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I commend unto you Phebe.
Phebe of Cenchrea
1. Cenchrea was a thriving sea-port town about eight miles from Corinth, from which the Corinthian commerce was carried on with the East. Thence Paul had sailed for Jerusalem on a former occasion, and had established a Church there. Phebe, travelling westward, would pass through Corinth, and embark from the opposite shore at Lechaeum, whence ships sailed for Italy.
2. There are indications that she was a person of considerable influence, and even wealth. She had “business” on which it was necessary to travel to the capital. She was “a succourer of many”; and the original word implies the ideas which we connect with patronage and protection. Add to this that she was probably a widow, since only in that character could she have travelled so independently.
3. Her Christian character is very distinctly brought out. The apostle guarantees this when he calls her “our sister.” The Roman brethren may receive her with perfect confidence as one with them “in the Lord.” At Cenchrea she was not only a recognised member, but an active and useful “servant of the Church.” Many would translate, “a deaconess.” The letter of Pliny to the Emperor Trajan, written early in the second century, speaks of two Christian women, “who were called ministers,” having been examined by torture. This looks as if a female order of some kind existed in the Churches of Asia Minor at that time. In the New Testament itself, besides this passage, the only similar indications are in 1 Timothy 3:11, where for wives some would read women, i.e., women deacons; and Titus 2:3. But these are too vague to sustain any very definite conclusion. The probable fact is that there was no actual order of deaconesses, but that wherever a Christian woman showed capacity and enjoyed sufficient leisure, she was joyfully accepted as a fellow-labourer. She would do such work as elders and deacons failed to do so well, or could not do at all, and perhaps would be entrusted with the relief of the poor. A glorious sphere is opened by the gospel to women. Those of them who are without domestic ties may find a place in the very van of the Christian army. In the most dangerous districts of Paris, in India and China, English ladies labour with a devotedness and a success never exceeded by the stronger sex. Without neglecting her home, the matron may have her class or district, and shed a heavenly influence round. The cry for woman’s rights finds its best satisfaction here. Happy are those Churches where the gentler gifts and graces set themselves to the sterner qualities of the other.
4. Phebe, then, is about to sail for Rome, and will arrive a stranger in the mighty metropolis. Paul asks that the necessary attentions may be bestowed on her.
I. He puts his request in a very practical form The errand on which she goes is one connected probably with law. Now a foreigner would be at a terrible disadvantage. She might readily become a victim of some unprincipled practitioner. Bribery or intimidation might be used against her. “Assist her,” therefore, is Paul’s entreaty to the brethren. Make her cause your own. Counsel her as to the wisest procedure to adopt, and see that she is not wronged. Would that our sentiments were reduced to this form. It is comparatively easy to give alms, and kind words, and prayers. What is often most wanted is a little trouble. Here, for instance, is a man in want of a situation; can we not procure one for him? There is a sick woman without medical attention; can we not provide it? Here some young man is beginning business; how much would a little sound advice be worth to him!
II. Consider the mutual character which is to distinguish our Christian friendship. Phebe had done nothing for the brethren at Rome. Why, then, should they be summoned to her side? Because she has helped others. Now let her be helped in turn. The cup of cold water is to go round from hand to hand. Some fainting brother seeks your counsel or comfort. Do not refuse him; your own turn will soon come. Or perhaps your turn has come. Take freely what your friends offer; you will have ample opportunity to repay it. For there is a freemasonry in the kingdom of Christ which we should never fail to recognise.
III. All our attentions to one another are to spring from our allegiance to Christ. “Receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints.” There ought to be a certain characteristic warmth and unction in Christian kindness, distinguishing it from all other. How should we welcome our King, if He Himself landed on our shores, and came to our house-doors, and sought our hospitality, or desired our aid? So are we to receive and succour one another. (W. Brock.)
Phebe, a true sister of mercy
I. Her commendation.
1. A servant of the Church.
2. A succourer of many.
3. Especially of the apostle.
4. Prompted not by fee or reward, but by faith and love.
II. Her recommendation.
1. By inspired authority.
2. To the Church in Rome as worthy of help.
3. In everything.
III. Her credentials and claims.
1. The Epistle which she bore.
2. The general rule of Christian charity. It becometh saints to help such. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Phebe’s Church certificate
We discover in this letter of commendation--
I. A practical exhibition of true theological greatness. All are bound to confess that the apostle had a mind of the highest type. In this letter he had gone into deeps and soared to heights of thought over-whelmingly solemn and grand. Yet, notwithstanding this, he comes down to write a certificate of the character of a pious woman, who belonged to a little Church. He was not one of those theologians who consider it almost beneath them to be courteous and kind to the private Church members. Nor was he one of those who scarcely condescend to notice anything in people but their beliefs; he notices the kindness and the social usefulness of this woman. Theology must not be substituted for kindness; nay, the theology which does not make us amiable is not the theology of the gospel.
II. A recognition of the principle of Christian communism. The language of this Church certificate implies--
1. Common relationship. “Our sister.” The universal Church is a family of which Christ is the head.
2. Common service. The service which she had rendered in Cenehrea was of interest to those good people in Rome. You have a son in some distant part; a friend of his calls upon you with a letter from him, introducing him to your confidence and regard; in that letter you are told that the bearer had rendered signal service to your son more than once; will not love for the writer induce you to regard the service as done to yourself, and to treat the bearer as your friend? It should be so in the Church.
3. Common principle. “As it becometh saints.” Saints profess to be concerned for the good of their fellow-men--not their own. Act becoming that. Saints profess to love all those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. Act worthy of that, etc.
III. An instance of the power of one humble individual to render signal services to a whole community. In the Apostolic Church there were female officers, deaconesses, whose work was to minister to the necessities of the saints (1 Timothy 5:10); and if ever they were needed it is now. The men are so absorbed in business that in most cases they can only be mere nominal officers. Why should there not be appointed in every Church women who, being free from the pressure of secular engagements, can devote their time and energies to works of usefulness? We do not know how Phebe “succoured Paul”; but we see that a humble woman could inspire an apostle. Every person has some power of usefulness, and should use his talent.
IV. An illustration of the advantages of Christian excellence even in this world. In this case--
1. It secured the approval of Paul. Perhaps, as now, many sneered at or misrepresented this woman as she toiled on in works of usefulness; but Paul observed her.
2. It secured from the apostle an introduction to the good. What a blessing was this! Better have the sympathy of one noble soul, than the hosannas of thoughtless millions.
V. An intimation of the duty of the Church to regard the secular claims of its members. “That ye assist her,” i.e. Paul wishes to excite the same interest towards her as he felt himself. We are commanded to “bear one another’s burdens,” etc., because secular anxiety is--
1. A temptation.
3. A hindrance to usefulness.
VI. A suggestion as to the kind of persons that should be recommended from one Church to another. Paul recommended Phebe because of her undoubled excellence and great usefulness. We know, from painful experience, that many “letters of dismission” are empty formalities and tacit falsehoods. Persons are thus introduced from one Church to another, who, instead of being helps are hindrances; who, instead of “succouring” their ministers are their torment. It is time for this imposture to be exposed. Worthless and troublesome members we will dismiss with pleasure to any pastor that applies for them, and the good and valuable, like Phebe, we will cordially recommend. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The conclusion of the Epistle
1. This is scarcely the kind of conclusion that one would have expected. One would have thought that the rapt apostle, having been borne to the loftiest circles of contemplation, would have now flung his inspired pen upon the page he had immortalised. Instead of this, he threads his way into many of the minutest details of Christian life, and concludes his unparalleled effort by blessing many who had lightened his toil.
2. We dare now approach the apostle. While he was pursuing some of the issues of his “great argument,” we could but gaze with fearfulness (Romans 11:33). Now he speaks friendship’s simple and holy word we can better see the man. This summary of friendly reminiscences and fraternal salutatlons--
I. Reveals the true bond of moral unity.
1. Look at the representative character of the list. You have men and women, old and young, prisoners and freemen, apostles of note and persons who are lost in obscurity; men of prudence and of enthusiasm. What is the secret of union between such a community and the solitary apostle? Love. This is the indissoluble bond. Every other tie snaps. Some persons have suggested that Paul was not the most lovable of men. Probably this was so according to the common canons, but so much the worse for the common canons. Paul was a man who made enemies every day, but the man who is most hated is also the man who is most loved. While forty Jews would enter into a vow to kill him, Priscilla and Aquila would lay “down their own necks” to save him from a blow. You could not comprehend this man in one day’s acquaintance. He did not publish a full edition of himself every day. He must be much known to be much loved. Hence the affection of this representative community. They had sat with him by the quiet fireside; in the man-revealing company of little children; they had heard him thrill the vast assembly; they had listened to him praying within their own homes; they had seen him make Felix quake and turn Agrippa pale; and the closeness of their acquaintance explained the depth of their affection.
2. Here is encouragement for all true moral labourers. You may meet with much ingratitude, yet if you truly labour you will come into a large estate of love, and love will do more for us than genius or wealth or prestige.
II. Justifies the employment of both sexes in moral service. Note--
1. The honourable mention which is made of certain beloved sisters; and it is not to be overlooked that they are referred to as directly connected with Church work. Phebe was a deaconess and went to Rome on a Church errand. The apostle’s testimony concerning her is brief, but full of significance. It is as though he had said, When the eye sees her it blesses her. Little children hail her presence as they hail the morning sunshine. Misery dries its eyes when she approaches; she never puts out her hand except to succour the servants of Christ. Priscilla was a “helper in Christ Jesus”; the beloved Persis “laboured much in the Lord”; and Mary “bestowed much labour.” Thus shall the righteous be had in everlasting remembrance. If you ask me whether I object to a woman preaching, I answer, I never object to any woman doing a good thing. Apart from this, however, there is much Church-work which a woman can do much better than a man. At the same time note Titus 2:1-5.
2. The great diversity in their methods of operation. Tryphena and Tryphosa laboured in the Lord; Persis laboured “much” in the Lord. Tryphena and Tryphosa may represent either those who can only do a little, but who do that little with all their heart; or those half-day teachers who could come both times, but prefer not to do so; our attendants who regulate their evangelical zeal by the barometer, and who are now sunny as July, now sullen as November. On the other hand, Persis is always at work; she can never do enough; her godly ambition is never satisfied.
3. That all those persons laboured “in the Lord.” If you ask me whether unconverted persons should teach in the Sabbath School, I answer--Teach what? If the Sabbath School aims to teach the way of salvation, then how can those who do not know that way teach it? How can the man who does not know geometry teach geometry? It is argued that many by so doing have found salvation. I know it. I rejoice in it. At the same time it is a risky experiment. Would you engage a dishonest man to teach your children honesty, in the hope that by so doing he might become conscientious? Would you engage an unskilled man to teach your children music, with the hope that he himself might gain skill through practice? If some teachers have become saved, may not some scholars have been lost, or have received wrong ideas of religion? The school had better be taught by one man who loves Jesus than by a thousand who have only heard of Him.
III. Warrants the exercise of discrimination as to the respective merits of moral labourers. The apostle connects the highest encomium with some names, and only mentions others. As an honest man he entertains different opinions about different people. He loves some, and others he loves very much. Imagine the Church assembled to hear this letter read. To one name there is a compliment, to another none! Amplias is “my beloved in the Lord,” while not a word is said about Philologus or Julia! Andronicus and Junia are “of note among the apostles”; while Nereus and his sister are coldly mentioned without a flower being flung to either of them! Apelles is “approved in Christ”; but not a word is said about Olympas! Think what jealousy might have been fired in the Roman breast! Only grace could overcome the passions under such circumstances. Let us beware of envy. (J. Parker, D.D.)
The conclusion of the Epistle as a revelation of Paul’s character
As, in the main body of the Epistle, Paul appears to have been a very knowing man, so, in these appurtenances of it, he appears to have been a very loving man. (Matthew Henry.)
I. Why should such a catalogue of obscure names find a place in what was intended to be a universal and permanent revelation of the Divine will?
1. It is obvious to remark that if by mentioning them by name was fitted to answer a good end in the Church for whose advantage the Epistle was primarily written, that is a sufficient reason. Such kind remembrances were plainly fitted to knit more closely the bonds of Christian love between them and the apostle, and between him and the as yet unknown members of the Church. To the persons noticed it must have been gratifying and stimulating, and while elevating them in the estimation of their brethren, it enlarged their sphere of useful influence. It must have been felt by all as a compliment to the Church, and have called forth kindly feelings from all toward Paul.
2. But the passage is useful for all time and in all places.
(1) It strongly corroborates the evidence of the genuineness of the Epistle. It could not have occurred to a forger to have introduced such a train of salutations, especially as the author had never been at Rome.
(2) It presents a very lovely picture of living Christianity both in the writer and those whom he greets. We see how well the principles of that religion harmonise with and draw forth all that is amiable and tender in the human constitution; how consistent a deep knowledge of Christianity and an ardent zeal for its progress are with the dignified proprieties of an advanced state of civilisation, and the gentle charities and graceful delicacies of the most refined friendship. These things considered, the passage is a striking illustration of--“All Scripture … is profitable.”
II. How came the apostle to be so intimate with the inhabitants of a city he had never seen? Some suppose that Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2-3; Acts 18:11) had given him much particular information respecting members of the Roman Church. Perhaps so; but the true account seems to have been this. Rome was then the metropolis of the world. There was a constant influx of persons from all quarters of the empire to that city. Paul had now for nearly thirty years been engaged in various parts, and it is not at all wonderful that many of his converts should have taken up their residence in the capital. A man who for thirty years had mixed with society throughout the leading towns of England and Scotland, on visiting London for the first time would be likely to find himself in the midst of friends. Besides the ordinary reasons which make men leave the provinces for the metropolis there was this, that till the imperial persecutions Christians seem to have been safer in Rome than anywhere else. (J. Brown, D.D.)
The change from sustained argument and lofty appeal to these simple greetings is like a descent from the heart of some grand mountain scenery to the levels of a country garden. Note--
I. The particular salutations.
1. The term may be simply equivalent to our own ordinary message of Christian remembrance or regard. In one place, however, it becomes more definite. “Salute one another with a holy kiss.” The kiss was no more than the clasp of the hand among ourselves. But it early acquired a certain specific meaning in the Christian fellowship under the name of “the holy kiss,” “the kiss of charity,” or “the kiss of peace.” It is mentioned by Justin Martyr as a recognised part of the communion-service. The custom remained for centuries as a symbol of reconciliation, and its spirit still survives wherever “brethren dwell together in unity.”
2. There is another mark of primitive times in “the church that is in their house,” “the brethren that are with them.” The Roman believers met, not in one large hall, but in different private houses. Our Epistle would have to travel from one to another till all had opportunities of hearing it. One advantage of this lay in the fact that they would be little likely to catch the eye of the government. Another lay in the homeliness and heartiness which they imparted to the Christian service and life, which, with our more finished organisations, we are very liable to lose. “Where two or three are gathered together,” etc.
3. We have no photographs of those ancient saints, yet as we read we can see them, and catch their look of pleasure as each name is uttered and each greeting received. Shadows they are to the casual reader, but every name represents a separate Christian soul, and usually a vivid phrase of description helps to stamp the name upon the memory.
(1) In one verse is a batch of bare names, all unknown. One wonders what manner of men were these (verse 14).
(2) Here is another list, with a certain sense of domestic life underlying it, but nothing more (verse 15).
(3) Others, again, are marked by a single term of affection or of commendation (verse 9).
(4) But we have wider openings into character in the salutations to those of the household of Aristobulus and Narcissus. Both would have large retinues of slaves, and it is to slaves that the present reference is probably to be applied.
(5) “Salute Herodion my kinsman.” The word is also applied to five others. Had Paul, then, so many Christian cousins? It would be gratifying to believe it, but as he speaks of “My brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,” meaning his fellow-countrymen, no doubt he here addresses Christian Jews.
(6) There is an exquisite touch in the notice of Rufus (verse 13), who has been sometimes identified as the son of Simon the Cyrenian; but the name was common. Who, and what, however, was she who had two claimants on her motherly attention? Perhaps when Paul’s mother had cast him off this Christian lady took in the great friendless man, and treated him like her own Rufus, and made him welcome to her home, as Peter was to Mary’s home in Jerusalem.
(7) Here, again, are glimpses of Christian experience, which would be otherwise unknown to us (verses 5, 7). For “Achaia” in the former passage most of the ancient MSS. have “Asia.” Epenetus then was probably an Ephesian, led to Christ at the time of Paul’s first visit, the firstfruits of his ministry there, and the pledge of all that followed. In Andronicus and Junia we have firstfruits of the gospel during its yet earlier triumphs, while Saul was breathing out slaughter against the name of Jesus. Were they among the “strangers of Rome” converted at Pentecost? It appears so, and as “apostles” in the broader acceptation of the word they were noted for their energy and success. They were “fellow-prisoners” also; the trials as well as the labours of the kingdom they had bravely borne.
(8) The best-known names are Priscilla and Aquila. Comrades, “helpers in Christ Jesus,” at whose side Paul had so often sat stitching the tough hair-cloth, and, when work was laid by, had so joyfully bent in prayer! He thought of all that fellowship; but here his most vivid recollection is of some extremity of danger, where that gallant pair interposed at the risk of limb and life to save “the light of Israel.” Paul never forgot a kindness or forsook a friend.
(9) We must not fail to glance round the group that surrounds the apostle as he dictates these last sentences. They are waiting to add their salutations. There are his brother-missionaries; first, Timotheus, specially singled out as “my workfellow,” then Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, strangers to him a few years ago, but now his very “kinsmen “ in Christ. There sits the scribe, interrupting the writing, and inserting his own greeting in his own name (verse 22). The hospitable Gaius, under whose roof they all gathered, next breathes his brotherly blessing. And finally occur the names of two Corinthian Christians who would seem to have come in by accident. Both Erastus, the “chamberlain of the city,” and Quartus, probably a slave, in Christ Jesus are on the same level; one sentence serves to carry word from both.
II. The general impressions which the salutations are fitted to leave. Note--
1. Their heartiness. There are those who hold that either to bestow praise, or to accept it, is inconsistent with Christian simplicity. No doubt there is a danger lest we become elated with a sense of our usefulness. Yet as the Lord Himself hath need of us, welcomes every earnest effort, and says of it, “Well done!” He will scarcely deny us the privilege of saying “Well done” to one another. Let the eye run down this single page and mark how well these saints did. Let us be by all means honest and candid, where it is needful, in censuring our brethren’s faults, but shall not honesty carry us also in the opposite direction?
2. Their earnest and affectionate friendliness. The apostle sits down, as an elder brother might, and is on the warmest-terms with every one--the slaves no less than the masters, simple “brethren” equally with chamberlains. What was this but treading in the track of the Master who had said, “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father in heaven, the same is My brother and My sister and mother”? No one can urge that we have too much of that spirit in our modern churches. And yet how many of our social and ecclesiastical troubles would pass if it more generally prevailed!
3. If these Christians really loved one another with so ardent an affection what did they do to prove it? The answer is that they “laid down their own necks” for one another; they “bestowed much labour” on their brethren. They threw their houses open for hospitable entertainment and united worship. They stood ready to help a foreign sister in whatever business she might have in hand. The poor, the sick, the friendless, became the special objects of their care. That can have been no hollow profession which inspired the confession from their enemies, “Behold how they love one another!” Conclusion: The Epistle closes in an atmosphere of warm and genial affection. We too wish one another well. Is it not enough? Nay; there is another voice to be heard, and a more gracious greeting to be bestowed, and a dearer fellowship to be enjoyed (verse 24). (W. Brock.)
