Friday, March 24th, 2023
the Fourth Week of Lent
the Fourth Week of Lent
There are 16 days til Easter!
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ romans-15.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
- Henry's Complete
- Clarke Commentary
- Bridgeway Bible Commentary
- Coffman's Commentaries
- Barnes' Notes
- Bullinger's Companion Notes
- Calvin's Commentary
- Bell's Commentary
- College Press
- Smith's Commentary
- Dummelow on the Bible
- Constable's Expository Notes
- Ellicott's Commentary
- Expositor's Dictionary
- Hole's Commentary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Gaebelein's Annotated
- Gann on the Bible
- Morgan's Exposition
- Gill's Exposition
- Everett's Study Notes
- Geneva Study Bible
- Haydock's Catholic Commentary
- Commentary Critical
- Commentary Critical Unabridged
- Gray's Concise Commentary
- Parker's The People's Bible
- Sutcliffe's Commentary
- Trapp's Commentary
- Kretzmann's Commentary
- Lange's Commentary
- Grant's Commentary
- Henry's Complete
- Henry's Concise
- Poole's Annotations
- Pett's Commentary
- Peake's Commentary
- Preacher's Homiletical
- Poor Man's Commentary
- Benson's Commentary
- Sermon Bible Commentary
- Horae Homileticae
- The Biblical Illustrator
- Coke's Commentary
- The Expositor's Bible Commentary
- The Pulpit Commentaries
- Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
- Wesley's Notes
- Whedon's Commentary
- Calvin's Commentary
- Henry's Complete
- AEK Concordant NT Commentary
- Abbott's NT
- Orchard's Catholic Commentary
- Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary
- Contending for the Faith
- Daily Study Bible
- Expositor's Greek Testament
- Family Bible NT
- Godbey's NT Commentary
- Alford's Greek Testament Commentary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Mahan's Commentary
- Bible Study NT
- Bengel's Gnomon
- People's NT
- Robertson's Word Pictures
- Schaff's NT Commentary
- Vincent's Studies
- Burkitt's Expository Notes
- Daily Study Bible
- McGarvey'S Commentaries
- Living By Faith
- Dunagan's Commentary
- Godet on Selected Books
- Haldane on Romans and Hebrews
- Hodge's Commentary
- International Critical
- Ironside's Notes
- Beet on the NT
- Luscombe's NT Commentary
- Restoration Commentary
- Utley Commentary
- Kelly Commentary
- Newell's Commentary
- Zerr's N.T. Commentary
Romans 15:1.—We who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to be self-pleasers.
Romans 15:2. Let every one of us please his neighbour.—Not for mere gratification, but for his good.
Romans 15:3. The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.—Quotation from the sixty-ninth psalm. We are thus taught that the prophetical psalm is applied to Christ suffering for us. If Christ did not please Himself, how much less we! How calmly should we bear even undeserved reproaches when Christ bore those designed for God!
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 15:1-3
Christ’s example teaches mutual condescension.—Baur says, “This piece contains nothing which had not been much better said before.” In the same strain M. Renan affirms, “These verses repeat and weakly sum up what precedes.” But this is surely to ignore the broader aspect of the apostle’s teaching. He here passes from what we may call the particular to the general. It is with him no longer a question of meats, but in general of the relation between Judæo-Christianity more or less legal, of which the party of the weak was a branch, and that pure spirituality which is the proper character of Paul’s gospel. There is a statement of the general principle according to which the strong ought to conduct themselves towards the weak in all times and whatever may be the character of the infirmity. And this condescension towards the weak is taught and enforced by the example of Christ. If it were to be admitted that these verses were a weak summing up of what precedes, we gladly welcome the repetition for the sake of that one powerful sentence, “For even Christ pleased not Himself.” In one simple sentence we have brought before the mind the broad aspect of the spirit and mission of Him who went about doing good. The example of Christ must ever be the Christian’s motive and inspiration. In order to get away from the spirit of self-pleasing, let us direct special attention to the words, “For even Christ pleased not Himself.”
I. Christ had a right to please Himself.—If any person may be supposed to have such a right, that person is Jesus Christ.
1. He had a right as creator. All the rights which creatures possess are delegated; they are of the nature of privileges. As a creature, I have no right over myself independent of the will of the Creator. As a member of the great brotherhood of humanity, I have no right over myself inconsistent with the rights and not tending to the welfare of such brotherhood. “No man liveth to himself” is the law of a properly constituted humanity as it is a gospel precept. But Christ in one aspect of His nature was not in a subordinate position; for He was creator. If all things were created for Him, had He not the privilege of considering Himself. As the giver of the laws of right and of justice, as the authority from whom there can be no appeal as to what is fit and proper to be done, we may suppose Him having a right to please Himself.
2. Christ had a right as being above the law of human necessity. Even if we set ourselves to please ourselves, we find that we are limited by our natures, by our circumstances. Society hedges us round, and will not allow us to please ourselves in an unlimited degree. Our own personal welfare will not permit self-pleasing to any large extent. The sensual man cannot please himself to an unlimited extent; the ambitious man must deny himself in order to promote his projects; the student must scorn delights and live laborious days that he may reach the goal. But Christ, as divine, is raised above the law of human necessity. Even as human He stands on a higher level of humanity than all other beings, and we may suppose that He might have pleased Himself without doing violence to society.
3. Christ had a right as being all-wise. The wisest are liable to error. When the foolishness of the fool tends to violence, society puts him in safe keeping, and says he has no right to please himself. Wise I may be, but my wisdom is imperfect, and therefore self should not be the law of my being and the rule of my action. Why should I with dogmatism impose my creeds upon my fellow-creatures? Why should I not consider the claims of my fellow-creatures? But Christ was all-wise. As man He was delivered from those errors and littlenesses which spoil the glory of even greatest man, and therefore He might indeed have pleased Himself and others have been benefited.
4. Christ had a right as being all-good. Wicked men are the class to whom there must not be permitted this course of pleasing themselves. Carry out the thought, and it will be seen that no man has a right to please himself. The higher we get in the scale of humanity, the less we have of wickedness and the less are we disposed to make self-pleasing the rule of life. The noblest men walk on the tableland of self-denial. This was the glorious tableland on which the Redeemer trod, and every spot on which He trod became fruitful of immortal flowers. The very goodness of Christ constituted a claim why He should please Himself. Why should He suffer who had no sins of His own to carry? Why should He be placed in the trying school of tribulation when there was no selfishness to be ground out of His loving nature?
II. Christ’s renunciation of such right.—But “even Christ pleased not Himself.” Let emphasis be placed on the word “even,” in order to bring out the voluntary nature of this renunciation and to show the vastness of His love. Even Christ, the God-man, the Creator, pleased not Himself.
1. Christ renounced His right by making His Father’s will supreme. Christ as man says, “I came not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.” Perfectly constituted as Christ was as to His human nature, there might yet be in Him a lower will. But He seemed to rise up in the majesty of filial affection, and place His feet upon this lower will and give to the divine will the place of supremacy. Not for a moment did He shrink from bearing the reproaches of the wicked. God’s honour was so dear to His heart that the reproaches of the wicked hurled at God were received by the Son to His wounding and to the increase of His agony. The righteous soul of Lot was vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked; but how sharply was the soul of Christ pierced by the reproaches of the wicked against God! If David could say, “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved,” what language shall fittingly describe the agonies of David’s greater Son as He listened to those who reproached God? The Saviour’s grief was too great for tears; this blessed outlet to sorrow was not possible. Indeed, grief broke His heart as the reproaches of them that reproached God fell upon His sensitive nature. As we study the phenomena of the Saviour’s death, we find that it was no poetical flight to say that He died of a broken heart. But we shall not carry out the purpose of the apostle if we do not notice how Christ renounced His right in relation to men. We might expect Christ the Son of God by virtue of that relationship and through affection for God not to please Himself in regard to the divine will; but will His compassion for men lead Him to desist from pleasing Himself for their welfare? Yes, it will.
2. Christ pleased not Himself by placing Himself in contact with ignorance and sinfulness. Difficult is it for us to realise the pain which Christ must have experienced as He came in contact with the ignorant and the sinful. We may try to draw the picture of the philosopher coming down from the heights of his studies to associate with the ignorant; we may picture the pure maiden brought up in a home of Christian purity, across the crystal waters of whose soul no shadow of wrong has ever flitted, who has all along breathed the fragrant atmosphere of virtue, being suddenly taken to live where vice reigns, where the atmosphere is rendered stiffing by reason of impurity; we may think of the heroism of the Moravian missionaries who shut themselves up with the lepers in order to do them spiritual good. But both fact and fancy fail to enable the ordinary mind to understand what it was when Christ became the “friend of publicans and of sinners.” His pure soul was keenly sensitive. And yet blessed benevolence! He pleased not Himself, but went down to the dark pits of ignorance, dispelling the gloom of sinfulness, driving forth the offensive odours.
3. Christ pleased not Himself by giving to the wants of others a foremost place. Very touching is the incident of the wearied Jesus sitting down at Jacob’s well, asking drink from the Samaritan woman. He saw her thirst, and sets Himself to remove that moral thirst before she helps Him to satisfy His physical thirst. Divine and glorious self-forgetfulness! We know not that the Saviour ever drank out of that Samaritan woman’s waterpot; but this we know, that she drank from the living stream that flowed from that wearied traveller. And this incident is characteristic of all His earthly conduct—thought for others before thought for Himself. At the close of the most laborious day He never pleaded that His wearied nature required repose; but, “wearied and worn as He was, He pleased not Himself, but went forth and patiently listened to all their tales of woe, tasted their several complaints, raised each suppliant from the dust, nor left them till He had absorbed their sufferings and healed them all. He went through the land like a current of vital air, an element of life, diffusing health and joy wherever He appeared.”
4. Christ pleased not Himself, for He never demanded that the recipients of His blessings should become His servants. We do not know that any of His disciples received from Him material blessings. He called those to be His immediate followers who were not the recipients of His physical benefits. What a large following the Saviour might have secured had He charged the sick whom He healed to repay Him for the work of mercy! The only time in which Jesus seemed to reprove the healed for their ingratitude was in the case of the ten lepers. “And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.” Even here He pleased not Himself. It is not glory to Me the worker of miracles, but glory to God. He caused the healing virtue to flow from Him in copious measure like water from the abundant fountain, without any thought of Himself being refreshed by the reactive influence of the streams of His beneficence. How unlike to Christ are most men! The world’s ingratitude closes up the streams of our benevolence like a keen frost in the winter. But the world’s ingratitude never for one moment stayed the rich on-flowing of the Saviour’s beneficent doings. Oh for a baptism of the spirit displayed by Him who pleased not Himself, who had a perfect self-surrender and a complete submission to the divine will, who bore our sicknesses and carried our sorrows—the spirit of that noble apostle who counted not his life dear unto himself that he might finish his course with joy and the ministry which he had received from the Lord Jesus—the spirit of those who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer such things as persecution and spoliation for His name’s sake—the spirit of all in every age, of the martyrs and the noble workers of all time, who have been willing to suffer for the good of humanity! Are we prepared at the call of duty and in obedience to the voice of God not to please ourselves, but to please our neighbour for his good to edification?
III. Christ’s impelling motive to such renunciation our example and our inspiration.—It was the impelling motive of love that induced Christ to tread the pathway of self-denial. All loves are centred in Christ. He was the embodiment and highest manifestation of truest love. Something of this love must operate in our natures if we are to be delivered from mere self-pleasing. It cannot be cast out by mere prudential considerations. The eagle darting down from her eyrie once lighted on a burnt offering which lay upon the altar of God, and bore it away to feed her young. But a burnt coal adhered to the flesh of the offering, and being laid upon the dry sticks of the nest, it set them on fire, and the unfledged eaglets perished in the flames. By self-pleasing we may seek to rob God of His rights and our fellows of their rights; but to all such unlawful spoil there will adhere the red-hot coal of justice, that will destroy our manhood, our peace, our joy, our spiritual vitality. Let us beware how we give way to the injurious spirit of self-pleasing. However, this evil spirit can only be effectually destroyed by the entrance of Christlike love. True love goes out of self, seeks the enlargement of opportunities, and becomes creative in its very intensity. The loyal and patriotic subject does not strive to pare down the demands of a wise and just sovereign; the loving child does not endeavour to strip the father’s word of all binding force by skilful manipulations; and the true heart does not inquire, How can I do the very least for my God and the very least for God’s creatures? but thinks that the very greatest it can either do or offer is far too little. Oh for a love which, though it have only two mites to give, yet casts them into the treasury of Him unto whom belongeth both the gold, the silver, and the copper, and thus enriches the ages! Oh for a love which, though it possess only the alabaster box of ointment very precious, yet breaks the box over the Saviour’s head in loving consecration to His predestined offering! Oh for a love which, though it have only tears to offer, yet pours them in plentiful measure on the Saviour’s feet, and with the rich tresses of a head, full of grateful thoughts, wipes the tear-bedewed feet of Immanuel!
Looking up, and lifting up.—In the grouping of nature dissimilar things are brought together. Mutual service is the world’s great law. In the natural grouping of human life the same rule is found. Dissimilarity constitutes the qualification for heartfelt union among mankind. A family is a combination of opposites. That there are diversities of gifts is the reason why there is one Spirit. The same principle distinguishes natural society from artificial association. The former brings together elements that are unlike; while the latter combines the like. Old civilisations follow a law the reverse of that which we have ascribed to the providential rule. The daily life of each is passed in the presence, not of his unequals, but of his equals. This is not entirely evil. Now the faith of Christ throws together the unlike ingredients which civilisation had sifted out from one another. Every true Church reproduces the unity which the world had dissolved. And as the arrangements by which we stand with beings above and beings below are the origin of faith, so is the practical recognition of this position the great means of feeding the perpetual fountain of the Christian life.
A great German poet and philosopher was fond of defining religion as consisting in a reverence for inferior beings. The definition is paradoxical; but though it does not express the essence of religion, it assuredly designates one of its effects. True there could be no reverence for lower natures, were there not, to begin with, the recognition of a supreme Mind; but the moment that recognition exists, we certainly look on all that is beneath with a different eye. It becomes an object, not of pity and protection only, but of sacred respect; and our sympathy, which had been that of a humane fellow-creature, is converted into the deferential help of a devout worker of God’s will. And so the loving service of the weak and wanting is an essential part of the discipline of the Christian life. Some habitual association with the poor, the dependent, the sorrowful, is an indispensable source of the highest elements of character. It strips off the thick bandages of self, and bids us awake to a life of greater sensibility. Had we hurt a superior, we should have expected punishment; had we offended an equal, we should have looked for displeasure. But to have injured the weak strikes anguish into our hearts, and we expect from God the retribution which there is no more to give. The other half of Christian discipline is of a less sad and more inspiring kind. There are those who dislike the spectacle of anything that greatly moves or visibly reproaches them; who therefore shun those who know more, see deeper, aim higher than themselves. This form of selfishness may not be inconsistent with the duty of lifting up the beings beneath us; but it is the contrary of the other portion of the devout life, which consists in looking up to all that is above us. Only the fairest and sublimest natures can remain in the presence of infirm or depraved humanity without a lowering of the moral conceptions and a depression of faith and hope. Hence the anxiety of every one, in proportion to the noble earnestness in which he looks on life, that holds himself in communion with great and good minds. He knows that the upper spring of his affections must soon be dry, unless he ask the clouds to nourish them. If therefore there be any virtue, if there be any praise, whoever would complete the circle of the Christian life will think on these things—will thrust aside the worthless swarm of competitors on his attention; in his reading will retain, in his living associations will never wholly lose, his communion with the few lofty and faithful spirits that glorify our world; and, above all, will at once quench and feed his thirst for highest wisdom by trustful and reverent resort to Him in whom sanctity and sorrow, the divine and the human, mingled in ineffable combination.—Martineau, “Endeavours after the Christian Life.”
Romans 15:1. The duty of the strong to the weak.
I. The strong here are the strong in faith—the enlightened.—Those who had correct views respecting the liberty and spirituality of the gospel were to bear with the prejudices of their weaker brethren. In this aspect the words have still their force for us. Religious doubts and crotchets we have always with us; although, having relation to things that are comparatively new, they vary with circumstances and fashions. The words are true also in a much wider sense.
II. We who are strong physically ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.—The robust should help to bear what is a burden to the delicate. The healthy ought to relieve the tedium and smooth the pillow of the sick. The young should help the aged. The rich should help the poor. The infirmities of the weak we are, as it were, to put on our own shoulders, and bear for those who are tottering under them.
III. The strong in mind ought to bear the infirmities of temper of the weak.—Some are irritable, soon made peevish, easily roused to anger. We who are differently constituted—less sensitive, who can be calm undér annoyance, slight, and opposition—ought to bear with the weaknesses of those who are possessed of a less happy disposition. Do not lose patience with their touchiness. Bear from them much in kindness. Remember that they are weak. Loss of temper is often a sign of weakness. (One losing in a game becomes irritable, one having the worse of an argument often loses temper.) Enforced by the fact:
1. We are all constituted differently one from another. All have infirmities; but the infirmities of one differ from the infirmities of another. If each sought to please his neighbour, to bear his infirmities, one another’s weaknesses would become bonds of union.
2. The example of our Lord: “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification, for even Christ pleased not Himself.” Though rich, yet for our sakes He became poor. He emptied Himself of His glory, of His strength, that He might bear our infirmities. How remarkable was His forbearance with His disciples! This was one of His greatest trials. And bearing the infirmities of weaker brethren will be to the Christian always the most trying exercise of self-denial. But shall any one grow weary when he remembers that “Christ pleased not Himself”?
Thou who wishest to be considered strong, show thy strength in the true, manly, Christlike way of bearing the infirmities of the weak (Joshua 17:15).
1. Thou art strong in muscle and sinew; then help those who are delicate and weak.
2. Thou art strong in nerve; then step before the trembling, and give courage to those who are shaking with fear.
3. Thou art strong in intellect; you can smile at popular error. But it is no mark of strength to laugh at others’ weakness; show thy strength by instructing the ignorant, guiding the erring.
4. Thou art strong in faith. Help others to realise by thy strength of faith the things unseen. Whatever be the nature of your strength, you deserve to be considered strong only by helping the weak. In God’s sight, the more strength you have the more you will have to answer for at the judgment day.—D. Longwill.
Romans 15:1. The nobler choice.—We may be said to spend our life in choosing, and our choice is threefold:
1. Between the greater and the smaller evil (see 2 Chronicles 20:12-13);
2. Between that which is positively good and that which is distinctly evil (see Deuteronomy 30:19);
3. Between the lower and the higher good. It is to the last of these three that the text invites attention.
I. Our right as the children of God.—In the parable of the prodigal son the father, addressing the elder son, says, “Thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” These words indicate our position toward our heavenly Father. He invites us to appropriate and to partake of “all that is His.” “The earth is His, and all its fulness” (Psalms 24:1); and He makes us free to possess and to enjoy, withholding nothing that is not hurtful to us. Those who in God’s name forbid us to accept His provision come under strong apostolic condemnation (see 1 Timothy 4:1-3); their doctrine is from below, and not from above. The truth is that “every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused.” Our right is unquestionable; we are at liberty to partake of the fruits of the earth, of the comforts of life, of the joys which spring from human relationships, so long and so far as
(1) we do not injure ourselves or wrong other people,
(2) we cherish and express gratitude to the divine Giver,
(3) we remember the needy, and do our best to let our friends and neighbours share our inheritance. But while it is always open to us to claim our right, and while it is sometimes desirable (if not necessary) to assert it against those who would deny it, there is often left to us another and a worthier course—to forgo it in favour of our neighbour’s need. Here enters—
II. Our privilege as the disciples of Christ.—There is a large use of stimulants, as also of narcotics, amongst us; they are used, not only as medicine, but also as articles of diet, as requirements of hospitality, as sources of refreshment or enjoyment. That there is a sore and grievous abuse of these things is not merely undeniable; it is a fact that is patent and palpable; it confronts us, and challenges our attention. Now there is no law of Christ which forbids the use of these things; no precept of the Master or of His apostles can be quoted to prove their impropriety. So long as a man uses them in moderation, in such measure that no injury is done to his body or his mind, he cannot be charged with inconsistency as a Christian man. He violates no law of Christ; he is within his right. But he may be appealed to not to stand upon his right. It is open to him to act upon another and a higher consideration: instead of claiming his right to participate, he may elect to use his privilege to forgo and to abstain. He may be strong enough to overcome temptation himself, but he may have regard to “the infirmities of the weak,” instead of “pleasing himself”; by not partaking he may, by his example of abstinence, encourage those who need encouragement to preserve sobriety in the only form which is open to them. This is the nobler choice. It is so, because:
1. It is in harmony with the teaching of our Lord. He taught us that it was His will that His servants should deny themselves; that they should find their lives by losing them; that it is more blessed to give than to receive; that whatever we do on behalf of His “little ones”—i.e., of those who are least well able to take care of themselves—is accepted by Him as done unto Himself; and, through His inspired apostles, He has taught us that we should bear one another’s burdens, that by (in) love we should serve one another, that the strong should help the weak.
