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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles

Chapter 39 - Acts 1:16 - Why Paul was not Ashamed of the Gospel Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles by Bonar, Horatius


It is of great moment to know the proper value of a thing before we either praise or dispraise it. Let us beware of either overrating or underrating anything of which we are called to speak. Of the gospel the apostle speaks as one who knew its value. Do we so know its value as to say, What shall it profit me to gain the world and lose the gospel?

The apostle so knew it as to be able to say, I am not ashamed of it; just as elsewhere speaking of the cross he says, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ." He was not ashamed of it at Jerusalem, or Athens, or Rome. Many things were there to make him ashamed of it; Jewish prejudice and Gentile pride. But these prevailed not. In spite of contempt and hatred he held it fast.

We are apt to be ashamed of it. It looks weak, foolish, unintellectual, unphilosophical. It lags behind the age. It has become obsolete! It is beginning to be supplanted by learning and eloquence! Men are apt to shun the gospel as a feeble, childish thing, that has done its work in time past, but is giving place to something higher and more in accordance with the "deep instincts of humanity."

There were some places in which the apostle might have been specially tempted to be ashamed of the gospel, or afraid of preaching it. At Jerusalem, for there the whole strength of Jewish ritualism rose against it; at Athens, for there it was confronted by the power of Grecian wisdom; at Ephesus, for there the dazzling subtleties of heathen magic rose against it; at Corinth, for there the torrent of human lust and pleasure rushed against it; at Rome, for there was time concentrated energy of earthly idolatry. Yet none of these things moved him. He was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, though all that was intellectual, and eloquent, and sensual, and refined, and powerful in humanity protested against it, or mocked it as folly.

We are tempted in our day to be ashamed of the gospel. It is thought to be bare, unintellectual, almost childish by many. Hence they would overlay it with argument and eloquence, to make it more respectable and more attractive. Every such attempt to add to it is being ashamed of it. The old apostolic gospel seems so bald that before we can avow connection with it, we must introduce something like philosophy into it! This is not treating it as Paul did. Some mistake it, others reject it, others are indifferent to it. But there are others who are ashamed of it.

If any might have been ashamed of it, Paul much more. His education, his life, his teachers, his companions were all such as to make him turn aside from a thing so plain. But, rising above all, he protests that he is not ashamed of that which so many of his former friends and teachers scorn.

But why was the apostle not ashamed of it? Had it been the feeble, childish thing which men said it was, he would have been ashamed of it. But it was not so. It was mighty; mightier than philosophy, or argument, or eloquence. It was "power."

Many "apologists" for the gospel have, in their defense of it, assumed somewhat different ground from that of the apostle here. They defend it because it is noble, philosophical, reasonable, benevolent. It is all this, and more. Yet such are not Paul's reasons for glorifying in it. He has fathomed man's infinite need and misery; he has, with divinely opened eyes, looked into man's present condition and his prospects. He sees in that gospel that which meets man's great necessity as a lost being; and it is this glorious suitableness that makes him prize it so much. He is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, because it is the power of God unto salvation. Had it been less than this, however intellectual and philosophical, he would have been ashamed of it. No other excellence, however great, however appreciated by the human intellect, could compensate for the want of this. To be the wisdom of man, the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of words, was nothing to him. In thus listening to Paul's reasons for not being ashamed of the gospel, let us learn what he thinks of that gospel, and what he understands it to be. (1.) It is the embodiment of God's power for the salvation of the sinner; (2.) it is the revelation of God's righteousness to the sinner. This is the sum of his reasons for glorying in the gospel of Christ.

