By Charles H. Welch
This great word underlies the whole purpose of grace, and mainly belongs to doctrine, but it is used in Romans 9 to 11 in the exposition of Dispensational Truth, as it pertains to that part of the purpose of God that relates to Israel, and we therefore give an analysis of these three great chapters together with a few comments on those passages which speak of election, but necessarily leave the great question of Election itself untouched. The matter will come up again when we deal with the peculiar constitution of the Church of the one Body when examining the distinctive teaching of Ephesians, and again when dealing with the word Predestination. Romans 9 to 11 is bounded at either end with the tremendous thought that ‘God is over all’ (Rom. 9:4,5 and 11:33-35).
We must first of all obtain a view of these chapters as a whole.
Romans 9 to 11
A 9:1-5. Sorrow.
A 11:33-35. Song.
The Nation and the Remnant
The fact that the bulk of the nation was in a state of unbelief at the time that Paul wrote, did not in any way throw doubt upon the accuracy of prophecy, and the promises. Rather the reverse, for there are a number of references in the Old Testament to Israel’s apostasy, and the preservation of a remnant. Isaiah, in a day of departure, speaks of this remnant in 1:9; 10:21,22, etc., and is quoted in Romans 9:27 :
On the day of Pentecost, Peter omitted the close of Joel 2:32 because the appeal was to the nation. Subsequent
events, however, proved that what Joel had prophesied was fulfilled. The omitted words ‘and in the remnant whom
the Lord shall call’ were applicable then, and will again be true in the future day of Israel’s restoration. When,
therefore, we read in Romans 11:26, ‘and so all Israel shall be saved’ we must read the words ‘all Israel’ in the light
of Romans 9:6-9. The ‘all Israel’ that shall be saved is not co-extensive with the total number of Abraham’s
descendants, but indicates a definite company - ‘children of promise’, a ‘reckoned seed’.
Dispensational not Doctrinal
Had the apostle, when writing Romans 9, intended to discuss the doctrines of free will, and eternal election and
reprobation, he would have been obliged to have introduced many different arguments. His purpose in this chapter
is much simpler. He is pointing out that the whole history of the people of Israel is the outworking of an elective
purpose, and that if this elective purpose is satisfied for the moment by the salvation of a remnant, then there can be
no truth in the suggestion that the Word of God has failed. When seen in their true context, the words ‘hate’ and
‘love’ in verse 13 create no insuperable difficulty, but if the apostle’s object in Romans 9 is misunderstood, then we
must expect confusion, and the inevitable evils that flow from a false representation of the sovereignty of God. Just
as the advocates of eternal punishment can only find a basis for their dreadful creed by ignoring the qualifying
statements of Scripture, and applying what is peculiar and limited to what is universal, so in Romans 9, we can only
build up the Calvinistic doctrine of eternal reprobation, with the allied error which regards sin as part of the Divine
decree, if we fail to see that Paul is here dealing with the dispensational question of Israel’s rejection and failure.
We give the structure of the passage just considered.
The remnant, and the Word of God (Romans 9:6-13)
A 9:6-8. THE WORD OF GOD.
A 9:9. THE WORD OF PROMISE.
A 9:10-13. IT WAS SAID UNTO HER.
The rejection of the Jewish people in the apostle’s own time was no more contrary to the promises of God than the rejection of the ten tribes who were carried away into captivity by the Assyrians; for though the number carried away were like the sand in multitude, a remnant returned. Instead of reproaching God with the smallness of the remnant, the apostle says that we should rather be glad to think that a remnant had been spared at all, for as Isaiah has already said, the people had become like Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Lord, apart from His sovereign will, might have left them also to perish.
Before concluding, let us review this intensely difficult passage in broad outline.
The Sovereignty of God Established.
A 14. WHAT SHALL WE THEN SAY?
A 19. THOU WILT THEN SAY.
A 25. AS HE SAITH.
The two apparently opposite aspects of truth represented by sovereignty and responsibility meet together in Romans 11:1,2, summed up in the word ‘foreknew’. (See articles on PREDESTINATION, and PURPOSE).
