The Epistle to the Romans
If we compare the New Testament to a lofty building, the Epistle to the Romans would answer to the foundation; whilst the highest part of the building would answer to the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. When a business man steps into such a building, and asks for the top floor, and rises quickly in the lift to reach this height, he leaves the foundation in one sense, and yet never for one moment in another sense does he leave it. The higher he goes the more conscious is he that the great building needs, and must have, a very substantial foundation. Thus we can see how indebted we are to the Epistle to the Romans, as setting forth the solid foundation on which God rears the vast edifice of His choicest blessings to the believer.
There is also a most intimate connection between the Epistle to the Romans and the four Gospels. The Gospels give us the historical facts of the Gospel, how our Lord entered this world of sin and sorrow: how He lived His life for God's glory and man's blessing; how He died on Calvary's cross, the one and only efficacious sacrifice for settling the question of sin for God's glory and the blessing of men; how He rose from the dead as witnessed by many witnesses; how He ascended to glory at God's right hand; and how the promise of His return was given to those who saw Him ascend. But unspeakably precious as they are, they do not set out to teach in an orderly and systematic way the blessings flowing forth from the wondrous death of our Lord.
The Epistle to the Romans, as far as the Gospel of God is concerned, is the necessary complement of the Gospels. It is this that makes this epistle so deeply important. It was said that when Phoebe carried the manuscript of the Epistle to the Romans under her cloak as she started to Rome, she may not have realised that she was carrying the very charter of the Gospel of the grace of God to the then metropolis of the world, and for all time. But so it was.
This Epistle to the Romans gives a very orderly presentation of the Gospel of the grace of God. It is addressed to Christians, already in an assembly of God in Rome. It is true that when the Lord is first trusted as Saviour, the believer knows very little of the Gospel. He must know enough to make him realise that believing on the Lord carries with it forgiveness of sins and salvation. After he is converted he needs instruction as to the full truth of the Gospel, and this is furnished in this Epistle. It is therefore the wisdom of all believers to study it carefully and prayerfully.
The Epistle begins by the Apostle Paul's declaration that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, that it is the power of God unto salvation. He then proceeds to review the heathen world. What of those who have never heard the Gospel and know nothing of the Saviour's death? They have a testimony rendered to them in creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). In this God's “eternal power and Godhead” are presented, which, if rejected, leaves the heathen “without excuse” (chap. 1:20). Alas! that men should turn from the living God, and bow down to images made like to corruptible man, to birds, four-footed creatures and even creeping things. Such is man!
Then the Apostle takes up the case of the more enlightened heathen, who has enough knowledge to rebuke those on the lower scale of humanity, forgetting that whilst doing so, he is committing the very sins he denounces in others.
Finally he takes up the question of the Jew from verse 17 of chapter 2. To them were given the oracles of God. To them God made Himself known in a special way, testing mankind whether there should be a response to His law or not. The Jew is found to be no better than his heathen counterpart—Jew and Gentile are alike proved to be under sin.
In a most convincing and masterly way the summing up is announced in few words. Fourteen quotations are made from the Old Testament, describing man's lost and sinful condition. These are principally culled from the Psalms—Scriptures accepted for long centuries as the Word of God by the Jewish nation. It was no fresh discovery that was made, rather was it the confirmation of Scripture, if that were needed, but it is not. In these quotations we learn that all men have gone astray, that none seek after God, that none is righteous, no not one. Nothing could be more sweeping.
CHAPTERS 3 AND 4
As soon as the verdict is delivered, the result of which is to shut every mouth and bring the whole world in guilty before God, God opens His mouth to declare His remedy. True, the law had been given to Israel alone, but their failure to answer to it proved the condition of the whole world, just as analysing a sample proves the condition of the bulk.
As soon as this section of the Epistle begins we are at once struck that there are certain words that we do not find in the Gospels, such words as righteousness, justification, propitiation—words that remind us of the law courts. It is to be remarked that “righteousness” is mentioned no less than 35 times in this Epistle, and Divine love only 6 times; whereas in the Gospel of John, Divine love is mentioned 31 times, and righteousness only twice. It will thus be gathered that the Gospel according to John presents the Gospel of the grace of God from the Divine side, from the aspect of God's mighty love in designing it at the amazing cost of the atoning death of His beloved Son on Calvary's cross; whereas the Epistle to the Romans presents the Gospel of the grace of God from the side of the sinner's need with the object of clearing his mind as to the way that God has taken to meet righteously that need, setting up the believing sinner before Himself, consistently with His own character and holiness.
CHAPTERS 4 AND 5:1-11
Here we find Abraham brought forward as one who was justified by faith, and David as knowing the blessedness of the forgiveness of sins through faith. How confirming it must have been to the readers of this Epistle to find that what is brought before their notice was in germ, we may say, in their own Old Testament Scriptures, only that now the truth is seen in the full light of the accomplished death of our Lord. We are told that this was not written for Abraham's sake alone, but for us also, who, believing on the Lord, have had righteousness imputed likewise to us, so that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Here we arrive at the height of the Gospel, even that the Holy Ghost is given, so that the love of God may be shed abroad in our hearts, and that we may joy in God, as having received the atonement (literally, reconciliation).