The salutations to the Church at Rome prove that Christianity
I. Not only teaches friendship, but sanctifies it.
II. Not only requires the proprieties of life, but beautifies them. Here are--
1. Salutations to friends.
2. Commendations of merit.
3. Tokens of respect for the aged and experienced.
4. Kind words for all.
III. Not only inculcates love, but enforces the practice of it.
1. Some succoured the Church.
2. Some helped the minister.
3. All loved one another.
IV. Not only insists upon love and piety, but righteously rewards them. Consider this honourable record.
1. Mark the special distinctions it exhibits.
2. Be sure that the same will be the case in the entries made in the book of life. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The salutations of St. Paul
I. Throw light upon the apostle’s character. We are at once reminded of “the care of all the churches” which rested upon him, He had not founded this Roman Church, and yet with what a warmth of Christian affection does he regard it, while there are some in it whom he mentions with an emphasis of special regard whom he had known in other Churches. With the burden of all the Churches weighing upon his heart every hour he forgets no act of kindness.
II. Refuting the Petrine origin of the Roman Church, upon which the assumptions of the Papacy are based. There is no well-authenticated evidence that Peter ever lived in Rome at all. He is spoken of as “the apostle of the circumcision,” just as Paul was “the apostle of the uncircumcision,” and we expect to find him exercising his pastorate at Jerusalem rather than at Rome, and accordingly it is to Jerusalem that Paul goes, and there he repeatedly finds him. But on the supposition that he presided over this Church, it must have been by the time that Paul wrote this Epistle. And if so, could Paul have omitted his name from these salutations? And if Peter had ever been there at an earlier period, would there have been no grateful reference now to the good which he had done? The truth is that the first link in the chain of argument for the papal supremacy is wanting, and this makes the rest worthless.
III. Give us information as to the manner in which members were transferred from one Church to another. Phebe was a deaconess in the Church at Cenchrea, and probably a widow possessed of considerable worldly substance, whose business now carried her to Rome. And so she brings with her, written by Paul in his own name and in that of the Church, a certificate, in which not only her Church membership is attested, but witness is borne to the many good services she had performed in her native Church; and her brethren at Rome are asked to recompense her in some degree for her ministries of love. Note two valuable and interesting facts--the oneness of all the Churches in those primitive times, and the fact that membership in one at once secured a loving welcome into every other. Phebe was to feel that she was really passing from one home to another. What a lesson, if not a rebuke, to our Churches in this matter! The transference of members is too much a mere cold formality, alike in giving and receiving, and hundreds of persons change their residences without a letter of commendation at all. Is it any wonder, then, that so many pass out of sight altogether?
IV. Indicating those who are worthy of special commendation.
1. There are those of whom Paul speaks with great warmth, because of their general Christian excellence and eminence. Such were Epenetus, Stachys, Ampllas, and Apelles.
2. Then there were others who stood forth as specially distinguished by one particular excellence.
(1) We distinguish among the givers Aquila, Priscilla, and Urbane his helpers, and Phebe, “the succourer,” etc. The form which this liberality took was doubtless shaped by outward circumstances, but the relief of the poor, the orphan, and the widow, defraying the expenses of a constantly extending evangelism, and the hospitable entertainment of Christian strangers, were prevailing forms of goodness. We know that one great aim of the early teachers was to educate its members to habits of giving, so that it should not be a mere fitful effort. It was the gospel that first did earnest battle with the selfishness of man, and turned beneficence into a system. And when Julian tried to engraft such beneficence upon the sapless tree of paganism, he complained that while the heathen did nothing for the support of their own poor, the Christians ministered to the wants of all.
(2) Then how many an earnest worker there was in that Church, such as Mary, Tryphena and Tryphosa, and Persis! The form of their sacred labour would a]so be shaped by their natural capacities, by the wants of the Church and the community, and also by the advice of pastors. Many would teach, and others would be found lodging strangers, relieving the afflicted, and diligently following every good work.
(3) And there were earnest sufferers too, such as “Andronicus and Junta,” who had been Paul’s companions in prison; and “Priscilla and Aquila, who for his life had laid down their own necks.” Thus did the spirit already begin to show itself which was afterwards to shine forth in many a glorious martyrdom.
V. Show the important place which Christian women held in the early Church, and which we may therefore conclude they were intended to hold as workers in all ages in the Church of Christ. In this brief enumeration of sixteen verses nine or ten women are named as having been fellow-helpers with the apostle, and having consecrated themselves to “the fellowship of She ministry to the saints.” No doubt the peculiar condition of society, which to a great extent isolated women, rendered the labours of Christian women indispensable. And it would seem as if a splendid sphere of usefulness were at this hour opening up before Christian women in connection with missionary enterprise in the East. There are more than fifty millions of women in India who are only accessible by the gospel through women.
VI. Illustrate the domestic character of Christianity. On one occasion at least, when mentioning a husband and wife, the apostle speaks of “the Church which was in their house.” It may be that a number of the Christians were accustomed to come together in a private house for social worship. But the kernel-thought around which all the others gather is that all the members of that family were Christian believers, and that they therefore formed a little Church, as every such family does, with its worship, its Christian teaching, its mutual oversight, and its unity and love. Conclusion:
1. Suppose the apostle were now on earth, and were to write a letter to this congregation, Should I be spoken of as one who had “succoured the saints”? etc.
2. In Paul’s later Epistles his salutations become fewer and fewer--the greater number of those whom he had known having died. It is a solemn thought, “The night cometh wherein no man can work.” (A. Thomson, D. D.)
Apostolic commendations and cautions
For many reasons this chapter is a fitting conclusion to the Epistle. For--
(1) It indicates to us that doctrine is subservient to personal piety.
(2) That very sacred social ties should exist between a pastor and his people.
(3) That right relationship to Christ creates a right mutual relationship between men. Note--
I. The commendations and greetings of the apostle. The commendation of Phebe, who is as a sweet flower in the landscape where the apostle himself is a majestic oak, and all the commendations and greetings that follow, lead us to look at true Church fellowship--
1. In its variety. There are men and women of varied
(3) services. There is the chamberlain and the slave; the active and passive temperament, the laborious and the hospitable.
2. Its common elements. Common--
(1) Relationship, “Our sister.”
(2) Service, “Succourer of many.”
(3) Principle, “As it becometh saints.”
II. His cautions. The saddest fact in this, and in all these early letters, is the tone in which the apostle has to speak to many professed Christians. In his words of caution about one and another we notice--
1. The mournfulness of the fact that professed Christians have to be so spoken of.
2. The discernment and courage needed rightly to deal with such characters.
III. The greetings from one Church to another. Here Corinth greets Rome. Christianity creates relationships that are--
1. Cosmopolitan. The inherent element of a Church is that it is Catholic.
2. Cordial, “Holy kiss.”
3. Practical, “Receive.” (U. R. Thomas.)
1. If a modern clergyman were writing to his old parishioners, what would be more natural than at the end of the letter he should add affectionate remembrances to any poor pensioners and aged widows whom he had known? Felix Neff, the Apostle of the High Alps, two days before his death, being scarcely able to see, traced the following lines at different intervals, in large and irregular characters, “Adieu, dear friend Andre Blanc, Antoine Blanc, all my friends, Pelissiers whom I love tenderly; Francis Dumont and his wife, Isaac and his wife, beloved Deslois, Emilie Bonnet, etc., Alexandrine and her mother, all, all the brethren and sisters of theirs, adieu, adieu.”
2. Doubtless when Paul’s greetings were first read in the little churches they would have been listened to with the deepest interest. The slave or the poor woman who heard his or her name mentioned, “How kind, how good it was of Paulus to remember me What a help it is to me to know that the dear and holy apostle, with the care of all the churches upon him, and living as he does in the midst of plots and of perils, yet thinks of and prays for me! If I be dear to him, must I not also be dear to his Lord and to mine?”
3. But why should it be to us a part of our public worship to hear these salutations read to-day? There is no more in these names of Amplias, etc., than in the names of Brown, or Jones, or Smith. They were just the names of poor, ordinary persons, on whom the nobles or the careless women would have looked down with scorn. And yet very genuine, lessons may be learned from these lists of names. Note--
I. The overflowing affectionateness of the heart of Paul, which should teach us the lesson of kindliness, the family affection of the Christian life. Christians needed each other’s help in those days. They were as lambs among wolves. “See how those Christians love one another,” said the envious heathen then. Alas! they would have little cause to say so now. But these lists of names may at least serve to remind us of the beauty of the lost ideal.
II. His regard for Christian women, which should teach us the glory of Christian womanhood. The world has never recognised the vast debt it owes to Christian women. Even in this day, though women do more than men in the great works of quiet, unobtrusive charity, and are incomparably more thorough, patient, tender, skilful, and self-denying than the vast majority of men, yet they might well complain that they are far less cared for in our public exhortations than men. Well, it was not so with Paul In this chapter alone seven Christian women are recognised with words of gentleness and praise. In this day the minds of holy and noble women may well be pained by the mock deference and hypocritical compliments which are paid them. There is not the faintest trace of this in Paul. For foolish and unworthy women he had words of deserved scorn. In days when women lived for the most part in unavoidable ignorance and seclusion, and were shamefully regarded as the mere chattels and servants of man’s caprice and wickedness, Paul’s illuminated soul had recognised the sacred and beautiful type of Christian womanhood.
III. His honour for slaves, which should teach us the dignity of man as man. Many whom Paul here salutes are slaves and men of poor and mean condition. It is the nature of the world to fawn upon the great; they are ashamed to know the poor. A. slave was as great as a Caesar, because for slave and Caesar Christ had died. Nay, a despised slave might be much more to him. For man in himself is less than nothing; he is great in God only, if he is great at all. A few short days both emperor and slave would die, and then the one might be wailing in outer darkness, while the other, amid acclaim of angels, might tread “the heavenly Jerusalem’s rejoicing streets.”
IV. His discriminating eulogies. Being addressed to Christians--in days when to be a Christian was to be persecuted--he was writing presumably to good men. Yet even between good men there is a difference, and Paul uses only the language of deserved praise. What comfort there is in the thought that, as God bestows on us different gifts, so also He expects from us different forms of service! All branches cannot bear the same fruit; “all members have not the same office.” Mary has her work, and Phebe hers; Urbane has his work, and Apelles his; and some of us, perhaps, think with a sigh that we do little or no work. Well, if we are but trying to do what little we can, let us be content. We may then be like Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Hermes, and Patrobas, of whom nothing is said. Better to be the nameless ciphers of Christianity than to be of the world’s guilty kings.
V. The mere casual mention of these names by Paul has given them a sort of immortality. Horace might have sung of them--he does actually mention one or two of the same names; Seneca might have mentioned them among his brilliant aphorisms; Tacitus might have introduced them in his histories, yet they would still have been incomparably less eternised. Little thought those slaves and poor women that their names would be on our lips to-day, in what was then a remote and savage island. Centuries after they are dead we still speak of them, and yet, grotesque their names certainly are--Phebe, Hermas, Hermes, Nereus--names of heathen gods and goddesses in which people had quite ceased to believe, half jocosely given to the slaves of their families; Staehys, a corn ear; Asyneritus, the incomparable; Persis, the Persian woman, known only by her nationality; Tryphena the “wanton,” and Tryphosa “the luxurious”--names perhaps once insultingly given to a class, now meekly borne. They had other names, new names, in heaven. Five, ten, fifteen years hence, and how many of you who hear me will be utterly forgotten! Fifty years hence, all but one or two of us, it may be, will be lying in our coffins, our names perhaps already illegible on the worn stone, and nobody knowing or caring who lies below. No Paul will mention us. And what does it matter if our names are written in “the Lamb’s Book of Life”? (Archdeacon Farrar.)
I. They are valuable as--
1. A source of gratification to the persons named.
2. A stimulus to themselves and others.
3. A tribute to the Christian community at Rome.
4. A corroboration of the genuineness of the Epistle.
5. A means of promoting union between the Jews and Gentiles, and both and himself.
II. True Christianity is characterised by--
1. Whatever is tender and amiable in human nature.
2. The graceful proprieties of an advanced civilisation.
3. The gentle charities and delicacy of refined friendship.
Grace sanctifies the courtesies of life and refines the manners. It is quite friendly to the graces and amenities of social intercourse. Forms of politeness are most beautiful when animated by spiritual life.
III. There are five classes mentioned in these greetings.
1. Helpers and fellow-labourers, as Aquila, Mary, etc.
2. Relatives and countrymen, as Andronicus, etc.
3. Paul’s own Converts and well-known friends, as Epenetus, etc.
4. Societies, as the church in Aquila’s house.
5. Households, or parts of such, as that of Aristobulus, etc.
IV. In these greetings may be noticed--
1. The kindness of Paul in naming so many.
2. Special regard to individuals, combined with love to all.
3. Grateful remembrance of past kindnesses.
4. Those specially distinguished who laboured most. The care of the Churches did not efface remembrance of persons. Believers least likely to forget their friends.
Their mutual remembrance lively because--
1. Pounded in a spiritual, therefore deep affection.
2. Kept always fresh at the throne of grace. Those are well remembered who are remembered before God.
V. In those greeted we have--
1. A group of star pictures of apostolic times.
2. A lovely representation of living Christians.
3. A splendid testimony to the riches of Divine grace. Roman, Greek, and Hebrew names promiscuously introduced. (T. Robinson, D.D.)
The true aristocracy
Many names in “The Peerage” have won their distinction by intrigues and base services rendered to bad kings, and there are many who study and prize such books more than the Book of books. The register before us is given by a man before whose intellectual and moral greatness the most brilliant names in worldly peerages sink into contempt. The names that this great man enrols are those of poor women, obscure men, and slaves.
I. The chief interest which a truly great man has in others is in their character, rather than in their condition. In this list of twenty-six names there are those who differ in their sex, age, worldly position, etc., yet the apostle overlooks all these differences, and expresses an interest only in their character. Why? Because this is--
1. The only real property. It is the only thing that a man can call his own.
2. The only property man can carry with him. Everything else--houses, lands, gold, and silver--he leaves behind. But his moral character he carries over Jordan.
3. That which determines his destiny. From it must bloom his paradise or flame his hell.
II. The character which enlists the profoundest interest of a truly great man is the Christly one. “Who labour in the Lord.”
1. Living and working in--
(1) The Spirit.
(3) Character, and
(4) Moral temper of Christ.
2. Why should a Christly character command such tender sympathy? Because it is--
(1) The highest reflection of his Master. Good men are incarnations of Him whom all heaven adores.
(2) The highest organ of usefulness. It is in itself the strongest argument against all infidelities, and the strongest proof of the Divinity of the gospel.
III. Those who enlist the chief interest of a truly great man are the most honourable of their age. Who will deny or question this? Parasites and sycophants have always shown more sympathy of their miserable natures for martial pageantry, official pomp, than for Christly character. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Whom does the apostle distinguish as worthy of the highest estimation
Those who, like--
I. Phebe, are succourers of many.
II. Priscilla and aquila, helpers.
III. Epaenetus, androincus and junia, have long and faithfully served Christ.
IV. Amplias and apelles, beloved and approved in the Lord.
V. PERSIS, labour much in the Lord.
VI. Asyncritus, and others, steadfast in Christian fellowship. In a word, all who are eminently distinguished by Christian love. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Romans, but not Romanists
I. Illustrates the various relations of families to the Church.
1. In verse 3 you have a household in which the husband and the wife were joined to the Church. When two loving hearts pull together they accomplish wonders. What different associations cluster around the names of Ananias and Sapphira! I do not know why Paul placed the wife first, for in the Acts it is the reverse. Perhaps it was because Priscilla was first in energy of character and attainments in grace. Whether the wife be first or second matters little if both be truly the servants of God. Pray unceasingly that your life-companions may be converted to God. Paul spoke of the Church that was in their house. It is well when a Christian family judge that the parlour will be honoured by being used for a prayer meeting. Such a dwelling becomes like the house of Obededom.
2. In verse 7 Andronicus and Junta represent part of a very remarkable household, for they were kinsmen of Paul, and they were converted to God before Paul was. I have wondered whether the conversion of Adronicus and Junta excited in him his fury against Christ; but it is more than probable that their prayers were part of the means of his conversion. This should act as a great encouragement for all who desire the salvation of their households. Out of persecutors God can make apostles.
3. In verse 10 we have a family whose head was not a Christian. Why leave Aristobulus out? Because he had left himself out; he was no believer, and therefore there could be no Christian salutation sent to him. The kingdom of God was in his house, and yet he was unblessed by it. Where are you, Aristobulus? The Lord sends a message of grace to your child and wife, but not to you, for you have not given your heart to Him. Another instance, and a worse one, is in verse 11. There was a Narcissus at this period who was extremely rich, and as bad as he was rich. Yet while blasphemous songs, gluttony, and licentiousness made his mansion a very hell, there was a saving salt in the slaves’ dormitory. He who blacks your shoes may be one of the beloved of the Lord, while you who wear them may be without God and without hope in the world.
4. In verse 12 we have, I suppose, two sisters: where were their brothers, their father, their mother? How often there are in the Church two humble, faithful women, and all the rest far off from God! Brother, let not your sister go to heaven alone. Father, if your daughters be children of God, do not you remain His enemy.
5. In verse 15 we have a brother and sister. It is pleasant to see the stronger and weaker sex thus associated. But had they no other relatives? Depend upon it, they often prayed together for all the rest.
6. In verse 13 there are a mother and her son. When a godly woman is a tender mother, it is no wonder if her sons become believers, for the mother’s love and example draw them towards Jesus. There is a legend connected with Rufus and Alexander, that when their father Simon was compelled to bear the Cross, one carried his father’s pick, and the other his spade. If they cannot bear the Cross, they will at least help their father by carrying his tools. Who marvels if Alexander and Rufus saw their father carry Christ’s Cross so well, that they, too, should afterwards count it their glory to be followers of the Crucified.
II. Shows what are points of interest among Christians. In a worldly community the point of interest is, how much is a man worth? Now Paul does not make a single reference to any one on account of his position, property, or office, except so far as those may be implied in the service which each person rendered to the cause of God. The points of interest with Paul are--
1. Their service for the Church (verses 1, 2). It is a distinction among Christians to be allowed to serve, and the most menial employment for the Church is the most honourable. So Phebe shall have her name inscribed in this golden book of Christ’s nobility, because she is the servant of the Church, and because, in being such, she succoured the poor and needy.
2. Their labour (verse 6). Mary was one of those useful women who took personal care of the preacher, because she believed the life of God’s servant to be precious. Then follow Tryphena and Tryphosa, “who labour in the Lord”; and Persis, who “laboured much in the Lord.” I do not suppose Tryphena and Tryphosa were angry because the apostle made this distinction, but it is certainly a very explicit one. Degrees in honour among believers are graduated by the scale of service done.
3. Their character. Verse 13 cannot allude to Rufus’ election, since all the rest were chosen too, but must mean that he was a choice man in the Lord. Apelles was “approved in Christ,” a tried and experienced believer. Epaenetus (verse 5) is singled out because of the time of his conversion. While every minister feels a peculiar attachment to all his converts, he has the tenderest memory of the first ones. What parent does not prize above all others his first child?
