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by William Baxter Godbey
From Jerusalem to Rome is about fifteen hundred miles. I traveled the route directly during my tour in 1895. It is a small matter now, however perilous, prolix and paradoxical in the apostolic age, and attended with such difficulty and danger in the absence of the steam-engine and the mariner’s compass, that even Paul, with his supernatural courage, advised postponement till spring, and after all was caught in a storm, wrecked on the Island of Malta, and detained till spring. The second time I crossed the Atlantic I was in a storm which lasted five days and nights, but our noble steamer with thirty- six boilers shot through the face of the tempest like an arrow. Jesus appeared to Paul twice,
(a) on the Damascus road and
(b) while praying in the temple (Acts 22:17),
where He gave him his commission to the Gentiles. As Rome was the capital and metropolis of the Gentile world, I trow from the hour of his commission in Jerusalem his heart leaned away toward Rome. Eventually he receives clear light, assuring him that he must go at no distant day. Hence, when he wrote this letter in Corinth, in the winter of A. D. 58, he enjoyed quite a prescience of his ministry in Rome in the near future. His arrest and imprisonment in Jerusalem took place in June A. D. 58, being soon carried to Caesarea to save his life from the mob, and there detained by the avaricious Felix in hopes of filthy lucre for his release two full years, when, pursuant to his appeal to Caesar, Festus, the noble successor of the unworthy Felix, was forced by Roman law to send him to Rome, though utterly failing, even through the judicial help of King Agrippa, to ascertain even the smallest allegation against him criminal in Roman law. Hence the letter written by Festus to the emperor, corroborated by the testimony of Julius, the Roman centurion, who had him in custody, secured for Paul great leniency and full evangelistic liberty at Rome during the life of Burrus, the commander-in-chief of the praetorian army which guarded the imperial palace, who, receiving the letter of Festus and the report of Julius in reference to the innocence of Paul, permitted him to enjoy perfect liberty to push the gospel work in his hired mission hall, central in the city, two full years, till this noble man Paul’s only influential friend at the imperial court passed on to his account with God. His successor, neither knowing nor caring anything about Paul, had him removed to the military barracks, where he wrote the letter to the Philippians, having written the epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon during the two years in his hired house. Who founded the Roman church? We are satisfied that no apostle founded it in person. I trow the “strangers from Rome, Jews and proselytes,” on the day of Pentecost, having received the baptism with the holy Ghost and fire, went home and founded their own church. As Pentecost was a purely Jewish assembly (I mean religiously, as all proselytes were Jews in an ecclesiastical sense), of course the original nucleus of the church was about all Jews. We ascertain from Paul’s long catalogue of salutations in the sixteenth chapter that he knew personally quite a host of the members when he wrote this letter at Corinth early in A. D. 58. Rome was the center and metropolis of the known world, as well as the home of the emperor and his five thousand senators, the rulers of the world. Consequently the trend of universal immigration to Rome was great.
Paul arrived in February A. D. 61, the Pentecostal revival being June A. D. 33. Hence during these twenty-eight years a host of Paul’s converts, not only from Asia, hut especially from Europe, had migrated to Rome, not only swelling the membership, but revolutionizing it in the fact of giving a majority to the Gentile element. Hence, when Paul wrote this letter, he had quite a multitude of happy Christian friends and acquaintances at Rome, not only ready to receive with joyful appreciation this wonderful letter, but to greet the apostle with joyous welcome, even walking out to the Appian Forum and Three Taverns (forty miles) to greet and accompany him into the city and introduce him to the brethren.
I may here safely observe that among all the apostolical epistles, Pauline and general, this bears the palm, and even among all the books of the whole Bible, for symmetry, beauty, comprehensibility, unity and variety, this book stands pre-eminent. As Rome was the capital and metropolis of the whole world, it is believed Paul did his best in this noble production, so comprehending and expounding every phase of gospel truth that if all the rest of the Bible were lost, this epistle would furnish all the truth necessary to salvation. Opening with the sin side of the argument, he addresses the first chapter to the heathens, appropriate at this great emporium of paganism. When I was there three years ago I was in the Pantheon, a great temple in which all the gods were worshipped. This was there in Paul’s day. Chapter 2 is addressed to the Jews, who were the popular church-members in that day. With verse 18 of the third chapter the sinward argument closes, and the most thorough and elaborate exegesis in the Bible runs from verse 19 of this chapter through the fifth chapter, expository of justification by the free grace of God in Christ, received and appropriated by faith alone. Chapter 6 is a grand and unanswerable exposition of entire sanctification, while Chapter 7 gives Paul’s wonderful Arabian experience of his own glorious sanctification after a three years’ conflict with the man of sin and the law (Galatians 1:0), till God revealed His Son in him, having appeared to him on the way to Damascus. Chapter 8 is grand and wonderful on the sanctified experience, also running triumphantly into glorification. Verse 29 of the eighth chapter opens that climacteric presentation of election and reprobation, running through Chapter 9 Chapter 11 unlocks the mysterious and much controverted problem relative to the ultimate destiny of the Jews, God’s miracle of providence after the expiration of the Gentile times. Chapter 12 is lucidly and gloriously expository of experimental and practical sanctification. Chapter 13 assures us of the Lord’s near coming and the transfiguration of the saints. Chapters 14 and 15 elucidate sundry duties and responsibilities, and the sixteenth is devoted to the salutations of the great crowd of saints who had been saved through his ministry and had migrated to Rome during the twenty eight years since the church was founded by the Pentecostal converts.
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30