On the Epistle to the Romans 1 and 2

Romans 1‑2  •  25 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Paul begins the epistle with a reference to his office. He was the servant of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, separated unto the gospel of God; that is, so to speak, his title. He served the Lord, and to this end he had been called and separated, in quite a special way; he was not amongst those who had followed the Lord on earth; he did not know Him thus. On the contrary, he had been the most violent enemy to the name of Jesus on earth, and sought to exterminate this new doctrine- that is, faith in Jesus-from the midst of Israel, and to punish every adherent of it. This path was put a stop to by the Lord, who revealed Himself to him in glory, and now this very glory became the starting-point of Paul's service. It was the most signal proof of the work of reconciliation being accomplished, that He who had suffered for sins was now in glory; and not only that, but the persecuted Christians were acknowledged by the Lord, not as disciples, but as united to Him-the glorified Man, the Son of God in heaven. Thus Paul was called in an entirely special way; but he was separated also in a special way. The revelation of the Lord in glory separated him first of all from Judaism, yet not that he should turn to paganism; but, acknowledging Christ in divine glory as Lord, he was taken out " from amongst the people and the Gentiles " (Acts 26:17), and was sent into the world by the glorified Man, the Lord of glory, to proclaim an accomplished redemption, to deliver from sin all who should believe in Him, and the Jews from the yoke of the law. Therefore, henceforth, he knew no one after the flesh, not even the Lord Jesus; that is, not as the carnally-minded Jews desired to have Him here in the world, as Son of David, although fully recognizing that He had come as such, and that He had a perfect right to this title. But the Lord had been rejected as Son of David, and now all should be pure grace, as well for the Jews as for the Gentiles, since the first had lost every title to the promises through their rejection of Him in whom they should have their fulfillment. God will assuredly make good His promises; but now all is of pure grace, and, through the risen Man, whom Paul had seen in glory. This point is clearly established further on in the epistle.
For the better understanding of the epistle, it may be well to remark, that Paul, although the Lord Jesus in glory was the starting-point and foundation of his ministry, goes no further in the doctrine of this epistle than the resurrection of the Lord. It is quite true that the position of the Lord in glory is assumed, and in the few verses which set forth the order of the counsels of God, the glory of the children of God is also not wanting; it is part of these counsels that the elect should be conformed to the image of His Son (chap. 8: 29, 30). Nevertheless, when the apostle speaks of the groundwork of salvation, how one is justified and saved, he goes no farther than the Lord's resurrection; for what Christ has acquired for us is another thing from the answer to the question, How can a sinner be accepted by God, and how is he brought into the position of an heir of God?
In the Epistle to the Romans we find precisely this position of the heir, as made fit in Christ to stand before God, and to inherit with Christ as man, according to righteousness, as a new quickened man accepted by God; but the glory and the inheritance itself are mentioned but briefly. As soon as Christ, as a dead man, had been raised, man was brought into an entirely new condition, quickened according to the power of the Spirit and of resurrection. The work which abolished sin had been accomplished; our sins had been borne and made an end of by death; God had been glorified in the place where sin was; the strength of him who had the power of death had been annulled, even as death itself. There was a new man over whom death had no power. I do not speak here of the Person of Christ, of what He was in His nature, but of the new position of men into which we are brought by the resurrection of the man Christ Jesus-of man in his new condition according to the counsels of God. It is there that we see the proof of the acceptance of the finished work of Christ according to the righteousness of God, as well as the pattern, if not yet of the glory, still of the normal condition of every believer in Christ. They are, so to speak, on the other side of death-of Satan's power, sin, and the judgment of God-because God had been perfectly glorified in Christ: they stand in the favor of God according to righteousness. That is the importance of the resurrection of Christ as the fundamental doctrine of this epistle, His death being presented as the basis of His resurrection, and that which gives to the latter its value" Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again."
Thus Paul was called and separated from all men to preach the glad tidings of God, the message of this work of His love.