III. Reveals the general love which ought to exist in the Church of God.
1. The whole passage shows the love of the apostle towards the brethren at Rome. He would not have taken the trouble to write all this to them if he had not really loved them. And it shows that there were Christians in those days who were full of love to each other. The holy kiss marked their fervour of love.
1. The early Christians were accustomed to show their love to one another--
(1) By practical help. I do not think that the apostle alluded to any Church business, but to her own. I do not know what it was, and it was no part of an apostle’s commission to tell us other people’s business; but whatever business it was, if any Christian in Rome could help her he was to do so.
(2) When it involved great sacrifices (verse 4).
2. Christian love in those days--
(1) Had the great respect for those who had suffered for Christ(verse 7).
(2) Honoured workers (verse 6). Paul speaks of the labourers over and over again with intense affection.
(3) Had its specialities. “My we!l-beloved Epaenetus,” “Amplias my beloved,” etc., etc. There were some whom he liked better than others, and even the Lord had a disciple whom He loved more than the rest. There are Christian people whom you could live with in heaven comfortably enough, but it is a severe trial to bear with them on earth; but since God puts up with them, so ought you.
(4) Was wont to respect seniority in spiritual life; for Paul speaks of some who were in Christ before himself.
(5) Did not overlook the most obscure members of the Church. “Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas,” etc. We know nothing about those good people. They were like the most of us, commonplace individuals; but they loved the Lord, and therefore Paul sent them a message of love which has become embalmed in the Holy Scriptures. It were better to be the meanest Christian than to be the greatest sinner. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The truly honourable in the Church of Christ
I. Their distinction.
1. In general they are all recognised as brethren in Christ. Are we? In particular they are distinguished by--
(1) Faithful and zealous service.
(2) Patient suffering.
(3) Long and consistent attachment to the cause of Christ.
(4) Eminent piety and Christian love. Do any of these features apply to us?
II. Its value.
1. Their names--
(1) Are in good report; are ours?
(2) Are immortalised, and will endure as long as the Word of God; will ours?
2. This record of them is the guarantee that their names are in the book of life; are ours? (J. Lyth, D.D.)
1. Large in its comprehensiveness.
2. Kind in its expressions.
3. Just in its acknowledgments.
4. Tender and affectionate to all. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Greet Priscilla and Aquila.
Priscilla and Aquila, Paul’s helpers
I. Their service.
II. Their motives of action.
3. Hope in Christ.
III. Their reward.
1. On earth--the thanks of the apostle.
2. In heaven, life everlasting. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
A Christian family helping their minister
Aquila was a Jew, of Pontus who had made his residence in Rome. But a company of thieves in Judaea, having fallen on one Stephanus, a servant of the emperor, robbed his baggage, and slain the soldiers who guarded it, an edict was passed requiring all Jews to leave that city. In consequence of this edict, Aquila, with his wife, came to Corinth, and there wrought in his occupation, which was that of a tent maker. Paul coming from Athens to Corinth, meets with them and takes lodging in their house, working at the same occupation. It was probably at this time that they first gained the knowledge which they were able to impart to Apollos. Paul’s residence with them laid a foundation for a friendship which lasted till death (2 Timothy 4:19). How worthy they were of his affection and esteem we learn from the text.
I. They were happily united in all their concerns, and especially in the great concerns of religion. On all occasions they are both mentioned together, and appear patterns of conjugal union. They dwelt together in days of tranquility, and jointly shared in the calamities of banishment. With united hands they laboured in the occupation by which their household was supported. As this is the most important relation in life, they who sustain it ought, above all things, to study mutual peace. The Christian pair, animated by one soul, will readily participate in each other’s labours and sorrows, and will cheerfully communicate to each other their own pleasures and joys. Little differences of opinion will be composed by mutual condescension. Unavoidable infirmities will be viewed with the comforting eye of pity, not with the insulting eye of disdain. In the important concerns of religion, they will walk, as being heirs together of the grace of life. A family, educated under the care of heads thus united, will, by the smiles of heaven, grow up in knowledge and piety, and become a little Church of Christ.
II. They were the apostle’s helpers in Christ Jesus.
1. By their hospitality. For a considerable part of the time that he preached in Corinth, he abode in their house. The minister is to preach the gospel, not for filthy lucre; but then, they who are taught must communicate to him who teacheth, so that he may wait on his teaching without distraction.
2. By a faithful attendance on his ministry. Heads of families in this way greatly assist their minister. This shows a good example to their children, and invites others to accompany them. Thus they animate their minister and raise his hopes of success. But then let your attendance be grave and devout, and on what you hear let your remarks be made at the proper time and place.
3. By their conversation and example (Acts 18:1-28.).
4. By their prayers.
5. By their self-sacrifices (Romans 16:4).
III. They had a Church in their house. We, then, who have the care of families, ought to make them Churches. For this end we must dedicate our children to God, and bring them up in His fear. Greater societies are formed from smaller; Churches grow out of families; and the spirit and complexion of the latter will be transfused through the former. (J. Lathrop, D.D.)
Who have for my life laid down their necks.
The unbounded affection of Priscilla and Aquila for Paul
I. Paul deserved it. He had rendered them the greatest service which one human being could render to another. Through his instrumentality they had been won to Christ, trained for usefulness, built up in their most holy faith. And the same may be said of thousands of ministers. If the debt of love be owing at all it is surely to those who have rendered others soul service.
II. They showed it. Not by amiable feelings, graceful compliments, or even faithful service. All these were and are done. But so is something more. The expression “placed their neck under” the sword or axe, is figurative, but implies the act of exposing one’s life, and occurred either at Corinth (Acts 18:12-17) or at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32; 2 Corinthians 1:8; 2Co 12:23). This extreme form of service is not now required except in the case of missionaries, to whom it has often been rendered. But ordinary ministers need protection and should have it.
1. Their character is assailed by venomous slander. Let not chivalrous defence be wanting at whatever cost.
2. Their peace of mind is endangered by cantankerous opposition. Let no member of the Church absent himself from a stormy meeting lest his own tranquility be disturbed.
3. Their health is often threatened by overwork, under pay, vexatious conditions of labour and unsanitary dwellings. This is often only for want of thought. But love not only “thinketh no evil,” it should stimulate thought and sacrifice for the pastor’s good.
1. If your minister is set for the defence of the gospel, the least you can do is to defend him.
2. You need not boast that you would be willing to lay down your necks for him if required. This will never be required. But he needs protection for his character, tranquility and health. In rendering this you will do nothing heroic, but you will do what is useful and acceptable, which is better. (J. W. Burn.)
Likewise greet the Church which is in their house.--
The Church in the house
I. Its forms.
1. The cottage meeting.
2. The social Christian circle.
3. The pious family.
II. Its advantages.
1. God’s blessing.
2. Domestic happiness.
3. Anticipated union in heaven. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The Church in the house
A Church is a company of believers, meeting statedly in Christ’s name, more or less fully organised with office bearers, with the ordinances of Christ duly administered among them, and is not dependent on numbers (Matthew 18:20). There were various such Churches already at Rome (Romans 16:14-15). The meeting-place of a Church wilt be dependent on circumstances. The house of Aquila being sufficiently commodious, although destitute of most of the accessories with which we are familiar, was a meeting-place of the Church. Private houses (Acts 2:46) were the birthplaces of Christian worship, and public buildings were not erected till the third century. When it became dangerous to meet even in private houses the Christians assembled in the catacombs. Aquila’s house became a Church wherever he went, which shows us that zeal for Christ’s cause should be carried about with us. Mere professors often leave their religion behind them. Grace in a family converts a household into a Church. Religion is to be manifested in the family as a household thing. Wherever Abraham had a tent Jehovah had an altar. (T. Robinson, D.D.)
Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.--
Epaenetus, the first convert of Achaia
(Asia is the reading preferred by the best authorities):--This honourable distinction implies--
II. A ready reception of Christ.
V. Promise of success. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Firstfruits unto Christ
The firstfruits under the law were an offering made to God of the first ripe fruits before the harvest was begun. In allusion to this Christ is called “the firstfruits of them that slept,” because His resurrection is an earnest and pledge of the resurrection of believers. The sanctifying and comforting influences of the Spirit are called the firstfruits of the Spirit, as earnests of heavenly happiness. James tells us that God hath begotten us “that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures” (Revelation 14:4). By a like allusion the apostle calls the first converts in a particular place the firstfruits of that place unto Christ. Now consider this man, dwelling in the midst of heathen, on the preaching of the apostle, coming out from among a corrupt and idolatrous multitude, and, by his example and conversation, inviting his fellow-citizens to turn to the living God; and will you not admire his integrity, zeal and fortitude? Note--
I. How a forwardness in religion may discover itself. In--
1. Early religion. Epaenetus enjoyed not your early advantages, but it seems probable that he accepted the first invitation to Christ. He gave to Christ the firstfruits, if not of life itself, yet of that part of life in which he was favoured with the heavenly call. All have now this call in their youth.
2. An open profession of it, and a diligent attendance on the means of it.
3. A maintenance of the profession and practice of it, though it should involve the charge of singularity. Epaenetus professed the religion of the gospel when all around him were in a different sentiment and practice.
4. A zeal for great and essential things. There are many who are forward in little matters; zealous for or against opinions, forms, etc., but this is only forwardness in a party design. The Christian is zealous to maintain good works, and abounds in the proper fruits of the Spirit.
5. Labours to promote it among others. When Paul calls his beloved Epaenetus the firstfruits, he intimates that a rich harvest followed. This forward Christian doubtless assisted Paul greatly.
6. Aspirations after greater eminence in religion.
II. This forwardness is commendable.
1. As an evidence of sincerity.
2. On account of its usefulness. The slothful, negligent Christian emboldens sinners in their transgressions, and confirms them in their stupidity.
3. As it is honourable to Christ, To Him belong the firstfruits of your lives. He is honoured by the increase of His subjects. By your forwardness you will contribute to this increase.
4. As an imitation of Christ. He was in early life about His Father’s business.
5. Because it is in the highest degree rational. It is regarding things according to their nature and importance.
6. We have no promise of success on any other condition.
(1) This is the command of Christ. “Seek first the kingdom of God.” Strive to enter in at the straight gate.
(2) This is the direction of the apostle. The promise is only to those who give diligence to make their calling and election sure.
(3) It is by forwardness in religion that you become entitled to the constant aids of God’s grace. (J. Lathrop, D.D.)
A first convert remembered
Epaenetus was the first convert in Achaia, the richest of all the Greek provinces. Chalmers in his fascinating book on New Guinea gives us the name of the first female convert in New Guinea. If you and I were sent to labour in a country like that we would take special note of our first convert. I knew a person who when he began his work had but one person to sit at his feet. Did not he take note of that person? He has never forgotten her and never will. A true missionary never forgets his first convert, never forgets any convert, and, Paul did not forget Epaenetus, the first convert to Christ in Achaia. (D. Stuart.)
Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.
1. Well directed.
2. Diligently performed.
3. Rightly dictated.
4. Abundantly rewarded. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The Marys of the New Testament
I. Two were related to Christ--Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary her sister.
II. Two ministered to Christ--Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene.
III. Two showed kindness to Christ’s servants--Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, and Mary of Rome. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
A working woman
Have you the slightest desire to be loved, would you have your presence a welcome one in palace and cottage alike, would you be admired, respected, revered, would you feel all sweet human sympathies clustering around you while you live, and know that the tears of a multitude of friends would be shed upon your grave when you die, you must be a working woman--living and working for others, denying yourself for others, and building up for yourself a character, strong, symmetrical, beautiful. If I were you I would rather be that impalpable and quietly gliding shadow which the wounded soldier kissed as the noble Florence Nightingale passed down between the hospital beds, than the golden calf of luxury who has no thought above her personal ease and nourishment. (Great Thoughts.)
Salute Andronicus and Junia.
Andronicus and Junia
Probably husband and wife, or brother and sister. Grace adorns, sanctifies, and sweetens every relation of life. Natural relationships not absorbed by union with Christ. The distinction of these persons was that they were--
I. Kinsmen of paul, either in the wider or more restricted sense. Paul’s nephew at Jerusalem warmly attached to his uncle. Grace recognises the ties of kindred. These ties drawn still closer by a common faith.
II. Paul’s fellow prisoners. When and where unknown. Valuable undesigned coincidence with 2 Corinthians 11:23; 2 Corinthians 11:23. Paul had been often in prison, but the history speaks only of one imprisonment (Acts 16:23) before the date of this letter. Others mentioned afterwards as his fellow prisoners (Colossians 4:10; Philippians 2:2-3). Chains for Christ greater honour than chains of office.
III. Of note among the apostles. They were not, of course, apostles in the strictest sense, viz., of the company appointed by Christ Himself (Matthew 10:2), but in the wider sense, viz., messengers (2 Corinthians 8:23). Amongst these Andronicus and Junia were highly distinguished. There are different ranks among believers, as there were among David’s worthies who were honoured according to bravery and zeal. Not only sincerity, but eminence in grace to be desired. Grace distinguishes more than gifts, but the best gifts are to be coveted. Paul’s relations apparently lived in Jerusalem (Acts 23:16). Andronicus and Junia therefore in circumstances to be well known to apostles. Possibly the gospel was brought by them to Rome.
IV. In Christ before Paul. The distinguishing characteristic of a true Christian is to be in Christ. The believer is in three positions--in Adam by nature, in Christ by faith, in the Church by baptism. To be in Christ is to be one with Him as a member of His body. Note Paul’s humility. He readily accords pre-eminence. These kinsmen may have been among the converts at Pentecost. Priority of union with Christ to be regarded as an honour. Age in Christ makes venerable. Paul delights to refer to his conversion. The time of our union with Christ never to be forgotten. (T. Robinson, D.D.)
Andronicus and Junia
I. Their relation to Christ. This includes three things.
1. An impressive knowledge and belief of His character and work.
2. An interest in the blessings possessed by Christ.
3. A likeness to Christ.
II. A distinguishing circumstance of their subjection to Christ. Paul’s friends were Christians before himself. Note the importance of an early relation to Christ.
1. How many evils are avoided.
(1) An awfully deluded mind.
(2) Inveterate habits in sin.
(3) Much of poignant regret.
(4) The awful danger of being taken away in a state of enmity against God.
2. How many positive advantages are gained.
(1) The pleasures of religion are enjoyed through life.
(2) There is the present satisfaction of being under the promised care and blessing of the Divine Redeemer.
(3) There is the elevating hope that death will be gain. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
A fourfold fellows-ship
1. Of family.
2. Of suffering.
3. Of service.
4. Of grace. Who also were in Christ before me.--
I. What is it to be “in christ”?
1. We are in Christ--
(1) By virtue of the Divine plan and purpose (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9).
(2) When our sins are forgiven (Colossians 2:11-14).
(3) By regeneration (2 Corinthians 5:17). And in connection with this Christ is said to be “our life.”
(4) When we are justified (Romans 8:1).
(5) When we make profession of faith in Christ’s name.
(6) By holy walking (Colossians 2:6).
(7) At His coming.
2. This union is--
(1) Deep and indestructible.
(2) A union which is the source of reciprocal delight.
II. We may be “in christ,” as far as the development and evidence of it is concerned, at different periods. Andronicus and Junia were in Christ before Paul.
1. When we are young, as soon as the truth of Jesus can be received into the understanding and the heart, the child may be “in Christ.” We have instances in Holy Scripture of early piety: Joseph, Moses, David, Josiah, Daniel and the three Hebrews, John the Baptist, and Timothy. When we enter upon the serious businesses and occupations of life: Christ says, “Take My yoke upon you”; and if you receive Christ’s yoke and hear His burden, you are “in Christ.”
2. When we are married. We read that marriage is to be only “in the Lord.” Are you going to be “heirs together of the grace of life”?
3. Are you forty, and not “in Christ”? Your peril is extreme. It is a rare thing for a person to be converted after forty.
4. I come to age. We deny not that a man may be brought unto Christ, just when he is about to expire, as the thief upon the cross was; but I beg of you that you leave not a question of such profound importance to such a conjuncture as that. Augustine said, touchingly--“I was too late in knowing Christ.” “Twill save us from a thousand snares to mind religion young.”
III. It is a great privilege to be “in Christ.” The apostle speaks of that which was of first advantage, and it is compared with other advantages. In Philippians 3:1-21. Paul gives an account of all his Hebrew advantages, and counts all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. But let me advert to other privileges.
1. National privileges. It was a privilege to be a Roman, and the apostle valued that privilege. It is a privilege to be an Englishman, and there are peculiar privileges belonging to some positions in our country, but all of them put together, in comparison with the advantage of being “in Christ,” are as nothing.
2. What a privilege is the sight of the eye, and the brightness of the sun! Is there no privilege in the spiritual vision and the glory of the Sun of Righteousness?
3. What a value in life! What is the spiritual life worth?
4. And especially viewed in the light of eternity. If not “in Christ” when you die, you will die in your sins. “In Christ,” or no resurrection of glory at the last day, but a resurrection of judgment and condemnation. (J. Stratten.)
The common bond
This passage furnishes an interesting illustration of the Christian love of those early days, and how the gospel knit men’s hearts together across the earth at a time of the world’s history when the intercourse of man with man was small, and travelling dangerous, laborious, and slow. Yet the number of names mentioned shows how largely, even then, the tenderness of Christian love could draw heart to heart, and unite even personal strangers in a true brotherhood.
I. The phrase “in Christ” implies the attainment of safety in Christ. The language is founded on the idea of a refuge, as if a man surrounded with foes and in danger of his life should fly to some stronghold, and be in safety. It may be that the devil attacks you with some strong temptation; it may be that God has visited you with solemn convictions, and you know not where to find peace. It may be that life is slipping swiftly by; health failing you, death drawing near, whither shall you look for help? There is but one refuge; one, where the power of sin will be broken; one, where the tormenting sense of guilt will be removed by the atoning blood of Christ; one, where declining life will cease to alarm you, where death itself will lose its fears.
II. The words “in Christ” imply union with Christ. Here the living idea which naturally occurs is that of a vine branch, living by union with the root arid partaking of its life, just as our Lord said, “Abide in Me. He that abideth in Me, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” Here we take a step farther than mere safety. It is not from the punishment of sin alone we need to be saved, but from the stain of its pollutions. Why, what is religion but life? and life is joy. There is joy in the state into which we enter when we become children of God, and look up to the great Being who made the heavens and the earth and all things therein, and call Him with happy confidence, “Our Father, which art in heaven.” It is not all over with us when we die; the best is to come in the cloudless heaven prepared for those who love God.
III. To be “in Christ” implies the rest of the soul when it has found Him, and the satisfaction with which it dwells content in Him. Here we have the idea of search. Like the merchantman in search of goodly pearls, we look for the object of our desire in every direction, and pursue eagerly our search till, in some happy moment, we find the precious thing for Which we are seeking, and then we rest. It would be as easy to satisfy a man with the playthings of a child, as to satisfy with things perishing a soul that will live for ever. We search and are disappointed. How often in common life we use the phrase of a person or of a thing that has disappointed us, “I did not find what I expected in him or in it? But we may find all in Christ. (Canon Garbett.)
