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“ 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.”
St. Paul is here speaking to Gentile Christians, that is, to those who were not of the Jewish nation, nor of the race of Abraham.
These Gentiles, at the time our Saviour came into the world, were wholly given up to the worship of false gods and dumb idols ; excepting only a very few persons here and there, who had learnt some little of the truth from the Jews. The Jews were then the only chosen people of God, the only people who were taught how to serve Him, and admitted into covenant with Him. They were the children and offspring of Abraham, who was chosen of God to be the first father of that people which it was His pleasure to keep as His own, when He gave up other nations to walk after the imaginations of their own corrupt hearts.
The Gentiles for many hundreds of years before our LORD came, did not believe nor obey God; for as St. Paul says in another place, “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge,” they chose not to worship Him, the true and living God, but, changing the truth of God into a lie, they likened His glory
to the image of corruptible man, and often even of brute beasts. It is plain from the Bible that the worship of false gods came in and prevailed to a great extent over the world not very long after the flood, in spite of the terrible severity of that great judgment which God had then executed upon the wickedness of man. Then the Gentiles, being led away to idols, did not believe God; but Abraham did believe, and became the father of the faithful. And the Israelites, or Jews (as they were afterwards called), who sprang from Abraham's family, continued to worship the true God.
This was the only nation that did cleave to their MAKER; all others forsook His worship and service : yet a promise was made to Abraham, that in due time “all the families of the earth should be blessed in his Seed".'
Even the Israelites, however, did not walk in the steps of their fathers' faith. The licentious pleasures which the heathens joined to the worship they paid to their false gods, were more pleasing to most of the Israelites than the purer service of the true and living God. And thus they were so far from valuing as they ought the favour shown to them, that often they wished and sought “to be as the heathen, to serve wood and stone ?." Great part of the Old Testament is filled with an account of the various methods of judgment and mercy by which God kept them (as it were, in spite of themselves) so far under subjection to Him, that His worship was still preserved amongst them as the worship of the One Only God, till His Son came.
As the time drew on for the Coming of the promised SAVIOUR, the prophets continued to foretel more frequently and more distinctly that He should be “ a light to the Gentiles 3.” That the LORD would at last “be sought of them that asked not for Him, would be found of them that had not sought Him; and would say, Behold Me, behold ME, unto a nation that was not called by His Name *.”
At length God our Saviour came, and the Jews added to all their former sins this last and greatest, that they rejected, hated, murdered Him. After He was gone from them, His disciples
I Gen. xii. 3; xxii. 18. 3 Is. xlix. 6.
2 Ezek. xx. 32. 4 Ibid. lxv. I.
received the same sort of treatment at their hands; the Jews contradicted Christ's message, they blasphemed His holy Name, they hated, ill-treated, and murdered His messengers.
And it is especially mentioned in the Acts, that on one or two occasions, when the Jews were not willing to receive the Gospel, St. Paul plainly told them, that it was necessary that the Word of God should first be spoken to them, as God's ancient people ; but forasmuch as they rejected it, and counted themselves unworthy of everlasting life, he should turn to the Gentiles ; that they would hear, and that thus the old prophecies of their own Scriptures would be fulfilled '.
Thus, even as St. Paul says in the text, the Gentiles, who in times past had not believed God, at length obtained mercy through the unbelief of the Jews.
The Jews, however, were not utterly to be cast off; they did not stumble that they should fall utterly ®; for first, even in the time of the Apostles, there was a remnant of them, a small and blessed number, chosen according to the election of grace, who did not resist God's counsels, but were obedient unto His Gospel. When St. Paul came up to Jerusalem for the last time, St. James, the bishop, and the elders or clergy of that place, said unto him, “ Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe ?." These were all partakers of the same mercy which was vouchsafed unto the Gentiles in Christ JESUS, in Whom Gentile and Jew are all One, and there is no difference.
