In the little town of Olney, England stands a large granite tombstone. If you were to kneel down in front of this stately stone you would read the following inscription:
“John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.” 1
The story of John Newton’s conversion is quite remarkable. As a young man he lived a life of utter debauchery and rebellion against God and his fellowman. During these years his mother prayed for him without ceasing and frequently shared the gospel with him. At a very young age he took over his father’s slave trading business, transporting slaves between South Africa and England.
He recounts how on one of the return voyages to England a storm came up at sea in the middle of the night. Apparently, that old ship was nearly torn apart by the raging ocean, causing the vessel to take on water. As the waves violently swept over the bow of the ship it appeared as though there was little hope of surviving the ordeal. In the midst of the storm, Newton retired to his cabin, sure that he would perish at sea that fateful night. God has interesting ways of getting our attention! When we are faced with our own mortality we quickly turn to spiritual things.
As Newton pondered his spiritual condition, he reached into his belongings and took out a little book entitled, “The Imitation of Christ,” by Thomas a Kempis, that his mother had given to him shortly before her death. That evening he read the entire book from cover to cover and as a result he trusted Christ as his personal Savior. Soon thereafter he began to preach the faith he had long sought to destroy. Literally thousands came to hear this old sea captain share how Christ had saved him from the depths of sin. In addition to becoming an advocate for the abolition of slavery, John Newton is probably best known as the author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace.
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.
It is truly amazing what the grace of God can do in a life. Like the Apostle Paul, John Newton had a burden for lost souls. They both had a longing desire that their countrymen might be saved.
PAUL’S HEART’S DESIRE
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Rom. 10:1).
As we know, Romans 9, 10, and 11 are the dispensational chapters of the Book of Romans. In chapter 9 we have Israel’s past—here we see Paul’s passion for the elect nation. The present state of Israel is the subject of chapter 10—here we learn of her unbelief. Finally in chapter 11 we have what is in store for future Israel—here the apostle answers the question “Hath God cast away His people… which He foreknew?”
The foregoing passage is only one of two passages where we are told to pray for the unsaved. All other references to prayer in Paul’s epistles concern the believer. Pastor Win Johnson and I were discussing this passage one evening and I asked him why the lion’s share of passages on prayer had to do with those who are saved. He felt it was because the believer is in a warfare. We are engaged in a great spiritual conflict with an enemy who’s seeking to destroy our Christian homes and marriages. Satan often turns one believer against another, desiring to sow discord among the brethren. Beloved, the person sitting next to you is not the enemy. Even though they may have wounded you deeply, for the sake of the cause of Christ you are to forgive them as Christ forgave you. We should pray for one another without ceasing. After all, we are members of His Body, members one of another.
But we should also pray for the unsaved. Paul’s heart’s desire and prayer for his countrymen was that they might be saved. I would venture to say that before your conversion to Christ someone was praying for the salvation of your soul. In my life, it was a godly Great Aunt who prayed for me for nearly twenty years. The day I told her that I came to Christ she said that she was always confident that the Lord would save me. Then she added: “Now I am going to pray that the Lord will use you in a wonderful way to the praise of His glory.” Brethren, not only should we pray for the unbeliever, we should also share the gospel with him. This was Paul’s practice as the following passages confirm.
Romans 9, 10, and 11 deal primarily with Israel nationally and the Gentile nations in relation to her. However, we must remember that the apostle is dealing with the present state of Israel in chapter 10. Therefore, seeing that the chosen nation has already been set aside in unbelief, Paul addresses individual Israelites.
“I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall [that is, beyond recovery]? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy” (Rom. 11:11).
The stoning of Stephen was Israel’s Waterloo! This event marked the fall of Israel, as far as God was concerned. But why was this particular event so critical historically? It served as the culmination of years of rebellion and rejection within the chosen nation. Humanly speaking, the casting away of Israel was a gradual process that took place over a thirty-year period. By the time Paul penned the words of Romans chapter 10, not only had Israel fallen nationally, the diminishing of the nation was also drawing to a close. So the final curtain call for the wayward nation had already been made.
