Great Texts of the Bible
Not Ashamed of the Gospel
I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.—Romans 1:16.
St. Paul is led to use this expression by an association of ideas which it is easy to trace. He is writing to a church, founded by other hands than his, founded, it would seem, some years before, but by no apostle or apostolic man. As befits an Apostle, he yearns to visit this church that he may impart to it some spiritual gift. He has desired to visit it long ere now; but again and again he has been hindered. He still hopes some day to carry out this purpose. For he has in his keeping a truth, which, as he believes, belongs by right to every human being, although as yet only a few members of the great human family have claimed it as their own. He, for his part, is, in his own words, a debtor until all rights are satisfied; and his creditors comprise the world. “I am a debtor,” he exclaims, “both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the philosophers and the unintelligent.” Therefore he must do what he may do, always and everywhere. Therefore he will add, “As much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome also.”
In Rome also! It might seem as if a word had escaped him which, even for an Apostle, had some magic power. For here, suddenly, his thought takes a new direction and a wider range. In Rome also! The little, half-organized Church disappears from view, and before the imagination of St. Paul there rises—indistinct, no doubt, but oppressively vast—the imperial form of the mistress of the world. And this vision of Rome, thus for the moment present to the Apostle’s mind, produces in it a momentary recoil; so that, like a man whose onward course has been sharply checked, he falls back to consider the resources at his disposal. He falls back upon himself, upon the faith that is in him, upon the Author and Object of that faith. There is a moment’s pause, and then he writes, “I am not ashamed.” If he were speaking he might almost seem to falter in his tone: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”
His restrained expression, “I am not ashamed,” is the stronger for its very moderation. It witnesses to the fixed purpose of his heart and attitude of his mind, whilst it suggests that he was well aware of all the temptations in Rome to being ashamed of it there.
The text forms the transition from the introduction to the theme of the Epistle. That theme is the Gospel, the power of God to the salvation of every one that believes. Its power lies not alone in the pure ethical truths it makes known, nor in the System of rewards and punishments with which its sanctions are enforced, but in the (δύναμις = dynamic) power of God’s clemency, righteousness, and holiness, as revealed in, and made effectual through, the Gospel. In the Gospel is embodied at once the Divine message and the Divine efficiency which saves every one that believes—whatever his rank or race, kindred or relation.
I. What is this Gospel of which St. Paul says he is not ashamed?
II. Why should he be ashamed of it?
III. Why is he not ashamed of it?
What is the Gospel?
1. If any of us, upon a certain morning in the spring of the year 58 a.d., had walked down the long street that led from the city of Corinth to the harbour of Lechæum, we might have witnessed a scene which looked common enough at the time to the loungers on the quays, but is full of interest now to us who understand all that if means. Beside one of the wharves a ship is lying, just on the point of sailing for Italy. The sailors are bustling about in obedience to the captain’s Orders, while the passengers are taking leave of their friends upon the shore. Of the various groups which are gathered there we have to do with only one. The central figure is a middle-aged woman, evidently one of the intending passengers. Around her are gathered several friends who have come down to the harbour to see her off. Among these is one man, little in stature and insignificant in his general appearance, but with a face that bears the marks of deep thought, of hard study, of resolute will. This man, as he bids farewell to the woman I have mentioned, draws from beneath his arm a bulky roll of manuscript, which he gives to her with careful instructions as to its proper delivery. And then the last farewells are said, the passengers step on board, the helmsman takes his place, the sails are hoisted, the vessel glides slowly from the shore, and soon is cutting her way across the fair Gulf of Corinth—the blue water curving upwards from her prow and falling off in snowy sheets of foam. I cannot tell you that vessel’s name; I cannot tell you what kind of general cargo she carried; but this I can say, she had a treasure on board more precious to the world than a shipload of the purest gold. For that little man with the striking face whom we saw standing on the quay was Paul, the great Apostle of the Gentiles; that woman to whom he spoke was Phœbe, the deaconess of the Church at Cenchrea and Paul’s sister in the Lord; while that roll of manuscript which Paul gave to Phœbe was the Epistle written from Corinth to the Church which was in Rome, an Epistle of such consummate importance to the future of Christianity that Renan is hardly exaggerating when he makes the startling statement that Phœbe, as she sailed away from Corinth, “carried beneath the folds of her robe the whole future of Christian theology.” The Apostle begins this great letter by sending his salutations to the Christians at Rome, and expressing his desire to preach the Gospel in their midst. He feels that the possession of the Gospel puts him under a positive obligation to preach it—making him a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians. What is this Gospel?1 [Note: J. C. Lambert.]
