Commentary Connoisseur: The Welsh & English

I don’t know if I have an absolute favorite commentary on least not yet. I remember when serving as a youth pastor I spent about two years working through the book of Romans with all the high school students in our church. During that time I read through a large portion of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ “sermons” on the book and remember being greatly blessed by his insights, especially on Romans chapter 6. There’s tediousness to it just because there’s so much to read; he has an entire chapter on the word “therefore”! Nonetheless, I look back on that time with great fondness in how the Lord used those sermons to shape and form my own spiritual walk.

            On the other end of the scale, I also remember benefiting from John Stott’s IVP commentary, “The Message of Romans”. If Lloyd-Jones is expansive and voluminous, Stott’s commentary is simple, stays on the line of Scripture, and is sermonically suggestive. That is, he clearly and simply breaks apart any given pericope according to how the text naturally falls apart, giving any would-be-preacher a quick but textually faithful sermon outline. It’s clear he is at once trying to be faithful to the logic and flow of the text while at the same time aiming to present the passage in sermonic form.

            So, opening the commentary at random to Romans 3:21-26, Stott breaks apart this section in three titled points. First, “The Source of our Justification: God and His Grace” highlighting verse 24a. Second, “The Ground of our Justification: Christ and His Cross” looking at verses 24b-26. And then thirdly, “The Means of our Justification: Faith” zeroing in on what ties the whole passage together, the word “faith” in verses 22, 25, and 26.

            Reading through that commentary as a young man helped me understand more and more the necessity of clear and simple preaching, presenting any given passage to the congregation in an easily digestible way. It should go without saying, but John Stott as a preacher was clearly gifted in that regard and his commentary on Romans highlights this well.

            Changing gears a bit, it may not be a stretch to guess that most people’s favorite part of Romans is chapter 8. With its rich theology of the Spirit, suffering, soteriology, and sin, Romans chapter 8 stands out as veritable Mount Everest in the landscape of Scripture. One of the most encouraging and helpful books I’ve read on Romans chapter 8 is Octavius Winslow’s “No Condemnation In Christ Jesus”. Romans 8 is written to encourage believers in the assurance of who they are in Christ, even in light of a fallen, sin-and-suffering-scarred world. Octavius Winslow aims to squeeze out every drop of assurance that can be found in that chapter.

            “There is, therefore, now no condemnation. It is the existence of a present condition. It is the enjoyment of a present immunity... It is the simple belief of this fact that brings instant peace to the bosom. A present discharge from condemnation must produce a present joy. Open the iron-bound door of the condemned cell, and by the dim light that struggles through its bars read the sovereign’s free pardon to the felon, stretched, pale, and emaciated, upon his pallet of straw; and the radiance you have kindled in that gloomy dungeon, and the transport you have created in that felon’s heart, will be a present realization. You have given him back a present life; you have touched a thousand chords in his bosom, which awake a present harmony; and where, just previous, reigned in that bosom sullen, grim despair, now reigns the sun-light joyousness of a present hope. Christian! there is now no condemnation for you.”[1]

            I remember reading late into the night this exhilarating book, chapter after chapter dealing with only one verse at a time, slowly allowing the weight of Romans 8 to pierce down into my heart and produce within me an incomparable joy in Christ and my adoption in Him.

            “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Not only are all things in the covenant theirs, but the God of the covenant is theirs. This is their greatest mercy... Not only are they put in possession of all that God has - a boundless wealth; but they are in present possession of all that God is - an infinite portion. And what an immense truth is this, ‘I will be their God, and they shall be my people!’ Take out this truth from the covenant of grace, were it possible, and what remains? It is the chief wealth and the great glory of that covenant that God is our God!”[2]

            Here then are three resources on Romans - one from a Welshman and the other two from Englishmen - men who have dug deep within the rich soils of Romans, unearthing exquisite treasures to encourage your souls and better your preaching.

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

[1] Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation In Christ Jesus, (Banner of Truth, 1991) p. 7-8.

[2] ibid., p. 184-185.


Stephen Unthank