The Sacred Scrolls of the Scriptures
The Preparatory Epistles
THE THIRD item of the present secret economy, that the nations are
to be joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the evangel of which
Paul was the dispenser (Eph.3:6) is proof positive that the Preparatory
EpistlesRomans, Corinthians and Galatiansare for us today, in a glorified
form. As they stand, we are partakers, but not joint partakers. The Jew has a prior
place. The nations are indebted to them for their spiritual gifts (Rom.2:10; 3:1; 15:27).
Further evidence is afforded by the
fact that, in Ephesians, it is taken for granted that we have the cuirass of righteousness
and the readiness of the evangel of peace (Eph.6:14,15). Where would we get these except
in the Preparatory Epistles? These are their two great subjectsjustification and
conciliation. And the latter is further emphasized by the prayer of the apostle that he
might continue to disclose the secret of the evangel (Eph.6:19) which is the culmination
of the Roman epistle (Rom.16:25-27).
The four Preparatory Epistles are a
marvelous group in which Romans corresponds to Ephesians, in that it contains all the
truth in didactic form, while the other epistles treat the same truth from the standpoint
of life and practice. Galatians, like Colossians, introduces no new revelation, but
corrects the departure from the teaching of the first section of the Roman epistle. Second
Corinthians is concerned especially with the conciliation of Romans five to eight, while
First Corinthians corrects defection from the path indicated in the latter part of Romans.
The inclusive nature of the epistle to
the Romans is evident in its opening words: Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, a
called apostle. The first half of the epistle is especially devoted to
doctrine which depends on his apostolic commission to give it weight; the latter part is
especially occupied with the practice of the doctrine.
The two absorbing topics of the
epistle are contrasted in the introduction and conclusion. As is detailed in the account
in Acts (13:2), Paul was separated to the evangel of God, which had been promised
before, to Abraham (Rom.4). With this he contrasts my evangel (of which Acts
contains not the slightest intimation) which is the proclamation of Christ Jesus in accord
with the revelation of a secret hushed in eonian times, yet manifested now, through
prophetic scriptures (Rom.16:25). The contrast between the scriptures of the
prophets and prophetic scripturesone referring to the Hebrew
prophets and the other to recent writings such as this epistleis entirely
obliterated in both the Authorized and Revised versions, but it is difficult to see how a secret
could be kept by revealing it. Justification was made known in the prophets: conciliation
was practically excluded by their message.
The evangel of God brings
righteousness to the nations, outside of Israels narrow pale, on the ground of the
promise to Abraham. Pauls my evangel retreats still further, and
finds in Adam a shadowgraph of the conciliation.
The opening of Romans further
emphasizes the fact that Gods evangel concerns His Son, and is based on His power to
raise the dead (Rom.1:4). The earth-life of the Messiah of Israel is not in view. Even as
Paul himself did not become acquainted with Him until He was beyond death, in glory, so
the commission given to him did not concern His previous career, but only that glorified
condition subsequent to His resurrection.
Another point is important. Paul
received grace and apostleship. By the figure hendiadys we are impressed with
the excessively gracious manner in which he received his commission. Peter and the rest
were looking for the Messiah and gladly followed Him. Paul, on the contrary, persecuted
Him beyond all reason. His commission came to him, not on the ground of merit or reward,
but altogether on the ground of grace.
All this is brought before us before
we enter the epistle itself. It is important by its very position. Only those who enter
through this portal will find their way in the succeeding portions.
Another point must be pressed. Romans
was not written to the ecclesia at Rome. It was written to the saints in their
individual capacity. This is seen throughout the epistle. It deals with our personal
relationship to God. Our fellowship with others is a minor consideration. All the other
epistles in this groupthe Corinthian epistles and Galatianswere addressed to
ecclesias. The reason for this is not far to seek. As they interpret the truth of Romans
in terms of action and experience, which brings us in contact with our fellow believers,
it is necessary to correct whole ecclesias for the failure of individuals, seeing that it
is their duty to deal with such.
Another point of difference is
apparent. Not only does Paul address an aggregation but he also associates others with him
in his writing. Sosthenes is with him in the first epistle to the Corinthians and Timothy
in the second, while all the brethren with him stand back of the Galatian epistle.
In this there is a gracious lesson for us. In teaching, one is sufficient; in correcting
and entreating, two or more are needed to mitigate possible harshness or prejudice.
Both the Corinthian epistles are
addressed to the ecclesias of God, in recognition of the fact that they were
established on the basis of the evangel of God, not on the Davidic promise of the kingdom,
but on the Abrahamic promise of faith.
A notable yet unheeded clause in the
introduction to First Corinthians demands special consideration. With the ecclesia is
associated all, in every place, who invoke the name of our Lord Jesus
Christtheirs as well as ours. Any effort to make this mean it was for all
timenow as well as thenis futile. Any effort to make it mean that it included
all other ecclesias is also barred by the fact that it follows the characterization
saints. The key to it lies in the expression invoke the name of our
Lord. This arose from the custom, which is still found in eastern lands, of taking
refuge in the name of some great personage.
If the avenger of blood should be
after us so that we had but a moment to live, all we would need to do would be to call out
I invoke the name of So-and-so, and the avenger would drop his sword, for the
man whose name was invoked would surely take it upon himself to avenge anything done to
one who invoked his name. It became a special expression in Israel, denoting deliverance.
All who call upon, or invoke, the name of Yahweh shall be saved in the day of His wrath.
It is not for the nations. This explains why he distinguishes between them and the
Corinthians. They are united by having the same Lord. He is their Lord as well as ours.
Paul is just breaking away from the
Circumcision, after his separation from them by the holy spirit. While he does not address
this epistle directly to them he acknowledges their mercy and desires that they should be
acquainted with the grace which he dispenses. He made a special journey to Jerusalem to
acquaint the Circumcision apostles with his message (Gal.2:2). Peter undoubtedly had read
some of his epistles (2 Peter 3:15). They read his epistles in the same spirit in
which we should read the Circumcision epistles today, without the least thought of
applying them to themselves.
The introduction to Galatians is most
characteristic of the contents of the epistle. They questioned his apostleship, or at
least made it secondary and subservient to that of Peter and the twelve. So he disposes of
that point at once. Paul, an apostle, not from men, neither through a man [Peter],
but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.
Then he goes on to draw the line
between his ministry and that of the twelve in living words of fire. There are few such
indexes of the prevailing apostasy, even in the midst of religious ardor, as the almost
total failure of Gods saints to apprehend, much less appreciate, the transcendent
grace which Paul received and dispensed, and the radical differences between it and the
mercy ministered by the twelve. All this is implied in the covert reference to Peter in
the opening sentence. His commission was not from men. This plural may refer to the
twelve. It was not through a man. This singular can hardly refer to anyone but
Peter. If we will follow this hint we will eventually find the rich excess of grace
through Paul sufficient grounds for leaving the epistles of Peter to those for whom they
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