2. St. Paul has given to us in his own rapid way a summary statement, abbreviated to the very bone, and reduced to the barest elements, of what he meant by the Gospel. What is the irreducible minimum? The facts of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, as you will find written in the fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. So, then, to begin with, the Gospel is not a statement of principles, but a record of facts, things that have happened in this world of ours. But the least part of a fact is the visible part of it, and it is of no significance unless it has explanation; and so Paul goes on to bind up with the facts an explanation of them. The mere fact that Jesus, a young Nazarene, was executed is no more a gospel than the other one, that two brigands were crucified beside Him. But the fact that could be seen, plus the explanation which underlies and interprets it, turns the chronicle into a gospel, and the explanation begins with the name of the Sufferer; for if you want to understand His death you must understand who it was that died. His death is pathetic in all aspects, and very precious in many. But when we hear “Christ died according to the Scriptures,” the whole symbolism of the ancient ritual and all the glowing anticipations of the prophets rise up before us, and that death assumes an altogether different aspect. If we stop with “Jesus died,” then that death may be a beautiful example of heroism, a sweet, pathetic instance of innocent suffering, a conspicuous example of the world’s wages to the world’s teachers, but it is little more. If, however, we take St. Paul’s words upon our lips, “Brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached … how that Christ died, … according to the Scriptures,” the fact flashes up into solid beauty, and becomes the Gospel of our salvation. And the explanation goes on, “How that Christ died for our sins.” Now it is difficult to see in what intelligible sense the Death of Christ can be held to have been for, or on behalf of our sins—that is, that they may be swept away and we delivered from them—unless the atoning nature of His sacrifice for sins is admitted. The explanation goes on, “And that he was buried.” Why that trivial detail? Partly because it guarantees the fact of His Death, partly because of its bearing on the evidences of His Resurrection. “And that he rose from the dead according to the Scriptures.” Great fact, without which Christ is a shattered prop, and “ye are yet in your sins.”
3. And St. Paul was not alone in this construction of his message. We hear a great deal to-day about Pauline Christianity, with the implication, and sometimes with the assertion, that he was the inventor of what, for the sake of using a brief and easily intelligible term, may be called Evangelical Christianity. Now, it is a very illuminating thought for the reading of the New Testament that there are, roughly, three sets of teaching, the Pauline, Petrine, and Johannine, and you cannot find the distinctions between these three in any difference as to the fundamental contents of the Gospel; for if Paul rings out, “God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us,” Peter declares, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree,” and John, from his island solitude, sends across the waters the hymn of praise, “Unto him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” And so the proud declaration of the Apostle, which he dared not have ventured upon in the face of the acrid criticism he had to meet unless he had known he was perfectly sure of his ground, is natural and warranted—“Therefore, whether it were I or they, so we preach.”
Thus, as arising out of the historical facts, the Gospel becomes the presence of Christ in the soul. It is precisely this, and only this, that makes the Gospel to be for us a Gospel. It is the transcendent miracle of the power of the Cross. What is the crowning fact of Church History throughout these nineteen centuries? Is it not the unceasing stream of testimony of believers who have realized the redeeming and sanctifying power of Christ in their own lives? We meet with it in the great hymns of the Church, in its most spiritual thinkers, in the musings of its mystics, in the triumphant shout of its martyrs, in the battles of its reformers, and in the biographies of its saints. Everywhere it is the personal experience of the redeeming and conquering Christ. “Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father. When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers. Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.”
4. But above all else, it was for St. Paul, and it must be for us, the Gospel of the grace of God. It is God’s free gift of salvation. In this sense it was new, in this sense news and good news. The Gospel is still essentially new in its proclamation of the method of salvation by grace. All other messages had said, “Do this and live.” “Perform some ritual, make a pilgrimage, torture yourself, pay something, so shall you be saved.”
Dr. Sven Hedin, in recounting his recent travels in Tibet, speaks of coming to a Holy Mountain. Around this mountain pilgrims from remote parts of Asia were wearily trudging. When asked why they were doing this, the reply was that so they hoped to find salvation. Another traveller in the same region speaks of observing near a monastery a hole in a wall near the ground. Placed near it was a platter with some coarse food on it. Presently a shrivelled, gaunt hand was seen to be thrust out through the hole and the food taken. “Who lives down there?” asked the travellers. “Oh, a very holy man,” was the reply. “How long has he been in that dungeon?” “Twenty-five years.” “Has he ever been out?” “No.” “Will he ever come out?” “Not the he is carried out a dead man.” Ah! this is the universal heresy, the perennial error: that men can earn their salvation; pay for it; do something to merit it. And the Gospel comes in with its reversal of human imaginations, saying, “The gift of God is eternal life”; and that is news indeed.1 [Note: H. Windross.]
