The Epistle to the Romans

By David Brown



I.—Authenticity of the Epistle.

That this Epistle is a genuine production of the Apostle Paul is beyond all dispute. It is admitted even by the most advanced critics of the negative or destructive school. If external evidence is required, it is certain that before the close of the first century it was quoted or referred to by Clement of Rome in his Letter to the Corinthian Church; by Justin Martyr in the middle and by Irenaeus before the close of the second century; in the precious Epistle of the Churches of Vienne and Lyons, as also by Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, in the third century; and recognised by all succeeding writers, both orthodox and heretical, as canonical Scripture. And so fully does internal evidence attest its genuineness, that it is impossible to have any rational doubt about it. On the doubt that has been thrown on the two last chapters, and the closing doxology, we need only refer the reader to the notes on those places.

II.—The Training of the Writer.

Nothing is more certain than that the future of every man is largely determined by the time, place, and circumstances of his birth. In the writer of this Epistle it was pre-eminently so. In fact, to this view of his whole destiny—as Divinely shaped out from the very day of his birth—he himself clearly alludes, in these remarkable words to the Galatians: "When it pleased God, who separated me, even from my mothers womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood" (Gal. i. 15, 16).

His birth-place was Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, an extensive region lying along the northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and stretching from Pamphylia on the west to the north-eastern extremity of that Sea, while northward it extended over the great mountain-mass of Taurus to Lycaonia. The western half of that region was called 'Cilicia the Rough,' from its mountainous character; the eastern half of it, from its level character, got the name of 'Cilicia the Flat' or 'the Plain.' In this eastern division lay Tarsus, but near its western border. The ancient inhabitants of this region were probably of Syrian descent; the Greek colonists date perhaps from the time of Alexander the Great, while the Romans stepped in only about a century before Christ, at first only to put down piracy, but eventually making themselves masters of the whole region. In its literary advantages, Tarsus,; says Strabo the geographer, excelled even Athens and Alexandria, Greek being the language of the educated classes. Well, then, might our apostle say he was "a citizen of no mean city" (Acts xxi. 39). The precise year of his birth is uncertain, but it was probably not many years later than that of our Lord. His father being a Roman citizen, that valuable privilege was to him a birthright (Acts xxi. 28), of which he availed himself once and again with dignified effect (Acts xvi. 37; xxi. 25-29). His father was a Pharisee, and as such he himself grew up (Acts xxiii. 6; Gal. i. 14; Phil. iii. 5). His family must have been in easy circumstances, since he was sent in early life to Jerusalem for his education, and there put under the best rabbinical training in the school of Gamaliel, "a doctor of the law, and had in reputation among all the people" (Acts v. 34), who, though of the strictest traditional type, shewed himself on one occasion a man of wisdom and moderation (Acts v. 34-40). How well he improved his educational opportunities appears from his own appeals long afterwards to his well-known Pharisaic rigidity (Acts xxii. 3, xxvi. 4, 5). The rabbins, having no pay, were all brought up to some trade, as indeed were the best families. That of Saul was tent-making (Acts xviii. 3)—most likely his father's business. And a lucrative business it was in Cilicia; for its goat's hair was much prized, being wrought into a coarse fabric (hence called Cilicium), which was used not only for tent-canvas, but for the outer coats of soldiers and sailors. During his stay among the churches which sprang up under his ministry, our apostle made noble use of this early attainment, "working with labour and travail night and day that he might not be chargeable to any of them" (i Thess. ii. 9; 2 Thess. iii. 8; Acts xx. 34; 1 Cor. iv. 12). His natural characteristics, so far as they can be gathered from his life and writings, seem to have been a masterful and versatile intellect, capable alike of profound thought and close reasoning, a rare combination of masculine courage and womanly tenderness, a combination too of impetuous zeal, sound discretion, and indomitable perseverance; in character straightforward and honest, and in the discharge of duty, as he understood it, such that he could say of his unconverted self, "as touching the righteousness that is in the law" he was "blameless" (Phil. iii. 6).

