Category Archives: Romans

“He taught and exemplified for me the grace of God in the gospel of Christ” by Sinclair Ferguson

“’Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen in Israel this day?’ (2 Samuel 3:38)

David’s poignant words on the death of Abner will have come instinctively to the minds of many Christians throughout the world on hearing of the death, on 30 July 1997, of William Still, minister of Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen.

Ill-health in the last two years had increasingly limited Mr. Still’s ministry to preaching on Sundays, and on 8 May 1997, the date of his eighty-sixth birthday, he demitted the pastoral church of the congregation he had served with unstinting devotion for fifty-two years.

The fruit of his ministry in the university city of Aberdeen has spread, both in personal influence and in prayer, to the ends of the earth in the multitude of spiritual sons and daughters who constitute his true children (he remained single throughout his life).

His example of biblical ministry has been a beacon to guide and encourage countless gospel ministers; his deep pastoral love for his own congregation, his commitment to shaping a truly Christian fellowship, his investment of profound personal care and prayer in the lives of countless people– students who sat under his ministry while at college, as well as many others– and, in addition, the penetrating insights of his writings– these constitute his spiritual legacy.

Mr. Still believed that, in some senses, his one lengthly ministry was really several ministries. Certainly it passed through various stages. In the post-war years there were bright and busy evangelistic meetings with large numbers of converts ‘falling into the Lord’s hands like plums,’ as he put it.

Then came the first revolution: he ‘stumbled’ on expository preaching as on successive Sundays he found himself, as if by accident, preaching consecutively through a portion of Romans. As he began to see the effect of such preaching he sensed that here was a wiser, richer, more fruitful and more lasting way in which true Christian character would be built; now he must go deeper.

The extravagances came to an end; extensive corporate prayer on Saturday nights became the order of the day– and would remain so throughout the years. The apostolic model: ‘prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4) became the staple diet of congregational life.

He continued to find the light of Scripture breaking into and reshaping his thinking– and as he did so, he drew the congregation through the experience with him!– until his theology became increasingly moulded by Scripture and distinctively Reformed in character.

He preached (and wrote) his way through the entire Bible several times. And it is doubtful if any living minister has so lovingly and enthusiastically read the chapters of the Westminster Assembly’s Confession of Faith to his congregation the way Mr. Still frequently did.

Certainly few others will have read with such enthusiasm so much of John Owen’s writings (as well as portions of John Murray’s commentary on Romans) to the teenagers and students who at various times and in different places sat under his ministry!

In this covenant theology Mr. Still found a doctrinal resting-place and focus for his growing convictions on the nature of the life of the church.

Those who knew Mr. Still well personally will recognize that these paragraphs do not begin adequately to express the many-sidedness of his life and work, or what it was like actually to sit under his ministry and to be cared for and pastored by him.

Perhaps, therefore, a few words of a more personal nature may be added without intruding into this brief tribute.

I first came to hear Mr. Still preach when I was seventeen. For three decades thereafter he taught and exemplified for me the grace of God in the gospel of Christ and, for all the age gap, made me his friend.

He invested loving care, prayer and time in my life in a manner and to a depth which would be impossible to describe. He was, at various times, counsellor, encourager, comforter and cautioner.

He cared for and loved my family; he sorrowed with us in our griefs and rejoiced in our joys; he seemed to take more delight than we ourselves did in any hint of fruitfulness, success or honour we experienced.

And he always sought to think the best of us.

Perhaps the most touching thing of all for me personally was to witness the way his being seemed to melt with a mixture of humble incredulity and thankful gratitude to the Lord whenever we tried to express to him what his life and ministry had meant to us.

What was especially remarkable about all this is how the same quality of love could have been showered on so many others.

Yet it was; we knew it, as did they. It would grieve him, I know, if I did not immediately add that this was all of grace. But it was also very evidently of grace.

He had clearly learned from the Lord Jesus how to love many with the same love which was simultaneously completely individualised.

Perhaps I can say nothing more telling about Mr. Still than that since his death every time I have thought of how he now contemplates the face of the Lord Jesus Christ a further thought has immediately and instinctively followed: How glorious that Saviour must be who can and does recreate His grace so lovingly in such frail humanity!

William Still was a burning and a shining light. Those who knew him best will inevitably feel that they will not see his like again, and sense an unrepayable debt for the privilege of receiving his ministry and the Christ-centred affection of his pastoral care.

