Verse 27. "To God only wise" - This comes in with great propriety. He alone who is the fountain of wisdom and knowledge, had all this mystery in himself; and he alone who knew the times, places, persons, and circumstances, could reveal the whole; and he has revealed all in such a way as not only to manifest his unsearchable wisdom, but also his infinite goodness: therefore, to him be glory for his wisdom in devising this most admirable plan; and his goodness in sending Christ Jesus to execute it; to Him, through Christ Jesus, be glory for ever! Because this plan is to last for ever; and is to have no issue but in eternal glory.
"Written to the Romans from Corinthus, &c." - That this epistle was written from Corinth is almost universally believed. That Phoebe was a deaconess of the Church at Cenchrea, we have seen in the first verse of this chapter; and that the epistle might have been sent by her to Rome is possible; but that she should have been the writer of the epistle, as this subscription states, egrafh dia foibhv, is false, for chap. xvi. 22 shows that Tertius was the writer, though by inserting the words and sent, we represent her rather as the carrier than the writer. This subscription, however, stands on very questionable grounds. It is wanting in almost all the ancient MSS.; and even of those which are more modern, few have it entirely, as in our common editions. It has already been noted that the subscriptions to the sacred books are of little or no authority, all having been added in latter times, and frequently by injudicious hands. The most ancient have simply To the Romans, or the Epistle to the Romans is finished. The word Amen was seldom added by the inspired writers, and here it is wanting in almost all the ancient MSS. As this was a word in frequent use in religious services, pious people would naturally employ it in finishing the reading or copying of this epistle, as they would thereby express their conviction of the truth of its contents, and their desire that the promises contained in it might be fulfilled to them and to the Church at large; and in this sense the word is not only harmless but useful. May the fullness of the Gentiles be brought in, and may all Israel be saved! This is treated of at large in this epistle; and to this prayer let every pious reader say AMEN! Often this word seems to be used as we use the word finis, i.e. the end. See the observations on this word at the end of the Gospel of John.
BEFORE I conclude this work, I shall beg leave to add several important observations, chiefly extracted from Dr. Taylor.
1. Paul, the apostle, writes to all the Christians at Rome, without distinction, as being called of Jesus Christ, beloved of God, called saints; as justified by faith and having peace with God; as standing in the grace of the Gospel, chap. v. 1, 2; as alive from the dead, chap. vi. 13, &c. He gives them various exhortations: Walk in newness of life. Let not sin reign in your mortal body. Yield yourselves unto God. chap. xii. 1, &c.: I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. chap. xiv. 10, 12: We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Every one of us shall give account of himself to God. chap. xiii. 11-14: It is high time to awake out of sleep; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness; let us not walk in rioting and drunkenness, in chambering and wantonness, in strife and envying; make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof. chap. viii. 13: For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; mellete apoqnhskein, ye shall hereafter die, meaning, in the world to come. But if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
2. The rites and ceremonies of the law of Moses were incorporated into the civil state of the Jews, and so might be considered as national and political usages. Now, as the Gospel did not interfere with or subvert any national polity upon earth, but left all men in all the several countries of the globe to live, in all things not sinful, according to the civil constitution under which it found them; so it left the Jews also at liberty to observe all the rites and injunctions of the law of Moses, considered as a part of the civil and political usages of the nation. And in this respect they remained in force so long as the Jews were a nation, having the temple, the token of God's presence and evidence among them. But when the temple was destroyed, and they were expelled from the land of Canaan, their polity was dissolved, and the Mosaic rites were quite laid aside. And as the time in which this happened was near when the epistle to the Hebrews was written, therefore the apostle saith: The first covenant, or Mosaical dispensation, was then decaying and waxing old, and ready to vanish away, Heb. viii. 13.
3. But though the Gospel was not in itself intended to unchurch the Jews, yet the Jews every where warmly opposed the preaching of it, though not for the same reasons. Some Jews opposed it totally, and rejected the whole Gospel as unnecessary, judging the Mosaical constitution, and their conformity to the law there delivered, completely sufficient for justification or salvation, without any farther provision made by the grace of God. These accounted Christ our Lord an impostor, and the Gospel a forgery; and therefore persecuted the apostles with the utmost assiduity and outrage, as deceivers who had no Divine mission. Such were the Jews who put Stephen to death, Acts 6, and 7. Such were they at Antioch, in Pisidia, who were filled with envy, and spake against the things that were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming, Acts xiii. 45, 50. Such were the Jews at Iconium, Acts xiv. 2, 19; at Thessalonica, Acts xvii. 5; at Corinth, Acts xviii. 5, 6, and in other places. And such a Jew was Paul himself before his conversion. He consented to the death of Stephen, made havoc of the Church, (Acts viii. 3,) and breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, Acts ix. 1; xxii. 4; xxvi. 9-11.
