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Thursday, June 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

- Romans

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic



By the

Author of the Commentary on Esther






WE are asked, What! another commentary on the Epistle to the Romans? and we reply, Yes; for there may be more light and truth to break forth from this portion of God’s word; and the commentary of this series is on different lines from any that have been previously attempted. But our greatest opponent is M. Renan. As we read the following extract we wonder how such a character as St. Paul has dominated religious thought to so large an extent: “What was Paul? He was not a saint. The dominating feature of his character is not goodness. He was proud, unbending, unsociable; he defends himself—self-assertive (as we say to-day); he uses harsh words; he believes himself right; he holds to his opinions; he quarrels with various people. He was not a scholar; one can even say that he has injured science by his paradoxical contempt of reason, by his eulogy of apparent folly, by his apotheosis of transcendental absurdity. Neither was he a poet. His writings, works of the highest originality, are without charm; the form is harsh and almost devoid of grace.” We do not know what Renan’s conception of goodness may be, but he says “the ideal type of moral perfection, according to Paul, is a man gentle, honest, chaste, sober, charitable, unfettered by riches”; and Paul was a living exemplification of his own ideal. As we read of Paul’s zeal for the salvation of souls, of his love for humanity, of his self-sacrifice in the promotion of every good cause, we should say that goodness was the dominating feature of his character. In fact, we always consider Paul as coming nearest to the divine model. But Renan confuses. In the passage just quoted, for instance, we are told that “Paul’s writings are without charm”; while in another place we read, “Paul then wrote this admirable passage, the only one in all Christian literature which can be compared to the discourses of Jesus.” How Renan can read the striking episode on love (charity) and declare that Paul was not a poet we fail to understand. But he becomes even more startling when he declares that “it is necessary to put Paul on a lower plane than Francis Assisi and the author of The Imitation.… After having been for three hundred[1] years the Christian doctor in an eminent degree, Paul seems nowadays near the end of his reign; Jesus, on the contrary, is more living than ever. It is no more the Epistle to the Romans which is the recapitulation of Christianity; it is the Sermon on the Mount. True Christianity, which will last eternally, comes from the gospels, not from the epistles of St. Paul. The writings of Paul have been a danger and a stumbling-block, the cause of the chief faults of Christian theology. Paul is the father of the subtle Augustine, of the arid Thomas Aquinas, of the sober Calvinist, of the bitter Jansenist, of the ferocious theology which condemns and predestinates to damnation. Jesus is the father of all those who seek in dreams of the ideal the repose of their souls.” This last sentence brings before our minds the fact that Renan begins and ends by saying that no man was ever so magnificent a saint as Jesus Christ; and yet almost in the same breath he calls Him a vile impostor, and brings charges against Him of a tendency at least to immorality for which there is not the slightest foundation. Surely Renan’s absurdity cannot shake the faith of centuries. Calvinism in modern days is rejected; but we must not forget that wisest men have been its adherents. It is no disgrace to be the father of Augustine, Aquinas, and Jonathan Edwards—the greatest of modern philosophical divines. And having still faith in the Epistle to the Romans, we may prosecute our work. Our adhesion to St. Paul and his epistle is warranted by the views of noblest men. Longinus, one of the most celebrated critics of heathen Rome, ranks Paul with the first orators of ancient times. We may pass to more modern times. Meyer says: “Amidst the circumstances of his (Paul’s) apostolic work he developed a force and play of spirit, a cogency of thought, a purity and firmness of purpose, an intensity of feeling, a holy audacity of effort, a wisdom of deportment, a precision and delicacy of practical skill, a strength and liberty of faith, a fire and mastery of eloquence, a heroism in danger, a love and self-forgetfulness, which have secured for this chosen implement of Christ the reverence of all time.” Dr. McCleod affirms: “Never did there live a nobler spirit than St. Paul. He has made the world grander by his very existence in it. He is one of our greatest kings, ruling the hearts of men; one of our greatest teachers; one of our high priests, who has offered unto God the sacrifice of a holy life and of a thankful spirit of prayer and praise.” Monod writes as follows: “Imagine the world without St. Paul: it would mean the detention of the gospel, perhaps for centuries, on the borders of Asia, far from this Europe of ours, which Paul (after Jesus Christ) has made the centre of the conversion and civilisation of the world. Imagine the Bible without St. Paul: it would mean Christian truth one half revealed, Christian life only half understood, Christian charity only half known, Christian faith only half victorious.” Coleridge once described this Epistle to the Romans as the profoundest book in existence; and a Frenchman of our time, looking at its massiveness and majesty on the one hand and at the finish and beauty of its details on the other, speaks of it as the cathedral of the Christian faith.

