The epistle to the Romans was written from Greece, and probably from Corinth (Rom. 16:23), during Paul's third missionary journey, which terminated abruptly at Jerusalem, whither he went with the collection raised by the churches of Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia for the poor saints in that city. The immediate occasion of his writing appears to have been to commend to them Phebe, a deaconess of the church in Cenchrea, the eastern port of the city of Corinth, and distant but a few miles from it. (Rom. 16:1.)
By whom the Church was planted in Rome, the metropolitan city of the empire, is to us unknown, but it owed not its origin to the personal labours of any of the apostles, though when founded it naturally came to be cared for by the apostle of the Gentiles. (Rom. 1:13; Rom. 15:15, 16.) Paul was as yet a stranger to Rome, and to the bulk of the saints in that city (Rom. 1:10, 11; Rom. 15:23, 24), though there were those among them with whom he was well acquainted. (16) Purposing to visit them on his way to Spain, which we know not that he ever reached, he wrote this letter, which treats at some length of the gospel of God.
At the outset, as was fit, he describes himself, and presents his credentials. He was a bondsman of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God; and from the Lord Jesus Christ he received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith among all nations, on behalf of His name, amongst whom were the saints in Rome, the called of Jesus Christ. Hence he writes to them as beloved of God, called saints, wishing them grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then, telling them for what he can give thanks on their behalf, and of his desire to see them, to impart unto them some spiritual gift, he proceeds to enter upon his great theme of the gospel, which he was prepared, when the opportunity should present itself, to preach to the saints in Rome; for there is a gospel for saints as well as one for sinners. How Paul preached to the unconverted the Acts of the Apostles teaches us. (13) What he would preach as gospel for saints the epistle to the Romans in part unfolds to us. Now of the gospel he was not ashamed; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth - to the Jew first, and also to the Greek, for in it is the righteousness of God revealed from, or on the principle (ek) of, faith to faith, in accordance with the prophetic declaration, "The righteous shall live by faith." (Hab. 2:4.) And the reason for this revelation of God's righteousness in the gospel becomes apparent, when it is understood, that God's wrath from heaven is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. God having revealed this latter has provided His glad tidings to be preached, to deliver all who believe them from the judgment they have richly deserved.
Having introduced the revelation of God's wrath from heaven, the apostle proceeds to show the moral condition of Gentiles (Rom. 1:19-32) and of Jews (Rom. 2:17 - 3:20), which proves that all were liable to endure it, because of that which they had done - the former being ungodly, the latter found guilty, in addition to holding the truth in unrighteousness. Further, both were without excuse; for though the Gentiles had not the law, God's written revelation, there was a testimony to God's eternal power, and Godhead in the works of creation sufficient, if man had wished it, to have kept him from idolatry. (Rom. 1:19, 20.), Thence the downward path of the human race is traced out for our instruction. Men once had the knowledge of God, but glorified Him not as God, nor were thankful. So darkness came upon them, and folly was displayed by them as they turned to idolatry. (v. 23.) With that they became debased and vile, God giving them up to the vile practices which accompanied idolatry. But more; they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. God then gave them over to a reprobate mind to do those things which are not convenient. Hence the lawlessness, selfishness, and injustice which are so rife upon earth. A state of savagery then is the fruit of man's will, and not the primeval condition of the race. Of the fall we read in Gen. 3. Of the causes which led to man's debasement after the flood, we learn about in Rom. 1. Concerning the apostasy, which willl characterize Christendom and the ungodly among the Jews, we read of in the Psalms, the Prophets, 2 Thess., and Rev. 13. Such is man's wretched history as traced out in the Word. The state of the heathen world cannot then be laid at God's door. He gave them up to uncleanness only when they turned to idolatry; He gave them up unto vile affections; He gave them over to a reprobate mind. The state God permitted, but He did not create man in such a condition, nor force him against his will to be debased. The true history of man therefore only magnifies the grace of God, in that He should provide good news, and at such a cost, for His wilful and vile creatures.