This gospel had already been promised beforehand by the prophets in holy scripture, but now the announcement was no longer a promise. We have, it is true, precious promises for the path we must tread through this world, but the gospel is no promise. It is rather the fulfillment of the promises of God, in so far as they relate to the Lord's incarnation, His finished work, His resurrection (1 Peter 1:11, 12), and to His being glorified, although this last point is not treated in the Epistle to the Romans. It should he observed here that the " holy scriptures " are the promises of God, and that the prophets by whom they were given are prophets of God.
In what, then, do these glad tidings consist? They are " concerning his Son " (the Son of God), " Jesus Christ our Lord." The Person of Christ is the primary subject of the gospel; it announces His having come into the world. But here we have two things: First, the promises are fulfilled; inasmuch as He is Son of David according to the flesh; secondly, He is " marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of the dead." These are the two great accomplished facts which constitute for man the value of the coming of the Lord into the world. The promises are fulfilled; the Son of David was there. The Jews would not receive Him, and have thus lost the fruit of the promises, although these had their accomplishment, inasmuch as the Lord had come. But then the power of God has been revealed in the fact that the Lord, after having submitted Himself to death, has by resurrection been proved to be Son of God. Although the strongest proof of the power of God has been given in Christ's resurrection, yet we see already in the raising of Lazarus a manifestation of this divine power, as well as later on in the resurrection of all saints. " This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby," John 11:4. He was, and is, the resurrection and the life. The power of resurrection is the proof that He is Son of God. This is not a fulfillment of promises, but the power of God there, where death had intervened as the consequence of sin.
With regard to the expression, " the Spirit of holiness," I would notice that the Holy Spirit is, so to speak, the operative power in the resurrection as in everything that God has created or done. Thus Peter says, with regard to the Lord's resurrection, " Put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit "(1 Peter 3:18); and of the believer it is said, " But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you," Rom. 8: 11. But why is it spoken of as " according to the Spirit of holiness "? Because the Holy Spirit is, as it were, the operative power of God for producing in man all that is well-pleasing to Him. This power is, of course, always in God. By it He created the world; by it He wrought in the instruments of the Old Testament and in the prophets. But now He had been acting in the human life of Christ, and in the production of the new form of humanity, according to this divine power. The prophets uttered what was given them to say, and with that the divine inspiration ceased; besides, what they announced was not for themselves. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb. But Christ as Man was born of the Holy Spirit; His life, though human in every respect, was the expression of the power of the Holy Spirit. He cast out devils by the Holy Spirit. His words were spirit and life. The fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Him bodily, but His humanity was the expression of that which was divine by the Holy Spirit, in love, in power, and specially in holiness. He was the Holy One of God. By the Holy Spirit He offered Himself without spot to God. In all things He served His Father; but His service was the perfect presentation of what was divine, of the Father Himself, in the midst of men-He, as to His humanity, by the Spirit, at every moment answering to the Godhead, the expression and effulgence of it without spot or blemish. All the offerings of the Old Testament are types of Christ; but in this connection the meat-offering is the corresponding and most striking type. Cakes of fine flour, unleavened, mingled with oil, anointed with oil, parted in pieces, and oil poured upon them. What a striking type of the humanity of Christ, which, as to its nature, was of the Spirit, and anointed with the Spirit, every part being characterized by the outpoured Spirit, and by which all the incense of His perfections was offered up to God as a sweet-smelling savor! So He had to be tried by fire, in death, to show that all was a sweet savor, and nothing else. Finally, the power of the Holy Spirit was shown in the greatest and most perfect way in the Lord's resurrection. Being put to death in the flesh, He was quickened by the Spirit. The Spirit, who in divine power had been energetic in His birth, and in His whole life, and by whom He at length offered Himself to God, manifested all His power in quickening Jesus from death. It is true indeed that He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father; also that He Himself raised up His body, the temple of God (John 2:19); but the Holy Spirit was the immediate agent in His resurrection (1 Peter 3:18); the body also of the risen One is a spiritual body.
