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Lecture 2 - Romans 1:1-17
Salutation and Introduction
Chapter Romans 1:1-17.
As we come to a verse-by-verse examination of this epistle, we may well remind ourselves once more of the precious truth that “All scripture is God-breathed and profitable.” God has spoken through His Word, and this letter contains some of the most important messages He has ever given to mankind. It will be well for us, therefore, to approach the study of it in a prayerful and self-judged spirit, putting all our own preconceived ideas to one side and letting God through the inspired Word correct our thoughts, or, better still, supplant them with His own.
The first seven verses, as we have already noticed, form the salutation, and demand a careful examination. Some most precious truths are here communicated in what might seem a most casual manner. The writer, Paul, designates himself a servant, literally, bondman, of Jesus Christ. He does not mean, however, that his was a service of bondage, but rather the whole-hearted obedience of one who realized that he had been “bought with a price,” even the precious blood of Christ. There is a story told of an African slave whose master was about to slay him with a spear, when a chivalrous British traveler thrust out his arm to ward off the blow, and it was pierced by the cruel weapon. As the blood spurted out he demanded the person of the slave, saying he had bought him by his suffering. To this the former master ruefully agreed. As the latter walked away, the slave threw himself at the feet of his deliverer, exclaiming, “The blood-bought is now the slave of the son of pity. He will serve him faithfully.” And he insisted on accompanying his generous deliverer, and took delight in waiting upon him in every possible way.
Thus had Paul, thus has each redeemed one, become the bondman of Jesus Christ. We have been set free to serve, and may well exclaim with the Psalmist, “O Lord, truly I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant and the son of Thine handmaid: Thou hast loosed my bonds” (Psalms 116:16).
Not only was Paul in the general sense a servant, but he was a servant of peculiar and exalted character. He was a called apostle; not as in the Authorized Version, “called to be an apostle.” The words “to be” are in italics and are not required to complete the sense. It may seem a small thing to which to call attention, but the same interpolation occurs in verse Romans 1:7, where it is altogether misleading, as we shall see when we come to consider it.
We need not think of Paul as one of the twelve. Some question the regularity of the appointment of Matthias, but it seems to me we may well consider his selection by casting lots as the last official act of the old economy. It was necessary that one who had kept company with the Lord and His disciples from the baptism of John should fill the place which Judas had forfeited. Thus the number of the twelve apostles of the Lamb who are (in the glorious days of earth’s regeneration which we generally call the Millennium) to sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, would be completed. Paul’s ministry is of a different character. He was pre-eminently the apostle to the Gentiles, and to him was committed the special “dispensation of the mystery.” This puts his apostleship on an altogether different plane from that of the twelve. They knew Christ on earth, and their ministry in a very definite way was linked with the kingdom and the family of God. Paul knew him first as the glorified Lord Jesus, and his was distinctively the gospel of the glory.
He was “separated unto the gospel of God.” We may rightfully think of this separation from several different viewpoints. He had been set apart for his special ministry before his birth. As in the instances of Moses, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist, he was separated from his mother’s womb (Galatians 1:15). But he must first learn the weakness and unprofitableness of the flesh. Then God had mercy on him, and he was separated from the Christless mass and called by divine grace. But there was more than this. He was in a peculiar sense delivered from both the people of Israel and the Gentile nations to be a minister and witness of the things he had seen and heard. And lastly, he was separated with Barnabas for the specific work of carrying the gospel to the Gentiles, when at Antioch in Pisidia, the brethren, in accordance with the divine command, laid their hands upon them and sent them away to carry the gospel to the regions beyond. This gospel is here called “the gospel of God.” In verse Romans 1:9 it is called “the gospel of His Son,” and in verse Romans 1:16, “the gospel of Christ,” although there is a possibility that the words “of Christ” should be dropped, as they do not appear in some of the best manuscripts.
Verse Romans 1:2 is parenthetical and identifies the gospel with the glad tidings promised in Old Testament times and predicted by the prophets in the Holy Scriptures. “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” Timothy had been taught, from a child, the Holy Scriptures, and the apostle says that these “are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
This gospel is not a new law. It is not a code of morals or ethics. It is not a creed to be accepted. It is not a system of religion to be adhered to. It is not good advice to be followed. It is a divinely given message concerning a divine Person, the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. This glorious Being is true Man, yet very God. He is the Branch that grew out of the root of David, therefore true Man. But He is also the Son of God, the virgin-born, who had no human father, and this His works of power demonstrate. To this blessed fact the Spirit of Holiness bare witness when He raised dead persons to life. The expression, “By the resurrection from the dead,” is literally, “By resurrection of dead persons.” It includes His own resurrection, of course: but it also takes in the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus, of the widow’s son, and of Lazarus. He who could thus rob death of its prey was God and man in one blessed, adorable Person, worthy of all worship and praise, now and for evermore.
