Meditations in St. Paulís Letter to the Romans

"Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: 'Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. Fot the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.' It is just as Isaiah said previously: 'Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.'"
Romans 9:27-29

PAUL continues to show from Scritpure that what he has been teaching in this chapter concerning the total sovereignty of God in salvation is something that the Bible has always proclaimed. In verses 22 to 24 Paul has summed up his teaching by declaring God's complete righteous right to show mercy to those he chooses to show mercy, and to choose to show his wrath upon the rest because by their way of life, which is the way of life of all humanity outside of Christ, they have made themselves objects of wrath - that is deserving of the just wrath of God upon them.

In the last sermon we saw Paul proving from Scripture that it was always God's purpose to show mercy to the Gentiles, by choosing out of the Gentiles, people to be loved by him and be made members of his family. Paul now shows that the constant teaching of the Old Testament should not cause the Jews to be surprised at their own rejection and condemnation.

Culturally the Jews had grown up with the firm conviction that God had chosen the whole nation, and so the whole nation would be saved. It was an anathema to them the idea that any Jews would be excluded from the people of God, let alone the majority. They also had grown up with the conviction that God was going to make them top nation in the world, and that their promised Messiah Christ would be their leader to make this so. Because of this they were altogether offended in Christ and rejected him.

This is truly amazing. It is amazing because the Jews had the inestimable blessing of the Old Testament Scriptures. It is amazing even more when we remember that they revered the Scriptures and committed themselves to obey the Scriptures. The Jews failed to learn the lessons of their history, and learn that God's blessing was not a forgone conclusion, and that God had rejected and cast out their forbears. The Jews view concerning their Messiah was also amazing, for the Scriptures clearly speak of the Christ as suffering and dying, with no idea of him setting up an earthly kingdom.

When seeking to win the Jews Paul always used their own Scriptures to show them that his teaching was according to God's revelation there. He did this because of the way the Jews accepted the Scriptures as God speaking. So Paul turns to the Scriptures, and particularly to the prophet Isaiah which was held in great esteem by the Jews. The first reference is from Isaiah 10:22-23 and the second is from Isaiah 1:9. In the first reference Paul proves that the rejection of the nation of the Jews by God was taught in the prophets, and that God's judgement was promised against them because of their sins. Also that the fact that only a few Jews would be saved is also taught. Then in the second quote Paul shows that salvation was the sovereign gracious choice of God, because not one Jew would have been saved if God had not chosen to make some objects of his mercy. Both passages show conclusively that the rejection of the Jews was because of their sins and rebellion against God, and was no abitary choice, and that all Jews, as is true also of Gentiles, are all fitted for distruction on account of their sin, and it is only by God's grace that he saves some. If God left us to ourselves and to our own efforts to gain salvation, no single person in the world all down history would be saved from everlasting destruction.


The same problem exists with the quotations before us as existed in the previous sermon. Paul does not quote the passages exactly. However he certainly expresses the message and the meaning expressed in the orginal quotation. However it has to be said that the NIV translation is far better in both Isaiah and Paul's quote than the AV. The explanations given in the last sermon concerning this problem applies in the same way here.

In Isaiah Paul is clearly referring to the exile in Babylon, which was yet to come, when God's judgement fell on Israel, and Jerusalem was destroyed and the people carried off into exile. He is also refering to the fact that at the time when God restored Israel and brought some of them back from exile in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, it was only a remnant that were restored to Israel. However the teaching of Paul that most of the Jews living in his time, and the nation as a whole, would be rejected should not have been a surprise, because the prophecy of Isaiah clearly taught that this had happened before, and in the exile in Babylon most of the nation had been rejected by God. Paul was proving from Scripture that the Jews could in no way suppose that their nation and all their people could not be rejected by God, because God had done this rejection before.

This shows how easy it is to have the Scriptures and revere the Scriptures and claim to be taught and guided by them, and still be astray in thinking and believing. The Jews held on to the promise of God to Abraham that he would make Abraham's posterity as numerous as the sand on the sea shore. They interpreted this as referring to the physical descendants of Abraham, and deduced from this that God would never rejected the Jews. However they missed all the rest of the teaching of the Old Testament, and the lessons of their own history. They believed only what they wanted to believe, and took from the Bible only what favoured their opinions. They missed the fact that God's promise to Abraham was not concerning his physical descendants, but his spiritual, that is those who had the same faith as Abraham. Paul had highlighted this earlier in this chapter when he said that not all Israel (the physical people and nation) were Israel (that is the true Israel of God).

