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Romans 16:1.—In the East women were not permitted to mix in the society of men as in the Western world they are at present. Women were kept in a secluded room, γυνὰ κείον. Thus it might be necessary to have deaconesses as well as deacons, that the former might look to the indigent or sick. After all, Phœbe may not have been a deaconess in an official sense. The word means a servant higher than δοῦλος; one who has charge of the alms of the Church, an overseer of the poor and sick. It is significant that this epistle was conveyed by the hands of a woman from Corinth, where woman was degraded, to Rome. How great the reformation wrought by the gospel!
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 16:1-2
Phœbe as a champion.—Some women of the present day are champions of what they are pleased to call “women’s rights.” They would subvert divine arrangements. Eve and not Adam is now to be lord of the creation. It is true the party is small; it is also true that they do not bear in mind how much Christianity has done for the ennobling of women. To all classes we fancy Paul’s words may be addressed: “I commend to you Phœbe our sister, … a champion of many, and of myself also.”
I. Phœbe the champion of a great cause.—Phœbe was a servant of the Church which is at Cenchrea. A deaconess, according to some. This not necessary. The expression seems to denote the devotion of a Christian woman to the service of the poor and of the sick. Noble knight-errantry, to visit as an angel of goodness the abodes of poverty, to give bread to the hungry, and good cheer to the sick, to make the widow’s heart sing for joy, to dispel the gloom of earth with the light of heaven, and to reap the blessing of those that were ready to perish. A noble ministry, in which angels rejoice and which the Saviour discharged. Many modern women are thus champions of the poor and of the sick. All hail to the Christian champions of all time!
II. The champion of a great apostle.—Picture a melancholy man walking beneath the pine trees that stretch from Corinth to Cenchrea. His mind is burdened with the care of the Churches; he is distressed for his unsaved countrymen; the disorders of the Corinthian Church rend his sympathetic soul; he almost wishes for death. But Phœbe, with buoyant nature, and with loving trust in the infinite possibilities of goodness, champions the strong man, and charms him out of his momentary weakness. Or again, overcome by his various labours and exposures, his strength gives way. Phœbe champions in sickness, and refits the tempest-tost vessel to encounter fresh seas where more spiritual treasure is to be gained. Earth’s records do not tell half the tale of the championships of the Church’s women.
III. The champion of a great composition.—If Phœbe went to Rome on legal business, she carried two important documents—her own legal document and St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. The success of the former might tend to her own enrichment; the safe transmission of the latter may enrich the ages. Look well to the roll, Phœbe; for its preservation includes thy immortality and the salvation of millions. But thou hast faithfully discharged thy trust, and we thank thee in the name of the Lord.
1. Champions may require championship. Paul may require a Phœbe. Phœbe may need the assistance of Roman saints. Thus the greatest of us are taught our littleness.
2. A great man confesses his obligation. St. Paul seeks to pay his debt of gratitude by appealing to the Christian generosity of the Roman Church. 3. Learn the oneness of the true Church. The Church at Rome bound to the Church at Cenchrea by the Christian work done there by Phœbe. Spiritual work reaches through undreamt spheres.
4. Let all our receptions be in the Lord as becometh saints. As we receive one another in the Lord, so may we joyfully expect that the Lord will receive us in the great day of final triumph.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 16:1-2
Difference between man and woman one of degree.—Now to put the truth in this way may seem to teach the inherent inferiority of woman; in reality it teaches nothing of the kind. The difference between man and woman is not a difference of degree, but of order. Woman does not and cannot emulate man in many departments of physical activity. It is not for her to lead armies, to guide fleets upon the ocean, or to stand in the more laborious ranks of toil upon the land. It is for her to share all the knowledge, all the wisdom, all the intellectual activities of the world. But essentially man is ever the worker and fighter, the bread-winner, the husband or band of the house, cementing its walls with the sweat of labour, and guarding it against the forces of dissolution which are without. The glory of a young man is his strength; and in so far the pagan ideal of manhood has a truth to express and enforce. On that ground woman cannot challenge or displace man.
“For woman is not undevelopt man,
But diverse. Could we make her as the man,
Sweet love were slain; his truest bond is this—
Not like to like, but like in difference.”
But difference does not imply inferiority. There are other qualities which go to the making of perfect human life besides strength, just as there are other qualities besides the untempered wealth of sunlight which make the springtide and the summer. Perfect human life needs sweetness as well as strength, the element of tenderness as well as of force. Life is not all lived in the arena and in the street, and behind the victories of the market-place lies the fact of the home. When a man steps out into the glare of public labour, he is already what the home has made him. It is the eternal and unalienable heritage of woman to mould man; to nurture his body into strength and his mind into soundness; to equip him for the warfare of life and inspire him for its victories; to breathe through him the wishes of her soul, and teach him how to gain the ideals which her purity reveals, her ambition craves, her love demands. The good woman by her intuitions reaches a realm of truth often denied to man in his most logical deductions, and then she becomes virtually the inspiration of man, and it is thus woman who makes the world. “The souls of little children,” says one of the noblest women writers of our time, “are marvellously tender and delicate things, and keep for ever the shadow that first falls on them, and that is a mother’s, or, at least, a woman’s.” There never was a great man who had not a great mother; it is scarcely an exaggeration. The first six years of our life make us; all that is added later is veneer. The meanest girl who dances and dresses becomes something higher when her children look up into her face and ask her questions. It is the only education we have which they cannot take from us. It is a mistake to say that this is the only education; but, at least, is it not a great education? What higher dignity can we conceive than the dignity of shaping in silence and patience the forces that mould and guide the world? Can that sphere be called narrow from which such potent influences stream? That which woman confers on man is moral light and sweetness,
“Till at the last she sets herself to man
Like perfect music unto noble words.”
There is no strife for pre-eminence between them, no superiority or inferiority. The difference is of order, not degree, and that is what St. Paul means when he says that “woman is the glory of the man.” It is not enough to say that the glory of woman is that she is the helper of man. No great cause succeeds without woman. No nation can be great that does not reverence woman and does not offer the freest scope and sphere for her influence to be felt; and I confess that we, as Protestant Churches, have not yet recognised to the full the power of service that is in woman. We have left it to Catholics to form sisterhoods of merciful visitation. We, in our dread of mariolatry, have forgotten the women who ministered to Jesus and have ignored the presence of women in the Church. Not altogether, indeed; we, too, have had Jur Dinah Morrises in the early days of Methodism; we have to-day our Sisters of the People working in the slums of London; and here and there we have had our Protestant St. Theresas, our Florence Nightingales, our Elizabeth Frys, our Sister Doras. I do not say that every one of you should go and do likewise. This is not the lesson or the message of Mary’s life. You cannot all find your mission in the slums, in the prison, in the hospital; but I will tell you what you can do,—you can attain the private sainthood of self-denial and sympathy; you can find some sick sister to whom your visit would be sunlight, some little child to be made cheerful with your love, some obscure spot of earth to be brightened by your charity. You cannot row out against the darkness of the night, as Grace Darling did, to rescue the shipwrecked; but you may find next door to you some forlorn soul, tossed in the wild storms of life, to succour and to save. You cannot find cloistral seclusion, as the virgins of the early Church did, nor is it well you should; but you can make the nursery a cloister where the fruits of God ripen, and the store, the school, the home, a place where the fragrance of holiness may be felt.—Dawson.
Christianity exalts woman.—The Rev. S. Swanson, speaking some time ago at Manchester, showed that the religions of the East were powerless to regenerate the heart and purify the life, and that, however excellent some of them may appear in theory, they utterly failed in practice. Among other things he said, “I ask what adaptation have we found in these religions to meet the wants, to heal the wounds of woman, and to give her her proper and rightful position? What have they done to free her from the oppression that imprisons, degrades, and brutalises her? What has ‘the light of Asia’ done to brighten her lot? What ray of comfort have these religions shed into the shambles where she is bought and sold? What have they done to sweeten and purify life for her? Why, her place in the so-called paradises of some of them, in the way in which it is painted, only burns the brand of shame more deeply on her brow!”
The deaconess should be free.—“I commend unto you Phœbe our sister, which is a servant of the Church which is at Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1). If the Greek word here translated “servant” had been rendered as in the sixth chapter of Acts, the third of the First Epistle to Timothy, and in many other passages of the apostolical writings, the verse would have run thus: “I commend unto you Phœbe our sister, which is a deacon of the Church which is at Cenchrea.” Reserving, therefore, all questions as respects the functions of the persons whom the word designates, but adhering to the form which is nearest to the Greek, we may say that undeniably there is mention of female “deacons” in the New Testament. The deacon Phœbe must, moreover, have been a person of some consideration. St. Paul begins with her name the list of his personal recommendations or salutations to the Roman Church, and recommends her at greater length than any other person. “That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.” Evidently this “servant of the Church,” this “succourer” of apostles, could have been no mere pew-opener, no filler of a purely menial office. Now there is one most subtile way of sterilising that eternal wedding. It is, without wholly debasing either sex in the other’s eyes, to teach them to live apart, think apart, love apart, for the greater glory of God and of themselves, as if they were different species of one genus, the union of which could produce nothing but hybrids. Where thus marriage assumes in the eyes of the candidate for superhuman sanctity the shape of a fleshly pollution; where woman ceases to be man’s earthly helpmeet—where it becomes good for man to live alone—the familiar mingling of the sexes in the active ministrations of religion, unfettered and untrammelled, is impossible. The deaconess should be free as the deacon himself to leave her home at any time for those ministrations; she should be in constant communication with her brethren of the clergy. But place her under a vow of celibacy, every fellowman becomes to her a tempter whom she must flee from. Hence the high walls of the nunnery, in which eventually we find her confined; hence the vanishing away of her office itself into monachism. The details above given are sufficient, I think, to show that there is a wide difference between the Deaconesses Institute of our days and what is recorded of the early female diaconate. That was essentially individual; and the only analogy to it lies in the “parish deaconess,” who goes forth from Kaiserswerth or elsewhere to devote herself to a particular congregation; although even she is far from holding that position as a member of the clergy (cleros) which is assigned to her by the records of Church history.—J. M. Ludlow.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 16
Romans 16:2. A succourer of many.—A Christian lady of ample means, large culture, fine intelligence, and, better than all, of noble heart, was watching at the bedside of her only child, who lay a-dying. What promise of future greatness lay in the well-shaped brain! What sweet castles had the loving mother built as she trained and watched her darling; and now the goodly castle was fast falling before her eyes. The bedroom was spacious and well furnished, but she had only eyes for the one treasure about to be removed. The morning sun was sweetly shining through the window, as if regardless of the mother’s sorrow—or should we rather say as if desirous of scattering the gathering gloom?—but she scarcely noticed as she prayed, “O God, spare my darling child!” But, unlike too many, she prayed in submission to the divine will; and that will was that the beautiful boy shall be taken to reach a higher manhood in the vast hereafter. With bleeding heart she followed the child to his last earthly resting-place. He was another link in the chain lifting her up to the better world, but he was also the means of enlarging her nature. She lost her child, and yet the loss was to her and to those about her a gain. She lived for others more than she had ever done before. Her ears and her heart were open to the tale of sorrow. Every home where sorrow entered was visited by her who was quickened by sorrow into the large exercises of benevolence. She was lovingly active; she was wisely benevolent; and on her tomb was this epitaph placed by the survivors:—
ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF ONE WHO LIKE PHŒBE, WAS A SUCCOURER OF MANY.
Romans 16:2. Mutual help.—The cobbler could not paint the picture, but he could tell Apelles that the shoe-latchet was not quite right; and the painter thought it well to take his hint. Two neighbours, one blind and the other lame, were called to a place at a great distance. What was to be done? The blind man could not see, and the lame man could not walk. Why, the blind man carried the lame one: this former assisted by his legs, the other by his eyes. Say to no one then, “I can do without you,” but be ready to help those who ask your aid; and then, when it is needed, you may ask theirs.—Smith.
Romans 16:3.—Thirty persons saluted. Explained partly by the character of the city to which Paul wrote, and partly by the character of the apostle who had preached the gospel extensively. He begins with Jewish Christians, and puts Priscilla’s name before her husband’s, partly on account of her greater worth and partly to show that in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female.
Romans 16:5. Epænetus.—This and other names which follow down to Romans 16:15 designate persons otherwise unknown to us, but known to the apostle.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 16:3-5
Romans 16:3. The glory of Christian work.—Prisca is the real name for this woman; Priscilla is the diminutive according to the common mode of forming such appellations. She belonged, like Phœbe, to the women who were prominent because of the energy of their faith, and deserved the honourable position before her husband, Aquila. “The frequent sneers at Paul about his views respecting the female sex and their prerogatives might be spared us were this chapter carefully read. The order here is a sufficient answer; the wife’s name first, because she was foremost, no doubt. The standard is, after all, capacity, not sex. Both are called ‘my helpers’; and it would seem that, as such, they were both engaged in spiritual labours, which term includes vastly more than public preaching.”
I. Christian work is beneficial.—All work is beneficial, so long as it is true and honest. The sleep earned by labour and the food bought and relished as the result of wholesome toil will be conjointly productive of strength. Consider, for instance, the compact and knotted lump of muscle on the blacksmith’s forearm. The rower’s chest is expanded by exertion. The practised wrestler firmly grips the limbs of his opponent. Even a Samson is stripped of his physical powers by lolling in the lap of a Delilah. Intellectual strength is increased by keeping the brain forces in action. There are undoubtedly differences of mental endowment; still the greatest men are indebted to work. If genius be the power of prolonged attention, of persevering plodding in one particular direction, then by the same road many more might travel until they come to the height where they might be called men of genius. If work be beneficial in the secular, much more is it in the moral and spiritual sphere. Priscilla and Aquila showed their wisdom by being co-workers in Christ Jesus. The spiritual nature is strengthened by exercise. Great is the power of habit; it is a kind of second nature, and is the resultant of repeated acts. Moral habit does not merely give to a man a second nature, but restores him to the blest nature enjoyed in paradise, when primeval and unfallen man was so strong that to do the good was delightful. Habit is bred by repeated acts, and spiritual strength is generated by activity. Priscilla may be only what is called a weak woman, but she becomes strong by being a co-worker in Christ Jesus. Divine work and human work co-operating result in the splendid product of the Priscillas and Aquilas of time, of the men and women who have overcome the wicked one, whose moral strength is a marvel—of those who are strong supporting pillars of God’s Church on earth, and who become glorious, enduring, monumental pillars in the Church triumphant.
