the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible Dummelow on the Bible
by John Dummelow
1. Place in Scripture. This letter, though it is not the earliest nor the simplest of the noble group ascribed to St. Paul, and though equally with the rest it was prompted by special local needs, fitly comes first in the series. The book of Acts, with its prophecy in Acts 23:11 concerning St. Paul, ’so must thou bear witness also at Rome,’ ends with a vivid picture of him a prisoner in Rome. The first of the Epistles dramatically follows with its disclosure of his mind as in freedom he had looked forward to a purposed visit to that city. It is the greatest of his writings in importance as in length, the most characteristic and comprehensive, the letter best suited to form an introduction to his teaching, and an epitome of his thought. It was fitting that the chief letter of the Apostle to the Gentiles should be a letter to the Church in the capital of the Gentile world, and that it should have precedence in the final order of his published writings.
2. Place in the Life and Writing’s of St. Paul. It is not possible to date the events in his life with absolute precision, but the narrative in Acts, together with information contained in his own writings, enables us to arrange their sequence. If we accept the chronology of chapter H. Turner, which approximates to that of Ramsay very closely, and forms a mean between those of Harnack and Lightfoot, the conversion of St. Paul took place 36 a.d., six years after the crucifixion; the first missionary journey, 47 a.d.; the Council at Jerusalem, 49 a.d.; the second journey, 49-52 a.d.; the third journey, 52-56 a.d.; the arrest in Jerusalem, 56 a.d.; the imprisonment in Cæsarea, 56-58 a.d.; the arrival in Rome, 59 a.d.; and the martyrdom there, 65 a.d.
Arranged in chronological order, the thirteen Epistles of St. Paul fall into four groups:
1. 1 and 2 Thessalonians, during the second journey, 51 a.d.
2. 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, during the third journey, 52-56 a.d.
3. Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, during the Roman imprisonment, 59-61 a.d.
4. 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, after his realse.
In point of doctrine, as of time, there is a marked distinction between these four groups, due in part to differences in the spiritual attainments and requirements of the recipients; in part, also, to the unresting activity of the writer’s own reflections upon the meaning of the faith he proclaimed. In the first group the doctrinal statements are brief, simple, and practical; the second coming of Christ receiving special attention. In the second group the truth of God’s salvation in Christ is presented as a whole, defined, through questioning and controversy and through opposition to Jewish legalism, as a universal scheme of grace, and its main principles are stated and applied. In the third group the ripened thoughts of the Apostle concerning the exaltation of Christ’s person, and the true nature of the Church as His body, are gathered and set forth contemplatively. In the fourth group there is no continuous exposition of doctrine, but, instead, pastoral suggestions of practical details in Church life.
The Epistle to the Romans is thus at the very heart of the Apostle’s teaching, the greatest literary product of his life’s most strenuous period and of his highest powers. Repulsed by Jerusalem, towards which in pride of birth and education his face had formerly been set, he has turned to imperial Rome, whose people are in truth the world in miniature, the seed of Adam, if not of Abraham, not without law or conscience though beyond the pale of Jewish law, in their own way responsible to God and under condemnation. Behind and beyond the Christians in Rome he sees in thought the countless millions of the Gentile world unsaved. Equally with Israel they know and own a moral law, and recognise their inability to keep it. Towards them, also, he would fain fulfil his apostleship.
3. Date and Place of Composition. Comparison of the Epistle with Acts points to Corinth as the place, and to 56 a.d. as the date, towards the close of the third great journey, when he was about to return to Jerusalem with the alms of the Greek Churches. After the three years spent in Ephesus he ’purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there I must also see Rome’ (Acts 19:21); and when he reached Jerusalem he was the bearer of Greek alms to the distressed Church in that city (Acts 24:17). In the letter itself he states that it has oftentimes been his purpose to preach in Borne (Romans 1:13; Romans 15:23), but his sense of prior duty to other Gentiles who had not received the gospel has hindered him, and restricted his journeys hitherto to a circuit from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Romans 15:19-22). ’But now I go unto Jerusalem ministering unto the saints; for it hath been the good pleasure of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints that are at Jerusalem... When I have accomplished this, I will go on by you unto Spain’ (Romans 15:26-28). It is therefore the winter of 55-56 a.d. He is in Achaia—in fact, in Corinth; for Gaius, his host, whose house is the local church (Romans 16:23) had been baptised by him there (1 Corinthians 1:14). Erastus, who sends greeting, is treasurer of that city (Romans 16:23, cp. 2 Timothy 4:20), and Phoebe, the bearer of the letter, is a ’deaconess of the church that is at Cenchreæ,’ the port of Corinth (Romans 16:1).
It is a solemn moment in the Apostle’s life, and his spirit is moved as he looks back upon his mission to the Gentiles in Greece and Asia Minor. Bitter opposition and controversy and misrepresentation (2 Cor, Gal) have been his portion, as well as wonderful success. Jewish pride, prejudice, and legalism have pursued him and stirred up enmity against him. His apostolate to the Gentiles, though it has put alms for the Jewish Church into his hands, has enlarged his thought and preaching beyond Jewish limits, and brought suspicion on his fidelity to Hebrew scripture and tradition. He has deepened his Roman citizenship and his grasp of human nature. The Western as well as the Eastern Empire must receive Christ. There is already a Church in Rome; he will strengthen it, and pass on westwards, even to Spain. In this Epistle a heroic spirit, a universal outlook, a note of triumph over controversy and misrepresentation, an imperialistic instinct, and a profound insight into human nature, have united to inspire its intense passion and its unique power.
4. Occasion and Purpose. Like the other Epistles by St. Paul it is a true letter, not an epistolary treatise. It owes its massiveness and comprehensiveness to the greatness and impressiveness of the situation which called for it and of the subject with which it deals. Jerusalem and Rome are both in his thoughts, Jewish and Gentile unrest of spirit and need of a Saviour arise before him as he writes, and in response to them the divine scheme of redemption through Christ takes shape as never before in his mind. Thinking of them he lives over again the spiritual anguish of the crisis of his own life (Romans 7, 8). His experience of deliverance, himself a Pharisee of the Pharisees, a citizen of Rome, and a son of cultured Tarsus, must and will be repeated by proud Rome. There, in Jewish synagogue and in Gentile church, the law will yield its forbidding sovereignty to the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, as once it has done in his own experience upon the way to Damascus.
