ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God. Every page of the sacred volume is stamped with the impress of Deity, and contains an inexhaustible treasure of wisdom, and knowledge, and consolation. Some portions of the word of God, like some parts of the material creation, may be more important than others. But all have their proper place, all proclaim the character of their glorious Author, and all ought to be earnestly and reverentially studied. Whatever be their subject, whether it relates to the history of individuals or of nations, whether it contains the words of precept or exhortation, or whether it teaches by example, all is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. But while every part of the word of God demands the most serious attention it is not to be doubted that certain portions of the sacred volume call for more frequent and deeper meditation. In the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms contains a summary of all Scripture, and an abridgment of its most important instructions and sweetest consolations. In the New Testament, the Epistle to the Romans is entitled to peculiar regard. It is the part of Scripture which contains a detailed and systematic exhibition of the doctrines of Christianity. The great truths which are embodied and inculcated in every other part of the Bible, are here brought together in a condensed and comprehensive form. More especially, the glorious doctrine of justification by faith is clearly unfounded and exhibited in the strongest light.
The Epistle to the Romans has always attracted the peculiar notice of those whose study has been directed to the interpretation of Scripture. To the this portion of the Divine record, all who look for salvation by grace have constantly appealed, and here they have a rich mine of evidence, alike solid and inexhaustible No considerable difference of interpretation has ever been given of its contents by those who have renounced their own wisdom, and determined to follow implicitly the obvious meaning of the word of God. This Epistle has been equally an object of attention to those who admit the authority of Scripture, but follow their own wisdom in forming their system of religious doctrine. Salvation by grace and salvation by works are so incompatible with each other, that it might well be supposed no attempt would ever be made to bring them into harmony.
Still the attempt has been made. Human wisdom cannot receive the doctrine of the Epistle to the Romans, and men professing Christianity cannot deny it to be a part of Scripture. What, then, is to be done? A compromise is proclaimed between the wisdom of man and the revelation of God. All the ingenuity of Mr. Locke, one of the most acute and subtle metaphysicians that ever appeared, has been exerted to bring the doctrine of Paul into accordance with human science. Like him, many others have labored to give a view of this Epistle that may reconcile human merit with divine grace.
Nothing is more manifest than the direct opposition between the doctrine of inspiration, as unfolded in the Epistle to the Romans, with respect to the state and prospects of mankind, and the doctrine of this world’s philosophy. Paul contemplates all men in their natural state as ruined by sin, and utterly unable to restore themselves to the Divine favor.
Philosophers, on the contrary, survey the aspect of society with real or affected complacency. They perceive, indeed, that imperfection and suffering prevail to a considerable extent; but they discover a vast preponderance of happiness and virtue. They cannot deny that man is of a mixed character; but this is necessary, in order that his virtue may be his own, and that, in passing onwards to the summit of moral excellence, his strength of principle may be more illustriously displayed, and his happiness promoted by his progress in virtue, as well as by his advancement in knowledge. Nor is this remarkable difference altogether confined to philosophy. Even many professors and expounders of Christianity cannot entirely accord with the Apostle Paul in his representations of human nature. Man, it seems to them, is not so completely lost but that he may do something to regain the Divine favor; and if a sacrifice were necessary for the expiation of sin, its blessing must be equally bestowed on all mankind.
The doctrine of justification, in particular, so far transcends the powers of our discovery, that men are ever attempting to set it aside, or to mold it into accordance with their own preconceived notions. How wonderful is the contrast between the justification of which this Apostle treats, and the justification which critical ingenuity has often extorted from his Epistles!
While Paul speaks of the believer as possessing a righteousness perfectly commensurate to all the demands of the law, and standing at the bar of God spotless and blameless, human wisdom has contrived to exhibit his doctrine as representing salvation to be the result of a happy combination of mercy and merit.
The doctrine of salvation by faith without works has ever appeared to the wise of this world not only as a scheme insufficient to secure the interests of morality, but as one which disparages the Divine authority. Yet its good effects are fully demonstrated in every age; and while nothing but the doctrine of salvation by grace has ever produced good works, this doctrine has never failed of its designed object. In all the ways of God there is a characteristic wisdom, which stamps them with the impress of divinity.
There is here a harmony and consistency in things the most different in appearance; while the intended result is invariably produced, although in a way which to man would appear most unlikely to secure success.