He walked with God and has entered into his rest in the Saviour whom he trusted and loved; his works will follow him.

He was, indeed, a prince and a great man (2 Samuel 3:38).”

–Sinclair Ferguson, “William Still (1911-1997), Minister of Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen, 1945-1997,” The Banner of Truth Magazine, No. 409 (Oct. 1997): 6-10.

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“In Adam by nature, in Christ by grace” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Union with Christ in His death and resurrection is the element of union which Paul most extensively expounds. But the principle of Romans 6 is a wider one: if we are united to Christ, then we are united to Him at all points of His activity on our behalf.

We share in His death (we were baptized into His death), in His burial (we were buried with Him by baptism), in His resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ), in His ascension (we have been raised with Him), in His heavenly session (we sit with Him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God) and we will share in His promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with Him in glory (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:11-12; 3:1-4).

This, then, is the foundation of sanctification in Reformed theology. It is rooted, not in our humanity and our achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with Him.

Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the Reformed doctrine first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God’s activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness.

This general approach is well illustrated by Paul’s key statements: ‘We know that our old self [anthropos, man] was crucified with [Christ] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin’ (Rom. 6:6).’

What is here said to be accomplished already is the central element in sanctification (we are no longer slaves to sin, we are servants of God). It is accomplished by doing away with ‘the body of sin’– an expression which may refer in the context of Romans 6 to the physical body, or more generally, to bodily existence as the sphere in which sin’s dominion is expressed.

In Christ, sin’s status is changed from that of citizen with full rights to that of an illegal alien (with no rights– but for all that, not easily deported!). The foundation of this is what Paul describes as the co-crucifixion of the old man with Christ.

The ‘old man’ (ho palaios anthropos) has often been taken to refer to what I was before I became a Christian (‘my former self’). That is undoubtedly implied in the expression.

But Paul has larger canvas in mind here. He has been expounding the fact that men and women are ‘in Adam’ or ‘in Christ’. To be ‘in Adam’ is to belong to the world of the ‘old man’, to be ‘in the flesh”, a slave to sin and liable to death and judgment.

From this perspective, Paul sees Jesus Christ as the second man, the last Adam, the new man. He is the first of a new race of humans who share in His righteousness and holiness. He is the first of the new age, the head of the new humanity, through His resurrection (compare 1 Cor. 15:45-49). By grace and faith we belong to Him.

We too share in the new humanity. If we are in Christ, we share in the new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), we are no longer ‘in the flesh’, but ‘in the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:9). The life and power of the resurrection age have already begun to make their presence felt in our life.

What is so significant here is the transformation this brings to the Christian’s self-understanding. We do not see ourselves merely within the limited vision of our own biographies: volume one, the life of slavery in sin; volume two, the life of freedom from sin.

We see ourselves set in a cosmic context: in Adam by nature, in Christ by grace; in the old humanity by sin, in the new humanity by regeneration. Once we lived under sin’s reign; now we have died to its rule and are living to God.

Our regeneration is an event of this magnitude! Paul searches for a parallel to such an exercise of divine power and finds it in two places: the creation of the world (2 Cor. 4:6; 5:17) and the resurrection and ascension of Christ (Eph. 1:19-20).

Against this background Paul urges radical consecration and sanctification (Rom. 6:11-14). In essence his position is that the magnitude of what God has accomplished is itself an adequate foundation and motivation for the radical holiness which should characterize our lives.

In actual practice, it is the dawning of this perspective which is the groundwork for all practical sanctification.

Hence Paul’s emphasis on “knowing’ that this is the case (Rom. 6:3, 6, 9), and his summons to believers to ‘consider’ themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).

‘Consider’ (‘reckon’, KJV) does not mean to bring this situation into being by special act of faith. It means to recognize that such a situation exists and to act accordingly.

Sanctification is therefore the consistent practical outworking of what it means to belong to the new creation in Christ. That is why so much of the New Testament’s response to pastoral and personal problems in the early church was: ‘Do you not know what is true of you in Christ?‘ (Rom. 6:3, 16; 7:1; 1 Cor. 3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 19; 9:13, 24).

Live by the Spirit’s power in a manner that is consistent with that! If you have died with Christ to sin and been raised into new life, quit sinning and live in a new way.