The letter finds its formal occasion in the approach of the long-expected opportunity to visit Rome. It is primarily a letter of self-introduction to an unvisited Church, to prepare its members for his coming. He has many friends among them. He has heard much of them, their faith, their obedience, their divisions, their difficulties, and their temptations (Romans 1:8; Romans 12-16); and it may be that they, like others, have received an evil report of his teaching. In any case, he does not mean to reside with them for long, but to make Rome his base for further evangelisation in the West, his work being ended for the present in the East. They will strengthen him, as he hopes to stablish them ’in the fulness of the blessing of Christ’ (Romans 1:12; Romans 15:29).
But it has a larger purpose, reflected by its doctrinal outpouring. It is as though he foresaw in Rome the mingling of all the influences against which his own life-conflict, within and without, had had to be waged, for sooner or later all living things converged on Rome. With characteristic imagination he anticipates his arrival; the floodgates of his soul are flung open, and the pent-up thoughts which he would then have voiced refuse to be restrained. The letter is an earnest, a foretaste, of the promised ’spiritual gift to the end ye may be established’ (Romans 1:11), of the gospel which he is ’ready to preach to you that are in Rome’ (Romans 1:15). The Roman Christians are themselves able to admonish one another(Romans 15:14); his object is but to put them again in remembrance (Romans 15:15) as a ’minister of Christ Jesus unto the Gentiles.’ Though he is a stranger and they are Gentiles, he has an apostolate to Gentiles. His letter is more than a controversial contribution, or a personal apologetic, or a treatise; it is an apostolic, and, therefore, authoritative utterance directed to meet their known and their presumptive needs. From the lips of an apostle not less than a Gospel was looked for, and such the Epistle came to be as it took shape.
5. Destination. As it stands, the letter plainly is addressed ’to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints’ (Romans 1:7, Romans 1:15; Romans 15:28), ’called to be Jesus Christ’s’ (Romans 1:6). Are they Jews or Gentiles? The presumption is that if it is for all Christians, both are included (cp. Romans 9:24, ’us whom he also called not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles’). Many passages refer to, or are applicable to, Gentiles only (e.g. ’among all the nations.. among whom are ye also,’ Romans 1:5-6; ’fruit in you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles,’ Romans 1:13; ’I speak to you that are Gentiles,’ Romans 11:13; ’I write unto you because of the grace given me that I should be a minister unto the Gentiles,’ Romans 15:15-16): the argument in Romans 9-11 is for Gentiles exclusively, and in it the Jews (’my kinsmen,’ not ’your’ or even ’our’) are spoken of as an outside body, while many of the sins against which warning is given are such as Gentiles rather than Jews were addicted to (Romans 6:12-13, Romans 6:17; Romans 13:13;). On the other hand, familiarity and sympathy with the Jewish standpoint is assumed both in writer and readers. In Romans 2 under the general apostrophe addressed to all mankind (’thou art without excuse, O man, whosoever thou art,’ Romans 2:1), the Jew is naturally addressed in the second person (’if thou bearest the name of a Jew,’ Romans 2:17-27), but immediately thereafter the Jews are spoken of in the third person (Romans 2:28.; Romans 3:1.); the reference in Romans 4:1 to ’Abraham our forefather’ (cp. Romans 3:9; Romans 9:10) betrays no more than the unfailing remembrance of the Apostle to the Gentiles that he is himself a Hebrew (cp. Romans 9:3; Romans 10:1, etc.), while in Romans 7:1, ’I speak to men that know law,’ the reference need not be to Jewish law at all, but simply to universal moral law (cp. Romans 1:19, Romans 1:32), and even if it were to Jewish law, they might have been Gentile proselytes to Judaism before conversion to Christianity, or, if they were converts to Christianity directly, the Old Testament was still the Christian Bible. In Romans 9:1., and again in Romans 10:1 especially, where Jewish privilege is dwelt upon wistfully, the Apostle gives no hint that any of his readers are Jews: his ’brethren and kinsmen according to the flesh’ are referred to in the third person as if over against his readers in a separate camp. Several of the persons greeted in the letter bear Jewish names, but most have Gentile names, Greek for the most part, as was natural. It is noteworthy that, unlike the Thessalonians, Corinthians, and Galatians, they are not addressed collectively as ’a church.’ In Romans 16:5 the ’church’ in the house of Prisca and Aquila is marked off from the rest. Presumably in Rome there would be a number of Christian circles and meeting-places. As a whole the evidence is convincing that the Roman Christians addressed are a loose-knit body, composed almost wholly of Gentiles, conversant, either as Jewish proselytes or as Christian converts, with the Old Testament religion, and concerned as Christians to adjust their ceremonial, moral, and spiritual relationship to it rightly.
6. History of Christianity in Rome.
(a) Jewish preparation. Between Jerusalem and Rome there had long been direct and easy communication. If the military heel of Rome was planted firmly on Jewish soil, the softer tread of Jewish commerce and religion was simultaneously heard upon the pavements of the Roman capital. As conquered Greece soon took her captor captive by the force of her literature, art, and culture, conquered Israel was already advancing towards a like success by means of its lofty ethics and religion, which were also enshrined in an imperishable literature. At least as early as the 2nd cent. b.c. Jews found their way to Rome on embassies, and in 63 b.c. the capture of Jerusalem by Pompey brought many against their will to settle as slaves or freedmen in the city. They formed a synagogue and a ’Ghetto,’ and. found, protection and favour under the first emperors, numbering many thousands, and making many proselytes without effort. Tiberius and Caligula withdrew the imperial favour. Under Claudius many of them were temporarily expelled (52 a.d.), among them Aquila and Prisca (Acts 18:2), on account, it appears, of disorders which broke out upon the preaching of Christ among them. Under Nero hitherto they had prospered.