[1] We suppose Renan to refer to the Reformation, when Paul’s doctrine of justification began to influence the Church.

The Epistle to the Romans was written by St. Paul, either at the end of the year 57 or at the beginning of the year 58. It may be safe to assign the date to the spring of the latter year. It was written after some of the other epistles, but has in our Bible the position of precedence. However, the epistles are not arranged according to the order of the time in which they were written. Their order has been determined by the importance of the societies or persons to whom they were addressed. The arrangement was of rapid growth, and arose, as some assert, out of the intuitive feeling of the early Church. Let us, however, not rest satisfied with the suggestion of intuitive feeling. The arrangement is confessedly excellent, and speaks of the wisdom of the fathers of the Church who were directed by divine wisdom. If we desire a proof of the inspiration of the New Testament, we may point to the admirable order and wise systematic arrangement of the books of which it is composed. It is fitting that this epistle should stand in the forefront of St. Paul’s compositions, since it was addressed to the Church situated in the metropolis of the then known world. There were collected different nationalities. From this centre of martial power and intellectual light and leading radiated many different influences. Surely not without satisfactory reason was this epistle—written on the relation of Jew and Gentile, unfolding the true doctrine of justification by faith, vindicating the ways of God with man, and enforcing lessons of wise tolerance for all time—placed in the forefront of all the sacred epistles.
The epistle may be divided into four main parts, with many subdivisions which need not now be enumerated:—PART I., the INTRODUCTION, contained in the first fifteen verses of the first chapter; PART II., the DOCTRINAL PART of the epistle, concerning JUSTIFICATION, continues thence to the end of chap. xi.; PART III. comprises the HORTATORY OR PRACTICAL PART of the epistle; PART IV. the CONCLUSION. The epistle was evidently written, not under pressure of anxiety, but in calm deliberation. It was apparently composed in the house of a Corinthian Christian, who is known to us only by the name Gaius or Caius. It was dictated by St. Paul to the amanuensis Tertius. Surely the pen of the writer would be arrested in its course as the mind was caught up by the glowing periods of the eighth chapter. What a light, what a far-away look, would be on the speaker’s face as he thought on fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute! The precious letter was carried by Phœbe to Rome. A woman carried the greatest document of time. It was safe in her hands, for she was in the hands of Omnipotence. It is safe still. St. Paul has had many critics, but no compeers. In what roll of fame is Evanson’s name now chronicled? Where shall we look for his monument? We ask the publisher for the work of him who assailed the genuineness of the Epistle to the Romans, and very likely the publisher has not heard the name. Time has sadly overcome the fame of Evanson, while JUST TIME has gladly increased the fame of our apostle. He still lives as an influential power. One St. Paul is sufficient to glorify a race. One Epistle to the Romans is adequate to ennoble all literature. We may approach the work in trembling, and earnestly pray for divine light and guidance as we attempt a homiletical treatment of the immortal treatise. Our work is well-nigh done, and it is an attempt, after all; still, we unwillingly lay down the pen, and remain deeper and firmer in our admiration of St. Paul, and stronger in our conception of the depth of the riches of the knowledge, wisdom, and mercy of God. It will be a joy if any study is cheered by rays of heaven’s light, if the voice of the pulpit is clearer and fuller, if the Church is enriched, by the contribution we make to the well-being of humanity.


Church Seasons: Advent and Christmas, Romans 1:3-4; Romans 8:3-4; Romans 8:32; Romans 13:12. St. Paul’s Day, Romans 7:4. Good Friday, Romans 5:6. Easter, Romans 4:25; Romans 5:10; Romans 6:1-11. Whitsun Day, Romans 8:15-17. Sabbath, Romans 6:1; Romans 13:5-6.

Holy Communion: Romans 1:11-12; Romans 2:25-29.

Foreign Missions: To Heathen, Romans 1:16; Romans 1:22-32; Romans 2:14; Romans 6:21; Romans 10:12-18; Romans 15:17-21. To Jews, Romans 9:25-33; Romans 10:1-4; Romans 10:18-21; Romans 11:1-5; Romans 6:0 -

10. Bible Society, Romans 2:1-2; Romans 4:3; Romans 15:4; Romans 13:0.

Evangelistic Services: Romans 1:16-17; Romans 3:24; Romans 4:7; Romans 5:7-8; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:6-8.

Special: Workers, Romans 16:3-5. G. F. S., etc., Romans 16:1-2. Parents, Romans 16:5. Servants, Romans 12:11. Scientific, Romans 1:20. Christian Communism, Romans 12:13-16; Romans 13:7-10; Romans 15:27. Almsgiving, Romans 15:25-29.

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