Fundamental Nature of Christ's Work
Basis of Man's Standing before his Creator
Paul was chosen of God to be the chief expounder of the Gospel to the world, and his Epistle to the Romans is Paul's completest explanation of his understanding of the Gospel. Coleridge call it, "The most profound work in existence."
Date and Occasion of the Epistle
Winter of A.D. 57-58. Paul was in Corinth, at the close of his Third Missionary Journey, on the eve of his departure to Jerusalem with the offering of money for the poor saint (15:22-27). A woman named Phoebe, of Cenchreae, a suburb of Corinth, was sailing for Rome (16:1, 2). Paul availed himself of the opportunity to send this letter by her. There was no postal service in the Roman Empire except for official business. Public Postal Service as we know it is of modern origin. Then personal letters had to be carried by friends or chance travelers.
Purpose of the Epistle
To let the Roman Christian know that he was on his way to Rome. Then, too, this was before God had told Paul that He would see him to Rome (Acts 23:11), and Paul did not as yet feel sure that he would get away from Jerusalem alive (Romans 15:31): in which case, it seemed proper that he, the Apostle to Gentiles, should leave on file, in the Capital of the World, a Written explanation of the Nature of the Gospel of Christ.
The Church in Rome
Paul hat not yet been there.He reached Rome three years after he wrote this Epistle. The nucleus of the Roman Church probably had been formed by the Romans who were at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10).
In the intervening 28 years many Christians, from various parts of the East, for one cause or another, had migrated to the Capital City, some of them Paul's own converts and intimate friends (see chapter 16).
Paul's martyrdom, and probably Peter's, occurred in Rome, about 8 years after this Epistle was written.
Background of the Epistle
Common Jewish Belief in the Finality of Mosaic Law as the expression of the Will of God, and of Universal Obligation, and Jewish insistence that Gentiles who would be Christians must be Circumcized and keep the Law of Moses. Thus the question whether a Gentile could be a Christian without becoming a Jewish Proselyte was one
of the great problems of the time. Christianity started as a Jewish Religion, and certain powerful Jewish leaders were determined it should remain so. Circumcision was a physical rite which stood as the initial ceremony in Jewish naturalization of Gentiles.
Paul's Main Insistence
In this Epistle is that Man's Justification before God rests fundamentally, not on the Law of Moses, but on the Mercy of Christ. It is not a matter of Law at all, because Man, on account of his Sinful Nature, cannot fully live up to God's Law, which is an expression of God's Holiness. But it is wholly because Christ, out of the Goodness
of His Heart, Forgives Men''s Sins. In the last analysis, Man's Standing before God depends, not so much on what Man has done, or can do, for himself, as on what Christ has done for him. And therefore Christ is entitled to the Absolute and Whole-Hearted Allegiance and Loyalty and Devotion and Obedience of Every Human Being.
Chapters 1, 2. Universal Need of the Gospel
Universal Sinfulness of Mankind (1:1-32). The first sentence is a long one (1-7.), summarizing Paul's life: Jesus, Foretold in Prophecy, Risen from the Dead, commissioned Paul to Preach Him to All Nations.
Paul's long time desire to come to Rome (9-15), hindered by un-evangelized fields elsewhere (15:20).
Not ashamed of the Gospel (16), even in Rome, the gilded and haughty cesspool of every' foul thing. The terrible Depravity of Man, pictured in 18-32, had reached its depths in Rome, specially the sexual practices of 26, 27.
Jews Included (2:1-29). Paul's frightful picture of Man's Sinfulness is true of the Jews also, even though they were God's own nation, for they practice the sins common to mankind.
Whosoever (1), includes every one of us. Not that every one does All the things mentioned in 1:29-31. That is a picture of the race as a whole. But each one of us is guilty of some of the things there mentioned.
The Day when God shall Judge the Secrets of Men (2:16). In That Day, the test will be, not rate, not whether one is a Jew or a Gentile, but the Inner Nature of the Heart and its attitude toward the Practices of Life.
Chapter 3. Christ a Propitiation for Man's Sin
Why the Jews? (1-20). If Jews, in the matter of Sinfulness, are on the same standing before God as other nations, why then the necessity of there being a Jewish Nation at all?
The answer: to be entrusted with the Oracles of God, and Pave the Way for the Coming of Christ. Under God, the Hebrew Nation was founded to serve a special purpose in the working out of God's age-long Plan for Human Redemption. But that does not mean that intrinsically within themselves they are any better in God's sight than other nations.
