Category Archives: Verse of the day

December 3, 2020 Morning Verse Of The Day

10[14] In fulfillment of the great OT covenants, particularly the Abrahamic covenant, this section anticipates full kingdom blessing in the messianic era. Then “many [Gentile] nations” (v. 11) will become the people of God, but the Lord’s special favor will continue to rest on “the holy land” (v. 12). The section begins with a call to joy, followed by the reason for such jubilation (cf. 9:9). The reason given is the personal coming of God himself to live among his people in Jerusalem (Zion). This language is ultimately messianic—indirectly or by extension from God in general to the Messiah in particular.

One of the four major categories of messianic prophecy is indirect messianic prophecy (the other three being direct, typical, and typical-prophetical). Indirect messianic prophecy refers to passages that can be literally and fully realized only through the person and work of the Messiah—e.g., passages that speak of a personal coming of God to his people, as in v. 10 and 9:9 (cf. also Isa 40:9–11; Mal 3:1). The same is true of references to the expression “the Lord reigns or will reign,” characteristic of the so-called Enthronement Psalms (e.g., 93; 95–99). These “eschatologically Yahwistic” psalms are probably best labeled theocratic (“rule-of-God”) psalms. The point is that all passages that speak of a future coming of the Lord to his people or to the earth, or that speak of a future rule of the Lord over Israel or over the whole earth, are ultimately messianic—indirectly or by extension; for to be fully and literally true, they require a future, literal messianic kingdom on the earth.

“The verb ‘dwell’ [NIV, ‘live’] (šākan [GK 8905], from which is derived ‘shekinah’) recalls the making of the tabernacle (miškān) ‘that I may dwell in their midst’ (Ex. 25:8)” (Baldwin, 111). She continues: “This same purpose attached in turn to the Temple (1 Kings 6:13), and when Ezekiel looked forward to the new Temple he saw the coming of the glory of the Lord (43:2, 4) and His acceptance of the Temple as the place of His throne (verse 7) for ever (verse 9).” For further biblical development of the theological theme of God’s dwelling or living among his people, see vv. 11–13 and 8:3 (cf. also Jn 1:14; 2 Co 6:16; Rev 21:3).[1]

Ver. 10.—Sing and rejoice. The Jews released from Babylon, and the whole Jewish nation, are bidden to exult in the promised protection and presence of the Lord. Lo, I come; Septuagint, ἰδοὺ ἒγὼ ἔρξομαι. So Christ is called, ὁ ἐρξόμενος, “he that cometh” (Matt. 11:3). I will dwell in the midst of thee (ch. 8:3; 9:9). Not merely the rebuilding of the temple is signified, and the re-establishment of the ordained worship (though without the Shechinah), but rather the incarnation of Christ and his perpetual presence in the Church. Κατασκηνώσω ἐν μέσῳ σου (Septuagint), which recalls John 1:14, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt (ἐσκήνωσεν) among us” (comp. Isa. 12:6; Ezek. 43:9; 48:35; Mal. 3:1).[2]

10. He continues the same subject. The meaning is, that God begins nothing which he does not determine to bring to its end. Since then he had already begun to gather his people, that they might dwell in the Holy Land, it was a work in progress, at length to be completed; for the Lord’s will was not to be a half Redeemer. This is the purport of what the Prophet says.

But he now exhorts Sion to rejoice, as though the happiness which he predicts was already enjoyed. This mode of speaking, as we have seen elsewhere, is common among the Prophets. When they intended to animate God’s servants to a greater confidence, they brought them as it were into the midst of what was promised, and dictated a song of thanksgiving. We are not wont to congratulate ourselves before the time. When, therefore, the Prophets bade the Church to sing to God and to give thanks, they thus confirmed the promises made to them; as though the Prophet had said, that as yet indeed the brightness and glory of God was in a great measure hid, but that the faithful were beyond the reach of danger, and that therefore they could boldly join in a gong of thanks to God, as though they were already enjoying full redemption; for the Lord will perfect what he begins.

Rejoice then and exult, thou daughter of Sion,—Why? For I come. God had already come; but here he expresses the progress of his favour, by declaring that he would come; as though he had said, “I have already given you obscure tokens of my presence; but you shall find another coming which will be much more effectual to confirm your faith.” Though, then God had already appeared to the Jews, yet he says that he would come, that is, when Christ would come forth, in whom dwells the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and in whom God’s perfect glory and majesty shines forth. And hence also does it more evidently appear what I have already said, that this address cannot be applied without perversion to the Prophet, nor be suitably applied to the person of the Father. It then follows that Christ speaks here: but he does not speak as a man or an angel; he speaks as God the Redeemer. We hence see that the name Jehovah is appropriated to Christ, and that there is no difference between the Father and the Son as to essence, but that they are only to be distinguished as to their persons. Whenever then Christ announces his own divinity, he takes the name Jehovah; but he also shows, that there is something peculiar and distinct belonging to him as the messenger of the Father. For this reason, and in this respect, he is inferior to the Father; that is, because he is sent as a messenger, and executes what has been entrusted to him. These things do not militate the one against the other, as many unlearned and turbulent men think, who entangle themselves in many vain imaginations, or rather in mere ravings, and say, “How can it be, that there is one eternal God, and yet that Christ, who is distinct from the Father, and is called his angel, is a true God?” So they imagine that the origin of divinity is God the Father, as though the one true God had begotten, and thus produced another God from himself, as by propagation. But these are diabolical figments, by which the unity of the Divine essence is destroyed. Let us then bear in mind what the Prophet teaches here clearly and plainly,—that Christ is Jehovah, the only true God, and yet that he is sent by God as a Mediator.

Behold I come, he says, and I will dwell in the midst of thee. God dwelt then among the Jews, for the building of the temple had been begun, and sacrifices had been already offered; but this dwelling was typical only. It hence follows, that some new kind of presence is here pointed out, when God was to reveal himself to his people, not under ceremonial figures and symbols, but by dwelling, at the fulness of time, substantially among them; for Christ is the temple of the Godhead, and so perfectly unites us to God the Father, that we are one with him. And it ought further to be carefully borne in mind, that the Prophet does here also make a distinction between the ancient types of the law and the reality, which was at length exhibited in Christ; for there is no need now of shadows, when we enjoy the reality, and possess the completion of all those things which God only shadowed forth under the law.[3]

10. Sing and rejoice. Imperatives open the second part of the poem as they did the first (verses 6, 7). Only here are these two imperatives put together, though in several places songs of praise for deliverance are introduced by ‘sing’, ‘shout’, ‘cry aloud’ (Isa. 12:6; 44:23; 54:1; Jer. 31:7). The enthronement of the Lord as king in Zion is frequently the setting of exultation (Pss 84:2; 96; 98; 132; Isa. 52:7–10), but most explicitly in Zephaniah 3:14, 15. So the joy is associated with many passages which celebrate the enthronement of the Lord in Zion (cf. 9:9). Daughter of Zion refers to the city of Jerusalem (2:4, 5; 8:3), but also to the population round about (Zeph. 3:14), and by metonymy to a great company far exceeding the population of Jerusalem, as the next verse shows. For lo, I come. As in verses 6, 8 the important disclosure is introduced by ‘for’ (). And I will dwell in the midst of you. The verb ‘dwell’ (šākan, from which is derived ‘shekinah’) recalls the making of the tabernacle (miškān) ‘that I may dwell in their midst’ (Exod. 25:8). This same purpose attached in turn to the temple (1 Kgs 6:13), and when Ezekiel looked forward to the new temple he saw the coming of the glory of the Lord (43:2, 4) and his acceptance of the Temple as the place of his throne (verse 7) for ever (verse 9). Tabernacle and temple were the visible tokens of the presence of the covenant-keeping Lord God who had delivered them from Egypt (Exod. 29:43–46). With the building of the new temple in progress this promise involving continuity of the covenant and the enthroning of the Lord in Zion was a major encouragement.[4]

10. The imperative verbs shout (or even ‘Sing!’, nab, njb) and be glad (or ‘Rejoice!’ neb, nlt) are both exclamations of triumphant joy and expressions of worship (cf. Pss 67:4; 68:3; 92:4; 95:1). The announcement of the imminent coming of the Lord is a repeated theme in the post-exilic prophets (cf. Hag. 2:7; Mal. 3:1). Despite his transcendent holiness, God desires to re-establish his ‘address’, so to speak, among his people. The word live is the same verb used in reference to God’s intention to ‘live’ in the tabernacle (Exod. 25:8). This theme of the divine presence, showcasing the immanence of God, extends throughout Scripture, from the tabernacle of Moses (Exod. 25:8) to the restored creation (Rev. 21:3). God’s declaration to re-inhabit Jerusalem echoes the earlier promise of 1:17. (On the divine oracle speech formula, declares the Lord, see v. 6 above.)[5] 

2:10 — “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the Lord.

When we know that God is with us and that He desires to enjoy intimate fellowship with us, how can we not break out in song and rejoice with all our hearts?[6]

2:10 The instruction to sing and rejoice is paralleled in the Psalms at the conjunction of divine justice (Ps. 35:27; cf. Prov. 29:6) and divine presence (Ps. 90:14). The dramatic return of the Lord to inhabit his rebuilt house is cause for praise for those who have returned to Judah.[7]

[1] Barker, K. L. (2008). Zechariah. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 749–750). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Zechariah (p. 18). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[3] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets (Vol. 5, pp. 74–75). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Baldwin, J. G. (1972). Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 28, pp. 117–118). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[5] Hill, A. E. (2012). Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary. (D. G. Firth, Ed.) (Vol. 28, p. 145). Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.

[6] Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (Zec 2:10). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.

[7] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1755). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

December 2, 2020 Evening Verse Of The Day

Affirmation of Trust (54:4)

4 In a hymnic manner, indicated by “surely” and nominal clauses in the Hebrew, the psalm shifts from worry over the arrogant to a confident trust in the Lord. Triumphantly the psalmist exclaims, “Surely God is my help” (cf. 30:10; 72:12; 118:7). The MT further describes the Lord as one of “those who sustain me” (see RSV). But the NIV is correct in understanding the preposition be (“among”) as emphasizing the Lord as the only one who grants support to his people: “the Lord is the one who sustains me” (cf. GKC, para. 119i). Dahood, 2:23, puts it well: “The Lord is the true Sustainer of my life!” Because Yahweh is his only Helper, the psalmist looks forward with alacrity to the enjoyment of his God-given life (cf. 51:12).[1]

54:4 God is my help. Here the psalmist introduces the underlying reason that generates his request: God is his helper. It is a turning point in the psalm, with selah (see NIV footnote) at the end of verse 3 probably alerting the reader to the change. While it is quite possible that selah was not original to the text of the Psalms but was a later liturgical note, this is one place where the term indicates a change in the tone of the psalm.[2]

4. Behold! God is my helper. Such language as this may show us that David did not direct his prayers at random into the air, but offered them in the exercise of a lively faith. There is much force in the demonstrative adverb. He points, as it were, with the finger, to that God who stood at his side to defend him; and was not this an amazing illustration of the power with which faith can surmount all obstacles, and glance, in a moment, from the depths of despair to the very throne of God? He was a fugitive amongst the dens of the earth, and even there in hazard of his life—how, then, could he speak of God as being near to him? He was pressed down to the very mouth of the grave; and how could he recognize the gracious presence of God? He was trembling in the momentary expectation of being destroyed; and how is it possible that he can triumph in the certain hope that Divine help will presently be extended to him? In numbering God amongst his defenders, we must not suppose that he assigns him a mere common rank amongst the men who supported his cause, which would have been highly derogatory to his glory. He means that God took part with those, such as Jonathan and others, who were interested in his welfare. These might be few in number, possessed of little power, and cast down with fears; but he believed that, under the guidance and protection of the Almighty, they would prove superior to his enemies: or, perhaps, we may view him as referring, in the words, to his complete destitution of all human defenders, and asserting that the help of God would abundantly compensate for all.[3]

4. “Behold, God is mine helper.” He saw enemies everywhere, and now to his joy as he looks upon the band of his defenders he sees one whose aid is better than all the help of men; he is overwhelmed with joy at recognising his divine champion, and cries, “Behold.” And is not this a theme for pious exultation in all time, that the great God protects us, his own people: what matters the number or violence of our foes when he uplifts the shield of his omnipotence to guard us, and the sword of his power to aid us? Little care we for the defiance of the foe while we have the defence of God. “The Lord is with them that uphold my soul.” The reigning Lord, the great Adonai is in the camp of my defenders. Here was a greater champion than any of the three mighties, or than all the valiant men who chose David for their captain. The Psalmist was very confident, he felt so thoroughly that his heart was on the Lord’s side that he was sure God was on his side. He asked in the first verse for deliverance, and here he returns thanks for upholding: while we are seeking one mercy which we have not, we must not be unmindful of another which we have. It is a great mercy to have some friends left us, but a greater mercy still to see the Lord among them, for like so many cyphers our friends stand for nothing till the Lord sets himself as a great unit in the front of them.[4]

[1] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 448). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Bullock, C. H. (2015). Psalms 1–72. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (Vol. 1, p. 410). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Calvin, J., & Anderson, J. (2010). Commentary on the Book of Psalms (Vol. 2, pp. 324–325). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 27-57 (Vol. 2, p. 441). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.

December 2, 2020 Morning Verse Of The Day

the human perspective

to the end that we who were first to hope in Christ … In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, (12a, 13a)

In the Greek text this passage is continuous, the last part of verse 12 leading directly into verse 13. Here we see the believer’s divine inheritance in Jesus Christ from our own human perspective. Throughout Scripture there is tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s will, a tension that, in his limited and imperfect knowledge, man is incapable of fully reconciling. As with all the other antinomies and paradoxes in God’s Word, our responsibility is to believe both sides of them without reservation, just as they are revealed. We know the truths are in perfect accord in God’s mind, and that knowledge should satisfy us.

Someone has pictured the divine and human sides of salvation in this way: When you look toward heaven you see a sign that reads, “Whosoever will may come,” and after you enter heaven you look back to that same sign and read on the other side, “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.”

Whatever God’s reasons for designing such humanly irreconcilable truths, we should thank and praise Him for them. For the very reason that they are completely true while seeming to be contradictory, we are humbled in His presence as we stand in awe of that which to us is incomprehensible. To the trusting believer such truths are but further evidence that Scripture is God’s doing, and not man’s.

To the end that we who were first to hope in Christ is the first statement given here about the human side of our divine inheritance in Christ. The Greek has a definite article before Christ, and a more literal translation is hope in the Christ. The meaning is not changed, but the definite article emphasizes the uniqueness of our hope: it is in the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. It also stresses the idea that the apostles and other first-generation Jewish believers were the first to receive the Messiah.

A rich factor in man’s believing the gospel is the hope He is given in His Savior and Lord. Though Paul mentions hope before belief in this passage, the chronological as well as theological order is faith and then hope. In this context, however, hope is used primarily as a synonym for faith. The first to hope in Christ were the first to believe in Him.

Therefore, Paul continues, In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, … As the apostle explains in his letter to the Romans, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (10:17). Faith comes from a positive response to the message of truth, the gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6–9)—the good news that God has provided a way of salvation through the atoning work of His Son, Jesus Christ. To “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Man-made systems of religion, which rely on ritual or works or both, not only do not lead to God but can become great barriers to finding Him. The only way to come is through His Son. “For with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed’ ” (Rom. 10:10–11). Having also believed not only stresses the means by which salvation is appropriated but also the uniformity of such means by the use of also.

Faith is man’s response to God’s elective purpose. God’s choice of men is election; men’s choice of God is faith. In election God gives His promises, and by faith men receive them.

The Guarantee of Our Inheritance

you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, (1:13b–14a)

Men have always wanted assurances. Because the promises of other men are so often unreliable, we demand oaths, sworn affidavits, surety bonds, guarantees, warranties, and many other such means of trying to assure that what is promised is received.

God’s simple word should be sufficient for us, but in His graciousness He makes His promises even more certain—if that were possible—by giving us His own guarantees. Here the Lord guarantees His promises with His seal and with His pledge. This is reminiscent of Hebrews 6:13–18, in which God gives His promise of blessing and then confirms it with an oath to provide what the Holy Spirit calls “strong encouragement” (v. 18) to all who hope in Christ.

god’s seal

Because we do not directly and immediately receive the fullness of all God’s promises when we first believe (since it is “reserved in heaven for us,” 1 Pet. 1:3–4), we may sometimes be tempted to doubt our salvation and wonder about the ultimate blessings that are supposed to accompany it. While we are still in this life our redemption is not complete, because we still await “the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). Because we have not yet received full possession of our inheritance, we may question its reality or at least its greatness.

As one means of guaranteeing His promises to those who have received Jesus Christ, God has sealed [them] in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise. Every believer is given the very Holy Spirit of God the moment he trusts in Christ. “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you,” Paul declares (Rom. 8:9a). Conversely, he goes on to say, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (v. 9b). Incredibly, the body of every true Christian is actually “a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in [him]” (1 Cor. 6:19).

When a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in his life. Life in Jesus Christ is different because the Spirit of God is now within. He is there to empower us, equip us for ministry, and function through the gifts He has given us. The Holy Spirit is our Helper and Advocate. He protects and encourages us. He also guarantees our inheritance in Jesus Christ. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). The Spirit of God is our securing force, our guarantee.

The sealing of which Paul speaks here refers to an official mark of identification that was placed on a letter, contract, or other important document. The seal usually was made from hot wax, which was placed on the document and then impressed with a signet ring. The document was thereby officially identified with and under the authority of the person to whom the signet belonged.

That is the idea behind our being sealed in Him [Christ] with the Holy Spirit of promise. The seal of God’s Spirit in the believer signifies four primary things: security, authenticity, ownership, and authority.

Security. In ancient times the seal of a king, prince, or noble represented security and inviolability. When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, King Darius, along with his nobles, placed their seals on the stone placed over the entrance to the den, “so that nothing might be changed in regard to Daniel” (Dan. 6:17). Any person but the king who broke or disturbed that seal would likely have forfeited his life. In a similar way the tomb where Jesus was buried was sealed. Fearing that Jesus’ disciples might steal His body and falsely claim His resurrection, the Jewish leaders obtained Pilate’s permission to place a seal on the stone and to guard it with soldiers (Matt. 27:62–66).

In an infinitely greater way, the Holy Spirit secures each believer, marking him with His own inviolable seal.

Authenticity. When King Ahab tried unsuccessfully to get Naboth to sell or trade his vineyard, Queen Jezebel volunteered to get the vineyard her way. “So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal” and sent the letters to various nobles who lived in Naboth’s city, demanding that they arrange false accusations of blasphemy and treason against him. The nobles did as they were instructed, and Naboth was stoned to death because of the false charges. The king then simply confiscated the vineyard he had so strongly coveted (1 Kings 21:6–16). Despite the deceptions contained in the letters Jezebel sent, the letters themselves were authentically from the king, because they were sent with his approval and marked with his seal. The seal was his signature.

When God gives us His Holy Spirit, it is as if He stamps us with a seal that reads, “This person belongs to Me and is an authentic citizen of My divine kingdom and member of My divine family.”

Ownership. While Jerusalem was under seige by Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah was under arrest by King Zedekiah for prophesying against the king and the nation, the Lord gave special instructions to His prophet. Jeremiah was told to buy some land in Anathoth for which he had redemption rights. The contract was agreed on, and the stipulated payment was made in the court of the palace guard before the required number of witnesses. In the presence of the witnesses the deed was signed and sealed, establishing Jeremiah as the new legal owner of the property (Jer. 32:10).

When the Holy Spirit seals believers, He marks them as God’s divine possessions, who from that moment on entirely and eternally belong to Him. The Spirit’s seal declares the transaction of salvation as divinely official and final.

Authority. Even after Haman had been hanged for his wicked plot to defame and execute Mordecai, Queen Esther was distressed about the decree that Haman had persuaded King Ahasuerus to make that permitted anyone in his kingdom to attack and destroy the Jews. Because the king could not even himself revoke the decree that was marked with his own seal, he issued and sealed another decree that permitted and even encouraged the Jews to arm and defend themselves (Esther 8:8–12). In both cases the absolute authority of the decrees was represented in the king’s seal. Those who possessed the sealed decree of the king had the king’s delegated authority set forth in the decree.

When Christians are sealed with the Holy Spirit they are delegated to proclaim, teach, minister, and defend God’s Word and His gospel with the Lord’s own authority.

god’s pledge

who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, (1:14a)

The Holy Spirit not only guarantees our inheritance in Jesus Christ with His seal but also with His pledge. An arrabōn (pledge) originally referred to a down payment or earnest money given to secure a purchase. Later it came to represent any sort of pledge or earnest. A form of the word even came to be used for engagement ring.

As believers, we have the Holy Spirit as the divine pledge of our inheritance, God’s first installment of His guarantee that the fullness of the promised spiritual blessings “in the heavenly places in Christ” (v. 3) will one day be completely fulfilled. They are assured and guaranteed with an absolute certainty that only God could provide. The Holy Spirit is the church’s irrevocable pledge, her divine engagement ring, as it were, that, as Christ’s bride, she will never be neglected or forsaken (cf. 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5).

The Goal of Our Inheritance

with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (1:14b)

Although our divine inheritance in Christ is a marvelous, awesome, and guaranteed promise to us from the Lord, it is not the primary purpose of our salvation. Our salvation and all of the promises, blessings, and privileges we gain through salvation are first of all bestowed with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

The great, overriding purpose of God’s redemption of men is the rescuing of what is His own possession. All creation belongs to God, and in His infinite wisdom, love, and grace He chose to provide redemption for the fallen creatures He had made in His own image—for His own sake even more than for their sakes, because they do not belong to themselves but to Him.

As Paul has already twice declared (vv. 6, 12), God’s ultimate goal in redeeming men is the praise of His glory. We are not saved and blessed for our own glory but for God’s (cf. Isa. 43:20–21). When we glorify ourselves we rob God of that which is wholly His. He saved us to serve Him and to praise Him. We are saved to be restored to the intended divine purpose of creation—to bear the image of God and bring Him greater glory.

This is fully accomplished at the believer’s glorification, when we receive full glory and redemption and are made the perfect possession of God.[1]

Salvation’s Seal

Ephesians 1:11–14

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

As I was preparing this study of Ephesians 1:11–14 late one year, the Philadelphia papers and the news broadcasts were filled with talk of the move of the city’s professional football team, the Eagles, to Phoenix, Arizona. The story broke on a Tuesday, and for the rest of the week every minor development was reported exhaustively. On Friday night one television channel gave the first fifteen minutes of its thirty-minute news allotment to this story and even returned to it later in the program. This is the kind of thing that interests the people of this world.

In Ephesians 1 Paul presents the greatest news story there has ever been, as he traces the plan of salvation that began in the mind of God even before the beginning of this world and which will be continued throughout all eternity. As he tells it, it is bigger and wiser and grander than anything we can possibly imagine. This story has three movements, like a symphony. The first movement is the sovereign election of God according to which he has chosen to bless a special people with every possible spiritual blessing in his Son Jesus Christ. The second movement is the accomplishing of that purpose through the redeeming death of Jesus. It is through that death that these especially chosen people have forgiveness of sins and are brought under Christ’s lordship.

The final movement—the one we are to study now—concerns the work of the Holy Spirit by which those who have been chosen by the Father and redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ are actually “linked up” to salvation. The theological term for this is “application.” The Holy Spirit is said to “apply” the benefits of Christ’s work savingly.

The Effectual Call

We have already seen enough in our study of the opening paragraph of Ephesians to appreciate how comprehensive and profound this is. As I pointed out earlier, Ephesians 1:3–14 is actually a single sentence that embraces most of the essential doctrines of Christianity. It deals with the doctrines of God, the Trinity, election, the work of Christ, forgiveness, the gospel, grace, creation, the consummation of world history when all things are brought together in subjection to Christ—and others besides. In this collection of doctrines Paul also talks about the Holy Spirit, and his elaboration of this subject is even more comprehensive than the ideas presented previously. What we have in verses 11–14 is a rich statement of the chief doctrines of the Holy Spirit and his work.

The first work of the Holy Spirit is what theologians term “the effectual call.” It is what is referred to in verse 11: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” At first reading, this seems to be saying the same thing as verse 4, where Paul wrote that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world.” That is, it seems to refer to the eternal election of believers to salvation. But that would be redundant. Actually, in this verse Paul is carrying the argument a bit further, showing how, having first “predestined” to salvation, God now chooses those who have been chosen, thereby working out his purposes in their particular lives. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to understand what Christ has done for us, grants faith to believe on him, and moves our wills to embrace him as our personal Savior.

This effectual call by the Holy Spirit is necessary because, apart from it, no one would turn from sin to Christ. Instead, all would turn from Christ, deeming his lordship something to be repudiated and the just demands of God something to be abhorred. Apart from the Holy Spirit the world crucifies Christ. That is why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit: to “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned” (John 16:8–11).

Glorification of Jesus

The second function of the Spirit, according to these verses, is the glorification of Christ. In verse 12 Paul continues the thought of verse 11, saying that the Spirit calls God’s elect “in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” That sentence is written of Paul and his companions, but the same thing is said later of all Christians. All this is “to the praise of his glory” (v. 14).

In some ways the most important thing that can be said about the Holy Spirit is that it is the Holy Spirit’s work to glorify Christ, as he himself said in John 15:26 (“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me”) and John 16:13–14 (“He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears.… He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”).