This is now set forth. Departing from God, as man did after the flood, he had nevertheless a conscience, by the light of which he judged others for sins which he also committed, and hence condemned himself, and owned thereby that he deserved the judgment of God - a judgment which will be executed in the day of God's wrath, and the principles of which the apostle plainly sets forth. (Rom. 2:1-16.) And this judgment will take knowledge of the secrets of men, and will deal with Jews as well as Gentiles. Whereupon the apostle proceeds to prove, from the Old Testament Scriptures, the Jew guilty not only of ungodliness, but also of unrighteousness. (2:17 - 3:20.) For man, then, to escape God's wrath from heaven there was, as far as he was concerned, no hope. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), is the sweeping but true verdict pronounced by God upon the human race.
All then brought in guilty, and by One whose judgment is just, and from which there is no appeal, we are cast upon God for any door of escape from our righteously deserved doom. It is here the gospel comes in, the teaching about which runs on from Rom. 3:21 to 8:39, and is arranged under three great heads; viz., freedom from the guilt of sin, freedom from the power of sin and from the law, and freedom from the presence of sin.
As to the first of these heads, we learn that God is perfectly righteous, by virtue of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, in justifying the ungodly, and has set forth Christ as a mercy-seat, or propitiatory (not propitiation), through faith in His blood to declare His righteousness for the passing over through His forbearance of the sins done aforetime - i.e. the sins of the Old Testament saints - and to declare at this time His righteousness, that He might be just, and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. The reader should remark how God is first thought of in the gospel. His character is first vindicated, His nature too cared for, in that His righteousness and holiness are both met by the blood of Christ sprinkled, as it were, upon the mercy-seat. Boasting on man's part is thereby excluded, and the law is established. (21-31.)
The ground on which God can righteously act in grace having been set forth in chapter 3, we next learn on what principle souls can be justified, as illustrated in the history of Abraham 4:1-5), and the moral class which can share in this favour, of which David is the example. (6-9.) Then, returning to Abraham's history, the apostle reminds us that he was justified before God instituted the rite of circumcision for him and his descendants; so Gentiles as well as Jews can share in it. He was justified by faith; so are we. But the testimony given to us to believe differs from that given to him. He believed God who quickeneth the dead, and calls those things which be not as though they were. We believe upon Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. (9-25.)
Consequences great and blessed flow to us from being justified by faith. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; we have access by faith into the grace, or favour, wherein we stand, as pardoned and justified ones, before the throne of God; and we rejoice, or boast, in hope of the glory of God. And more than that, we boast in God Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the reconciliation. (v. 1-11.) This part of the gospel treats of the result of the atoning death of Christ for us, and the value of His blood before God. And believing God's testimony about it, we know what it is to have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given to us. Thus far we learn from the gospel what it is to have, and how it is we can have, freedom from the guilt of sin. Forgiven - but of this the epistle does not treat,* for it supposed that the saints knew it - they learnt they were also justified, or reckoned righteous by God Himself; hence there was no barrier to their standing in holy boldness before the throne, and the blessings enjoyed, as the consequence of justification by faith, could not, they are shown, in their special line be surpassed.
*Forgiveness of sins is only twice mentioned in the epistle. Rom. 5:7, Rom. 11:27.
But something else is needed, and this forms the second part of this gospel; viz., freedom from the power of sin and from the law. Now here the doctrine of headship of a race can apply. We have learnt something of it experimentally, inasmuch as being descendants of Adam, in him, as head of the race, his condition, the fruit of his fall, and consequences of that fall, we all share in. But another Man has appeared, the head of a new race; so all who are ranged under Him, as their head, are viewed as in Him, and share in His present condition as regards sin and the law, and in the consequences of His act of obedience to death, the death of the cross. (v. 12-19.) Would any charge God with injustice for making Adam's posterity to share in the fruits of his act of disobedience? It is on this very principle that any one of us can really be blessed; for we who believe share in the consequences of the obedience unto death of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have to share in the temporal results of Adam's sin; we do share in the everlasting consequences of the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the ground is cut away from under the feet of an objector in hostility of heart to God, and the believer has cause to thank Him that, if suffering because of his forefather's sin, on that same principle he shares in the blessed results of the obedience unto death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But between Adam's fall and the death of the Lord Jesus Christ the law has come in, and that in order "that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, in order that as sin has reigned in the power of death, so also might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." (v. 20, 21.) The apostle here mentions the law and sin. He will now treat of them somewhat at length, but in an inverse order, showing that by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ believers can enjoy present freedom from the power of sin, and that those once under law are set free from it by that same death. As far as Romans 5:11 the apostle has written of sins. He now treats of sin.