The mind of every man is by nature disaffected to the doctrine of this Epistle; but it is only in proportion to the audacity of his unbelief that any one will directly avow his opposition. While some, by the wildest suppositions, will boldly set aside whatever it declares that opposes their own preconceived opinions, others will receive its statements only with the reserve of certain necessary modifications. Thus, in the deviations from truth in the exposition of its doctrines, we discover various shades of the same unhallowed disregard for the Divine testimony.
The spirit of speculation and of novelty which is now abroad, loudly calls upon Christians to give earnest heed to the truths inculcated in the Epistle to the Romans. There is hardly any doctrine which has not been of late years exposed to the corruptions and perversions of men who profess to be believers of Divine revelation. Many, altogether destitute of the Spirit of God and the semblance of true religion, have nevertheless chosen the word of God and its solemn and awfully momentous truths as the arena upon which to exercise their learning and display their ingenuity. In consequence of the Scriptures being written in the dead languages, there is doubtless scope for the diligent employment of critical research. But if it were inquired how much additional light has been thrown upon the sacred volume by the refinements of modern critics, it would be found to bear a very small proportion to the evil influence of unsanctified learning applied to the holy doctrines of revelation. It has become common, even among Christians to speak of the critical interpretation of Scripture as requiring little or nothing more than mere scholarship; and many seem to suppose that the office of a critical and that of a doctrinal interpreter are so widely different, that a man may be a safe and useful critic who has no relish for the grand truths of the Bible. There cannot be a more lamentable delusion, or one more calculated to desecrate the character and obscure the majesty of the word of God. To suppose that a man may rightly interpret the Scriptures, while he is ignorant of the truths of the Gospel, or disaffected to some of its grand fundamental doctrines, — to imagine that this can be to him a useful or even an innocent occupations — is to regard these Scriptures as the production of ordinary men, treating of subjects of ordinary importance, instead of containing, as they do, the Message of the Most High God, revealing life or death to every soul to whom they come.
If the Scriptures have not testified in vain that the carnal mind is enmity against God; if we are bound to believe that there is no middle state between the Christian and the unbeliever; can we wonder at the manner in which they have been perverted, not only by the ignorance, but by the inveterate prejudices, of men from whom the Gospel is hid? Is it reasonable — is it agreeable to the dictates of common sense — to believe that the critical interpretations of such men are not tinged with their own darkened and hostile views of the Divine character and the Divine revelation? And yet such is the opinion entertained of the labors of some of the most unenlightened commentators, that their works have obtained a celebrity altogether unaccountable on any principle of Christian wisdom.
Christians ought to be particularly on their guard against tampering in any degree with the word of God. We should never forget that, when we are explaining any expression of Scripture, we are treating of what are the very words of the Holy Ghost, as much as if they had been spoken to us by a voice from heaven. The profane rashness of many critics is much emboldened by the circumstance that men have been employed as the instruments of the Almighty in communicating His revelation. A sort of modified inspiration only is granted to the Scriptures, and they are often treated as the words merely of those who were employed as the penmen.
When God is thus kept out of sight, little ceremony is used with the words of the Apostles. That profound reverence and awe with which the Scriptures ought to be read and handled, are in many instances too little exemplified. The poor man’s Bible is the word of God, in which he has no suspicion that there is anything but perfection. The Bible of the profoundly erudite scholar is often a book that is not so necessary to instruct him, as one that needs his hand for alteration, or amendment, or confirmation. Learning may be usefully employed; but if learning ever forgets that it must sit at the feet of Jesus, it will be a curse instead of a blessing. It will raise clouds and darkness, instead of communicating light to the world.
The evil of studying the Scriptures, and commenting upon them with as little reverence as a scholar might comment upon the plays of Aristophanes or Terence, has extended itself much farther than might be supposed. This is the spirit in which the Gerrean Neologians have written; and indeed it is to be feared that, as the Neologian form of infidelity originated from this profane method of criticizing the Scriptures, so the same cause may produce the same effect in this country. Certain it is that works have been republished or translated here, which are very little calculated to uphold the ancient faith of the Church of Christ, or to advance the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus.