2. It is in profound accord with the action of our Lord. It may seem to be comparing a very small thing indeed with a very great one indeed, to compare so simple an action or a habit as that of abstinence with so sublime a sacrifice as that of Jesus Christ, when He made Himself of no reputation, and took on Him the form of a servant (see Philippians 2:5-8). But the same principle may underlie or animate two actions of widely different proportions; and it is possible for us to illustrate and to repeat, in our humble sphere and on our lowly scale, the very spirit which actuated our Lord in His great condescension, and the very life He lived when He dwelt among men, and when He died to redeem us all. It is the principle that it is better and nobler to minister than to be ministered unto; it is the spirit of self-sacrificing love. And whether this be found in a divine incarnation, or whether it be manifested in a simple action at a table in a cottage or in a hall, where a man denies himself a pleasure or a good in order that he may help his brother to stand, and to keep him from falling, the one is a moral and spiritual resemblance, as it is a moral and spiritual sequence, of the other. We act as our Master acted, we “walk even as He walked,” when in any humblest scene or sphere whatsoever we forgo our individual right, in order that we may use our privilege of holy service; like our Lord, we make the nobler choice.
3. It is the intrinsically nobler thing. We cordially admire and unreservedly praise the men who, when their rights have been assailed, have manfully and even heroically asserted them at all hazards; they have chosen an honourable course. But they who have suffered that they might save have done more nobly still. Those Moravian missionaries who sold themselves into slavery that they might preach the gospel to their fellow-slaves; those philanthropists who have been willing to breathe the foul and fetid airs of the old-time dungeon, in order that they might make the lot of the common prisoner less intolerable than it used to be; they who have stooped that they might better serve their neighbours; they who have cheerily denied themselves the comforts and enjoyments they might have claimed, in order that they might gain a leverage with which to raise the fallen, or secure a better position in which to guide and guard the innocent and unstained,—these have chosen the worthier course, and have walked along the heavenlier heights.
4. It is the course which will best bear reflection. Innocent enjoyment is well in its way and in its measure. But it is very transient; it affords the feeblest and faintest satisfaction in the retrospect of it. Not so with an action or a course of self-sacrificing ministry. Upon that, however distant it may be, and however simple it may have been, we look back with a keen approval and with serene and devout thankfulness. To the very end of our life we shall thank God that we had the spirit and the strength to forgo what would have pleased ourselves, that we might bear the infirmities of the weak, and thus help them to gain their victory and to win their crown.—William Clarkson, B.A.
Romans 15:2. On pleasing all men.—
1. This duty incumbent on all, especially on all those who are entrusted with the oracles of God. The pleasing is to every man’s neighbour—i.e., every child of man; but in view of the words, “If it be possible,” etc., we are to please all men. Strictly speaking, this is not possible.
2. Observe in how admirable a manner Paul limits this direction. We are to please men for their good; also for their edification—to their spiritual and eternal good.
3. All treatises and discourses on this subject are defective, so far as Wesley has seen. One and all had some lower design in pleasing men than to save their souls; therefore they do not propose the right means for the end.
4. Some take exception to this; yet—
5. e.g., Chesterfield advises his son, but badly. Wesley then proceeds to show the right method of pleasing men.
I. In removing hindrances out of the way.—
1. First avoid everything which tends to displease wise and good men of sound understanding and real piety, such as cruelty, malice, envy, hatred, revenge, ill-nature.
2. Also the assumption of arrogant, overbearing behaviour. Whoever desires to please his neighbour for his good must take care of splitting on this rock.
3. Avoid also a passionate temper and behaviour. Passionate men have seldom many friends, at least for any length of time.
4. Also put away all lying. It can never be commendable or innocent, and therefore never pleasing.
5. Is not flattery a species of lying? Yet it is pleasing. Truly it pleases for a while, but not when the mask drops off.
6. Not only lying, but every species of it; dissimulation, e g., is displeasing to men of understanding. So also guile, subtlety, cunning—the whole art of deceiving
II. In using the means that directly tend to this end.—
1. Let love not visit you as a transient guest, but be the constant temper of your soul. Let there be in your tongue the law of kindness.
2. If you would please your neighbour for his good, study to be lowly in heart. “Be clothed with humility,” as against the maxim of the heathen, “The more you value yourself, the more others will value you.” God “resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble.”
3. Labour and pray that you may also be meek; labour to be of a calm, dispassionate temper.
4. See that you are courteous toward all men, superiors or inferiors; the lowest and the worst have a claim to our courtesy.
5. Honour all men; and the Masser teaches me to love all men. Join these, and what is the effect? I love them for their Redeemer’s sake.
6. Take all proper opportunities of declaring to others the affection which you really feel for them.
7. Also speak to all men the very truth from your heart; be a man of veracity.
8. To sum up all in one word: if you would please men, please God! Let truth and love possess your whole soul; let all your actions be wrought in love; never let mercy and truth forsake thee. “So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.”—John Wesley.
Romans 15:2-3. Pleasing our neighbours.—There is a pleasing of our neighbours which is very different from that here described,—a pleasing of him by chiming in with his prejudices; by flattering his infirmities; by complying with his sinful wishes; by laughing at his wicked jokes; by countenancing him in his evil ways; in short, by doing, or not doing, that which will ensure us popularity with our neighbour, though at the expense of principle in ourselves. What we all must learn is to seek our neighbour’s well-being, so that his evil should be our burden, and his good our happiness and reward. We must learn so to love him, that we shall, if necessary, displease him, and put him to pain, and make him perhaps angry with us for a time, if in this way only we can do him good in the end; just as a kind surgeon will put us to pain in order to save our lives. “Every one of us” must thus please his neighbour, because every one has some neighbour thus to please. If we first please God, by giving Him our hearts for our own good to salvation, then we cannot but choose to please our neighbour for his good to edification. Should any one still ask, “Who is my neighbour?” we should refer them to the reply given by our Lord to the same question, in the parable of the good Samaritan. Few errors are more common in daily life than supposing, either that others are of no importance to us, or that we are of no importance to others. These errors stand and fall together. The moment we discover how much our state is affected by others, that moment we also discover how much the state of others is affected by our own. Our neighbour has learned this grand lesson from his Master—not to please himself, but to please us for our good; he has trampled underfoot the selfish and unchristian saying, “I keep myself to myself”; and he has put in its place one more worthy a follower of Christ—“I give myself to thee.” And though this neighbour is of little importance to the big, noisy world, he is of great importance to us. He is like the candle or the food in our house,—if the one were extinguished, and the other removed, neither would be missed by the world, but they would be very greatly missed by us and by our family. Some of our neighbours have hard or indifferent thoughts of us, as we once had of the world. Go and change them. Some are saying, “We have heard of Christianity; we should like to see a Christian.” Go and show them one, by opening to them a Christian’s heart and life, and not a Christian’s opinions merely. And as that good neighbour made us feel he was of importance to us, so may we as good neighbours make ourselves felt to be of importance to others. We repeat it, we need nothing else than a heart which truly loves God and man—that is, the heart of a child of God—to be an unspeakable blessing and of immense importance in our present place in society. But the apostle further sets before us Jesus Christ as the great example of self-sacrificing love, when he says, “Even Christ pleased not Himself.” Even Christ! He who is the “firstborn of every creature, heir of all things,” “in whom dwelt the fulness of the Godhead,” “who is God over all, blessed forever,” “even He pleased not Himself,” but sacrificed Himself for His neighbour; and we need not ask of Him who His neighbour is, who Himself not only perfectly loved the Lord His God, but His “neighbour as Himself.” Christ’s neighbour was every man. “Even Christ pleased not Himself.” These words discribe His character. For the sake of others He came into the world; for others He lived; for others He prayed; for others He wept; for others He died; for others He intercedes; and for others He will come again! The works and words of every day He spent upon earth are a comment upon this beautiful picture—“He pleased not Himself.” He ever sought to please His neighbour, but only for his good, by the sacrifice of self. Every other pleasing is but a pleasing of self by the sacrifice of good. Thus only, let us add, can Jesus please us now, or bless us, by doing us good. Well might the apostle say, “He pleased not Himself”! And such is the “mind” which must be in us if we are “in Him.” “We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not Himself.” “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to [i.e., after the example of] Jesus Christ.” Let the enmity to the living God which is in our natural hearts be slain by faith in His love to us through Christ, and then shall all enmity to our fellowmen be slain also. Let God’s love to us be shed abroad upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and then shall these hearts be shut no longer by wicked selfishness against our neighbour. Let us carry our Lord’s cross, and then we shall carry our brother’s burden.—Dr. Macleod.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 15:1-3
Pleasing of others to be innocent.—Not as if His undertaking our cause was against His will, or that He ever felt it to be a task and a grievance. He was voluntary in the engagement and cheerful in the execution, and could say, “I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” But He never followed the indulgence of His natural inclination. He preferred the glory of God and our benefit to His own gratification. He did not consult His ease; but denied the demands of sleep when duty required exertion. He rejected, with anger, Peter’s proposal to spare Himself from suffering. He did not consult ambitious feelings; but refused the people when they would have made Him king. He stood not upon rank and consequence, but washed His disciples’ feet, and was among them as one that serveth. He was far more delighted with Mary’s reception of His word than with Martha’s preparation for His appetite. He was not only thirsty, but hungry, when the disciples left Him at the well to go and buy meat; but when they returned, and said, “Master, eat,” He replied, “I have meat to eat which ye know not of.” In your absence I have had something above corporeal satisfaction—I have been saving a soul from death. And observe the use the apostle makes of it. Because Christ pleased not Himself, therefore “He let the strong bear the infirmities of the weak, and not please themselves.” “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.” He indeed limits the duty. We are not to humour our brother in a sinful course, but only in things innocent and lawful; and we are to do this with a view to secure and promote his welfare, and not for any advantage of our own. But we are not to consult our own little conveniences and appetites and wishes. We are not even to follow our convictions in every disputed matter. “Let us not therefore judge one another: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” Here again the apostle calls in Jesus as a motive and an example. He denied Himself for this weak brother, and will you, says Paul, refuse to deny yourself in a trifling forbearance on his behalf?—W. Jay.
Self-pleasing not Christ’s motive.—“For even Christ pleased not Himself.” This does not mean either that well-doing or self-denial was distasteful to Christ; it does not mean that the exercise of benevolence was something for which He had to nerve Himself up from day to day; but it means that considerations of personal ease and comfort, of mere sensual gratification, were not paramount, did not occupy the first place. As He went here and there doing good, His mind was wholly intent on the benefit to others. Self-pleasing, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, was not His aim; so He said, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God.” Self-pleasing, as such, commonly implies selfishness, and not infrequently indolence. Self-pleasing is living for oneself to the disregard of the claims, needs, or happiness of others. The highest, noblest form of self-pleasing, which finds delights in every good work, is not meant or alluded to in the passage under consideration. When Christ took upon Himself the form of a servant, self-pleasing was not His motive. He desired to undertake and accomplish what no other man could, and that not for His own honour, but for man’s benefit. When He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, restored hearing to the deaf, cleansed the leper, and raised the dead—when He comforted Martha and Mary concerning their brother—when He healed the broken-hearted, what was His motive? Not self-pleasing, certainly. Was His last journey to Jerusalem undertaken for any profit, honour, or worldly satisfaction? Too well He knew what was before Him: the trial, the agony, the suffering, the shame. “Father, if this cup may not pass from Me except I drink it, Thy will be done,” is a striking comment on the words, “Christ pleased not Himself.” “We watch Him drinking the bitter cup, enduring the agony of unknown sufferings, placing Himself in the position of sinners, exhausting their punishment; and all that His Father’s will might be done—not His own will, not what He would Himself as man have desired.” Here we see sublime unselfishness! We may desire and seek it, but we cannot attain unto it. Yet look at the self-sacrificing spirit of Judson, Selwyn, Patteson, and Hannington, the martyr of Equatorial Africa; it was not self-pleasing, but Christlike unselfishness. Self-seeking stands in the way of the Church’s progress, and prevents the good that might else be done. It is a blight in the family; for it is the offspring of the rankest selfishness, and militates against true happiness. Peace in the family comes from affection, and a regard for the feelings, rights, and lawful privileges of other members of the household. Forbearance, charity, and true gentleness flourish not where there is self-seeking. Wisdom, like the love that never faileth, “seeketh not her own”—seeketh the good of others. Unobtrusive acts of kindness, anticipation of others’ wishes—oh, they are gems and stars of happiness, “blessing him that gives and him that takes”! Self-forgetfulness is the opposite of self-seeking; self-love is the very antipodes of the love that Christ taught us and gave us an example of. Self-seeking looks for its own interest and glory, true charity for the good of others. The great curse of society is selfishness, with its hollow courtesies and feigned politeness: sometimes it is not even gilded with these, and makes earth resemble hell. We read of a certain king who commanded a musician to play and sing before him. It was a time of rejoicing, and many were bidden to the feast. He took his harp, tuned it, and played sweetly and sang beautifully, so that it seemed none could equal him. The company was enraptured, and listened eagerly that not a note or strain might be lost. But what was his theme? Himself; his own excellences; his great achievements. When, however, he presented himself to the king for the expected reward, it was refused. He had had his reward—all that he deserved. Christ Himself spoke of those who “did their righteousness” before men, and condemned them. “Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet; and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” Benevolence and not selfishness, thoughtfulness for others rather than for oneself, self-sacrifice and not self-seeking, are taught us by Him who “pleased not Himself.” The worshippers of Diana were called Dianeans, and were expected to be like her; but we are called Christians, and are to be like Christ.—Dr. Burrows.
Christ’s example to be realised.—The example of Christ is to the believer the new law to be realised (Galatians 6:2); hence the “for also.” If, as man, Christ had pleased Himself in the use of His liberty, or in the enjoyment of the rights and privileges which His own righteousness had acquired, what would have come of our salvation? But He had only one thought—to struggle for the destruction of sin, without concerning Himself about His own well-being, or sparing Himself even for an instant. In this bold and persevering struggle against our enemy, evil, He drew on Him the hatred of all God’s adversaries here below, so that the lamentation of the psalmist (Psalms 69:9) became, as it were, the motto of His life. In labouring thus for the glory of God and the salvation of men, He gave back, as Isaiah had prophesied, “neither before shame nor spitting.” This certainly is the antipodes of pleasing ourselves. Psalms 69:0 applies only indirectly to the Messiah (Romans 15:5 : “My sins are not hid”); it describes the righteous Israelite suffering for the cause of God. But this is precisely the type of which Jesus was the supreme realisation. We need not say, with Meyer, that Paul adopts the saying of the psalmist directly into his text. It is more natural, seeing the total change of construction, like Grotius, to supply this idea: “but he did as is written”; comp. John 13:18. Paul, Romans 15:1-2, had said “us”; it is difficult indeed to believe that in writing these last sayings he could avoid thinking of his own apostolic life. But divine succour is needed to enable us to follow this line of conduct unflinchingly; and this succour the believer finds only in the constant use of the Scriptures, and in the help of God which accompanies it (Romans 15:4-6).—Godet.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 15
Romans 15:3. Indian chief.—There was an Indian chief who lived in North-west America, amongst the cold and the ice and the snow. This chief had a visitor, a white man, who came and spent a night with him. In the morning the chief took his visitor outside the wigwam or hut in which he lived, and asked him a question. “How many people do you think,” said the chief, “passed by this hut last night?” The visitor looked at the snow very carefully, and saw the foot-marks of one man distinctly imprinted upon it. There were no other foot-marks to be seen, so he said to the chief, “Only one man has passed by.” The chief, however, told him that several hundred Indians, in fact a whole tribe, had passed his wigwam in the night. And then he explained to him that when the Indians did not want it to be known in which direction they had gone, the chief of the tribe walks first, and all the rest of the tribe follow in single file, each man placing his feet exactly in the foot-marks of the chief, so that no new foot-marks are made, and it looks as if only one man had gone by instead of hundreds. By this clever trick the enemies of the tribe are not able to find out in which way they have gone, nor to overtake them. Now Jesus Christ is our chief. He has gone first over the path of life, and He has left us His foot-marks—His example. We must place our feet where He placed His.
Romans 15:3. Narcissus and the fountain—One day Narcissus, who had resisted all the charms of others, came to an open fountain of silvery clearness. He stooped down to drink, and saw his own image, but thought it some beautiful water-spirit living in the fountain. He gazed, and admired the eyes, the neck, the hair, and the lips. He fell in love with himself. In vain he sought embraces from the beautiful water-spirit. He talked to the charmer, but received no responses. He could not break the fascination, so he pined away and died. The moral is, Think not too much nor too highly of yourselves. However, it is not by the mere presentation of the fable, but by the consideration of the glorious fact, that we must endeavour to be delivered from the injurious spirit of self-pleasing. “For even Christ pleased not Himself.” Look not to the fable of Narcissus, regard not mere prudential considerations, but consider Christ, your elder brother, who lived a life of self-denial, and who left us an example, that we should follow His steps. His affection for God the Father induced Him to take to Himself the reproaches that were cast upon God; His compassion for men induced Him to bear their sorrows and to suffer for their welfare. Let us seek to be ruled by affection for God and by compassion for our fellow-men.
Romans 15:3. Imitation of Christ.—In Paris the weavers of the Gobelin Tapestries sit concealed behind the fabrics working the pattern designed by a great artist. Passing through the room, one is struck by their loveliness; the work grows thread by thread under the busy fingers. The pattern they copy from is placed above their heads, and they have to look up for direction and guidance. We must look up to Jesus as our perfect pattern while weaving the trials, experience, and daily mercies our heavenly Father has placed as threads in our hands. And no stitch can be wrong if worked by faith’s steadfast gaze. “Looking unto Jesus,” let us be content to stand behind our work, leaving the result to Him.—J. K. Corving.
Romans 15:3. Chinese plaque.—A gentleman had a Chinese plaque with curious raised figures upon it. One day it fell from the wall on which it was hung, and was cracked right across the middle. Soon after the gentleman sent to China for six more of these valuable plates, and, to ensure an exact match, sent his broken plate as a copy. To his intense astonishment, when six months later he received the six plates and his injured one, he found the Chinese had so faithfully followed his copy that each new one had a crack right across it. If we imitate even the best of men, we are apt to copy their imperfections; but if we follow Jesus and take Him as our example, we are quite sure of a perfect pattern. No fear of a flaw in His life; no fear of any mistake through following Him.—Our Own Magazine.
Romans 15:3. A Japanese girl’s simile.—At a meeting in Japan the subject was, “How to glorify Christ by our lives.” One girl said, “It seems to me like this: One spring my mother got some flower seeds—little, ugly, black things—and planted them. They grew and blossomed beautifully. One dlay a neighbour, seeing the flowers, said, ‘Oh, how beautiful! Won’t you, please, give me some seeds?’ Now, if the neighbour had only just seen the flower seeds, she wouldn’t have asked for them. It was only when she saw how beautiful was the blossom she wanted the seed. And so with Christianity. We speak to our friends of the truths of the Bible; they seem to them hard and uninteresting. But when they see these same truths blossoming out in our lives into kindly words and good acts, then they say, ‘How beautiful these lives!’ Thus by our lives, more than by our tongues, we can preach Christ.”—E. J. B.
Romans 15:3. The Vatican picture.—Years ago, in a Roman palace, there hung a beautiful picture, upon which crowds went to gaze. Among them a young painter unknown to fame went daily to look upon it, until his soul was refreshed by its beauty, and a great longing came into his heart to copy it; but he was sternly refused permission. He returned repulsed, but not discouraged. Day and night its beauty haunted him. Copy it he must. Daily be came to the palace, coming early and leaving late, and, sitting before the picture, gazed upon it till it grew into him and became a part of himself; and one day he hurried home to his easel and began to paint. Each day he came and gazed at the picture, and then went home and reproduced, bit by bit, unweariedly, patiently, something of its beauty. Each fresh day’s look corrected the last day’s faults; and as he toiled his power grew, and his hidden genius blazed out. Months after, in that humble studio, there stood such a wonderful copy of the Vatican picture that those who saw it could not rest until they had seen the beautiful original. We who have seen Jesus must represent Him; but only as we look to Him daily, kneeling at His feet and gazing up into His face, do we gain power to reproduce His beauty. Daily “looking unto Jesus” we get power, skill, courage, and love, and are full of the one desire to be like Him.—Our Own Magazine.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 15:4
Old writings for new times.—The mercy and wisdom of God are shown in the gift of a written revelation. Nature teaches only in symbols, and her writing must be interpreted by the writing of revelation. Human reason is at best a blind guide, and must be enlightened by divine reason; thus our need of a revelation. Men receive much light from the Bible, and yet too often treat it as if it were of no account in either the intellectual or moral sphere. Perhaps they do not know how much they owe to the “god of books.” The pride and ingratitude of men are seen in the fact that they are hypercritical in studying the Bible. We owe to it what is best in our modern civilisation. We cleave to these writings, for by them patience and comfort are imparted, and hope is begotten and confirmed.