4. What Paul's principles, and those of the unbelieving Jews, were, we may learn if we observe that the first persecution raised against the apostles at Jerusalem was partly on account of their preaching through Jesus the resurrection from the dead, Acts iv. 1, 2. This gave great offense to the Sadducees; and partly because they openly affirmed that Jesus, whom the rulers of the Jews slew and hanged on a tree, was the Messiah, whom God had exalted to be a prince and a saviour. This disgusted all the council and senate of the Jews, Acts v. 21, 28-31. But with regard to these two particulars, the indignation of the Jews seems for some time abated, till the doctrine the apostles taught was better understood; and Stephen, in his dispute with some learned Jews, had suggested that the Gospel was intended to abrogate the Mosaical constitution, Acts vi. 9-15. This irritated the Jews afresh, especially the Pharisees, the strictest and most numerous sect among them. And Saul, one of that sect, (Acts xxvi. 5; xxiii. 6,) being then a young man, just come out of Gamaliel's school, having finished his studies in the law, and being fully persuaded that the Jewish dispensation was instituted by God, never to be altered, but to abide for ever, he really believed that Jesus and his followers were deceivers, and that it was his duty to oppose them, and to stand up courageously for God and his truth.
Thus he honestly followed the dictates of his own conscience. How far other unbelieving Jews were or were not upright in their opposition to the Gospel, God only knows; but their professed principles seem to be nearly the same. In short, they were for seizing on the inheritance, (Matt. xxi. 38,) and for engrossing all salvation and the favour of God to themselves.
The Jews they judged were the only people of God, and the Jewish nation the only true Church, out of which there was no salvation. No man could be in a state of acceptance with God without observing the law of Moses.
The works of the law, moral and ceremonial, must be performed in order to his being a member of God's Church and family, and having a right to future and eternal happiness. They expected the Messiah indeed and his kingdom; but not as if either had a reference to another world. The law, and a punctual observance of it, were the ground of their expectations in a future world. And as for the Messiah, they supposed his coming and kingdom related only to the temporal prosperity and grandeur of the Jewish nation, and the perpetual establishment of their law, by rescuing them out of the hands of the Gentile powers, who had greatly embarrassed and distressed their constitution. Thus they endeavoured to establish their own righteousness, (chap. x. 3,) salvation, or interest in God; an interest which they imagined for themselves, and which excluded men of all other nations, who they thought were in fact utterly excluded from the Divine favour and eternal life, as quite lost and hopeless. Against us Gentiles, they had the strongest prejudices, accounting us as perfectly vile, as nothing, as abandoned of God, only because we were not included in their peculiarity; while they imagined themselves to be vastly superior to us, and the only people beloved of God, purely on account of their external privileges and relation to God as the seed of Abraham; being circumcised, enjoying the law, the promises, and ordinances of worship, &c.
5. And this was another ground of their opposition to the Gospel when it was preached to the Gentiles. Indeed the apostles themselves, and the first Christians among the Jews, had for some time no notion of the Gospel's being preached to the Gentiles, till God in a vision convinced Pet. it was his will that it should, Acts x. 9-45. But the unbelieving Jews regarded the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, or the declaring that they were, upon their faith in Christ, pardoned and admitted into the Church of God, and to the hopes of eternal life, almost in the same manner as we should regard the preaching of the Gospel to brute creatures. They could not bear the thought that the Gentiles-any barbarous nations, should, only by faith, have an equal interest in God and the blessings of his covenant with themselves. They did not indeed deny the possibility of their being taken into the Church, and of obtaining salvation. But it must be only by their becoming Jews; they must first submit to the law, and yield obedience to its precepts and obligations, before they could be qualified objects of God's mercy. There was no grace, no part in the kingdom of God either here or hereafter, for a Gentile, unless he first became a Jew, and performed the works of the Mosaical law. By these sentiments they were led to do all they could to oppose the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, and became very bitter enemies to Paul, who was the apostle particularly selected and commissioned for that purpose. They could not allow the Gentiles to have any access to the privileges of God's Church and people, but through the door of the law; and to introduce them any other way was, not only to overthrow their law and peculiarity, but to deceive the Gentiles. Therefore they did all in their power to withstand the apostle, and to persuade the Gentiles every where that he was an odious impostor; that his Gospel was a forgery, destitute of Divine authority; that he proposed admitting them into the Church and covenant of God in a way which had no foundation in the declared will of God. Their law was the only Divine establishment, and obedience to it the only means to introduce them into the kingdom of God; and Paul could have no commission from heaven to teach otherwise, whatever he might pretend, or what miracles soever he might work. Of this sort of Jews the apostle speaks, 1 Thess. ii. 14-16.
