1:16 Why might someone be ashamed of the gospel? On the surface, the gospel seems like a very strange message. It is about a Jewish carpenter and teacher who was put to death on a cross by Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea in AD 26–36. The message says that this man Jesus was raised from the dead and is now Lord—the (Gk) kurios. This title was used of God in the Greek Bible and was applied to the emperor by some Romans. Paul himself wrote that this message seemed foolish to Gentiles (1Co 1:23) and was a stumbling block to Jews. A crucified Messiah seemed to be a contradiction in terms to the Jews. A crucified Jew seemed like foolishness to the Romans, who despised Jews in general. Anyone who was crucified was considered among the lowest members of society. Paul had no confidence in his rhetorical skills to overcome the human objections to the message, but he knew the power of the Spirit to change the lives of people as they heard the good news about Jesus’s death and resurrection. People are saved by faith, but faith is not the cause of salvation. The cause of salvation is the grace of God, the will of God, and the power of God working through the message.
1:16 “Gospel” is the translation of euangelion (Gk.), which combines angelia (Gk.), meaning “message,” with the Greek prefix eu, meaning “well” or “good.” Hence, the gospel is a “good message.” The precise nature of the Christian gospel is nowhere more succinctly stated than in 1 Cor. 15:3, 4. The essential facts of the gospel include (1) the incarnation of the Son of God, (2) His atoning death on the cross for our sins, (3) His victorious resurrection for our justification, and (4) the promise of His return for His people. An additional and inevitable thrust of this gospel is the appeal to respond to those truths in repentance and faith.
1:16 I am not ashamed of the gospel. Although the gospel is folly to the cultured, Paul sees his message as divine wisdom (1 Cor. 1:22–25, 30), and is not embarrassed by God’s way of salvation. See “Salvation” at 2 Cor. 6:5.
power. The regenerating, life-changing impact of the gospel word through the Holy Spirit is essential because of humanity’s bondage to sin and Satan, and weakness and spiritual inability on account of sin (5:6; 8:5–9).
believes. Salvation is unmerited, but it is not universally enjoyed; faith is required for it.
to the Jew first. While this was true in terms of the history of redemption (2:9, 10; John 4:22; cf. Mark 7:24–30), it was also the pattern of Paul’s missionary outreach. Hence, in visiting the cities of the Roman world he began by expounding Scripture in the synagogues where possible, and he preached Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises (Acts 9:20; 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1, 17; 18:4, 19, 26; 19:8). Throughout Romans, Paul is careful not to deny the validity of the God-given privileges of His own people (3:11, 12; 9:4, 5).
1:16 not ashamed Expresses a high degree of confidence in the gospel. Paul is confident that the hope he has placed in the gospel message will not be disappointed (see 5:5 and note).
power The Greek word used here, dynamis, often refers to miraculous works (e.g., Matt 7:22; 11:20; Mark 6:2). Here, it refers to God’s ability to deliver His people from sin and future judgment (compare Exod 9:16; Rom 8:2–3; 1 Cor 1:18; note on 2 Tim 3:5). God’s power also relates to the power of the Holy Spirit (see Rom 1:4).
salvation The Greek word used here, sōtēria, refers to deliverance from the final judgment. It also might refer to deliverance from sin and the results of sin: death and alienation from God.
Jew first and also to the Greek Paul uses references to both Jews and Greeks (or Gentiles) to encompass all of humanity. Although the gospel message applies to all people, Paul describes it as being directed first toward the Jew because God gave the Jews the covenants and promises to which the gospel refers (9:4). The priority of the Jews in God’s plan of salvation also anticipates the discussion of Israel’s future role in chs. 9–11.
1:16 Because of their lack of size, fame, or honor in the Roman corridors of power and influence, Christians might be tempted to be ashamed of the Christian message. But Paul says it is nothing to be ashamed of, for it is in fact a message coming with the power of God that brings people to salvation. Jew first indicates the priority of the Jews in salvation history and their election as God’s people. The role of the Jews is a major issue in Romans, as seen especially in the discussion in chs. 9–11. Greek is not limited here to people from Greece but refers to all Gentiles.
1:16 I am not ashamed. He had been imprisoned in Philippi (Ac 16:23, 24), chased out of Thessalonica (Ac 17:10), smuggled out of Berea (Ac 17:14), laughed at in Athens (Ac 17:32), regarded as a fool in Corinth (1Co 1:18, 23), and stoned in Galatia (Ac 14:19), but Paul remained eager to preach the gospel in Rome—the seat of contemporary political power and pagan religion. Neither ridicule, criticism, nor physical persecution could curb his boldness. See notes on 2Co 4:5–18; 11:23–28; 12:9, 10. power. The Eng. word “dynamite” comes from this Gr. word. Although the message may sound foolish to some (1Co 1:18), the gospel is effective because it carries with it the omnipotence of God (cf. Ex 15:6; Dt 32:39; Job 9:4; Pss 33:8, 9; 89:13; 106:8, 9; Is 26:4; 43:13; Jer 10:12; 27:5; Mt 28:18; Ro 9:21). Only God’s power is able to overcome man’s sinful nature and give him new life (5:6; 8:3; Jn 1:12; 1Co 1:18, 23–25; 2:1–4; 4:20; 1Pe 1:23). salvation. Used 5 times in Romans (the verb form occurs 8 times), this key word basically means “deliverance” or “rescue.” The power of the gospel delivers people from lostness (Mt 18:11), from the wrath of God (Ro 5:9), from willful spiritual ignorance (Hos 4:6; 2Th 1:8), from evil self-indulgence (Lk 14:26), and from the darkness of false religion (Col 1:13; 1Pe 2:9). It rescues them from the ultimate penalty of their sin, i.e., eternal separation from God and eternal punishment (see note on Rev 20:6). believes. To trust, rely on, or have faith in. When used of salvation, this word usually occurs in the present tense which stresses that faith is not simply a one-time event, but an ongoing condition. True saving faith is supernatural, a gracious gift of God that He produces in the heart (see note on Eph 2:8) and is the only means by which a person can appropriate true righteousness (cf. 3:22, 25; 4:5, 13, 20; 5:1; see notes on 4:1–25). Saving faith consists of 3 elements: 1) mental: the mind understands the gospel and the truth about Christ (10:14–17); 2) emotional: one embraces the truthfulness of those facts with sorrow over sin and joy over God’s mercy and grace (6:17; 15:13); and 3) volitional: the sinner submits his will to Christ and trusts in Him alone as the only hope of salvation (see note on 10:9). Genuine faith will always produce authentic obedience (see note on 4:3; cf. Jn 8:31; 14:21–24). Jew first. God chose Israel to be His witness nation (Ex 19:6) and gave her distinct privileges (3:2; 9:4, 5). Christ’s ministry was first to Israel (Mt 15:24), and it was through Israel that salvation was to come to the world (Jn 4:22; Acts 13:46). Greek. See note on 1:14.
1:16 — For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes .…
We must never feel ashamed of our connection to Christ or to the salvation which He freely offers to all. It is a high privilege to represent Him, and we must do so with boldness and enthusiasm.
1:16 The NT speaks of salvation in the past tense (Eph. 2:8), the present tense (2 Cor. 2:15), and the future tense (13:11). In the past, the believer has been saved from the penalty of sin. In the present, the believer is being saved from the power of sin. In the future, the believer will be saved from the very presence of sin (Matt. 5:10–12; 8:17; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 2:11–13; Rev. 22:12). not ashamed: Paul was ready to preach the gospel of Christ. When we really believe in it, we too are eager to make it known. the power of God: He was not ashamed because it works. Salvation delivers us from the judgment of God and the power of sin. It makes us God’s children, giving us peace with Him and a share in future glory. Christ’s atonement makes salvation available to everyone who will accept His offer. believes: Accepts the truth about Jesus revealed by God and acts accordingly. the Jew first: The Jews were first in that God worked with them throughout the OT to prepare salvation for the entire human race. For Paul the term Greek includes all people who are not Jews.
1:16. Paul concludes the introduction by stating his theme: the gospel has power to deliver the justified from God’s wrath.
Paul is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Why does Paul mention shame? Perhaps he had unbelieving Greeks (1:5, 14) in mind who think preaching a crucified Savior is foolish (1 Cor 1:23). Furthermore, with persecution in Rome, these believers were subject to fear and ridicule. If Christians are ashamed, they will not confess (cf. Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 2 Tim 1:8). If they will not confess, they will not be delivered, according to Rom 10:9–10. This topic becomes relevant in Romans since 10:11 links “shame,” that could hinder public confession of calling on the Lord (10:9–14), with deliverance that believers can experience.
Paul (and the Roman Christians) need not be ashamed of this gospel, for it is [furnishes] the power of God to salvation [deliverance]. Paul does not mention salvation again until 5:9. Neither the noun sōtēria nor the related verb sōzō are mentioned at all in the justification section (3:21–4:25). They are found only in places where they are clearly distinguished from justification (see 5:9 and 10:9–14). Thus, one is hard pressed in Romans to define salvation as justification. The connection of v 16 with v 18 becomes vitally important since salvation and wrath are linked in this way. From the beginning of his letter, Paul defines salvation as deliverance from God’s present wrath brought about by sins. Therefore, in Romans, it serves the interpreter best to understand and translate salvation as deliverance, which focuses on freeing the believer from sin’s grip.
A closer look at wrath in Romans (cf. 1:18, 2:5, 8, and 3:5) shows God’s wrath to be a present, not eternal, judgment whereby He turns the sinners over to the bondage of sin (1:18–3:20). Therefore Paul is saying that to be delivered from this wrath one must have a life of victory over sin (cf. 1:16–18; 5:9–10; 10:9–14; 13:4–5), not just simply be justified. Nevertheless, justification through faith in Christ is the first condition of deliverance (3:21–4:25), with the second condition being following Christ (5:1–8:39).
Hence the gospel furnishes the power which is able to deliver everyone who believes (i.e., faith becomes the only condition necessary to appropriate the power that is able to deliver; cf. 3:22; 4:11; 10:4, 11). Therefore, this salvation/ deliverance is not the immediate result of believing in Christ. Believing in Christ makes deliverance possible.
The power to deliver is now available to all believers, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
1:16. Paul’s eagerness to evangelize sprang also from his estimate of his message, the gospel. (This is the fourth of five times Paul used the word “gospel” in these opening verses: vv. 1, 9, 15–17.) Many consider this the theme of the letter, which it is in one sense. At least Paul gladly proclaimed it as God’s panacea for mankind’s spiritual need. He identified it as the infinite resources (dynamis, “spiritual ability”) of God applied toward the goal of salvation in the life of everyone who believes regardless of racial background. He recognized, however, a priority for the Jew expressed in the word first, which has sufficient textual support here and is unquestioned in 2:9–10.
Because the Jews were God’s Chosen People (11:1), the custodians of God’s revelation (3:2), and the people through whom Christ came (9:5), they have a preference of privilege expressed historically in a chronological priority. As the Lord Jesus stated it, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). In Paul’s ministry he sought out the Jews first in every new city (Acts 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:2, 10, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8). Three times he responded to their rejection of his message by turning to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46; 18:6; 28:25–28; cf. comments on Eph. 1:12). Today evangelism of the world must include the Jews, but the priority of the Jews has been fulfilled.
|“I am not ashamed of the gospel”
|“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ”
|“I have complete confidence in the gospel”
|“I am not ashamed of the Good News:”
Paul may be alluding to Jesus’ words in Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26. He is not ashamed of the content of the gospel or its resulting persecution (cf. 2 Tim. 1:12, 16, 18).
In 1 Cor. 1:23 the Jews were ashamed of the gospel because it affirmed a suffering Messiah and the Greeks because it affirmed the resurrection of the body. Verses 16–17 are the theme of the entire book. This theme is amplified and summarized in 3:21–31.
© “salvation” In the OT, the Hebrew term (yasho) primarily referred to physical deliverance (cf. James 5:15), but in the NT the Greek term (sōzō) refers primarily to spiritual deliverance (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18, 21). See Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, pp. 124–126.
|“to every one who believes”
|“for everyone who believes”
|“to everyone who has faith”
|“all who believe”
|“all who have faith”
The gospel is for all humans (oh, how I love the words “everyone,” “whosoever,” and “all”), but believing is only one of the conditions for acceptance. The other is repentance (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, 19; 20:21). God deals with mankind by means of covenant. He always takes the initiative and sets the agenda (cf. John 6:44, 65). But there are several reciprocal conditions, see note at 1:5.
The Greek term, here translated “believe,” can also be translated in English by the terms “faith” or “trust.” The Greek word has a wider connotation than any one English word. Notice it is a PRESENT PARTICIPLE. Saving faith is continuing faith (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2; 1 Cor. 2:15; 1 Thess. 4:14)!
Originally the related Hebrew terms behind this Greek term for “faith” meant a stable stance, a man with his feet apart so that he could not be easily moved. The opposite OT metaphor would be “my feet were in the miry clay” (Ps. 40:2), “my feet almost slipped” (Ps. 73:2). The Hebrew related roots, emun, emunah, aman, came to be used metaphorically of someone who was trustworthy, loyal or dependable. Saving faith does not reflect fallen mankind’s ability to be faithful, but God’s! Believers’ hopes do not reside in their abilities but in God’s character and promises. It is His trustworthiness, His faithfulness, His promises!
© “to the Jews first” The reason for this is discussed briefly in 2:9–10 and chapter 3 and fully developed in chapters 9–11. It follows Jesus’ statements in Matt. 10:6; 15:24; Mark 7:27.
This may relate to the jealousy between believing Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church.
Ver. 16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
The gospel:—What grand truths lie concealed in this Scripture, as in a kaleidoscope! The gospel being its focal point, several easy turns bring into clearest view some of the most precious things of our Christian faith. I. The first turn presents its efficacy: “It is … power.” II. The second its Divinity: “It is the power of God.” III. The third its object: “It is the power of God unto salvation.” IV. The fourth its impartiality: “It is the power of God unto salvation to every one.” V. The fifth its conditionality: “It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” VI. The sixth the order in which it was to be preached to and employed by guilty man: “To the Jews first, and also to the Greek.” A man who can define it so comprehensively and grandly, could not well be “ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” In more than the sense of willingness he is “ready to preach” it anywhere. (W. H. Luckenbach.)
The apostle’s estimate of the gospel:—
- Paul’s estimate of the gospel. 1. The gospel is a power. This power is manifested—(1) In overcoming deeply rooted prejudices. Perhaps no man was more prejudiced than was Paul. Yet he embraced it. (2) In triumphing over cruel persecutions. (3) In overturning systems of long-established idolatry. Diana of the Ephesians, worshipped by the world, lost her adherents when the gospel was proclaimed. All the deities of Greece and Rome were soon dethroned. Buddhism, Brahminism, and other isms are furnishing unmistakable signs of decay. (4) In its influence over men’s lives. When imprisonment, stripes, destitution, and disgrace have been powerless to reform, the gospel of Christ has succeeded. 2. The gospel is the power of God. The Jews said this power was of Beelzebub. The Pagans that it was the power of fanaticism. Paul said it was of God. (1) The gospel scheme was originated by God. (2) The success of the gospel is of God. “Not by might … but by My Spirit,” &c. 3. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Nature exhibits His power in creation. The Deluge furnished proof of His destructive power. The gospel reveals His power to save. It saves—(1) From present sinfulness. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, because He shall save His people from their sins.”—(2) From future wrath. 4. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to believers. The Lord has a perfect right to fix the terms of our salvation. 5. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
- Paul’s personal feelings concerning the gospel. “I am not ashamed.” Being satisfied of its Divine origin. 1. The poverty of its adherents did not make him ashamed of it. Though our religion had a carpenter for its founder, fishermen for its advocates, and the poor for its supporters, yet Paul was not ashamed. 2. The illiterateness of its adherents did not make him ashamed of it. Paul was a learned man. The vast majority of Jewish rabbis and heathen philosophers despised the gospel. The bulk of Christians were unlearned and ignorant men. Yet Paul was not ashamed. 3. The persecutions of its adherents did not make him ashamed. Lessons: 1. The apostle was not ashamed to profess the gospel. 2. The apostle was not ashamed to live the gospel. 3. The apostle was not ashamed to preach the gospel. 4. Are you ashamed of the gospel? (W. Sidebottom.) Not ashamed of the gospel: and why?—The success of Christianity has won for it the respect even of its enemies.
