“Neither will I hide my face any more from them, for I have poured out my Spirit upon the house […]
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.Romans 11: 28-32
What the apostle is saying in these verses is that a day is coming when the bulk of the nation of Israel is going to believe the gospel. But there are people who do not accept that and say that "all Israel" means the total number of the elect, both Jews and gentiles. Others say that "all Israel" means the total number of the elect Jews. I want to try to show you how the view that we hold on this matter will determine why the apostle wrote the great doxology which starts in verse 33. Remember that whatever exposition you hold to with regard to "all Israel", it has got to lead you onto this tremendous doxology. First, why do I say that this is not a reference to the total number of the elect, both Jews and gentiles? Well, if you say that the "all Israel" of verse 26 is a reference to the total number of the elect of all nations, including the Jews, it means that you are using the word "Israel" in a different sense in verse 26 from that which it has in verse 25. In verse 25 it is a reference to the nation of Israel and I am arguing that the apostle does not suddenly change a meaning like that without telling us first. But, says somebody, What about verse 6 of chapter 9: “Not as though the word of God has taken none effect for they are not all Israel that are of Israel”? They say, Is he not using the same word there in two different senses? and my answer is, No, he is not! All he is showing in that particular verse is that there is an Israel within Israel. No gentiles are involved at all. But according to this other argument, in verse 26 he has brought in gentiles to Israel and still calls them Israel. The apostle does not do that sort of thing. Then somebody says, What about Galatians 6:16 where the apostle talks about “the Israel of God”? Quite so. It is "the Israel of God" and not just Israel. When he is talking about the nation he says "Israel" but when he says "the Israel of God" he is letting you know that he is not talking about the nation. He has not been discussing the nation in the context of Galatians 6 at all. But then my second reason for rejecting this exposition is this: If "all Israel" here in verse 26 simply means the total number of the elect then, in a sense, the statement is bathetic. Instead of leading up to a climax it becomes something ordinary. It does not seem to me to complete the argument. He says, you see, in verse 25, “I would not, brethren, that you be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; but blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fulness of the gentiles be come in and so all Israel shall be saved”, and on he goes leading to the doxology. But if he is merely saying that a number of Jews and gentiles are going to be saved, well, I say, there's no climax, its almost a kind of bathos. Why then does he say I have got to tell you a marvellous thing, a mystery? It seems to me to leave out the mystery and leave out the climax. It in no way accounts for the statement of verse 15: "If the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?". There's no room for the mystery. It has disappeared altogether and yet that is the greatest thing that the apostle is concerned to say. My third reason for rejecting that exposition is that it does violence to the whole argument of the entire chapter. The issue, not only in this chapter but in chapters 9 and 10, is the Jews as a nation. Has God cast away his people, the nation? That is what he is talking about, that is what he is interested in and so if it is just to end by saying that a given number of Jews and gentiles are going to be saved, the apostle has not answered the question.
William Hendricksen's View
The second alternative exposition is the one that says "all Israel" means the total number of the elect Jews. This at any rate has the advantage of not suddenly changing the meaning of "Israel" in midstream without giving, as it were, any reason for doing so. This does recognise at least that we are talking about Jews. The most convenient way to deal with this interpretation is to read to you, and to answer at the same time, a statement of this particular view given by a most excellent modern commentator and writer, William Hendriksen, in his book "The Bible on the Life Hereafter". He says, "My objections to this explanation” - the explanation I've been putting before you - “are as follows: The context nowhere speaks about national salvation or even about mass salvation. On the contrary it speaks about mass hardening and remnant salvation.” Hendriksen's view really does astound me for this good reason, that the apostle goes out of his way to tell us that the mass hardening is only temporary and he keeps on contrasting what is happening for the time being (the mass hardening and the remnant salvation) with what is going to happen. Here is his second reason: "Our Lord nowhere predicted a national conversion of the Jews". He is right in saying that our Lord in his teaching as we have it in the Gospels did not deal with this question. But why not? Well, we have a specific statement from our Lord to this effect in John 16:12, "I have many things to say unto you, but you cannot bear them now". There were things which he could not teach them before his crucifixion and before the resurrection. Here in Romans 11, I am suggesting, we have a perfect illustration of that very thing. Our Lord says, "I am going to send the Spirit, he will lead you into all truth. He shall tell you things to come". So revealed to the apostle was this very prophecy of something that was going to come. Our Lord said he could not teach such things at that point, they could not bear it because we read that even after the resurrection they were still in a state of muddle and confusion with regard to these matters. But there is a most interesting statement in Acts 1:6, 7 from the very lips of our Lord himself which it seems to me again answers Hendriksen, "When they therefore were come together they asked him saying, 'Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?', and he said unto them, 'It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father has put in his own power'." Now if Hendriksen was right, there was a wonderful opportunity for our Lord to say, "Look here, do not ask about the restoration, in any sense, of Israel in terms of the kingdom, for Israel is finished as regards the kingdom”. He does not say that. That is a complete answer to the second objection of Hendriksen.
