Meditations on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans*: Introduction

Romans  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 11
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“The just shall live by faith.”
In none of the Pauline epistles, nor in any letter of the other apostles, is the foundation of our relationship to God in so clear and broad a manner presented to us as in the Epistle to the Romans. The apostle commences with the sin of man. He addresses himself directly to the conscience of the same; then unfolds individual justification, and at the same time how the believer is made free from sin, and in what the character of this liberty consists.
But to be able better to understand this Epistle in its connection, it is necessary to make one’s self somewhat fully acquainted with the condition of the assembly at Rome. The circumstances of the time enable us to judge somewhat of this condition, but the Epistle itself furnishes us with still further information about it. But, without entering here into details, we shall only mention the one fact that the assembly at Rome consisted of Christians, who were both from among the Jews as well as from among the Nations. The former, boasting in their carnal privileges, were occupied with introducing Jewish elements; and the latter, undervaluing these privileges, altogether stood in danger of setting up a carnal liberty. Such circumstances gave occasion, not only to various uncharitable actions, but, what is still worse, they were calculated to loosen and to pollute the ground of the truth. The apostle, perceiving this danger, meets it, as a true minister of the truth, by a perfect unfolding of the principles of the doctrine of salvation—an exposition which entirely excludes all glory of man, be he Jew or Gentile, and brings most clearly to light the glory of God.
After a brief introduction, from chap. 1:1-16, which presents the glad tidings of grace, the apostle begins at once to declare the sins of the nations and of the Jews. He demonstrates the responsibility and the utterly ruined condition of roan. Be he under law or —without law—Jew or Gentile—he is lost. (See chap. 1:16, to chap. 3:20.)
At the close of this description of the lost state of man, from chap. 3:21-31, he reveals the only and all-sufficient remedy for this condition—the blood of Christ. This blood reveals both “the righteousness of God for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God, as also at this time his righteousness, that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” Man, be he Jew or Gentile, can only be justified by faith, on the ground of the work of Christ; and this truth overthrew all claims of the Jews based upon their presumed privileges.
The Jews boasted not only of the law, but also of their descent in the flesh from Abraham. Therefore, the apostle proves further as both Abraham and David testified, that a man is justified by faith, and finds his salvation only in forgiveness. This appeal to Abraham gives occasion to the unfolding of a new and most important principle—namely, to the introduction of man into an altogether new state before God through the resurrection—into a condition where sin reigns no longer, where man is justified, not only in that he has forgiveness of his sins, but also that he is acceptable to God (chap. 4).
This doctrine of the resurrection is applied in chapter 5 to our justification; in chapter 6 to the new life in Christ, the power of which is that we reckon ourselves dead to sin; in chapter 7 to the deliverance from the law. Finally, in chapter 8 is presented to us the condition of the delivered Christian whose deliverance rests upon the work of Christ, whose joy is consequent on the participation of the life of Christ, and whose redemption will extend also to his body.
There remains still another question to be answered. The apostle had proved in the preceding part that the Jews, looked at under the law, could produce nothing for their justification; the law, on the contrary, condemned them. But what could be said now in respect of the promises? God had given the promises without condition. The apostle treats this subject in chapters 9 to 9.
In chapter 9 he shows that the Jews, though Abraham’s seed, could righteously be rejected because of unbelief and disobedience, since Ishmael and Esau, descending from the same father, were excluded from the privileges, in that these were made sure to Jacob and his seed. They consequently had either to cast off their own choice, or to acknowledge the sovereignty of God; and God was therefore perfectly free to bring into execution the claims of the prophets as regards the calling of the Gentiles.
In chapter 10 he shows that, according to the predictions of the same prophets, the Jews had stumbled on the stone of offense, and had not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. But, then, are the people altogether cast off in consequence of this! Certainly not; for in chapter 11 The apostle proves—lst, that a remnant was existing; 2nd, that the call of the Nations was to provoke the Jews to jealousy; and, 3rd, that the Redeemer should come out of Zion.
Upon the ground of perfect equality of the Jews and the Nations, both as regards their lost condition and also as to the means of the redemption of both, and on the ground of their complete unity as justified ones by faith in Christ, the apostle now exhorts them to brotherly unity, in honor preferring one another, that all discord between brethren from among the Jews and from among the Nations may entirely disappear, and a mutual, hearty love be cultivated in its place. He adds various other exhortations respecting our conduct here below (chaps. 13 to 15.), and then closes his Epistle with many salutations to several members of the assembly, who had distinguished themselves by their integrity, and were personally known to him (chap. 16).
Now, concerning the distinctive character of the Gospel which Paul declared, it may not be without profit to say a few words here.
Soon after his calling he preached at Damascus, Christ as the Son of God (Acts 9:2020And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. (Acts 9:20)). The testimony of the apostles hitherto, as we plainly see in the first seven chapters of the Acts, had for its subject the Messiah, or Anointed One—rejected and crucified by the people of Israel, but acknowledged and raised up again by God. God had raised Him, and “made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:3636Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:36)), and the people of Israel were invited, through the presence and testimony of the Holy Ghost, to acknowledge Him in this new position by repentance and faith. It was, therefore, a testimony which had reference to the relation between God and His earthly people. But Israel refused to acknowledge this, and rejected the witness of the Holy Ghost most distinctly in the stoning of Stephen, “a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost” (Acts 6:5; 7:57-605And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: (Acts 6:5)
57Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, 58And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. 59And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. 60And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:57‑60)
). Israel had now rejected the last testimony, and there remained, therefore, nothing but judgment for it. But the execution of this judgment has not taken place as yet. Israel, though having been long since set aside as a nation, still awaits this final judgment. As soon, then, as Israel had rejected all, God raised up Paul, and revealed through him a new testimony, which he calls his Gospel. This testimony unto which Paul was called as an apostle has not for its object Christ as the Messiah, but as the Son of (loci. It had no relation to a connection between God and His people as such, but to a relation between God and His children.
1. Translated from the German of J.N.D.