II. Christian work is uniting.—There is a brotherhood in work which is not found in either pleasure or idleness. Pleasure-seekers are not strong in fraternal affection. They may whirl in the dance, they may sport over the wine-cup, they may chaff and make merry at the gaming-table; but they know not brotherhood in the truest sense. Work is one way of creating and cementing the bond of brotherhood. Work makes co-workers, and produces a divine brotherhood. Men engaged in a great work cannot come down to intermeddle with the petty squabbles of mere idlers. Co-workers in Christ Jesus are brothers from the very fact. An invisible and indissoluble bond of brotherhood binds together all the workers in Christ Jesus throughout all the ages. A grand spiritual co-operative company stretches from Christ to the last earthly helper in Christ Jesus. Co-workers in Christ Jesus—men and women, and even children. Co-workers in Christ Jesus are Pauls, Priscillas, and Aquilas. The man of strength, the woman of gentleness, the man of no marked speciality, are all closely related by being co-workers in Christ Jesus; brothers and sisters in Christian work,—a noble band; a glorious company; a happy and united family, who move in the sphere of contentment because their minds, their heads, hearts, and hands are fully absorbed in Christian work.
III. Christian work is immortalising.—If we are ambitious for immortality, we must work. A ready wit, a sharp intellect, may enable a man to make a commotion in his day; but only the workers can produce that which shall possess an enduring life. After all, there is no real immortality about any earthly work. Our cathedrals will crumble; our paintings will shrivel up like the burnt parchment scroll; our books will pass into oblivion. The true immortality comes from Christian work and from the possession of the Christian spirit. The immortality of Priscilla and Aquila is typical of the immortality of all Christ’s workers. Horace and Livy were great in their day. They still rule in school, college, and university. We read the Odes, and are amused by the satires of the one; we study the clear and pleasing narrative of the other. Horace and Livy are classics. Paul is no classic. Some say his compositions are defective; and yet, wonderful to relate, Horace and Livy give no such extended fame as Paul has done to his friends and acquaintances at Rome. It is not likely that another Paul will arise; it is not probable that another Epistle to the Romans will be written. But there is a greater book being written. Its records stretch from creation’s prime to creation’s doom. The pen is held by angel fingers; the characters glow with divine light; the pages are illuminated with wondrous colours. There are written the names of all Christian workers. This is the true immortality. Are we workers in Christ Jesus?
1. That we may all have a sphere for work. We cannot all be Pauls; but we may be Priscillas, we may be the humbler Aquilas. We may not be Luthers; but we may be Melancthons. Let us not refuse our sphere because it does not look important.
2. That the man who rightly fills his sphere will obtain divine commendation. Paul, with the breath of inspiration going through his mighty mind, commended his fellow-workers. If Paul commended, much more will Jesus. The meanest worker may take courage as he remembers Him who commended two mites and a cup of cold water.
3. That the man who rightly fills his sphere will obtain divine elevation. It is said that the stone which is fit for the wall will not be left lying in the way. But we think (of course we may be wrong) that we have seen many fit stones lying neglected in the highways—stones with ample fitness, but without push and blatancy to proclaim their fitness. It is a pleasant doctrine, for men who have succeeded, that we all get what we are worth. Well, let us hope that the creed is correct. But there can be no lawful doubt about this creed, that the man who rightly fills his sphere as a worker for Christ Jesus, will obtain elevation. Priscilla and Aquila were raised by their works into the same plane with St. Paul. Divine commendation is itself divine elevation. The plaudit “Well done” lifts us at once amid the hosts of God’s brilliant workers, where our spirits may find infinite satisfaction and our natures joyful repose.
Romans 16:4. The helpfulness of Christian purpose.—Perhaps we do not sufficiently take into account the unseen forces of life. There are forces coming out of others which act upon us powerfully, though it may be unconsciously. Surely there must be a forceful influence about loving and noble purposes, even though we have no direct knowledge of the formation and existence of such purposes. We sometimes say, Give him credit for good intentions. We talk about giving credit; but where good intentions really exist, where noble purposes are truly formed, those who are concerned, those who are the objects contemplated, are debtors and not creditors. Let us try to understand more fully what we owe to others. Here we have:—
I. A loving purpose.—Paul had evidently an attractive power. He gained the love, affection, and esteem of others. He speaks of some who were ready to pluck out their eyes on his behalf, and give them unto him, if by that means they could help his weak vision. And in this fourth verse we read of two who for his life laid down their necks. The expression may be merely figurative and proverbial, but it tells of loving purpose. It may have been the product of personal attachment, but we may also suppose that it arose from the broader influence of Christian love. Personal attachment can do much, but personal attachment increased by Christian love can do more. How large the love in this case! “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.” The love of woman is wonderful, and leads to acts of sublime heroism; but here is the love of a man also purposing the sacrifice of life. O wondrous love! O exalting power of divine grace! Priscilla and Aquila were ready to hazard their lives for a friend; but for His foes was the loving Saviour crucified.
II. A noble purpose.—The purposes of love are not always noble. Sometimes the love of a fond mother induces her to sacrifice existence to the claims of a wayward child. However, the purposes which are formed by Christian love should always be of a noble character. The cause and the person on behalf of which and whom Priscilla and Aquila hazarded the lives were worthy in the highest degree. The cause was the extension of Christ’s kingdom among the Gentiles; the person was the apostle of the Gentiles. The cause and the person were noble in the highest degree, and to human seeming were indissolubly united. Of course, though the workman die, God can carry on His work; but it appeared to these two good, benevolent souls that Paul was a chosen instrument for the special work, and that therefore his life was sacred. They were undoubtedly right. Did not God say that Paul was a chosen vessel to bear Christ’s name unto the Gentiles? It was a noble purpose to hazard their lives for the salvation of one who seemed so indispensable to the world’s welfare. Let us see that the cause is noble to which we attach ourselves, that the person is worthy for whom we are about to make sacrifices; and then let us not be afraid to form great purposes on their behalf.
III. An unfulfilled purpose.—We do not know where and when Priscilla and Aquila “laid down their own necks.” We do not hear that the sword or axe of the executioner severed the heads from the bodies of these devoted Christians; but they were ready. The intention was there, and was good; the purpose was sublime and self-sacrificing—just as praiseworthy in the eyes of infinite wisdom, in the estimation of Paul, as if the purpose had culminated in dire fulfilment. Unfulfilled purposes sometimes are sad because they speak painfully of moral weakness, of human impotence. This unfulfilled purpose was joyful. It reveals the greatness of the souls of those in whom and by whom it was formed. It declares that a saving arm had been interposed, and the lives of these two self-devoted heroes were spared to the Church for a space longer. Let us form great purposes; and if Providence see it needful to prevent them being carried out, we may be sure that the thing of good which was in our hearts will meet with divine approval and reward.
IV. The apostolic acknowledgment of the unfulfilled purpose.—We are all human, and God does not wish us to get away from the feelings proper to humanity. Paul likewise pays attention to the proper feelings of men and women, and gratefully records the design. He gives public thanks to Priscilla and Aquila. “Unto whom I give thanks,”—I, Paul, the greatest man of the age, next to his divine Master; I, Paul, whose name shall outlast the names of all his opponents, and shall be coeval with Christianity itself, and that shall be coeval with the human race. Perhaps the two did not know all this, for nearness blinds us to greatness; but they were doubtless happy on the reception of the commendation. Happy those commended by Paul! Happier those commended by Jesus Christ!
V. A loving and noble purpose has a far-reaching influence.—Priscilla and Aquila were thanked by Paul and also by all the Churches of the Gentiles. They felt their indebtedness to Paul, and were thankful to those who had watched over his career and helped his usefulness. Modern Christians, too many of them so called, are heedless of the lives and welfare of their preachers. Let them think of the Churches of the Gentiles that thanked Priscilla and Aquila because they laid down their own necks for Paul’s life. Are we sufficiently thankful for our blessings? Are we trying to do what we can? We may not be, most likely are not, able either to write or to speak like St. Paul; but are we so mean because we cannot do the higher thing we will not do the lower thing? Our influence, our prayers, our sympathy, our self-sacrificing purpose, will be all helpful, and we must not withhold them. Where duty calls let us be ready to go, and God will bless and acknowledge even good intention. Purpose and accomplishment may not be always needful, may not be always possible; but God looks to the heart, and accepts the offering of the loving heart.
Romans 16:5. Enlargement of Christian opportunity.—The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion are a wonderful compendium of theology. They are placed at the end of the Church of England Prayer Book, and are not sufficiently studied. The clergy assent to them in theory, but many dissent from them in practice. Taken as a whole, the articles ought to be received by every Christian. Certainly we ought to find no difficulty with Article XIX: “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” If this be a correct definition of a Church, then we come fairly to the conclusion that a Church is not a structure, neither is it an invisible something stretching through the centuries, but may be found in a house, in an unconsecrated building. It is wholesome and impressive to make buildings sacred, consecrated to divine and special uses; but we must widen our view, and seek to believe that there may be a Church in the house. Let the sacredness of the larger assembly be communicated to the smaller. Let us believe that Christ is present where the family meets for divine worship. Happy the home where Christ dwells! We think with pleasure of the sweet Bethany home where the divine Christ visited and communicated to the loving sisters the fragrance of His devout feelings and sublime thoughts. How pleasantly life would flow along in that Bethany home, like some clear stream through a charming landscape! Every home may be blessed in even larger degree by the unseen but graciously felt presence of Him who promises to be with His believing people to the end of time. A Church in the house is enriching. Consider:—
I. The family as a germinating force.—From the family spring the clan, the tribe, the nation. The primeval institution is that of the family. It precedes all human institutions, and shall outlast them if we are right in speaking of the redeemed in heaven as a family, united by love, where God is the gracious Father. The family is typical, and the elements of the type may often with good effect be transferred to the antitype. The closer the resemblance of the nation to the family, the firmer and more glorious will that nation become. The Church in the house may teach many wholesome lessons to the Church in the church, in the temple, in the chapel, and perhaps in the cathedral. Have we enough family feeling in our places of worship? Is there a sense of unity? Is there family affection? Do the terms “brotherhood” and “sisterhood” speak clearly of spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood? Does the Father symbolise the fatherhood of God? Let us begin where God begins, with the family, and have a Church in every house. Let the divine seed there germinate, and thence work out large growths.
II. The family as consecrated.—A beautiful picture comes to us from the far-off time. When Abraham removed his tent he renewed his altar. Every tent should have its altar. Every home, whether cottage, villa, mansion, or palace, should have its altar whereon the sacrifice of praise and prayer may be offered. The family will be blessed indeed which constitutes a Church. A pious family will be prepared to receive a congregation of Christians. Priscilla’s house may have been commodious, and thus a likely place for the meeting of either Ephesian or Roman Christians for worship. It is well to have a commodious house. It is better to have a commodious heart, a spirit open to communication from the eternal Spirit. Consecrated families will make consecrated Churches, and these will always solidify and beautify the nation.
III. The family as exalted.—We are far from undervaluing the elegance of a good English home. Most English clergymen live in well-appointed and spacious houses. If in a rural district we see a good house, we shall not often make a mistake if we conclude that it is the vicarage or rectory. Now it is all very fine for those who live in mansions to dilate on the happiness and comfort of the cottage. They do not show any readiness to make an exchange. Nevertheless we maintain that the true exaltation of the home is that it be consecrated by the presence of true religion. The Church in the house exalts and dignifies. Let us seek thus to make our homes exalted, happy, and rightly blessed. Better than the gold of earth is the fine gold tried in the fire which maketh gloriously rich; better than outer seeming is that genuine courtesy and consideration for others which the gospel teaches. Family discords are the soonest healed by the touch of the hand of divine love. This makes the family firmly cohere.
IV. The family as influential.—Opportunities for usefulness are not wanting where there is a family. What a large sphere for mothers! How much depends upon their work, prayers, and influence! It is said that where fathers and mothers can read and write the children will be able to read and write; and so we believe that where fathers and mothers are genuinely and wisely religious the children will not go far astray. Exceptions there may seem to be; but perhaps the exceptions could be explained if we could see and know all the circumstances. From the sacred home there goes a saving influence. Who shall say what the well-beloved Epænetus, the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ, owed to the churchly home of Priscilla and Aquila? Why, the home at Cenchrea was a first-rate theological college without any dons or professors or classical or mathematical tutors. What an advertisement for a modern college to be able to state that Apollos, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, was one of its alumni! What a short life the mere eloquent man possesses! Apollos has left no visible traces; but if he worked well and faithfully he has his reward, and in that reward will share those who showed to him the way of God more perfectly. Let us then seek to look above and beyond our narrow surroundings. Christian influence is not confined by the walls of the home. Opportunities increase as we try to improve every opportunity which is presented, and sphere enlarges as we seek to fill it right nobly and with true loyalty to Christ. The stately homes, and even the cottage homes, of England and of all lands stand pleasantly as they are palaces of divine grace adorned with the beauties of holiness.
Romans 16:5. Piety at home.—The influence that a man’s home has on his character will never perhaps be fully measured in this world; the last day alone will show how many a man’s life was affected for eternity by what he saw and heard under the roof where he was born. No wonder that our Lord should say to a converted soul, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them” (Mark 5:19). He that can introduce religion into his home has dug a well of living water of which the blessing shall spread far and wide. Yet home is precisely the place where a Christian often finds it most difficult to speak of his Master. There is frequently a kind of reserve among relatives and friends on the highest and holiest of all subjects. There are hundreds who seem shut up and silent by their own firesides who have plenty to say for Christ out of doors. The words of our Lord are often painfully verified: “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4). But a Christian must not be stopped in the path of duty by difficulties. The habit of shrinking from things because they bring with them a cross is one which must be steadily resisted. The servant of Christ has no business to choose his own work. The work that his Father puts before him is the work to which he must put his hand, however poorly he may do it. If we refuse to face duties because they are difficult, we shall find one day that sins of omission lie very heavy on the conscience. “Lord, pardon all my sins,” said dying Archbishop Ussher, “but specially my sins of omission.” If it be a plain duty to show our religion at home, the true Christian at any rate must try.
I. Home is the place where God’s servants in every age have specially shown their religion.—This may be traced in both the Old and New Testament writings.
II. Home is the place where some of the brightest lights of the modern Church of Christ have shone most brightly.—The homes of Martin Luther and Philip Henry were models of a Church in a house. To home influence Dr. Doddridge and John Wesley were greatly indebted for the Christian eminence they afterwards attained. The family religion of such men as Venn and Scott and Leigh Richmond and Bickersteth was even more remarkable than that high standard of Christianity which they maintained before the world. These good men never forgot to tell the Lord’s doings to those of their own house.
III. Home is the place to which we are all under the greatest natural obligation.—Where should we be if parents had not tenderly cared for us, trained, and taught us in the days of our infancy and youth? Let any one think what an immense amount of trouble and expense he occasioned before he came to man’s estate. What a trial of temper and patience he frequently was in his childhood! What a huge unpaid debt is standing against him under the roof where he was born! Surely the best return he can render is a spiritual one. If the Lord Jesus have done anything for his soul, let him never rest till his family are partakers of the benefit.
