Thomas Chalmers - Romans Lec. 3


ROMAN5, 1, 8—17. "First, 1 thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom Iserve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; making request if by any means now at length I might have a aA prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; that is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that often-times I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians, both to the wise and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the Gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."

IT does not require much in the way of exposition to set forth the meaning of these verses. Tht spiritual gift, mentioned in the 11th verse, is one of those gifts by the Holy Ghost, which the apostles had it in their power to transmit to their disciples- a power which seems to have signalized them above all the Christians of that period. Many could speak tongues and work miracles; but they could not make others either speak tongues or work miracles. The gifts themselves it was competent for them to have, but not the faculty of communicating them. This seems to have been the peculiar prerogative of apostles- which Simon Magus desired to have, but could not purchase. It was thus, perhaps, that an apostolical visit was necessary for the introduction of these powers into any church or congregation of Christians; and, if so, we would infer that the season of miracles must have passed away with those Christians, who had been in personal contact with, and were the immediate descendants of the apostles of our Lord. They left the gift of miracles behind them - but if they did not leave the power of transmitting this gift behind them, it might have disappeared with the dying away of all those men on whom they had actually laid their hands.
In the 14th verse, the phrase ‘ I am debtor,' may be turned into the phrase - I am bound or ‘I am under obligation, laid upon me by the duties of my office, to preach both to Greeks and IBarbarians, both to the wise and the unwise.' "Woe unto me if I preach not the Gospel" - a necessity is laid upon me.

The only other phrase that requires explanation, and about which indeed there is a difference of interpretation, is in the 17th verse - from faith to faith. There is one sense assigned to this expression, very consistent certainly with the general truth of the gospel - but which can scarcely be admitted in this place, save by that kind of hurried acquiescence, which is too often rendered on the part of those, who like no better way of disposing of a passage than to get over it easily. The righteousness of God is certainly that, in which He hath appointed us sinners to appear before Him; and which is the only righteousness that He will accept of at our hands, as our meritorious title to His favour and friendship. Now it is very true, that this righteousness becomes ours wholly by faith, that by faith it is received on our part, and by faith it is retained on our part; and that neither works before faith, nor works after it, have any part in our justification - and that, therefore, it is not by passing onwards from faith to works that we further the concern of our justifying righteousness before God; but only by holding fast the beginning of our confidence even unto the end, and not casting it away; and if there be any lack in our faith, perfecting that which is lacking therein - so that it may hold true of us, as it did of the primitive Christians, of whom it was recorded that their faith groweth exceedingly. And with these views in their mind, do some hold, that the righteousness of God being revealed from faith to faith, signifies that as it is made known and discerned at first in the act of our believing, so the revelation of it becomes more distinct and manifest, just as the faith becomes stronger - the things to be discerned being seen in greater brightness and evi- 8 dence, as the organ of discernment grows in clearness and power - not, so they, from faith unto works, but from faith to faith - marking what is very true, that our righteousness before God, regarded as the giver of a perfect and incommutable law, is wholly by faith.

Notwithstanding however of all the undoubted truth and principle which stand associated with this interpretation, we think that there are others more simple and obvious. Paul had already spoken of a transmission of faith from himself to those whom he was addressing, and of a constant mutual faith between himself and them; and he tells us elsewhere of faith coming by hearing, and asks how can people believe unless preachers be sent; and he announces his determination to preach the gospel to those who are in Rome also; and professes his own faith in the gospel, under the affirmation that he is not ashamed of it; and declares its great subject to be the righteousness of God, revealed, as some are disposed to understand it, from the faith of the preacher to the faith of the hearers. Others would have it to mean that this righteousness is revealed by the faithfulness of God, to the faith of men.

But to our mind the best interpretation is obtained by conjoining the term righteousness with the phrase in question. For therein is revealed, the righteousness of God from faith, to faith. We shall thus have revealed in the gospel the righteousness from of or by faith; and the gift of which is to faith. This is quite at one with the affirmation of a subsequent passage, that "the righteousness which is by faith of Jesus Christ is unto all and upon all that believe," or the righteousness which is by faith is unto those who have the faith. As it is written the righteous live, or hold that life which was forfeited under the law and is restored to them. under the gospel, by faith.

