I fear the following brief opening up of the structure of the Epistle to the Romans will be very dry; and, with a view to edification, I should prefer to add more by way of application to the heart and conscience. At present that is not possible; yet I think what I may be able to give on the structure of the Epistle, with some passing remarks, may supply materials to those who study the word for their own edification through grace, with the ever-needed but ever-ready help of the Spirit of God. I think I shall be able to set out the structure of the Epistle more perfectly than I have ever myself done it, though latterly I have often partially referred to it in oral teaching. And, first, this is the structure as a scheme: chapters 1:1-17; 1:18 to 3:20; 3:21 to 5:11; 5:12 to chap. 8; chaps. 9 to 11; chap. 12 to the end.
The first 17 verses are an introduction: only the writer states the subject of the gospel, Christ accomplishment of promises and Son of God in power.
Then comes the ground on which the righteousness of God therein mentioned has had to be revealed, namely, that the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness. Then follows the demonstration of the sin of both these classes. This second part begins with chapter 1:18, and ends with verse 20 of chapter 3, whereupon the apostle returns to the unfolding the righteousness of God. Chapter 1:18 is the thesis of the part I now refer to, the rest is the carrying out of the proof: chapter 1:19, to the end of chapter 1 as to the heathen in general; chapter 2:1-16 as to moralists especially, such as philosophers, but whoever they may be; verse 17 to the end of the chapter, the two: only that there is introduced in connection with the hypocritical judgment of the moralist the sure judgment of God to those without law, and those under law. It is the reality of this judgment, and the immutability of God’s estimate of good and evil, which introduces the judgment of the Jew (verses 11, 17-29). Did this set aside the advantages of the Jews? In no wise. They had many, specially the possession of the oracles of God. The apostle now therefore takes them up upon the ground, not of God’s true and righteous judgment of men’s hearts and acts in the day of judgment, when all will be brought to light, and God must have realities; but on the ground of the revelation which they had, and in which they boasted, and, by a selection of passages from that, proves them, for that revelation was theirs and applied to them, utterly guilty; and thus every mouth was stopped, the Gentiles confessedly already, and now the Jews by their own scriptures which they boasted of as exclusively theirs. The world was guilty before God.
Verse 20 stands in a certain sense alone, and is a connecting link of what precedes with what follows, touching a subject which was an urgent one with the apostle. By the works of the law no flesh could be justified; for the law brought the knowledge of sin, not sins. Natural conscience often gave that, but of the state of sin in which men were. And that is what is described in the preceding verses quoted.
In verse 21 of chapter 3 we come to the remedy, the great revelation of the gospel. And first as to sins. Apart from law, which was the rule of man’s righteousness, God’s righteousness has been manifested, the law and prophets having borne witness to it. Hence, as apart from law, and being God’s, universal in its character, God’s righteousness to all—Jew or Gentile; and upon all those that believe, for it is the righteousness of God by faith in Christ Jesus. It is dia pisteos eis pantas, by faith to all; epi pantas tons pisteuontas, on all who believe consequently. All who return take up God again in grace by Jesus Christ, for all have sinned. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Him. God has set Him forth as a mercy-seat through faith in His blood. We have redemption, or here ransom, justification of the believer freely by God’s grace, but through the ransom of redemption and so righteously, and God is approached at a mercy-seat; that is, blood-shedding on the throne of judgment according to the holiness and righteousness of God. God is approached according to this perfectness as well as man delivered. This is through blood. It has a double aspect. It proves God’s righteousness in the remission of Old Testament sins, when He had shewn forbearance. It is divine righteousness itself declared now, as fully just and justifying him that believes, so that he is in righteousness before God. Thus a man is justified by faith without work of law, and God is the God of the Gentile as well as of the Jew. He justifies the Jew on the principle of faith; and, if the Gentile has faith, he is justified through it. Law is established thus. It convicts him who is under it of guilt, and is given all its force too in this respect, and its claims are met by the blood of Christ. This then reveals justification by blood for those who have sinned. He has closed with Gentiles and law.
But what of Abraham, the root of promise (chap. 4)? He believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. How does a simple narrative provide, because of an eternal Spirit, the deepest principles of truth for all ages! And this David confirms, shewing the blessedness of the man whose iniquities are forgiven, whose sins are covered. As regards then not imputing sin, forgiving, and imputing righteousness are all the same, for actual sins are in question, judicially in question. It is not holding a man to be innocent, but the non-imputation of what he has done; he is judicially held to have no charge against him, he is justified or accounted righteous. It is added from Abraham’s case that it comes on Gentiles as on Jews, for Abraham was uncircumcised when he got it; and he got it by the power of resurrection, believing in God’s power to accomplish it, as we by believing that He has done so. Thus the resurrection of Christ, God’s raising Him out of the place where He had gone because of offences, as satisfied as to those offences, and bringing Him into a wholly new place where He was accepted. And as it was all done for us, we say He was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification. All this applies Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection to our sins. Only, having suffered for them, He came into a new place.
