The Epistle to the Romans
If we compare the New Testament to a lofty building, the Epistle to the Romans would answer to the foundation; whilst the highest part of the building would answer to the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians. When a business man steps into such a building, and asks for the top floor, and rises quickly in the lift to reach this height, he leaves the foundation in one sense, and yet never for one moment in another sense does he leave it. The higher he goes the more conscious is he that the great building needs, and must have, a very substantial foundation. Thus we can see how indebted we are to the Epistle to the Romans, as setting forth the solid foundation on which God rears the vast edifice of His choicest blessings to the believer.
There is also a most intimate connection between the Epistle to the Romans and the four Gospels. The Gospels give us the historical facts of the Gospel, how our Lord entered this world of sin and sorrow: how He lived His life for God's glory and man's blessing; how He died on Calvary's cross, the one and only efficacious sacrifice for settling the question of sin for God's glory and the blessing of men; how He rose from the dead as witnessed by many witnesses; how He ascended to glory at God's right hand; and how the promise of His return was given to those who saw Him ascend. But unspeakably precious as they are, they do not set out to teach in an orderly and systematic way the blessings flowing forth from the wondrous death of our Lord.
The Epistle to the Romans, as far as the Gospel of God is concerned, is the necessary complement of the Gospels. It is this that makes this epistle so deeply important. It was said that when Phoebe carried the manuscript of the Epistle to the Romans under her cloak as she started to Rome, she may not have realised that she was carrying the very charter of the Gospel of the grace of God to the then metropolis of the world, and for all time. But so it was.
This Epistle to the Romans gives a very orderly presentation of the Gospel of the grace of God. It is addressed to Christians, already in an assembly of God in Rome. It is true that when the Lord is first trusted as Saviour, the believer knows very little of the Gospel. He must know enough to make him realise that believing on the Lord carries with it forgiveness of sins and salvation. After he is converted he needs instruction as to the full truth of the Gospel, and this is furnished in this Epistle. It is therefore the wisdom of all believers to study it carefully and prayerfully.
The Epistle begins by the Apostle Paul's declaration that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, that it is the power of God unto salvation. He then proceeds to review the heathen world. What of those who have never heard the Gospel and know nothing of the Saviour's death? They have a testimony rendered to them in creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). In this God's “eternal power and Godhead” are presented, which, if rejected, leaves the heathen “without excuse” (chap. 1:20). Alas! that men should turn from the living God, and bow down to images made like to corruptible man, to birds, four-footed creatures and even creeping things. Such is man!
Then the Apostle takes up the case of the more enlightened heathen, who has enough knowledge to rebuke those on the lower scale of humanity, forgetting that whilst doing so, he is committing the very sins he denounces in others.
Finally he takes up the question of the Jew from verse 17 of chapter 2. To them were given the oracles of God. To them God made Himself known in a special way, testing mankind whether there should be a response to His law or not. The Jew is found to be no better than his heathen counterpart—Jew and Gentile are alike proved to be under sin.
In a most convincing and masterly way the summing up is announced in few words. Fourteen quotations are made from the Old Testament, describing man's lost and sinful condition. These are principally culled from the Psalms—Scriptures accepted for long centuries as the Word of God by the Jewish nation. It was no fresh discovery that was made, rather was it the confirmation of Scripture, if that were needed, but it is not. In these quotations we learn that all men have gone astray, that none seek after God, that none is righteous, no not one. Nothing could be more sweeping.
CHAPTERS 3 AND 4
As soon as the verdict is delivered, the result of which is to shut every mouth and bring the whole world in guilty before God, God opens His mouth to declare His remedy. True, the law had been given to Israel alone, but their failure to answer to it proved the condition of the whole world, just as analysing a sample proves the condition of the bulk.
As soon as this section of the Epistle begins we are at once struck that there are certain words that we do not find in the Gospels, such words as righteousness, justification, propitiation—words that remind us of the law courts. It is to be remarked that “righteousness” is mentioned no less than 35 times in this Epistle, and Divine love only 6 times; whereas in the Gospel of John, Divine love is mentioned 31 times, and righteousness only twice. It will thus be gathered that the Gospel according to John presents the Gospel of the grace of God from the Divine side, from the aspect of God's mighty love in designing it at the amazing cost of the atoning death of His beloved Son on Calvary's cross; whereas the Epistle to the Romans presents the Gospel of the grace of God from the side of the sinner's need with the object of clearing his mind as to the way that God has taken to meet righteously that need, setting up the believing sinner before Himself, consistently with His own character and holiness.
CHAPTERS 4 AND 5:1-11
Here we find Abraham brought forward as one who was justified by faith, and David as knowing the blessedness of the forgiveness of sins through faith. How confirming it must have been to the readers of this Epistle to find that what is brought before their notice was in germ, we may say, in their own Old Testament Scriptures, only that now the truth is seen in the full light of the accomplished death of our Lord. We are told that this was not written for Abraham's sake alone, but for us also, who, believing on the Lord, have had righteousness imputed likewise to us, so that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Here we arrive at the height of the Gospel, even that the Holy Ghost is given, so that the love of God may be shed abroad in our hearts, and that we may joy in God, as having received the atonement (literally, reconciliation).
Here we begin a quite new section of this remarkable Epistle. It is not now a question of what we have done, but of what we are