11. Paul’s Epistles: The Preparatory Epistles

 The Sacred Scrolls of the Scriptures

 THE THIRD item of the present secret economy, that the nations are to be joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the evangel of which Paul was the dispenser (Eph.3:6) is proof positive that the Preparatory Epistles–Romans, Corinthians and Galatians–are for us today, in a glorified form. As they stand, we are partakers, but not joint partakers. The Jew has a prior place. The nations are indebted to them for their spiritual gifts (Rom.2:10; 3:1; 15:27).
Further evidence is afforded by the fact that, in Ephesians, it is taken for granted that we have the cuirass of righteousness and the readiness of the evangel of peace (Eph.6:14,15). Where would we get these except in the Preparatory Epistles? These are their two great subjects–justification and conciliation. And the latter is further emphasized by the prayer of the apostle that he might continue to disclose the secret of the evangel (Eph.6:19) which is the culmination of the Roman epistle (Rom.16:25-27).
The four Preparatory Epistles are a marvelous group in which Romans corresponds to Ephesians, in that it contains all the truth in didactic form, while the other epistles treat the same truth from the standpoint of life and practice. Galatians, like Colossians, introduces no new revelation, but corrects the departure from the teaching of the first section of the Roman epistle. Second Corinthians is concerned especially with the conciliation of Romans five to eight, while First Corinthians corrects defection from the path indicated in the latter part of Romans.
The inclusive nature of the epistle to the Romans is evident in its opening words: “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, a called apostle.” The first half of the epistle is especially devoted to doctrine which depends on his apostolic commission to give it weight; the latter part is especially occupied with the practice of the doctrine.
The two absorbing topics of the epistle are contrasted in the introduction and conclusion. As is detailed in the account in Acts (13:2), Paul was separated to the evangel of God, which had been promised before, to Abraham (Rom.4). With this he contrasts “my evangel (of which Acts contains not the slightest intimation) which is the proclamation of Christ Jesus in accord with the revelation of a secret hushed in eonian times, yet manifested now, through prophetic scriptures (Rom.16:25). The contrast between “the scriptures of the prophets” and “prophetic scriptures”–one referring to the Hebrew prophets and the other to recent writings such as this epistle–is entirely obliterated in both the Authorized and Revised versions, but it is difficult to see how a secret could be kept by revealing it. Justification was made known in the prophets: conciliation was practically excluded by their message.
The evangel of God brings righteousness to the nations, outside of Israel’s narrow pale, on the ground of the promise to Abraham. Paul’s “my” evangel retreats still further, and finds in Adam a shadowgraph of the conciliation.
The opening of Romans further emphasizes the fact that God’s evangel concerns His Son, and is based on His power to raise the dead (Rom.1:4). The earth-life of the Messiah of Israel is not in view. Even as Paul himself did not become acquainted with Him until He was beyond death, in glory, so the commission given to him did not concern His previous career, but only that glorified condition subsequent to His resurrection.
Another point is important. Paul received “grace and apostleship.” By the figure hendiadys we are impressed with the excessively gracious manner in which he received his commission. Peter and the rest were looking for the Messiah and gladly followed Him. Paul, on the contrary, persecuted Him beyond all reason. His commission came to him, not on the ground of merit or reward, but altogether on the ground of grace.
All this is brought before us before we enter the epistle itself. It is important by its very position. Only those who enter through this portal will find their way in the succeeding portions.
Another point must be pressed. Romans was not written to the ecclesia at Rome. It was written to the saints in their individual capacity. This is seen throughout the epistle. It deals with our personal relationship to God. Our fellowship with others is a minor consideration. All the other epistles in this group–the Corinthian epistles and Galatians–were addressed to ecclesias. The reason for this is not far to seek. As they interpret the truth of Romans in terms of action and experience, which brings us in contact with our fellow believers, it is necessary to correct whole ecclesias for the failure of individuals, seeing that it is their duty to deal with such.
Another point of difference is apparent. Not only does Paul address an aggregation but he also associates others with him in his writing. Sosthenes is with him in the first epistle to the Corinthians and Timothy in the second, while all the brethren with him stand back of the Galatian epistle. In this there is a gracious lesson for us. In teaching, one is sufficient; in correcting and entreating, two or more are needed to mitigate possible harshness or prejudice.
Both the Corinthian epistles are addressed to the ecclesias of God, in recognition of the fact that they were established on the basis of the evangel of God, not on the Davidic promise of the kingdom, but on the Abrahamic promise of faith.
A notable yet unheeded clause in the introduction to First Corinthians demands special consideration. With the ecclesia is associated “all, in every place, who invoke the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–theirs as well as ours.” Any effort to make this mean it was for all time–now as well as then–is futile. Any effort to make it mean that it included all other ecclesias is also barred by the fact that it follows the characterization “saints.” The key to it lies in the expression “invoke the name of our Lord.” This arose from the custom, which is still found in eastern lands, of taking refuge in the name of some great personage.
If the avenger of blood should be after us so that we had but a moment to live, all we would need to do would be to call out “I invoke the name of So-and-so,” and the avenger would drop his sword, for the man whose name was invoked would surely take it upon himself to avenge anything done to one who invoked his name. It became a special expression in Israel, denoting deliverance. All who call upon, or invoke, the name of Yahweh shall be saved in the day of His wrath. It is not for the nations. This explains why he distinguishes between them and the Corinthians. They are united by having the same Lord. He is their Lord as well as ours.
Paul is just breaking away from the Circumcision, after his separation from them by the holy spirit. While he does not address this epistle directly to them he acknowledges their mercy and desires that they should be acquainted with the grace which he dispenses. He made a special journey to Jerusalem to acquaint the Circumcision apostles with his message (Gal.2:2). Peter undoubtedly had read some of his epistles (2 Peter 3:15). They read his epistles in the same spirit in which we should read the Circumcision epistles today, without the least thought of applying them to themselves.
The introduction to Galatians is most characteristic of the contents of the epistle. They questioned his apostleship, or at least made it secondary and subservient to that of Peter and the twelve. So he disposes of that point at once. “Paul, an apostle, not from men, neither through a man [Peter], but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.”
Then he goes on to draw the line between his ministry and that of the twelve in living words of fire. There are few such indexes of the prevailing apostasy, even in the midst of religious ardor, as the almost total failure of God’s saints to apprehend, much less appreciate, the transcendent grace which Paul received and dispensed, and the radical differences between it and the mercy ministered by the twelve. All this is implied in the covert reference to Peter in the opening sentence. His commission was not from men. This plural may refer to the twelve. It was not through a man. This singular can hardly refer to anyone but Peter. If we will follow this hint we will eventually find the rich excess of grace through Paul sufficient grounds for leaving the epistles of Peter to those for whom they were intended. 

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