« AnteriorContinua »
EPISTLE OF ST. PAUL
WRIT IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 57, OF NERO III.
BEFORE we take into consideration the epistle to the Romans in particular, it may not be amiss to premise, that the miraculous birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, were all events, that came to pass within the confines of Judea; and that the ancient writings of the jewish nation, allowed by the christians to be of divine original, were appealed to, as witnessing the truth of his mission and doctrine; whereby it was manifest, that the jews were the depositaries of the proofs of the christian religion. This could not choose but give the jews, who were owned to be the people of God, even in the days of our Saviour, a great authority among the convert gentiles, who knew nothing of the Messiah, they were to believe in, but what they derived from that nation, out of which he and his doctrine sprung. Nor did the jews fail to make use of this advantage, several ways to the disturbance of the gentiles, that embraced christianity. The jews, even those of them that received the gospel, were, for the most part, so devoted to the law of Moses and their ancient rites, that they could by no means, bring themselves to think, that they were to be laid aside. They were, every-where, stiff and zealous for them, and contended that they were necessary to be ob
served, even by christians, by all that pretended to be the people of God, and hoped to be accepted by him. This gave no small trouble to the newly-converted gentiles, and was a great prejudice to the gospel, and therefore we find it complained of, in more places than one; vid. Acts xv. 1, 2 Cor. xi. 3, Gal. ii. 4, and v. 1, 10, 12, Phil. iii. 2, Col. ii. 4, 8, 16, Tit. i. 10, 11, 14, &c. This remark may serve to give light, not only to this epistle to the romans, but to several other of St. Paul's epistles, written to the churches of converted gentiles.
As to this epistle to the romans, the apostle's principal aim in it seems to be, to persuade them to a steady perseverance in the profession of christianity, by convincing them, that God is the God of the gentiles, as well as of the jews; and that now, under the gospel, there is no difference between jew and gentile. This he does several ways:
1. By showing, that, though the gentiles were very sinful, yet the jews, who had the law, kept it not, and so could not, upon account of their having the law (which being broken, aggravated their faults, and made them as far from righteous, as the gentiles themselves) have a title to exclude the gentiles, from being the people of God, under the gospel.
2. That Abraham was a father of all that believe, as well uncircumcised, as circumcised; so that those, that walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham, though uncircumcised, are the seed, to which the promise is made, and shall receive the blessing.
3. That it was the purpose of God, from the beginning, to take the gentiles to be his people under the Messias, in the place of the jews, who had been so, till that time, but were then nationally rejected, because they nationally rejected the Messias, whom he sent to them to be their King and Deliverer, but was received by but a very small number of them, which remnant was received into the kingdom of Christ, and so continued to be his people, with the converted gentiles, who all together made now the church and people of God.
4. That the jewish nation had no reason to complain of any unrighteousness in God, or hardship from him, in their being cast off, for their unbelief, since they had been warned of it, and they might find it threatened in their ancient pro
phets. Besides, the raising or depressing of any nation is the prerogative of God's sovereignty. Preservation in the land, that God has given them, being not the right of any once race of men, above another. And God might, when he thought fit, reject the nation of the jews, by the same sovereignty, whereby he at first chose the posterity of Jacob to be his people, passing by other nations, even such as descended from Abraham and Isaac: but yet he tells them, that at last they shall be restored again.
Besides the assurance he labours to give the romans, that they are, by faith in Jesus Christ, the people of God, without circumcision, or other observances of the jews, whatever they may say, (which is the main drift of this epistle,) it is farther remarkable, that this epistle being writ to a church of gentiles, in the metropolis of the roman empire, but not planted by St. Paul himself; he, as apostle of the gentiles, out of care that they should rightly understand the gospel, has woven into his discourse the chief doctrines of it, and given them a comprehensive view of God's dealing with mankind, from first to last, in reference to eternal life. The principal heads whereof are these:
That, by Adam's transgression, sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death reigned over all men, from Adam to Moses.
That, by Moses, God gave the children of Israel (who were his people, i. e. owned him for their God, and kept themselves free from the idolatry and revolt of the heathen world) a law, which if they obeyed they should have life thereby, i. e. attain to immortal life, which had been lost by Adam's transgression.
That though this law, which was righteous, just, and good, were ordained to life, yet, not being able to give strength to perform what it could not but require, it failed, by reason of the weakness of human nature, to help men to life. So that, though the israelites had statutes, which if a man did, he should live in them; yet they all transgressed, and attained not to righteousness and life, by the deeds of the law.
That, therefore, there was no way to life left to those under the law, but by the righteousness of faith in Jesus
Christ, by which faith alone they were that seed of Abrahain, to whom the blessing was promised.
This was the state of the israelites.
As to the gentile world, he tells them,
That, though God made himself known to them, by legible characters of his being and power, visible in the works of the creation; yet they glorified him not, nor were thankful to him; they did not own nor worship the one, only, true, invisible God, the creator of all things, but revolted from him, to gods set up by themselves, in their own vain imaginations, and worshipped stocks and stones, the corruptible images of corruptible things.
That, they having thus cast off their allegiance to him, their proper Lord, and revolted to other gods, God, therefore, cast them off, and gave them up to vile affections, and to the conduct of their own darkened hearts, which led them into all sorts of vices.
That both jews and gentiles, being thus all under sin, and coming short of the glory of God; God, by sending his Son Jesus Christ, shows himself to be the God both of the jews and gentiles; since he justifieth the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith, so that all, that believe, are freely justified by his grace.
That though justification unto eternal life be only by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ; yet we are, to the utmost of our power, sincerely to endeavour after righteousness, and from our hearts obey the precepts of the gospel, whereby we become the servants of God; for his servants we are whom we obey, whether of sin unto death, or obedience unto righteousness.
These are but some of the more general and comprehensive heads of the christian doctrine, to be found in this epistle. The design of a synopsis will not permit me to descend more minutely to particulars. But this let me say, that he, that would have an enlarged view of true christianity, will do well to study this epistle.
Several exhortations, suited to the state that the christians of Rome were then in, make up the latter part of the epistle.