For those unfamiliar with Stott’s work, he was an evangelical Anglican who during the latter half of the twentieth century preached the gospel, championed missions, and published numerous books, especially commentaries on the New Testament. His commentaries are always brimming with insight and full of crisp clear exposition. Thus, I share a few of his remarks on Romans 1:16-20. They helped me unpack Paul’s opening argument about the gospel, and I trust they will help you as well.
Stott, in The Message of Romans, “clarifies the stages of [Paul’s] argument” by putting Romans 1:16-20 into the form of a dialogue (69).
Paul: I am not ashamed of the gospel (16a).
Q: Why not, Paul?
Paul: Because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (16b)
Q: How so, Paul?
Paul: Because in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, that is, God’s way of justifying sinners (17).
Q: But why is this necessary, Paul?
Paul: Because the wrath of God is being revealed against from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (18)
Q: But how have people suppressed the truth, Paul?
Paul: Because what may be known about God is plain to them . . . For since the creation of the world God invisible qualities . . . have been clearly seen . . . (19-20).
Stott’s dialogical presentation helps us to understand the logic of Paul’s argument, but Stott also brings out another compelling facet of Romans 1:16-20. He reflects on the way these verses speak of God’s revelation in a variety of ways, and he helps show from Paul’s own words the rich tapestry of God’s revelation.
For the sake of theological clarity [let’s] state these divine disclosures [revealed in verses 16-20] in the opposite order: First, God reveals his glory (his eternal power and divine nature) in his creation (19-20). Secondly, he reveals his wrath against the sin of those who suppress their knowledge of the Creator (18). Thirdly, he reveals his righteousness (his righteous way of putting sinners right with himself) in the gospel (17). Fourthly, he reveals his power in believers by saving them (16). (Stott, Romans, 69-70).
It is breath-taking to see the way that God has revealed himself in the creation. God has not simply revealed himself in one way or at one time. In creation, in wrath, in grace, and in power, God’s glorious nature is seen through his work in a fallen world. While his glory can be perceived in creation alone; it cannot be fully apprehended or appreciated until we see the variegated shades of salvation and judgment revealed in the contours of the gospel.
This seems to be Paul’s point in Romans. He is explicating in full detail the gospel of Jesus Christ. John Stott helps us see the logic of the gospel, as well as it revelational beauty.
May we marvel at both the wisdom and beauty of God’s gospel, how the just has become the justifier and offered grace to sinners who deserve judgment.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss