The Book of Romans - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
As much as in me is.
To begin to read this great letter of Paul, is to find ourselves in the very atmosphere of the closing chapters of the book of the Acts. There we found Paul expressing his conviction that he would see Rome; and we followed him through the years of stress that at last brought him there. It was almost certainly during his stay at Corinth, before starting on that long journey, that he wrote this Epistle, which opens with the expression of his desire to come to them. In connection with that expression of desire, he declared that he was ready to preach the Gospel to those in Rome, and then he used this qualifying phrase, "as much as in me is." The phrase seems to me to be at once a recognition of limitation, and of resource. The sense of limitation was the result of his overwhelming consciousness of the greatness of the Gospel. He knew that no one man was equal to its interpretation. And yet, I think, that quite unconsciously to him perhaps, the phrase was a recognition of resource. More lay within this devoted man than his natural capacities. Christ was formed within him: he was indwelt by the Spirit. Hence his ability to preach the Gospel in all its fullness as he did in this very letter. Is not the deduction patent? The measure in which a man is conscious of limitation, is the measure in which he makes possible the operation of those powers which are his in Christ.
God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my Gospel, by Jesus Christ
In this declaration the phrase "according to my Gospel" is a parenthetical qualification. The statement is that "God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." This fact Paul declares to be part of the Gospel. Here we have a wonderful instance of the merging of the elements of the grace and severity of God in the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news that God has made righteousness available to sinful men through Christ. But the Gospel is also the declaration of the fact that men will be judged by the One through Whom that grace has been made available. There we see the finality of the Gospel message. The Saviour is to be the judge. Let us put that in another way. The judge is the Saviour. He Whose eternal right it is to sit as judge of men has in His Son provided perfect redemption for men. By so doing He has not relinquished His right as judge, but has established it. If men refuse His salvation, the justice of His sentence against them cannot be called in question. All men must meet Him as judge, but before they do so He comes to meet them with a righteous and just way of saving them from their sins. If they, refuse that salvation, the Gospel declares that by so doing they have not escaped Him as judge. The Gospel never lowers the standards of Divine requirements. It makes them possible of realization. If it be refused, then the Saviour as judge condemns and punishes.
As it is written.
This is not the first time we have found this phrase in this letter: (see 1:17 and 2:24): neither is it the last occurrence: (see 3:10-48; 4:17; 8:36; 9:13, 33; 10:15; 11:8, 26; 12:19; 14:11; 15:9, 21) In all those cases this formula of reference to the Old Testament is employed. Beyond these, there are many other quotations or allusions thereto. There are at least seventy-three verses in which such direct references are found. This is a most interesting study, as it shows the place which the Old Testament Scriptures occupied in the thinking of Paul, and as it reveals his method with them, and so the real value of them. As to the first, it is to be noticed that he never referred to any Old Testament Scripture in order to deny or correct its teaching. Every reference or allusion is to the Sacred Writings as authoritative. These quotations are from each section of the Hebrew Bible; Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy; The Prophets: 1 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Habakkuk, Malachi; and The Writings: Psalms, Proverbs. As to the method of quotation, Paul quoted generally from the Septuagint, and sometimes from the Hebrew, and he constantly changed the actual wording, but never the essential meaning, thus showing us that the truth embodied is authoritative, rather than the particular words employed to convey it. A careful study of these facts will help us to a right attitude toward the Old Testament.
Who in hope believed against hope.
That account of Abraham's mental attitude, as the result of the promise of God to him, is also a description of the experience of all those who live by faith in Him. Hope is always, the expectation of good things to come, with a corresponding activity toward the realization of them. There can be no hope where there are no grounds of expectation. To Abraham there were no grounds of expectation in circumstances that he should have an heir. They absolutely denied the possibility. Nevertheless he hoped. Upon what grounds? Those of "the promise of God." To the man who believed in God, they were sufficient; and therefore he hoped, that is, he expected that the thing would happen, and he ordered his life accordingly. That is the very genius of the life of faith. All the great things for which we look are impossible things by the standards of circumstances. If we compute the possibilities of realization upon the basis of things seen, ours is the most hopeless of enterprises. For the bringing to birth of the new order, man is dead, and woman is barren. But if we reckon with God, then we are the most hopeful of all men. He has promised, and no word of His can be void of power. Therefore we hope against hope. When there is no ground for expectation in circumstances, we find it in God; and thus with jubilant songs we cheer the night, and journey toward the Day of God.