Why should he be Ashamed of it?
1. It was so insignificant. He had just written down the word Rome in his letter. Now that which impressed every subject of the Empire when his thoughts turned towards Rome, was its unrivalled grandeur. The very name of Rome was the symbol of magnificence and power. For Rome was the seat of empire; the city which had conquered and which ruled the world. Rome was the centre of society; she welcomed to her receptions all that was noble and wealthy and distinguished; all the year round her palaces were thronged by dependent kings and princes. Rome was the nurse and patroness of such learning and thought as was tolerated by the political jealousies of the Imperial age; the great days of Athens were already of the past; literature was too much of a courtier to take up its abode contentedly in a conquered province. Nay, Rome was, in a sense, a great religious centre too, or at least a great centre of the current religions. At that date, all that was spiritual, as well as all that was debased and superstitious and grotesque, found a place and a haunt in Rome; with magnificent impartiality, she smiled a welcome to all the truths and all the falsehoods that presented themselves at her gates. And the Gospel—how did it look when placed in juxtaposition with the greatness of Rome? Was it not, relatively to everything in the great capital, as far as the natural sense and judgment of man could pierce, poor and insignificant? The best informed, who deigned now and then to bestow a thought upon the morbid fancies of the Eastern world, could have distinguished in it only a rebellious offshoot from the most anti-social and detested religion in the Empire; it was itself an “exitiabilis superstitio”; and it had about it a touch of inconsequence and absurdity from which Judaism was free. The estimate which an average French Academician might be supposed to form of Quakerism is probably not unlike the estimate which approved itself to the most cultivated minds in Rome as due to the religion of St. Paul and St. John.
Paul’s word is alive to-day. Where is the word of Nero? Paul’s Gospel is as much as ever the power of God. The Rome of Nero we dig for to-day beneath its burial mounds. On the ruins of old Rome, the message which Paul preached has built a spiritual empire many times wider than the empire of the Cæsars. The obscure missionary who was led on foot through the Appian Gate among the throng of passengers, bound to a soldier of Nero’s army, has proved the mightier of the two; and who shall say to-day at Rome that Paul had any cause to be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ?1 [Note: J. O. Dykes.]
2. It was so unpopular. St. Paul was well aware that there were features of the Christian Creed, and those not outlying or accidental, but of its very core and essence, which were in the highest degree unwelcome to the non-Christian world. Less than this he cannot mean by such an expression as “the offence of the Cross”; or when he speaks of “Christ crucified” as being “foolishness” to the Greeks. How was this Gospel then to make its way to the hearts and convictions of men? How was this mysterious teaching—familiar enough to a generation which has learned from infancy to repeat the Creed of Christendom, but strange beyond all measure to the men who heard it from its first preachers in the towns and villages of heathendom—how was it to compass acceptance and victory? Between the means employed and the contemplated result there must be some kind of correspondence and proportion: what was the weapon by which the Gospel hoped to win the obedience of the world?
Why are people sometimes unwilling to own that which in their best moments they are convinced of? They know it is the truth, but shrink from saying so; they believe it is right, but they do not appear as its champions. Why? Well, perhaps it is an unpopular truth, perhaps there is a considerable body of social tradition against it; it would be very awkward to own it; it might bring them into collision with friends, possibly with relatives; there might be very unhappy divisions, social ostracism, and even keen and acute suffering. Or, what is worse to bear, there might be a widespread cynical smile on the face of society; to the general average they might appear almost as simpletons, or half-mad. It is certainly not the most agreeable thing to have people suspicious of your sanity, and suggesting that you must be the victim of some strange delusion. It must be admitted that there are many temptations to leave an unpopular truth unchampioned and even unowned, that is, to be ashamed of it. Such temptations as I have mentioned did, as a matter of fact, assail Paul. To become a Christian apostle meant national ostracism and family disruption. His own people looked upon him as an apostate from the faith of his fathers. We know how this brought upon him abuse and persecution. Willingness to own the new faith in the face of this meant courage of no mean order. “Thine own people are against thee,” it would be said. Still, he was not ashamed!1 [Note: T. R. Williams.]
If the cause of truth is to be carried to victory, it will be by men who will not be ashamed of it, whatever difficulty, or suffering, or disgrace it may bring. Reformers, at least, are not made of men who shrink from owning truth at a crisis. Any weakling can come along with the stream.
Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified,
And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.
Count me o’er earth’s chosen heroes,—they were souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonised for hurled the contumelious stone,
Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,
By one man’s plain truth to manhood and to God’s supreme design.
