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by Arno Clemens Gaebelein
THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
The Epistle to the Romans is not the first Epistle which the Apostle Paul wrote. The First Epistle to the Thessalonians was written six years prior to the Epistle to the Romans, that is in 52 A.D. and the Second Thessalonian Epistle a few months later. The place given to this great document, immediately after the Book of Acts, is the right place, for the Epistle to the Romans has for its leading theme the Gospel of God, and that needs to be unfolded first of all.
This Epistle was written by Paul in the year 58. Paul was staying in the house of Gaius (Romans 16:23 ). He was a wealthy Corinthian whom Paul had baptized (1 Corinthians 1:14 ). His amanuensis was Tertius, who makes the statement himself, “I Tertius, who wrote this Epistle, salute you in the Lord” (Romans 16:22 ). It was during the brief visit to Corinth (Acts 20:3 ) when the Apostle wrote the Epistle. He was on his way to Jerusalem, with the great desire in his heart “I must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21 ). Of this he speaks in the Epistle. “But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you; whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you, for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company. But I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the Saints.” (Romans 15:23-25 ). And in the beginning of the Epistle he expressed the same wish. “Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. For I long to see you that I may impart some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established” (Romans 1:10-11 ).
When a Greek Christian woman, Phoebe, was about to visit Rome, he was constrained to write this letter and she was undoubtedly the bearer of this Epistle. This we learn from Romans 16:1-2 . “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea (the port of Corinth ); that ye receive her in the Lord, as becomes the Saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you; for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.” The genuineness of this Epistle has never been doubted. The critics have never been able to attack its authenticity. Universally it has been believed, and that from earliest time, to be the production of the Apostle Paul.
To Whom the Epistle was Written
The Epistle is addressed “to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called Saints.” There was then a church, a local assembly of believers in the great world city Rome. We do not know the facts of its origin. The wicked system which goes by the name “the church of Rome” claims that Peter had much to do with the church there and Was the first bishop in Rome. This is done to uphold the claims of the papacy. But it is a mere invention, lacking all historical support. Long before Paul ever addressed the Saints in Rome, Peter had made in Jerusalem declaration which confined his ministry to the circumcision (to Jews) while the Gentile field was left to Paul. “And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me (Paul) and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles and they unto the circumcision” (Galatians 2:9 ). Peter wrote two Epistles addressed to scattered Jewish believers. He does what the Lord told him “to strengthen his brethren.” and nowhere does he claim the exalted position into which the Romish apostate system has put him. That no Apostle had anything to do with the foundation of the local assembly in Rome seems fully established by Paul’s statement in Romans 15:20 . If Peter had anything to do with the church in Rome, if he had founded the church there, Paul would have certainly made some mention of him. And when later the Apostle Paul wrote his great prison Epistles, not a word did he say about Peter’s presence and activity in Rome. These and other evidences are conclusive.
Perhaps Jewish believers were used in carrying the gospel to the capital of the Roman Empire; or Gentile believers may have been the means of proclaiming first the good news there. While the assembly in Rome was composed of Jews and Gentiles, the latter were predominant, for the names mentioned in chapter 16 are nearly all Gentiles. Many of these may have been Jewish proselytes. That this church was also troubled with a Judaizing element, teachers who demanded the keeping of the law and circumcision as a means of salvation, may be learned from the warning exhortation at the close of the Epistle: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17 ). This may explain the different objections raised and answered in the Epistle, objections which would come mostly from a Jewish mind. See Romans 3:1 ; Romans 3:5 ; Romans 3:7 ; Romans 3:31 ; Romans 4:1 ; Romans 6:1 ; Romans 6:15 ; Romans 7:7 ; Romans 9:14 ; Romans 9:19 ; Romans 9:30 ; Romans 11:1 ; Romans 11:11 . However, there are conclusive proofs in the Epistle itself which show that the Gentiles were the more numerous in the Roman assembly.
