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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

- Romans

by Charles John Ellicott


The Epistle to the Romans.



I. The Epistles of St. Paul generally, and that to the Romans in particular.—It is a somewhat remarkable fact that so large a part of the documents of Christianity should be taken up with a correspondence. The contents of the Old Testament, heterogeneous as they are, correspond more nearly to what we should expect to find in a sacred volume. A legislation such as that of Moses, songs expressive of deep religious feeling like the Psalms, impassioned addresses like those of the prophets, histories such as the continuous series which trace the fortunes of the Chosen People—all these, we should have thought, were the natural vehicle for a religion. But the composition of the New Testament is something more unique. The foundation of Christianity is laid in a narrative; but the first and greatest development of Christian theology is not embodied in narrative, not in any set and formal treatise, not in liturgies, canons, and works of devotion, but in a collection of letters.

The causes of this peculiarity are not far to seek. Christianity was the first great missionary religion. It was the first to break the bounds of race, and aim at embracing all mankind. But this necessarily involved a change in the mode in which it was presented. The prophet of the Old Testament, if he had anything to communicate, either appeared in person or sent messengers to speak for him by word of mouth. The one exception of any religious significance is the letter of Elijah to Jehoram in 2 Chronicles 21:0. The narrow limits of Palestine made direct personal communication easy. But the case was different when the Christian Church came to consist of a number of scattered posts, stretching from Mesopotamia in the east to Rome, or even Spain, in the far west. It was only natural that the Apostle by whom the greater number of these communities had been founded should seek to communicate with them by letter. He was enabled to do so by two things: first, the very general diffusion of the Greek language; and, secondly, the remarkable facilities of intercourse afforded at this particular time. The whole world was at peace, and held together by the organised rule of imperial Rome. Piracy had been put down. Commerce flourished to an extraordinary and unprecedented degree. In order to find a parallel to the rapidity and ease of communication along the whole coast of the Mediterranean and the inland districts, intersected as they were with a network of military roads, we should have to come down to the present century. St. Paul was in the habit of travelling surrounded by a group of more intimate disciples, whom, as occasion arose, he despatched to the several churches that he had founded, much as a general sends his aides-de-camp to different parts of a battle-field; or, without falling back upon those, he had often opportunities of sending by some chance traveller, such as was probably Phebe, the bearer of the Epistle to the Romans.

The whole of St. Paul’s Epistles bear traces of their origin. It is just this occasional character which makes them so peculiarly human. They arose out of actual pressing needs, and they are couched (most of them, at least) in the vivid and fervent Language of one who takes a deep and loving interest in the persons to whom he is writing, as well as in the subject that he is writing about. Precept and example, doctrine and practice, theology and ethics, are all mixed and blended together. No religious books present the same variety as the Christian, and that because they are in the closest contact with actual life.
There is, however, as we might naturally expect, a difference in the balance of the two elements—the personal or epistolary element proper on the one hand, and the doctrinal or didactic element on the other. In some of the Epistles the one, in others the other, preponderates. As types of the first class, we might take the First, and still more that noble and unsurpassable Second Epistle to the Corinthians, and the Epistle to the Philippians. At the head of the second class would be placed the Epistles to the Romans and to the Ephesians.
It can hardly be a chance coincidence that precisely in these two Epistles there are certain MSS. which omit the words of address to the particular Church. In the course of the present Commentary the reasons will be stated which have led to the suggestions that the Epistle was at an early period circulated in a double form—one that in which we now have it, and the other, with the personal matter excised, as a general treatise oil Christian doctrine. In any case this character in it is marked: it is the most like a theological treatise of any of the New Testament writings.
How are we to account for this? We shall be in a better position to answer such a question when we have considered more particularly the circumstances under which the Epistle was written the persons to whom it was addressed, and the object for which it was designed.

II. Time and Place of the Epistle.—And first, as to the time and place of the Epistle. These are fixed within very definite limits. One set of allusions clearly points to Corinth as the place from which the Apostle is writing. In Romans 16:23 he speaks of himself as the guest of one “Gaius.” and in 1 Corinthians 1:14, he says that he had baptised none of the Corinthian Church “but Crispus and Gaius.” The name was a common one; still there would be a primâ facie probability in the identification. In the same verse (Romans 16:23), the Apostle conveys a salutation from Erastus, “the treasurer” (“chamberlain,” Authorised version) “of the city,” and in 2 Timothy 4:20 we are told that Erastus “abode in Corinth,” which would be natural if Corinth was his home. These indications are clenched by the commendatory notice in Romans 16:1 of Phebe, deaconess of the Church at Cenchrea, to whose care it would seem that the Epistle was entrusted. Cenchrea was the port of Corinth.

From another set of allusions (Romans 15:25-26) we gather that at the time at which he was writing, St. Paul was about to go up to Jerusalem, bearing with him the sums collected amongst the comparatively wealthy churches of “Macedonia and Achaia” for the poor Christians at Jerusalem. The order in which the two names are mentioned would quite fall in with the assumption that it was from Achaia—of which province Corinth was the capital—that the Epistle was written; and we should also naturally infer that he had passed through Macedonia on his way to Corinth. We find, besides, the intention expressly declared of extending the journey, after his visit to Jerusalem, to Rome (Romans 15:23-26). All this tallies exactly with the statement in Acts 19:21, “After these things were ended (i.e., the success of the Apostle’s preaching at Ephesus), Paul 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.’” Such was his programme; and that it was actually carried out appears from the notices in Acts 20:1-3; Acts 20:22; Acts 21:15. In the first we find the Apostle spending three months in Greece, in the second he announces at Miletus the destination of his journey for Jerusalem, in the third he actually arrives there We learn, moreover, incidentally from his speech before Felix, in Acts 24:17, that the object of his visit to Jerusalem was to bring “alms and offerings.” And there are repeated allusions to a collection for the same purpose in both the Epistles to the Corinthians. (See 1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:1 et seq.)

The Epistle is thus placed, by a remarkable convergence of evidence, in that part of the Apostle’s third missionary journey which was spent in Corinth. The journey in question began at Antioch. Thence the Apostle made his way to Ephesus by a detour through Galatia and Phrygia. At Ephesus he stayed in all about three years, and his preaching was attended with a success which roused the heathen population against him. The disturbance that ensued hastened him on his way to Macedonia. Through Macedonia he passed westwards as far as Illyricum (Romans 15:19), and thence to Greece, where he spent three months.

It was at Corinth, then, during these three months that the Epistle was written. This would be, according to the system of the best chronologists, in the spring of the year A.D. 58. That the time of the year was spring is fixed by the fact that the Apostle had intended to sail for Syria (Acts 20:3), which he would not have done during the winter season. The navigation of the Mediterranean was held to be unsafe from October to the middle of March. But the Apostle must have left Corinth before the spring was far advanced, as he had time, after passing through Macedonia and coasting along the shore of Asia Minor, to arrive at Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost—i.e., our Whitsuntide. We shall not be far wrong if we place the Epistle towards the end of the month of February.

III. Place of the Epistle in relation to the rest of St. Paul’s Epistles.—Three other Epistles were written during the same journey, the First and Second to the Corinthians, and that to the Galatians. The First Epistle to the Corinthians was written from Ephesus during the spring of the year preceding, A.D. 57. The Second Epistle was written from Macedonia in the autumn of the same year. The Epistle to the Galatians is less clearly dated. It may possibly belong to the earlier part of the three years’ residence at Ephesus, and it is assigned to this time and place by the majority of commentators. But when we come to deal with that Epistle reasons will be given for preferring another view, which places it rather between the Second Epistle to the Corinthians and that to the Romans. We should thus have the following order:—

1 Corinthians



57 Spring.

2 Corinthians



57 Autumn.



or perhaps
more probably Greece



57, 58 Winter.




58 Early Spring.

The Epistle to the Romans comes, in any case, last in the group.

Passing to the wider relations of the group to which the Epistle to the Romans belongs, to the rest of the Apostle’s writings, we shall see that it comes second of the four larger groups. The order would be this:—

A. 1 & 2 Thessalonians

2nd Missionary journey

A.D. 52 (end), 53

B. 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans

3rd Missionary journey

A.D. 57, 58

C. Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (Epistles of the Imprisonment)

First Roman Imprisonment

A.D. 62, 63

D. 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus. (Pastoral Epistles)

Interval of freedom and Second Roman Imprisonment

A.D. 66-68

IV. The Roman Church.—The next point to be determined is the character of the Church to which the Epistle was addressed. And this we may do well to consider from two points of view. First, with reference to what may be learned respecting it from external sources; and, secondly, with reference to the indications supplied by the Epistle itself.