With the introduction of a new dispensation, God graciously extends the offer of salvation to individual Israelites. Interestingly, Paul begins with the nation in Romans chapter 10 by using plural pronouns “they” and “them,” but he shifts to singular pronouns later in the chapter as he addresses individual Israelites.
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God” (Rom. 10:1,2).
“The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:8,9).
ISRAEL DID IT HER WAY
“For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:2,3).
Israel had a burning desire to serve the true and living God. She was on fire for the things of the Lord. The only problem was her zeal was not according to knowledge. There was a sense that Paul could relate to his countrymen, having had the same desire prior to his conversion. After setting forth an impressive list of credentials in Philippians 3, the apostle states: “Concerning zeal, persecuting the Church.” As Paul attempted to make himself acceptable to God through good deeds, he thought within himself that by persecuting the Church, and laying it waste, he was doing God a favor (John 16:2,3).
Israel had the same attitude. As noted, her zeal was not according to knowledge. The term “knowledge” in this passage is the Greek word epignosis. It has the idea of having a fuller knowledge or a more perfect understanding. Paul was the first to use this term, and he uses it often, for this reason: he had received a special revelation from the Lord of glory, therefore, he had a fuller knowledge of God’s will. For example, with the abolition of the sacrificial system, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Today there is the new and living way—Christ!
Sadly Israel, nationally, was ignorant of God’s righteousness. She failed to understand how righteous God truly is. He’s perfect in all things and those who step into His presence must be perfect. But Pastor, “Nobody’s perfect!” That’s the problem—you must be perfect to live in God’s presence. Simply by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ the sinner is taken out of Adam and placed into Christ. In Him alone is redemption; He is the righteousness of God (I Cor. 1:30).
But Israel went about seeking to establish her own righteousness by trying to keep the law. To illustrate what the apostle means here, we are indebted to our Lord for the following parable.
“And He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
This high and mighty Pharisee, a conservative religious leader at that time, thought he was right with God since he had meticulously kept the letter of the law. He fasted religiously and gave tithes dutifully as the law demanded. He boasted before God that he was grateful he wasn’t like other men who were ungodly sinners. He was especially thankful he wasn’t like the publican who was also at the temple offering up a prayer to God. Publicans were the offscouring of the earth. They would be akin to our street people today.
Nevertheless, the publican humbled himself before God, praying that the Lord would be merciful to him being a sinner. Interestingly the term “merciful” here looks back to the Old Testament Mercy Seat where the blood was sprinkled for the atonement of sin. You see, the publican had responded to God in faith, praying that God would have mercy on him, as He did upon the nation when He looked upon the blood on the Mercy Seat. Under the old economy faith always obeyed the law, which served as an outward expression of a proper response to God.
The majority within the chosen nation were like the Pharisee who sought to obtain a righteous standing with God through the works of the law. This is what the apostle had in mind when he says that they were going about seeking to establish their own righteousness. They failed to understand that the intent of the law was not to save them; rather, it was to give them a knowledge of sin so they could, like the publican, throw themselves upon the mercy of God and bring a sacrifice by faith.
“But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law” (Rom. 9:31,32).
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
“[They] have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:3,4).
We believe Christ is the end of the law in two senses. First and foremost, the law was merely a schoolmaster, whose goal was to bring those under it to Christ that they might be justified by faith. When Christ carried out His earthly ministry the goal of the law was accomplished, so Israel is no longer under the schoolmaster. Second, Christ came not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. He perfectly fulfilled every stipulation of the law in spirit and act; therefore, He also terminated it (Gal. 3:24,25 cf. Col. 2:14). Christ, then, is the righteousness of God!
“For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doeth those things shall live by them” (Rom. 10:5).
Was the law of God righteous? Indeed! The problem, you see, was not with the law, it was with sinful man who was unable to keep it perfectly. If a man breaks one of the laws of God he is a lawbreaker. This is the very point that James makes: “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). The law was powerless to impart life; it pointed its bony finger in the face of the accused and essentially pronounced a sentence of condemnation. The eminent Greek scholar, Kenneth Wuest, made the following insightful poetic verse regarding the law:
Do this and live the law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands,
A better word the gospel brings, it bids me fly and gives me wings.