Still a Special People
But let me go on to his third point: “According to the uniform teaching of Paul, special promises or privileges for this or for that national or racial group do not exist in this new dispensation.” Then he refers us to the statements: "There is neither Jew nor gentile, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, male nor female"; "he hath made of twain one, having broken down the middle wall of partition", and statements to that effect. But there is a very complete answer to this opinion; none of the statements that he quotes has anything whatsoever to do with the matter that is being dealt with in Romans 11. All the apostle is teaching in those other statements is this: that everybody has got to be saved in the same way. All these statements say are that the Jews are wrong to think that they alone are to be saved because they are Jews. That is wrong, all have got to come through faith in Christ, Jew and gentile, barbarian, Scythian, bond or free. That is not what we are concerned with here. The apostle in this 11th chapter of Romans is saying emphatically that everybody has got to be saved in the same way, but when Hendriksen goes beyond that to say that God is no longer interested in this or that particular national or racial group, he is blankly contradicting what the apostle says. Where? In this chapter, first in verse 16: "If the firstfruit be holy the lump is also holy. If the root be holy so are the branches". That is a purely racial statement true only of Jews . Then, of course, in verse 25, "I would not, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery; lest you should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened to Israel". Why does he bother to treat Israel separately if there is no purpose in doing so, if all this has ended? And then of course the statement in verse 28, "As concerning the gospel, they (the Jews) are enemies for your sakes". But listen, "but as touching election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes, for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance”.
Salvation is by Grace
Now here is his fourth objection: “God does not reward disobedience!”; as if to say this other exposition is saying that God is going to reward the disobedience of these Jews. But God does not reward obedience either! That is the whole point of verses 30 to 32: in times past you have not believed, yet now have obtained mercy through their unbelief; even so have these now not believed, that through your mercy they may also obtain mercy, for God has concluded all in disobedience. He is not rewarding disobedience. God has concluded all in disobedience in order that he may have mercy upon all. Mercy is entirely undeserved. Hendriksen is ignoring completely the essential argument of the great apostle. But then he comes to what he considers the right view; that throughout this Christian era, as gentiles believe in Christ there will always be just a few Jews in every generation who also believe and that will go on while the gospel is still being preached to the gentiles. He emphasises that just a few Jews will believe so that when the time comes that the gospel era is finished and the fulness of the gentiles will have been gathered in, you will be able to add up the total small number of Jews who have believed from age to age and generation to generation and that constitutes "all Israel". That is his explanation of this great "mystery". But the thing is fatuous for this very reason. There is no mystery about that. Nobody could ever have foretold that the bulk of the Jewish nation will one day be converted and come into the Christian church, but everybody can foretell what we are being told by Hendriksen, that just a few Jews will go on believing and be grafted back. You see, the mystery and the marvel and the great climax has gone. In other words, he completely fails to deal with the meaning of the word “fulness” as it is applied to both Jews and gentiles. Also, he completely misses what is to me the main emphasis of the whole chapter, that the apostle is all along contrasting now and then. This is how it is now, this is going to happen then. All Hendriksen's exposition says is that what has already happened will continue to happen. I ask you, do you designate a thing like that as a great mystery? Would that, if that is all, lead to this tremendous doxology: "O the depth of the riches both ofthe wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgements and his ways past finding out. Who hath known the mind of the Lord or who hath been his counsellor or who hath given to him and it shall be recompensed to him again. For of him and through him and to him are all things, to whom be glory for ever, Amen."? It does not lead to that. It is bathos. God on the whole has been defeated and he has only got a little remnant of the people whom he has created and produced for himself out of the fathers to whom he gave those great and glorious promises. No, no, my friends, when you consider the alternative exposition you surely must come to the conclusion I have come to that there is only one exposition of this chapter, and particularly of this section that we have been dealing with, which in any way leads to the glory of the doxology. It is that at some future time, and we do not know when, but there shall be a tremendous conversion of the mass of the nation of Israel and when it happens the church will be so amazed and astonished that it will veritably be like life from the dead! The impossible has happened, and there is only one explanation of it. The mercy of God and the riches of God's wisdom and grace, passing comprehension, glorious in its wonder, filling us with amazement and astonishment and praise. Amen.
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