Lowell had such men as Paul in his mind when he sang those lines. And he tells their secret in the words, “Mastered by their faith divine.” If we want to know how men come to such heroism, we must remember that it is no question of their holding such and such a faith, but of their faith possessing and holding them.1 [Note: T. R. Williams.]
Lord Nelson refused to put on a cloak to cover up the stars on his uniform, though they made him a mark for the French sharpshooters. So let us refuse to hide our loyalty to Christ by the cloak of silence, even when by speaking we may become a mark for ridicule.
3. But there is also the natural reluctance to speak of one’s most intimate concerns. Those to whom the saving power of Christ’s Cross is most intimately certain, as being to them a matter of personal experience, cannot at once, and without difficulty, bring themselves to say much about it. We do not, any of us, readily talk about that which most nearly touches us. Men have no objection to talk politics in public, even when they feel strongly on political questions; and the reason is, because politics address themselves not to that which is exclusively personal, but only to those common sympathies and judgments which we share with some section of our countrymen. But no man will consent, if he can help it, to discuss his near relatives, or a family interest, in public. This is not because the details of private life do not interest other people; every one must know how very far this is from being true. It is because the feelings which they arouse in those concerned are too tender to bear exposure. And this motive operates not infrequently in the case of religion. Religion, even in its lower and more imperfect forms, twines itself round the heart like a family affection; it is throned in an inner sanctuary of the soul, the door of which is closed to all except a very few, if not indeed to everybody. Religion has its outward and visible side; its public acts of homage; its recognized obligations. But its real strength and empire is within; it is in regions where spiritual activity neither meets the eye nor commits itself to language. All to whom our Saviour is a real Being know that their souls have had, and have, relations with Him which belong to the most sacred moments of life. If we may employ a metaphor which Holy Scripture suggests, they hesitate to discuss these relations almost as naturally as a bride would shrink from taking the world into her confidence.
Often in exact proportion to the reality of a religious experience may be the difficulty of making it public property; and one of the most trying features in a man’s work may consist in his having to make a perfectly sincere proclamation of that which he knows to be true, after actual contact with it in the chambers of his own soul. Doubtless a nature so human and sympathetic as St. Paul’s would have felt this difficulty in its full force; yet we know how completely, how generously, he overcame it. In his large, self-forgetting charity, he has made his inmost life—its darkest as well as its brightest passages—the common heritage of the world. If he did not yield to the instinct which would have sealed his lips, this was because he knew that the Gospel of his Lord and Master was not really, like some family secret, a private matter. The Friend of his soul, Who knew its wants and weaknesses, Who had healed its diseases, Who was privy to its inmost confidence, was surely the true and much-needed Friend of every human being; and therefore no false reserve could persuade St. Paul to treat the Gospel as if it concerned himself alone, or to shrink from saying with the Psalmist, “Come near, and hearken, all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what he hath done for my soul.”1 [Note: H. P. Liddon.]
In St. Paul the personal has become the universal, and it has become somehow the universal pleading with each. If he speaks of himself, it is not that you may take note of him personally; it is that you may see in him what you can be and have and know; it is that you may feel through him who has known it something that is the common need and hope of humanity. The secret of St. Paul is that when he speaks of himself most directly, when he places himself in the very centre of the picture, he has entirely forgotten himself, he hardly knows that he exists or counts. “Not I, but Christ that dwelleth in me.”1 [Note: A. L. Lilley.]
Why is he not Ashamed of it?
1. Because, with all its seeming weakness, the Gospel is Power. The Apostle’s word is used to indicate inherent power in active operation. In the Gospel there is a certain force which is brought into exercise every time it is received—a force so great, so manifest in its effects, that it may be placed alongside those great natural forces in the world which modern science has made so vivid and real to our minds. We shall not err if we think of it as a force in the same sense as that in which science has revealed to us the great forces of nature. It is a principle operating in the world of human nature on a vast and continually enlarging scale, and taking effect in a countless number of individuals to their moral and spiritual betterment. In its own particular sphere of operation, it may be thought of in the same way as we think of a force like heat, or electricity, or gravitation, in its sphere. These are different and familiar forces, each with its own distinctive powers, capable of producing certain well-known effects. They are real forces with which we have to reckon, and which we can neither make nor unmake, mend nor mar. We may not understand everything about them; we may not be able to explain their origin, as we certainly are unable to produce them. They are there, and their powers are forces which we neglect at our peril. They testify to their existence, and to what they can do, by their effects. They are silent in their working, and, but for the effects produced, we could have no proof of their existence. A volcanic upheaval, an earthquake that changes the configuration of the countryside, a hurricane that flattens a forest, all work unseen, all are the outcome of hidden force, and are only made manifest in their effects. Such a force or power is the Gospel in a higher sphere. It is a force whose reality is demonstrated, not by the arguments of the theologian, but by what it does. Its proof is dynamical, not logical. It has proved itself in human experience as a power to arouse the conscience to bring it into activity and give it direction, to inspire devotion and reverence, and to kindle affection for what is pure and good, holy, and godlike.