Whenever the church has forgotten this it has tended to call attention to the Holy Spirit rather than Christ and has fallen into an unhealthy and often divisive subjectivism. When people ask, “Do you have the Holy Spirit?” “Have you had a second experience of the Holy Spirit?” “Have you received the gift of tongues [or whatever other evidence of the presence of the Spirit is being particularly stressed at that time]?”—then the church is divided! When the church has remembered that the role of the Spirit is to glorify Christ, then all the other activities of the Holy Spirit—sanctification, inspiration, the giving of gifts, even the work of creation and anything else that might be mentioned—are seen within that framework, and the church is drawn together around Jesus.

We can learn a practical lesson at this point. Since the work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ, we may conclude that any emphasis upon the person and work of the Holy Spirit that detracts from the person and work of Christ is not of the Spirit. It is the work of another spirit, the spirit of antichrist (see 1 John 4:2–3). On the other hand, wherever Christ is exalted—in whatever way—there the third person of the Trinity is at work, and we may recognize that work and thank him for it.

We may notice one more thing, namely, that the work of the Holy Spirit in glorifying Christ is not apart from us since, as Paul says in verse 12, “we … [are] for the praise of this glory.” Sometimes Christians fall into an overly subjective approach to Christianity, making their faith chiefly a succession of experiences. Sometimes they also commit the opposite error of making their faith abstract and viewing the work of God apart from their own involvement in it. They forget that God works through means. In conversion he works through the Bible and the Spirit who illumines its teachings to us. In glorifying Jesus he works through the Spirit and ourselves—by leading us to Christ and by increasingly producing the character of Jesus in our lives.

Are you glorifying Jesus in what you say and by the way you live? If not, you have no part in the Spirit, since that is what he is sent to do in Christians.

One New Man of Two

The third work of the Holy Spirit is the making of one new people, the church, out of those who were diverse peoples beforehand. This theme comes in for full and repeated treatment in chapter 2. But even here it is so prominent that John R. W. Stott, for one, organizes the outline of Ephesians 1 around it. He speaks of “the future blessing of unification” in verses 9 and 10, and of “the scope of these blessings” in verses 11–14, showing that the blessings given by God through Christ belong equally to Jewish and gentile believers. The parallelism is perfect. In verses 11 and 12 Paul speaks of himself and other Jewish believers, saying that such were “chosen … for the praise of his glory.” In verses 13 and 14 he speaks of the gentile believers, to whom he is writing the letter, saying that they “also were included … to the praise of his glory.”

This was an important thing in Paul’s day because of the hostility that existed between Jews and Gentiles—between Greeks and Romans, rich and poor, slaves and free men, too, for that matter. In Paul’s day (as in ours) the world was sharply divided along many scores of lines. People were divided by distrusts and hatreds. But into this divided world came a new breed of people, people whose lives were transformed by the Holy Spirit and who were united in Christ in spite of their differences. In chapter 2 Paul speaks of a “barrier,” a “dividing wall of hostility.” But that has been broken down by Jesus Christ. Now those who once were many rival peoples have become “one new man” and “one body” (Eph. 2:15–16).

What a great thing this is! And what a great way for the Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus Christ, in whose name this new society is founded!

I am sorry for churches made up of one class of people, as many American churches are, for they lack opportunity to show this new unification of people effectively. Church growth specialists tell us that this is the best way for churches to grow, people being most attracted to those who are like themselves, and it may be so. Churches may grow fastest when everyone they are working with is alike. But at what cost is this growth purchased! I would rather have less growth and more glory given to Christ. I would rather have smaller totals but a larger body in the sense of a larger number of the types and conditions of people who are included in it.

Word and Spirit

The fourth aspect of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in these verses is the connection between the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, the Bible, which Paul alludes to here in speaking of “the word of truth, the gospel” (v. 13). Just as the Holy Spirit glorifies Christ and may not be separated from him, so also does the Holy Spirit always speak through and with the Word of God, the Bible, and is not to be separated from it. The Holy Spirit never speaks or works apart from Scripture.

This was one great discovery of the Protestant Reformers. Luther, Calvin, and others had a strong belief in the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing men and women to faith and in leading and preserving them in that faith once they had believed. They believed in the Holy Spirit’s work because the Bible taught it. They rejoiced in such verses as John 3:8 (“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”), 1 John 5:6 (“The Spirit … testifies, because the Spirit is the truth”) or 1 Corinthians 2:12–14 (“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned”).

But when they thought of these verses, with their strong emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, the Reformers also remembered many other verses that taught the importance of the Bible in knowing the mind of God, and they recognized that it is through the Bible, as the Holy Spirit illumines it to our minds, that God speaks.

Apart from a general revelation of God in nature (which by itself saves no one), we may say that God reveals himself in three ways: (1) there is a revelation of God in history, centered in the atoning work of Christ; (2) there is a revelation of God in writing, the Bible, which tells us of God’s acts; and (3) there is a revelation of God to the mind and heart of the individual by the Holy Spirit, who interprets the written revelation to us and applies its blessings to our hearts. None of this happens apart from the Bible or the truth of the gospel, which it contains, which is what Paul says here. So we can never give too much attention to the Bible. The Bible is the means God uses to call and bless people, as the Holy Spirit, who is God, reveals the Lord Jesus Christ and his work through its pages.

Marked with a Seal

The final work of the Spirit mentioned here is his work of sealing God’s people. The text says, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (vv. 13–14).

In his commentary Charles Hodge points out rightly that there are three purposes for which a seal is used and that each illustrates the Spirit’s work: (1) a seal is used to confirm an object or document as being true or genuine, (2) a seal is used to mark a thing as one’s property, and (3) a seal is used to make something fast or secure. The first may be illustrated by the seal of the United States which appears on paper currency or by the seal affixed to a passport. The second is like a nameplate on the flyleaf of a book. The third is illustrated by the seal of the Sanhedrin placed upon the tomb of Christ.

Each of these illustrates something important about the Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit verifies that the one receiving him really is God’s child, as Paul says in Romans 8:16 (“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children”). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones thinks that this is the chief point of Paul’s reference in Ephesians 1:14 and spends five chapters on it.

The Holy Spirit is also God’s claim on us that we truly are his possession. The phrase “God’s possession” is used explicitly in verse 14.

Finally, the Holy Spirit makes the Christian secure in his new faith and relationship. This comes through in the idea of the Spirit’s being “a deposit [or down payment] guaranteeing our inheritance” until our full redemption. Like a down payment on the purchase of a property, he is proof of God’s good faith and an earnest of the full amount to come.

Sealing with the Holy Spirit answers to all our needs. It assures us of God’s favor. It shows that we belong to him. It renders our salvation certain.

To God Be Glory

The last words of this great opening sentence of the apostle Paul are “to the praise of his glory.” It is an appropriate end, just as it was an appropriate beginning. In verse 3 Paul began by exclaiming, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Then, after he has enumerated those blessings, he returns to the place from which he set out, saying that this is “to the praise of his glory.”

And there is this too. When Paul began to speak of God’s blessings to us in salvation he went back before the creation of the world to God’s eternal will, saying that salvation began when God chose us in Jesus Christ (v. 4). He then showed how that will of God unfolded itself in history, first in the work of the second person of the Godhead in providing redemption from sin, and then in the work of the third person of the Godhead in applying that work to the individual. At this point he introduces the idea of God’s purpose, showing it to be that God himself might be glorified. In other words, everything we have in Christ comes from God and returns to God, beginning in his will and ending in his glory. It is God-centered from beginning to end.[2]

The Spirit’s Seal or Down Payment (1:13–14)

13 Paul explains yet another facet of the readers’ inclusion “in Christ.” Twice more he repeats the prepositional phrase “in whom” (i.e., in Christ); this final action occurs in the same arena as the prior ones. After the first “in whom,” Paul inserts the conjunction kai (“also,” functioning as an adverb) and the emphatic personal pronoun “you” (hymeis) as though to shout, You also were sealed. Not only are the previous acts accomplished, but you, yes you, were also sealed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not an agent who stamped us with a seal; the Spirit is the seal. Believers possess the Spirit.

The central verb in this verse, sphragizō, “seal,” has two participial modifiers; the verb and the participles are all in the aorist tense. The position of the participles prior to the main verb and the tense probably signal contemporaneous actions: sealing, hearing, and believing (cf. Hoehner, 237). The passive voice of “seal” no doubt implies the divine agent: God sealed the believers. The relationship between the participles and the main verb could be causal or temporal, i.e., God sealed either when or because they heard and when or because they believed. Though these present different nuances, the resultant meaning remains certain. Hearing the word of truth, i.e., the gospel of salvation, and believing it result in God’s sealing. When and because coalesce.

Thus Paul clarifies the means by which a person secures salvation, namely, hearing and believing. It matters what is heard and believed, for truth is at stake. They have heard the word (logos, GK 3365) that may also be termed “the truth.” Paul was strongly committed to following the way of truth (2 Co 4:2) and to proclaiming a saving message that embodied God’s truth. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 Paul terms his message the “word” (logos) of reconciliation and in Philippians 2:16 “the word of life,” both salvific terms. Paul defines the word of truth here as “the gospel of your salvation.” Employing the term “gospel” (euangelion, GK 2295), made famous by Mark (1:1), Paul believes the “word” represents “good news” about salvation. Consequently, Paul saw his entire career as propagating this gospel that brought salvation (Ro 1:1, 16; 15:16, 19). As 1 Thessalonians 5:8 makes abundantly clear, Paul saw “salvation” in ultimate and eschatological terms. People were headed to one of two outcomes—wrath or salvation. So Paul labored to bring people to God’s eschatological rescue (2 Ti 2:10).

But only hearing the salvation-bringing word is insufficient; people must believe the word, or more specifically, believe in Christ. Confession of and belief in Christ are the bases for salvation (Ro 10:9–10). For Paul, belief was no mere assent to a proposition or even to an acknowledgment that Jesus was Messiah or Lord. Belief entailed accepting not only that the gospel of Christ is true but that it is true for me. That is, saved ones live out in their experience the reality that Christ is Lord. Accordingly, in the second half of Ephesians we find Paul’s insistence on the lifestyle that must characterize true believers: “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1). So here the two processes must combine: hear and believe the word, for that word of truth is the good news that alone brings salvation.

When and because the believers heard and believed, God sealed them with the Holy Spirit of promise. The Spirit has an important role in this letter (2:18, 22; 3:5; 5:18; 6:18). Elsewhere Paul links the gift of the Holy Spirit to the point of acquiring salvation (Ro 8:9–11; 1 Co 12:13; Gal 3:2). A “saved” person possesses the Holy Spirit (Ro 5:5; 1 Co 6:19). Paul may be thinking of the gifts of the Spirit or the fruit of the Spirit (or both). Some see a hint of baptism here, but no evidence in the text suggests that rite. But what is the point of sealing here? “Sealing” could pinpoint a security measure or the need to seal something up, but probably here Paul intends the seal as a mark of ownership or possession (cf. BDAG, 980). In that case, the presence of the Spirit in the believers’ lives marks them out as God’s property (also confirmed in 2 Co 1:22). The Spirit here is called literally “the Holy Spirit of promise.” This genitival connection probably conveys a descriptive meaning (as in the NIV)—the promised Holy Spirit (Gal 3:14; cf. Ac 1:5, 8; 2:4, 17). As he promised, when God takes ownership of a person he marks that person with the Spirit, a seal for the day of redemption (Eph 4:30). The Ephesian believers enjoy the same status as all members of Christ’s body. They have God’s seal on them, the same one that identifies all believers.

14 Paul calls the Spirit the arrabōn (a Semitic word that passed into Greek; GK 775) of our inheritance (see also 2 Co 1:22; 5:5). BDAG, 134, describe this entity as the “payment of part of a purchase price in advance, first installment, deposit, down payment, pledge.” The sense is clear enough. The Spirit in believers’ lives constitutes God’s “earnest money,” a kind of deposit from him by which he assures that he will give them their full inheritance. In v. 18 Paul speaks of the “riches of [God’s] glorious inheritance in the saints.” The Spirit is the down payment; the remaining riches will follow. A Spirit-filled life is a foretaste of what heaven will be like (cf. 5:18–21).

The verse ends with more tortuous grammar—two prepositional phrases with genitival modifiers that describe the down payment of our inheritance. The first explains what will happen (and possibly when): (until) God redeems his possession. The second expresses its significance: God’s glory will be praised. Paul revisits the theme of redemption (recall v. 7) and adds an interesting descriptor for those redeemed: they are God’s possession or property (cf. 2 Pe 3:9). At the grand finale when God “pays up,” he will redeem his property—us—and we will acquire our inheritance. The response to this exorbitant grace comes as no surprise if we have followed Paul closely: God’s glory is praised! This repeats the outcome of v. 12 (cf. v. 6).[3]

13  But God’s portion is not confined to Jewish believers. “We who first placed our hope in Christ” have now been joined by “you also”—that is to say, by Gentile believers. It is to Gentile believers that this letter is specifically addressed, assuring them that their share in God’s heritage is as full and firm as that of their brothers and sisters of Jewish birth. Gentiles also heard the gospel, and realized that the salvation of which it spoke was for them as well as for Jews. The gospel is “the message of truth”—“the true message of the gospel,” as it is called in Col. 1:5—because it has God for its author; it is “the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). The communication of the gospel to Gentiles was undertaken reluctantly by the first believers, who could scarcely entertain the thought that the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel should embrace outsiders within its saving scope. Apart from Peter, who required a special revelation from heaven before he could bring himself to accept Cornelius’s invitation to visit him and tell him and his household the way of salvation, Gentile evangelization began as the result of private enterprise, when unnamed Hellenists of Cyprus and Cyrene came to Antioch and told the story of Jesus to Gentiles as well as Jews.92 From then on, throughout the provinces of the eastern Roman Empire, many more Gentiles than Jews believed the gospel, and the terms on which they might be admitted became a matter of serious concern in the mother church at Jerusalem. When, as Luke records, “the apostles and the elders” at Jerusalem “were gathered together to consider this matter,” Peter argued that it would be wise to follow the example of God, who gave proof of his acceptance of Gentile believers by “giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:6–9).

There is a remarkable similarity between Peter’s argument at the Council of Jerusalem and what is said here. The Gentiles, on believing the gospel, were “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” The figure of sealing is used by Paul in relation to the Spirit in 2 Cor. 1:22 where, associating his Corinthian converts closely with himself and his colleagues, he says, “it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us; he has also sealed us and given us the guarantee of the Spirit in our hearts.” Of the three figures used there—the anointing, the seal, and the guarantee—two reappear here: the seal and the guarantee.

The seal of the Spirit was received by the Gentiles here addressed as it had been received earlier by Jewish Christians—when they believed. The verbal form used here is identical with that found in Acts 19:2, where Paul at Ephesus asks a group of “disciples” if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed; it is a participial form meaning “having believed” or “on believing.” By giving believers the Spirit, God “seals” or stamps them as his own possession. The Spirit is variously called “the Spirit of God” or “the Spirit of Christ”; “if anyone has not the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him” (Rom. 8:9). Here he is called “the Holy Spirit of promise.” This might mean “the promised Holy Spirit” (cf. Acts 2:33, “the promise of the Holy Spirit”); but more probably it indicates that the Holy Spirit brings with him when he is received the promise of glory yet to come. So, in Eph. 4:30, believers are said to have been sealed with the Spirit “for the day of redemption”—a statement which summarizes the words that follow in our present context.

14  The word rendered “guarantee” is of Semitic origin; it was probably borrowed by the Greeks in the early days of trade with the Phoenicians. It was a commercial word denoting a pledge—some object handed over by a buyer to a seller until the purchase price was paid in full. The Hebrew word (identical with the Phoenician) is used in Gen. 38:17–18 of items of Judah’s personal property which he handed over to Tamar for the time being, until he had opportunity to send her the agreed price. In the NT it is used only in the Pauline writings, and only with reference to the Spirit. In 2 Cor. 5:5, where Paul looks forward to the “heavenly dwelling” which is to replace the present mortal tenement, he says, “he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” The gift of the Spirit, then, is the guarantee of coming immortality. This is Paul’s distinctive contribution to the NT doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Another term which he uses to express the same thought is “first fruits”: in Rom. 8:23 the Spirit is the “first fruits” of the eagerly awaited “adoption, the redemption of our bodies,” where the resurrection of the people of Christ at his parousia is meant. The same word for “redemption” is used there as here, and the same future hope is in view.

The Spirit consciously received is “the guarantee of our inheritance,” the pledge given to believers by God to assure them that the glory of the life to come, promised in the gospel, is a well-founded hope, a reality and not an illusion. The word “inheritance”103 is used in this chapter both of God’s portion in his people (vv. 11, 18) and of the everlasting portion which he has reserved for them. They can enter into the enjoyment of this everlasting portion here and now by the ministry of the Spirit. Redemption is already theirs through the sacrifice and death of Christ (v. 7), but one aspect of that redemption remains to be realized. On the day of resurrection God will “redeem” his own possession, and the evidence of his commitment to do so is given in his “sealing” that possession with the Spirit.

The word translated “possession” occurs in the same sense in 1 Peter 2:9, where believers (again, as it happens, Gentile believers) are called “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] possession.” Language is there deliberately applied to Gentile believers which in the OT is used of God’s people Israel—notably in Exod. 19:5, where Yahweh calls Israel “my own possession among all peoples.” The verb corresponding to the noun “possession” is used in a similar sense in Acts 20:28, where Paul directs the elders of the church of Ephesus to “feed the church of God, of which he obtained possession through the blood of his own [Son].” These words also echo an OT passage—Ps. 74:2, where God is entreated: “Remember thy congregation, of which thou hast obtained possession long since.” That such language should now be applied to Gentile believers is a token of the security of their new standing within the community of God’s own people, fully sharing present blessing and future hope with their fellow-believers of Jewish stock.

As those who first placed their hope in Christ are designed “for his glorious praise,” so it is with “you also”—believers of Gentile origin. Here too there is perhaps an echo of OT language—more particularly of Isa. 43:20–21, where God speaks of “my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.”

The liturgical note on which this eulogia opened in v. 3 has been sustained throughout, not least by means of the recurring refrain of glorious praise. Such a liturgical passage does not lend itself well to comparative analysis in terms of epistolary usage, whether Paul’s or anyone else’s. But it strikes the keynote for the rest of the letter, with its emphasis on the inclusion of Gentiles together with Jews within the new society of the people of God.[4]

His Present Faithfulness (1:13)

After recounting God’s purpose for “we [Jews] who were the first to hope in Christ,” the apostle speaks to the Ephesian Gentiles and says, “And you also were included in Christ” (Eph. 1:13). Whereas the earlier portion of this passage was the “we who …” section, this is the “you, too” section.

Expanding His Covenant (1:13a)

“In Christ” we were chosen and you, too, were included, says the apostle. The plan that was worked through the Jews to glorify Christ has now been extended to other nations. In the Greek both verses 11 (focusing on Jewish believers) and 13 (focusing on Gentile believers) begin the same way: “In him also.” Both Jew and Gentile are found to be “in Christ” (also see Eph. 1:12). This says much about how Paul conceived of the nature of salvation, of the Christian life, and of the covenantal promises to the Jewish nation extended to the Gentiles. This co-inclusion in Christ also serves as a theological basis for Paul’s argument that Jews and Gentiles now are fellow members of the body of Christ (see Eph. 2:13–22).

The plan “to bring all things … together under one head, even Christ” (Eph. 1:10) is being worked out in this present age. This is Paul’s reason for using the continuing present tense to say that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11). God’s plan is for the present age, our time. We who hear the gospel now are as much in God’s purpose of bringing praise to Christ as were the Jews. From the beginning God purposed to work everything together in order to bring all things under the headship of Christ. This includes past and present, heaven and earth, Jew and Gentile (as is stated more explicitly in Eph. 3:6).

Extending His Mercy (1:13b)

God’s involvement of “all things” in his plan is more than an expansion of the covenant; it is an extension of mercy. What did the Jews do to be the chosen people? Nothing. God’s blessing was based in his mercy, not on their merit. And what do Gentiles now have to do to qualify for this mercy and be granted the same privileged status as the covenant people?

Will Gentiles have to swim seven seas, perform feats of great sacrifice, or read a hundred books? No. The apostle’s language is very precise. “You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (Eph. 1:13). The Gentiles’ inclusion does not even rest on their doing what the Jews were supposed to do. But simply hearing—actually having the ears to hear and really hearing—the gospel marked these Gentiles as those included in the covenant. Note that they could not have heard spiritually, if God had not already worked in their hearts and tuned them to receive his Word (John 6:44, 65). Truly hearing the message of God’s mercy was itself a sign of inclusion in the covenant before anything else had been, or could be, done.

This unconditional covenant inclusion is a great mercy. The greatness can be comprehended only by remembering the pagan context of the Ephesians’ world. Human pride, false morality, and deceitful idolatry all thrived in Ephesus. For God to call people from this place his own before they had done anything to qualify for his love is a sign of great grace—of God’s willingness to be faithful in the face of great human frailty and sin. And thus, just as Paul can say that it was for “the praise of his [God’s] glory” that those who first believed were from the Jews, the least distinguished of the peoples of the world (Eph. 1:12), so also when Paul concludes his thought about the Ephesians, he says that their inclusion in Christ is likewise to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:14). Christ is glorified both because more persons are subject to him and also because his caring for them signals the wonders of his mercy.

There are many ways that these truths apply to us. First, there is the big picture: if we are included in Christ, then we are part of the eternal plan that began with the covenant people of old. All things are being worked out so that we, too, will be for the praise of his glory. Everything is being worked out for our good and his glory.

Second, there is a big mercy. More are being included who do not get everything right. We are part of the big picture because of God’s mercy, not our merit. Our accomplishments would never qualify us for his mercy. There are forces greater than we that are at work throughout history, and presently, to make us God’s own. Our salvation could never be dependent on our getting everything right—not yesterday, not today, not ever.

Third, we are part of the big plan to make everything right. There is a type of Calvinism that so emphasizes God’s sovereign eternal plan that it virtually shuts out any role of human participation in the spread of the gospel. But when we properly understand what the apostle says here, we are compelled to put our lives in God’s service for the sake of the gospel. We are instruments of his glory, not mere observers of his sovereignty.

When Calvin preached in Geneva, he did not push merely for doctrinal understanding. Visit his church and you can still learn how the great expounder of God’s sovereignty welcomed people from all over the world, and then prepared them to gush forth from Geneva to take the gospel to others. Where confidence in the sovereign working of God was greatest, there were the greatest delight and zeal to participate in God’s plan.

Paul says that the Jews were chosen in order that they might be to the praise of God’s glory, and that when those who first believed from among the Jews told others, they might help fulfill God’s plan to bring all things under Christ. God’s people can be a part of extending God’s mercy and glory. Those who have apprehended how great is the mercy of God desire that his glory spread, and they recognize that God uses human means to do this. Those most aware of the eternal plan are those most anxious to be a part of it, because they know that their efforts are not futile and even their failures are not determinative of God’s final intentions. God will still use people who believe that they are part of his design to bring glory to his Son—and who know that his design will prevail.

I am always chasing rainbows. When a rainbow appears in the sky, I will run for a camera as well as whatever family member or pet I can get to pose in the picture. The beautiful colors, the contrast of darkening rain and glistening sun, the wonder of light in nature’s prism, the reminder of God’s mercy and covenant—all call to me to pay attention and relish the glory of God’s design. But my ability fully to appreciate the glory is always incomplete. Because of the way that rainbows are formed I will never see a complete rainbow from the ground. You may be thinking that you have seen a complete rainbow because you have seen either all its colors or a complete arc that touches the ground on both sides. But from the ground you have not seen a complete rainbow. Because of the sheering effect of the rain and the angle of the sun, a person beneath the rainbow cannot see all of God’s design where the legs come together and the rainbow is a complete circle. As long as our view is from the ground, earth gets in the way and we never see God’s complete design.

Yet, you can see a complete rainbow. I have. If you get above the earth in a plane or on a mountaintop, when the sun is just at the right angle, you can see the whole rainbow, the full circle—the completeness of God’s design. When earth does not get in the way, you can see all of God’s design.

In this portion of Scripture, Paul moves earth aside so that we can see God’s entire plan. He lifts us above earthly perspectives and lets us see our lives from the perspective of heaven. There we see the whole design of human history. We are raised above the limitations of our sin and finitude so we will see that from the beginning God chose to love us. He made a people for his very own and promised that from them would come those who would believe in Christ. These would be his instruments for telling others, so that all the world would come together in praise of his glory. And just as it was from the beginning, so it is now: all things are being worked together in conformity with Christ’s purpose so that by his mercy all is to the praise of his glory.

The Bible’s claim of divine purpose in all things puts Christians at odds with differing earthly viewpoints. First, it puts us at odds with the secular world. We do not accept the premises of the secular scientist at the university who refuses to let students use language of purpose and design in describing the world around us. Everything is part of God’s design—not random, not developed by chance, but divinely designed.

Second, a heavenly perspective puts us at odds with much in our personal world. Our limited and finite perspective does not always confirm divine purpose for us. We question and doubt God’s design because the things of earth get in the way: our troubles, our questions, our sin—yes, even our pain and suffering. How can they fit into his purpose? It is so hard to see divine designs when your child is ill, when the church seems troubled by needless debate, when you are struggling to hold a family together, or simply to make financial ends meet. Yet when our eyes see the full rainbow in Scripture—the completeness of God’s plan—and know by faith that our lives are a part of God’s design no matter what happens, then we can take whatever comes because we know that we are for the praise of his glory.

