NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL
R. M. McCheyne
So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For 1 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. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1.15-18).
Where Paul desired to preach: ‘I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.’ Rome was at that time the mightiest city in the whole world. Daniel compared it to a beast with iron teeth stamping other kingdoms with its feet. It was called the mistress of the world. Yet there Paul was willing to preach the gospel. It was the most learned city of the world. Its poets, painters, orators, historians of the Augustan age, were famed over the whole world. Some of the most perfect specimens of human composition that ever were produced were published at Rome at that very time. It was the most wicked city of the world. The pollution that flowed through its streets were equal to those of Sodom and Gomorrah. The emperor was one of the most cruel monsters that ever appeared in the form of a man. That was the place where Paul burned with a flame of desire to be allowed to preach.
What Paul desired to preach: ‘The gospel — the gospel of Christ.’ It was not to see Rome that Paul longed to be there; not to see its temples, and theatres, and statues, the wonders of the world. It was not to display his own eloquence, not to publish some new work to gain esteem and applause of the Roman people. It was to preach the gospel, the way of salvation by the righteousness of God: ‘I am determined to know nothing among you but Christ, and him crucified.’
What Paul felt: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.’ More is meant in these words than is expressed. He does not mean only that he was not ashamed of the gospel, but that he gloried in it. It is very similar to Galatians 6.14: ‘But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Two things are implied in this.
Firstly, Paul was not ashamed of it before God. He had ventured his own soul on this way of salvation. He could say, like David, ‘This is all my salvation, this is all my desire.’ The way of salvation by Jehovah our Righteousness was sweet to Paul. His soul rested there with great delight. He came thus to God in secret, thus in public, thus in dying. He hoped to stand before God through all eternity clothed in this divine righteousness.
Secondly, he was not ashamed of it before men. Though all the world had been against him, Paul would have gloried in this way of salvation. He had a burning desire to make it known to other men. He felt it so sweet, he saw it to be so glorious, that he could have desired a voice so loud that all men might hear at one moment the way of salvation by Christ.
Men would laugh at the idea of a poor worm like Paul going to subdue mighty Rome with a few words of his lips; but Paul saw such a divine power in the gospel that he was not ashamed of it. He knew it could break the hardest heart, and bind up the most broken. The learned men of Rome would smile at the words of this babbler; but Paul saw such wisdom in the gospel, that all human wisdom appeared utter folly beside it. The wickedness of Rome reached up to heaven; it was a continual smoke in God’s nostrils, a fire that burned all the day. But Paul knew that the righteousness of God could cover the sin of a thousand Romes. He saw it to be so vast, so immense, so free, so surpassing glorious, so divine, that it could flow over and cover the sins of the greatest sinner there.
1. Learn from this passage the reasons why worldly men are ashamed of the gospel.
Because it is foolishness.
`But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness’ (1 Corinthians 1.23). ‘But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Corinthians 2.14). Unregenerate men cannot comprehend the way of salvation by the righteousness of another. It appears a foolish scheme. They do not believe it is in the Bible at all. That a man should enter heaven by his good works they can understand, this is agreeable to the pride of the natural heart. Or that God should forget to punish sin and admit had and good into heaven, they can understand this: ‘Thou thoughtest that 1 was altogether such an one as thyself.’ But that a sinner should be covered with the righteousness of another, that he should have the sufferings and holy life of another person laid to his account so as to cover all his sins, this is utter folly to worldly men. Therefore so many of you are ashamed of the gospel of Christ. You are ashamed to hear it preached: when it is clearly set before you, you despise it in your heart. You are ashamed of it before God. You do not go to the Father this way. You do not enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. You do not enter guilty and loathsome in yourself, wearing only the obedience of Christ. You are ashamed of it before men, ashamed to state it to your children and servants as the only way of pardon and acceptance.
Because of the messenger.
Once when Jesus was preaching in His own country they said: ‘Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon’? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him’ (Mark 6.3). When Peter and John were before the Jewish Council, it is said: ‘They perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men’ (Acts 4.13). When Paul preached at Athens, they said: `What will this babbler say?’ At Corinth they said: ‘His bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible’ (2 Corinthians 10.10). So it is still. We have this treasure in earthen vessels. Every minister I know has got some painful defect about him. Ungodly men always stumble at this, and are ashamed of the gospel because of the weakness of those who carry it.
Because they hate its holiness.
Here is the main reason why unregenerate men are ashamed of the gospel – because it is a holy-making gospel. It will not allow men to live on in their sins. If Christ had come to save men in their sins, to pluck them from hell, and let them enjoy their lusts – unregenerate men would hail the gospel. But Jesus is a holy Saviour. ‘He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify us unto himself;’ ‘He shall save his people from their sins.’ He first covers the soul with His white raiment, then makes the soul glorious within; He restores the lost image of God, and fills the soul with pure and heavenly holiness. Unregenerate men among you cannot bear this. The drunkard among you says: Oh! He will take me away from the tavern; the swearer: Oh! He will take away my darling oaths; the sensualist: Oh! He will make me chaste and pure. Hence your malignity against the Redeemer. Hence you see no form nor comeliness in Him who is altogether lovely. You are ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
