WE are now arrived at the conclusion of this most instructive Epistle, in which our attention is so forcibly drawn to the consideration of ‘the deep things of God.’ On the one hand, the unbending justice of the infinitely holy God is awfully displayed, appearing like the flaming cherubim which guarded the way to the tree of life, and barred every avenue of hope to man as a transgressor. On the other hand, we behold the Divine compassion abounding in all wisdom and prudence, to the praise of the glory of God’s grace, providing the glorious plan of redemption, in which mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace embrace each other. The righteousness of God, like the rainbow that was round about the throne, reveals all the glorious attributes of Jehovah, blended, but not confounded, in one harmonious exhibition of unrivaled majesty.
The doctrine of justification by faith in the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ, is established by the Apostle in the former part of this Epistle. But it is a doctrine which has in all ages been offensive to the carnal heart. It is equally obnoxious to the profligate and the virtuous, to the fanatic and the rationalist, to the devotee and the philosopher. It lays the pride of man in the dust, pouring contempt upon his boasted strength, and casting down all the lofty imaginations of his own excellence and good works. Therefore it is that with one voice they all cry out, ‘This doctrine leads to licentiousness, and makes no sufficient provision for the security of morality and practical religion.’ Far different from this was the judgment of the Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, whose language he uttered. In this Epistle, the grace of the Gospel is reckoned the only safe and sure foundation for every practical virtue; and from a view of the love ofGOD in the gift of HisSON, and of the work of Christ in redemption, believers are urged to every duty. ‘I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,’ is the language of Paul at the beginning of the twelfth chapter, ‘that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.’ Here he does not for a moment entertain the idea that the mercies of God, displayed in the grand doctrines of the Gospel which he had been exhibiting and unfolding, could in any way tend to encourage a continuance in sin. On the contrary, they are the very grounds on which he urges the believing Romans to surrender themselves wholly to the Lord. Paul is often ignorantly accused of teaching principles subversive of morality; but in the latter part of this Epistle he is as fervent in establishing the necessity of holiness of life and conduct as he had previously been earnest in establishing the great doctrine of justification by faith.
The attributes of God, especially His holiness and justice, when viewed through any other medium than that of the Gospel, strike terror into the heart of man, and lead him, like Adam, to hide himself among the trees of the garden. But these attributes, in themselves so terrible to the guilty, are through the merciful appointment of the mediation of our heavenly Surety, pledged for the deliverance of the Christian, and for his eternal salvation.
According to the acknowledged constitution of man, love and gratitude are much more effective principles of obedience than the servile spirit of self-righteousness, craving the wages of merit. It consequently happens that all who receive the grace of God in truth are found careful to maintain good works, while the advocates of salvation by works notoriously fail in practice, and frequently indulge the lusts of the flesh. They boast much of practical as opposed to doctrinal religion, and talk of morality and virtue; but their conduct and pursuits for the most part declare them to be men of this world, living to themselves and not to Christ, delighting in the follies of the world, and actuated by its motives. But the grace of God that bringeth salvation teaches believers to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
Even among the people of God many are prejudiced against some of the doctrines exhibited in the preceding part of this Epistle. But their prejudices are to be traced to the remains of ignorance and alienation from God, which, through the power of indwelling sin and the busy suggestions of the prince of darkness, still continue to obscure the views of those in whose heart the Spirit of truth has begun to shine. If, however, we appeal to the experience of believers in every age and in every country, it will be found that the more unreservedly and the more simply the Apostle’s doctrines are received in all their fullness, the more will they produce of self-abasement, of trust in God, and resignation to His will. What can be more calculated to humble the believer under a sense of his own unworthiness, than the awful picture of the depravity and ruined condition of man presented in the first three chapters; and what more productive of joy and peace, than the way of recovery disclosed in the fourth, and the contrast presented in the fifth, between the entrance of sin, condemnation, and death, and the free gifts of righteousness, justification, and life? What more suited to allay fear and distrust, as well as to kindle the liveliest gratitude to God, than the assurance held out in the sixth chapter, that the believer, by union with Christ, is ‘dead to sin,’ — for ever freed from guilt by the death of his Savior, and with Him made partaker of a new and immortal life, and that sin shall not have dominion over him? The same encouragement he derives from the seventh chapter. There the grand truth taught in the sixth, of his being dead to sin , is illustrated and enforced by the declaration that by the sacrifice of Christ he has ‘become dead to the law.’ By the law, consequently, he can no longer be condemned; and the period will shortly arrive, when, from the pollution of sin, under which he still groans, the Lord will deliver him.