Our hearts naturally and understandably question, “Is there really purpose in all of this?” The apostle answers by taking us to heaven’s heights to let us see from God’s perspective the complete picture of his working all things together for Christ’s glory and our good through no merit of our own. From the beginning he made a world good and to his glory. But then, like a balloon punctured and deflated, the glory was left in crumpled remains of human misery and earthly corruption by the fall of Adam. But ever since, according to the nature that is in him, the Lord has been following a predetermined plan to refill the balloon with his mercy, ever expanding and extending the balloon to its original glory. First, the mercy was extended to a chosen people through no merit of their own. From them came those who were the first to believe in Christ, and they carried the message of mercy to other nations who now also are included in the plan of mercy until the expansion of the kingdom purposes of God are fulfilled.

Paul writes this epistle so that we would grasp that such a vast, intricate, and, at the same time, intimate plan is true and applies to us. What a difference it makes in my life and yours when we believe that the trials as well as the accomplishments, the difficulties as well as the joys, are not simply the products of brute forces in the universe but actually are all part of God’s eternal plan for his glory and our good. Do we have any assurance that such astounding truths do apply to us? Yes. Our assurance of God’s abiding care rests not only in his past and present promises, but also in his Spirit’s faithfulness.

His Spirit’s Faithfulness (1:13c–14)

Paul says to the Ephesians, “You were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (vv. 13b–14). Those who are part of God’s redemptive plan are marked with a seal that guarantees their receiving the full rights of God’s heirs in a kingdom redeemed and made right.

The “inheritance” concept is found elsewhere in Paul’s prison epistles (Eph. 5:5; Col. 1:12; 3:24) and in his speeches in Acts (20:32; 26:18). This is an important continuity. Jesus spoke of the inheritance of the kingdom and of eternal life (Matt. 19:29; 25:34), and his followers continued this expression (1 Cor. 6:9–10; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; Heb. 1:14; 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4). But Jesus’ words do not originate the concept. The Old Testament people were also promised an inheritance from God. Now, as God’s people, this inheritance is “ours,” but we are not the sole recipients of blessing. God also has his own inheritance in the saints (Eph. 1:18; and see comments on verse 11 above).

The “seal” image that Paul is calling to mind is that of the wax that was affixed to an official document whose promises are guaranteed because of the authority of the one who marked the seal with a signet ring. The sign was the guarantee that what was promised would be fulfilled for those to whom it was promised.

But Paul is not ending the imagery there. The Holy Spirit is not just a mark of God that we are his possession; the Spirit also is a deposit guaranteeing the redemption that is to come. This deposit is similar to a down payment on a house that secures your position as the buyer, or the first fruits of a crop that indicate that the rest of the harvest is coming.5 The Spirit is the first evidence of the full grandeur of God’s completed purpose in our lives.

It all sounds so great. The Spirit marks us as God’s own and serves as the guarantee of God’s purpose for our lives. But does this satisfy all of our questions? No. We want to know how the Spirit marks us. What are the evidences of the deposit to assure us that God’s plan applies to us? The answer lies in the portion of the text not yet addressed: “And you also were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13).

It is important to remember that in the original language (despite the periods in our English versions) this portion of our text is part of one long sentence that extends beyond this verse. If this sentence structure is forgotten, then one is likely to create a time sequence for this verse that reflects our preconceptions rather than what the words actually say. If one’s preconception is that some special expression of the Holy Spirit, such as charismatic gifts, will arrive in a second blessing weeks or even years after conversion, then the words might be read this way: “You were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed that, then at a later time you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”

But what if the words are put as close together in time as the Greek sentence places the terms? Then the words do not indicate so much a separation of time as a sequence of logic. In this case, the words would be read this way: “You were included in Christ, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed that, then you were at that time marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” In this case, the proof of the presence of the Holy Spirit is not indicated by a distant expression of extraordinary charismatic gifts, but rather the immediate fact that God has brought the person to saving faith. Belief itself indicates the presence of the seal (mark) of the Spirit of God that guarantees we are God’s children because without the Spirit we could not and would not believe (Rom. 8:6–9; 1 Cor. 2:14).

We fail to recognize belief as the indication of the seal of the Spirit when we fail to remember how supernatural is the gift of our faith. The gospel says you are a sinner, and Jesus, the Lord of all and Lamb of God, died for your sins. The world doesn’t believe that. The gospel says that even when you are faithless, the faithful God has forgiven your past, laid claim on your life, and secured your future. The world doesn’t believe that. The gospel says that though you were dead in your trespasses and sins, Christ died for you, rose from the dead as the victor over your sins, gives purpose to your life now, and is coming to claim you eternally. The world cannot believe that. Not until the Holy Spirit comes and supernaturally changes a heart can anyone believe the truths of the gospel. Thus, says the apostle, your believing is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is in you.

The Holy Spirit who has already enabled you to taste the sweetness of God in the gospel of your salvation is giving you a foretaste of the glory that awaits you, guaranteed by his mark of belief in you. Already by the Holy Spirit’s using the gospel, your spiritual world has been turned upside down and made new. Your belief is the proof that the Bible speaks truth when it says that you are a new creation. In addition, this testimony of God’s Spirit in your heart affirms that what the Bible says about God’s work throughout creation can be trusted. The Bible says the entire creation is being conformed to God’s purposes and for his glory. Because we have witnessed the re-creating work of God in our hearts, we are able to trust that what the Bible says about God’s ultimate renewal of all things is also true.

These are precious truths that give meaning, purpose, and courage to our lives. I can know that nothing in my life is without purpose because I believe that the Savior died for me and now, as my risen Lord, he lives in me by his Spirit so that my life will be used for his glory. Such belief is itself the evidence (and guarantee) of the Spirit’s presence in my life and God’s purpose for my life. God has a purpose for me in all my weakness, frailty, sin, and fear. Does Paul say this because he does not understand the real challenges that we face? He is claiming that we can know everything will work out for God’s glory and our good simply because of the evidence of our belief as the Holy Spirit’s claim upon us. Does Paul live in the real world? Yes, he writes this letter while under Roman guard and awaiting trial. He knows the real world. And because he believes the gospel, he believes that even his suffering is part of God’s purpose of spreading the message of his faithfulness past and present until all of God’s precious people are gathered in to the glory of his name.

Because our weakness before the world outside of us, and our sin caused by the world inside of us, are so evident, we need the blessed assurance that our lives are not fruitless and that what we fail to achieve is not disqualifying of God’s love. Ultimately our confidence has to turn away from anything that we would offer and, instead, toward the faithfulness of our God that is confirmed by his Spirit’s work in us. Without these assurances the things that we must face until Christ comes again would be unbearable. But with the assurance that his purposes are secure and that we are in that plan, we can face whatever he calls us to endure and be secure even when our weaknesses are apparent.

A friend of mine recently shared that the high school graduation of his son Robby was filling the family with “new degrees of terror.” The reason for the terror was that Robby was born with multiple mental and physical handicaps. Once school was over, much of the government support for Robby would disappear, and it was not clear how the family would take care of him.

Robby was on my mind when, a few days later, the pastor of my church was pronouncing that Sunday’s benediction—the promise of God to give his blessing to his covenant people. As our pastor finished the benediction, a slurred voice rose in the back of the sanctuary and joined him in saying the final, oft-repeated words: “… to our God is the power and authority, now and forever, amen.” It was Robby, who, from his wheelchair, was testifying of the power and sovereignty of his God—past, present, and forever.

How could Robby believe such things, and how could his parents? His suffering and their anguish have been so great. There is little on this earth that would confirm the truth of the words he repeated. Only faith affirms that Robby’s hope is not in vain. But such faith rises above the earth and sees all things from God’s perspective. There he shows himself to be the God of all power who is able to conform all things to his purposes. There he promises that every valley shall be lifted, every injustice will be made right, every tear will be wiped away, hearts will be healed, bodies will be made whole, and all that now happens will lead us and others to an eternity of these blessings with our Savior. The weakest of vessels and the vilest of sinners are part of this eternal plan, as are all who believe in him. How do you know that you are included? Because you believe in him and, having believed, you have the testimony of his Spirit in your heart that he is able to bring all things together for his glory and your good.

The universe of your soul is already different, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the deposit of God of the full redemption that is ahead, given to assure you that what you face is not without purpose and what you most cherish is not in jeopardy. Neither is in your hands. Rather, all is in the hands of the wonderful God who called and made you his own out of his mercy alone. Even when you cannot do everything right, even when things seem all wrong, you are all right with God because he who chose you is working out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glory.[5]

1:13 / Here the author turns to the Gentiles and affirms that they, too, were included in Christ. He then proceeds to outline the steps that were involved in their coming to Christ:

First, they heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. On some occasion these readers heard the message of the gospel, which resulted in their salvation. In this context, salvation probably signifies inner renewal and all the blessings and privileges available to believers because of their status in Christ (cf. 2:1ff.) rather than preservation from the wrath of God (cf. Rom. 5:9).

The phraseology of this opening statement is similar to Colossians 1:5 and to the ideas in Romans 10:14 and 17, which show that the proclamation of the gospel precedes faith in the gospel. A similar sequence takes place during Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost when he summons those who heard the gospel to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:37ff.).

Second, they believed in Christ, literally, “in whom also having believed.” Although the content of belief is not mentioned, it definitely must include the person of Christ (“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” Rom. 10:9) or the gospel that bears witness to him.

Third, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. The imagery behind this phrase comes from the ancient custom of sealing (sphragizō), in which personal possessions (e.g., animals, household goods, slaves) received a mark or stamp of ownership in much the same way that things are branded or identified today. This act also confirmed or authenticated something as genuine. A seal on a letter or document, for example, declared that it was legally valid. People belonging to religious cults often were sealed with marks that bore the image of their god(s). The Book of Revelation talks about those who have or do not have “the seal of God on their foreheads” (Rev. 9:4; cf. also 7:2–8; 22:4; 2 Tim. 2:19).

In the nt, there are a number of references that indicate that the Holy Spirit is the Christian’s seal: In Romans, Paul relates the inner witness of the Spirit to the believer’s sonship (8:15, 16; cf. Gal. 4:6), thus affirming that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer is a sign that he or she belongs to God. The apostle is even more explicit in 2 Corinthians 1:22, “[God] set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” Ephesians 1:13 confirms this by assuring the believer that the seal is the possession of the Holy Spirit. It is a visible attestation that one belongs to Christ.

Although Paul connects the giving of the Holy Spirit to the acts of “hearing” the gospel and “believing” in Christ, there are credible reasons to believe that verse 13 has the baptismal event in mind, even though the term is not mentioned explicitly. First, there is an inseparable connection between faith and baptism in the nt. Baptism is believers’ baptism, and those who believed in Christ expressed their faith almost immediately in baptism (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 35–38; 9:18; 10:47, 48; 19:5). Faith and baptism went so closely together that they were regarded as one act rather than two. Peter, for example, instructs his hearers to repent, that is, to have faith, believe, and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (2:38). When Paul becomes a Christian, he is told to “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Within the framework of the nt, one was not baptized unless one believed; nor did one believe without being baptized.

Second, the nt connects baptism with the reception of the Holy Spirit. Peter summons his audience to be baptized and receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Paul associates baptism and the Holy Spirit on several occasions in his letters (1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13; Titus 3:5). And when Luke describes some of the major epochs in the life of the early Christian church, he includes faith, baptism, and the reception of the Holy Spirit as essential parts of becoming a Christian, that is, of Christian initiation (Acts 2:38ff.; 8:12–17; 19:1–6; cf. 10:44–48). There is no need for a “Spirit baptism” or a rite of confirmation apart from the reception of the Holy Spirit at the time of water baptism.

On the basis of these observations it appears legitimate to interpret 1:13 within the context of baptism. The aorist participles “having heard” (akousantes) and “having believed” (pisteusantes), followed by the aorist passive (“you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”), are reminiscent of the faith, baptism, Holy Spirit pattern noted above. The author does not envision a sequence of events separated by a long period of time.

Although the Holy Spirit is the seal (1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22), and 1:13 is a strong allusion to baptism, it is by no means certain that sealing is used as a technical term for baptism in Ephesians. The first definite reference to the “seal of baptism” occurs in the second century (ca. a.d. 150) in the Second Letter of Clement (7.6; 8.6). From this time onward, sphragis is the seal received by all Christians at baptism and thus becomes a term for baptism itself.

The effect of the Holy Spirit is to mark the believer with a seal. As a seal, the Spirit marks one out as belonging to Christ. It is interesting to note that this is virtually the same effect that baptism “into Christ” has. To be baptized into the name or person of Christ is to become Christ’s possession, to be placed under the Lord’s authority and protection.

1:14 / In addition to ownership, the Holy Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing that believers will receive God’s promises. Most commentators suggest that the idea of guarantee (arrabōn) came into the Greek world from the Phoenicians who, in matters of trade, often would make a deposit or an installment as earnest money with the balance to be paid in full at some later date. This act obliged both buyer and seller to complete the transaction. But “the deal” included a sense of “quality” as well, for the person receiving the down payment looked forward to receiving full payment with goods of the same quality (Mitton, pp. 62–63). In the Christian life, the Holy Spirit is a pledge that God will complete his promise to deliver our inheritance. The statement in 2 Corinthians 5:5 is more specific about this idea: “God … has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” One’s present life in the Spirit is a foretaste of one’s future and eternal life with the Spirit!

Beyond guaranteeing one’s inheritance, the Holy Spirit assures believers of the redemption of those who are God’s possession. Included in this translation are the two important theological concepts of redemption (apolytrōsis) and possession (peripoiēsis). Some commentators (cf. Abbott, p. 24) believe that the context (our inheritance) requires that possession likewise be “our possession.” Thus, believers are redeemed, but await a future time when they will take full possession of their redemption. This view has led to the ambiguous and inadequate translation in the rsv, “which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

Most commentators—and as a result most English translations, like the niv—think the verse is stressing that God is the agent of redemption and that believers are God’s possession (niv, nasb), “his own” (neb), or “those who are his” (gnb). Although redemption is a present gift, the Holy Spirit assures the believer that ultimately God will redeem completely those who are his; he is a guarantee until the complete freedom (redemption) of God’s own people (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9).

These thoughts recall the “already” and the “not yet” aspect of the Christian life. Believers have been given the Holy Spirit, enjoy new life in Christ, have been redeemed, but still await the fulfillment of these blessings at the second Advent. The sealing of the Holy Spirit has an eschatological function that points toward the final day, when their bodies will completely be freed (redeemed) from all the effects of sin. Ephesians 4:30 expands this concept more fully when it refers to “the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” A similar thought concerning redemption is expressed in Romans 8:23, where Paul discusses the future glory of God’s people and God’s creation: “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

This great hymn of praise (vv. 3–14) ends with a note that has been sounded several times before with respect to God’s elective purpose for humanity. Hence, election and sonship are to the praise of his glorious grace (v. 6); redemption, and all of its benefits (vv. 7–11), are to culminate in a life of praise (that we … might be for the praise of his glory—v. 12); finally, the pledge of the Holy Spirit is presented in relation to the unfolding plan of God. This, also, is to the praise of his glory (v. 14).[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 32–36). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (pp. 27–32). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.

[3] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 54–55). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (pp. 264–267). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5] Chapell, B. (2009). Ephesians. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 49–58). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[6] Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 157–161). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

December 1, 2020 Evening Verse Of The Day

Righteousness Is Provided For All

for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (3:22b–23)

The provision of salvation and the righteousness it brings is granted for all those who believe. Anyone will be saved who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, for there is no distinction.

Preaching in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, Paul declared, “Through Him [Christ] everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). In his letter to the church at Galatia, the apostle said, “A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:16).

Jesus Himself said, “The one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37). Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ—whether a murderer, prostitute, thief, rapist, homosexual, religious hypocrite, false teacher, pagan, or anything else—will be saved. Just as no one is good enough to be saved, no one is so evil that he cannot be saved.

That is the wonderful point of Romans 3:22. All those who believe will be saved, because in God’s sight there is no distinction. Just as everyone apart from Christ is equally sinful and rejected by God, everyone who is in Christ is equally righteous and accepted by Him. Even the “foremost of all” sinners, as Paul called himself (1 Tim. 1:15), was not too wicked to be saved.

There is no distinction among those who are saved, because there is no distinction among those who are lost, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Hustereō (fall short) has the basic meaning of being last or inferior. Every human being comes in last as far as the glory of God is concerned.[1]

23 The reason all must come to God through faith in Christ is that “all have sinned and fall short of [or lack, as in Mk 10:21] the glory of God.” This crisp summarizing statement repeats the point already established by Paul in 3:9, 19. The glory in view cannot be eschatological (as in 5:2), since even believers, for whom the sin problem has been solved, lack the future glory now. The suggestion that the glory is God’s approbation or praise (Denney, 610) is unlikely, since this meaning of doxa (GK 1518), common in Luke, is somewhat rare in Paul. Dodd, 50–51, seeks to link the glory with the image of God in man (cf. 1 Co 11:7), which is marred by sin. This is suggestive, but it would be more acceptable if Paul had used the past tense (“have fallen short”) to match the sense in the previous statement about sin. Probably the best interpretation is to associate the glory with the divine presence and the privilege Adam and Eve originally had of direct communion with God. This ever-present deprivation is depicted in the restriction of the glory to the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and the denial of the right of access to the people except through the high priest once a year. God’s glory is the majesty of his holy person. To be cut off from this direct fellowship is the great loss occasioned by sin.[2]

22b–23 In something of a parenthesis, vv. 22b–23 remind us why this righteousness is available to all, and why, also, all need this righteousness. “There is no distinction” summarizes a key element of Paul’s presentation in 1:18–3:20, and is likely, therefore, to have special application to Jew and Gentile. In v. 23, Paul elaborates this point. His “no distinction,” as we would expect, has to do with the absence of any basic difference among people with respect to their standing before God. Jews may have the law and circumcision; Americans may lay claim to a great religious heritage; “good” people may point to their works of charity; but all this makes no essential difference to one’s standing before the righteous and holy God. Paul reduces the argument of 1:18–3:20 to its essence in a justly famous statement of the condition of all people outside Christ: “all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God.” The second verb states the consequences of the first: because all have sinned, all are falling short of the glory of God. “Glory” in the Bible characteristically refers to the magnificent presence of the Lord, and the eternal state was often pictured as a time when God’s people would experience and have a part in that “glory” (e.g., Isa. 35:2; Rom. 8:18; Phil. 3:21; 2 Thess. 2:14). And just as this sharing in God’s “glory” involves conformity to the “image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29–30; Phil. 3:21), so the absence of glory involves a declension from (though not removal of) the “image of God” in which human beings were first made. “The future glory may be regarded as the restoration of the lost, original glory.”736 Paul, then, is indicating that all people fail to exhibit that “being-like-God” for which they were created; and the present tense of the verb, in combination with Rom. 8, shows that even Christians “fall short” of that goal until they are transformed in the last day by God.[3]

3:23 / For all have sinned. This is Paul’s categorical summary of the human experience. In chapter 3 he repeats this judgment nine times (vv. 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 19, 20, 22, 23)! Regardless of the distinctions humans draw among themselves, in God’s sight “there is no difference.” All have sinned is an essential prelude to verse 24. Only in the light of grace can humanity recognize and lament its rebellion; only in the light of its rebellion is humanity humbled to receive grace. If humanity is to be saved, salvation must come from outside it, for on its own humanity stands under wrath. The Reformers referred to this as “alien righteousness,” salvation from outside, salvation not from humanity, but freely and entirely from God. Karl Barth presses this idea into service when he says, “Genuine fellowship is grounded upon a negative: it is grounded upon what men lack” (Romans, p. 101). There is no denominator common to humanity, whether social status, nationality, race, or whatever interests, which constitutes the fellowship of righteousness. All humans share a solidarity of impoverishment with one another in God’s sight. The one thing they have in common is that which makes them objects of both wrath and grace, their unworthiness before God.

Unworthiness is characterized by a falling short of the glory of God. Paul said earlier of those who sought glory and did good that “glory, honor, and peace” would await them (2:10). It might be supposed that the human predicament is actually a failure to “come of age” or attain its destiny. This is quite an alien thought for Paul. Falling short of the glory of God is surely a reference to Adam’s sin in Genesis 3. Humanity lacks glory not because it has failed in its potential, but because it has lost it through disobedience. The lacking of glory draws our attention not to a hopeful evolutionary spiral, but to the state of sin (“under sin,” 3:9), resultant from humanity’s exchanging the glory of God for its own will (1:21–23).[4]

3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Two pieces of Paul’s Adam theology surface here. First, the aorist tense of the verb hēmarton (“have sinned”) no doubt alludes to Adam and Eve’s fall in the garden of Eden (see Rom. 5:12–21; cf. 1:18–32). Thus, in some mysterious way all of humanity has been impacted by Adam’s sin (see the commentary on Rom. 5:12–14). Second, Paul’s reference to all of humanity falling (hysterountai [“fall short”] is a present tense used in gnomic fashion, indicating something that is constantly going on) probably alludes to the first couple’s loss of divine glory upon their sin in paradise (see Gen. 1:26–28; Ps. 8:4–8; Apoc. Mos. 21.6; 3 Bar. 4.16; 1QS 4.22–23; CD 3.19–20; 4Q171 3.1–2) as well as the eschatological hope of the restoration of that glory.[5]

23. All have sinned. These identical words (pantes … hēmarton) appear at the end of 5:12 where, however, the reference may be to the participation of all in ‘man’s first disobedience’; here the meaning is that all human beings, as individuals, have sinned.

Fall short of the glory of God. The image of God in which man was created was believed to involve a share in the divine glory, which was forfeited through sin. The words of Isaiah 43:7, ‘whom I created for my glory’ (spoken, in the context, of ‘every one who is called by my name’), came to be applied to humanity in general. Cf. also 1 Corinthians 11:7. The ‘hope of sharing the glory of God’ awaits believers in the coming age (5:2).[6]

Ver. 23. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.

Sin as a fact:

  1. The necessity of a clear sense of sin. 1. The gospel is a glorious remedy for a universal and otherwise incurable disease; and the first step must ever be to make us sensible of that disease. For one of its most dangerous symptoms is, that it makes men insensible of it. And, seeing that the remedy is not one which can be simply taken once for all, but requires long application, a man must be very thoroughly persuaded that he has the disease before he will take the necessary trouble to be cured of it. Let us try and see what “all having sinned” means. 2. When any of us looks out upon mankind, or within himself, one thing can hardly fail to strike him. It is the presence of evil. From the first, man’s history has been a history of going wrong and doing wrong. From the first, our own personal history has been a history of interrupted good and interfering bad. 3. Some have said, “Don’t tell people about it; forget that there is evil in yourself; and you and they will become good. It may be true that there is such a dark spot in nature; but gazing upon it is painful and useless; look at the bright side.” But do you suppose that evil in our nature can be thus got rid of? Try it for a day—for an hour; then take strict unsparing account. And if more time is wanted, try it for a year; then retire and trace your path during the time. Does not every man see that it would be simply the tale of the silly ostrich over again, which imagines itself safe from the hunter by hiding him from its sight? No; a man who wants to get rid of evil must open his eyes to it, stand face to face with it, and conquer it.
  2. Sin is distinguished from every other evil. 1. There are bodily pain, discomfort, misery, common to us and to all. Now, if we can manage to flee away from them, we thereby get rid of them. We need not study their nature. But the man who wishes to avoid evil in this world must be awake and alive to the forms and accesses of evil. His very safety consists in it. Therefore evil is a matter of a totally different kind from bodily pain, misery, or death. 2. Evil is not by any means our only inward source of annoyance and hindrance. Every one has defects and infirmities. But none of these do we look upon as we look upon evil. Let it be shown that we are dull, or feeble, or inferior to some others, we put up with it, we excuse it, we make ourselves as comfortable as we may under it; but let it be once shown that we have wished, said, done, that which is evil, and we know at once that there is no excuse for it. We may try to show that we did it inadvertently, or by force of circumstances, or in some way to lessen our own share in it, but the very labour to construct an excuse shows that we hold the evil itself, as evil, to be inexcusable. So far, then, this evil is something which our nature itself teaches us to revolt from and abhor. No son of man ever said or could say, from his inmost heart, “Evil, be thou my good.” It requires more than man ever to say this.

III. Sin is the transgression of law. 1. What we have said shows that there is a law implanted in our nature by which evil is avoided and good desired. All our laws, public opinion, even our ways of thinking and speaking, are founded on this. 2. Now, when man says or acts evil, what sort of a thing does he do? Is it a necessary condition of our lives that we must enter into compact with evil? Certainly not. Every protest against, resistance to, victory over it, proves that evil is not necessary to our being. But true as this is, the freedom from and victory over evil is not that after which all men are striving. One man seeks sensual gratification; another wealth; a third power; a fourth reputation, &c., &c.; and so, not man’s highest aim to be good, but an aim very far below this is followed by even the best of mankind sometimes. Now every one of these lower objects, if followed as an object, does necessarily bring a man into contact and compromise with evil. Greed, intemperance, injustice, unkindness, overweening opinion of self, and a hundred other evil things beset every one in such courses of life. 3. When a man lives such a course he is disobeying that great first law of our being by which we choose the good and abhor the evil. Now, whenever we do this we sin. “All sin is transgression of law.” 4. Now, sin is committed against a person. And this law of good and evil of which we have been speaking, springs from that Holy and Just One who hath made us and to whom we are accountable. All sin is against Him.

  1. All have sinned. And in dwelling on this, the fact that all men have inherited the disposition to sin, necessarily comes first. And, inheriting this disposition, but with it inheriting also the great inward law of conscience warning us against evil, we have again and again followed, not the good law, but the evil propensity. In wayward childhood this has been so; in passionate youth; in calm, deliberate manhood. Now, then, this being so, can sin be safe? Can a sinner be happy? Sin is and must be the ruin of man, body and soul, here and hereafter. (Dean Alford.)

