Romans 15:4
For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning…

The connection between the different parts of the text is this: First, the apostle lays down a Christian's duty (vers. 1, 2). After that he brings forward, as the sanction of that duty, the spirit of the life of Christ (ver. 3). Next he adds an illustration of that principle by a quotation from Psalm 69. Lastly, he explains and defends that application (ver. 4). So we have the principle upon which the apostles used the Old Testament, and we are enabled to understand their view of inspiration. This is the deepest question of our day. In the text we find two principles.


1. This passage quoted was evidently spoken by David of himself. Nevertheless, Paul applies it to Christ. Nay, more, he uses it as belonging to all Christians (ver. 4). "No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation." Had the Psalm applied only to David, then it would have been of private interpretation; instead of which, it belongs to humanity. Take, again, the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem. That seemed limited to Jerusalem; but had it ended there, then you would have had a prophecy of private — i.e., peculiar, limited — interpretation: whereas our Redeemer's principle was this: that this doom pronounced on Jerusalem was but a specimen of God's judgments. The judgment coming of the Son of Man takes place wherever there is evil grown ripe, whenever corruption is complete.

2. Promises and threatenings are made to individuals, because they are in a particular state of character; but they belong to all who are in that state, for "God is no respecter of persons."(1) Take an instance of the state of blessing. There was blessing pronounced to Abraham; but the whole argument in this Epistle is, that it was made, not to his person, but to his faith. "They who are of faith, are blessed with faithful Abraham."(2) Take the case of threatening. Jonah went through Nineveh, proclaiming its destruction; but that prophecy was true only while it remained in its evil state; and therefore, as they repented, and their state was thus changed, the prophecy was left unfulfilled. In 1 Corinthians 10 the apostle tells of the state of the Jews in the wilderness, and shows that whosoever shall imitate them, the same judgments must fall upon them. "All these things happened unto them for ensamples." "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man."(3) Take a case, applied not to nations,but to individuals. Hebrews 13 quotes from the Old Testament, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee"; and the apostle's inference is, that we may boldly say, "The Lord is my helper," etc. Now this was a promise made to Jacob; but the apostle does not hesitate to appropriate it to all Christians; for it was made, not to Jacob as a person, but to the state in which Jacob was; to all who, like Jacob, are wanderers and pilgrims in the world. The promises made to the meek belong to meekness; the promises made to the humble belong to humility.

3. And this it is which makes this Bible our Book. The teachers, the psalmists, the prophets, and the lawgivers of this despised nation spoke out truths that have struck the key-note of the heart of man; and this not because they were of Jewish, but just because they were of universal application. The orator holds a thousand men for half an hour breathless; but this Word of God has held a thousand nations for thrice a thousand years spell-bound; held them by an abiding power, even the universality of its truth; and we feel it to be no more a collection of books, but the Book.


1. St. Paul quotes these Jewish words as fulfilled in Christ. "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." We must often have been perplexed at the way in which the apostles quote passages in reference to Christ, which originally had no reference to Him. In our text, e.g., David speaks only of himself; and yet St. Paul refers it to Christ. Promises belong to persons only so far as they are what they are taken to be; and, consequently, all unlimited promises made to individuals can only be true of One in whom that is fulfilled which was unfulfilled in them. Take the magnificent destinies Balaam promised to the people whom he was called to curse. Those promises have never been fulfilled, nor does it seem likely that they ever will be fulfilled in their literal sense. To whom, then, are they made? To Israel? Yes; so far as they developed God's own conception. Balaam says, "God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel." Is this the character of Israel, an idolatrous and rebellious nation? Jesus is that pure and spotless One. Christ is perfectly all that every saint was partially. Consequently St. Paul would not read the Psalm he quotes as spoken only of David. The promises are to the Christ within David; therefore they are applied to the Christ when He comes.

2. Now, let us extract from that this application. Scripture is full of Christ. From Genesis to Revelation everything breathes of Him — not every letter of every sentence, but the spirit of every chapter. Get the habit of referring all to Christ. How did He feel? — think? — act? So then must I feel, and think, and act. Observe how Christ was a living reality in St. Paul's mind. "Should I please myself?" "For even Christ pleased not Himself." "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

(F. W. Robertson, M.A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

WEB: For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that through patience and through encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Dispositions for Reading the Scripture
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