1. At Rome, as elsewhere, Christianity first took root among the Jews. A large colony of this people existed in Rome at the Christian era. The foundation of it had been laid by the captives carried away by Pompey after the taking of Jerusalem in B.C. 63. A number of these were settled in Rome. They attracted the favourable notice first of Julius Cæsar, and then still more of Augustus, who assigned to them a special quarter beyond, i.e., on the right bank of the Tiber, and opposite to the modern Jewish quarter, or Ghetto, which lies between the Capitol and the river. They were allowed the free exercise of their religion, and, as was always the case where they were treated with toleration, rapidly increased in numbers. A Jewish embassy, which came to Rome after the death of Herod the Great, was able to attach to itself as many as 8,000 Roman Jews, who naturally would represent only the more respectable portion of the male community. This rapid progress received a check under Tiberius, who, in A.D. 19, probably at the instance of Sejanus, obtained a decree of the Senate, sending 4,000 Jews and Egyptians to Sardinia on military service, and forbidding the rest from the practice of their religion on pain of expulsion from Italy. Josephus tells a scandalous story to account for this, but the real reason may, very possibly, have been the fear of secret political machinations under the disguise of religion. In the latter part of his reign Tiberius reversed this policy, and its effects speedily disappeared. Under the next emperor, Caligula, an embassy of Alexandrine Jews, headed by Philo, met with a rough reception, but this would seem to have been more than counterbalanced by the favour extended to Herod Agrippa, who stood high in influence at the Court. This astute politician made use of his position to further the accession of Claudius, and as a reward, not only was restored to the dominions of his grandfather, Herod the Great, but also obtained an extension of privileges for his countrymen throughout the empire. Later in the reign of Claudius disturbances arose among the Jews at Rome which seem to have been connected with the first preaching of Christianity, either through the excitement of the Messianic expectations, or through disputes between the Jews and Christians. Suetonius says that they took place at the instigation “of one Chrestus,” which, for the heathen historian, would be a not unnatural misconstruction. The result was a second banishment of the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2). But this again cannot have been really complete, and the Jews who were banished seem in many instances (such as that of Aquila and Prisca) soon to have returned. The effect of the repressive measures might easily be exaggerated. There is abundant evidence to show that, at the time St. Paul was writing the Jewish community at Rome was numerous and flourishing, and its influence upon Roman society was loudly complained of alike by the philosopher, the satirist, and the historian.

The chronology of the foregoing sketch may be thus exhibited:—

Founding of the Jewish community at Rome by prisoners brought from Jerusalem by Pompey

B.C. 63

Favourable position under Julius Cæsar B.C. 48-44 and Augustus

B.C. 27—A.D. 14

Embassy to Rome after the death of Herod

B.C. 4

First decree of banishment under Tiberius

A.D. 19

Philo’s embassy to Caligula . . . circa

A.D. 49

Second decree of banishment under Claudius

circa A.D. 40

Return of Aquila and Prisca to Rome

A.D. 57

Epistle to the Romans

A.D. 58

According to the tradition which is still in vogue among the modern representatives of the Roman Church, Christianity was planted there by St. Peter in the year A.D. 41. St. Peter himself is said to have held the episcopate for twenty-five years. This tradition, however, only dates from the time of Jerome (ob. A.D. 420), and is therefore much too late to be of any value. It is contradicted by the whole tenor of St. Paul’s Epistle, which could hardly have failed to contain; some allusion to the presence of a brother Apostle, especially when we consider the express declaration of St. Paul that he was careful not to “build upon another man’s foundation.” Besides, a distinct alibi can be proved by the comparison of Acts 15:0 with Galatians 2:1-9, which shows that, at the time of the Apostolic Council in A.D. 52, not only was Peter at Jerusalem, but Jerusalem had been up to that time his head-quarters. He is still the Apostle of the circumcision, and a pillar of the mother church. At a later period he is found, not at Rome, but at Antioch.

It is more probable that the germs or Christianity were carried back to Rome by the “strangers” (Acts 2:10) whom we find in Jerusalem at the Feast of Pentecost, i.e., Jews resident in Rome who had come up for the purpose of attending the feast. The rudiments of Christian teaching brought back by these would soon be developed in the constant intercourse which took place between Rome and the provinces. The fact that, in the list of the salutations at the end of the Epistle, so many are mentioned who were not native Romans, but had been already under the personal influence of St. Paul, would readily account for the advanced knowledge of Christianity that the Apostle assumes among them.

2. Turning now more exclusively to the Epistle itself, what are we to gather from it in regard to the Church to which the Apostle is writing? The main question to be decided is the proportion in which the two great constituent elements of the primitive Christian Church were mixed and combined in it. Was the Church at Rome, in a preponderating degree, Jewish or Gentile? The answer to this question usually gives throughout the apostolic times the best clue to the doctrinal bearings and general character of any Christian community.

We find throughout the Epistle an easy interchange of address, first pointed, as it were, towards Gentiles, and then towards Jews. In one place (Romans 11:13) the Apostle says in so many words, “I speak to you Gentiles.” In another place (Romans 7:1) he says as expressly, “I speak to them that know the law,” and in proof that this is not merely an external knowledge, the evidently in Romans 3:19 is appealing to an authority which he knows that his readers will recognise. “What things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law.” Accordingly we find that though the Apostle begins his Epistle by addressing the Romans as a Gentile Church (Romans 1:6; Romans 1:13), and although the first section of the proof of his great thesis, the universal need and offer of salvation, bears specially upon the Gentiles, he very soon passes from their case to that of the Jews. Romans 2:0 contains a direct expostulation with the one, just as Romans 1:0 had contained a condemnation of the other. Nor is it only a rhetorical artifice that in the section Romans 2:17-24 the Jew is addressed throughout in the second person. The Apostle evidently had actual Jews before his mind. In like manner the long parenthetical discussion of the claims and fall of Israel in Romans 9-11 is clearly intended to be double-edged. It has a two-fold application at once to Jew and Gentile. On the one hand it is intended as an apology for the justice of the divine dealings addressed to the Jew, and on the other hand it contains a warning addressed to the Gentile. If stress is laid upon the calling of the Gentiles, it is to provoke the Jew “to emulation.” If stress is laid upon the rejection of the Jews, it is in order that the Gentiles may not “be high minded, but fear.”

The whole phenomena of the Epistle, then, point to the conclusion that the Church for which it was destined consisted in almost equal proportions of converts from Judaism and from heathenism; and the easy transitions by which the Apostle turns from the one to the other seem to show that there was no sharp and hard antagonism between them. The Epistle is written as if both might form part of the audience that would hear it read. The Church at Rome was divided as yet by no burning questions. The Apostle did not think it necessary to speak strongly on the subject of circumcision on the one hand, or of laxity and immorality on the other. The differences that existed were of a much milder kind. The “strong” and “weak brethren,” whose mutual duties are weighed so judiciously in Romans 14:0, are not by any means a synonym for Jew or Gentile, though there would naturally be a tendency in parties to divide according to their origin. The asceticism and observance of days alluded to were not common characteristics of Judaism, but belonged especially to the sect of the Essenes. Nor does it seem that the divisions to which they gave rise extended beyond a greater or less degree of scrupulousness or liberality.

The inferences that we have thus been led to draw receive support from an analysis of a different kind. Much light is thrown upon the composition of the Church by the list of names of the persons selected for salutation in the last chapter of the Epistle. These will be found more fully discussed in the Notes, but in the meantime we may so far sum up the results as to say that they point clearly to a mixture of nationalities. The one name Mary (= Miriam) is exclusively Jewish; Apelles is, if not exclusively, at least typically so. But besides these Aquila and Prisca, Andronicus and Junia (or Junias), and Herodion must have been Jews. As Aristobulus was a Jew, and the Jews generally hung much together, it is probable that the household of Aristobulus would be mostly Jews also. Urban and Ampliatus (the true reading for Amplias) are genuine Latin names. Julia would be a dependent on the imperial household, of what nationality is uncertain. The rest of the names are Greek, which tallies with the fact that the literature of the Roman Church was Greek, and there are other evidences that the Church bore a generally Greek character up to the middle of the second century. A detailed comparison of the names, with those which have come down to us in mortuary and other inscriptions, seems to show that their owners belonged for the most part to the lower section of society—petty tradesmen and officers, or slaves. There is reason to think that the gospel had already found a footing among the slaves and freed-men of the court, who formed a prominent body in the Church some four years later when St. Paul sent greetings to the Philippians “chiefly” from them “of Cæsar’s household” (Philippians 4:20).