IV. Home is the place where a Christian has the greatest opportunities of doing good.—There are seasons when doors of usefulness are opened to a relative which are completely closed to all outside the family circle. In the time of affliction and death the members of a home are drawn together; hearts and consciences at such a crisis are often tender and willing to hear; at an hour like that a Christian member of a family may prove an unspeakable blessing. The days of darkness in this sad world will come to the most prosperous households; happy is the household in such days in which there is some one who can seize the occasion and tell what the Lord Jesus has done and can do for our souls.
V. Home, finally, is the place where the Christian can do the greatest amount of harm.—Let us suppose that he stands alone in the midst of an unconverted family; all around him are alike asleep in trespasses and sins. Now if a Christian under such circumstances hold his peace and never says a word for his Master, he incurs a heavy responsibility. His very silence is a positive injury to souls. “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Reader, let these things sink down into your heart, and consider them well. Whatever religion you possess, whether much or little, take care that it can be seen at home. The Christianity that came down from heaven was never meant to shine only in the society of fellow-worshippers and members of the same communion; it was meant to leaven the family circle and to sanctify all the relations of the private household. He that never feels moved to tell his friends and relatives what the Lord has done for his soul may well doubt whether he has anything to tell. Who, after all, can tell the wealth of happiness that he may confer on his own family circle if he can only bring Jesus Christ into it? How many households at this present day are nothing but bitter wells of Marah, from the want of true religion! How much of selfishness, ill-temper, and worldliness would be driven from many firesides if the gospel of Christ were to come into the house with power! Let the Christian never forget that the surest way to make home happy is to obtain a place, in it for Christ.—The Right Rev. J. C. Ryle, D.D.
Romans 16:3-5. How the pew may help the pulpit.—How Christian men and women may best aid the Christian ministry is a very important question. An answer to it is to be found in the example of Aquila and Priscilla. From the various notices of this devoted pair to be found in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s epistles, we are led to conclude that they form a pattern to all Christians. The history of Aquila and Priscilla goes to show that Christian men and women, in the married relation, may continue to be increasingly useful in Christian work and to the Christian ministry. Aquila and Priscilla were worthy of the honourable title “helpers in Christ Jesus,” because:—
I. Aquila and Priscilla were “helpers in Christ Jesus” to the apostle by the sympathy of their Christian character.—They were both Christians. Whether they became so before or after making Paul’s acquaintance it is hard to say. The likelihood is that they were “disciples” before Paul came to Corinth and lodged and wrought with them. Paul’s coming thither was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between them. He found a congenial home in the great, corrupt Corinthian city under their roof. Their own domestic life was drawn into closer bonds by the gospel, and was thus made a means of spreading the gospel. In like manner every Christian husband and wife may be helpful to their minister. The Church needs, the world needs, not families and individuals merely Christian in name, but Christian in reality. Happy the homes where there is an Aquila or a Priscilla—happier still where there are both! On the prayers and sympathies of such the Christian minister can confidently depend.
II. Aquila and Priscilla were “helpers in Christ Jesus” to the apostle by the spiritual devotion of their domestic life.—They had “a Church in the house” (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). This may mean:
1. The members and dependants of the family; or
2. In all likelihood that a little company of Christian friends and neighbours met statedly for worship under their roof. Their trade as tentmakers admitted of their having accommodation for the purpose. Note also, wherever they went in connection with their trade, they had a “Church in the house”—their home was the meeting-place of believers. This shows their Christianity to have been of no formal character. It required zeal, courage, and perseverance in those days and places to be pronounced Christians, and especially to give countenance, as Aquila and Priscilla did, to the faith and followers of “Jesus the Nazarene.” In this respect they were valued aids to the apostle. By means of such Churches in the house the light and love of the Christian faith were kept from perishing amid the corruption and darkness of heathen society. All honour to this devoted pair! There ought to be a Church in the house of every Aquila and Priscilla—i.e., family religion ought to be sedulously cultivated. The whole household should be bound together by the ties of a common faith and worship. The time once was when family religion was more universal than it is now. Once the head of the household was, as a natural thing, its priest. Is it so now? Is family worship universally practised by professing Christians? Are there not many so-called Christian homes where the family altar is unknown, never burning with the flame of piety? Give me a Church in every house, and you give me a more potent factor than multitudes of ministers and missionaries. There is work in abundance at home and abroad for our Pauls; but what a noble field there is for our Aquilas and Priscillas! Soon may every home in our land become a “sanctuary,” every father a “priest unto God,” every mother a “helper in Christ Jesus”!
III. Aquila and Priscilla were “helpers in Christ Jesus” to the apostle because they were intelligent and well-instructed Christians.—They were well grounded in the truths of the Christian faith, and could “give a reason for the hope that was in them.” This is very clearly implied in the fact that it was owing to their instructions that the distinguished preacher Apollos was “taught the way of God more perfectly.” One hardly knows whether more to admire his humility or their ability and Christian sympathy. In consequence of their teaching his eloquent tongue found a nobler theme—a risen, an historic Christ. Here, then, we find lay agency, and female agency too, of the best kind, and directed in the best way. No wonder Paul openly thanks them in his own name and in that of the Gentile believers—thanks them for being instrumental in giving to the Church, as a fully equipped Christian preacher, the mighty Apollos! Wherever this eloquent evangelist went, the Churches of Christ would have reason to thank this worthy couple. Is there no scope for lay help now? Is there no need for intelligent and well-instructed Christians—men and women able and willing to speak a word for Christ to the young, the ignorant, the neglected in the home, the Sabbath school, the mission hall? Though unordained, Aquila and Priscilla were noble helpers in Christian work. Think not that only ordained teachers and preachers are fitted or to be expected to serve Christ. Every true-hearted minister will rejoice in the increase of wisely guided lay effort.
IV. Aquila and Priscilla were “helpers in Christ Jesus” to the apostle because they put themselves into danger for his sake.—“Who have for my life laid down their own necks.” We know not exactly when or where; possibly during the riot in Corinth (Acts 18:0), or in Ephesus (Acts 19:0), which latter disturbance was of so violent a character that Paul compared it to a “fighting with beasts” in the amphitheatre (1 Corinthians 15:32). On one or other of these occasions Aquila and Priscilla, with exemplary self-sacrifice, came to the apostle’s help, and to all appearance encountered danger on his account. Here he renders, with characteristic mindfulness, grateful thanks for their kindness. “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” and such friendship they had manifested. Thank God there is no need for this special form of self-sacrifice nowadays. Self-sacrifice, however, can be shown in other ways. Give to preachers of the word Christian sympathy. Stand by them when slandered or opposed. Pray for them and their work. Be self-denying enough to give of your time and means to aid in the extension of Christ’s kingdom. What a noble ambition to be a “helper in Christ Jesus”! It merited the praise of Paul; it still merits the praise of Paul’s Master. Are you a helper or a hinderer in the work and to the ministers of Christ?—Thomas S. Dickson, M.A.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 16:3-5
First converts interesting.—Paul here remembers many, and speaks of them all with affection; but he salutes Epænetus as his well-beloved. We are not bound to love all in the same manner or in the same degree. The apostle calls this convert “fruits unto Christ.” If converted, sinners are the seal and reward and glory and joy of the preacher; they are infinitely more so of the Saviour Himself. As the author of their salvation, He will enjoy their blessedness and receive their praises for ever. Epænetus is here said to be the “first fruits unto Christ in Achaia.” Yet Paul says to the Corinthians, “Ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia.” The apparent difficulty is easily solved by the fact that the house of Stephanas was the first family that was converted, but that Epænetus was the first convert in the family. Christians at first were few in number, and driven together by persecution. They were therefore well known to each other and to their ministers. The conversion of a man to Christianity in a heathen place must have been peculiarly observable. It was the production of “a new creature,” which would of course be greatly wondered at. It was displaying the “heavenly” where all was “earthly and sensual and devilish” before. And we see it was worthy of attention. Earthly minds are most interested by the events of this life; but what Paul noticed in Achaia was the first man that was called there out of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. He knew that the conversion of one soul far transcended in importance the deliverance of a whole kingdom from civil bondage. Kingdoms will soon be no more; but such a soul will shine a monument of grace and glory for ever and ever. How long Epænetus in the place and in the family stood alone as a professed Christian we know not; but it is no uncommon thing for an individual to be similarly situated. We have often seen single converts seeking and serving Christ as the firstfruits of the neighbourhood or the household wherein they lived. The way in which and the means by which these persons are brought forward before others would, if stated, be found to be very various and often remarkable. And the circumstances in which these first converts are placed are interesting. They are in a post of trial; they have to take up their cross daily, and hourly too; and a cross too heavy to be borne without divine aid. Little do many who have been religiously brought up, and whose relations and friends, if not decidedly pious, are not hostile—little do they know what some have to endure, especially at the commencement of their religious course; when, instead of assistance and countenance, so much needed, they meet with neglect, and opposition, and sneers, and reproach from all around them, and from all that are dear to them. They are also in a post of duty. They are required to be, not only harmless and blameless, but exemplary in their conduct. The reason is that they will attract peculiar notice. Everything they do will be canvassed by a shrewdness sharpened by enmity, and ready to magnify every failing. They will be judged by their profession, and their religion will be judged by them. And they are to put gainsayers to silence, and constrain them by their good works which they behold to glorify God in the day of visitation. They are to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things, and by walking in wisdom to win those that are without. They are not to repulse by rudeness or chill by disdain; they are never to betray a feeling that says, “Stand by thyself; come not near to me: I am holier than thou.” They are not, by stiffness and affectations in little and lawful things, to lead people to suppose that their religion is made up of oddities and perversenesses. Yet, in things of unquestionable obligation and real importance, they must be firm and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; for not only will conscience require this in the testimony they are always to bear for God, but such consistency alone will enthrone them in the convictions and esteem of others. For they are also in a post of honour; they have a peculiar opportunity of showing their principles Later converts may be equally conscientious, but these coming after, when they have the sanction and co-operation of others, cannot so obviously appear to be on the Lord’s side, nor so fully evince the purity and power of their motives, as those who come forward alone, and say to all others, however numerous, however influential, however endeared, Choose you this day whom you will serve; but as for me, I will serve the Lord. They have therefore the privilege of taking the lead, and of being examples instead of followers. And they may be the means of prevailing upon others. We have seldom seen an instance of failure. The effect has not always immediately appeared; but where they have been enabled to walk worthy of God unto all pleasing, after a little while they have no longer gone alone to the house of God, but in company—in company even with those who once stood aloof, or before even opposed.—W. Jay.
A good man induces others to show zeal.—The “good man” is he who, while he conforms to the requirements of justice, lays himself out, at the same time, for the good of others in the active exercise of liberal, philanthropic benevolence, or of zealous disinterested patriotism—the man who seems to live for others rather than for himself, making a business of beneficence, “doing good to all as he has opportunity.” For a man of this description a universal interest is excited. He has a place in the hearts of all whose affection or esteem is worth the having. Every wish of theirs respecting him is for a blessing. His life is desired, his death devoutly deprecated; and while, to preserve the life of the merely just man, it is hardly, if at all, to be expected that any one should think of laying down his own, for the life of the “good man,” a life so eminently valuable, and so much endeared by the union of unsullied integrity with private benevolence and public spirit, there might be found some whom the warmth of affectionate gratitude or the ardour of patriotic zeal would induce to part with their all, and to add even their lives to the sacrifice. Aquila and Priscilla risked their lives, and in risking showed their readiness to part with them, had it been necessary, to preserve to the Churches of Christ and to the world the precious life of the apostle of the Gentiles. So imminent was their peril, so cheerful their zeal in his behalf, that he speaks of them as if they had really become martyrs for his sake: “who have for my life laid down their own necks.” The history of mankind is not without similar instances of self-devotion in the room of others.—Dr. Wardlaw.
The source of woman’s power.—Those do not discriminate sufficiently who imagine that the source of woman’s power arises principally from the beauty of her countenance. For although it may begin there, yet the charm and fascination are also manifested in a whole kingdom of gentle influences, distinguishing her from the other sex—such as the soft and graceful movement of her person, the tones of her voice, the loving moderation evinced in every action and expression, her yielding courtesy, her supreme repose, the complete suppression and concealment of her independent wishes and will where they would clash with those of others. All these and suchlike qualities inspire men with that love and admiration which we wrongly suppose to be excited alone by the more tangible charms of feature and face.—Christian Age.
Coincidences between historian and actor.—Cenchrea adjoined to Corinth; St. Paul, therefore, at the time of writing the letter, was in the neighbourhood of the woman whom he thus recommends. But, further, that St. Paul had before this been at Cenchrea itself appears from the eighteenth chapter of the Acts; and appears by a circumstance as incidental and as unlike design as any that can be imagined. “Paul after this tarried there (viz., at Corinth) yet a good while, and then took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow” (Acts 18:18). The shaving of the head denoted the expiration of the Nazaritic vow. The historian, therefore, by the mention of this circumstance, virtually tells us that St. Paul’s vow was expired before he set forward upon his voyage, having deferred probably his departure until he should be released from the restrictions under which his vow laid him. Shall we say that the author of the Acts of the Apostles feigned this anecdote of St. Paul at Cenchrea, because he had read in the Epistle to the Romans that “Phœbe, a servant of the Church of Cenchrea, had been a succourer of many, and of him also”? or shall we say that the author of the Epistle to the Romans, out of his own imagination, created Phœbe “a servant of the Church at Cenchrea,” because he read in the Acts of the Apostles that Paul had “shorn his head” in that place?—Paley.
Coincidence of date.—Under the same head—viz., of coincidences depending upon date—I cite from the epistle the following salutation: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Jesus Christ, who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the Churches of the Gentiles.” Now what this quotation leads us to observe is the danger of scattering names and circumstances in writings like the present, how implicated they often are with dates and places, and that nothing but truth can preserve consistency. We may take notice of the terms of commendation in which St. Paul describes them, and of the agreement of that encomium with the history. “My helpers in Christ Jesus, who have for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the Churches of the Gentiles.” In the eighteenth chapter of the Acts we are informed that Aquila and Priscilla were Jews; that St. Paul first met with them at Corinth; that for some time he abode in the same house with them; that St. Paul’s contention at Corinth was with the unbelieving Jews, who at first “opposed and blasphemed, and afterwards with one accord raised an insurrection against him”; that Aquila and Priscilla adhered, we may conclude, to St. Paul throughout this whole contest, for when he left the city they went with him (Acts 18:18). Under these circumstances, it is highly probable that they should be involved in the dangers and persecutions which St. Paul underwent from the Jews, being themselves Jews; and, by adhering to St. Paul in this dispute, deserters, as they would be accounted, of the Jewish cause. Further, as they, though Jews, were assisting St. Paul in preaching to the Gentiles at Corinth, they had taken a decided part in the great controversy of that day, the admission of the Gentiles to a parity of religious situation with the Jews. For this conduct alone, if there was no other reason, they may too have been entitled to “thanks from the Churches of the Gentiles.” They were Jews taking part with Gentiles. Yet is all this so indirectly intimated, or rather, so much of it left to inference, in the account given in the Acts, that I do not think it probable that a forger either could or would have drawn his representation from thence; and still less probable do I think it that, without having seen the Acts, he could, by mere accident, and without truth for his guide, have delivered a representation so conformable to the circumstances there recorded.—Paley.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 16
Romans 16:3. Work with God.—Dr. Philip, in a missionary speech, alluded to a remark made by Mr. Newton: “ ‘When I get to heaven, I shall see three wonders there. The first wonder will be to see many people there whom I did not expect to see; the second wonder will be to miss many people whom I did expect to see; and the third and greatest wonder of all will be to find myself there.’ I have also found three wonders. I have seen men of great wealth and of great talent, who have had many opportunities of forwarding the cause of God, do nothing; I have seen many humble and despised individuals, but whose hearts were right with God, do wonders; but the greatest wonder of all is to find that so humble an individual as I am should have been at all useful in the work. I take nothing unto myself but shame and humility before God.”
