thou were cut out of the olive-tree, which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive-tree; how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive-tree?
23. Et illi, si non perstiterint in incredulitate, inserentur; potens enim est Deus rursum inserere ipsos.
24. Si enim tu ex oleastro, quæ tibi nativa erat, exectus es, et præter naturam insitus es in veram oleam; multo magis hi secundum naturam propriæ oleæ inserentur.
22.See then, &c. By laying the case before their eyes he more clearly and fully confirms the fact,—that the Gentiles had no reason to be proud. They saw in the Jews an example of God’s severity, which ought to have terrified them; while in themselves they had an evidence of his grace and goodness, by which they ought to have been stimulated to thankfulness only, and to exalt the Lord and not themselves. The words import the same, as though he had said,—“If thou exultest over their calamity, think first what thou hast been; for the same severity of God would have impended over thee, hadst thou not been delivered by his gratuitous favour: then consider what thou art even now; for salvation shall not continue to thee, except thou humbly recognisest the mercy of God; for if thou forgettest thyself and arrogantly exultest, the ruin, into which they have fallen, awaits thee: it is not indeed enough for thee to have once embraced the favour of God, except thou followest his call through the whole course of thy life.” They indeed who have been illuminated by the Lord ought always to think of perseverance; for they continue not in the goodness of God, who having for a time responded to the call of God, do at length begin to loathe the kingdom of heaven, and thus by their ingratitude justly deserve to be blinded again.
But he addresses not each of the godly apart, as we have already said, but he makes a comparison between the Gentiles and the Jews. It is indeed true that each individual among the Jews received the reward due to his own unbelief, when they were banished from the kingdom of God, and that all who from among the Gentiles were called, were vessels of God’s mercy; but yet the particular design of Paul must be borne in mind. For he would have the Gentiles to depend on the eternal covenant of God, so as to connect their own with the salvation of the elect people, and then, lest the rejection of the Jews should produce offence, as though their ancient adoption were void, he would have them to be terrified by this example of punishment, so as reverently to regard the judgment of God. For whence comes so great licentiousness on curious questions, except that we almost neglect to consider those things which ought to have duly taught us humility?
But as he speaks not of the elect individually, but of the whole body, a condition is added, If they continued in his kindness. I indeed allow, that as soon as any one abuses God’s goodness, he deserves to be deprived of the offered favour; but it would be improper to say of any one of the godly particularly, that God had mercy on him, when he chose him, provided he would continue in his mercy; for the perseverance of faith, which completes in us the effect of God’s grace, flows from election itself. Paul then teaches us, that the Gentiles were admitted into the hope of eternal life on the condition, that they by their gratitude retained possession of it. And dreadful indeed was the defection of the whole world, which afterwards happened; and this clearly proves, that this exhortation was not superfluous; for when God had almost in a moment watered it with his grace, so that religion flourished everywhere, soon after the truth of the gospel vanished, and the treasure of salvation was taken away. And whence came so sudden a change, except that the Gentiles had fallen away from their calling?
Otherwise thou also shalt be cut off, &c. We now understand in what sense Paul threatens them with excision, whom he has already allowed to have been grafted into the hope of life through God’s election. For, first, though this cannot happen to the elect, they have yet need of such warning, in order to subdue the pride of the flesh; which being really opposed to their salvation, ought justly to be terrified with the dread of perdition. As far then as Christians are illuminated by faith, they hear, for their assurance, that the calling of God is without repentance; but as far as they carry about them the flesh, which wantonly resists the grace of God, they are taught humility by this warning, “Take heed lest thou be cut off.” Secondly, we must bear in mind the solution which I have before mentioned,—that Paul speaks not here of the special election of individuals, but sets the Gentiles and Jews in opposition the one to the other; and that therefore the elect are not so much addressed in these words, as those who falsely gloried that they had obtained the place of the Jews: nay, he speaks to the Gentiles generally, and addresses the whole body in common, among whom there were many who were faithful, and those who were members of Christ in name only.
But if it be asked respecting individuals, “How any one could be cut off from the grafting, and how, after excision, he could be grafted again,”—bear in mind, that there are three modes of incision, and two modes of excision. For instance, the children of the faithful are ingrafted, to whom the promise belongs according to the covenant made with the fathers; ingrafted are also they who indeed receive the seed of the gospel, but it strikes no root, or it is choked before it brings any fruit; and thirdly, the elect are ingrafted, who are illuminated unto eternal life according to the immutable purpose of God. The first are cut off, when they refuse the promise given to their fathers, or do not receive it on account of their ingratitude; the second are cut off, when the seed is withered and destroyed; and as the danger of this impends over all, with regard to their own nature, it must be allowed that this warning which Paul gives belongs in a certain way to the faithful, lest they indulge themselves in the sloth of the flesh. But with regard to the present passage, it is enough for us to know, that the vengeance which God had executed on the Jews, is pronounced on the Gentiles, in case they become like them.
