We should note that the gospel to which God had separated Paul is the subject of the remainder of this long letter, especially chapters one verse eighteen through to the end of chapter eleven. It was no lightweight gospel about Jesus dying on the cross so that we could become better people and so go to heaven when we die. Probably we should be ashamed of a gospel that is as superficial and full of half-truth as that one is. There have been occasions, and they seem to occur more frequently, when I get the feeling that God’s people are somewhat ashamed of the gospel. Paul was eager to preach at Rome, nowadays discussion, dialogue and apologetics are the preferred means by which efforts are made to offer the truths of the Christian faith to the unbelieving and those within the churches too. At times apologetics can become somewhat strident, a reasoned apology for the faith is vitally necessary in our day, but the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and the revealing work of the Father is the essential accompaniment of all Christian ministry.
Unless the Father works to reveal the Son and the Holy Spirit is active to convince of the truth and convict of sin a solid work of grace will be absent in those who respond. Is there an unwillingness to thoroughly preach and teach the fundamentals of the gospel as Paul unfolds them in his Roman letter? Perhaps we could simplify these to several essentials, guilt, grace, gift and glory. We should note the order of these words for he never gets to the grace the gift and the glory save through establishing the guilt. Do we preach the good and the glory without first establishing the guilt evading plain declaration what some consider a socially unpleasant and intolerant doctrine? We must not be apologetic about the fact that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Although God looked upon all He had created and made and declared it “very good” it is far from that now, especially mankind. The gospel has power to save if it is the true gospel. It is the word of God and not of man. It is the sword of the Holy Spirit, it cuts and wounds deeply before it heals. Charles Wesley wrote a hymn that paraphrases Psalm forty-five.
In one of the verses he bids Christ to ‘gird on Thy thigh, the Spirit’s sword.” It is a powerful image; sometimes I feel that the Lord’s people, especially His leaders in the churches need to freshly gird on their thighs the Spirit’s sword, the word of the gospel. Why should we be ashamed and apologetic about the gospel of God? Let the communist be ashamed of his message, the theories of Marx, Engel and Lenin lasted little more than seventy years. Democracy has lasted longer, but is crumbling. Religions and philosophies have their day; some lasting longer than others but the word of God is the eternal word. For this reason we should not fear Islam, it shall have its day, but it is not the saving gospel, it is not the eternal word, it, like all the doctrines of devils and philosophies of man contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. The soul that is born of God’s eternal word partakes of His everlasting life. This word of the gospel to which Paul had been separated, (and so are all true ministers of God) does not rust out nor decay. It is ageless and needs no adjustment or modification to suit neither modernity nor a post-modern day.
The needs of fallen man remain the same throughout all history; the crippling power of guilt has been present in the heart of every man since Adam fell, the need to hear the word bringing the grace of God is the same in every generation. In the days when Saul was king and the Philistines had enslaved the children of God, throughout the host of Israel only Saul and his son Jonathan possessed swords. (1 Samuel 13v19-23) The Philistines had taken away the peoples weapons and compelled them to bring their farm implements to be sharpened by their blacksmiths. Israel had no men skilled to this work lest they should make swords and spears. How the enemy fears the sword and the spear! Should the church go to the workshops of this world, its methodologies and ways in order to sharpen those gifts and graces God gives to bring forth fruitfulness for God? The King’s son Jonathan was bold enough to use his sword and it led to a great discomfiting of the enemy and victory for the people of God. (1 Samuel 14) The sword of the Lord is the word of His gospel. We should note that Paul was eager to preach that gospel to the church for the whole truth of God is gospel really, not just some introductory truths. C.S.Lewis captures the truth of the sword in an interesting way in the story of Prince Caspian.
Narnia is under the rule of the wicked King Miraz. Its former glories are departed, the glorious palace is in ruins and Prince Caspian the true ruler is threatened with death and defeat. But, he has a magic horn to blow, it had been given by Aslan in earlier times, when blown it would summon help in their hour of direst need. At this point, when all else has failed, Prince Caspian decides to sound the horn, not knowing what assistance would come. As soon as it sounds the four Pevensy children are again brought to Narnia. In that fabled land they are High King Peter, King Edmund and Queen’s Susan and Lucy. On arrival they come to their castle with its keeps and walls destroyed and find hidden under the dust of time gifts Aslan had given them during their earlier visit to Narnia. High King Peter had been given a sword with which he had won many battles, after blowing the dust off it he girds it on and when he draws it from its scabbard it comes out easily, there is no rust, it needs no cleaning nor sharpening, its keen edge is just the same and so begins afresh the battle to dethrone the usurper Miraz and place Prince Caspian upon the throne and bring life and liberty to all the creatures of Narnia. A children’s story no doubt, but we are all children and this one speaks volumes if we will listen. Jesus our Lord has a sword and He has given it to us. Do we need to find it again and discover its worth? Recently we were in an area where many souls are under the sway of an enemy; a cult rules there and the result is an austere legalistic religion. Even the architecture is stolid and square, imposing its heaviness and control at almost every turn.
It is not easy for the Christian churches in such places; the heavy, all-pervasive atmosphere can cause spiritual fainting fits. Whilst there I woke in the middle of the night and in my reverie was in a Christian meeting in that area, the meeting was dull, the sense of oppression was powerful, and the church was almost apologizing, at least in attitude for even being present in that place. Suddenly, into that place the clear note of a hymn of prayer sounded. The tune happens to begin in the upper register and on the keynote, “O Breath of God come sweeping through us,” is the first line. It sounded sweet and clear and brought relief and release in the tension. The people were waiting for that certain authoritative note that comes from heaven and cleaves through the mists, the sound of the gospel, spoken clearly and unashamedly in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let the children of God gird on their thigh the Spirit’s sword. Perhaps first they need to discover it, hidden in the underground caverns of the King’s palace. Dig for these things, they shall be found.