The charge of sin universal:

  1. The charge here brought is that of having sinned, and a most solemn and awful charge it is. “Fools,” indeed, “make a mock at sin”; and that they do so, is a proof of their folly. God is love; and consequently His law requires love. To love God with all the heart, and their fellow-beings as themselves, is the essence of that law. To break this law is sin; and sin produces only misery and ruin. To charge a person with having sinned is to charge him with having acted contrary to the purpose for which he was made; with having failed to love and obey the best and greatest of beings; with being guilty of the same conduct with that which cast the angels out of heaven, and man out of Paradise. Surely this is a solemn charge. Do we want other examples of the evil of having sinned? Why the Flood? why the fire upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah? &c. Because they had sinned. Or, to give a more awful and decisive example, why did the Son of God die on the Cross? Because He had taken upon Himself the nature and the cause of sinners.
  2. The persons against whom it is brought. “There is no difference; for all have sinned,” in their progenitor and representative, and in their own persons also. But this is a truth unpalatable to the pride of man. And under the influence of this principle he will be disposed yet further to ask, “What! is there no difference? no difference between righteous Abel and wicked Cain? between impenitent Saul and contrite David? Are they all equally guilty before God?” In one sense all these persons are not alike. They have not all sinned in the same manner, in the same measure, to the same degree. Here there is a wide difference between them. But in the sense spoken of in the text they are all alike. They have all sinned; and here there is no difference. Though they may not be equally guilty, yet they are all guilty before God.

III. The extent of the charge here brought. “All have sinned, and,” by so doing, “have come short of the glory of God.” This expression signifies—1. To fall short of rendering to God that glory to which He is entitled. He requires that all His creatures shall glorify Him. He has created them for His glory; and when they fulfil the purpose for which He created them, then they do glorify Him. Thus “the heavens declare the glory of God.” What, then, was the end and purpose for which man was made? To love, obey, and serve his Maker. By opposition to His will he comes “short of the glory of God.” Man, a living, rational being, is placed, not like the other works of creation, under a law of necessity which he cannot break, but under a moral restraint, by which he ought to be kept in the path of duty. But he is not so kept by it. He dishonours God in his very gifts, and endeavours, according to his power, to introduce confusion into His works, and to defeat His great and gracious designs. 2. The failing to obtain that glory which God originally designed for man. God originally designed man for a glorious immortality. But by sin he fell short of that glory; he forfeited and lost it. This, indeed, was the consequence of not rendering to God the glory due to Him. Having been unwilling to glorify God, he could no longer expect to be glorified with God. Conclusion: Perhaps you say, “Why, this doctrine takes away all hope. Would you drive us to despair?” No, not to a despair of salvation, but to a despair of justifying yourselves before God. But in Christ there is a full and gracious pardon for all your sins; there is glory offered to you again. (E. Cooper.)

The test of a sinner:—A young man once said to me, “I do not think I am a sinner.” I asked him if he would be willing his mother or sister should know all he had done or said or thought—all his motives and desires. After a moment he said, “No, indeed, not for all the world.” “Then can you dare to say, in the presence of a holy God, who knows every thought of your heart, ‘I do not commit sin’?” (J. B. Gough.)

Man’s sinfulness and inability:

  1. It is universally admitted that there is something wrong in man’s nature. 1. In every one of us there is a something good which perceives a something bad; also something which whispers of an ideal state—a kind of reminiscence of a lost condition. 2. To account for this it suffices if we think of our nature as having had, originally controlling it, a supreme love which has been largely but by no means entirely lost. That in us which accuses us when we do wrong and commends us when we do right cannot be sinful, but must be holy. And so there is in us all a viceroy asserting kingship in the name of the true Sovereign of our souls. As a matter of fact we look upon one another as beings not entirely trustworthy. If man be not a depraved creature, why this universal suspicion? And yet we are not so depraved as not to know that we are depraved. 3. It is often argued that we are here in a state of probation. But man as man has had his probation and has fallen. Adam’s “tree of knowledge of good and evil” tested his obedience. Our Tree of Life—Jesus Christ—tests our obedience. Only with a difference. The first man, knowing only good, wanted to know what evil was. We, having in ourselves the knowledge of good and evil, are put upon trial, whether we will adhere persistently to that which is good—good personalised in Christ.
  2. What does this condition mean? 1. There is suggested the explanation of incompleteness. Our nature, say some, is moving on gradually towards perfection. Give it time and it will come out according to the highest idea that the best and most intelligent man has of it. Unhappily, except under certain conditions, and in a certain environment, man as he grows older does not grow better. And this idea does not account for our sense of guilt. It leaves out too much. There are too many facts which lie outside of it. It only covers a part of the ground. 2. It needs along with it the idea of depravation. The sense of not being right, of being wrong, is in us all. And it is an internal trouble which men would get away from if they could. But no man can get away from himself. No external condition can eradicate it. Men try all sorts of devices to rid themselves of it. Sometimes they change their opinions, but that does not alter the inward condition. The bad consciousness is there all the time, and there is no other word but sinfulness which will express its nature. For it is certain that there are in man not only defects which mean weakness, but also a parent defect which means guilt.

III. This degeneration is total. It affects the whole nature. Our nature is so connected, part with part, that degeneration in one region means degeneration in every region. If a man be unjust in his feelings he will be unjust in his thinking and action. It is the merest rubbish to talk of a man being good at heart and bad everywhere else. Whatever affects the centre of our nature affects also every part of it to the outermost extremities. If there be impure blood in the heart there will be impure blood in every vein. And there is no kindness in any teaching which leads men to assume that sinfulness is only an eruption on the skin and not a disease of the heart. Only “fools make a mock at sin.”

  1. The view we take of this fact of sinfulness will influence our estimate of every other vital truth. If sinfulness be only ignorance we need only a Teacher; if only disease, a Physician; if only error, an Example. But if it be something more, we need in Him who is to deliver us from it a power other than that possessed by the Teacher, &c. Sinfulness means ignorance, error, disease; but it means a great deal more. In many a case it means that state of heart in which the idea of God is more hateful than the idea of the devil. I have known fallen men and women who never ceased praying “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and I cannot forget Christ’s words—“The publicans and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” There are sins of the flesh which destroy reputation, which bring misery, social degradation, and much else. There are sins of the spirit which bring none of these, and yet which put men and women at even a farther distance from God. Of what condition of heart is he who is amiable and placid until someone speaks to him such a truth as “God is Love,” “God is Light,” “God so loved the world”? &c. To err is human, but to contemn and reject the claims of Deity, that is not human, but fiendish. No one has ever taken a true measure of what sinfulness is until he has considered it in this, its most terrible form. I want you to feel “the exceeding sinfulness of sin,” for only then will you be able to appreciate the exceeding goodness of God who “willeth not the death of a sinner, but that all should come to repentance.” “Where sin abounded grace did superabound.” No man who looks away from his sin to his Saviour need despair, but then he must look to Him as Saviour. If a man can grow out of this condition of sinfulness by natural development; if every old man be nearer to the ideal of manhood than when he was young, then a Teacher, &c., is needed; but if man is helpless to deliver himself from sinfulness, then he who is to meet the necessities of the case must be human to understand him, but more than human to deliver him from an enemy stronger than man himself. (Reuben Thomas, D.D.)

Coming short of God’s glory:—Different persons, according to the difference of their habits of thought, or their education, or their moral attainments, take a very different standard of what sin is. But here we have God’s definition—whatever “comes short of the glory of God,” that is “sin.”

  1. God measures sin by the degree in which the act, or the word, or the thought, injures or grieves Him. This must be so. The only true rule for the estimate of any sin must be taken from the mind of Him whose mind is law, and whom to offend against constitutes sinfulness. Do not say, “Are not we forbidden to seek our own glory? How, then, can God seek His own glory?” For the reason why no creature is to seek his own glory is because all glory belongs to the Creator. What does it mean to “come short of the glory of God”? It may mean to come short of heaven, or to be unworthy of any praise from God, or to come short of that which is indeed God’s glory—His perfect image and likeness; to fail to reach, in its purity, the only motive which God approves—a desire for His own glory. It appears to me that though all the other senses are included in the words, yet that their great primary intention is the last. II. This brings me to the motive of human action. 1. You, who can read only what speaks to the outward senses, think most of words and actions. And, as naturally, God will look at the sources more than at the streams of every man’s moral being. So it will be at the last great account. All the deeds and sayings of a man will then stand forth to give evidence to a certain inward state of the man, according to which every one will receive his sentence. 2. And yet even we judge of things by their motives. Why do we value the most trivial gift, the act of a moment, a smile, a glance of the eye, more than all the treasures of substance? 3. Note some of the legitimate motives which may actuate us. (1) It is legitimate to wish to be happy. Therefore God stirs us up by promises, and lifts us up by beatitudes. It would be contrary to common sense to say that we may not do anything for the sake of going to heaven. (2) It is a step above that—to do or bear with the desire that we may become holier. (3) But higher, because less selfish, ranges the motive of a true ambition to make others happy. (4) And still higher the lofty, Christ-like focus, concentrating the whole will upon this—“Father, in me glorify Thyself.” 4. To all these principles of action, except the last, there attaches a shadow. The wish to be happy, even where the things we desire are spiritual, may degenerate into religious selfishness. The longing to be holy will often turn into morbid self-examination and a restless disquietude. The ambition to be useful easily becomes vitiated with—I will not say the love of human applause—but a desire to be liked. But the motive to do anything for God’s glory has no shadow, and is that which makes all the other motives right. It is right to endeavour to be happy, mainly because our happiness gives glory to God as the result of the finished work of Christ. It is right to study to be holy, because where God sees holiness He sees His own reflection, and He is satisfied. It is right to set ourselves to be useful, because it extends the kingdom of God. Here, then, lies the wrongness of everything that is done on any inferior principle—it “comes short of the glory of God.” (J. Vaughan, M.A.)

Missing the mark:—The word “sin” alike in the Hebrew and the Greek means “missed the mark,” as an archer might. When one is interested in rifle shooting the picture is easily realised and not easily forgotten.

  1. The mark, the centre, the bull’s-eye, that man is to make his aim through life, is “the glory of God.” 1. And what is that? The outshining of God’s attributes; Christ is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person. We can, at best, be but broken images, interrupted rays of His light. But still that is what we are to aim at—becoming ourselves, and reflecting to the world around us some images of the holiness, goodness, and love of God. 2. In this shooting we are a spectacle to men. See us they will, and judge from us the character and the worth of the religion we profess. The various professions or trades we may follow are but the courses which our bullets take amidst the various influences to the right or to the left, to be allowed for by the shooter. Our bullets must pass through them without erring, and in all alike the aim is to be one—to manifest the character of the God we serve. Those occupations are not in themselves the true centre to be aimed at—they are but the means of reaching the glory of God.
  2. Missing this mark is sin. St. Paul lays it to the charge of all alike. 1. The standard is a high one—to aim directly and always at God’s glory. But, then, man occupies a high position, made above all creation, blessed with faculties above all creatures for being the glory of God; placed with opportunities of being so now, and the promise of being more so hereafter. 2. Shall we complain that we are so high in the creation, or complacently stoop down from it and forfeit the crown held out for us to take, like Bunyan’s man with the muck-rake? Was not he missing the mark of life? He took up, as many do, a handful of dirt—he lost the crown of gold. We speak of men having made a good hit when they have succeeded in a telling speech, or a successful speculation, or a fortunate match, but what have they hit if they have not sought to honour God? Certainly not the glory of God, nor have they advanced the true purposes of life. 3. Now a rifle is made to shoot straight; if it will not do so, however perfect the polish of its barrel, or the finish of its lock or stock, it is useless, and you throw it on one side or break it up. The more complete it seems the more vexed you are with it for its utter failure in the one work for which you had it made. God has made us for the one object of glorifying Him, and if we fail in that, then whatsoever else we have which decorates us—intellect, politeness, science, art, position, wealth—all tend not to diminish but to increase our condemnation. 4. What our condemnation may be I do not pretend to fathom; but if the words mean no more than that having been made for the highest purpose, and then having utterly failed, we are henceforth cast on one side as useless, our powers broken up, and our opportunities taken from us, they will mean enough to stir us to redeem the time. We should not like to meet the exposure of such a shame. Pindar describes the return of a combatant from the great National Games. He speaks of him as hiding himself along the byways, not venturing to enter by the gates into his city, or to be seen in any public place. Why? Because he had missed the mark. He went out in the name of his city, equipped by his fellow-citizens, to win honour for their name, and to give them glory. But he has failed, and he dare not meet them. We have failed, and we must “all appear before the judgment-seat, that every one may receive the things done in his body.”

III. To what does this lead us? 1. We must realise more and more our condition as sinners. Let any man solemnly ask himself, How much of God has the world seen in me? How much of His glory have I reflected? 2. We must go back to the same butts and shoot again for a truer aim. Go to your seat in Parliament, or your books, or your shop, and there aim afresh at rising to the glory of God, “forgetting those things which are behind,” &c. True, it will not be so easy now that one’s hand is unsteadied by neglecting to aim aright; true, it will not be so simple now that many Ere looking on and wondering what in the world you are changing for, to shoot straight under their critical eye; but such sense of sin, such turning from it to God in Christ again, such trusting hope that with His aid we may succeed, will bring with it His forgiveness for the past and His guidance for the future; and we may yet, with His encouragement, hit the mark and glorify Him. (Canon Morse.)[7]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 1, pp. 207–208). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 70). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Moo, D. J. (2018). The Letter to the Romans. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Second Edition, pp. 246–247). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[4] Edwards, J. R. (2011). Romans (pp. 101–102). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Pate, C. M. (2013). Romans. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (p. 78). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[6] Bruce, F. F. (1985). Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, p. 108). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[7] Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: Romans (Vol. 1, pp. 233–238). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.

December 1, 2020 Morning Verse Of The Day

A Plea for Missions

Romans 10:14–15

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?…

When young William Carey, the acknowledged founder of the modern missionary movement, first applied to his church board to be sent to India, he received a classic reply. “Young man,” said one of the older church leaders, “when God chooses to save the heathen of India, he will do so without your help.” Fortunately, Carey knew better than that. He knew that when God determines that something is to happen he also determines the means to make it happen, and, in this case, the first step to the evangelization of India was the pioneer work of William Carey. Carey persevered, and the rest, as they say, is history.

No Conversions in a Vacuum

I think of that story as I come to Romans 10:14–15, mainly because of the placing of these verses in Romans. The verses themselves are a stirring plea for missions, one of the most important in the Bible. But much of their force comes from their setting in Paul’s argument.

Think of the preceding verse: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 13). That is a wonderful statement of the universal application of the gospel. It is for everybody. Anyone who calls on Jesus Christ as Savior will be saved. But how can people do that unless they know about him? And how can they know about Jesus unless someone goes to them to teach them about him? Those are precisely the questions Paul has in mind as he begins this new section, asking: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?”

The answer is obvious: A person cannot hear the gospel and believe on Christ unless someone takes the gospel to him or her.

However, not only are these verses related to what has gone before, to verse 13. They are also related to what follows, to verses 16–21. For Paul, in this entire section (Romans 9–11), is dealing with Jewish unbelief, and he is going to show in the latter half of chapter 10 that the unbelief of Israel is not God’s fault, since God had sent messengers to the Jewish people. Paul himself was one. He had preached the gospel, and he had done so clearly. If the Jews did not believe, it was not because they could not, since they had both heard and understood the message.

While we are at it, we should note that verses 14 and 15 are also related to the letter as a whole. One commentator on Romans, E. F. Scott, remarks, “This passage might seem to be only a digression, but it is central to the whole Epistle. More plainly than anywhere else Paul here discloses his purpose in writing as he does to the Roman church. He is coming to Rome in order to make it his starting-point for a new mission, and he needs the co-operation of the Christians in the capital.”

Says John Murray, “The main point is that the saving relation to Christ involved in calling upon his name is not something that can occur in a vacuum; it occurs only in a context created by proclamation of the gospel on the part of those commissioned to proclaim it.”

In these verses Paul proves this point by giving us a series of linked statements, leading from an individual’s calling on Christ in faith, backward through the mandatory intervening steps of belief in Christ, hearing Christ and preaching about Christ, to a preacher’s being sent to proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ to those who need to hear him. In other words, the text is a classic statement of the need for Christian preaching and for the expanding worldwide missionary enterprise.

The First Necessity: Calling on Christ

The first thing that is necessary if a person is to be saved, as verse 13 has already said, is that he or she “call on” Christ. This verse alone proves the point, which I have already stressed many times in these studies, that saving faith, a faith that saves, is more than mere intellectual assent to certain truths about Jesus.

This is because the statement in verse 13 flatly distinguishes between “believing” (the Greek word is “faith”) in Christ and “calling on” Christ for salvation: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?” Many people know about Christ. A significant number of these also probably believe that he is the Son of God and the world’s Savior, as the Bible teaches. But they have never called on him in personal trust, and so they are not Christians. They are not saved. Saving faith, as I have said many times, has three elements: (1) intellectual content or knowledge, (2) personal assent to or agreement with that content, and (3) trust or commitment. The Latin words are: notitia, assensus, and fiducia. In this verse “calling on” Christ means the last of those three elements.

Let me make this personal.

It is not enough for you to sit under the preaching of the Word of God to be a Christian, important as that is. It is not enough for you to know theology or even to be a student of the Bible. I commend all those things to you, but they alone do not make you a Christian. To be a Christian you must call on the Lord Jesus Christ personally, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, I confess that I am a sinner. I cannot save myself, and I call on you to save me. Help me. Save me from my sin.”

If you will do that and really mean it, Jesus will save you. In fact, he already has, because it is his work in you that leads to that confession. But I repeat: Intellectual belief is not enough; you must commit yourself to Jesus as your own personal Lord and Savior to be saved.

The Second Necessity: Belief in Christ

The second step in Paul’s linked series of statements is that a person must believe in Christ in order to call upon him. Isn’t that interesting? I have just said that mere intellectual belief is not enough. There must be personal trust or commitment to him as Lord and Savior. Yet this does not mean that the other part, intellectual belief or content, is unimportant. On the contrary, it is essential. For how can you call upon one you do not know? How can you ask Jesus to save you from your sin unless you understand and believe that he is the Savior?

Intellectual understanding without commitment is not true faith, but neither is commitment without intellectual understanding. If you must believe on Jesus in order to call on him, then your mind must be engaged in knowing who he is and what he has done for you.

The late Ray Stedman, who was a good friend and former pastor of the Peninsula Bible Church in California, knew Harry A. Ironside when he was pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago. He remembered Ironside describing a visit to Chicago by the flamboyant evangelist Gypsy Smith. Gypsy Smith got his name because he really did have a gypsy background, and he told many fascinating stories about growing up in a gypsy camp. On this occasion the message was made up almost entirely of these stories. At the end of the meeting, Gypsy Smith gave an altar call, and hundreds of people surged forward. Ironside used to say that he wondered what they were coming forward for. “Perhaps,” he said, “they wanted to become gypsies.”

The point was a good one, since one of the things that sets Christianity off from other world religions is that it deals with objective truth and with the facts of history.

Unless the facts are proclaimed, the message is not Christianity.

Unless the facts are understood and believed, the faith that follows is not true faith, regardless of its intensity.

The Third Necessity: Hearing Christ

The third of Paul’s statements is that in order to believe in Christ a person must hear Christ. I repeat the last two words, “hear Christ,” because that is what the verse literally says. The New International Version is mistaken when it adds the word “of” so the text reads, “believe in the one of whom they have not heard.” What it actually says is: “believe in the one whom they have not heard.”

The point is that it is Christ himself who speaks to the individual, and that it is hearing him that leads first to belief and then to calling on his name in salvation.

This should not surprise us, of course, because this is exactly what Jesus taught. John 10 is a clear example. In that chapter, Jesus was speaking about himself as “the good shepherd,” and he was explaining how his sheep know him and respond to his voice:

The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice … I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

John 10:2–5, 14–16

There is a danger that some will use this emphasis on hearing Christ himself as an excuse for subjectivity. This happens when people say, “God told me so-and-so,” and then follow it with something entirely unrelated to Scripture. Or when they say, “The Holy Spirit said …” and then add some personal desire or utterly unbiblical whim. We all know Christians who have used statements like this to justify behavior that is blatantly contrary to the Word of God.

But our passage provides two entirely adequate safeguards, even while stressing the need for us to “hear” Christ personally. The first safeguard is the step that has gone immediately before this, where Paul stressed the need for intellectual content or belief. This has to do with Bible truths and with the facts of Bible history. There is nothing subjective here. On the contrary, this is soundly objective. By linking the facts of the message to hearing Christ, Paul is saying that although Jesus speaks personally and individually to the one he is calling to faith, he does not do so apart from the truths of Scripture. He speaks to us not by leading us away from Scripture, but by leading us to Scripture and by speaking through Scripture. The subjective word is based on the objective revelation.

The second safeguard is found in the step that follows, namely, the “preaching” of God’s Word by God’s messengers. This means that the “word” of Christ is not whatever you might choose to make it. Rather it is the content of Christian doctrine as taught by qualified and appointed preachers. “The point,” says Morris, “is that Christ is present in the preachers; to hear them is to hear him.”

Jesus taught this, too, of course. When he sent seventy-two disciples ahead of him to preach in his name and prepare people for his coming, he encouraged them, saying, “He who listens to you listens to me,” and “he who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16). It is the same today. When I (or any other minister) stands up to teach the Bible, if I do it rightly, it is not my word you are hearing. It is the Word of God, and the voice you hear in your heart is the voice of Christ. So, if you do not like what I am saying, do not get angry with me. I am only the postman. My job is just to deliver the letters. And when you respond, do not think that you are responding to me. You are responding to Jesus, who is calling you through the appointed channel of sound preaching.

The Fourth Necessity: Preaching Christ

In speaking of this passage’s second safeguard against subjectivity in hearing the voice of Christ, I have already moved on to the fourth step in Paul’s series of linked statements, which are in the last analysis a great plea for missions. It is that for a person to hear Christ, someone must proclaim Christ to him or her. This is a strong statement for the necessity of preaching.

In his excellent commentary, Leon Morris emphasizes that “hearing” is a reflection of first-century life, when few people could read and communication was largely through the spoken word. He suggests that this does not exclude other valid forms of communication today, print media, for instance. That is true enough, of course. The gospel can be taught by qualified and appointed writers—Leon Morris is one—as well as by qualified preachers. But that aside, there is still something special and necessary about verbalized communication, particularly preaching, since it is through such preaching that God most often chooses to make the gospel known.

This was true of apostolic preaching. John Calvin wrote, “By this very statement … he [Paul] has made it clear that the apostolic ministry … by which the message of eternal life is brought to us, is valued equally with the Word.”

It is true of preaching today, too, though in a lesser sense. Today’s preaching is not valued equally with the Word, but it is through preaching that the Word is most regularly made known and blessed by God to the saving of men and women. J. I. Packer is right on this point when he says, “A true sermon is an act of God, and not a mere performance by man. In real preaching the speaker is the servant of the Word and God speaks and works by the Word through his servant’s lips.… The sermon … is God’s ordained means of speaking and working. The divine commission to ministers is a commission to preach and teach, and the accompanying promise is that, if they preach the word faithfully, they will not preach in vain.”

The Fifth Necessity: Sending Christ’s Messengers

This brings us to the fifth and last step in Paul’s linked statements about the way people are brought to call on Jesus Christ for salvation. It is his bottom line. He has indicated that people must believe in Christ before they can call on him. They must hear Christ before they can believe. There must be preachers of the Word if people are to hear Christ. Now he concludes that for Christ to be proclaimed to such people, preachers must be sent to them.

By whom? By God, of course. This is God’s work; no one can take it lightly upon himself. It is why Jesus said, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:38). If God does not send the messenger, the message will not be blessed by him, and those who hear will not be saved. As Leon Morris says, “A self-appointed herald is a contradiction in terms.”

But it is also true that messengers must be sent by the churches, just as Paul and Barnabas were sent on their missionary journeys by the Gentile church at Antioch (Acts 13:1–3). In fact, one of the objectives Paul had in writing Romans was to enlist the support of the Roman church in his plan to take the gospel beyond Rome to Spain and other places to the west (Rom. 15:23–29). The application for us is that if people today in unreached areas of the world are to hear the gospel and have the opportunity to believe on Jesus Christ, those who know Christ must pool their resources to send God’s messengers to them. We must do it. A strong missions program is mandatory for an obedient church.

Four Applications

This has been a five-point study of Paul’s text (one point more than was common even for Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great “four-point” preacher). Five points is a lot to remember. Nevertheless, here are four more quick points in conclusion. Each is a verse of Scripture.

  1. Matthew 9:37–38. [Jesus said,] “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” These are our Lord’s own words about praying for Christian missionaries. It is a recognition that God must call and send them. But I ask, “When God calls, will we be prepared to send them, too? Will we give our money to help make the gospel of salvation widely known?”

Let me share some facts with you. According to a recent report by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the world’s population is about 5.3 billion people. Roughly one-third (1.7 billion) are people who would call themselves “Christian.” Among the other two-thirds, one-third (1.3 billion) have never heard the gospel, and the other two-thirds (2.3 billion) have heard it but are unconverted. The first group, which includes most of the western nations, accounts for 62% of the world’s wealth. It spends 97% of that on itself. The remaining 3% is divided between secular charities, which get 1% of its resources, and Christian causes of all kinds, which get 2%.