We now offer the following paraphrase.
‘First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is in the mouths of all. For God whom I serve with my whole heart, in the business that He has committed to me of forwarding His Son's gospel, can testify that I never cease to make mention of you in all my prayers - making request, if it now be possible in any way, that I may at length, after unlooked for delay, have with His will a prosperous journey to you at Rome. For I long to see you, that I may in person and as a sign of my apostleship, impart to you some gift of the Holy Ghost, in order to confirm your minds in the faith of this gospel. Or rather, that I may be comforted, as well as you be con firmed, by the exercises and the sympathies of our mutual faith. Now you must know, brethren, that it has been long my purpose to come to you, but have hitherto been prevented, that I might have some effects of my ministry among you also, even as among the other nations where I have laboured. I have not yet visited the seat of philosophy, nor come into contact with its refined and literary people. But I count myself as much bound to declare the gospel to Greeks, or to men of Attic cultivation and acquirement, as to rude and ignorant barbarians - as much to the learned in this world s wisdom, as to the unlearned. So that, as far as it lies with me, I am quite in readiness to preach the gospel even to you who are at Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ - and, in the work of declaring it, am as ready to face the contempt and the self-sufficiency of science, as to go round with it among those more docile and acquiescing tribes of our species, who have less of fancied wisdom in themselves with which to confront it. For it is the power of God unto the salvation of all who believe. It is that, which, however judged and despised as a weak instrument by the men of this world, it is that to which He, by His power, gives effect for the recovery of that life which all men had forfeited and lost by sin - and which can only be restored by a righteousness which. will do away the whole effect of this sin. Whoso ever believeth in the gospel shall be saved, by having this life rendered back to him, whether he be Jew or Greek. For the gospel makes known the righteousness appointed by God - a righteousness by faith, and which is unto all who have faith - as it is written that the righteous, and those only are those who have that righteousness which God will accept, have it unto spiritual life here and unto eternal life hereafter by faith.'
It will not be our general practice to embarrass you with many interpretations of the same passage; and we do it at present, only for the purpose of ushering in the following observation. There do occur a few ambiguous phrases in Scripture; and this is quite consistent with such a state of revelation there, as that the great and essential truths which are unto salvation shall stand as clearly and as legibly on the face of the evangelical record, as if written with a sun-beam. And whereas there may enter into your minds a feeling of insecurity, when you behold men of scholarship at variance about the meaning of one of those doubtful expressions, we call you to remark how much the controversy between them, is, in many instances, restricted merely to what the subject of the expression is, and not to what the doctrine of the Bible is upon that subject.

Thus controversialists may all be at one about the scriptural doctrine on every given topic, though they may not be at one as to the question - what is the topic which in this particular clause is here adverted to. The first class of interpreters, about the meaning of the ambiguous phrase in the 17th verse of this chapters may think that it relates to the doctrine of our justification being wholly of faith; and that it retains this as its alone footing, throughout the whole course of an advanced Christian, as he makes progress both in faith and in the works of righteousness; and they may not think that it relates to the topic assigned, either by the second or third class of interpreters; and yet they may be entirely at one with both, in the judgment and understanding they have on each of the topics - concurring with the second in the general truth that a frequent and established way for the propagation of faith in the world, is by its passing from him who speaks to him who listens, and who in the act of listening becomes a believer - and concurring also with the third in their general principle, that the righteousness appointed by God for a sinner to appear in His presence, is constituted, not by working but by believing, and that it is transferred as a possession unto all who believe.

