The Epistle to the Romans

By David Brown

Chapter 11


Chapter XI

1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham,

2 of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel,

3 saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.

4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee

5 to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also

6 there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more

7 grace: otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election

8 hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded: (according as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;)

9 unto this day. And David saith,

Let their table be made a snare, and a trap,
And a stumbling-block, and a recompense unto them:


Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see,
And bow down their back alway.

11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come

12 unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?

13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the

14 apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh,

15 and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving

16 of them be, but life from the dead? For if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are

17 the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the

18 olive tree; boast not against the branches. But if thou boast,

19 thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted

20 in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and

21 thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also

22 spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also

23 shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in

24 again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the

25 natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of

26 the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written,

There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer,
And shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

27 For this is my covenant unto them, When I shall take away their sins.

28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers'

29 sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

30  For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet

31 have now obtained mercy through their unbelief, even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy

32 they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them

33 all in unbelief, that he might 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

34 past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the

35 Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.


The scope of this chapter is to explain the present condition, and open up the future prospects of Israel; and the sum of it is, that although God might seem to have cast off His covenant people, this rejection was neither total nor final:—not total, for even now there is a chosen remnant, that have believed through grace; not final, for a time is coming when all Israel shall be saved.

1-10. First, Even now, Israel is not wholly rejected.

1. I say then, Did God cast away his people? God forbid. Our Lord did indeed announce that 'the kingdom of God should be taken from Israel '(Matt. xxi. 41); and when asked by the Eleven, after His resurrection, if lie would at that time "restore the kingdom to Israel," His reply is a virtual admission that Israel was in some sense already out of covenant (Acts i. 9). Yet here the apostle teaches that, in two respects, Israel was not "cast away." First, Israel is not wholly cast away. For I also am an Israelite (see Phil. iii. 5)—and so a living witness to the contrary; of the seed of Abraham—of pure descent from the father of the faithful; of the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. iii. 5)—that tribe which, on the revolt of the ten tribes, constituted, with Judah, the one faithful kingdom of God (1 Kings xii. 21), and after the captivity was, along with Judah, the kernel of the Jewish nation (Ezra iv. I, x. 9). 2. God did not cast off his people which he foreknew. This shews clearly that the same word in chap. viii. 29 does not mean that he 'foresaw that they would prove a believing and holy people '(but see exposition of Rom. viii. 29). Or (or 'What?') wot ('know') ye not what the scripture saith of Elijah? (or 'in Elijah,' meaning the section about Elijah), how he pleadeth with God against Israel, 3. Lord, they have killed thy prophets, they have digged down thine altars, and I am left alone, and they seek my life:—'Living witness for Thee in Israel there is none now but I, who have had to fly thus far to Thee from the rage of Thine enemies.' 4. But what saith the answer of God to him? I have left for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal. 5. Even so then at this present time—even in this period of Israel's apparently universal degeneracy—there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 'As in Elijah's time the apostasy of Israel was not so universal as it seemed to be, and as he in his despondency concluded it to be, so now, the rejection of Christ by Israel is not so appalling in extent as one would be apt to think: There is now, as there was then, a faithful remnant; not, however, of persons naturally better than the unbelieving mass, but of persons graciously chosen to salvation.' (See 1 Cor. iv. 7; 2 Thess. ii. 13.) This establishes our view of the argument on Election in chap, ix., as not being an election of Gentiles in the room of Jews, and merely to religious advantages, but a sovereign choice of some of Israel itself, from amongst others, to believe and be saved. (See on chap. ix. 6.)

Note.—It is an unspeakable consolation to know that in times of deepest religious declension and most extensive defection from the truth the lamp of God has never been permitted to go out, and that a faithful remnant has ever existed—a remnant larger than their own drooping spirits could easily believe. But the preservation of this remnant, even as their separation at the first, is all of grace.

