Herman Hoeksema was the first editor of the Standard Bearer.
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.
Romans 1:16, 17
The word of my text gives a reason for something which the apostle had spoken of in the immediate context. There the apostle had said that all that is within him is ready to preach the gospel to them that are at Rome also. As the reason for that statement, or for something that lies at the basis of that statement, the apostle says that he is not ashamed to preach the gospel of Christ at Rome.
He was not ashamed to preach to them at Rome, as perhaps it had been slanderously said of him. To the contrary, he had long had the desire to visit them. This desire may have been born from this fact that the Roman church was well spoken of. Their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world. The reason was, perhaps, that they had suffered persecution and had endured. However that may be, the apostle had written that he always remembered them in his prayers. When he prays for the saints in Rome, he also makes request that the Lord may open the way for him to go to Rome. That is his desire.
He explains this desire as having a twofold reason. In the first place, he wants to impart some spiritual gift unto them, or, as he explains it, “that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.”
In the second place, he would like to preach in Rome so that he might have some fruit among them, even as elsewhere. But he had been let hitherto, to come unto them. The Lord had closed the way for him. But he longed to come. For he is not ashamed to preach the gospel in Rome.
He explains why he is not ashamed. That gospel is a power. It is not a word of man. It is not a philosophy. It is not an offer. But it is a power. If it were a philosophy or an offer, one might be ashamed of it. But the gospel is a power of God unto salvation. It is sure to have effect. That the gospel of Christ is a power unto salvation has its reason in this, that therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.
A Power, What?
The apostle says that the gospel of Christ is a power unto salvation. We must, therefore, ask three questions. In the first place, what is that power? The answer is: the gospel of Christ. In the second place, unto what is the gospel of Christ a power? The answer is: unto salvation. In the third place, why is the gospel such a power? The answer is: because it is the gospel of God.
The gospel is glad tidings, a joyful message. That is the meaning of the word. It is a joyful message from God. That is essential to the gospel. It is a glad message from God concerning God’s Son. The gospel is always that. It is a joyful message from God concerning God’s Son. It is a joyful message from God concerning His Son that chiefly contains two elements. The first element is that the Son of God is, according to the flesh, of the seed of David. The second element is that He is powerfully declared to be the Son of God in the resurrection. These two elements must always be in the gospel. It is a message from God to His people as they are in the darkness of this world. That is the gospel.
In harmony with that, the apostle in the text calls the gospel the gospel of Christ. Christ is the center of that gospel. The gospel has Christ for its contents. It is the gospel of the whole Christ. It is the gospel of Christ as He was foreshadowed in the old dispensation. It is the gospel of Christ as He walked among us on earth for thirty-three years. It is the gospel of Christ as He interpreted Himself through the apostles. That is the gospel. It is the gospel of Christ, because in that gospel Christ tells all about Himself – His incarnation, His walk here on earth, His suffering and death, His resurrection, His ascension. Having told all about Himself, He interprets Himself through the apostles. That is the gospel.
That gospel, the apostle says, that message from God concerning Christ, is a power. A power is, in general, virtue to accomplish something. Electricity is a power. Why? It accomplishes something. Wind is a power. Steam is a power. A power accomplishes something; it has effect. That anything is a power must be seen by its effect.
The question is, therefore, what does the gospel effect? The text says that the gospel effects salvation. It has the sure effect of salvation. The gospel of Christ is a power. It is a power unto salvation.
Salvation from what?
In general, salvation from this world and all that this world stands for. The gospel of Christ is a power to save from this world with its sin, with its corruption, with its misery, with its death. It is a power to save from the world in which we live, in which we are born, in which we suffer, in which we die. It is a power to save from the guilt of sin in which we are born, from the corruption of sin from which we cannot deliver ourselves, from the power of death by which we are held. It is a salvation from this world and all that this world stands for.
Salvation unto what?
It is a salvation unto righteousness, both in the legal and in the spiritual sense.
Therefore, when the apostle says that the gospel is a power of God unto salvation, he means that the gospel of Christ has the inherent virtue to roll away your sin, to drive out your darkness, to cut the shackles of death, and to translate you into a state of righteousness, of holiness, and of life. That transformation, which Scripture calls salvation, is the effect of the gospel of Christ.
Not, it may be.
Not, perhaps it will be, if you meet it half way, if you accept it.
No, it is. The gospel is that power. It surely transforms. The gospel is a living, transforming power which, if it touch your inmost heart so that you are connected with it, drives away your sin, your darkness, your death. The gospel does that.
How is that possible? How can it be maintained that the gospel is such a power?
You understand, this can never be said of any word of man. The Bible as such, which is the infallible revelation of the gospel, never transforms you. If I should preach until midnight, my word would never transform you. You might judge it, you might agree with it or disagree with it, but my word would never transform you. If I should get down on my knees and beg you, my word would never transform you. My word has no power, beyond the power of persuasion. Persuasion will never change anyone from a state of unrighteousness to a state of righteousness, from a state of corruption to a state of holiness, from a state of death to a state of life.