Here we begin a quite new section of this remarkable Epistle. It is not now a question of what we have done, but of what we are . The question of what we have done, even of having sinned before God, has been met by the sacrifice of our Lord on the cross, bearing the judgment due to our sins, and enabling God to forgive us freely in His amazing grace. But here it is, we repeat, a question of what we are. We have to learn from whence come our sins; are they not the product of a sinful nature ? Sins may be forgiven, the nature, that produces them, never. So we read, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh ” (Rom. 8:3). Seeing that the flesh is being dealt with in this section we can understand how the word, life , that is Divine life, is mentioned again and again. This is all the more striking when we realise that the word, life , occurs only once in the preceding chapters, and that as something to be attained in the future (chap. 2:7). We can now trace the great change in the believer's condition before God in this interesting section of the book.
Romans 5:12-21 shows that the believer is under a new Headship, even that of our Lord Jesus Christ. As unconverted he derives from Adam, who communicated to his descendants a fallen sinful nature, described in Scripture as the flesh.
The word, flesh , it may be noted, is used to two ways in Scripture, first to describe the flesh and blood condition of mankind. Adam shared in this before he fell, and it continued with him after he fell. This way of looking at the word applied, sin apart, to our blessed Lord, “Who in the days of His flesh . . . was heard in that He feared” (Heb. 5:7). The word is also used to designate the fallen sinful condition we naturally derived from Adam. With this our Lord had nothing to do. The context leaves us in no doubt as to which meaning is attached to the word.
The contrast between the two headships is very plainly set forth in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all [that is, all who are in Christ] be made alive.” Note the difference. In the one case death; in the other life. A new life is needed if we are to stand before God, so we read, that the free gift came upon [literally towards] all men unto justification of LIFE ” (chap. 5:18). What a happy comforting thought it is for the believer to realise that he is transferred from the headship of Adam with its entail of death to the headship of Christ, who communicates to the believer life, Divine life, eternal life.
This chapter is very practical, exhorting believers to be consistent and practical in their lives. Believers are buried with Christ by baptism unto death (v. 3). Not only has Christ died FOR us, but the believer is entitled to know that he died WITH Christ; that is, that all that Christ died to is to be buried in the waters of baptism, and should never be resurrected; and the happy portion of the believer is to walk henceforth in “newness of life.”
It should be observed that there are three dominant verbs in this chapter, know, reckon, yield, and they are mentioned in their due order. First the believer is identified with the death of Christ. He knows that Christ died for him, and that when Christ was crucified it meant that the old man of the believer, that is, the flesh, with its habits and ways, was crucified with Him. This leads the believer to reckon himself to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God through Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 11). Finally we are exhorted to yield our members to God, that is, our mind, body, feet, hands, etc., which in our unconverted days were yielded to uncleanness and iniquity. They should now be yielded to righteousness unto holiness (v. 19).
We come now to what a few years ago was rightly looked upon as a most important chapter in the Bible, a chapter that speaks of a great inward conflict between two natures, the old and the new. It used to be said that it mattered not what Scripture was under consideration at a Bible reading, that it always ended in Romans 7. It would he good if it were so now, for in past years there were tender consciences and exercised minds as to practical Christian living. Alas! today things, we fear, are more superficial.
The chapter begins with an illustration of a woman married to a husband, and the husband dying, and leaving her free to marry again. It is used to illustrate that the believer has died to the law by the body of Christ, and being dead as to the claims of the law, is now free to be for another, even Christ raised from the dead. Again we note bow the Apostle Paul insists upon the believer's identification with the death of Christ, that we have died in His death, and are now free from all that held us in bondage, so that we are free for Him.
Then there follows the description of a terrible conflict between the two natures—the flesh and the new nature the believer has of God. We read the agonised cry of the soul in this dire conflict. He says, “We know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I” (vv. 14-15). The chapter is full of I, I, I, I—self-occupation. In utter despair of any improvement of his own encompassing, be cries out, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” using an illustration known in the Roman army, that a soldier guilty of very grave offence was tied to a corpse, till death should free him. Note the cry is not, What shall deliver me? but, Who shall deliver rue? Instantly comes the answer, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Christ is the great Deliverer. It has been truly said that the chapter does not give deliverance once and for all, as some wrongly teach, but that in every need a Deliverer is available for us. The flesh remains with the believer, till death takes him out of the body, or the Lord shall come to take His people where there will be no more sinning.