"What shall we say, then?" he asks. "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" Antinomian teaching might encourage that. But the answer is ready and decisive: "How shall we, who died to sin, live any longer therein?" If we have died to it, we cannot go on in it, that is clear. But when? and how? Some might ask. "Are ye ignorant," he adds, "that so many of us as were baptized unto Christ Jesus, were baptized unto His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him by baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." What had they professed by their baptism? They had not died to sin by it. They were buried by it with Christ unto death. They professed, however, by that rite to be disciples of Him who had died, and died to sin.* The apostle then proceeds: "For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also of His resurrection." The condition of the head of the race as to sin is the condition of everyone who is ranged under that head. Christ has died to it. Christians, therefore, have died to it. Thus we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, and now await that of His resurrection. "We shall be of His resurrection." But whilst awaiting that, when we shall be free from the presence of sin, God has judicially dealt with our old man in the cross of Christ, that we should now know deliverance from its thraldom. And since Christ, who has died to sin once for all, now lives to God, we are to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 6:1-11.) Here for the first time in this epistle do we read of our being in Christ. This flows out of the truth of headship treated of, as we have seen, in the previous chapter. Exhortations now follow (Rom. 6:12-14), after which the subject is pursued one step further. If we may not continue in sin, may we sin? some might ask. We have changed masters, says the apostle, so that even cannot be allowed. We were servants to sin, but have become servants to righteousness and to God. Hence comes the exhortation, "Yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness," and so be fruitful to God. (Rom. 6:15-23.)
*As another says: "We have then been buried with Him by baptism for death, having part in it, entered into it by baptism, which represents it." We thus take the ground of being dead with Christ. - ED.
Paul had spoken of the entrance of the law and the purport of it. (v. 20.) He will now point out how souls get free from being under it, and that is by death. But if free, as we have already learnt (Rom. 6:22), we are not our own masters, that we may live to ourselves; for though we have died to the law, we are still here on earth. Hence he adduces the illustration of a woman set free by death from her first husband, able to be for another husband. "So," he writes, "ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be for another, even Him who is raised from the dead, that ye should bring forth fruit to God." (Rom. 7:1-4.) That is the doctrine and the purport of it. The need of such a deliverance, and the experience of a quickened soul under. law, is now set forth in verses 7-25. What believer has not known something of this in the process of learning himself? Yet it is not true Christian experience. Nor are we to rest contented never to advance beyond it upon earth; for there are three defined steps by which the believer gets out of it. First, he learns that in himself there dwells no good thing.* (18.) Next, he discerns the difference of the natures within him. "It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." (20.) Then looking round for a deliverer, for it is that he wants, he finds he has deliverance through Christ Jesus his Lord. (24, 25.) He has not to hope for it. C. E. Stuart.
*There is also another thing. The soul learns its utter powerlessness (see vv. 18, 19, 23), and it is this, in conjunction with what is above stated, that leads it to look without for deliverance. - ED.
The two natures now clearly discerned, the special blessings connected with the teaching about sin and the law are enumerated, and in the order in which the subject has been taken up. First, there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1.)* This answers to the teaching in Romans 5:12-19. Next, "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." (2.) This corresponds to the subject of Romans 6. And third, "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, has condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteous requirement (dikaioma) of the law should be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." (3, 4.) This corresponds to the subject of chap. 7. After this the different actings of the two natures are set forth; for there is, and there can be, no change in them (5-7); and we are taught the sad lesson that those in the flesh cannot please God. "But we are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwells in us." Without the Spirit of Christ** we are not of Him; i.e. do not belong to Him. If Christ be in us the body is dead, because of sin; and the Spirit is life, because of righteousness. This is to be practically true in the present; and for the future, "If the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies because of His Spirit that dwelleth in you." (8-11.) But this leads on to the third great division of the gospel freedom from the presence of sin. Freedom from its guilt, we are taught, flows out of the value of the blood of Christ in God's sight. This for us is a question of faith. Freedom from the power of sin and of the law comes from the death of Christ, and is a matter of experience. Freedom from the presence of sin will be the result of divine power on our behalf. This is a matter of expectation, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost is to us the earnest of it.
*The last clause of this verse, as commonly printed, "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit," is an interpolation. It comes in rightly in the fourth verse.