They, one and all of them, may have the same mind upon the same topics - because shone upon in the same way, by the light of many other express and undoubted testimonies about these topics, which lie up and down in the Bible; and the only question of disputation between them may be, which of these particular topics happens to be the theme of the apostle in the passage before us - a very subordinate question, you will observe, to that more vital and essential one, which relates to the meaning of an article of faith - a question about which there may be varieties of sentiment among men, who are substantially at one in all that relates to the doctrines of Christianity. And we think that it ought to quell your apprehensions, and to reduce the estimate you may have previously made of those controversies among good men, which some would represent as quite endless and inextricable, when you are thus made to understand, that, in a very great number of cases they refer, not to what the whole amount of the Bible testimony is about this one or that other portion of the theological creed - hut to what the jositiou is which is specially taken or adverted to in some of the incidental or sub-ordinate passages.

There is nothing to alarm or to unsettle in those lesser diversities which we are now alluding to. Nay it ought rather to establish your confidence, when you see that these diversities are held by the very men who hold the great principles of Christianity in common - by men who, in thus dissenting from each other on particular passages, evince that to each of them there belongs the habit of independent thinking - and who thus stamp the value of so many distinct and independent testimonies, on those great doctrines which they have received from the light of many passages, and by which they are united in the profession of one Faith and one Lord and one Baptism.

A controversy about the doctrine of a particular passage is one thing. A controversy about the truth of a particular doctrine is another. The one implies a difference of understanding, about the sense of one passage. The other may imply a difference of understanding, about the general voice and testimony of Scripture as made up of many passages.

Let us now pass on from our exposition of the meaning of words, to our application of the matter that is conveyed by them. And here we have only time to advert to the affection and the strenuousness with which the apostolic mind of Paul gave itself up to apostolic business - how he rebukes by his example those who make the work of winning souls to Christ a light and superficial concern - how his whole man seems to have been engrossed by it - making it a matter of gratitude when he heard of its prosperity - making it a matter of prayer when he desired its furtherance - making it a matter of active personal exertion when it required his presence or his labour. To this work he gave himself wholly; and, by adding prayer to the ministry of the word, teaches us how much the effect of this ministry is due to those special infiuences, which are called down from Heaven by the urgency of special applications sent up from believers in the world. There is one trait of his mind, which frequently breaks out in his communications with his own converts. He is sometimes obliged to affirm his apostolic superiority over them, or to say something which implies it.

But it is evident how much he recoils from such an assumption; and how it sets him to the expressions and the expedients of delicacy, with a view to soften the disparity between himself and his disciples; and how he likes to address them in the terms of equal and friendly companionship - dropping upon all possible occasions the character of the teacher in that of the fellow-Christian; and never feeling so comfortable in his intercourse with them, as when he places himself on the level of their common hopes and common sympathies and common infirmities. It is altogether, we apprehend, such a movement of humility on the part of Paul, that lies at the transition from the eleventh verse which signalizes him above the whole church, to the twelfth which brings him down to a participation of the same faith and the same comfort with them all.

We shall not at present, bring forth any remark on a phrase, which occurs frequently in this epistle, ‘the righteousness of God - for we shall have a freer and a fuller opportunity of doing so afterwards. But 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 present, who if Turkish armada were wafted on the wings of conquest to our shores, and the ensigns of Mahomet were proudly to wave over the fallen faith of our ancestors, and they were plied with all the devices of eastern cruelty to abjure the name of Christian, and do homage to the false prophet - there are individuals here, whose courage would bear them in triumph through such a scene of persecuting violence; 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 a formal and furious persecution, were brave enough to be a dying witness to the truth as it is in Jesus, crouches into all the timidity of silence under the omnipotency of fashion; and ashamed of the Saviour and His words, recoils in daily and familiar conversation from the avowals of a living witness for His name. 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 statnps 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 would do all and say all in the name of Jesus - he who, in obedience to his Bible, would season with grace and with that which is to the use of edifying the whole tenor of his communications - he, in short, 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, without shrinking and without shame, 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.

