The gospel is indeed a power of God unto salvation for every one that believeth, first the Jew and also the Greek. Thus we noticed in the former article on this passage from holy writ.
We now must notice what the word of God tells us here concerning the reason why the gospel is such a power of God unto salvation. We must not try to give the answer to this question from our own human reasoning, but we must listen to the word of God itself. We must also, in this matter, be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath, and not be wise in our own conceits.
What is this reason?
It is simply that in this gospel of Christ a righteousness of God is revealed out of faith unto faith, as it is written, the just shall live by faith!
Let us try to understand this reason why the gospel is such a power unto salvation for every one believing.
This gospel is a power of God unto salvation, because it reveals a righteousness of God. And it is such a power unto salvation for everyone that believethbecause the manner of the revelation of this righteousness in the gospel is out of faith unto faith!
Two very salient points in the text.
The first of these two points we will discuss here. The gospel is power of God unto salvation—since it reveals a righteousness of God.
What does this imply?
First of all, let us notice that “righteousness” here does not simply refer to the punitive justice of God. It is not that virtue, perfection of God whereby He rewards the good and punishes the evil doers. That is God’s punitive justice. Now the apostle does not refer to this in the text. He is speaking of a righteousness that is “gospel,” glad tidings of good things for poor sinners. This the punitive justice of God is not. It is simply a reason for terror for the sinner apart from the glad tidings here spoken of. It is this justice of God that causes the wicked to cry mountains cover us because the eye of Him that sitteth on the throne, and the wrath of the lamb. That is a righteousness that causes every mouth to be stopped and the whole world to be guilty before God. It is the righteousness of the law. And before this law no flesh is justified. Hence, the righteousness here spoken of is not the punitive justice of God.
On the contrary, the righteousness here spoken of, is the righteousness of God, which He has prepared for us in Christ, when He made Christ for us to be wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and complete redemption. I Cor. 1:30, 31. And in this righteousness no one can boast in the flesh and in works of law that we perform, but all our glorying is in the Lord our righteousness. Wherefore Paul says in Romans 3:21, but now, without law, a righteousness of God has been manifested, having been witnessed of by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God which is through the faith of Christ Jesus. It is a righteousness which is ours simply because God hath set forth His Son a propitiation for our sins.
A righteousness of God it is. The original does not say: the righteousness of God is revealed in the same. He does not here wish to emphasize the distinction of this righteousness from any other righteousness, but he describes the nature of this righteousness. A righteousness of God it is. This means that God has thought it out in His counsel, where no one taught Him knowledge. (Isaiah 40:33; Romans 11:34-36.) It is wholly out of God’s counsel, and is prepared by God Himself. For God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing unto us our sins and has given the gospel, the ministry of reconciliation. Such is this righteousness of God, spoken of here in Romans 1:17.
Now we should notice that Paul does not simply state here in the text that this righteousness of God ispreached to believers. He is not speaking of the preaching, but he is telling us why he is not ashamed of the gospel as a preacher! Hence, he tells us the inner nature of the gospel and why it is a power of God unto salvation. The power of the gospel and the preaching of the gospel are by no means identical in nature according to Scripture and the Confessions. And we may not for the correct understanding of the sense of the Holy Spirit confuse these two! And, therefore, we must not read the text as if Paul tells us what is preached to believers! For our text says something quite different!
Nor does the text say: a righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel to believers. The text speaks of such a revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel which demonstrates the power of God unto salvation in the gospel. Verse 17 gives the reason (gar) for verse 16. And, therefore, we must not read here: the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel to believers. For we should notice that this righteousness was indeed manifested, openly set forth on the cross. But Paul here does not simply speak of manifestation (Phanerow) but of revelation (apokaluptein), which includes inner illumination. Compare Matthew 11:25, 26. The apostle Paul here tells us the mode of the revelation of the righteousness of God in the hearts of believers, of this righteousness spoken of in the gospel.
It is important to notice, that Paul does not say: It is revealed in the gospel, that righteousness is out of faith unto faith, but he says: in the gospel a righteousness is revealed out of faith unto faith. “Revealed” must be taken with “out of faith” and not with “in the same” (gospel). Thus we see why the gospel is only a power of God in those believing, a power unto salvation. And thus, to be sure, we also see why the gospel is indeed a power unto salvation in every one that believeth. Not one case can ever be cited where there was a believer and where this power was absent.