We may picture to ourselves the Roman Church as originating in the Jewish synagogues, as gradually attracting converts from the lower orders with which the Jews would come mostly in contact, as thus entering the household of the emperor himself, and, at the time when St. Paul was writing, constantly gaining ground among the Gentile community. As yet, however, the two great divisions of Jew and Gentile exist side by side in amicable relations, and with differences hardly greater than would at this day be found in the opposite views of a body professing the same creed.

V. General Character of the Epistle to the Romans.—We have, then, two kinds of data which may help us to understand the general character of the Epistle. We know that it was written at the same time as the Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians, and we know that it was written to a Church composed partly of Jewish and partly of Gentile converts with no very pronounced antagonism between them. In these facts we may seek the explanation of the question that was raised at starting—the question how it was that the Epistle to the Romans comes to be so much of a comprehensive theological treatise.

It was addressed at once to Jews and Gentiles. There was, therefore, nothing to disturb the even balance of the Apostle’s teaching. For once, at least, he found himself able to dilate with equal fulness upon both sides of his great theme. His own mind was naturally elevated above controversy. He had worked out a system for himself which, though its main elements were drawn from the Old Testament, yet transcended the narrower limits of Judaism. His philosophy of things was one in which Jew and Gentile alike had their place, and each received justice, but not more than justice. Hitherto his desire to hold the equilibrium between the parties had been thwarted. He wrote to the Corinthians, but his letter had been prompted by an outbreak of Gentile licence, in the face of which it would have been unseasonable to insist on the relaxation of the Mosaic law. He wrote to the Galatians, but then it was with indignation roused by Jewish bigotry. In each case a one-sided treatment of Christian doctrine was necessary. It was as necessary as it is for a physician to apply local remedies to a local sore.
In the Roman Church the necessity existed in a much less degree. Nor even if it had existed would the Apostle have felt it as strongly. The character of the Church was only known to him by report. He had not the same vivid personal impressions in respect to it as he had of the churches of Corinth and Galatia.
In these Epistles the strong personal feelings of the Apostle and his vivid realisation of the circumstances with reference to which he is writing, come out in almost every line. “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you.” “Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you. But I will come to you shortly if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them that are puffed up, but the power.” “I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done the deed. . . .” “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you. But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me but in part: that I may not overcharge you all.” “Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men . . .” “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus . . . I bear you record, that if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.”
These disturbing influences were wanting in the case of the Romans. If the Epistle loses somewhat in the intensity of its personal appeals, it gains in breadth and comprehensiveness. It is the most abstract of all the Epistles. It is not a special doctrine for special circumstances, but Christian theology in its broadest sense. A double set of reasons combined to produce this. Not only the nature of the Apostle’s relation to the Church at Rome and the character of that Church, but also the condition of his own mind at the time of writing. He was writing from Corinth, and just after he had despatched a letter to Galatia. An extreme upon one side balanced an extreme upon the other. Jew and Gentile were present to the mind of the Apostle in equal degree. At last he was able to express his thoughts in their own natural proportions. His mind was in its true philosophical attitude, and the result is the great philosophical Epistle, which was most appropriately addressed to the capital of the civilised world.

VI. Contents and Analysis of the Epistle.—The Epistle represents, then, the most mature result of the Apostle’s reflection at this period of his life. It gathers up and presents in a connected form the scattered thoughts of the earlier Epistles.

The key to the theology of the apostolic age is its relation to the Messianic expectation among the Jews. The central point in the teaching of the Apostles is the fact that with the coming of Christ was inaugurated the Messianic reign. It was the universal teaching of the Jewish doctors—a teaching fully adopted and endorsed by the Apostles—that this reign was to be characterised by righteousness. But righteousness was just what the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike, had signally failed to obtain. The Mosaic law had indeed held up the ideal of righteousness before those who were subject to it, but it remained an ideal, utterly unfulfilled. Left merely to his own powers, threatened with punishment if he failed, but with no help or encouragement to enable him to succeed, the Jew found in the Law a hard task-master, the only effect of which was to “multiply transgressions”—i.e., to provoke to sin and to increase its guilt. Christianity, on the other hand, does what the Law failed to do; it induces a state of righteousness in the believer, and opens out to him the blessedness and salvation which the Messiah came to bring.

The means by which this state of righteousness is brought about is naturally that by which the believer obtains admission into the Messianic kingdom—in other words, Faith. Righteousness is the Messianic condition; Faith is the Messianic conviction. But by Faith is meant, not merely an acceptance of the Messiahship of Jesus, but that intense and loving adhesion which such acceptance inspired, and which the life and death of Jesus were eminently qualified to call out. Faith opens out a new road of access to the divine favour. This was no longer to be sought only by the painful and laborious—nay, impossible, way of a fulfilment of the divine commands. The favour of God, and admission into the Messianic kingdom, was promised to all who with a true and heartfelt devotion took the Messiah for their king. Of such it was not asked whether they had actually fulfilled the Law in their own persons; their faith was imputed to them for righteousnessi.e., taken in lieu of it, as the condition which would exempt them from the wrath and obtain for them the favour of God.

That which gave to faith this peculiar efficacy was the fact that Jesus, the Messiah, towards whom it was directed, by His sacrificial death had propitiated the anger which God could not but feel against sin, and set free the hitherto obstructed current of divine love. Henceforth the anger of God could not rest upon the followers of the Messiah, by virtue of that which the Messiah Himself had done.

But the faith of the Christian was no merely passive principle. Such an ardour of devotion must needs gain strength by its own exercise. It became by degrees a moral lever by which the righteousness, at first imputed, was made more and more real. It placed the believer in so close a relation to Christ as could hardly be described by any word short of union itself. And union with One so holy as Christ was could not fail to have the most powerful effect upon him who entered into it. It brought him into a new sphere entirely different from that of the Law. Henceforth the Law was nothing to him. But the end for which the Law existed was accomplished in another way. By union with Christ he became dead to sin. He entered upon a new service and a new state—a state of righteousness, which the indwelling Spirit of Christ (i.e., the closest conceivable influence of the Spirit of Christ upon the soul) enabled him to maintain. The old bondage of the flesh was broken. The lawless appetites and desires engendered by the body were annihilated by the presence of a deeper and stronger emotion, fanned and cherished by the intervention of a power higher than that of man.

Such, at least, was the Christian’s ideal, which he was pledged to aim at, even if he failed to reach it. And the presence of the Divine Spirit within him was something more than the guarantee of a moral life here on earth; it was the earnest of an existence still more glorious in the future. The Christian, by his adhesion to Christ, the Messiah, was brought within the range of an order of things in which not he alone, but all creation, was to share, and which was destined to expand into as yet dimly anticipated perfection. As faith is the faculty which the Christian is called upon to exercise in the present, so Hope is that by which he looks forward to the future. He finds the assurance of his ultimate triumph in the unconquerable and inalienable love of Christ.
One objection might naturally be raised to this exposition of the Christian’s privileges. What relation did they bear to another set of privileges—the ancient privileges of the chosen people, Israel? At first sight it seemed as if the throwing open of the Messianic kingdom to faith only, and therefore to Gentiles equally with Jews, was a violation of the Old Covenant. To this objection there were several answers. Even if there had been some further act of choice on the part of God, involving a rejection of Israel, His absolute power of choosing one and refusing another was not to be questioned. But really the promise was not made to the whole of Israel, but only to such as should comply with the condition of faith. All Israel did not do this. Nor was all Israel rejected. If a part of Israel was rejected, it was only with the beneficent purpose of bringing in the Gentiles. In the end Israel, too, will be restored.
The privileges of the Christian are naturally connected with his duties, and these, as we should expect, the Apostle insists upon in considerable detail. The two points that seem to have a special reference to the condition of the Roman Christians are:—First, the inculcation of obedience to the civil power. This would seem to allude to the disturbances which had led to the expulsion of the Jews from Rome (“Judœos assidue tumultuantes Româ expulit,” Suetonius). The second point is the stress that is laid upon the duty of toleration on the part of the more liberal members of the Church towards those who showed a greater scrupulosity in ceremonial observances, especially those connected with distinctions of meats and drinks. This may, however, have been suggested less by anything that the Apostle knew to have happened in the Church at Rome than by his recent experiences of the Churches of Corinth and Galatia, and the possibility that similar dangers might arise at Rome.

The analysis of the Epistle which follows is intended to give the reader a clearer conception of its contents, and must not always be taken to represent a conscious division of his subject in the Apostle’s mind. This is especially the case with the two headings that are printed in italics. The course of his thought happens to lead the Apostle, in the first instance, to deal with the application of the Christian scheme to the individual; and, in the second, to its application to the great question of Jew and Gentile, but this is rather accidentally than because such a distinction entered into his plan. The headings are inserted as helping to bring out a point which really exists, and which is, perhaps, of more importance to the reader who looks upon the Epistle as a theological treatise than it was originally to its author.