Thus man has been brought by resurrection in the Person of Christ into an entirely new condition, beyond death, sin, judgment, and the power of Satan; and it was thus that Christ was proved to be the Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by resurrection. This Spirit was the power of holiness throughout His whole life; for " by the eternal Spirit he offered himself without spot to God," and according to this Spirit He is proved to be Son of God, and by Him was, even on earth, justified. As all was accomplished for God's glory by a man, who was the Son of God, and who, as man, had manifested His perfect obedience and love to His Father, man, according to the value of this accomplished work and the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, has been brought into an entirely new position in the Person of the Son of God, so that by faith we are accepted and are sons. Christ, who, as Son of David, was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, being rejected on earth, after He had accomplished the work entrusted to Him by the Father, entered as the risen One, beyond death which He endured as the fruit of sin, into the position of the second Man, the last Adam.
Thus we have here presented in the Person of Christ the two main points in the ways of God-the fulfillment of promise (although the Jews by His rejection have lost all right to it), and the revelation of the Son of God, proved to be such according to the quickening power of the Holy Spirit in a risen Man. Thus the power of God is manifested, not in the fulfillment of a promise, but in the present life and position of the second Man in connection with an accomplished redemption. But here the divine power of life and the new position brought about by resurrection are specially connected with the relationship of man to God, as put into this position, yet in the Person of the Lord Himself in power.
How blessed is the thought, that the eternal Son of God, become Man, has taken up this new position of which we have spoken, and that, as pattern and Firstborn among many brethren, who will be perfectly like Him according to the living power of the Holy Spirit, and in the glory itself. " For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren," Heb. 2: 11. The subject here, indeed, is not the glory; but the Lord could say, after His resurrection, when all was accomplished (not before), " Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, and unto my God, and your God," John 20:17.
Thus the subject of the gospel, to which Paul was separated, is Jesus Christ our Lord as Son of David for the fulfillment of the promises, and declared to be Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection from the dead. It is true, the apostle speaks in this epistle of righteousness, and sets forth all clearly and fully; but the principal object which he has in view is the Person of Christ Himself, and what He is as the fulfillment of the promises and as Son of God in power and in resurrection-that which the Holy Spirit presents as God's own object in the gospel. From Him, as already glorified, Paul had received grace and apostleship, for obedience of faith among all the nations for His name. The Romans were amongst these nations. He does not address them as an assembly, as he usually did when writing to an assembly he had founded, but he addresses his epistle to all the beloved of God, called saints, which are in Rome. As apostle of the Gentiles, he could write to all with the authority of Christ.
In his epistles, he always gives the salutation of grace and peace from the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, names to which we often pay too little heed. In the one we have God Himself as Father, known as such in grace; in the other, the glorified Man, the Son of God, who is invested (and that officially) with presidency over the house and people of God. With the one we stand in the relation of children, with the other as servants.
The apostle would have wished to visit the Christians at Rome sooner, but had been hindered by Satan; for the work of the Lord is always pursued in presence of the enemy, who seeks to stay its progress, be it through persecution, or through stirring up evil in the assemblies, with which the laborer must be occupied; be it through heresies, which absorb his time, or through all sorts of other devices. It is important for the laborer to observe this. He thereby learns dependence, and that the strength and energy of the Lord are absolutely needed. Therefore Paul, while giving thanks to God for the faith of the believers at Rome, which was spoken of in all the world, besought in his prayers that God would open his way to them. He longed to see them, that he might impart unto them some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established; but in the same breath he takes his place in love among them, by saying, " That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me." He was an apostle, and should act in love; as an apostle then, he should come down to the weakest, to raise them up to divine confidence. Often he had purposed coming to them, that he might have some fruit among them also. He was under obligation to all nations to bring the grace of God to them; and so, as far as depended on him, he was ready to preach the gospel to them also that were at Rome.