(b) The Christian Church. There is evidence, as well as probability, that news was brought to Rome of Jesus’ career and claims very soon after His death. To the Roman Jews all that passed in Jerusalem was deeply interesting (cp. Acts 2:10), and the lifework and teaching of the Prophet of Nazareth, with the resurrection-faith of His followers and the conversion of Saul for sequels, formed an episode in Jewish history which could neither be suppressed nor ignored. The expulsion under Claudius of Aquila and Prisca, St. Paul’s informants concerning Rome, and his fellow-workers in Corinth Ephesus and Rome, suggests that the gospel met with strenuous opposition, first from the Jewish, and later, as a cause of civil tumult, from the Imperial authorities. The account of St. Paul’s arrival in Acts (Acts 28:15-28) suggests that he was met and welcomed by Gentile ’brethren,’ and proves that the Jewish authorities were not ignorant of the new ’sect everywhere spoken against,’ but as a body had stood aloof, and with some exceptions persisted in their attitude. In Rome as elsewhere it had proved easier for Gentile proselytes than for born Jews to receive the new Teaching. To them St. Paul, as if in anticipation of Jewish coldness, chiefly appeals in his letter.
(c) Connexion of Roman Christianity with (1) St Paul and (2) St. Peter.
(1) Plainly St. Paul has had no part in the introduction of Christianity into Rome, yet he knows its existing position intimately, and knows not a few of its Jewish and Gentile professors there.
(2) The late tradition that St. Peter was the founder is incompatible with the absence of any reference to him in Romans 15 nor, had he been then the head of the Roman Church, could a personal greeting to him have been absent. There is no indication of any apostolic origin. The foundation has been laid, Christ is there named (Romans 15:20), house-churches exist (Romans 16:5), but strictly speaking there is no united Church. Such apostolic basis as it was to have was first afforded by this letter. It is like a consecrating breath of the Apostle’s presence. Though Christianity had long preceded him in Rome, its people, Jew and Gentile, were not fused into a single Church until the genius of St. Paul, who read the hearts of both, by letter and by word supplied the sacred fire.
7. The Epistle as a whole.
(a) Authenticity and Integrity. That it is the work of St. Paul admits of no serious question. The evidence, internal and external, is overwhelming. It is the supreme self-revelation of the Apostle. That the Epistle as we have it is a coherent unity has been doubted on substantial though inconclusive grounds. The doxology which marks the close of the Epistle after Romans 16:24 in most of the best manuscript authorities, is found elsewhere, after Romans 14:23, or in both places, in others. Moreover, apart from this massive and impressive doxology, there are other passages, benedictory in form, between Romans 14:23 and Romans 16:24, which look like endings, e.g. Romans 15:33; Romans 16:20 and Romans 16:24 in one important manuscript Rome is not mentioned, and some of the persons named in Romans 16 are known to have been connected with Ephesus, which has suggested Ephesus as the original destination of that chapter. It is not impossible that in shortened or lengthened form the Epistle to the Romans may at some time have circulated among several groups of readers, but the unity of the Epistle in its present form cannot be disproved or seriously shaken. In any case its teaching remains unimpaired.
(b) Style. Like St. Paul’s other letters, it was dictated to an amanuensis (Romans 16:22), a fact which helps to explain the irregularities of the language and the thought as it flowed on in a rushing broken torrent from the passionate soul of the Apostle. The tentmaker and the organiser of the Churches had scant leisure to polish his sentences and ponder his phrases. It may be that his hand was nimbler with the needle than the pen. His style is a mirror of himself. Not the letter, but the spirit; not the seen and the superficial, but the unseen and the underlying; not the part, but the whole; not the nice details of argument, but the broad sweep of truth, is his concern. Doubtless these dictated letters preserve for us, even better than his reported speeches in the book of Acts, the form and manner of his preaching, as well as the vehemence of its intellectual, moral, and spiritual power.
(c) Use and Interpretation of the Old Testament. Familiarity with every portion of the Old Testament is assumed in the readers as well as exhibited by the writer. Its law, history, psalmody, and prophecy are all requisitioned in the argument in a manner strongly reminiscent of the rabbinical school, kindred snatches of Scripture being run together, allegory and type being traced in narratives, yet also with a masterly insight into the prophetic spirit of the book, and with a Christian’s sense of its completion and fulfilment in Jesus Christ (cp. Romans 3:10-18; Romans 9:25-33; Romans 10:16-21 also cp. Romans 4, 10, , 11). By some threescore quotations the universal reign of sin and need of grace, the saving power of faith, the sovereignty of the divine will, the judgment of unbelieving Israel, and the summons to the Gentiles, are confirmed by way of preparation for the universal truth in Christ. In legal language, and by scriptural thought, the legal is transcended, and way is made for grace. The stricken conscience of the Hebrew under law is healed by the hope of Israel realised in Jesus Christ.
(d) Relation to Christ’s Teaching. As a teacher the Apostle, though wielding authority, differs vastly from the Master, who taught ’not as the Scribes.’ The form and manner of the general teaching could scarcely differ more from His; but it is impossible to read Romans 12-14 without discerning the ethical identity of the ideals enjoined by both. It is the same Christian life and character that each would fain see realised. Nor can it be gainsaid that the Apostle at bottom shares his Master’s characteristic attitude to the burdens of the Pharisaic law, and extends the same invitation to weary and heavy-laden bearers of the yoke to come to Him for rest. Between the teaching of Jesus and that of Paul the two great facts of atoning death and triumphant resurrection have intervened, the facts which in succession cast Paul down and lifted him up, blinded him and gave him new sight, caused him to die and to live again. Of necessity Paul’s own relation to the Cross as a Pharisaic persecutor in the name of law, and his experience as a convert of its regenerating power, suffuse his whole conception of Christ’s gospel. Though Jesus in the Gospels might assure men of God’s forgiveness apart from any reference to His death, Paul had no experience of any such unmediated forgiveness. The death and reappearance of the Lord alone had sufficed to bring home to him at once the full enormity of his guilty enmity to good and the irresistible sufficiency of the will of God to pardon and to save through Christ. If in the recorded words of our Lord we would find anticipations of the Pauline gospel, it is not to the parable of the Prodigal Son alone, but also to the institution of the Sacramental Supper on the eve of the Saviour’s sacrifice that we must turn. Can it be seriously said that Paul’s conception of the bond between the Saviour and the saved is any other than the Saviour’s own? All that we can say is that, while it was the simple comprehensive truth of God as it was in Christ Jesus that he saw and proclaimed, while it was a borrowed, not an original gospel, that he preached, he saw the truth with his own eyes unflinchingly, and declared it in his own language. None of the apostolic band could view the truth in Christ from so detached a standpoint as he, with his birth in the dispersion, his education as a rabbi, his Roman citizenship, and his Græco-Cilician home. It was a necessary consequence of this very detachment which enabled St. Paul to see the truth in Christ’s life and Person so independently, so universally, and in such clear perspective, that his manner of teaching, his vocabulary, and his mode of thought should seem to be at utter variance with his Master’s. But the more we study his teaching as a whole, and the more patiently we compare its burden and its spirit with that of Jesus, the more we realise the justice of that verdict of Christendom which has judged him to be the greatest and truest of Christians, and the justice of his own favourite self-description as a ’bondservant of Jesus Christ.’ (e) The Contents. (For detailed outline see p. 864 below, and for running exposition see the commentary.)