I.Introduction (Romans 1:1-15).


The apostolic salutation (Romans 1:1-7).


St. Paul and the Roman Church (Romans 1:8-15).



THE GREAT THESIS. Righteousness by Faith (Romans 1:16-17).


Righteousness not hitherto attained either by Gentiles (Romans 1:18-32) or by Jews (Romans 2:1-29).

Parenthetic answer to objections (Romans 3:1-8).

Confirmatory proof from Scripture (Romans 3:9-20).



Righteousness by faith. The propitiatory death of Christ (Romans 3:21-26).


This righteousness is open to Jew and Gentile alike, and excludes boasting (Romans 3:27-31).


Proof from Scripture—

Abraham (Romans 4:1-5; Romans 4:9-25).

David (Romans 4:6-9).


First Climax. Blissful effects of righteousness by faith (Romans 5:1-11).


The first and the second Adam (Romans 5:12-19).

Abundance of sin and of grace (Romans 5:20 to Romans 6:1).


The Christian Scheme in its Application to the Individual.


Progressive righteousness in the Christian.

Death to sin, through union with Christ (Romans 6:1-14).


The Christian’s release (Romans 6:15 to Romans 7:25).


Its true nature (Romans 6:15-23).


Illustration from the marriage bond (Romans 7:1-6).


The inward struggle and victory (Romans 7:7-25).

(3) Second Climax (Romans 8:1-39).


The flesh and the Spirit (Romans 8:1-13).


The adoption of sons (Romans 8:14-17).


Creation’s yearning (Romans 8:17-25).


The Spirit’s intercession (Romans 8:26-27).


Happy career of the Christian (Romans 8:28-30).


Triumphant close (Romans 8:31-39).


The Christian Scheme in its world-wide significance and bearing.

Israel’s rejection (Romans 9:10, Romans 9:11).


saddening thought (Romans 9:1-5).


Justice of the rejection. The promise was not made to all Israel indiscriminately, but confined to the chosen seed (Romans 9:6-13).

Absoluteness of God’s choice, which is not to be questioned by man (Romans 9:14-23).


Cause of the rejection. Self-sought righteousness contrasted with righteousness by faith in Christ (Romans 10:1-13).

The gospel preached and believed (Romans 10:14-21).


Mitigating considerations (Romans 11:1-36).


Not all Israel fell (Romans 11:1-10).


Special purpose of the fall (Romans 11:11-24).

The engrafted and original olive branches (Romans 11:17-26).


Prospect of final restoration (Romans 11:25-29).

Third Climax. Beneficent results of seeming severity (Romans 11:30-32).

Doxology (Romans 11:33-36).

III.Practical and Hortatory.


The Christian sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).


The Christian as a member of the Church (Romans 12:3-8).


The Christian in his relation to others (Romans 12:9-21).

The Christian’s vengeance (Romans 12:19-21).


Church and State (Romans 13:1-7).


The Christian’s one debt; the law of love (Romans 13:8-10).

The day approaching (Romans 13:11-14).


Toleration: the strong and the weak (Romans 14:1 to Romans 15:3).


Unity of Jew and Gentile (Romans 15:4-13).



Personal explanations. Motive of the Epistle. Purposed visit to Rome (Romans 15:14-23).


Greetings to various persons (Romans 16:1-16). A warning (Romans 16:17-20).

Postscript by the Apostle’s companions and amanuensis (Romans 16:21-23).

Benediction and doxology (Romans 16:24-27).

VII. Style.—The style of St. Paul’s Epistles varies considerably, according to the date at which they were written. A highly-strung and nervous temperament like his would naturally vary with circumstances. His life was excessively wearing. We have only to read a catalogue like that in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 to see the enormous strain to which he was exposed. The list of bodily hardships and sufferings is almost unparalleled, and his own Epistles show what the “care of all the churches” must have been to him. Hence it is not unnatural that in the later Epistles we should trace a certain loss of vitality. The style is more depressed and formal, and less buoyant and spontaneous. The period at which the Epistle to the Romans was written was, on the contrary, that at which the Apostle’s physical power was at the highest. All through the two Epistles to the Corinthians, the Galatians, and the Romans, there is the greatest energy and force of diction. This gains, perhaps, from the fact that all these Epistles were written from dictation. The name of the amanuensis in the case of the Epistle to the Romans, as we gather from Romans 16:22, was Tertius. In some of the later Epistles it is possible that the turn of phrase was left more to the amanuensis, but the earlier group of Epistles bears all the appearance of having been taken down just as the Apostle spoke. Hence the broken and disjointed form of some of the sentences, beginning with one construction and ending with another, as in Romans 2:5-10; Romans 3:21-26; Romans 5:12-14; Romans 9:22-24. A pointed instance would be (if the view taken in this Commentary is correct) Romans 7:21. Hence, also, the insertion of long parentheses, interrupting the sense, as in Romans 2:13-15, and of digressions such as Romans 3:3-8. Hence, lastly, the rapid and vehement cut and thrust of indignant questioning as in Romans 2:21-23; Romans 9:19-21, or of impetuous challenge as in Romans 8:31-35. The plain and direct style of the Apostle is well exemplified in the practical and hortatory Romans 12-15. On the other hand, the more involved and elaborate style of the later Epistles finds a parallel in the opening and closing paragraphs, Romans 1:1-7; Romans 16:25-27.

VIII.External Evidence of the Genuineness of the Epistle.—It is hardly necessary to collect external evidence to the genuineness of the Epistle, as it bears upon itself the most indisputable marks of originality. As a matter of fact it has not been disputed by any critic of the slightest importance. The external evidences are, however, abundant. Before the first century is out there is a clear allusion to the language of the Epistle in the letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (A.D. 95). This writer entreats the Corinthian Christians to cast off from themselves “all unrighteousness and iniquity, covetousness, strifes, malignities, and deceits, whisperings and backbitings, hatred of God, pride and arrogance, vain-glory and inhospitality,” on the ground that “they that do these things are hateful to God; and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them.” The words in italics, many of them markedly peculiar, are taken from the passage Romans 1:29-32. In another place (§ 46) in the same letter occurs the phrase, “We are members of one another,” which recalls Romans 12:5. Other allusions that have been found in the Epistle are perhaps less certain. In the first quarter of the next century allusions to the Epistle are alleged from the letters of Ignatius and Polycarp. The first of these are, perhaps, themselves of too doubtful authenticity to be claimed very strongly in evidence. The Epistle to Polycarp, itself well guaranteed, presents an exact repetition of the phrase, “we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ;” adding, and “each one must give an account of himself.” (Comp. Romans 14:10; Romans 14:12.) The Gnostic writers appealed to the passages “He who raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11), and “sin reigned from Adam to Moses” (Romans 5:13-14), in support of their own peculiar views; but it is somewhat doubtful whether the fragments quoted by Hippolytus in which those allusions occur, are really to be referred to the founders of the respective sects, Basilides (circ. A.D. 125) and Valentinus (circ. A.D. 140), or to their followers. The date therefore of this evidence is uncertain. So also is that derived from the Epistle to Diognetus which is commonly placed at about A.D. 170. Justin Martyr (ob. A.D. 148) seems pretty clearly to have made use of the Epistle, for he quotes precisely the same series of Old Testament passages as is quoted in Romans 4:11-17, in the same order, and in the same way—as if they were one connected passage. In the last quarter of the second century, as Christian literature becomes more copious, the references to the Epistle become more express and definite. The letter of the Churches of Vienna and Lyons to that at Rome (A.D. 177) contains an exact verbal coincidence with Romans 8:18 (“I reckon that the sufferings of this present time,” &c.). In Theophilus of Antioch (A.D. 181) there are unmistakeable paraphrases of Romans 2:6-9, and of Romans 13:7-8. Irenæus, writing about A.D. 185, quotes the Epistle directly by name. “This very construction St. Paul put upon it, writing to the Romans, ‘Paul an Apostle of Jesus Christ,’ &c.; and again, writing to the Romans concerning Israel, he says, ‘whose are the fathers,’” &c. Irenæus also quotes expressly Romans 5:17. “And in agreement with these St. Paul, too, addressing the Romans, says: ‘Much more they who receive abundance of grace and righteousness unto life, shall reign through One, Jesus Christ.’” Besides these there are other long quotations which are the more to be remarked as they show in some cases the presence of readings in the Codex used by Irenæus, which, though supported by other authorities, are certainly false, and therefore show that they have already a long history behind them. There are equally express and direct quotations in Clement of Alexandria (flourished A.D. 185-211), and Tertullian (flourished A.D. 198-210). The Epistle to the Romans is also contained in the Muratorian Fragment on the canon circ. A.D. 170. From this point onwards the production of further evidence is superfluous. The main points to notice in what has been given are that the existence of the Epistle is proved incontestably by Clement of Rome as early as A.D. 95, and that it was attributed to St. Paul by Irenæus in A.D. 185, or some fifteen years earlier by the Muratorian Fragment.