These words were very familiar and very precious to the early Christians. So much so, that they inscribed them on the tombs of their departed friends, as the catacombs in Rome and other ancient burial places still show you. And it was thought enough to wipe away a mourner’s tears to see on his friend’s grave the inscription, “In Christ.” The preposition “in,” as found in our New Testament, has a variety of significations in accordance with the various meanings of the word which it translates. It is hero employed to represent presence, or inclosure; as, when we say, “in a kingdom,” “in a family,” “in a house,” “in the body.” Not as when we say “in a valley,” meaning upon the surface; thus, you say, “a house in a valley,” meaning upon the surface of the ground constituting a valley; but, as when you say, “in a mountain,” or “in a river,” representing the idea that the thing of which you speak is contained or inclosed. “In Christ,” is used in our New Testament not unfrequently with this signification; as, when we read of “faith in Christ,” “hope in Christ,” “truth in Christ.” And persons are said elsewhere to be in Christ--thus, “babes in Christ”--“fallen asleep in Christ.” There you see the word can have no other idea connected with it than that of inclusion--that of being contained; it cannot be by Christ, or after Christ, or before Christ; “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” You will observe that this is distinct from, and something in advance of, faith in Christ, and truth in Christ. Although the two things in reality are connected, yet you will see that there is a distinction between saying that a man’s faith rests in Christ, and that the man himself is in Christ. The two things we know are in reality connected, but you will observe that the ideas are distinct. The words, “In Christ,” represent some personal relation and connection; for you will observe the phrase is not “hope in Christ,” or, as elsewhere, “faith in Christ.” The idea is not that of any particular faculty or susceptibility having Christ for its object. The idea is that of the individual, in all his life, being intimately connected with Christ. Notice that this connection is begun in time. There was a time when, according to Paul’s own idea, he was not in Christ. Now, very close union is indicated by Christ Himself, as existing between Himself and His disciples. “He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him.” “At that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye,” mark, “ye in Me.” Elsewhere, by His apostle, Christ teaches, “He that is joined unto the Lord, is one spirit, for,” he adds, “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” There are certain analogies which will here assist us. You know that Christ is called “the last man”; “the last Adam”; “the second Adam.” Adam was a representative man. And there are particular ideas involved in these general thoughts. For example, as an advocate, Christ represents us; and, if Christ as an advocate represents us, we appear before God in Him. Again, Christ is called “the chief corner-stone.” As the several stones are one in the corner, so are believers one in Christ; and the same thought, you observe, is involved in Christ being the “Head.” Again, He is called “the true vine”; and His disciples “are the branches.” But there are certain doctrines which throw light upon this expression. Let me just remind you that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”; and, except we are redeemed by the Saviour, we are ungodly. We are not in the spiritual, and in the most blessed, sense living in God. In the lowest sense we all “live, and move, and have our being” in Him-just as plants, and trees, and flowers, the grass of the field, the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, live in Him; but in the highest sense, the ungodly cannot live in Him while they are ungodly. Instead of being of the Father, they are of the world. Their element is not God, And this is our great fault; this is the source of our wretchedness; this is the root of all our wickedness. Look further. God loves the world, and desires, in the most blessed sense, that men should be brought back to Him. Then, to restore them to union with Himself, He gives His Son to be a Mediator. Now suppose that I receive this truth, what have I done? I have not my own case in hand as a suffering, sinful man. I am not trying to be my own advocate. My case is in Christ; it is entirely represented in Him. It is not only in His hand, but it is involved in His very position; because unless there were sinners there could not be a Mediator. “In Christ”--then your iniquities are forgiven, and your transgression is covered. “In Christ”--then by His obedience you are accounted righteous. “In Christ”--then the Spirit of Christ dwells with you. “In Christ”--then you are joint heirs with Christ. “In Christ”--then your life is hid with Christ, and it cannot be taken away. (S. Martin.)
The blessedness of being early in Christ
I. It makes our work easier. How easy to bend the pliant twig! How hard to move the sturdy tree! An old man, one day taking a child on his knee, entreated him to seek God now. With artless simplicity the little one asked, “Why do not you seek God?” The old man answered, his utterance half choked with tears, “I would, child, but my heart is hard--my heart is hard!”
II. Our work is better done. He who invites us to remember Him “in the days of our youth,” will show His love by affording abundant help.
III. Life is made more happy. Conscience testifies that we have chosen the “good part,” and that God is our Friend. The power of temptation is weakened. The growth of graces is promoted. Unreasonable doubts and fears are removed. The sting of death is effectually plucked away. Religious ways are ways of pleasantness and peace. Great peace have they who love God’s law.
IV. It saves us from being destructive examples to others. When Lord Peterborough was the guest of Fenelon, he exclaimed, “If I stay here any longer, I shall become a Christian in spite of myself.” A young man, who was about to be ordained to the ministry, stated that at one period he had been nearly betrayed into infidelity. “But,” he added, “there was one argument in favour of Christianity which I could never refute--the consistent conduct of my own father!” In contrast with such examples for good, imagine the terrible, soul-destroying influence of evil men!
V. It fits one for an exalted position of usefulness in God’s kingdom. “Early piety,” says Henry, “it is to be hoped, will be eminent piety. Those that are good betimes are likely to be very good.” Take an old, time-wrinkled man, and endeavour to teach him the arts of a soldier, or to make a scholar or tradesman of him. What painful plodding, and, oftentimes, what unavailing effort! But the young can master any-thing.
VI. We are certain of a heavenly reward. As in a well-appointed army the soldier’s pay is regulated by the time of service, so is it with the followers of Christ. Long years of “patient continuance in well-doing” will be recompensed with the highest seats, the brightest crowns, and the most ecstatic enjoyment. (J. N. Norton, D.D.)
The privilege of being early in Christ
Everything is beautiful in its season. What spring is in the natural year, youth is in the life of man. If that precious season is lost, it is a dreadful thing; rather there should be the sowing to the Spirit, that we may reap life everlasting. It is therefore a beautiful order that the young should remember their Creator in the days of their youth. Hence it was that Paul spake of himself as “one born out of due time”--not born at the right season. And hence it is that he attaches such distinction to Andronicus and Junta.
I. What is it to be in Christ? Probably the common answer is”To be a Christian.” But what is it to be a Christian? To be baptized? Then indeed the whole baptized population of our land were in Christ. But is there any man in his senses that dares to affirm that? There is a sense, indeed, in which all who are baptized are in Christ: they are under solemn obligations to Christ; they have His name upon them; they have the symbol of His service traced upon their brow. But this will only enhance their guilt and aggravate their condemnation, if this be all. And yet there is a sense in which being baptized into Christ is being in Christ, but that is when the sign of the water poured on the child is authenticated by a new birth unto righteousness. Baptism is the outward and visible representation of the grafting of a soul into Christ. Now when the gardener wishes to graft a scion from one tree into another, he inserts it into a little aperture, and afterwards surrounds it with clay and straw, and binds the whole round with strong bands. And thus the grafting, as far as man can accomplish it, is done. But in order that the grafting may take effect, the bark of the stem must grasp and coalesce with the little slip, and that little slip, putting forth its fibres and its stems, must also grasp the bark of the stem, and so there must be a reciprocal union. Then the grafting is effectual. Even so it is in the grafting of a soul into Christ. Baptism and all the means of grace are what men can use and ought to use; but in vain are all the means of grace, except the union of the soul with Christ takes place. That union is accomplished on the part of Christ by putting His own Spirit into the soul, and on the part of the soul by believing in Christ. And if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, however duly baptized, however moral, he is none of Christ’s. Therefore to be in Christ is represented by every figure of adhering union.
II. What is the inestimable blessing of being thus in Christ? And here all thought fails us; for, if a man be out of Christ, he is under sin and the power of Satan; but he that is in Christ is delivered out of the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. And “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature”; all things are his--“whether Paul or Apollos,” etc. He is safe from every peril, secure from all evils: God is his Father, angels are his attendants, and all things work together for his good.
III. The unspeakable blessing of being found early in Christ. To be early in Christ--
1. Is to be in Christ. At the right time, as Christ Himself designs that we should be. For I have no doubt that infant baptism is of Christ. Circumcision was enjoined upon every child of God’s professing people, so that the child who was not circumcised was to be cut off from Israel.
2. Will save from thousands of evils and dark stains. Out of Christ the child knows not what may become of it, how he may, like the prodigal, debase himself until he is feeding the swine. But to be early in Christ is to be early in the ark, in the stronghold, out of the reach of Satan.
3. Will augment usefulness. The stream that runs a little way to the ocean can leave but little greenness and beauty on its banks; but the river that winds its crystal way through many a valley and over many a plain--oh! what rich blessing it scatters along its course! And so it is in comparison with the man who has but a little course in which to serve God, when he has wasted his best years in sin. (Canon Stowell.)
I. In its relation to God.
1. Our first clear duty is to know and glorify God. He has made, preserved, and redeemed us. It is, therefore, utterly ignoble to ask with how little we may satisfy His claim. A duke of Brittany during a long imprisonment vowed that if he regained his liberty he would give to the Church his weight in gold, and did so conscientiously, for he went into the balance clad in all his armour. When Don Carlos, the son of Philip II., lay ill, he made a like vow, but on his recovery placed himself in the scale clad in damask and fur. We see at a glance which is the more excellent way.
2. We glorify God the most when we come to Him soonest (Ephesians 1:12), with the free-offering of a life unviolated, fresh, and full of all glorious possibilities--far more than we can by laying fortunes at His feet in distant years (Micah 7:1).
II. In its relation to our own life. It is our business to make the best of our life throughout, and early consecration gives perfection--
1. To our youth. It secures to the full--
(1) The grace of early days. Like the firefly on a flower, or the rainbow above a waterfall, what was already beautiful the grace of God makes doubly so.
(2) The joy of youth. The light-hearted, free joyousness of life’s golden dawn is not damped by the fear of God, only conserved and raised.
(3) The spirit of youth. So far from destroying enthusiasm, the love of God only renders more intense and pure the generous fire.
(4) All the beautiful characteristics of youth. The angel John saw in the sun would not dim the light: religion in youth is that angel giving new splendour to life.
2. To our manhood. A wasted youth tells injuriously on the later stages of life. When the trees in the spring-time are nipped by the frost they never quite recover. But early in Christ means a strong, pure, blessed manhood (Lamentations 3:27). It is an unspeakable advantage to serve the apprenticeship of life under Christ. He can make us workmen needing not to be ashamed in that most difficult art--the art of living.
3. To our age. Andronicus and Junia were admirable people to the last. Age is much what we make it, desolate old age being the bitter fruit of self-will and indulgence, a bright old age the fruit of discipline. The French artist Millet used to say to his pupils, “The end of the day is the proof of the picture.” That which will bear the test of the twilight hour is true in character as well as in art.
III. In its relation to social duty.
1. Early in Christ we best serve our generation. Andronicus and Junia were famous workers in their generation. As a rule the world can owe but little to men saved in the eleventh hour. At eventide we hear men say, “Well, it is too late to make a good day’s work of a bad one.”
2. None who in early life devote themselves to Christ ever live to regret having done so. Protracted investigation only shows them the reality of the rock on which they have built; the experiences of life only prove the preciousness of Christ’s truth and grace; the sorrows of life only cause them to cherish with profounder satisfaction the consolations and hopes of faith.
3. None who in later life devote themselves to Christ but wish they had done so earlier. Was not this really the wish of Paul here? Andronicus and Junia were rejoicing in Christ while he was haling men and women to prison.
4. That portion of our life which had no spiritual experience in it we feel was lost, no matter our worldly delights, knowledge, wealth, social triumphs. Pontius, the biographer of Cyprian, passes by the early period of his history with the remark that a man’s actions should be recorded not from the time of his first, but of his second birth (Romans 6:20-21).
5. Few who finally fail to devote themselves to Christ but feel that the fatal mistake of their life was their early neglect of Christ.
(1) The external difficulties of beginning multiply with time, until in the course of years they become apparently insurmountable. The aged sinner is conscious that the gossamer thread which once held him from Christ has become an iron fetter, and the rivulet separating from the great inheritance a river.
(2) The internal difficulties increase--the failure of sensibility, will-power, etc., renders the beginning of a new life almost incredible to him who has for years resisted the Holy Ghost. It is always difficult to make the great renunciation, but the initial difficulty is never less than in life’s opening years (1 John 2:14; Proverbs 8:17; Isaiah 26:9). (W. L. Watkinson.)
Early piety, beauty of
Early in the morning the dew still twinkles on the leaves, the maiden blush of dawn remains and reveals an opening beauty, which is lost to those who rise not to see the birth of day. There is a beauty about early piety which is indescribably charming, and unutterably lovely in freshness and radiance. We remark in childhood an artless simplicity, a child-like confidence, which is seen nowhere else. There may be less of knowing, but there is more of loving; there may be less of reasoning, but there is more of simply believing upon the authority of revelation; there may be less of deep-rootedness, but there is certainly more of perfume, beauty, and emerald verdure. If I must choose that part of the Christian life in which there is the most joy, next to the land Beulah, which I must set first and foremost by reason of its lying so near to Canaan, I think I would prefer that tract of Christian experience which lieth toward the sun-rising, which is sown with orient pearls of love, and cheered with the delicious music of the birds of hope. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Early piety, importance of
If the tree is permitted to grow up and to grow old, with the intention of making it new then, there is danger, lest, through storms or fire or war, it may be suddenly destroyed. And, even though it were protected from all these risks, it is strange that any one should deliberately desire that the soil and sun and air should be enjoyed by that tree, and wasted in bearing bitter fruit all the days of its strength, and only make a good tree in its old age, when it scarcely has sap sufficient in its veins to bear any fruit at all. See, reader, in this plain parable, how foolish, how false, how blasphemous, is the desire that throbs cowardly and covertly in many young hearts, to waste the broad sunny surface of life in sin, and throw a narrow strip of its withered, rugged edge at last as an offering to God! If you have no desire to be good and do good throughout the life on earth that lies before you, how can you desire to be good and do good in the eternity that lies beyond? Be not deceived. He who is weary of sin wants to be quit of it now, and instantly to enjoy a new life.. He who says he wants to be holy, but would rather put off the date of the change, lies to himself, to the world, and to God. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
Early piety, enduring
As a vessel will long retain and keep the savour of that wherewith it is first seasoned; even so, if children be taught good things while they be young and tender, they will abide the longer with them. (Cawdray.)
Youth, the root of age
It should be borne in mind that in old age it is too late to mend, that then you must inhabit what you have built. Old age has the foundation of its joy or its sorrow laid in youth. You are building at twenty. Are you building for seventy? Nay, every stone in the foundation takes hold of every stone in the wall up to the very eaves of the building; and every deed, right or wrong, that transpires in youth, reaches forward, and has a relation to all the afterpart of man’s life. A man’s life is not like the contiguous cells in a bee’s honeycomb; it is more like the separate parts of a plant which unfolds out of itself, every part bearing relation to all that antecede. That which you do in youth is the root, and all the afterparts, middle age and old age, are the branches and the fruits, whose character
the root will determine. (H. W. Beecher.)
Priority in Christ
1. Is a privilege.
2. Confers honour.
3. Demands proficiency.
4. Should guarantee usefulness.
5. Commands respect. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The blessedness of being betimes in Christ
I. What is the import of being in Christ?
1. Some are in Christ only externally, as by baptism entered into His Church.
2. Some are also in Christ by vital union (Eph 5:30; 1 Corinthians 6:17; John 6:56).
II. The blessedness annexed to the being thus in Christ. You may see this--
1. In the union itself, as it is--
(1) Most intimate and endearing. Christ is compared to a foundation for our support, a vine for our fruitfulness, a head for vital importance, a husband for the most tender love. This is the ground of that sympathy that there is between Christ and His members (Hebrews 4:15; Colossians 1:24; Acts 9:4).
(2) Most honourable. No title among men is comparable to that of being a member of Christ. Angels are subject to Him, but are not styled His body (Ephesians 1:23; Hebrews 2:16). How great is their dignity who are thus allied to the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8).
(3) Most enriching (Ephesians 3:8; Colossians 1:19; John 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 3:23).
(4) Most comfortable. Nothing can be wanting to their support who are taken into it.
(5) Immediate. Every member stands equally near the Head: they are all in Him (1 Peter 4:5-6; Eph 2:22; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:19).
2. In some instances of the happiness that belongs to those who are found in Christ. They--
(1) Have their sins pardoned (Psalms 32:1; Colossians 1:14).
(2) Are freed from sin’s reigning power (Romans 7:24-25; Romans 8:2).
(3) Are rescued from the tyranny of Satan (Ephesians 2:2).
(4) Are delivered from the curse and condemnation of the law, and so from hell (John 3:18; Romans 8:1; Galatians 3:13).
(5) Are brought into a state of favour with God whose lovingkindness is better than life (Psalms 63:3; Romans 5:1).
(6) Are adopted into His family, that of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the head (John 1:12; Ephesians 2:19; Romans 8:17).
(7) Have the privilege of free access to God and are always welcome, being made accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6).
(8) Have their perseverance secured while they live; the reception of their souls to heaven at death; a glorious resurrection of their bodies, and a blessed eternity.
III. There are special advantages of being early in Christ.
1. This is the best preservative from sin, so displeasing to God, and which will fill the guilty with so much horror in the review.
2. Hereby you will be saved from being destructive examples to others; drawing them on in sin together with yourselves.
3. You will be fitted for more eminent service for God and your generation; be common blessings in helping to keep off judgments, and bring down mercy upon the places of your abode.
4. You will be especially dear to heaven; in the number of those whom God and Christ will delight to favour and honour.
5. This will speak you signal instances of the sovereignty and riches of grace that may be matter of comfortable reflection to you all your days.
6. You will be most like to attain a comfortable evidence of the sincerity and truth of grace, and so that you are the objects of God’s eternal choice.
7. Your great work upon earth will be over, being early provided for a blessed eternity.
8. If you are longer spared you will have a fair advantage of making a greater proficiency in grace, and so enlarge your capacity for greater glory.
IV. Application. Is it the happiness of some to be in Christ before others? Hence learn--
1. That a state of nature is a Christless state, and so a very miserable one (Ephesians 2:12).
2. How dangerous must it be to rest in a mere profession, and what multitudes are like to perish as looking no farther I (Matthew 7:21; 1 John 3:23).
3. How unreasonable is the backwardness of sinners to close with an offered Saviour! And yet how commonly is it discovered!
4. With what seriousness should every one concerned about his everlasting happiness or misery take up and pursue the inquiry, Am I in Christ, yea, or no? (D. Wilcox.)
Old age in Christ
The date of this Epistle is A.D. 58; the apostle was converted in A.D. 34. So that Andronicus and Junia had been disciples for more than twenty-four years, They were therefore advanced in life. May we not suppose that they were known to Him when He was a persecutor?
I. The characteristic features of aged Christians.
1. Stability in the faith.
2. Fertility in holiness.
3. Expectancy of blessings.
II. The advantages which they confer on the Church.
1. They afford encouragement to the fearful.
2. They suggest caution to the inexperienced.
III. Their special claims to our regard. They claim--
1. Our veneration.
2. Our sympathy on account of their infirmities.
3. Our assistance. (J. Blackburn.)
Age, what men reap in
A young man came to a man of ninety years of age and said to him, “How have you made out to live so long and be so well?” The old man took the youngster to an orchard, and, pointing to some large trees full of apples, said, “I planted these trees when I was a boy, and do you wonder that now I am permitted to gather the fruit of them?” We gather in old age what we plant in our youth. Sow to the wind and we reap the whirlwind. Plant in early life the right kind of a Christian character, and you will eat luscious fruit in old age, and gather these harvest apples in eternity. (T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.)