Of that 2% allotted to Christian causes, 99.9% is spent in our own countries to provide for our own churches and Christian institutions. Of the remaining.1%, spent for Christian work abroad, .09% is spent on those who have already heard the gospel but are unconverted, and only .01% on the 1.3 billion persons who have never even heard the name of Jesus Christ.

I am sure I do not have to emphasize that this represents a tremendous challenge for Christians who are serious about wanting to take the gospel to the whole world in obedience to the Great Commission.

  1. Second Timothy 4:2. “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” If you are a preacher or Bible teacher, even in a small class, do not be distracted from your primary calling by other useful but secondary things. Many things are important, but nothing is as essential as preaching and teaching God’s Word. Be faithful to that task.
  2. Matthew 28:18–20. [Jesus said,] “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.…” These are the words of the Great Commission in its best-known form, and they are for all Christians. So I add this reminder: Although not all Christians are called to be preachers or teachers, all are nevertheless called to be agents of Christ’s commission. Ask God to give you opportunities to speak to others about Jesus and his death for sinners, and then be sure you actually do it.
  3. Second Corinthians 6:2b. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” This is for you, if you have not yet responded to the gospel by believing in and calling on Christ. There are billions of people who have never heard the gospel, but you are not one of them. You have heard it. I have been making it clear to you. What you need to do right now is to turn from your sin and call on Christ.[1]

14–15 Now the apostle turns parenthetically to emphasize the importance of those who proclaim the good news of the gospel, and thus by implication the importance of his apostolic ministry. A series of logically connected questions makes the point. A first question is implicit, though not stated, from the fundamental point made in the preceding verse, namely, “How shall they be saved if they cannot call on the name of the Lord?” Paul begins with the next question, in order: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?” Then the sequence follows: “How can they believe … [if] they have not heard?” “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” and finally, “How can they preach unless they are sent?” Is this last question possibly a veiled indication that Paul needs the support of the Romans for his planned evangelistic work in Spain?

Faith, in fact, depends on knowledge. One must hear the gospel before one can be expected either to receive it or reject it. The choice of words is suggestive. To “hear” the message was the one vehicle open to people in that day. The NT had not yet been written so as to be available to the reader, though a few churches had received letters from Paul. There was no visual depiction of the Savior and his mission. The message had to be communicated by word of mouth to the hearing of others. This was as true in the days of the apostles as in the time of the prophets, as a look at the concordance will show.

“Someone preaching,” of course, refers to anyone who proclaims the gospel or witnesses to its truth. Christians are saved to serve, and a paramount element in that service is to bear witness to the saving power of Christ. To be “sent” (v. 15) suggests at least two things: that one operates under a higher authority and that one’s message does not originate with oneself but is given by the sending authority. The prophets were those who were sent in these two respects. So was Jesus (cf. Jn 3:34; 7:16). So are Christians in their witness-bearing capacity. The apostles received their commission from the risen Lord as he in turn had been sent by the Father (Jn 20:21). In addressing the Roman church, Paul was careful to state at the very beginning that he was called and set apart for the ministering of the gospel (Ro 1:1).

Is the apostolate alone in view here as representing Christ and his gospel? This is unlikely, judging from what Paul says later about the widespread proclamation of the gospel to the Jews (vv. 17–18). The task was too big for a handful of preachers (in this connection, see Ac 8:4; 11:19–20). It is not clear from vv. 14–15 whether the sending that is in view here is intended to include the sending out of missionaries by a sponsoring group of believers, as in Acts 13:3. But even if this is not included, it is obviously an integral part of the entire process of the communication of the gospel. In the case of the church at Antioch, the divine and human aspects of the sending were closely bound together (Ac 13:2–3).

Once again, Paul corroborates his statement with words from the prophets, this time Isaiah (52:7), heralding the favor of the Lord to the city of Jerusalem that had lain desolate during the Babylonian captivity (v. 15). The tidings are good; the proclamation is one of peace. Paul changes the wording somewhat—the single announcer in Isaiah becomes a company in line with the “they” in his own depiction of gospel messengers in the same verse. If the message to returning Israel in the former days was good news, how much more the promise of eternal salvation in God’s Son![2]

14, 15 These two verses are obviously related to the preceding. They are an analysis of the process involved in calling upon the Lord’s name. But in the development of the apostle’s thought they sustain a closer relation to what follows and prepare for the statement in verse 16: “But they did not all obey the gospel”. The logical sequence set forth in these two verses scarcely needs comment. The main point is that the saving relation to Christ involved in calling upon his name is not something that can occur in a vacuum; it occurs only in a context created by proclamation of the gospel on the part of those commissioned to proclaim it. The sequence is therefore: authorized messengers, proclamation, hearing, faith, calling on the Lord’s name. This is summed up in verse 17: “faith is of hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”.

The faith referred to in the first part of verse 14 is the faith of trust, of commitment to Christ, and the proposition implied in the question is that there must be this trust in Christ if we are to call upon his name. The richness of calling upon Christ is thus again indicated and means that there is the relinquishment of every other confidence and abandonment to him as our only help (cf. Psalm 116:3, 4; Jonah 2:2). In the next clause, “how shall they believe him whom they have not heard?”, it is not likely that any weaker sense is given to the word “believe” than in the preceding clause though the construction differs.17 A striking feature of this clause is that Christ is represented as being heard in the gospel when proclaimed by the sent messengers. The implication is that Christ speaks in the gospel proclamation. It is in this light that what precedes and what follows must be understood. The personal commitment which faith implies is coordinate with the encounter with Jesus’ own words in the gospel message. And the dignity of the messengers, reflected on later, is derived from the fact that they are the Lord’s spokesmen. In the last clause of verse 14 the apostle is thinking of the institution which is the ordinary and most effectual means of propagating the gospel, namely, the official preaching of the Word by those appointed to this task. Verse 15 reflects on the necessity of God’s commission to those who undertake this office. The presumption of arrogating to oneself this function is apparent from what had just been stated. Those who preach are Christ’s spokesmen and only the person upon whom he has laid his hand may act in that capacity. But if the emphasis falls on the necessity of Christ’s commission, we may not overlook the privilege and joy involved in being sent. It is the sanctity belonging to the commission that enhances its dignity when possessed. This is the force of the quotation which the apostle appends, derived from Isaiah 52:7 but an abridgement of the same and expressing its central feature. In the original setting the passage is one of consolation to Israel in the Babylonish captivity and may well be regarded as the prophecy of restoration (cf. vss. 4, 5, 9, 10). It has broader reference and can be applied to the more ultimate salvation accomplished by the Messiah. In its immediate reference the messenger is viewed as swift-footedly coming over the mountains with the good tidings of peace and salvation to Zion. The feet are said to be beautiful because their movements betray the character of the message being brought. The essential thought the apostle expresses by saying, “how beautiful are the feet of them that preach good tidings!” The purpose is to declare the inestimable treasure which the institution of gospel proclamation implies, a treasure that consists in the sending of messengers to preach the Word of Christ. The word from Isaiah is thus applied to that of which the restoration from Babylon was typical. And as the prophecy found its climactic fulfilment in the Messiah himself so it continues to be exemplified in the messengers whom he has appointed to be his ambassadors (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20).[3]

14. How shall they call? &c. Paul intends here to connect prayer with faith, as they are indeed things most closely connected, for he who calls on God betakes himself, as it were, to the only true haven of salvation, and to a most secure refuge; he acts like the son, who commits himself into the bosom of the best and the most loving of fathers, that he may be protected by his care, cherished by his kindness and love, relieved by his bounty, and supported by his power. This is what no man can do who has not previously entertained in his mind such a persuasion of God’s paternal kindness towards him, that he dares to expect everything from him.

He then who calls on God necessarily feels assured that there is protection laid up for him; for Paul speaks here of that calling which is approved by God. Hypocrites also pray, but not unto salvation; for it is with no conviction of faith. It hence appears how completely ignorant are all the schoolmen, who doubtingly present themselves before God, being sustained by no confidence. Paul thought far otherwise; for he assumes this as an acknowledged axiom, that we cannot rightly pray unless we are surely persuaded of success. For he does not refer here to hesitating faith, but to that certainty which our minds entertain respecting his paternal kindness, when by the gospel he reconciles us to himself, and adopts us for his children. By this confidence only we have access to him, as we are also taught in Eph. 3:12.

But, on the other hand, learn that true faith is only that which brings forth prayer to God; for it cannot be but that he who has tasted the goodness of God will ever by prayer seek the enjoyment of it.

How shall they believe on him? &c. The meaning is, that we are in a manner mute until God’s promise opens our mouth to pray, and this is the order which he points out by the Prophet, when he says, “I will say to them, my people are ye;” and they shall say to me, “Thou art our God.” (Zech. 13:9.) It belongs not indeed to us to imagine a God according to what we may fancy; we ought to possess a right knowledge of him, such as is set forth in his word. And when any one forms an idea of God as good, according to his own understanding, it is not a sure nor a solid faith which he has, but an uncertain and evanescent imagination; it is therefore necessary to have the word, that we may have a right knowledge of God. No other word has he mentioned here but that which is preached, because it is the ordinary mode which the Lord has appointed for conveying his word. But were any on this account to contend that God cannot transfer to men the knowledge of himself, except by the instrumentality of preaching, we deny that to teach this was the Apostle’s intention; for he had only in view the ordinary dispensation of God, and did not intend to prescribe a law for the distribution of his grace.[4]

The necessity of evangelism (14–15)

In order to demonstrate the indispensable necessity of evangelism, Paul asks four consecutive questions.

First, if, in order to be saved, sinners must call on the name of the Lord (13), How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? (14a). For calling on his name presupposes that they know and believe his name (i.e. that he died, was raised and is Lord). This is the only occasion in his letters on which Paul uses the term ‘believe in (eis)’, which is the regular expression in John’s writings for saving faith. Here, however, since saving faith is presented as ‘calling on’ Christ’s name, the kind of ‘belief’ Paul has in mind must be the prior stage of believing the facts about Jesus which are included in his ‘name’.

Secondly, how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? (14b). Just as believing is logically prior to calling, so hearing is logically prior to believing. What kind of hearing, however? ‘In accordance with normal grammatical usage’, the phrase the one of whom (hou) should be translated ‘the one whom’ and so means ‘the speaker rather than the message’. In other words, they will not believe Christ until they have heard him speaking through his messengers or ambassadors.23

Thirdly, how can they hear without someone preaching (kēryssō, to ‘herald’) to them? (14c). In ancient times, before the development of the mass media of communication, the role of the herald was vital. The major means of transmitting news was his public proclamations in the city square or the marketplace. There could be no hearers without heralds.

Fourthly, how can they preach unless they are sent? (15a). It is not clear from the text what kind of ‘sending’ Paul has in mind. Because he uses the verb apostellō, commentators have tended to assume that he has himself in mind as an apostle (see 1:1, 5; 11:13), together with his fellow apostles, for they had been directly commissioned by Christ.25 There were also ‘apostles of the churches’, however, sent out as missionaries. The latter is a broader concept, for, although the apostles of Christ were appointed by him and required no endorsement by the church, the churches sent out only those whom Christ had chosen to send.27 The need for heralds is now confirmed from Scripture: As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’ (15b). If those who proclaimed the good news of release from Babylonian exile were thus celebrated, how much more welcome the heralds of the gospel of Christ should be!

The essence of Paul’s argument is seen if we put his six verbs in the opposite order: Christ sends heralds; heralds preach; people hear; hearers believe; believers call; and those who call are saved. And the relentless logic of Paul’s case for evangelism is felt most forcibly when the stages are stated negatively and each is seen to be essential to the next. Thus, unless some people are commissioned for the task, there will be no gospel preachers; unless the gospel is preached, sinners will not hear Christ’s message and voice; unless they hear him, they will not believe the truths of his death and resurrection; unless they believe these truths, they will not call on him; and unless they call on his name, they will not be saved. Since Paul began this chapter by expressing his longing that the Israelites will be saved (1), he must surely have had them specially in mind when developing his evangelistic strategy in these verses. His next paragraph confirms this.[5]

Vers. 14, 15. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?

Salvation preached:

  1. Salvation by grace. 1. We all hope to be saved. Salvation cannot be of merit for anybody that you or I have ever known. It must be of grace, if grace be possible: there is no other way. And there is this way—an old way, an eternal way—prepared and opened far back behind all time, when the Lamb was slain. This takes us back into mysterious and awful depths. But revelation leads the way. Surely we narrow God, unless we think of Him as Triune. Surely we slander God, unless we make atonement as much the work of the Father and the Spirit, as of the Son. 2. How to be square and clean, how to be considerate and generous, how not to be selfish and self-willed; how not to be afraid or ashamed to die: this is the great problem of life. Tell me how to do this and you will tell me how to be saved. Grace tramples down no law. Salvation by grace is through faith, working by love, which, like fire, cleanses the heart and cleanses the life. 3. The salvation of society, menaced now, menaced always, by human appetite and passions in their disorganising play, must come by the same road. No one form of government rather than another, no mere selfish forces, is the thing required. Till society shall have become unselfish it has not been saved, nor can it be. And to become unselfish, it must learn, not of socialistic reformers, who pronounce unselfishness impossible, but of Him who was unselfishness incarnate.
  2. This salvation must be preached. 1. Christianity is one of the great Book-Religions, of which there are pre-eminently three—Judaism and Mohammedanism being the other two. This word “Book-Religion” means a great deal. (1) It means, that we have something definite and immutable by which to measure whatever calls itself Christian, holding it to the rule. (2) It means that the poor, swearing, shipwrecked sailor that floats ashore on his chest, if he has in that chest the Bible his mother gave him, and dries its leaves in the sun, and reads the third chapter of John’s Gospel, with streaming eyes, and breaking, believing heart, may be saved all alone there on the sandy beach of the desert island. And if he dies there all alone, no ship sailing that way to see his signal of distress, he will go as straight to heaven as Whitefield himself went from the sermon he preached in Exeter. 2. And yet Christianity did not start as a volume, but as a voice. Christ Himself probably wrote nothing, not a line. Meanwhile, the kingdom of Christ has been marching and conquering, north and south, towards the rising and towards the setting sun. Its snow-white banners, chasing the Roman eagles, had outflown those eagles beyond the Danube, the Euphrates, and the Indus. What wrought that triumph? The foolishness of preaching wrought it. Christ is no Confucius, or Socrates, or Solon, but God Incarnate. He that saves us spake, and as never man spake. So the sacred message ran, and runs, from lip to lip. It is in the air all the time. 3. A Bible in every human habitation is something well worth trying to achieve. But I can tell you of something better still. It is Christ Himself, in any one of the humblest of His disciples, casting His shadow on the wall. Breathing men, not breathless books, must carry salvation round the globe. It must be preached; preached by men who have had it preached to them; preached to sinners by men who have sinned themselves; by dying men to dying men.

III. The preachers must be sent. 1. Our text does not say by whom, but the context makes it plain enough. God must send them. 2. Whom God sends to preach, He first converts. And then He kindles in him, beyond the average, what we have been in the habit of calling a love for souls; call it, if you please, enthusiasm, a great, good heart, quick sympathy with men as men, and with the daily wants and ways of men. 3. In the apostolic and early Church, which wrought such wonders, preaching was not exclusively an official prerogative. Strictly speaking, there was no order of preachers. Anybody might preach who had anything to say worth saying. Not till near the close of the fourth century were laymen forbidden to preach. And then the Church had got far along in the bad way. I confess I do not see how Christianity is ever to carry the day, unless the great bulk of our Church membership becomes also a ministry. A Grecian army, with or without leaders, might possibly have stood its ground all the same at Marathon, saving Greece, and saving the civilisation of the Occident. But Miltiades alone there, with his handful of officers, would not have stayed for a moment the Persian march on Athens. (R. D. Hitchcock, D.D.)

The necessity of revelation to faith:—Belief is impossible, where it is impossible to convey any knowledge of the subjects of belief; the body cannot digest without nutriment to engage its digestive functions; the mind cannot believe without facts and propositions to occupy its believing faculty (ver. 17). The voice of God, the hearing of man, the consequent belief, are the three necessarily successive links in the golden chain of revealed salvation. Sever the continuity of any two, and the electric spark cannot be transferred across the interval. (W. Archer Butler, M.A.)

How shall they hear without a preacher?


  1. Its advantages. 1. Economy of exertion. How much is done with comparatively little speaking. 2. Many receive religious instruction who would otherwise have none. 3. Religion is kept a conspicuous thing. 4. All are made witnesses to all they have heard. 5. There is something in it for popular opinion to lean upon. 6. It tends to secure for religion deep study, at least in some parts of the community.
  2. Its requisites. 1. Power of thought. 2. Facility of expression. 3. Knowledge of the Scriptures. (John Foster.)

The usefulness and authority of an established ministry:

  1. The necessity of a ministry to officiate in the Church of God. 1. The settling and preserving a ministry to officiate in the Church is an instance of our respect to Almighty God. God is the God of order, not of confusion, and expects that His service should be performed after a regular and decent manner, free from negligence on the one hand and foppery on the other; especially He requires that acts of public adoration should be accompanied with a reverence and solemnity suitable to the majesty of such a presence. Now this cannot reasonably be supposed to be so exactly performable by those who are frequently embroiled in the affairs of the world, and by that means have their thoughts and affections the more estranged from heavenly contemplations. It has therefore been the universal practice of all nations to appoint some peculiar persons to attend upon God’s service more immediately, who, by continually applying themselves to such things as were acceptable to Him, were supposed to have some interest in Him, to be qualified to understand His will, and to be authorised to reveal it to others. Now as this was done by the common consent of all heathen nations in relation to their false divinities, so was it more eminently put in practice by those who had a clearer notion of the true Deity; one tribe in twelve being set apart by the Jews and consecrated to the service of God and His Temple, no worldly concerns being suffered to interfere, but the whole employment and business of their lives being to study His will and the methods of His worship. 2. I proceed, next, to enforce the necessity of a ministry to officiate in the Church of God from the great advantages accruing thereby to the other members of Christ’s body. (1) Consider it in relation to prayers or intercessions for the obtaining of mercies or diverting of judgments. (2) A second advantage which accrues to the whole Church from the office of the ministry is that of instruction and reprehension, the impartial declaring of their duty to them and seasonably reproving them for the neglect of it. II. The authority by which they act. “How shall they preach except they be sent?” Our blessed Saviour, in order to carry on the universal design of our redemption, thought fit to select a certain number of men to be His missionaries or apostles, investing them with some part of His own authority (Mark 3:14). From Him, then, “who is a Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” is derived to His ministers a plenitude of power proportionable to the majesty of so august a Founder. We have His own Word for it, who cannot lie (John 17:18). Since, therefore, the Author and Finisher of our faith has thus expressly testified in relation to His ministers that as He was sent even so did He send, the questioning that authority by which they act will cast an imputation upon Christ Himself, and a doubting the validness of their mission will unhappily glance and reflect upon His. I shall now close up all that has been said with a word or two of application. Can they not hear without a preacher? Is the necessity and advantage of an established ministry so very great? Let us, then, most heartily pray the great Lord of the harvest that He will still continue to send forth able labourers into His harvest. Let us also consider how many miserable souls are deprived of those benefits which we possess. And let this consideration cause in us gratitude and thanksgiving for the happy enjoyment of such inestimable blessings. Can they not preach except they be sent? Can they not officiate except their calling be from above? Then it extremely stands them upon to make good their mission. And the surest way of proving that to be undeniably true is by accommodating their doctrine to the Word of God and squaring their lives according to their doctrine. But farther—Is their commission so full and their authority so large? This, then, should oblige us to put some distinction between those who come so duly authorised and others who intrude into the same employment. (N. Brady.)

Hearing versus reading:—You take up a book and read a poem. Slowly, carefully you distil the meaning, admire it, appropriate it. Very likely you imagine that you have obtained the author’s full significance, and extracted therefrom all the enjoyment and profit possible. But let some friend recite it, enunciating clearly, articulating sympathetically, giving to each line its appropriate expression, and the probability is that you will see and feel more than you did previously. An experienced and able missionary has remarked, “I have never seen a Chinaman weep over a book; but I have seen a Chinaman weep under a sermon. I have myself many times made a Chinaman weep by the proclamation of the gospel.” We have the sermons of George Whitfield and the orations of Edward Irving, and what is the first experience of those who peruse them? In the majority of cases it is disappointment. “Can this be the renowned man who moved so mightily the spirits of his contemporaries?” Such is our astonished question. Yes, it is the renowned man; but cannot you see how it is that you are not affected by his discourses as others were? It is because they heard, whereas you only read. Wisely, then, is it ordained that the gospel shall be preached. (T. R. Stevenson.)

Preaching: its necessity:—1. Preaching is God’s ordained method of communicating Divine knowledge. 2. Without Divine knowledge men cannot believe. 3. Without faith men cannot call upon God. 4. Without calling upon God they cannot be saved. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

Missionary obligation:—The gospel should be preached to every creature—it being a universal message from heaven to earth. A commission thus universal should have had at our hands a universal fulfilment; but we have only to open our eyes and see how palpably short it has come of this. And yet we affect to wonder that the blessings of Christianity are limited to so small a portion of the human family. But surely it is not time to charge the Almighty, or to arraign the methods of His administration—till we have inquired in how far this precept has been carried into operation; and then what the instances are in which, when the precept was fully acted up to, this promise has ever been withheld. Verses 14, 15 give the first and readiest answer to the question—How is it that the whole earth is not Christianised? God could, by an act of sovereignty, achieve this result at the instant bidding of His voice—even as He said Let there be light, and there was light. But God hath, in the exercise of a wisdom, in perfect analogy with the many processes of nature and providence, chosen to ordain an instrumentality for the diffusion of the Christian religion over the world. Now it so happens that men are the chief parts of this instrumentality; and we should first inquire how they have done their part—so as to ascertain whether it be not we the men who are in fault, before daring to lay the fault upon God. It is a sound doctrinal theology which acknowledges, amid the countless diversity of operations around us, that it is God who worketh all in all. But God worketh by means; and when a certain prescribed human agency enters into that system of means which He hath instituted, it is a sound practical theology to labour as assiduously in the bidden way as if man worked all. God could have worked a saving faith in the heart of Cornelius by an immediate suggestion from His own Spirit, or through the mouth of an angel. And He did send an angel to Cornelius, not however that he might preach the gospel to him, but that he might bid him send for Peter, and receive that gospel at the lips of a fellow-mortal. And God also sent to Peter a communication from heaven to prepare him for the message—thus doubling as it were the amount of miraculous agency, in order that the gospel might be heard by a yet unconverted child of Adam, not through the medium of a supernatural and angelic, but through the medium of a natural and a human utterance. Yet not so as that the natural should supersede or displace the supernatural—for while Peter spake, the Holy Ghost fell on all them who heard. The function of Peter was the same with that of a minister or missionary in the present day—it was to tell Cornelius the words by which he and all his house should be saved. And the function of the Holy Ghost for the purpose of giving demonstration and efficiency to the word, is the same now as ever—He falls on us still even as He did on them at the beginning. Let no man put asunder the things which God hath joined. The application of all this to the question of missions, whether home or foreign, is quite obvious. Let these be multiplied to the uttermost, yet all will be useless and effete, if unblest or unaccompanied by the Spirit of God. Some there are, men of devotion, who have a contempt for machinery, and who think to succeed by prayer alone for the extension of our Redeemer’s kingdom. Others there are, men of bustle and enterprise, who think to succeed by the busy prosecution of schemes and societies. Both must be conjoined, and it is to this prolific union of devout and desirous hearts with busy hands, that the Church of Christ stands indebted for all its prosperity. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)

And how shall they preach except they be sent?

The necessity of a proper commission for a minister:—It is not a man’s skill in state affairs that makes him an ambassador, nor ability in the law that makes him a magistrate, but the call to these places: neither do gifts make a man a minister, but his mission. (W. Gurnall.) How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace!—This is a picture on the canvas of the imagination. In a time of intense anxiety and imminent peril, many are the earnest and wistful looks that are directed to the mountain pass in the distance. At length when hope deferred was turning into despair, the messenger is descried. He is striding in haste, waving a token of the glad tidings he is commissioned to communicate. The feet which bear him rapidly along, are beautiful to behold—beautiful to the eyes of the hopeful. (J. Morison, D.D.)

The preacher’s feet beautiful:—Three things make them so: 1. The preciousness of his message. 2. The ardour of his zeal and love. 3. The holy consistency of his life. (T. Robinson, D.D.)

The messenger of mercy:

  1. His commission. 1. From God. 2. From the Church.
  2. His message. 1. Glad tidings. 2. Of peace. 3. Of good things.

III. His welcome. 1. By the perishing world. 2. By the penitent sinner. (J. Lyth, D.D.)

The Christian missionary:

  1. How necessary his mission!
  2. How welcome his coming!

III. How glorious his message.

  1. How beautiful his track! (Ibid.)

The gospel of peace:

  1. The general import of the gospel. Good news, or glad tidings. A message which bears this designation—1. Must relate to something that is really and substantially good. Bad news may find the ear open, but the heart will be shut. Now the gospel unfolds what is truly good for our immortal souls. Its promises and provisions are inestimably precious. It lays pipes close to the fountain of goodness, and through them pours a profusion of blessings. 2. Must relate to a good that immediately concerns us. To tell a man in penury, of abundance; or a man in sickness, of healing; or a man in danger, of deliverance, which is placed utterly beyond his reach, is but to aggravate his distress. But the religion of Jesus supplies healing and help and adequate relief. 3. Must be true and certain. What avail great and good things, held out to us in a precarious manner? The good news, which we publish, is well authenticated. Omnipotence has confirmed and ratified it.
  2. Some reasons why the sacred word is emphatically called the gospel of peace. Peace is a blessing of the highest value. In our text it is used in its most comprehensive acceptation, as denoting—1. Peace with God, or reconciliation (Col. 1:19–21). The terms of this reconciliation are set forth in chap. 5:1–3. 2. Peace with ourselves, or peace of conscience. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” They try a variety of expedients, which all utterly fail of success. It is necessary that the gospel be actually received, to tranquillise the heart (Heb. 10:19). 3. Peace with our brethren, or the peace of amity. Christianity is a religion of peace. It allays the fury of those passions which are the springs of strife and bitterness. Its doctrines and principles of Christianity breathe a spirit of universal benevolence. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)

The gospel of peace:—1. The effect of the preaching of the gospel is joy in them which hear it. So at Antioch there was great joy; so in Galatia, and elsewhere. 2. This effect is set forth under a comparison of the less; for Isaiah (52:7) speaks of the royal receiving of the messengers of Israel’s deliverance from the captivity of Babylon. If, then, the tidings of such temporal deliverance was so welcome, much more must be welcome the glad tidings of the gospel: and as those messengers were from God, so much more these. In these words are two things.

