The righteous shall live by faith
Paul’s big epistle
The righteous shall live by faith
By R.C. Sproul
Crossway. 520 pages
There are a number of fine, expositional commentaries on Romans, including those by James Montgomery Boice, Kent Hughes, Donald Grey Barnhouse, and the famous 14-volume set by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (John Piper has announced plans to publish his expositions also). Into this esteemed list comes R.C. Sproul’s 514-page collection of 58 sermons spanning the entire epistle.
The volume comprises edited sermons from a series on Romans, originally preached from 2005-2007 to Dr. Sproul’s congregation, St. Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida. The church gives its name to the series to which the book belongs, the St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary, a projected multi-volume set of reader-friendly sermons, expounding whole books of the Bible (the Gospel of John is forthcoming).
Dr. Sproul takes a traditional Reformed, Presbyterian approach, with few surprises for those who are familiar with his teaching: a Calvinist perspective on salvation is presented in Romans 9; penal substitutionary atonement and justification by faith alone are emphasised in chapter 3; infant baptism is supported on the analogy with circumcision in 4.22-25; the ‘wretched man’ of chapter 7 is understood as normal Christian experience (Paul is speaking of his own contemporary struggle with sin), and the ‘esteemed day’ of 14.5 is neither the Sabbath nor the Lord’s Day, but unspecified Jewish holy days.
The defining characteristic of this commentary is the clarity of the writing. Dr. Sproul is at his best when explaining difficult, complex theology in simple, uncomplicated terms. Readers looking for a straightforward exposition of the essential theology of Romans will be well served, with clear teaching on theological concepts such as law and grace, faith and works, predestination, adoption, imputation, reconciliation and the sovereignty of God. There are also occasional, short sections within each chapter (or sermon) explaining the important contributions of theologians such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin and an especially helpful chapter examining the work of Jonathan Edwards on the human will.
But it would be wrong to imagine that this is mere academic treatise. The teaching is consistently relevant and practical, with much pastoral exhortation and encouragement, all of which is accompanied with healthy doses of humour, anecdote and personal experience. The result is a commentary that is never dull, satisfying to both mind and heart and, most importantly, biblically faithful. The book would function as excellent devotional material, with each chapter typically between six to eight pages in length.
Each of the 58 chapters represents a single sermon, and although they are verse by verse expositions, the book is not intended to function as a detailed, exegetical commentary. Pastors or serious students wanting more technical material are best served by the large-scale commentaries by Douglas Moo and Thomas Schreiner. The stated aim of this book is to give the key themes and ideas that comprise the ‘big picture’ of each passage. The commentary will serve not just as a model of expository preaching for pastors, but also as healthy, spiritual nourishment for Christians generally — these sermons were, after all, preached originally to a church.