23.For God is able, &c. Frigid would this argument be to the profane; for however they may concede power to God, yet as they view it at a distance, shut up as it were in heaven, they do for the most part rob it of its effect. But as the faithful, whenever they hear God’s power named, look on it as in present operation, he thought that this reason was sufficient to strike their minds. We may add, that he assumes this as an acknowledged axiom,—that God had so punished the unbelief of his people as not to forget his mercy; according to what he had done before, having often restored the Jews, after he had apparently banished them from his kingdom. And he shows at the same time by the comparison, how much more easy it would be to reverse the present state of things than to have introduced it; that is, how much easier it would be for the natural branches, if they were again put in the place from which they had been cut off, to draw substance from their own root, than for the wild and the unfruitful, from a foreign stock: for such is the comparison made between the Jews and the Gentiles.
25. For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
26. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
27. For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
25. Nolo enim vos ignorare, fratres, mysterium hoc, ut ne apud vosmetipsos superbiatis, quòd cæcitas ex parte Isræli contigit, donec plenitudo gentium ingrediatur:
26. Atque ita universus Isræl salvus fiet; quemadmodum scriptum est, Veniet ex Sion is qui liberat, et avertet impietates a Iacob:
27. Et hoc illis à me testamentum, quum abstulero peccata eorum.
25.I would not, &c. Here he rouses his hearers to a greater attention, while he avows that he is going to declare something that was secret. Nor did he do this without reason; for he wished to conclude, by a brief or plain sentence, a very perplexed question; and yet he declares what no one could have expected. But the words, Lest ye should be proud in yourselves,1 show what was his designed object; and that was, to check the arrogance of the Gentiles, lest they should exult over the Jews. This admonition was also necessary, lest the defection of that people should immoderately disturb the minds of the weak, as though the salvation of them all was to be for ever despaired of. The same is still not less useful to us at this day, so that we may know, that the salvation of the remnant, whom the Lord will at length gather to himself, is hid, sealed as it were by his signet. And whenever a long delay tempts us to despair, let us remember this word mystery; by which Paul clearly reminds us, that the mode of their conversion will neither be common nor usual; and hence they act absurdly who attempt to measure it by their own judgment; for what can be more unreasonable than to regard that as incredible which is far removed from our view? It is called a mystery, because it will be incomprehensible until the time of its revelation.2 It is, however, made known to us, as it was to the Romans, that our faith may be content with the word, and support us with hope, until the event itself come to light.
That blindness in part, &c. “In part,” I think, refers not simply to time, nor to the number, but means, in a manner, of in a measure; by which expression he intended, as it seems to me, only to qualify a declaration which in itself was severe. Until does not specify the progress or order of time, but signifies the same thing, as though he had said, “That the fulness of the Gentiles,” &c. The meaning then is,—That God had in a manner so blinded Israel, that while they refused the light of the gospel, it might be transferred to the Gentiles, and that these might occupy, as it were, the vacated possession. And so this blindness served the providence of God in furthering the salvation of the Gentiles, which he had designed. And the fulness of the Gentiles is to be taken for a great number: for it was not to be, as before, when a few proselytes connected themselves with the Jews; but such was to be the change, that the Gentiles would form almost the entire body of the Church.1
26.And so all Israel, &c. Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before: but I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning,—“When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.” This interpretation seems to me the most suitable, because Paul intended here to set forth the completion of the kingdom of Christ, which is by no means to be confined to the Jews, but is to include the whole world. The same manner of speaking we find in Gal. vi. 16. The Israel of God is what he calls the Church, gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles; and he sets the people, thus collected from their dispersion, in opposition to the carnal children of Abraham, who had departed from his faith.
As it is written, &c. He does not confirm the whole passage by this testimony of Isaiah, (Is. lix. 20,) but only one clause,—that the children of Abraham shall be partakers of redemption. But if one takes this view,—that Christ had been promised and offered to them, but that as they rejected him, they were deprived of his grace; yet the Prophet’s words express more, even this,—that there will be some remnant, who, having repented, shall enjoy the favour of deliverance.
Paul, however, does not quote what we read in Isaiah, word for word; “come,” he says, “shall a Redeemer to Sion, and to those who shall repent of iniquity in Jacob, saith the Lord.” (Is. lix. 20.) But on this point we need not be very curious; only this is to be regarded, that the Apostles suitably apply to their purpose whatever proofs they adduce from the Old Testament; for their object was to point out passages, as it were by the finger, that readers might be directed to the fountain itself.
But though in this prophecy deliverance to the spiritual people of God is promised, among whom even Gentiles are included; yet as the Jews are the first-born, what the Prophet declares must be fulfilled, especially in them: for that Scripture calls all the people of God Israelites, is to be ascribed to the pre-eminence of that nation, whom God had preferred to all other nations. And then, from a regard to the ancient covenant, he says expressly, that a Redeemer shall come to Sion; and he adds, that he will redeem those in Jacob who shall return from their transgression.1 By these words God distinctly claims for himself a certain seed, so that his redemption may be effectual in his elect and peculiar nation. And though fitter for his purpose would have been the expression used by the Prophet, “shall come to Sion;” yet Paul made no scruple to follow the commonly received translation, which reads, “The Redeemer shall come forth from Mount Sion.” And similar is the case as to the second part, “He shall turn away iniquities from Jacob:” for Paul thought it enough to regard this point only,—that as it is Christ’s peculiar office to reconcile to God an apostate and faithless people, some change was surely to be looked for, lest they should all perish together.
27.And, This is my covenant with them, &c. Though Paul, by the last prophecy of Isaiah, briefly touched on the office of the Messiah, in order to remind the Jews what was to be expected especially from him, he further adds these few words from Jeremiah, expressly for the same purpose; for what is added is not found in the former passage.1 This also tends to confirm the subject in hand; for what he said of the conversion of a people who were so stubborn and obstinate, might have appeared incredible: he therefore removes this stumblingblock, by declaring that the covenant included a gratuitous remission of sins. For we may gather from the words of the Prophet,—that God would have no more to do with his apostate people, until he should remit the crime of perfidy, as well as their other sins.
28. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.
29. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
30. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief;
31. Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.
32. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
28. Secundum Evangelium quidem inimici propter vos; secundum electionem verò dilecti propter Patres:
29. Sine pœnitentia enim sunt dona et vocatio Dei.
30. Quemadmodum enim vos quoque2 increduli fuistis Deo, nunc autem misericordiam estis consequuti istorum incredulitate:
31. Sic et ii nunc increduli facti sunt, eò quòd adepti estis misericordiam, ut ipsi quoque misericordiam consequantur.1
32. Concludit enim Deus omnes sub incredulitate, ut omnium misereatur.
28.With regard indeed to the gospel, &c. He shows that the worst thing in the Jews ought not to subject them to the contempt of the Gentiles. Their chief crime was unbelief: but Paul teaches us, that they were thus blinded for a time by God’s providence, that a way to the gospel might be made for the Gentiles;2 and that still they were not for ever excluded from the favour of God. He then admits, that they were for the present alienated from God on account of the gospel, that thus the salvation, which at first was deposited with them, might come to the Gentiles; and yet that God was not unmindful of the covenant which he had made with their fathers, and by which he testified that according to his eternal purpose he loved that nation: and this he confirms by this remarkable declaration,—that the grace of the divine calling cannot be made void; for this is the import of the words,—
29.The gifts and calling of God are without repentance. He has mentioned gifts and calling; which are to be understood, according to a figure in grammar,3 as meaning the gift of calling: and this is not to be taken for any sort of calling but of that, by which God had adopted the posterity of Abraham into covenant; since this is especially the subject here, as he has previously, by the word, election, designated the secret purpose of God, by which he had formerly made a distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles.1 For we must bear this in mind,—that he speaks not now of the election of individuals, but of the common adoption of the whole nation, which might seem for a time, according to the outward appearance, to have failed, but had not been cut up by the roots. As the Jews had fallen from their privilege and the salvation promised them, that some hope might remain to the remnant, Paul maintains that the purpose of God stands firm and immovable, by which he had once deigned to choose them for himself as a peculiar nation. Since then it cannot possibly be, that the Lord will depart from that covenant which he made with Abraham, “I will be the God of thy seed,” (Gen. xvii. 7,) it is evident that he has not wholly turned away his kindness from the Jewish nation.
He does not oppose the gospel to election, as though they were contrary the one to the other, for whom God has chosen he calls; but inasmuch as the gospel had been proclaimed to the Gentiles beyond the expectation of the world, he justly compares this favour with the ancient election of the Jews, which had been manifested so many ages before: and so election derives its name from antiquity; for God had in past ages of the world chosen one people for himself.
On account of the Fathers, he says not, because they gave any cause for love, but because God’s favour had descended from them to their posterity, according to the tenor of the covenant, “Thy God and the God of thy seed.” How the Gentiles had obtained mercy through the unbelief of the Jews, has been before stated, namely, that God, being angry with the Jews for their unbelief, turned his kindness to them. What immediately follows, that they became unbelievers through the mercy manifested to the Gentiles, seems rather strange; and yet there is in it nothing unreasonable; for Paul assigns not the cause of blindness, but only declares, that what God transferred to the Gentiles had been taken away from the Jews. But lest what they had lost through unbelief, should be thought by the Gentiles to have been gained by them through the merit of faith, mention is made only of mercy. What is substantially said then is,—that as God purposed to show mercy to the Gentiles, the Jews were on this account deprived of the light of faith.
32.For God has shut up, &c. A remarkable conclusion, by which he shows that there is no reason why they who have a hope of salvation should despair of others; for whatever they may now be, they have been like all the rest. If they have emerged from unbelief through God’s mercy alone, they ought to leave place for it as to others also. For he makes the Jews equal in guilt with the Gentiles, that both might understand that the avenue to salvation is no less open to others than to them. For it is the mercy of God alone which saves; and this offers itself to both. This sentence then corresponds with the testimony of Hosea, which he had before quoted, “I will call those my people who were not my people.” But he does not mean, that God so blinds all men that their unbelief is to be imputed to him; but that he hath so arranged by his providence, that all should be guilty of unbelief, in order that he might have them subject to his judgment, and for this end,—that all merits being buried, salvation might proceed from his goodness alone.1
Paul then intends here to teach two things—that there is nothing in any man why he should be preferred to others, apart from the mere favour of God; and that God in the dispensation of his grace, is under no restraint that he should not grant it to whom he pleases. There is an emphasis in the word mercy; for it intimates that God is bound to none, and that he therefore saves all freely, for they are all equally lost. But extremely gross is their folly who hence conclude that all shall be saved; for Paul simply means that both Jews and Gentiles do not otherwise obtain salvation than through the mercy of God, and thus he leaves to none any reason for complaint. It is indeed true that this mercy is without any difference offered to all, but every one must seek it by faith.
33. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
34. For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
35. Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
36. For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
34. Quis enim cognovit mentem Domini? aut quis illi à consiliis fuit?
35. Aut quis prior dedit ei et retribuetur illi?
36. Quoniam ex illo et per illum et in illum sunt omnia: Ipsi gloria in secula. Amen.
33.Oh! the depth, &c. Here first the Apostle bursts into an exclamation, which arose spontaneously from a devout consideration of God’s dealings with the faithful; then in passing he checks the boldness of impiety, which is wont to clamour against the judgments of God. When therefore we hear, Oh! the depth, this expression of wonder ought greatly to avail to the beating down of the presumption of our flesh; for after having spoken from the word and by the Spirit of the Lord, being at length overcome by the sublimity of so great a mystery, he could not do otherwise than wonder and exclaim, that the riches of God’s wisdom are deeper than our reason can penetrate to. Whenever then we enter on a discourse respecting the eternal counsels of God, let a bridle be always set on our thoughts and tongue, so that after having spoken soberly and within the limits of God’s word, our reasoning may at last end in admiration. Nor ought we to be ashamed, that if we are not wiser than he, who, having been taken into the third heaven, saw mysteries to man ineffable, and who yet could find in this instance no other end designed but that he should thus humble himself.
Some render the words of Paul thus, “Oh! the deep riches, and wisdom, and knowledge of God!” as though the word βάθος was an adjective; and they take riches for abundance, but this seems to me strained, and I have therefore no doubt but that he extols God’s deep riches of wisdom and knowledge.1
How incomprehensible, &c. By different words, according to a practice common in Hebrew, he expresses the same thing. For he speaks of judgments, then he subjoins ways, which mean appointments or the mode of acting, or the manner of ruling. But he still continues his exclamation, and thus the more he elevates the height of the divine mystery, the more he deters us from the curiosity of investigating it. Let us then learn to make no searchings respecting the Lord, except as far as he has revealed himself in the Scriptures; for otherwise we shall enter a labyrinth, from which the retreat is not easy. It must however be noticed, that he speaks not here of all God’s mysteries, but of those which are hid with God himself, and ought to be only admired and adored by us.
34.Who has known the mind of the Lord? He begins here to extend as it were his hand to restrain the audacity of men, lest they should clamour against God’s judgments, and this he does by stating two reasons: the first is, that all mortals are too blind to take a view of God’s predestination by their own understanding, and to reason on a thing unknown is presumptuous and absurd; the other is, that we can have no cause of complaint against God, since no mortal can boast that God is a debtor to him; but that, on the contrary, all are under obligations to him for his bounty.1
Within this limit then let every one remember to keep his own mind, lest he be carried beyond God’s oracles in investigating predestination, since we hear that man can distinguish nothing in this case, any more than a blind man in darkness. This caution, however, is not to be so applied as to weaken the certainty of faith, which proceeds not from the acumen of the human mind, but solely from the illumination of the Spirit; for Paul himself in another place, after having testified that all the mysteries of God far exceed the comprehension of our minds, immediately subjoins that the faithful understand the mind of the Lord, because they have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which has been given them by God, by whom they are instructed as to his goodness, which otherwise would be incomprehensible to them.
As then we cannot by our own faculties examine the secrets of God, so we are admitted into a certain and clear knowledge of them by the grace of the Holy Spirit: and if we ought to follow the guidance of the Spirit, where he leaves us, there we ought to stop and as it were to fix our standing. If any one will seek to know more than what God has revealed, he shall be overwhelmed with the immeasurable brightness of inaccessible light. But we must bear in mind the distinction, which I have before mentioned, between the secret counsel of God, and his will made known in Scripture; for though the whole doctrine of Scripture surpasses in its height the mind of man, yet an access to it is not closed against the faithful, who reverently and soberly follow the Spirit as their guide; but the case is different with regard to his hidden counsel, the depth and height of which cannot by any investigation be reached.
35.Who has first given to him, &c. Another reason, by which God’s righteousness is most effectually defended against all the accusations of the ungodly: for if no one retains him bound to himself by his own merits, no one can justly expostulate with him for not having received his reward; as he, who would constrain another to do him good, must necessarily adduce those deeds by which he has deserved a reward. The import then of Paul’s words is this—“God cannot be charged with unrighteousness, except it can be proved, that he renders not to every one his due: but it is evident, that no one is deprived by him of his right, since he is under obligation to none; for who can boast of any thing of his own, by which he has deserved his favour?”1
Now this is a remarkable passage; for we are here taught, that it is not in our power to constrain God by our good works to bestow salvation on us, but that he anticipates the undeserving by his gratuitous goodness. But if we desire to make an honest examination, we shall not only find, that God is in no way a debtor to us, but that we are all subject to his judgment,—that we not only deserve no favour, but that we are worthy of eternal death. And Paul not only concludes, that God owes us nothing, on account of our corrupt and sinful nature; but he denies, that if man were perfect, he could bring anything before God, by which he could gain his favour; for as soon as he begins to exist, he is already by the right of creation so much indebted to his Maker, that he has nothing of his own. In vain then shall we try to take from him his own right, that he should not, as he pleases, freely determine respecting his own creatures, as though there was mutual debt and credit.
36.For from him and through him, &c. A confirmation of the last verse. He shows, that it is very far from being the case, that we can glory in any good thing of our own against God, since we have been created by him from nothing, and now exist through him. He hence infers, that our being should be employed for his glory: for how unreasonable would it be for creatures, whom he has formed and whom he sustains, to live for any other purpose than for making his glory known? It has not escaped my notice, that the phrase, εἰς αὐτὸν, to him, is sometimes taken for ἐν αὐτ, in or by him, but improperly: and as its proper meaning is more suitable to the present subject, it is better to retain it, than to adopt that which is improper. The import of what is said is,—That the whole order of nature would be strangely subverted, were not God, who is the beginning of all things, the end also.
To him be glory, &c. The proposition being as it were proved, he now confidently assumes it as indubitable,—That the Lord’s own glory ought everywhere to continue to him unchangeably: for the sentence would be frigid were it taken generally; but its emphasis depends on the context, that God justly claims for himself absolute supremacy, and that in the condition of mankind and of the whole world nothing is to be sought beyond his own glory. It hence follows, that absurd and contrary to reason, and even insane, are all those sentiments which tend to diminish his glory.
[1 ]“Oraculum,” ὁ χϱηματισμός, the oracle, the divine response. The answer is put for him who gave the answer, for it is “Jehovah” in the passage that is quoted; as “Scripture” in verse 2, and in other places, means him who speaks in the Scripture.—Ed.
[1 ]That foreknowledge here includes election or predestination, as Augustine maintains, is evident from what follows in verse 5, where “the remnant” is said to be reserved “according to the election of grace,” or gratuitous election. If it be gratuitous, then it cannot be according to any foreseen works: and works are expressly excluded in verse 6. Were it otherwise, were foreseen works the ground of election, there would be no suitableness nor congruity in such terms as foreknowledge and election on the subject. It would have been much more appropriate in this case for the Apostle to say, “God will receive every Jew who will render himself worthy by his works.” On this supposition there was no necessity for him to go back to election to remove the objection which he had stated: he had only to refer to the terms of the gospel, which regard Jews and Gentiles without any difference. But instead of doing this, which seems adequate to the purpose, he gives an answer by referring to the foreknowledge and free election of God. There is no way to account for this, except by admitting, that election is an efficacious purpose which secures the salvation of those who are its objects, who have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.—Ed.
[1 ]“Quomodo appellet Deum adversus Israel—how he appeals to or calls on God against Israel;” ὡς ἑντυγχάνει τῷ Θεῷ ϰατὰ τοῦ Ἰσϱαὴλ; “how he solicits (interpellet) God against Israel,” Beza; “when he pleadeth with God against Israel,” Doddridge; “when he complaineth to God against Israel,” Macknight. To “complain to God against, or, with respect to, Israel,” would probably be the most suitable rendering. See Acts xxv. 24.
[1 ]Pareus observes, that these seven thousand had no public ministry, for that was idolatrous; and that yet they were preserved by such instruction as they derived from the written word.—Ed.
[2 ]Calvin, as some others, has supplied “image” before “Baal,” as the feminine article τῇ is by Paul prefixed to it. In the Septuagint it is τῷ, and a masculine pronoun is found at the end of the verse in 1 Kings xix. 18, so that it could not have been a female deity, as some have supposed. It is indeed evident, especially from a passage in Tobit, ch. i. 5, that there was a female deity of this name; but the text in Kings will not allow us to regard this goddess to be intended.—Ed.
[1 ]The last half of this verse is considered spurious by Griesbach, being not found in the greatest number of MSS., nor in the Vulgate, nor in the Latin Fathers; but it is found in some of the Greek Fathers, Theodoret, Œcumenius, Photius, and in the text, though not in the comment of Chrysostom, and in Theophylact, with the exception of the last clause, “Otherwise work,” &c. The Syriac and Arabic versions also contain the whole verse. The argument is complete without the last portion, which is, in fact, a repetition of the first in another form. But this kind of statement is wholly in unison with the character of the Apostle’s mode of writing. He often states a thing positively and negatively, or in two different ways. See chap. iv. 4, 5; ix. 1; Eph. ii. 8, 9. Then an omission is more probable than an addition. Beza, Pareus, Wolfius, &c., regard it as genuine, and Doddridge and Macknight have retained it in their versions. Every reason, except the number of MSS., is in favour of its genuineness.—Ed.
[2 ]Literally it is, “what Israel seeks, this he has not obtained.” The pronoun for “this,” τούτου Griesbach has displaced, and introduced τοῦτο in its stead, as the most approved reading.—Ed.
[1 ]“Excæcati fuerunt,” ἐπωϱώθησαν; it means hardened, stupified, rendered callous or obdurate. Occalluerunt—“were hardened,” Beza; both Macknight and Doddridge render it, “blinded.” It is applied to the heart in Mark vi. 52; viii. 17; John xii. 40,—to the mind in 2 Cor. iii. 14.—Ed.
[1 ]The foregoing reasoning is not satisfactory: it goes beyond the evident meaning of the Apostle. He no doubt quoted the texts according to their original design, and to say he did not is to assert what is incapable of being proved, and what is even contrary to the Apostle’s reasoning throughout. The hardening or blinding spoken of by the Prophets, is stated uniformly as a punishment for previous unbelief and impenitence, as admitted by our author himself, and the obvious fact as to the Jews in the Apostle’s days, was an evidence of the same, and though he states not this fact here, he states it in the sequel of this Epistle. But why some were hardened and others were softened, is what must be resolved altogether to the will of God. This, and no more than this, is what the Apostle evidently teaches here: and it is neither wise nor right to go beyond what is expressly taught, especially on a subject of a nature so mysterious and incomprehensible.—Ed.