As has been said, the Epistle is a true letter, personal in testimony and in exhortation throughout. chapter Romans 1:1-17 contains the address and preamble. Romans 1:18 to Romans 11:36 contain a foretaste of the ’spiritual gift’ which it is the Apostle’s longing to impart to the Roman Christians (Romans 1:11), a reasoned vindication of ’the gospel’ which he is ’ready to preach’ to them, of which he is not ashamed, which is ’the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,’ and in which ’is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith.’ Though full of profound thought, the teaching in this section is not a treatise, it is personal instruction addressed again and again to ’brethren,’ abounding in vivacious uses of ’I,’ ’you,’ ’we,’ in true letter form. Romans 12:1 to Romans 15:13 contain practical exhortations suggested naturally by the Apostle’s presentation of the truth in Christ,—exhortations universally applicable to Christian people (Romans 12, 13), and exhortations specially addressed to the circle of his readers (Romans 14, 15). Romans 15:14 to Romans 16:27 contain a variety of personal details: the Apostle’s motive in writing (Romans 15:14-21), plans of travel, introduction of Phoebe, personal greetings, admonition against authors of error and dispeace, conveyance of greetings from his friends, and solemn final doxology.
8. The Teaching of the Epistle.
The following is an outline of the thought embodied in the Epistle, particularly in Romans 1-11, which, while rather a vindication than an exposition of his gospel, contain the substance of his whole message. To constitute a comprehensive summary of his teaching as a whole, it must be supplemented by the reader in many important details from the other Pauline Epistles, for a mind like the Apostle’s was in continual movement, expanding, enriching, and maturing its convictions, and each of his letters has its own distinctive contributions to the sum of Christian truth. If we would complete our account of his teaching, e.g. on the Person of Christ and His relationship to the Christian, on the Church, the Ministry, the Sacraments, not to mention other themes, we must make use of the other Epistles. This outline, however, of the thought in the greatest of his writings may serve as a useful introduction to, and fore-glimpse of, his teaching as a whole.
The Preamble (Romans 1:1-17). St. Paul writes not only as a servant of Jesus, the Christ, but also as a messenger of long-expected good news from God. The promised Son of David’s race according to the flesh has at last been born and lived His life; by resurrection from the dead He has been supernaturally shown to be the Son of God according to the Spirit. ’The mystery kept in silence through times eternal is now manifested’ (Romans 16:25). This good news it is a sacred duty to tell both to Greeks and to the rest of the world. It is a gospel to be proud of; for every man, be he Jew or Greek, who accepts it in faith receives from God not a theory of salvation but a saving power. It reveals a new righteousness, not human but divine, issuing from living faith.
(A) The Need of the World.
Of such good news, and such faith-righteousness leading to salvation, mankind is universally in sore need. Gentile and Jew alike are deservedly under the wrath of God, who has revealed His anger against all unrighteousness and irreligion. All have sinned. All are without excuse. God has suffered all to become in some measure hardened and reprobate through sinful habit.
(a) Think, first, of the Gentile world. Though less favoured than Israel, the Gentiles have not been without revelation. They have been able to discern from the open face of nature the everlasting power and divinity of the invisible God. In their minds they have had knowledge of God, the self-manifesting. But everywhere they have lapsed. They have trampled on the truth, reasoned foolishly, and fallen into all manner of idolatry, worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator. Their wisdom, their philosophy, has ended in failure. They have been ungrateful, and have not glorified God. Before Him they are without excuse. Deservedly He has given them up to the indulgence of their impure lusts, to abuse their bodies, to dishonour sex, to cherish a reprobate mind. By act and by consent they have been guilty of every form of social, domestic, and personal sin against God and man. They have, known the divine ordinance, that they who practise such things are worthy of death, but they have chosen to ignore God. They are self-condemned, for they are ready to judge one another, knowing well when they are wronged that sin is sin, and their just judgment upon others recoils upon themselves. How is it that men are blind to this, abusing God’s forbearance, which should prompt them to repentance, and aggravating their guilt? God will assuredly render to every man according to his works. To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and eternal life He will grant the objects of their quest; to the factious and disobedient, anguish under His indignation (Romans 1:18 to Romans 2:16).
(b) Are the Jews in better case? They are involved in the self-same judgment. Indeed, as first in privilege, they are first in condemnation. God has no partiality: His justice is even-handed. If the Gentile who has never enjoyed the privilege of Jewish law and revelation is condemned for his sins against his own more limited light, God cannot permit the privileged Jew to sin with impunity. The same justice that metes out stern punishment to the Gentile who is outside the pale of Jewish law and revelation because he sins against the unwritten law within the heart, demands an even sterner sentence upon the Jew who breaks his higher Law. There are Gentiles who do by nature the things of the Law, though they know not Moses and the Prophets: these become as it were their own law, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their reflections one with another accusing or else acquitting them—such men put many a Jew to shame.