The Christian sage
I. His privilege.
1. Early conversion.
1. To counsel.
III. Claims to--
3. Sympathy. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord.
Was probably one of Paul’s converts.
I. “my beloved.”
1. As his own son in the gospel, or--
2. From special grace observed in him.
3. Warm attachment shown by him.
4. Eminent devotedness to the cause of Christ. Degrees of attachment consistent with Christian love. Of the twelve, Peter, James, and John most beloved (Matthew 17:1). Of these John especially beloved (John 13:23).
II. “in the Lord.” Beloved--
1. Not after the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16).
2. For Christ’s sake.
3. As a member of the same body of Christ. Those truly beloved who are beloved in the Lord. (T. Robinson, D.D.)
Amplias the beloved in the Lord
This description implies--
1. His true conversion.
2. His lovely character.
3. His happiness--loving and beloved.
4. His final salvation--beloved by God. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The tomb of Amplias
The archaeological 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 just announced of the tomb of Amplias. 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 Word. 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 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.)
Of Amplias and Stachys nothing is known except that they were “beloved in the Lord” by the apostle, the objects of his high Christian esteem and affection. The day is coming when it will be seen that to have been the friend of an apostle was really a higher honour than to be the favourite of a Roman emperor, and when the eulogiums of historians and poets, procured by a lavish expenditure of labour and suffering, would be gladly exchanged for the simple record that Paul loved them because they loved Christ. (J. Brown, D.D.)
Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.--
Urbane and Stachys
I. Their names. “Citizen” and “Ear of Corn,” suggestive of--
1. Town and country.
(1) Urbanus may well represent a busy civic character, bringing all the qualities necessary for and exhibited in commercial and political life to the service of the Church. The modern Urbanus is the consecrated merchant or town councillor.
(2) Stachys may represent the Lady Bountiful of some rural district whose temperament, unfit for the bustle and fashion of the city, is exactly suited to the quiet work and influence of the village church.
2. Polish and simplicity.
(1) Urbane is a word that has become technical for refined manners, and we may imagine Urbanus combining business energy with gentlemanly deportment--two things which should never be separated certainly in church life.
(2) In Stachys we miss much of the polish and suavity of Urbanus, but there is a charm about her natural homely manners that renders her, in her sphere, no less useful.
II. Their place in history. Who they were no one knows: yet every one would like to know. No unenviable position. There are many whom we know well that we wish we knew nothing about. A stroke of the pen, however, has made them immortal. There were those then living who would have given thousands of gold and silver for a similar record in a book far less widely circulated than the Bible. Urbanus and Stachys are known through the wide world eighteen centuries after their death, and learned men are making researches if haply they may find their names on some tomb or in some contemporary record. Why this? Simply because of their relationship with Christ and His Church. So millions to-day whom no historian would think worth mentioning are in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and wilt be held forth for the admiration of a universe when many of the world’s greatest names shall have perished.
III. Their relationship to the apostle. Urbanus was “our helper.” Stachys was “my beloved.” The one sustained a general relationship to Paul and to others beside Paul: but the other sustained a special relationship to the apostle himself. We have all a circle of acquaintances wide enough to include a great many; but we have also an inner circle where few indeed move. The former belong to others as well as us; the latter to ourselves alone. And so in the Church. There are scores perhaps that may be depended on to do general work for the common good, but there are only a few whom the minister may count as his own, and upon whom he may depend for special work out of peculiar regard for himself.
IV. Their encomium.
1. Urbanus with his masculine qualities is an active helper. Useful in many a good word and work he is a man to admire. He makes his mark, is always in evidence, and men wonder how the Church would get on without him.
2. But Stachys is a woman to be loved. She can only pray, give the apostle many a quiet word of encouragement, and do such unobtrusive work as her nervous shrinking temperament will enable her to do. Here we have Martha and Mary, Peter and John over again.
1. Let each do what he or she can, each in his own way in the Church.
2. Let each receive timely and fitting encouragement.
3. Let each be sure of an appropriate reward. (J. W. Burn.)
Every Christian worker shall be recognised
Christian workers shall be like the stars, in the fact that they have a light independent of each other. Look up at night, and see each world shows its distinct glory. It is not like the conflagration, in which you cannot tell where one flame stops and another begins. Neptune, Herschel, and Mercury are as distinct as if each one of them were the only star. So, our individualism will not be lost in heaven. A great multitude--yet each one as observable, as distinctly recognised, as greatly celebrated, as if in all the space from gate to gate, and from hill to hill, he were the only inhabitant. No mixing up; no mob; no indiscriminate rush. Each Christian worker standing out illustrious. All the story of earthly achievement adhering to each one. His self-denials, and pains, and services, and victories published. Before men went out to the last American war, the orators told them that they would all be remembered by their country, and their names be commemorated in poetry and in song. But go to the graveyard in Richmond, and you will find there six thousand graves, over each one of which is the inscription: “Unknown.” The world does not remember its heroes. But there will be no unrecognised Christian worker in heaven. (Great Thoughts.)
Apelles, approved in Christ.
Was preferred, found to be genuine after trial. This is the meaning of the word in Romans 14:17-18; 1 Corinthians 9:27. Consider
I.--the essential elements which compose so interesting a character. Unless we be “approved in Christ,” it is but of little consequence by whom else we are approved. Note here--
1. Sincerity of principle. The apostle prayed for the Philippians that they might be “sincere, and without offence,” i.e., pure, transparent. The idea is taken from holding up a substance to the light, to see if there be any flaw or defect in it.
(1) There must be sincerity as to the principles we adopt, and the state in which we are found before Christ our Saviour.
(2) This is most important to youth. Insincerity secretly corrupts, like a canker at the root of a tree, or a moth in a garment.
2. Self denial and fortitude in rendering those sacrifices and services which religion requires. “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself.” It is recorded by the apostle, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” The young man whom Christ loved had one essential defect, he could not deny himself.
3. Stability, uniformity, and perseverance in the profession of religion.
(1) The goodness of some is “like the morning cloud and the early dew.” There is blossom, the flower expands--but the wind of temptation passes over, and all the beauty and vigour is gone. Under strong excitement of mind, they make a profession of religion, but that profession is not stable.
(2) There are many circumstances which tend to prove our stability--the reproaches of the world, afflictions, the falls of professors, etc. But why should these things shake you? Who was the most illustrious character the man of sorrows, who was crowned with thorns, or Caesar seated on his throne?
4. A temper and disposition of mind according with the gospel of Christ--humility, docility, moderation, devotion, benevolence.
II. Some considerations arising out of the notice we have taken of this character.
1. It is a far more truly amiable and admirable distinction than the most splendid qualities which may otherwise be attained. It is natural, especially to youth, to seek for splendid qualities. But what are these compared with religion? Suppose it had been said, “Salute Apelles, who is eloquent, rich, learned,” and so on--what would it all have been compared with this, “approved in Christ”? Let this make you content: covet not the riches and greatness of the world. There is not an individual in the world whom you need envy.
2. This character is attainable by every Christian, however humble his talent, and comparatively mean his circumstances.
3. If we be approved of Christ now, the day is coming when all will feel the value of this approbation. The day is coming when some will be disapproved. Notwithstanding all their pretensions, to some it will be said, “I never knew you, I never approved of you!” To others, who have been devoted to His service--who have walked in His ways, He will say before assembled worlds, “Come, ye blessed,” etc. (F.A. Cox, LL.D.)
Apelles was a tried Christian
I.e., one who has been tried and has stood the trial. “Tribulation,” says the apostle, “worketh patience,” i.e., perseverance, and this perseverance “worketh experience,” i.e., trial; it proves the individual; it is the test of the reality and strength of his faith, and if he abides the test he is an approved Christian. Many, alas! do not stand the test, and prove themselves “reprobates”--unapproved either of God or man. Tried Christians deserve to be honoured. (J. Brown, D.D.)
Them which are of Aristobulus’ household.
The households of Aristobulus and Narcissus
We do not know anything about these two persons, men of position evidently, who had large households. But learned commentators of the New Testament have advanced a very reasonable conjecture in regard to each of them. As to the first of them, Aristobulus--that wicked old King Herod, in whose life Christ was born, had a grandson of the name, who spent all his life in Rome, and was in close relations with the emperor of that day. He had died some little time before the writing of this letter. As to the second of them, there is a very notorious Narcissus, who plays a great part in the history of Rome just a little while before Paul’s period there, and he, too, was dead. And it is more than probable that the slaves and retainers of these two men were transferred in both cases to the emperor’s household and held together in it, being known as Aristobulus’s men and Narcissus’s men. And so probably the Christians among them are the brethren to whom these salutations are sent.
I. The penetrating power of Christian truth. I think of the sort of man the master of the first household was if the identification suggested be accepted. He is one of that foul Herodian brood, in all of whom the bad Idumaean blood ran corruptly. The grandson of the old Herod, the brother of Agrippa of the Acts of the Apostles, the hanger-on of the Imperial Court, with Roman vices veneered on his native wickedness, was not the man to welcome the entrance of a revolutionary ferment into his household; and yet through his barred doors had crept quietly, he knowing nothing about it, that great message of a loving God, and a Master whose service was freedom. And in thousands of like cases the gospel was finding its way underground, undreamed of by the great and wise, but steadily pressing onwards, and undermining all the towering grandeur that was so contemptuous of it. So Christ’s truth spread at first; and I believe that is the way it always spreads.
II. The uniting power of Christian sympathy. A considerable proportion of the first of these two households would probably be Jews--if Aristobulus were indeed Herod’s grandson. The probability that he was is increased by the greeting interposed between those to the households--“Salute Herodian.” The name suggests some connection with Herod, and whether we suppose the designation of “my kinsman,” which Paul gives him, to mean “blood relation” or “fellow-countryman,” Herodian, at all events, was a Jew by birth. As to the other members of these households, Paul may have met some of them in his many travels, but he had never been in Rome, and his greetings are more probably sent to them as conspicuous sections, numerically, of the Roman Church, and as tokens of his affection, though he had never seen them. The possession of a common faith has bridged the gulf between him and them. Slaves in those days were outside the pale of human sympathy, and almost outside the pale of human rights. And here the foremost of Christian teachers, who was a freeman born, separated from these poor people by a tremendous chasm, stretches a brother’s hand across it and grasps theirs. The gospel that came into the world to rend old associations and to split up society, and to make a deep cleft between fathers and children and husband and wife, came also to more than counterbalance its dividing effects by its uniting power.
III. The tranquilising power of Christian resignation. They were mostly slaves, and they continued to be slaves when they were Christians. Paul recognised their continuance in the servile position, and did not say a word to them to induce them to break their bonds. Of course, there is no blinking the fact that slavery was an essentially immoral and unchristian institution. But it is one thing to lay down principles and leave them to be worked in and then to be worked out, and it is another thing to go blindly charging at existing institutions and throwing them down by violence, before men have grown up to feel that they are wicked. And so the New Testament takes the wise course, and leaves the foolish one to foolish people. It makes the tree good, and then its fruit will be good. But the main point that I want to insist upon is this: what was good for these slaves in Rome is good for you and me. Let us get near to Jesus Christ, and feel that we have got hold of His hand for our own selves, and we shall not mind very much about the possible varieties of human condition.
IV. The conquering power of Christian faithfulness. It was not a very likely place to find Christian people in the household of Herod’s grandson, was it? Such flowers do not often grow, or at least not easily grow, on such dunghills. And in both these cases it was only a handful of the people, a portion of each household, that was Christian. So they had beside them, closely identified with them--working, perhaps, at the same tasks, I might almost say chained with the same chains--men who had no share in their faith or in their love. It would not be easy to pray, and love and trust God and do His will, and keep clear of complicity with idolatry and immorality and sin, in such a pigsty as that; would it? But these men did it. And nobody need ever say,” I am in such circumstances that I cannot live a Christian life.” There are no such circumstances, at least none of God’s appointing. There are often such that we bring upon ourselves. And then the best thing is to get out of them as soon as we can. But as far as He is concerned, He never puts anybody anywhere where he cannot live a holy life. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Aristobulus was probably Aristobulus the younger (Joseph. Antiq. 20., 1, 2), the grandson of Herod the Great, and brother of Agrippa and Herod, kings of Judaea and Chalcis, who lived in Rome in a private station (Joseph. Jewish Wars II. 11:6), and died there not before A.D. 45. Being very friendly to the Emperor Claudius (Joseph. Ant 1. c.) he may have bequeathed his slaves to him, and they thus become part of Caesar’s household, though still distinguished by the name of their late master. As servants of Aristobulus many of them would naturally be Jews, and so likely to become hearers of the gospel. (Archdeacon Gifford.)
It deserves notice that Paul does not send his Christian remembrances to Aristobulus, but to his household. Perhaps he was dead, or not a Christian. A Christian man may not have a Christian household, and a family may be all Christians with the exception of its head. It is a happy thing when the whole of a family is Christian, not in name merely, but in deed and truth; when as in the case of Lydia and the gaoler salvation comes not only to the heads of a family but “to all their house.” It is not always so; and when it is not so, Christians in unchristian families have a peculiar claim on the kind notice of Christian ministers. (J. Brown, D.D.)
Herodion my kinsman--
My kinsman Herodion
I. His privilege. Relationship.
1. To an apostle.
2. To Christ.
II. His claim to remembrance.
1. Dear as a relative.
2. Dearer still as a Christian brother. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.--
The household of Narcissus
As in the case of Aristobulus, the salutation is not sent to Narcissus, but to those of his household--not to all, but to that part of it which was Christian. This Narcissus probably was the favourite freedman of Claudius, a very rich but a very wicked man. Very good men may be domestics of bad men. Obadiah, who “feared the Lord from his youth” and “feared Him greatly,” was a steward of Ahab, one of the worst of the Israelitish kings. A venerable Scotchman occupied a confidential place in the household of one of the most dissolute of our princes, and might be found at midnight and after it in his little chamber reading Marshall on “Sanctification,” or Boston’s “Crook in the Lot,” while waiting the returner his master and his companions from their midnight revels. Christians do not act like themselves when they place themselves in ungodly families; but as in the cases referred to, they may obviously be placed there by Providence, and when they are so, they have peculiar opportunities for “adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour,” and “holding forth the word of life,” and are specially entitled to kind notice from their minister. (J. Brown, D.D.)
The household of Narcissus
I. In their views of Christ--some in Christ--some not.
II. In their objects and aims.
III. In their enjoyments.
IV. In their estimation of the apostle.
V. In their prospects. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord … the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.
1. It is good to labour in the Lord.
2. It is better to labour much.
3. Best of all to deserve the Christian title “beloved.” (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Tryphena and Tryphosa
I. That bad names need not hinder good service. “Tryphena” means wanton, and “Tryphosa” luxurious. We should hardly expect excellence of any kind from persons bearing such names as these; yet, notwithstanding their names, they laboured in the Lord. The worst names have been attached to the best men--Quakers, Methodists, Ranters, etc.; and the men thus designated have not taken the trouble to repudiate their designations, but have, through evil report, “laboured in the Lord.” An evil name, however, is a serious disadvantage, and parents cannot be too careful in avoiding the selection of names for their children of which in after life they may be ashamed.
II. Sinful women may become useful saints. It is not improbable that these names were deserved, and were used to designate a certain class. If so, note--
1. The power of Divine grace. Rahab, the woman of Samaria, the woman in Simon’s house, are proofs that, under the gospel, the most wanton may become pure; and the history of Christian enterprise teems with instances of those who, bred in the lap of luxury, have become the most laborious in the cause of Christ. They have had much forgiven, because they have loved much, and their much love has constrained them to a life of intense devotion.
2. The magnanimity and courage of the apostle. People of this class are usually shunned, even after strong and varied proof of change of heart and life; men and women are afraid of compromising their reputation by associating with them but in Paul’s case the disciple was not above his Master, who gloried in the title of “the friend of publicans and sinners.”
III. Companionship desecrated by sin may be consecrated by grace. These women, if not sisters, were doubtless friends before their conversion. If one sinner destroyed much good, two sinners, acting in conjunction, will destroy very much more--and sinners usually act in company. The same holds good in an opposite way, when converted men and women act in concert. “Two are better than one.” Conclusion:
1. There is encouragement under the most discouraging circumstances for earnest Christians.
2. There is hope for the most abandoned.
3. Converted men and women should seek to make their companions in sin companions in Christian service. (J. W. Burn.)
The portrait of a Christian woman
I. A Christian.
1. She occupies a place in a list of Christians.
2. She must have been “in Christ,” or she could not have laboured for Him.
II. A lovable Christian. Not merely known to and esteemed by Paul, but one whose sweet disposition endeared her to all with whom she came in contact. Christians should manifest the power of grace in their tempers. The more real and deep the inner, the more sweet and lovable the outer life. Like Christ, because in Christ.
III. An active Christian. The words imply labour that brings weakness and weariness--not kid-gloved philanthropy, but genuine and persevering Christian toil. What a noble sphere for like-minded Christian women still. Let them, then, especially those free from absorbing domestic duties, seek to become followers of Persis. (T. S. Dickson, M.A.)
Labour in the Lord
This is the language of approbation. Persis is not warned lest she step behind the place assigned her in the Church, or lest she allow her zeal to make her singular. What was approved in Christians eighteen hundred years ago would be approved in Christians now.
I. The nature of that labour which St. Paul commends in persis.
1. He is not speaking of secular labours. He does not praise Persis because she performed the ordinary duties of life in a conscientious spirit. This, indeed, she would do; but such is the ease with all Christians. It does not distinguish one Christian above another.
2. Nor is he speaking of words of charity alone, or he would have praised Persis as one who was “glad to distribute,” ready “to do good.”
3. Labour in the Lord was labour in promoting the knowledge and spirit of the gospel. Persis, like others who laboured with Paul in the gospel (1 Corinthians 16:16), had become a teacher--that is, was able to declare to others what the Lord had done for her soul, and to lay those first principles of the doctrine of Christ which the simplest believer may communicate to his ignorant or sinful neighbour; which, in truth, he must be prepared to communicate before he can exercise the commonest duties of charity. Some, perhaps, may be of opinion that such work should be left to the appointed minister; but can, or should, anything withhold the Christian from imparting his own conviction or experience? How otherwise could Christians obey the precepts to warn, edify, exhort, and comfort one another? Every Christian makes one of a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation”; and it is his duty, as well as his privilege, to communicate “that which is good to the use of edifying.”
I. What should induce Persis to undertake this labour?
1. As a disciple of Christ, she was actuated by those feelings which would not allow her to rest satisfied with having found for herself the way to heaven. Let those distrust their own state who can be so satisfied. Where there is love, there will be anxiety about the unconverted: love cannot exist without it (Acts 17:16; Proverbs 24:11-12).
2. She was excited by the feeling of thankful love towards the Lord for whom she laboured. This love makes the Christian desire that fresh trophies should be added to His Cross, new jewels to His crown. And certainly that love must be very lukewarm, and such as Christ will not deign to accept, which will be outdone by the disciples of evil, and which takes the benefit but neither regards the honour of the benefactor, nor complies with his commands.