... Because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts.
These words lead us a step further in our understanding of the nature of Christian hope. Not only is it true that it triumphs because it knows and believes God. It is also true that it is not put to shame. That is, it is never overthrown or discredited in any way by the circumstances of tribulation through which we must pass in order to its realization. On the contrary, we rejoice in these very tribulations because we realize that they are parts of the working force which is ever operating toward the realization. The secret of this victorious hope is that the love of God hath been poured out in our hearts. Here the idea is not merely that God loves us, though necessarily that is involved. It is rather that He fills us with His love by the Spirit, so that we love what He loves, and as He loves. That self-emptying sacrificial love becomes the inspiration of all our thinking, of all our doing. And it is more than that. It is the power of all our service. It is not only patient love which endures; it is mighty love which accomplishes. It is the secret of that abounding toil which never tires until its object is achieved. Where there is such love filling and mastering the life, hope is never put to shame in the processes of tribulation, and it will be ultimately saved from shame as all the toils are vindicated in the glory of the results.
Present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead.
Christianity is a living religion. The way of entrance is that of death, but it is the way that leadeth into life. This was so in the work of our Lord. In order to save, He died. The salvation into which He brings men through His death is that of life, and that more abundantly. So with all who receive that salvation. The condition upon which they do so is that of death, the self-denial which is the ending of all confidence in self, and all endeavour to win life by effort. When that condition is fulfilled, life is received as a grace-gift of God. Then dedication begins. This is an important distinction. When the soul yields to Christ, it is not giving anything to God. It has nothing to give. It is sinful, unworthy. It yields just as it is, because it cannot make itself worthy, and because in grace He calls for its surrender and trust. When this surrender of a sinful and unworthy being is made, He takes the polluted life, and pardons, cleanses, and renews it. Now the renewed, cleansed, pardoned one is called upon to present himself or herself to God, as alive from the dead. "Just as 'I am," I cannot dedicate myself to God; but I can yield myself to the Saviour. When I am what the Saviour makes me, I can present myself to God, and I shall be accepted in the Beloved. Such dedication is implicit in my yielding to Christ. It must be explicit in the resulting life.
The law is spiritual; but I am carnal.
That word of the Apostle reveals at once the supremacy and inadequacy of the law, and helps us to understand the difference between it and grace. The law is spiritual. That means, first, that it is not the result of human contrivance; it has the authority of revelation; it is not something thought out by man. It is the authentic revelation of the will of God. It also means that the law appeals first to the essential in man, which is spiritual; it can only be obeyed in material activities, as it is accepted and yielded to in spirit. But that is its limit. It is a revelation, not an enablement. It tells man what to do, but it does not help him to do it. And that would be sufficient for man, were he living under the power of his spiritual nature. But he is not. As Paul bluntly states it, every man has to say, "I am carnal." He is living under the power of his flesh and so, while consenting to the truth and beauty of the ideal revealed in the law, is unable to realize it. Thus the law has no final function other than that of revealing this very incompetence. It is a great function, for to understand my failure and incompetence is at least to leave me without excuse if I refuse the gift of grace. Grace does not lower the standard of law, but it does exactly what the law cannot do, it enables man to live according to that standard.
More than conquerors.
To conquer is to subdue; that is, to master, to overcome, in the sense of defeating an attack. To conquer tribulation would be to put an end to it; to conquer anguish would be to replace it by joy; to conquer persecution would be to turn it into patronage; to conquer famine would be to provide food; to conquer nakedness would be to provide clothing; to conquer peril would be to secure safety; to conquer the sword would be to destroy the sword. In all these things Paul says we are "more than conquerors." This does not mean that, in the senses referred to, we conquer, and more. On the contrary, it may mean that we do not conquer at all, but that we do more, we wrest from defeat values that could never be gained by conquest. Enduring tribulation, we are thereby brought, through patience and proving, to the hope that is not put to shame. Experiencing anguish, we are having fellowship with the suffering which saves. Bearing persecution, we are demonstrating the meaning of true godliness. Suffering hunger, we are proving that man does not live by bread alone. In nakedness, we reveal the beauty of spiritual adorning. Living amid perils, we are revealing the power of our Lord. Dying by the sword, we are demonstrating the weakness of the sword. This is more-than-conquering, and it is only possible "through Him that loved us."