But the great body of the Jews have continued even to this very time, for nearly two thousand years, disobedient and unbelieving ; still the same mercy continues to be held out to them. And there appears to me reason to hope and believe that they will yet one day close with that mercy and obtain part of it; for they are (we are distinctly told in the text) to obtain mercy. And the effect of their unbelief, gross and inexcusable as it is, has been to magnify the mercy of God, which yet waits for them, and bears with them, and holds out to them the offers of the Gospel.
Thus, first, the early rebellion and idolatries of the Gentiles were a means of showing forth God's mercy towards them. For,
5 Acts xiii. 46; xviii, 6 ; xxviii. 28.
6 Rom. xi. 11. ? Acts xxi. 20. In the original pvpiádes, tens of thousands. VOL. VII.
though because of their wilful blindness and foul idolatries, God gave them over awhile to follow their own imaginations, yet had He at length mercy on them in Christ Jesus, and brought them back as stray sheep into his fold. And next, when the Jews disbelieved and rejected the Gospel, God's mercy was the more magnified by spreading it among us Gentiles. And He yet waiteth now for the Jews as He did once for the Gentiles, until the time may come when He shall show mercy on all, when all shall be brought to believe.
Meanwhile, the very continuance of His long-suffering, His continued offers of forgiveness and favour to them in His Gospel, magnify and glorify His mercy. He hath shown all to be unbelieving in heart,-He hath concluded all in unbelief, that He may have mercy upon all.
“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 !"
Amidst these unsearchable workings of God's wisdom and love towards man, even we, I believe, can discern one great object that seems always kept in view, one great work that is continually going on, namely, I mean that He is for ever bringing good out of our evil. The order and course of His providence is, however, such, that some bitter fruits of the evil we do, some remembrances are still left, to make men see wherein they have sinned; but God is ever working for us ways of deliverance out of those evils, in which we have involved ourselves through our own sins.
Thus after the fall of man, though Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise, and the ground cursed, yet was there the promise given of a Deliverer. And when the world was destroyed by a flood for its wickedness, provision was made for the continuance of our race in the family of one righteous man,--the blameless Noah.
And to proceed to that which has more to do with the matter now before us. When, after the flood, the nations of the world provoked God for their many sins and great perverseness, to give them over to idolatry and wickedness, Abraham was chosen, that out of all the evil that man was doing, should be brought this one good on God's part, that in one nation at any rate His worship should be strictly maintained, and His oracles continually preserved. When that nation proved rebellious, and refused to receive God's Son, then God brought it about that the other nations should be called in their place, and again brought nigh through Christ to the one true God.
8 Rom. xi. 33.
What further dispensations may be yet to come, it is not for us to pretend to say; but we know that the end of the time of mercy will soon and suddenly come, and they who have abused God's mercy, or do abuse it now, by continuing in sin, store up wrath and judgment for themselves against that dreadful Day.
For as God deals with the whole race of man, even so does He deal also with each single person amongst us. He put us first into the way of salvation, like Adam in the garden of Eden, to be well nigh as happy as he was, had we stood stedfastly to our covenant. But if we have fallen away from baptismal grace, though we must ever bear marks of our changed condition, yet He still takes occasion to show forth His mercy, by keeping us in the possibility of repentance, by vouchisafing to us earnest warnings and gracious offers of love.
And again, when one of us injures another, behaves with cruelty and unkindness, perhaps to one to whom he is especially bound to be kind, God is often pleased to make such cruelty and unkindness the means of blessing and sanctification to the person who suffers from them, thus bringing forth out of the sin and disobedience of the one, salvation to the other ; and then again, by the sight of the forbearance of the first, moving that other to repentance.
Be assured there is no way to happiness like this, of endeavouring to think very often and earnestly of God's boundless mercy, praying and striving at the same time with all our hearts to live suitably to such thoughts. If we could but learn this, every thing would turn to our comfort and salvation ; in every thing we saw, in every thing that befel us, we might discern proofs of love towards us, and of God's tender pity for us in our fallen and helpless state.
For this end, we must endeavour first of all to govern and guide our thoughts; we must learn not to let our minds dwell on trifling and useless things, such as we are too fond of thinking about, and we must labour with much pains (for it will