Paul addresses them as the Apostle of the Gentiles and in Romans 15:16 he writes, “that I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the Gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being “sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
The Great Theme of the Epistle
The great theme of Romans is the Gospel of God, that is the good news concerning the way which God, in His infinite love, has provided by which sinners are saved and all which this free and full salvation includes. While this great theme has been recognized by all intelligent writers on this Epistle, various estimates have been given of the doctrinal unfoldings, which often miss the mark. Some have called Romans a religious treatise written by a man with a wonderful, logical mind, in which he explains his views concerning salvation. Others state that the letter is “the foundation document of the Pauline system of teaching” or they call it “the explanation of the Pauline theology.” Still others have suggested that the Epistle to the Romans is “the personal mental history of the Apostle, in which, after his conversion, he worked his way from the old Jewish standpoint to his standpoint under the Gospel.” But there is a far better statement which explains it all. In the sister Epistle of Romans, the Epistle to the Galatians, in which he gives the defense of the Gospel, Paul acquaints us with the origin of the Gospel, which he called so peculiarly “My Gospel.”--”But I certify you brethren, that the Gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12 ). The Gospel he preached and which is so wonderfully taught in the Epistle to the Romans was given to him by revelation. It was not the product of a logical mind, a system of theology which he had thought out, or which some one else had taught him. It is revelation. And the proof of it is the Gospel itself. The mind of man could not have invented or discovered such a scheme. God Himself had to reveal it. The more a Christian studies this great Epistle concerning the Gospel of God, the more he will find out the truth that all is of God and not of man. A great thinker called Romans the profoundest document which has ever been written. It is that, because it is of God. And all that comes from Him is as inexhaustible as His Person. The things revealed in this Gospel of God are deep; no saint has ever sounded the depths. Yet it is simple at the same time. This is always the mark of divine revelation, profundity and simplicity.
We shall point out more fully in the analysis the scope and division of this Epistle, how this great theme is unfolded. God reveals man’s true condition, destitute of all righteousness, positively and negatively bad, the whole world guilty before God, Jew and Gentile lost. Upon that dark background God writes the story of His great Love. The source and center of all is the sacrificial work of Christ in which the righteousness of God is now manifested. no longer condemning the guilty sinner, but covering every sinner who believes in Jesus. Justification is by faith, and this faith which trusteth in Jesus is counted for righteousness. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5 ). And the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is also our justification; the blessed results of all this are seen in the opening verse of the fifth chapter. Being justified by faith we have peace with God, a secure standing in Grace and the hope of the Glory of God. The justification of the sinner is the great foundation of the Gospel of God. Then follows an equally blessed revelation, which is another part of the Gospel. The justified sinner is constituted a Saint, and as such he needs deliverance from sin and its power. Up to Romans 5:11 we learn how God has dealt with our sins and after that how He has dealt with sin. The believing sinner is no longer in Adam, the first man, but in Christ, the second man. What we have by nature through Adam and what we receive through Grace in being in Christ (by the new birth), this most wonderful contrast, is the subject in Romans 5:12-21 . God therefore does no longer behold the believer as in Adam, but he sees him in Christ; the old man has been put to death in the death of Christ “that the body of sin might be annulled that henceforth we should not serve sin.” God looks upon the believer as being dead with Christ to sin. He is therefore no longer to live in sin. The assurance is given “sin shall not have dominion over you.” And faith is to act upon it as being dead to sin and alive unto God (Romans 6:11-13 ). In the seventh chapter the question of the law is raised and the Gospel of God declares that the justified believer, in Christ, dead with Him and delivered from the sin principle is also dead to the law. The eighth chapter leads us into the full place of deliverance. What was impossible to the law, to produce the righteous requirements of the law, is made possible by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. The Spirit of God and His work in the believer is now revealed as a part of the Gospel. Furthermore the believer saved by Grace is a child of God and an heir of God. Glory is his eternal destiny and nothing can separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Then follow three chapters which deal with dispensational matters, Israel’s fall and coming restoration to the place of blessing as His earthly people. The final chapters contain exhortations to walk in the power of this blessed Gospel.
The Importance of Romans
If we are asked what portion of the New Testament should a Christian study the most, we answer always, unhesitatingly, the Epistle to the Romans. Dr. Martin Luther found his great message and deliverance in this Epistle. No better testimony about this Epistle could be given than his. He said, “It is the true masterpiece of the New Testament, and the very purest Gospel, which is well worth and deserving that a Christian man should not only learn it by heart, word for word, but also that he should daily deal with it as the daily bread of men’s souls. For it can never be too much or too well read or studied; and the more it is handled the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.”