One of the purposes of the Law was to make Man understand that he is a Sinner (20), in need of a Saviour.
Christ our Propitiation (21-31). In the Eternal Nature of things, as Sin is Sin, and Right is Right, and God is Just, there can be No Mercy apart from Justice. Sin must be Punished. God Himself took upon Himself the Punishment of Man's Sin, in the Person of Christ.
Therefore He can Forgive Man's Sin, and regard those who, in gratitude, accept the Saviour's Sacrifice, as possessed of the Saviour's Own Righteousness.
Chapter 4. The Case of Abraham
This is taken up because those who were teaching that Gentiles must become Jewish Proselytes in order to be Christians.were basing their claims for Circumcision on the Promise made to Abraham, that it was to his seed; that, if one was not of the seed of Abraham by nature, he would have to become so by Circumcision. Paul explains that the Promise was given on Abraham's Faith, while he was still Uncircumcised; and that Abraham's Heirs are those who have the same Faith, rather than those who are Circumcised. The grand thing in Abraham's life was his Faith, Not his Circumcision.
Chapter 5. Christ and Adam
Paul bases the Efficacy of Christ's Death as an Atonement for Human Sin on the Unity of the Race in Adam.
How could One die for Many? One might die as a Substitute for another One-some justice in that. But for One to Die for Millions-how could it be?
Paul's answer is that Men ere not to blame for being Sinners. They are born that way, brought into Life without being asked if they wanted Existence. Just woke up in this world to find themselves in a Body with a Sinful Nature. But, says Paul, the Founder of our Race, Adam, did not start with a Sinful Nature.
Paul explains the doctrine of Christ's Atonement for our Sin, not by setting Him over against each one of us singly, but by setting Him over against the Head of our Race.
Adam the Natural Head of the Human Race. Christ the Spiritual Head. What One Head Did, the Other Head Undid. One Man's Sin brought Death to our race. Therefore One Man's Death is sufficient to bring Life to those who will accept it.
Chapter 6. What Motive, then, to Right living?
If we are no longer under the Law, and Christ Forgives our Sins, then why not continue to Sin? Keep on Sinning, and Christ keep on forgiving.
Paul answers that such a thing is unthinkable. Christ died to Save us from our Sins. His Forgiveness is for the purpose of making us Hate our Sins.
We cannot be servants of Sin, and servants of Christ. We must choose one or the other. It is not possible to please Christ, and continue at the same time to live in Sin.
This does not mean that we can entirely overcome All our Sins, and place ourselves beyond the need of His Mercy. But it does mean that there are two essentially different Ways of Life: the Way of Christ and the Way of Sin. In heart we belong to one or the other, but not both.
Christ, the perfect embodiment of the Law of God, furnishes us with the Motive, and supplies us with the Power, to struggle on unto the attainment for ourselves of that Perfect Holiness which, by His Grace, ultimately shall be ours.
Chapter 7. Why the Law?
If we are no longer under the Law, why then was the Law given? It was not given as a scheme of Salvation, but as a preparatory measure, to educate Man to see his Need of a Saviour: to make us know the difference between Right and Wrong. Not until we realize our Helplessness is there desire for, and appreciation of, a Saviour.
Struggle between our Carnal and Spiritual Natures (14-25). We wonder if this is a picture of Paul's own inner struggle. In I Corinthians 4:4 he says He Knew Nothing Against Himself. Yet he must have felt powerful impulses within his nature against which he had a continuous desperate struggle. Else he could never have written these words. His unspeakable Gratitude to Christ for Deliverance from that against which he felt himself powerless reminds one of Luther's Unbounded Joy when he realized all at once that Christ could do for him what he had vainly struggled to do for himself. It is an illustration of the power of the Law on an earnest soul depressed by inability to live up to it, and the Relief found in Christ.
Chapter 8. The law of the Spirit
This is one of the Best Loved Chapters in the Bible
The Indwelling Spirit (1-11). In Christ, we not only have our Sins Forgiven, but there is also an Impartation of a New Life. A New Birth. Our natural life, so to speak, is Impregnated by the Spirit of God, and a Baby Spirit, a Divine Nature, is born within us, in a manner somewhat similar to that in which our physical life, our Adam Nature, was started by our parents.