Romans 16:3. “My helpers in Christ Jesus.”—
Lord, speak to me, that I may speak
In living echoes of Thy tone;
As Thou sought, so let me seek
Thy erring children lost and lone.
O lead me, Lord, that I may lead
The wandering and the wavering feet;
O feed me, Lord, that I may feed
Thy hungering ones with manna sweet.
O strengthen me, that while I stand
Firm on the rock and strong in Thee,
I may stretch out a loving hand
To wrestlers with the troubled sea.
O teach me, Lord, that I may teach
The precious things Thou dost impart;
And wing my words, that they may reach
The hidden depths of many a heart.
O give Thine own sweet rest to me,
That I may speak with soothing power
A word in season, as from Thee,
To weary ones in needful hour.
O fill me with Thy fulness, Lord,
Until my very heart o’erflow,
In kindling thought and flowing word,
Thy love to tell, Thy praise to show.
O use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where;
Until Thy blessed face I see,
Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share.
F. R. Havergal.
Romans 16:4. Parable of the sealing-wax.—“How fearfully hot it is!” cried a stick of sealing-wax. “It’s positively exhausting. I can’t stand much more of this”; and thereupon the poor thing began to bend and twist under the heat. But it grew hotter and hotter still, as a cruel hand kept it remorselessly in the flame of a candle. Then the wax began to melt, and portions dropped off on to a sheet of paper placed to catch them. And these were moulded into shape under pressure of a signet. “Really,” said the sealing-wax, “I didn’t know that I could look so splendid. Just see this crest!” Adversity tends to the development of character, and especially when it is a desire to help others in adversity. Priscilla and Aquila were placed in the fire of trouble through their friendship with Paul, and they received the divine crest—“Who have for my life laid down their necks.”
Romans 16:4. Piety at Home.—St. Paul, speaking of widows, says they should first learn to show piety at home. He means, probably, that before undertaking any wider sphere of work they should be sure that home duties were not neglected. So, too, when a devil bad been cast out of a man by our Lord, and the man had asked to be allowed to accompany his deliverer, he was told to go home to his friends and tell what had been done for him—tell it chiefly by his altered conduct. Even the world understands that a man ought not to show his worst self to his friends at home. In a brilliant modern comedy one of the characters is pronounced a “jolly good fellow.” “Did you ever see one of these jolly good fellows at home?” another asks. How much significance underlies that simple question. Does he first show unselfishness, obedience, reverence—in a word, piety—at home?—Quiver, “Short Arrows.”
Romans 16:5. Justin Martyr’s reply to the prefect.—Justin Martyr gives us a little insight into the gatherings of the early Christians. “Where do you assemble?” said the prefect. Justin replied: “Wherever it suits each one by preference and ability. You take for granted that we all meet in the same place; but it is not so, for the God of the Christians is not circumscribed to place, but, being invisible, fills heaven and earth, and is everywhere worshipped and glorified by the faithful.” Rusticus then said: “Tell me where you meet together, or in what place you collect your disciples.” Justin said: “I am staying at the house of one Martinus, and I know no other place of meeting besides this, and if any one wished to come to me, I communicated to him the words of truth.”
Romans 16:5. A beautiful blessing.—A little while before she died, Oliver Cromwell’s mother gave the Protector her blessing in these words: “The Lord cause His face to shine upon you, and comfort you in all your adversities, and enable you to do great things for the glory of your Most High God, and to be a relief unto His people. My dear son, I leave my heart with thee. A good night!” Mothers with low ambition wish their sons to do great things for themselves, but this mother’s ambition was that her son should act only with the object of glorifying God and serving man. She bade him “good night” when dying in this dark world, but in a brighter world she would wake up to bid him “good morning.”—Quiver, “Short Arrows.”
Romans 16:5. A mother’s influence.—A stranger was once introduced to the emperor Napoleon Buonaparte as the son of a distinguished father. “Nay,” said the emperor, “do not tell me who was his father, but who was his mother.” The same emperor said, “She who rocks the cradle rules the world”; and declared the great want of France to be “good mothers.”—Quiver, “Short Arrows.”
Romans 16:5. The dignity of motherhood.—Soon after Napoleon’s assumption of the imperial purple, he chanced to meet his mother in the gardens of St. Cloud. He was surrounded by courtiers, and half playfully held out his hand for her to kiss. “Not so, my son,” she gravely replied, at the same time presenting her band in return; “it is your duty to kiss the hand of her who gave you life.” Parents who keep up their dignity can influence their children much more for good when they grow up. It is quite possible to play with and be companions to them without losing their respect, but it can never be right to allow children to break the Fifth Commandment.—Quiver, “Short Arrows.”
Romans 16:7. My kinsmen.—Kindred. Perhaps in this passage the wider sense of fellow-countrymen. It is difficult to state what is the imprisonment here mentioned.
Romans 16:8-9.—Amplias and Urbanus, two of few Latin names. Aquila, Junia, Rufus, Julia, etc., are names of Greek origin, and probably for the most part of a lower class, such as freedmen and slaves (Wordsworth). Peter’s name not mentioned. Conclusive against the pretensions of Rome.
Romans 16:10.—Apelles is a name used by Horace in ridicule, but here ennobled by St. Paul. Origen says, “approved by suffering and great tribulation.”
Romans 16:11.—Narcissus, perhaps a freedman of Nero. Another Narcissus was put to death before the date of this epistle.
Romans 16:14.—Everything to be consecrated by Christianity. Phœbe (the name of Diana) is a deaconess of the Church. Nereus and Hermes are Christianised. Striking is the contrast between Tryphena and Tryphosa, with their sensuous meaning and voluptuous sound, with the sterner words that follow, labouring in the Lord. Eusebius says that Hermes was the author of The Shepherd; but Lange says that the author of the book was the brother of Pius, bishop of Rome, and lived about the year 150. This book, pretending to give the revelation of an angel in a dream, once contended for authority with the Epistle to the Hebrews, and was held by some of the Alexandrian school in equal esteem with the Scriptures, and quoted as such; but it was never admitted into the canon.
Romans 16:16.—A holy kiss given at the feast of love. Justin Martyr says, “We mutually salute each other by a kiss, and then we bring forward the bread and the cup.” Tertullian calls it “the kiss of peace and the seal of prayer.” Discontinued on account of scandalous reports. Still practised in the Greek and Oriental Churches. Rabbins attached much importance to a kiss. Every kiss causes that spirit cleaves to spirit.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 16:6-16
St. Paul’s conception of the respectable.—In modern society we do not all move among what are called the respectable classes. There are classifications. It is sometimes highly amusing to hear one of the followers of him who was the friend of slaves, prisoners, freedmen, mere nobodies, parties whom you know one cannot know, declare that people are not respectable. In what is called Christianised society of to-day it is not the qualities but the quantities that a man possesses which command respect. The social pride of the day is odious. Some of the followers of fishermen are as proud as Lucifer. There are ecclesiastical dignitaries in every branch of the Church who need to study the kind of friends whom their great apostle saluted.
I. There is one quality possessed by all who command respect.—That quality is the one of being in Christ, in the Lord. The question with the apostle is not, Is he in our set? Is he the kind of person we ought to know? Does he attend our church? Does he speak our shibboleth? The question which absorbs all other inquiries should be, Is he in Christ? is he in the Lord?—in Christ by vital union with Him, deriving from Him spiritual life and force by active co-operation with all His loving plans and purposes.
II. Some have a bareness of quality which does not immortalise.—Some are saved, but so as by fire. They are Christians, and that is all which can be affirmed. There must have been many more names in the Roman Church, names known, it may be, to the apostle, in addition to those here mentioned; but their names find no place in this immortal scroll of honour. Even in this list are names with no special marks of approval; they are honourable, but do not take the foremost places. It is something, a precious something, precious beyond compare, to be numbered amongst Christ’s redeemed; but it is something more to be numbered amongst Christ’s valiant workers, amongst His true and stalwart soldiers. It is a noble ambition to leave behind a name which the world will not let die; but nobler to have a name which Christ will mention with approval amid the plaudits of rejoicing angels.
III. Others have a richness of quality which commands special respect.—We cannot be the firstfruits of our country in respect to time; but may we not be in respect to fulness, ripeness, and completeness? The richest fruits of our season—what a noble ideal! We cannot be the personally well-beloved of St. Paul, but the well-beloved of Him who knoweth all things and knows those who ardently love and serve Him. Helpers in Christ; mighty labourers in the Lord. However mean our position, however isolated our lot, we may all be helpers in Christ. He has need of all; He lays claim to the service of all. Helpers with Paul in Christ are all the faithful workers through the centuries. Faithful helpers in Christ are the world’s mighty labourers. Earth’s minsters do not entomb their ashes; national mausoleums do not enshrine their effigies; earth’s historians do not indite eloquent panegyrics on their memories. But what are earthly glories? Vanitas vanitatum. Our national mausoleum now honours the names of those whom Christian England a short time ago dishonoured and illtreated. Christ’s approvals do not thus change. His valuations are always correct; His awards are discriminating; His immortalities alone endure.
Immortal friendships.—There were women at Rome wearing in a single necklace of pearls a fortune of a hundred thousand pounds. Their very names have perished with their follies and vices, while Phœbe’s name is resplendent for ever in Paul’s gospel. Open your commentaries at this chapter, and note how often the dreary remark occurs, “Nothing is known of this person.” Nothing known of Epænetus and Urbanus and Olympas? If Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte could make their choice now, have you any doubt they would gladly exchange their fame for such a divine enrolment as this in the letter of some prophet or missionary—Alexander, the beloved, and Napoleon, my fellow-worker in the Lord? Let us first endeavour to find out how these names came to be in our Bible at all, and then consider the immortal friendships they celebrate. Three or four of them appear elsewhere in sacred history, and possibly two of them in the annals of Rome; but all the rest stand alone in this postscript of the letter which more than any other contains Paul’s gospel. How wide was its reach already! Most of the names are of Greek origin. Only a few years before he had come to the centre of learning and the arts with the wisdom of God unto salvation, and now Greece and her colonies furnish him with twenty-one names for his roll of honour. Rome contributes nine more. His own people, to whom the covenants and the oracles of God belonged, are represented by only four Hebrew names; and Persis is not a name, it means “the Persian woman.” The Orient and all the world are laid under contribution, but these names reflect no splendours of earthly honour. Phœbe, the first to appear in this galaxy, is the feminine of Phœbus Apollo; she was named from the fabled divinity which Virgil describes, “Semper rubet aurea Phœbe.” Yes, she shines for ever. But the name which her heathen parents gave her was a decoration of idolatry. And nearly all of these names had been tarnished by the superstitions and degradations of a false religion in which faith was perishing.
The glorious obscure.—Our English Bibles only hint at the fact that the greater number of persons mentioned are not known by name to Paul: “Salute them which are of the households of Aristobulus and of Narcissus.” This is not a literal translation of what was written: “Salute them who came out from the men belonging to Aristobulus and Narcissus.” They are the converted slaves of these great Roman families, the poor creatures who were corralled overnight like cattle, or chained to posts around their palaces. Now they are grouped, to the number of hundreds perhaps, among the shining ones of God. Nameless men, and men of obscure and of tarnished names, make up this divine enrolment. And this is the first practical lesson it yields us: how to make our names shine; how to remove reproaches, justly or innocently incurred, and come out of obscurity and be remembered with veneration and affection. Some good man will be writing a letter by-and-by; you and I can get into its postscript. There is a Lamb’s book of life to be written; we can all get into that divine enrolment.
The friends of childhood.—But these names do no stand here merely because they represent good men and women. They are also pledges of immortal friendships. This is a dull chapter to many because they do not know how to translate it. The friends of my childhood, friends on both sides of the ocean, my fellow-workers in the gospel, my beloved in the Lord—these are the faces that look at me out of this chapter, like the portraits which compose the clouds in Raphael’s great picture in Dresden. The Christian friendships immortalised here are only meant to bring back to you the names you love best in the fellowship of Christ.
How a friendship began.—Remember how Paul came to know Timothy at first, and then think of the special providence that has led to your most precious intimacies. Do you notice that there are no glittering generalities in this postscript? “Remember me to all inquiring friends.” No, indeed; Paul is the inquiring friend. He remembers the very things Phœbe and Prisca and Mary and all the rest have done who have bestowed much labour on him and on the brotherhood.
Unknown heroes and heroines.—Do you remember, or did you ever know, in detail all the little things which your own brethren and sisters in this congregation have done?
Helpful friendships.—The helpfulness of Christian friendships—this is our last and best lesson. It is helpfulness in the every-day work of life. There is no helping in church-work or in spiritual culture without taking hold of the work of making a living and of getting on in business. “Assist Phœbe in whatsoever business she hath need of you.” How were they to go about that? The word means law—business. She was engaged in a lawsuit. Immense interests were involved because it had been appealed to the Supreme Court at Rome. And there were saints at Rome in Cæsar’s household. Maybe they were slaves; but there were lawyers in those days of the servile class. They could get the ear of the court; they could do something; they could try to do something. This is what Paul asks: Assist her in her law business. Brethren, help one another in law business if you are ever so unfortunate as to get involved in law business, and in commercial business, and in all sorts of honest business. It may be that Philologus and Julia his wife, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, describe three homes where a little Church used to meet in turn, and that “the brethren with them” are this Church within their houses. But who are “Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them”? No wife or sister is mentioned to indicate their homes. There is nothing but their bare names. But this clause after their names speaks volumes. I believe the “brethren who are with them” are their workmen or partners in the same business. Perpetuate the Christian brotherhoods which have been sealed in the business combinations for gospel work in Rome, in convents of the deserts and in alpine passes, in soldiers’ bivouacs, in sailors’ forecastles, and in the frugal homes of our ancestors. Never let your warehouses get too big nor your homes too splendid and too frigid for this family life of God’s dear children.