I. These writings are ancient in their origin.—The modern cry is for new books and for something sensational. Strong men are made by strong food. Samson lost his strength in Delilah’s lap; and the Delilah lap of a light modern literature may destroy intellectual and moral manhood. Plagiarism in sermons has been a well-worn topic. We may now treat of plagiarism in our intellectual magazines and our first-class novels. The truth is that ancient writings are great intellectual storehouses; and the most precious of all are the Scriptures. These writings are confessedly the most ancient, and are surrounded by evidence more various, copious, and exhaustive than that which can be adduced in support of any other ancient writings—written in the childhood of the race, and yet contain depths of wisdom unfathomed. Moses is pelted with geological stones, confronted with mathematical puzzles, and attacked with evolutionary theories, and yet he still rules from Sinai and speaks from his unknown sepulchre in Nebo. David is charged with immorality; still his lyrics charm the universe, and his sublime melodies float through our ancient structures. What modern publisher would dream of giving ten thousand pounds to that old Jew, of whose race and tribe we are ignorant, for his Hebrew manuscript of Isaiah! And yet the greatest modern singers give utterance to his poetry, and the most celebrated musical composers are inspired by his lofty periods. We do not go the length of blindly accepting the old because it is old; but surely the ancient has a claim upon respectful consideration. This is wonderful, that time has not impaired the vitality of these writings. A declaration this that they came from Him who fainteth not, neither is weary. That these writings appeared in the childhood of the race, and should by majesty of thought, by purity of influence, and by sublimity of language have lifted themselves up above surrounding darkness, ignorance, and corruption, is no small evidence of their superhuman origin. These ancient writings may be compared to strong rocks, and modern criticism to feeble wavelets. They move in impotent endeavour. When they have done their worst and retired, men will be ashamed of their folly in fearing lest God’s Scriptures should be swept into oblivion.
II. These ancient writings are prophetic in their scope.—St. Paul does not confine himself to the prophecies, his quotation being from the Psalms. The prophecies remain as evidence to the inspiration of the Bible. Beyond these the ancient writings are prophetic because they forthtell the truth for all time. The writers stood in times beginning, and looked to after-time, and wrote both for St. Paul and his compeers, and for that army who should receive the same faith and follow in the same pathway. In this sense few modern writers are prophetic; their names will perish, and their works be forgotten. Those who have made a cheap reputation by attacking Moses and the prophets, if they could rise from the dead would be surprised to find themselves forgotten, while Moses and the prophets were still influencing mankind. Modern science of infidel tendencies may let the prophets down into deep pits, but their voices still roll forth with majesty. The prophets’ scrolls may be thrown into the fire, but the flames illuminate their messages. Moses, the prophets, and the apostles are time’s great teachers and true prophets because they have been taught in heaven’s school.
III. These prophetic writings are spiritual in their design.—Above all other books they have been promotive of learning from a mere intellectual point of view. Biblical students greatest scholars. Tongue cannot tell what the Bible has thus done. Young minds have been quickened by its matchless stories; the dormant intellect has been touched to energy by its magical power, and shown unexpected ability; eloquence has risen to loftiest strains when inspired by the inspired word. It has created sublimest musical melodies, and strengthened the poet’s wings for highest soarings. The novelist, while attacking, will quote a sentence to conclude and grace the page; and the historian will check his narration to admire the flowers culled from this divine garden. But secular learning is dangerous if it be not accompanied by sacred. The former too often breeds impatience and discomfort, while the latter produces patience and comfort. By that study we are introduced to “quiet resting-places.” We meditate upon the patience of the saints until we catch somewhat of their spirit. Reading these ancient writings is good; keeping them stored in the memory is good. But patience is the crowning quality. “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” These writings record the incomparable drama of Job’s sufferings and triumphs. Patience taught by the example of the saints. Consolation imparted by the promises.
IV. These writings are benevolent in their purpose.—A benevolent work to produce and strengthen hope; for when a man loses hope he becomes poor indeed. How much of our modern writing is for the destruction of hope! Attempts are more largely made to destroy the foundations of our faith; and if these be destroyed, where are our hopes? These ancient writings teach us hope in the wisdom of the divine plans, in the benevolence of the divine arrangements, and in the final good to be secured by divine proceedings; they give the hope of “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” They keep hope in lively exercise. Men have tried other writings in vain. But here is found a hope which maketh not ashamed; which has enabled its possessors to resist the “temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil”; to breast a dark sea of troubles and overcome; to raise hymns of praise in the prison-cell; to turn the dark dungeon into a palace beautiful; and to sing while the flames were scorching the poor body,—
“There is a blessed land making most happy;
Never thence shall rest depart, nor cause of sorrow come.”
And truly glorious is the death scene of those who are rightly sustained by Christian hope. The Scriptures only can give this divine grace.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 15:4
Things written for a purpose.—“For whatsoever things were written afore-time were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” A quotation in the preceding verse from Psalms 69:9 leads the writer of this epistle to speak of whatsoever things, besides this, were written in ancient times. The particular instance suggests the universal truth as to the nature and object, not of all writings, sacred and profane, but of those regarded as sacred by the Jews.
I. The apostle we see, then, had in mind “the law and the prophets,” or all the canonical books of the Old Testament.—These are believed to be and to contain a revelation to man of duty and hope—a revelation for the development of spiritual life and moral principle and habit. And whatever theory we may adopt, verbal, substantial, or in effect, of inspiration, we must acknowledge that St. Paul taught and believed that all the Old Testament Scriptures were given for a direct purpose, not from man, though by man—given in some way by divine authority, or they would not be a sufficient foundation for our hope—“hope that maketh not ashamed,” and which we have “as an anchor of the soul.” The ten commandments were claimed to have been “written with the finger of God.” “Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The Scriptures are called “lively oracles.” “Thus it is written,” said Christ. “As it is written,” the evangelists frequently say. “In the volume of the book it is written of me,” said the psalmist—words which St. Paul quotes in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The first copies of the law were probably written on papyrus; the later on parchment, which was unrolled from right to left from a staff, and rolled on another as it was read; hence the word “volume.” The Jews had profound regard for the sacred writings, and their learned men knew the number of words, and even of letters, in them. It is not necessary to hold that the Holy Scriptures were miraculously preserved, but the reverence for them would tend to preserve them uncorrupted. That the books were all written by the men whose names they bear it may be difficult to prove; but the theory of imposture is impossible under all the circumstances. We must believe that they were written—written by men, but on the authority and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Much the same may be said of the books of the New Testament. They were written for a purpose. They, it is believed, were written by divine inspiration, if not by dictation. They are the spiritual law of the kingdom of Christ. In them, nay, in the whole Bible, we are furnished with all necessary instruction, guidance, reproof, and counsel. “In them ye think [are satisfied that] ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of Christ.” These books have been received from very early times by the Christian Church, guarded, taught to the people, cited, and preserved, and are plainly worthy of all acceptation.
II. The purpose for which the Holy Scriptures were written is one plain enough and easy to be understood.—
1. They were written for our learning. This has necessarily been anticipated; but too much cannot be said upon it. We need instruction as to our natural condition and sinful state, as to the means of grace and spiritual renewal, as to the need of worshipping and serving our Creator, as to the life which we have in and through Jesus Christ our Lord, and as to the way of finding life eternal, with its fulness of joy and rivers of pleasure.
2. The Scriptures were written that we might be patient learners in the kingdom of God, studying His word and pleasure, that we may prove “what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We are to be patient students, until we become as “scribes instructed unto the kingdom of heaven.” Patience in suffering, as well as in doing, is to be learned. “If we suffer with Him [i.e., with Christ], we shall also reign with Him.” “The trial of our faith being much more precious than gold that perished, though it be tried with fire, may be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” We are appointed both to do and to suffer; and how we shall act and live is taught us in Holy Scripture.
3. The Scriptures were written that we might have hope. Man without them is in darkness. He may reason out for himself a way of life; but it will not bring him an assured and earnest hope. But hope is to come, in great part, by doing the commandments of God, and patiently submitting to affliction, being “kept by His mighty power through faith unto salvation.” Thus come unto us sure comfort and peace, and hope becomes stronger and brighter as we advance in our Christian course, and this hope reacts upon our souls, and is an incitement to purity of life, and gives satisfaction in the very article of death.—Dr. Burrows, Ashtabula, New York.
The things that were written aforetime.—What St. Paul said of the Old Testament we may say of the New—of the whole Christian Bible—not least of those glorious epistles which are St. Paul’s own contributions to it. All of these Scriptures, New as well as Old, are written for the learning of us who live in these later ages. Our business is to make the most of the lesson. Scripture is a manual of moral or spiritual learning. It is addressed to the heart and to the will, as well as the intellect. It is a book for the understanding; and much more, it is a book for the spirit and for the heart. There are, no doubt, many other kinds of learning to be got from the Bible. It is a great manual of Eastern antiquities. It gives us information about the ancient world which we can obtain nowhere else. It carries us back to the early dawn of history, when as yet all that we commonly mean by civilisation did not exist. It is a handbook, again, of political experience. It shows us what a nation can do, and what it may have to suffer—how it may be affected by the conduct of its rulers—how it may make its rulers like itself. Again, it is a rich collection of moral wisdom as applied to personal conduct, and a man need not believe in divine revelation in order to admire the shrewdness and penetration of the Book of Proverbs. Again, it is a mine of poetry. It contains the highest poetry which the human race possesses—poetry before which the great masters of song must bow. It is a choice field for the study of language. In its pages we trace one beautiful language, the Hebrew, from its cradle to its grave. It gives us lessons in the use of language, to describe the emotions and the moods of the human soul, which are not to be found elsewhere. Learning of this kind has its value, and some of it is necessary if we are to make the most of this precious book; but it is not the learning which St. Paul says that the ancient Scriptures were meant to impart to Christians. A man may have much of this learning, and yet he may miss altogether the true lessons that Scripture has to teach him. “That we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope”—that is the end of the highest learning which Scripture has to give us. The Bible is the book of God, so it is the book of the future. At first sight it seems to be altogether a book of the past. The Bible helps us as no other book does or can. It stands alone as the warrant and stimulant of hope. It speaks with a divine authority; it opens out a future which no human authority could attest. Here is consolation and hope in Scripture for those who need and who will have it. Those who will may find in Holy Scripture patience, consolation, hope. Not in its literary or historical features, but in the great truths which it reveals about God, about our incarnate Lord, about man, in the great examples it holds forth of patience and of victory, in the great promises it repeats, in the future which it unfolds to the eye of faith, is this treasure to be found. A more constant, more reverent, more thorough use of Holy Scripture is surely one of the appropriate duties of a season like Advent, for “Scripture is a long letter sent to us from our heavenly country,” and we who hope in time to reach its shores should learn what we can about it and about the conditions of reaching it while we may. Thus, indeed, shall we prepare for that event which surely waits us all, the future judgment, if we shall read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest those Scriptures which God has given for our learning, that by patience and comfort of this His holy word we embrace and hold fast that hope of everlasting life which He has given us in and with His adorable Son.—Canon Liddon.
Our duty to study things written.—“Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.” For our welfare Moses wrote, David sang, Solomon spoke lessons of wisdom, and the experiences of Job were recorded; Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets opened out their scrolls for our moral well-being; the great Teacher unfolded lessons of heavenly wisdom, the four evangelists observed and recorded, Paul argued, Peter laid down practical rules, John wrote his poem of love, and the sublime work of the Revelation was penned, for our learning. God’s revelation has been gradual. The knowledge of God’s material works has been progressively acquired, and God’s word has been given to mankind in parts. The Bible, thus given in parts and at long intervals, is possessed of striking unity. All the parts converge towards one central object—Jesus Christ. God gave to mankind a perfect world, and could at once have given a complete revelation. God revealed for the learning of the men of the olden time; and now He has blessed by giving the gathered writings of all His inspired servants. God gave one authoritative collection of writings. Men collect the wit and wisdom of Shakespeare, or gems from voluminous authors; here, in the Bible, is treasured the wisdom of the ancients. Some overlook the wisdom, and fix only upon what they call the follies; let it be ours to look to the wisdom. It is surprising that in these ancient writings we find purest types of composition, most correct and sublime thoughts, loftiest flights of poetry and eloquence, and brightest pearls of wisdom. But more than that, the writings of the Bible contain the true standard of morals. It is our duty prayerfully to study these writings. This book bears the impress of divinity. Let the objectors write psalms like David, show powers of imagination like the prophetic bards, let fall from their lips pearls of truth equal to those of the great teachers, persuade like Paul, and touch like the apostle of love, and then we may patiently listen to their diatribes. Meanwhile we will reverently attend to those Scriptures which have been given for our learning.
Things written best.—God speaks by His Scriptures. “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning; that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope.” Scripta sunt—they are written. Things that go only by tale or tradition meet with such variations, augmentations, abbreviations, corruptions, false glosses, that, as in a lawyer’s pleading, truth is lost in the quœre for her. Related things we are long in getting, quick in forgetting; therefore God commanded His law should be written. Littera scripta manet. Thus God doth effectually speak to us. Many good, wholesome instructions have dropped from human peris, to lesson and direct man in goodness; but there is no promise given to any word to convert the soul but to God’s word. Without this antiquity is novelty, novelty subtlety, subtlety death. Theologia scholastica multis modis sophistica—School divinity is little better than mere sophistry. Plus argutiarum quam doctrinœ, plus doctrinœ quam, usus—It hath more quickness than soundness, more sauce than meat, more difficulty than doctrine, more doctrine than use. This Scripture is the perfect and absolute rule. Bellarmine acknowledgeth two things requirable in a perfect rule—certainty and evidence. If it be not certain, it is not rule; if it be not evident, it is no rule to us. Only the Scripture is, both in truth and evidence, a perfect rule. Other writings may have canonical verity; the Scripture only hath canonical authority. Others, like oil, may make cheerful man’s countenance; but this, like bread, Strengthens his heart. This is the absolute rule: “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). Oh that we had hearts to bless God for His mercy that the Scriptures are among us, and that not sealed up under an unknown tongue! The time was when a devout father was glad of a piece of the New Testament in English—when he took his little son into a corner, and with joy of soul heard him read a chapter, so that even children became fathers to their fathers, and begat them to Christ. Now, as if the commonness had abated the worth, our Bibles lie dusty in the windows; it is all if a Sunday handling quit them from perpetual oblivion. Few can read, fewer do read, fewest of all read as they should. God of His infinite mercy lay not to our charge this neglect!—Adams.
The Scriptures an arsenal.—I use the Scriptures, not as an arsenal to be resorted to only for arms and weapons, … but as a matchless temple, where I delight to contemplate the beauty, the symmetry, the magnificence, of the structure, and to increase my awe and excite my devotion to the Deity there preached and adored.—Boyle.
Every passage fruitful.—Scarcely can we fix our eyes upon a single passage in this wonderful book which has not afforded comfort or instruction to thousands, and been wet with tears of penitential sorrow or grateful joy drawn from eyes that will weep no more.—Payson.
This lamp, from off the everlasting throne,
Mercy took down, and in the night of time
Stood casting on the dark her gracious bow,
And evermore beseeching men with tears
And earnest sighs to hear, believe, and live.
Scriptures remarkable as a literary composition.—Even as a literary composition the sacred Scriptures form the most remarkable book the world has ever seen. They are of all writings the most ancient. They contain a record of events of the deepest interest. The history of their influence is the history of civilisation and happiness. The wisest and best of mankind have borne witness to their power as an instrument of enlightenment and of holiness; and having been prepared by “men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” to reveal “the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent,” they have on this ground the strongest claims upon our attentive and reverential regard.—Angus.
Not to be discouraged if we do not understand.—We often read the Scriptures without comprehending its full meaning; however, let us not be discouraged. The light, in God’s good time, will break out, and disperse the darkness, and we shall see the mysteries of the gospel.—Bishop Wilson.
The great excellency of the word.—All things which are written are written for our erudition and knowledge. All things that are written in God’s book, in the Bible book, in the book of the Holy Scripture, are written to be our doctrine. Consider that the words of Paul are not to be understanded of all Scriptures, but only of those which are of God written in God’s book; and all things which are therein “are written for our learning.” The excellency of this word is so great, and of so high dignity, that there is no earthly thing to be compared unto it. The Author thereof is great—that is, God Himself, eternal, almighty, everlasting. The Scripture, because of Him, is also great, eternal, most mighty and holy. There is no king, emperor, magistrate, and ruler, of what state soever they be, but are bound to obey this God, and to give credence unto His holy word, in directing their steps ordinately according unto the same word. Yea, truly, they are not only bound to obey God’s book, but also the minister of the same, “for the word’s sake,” so far as he speaketh “sitting in Moses’ chair”—that is, if his doctrine be taken out of Moses’ law. For in this world God hath two swords; the one is a temporal sword, the other a spiritual. The temporal sword resteth in the hands of kings, magistrates, and rulers under Him; whereunto all subjects, as well as the clergy as the laity, be subject, and punishable for any offence contrary to the same book. The spiritual sword is in the hands of the ministers and preachers; whereunto all kings, magistrates, and rulers ought to be obedient, that is, to hear and follow, so long as the ministers sit in Christ’s chair, that is, speaking out of Christ’s book. The king correcteth transgressors with the temporal sword; yea, and the preacher also, if he be an offender. But the preacher cannot correct the king, if he be a transgressor of God’s word, with the temporal sword; but he must correct and reprove him with the spiritual sword, fearing no man, setting God only before his eyes, under whom he is a minister to supplant and root up all vice and mischief by God’s word; whereunto all men ought to be obedient, as is mentioned in many places of Scripture, and amongst many this is one, Quæcunque jusserint vos servare servate et facite: “Whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do.” Therefore let the preacher teach, improve, amend, and instruct in righteousness with the spiritual sword, fearing no man, though death should ensue. Thus Moses, fearing no man, with his sword did reprove King Pharaoh at God’s commandment. All things that are written in God’s book, in the Holy Bible, they were written before our time; but yet to continue from age to age, as long as the world doth stand.—Bishop Latimer.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 15
Romans 15:4. President Webster on the Bible.—On one occasion, when seated in the drawing-room with Mr. and Mrs. Ely, at Rochester, Mr. Webster laid his hand on a copy of the Scriptures, saying with great emphasis, “This is the Book!” This led to a conversation on the importance of the Scriptures and the too frequent neglect of the study of the Bible by gentlemen of the legal profession, their pursuits in life leading them to the almost exclusive use of works having reference to their profession. Mr. Webster said: “I have read through the entire Bible many times. I now make a practice to go through it once a year. It is the book of all others for lawyers, as well as for divines; and I pity the man that cannot find in it a rich supply of thought and of rules for his conduct. It fits man for life; it prepares him for death.” The conversation then turned upon sudden deaths, and Mr. Webster adverted to the then recent death of his brother, who expired suddenly at Concord, N.H. “My brother,” he continued. “knew the importance of Bible truths. The Bible led him to prayer, and prayer was his communion with God. On the day on which he died he was engaged in an important cause in the court then in session; but this cause, important as it was, did not keep him from his duty to his God. He found time for prayer, for on the desk which he had just left was found a paper, written by him on that day, which for fervent piety, a devotedness to his heavenly Master, and for expressions of humility I think was never excelled.”