How anxious he is to express himself suitably! He could not call them Greeks, nor yet barbarians, for that would have been an offense to the inhabitants of the imperial city. He thinks thus of everything, so as to be useful to all.
This leads the apostle to the doctrine of the epistle. He was ready to preach to those who were at Rome because he was not ashamed of the gospel; " for," said he, " it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth." Power of man it is not-this he explains afterward still more distinctly and fully-not even for acquiring human righteousness. It is a salvation brought to man-a holy, a righteous salvation-but a salvation from God, by the power of God, and this, because the righteousness of God was therein revealed, in contrast to human righteousness. It is God's own righteousness in which we participate by faith; His righteousness on the principle of faith. All as to it is already perfect, before we believe in it. By faith we have part in it. This righteousness is not by the works of man, nor by the law, else it would be only for the Jews, who alone had the law. It avails rather for all men, because it is by faith, and so the Gentiles, if they believe, have part in it.
It will perhaps be of use to say a word as to the meaning of the expression, " Righteousness of God." Although it is quite simple, much misapprehension prevails as to its meaning. The Lutheran translation has instead, " The righteousness which avails before God." Now man's righteousness, according to the law, avails before God; none such may be found, it is true, but it avails before God; but it is not the righteousness of God, were it ever so perfect. In John 16: to we see wherein the righteousness of God has been shown; namely, that God has set Christ at His right hand in His own glory, because Christ has perfectly glorified Him. The righteousness consists in this, that the Father has exalted Christ as Man to His own glory-the glory which He had with Him before the world was; and God, as a righteous God, has glorified Him because He has been glorified in Christ on the cross; John 17:5; ch. 13: 31, 32. In the above-cited passage (John 16: to), the Lord says: The Spirit " will convince the world of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more." By the rejection of Christ, the world has forever lost Him as come in grace; but God has accepted and glorified Him. When the Lord speaks of the world, in John 17:25, He says, " Righteous Father! " on the other hand, in His prayer for His own, He says, " Holy Father! " (v. 11). Thus the proof of the righteousness of God lies in His having glorified Christ. When God was in Christ in the world, it had either to accept or reject Him. It has rejected Him, and is thereby judged, and will see Him no more until He come in judgment; but Christ, as Man, has perfectly glorified God in all that He is, and God according to His righteousness has glorified Him. Now the gospel announces this righteousness of God; namely, that Christ, in what He has done for us, having glorified God, has been glorified as Man, and is seated at God's right hand, clothed with divine glory; moreover, that our position before God is the consequence of what Christ has accomplished. Our justification and being glorified are a part of the righteousness of God; because what Christ has done to glorify God, has been done for us. We are the righteousness of God in Him; 2 Cor. 5:21. Christ would lose the fruit of His work if we should not be with Him in glory as the fruit of the travail of His soul, after He has glorified all that is in God, although in ourselves we are absolutely unworthy.
The apostle then sets forth why such a righteousness, the righteousness of God Himself, was necessary, if man was to be saved. Human righteousness was not to be found on earth, and yet righteousness was necessary. But since it is God's righteousness, and certainly not by our works, it must be reckoned to us through faith, on the principle of faith; for if the works of man contributed towards it, it would not be the righteousness of God. But if it is through faith man participates in this righteousness, then believers from amongst the nations had part in it just as much as the Jews.
We see, then, that as the Person of Christ was placed in the foreground as the first, the second main subject of the epistle is the righteousness of God revealed upon the principle of faith, so that it is for all, and to be received through faith, and thus appropriated by the soul. What made this righteousness necessary is the universal sinfulness of man, for the wrath of God has been revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who possess the truth in unrighteousness. With regard to the heathen, the apostle gives two reasons for this wrath. First, the testimony of creation (vers. 19, 20); and, secondly, that, knowing God, they did not wish to retain Him in their knowledge but preferred idolatry (v. 21-24). For the invisible things of Him are seen, that is, His eternal power and Godhead, perceived by the things that are made from the creation of the world; so that what can be known of God is manifested among them, and consequently they are without excuse (v. 20). This does not imply that they know God according to His nature, but that they should have known Him as Creator; unless one is blind, a Creator is seen in the creation.
