Prof. Cammenga is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. This is the first 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.
Beloved graduates, esteemed colleagues, members of the Theological School Committee, delegates of synod, brothers and sisters in Christ: The epistle to the Romans is a monument in the New Testament Scriptures.
What the prophecy of Isaiah is to the Old Testament, Romans is to the New Testament. It occupies a central place in the New Testament canon. It is the crown jewel of the New Testament.
The epistle to the Romans has always held this important place in the estimation of the church. I need only remind you of the importance a right understanding of this epistle had at the time of the Reformation. One commentator has written:
The Reformation was undoubtedly the work of the Epistle to the Romans…and the probability is that every great spiritual revival in the church will be connected as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book (Frederick L. Godet, “Introduction,” Commentary on the Romans, vol. 1, p. 1).
Martin Luther wrote:
The epistle to the Romans is the true masterpiece of the New Testament and the very purest gospel, which is well worth and deserving that a Christian man should not only learn it by heart, word for word, but also that he should daily deal with it as the daily bread of men’s souls. It can never be too much or too well read or studied, and the more it is handled the more precious it becomes, and the better it tastes.
John Calvin wrote:
When anyone understands this Epistle, he has a passage opened to him to the understanding of the whole Scripture.
This epistle was written by Paul to the church that was at Rome.
Rome was the capital city of the entire empire, the city of the Caesars. In this large, pagan city there was a true church of Jesus Christ. At the very heart of heathen culture and life, God had planted His church.
Fundamentally, of course, that is always the position of the church; always the church is called to exist in the Rome of this world.
The apostle’s purpose in writing the epistle was to set before the believers at Rome the fundamental doctrines of salvation. He intended to give them an overview of Christian doctrine. He wrote a summary of all the important truths of the faith. His purpose was to set forth “the gospel of God.”
That is the striking expression that the apostle uses in Romans 1:1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.” The gospel is “the gospel of God.” Unto this gospel and the preaching of this gospel, the apostle Paul had been separated. What was true of the apostle Paul is true of every minister of the gospel. This is true of you brothers who graduate from the Protestant Reformed Seminary tonight. Your years of training and your completion of the course of study in the Seminary belong to your separation unto the gospel of God. The significance of your graduation tonight is that the faculty and the Theological School Committee bear testimony to our conviction that you have been separated unto the gospel of God.
The gospel is the gospel of God. That the gospel is the gospel of God indicates several things. It indicates, first of all, the source of the gospel. The gospel has its source in God; the origin of the gospel is in God. The gospel is God’s gospel because He conceived it in eternity in His sovereign and free counsel. He realized it in time in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the One who raises up and sends the preachers of this gospel. And He is the One who uses the preaching of the gospel to save lost sinners. From beginning to end, the gospel is God’s gospel.
That the gospel is God’s gospel also indicates the authority of the gospel and the trustworthiness of the gospel. You and I are called to believe the gospel as the only way out of the misery, the sin, and the death into which we have plunged ourselves. Ultimately the ground for believing the gospel is that the gospel is God’s gospel. Behind the gospel stands the authority of God Himself, whose the gospel is.
That the gospel is God’s gospel also emphasizes that the gospel concerns God. The gospel does not only come from God; the gospel does not only come with the authority of God; but the gospel proclaims God. The gospel proclaims who God is, His greatness and His glory, as the only God, the sovereign God, the God of infinite perfection. The gospel proclaims what God has done, what God is doing, and what God promises yet to do. This, in the end, is the purpose of the preaching of the gospel: that men might know God. Every sermon must have this as its aim. We must make our sermons and we must preach our sermons with this great goal in view, that our hearers will know God, whom to know is life eternal (John 17:3).
We have the gospel of God in the sacred Scriptures. The apostle points this out in the verse that immediately follows his description of the gospel as “the gospel of God.” Of this gospel He says in Romans 1:2, “Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures.” There is the most powerful proof here for the divine inspiration of the Bible. Notice that the apostle speaks of “His” prophets, that is, God’s prophets. They were God’s prophets inasmuch as they were God’s instruments to proclaim His Word. And he says “holy” Scriptures. They are “holy” Scriptures because they partake of the holiness of God their author.
The important point that must be emphasized is that the gospel cannot and may not be separated from Holy Scripture. We have the gospel of God in the Scriptures. God does not any longer speak the gospel directly as He once did in the Garden of Eden or at various times throughout the Old Testament. But God has breathed forth the infallibly inspired Scriptures, so that those Scriptures are the announcement of the gospel to the church today. To undermine, therefore, the trustworthiness, the infallibility, and authority of the Bible at any point is to attack and to deny the gospel.
But what is the content of the gospel that Paul preached and that is set forth in Holy Scripture? Paul summarizes the gospel of God unto which He had been separated in verses 3 and 4:
Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.
The content of the gospel is God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel concerns who Jesus is. He is a real man, of the seed of David according to the flesh. But also and at the same time He is the Son of God. The gospel concerns what this Jesus has done: born, suffered, died, and risen from the dead. The apostle mentions in the text the central importance of two great events: Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection from the dead. These two events are the beginning and the end, the bookends, of Jesus’ saving work, His life and ministry on earth. It begins with His incarnation and birth. It climaxes in His resurrection from the dead.
That Christ is the content of the gospel comes out later in this same chapter. In verse 9 the apostle says, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” And again in verse 16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation….”
That Christ is the central message of the gospel is indicated by the word “gospel.” That word means “good news.” The gospel of God is the good news of God. That good news is throughout Scripture the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. The gospel of Christ is the gospel of God.
In the passage, the apostle lays special emphasis on Christ’s resurrection. He does that for good reason. The resurrection is conclusive evidence of the truth of all that Jesus taught and the validation of all His work. It is that, first, because He arose from the dead by His own power. That is the proof that He is the Son of God. No mere man has power over death. Jesus, as the Son of God, has conquered death. There is no greater testimony to Jesus’ deity than His resurrection from the dead. And, secondly, he emphasizes Christ’s resurrection from the dead because the resurrection was the seal of God on the atoning work of His cross. That God raised Jesus from the dead proves, proves before all the world, that by His death He satisfied fully the righteousness of God. If even one sin of one child of God had remained unpaid, God would never have raised Jesus from the dead. He would still be in the grave today, for the wages of sin is death. But God raised Him from the dead, and in His resurrection from the dead we have the assurance that the guilt of our sins has been taken away.
This is the gospel!
The blessed good news of the gospel!
What this comes down to is grace. The gospel of God is the gospel of grace. The apostle does not say that in so many words in this text, but that is clearly the truth that he teaches. The gospel is the gospel of grace inasmuch as it proclaims that salvation is altogether the work of God alone. From beginning to end, it is the work of God. God in eternity has determined a people and ordained their salvation. God sent Jesus Christ. As the Son of God, Christ did God’s work on behalf of God’s purpose and for God’s glory. Calvary was the accomplishment of God’s will. And God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Salvation is God’s work entirely. Nothing of this great salvation is the work of man. Nothing.
The gospel is also the gospel of grace because it proclaims the unworthiness of those who are saved and their inability to save themselves. Any preaching that purports to be the preaching of the gospel that proclaims man’s ability to save himself or to contribute to his salvation in any way, by that very fact shows itself not to be the gospel of God. The gospel is not the gospel of man, not in any respect; it is most emphatically the gospel of God.
… to be continued.