Romans 15:4. Robin Hood before the word of God.—I came once myself to a place, riding on a journey homeward from London, and I sent word overnight into the town that I would preach there in the morning, because it was holiday; and methought it was a holiday’s work. The church stood in my way, and I took my horse and my company and went thither. I thought I should have found a great company in the church, and when I came there the church door was fast locked. I tarried there half an hour and more. At last the key was found, and one of the parish comes to me and says, “Sir, this is a busy day with us. We cannot hear you; it is Robin Hood’s day. The parish are gone abroad to gather for Robin Hood: I pray you let them not.” I was fain there to give place to Robin Hood. I thought my rochet should have been regarded, though I were not; but it would not serve—it was fain to give place to Robin Hood’s men. It is no laughing matter, my friends. It is a weeping matter, a heavy matter—a heavy matter, under the pretence of gathering for Robin Hood, a traitor and a thief, to put out a preacher, to have his office less esteemed; to prefer Robin Hood before the ministration of God’s word; and all this hath come of unpreaching prelates. This realm hath been ill provided for, that it hath had such corrupt judgments in it, to prefer Robin Hood to God’s word. If the bishops had been preachers, there should never have been any such thing; but we have good hope of better. We have had a good beginning. I beseech God to continue it! But I tell you, it is far wide that the people have such judgments; the bishops they could laugh at it. What was that to them? They would have them to continue in their ignorance still, and themselves in unpreaching prelacy.—Latimer.
Romans 15:5.—Christ is both the example and motive of the Christian mind. God who bestows patience; just as the God of grace is the God who imparts grace.
Romans 15:6.—God of the man Christ Jesus; Father of the divine Word.
Romans 15:7.—The glory of God was the end of all Christ did on earth or does in heaven.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 15:5-7
A prayer that looks for results.—Oftentimes we pray, and do not expect answers. Our prayers are in a great measure purposeless. Modern scepticism creeps into the heart of the modern Christian. What profit shall we have if we pray unto Him? expresses too much the latent feeling of many natures. Let us seek to have more faith in the efficacy of prayer; let us rise up to the position of ancient saints; let us realise our privilege, and believe that God answers prayer.
I. The prayer.—Notice about this prayer that it is:
1. Brief. Most of the prayers of the New Testament are short, and yet powerful. The model prayer is short. This, however, does not preclude long and earnest wrestling in secret. The Master was much in prayer. As the Master, so the servant should be.
2. Comprehensive. Short prayers are sometimes the most comprehensive. How much is comprehended in the Church of England collects! Here in one verse is a collect of large comprehension. A great soul, feeling the burden of its desire, puts much thought in few words. Little thought, many words. Let our words be few, but let our thoughts be many and earnest, as we come to the God of thought.
3. Well planned. God is addressed as the fountain of those qualities which are needful for the desired result. Patience and consolation are needful for Christian harmony. Provocations will arise. The strong will require patience with the infirmities of the weak; while the weak will require patience with the tendency to overbearance in the strong. Mutual forbearance demands patience and consolation from the divine source. Unity of affection will be disturbed if there be not patience. Oneness of sentiment, likemindedness, sameness of heart, must be generated from God through the gracious channel and according to the glorious example of Jesus Christ.
II. The expected result.—In the modern Church we find too often many minds and many mouths, and some of the mouths very large, very noisy, and very difficult to close. One mind and one mouth—the one mind of love, the one mouth of praise to God. What a blessed unity! What divine harmony! Many minds blended by the one mind of love; many mouths so united as if only one mouth were expressing the various sounds. One mind absorbed in the mind of eternal love. What a picture! The many minds and many mouths of the Church militant concentred in one mind and one mouth that glorifies God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The children of earth spring from one Father, and should have one mind of love. The primitive Church is a pattern for the modern Church. It is true that there were discords, but there was such harmony that it was said, “See how these Christians love one another.” St. Paul’s prayer and St. Paul’s example not without blessed results. Let us each pray and act so that one mind and one mouth may be the characteristic of the modern Church.
III. The natural exhortation.—“Wherefore receive ye one another.” The exhortation is founded on the prayer and on the expected results. “Receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.” How graciously wide the receptions of Christ! Our “at homes” are formal receptions occurring at wide intervals; Christ was always at home to the homeless, the sad, and the weary. The King of heaven held court with publicans and sinners. His drawing-room is the wide world, where weary hearts are seeking rest. To be presented at His court, we need neither rank, nor title, nor costly apparel. He welcomes broken hearts and contrite souls; the weak He loves to tend; the bruised reed He does not break. How difficult and how far-reaching the exhortation, “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ,” etc.! Let our receptions be loving and hearty. The grace of love is nobler than the pompous dignity of officialism. Let us receive one another. Let Christians exemplify the true solidarity. Let them be brothers, not in name merely, but in deed and in truth.
Romans 15:6. Worship of the unknowable yet lovable God.—That which is perfect cannot be made more glorious. We cannot by our adoration or admiration increase the glory of the sun, the brilliancy of the stars, the majesty of the mountains, the beauty of the landscape, the loveliness of the perfect flower, the melody of the sweet-singing bird. God is perfect, and we cannot by our worship increase His glory. He was glorious before the heavens by their splendours proclaimed His glory, and He will be glorious when they have shrivelled up as a parchment scroll. He was glorious before Adam sang His praises amid the beauties of the primeval Eden, and He will be glorious when this planet in its present form has heard the last chant of praise. But as the heavens declare His glory, as the charming landscape sets forth His divine goodness, so man may “glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What a pity that man is so often the least vocal amid the many praising voices of God’s world! Let it be ours “with one mind and one mouth to glorify God.”
I. Whom must we worship?—It is like a truism to say that we must not worship ourselves; and yet is there not a vast deal of self-worship in our public exercises of religion? Is not the God we worship the projected ideal of our own creation? Idolatry is supposed to be extinct in these countries, and to have been extinct for a long period. But there are idols of the mind; and if we were gifted with the power of seeing the unseen, we should be astonished at the number of idols being worshipped in the temples set apart to the worship of the one God. Are our pantheons all destroyed? Do we worship ourselves when we ought to worship God—ourselves, by proclaiming our goodness to the world—ourselves, by setting forth our own peculiar creed—ourselves, by listening to our favourite preacher? Let us seek more and more to worship the eternal Spirit “in spirit and in truth.” We must worship:
1. The unknowable God. We have been told in a recent book that God is not wisely trusted when declared unintelligible. The God who cannot be wisely trusted cannot be properly worshipped. But what reason is there to shrink from the idea of a God who is unintelligible? Surely Zophar’s question is pertinent to such objections: “Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection?” If God were fully intelligible, He could not command the admiration of a noble soul and the worship of an aspiring heart. The unknown is all around us. We move amid the unknowables. We ourselves are amongst the number. Take the simple question, What is life? and who is there to answer? What is that subtle force which the anatomist’s skill cannot detect? Does life reside in the pineal gland as on a throne and give orders over the kingdom of man? Is it an all-pervading force? Is it a delicate ether extracted from exquisitely compounded and distilled material substances? Life is, with our present faculties, unknowable. Is it any wonder that the Giver of life is unknowable? God is infinite, and is thus unknowable. We do not know what infinite duration means. The infinite is simply a mysterious something stretching beyond the finite. The moment we think of the infinite we make it finite by our thought. The infinite is unintelligible; but we believe in a duration which can only be described by an unintelligible term. The infinite power, wisdom, and love of God are unintelligible; still we believe in a wisdom that planned and a power which worked out creative designs, and a love which, working by power and wisdom, achieved our redemption. We worship a power, wisdom, and even love which we cannot fully understand. Worship is the adoration of the loving spirit—it is the upward rising of the soul; and how can the soul rise towards that Being who is on the same level? Worship is elicited, not by the little, but by the great. The old church-builders had surely this in view when they reared their grandly vast and solemn temples. We must in our true worship rise to the unknown and see the unseen. The eternal Spirit is unknown; but finite spirits are drawn to worship “in spirit and in truth.”
2. The knowable God. God is unintelligible, but not wholly. We feel after Him and find Him, though not the whole of His divine nature. We touch and are touched by Him on every side, and yet we do but touch the fringe of His garment of inaccessible light. A child does not know his father; and yet what would be the nature of the child’s feelings if told that he did not know his father and should not love him? The child does not know and yet knows his father. The children of the eternal Father do not know and yet know. We worship a knowable God, for we worship the God and Father of Jesus Christ—the God of the human nature and the Father of the divine nature. He that hath seen Christ hath seen the Father, and cannot be said to worship a God who is wholly unintelligible. Christ, by His light, reflects on the world the eternal brightness. Christ, by His superhuman excellencies manifested in this lower sphere, makes known the excellency of God. He rises infinitely above us, but He condescendingly comes forth from the infinitely vast in the person of the incarnated Son of God. He is far away beyond our comprehension, but He stoops to the world’s littleness by a revelation of His greatness in the greatness of the Saviour. Many books have been written and much study has been given about and to the life of Jesus, and still He is beyond our poor knowledge; but shall the loving bride be told that she does not know the divine Bridegroom? We know Jesus, for we live in Him and He in us. We touch His thoughts; we feel the motions of His mighty mind. We know Him sweetly and lovingly, and knowing the Christ we know the God and Father. Our sense of awe is inspired by the unknowable God. Our feeling of blessed union is fostered by the knowable God.
3. The lovable God. God’s love is unknown and yet well known to the loving nature. He comes forth from the vast unknown, and applies to Himself a well-known and familiar human term. He is the Father of Jesus Christ. God is not an unintelligible abstraction, but a father. The divine nature has in it the principle of fatherhood. From the eternal Father spring the many time fathers. He is over one vast family, and Christ Jesus is His firstborn Son. There is fatherliness in the nature and heart of the vast Unknown, and this fatherliness broods over the children of men. We worship a Father unknown as to His vastness, but known as to His love. And yet His love is unknown. Sufficient for us to know that He loves the Son, and that He loves all those who love the Son; and shall we not add that He has a love for all the earthborn? “We love Him because He first loved us.” We worship, we adore, we magnify a lovable God. As the sweet sun shining through the vast spaces of the great cathedral makes its sublimity attractive and cheers the whole edifice, so the sweeter sun of the Father’s love shining through the vast spaces of His profound nature renders the vastness attractive and cheers the heart of every sincere worshipper.
II. How must we worship?—“With one mind and one mouth.” When all hearts are melted by love’s sweet flame and fused into one shining unity, then all mouths will be in blessed unison. Pure and united, harmonious strains issue from a concert of well-tuned instruments; and so from the united spirits of Christian worshippers there results united worship. Love is the true musical director which can keep all the parts going harmoniously better than the baton of the best musical conductor the world has seen. The music of love is richer, vaster, and freer from discords than the music of the best earthly composers. It is difficult to get the best-trained choir to sing as with one mouth, still more difficult to secure oneness of mind; but this can be accomplished by the magical influence of love,—one mouth, not because all the other mouths are closed by law, by custom, or by indifference, but because all mind and speak the same things, because all voices are sweetly blended.
III. What is to be the effect of our worship?—The first great object and effect is plainly that God may be glorified by the aspect of a united worshipping community. The ideal described by the apostle is that of the union of the entire Church, composed of Jews and Gentiles, in the adoration of the God and Father who has redeemed and sanctified it by Jesus Christ. “This union was,” as Godet says, “in a sense Paul’s personal work, and the prize of his apostolic labours. How his heart must have leapt, hearing already, by the anticipation of faith, the hymn of saved humanity! It is the part of every believer, therefore, to make all the advances and all the sacrifices which love demands in order to work for so magnificent a result.” Our hearts glow at the prospect; but, alas! the hymn of saved humanity is far from being a perfected composition. The number of the voices is not being increased, at least not at all in proportion to the increase of the population. In one of our largest towns only a little more than one sixth of the population was found in places of worship on the census Sunday. What shall be done for our modern Babylon, where three millions have no connection at all with religious services? We are told that in a church-going part of the country the good custom is declining. Shall we despair? By no means. But let us ask, Are our hearts right towards God? Do we need repentance and thorough reformation, lest God remove our candlestick out of its place? Have Christians the one mind of love to God and to one another? Is there the one mouth speaking only to the glory of God? Let us not seek to attract by mere outward glitter, though we are far from deprecating any attempts which may be made to render God’s house and services attractive; but let us draw by purifying the inward. Let us earnestly and believingly pray to Him whose arm is not yet shortened, and whose willingness to save is still as vast as when He gave His well-beloved Son.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 15:5-7
Paul desires harmony.—Paul desires for the Roman Christians a harmony of spirit which will fill every mouth with one song of praise and exalt God in the eyes of mankind. He knows that this cannot be unless the strong in faith deny themselves for the good of their weaker brethren. He urges this as their bounden duty, and points to the example of Christ. By the use of the word “endurance” he admits the difficulty of the task. But he reminds them that to prompt them to such endurance the ancient Scriptures were written. And knowing that even the divine word is powerless without the presence of the divine Speaker, he prays that God, who enables them to maintain their Christian confidence, will also give them the spirit of harmony. He desires this in order that the weak, instead of losing the little faith they have, may join with the strong in praise to God.—Beet.
The advantage of a Church.—Here and there an unchurched soul may stir the multitudes to lofty deeds; isolated men, strong enough to preserve their souls apart from the Church, but shortsighted enough perhaps to fail to see that others cannot, may set high examples and stimulate to national reforms. But for the rank and file of us, made of such stuff as we are made of, the steady pressures of fixed institutions, the regular diets of a common worship, and the education of public Christian teaching are too obvious safeguards of spiritual culture to be set aside. Even Renan declares his conviction that, “Beyond the family and outside the State, man has need of the Church.… Civil society, whether it calls itself a commune, a canton, or a province, a state or fatherland, has many duties towards the improvement of the individual; but what it does is necessarily limited. The family ought to do much more, but often it is insufficient; sometimes it is wanting altogether. The association created in the name of moral principle can alone give to every man coming into this world a bond which unites him with the past, duties as to the future, examples to follow, a heritage to receive and to transmit, and a tradition of devotion to continue.” Apart altogether from the quality of its contribution to society, in the mere quantity of the work it turns out it stands alone. Even for social purposes the Church is by far the greatest employment bureau in the world. And the man who, seeing where it falls short, withholds on that account his witness to its usefulness is a traitor to history and to fact.—Drummond.
Intellectual young England is against churchgoing.—Intellectual young England is grandly patronising, and condescendingly allows us to attend the public services of religion if we feel so disposed. Its language is, I do not oppose churchgoing, or even say that it is undesirable. My point is merely that it is not necessary. Now necessary things are those which are requisite for a purpose. And in this sense public worship is necessary; for it is requisite for the purpose of fostering religious feeling in the individual, and for the purpose of preserving religion alive in the land. The man who says that private worship is enough, and that it is a waste of time to go to church, is not inspired with the true spirit of Christianity, which is benevolent. It is not necessary to take our meals with the family, or to join the club, or to adhere to a political party; but it is requisite for social well-being and prosperity. So that in this true sense it is necessary; and so also is it necessary “with one mind and one mouth to glorify God” in the hours of prayer. But it is affirmed that the Bible does not require it. St. Paul in this passage seems to regard it as an un questioned duty, and his point is to prepare the earlier believers for its right performance. Young England has a curious exposition of the direct command in Hebrews, where we are told not to forsake the assembling ourselves together. He says it does not apply to churchgoing at all, for the house of God spoken of in Romans 15:21 is clearly not a material one. Certainly not; but it is a house on the earth, for it consists of true believers, over which Christ is the High Priest. The passage relates to a present duty which is to be performed in expectation of the approaching day. Christ, as His custom was, went to the synagogue every Sabbath day. The early Church had frequent meetings for fellowship and Christian worship. Religion must decline if the public ordinances of religion are neglected. Mere external contact with the worship of God fails indeed to secure salvation, but wilful contempt of it is the way to ruin. It is a curious feature in young England that he points to the agnostic leaders as non-churchgoers and yet as good men. Doubtless good men in the sense of being moral, but not good men in the sense of being religious and spiritual. How can an agnostic, a man who professes not to know, who willingly remains ignorant, who practically denies a God, be a good man in the highest sense? Agnosticism is not our creed, but Christianity, and we must follow Christ and His apostles and all the faithful The question arises, How much of the morality of our agnostic leaders is due to the age which has been leavened with the pure leaven of the gospel? It is very sad that too many young Englanders owe themselves to religious parents and to surrounding Christian influences, and yet ungratefully spurn the institution which has done so much for our national well-being. Our love to God and to Christ, our gratitude for saving influences, our social instincts, and our patriotism should induce us “with one mind and one mouth to glorify God” in the earthly house set apart to religious services. It may be difficult to speak definitely as to the reason why a nation has declined; but one of the leading concomitants of a nation’s fall is the decline in morals and manners, and these decline with the downfall of religion. When ancient Israel forsook God, then it became an easy prey to the oppressor. Ephesus was once the metropolis of proconsular Asia; not merely in a political, but also in an ecclesiastical sense. It is placed at the head of the seven Churches. It is reported that St. John was its bishop. But Ephesus fell. Young Ephesus said it was not necessary to go to church. The first love departed; both private and public worship was neglected. At the present day the only remains of this once pleasant city are some ruins and the village of Ajosoluck. If we would not see our great metropolis in ruins, if we would not have the desolating tread of foreign foes over our fair green landscapes, we must seek the favour and protection of the eternal God, we must support the public ordinances of religion, we must work and pray for the spread and the increase of noble Christian men and women.
The God of patience.—When we say God is patient, four things are implied:—
I. Provocation.—Where there is nothing to try the temper, annoy, or irritate, there can be no patience. Humanity provokes God. The provocation is great, universal, constant. Measure His patience by the provocation.
II. Sensibility.—Where there is no tenderness of nature, no susceptibility of feeling, there may be obduracy and stoicism, but no patience. Patience implies feeling. God is infinitely sensitive. He feels the provocation. “Oh, do not this abominable thing,” etc.
III. Knowledge.—Where the provocation is not known, however great and however sensitive the being against whom it is directed, there can be no patience. God knows all the provocations.
IV. Power.—Where a being has not the power to resent an insult or to punish a provocation, though he may feel it and know it, his forbearing is not patience—it is simple weakness. He is bound by the infirmity of his nature to be passive. God is all-powerful.—Homilist.
The God of peace.—Whatever may be the amount of agitation in the universe, there is one Being sublimely pacific, without one ripple upon the clear and fathomless river of His nature. Three things are implied in this:—
I. That there is nothing malign in His nature.—Wherever there is any jealousy, wrath, or malice of any description, there can be no peace. Malevolence in any form or degree is soul-disturbing. In whatever mind it exists it is like a tide in the ocean, producing eternal restlessness. There is nothing malign in the infinite heart. He is love.
II. That there is nothing remorseful in His nature.—Wherever conscience accuses of wrong, there is no peace. All compunctions, self-accusations, are soul-distuibing. Moral self complaisance is essential to spirit peace. God is light. He has never done wrong, and His infinite conscience smiles upon Him and blesses Him with peace.
III. That there is nothing apprehensive in His nature.—Wherever there is a foreboding of evil, there is a mental disturbance. Fear is essentially an agitating principle. The Infinite has no fear. He is the absolute master of His position.—Homilist.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 15
Romans 15:5-6. Glorify God.—I do not wonder that the men nowadays who do not believe the Bible are so very sad when they are in earnest. A writer in one of our reviews tells that he was studying the poems of Matthew Arnold, who believed, not in a living God, but in a something or other, which somehow or other, at sometime or other, makes for righteousness. The sad and hopeless spirit of the poet passed for the time into the reviewer, and he felt most miserable. He went out for a walk. It was a bleak, wintry day, and he was then at Brodrick, in Arran. The hills were in a winding-sheet of snow, above which arose a ghastly array of clouds. The sky was of a leaden hue, and the sea was making its melancholy moan amid the jagged, dripping rocks. The gloom without joined the gloom within, and made him very wretched. He came upon some boys shouting merrily at play. “Are you at the school?” he asked. “Yes,” was the reply. “And what are you learning?” “I learn,” said one, “what is the chief end of man.” “And what is it?” the reviewer asked. The boy replied, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever.” He at once felt that the boy was taught a religion of grandeur and joy, while the poet’s was a religion of darkness and despair.—J. Wells.
Romans 15:8.—A minister of the circumcision—that is, of the Jewish nation. Christ, the Gentile Saviour, was and is the minister of the Jew. We are all brethren; one class must not despise the other.
Romans 15:10.—-Both Jews and Gentiles to rejoice together in God’s salvation.
