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Notes on

The Letter to the Romans

Chapter 1

by E. J. Waggoner


The first seven verses of the first chapter of Romans are the salutation. No uninspired letter ever embraced so much in its greeting as this one. The apostle was so overflowing with the love of God that he could not write a letter without covering almost the whole gospel in the salutation.

1. A Bond Servant. — "Paul, a servant of Jesus." It is thus that the apostle introduces himself to the Romans. In several other epistles the same expression is used. Some people would be ashamed to acknowledge themselves servants; the apostles were not.

It makes a vast difference whom one serves. The servant derives his importance from the dignity of the one served. Paul served the Lord Jesus Christ. Everybody may serve the same Master. "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey?" Rom. 6:16. Even the ordinary house servant who yields to the Lord is the servant of the Lord, and not of man. "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God; and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Jesus Christ." Col. 3:22-24. Such a consideration as this can not fail to glorify the most menial drudgery.

Our version does not give us the full force of the term which the apostle uses when he calls himself a servant. It is really "bond servant." He used the ordinary Greek word for slave. If we are really the Lord's servants, we are servants bound to him for life. It is a bondage that is itself freedom, "for he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman; likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant." 1 Cor. 7:22.

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2. Separated. — The apostle Paul was "separated unto the gospel." So is every one who is really the servant of the Lord. "No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye can not serve God and mammon." Matt. 6:24. No man can serve the Lord and have other service besides that.

"Do you mean to say that a merchant or other business man can not be a Christian?" By no means. What I said was that a man can not serve the Lord and at the same time have other service. "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him." Col. 3:17. If the man is not serving the Lord in his business, then he is not serving the Lord at all. The true servant of Christ is truly separated.

But this does not mean that he separates himself from personal contact with the world. The Bible gives no countenance to monkery. The most hopeless sinner is he who thinks himself too good to associate with sinners. How then are we to be separated unto the gospel? By the presence of God in the heart. Moses said to the Lord: "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up thence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? Is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth." Ex. 33:15,16.

But the one who is separated to the public ministry of the gospel as the apostle Paul was, is separated in a special sense in that he may not engage in any other business for personal gain. "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." 2 Tim. 2:4. He can not take any position, however high under earthly governments. To do so is to dishonor his Master, and to belittle his service. The minister of the gospel is the ambassador of Christ, and there is no other position that can approach it in honor.

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3. The Gospel of God. - The apostle declared that he was "separated unto the gospel of God." It is the gospel of God "concerning his Son Jesus Christ." Christ is God and therefore the gospel of God, of which the apostle speaks in the first verse of the chapter, is identical with "the gospel of Christ" of which he speaks in the sixteenth verse.

Too many people separate the Father and the Son in the work of the gospel. Many do so unconsciously. God, the Father, as well as the Son, is our Saviour. "God so loved the world, that He gave his only-begotten son." John 3:16. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself." 2 Cor. 5:19. "The council of peace" is "between them both." Zech. 6:13. Christ came to the earth only as the representative of the Father. Whoever saw Christ, saw the Father also. John 14:9. The works which Christ did, were the works of the Father, who dwelt in him. Vs. 10.

Even the words which he spoke, were the words of the Father. Vs. 24. When we hear Christ saying, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," we are listening to the gracious invitation of God the Father. When we see Christ taking the little children up in his arms, and blessing them, we are witnessing the tenderness of the Father. When we see Christ receiving sinners, mingling with them, and eating with them, forgiving their sins, and cleansing the hideous lepers with a touch, we are looking upon the condescension and compassion of the Father. Even when we see our Lord upon the cross, with the blood streaming from his side, that blood by which we are reconciled to God, we must not forget that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself," so that the apostle Paul said, "the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." Acts 20:28.

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4. The Gospel in the Old Testament. - The gospel of God to which the apostle Paul declared himself to be separated, was the gospel "which he had promised afore by his prophets in the Holy Scriptures" (Rom. 1:2); literally, the gospel which he had before announced or preached. This shows us that the Old Testament contains the gospel, and also that the gospel in the Old Testament is the same gospel that is in the New. It is the only gospel that the apostle preached. That being the case, it should not be thought strange for people to believe the Old Testament, and to refer to it as of equal authority with the New Testament.

We read that God "preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed." Gal. 3:8. The gospel preached to the people when Paul lived was the same gospel that was preached unto the ancient/ Israelites. See Hebrews 4:2. Moses wrote of Christ, and so much of the gospel is to be found in his writings that a man who does not believe what Moses wrote, can not believe in Christ. John 5:46, 47. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." Acts 10:43.

Paul had only the Old Testament when he went to Thessalonica, "and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead." Acts 17:2, 3.