- The subject which it emphasises—the “gospel.” In the context we have clearest evidence that a knowledge of certain facts and truths associated therewith existed among those to whom the apostle wrote. These facts and truths all clustered around the person, life-work, example, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bare historical record of these, however, was not the gospel any more than mere creeds or systems of Christian truth, however important these may be. The members of the body are the servants of the living soul; so the gospel is the animating spirit which employs as its instruments facts and doctrines, precepts and institutions.
- The reference which our text implies—Not ashamed of the gospel! Strange language, surely, for Paul to use, is it not? Did he not love the gospel with a most ardent affection? Did he not prize it above all things, and glory in it as an ineffable trust Divinely committed to his charge: How could Paul content himself with declaring that he was “not ashamed of the gospel”? The reference here implied brings us back to the words in which Christ described His mission to the world at its commencement (Luke 4:18), and also, when replying to the messengers sent to Him by John the Baptist, from the prison (Luke 7:22). Christ’s heart glowed with love to all; but most intensely towards the poor, the vast struggling masses of humanity, denied universally the rights of citizens and of manhood. Slavery and class-privilege were the corner-stone of that Pagan civilisation, then so powerful, and to these the gospel did not offer any terms of compromise; and so its advocates, as Paul tells us, were “made as the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all things.” Enemies were constantly asserting that this “new religion drew to it the dregs of the population—peasants, mechanics, beggars, and slaves.” Even long after the time of Paul, when Christianity had won many triumphs, we find Celsus, a haughty, heathen philosopher, remarking that “even the Christian teachers were wool-workers, cobblers, and fullers—the most illiterate and vulgar of mankind.” We can easily understand that some might waver in the good cause, and that others, though favourable, might shrink from embracing it through fear of being treated as persons who had degraded themselves in the social scale. So the apostle Paul comes down for the moment from his wonted high position of “glorying” in the gospel and adopts a lowlier strain; he “was not ashamed of the gospel.”
III. The argument upon which this declaration rests. (J. M. Cruickshank.)
The distinguishing features of Christianity:—Whether religion in general has any rational ground or not, it is certain that human society in the long run is quite impossible without religion. You have heard of the ten great religions of the world. Of these only three have been expansive and conquering religions—Buddhism, Mohammedanism, and Christianity. To these three the struggle is narrowed down. And as between the three, whether legitimately or illegitimately, the hard, historic fact is, that Christianity is certainly carrying the day. I. I name as the first distinctive feature of Christianity, the incarnation of God in Christ. History teaches that human nature cannot endure a bald spiritual theism. We have two thoughts of God equally necessary. We think of Him as an Infinite Spirit, wholly separate from matter and superior to it—wise, just, awful in holiness. Hence the pure monotheism now recognised as lying in the background of all the better mythologies. But human weakness, and, above all, human depravity necessitate another conception of God. The human heart, yearning for sympathy in its weakness, and stricken with terror in its defilement, cries out passionately for an Incarnate God. Call it reason and conscience, or call it finite limitation and guilty fear, this uniform importunate demand for an Incarnate God is answered only by our God in Christ. II. The second distinctive feature of Christianity is atonement. Both Testaments are full of it. III. The third distinctive feature of Christianity is regeneration. Confession of sin is not confined to Christendom. Universal sacrifice is universal confession. Christianity begins its curative work by a better diagnosis of the disease. It sets in clear light the original rectitude of man, discloses the tempter, and proclaims the fall. (R. D. Hitchcock, D.D.)
- The character of its Author recommends Christianity to particular regard.
- The intrinsic excellence of Christianity marks its superiority to every other religious system.
III. Consider the mode of its establishment. (T. Laurie, D.D.)
The Christian evangel, its contents and results:—In these words we have exhibited the true spirit of this ambassador of Christ, and the nature of the message he was commissioned to make known. “The gospel is no feeble utterance, no mere human speculation composed of sentiments light as air. It is charged with Divine energy, and works out the salvation of all who receive it.” I. Notice that by these words we are assured there is a Divine positive message to man. Paul did not appear before the world as a philosopher, who by the workings of a powerful intellect could solve all the problems of being and knowing which had baffled those who went before him. He did not assume the position of a reformer, whose business was to set in order those things which pertained to the social and political conditions of life. Neither did he maintain the position of an educator who should train minds in the mental products of human genius. Paul was a herald of the King of grace and of glory; he was an ambassador of Christ, a preacher of a positive message of truth and love to all mankind, and which came from the heart of the Eternal. God has looked down from His high and holy abode in tenderest love and righteous mercy, and has made known to us His purposes and desires. II. Our text teaches us that the burden of this Divine message to man is a person. The gospel is the gospel of Christ—concerning Christ. It came from Him and it is occupied with Him and nothing else.
III. The Christian evangel is charged with Divine power. The magnetism of great men—which is the resultant of their personalities—has more power with those they influence than their wisest counsels. So it is with the gospel. It is powerful, not only because of its truthfulness, or merely because of the love it reveals, but because God in the person of His own Son is in it, and with it, dealing personally with the sinful and the lost. Its efficiency is from Heaven, and the spiritual revolutions it has wrought have been produced, not only by power as power, but by the living spirit of the Lord. IV. We advance a step further by noticing that the gospel is a saving power. The Roman power was in its outgoings, in very many instances, a power unto destruction. It pulled down, injured, and destroyed; and the more destruction it produced, the greater it was feared, and the more loudly it was applauded. This destroying power is a low, vulgar power. Any person—no matter how weak and wicked—is capable of destroying the finest work of art which ever proceeded from the reason and hand of man. On the other hand, it takes one who is wise, tender, and good inspired by more than human genius—to raise and to save the human soul, and secure the advance and development of the human race. Of all beings who ever appeared in this world, no one has ever been equal to this Herculean task except the Man of Sorrows. He alone can build up the temple of humanity which was pulled down by sin. V. Finally, it is to be observed that the salvation the gospel works out is to be possessed and enjoyed by faith. Faith is the door by which all spiritual power and upbuilding influences enter the soul. It is receptive in its nature, and takes into the inner man those thoughts, feelings, and persons, which regulate the heart out of which flows the issues of life. He that believeth the testimony of the gospel takes Christ and all that is in Christ into the deepest parts of his spirit. By faith Christ dwells in us the hope of glory and the power of an endless life. (W. Adamson, D.D.)
God’s power unto salvation:—If he had been ashamed, could we have so much wondered? Consider the time and the place, and the man and the message. The time was the hideous time of Nero; the place was the city of Rome, in which, as in a sort of moral sewer, all the detestable, and, to us, in many respects, inconceivable wickedness of the world festered. The man was a Jew, one of an ancient and indestructible race, which then, even more than now, the world despised, ill-used, and robbed. The message was this: that a crucified Hebrew had risen from the dead, being the Son of God, with power. And the apostle felt no sort of reluctance with this message. Of this gospel, the apostle tells us these magnificent statements. First, he calls it a gospel, a good news—a good news which could have been discovered only in one way, by revelation from heaven, a good news declared in a life sealed by death, confirmed by resurrection, and written in a book. And this great revelation, which none of the great thinkers of the day had been able to think out, tells us of three great things. It is a revelation of the fatherhood of God, of the redemption of Christ by the power of grace. Then, in the power of this grace, we go on free, reconciled, and strengthened for the duties of life and for the city of God. This is the gospel, there is no other—the free, full, present forgiveness of sin in Christ our Lord. And it is called the gospel of Christ; Christ is the gospel; Christ reveals the Father. “And Christ is our Redeemer. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” “The gospel of Christ,” the apostle calls it, and he goes on to tell us that the gospel of Christ is the power of God. How is it the power of God? It is the power of God because God uses it to convert, and to instruct, and to console, and to inspire. This book that brings us to God makes us like God, it makes us thirst for God, it helps us to be filled with God. And once more it inspires ideas of the power that rules the world; and this power, with its lofty ideals, with its moral principles, with its wonderful history, with its life-giving promises, is the one book in all the world which has done more than anything else to break the chains of the captive, to lift up mortal man to the true dignity for which God intended him. It is the power of God; and yet there is another sense in which it is the power of God, because only God can make it powerful. I think it is upon this great truth that we preachers need to rely more than we have ever relied yet. “Not by might, nor by power, but My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.” The apostle further defines what he means by “power”; he says, “unto salvation.” Salvation from the power of sin; from the dominion of the world; from the yoke of selfishness; from the misery of small, wretched faults which eat and ulcerate the soul like venomous insects; salvation from all that makes life poor and mean; salvation from low idea; salvation from forgetting God. It is the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation, because it tells us whence we came, and to what we go: that we are the sons of God. But there is a limitation to this—“unto every one that believeth.” God never makes a man good against his will, He never takes from any one of us our awful freedom. He knows that one day we shall stand to be judged for our works before His Son, to whom He hath committed judgment. How could He punish us for the evil we have done, how could He recompense us for the good which, by His grace, we may have done if He did not leave us free? To every one that believeth is the gospel a power, and to no one else. It was of this gospel of which the apostle was not ashamed first to accept it for himself, and then to proclaim it to others. He knew, if any man ever yet knew, on whom he had believed. With these last three truths I will leave the subject in your hearts. First, St. Paul’s reason for writing to Rome, and afterwards going to Rome, was the sense of his indebtedness. “I am a debtor,” so we are debtors to God, to the world, to the Church, and in a sense to ourselves and to those who come after us; and just so far as we know what we owe to Christ, and what Christ has done for us, shall we feel the blessed duty and obligation of passing on to others what has been given to us. And then when this is the case, when we feel our obligation, and when each takes such share as we may in what Christ gives us to do, we shall feel the reasonableness of faith—the reasonableness of a reasonable faith. (Bp. Thorold.)
Not ashamed of the gospel:—I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ—I. Because of the heroic character of its witnesses. II. Because of the influence it has had on civilisation. III. Because of its adaptability to human necessities. IV. Because of the promise it gives of eternal life.
- The heroic character of its witnesses. I think it is Thomas Carlyle who says that “the history of a nation is the history of its great men.” On the same principle it may be said that the history of Christianity is the history of its heroes. For it is from them and by them that we have given to us practical illustration of the power and processes of the great God-sent religion. And first we turn to Him who was at once the Founder and Finisher of the faith, Jesus Christ, whose life may be said to epitomise the biography of mankind. But perhaps it may be said, “Time has lent a fascination to their labours; what they did perforce has been transfigured into something done for love.” If it was done “perforce,” it was the force of Christianity—the force of Jesus Christ, and that is the force of devotion and love. I do not know that history and the lapse of time have done anything to magnify their work. The gospel of Jesus Christ prompts men to acts of as great heroism to-day as it did in the darker times of history,
- Because of its influence on civilisation. So silently has this power been exercised, that we are very apt to lose sight of its influence upon the morals of men. And yet in its very secrecy has lain its strength. It began by enforcing the truth of universal brotherhood: the duties of each to all, and of all to each. It flung aside the superstitions of the age. Civilisation without religion! It is impossible. It is fire without warmth; it is motion without progress; it is existence, but it is not life. It becomes in time the very apotheosis of immorality. I have said that the influence of religion is spiritual. But all work which is spiritual eventually reveals itself in the natural, the material. So is it especially, I think, with the Christian faith. What has Christianity done for men in the mass? Each phase of its spiritual activity has its equivalent in the natural world, in society.
III. Because of its adaptability to human necessities. Herein lies the beauty and the blessedness of our religion. It is to this that what in the most sacred sense may be called its success is due. To go back to its earliest days, how did it attract men? It gave rest to the weary, and comfort to the sad; it cheered the mourning and raised the dead to life. To-day its methods are the same. How are we to account for this power? Simply, I think, because its Founder was “the Man Christ Jesus.” He knew what was in man.
- Because of the promise it gives of eternal life. It is not a reward; it is a development. And even if it were only a reward, I am too human to disregard its value as an element in the teaching of Jesus Christ. A religion which provides for this world only is no religion at all. (R. Barclay, M.A.)
The nature and claims of the gospel:—
- What are we to understand by the gospel of Christ? Christianity, or the scheme of religion revealed in the New Testament. 1. The things it proposes to our faith. These are of several sorts. Some of them are merely historical; others purely authoritative, and some partly historical and partly authoritative. Of this latter class are the truths relating to the Incarnation of Christ. 2. The things which the gospel commands to be practised.
- What are the reasons for not being ashamed of this gospel, but, on the contrary, for embracing it, and glorying in it, with all the heart? 1. Its incontrovertible truth. 2. Its incomparable excellence. Compare the system, in its doctrines and duties, with all other systems. (1) What has been the worship of the heathen religions? Ceremonies, penances, and orgies; many that were puerile, painful, cruel, and obscene. And are these to be compared with a worship contemplative, devout, reverential, filial, such as that of Christianity? (2) What have been the duties inculcated by other religions? How questionable and scanty their moral code! But what weed escapes in the moral garden of Scripture? (3) It is, however, in its state of future rewards and punishments that the gospel far outshines every other system. 3. Its sovereign efficacy. “It is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth.” Its objects and sentiments are not merely to fall upon the ear, or to remain before the eye, but to enter into the mind and accomplish its renovation.
III. What are the objections urged by men against this system, and by which they attempt to justify their neglect of it? These may be easily shown to be trivial. 1. Do they object that they can arrive at the knowledge of the truth of the New Testament history, only in a secondary way—only from the testimony of others—and that, therefore, they are not so responsible for their unbelief as these other would be? This, however, is felt to be no prejudice to the truth of any other history, and no argument for its disbelief. 2. Do they object to severity of the gospel requirements? The gospel requires us to crucify only our sins; to deny ourselves only what would be injurious to us. The virtues it inculcates it renders easy to us by a new nature, and productive of a present happiness surpassing every other kind of happiness. 3. Do they object the incomprehensibleness of many things which the gospel states to exist? If God has not revealed them, reject them for their incomprehensibleness; if He has, receive them for His veracity’s sake. Conclusion: 1. How awful is their condition who oppose the gospel! What excuse can there be for this? What evil has the gospel done? What attestation does it lack? What good has it not done? 2. How pitiable is their condition by whom the gospel of their salvation is practically disregarded! We are about to be wrecked; the gospel is the only plank left for our escape to the shore; and while we neglect to seize it, our danger increases, and the destructive waves bear us nearer and nearer to our doom. 3. Let them who have received the gospel, and who, in addition to all other evidence, have that of experience in its favour, attach themselves closely to it. 4. The gospel is a subject of triumph to Christians, as through life, so especially at the hour of dissolution. Its grandest objects are those of another world. (J. Leifchild.)
St. Paul’s confidence in the gospel:—St. Paul’s enthusiasm for Christ is one of the great problems of history. That such a man should deliberately renounce all his advantages, and embark on a career which involved obloquy and suffering, is a fact that has to be accounted for. His own explanation is clear enough, viz., that the Lord Jesus appeared to him under circumstances which left no room for doubt as to His person and His claims; that the evidences he received of Christ’s love acted on him like an irresistible constraint to yield to those claims; and that to discharge them he had become a preacher of a gospel which he knew to be the power of God unto salvation to a perishing world. The world, therefore, was his creditor until the glad tidings had been everywhere proclaimed. By the time he wrote this letter Paul had been able to wipe off no inconsiderable portion of his debt. But he felt that until he had seen Rome the greatest portion of the debt must remain unpaid, and that at Rome the most favourable opportunities would be afforded for paying it. Once firmly rooted there the gospel would spread its branches everywhere. So he says, “I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome.” Here the apostle seems to pause to take breathing time, so that he might calculate his resources for an enterprise the like of which he had never yet attempted. “At Rome! Yes, at Rome also, for I am not ashamed of the gospel. I was not ashamed of it at sacred Jerusalem, at philosophical and artistic Athens, at commercial Ephesus and Corinth, any more than among my own friends at Tarsus, or among the unsophisticated heathen at Lystra. And now, although I shall have to confront in combination at Rome all the forces I have elsewhere met singly, I am not ashamed of the gospel.”