We often observe, and are always impressed by, the various forms of power in nature, and in matter, in mind and in man. We see one of its forms in the gentle breeze and in the desolating cyclone. We see another in the noiseless current of the stream and the fury of the mountain torrent. We see yet another in the brightness of the lightning spark and the crashing of the thunderbolt. Physical science, moreover, has brought to our knowledge other great powers of nature. She has demonstrated the universal prevalence of gravitation in the material world. She has taught us the practical application of steam to the utilities of life—to travel, commerce, manufactures. Still more recently in the subtle forces of magnetism and electricity an agent has been found, capable of a wonderfully impulsive and beneficial influence upon the age. It not only wafts our messages across a continent or an ocean, in a moment, but yields us light so brilliant and powerful that night cannot abide in its presence. While for certain human maladies it proves itself a most effectual antidote.1 [Note: J. Little.]
Christianity is the religion of power. The Gospel is not primarily a system for the intellect, though it certainly does present a reasoned system for the intellect; it is not primarily an appeal to the emotions, though it certainly does appeal very touchingly to the emotions; it is first and foremost, as the Apostle said, “the power of God unto salvation.” The message it brings is a message of power, the gift it offers is a gift of power, the men it produces are men of power. And the Gospel of Jesus is the Gospel for this century just because to persons oppressed by the strain of rapidly changing conditions, harassed by forces which they cannot escape, and by passions which they cannot subdue, and by mysteries which they cannot resolve, it opens out an inexhaustible supply of life, of strength, of energy, of confidence, and of power.2 [Note: F. Homes Dudden, Christ and Christ’s Religion, 189.]
At a preaching-place in Japan not long ago, a young student who had formerly been an opponent of Christianity boldly stood forth and gave his testimony before the astonished crowd. He asked them how it was that such a change could have come over him as to make him a follower of Christ? And this was his own answer: “It is because the religion of Jesus is a religion of power. I studied earnestly the doctrines of Buddha and Confucius, but the more I studied the less peace I had. I had no power to carry out the teaching. In Christ we find truly the power to save men from sin.”1 [Note: C.M.S. Annual Report, 1899, p. 382.]
Ask the doctor what is his best help, who is his best nurse, what is his most certain medicine, and he will say, “Nature.” My dear doctor, spell it in one syllable. Say not nature, but God! For what is the difference between nature and God? The great fundamental truth is that we are environed by powers that are not our own. And I will not go to an orthodox authority, but I will ask Herbert Spencer to tell us what this power is in that famous definition of his: “Amid the mysteries which become the more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the absolute certainty that we are ever in the presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy from whom all things proceed.” What is this but the statement, in the language of modern philosophy, of the old Hebrew Psalmist’s declaration, Power belongeth unto God. And what is the result of all modern science but this: a skill to lay hold on this Power that is not our own, and to make it our own by obedience to its laws?2 [Note: Lyman Abbott.]
Who that one moment has the least descried him,
Dimly and faintly, hidden and afar,
Doth not despise all excellence beside him,
Pleasures and powers that are not and that are,—
Ay amid all men bear himself thereafter
Smit with a solemn and a sweet surprise,
Dumb to their scorn and turning to their laughter
Only the dominance of earnest eyes?3 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, St. Paul.]
2. Because it is the Power of God. The Gospel is a Divine power, the power “of God,” personally exerted, having its origin in God Himself, and with all His omnipotence behind it. It is not a mere vague impersonal force abstracted from its origin, a force which God has set agoing in the world and left to work itself out in accordance with its appointed mode of action. St. Paul conceives this power as essentially a mode of personal activity. In it is exerted the personal power of God; it is His own direct method of dealing with men, of conveying to them the knowledge of His truth and His love. Behind its proclamation is God’s own personal energy, working in it and permeating it through and through to make it effective for His purposes.
The Roman legions marching like a vital machine, resistless, invincible; driving their roads as arrows across the plains and over the mountains, neither marsh, nor river, nor forest diverting them from their track; bringing the whole known world into subjection to their single, central city—they represent power. In this proud city the spoils of the world were gathered. In its senate the destinies of nations were determined. Opulent, arrogant, exclusive, Rome was the proudest and most powerful centre of government the world has ever seen. Cæsar was the deified representative of imperial majesty and might. No one knew this better than Paul. In every region, in every city he visited, he saw and felt the might of Rome. He knew that when he went to the Mother City he would be in the very presence of the supreme expression of secular power. Yet, though he was poor, of weak bodily presence, though his doctrine was that of the Cross, he was nothing daunted. The reason was that the Gospel he preached was also a power. A power greater than Rome. It was the power of God.1 [Note: W. Pierce.]