From Him, the risen One, Paul had received grace (not only unmerited favor, but favor against merit, for he had deserved the very opposite) and apostleship by divine call, that he might make known the gospel unto all nations, to the obedience of faith for Christ’s name’s sake.
His apostleship, therefore, extended to those who were in Rome. Hitherto he had not been able to visit them personally, but his heart went out to them as the called of Jesus Christ, and so he writes “to all that be in Rome, called saints.” Observe that they were saints in the same way that he was an apostle, namely, by divine call. We do not become saints by acting in a saintly way, but because we are constituted saints we should manifest saintliness.
As is customary in his letters, he wishes them grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Saved by grace in the first place, we need grace for seasonable help all along the way. Having peace with God through the blood of His cross, we need the peace of God to keep our hearts at rest as we journey on toward the eternal Sabbath-keeping that remains for the people of God.
Verses Romans 1:8-17 are the Introduction, which make clear his reasons for writing.
It is evident that a work of God had begun in Rome a number of years before the writing of this letter, for already the faith of the Christian assembly there was spoken of throughout the whole world, that is, throughout the Roman Empire. There is no evidence whatever that this work was in any sense linked with apostolic ministry. Both Scripture and history are silent as to who founded the church in Rome. Certainly Peter did not. There is not the remotest reason for connecting his name with it. The boast of the Roman Catholic Church that it is founded on Peter as the rock, and that the Roman Bishop is the successor of St. Peter, is all the merest twaddle. We have no means of knowing whether any apostle visited Rome until Paul himself was taken there in chains.
There seems to have been a providential reason why he was hindered from going there earlier. He calls God to witness (that God whom he served not merely outwardly but in his spirit, the inward man, in the gospel of His Son) that he had never ceased to pray for those Roman believers since he first heard of them; and coupled with his petitions for them was his earnest request that if it was the will of God he might have the opportunity to visit them, and a prosperous journey. How differently that prayer was answered from what he might have expected, we well know; and it gives us a little idea of the overruling wisdom of God in answering all our prayers. No man is competent to say what is prosperous and what is not. God’s ways are not ours.
Paul longed to see them, hoping that he might Be used of God to impart unto them some spiritual gift which would be for their establishment in the truth. Nor did he think only of being a blessing to them, but he fully expected that they would be a blessing to him. Both would be comforted together.
Many times during the past years he had prepared to go to Rome, but his plans had miscarried. He longed to have some fruit there as in other Gentile cities, for he felt himself to be a debtor to all mankind. The treasure committed to him was not for his own enjoyment, but that he might make it known to others, whether Greeks or barbarians, cultured or ignorant. And realizing this he was ready to preach the gospel in Rome as elsewhere.
When in verse Romans 1:16 he says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” I understand that he means far more than people generally attach to these words. It was not merely that he did not blush to be called a Christian, or that he was always ready boldly to declare his faith in Christ; but the gospel was to him a wonderful, because inspired, scheme for the redemption of mankind, a divinely revealed system of truth transcending all the philosophies of earth, which he was ready to defend on every occasion. It was not, as some might have supposed, that he had refrained from visiting Rome because he did not feel competent to present the claims of Christ in the metropolis of the world in such a manner that they could not be answered and logically repudiated by the cultured philosophers who thronged the great city. He had no fear that they would be able to overthrow by their subtle reasonings that which he knew to be the only authoritative plan of salvation. It is beyond human reason, but it is not illogical or unreasonable. It is perfect because of God.
This gospel had been demonstratively proven to be the divine dynamic bringing deliverance to all who put faith in it, whether the religious Jew or the cultured Greek. It was the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation. It met every need of the mind, the conscience, and the heart of man, for in it the righteousness of God was revealed faith-wise. This I take to be the real meaning of the somewhat difficult expression translated “from faith to faith.” It is really “out of faith unto faith.” That is, on the principle of faith to those who have faith. In other words, it is not a doctrine of salvation by works, but a proclamation of salvation entirely on the faith principle. This had been declared to Habakkuk long centuries before when God said to the troubled prophet, “The just shall live by faith.”
This is the text of the entire epistle, as we have already seen, and of Galatians and Hebrews likewise.
It gives us the quintessence of the divine plan, It has been the rest of millions throughout the centuries. It was the foundation of what has been designated the Augustinian Theology. It was the key that opened the door of liberty to Martin Luther. It became the battle-cry of the Reformation. And it is the touchstone of every system since, that professes to be of God. If wrong here, they are bound to be wrong throughout. It is impossible to understand the gospel if the basic principle be misunderstood or denied- Justification by faith alone is the test of orthodoxy. But no mind untaught by the Holy Spirit will ever receive it, for it sets the first man aside altogether as in the flesh and unprofitable, in order that the Second Man, the Man of God’s counsels, the Lord Jesus Christ, may alone be exalted. Faith gives all honor to Him as the One who has finished the work that saves and in whom alone God has been fully glorified, His holiness maintained, and His righteousness vindicated, and that not in the death of the sinner but in the salvation of all who believe. It is a gospel worthy of God, and it has demonstrated its power by what it has accomplished in those who have received it in faith.