The source of immortal friendships.—And who is Tertius? He has hardly any name. There is a Secundus somewhere else, and a Quartus here. The second, the third, and the fourth—who is the third man, Tertius? Tertius is the amanuensis. He has been in the Lord as well as Paul all through this wonderful composition. Parchment, pen, ink, his own skilful hand, and the heart that is burning within him in the radiance of these sublime truths, are all in the Lord. Now we have found the true source of immortal friendships. It is Christ Himself. Two men who are in the Lord must help one another as the left hand helps the right. They are one divine life.—Rev. Wolcott Calkins, D.D.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 16:6-16
Usefulness of women.—Admitting that the Bible be the word of God, we might have inferred from His wisdom and goodness that no part of it can be useless. But we are expressly assured that “all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Therefore this long postscript, this catalogue of particular salutations, has its uses. It certainly shows us the principle that actuated the first Christians—all men were to know that they were the disciples of Christ by their loving one another. It shows also how mistaken they are who think the New Testament does not sanction private friendship. It also proves how impossible it was to forge this epistle, abounding as it does with so many specific allusions; for these not only render detection possible, but easy. Hence Paley much avails himself of this chapter in his Horœ Paulinæ. Neither is it improper to observe from it the error of Popery: Papists say that Peter was the bishop of Rome. But, had he been there, is it credible for a moment that he would have been overlooked by our apostle? The probability indeed is that he never was there. There is no evidence of it in the Scripture; and we know for what purposes of delusion it has been pretended—the Roman succession of bishops from him. But who can help observing how many females are mentioned here? Phœbe, Priscilla, Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, the mother of Rufus, Julia, the sister of Nereus. All these, with the exception of two, are not only mentioned, but commended; and these two would not have been saluted by name unless they had been persons of religious excellence, for Paul valued no other qualities compared with this. But all the rest of these worthies have ascribed to them some attainments or service “in the Lord.” Let not, therefore, females suppose that they are cut off from usefulness in the cause of Christ. The most eminent servants of God have acknowledged their obligations to them, and ascribed no little of their success to their care and kindness. Servants have blessed God for pious mistresses. Children have been prepared for the preaching of the word and the devotion of the sanctuary by the earlier but important efforts of a mother. How much does even the religious public owe to the mothers of Newton and Cecil, and a thousand more, from whom the Churches have derived such able ministers! To Hannah we owe a Samuel; and to Lois and Eunice, his mother and grandmother, we owe a Timothy. They are at home in almsdeeds, like Dorcas, who made garments for the poor; and are peculiarly adapted to visit the sick and the afflicted. The wife may win the irreligious husband without the word, and fan his devotion and give speed to his zeal when he is in the way everlasting. Who would keep them from those public meetings where feelings are to be excited which they will be sure to carry away and improve at home? In a word, women have the finest heads, and hearts, and hands, and tongues for usefulness in the world. Who does not wish to see them always under a religious principle? Who would not have them, appropriately, more encouraged and employed as workers together with the servants of Christ? “Help,” therefore says the apostle, “those women that laboured with me in the gospel, whose names are in the book of life.”—W. Jay.
The influence of a good woman.—That was a strange influence which Beatrice exercised over the great poet Dante, which not only moulded and affected his actions, but which entered into the spirit of his poetry, directed his thoughts, and gave the inspiration of his genius. Beatrice became to Dante the symbol of pure and holy things. “Death itself disappeared before the mighty love that was kindled in the heart of the poet: it transformed, it purified all things.” And then, when Beatrice died, his love became resigned, submissive; death sanctified it instead of converting it into remorse. The love of Dante destroyed nothing; it fertilised all, it gave a giantlike force to the sentiment of duty. The poet said: “Whenever and wherever she appeared to me, I no longer felt that I had an enemy in the world; such a flame of charity was kindled in my heart, causing me to forgive every one that had offended me.” The death of Beatrice imposed fresh duties upon him. That which he felt he had then to do was to render himself more worthy of her; he resolved to keep his love for her to the last day of his life, and bestow upon her an immortality upon earth. In his love for the beautiful, in his striving after upward purity, Beatrice was the nurse of his understanding, the angel of his soul, the consoling spirit which sustained him in poverty and in exile, in a cheerless, wandering, and sorrowful existence. La Vita Nuova, a little book which Dante wrote probably at the age of twenty-eight, in which he relates, both in prose and verse, the emotions of his love for Beatrice, is an inimitable little book of gentleness, purity, delicacy, of sweet and sad thoughts, loving as the note of the dove, ethereal as the perfume of flowers; and that pen, which in later years resembled a sword in the hand of Dante, here delineates their aspect, as Raphael might have done with his pencil. There are pages—those, for example, where is related the dream of Beatrice—the prose of which is a finished model of language and style far beyond the best style of Boccaccio.
A picture of the primitive Church.—“Here is,” says Gaussen, “a picture to the life of a primitive Church; we can see to what height the most ignorant and weak of its members can rise.… We wonder at the progress already made by the word of God solely through the labours of travellers, artisans, merchants, women, slaves, and freedmen, who resided in Rome.” Not only did the apostle know a large number of these workers, because he had been connected with them in the East (Andronicus and Junias, Rufus and his mother, for example), or because be had converted them himself (Aquila and Priscilla); but he also received news from Rome, as is proved by the intimate details into which he entered in chap. 14; and he might thus know of the labours of many of those saluted, whom he did not know personally. Such is probably the case with the last persons designated, and to whose names he adds no description. The Greek origin of the most of these names constitutes no objection to the Roman domicile of those who bear them. What matters it to us that, as M. Renan says, after Father Garucci, the names in Jewish inscriptions at Rome are mostly of Latin origin? If there be any room for surprise, five or six Latin names would perhaps be more astonishing at Ephesus than fifteen or sixteen Greek names at Rome. Have we not proved over and over that this Church was recruited much more largely from Gentiles than from Jews, and that especially it was founded by missionaries who had come from Syria, Asia, and Greece? M. Reuss no doubt asks what became of all those friends of Paul, when, some years later, he wrote from Rome his Epistles to the Colossians and Philippians; and later still, the Second to Timothy. But in writing from Rome to the Churches of Colosse and Philippi, he could only send salutations from individuals who knew them. And a little before the Second to Timothy there occurred the persecution of Nero, which had for the time dispersed and almost annihilated the Church of Rome. Our conclusion, therefore, is not only that this passage of salutations may have been written to the Church of Rome, but that it could not have been addressed to any other more suitably. As at the present day Paris, or even Rome, is a sort of rendezvous for numerous foreign Christians of both sexes, who go thither to found evangelistic works, so the great pagan Rome attracted at that time the religious attention and zeal of all the Christians of the East. Let us remark, in closing, the exquisite delicacy and courtesy which guide the apostle in those distinguishing epithets with which he accompanies the names of the servants or handmaids of Christ whom he mentions. Each of those descriptive titles is as it were the rough draft of the new name which those persons shall bear in glory. Thus understood, this enumeration is no longer a dry nomenclature; it resembles a bouquet of newly blown flowers which diffuse refreshing odours.—Godet.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 16
Romans 16:8. The tomb of Amplias.—The archœological researches in Rome of recent years have thrown much light upon the life of the early Christians in that city; but no discovery has produced such interest as that announced of the tomb of Amplias. Says Paul in Romans 16:8 : “Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord.” Who was Amplias? Who were his friends? Why was he buried in this particular place? The answers to these questions are all furnished by the discovery of his tomb; and a flood of light is let in upon the times of the early Roman Christians. His tomb stands in one of the catacombs excavated in the time of Domitian, on the ground then belonging to Flavia Domitilla, his niece. Roman history preserves the fact that Flavia became a Christian. Amplias, the friend of Paul, must have been a distinguished man. Because he was buried in Flavia’s cemetery we judge they were personally acquainted. By Paul’s greeting we imagine he was a minister of the New World. Then the tomb is of such a character that only the possessor of great wealth could have constructed so remarkable a resting-place. Was this the work of Flavia, niece of the great Domitian? Was it erected at the cost of his family, or by the early Christians of Rome? These questions may not be answered, for the investigations are not yet concluded. All that we know at present is that there is no tomb in the catacombs that equals it for the beauty of its adornments and the variety of pictorial illustrations. The frescoes in the Golden House of Nero, and the adornments of the house of Germanicus in the Palatine, are not to be compared, so it is reported, with the symbolic illustrations of the tomb of Amplias, the teacher of Flavia, the beloved of Paul.—Christian Commonwealth.
Romans 16:12. Lord Shaftesbury’s tribute to a humble woman.—Very tender was Lord Shaftesbury’s reference on one occasion to the kind heart which led him to Christ. He was for a time, at an early period of his life, left solely in charge of an old Scottish nurse. This humble woman took infinite pains to teach him the story of Christ’s love, and with such success that the great earl confessed, “All that I am to-day, and all that I have done, I owe, under God, to that good woman’s influence.”
Romans 16:17.—No argument here for tradition or the inquisition. For even common people may discern true doctrine from false. We must seek for light on God’s revealed word.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 16:17-19
Mark the separatists.—It is to be borne in mind that there are separatists and separatists. Separation is not in itself a crime; some of the movements which have been most beneficial to mankind have been caused by separatists whose names have been cast out as evil. Jesus Christ Himself was a separatist, and was crucified as a destroyer of ancient customs; St. Paul was a separatist, and the Jewish Church regarded him with disfavour. On the separatist is thrown the onus probandi. If he can show worthy cause for the step he has taken, well and good; but if not, we must mark him and avoid.
I. Mark the separatist as to:
1. His doctrine. Is it contrary to, is it out of harmony with, the received doctrine? This question supposes that the doctrine which we have learned is the truth, and that is older than the hills, coequal with the divine existence. The novelty of a doctrine is rather a primâ facie argument against than for its truth, though unsound minds eagerly accept a doctrine simply because it is novel. Creeds are to be exploded, not because they are unsound, but because they are old-fashioned. Bread is an old-fashioned article of food, but it still holds a place amid most luxurious modern banquets. Mark the new doctrine; examine its claims; but do not be like some hosts, who always appear ready to smile upon a fresh face.
2. His style of delivery. In these days style is all-important. The manner in which the thing is dressed is quite as impressive as the thing. A flowing writer commands attention. What do we care about thought, if we are only charmed with glowing periods? A graceful speaker will win the modern audience, and lead captive silly souls; the man who with good words can put his own conduct in a rosy light, and by fair speeches can deceive and flatter the hearts of his hearers, will easily cause divisions and offences. We love good style, but we ask that it be the exponent of good and true doctrine.
3. His motive force. Is he serving the Lord Jesus Christ, or his own belly? There was not very much to be gained in the way of earthly good on either side in those early times. Perhaps there was the promise of gain on the side of ungodliness—that is, against the doctrines taught by the apostles. It is always difficult to judge motives; but if a man lose money, fame, influence, position, by his advocacy of certain doctrines, we may be persuaded that he, at all events, feels that they contain truth. So far he proves his sincerity.
II. Resist the separatist:
1. By obedience. The simple man, rough in speech and rude in manners it may be, will not be able to withstand the man of honeyed words and flattering speeches. But the obedient soul, however simple, will be made strong. Obedience is better than eloquence; the willing and the obedient shall eat the good of every land, intellectual and moral. Stand in the strong tower of obedience, and no weapon thrown by seductive besiegers shall do any damage.
2. By wisdom towards the good. We are asked, What is the good? We reply that the good is the morally fit and proper; the good is marked out by the noblest men of the past. What the All-good tells me is good I believe; what the Bible positively declares to be good I believe; what my enlightened conscience affirms to be good, and in the practice of which I find peace and rest, I joyfully accept.
3. By simplicity concerning evil. Some people are simple enough concerning evil; they are easily caught and victimised; the honey beguiles, and they are ignorant of the sting which it encloses. Notwithstanding the advance of education and of science and of a free press, the simplicity of many modern souls is most amusing. After all, it may be that the simplicity of the cheated is better than the duplicity of the cheater: the simplicity of the good may excite the laughter of the fast men, but while it may occasion some mistakes, it will in the long-run keep them in the safest pathway.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 16:19
What obedience does.—In the concluding chapter of this epistle St. Paul warns against such doctrines and practices as militate against a true and pure Christianity, which he styles “the doctrine which ye have learned,” and properly characterises the teachers and promoters of false doctrines as intent on serving themselves. But to those who had given up idolatry and committed themselves fully to the service of the one true God, through the grace of Christ our Lord, he says, “Your obedience is come abroad unto all men”—i.e., is generally known, for it could not be otherwise.
I. This obedience came by hearing, as the word itself implies.—“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Hearing, to be profitable, must be serious, attentive, and conscientious. There must be a desire to learn, to profit, and to do what is seen to be good and right. Obedience to the teaching of the gospel of Christ, to be acceptable, must proceed from repentance, be inspired by faith, and be animated by the love of God, through the influence of divine grace. The obedience of the early Christians prompted them to meet the most fearful trials, and in many cases to endure martyrdom itself. The case of the martyrs at Sebaste, under the emperor Licinius, A.D. 320, well illustrates this obedience of faith in the last extremity. They were condemned to stand naked on a frozen lake during a night of bitter cold, though if any were willing to renounce Christ, they might go into a tent or cottage on the shore, where they would find food, clothing, light, and fire. In the middle of the night two men perishing with cold presented themselves at the door of the hut, and found relief and refreshment at the expense of faith and duty; but the centurion himself, with a faithful companion, went out and took the place of these two, and when the sun arose the exact number of the condemned was complete, made perfect through fearful suffering, “faithful unto death.” Our obedience is to be continued through “all the changes and chances of this mortal life,” and is to be “a light shining in a dark place.”
II. The obedient are wise unto that which is good.—They learn to distinguish “good” in reality from good only in name and appearance. To them nothing is good which has not its origin in right principle. Hence corrupt maxims, deceitful habits, and selfish purposes are avoided and hated. “Their eye is single, and their whole body full of light.” “Their eyes look right on.” They do not escape adversity, but are assured it will turn to their advantage, here or hereafter: in trial they find compensations, and in the deepest affliction the comfort of divine love. They walk on steadily, rejoicing in the presence of their Master and in the expectation of eternal blessedness. “The wisdom which is from above is theirs,” and leads them above all things to do the will of their Father in heaven. They have one aim, to keep as far as possible the words of Christ: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” And so, adding grace to grace, they daily approach nearer the standard they have in mind. A friend once visited the studio of Michael Angelo, and saw him engaged on one of his great statues. In a month or two he came again, and thought that the artist had made no progress; but Angelo pointed out a line here and a wrinkle smoothed out there, when the friend said, “True; but these are but trifles.” When the great artist replied, “Trifles make perfection; but perfection is no trifle.”
III. The obedient are simple as concerning evil.—Their motives are unmixed; for so the word translated “simple” primarily means. They are not like the animal which looks up with one eye and down with the other. They realise the impossibility of serving both God and mammon. They are what they seen. They eschew
The only ill that stalks abroad unseen by men or angels;
But goodness thinks no ill where no ill seems.”