6. But if it (the election) is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.1 The position here expressed is fundamental, and of the last importance—that there are but two possible ways of salvation, men's works and God's grace; and these are so essentially distinct and opposite, that salvation cannot be of any combination or mixture of both; it must be wholly either of the one or of the other. 7. What then?—How stands the case? That which Israel seeketh for (namely, justification, acceptance with God), that he obtained not; but the election (the elect remnant of Israel) obtained it, and the rest were hardened—judicially given over to the hardening of their own hearts: according as it is written (in Isa. xxix. 10, and Deut. xxix. 4), God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear; unto this very day. 9. And David saith (in Ps. lxix. 22, 23, which in such a Messianic Psalm must point to the rejecters of Christ), Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompense unto them—'Let their very blessings prove a curse to them, and their enjoyments only sting, and take vengeance on them.' Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway—expressing the decrepitude or the servile condition to come upon the nation through the just judgment of God. The apostle's object in making these quotations is to shew that what he had been compelled to say of the then condition and prospects of his nation was more than borne out by their own Scriptures. But now,

11-32. Secondly, Even as a nation, Israel is not finally rejected, but is destined to a glorious recovery.

11. I say then, Did they stumble that they might fall? God forbid: but by their fall ('trespass,' 'lapse') salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Here, as in chap. x. 19 (quoted from Deut. xxxii. 21), we see the principle of emulation Divinely called into exercise as a stimulus to what is good. 12. Now if their fall is the riches of the (Gentile) world—as being the occasion of their accession to Christ—and their loss (or 'diminishing 'the reduction of the true Israel to so small a remnant) the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fulness?—'If an event so untoward as Israel's fall was the occasion of such unspeakable good to the Gentile world, of how much greater good may we expect an event so blessed as their full recovery to be productive!' 13. But I speak to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry: 14. if by any means I may provoke to jealousy them that are my flesh, and may save some of them. 15. For if the casting away of them is the reconciling of the world. The apostle had denied that they were cast away (ver. 1), but here he affirms it; for both are true—not totally and finally, but partially and temporarily they were "cast away." what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? It is surely a very strained explanation of these words to apply them to the literal resurrection, as so many interpreters do, modern as well as ancient. But to take it as a mere proverbial expression for the highest felicity is far too loose. The meaning no doubt is, that the reception of the whole family of Israel, scattered as they are among all nations under heaven, and the most inveterate enemies of the Lord Jesus, will be such a stupendous manifestation of the power of God upon the spirits of men, and of His glorious presence with the heralds of the Cross, as will not only kindle devout astonishment far and wide, but so change the dominant mode of thinking and feeling on all spiritual things as to seem like a resurrection from the dead. 16. And if the first-fruit is holy, so is the lump; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. The Israelites were required to offer to God the first-fruits of the earth—both in their raw state, in a sheaf of newly-reaped grain (Lev. xxiii. 10, 11), and in their prepared state, made into cakes of dough (Num. xv. 19-21), by which the whole produce for that season was regarded as hallowed. It is probably the latter of these offerings that is here intended, as to it the word "lump "best applies; and the argument of the apostle is, that as the separation unto God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from the rest of mankind, to be the parent stem of their race, was as real an offering of first-fruits as that which hallowed the produce of the earth, so, in the Divine estimation, it was as real a separation of the mass or "lump "of that nation in all time to God. The figure of the "root" and its "branches "is of like import—the consecration of the one of them extending to the other. 17. But if—'If notwithstanding this consecration of Abraham's race to God'—some of the branches were broken off. The mass of unbelieving and rejected Israel are here called "some," not, as before, to meet Jewish prejudice (see on chap. iii. 3, and on "not all," in chap. x. 16), but with the opposite view of checking Gentile pride, and thou, being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them. Though it is more usual to graft the superior cutting upon the inferior stem, the opposite method, which is intended here, is not without example: and didst become partaker with them of the root and fatness2 of the olive tree; glory not over the branches: but if thou gloriest, it is not thou that bearest the root, but the root thee. 