III. The blessings which follow such labour in the Lord. It is truly “twice blessed.” It blesseth him who works and him on whom the labour is bestowed. (Abp. Sumner.)
Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.--
I. His place in history. The son of Simon the Cyrenian, whom Mark mentions (Romans 15:21), with his brother Alexander, as well known to the Church. Christ’s Cross, laid on Simon, brought blessing to his wife and children.
II. His distinction.
1. Chosen, i.e.--
(1) Elected, as proved by his works (1 Thessalonians 1:4-6).
(2) Choice. Excellent, as seen in his life and labours (2 John 1:13). It is good to be a chosen Christian; better still to be a choice one.
2. In the Lord--i.e., in union with Christ (Ephesians 1:4).
(1) Union with Christ the evidence of election in Christ.
(2) True excellence only attainable in union with Christ.
III. His relationships.
1. Natural. “His mother.” He was the godly son of a godly mother. It is a double blessing when both parent and child are in the Lord.
2. Spiritual. “And mine.” He owed his brotherhood with St. Paul probably to his mother’s attention to the apostle. (T. Robinson, D.D.)
I. Chosen in the Lord.
1. Truly converted.
2. Through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.
3. Hence a choice man.
II. Blessed with a pious mother, whose maternal kindness and Christian character are tenderly acknowledged by the apostle.
III. Privileged with the friendship of Paul. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas.--
Asyncritus and his companions
Christian fellowship is--
1. A necessity.
2. A privilege.
3. A safeguard.
4. A duty and an earnest of eternal happiness in Christ. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Asyncritus, Phlegon, and Hermas, to us are little more than empty names; but if we knew as much about them as their friend Paul did, it is quite possible that we would have given them the whole chapter. The servants of God do not write history after the fashion of the world. The sacred writer immortalises the obscure worker who sheds abroad the fragrance of a holy violet-life in the dingy alley or fever-haunted court; whilst the secular scribe reserves his greenest laurels for the man who dances on a tight rope or who floats down Niagara in a cask! The best part of the world’s history is still unwritten. The profane historian would have buried Asyncritus and Phlegon in eternal oblivion; but wherever this Epistle is read, their names will be honourably mentioned.
I. The Bible is richly stocked with examples which are well suited for all classes of society. It is not a Book for patricians, nor for plebeians, but for all without distinction. It sets before us extraordinary men as examples to extraordinary men--Moses as an example to national leaders, Joseph as an example to prime ministers, Elijah as an example to religious reformers, etc. But when we read of Asyncritus, etc., we see that the Bible is also full of examples for ordinary people. And it is right that it should be so, for the world is almost entirely populated by very ordinary people.
II. Obscure men have done, and are still doing, splendid service for Christ. All our best men are not in the front. These simple men lived in a city wholly given up to heathenism; yet they bravely held their ground against crushing odds, fearlessly upheld the Christian banner, and helped to drive back the tide of Paganism, and prepare a throne for Christ in the very centre of the world’s power. Gold is no less gold because hidden in the bowels of the mountains, and courage is no less courage because sometimes veiled in obscurity. Our danger is to mistake noise for power and fanaticism for zeal. All the great powers are silent powers. The bugler is more noisy than the field-marshal, but he is not so indispensable on the field of battle. God was not in the thunder nor in the wind, but in the still small voice. The great merchant is almost entirely dependent on the labours of faithful men whose names are buried in obscurity. The ablest of our cabinet ministers mainly depend upon the obscure permanent officials for their information. And in religious circles the minister frequently gets all the credit, when it should be shared with the Church officers and the Church members who assist him. In eulogising Apollos, we must not forget Priscilla and Aquila. That unknown man who keeps the lights burning in his lighthouse has been the means of saving hundreds of lives. Obscure friends, your life is worth living. Like the coral insects of the Pacific, you are building better than you know. So was Luther, when translating the Bible in the Castle of Wartburg, and the Pilgrim Fathers, when they landed on Plymouth Rock. Let us work on, for the deed will be immortal, whether the doer’s name is known or not. The name of the widow who cast her mites into the temple is forgotten, but her deed will live on throughout all eternity.
III. Prominent men should be grateful to obscure men from the prominence which they enjoy. Hills would be impossible without valleys. We may be only the pedestals for the statues, but the statues should not forget the debt they owe to the pedestals. The top-stone, resting in the glad sunshine, must not forget that it owes a debt to the foundation-stone which is buried out of sight in the dark, damp earth. Of what use would Wellington have been on the field of Waterloo without his men? Johnson without his Boswell would not be the power in England that he is to-day. Samuel was a splendid man, but his unostentatious mother, Hannah, had the making of him. John Wesley gets all the credit for the Methodist revival, but his mother should be a sharer in the glory. Where would Leonidas have been but for his three hundred Spartans? Who can tell how much our prominent men in Church and State owe to some village schoolmaster or country minister? Lord Shaftesbury confessed that his life was entirely moulded by a God-fearing nursemaid. Klopstock, in the very height of his popularity, strewed flowers over the grave of his old schoolmaster. Paul never forgot his debt to Asyncritus and Phlegon, who so faithfully witnessed for Christ in that hot-bed of idolatry called Rome.
IV. Obscure men should not be jealous of their more favoured brethren. Asyncritus and Phlegon were not envious of Paul’s power and influence. If we have only one talent, let us not be jealous of those who have five. Conspicuous people are not always happy people. The statesman may have the plaudits of his friends, but he has also the bitterest invectives of his foes. It is the loftiest tree that is exposed to the full force of the hurricane. What a pleasant thing it must be to be a Prime Minister of England or a Chief Secretary for Ireland in these times! “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” If you are only an ordinary, man, do not grumble because you are not extraordinary. Think of a watch saying, “I will not keep time because I am not a town clock”! Think of a candle refusing to give light because it is not a Jupiter! Do not envy the five-talent men, but compensate yourself by using your one talent wisely until it becomes five. Carey could not do the work of Shakespeare, nor Luther the work of Melancthon, nor Bunyan the work of Milton. The eye cannot do the work of the ear, and the foot cannot do the work of the hand.
V. Obscure men should not drift into despondency and inactivity. “I am nothing!” Quite so. But add God to the nothing, and the total will amount to something! Like Naaman, we all want to do some great thing or nothing. There are only a few men who can do anything great. Suppose a star were to say, “I will extinguish myself, for the heavens can well do without me”; or a sand-grain, “I am only a speck of dust; the vast ocean-shore can well do without me.” Ah! but what if all the stars and sand-grains were to repeat the same story? All trifles are great trifles. A spoonful of water will set in motion the hydraulic power that will lift up many tons of iron, and a drop of faithful Christian service will send a movement through all the eternities. A rod with God behind it will divide the sea. A stripling shepherd with God at his right hand will vanquish the Philistine. Do not wait for great occasions, for there are only a few men who can do anything truly great. In a church of 500 members, you will not find more than ten five-talent men, and if they double their talents the total will only amount to 100. Then suppose the remaining 490 have only one talent each, and that they double it, the total will amount to 980 talents. There you have 980 against 100. There is a tremendous quantity of unused power in the Church. The humblest acts of the humblest men often have the greatest events hinging upon them. A cordial hand-shake with a heart-throb in it may save a soul. A genial smile with a little of the angel in it may redeem a family. If you cannot handle the oar, do send a cheer to those who are battling with the breakers.
VI. Obscure men who fill their quiet spheres efficiently will be promoted by God to wider spheres. Listen to the promise: “Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things.” By improving present opportunities, you open the gate for wider service. Fill well the sphere you have, and you will fit yourself for a higher one. “To him that hath shall more be given.” If you are only a tract distributor, do your work thoroughly, and the King will promote you. Because David was efficient as a shepherd, God made him a king.
VII. At the great day the obscure ones will become prominent, and many of the prominent will be consigned to obscurity. “Many shall be last that are first, and first that are last.” If the granite does not keep your name conspicuous before the eyes of the world, God has registered it in heaven. Work on quietly in the shade, then, and your handiwork will one day be exhibited in the sunshine. Asyncritus and Phlegon may yet stand side by side with Paul and Apollos. (J. Ossian Davies.)
And all the saints which are with them.--
The Bible saint is a holy or godly person. Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, were not all the saints there were in Rome. Paul saw fit to mention these, but there were the unmentioned ones, who were saints nevertheless. The faithful Christians of to-day cannot all be mentioned among the leaders. Salute all! No one, however humble, is to be forgotten.
I. The best and hardest work of the Church has been done by these unnamed Christians. I have often noticed in the hallway of public buildings one or more large tablets sunken into the wall. On the tablet are engraved the names of the architect, the mayor of the city, and a few other great names. Who laid the bricks to form that wall? Who wrought in wood and in metal the elegant finishing and sumptuous furnishing? Nay, whose hands carved in this marble slab the few names that are thus designed to go down to fame? The uncalendared workmen are many, but without them there could be neither foundation-stone nor key to arch. They laboured in the heat, and often in the rain; they laid the brick and lifted the stone into place; they laboured faith-fully--and are forgotten! But these same uncalendared workmen did in their sphere as good work as did the architect in his. I have also learned that the un-calendared saints do the largest share of God’s work, and, because they do that work for God, are willing to remain unknown and unsung. There never yet was a revival of the true sort for which God will not award praise to the uncalendared saints as well as to those whose names come prominently before the public eye. These uncalendared ones must do most of the plodding work. They must raise and disburse the money of the local church, visit the sick, care for the children. God bless the uncalendared saints who, because they work not for notoriety but for Jesus’ sake, are willing to do everything and be nothing. These, not the great names, constitute the strength, the hope, of the Christian Church.
II. As a rule, the most deserving have the least expected to be placed on the calendar. I imagine the people of our text were no exception. Paul was not the man to make this mention as a species of flattery, nor as a matter of policy. Philologus and Julia, Nereus and Olympas, never dreamed that their names were to be embalmed for ever in the Holy Word. It is not so difficult as many suppose to become a leader in a church or even in a denomination--to have one’s name printed in the papers as the distinguished layman or minister Mr. So-and-so; not so difficult to get on the calendar the world looks at, if one is willing to use a few of the means that such a desire would suggest. Such was the desire and method of the Pharisees in Christ’s time. They sought for a calendar fame and got it. But to be placed on the list of saints by loving hearts--hearts that have been helped by you--is quite another matter. I have my calendar of saints, those who have made themselves such to me. The fact is that when a Christian seeks to be known as one who ought to be placed on the calendar and known as an unusual saint, without the ordinary saint’s failings, then that Christian is in the way of destroying the very first qualification of a true saint--i.e., humility, which will keep a true Christian from making any such claim. The almsgiving, the fasting, the praying, the whole Christian life and profession, are to be without ostentation, “and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shalt reward thee openly.” Saints are found in the everyday life of every rank of society. For Jesus’ sake they are doing and bearing, praying and hoping, unconsciously fitting themselves for the calendar which some soul is making out--for every Christian is seen and read of men.
III. It was a great thing to be remembered by Paul in one of his letters, even though it be only one of the number referred to as “all the saints which are with them.” It will be an unspeakably greater joy when the uncalendared saint below becomes the calendared saint above. There the list will be made up of all, and not of a favoured few as in the Catholic Church. On that calendar we may all of us have our names written in characters that will never fade. What does it matter, then, if here we are un-calendared, if the great world does not know or care if we have honour and receive the recognition which is perhaps our due? In the end the world shall fade away, but enduring honour shall be given him whose name is enrolled on the heavenly calendar. (J. H. Yeoman.)
Where goldsmiths are at work, the very dust is valuable. I stood, two days ago, in a room from the sweepings of the floor of which there is annually extracted more than two thousand dollars’ worth of the precious metal; and if these had been carelessly thrown upon the dust-bin, there would have been just so much loss to the owners of the establishment. Now, in the Bible--which is more to be desired than gold--the portions that in other books may be accounted dry as dust, and hastily skipped over by the reader, have an element of value, not only because of their own importance, but also because very frequently there is found in them some suggestive expression which more than rewards for the patient perseverance that was required for their examination. Nothing can well be less interesting, in itself considered, than a genealogical table of names and dates and ages, yet we cannot forget that it is just such a place that we come upon the prayer of Jabez, which, by its very contrast with the details in the midst of which we find it, seems almost like a fountain in the desert, or like the well-known Alpine flower in the vicinity of the glacier. (W. M. Taylor.)
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions.
A caution against schismatics
I. Their character described. They--
1. Cause divisions.
2. Occasion offences.
3. Pervert doctrines.
II. Their principles exposed.
1. Their motives are impure.
2. Their words deceptive.
3. Their victims the simple.
III. Their influence counteracted by--
IV. Their destruction certain. Enemies of the God of peace, they will perish with Satan whom they serve shortly. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Divisions in the Church arise from a want of Spiritual life
Some of the old Roman walls are compacted with such excellent cement that it would be almost impossible to separate one stone from another; in fact, the whole mass has become so consolidated that you cannot distinguish one stone from another. Happy the Church thus built up, where each cares not only for his own prosperity, but for the prosperity of all. And yet, what are some Churches but semi-religious clubs, mere conventions of people gathered together? They have not in them that holy soul which is the essence of unity. The body would soon become disjointed if the soul were not in it; and if the Spirit of Christ be absent, the whole fabric of the outward Church falls to pieces; for where there is no life there can be no true union. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Danger of divisions
If two ships at sea, being of the same squadron, be scattered by storm from each other, how should they come to the relief of each other? If, again, they clash together, and fall foul, how should the one endanger the other and herself too? It was of old the Dutch device of two earthern pots swimming upon the water, with this motto, “If we knock together, we sink together.” (J. Spencer.)
Danger from within the Church
“The disposition to grumble” seriously threatened the well-being of the Church, it formed the gravest danger it had yet to encounter. The earth is exposed to two perils--the first arises from the storms bearing upon it from without; the second from volcanic forces assailing it from within. Of the two, the most dangerous is the volcanic force: Let the winds break as they will, the earth continues firm under our tread and steadfast in its orbit. But when internal fires burst forth, the earth quakes to its foundations, and the solid rocks shiver and split. The gravest danger to the Church arises from within; it is the spirit of discontent in the members. (S. Jones.)
Danger of dissensions
The Jesuits who came to Germany were called “Spanish priests.” They took possession of the universities. “They conquered us,” says Ranke, “on our own ground, in our own homes, and stripped us of a part of our country.” This, the acute historian proceeds to say, “sprang certainly from the want of understanding among the Protestant theologians, and of sufficient enlargement of mind to tolerate unessential differences. The violent opposition among each other left the way open to these cunning strangers, who taught a doctrine not open to dispute.” (Hallam.)
Danger of dissension
It is said that when the cranes fall out among themselves, the fight is so fierce that they beat down one another, and so are taken as they fight. (J. Spencer.)
And offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
The question is not whether a doctrine is beautiful, but whether it is true. When we want to go to a place, we don’t ask whether the road leads through a pretty country, but whether it is the right road, the road pointed out by authority, the turnpike-road. (Archdeacon Hare.)
Contagion of false doctrine
Sin is like the bale of goods which came from the East to this city in the olden time, which brought the pest in it. Probably it was but a small bale, but yet it contained in it the deaths of hundreds of the inhabitants of London. In those days one piece of rag carried the infection into a whole town. So, if you permit one sin or false doctrine in a Church knowingly and wittingly, none can tell the extent to which that evil may ultimately go. The Church, therefore, is to be purged of practical and doctrinal evil as diligently as possible. That sour and corrupting thing which God abhors must be purged out, and it is to be the business of the Christian minister, and of all his fellow helpers, to keep the Church free from it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Danger of error
Let us beware of the first wrong direction of thought and feeling; however minute the degree, fearful may be the after-deviations. The voyager enters a current which seems propitious; there is no apparent diversion from his course; his bark speeds well; his oar does not toil, nor his sail strain; in his confidence all promises success. But, while he examines, scarcely does it seem that he has advanced. Much again and again reminds him of what he has noticed just before. A strange familiarity impresses his sense. Still, current flows into current; while onward and buoyant is his track. Soon he feels an unnatural vibration. Where he glided, he now whirls along. The truth seizes upon him; he is sweeping a whirlpool. Long since, he has entered the verge of a maelstrom, and he is now the sport of its gyrations. No power is left his helm or mast; he is the trembling, unresisting prey. He hears the roar; he is drawn into the suck of the vortex. Not only the circle lessens, the very surface slopes; the central funnel and abyss, dark-heaving, smooth, vitreous, yawns. The mariner shrieks, the skiff is swallowed up, where the waters only separate to close, where the outermost attraction was but the minister to the famine of this devouring maw. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)
Separation: lawful and unlawful
To separate such as agree in the truth of Christ is an impious and sacrilegious divorce; but to defend a conspiracy for promoting lies and impious doctrines, under the pretext of peace and unity, is a shameless calumny. The Papists have no foundation for exciting, by artful guile, an unfavourable impression and low opinion of us believers, from this passage; for we do not attack and confute the gospel of Christ, but the falsehoods of the devil by which it has hitherto been obscured. (J. Calvin.)
For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly.--
Dividers and heretics
1. Their motive.
2. Their procedure.
3. Their victims.
Dividers and heretics
I. Their characteristics.
1. They serve not the Lord Jesus.
(1) Their motive and profession was insincere. Our motive in religious matters to be carefully examined. Satan often served in Christ’s uniform.
(2) Christ is entitled to our service--
(a) As God.
(b) As Mediator.
(c) From gratitude to Him and obedience to the Divine command.
(3) To serve Christ is--
(a) To aim at His glory.
(b) To promote His interest.
(c) To do His will.
(4) Christ is to be served with all our powers.
2. They serve their own belly. Merely to get a living and for their own personal gain (2Co_11:12; 2Co_11:20; Philippians 3:18-19; Galatians 6:12; Titus 1:10-11). Private interests served under the pretence of Christian zeal. Men can make a gain of godliness instead of making godliness a gain.
II. Their methods.
1. Good words. Pretending a great interest in your welfare (Psalms 55:21). Satan transferred into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
2. Fair speeches, lit. blessing; a stronger word than the former. Speaking well of you; promising well to you. Having men’s persons in admiration for advantage (Jude 1:16). Showing not only a bland spirit, but an affected piety. The foulest errors are often introduced under the fairest promises. Satan is a skilful fowler and knows well how to set his snare. Soul destroyers are remarkable for seductive address (Genesis 3:2, etc.; 2 Corinthians 11:3). Flatterers should be always suspected. Sweet tastes are not always wholesome.
III. Their effects.
1. Deceiving. Deceived themselves they seek to deceive others. Deceiver, Satan’s most characteristic title (John 8:44; Revelation 12:9). He practises his deception through his deceived followers. Deceivers more to be feared than open persecutors.
2. The simple, innocent, unsuspecting, inexperienced--those who are not sufficiently guarded and grounded in the truth. More distinguished for honesty than penetration; without malice themselves and suspecting none in others, and so the natural prey of designing men (2 Peter 2:14; 2 Timothy 3:6). (T. Robinson.)