Timothy had nothing in his childhood and youth but the Old Testament writings, and the apostle wrote to him: "Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
2 Tim. 3:14, 15.

Then go to the Old Testament with the expectation of finding Christ and his righteousness there, and you will be made wiser unto salvation.
Do not discriminate between Moses and Paul, between David and Peter, between Jeremiah and James, between Isaiah and John.

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5. The Seed of David. - The gospel of God is "concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh." Rom. 1:3. Read the history of David, and of the kings who descended from him, and who became the ancestors of Jesus, and you will see that on the human side the Lord was handicapped by his ancestry as badly as anybody can ever be. Many of them were licentious and cruel idolaters. Although Jesus was thus compassed with infirmity, he "did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." 1 Pet. 2:22. This is to give courage to men in the lowest condition of life. It is to show that the power of the gospel of the grace of God can triumph over heredity.

The fact that Jesus was made of the seed of David means that he is heir to the throne of David. Of David's throne the Lord said, "Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee; thy throne shall be established forever." 2 Sam. 7:16. David's kingdom is therefore coextensive with the inheritance promised to Abraham, which is the whole world. See Romans 4:13.

The angel said of Jesus, "The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." Luke 1:32, 33. But all this involved his bearing the curse of the inheritance, and suffering death. "For the joy that was set before him" He "endured the cross, despising the shame." Heb. 12:2. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name." Phil. 2:9.

As with Christ, so with us; it is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom. He who fears reproach, or who makes his lowly birth, or his inherited traits, an excuse for his shortcomings, will fail of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus Christ went to the lowest depths of humiliation in order that all who are in those depths might, if they would, ascend with him to the utmost heights of exaltation.

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6. Power by the Resurrection. - Although Jesus Christ was of lowly birth, he was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." Rom. 1:4. Was he not the Son of God before the resurrection? and was he not so declared to be? Certainly; and the power of the resurrection was manifested in all his life. To speak of nothing else, the power of the resurrection was shown in his raising the dead, which he did by the power dwelling in him. But it was the resurrection from the dead that settled the matter beyond all doubt for men.

After his resurrection he met the disciples, and said unto them, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." Matt. 28:18. The death of Christ shattered all the hopes that they had centered in him; but when he "showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days" (Acts 1:3), they had ample proof of his power.

Their sole work thenceforth was to be witnesses of his resurrection and of its power. The power of the resurrection is according to the Spirit of holiness, for it was by the Spirit that he was raised. The power given to make men holy is the power that raised Jesus from the dead. "His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness."

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7. The Obedience of Faith. - Paul said that through Christ he had received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith among all nations. True faith is obedience. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom He hath sent." John 6:29. Christ said, "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" Luke 6:46. That is, a profession of faith in Christ which is not accompanied by obedience, is worthless. "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead." James 2:17. "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." Vs. 26.

A man does not breathe in order to show that he lives, but because he is alive. He lives by breathing. His breath is his life. So a man can not do good works in order to demonstrate that he has faith, but he does good works because the works are the necessary result of faith. Even Abraham was justified by works, because "faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect. And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness."

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8. "Beloved of God." - That was a most comforting assurance that was given "to all that are in Rome." How many people have wished that they could hear an angel direct from glory say to them what Gabriel said to Daniel, "Thou art greatly beloved"! The apostle Paul wrote by direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and so the message of love came as directly from heaven to the Romans as it did to Daniel. The Lord did not single out a few favorites by name, but declared that all in Rome were beloved of God.

Well, there is no respect of persons with God, and that message of love to the Romans is ours as well. They were "beloved of God" simply because "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16. "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee." Jer. 31:3. And this everlasting love to men is not shaken, although they forget it; for to those who have turned away, and fallen by their iniquity, he says, "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely." Hosea 14:43. "If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful; He can not deny Himself."

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9. "Called Saints." - The reader will notice that the words "to be" in Romans 1:7 are indicated as supplied [by the use of italics in KJV], so that instead of "called to be saints," we may read literally, "called saints." God calls all men to be saints, but all those who accept him he calls saints. That is their title. When God calls people saints, they are saints.

These words were addressed to the church in Rome, and not to the Church of Rome. The Church of Rome has always been apostate and pagan. It has abused the word "saint" until in its calendar it is almost a term of reproach. No greater sin has ever been committed by Rome than the distinction it has made between "saints" and ordinary Christians, making practically two standards of goodness. It has led people to think that laboring men and housewives were not and could not be saints, and has thus discounted true, everyday piety, and has put a premium on pious laziness and self-righteous deeds.

But God has not two standards of piety, and all the faithful people in Rome, poor and unknown as many of them were, he called saints. It is the same to-day with God, although men may reckon differently.