From present appearances, there is every reason to fear that Britain will be inundated with German Neology. The tide has strongly set in, and unless the Christian public be upon their guard, the whole country will be brought under its influence. It is a solemn thing to be instrumental in ushering into more extended notoriety publications that have a tendency to lower the character of the Holy Scriptures, to introduce doubt and confusion into the minds of those who are weak in the faith, and to embolden others who seek an apology for casting away the fetters of education and authority, and desire to launch out into the ocean of wild and dangerous speculation. While some appearances in Germany of a return to the Scripture doctrine of salvation by Jesus Christ should be gladly hailed by every Christian, yet it must be admitted that those who in that country seem to have made the greatest advances in the knowledge of the Gospel, are still far from being entitled to be pointed out as guides to the Christians of Great Britain. Their modifications of Divine truth are manifestly under the influence of a criticism too nearly allied to Neology.
There is great danger that in the admiration of German criticism a tincture may be received from continental errors. It would be far preferable if learned Christians at home would pursue truth in a diligent examination of its own sources, rather than spend their time in retailing the criticisms of German scholars. ‘Their criticisms,’ it is observed by Dr. Carson, ‘are arbitrary, forced, and in the highest degree fantastical. Their learning is boundless, yet their criticism is mere trash. The vast extent of their literary acquirements has overawed British theologians, and given an importance to arguments that are self-evidently false.’
In these days of boasted liberality, it may appear captious to oppose with zeal the errors of men who have acquired a name in the Christian world.
The mantle of charity, it will be said, ought to be thrown over mistakes that have resulted from a free and impartial investigation of truth, and if not wholly overlooked, they should be noticed with a slight expression of disapprobation. Such, however, was not the conduct of the Apostle Paul.
He spared neither churches nor individual when the doctrines they maintained turned to the subversion of the Gospel and the zeal with which he resisted their errors was not inferior to that with which he encountered the open enemies of Christianity. He affirms that the doctrine introduced into the Galatian churches is another Gospel, and twice pronounces a curse against all by whom it was promulgated. Instead of complimenting the authors of this corruption of the Gospel as only abusing in a slight degree the liberty of free examination, he decides that they should be cut off as troublers of the churches. Let not Christians be more courteous in expressing their views of the guilt and danger of corrupting the Gospel, than faithful and compassionate to the people of Christ who may be injured by false doctrine. It is highly sinful to bandy compliments at the expense of truth.
The awful responsibility of being accessory to the propagation of error is strongly expressed by the Apostle John. ‘If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed; for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.’ If the imputation of Adam’s sin and of Christ’s righteousness be doctrines contained in the word of God; commentaries that labor to expel them from that word must be grossly pestiferous books, which no Christian ought to recommend, but which, on the contrary, to the utmost of his power, it is his duty to oppose.
A very dangerous misrepresentation of some of the great doctrines of the Epistle to the Romans has lately come before the public, in a commentary on that Epistle from the pen of Professor Moses Stuart of America. As that work has obtained an extensive circulation in this country, — as it has been strongly recommended, and is likely to produce a considerable effect, — it has appeared proper to make frequent references to his glaring perversions of its important contents. On the same principle, various remarks are introduced on the well-known heterodox commentary of Dr.
Macknight; I have also alluded occasionally to the heretical sentiments contained in that of Professor Tholuck, lately published.
In the following exposition, I have availed myself of all the assistance I could obtain, from whatever quarter. Especially I have made use of everything that appeared to be most valuable in the commentary of Claude, which terminates at the beginning of the twenty-first verse of the third chapter. I have also had the advantage of the assistance of Dr.
Carson, whose profound knowledge of the original language and well-known critical discernment peculiarly qualify him for rendering effectual aid in such a work. As it is my object to make this exposition as useful as possible to all descriptions of readers, I have not always confined myself simply to an explanation of the text, but have occasionally extended, at some length, remarks on such subjects as seemed to demand particular attention, either on account of their own importance, or of mistaken opinions entertained concerning them. As to those which required a fuller discussion than could be conveniently introduced, I have referred to my work on the Evidence and Authority of Divine Revelation.
By studying the Epistle to the Romans, an exact and comprehensive knowledge of the distinguishing doctrines of grace, in their various bearings and connections, may, by the blessing of God, be obtained. Here they appear in all their native force and clearness, unalloyed with the wisdom of man. The human mind is ever prone to soften the strong features of Divine truth, and to bring them more into accordance with its own wishes and preconceived notions. Those lowering and debasing modifications of the doctrines of Scripture, by which, in some popular works, it is endeavored to reconcile error with orthodoxy, are imposing only in theory, and may be easily detected by a close and unprejudiced examination of the language of this Epistle.