[Of the many Commentaries on this Epistle most use has been made in the Notes which follow of those of Meyer and Dr. Vaughan. The scholarly tact of the English commentator might, perhaps, have been allowed to correct, even more often than has been the case, the rigorous science of the German. Dr. Vaughan’s carefully-assorted references have also been of much service. Special attention has been paid to all that has been written on this Epistle, either directly or incidentally, by Dr. Lightfoot. The Notes themselves are not given to the world with any satisfaction. The writer would have been glad to devote to them more time than the exigencies of publication and the pressure of other work would allow. His most mature thoughts upon the connection between the several parts of the doctrinal teaching of the Epistle will be found in the section of the Introduction which deals with this subject, and in the Excursus at the end.]


RIGHTEOUSNESS is necessarily the object of all religions. Religion exists in order to set men right before God, to place them in that relation in which He would have them be, to make them secure of His favour and fit to perform His service.

The conception of “righteousness” entered in a special and peculiar way into the religion of the Jews at the time of our Lord. The word had a clearly-defined sense, which was somewhat narrower than that usually attached to it. It meant, not so much the subjective condition of righteousness—that disposition of the heart and mind which necessarily leads to righteous actions—as the objective fact of acting in accordance with the divine commands. Righteousness was the fulfilling of the Law. From what kind of motive the Law was fulfilled the Jew did not stay to inquire. The main point with him was that the Commandments of the Law should be kept, and that having thus fulfilled his share in the compact he could lay claim to the blessings which the divine covenant promised.

As might have been expected, the idea of “righteousness” holding so prominent a place in Jewish teaching generally, held an equally prominent place in that group of ideas which centered in the Messiah. Righteousness was to be the main characteristic of the Messianic reign. This appears distinctly in the pre- and post-Christian Jewish literature. Thus the Sibylline Books (circ. B.C. 140): “For all good order shall come upon men from the starry heaven, and righteous dealing, and with it holy concord, which for mortals excels all things, and love, faith, hospitality. And from them shall flee lawlessness, blame, envy, anger, folly.” “And in righteousness, having obtained the law of the Most High, they shall dwell happily in cities and rich fields.” The Book of Enoch (B.C. 150-100): “God will be gracious to the righteous, and give him eternal righteousness, and give him dominion, and he shall be in goodness and righteousness, and walk in eternal light. And some shall go down into darkness for ever and ever, and shall no more appear from that day for ever.” The Psalms of Solomon (circ. B.C. 48): “He shall not suffer unrighteousness to lodge in the midst of them, and there shall not dwell with them any man who knows wickedness.” The Book of Jubilees (before A.D. 70): “After this they will turn to me in all righteousness, with all their heart and all their soul, and I will circumcise their heart and the heart of their seed, and will make for them a holy spirit and purify them, that they may no more turn away from me from that day for ever.” The Fourth Book of Ezra (perhaps A.D. 80 or 97): “The heart of the inhabitants of the world shall be changed, and turned into another mind. For evil shall be destroyed, and quite extinguished; but faith shall flourish, and corruption be overcome, and truth, which for so long a time was without fruit, shall be displayed.”

But the righteousness of the Messianic period was to be as much ceremonial as moral. The Sibyl prophesied that there was to be “a sacred race of pious men, devoted to the counsels and mind of the Most High, who round about it will glorify the temple of the great God with libation and savour of victims, and with sacred hecatombs and sacrifices of well-fed bulls, and perfect rams, and firstlings of the sheep, and purely presenting on a great altar fat flocks of lambs as whole burnt offerings.” The Book of Jubilees declares circumcision to be “an everlasting ordinance,” and insists upon the obligation of eating the tithe of all produce before the Lord: “It has been established as a law in heaven;” “for this law there is no end of days; that ordinance is written down for ever.” The Targum of Isaiah directly connects the Messianic advent with the triumph of the Law: “At that time the Messias of the Lord shall be for joy and for glory, and the doers of the Law for magnificence and for praise;” “they shall look upon the kingdom of their Messiah, . . . . and the doers of the Law of the Lord shall prosper in His good pleasure.”
Christianity took the conception of righteousness as it stood in the current Jewish beliefs, but gave to it a profounder significance. Much as the Jews insisted upon righteousness, our Lord insisted upon it still more. The righteousness of the Christian was to surpass that of the Jew, both in its amount and in its nature: “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” In exposition of this principle, our Lord proceeds to show by a series of examples how the righteousness, which had hitherto been outward, should become inward, and extend to the inmost thoughts and disposition of the heart. At the same time He proposed Himself as the personal object of the religious life. His invitation was, “Come unto Me;” and His reproach was, “Ye will not come unto Me.”
St. Paul arrives at the same result, but in a different way. He, too, took as his starting-point the Jewish conception of righteousness. What impressed him most in it was the impossibility that it could really be carried out. It was impossible to keep the whole law, but to transgress it at all was to transgress it, and so to forfeit the Divine favour. But if righteousness was not to be obtained by the Law, how was it to be obtained? It was to this question that Christianity supplied the great solution through the doctrine of the Messiahship of Jesus. Jesus is the Messiah. With His coming the Messianic reign is begun. But the characteristic of that reign is righteousness. Therefore, by becoming a member of the Messianic kingdom, the Christian enters into a condition of righteousness. This righteousness is, in the first instance, ideal rather than actual. In the language of St. Paul, it is “imputed.” It does not necessarily involve a real fulfilment of the Divine Law, but the sincere Christian by virtue of the relation into which he enters with Christ, is treated as if he had fulfilled it. He has recovered his lost state of favour with God.
This is, however, only the beginning of his career. The simple entrance into the Messianic kingdom carries with it so much. But the whole of the Christian’s life, as a member of the kingdom, is to be a constantly increasing realisation in his own walk and conduct of the ideal righteousness at first attributed to him. This realisation takes place through the same agency as that by which he first entered into the kingdom—faith. Faith, by intensifying his hold upon Christ, gives him a greater and ever greater power to overcome the impulses of sin and adopt the life of Christ as his own. Hence the Apostle speaks of the righteousness of God being revealed “from faith to faith,” meaning that faith ends as well as begins the career of the Christian, and that it is the one faculty that he is called upon to exercise all through.
And yet all the righteousness to which the Christian attains—whether it is as ideal and imputed, or whether it is seen and realised in a course of action consistent with his profession—all this comes to him as a part of his Messianic privileges. He would not have it unless he were a member of the Messianic kingdom. It is not his own making, but he is placed within reach of it by virtue of his participation in the Messianic scheme. Inasmuch, therefore, as that scheme is, in all its parts, a divine act, and the working out of the divine counsel, the righteousness of the Christian is described as a “righteousness of God,” i.e., a righteousness proceeding from God—a state produced by divine intervention, and not by human means. The whole scheme is planned and set in motion by God, man’s part consisting in taking to himself what God has prepared for him; and merely to do this involves a life-long effort and a constant call upon the will.

[The references to the Jewish Messianic idea in this Excursus are taken from Prof. Drummond’s work, The Jewish Messiah, pp. 323-326.]


Faith is the distinctively Christian faculty. So far as concerns the apprehension by man of the divine scheme of salvation, it is the cardinal point in Christian theology. And that it occupies this place is due more than anything else to the teaching of St. Paul.
If we ask how St. Paul himself arrived at his conception of “faith,” the answer would seem to be, From reflection upon certain passages of the Old Testament Scripture, seen in the light of his own religious experience.

There were two passages in which faith was brought into direct connection with ideas that lay at the root of all Jewish theology. In Habakkuk 2:4, “The just shall live by his faith,” faith was associated with life—i.e., salvation. In Genesis 15:6, the faith of Abraham was said to be “imputed to him for righteousness.” Faith was here associated with another idea, the importance of which we have just seen—that of righteousness. There appears to be sufficient evidence to show that this second text was one much discussed in the Jewish schools, both of Alexandria and of Palestine. It is, therefore, very possible that the attention of the Apostle may have been turned to it before his conversion.