“In simplicity of godly sincerity they have their conversation [i.e., their behaviour] in the world.” The plans, plots, and devices of the worldly enter not, should not enter, into their thoughts, or ever be entertained by them. “They avoid evil, turn from it, and pass away.” And as they hate evil, the baleful effects of evil shall not permanently affect them, and swift-winged calamity shall turn away from them. They must, however, know something of the world in order to be safe—“wise as serpents, but harmless as doves”; but they pray and endeavour to escape evil, to be delivered from its tyranny and power, “hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”—Dr. Burrows.
ILLUSTRATIONS TO CHAPTER 16
Romans 16:17-18. Archbishop Tait on divisions.—Speaking at the Swansea Church Congress, Archbishop Tait said: “It is now many years since, I remember, this happened to me: I was travelling a whole day in the mail in company, as it happened, with a great historian, politician, and literary man, well known in that day, and well remembered still, who had then but recently returned from a lengthened sojourn in India. We were talking of the divisions which at that time distracted the kingdom of Scotland in religious matters; and he said, ‘When a man has lived a long time in a country in which people worship cows, he comes to think less of the divisions which separate Christians.’ I presume there was a great moral lesson in this random saying. I confess it made a great impression on my heart. I have never forgotten it, and it has been the endeavour of my life to profit by it. A godly bishop said to me once of a brother as godly as himself, but much given to controversy, ‘Poor man, he is always writing about the three orders of the ministry, when those to whom he is writing are doubting whether there be a God in heaven.’ ”
Romans 16:20.—Here is St. Paul’s own superscription, written with his own hand in all his epistles. The Author of peace is the Giver of victory. συντρίψει, selected with special regard to Genesis 3:15.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 16:20.
The peace-destroyer’s destruction.—From the visible enemy who threatens, the apostle’s eye turns to the invisible world, where he discovers, on the one side the more formidable enemy of whom his earthly adversaries are the instruments, and on the other the all-powerful ally on whose succour the Church can reckon in this struggle. The expression “God of peace” is designedly chosen to describe God as one who, if the Church fulfil its task well in these circumstances, will take care to overthrow the designs of its adversaries and preserve harmony among the faithful. No wonder that the Christian’s energies are paralysed if he only considers the smallness of his own resources and the greatness of the powers with which he has to cope; but his heart may be strengthened by the reflection that he has a powerful Friend on whom he may rely, and whose help he may successfully invoke. The Christian may be inspired by the thought that the valour of God is his defence. He may well rise superior to difficulty, remembering that victory is finally certain, for God fights on his side. The work is now going forward under the direction of God. Shortly the finishing stroke will be given. Satan will be a bruised foe under the feet of the triumphant saints.
I. The peace-maker.—The endearing character under which God is presented before us in this passage is that of the peace-maker. The God of peace—the author, originator, and maker of peace. Peace-maker! Delightful to be able to introduce harmony into a world of disorder, to cause a holy calm to reign in a realm which had presented the scene of wild chaos. Among the Saviour’s greatest material works is that by which he calmed the troubled waters of the storm-tossed lake. If he be great who introduces harmony into the disorder of material things, what shall be affirmed of the greatness of Him who introduces order where moral discord prevailed, who gives peace to troubled natures? Jesus Himself says, “Blessed are the peace-makers.” The highest type of man is the peace-maker. Christ as the peace-maker is endeared to troubled hearts. God is by pre-eminence the God of peace. He gave Christ to be a peace-maker. It was God that first made this planet beautiful by the gentle sway of peace. When sin touched with its spoiling hand the calm sea of this world’s peace, it was God’s mercy that floated over the troubled waters the words of hope. When the world attained its highest and darkest reach of moral confusion, it was God that brought into the world the gospel method whereby spiritual unrest was to be removed and peace flow into the hearts of mankind. The character of the peace-maker is ennobled by the thought that God is the offended being, and yet He proposes conditions of peace and makes possible a way of peace. He secures the method of peace at infinite cost. He spared not His Son.
II. The peace-destroyer.—By how much the character of the peace-maker is ennobled, in the same proportion may the character of the peace-destroyer sink in our estimation. It is Godlike to create. It is devil-like to destroy. Destructionists should always bring forward good reasons for the methods they pursue. Our natures would rise in rebellion and in wrath against the wretched and powerful being who should disturb the harmonies of the celestial spheres. But a worse catastrophe has happened. Satan with his tainting hand has touched our humanity, and lost spirits are seen wandering, through a dismal planet, from the Source of life, from the Spring of eternal strength and happiness. The devil destroyed the world’s moral peace when he first entered the garden of peace, and ever since he has been working in the same direction. Satan has destroyed the peace of hearts, the peace of individuals, the peace of Churches, and the peace of nations.
“There is a land of peace,
Good angels know it well;
Glad songs that never cease
Within its portals swell;
Around its glorious throne
Ten thousand saints adore
Christ, with the Father—one,
And Spirit evermore.”
Into that land of peace no ruthless disturber can ever enter.
III. The peace-destroyer’s destruction at the hand of the peace-maker.—In order to perpetuate harmony it is necessary to banish that, or at least to eliminate the power of that, which has been the cause of discord. To preserve the harmony of a kingdom it may be needful to banish the rebels. The peace of the family can be preserved by the exclusion of the quarrelsome member, or by its reformation. The peace of God’s human family is always endangered by the presence of Satan. He appears to be beyond reform. We do not limit the power of the Infinite. But as that power did not prevent Satan’s fatal meddling, so we have no reason to suppose that God’s power will turn the prince of darkness into a veritable angel of light. Satan must be bruised, and so bruised as to be able to do no further moral mischief. He has been bruised in part by Christ’s victorious achievements. Bruised, but not effectually rendered harmless. He is being bruised by the dispensation of the Holy Spirit and by the instrumentality of God’s Church. God will finish the work in righteousness, and Satan will be effectually bruised beneath the feet of God’s people. Satan will be powerless, and over his slain form the Church will ride in triumph. Let us, then, not fear for God’s truth. Relying on God’s promises, we are not to fear the wiles of our great adversary. We must battle and not be dismayed. We must pray and wait in hope for the period of final extinction of Satan as a harmful foe.
IV. The peace-maker’s “due time” we cannot measure.—God’s “shortly” is not to be measured by our minutes. The little child with its inadequate notions of time cannot measure the “shortly” of a wise father. How can the children of time, whose day is but as a butterfly existence, measure the day of Him who is from everlasting to everlasting? We are sometimes disposed to ask, Has the Eternal been so taken up with the consideration and the management of other and higher worlds that He has forgotten us in our low estate—forgotten that His children are well-nigh overwhelmed by the triumphant progress of sin and misery—forgotten that the world has been long groaning beneath the oppression of the evil one—forgotten that the lovers of the truth are comparatively few and their efforts seemingly uninfluential—forgotten that many anxious souls are waiting for the fulfilment of the promise that shortly God will bruise Satan under their feet? But when we get away from the contracting influences of the present world, when we breathe the enlarging atmosphere of God’s broad realm of infinite thoughts, we may get to understand that our “shortly” is a word that impatience utters in moments of defeat and perplexity—that God’s “shortly” may be a word uttered by a Being possessed of infinite wisdom and power, and who can wait, to use a human word, through the slow-moving centuries of time. Where is the mind sufficiently large that can sweep with rapid glance through all that space—if of space or of any notion of limitation we may speak in this connection—that must be comprehended in the “shortly” of Him who fills the boundless realm of eternity? A season must be allowed in which the efficacy of the Saviour’s mediatorial mission shall be vindicated—in which the glory of the Church as a militant force must be evidenced. A great work has to be done before God’s “shortly” can be consummated. We must consider God’s “shortly” in the light of eternity and by the side of those comprehensive plans which must be entertained by the infinite mind.
V. Human peace-makers will share in the final triumph.—The limbs of the Church will not always be fettered; the feet of God’s saints will not always be fastened in the stocks; the iron of oppression will not always eat into their souls. With firm and joyous tread they will victoriously walk over their crushed adversary. Under our feet for ever will be the enemy of our souls. Peaceful millennial reign! blessed sabbatic repose! when
“Sin, my worst enemy before,
Shall vex mine eyes and ears no more;
Mine inward foes shall all be slain,
Nor Satan break my peace again.”
Romans 16:20. Satan bruised.
1. A reference to Genesis 3:15 : apostle points to certainty of Christ’s victory as guarantee of ours.
2. An echo of promise in Psalms 91:0 of victory over all antagonists—pestilence, terror, flying arrow, destruction. “Thou shalt tread upon the lion,” on “the adder.” Power to conquer sins known and hidden.
3. An echo of Luke 10:19. All these are gathered into the promise of the text. Christ’s heel being on the head, we have only to keep down a little fragment of the writhing body, a little bit of vertebræ. If we try in His strength, we shall come off more than conquerors.
II. What strenuous effort is needed to keep down a snake’s head, a desperate life-and-death struggle! Incongruous epithet at first sight, “the God of peace.” Why not “God of strength?” Our victory only possible by possessing the peace of God. The reason we fall so easily is because we lack that sense of rest in God. That peace of God, and the God who gives that peace, will help us to overcome.
III. “The peace of God” (see Philippians 4:7) will keep us as a garrison keeps a fortress. The Christian’s armour the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15).
IV. Ask God for His peace; then in the fiercest struggle we shall have quiet hearts,—peace amid endless agitation; repose in tempest; quiet spirit in the battle.
V. All will come by communion with Christ; His conquest our inspiration. “Shortly?” Yes; by simple obedience and loving fellowship swift victory comes. If not, not His fault, but ours. On eternity’s dial seventy years but a moment. The longest life-struggle but a little while; then the far-exceeding weight of glory. Thy Master conquered; keep near Him, scorning short-lived temptations, calm in such brief struggles; then “under our feet for ever the enemies of our souls.”—Alexander Maclaren, D.D.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 16:20
Conquest of Satan ensured.—The conquest of Satan is ensured by this: When we are at peace with God, the devils themselves are subject to us. When God was in Christ reconciling the world, He was in Christ “destroying him that had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14), and bringing Satan under the feet of the Mediator and the feet of His members. This was the intent of God in the first promise of a Mediator, to destroy him who had infected mankind and brought death into the world. The bruising his head was the design of Christ’s mission (Genesis 3:15), that the great incendiary who had broken the league and set afoot the rebellion might feel the greater smart of it. And ever since it is by the gospel of peace and the shield of faith that we are only able to “quench the fiery darts of the devil,” and make his attempts fruitless (Ephesians 6:15-16), by the reconciliation God hath wrought and published by the gospel. God, as a “God of peace,” “shall tread him under the feet” of believers (Romans 16:20). Unless He had been a God of peace, we had never been delivered from that jailor who held us by the right of God’s justice. And since we are delivered, God, as a God of peace, will perfect the victory, and make him cease for ever from bruising the heel of the spiritual seed. As God hath given peace in Christ, so He will give the victory in Christ. Peace cannot be perfect till it be undisturbed by invading enemies and subtle adversaries endeavouring to raise a new enmity. Our Saviour spoiled him of his power upon the cross, and took away the right he had to detain any believer prisoner by satisfying that justice and reconciling that God who first ordered their commitment. He answers his accusations as He is an “advocate” at the right hand of God; and at the last, when death comes to be destroyed, and no more to enter into the world, the whole design of the devil for ever falls to the ground. Since we are at peace with God, while we are here the devil himself shall serve us; and the messenger of Satan shall be a means to quell the pride of a believing Paul by the sufficiency of the grace of God, while he fills the heart of an unbelieving Judas with poison and treason against his Master.—Charnock.
Satan not to be feared.—And as good angels shall not, so it is certain likewise that evil angels shall not; good angels will not, and bad angels shall not. Saith He, “I will build My Church upon this rock”—that is, “this faith and confession that Christ is the Son of God, and a heart and life answerable”—“and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). They may assault it, but they shall not prevail. My brethren, this devil whom you fear, and who tempteth you, as Jesus Christ hath under His feet, so He will have him under your feet too one day; do but stay awhile, He shall tread down Satan under your feet shortly (Romans 16:20) You need fear nothing, therefore, either in heaven or in earth.—Goodwin.
The Reconciler the Subduer.—All corrupters of divine truth and troublers of the Church’s peace are no better than devils. Our Saviour thought the name Satan a title merited by Peter, when he breathed out an advice, as an axe at the root of the gospel, the death of Christ, the foundation of all gospel truth; and the apostle concludes them under the same character which hinder the superstructure, and would mix their chaff with his wheat. “Get thee behind Me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). It is not, “Get thee behind Me, Simon,” or, “Get thee behind Me, Peter”; but, “Get thée behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence to Me.” Thou dost oppose thyself to the wisdom and grace and authority of God, to the redemption of man, and to the good of the world.
1. As the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of truth, so is Satan the spirit of falsehood; as the Holy Ghost inspires believers with truth, so doth the devil corrupt unbelievers with error. Let us cleave to the truth of the gospel, that we may not be counted by God as part of the corporation of fallen angels, and not be barely reckoned as enemies of God, but in league with the greatest enemy to His glory in the world.
2. The Reconciler of the world will be the Subduer of Satan. The God of peace sent the Prince of peace to be the restorer of His rights, and the hammer to beat in pieces the usurper of them. As a God of truth, He will make good His promise; as a God of peace, He will perfect the design His wisdom hath laid and begun to act. In the subduing Satan, He will be the conqueror of His instruments. He saith not, God shall bruise your troublers and heretics, but Satan. The fall of a general proves the rout of the army. Since God, as a God of peace, hath delivered His own, He will perfect the victory, and make them cease from bruising the heel of His spiritual seed.
3. Divine evangelical truth shall be victorious. No weapon formed against it shall prosper; the head of the wicked shall fall as low as the feet of the godly. The devil never yet blustered in the world but he met at last with a disappointment. His fall hath been like lightning, sudden, certain, vanishing.
4. Faith must look back as far as the foundation-promise, “The God of peace shall bruise,” etc. The apostle seems to allude to the first promise—a promise that hath vigour to nourish the Church in all ages of the world. It is the standing cordial; out of the womb of this promise all the rest have taken their birth. The promises of the Old Testament were designed for those under the New, and full performance of them is to be expected, and will be enjoyed by them. It is a mighty strengthening to faith to trace the footsteps of God’s truth and wisdom from the threatening against the serpent in Eden to the bruise he received on Calvary and the triumph over him upon Mount Olivet.
5. We are to confide in the promise of God, but leave the season of its accomplishment to His wisdom. He will bruise Satan under your feet, therefore do not doubt it; and shortly, therefore wait for it. Shortly it will be done, that is, quickly, when you think it may be a great way off; or shortly, that is, seasonably, when Satan’s rage is hottest. God is the best judge of the seasons of distributing His own mercies, and darting out His own glory. It is enough to encourage our waiting, that it will be, and that it will be shortly; but we must not measure God’s shortly by our minutes.—Charnock.
