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Commentary on Romans
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Romans 9:30-33

30. What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.

30. Quid ergo dicemus? Quod gentes quae non sectabantur justitiam, adeptae sunt justitiam, justi-tiam autem ex fide:

31. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

31. Israel autem sectando legem justitiae, ad legem justitiae non pervenit.

32. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;

32. Quare? Quid non ex fide, sed quasi ex operibus; offenderunt enim ad lapidem offensionis:

33. As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

33. Quemadmodum scriptum eat, Ecce pono in Sion lapidem offensionis et petram offendiculi: et omnis qui crediderit in eum non pudefiet.

30. What then, etc. That he might cut off from the Jews every occasion of murmuring against God, he now begins to show those causes, which may be comprehended by human minds, why the Jewish nation had been rejected. But they do what is absurd and invert all order, who strive to assign and set up causes above the secret predestination of God, which he has previously taught us is to be counted as the first cause. But as this is superior to all other causes, so the corruption and wickedness of the ungodly afford a reason and an occasion for the judgments of God: and as he was engaged on a difficult point, he introduced a question, and, as though he were in doubt, asked what might be said on the subject.

That the Gentiles who did not pursue, etc. Nothing appeared more unreasonable, or less befitting, than that the Gentiles, who, having no concern for righteousness, rolled themselves in the lasciviousness of their flesh, should be called to partake of salvation, and to obtain righteousness; and that, on the other hand, the Jews, who assiduously laboured in the works of the law, should be excluded from the reward of righteousness. Paul brings forward this, which was so singular a paradox, in such a manner, that by adding a reason he softens whatever asperity there might be in it; for he says, that the righteousness which the Gentiles attained was by faith; and that it hence depends on the Lord’s mercy, and not on man’s own worthiness; and that a zeal for the law, by which the Jews were actuated, was absurd; for they sought to be justified by works, and thus laboured for what no man could attain to; and still further, they stumbled at Christ, through whom alone a way is open to the attainment of righteousness.

But in the first clause it was the Apostle’s object to exalt the grace of God alone, that no other reason might be sought for in the calling of the Gentiles but this, — that he deigned to embrace them when unworthy of his favor.

He speaks expressly of righteousness, without which there can be no salvation: but by saying that the righteousness of the Gentiles proceeded from faith, he intimates, that it was based on a gratuitous reconciliation; for if any one imagines that they were justified, because they had by faith obtained the Spirit of regeneration, he departs far from the meaning of Paul; it would not indeed have been true, that they had attained what they sought not, except God had freely embraced them while they were straying and wandering, and had offered them righteousness, for which, being unknown, they could have had no desire. It must also be observed, that the Gentiles could not have obtained righteousness by faith, except God had anticipated their faith by his grace; for they followed it when they first by faith aspired to righteousness; and so faith itself is a portion of his favor.

31. But Israel, by pursuing, etc. Paul openly states what seemed incredible, — that it was no wonder that the Jews gained nothing by sedulously following after righteousness; for by running out of the way, they wearied themselves in vain. But in the first place it seems to me that the law of righteousness is here an instance of transposition, and means the righteousness of the law; 315315     There seems to be no necessity for this transposition. “A law (not the law) of righteousness” means a law which prescribes righteousness, and which, if done, would have conferred righteousness. But the Jews following this did not attain to a law of righteousness, such a law as secured righteousness. The Apostle often uses the same words in the same verse in a different sense, and leaves the meaning to be made out by the context. Grotius takes “law” as meaning way, “They followed the way of righteousness, but did not attain to a way of righteousness.”
   What follows the question in the next verse stands more connected with Romans 9:30 than with Romans 9:31; and we must consider that the word righteousness, and not law, is referred to by “it” after the verb “pursue,” which is evidently to be understood before the words, “not by faith,” etc., as the sentence is clearly elliptical.

   The verb διώκω, rendered “sector“ by Calvin, means strictly to pursue what flees away from us, whether a wild beast or an enemy; it signifies also to follow a leader, and to run a race, and further, to desire, to attend to, or earnestly to seek a thing: and in this latter sense Paul often uses it. See Romans 12:13; Romans 14:19; 1 Corinthians 14:1. Similar is the application of the corresponding verb, רדף in Hebrew. See Deuteronomy 16:20; Psalm 34:14 Quaeroto seek,” is the word adopted by Grotius

   But Pareus and Hammond consider that there are here three agonistic terms, διώκων κατέλαβε, and ἔφθασε. The first signifies the running; the third, the reaching of the goal; and the second, the laying hold on the prize: and with this corresponds the stumbling afterwards mentioned. The Gentiles did not run at all, but the Jews did, and in running, they stumbled; while the Gentiles reached the goal, not by running, or by their own efforts, but by faith, and laid hold on the prize of righteousness. — Ed.
and then, that when repeated in the second clause, it is to be taken in another sense, as signifying the model or the rule of righteousness.