'If the branches may not boast over the root that bears them, then may not the Gentile boast over the seed of Abraham; for what is thy standing, O Gentile, in relation to Israel, but that of a branch in relation to the root? From Israel hath come all that thou art and hast in the family of God; for "salvation is of the Jews "' (John iv. 22). 19. Thou wilt say then (as a plea for boasting), The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. 20. Well—'Be it so, but remember that,' by their unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest (not as a Gentile, but solely) by thy faith. But as faith cannot live in those "whose soul is lifted up "(Hab. ii. 4), Be not high-minded, but fear (Prov. xxviii. 14; Phil. ii. 12). 21. For if God spared not the natural branches (sprung from the parent stem), neither will he spare thee.3 Beforehand, the former might have been thought very improbable; but after that, no one can wonder at the latter. 22. Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness,4 if thou continue in his goodness—'in believing dependence upon that goodness which made thee all thou art: 'otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. 23. And they also, if they continue not in their unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. This appeal to the power of God to effect the recovery of His ancient people implies the vast difficulty and apparent improbability of it—which all who have ever laboured for the conversion of the Jews are made depressingly to feel. That intelligent expositors should think that this was meant of individual Jews, re-introduced from time to time into the family of God on their believing on the Lord Jesus, is surprising; and yet those who deny the national recovery of Israel must and do so interpret the apostle. But this is to confound the two things which the apostle carefully distinguishes. Individual Jews have been at all times admissible, and have been actually admitted to the Church through the gate of faith in the Lord Jesus. This is the "remnant, even at this present time, according to the election of grace," of which the apostle, in the first part of the chapter, had cited himself as one. But here he manifestly speaks of something not then existing, but to be looked forward to as a great future event in the Divine economy, the re-ingrafting of the nation as such, when "they abide not in unbelief." And though this is here spoken of merely as a supposition (if their unbelief shall cease)—in order to set it over against the other supposition, of what will happen to the Gentiles if they shall not abide in the faith—the supposition is turned into an explicit prediction in the verses following. 24. For if thou wast cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and wast grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree; how much more shall these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? This is just the converse of what is said in ver. 21: 'As the excision of the mere engrafted Gentiles through unbelief is a thing much more to be expected than was the excision of the natural Israel, before it happened, so the restoration of Israel, when they shall be brought to believe in Jesus, is a thing far more in the line of what we should expect than the admission of the Gentiles to a standing which they never before enjoyed.' 25. For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery. The word "mystery," so often used by our apostle, does not mean, as with us, something incomprehensible, but 'something before kept secret, either wholly or for the most part, and now only fully disclosed '(cf. chap. xvi. 25; 1 Cor. ii. 7-10; Eph. i. 9, 10; iii. 3-6, 9, 10, etc.). lest ye be wise in your own conceits—as if ye alone were now and in all time coming to be the family of God,—that a hardening in part hath happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in—not the general conversion of the world to Christ, as many take it; for this would seem to contradict the latter part of the chapter, and throw the national recovery of Israel too far into the future; besides, in ver. 15 the apostle seems to speak of the receiving of Israel, not as following, but as contributing largely to bring about the general conversion of the world: clearly it means, 'until the Gentiles have had their full time of the visible Church all to themselves, while the Jews are out, which the Jews had till the Gentiles were brought in.' See Luke xxi. 24. 26. And so all Israel shall be saved—not 'all the spiritual Israel,' Jew and Gentile (as some), for throughout all this chapter, the apostle by "Israel "means exclusively the natural seed of Abraham, whom he sharply distinguishes from the Gentiles; nor the whole believing remnant of the natural Israel (as others). Clearly the meaning here is, The Israelitish nation at large. To understand this great statement, as some still do, merely of such a gradual inbringing of individual Jews, that there shall at length none remain in unbelief, is to do manifest violence both to it and to the whole context. It can only mean the ultimate ingathering of Israel as a nation, in contrast with the present "remnant." Some critics would seem to advocate the inbringing of every individual Israelite; but it is simply 'the nation at large,' as opposed to a 'remnant.'

