I came across Martin Luther’s Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans. In it he provides a great overview of Romans, chapter by chapter. It’s a little long, so I’ll post it in two parts. In spite of it’s length, it’s a worthwhile read–very useful to get our minds in a gospel mindset as we prepare to dive headfirst into Josh’s sermon series through the book of Romans (which, by the way, was a great overview–listen to the podcast if you missed it).
I also edited Luther’s words so that we have about a paragraph for each chapter. Take some time today to read this through!
This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes… It is in itself a bright light, almost bright enough to illumine the entire Scripture.
In Chapter 1, all human beings are called liars (Psalm 116), since none of them keeps or can keep God’s law from the depths of the heart. Everyone finds inside himself an aversion to good and a craving for evil. Where there is no free desire for good, there the heart has not set itself on God’s law. There also sin is surely to be found and the deserved wrath of God, whether a lot of good works and an honorable life appear outwardly or not.
In chapter 2, St. Paul extends his rebuke to those who appear outwardly pious or who sin secretly… Paul explains the law rightly when he lets no one remain without sin but proclaims the wrath of God to all who want to live virtuously by nature or by free will. He makes them out to be no better than public sinners; he says they are hard of heart and unrepentant.
In chapter 3, Paul lumps both secret and public sinners together: the one, he says, is like the other; all are sinners in the sight of God. He proves from Scripture that they are all sinners and that no one becomes just through the works of the law but that God gave the law only so that sin might be perceived. He says that they are all sinners, unable to glory in God. Paul teaches the right way to be virtuous and to be saved; They must, however, be justified through faith in Christ, who has merited this for us by his blood and has become for us a mercy seat in the presence of God, who forgives us all our previous sins.
in chapter 4 he deals with some objections and criticisms. He takes up first the one that people raise who, on hearing that faith make just without works, say, “What? Shouldn’t we do any good works?” He concludes that Abraham was made righteous apart from all his works by faith alone. Even before the “work” of his circumcision, Scripture praises him as being just on account of faith alone.
Paul adds that the law brings about more wrath than grace, because no one obeys it with love and eagerness. More disgrace than grace come from the works of the law. Therefore faith alone can obtain the grace promised to Abraham. He calls as witness David, who says in Psalm 32 that a person becomes just without works but doesn’t remain without works once he has become just.
He concludes that the Jews cannot be Abraham’s heirs just because of their blood relationship to him and still less because of the works of the law. Rather, they have to inherit Abrahams’s faith if they want to be his real heirs
In chapter 5, St. Paul comes to the fruits and works of faith, namely: joy, peace, love for God and for all people; in addition: assurance, steadfastness, confidence, courage, and hope in sorrow and suffering. All of these follow where faith is genuine, because of the overflowing good will that God has shown in Christ: he had him die for us before we could ask him for it, yes, even while we were still his enemies. Thus we have established that faith, without any good works, makes just. He proves, by this reasoning, that a person cannot help himself by his works to get from sin to justice any more than he can prevent his own physical birth. He also proves that the divine law, which should have been well-suited, if anything was, for helping people to obtain justice, not only was no help at all when it did come, but it even increased sin. Evil human nature, consequently, becomes more hostile to it; the more the law forbids it to indulge its own desires, the more it wants to. Thus the law makes Christ all the more necessary and demands more grace to help human nature.
In chapter 6, St. Paul takes up the special work of faith, the struggle which the spirit wages against the flesh to kill off those sins and desires that remain after a person has been made just. He teaches us that faith doesn’t so free us from sin that we can be idle, lazy and self-assured, as though there were no more sin in us. Sin is there, but, because of faith that struggles against it, God does not reckon sin as deserving damnation. Therefore we have in our own selves a lifetime of work cut out for us; we have to tame our body, kill its lusts, force its members to obey the spirit and not the lusts. We must do this so that we may conform to the death and resurrection of Christ. This is true freedom from sin, a freedom only to do good with eagerness and to live a good life without the coercion of the law. This freedom is, therefore, a spiritual freedom which does not suspend the law but which supplies what the law demands, namely eagerness and love.
(Part 2 to be posted tomorrow.)