In the physical domain itself, what is man’s power compared with the awful exhibitions of the power of God, the power that lies behind the hurricane, that rocks the mountains in the earthquake, that strikes with the lightning and speaks in the roar of the thunder? Napoleon, the last of the aspirants to universal empire built on physical force, when he marched his great army against Moscow, was not defeated by the Russians. The Muscovites burnt their city and withdrew. Then there appeared a different foe. General Winter came into the field and marshalled his forces, hail and snow, and the north wind. The French sentries in the morning were found standing white and frozen at their posts—like Lot’s wife—warning the Corsican to flee before the vengeance of the forces of nature. And all along the line of his retreat the elements carried on a guerilla warfare. From Moscow to the Baltic the track of the discomfited army was marked by the dead.
What does the Gospel possess that makes it a demonstration of the power of God? Two things especially.
(1) The first element of the dynamic content of the Gospel is the love of God. In this, salvation had its originating motive and cause. In this is the spring and source of the Gospel’s power on the human heart. The very conception of salvation originated in God’s love.
A missionary from India once told this story to a meeting at which I was present. She said, “I went with another missionary out into one of the Hindu villages to preach. It was a low-caste village, and the low-caste women were sitting on the ground. My sister began her sermon, and she said to them, “God is love, and God loves you.” One of the women asked, “What is love?” Just think of that, a woman asking what is love! The poor missionary turned to her friend and said, “What can I do when a woman does not know what love is?” And she replied, “Ask these mothers how they feel towards their children.” The preacher turned to one poor woman sitting there half-naked, rocking her half-naked baby in her arms, and said, “How do you feel towards your babies?” And the woman said, “I am a poor, low-caste woman, how can I tell how I feel towards my baby?” The missionary answered, “Oh yes, you can; you do know”; and the mother replied, “I do not know; I feel a kind of going out of my heart towards my baby.” “Yes,” said the missionary, “that is it, and God feels a kind of going out of His heart to you.” Is not that “good news?” You have come in here, out of sorrow, out of sin, out of a wrestling and tugging with life—is not this “good news” you can really take to your heart, that the Eternal and the Infinite has a kind of going out of His heart to you?1 [Note: Lyman Abbott.]
(2) The second element of the dynamic content of the Gospel is the righteousness of God which it reveals. Whenever men awaken to a consciousness of guilt, they wish to work out a righteousness of their own; they think they can accomplish it by keeping the law. We are taught in this Epistle and elsewhere that we cannot achieve this, but that another righteousness is needed and is provided. In the verse following the text, we are instructed that in the Gospel, “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” The righteousness of God does not here mean the moral rectitude which inheres in His nature as one of its attributes; it means the justifying righteousness which He bestows on every one who believes on His Son.
Ruskin says that the root of almost every heresy from which the Church of Rome has ever suffered has been the effort of man to earn, rather than to receive, his salvation. It is very humbling to have to owe everything to the mercy of God; we would fain have something of our own, to commend us to ourselves, if not to Him. Nothing can meet this need or melt our pride, save the persuasion that sinners though we are, God loves us; for at the hand of love we can accept what we have not earned. And this persuasion the Gospel works in the heart of those who with meekness receive it. When we yield ourselves to the influence of Jesus, and let the message He brings of the love of God be illumined for us by the life He lived, and the death He died, faith is born. The love of God is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Spirit.1 [Note: R. A. Lendrum.]
A quaint Scotch preacher said that the needle of the law opens the way for and carries the thread of the Gospel. I once quoted this saying in a tent-meeting and a hearer remarked to me afterwards: “Yes, you’re right; but the needle should be pulled out and not left behind.”2 [Note: H. G. Guinness.]
3. The third reason why the Apostle is not ashamed of the Gospel is because it is the power of God unto Salvation. This power of God is a power to work men’s deliverance, and that in the deepest sense. Roman emperors shortly after Paul’s time are commemorated in public inscriptions as “saviours of the world,” in the sense of maintaining peace and order. But the Gospel salvation is of a deeper sort. It is salvation from the bondage of sin, a salvation which enables men to be truly and eternally free, a salvation which implies, on the one hand, deliverance from sin and its consequences, and on the other, the communication of eternal life. The Gospel, that is to say, is not only a power, not only God’s power, but God’s power exerted to save men. Its mission in the world is unto salvation.
