A Fundamental Wesleyan Commentary on Romans, Vic Reasoner (Evansville, IN: Fundamental Wesleyan Publishers, 2002), approximately 475 pages. From the Preface+:
Although God has promised times of refreshing (Acts 3:20), if God blessed the nominal Church in its present state he would only be perpetuating error. Therefore we must have a reformation before revival comes. A. W. Tozer warned, "To beg for a flood of blessing to come upon a backslidden and disobedient Church is to waste time and effort.... Unless we intend to reform we may as well not pray." More recently, David Wells concluded, "We need reformation rather than revival. The habits of the modern world, now so ubiquitous in the evangelical world, need to be put to death, not given new life. They need to be rooted out, not simply papered over with fresh religious enthusiasm."
God will not continue to bless any organization which slights His holy Word. The path of reformation always leads back to the Word. There must be a return to the preaching of biblical doctrine. The Wesleyan revival of the eighteenth century was such a reformation. It was nothing more than a rediscovery of apostolic Christianity. Wesley distinguished between what was generally called Christianity and Methodism, "the true old Christianity." Because we again stand in need of this same distinction to be made, the comments and sermons from those early Methodists need to be preserved and published as signposts for a new generation. Reference will be freely made to their writings in this commentary.
While some might object that comments upon the scriptural text should be free from the history of their interpretation, we do not think in a vacuum nor do we have many original ideas. Others might feel that the particular text of scripture should be explained without any attempt to systematize that particular truth with the larger body of truth. But the fact that a particular interpretation fits the broader analogy of faith strongly suggests that the interpretation advanced for that particular verse is accurate. Still others may argue that comments upon scripture should be objective and free from any doctrinal system. But every commentator has his presuppositions, whether stated or not. I am simply relating that in over a quarter century of weekly sermon preparation I have found the classic Methodist commentators to have the purest understanding of truth.
I will cite from the founder of Methodism, John Wesley's brief Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (1754). I will also refer frequently to Adam Clarke, the famous Methodist commentator, who knew some twenty languages and was probably the most able English biblical scholar of his time. His Commentary was published between 1810 and 1825. Richard Watson, the first systematic theologian of Methodism, died before completing his commentary on Romans. An Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark (1833) contains his exposition of Romans up to 3:25. However, his Conversations for the Young contains a sixteen-page overview of the entire book of Romans.
Less known is the commentary of Joseph Benson, published between 1810-15. Milton S. Terry said Benson's comments were "less critical and learned, but more practical" than Clarke's. Thomas Coke, sent to America by Wesley as the first superintendent in 1784, also produced a six-volume commentary between 1801-3. And Joseph Sutcliffe produced a two-volume commentary in 1834.
I will also refer to Daniel D. Whedon's commentary on Romans, published in 1871. Whedon served as editor of the Methodist Quarterly Review from 1856-84. J. Agar Beet's commentary on Romans first appeared in 1877. The People's New Testament, authored by Amos Binney and proofed by his son-in-law, Daniel Steele, was published in 1879. Thomas O. Summers was editor of the publishing house of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and was first professor of theology at Vanderbilt University. His commentary on Romans appeared in 1881.
These men can each make a valuable contribution to our understanding of Scripture. But above all, we must allow the Bible to speak to us. While we should hesitate to adopt any interpretation which runs against Church tradition, experience, and reason, yet Scripture alone is authoritative. Wesley wrote, "I receive the written Word as the whole and sole rule of my faith." Concerning Romans 1, Thomas Coke said, "The picture which the apostle has drawn of the manners of the Greeks, is by no means aggravated. It was given by the unerring inspiration of the Holy Ghost."
Yet much of the scholarship of the twentieth century was based upon higher critical presuppositions that the Bible was nothing more than a book of human origins. Perhaps that is why expositional preaching has once again fallen into disfavor.
It is also a tragedy that those who claim to be "contenders for the faith" and hold a high view of inspiration, rarely preach expositionally. Until our thinking has been transformed by God's Word, we do not have a message. Yet it takes time to prepare expositional sermons which are doctrinally sound. Many pastors are not "full-time" and sermon preparation is only one of many responsibilities that cry out for more time. I know what it is to work late Saturday night or early Sunday morning on a sermon after having worked all week to provide for my family. Often the bi-vocational pastor struggles to counter the false teaching of the radio preacher or the television evangelist who seems to have unlimited time and money with which to lead people astray.
Although I interact with historic Calvinism, as well as its modern variations, I expect that my conclusions will be dismissed by them with a condescending explanation that I did not understand. Yet it can hardly be claimed that James Arminius, John Goodwin, Richard Watson, and Thomas O. Summers failed to grasp Calvinism. At one time they each embraced it. Arminius, himself, studied in Geneva under Theodore Beza, Calvin's son-in-law. Yet each of these four men abandoned Calvinism as they continued to compare it with Scripture. While Calvinism holds to sole authority of Scripture, yet they frequently assert that the truths of "sovereign grace" must be revealed, almost as a second conversion. Usually that "conversion" is from a superficial Arminianism which they did not adequately understand. Along with Calvinism, I accept the inerrancy, the sufficiency, and the full authority of Scripture. Along with Calvinists, I interpret the Word of God using the grammatical-historical hermeneutic. But I do not arrive at their conclusions. Nor have I received any extrabiblical revelations, although I do have the assurance described in Romans 8:16 that I am a child of God.
Technical commentaries sometimes replace the bread of life with a stone. Popular commentaries, which only treat the text superficially, are inadequate for those who hold, with Christ, that the very words of Scripture are inspired (Matt 5:18). Currently there are few conservative, analytical Wesleyan commentaries in print. Therefore The Fundamental Wesleyan Bible Commentaries are written from the conviction that we must preach the Word and contend for the faith. We accept the Bible as God's revelation of truth. It is living and powerful. May God grant that our faithful preaching of his Word will also be alive and anointed by the same Spirit who originally inspired it.