It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.
This does not mean that we are not to will, that we are not to run. Neither does it mean that we enter into the blessings of salvation apart from willing, apart from running. We must will to do, and we must run well, allowing nothing to hinder. It does most clearly mean that no willing on our part, no running of our own, can procure for us the salvation we need, or enable us to enter into the blessings it provides. It means more than that. Of ourselves we shall have no will for salvation, and shall make no effort toward it. Everything of human salvation begins in God. His will is to have mercy. His work enables Him to do so. It is only as that will is made known to man, that he wills to receive the mercy. It is only as that work operates within man, that he is able to work out his salvation. Our wills must be exercised, our running must be positive; but we enter into salvation, and shall at last reach the crowning at the goal, only because of the everlasting mercy of God. There is neither merit nor cause for glorying in our choice or our effort. If God had not willed our saving, neither should we. If God did not work within us, we should work nothing out. Even if, of our service, we can ever say we laboured abundantly, we shall have to add: Yet not we, but the grace of God which was with us.
How? ... How ? ... How? ... How?
Romans 10:14, 15
This sequence of inquiries follows a declaration, which is a quotation from Joel: "Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved." Whatever its value in that prophecy, or in Peter's quotation thereof on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:21), Paul here evidently employed it in reference to man's responsibility concerning the salvation provided in Christ Jesus. That whole responsibility is revealed in the one word "call." Salvation comes to a man when he calls on the Name of the Lord. The inquiries reveal the place and nature of the call. The call follows belief. The belief follows hearing. The hearing follows preaching. The preaching follows sending. Thus the Apostle traces the movement back to its origin. Let us state it in the other order that we may apprehend the nature of man's calling on the Name of the Lord. God has a message of salvation, and this He sends preachers to proclaim. The preachers proclaim that message. Men hear the preacher's message, and believe it. Observe that they are not saved by that belief. So far it is merely intellectual; it is conviction that the message is true. That does not bring men into salvation. They must now "call upon the Name of the Lord." At once we see that the element of volitional surrender to the message believed, is necessary in order to salvation. Everything begins with God, but the final responsibility is with man.
God is able to graft them in again.
Paul's great subject in all this section was that of the salvation of the ancient people of God, Israel. He saw "some of the branches ... broken off," whereas the root-purpose of God through them and for them was not destroyed. The breaking-off was very real, and it resulted from their unbelief. Now the Apostle declared that if they continued not in unbelief, they would be grafted in again, for "God is able to graft them in again." Beyond the immediate application to Israel, these words are full of significance, as they reveal principles of abiding importance. The mind almost inevitably recurs to our Lord's allegory of the vine, in which also we read of fruitless branches being cast out of the vine. In presence of all that is involved of solemnity in that idea, how amazing a revelation is here of the grace and power of God! He is able to graft in again branches that have been broken off. Even though, in the interest of the Vine, and because of our fruitlessness, we have been cast forth, He is able to graft us in again. But while we recognize that, we must not forget the condition. It is that we continue not in the unbelief which was the secret of our fruitlessness. God will never graft in branches broken off, merely out of pity for them. He will do so when, by return to the true principle of life, it becomes possible for them to fulfil their function in the Vine.
Let love be without hypocrisy.
This twelfth chapter begins the apostolic application of the doctrines of salvation to the actualities of life. After the statement of the great principles of true Christian life, Paul passed to some general illustrations in a series of injunctions. Of these, this is the first. It is very simple, but very searching. Everything in Christianity proceeds out of the love of God, and its ultimate and glorious fruitage is that of love mastering men. Hence there is always a danger lest love should be professed when it is not possessed; or, on the other hand, that love should be untrue to its central element of holiness. Hence the warning of these words. Love must be without acting, for that is what hypocrisy really is. The language of love, where love is not, is of no avail. Even the activities, which are properly those of love, practised in order to make it seem as though we loved, are of no value. That is what Paul meant when he wrote in another Epistle: "If I bestow all my goods to feed the poor ... but have not love, it profiteth me nothing." So also, to violate love by failing to abhor evil, even when the violation is that of actions of tenderness, is in itself evil. Love is hypocritical, it is acting, it is untrue to itself, when it condones evil in any form. Love must cleave to good, or be untrue to its very deepest nature.