The meaning then is, — “That Israel, depending on the righteousness of the law, even that which is prescribed in the law, did not understand the true method of justification.” But there is a striking contrast in the expression, when he teaches us that the legal righteousness was the cause that they had fallen away from the law of righteousness.

32. Not by faith, but as it were by works, etc. As false zeal seems commonly to be justly excused, Paul shows that they are deservedly rejected, who attempt to attain salvation by trusting in their own works; for they, as far as they can, abolish faith, without which no salvation can be expected. Hence, were they to gain their object, such a success would be the annihilation of true righteousness. You farther see how faith and the merits of works are contrasted, as things altogether contrary to each other. As then trust in works is the chief hinderance, by which our way to obtain righteousness is closed up, it is necessary that we should wholly renounce it in order that we may depend on God’s goodness alone. This example of the Jews ought indeed justly to terrify all those who strive to obtain the kingdom of God by works. Nor does he understand by the works of the law, ceremonial observances, as it has been before shown, but the merits of those works to which faith is opposed, which looks, as I may say, with both eyes on the mercy of God alone, without casting one glance on any worthiness of its own.

For they have stumbled at the stone, etc. He confirms by a strong reason the preceding sentence. There is indeed nothing more inconsistent than that they should obtain righteousness who strive to destroy it. Christ has been given to us for righteousness, whosoever obtrudes on God the righteousness of works, attempts to rob him of his own office. And hence it appears that whenever men, under the empty pretence of being zealous for righteousness, put confidence in their works, they do in their furious madness carry on war with God himself.

But how they stumble at Christ, who trust in their works, it is not difficult to understand; for except we own ourselves to be sinners, void and destitute of any righteousness of our own, we obscure the dignity of Christ, which consists in this, that to us all he is light, life, resurrection, righteousness, and healing. But how is he all these things, except that he illuminates the blind, restores the lost, quickens the dead, raises up those who are reduced to nothing, cleanses those who are full of filth, cures and heals those infected with diseases? Nay, when we claim for ourselves any righteousness we in a manner contend with the power of Christ; for his office is no less to beat down all the pride of the flesh, than to relieve and comfort those who labour and are wearied under their burden.

The quotation is rightly made; for God in that passage declares that he would be to the people of Judah and of Israel for a rock of offence, at which they should stumble and fall. Since Christ is that God who spoke by the Prophets, it is no wonder that this also should be fulfilled in him. And by calling Christ the stone of stumbling, he reminds us that it is not to be wondered at if they made no progress in the way of righteousness, who through their wilful stubbornness stumbled at the rock of offence, when God had showed to them the way so plainly. 316316     “Error is often a greater obstacle to the salvation of men than carelessness or vice... Let no man think error in doctrine a slight practical evil. No road to perdition has ever been more thronged than that of false doctrine. Error is a shield over the conscience and a bandage over the eyes.” — Professor Hodge But we must observe, that this stumbling does not properly belong to Christ viewed in himself; but, on the contrary, it is what happens through the wickedness of men, according to what immediately follows.

33. And every one who believes in him shall not be ashamed. He subjoins this testimony from another part for the consolation of the godly; as though he had said, “Because Christ is called the stone of stumbling, there is no reason that we should dread him, or entertain fear instead of confidence; for he is appointed for ruin to the unbelieving, but for life and resurrection to the godly.” As then the former prophecy, concerning the stumbling and offence, is fulfilled in the rebellious and unbelieving, so there is another which is intended for the godly, and that is, that he is a firm stone, precious, a corner-stone, most firmly fixed, and whosoever builds on it shall never fall. By putting shall not be ashamed instead of shall not hasten or fall, he has followed the Greek Translator. It is indeed certain that the Lord in that passage intended to strengthen the hope of His people: and when the Lord bids us to entertain good hope, it hence follows that we cannot be ashamed. 317317     The citation in this verse is made in a remarkable manner. The first part, “Behold I lay in Zion,” is taken from Isaiah 28:16; what follows, “a stone of stumbling and rock of offense,” is taken from Isaiah 8:14; and then the last words, “and whosoever believes in him shall not be ashamed,” are given from the preceding passage in Isaiah 28:16. The subject is the same.
   With respect to the last clause Paul has followed the Septuagint, “shall not be ashamed.” But the Hebrew word, rendered in our version “shall not make haste,” will bear a similar meaning, and may be translated, shall not hurry or be confounded. — Ed.
See a passage like this in 1 Peter 2:10


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