Lecture 3 - Romans 1:18-3:20
The Need of the Gospel
We have seen that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God. The apostle now proceeds to show the need of such a revelation, and piles proof upon proof, evidence upon evidence, and scripture upon scripture to demonstrate the solemn fact that man has no righteousness of his own, but is both by nature and practice utterly unsuited to a God of infinite holiness whose throne is established on righteousness. This he does in the next section of the epistle, chap 1:18-3:20. In a masterly way he brings the whole world into court and shows that condemnation rests upon all because all have sinned. Man is guilty, hopelessly so, and can do nothing to retrieve his condition. If God has not a righteousness for him his case is ended.
In verses Romans 1:18-32 of the first chapter the case of the barbarian is considered. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The first class is the pagan world. The second, those to whom a divine revelation had come. The barbarians and heathen generally are ungodly. They know not the true God and so are “without God in the world.” Therefore their behavior is described as ungodliness.
On the other hand, to the Jew had been committed the knowledge of God and a divine code of righteousness. He gloried in this while walking in unrighteousness. He held the truth (as something on which he had a “corner”) in unrighteousness. Against both classes the wrath of God is revealed.
The heathen are without excuse. Paganism and idolatry are not steps in human evolution as man advances from slime to divinity. Heathenism is a declension, not an upward reach. The great pagan nations once knew more than they do now. The knowledge of God brought through the flood was disseminated throughout the ancient world. Back of all the great idolatrous systems is pure monotheism. But men could not stand this intimate knowledge of God for it made them uncomfortable in their sins; so a host of lesser deities and divinities were invented as go-betweens, and eventually the knowledge of the true God was entirely lost. But even to-day creation is His constant witness: “That which may be known of God is manifest to them; for God hath showed it to them.” This orderly universe with its succession of the seasons and the mathematical accuracy of the movements of the heavenly bodies bears testimony to the Divine Mind. The stars in their courses proclaim the great Creator’s power:
“Forever singing as they shine, The Hand that made us is divine.”
So, “the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” One word in the original is rendered by four words in English: “Things-that-are-made” is Poima, and from this we get our word poem. Creation is God’s great epic poem, every part fitted together like the lines and verses of a majestic hymn. In Ephesians 2:10 we find the same word again. “We are His workmanship” -His poem-“created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” This is God’s greatest poem: the epic of Redemption.
“’Twas great to call a world from naught; ’Twas greater to redeem.”
These two wondrous poems are celebrated in Revelation Chapters 4 and 5. In chapter 4 the enthroned and crowned saints worship Christ as Creator. In chapter 5 they adore Him as Redeemer.
Pursuing Paul’s argument we note in vers. Romans 1:21-23 that the barbarous nations are without excuse for their present ignorance and bestial condition, “Because that when they knew God they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts and creeping things.” Observe the downward steps on the toboggan-slide of idolatry-God first thought of as an idealized man, then likened to the birds that soar into the heavens, next to the beasts that prowl over the earth, and finally to serpents and other detestable creeping things, whether reptilian or insectivorous. Even the Egyptian worshipped the serpent and the scara-beus, and yet back of all Egyptian mythology is hidden the original revelation of one true and living God! What degradation does this imply on the part of one of the most enlightened nations of antiquity! And others bear similar marks of declension and deterioration.
Because men gave God up He gave them up. Twice in the verses that follow we read, “God gave them up,” first to uncleanness and then to vile affections. Once we are told, “God gave them over to a reprobate mind.” The vile immoralities depicted here are the natural result of turning from the Holy One. The picture of heathenism in its unspeakable obscenities is not over-drawn, as any one acquainted with the lives of idolatrous people will testify. The awful thing is that all this vileness and filthiness is being reproduced in modern high society where men and women repudiate God. If people change the truth of God into a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, the whole order of nature is violated; for apart from the fear of God there is no power known that will hold the evil desires of the natural heart in check. It is part of the very nature of things that flesh will be manifested in its worst aspects when God gives men up to follow the bent of their unholy lusts.
What a picture of mankind away from Him do we get in the closing verses. Sin and corruption are everywhere triumphant. Righteousness is not to be found when the back is turned on God. Nor are men sensitive about their sins or ashamed of their evil ways, but “knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”
That the apostle’s picture of heathenism is still true the following clipping bears witness: “A Chinese Teacher once told a missionary that the Bible could not be so ancient a book after all, because the first chapter of Romans gave an account of Chinese conduct, such as the missionary could only have written after full acquaintance with the people. The mistake was not an unnatural one, but it is a heathen’s testimony to the truth of the Bible.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Romans 1". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26