Romans 15:12.—Christ is here compared to a standard around which the nations should assemble. Jacob’s prediction is to be thus fulfilled.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 15:8-12
Praise follows prayer.—The late Matthew Arnold strives to get rid of the words “predestination,” “justification,” “sanctification,” as having any of the meaning attached to them by theologians, which they suppose is derived from St. Paul himself. Matthew Arnold teaches us to follow the eternal law of the moral order, which is righteousness. St. Paul seems thus only to be following in the steps of the ancient moral philosophers, tinctured with a little Jewish thought. We find Paul hard to be understood; but we find his latest interpreter harder to understand. St. Paul and Protestantism will not make men in “harmony with the eternal order and at peace with God”; while the epistles of St. Paul have done vastly more for the production of righteousness among men than any books which have been written. But if Matthew Arnold is to be our guide, we must reject St. Paul, for we read: “A Jew himself, he, Paul, uses the Jewish Scriptures in a Jew’s arbitrary and uncritical fashion, as if they had a talismanic character, as if for a doctrine, however true in itself, their confirmation was still necessary, and as if their confirmation was to be got from their words alone, however detached from the sense of their context, and however violently allegorised or otherwise molested.” The man who quotes uncritically is to be rejected on intellectual grounds. If St. Paul have one point pre-eminent, it is that he possesses and uses the critical faculty. To wrest is to turn from truth; and the man who wrested the Jewish Scriptures is to be rejected on moral grounds. But we are not aware of any such wresting; the four quotations made in this paragraph do not appear to us to be either used uncritically or wrested from their context. The aptness of St. Paul’s quotations is self-evident, and is itself a refutation of a mere Judaistic or Oriental use of passages. It is an easy but not quite fair way of getting rid of a difficulty by using the words “Hebraise,” “Orientalise.” There is, however, no need to use long and unusual words in reading these four quotations. Whether we read the texts in Hebrew, in Greek, or in our English translation, they all bear the construction put upon them by St. Paul. And we think as much may be said for all the other quotations. The sense of harmony with the universal order, the desire for and the possession of righteousness, are to come, not from psychology, not from philosophy, not from either deductive or inductive methods, but from faith in that Root of Jesse in whom the Gentiles shall trust. Here is foretold universal harmony with the eternal law of divine order. Jews and Gentiles shall blend in one song of praise to the King of righteousness. The Weak and the strong shall be of one mind and one mouth when they are inspired by love to the Incarnation of righteousness. Notice in this paragraph:—
I. A twofold purpose of Christ’s mission.—To vindicate God’s faithfulness and to manifest God’s mercy. Jesus Christ was the minister of the circumcision; made under the law; a Jew confirming unto the Jews the faithfulness of God; by His life conforming to the law in its spiritual and essential aspect; by His death redeeming those who were under the curse of the law. Christian ministers are sometimes taunted with propagating the worship of a dead Jew. We are not abashed by the aspersion. It is said that a living dog is better than a dead lion; but the dead Lion of the tribe of Judah has brought forth more sweetness for the refreshment of the race than any of the living assailants of Christianity from the time of its establishment to the present hour.
“In the cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story
Gathers round its head sublime.”
It is wonderful what the Minister of the circumcision, by His earthly life, by His sacrificial death, and by His mediatorial reign, has accomplished. There is vastly more to come; for Jews shall extol God’s faithfulness, and Gentiles from all quarters shall rejoice in God’s mercy. The cross of Christ shall tower over the wrecks of human theories. Christ, by His cross, by His divine efficacy, shall reign over the Gentiles all over the round globe of the earth.
II. A blessed result of Christ’s mission.—The establishment of a kingdom amongst the Gentiles which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. A Root of Jesse shall rise to reign. God begins at the root; God’s root forces are strong and ever developing. Out of the Root of Jesse has sprung the wide spreading tree of Christianity. The Root of Jesse did not look like a regnant power when He was crucified between two thieves. The Root appeared to be killed when it was trying to send itself above the ground. But the Root gathered to itself power from the strokes of the adversaries. Jesus reigns from His sepulchre. Other men cease to reign when death hurls down the sceptre. Jesus began to reign in fuller measure when death touched the physical form. He shall rise to reign. He is rising through all time. His utmost elevation will not be reached till in Him the Gentiles trust. He is rising, though some say He is falling. He is rising, though men say that the kingdom of Christianity is a failure. In Him shall the Gentiles trust. His kingdom is founded on trust. Holy confidence is the foundation of His divine sovereignty.
III. The united song of praise inspired by Christ’s mission.—“Sing,” “rejoice,” “praise,” “laud,” are the words employed to set forth the exuberant nature of the feelings of those who feel and seek to glorify God for His mercy. One mind of gratitude and one mouth of praise shall be characteristic of the ransomed Gentile world. A grateful mind must be the motive force of a praising mouth. The spiritual revelation of divine mercy to the inmost soul works gratitude, and this expresses itself in hymns of praise. The singing of the grateful chorister may not to critical human ears be so correct as the singing of some who are prompted by the prospect of remuneration, but the former touches the heart of true men and blends with the upper harmonies. Let us open our souls to the incoming streams of divine mercy. Let gratitude attend the spirit, and then we shall sing with lip and with life; our daily steps will beat divine music; our days will march to heavenly harmonies; our very nights will be cheered with spirit songs. Angels will hear the strains and join to swell the melody; earth and heaven will unite, and the sound will be as the sweet notes of many skilful harpers harping with their harps.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 15:8-12
Rejoice in the Lord, a privilege and a command.—There is in man by nature such an inordinate portion of self-love, that his regards are almost exclusively confined to those who coincide with him in sentiment and contribute to his comfort. The smallest difference of opinion in things either political or religious shall be sufficient to produce, not only indifference, but in many alienation and aversion. We do not much wonder at a want of mutual affection between the Jews and Gentiles, because they imbibed from their very infancy the most inveterate prejudices against each other, and had all their principles and habits as opposite as can be conceived. But, unhappily for the Christian Church, the same disposition to despise or condemn each other remained amongst them after they were incorporated in one body and united under one head, the Lord Jesus Christ. To counteract this unhallowed temper, and to promote a cordial union amongst all the members of Christ’s mystical body, was the incessant labour of St. Paul. In the whole of the preceding context he insists on this subject, recommending mutual forbearance and affection from the example of Christ, who showed the same regard both to Jews and Gentiles, both to strong and weak. The ministry of our blessed Lord had respect, primarily, to the Jews. Jesus was Himself born a Jew, and He submitted to circumcision, which was the initiatory rite whereby the Jews were received into covenant with God. When He entered upon His ministerial office, He addressed Himself exclusively to those of the circumcision; when solicited to confer His blessings on a Syrophenician woman, He refused, saying that He was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and that “He could not take the children’s bread and cast it unto dogs,” though, for the encouragement of all future suppliants, of whatever nation or character, He afterwards granted her request. In all this the Lord Jesus consulted “the truth of God, and confirmed the promises made to the fathers”; which, though they comprehended all the spiritual seed of Abraham, had doubtless respect to those in the first place who should also be found among His lineal descendants. Ultimately, to the Gentiles also in the very promises made to Abraham, the Gentile nations were expressly included. But, to confirm this truth, St. Paul brings passages out of all the different parts of the Old Testament, “the law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms,” to prove his point. These testimonies unequivocally prove that, however Jesus, for the accomplishing of the promises, ministered to the circumcision chiefly, yet He did not confine His regards to them, but ordained that all, of whatever nation, should equally be admitted to His covenant and be made partakers of His salvation. To whomsoever our Lord communicated His salvation, it was His invariable purpose that they who partook of it should “glorify God for His mercy.” The manner in which this is to be done may be gathered from the passages that are cited. The duty of every member of Christ’s Church is to submit to Him—Christ is “risen to reign over the Gentiles.” Now, where there is government, there must be subjection; and consequently all who would belong to Christ must “take His yoke upon them.” Their submission too must be willing and unreserved. To trust in Him—Christ comes, not only as a Lord, but as a Saviour, through whom we are to find deliverance from the wrath to come. Now it is said that “in Him shall the Gentiles trust.” Our duty towards Him is to believe that He is equal to the task which He has undertaken, that in Him there is a fulness of wisdom to instruct the ignorant, of righteousness to justify the guilty, and of grace to sanctify the polluted. Rejoice in Him—to “rejoice in the Lord alway” is not merely permitted as a privilege, but commanded as a duty. We dishonour Him when we do not rejoice in Him; we evidently show that we have a low apprehension of His excellency, and of the benefits which He confers. What they are doing in the Church above, that we should be doing in the Church below. Our obligations are the same, and so should also our occupations be. Are the glorified saints incessantly admiring and adoring Him who is the author of all their happiness? We also should ever be contemplating the incomprehensible wonders of His love, and rejoicing in Him with joy unspeakable and glorified. Walk in His steps—this is the particular scope of the text, the intent for which all these quotations are introduced. Our blessed Saviour has shown a gracious and merciful regard for all the human race; nor has He permitted any diversity in their habits or conduct to exclude them from His kingdom, provided they repent and obey His gospel. Now our hearts should be enlarged after His example. We should not suffer little circumstantial differences to alienate us from each other. While we claim a right to follow our own judgment, we should cheerfully concede the same liberty to others. A difference of conduct may be proper for different persons, or for the same persons under different circumstances. This is evident from Paul refusing to suffer Titus to receive circumcision, when he had already administered that rite to Timothy; as also from his performing at Jerusalem the vows of a Nazarite, after he had for twenty years renounced the authority of the ceremonial law. It is therefore by no means necessary that we all conform precisely to the same rule in indifferent matters; but it is necessary that we cultivate charity, and maintain “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” If we be not perfectly agreed in sentiment respecting things that are non-essentials, we must at least agree in this, to leave every one to the exercise of his own judgment: the weak must not judge the strong, nor the strong despise the weak, but all follow after “the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.”—Simeon.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 15
Romans 15:11. The cheer of praise.—Much of our work for Christ is too barren of all joy and enthusiasm, and we need the cheer of praise. The English ploughboy sings as he drives his team; the Scotch Highlander sings as he labours in glen or moor; the fisherman of Naples sings as he rows; and the vintager of Sicily has his evening hymn. When Napoleon came to a pass in the Alps where the rocks seemed impassable for the ammunition waggons, he bade the leader of the bands strike up an inspiring march, and over the rocks on a wave of enthusiasm went the heavy waggons. Earthly battle-fields have resounded with praises from bleeding Christian soldiers, and pain has been forgotten as the lips of the dying have sung, “When I can read my title clear,” and “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds.” Martin Luther has well said, “The devil cannot sing”; and we know that David’s harp drove the evil spirit out of King Saul.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 15:13
The divine antidote against despair.—It is difficult to lead a truly religious life. This arises from our proneness to evil and from the influences working to draw us away from the path of rectitude. There are great forces against us; but, rightly considered, there are mightier forces engaged on our behalf. This text is in itself a shield of protection. An apostle prays. A God of hope encourages. The power of the Holy Ghost is engaged. The essentials of the Christian life are being developed to establish in that hope which is the crown and guarantee of safety and of ultimate triumph.
I. The apostle prays.—Spiritual earnestness is characteristic of all his supplications. He prays for moral advancement. Too oft we pray for worldly good, and not to be filled with joy and peace in believing. We pray thus, if prayer be the real expression of our hearts. The apostle’s prayer was intercessory. We need to know more truly the blessing of intercessory prayer. It would remove our selfishness, make us possess more of the diffusive spirit of Christianity, enlist our sympathies on behalf of the erring, prevent us being so censorious, tend to make us love the brethren, and cause us to dwell together in Christian unity.
II. A God of hope encourages.—There are divine agents working for the expansion of Christian hope—the God of hope and the power of the Holy Ghost. How appropriate the term when we remember the apostle’s object to inspire with hope! God is not the subject but the object of hope. Hope is the faculty or grace exercised by the creature who cannot see the future. God sees the future, and has no need to overcome the cloud of the present by drawing from the future the light of hope. God, as the object of hope, is a reason for gratitude. Nature and philosophy may teach a dread abstraction, and may thus induce a desire for atheism. Revelation declares a God of hope. There is hope in the fulness of the divine promises, in the pages of the sacred record, in the cross of our Saviour, and by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is the gracious province of the divine Spirit to work in and upon the human spirit, so that it may abound in hope. There is not often a superabundance of hope; it is too rare a possession. Abound in hope. How excellent the nature that abounds in hope!
III. The essentials of the Christian life are being developed.—Faith, peace, and joy are essential elements of the Christian character. These are to be increased, and then there follows the enlargement of hope. A man filled with joy and peace has no room for despair. Peace and joy constitute the favourable sphere in which hope may abound. Peace, joy, and hope do not spring from a desire, however earnest, after righteousness. A longing after the harmony with the eternal law of moral order will fill us with despair as we feel that we are incapable of satisfying the soul’s infinite longings. Peace, joy, and hope come to the soul in and through believing. The truth of this cannot be tested by any scientific method, but it is affirmed by experience.
IV. The blessed processes employed for the attainment of a great result.—The blessed processes are both external and internal, both human and divine, and all spiritual. All intercessory prayers are external to the objects of such petitions. Paul prays; the Mediator intercedes. The divine Spirit is external to the human spirit, and works in external spheres, even when that divine Spirit has put itself into blessed union with the human spirit. The divine Spirit is filling. When the divine Spirit fills the human spirit, then it fills with joy and peace. The very presence of the Spirit is joy and peace, for the Holy Ghost is a peaceful and joyful Spirit. All are moving towards the blessed result—superabundance of hope.
V. The result reacts beneficially on the processes.—Abundance of hope strengthens faith, deepens peace, enlarges joy. Beneficial reactions are to be expected in Christian processes; while maleficent reactions too often occur in other spheres. Do evil, and evil rebounds. Work in material spheres, and though the work be legitimate, harm and damage may recoil. Do good, and good beyond our doing accrues. Work in moral spheres, and though the work be imperfect, there will be a beneficial reaction beyond the measure of our efforts. Seek for more faith; cultivate peace; enlarge joy. Then hope will abound. And abounding hope will sweetly nourish all graces, like the prospering sunlight of heaven. The apostle abounded in hope in darkest scenes; and why may not we? The heathen wept amid the ruins, but the apostle could sing amid the ruins of worldly hopes; and why may not we?
Romans 15:13. Religion and pleasure.—It is a remarkable fact that St. Paul, whose record was so stormy, can rejoice. Sketch his chequered life. Yet he speaks of the joy of faith even while the chains about his wrists are clanking. He is a happy Christian, praising God in spite of his uncomfortable quarters and his perilous position. The secret of this? That he weighed consequences before experience: the sufferings of the present not worthy of comparison with the glory that should follow.
I. St. Paul sought to teach men that religion is a thing of joy.—The general notion among the worldly runs in the opposite direction. Some say of St. Paul that his exultation was due to his natural temperament, to the atmosphere of controversy and opposition, which he dearly loved. But thousands of others have believed that religion is the groundwork of the world’s joy. Sceptics and others say that they have joy—deep, solemn, self-respecting, abiding—in looking into the heavens and nature as mysteries, the delight coming from the endeavour to solve them. But the fact is indisputable that their joy is marred by this—that shutting out God they shut out all hope and encouragement.
II. The text leaves no room for the false ideal of gloomy sainthood.—One of the greatest injustices that can be done to the Christian cause is to take as one’s ideal Christian the melancholy, wasted saint who frowns on everything but the Bible or hymn-book—the grim, gloomy creatures, extreme Puritans, who frown on laughter and lightheartedness. They do not truly reflect the religion Jesus set up among men. Nothing in Christianity to refute Solomon’s saying, “To everything there is a season”; but we may make one exception there—namely, no time for the gospel of gloom. Reading between the lines of religion, you come upon the philosophy of right things in right places; but everywhere in religion you find the word “cheerfulness.”
1. To be cheerful is a duty which you owe to God. He has placed you in a beautiful world with power to enjoy it. If you go complaining and wearing a gloomy face, it is a constant denial that God has done all things to make you happy.
2. To be cheerful is a duty you owe to your neighbour. By being cheerful you contribute to the happiness of those around you. We are so constituted that we are always affected by our associates and associations.
3. Cheerfulness a duty you owe to yourself. Life is what we make it.
III. Religion is pleasurable, notwithstanding the element of discipline.—Discipline an absolute necessity, otherwise many would carry their pleasures into licence. Religion has its pleasure; but it draws a necessary line somewhere. It will not tolerate forgetfulness of God and duty, laxity of service, questionable fraternity with the world that opposes God.
IV. No real pleasure apart from religion.—Some say the world would be just as happy without Christ’s religion as with it. History gives this the lie. Were the pagans a happy race? Were the Greeks with their full pantheon happy? Think of the picture of the Christless world! Suicide resorted to and praised as a means of escape from misery. It is false to impute gloom to Christianity. Rightly interpreted, it does not sanction a single doctrine or utter a precept which is meant to extinguish one happy impulse or dim one innocent delight. “What it does is to warn us against seeking and following the lowest and most shortlived pleasures as a final end.” Since all that “makes life tolerable and society possible” is due to Christ’s religion, it is but another step to say that it is only through that religion that there can by any possibility be any real joy and peace.
V. The false representations have done great mischief.—Some have held aloof, refusing the yoke of Christ, and have lost much abiding peace. The joy and peace of religion consist in an enlarged view of life, a wider conception of the duties demanded of it, a real comfort in the day of sorrow: these have been lost to many because of misrepresentation. It is something to lose companionship of a Saviour ready to meet our sinfulness and purge it—one ready to meet our feebleness, especially since we are made up of needs.—Albert Lee.
Romans 15:13. God has no unfulfilled desires.—Jesus Christ exercised His ministry amongst the Jews, and chose His apostles from the same people. The far larger proportion of primitive Christians were Jews; but the full and final commission to His disciples was to “preach the gospel to every creature.” It was necessary that Christ should be of some nation: He came unto the Jews to fulfil the prophecies concerning Him, and to establish the new covenant, for which the old was a preparation. The new covenant was for the benefit of all, according to the prediction of Isaiah: “There shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and His rest shall be glorious.” Thus is He set forth as the hope, or the object of hope, for all people. His ministers are sent for this purpose—to lead men to Him, that they may be induced to hope in Him and through Him. There is no exception or exclusion, except that which individuals themselves unwisely make. “I, if I be lifted up from the earth,” Christ said, “will draw all men unto Me.” The attraction of His love produces hope. The divine Being is not called a God of hope because He has unfulfilled desires; for He is possessed of all things, and has the universe under His control. The very perfection of His nature must be a source of happiness, and excludes the hope so necessary to men, and without which energy would be dissipated and purposes made vain. Hope implies that there is some good not yet in possession, but in God are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” But God is the giver of all that is worth having: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” To Him rational beings must look, in Him must trust. On Him we are dependent, and even “the power to get wealth” is received from Him. He permits evil. Why? It is not for us to say; but often what appears so is not so absolutely. He “out of seeming evil still educeth good.” He is called “the God of hope” in view of the fact that our state morally is desperate, and that no power less than His can deliver us from it and put us in a condition acceptable to Himself. His good-will towards us is so great as to be incomprehensible. For acceptance in the Beloved, for spiritual renewal, and for life eternal we are to hope in Him. He is not like the fabled deities of old, pleased to execute vengeance; He delights in mercy, “showing it to thousands of them that love Him.” But He does not show mercy to penitents that they may continue in sin: “He that confesseth and forsaketh it shall find mercy.” It is desirable and possible to abound in hope, even in the most troublesome events of life. Sometimes it may be dimmed or clouded through “manifold temptations,” when a resort to the very Source of hope becomes especially necessary. How many have been sustained by hope in the most fearful difficulties! Take only one example. Carlyle says; “John Knox had a sore fight for existence, wrestling with principalities in defeat, contention, lifelong struggle, rowing as a galley-slave, wandering in exile. A sore fight, but he won it. ‘Have you hope?’ he was asked in his last moments, when he could no longer speak. He lifted his finger, pointed upward with it, and so died.” The God of hope makes His servants to abound in hope through His gracious Spirit by filling them with the joy of forgiveness, giving them His abiding presence, and strengthening the desire to “purify themselves, even as He is pure.” From Him too cometh a sweet and sacred peace, which is diffused through the whole spiritual nature—a “peace which passeth all understanding.” This peace cannot exist where sin reigns, and the conscience is not sprinkled as with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The peace that abideth and flourisheth comes through believing, not merely through consenting to certain truths, or accepting revelation as from God, but through “believing with the heart unto righteousness.” “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.”—Dr. Burrows, Ashtabula, New York.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 15:13
Paul’s cheerfulness in affliction.—What can be more free and buoyant, with all their variety, than his writings? Brilliant, broken, impetuous as the mountain torrent freshly filled, never smooth and calm but on the eve of some bold leap, never vehement but to fill some receptacle of dearest peace, they present everywhere the image of a vigorous joy. Beneath the forms of their theosophic reasonings, and their hints of deep philosophy, there may be heard a secret lyric strain of glorious praise, bursting at times into open utterance, and asking others to join the chorus.… His life was a battle from which, in intervals of the good fight, his words arose as the song of victory.—Albert Lee.