Chapter 5:1-11 gives the glorious conclusion and consequences of Christ’s dying for our sins and rising again: peace, present favour, hope of glory. Our complete actual place before God. But we glory in tribulations also on the way, because of patience and its fruits; and we have the key to all in God’s love shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given to us. The perfect ground of this is there stated, and the conclusions drawn to our security in that love. Nor that alone, we glory in God Himself through Christ, by whom we have received this perfect reconciliation with Him. Verse 11 closes the whole subject of our reconciliation by Christ’s death and resurrection. God has cleared us, commended His love to us, so that we joy in Him; and all that He does by the way is only a means of blessing.
The whole question of our actual guilt has been settled, but our state has not been touched. The apostle shews that it was not a mere question of law but of sin, and so applied to man and not merely to the Jew; for sin was there from Adam to Moses, when law was not, and death proved it. Thus the rest is traced up to Adam, and it is shewn that grace must be of as wide an application; and Christ refers to all, to Gentile as well as to Jew. Chapters 3:20 to 5:11, inclusive, treat then the question of sins; chapters 5:12 to the end of chapter 8 that of sin, and our condition through the disobedience of Adam and the obedience of Christ. If it be a question of sins, each has his own; if of sin, we are all one lump. This is the ground taken from chapter 5:12, though of course the sins come in as fruit. Hence justification is not seen as justification from sins but sin, and our living place in Christ— “justification of life.” We are constituted righteous, and it goes to a fuller presentation even of this truth: “There is no condemnation.” Nothing of the sort can apply to one who is in Christ.
Thus though God is not so fully presented in sovereign grace, our state before God is much more fully entered into, and that connected with death, life, obedience and connection with Christ. This flows on from the consideration of the common objection of flesh. If by the obedience of One I am constituted righteous, no matter what I do! I may live on in sin! But this obedience was unto death; by my public profession of Christianity I have gone down to death, been planted together in the likeness of death. If, as alive through Adam, I have taken my place in death, where Christ’s perfect obedience for me was, I cannot live on in that life. A dead man cannot continue in sin, nor can he be charged with sin. A dead man cannot be said to have lusts or will. Here then Christ is looked at as having died, not for our sins, but to sin. Our old man crucified with Him, that henceforth we should not serve sin. The believer is to reckon himself dead consequently to sin, and alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This, let me remark in passing, has a very full character; for Christ in the sense of personal walk and perfectness always lived to God; but while down here had always to deal with sin, to be tempted, to be exercised in obedience, and keep His feet from the paths of the destroyer; and, finally, knowing no sin, to be made sin for us. All testing and trial only brought out His perfectness; still He had to do with it, live above it, not let in what would have been sin and disobedience, or want of absolute obedience. Blessed be God, we know He did not and could not fail; nor was there the smallest answer or movement in Him to answer to incessant temptations from without; but He lived in the sphere in which He was moving, as the air around Him, and died to it. Now in that He lives, He lives to God. All that He had to do with sin in this world was to die to sin. He died and suffered rather than not accomplish absolute obedience to, and glorify, His Father. But now as man, God is the one sole object filling, satisfying, occupying the life in which He lives. There is no other object to claim its movements, no movements which turn towards anything else. “In that he liveth, he liveth unto God.”
So we reckon ourselves dead to sin as crucified with Him, and alive only to God—a wondrous word. Our old man is crucified with Him, for the destroying the body of sin; and if I am alive at all, it is through Jesus Christ our Lord, and so alive to God. Life has no other object nor produce of thought and feeling. Hence I have not to serve sin. He does not say continue in it (this supposes life of and from it, that is, pure flesh), but not to serve or submit to it as a master even: a different thing, and which more directly concerns the Christian. And I have a right to speak, for it shall not have dominion over me as if I was under law (in which case it would, even if I hated it), but under grace. Thus I am set free, and in a happy and good sense my own master. Whom am I going to serve, to whom yield myself? To God, and my members as instruments—that is, all they are now—of righteousness to God. It is an absolute yielding ourselves up to God. Blessed privilege! And here I get fruit; in the slavery of sin, none: only it ended in death (guilt and judgment are not the subject here, but state); but now I have fruit unto holiness; walking in obedient righteousness, I learn God, His ways; I have fruit in separatedness and affections of heart to Him. So Moses says, “If I have found grace in thy sight, shew me thy way, that I may know thee, and that I may find grace in thy sight.” There is added one word which brings all back to grace, lest living to God might be wrongfully reckoned to man. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” But it is a blessed thing to be allowed to yield ourselves to God: so did Jesus; so in His life are we privileged to do.