Three confirmations of this cheering announcement now follow: two from the prophets, and a third from the Abrahamic covenant itself. First confirmation—from the prophets, even as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. The apostle, having drawn his illustrations of man's sinfulness chiefly from Ps. xiv. and Isa. lix., now seems to combine the language of the same two places regarding Israel's salvation from it. In the one place the Psalmist longs to see "the salvation of Israel coming out of Zion" (Ps. xiv. 7); in the other, the prophet announces that "the Redeemer (or, "Deliverer ") shall come to (or, for) Zion" (Isa. lix. 20). But as all the glorious manifestations of Israel's God were regarded as issuing out of Zion, as the seat of His manifested glory (Ps. xx. 2, ex. 2; Isa. xxxi. 9), the turn which the apostle gives to the words merely adds to them that familiar idea. And whereas the prophet announces that He "shall come to (or, 'for') them that turn from transgression in Jacob," while the apostle makes him say that He shall come "to turn away ungodliness from Jacob," this is taken from the LXX., and seems to indicate a different reading of the original text. The sense, however, is substantially the same in both. Second confirmation—from the prophets. 27. And (introducing a new quotation) this is my covenant unto them, When I shall take away their sins. This, we believe, is rather a brief summary of Jer. xxxi. 31-34, than the express words of any prediction. Those who believe that there are no predictions regarding the literal Israel in the Old Testament that stretch beyond the end of the Jewish economy, are obliged to view these quotations by the apostle as mere adaptations of Old Testament language to express his own predictions. But how forced this is, we shall presently see.

Third confirmation—from the Abrahamic covenant itself:—28. As touching the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes—they are regarded and treated as enemies in a state of exclusion through unbelief from the family of God, for the benefit of you Gentiles (in the sense of vers. 11, 15); but as touching the election (of Abraham and his seed), they are beloved—even in their state of exclusion, for the fathers' sakes. 29. For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance—' are not to be (or 'cannot be') repented of.' By the "calling of God," in this case, is meant that sovereign act by which God, in the exercise of His free choice, "called" Abraham to be the father of a peculiar people; while "the gifts of God "here denote the articles of the covenant which God made with Abraham, and which constituted the real distinction between his and all other families of the earth. Both these, says the apostle, are irrevocable; and as the point for which he refers to this at all is the final destiny of the Israelitish nation, it is clear that the perpetuity through all time of the Abrahamic covenant is the thing here affirmed. And lest any should say that though Israel, as a nation, has no destiny at all under the Gospel, but as a people disappeared from the stage when the middle wall of partition was broken down, yet the Abrahamic covenant still endures in the spiritual seed of Abraham, made up of Jews and Gentiles in one undistinguished mass of redeemed men under the Gospel—as if to preclude that supposition, the apostle expressly states that the very Israel who, as concerning the Gospel, are regarded as "enemies for the Gentiles' sakes," are "beloved for the fathers' sakes;" and it is in proof of this that he adds, "For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance."

Note.—Those who think that in all the evangelical prophecies of the Old Testament the terms "Jacob," "Israel," etc., are to be understood solely of the Christian Church, would appear to read the Old Testament differently from the apostle, who, from the use of those very terms in Old Testament prophecy, draws arguments to prove that God has mercy in store for the natural Israel.