According to the text there is no revelation of this righteousness where faith is absent. Where this faith is absent a covering is on the heart, there is blindness. Surely the righteousness is clearly attested to in the preaching to all who hear the gospel proclaimed, but there is no revelation of this righteousness, that spells forgiveness, except in believers. Therefore this gospel is power of God unto salvation for everyone believing. And, therefore, the proclamation of the gospel is indeed promiscuous, together with the command to believe and repent, but the revelation of this righteousness of God in its quickening power, its peace, joy and blessedness is only for believers.
Why is it only for believers?
This is due to the revealed reality that this revelation isout of faith unto faith! That is the manner, the mode in which the just live.
About this too we must make a few expository remarks.
When the text says “live” it does not merely mean existence. It means the three-score and ten years that the believers must live in this present world before God; it is the “living” the eternal life in the midst of this present world which is nothing but a continual death. It means to be saved from the wrath of God which isrevealed, so as to be experienced by all the ungodly, who keep the truth of God down in unrighteousness. In the midst of those who are without excuse the just are the “living ones.” We live! We have eternal life, joy and peace in our hearts.
How do we thus live, have joy and peace in our hearts? We have this by the power of the gospel, as we lay hold by faith on this glad tidings of God things. For thus Paul teaches us the righteousness of God is revealed, it is revealed out of faith unto faith. (ek pistebos eis pistin) Only out of that faith, which is a certain knowledge and joyful confidence, that Christ died for us, do we live. Apart from this faith the preaching affords us nothing. Unto salvation! Such is the reality evidenced by unbelieving Israel, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness. Hebrews 3:12-19. For notice that it is revealed out of faith. Only where such faith is present in the heart is the gospel that is proclaimed a power of God into salvation. Only where is this hearty confidence and certain knowledge is there a power of God present to bring from confidence to new and renewed confidence, and an ever richer blessedness in the God of our salvation. For this righteousness of God is revealed out of faith, but then also into faith. This power of the gospel also affords growth in faith. And it always works on the principle that he who hath shall receive more and have abundance, and that they who have not from them shall be taken even what they think to have. For the revelation of the righteousness is out of faith unto faith.
Just in passing we would here remark that in our humble opinion it is not necessary to say that only the believers hear the word of God, to be specific in our terminology. And it may be confusing also to do so. One thus easily lays himself open to the charge of not speaking the language of the Confessions which speak of the Bible as the word of God. All hear the Bible when the gospel is proclaimed. But all do not perceive spiritually what they “hear” naturally! Romans 10:18-21. Since the term “hear” can refer to both the natural, hearing as well as the spiritual hearing of faith, it is, in our opinion, better to speak, as does the text, of the difference between the preaching of the gospel and the revelation of the righteousness of God out of faith unto faith. In the unbeliever the “sound” indeed was heard, but he does not hear Jesus say to Him: peace be unto you, because I am thy righteousness! The righteousness of the cross is hid from him as a wise and prudent one and it is revealed unto babes. These latter hear Jesus say with a spiritual hearing: Come unto me all ye that are laboring, being heavy laden, and I will give you rest—out of faith unto faith!
Thus it was ever. And it shall be as it is written inHabakkuk 2:4: “the just shall live by faith.” This is a remarkable passage. It was spoken by the prophet Habakkuk in the time when the Chaldean world power, under Nebuchadnezzar, would carry Judah away to captivity. The reason for their being carried away was that the curses of the law, as spoken by Moses, had come upon them. No flesh was justified by the works of the law. As far as Israel was concerned—the earthly and typical glory had departed. Never would it again return. And, as far as the flesh could see, there was no hope for Israel. But now there must come a word of God, a word of the promise. Habakkuk must write the vision of God, and make it plain upon tablets, that he that runneth may read it. The promise hastens to its fulfillment, right through the captivity. And what is the Word in this dark hour? Is it a word simply for exceptional times? It, indeed, fits the exceptional time of Habakkuk, but it fits all times. The word is themanner of the life of the just is out of faith!
Thus is the rule for the Jew first.
It is the rule also for the Gentile as he is a fellow-heir with the Jew of the righteousness which is by faith.
Ashamed of such a gospel? Was Habakkuk? Was Paul? Shall we be Anno 1954? Nay, we shall be ready to preach this even before the kings of the earth!