Were the Bible nothing but Romans 9:14-29 we might all be Calvinists. Were it nothing but Romans 10, we
might all be Arminians. As it is, we cannot be either to the exclusion of the other, for each system contains an
element of truth, in spite of the admixture of error.
Discovering the Structure
Romans 9:30 to 10:21 deals with the question of Israel and righteousness, and it has been suggested that the
subject is handled in a threefold way: Israel’s failure in spite of the prophets (9:30-33); Israel’s failure in spite of the
law (10:1-11); and Israel’s failure in spite of the gospel (10:14-21). Upon examination, however, it would seem that
this subdivision of the subject-matter is not justified. It will be observed that the apostle uses twice over one
particular quotation from the prophet Isaiah: ‘Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed’ (Rom. 9:33;
10:11). This fact must certainly be given a place in any structural outline. Further, we notice that the Greek word
skandalon ‘offence’ (Rom. 9:33) and ‘stumbling block’ (Rom. 11:9,10), is used in two passages with evident and
intentional parallelism. This, too, must find a place in the structure, and extends the section beyond the limits of
Romans 10. Again, we observe that the subject-matter of Romans 9:30-32, the fact that the Gentiles attained what
they did not follow after - is echoed in Romans 11:6,7. These items are decisive, and demand recognition. We
accordingly give them their place in the structure, which is as follows:
Romans 9:30 to 11:10
‘The Election hath obtained It’
A 9:30-32. a What shall we say then?
A 11:4-7. a What saith the oracle of God.
In the earlier verses of Romans 11 the apostle has shown that the failure of the bulk of the nation of Israel in no way invalidates God’s purpose of His faithfulness. We have seen that the prophets foretold ‘a remnant according to the election of grace’, and we also learn that the defection of Israel has been overruled to bring about the reconciliation of the Gentile world. Looking on to the close of the chapter, we find that ‘all Israel’ shall be saved, because ‘the gifts and calling of God are without repentance’. The words ‘all Israel’, ‘Jacob’ and ‘Zion’ together with the prophecy alluded to, preclude our making any deduction from these verses but one - namely, the national restoration and blessing of Israel according to the terms of the New Covenant.
Quite a number of questions suggest themselves as we read this section, but it is evident that the apostle, when he wrote about the olive tree, had no intention of introducing a theological argument at this point. He had one and only one purpose before him - to show, by the figure of the olive tree, how the Lord had used Gentile believers, in order, if it were possible, to ‘provoke’ the nation of Israel ‘to emulation’. This, and this only, is the reason for introducing the figure, and the recognition of this will save us from almost endless argument as to the ultimate destiny of the branches that remained.
Before attempting any exposition of these verses, it will be wise to see what particular parts of the passage are
emphasized by the structure, which we set out opposite:
A 11-25. ISRAEL’S FALL OCCASIONS GENTILE RECONCILIATION.
A 26-32. MERCY TO GENTILE OCCASIONS ISRAEL’S RESTORATION.
It is evident that the apostle is speaking here of the dispensational aspect of truth, for no Gentile could be justified by being placed in the position forfeited by one of the natural branches of Israel’s olive tree. No believer, who is justified by faith, can ever be separated from the love of God, or can ever be condemned (Rom. 8), so that the threat of excision in Romans 11:22 must refer to the dispensational position which then obtained.
The introduction of the figure of the olive tree, especially the strange use of the grafting of a wild olive, is considered separately under the title OLIVE TREE. We pass on here to the conclusion of the question of the bearing of election on the dispensational place of Israel. At the first advent, the bulk of the nation rejected the Saviour, and but a remnant according to election was saved, but at the consummation ‘All Israel shall be saved’ (Rom. 11:26). This is in fulfilment of the terms of the New Covenant, and fully recognizes the sinful character of this elect people, while magnifying the sovereignty of electing grace.
Thus this dispensational chapter opens with sorrow and ends with song. At the beginning is set out in detail the privilege of Israel ‘according to the flesh’ but at the end the salvation of Israel by sovereign grace. The elect remnant, like the Pentecostal harvest were a kind of firstfruits, a pledge of the great ingathering when Israel shall look upon Him Whom they pierced, and become at long last a kingdom of priests in the earth. For a fuller dealing of the place of Israel in the purpose of the ages, see ISRAEL.