What can be more fitted to beget confidence in God than the accumulated and ineffable mercies to His people, exhibited in the eighth chapter, in the opening of which, as a corollary from all that had gone before, is announced the assurance that there is ‘now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus; ‘that in them the righteousness which the law demands has been, by the Son of God Himself fulfilled; that they are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in them; and that, although their bodies, because of sin, of which they have been the instruments, must die, their souls, because of the righteousness of their Savior, now made theirs, are life, — not merely alive, but secured in immortal life, to which even their now mortal bodies shall be raised. The spirit of bondage they have exchanged for the spirit of adoption, calling God their Father, while the Spirit Himself beareth witness with their spirits that they are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. If they now suffer with Him, they shall also be glorified together, while the sufferings they are called to endure are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in them. They groan, indeed, at present, waiting for the redemption of their bodies, for as yet they are only saved in hope; but they wait with patience for the full enjoyment of their salvation, the Holy Spirit Himself helping their infirmities, and making intercession in their hearts, which, being conformable to the will of God, must always prevail. Having been called according to God’s purpose, all things are working together for their good. By Him they were foreknown as the objects of His everlasting love, and predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son; and being thus predestinated, they were called by Him and justified, and finally shall be glorified. For them God spared not His own Son, having delivered Him up for them all; and with Him He will also freely gave them all things. Who, then, shall lay anything to the charge of those who are God’s elect? If it is God that justifies, who shall condemn? If Christ died, if He be risen again, if He is seated at the right hand of God, and if He makes intercession for them, no power in heaven, or earth, or hell, shall ever separate them from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus their Lord.
The unspeakable value of these mercies, is, in the ninth chapter, enhanced by a solemn and practical view of the sovereignty of God in bestowing them, connected with incontrovertible proof that His promises to His people had never failed in their accomplishment. The Divine sovereignty in the choice of the subjects of salvation, is strikingly illustrated in the case of Jacob, whom God loved before he was born. And, on the other hand, His just judgment in punishing those whom He leaves in that sinful state into which all men have fallen, is with equal clearness displayed in His hating Esau before his birth. God, it is asserted, hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. All men are in His hand as clay in the hand of the potter; and while He endureth with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, He makes known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory. The conduct of Israel, and God’s particular dealings with His ancient people, are in the tenth chapter next described, while the freeness of salvation by Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, together with God’s purpose that the Gospel shall be preached to the Gentiles, is fully brought into view. In the eleventh chapter, it is proved, in consistency with what had been said in the ninth, that a remnant of Israel, according to the election of grace, were saved, while the rest were blinded. But still, as a nation, Israel is not cast off. As the root was holy, so are the branches, although some were broken off; and the time is approaching when all Israel with the fullness of the Gentiles shall together abundantly experience the mercy of God.
In what prominence and strength of expression is the sovereignty of God exhibited in the above ninth chapter? Is the Apostle ashamed of this view of God? Does he cover it with a veil in treating of the rejection of the Jews? No; in the strongest terms that could be selected, he conspicuously displays it, while both there and in the eleventh chapter he represents the glory of God as the principal object in all things that exist, ‘For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever.
Amen.’ The wisdom of this world finds the chief end of the existence of all created beings to be the benevolent design of communicating happiness.
But the Apostle gives another view of the subject. He declares the glory of God — that is, the manifestation of His perfections — to be the end of creation. Let Christians, then, not be ashamed of this display of the Divine character. Let them rather be ashamed of modifying their views of God by the systems of human science. Let them return to the strong and scriptural statements of the Reformers on the subject, and as little children believe God’s account of Himself.
The attentive reader of the preceding part of this Epistle, who is willing to submit to receive in all things the true and obvious meaning of Scripture, cannot fail to perceive that all the doctrines which are there brought before us ascribe the whole glory of everything to God. Jehovah is seen to be glorified in His judgments as well as in His grace, in His wrath as well as in His mercy, in those who are lost as well as in those who are saved.
However disagreeable this may be to the natural mind of man, it is truly reasonable. Can there be a higher end than the glory of the Divine character? And can man, who is a fallen and lost creature, share with his offended Sovereign in the glory of his recovery? Such a thought is as incongruous as it is palpably unscriptural If there be hope for the guilty, if there be recovery to any from the ruins of the fall, it is the voice of reason properly exercised, as well as of the Divine word, that it must come from God Himself.