By the time that the great change came over him—probably in 37 or 38 A.D.—the progress of the Gospel was irritating to the utmost the powerful Sadducean ecclesiastics, to whose views the preaching of the resurrection, in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, was fatal; while the Pharisees were no less enraged at the reported preaching of Stephen, that Jesus of Nazareth would destroy the temple and change the customs that Moses delivered them (Acts vi. 14). To a young zealot like Saul, this would seem treason to the national religion; and when it was determined that Stephen should be stoned to death according to the law (Lev. xxiv. 16), he would readily accept the prominent part assigned him in that cruel mode of execution. With a thrilling simplicity this is mentioned as his post (Acts vii. 58), and alluded to many years after by himself, in evidence of his virulence then against the name of Jesus (Acts xxii. 20).

The facts of his conversion need not be repeated here. But it is with a marked emphasis that the historian says his persecuting rage against the Christians burned as fiercely as ever up to the very moment of the change: "And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest," etc. (Acts ix. 1). Critics, in order to blunt the force of this testimony to the suddenness of the change, imagine all manner of troubled thoughts, and better feelings, and doubts whether the saintly martyr Stephen might not have been right after all, which would help to prepare his spirit for the change. But even if the high-handed errand on which he was going to Damascus were not proof enough that his participation in the death of Stephen had only deepened his determination to stamp out the hated thing, his own affecting references to it once and again in after life ought to preclude all supposition of the least relenting up to the very last moment. For Damascus, accordingly, he sets out (a distance of 130 miles from Jerusalem), with ecclesiastical authority to hunt out the Christians there, "whether men or women, and bring them bound to Jerusalem." As he "came nigh to Damascus," we may fancy him revolving his plan of procedure, and flattering himself he would make a clean sweep of the Christian name, when "at mid-day, a light above the brightness of the sun"—rare brightness, surely, to dim the brightness of a noon-day sun in the East—" shone round about him," struck him to the ground, and blinded him. But far more astounding was the internal revolution, such that when referring to it nearly thirty years after, he cannot change one of the overpowering words which he heard from the heavens, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?: '—even the thrilling tenderness of the reduplication of his name not omitted. In a moment the conviction flashes upon him, 'Ah! the Christians I go to destroy are right after all. The Crucified is risen indeed, enthroned in glory, and Him it is I am persecuting! And He has spoken to me, His deadly enemy, and laid on me so tender an arrest, ere that bloody work of mine was begun! Henceforth I am His.' Soft as wax before the fire, he utters the plaintive but pregnant cry, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" In answer he is told that in the city whither he is going he shall learn all that. He enters the city, but "for three days he did neither eat nor drink" (took no regular meal; compare Acts xxvii. 33). But, O, what three days must these have been!—the great turning-point, as I believe, at once in his theological and spiritual history. All that rabbinical training in the sense of the Old Testament and the expected future of his nation, with all his confidence of Divine acceptance built upon it—where is it now? Gone, never to return! What self-abasement, what death of legal hope, what annihilation of all that had swelled his proud heart! But anon, what heart-breaking admiration of the grace that had arrested him, and what rising, kindling hope that there must be some purpose of love in it! What if it should be to "preach the faith which once I destroyed"? Can this, then, be the true key to the Old Testament? If so, to me henceforth it must be a new book. As a child at his alphabet, he will now open it with other eyes than ever before. Even already, gleams of a new light he seems to see in it. The whole traditional system of Jewish thought on the subject of religion, and the sense of the Old Testament, stands up before him only to disclose to him the fallacy of it all, while in place of it there rises—though as yet only in germ—something of that profound insight into the real import of the Old Testament, that masterful grasp of the great principles of the Divine economy, that deep spirituality, that vivid apprehension of man's lost state and the way of recovery, that power of subtle analysis of the various stages and phases of religious experience, that large philanthropy and burning zeal to spend and be spent for Christ, which mark all the writings, but pre-eminently this Epistle, of the chiefest of the apostles and greatest of men.