The teaching about the Holy Ghost is now introduced; for till we reach this part of the epistle the apostle, except in Romans 5:5, has kept silence about it. What has been done by the Lord Jesus Christ for us, and what His death is to be to us, these have been the themes. And though it is only in the power of the Spirit that we can profit by the latter subject, we can see the wisdom of keeping the death of Christ before us, to be learnt in an experimental way, before teaching about the Spirit, who is the energy of the new man, is entered upon. Now, however, the apostle, guided of the Spirit, turns to instruct the saints about the Holy Ghost, as The Holy Ghost is thus called because He dwelt in Christ. dwelling in them and being with them. So he proceeds to point out some blessed results of this. Led by the Spirit we are sons of God, having received the spirit of sonship, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Besides this He also witnesses with our spirits that we are children of God, and as such heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together. (14-17.)
The thought of suffering with Christ introduces the subject of the inheritance which we shall share with Christ. But in what condition is that now? Creation sharing in consequences flowing from the act of its head - Adam - was made subject to vanity, not indeed willingly, and groans, bowed down under the incubus arising from the presence and workings of sin. And we too groan who have received the first-fruits of the Spirit, awaiting adoption, the redemption of our body. Nor are these groans in vain. Creation will be set free from the bondage of corruption, and brought into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. But there is no deliverance for it till that blessed consummation is effected for the heirs of God. Thus we who are now saved are saved in hope, and meanwhile as we see and feel the wretchedness around us, the fruit of sin, the Spirit, the other Advocate or Paraclete (John 14:16), intercedes when we know not what to pray for as we ought, with groanings which cannot be uttered. And the Searcher of hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He intercedes according to God. But one thing at least we do know - that all things work together for good to them that love God. For His purposes concerning them will infallibly be fulfilled, and where it is a question of the divine purpose all can be viewed as if already carried out, so that it can be said, "Whom He justified them He also glorified." (30.)
God is then for us. Wondrous thought! And here closing the direct teaching about the gospel of God, Paul stands forth and asks three grand questions - first, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Next, "Since He justifies us, who shall condemn us?" And thirdly, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ, or from the love of God?" No circumstances can deprive us of the enjoyment of the former; no power can hinder the outflow to us of the latter. Far-reaching then are the results of the death of Christ. A blessed and full gospel assuredly goes forth on the strength of it. Creation is deeply interested in His death, but men, both sinners and saints, how much more! Yet all to whom the gospel was preached did not receive it, and some thought that it clashed with God's ways with, and promises to, His earthly people; for they are His people who enjoyed special privileges, and have had made to them special promises. (Rom. 9:1-5.) To a consideration of this point - a most important one - the apostle next turns, in chapters 9 - 11.
Under three heads does he treat of this:
1, The ways of God with Israel in the past (Rom. 9:6-24);
2, The word of God about Israel and the Gentiles (Rom. 9:25 - 10:21);
3, The purposes of God about Israel in the future. (Rom. 11)
Now if God was acting in sovereignty, saving whom He would, whether Jews or Gentiles, natural descent it is clear could be no ground on which to count for blessing. Yet Israel prided themselves on that. But had God dealt in the past on that principle? "They are not all Israel which are of Israel." For on the principle of natural descent the Samaritans, who called Jacob their father, might put in a claim to stand on common ground with the Jews, and the Ishmaelites, Abraham's descendants, as well as the children of Keturah, would then stand side by side with the chosen people. (9:6-9.) What Jew would have relished that? Would they quarrel then with God's undisputable right to choose whom He would? Then the Edomite must be admitted to have part with Israel. (10-13.) Was God unrighteous in dealing in pure grace? It was owing solely to His grace and mercy that their fathers were not cut off in the wilderness, and the nation had not begun again its existence in the offspring only of Moses. (15-18.) So Israel must own that in the past they owed all to God's sovereignty, election, and mercy, on which grounds God was now bringing in those once Gentiles to share with those once Jews in the fulness of His grace. (19-24.) And all that He was now doing was in strict accordance with that prophetic Word which had also foretold Israel's rejection of grace. (9:25 - 10:21.)