Romans 16:21.—Timothy and Sosipater with St. Paul at Corinth, where he wrote this epistle. Lucius perhaps St. Luke.
Romans 16:22.—Tertius, a secretary with a Roman name to write to Romans.
Romans 16:23.—Gains, said to be the first bishop of Thessalonica; but it is a recurring name like Lucius. We need not attempt to attach it to any person, nor make it a cause of perplexity. Quartus a Roman name. Erastus the quæstor of the city, probably Corinth.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 16:21-24
St. Paul’s honesty.—Romans 16:20 concludes with a benediction, and Romans 16:24 repeats the same benediction. This is not according to the usual style of this epistle; therefore, apart from manuscript evidence, we may conclude that Romans 16:24 is spurious. If not, the repetition shows the intensity of St. Paul’s affection and his high estimate of the need of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We should recognise the need of divine grace. Theophylact says as he began so he ends with prayer. Let all our works be begun, continued, and ended in prayer, that thus we may glorify God’s holy name, and finally by His mercy obtain everlasting life.
I. St. Paul’s honesty.—Some people’s conception of honesty is simply that of rendering legal dues. The man who is honest under compulsion is not honest. Opportunity makes the thief; and the man who does not steal simply because there is not an opportunity, or because he is afraid of consequent disclosures, is not honest. There are many so-called Christians whose conception of honesty is erroneous, at least the conception judged by the practice. What shall we make of the honesty of him who arrogates to himself all the glory of some religious or philanthropic enterprise, and has no meed of praise for his “workfellow”? “Timotheus my workfellow” would by many be passed over in silence. “Timotheus my workfellow!” Quite true; but what could he have done without Paul? I have the pluck and the genius! Timotheus—well, a good sort of fellow enough in his way. Sufficient honour to him that he worked under my leadership. St. Paul’s honesty is to give honour to whom honour is due, to bestow praise where it is due with unsparing hand. He is honest in his fair dealing with the amanuensis. Tertius, who wrote this epistle, is allowed an honourable place. Tertius could not expect much from his writings. It was not a lucrative profession in those days. In fact, theological literature seldom pays even in these Christian times. St. Paul, who dictated the finest epistle of time, and Tertius who wrote, did not receive any emolument: their reward is on high; their treasure is in the heavens. Noble Paul! Worthy Tertius! Better to have written the Epistle to the Romans than the best-paying production of modern literature. Neither St. Paul nor Tertius would have been able to form a successful literary syndicate. They had too many brains to trade on the brains of others. Their moral purpose was too high to let them be mere intellectual sweaters. Neither Paul nor Tertius found a literary Mæcenas. The strains of Virgil and of Horace secured the recovery of lands and a fruitful farm in the Sabine country. The strains of St. Paul secured martyrdom. If Tertius had lived in the Augustine age of Roman literature, he would not have been welcomed at the Roman court. What matters it if Augustus despise, if Mæcenas ignore, if Nero persecute, if moderns scorn, so long as conscience approves. The age is benefited, and the plaudit of heaven is secured.
II. St. Paul’s acknowledgment of hospitality.—“Gaius mine host, and of the whole Church, saluteth you.” St. Paul did not think that his moral life and courteous demeanour were a sufficient compensation for the hospitality of Gaius. It is amusing how much some people take for granted. They appear to think that the world is made for them, and cannot do too much for their selfish individualism. “Gaius mine host.” When they were to depart, Gaius made them (the Christian pilgrims) a feast, and they did eat and drink and were merry. Now the hour was come that they must be gone, wherefore Mr. Greatheart called for a reckoning; but Gaius told him that at his house it was not the custom for pilgrims to pay for their entertainment. He boarded them by the year, but looked for his pay from the good Samaritan, who had promised him at his return whatsoever charge he was at with them faithfully to repay him. Then said Mr. Greatheart to him: “Beloved, thou dost faithfully whatsoever thou dost to the brethren and to strangers, which have borne witness of thy charity before the Church, whom if thou yet bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well.” The Greatheart of St. Paul was gladdened by the hospitality of “Gaius mine host,” and he has been amply repaid by the good Samaritan.
III. St. Paul’s estimate of officialism.—Adulation is not Paul’s characteristic. He is not seen running after and bowing down to the city chamberlain. The gold chains and the purple garments of a state official do not exert an irresistible influence over St. Paul’s nature. Imagine St. Paul preparing a great sermon to be delivered before the mayor and corporation of Corinth! St. Paul respectfully acknowledges Erastus as the chamberlain of the city, but he uses no flattering adjectival epithets. Erastus the chamberlain stands on the same plane as Quartus, a brother. Erastus the chamberlain does not stand so high as “the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.” Erastus the chamberlain perhaps laboured much in the state, and was made a state dignitary. The Guildhall was open for his reception. But St. Paul does not enlarge on the great honour conferred on the new Christian religion by the adherence of Erastus the chamberlain. It is not Erastus who confers honour on Christianity, but Christianity confers honour on Erastus. The honour that cometh from God is the highest and only enduring. Let us seek to labour much in the Lord.
“Work on, work on, nor doubt, nor fear,
From age to age this voice shall cheer:
Whate’er may die or be forgot,
Work done for God it dieth not.”
Romans 16:22. Tertius, the amanuensis.—“One Paul, a travelling preacher, has written a treatise which will never perish”: such an assertion made in Corinth in the year 58 of our era would have provoked incredulous laughter. Even the apostle himself would have smiled at the suggestion that countless ordinary folk and many scholars in distant ages would study his writings. Although Phœbe, who carried the letter, regarded it as sacred, she knew not that she ministered to the nineteenth century. The Christian faith is enveloped in miracle. Our holy books have had fortunes almost as extraordinary as their contents, for though they were composed to meet some need that was then pressing, their interest is perennial, and they have been copied word by word and letter by letter by innumerable scribes who passed them on and on until they came into our hands. This “passing on” is characteristic of the true religion itself. And further, this gospel of universal importance—this onward marching thing—is always accompanied by illustrations of its beneficent might. There is a Tertius always at hand. Deliverance is proclaimed by freedmen: in truth the gospel is the unfolding of the experience of those who have welcomed Christ. Paul and Tertius write, and Phœbe carries, truths inscribed on the tablets of their hearts. The epistle was a life before it was a record. It is God’s method to make converts by means of converts, and always to ensure that His messages concerning the Physician shall be conveyed by such as can give personal testimony to the Physician’s kindliness and skill, for Christ’s truth cannot be effectually disseminated apart from the presence of Christ’s men. Is Tertius to be censured as intrusive for making mention of himself? The appearance of the personal element is valuable, and sometimes it may even be conspicuous without offence to humility. As a witness, it is never impertinent. It is proper for Tertius, the scribe, to show himself, for he is an instance in point, and has something to say which is important to a right decision. He has a right to lift his head and say, “Amen!”
I. The dwelling-place.—Tertius dwelt “in the Lord.” A careless glance at a man catches only the sight of a material frame and physical relations, but looking with a little more attention you see a soul encompassed by sorrows, joys, doubts, convictions, and busied perhaps with the interests of family, church, nation. Ambitions, lusts, ideals, make many kinds of worlds. How diverse, and in some cases how small, the spheres in which men live! “Where dwellest thou?” is a cardinal question; where the treasure is there will the heart be also. Living in a luxurious and vicious city, it is quite likely that some six years before he sat writing at Paul’s dictation Tertius may have known only the swine’s world; so that afterwards he understood very vividly those sentences read in the congregation to which he belonged—those sentences referring to revelry and devilry, which close with the congratulation, “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified.” There had been a resurrection unto Christ. I am “in the Lord.” Although the statement has a mystic sound, there should be no complaint on that account, seeing that the true religion must include all noble elements, and must create conditions which need a novel dress as well as some that can be fitly clad in familiar raiment. We sit at Christ’s feet, and yet we are more than pupils, for we are “in Him.” He sends us on errands, and yet we “abide in Him.” Yes, He drew us up into Himself—into His great life. Tertius has found refuge and home in Him who is eternal love. Individuality, instead of being absorbed and lost, becomes more definite and complicated as intellect, conscience, and heart are nourished by the Life indeed. To be in Christ is to begin to realise the significance of the union of the branches with the Vine. It is to be in safety and peace though in the world there may be tribulation. It is to be in fellowship with that compassion which cared for the poor, that wrath which scathed hypocrisy, that prayerfulness which was ever mindful of God, that truth and justice and love which once were condensed into the divine manful history which struck the true keynote for humanity’s song. Christ—what a realm of redeeming and educating forces the capacious name suggests! “It hath pleased the Father that in Him all fulness should dwell.” Tertius, living in the vast world called Christ, dates his work from that abode. The poor man, who a short time since was a Corinthian heathen dwelling in some foul night on which God could look only with condemnation and painful pity, gives us this description of his residence—“in the Lord.” This honour have all the saints, for the phrase on which we dwell occurs scores of times elsewhere in connection with Christians widely apart so far as nationality, character, and knowledge were concerned. Tertius was admitted to some of Christ’s aims and plans, and there ran through the convert’s mind, feeling, and will a current of Christ’s life.
II. Reflect upon the service Tertius rendered.—It might have been irksome to occupy hour after hour in putting down those separate strokes and curves, but the persons for whom we labour, and the objects to be secured, may charm drudgery into a delight. The mood is a magician. Common sounds were music on the day that love was reciprocated, and no cloud could hide the shining sun. We were fenced round from annoyances and saw good in everything. While intrinsically noble engagements are a weariness unless coloured by some affection, tasks otherwise dreary are invested with beauty when associated with persons that are dear. For Paul—beloved for his own sake and for the heaven which was opened by his gospel—it was pleasant to leave ordinary business and to write all day. In the great day there will be wonderful surprise to countless helpers of mankind who have never seen Jesus at the head of their philanthropic enterprises, and to kindly hearts that have never supposed Him to be in the hungry whom they have fed and the oppressed whom they have delivered. They will make a wondrous discovery as they hear Christ’s generous commendations. Tertius writes “in the Lord,” and aids an apostle to get his thoughts circulated throughout the world. The dependence of the great upon the small, how common that is, and how impressive! The artist asks the guidance of a rustic; poets, philosophers, statesmen, are indebted to lowly craftsmen for the publication of their fancies, speculations, and plans. The great admiral is rowed by a common sailor to the ship which is to lead the fleet to victory. The soul of Paul utilises the skill Tertius acquired in his pre-Christian days, a fact reminding us that the employment of common powers is almost or quite as necessary as the exercise of distinguished ability. How often it happens that men who could be public benefactors are chained by circumstances which men of a different order could easily break if they possessed public spirit! What a glorification of lower powers and persons is here exhibited! Penmanship is caught up into the service of Paul’s Spirit-instructed mind: what honour for the simple acquirement! We wonder at the dignity conferred on the brain substances when they are used as the instruments of a soul that shapes far-reaching plans, and is alive with human and divine love; spirit admitting matter to partnership endows it with new virtues, gives it wider influence, and dyes the temporal thing with eternal colours; similarly a holy cause sanctifies and lifts into nobler realms of power men and talents that without it would be of poor account. Tertius becomes a clerk in God’s office, and writes despatches from the heaven in which he dwells. “Did the amanuensis get any blessing in the task he performed?” is not an inquiry which will be made by you who have found God’s truths to open up their preciousness to your own hearts whilst you have striven to make them known. Though he made no bargain, doubtless Tertius was blessed in his deed, for he heard the music that he played for the ears of strangers. Tertius was scarcely the same man after climbing the mountains of truth with Paul. To see those thoughts taking shape was like being present at the creation of a planet. We linger a little longer to note the love of Tertius for men far away. “I, Tertius, greet you.” The love of God is mingled with the love of man, and God’s Bible truths come rich with human sympathies. The Lord’s servants are neither machines nor postmen, seeing that they bring in friendliness a divinely friendly gospel; nor can the message of the living God of love be uttered by unloving lips. Tertius puts the thread of his own love into the cord that binds man to God and man to man. We greet the children of God far away—our kin who should know our Saviour, shelter beneath His cross, and receive the gifts of the Holy Ghost. They belong to us. If they are saints, we greet them as fellow-heirs of the grace of Christ; if they are ignorant, cruel, deceived, hopeless, befouled, we greet them still, and entreat them to receive redemptive advantages. We are their debtors, and owe to them the glad tidings. If God wills to communicate with them, we will write the letter and inscribe therein the testimony of our own good-will, assured that the Father will not erase the greeting. The things of least intrinsic worth involve few incentives to brotherly beneficence, whereas those of highest value invoke all generous sympathies. God’s noblest benefactions are never dumb, nor can they be selfishly entertained, for they refuse to stay with any recipient who will not ask for company in listening to their strains. If we would keep the sounds from passing to other ears, the music ceases.—W. J. Henderson.
Romans 16:20-24. A fortifying and enduring force.—As we read St. Paul’s not infrequent form of benediction, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all,” we have about it a feeling of reality. If some men were to use the form, we should feel that it was inappropriate, because it did not seem to harmonise with their nature. We cannot use such expressions gracefully and fittingly, because we have not a deep, true feeling of religion. What is the religion of most but a mere surface affair? Is there any depth about it? In any practical sense does it appear to us to be the real good for life? Do we feel that to have the good-will of Christ towards us is better than to have the good-will of the great and noble of this world? How much trouble we take to obtain the good-will of those who occupy influential positions; and yet how languid is our zeal, how scanty our efforts, when the good-will of Jesus Christ is concerned?
I. The good-will of Christ is a fortifying force.—Surely not without good reason does St. Paul pray for the favour of Christ to be with His people at the close of his reference to the great adversary Satan, and in connection with his warning against those who wrongfully cause divisions. The grace of Christ only can successfully strengthen. Those in whom the grace of Christ effectually dwells, those who inhabit this strong tower of divine grace, are blessedly safe. Satan may hurl his missiles against the tower, but they only rebound. False teachers may try their delusive words, but gracious souls cling to the true doctrine. They are wise and strong unto that which is good, but simple, innocent, and pure concerning evil. If we would be strong, it must be in and by the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.
II. The grace of Christ is a uniting force.—It is by the love and favour of Christ that we are united to Christ; and it is as we are united to Christ that we are united to one another. All the branches united to the vine constitute one plant. They are one with the vine and with one another. And so the members of Christ are members of one another. Salutations are abundantly scattered through this closing chapter. The love and favour of Paul run through every verse; but he seems to feel that this is not sufficient, and says all must be united by the grace of Christ. Shall we be surprised at the appearance of these forms so close together? Shall we say there is some error? Shall we not rather say that St. Paul strongly felt the necessity of Christ’s favour? And if we are to be firmly and sweetly united, it must be by the binding power of the favour of our Lord Jesus Christ.