But in what sense are the now unbelieving and excluded children of Israel "beloved for the fathers' sakes "? Not merely from ancestral recollections, as one looks with fond interest on the child of a clear friend for that friend's sake—a beautiful thought of the late Dr. Arnold, and not foreign to Scripture in this very case (see 2 Chron. xx. 7; Isa. xli. 8); but it is from ancestral connections and obligations, or their lineal descent from and oneness in covenant with the fathers with whom God originally established it. In other words, the natural Israel—not "the remnant of them according to the election of grace," but THE NATION, sprung from Abraham according to the flesh—are still an elect people, and as such, "beloved." The very same love which chose the fathers, and rested on the fathers as a parent stem of the nation, still rests on their descendants at large, and will yet recover them from unbelief, and reinstate them in the family of God. 29. For as ye in time past were disobedient to God—yielded not to God "the obedience of faith," but now have obtained mercy by (occasion of) their disobedience (see on vers. 11, 15, 28), 31. even so have these (Jews) also now been disobedient, that by the mercy shewn to you they also may now obtain mercy. Here is an entirely new idea. The apostle has hitherto dwelt upon the unbelief of the Jews as making way for the faith of the Gentiles—the exclusion of the one occasioning the reception of the other; a truth which could yield to generous, believing Gentiles but mingled satisfaction. Now, opening a more cheering prospect, he speaks of the mercy shewn to the Gentiles as a means of Israel's recovery, which seems to mean that it will be by the instrumentality of believing Gentiles that Israel as a nation is at length to "look on Him whom they pierced, and mourn for Him," and so to "obtain mercy." See 2 Cor. hi. 15, 16. 32. For God hath shut up all unto disobedience—not "them all," as in the Authorised Version, for this might be thought to refer to the Jews only; whereas the argument requires it to be understood of both the great divisions of mankind that are treated of in this chapter—God designed that Jew and Gentile alike should be seen, in their turn, as rejecters of this truth, that he might have mercy upon all—the Gentiles first, and after them the Jews.

33-36. The adorableness of this plan of Divine mercy.

33. the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God. These words may be rendered, 'O the depth of the riches, and wisdom, and knowledge of God,' as many expositors think is meant. But certainly 'the riches of God' is a much rarer expression with our apostle than the riches of this or that perfection of God. And what seems decisive, the words immediately following limit our attention to the unsearchableness of God's "judgments" by which are probably meant His decrees or plans (Ps. cxix. 75), and of "His ways" or the method by which He carries those into effect. And all that follows to the end of the chapter seems to shew that while the Grace of God to guilty men in Christ Jesus is presupposed to be the whole theme of this chapter, that which called forth the special admiration of the apostle, after sketching at some length the Divine purposes and methods in the bestowment of this Grace, was 'the depth of the riches of God's wisdom and knowledge'' in these purposes and methods. The "knowledge," then, points probably to the vast sweep of Divine comprehension herein displayed; the "wisdom" to that fitness to accomplish the ends intended which is stamped on all this procedure. 34. For who hath known the mind of the Lord? (see Job xv. 8; Jer. xxiii. 18), or who hath been his counsellor? (see Isa. xl. 13, 14). 35. or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? (see Job xxxv. 7, xli. 11). These questions, it will thus be seen, are just quotations from the Old Testament, as if to shew how familiar to God's ancient people was the great truth which the apostle himself had just uttered—that God's plans and methods in the dispensation of His Grace have a reach of comprehension and wisdom stamped upon them which finite mortals cannot fathom, much less could ever have imagined before they were disclosed. 36. For of him—as their Eternal Source, as 1 Cor. viii. 6, and (though of a more limited sphere) 1 Cor. xi. 12; and through him—as the sole Efficient Agent in the production and conservation of them; and unto him—as their Last End—are all things—the manifestation of the glory of His own perfections being the ultimate, because the highest possible, design of all His procedure from first to last: to whom ('to Him') be glory for ever. Amen.

In this threefold view of God many of the fathers saw a covert reference to the three Persons of the Godhead (and they are followed by some moderns). But here, at least, that cannot be admitted, as 'to Him 'can have no reference to any known property or work of the Spirit. Thus grandly, and with a brevity and rhythm worthy of the sublimity of the thoughts, does the apostle sum up, not only this profound and comprehensive chapter, but the whole doctrinal portion of this Epistle.  



1) The latter part of this verse (in the received text), though ably defended, is so weakly supported by external evidence (and this not without variation), that since it is certainly not required by the argument, it is better omitted.

2) There is strong external authority for "the root of the fatness," but the received text seems preferable.

3) Such is plainly the correct reading here.

4) The reading "God's goodness" bears marks of being a grammatical emendation, to fit in with the following clause,