Thus far then as to God's ways with Israel in the past, and His dealing with souls in the present. Looking at the future, Paul asks, "Has God cast away His people which He foreknew?" No; for Paul, who was one of them, was saved - a sample, with the rest who then believed, of the remnant according to the election of grace. There had been such a remnant in the darkest days of Israel's history, when the ten tribes had apostatized under Ahab. There was such a remnant in Paul's day. There is one still. (Rom. 11:1-10.) Have they stumbled that they should fall? Was that the purpose to be carried out by their fall? No; but that, through their fall, salvation should come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. But here the Gentiles need a caution. The people of Israel being naturally, as it were, off the scene, and the Gentiles partaking of privileges which once were exclusively Israel's, as branches of the olive tree, let such beware that they abuse not their privilege, and fail to continue in God's goodness, as Israel failed before them. (11-24.) For blindness in part has happened to Israel, till the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. Then all Israel shall be saved, as the prophet Isaiah had said (25-29), "Thus God has concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all." For on the ground of mercy He can bless in a way and in a measure none of us could ever claim. Having stated this, the apostle closes with an expression of admiration of the wisdom and knowledge of God, and ascribes to Him glory for ever. Here the second great section of the epistle ends, the first having terminated with the close of Romans 8.
Exhortations now follow, 12, 13, based on two considerations - the mercies of God, as taught in 1 - 8, and the character of the time in which our lot is cast. We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service (Rom. 12:1); and to put away the works of darkness, and to put on the armour of light. (Rom. 13:12.) Now these exhortations apply to the various relations in life in which saints may be found, whether as members of the one body (Rom. 12:3-8), as brethren (9-13), as men on earth having to do with others (14-21), as citizens in the world, in subjection to the powers that be (Rom. 13:1-7), or as neighbours. (8-10.) And since the night is far spent, and the day is at hand, it behoves us to wake up out of sleep, and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ; and not to make provision for the flesh to fulfil its lusts. (11-14.)
After these exhortations, which we have but briefly glanced at, the apostle turned to another subject, and one of great importance in his day. God was calling out from Jews and Gentiles a people for His name. The former had received a revelation from Him, in which distinction of meats and observance of days had a prominent place; the latter had previously received no written revelation, and so had nothing of that kind to unlearn when they became Christians. The believer, formerly a Gentile, was free in his conscience as regards meats and days. With some who had been Jews it was different. They had still conscientious scruples about them. To both these classes a word was now addressed. (Rom. 14 - 15:7.) Paul himself, once a Jew, a Pharisee of the Pharisees, was as free in these things as any Christian who had been a Gentile. (Rom. 14:14, 20.) But conscience in each was to be respected. This he inculcates. The strong one was not to despise the weak one; and the weak one was not to judge the strong. "To his own master he standeth or falleth." (4, 5.) Further, both were brethren. "Why then," asks Paul, "dost thou judge thy brother? why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of God," according to Isaiah. (Isa. 45:23.) Would we judge? "Let us," he, adds, "judge rather not to put a stumbling-block in a brother's way, and let us follow things which make for peace, and things wherewith we may edify one another." (13-19.) If free for one's self, one's brother's interest is to be taken into account. And the ways of Christ, who pleased not Himself, is the model put before us, as an example and encouragement. His example, here adduced, guards the teaching of this part of this epistle from abuse. Would any point to this portion in vindication of what is wrong, whether moral or ecclesiastical? They could not plead the example of the Lord in vindication of such a course. The question here raised had to do with ceremonial observances instituted by the law, to which, however, as Christians, we have died, as we have already seen.
The epistle now draws to a close. Paul was hoping to visit them at Rome. Meanwhile he sends his salutations to those he knew there, and they were not a few. (Rom. 16:3-15.) Many here mentioned are otherwise unknown to us. But the chapter is interesting, as it shows that service done for God and for Christ is not forgotten, nor are those, who from some physical cause are past service, ignored. The beloved Persis, who had laboured, is remembered, as well as Tryphena and Tryphosa, who were still working for the Lord. (12.) After that he warns them to mark those which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine they had received, and to avoid them, and for themselves he would have them wise concerning that which is good, and simple concerning evil. Satan would be bruised under their feet shortly by the God of peace. Now he closes, "To Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by prophetic writings, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to the only wise God, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen." (25-27.)
With this epistle the canonical writings of Paul before his imprisonment at Rome are completed. C. E. Stuart.