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10. The next eight verses may well be summarized in the words "debtor to all," for they show the completeness of the apostle's devotedness to others. Let us read them carefully, and not be content with one reading:

A Great Contrast. — -In the days of the apostle Paul the faith of the church in Rome was spoken of throughout all the world. Faith means obedience; for faith is counted for righteousness, and God never counts a thing so unless it is so. Faith "worketh by love." Gal. 5:6. And this work is a "work of faith." 1 Thess. 1:3. Faith also means humility, as is shown by the words of the prophet, "Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith." Hab. 2:4. The upright man is the just man; the man whose soul is lifted up is not upright or just; but the just man is such because of his faith; therefore only the man whose soul is not lifted up has faith. The Roman brethren, therefore, in the days of Paul, were humble.

But it is far different now. An instance is given by the Catholic Times of June 15, 1894. The pope had said, "We gave authority to the bishops of the Syrian rite to meet in synod at Mossul," and had commended the "very faithful submission" of those bishops and had ratified the election of the patriarch by "Our Apostolic authority." An Anglican paper had expressed surprise, saying, "Is this a free union of equal churches, or is it submission to one supreme and monarchical head?" To which the Catholic Times replies: "It is not a free union of equal churches, but it is submission to one supreme and monarchical head. . . . To our Anglican pleader we say, You are not really surprised. You know well what Rome claims and always will claim, - obedience. That claim is now, if it ever was, before the world."

But that claim was not before the world in the days of Paul. In those days it was the church in Rome; now it is the Church of Rome. The church in Rome was famous for its humility, and its obedience to God. The Church of Rome is famous for its haughty assumption of the power of God, and for its demand for obedience to itself.

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11. Praying without Ceasing.-The apostle exhorted the Thessalonians to "pray without ceasing." 1 Thess. 5:17. He did not exhort others to do that which he did not do himself, for he told the Romans that without ceasing he made mention of them always in his prayers. It is not to be supposed that the apostle had the brethren at Rome on his mind every waking hour of the day, for in that case he could not have thought of anything else. No man can be consciously in prayer every moment, but all can continue "instant in prayer," or, as Young translates it, "in the prayer persevering." Rom. 12:12.

This is in harmony with what the Saviour said, that "men ought always to pray, and not to faint," or grow weary. Luke 18:1. In the parable that follows, the unjust judge complains of the "continual coming" of the poor widow. That is an illustration of praying without ceasing. It is not that we are to be every moment in conscious prayer, for then important duties would be neglected, but it is that we should not grow weary of praying.

A Man of Prayer. — This is what Paul was. He made mention of the Romans in all his prayers. To the Corinthians he wrote, "I thank my God always on your behalf." 1 Cor. 1:4. To the Colossians, "We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you." Col. 1:3. Still more emphatically he wrote to the Philippians, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy." Phil. 1:3, 4. Again to the Thessalonians, "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith," etc., 1 Thess. 1:2, 3. And further, "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith." 1 Thess. 3:10. To his beloved son in the faith he wrote, "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day." 2 Tim. 1:3.

"Rejoice Evermore." - The secret of this is to "pray without ceasing." See 1 Thessalonians 5:16, 17. The apostle Paul prayed for others so much that he had no time to worry about himself. He had never seen the Romans, yet he prayed for them as earnestly as for the churches that he had raised up. Recounting his labors and sufferings, he adds that they are "beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches." 2 Cor. 11:28.

"As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing." He fulfilled the law of Christ by bearing the burdens of others. Thus it was that he was able to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ suffered on the cross for others, but it was "for the joy that was set before him." They who are wholly devoted to others, share the joy of their Lord, and can rejoice in him.

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12. "A Prosperous Journey." - -Paul prayed earnestly that he might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to visit Rome. Read the twenty-seventh chapter of Acts, and you will learn just what kind of journey he had. Most people would say that it was not a prosperous journey. Yet we do not hear any complaint from Paul; and who can say that he did not have a prosperous trip? "All things work together for good to them that love God," Therefore it must have been prosperous. It is well for us to consider these things.

We are apt to look at matters from a wrong side. When we learn to look at them as God looks at them, we shall find that things that we regard as disastrous are prosperous. How much mourning we might save if we always remembered that God knows much better than we do how our prayers should be answered!

Spiritual Gifts. — When Christ "ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." Eph. 4:8. These gifts were the gifts of the Spirit, for he said, "It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you." John 16:7. And Peter said on the day of Pentecost: "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear." Acts 2:32.

These gifts are thus described: "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues; but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." 1 Cor. 12:4-11.

Established by Spiritual Gifts. - "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." What is the profit? "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Eph. 4:12, 13.