  1. A commendation of the gospel. “How beautiful”—as if he were not able to express such beauty—“are the feet!” Some take feet for men; some for the affections, being that to the soul which feet are to the body: these affections appearing in the apostles, by their sweet delivery and utterance; some for the velocity of the apostles in converting the world; some their constancy and courage. Some take beauty for the holiness of the apostles; some for a fleshly beauty by ornaments, as slippers embroidered with gold and pearl; as this Scripture is abused to the consecrating of the Pope’s toe. But the plain meaning is that the coming of the apostles with the glad tidings of salvation was acceptable: he saith feet because they are the instruments of going; as we familiarly say of poor men, they get their living by their fingers’ ends, which are the instruments of their labour. Beautiful. The Hebrew word may signify to be desired and longed for, or beautiful and welcome. The beauty of a thing causeth it to be desired, as the beauty of Christ makes the Church sick of love. The Greek term comes of a root which signifies—1. Time. Generally time, or seasonable time: and so some read it, “How seasonable!” A word spoken in season is beautiful. Everything is beautiful in his season. Many of our daintiest meats are not, but the gospel is always in season; in the winter of adversity, in the summer of prosperity, in the spring of youth, and autumn of age. 2. The spring: and therefore some have compared the coming of the preachers of the gospel to the spring. For as the fields in the spring begin to be adorned with flowers, in which all creatures rejoice, so the preaching of the gospel turns our winter-like barrenness into fruitfulness, making us to flourish with heavenly graces and virtues. 3. Ripeness, and so some have likened the coming of the apostles to ripe fruit. Unripe fruit is dangerous, and not so well coloured, but that which is ripe is both well tasted and well coloured. No dainty-coloured fruit so beautiful and wholesome as the gospel. 4. Comeliness; that which we call the pride and flowers of life; also youth, wherein is that mixture of white and red which is called beauty. As Christ is said to be fairer, so also is the gospel.
  2. A reason. Because it is the gospel of peace and glad tidings of good things. This redundance serves to make us the more to esteem of it. It is the Ghost’s spell, a comforting and soul-saving word. 1. Peace. We are by corruption of nature enemies to God; the gospel reveals a threefold peace—with God, with ourselves, with men; according to the song of the angels at the birth of Christ. 2. Good things. Yea, the best in the superlative degree, celestial good things: a freedom from all evil of sin, of punishment. Conclusion: Nothing should be so welcome as the preaching and preachers of the gospel. That Christ came to save sinners is a faithful saying, and worthy of the best welcome (1 Tim. 1:15). It is called the word of life, of salvation, the gospel of the kingdom. Even the key of heaven; for life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel (2 Tim. 1:12). 1. The essential duty of a minister is to preach the gospel. The law is to be preached also, both as an introduction to the gospel, and for a direction how to lead our lives when we have received the gospel, because sin breaks God’s peace; but chiefly we are sent to preach the gospel. 2. Not riches, nor dignities, but to preach the gospel is the chief honour and beauty of a minister, who, though highly advanced, if he preach not the gospel, shall be despised. 3. Some love their ministers because they keep hospitality, which is commendable; some because they gain by them, which is carnal; some because they never preach, which is abominable; some because themselves would be well accounted of, which is hypocritical. But to love them for their work’s sake is conscionable, and according to the commandment (1 Thess. 5:13). It is an argument of great corruption to esteem meanly a preacher; when he that brings tidings of a good bargain, or is an instrument of our pleasures, shall be highly welcomed and rewarded. 4. If the minister have weak gifts, yet if he preach the gospel thou must account his feet beautiful. It is not the gifts of men, but the Word of God which works the feat in our conversion. 5. If it be the gospel of peace, the professors are to be peaceable. (Elnathan Parr, B.D.)

The music of the gospel:—What music is there ever heard in this world to be compared with the music of the gospel? It goes to the heart of universal humanity. It is richer in its tones than all the voices of men. It is more thrilling far than all the symphonies of Handel and Mozart, of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Rossini, and of all the mighty masters of song. It is softer than the murmur of the evening breeze; more soothing than the sound of the distant waterfall. It is sweeter than the warblings of summer birds; more harmonious than the chorus of the forest’s rustling leaves. It is grander than the hallelujahs of the waves of the ocean; more overpowering than the organ roll of the reverberating thunder. Aye, and more melting and delicious than the harping of those heavenly intelligences whom God designates as the “morning stars.” The gospel steals over the bosom of the desolate and inexpressibly sad. It drops its assuaging balm on the ear of the broken and the weary, the forsaken, the bereaved, the solitary. It charms away the despondency of the labouring and the heavy-laden. Its minstrelsy penetrates within the prison bars of the captive, and floats to the ear of tyranny’s fettered victim in the subterranean dungeon. Its solace cheers those who sit in ashes, who are clad in the vestments of mourning, and are swooning under the spirit of heaviness. It comes with resistless force to the bankrupt, the ruined and undone, to the guilty, the betrayed, the despairing, the polluted, and the lost. When all other voices are still, with gentler than a mother’s accents, it breathes out hope and retrieval for the fallen and the outcast. No fabled Orpheus ever so affected rocks, trees, and wild beasts, by harp and song, as Christ by the music of the gospel has drawn after Him, in blissful captivity, the dullest, rudest, and most savage of mankind, constraining them to leave their carnal instincts, their habits of depravity, their ways of sin, so that, forsaking all besides, o’er all the world they follow Him. (J. Somerville.)

The gospel of peace:—It is a great mercy to enjoy the “gospel of peace,” but a still greater to enjoy the peace of the gospel. (J. Dyer.)

The gospel indifferent to the means of its conveyance:—The meanness of the earthen vessel, which conveys to others the gospel treasure, takes nothing from the value of the treasure. A dying hand may sign a deed of gift of incalculable value. A shepherd’s boy may point out the way to a philosopher. A beggar may be the bearer of an invaluable present. (W. Cecil, M.A.)[6]

14, 15a. How, then, can they call on one in whom they have no faith? And how can they have faith in one whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can people preach unless they have been commissioned?

A few points should be noted:

  • In this series of questions what is the subject? To whom is Paul referring? The apostle writes: they … they … they … they … they … they … they; though, for the sake of variation and clarity, one of these they’s can be changed to the people (or something similar).

To whom, then, is Paul referring? The usual answer is: to Israel. Some translations even insert the word “Israel” in places where the original does not have it. Now it must be admitted that to a considerable extent this answer is correct. See, first of all, what has been said in the introduction to this section (p. 348). Examine also the following passages: 9:3–5, 27, 31–33; 10:1–3, 19, 21; 11:1 f. On the basis of all this the conclusion “the reference is to Israel” cannot be escaped.

But is this a complete answer? Not every commentator is of that opinion. And rightly so. Does not the fact that in this section (10:14–21) Paul does not even mention Israel until he reaches the very close (verses 19–21) prove that he wants every hearer or reader to wrestle with these questions in his own heart and conscience?

  • We have here a series of questions. The Old Testament also contains groups of questions (Job 38:2–39:27; 41:1–7; Isa. 40:12–14, 21). However, the present series is different. It is a kind of chain in which each link bears a close relationship to its immediate neighbor(s).

Is this chain similar, then, to the one found in Rom. 5:3b–5, and to the one described in 8:29, 30? No, the difference is that in the latter two instances the chain is progressive: its links follow one another in historical, cause and effect, manner. The sequence may be compared to the series 1, 2, 3, etc. Here, in Rom. 10:14, 15a, and also in 10:17, the chain is regressive. It proceeds from effect to cause, and is comparable to the series 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Calling upon Christ in prayer is mentioned first though in reality, of course, it follows having faith in him, which, however, is the second link in this chain. Having faith in Christ results from hearing him, the third link as here arranged. This hearing implies that there must have been a preacher, the fourth link, who addressed the people. He did this because even earlier someone, the fifth link, had authorized him to bring the message.

  • What may have been the reason for Paul’s decision to arrange these links in this regressive order?

To answer this question we should bear in mind that the apostle was not only a fully inspired, very learned, deep-thinking theologian; he was also a very practical, warm-hearted Christian friend. As such he may well have had a twofold purpose in mind for writing as he did.

First of all, he is thinking of the audience, the one in Rome, to be sure, but, along the line of the centuries to follow, any audience, including also today’s. For the audience, then, and for every person in that audience, the apostle has so arranged the series that the reference to God—or, if one prefers, to Jesus Christ—who commissioned the preacher, would be mentioned last of all, in order that all the emphasis might fall upon him! Every person in the audience must be made aware of the fact that when he rejects the preacher who, as a faithful minister of the word, with insight and enthusiasm presents the glad and glorious tidings of salvation in Christ, then he is rejecting Jesus Christ himself! In addressing the seventy (or seventy-two) missionaries Jesus said, “He who listens to you listens to me, but he who rejects you rejects me; and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).

Secondly, Paul is thinking of the preacher. The climactic reference to the duly commissioned preacher contains a lesson for him also. Any preacher better be sure that he has actually been called of God to do this kind of work. To arrive at a true answer to this question he should turn to Jer. 23:21, 22. If this preacher is earnestly and prayerfully trying to do that which is mentioned in the twenty-second verse, he will find it much easier to arrive at a positive and encouraging answer to the question with reference to the genuine character of his ordination.

For the preacher Rom. 10:14, 15a contains still another lesson. Just what is meant by preaching? As the footnote (p. 348) shows, preaching is actually heralding, proclaiming. Genuine preaching, therefore, means that the sermon is lively, not dry; timely, not stale. It is the earnest proclamation of the great news initiated by God. It must never be allowed to deteriorate into an abstract speculation on views merely excogitated by man!

That there could be no doubt about the fact that the people—here especially Israel, as has been shown—have actually heard the gospel, and that it has been proclaimed to them by divinely authorized ambassadors, is indicated in verse

15b. As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

This passage is quoted from Isa. 52:7 where the prophet describes the exuberance with which the exiles welcome the news of their imminent release from captivity. This news was regarded by them as being very wonderful not just because they could now return to their homeland but also, and probably especially, because for them it meant that God’s favor was still resting on them, and that not this or that earthly power but God—their own God—was still reigning. See the Isaiah context, and add Ps. 93:1; Rev. 19:6. Moreover, can there be anything more spiritually exhilarating and invigorating than the message of God’s ambassadors, as reported, for example in 2 Cor. 5:20, 21?

How beautiful are those feet! As over the mountains those messengers approached with their electrifying news, how dust-covered and dirty these feet must have been! Yet also, how beautiful … for they were the feet of those who brought the long-awaited marvelous news![7]

[1] Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: God and History (Vol. 3, pp. 1237–1244). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[2] Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 163–164). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Murray, J. (1968). The Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 2, pp. 58–59). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (pp. 397–398). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[5] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (pp. 285–287). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[6] Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: Romans (Vol. 2, pp. 374–379). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.

[7] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, pp. 348–351). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

November 30, 2020 Evening Verse Of The Day

21 Speech, consequences of. What people say can lead to life or death; “those who love it will eat its fruit.” The referent of “it” must be “the tongue,” i.e., what the tongue says. So those who enjoy talking, i.e., indulging in it, must bear its fruit, whether good or bad. The lesson is to be warned, especially if you love to talk. The Midrash mentions this point, showing one way it can cause death: “The evil tongue slays three, the slanderer, the slandered, and the listener” (Midr. Tehillim 52:2; see further James G. Williams, “The Power of Form: A Study of Biblical Proverbs,” Semeia 17 [1980]: 35–38).[1]

21 On its own this proverb could refer to eating (i.e., taking into one’s being) the speech of others but its close connection with verse 20 suggests it continues the oxymoron of eating the consequences in an exact correspondence to the way one speaks (cf. 13:3; 15:23; 21:23). By placing in the outer core of its chiastic synthetic parallels as word initial “life and death” (21a) and word final “fruit” (21b), the proverb clarifies and intensifies the metaphor of “fruit” in verse 20. Its inner core, matching “in the power of the tongue” with “those who love it,” clarifies that for speech to effect life or death one must earnestly desire to speak, to pursue it and to stick with it. This commitment to speech precedes the rewards of verse 20, as eating precedes being filled. The merism, death and life (see 2:18, 19; 5:5, 6; 8:35, 36; 12:28; 13:14; 14:27; 16:14, 15), comprehends all manner of weal and woe. Speech effects more than clinical death and life. The merism speaks of relationship within community or the lack of it. The deadly tongue disrupts community and by its lethal power isolates its owner from community and kills him. The life-giving tongue creates community and by its vitality gives its possessor the full enjoyment of the abundant life within the community. Are in the power of (beyad, literally, “in the hand of”) has the metaphorical sense, “in the power/care/authority of” (Gen. 16:6; 39:23; Num. 31:49; 2 Sam. 18:2; Job 1:12). Of the tongue is another common metonymy for good or bad speech in this book (10:20; 12:18; 15:2, 4; versus 10:21; 12:19; 17:4, 20), complementing “mouth” and “lip” in the proverb pair. And adds the parallel that qualifies verset A. Those who love it (i.e., “the tongue” [= speech], see 1:22) designates people who “are in love with language; they use it fastidiously, they search for chaste expression and precise meaning, and they have an end in view which they will reach because they know what language is for and how it can best be used to achieve its purpose.” Their objective may be good (i.e., producing life, cf. 4:6; 8:17; 12:1; 13:24; 16:13; 19:1; 22:11; 29:3) or bad (i.e., producing death, cf. 1:22; 8:36; 17:19; 20:13; 21:17). Each one will eat (yoʾkal) its fruit (piryah, see v. 20).[2]

18:21. Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.

This proverb follows on the previous one, being tied together by the common word ‘fruit’ and the common theme of speech. Here, ‘Death and life’ are said to lie in the ‘power of the tongue.’ The reference to ‘Death and life’ reminds one of Moses’ plea in Deuteronomy 30: ‘See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity … I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life …’ (vv. 15, 19). There, the reference was to obedience to God’s law, here it is the outcome of what one says.

Indeed, one’s tongue is attributed with ‘power.’ The word ‘power’ is, literally, ‘hand’ in the Hebrew. The expression reads ‘Death and life are in the hand of the tongue.’ The ‘hand’ is often used as a metaphorical expression for coming into the grasp of or under the power of another. The particular power attributed to the ‘tongue’ is the ability to bring ‘life’ or to bring ‘death.’ Are these benefits or liabilities seen as coming to the speaker of the words or those to whom he speaks? If a choice must be made, it is probably the former that is in view here. However, they cannot truly be separated. Part of the ‘life’ that well-spoken words bring to the speaker is their life-giving effect upon his listeners. Part of the ‘death’ they bring is the destruction wreaked upon the relationships of the speaker as his words come to others.

Proverbs stresses the life-giving effects of wise speech. ‘The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver’ (Prov. 10:20a). ‘The lips of the righteous feed many’ (Prov. 10:21a). ‘The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom’ (Prov. 10:31a). The reverse is also true, however, and one’s words may destroy. ‘Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; the beginning of his talking is folly, and the end of it is wicked madness. Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him?’ (Eccles. 10:12–14).

While the exact effect of one’s speech may not be determined exactly, the fact that ‘those who love it will eat its fruit’ is a given. We will reap the benefits or endure the pains of what we say. The word ‘its’ refers to one’s speech, the product of one’s tongue. Our words are seeds sown in the soil of other people’s lives. Those words never remain neutral. They yield a harvest either to ‘life’ or to ‘death’ for them and for us. The one who loves to talk (Prov. 10:19; 18:2; 20:19) will live or die by his speech.

James wisely warned us: ‘Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment’ (James 3:1). The context of this warning is the dangers of speech (vv. 2–12; cf. 3:6–10). Jesus also warned us, ‘And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned’ (Matt. 12:36–37).[3]

Ver. 21.—Death and life are in the power of the tongue; literally, in the hand of the tongue. The tongue, according as it is used, deals forth life or death; for speech is the picture of the mind (comp. ch. 12:18; 26:28). The vast importance of our words may be learned from Jas. 3; and our blessed Lord says expressly (Matt. 12:36, etc.), “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Hence the gnome—

Γλῶσσα τν́χη, γλῶσσα δαίμων,

intimating that the tongue is the real controller of man’s destiny; and another—

Λόγῳ δισικεῖται βροτῶν βίος μόνῳ.

“By words alone is life of mortals swayed.” And they that love it (the tongue) shall eat the fruit thereof. They who use it much must abide the consequences of their words, whether by kind and pure and edifying conversation they contribute health and life to themselves and others, or whether by foul, calumnious, corrupting language they involve themselves and others in mortal sin. For “they that love it,” the Septuagint has, οἱ κρατοῦντες αὐτῆς, “they who get the mastery over it.”[4]

Ver. 21. Death and life are in the power of the tongue.The power of speech:

Of all the powers that man possesses there is scarcely any more awful than the power of speech. It is a God-like power. Human speech is no mere evolution from the cry of the animals. Speech became possible on the earth only when on the earth there appeared one into whom the Divine Spirit had breathed the breath of life, and made him a living soul. It is because the origin of speech is Divine that words have such awful power. Consider what a word is. From the materialist’s point of view, it is but a slight agitation of the particles of air around us. Nothing feebler, nothing more evanescent, can be conceived. Yet that word can make or mar a human life; that word can fill a home with gladness or despair.

  1. Death is in the power of the tongue. How significant it is of the fallen condition of our race that death should here be put first! To prove the truth of our text, let us take some illustrations of the death-dealing power of the tongue.
  2. Take the deadly power of careless, vain, frivolous words. They seem harmless. How much harm is done by the light and careless conversation even of Christian people about religion! How much damage is done by the far too common habit of jesting with Scripture! Such a habit induces irreverence, and lays the foundation for irreligion.
  3. Take the deadly power of mocking words. A gibe, a sneer, cuts many a man like a knife. By the mocking words of companions many a soul who has just escaped has been forced back into the bondage of sin, and driven to a Christless grave.
  4. As a graver illustration of the same thing, take the power of false words. While open and deliberate lying is reprobated by all, many have not a sufficient sense of the mischief wrought by falsehood and insincerity of speech. Every lie begets other lies; and from the thoughtless exaggerations of conversation to the deliberate perjury, which has in our day become so common in our law courts, the descent is quick and easy.
  5. A still more serious illustration of the death-dealing power of the tongue is seen in connection with slander. Says Robertson, of Brighton, in a great sermon upon the tongue, “In the drop of poison which distils from the sting of the smallest insect, or the spikes of the nettle leaf, there is concentrated the quintessence of a poison so subtle that the microscope cannot distinguish it, yet so virulent that it can inflame the blood, irritate the whole system, and convert night and day into a restless misery. So it is in the power of slanderous words to inflame hearts, to fever human existence, to poison human society at the fountain springs of life.”
  6. But the supreme illustration of the death-dealing power of the tongue is found in indecent words. The man of indecent speech may be compared with the murderer. The one destroys the body, the other destroys the soul. If we would execrate the man who in the time of pestilence would smear the walls of a city with plague-poison, what shall we say of the man who defiles the temple of the soul with his indecent speech? To thousands and tens of thousands indecent speech is the revelation of a world of wickedness previously unknown. By it the imagination is defiled, the corrupt nature set on fire, the barriers that guard purity broken down, and the soul led to absolute ruin.
  7. Life is in the power of the tongue. When the tongue is consecrated, when it is guided and controlled by a heart full of the Holy Ghost, it becomes a mighty power to destroy the works of the devil.
  8. Grave and gracious speech takes the place of careless, light, and frivolous speech. Our words lead seekers to Christ, in Him to find eternal life.
  9. Comforting and encouraging words take the place of mocking words. The power of words of comfort to encourage those who are sorrowing and desponding is simply marvellous. They literally bring life to the soul.
  10. Kind words take the place of cruel words. Every kind word that is uttered makes this world more like heaven. For where slander begets hate, kindness begets love.
  11. True words go forth to do battle against the falsehoods of which the earth is full. Every true word that is spoken binds human society more closely together, and makes the burden of life easier to bear.
  12. And then pure words go forth to enlighten and purify and cleanse lives darkened and debased and defiled by the evils of the world. Before the man of pure speech the indecent man hides himself Purity is like the sunlight. When it is let in upon the mind the evil and unclean things which dwell there flee, as noisome creatures under a stone flee from the light of day. But what is true of the tongue is true also of the pen. Literature to-day has a tremendous power. And who doubts that in countless instances it is a power making for death?

(1) Who can estimate the damage done by the innumerable frivolous and absolutely worthless books which are issued from the press? Even where they are not positively harmful, they waste time.

(2) And if these are hurtful, how much more so are the false and misleading books which are issued in such numbers in our day!

(3) But the death-dealing power of the press is seen in nothing so dreadfully as in its issue of impure and indecent literature. But if the press has such power, and if authors are using this power for evil, it becomes all the more necessary that we should use it for good. A good book entering a house may prevent the entrance of a bad book. A good book following a bad book may largely neutralise the mischief which the first has done. (G. H. C. Macgregor, M.A.)

The power of the tongue:

The faculty of speech is one of the very highest faculties with which we have been endowed. Great is its value to man as an intelligent and social being, and great is the weight of responsibility which is implied by the impression of it. Yet the Hebrew sage appears to have exceeded the fair limit allowable even to hyperbole when he says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Yet there is nothing but what is strictly accurate in this sentence. Literally the words are. “Death and life are in the hand of the tongue.” The author represents this faculty as a living thing—as the arbiter of good and ill, as the disposer of human fortune.

  1. See the truth of the text in its application to the present life. As a maxim of common prudence the words deserve attention. There are some persons who never speak well of others. And fatal often is their cruel activity. Reverse the picture, and see happiness smiling about the man who speaks of others in the language of justice, and gentleness, and charity. Wherever he can he will bear his testimony to the integrity and good character of others. But our proverb does not merely apply to extreme cases, such as these. When a man speaks in mere thoughtlessness, there may be those hearing him on whom his very random words may be falling as a balm, or as a poison If we set any value upon the happiness and comfort of others, it becomes us to set a watch over our mouth. What we say is a most important influence on our own condition in this world, because our condition is greatly affected by what others think of us, and we know full well that it is not easy to struggle against the difficulties created by a bad character. The estimation in which we are held is very greatly affected by our words.
  2. See the truth of the text in its bearing upon our spiritual condition. Spiritual death is the frequent and melancholy effect of the impious efforts of some men’s tongues. But life, too, is in the power of the tongue. The cause of God has never been without its noble band of witnesses. Important, however, as may be the effects of what we say on others, they cannot be greater than they are upon ourselves. A word may determine our condition for ever. Prayers, praises, and holy conversation, cannot be in vain—nor can curses, and railing, and idle talk, be in vain. It is greatly to be feared that we may find much that is amiss in ourselves, when we press our consciences with the question, Have we acted as those who believed that death and life are in the power of the tongue? (J. G. Dowling, M.A.)

The tongue, or well-speaking:

As in the physical, so in the moral, the tongue is the criterion of the hidden and eternal man. Self-government alone can conform men to Christ, and there is no self-government where the tongue is untamed.

  1. The tongue is a great blessing. The gift of speech is a valuable boon. The animal creation have it not. In man’s case, mind utters itself through matter. Spirit speaks through clay. Blessed boon, the gift of speech!—the richest melody of creation, the music of nature, the life of poetry, the vehicle of common sense, the incarnation of the soul’s contemplations.
  2. The tongue is the servant of the heart. Strictly, the tongue never speaks at random. The tongue is the criterion of the moral man. A diseased or healthy heart is thereby truthfully advertised. While the mind is the standard of the man, the tongue is the standard of the mind. The apostle James regarded a wholesome tongue in so important a light that he came to the conclusion, “if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” With him it involved such mortification of nature, such growth in goodness, and such constant self-government, that he regarded the man who had mastered his lips as not far from perfection. Idle words betray a mind waste, worthless, and uncultivated; severe words, a mind savage and malicious; angry words, a mind set on fire of hell; whispering words, a mind cast in the mould of Judas; boasting or disparaging words, a mind stuffed with self-conceit; false and deceitful words, a mind which he who was a liar from the beginning has usurped as his pleasure-ground. Thus our daily sayings are our daily selves, and our words testify our inmost thoughts.

III. The tongue spoiled by sin is emphatically the stronghold of Satan. No member of the body has done Satan more service than the tongue. Through all generations, how many of the best and most useful men have been assailed by calumnies. The sensual tongues, the flattering tongues, the sceptical tongues of bad men, and the strife of tongues among good men, have shown Satan to be the lord of language. The tongue is God’s organ, but beware lest the devil play upon it till in death it cyphers and is heard no more.