Other Jews there were who believed the Gospel, and agreed that it ought to be preached to the Gentiles; but so that the Gentiles, at the same time they accepted the Gospel, were obliged to submit to the law of Moses in every part, otherwise they could not be saved or have any interest in the kingdom and covenant of God, Acts xv. 1. These taught that the Gospel was insufficient without the law. They differed from the forementioned Jews in that they embraced the faith of Jesus Christ; but agreed with them in this, that the law of Moses was to be in force for ever, and the observance of all its rituals absolutely necessary to a standing in the Church of God, and the hopes of eternal life. And for this reason they were upon pretty good terms with the unbelieving Jews, and avoided the persecution to which those who adhered to the pure and unmixed Gospel were exposed, Gal. vi. 12. These Jews, who were for joining law and Gospel together, were also great enemies to our apostle. He speaks of them, Philippians iii. 2, 3, &c.
6. Now against the mistakes of the infidel Jews the apostle thus argues in the epistle to the Romans: Jews, as well as Gentiles, have corrupted themselves, and are become obnoxious to the Divine wrath, and, if they repent not, will certainly fall under the wrath of God in the last day: consequently, as both are obnoxious to wrath, both must be indebted to grace and mercy for any favour shown them. The continuance of the Jews in the Church, as well as the admittance of the Gentiles into it, is wholly of grace; mere grace or favour. Upon which footing, the Gentiles must have as good a right to the blessings of God's covenant as the Jews themselves.
And why not? Is not God the creator and governor of the Gentiles, as well as of the Jews? And if both Jews and Gentiles have corrupted themselves by wicked works, it is impossible that either should have a right to the privileges of God's Church and people on account of WORKS, or obedience to the law of God, whether natural or revealed. It must be pure mercy, accepted by faith through Christ, or a persuasion of that mercy on their part, which gives that right. All must be indebted to grace. The works of the law never gave the Jews themselves a right to the privileges and promises of the covenant. Even Abraham himself, (the head of the nation, who was first taken into God's covenant, and from whom the Jews derive all their peculiar blessings and advantages,) was not justified by works of the law. It was free grace, or favour, which at once admitted him and his posterity into the covenant and Church of God. And that the grace of the Gospel actually extends to all mankind, appears from the universality of the resurrection; which is the effect of God's grace or favour in a Redeemer, and is the first and fundamental part of the new dispensation with regard to the gift of eternal life. For, as all were involved in death in consequence of Adam's sin, so shall all be restored to life at the last day in consequence of Christ's obedience; and therefore it is certain that all men actually have a share in the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. - Thus the apostle argues.
7. And we ought particularly to observe how he combats the engrossing temper of the Jews in his arguments. They could not engross all virtue to themselves, for they were as bad as other people; they could not engross God and his favour to themselves, for he was the governor and creator of Gentiles as well as Jews; they could not engross Abraham and the promise made to him to themselves, for he is the father of many nations, and the believing Gentiles are his seed as well as the Jews; they could not engross the resurrection, the necessary introduction to eternal life, to themselves, because it is known and allowed to be common to all mankind.
8. And he had good reason to be so large and particular in confuting the mistakes of the infidel Jews. For had their principles prevailed, the Gospel could not have maintained its ground. For if we must have performed the works of the law, before we could have been interested in the blessings of the covenant, then the Gospel would have lost its nature and force; for then it would not have been a motive to obedience, but the result of obedience; and we could have had no hope towards God prior to obedience. Therefore the apostle has done a singular and eminent piece of service to the Church of God, in asserting and demonstrating the free grace and covenant of God as a foundation to stand upon, prior to any obedience of ours, and as the grand spring and motive of obedience. This sets our interest in the covenant, or promise of God, upon a foundation very clear and solid.