Love therefore is the fulfilment of the law.
Here again is a simple statement of a most profound truth, and its apprehension will correct many mistakes. Man is at least inclined to think of law and love as being antagonistic. We have heard John's words, "The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ," so recited as to give the impression that there was radical difference between them. Indeed, over and over again a "but" is introduced between the two parts of the one declaration. There is no difference. The only distinction is that law tells us what to do, and grace enables us to do it. Thus not only is there no antagonism between love and law, there is no separation between them. Law is an expression of love. To understand that, is to realize that love is also the fulfilling of law. Paul's method of showing this is most simple and most conclusive. It is impossible to sin against our fellowmen if we love them; or we may say that every sin we commit against them is due to some cooling or failure of love. Love is the most vigilant and severe sentinel of all our actions. It is the only motive strong enough to make us true under all circumstances and at all times. Fear will carry us far, but under stress of fierce temptation it will break down. Love will carry us all the way, and leave us still desiring better things than we have ever attained.
Let each man be fully assured in his own mind.
This is a far-reaching word. Its application in Paul's argument was to such very disputable matters as the observing of days, and the eating of foods. It is really passing strange how these and similarly unimportant matters have been, and continue to be, reasons for much bitterness between the children of God. Two matters are contained in this instruction - first, that of a man's personal duty; and second, that of his attitude toward all other men. The first is explicit; the second is implicit. The personal duty is that a man be fully assured in his own mind. That means first, that he is to have an opinion. He has no right to be guided in these things by the opinions or habits of others. That way lies the paralysing of the powers of personality, and therefore weakness. It may be that coming to full assurance will demand time and thought, and in the process he may be helped by conferring with others; but at last he must find his own stand. This being so, it follows that he will recognize the right and obligation of every other man to the same process. Therefore no man can have any right whatever to impose upon any other man his own convictions. All this is important and reasonable, because one man may be helped by the observance of a day, while another is not; one may find strength in abstinence from certain forms of food, and another weakness.
The offering up of the Gentiles.
In this phrase an idea is included which is very beautiful, and which we are in danger of forgetting. It is that of the priestly nature of all ministerial work. Paul was a chosen vessel of God to the Gentiles. He was sent to preach the Gospel to them, and to build them up in their faith. As we saw in the Acts of the Apostles, he was diligent in carrying out both these things. Here he described that whole work by a phrase which shows its deepest value. All those who were won by the preaching of the Gospel, and perfected as he exhorted and admonished, were sacrifices laid upon the Altar, offerings verily made by fire unto the Lord. Thus in the doing of all this work Paul was exercising the priesthood of worship. What a radiant light this sheds upon all our evangelistic and pastoral effort! Every soul won by the preaching of the. Gospel is not only brought into a place of safety and blessing; it is an offering to God, a gift which gives Him satisfaction, the very offering He is ever seeking. Every soul carefully and patiently instructed in the things of Christ, and so made conformable to His likeness, is a soul in whom the Father takes pleasure. Thus we labour, not only for the saving of men, but for the satisfying of the heart of God. This is the most powerful motive. There may be times when we are tempted to think of men as not worthy of our sacrifice. We always feel that He is worthy to receive.
Wise unto that which is good, and simple unto that which is evil.
This is one of Paul's last expressed wishes in this letter for the saints in Rome, that little company of souls delivered from the kingdom of Satan, who yet lived in a city where was his seat of authority. That city, like every great city in human history, was full of the deep things of Satan. Evil lures men by its subtlety, its mystery, its darkling depths. The seduction of it is very powerful - men are desirous of knowing. Thousands of men, of real natural ability, have found destruction because, as they say, they desired to see life. What they saw was not life, but death. For these children of God, Paul desired that in all these things they might remain simple. There are things in the underworld, the very knowledge of which pollutes the soul. It is better not to know. The children of God are admitted to the mystery of good, which is the mystery of godliness, the mystery of light, of purity, of beauty. In this realm he desired that they might be wise. By their relation with God in Christ men are admitted into this wonderful realm. Herein they see life, and share it, the more abundant life, the life eternal. In this world of the upper things the soul is purified, ennobled, glorified. Here it is better to know. Let all such as are in this fellowship follow on to know. Let them come to full knowledge. This is the true wisdom. Let it be sought earnestly and persistently.