Our Natural Life from Adam. A New Divine Life from Christ. This is a Reality within ourselves. We may not feel it, nor be conscious of it. But it is there. We accept it as a matter of Faith. There is within ourselves, beyond the realm of our Conscious Knowledge, a Divine Life, the child of God's Spirit, under His loving care, working in stillness, ever unwearied, never exhausted, to gain control of our Whole Being, and Transform us into the Image of God. This is the Life that will blossom into Immortal Glory in the day of Resurrection.
Our Obligation to the Spirit (12-17). Walking after the Spirit means that, while depending wholly and implicitly on Christ for our Salvation, we still struggle to the utmost to Live up to His Law. Paul is explicitly explicit that the Grace of Christ does not release us from doing everything in our power to Live Right. Walking after the Flesh means giving ourselves to the gratification of our Fleshly Desires.
Our body is Flesh. Some Fleshly Desires are perfectly natural and necessary. Some are Wrong. Those that are Wrong we must abstain from altogether. The others we may enjoy, but be careful to Keep our Affection Above the Border Line.
Suffering Creation (18-25). The whole natural creation, including ourselves, is groaning for a Better Order of Existence, to be revealed in the day of God's Completed Redemption, when the Body of This Death (7:24), shall receive the Freedom of Heaven's Glory, now in the various processes of creation. It is a grand conception of the work of Christ.
Intercession of the Spirit (26-30). Not only is the in-dwelling Spirit our pledge of Resurrection and Future Glory, but through His prayers in our behalf we are assured that God will make Everything that might happen to us Work Together for Our Good. We may forget to Pray. The Spirit Never Does. God will see us through. Let us never forget to Trust Him.
The Inviolable Love of Christ (31-39). He Died for us. Has Forgiven us. Has given Himself to us.in the person. of His Spirit. If we ire His, no power on earth or in heaven or in hell can prevent His bringing us to Himself in the Eternal Bosom of God. This is one of the most magnificent passages in all the Bible.
Chapters 9, 10, 11. Problem of Jewish Unbelief
One of the greatest stumbling-blocks to the general acceptance of the Gospel of Christ was Jewish Unbelief. While considerable numbers of Jews, especially in Judea, had become Christians, yet the Nation as a whole was not only Unbelieving but bitterly Antagonistic.
The Jewish rulers had Crucified Christ. At every opportunity they had persecuted the Church. It was Jewish Unbelievers that made trouble for Paul in almost every place he went.
If Jesus was really the Messiah of their own Scripture Prophecy, how did it happen'that God's own nation thus Rejected Him? In these three chapters is Paul's answer.
Paul's Sorrow for Israel (9:1-5). A very expressive way of saying it: would almost be willing to give his own soul.
Sovereignty of God, 9:6-24
In this passage Paul is not discussing the Predestination of Individuals to Salvation or Condemnation, but is asserting God's Absolute Sovereignty in the choice and management of Nations for World Functions so as to bring all at last in subjection to Him. The strong statement (16), may include Individuals. Other similar Passages certainly do: Acts 2:23; 4:28; 13:48; Romans 8:28-30.
How to reconcile the Sovereignty of God and the Freedom of the Human Will we do not know. Both doctrines are plainly taught in the Bible. We believe them both. But to explain how both can be true we shall have to leave to others, for the present. Some things we now see in a glass darkly. But some day we shall Know, even as we are Known.
Foretold by the Scriptures (9:25-33): Israel's Rejection, and the Adoption of Gentile peoples. So, instead of stumbling at it, we should have expected it.
Jews Themselves to Blame (10:1-21). God did not make the Jews Reject Christ. They did it of their own accord. It was simply a matter of Hearing (8-17). The Jews Heard, and were wilfully Disobedient (18-21). How to reconcile this with 9:16 we do not know. Maybe we will Understand better by and by.
Israel's Future Salvation, 11:1-36
Israel's Refection of Christ is temporary. The days will come when all Israel shall be Saved (26). When or how that will be is not here stated. Nor is it stated whether it will be in connection with their Return to Palestine, but merely the bare fact that it will be. One of the darkest spots in the panorama of human history is the age-long Suffering of this Sorrowful, Disobedient people. But one day it will end. Israel shall turn in penitence to the Lord. And all creation shall give thanks to God for the Unsearchable Wisdom of His Providence.