2. Reasons why believers glory in the gospel of Christ.
Because of its power
`It is the power of God unto salvation.’ To ungodly men nothing appears more weak and powerless than the gospel. They regard it as Lot’s sons-in-law did his solemn warning: ‘He seemed as one that mocked.’ It appears an idle tale, an old wife’s fable; but it is in reality `the power of God unto salvation.’ The gospel is an amazing weapon, when God wields it: ‘The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.’ When God wields the gospel, it is mighty to awaken the hardest hearts. Paul felt this in his own experience. He was a proud blasphemer, persecutor, and injurious – a proud, self-righteous Pharisee. You would have said: Nothing in the world can awaken that man. Jesus revealed Himself to him, and he fell to the ground, trembling and astonished. So he was to see it in the case of others: in Lydia and the jailer, in Sergius Paulus, the deputy of Cyprus: ‘He believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord’ (Acts 13.12). ‘The power of God unto salvation!’ Not God’s mighty arm to destroy, but His mighty arm to save.
He knew it would have the same power on every one that believed, whether Jew or Greek. The obstinate heart of the Jew and the proud heart of the Greek would both be broken under the sharp blade of the gospel. No wonder Paul went so boldly to Rome, when he had such a weapon in his hand. He knew that the hearts of the Romans were hard as adamant, proud as Lucifer, and full of lusts as hell is full of foul spirits; he knew that Satan held that proud city in his arms; yet still here was a power – the simple truth as it is in Jesus – by which God could bring low the proudest and hardest to sit at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in their right mind. This is what enables us to continue preaching among you. I have now some experience of the hardness of your hearts, and that it is easier to create a world than to convert one of your souls; but the gospel is ‘the power of God,’ and I do not despair of the conversion of any one of you. God is able to do it through His mighty gospel; ‘for with God nothing shall be impossible.’
0 brethren, have you felt the power of the gospel? Has the gospel come to you not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance? Has it broken your heart, and bound it up’? Mighty gospel! It alone can save. Awakened sinner! the gospel is ‘the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.’ Though you may have the sins of the Jew and the Greek, there is enough in Jesus to cover all. Though your heart is hard, God is able, through this mighty gospel, to subdue it.
Because of the righteousness of God revealed in it.
This reason springs out of the preceding. It is the power of God; ‘for therein is the righteousness of God revealed.’ It is this righteousness
which gives it all its power, makes it so attractive to sinners, so pacifying to the troubled conscience. ‘The righteousness of God’ is just the sufferings and obedience of the Lord Jesus, who was God, freely offered to cover sinners. The sufferings of Christ, from the manger at Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary, were all sufferings of One who was God: ‘Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace;’ ‘Awake, 0 sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts.’ The blood of Christ is called the blood of God (Acts 20.28). It was this that gave infinite value to the sufferings of Christ. The dying of one holy man might have stood for the dying of one sinner, if God had so pleased; but it needed the dying of One who was God to stand for the dying of many sinners. The obedience of Christ, from infancy to death, was all the obedience of One who was God. His divine will agreed with His holy human will in every act of obedience. His obedience to parents is the obedience of God; His prayers were the prayers of God; His tears, the tears of God; His holy thoughts, the thoughts of God; His holy actions, the actions of God – His whole obedience is divine. It has divine perfection in it. It has a divine fulness and excellence which no other obedience ever had, or can have – it is ‘the righteousness of God.’ This is what is revealed in the gospel, offered freely to every creature, to cover sin, and justify before God.
This was what nerved the arm of Paul. He knew that he was carrying this glorious righteousness into the view of sinners. What though the men of Rome were covered up to heaven with innumerable sins! He knew that this glorious righteousness was enough to cover all.
0 brethren! it is this we come to offer you this day – a righteousness so vast that it is able to cover you divinely. For every sin of yours here is a stripe in Jesus. For the sins of infancy, here are the sufferings of His infancy. For the sins of youth, here are the sufferings of His youth. For the sins of manhood here are the sufferings of His manhood. For your infinite dishonour done to the law of God, here is infinite honour done to the law. His obedience is divine obedience. For your unholy life, here is His divinely holy life to cover you. Here are His divinely holy thoughts, to cover your unholy thoughts. Here are His holy words, to cover your unholy words; His holy actions, to cover your unholy actions.
There is something infinitely vast and glorious in the righteousness of God. When the deluge covered the earth, it covered the highest mountains. Looking down from above, not one mountain top could be seen, but a vast world of waters – a vast plain reflecting the beams of the sun. So if you this day lie down under the righteousness of God, the mountains of your sins will not be seen, but only the vast, deep, glorious righteousness of your God and Saviour. If you were to cast a stone into the deepest part of the ocean, it would be lost and swallowed up by the deep waves of ocean; so when a sinner is cast down under the righteousness of God, he is as it were lost and swallowed up in Christ.
A righteousness so free – ‘From faith to faith!’ The meaning of this is, that it is received by faith alone. If a man would give all the substance of his house for this righteousness of God, it would be utterly contemned. It is ‘without money and without price.’ Christ offers Himself freely to each of you, to be Jehovah your Righteousness.
St. Peter’s, October 16, 1842 (Action Sermon)