For this reason the gospel can never be an offer. An offer is powerless. I offer you something, but you shut your hand and refuse to receive what I offer. The power is gone. An offer has no power.
But the apostle says that he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because it is not a human word, but the power of God. That is why he is not ashamed to preach that gospel, even in Rome. Rome may be powerful, but it has never seen anything as powerful as this. The gospel is a power. Why? Because it is the gospel of God.
What does this mean? In the first place, it is the gospel of God because He is the author of it. In the second place, it is the gospel of God because He realized it. In the third place, it is the gospel of God in the sense that He declared it. He declared it throughout the history of the world.
But when now the apostle says that the gospel is a power of God, he means that God also delivers that message into your soul. Only when through the word the gospel is carried by God into the heart as a power which God uses, it becomes a power unto salvation. When God carries that gospel into my heart, the effect is that I say, I am a child of God, my sin is rolled away, I am delivered from the power of death. Though my conscience testifies against me, I know that I am righteous before God.
A Power, Why?
Why is that gospel a power unto salvation? The apostle says: “therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.” This is not the reason why the gospel is a power, but why it is a power unto salvation. In order that you may understand what this means, I call attention to the following truths. In the first place, God is righteous, unchangeably righteous. The righteousness of God means that He always acts and thinks and wills in accordance with His holy being. God’s righteousness is an attribute. God is righteous.
In the second place, that unchangeable righteousness of God as an attribute of God means that He can only love the righteous. He cannot love the unrighteous, for He is righteous. God is angry with the unrighteous. He is angry with the wicked every day. God cannot love the unrighteous. I do not say that He cannot transform them. That is just what we are talking about. But He cannot love the unrighteous. He hates all who are not in harmony with His being. He makes them the object of His wrath. Being the object of His wrath, they must perish.
In the third place, righteousness, that is, the state in which we are in harmony with Him and with His will according to His own judgment over us, is an indispensable requirement of salvation. Only the righteous can live. Righteousness is an indispensable requirement of salvation.
But we are unrighteous. We are unrighteous in the sense that we have sinned. We are behind in our obligation. Our obligation is to love God with all that we are and have, and at all times. Not only are we behind in our obligation, but we fall behind more and more. For we are corrupt. Therefore, our state is such that we can never become righteous. Everything around you, even your daily newspapers, points its finger at you and tells you that you are damned. Everything within you and without you testifies that you are unrighteous, corrupt, damned. In every sense of the word salvation is impossible, because righteousness is unattainable.
In the fourth place, the text says that in the gospel of God a righteousness, of God is revealed. That does not refer to the righteousness of God as an attribute, but it refers to a righteousness which God has prepared and which He will give to you. The text does not mean to say that God is righteous. But it speaks of a righteousness which God has prepared and which He gives to His people.
It is the righteousness of God because God conceived of it in His eternal counsel. It is the righteousness of God because in time He realized it, by blotting out the sin of His people. He realized it in Christ, in the cross. That righteousness of God which He conceived of in His counsel, and which He realizes in time in Christ is declared in the gospel, in which the righteousness of God is set forth.
If that gospel is delivered into your heart, what do you do? You take hold of it. You believe. I do not say, you must believe. I do not persuade you to believe. When the almighty power of the gospel comes into contact with your soul, what do you do? You believe. You surely believe. You absolutely believe. You cannot help but believe. God works through the gospel that faith in your soul.
A Power, unto Whom?
That is why the gospel of Christ is a power to everyone that believeth. Whatever the phrase “from faith to faith” may mean (for that is not so easy; in the original it reads: “out of faith and into faith”), it surely means that the gospel is a power out of faith and unto faith. For faith is essentially the tie that unites with Christ. That faith, God gives through the gospel. Because faith is the spiritual connecting power with Christ, it is faith in that gospel. Because the gospel reveals Christ, faith is a certain knowledge of that gospel. Because faith is a certain knowledge of the gospel of Christ, he that believeth says, “I am righteous before God.” For that reason faith is a sure confidence, so that he that believes relies on that gospel. For that same reason he lives from that gospel.
The last clause of the text might be read, according to the original: “the just by faith, shall live.” That is, he that is righteous by faith, shall live. But it can also be read: “the righteous, by faith shall live.” It is my conviction that the apostle means both. The minute we look away from Christ, it looks hopeless. Therefore, let us clearly see the gospel of Christ. We must write death upon all our own works. When I have thrown away all my own works, then my eye, by the faith of the gospel, is fixed only upon the righteousness of Christ.
In the second place, the apostle means that the righteous out of faith shall live. Here there is so much that condemns us as unrighteous. But the time will come when God will cause us to become manifest, by a final justification, as perfectly righteous. The righteous by faith shall live.