What is salvation? Negatively, the removal and sweeping away of all evil, physical and moral, as the Schools speak. Positively, the inclusion of all good for every part of the composite nature of a man which the man can receive and which God can bestow. And that is the task which the Gospel sets to itself.3 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
Our common phrase, “safe and sound,” is the best translation of the term salvation as the Apostle used it.
When we pass from the Psalms to the Epistles we are conscious of a change. We live in a larger world and come into contact with new ideas. What is the secret of the change? What is the master-thought of the Epistles? What is their characteristic, dominant, invariable note? Without going into any elaborate proof let us say that it is the experience of Christ in the sovereignty of His grace, the experience of His kingly illimitable power to save the soul, to save it to the uttermost, to expel all its usurpers root and branch, to break it down to penitence and surrender, and through conquering it to ennoble it for Himself for ever and to crown it with a perfect salvation. It Stands out in the great typical words—grace, holiness, power, joy, victory. The presence of Christ in the soul as its victorious Redeemer and its adorable King is the master-thought of the Epistles.1 [Note: W. Redfern.]
4. It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. This Gospel, which is God’s power unto salvation, St. Paul felt he could carry without discredit to Rome, because it requires only one condition, and that the simplest, for the exertion of its power. It saves “every one that believeth.” It is God’s power to save, on the simplest condition, all men, Jew or Greek, to save man as man without any social or national distinctions. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” There is one way of setting in motion the power that is unto salvation, and that is by believing the Gospel and its message.
The power which resides in a word, or which operates through a word, requires one (and no more than one) condition for its operation—it must be believed. Old Eli, bowed with the weight of years, sat in the city gate of Shiloh, when a message came to him which had in it a power of death. But if Eli had not believed the fatal tidings of that Benjamite who professed to report the disastrous issue of the day’s engagement, he would not have fallen dead in a fit by the side of the gate. The message which another Benjamite spoke at midnight to the Roman jailor had in it, on the contrary, a power of spiritual life. But if that jailor had not received Paul’s record of God concerning His Son, no life could have visited his rude, dark, heathen soul.2 [Note: J. O. Dykes.]
The power of God in His Gospel operates in a way different from His power in nature or on matter. The grace which provides and offers salvation to the fallen family of man, is not a physical but a moral power. God does not compel any one to accept His offer; to do so would destroy moral freedom. But physical forces always act necessarily and uniformly. There is no voluntariness in their operations. When, therefore, the power of the Gospel is brought to bear on the heart, we act freely, whether we accept or reject it. If the heart is receptive the Spirit of God accompanying the word produces faith and newness of life. If, on the other hand, the heart is cold and repellent, the same word produces unbelief and hardness of heart. Hence the same Gospel message is to one that hears it, “the savour of life unto life,” and to another, “the savour of death unto death.”
Matthew Arnold, in his once famous book on “Literature and Dogma,” describes the work of Jesus, in bringing in a new righteousness, as consisting especially in two things, which he calls the method and the secret of Jesus. But the method of Jesus he strangely misapprehends; for he gives no place to faith, but makes it consist altogether in repentance, in attention to conduct, in the keeping of the commandments. No doubt it is true that these things belong to our Lord’s method; but these are not the things which He puts first, and makes most prominent. Surely an unbiassed study of His words reveals to us that His essential method, the method of salvation which He constantly employs, is a living and personal faith in Himself. This, at all events, was the conviction of Paul; and it was this that helped to make him glory in the Gospel—its method was so gracious.1 [Note: J. C. Lambert.]
Often in our own time the Gospel has proved its undiminished power to save. It arrested the gentle and erudite Thomas Bilney of Cambridge when in 1517 he read the Greek Testament of Erasmus. So truly did it win the young scholar for Christ that he became one of the most zealous reformers of England, and one of the first martyrs of the sixteenth century. It was the sublime words of the Gospel truth, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal and invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever,” entering the stately mind of young Jonathan Edwards, that turned him from darkness to light, and from sin to the service of God. It was the same power of God, which through the faithful labours of Dr. Moffat in South Africa, civilized and saved the savage outlaw African, changing the daring ruffian into a gentle and child-like follower of Christ, even to the close of his life.2 [Note: J. Little.]
5. And it is the power of God to every one that believeth. It is at once a very broad and a very narrow Gospel. It knows no natural or social distinction between man and man. It declares that “there is no distinction.” What we regard as differences between one man and another are mere surface differences. Morally, all belong to the same category, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This Gospel is broad, like the heart of God. “To every one that believeth.” But it is narrow also. It is to those that believe, to those alone. We must attend to its word. We must feel the need of its healing. We must yearn for its touch. Knowing it is of God, we must trust in its mercy. That is the narrowness of the Gospel. It is the power of God, but it cannot save us apart from our moral consciousness, our repentance, our desire, our consent. Our heart must respond to the tender breathing love of God.