And let it be remarked too, that, in becoming a Christian now, the same transition is to be made from one style of sentiment to another, which was made by the apostle. It is as much the effort of nature, as it ever was of a corrupt and ignorant Judaism, to seek to establish a righteousness of its own; and, in passing from a state of nature to that of grace, there must still be a renouncing of that riohteousness, and a transference of our trust and of our entire dependence to another.
Now, in the act of making that passage, there is also the very same encounter with this world's ridicule and observation, which the apostle had to brave; and which, on the strength of right and resolute principle, the apostle overcame. The man who hopes to get to heaven by a good life, and who professes himself to be secure on the strength of his many virtues and his many decencies, and who dislikes both the mystery and the seriousness which stand associated with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone - such a man has no more Christianity, than what he may easily and familiarly show - and in sporting such sentiments, even among the most giddy and unthinking of this world's generations, he will neither disgrace himself by singularity, nor be resisted as the author of any invasion whatever on time general style and spirit of this world's companies. But should he pass from this condition, which is neither more nor less than that of a Pharisee in disguise; and, struck by a sense of spiritual nakedness, flee for refuge to another righteousness than his own; and seek for justification by faith; a privilege which is rendered to faith ; and profess now, that he hopes to get to heaven by the obedience unto death which has been rendered for him by the great Mediator - such a style of utterance as this, would serve greatly more to peeuliarize a man among the conversations of society - and these are the words of Christ of which he is greatly apt to be more ashamed.

A temptation meets him here, which no doubt met the apostle, when his Christianity first came to be known among those fellow-students who had been trained along with him at the feet of Gamaliel; and it is at that point when, for the Jewish principle of self-righteousness he adopts the evangelical principle of justification by faith - it is then that he becomes more an outcast than before, from the toleration and the sympathy of unconverted men.

Let the same consideration uphold such that up held the mind of the apostle. All that you possibly can do, for the purpose of substantiating a claim upon Heaven, is but the weakness of man, idly straining after a salvation which he will miss. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; and, however simple the expedient, the power and the promise of God are on the side of your obtaining salvation which will certainly be accomplished. The Syrian was affronted when told to dip himself in Jordan for the cure of his leprosy; and to many in like manner is it a subject of offence, when told to wash out their sins in the blood of the atonement - calling on the name of the Lord. But the same power which gave efficacy to the one expedient, gives efficacy to the other; and in such a way too, as to invest that method of salvation which looks meanness and foolishness to the natural eye - to invest it with the solemn venerable imposing character of God's asserted majesty, of God's proclaimed and vindicated righteousness.

And here let us remark the whole import of the term salvation. The power of God in this achievement of it was put forth in something more than in bowing down the Divinity upon our world, and there causing it to sustain the burden of the world's atonement - in something more than the conflicts of the garden or the agonies of the cross - in something more than the resurrection of the crucified Saviour from His tomb - in something more than the consequent expunging of every believer's name from the book of condemnation, and the inscribing of it in the book of life. There is a power put forth on the person of believers. There is the working of a mighty power to usward who believe. There is the achievement of a spiritual resurrection upon every one of them. By the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, the power of which is applied to every soul that has faith, there is a cleansing of that soul from its moral and spiritual leprosy. And hence a connection between two things, which to the world's eye looks incomprehensible - a connection between faith, which it might be feared would have led to indolent security on the one hand, and a most thorough substantial pervading reformation of heart and conduct on the other. The expedient does not appear a likely one to the eye of nature. But the power of God stamps an efficacy upon it; and He has multiplied in ahh ages of the church the living examples of marked and illustrious virtue in the person of believers; and has held them forth to the world as trophies of the power of the gospel; and has put to silence the gainsayers; and afforded matter of glory to the friends of the truth; and upheld them in the principle and purpose not to be ashamed of it.
We conclude with that awful denunciation of the Saviour. "He who is ashamed of me before this evil and adulterous generation, of him will I be ashamed before my holy angels." In the last clause ‘the just shall live by faith" - we are apt to conceive of justice as a personal and inherent attribute. In the original, the term for just has the same root with the term for righteousness - and this strengthens our impression of the true meaning here, which is, that they who are righteous with the righteousness of God, mentioned in the same verse, and who in virtue of being so have a title and a security for life, hold that life by faith.

Go To Lecture 4
Go Back to Index

Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Interests | Links | Quotes | Photo-Wallet