AN EDITOR forwarded a request to me from a reader in Alabama, to write a treatise on Romans 10:14 which reads, "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" I attempt this fully aware of the fact that I must be especially inspired with divine qualifications for this special venture or this attempt will be vain.
We cannot lift a verse of Scripture out of its context and treat upon it independently of its setting and hope to derive a true conclusion. Neither can we come to a true conclusion without considering all the Scriptures lest there be a contradiction. The fact that this verse is written using all pronouns in third person we must consider who is writing, to whom it is addressed, of whom is he speaking and what is the subject under consideration?
Paul, who was a "servant of Jesus Christ," "Called to be an apostle," "Separated unto the gospel of Jesus Christ," did this writing. He had "received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations." Let us see how Paul was led into this condition. Read the ninth chapter of Acts relative to his conversion. Paul was one of the elect family, "A chosen vessel," beloved of God, and was chosen in Christ before he had this experience. He was full of zeal toward God, but not according to knowledge when the light shined about him. He had breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of Christ and had obtained authority from the high priests to bring men and women bound to Jerusalem who were disciples of the Lord. He was persecuting worshippers of the Christ when he was stopped by Him. We see, then, that Paul was ordained beforehand by God unto the position he was in when he wrote this letter but it took the direct operation of God's Holy Spirit upon both Paul and Ananias, a preacher, to perfect this ordination. He assented to believe in God but not that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He possessed zeal toward God but not a zeal toward Jesus Christ. He was a chosen vessel but had not been separated unto the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When you read this account of Paul's experience as recorded in the ninth and twenty-second chapters of Acts you will find that Paul heard the voice of the Son of God. This voice had its effect as always. This voice ordered him to go to a certain place "and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do" (Acts 22:10). At the same time God was working directly upon a preacher, Ananias. The Lord said unto Ananias, "Go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. . . Go thy way; for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:11,12,15,16)). Read the record. You will see that both obeyed and met. The result was that Paul heard the preacher because God had prepared the heart of Paul and had sent the preacher.
Paul believed the preacher because God had and was directly working upon Paul and the preacher. Ananias laid his hand upon Paul, Paul received his sight, Ananias baptized Paul, ordained him as a preacher as ministers are ordained today. Paul abode there certain days and straightway preached Jesus in the synagogues as the Christ, the Son of God. He had now received grace and apostleship. We see that Paul knew by his experience what he was writing in Romans 10:14,15. He knew that God had sent and used a preacher in bringing him into the fellowship of the Church, and in ordaining him as a minister. God hath ordained that a few of the many for whom Jesus died will be added to the Church in this way.
Paul is particularly addressing those who have already been added to the Church in Romans 10:14. He is primarily addressing the Gentiles who have been endowed with the Holy Spirit, who have heard and believed gospel preaching. These have the faith in their hearts that Jesus is the Son of God. These have confessed with their mouths and have been baptized. They knew from experience that there had been a miraculous working. They had heard and believed God-sent preachers. God uses Paul in this letter to preach to them as well as unto us to their edification and comfort. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). God is saving them as well as us from erroneous theories and vain practices through Paul's preaching. We want you to understand that Paul is writing to believers in Christ Jesus. He is writing of a people of God who have not yet believed that Jesus is the Christ.
Paul has under consideration the children of God among the Jews who have a zeal toward God but not according to knowledge. His heart's desire and prayer to God is that they might be saved. He bears record of this zeal in trying to establish their own righteousness, not submitting themselves unto the righteousness of God. The zealous law worshippers of this day are in the same category, especially those who are not satisfied with their righteousness but go about trying to establish their own righteousness. I think it is evident that many who are born of God do not yet believe that Jesus is their Christ. They are yet under the law and worshippers of it. One truly born of God finds by sad experience that his efforts to establish his own righteousness are not successful, seeing he falls short of meeting its demands. Paul says in Romans 10:4, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth." There is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile for the "same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him." Then he quotes, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13).
In response to the quotation, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved," Paul asks a number of questions which verifies God's method of saving His people in the sense expressed in the quotation. May we think of this as a golden chain God uses in especially saving a remnant of His elect from the dominion of the law and sin experienced in time. It is His way of bringing some of His children into sweet fellowship with one another. Through this chain He makes them fit and proper subjects for baptism. Those of you who are "called to be saints," who are members of the Church, know that you heard the truth preached by, or rather, through a preacher. Because that your heart was prepared to hear the preached truth, you heard and believed the truth. You assented to this truth by confessing with your mouth using words of the tongue which was prepared by the Lord. You were received by the Church and were baptized by a preacher. All members of the militant church have heard and believed the preaching of God-sent ministers, and have been baptized in water by a God-sent and properly ordained preacher. These expressions are in strict accord with all cases cited in the Acts.
We want to call your attention to Paul's discourse on Mars Hill in Athens. The people Paul addressed there had an altar having this inscription, "To the unknown God." "As I passed by, and beheld your devotion, I found an altar with this inscription, to the unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you" (Acts 17 :23). These were ignorantly worshipping God. Therefore, they were proper subjects of gospel address. Paul preached that God was the Lord of the heavens and of the earth, and that in Him we moved and had our being. He also preached Christ unto them and some believed! These people were subjects of gospel address because they ignorantly worshipped God. They had been born again but had not yet believed in Jesus Christ. God was directly working with Paul and some of these people in order to bring them into the knowledge of the truth. The result was that "Certain men cleaved unto him and believed" (Acts 17 :34). You will notice that it was certain men. It was certain men who had godly preparations. Let us pass to Philip and the eunuch of Ethiopia as recorded in Acts 8:26-39, and see if we do have the same procedure as indicated in Romans 10:14,15.