[1 ]The quotation in this verse is taken from two passages: the first clause is from Is. xxix. 10, and the rest from Is. vi. 9, or Deut. xxix. 4. The first clause is not exactly according to the Hebrew or the Septuagint: instead of “God gave them,” &c., it is in the Septuagint, “the Lord hath made you drink,” &c., and in Hebrew, “Jehovah has poured upon you,” &c. It is the “spirit of slumber” in both, or rather, “of deep sleep”—תרדמה, a dead or an overwhelming sleep; and ϰατανύξις, though not as to its primary sense the same, is yet used according to this meaning. The verb means to puncture, to prick, either with grief or remorse, and also to affect with stupor. The latter idea the noun must have in this place, for the Hebrew does not admit of the other. The latter part is found in substance, though not in the same form of words in the two places referred to.—Ed.
[1 ]Some consider this passage as taken from Deut. xxix. 4, and regard the last words as part of the quotation.—Ed.
[2 ]Grotius understands by “table” guests, or friends, who partake of the provisions spread on the table. The wish is, that these should be a snare, &c. “Table,” according to Pareus, means luxury or festivity: and he adds, that there are here three metaphors,—the ensnaring of birds—the entrapping of wild beasts—and the stumbling in the dark, or that of blind men. Then the recompense or retaliation implies, that this evil of being ensnared and entrapped, and of stumbling, are only just retaliations for similar acts on their part; as they had ensnared, entrapped, and caused others to stumble, it was but just that they should be treated in the same way. And if we take “table” as a metonymy for friends or guests, the meaning would be very striking. And we know that the very friends and confederates of the Jews became their enemies and effected their ruin. See Jer. xxxviii. 22.
[1 ]Ps. lxix. 22, 23. The passage is given as in the Septuagint, except that ϰαὶ εἰς θήϱαν is added, and the two following words are transposed, with αὐτοῖς put after them, and ἀνταπόδομα is put for ἀνταπόδοσιν. The 10th verse is given without any variation from the Septuagint. The Hebrew is in words considerably different, and more so in our version than it really is. The word, שלומים, is improperly rendered “welfare,” while it ought to be “recompenses,” or, according to Tremelius and Bp. Horseley, “retributions,” or “retribution.” See Is. xxxiv. 8. The last clause of the 10th verse, though in meaning the same, is yet wholly different in words from the Hebrew, which is thus correctly rendered in our version, “and make their loins continually to shake.” The idea in both instances is the taking away of vigour and strength.—Ed.
[1 ]This is not quite correct: the first part is a mere announcement of a fact—the fall of the Jews; and then in what follows, according to the usual style of Scripture, the same thing is stated in other words, and a corresponding clause is added; and the antithesis is found to be suitable—the diminution and the completion. The reason for the restatement of the first clause seems to be this,—that the fall might not be deemed as total, but in part; it was ἣττημα, a less part, a diminution, a lessening of their number in God’s kingdom. A contrast to this is the πλήϱωμα, the full or complete portion, that is, their complete restoration, as it is said in verse 26. To preserve the antithesis, the first word must have its literal meaning, a diminution or lessening, that is, as to the number saved. Hammond renders the phrase, “their paucity.”—Ed.
[2 ]The meaning attached here to the words τὴν διαϰονίαν μου δοξάζω, is somewhat different from what is commonly understood. Its classical sense, “highly to estimate,” is what is generally given here to the verb: but Calvin takes it in a sense in which it is mostly taken in Scripture, as meaning, “to render illustrious,” or eminent, “to render glorious.” The construction of the two verses, 13 and 14, is somewhat difficult, and the meaning is not very clear. To include the words, “as I am indeed the Apostle of the Gentiles,” in a parenthesis, as it is done by some, would render the sense more evident, and to add “this” after “say,” and “that” before “I render.” The version then would be as follows,—
[1 ]Some view the last words, “life from the dead,” as understood of the Jews and not of the Gentiles. But the antithesis seems to require the latter meaning. The rejection or casting away, ἀποϐολὴ, of the Jews was the occasion of reconciliation to the world, that is, the Gentiles; then the reception, πϱόσληψις, of the Jews will be “life from the dead” to the Gentiles or to the world. He expresses by stronger terms the sentiment in verse 12, “the riches of the world,” only intimating, as it appears, the decayed state of religion among the Gentiles; for to be dead sometimes means a religious declension, Rev. iii. 1, 2; or a state of oppression and wretchedness, as the case was with the Israelites when in captivity, Ezek. xxxvii. 1-14; Is. xxvi. 19. The phrase is evidently figurative, and signifies a wonderful revival, such as the coming to life of those in a condition resembling that of death. The restoration of the Jews unto God’s favour will occasion the revival and spread of true religion through the whole Gentile world. This is clearly the meaning.
[1 ]There were two kinds of first-fruits: the sheaf, being the first ripe fruit, Lev. xxiii. 10; and the dough, the first kneaded cake, Num. xv. 20. It is to the last that the reference is here made.