  1. The tongue can only be cured by the habitual contemplation of Christ. It is by looking unto Him, the author and finisher of our faith, by closely studying His excellences, and getting full of His Spirit, that we effectually keep the door of our lips against every ungodly and unamiable intruder. The tongues of Christians should be eminently instructive. They should also be comforters. And they should be, at proper times, reprovers. Keep the door of your lips. Be slow to speak, slow to wrath. (Mortlock Daniel.)

The use and abuse of speech:

Religion requires much more than mere outward decency or refinement of manners. We gather from Scripture that we should order our speech with a view to the benefit of our fellow-creatures and the promotion of the glory of God. We must have regard to the moral character and consequences of our speech. Many people abuse the power of the tongue so incessantly that they cease to be aware what a depraved state of heart is thereby indicated. Inasmuch as God hears and notes our sayings, we bring good or evil upon our souls according to the manner in which the power of the tongue is employed. Speech forms part of character. There is an inseparable connection between what we say and what we think. Each man’s conversation has a distinct personality from which it cannot be divested. Thought awakens feeling, and feeling induces utterance. When a man speaks his character passes into action. By our words our own immortal future is affected, and we are continually exercising an influence upon the welfare of our neighbours. The power of the tongue is infinitely reproductive. Its effects are incalculable. And the guidance of our speech is a matter which deeply concerns us. Few of us can look back upon the past without a consciousness of having offended much with the tongue. The consideration of this subject shows the necessity of a gracious renewal of the heart. (A. B. Whatton, LL.B.)

The tongue an agency of good or evil:

The tongue is a member which God has used to produce great misery or great blessing. As soon as thought is embodied in language, it assumes the form of a living engine.

  1. The engine of counsel. If men be asked for counsel or advice, they can give it only in proportion to the knowledge they possess. Illustrate from the counsel given by the master of a family or by a public teacher.
  2. The engine of slander. Slanderers include the backbiter, the gossiper, the keen anatomist. The mind of man is by nature eminently fitted for becoming the engine of slander.

III. As the engine of flattery. Men are more ready to forgive an ill done to them than an ill said of them. Men often entertain a higher respect for individuals who flatter them than for those who confer upon them a substantial benefit. There is such a thing as religious flattery. Even an advance in spiritual attainments may engender spiritual pride. Where there is spiritual prosperity there is a risk of becoming spiritually vain. (H. Melvill.)

The power of the tongue:

Intellectual, spiritual, social, and political life and death are in the tongue. Apply the proverb—

  1. To the Christian in general. He prays with the tongue. He confesses with the tongue. He converses with the tongue.
  2. To the preacher of the gospel. The tongue of a true gospel minister produces life intentionally. The tongue of a true gospel minister may produce death incidentally.

III. To the Saviour of men. This is true of Him as a Teacher, as an Advocate, and as a Judge. Learn the awful responsibility attached to speech. Burnet says of the incomparable Leighton, “In a free and frequent conversation with him for twenty-two years, I never heard him utter an idle word, or a word that had not a direct tendency to edification.” (John Sibree.)

Partisan misrepresentation:

Three forms of misrepresentation may be indicated—

  1. The suppression of facts essential to a right estimate of character. This is perhaps the most usual and most dangerous form of the evil. “No lie is so dangerous as a half-truth.”
  2. The accepting of unverified rumour for fact. He who does this becomes an indorser of the rumour. A premium is thereby placed upon slander.
  3. Direct fabrication of known falsehood. The evils of such misrepresentation are lasting and obvious.

(1) It defiles the individual, blunts his sense of honour and justice, numbs his conscience, and weakens his moral influence over his fellows.

(2) It is a crime against one’s country.

(3) It is a sin before God. In the thunders of Sinai it was condemned. Christ Himself was the victim of partisan misrepresentation. (Homiletic Review.)[5]

[1] Ross, A. P. (2008). Proverbs. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, p. 164). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Waltke, B. K. (2005). The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15–31 (p. 86). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[3] Kitchen, J. A. (2006). Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary (pp. 405–406). Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.

[4] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Proverbs (p. 352). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[5] Exell, J. S. (n.d.). Proverbs (pp. 473–476). New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.

November 30, 2020 Morning Verse Of The Day

The Reaction

And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God. (24:52–53)

Now that the disciples understood fully the person and work of Christ, there was no other way they could have reacted, other than by worshiping Him. With all their doubts and fears gone, all their questions answered, fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer, the disciples were ready to preach the gospel—even if it cost them their lives.

After Jesus was gone, they returned to Jerusalem as He had commanded them (v. 49; Acts 1:4) with great joy, which caused them to be continually in the temple praising God. Their training was complete, and they were full of praise, ready to preach, and some of them even prepared to write portions of the New Testament.

The Implications

The amazing implications of the ascension of the Son of God to heaven can be broken down into the following truths.

First, the ascension marked the completion of the work of salvation. After the cross and the resurrection, there was nothing further to be done to provide any aspect of salvation. Jesus’ words from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), signified that He had accomplished the work the Father had given Him to do.

Second, the ascension marked the end of Jesus’ limitations. During His incarnation, He had “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7–8). At the ascension, He returned to the glory He had had with the Father before the world was created (John 17:5). Jesus had left heaven as spirit, but returned as the God-Man, whom He will remain forever.

Third, as noted earlier, the ascension marked Christ’s exaltation and coronation.

Fourth, the ascension signaled the sending of the Holy Spirit, who until then “was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). “It is to your advantage that I go away,” Jesus had told the disciples, “for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).

Fifth, the ascension marked the start of Jesus’ preparing believers’ heavenly home (John 14:1–3).

Sixth, the ascension marked the passing of the work of evangelism to His followers. Christ’s work is both finished and unfinished (Acts 1:1). His work of providing redemption is completed, and nothing can be added to it (John 17:4; 19:30; Heb. 9:12). But His work of proclamation is not finished. The rest of the New Testament describes the continuation of that work by the early church, and it will not be completed until He returns.

Seventh, the ascension signaled the Lord’s sovereign headship over the church (Eph. 1:20–23; Col. 1:18).

Eighth, the ascension marked Christ’s triumph over Satan. As the apostle John wrote, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8; cf. Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14).

Ninth, the ascension signaled the Lord’s giving the work of the ministry to gifted men. When He ascended, Jesus sent the Spirit, who not only gave spiritual gifts to individual believers (1 Cor. 12:4–11), but also gifted men to the church (Eph. 4:11–13).

Tenth, the ascension marked the beginning of the merciful and faithful (Heb. 2:17) and sympathetic (Heb. 4:15) high priest’s work of intercession for His people (Heb. 7:25).

Finally, the ascension guarantees and secures Christ’s second coming (Acts 1:11).

All Christians should celebrate all that Jesus accomplished for them, which culminated in the ascension. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” wrote Paul, “that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).[1]

52 Jesus is also the Son of God, and so “they worshiped him.” This recalls 4:8, where Jesus, refusing to bow down to Satan, asserts that only God himself deserves to be worshiped. The claim of Jesus’ deity is clear here as he becomes the object of worship (cf. Joseph Plevnik, “Eyewitnesses of the Risen Jesus,” CBQ 49 [1987]:102).

Luke’s beautiful gospel closes with the theme of “joy” restated in v. 52 and with the city of Jerusalem and its temple again presented as the true home of Christianity—the origin of the Christian gospel and the Christian church (see remarks on Jerusalem throughout this commentary, e.g., 13:31–35; 19:28–44; cf. Ac 1:8).

53 Luke’s theme of doxology reappears at the very end, as the disciples are last seen “blessing” (NIV, “praising”) God (v. 53; see Notes)—a response to Jesus’ blessing of them in vv. 50–51. This is both an appropriate conclusion to Luke’s gospel and a reminder to us to live lives of praise as we wait for the return of the ascended Lord.[2]

Ver. 52.—And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. This “great joy,” on first thoughts, is singular till we read between the lines, and see how perfectly they now grasped the new mode of the Lord’s connection with his own. They knew that henceforth, not for a little time as before the cross, not fitfully as since the Resurrection, but that for ever, though their eyes might not see him, would they feel his blessed presence near (see John 14:28; 16:7). One question more connected with the Ascension presses for an answer. Much modern criticism regards this last scene simply as one of the ordinary disappearances of the forty days, and declines to admit any external, visible fact in which the Ascension was manifested. But St. Luke’s description, both in his Gospel and in the Acts, is plainly too circumstantial to admit of any hypothesis which limits the Ascension to a purely spiritual elevation. At the end of his earthly ministry, the evening before the cross, Jesus asked back his glory: “Now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was” (John 17:5). The Ascension and consequent session at the right hand was the answer to the prayer of Christ. It was necessary for the training of the first teachers of Christianity that the great fact should be represented in some outward and visible form. “The physical elevation,” writes Dr. Westcott, “was a speaking parable, an eloquent symbol, but not the truth to which it pointed, or the reality which it foreshadowed. The change which Christ revealed by the Ascension was not a change of place, but a change of state; not local, but spiritual. Still, from the necessities of our human condition, the spiritual change was represented sacramentally, so to speak, in an outward form.… He passed beyond the sphere of man’s sensible existence to the open presence of God” (‘The Revelation of the Risen Lord’). The session at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19) cannot designate any particular place. The ascension, then, of Jesus is not the exchange of one locality, earth, merely for another we term heaven. It is a change of state; it is a passing from all confinement within the limits of space to omnipresence.

Ver. 53.—And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen. These last words of the Gospel just alluded to the life of the first teachers, which is dwelt upon with considerable detail in the Acts. In the early days which succeeded the Ascension, the temple and its courts were the principal resort of the teachers of the new “way.” We know that in an extraordinarily short time the numbers of adherents to the crucified and risen Jesus, in Jerusalem only, were counted by thousands. The temple and its vast courts, from its storied past, from its having been the scene of much of the Master’s last teaching, was the natural centre for these leaders of the new “way.” When Luke wrote the words,“were continually in the temple,” it is almost certain that he proposed continuing his great narrative in the book we know as the Acts of the Apostles, in which, guided by the Divine Spirit, he relates to us how the Lord Jesus continued to work on earth—in and by his Church—from his glory-throne in heaven. The early chapters of the Acts take up the thread of the gospel story, and describe the life and work of the friends of Jesus in the great Jerusalem temple, the dangers they had to encounter, and the splendid success which rewarded their brave, faithful toil. These same Acts, in the first lines of their thrilling story, take up again the Ascension scene, which is described with fresh and vivid details. From these details we learn how, when the disciples’ eyes were fixed on that cloud which veiled their ascending Master, they became aware of two stranger-forms with them, clad in white and glistening garments. They knew these belonged to no earthly company. They were two among the thousands of thousands of angels, possibly the angels of the Resurrection, who sat in the empty garden-tomb. These angels tell the awe-struck friends of the ascended Jesus that their adored Master will one day (Acts 1:2) come back to earth in like manner as they had seen him go to heaven. “O earth, thou grain of sand on the shore of the great ocean of the universe of God, thou Bethlehem among the princes of the regions of heaven, thou art and thou ever wilt be, among ten thousand times ten thousand suns and worlds, the loved one, the elect of the Lord; thee will he visit again; thou shalt provide him a throne, even as thou gavest him a manger; thou shalt rejoice in the splendour of his glory, even as thou drankest his blood and his tears, and mournedst at his death. On thee he hath a great work yet to accomplish” (Häfeli, quoted by Stier).[3]

52–53. Here once more we should accept the reading of all the Greek mss except one (the Western text again!) and read ‘they worshipped him’ (mg.). Whatever their view of his person during his ministry, the passion and resurrection and now the ascension had convinced them that Jesus was divine. He was worthy to be worshipped and they gave him his due. Worship is their response to his ascension (it is the first time Luke speaks of anyone worshipping Jesus). It is interesting that their feeling at this final parting was not one of grief but of great joy (cf. John 14:28). They were understanding more than they had previously. Luke began his Gospel in the temple (1:5) and he brings it to an end in the same place, with the disciples continually in the temple blessing God. It is a fitting acknowledgment of the grace that God has shown so singularly in the events he has narrated.[4]

52. They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

The eleven men did as they had been told. They returned to Jerusalem, there to await the outpouring upon them of the Holy Spirit. However, they returned with great joy. Why this great joy? Should they not rather have mourned the loss of a true Friend?

They knew better. They had lost nothing and had gained much. Among the reasons for their great joy may well have been the following:

  1. They had had Jesus with them for a while. They were going to have him with them forever, namely, in the Spirit. That was, in fact, the promise he had made to them (Matt. 28:20).
  2. They knew, therefore, that they had been commissioned to carry out a great task, the spread of the gospel, and that they were about to receive the power to shoulder it.
  3. They had received the promise of his glorious return at the end of the age (Acts 1:11).
  4. Should we not also add this reason for their great joy, namely, that they rejoiced in his joy, in his exaltation?
  5. And they were continually in the temple, praising God.

Apart from praise to God joy is incomplete. See Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 3:18.

Luke began his book with a temple scene (1:5–23). He ends it similarly. He began with songs: of Elizabeth, of Mary, of Zechariah, of angels, of Simeon. So he ends, most appropriately, with praises to God, for “of him and through him, and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever.”[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2014). Luke 18–24 (pp. 453–455). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 354–355). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). St Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 277–278). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[4] Morris, L. (1988). Luke: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 3, pp. 363–364). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[5] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, p. 1077). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

November 29, 2020 Evening Verse Of The Day

2 Forgiveness is an act of divine grace whereby sin is blotted out and sinners are “cleansed” by the washing away of their sins (vv. 2, 7, 9; cf. Ex 32:32; Nu 5:23; Ps 32:2). The OT sacrifices and ritual washing symbolized the removal of sin and renewal of fellowship with the Lord. The sacrifices by themselves could not effect so great a salvation (v. 16), but God is free to give his grace to whomever he wants. The prayer is for forgiveness and cleansing.[1]

The next verse repeats the call for mercy but uses other terms: Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin (v. 2). The verb ‘wash’ is preceded in Hebrew by a form of the verb ‘to be many’, which some think means that David is praying for repeated cleansings. This goes contrary to the context, which suggests a once-for-all act on God’s part, and the verb ‘wash’ is used elsewhere in the Old Testament for the removal of sin (Isa. 1:16; Jer. 2:22; 4:14). Similarly, the word ‘cleanse’ is used of a declaration that the priest made over the cleansed leper (Lev. 13:6, 34). Only God can declare the sinner clean.

The cluster of words in these first two verses is remarkable. It contains a rich vocabulary of language relating to sin and forgiveness. To describe his (and our) relationship to God, David uses:

transgression: rebellious actions against authority;

iniquity: what is crooked or bent;

sin: missing the mark;

have mercy: a request that speaks of graciousness beyond expectation;

unfailing love: the term of covenantal commitment;

compassion: the word describing the tenderest love;

blot out: complete removal;

wash away: used of scrubbing clothes and removing all stains;

cleanse: a ritual term for pronouncing someone clean.[2]

51:2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. The verb translated as “wash away” is used of washing clothing and denotes the “treading” that one would do when washing laundry (cf. Jer. 2:22). More often in the Old Testament it refers to sacramental cleansing (Lev. 15). “Cleanse” refers to a sacramental cleansing that turns something defiled into something pure, usually accomplished by ritual washing and/or sacrifice. The three verbs of forgiveness in verses 1 and 2 (“blot out,” “wash,” and “cleanse”) are repeated in reverse order in verses 7 and 9.[3]

Ver. 2.—Wash me throughly from mine iniquity. Wash me, as a fuller washes a fouled garment (πλῦνον, LXX., not υίψον), not as a man washes his skin. And cleanse me from my sin. “Transgressions,” “iniquity,” “sin,” cover every form of moral evil, and, united together, imply the deepest guilt (comp. vers. 3, 5, 9, 14).[4]

Ver. 2. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.David’s cry for pardon:

  1. How David thought of his sin. The repetition of these petitions show his earnestness of soul. In like manner he asks for the gifts of God’s Spirit.
  2. He speaks of transgressions, the individual acts of sin; and then—
  3. Of the iniquity which is the centre and root of them all. Further, in all the petitions we see that the idea of his own single responsibility for the whole thing is uppermost in David’s mind. It is my transgression, it is mine iniquity and my sin. He has not learned to say with Adam of old, and with some so-called wise thinkers to-day, “I was tempted, and I could not help it.” He does not talk about “circumstances,” and say that they share the blame with him. He takes it all to himself. The three words which the psalmist employs for sin give prominence to different aspects of it. Transgression is not the same as iniquity, and iniquity is not the same as sin. “Transgression” literally means rebellion, a breaking away from and setting oneself against lawful authority. “Iniquity” literally means that which is twisted, bent. “Sin” literally means missing a mark, an aim. Think how profound and living is the consciousness of sin which lies in calling it rebellion. It is not merely, then, that we go against some abstract propriety, or break some impersonal law of nature when we do wrong, but that we rebel against a rightful Sovereign. Not less profound and suggestive is that other name for sin, that which is twisted, or bent, mine “iniquity.” It is the same metaphor which lies in our own word “wrong,” that which is wrung or warped from the straight line of right. David had the pattern before him, and by its side his unsteady purpose, his passionate lust had traced this wretched scrawl. Another very solemn and terrible thought of what sin is lies in that final word for it, which means “missing an aim.” How strikingly that puts a truth which we are for ever tempted to deny. Every sin is a blunder as well as a crime. Sin ever misses its aim. It is a temptress that seems so fair, and when he reaches her side, and lifts her veil, eager to embrace the tempter, a hideous skeleton grins and gibbers at him. Yes! every sin is a mistake, and the epitaph for the sinner is “Thou fool.”
  4. How he thinks of forgiveness. As the words for sin expressed a threefold view of the burden from which the psalmist seeks deliverance, so the triple prayer, in like manner, shows that it is not merely pardon for which he asks. Forgiveness and cleansing run into each other in his prayer as they do in our own experience, for they are inseparable one from the other. The first petition regards the Divine dealing with sin as being the erasure of a writing, perhaps of an indictment. Our past is a blurred manuscript, full of false things and bad things. And we want God to blot them out. Ah! some people tell us that the past is irrevocable, that the thing once dons can never be undone, that the life’s diary written by our own hands can never be cancelled. Thank God, we know better than that. We know who blots out the handwriting “that is against us, nailing it to His cross.” We know that of God’s great mercy our future may “copy fair our past,” and the past may be all obliterated and removed. Then there is another idea in the second of these prayers for forgiveness, “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity.” The word expresses the antique way of cleansing garments by treading and beating. He is not praying for a mere declaration of pardon, he is not asking only for the one complete, instantaneous act of forgiveness, but he is asking for a process of purifying which will be long and hard. “I am ready,” says he in effect, “to submit to any sort of discipline, if only I may be clean. Wash me, beat me, tread me down, hammer me with mallets, dash me against stones, rub me with smarting soap and caustic nitre—do anything, anything with me, if only those foul spots melt away from the texture of my soul.” A solemn prayer, if we pray it aright, which will be answered by many a sharp application of God’s Spirit, by many a sorrow, by much very painful work, both within our own souls and in our outward lives, but which will be fulfilled at last in our being clothed like our Lord in garments which shine as the light. The deliverance from sin is still further expressed by that third supplication, “Cleanse me from my sin.” He thinks of it as if it were a leprosy, incurable, fatal, and capable of being cleansed only by the great High Priest, and by His finger being laid upon it.

III. Whence comes the confidence for such a prayer. His whole hope rests upon God’s character as revealed in the multitude of His tender mercies. This is the blessedness of all true penitence, that the more profoundly it feels our own sore need and great sinfulness, in that very proportion does it recognize the yet greater mercy and all-sufficient grace of our loving God, and from the lowest depths beholds the stars in the sky, which they who dwell amid the surface-brightness of the noonday cannot discern. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)

The repentance of David:

  1. The means which won him to it. It was the preacher’s voice. How wretched, how fearful, how nigh unto reprobation was his state ere Nathan came to him. And now he breaks down like the snow wreath when the sun looks full upon it.
  2. The signs which mark his sincerity. They are—
  3. That the one thought which fills his soul is, “I have sinned against the Lord.” True, he had sinned against man as well as God, yet, because the aspect of his sin as committed against God was so much more terrible and awful to him that it filled up the whole field of his view, and he could see nothing else.
  4. And he sees his sin in all its hugeness and vileness. There is no diminishing or excusing it, no paring it down.
  5. He takes willingly the disgrace of his sin; and—
  6. Its punishment. But whilst he asks not deliverance frets these, there is a cry—
  7. The cry for cleansing. “Create in me a clean heart,” etc.
  8. He turns straight to God, clinging to Him, even in this hour of shame.
  9. His one terror is test he be cast away from God’s presence.
  10. There is the devotion of all his after life to God’s service.

III. Conclusion.

  1. Have you ever trembled under the word of God?
  2. Are these marks of true repentance visible in you? Go over them one by one.
  3. Seek the blessing of true repentance by prayer to God for it; it is His gift. It is the work at that “free Spirit” which is Christ’s special gift. Until that heavenly dew falls upon thy soul, it will be, must be, dry and cold, and bare. Thou canst not work thyself into penitence. But when that gracious shower is poured upon the heart, all is done. Then the voice of the turtle is heard. Then the heart mourns apart. It is like the breaking up of some mighty northern frost, which has bound the swelling sea fast beneath its iron band, when the western gale has breathed upon it, and the hard, thick-ribbed ice-crest has broken up as a cobweb under the grasp of a giant. And then all is changed; on the ocean’s breast the mighty currents wake again into life, bearing on and on to the frozen north the life-giving streams of southern waters; and as the warm gales breathe on the snowy plains of the neighbouring shore, the long-banished verdure flashes again into colour and beauty, and the sweet spring comes on apace, the birds begin their songs, the fountains awake; and every blade and leaf, with all the tribes of life around them, rejoice before God in the blessed sunlight. And yet, what is all this to the breaking up of the ice-crest which has bound down a living soul for which Christ died? And
  4. Remember thy sins.
  5. Revenge thy fault (2 Cor. 7:11).
  6. As thou gazest upon thy sin, gaze more earnestly upon the face of thy Lord who, by His cross, delivers thee from thy sin. (Bishop S. Wilberforce.)

A specific plea for pardon:

  1. The kinds of sin are laid down in a variety of expressions: transgression, iniquity, sin. All of them together, for the nature of them, are here exhibited as polluting and defiling. This point sets a price upon the blood of Christ, which “cleanseth us from all sin.”
  2. The desire and endeavour of a gracious heart; and that is, to be freed and delivered from this defilement.
  3. The object specified. “Mine iniquity and my sin.”
  4. The act propounded, “Wash me,” etc. This washing it may be conceived of two sorts. Either first, in reference to justification, “Wash me,” that is, free me from the guilt of it; or else secondly, in reference to sanctification, “Wash me” from the defilement.
  5. The intention of the act. “Throughly.” It was not any slight kind of sprinkling which would serve David’s turn; no, but he would be washed to purpose; he would have this work complete in him. And here we have still a further property in the true servants of God, which is considerable in them; and that is, to have the work both of forgiveness, and likewise of holiness perfected to them. A good Christian would have nothing left impure or unsanctified in him, but would be sanctified throughout; in his understanding, will, affections, outward man, and where he is any way failing; he would have all corruption cleansed from him, he would be generally and universally good as much as may be; and he sets upon reformation of particulars by reforming in general. The reason of it is this—

(1) Because one sin draws on another, in the nature of the thing itself; sins seldom go alone, but have more at the heels of them.

(2) Because the heart of man, being polluted and defiled with sin, is now ready and prone to more; so long as there’s any corruption left at the bottom in us, we are never secure from the actings of it at one time or other; and if it chance not to break out now, yet at another time we are sure to hear of it.

  1. The vehemency of the affection. “Wash me, … and cleanse me.” We should be importunate with God in such petitions, and not easily be put off from them.

III. The manner and practice of God as to forgiveness and holiness. And that is, to go through with them.

  1. Forgiveness is an utter abolition of all kinds of guilt (Ps. 32:1, 2; Isa. 44:22; 38:17; Jer. 31:34; Micah 7:18, 19).
  2. So as to sanctification; God is also complete in this work, He works throughly.

(1) He works in His servants a thorough fight of that evil which is in their hearts, the general corruption of their whole nature.

(2) He works in them also a thorough hatred and detestation of all sin, so as to allow of no evil at all in themselves.

(3) He gives sin its mortal wound and death-blow in them; from whence, though it be not absolutely dead, yet it is dying still in them.

(4) He will also one day, and at the last, wholly and absolutely free them from sin. (Thomas Horton, D.D.)