The gifts of the Spirit must accompany the Spirit. As soon as the early disciples received the Spirit in accordance with the promise, they received the gifts. One of the gifts, speaking with new tongues, was manifested that very day. It follows, therefore, that the absence of the gifts of the Spirit in any marked degree in the church, is evidence of the absence of the Spirit, not entirely, of course, but to the extent that God has promised it.

The Spirit was to abide with the disciples forever, and therefore the gifts of the Spirit must be manifest in the true church until the second coming of the Lord. As before stated, the absence of any very marked manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit is evidence of the absence of the fullness of the Spirit; and that is the secret of the weakness of the church, and the great divisions that exist. Spiritual gifts establish the church; therefore the church that does not have those gifts can not be established.

Who May Have the Spirit? — Whoever asks for it with earnest desire. See Luke 11:13. The Spirit has already been poured out, and God has never withdrawn the gift; it only needs that Christians should ask and accept.

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13. "I Am Debtor." - That was the keynote of Paul's life, and it was the secret of his success. Nowadays we hear of men saying, "The world owes me a living." But Paul considered that he owed himself to the world. And yet he received nothing from the world but stripes and abuse. Even that which he had received before Christ found him was a total loss. But Christ had found him, and given himself to him, so that he could say, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Gal. 2:20.

As Christ's life was his life, and Christ gave himself for the world, Paul necessarily became a debtor to the whole world. This has been the case of every man who has been a servant of the Lord. "David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep." Acts 13:36. "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

Personal Labor. — There is a foolish notion prevalent that ordinary labor is degrading, especially to a minister of the gospel. It is not all the fault of the ministers themselves, but largely the fault of the foolish people about them. They think that a minister must always be faultlessly attired, and that he must never soil his hands with ordinary manual labor. Such ideas were never gained from the Bible. Christ himself was a carpenter, yet many professed followers of him would be shocked if they should see their minister sawing and planing boards, or digging in the ground, or carrying parcels.

There is a false dignity altogether too prevalent, which is utterly opposed to the spirit of the gospel. Paul was not ashamed nor afraid to labor. And this he did not merely occasionally, but day after day while he was engaged in preaching. See Acts 18:3, 4. He said, "These hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me." Acts 20:34. He was speaking to the leaders of the church when he said, "I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." Vs. 35.

Slandering Paul. — At the second international convention of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, the main address for one evening was on the subject of "Paul, the Great Missionary." The speaker said that "Paul had a faculty for dividing up the work so that he undertook very little of it himself." It was a foolish and wicked idea to present before young volunteers for missionary service, because it was an utter falsehood, and it was anything but a compliment to the apostle.

In addition to what has been cited above, read the following: "Neither did we eat any man's bread for naught; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you." 2 Thess. 3:8. "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you." 2 Cor. 12:15. "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent." 2 Cor. 11:23. "But by the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." 1 Cor. 15:10.

The grace of God is manifest in service for others. The grace of Christ led him to give himself for us, and to take upon himself the form and condition of a servant. Therefore he who has the most of the grace of Christ will labor the most. He will not shun work, even though it be the most menial service. Christ went to the lowest depths for the sake of man; therefore he who thinks that any service is beneath him, is altogether too high for association with Christ.

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Special Note: We have covered the introduction to the main body of the epistle. The first seven verses are the salutation; the next eight treat of personal matters concerning the apostle and the brethren in Rome, the fifteenth verse being the link which unites the introduction to the directly doctrinal portion of the epistle.

Let the reader note carefully the verses referred to, and he will readily see that this is not an arbitrary division, but that it plainly appears. If in reading any chapter, one will note the different topics touched upon, and the change from one subject to another, he or she will be surprised to find how much easier it is to grasp the contents of the chapter, and to hold them in mind. The reason why so many people find it difficult to recall what they read in the Bible, is that they try to remember it in bulk, without giving special thought to the details.

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14. Gospel Liberty.Gospel liberty is the liberty that God gives men through the gospel. It expresses His idea of freedom. It is the freedom seen in nature and in all the works of His hands. It is the freedom of the winds, blowing where they list; it is the freedom of the flowers, scattered everywhere through wood and meadow; it is the freedom of the birds, soaring unrestrained through the heavens; the freedom of the sunbeam, shooting from its parent orb and playing on cloud and mountain top; the freedom of the celestial orbs, sweeping ceaselessly on through infinite space. This is the freedom which flows out from the great Creator through all his works.

Tasting Freedom Now. — It is sin that has produced what is narrow and contracted and circumscribed, that has erected boundary lines, and made men stingy and niggardly. But sin is to be removed, and then perfect liberty will be realized once more in every part of creation. Even now this freedom may be tasted, by having sin removed from the heart. To enjoy this freedom through eternity is the glorious privilege now offered in the gospel to all men. Who that claims to love liberty can let this opportunity pass unimproved?

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