That Paul knew well what work this Gospel had to do in the world is evident from this chapter—a chapter that cannot be read in public. The appalling meaning of sin both for the body and for the mind is expressed in three phrases: “God gave them up unto uncleanness”; “God gave them up unto vile affections”; “God gave them up to a reprobate mind.” Whatever you may think or say about Paul’s theology, profound thinker as he was, his knowledge of human life was not academic. He held by a theory of sin which, as Mr. Gilbert Chesterton says, “accounts for White-chapel,” and accounted for an ancient Rome that was far worse than any modern London. He toned nothing down. He faced the grim facts of life like a wise and skilful surgeon who must track a loathsome disease down to its malignant roots. Paul speaks here of men “who refused to have God in their knowledge,” whose lives were—note the awful phrase—“hateful to God.”1 [Note: C. S. Horne.]
“I am not ashamed of the gospel”—that is easily said by a man who has received it as a decent tradition, and has never tried to do anything with it; but when people are in earnest about their faith and their duty they are much more likely to confess that sometimes they have been ashamed. It is easy to say, “Of course, Christ can save any man”; but when you have realized the desperate conditions of a single family or a single individual, and go to better these conditions by some Christian influence, you may well have visitings of doubt: I wonder if many of us, with a real will to help, could walk along the Cowgate on a Saturday night, and watch the people without some inward disquiet:—women whose features have been marred by the blows of husband and lover, and marred more sadly by a life of riot and idleness; men who have grown grey without the discipline of settled labour, and without the ministry of purifying thought, the bondsmen of our society for whom the pleasures and the interests and the teachings which are most to us have no existence; lads clustering idly at the corners, with bad secrets passing round, waiting for the vice or the crime which will catch them down to a lower depth. You believe that Christ can save all; but if you were asked to speak of Christ to these, the difficulties in them and in yourself would gather up before you, and if you began it would be with a burdened feeling that nothing great would come of it. Habit and circumstance are strong, and the wood, it seems, is too rotten to hold the nail. That is the test which searches men, and it was in presence of this test that Paul said, I am not ashamed. Knowing all the disadvantage and the unlikelihood, he believed that Jesus Christ could make the balance even.1 [Note: W. M. Macgregor, Some of God’s Ministries, 180.]
Can peach renew lost bloom,
Or violet lost perfume,
Or sullied snow turn white as overnight?
Man cannot compass it, yet never fear:
The leper Naaman
Shows what God will and can.
God who worked there is working here;
Wherefore let shame, not gloom, betinge thy brow.
God who worked then is working now.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]
Not Ashamed of the Gospel
Abbott (L.), Signs of Promise, 218.
Aglionby (F. K.), The Better Choice, 86.
Alford (H.), Quebec Chapel Sermons, ii. 176.
Arnold (T.), Sermons, ii. 54.
Brandt (J. L.), Soul Saving, 237.
Broughton (L. G.), Salvation and the Old Theology, 45.
Brown (J. B.), The Divine Life in Man, 70, 96, 127.
Dudden (F. Homes), Christ and Christ’s Religion, 187.
Dykes (J. O.), The Gospel according to St. Paul, 1.
Fairweather (D.), Bound in the Spirit, 251.
Farrar (F. W.), Truths to Live By, 334.
Goodman (J. H.), The Lordship of Christ, 112.
Gore (C.), The Epistle to the Romans, i. 57.
Greenhough (J. G.), The Mind of Christ in Paul, 97.
Henderson (A.), The Measure of a Man, 43.
Horne (C. S.), in The Old Faith and the New Theology, 149.
Lambert (J. C.), The Omnipotent Cross, 40.
Liddon (H. P.), University Sermons, ii. 242.
Little (J.), The Day-Spring, 9.
Macgregor (W. M.), Some of God’s Ministries, 180.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions of Holy Scripture: Romans, 30.
Marten (C. H.), Plain Bible Addresses, 11.
Matheson (G.), Messages of Hope, 222.
Pierce (W.), in Sermons by Welshmen in English Pulpits, 247.
Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, vii. 217.
Punshon (W. M.), Sermons, ii. 1.
Walters (C. E.), The Deserted Christ, 33.
Williams (M. B.), Among Many Witnesses, 174.
Williams (T. R.), The Christ Within, 68.
Christian World Pulpit, xxxiii. 376 (Tymms); xlviii. 73 (Abbott); lxxv. 92 (Parr).