- The apostle’s confidence in the gospel. To fully appreciate this we must—1. Reflect where the apostle was writing to. If St. Paul could have been ashamed of the gospel it would certainly have been when brought into juxtaposition with Rome. The incredible tenets of some obscure Hindoo or Chinese sect would hardly appear to greater disadvantage in London than would Christianity in that proud capital of the world. For Rome was now in the zenith of her glory. Yet before this wondrous city, where all that constituted what was then thought greatness existed in colossal proportions, the advocate of a creed which was everywhere spoken against, and to whom, as a provincial, the grand metropolis, we may be sure, would lose none of its glamour, says, “I am ready to preach the gospel at Rome; for I am not ashamed of the gospel.” 2. Notice where the apostle was writing from. St. Paul had only recently been prosecuting a vigorous ministry in Ephesus which had been brought to a riotous close. From Ephesus Paul went to Corinth, where he wrote to Rome, and where there was enough to put a far less sensitive mind than his to the blush, and enough for some men to utterly discredit the pretensions of a religion claiming to be heavenly and Divine. And again, he had just learned how the gospel had fared among the Churches of Galatia, and the memorable Epistle to these Churches unfolds one of the most tragic of all the stories of early Christianity. Riot and scandal and failure had been the result of three of the most recent experiments of the gospel, and Paul knew the impression that they would make at Rome. And besides, were these results to be repeated there on a gigantic scale? But such was the apostle’s faith in the gospel that, with Ephesus, Corinth, and Galatia behind him, and Rome, with its unmeasured and complicated problems before him, he nevertheless declares, “I am ready to preach the gospel in Rome,” &c. 3. Consider what that gospel was of which he was not ashamed at Corinth when writing to Rome. (1) It was a system of vast pretensions, with no apparent means of supporting them. The Roman government was exceeding tolerant of the diverse faiths of its heterogeneous peoples. But the gospel scorned to ask for a simple toleration as it afterwards declined to receive an honourable patronage. It aimed at universal supremacy. And what were its means for furthering its amazing pretensions? There was no known force in the world beside which it did not look contemptible. It had no history. It was a word, and therefore could not compete with the power of arms. It had no public buildings, and scarcely anything that could be called a ceremonial. From a political, intellectual, and religions standpoint nothing seemed so feeble as the gospel. Nor did its advocates dissemble in the least in this particular. “Not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble were called.” The chiefest among them were fishermen and tentmakers, and the rest, for the most part, artisans or slaves. They “came in much weakness,” and were content to let the gospel go on its own merits, and on those merits they insisted with a confidence that startled the world. (2) It was a system whose principles seemed least likely to succeed. Its Author belonged to a race nowhere so detested as at Rome, and yet the Romans were asked to accept the crucified Jew as the Son of God, who had died and had risen again to be their Saviour. Forgiveness and salvation, words of insult to patrician and plebeian alike, must be sought on the humiliating conditions of penitence and faith. In urging these the gospel appealed to sentiments which were a degradation for a Roman soldier to encourage, and to hopes and fears which he scorned to entertain. Those who embraced it were charged with duties alien to their nature, and with the exercise of virtues for which no existing vocabulary could provide a name. In return it offered privileges in this life on which the Romans would set no value, and a destiny in the next from which they would turn with scorn. And Paul had discounted all this. He had once himself regarded and persecuted the gospel as a foolish and offensive thing. And so had people everywhere. In Rome, of all places, was this general verdict least likely to be reversed. Nevertheless, he says, “I am ready to preach the gospel in Rome,” &c.
- The grounds of the apostle’s confidence in the gospel. 1. Paul sounded the apparent power of Rome and found it weakness. As the apostle gazed at Rome he saw a colossal fabric whose foundations were sand. The empire was built up in utter disregard of the forces on which power has ultimately to depend. The mere lust of power was satiated; but with its gratification everything that made it worth the having went to wreck. (1) The nations poured their luxury into the lap of Rome; but with their treasures came their filth, and that which made her the embodiment of this world’s glory, made her the receptacle of its corruption and its shame. Military plunder brought vast wealth into hands that knew not how to use it. It had, however, to be spent, and era of extravagance set in. Family life was extinguished. Divorce, and worse, was rife, and infanticide was fearfully prevalent. What political life had become may be guessed by the positions to which a Caligula and a Nero, a Pilate and a Felix, might attain, and the means they employed to attain them. The consequences were inevitable. The age was fast wearing itself out. Wholesale indulgence was inducing an intolerable lassitude which refused relief from the ordinary means of excitement. A monstrous ingenuity had to be called into play to invent new pleasures and hitherto inconceivable vices, and the end could not be far off when death by suicide was recommended and embraced as a refuge from the tedious superfluity of a life which had exhausted all possible means of gratification. (2) Equally gigantic evils in another direction also sprang from the satiated lust of power. The swarms of captives who survived the butchery which celebrated the military triumphs had to be provided for. A system of slavery was therefore introduced, for which it would be impossible to find a parallel. Not the least evil of the system consisted in its wholesale adoption in trade and agriculture, from which the freemen were gradually driven, to the extinction of a middle class. Thus there grew up a free population, released from the obligations and opportunities of labour, and eventually despising it as beneath the dignity of a Roman citizen, who became mere loafers and parasites. This teeming, lazy, and because such, dangerous class had to be kept quiet. It was not enough that they were fed by the State, and that they received occasional doles from their lordly patrons. They caught the prevalent unrest and craving for excitement, and developed vicious instincts, which had, at all costs, to be gratified. Hence the savage amusements of the amphitheatre. Hence the open and unabashed practice of every form of moral abomination, of which there was an unlimited provision at a cheap rate. Is there, then, no relief to this terrible picture? Was there no salt that could purify this poisoned fountain? The answer is—none. Religion, which had been powerless to check the progress of corruption, became incurably tainted with it, and eventually succumbed to it Worship was but one of the outlets for the passion for excitement, and was made the cover for the most licentious orgies. Of course, widespread infidelity prevailed; but the very Atheists surrendered themselves wholesale to still baser systems of superstition and imposture. Philosophy was the last hope of the age; but that, alas! was dying of despair. The apostle saw all this moral rottenness and had already predicted its doom. Christianity, however humble, he felt, could not suffer by comparison. He said, therefore, with the utmost confidence, “I am ready to preach the gospel at Rome,” &c. 2. Paul proved the apparent weakness of the gospel and found it power. He knew that under the seeming weakness of its infancy lay the germs of a mighty manhood, which would soon measure itself with Rome and wrest from its senile grasp the sceptre of the world. This knowledge was born of a personal experience of its power. (1) It was the power of God. It might seem weak, bat then he felt that “the weakness of God is stronger than men.” The gospel was a word, bat it was the word of God. A word of God brought the universe into being, and by the Divine word it is still upheld. It was but a word that was spoken at the grave of Lazarus, but at that word the power of death was shattered. To the Word of the gospel a Divine power was guaranteed in a special sense. Its preachers were filled with His inspiration, and were endowed by Him with tongues of flame. Mighty promises urged them forward with it; and so, as they preached it, their word was with power, and it grew mighty and prevailed. The want of this Divine power reduces the greatest human force to impotence. Rome was built up by force of arms, but were is Rome to-day? Our schools of thought are created by the power of intellect, but how many survive their own generation? Human power, like its embodiment, “is as grass, and the glory thereof is as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the Word of our God shall stand for ever.” And this Word is that gospel of which, in the presence of the splendid rottenness of Rome, St. Paul was not ashamed, because it was the power of God. (2) It was the power of God directed to the mightiest result. The weakness of Rome largely lay in the inability of its leading men to measure the world’s needs, and in the Inadequacy of the best systems of the age to supply them. But the power of the gospel consisted in the fact that it could penetrate the secret of the world’s wretchedness and despair, and articulate it. The gospel met man at once with the most searching diagnosis of sin, but told how that God commended His love toward men in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for them. And men began to realise what it was to be saved. This was what men wanted, and what nothing else could give them. The gospel succeeded in accomplishing results that nothing else was competent to reach—nay, even to conceive. And the apostle was therefore “not ashamed of the gospel,” &c. (3) It was a power available for all men. (a) It was offered to every man. It began, as it has continued, not by dealing with the mass, but by dealing with individuals. (b) This universal offer was to be accepted on the condition of faith. The embrace of the heart’s faith was and is necessary to quicken it into a salvation. “The word could not profit” where it was not “mixed with faith in them that heard,” but it worked effectually in them that believed. (c) This condition was within the compass of every man’s ability. The evils which the gospel proposed to remedy were worldwide. If the remedy therefore were to be equal to the evil, the conditions of its application must be within the reach of all. All the gospel asks is to be embraced, and surely every man can do that. Paul lived long enough to repeat this boast after a ministry at Rome. With what emphasis would he repeat it could he stand where we stand to-day! And how he would endeavour to make those tongues which, eloquent on every other, are dumb on this great theme aflame with a live coal from off the altar, and the vehicles of this solitary boast, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” &c. (J. W. Burn.)
Paul’s holy audacity in regard to the gospel:—Courage is of two kinds. There is the hardihood which can face danger, and there is the intrepidity which can confront shame. The former can only be where the danger is without dishonour, and the latter where the shame is without desert. The former is an instinctive and animal endowment, while the latter is an acquired virtue and a moral quality possessed only by man. It is physical courage which we admire in the soldier who stands unmoved in front of blazing musketry; in the sailor, lashed to the wheel, and steering his tumbling vessel across the foaming waves, or in the traveller of science scaling untrodden heights: but it is a much higher, rarer, and Diviner quality which we admire in the pious workman who rebukes the ribaldry and oaths of his fellow-craftsmen. Rarely does it happen that these two kinds of courage meet in the same individual. You may see the undaunted hero of a battle-field crimson with shame and rage to be twitted for his virtue, or the firm heroine of the household tremble to hear an unusual noise. In Paul, however, the union may be found; and it is this which ranks him among the kingliest of men. Let us ponder a few of the reasons of Paul’s holy audacity. Note—
- The end proposed: Man’s salvation, an object not only aimed at but achieved. 1. Salvation may be viewed either as an individual benefit or as a social one. On the one hand, it is a blessing for every one that believeth; on the other hand, it is needed by the race at large, and the gospel proposes to accomplish the salvation of mankind in both these aspects. In saying this we oppose those who speak and act as if the whole aim of the gospel was to pick out themselves, and a few other individuals, from the mass devoted to destruction, and translate them one by one to a better world. And we also oppose the vague dreams of rationalistic philosophers who profess to be engrossed with a noble concern for the good of mankind at large. The peculiarity of the gospel is that it begins with the individual, and so seeks, as its last result, the salvation of the community. 2. It may be regarded as either an inward or outward process. Inward salvation is sanity or soundness; outward salvation is deliverance and safety. Each one of us needs to be both restored to righteousness and rescued from hell. 3. It is negative and positive. There is much sin and suffering from which we are saved by it; but there is also much of holy attainment and heavenly joy to which we are raised by it.
- The power employed. 1. Its source is Divine; and this in so direct a way that its very nature is Divine. It is the power of—(1) God’s truth, revealing to us both His nature and our own state. (2) Love appealing to us to subdue our enmity and incite us to gratitude and trust. (3) All urgent motives addressed to our hopes and to our fears. (4) Precious promises whereby we are offered a filial position in God’s family, and a final lot among all the sanctified. (5) The power of the Holy Ghost, who helpeth all our infirmities. This is the gospel, the power of God unto salvation, because it has God Himself in it and with it. 2. Its extent. The gospel is as strong as God. It can do all that He can do. (1) As to individual souls, it can save any and it can save all. It can deliver from all sin, and enrich with all the treasures of holiness. (2) And so for society generally and the world at large. Here is a Divine and all-availing expedient for the regeneration of the species, and the establishment of righteousness and peace through all the earth. (T. G. Horton.)
Not ashamed of the gospel:—We have no reason to be ashamed of—
- The evidence by which it is supported. 1. Historical. Take the testimony of Paul. He was a contemporary of Christ; he conferred with the apostles; he saw the Lord. In his four undisputed Epistles he embodies all the facts of gospel history. His testimony is unexceptionable, for he was too sane to be imposed upon, too disinterested to be an impostor. 2. Prophetical. The canons of prophecy are that it should be long anterior to the event; that it should be so constructed that the story of its fulfilment could not be manufactured out of the mere study of its terms, and that its fulfilment be undesigned and in full correspondence with it. Apply these to Isa. 53:3. Moral. How can we account for the difference between the character of Christ and that of His age? The age could produce a Nero, but not a Christ.
- The intellectual calibre of its chief representatives. Although not exclusively fitted for intellectual giants, but for the least intelligent also, yet in every age it has produced champions able to cope with the most gifted of its opponents.
III. The effects it has produced. 1. Individually. It has made the drunkard sober. 2. Domestically. It has given sanctity to the marriage tie and blessed little children. 3. Socially. It has stood between class and class as the good Samaritan. 4. Politically it has laid the foundation of liberty. (W. M. Taylor, D.D.)
Not ashamed of the gospel:—
- The nature of this avowal. “Not ashamed.” 1. Of what is this spoken? Of the gospel’s—(1) Doctrines. (2) Precepts. (3) Threatenings. (4) Promises. (5) Privileges. 2. By whom? Paul—(1) The gifted. (2) The disinterested. (3) The self-sacrificing. 3. To whom? Rome—(1) The great. (2) The intellectual. (3) The cruel. 4. What is implied in it? (1) That he gloried in the gospel. (2) That he held everything else in comparative contempt.
- Its ground. 1. The Divine energy of the gospel. 2. The powerful combination against which it has to contend. 3. Its saving efficacy. 4. Its impartiality. Learn—1. The evil of religious cowardice. 2. The necessity of consistency in religion. 3. Your obligation to make it known. 4. Your duty to expect that your efforts will be successful. (R. Newton, D.D.)
Not ashamed of the gospel:—
- What there is in the gospel to make carnal men ashamed of it. 1. It proceeds upon principles so contrary to the natural man, and so brings down human reasoning and the pride of intellect, that men are shocked at its positions and requirements. 2. It exposes a man’s great idol. 3. It demands absolute submission. 4. The world attributes regard to it to weakness of either the head or heart. 5. It levels men.
- Why Paul was not ashamed of it. Because he knew it to be—1. The power of God. 2. The power of God to the greatest end—salvation. (R. Cecil, M.A.)
Not ashamed of the gospel:—The solitary grandeur of the imperial city; Paul’s knowledge of Rome’s own and its borrowed glories, as a centre of power; his courage in meeting the contemptuous estimate which ancient society passed upon the truth of God.
- Some elements of power in the gospel. 1. Great in—(1) Motives. (2) Penalties. (3) Sacrifices. (4) Inspirations. 2. These forces Paul had seen exerted on individuals and on communities. They were—(1) Moral forces. (2) Universal. (3) Permanent.
- Having seen and felt these beneficent influences, Paul gloried in the same. We urge—1. Paul’s interpretation of the gospel is vital in its power. The doctrines of sin, atonement, the Holy Spirit and eternal retribution, cannot be eliminated and any power remain. A glass crowbar could as well tunnel the Alps. 2. That each of us trust the gospel as heartily as did Paul. Exemplify its power here, and enjoy its fruition in the perfect felicity of heaven. (R. S. Storrs, D.D.)
Not ashamed of the gospel:—There were reasons which made it needful for Paul to say this. The gospel was then a “contemptible thing.” Its Author had been despised and executed. Its character was at variance with the traditions of men, and, above all, of the Pharisees. Its followers were looked upon as the scum of the earth. But, amid all this, there was a man of the highest intellect and the noblest powers, who knew the gospel and knew the world, standing forth and declaring in the face of all that he was not ashamed of it. Consider it—
- Intellectually. As a scheme it is more magnificent than any mind of man could have conceived. No systems of philosophy possess its grandeur or power. The gospel is no puny, drivelling, or paltry imitation. Other systems have been propounded, but all are borrowed more or less from the gospel.
- Morally. It is the purest system of morality which the world has known. God’s spotless purity is made the model for human conduct. But the gospel is not only a system of morality, it is a means thereto. It teaches men how they may become holy. Its chief object is to purify and to destroy the evil which is in the world.
III. Historically. It affords an outline of history of which but for it we should know nothing. That which it is requisite for us to know—the life of Christ, and the particulars of the way of salvation—are fully developed.