How astonishing, then, is it that men should be so averse to the doctrines of the Scripture which hold forth this view So offensive are they to the mind of man, that every effort of ingenuity has been employed by those who understand not the Gospel, to eject them from the Scriptures; and many even of the people of God themselves labor to modify and bring them to a nearer conformity to the wisdom of the world, or, at least, to make them less offensive to human prejudices. This wisdom is foolishness, and is highly dishonorable to God, as well as pernicious to themselves. When God has brought salvation nigh as entirely His gift, and has exhibited Christ as a Savior, through faith, to the chief of sinners, how injurious is it to the honor of His truth, and to the interests of sinners, to put the salvation of the Gospel at a distance, and, as it were in defiance of the Apostle, to send men to heaven to bring Christ down from above, or to the deep to bring Him up from the grave! What folly appears in that wisdom that sees greater security for the believer’s final happiness in making him the author of his own destiny, than in resting the security of his salvation on the power and love of his almighty Savior. How vain is that wisdom which considers the performance of good works to be better secured by resting them on the resolutions and faithfulness of the believer himself, than on the fact of his oneness with Christ in His death and resurrection!
All who acknowledge regeneration by the Spirit of God, virtually concede the things which they are unwilling to confess in plain and direct statement. If men are by nature dead in sin, surely their new life is not in any sense produced by themselves. If their change from sin to holiness be a new birth, how contradictory to suppose that they have any share in this great change! Yet how many will acknowledge that everything good in us is of God, who will yet labor to show that still there is some remaining moral ability in man to turn himself to God Is not this to sacrifice to their own wisdom? Will they proudly refuse submission to the declarations of God’s word, till they are able to fathom the depths of the Divine counsels?
Many Christians, who admit the truth of all those doctrines which are most offensive to the world, act on the principle that it is wise to conceal their views on these points, or at least to keep them as much as possible in the background. They think in this way to be more useful to the world.
But is it wisdom ‘is it duty, is it consistent with our allegiance to Christ, to keep in abeyance doctrines which so much glorify God, and are so prominently held forth in the Scriptures? Christians should recollect that, although the avoiding of certain offensive doctrines may lessen the prejudice of the world against the professors of Christianity, yet that to turn a sinner to God is in all cases the work of God Himself. How can we then expect a blessing on our efforts if we seek to conceal what He exhibits in a blaze of light? Better, much better in all things, to exhibit the truths of the Divine word just as that word itself exhibits them, and leave the success of our efforts to Him who alone can make them effectual. We cannot by all we can do bring one soul to Christ. We cannot make one sinner alive by the Gospel, more than we can raise the dead out of their graves. Let us then renounce our own wisdom, and our own plans, and let us teach Divine truth as it is taught in the Scriptures.
All religions but that of the Bible divide the glory of recovering men to happiness between God and the sinner. All false views of the Gospel do the same. The Bible alone makes the salvation of guilty men to originate solely with God, and to terminate in His glory as its chief end. This doctrine is peculiar to right views of the Christian religion. Can there, then, be more convincing evidence that the Bible is from God? If such a feature is peculiar to the Christian religion, yet offensive to most who bear the Christian name, it is the most demonstrative evidence that this revelation is not from man. How solid, then, are the foundations of the Christian religion, when the very things belonging to it most offensive to the world afford the most satisfactory evidence that it is from God!
If it be objected that the doctrines which are taught in the first part of this Epistle, while they display God’s mercies in those who are saved, also exhibit His severity in condemning those who perish, this, it must be affirmed, cannot derogate from the mercy extended to those on whom He will have mercy. On the contrary, it is enhanced by the consideration of the just punishment which all men would have suffered but for the intervention of that mercy. Thus, in the 136th Psalm, where the mercy of God is so highly celebrated, it is held forth in striking contrast with the destruction of the objects of God’s displeasure. ‘God delighteth in mercy.’ ‘His mercy is on them that fear Him, from generation to generation.’ ‘All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.’ And when these ineffable blessings, freely bestowed on believers, are surveyed by them, in connection with Jehovah’s awful displeasure against sin, as manifested in His unalterable determination to punish with everlasting destruction from His presence those who were not more guilty than themselves, but to whom, in His unsearchable counsels, He never purposed to extend that sovereign grace which has snatched them like brands from the burning, what a foundation do they lay for their love and gratitude to God! They demonstrate, too, their entire dependence upon God, and constrain them, in the utter abandonment of self-confidence, to embrace Him as their covenant God. But if it be inquired, Why has such a distinction been made, involving consequences of such unspeakable and eternal moment? — the only proper answer that can be given is that of our Lord Himself, — ’Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.’ Believers, then, are called, in the contemplation of the goodness and severity of God, humbly and thankfully to acknowledge His goodness to themselves. As to others, the answer given to Peter when he asked, What shall this man do? is to them equally apposite, — ’What is that to thee? Follow thou Me. ’ Let them be content with the assurance that the Judge of all the earth will do right.