9. To understand rightly the epistle to the Romans, it is farther necessary to observe, that the apostle considers mankind as obnoxious to the Divine wrath, and as standing before God, the Judge of all. Hence it is that he uses forensic or law terms, usual in Jewish courts: such as the LAW, RIGHTEOUSNESS or JUSTIFICATION, being JUSTIFIED, JUDGMENT to CONDEMNATION, JUSTIFICATION of LIFE, being made SINNERS, and being made RIGHTEOUS. These I take to be forensic or court terms; and the apostle by using them naturally leads our thoughts to suppose a court held, a judgment seat to be erected by the most high God, in the several cases whence he draws his arguments. For instance, chap. v. 12-20, he supposes Adam standing in the court of God after he had committed the first transgression; when the judgment passed upon him for his offense, came upon all men to condemnation; and when he and his posterity, by the favour and in the purpose of God, were again made righteous, or obtained the justification of life. Again, chap. iv. 1-18, he supposes Abraham standing before the bar of the supreme Judge; when, as an idolater, he might have been condemned, but through the pure mercy of God he was justified, pardoned, and taken into God's covenant, on account of his faith. He also supposes, chap. iii. 19-29, all mankind standing before the universal Judge, when Christ came into the world. At that time neither Jew nor Gentile could pretend to justification upon the foot of their own works of righteousness, having both corrupted themselves, and come short of the glory of God. But at that time both had righteousness or salvation prepared for them in a Redeemer; namely, the righteousness which results from the pure mercy or grace of God, the lawgiver and judge. And so both (instead of being destroyed) had admittance into the Church and covenant of God, by faith, in order to their eternal salvation.
10. But besides these three instances, in which he supposes a court to be held by the supreme Judge, there is a fourth to which he points, chap. ii. 1-17, and that is the final judgment, or the court which will be held in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ. And it is with regard to that future court of judicature that he argues chap. ii. 1-17. But in the other cases, whence he draws his arguments, he supposes the courts of judicature to be already held; and, consequently, argues in relation to the economy, constitution, or dispensation of things to this present world. This is very evident with regard to the court which he supposes to be held when our Lord came into the world, or when the Gospel constitution was erected in its full glory; for, speaking of the justification which mankind then obtained through the grace of God in Christ, he expressly confines that justification to the present time, chap. iii. 26, To demonstrate, I say, his righteousness, en tw nun kairw, at the PRESENT TIME. This plainly distinguishes the righteousness or salvation, which God then exhibited, from that righteousness or justification which he will vouchsafe in the day of judgment to pious and faithful souls.
11. Before the coming of our Lord, the peculiar kingdom of God was confined to the Jewish nation, and to such only of the heathens as were incorporated among them by becoming Jews, and observing the whole law of Moses. And the Jews firmly believed it would always continue in the same state.
But when our Lord came, the mystery of God, which had been concealed both from Jews and Gentiles, was revealed; namely, that the Gentiles also, even men of all nations, should be freely admitted into it. This was an act of great favour, considering the darkness, idolatry, and wickedness into which the heathen world was then sunk.
But God mercifully passed over their former sins; and our Lord commissioned his apostles, and particularly St. Paul, to promulge a general pardon; and to call or invite all who repented, and accepted of the grace, to all the blessings and privileges of his kingdom; confirming their interests in those blessings by pouring out the Holy Ghost upon them, in various miraculous gifts, or endowments, above the ordinary capacity of men.
This was a very evident seal to them (and to us too) of a title to the blessings of God's Kingdom and covenant, Gal. iii. 2-5.
And it had such an effect upon the Christian Jews at Jerusalem that, though they were at first greatly disgusted at Peter for treating the first uncircumcised Gentile converts as members of the kingdom of God, (Acts xi. 2, 3,) yet, when they heard that the Holy Ghost was fallen upon those converts, they were much surprised and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted (the benefit of) repentance unto (eternal) life; which, before this, they verily believed could not have been granted unto them without obedience to the law of Moses by being circumcised.