It is indeed a great thing to belong to the Hebrew race, to be heir to the oracles of God, to the Law, the Promises, the sacred ordinances and rites of God’s chosen and adopted people, to have the blood of Abraham in one’s veins, to be of one flesh with the Christ who should come (Romans 2:17 to Romans 3:2; Romans 9:3-5). But to be born a Jew, to be circumcised a Jew, to receive a Jewish name, is not enough. To God a man’s heart is more than his flesh and blood, his conduct than his ceremonial. ’He is not a true Jew who is one outwardly: neither is that true circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter.’ ’They are not all Israel who are of Israel: neither because they are Abraham’s seed are they all children... It is not the children of the flesh that are children of God.’ Hebrew history and Scripture are full of evidence that mere possession of the Law has never secured obedience to it; each of the commandments has been dishonoured daily; and instead of being the glory of God, Israel has too often been a reproach to Him among the nations. It is not more true that the Law is the pride of Israel as a nation among the nations, than that the Law is the condemnation of the individual Jew (Romans 2:17 to Romans 3:8, also Romans 9-11).
Thus it appears that as the Greek or other Gentile is convicted by his unwritten law of conscience, so the Jew is convicted by his recorded law. All are under sin. There is none righteous, none whose works fulfil the demands of the divine Law under which he lives. Every mouth is stopped. Were law to have the final word, the doom of all were sealed (Romans 3:9-20).
(B) The Inadequacy of Law to save (Romans 7).
The persistence of sin under the rule of Gentile conscience and Hebrew law is proof that law has been unable to save, though it is able to condemn: it can teach, threaten, and admonish, but it cannot inspire and empower. Indeed, in man’s fallen condition, law seems but to aggravate the evil it denounces. But for it we should not know sin—our lives were innocent as those of babes or beasts. Obedience, the essence of duty, presupposes a command or prohibition, the essence of law. The insistence of law is a standing provocation and temptation to disobedience. The very words ’thou shalt not’ suggest to man’s wayward sense of freedom ’why not?’ ’shall I not?’ Apart from law sin is dead, lifeless, or unborn: through law sin finds its opportunity and enters the heart of man on its fatal errand.
Is law sinful, then, because it thus opens the way for sin? No: the sin is not in law, but in us who respond so perversely to its just demands. The law is in itself a thing of righteousness; it is the voice of God, whether the whisper of conscience or the peal of Sinai; it is good throughout. It is in fact the great instrument for showing up sin in its true character, in its naked ugliness. Sin is seen at its worst as man’s enemy when it thus subverts the very law of God for its baleful uses. Law would, fain guide us to life: ’obey and ye shall live’ is its burden; but sin seduces us into the way of death. By pointing out the way of life law must, however unwillingly, disclose to us implicitly other ways which lead to death. Sin, when we have thus become familiar with the way to death, casts its spell over our eyes and invests the fatal way with a seductive glamour. But sin is not in law, is not in God; it can only be in us.
There is in us a principle of evil, our carnal nature, a kind of lower law. The mind of the flesh is enmity against God and rebellion against His law: it is death (Romans 8:6-7). In our moral life we are aware of division and discord within us. After the inward man we delight in the law of God, we hate evil, we desire to obey and do good, yet we do not succeed. The good which we would, we do not; the evil which we would not, that we habitually do. It becomes as it were a law of our life to sin. We are sin-possessed. Another, a lower law in our members, in our flesh, wages war against the law of our mind, and enslaves us. In the agony of despair the soul of man cries out,’ O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this living death, from this sin-dominated, death-bringing bodily existence?’.
(C) A New Way of Salvation needed and foreshadowed.
History and experience thus combine to attest man’s need of deliverance. Man as man must be liberated from sin, from condemnation, from the law of his lower self, even in a sense from the grim grasp of the Revealed Law of Israel’s Covenant-God. In himself man has proved powerless to achieve salvation even when guided by explicit law and encouraged by special providences and uplifting promises. Can it be that he is now without hope and lost? Gentile wisdom and Jewish privilege stand self-condemned and humbled. Unless God intervenes salvation is for ever beyond reach, and the divine end of creation frustrated.
With true prophetic insight St. Paul discerns a divine purpose in this humiliation of mankind. Thus humbled, man is prepared to look above for deliverance, and to remain humble should God deign to save him. And man’s utmost need is God’s utmost opportunity (’where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly,’ Romans 5:20). Conscience and law are seen not only to be inadequate for man’s complete salvation, but also by reason of their incompleteness to deepen man’s sense of need and to point forward to the coming in God’s providence of a higher law and a fuller revelation. To say with the Jew that either the law must save or we are lost, is to fetter and cramp the goodness of God, to make the law greater than its Giver. There may have been, nay, there has been, waiting in the secret counsel of God a way of salvation destined, not to discredit or set aside law, but to transcend the old method of attempting to satisfy conscience and law and to achieve work-righteousness. Gentile and Jew were right, were bound, to seek salvation by honouring their conscience and their law, and cherishing their light, and they have not been without their reward; but they were wrong to shut their eyes and their hearts to the limitation and the partiality of the old-time method and the pitiful inadequacy of its results: their failures ought to have led them to turn with increased humility and hope to God, from whom alone so great a boon as their soul’s salvation could come. Man’s unbelief cannot annul God’s faithfulness.
The new way is not without some foreshadowing in the Old Dispensation (cp. Romans 4). The children of Abraham might have remembered that the justice of God was never mechanical: that His favours were not always bought or earned, but might be freely given, and often descended on unexpected quarters. Who could say that Israel’s position as God’s peculiar people had always, had ever, been deserved? (cp. Romans 9-11). The history of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful, proves that God’s dealings with him were based on other grounds than simple legal justice. God’s recompense of good is far more than legally proportioned to man’s desert. It was something more than virtuous acts that commended Abraham to God and gave value to his life: ’not through the law was the promise to Abraham or to his seed that he should be heir of the world.’ The supreme merit of Abraham was his faith in God: it was his firm faith that enabled him alike to obey the call to leave home and kindred and to yield up his only son, and to believe that, in spite of his own old age and the barrenness of Sarah, God would give him a son and fulfil the promise that he would become the father of many nations. Abraham’s true seed and heirs are those who cherish his faith in God: he will become the father of many nations when the Gentiles enter into that faith. It is circumcision of the heart, trustful self-surrender to God, that is the mark of the true child of Abraham, the true heir of that faith which was in Abraham’s bosom before his flesh was circumcised, and of those promises which were out of all proportion to his actual deeds.