On the mercies of God to His people, displayed in the doctrines taught in the preceding part of the Epistle, the Apostle grounds his exhortations to holiness in the remaining chapters. The intense and burning zeal which Paul there exhibits for the manifestation of holiness in the character and conduct of believers, when viewed in connection with his great doctrine of justification by faith in the atonement of the Son of God, furnishes the strongest evidence of the truth of revelation. No man ever forged this Epistle. It carries its own credentials on the face of it, and shows the broad seal of heaven stamped upon it, as clearly as the heavens and the earth declare that creation is the work of God, and not of an impostor. Who could have forged such a work as this Epistle? For what end could it have been forged? If Antinomians could be supposed to forge the doctrine of justification through the sacrifice of Christ, who was then to forge the precepts which so urgently inculcate all good works? No man could be suspected of writing this Epistle with a view to please the bulk of mankind, or indeed any one considerable class of men. It is as much opposed to the spirit of the multitude, as it is to the pride of the enlightened few. It pleases nobody, and therefore can never be justly suspected of having been originally written in order to please, or in order to effect any sinister purpose.
It is peremptory in its doctrine of obedience to the civil magistrates, and enjoins submission to the higher powers on a footing to which the world was previously a stranger. Yet this cannot be suspected of being a contrivance of magistrates. For while it urges subjection in civil matters to those authorities whom God in His providence has appointed, it condemns as without excuse that idolatry which the existing rulers, at the time when it was written, professed, and for the support of which they persecuted Christians to the death. This can no more be a forgery of the rulers than of the subjects.
There is another peculiarity in the latter part of this Epistle, which evinces admirable wisdom, but a wisdom far removed from the wisdom of man. It contains, in the short compass of a few chapters, an amazing variety of precepts, expressed perspicuously, yet briefly, respecting conduct in domestic life, in society, and in church fellowship. Had uninspired men been discoursing on these various subjects, they would have produced a series of distinct treatises, formally handled, and largely illustrated. In the writings of the Apostle, a single sentence embraces a volume, while this peculiarity differs so widely from any procedure of human wisdom, that it proclaims itself to be the wisdom of God. It is thus that the Scriptures are contained in a comparatively short book, which is addressed to the great body of mankind, and whose contents are inexhaustible.
Yet amidst such careful parsimony of words, amidst such a condensation of matter, the Apostle closes the Epistle with what might seem a most prodigal waste, by sending so many salutations, and expressing, in such a variety of terms, ceremonious attentions to his fellow-Christians at Rome.
Here, however, as in other cases, wisdom is justified of her children; for this, also, is one of those characteristics by which God stamps His image on all His productions. The Christian will be at no loss to discover, on reflection, that this part of the Epistle is not without its use; and, in the exposition of the last chapter, it has been a peculiar object to point out how we may reap instruction, from what human wisdom, in its folly, will scarcely admit to be reckoned as a part of that Book, which is nothing less thanTHE WORD OF GOD.
The doctrines unfolded in this Epistle reveal to us the mighty plan of redemption, by which our powerful spiritual enemies are overcome, and all the strong and deeply-rooted evils lodged within our bosoms shall finally be subdued. The whole leads believers to exclaim, — ’The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof. Clouds and darkness are round about Him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne. A fire goeth before Him, and burneth up His enemies round about. The heavens declare His righteousness, and all the people see His glory. Ye that love the Lord, hate evil; He preserveth the souls of His saints; He delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness.’ These emphatic words of the Psalmist, though recorded more than a thousand years before the age of the Apostle, most graphically delineate the leading features of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, and portray in vivid colors those emotions in the minds of believers which the consideration of them is so well fitted to produce. And those who have never perused this astonishing portion of the Divine word with a holy relish, and have not entered into its meaning, have never experienced the fullness of that joy and peace which it is calculated to produce in the heart of every true worshipper of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ THE END.