[2 ]That the holiness here mentioned is external and relative, and not personal and inward, is evident from the whole context. The children of Israel were denominated holy in all their wickedness and disobedience, because they had been consecrated to God, adopted as his people, and set apart for his service, and they enjoyed all the external privileges of the covenant which God had made with their fathers.
[1 ]There is a difference of opinion as to the precise meaning of the words ἐνεϰεντϱίσϑης ἐν αὐτοις; Calvin’s version is, “insitus es pro ipsis—thou hast been ingrafted for them,” or in their stead; that of Beza and Pareus is the same, and also that of Macknight; but Grotius has “inter illos—between them,” that is, the remaining branches; and Doddridge renders the words “among them,” according to our version. What is most consonant with the first part of the verse, is the rendering of Calvin; what is stated is the cutting off of some of the branches, and the most obvious meaning is, that others were put in for them, or in their stead. It has been said, that it was not the practice to graft a wild olive in a good olive, except when the latter was decaying. Such may have been the case; but the Apostle’s object was not so much to refer to what was usual, as to form a comparison suitable to his purpose; and this is what our Saviour in his parables had sometimes done. Contrary to what the case is in nature, the Apostle makes the stock good and the graft bad, and makes the stock to communicate its goodness to the graft and to improve the quality of its fruit. But his main object is to show the fact of incision, without any regard to the character of the stock and of the graft in natural things; for both his stock and his graft are of a different character.—Ed.
[1 ]“Be not elated in mind—ne animo efferaris;” μὴ ὑψηλοφϱόνει; “be not high-minded,” as in our version, is the literal rendering.—Ed.
[2 ]Some have deduced from what Paul says here the uncertainty of faith, and its possible failure. This has been done through an entire misapprehension of the subject handled by the Apostle. He speaks not of individuals, but of the Gentile world, not of living faith but of professed faith, not the inward change, but of outward privileges, not of the union of the soul to Christ, but of union with his Church. The two things are wholly different; and to draw an argument from the one to the other is altogether illegitimate; that is to say, that as professed faith may be lost, therefore living faith may be lost.
[1 ]“Lenitatem;” χϱηστότητα; “indulgentiam—indulgence,” Jerome; “benignitatem—benignity,” Beza. Its most literal meaning is “beneficence,” as χϱηστὸς is useful or beneficial: but “goodness,” as in our version, expresses its sense here perhaps better than any other word. It is rendered “kindness” in 2 Cor. vi. 6; Eph. ii. 7; Col. iii. 12; Tit. iii. 4,—“gentleness” in Gal. v. 22,—and “good” in Rom. iii. 12. It is nowhere else found and has a similar meaning in the Septuagint, and stands often for טוב, which signifies good, goodness, benevolence.—Ed.
[2 ]“Severitatem;” ἀποτομίαν; “rigorem—rigour,” Erasmus; “præcisam severitatem—a cut-off severity,” Beza. It means literally excision, cutting off, amputation, and metaphorically, rigour, severity; and it is taken, says Schleusner, not from the amputation of infected limbs, but from the cutting off of barren and useless branches of trees. It occurs here only, and is not found in the Septuagint. Ἀποτμία τῶν νόμων—rigour of the laws, Diod. Sic. It is used adverbially in two places, 2 Cor. xiii. 10, and Tit. i. 13; where it means rigidly, sharply, severely. The adjective, ἀπότομος, is found in Wisdom of Sol. v. 20, and vi. 6, connected with “wrath” and “judgment,” and means rigid or severe.—Ed.
[1 ]“Ne apud vos superbiatis;” ἵνα μὴ ῆτε παϱ’ ἑαυτοῖς φϱόνιμοι; “ut ne sitis apud vosmetipsos sapientes—lest ye should be wise in yourselves,”—Beza and Piscator. The meaning, as given by Grotius, is, “Lest ye think yourselves so wise as to suppose that ye can by your own understanding know what is to come.” But the object of the Apostle seems to have been, to keep down self-elevation on account of the privileges they had attained. The phrase seems to have been taken from Prov. iii. 7; where the Septuagint render, “in thine own eyes,” בעיניך, παϱὰ σεαυτῷ, “in thyself,” that is, in thine own esteem. And it appears to be its meaning here, “Lest ye should be wise in your own esteem,” which signifies, “Lest ye should be proud,” or elated, that is, on account of your now superior privileges and advantages. Doddridge’s version expresses the idea, “Lest you should have too high an opinion of yourselves.”—Ed.
[2 ]The mystery is accounted for in rather a singular way. The most obvious meaning is, that the mystery was the fact of the restoration, and not the manner of it. No doubt the word sometimes means what is obscure, sublime, or profound, as “great is the mystery of godliness,” 1 Tim. iii. 16: but here the mystery is made known, in the same manner as Paul mentions a fact respecting the resurrection, 1 Cor. xv. 51, and also the call of the Gentiles, Rom. xvi. 25.—Ed.
[1 ]The explanation of this verse is by no means satisfactory. It does not correspond at all with what the Apostle has already declared in verses 11, 12, and 15; where the restoration of the Jews to the faith is most clearly set forth. Besides, by making Israel, in the next verse, to mean generally the people of God, the contrast, observable through the whole argument, is completely destroyed.