Here we find that a preacher was sent. Philip was sent to the Ethiopian. The Ethiopian was a worshipper of God because he had gone up to the temple at Jerusalem to worship. The eunuch was interested in the Scriptures because he was reading the prophecy of Isaiah as he rode along in his chariot. He read but did not understand what he read. He wanted to know of Philip if Isaiah was speaking of himself or of some other man. The eunuch was reading the seventh and eighth verses of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Philip began at the same Scripture and preached unto him Jesus. When they had come to certain water, the eunuch asked, "See here is water. What doth hinder me to be baptized?" Philip answered, "If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest." The eunuch answered, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Philip baptized the eunuch. The eunuch was born of the Spirit and his heart especially prepared by God to hear and believe the preaching of Philip. Philip was especially sent to preach Jesus to the eunuch. When the eunuch assented to the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, the eunuch was a fit subject for baptism. The eunuch was born of God and in possession of godly zeal, he was ignorantly worshipping the symbol at Jerusalem and was interested in the Scriptures before Philip, preached to him. The eunuch was, being in that condition, a subject of gospel address. He was alive spiritually but needed guidance because he couldn't understand what he read. The Ethiopian did not know whether Isaiah spoke of himself or of some other man. God used Philip to preach Jesus unto him that he might understand that Isaiah was prophesying of Jesus and not of himself. What was the result? The eunuch believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and was given a desire to follow Him in baptism in water. The eunuch was added to the church in fellowship one with another. Now, read the second chapter of Acts.
You will find that Peter was especially sent and qualified to preach that sermon by the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. You will see that it especially pricked the hearts of those individuals whom God had prepared their hearts to receive it. They yet did not understand what to do. They realized they must do something but did not know what they must do, so they inquired, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" These were proper subjects to receive God's commands, exhortations, and testimonies through the mouth of Peter that they might be saved from "this untoward generation" and be added to the Church. They who gave evidence that they had gladly received His word were baptized. The command to repent and be baptized was the command to outwardly make manifest the repentance that they already experienced in heart by the direct operation of God's Holy Spirit. This was a command to come out from among them and be separate.
Read Acts 10 for an account of Cornelius' conversion. Cornelius was already born of God before God gave him the special vision recorded because he was "a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people and prayed to God alway." God dealt directly with him by commanding him specifically to go to a certain place and call for a certain man who would tell him what he ought to do. God, also, directly qualified Peter for this special occasion. Note that in all cases God directly prepares both the hearer and the preacher, and in all cases cited he used preachers in this special salvation under consideration! You will find that Cornelius told his experience. Peter preached Jesus unto the hearers who had been gathered by God's providence. After seeing the evidence that the gift of the Holy Ghost had been poured out on them Peter commanded them to be baptized.
You who read this may ask, "Does faith come by the preacher?" Paul must have surmised such question in treating upon this text for he reasons that they have not all obeyed even though the sound of gospel preaching has been literally heard by them. Then he quotes a question from Isaiah 53 :1, "Who hath believed our report?" He answers by saying, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Spiritual hearing does not come by the preacher but by the Word of God. God must speak to each and every individual that hears spiritually. This faith is directly imparted to His people as a gift from Him. Some phases of this faith come to a few through a preacher but not by a preacher. I have heard it said by ordained brethren, "There will be no preaching unless the preacher comes." Jesus Christ is the Preacher that was anointed for this particular work. He was ordained to preach the gospel to the poor. Unless Christ preaches through an individual there will be no preaching. Unless He preaches to an individual there will be no comfort and spiritual strength experienced. Christ is the Word. Every time you are given to hear Christ preach through His ordained ministers your faith is strengthened and your hope renewed. You are not given to thank the preacher but to thank God for the preaching that you so joyfully received. You admire the minister and thank God for him.
"How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things" (Romans 10:15). Have you been deeply impressed with the readiness of your pastor to come to you in times of distress when you call upon him? Have you noticed how persistently he goes among his scattered flock to administer words of comfort? Have you ever experienced a peaceful calm as you watched a minister walking toward you? When your troubled heart has been calmed as you listened to gospel preaching you have thought, "His feet were guided and directed by the providence of God that he might bring glad tidings of good things to me." You have noticed that his walk is graced with humility and meekness. You observe that his steps and actions are carefully and prayerfully taken. His feet are not swift to run into trouble and confusion but he walks beside the still waters. "Surely," you say, "God is guiding his footsteps for he walks in paths of righteousness."
You listen to the words he speaks. They calm your troubled breast and soothe your aching heart. They are words of peace that settle your confused mind. He tells you of good things, that our God reigns in providence and grace, and that Jesus saves you from all your sins. He cries that God is merciful to your unrighteousness, and is a present help in time of trouble. He preaches that it is through the merits of Christ that we have hope of heaven and immortal glory. You desire to be in complete fellowship of the saints. You are made willing to come out from among this untoward generation, follow your Lord in baptism, and be numbered with this peculiar people who trust only in the Lord. May God enable those of you who are not numbered with those who have believed with their hearts and confessed with their mouth to do so. May He give you strength and courage to "Go home (to the Church) to your friends (those who feel little but trust in God) and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for you and had compassion upon you." Tell your experience. Those of you who are numbered with the church, may God bless you to thank Him for the fellowship of your brethren. May God sanctify these meditations to your comfort and edification is my prayer.
Elder E. J. Lambert
"Tried in the Furnace" pgs 241-249