Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 11:2b-6

2b Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s mention of Isaiah’s disappointment in the disobedient and stubborn Jews of his time.

In Romans 11, he changes tack, introducing his audience of Jewish converts to the fact that there is a remnant who will become faithful to Jesus Christ.

In order to do so, he takes them back to Elijah’s time, when the vast majority of God’s people were worshipping Baal under the wicked Ahab and Jezebel. It was so bad that Elijah felt he was the only faithful Jew left. In fear of his life, he fled to the desert. There he prayed (verse 2).

Paul cites the relevant Scripture passage describing that episode (verse 3), 1 Kings 19:10:

10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

Paul reminds the Jews that, even in the worst times of their wickedness, there was always a faithful remnant (verse 4). God told Elijah that He had a remnant of 7,000 Jews who had not succumbed to idolatry, 1 Kings 19:18:

18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Elijah did not know that because the idolatry was so rampant.

Matthew Henry says:

Now the description of this remnant is that they had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal, which was then the reigning sin of Israel. In court, city, and country, Baal had the ascendant; and the generality of people, more or less, paid their respect to Baal.

Paul tells his audience that there was a similar remnant of faithful in his and the Romans’ own era, ‘chosen by grace’ (verse 5). That means God knew from the beginning of time who would be among the elect and His remnant in every generation.

Henry explains (emphases mine):

This is called a remnant according to the election of grace; they are such as were chosen from eternity in the counsels of divine love to be vessels of grace and glory. Whom he did predestinate those he called. If the difference between them and others be made purely by the grace of God, as certainly it is (I have reserved them, saith he, to myself), then it must needs be according to the election; for we are sure that whatever God does he does it according to the counsel of his own will.

Paul then tells the Romans that because the remnant’s election is by grace — a free gift from God — it is not an election by works, i.e. according to Mosaic law. If it were election by works, then grace could not be a part of that election (verse 6).

Henry has more:

Now concerning this remnant we may observe, First, Whence it takes its rise, from the free grace of God (Romans 11:6), that grace which excludes works. The eternal election, in which the difference between some and others is first founded, is purely of grace, free grace; not for the sake of works done or foreseen; if so, it would not be graceElection is purely according to the good pleasure of his will, Ephesians 1:5. Paul’s heart was so full of the freeness of God’s grace that in the midst of his discourse he turns aside, as it were, to make this remark, If of grace, then not of works. And some observe that faith itself, which in the matter of justification if opposed to works, is here included in them; for faith has a peculiar fitness to receive the free grace of God for our justification, but not to receive that grace for our election. Secondly, What it obtains: that which Israel, that is, the body of that people, in van sought for (Romans 11:7): Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, that is, justification, and acceptance with God (see Romans 9:31), but the election have obtained it. In them the promise of God has its accomplishment, and God’s ancient kindness for that people is remembered. He calls the remnant of believers, not the elect, but the election, to show that the sole foundation of all their hopes and happiness is laid in election. They were the persons whom God had in his eye in the counsels of his love; they are the election; they are God’s choice. Such was the favour of God to the chosen remnant.

John MacArthur summarises the remnants throughout the Bible:

In Elijah’s time there were seven thousand in the remnant. In Isaiah’s time there was a very small remnant. Do you remember chapter 6? God says to Isaiah, “You go out and preach the message and know this, that their ears will be fat, their eyes will be blind, their minds will not understand but you preach anyway till all the cities are laid waste, until there’s no inhabitants in the land. Because when it’s all said and done you’ll find a tenth and they’ll be a godly seed.” There’s always a godly seed. In Elijah’s time it was a remnant. In Isaiah’s time it was remnant. In the captivity, when they were in Babylon, there was a small remnant. The remnant was people like Daniel, like Ezekiel, like Shadrach, like Meshach, like Abednego, like Mordecai, like Esther, they were part of the remnant in captivity, while the rest of the people were rejecting the truth of God. And when they returned to the land, a remnant returned under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. In Malachi’s time, there was a remnant and that remnant sought to have their names written in God’s book of remembrance, Malachi 3:16 says, “And the Lord had their names written there and He said, I will punish this whole nation for their apostasy but I have your names written in my book of remembrance.” And He said, “They shall be Mine in the day that I make up My jewels.” God had His remnant in Malachi’s time.