[1 ]There is more discrepancy in this reference than any we have met with. The Apostle follows not literally either the Hebrew or the Septuagint, though the latter more than the former. In the Hebrew, it is, “to Sion,” לציון, and in the Septuagint, “for the sake of Sion,” ἓνεϰεν Σιών. Then the following clause is given verbatim from the Septuagint, and differs materially from the Hebrew, at least as translated in our version. The Syriac and Chaldee give the verb a causative meaning, so as to make the sense the same as here. But it may be regarded as an infinitive with a paragogic י, and in a transitive sense, which it sometimes has. See 1 Kings ii. 16; Ps. cxxxii. 10. If so, the verse will agree with the Apostle’s words, and may be thus rendered,—
He shall come to Sion, and shall come “to turn away,” &c.; or the ו may be rendered even, “Even to turn away,” &c. This rendering corresponds more than that of our version with the substance of the verse which follows.—Ed.
[1 ]The former part of it is, “This is my covenant,” but not the latter, “When I shall take away their sins.” Some suppose that this is taken from Is. xxvii. 9, where we find this phrase in the Septuagint, “When I shall take away his sin,” τὴν ἁμαϱτίαν αὐτου: but the Hebrew is somewhat different and farther from the form of the sentence here. We must therefore consider it as an abridgment of what is contained in Jer. xxxi. 33, and quoted in Heb. viii. 10.—Ed.
[2 ]Ποτε—formerly,left out.
[1 ]Our common version departs here from the original by connecting “your mercy” with the last clause. Calvin keeps the proper order of the words, though he paraphrases them, τῷ ὑμετέϱῳ ἐλέει, “eo quòd adepti estis misericordiam.” They might have been rendered, “through your mercy,” that is, the mercy shown to you, or the mercy of which you are the objects.—Ed.
[2 ]They were “enemies” to Paul and the Church, say Grotius and Luther,—to the gospel, says Pareus,—to God, say Mede and Stuart. The parallel in the next clause, “beloved,” favours the last sentiment. They were become God’s enemies, and alienated through their rejection of the gospel; but they were still regarded as descendants of the Fathers and in some sense on their account “beloved,” as those for whom God entertained love, inasmuch as his “gifts and calling” made in their behalf, were still in force and never to be changed.—Ed.
[3 ]Hypallage—transposition, a change in the arrangement of a sentence.
[1 ]It is not desirable to amalgamate words in this manner; nor is it necessary. The Apostle ascends; he mentions first the “gifts,” the free promises which God made to the Jews; and then he refers to the origin of them, the calling or the election of God, and says that both are irreversible, or, as Castellio well explains the word ἀμεταμέλητα, irrevocable. See a similar instance in chap. xiii. 13.
[1 ]The verb which Calvin renders conclusit, συνέϰλεισε, means to shut up together. The paraphrase of Chrysostom is, that “God has proved (ἤλεγξεν) all to be unbelieving.” Wolfius considers the meaning the same with verse 9 of chap. iii., and with Gal. iii. 22. God has in his providence, as well as in his word, proved and demonstrated, that all mankind are by nature in a state of unbelief and of sin and of condemnation.
[2 ]“Incomprehensibilia,” so the Vulgate; “ἀνεξεϱεύνητα—inscrutabilia—inscrutable,” Beza. It means what cannot be found out by searching. Our version conveys the correct idea—“unsearchable.”—Ed.
[3 ]“Impervestigabiles,” so Beza; “ἀνεξιχνίαστοι—investigabiles—uninvestigable,” Vulgate; what cannot be investigated, and of which there are no footsteps—untraceable; “cannot be traced out” is the version of Doddridge.—Ed.
[1 ]It has indeed been thought by many that πλούτου, riches, is a noun belonging to wisdom and knowledge, used, after the Hebrew manner, instead of an adjective. It means abundance or exuberance. The sentence, according to our idiom, would then be, “O the profundity of the abounding wisdom and knowledge of God!” The Apostle, as in the words “the gifts and calling of God,” adopts an ascending scale, and mentions wisdom first, and then knowledge, which in point of order precedes it. Then in the following clause, according to his usual practice, he retrogrades, and states first what belongs to knowledge—“judgments,” decisions, divine decrees, such as knowledge determines; and then “ways,” actual proceedings, for the guiding of which wisdom is necessary. Thus we see that his style is thoroughly Hebraistic.
[1 ]The words of this verse seem to have been taken literally from Is. xl. 13, as given in the Septuagint. The Hebrew is in some measure different, but the words will admit of a rendering approaching nearer to the meaning here than what is presented in our version, as follows—
To “weigh the spirit” is to know it thoroughly: the same verb, תכן, is used in this sense in Prov. xvi. 2; xxiv. 12. It indeed means to compute by measure or by weight; so that it may be rendered “measure” as well as “weigh,” and if we adopt “measure,” it will then appear that to “know the mind of the Lord,” is to know the extent of his understanding or knowledge; an idea which remarkably corresponds with the passage.—Ed.
[1 ]There is a passage in Job xli. 11, (2, in the Hebrew Bible,) of which this verse seems to be a translation, made by the Apostle himself, as totally another meaning is given in the Septuagint. The person is alone changed. The Hebrew is literally this,
To “anticipate” means here with favour or gift; for the remainder of the verse is the following,—Everything under the whole heaven, mine it is.—Ed.