With what dread his entry into Damascus was awaited by the disciples, whom the tidings of his approach had reached, we see in devout Ananias, who, when ordered to visit one called Saul of Tarsus, shudders at the name. But what would be his amazement when told that already he was a disciple, and destined to bear that Name, so recently hated, "before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel "! They meet, and at the touch of Ananias the scales fall from the blind eyes; and after a few days' stay with the disciples—no longer terrified at his approach—"straightway he proclaimed Jesus, that He is the Son of God." Like some pent-up flood bursting all its banks, and rolling impetuously along, "Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is the Christ." But as this almost cost him his life, he escapes from the city as by a hair's-breadth, and retires into Arabia (Gal. i. 17)—for much needed repose after the intense strain which the great change must have given him, and the exhausting and hazardous work that immediately followed it; but even more, perhaps, for thorough study of the Scriptures with the new key to it he had now found. How long he stayed there is uncertain; but the "three years" of Gal. i. 18 probably fill up the whole period from his conversion to his first visit to Jerusalem as a Christian. The immediate object of this visit was to "make the acquaintance of Peter "(as the word in Gal. i. 18 means); but as the terror of his name still hung over the disciples there, Barnabas had to tell them the whole story of his conversion and subsequent preaching ere they could be satisfied that all was right. He now boldly resumed his powerful preaching among the Greek-speaking Jews, but his glorified Lord—who appeared to him while entranced in the temple—warned him to take speedy flight from the city, where a plot against his life had already been formed. To him it appeared incredible that they could resist the testimony of one who had so zealously done their bloody work against the Christians, till overpowered by resistless evidence of his error. To this the only answer was, "Depart, for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles "(Acts xxii. 17-21). So "the brethren brought him down to Caesarea and sent him forth to Tarsus "(ix. 30), his native home. There he was far from idle; for long after this we read that on his second missionary journey, "he went through Syria and Cilicia1 confirming the churches "(Acts xv. 41)—churches, no doubt, founded by himself at this time (compare ver. 23, and Gal. i. 22). Probably it was now, when he had to encounter the dangerous passes and impetuous rivers of the Taurus range of mountains, that he had some of those "journeyings often," and was "in perils of rivers and perils of robbers, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness," to which he refers in 2 Cor. xi. 26, 27.

But he was not to be allowed to stay too long out of public view, even in gathering converts and rearing little churches in those regions. He is wanted at Antioch, and the one man who seems to have taken the measure of his great qualities and foreseen his high destiny—himself unexpectedly drawn into work for Christ there, the marvellous success of which was proving too much for him—repairs to Tarsus in search of Saul as his fellow-worker, a sphere which developed his capacity for the still higher services awaiting him.

Antioch—already the Alexandria of the East, as the seat and centre of every kind of learning and culture—was now gaining to itself a new distinction. "They that were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen had gone everywhere preaching the word," but "to the Jews only. But some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene," thinking that what had proved glad tidings to Jews was no less needed by Gentiles, and ought to be as welcome to them—"when they came to Antioch, spake unto the Greeks.''2 And to their astonishment and joy, no doubt, "the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number of them believed and turned unto the Lord "(Acts xi. 19-21). Immediately the news flew to Jerusalem, and Barnabas, the man probably of all others at the metropolis of most weight for judgment and discretion, was despatched in order to inquire and report on so startling a novelty. With quick instinct—being "a good man and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith"—he at once "saw the grace of God" in these converts, "was glad, and exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord." And not only so, but, instead of returning to the capital to give in his report in person, he threw himself into this new field of labour, and under his hand "much people was added unto the Lord." He must therefore have Saul to help him, and on their return "it came to pass that even for a whole year they were gathered together with the church, and taught much people." And Antioch has become for ever memorable for this, that "the disciples were called CHRISTIANS first in Antioch."3 So robust was the Christianity of this first Gentile church, that on tidings reaching them of a great dearth that was reducing the poor Jewish converts at Jerusalem to straits, they raised a contribution for them and despatched it by the hands of Barnabas and Saul, thereby doing their best to soften their Jewish prejudices against Gentile converts.

But this brings us to the great events that marked out Saul of Tarsus as henceforth to be known as "Paul the apostle of Jesus Christ." The church at Antioch was rich in "prophets and teachers," of whom five are named in Acts xiii. 1. "While they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said"—no doubt by the mouth of one of those prophets—" Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. Then, when they had fasted and prayed, they laid their hands on them and sent them away." At Paphos, in the west end of the island of Cyprus, while they were preaching the Word of God before the Proconsul of the island, a Jewish sorcerer, under the spell of whose influence he seems to have come, "sought to turn aside the Proconsul from the faith; "whereupon the soul of our young missionary swelled, and a mighty power of the Spirit coming upon him, he uttered such a withering rebuke, and called down upon him such a blinding judgment, that not only was the Proconsul won to the faith, but now Barnabas sinks into the background; and PAUL—by which name we are now alone to know him—having his call to the apostleship so signally sealed, is henceforward the great figure on the historic canvas.

