Hoeksema’s sermons on Romans are valuable in several respects. First, they add to our knowledge of the theological thinking of a great Reformed theologian. The series contributes significantly to our knowledge of Herman Hoeksema’s theology, inasmuch as in the series Hoeksema explains the book of Romans. From the time of the Reformation, the Protestant churches have recognized Romans as the one book of the Bible that, more than any other, sets forth the entire gospel of salvation by the sovereign grace of God in a thorough, systematic way. Martin Luther called the epistle to the Romans “the masterpiece of the New Testament, the purest Gospel of all.” John Calvin declared that “this epistle [Romans], besides many other and singular graces found in it, has one proper and peculiar to it, which can never be sufficiently prized and esteemed; this is that anyone who has achieved a true understanding of it has as it were an open door through which to enter into the most secret treasures of Scripture.”
All of the fundamental teachings that make up the gospel of grace appear in the book: the depravity and guilt of man; justification; the atonement by the death of Christ; sanctification; predestination; good works as fruits of faith; and more.
At the end of the series on Romans, in sermon ninety-seven, Hoeksema referred to the book whose exposition he was now completing as “one of the richest and most beautiful parts of the Word of God.”
Many Reformed people, including the scholars, will be interested in this work simply to discover what Herman Hoeksema believed concerning various doctrines. For example, sermon forty on Romans 7:4 (“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law … that ye should be married to another”) shows that already by the late 1930s Hoeksema believed, and publicly taught, that marriage is an unbreakable bond for life.
Just as the marriage relation between man and wife is exclusive, so the relation between Christ and His people is exclusive. Christ belongs to the church, and the church belongs to Christ and to no one else. If she flirts, she becomes an adulteress. Finally, it is a union for life. The union cannot be broken, even as the marriage relation cannot be broken. The marriage relation is a union for life.
Second, the value of the sermons is that they are models for Reformed ministers. The example of the Romans sermons should encourage ministers to preach series. It should also encourage the people to desire the preaching of series of sermons on an entire book of the Bible. Series preaching edifies the church as the preaching from texts haphazardly chosen—or purposefully chosen—from here and there and everywhere does not. By the preaching of series, the minister himself grows.
The series on Romans should encourage ministers to preach through doctrinal books. The sermons will also give guidance, how to do this.
These sermons will be of help to ministers, how to choose the theme of a sermon and then develop that theme by arranging the material of the passage in two or three main thoughts. The sermons are models of homiletics. No more than it is right simply to go to the pulpit with any other man’s work would it be right for a minister to preach these sermons as his own, but they can certainly instruct in the craft of sermon making. I can see them becoming a text for the homiletics course, and not only at the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Above all else, the worth of the sermons is that they are a sound, penetrating exposition of the Word of God in the book of Romans—a commentary on Romans. They are a rather complete commentary. In the nature of the case, they are not a commentary on every verse and every word. Nevertheless, the exposition covers the entire book; treats all the main thoughts; includes word study of important, or difficult, words; concerns itself with significant connections and relations; and, even though concentrating on the main verse in a passage, usually brings in and briefly explains the other verses in the passage.
For example, when he came to Romans 7:1ff., Hoeksema preached verse four, about our marriage to Christ. In the course of the exposition of verse four, he commented also on verses two and three, which teach the truth that earthly marriage is for life and thus serves as the basis for the spiritual reality of our marriage to Christ.
If Hoeksema’s exposition of Romans lacks the helpfulness of a commentary that proceeds verse by verse and virtually word by word, it has the great advantage that it gives the meaning of each of the chapters and, indeed, of all the particular passages or individual texts that make up the chapters. The exposition makes the meaning perfectly plain to the people of God. In addition, it applies the doctrine of the text or passage to the life and experience of the saints. Righteous by Faith Alone is a devotional commentary: a genuine exposition that carries out the purpose of the Holy Spirit with the book of Romans, namely, to edify the body of Christ.
Hoeksema was uniquely qualified to explain the book of Romans. He was naturally gifted, widely read, and a theologian who by the time he preached the series had worked long and hard at disciplined theological study, both as a pastor and as a seminary professor.
In addition, like the apostle Paul himself, who wrote the book of Romans, Hoeksema was zealous for the glory of God in His sovereignty. Only such a man can rightly explain and preach the book of Romans. It was this zeal for the glory of the sovereign God that made Hoeksema fearless in acknowledging God’s sovereignty where it is found in Romans, as it made him diligent in exploring God’s sovereignty within the limits, but then to the full extent of these limits, of the revelation in Romans. Lack of this zeal for the glory of God is the reason why so many commentators falter and fail in their exposition of Romans, especially when they come to chapters eight through eleven, on divine predestination.
There is in the Romans sermons explanation of certain passages that even corrects the erroneous interpretation given by Calvin in his commentary on Romans. One of the weakest and most dangerous sections of Calvin’s Romans commentary is his explanation of “all men” inRomans 5:12ff. Commenting on the phrase in verse 18, “even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life,” Calvin wrote: “Paul makes grace common to all men, not because it in fact extends to all, but because it is offered to all. Although Christ suffered for the sins of the world, and is offered by the goodness of God without distinction to all men, yet not all receive Him” (John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, tr. Ross Mackenzie, Eerdmans, 1961, pp. 117, 118).
Regardless whether one agrees or disagrees with the doctrine that amazingly escaped from Calvin in these two sentences (were I of higher-critical bent, I would suggest that some later editor inserted these lines, and that this editor was James Arminius), this doctrine is not the teaching of the apostle in the text.Romans 5:18 does not teach that the grace of righteousness is ineffectually offered to all, but that it effectually comes upon all, so that all are righteous and live. As effectually as Adam’s offense rendered all condemned, so effectually did Christ’s righteous deed justify all men.
Hoeksema corrected Calvin, though not explicitly, explaining the “all” who are justified by Christ as all who are represented by Him according to eternal election. In sermon thirty-three, Hoeksema said this about the “all men” in Romans 5:18 to whom the righteousness of Christ came:
“Upon all men,” the text says. There are some who, regardless of anything Scripture teaches elsewhere, insist that “all men” means every individual of the human race. According to them, the verse teaches that as every individual is under condemnation because of the one offense, so justification of life comes upon every individual of the human race because of one righteousness. There are two distinct theories about this. One theory teaches that every individual is saved. This is consistent. The other theory recognizes that not all are saved. It teaches that all men are justified in Christ as far as God’s intention is concerned, there being a condition upon which the fulfillment of God’s intention depends. The question to every man then becomes, “Do you want it? Do you want to be justified?” In other words, this theory explains it in such a way that the justification of Christ was not a justification after all.
The truth is that those who according to God’s verdict are justified are also saved, even as those who are condemned according to God’s verdict must die. Scripture says, “Whom he justified, them he also glorified” [Rom. 8:30]. The simple meaning is this: all men in the one man, and all men in the other man. Just as, on the one hand, the rule is, through one man condemnation upon all who are in him (and this is all men), so through one man justification of life upon all who are in Him (and this is the elect church). Christ did not make of justification a chance. The judgment took place 1900 years ago. Even as all in Adam die, so all in Christ are justified.
(to be continued…)