- Its purpose. It is the “gospel”—good news, and it is the power of God unto salvation. Salvation is a great word. What can we wish for more than it includes? Its object is to transform human nature. It is to glorify the soul, to exalt the spirit, to give us thrones in the kingdom of heaven, to purge us from the dross of sin. Is this a thing whereof to be ashamed? (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:—There are three gradations of artists. The lowest is one who is able to reproduce an exact representation of natural objects as they appear to ordinary eyes. A higher type is where one brings to objects a clearer eye than belongs to most men. There is a third and rare artist power, where the things represented are, as it were, but instruments to represent the effect produced upon the mind of the artist by the scene, or the event, or the thing. Now, upon this scale Paul was the greatest moral artist of the world. All the way through, it was the unconscious endeavour of the apostle to represent truths as they reflected themselves upon the sensitive surface of his glowing soul. Instead of showing what were all the wonderful elements that in his view constituted it, he reflects what the impression was of the whole gospel of Christ upon his sensitive soul. “I am not ashamed.” Well, why should he have been? Every one of us would say it now; but not one of us would have said it in his time, perhaps. In our time, yes. And it is a matter of much interest to imagine what would be Paul’s thought if he were permitted to discern the Christianity of the present age and all its triumphs, its monuments, its power, its wealth, its learning, its refinements. 1. If he had looked out into the world and at the external forms and organisations of the Church, what would he have had occasion to be ashamed of? 2. And if Paul had seen the pomp of their worship, and their worship in the pomp of architecture which had been inspired and created by them, he would not have occasion to express a feeling of shame. 3. Still less could he have been insensitive to the literature and the learning that have been inspired among devout scholars all over the world, and that have sprung from Christianity. 4. And still more would he have been in sympathy with the outpouring of the spirit of manhood, “the enthusiasm of humanity,” that has sprung from the temper of the gospel, and has gradually crept into the laws, and ameliorated the theory of morals, and softened and sweetened the whole intercourse of human life; and that, moreover, has made man helpful to man. 5. More beautiful still to Paul, who had the art of discerning much from little, would have been the exhibitions of the Christ spirit in its humbler workings among Christian men and in Christianity unorganised, or but slightly organised. 6. More yet, to him, would it have been to have seen what a class of men and women had arisen in every household, and become scattered up and down through every village and hamlet of the land. Domestic life, its purification and its exaltation, would have been a glorious sight to his eyes. As one that should go across a prairie and carry a bag filled with the rarest seeds and give them to the north wind that scattered them south, and to the south wind that scattered them north, every whither, might, years afterwards, when he goes over the same ground, rejoice to see, in the midst of many coarse weeds and much choking grass, here and there ledges and beds of flowers; so if Paul should come down to our day, and see the seeds he has sown which are every day springing up in the household, would not he be filled with more than gratitude and wonder—with transcendent transport? Of course he would not be ashamed. Nobody is ashamed of the gospel now except those of whom it is ashamed. (H. W. Beecher.)
Not ashamed of the gospel:—We are not ashamed of the gospel because it is—
- Divine power. 1. The history of Christianity among the nations of the earth has established its claim to power. Its progress has often been in the face of bitterest hostility, without the help of worldly patronage. It proved more than a match for the iron despotism of Rome, and it has never failed for eighteen centuries to make its enemies its footstool. 2. The secret of this amazing power is that God is behind it. Nothing but Divine influence could account for such uniform and unfailing triumphs. Other systems may show the power of man, but the gospel shows the power of God. It brought into the world a force unknown before.
- Saving power. The power seen in creation and providence is truly Divine, but not necessarily saving. Nor will the power that resides in the gospel result in salvation, unless it is accompanied by the influence of the Spirit. The gospel—1. Comes with a message of forgiveness to guilty man. Sin is the disease, and in God’s hands alone is the remedy. 2. It is a power for the renewal of man’s nature. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” This is a task beyond unaided human resources. Man can neither begin the work of grace in his heart nor carry it on after it is begun.
III. Universal power. “To every one that believeth.” The glory of the gospel consists not only in its Divine origin or saving efficacy, but also in its universal adaptation. It suits the needs of mankind everywhere. It reaches out a helping-hand to all, without respect to nation or social standing. (D. Merson, M.A.)
Not ashamed of the gospel:—
- Justify the high claim here made for the gospel. Paul was not ashamed of—1. Its origin. The advocates of other systems had reason to be ashamed of their origin. 2. Its sentiments—(1) Of God. God is light, love, purity. (2) Of man. His degradation, guilt, helplessness. (3) Of salvation and of the influences of the Spirit to make that salvation known with power to every heart. (4) Of a future state. Which of these sentiments can cause shame? 3. Its practical tendency. It is a system of purest morals springing from the purest motives—gratitude and love. It shows us a temper without a flaw, and a life without a stain; and it says, “We ought to walk as He also walked.” 4. Its efficacy. The efficacy of the ancient systems was nothing. But the gospel is “the power of God to salvation.”
- Who are guilty of being ashamed of the gospel? One would suppose that none could ever be ashamed of it; but, alas! there is reason to fear that some are. 1. Such are those preachers and writers who know the truth, but conceal it by specious arguments. 2. In the social circle how many are ashamed of the gospel! 3. In private life there is not that attention to religion which there should be. Young Christians are too often ashamed because of the sneers of those around them. (B. Rayson.)
Not ashamed of the gospel:—The botanist is not ashamed of the insignificant plant which he prefers before the rose and the jasmine, because of its healing properties and powers. The gardener is not ashamed of the tiny, dusky little seed, because he knows that God has endued it with hidden virtues which He has denied to the diamond and ruby. Thus the apostle was not ashamed of the gospel, because it could accomplish what the law was powerless to do; and because from his own personal experience he knew that it was able to produce a mighty and spiritual change in a man’s whole character and life. (C. Nell, M.A.)
Not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:—1. Years ago the subject of the extension of the Church would have suggested questions of one kind only—viz., that it was desirable, and possibly discussions would have turned upon the best means of carrying it out. Now you only raise in certain minds the previous question, whether it is worth the effort. 2. St. Paul is led to use this expression by an association of ideas which is easy to trace. “In Rome also.” Before his imagination there rises the imperial form of the mistress of the world. And this vision for a moment produces a momentary recoil, so that, like a man whose course has been suddenly checked, he falls back to consider the resources at his disposal. There is a moment’s pause and then, “I am not ashamed,” he says. 3. He is not ashamed of the gospel. We are struck at first by the reserved and negative phrase. It seems to fall so far below the requirements of the occasion and the character of the man. Elsewhere the apostle uses very different language from this. He loves to call the gospel, just as the Jews call their law, his boast. The truth is the apostle is not using a rhetorical figure at all. His negative and measured phrase is imposed on him by the thoughts which rise before him. He is resisting the feeling which threatens to overawe him, and it is in protesting against this feeling, and in thus disavowing it, that he cries, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” Why, you may ask, should he be ashamed of it? Note—
- The apparent insignificance of the gospel relatively to the great world of thought and action represented by and embodied in Rome. 1. The very name was a symbol of magnificence and power. Rome was the seat of empire, the centre of society, the home and the patroness of learning and thought, the great centre of the current religions. She was in ancient civilisation what Paris is to France; everything else was provincial. 2. And the gospel—how did it look when placed in juxtaposition with Rome? Was it not relatively to everything else, as far as the natural sense and judgment of man could pierce, poor and insignificant? (1) The estimate which a French academician might be supposed to form of Quakerism is probably not unlike the estimate which approved itself to the most cultivated minds in Rome respecting the religion of St. Paul. (2) And then if it meant to propagate itself, what was its organisation? How could a few unnoticed congregations challenge any sort of comparison with the mighty system of the imperial rule? (3) Where was its literature? How could it compete with the genius of poets and historians who had the ear of the world? (4) Where were its leading men when set side by side with the accomplished statesman who had created, and who still from time to time ruled the empire? Yes, Rome must overawe, by the magnificence of its collective splendours, the pretensions of any system, or of any teacher coming from an out-of-the-way comer of the empire, on a commission to illuminate and to change the world. 3. True enough Paul had his eye on higher things; but his was too sympathetic a nature not to be alive to what was meant by Rome. Yet the splendours of Rome do not overawe him. He is not enslaved by the apparent at the cost of the real; he knows that a civilisation which bears a proud front to the world, but which is rotten within, is destined to perish. Already, five years before, he has shown in one line in 2 Thess. that he forsees the end of all this splendour. In Christian eyes Alaric and his Goths were at the gates of Rome before their time. 4. St. Paul was well aware of the insignificance of the gospel when measured by all ordinary human standards. It was his own observation that not many mighty, not many noble, are “called.” But then, in his estimate of the relative value of the Divine and the human, this did not matter; for “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.”
- The appearance of failure which had clung to the gospel. 1. Remember that he was writing from Corinth, and what was the Church there a short year before in the judgment of the apostle himself. Its discipline forgotten; its unity rent by schisms; fundamental articles of the faith were denied among its members; scandals permitted such as were not even named among the heathen. Of all this the apostle was sufficiently conscious; and yet with Corinth behind him, and Rome with its gigantic and unattempted problems before him, he still exclaims, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” 2. And the truth is that in this matter St. Paul distinguished between the ideal revealed from above as in his Master’s mind, and the real, embarrassed by the conditions imposed on it by fallen human nature. He “knew that the treasure of the faith was deposited in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the glory might be of God and not of us.” And, therefore, Paul for his part was not surprised. The failure lay not in the gift, but in the recipient. It was still possible to believe that a new power had entered into human nature which was not therefore incapable of raising and saving human nature, because it did not suspend man’s free will and overrule his instincts of resistance and mischief.
III. The substance of the message. 1. Paul was well aware that there were features in the Christian creed which were in the highest degree unwelcome. Less than this he cannot mean by “the offence of the Cross,” or “Christ crucified foolishness to the Greeks.” How was this teaching, familiar enough to our generation but strange beyond all measure to the men who heard it from its first preachers, to compass acceptance and victory? Was it the cogeny of the evidence? No doubt much of the earliest teaching of the apostles was devoted to enforce this. Certainly the resurrection of Christ was sufficiently well attested, and yet its witnesses were not believed. Mere demonstrative evidence, although at first hand, has no effect against a strong and hostile predisposition of the will. 2. And here it is that the apostle may give us his own reason for not being ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for not despairing of its capacity to win a cynical and scornful world. He says that it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. There is lodged in it a secret impetuosity which pours forth from it into the human soul, with the result of bearing down all opposition and landing it safely on the eternal shore. And by this gospel he means no mere fragment of it, such as Christian morality without Christian doctrine, or as the atonement without the grace and power of the sacraments. For all, all is really included in that free unmerited gift of righteousness which faith receives at the hands of Christ, and which robes the believer in the garments of salvation. St. Paul knew that this had been his own experience. Since that scene on the road to Damascus he had been another man, he had lived a new life. Old things had passed away, and all things had become new. And as with himself, so with others. The gospel had made many a man, whom he knew, utterly unlike his former self. The religion of Jesus Christ is here upon ground peculiarly its own. There are many claimants in our modern world for the throne which it has owned for eighteen hundred years. But whether the eye rests upon the masters who have done so much for mind, or upon the masters who have spent themselves in manipulating matter, what has been achieved by these great and distinguished men that could be described as the power of God unto salvation? No: the deeper aspects of human life, and much more the grave and real significance of death, are quite beyond them. 3. And yet, even here, a lingering feeling might well be experienced, I do not say of shame, but of hesitation. Those to whom the saving power of Christ’s gospel is intimately certain, cannot without difficulty bring themselves to talk about it. We do not any of us readily talk about that which really touches us. Men have no objection to talk politics, because politics address themselves to those common sympathies and judgments which we share with others. But no man will consent to discuss, if he can help it, his near relations or some family interest in public. This motive operates not infrequently in the case of religion. Religion twines itself round the heart like a family affection. The relations of each soul to the Lord of souls are quite unique; and therefore the very best of men are not unfrequently the least able to talk freely on the one subject respecting which they feel most deeply. Doubtless so human and sympathetic a nature as St. Paul’s would have felt this difficulty in its full force, and yet we know how completely he overcame it. If he did not yield to the instinct which would have sealed his lips and stilled his pen, this is so because he knew that the gospel of his Lord and Master was not really, like some family question or interest, a private matter for him. The friend of his soul was the rightful, the much-needed friend of every human being. And therefore no false reserve could permit St. Paul to treat the gospel as a private or personal interest. Conclusion: In their degree the feelings which may have been present to St. Paul’s mind will have been our own. Pagan Rome has perished, and yet that which it represented to the apostle’s eye is still in a modified form before us. And yet to those who can take a sober measure of men and things there are no reasons for being ashamed of Christ’s gospel. The world which confronts us is really not more splendid nor yet more solid than the empire which has long since gone its way. The religious weakness and disorganisation which alarms us in the Church is not greater than that which was familiar to St. Paul. Modern attacks upon the faith are not more formidable than those which he refuted. And the gospel is now what it was then, only to a much greater multitude of souls, the power of God unto salvation. 1. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” Here is a fitting motto, not merely to Christ’s great apostle, but—(1) To the humblest and weakest of His ministers. No man who wears His livery can be ashamed of His gospel without incurring even the scorn of the world. (2) For every young man who is entering upon life. You know what is practically meant by being ashamed of the gospel. The creed is best confessed in the life of the believer. (3) For a nation which owes to Christ’s gospel so great a debt as England has owed it now for 1,400 years. They tell us, indeed, that the gospel is an admirable guide of life for the individual, but that it has no business to enter into the sphere of politics. But if the religious principle is worth anything, it applies to a million of human beings just as truly as to one. Yet many a man who is exemplary in all the private relations of life, is in his public conduct and political opinions too often ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Let us be honest. Let us either have the courage not to be ashamed of the gospel of Christ in any one department of life and thought, or let as own that we have really adapted the ethics of the New Testament to suit a state of feeling and conduct which they were intended gradually to render impossible. (Canon Liddon.)
Who are ashamed of the gospel:—
- The wise, because it calls men to believe and not to argue.
- The great, because it brings all into one body.
III. The rich, because it is to be had without money and without price.
- The gay, because they fear it will destroy all their mirth. (R. M. McCheyne.)
The gospel ashamed of some of its preachers:—Dr. Murray was made warden of Manchester by James I. There was little to do, and Murray had neither the ability nor the inclination to do much. He was expected to preach but seldom, and he did not intend to preach at all. Once, however, he did preach before the king, and his text was, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” “True” said James, “but the gospel may well be ashamed of thee.”
The shame of the gospel of Christ is its glory:—I. In its relation to the human intellect. Its mysterious character. II. In its relation to the moral constituting. Its humiliating character. III. In its relation to other kinds of religion. Its transcendent character. IV. In its relation to this life. Its unworldly character. (H. G. Weston, D.D.)
Reasons for glorying in the gospel:—There are three things in connection with this avowal which invest it with great significance: the distinguished character of the author—the great apostle; the universally execrated nature of the subject—the religion of the crucified malefactor; and the class of persons to whom it was addressed, the cultured, intrepid inhabitants of the imperial city. For such an avowal there must have been good reasons and here they are specified:—The gospel is—
- a system of Divine power. 1. There are three manifestations of Divine power. (1) Material, as seen in the production, support, and order of the universe. (2) Intellectual, as seen in the plan upon which the whole, the vast and the minute, is organised. (3) Moral, as seen in the influence of God’s thoughts and feelings upon the minds of His intelligent creatures. The last is the power of the gospel, God’s truth. 2. All truth is powerful. But there are three things that make gospel truth peculiarly powerful. (1) It is moral, appealing to the conscience and heart. (2) Remedial, graciously providing for our deeply-felt spiritual wants. (3) Embodied in the living example of God Himself. There then is one reason why Paul was not ashamed of it. Had it been a weak thing, he as a strong-minded man might have blushed to own it.