The world without Christ.—“Their hearts became surcharged with every element of vileness,—with impurity in its most abysmal degradations, with hatred alike in its meanest and its most virulent developments, with insolence culminating in the deliberate search for fresh forms of evil, with cruelty and falsity in their most repulsive features. And the last crime of all, beyond which crime itself could go no further, was the awfully defiant attitude of moral evil, which led them, while they were fully aware of God’s sentence of death pronounced on willing guilt, not only to incur it themselves, but with a devilish delight in human depravity and human ruin to take a positive pleasure in those who practise the same.” The moral emptiness and desolation of the ancient world is evident to all eyes. It had no moral and spiritual purpose by which to solve the problems that are vital to the very existence of the State. The upbuilding of political life with all its earnestness and struggle and end avour was over. Many things sank into the mere shows and semblances of realities; and, in truth, this was the case with the assemblies of the people, the senate, and the high officers of religion and the State. Everything was sacrificed to appetite, enjoyment, and play. Because heathenism had no goal beyond the grave, it had no worthy purpose and aim on this side of it.—Seidel.
Going without religion.—I fear that when we indulge ourselves in the amusement of going without a religion, we are not perhaps aware how much we are sustained at present by an enormous mass all about us of religious feeling and religious conviction; so that, whatever it may be safe for us to think, for us who have had great advantages and have been brought up in such a way that a certain moral direction has been given to our character, I do not know what would become of the less favoured classes of mankind if they undertook to play the same game. The worst kind of religion is no religion at all; and these men who are living in ease and luxury, indulging themselves in the “amusement of going without religion,” may be thankful that they live in lands where the gospel they neglect has tamed the beastliness and ferocity of the men who but for Christianity might long ago have eaten their carcases like the South Sea islanders, or cut off their heads and tanned their hides like the monsters of the French Revolution. When the microscopic search of sceptioism, which had hurled the heavens and sounded the seas to disprove the existence of the Creator, has turned its attention to human society, and has found a place on this planet ten miles square where a decent man can live in decency, comfort, and security, supporting and educating his children, unspoiled and unpolluted—a place where age is reverenced, infancy respected, manhood respected, woman honoured, and human life held in due regard—when sceptics can find such a place ten miles square on this globe where the gospel of Christ has not gone and cleared the way, and laid the foundations, and made decency and security possible, it will then be in order for (sceptics) to move thither, and then ventilate their views. But so long as these very men are dependent upon the religion which they discard for every privilege they enjoy, they may well hesitate a little before they seek to rob the Christian of his hope, and humanity of its faith in that Saviour who alone has given to man that hope of life eternal, which makes life tolerable and society possible, and robs death of its terrors and the grave of its gloom.—James Russell Lowell.
The joy of believing.—Some, because religion has been shamefully misrepresented, have stood afar off, dreading to take upon themselves the yoke of Christ. They may well consider that the joy and peace of religion consist in an enlarged view of life, a wider conception of the duties demanded of it, a real comfort in the day of affliction, a real light in the hour of darkness. There is to the Christian all the joy that is worth the name. There is a Saviour ready to meet our sinfulness, ready to purge it; there is a God willing to meet our feebleness, helping those who are weak in faith, compassed about with difficulties and infirmities, men and women made up of needs. There is surely joy and peace in believing and realising this. But what joy for the man who will meet his own needs? Dares he to defy the help of One who is mighty, and from whom all real good proceeds?—never once to have a whisper of encouragement, nor a word of sympathy, nor one kindly touch of help; no great Master on whom to cast the heavy burdens of care; no one to whom to turn and say, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter-up of my head”; no God to be a refuge and strength, a present help in the dark days of trouble! Verily, they have failing hearts who seek for pleasure at other hands than those of the crucified One!—Albert Lee.
Romans 15:15.—Paul writes boldly, confidently, familiarly, in this part of his epistle, or to a part of the Gentiles, to refresh the memory, and because of the special gift given to him of God.
Romans 15:16.—St. Paul pictures himself as the officiating priest; the Gentile world is the offering to be presented and consecrated. The whole process of sanctification is an adorning of the sacrifice which is to be consecrated to God.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 15:14-16
A gracious man’s greatness.—It is not given to every gracious man to be great as was St. Paul; but the man who is endowed by grace is ennobled by the endowment. Each gracious man is by grace raised to a higher platform. Let each seek to be true to his gifts, study great examples, and thus in his measure he will become great. St. Paul is a pattern.
I. The gracious man is great in gentleness.—How gentle at times can be some of the strongest natures! St. Paul was gentle, and he here uses an apologetic tone. He frankly recognises the good of others. Goodness, knowledge, ability, are the qualities he acknowledges. Goodness before knowledge in the apostle’s mental criterion. Goodness and knowledge make a man able to admonish. Goodness must keep pace with knowledge if the man is to be a successful admonisher.
II. The gracious man is great in boldness.—If we note some gracious men timid and shrinking, we must take into account original temperament. Gentle women have been made courageous by grace. Some men who are afraid of putting pen to paper, lest they should give an advantage to him who wishes that his adversary had written a book, are prompted by grace to write boldly. St. Paul writes boldly through the inspiring influence of the grace of God. St. Paul writes boldly so that he may put in mind. We need to be constantly put in mind. Children at school must have wearisome repetition. In the spiritual school we are all children, and the divine lessons must be repeated. Day unto day, day after day, must moral speech be uttered.
III. The gracious man is great in office.—“The minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.” The true preacher’s office is the greatest in the universe. By some the editor’s office is applauded. But too often he is only the echo of public opinion. He is the cunning man who puts into words what the public has been unconsciously thinking. If the editor be inspired by grace, he may become a priestly minister, and do good work. However, we still hold that the preacher’s office is the greater. Though it is sometimes scoffingly said that the greatest miracle of Christianity is that it has survived the pulpit, we believe that it is a high position—nobler than the editor’s chair, mightier than a throne, that is if the pulpit be occupied by men who are full of goodness, of knowledge, and of ability to admonish. The preacher does priestly work. He offers up the gospel as his sacrifice. He stands between the immensities of time and eternity, and directs men to high thoughts.
IV. The gracious man is great in purpose.—His design is that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable. He speaks and prays so that the Gentiles may offer themselves as sacrifices. We need more of this priestly work. He speaks and prays that he may be the offerer. The gracious man is benevolent. How many offer up their fellows as a sacrifice on the altar of mammon, and the sacrificed are not benefited! But every soul offered up as an acceptable sacrifice to God is itself divinely and eternally enriched.
V. The gracious man is great in co-operation.—The preacher occupies a difficult and responsible position. The voices of the day are proclaiming the decadence of the pulpit. The sneering dilettanti ask, Why these prosy sermons? Pleasure-loving minds declare that it is time to do away with pulpit-droning and sermonic platitudes. Even the professing soldiers of Jesus Christ say that they want no hermitical Peters to preach the gospel crusade against the world, the flesh, and all manner of iniquities. And the preacher seems like to stand alone, to be as a solitary voice “of one crying in the wilderness.” But not alone, for the Holy Ghost is the companion, inspirer, and co-worker of and with every true preacher. Sanctified by the Holy Ghost, the good work will proceed. The persecutions of the past did not prevent its progress. The damning smiles, courteous sneers, and polite bowing into obscurity of the present will not stay the triumphant march of the ministry of the gospel of God. Let preachers have faith. Let them feel the greatness of their office and the glory of its saving purpose. Let them pray so that they themselves may be filled with all goodness, knowledge, and ability to admonish and minister the gospel of God.
Joy should be large.—With peace is associated joy—just the natural consequence of the state which I have endeavoured to describe. Peace passes into joy by an almost imperceptible and easy transition. Joy, indeed, may without impropriety be regarded as peace in a higher degree. Peace is not a state of cold and insensible tranquillity; it is rich enjoyment. We are creatures of sensibility and emotion, and whatever sets us right only gives to those sensibilities a richer experience. The very same things which impart peace excite joy. To be assured that all we had at one time reason to fear has been for ever removed, to have the inward testimony of our consciences to our godly sincerity in the divine service, to be conscious of a freedom from the reigning power of sin, to know that the blessed God looks upon us with approval, and that we are so under His guidance and care that nothing can happen to us but for our good, and to have the hope of heaven as our final rest, is fitted in its very nature when realised to fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory. To have any adequate apprehension of these things, and to be assured on good grounds that they are true of us without gladness and elation of heart, is impossible. It would argue a destitution of the most ordinary sensibilities of human nature. It is possible, indeed, and sometimes happens, that, through the pressure of unusual trials, our attention may be diverted from the consideration of what we really are as partakers of the blessings of redemption—we may be in temporary “heaviness through manifold temptations”; but we have only to recall and realise what by grace is true of us to rise superior to our sorrow, and to feel the exhilarating influence of that hidden joy which a sense of our condition as the objects of God’s love is fitted to awaken. Present distress may be more pressing, but while it may suspend, it never can destroy the joy which naturally flows from an assurance of our interest in these blessings. You will notice further that the object of the prayer is that they “may be filled with all joy and peace,”—not merely that they may have this happy state of mind in some degree, but in a high degree; not simply that it should be their occasional state, that they may have special seasons of divine enjoyment, but that it should be their habitual and permanent condition. Nothing short of this can meet the energy of the apostle’s language To be filled with anything is to have as much of it as we have room to receive It supposes completeness of quantity in possession as well as permanency of supply. It may be asked, Is this possible? Has it ever been realised in any degree commensurate to what the strength of the apostle’s language would seem to imply? We may reply by asking, Is there anything in the supposed state which the fulness of the God of hope cannot furnish? We are not, indeed, to imagine that the excited state of feeling which great joy supposes should be continuous. This the feebleness of our nature is incapable of sustaining. It would produce injurious exhaustion. Still, the joy and the peace may be large and habitual, yielding a settled satisfaction and enjoyment, and ready for those exuberant expressions which special occasions may demand. When this is the case we have just the condition which the apostle’s language expresses. That this is the possible state we can have no reason to question. Indeed, we can hardly doubt that it was verified in Paul’s own experience. Trials he had, and they were both numerous and distressing. It is impossible to peruse his history without finding abundant evidence of the heavy afflictions which he endured. But we have proof just as unmistakable of the holy joy and abundant peace by which he was refreshed and sustained. He who, when smarting from the scourge and painfully confined in the stocks in a loathsome dungeon, could sing praises to God with a full heart must have been a happy man. He who, amidst disappointments and anxieties he experienced, could exclaim, “Thanks be unto God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ,” must have had a joy in God superior to all his afflictions. This is the attainment at which every one of us should aim. It is the exalted privilege which the gospel places within our reach, and which we should seek to realise. To be satisfied with a doubtful, low condition, and to regard it as all we are warranted to expect, is to do injustice to the gospel, and to inflict injury on ourselves.—J. Kelly.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 15:14-16
“The offering up of the Gentiles.”—First, then, what are we to understand by the “offering up of the Gentiles”? Generally it may be replied that this is a figure of the conversion of the world borrowed from the ritual of the Old Testament. The whole language of the text is sacrificial. Besides the allusion in the word translated “offering up,” which is currently applied in the New Testament and in the Septuagint to sacrifice, there are two other allusions which in our version are disguised; for when Paul calls himself a “minister” of Jesus Christ, he means “a priestly minister”; and when he speaks of “ministering” the gospel of God, he uses a different word still, which denotes “a ministry of sacrifice.” Thus there are no less than three distinct sacrificial expressions, which conspire to show with what vividness the apostle realised the conversion of the Gentiles under the emblem of a great oblation or hecatomb presented to God. This offering of the Gentiles may be looked at in two lights—as their own act, and as the act of the pre-existing Christian Church. They are their own sacrifice, and they are our sacrifice. What is implied in each of these aspects of the truth? First, in regard to themselves, it is implied that they shall abandon their false ideas of sacrifice and act upon the Christian, so as truly to dedicate themselves to God. The whole Christian life, inspired by gratitude and love, is a sacrifice of praise offered continually. All gifts and labours are sacrifices; martyrdom is a sacrifice; and death itself is but the last offering up—the sacrificial flame ascending to its native heaven. Again, in regard to others, it is implied that the act of sacrifice shall be performed by the pre-existing Christian Church. There is a sense in which men may be not only priests to offer up themselves, but priests to offer up others. And this priesthood of conversion, if I may so call it, is a universal priesthood. This sacrificial ministry is a part of Christianity; and each of us, missionaries, ministers, and private Christians, is invested with it, and bears his share in its labours and dignities. What a majestic continuation is this of the Levitical priesthood, in the only sense in which it can be continued! We hear much in our times of the priesthood of literature; but how poor is it to the priesthood of conversion, more especially when, as in too many cases, it is a priesthood of atheism, or at best erects its altar to an unknown God! The direct causes or prerequisites of the offering up of Gentiles: The first is the ministry of the gospel. This Paul puts into the foreground. The Christian sacrifice depends upon the propagation of the truth. All who take the Christian name are agreed as to this final triumph of Christianity through the simple display and publication of its truth to the ends of the earth. The other direct cause of the offering of the Gentiles is the sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost. A Christian advocate may seem to unsay all he has said in celebration of the ministry of truth when he passes on to exalt the ministration of the Spirit. This, however, can only be the effect of mistake on his part, or of misapprehension on the part of the hearer. The Bible does not encourage speculation as to the solitary efficiency of the word or of the Spirit, but teaches us to regard their natural and normal action as made up of the union of both. If the Spirit added to the power of the word, it would be possible to analyse the two forces; but the Spirit only develops it, and does not go beyond it, so that all is one mysterious, indivisible energy. The nations yield to truth, and not to more than truth; but the truth only comes out, and has real existence to the soul as truth, when the Spirit of God applies it. This supernatural force every Christian believes to be supplied by the agency of the Holy Ghost, so that the impossible becomes possible and the action of Christian truth is exalted to a kind of omnipotence. To all misgivings within the Church, to all scepticism without, as to the final conversion of the whole world to Christ, the Christian has one reply: “I believe in the Holy Ghost.” The missionary activity of the Church must repose upon true Christian doctrine. The Christian work, like every other, must spring from faith; and faith again is but another name for the intelligent and cordial apprehension of the truths of apostolic Christianity. The missionary activity of the Church must be supported by Christian example. We may easily deduce this principle from the second great text of the Epistle to the Romans—viz., the necessity and vital importance of a Christian morality. This is the substance of the apostolic exhortations, which begin with an appeal to those who acknowledge the mercies of God to present themselves to Him as a living sacrifice. The missionary activity of the Church must be promoted by Christian union. The Epistle to the Romans is the text-book of Christian union not less than of Christian doctrine and morality. The subject is actually expounded by the apostle in relation to missions. How prone are we all to forget the majestic amplitude of Christianity as the religion of the human race, which is only deformed by the attempt to confine and bandage it by the particular forms and institutions which have been generated in the history of sects, and even of nations! Yet is it a fact that there is a principle in the divine breast to which mortals may minister purest satisfaction, a satisfaction of which the “sweet-smelling savour” of all ancient offering and sacrifice was but the faintest emblem! “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” The return of moral beings to their great Original, with the light of reviving hope and loyalty breaking through the cloud of remorse and the tears of penitence, and the gleam of a new creation of the Spirit of God emerging from the dark and stormy chaos of sin—this is the joy of the Eternal, to which that of the first creation gives place, and which may be estimated by the infinite sacrifices which He has made to purchase such an offering from His fallen creatures. Infinite blessedness must be the result of infinite bounty; and the delight of God in the saving of each sinner, when each is saved by an unspeakable gift, must be itself unspeakable.—Dr. Cairns.
Men need reminding of duty.—Paul, in drawing towards the close of his epistle, seems, with the characteristic delicacy which breaks forth in many other passages, to feel that he must apologise for the freedom of his exhortations. The likest thing to it in any of the other apostles is when Peter tells the disciples to whom he writes that be addresses them, not to inform, as if they were ignorant persons, but to stir up their pure minds in the way of remembrance—and this though they already knew the things of which he was reminding them, and though they were established in the present truth. And so Paul, as if to soften the effect of his dictations—and this though his manner was the furthest possible from that of a dictator—tells his converts of his persuasion that they were filled with knowledge and goodness; and that, though he took it upon him to admonish them, he was sure, nevertheless, that they were able to admonish one another. The truth is, that neither the greatest knowledge nor the greatest goodness supersedes the necessity of our being often told the same things over again. Men might thoroughly know their duty, and yet stand constantly in need to be reminded of their duty. The great use of moral suasion is not that thereby people should be made to know, but should be led to consider. And thus our Sabbaths and other seasons of periodical instruction are of the greatest possible service, although there should be no dealing in novelties at all—though but to recall the sacred truths which are apt to be forgotten, and renew the good impressions which might else be dissipated among the urgencies, of the world. Whether then an apostle should write, or a minister should substantially present the same things, it ought not to be grievous, because it is safe. He speaks but as the helper of his congregation, and not as having dominion over them. He is but an instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit, whose office it is, not merely to teach what is new, but to recall what is old—to bring all things to remembrance. It is true that they might already have received the gospel, and that in the gospel they stand; yet they shall have believed in vain, unless they keep in memory that which has been preached unto them. In keeping with this, Paul says in the fourteenth verse that he writes not to inform but to put in mind.—Dr. Chalmers.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 15
Romans 15:15. God of all grace and Mohammed.—He heads every surat or chapter (with the exception of one) of the Koran with the words Bismillahi, Arrahmani, Arruheemi, signifying, “In the name of the most merciful God.” Or, as some prefer, “In the name of the God of all grace.” Savary says, “This formula is expressly recommended in the Koran.” The Mohammedans pronounce it whenever they slaughter an animal, at the commencement of their reading, and of all important actions. It is with them that which the sign of the cross is with Christians. Gidab, one of their celebrated authors, says that when these words were sent down from heaven the clouds fled on the side of the east, the winds were lulled, the sea was moved, the animals erected their ears to listen, the devils were precipitated from the celestial spheres.
Romans 15:17.—The things of the ministry committed to Paul of God are the things in which he will glory.
Romans 15:18.—St. Paul will not take any glory to himself. There is nothing done by him which Christ did not work; to Him be all the praise.
Romans 15:19.—It might have been expected that Paul would mention Damascus, the place of his spiritual birth, as the centre of his missionary operations; but he begins at Jerusalem. Christ first sent His gospel to Jerusalem sinners. Here is a gracious centre and an ever-widening circle. It enlarges itself westward; it comprehends Greece, Asia Minor, the Grecian islands, the country between Asia Minor and Jerusalem, Phœnicia, Syria, part of Arabia, Rome the world’s metropolis, and probably Spain.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 15:17-21
St. Paul as a missionary.—History is precept teaching by example; history is recorded experience; and this is especially so when the history is the biography of one individual. We should read the noble actions of others, so as to be stimulated to heroic deeds. Here is a piece of autobiography which has in it much instruction. Let us seek to be inspired with love to Christ and to humanity, and we shall find our missionary sphere. It lies round about us. Some people pine because they cannot reach the distant Illyricum, while they neglect the Jerusalem of home and of country.
I. The missionary’s travels.—In St. Paul’s days travelling was very difficult when it was not done by sea, for carriage roads and vehicles hardly existed. There were no luxurious first-class carriages by which to be carried from one scene of labour to another. When it is calm, the seas over which Paul sailed are delightful; but they have also suddenly their caprices—the ship may run aground in the sand, and all that one can do is to seize on a plank. There were perils everywhere. Paul, it seems, journeyed almost always on foot, existing doubtless on bread, vegetables, and fruit. What a life of privations and trials is that of the wandering devotee! The police were negligent and brutal. St. Paul was not backed up by any great scientific or missionary societies. He was not attended by a number of followers armed with breech-loaders, prepared to shoot down barbarians as if they were so many rabbits. Almost alone the great traveller went from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum. It lay beyond Macedonia, on the north-east coast of the Adriatic Gulf. The journey was somewhere about one thousand three hundred miles in a straight line; and when taken in all its windings, with its towns, populous districts, pleasant valleys, stern mountain ranges, and barren climes, shows his indefatigable zeal. St. Paul did not go in search of lovely scenery. Had he done so, he might have pleased his fancy as he journeyed, say from Antioch to Seleucia, where on all sides are copses of myrtles, arbutus, laurels, green oaks, while prosperous villages are perched upon the sharply cut ridges of the mountains. To the left the plain of Orontes unfolds to view its splendid cultivation. On the south the wooded summits of the mountains of Daphne bound the horizon. Often the route is hard; certain cantons are peculiarly rugged, barren; still Paul in his journeys would touch certain points which were veritable paradises. St. Paul did not go to admire works of art: had he done so, he might have gratified his taste and stayed at Athens on the way to Corinth; for Athens had then even the appearance of being ornamented with almost all her masterpieces of art. The monuments of the Acropolis were intact; the sanctity of that immaculate temple of the beautiful was not changed. Pœcile, with its brilliant decoration, was as fresh as it was on the first day. There were the Propylæum, that chef-d’œuvre of grandeur; the Parthenon, which absorbed every other grandeur save its own; the Temple of Victory, worthy of the battles which it consecrated; and the Erechthæum, a prodigy of elegance and finish. Needless, however, to follow St. Paul in this discussion of the negative. He went from Jerusalem round about unto the borders of Illyricum to win hearts unto Jesus Christ, the true King, the Sovereign of the universe.