The introduction of fresh words is always significant and instructive. This is the great chapter of the Holy Spirit. Only once in the previous seven chapters is the Holy Spirit mentioned, and that in chapter 5:15, where the Spirit is given to shed abroad the love of God in the heart of the believer. In the first sixteen verses of this chapter the Holy Spirit is mentioned no less than 15 times. This is very arresting. What is the great thought in the gift of the Spirit? Our Lord Himself connects the thought of power with it. We read, “And behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). So in this chapter the believer is made free from the law of sin and death by the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. As the believer walks not after the flesh but after the Spirit, the righteousness of the law will be fulfilled in him, though he is not “under the law” as a means for maintaining himself before God on the ground of works, which no one can do. In having the Spirit the believer is spiritually minded. Moreover the indwelling Spirit is a pledge that the believer will share in the power of the resurrection of Christ Himself, when He comes to raise His sleeping saints, and quicken the mortal bodies of those that are alive on the earth. Christ was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that same Power is given to dwell in the believer as this glorious Pledge. This wonderful chapter begins with “no condemnation,” and ends with no separation from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
To place this section before the eye of the reader the following may help.
Chapter 5:12-21 — The New Head — Christ.
Chapter 6. — The New Master — righteousness.
Chapter 7. — The New Husband — Christ.
Chapter 8. — The New Power — the Holy Spirit.
In Chapters 5, 6 and 7 the blessings are objective, and found alone in Christ. Christ is made unto us righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). In chapter 8 the gift of the Holy Spirit is subjective; that is, He is given to indwell the body of the believer as bringing Divine power into his life, and enabling him to enter into the meaning and apprehension of the truths set forth in chapters 5, 6 and 7.
CHAPTERS 9, 10 AND 11
These chapters are deeply important, setting forth God's sovereignty in blessing the Gentiles, and His ways in government in setting Israel for the time being aside as having nationally rejected their Messiah and King, crucifying the Lord of glory. Note in chapter 9:22 it is careful not to say that God fitted “the vessels of wrath” to destruction. They fitted themselves by their sin. But verse 23 tells us how gloriously God exercises His sovereignty in making known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had aforetime prepared unto glory .
It may be remarked that God's sovereignty is always shown in blessing man. God blesses man, does not destroy him. Man destroys himself by his sin. We read, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help” (Hos. 13:9). Men and nations destroy themselves, and then God comes in to destroy, that is, to carry out righteous government in relation to man's sin. The law puts a murderer to death, but only because he has committed a crime punishable by death. In truth the murderer destroys himself, though the law passes a verdict of guilty, and carries out the sentence.
Though this section tells us that “blindness in part is happened to Israel;” that is, judicial hardness of heart is their portion consequent on crucifying their King and Redeemer, yet chapter 10 stands out pre-eminently as setting forth the Gospel, which does not set aside the Jew. “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him” (Chap. 10:12). Not till “the fulness of the Gentiles” is complete—that is, this present dispensation of God, which marks this church period—will the hardness of heart of Israel pass away. The day is coming quickly when “the spirit of grace and supplications” shall mark Israel, and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced, and receive Him at last as their true Messiah (Zech. 12:10).
No wonder that the Apostle closed this section with an outburst of praise—“For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
Now begins the hortatory part of the Epistle. The believer is exhorted by the mercies of God to present his body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, not to conform himself to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of his mind. Then there follow a few verses that take into account the order of the assembly in a very interesting way. This, we take it, is from the aspect of the House of God. It begins with the highest expression of spiritual activity, that of prophecy, then ministry, teaching, exhorting; then it comes down to the ministry of giving, of leading in the assembly, of showing mercy with cheerfulness. Then follow exhortations to divine love, abhorring evil, cleaving to good, distributing to the necessity of saints, given to hospitality, etc.
CHAPTERS 13, 14 AND 15
We have here exhortations as to the Christian's attitude to “the powers that be” seeing they are “ordained of God;” to render to all men their dues; to owe no man anything, save love, which cannot be repaid, save in responsive love. Then the believer is exhorted to be tender with his weak-minded brother, who might be stumbled by his actions, lawful and according to God though they might be. The strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak. Then the Apostle comes to speak of himself as the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, and how he sought to carry out this ministry. Finally he speaks of wishing to visit them in person whenever he took the journey he wished to take into Spain.
He begins by commending Phoebe of Cenchrea, who was the messenger to carry the manuscript of this wonderful Epistle to the great metropolis of the world, that they should receive her as becometh saints. He semis his salutations to a number of the saints in the assembly at Rome, including four of his own relatives in the flesh, and to quite a few sisters by name. He warns them against divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine they had learned, and to avoid those, who would bring these things about. Then he sends the salutation of the whole of the Corinthian assembly, mentioning specially by name a few, who were with him at the time.
Finally, the last three verses of this remarkable Epistle are of rare value. They link on the preaching of the Gospel of the grace of God with the revelation of the mystery of God, of which we read in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. This shows how all truth is co-related, how the Gospel leads on to assembly truth, the truth of the Church, blessing going out to the Gentiles, the mystery hid from all ages, now to be made known to all nations for the obedience of faith. So if the beginning of this Epistle gives us the foundation, the end of it indicates the top- stone of the great edifice of God.
So the Epistle ends, “To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.”