Chapter 12. The Transformed life
A Magnificent Chapter. In tone, it reminds us of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Paul invariably closed any theological discussion with an earnest exhortation to a Christian Manner of Life, And so here. In previous chapters he has been insisting that our standing before God depends wholly on the Mercy of Christ, and not on our own Good
Works. Here he is equally insistent that that Mercy, which so graciously Forgives, is the very thing that supplies us with a powerful and irresistible Urge to Good Works, and Transforms our Whole Outlook on Life.
Humility of Spirit (3-8). This is specially for Church Leaders. So often position of Leadership, which should make us Humble, puffs us up. And so often a person with a certain Talent is inclined to disparage the value of different Talents possessed by others. (See more fully on I Corinthians 12-14.)
Heavenly Qualities (9-21). Brotherly Love, Hatred of Evil, specially within ourselves. Diligence, Joyfulness, Patience. Prayerfulness. Hospitality. Sympathy. Concern for that which is Honorable. Peaceable, Without Resentment.
Chapter 13. Obedience to Civil law
Civil Governments are ordained of God (1), even though often run by evil men, to restrain the criminal elements of human society. Christians should be law-abiding citizens of the Government under which they live, in all their attitudes and relations of life, governing themselves by the principles of the Golden Rule (8-10), making
special effort to be Honorable in all things, and always Considerate of others.
Approaching Dawn (11-14). The Night is Far Spent, and the Day is At Hand. This refers to Individuals who have been Christians for some time, or to the Christian Era moving on toward its consummation, or both, The Lord's Coming in Glory, or our Going
to Him, in Death.
Chapter 14. Judging One Another
In such things as the eating of Meats and the observing of Days. The Meats ref"erred to, though it is not so specified, must be Meat that had been offered in sacrifice to Idols (see on I Corinthians 8). As for Days, reference must be to Jewish insistence that Gentiles observe the Sabbath and other Jewish Festival Days. The Lord's Day, first day of the week, was the Christian's Day. If, in addition, a Gentile
Christian wanted to observe a Jewish Sabbath, it was his privilege. But he must not insist on others doing it.
Chapter 15:1-14. Brotherly Unity
A continuation of the exhortations of the previous chapter. We rather suspect, from 16:17, and the discussion about Days end Meats in chapter 14, that Paul had learned, some way or other, that some of the-Jewish Christians in Rome were determined to enforce Jewish habits on Gentile Christians.
Chapter 15:15-33. Paul's Plan to Come to Rome
If Paul had been like some people, as soon as he received his commission from Christ as Special Apostle to the Gentiles, he would have immediately set out for Rome, Capital of the Gentile World, and made it his headquarters for the Evangelization of the Roman
Empire. One reason he did not, probably, was because from the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10), a Church had been in Rome. And Paul's mission was to carry the Name of Christ to regions where Christ was not yet known. His plan was to take the territory as it came, working his way gradually westward. And now, after 25 years, having firmly planted the Gospel in Asia Minor and Greece, he is ready to press on to Spain, stopping at Rome on the way (24), He got to Rome about 3 years after he wrote this. (Whether he got to Spain, see on Acts 28.)
Chapter 16. Personal Matters
This is a chapter of personal greetings. 26 names of church leaders who were Paul's personal friends.
Phoebe (1-2), was bearer of the Epistle, probably on e business errand to Rome. Cenchreae was the east port of Corinth.
Prisca and Aquila (3-5), had formerly lived in Rome (Acts l8:2), had been with Paul in Corinth and Ephesus, and had now returned to Rome. A church met in their house.
Epaenetus (5), first convert of Asia, now in Rome.
Mary (6). Note how many of them are women.
Andronicus, Junias (7) Paul's kinsmen, now old men, for they had been Christians longer than Paul, and in prison with him.
Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles (8-10), Paul's friends,
Household of Aristobulus (10), and of Narcissus (11), probably churches in their homes. Herodian, another of Paul's kinsmen.
Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis (12), names of women.
Rufus (13), probably the son of Simon who bore Jesus' cross (Mark 15:21), whose mother had taken a motherly interest in Paul.
Asyncritus (14), and brethren with them, their congregation.
Philologus (15), and the saints with them, their congregation.
Tertius (22), wrote what Paul dictated, his amanuensis.
Gaius (23), in whose home Paul was living at the time, and which was a general meeting place for Corinthian Christians.
Erastus (23), must have been a man of considerable influence being treasurer of the city of Corinth.