Next question. Why look so closely at this chapter? Why Romans 9? Why did you pick out Romans 9? You might say, “Well, because you just taught on Romans 8 at the national conference, and this is next.” That may have had something to do with it, but there would’ve been easier places to go. “So why did you go here?”
I’m going to give you Paul’s answer for why we look so closely at Romans 9, and then I’m going to give you Abraham Lincoln’s answer, and then I’m going to sum it up and I think we’ll be ready to get into Romans 9.
Paul’s Answer for Why Romans 9 Matters
If God’s word has failed for Israel, it may fail for Christians, and all the precious promises of Romans 8 may fail. Romans 9 is Paul’s defense of God’s covenant with Israel — and therefore, with the church.
Now, you haven’t seen any of that, but that’s my claim. Here are the precious things in Romans 8: “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). A favorite verse of millions of people — and rightly so, off the charts important in the Christian life — is Romans 8:28. I have never, ever resonated with those who chastise the use of Romans 8 as though it weren’t relevant for every situation.
I know it’s possible to be cavalier in a moment of pain. Frankly, I’ve never seen anybody do that, but I hear there are people that do that, and a lot of people get a lot of mileage out of criticizing those people. I sometimes wonder, “Have you ever heard anybody really do that, or are you just making that up?” But I suppose they have.
If you’ve suffered, and people have come to you with stupid, out-of-the-moment comments that don’t fit the pain of the moment, then you’ll resonate with that criticism. I’ve not seen that happen. I must be surrounded by very sensitive people, but that’s not been my experience. My experience is that Romans 8:28 is always relevant, and it just matters how you say it.
“Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). There isn’t a more important verse in the Bible on the perseverance of the saints than that right there, because nobody falls out of that chain. Nobody.
The predestined are called, and the called are justified, and the justified are glorified, and nobody falls out between predestination and glorification. Nobody. You want a stabilizing verse in your life that shows that God’s purposes for you are firm, there’s one.
Romans 8:32 — maybe my most favorite verse in the Bible, just because of the logic of the cross and all things — “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Which is a rhetorical question that calls for a paraphrase like this: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all most certainly will give us all things with him. That’s just another way of saying Romans 8:28. Everything you need in life, everything you could possibly enjoy in the age to come, you get because Jesus died. God didn’t spare his own Son.
One last one. Everybody knows this. I’ve used it at who knows how many funerals. I came to a church that had 700 members, 300 attenders, and I’d guess 80 percent of them over 70. I did a funeral every three weeks for 18 months. I went back to check that in my journal to make sure that was true. I’ve done vastly more funerals than weddings in my pastoral life. I love doing funerals more than weddings.
Ecclesiastes says, “Better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting,” because at weddings, people are just in a hurry to leave, and the funerals tell us something (Ecclesiastes 7:2). We don’t know what to say or do or how we’re going to make it without him. They’re so hungry, so needy, so ready. I love preaching in situations like that.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). How many times have I spoken that over caskets?
The point here is this: Romans 8 contains the most precious promises in the Bible. What if the God of Romans 8 proves to be untrustworthy? What if he makes promises we know from other evidences he doesn’t keep them? I mean, it sounds nice; he just doesn’t keep his promises. That’s the issue Paul is addressing in Romans 9.
Paul’s main point in Romans 9 is in Romans 9:6. “It is not as though the word of God has failed.” We’ll see that in detail in a little bit, but I’m just telling you, why does this chapter matter so much?
Because Paul has just finished eight chapters of the greatest news in the world, and probably the greatest chapter in the Bible is Romans 8, and he knows that lurking in the shadows is an objection that he does not keep his promises. His covenants do not survive the test of reality. He has failed to keep his covenant with Israel. That’s what we’re going to face in the first six verses of Romans 9.
In Paul’s mind, the greatest obstacle to trusting the promises of Romans 8 is the unbelief of Israel, her failure to receive her Messiah to be saved. Two thousand years now of God’s work in history and his covenant promises seem to have failed at Jesus’s time, and Romans 9 is Paul’s, “No, they haven’t,” and his explanation of why they haven’t. That’s Paul’s answer of why Romans 9 matters.
Abraham Lincoln’s Answer
Abraham Lincoln. You’re thinking, “Abraham Lincoln? Why are you going there?” Well, I’ve never gone there before, but as I was thinking a few days ago about helping you feel the relevance of Romans 9, I thought of the second inaugural and the theology of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural delivered during the Civil War, which was the most horrible thing that our country has ever experienced in terms of conflict. We killed one another at a level beyond all the other wars. We killed six hundred thousand plus of each other, just, what, 130 years ago or so? That was like great-granddaddy.
This is really close and horrible, and Abraham Lincoln was the man of the hour, and a very imperfect man. There’s a lot of argument about his theology, that is his Christian faith, as to whether he had any. Well, I don’t know for sure what he had with regard to Jesus, but I want you to see his understanding of providence. I’ll put this little introductory statement here:
From Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, we learn that going deep in your grasp of God’s providence — and what I mean by providence here is his sovereignty over all history, his rule, his control of all history, including its good and its evil, very controversial — is a great help. Going deep is a great help in dealing with the most painful and horrific aspects of human life — like a civil war, in Abraham Lincoln’s case.
