Prof. Cammenga is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. This is the second installment of the text of the address given on the occasion of the graduation of Mr. Cory Griess and Dr. David Torlach from the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary on June 11, 2009 in Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan. Previous article in this series: October 1, 2009, p. 7.
Paul’s Separation unto this Gospel
This is the gospel, now, unto which Paul was separated: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). There may very well be a play on words in the text. Prior to his conversion, Paul was a Pharisee. The word “Pharisee” means “separated one,” and is derived from the same root as the verb “separated” in the text. Whereas before Paul was separated unto a fanatical sect that persecuted the church of God, now he was separated unto the gospel of God.
God separated and God called Paul to be a preacher of His gospel. That is the implication of the text. Paul was called to be an apostle, and Paul was separated unto the gospel by God. Read Romans 1:1 that way: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called by God to be an apostle, separated by God unto the gospel of God.” If the gospel is the gospel of God, it follows that God calls and God separates men unto this gospel.
God called and God separated Paul unto the gospel in His eternal and sovereign counsel when He determined that Paul should be a chosen vessel to proclaim the gospel of His grace in His Son, Jesus Christ. That call and separation of Paul consisted of his election unto salvation in eternity, according to which election God gave Paul to Jesus Christ. The call of God that separated Paul to the gospel came to him on the Damascus road when the risen Christ appeared directly to him, as is recounted in Acts 9. To that separation and call of Paul belonged also the time of Paul’s preparation spent in the deserts of Arabia.
To that call of Paul belonged also the call of God through the church, as recorded in Acts 13:1-3. This is an important aspect of the call. This is an aspect of Paul’s call and separation that may not be overlooked. That is implied also in the word “apostle,” which means literally, “one who is sent out.” That he is an apostle implies that Paul was called and sent out by another. That other is God in Christ, through the church. Paul did not go out on his own, carrying out an independent ministry, accountable to no one but himself. He did no such thing. He went out after having been called by the church. And in all his preaching he was subject to the church and to the church’s supervision.
What was true of Paul is true of every preacher of the gospel. This is true, as well, of you brothers who graduate tonight. In His eternal counsel, God has not only chosen you to salvation, but has separated you unto the gospel. As God called Paul, so God called you at some point in your life, working that call in your heart and making His call and separation of you clear to you in and through the providential circumstances of your lives. Your Christian upbringing and godly instruction in your youth and young manhood belongs to God’s separation of you unto the gospel. Your training in the seminary has not only served to prepare you for your calling, something that is absolutely necessary, but it has also confirmed in you that God has called you and does separate you unto His gospel. And we are confident that soon enough God will also call and separate you by the call from His church.
The outstanding thing that the passage emphasizes is that God has called and separated Paul to preach the gospel. That Paul has been separated to preach the gospel of God is plain from the history of the book of Acts. This is what he did and this is the work that he gave himself to. That Paul was called to be an apostle, as verse 1 says that he was, underscores this same truth. As an apostle, he was sent out to preach. This was the work of the apostles. That Paul conceived of his calling as the calling to preach the gospel is made plain later in the chapter: “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are in Rome also” (v. 15).
This is what Paul considered to be his great work. To this work he devoted his life. He did so because he understood something about the preaching of the gospel: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation…” (v. 16). How the church today needs to be reminded of this! You brothers must be convinced of this! The gospel is, the gospel was in Paul’s day and is in our day, the gospel is in every age the power of God unto salvation. This is the means, God’s means, unto the salvation of elect sinners. Apart from the preaching of the gospel, there is no salvation. Of such fundamental importance is the preaching of the gospel.
Several things are implied in the fact that Paul was separated unto the preaching of the gospel of God.
Implied, certainly, is the privilege and honor of the office of the ministry of the gospel. Think of it! You have been separated unto the gospel of God! What a privilege! What an honor! There is no greater calling in all the world than this calling!
Implied also is what Paul mentions at the beginning of Romans 1:1, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” The gospel unto which you have been separated is God’s gospel; it is not your gospel. God is the One who has called and separated you unto this gospel. The gospel that He has called you to preach is His gospel. It follows, it follows necessarily, that you are and that you must view yourself to be “a servant of Jesus Christ,” a servant of God. Paul did, and so does the faithful preacher of the gospel today. The root sin of every unfaithful minister of the gospel is his failure to remember that because the gospel is God’s gospel, he is called to be God’s servant.
Since the gospel is God’s gospel it is implied that the saving efficacy of the gospel is due to God and to God alone. Of this truth also, we need to be reminded. The effect of the preaching of the gospel does not depend on us. How grateful we preachers of the gospel ought to be for that. What an impossible burden that would be, if the effect of our preaching—the saving of lost sinners—depended on us. What a goodness of God to us that we do not bear that burden. At the same time, this gives us confidence in preaching! Since the gospel is God’s gospel, He will use that gospel for the saving of His people. He will use that gospel in the established congregation, so that believers and their children are saved and built up in their salvation. He will use that gospel in missions, so that the elect are gathered out of the nations.
If the gospel is God’s gospel, and if God is the One who calls and separates men unto this gospel, it also follows that those thus called and separated are accountable unto Him. That, too, is implied. Remember, brothers, that you are called to handle the gospel of God! That demands your best! That demands the devotion of your time and energy! That demands your all!
There comes a day when the God whose gospel it is will call every preacher of that gospel to account. That will be a dreadful day for those preachers who have been unfaithful; a dreadful day for those who have compromised, corrupted, and denied the gospel of God. They will learn by bitter experience that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God (Heb. 10:31).
One thing more is implied in the truth that the gospel is the gospel of God. Implied also is our complete dependence as preachers upon God. If the gospel is God’s gospel, and if He has called and separated you unto the gospel, you must look to Him for the grace and strength to proclaim the gospel. In all your labors in and on behalf of the gospel, look to Him. He is the One who has called and separated you; He will give you what you stand in need of as you go forth proclaiming His gospel.
The Purpose of Paul’s Separation
To the gospel of God, Paul had been called and separated. But what was the purpose of his calling and separation?
The purpose was, first of all, to bring men to believe the gospel of God. His purpose was not his own honor and recognition. His purpose was not his advancement in the ecclesiastical world of his day. His purpose was not a soft and comfortable earthly life. His purpose was not getting rich at the expense of the people.
But his purpose was the salvation of God’s elect through his preaching of the gospel, the salvation into which he himself had so miraculously been brought. His purpose was, according to verse 5, “the obedience of faith among all nations.” His purpose was “fruit among the Gentiles” (v. 13). His purpose was the salvation of elect believers: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (vv. 16, 17). With a view to that purpose, Paul gave himself, heart and soul, to the ministry of the gospel of God.
But beyond even the salvation of the elect, God’s purpose in the preaching of the gospel is the glory of His own name and of His Son, Jesus Christ. That is verse 5: “By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for His name.” For His name—that is the purpose of the preaching of the gospel of God.
Of course that is the purpose. The world was created for God’s glory, and His glory is the chief end of the salvation of sinners. The faithful preacher does not aim at his own glory. But he aims at the glory of God who has called him and separated him unto the gospel. In this respect, too, the gospel is the gospel of God. This glory of His name God accomplishes in the salvation and gathering of the church. But for that salvation and gathering of the church, He uses the preaching of the gospel. This is your calling, brothers. It is a truly glorious calling. You are called to preach the gospel of God. Do not ever minimize or doubt or become careless with respect to that gospel. But honor the gospel; honor it because it is the gospel of God.