In verse 27 Paul's quotation shows how awful Isaiah felt when given this message concerning Israel. He did not want to deliver it. He did not want to believe it, but had to because it was the revelation of God. His soul is in anguish, and this is expressed in the word 'cries' which Paul uses to introduce this quotation. The word 'cries' expresses deep emotion which has horror in it. This word which Paul uses expresses the cry of a bird in deep trouble and pain. Isaiah found this message he delivered very painful, but it was the word of God, so he proclaimed it, just as Paul was proclaiming the word of God. Paul is showing that God spoke through Isaiah, and even though Abraham had been told that his seed would be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore, yet only a remnant, just a few, Jews would be saved. The Bible truth is that it is the spiritual seed of Abraham that will be numerous like the sand on the sea shore

Paul proves to the Jews that the message he was proclaiming was the truth of God, and if the Jews felt that their understanding of the word of God contradicted this teaching, yet they had to receive the teaching as coming from God, and so go back to the word of God, and rethink their understanding and correct it. They could not or would not do this, and so they rejected their own Messiah, and found themselves rejected by the Lord according to the prophecy.

Paul further presses home the message of Isaiah by continuing the quotation. In this Isaiah declares that God will most certainly carry out what he says. God will carry it out with speed and finality, so that every part of it was fulfilled. Israel had the evidence of it in their history. They were going to experience the evidence of it when God carried out his word in AD 70, when the Romans came in great ferocity and sacked Jerusalem, and the Jews were scattered throughout the world. In the on going fulfillment of prophecy, Isaiah was also speaking of the final judgement, when at Christ's return, the nation of the Jews would find the final fulfillment of this prophecy and word of the Lord.

This teaching of the Bible that only a remenant are saved needs to be heeded by all, even the church of God. Unless we are the true 'seed' by faith in Jesus, then like the majority of the Jews, we who are Gentiles will also be cast out. This is a lesson for the church of every age. It is not the visible church that is saved, but only the remnant according to the election of grace, who have been brought to faith in Jesus. We can't lay our hopes on our membership of the church, not can we assume just because we are good church people we are necessarily heirs of eternal life. We must be sure that we have the signs of the true election of grace as the Bible opens up to us.


It may be thought that this is unfair and unreasonable of God. Certainly the Jewish nation of Paul's day rejected this teaching concerning God's sovereignty in grace for salvation. The church today largely does so. It is declared to be immoral. Paul gives another quotation to force home the message of God's sovereign grace in salvation. He uses a verse earlier in Isaiah which declares that if God did not choose a remnant according his election of grace, then all Israel would hava been like Sodom and Gomorrah. This is a very telling illustration. When Abraham was praying for God to withhold his judgement from Sodon and Gomorrah, there could not be found even ten who were righteous. In fact there were none righteous. The only ones saved were in Lot's family who were righteous not because of their good works, but righteous through faith.

Sodom and Gomorrah had no righteous people in it. It is not possible to suppose that the whole of these places were taken up with the worst sins of those cities. No doubt there were some highly moral people in those cities like there is in every place on earth. But none, by their own effort were godly, and none were holy as God is holy, so all were deserving of the judgement that fell, even more so when we remember the long time God had given them to repent. Everyone in the world is in this condition, even those whom the world declares, and even the church declares as really good people. The fact is that unless God had chosen to elect some by his sovereign choice in grace, to be saved, and provided the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, to pay the price of their sins, so that God could be just graciously in justifying them, no one would be saved. If God had not chosen out of the Jewish nation a remnant to be saved, all would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah, and ripe for inevitable judgement.

Such is true always. If God had not in his sovereign choice chosen to foreknow for salvation those who are saved, and so predestined them to be conformed to the image of his Son, and then called them with an effectual call, and justified them by grace alone through Christ, and so glorified them, no one would have been saved, and heaven would be empty of any human being.

The truth is that without God's sovereign choice of the remnant for salvation no one would be saved at all, for none of us by ourselves are fit for heaven, and none of us even desire the true heaven where holiness is the climate and atmosphere. When people who are not believers say that they hope to go to heaven when they die, they do not know what they are saying. Their heaven is not the heaven of the Bible, but a sort of utopia which is something like earthly life they imagine as being the world of complete happiness. In fact nobody who is not changed by God's sovereign action in Christ will ever be happy in heaven.


The fact is that such is human sin and our fallen corruption, unless God had chosen to save some in love, mercy and grace, and worked their salvation at the infinite cost of the humbling and death of his Son, Jesus Christ., none would be saved. Let us thank God if we have this precious saving faith which brings the gift of new birth in the kingdom of God.