The prophets in their day looked beyond human actions and Hebrew merit for the salvation of Israel, and taught that God’s eye is ever on the heart which moves the hand. The heart must be right, must be fixed on God, must look to Him for power to raise and wisdom to guide the hand that works. Did not the very hope and promise of Messiah, a Saviour from the right hand of God, imply that man was powerless to save himself? The Messianic hope was therefore the harbinger of a new righteousness not resting on works done by men, but instead resting on God’s grace and enabling good works to be done—a righteousness of the heart, a conscience cleared not by human merit but by divine forgiveness and renewal.
This means that a new view must henceforth be taken of Israel’s history, privilege and vocation, its sacraments and its Messiah, its righteous God who judges not as man judges, but looks upon the heart and reads its secrets. Pride of race, presumption upon God’s favour, must for ever be laid aside. God’s aim is not Israel’s aggrandisement, but man’s universal sanctification and attachment to Himself. The election of Israel is that all the nations may share the blessing. The coming of Messiah therefore could have no other purpose than the coming of God’s universal and eternal kingdom of holiness, the highest good of the greatest number. Conscience, law, and Messiah have righteousness on earth as their common aim. Conscience and law are the world’s schoolmasters to educate it up to Christ. His actual and attested coming is the fulfilment and therefore also the vindication of both (Romans 3:31), the achievement of righteousness by a new means which was beyond their reach. God is now fully disclosed in His true character, not as an arbitrary sovereign grasping at sovereignty for its own sake, nor as a stern judge administering a grim law over which He has no control, but as a Holy and Loving Father, jealously requiring righteousness in His children for their own sake, and putting forth every effort to Realise their highest good. ’For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the revealing of the sons of God.. for the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now... For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will simply, but of God’s who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God’ (Romans 8:19-22). Of free grace His beneficent hand equips both men and nations with their several talents at the outset of their stewardship, while as yet of merit they can have none, and rewards them at the close of their day according to, yet far above, their works. Of free grace He bestows on some a larger stewardship than on others. Of free grace likewise He bestows His supreme gift of righteousness unto salvation which men can neither achieve nor earn, but which they must prepare themselves to receive through humble penitence for sin committed, and through heart-yearning and heart-trust, in a word, through faith in God who alone saves. ’O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and unto him are all things’(Romans 11:33-36).
(D) God’s Salvation in Jesus His Christ (Romans 3:19-31; Romans 5, 8).
What conscience and law could not do in that they were weak through the flesh, God has accomplished, sending His own Son in the likeness of our human, sin-ridden flesh. He has set men free from their bondage to fleshly lust, to sin, and to the law which can condemn to death but cannot save unto life, through the higher law or principle of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. This deliverance is not simply revealed but mediated and effected through Jesus, for He purifies and renews the heart as well as opens the eyes.
Jesus is the Christ, the promised Saviour from sin. He is God’s true, unique, ’own’ Son, His representative on earth, doing His work, wielding His power, revealing His mind, sharing His Spirit, reconciling men to His Father as veritable sons. His coming was ’for sin.’ His life and death were a condemnation of sin, as showing that human life could rise above it in the power of the Divine Spirit: they are also the destruction of sin, breaking its power over men, revealing its hatefulness and deadliness, and reconciling us to the Heavenly Father from whom it has estranged us. Jesus the Christ was a man (Romans 5:15), human as Adam: His work of grace will prove as farreaching in its consequences for good as Adam’s transgression has proved for evil. He is the second Adam (Romans 5:12-21), undoer of the mischief of the first. Through Adam’s fall, his one trespass, sin and death entered the world and reigned over men,’ even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression, and through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.’ In like manner through Jesus’ one life-comprehending act of obedience, His self-surrender in death the righteous for the unrighteous, His lifting-up, grace shall reign, the many shall be made righteous even though of themselves they shall not achieve the same obedience. Sin, condemnation, death formed our portion as Adam’s heirs through the flesh: through Christ holiness, justification, and life are ours, a free portion given to us as partakers of His Spirit, joint-heirs of God with Him. According to the old régime a man must die to expiate his sin: ’he that hath died is justified from sin’ (Romans 6:7). In Christ a higher than forensic justification is accomplished without the necessity of physical death. If a man becomes by the grace of God one with Christ, knit to Him in spirit, he passes spiritually through the Saviour’s experience of death and resurrection. He dies to the old life, to sin, with Christ. In spirit he is crucified with the Lord. The carnal in him falls away, as flesh falls away from spirit in death: mortality and sin are laid aside as in a grave: and the spirit, the true self, God’s child in him, rises with the risen Christ to the new life, dead only to sin, alive unto God in Christ Jesus.