- A system of Divine power to save. What is salvation? Some persons speak of it as if it were a local change, a transporting of man from one world to another. “But the mind is its own place.” Salvation may be regarded as consisting in the restoration of a—1. Lost love. We were made to be governed in all things by a supreme affection for God, but nothing is more clear than that man is not so governed now. The gospel comes to restore it. 2. Lost harmony. The soul is all in tumult. This cannot be the normal state. 3. Lost usefulness. Our relations to each other and our social instincts and powers are such as to show that we were intended to be useful to each other. But we are injurious. The gospel makes us useful. This is another reason which made Paul glory in it. If it had been a power to destroy, his generous nature would have been ashamed of it. Any power can destroy. III. A system of Divine power to save all. 1. “The Jew first,” because—(1) He has the best opportunity of testing the foundation facts of the gospel. (2) When converted he would become the most effective agent in converting others. (3) It exhibits more strikingly the merciful genius of the gospel The Jew, the murderer of the prophets and of Christ, &c. 2. The gospel is, like the air and sun, for humanity. Had it been for a sect, or class, Paul might have been ashamed of it. IV. A system of Divine power to save all on the most simple condition. “To every one that believeth.” Man as man—1. Has this power to believe. It requires no peculiar talent or attainment. 2. Has a strong tendency to believe. He is credulous to a fault. Conclusion:—Who are ashamed of the gospel? 1. Any in heaven? No! They owe their blessedness to its discoveries, and chant the praises of its Author. 2. Any in hell? No! There are thousands there ashamed of themselves for having been ashamed of the gospel. 3. Who on earth? Not the best parents, &c., the greatest sages, poets, patriots and philanthropists. They are to be found in the lower strata of moral life. They are to be found amongst men who ought to be ashamed of themselves. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Moral courage ready to encounter shame:—Let us not pass over the intrepidity of Paul, in the open and public avowal of his Christianity. We call it intrepidity, though he speaks not here of having to encounter violence, but only of having to encounter shame. For, in truth, it is often a higher effort and evidence of intrepidity to front disgrace, than it is to front danger. There is many a man who would march up to the cannon’s mouth for the honour of his country, yet would not face the laugh of his companions for the honour of his Saviour. We doubt not that there are individuals here who, if they were plied with all the devices of eastern cruelty to abjure the name of Christian, whose courage would bear them in triumph, and yet whose courage fails them every day in the softer scenes of their social and domestic history. The man who under the excitements of persecution was brave enough to be a dying witness to Jesus, crouches into all the timidity of silence under the omnipotency of fashion. There is as much of the truly heroic in not being ashamed of the profession of the gospel, as in not being afraid of it. Paul was neither: and yet when we think of what he once was in literature, and how aware he must have been of the loftiness of its contempt for the doctrine of a crucified Saviour; and that in Rome the whole power and bitterness of its derisions were awaiting him, and that the main weapon with which he had to confront it was such an argument as looked to be foolishness to the wisdom of this world—we doubt not that the disdain inflicted by philosophy was naturally as formidable to the mind of this apostle as the death inflicted by the arm of bloody violence. So that even now, and in an age when Christianity has no penalties and no proscriptions to keep her down, still, if all that deserves the name of Christianity be exploded from conversation—if a visible embarrassment run through a company when its piety or its doctrine is introduced among them—if, among beings rapidly moving towards immortality, any serious allusion to the concerns of immortality stamps an oddity on the character of him who brings it forward—if, through a tacit but firm compact which regulates the intercourse of this world, the gospel is as effectually banished from the ordinary converse of society as by the edicts of tyranny the profession of it was banished in the days of Claudius from Rome:—then he who would walk in his Christian integrity among the men of this lukewarm and degenerate age—he who, rising above that meagre and mitigated Christianity which is as remote as Paganism from the real Christianity of the New Testament, would, out of the abundance of his heart, speak of the things which pertain to the kingdom of God—he will find that there are trials still which, to some temperaments, are as fierce and as fiery as any in the days of martyrdom; and that, however in some select and peculiar walk he may find a few to sympathise with him, yet many are the families and many are the circles of companionship where the persecution of contempt calls for determination as strenuous, and for firmness as manly, as ever in the most intolerant ages of our Church did the persecution of direct and personal violence. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)
For it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
The power of the gospel:—
- The power of the gospel. 1. We can quite understand that to a man of such singular force of character as St. Paul, the “power” of the gospel would be its leading idea. To St. John, it might be its sweetness. And we can follow the current of St. Paul’s feelings when he said that he could not be “ashamed” of anything which was so very strong. 2. What we all want is to treat religion more as a thing of “power.” We think and speak of it, and act about it, too softly. It is a thing of beauty, poetry, enjoyment,—but would not it be far better if we held it more as a grand fact for vigorous thought, manly action, and practical effort? The piety of the day is too enervated. Hence its watery literature, its feeble hold on the minds of working men, its pettiness, unreality, and small results. There would be less “shame” if there were more “power.” 3. I need scarcely say that before the gospel can be this “power,” it must be gospel indeed—not a theory, a system of theology, an abstract truth, a diluted joy, something half fear and half hope, but “God’s spell.”
- Some facts in reference to this power. 1. The Christian religion is the only one which has ever had “power” to set in motion real missionary action. Why? The selfishness and sluggishness of human nature is exclusive, and it requires an immense lever to stir it, and nothing in the world has ever been found equal to do it, except the love of such a God as we have in Christ. That, and that only, can “thrust out labourers into the vineyard.” We have something to say worth making a mission for—we have a motive which can send us forth to say it. 2. See what the gospel of God does in all lands wherever it is planted—what softening of savagery, what civilisation it carries along with it. True, it may be hindered by the inconsistencies of Christians. But in itself the gospel always grows into an improvement in everything. 3. Look over this world at this moment. There are about two hundred millions of Christians upon the earth—once there were twelve. The increase without war—the great engine of Mahometanism—with very little to please and attract flesh and blood into it, rather with the greatest opposition to all which is natural to us, what “power” lies in that single historical fact! 4. Or let me tell you the experience of every Christian minister. It is when he preaches the full simple gospel that he gets all his success. If he preach morality, or an abstract divinity, or a gospel which is half gospel, he has no results whatever. But Christ carries everything. 5. Or listen to the witness of your own heart. (1) What have been the best hours of your life? The hours when Christ was most to you. (2) Who is the really composed man, but the man who is at peace in his own soul. That man does everything with confidence, and rest is power—“the power of God.”
III. Ways in which you may use this “power.” 1. Perhaps you are a weak character. You long for more strength of mind, and will, and purpose, and for capacity and power to persevere. Now nothing will give what you want but real personal religion—union with Christ, the gospel of Christ in you, and that gospel is “power.” 2. Or you may have a habit, and you want to conquer it. Bring Christ to bear upon that habit, have motive enough, make the effort for Christ’s sake, because He has loved you, do it to please Him, and show that you love Him. That principle will command all victory. 3. Or, perhaps, there is some one you very much wish to influence, but you cannot move him. Lead him to your object through the peace you bring into his own soul, and Christ will be stronger than the strong one. 4. Or, you are conscious of a want of moral courage in speaking of religious subjects; there is only one remedy, Christ must be more to you, and then you will be able to say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” &c. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
The gospel’s power: it is great:—
- In the revelation it embodies. It is the power of God, because it not only emanates from God, but God is in it. The Father has centred all His thoughts in the words of His gospel, and these words retain their power because they are the only satisfying portion of the human heart.
- In the deliverance it effects. It was with a mighty hand that Israel was delivered from Egyptian bondage. No less wonderful is the power demonstrated in the deliverance of man from under the thraldom of sin.
III. In the transformation it produces.
- In the motives it inspires. Men are actuated by a desire to gain wealth, fame, learning; and what unflagging energy this inspires! The gospel inspires us with a hope of being kings and priests unto God. But love to God and our fellow-men is to be the great motive for our actions. This is to be the ruling power of our lives, and this will render us godlike. V. In the universality of its application. “To every one that believeth.” It is the gospel for mankind, and among all nations it has gained its trophies. Its power has not waned. Conclusion:—Its hindrances are in the individual soul. Sin makes the barrier. But the gospel brought home by the Spirit can overcome all. There is nothing in it of which we should be ashamed. (A. Huelston, Ph.D.)
The power of the gospel contrasted with other theories:—Suppose that two persons start upon a philanthropic mission. One shall be a preacher determined to preach the old-fashioned gospel; and the other shall be a nineteenth century lecturer, whose great article of faith is, “I believe in the nineteenth century,” Each of us addresses congregations, and at the end of one of my sermons I say, “Now then, if there are any of you who feel yourselves tied and bound with the chain of your sins, while you are longing to lead a better life, stay behind and I will endeavour to make the way as plain as I can.” Well, suppose also that the lecturer has delivered his oration, the place is crowded, and a great amount of enthusiasm is kindled by the wonderful oratory of the man. At the end, suppose again that he too says something of the same kind: “Now then, I have been speaking of the progress of civilisation, and the development of humanity, and what we may expect as years roll away and as man rises to a higher level. But I wish to be practical, and to endeavour to benefit any now present who feel they need some help. Should any of you to-night feel as if you are failing to benefit by this general advance that is being made, just remain behind and I will offer you a few words of advice.” Suppose that in both cases the invitation is accepted by some. I come down, and there approaches me a miserable-looking specimen of humanity. I have only to look in his face to see the marks of sin there. A few minutes’ conversation discloses the fact that there is scarcely a sin which that man has not committed; tears stand in his eyes as he says to me, “I wish you could tell me, sir, what I must do to be saved.” To such a one I should have no difficulty in making answer—“My dear brother, you are just the person I have to preach to. My Master came to seek and to save the lost. Tell me, are you altogether out of conceit, nay, out of heart, with yourself?” I can imagine the melancholy reply, “What hope have I left in myself? Unless a higher power than mine do something for me, there is nothing before me but despair.” If such be the response, I can hail that self-despair as the harbinger of true hope. I am able to lead the forlorn and hopeless wretch out of self and into Christ; show him the provision that has been made to meet the case of the helpless, and guide him step by step, till at length he claims Christ as his all-sufficient Saviour who is able to save to the uttermost. Well, in such a case, the man will become a changed person. The intervention of the Creator will have made him a new creature, and he who before delighted in sin, will suddenly find himself hating sin and loving purity and holiness. Now let us turn to the other scene. The lecture is just closing, and the lecturer gives such an invitation as I have suggested. One man comes up and addresses himself to the lecturer: “I am a very bad man, and have lived a very bad life, and I want to know if you can give me any advice that shall make me better.” “Well, my friend, reasoning on utilitarian grounds, I assume that you have found your evil course not much to your advantage.” “Advantage! Why, I have stripped my house of every comfort, and turned it into a wild beast’s den rather than a human home; I have lost my situations; and it is all through that cursed drink.” “Then your case is very clear, my friend. You can see without any lecture on utilitarianism that drunkenness is unprofitable to you.” “Well, I know that; but the point is how I am to overcome this craving.” “Well, first reflect seriously that you are injuring yourself.” “But I am convinced of that already.” “Well, then act in accordance with that conviction; sign the pledge.” “I have signed the pledge, over and over again, but I cannot keep it.” “Why not? Have you been really in earnest?” “Yes, sir; but I could never keep it for any length of time.” “Well, but you had better sign it again.” “I have signed it a dozen times, sir.” “Well, I don’t know what to advise; struggle more earnestly.” “But I have struggled my very utmost.” “Then can you keep out of the way of bad company?” “I may try, sir; but the bad company won’t keep out of my way.” What is the lecturer to say next? My own impression is that there is nothing left for the apostle of the new creed but to admit his failure, unless he has the assurance to say to him, “Very well, then, your only chance is to believe in the nineteenth century!” But where is there one who would dare to say this? No! the individual must perish, while the lecturer comforts himself with the hope that the species will improve. You ask me to lay aside the gospel, and take in place of it one which leaves me in such a position that I am morally helpless and incapable of grappling with the infirmities of human nature, or of holding out a helping hand to those around me who are sinking down to perdition. We are asked to accept the dictates of science, or the theories of philosophers, or what are supposed to be exhibitions of supernatural power, or some enthusiastic visionary who sets himself up as a religious reformer, and bids us accommodate our convictions to his dreams. But we go back to that question, “Where is the power?” As I look around on all the various substitutes for the gospel, I seek an answer, and I seek in vain. Where is the man who is ready to tell me how a bad man is to become good, how a weak man is to become strong? From all these I turn to the cross of Emmanuel. The power of God in redemption is felt, and from the cross I see men going forth, new creatures in Christ Jesus, possessed of new desires and new affections, and animated by a new power. (W. Hay Aitken, M.A.)
The gospel a power unto salvation:—(Text, and Matt. 6:13; Acts. 1:8). The first of these verses declares that power belongs to God, and, by implication, that we have power only as we borrow it from God; the second, how this power is, in the moral and spiritual realm, to be bestowed upon men; the third, through what instrumentality this power shall be bestowed—“the gospel.”
- The religion of the Bible is, then, characteristically a power-bestowing religion. It is this which distinguishes it from all other religions. 1. All the significance of the miracles of the Old Testament and the New Testament lies in this, that they are witnesses to a help that lies beyond humanity, but which is extended to humanity. The entire Old Testament is the history of a power not belonging to humanity, and yet working for the benefit of Israel. It is by the power of God that the Israelites are summoned from their bondage, that the waves of the Red Sea part for them, and that one after another victory crowns their campaigning in Palestine. The history is not the history of what the Jews did or Jewish great men did, but of what a power not themselves was doing for them. As this is the Old Testament history, so this is the Old Testament experience of the individual. It reappears in David, in Isaiah, in every prophet. 2. The old doctrine that power belongeth unto God, and that God bestows this power upon His children, reappears in the New Testament, but in a new form. It is now the spiritual helpfulness of God that comes to the front. We speak as though a man’s power had greatly increased our power during the past few centuries; but all the power of civilisation is a power that is not our own. We have increased a little our individual muscular power, but the increase is very little, while it is stored in nature, and we lay hold upon it and use it. And I will not go to an orthodox authority, but I will ask Herbert Spencer what this power is in that famous definition: “Amid the mysteries which become the more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the absolute certainty that we are ever in the presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy from whom all things proceed.” What is this but the old Hebrew Psalmist’s “Power belongeth unto God?” And what is the result of all modern science but this: a skill to lay hold on this power that is not our own, and to make it our own by obedience to its laws? 3. Now, the New Testament, as a spiritual appendix to the Old, confirmed by modern science, adds the declaration that there are powers not our own that make for human helpfulness and lift us up in the spiritual realm. The power that is of God is a power unto spiritual salvation. As there is a power to help man in the material and physical world, so there is a power to help him in the realm of virtue and truth. A hopeful man can inspire hope; a weak-willed man can be made stronger in will by leaning upon a man whose will is stronger than his own; there is power in a great heart to fill vacant hearts full of noble, Divine love. 4. And as the individual imparts to the individual, parents to their children, the teacher to his pupils, the pastor to his congregation, so generations impart to other generations. It is not all a fiction, this Roman Catholic idea of works of supererogation stored up, on which men may draw. The world has accumulated a great reservoir of virtue, and we draw on it every day. You are stronger men and women to-day for your Puritan ancestry, for your Anglo-Saxon blood.
- Salvation is not something you are to get in heaven by and by, on condition that you do believe, think, or experience something here on earth now. That man will be saved from future punishment through faith in Christ is true, but it is not the burden of the Bible declaration. The great good news of the Bible is this: men are saved from the burdens of their present life; from the darkness of their scepticism; from the bondage of their superstition; from inhumanity, weakness of will, and sin, here and now. This universe is stored with great spiritual powers. Do not fight your battle alone; lay hold on those powers and ask their help in the conflict. “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” What is that? A narrow declaration? Not at all. I find a man trying to lift a great stone, which is too heavy for his strength; and I say to him, Get out your tackle and pulleys, and then you can lift it. Is that narrow? No man can take the fruits of civilisation unless he lays hold on powers other than his own; and no man can take the fruit of Divine culture unless he reaches out and lays hold of powers that are not his own, that make for righteousness.
III. Faith is not belief. It is not belief in a long or a short creed. Faith does in the spiritual realm that which reason does in the material realm. It is simply reaching out a heart of sympathy and laying hold on the heart of God, and receiving strength that God pours into the children whose souls are open to receive His help. What virtue is there in the mere declaration of an opinion? This is not faith. Faith in Christ is an appreciation of the quality that is in Christ, a sense of His worth, a desire to be like Him, a resolute purpose to follow after Him. (Lyman Abbott, D.D.)