The French have grown so clever at imitating pearls, that a jeweller in the Exhibition shows a necklace which purports to be a mixture of true pearls and false; and he challenges his customers to single out the real ones if he can. Nobody has yet succeeded We are told that there is only one way by which they can be detected, and that is by their specific weight; the false are much lighter than the real pearls. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For your obedience is come abroad unto all men.--
Obedience of faith
1. Consists in a hearty reception of the gospel and compliance with its teachings.
2. Is a source of great satisfaction to every faithful minister.
3. Needs to be confirmed by wisdom and simplicity. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
But yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.--
Accessories to obedience
“But yet.” Obedience is good, but needs to be guarded. Teachableness needs discretion for its companion. Pliable tempers require a double guard. The greater the grace received the more need of caution. The richest vessels carry the strongest convoys. Living Churches and Christians Satan’s most coveted prey. Holy joy in others leads to holy jealousy over them (2 Corinthians 11:2).
I. Wise unto good. Wisdom is to know what is good, to embrace it, to hold it fast, to practise it, and to promote it. It includes understanding, discrimination, prudence, and discretion, and is necessary to avoid being ensnared by the crafty. The Roman Christians had already perhaps been none too cautious. The good includes doctrine, practice, and experience. The highest wisdom is to know the will of God and to do it, and the most profitable that which makes us wise unto salvation.
II. Simple concerning evil.
1. Simplicity is--
(1) Harmlessness; like an animal without horns. Believers, in respect of evil, are to be as children (1 Corinthians 14:20), wise as serpents but harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16).
(2) As contrasted with “wise”--without cunning, dexterity, or skill. Unknowing and unpractised in the ways of evil; ignorant of the depths of Satan (Revelation 2:24).
2. Evil is--
(1) Moral, i.e., sin.
(2) Harm done to others. (T. Robinson, D. D.)
If this Epistle had been lost in the streets of Rome, and had been picked up by some Roman philosopher, after reading all the wonderful things which would have filled his mind with amazement, I think he would have called this a golden sentence. What a comprehensive and beautiful wish.
I. The characteristics of true religion.
1. “Wise to that which is good” includes--
(1) An intelligent comprehension of the nature of acceptable goodness, which is neither morality without religion nor religion without morality. It is neither secular virtue without any root in religious faith, nor is it the mere profession of religious truth, or the mere enjoyment of religious excitement, or the mere attention upon religious ceremonies distinct from real, downright morality of life. These two things must be combined; and then there is a perfection about the human character that the man who has to do with God cannot but have to do with man under the influence of feelings that belong to God.
(2) The application of this knowledge to practical life; for wisdom is the practical application of knowledge. To be wise unto that which is good is to see to it that the principle of religious faith shall be the root and spring of holy moral action. Yet how many professors are very knowing as to the theory, but want the “wisdom” of the manifestation of the thing as a practical law.
(3) The being alive to whatever will promote or retard this. Most men are like horses to a chariot, one dragging and another backing, one starting aside and another standing still. But where there is a predominant principle, it will subordinate everything to itself, and make obstacles stepping-stones to the object. Now, if a Christian man has for his ruling principle a desire to advance in acceptable goodness, and if he is “wise” in relation to it, he will be alive to favourable circumstances. Aye, and how “wise” such a man will become in relation to self-knowledge! He will draw upon his memory and upon his experience. From past failures he will draw principles of caution. He will be “wise” to understand his weakness as well as his strength, and, guarding against weakness and seeking to increase strength, there will be a practical wisdom perpetually manifested in the way in which he will seek to improve opportunities and avoid hindrances.
(4) Promptitude and tact in doing good. And the man that is really “wise to that which is good” will acquire a talent for saying and doing things without giving the least offence, leaving an impression upon men which shall lead them to God.
2. “Simple concerning evil.”
(1) The happy simplicity of ignorance. Often the knowledge of evil is evil, and many a man has lived to regret that he has had any acquaintance with it.
(2) Perfect candour, guilelessness, simplicity of purpose and manner and language. How unenviable is the reputation of some men, who seem to be perpetually acting upon the principle of language being given “to conceal the thoughts.” It is painful to have to do with such people.
(3) Thinking no evil of our brother. Some men are ever suspecting and acting with every man as if he might one day be an adversary. Let us have more faith in one another. Even though we may sometimes be deceived, still do not let us give up faith in man.
(4) Steady simplicity of purpose in the resistance of evil. Man cannot say with his Master, “The evil one cometh and hath nothing in me”; but by the grace of God there must be perfect clearness of character, unspottedness from the world. No paltering with evil, but a manly front, arising from the rectitude of purpose, with which we desire to glorify God.
II. The way in which we may seek to realise it.
1. Frequent, deep, and devout meditation upon the ultimate object of religion. That object is not numbers, faith, profession, religious pleasure, all this it gives, but it gives and demands something more. Everything is to terminate in more and more practical “fruits of the Spirit” and a holy likeness to the God that gave it. Now Christian men should meditate upon it, and that would aid them in realising it.
2. Steady, constant, and conscientious use of the means of grace as means. Not to find the end in the mere coming in contact with the means, and in the pleasure which they produce; but to use these things as means to strengthen and nourish faith, holy feeling, and motives, and to lead the man from the Church into the family and all the thoroughfares of the world, there to act and to live out the principles which the means of grace cherish and strengthen within him.
3. Act the text. The really doing a good thing has a happy reflex operation, both upon a man’s understanding and heart. Get over some suggestion of selfishness or feeling of revenge, go and forgive thy brother, or visit the wretched and poor, go with simplicity of purpose and desire to manifest thy love; and then come and read thy Bible. It is wonderful how beautiful thou wilt perceive the truth to be; and how every word from that very preparation of the heart will come with power upon thy soul, and strengthen within thee every holy purpose. But come from your hours of dissipation, your places of frivolous amusement, come after actually committing some act of violence, and read thy Bible; how it will strengthen the sceptic within thee! how it will cloud thine eye! how it will make thee find reasons, or attempt to find them, for denying and disbelieving this Divine thing!
1. Not only is the gospel pre-eminently a practical thing, but, whether Christianity be true or false, it will be blessedness to the world for its spirit to become practically universal.
2. Christianity bears upon it, in these attributes, the indications of the source from which it comes. Take the character that the world admires; why, if that spirit were to become universal, if there were nothing to counteract it in the virtues of Christian men, the world would become like the infernal pit.
3. Admitting that a great many Christians are far inferior to the demands of the Book, a vast many of them are superior to the world. “The fruits of the Spirit” do appear in some degree; and after all, what would the world be if there were not a Christian Church with a Bible in it in the midst of them? (T. Binney.)
And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.
Satan bruised by the God of peace
There were two victories to be obtained over Satan. By the first, his head was to be bruised under the feet of Christ; and by the second, the rest of his body will be bruised under the feet of believers. Of the second of these victories, Paul here speaks. In the first prediction, God speaks as the Lord of Hosts, the God of war--“I will put enmity.” The war continues till the bruising of Satan’s head has taken place and his empire is overthrown, and when it is subverted, peace is made, and God is the God of peace. As, then, the Seed of the woman has bruised the head of the serpent, so His people will, through Christ, likewise bruise Satan. The apostle says not we shall bruise him under our feet, but God shall do it; yet he says not He shall bruise him under His own feet, but under yours. The victory shall be ours though wrought by Him; and He shall do it shortly. Some understand this of the final victory that all the Lord’s people will obtain at last over Satan and all his emissaries. But though they will not be free from the attacks of this subtle adversary as long as they are in the body, yet from the phrase “speedily,” or “shortly,” as well as from the immediate reference to the power of God in the Church, it appears rather to refer to a present victory. It is consistent with God’s wisdom to permit Satan to try His people; but when they are sufficiently tried, they are delivered from the temptation. So it was with the Son of God Himself. Satan was for a time permitted to harass Him, but at last he was dismissed. In like manner, Churches and individual Christians are all to be tried in various ways; but if they abide the trial they shall be delivered from the temptation, and, in the most emphatic and extensive sense, they shall all at last bruise Satan under their feet. They shall obtain a complete victory over him in the day of the appearing of their Almighty Lord, who will then cast him into the lake of fire and brimstone. On that day the full import of this expression will be seen. (R. Haldane.)
Victory over the disturber of peace
I. How satan disturbs the church. By divisions, etc. (Romans 16:17).
II. The certainty of our deliverance. By the God of peace.
III. The signal manner in which he will effect it. He will bruise, etc. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The wonderful conquest
Earth is the scene of a great moral struggle between truth and error, right and wrong, God and Satan. This fact invests our planet with an interest which perhaps attaches to no other portion of the universe. The text prophesies a conquest, in every aspect wonderful on account of--
I. The gigantic foe that is overcome. “Satan.”
1. The word means first an accuser, a calumniator, and then an enemy. The Bible represents him as the introducer of evil into the universe, the leader of all the hosts of wickedness, in hell and on earth; at once the instigator and the strength of all opposition to the cause of virtue and the well-being of humanity.
2. To crush him is to destroy the root of the upas, to dry up the fountain of sin and misery. He shall be “bruised”; his purposes thwarted, his influence destroyed, his powers paralysed; the crushed victim of his own gigantic follies and stupendous wickedness. What a blessed event in the history of the universe this will be
III. The character of the glorious conqueror. “God of Peace.” How sublimely strange--not the God of vengeance, the God of war. Note--
1. That God has the consciousness of a sufficiency of power for the work. There can be no peace of mind to one who has the faintest suspicion of his own insufficiency. Anxious doubt would fill the spirit with agitation. Mighty as Satan is, he is feebleness itself in the grasp of Omnipotence.
2. That God is free from all malevolent emotions in the work. Where anger, revenge, etc., exist, there can be no peace. They agitate the heart. God crushes Satan from impulses the most benevolent.
3. That God has a consciousness of rectitude in the work. Whenever a being has misgivings as to the rightness of a course of action, he cannot be in the enjoyment of peace. God feels He has aright to crush Satan the usurper, etc.
III. On account of the creatures from whom the conquest is achieved. Satan is under the feet of angels. They tower in virtue, blessedness, and dignity, in spheres above his influence. It is over men he has control. God will put him under men’s feet.
1. Completely. “Under your feet,” indicating entire subjection. He will rise no more.
2. Speedily. “Shortly.” The conquest is not far off--(l) In the individual history of good men. At death, by God’s grace, they obtain the entire mastery over Satan. Death will be “shortly” with all of us.
(2) In the general history of this world. Satan has been ruling the world for ages, still a period shall come when he shall be put under its feet. Though this period may be many ages distant, still in a sense it is close at hand--
(a) To us. We die, and the intervening period is as nothing. Only as the few hours of a refreshing sleep.
(b) To God. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years,” etc. Let us, then, take heart. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Satan under the control of God
We looked into the Botanical Gardens at Rome, and saw a leopard walking to and fro upon the terrace. He appeared to be quite loose, but we were morally certain that he was chained in some way. We saw no chain, but we were as much at ease as if we could, because we were sure there must be one somewhere. So is it with Satan, affliction, temptation or trial--there is a Divine restraint upon them; whether we see it or not, the tether is there. Let us trust and not be afraid. God will take in the enemy a link or two if he becomes too malicious. Dread not the foe, but bless God for the chain. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.
Timotheus the workfellow
I. What co-operation in the cause of Christ implies.
1. One faith.
2. One spirit.
3. One aim.
4. One effort.
II. What it secures.
4. Honour. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Natural and spiritual relationships
1. Paul and Timothy.
2. Paul and his kinsmen. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Either Luke, now with Paul (Acts 20:5), or Lucius of Cyrene (Acts 13:1), or both. One name often appears under different forms. Jason:--A convert of Thessalonica (Acts 17:5; Acts 17:7), who entertained Paul at much risk, and accompanied him to Corinth, as usual in those times (Romans 15:24; Acts 20:4). Sosipater of Berea (Acts 20:4). These were Paul’s kinsmen, relations both by nature and grace. The holy lives of relatives a joy to believers. Yet note that Timothy a workfellow is named before them. (T. Robinson, D.D.)
The greetings of the saints derive value
I. From the character of those who send them.
1. They are God’s children.
2. Love us for Christ’s sake.
3. Seek our truest happiness.
4. Hence their good-will is better than that of the most distinguished children of this world.
II. From their import.
1. They are not mere formalities.
2. But heartfelt wishes--and silent intercessions.
3. Whose essential meaning is expressed in verse 24. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
1. Are not only courteous, but Christian.
2. Should be the symbol of heartfelt love, and unity in Christ.
3. Should be accompanied with earnest prayer.
4. Are then of real and essential value. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.
We often see in old religious pictures a small portrait of the artist on his knees in a corner. This is such a picture of the man who had the humble task of writing this Epistle from Paul’s burning lips. We never hear of him before or after; just one little gleam of a light falls upon him, as sometimes you may see a star peep out for a moment, with a great bank of blackness on either side of it--but one gleam of light and one word makes this man immortal. “I Tertius, who wrote this Epistle,” will last as long as the Bible, and longer too. Note here:--
I. A very remarkable, because unconscious example of the strange uniting power of common faith. The Church in Rome knew nothing about Tertius; so it was needful to introduce himself.
1. Here, then, is an utter stranger to a body of people in Rome, possibly separated from them by race, nationality, education, and all the deep clefts which split humanity up into so many uncommunicating or hostile forces. And he stretches out his hand across all this, and says, “Here is a brother’s hand. God has made us of one family.” And look how beautifully he pushes himself in: “I salute you in the Lord. If you want to know why I speak to you, I point to Christ’s name. You and I are one in Him, and so we can salute each other.” The world was all broken up by great deep clefts frowning against each other, and Christianity threw across what seemed to be mere gossamer threads, but what has drawn the frowning precipices together, and of the twain has made one.
2. These early Christians loved each other all the more because the world hated them. The pressure of antagonism forced them together, as loosely compacted substances are squeezed together by the hydraulic press. Christianity is a great deal more loosely compacted than when the world sat upon it; but take this lesson--do not put your experience within any little ring fence. You are tall enough to look over it, however high it is; and though you may talk about “our Church,” do not fancy that that is the same as Christ’s Church, and that you are to keep all your sympathy for your own Church. Put your hand out, be sure that your brother there will grasp it; and make the effort after the pattern of this voice from Corinth, that shouted across the water to the people in the mother-city. Do not let our faith have less of a uniting power than the infantile faith of those early Christians.
II. The dignity of subordinate work.
1. The man was very little more than a machine; he sat there to put down whatever Paul told him. Yes! But he is evidently proud of his work, with the kind of pride that a true man may have, not that it has been done well, but that God has given it to him to do at all. “I have not done much in the world, but I have done that, at any rate. If it had not been for me you Roman Christians would not have had this in your hand.”
2. And Tertius was quite as necessary as Paul, before the letter could get finished. All the hits of a machine are equally important, because if the smallest screw drops out, the whole thing stops. However minute a link of a chain may be, if it drops out, the whole thing is at an end. And so in God’s work there is no such thing as “great” and “small.” Besides, nobody can tell what is big and what is little. If it had not been for Tertius you would not have had your New Testament, as you have it. He did not know what he was doing, and none of us know what we are doing when we are working for the Master. “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee.” The wise and seeing people in the Church, the clever, and educated people, cannot say to the people with no views or insight to speak of, but can do the work that they are directed to do--“I have no need of thee.” Every note in the great score is needed for the total effect, and the Master foresaw its power. Every instrument in the orchestra is needed.
III. What is the best thing to be remembered by? Very beautiful to see how in this good man’s mind there was evidently present the desire to live in the affections of those to whom he had been the means of bringing God’s truth. And there is no such sacred tie as that. And it is right that he who has helped you in any way to feel Christ nearer or more precious to you, should seek to have and to keep a place in your hearts. Only, let us remember that it was “in the Lord” that Tertius wanted the Roman Christians to love him. And it is not mere admiratory esteem, affection of an earthly sort that a true minister seeks from his flock.
IV. “I wrote this Epistle.” That is all his life that we know anything about. All the rest of it has shrunk away and been forgotten. Into how little a space the important facts of a life can be condensed. It takes acres of roses to make a phial of essence of roses. And it takes days and years to be, and do, that which can he spoken in a line. Well! Tertius did not care what of his life was known or unknown by other people; but he did want that other people should know that he had written this Epistle. Will it be an epitaph of that sort, in five or six words, that will do for us? This is my ambition, that this at least may be engraven on my tomb: “A servant of Christ, who helped some people to know His will, and to do it for His love’s sake”? If so, all the rest may well go. If so, it matters very little what may become of our names or reputation. He has said, “Surely I will never forget any of their works.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Tertius the scribe
Why Paul employed an amanuensis we cannot certainly tell. That he did so usually is undoubted, and only wrote the concluding sentence to show that the Epistle was genuine (1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). It has been supposed that he laboured under a chronic defect of sight, arising from the effect of “the light from heaven above the brightness of the sun” which fell on his astonished eyes on the way to Damascus, and to which it has been supposed that there are various references in his writings, especially Galatians 4:13-15. It is not unlikely that, like many literary men, he did not write a very legible hand. Some have supposed there is a reference to this in Galatians 6:11. Every man has his own gift, and, in the employment of it may be useful. Tertius could not have composed this Epistle; but he could probably write it better than its author. The greatest of men has not every qualification, and may be much the better for the assistance of those who are immeasurably his inferiors. (J. Brown, D.D.)
Gaius mine host, and of the whole Church, saluteth you.--
Gaius the host
I. A man characterised by a single virtue. It is noteworthy that most of the saints immortalised in this chapter have just one distinguishing mark. Doubtless they were not wanting in other qualities necessary to the symmetry of Christian character, but one excellence seems to be prominent.
1. It is better to use one talent well than to neglect or imperfectly employ five talents. One ripe apple on a bough is worth more than twenty green ones. Many Christians richly endowed are far less useful than those poorer furnished, but who do what they can with all their might. Gaius may have been no eloquent preacher, no sagacious administrator, no zealous evangelist; but his means enabled him to dispense hospitality, and he did this well,
2. Gaius’ excellence at first sight shows at a disadvantage beside those who were “beloved,” who “laboured in the Lord,” who were Paul’s “helpers,” etc. Yet he did what he could, and in the Master’s estimation to give a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple is sometimes better than to do many mighty works in His name. But--
II. This virtue included a vast number of other virtues. Probably no virtue stands alone; certainly hospitality does not. Apart from the fuller portrait of Gaius in 3 John we can gather from the text--
1. His devotion to the apostle. “Mine host.” And he who was devoted to the apostle was devoted to the apostle’s Master. “Inasmuch as ye have done,” etc.
2. His courage. It required no small amount of moral heroism to shelter the leader and members of a sect everywhere spoken against.
3. Disinterestedness. “Not many noble,” etc. There was nothing to gain, but everything to lose.
4. Large-hearted Christian love. He was not a “boon companion,” but “the host of the whole Church.” If charity be a distinguishing Christian grace surely Gaius must have been an eminent Christian.
III. This virtue was worth recording, and is worthy of imitation; because of--
1. Its usefulness. How much Christianity was indebted to this good man only the day will declare. Think what it must have been to the apostle and the Church to have had one house that was always open, one table always spread, one heart always ready to sympathise, one hand always ready to help.