If, when Christ appears, you will appear with Him and be like Him, then live now in a manner that conforms to your final destiny!”

–Sinclair Ferguson, “Christian Spirituality: The Reformed View of Sanctification,” in Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), 534-536.

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“Our place is on our faces before Him in adoration” by John Stott

“It is of great importance to note from Romans 1–11 that theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated.

On the one hand, there can be no doxology without theology. It is not possible to worship an unknown god. All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture, and arises from our reflection on who He is and what He has done.

It was the tremendous truths of Romans 1–11 which provoked Paul’s outburst of praise. The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God.

Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public worship and private devotion. It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God.

On the other hand, there should be no theology without doxology. There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God.

God is not an appropriate object for cool, critical, detached, scientific observation and evaluation. No, the true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship, as it did Paul. Our place is on our faces before Him in adoration.

As I believe Bishop Handley Moule said at the end of the last century, we must ‘beware equally of an undevotional theology and of an untheological devotion’.”

–John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today; Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 311–312.

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“Understanding Romans” by John Calvin

“There are commentaries on this epistle by many ancient and many modern writers. Indeed they could not have labored at a better task; because when anyone understands this epistle, the way is open before him to an understanding of the whole of Scripture.”

–John Calvin, “Epistle To Simon Grynaeus On The Commentary On Romans,” Calvin: Commentaries, Ed. Joseph Haroutunian (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 74.

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“The unspeakable and incomparable gift of the Father” by John Murray

“If the Father did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up to the agony and shame of Calvary, how could He possibly fail to bring to fruition the end contemplated in such sacrifice.

The greatest gift of the Father, the most precious donation given to us, was not things. It was not calling, nor justification, nor even glorification.

It is not even the security with which the apostle concludes his peroration (Rom. 8:39). These are favours dispensed in the fulfilment of God’s gracious design.

But the unspeakable and incomparable gift is the giving up of His own Son. So great is that gift, so marvellous are its implications, so far-reaching its consequences that all graces of lesser proportion are certain of free bestowment.

Whether the word ‘also’ is tied to ‘with Him’ or to the term ‘freely give’, the significance of ‘with Him’ must be appreciated. Christ is represented as given to us—the giving up for us is to be construed as a gift to us.

Since He is the supreme expression and embodiment of free gift and since His being given over by the Father is the supreme demonstration of the Father’s love, every other grace must follow upon and with the possession of Christ.”

–John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (vol. 1; The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 326.

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“No longer my past but Christ’s past” by Sinclair Ferguson

“We share one bundle of life with Christ in what He has done. All that He has accomplished for us in our human nature is, through union with Him, true for us and, in a sense, of us.

He ‘died to sin, once for all’; ‘He lives to God’ (Romans 6:10). He came under the dominion of sin in death, but death could not master Him.

He rose and broke the power of both sin and death. Now He lives forever in resurrection life to God. The same is as true of us as if we had been with Him on the cross, in the tomb, and on the resurrection morning!

We miss the radical nature of Paul’s teaching here to our great loss.

So startling is it that we need to find a startling manner of expressing it. For what Paul is saying is that sanctification means this: in relationship to sin and to God, the determining factor of my existence is no longer my past. It is Christ’s past.

The basic framework for my new existence in Christ is that I have become a ‘dead man brought to life’ and must think of myself in those terms: dead to sin and alive to God in union with Jesus Christ our Lord.”

–Sinclair Ferguson, “Christian Spirituality: The Reformed View of Sanctification,” in Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), 533.

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“Profound humility should always be ours” by John Murray

“It would be culpable beyond words to close this preface without making the acknowledgment that is supreme. The epistle to the Romans is God’s Word. Its theme is the gospel of His grace, and the gospel bespeaks the marvels of His condescension and love.

If we are not overwhelmed by the glory of that gospel and ushered into the holy of holies of God’s presence, we have missed the grand purpose of this sacred deposit. And it is only because the God of grace has put treasure in earthen vessels that we men have been given the task and privilege of undertaking exposition.

If any success has attended this effort it is only of the grace of the Holy Spirit by whose inspiration the epistle was written and by whose illumination the church has been led in the interpretation of it.

Profound humility should always be ours. The excellency of the power is of God and not of us and to Him alone be all praise and glory.”

–John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament, Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 1: xi.

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