But what was the Faith which thus brought with it righteousness and salvation? The answer to this question was furnished to St. Paul by his own religious experience. His own consciousness of a complete revolution wrought within him dated from the time when he accepted Jesus as the Messiah. That one change, he felt, had worked wonders. It placed him in an altogether different relation to his old difficulties. Righteousness was no more impossible to him. If he found a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, he could “thank God through Jesus Christ his Lord.” But, apart from this, without any actual righteousness of his own, the mere fact of being assured that he was a member of the Messianic kingdom was enough to give him confidence that righteousness in some sense or other was his. He felt himself bound up with a system of which righteousness was the characteristic. As a member of that system he, too, must be righteous. But that which made him a member of this system was the heartfelt acceptance of the Messiahship of Jesus. And to this acceptance St. Paul gave the name of Faith. Faith, however, was with him, not a single act which began and ended in itself, it was a continued state—an active energy of loyalty and devotion directed towards Jesus as the Messiah.
Faith in the Old Testament had meant “trust,” “reliance”—a firm reliance upon God, and confidence in the fulfilment of His promises. When a similar feeling was entertained towards a definite human person, who had exhibited a character in the highest degree winning and attractive, and who had ended a life of self-sacrifice by a nobly and pathetically self-sacrificing death, it was natural that these emotions should develop into something still stronger. Trust became devotion. Passive reliance strengthened into an ardent and energetic service. The strongest feeling that could bind the soldiers of an army to their captain had its place here. Love, veneration, gratitude, devoted loyalty—all were blended into a single feeling, and that feeling was what St. Paul meant by Faith.
As life went on, and the tie which bound the Christian to Christ was tested by experience, faith became stronger and stronger. Its object being personal, it became more and more concentrated on that Person. By degrees it took a different shape. It brought the Christian so closely within the influence of his Master, it led to such an assimilation of his life to his Master’s, that something nearer and more intimate had to be found to express the nature of the relation between them. St. Paul speaks of it as if it were an actual union—a oneness, or fellowship, with Christ. But the agency which brings about this union is Faith—the same faith which began with the simple historical affirmation, “Jesus is the Messiah.” When once the Messiahship of Jesus was recognised, the rest all followed by natural train and sequence. The last perfection of Christian character is connected with its first initial step, just as the full-blown flower is connected with the germ that first appears above the ground. Its existence is continuous. The forces which give it vitality are the same. And the forces which give vitality to the religious life of the Christian are summed up in the one word, Faith.


In regard to the terrible description of the state of the heathen world, given at the end of Romans 1:0, two questions may be asked: (1) How far does it correspond with what we gather from other sources? (2) Supposing the picture to be in the main a true one, do the causes and process of corruption appear to have been such as the Apostle describes?

(1) No doubt, if we take the evidence that has come down to us simply as it stands, there is enough to justify the very strongest language. But some considerations, perhaps, may be urged in mitigation of this.
(a) Our knowledge of the state of morals in that age is largely derived from the satirists. But it may be said that satire has never been quite a fair index of the average state of things. By the nature of the case it seeks out that which is extravagant and abnormal. It deals with exceptions rather than with the rule. And even where it exposes not so much the vices and follies of an individual as those prevailing over a larger section of society, it still presupposes a higher standard of judgment in the public to which it appeals. It assumes that what it reprehends will be generally held to be reprehensible. It would not be able to hold its ground at all unless it could calculate upon the support of the sounder portion of the community.
(b) Accordingly we find that many of the worst forms of corruption are mentioned only to be condemned. It was “burning indignation” which inspired the verse of Juvenal. Historians like Tacitus, moralists like Seneca, Epictetus, and M. Aurelius, lift up their voice to condemn the depravity of the age. Horace, though without being a Puritan himself, complains how the generation to which he belonged had degenerated from their ancestors. Ovid and Martial are obliged to defend themselves against the charge of indecency that was evidently brought against them by some of their contemporaries. Stringent laws were in existence, if seldom enforced, against some of the crimes of which the satires are fullest. And there was a point beyond which the toleration of law and of opinion would not go. Witness the summary punishment that followed upon the discovery of a gross scandal perpetrated in the temple of Isis. The guilty persons were banished, the priests crucified, the temple razed to the ground, and the statue of the goddess flung into the river. It is only fair to state both sides of the question. If the idolatrous worship led to such things, the judgment of mankind was at least not so far perverted that wrong could be done with impunity.

(c) Nor was this altogether a hypocritical condemnation. There are some conspicuous exceptions to the general corruption. It may be doubted whether any age can produce examples of a more consistent and earnest pursuit of the highest accessible standard than were afforded by Plutarch, Epictetus, and M. Aurelius. If we estimate them, not so much by the positive value of the morality to which they attained as by the strength of their aim and effort to realise a lofty ideal, these men will not easily be equalled. Again, Cicero, Atticus, the younger Pliny, may be taken as types of the cultivated gentlemen of their day, and they would have had a high place even in our own time. The emperors occupied a position singularly open to temptation, and no less than five of them in succession would have done honour to any throne. The pages of the historian which describe the decline of political and social morals are, nevertheless, lighted up with deeds of heroism and ancient Roman virtue. The women emulated the men. Occasionally, as in the case of the elder Arria, they surpassed them. But many others showed a constancy broken only by death. Descending to lower ranks, the inscriptions tell us not a few touching stories of conjugal fidelity and affection. “She was dearer to me than my life; she died in her twenty-third year, greatly beloved by her friends.” “To my dearest wife, with whom 1 lived for eighteen years, without a complaint.” “She never caused me a pang but by her death.” “I have done for thee those sad rites which thou shouldest have done for me, and which I know not who will do now.” Nor are there wanting in ancient literature touches of domestic felicity which show those times to have been akin to that which is best in our own. We are apt to forget that to a Latin poet is due the original of that familiar scene in the Cotters Saturday Night, and in Gray’s Elegy—

“For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care.”

And the Latin version is the finest of the three—the most intense and the most real.

(d) Besides these considerations, if we look at certain aspects of modern life—at the court of Charles II. or Louis XV., or at some phenomena among ourselves—the contrast with ancient heathenism may seem less striking.

And yet the darker view of the ancient world is, it is to be feared, on the whole the true one.
It is not by any means the satirist alone from whom the evidence is derived. The Christian apologists in the early centuries accumulate charges which they would not have ventured to publish unless they had been largely supported by facts. The satirists themselves are most damaging when, like Horace, they write with careless ease, evidently taking what they describe as a matter of course. And the evidence thus obtained is confirmed beyond dispute or question by the monumental remains that have come down to us.
It will not be denied that, after all deductions, the standard has been greatly raised. Even Cicero, like Plato and Aristotle before him, accepts much that is now condemned. And even men like Antoninus and Trajan fall short when judged by a Christian standard, especially on the points to which St. Paul is referring.
But it is the condition of the masses that the Apostle has chiefly in view. The elevation of individuals through the gradual development of a purer form of ethics and philosophy, was part of the wide preparation for the gospel which God in His providence had been working. It must not be thought that He had left Himself without witness in the heathen world. The witness was there, and it was listened to by some in every age, while there were more who, under the same divine guidance, were groping their way towards one or another portion of the truth. St. Paul directly contemplates such a class when he speaks of those who “having not the law, are a law unto themselves.”
Judging, however, not by these, but by the average condition of mankind, there can be no doubt that modem society in Christian countries does really represent a great improvement upon ancient. And if the exceptions are only too widespread and too glaring, it must be remembered that the success of Christianity, as of every other belief, has always a limit in the free-will of man. The question is not, Has Christianity made the world virtuous; but, Does it tend to make men virtuous so far as they are Christians? These are two quite distinct things. Instances, such as the Court of Charles II. or of Louis XY., may be quoted as showing how difficult it is for Christianity to take a real root and hold upon men; but they are no proof that, having taken hold, it is ineffectual. Experience proves to us the contrary. Human nature is much the same as ever it was. It is open to the same temptations; it has the same evil tendencies now as ever. In many instances the Christian motive still does not come in to check these tendencies; but where it does come in, it is the strongest restraining force known, and if it should lose its power, there seems none that is at all likely to take its place.