III. The favour of Christ is an exalting force.—Sometimes we seek the favour of great men, that by their influence we may be raised, in our turn, to positions of honour and influence. We play the toady, and our acting meets with neither applause nor emolument. We are something like those poor actors that are hissed from the stage; and the sadness of it is that the hissing comes from our own disappointed hearts. Christ’s favour is life; and life in this sense means, not mere existence, but plenitude of existence, fulness of blessing, exaltation in the largest sense. Oh, what vastness of significance in the prayer, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all”!
IV. The favour of Christ is an enduring quality.—Does St. Paul repeat the prayer because he is afraid that the grace may be withdrawn? By no means. “Christ is the same yesterday and to day and for ever.” His grace is continuous. We may withdraw ourselves from its benign influence. The sweet sun of the Saviour’s grace is shining through the clouds we have formed by our unbelief, or our sins envelop us in dismal darkness. Let us abide in the sunlight. Let us answer apostolic prayers, our own prayers, by keeping our natures open to the reception of Christ’s grace. Oh to be in the grace of Jesus Christ! Oh to feel the fortifying, uniting, exalting, and enduring qualities of our Saviour’s condescending favour!
Romans 16:25-27.—Editors are divided as to the position of the doxology, but its genuineness is substantiated by external and internal evidence. This concluding sentence contains the kernel of the doctrine of the whole epistle. The way for this evangelical revelation had been quietly prepared by the prophetical Scriptures. According to Bengel’s comparison, there was in the Old Testament the silent movement of the hands of a clock, but it sounded forth the hour with an audible voice in the gospel. In Romans 16:25-26 St. Paul speaks of a purpose hidden, now revealed and made known. Bishop Lightfoot says that the idea of secrecy or reserve disappears when μυστήριον is adopted into the Christian vocabulary by St. Paul; and the word signifies simply a truth which was once hidden, but now is revealed—a truth which, without special revelation, would have been unknown. Of the nature of the truth itself the word says nothing. It may be transcendental, mystical, incomprehensible, mysterious, in the modern sense of the term; but this idea is quite accidental, and must be gathered from the special circumstances of the case.
Romans 16:27. The only wise God.—This, as the fathers’ note, cannot exclude the divine nature of Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of the Father, from this title, any more than those words “who only hath immortality” excludes Christ from being immortal.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Romans 16:25-27
“The only wise God.”—Plato calls God Mens. Cleanthus used to call God Reason, and Socrates thought the title of Σοφός too magnificent to be attributed to anything else but God alone. Wisdom is the property of God alone. He is only wise. It is an honour peculiar to Him. Upon this account, that no man deserved the title of wise, but that it was a royalty belonging to God, Pythagoras would not be called Σοφός, a title given to their learned men, but φιλόσοφος. The name “philosopher” arose out of a respect to this transcendent perfection of God. God is wise, but wisdom does not convey to the mind the complete conception of a God. If wisdom be the choice of worthy ends and of the best means to accomplish them, then there must be the superadded notion of power. Wisdom would be naked without power to act, while power would be useless without wisdom to guide. Wisdom and power are the two essential attributes of the divine nature. The apostle therefore rightly joins the two conceptions. To Him that is of power—to the only wise God.
I. God is the only wise originally.—Human wisdom is not an original but an acquired endowment. One man is born with more brain power than another, and yet wisdom is not a birth gift, but an after-development. Many men with great brain power have great lack of wisdom. Our ripest wisdom is the product of our richest experience, oftentimes the result of repeated failures. Man is wise after the event. Wisdom fails when looking into the future. And yet man in his vanity presumes to arraign the wisdom of God. The rays of the sun are not original, but derived; and those rays upbraid the sun because he is not doing his appointed work more perfectly. The common soldier has physical force and seldom mental power. He could no more direct an army than the wisest general could manage the planetary system; and yet that soldier is glib enough in saying how the general ought to have managed. Foolish man can lay down laws and rules for the only wise God. He is the spring of wisdom to all and in all. The instinct of the cunning insect and the wisdom of a philosopher are derived from the wisdom of the All-wise.
II. God is the only wise essentially.—Wisdom is not an essential attribute of humanity. It is an attribute too often conspicuous by its absence. The vast majority of men possess neither knowledge nor wisdom. Knowledge has increased in the earth, but there has not been a corresponding increase of wisdom. Some men appear to be so weighed down and oppressed by their knowledge that there is not space and atmosphere for the growth and exercise of wisdom. Our knowledge is the slow accumulation of years of toil, and in the process wisdom is not being evolved. God does not waste the bloom and freshness of His everlasting years in seeking to know. The divine knowledge is intuitive. There are to the divine mind no arcana. The mysteries hidden in the divine breast are not mysteries to the divine nature. He would not be a perfect God if He were not complete in knowledge, in wisdom to make the right use of knowledge, and in power to carry out the behests of wisdom.
III. God is the only wise unchangeably.—Change is the striking characteristic of humanity. While many men are seldom wise, no man is wise at all hours. We only wish we were. Memory is a sad book to read, as it relates the story of our many follies. The backward look of life is depressing, for the pathway is strewn with the ruins caused by our lack of wisdom. Our wisdom has been wanting when most needful, and our wise purposes have been broken off because of the lack of power. There can be no depressing backward looks to the divine mind. Wisdom never fails. The Lord possessed wisdom in the beginning of His way to the human aspect, before His works of old. Divine wisdom was set up from everlasting, from the beginning or ever the earth was. And God can never say, My purposes have been broken off for lack of power.
IV. God is the only wise effectually.—Abortive plans and purposes strew our pathway. Our Babel towers end in confusion. Our strutting monarchs grovel with the beasts. Broken hearts are too oft the result of our unattainable ideals. Where is the complete life that has seen sublime visions and has had power to work out the dreams effectually and successfully? God would not be omnipotent were He capable of forming a purpose and yet incapable of bringing that purpose to a successful issue. His wisdom in the conception of a planet where there should be variety, beauty, the fitness of every creature for its use, the subordination of one creature to another, and the joint concurrence of all to one common end, has been successfully worked out. A ruined planet is a magnificent testimony to the effectual wisdom of God. The splendour of the ruins speaks of the splendour of the primitive structure. God’s wisdom and power are not at fault because the earth temple has been despoiled and left in a state of disrepair. The proper time was not come; the planet will not always wander through space disconsolately. God’s wisdom and power will touch even material things into glorious order, beauty, and harmony. God’s wisdom in the conception of a kingdom where all should be peace, joy, and righteousness has been so far successfully worked out—so far; for the conception has not been fully evolved. God’s wisdom in the conception of a redemptive scheme whereby nations should be made obedient to the faith has been effectual. Christianity has the highest moral standard; and Christians have walked on the highest moral plane. The Christian Church, notwithstanding its many drawbacks, in spite of all its adversaries may assert, is a noble testimony for the wisdom of God.
V. God is the only wise progressively.—His wise plans and purposes are unfolding and evidencing more of their beauty and harmony as the ages advance. The moral light which dawned on the darkened Eden has been shining more and more through all time’s dispensations; and onward the orb of light will move and unfold its radiance until the perfect day of complete divine disclosures. The gospel arcanum was published in paradise, but in such words as Adam did not fully understand; it was both discovered and clouded in the smoke of the sacrifices; it was wrapped up in a veil under the law, but not opened till the death of the Redeemer; it was then plainly said to the cities of Judah: Behold, your God comes. The revelation of the mystery is advancing; clearer light shines on the upper pathway; the completed revelation will redound to the glory of the divine wisdom.
VI. God is the only wise gloriously.—“To God the only wise be glory through Jesus Christ for ever.” Day unto day uttereth speech of the divine glory. Dispensation after dispensation brilliantly proclaims the divine wisdom. “Glory to God in the highest” was the strain sung at the Saviour’s advent. “Glory to God in the highest” will be the strain sung in fuller measure when Jesus shall see of the full travail of His soul, and is satisfied—when all the redemptive plan of the divine wisdom is revealed in full-orbed splendour. The strains how full and sweet—full as the sound of many waters, sweet as the notes sent forth by the skilful harpers harping on well-tuned instruments—when the universal Church shall surround the throne of the eternal Wisdom—when all the angels stand round about the throne, and exhort the elders and the four beasts, and shall fall as one united throng before the throne on their faces, and shall worship God, saying: “Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.”
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON Romans 16:27
Creatures without a known end demonstrate God’s wisdom.—The creatures working for an end, without their own knowledge, demonstrate the wisdom of God that guides them. All things in the world work for some end; the ends are unknown to them, though many of their ends are visible to us. As there was some prime Cause which by His power inspired them with their several instincts, so there must be some supreme wisdom which moves and guides them to their end. As their being manifests His power that endowed them, so the acting, according to the rules of their nature, which they themselves understand not, manifests His wisdom in directing them; everything that acts for an end must know that end, or be directed by another to attain that end. The arrow doth not know who shoots it, or to what end it is shot, or what mark is aimed at; but the archer that puts it in and darts it out of the bow knows. A watch hath a regular motion, but neither the spring nor the wheels that move know the end of their motion; no man will judge a wisdom to be in the watch, but in the artificer that disposed the wheels and spring by a joint combination to produce such a motion for such an end. Doth either the sun that enlivens the earth, or the earth that travails with the plant, know what plant it produceth in such a soil, what temper it should be of, what fruit it should bear, and of what colour? What plant knows its own medicinal qualities, its own beautiful flowers, and for what use they are ordained? When it strikes up its head from the earth doth it know what proportion of them there will be? Yet it produceth all these things in a state of ignorance. The sun warms the earth, concocts the humours, excites the virtue of it, and cherishes the seeds which are cast into her lap, yet all unknown to the sun or the earth. Since therefore that nature, that is the immediate cause of those things, doth not understand its own quality nor operation, nor the end of its action, that which thus directs them must be conceived to have an infinite wisdom. When things act by a rule they know not, and move for an end they understand not, and yet work harmoniously together for one end that all of them, we are sure, are ignorant of, it mounts up our minds to acknowledge the wisdom of that supreme Cause that hath ranged all these inferior causes in their order, and imprinted upon them the laws of their motions, according to the idea in His own mind, who orders the rule by which they act, and the end for which they act, and directs every motion according to their several natures, and therefore is possessed with infinite wisdom in His own nature. God is the fountain of all wisdom in the creatures, and therefore is infinitely wise Himself. As He hath a fulness of being in Himself, because the streams of being are derived to other things from Him, so He hath a fulness of wisdom, because He is the spring of wisdom to angels and men. That Being must be infinitely wise whence all other wisdom derives its original, for nothing can be in the effect which is not eminently in the cause; the cause is always more perfect than the effect. If, therefore, the creatures are wise, the Creator must be much more wise; if the Creator were destitute of wisdom, the creature would be much more perfect than the Creator. If you consider the wisdom of the spider in her web, which is both her house and net; the artifice of the bee in her comb, which is both her chamber and her granary; the provision of the pismire in her repositories for corn,—the wisdom of the Creator is illustrated by them: whatsoever excellency you see in any creature is an image of some excellency in God. The skill of the artificer is visible in the fruits of his art; a workman transcribes his spirit in the work of his hands; but the wisdom of rational creatures, as men, doth more illustrate it. All arts among men are the rays of divine wisdom shining upon them, and by a common gift of the Spirit enlightening their minds to curious inventions, as Proverbs 8:12, “I, Wisdom, find out the knowledge of witty inventions”—that is, I give a faculty to men to find them out; without my wisdom all would be buried in darkness and ignorance. Whatsoever wisdom there is in the world, it is but a shadow of the wisdom of God, a small rivulet derived from Him, a spark leaping out from uncreated wisdom: “He created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and makes the instruments” (Isaiah 54:16). The skill to use those weapons in warlike enterprises is from Him: “I have created the waster to destroy.” It is not meant of creating their persons, but communicating to them their art; He speaks it there to expel fear from the Church of all warlike preparations against them. He had given men the skill to form and use weapons, and could as well strip them of it and defeat their purposes. The art of husbandry is a fruit of divine teaching (Isaiah 28:24-25). If those lower kinds of knowledge that are common to all nations and easily learned by all are discoveries of divine wisdom, much more the nobler sciences intellectual and political wisdom: “He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding” (Daniel 2:21); speaking of the more abstruse parts of knowledge, “The inspiration of the Almighty gives understanding” (Job 32:8). Every man’s soul is endowed more or less with those noble qualities. The soul of every man exceeds that of a brute; if the streams be so excellent, the fountain must be fuller and clearer. The first Spirit must infinitely more possess what other spirits derive from Him by creation; were the wisdom of all the angels in heaven and men on earth collected in one spirit, it must be infinitely less than that what is in the spring, for no creature can be equal to the Creator. As the highest creature already made, or that we can conceive may be made, by infinite power would be infinitely below God in the notion of a creature, so it would be infinitely below God in the notion of wise.—Charnock.
God’s works represent Him.—As a beam of light passing through a chink in a wall, of what figure soever, always forms a circle on the place where it is reflected, and by that describes the image of its original, the sun, thus God in every one of His works represents Himself. But the union of all the parts by such strong and secret bands is a more pregnant proof of His omnipotent mind. Is it a testimony of great military skill to range an army, composed of divers nations that have great antipathies between them, in that order which renders it victorious in battle? And is it not a testimony of infinite providence to dispose all the hosts of heaven and earth so as they join successfully for the preservation of nature?… Sophocles was accused by his ungrateful sons, that his understanding being declined with his age, he was unfit to manage the affairs of his family; he made no other defence before the judges, but recited part of a tragedy newly composed by him, and left it to their decision whether there was a failure in his intellectual faculties, upon which he was not only absolved, but crowned with praises.—Bates.
Excellence of this epistle.—Ancient and divine are the gospel tidings of our salvation. Delightfully they harmonise with the types and predictions of the Old Testament. And their offers and blessings graciously extend to all nations of mankind, and by the Holy Ghost are made effectual to some of all ranks and degrees. With what faith and love ought they, then, to be received, submitted to, obeyed, and practised. And infinite is the glory that redounds to God, from this His wonderful work of our salvation.—John Brown of Haddington.
Thus endeth the apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans; a writing which, for brevity and strength of expression, for regularity in its structure, but, above all, for the unspeakable importance of the discoveries which it contains, stands unrivalled by any mere human composition; and as far exceeds the most celebrated productions of the learned Greeks and Romans, as the shining of the sun exceedeth the twinkling of the stars.—Macknight.
It is related of Melancthon, by his contemporary Mylius, that he was constantly engaged in explaining the Epistle to the Romans, which he was accustomed to regard as the key to the whole Scriptures. And that he might more thoroughly understand its doctrines, and more fully investigate its scope and signification, he expounded this epistle, both orally and in writing, more frequently than any other part of the New Testament. It is said, also, that in his youth he often wrote out this epistle, as Demosthenes wrote out Thucydides.—Professor Tholuck.
Like a wall of adamant, St. Paul’s writings form a bulwark around all the Churches of the world; while he himself, as some mighty champion, stands even now in the midst, casting down every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.—Chrysostom.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Romans 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29