The life and work of J esus as the Christ of God is thus not only the instrument of deliverance and a final revelation to man of God and of man’s own self, but also an all-embracing cosmic fact. It is far more than a type or object-lesson of the Christian’s experience, for it is also a supreme instrument in its own reproduction. It thus gathers up within itself all individual spiritual experience of salvation. Through the Cross and the open sepulchre every soul must find its exodus from bondage to liberty. It is the appointed way. Every soul has a death to die and a resurrection to receive: a life to withdraw from the world and yield up to God, and to receive back with the seal of acceptance and renewal upon it. We not only know this now through Christ and see it in Him, but we experience it in and with Him. He dies and lives again in us, or we die and live again in Him. We are one with Him in the Spirit. And if with the apostle we know Christ crucified and raised from the dead, that is self-yielded unto death for our sins, and God-accepted for our assurance and our justification through the faith which rests on His resurrection regarded as a proof of God’s acceptance of His death for others, we know Christ fully. His death and resurrection are a summary and consummation of His whole life. To know Him in them is to know Him completely, and not only Him but the love of God disclosed in Him, for it was love that prompted God to send Him to us: ’God commendeth his own love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’; and it is the same divine love that is ’shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us.’ Through Christ it has come about that our knowledge of God as the righteous vindicator of stern law is all but merged to vanishing in our knowledge of His tender love, the selfsame love unto death which Jesus cherished towards us on earth, and still cherishes at the right hand of God as our constant intercessor, a love from which ’neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be abie to separate us.’ Surveying this divine work of salvation, the Apostle clearly distinguishes certain activities on the part of God, whose succession need not be thought of as strictly temporal in the eternal will. The redeeming purpose of divine love involves the following sequence of grace. God foreknows His individual children; foreordains them ’to be conformed to the image of his Son that he may be the firstborn among many brethren’; calls them to fulfil their destiny; justifies them, i.e forgives their sin and imputes to them new righteousness when in faith they respond to His call; and glorifies them, i.e. through sanctification brings them to the consummation of their life-purpose and the realisation of their true selves (Romans 8:29-30). In each stage of the process the ’image of his Son’ is present; in each the eternal Christ participates; our election, our vocation, our justification, our adoption, our sanctification, and our glorification are inseparable from Him.
(E) The New Righteousness: Life in the Spirit (Romans 5, 6, 8, 12-15).
With singular fulness and insight St. Paul describes the substance and the secret of salvation as an experience of the human soul. The Epistle is a revelation of the spiritual riches of his own experience, as well as a masterly delineation of a universal ideal. His touch is never firmer, his grasp never stronger, than when he lays bare in swift heart-searching sentences the meaning, the joys, the hopes, and the responsibilities of the new life in Christ. Whatever view be taken of the fidelity of other elements in his teaching to the letter of the explicit words of his Master, no one can seriously allege that the Apostle’s conception of the regenerate life, or, for that matter, his practical embodiment of it, differs in any material respect from that which is enshrined in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Gospels as a whole. The words may be different; the manner of the teacher may not be the same; but beyond question the selfsame spirit breathes through both, the same vision arises at the bidding of each.
(1) In relation to God the Christian lives a filial life. All that a son should be in thought, word, and deed, it is for him to be towards God. Perfect freedom of access to the Father, unbroken communion, childlike trust, unfailing hope, self-yielding love, are his. Intercourse with Him and service are his chief joy; growth in likeness to Him is his chief reward. Gratefully he acknowledges his utter dependence upon the Father for forgiveness and reconciliation and new righteousness, and for every good gift. To glorify Him is the sum of duty and the summit of ambition. The Christian is a son and therefore an heir of God, joint-heir with Christ the Elder Brother and the First-born of many sons. Bondage and fear towards God are done away: ’Abba, Father!’ is his cry.
(2) In relation to Christ. No words can exaggerate the intimacy of the bond between the believer and Christ. He belongs to his Lord; in life and death his face is towards Him who died for him (Romans 14:8). From His love he is inseparable (Romans 8:35). He is in Christ Jesus baptised into Him, into His death,—crucified, dead, buried, and risen with Him. It is not simply the man Jesus, good, obedient, pure, and true till death, but Jesus the Eternal Christ of God—Christ in spite of crucifixion, Christ because raised from the dead, enthroned with the Father, and alive for evermore. ’The Lord is the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:17), known no longer after the flesh, visible only to the eye of faith. It is not so much the deliberate imitation or following of Jesus as a man, for that may mean but self-reliance after all, as faith in Him the Son of God, that is first demanded, for it is by faith that we are enabled to follow,—faith must precede, even where we cannot see. We are to ’put on the Lord Jesus.’ Serving Him we please God, and are approved of men (Romans 15:18); receiving Him we have an earnest of the satisfaction of all our needs (Romans 13:14)
According to St. Paul, then, faith is the link that unites us to Christ in the unseen and eternal world, the principle that links our life to His so that we are one with Him, even as He is one with the Father in spiritual fellowship. Faith is our response to the advances of God’s redeeming love. St. Paul is not content with St. John to dwell on love to God as our response to His love; doubtless he takes that answering love for granted, for he was no stranger to the power of love, and on occasion could hymn its praise as greater even than faith, and he speaks of the love of God as shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5). Probably he had been constrained to believe in Jesus as Christ upon the way to Damascus even before he was conscious of passionate love towards Him, and therefore lays stress upon the priority of faith. He loved Him because he saw in Him the suffering and triumphant Christ of God; it was not simply because he loved Him that he believed Him to be the Christ. Love followed faith and crowned it. He fastens upon faith, a living trust in a living God, a personal reliance upon a Saviour Christ, as the root-principle of the Christian life, the instrument of Christian progress. Through this vital attachment, self is forgotten, the world recedes, the body is reduced to its true position, the higher life nourished and supported. Like love, faith lays hold of the whole man and transforms him; it is not blind or unintelligent: it trusts because it knows and has experience; it holds the key to obedience; such is its power over the springs of moral action, that ’whatsoever is not of faith is sin’ (Romans 14:23). Christianity is the life of faith.
(3) In relation to the Spirit. If the Christian life upon its human side is a life of faith, on its divine side it is life in the Spirit of God, in the Spirit of Christ, in the same Holy Spirit who of old spake in prophecy, in Scripture, and in conscience. The Spirit is the motive-power of the Christian life, quickening its perceptions and faculties, flooding the heart with the love of God, identifying Himself with the believer’s spirit, and witnessing with it that it is the true child of God the Father, helping us to pray, pleading with the Father, bringing Christ into the soul to mingle with it. ’As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God’ (Romans 8:14). ’If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His’ (Romans 8:9). The higher instincts of men belong to the Spirit, and are divine; the kingdom of God on earth ’is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17). Christian virtues are fruits of the indwelling Spirit. The work of grace is its unresting activity.