The subsequent events are well enough known. His First Missionary Journey—embracing, besides Cyprus, Perga in Pamphylia, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium at the foot of Mount Taurus, and two cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, with the return journey to all those places—was memorable, not only for the persecution which drove them from place to place for their lives, but for the glorious success of their work in "opening the door of faith to the Gentiles "of all those parts.

On their return to Antioch, this vigorous church of uncircumcised believers was no sooner cheered by the tidings brought them of so large an accession of Gentile converts, than they were troubled by emissaries from Judea, zealots for the law, who tried to persuade them that unless they submitted to circumcision after the manner of Moses, they had no share in the grace of the new covenant, and so could not be saved; and though Paul and Barnabas resolutely withstood them, it was determined, as the only way of settling the matter, to despatch those two trusted men, and certain others with them, to Jerusalem, that in a full conclave of "apostles and elders "the matter might be authoritatively set at rest. By the unanimous decision of this council the zealots were silenced, and a circular letter to the Gentile church "in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia," diffused rest and joy among all the uncircumcised believers, besides making still clearer to Paul and Barnabas the equal standing of Jew and Gentile in the common salvation.

To pursue our apostle's course further is unnecessary, so far as his preparation for so great a service to the Church of Christ in all ages as the writing of this priceless Epistle is concerned. We need only add that the missionary spirit burned too fervently in his bosom, and the words of his glorified Lord to Ananias concerning him—" Go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel; for I will shew him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake"—would ring too constantly in his ears to let him stay too long at Antioch, ministering to this or any one settled church. A Second Missionary Journey is proposed and carried out, and this time he is divinely ordered into Europe, there to break ground for his Master; and under his hand and his fellow-labourers', churches sprang up in Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, Corinth, and Ephesus, in the record of which one knows not whether most to wonder at the triumphant progress of those missionaries of the cross, or their heroic endurance of the life-and-death struggles at the cost of which their victories were achieved. With what affection our apostle followed those churches ever after, how constantly he held them up in prayer before Him who sent him, with what jealousy he watched their spiritual condition, and with what wisdom and tenderness he counselled them, is to be seen in the Epistles which he wrote to them, and which remain to the Church as a legacy of the Master for all time.

But Rome, for obvious reasons, would, we cannot doubt, be above all other places to be visited upon the heart of our vast-minded apostle. In fact he tells the Roman Christians, that but for unavoidable hindrances he would have come to them long before he addressed to them this Letter (i. 13). One of those hindrances, however, had at length been removed. Acting, as he ever did, on the principle of "not building on another man's foundation," and the whole region from which he was writing this letter being now evangelized, he could look forward with some good hope of at length being able to visit the Christians of the world's capital (xv. 23, 24). But meantime he will write to prepare them for his visit.

But had that been all his object in writing, we should not have had such a Letter as this; nor does the Epistle itself disclose anything in the condition of the Roman Christians to call forth its weighty contents. We are thrown back, then, upon the state of the apostle's own mind at the time when he wrote this letter, for the moving cause of its being written at all. We have seen how, from the outset of his "preaching Jesus, that He is the Son of God," and "confounding the Jews that dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is the Christ "(Acts ix. 20, 22), how his great work, until he came to Antioch, was to establish what he expresses in the first four verses of this Epistle—that Jesus is the predicted Messiah of the Old Testament Scriptures, "made of the seed of David according to the flesh," but at the same time "the Son of God." But at Antioch, the conversion of uncircumcised Gentiles to the faith of the Gospel raised a new question, Must all such "be circumcised, and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved "? With the quick instinct, as we have said, of Christian experience, rather than from any formed judgment upon the question, Barnabas, at once recognising the reality of the work at Antioch, regarded them, as a necessary consequence, as on a full equality with himself, as a Jewish believer, in "the grace of God." And so thoroughly of one mind with him was our apostle, that henceforth his life was spent in proclaiming, and his teaching mainly devoted to the establishment of, this great fundamental truth of the Gospel, that for Jew and Gentile alike there is but one way of salvation—by free grace, through faith in Jesus Christ.