I. It is God's power unto salvation. Men were lost. Nothing but a great salvation could deliver; a salvation which embodied omnipotence. We may say it is a gospel preceded by omnipotence, succeeded by omnipotence, accompanied by omnipotence, containing omnipotence. God's power was needed. Where has God placed it? In the gospel! Out of that gospel it goes forth to save the sinner. In that gospel omnipotence is wrapped up. Out of that gospel omnipotence goes forth to save. The power that is needed for the salvation of a sinner is that which is contained in the gospel. The gospel alone contains this saving power, and as such the apostle is not ashamed of it. But every one is not saved, even by this mighty gospel. Who, then, are saved by it? Only they who believe. Into all who believe, this mighty gospel comes with saving power, working in them and for them the reversal of all that made them lost; the whole of that which God calls salvation. It is in believing this gospel that we are saved; saved at once, freely, completely, forever. This gospel is wide as the world. It embraces all kindreds, and nations, and tongues. It goes first to the Jew; it begins at Jerusalem; but it does not end there. It goes round the earth; it takes in all men, the Greek as well as the Jew,—barbarian, Scythian, bond and free. To every man this mighty gospel comes and says, "Believe and be saved." There is salvation for thee; not by working, or waiting, or praying, or reforming, but simply not by believing. He who believes is saved, whoever or whatever he may be.

II. It is the revelation of God's righteousness. This mighty gospel saves in a righteous way. Its power unto salvation consists in its being a revelation of the righteousness of God. This righteousness is not that which we call the attribute of God. Nor does it merely mean "God's method of justification"; though it is indeed such. It is that righteousness which was displayed in Him who is the righteous One, whose name is "Jehovah our righteousness." It is a righteousness planned by God, provided and prepared by God, exhibited and unfolded by God to the sinner.

(1.) It is a righteousness revealed. No longer concealed, or but darkly unfolded; but fully and brightly displayed by God in Christ.

(2.) It is a divine righteousness. Not merely human, yet still human; human, yet divine; the righteousness of Him who was both God and man.

(3.) It is a righteousness by faith. This is the meaning of the words. "Therein is that righteousness of God, which comes to us by believing, revealed to be believed." We get the whole of this glorious righteousness in accepting God's testimony to it and to Him who wrought it out.

(4.) It is righteousness presented to us to be believed. God holds it out to us. He says, Take this from my hand; and if you ask, How am I to take it? the answer is, Believe what God says to you concerning it, and straightway it is yours.

(5.) It is the same righteousness which was possessed by the Old Testament saints. "The just shall hive by faith," or "the just by faith shall live," are the words of the ancient prophet, not merely predicting what shall be, but what has been and what is. It was Paul's favorite text. It was also Luther's. We become, or are constituted just, by or in believing; and we live by and in believing; for both these propositions are contained in the passage. One justification from the beginning, one faith, one life! The patriarchs "lived" by believing in Him who was to come; we "live" by believing in Him who has come. But it is one Saviour, one salvation, one cross.

God's testimony to this righteousness is very full and explicit. He tells us what kind of righteousness it is, whose it is, and how we get it. It is divine, perfect, glorious, suitable; begun, carried out, completed by Christ during His life and death below: "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." He who believes the divine testimony gets the righteousness. It becomes at once the property of him that believeth,—not of him that worketh. "He that believeth is justified from all things." All the evil that is in us passes over to Christ, our surety; all the excellence that is in Him passes over to us as soon as we accept time testimony. "He was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."

The power of the gospel is wholly saving; it is armed with power,—just in order to save. There is nothing else in our world that can save but this. This gospel contains in it all that is needful to save. It reaches and reverses the condition of the lost. Nothing else does this. It saves, heals, comforts, gladdens, brings out of darkness into light. Salvation! This is its object. Nothing less than this. Not merely to reform, or elevate, or refine; but to save. Whatever it does less than this is in vain. It is salvation that we preach in preaching the gospel,—present, immediate, sure, eternal salvation! What then has the gospel done for you? Has it saved you? If not, it has come to you in vain. If it has only made you moral, or kept you moral, it has fallen short of its end.

It is through believing that this salvation is realized. We are saved when we believe the gospel. A gospel not believed will do nothing for us, but condemn. A believed gospel saves; and saves as soon as believed.

That gospel is the Holy Spirit's testimony to God's free love, and to the finished propitiation of the cross. The reception of that divine testimony is salvation. Has this salvation, O man, found its way into you? Or is it still resisted? Is the evil heart of unbelief still shutting it out? Is it still appealing to you in vain? Is it still telling to you the old story of the love of God, the love of Christ, but telling it in vain? Have you not yet discovered time good news which it brings to you! Are you still unsaved? Unsaved, because rejecting this gospel, and refusing the free gift it brings.