And when Jesus came, the whole nation of Israel was apostate, but He had His remnant. And His remnant was John the Baptist and his followers. And His remnant was Anna. And His remnant was Simeon, and those who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem. There was always a remnant. And in Paul’s time, look at verse 5, “Even so then at this present time there is a remnant, according to the election of grace.” Even in the time of Paul the whole of Israel hadn’t rejected. There was a remnant. I mean, there were the apostles. And there was the church at Jerusalem. Three thousand people converted at the day of Pentecost, thousands and thousands more in [Acts] chapters 4 and 5, you’re up to twenty thousand, by the time you get to chapter 8 they fill Jerusalem with their teaching.

There are more and more Jews being converted, there was a remnant of tens of thousands of them, no doubt, by the time the apostle Paul penned the epistle to the Romans. There was even then a remnant of believing Jews, according to the election of grace. The church at Jerusalem was growing under the leadership of James. They even founded a church in Antioch. And then that church sent out apostles, Paul and Barnabas to found churches all around the world. And in any city they went to, where did they go first? To the what? To the Jewish synagogue. And Jews were being saved all around. So there was a remnant according to the election of God’s grace.

There will always be a remnant, today and in future:

If you’re a Christian, beloved, it’s because God chose you before the foundation of the world and it was made manifest in your lifetime. The remnant is elected by grace, it is all of God’s sovereign love, all of God’s sovereign will, has nothing to do with human performance and that’s what Paul is saying. God has elected His remnant. God has chosen His remnant in every time period.

Chapter 9 verse 11, it says there, “According to the purpose of God, according to election.” It’s the same concept back in chapter 9 verse 11. So, there is a remnant. The salvation of the remnant, like the salvation of everyone else, is wholly based on God’s free gift of sovereign grace. Now listen, God chose a nation graciously, sovereignly. He determined by His own will to love that nation. Therefore in every period of time out of that nation He determines to love a remnant of people. Now may I add, so that you’re not confused, that that choosing is not without the response of faith, but it is initiated by the sovereign choice of God? All men deserve death, none of us has a right to be saved, no Jew has a right to claim salvation, but God graciously grants it.

So the first six verses add up to the reality then that God is not finished with the Jews. He [ha]s not cast off the nation of Israel, as Paul’s conversion proves, verse 1; and as the remnant proves, verse 2 through 6. There always will be a faithful group. There always will be a believing remnant to fulfill the Word of God. So very, very important.

As I write, many churches are succumbing to politics rather than pursuing holiness. Many of us feel as if we are alone in wanting to hear more about the Bible from our clergy in these troubled times.

Matthew Henry has these wise words of advice:

Note, First, Things are often much better with the church of God than wise and good men think they are. They are ready to conclude hardly, and to give up all for gone, when it is not so. Secondly, In times of general apostasy, there is usually a remnant that keep their integrity–some, though but a few; all do not go one way. Thirdly, That when there is a remnant who keep their integrity in times of general apostasy it is God that reserves to himself that remnantThe best evidence of integrity is a freedom from the present prevailing corruptions of the times and places that we live in, to swim against the stream when it is strong. Those God will own for his faithful witnesses that are bold in bearing their testimony to the present truth, 2 Peter 1:12. This is thank-worthy, not to bow to Baal when every body bows. Sober singularity is commonly the badge of true sincerity.

Churches are reopening this weekend in England. If our established church is any bellwether, many sermons will probably be about identity politics and social justice rather than this Sunday’s readings. If so, more’s the pity, as the Gospel reading is particularly pertinent during our health and social crises.

In closing, if you feel alone spiritually during this time, be assured that there are many others who feel the same way. Together, I pray that we are the remnant.

Next time — Romans 11:7-10