At some times, of course, more than others, this truth, and the necessity of pressing it, would be borne in upon our apostle's spirit; and it would be vain to inquire what moved him at this particular time to lay down formally, and once for all, its great principles, its bearing on the position of the natural seed of Abraham in the Divine plan, and its proper practical issues. The only question of real interest is, Why was this done in a letter to the Roman Christians, rather than to any others? to which it may be enough to reply, that having already written to the Thessalonian, Galatian, and Corinthian churches, on matters pertaining to themselves, as his own children in the faith, it would seem both more fitting in itself that he should address this Letter to those whose conversion was instrumentally due to others, and more complimentary—if we may use such a word—to Christians honoured to witness for the Gospel in the great metropolis, to address to them this fullest and richest exhibition of the Gospel in all its theological, experimental, and practical bearings.

III.—When and where this Epistle was written.

We have the means of determining this with great precision from the Epistle itself, when compared with the Acts of the Apostles. Up to the date of it, the apostle had never been at Rome (chap. i. u, 13, 15). He was then on the eve of visiting Jerusalem, with a pecuniary contribution for its poor Jewish converts from the Gentile churches of Macedonia and Achaia, after which his purpose was to pay a visit to Rome, on his way to Spain (chap. xv. 23-28). Now this contribution we know that he carried with him from Corinth, at the close of his third visit to that city, which lasted for three months (Acts xx. 2, 3, xxiv. 17). Further, on this occasion there accompanied him from Corinth certain persons whose names are given by the historian of the Acts (chap. xx. 4), and four of these are expressly mentioned in our Epistle as being with our apostle when he wrote it—Timothy, Sosipater, Gaius, and Erastus (chap. xvi. 21, 23). Of these four, Gaius was an inhabitant of Corinth (1 Cor. i. 14), and Erastus was "the chamberlain (probably 'treasurer ') of the city" (Rom. xvi. 23), which city can hardly be other than Corinth. Finally, Phœbe—the bearer, as appears, of this Epistle—was a deaconess of the church at Cenchraea, which was the eastern port of Corinth itself (chap. xvi. 1). Putting these facts together, it is impossible to resist the conviction—in which all critics agree—that Corinith was the place from which the Epistle was written, and that it was despatched about the time of the visit above mentioned, probably in the early spring of the year A.D. 58.

IV.—Origin of the Roman Church.

That this church owed its origin to the Apostle Peter, and that he was its first bishop, though an ancient tradition and taught in the modern Church of Rome as a fact not to be doubted, is refuted by the clearest evidence, and is no longer maintained by intelligent and candid Romanists. If it were true, how could so important a circumstance have been passed by in silence by the historian of the Acts, not only in his account of Peter's labours, but when he came to relate our apostle's approach to the metropolis, the deputations of Roman "brethren" that came to meet him, and his two years' labours there? And how are we to understand the apostle's anxious desire to "have some fruit among them also, even as among other Gentiles" (chap. i. 13), consistently with his known principle "not to build on another man's foundation "(chap. xv. 20), if all the while he knew that they had had the apostle of the circumcision for their spiritual father, and that he may have been among them at that very time? And further, among the many salutations to persons certainly not remarkable among the churches, how is it that there is none to Peter; or, if we suppose it known that he was elsewhere at that particular time, how is it that in all the Epistles which our apostle afterwards wrote from Rome itself he makes no allusion to its having Peter for its spiritual father?