(2) On the second point, the relation of idolatry to immorality and the gradual stages of moral corruption, it may be observed that St. Paul does not regard the question, as has been done in modern times, historically, but ideally. Historically, there may be distinguished a double process. It is hardly to be said that idolatry is a corruption of natural religion. It is rather a stage by which man gradually arrives at natural religion. Anthropomorphism lies on the upward road from fetichism to a pure monotheism. But, on the other hand, it is equally true that idolatry has almost universally had those debasing accompaniments—ever more and more debased—which the Apostle describes. The primitive religions, though of a cruder form intellectually, have been of a purer form morally. The old Roman or Spartan simplicity was not merely a dream of later times. Crude, rude, and coarse it was; but it had not the special and still worse vices of a more advanced civilisation. That which brought to a few select spirits gain, brought to the masses greater loss. And here again it is at the masses that St. Paul is looking. His Rabbinical education probably had not made him acquainted to any great extent with the nobler efforts of philosophy, while the gross material sensualism of the masses was brought vividly and palpably before him. He was writing at this moment from Corinth, a city notorious for the licentiousness of its idol worship, and we cannot wonder that he should see in the abominations by which he was surrounded the worst and latest development of evil.


The chief “stumbling-block” which had in the first instance prevented St. Paul from becoming a Christian was the death of Christ upon the cross. Like the rest of his countrymen, he could not reconcile himself to the idea of a suffering Messiah. Nor would it seem that he had got over this difficulty at the moment of his conversion. The order of his thoughts was not “The Messiah was to suffer: Jesus suffered, therefore Jesus is the Messiah;” but rather, “Jesus is the Messiah: therefore a suffering Messiah is possible.” The vision upon the road to Damascus convinced him once for all of the Messiahship of Jesus; and that great fact being assumed, all his previous difficulties had to be brought into harmony with it.
The question then arose, How was the death of Christ to be interpreted? What could be the significance of the death of the Messiah? As is usually the case with intellectual difficulties, where they are fairly faced and not evaded, the answer to this was found to give a much deeper and clearer insight into a number of collateral questions.
The root idea which supplied the key to these difficulties was that of sacrifice. The death of the Messiah was of the nature of a sacrifice.

Our Lord Himself had given an intimation of this. In words, which we know to have been familiar to St. Paul, He had given to His own death a sacrificial meaning. At the last Paschal Feast, when the cup was handed round, He had bidden His disciples drink it, on the ground “This cup is the new testament” (rather, covenant) “in My blood.” The allusion to the new covenant recalled the ceremony which had inaugurated the old. Upon his return from the mount, Moses offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings unto the Lord. “And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words” (Exodus 24:8). The first covenant was ratified with the shedding of blood; the second covenant was also to be ratified with the shedding of blood, but in this case not with the blood of calves and of goats, but with nothing less than the blood of the Messiah Himself.

The shedding of blood had a second aspect, to which our Lord had also made allusion. It was the appointed means of making atonement for sin. “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11). In accordance with this principle of the Mosaic Law, our Lord had spoken of His own life as given to be “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), and of His own blood as “shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

Here, then, were the main outlines of the doctrine of the significance of the death of Christ already laid down. The Apostle found it easy to adapt them to his own theological system.
He taught that the Coming of Christ was the inauguration of the Messianic reign. The condition of that reign was to be righteousness, and, as he himself taught, all who became members of the Messianic kingdom necessarily entered into a state of righteousness. But from what was this state of righteousness derived? What was it that made the Messiah’s presence diffuse righteousness around it? It was the shedding of His cleansing blood. By that blood the new covenant was sealed, a new compact was inaugurated, and once more His followers, the children of the kingdom, became “an holy nation, a peculiar people.”
Another train of thought led the Apostle to the same result. He was much addicted to metaphysical speculation, and a difficulty presented itself to his mind founded upon the nature of the divine attributes. The justice of God required the punishment of sin How then could God still be just if that punishment were remitted? How could these two things—justice and remission—be reconciled? The middle term by which they were reconciled was the propitiatory death of Christ. As under the old Law the death of the victim was accepted instead of the death of the sinner, so in the public exhibition of the death of Christ God had given clear proof that His own attribute of justice remained unimpaired. If the accumulated load of human guilt had brought down no adequate penalty, it was not because the justice of God really slept, but because it was reserving itself for one signal manifestation. That done, its mission was absolved; no further sacrifice was needed either for sins past or for sins future.
The idea of sacrifice borrowed directly from the Levitical legislation is thus too deeply ingrained in the Apostle’s system to be got rid of as a merely passing metaphor. In laying the stress upon it that he does, St. Paul is at one with our Lord Himself, with St. Peter and St. John, the “pillar Apostles.” Nor can the idea be eliminated from Christian theology without serious loss. The moral and spiritual greatness of St. Paul rests less upon his labours for Christ than upon the spirit in which he underwent them. It was no working out of his own righteousness, no self-complacent survey of his own achievements; it was not the shallow confidence of one who makes light of his own sinfulness because he has never learnt to feel the true character of sin. The attitude of St. Paul is just the opposite of this. He has an almost oppressive consciousness of his own weakness and helplessness. But just where these are felt most deeply the grace of God intervenes. The deliverance is wrought for him by a power outside himself. There is no danger of his boasting, for he acknowledges no merit in his triumph. It is just his very helplessness which brings him relief from above. “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” This was not said in the first instance quite strictly of the atoning sacrifice, but it represents the habitual attitude of mind of one to whom the sense of that atonement was ever present. “All for me, nothing by me;” “no merit of my own;” “my extremity, God’s opportunity,” is the language such a one would use. And we cannot but feel that this is really the very loftiest Christian temper. The modern deification of humanity and boasted perfectibility of human nature is shallow and flippant by the side of it. The very paradox marks its grandeur—When I am weak, then am I strong.

Nor when we rise to a really elevated and comprehensive view of the dealings of Providence with man do the difficulties in the doctrine of sacrifice appear what they were. If they do not disappear altogether they at least retire into the background. When we accept the lessons taught by the theory of evolution, and prepare ourselves to see the divine action stretching over vast tracts of space and immense periods of time, and leading up through a number of rudimentary forms to some culminating phenomenon, in the light of such broad, general principles the ancient sacrificial rites of Jew and Gentile acquire a new significance. To a dispassionate view no widely diffused institution like this can be called common or unclean. If at certain times and places the forms of sacrifice appear rude, gross, distorted, and even monstrous, this is only what takes place in nature on its way upwards to higher forms of being. In the spiritual world, as in the physical, the rudimentary existences come first, but the philosopher looking back upon them sees in them traces of the divine plan; and he will be ready enough to admit that when the whole of that plan (so far as its extent is concerned) seems to be unrolled before him, there may still be much that he cannot fully grasp and comprehend. “These are parts of His ways, but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand?”


St. Paul treats the case of Abraham as a typical case. The text which spoke of the acceptance that was given to Abraham’s faith he takes as laying down a law for all believers. The faith of Abraham was imputed to him for righteousness, and St. Paul elevates this into a general principle. Wherever there is genuine faith, it is “imputed for righteousness.”
The metaphor in the word “imputed” is commercial, from the balancing of accounts. Strictly speaking, in order for a man’s account to stand right before God, there ought to be placed to his credit “righteousness,” or a complete fulfilment of the divine law. But, in the case of the believer, his faith is taken in lieu of righteousness. It is treated as an equivalent to it, and has the same effect of setting the account right before God.

Stated in this bare and naked way, in the dry form of a scholastic definition, it is not unnatural that this doctrine should have given rise to some objections. How, it may be asked, can righteousness be imputed? It is of the very essence of righteousness that it should be thoroughly real and genuine. A fictitious righteousness is no righteousness at all.
It may be well to observe in passing that the faith of the Christian is treated as equivalent to righteousness specially in regard to its effect. It has the same effect of clearing the account which has to go before the divine tribunal. It is not said that faith takes the place of righteousness in any other way.

When we go back to St. Paul’s conception of faith, we shall see that, so far from being the substitute for righteousness in any sense which should seem to diminish the worth of righteousness as an element in the Christian life, it is rather a safeguard and security for it. By faith St. Paul meant an ardent and enthusiastic adhesion to One who was Himself without sin. Faith carried to its full extent involved an assimilation to this ideal character. What better guarantee could possibly be given for a consistently righteous conduct? And the righteousness which springs from faith must needs be as much superior to that which proceeds from the works of the Law as the finest and highest personal devotion is superior to the narrow and mechanical performance of rules. Thus, in the very act of seeming to discard righteousness, the theology of St. Paul really secured a better righteousness than the best of that which was known to the scribes and Pharisees.