But God has not only revealed Himself as Creator. Noah did not only know Him as such, but also as a God with whom man as a responsible being had to do, as a God who had judged the world for its wickedness, who took note of man's ways, and who would not have unrighteousness and violence. At the building of the tower of Babel they had learned to know Him as a God who had scattered them, because they desired to become independent in their own wisdom, and powerful in their own strength. Such a God, however, the heathen would not retain in their knowledge or acknowledge; they made themselves gods such as man could make, gods which favored their passions; and instead of glorifying the true God, or being thankful to Him, they relapsed into the darkness of their own hearts. " Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things." And because they would not maintain the glory of God, but gave it up for their lusts, God gave them over to these lusts. He gave them up to shameful passions in which they did things unbecoming nature itself, and filled with all ungodliness and controlled by their passions, they not only did such things themselves, but with deliberate wickedness they found pleasure in those that did them. There were, it is true, some who judged these infamous ways (chap. 2: I), but they did the same, and thus condemned themselves, and became subject to the just judgment of God, while also they despised the riches of His goodness and patience, not perceiving that this goodness led them to repentance. Instead of yielding to this leading, with a stubborn and impenitent heart, they treasured up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath.
The apostle comes now to an important principle, simple indeed, but throwing clear light upon the whole subject. Now that God is revealed, He deals with man according to his actions. In the day of judgment He will render to every one according to his deeds, be he Jew or Greek; for there is no respect of persons with God. He had indeed chosen a people, and brought them near to Himself, to put man to the test, and to maintain the truth that there is but one God; but fundamentally there was no difference amongst men. All were sinners by nature, and all had sinned. We see also that God with regard to His people, although He had given them a law, always remained behind the veil without revealing Himself. But now the veil is rent, and man-first the Jew and then the Greek-must be manifested before Him, each one according to what he is in his walk and actual moral condition; and here there is no question whether his position be that of Jew or Greek. God, according to His righteousness, takes into account only the measure of light which each possesses. The apostle when he speaks of those who seek for glory and honor and immortality, supposes Christianity; for the knowledge of these things depends upon a revelation. God will give eternal life, without distinction between Jew or Greek, to those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek these things. God would have the reality of divine life, not a mere external form. Those who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, must expect " indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile." All will be judged, every one according to his works, according to the light which he has possessed, without respect of persons. " For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law.... In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." " For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." If one from the Gentiles does what the law requires, •he is accepted, and has the advantage over one who possesses the law and does not observe it. As we have said, it is no longer a question, now that God has been revealed, of external relationships, according to which some are " near " and others " afar off," but of what is just in the sight of God. In reality, one of the Gentiles who in spirit walked in love, did that which the law commanded; while a Jew, who had the law and walked in sin, could not be accepted of God. It is no longer a question of outward relationship with God, of His government of the world and of His people-in a word, of the government of God upon earth- but of the condition of the soul before God, and of the day of judgment, when the secrets of the heart will be brought to light, and man will be judged according to his works.
After the apostle has clearly laid down these great and important principles, he goes on to describe the actual condition of the Jews, as he had done with regard to the Gentiles in chapter I. The Jews boasted of the law, and of the privileges they possessed; they knew the will of God, and were able to teach the ignorant; yea, they even boasted of God. But did they also teach themselves? On the contrary; they did all that which in their wisdom they taught others not to do. They dishonored God whilst bearing His name. The one true God was blasphemed amongst the Gentiles through them, as it is written. They possessed privileges, but if the law to which those privileges belonged was broken, their circumcision became uncircumcision. And the Gentiles, if they observed the law, condemned those who, possessing the letter and circumcision, transgressed the law. For he was not a true Jew who was one outwardly, but he whose heart was circumcised, who was a Jew in heart and spirit, not in the letter; " whose praise is not of men, but of God."