The same considerations render it all but certain that this church owed its origin to no apostle, nor even any prominent evangelist. But there can be no difficulty in understanding how the elements of a Christian church would soon spring up there. That a large number of Jews and heathen proselytes to the Jewish faith resided at this time in Rome, is known to all who are familiar with the classical and Jewish writers of that and the immediately subsequent periods; that numbers of these were at Jerusalem on the great day of Pentecost we know from Acts ii. 10; that the three thousand who were converted on that clay would include some of these, there can be little doubt; and that such, on their return to Rome, would tell the tidings to their relatives and friends, is equally certain. Besides, among the numerous visitors to the metropolis from all parts of the civilised world, there would doubtless be not a few who, having themselves felt the power of the Gospel, would be unable to keep it to themselves, and make it their business to spread the knowledge. of it among their friends and acquaintances. Nor are there wanting indications that, among those to whom the salutations of this Epistle are sent, some were among the earliest converts to the Christian faith; others of them—who had made the apostle's acquaintance elsewhere, and who, if not his own spiritual children, probably owed much to his ministrations—seem to have charged themselves with the duty of cherishing and furthering the work of the Lord in the capital. And thus it would seem that, up to the time of the apostle's arrival in Rome, the Christian community in the metropolis had been dependent on subordinate and casual agency for its existing condition when the apostle wrote* though aided, it may be, by occasional visits of preachers from the provinces. It is a mistake, we think, to suppose that it was in any such consolidated and organized condition as we should understand by the word church, when this letter was written. But it will not follow that living Christianity was in a less flourishing condition than in some other more fully organized churches to whom the apostle addressed Epistles. Those little peeps which the last chapter gives us into "the church that was in the house of Prisca and Aquila "(3-5), and "the brethren that were with the five," who are named in ver. 14, and "all the saints that were with other five," named in ver. 15, and the beautiful commendations of his "beloved Epasnetus, the first-fruits of Asia unto Christ," and of those "kinsmen of his, who were of note among the apostles, and were in Christ before him," and of those two women "who laboured much in the Lord," etc.—seem clearly to shew that they statedly met for worship in small knots, while yet the words, "Salute one another with a holy kiss" (ver. 16), shew—what indeed we could not doubt—that they regarded themselves as one community, had means of easy communication with each other, and had all the elements of what would soon become a solid and influential body, a body which indeed too soon overshadowed other churches.

V.—Was the Roman Church a Jewish or a Gentile Church?

This question has occasioned a great deal of unnecessary discussion. Certain it is that the apostle writes to them expressly as a Gentile church (chap. i. 13-15; xv. 15, 16); and though it is plain that there were Jewish Christians among them, and the whole argument of the Epistle presupposes a pretty intimate acquaintance on the part of his readers with the leading facts and principles of the Old Testament, this is sufficiently explained by supposing that the bulk of them had been Gentile proselytes to the Jewish faith before they embraced the Gospel, entering the pale of the Christian church through the gate of the ancient economy. Certainly, the names of nearly all to whom salutations are sent in the closing chapter are Gentile, not Jewish.

It remains only to speak briefly of—

VI.—The Plan and Character of this Epistle.

Of all the undoubted Epistles of our apostle this is the most elaborate, and at the same time perhaps the most glowing. It has just as much in common with a theological treatise as is consistent with the freedom and warmth of a real letter. Referring to the headings which we have prefixed to its successive sections, as best exhibiting the progress of the argument and the connection of its points, we here merely note that its first great topic is what may be termed the legal relation of man to God, as a violator of His holy law, whether as merely written on the heart, as in the case of the heathen, or, in the case of the chosen people, as further known by external Revelation; that it next treats of that legal relation as wholly reversed, through believing connection with the Lord Jesus Christ; and that its third and last great topic is the new life which accompanies this change of relation, embracing at once a blessedness and a consecration to God, which, rudimentally complete already, will open in the future world into the bliss of immediate and sinless fellowship with God. The bearing of these wonderful truths upon the condition and destiny of the chosen people, to which the apostle next comes, though it seems only the practical application of them to his kinsmen according to the flesh, is in some respects the deepest and most difficult part of the whole Epistle, carrying us directly to the eternal springs of grace to the guilty in the sovereign love and inscrutable purposes of God; after which, however, we are brought back to the historical platform of the visible Church, in the calling of the Gentiles, the preservation of a faithful Israelitish remnant amidst the general unbelief and fall of the nation, and the ultimate recovery of all Israel to constitute, with the Gentiles in the latter day, one Catholic Church of God upon earth. The remainder of the Epistle is devoted to sundry practical topics, winding up with salutations and outpourings of heart delightfully suggestive.