How did he do it? How did he survive it? How did he handle the criticism? How did he handle the horrible statistics? How did he handle the words that were coming back from the front and the failures of his generals? Everything would’ve made me just want to run away quick. I mean, I’ve felt that with regard to little skirmishes in my church; I just want to run away. How much more must presidents feel that way when they bear the weight of such massive things as this? How did he endure it?
I want you to get a glimpse of his view of providence, and we’ll slow down on this second slide. Here’s the first one. There’s three slides to just take a section of the second inaugural, and you’ve heard these words. They are among the most amazing rhetorical displays of providence in American history.
“Both read the same Bible,” meaning North and South — Confederates and Union.
Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces. [You can tell where he’s standing.] But let us judge not that we be not judged.
In other words, he’s not going to play the final arbiter. I mean he just made a judgment in using the phrase “wringing the sweat from men’s faces,” but I think he means, “I’m not going to be the final arbiter in this, in what God does with these people.”
The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. [Here’s the key slide.] The Almighty has his own purposes. [And then he quotes Matthew 18:7.] “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” [Here’s this interpretation or application to history.] If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences [for offenses, it must needs be that offenses come] which, in the providence of God, must needs come [in the providence of God must needs come].
Are you really saying that? Are you really going to say that? Yes, he’s saying it.
But which, having continued through his appointed time, He now wills to remove. [He wills it to be removed] and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war. [Hear what he’s saying. This is his view of providence. Abraham Lincoln believed in an absolutely sovereign God.] He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe. [Now he’s back up here. “Woe to that man by whom the offense comes,” still interpreting that text.]
As the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein. [Now wherein? Slavery coming; slavery having an appointed time; it being his will to slavery be removed; the war being given.] If we shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to him? (“Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address”)
No, we won’t. Get back and read that sentence so you can hear that right. I’ll read the whole thing. It’s all one sentence, isn’t it? Starting right here.
“If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those.” This is a long complex sentence. It’s got an if clause and then a then clause. “If we suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, its appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came,” end of if clause, “then shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in the living God always ascribe to him?” What does he mean by that? Justice, love, goodness.
No, we won’t. If we say that, if we say that we are not seeing in that any departure from divine justice, goodness, love, righteousness, holiness, truth, nothing. That’s what he’s saying. Now, I’m not saying whether he’s right or not. I think he is right, but that’s not my point. My point right now is, if you go deep on the issue of God’s providence, his sovereignty over all things, good and evil, if you go deep with that, it will become ballast in the boat of your life, so that when the worst storms come, it won’t capsize. One of the sweetest experiences of my 33 years in ministry is ministering to dozens of parents of disabled children who have a wonderful ministry of disability at Bethlehem.
These are parents who have faced the most horrific suffering in their children, which is way worse than yourself, right? In their children, and these moms, especially because they bear the weight 24/7 a little differently from Dad. He has his own sorrows. These moms who listen to me preach about suffering year in and year out and with tears send me notes at my departure to say, “Thank you for a big, sovereign God. That has helped us so much deal with our disabled one.” That’s really gratifying, and it does not work that way for everybody. This is why I know that our time here together will not be roses for everyone. Let me finish Lincoln.
Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsmen’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
That was the President of the United States. So amazingly profound, and, I believe, true, even though he may not have been a Christian. I don’t know. That would be a shame if it were not so.
Romans 8 as the Beautiful House and Romans 9 as the Indispensable Foundation
Paul’s answer for why focus on Romans 9 is that it is Paul’s answer to the credibility of God in the lostness of Israel and thus it undergirds the validity of Romans 8. Abraham Lincoln’s answer, though he wasn’t addressing Romans 9, is “My grasp of the providence of God and the sovereignty of God over good and evil has given ballast to my boat in the ship of state that has kept me going for these years so that I could see the nation through.”
You’re going to face your storm, and the ship of your life needs ballast. That’s just one image of what Romans 9 is and what the big God of Romans 9 is. It’s ballast in your boat. I could use the fact that it’s fuel in the motor of the boat, but I won’t. I could use that it’s the navigation tools to tell where you’re going in the boat, but I won’t. I’m just going to leave it because the one that’s very seldom appreciated and very seldom talked about, because it’s such an indirect blessing, is ballast in your life.
If you study the weighty matters of God, there aren’t direct straight lines that you draw between this point and that pain in your life. Just like, “Oh, there’s a perfect correspondence.” It doesn’t work like that. It’s that this weight of glory stabilizes you, makes the roots go down deep, and therefore there’s a correlation that’s unspecified between the winds that are blowing on your life. You can’t say, “It was that particular truth, taking the root that deep, that caused me to survive this wind.” It just did. It just did. You’ve gotten to know him that way and that well.
A summary statement of how the two chapters are related: Romans 8 is a beautiful house, a mansion with comfortable rooms and magnificent gardens, a place to live with joy. Who doesn’t want to spend time in Romans 8, right? Amen. Romans 9, a massive, underground, unshakeable, unfathomable foundation for the house. Often unseen; sometimes unappreciated; never unnecessary.
You know the foundation of your house is important, don’t you? The last time you thought about it was a long time ago. That’s too bad. Well, we’re going to spend four hours on it. Just walk around in the basement looking at the blocks and maybe even dig down to see how deep they poured the footings.