II. The missionary’s work.—His work is to preach the gospel of Christ. The missionary is to preach whether men will hear or will forbear. He is to preach the old message instinct with fresh life and feeling. The old message adapts itself to all states of society and to all conditions of men. Thank God, our missionaries are preaching still, and among great varieties of places and people, amid many forms of outer life, amid many gradations of human comforts and human resources. Some labour among the most glorious manifestations of creative might, others upon scorched and arid plains—some in the busy life of cities, others in lonely isles. In labours abundant, in perils oft, by example, by preaching, by prayers, everywhere they seek to approve themselves unto God, and serve their generation according to His will. Politicians may lecture them; men of science may undervalue them; time-serving editors may pour on them their scorn; they may be called enthusiasts, or be socially despised; but steadfast in faith, unmoved by reproach or praise, they will reply, Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God; or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. Our meat is to do the will of Him that sent us, and to finish His work.
III. The missionary’s originality.—We do not mean his originality as a genius, though St. Paul was that in spite of his detractors. We do not refer to his originality as the founder of a new ethical system, though St. Paul’s system was different from and superior to any system previously propagated. We allude to St. Paul’s desire to be the first in order. He would not build upon another man’s foundation. That is how second-rate builders work. What are we modern builders doing but placing our petty pretentious cornices on the glorious temples raised by the giants of former times? Well, let us do our best. A cornice is not to be despised. If we can only take out a few decaying stones and put fresh material in the place, let us be thankful that we have done something for God’s great cathedral.
IV. The missionary’s beneficent design.—To make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed. Conversion here set forth:
1. In its nature—obedience to Christ;
2. In its Author—Christ Himself working by His Spirit;
3. In the means employed—the gospel preached and lived by men. The Church of the future in foreign lands, properly formed, will be inspired with a lofty humanity. It shall sweep away all the forms of cruelty and of wrong which have lowered tribes and nations in the estimation of their fellows. Its earnest life shall be fed with large-hearted love, which yearns to draw all men back to the Father and to bring about perfect union between man and man. Possessing a martyr’s faith, it shall hold to purest principles with a martyr’s constancy. Honest missionary agencies have determined the broad gauge on which the great highway of the nations shall be constructed, and have laid down in many great centres of movement the first lines of the permanent way. Earnest workers have heard and obeyed the divine call: Go through the gates; cast up the highway; lift up a standard for the people. By their labours every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. All difficulties shall be overcome; all divisions and separations between men closed for ever. Man shall be linked with man, and there shall be no more sea. With one heart, though of many names, the tribes of earth shall journey together to the city of God. The redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, with everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 15:17-21
Gospel miracles authentic.—“Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God.” It is not likely that Paul would have made mention at all of these miracles had they not been wrought at Rome as well as in other places along his apostolical tour where Churches had been planted by him. At all events he, in epistles to other Churches, does appeal to the miracles which had been wrought in the midst of them. For example, in the free and fearless remonstrance which he held with the Galatians, he puts the question with all boldness: “O foolish Galatians, … he that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:1; Galatians 3:5.) And in the enumeration which he makes of the powers conferred on various of the Church office-bearers, he tells the Corinthians that to one is given by the Spirit of God the working of miracles; and, more specifically still, to another the gifts of healing, and to another divers kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:9-10). And again, in another epistle to the same people, he says, “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 Corinthians 12:12). In this respect he tells them that they were not inferior to other Churches; nor is it probable that he would have written of these miracles to his converts at Rome had they been in this state of inferiority to others. There cannot then be imagined a more satisfactory historical evidence for these high and undoubted credentials of a divine mission, than we are able to adduce for the miracles which abounded in the primitive Churches, and for those in particular which were worked by Paul’s own hands. He indeed, in common with the other apostles, possessed the endowment in a degree that might be called transcendental—insomuch as, besides having the gift of miracles, they had the power, by the laying on of their hands, of conferring this gift upon others (Acts 8:18, etc.). Now whatever exhibition might have been made of such things at Rome, certain it is that for miracles both at Corinth and in Galatia we have testimony in such a form as makes it quite irresistible. Here we have, in the custody of these two Churches from the earliest times, the epistles which they had received from Paul; the original documents have been long in their own possession, while copies of them were speedily multiplied and diffused over the whole Christian world. In these records do we find Paul, in vindication of his own apostleship, and in the course of a severe reckoning with the people whom he addresses, make a confident appeal to the miracles which had been wrought before their eyes. Had there been imposture here the members of these two Churches would not have lent their aid to uphold it. They would not have professed the faith which they did in pretensions which they knew to be false, and that for the support of a claim to divine authority now brought to bear in remonstrance and rebuke against themselves. We might multiply at pleasure our suspicions of Paul, and conjure up all sorts of imaginations against him, but no possible explanation can be found for the acquiescence of his converts in the treachery of the apostle, or rather of their becoming parties to his fabrication, if fabrication indeed it was. One can fancy an interest which he might have in a scheme of deception; but what earthly interest can we assign for the part which they took in the deception, knowing it to be so? Or on what other hypothesis than the irresistible truth of these miracles can we explain their adherence to the gospel, and that in the face of losses and persecutions, nay, even of cruel martyrdoms, but over and above all this the taunts and cutting reproaches to the bargain of the very man who could tell them of the miracles which themselves had seen as the vouchers of his embassy from God, and threatened, if necessary, to come amongst them with a rod and make demonstration in the midst of them of his authority and power? Had there been deceit and jugglery in the matter, why did they not let out the secret, and rid themselves at once and for ever of this burdensome visitation? The truth is, that the overpowering evidence from without, and their own consciences within, would not let them. There is no other historical evidence which in clearness and certainty comes near to this; and whether we look to the integrity of these original witnesses, men faithful and tried, or to the abundant and continuous and closely sustained testimony which flowed downward in well-filled vehicles from the first age of the apostles, we are compelled to acknowledge a sureness and a stamp of authenticity in the miracles of the gospel, not only unsurpassed, but unequalled by any other events, the knowledge of which has been transmitted from ancient to modern times.—Dr. Chalmers.
Gospel to be preached as a witness.—Even where St. Paul preached with little or no success, he might be said to have no more place in that part—no more, for example, at Athens, although he left it a mass of nearly unalleviated darkness—just as our Lord’s immediate apostles might well be said to have no more place in those towns that rejected their testimony, and against which they were called to shake off the dust of their feet, and then to take their departure—fleeing from the cities which either refused or persecuted them, and turning to others. The way in fact of apostles or ministers, the outward instruments in the teaching of Christianity, is the same with the way of the Spirit, who is the real agent in this teaching, by giving to their word all its efficacy. He may visit every man, but withdraws Himself from those who resist Him—just as the missionaries of the gospel might visit every place, and have fulfilled their work even in those places where the gospel has been put to scorn, and so become the savour of death unto death to the people who live in them. Yet we must not slacken in our endeavours for the evangelisation of the whole earth, although the only effect should be that the gospel will be preached unto all nations for a witness, and the success of the enterprise will be limited by the gathering in of the elect from the four corners of heaven. It is a matter of unsettled controversy whether Paul ever was in Spain, or was able to fulfil his purpose of a free and voluntary journey to Rome, his only recorded journey there being when taken up as a prisoner in chains. At the beginning of the epistle he tells them of his prayer, and here expresses his hope of again seeing them in circumstances of prosperity, when, after a full and satisfactory enjoyment of their society, he might be helped forward by them on his way to the country beyond. Let me here notice, in passing, how accordant the movements both of Paul beyond Judœa and of our Saviour and the apostles within its limits, as described in the gospels and Acts, are with the abiding geography of towns and countries still before our eyes. It is in itself a pleasing exercise to trace this harmony of Scripture with the known bearings and distances of places still; and even serves the purpose of confirmation as a monumental evidence to the truth of Christianity.—Dr. Chalmers.
Romans 15:23. Place in these parts.—κλίμασι, a geographical term of the ancients. Paul wished to visit Rome as the centre of the heathen world. Rome a great power and wide influence; essential to direct influence in a right channel.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 15:22-24
Thwarted purpose.—Purposes are often thwarted in this world, and the mystery is that the purposes of good men are crossed while those of bad men too frequently prosper. The complaint of the psalmist is still ours: “I have seen the wicked in great prosperity,” etc. St. Paul’s desires were not realised. If St. Paul failed at times, and not infrequently, why should we look for a pathway always according to our plans? Even a Paul may preach in vain in a city given over to the worship of Astarte; even a Luther cannot convert the pope; even a Gordon must perish at Khartoum. We must expect failures, but we must not by them be daunted. Failures in our social plans may prepare us to expect failures even in God’s work. Failure to us, perhaps not failure to God.
I. A purpose is thwarted.—St. Paul is said not to have been a social man, and yet here we find him having formed the purpose of seeking Christian fellowship with the saints at Rome. He appears to mourn that he had been much hindered from going to them. The social desire of St. Paul was crossed; he could not then visit Rome. Our visits are hindered; let us learn our limitations. Human movements, even in what we call trivial affairs, are under high control.
II. A purpose is pursued.—If a purpose be desirable and praiseworthy, then there is no need to abandon it because we have been checked. The great man can wait. I am hindered now, but I may come at some future time. I cannot now realise my ideal, but I press onward in patient hope. A man’s conduct in littles is prophetic of what he will do in greats.
III. The purpose is subordinated.—St. Paul had a great desire to see the Roman Christians; but he must preach the gospel until he found no more place. So long as there is occasion and opportunity for Christ’s work, so long the worker must overlook personal desires. What a large lesson? Too oft we visit our friends, and let Christ’s work stand on one side. The claims of religion are subordinated to our personal desires. St. Paul’s personal desires were subordinated to the claims of religion.
IV. The purpose is desirable.—The visit here proposed is not one at the bidding of social etiquette; it is a visit for mutual spiritual enrichment. The desire is to be refreshed with the company of God’s people. The communion of saints is an article of our creed; but how little practised! Communion of saints is a desirable object, a delightful contemplation; but it must not interfere with higher work. The active and passive sides of the Christian character must be developed. If these verses are not Pauline, they contain much divine instruction, and testify to the inspired wisdom of the compilers. It is justly remarked: “It may here be observed that such signs, evidently unintentional, of conflicting feelings in the letter, and such consistency between the letter and the narrative, are strong confirmation of the authenticity of both.” Let us seek, then, to gather lessons of moral wisdom, and leave the critics to pursue their unsatisfactory way. Why destroy the old paths when no better new ones have been discovered?
Romans 15:23. The observant man.—Meyer, following Luther, makes the word τόπον mean space, scope. But the apostle’s scope was conditioned by a standing place, a central point; and here it is most natural to think of such a place. Tholuck says: “The apostles were accustomed to carry on missionary labour in the metropolitan cities, leaving the further extension of the gospel to the Churches established there, and therefore, after all, to let the pagani remain heathen.” The thoroughly dynamical view which the apostles had of the world is reflected even in their thoroughly dynamical missionary method, according to which they conquered the capital and central points of the ancient world (Lange). Having no more place in these parts, namely, in Greece, where he then was. The whole of that country being more or less leavened with the savour of the gospel, Churches being planted in the most considerable towns, and pastors settled to carry on the work which Paul had begun, he had little more to do there. He had driven the chariot of the gospel to the sea-coast, and having thus conquered Greece, he is ready to wish there were another Greece to conquer. Paul was one that went through with his work, and yet did not think of taking his ease, but set himself to contrive more work, to devise liberal things (Matthew Henry).
I. The observant man finds his place.—It is sometimes said that there is a place for every man. Perhaps there may be. One thing is certain, that we cannot understand the whole of the divine plans and purposes with reference to our seemingly disordered and wrongly governed world. The men without a place to human appearance may have a place in the divine mind and purpose. So let us not too soon despair, too readily abandon hope. However, it is sad to think of the many hundreds of our fellow-countrymen at this late period of the Christian era who must feel that there is no place for them in this large-roomed planet. “A place for every man!” cries out the man with a sneer who huddles in the casual ward, or tries to catch a little sleep in the penny doss. “A place for every man!” wails out the poor hungry clerk, or starving dock labourer, or the victim of the strike, who walks day after day through the dry places of our towns and cities seeking work and finding none. But perhaps they are not without fault, and we mean by that expression a special fault which has placed them at a disadvantage in the keenly contested race of modern society. Perhaps they have not been observant men. Their intelligence has not been wide awake. They have moved through the world in a kind of mental stupor; of course in too many cases there may have been vice—the vice of idleness, the vice of drunkenness, the vice of incapacity, brought on by their want of well-directed effort. A man who is wide awake, who is willing and obedient, must find some sort of place, even though there are always crowds of applicants for every vacant place in our thickly populated country of Great Britain—some sort of place, and in many cases and in the long run he will eat of the fat of the land. St. Paul had his difficulties. He was hunted and harried as much as the poor criminal who desires to reform is hunted by the hard-hearted policeman; and yet St. Paul found his place—a place of work, a place as the central point of Christian influence, a place where he could fix a divine force which would produce spiritual motion in the surrounding sphere and bring forth beneficial results.
II. The observant man sees where there is no place.—Easy enough for us to see that there is no place when the larder is empty, when the pocket is lean, when the hungry stomach craves for food—easy enough for the political candidate to see that there is no place when the votes are given to the opponent—easy enough for the preacher to see that there is no place when the pews are empty, for to the preacher a place, however large and well-arranged, without people is no place;—not so easy to see that there is no place when things are outwardly smooth and pleasant. St. Paul had a fairly prosperous course in this Grecian missionary tour, and yet he finds out that there was for him no more place in those parts. We must observe both to find out the place and see when there is no place.
III. The Christianly observant man is willing to remove where there is no place.—We are told not to meddle with those who are given to change. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” When a candidate presents himself for a position, the question is put, How long has he been in his last place? A frequent change of places is a blot on a man’s career, and not likely to minister to success. But a man is not always to blame because he has had many changes and removals. A man is not to blame because he has not been endowed with broad acres surrounding a mansion, where he succeeds to a race thus amply provided for, so as to be under no necessity of removing; a man is not to blame because he has not been made a bishop, who can adhere to the diocese until decrepitude succumbs to death; a man is not to blame because he has not been gifted with the artifices of the popular preacher, who can keep his chapel filled, and when his power of oratory fails can live on his former reputation and the curious pertinacity of the faithful, who cleave to their beloved pastor and their favourite chapel. Changes are at times needful and very beneficial. Nature has her many changes, and by these changes the earth is ever fresh, young, and beautiful. St. Paul had his many changes, and yet he was a trustworthy man. If he had been asked, How long have you been in your last place? he might not have been able to have given an answer that would have been considered satisfactory to the modern inquirer. He moved from place to place, but every place he filled right nobly. Of his own accord he left no place until he made it the centre and source of a widespreading Christian beneficence. Christ was the centre of his soul motives. The extension of the Christian kingdom was the sublime purpose of his life. The spiritual well-being of humanity was the large place which he had to fill during his earthly career.
IV. The Christianly observant man recognises his limitations.—This is a hard thing to do. Repellent to flesh and blood, repellent even to the so-called Christianised nature, is it to recognise that the place which we have long held can be no longer ours. We cannot bring ourselves complacently to feel that we have had our turn, that our time is over, and others must take our place. There are limitations of time and of place. There is limitation also in the direction of desire. A great desire dwelt in the apostle’s mind for many years, and yet the desire did not attain completion. A great desire, and yet not granted; a great desire for a small favour, and yet refused. An apostle may desire, an apostle may long for some good thing; but an apostle even cannot accomplish his heart’s desire, cannot put himself into possession of the good thing. For he can hardly have been said to have paid the Romans an episcopal visit when he was taken to Rome as a prisoner. His desire was scarcely granted in the sense intended. When our seven bishops—noble men—were taken to the London Tower, it could not have been said that their desire to go to London to be present at some clerical convention had been granted. They went to London; but there all the analogy ceases. Our desires are not always productive of the intended results. We must recognise our limitations of time, place, and purposes.
1. An indication of mon’s greatness. He is a creature capable of great desire. The affections of the mind stretch out towards the attainment of some good and grand ideal. A great desire to come to a small company of proscribed Christians is no grand thing in the world’s esteem. But there are grand ideals not understood by the world’s shallow philosophy. It is a great desire when a man longs to put himself in connection with the nobly faithful, and wishes to develop the goodness of the race.
2. An indication of man’s littleness. He cannot turn “no place” into the “some place”; the “no” remains “no,” if such be the divine purpose. The earth philosopher cannot turn the negative into the positive, or the positive into the negative, when the divine Logician has so arranged the premisses of His syllogism for our lives.
3. An indication of man’s wisdom. When he confesses his littleness, when he seeks to fill nobly his little sphere, when he acknowledges the current of divine events, and moves from the part where there is no place to another where there may be gracious opportunity.
Romans 15:26. To make a certain contribution.—To make a contribution of some sort or other. Meyer thus explains the passage: “To bring about a participation in reference to the poor—i.e., to make a collection for them. The contributor, namely, enters into fellowship with the person aided, in so far as he κοινωνεῖ ταῖς χρειας αὐτοῦ: κοινωνία is hence the characteristic expression for almsgiving, without, however, having changed its proper sense communio into the active one of communication.”
Romans 15:27.—Gentile couverts are debtors to Jerusalem, whence came spiritual blessings.
Romans 15:28. Have sealed to them this fruit.—sealed applied to an instrument in writing means to make it valid, sure to answer the purpose for which it was intended καρπός, fruit, from a Hebrew word meaning “to strip.” Fruit of the earth, of the loins, of the lips. Here the spiritual effect of Paul’s preaching. (Notes compressed from Wordsworth, Stuart, and Olshausen.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 15:25-29
St. Paul as a dispenser of alms.—Renan asks, “Does not the English race in Europe and in America present to us the same contrast, so full of good sense as regards things of this world, so absurd as regards things pertaining to heaven?” What he designates the absurdity as regards heavenly things has tended to make the English race good for the things of this world. Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, other things being equal. St. Paul’s good sense as regards things of this world comes out in this passage. The spiritual is with him supreme, but he is far from ignoring the material.
I. St. Paul does not believe in doing charitable work by proxy.—He went himself to Jerusalem, and did not waste the contributions of the Macedonian saints by needless extravagance. He was careful not to touch one particle of the sacred treasure; he bore his own expenses. If St. Paul had lived in these days, we cannot suppose him travelling third class on his own account and first class as the organiser of a public charity. He was not the man to spend ninepence out of every shilling in salaries, etc., while only threepence is dispensed in charity. The work was a ministry, a sympathetic mission. The poor saints at Jerusalem were not made to feel any degradation.
II. St. Paul registers the kindness and indebtedness of the givers.—“It hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution.” Here is the true spirit of Christian philanthropy—to find pleasure in giving. The luxury of doing good is the theme of the poet, but it should be the realisation of every true man. Charitable work should be a pleasure, while it is a debt. A pleasant thing to discharge debts of this kind. A general principle is here laid down. Partakers of spiritual things should minister unto their benefactors in carnal things. Here is a kind of commodity not contemplated by the political economist. Spiritual things are never quoted on ’Change. We grudge an archbishop his £10, 000 or £15, 000 a year, while we make no complaint if a great singer gets her £40, 000 for a short tour, or a novelist receives £4, 000 or £6, 000 for the novel, and so on. Spiritual things are with the apostle realities, and rise above carnal things in importance. We require more reality and less make-believe in our religion. Our estimates stand in need of alteration.
III. St. Paul is careful faithfully to discharge his trust.—Whatever may be the meaning of the sealing, it is certain that the whole passage indicates St. Paul’s carefulness and faithfulness. He would not lay himself open to suspicion by tampering with public moneys; all must be straight. Ministers cannot be too careful about pecuniary affairs; scandals soon arise, and are very difficult to silence. The public are too ready in representing ministers as being fond of money.