The power of the gospel to save:—The gospel manifests the power of God.
- In the revelation it makes of what God has done for us in the work of His Son. 1. As transgressors the law held us in bondage, and bound us over to endure the wages of sin in everlasting death. But in the obedience which Christ has rendered to the law, and the satisfaction He has made to its demands, He has opened a new and certain way of life for the guilty. Satan also held us captive, but Christ has overcome him who had the power of death. 2. The influence of this work is displayed—(1) In heaven in the acceptance there of Christ’s sacrifice, in His prevailing intercession, and in the continual crowning of the subjects of His redemption. (2) On earth in the increasing testimony that is borne to the glorious redemption, in the providence which causes all things to work together for the good of the redeemed, and in the continual progress of the truth. (3) In hell, in the subjection which it compels Satan to acknowledge to the Lord Jesus.
- In the exhibition of the work which God accomplishes within us by His Spirit. Take a view of this as given—1. In the past history of the Church. Reflect on the progress of the gospel, and the multitudes who have been actually rescued. 2. In the experience of the individual. (1) Who awakens and converts the careless sinner? (2) Who justifies the penitent believer, and gives him peace and acceptance with God? (3) Who carries on in increasing holiness the work thus commenced? (4) Who upholds and preserves to final salvation those who are thus brought to God? (5) Who finally crowns the subjects of grace in glory?
III. In the proper ground for hope which it thus affords. 1. If you look upon yourselves you find yourselves utterly weak and unworthy; but there is offered to you in the gospel a sufficient and abiding hope. 2. Let the Christ have all the praise for this work of salvation. (S. H. Tyng, D.D.)
The gospel the power of God:—There are two reasons for which we may be ashamed of anything—1. If it be base in itself, or shameful in its aim. 2. Though good in itself, and honourable in its aim, if it be weak and powerless to achieve the good it aims at. For example: we are ashamed of a traitor who sells his country for gold; and of a general who, though loyally fighting for his country, ruins its cause through ignorance or incapacity. Paul was not ashamed of the gospel because—
- It was not base in itself, nor shameful in its aims. Its facts were true, its morals pure, its doctrine ennobling. Its aim is “salvation.” You have seen at a railway station carriages labelled “London,” “Edinburgh,” &c., signifying that the company engaged to carry the passengers to these places. So the gospel is labelled as intended to carry passengers “unto salvation.” Anything short of that would be to fail in its promise. But what is this “salvation”? The common idea is, that when a man dies he shall be saved from hell and have a place in heaven. But salvation implies more than this—deliverance from the corruption of sin as well as from its condemnation; from its power as well as from its punishment—in short, deliverance from sin itself.
- It was not feeble and unable to achieve its aim. Its power is as great as its purpose is good. This is what most of all we need? We know the doctrines of the gospel, the sins it forbids, the duties it requires, the hopes it teaches. But somehow we feel that these things do not influence us as they ought. What we need is power to convince us, to subdue us, to rule over us, to sustain us, power to resist the devil, to overcome the world. In some things the gospel has come to us in power. For example, we believe in the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s blood. And that belief has brought us peace from the fear of punishment. But oh! how we long that the words, “Go and sin no more,” would “come in power.” Behold, then, gospel promises do not speak more truly of pardon than they speak of power for present duty by Christ’s living grace.
III. Its offer is not limited to any one nation or class, but is free and sure “to every one that believeth.” “To as many as received Him, to them gave He power,” &c. Every one who believes on Jesus receives of the Holy Spirit. They receive this power, but they must use it. The power of God is laid up for them in Christ; but out of His fulness they must go on to draw grace for grace. (W. Grant.)
The gospel the power of God:—1. The apostle here gives his reason for the statement that he was willing to preach the gospel in Rome. In characterising the gospel as “the power of God,” he showed his usual tact. It was his object to present the gospel to his readers in such an aspect as would commend it to their peculiar disposition as admirers of power. At Athens, on the other hand, he was amongst a people who spent their time in telling or hearing some new thing. The apostle, therefore, observing an altar to “the unknown God,” presents himself as one who had the key to this mystery. The effect upon men of such an inquisitive turn of mind may be easily conceived. The Corinthians, again, made great pretensions to wisdom; to them, therefore, the apostle represents the gospel as the highest wisdom—the wisdom of God. Whilst, however, representing the gospel as “power,” to the Romans the apostle is careful to say that it was the “power of God,” not that military and political power so much desiderated by them. 2. In the text we have three terms, salvation, gospel, and power. The gospel effects the salvation, and the power is the reason why. (1) Salvation must be regarded in the light of the exposition of it given in this Epistle. Three words describe it—justification, sanctification, and glorification. The first is the soul’s deliverance from the condemnation and penalty of sin (chaps. 1–5); the second, its emancipation from its dominion as a ruling principle (chaps. 6; 7); and the third, the bestowment upon it of everlasting happiness and glory (chap. 8). (2) The gospel as a record embodies a scheme of truth based upon a series of transactions of transcendent glory, the incarnation of the Son of God. His life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. As a message of mercy, the truths it records are presented for acceptance as a means for effecting salvation. (3) The power of God. The gospel is—
- The product of Divine power. The transactions it records testify to the power of God in the same way that every author’s power is revealed by his works. Power has three qualities. Moral, which indicates the motive, and has regard to the end in view; intellectual, which contrives, and has regard to the means; physical, which executes, i.e., applies the means devised to the end contemplated. Thus, power manifests itself in force, contrivance, and purpose. The Divine operations ever display these qualities. These qualities, however, in the gospel show different degrees of combination from those which obtain in creation—e.g., all physical objects are distinguished by some one particular colour, although all the other hues of light are there. In the light falling upon objects which appear blue, all the hues of light are present, but by the operation of a certain law, the blue alone presents itself to the eye. So in creation physical power prevails, at least to our senses. The multiplicity of its worlds and their vast magnitude divert the mind from the equally glorious, but less obtrusive, manifestations of intellect and beneficence. Now the gospel is a marvellous manifestation of power in its several phases. As the product of God’s moral power it is defined as “the exceeding riches of His grace” (Eph. 2:5). As an exhibition of His intellectual power it is represented as “making known the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10; 1 Pet. 1:10). Its manifestations of physical power, instanced in the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, are described as the working of His mighty power (Eph. 1:19). But its moral power is its crown and glory. One characteristic will suffice to show this. Its pith and marrow is its provision for the forgiveness of sin, and this is the grandest exercise of moral power possible. “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity?” So far was the idea of forgiveness from the hearts of men that when they came to create gods they never imagined gods possessed of the power to pardon sin. Does not this prove that the religion which presents this fact to us must be, as regards its conception, absolutely Divine?
- An instrument of Divine power. “The power of God unto salvation.” The transactions it embodies were characterised by superlative condescension and self-sacrifice. As such they were replete with power in the two senses of legal merit and spiritual influence—the one forming the ground of men’s reconciliation with God, the other forming the instrumentality for weaning them from sin, for changing their disposition, subduing their passions, and kindling in their hearts the love of Christ. But this is not all. The gospel possesses instrumental fitness for securing justification and sanctification, but in order that these may become experimental realities men must, believingly, accept, as the ground and instrument of their salvation, the transactions it records. Hence powerful influences are necessary to overcome men’s indifference and stubbornness. The gospel is the power of God to this end. The transactions it embodies are presented as messages of love. This message is instinct with the moral and Divine power of the transactions which form its theme. No wonder the gospel is called the “word of salvation”—the word which both reveals salvation and opens the heart, by conviction, to its reception. (A. J. Parry.)
The gospel the power of God:—The gospel is the power of God—
- In its most paradoxical and yet highest form. 1. Of course, the message was power only as being the record of power; the real energy lay in the Incarnate Word. And Paul’s thought is, that high above all other manifestations of the Divine energy, rises that strange paradox, the omnipotence of God declared in weakness. Sinai is impotent, compared with the tremendous forces which stream from the little hillock, where stand three black crosses, and a dying Christ on the midmost. 2. There is the power of God; for material force is not power; nor majesty, which being deprived of its externals becomes a jest; nor the rule over men’s wills by iron constraint; nor is the rule of ideas the highest power; but the Divinest force in God is tenderness, and the true signature of omnipotence is love. (1) What a discovery of the depths of the Godhead that is! The world has heard of gods of physical force, lustful, whimsical, benevolent by fits and starts, vengeful when mood suits them; gods apathetic and indifferent, but it never dreamed until this Man came of a God whose power could drape itself in weakness, and was guided by love. (2) What a lesson as to where the true strength and greatness for man lies! We have had enough of the worship of genius; of the beating of drums and singing hosannas over the achievements of poet and philosopher, and artist and scholar. Let us remember that there is a stronger thing in the world than all these, and that is patient gentleness that bows, and bears, and suffers, and dies.
- In its mightiest operation. Rome gathered its forces for destruction. And Paul is thinking of the contrast between the devilish use of human strength which generally attends it, and the Divine use of Divine power which dedicates it all for salvation. Salvation is negatively the deliverance from everything that is evil; positively it is the endowment with every good. 1. Think of the strange audacity of Christianity in calmly proposing to itself such an end as this. People tell us that the gospel idea of men is dark and depressing. Why? but because the gospel can afford to look facts in the face, inasmuch as it knows itself able to overcome all that is evil, and to reverse and supplant it by perfect good. And there is nothing in the New Testament that is more of the nature of a demonstration of its Divine energy than the unruffled composure with which it declares, looking on the ruins that lie round about it, “I have come to set all that right, and I know that I can do it.” And it has done it. I do not know any other religion that would not be laughed out of court if it strode forward and said, “I have come here to abolish all evil, and to make every soul of man like God.” “Well, then; do it!” would be the simple answer; “and if with your philosopher’s stone you can turn the smallest grain of a baser metal into gold, we will admit the claim and believe that the transmutation of the rest is a question of time.” Well, Christianity has done it, and there are millions of people in this world to-day who will say, “One thing I know, there are a great many things I do not know, but one thing I do: whereas I was blind now I see. Look at my eyes if you doubt it.” 2. This transforming and saving power is clearly beyond man’s ability. It will take God to change a man’s relations to the Divine government, and to hold back the consequences which, if there were no God, by the law of cause and effect, would certainly follow every transgression and disobedience. And it needs no less than God to renew the spirit into a loftier life. And the world knows it, and instead of salvation it talks about reformation, restraint, culture, &c.; all very good in their way, but not going deep enough down into the facts of man’s condition, not being able to lift him high enough up towards the destined good, to be accepted as a substitute for the Divine idea of salvation. There tower the great white summits of the Himalayas; down at their feet stand palaces, temples, porches for philosophers. Measure the height of the one by the other, and you get an approximation to the difference between human efforts upon human society and the Divine design for every soul of man upon earth. 3. This restoring work of salvation is not only exclusively a Divine work, but is the most energetic exercise of the Divine power. Creation is great and Divine. The new creation, which is restoration to more than primeval blessedness and beauty, is greater, inasmuch as it is accomplished not by a word but by toil, sacrifice, and death, and inasmuch as the result is man more truly and gloriously the image of God than was he over whose appearance angels shouted for joy, and God said, “It is good.” It is great to “preserve the stars from wrong,” and to keep the most ancient heavens “fresh and strong,” but the conception of the Divine power that is gathered from those majestic regions where His finger works is low compared with that which flows from the redeeming work of Christ. God never has done, and never will do a mightier thing than when He sends His Son with power to save a world.
III. In its widest sweep. 1. Rome wielded an empire which approached to universality, so far as the world then knew. But Paul has a vision of an empire that overlaps it, as some great sea might a little pond, and sees the Dove of Christ outflying the Roman eagle, and the raven, sin. For to him his Christ is everybody’s Christ; and that which changed him from persecutor to apostle can never have a more obstinate block to hew into beauty. 2. The text may seem to narrow the universality which the apostle proclaims, but not really. For to believe is nothing more than to take the power which the gospel brings. Faith is the belt by which we fasten our else still and silent wheels to the great engine, and the power then begins to drive. You would not say that a universal medicine was less universal because it did not cure people that did not take it. 3. Nay! rather the intention and power of the gospel to save everybody can only be preserved by faith being the condition of its operation. For the condition is one that everybody can exercise, and just because men do not get saved by things that belong to classes it comes about that “not many wise, not many noble, not many mighty after the flesh” are saved. The wise man wants a religion that will give culture its proper high seat in the synagogue. The noble does not like to have his robes crumpled by a crowd of greasy jackets going in at the one common door. And so they turn away because they would like to have a little private postern of their own, where a ticket of a special colour would let them and their friends in. Conclusion: Are you exercising this faith, and therefore saved? You can separate yourselves from the power, notwithstanding the Divine purpose and adaptation of the gospel to everybody. And although God wants all of us to come to His heart, you can, if you will, stand apart. You do not need to do much. Putting your hands behind your back, or letting them hang languidly at your sides, is enough. Not to accept is to reject. You can waterproof your souls, as it were, and so lie there as dry as a bone, whilst all around you the dew of His blessing is refreshing others. Christ’s power received is life; Christ’s power not received is not negatived, but reversed, and becomes death. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
The gospel the power of God unto salvation:—By affirming this the apostle lays down the fundamental doctrine which he intends to establish against the legalistic pretentions of the Jews. Here are no less than five cardinal terms, key-words, which suggest a five-fold antithesis between Christianity and Judaism. The gospel is—
- “The power of God”—a hint as to the weakness of the law in reference to salvation. This contrast is brought out fully and clearly in chap. 8:2–4. God Himself is powerless to save any one righteously except through the gracious provisions of the gospel of His Son, whom He accordingly “set forth to be a propitiation,” &c. (chap. 3:25). II. “The power of God.” He who wins souls in the presentation of the gospel is wielding a power not human, but Divine; and the resulting justification before God is based, not on the righteousness of man, but “the righteousness of God.” Here we have another antithesis of the apostle’s great theme, which is fully presented in chap. 10:3 and Phil. 3:7–9. The Jews, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” It is only on the ground of merit that law can justify. If, then, a man could merit his acceptance with God, his justification would not be due to the gracious “power of God,” but would rest upon his own inherent goodness. III. The “power of God unto salvation.” This the law could not accomplish in that it was weak through the flesh. But as regards the very opposite result, condemnation and death, it has, indeed, tremendous power (chap. 7:9, 10; 2 Cor. 3:6, 7). Thus the only hope for man is to pass from under a legal system, which can only justify the sinless, to a dispensation of grace which is clothed with Divine power to “justify the ungodly.” IV. “The power of God unto salvation to every one who believes.” But the Jew, supposing that he had kept the law sufficiently to stand before God in the strength of his own righteousness, very naturally limited the favour of God to legalistic worshippers, and looked upon all others as inevitably doomed to death without mercy. Now the argument of the Epistle, in dispelling this double delusion, enables us to discern the broad contrast between the universality of grace and the exclusiveness of legalism (chap. 3:21–23). We are again and again reminded that this blessedness cometh not upon the circumcision only, but upon the uncircumcision also; that “the same God over all is rich unto all who call upon Him,” and that, consequently, “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” V. “The power of God unto salvation to every one who believes.” The contrast between the gospel and the law is the significant antithesis of faith and works so extensively developed in this Epistle. The dictum of the law is, “Do this and thou shalt live.” The maxim of the gospel is, “The just shall live by faith.” Doing is the ground of legal justification. Believing is the condition of gracious justification. The radical opposition between these, together with the inapplicability of the former to man as a sinful being, undergoes thorough discussion, especially in chaps. 3 and 4. (Prof. I. B. Grubbs.)
To the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Our duty to Israel:—The gospel should be preached first to the Jews, because—
- Judgment will begin with them (chap. 2:6–10). Why is this? Because they have had more light than any other people. God chose them out of the world to be His witnesses. Every prophet, evangelist, and apostle was sent first to them. Christ said, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The Word of God is still addressed to them. Yet they have sinned against all this light and love. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” &c. Their cup of wrath is fuller than that of other men. Is not this a reason, then, why the gospel should first be preached to the Jew? They are ready to perish—to perish more dreadfully than other men. In an hospital the physician runs first to the worst case. When the sailors have left the shore to save the sinking crew they first help those that are readiest to perish. And shall we not do the same for Israel? The billows of God’s anger are ready to dash first over them—shall we not seek to bring them first to the Rock that is higher than they? Yes, and some of you are in a situation very similar to that of Israel—you who have the Word of God in your hands and yet are unbelieving and unsaved. Think how like your wrath will be to that of the unbelieving Jew.