Deliverance from iniquity and sin sought:

  1. The evils from which a true penitent implores deliverance. Sin is imputed, it is communicated, and it is committed.
  2. The nature of the deliverance which the penitent implores. The blessing of purification from the love and power of sin always accompanies deliverance from its guilt; and as these blessings are never separated, the one from the other, in a communication of grace, so are desires after them always united in the experience and prayers of penitent sinners. Is it not wisdom to submit to the means which are necessary for restoration to health, though those means may be, for a time, painful and distressing? (T. Biddulph, M.A.)[5]

3. “Wash me thoroughly.” It is not enough to blot out the sin; his person is defiled, and he fain would be purified. He would have God himself cleanse him, for none but he could do it effectually. The washing must be thorough, it must be repeated, therefore he cries, “Multiply to wash me.” The dye is in itself immovable, and I, the sinner, have lain long in it, till the crimson is ingrained: but, Lord, wash, and wash, and wash again, till the last stain is gone, and not a trace of my defilement is left. The hypocrite is content if his garments be washed; but the true suppliant cries, “wash me.” The careless soul is content with a nominal cleansing, but the truly-awakened conscience desires a real and practical washing, and that of a most complete and efficient kind. “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity.” It is viewed as one great pollution, polluting the entire nature, and as all his own; as if nothing were so much his own as his sin. The one sin against Bathsheba, served to show the Psalmist the whole mountain of his iniquity, of which that foul deed was but one falling stone. He desires to be rid of the whole mass of his filthiness, which though once so little observed, had then become a hideous and haunting terror to his mind. “And cleanse me from my sin.” This is a more general expression; as if the Psalmist said, “Lord, if washing will not do, try some other process; if water avails not, let fire, let anything be tried, so that I may but be purified. Rid me of my sin by some means, by any means, by every means, only do purify me completely, and leave no guilt upon my soul.” It is not the punishment he cries out against, but the sin. Many a murderer is more alarmed at the gallows than at the murder which brought him to it. The thief loves the plunder, though he fears the prison. Not so David: he is sick of sin as sin; his loudest outcries are against the evil of his transgression, and not against the painful consequences of it. When we deal seriously with our sin, God will deal gently with us. When we hate what the Lord hates, he will soon make an end of it, to our joy and peace.[6]

[1] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 434). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Harman, A. (2011). Psalms: A Mentor Commentary (Vol. 1–2, pp. 398–399). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.

[3] Bullock, C. H. (2015). Psalms 1–72. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (Vol. 1, p. 390). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Psalms (Vol. 1, p. 394). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[5] Exell, J. S. (1909). The Biblical Illustrator: The Psalms (Vol. 3, pp. 7–9). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company; Francis Griffiths.

[6] Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 27-57 (Vol. 2, p. 402). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.

November 29, 2020 Morning Verse Of The Day

7 (8) The conclusion of the lament is introduced by the adversative waw and the time word ʿattâ: But now. The rehearsal of the facts is over, particularly the fact that God seems to have withdrawn himself from his people with the result that they have no remorse for their sin and no inclination to turn to him. That fact is now contrasted with another fact: Israel is the distinct creation of God. This was a central point of the historical reminiscence of 63:7–14: God did not call Israel into existence, give them his covenant, and lead them into the promised land because they deserved it for their faithfulness, but solely as an expression of his own saving character (“name,” 63:12, 14). God is Israel’s Father, not in any ontological sense, as the following image indicates, but in the sense that he is responsible for their existence. The same thought was expressed in 63:16.

The figure of the clay and its shaper is not new to the book, having occurred in both of the other literary divisions (29:16; 45:9). In the previous occurrences, the point is that it is foolish for the created thing to criticize its creator. Here the point is more poignant: can the artist simply toss aside the thing on which he has lavished care and attention, into which he has put so much of himself? Thus Isaiah appeals to God: although our sin cannot be denied, neither can the nature of our relationship with you. Surely you will not allow our sin to frustrate your creative purposes, will you?

8 (9) The prophet now pleads that God’s recognition of his special relationship with Israel might mitigate his judgment. Isaiah does not ask that judgment be dispensed with or suspended, only that it not be carried out to its extremity, which would surely mean the extermination of his people. This is a major theme of the book. God’s judgment will fall on this sinful people; there will come a point where it cannot be averted. Nevertheless, judgment is not an end in itself; it is intended to have an ultimately redemptive purpose in cleansing and restoring the people to purity (cf. 4:2–6; 30:18–22; 54:7–8). Isaiah is here appealing for God to actualize that reality. As Isaiah looks at the sin of his own day and recognizes that it will continue on into the far future, even after the return, his heart sinks and he cries out to God, “You really will not carry out judgment to its end, will you? Although you cannot ignore our sins, surely you will not remember them forever, will you?” Like the psalmist (Ps. 27:7), the prophet prays that God will remember his people in the light of his unending love, not in the light of their sins (cf. also Ps. 79:8).

These thoughts are reinforced by the final appeal of the verse, which has something of a chiastic relationship with the opening thought of v. 7 (Eng. 8). Using the same verb as in 63:15 (look), and emphasizing it with hēn, Behold, the prophet calls on God to consider the all-important fact that these sinners are not just any people, but they are your people. This is the same appeal that Moses had used in the golden calf incident (Exod. 32:11, 14). Since God is their Maker and the one who has staked his reputation on them, he cannot simply abandon them, no matter how just such abandonment might be.

The repetition of all of us at the ends of vv. 7 and 8 (Eng. 8 and 9) (see also v. 5 [Eng. 6], 2 times) indicates that the writer is not playing off one group in Israel against another. All are implicated in the sin of any, and none can stand off in self-righteousness and say that his or her sinfulness is relatively less significant than someone else’s. Neither is the prophet separating himself from the condition of his people. This capacity for total identification, with God on the one hand and the people on the other, is one characteristic of the Hebrew prophets. They are not disembodied voices, chirping and muttering mysterious divinations from the beyond (cf. 8:19), absorbed into the deity and disengaged from everything around them. No, they are unusually engaged on every level, and this is what makes them so vital to the life of the nation of Israel.[1]

Ver. 8.—But now, O Lord, thou art our Father (see the comment on ch. 63:16). We are the clay, and thou our Potter (comp. ch. 29:16; 45:9). Thy hands have made us and fashioned us, both as individuals and as a nation. Thou hast lavished thy labour and thy skill upon us. Surely thou wilt not “forsake the work of thine own hands” (Ps. 138:8).

Ver. 9.—Be not wroth very sore. At the time of the Captivity God was wroth very sore (Lam. 5:22). His anger was hot against the sheep of his pasture (Ps. 74:1). But they had suffered, they had been afflicted many years. Might he not now relent, and remit somewhat from his fierce anger? Neither remember iniquity (comp. Ps. 79:8). God had already made a promise by the mouth of Isaiah, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy trangressions, and will not remember thy sins” (ch. 43:25). The captives lay hold, as it were, on this promise, and entreat that their “iniquity” may be not only forgiven, but forgotten (Jer. 31:34). We are all thy people. A fresh argument. “We are thy children,” individually (ver. 8); “we are thy work, thy creatures” (ver. 8), again individually; but also, “we are all of us (kullânu), collectively, thy people”—the people whom thou hast chosen to thyself, and over whom thou hast watched for so many centuries. Surely this consideration, if no other, will induce thee to forego thy wrath and forgive our iniquity.[2]

8. And now, O Jehovah. After having complained of their miseries, by which they were almost overwhelmed, they now more openly ask pardon from God and a mitigation of their distresses, and with greater boldness plead with God that still they are his children. Adoption alone could encourage them to cherish favourable hopes, that they might not cease to rely on their Father, though overwhelmed by the load of afflictions. And this order should be carefully observed; for, in order that we may be truly humbled in our hearts, we need to be cast down, and laid low, and almost crushed. But when despair seizes us, we must lay hold on this altar of consolation, that, “since God has been pleased to elect us to be his children, we ought to expect salvation from him, even when matters are at the worst.” Thus, with a view to the gracious covenant, the Israelites affirm that they are the children of God, in order that they may experience his fatherly kindness, and that his promise may not be made void.

We are the clay, and thou our potter. By means of a comparison they magnify the grace of God, and acknowledge that they were formed of despicable clay; for they do not seek the ground of superiority in themselves, but in their origin celebrate the mercy of God, who out of mean and filthy clay determined to create children to himself.

We all are the work of thy hands. Of the same import as the former is this second clause, in which God is called the Creator, and his people are called the work of his hands; because to God alone they ascribe all that they are and all that they have. This is true gratitude; for, so long as men advance the smallest claim to anything as their own, God is defrauded of his right. Now, Isaiah speaks not of the ordinary creation of men, but of regeneration, on account of which believers are especially called “the work of God;” as we have frequently stated in the exposition of other passages. Here they acknowledge a remarkable act of God’s kindness, in having elected them to be his people, and adorned them with benefits so numerous and so great.

9. Be not angry, O Jehovah, beyond measure. The people pray that the severity of punishment and the fierceness of the wrath of God may be abated; not that God goes beyond measure, but because they would be altogether overwhelmed, if he should choose to act toward them with the utmost strictness of justice. They therefore ask a mitigation of punishment; as Jeremiah also says, “Chasten me, O Lord, but in judgment,” (Jer. 10:24,) that is, moderately; for he draws a contrast between “judgment” and “wrath;” as it is elsewhere said that God chastises us “by the hand of man,” (2 Sam. 7:14,) because he does not put forth the power of his hand to punish us, lest we should be utterly destroyed.

Neither remember iniquity for ever. It deserves notice that they do not absolutely shrink from the judgment of God, or pray that they may wholly escape from it, but present themselves to be corrected, so as not to faint under the strokes. And this is the reason why they desire to have the remembrance of their iniquities blotted out; for, if God do not mercifully pardon them, there will be no end of the chastisements.

We all are thy people. The Prophet repeats what he said a little before, that God elected the family of Abraham; because the best ground for the confident expectation of obtaining pardon was, that God, who is true to his promises, cannot cast away those whom he had once elected. By employing the word all, he does not speak of each individual, as I formerly remarked, but includes the whole body of the Church. Although the greater part had withdrawn through wicked revolt, yet still it was true that the Jews were God’s peculiar people; and this prayer was offered, not for every one of them without distinction, but only for the children of God who were still left. The people do not plead their own merits before God, but betake themselves to the covenant of free grace, by which they had been adopted. This is the sure and only refuge of believers, this is the remedy for all evils; and that is the reason why Moses and the other prophets repeat it so frequently. (Exod. 32:13.)[3]

The unchanged God (64:8–9). In his holy hostility to sin and sinners, the Lord is unchanged, but he is also unchanged in grace and mercy—and therein lies the ground for continuing pleading. The relationship of Father (8) to his children is permanent: through all the vicissitudes of family life the relationship itself cannot be erased. The potter cannot disown the pot—it is there only because he made it—nor can the artisan (your hand) disown the artefact (work). Again, this is not to shift blame on to God for our failure, but to assert a permanent relationship—the love of the father, the sovereign decision of the potter, the skill of the craftsman. The children may always ask to come home; the pot may seek refashioning in the hand of the potter. In verse 6, all of us … we all uses the same Hebrew word twice as confession; here, in we … all, it comes twice as plea. Beyond measure: (lit.) ‘unto muchness’, meaning ‘in all its inherent energy’, i.e. ‘do not let your anger have full play’. The end of the old—a changed moral reaction (angry) and an erased memory (remember)—is matched by the onset of the new divine attitude (look upon us) and a revivified divine memory (we are all your people).[4]

Ver. 8. But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father.—God our King—Father:—

(“Our Lord, Thou art our Father” with “the Lord is our King,” chap. 33:22). That conviction of a living God, as distinguished from the lifeless one, which is all that many have, made up of a mere bundle of catechetical doctrines, will create a demand for many other convictions besides. For, mark what question presses, so soon as God has been revealed to the soul; it is the deeply self-interested one, In what relation, or relations, does this almighty and glorious One stand to the individual’s self? The answer given by our two texts, and much of the Scripture besides, is, that He is related to each of us both as a Father and a King. Now, not only is there no contrariety betwixt the ideas of these two relations; but, properly, there is no sentiment in the one which the other does not contain in some degree. Nevertheless, the idea of a Father contains more prominently the sentiment of bountiful and tender cherishing; when that of a King contains more prominently that of regulation and control; and it is not till we have combined them that we can form an adequate conception of the relation in which He stands to us. (W. Anderson, LL.D.)

Our King-Father or Father-King the memorial of God:—

Some may say they are identical; nor would I deny, with much warmth, they are. But when the better mode of impressing the heart is the subject of inquiry, not a little depends, I am persuaded, on the order in which the two ideas of the complex relation are presented.

  1. 1. Even metaphysically He is first our Father and then our King: the idea of the Divine paternity is the principal one, and that of the royalty the subordinate and qualifying one: He begets us as children before He rules us as subjects.
  2. 2. But, whatever may be the state of the question metaphysically, there can be no doubt that, in respect of practical and salutary effect on the heart, the assigning of the place of primary consideration to the relation of Father has a decided advantage. When men ask you, Who is God? let your reply be, He is our Father. And when they say, Is He not your King also? let your reply again be, He is; but first our Father, and more our Father than anything else. Even a heathen could say, as an apostle has approvingly told us, “We are also His offspring.” Although, in respect of our corporeal frames, we are in the predicament of the inferior animals; yet in respect of the nobler part of our constitutions—the immortal soul—in virtue of which, especially, we bear the Divine image, that has been communicated to us directly, by the breath of the Almighty (Eccles. 12:7).
  3. 3. The thought is both solemnizing and animating; let us improve it to the ends of having our sense of responsibility deepened for filial reverence and obedience—for upholding the honour of God’s family, by the purity, the elevation, and dignity of our characters—and, also, for our treatment of all mankind as being of a Divine parentage.
  4. 4. But it is especially in respect of confidence in His loving-kindness, that I call at present for improvement of the meditation. (Ibid.)

God the Father-King in redemption:—

  1. 1. Who is so ignorant as not to know that cold parental displeasure and warm parental affection are frequently found co-existent; and who cannot easily conceive the truth of the following case? I knew a father who, after having long remonstrated in vain with a profligate son—from abhorrence of the sight and hearing of his abominations and profanities, and from respect to his own and family’s peace and honour, turned him out of his house, and would not acknowledge him when he met him on the street. All the time he wept and prayed for him in secret, and gave directions to a friend to take care that his wretched boy should never suffer from want. Is the paternity of the human father more tender and amiable than that of the Divine? Hear how He himself vindicates His parental character: “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?” etc. (Hosea 11:8).
  2. 2. And yet hitherto I have not, properly, announced one syllable of the tidings of the Gospel. Nature and reason might have sufficed for conducting us all the length we have gone. We need other guidance for proceeding further. I stopped short in my simple story about that young man. What became of him? Well, he repented; returned to his father’s door, with humble confessions, and earnest promises of future well-doing; was taken in; and great was the joy that night throughout that dwelling. Now observe, that though the parallel does not terminate here, when tracing the analogy of the recovery of an outcast from the family of God, yet both lines receive the accession of new elements. On the part of God, there is the accession of the element of His royal character: and on the part of the sinner, the accession of the element of faith in a Mediator. The explanation is most important: it contains the secret of our salvation. Mark, therefore, that God does not re-admit the prodigal to His family, as an earthly father does, merely on account of his repentance; because, beside being a Father, He is a King. Consider, then, how this additional relationship of royalty is produced, and how it affects the Divine procedure. An earthly father’s administration of his family is a matter of privacy. Public interests are not concerned in it; and he may do with his own what pleases his humour. He may open his door and re-admit the prodigal, even without any repentance or confession, if he choose. But God’s family being the Public—the universal Public of created, moral intelligence; though this does not affect the personal love of the administrator, yet does it materially affect the mode of the administration. The family of children has enlarged into a kingdom of subjects; and though it be a Father’s heart, it must be a King’s policy by which the administration is conducted. David’s parental heart said, Spare the young man Absalom; his royal policy commissioned the army to fight him down as a rebel.
  3. 3. What, then, is the state of our parallel now? It was sufficient for the re-admission of the prodigal into the earthly father’s house that he should be penitent. But the order of all good government of a kingdom is, that the violation of the laws shall be visited with penal suffering, before there be a restoration to the privileges of citizenship. Behold the mystery of our redemption! And see the advantage of our having assumed the paternity of God as His primary and most characteristic relationship. It is this paternity which, humanly speaking, goes in quest of means for saving us; and returns, exclaiming in triumph, “Save from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom.” When we commence with the royal relationship, and make that the primary characteristic, there is danger that God may appear as being but coldly passive in the work of our salvation. But when we commence with the paternity of God, we more easily discover Him warmly active in the work of our salvation; with all a Father’s self-interested love devising and executing its scheme. Having found the means of ransom in the substitutionary death of His Son incarnated, He brings it to us, that we may carry it away for presentation at the tribunal of His government.
  4. 4. This representation will explain, as clearly as any other, the nature, the necessity, and the efficacy of faith. As being that principle which gives credit to the Divine testimony, it lays hold of the sacrifice which God’s paternal mercy has provided, and pleads with His royal justice that it be accepted as compensation for our transgressions. Mark the necessity of such faith. The gift which God has made of Christ to “sinners of mankind” universally is not the gift of pardon, but of the means of pardon, to be used to that end; and used by the sinner himself: for it would be unholy government to pardon a rebel, whatever might be the amplitude of satisfaction proffered on his behalf by another, if he himself despised or made light of the transaction.
  5. 5. Observe, now, a second time, the advantage of giving the paternal relation of God the first place in our meditation on His character. In virtue of this, the proclamation of the Gospel is not so much the proclamation of a King, declaring that no man shall be saved except through faith in that sacrifice; as it is the earnest entreaty of a Father that His children should believe, so as to be saved; when His paternal love shall enjoy them in their recovery to His home; yea, enjoy them. It is much for a child to enjoy his parent; but it is more for a parent to enjoy his child, as an object on which he may lavish his affection; and with all the yearnings of His paternity does God beseech the sinner to afford Him this Divine satisfaction.
  6. 6. Having explained the doctrine of God’s paternal love, I now call for its correlative duty, filial confidence on the part of His children.
  7. 7. When this first principle of parental honour, confidence in God, is secured, the honouring of Him, which consists in obedience, follows naturally and necessarily. (Ibid.)

We are the clay and Thou our Potter.—Clay and Potter:—

The nearest parallel to this application of the common image of clay and potter is, perhaps, Job 10:9. It is the plea of thecreature against seeming unreasonableness on the part of the Creator. Can the Potter allow the work on which He has lavished His utmost skill and care to be broken in pieces? (Prof. J. Skinner, D.D.)

Lessons from a pottery:—

Many years ago it was my privilege to visit the porcelain works at Worcester, and there I learned most of what I know about the potter and his art. We were first taken into a large showroom, where there were displayed the finished products of the potter’s skill and labour. Here we were glad to spend some time in looking upon the beauty and loveliness which the potter had created. In thinking upon what was exhibited there, what can be learned about the potter and his art with a view to understanding the work and grace of our heavenly Father as our Potter? There were two things that deeply impressed me. The first was the almost unlimited variety secured by the potter in his workmanship. There were not two pieces exactly alike. Everywhere you perceived the mind of the potter on the stretch, seeking to attain all possible variety of form, design and ornamentation. I said to myself: “Well, there is one thing very clear about the earthly potter—he has determined that in his work there shall be an utmost absence of repetition, monotony, similarity. By infinite variety he reveals his skill and the fruitfulness of his mind.” If God is our Potter, are we to think of Him in this respect as like unto the earthly potter? Go to His work in Nature. How much of monotony is there in any department of God’s creation? What does that mean for us? It means a very great deal for Christian life. As a young Christian, I had a way of greatly admiring other people. If I saw any person of decided and beautiful Christian character, my heart was impressed. But the mistake was that I also wanted to be like them! And if I saw any one doing a particular work for God I wanted to do something similar. This longing to be like other people became a great curse and hindrance. Then God had pity upon me, and showed me the mistake of it all, and said to me: “I do not want to make you like anybody else in the universe; I want to make you something different from everybody else;” and He graciously persuaded me to give myself up to Him, to let Him make me the one thing He wished to see me. No greater deliverance ever came into my life than that. Do not try to be like anybody. Do not be one of a set. It would be a thousand pities to go to heaven, and for the angels to say: “We have seen this sort before!” It will not be Christ’s fault if that should happen in your case. There is something that God wants to make each one of us that shall reveal His glory in a way that nobody else does. The second thing to be noted about the work of the potter is this: His whole aim is to make of the clay, not a vessel for its own use, but a vessel for the joy and service of others. Let us realize that Christ is in our lives to turn them outward! When we had spent some time in the showroom, our guide bade us follow him. He at once led us through a door out into the works. What a change! We were now amid the noise and splash and dirt. First of all he directed our attention to a shelf, on which were some half-dozen lumps of what might be described as glass and chalk and clay. As a matter of fact, they were different kinds of clay. “All you have just seen inside there has been made out of such materials.” Who had bridged the gulf between the shapeless clay and the beautiful vessel? The potter—that is what he is for. “We are the clay”—the thing of possibility only. The Lord is the Potter; and He can take the clay, and by His skill and power and grace, make it into a thing of joy and beauty for evermore. But our guide soon led us on, and we saw something of the processes of the potter’s art. One of the first things he did with the clay was to put it into a mill, where it was ground for a week, ground until it was so fine that it would pass through silk with hundreds of meshes to the square inch. If the clay could have thought, how puzzled it would have been! It would have said: “There was something of me once, but I am coming to nothing now. I caught a glimpse through that open door of all those lovely vessels and vases, and I thought the potter was going to make me into one such as they; but here it is only grind! grind! grind! What does it all mean?” Experiences very much like that come to the soul that has surrendered itself to God. The methods and processes of the heavenly Potter are at times very perplexing, and in no discerned relation to the desired end. Be quite sure that God understands His own work! Trust Him. The next thing that struck me was the large use which the potter made of fire. I cannot tell you how many times the porcelain was put into the fire before it was finished. But there was this remarkable thing: it was never put into the fire unshielded. It was always enclosed in a strong outer vessel, closely sealed, so that the fire did its work, and yet no hurt came to the porcelain. Into the fire of trial and suffering God, our Potter, puts us all; but He never puts us in unshielded. When this white porcelain had been taken through a great many processes, it was put into the hands of skilful artists, whose work it was to adorn it with the glory of colour and design with which we are all familiar. When the porcelain left the hands of the artist, the finger of a child could have brushed away all that he had painted upon it. But our guide explained that the porcelain would go into the fire, and that the fire would open its “pores,” and take in the colouring, so that what the painter had put on it would become part of the very vessel itself. That illustrated to me this great truth, that we never become better people by merely knowing more. New truth in the mind is like the colouring upon the porcelain, and some failure of memory may remove it. But God’s way is, when we have got a new truth, to lead us into some trial, some fire, that will make that truth part of our very manhood. Lastly, we were taken into another room, and there the artists were all busy working with a black fluid, which they were putting on the beautiful, pure, white porcelain. I said to our guide, “What are they doing here?” Apparently they were disfiguring the porcelain. His answer was: “They are putting on the gilt! When the porcelain goes into the fire, this black that you see upon it now will be transformed into gilt.” There are times when God seems to be disfiguring the lives of his people. What is He doing? Putting on the gilt. (G. C. Moore.)

Ver. 9. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord.—God’s wrath deprecated:—

  1. The evil deprecated. God’s anger.
  2. 1. Merited.
  3. 2. Acknowledged.
  4. II. The terms in which it is deprecated.
  5. 1. Imply the justice of God’s procedure.
  6. 2. Beseech a limitation of its severity.

III. The plea by which it is deprecated.

  1. 1. Humble.
  2. 2. Confident.
  3. 3. Founded on God’s covenant relation to His people. (Homiletic Commentary.)[5]

8–9 The concluding verses of chapter 64 (verses 8–12) revert to the theme of God as father. The communal nature of the concept and the united prayer of the people continue—first person plural pronouns occur ten times in the space of five verses. On behalf of the people Isaiah pleads with God for his forgiveness and an end to his wrath. Verse 8 contains another declaration of God’s fatherhood (cf. 63:16) and also the thought that Israel was merely clay in the potter’s hand (cf. 45:9–10). In spite of present circumstances the people appeal to the past and the fact that the relationship between them and God was established as a father/son relationship. Therefore they can pray (verse 9a) for God’s anger against them to cease (cf. the assurance of 54:8 that this anger was not going to continue for ever—only for a moment!). They also plead for God not to remember their sins perpetually. The prayer in verse 9b is a powerful request to God to be gracious to them. The phrasing of the request is pointed, impassioned, and based on the fact that they are indeed his people. The NKJV brings out the force of the Hebrew text admirably with its rendering: ‘Indeed, please look—we all are Your people!’ The use of the Hebrew particle nâ’ after the verb both softens it and also may indicate that the request is the outcome of the existing situation.[6]

[1] Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (pp. 629–630). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[2] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1910). Isaiah (Vol. 2, pp. 460–461). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[3] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Vol. 4, pp. 370–372). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Motyer, J. A. (1999). Isaiah: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 20, p. 443). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[5] Exell, J. S. (n.d.). Isaiah (Vol. 3, pp. 446–449). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.

[6] Harman, A. (2005). Isaiah: A Covenant to Be Kept for the Sake of the Church (p. 416). Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.

November 28, 2020 Evening Verse Of The Day

  1. For every beast of the forest is mine.” How could they imagine that the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, had need of beasts, when all the countless hordes that find shelter in a thousand forests and wildernesses belong to him? “And the cattle upon a thousand hills.” Not alone the wild beasts, but also the tamer creatures are all his own. Even if God cared for these things, he could supply himself. Their cattle were not, after all, their own, but were still the great Creator’s property, why then should he be beholden to them. From Dan to Beersheba, from Nebaioth to Lebanon, there fed not a beast which was not marked with the name of the great Shepherd; why, then, should he crave oblations of Israel? What a slight is here put even upon sacrifices of divine appointment when wrongly viewed as in themselves pleasing to God! And all this to be so expressly stated under the law! How much more is this clear under the gospel, when it is so much more plainly revealed, that “God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”? Ye Ritualists, ye Sacramentarians, ye modern Pharisees, what say ye to this?[1]

    50:10 every beast of the forest is mine. God affirms that He created and owns all the creatures of the world.[2]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). The treasury of David: Psalms 27-57 (Vol. 2, p. 387). London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers.

[2] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 780). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.