One striking feature of the Epistle to the Romans is the broad view that it takes of the course of human history. It is, indeed, a philosophy of history considered in its religious aspects; and, as such, it presents much that has but recently found its way into ethical systems.
St. Paul may be said to divide the history of man into four, or, perhaps, rather, three periods. The first is the period prior to all law, when the moral principles are in process of forming and are not yet fully formed. In this stage, though there may be wrong action (i.e., action which is wrong if judged by an objective standard), it does not amount to sin, or carry with it a subjective consciousness of guilt, because it does not involve a breach of law. This would correspond very much to what is now called by moralists the period of “unconscious morality.” St. Paul would make, however, just one exception to the absence of positive law, and therefore of sin, in this period. Adam sinned against a positive precept, and that was why his sin entailed a penal consequence—death, which extended also to his descendants, though they had not broken any positive command.

The next great period is that of Law. The Jew was brought under this by the giving of the Mosaic law, the Gentile by the gradual development of the law of nature. Conscience by degrees acquired fixed principles, and the contemplation of the external world brought some knowledge of God. This period had not a hard and fast beginning. With the Gentile it was the result of a gradual process; with the Jew, though the Law was given from Sinai at a definite moment of time, there was still before this a similar process going on to that exemplified in the Gentile. Though not actually under the Law, the patriarch Abraham could not be said to be quite without law. He belonged rather to the margin between the two periods, where the one was passing into the other. In this interval then must be placed the giving of the Promise.
The Law had not its proper and normal effect of producing conformity to the divine will. It was found only to serve to increase and enhance transgressions. The result of the whole period of Law was a general and complete corruption both of Jew and Gentile. This paved the way for the introduction of the Messianic system. The kingdom of the Messiah was founded upon earth; and though the Jews did not take advantage of their privileged position to enroll themselves in it, it was entered largely by the Gentiles. The exclusion of the Jews was, however, not to be final. When they too had been admitted the kingdom would be complete, and the Messiah would return to take it under His direct and personal reign.
The distribution of these periods may be concisely presented in a tabular form:—




Period I.—State of Primitive Innocence, prior to Law (Romans 4:15; Romans 7:7-9).

Broken by the sin of Adam, which entailed death upon his descendants (Romans 5:12), though, strictly speaking there could be no guilt where there was no law (Romans 5:13-14).

[The Promise.

Ratified by circumcision (Romans 4:11).

Pre-Messianic privileges of Israel (Romans 2:1-2; Romans 4:1; Romans 4:13; Romans 9:4-5).]

Period II.—State of Law.

Law of Moses.

Effects of the Law: (1) to enhance guilt by making sin the transgression of positive commandment; (2) to provoke to sin through the perversity of human nature straining after that which is forbidden (Romans 3:20; Romans 5:20; Romans 7:5; Romans 7:7-11; Romans 7:13).

Law of Nature.

Knowledge of God imprinted on conscience, or on the external order of things (Romans 1:19-20; Romans 2:14-15).

This knowledge lost: (1) by self-willed speculations leading to idolatry; (2) idolatry leading to unnatural crimes; (3) these leading to other and yet other sins (Romans 1:21-32).

Universal wickedness of mankind (Romans 1:21; Romans 3:19; Romans 3:23).

A revelation of divine wrath (Romans 1:18; Romans 11:32).




Period III.—First stage. A revelation of righteousness proceeding from God (Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21-26).

This righteousness is the essential character of the Messianic kingdom obtained for it by the death of Christ, whose one righteous act is thus set against the one sin of Adam (Romans 5:15-21).

The Messianic righteousness is offered alike to Jew and Gentile (Romans 1:16; Romans 2:28-29; Romans 3:29-30; Romans 4:11-12; Romans 5:18; Romans 10:12).

Attachment to Christ involved release from the Law (Romans 7:1-6; Romans 8:2-3; Romans 10:4).

[The Promise fulfilled not to the literal but to the spiritual descendants of Abraham, whether Jew or Gentile (Romans 9:6-9).]

The offer of Messianic righteousness

Rejected in the main by the Jews (Romans 10:3; Romans 10:21; Romans 11:7).

Accepted by the Gentiles.

Object of this, not only the salvation of the Gentiles, but also to provoke the Jews to emulation (Romans 11:11-16).

Making up of the full complement of the Gentile Church (Romans 11:25).

Final restoration of the Jews (Romans 11:26-29; Romans 11:31).

Universal admission to the divine mercy (Romans 11:32).

Second stage.—Reappearance of the Messiah, and completion of His kingdom (Romans 8:18-21).


We have seen that faith, or the feeling of personal attachment to the Messiah, when it has had time to deepen and strengthen, attains to such a degree of closeness, and involves so complete an assimilation of the believer to his Lord, that it comes to be called by another name—that of oneness, or fellowship. Looking back over his career, the Apostle saw that the decisive step, to which all this later development was due, had been taken when he first entered the Messianic com­munity. It was then that he assumed that relation to Christ in which all the rest was implicitly contained. But this first decisive step was itself ratified by an outward act. Baptism was the mark of admission to membership in the Messianic kingdom. Baptism and faith went together. The one was the inward apprehension of the Messiahship of Jesus, the other was the outward confession of adhesion to Him. The convert was baptised into Christ, Something of the later feeling, which arose from a clearer contemplation of the object of Christian worship and longer experience of the spiritual realities of Christian life, was reflected back upon this phrase. It came to imply something of that mystical communion which was potentially latent in that relation to Christ with the assumption of which it was connected. The believer who was baptised “into Christ,” if he was not at once conscious of that closer relation, was sure to become so sooner or later, if his belief was real and vital. That the formula of admission should have somewhat of an ideal character is only in harmony with what all forms are, and ought to be, and with the consistent language of the Apostle himself. Forms for general use should rise to the level of the best of those who can possibly come under them, and not be written down to the level of the worst. They represent standards to be aimed at, rather than measures of what is attained; and even for those who conspicuously fall beneath them, they serve as a stimulus and reminder of better things.

But baptism had also another aspect. It was a mark, not only of the assumption of something new, but of the giving up of something old. At the time when St. Paul wrote it in most cases accompanied con­version. It meant the giving up of heathen or Jewish practices, repentance for past sins, and a more or less complete change of life. It meant, besides, an admission to the Messianic privileges and immunities, including more especially the “righteousness” which was to be the characteristic of the children of the kingdom. This putting off of the old and putting on of the new was symbolised by the immersion in water. The process was one of spiritual cleansing. The conscious effort of the human will, and the divine influences of the Messianic kingdom, both converged upon this one point. Heathenism, Judaism, and the carelessness of life which went with either, were laid aside, and the white robe of Christian righteousness (ideal, or in part actual) was put on.
Now there was another act, the symbolism of which coincided almost exactly with that of baptism. Death is a change from one state to another; it is a putting off of the old and a putting on of the new. But death—a death—the death of Christ—assumed a most important part in that system of things into which the Christian at his baptism entered. It had won for him that “righteousness” which he was to put on; it had removed for him that curse of the Law which he hoped to escape. Was it strange, then, that St. Paul, instead of describing the object of baptism in the usual terms, as a baptism into Christ, should describe it specially as a baptism “into the death of Christ?” And having done this, was it strange that he should apply the symbolism of death in the same way in which he would have applied those of cleansing or ablution, and in connection with his teaching as to the union of the Christian with his Saviour? All these three elements enter into the passage on which what has been here said is a comment: “Know ye not that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death? Therefore, we are buried with Him by baptism into (His) death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). The conclusion is hortatory and ethical: we are to walk in newness of life. This is based upon the relation of intimate union into which we were brought at our baptism with Christ. But mingled with the argument from the nature of this union, is one based upon the notion which the idea of baptism and of death implied—the necessity of total and complete change. In modern language we should call this a metaphor. In the language of St. Paul it becomes something more than metaphor, through its connection with the mystical doctrine of union—a doctrine which stands side by side with the other great doctrine of the Epistle, that of justification by faith. We have seen how the one passes into the other, and how between them they cover the whole of the Christian career.

It should be observed that the more elaborate teaching of Romans 8:0 is all an extension of this doctrine of union. The union of the Christian with Christ, as seen from another side, is the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ in the Christian. That indwelling, when fully realised, must needs bring with it holiness of life. It is a testimony to the inclusion of the Christian in the Messianic scheme, and to his close relation to the Messiah. But the Messiah is none other than the Son of God. The Christian, therefore, partakes in His Sonship. He too is a child, if not by birth, yet by adoption; and his filial relation to God assures to him the inheritance of the fulness of the Messianic blessings. It gives to his prayers all that touching tenderness and efficacy of appeal which belongs to the petitions of a child to its father. It establishes a bond of peculiar sympathy within the Godhead itself, so that even its most inarticulate yearnings find an intercessor as well as a response. The terms in which the Apostle expresses the nature of this sympathy and of this intercession, carry us up to those fine relations of the Spirit of God to the spirit of man, and to the Essence of the Godhead, where it is well that definition should cease.

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