- It is like God. It is the chief glory and joy of a soul to be like God. Too many rest in the joy of being forgiven. We should be like God in understanding, in will, in holiness, and also in His peculiar affections; and the whole Bible shows that God has a peculiar affection for Israel (Deut. 7:7; Lam. 4:2; Jer. 12:7). Shall we be ashamed to cherish the same affection as our heavenly Father?
III. There is peculiar access to the Jews.
- They will give life to the dead world. A reflective traveller, passing through the countries of this world, and observing the race of Israel in every land, might be led to guess, merely from the light of his natural reason, that that singular people are preserved for some great purpose in the world. There is a singular fitness in the Jew to be the missionary of the world. They have not that peculiar attachment to home and country which we have. They are also inured to every clime; they are to be found amid the snows of Russia and beneath the burning sun of Hindostan. They are also in some measure acquainted with all the languages of the world, and yet have one common language—the holy tongue—in which to communicate with one another. But what says the Word of God? (Read Zech. 8:13, 23; Micah 5:7) (R. M. McCheyne.)
To the Jew first:—The preaching of the gospel to the Jews first, served various important ends. It fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, as Isa. 2:3. It manifested the compassion of the Lord Jesus for those who shed His blood, to whom, after His resurrection, He commanded His gospel to be first proclaimed. It showed that it was to be preached to the chief of sinners, and proved the sovereign efficacy of His atonement in expiating the guilt even of His murderers. It was fit, too, that the gospel should be begun to be preached where the great transactions took place on which it was founded and established; and this furnished an example of the way in which it is the will of the Lord that His gospel should be propagated by His disciples, beginning in their own houses and their own country. (R. Haldane.)
The usefulness of converted Jews:—A Jewish convert says: “It is a well-known fact that men celebrated as theologians, as lawyers, as teachers of the young, as professors at the various universities of Europe, have been or are converts from Judaism. The late M. Fould, the great French finance minister, was a Jewish convert. The late Dr. Neander, the author of one of the most erudite works on the Church of Christ, and professor of theology at the University of Berlin, was a converted Jew. Dr. Crippadorn of Holland, physician to his Majesty the King of Holland, is a converted Jew. The late Dr. Dufosty, one of the greatest poets which Holland has ever produced, and the author of ‘Israel and the Gentiles,’ ‘A Harmony of the Gospels,’ and several other works, was a Jewish convert. Prof. Leone Levi, of King’s College, is a Jewish convert. The late Dr. Alexander, the first bishop of Jerusalem, was a converted Jew; while not less than a hundred and thirty clergymen of the Church of England are converted Jews.” He states further that, in London, there are between two and three thousand Jewish converts, whose conduct, whether as heads of families, as citizens, or as men, is an honour and credit to the churches with which they are connected.
The gospel is God’s power for salvation (16)
Paul now gives a second reason for being eager to preach the gospel, and not ashamed of it: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (16).
Some commentators are so offended by the thought that Paul could feel ashamed of the gospel that they pronounce his statement a case of litotes, that is, an understatement made for rhetorical effect, especially the use of a negative in place of a positive (as when someone says, ‘I am not amused’, meaning ‘I am upset and angry’). So Moffatt renders the phrase, ‘I am proud of the gospel.’ But surely this attempt to tone down Paul’s statement, though grammatically permissible, is psychologically misguided. Jesus himself warned his disciples against being ashamed of him, which shows that he anticipated they might be,3 and Paul gave Timothy a similar admonition. I once heard James Stewart of Edinburgh, in a sermon on this text, make the perceptive comment that ‘there’s no sense in declaring that you’re not ashamed of something unless you’ve been tempted to feel ashamed of it’. And without doubt Paul knew this temptation. He told the Corinthians that he came to them ‘in weakness and fear, and with much trembling’.5 He knew that the message of the cross was ‘foolishness’ to some and ‘a stumbling-block’ to others, because it undermines self-righteousness and challenges self-indulgence. So whenever the gospel is faithfully preached, it arouses opposition, often contempt, and sometimes ridicule.
How then did Paul (and how shall we) overcome the temptation to be ashamed of the gospel? He tells us. It is by remembering that the very same message, which some people despise for its weakness, is in fact the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. How do we know this? In the long run, only because we have experienced its saving power in our own lives. Has God reconciled us to himself through Christ, forgiven our sins, made us his children, put his Spirit within us, begun to transform us, and introduced us into his new community? Then how can we possibly be ashamed of the gospel?
Moreover, the gospel is God’s saving power for everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. Saving faith, which is the necessary response to the gospel, is the great leveller. For everyone who is saved is saved in exactly the same way, by faith. That goes for Jews and Gentiles equally. There is no distinction between them in respect of salvation.8 The priority of the Jews (‘first for the Jew’) is both theological, because God chose them and made his covenant with them, and therefore historical (‘We had to speak the word of God to you first’).
Reflecting on the apostle’s three personal affirmations in verses 14–16, we have seen that his eagerness to evangelize in Rome arose from his recognition that the gospel is an unpaid debt to the world and the saving power of God. The first gave him a sense of obligation (he had been put in trust with the good news), and the second a sense of conviction (if it had saved him, it could save others). Still today the gospel is both a debt to discharge and a power to experience. Only when we have grasped and felt these truths shall we be able to say with Paul, ‘I am not ashamed … I am under obligation … So I am eager to share the gospel with the world.’
16 Having confessed his fervent desire to preach the gospel at Rome, Paul goes on to give the reason for his zeal to preach the gospel. He has no sense of reserve about his mission. “I am not ashamed” is rhetorical understatement (litotes) pointing to Paul’s confidence in the gospel. He does not in any way consider his task unworthy or one that will prove to be illusory. He is ready to challenge the philosophies and religions in Rome that vie for attention, because he knows, on the basis of his experience in the East, that God’s power is at work in the proclamation of the good news and that it is able to transform lives. The gospel is nothing less that “the power of God” (cf. 1:1), foretold in the prophets (v. 2), concerning the Son of God, Jesus Christ (v. 3). “Power” here refers to the intrinsic efficacy of the gospel. It offers something desperately needed by humanity and not to be found anywhere else—a “righteousness from God” (v. 17).
The linkage between power and salvation is striking. Judaism was prone to think of the law as power, but this is not affirmed in Scripture. As for salvation, the OT is clear in its teaching that, whether it is conceived of physically as deliverance (Ex 14:13) or spiritually (Ps 51:12), it comes from the Lord. This is maintained in the NT as well and is affirmed in Paul’s statement that the gospel is “the power of God” for salvation. So when the apostle permits himself to say that he himself saves some (1 Co 9:22), it is only in the sense that he is Christ’s representative who is able to proclaim the way of salvation to others.
“Salvation” (sōtēria, GK 5401) is a broad concept. It includes the forgiveness of sins but involves much more, because its basic meaning is “soundness” or “wholeness.” It promises the restoration of all that sin has marred or destroyed. It is the general term that unites in itself the particular aspects of truth suggested by “justification,” “reconciliation,” “sanctification,” and “redemption.” But its efficacy depends on a person’s willingness to receive the message. Salvation is available to “everyone who believes.” That is, salvation is by “faith.” (In Greek, “believe” [pisteuō, GK 4409] and “faith” [pistis, GK 4411] are from the same root.) This sweeping declaration concerning “everyone who believes” ties in with the previous statement (concerning Greeks and non-Greeks) and now includes both the Jew and the Gentile. The Jew receives “first” mention. This does not mean that every Jew must be evangelized before the gospel can be presented to Gentiles; it does mean that the gospel is in the first instance the fulfillment of the hope of Israel (cf. Ac 28:20) and must therefore be proclaimed first to the Jews. In this era of fulfillment, just as Jesus came first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 15:24; 10:6), so now the gospel concerning Jesus must first go to the Jews. Thus to them was given the first opportunity to receive him, both during his ministry (Jn 1:11) and in the Christian era (Ac 1:8; 3:26). Paul himself followed this pattern (13:45–46). The theological priority of Israel rests on the reality of God’s covenantal faithfulness. The Gentiles are latecomers (Eph 2:11–13) and, as Paul will declare later on, foreign branches grafted into the olive tree (Ro 11:17).
The Theme of the Epistle
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
In the sixteenth and seventeenth verses of Romans 1, we come to sentences that are the most important in the letter and perhaps in all literature. They are the theme of this epistle and the essence of Christianity. They are the heart of biblical religion.
The reason this is so is that they tell how a man or woman may become right with God. We are not right with God in ourselves. This is what the doctrine of original sin is all about. We are in rebellion against God; and if we are in rebellion against God, we cannot be right with him. On the contrary, we are to be judged by him. What is more, we are polluted by our sin. We are as filthy in God’s sight as the most disease infected, loathsome individual could be in ours, and in that state we must be banished from his presence forever when we die.
What is to be done? On our side, nothing can be done. Yet in these sentences Paul tells us that God has done something. In fact, he has done precisely what needs to be done. He has provided a righteousness that is exactly what we need. It is a divine righteousness, a perfect righteousness. And it is received, not by doing righteous things (which we can never do in sufficient quantity anyway), but by simple faith. It is received merely by believing what God tells us.
No One Righteous
In the next chapter, continuing our study of this very important section of the letter to the Roman church, I will show why Paul was not ashamed of this gospel. Here, however, I want to concentrate on the chief idea in these two verses, namely, that in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed and that this righteousness is received (and has always been received) by faith. The place to begin is with the fact that in ourselves we do not possess this righteousness.
There can be little objection to the statement that we do not possess true righteousness, because this is the point with which Paul begins his formal argument. That is, immediately after having stated his thesis in verses 16 and 17, Paul launches into a section extending from 1:18 to 3:20, in which he shows that far from being righteous before God, men and women are actually very corrupt and are all therefore naturally objects of God’s just wrath and condemnation.
I make the point in this way. Notice that in verse 17 (our text here), Paul says that “a righteousness from God is revealed.” Then notice that in 3:21, he says virtually the same thing once again: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify.” The words “is made known” mean “is revealed,” and the reference to “the Law and the Prophets” corresponds to Paul’s citation of a specific statement of the prophet Habakkuk in the earlier verse: “just as it is written: ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ ” So the full exposition of what Paul introduces in 1:17 begins only at 3:21.
So what occupies the intervening verses? They are a statement of the need for this righteousness, introduced by a parallel but deliberate contrast with these two statements. At the start of this section, instead of speaking of any revelation of righteousness, Paul declares: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (v. 18, italics mine).
What Paul says in Romans 1:18 through 3:20 embraces all persons. But he develops his thoughts progressively, moving from a description of those who are openly hostile to God and wicked to those who consider themselves to be either moral, and therefore acceptable to God on the basis of their own good works, or else religious, and therefore acceptable on the basis of their religious practices.
One thing is true of everyone. Left to ourselves, we use either our heathen lifestyle, our claims to moral superiority, or our religion to resist the true God. Paul says that certain facts about God have been revealed to all people in nature. But instead of allowing that revelation to point us to God and then attempting to seek him out as a result of it, we actually suppress the revelation God has given in order to continue in our own wicked ways. This is the real grounds of God’s just wrath against us—not that we have failed to do something that we could not do or refused to believe something that we did not even know about, but that we have rejected the knowledge we have in order to pursue wickedness. When he gets to the end of this section Paul is therefore quite right in concluding, quoting from many Old Testament texts:
As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
“Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
We may not like this description of ourselves (who would?), but it is God’s accurate assessment of our depraved lives and civilization.
A Righteousness from God
In all literature there is no portrait of the human race so realistic, grim, or hopeless as this summation of Paul’s. Yet it makes the wonder of the gospel all the more glorious, for it is against this background that “a righteousness from God” is made known.
We need to see several important things about it.
- This righteousness from God is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. In 1:17 and 3:21, Paul says that righteousness “comes through faith in Jesus Christ.” But it is surely right to add, in view of what Paul said in the opening section of this letter (and says elsewhere), that this is the very righteousness of Christ, which God gives to us. Righteousness is revealed in the gospel—Paul says so—but the gospel concerns Jesus Christ (1:2–3). So it is Christ who has this righteousness, and it is from him that we both learn about it and receive it.
Jesus possesses righteousness in two senses, both important. First, Jesus is intrinsically righteous. That is, being God, he is utterly holy and without sin. That is why he could say during the days of his flesh, “I always do what pleases him [that is, God]” (John 8:29b) or, as he said to his enemies on another occasion, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46a). His words left them speechless.
Jesus is also righteous in that he achieved a perfect righteousness by his obedience to the law of God while on earth. When John the Baptist resisted Jesus’ call for baptism, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:14–15). By saying that it was proper for him to be baptized in order “to fulfill all righteousness,” Jesus showed that he intended to fulfill the demands of the law while he lived among us. And he did. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written:
He rendered a perfect obedience to the law; he kept it in every jot and tittle. He failed in no respect. He fulfilled God’s law completely, perfectly, and absolutely. Not only that! He has dealt with the penalty meted out by the law upon all sin and upon all sins. He took your guilt and mine upon himself, and he bore its punishment. The penalty of the law was meted out upon him, and so he has honored the law completely, positively and negatively, actively and passively. There is nothing further the law can demand; he has satisfied it all.
When Paul says that righteousness from God is revealed in the gospel, he means that the gospel shows how we can acquire the righteousness we need. But this does not exclude the truth that the existence and nature of this righteousness are also revealed to us in Christ’s person. In Christ we can see that righteousness truly exists and can be offered to us by God.
- God offers this righteousness of Jesus Christ freely, apart from any need to work for it on our part. This is the heart of the Good News, of course. For unless God were willing to give this righteousness to us and actually does give it, the mere existence of a perfect righteousness would not be good news at all. On the contrary, it would be very bad news, for it would increase our sense of condemnation.
It was the discovery of this truth that transformed Martin Luther and through him launched the Reformation. Luther was aware that Jesus exhibited a perfect righteousness and that this was a standard of character rightly demanded from all human beings by God. But Luther did not have this righteousness. In fact, the more he tried to achieve this righteousness, the more elusive it became. It was Luther’s very piety that created the problem. He wanted to be righteous. He wanted to please God. But the more he worked at pleasing God, the more he knew that pleasing God involved more than merely doing certain things and refusing to do others. He knew that pleasing God involved even the very attitudes in which he did or did not do these things. Basically he needed to love God, and he knew he did not love God. He actually hated God for making the standard of righteousness so impossible.
As I pointed out in the introductory chapter of this book, Luther wrote, “I had no love for that holy and just God who punishes sinners. I was filled with secret anger against him.”
But then Luther discovered that he had misunderstood God’s intention in revealing the nature and existence of this righteousness. It was not revealed so that men and women like Luther might strive toward it and inevitably fail desperately, as Luther did. It was revealed as God’s free gift in Christ, so that those who came to know Christ might stop their fruitless striving and instead rest in him. They could rest in his atoning death on their behalf, since he took the punishment of their sins upon himself and paid for them fully so that their sins might never rise up to haunt them again. They could rest in righteousness, knowing that God had given it to them and that they could thereafter stand before God, not in their own self-righteousness, which is no righteousness at all, but in the very righteousness of Christ.
The term for the application of the righteousness of Christ to the sinner is “imputation.” It is like putting the infinite moral capital of the Lord Jesus Christ in our empty bank account. It is having the riches of heaven at our disposal. When Luther saw this, it was as if the doors of heaven had been opened and he was able to pass through “the true gate of Paradise.”
- Faith is the channel by which sinners receive Christ’s righteousness. Paul lived many centuries before the Reformation, but he seems to have anticipated the sixteenth-century battles over the role of faith in salvation by the way he emphasizes faith both in this initial statement of his thesis and in his fuller development of the role of faith in receiving the gospel in 3:21–31. In Romans 1:17, he speaks of “a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith,’ ” quoting Habakkuk 2:4 (italics mine). In 3:21–31 he refers to “faith” eight times.
What is faith? Initially Luther thought of faith as a work and therefore grimly regarded it as something else to be attained. But faith is not a work. It is believing God. It is opening a hand to receive the righteousness of Christ that God offers.
