On the Epistle to the Romans: Introduction

Romans 1‑11  •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 11
IN the Epistle to the Romans, Christians are looked at as men living and walking on the earth, but possessing the life of Christ and the Holy Spirit, so that they are in Christ. Their sins are forgiven; they are justified by the work of Christ. Their duty is to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, as they have been transformed by the renewing of their mind, that they may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God (chap. 12:1, 2).
The epistle begins with the responsibility of man, proving all to be guilty on the ground of what they have done, and then showing the result of the death of Christ in the forgiveness of sins and the justification of the believer. Afterward the apostle considers the condition in which man is found consequent on Adam's sin, and shows how he is delivered from the power of sin.
In Romans it is not a question of the counsels of God, except in three or four verses of chapter 8, and then only to prove that the work of His grace is unchangeable, and that, when once it has been appropriated by the call of grace, it is stable and sure, and is carried on until the glory. The work of Christ is accomplished, and those who believe in Him will be conformed to His image. Thus all is perfectly secure. Possessing the life of Christ, so that we suffer with Him, we shall be also glorified with Him. The epistle contains nothing more relative to the counsels of God. If we want to learn about them we must turn to the Epistle to the Ephesians; while the Epistle to the Colossians instructs us as to the life of a man who to faith is risen. But in Romans we find the work of God in grace for the justification of the ungodly by the death and resurrection of Christ, and their acceptance in Christ, believers being looked at as in Him.
As already intimated above, the doctrine of the Epistle to the Romans divides into two parts, the first of which, up to chapter 5: 11, treats of sins, the putting away of these, and the grace of God therein unfolded. From thence up to the end of chapter 8, the second part is taken up; namely, sin in the flesh, the condition in which we are found consequent on Adam's sin, as well as our deliverance from the same, and our new condition in Christ. Then follow as an appendix three chapters explaining how the doctrine of the universal condition of sin in which man is found, and of the reconciliation by faith of all with God, can be compatible with the special promises made to the Jews. The conclusion is made up of exhortations and the rehearsal of certain important principles. The exposition of the doctrine of the reconciliation of man with God by faith, contained in the first part of the epistle is introduced by a preface in which the gospel is founded on the Person of Christ, and is presented as the revelation of the righteousness of God.
We see then in this epistle how God has met us in perfect grace, when, according to our responsibility as men and according to His righteousness, we were totally lost; how out of pure grace He has provided for us salvation and eternal life, when we were alienated from Him by sin; yea, when, according to the flesh, we were in enmity against Him.
But before considering more closely the doctrine of the epistle, and the order and contents of its different parts, we may say a word about the apostle himself He had never been at Rome; but, endued with divine authority, he was the apostle of all the Gentiles, and for this reason he could write to the Romans, although he had not been the instrument of their conversion. Some of them, indeed, he knew, for Rome itself being the metropolis of the known world, people from all countries met there. This, however, gives a special character to the epistle, different from that of most of his other writings. It is more of a treatise than a letter from the apostle to one of the assemblies founded by himself. Personal relations are omitted to leave room for positive doctrine, although at the close of the epistle Paul salutes many saints whom he knew, as at its commencement he sought to establish a link of affection with the Christians at Rome; still his apostleship is primarily the basis of his communications to the believers at Rome. No apostle had founded the assembly at Rome. Paul had not yet been there; and if later on Peter went there to offer up his life in testimony for the Lord, until then he had had nothing to do with Rome, being the apostle of the circumcision.