John Wesley, the godly preacher of the eighteenth century, found peace and deliverance while listening to the reading of Luther’s introduction to Romans. No Christian can enjoy the Gospel and know true deliverance unless he knows the precious arguments of the first eight chapters of this Epistle. It is the great need at the present time. So many professing Christians are ignorant of what redemption is and what it includes. Many have but a hazy view of justification and have little or no knowledge of a settled peace with God and lack the assurance of salvation. They are constantly striving to be something and to attain something, which God in infinite grace has already supplied in the Gospel of His Son. And the ignorance about deliverance from the power of indwelling sin! Most Christians live constantly in the experience of the wretched man in Romans 7:15-24 . The teaching of the Gospel of God according to Romans is therefore of the greatest importance. It brings assurance and peace; its teachings lead the believer into a life of victory. So many sincere, but untaught believers become ensnared in all kinds of strange doctrines, taught by different cults, because they are deplorably ignorant of the salvation of God. Luther was right,”it can never be too much or too well read or studied.” Even if we have grasped the great doctrines of salvation as revealed in this Epistle it is needful that we go over them again and again. And it must be done with prayer. There are many Christians who hold the correct doctrines concerning justification and sanctification as made known in Romans, but they lack the power of these truths in their lives.
Nor must we forget that these blessed truths are increasingly denied as well as perverted in our days. We must therefore keep in constant touch with them, lest they slip away from us and we lose the reality and power of the blessed Gospel in our lives.
Division of the Epistle to the Romans
The division of the Epistle is very simple and presents no difficulty. There are three very clearly defined parts.
The first eight chapters contain the doctrine of the Gospel of God, what salvation is and what it includes. Justification, Sanctification and Glorification are revealed and the believer’s deliverance from the guilt of sin, the power of sin and the future deliverance from the presence of sin is made known in these eight chapters.
Chapters 9-11 form the second part. God’s sovereign dealings with Israel is the theme of these chapters, which have a parenthetical character. Here we learn of Israel’s election, rejection and coming restoration. God’s righteousness is demonstrated in this second part as it is in the doctrinal section of this Epistle.
Chapters 12-16 constitute the third part. Here we find the exhortations for the justified and sanctified believer, who waits for the coming glory, how he is to live on earth in the power of the Gospel and manifest practically the righteousness of God.
I. DOCTRINAL. THE SALVATION OF GOD. Chapters 1-8
1. Introduction. Chapter 1:1-17
2. The Need of Salvation Demonstrated. The Whole World Guilty and Lost. Chapter 1:18-3:20.
3. The Righteousness of God Revealed. Justification, What it is and What it Includes. Chapter 3:21-5:11.
4. In Christ. The Sanctification of the Believer; his Deliverance from Sin and the Law. Children and Heirs. Chapter 5:12-8:39.
II. DISPENSATIONAL. GOD’S DEALINGS WITH ISRAEL
Chapters 9-11. 1. Israel and God’s Sovereignty
Chapter 9. 2. Israel’s Failure and Unbelief
Chapter 10. 3. Israel’s Future
III. EXHORTATIONS AND THE CONCLUSION. Chapter 12-16:27.
1. The Exhortations. Chapter 12-15:13.
2. The Conclusion. Chapter 15:14-16:27.
The Epistle to the Romans demands the closest Study. “Its texture is so fine, its very vein so full, its very fibers and ligatures so fine and yet strong, that it requires not only to be again and again surveyed as a whole, and mastered in its Primary ideas, but to be dissected in detail, and With unwearying patience studied in its minutest features, before we can be said to have done it justice. Not only every sentence teems with thought, but every clause; while in some places every word may be said either to suggest some weighty thought, or to indicate some deep emotion” (D. Brown). In the analysis and annotations we point out the way to the deeper study of the Epistle. But the most successful learners of these great truths are the men and women who walk in the truth and learn daily anew that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, who rejoice in God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
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