“But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead)” (Rom. 10:6,7).
In verses 5 through 8 Paul contrasts the “way of the law” with “the way of faith.” Since Moses was so revered in Israel, the apostle quotes the great Lawgiver, but recasts his words under the direction of the Holy Spirit. To properly understand Paul’s argument it will first be necessary to consider Moses’ original statement:
“For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?” (Deut. 30:11-13).
As Moses neared the end of his life, the children of Israel were painfully aware that he would only be with them a short time. They knew Moses had spoken directly to God on their behalf, but who would minister to them after the Deliverer was gone? Moses instructs them accordingly: Don’t say, who will ascend into heaven and bring us the revelation of God, or who will cross the sea to bring us a teacher? The will of God for you is found in the Books of the Law; you need to look no farther. It is within your reach—in your mouth and in your heart.
Paul refashions the words of Moses to reveal that salvation by grace through faith was now available to individual Israelites through Christ. There is no need for someone to ascend into heaven, for that is to bring Christ down. This would crucify the Son of Man afresh. God forbid! He already came and offered Himself as a once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. Neither was there a need to inquire, “Who shall descend into the deep? (that is to bring up Christ again from the dead).” Christ had already conquered sin and death and risen victoriously over it. The work was finished!
“The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach” (Rom. 10:8). Note Paul says, “The word of faith, which we preach.” What did the apostle preach in order for a lost soul to be saved? Simply this, Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again, all three of which are implied in the foregoing passages. Essentially, Paul said to his countrymen that salvation is near, even in their mouth as they read the Word, and in their heart if they believed it. Christ has abolished the performance system; simply place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
CONFESSION AND BELIEF
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9,10).
This passage has been a stumbling block for many dear saints. First, Paul is not speaking about public confession before men as a prerequisite to be saved. If this were the case salvation would be associated with a work. The apostle uses the mouth and heart here in the spiritual sense. We should add that both confession and belief are in harmony with one another. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin. The context substantiates Paul is referring to our innermost being. He says in verse 6: “Say not in thine heart,” that is, say not to yourself who will ascend into heaven, etc. In like manner when we heard the gospel we said to ourselves in our heart of hearts, I believe!
Paul calls upon his countrymen to confess or acknowledge that the Lord Jesus died for their sins and rose again. The apostle lays special emphasis upon the resurrection, because while many of his readers were well aware Christ had been crucified, they may not have been aware that He had conquered death and rose again the third day. Salvation is in a person, and that person is the Lord Jesus Christ. Once the vertical relationship is established with the Savior by faith, it will eventually touch all of our horizontal relationships that we have with one another. Thus “according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak” (II Cor. 4:13).
“For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:11-13).
Those who trust Christ will never be ashamed or defeated. We are saved from the wrath to come, not only in the coming tribulation period, but also from the judgment to come. Thankfully, in Christ we are beyond the reach of God’s wrath.
We also learn here that there is no difference between the Jews and the Gentiles today who call upon the Lord. This was unheard of under the former dispensation of the law. Once again, this is epignosis or that fuller knowledge of God’s will Paul spoke of earlier. Before the foundation of the world God had foreordained the Church of this age, which is uniquely a Pauline truth. Consequently, in the administration of Grace there is one Body which is made up of Jews and Gentiles without distinction.
Even though the apostle quotes from the Old Testament when he states, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” this passage must be interpreted in light of Paul’s revelation. In time past, whosoever called upon the Lord was saved through Israel. Today, whosoever believes is saved in spite of Israel since she has been temporarily cast aside in unbelief (Isa. 49:6 cf. Rom. 11:11,15,25).
Have you called upon the Lord to be saved? If not, we beg you to do so without delay. You are dangling over the lake of fire by one thin thread of human existence. Soon the fires of God’s wrath will consume you and the weight of your sins will plunge you into eternal darkness forever and ever. Flee from the wrath to come. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who bore your sins upon the Cross, and thou shalt be saved!
- 101 Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace, page 28, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan. ↩