Faith consists of three elements. First, it consists of knowledge. It is no mere attitude of mind; it involves content. We must have faith in “something.” In the case of salvation that content (and the object of our knowledge) is the revelation of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
Second, faith consists of a heart response to the gospel. This is because faith is not assent to some principle that is true but nevertheless has little relationship to us. It involves the love of God for us in saving us through the death of Jesus Christ, his Son. Unless this touches our hearts and moves them, we do not really understand the gospel.
Finally, faith consists of commitment, commitment to Christ. At this point, Jesus becomes not merely a Savior in some abstract sense or even someone else’s Savior, but my Savior. Like Thomas, I now gladly confess him to be “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28, italics mine).
In an excellent little book entitled All of Grace, the great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote, “Faith is not a blind thing; for faith begins with knowledge. It is not a speculative thing; for faith believes facts of which it is sure. It is not an unpractical, dreamy thing; for faith trusts, and stakes its destiny upon the truth of revelation.… Faith … is the eye which looks.… Faith is the hand which grasps … Faith is the mouth which feeds upon Christ.”
One person who read Romans 10:8 (“ ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart’ ”) exclaimed, “Give me a knife and a fork and a chance.” He had the idea. He was prepared to receive the gospel personally.
Another who had the idea was Count Zinzendorf. His great hymn about justification through the righteousness of Christ received by faith comes to us through the translation of John Wesley:
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Bold shall I stand in thy great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am,
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
O let the dead now hear thy voice;
Now bid thy banished ones rejoice;
Their beauty this, their glorious dress,
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness.
It was by faith in the completed work of Christ and God’s gift of Christ’s righteousness to believing men and women that Zinzendorf expected to stand before God in the day of judgment and be accepted by him.
“Nothing in My Hands”
This was Paul’s expectation and experience, too. He tells of his experience of God’s grace in Philippians.
Paul had been an exceedingly moral man: “.… If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phil. 3:4–6). But Paul learned to count his attainments as nothing in order to have Christ “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (v. 9). This is a vivid, personal statement of what he also declares at the beginning of Romans.
In Philippians, Paul uses a helpful metaphor, saying that before he met Christ his thoughts about religion involved something like a lifelong balance sheet showing assets and liabilities. He had thought that being saved meant having more in the column of assets than in the column of liabilities. And since he had considerable assets, he felt that he was very well off indeed.
Some assets he had inherited. Among them were the facts that he had been born into a Jewish family and had been circumcised according to Jewish law on the eighth day of life. He was neither a proselyte who had been circumcised later in life, nor an Ishmaelite who was circumcised when he was thirteen years of age. He was a pure-blooded Jew, having been born of two Jewish parents (“a Hebrew of Hebrews”). As an Israelite he was a member of God’s covenant people. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. Moreover, Paul had assets he had earned for himself. He was a Pharisee, the strictest and most faithful of the Jewish religious orders. He was a zealous Pharisee, proved by his persecution of the church. And, as far as the law was concerned, Paul reckoned himself to be blameless, for he had kept the law in all its particulars so far as he had understood it.
These were great assets from a human point of view. But the day came when God revealed his own righteousness to Paul in the person of Jesus Christ. When Paul saw Jesus he understood for the first time what real righteousness was. Moreover, he saw that what he had been calling righteousness, his own righteousness, was not righteousness at all but only filthy rags. It was no asset. It was actually a liability, because it had been keeping him from Jesus, where alone true righteousness could be found.
Mentally Paul moved his long list of cherished assets to the column of liabilities—for that is what they really were—and under assets he wrote “Jesus Christ alone.”
Augustus M. Toplady had it right in the hymn “Rock of Ages”:
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
When those who have been made alive by God turn from their own attempts at righteousness, which can only condemn them, and instead embrace the Lord Jesus Christ by saving faith, God declares their sins to have been punished in Christ and imputes his own perfect righteousness to their account.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
At first glance it is an extraordinary thing that Paul should say that he is “not ashamed” of the gospel. For when we read that statement we ask, “But why should anybody be ashamed of the gospel? Why should the apostle even think that something so grand might be shameful?” Questions like that are not very deep or honest, since we have all been ashamed of the gospel at one time or another.
The reason is that the world is opposed to God’s gospel and ridicules it, and we are all far more attuned to the world than we imagine. The gospel was despised in Paul’s day. Robert Haldane has written accurately:
By the pagans it was branded as atheism, and by the Jews it was abhorred as subverting the law and tending to licentiousness, while both Jews and Gentiles united in denouncing the Christians as disturbers of the public peace, who, in their pride and presumption, separated themselves from the rest of mankind. Besides, a crucified Savior was to the one a stumbling-block, and to the other foolishness. This doctrine was everywhere spoken against, and the Christian fortitude of the apostle in acting on the avowal he here makes was as truly manifested in the calmness with which, for the name of the Lord Jesus, he confronted personal danger and even death itself. His courage was not more conspicuous when he was ready “not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem,” than when he was enabled to enter Athens or Rome without being moved by the prospect of all that scorn and derision which in these great cities awaited him.
Is the situation different in our day? It is true that today’s culture exhibits a certain veneer of religious tolerance, so that well-bred people are careful not to scorn Christians openly. But the world is still the world, and hostility to God is always present. If you have never been ashamed of the gospel, the probable reason, as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggests, is not that you are “an exceptionally good Christian,” but rather that “your understanding of the Christian message has never been clear.”
Was Paul tempted to shame, as we are? Probably. We know that Timothy was, since Paul wrote him to tell him not to be (2 Tim. 1:8). However, in our text Paul writes that basically he was “not ashamed of the gospel,” and the reason is that “it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ ”
In this study, following the treatment of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I want to suggest eight reasons why we should not be ashamed of this gospel.
The Gospel Is “Good News”
The first reason why we should not be ashamed of the gospel is the meaning of the word gospel itself. It means “good news,” and no rational person should be ashamed of a desirable proclamation.
We can understand why one might hesitate to convey bad news, of course. We can imagine a policeman who must tell a father that his son has been arrested for breaking into a neighbor’s house and stealing her possessions. We can understand how he might be distressed at having to communicate this sad message. Or again, we can imagine how a doctor might be dismayed at having to tell a patient that tests have come out badly and that he or she does not have long to live, or how a person involved in some great moral lapse might be ashamed to confess it. But the gospel is not like this. It is the opposite. Instead of being bad news, it is good news about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is the best news imaginable.
The Way of Salvation
The second reason why we should not be ashamed of the gospel is that it is about “salvation.” And not just any salvation. It is about the saving of ourselves.
The background for this side of the Good News is that, left to ourselves, we are in desperate trouble. We are in trouble now because we are at odds with God, other people, and ourselves. We are also in trouble in regard to the future; for we are on a path of increasing frustration and despair, and at the end we must face God’s just wrath and condemnation. We are like swimmers drowning in a vast ocean of cold water or explorers sinking in a deep bog of quicksand. We are like astronauts lost in the black hostile void of outer space. We are like prisoners awaiting execution.
But there is good news! God has intervened to rescue us through the work of his divine Son, Jesus Christ. First, he has reconciled us to himself; Christ has died for us, bearing our sins in his own body on the cross. Second, he has reconciled us to others; we are now set free to love them as Jesus loved us. Third, he has reconciled us to ourselves; in Jesus Christ (and by the power of the Holy Spirit) we are now able to become what God has always meant for us to be.
We can say this in yet other ways. Salvation delivers us from the guilt, power, and pollution of sin. We are brought back into communication with God, from whom our sins had separated us. And we are given a marvelous destiny, which Paul elsewhere describes as “the hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). In 1 Corinthians 1:30 Paul expresses these truths somewhat comprehensively when he writes that “Christ Jesus … has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, because it was about a real deliverance—from sin and its power—and about reconciliation to God.
God’s Way of Salvation
The third reason why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel is that it is God’s way of salvation and not man’s way. How could Paul be proud of something that has its roots in the abilities of sinful men and women or is bounded by mere human ideas? The world does not lack such ideas. There are countless schemes for salvation, countless self-help programs. But these are all foolish and inadequate. What is needed is a way of salvation that comes not from man, but from God! That is what we have in Christianity! Christianity is God’s reaching out to save perishing men and women, not sinners reaching out to seize God.
Paul speaks about this in two major ways, contrasting God’s way of salvation with our own attempts to keep the law, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, with our attempts to know God by mere human wisdom.
As to the law, he says, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3–4). This means that, although we could not please God by keeping the law’s demands, God enables us to please him, first, by condemning sin in us through the work of Jesus Christ and, then, by enabling us to live upright lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.
As to wisdom, Paul writes, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).
The Power of God
This leads to the fourth reason why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, the matter he chiefly emphasizes in our text: The gospel is powerful. That is, it is not only good news, not only a matter of salvation, not only a way of salvation from God; it is also powerful enough to accomplish God’s purpose, which is to save us from sin’s pollution.
It is important to understand what is involved here, for it is easy to misconstrue Paul’s teaching. When Paul says that “the gospel … is the power of God for salvation,” he is not saying that the gospel is about God’s power, as if it were merely pointing us to a power beyond our own. Nor is Paul saying that the gospel is the source of a power we can get and use to save ourselves. Paul’s statement is not that the gospel is about God’s power or even a channel through which that power operates, but rather that the gospel is itself that power. That is, the gospel is powerful; it is the means by which God accomplishes salvation in those who are being saved.
Since Paul puts it this way, we are right to agree with John Calvin when he emphasizes that the gospel mentioned here is not merely the work done by God in Jesus Christ or the revelation to us of that work, but the actual “preaching” of the gospel “by word of mouth.” He means that it is in the actual preaching of the gospel that the power of God is demonstrated in the saving of men and women.
In the previous section I quoted what the King James Version calls “the foolishness of preaching” (1 Cor. 1:21), and since that is Paul’s own phrase, we can see it as proof that Paul was himself aware of how foolish the proclamation of the Christian message is if considered only from a human point of view. Some years ago I had the task of talking about “The Foolishness of Preaching” as one message of seven in a weekend conference on reformed theology. My address came after a break for lunch in the middle of what was a very long Saturday, and I began by saying that if there was anything more foolish than the foolishness of preaching, it was preaching about the foolishness of preaching after lunch on a day during which the listeners had already heard a number of other very distinguished preachers. It was a way of capturing what every preacher feels at one time or another as he rises to proclaim a message that to the natural mind is utter folly and that is as incapable of doing good in the hearers as preaching a message of moral reformation to the corpses in a cemetery—unless God works.
But that is just the point! God does work through the preaching of this gospel—not preaching for its own sake, but the faithful proclamation of God’s work of salvation for sinful men and women in Jesus Christ.
Let me say this another way since it is so important. We read in the first chapter of Acts that when the Lord Jesus Christ dispatched his disciples to the world with his gospel, he told them: “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (v. 8). Earlier they had been asking about the kingdom of God, no doubt thinking of an earthly, political kingdom, which they highly valued and hoped for. But Jesus’ reply pointed them to something far greater. His was a spiritual kingdom—not spiritual in the sense of being less than real, but a kingdom to be established in power by the very Spirit of God—and they were to be witnesses for him. Moreover, as they witnessed, the Holy Spirit, which was to come upon them, would bless their proclamation and lead many to faith.
And so it happened. Three thousand believed at Pentecost. Thousands more believed on other occasions.
So also today. The world does not understand this divine working, but it is nevertheless true that the most important thing happening in the world at any given time is the preaching of the gospel. For there the Spirit of God is at work. There men and women are delivered from the bondage of sin and set free spiritually. Lives are transformed—and it is all by God’s power. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “The thing to grasp is that the apostle is saying that he is not ashamed of the gospel, because it is of God’s mighty working. It is God himself doing this thing—not simply telling us about it: doing it, and doing it in this way, through the gospel.”
A Gospel for Everyone
The fifth reason why Paul was not ashamed of this gospel is that it is a gospel for everyone—“everyone who believes.” It is “first for the Jew” and then also “for the Gentile.”
Paul’s phrase “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” has led readers to think that he was saying something like “to the Jew above the Gentile” or “to the Jew simply because he is a Jew and therefore of greater importance than other people.” But, of course, this is not what Paul intends. In this text Paul means exactly the same thing Jesus meant when he told the woman of Samaria that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Both were speaking chronologically. Both meant that in the systematic disclosure of the gospel the Jews had occupied a first and important place. This was because, as Paul says later in Romans, theirs was “the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Jesus Christ …” (Rom. 9:3–5). No one can fully understand the gospel if he or she neglects this historical preparation for it.
But this does not mean that Paul is setting the Jew above the Gentile in this text or, as some would desire by contrast, that he is setting the Gentile above the Jew. On the contrary, Paul’s point is that the gospel is for Gentile and Jew alike. It is for everybody.
Why? Because it is the power of God, and God is no respecter of persons. If the gospel were of human power only, it would be limited by human interests and abilities. It would be for some and not others. It would be for the strong but not for the weak, or the weak but not for the strong. It would be for the intelligent but not the foolish, or the foolish but not the wise. It would be for the noble or the well-bred or the sensitive or the poor or the rich or whatever, to the exclusion of those who do not fit the categories. But this is not the way it is. The gospel is for everyone. John wrote, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, italics mine). At Pentecost Peter declared, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21; cf. Joel 2:32). Indeed, the Bible ends on this note: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take of the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17). (I have added italics to these passages to emphasize this important point.)
How can one be ashamed of a gospel which offers hope to the vilest, most desperate of men, as well as to the most respectable person? How can we be ashamed of anything so gloriously universal.
Salvation Revealed to Sinners
The sixth reason why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel is that God has revealed this way of salvation to us. The gospel would be wonderful even if God had not revealed it. But, of course, if he had not revealed it, we would not know of it and would be living with the same dreary outlook on life as the unsaved. But the gospel is revealed. Now we not only know about the Good News but are also enabled to proclaim God’s revelation.
And there is this, too: When Paul says that the gospel of God “is revealed,” he is saying that it is only by revelation that we can know it. It is not something we could ever have figured out for ourselves. How could we have invented such a thing? When human beings invent religion they either invent something that makes them self-righteous, imagining that they can save themselves by their own good works or wisdom—or they invent something that excuses their behavior so they can commit the evil they desire. In other words, they become either legalists or antinomians. The gospel produces neither. It does not produce legalists, because salvation is by the accomplishment of Christ, not the accomplishments of human beings.
Christians must always sing: “Nothing in my hand I bring, / Simply to thy cross I cling.” But at the same time, simply because they have been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ and have his Spirit within them, Christians inevitably strive for and actually achieve a level of practical righteousness of which the world cannot even dream.
A Righteousness from God
The seventh reason why Paul was not ashamed of the gospel is the one we considered most fully in the previous chapter, namely, that it concerns a righteousness from God, which is what we need. In ourselves we are not the least bit righteous. On the contrary, we are corrupted by sin and are in rebellion against God. To be saved from wrath we need a righteousness that is of God’s own nature, a righteousness that comes from God and fully satisfies God’s demands. This is what we have! It is why Paul can begin his exposition of the Good News in chapter 3 by declaring, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (v. 21). (As previously mentioned, this verse is a repetition of the thesis presented first in Romans 1:17.)
By Faith from First to Last
The eighth and final reason why the apostle Paul was not ashamed of the gospel is that the means by which this glorious gift becomes ours is faith, which means that salvation is accessible to “everyone who believes.”
What does Paul mean when he writes, ek pisteōs eis pistin (literally, “from faith to faith”)? Does he mean, as the New International Version seems to imply, “by faith entirely” (that is, “by faith from first to last”)? Does he mean “from the faith of the Old Testament to the faith of the New Testament” or, which may be almost the same thing, “from the faith of the Jew to the faith of the Gentile”? Does he mean “from weak faith to stronger faith,” the view apparently of John Calvin? In my opinion, the quotation from Habakkuk throws light on how the words ek pistẽs are to be taken. They mean “by faith”; that is, they concern “a righteousness that is by faith.” If this is so, if this is how the first “faith” should be taken, then, the meaning of the phrase is that the righteousness that is by faith (the first “faith”) is revealed to the perceiving faith of the believer (the second “faith”). This means that the gospel is revealed to you and is for you—if you will have it.
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