Chapter 7, as often studied and commented on, applies this principle of death to law. The law has power over a man as long as he lives. But we have died in Christ; the bond with our first husband, if we have been under law (and being born of God, without the knowledge of redemption, put us under it in spirit, a state described at the end of the chapter), is dissolved by our death, and we are to another, Christ raised from the dead. We have therefore, besides death and a new life, the bond of relationship in which we are, wholly to Christ and no longer to the law to which we have died.
The state of a soul knowing, as quickened, the spirituality of the law, consenting to it, and delighting in it, but unable to keep it, and looking for deliverance, is then described, and deliverance found to be in Christ. The natures still remain the same.
This state of deliverance by death and resurrection is then unfolded in chapter 8. The man is in Christ. No condemnation is therefore possible. Such is the result. He is in the place into which Christ’s perfect work has brought him, in that state in Him. The manner of the whole thing is then stated—its ground as to our status down here. The power of divine life in Christ Jesus, the raised One, in Him, now alive, who was dead, has set me free from the condition in which I stood, the law of sin and death under which I was in the first Adam. But I have died out of that, and am alive in Christ, and so freed from it. But this is not all. The law had the pretension to set me in righteousness, in a righteous place and standing before God; but it could not succeed. It was weak through the flesh, which was not subject to it, nor could be. The sin and flesh remained independent and unsubdued. But God has set us before Him. He has sent His own Son in the likeness of this sinful flesh (Himself sinless) and as a sacrifice for sin. Thus sin in the flesh was condemned perfectly and fully according to God (for there is no forgiveness of a nature), and He perfectly glorified as to it, but by death, in Christ’s dying; so that, while sin is righteously condemned, Christ died as regards the state in which He was in the likeness of it and had to say to it (though perfect Himself and as perfect) and we in Him. Thus, while the sin has been condemned, so that God has no more to say as to it, I have passed wholly out of the state in which I had to say to it, and was in it, before God, because I have died in Christ; while the efficacy of His sacrifice secures the glory of God and the putting away of sin.
A few words will give the close of this part of the epistle. The first eleven verses unfold this deliverance and the natures concerned in it, but with the additional truth of the presence of the Holy Ghost which gives power and liberty; the effect of this, not merely as life and resurrection, even of the body, already noted, but as leading, guiding, bearing, personally witness, first for that we are children and heirs, then for the joy that belongs to us, but this giving a divine yet human sense of the sorrow and bondage of corruption around us in which yet our bodies have a part. But this leads to sympathy and the expression by the Holy Ghost in us of the sense of this sorrow in a divine way. He who searches the hearts finds there the mind of the Spirit and the Holy Ghost Himself interceding in it. Such is our blessed place as regards present evil. Read “according to God.” We do not know what to ask for, but we express the need according to God, a groan sure to be heard. What a place as in us the Holy Ghost has here.
The rest of the chapter is the conclusion of all this part of the Epistle. If God be for us, who can be against us? For us as to gift, He has given His Son; for us as to justification, He justifies us; in us as to all the difficulties, nothing separates us from His love in Christ in them. They have been or are the scenes of His love. All difficulties are of the creature. His love is divine, yet has gone down to every depth and is exercised at the highest height. This is all the proper doctrine of the Epistle.
Chapters 9 to 11 meet the Jewish question and reconcile the doctrine of the difference between Jew and Gentile with the promises to the Jews. Chapter 9 shews that their own history forces them to accept the principle of sovereign grace, otherwise the Ishmaelites and Edomites must be admitted, and they would have been cut off because of the golden calf. God will use this sovereignty to bring in the Gentiles. Chapter 10 shews they stumbled at the stumbling-stone, and all had been predicted; chapter 11, that the stumbling was not final, but for the bringing in of the fulness of the Gentiles, and that, if the Gentiles did not continue in God’s goodness, they would be cut off and the Jews grafted in again.
The rest of the Epistle consists of detail of exhortation, founded on our offering ourselves up to God a living sacrifice to God, proving what His will is. The doctrine of the body comes out here; each is to fill up the measure of his own gift, and not to pretend to more. We have also the instruction as to Christ, that He was a minister of the circumcision (that is, to the Jews) for the truth of God to confirm promises (this is not law), and that the Gentiles should glorify God for His mercy; and, lastly, that the mystery now revealed was hidden in all the ages of time, and now made known to the nations by prophetic scriptures.