How shall we characterize this wonderful Epistle? Fragmentary answers to this question—or rather some things which may be accepted in lieu of an answer—have once and again forced themselves out in the course of our exposition, where its depths or its heights would not suffer us to be altogether silent. But we attempt not what cannot but fall below the feeling of every penetrating and reverential student. While all Scripture has stamped its impress indelibly on the Christian world, perhaps it is scarcely too much to say, that—apart from the Gospels—for all the precision and the strength which it possesses, and much of the spirituality and the fire which characterize it, the faith of Christendom in its best periods has been more indebted to this Epistle than to any other portion of the living oracles. It supplies, to a larger extent than most are aware of, both the bone and the marrow of the evangelical system, as handed down from the beginning, and as received in the living Church of every name. Its texture is so firm, its every vein so full, its very fibres and ligatures so fine and yet strong, that it requires not only to be again and again surveyed as a whole, and mastered in its primary ideas, but to be dissected in detail, and with unwearying patience studied in its minutest features, before we can be said to have done it justice. Not only every sentence teems with thought, but every clause; while in some places every word may be said either to suggest some weighty thought, or to indicate some deep emotion.

No wonder, then, that this Epistle has employed so many pens, critical, theological, experimental. If, half a century ago, the learned and laborious Fritzsche could say with truth that the interpreters of it were even then almost innumerable,4 and all kinds of pens have been employed on it since, it may be thought time now to rest content with what we possess. But the Word of the Lord is not so easily exhausted. Almost every interpreter has his own point of view, his own definite object, his own plan and mode of execution, which must necessarily occasion endless variety in the exhibition of one and the same truth, and by which alone his labours ought to be judged.

Every reader of the New Testament writes in his own unconstrained style, both of thought and of language. That of our apostle is, in all his Epistles, very marked. Not only does it differ from that of James and Peter, but more notably still from that of John. Between the style of these two great apostles, both in thought and in language, there is very much the same difference as we find in the writings of Aristotle and of Plato. The cast of the one style of mind is logical, that of the other intuitive. The one reaches its conclusions by a process of reasoning; the other comes at them by contemplation. The one proves them; the other apprehends them, sees them. Not that the one class of minds is destitute of the other faculty—far from it—but that each has its own predominant and characteristic element. In the two apostles we refer to, this is so very marked, that we may safely say that the First Epistle of John could not have been written by the Apostle Paul, nor the Epistle to the Romans by the Apostle John.

Two opposite errors are to be eschewed by the interpreter of this book of the New Testament. If the theological element absorb too much of his attention, he will be in danger of unconsciously forcing its teaching, or at least of substituting for the simplicity and freshness with which it is here given forth, the hardness and dryness of a mere system. But undue jealousy of system, and a morbid determination to make every passage speak for itself, irrespective of its bearings and connexions, leads but to laborious trifling; and, springing as it does from a lurking disbelief of the unity of Scripture, it only tends to aggravate that evil. At the same time, nothing is more difficult than, in such an Exposition, to give the due proportion to each of these elements, the exegetical and the theological. That he has fully succeeded in doing this, the present writer is far from pretending.' But if there is one feature of it more than another to which he would venture to claim attention, it is the rigidity with which the exegetical element is made throughout the basis of its doctrinal superstructure, and yet the richness and the definiteness of theological teaching which a strict exegesis is seen to yield, and which it is possible to divest to a large extent of its modern technicalities. Such as it is, it is offered in this Handbook with unfeigned diffidence, as the fruit of fond, unwearied, lifelong diggings in an exhaustless mine; and if it yield to those who make use of it but a small portion of what the study of this matchless Epistle has ministered to the writer, he will indeed be richly rewarded.



1) Though Syria, as the more important district, is always first mentioned, he doubtless began with his own region, Cilicia.

2) Not "Grecians," or "Greek-speaking Jews" (as our Authorised Version renders it), for to them they had been preaching ever since the day of Pentecost, but to the heathen "Greeks "of that city.

3) The form of the word "Christianoi "would seem to indicate that this name originated, not with themselves, but with those outside of them. And we take the explanation to be this, that "Christ "was so constantly upon the lips of the disciples and their preachers, that those whom they came in contact with talked of them as those 'Christ-people, 'or Christians.

4) Ad Romanos Episi, torn. i. p. 49.