But the unbelieving Jews paid no regard to this or any other argument in favour of the uncircumcised Gentiles. The notion of admitting them into the kingdom and congregation of God, only upon faith in Christ, they opposed and persecuted every where with great zeal and bitterness. And it was not long before good impressions wore off, and old prejudices revived among even the believing Jews. Numbers of them very stiffly, and with much warmth and contention, endeavoured to persuade the Gentile converts that, except they were circumcised after the manner of Moses, they could not be saved, or admitted to the privileges of the kingdom of God and the hope of eternal life, Acts xv. 1, 2.
The Gentiles, even the most learned and wise amongst them, were wholly ignorant in the affair. They were perfect strangers to the Gospel scheme: they had no notion or expectation of being received into the kingdom and covenant of God, and could have no knowledge of it but what they received from some or other of the Jews: nor could they have any objection against it worth regarding but what came from that quarter. And the Jews had a considerable influence among them, having synagogues in most, if not all, the great towns in the empire, from the Euphrates, as far as Rome itself, which numbers of the Gentiles frequented, and so had received impressions in favour of the Jewish religion.
But had the Jewish notion prevailed, that no part of mankind could have any share in the blessings of God's covenant, the pardon of sins and the hope of eternal life, but only such as were circumcised and brought themselves under obligations to the whole law of Moses; had this notion prevailed, the extensive scheme of the Gospel would have been ruined, and the gracious design of freeing the Church from the embarrassments of the law of Moses would have been defeated. The Gospel, or glad tidings of salvation, must not only have been confined to the narrow limits of the Jewish peculiarity, and clogged with all the ceremonial observances belonging to it, which to the greatest part of mankind would have been either impracticable, or excessively incommodious, but, which is still worse, must have sunk and fallen with that peculiarity. Had the Gospel been built upon the foundation of the Jewish polity, it must have been destroyed when that was demolished, and the whole kingdom of God in the world would have been overthrown and extinct at the same time; and so all the noble principles it was intended to inspire, to animate and comfort our hearts, would have been lost; and all the light it was calculated to diffuse throughout the world would have been quite extinguished.
It was therefore the apostle's duty to vindicate and assert the truth of the Gospel which he was commissioned to preach to the Gentiles; and of very great consequence to prove that we Gentiles are called to be the children of God, and are interested in his covenant, and all the honours, blessings, and privileges of his family and kingdom here upon earth, only by faith in Christ, without coming under any obligations to the law of Moses, as such: which is the main drift and subject of this epistle.
12. It is worth notice that there is this difference in one respect between the gospels and epistles, namely, that our Lord, in the gospels, represents the doctrines and principles of the Christian religion chiefly in an absolute sense, or as they are in themselves: but, in the epistles, those doctrines and principles are chiefly considered in a relative view; as they respect partly the foregoing Jewish dispensation, and partly the future corruption of the Christian Church; but principally, as they respect the different state of Jews and heathens; showing how just, true, and necessary they are with reference to both, and directing and exhorting both to value them and to make a right use of them. This was absolutely necessary to a full explication of the Gospel, to guard it against all objections, and to give it a solid establishment in the world.
And we must not forget that in the epistle to the Romans, the Gospel is presented in this relative view, as adapted to the circumstances of us Gentiles, and obliging us to all virtue and piety.
13. Farther, we can neither duly value this epistle, nor be sensible how much we are indebted to the author of it, unless we make this sentiment familiar to our thoughts; namely, That St. Paul is the patron and defender of all that is by far the most valuable and important to us in the world, against the only opposition that could be made to our title and claim. Give me leave to explain this by an easy comparison. - A person, to me unknown, leaves me at his death 1000 ú. a-year: I myself can have no objection against the noble donative; and the good pleasure of the donor, who had an undoubted right to dispose of his own, may silence any of the caviller's surmises. But a person claiming, as heir at law, gives me the greatest uneasiness. He alleges the estate was entailed, and that he has a prior title, which renders the donation to me invalid. Here I want an able advocate to prove that his pretensions are ill grounded, and that my title is perfectly good and firm. St. Paul is that advocate: he argues, and strongly proves, that we, believing Gentiles, have a just and solid title to all the blessings of God's covenant; and effectually establishes us in possession of all the noble principles, motives, comfort, hope and joy of the Gospel.
The sum of what he demonstrates is comprehended in 1 Pet. ii. 8-10; They, the Jews, stumble, and lose their ancient honours and privileges; but ye, Gentiles, are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of heathenish