IV. St. Paul believes in material blessing, but he believes much more in spiritual blessing.—I go to Jerusalem to minister alms, and thus confer a blessing; but I shall come to you in a fulness of blessing which does not belong to material things. This confidence he derives from his own experience as a preacher of the gospel, and from the character of those to whom he proposes a visit. If the gospel is to benefit, it must be both faithfully preached and earnestly received. St. Paul may not go to Rome as be intended, but the fulness of blessing is not thereby curtailed. God’s methods are not limited by human workers; there is a fulness of blessing for every earnest seeker. Let us not depend upon human instruments, however gifted. While we wisely and thankfully use all the means placed at our disposal, let us not place upon them undue dependence.
Romans 15:27. A poor political economist.—The cold-blooded science of political economy is the natural product of a materialistic age. No doubt there is much truth in the science and benefit to be derived from its study, but sometimes it seems as if it were truth pushed to the extreme. It does not take into account higher laws and sanctions; it reckons little or nothing of moral force, of spiritual wealth. Thus St. Paul would not take high rank in the school of modern political economy. Though we call him a poor political economist, we feel that he has done more for the wealth (weal) of mankind than those who would set him scientifically right according to their view of science. Let us consider the so-called failings of this poor political economist.
I. He esteems the unproductive spiritual more highly than the productive material.—The words “productive” and “unproductive” loom largely above the horizon of the political economist. He only sees wealth in the material. But we shall see his mistake and get nearer to the Pauline view, if we bear in mind that the moral element is duly considered in every well-ordered and civilised community. Our civil codes, our costly array of judicial executors, affirm that the moral is highly important. Man stripped of the moral would degenerate into the savage, and even political economists allow that the savage condition of the race is not one that is conducive to the production of material wealth. Thus the moral rises above the material, and again the spiritual above the moral; and the latter cannot attain its full growth without the fostering influences of the former. So far we have proceeded on the erroneous principle that man is a mere time creature, as if he were destitute of an immortal nature. If man possess a soul, if he be a being capable of loving and serving God, if he have vast aspirations that tell of a divine original and an eternal destiny, then material riches will not satisfy—there must be the possession of spiritual wealth. A just view of human nature must lead to the conclusion that spiritual blessings are most valuable.
II. He makes the unproductive labourer the productive consumer.—According to the political economist the productive labourer—that is, the producer of mere material wealth—has alone the right to be a consumer. All so-called unproductive labourers should be allowed to die of starvation. What, then, becomes of the political economist himself? He replies that he is producing by teaching how to lessen the cost of production. We may then declare that every spiritual worker is indirectly helping to the production of material wealth. No spiritual work is without its good results to the community. The governors that have not themselves been particularly religious have felt the necessity of establishing and supporting religious institutions, as being necessary to the safety and welfare of the community. The spiritual workman is worthy of material hire. Spiritual blessings went forth from Jerusalem; the Gentiles received those blessings, and thus became debtors.
III. He acknowledges the law of supply and demand.—The supply in this case is spiritual things, and the urgent demand on the part of the suppliers is for carnal things. Supply meets and creates a demand. The supply of spiritual things meets the indefinable but certain wants of humanity. The supply meets the need and creates a large desire for further supplies. He that asks for material wealth and gets it, obtains an inordinate craving for more and soul dissatisfaction; he who asks for spiritual wealth obtains such infinite satisfaction and repose that he prays for more. The material riches of this world are too often soul-pauperising, while spiritual gold is soul-enrichment. This supply of spiritual things on the part of the Jews does not create the demand for carnal things, but it constitutes a good argument why the rich Gentiles should be liberal. If we have it in our power, let us give largely where we have received largely.
IV. He invests the material waster with priestly sanctions.—The Gentiles are to minister carnal things; they are to exercise priestly functions; they offer up contributions as spiritual sacrifices. Who in these days would think of calling the man a priest simply because he gives sordid money? But it is not the mere giving of money or of alms that imparts priestly glory. It is the purpose for which and the spirit in which the money is given which make the difference. The man who has received spiritual things, feels his indebtedness, and gives of his carnal things as a small and grateful payment in discharge of the debt incurred, exercises a liturgical office sweeter and richer than he who in most melodious measures chants the sublimest ritual ever penned. Thus there may be priests without the laying on of episcopal hands. Loving hearts and grateful spirits may invest with a garb of glory that the most sumptuous priestly vestments cannot equal. Let us try to feel and understand that we may all engage in great services. We may do spiritual work, not only in the Church, but in the world temple of humanity. We may do carnal things after a spiritual fashion. Every day we may minister at divine altars; every day we may offer up spiritual sacrifice. Let us learn divine co-operation. The poor in carnal things may impart of their spiritual things, while the materially rich may gratefully respond by giving of their carnal things.
V. The word “charity” in its modern sense is a misnomer as applied to Church contributions.—If there were a right feeling abroad in the Christian community, there should be no need for bazaars, for musical services, for eloquent preachers with their stirring appeals to be charitable. What should we think of the creditor who should send an eloquent preacher to the debtor pleading with him in touching terms to be charitable and pay his debts? We are debtors for spiritual things; and yet when we give the least driblet to discharge the claim, we call it charity and pride ourselves on our benevolence. When will the Christian world get to feel that spiritual blessings lay us under a great debt? How much owest thou unto thy Lord? How much owest thou to Him whose love and self-sacrifice are beyond compare? How much owest thou to the gospel-enlightened world in which thou art privileged to live? Let us try to feel that we are debtors to infinite love and goodness.
Romans 15:29. Paul’s desire to visit Rome.—It had been a long-cherished wish of the apostle Paul to visit Rome; but something had always come in the way. And when at length his wish was granted, it looked as if his purpose were going to be defeated, for he went as a prisoner. Nevertheless he was an ambassador of the King of kings, though an ambassador in bonds.
I. The apostle’s object in visiting Rome.—
1. Not to gratify a personal craving or wish; not to view the magnificence of the metropolis, or sit at the feet of its philosophers, statesmen, or poets.
2. What Rome needed was the knowledge of the gospel of Christ. With all its greatness the Eternal City knew not God, and already the “dry rot” of decay was gnawing at the heart of the solid fabric. Nothing could save it from the inevitable “decline and fall” but a force that knew no decay. That force was the gospel with its proclamation of God’s love to man, the forgiveness of sins, the purification of man and society, and the assurance of life everlasting. The only power that would have saved Rome was, not her armies, but the gospel of the crucified Nazarene. The acceptance of a thought from God would have done more to strengthen her than all the wealth of her dependencies and the devices of her statesmen. Moral decay can only be arrested by moral force. History tells us that the nations that forget God utterly perish. It was Paul’s wish, then, to proclaim in this mighty city a message which would have saved its corrupt society—the message of God to those who forget Him, “the fulness of the blessings of Christ.”
II. The ground of the apostle’s confidence.—“I am sure,” etc. He was not ignorant of the demoralised state of society as seen in the fearful picture he draws in the first chapter, yet he was confident that the gospel of Christ was the cure.
1. He had the promise of Christ. “Preach the gospel to every creature.” “Lo, I am with you alway.” These and suchlike promises would assure him that his labour would not be in vain. No stronghold could be so impregnable that it would not yield to the forces of God; no society so corrupt that it could not be purified by atoning blood; no darkness so dense that light from heaven would fail to penetrate it. How, then, could he doubt? He would be mighty through God.
2. He would derive confidence from past experience. His message had never failed elsewhere, and he would have fruit in Rome also. Systems of idolatry had been shaken, and the strongest would yet fall.
3. He was encouraged to go to Rome by the state of his own feelings. He regarded the wish to go to Rome as God-implanted. This was to him a divine call. In Romans 1:9 he says: “God is my witness,” etc. When Providence points in a certain direction, is it not a duty to follow? May God make our duty clear, and then we cannot fail.—D. Merson.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 15:24, etc
Did Paul visit Spain?—“Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.” “Whensoever,” “As soon as”; “As soon as I take my journey,” etc. Whether Paul ever accomplished his purpose of visiting Spain is a matter of doubt. There is no historical record of his having done so either in the New Testament or in the early ecclesiastical writers, though most of those writers seem to have taken it for granted. His whole plan was probably deranged by the occurrences at Jerusalem which led to his long imprisonment at Cæsarea and his being sent in bonds to Rome. “To be brought on my way”; the original word means, in the active voice, to attend any one on a journey for some distance as an expression of kindness and respect, and also to make provision for his journey. Romans 15:26-27. “For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” Having mentioned this fact, the apostle immediately seizes the opportunity of showing the reasonableness and duty of making these contributions. This he does in such a way as not to detract from the credit due to the Grecian Churches, while he shows that it was but a matter of justice to act as they had done. “It hath pleased them,” verily; “and their debtors they are”—that is, “It pleased them, I say; they did it voluntarily, yet it was but reasonable they should do it.” The ground of this statement is immediately added: “For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.” “If the Gentiles have received the greater good from the Jews, they may well be expected to contribute the lesser.”—Hodge.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 15
Romans 15:26. Contribution for the poor.—Van Lennep tells us that among the Nestorian Christians dwelling in, the fertile plain of Ooroomia charity assumes an almost apostolic form; for it is their yearly practice to lay by a certain portion of their crops in order to supply the wants of their brethren living among the rugged mountains of Koordistan, whose food often fails them altogether or is carried away by their more powerful enemies. Deeds of charity are highly extolled in the Koran, and the value of such acts is more particularly felt where the rulers take no interest in works of public utility.
Romans 15:30.—If Paul, saith Esthasis, might desire the prayers of the Romans, why might not the Romans desire the prayers or Paul? I answer, They might desire his prayers as he did theirs, by an epistle directed to him to pray for them. He adds, If they might desire his prayers whilst living, why not when dead and regning with Christ? I answer, Because then they could direct no epistle to him, or any other way acquaint him with their mind. Hence Elijah, about to be taken up into heaven, speaks to Elisha thus: “Ask what I shall do for thee before I am taken away from thee?” We do not say that such desires for the prayers of departed saints are injurions to the interession of Christ, but that they are idolatrous, implying that creatures are omniscient, omnipresent, and have the knowledge of the heart (Dr. Whitby).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 15:30-33
St. Paul was not self-assertive.—It has been affirmed that St. Paul was self-assertive (as we say). No proofs are attempted to establish the declaration. Our reading of this epistle has not tended to make us accept the accusation. These verses do not appear to make valid the affirmation.
I. It is not the act of the self-assertive to beseech the prayers of others.—Self-assertion, we are told, is the presumptuous assertion of one’s self or claims. Presumptive assertion does not condescend to the language of humble entreaty. Imagine a Napoleon beseeching for the prayers of his officers and soldiers. Imagine a pope turned a suppliant to the worshipping faithful. Imagine the Pharisee beseeching the publican to strive together with him in his prayers. Prayer is a strife, not against God, but against ourselves and against the powers of evil. Intercessory prayer is a method of mutual helpfulness. This is generated and strengthened for the sake of Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit. The love of (belonging to) the Spirit, embracing perhaps the two ideas—
(1) felt by, and
(2) inspired by, the Holy Spirit.
II. It is not the act of the self-assertive to contemplate dangers.—Arrogance may frown on the unbeliever, and scouts the idea that its service will not be accepted. Paul contemplates dangers, and does not expect a career of uninterrupted triumph. Deliverance is to be expected, not from the might of his own genius, but from the help of the Omnipotent. While St. Paul does not go out of his way to borrow troubles from the future, he seeks defence against the coming danger which is probable. His fears not groundless. Fears do not prevent the performance of duty. He does not start back, saying there are lions in the way.
III. It is not the act of the self-assertive to recognise a controlling will.—This is not the language of modern presumption. “By the will of God.” Does the expression rule in commerce, in politics, science, or even religion to the extent that it ought? Too oft we pray for God’s help in our plans, but are not careful to inquire if they be in accordance with the divine will. Are our visits undertaken in submission to the divine will? Do we seek for joy and refreshment in accordance with the divine will? Do we thus seek even for spiritual joy and refreshment?
IV. It is in accordance with the acts of “our” apostle to conclude with a suitable prayer.—“Now the God of peace be with you all.” “The God of peace,” as:
1. Dwelling in peace. Let us try to think of the sublime calm in which the Infinite reposes. Throughout the unthinkable past of a vast eternity God dwelt in peace. All the parts of His divine nature moved in unison; there were no conflicting forces. A true conception of the law of right and a will to carry out that law were seen working together. The natural and moral attributes of God were in harmonious adjustment. God is to and for Himself all-sufficient, therefore ineffable peace. Godlikeness supposes a reaching-up to the possession of such a peace in our degree and measure.
2. Imparting peace. True peace comes not from the inward but the outward. Divine peace is from above. The worldling tries to work peace from within; the true-hearted seeks peace from without. As the God of peace dwells in His people, so peace is imparted. He gives it by the indwelling of Christ, who is the Prince of peace; by the operation of the Holy Spirit, who is the sweet dove of peace; by the rearrangement of the inner nature, which is the forerunner of peace if it is to be permanent. Human peace a reflection of the divine and the result of divine working in the soul.
3. A guardian power. The God of peace guards and protects, hence St. Paul’s prayer. A better guard than armed men, than armour-plated vessels, than impregnable castles. Divine peace guards:
(1) from the fevers of earthly strifes;
(2) from the rough tossings of ambition;
(3) from the cankering worry of over-anxiety;
(4) from the intrusion of dread forebodings;
(5) and from the onslaughts of scepticism. “A peace, which is not the peace of Christ, is often rudely disturbed; for it is but a dream and a slumber, in the midst of volcanic powers, which are employing the time in gathering up their energies for a more awful conflict.” But the peace of God cannot be rudely disturbed; safely guarded are those amongst whom dwells the God of peace.
Romans 15:4; Romans 15:12. A doctrine of hope.—The two verses are so consecutive in thought that I may omit the intervening words, and take them together as giving us a doctrine of hope. It is hope not limited by the horizon of this life, but one that passes beyond it, “a hope full of immortality.” We need such a doctrine. Which of us is satisfied with the world as it is, and with ourselves as we are? Certainly there is cause enough for those dissatisfactions, longings, and imaginings which are common to mankind, but which wait for some promise and some power to transmute them into hope. Is there such a promise and power? I allege the two verses of the text, which speak of God as the God of hope. The first points to the Scriptures as written “that we might have hope”; the second represents the actual creation of this hope as the effect of faith, in the power of the Holy Ghost. Our thoughts are thus turned to the Bible and to ourselves.
I. The Bible is the book of hope.—From Genesis to Revelation it is progress, preparation, expectation, a consecutive course in which things that are become conditions and pledges of things that are to be. There is a sound of events approaching. There are steps in the distance; they draw nearer. Some one is coming. The book is a continuous advent; it is the word of the God of hope. So He shows Himself even at the moment of the Fall. There is tenderness in the tones of judgment, and the sentence on the enemy is made a promise to our race. Already it is known that some time, some how, there shall be a reversal of the victory of evil. The cause of hope has begun. How is it carried on? I answer, By a threefold method, consisting of verbal promise, historic fact, and moral preparation. It is not through any one of these, but through the three taken together, that the Bible is the book of hope. I will note them first in the Old Testament, then in the New.
1. In the Old Testament. Firstly, there is the line of spoken prophecy from the first promise to the father of the faithful, of blessing to all nations, to the last word of the last prophet. Secondly, we see that this course of prophecy is interwoven with a course of history. The progressive words are heard amid progressive facts. Thirdly, the gradual elevation of hope is due to something more than verbal prophecy and historic fact. It is due to the moral and spiritual education which is all the time going on. “The hope of the promise made of God unto the fathers: to which the twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come” (Acts 26:6-7). So spake one who knew well what was the hope of Israel, and was then asserting that its fulfilment had begun. It had begun, and that was all. I pass
2. To the New Testament as presenting the second stage in the history of hope, that in which our own lives are cast. The Christ had come; but He was gone, and to all appearance had left the world as it was. The course of hope had therefore to begin again, conducted as before by promises, by facts, and by preparations of heart.
(1) The words of promise are become more numerous, more ample, and more plain. They are ever on the lips of the Lord; angels utter them as He ascends; apostles proclaim them for doctrine, warning, exhortation, and comfort, and repeat them as personal anticipations of triumph and joy.
(2) Then, as to the facts. If the gospel history be taken for true, for what did all this prepare? What shall be the end of a history which is thus begun and broken off abruptly at the moment of success? If there be any sequence in things, the first advent ensures the second.
(3) Still stronger in the New Testament is the argument from moral and spiritual preparation. We know the moral effect proper to the gospel, which appears in the epistles, which has been realised in all ages, and is realised in countless instances at this day. It is a high education of conscience and of the sentiments which govern life. It is an elevation and refinement of a man’s feeling for truth and righteousness, for purity and charity. It is something which includes these, and is more than these—a tone and temper which we call holy, not of this world, caught from the mind of Christ. It appears in a lively sense of immortality, a kindred with things eternal in aspiring to the likeness of God, in habitual converse with God, in fellowship with the Father and the Son. Now, apart from all the prophecy, is not this state of heart a prophecy itself? “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable.” If you have lost confidence in the Scriptures as the word of God, you may propose to yourself what you will, but you have lost the title-deeds of hope. You have lost and cannot replace them. If you search the world, no other charter can be found.
II. The text directs us not to the frustration of hope, but to its fulfilment.—Speaks of powers which create hope, not of influences which destroy it. “The God of hope fill you,” etc. That is a prayer for personal experience, and an account of how it is attained. Hope, it says, is the product of believing; abounding in hope of joy and peace in believing, and all through the power of the Holy Ghost.
1. Hope must be the effect of believing if it is to enter the region of the unseen. There we have nothing to go by but the word of One who knoweth all. Revelation discovers things future, and faith becomes hope in the act of looking towards them. Here faith is presented as a state of mind antecedent to hope, and out of which hope arises. But that depends on the things believed, and the manner of believing them. But what are the things believed in our case? They are a gospel—good tidings. They are the facts of the manifestation of the Son of God for man, and in their bearing on ourselves they are a revelation that He has loved us, and given Himself for us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and reconciled us to God, and redeemed us for His own possession, and given us a right in His merits, and a participation in His life, and a present union with Himself, wrought by the Spirit and sealed by the sacraments.
2. Certainly these are things to cause joy and peace in believing,—joy in the first apprehension, and fresh emotion of gladness in every fresh apprehension of them; and peace as the permanent habit of a mind at rest, independent of all movements of emotion.
3. Yet in all this process there is something more than the word of God and the thoughts of man—it is “through the power of the Holy Ghost.” He it is who generates the faith which believes and raises it into the hope which expects. That is not to be forgotten by us who live in the dispensation of the Spirit. The recognition of it is not fulfilled by the recital of an article in the creed, or the confession of a mysterious doctrine, but by a conscious dependence, an habitual appeal which gives a new character to the inward life, and an experience of light, counsel, and comfort which come by the word, but by something more than the word, a “something far more deeply interfused,” a Spirit mingling with our spirit, a communion of the Holy Ghost. If, then, these experiences are by this power, we must look for them in that way; and as God is true we may expect them according to our need.—Canon Bernard.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 15:30-33
The verses are authentic.—The authenticity of Romans 15:30-33 is acknowledged by Lucht. Volkmar admits only that of Romans 15:33, adding the first two verses of chap. 16. We have seen how little weight belongs to the objections raised by Baur and those critics to the authenticity of chap. 15 in general; we have not therefore to return to them. As to the opinions formerly given out by Semler and Paulus, according to which this whole chapter is only a particular leaf intended by the apostle either for the persons saluted in chap. 16 or for the most enlightened members of the Church of Rome, they are now abandoned. The apostle was no friend of religious aristocracies, as we have seen in chap. 12, and he would have done nothing to favour such a tendency. Besides, what is there in this chapter which could not be read with advantage by the whole Church? We have proved the intimate connection between the first part of the chapter and the subject treated in chap. 14, as well as the connection between the second part and the epistle as a whole, more particularly the preface (Romans 1:1-15). The style and ideas are in all points in keeping with what one would expect from the pen of Paul. As Hilgenfeld says: “It is impossible in this offhand way to reject chaps. 15 and 16.; the Epistle to the Romans cannot have closed with Romans 14:23, unless it remained without a conclusion.” M. Reuss expresses himself to the same effect; and we have pleasure in quoting the following lines from him in closing this subject: “The lessons contained in the first half of the text (chap. 15.) are absolutely harmonious with those of the previous chapter and of the parallel passages of other epistles, and the statement of the apostle’s plans is the most natural expression of his mind and antecedents, as well as the reflection of the situation of the moment. There is not the slightest trace of the aim of a forged composition, nor certainly of the possibility that the epistle closed with chap. 14.”—Godet.