(4) In relation to Society. In Romans 12-15 the Apostle pours out from the treasury of his experience and reflection, ethical precepts and exhortations which glance like jewels in their spiritual brilliancy. Every aspect of the Christian character, every phase of the life in Christ, is here reflected. In the power of the Spirit, in the righteousness which is through faith, the Christian is to be modest, humble, sincere, patient, cheerful, sympathetic, merciful, generous, hospitable (Romans 12). Remembering the death of his Lord for all, he will not live for himself, but sacrifice himself for others, deny himself innocent pleasures and lawful rights rather than lead a weak brother into temptation, or set a stumbling-block in his path (Romans 14). He will not succumb to evil, not try to overcome evil with evil. He will eschew anger and revenge, will bless his persecutors, and feed his enemy (Romans 12). As a citizen he will loyally recognise the lawful and divinely appointed authority of the ruling powers which restrain evil-doers, and encourage well-doing; he will not withhold from them taxes, customs, fear, and honour (Romans 13:1-7). As a member of the Church, the one body in Christ, he will play his part diligently, in a fervent spirit serving the Lord; he will exercise his own spiritual gifts, and respect the varying gifts of others, whether prophecy, ministering, teaching, exhortation, ruling, or contributing to the temporal needs of the Church (Romans 12:6-8); he will by every means in his power help on his brethren, love them for Christ’s sake, and encourage them in the Christian life, bear their infirmities (Romans 15:1), be slow to judge them (Romans 14:10-13), live in peace and harmony with them, avoid causes of stumbling and division in doctrine and practice (Romans 16:17).
(5) In relation to Oneself. The Christian will honour himself and keep himself pure. Remembering that Christ died for him and for sin, he will present his body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, in reasonable service (Romans 12:1). He will restrain his fleshly nature watchfully; keep the commandments; cultivate the spiritual side of his nature resolutely, even at the expense of the bodily; enter into the life of Christ, abhorring evil, cleaving to good. He will strive not to be fashioned according to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of his mind into the image of God’s Son, so proving God’s good and perfect will (Romans 12:2). As one who shall stand before the judgment-seat of God (Romans 14:10), and who knows that the consummation of God’s saving work draws nearer (Romans 13:11), and that the night preceding the great day is far spent, he will put slumber far from him, and cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light (Romans 13:11-14). Under difficulties he will be of good courage, assured that to those who love God all things work together for good (Romans 8:28). He is Christ’s; he has the Spirit dwelling in him; he is the child of the Father in heaven. These things he cannot forget—his personal life is shaped by them, guided by the One Spirit.
Summary of the Epistle
The subject of the Epistle is the meaning and power of the gospel, i.e. God’s message to man of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, for Jew and Gentile alike.
I. Romans 1-8. The Divine Way of Acceptance with God.
Romans 1:1-17. After an introduction fitted to engage the attention and sympathy of the Roman Christians (Romans 1:1-15), St. Paul sets down the subject of the Epistle. It is the gospel which works a moral miracle among men by proclaiming a state of acceptance with God, offered to all as a free gift, on the sole condition of faith (Romans 1:16.).
Romans 1:18 to Romans 3:20. St. Paul shows that all men need salvation. Both Gentile and Jew have sinned, though God has given each a law of life; and each will be judged by the law he has (Romans 1:18 to Romans 2:29). In spite of his privileges, the Jew needs salvation as much as the Gentile, as his moral condition shows (Romans 3:1-20).
Romans 3:21-26. The need of sinful man has been met by the love of God. Christ has shed His blood as an offering to God for man’s redemption. Thereby God’s holy displeasure against sin has been manifested, and all who join in that offering by self-surrendering faith in Christ are received by God into a state of acceptance.
Romans 4:1 to Romans 5:21. Reasons why men should welcome this way of salvation. (1) It is in harmony with God’s dealings in the past. Acceptance with God has always been on account of faith (Romans 4:1-25) (2) It brings to men peace and joy and everlasting security (Romans 5:1-11). (3) By transferring us into relationship with Christ, it more than abolishes the evil effects of sin and death which we have derived from our former relationship with Adam (Romans 5:12-21).
Romans 6:1 to Romans 8:30. The power of the gospel. It does not merely provide against the consequences of sin. By his faith in Christ a believer is changed. He becomes so vitally united with Christ in His death and life that the man he used to be is dead, and his heart is joined with Christ in communion with God (Romans 6:1-23).
Nothing else would do this. So evil is man’s nature that even the holy law only emphasises the fact of his slavery to sin (Romans 7:1-23). But the man who has faith in Christ is freed from slavery by a greater power than himself. The Spirit of Christ has entered into him, and the Spirit within overpowers the sin in his flesh, will deliver his body from the grave, and makes him God’s son and heir of God’s glory. Thus, in all his troubles, the Christian is secure in the divine love of Christ (Romans 8:1-39).
II. Romans 9-11. God’s Way of Acceptance vindicated. St. Paul feels that some might object—The Messiah, and the blessings of His kingdom, were promised by God to Israel. But Israel as a whole has rejected Jesus, and is outside His kingdom. Therefore, if Jesus be the Messiah, God has broken His word to Israel; which cannot be thought of.
He answers—God never bound Himself to Israel as a race. He has always claimed the right to select some descendants of Abraham to be His instruments, and to reject others (Romans 9:1-21). Yet He has been merciful to Israel, who have fallen by their wilfulness (Romans 9:22 to Romans 10:21). However, Israel’s fall is partial and temporary, the disobedience of both Gentiles and Jews was reckoned with in God’s purpose, and He will bring the Jews, finally, into His kingdom (Romans 11:1-36).
III. Romans 12-16. The Practical Life acceptable to God. In Romans 12 f. St. Paul points out the life of love and obedience which is the Christian’s true sacrifice, and which would commend Christianity to the people of Rome and to the rulers of the empire.
In Romans 14 f. he enjoins love and tolerance between the Jewish and Gentile sections of the Roman Church (Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:13). He hopes to visit Rome after a visit to Jerusalem undertaken in the furtherance of unity (Romans 15:14-29), for which he asks their prayers (Romans 15:30-33).
Romans 16. In the midst of personal greetings occurs a warning (Romans 16:17-20) against hostile teachers, probably Jewish, whose appearance at Rome he expected.