2. Its neglect. “Given to hospitality” was a common and required mark of the early Christians, which has largely dropped from the modern Christian ethics. Yet how much good might be done if more of our rich men were to invite Church workers, particularly the humble ones, to their homes. (J. W. Burn.)
in its widest significance, is a form of sympathetic relation to other men, by which we open to them our house, our family circle, and let outsiders share the advantages of our own family life. In ancient and mediaeval times this virtue was practised to a wider extent than at present, because the state of the law was then imperfect, the roads insecure, and public houses of entertainment, where refreshment might be had for money, were few. A certain character of sacredness and individuality was attributed to a stranger thus received, and this feeling has been maintained among all nations. And however past and present circumstances may differ, hospitality, both in its broader and narrower meanings, should be continually exercised (Romans 12:13), partly by entertaining strangers, partly by affording access to our domestic circle to the stranger who has inspired us with confidence; now by collecting about us those who are deprived of the advantages of family life, now by inviting friends who have families of their own, in exhilarating social meetings. (Bp. Martensen.)
Erastus, the chamberlain of the city.--Perhaps the apostle’s helper in Ephesus (Acts 19:22). Mentioned in connection with his own city, Corinth (2 Timothy 4:20). An undesigned coincidence. Probably on receiving he accompanied Paul for a time. He was the public steward or treasurer, town clerk or recorder--an office of high respectability--mentioned by Josephus. The gospel suits and gains all classes. Yet not many noble called (1 Corinthians 1:26). Grace is compatible with high position and manifold avocations. Christians may hold office under heathen rulers (Nehemiah 1:1). To serve Christ we need not abandon worldly business. (T. Robinson, D.D.)
Erastus the chamberlain
“Not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called,” but there were exceptions; and in some places not a few. If, when a Christian, Erastus retained office, the fact speaks highly of his reputation as a citizen and a functionary. The disciples of Jesus are still members of society; and if on any occasion their fellow-citizens call them to any situation of authority and influence, not requiring anything inconsistent with their Christian principles, it may even become an imperative duty for them to obey. Whatever station we are called in providence to fill, let us see to it that we never act the part of a trimming worldly policy. In every situation “let your light shine.” There is danger, when Christians are placed in situations of worldly honour and influence, of their getting secularised: sad is it when this is the case; for it is alike injurious to the spiritual interests of the individual and to the cause of Christ. Oh, for grace according to our situation--that God in all things may be glorified! (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
Quartus a brother.--It is easy to make a little picture of this brother. He is a stranger to the Church in Rome, and is evidently a man of no especial reputation in the Church at Corinth. He has no wealth like Gaius, nor civil position like Erastus, nor wide reputation like Timothy. But he would like the Romans to know that he thought lovingly of them, and to be lovingly thought of by them. So he begs a little corner in Paul’s letter, and gets it; and there, in his little niche, like some statue of a forgotten saint, scarce seen amidst the glories of a great cathedral, “Quartus a brother” stands to all time. Note--
I. How deep and real these words show the new bond of Christian love to have been. A little incident of this sort is more impressive than any amount of talk about the uniting influence of the gospel. Quartus was a Corinthian, and there was little love lost between Rome and Corinth. The world then was like some great field of cooled lava on the slopes of a volcano, all broken up by a labyrinth of clefts and cracks, at the bottom of which one can see the flicker of sulphurous flames. Great gulfs of race, language, religion, and social condition, far profounder than anything of the sort which we know, split mankind into fragments. And all these disintegrating forces were bound together into an artificial unity by the iron clamp of Rome’s power, holding up the bulging walls that were ready to fall--the unity of the slave-gang manacled together for easier driving. Into this hideous condition of things the gospel comes, and silently flings its clasping tendrils over the wide gaps, and binds the crumbling structure of human society with a new bond, real and living. And we see the very process going on before our eyes in this message from “Quartus a brother.”
1. It reminds us that the very notion of humanity, and of the brotherhood of man, is purely Christian. A world-embracing society, held together by love, was not dreamt of before the gospel came; and if you wrench away the idea from its foundation, as people do who talk about fraternity, and seek to bring it to pass without Christ, it is a mere piece of Utopian sentiment--a fine dream. But in Christianity it worked. The gospel first of all produced the thing and the practice, and then the theory came afterwards. The Church did not talk much about the brotherhood of man, or the unity of the race; but simply ignored all distinctions, and gathered into the fold the slave and his master, the Roman and his subject, fair-haired Goths and swarthy Arabians, the worshippers of Odin and of Zeus, the Jew and the Gentile.
2. And before this simple word of greeting could have been sent some profound new impulse must have been given to the world. What was that? What should it be but the story of One who gave Himself for the whole world, who binds men into a unity because of His common relation to them all, and through whom the great proclamation can be made: “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” etc. Brother Quartus’ message, like some tiny flower above-ground which tells of a spreading root beneath, is a modest witness to that mighty revolution, and presupposes the preaching of a Saviour in whom he and his unseen friends in Rome are one.
3. So let us learn not to confine the play of our Christian affection within the limits of our personal knowledge. Like this man, let us sometimes send our thoughts across mountains and sea. He and the Romans were strangers, but he wished to feel, as it were, the pressure of their fingers in his palm.
II. Quartus belonged to a Church which was remarkable for its dissensions. One “said, I am of Paul,” etc. I wonder if Qaartus belonged to any of these parties. It is quite likely that he had far more love to the brethren in Rome than to those who sat on the same bench with him in the upper room at Corinth. For sometimes it is true about people, as well as about scenery, that “distance lends enchantment to the view.” A great many of us have much keener sympathies with “brethren” who are well out of our reach than with those who are nearest. Do not let your Christian love go wandering away abroad only, but keep some for home consumption.
III. How simply, and with what unconscious beauty, the deep reason for our Christian unity is given in that one word, a “brother.” “Never mind telling them anything about what I am, tell them I am a brother, that will be enough.” We are brethren because we are sons of one Father. The great Christian truth of regeneration is the foundation of Christian brotherhood. That is the true ground of our unity, and of our obligation to love all who are begotten of God. All else--identity of opinion, practice, and ceremonial, local or national ties, and the like--all else is insufficient. It may be necessary for Christian communities to require a general identity of opinion and form of worship; but if ever they fancy that such are the grounds of their spiritual unity, they are slipping off the real foundation, and are perilling their character as Churches of Christ.
IV. How strangely and unwittingly this good man has got himself an immortality by that passing thought of his. One loving message has won for him the prize for which men have joyfully given life itself-an eternal place in history. How much surprised he would have been if, as he leaned forward to Tertius and said, “Send my love too,” anybody had told him that that one act of his would last as long as the world! And how much ashamed some of the other people in the New Testament would have been if they had known that their passing faults--the quarrel of Euodia and Syntyche for instance--were to be gibbeted for ever in the same fashion! When a speaker sees the reporters in front of him he weighs his words. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Distinctions even in the Church
I. Gaius the respectable.
1. Known of all.
2. Hospitable to all.
3. Beloved and well reported of all.
II. Erastus the official.
1. Esteemed and honoured by those without.
2. Not many wise, not many noble, are called.
III. Quartus a brother. Unknown, yet well known; “prized and loved by God alone.” (J. Lyth, D.D.)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.--
The pastor’s parting blessing
The Christian is a man of generous actions, but his wishes go far beyond his deeds. Where he cannot be beneficent he is benevolent. Thus the great heart of the apostle relieved itself; though he would have been willing to lay down his life for the brethren, yet he did not think it idle to give them his blessing. Long has the benediction lain in the Epistle like the wheat in the Egyptian cathomb, but there is a vitality in it yet; lo, it buds and brings forth good to us after the lapse of eighteen centuries.
I. What is meant by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?
1. The grace which was revealed in Christ
2. The grace which comes to us through Christ. Our Lord, as it were, took out of the river-bed of grace the great rock which blocked up the water-courses.
3. The grace which comes to us with Christ. Those peculiar blessings which come to souls who abide in Christ, who are not drowning men barely landed on the shore, but have life abundantly.
4. All the grace that is in anyway connected with Christ. Elsewhere he extends the benediction to the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost. But the shorter form is intended to comprehend all the rest. In many of his epistles the apostle sums up with “grace be with you all,” without mentioning any person of the Godhead. So that “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is synonymous with grace as such; and comprehends all the various displays of grace. He wishes the saints all the grace they need, or can desire, and that the Infinite God can give.
5. When the text is the desire of our heart, we mean--
(1) May the love of Jesus Christ be with you, and may you know that you have it.
(2) May His mercy be with you, as shown by the full pardon of all your sins, and your knowledge of it.
(3) May you be the subjects of His work constantly.
(4) May you have His peace.
(5) May you exhibit the grace which shone so brightly in Him, and was seen by men and angels to the glory of God the Father.
II. With whom is this grace to be?
1. With all the saints.
(1) You all need it.
(2) You all may have it.
(3) There is no grace which you may not have, and which you ought to be content to go without. It is grievous to see how we stunt ourselves, and appear content with a poor form of spiritual life.
2. All the saints, i.e.,--
(1) Church officers.
(2) Church workers.
(3) Church members, poor, rich, young, and old.
3. This benediction is limited to the saints. In Philemon and Galatians the apostle says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” It is only meant for spiritual-minded men, for such as have been born again of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 16:21-24 he pronounces a solemn curse upon those whom he feels he cannot bless, because they are so base as not to love the infinitely loving Jesus.
III. What will be the result if this grace be with you all? Blessed consequences will accrue to--
(1) You will love God better.
(2) You will be much in prayer, for this eminently distinguished his character.
(3) You will walk with God, even as he did.
2. Your fellow Church-members.
(1) You will love each other with a pure heart fervently.
(2) Your speech will be to edification.
3. Your families. The servants will find the house a home, and the children will become children of God, when the master and mistress are filled with the grace of our Lord Jesus.
4. The world. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
1. What it supposes.
2. What it includes.
3. For whom it is desired.
4. How it is secured. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Grace for all
1. Is needed by all.
2. Is provided for all.
3. Is offered to all.
4. Is supplicated for all
5. May be enjoyed by all. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Fellowship with Christ
On Christ faith feeds. I saw a group of lovely ferns the other day in a grotto, from the roof of which continually distilled a cool, clear, crystal rain: these ferns were perpetually fresh and beautiful, because their leaves were continually bathed in the refreshing drops. Although it was at a season when verdure was scant, these lovely ferns were as verdant as possible. I observed to my friend that I would wish to live in the everlasting drip of grace, perpetually laved, and bathed, and baptized in the overflowing of Divine fellowship. This makes a man full of faith. If Moses had faith you do not wonder, for he had been forty days upon the mount. If we have communed with God it shall be a marvel if we doubt, and not that we believe. Feed faith with the truth of God, but especially with Him who is the truth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Now to Him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel.
What a doxology! Full of Divine melody; full of grace and truth!
I. The stablishing. He is the Creator.
(1) He is the mighty God. He is “of power” (literally, “able”) to stablish you.
(2) The fountain-head of the mystery of hidden wisdom.
(3) He is the everlasting God (Psalms 90:1).
(4) He is the God only wise. Such is our Stablisher! Can we fear or be discouraged? Shall our weakness, or frailty, or the number of our foes appal us?
II. The stablishing. The word expresses steadfastness, fixture, and strength (see Luke 9:51; Romans 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; James 5:8; 1 Peter 5:10). It assumes that on our part there is weakness, wavering, changeableness; that there is peril. The process of stablishing is what we need so much; it is more than being “kept from falling,” and we require both. The gospel
(1) says to us, “Be steadfast”;
(2) shows us what steadfastness is;
(3) supplies us with the means of steadfastness. In clasping that gospel, we are holding that which alone can keep us from being moved.
III. The stablished. These are, first of all, the saints at Rome, “called,” “beloved of God,” whose “faith was spoken of throughout the whole world.” They needed “stablishing,” though apostles were their pastors and teachers. (H. Bonar, D.D.)
This Epistle is remarkable for the number of its endings. The invocation at the end of chap. 15. may be regarded as closing the Epistle itself. Then the first benediction (chap. 16:20) was doubtless intended to be indeed the conclusion of the whole. But now Paul’s companions desired to send greetings, which having been done, we have the benediction a second time (Romans 15:24). The pen of Tertius was now put down. The Epistle must be read aloud for review and correction. What was done in the latter respect we cannot tell. But the apostle and his companions were filled with profound emotions; and so Tertius was bidden to again take up the pen, and to write, “Now to Him,” etc. And then the MS. was devoutly rolled up and sealed, and delivered to Phebe. Notice--
I. The establishment of the Roman Christians in the faith. Observe--
1. That in respect to which the establishment is to be effected: the gospel. It is described in respect to--
(1) Its subjective medium and source--“my gospel.” Not that “his gospel” differed essentially from the “gospel” of any other apostle, though he had not learnt it from any of them; but it was his as distinguished from all corrupted gospels (Galatians 1:6-7).
(2) Its objective character and contents.
(1) It is the revelation of a mystery which--
(a) had been kept silent in eternal times, i.e., from eternity up to the time of the advent of Christ; but--
(b) had now, since the appearance of Christ, been made fully manifest. It is the great mystery of redemption through the One Divine-human Mediator, so called, not in respect to its incomprehensible character, but because it never could have been imagined by unaided human reason, nor appreciated by men before it had been evolved in history (Ephesians 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:9-10).
(2) Enigmatical portions of the truth concerning it were disclosed from time to time in type and prophecy; but given in such separate fragments, that there was not skill to bring piece to piece, and so combine the whole as to discover the mystery. Even the prophets themselves were perplexed as to what could be the true significance of their predictions (Peter 1:10-12).
(3) But now, since the advent, the whole mystery had been manifested, and the time for silence has passed away: “Go ye into all the world,” etc.
2. The establishment itself.
(1) This was not simply that they should become so steadfast as never to apostatise; nor only that they should so maintain personal faith in Christ to inherit everlasting life; but also that they should have such a clear understanding of the spirit and purpose of Christianity; such a grasp of its various facts and truths, as that they should be in no danger of enfeebling the gospel by heterogeneous additions, or by an incomplete apprehension or enunciation of its truths.
(2) Those who should thus be firmly established in the truth concerning Christ, are also supposed to hold firmly to Him, by personal living faith, who is Himself the Truth.
II. The ascription of glory to the only wise God through Christ, who was able to do this thing for them.
1. The ability here spoken of is not an ability of mere power, but one which is manifested, and which becomes effective, through wisdom. Men are established in the truth by a clear apprehension of it, and of its grounds and bearings (Ephesians 4:14; Hebrews 5:12-14). God has made abundant provision to present to believers the truth in an unmistakable form, and to give them every aid in mastering that form.
2. But the establishment includes, not only apprehension and belief, but also love, of the truth. And in all this God has manifested not His sole wisdom only, but His surpassing love; and we may be fully assured that He who thus appeals to the understanding by intelligible truth for the purpose of salvation will also, by the gentle and persuasive influence of love, appeal to the heart.
3. And this ascription of praise to the only wise God through Christ who is able to do this, was itself also intended to be one of the means to promote this very end. There are contained therein both incentive and encouragement. (W. Tyson.)
I. Belongs to god--as--
1. The God of power.
2. The only wise.
II. Is due to god.
1. For everything.
2. But especially for the gospel.
(1) Its revelation.
III. Is awakened by god.
1. Through faith.
2. In the preaching of the gospel.
IV. Is presented to god.
1. Through Christ.
2. In glory.
3. For ever. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Stablished in the gospel
In the introductory words of the Epistle, Paul declares his strong desire to visit Rome, that its members might be established in the faith. As, then, he commences the Epistle with the expression of this object, it is natural that he should close it with the ascription of glory to Him who was able to do it.
I. The material is which the establishing is to take place.
1. “My gospel.”
(1) The gospel as preached by Paul. Already there had appeared those who proclaimed another gospel, of whom he says, “let him be accursed.” His gospel was that which this Epistle especially expounded.
(2) But the gospel is not a mere intellectual object set forth in order by the reason, and made evident in logical and eloquent speech; it is something which a man possesses in the inner nature of his being. It was a spiritual life for Paul.
2. The preaching of Jesus Christ. Paul’s gospel was the fact that Jesus was the Saviour of the world, and the Christ of God.
3. It is easy now to see the substance of the Christian character in which believers are to be established.
(1) It consists in the apprehension of a truth. That truth is--
(a) Historic. The facts of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, His glory and power given to Him of God.
(b) Doctrinal. The relations which these facts bear to one another, to man, to God, to the Divine government, to sin, to the destiny of the race and the universe.
(2) This substance of the Christian character is moral and personal. When a man rightly apprehends these truths, he comes into moral relation to them. He believes them; this belief produces a becoming state of the emotions; these emotions act upon the character, will, conscience, and life. The man not only believes, he also lives. Now, in this sphere of the believer’s condition there will be growth, and for the development, as for the commencement of this, the Holy Ghost is ceaselessly engaged.
(3) As the central fact and power, both of doctrine and life, is the preaching of Jesus Christ, we ever need to be more fully instructed in the life of Jesus, more clearly to apprehend it, more strongly to feel His relation to us, more completely to have our lives and hearts submitted to His control, and consecrated to His service.
II. The nature of this establishing. The word signifies the supporting, the solidifying of anything. Thus, a prop set under an object that might fall, the fastening of what was shaking and unstable, the setting of a liquid into firm consistency, are all expressed by words of kindred origin with the word “establish.” It is not difficult, then, to perceive the application of the term to the faith and life of a Christian man. It is clearly no external ratification. No such foreign act as confirming by bishop, or approval by the Church or its officers, is contemplated. But it is that work of Divine grace upon the heart after belief, whereby the knowledge and the faith, with all the graces that spring therefrom, are made more clear and strong, and the soul more able to contend and to continue, until the final victory is attained. Establishment in the faith--
1. Consists in an increase of knowledge of the facts and truths of the gospel. Deeper and deeper will the believer drink into the teaching of that gospel, and every draught shall freshen and quicken and establish him in the faith. The best means of dealing with the prevailing spirit of unbelief is not controversial defence; the truth, the history, the doctrine, is its own best defence. Rich in this lore, the cunning craftiness of men will assault you in vain. Justified by this learning, you will meet the mightiest attack of the enemy unmoved as the stony rock when it receives the beat of ocean’s waves and breaks them into harmless foam that only laves its brow and makes it glisten with a brighter radiance.
2. Must take place in the moral and spiritual nature of the man. We may increase in knowledge without any corresponding increase in virtue. The little brook that babbles as it runs, when it has reached the plain, grows to a broad, deep river, but is silent in its onward majestic flow. The waves of the streamlet only glistened in the light. The bosom of the river reflects a heaven upon its calm, still surface. So shall the soul grow in its love for God and Christ, its blessed experiences of mercy and grace. Less show and excitement, but the enjoyment of a fuller blessing, a richer knowledge.
3. Reaches forth into the life, and controls it. At first, the power of the truth was intermittent, partial; but as the confirming went on, the life became fuller of golden deeds of a Divine and celestial beauty. The altar of our surrender was ever builded higher and made wider, until at last it filled all the space of life, and life became a complete consecration.
III. The power by which this confirmation shall be secured. It is a Divine work. He who gave the foundation of our faith alone can establish us in it, as He alone will crown it at last. It is quite certain that we can do nothing of ourselves, for as life proceeds we learn our helplessness, our vanity. But our God has power to hold us up. His grace is limitless, and by this established, we shall not fail. (Ll. D. Bevan, D.D.)
I. Its necessity.
II. Its source. The God of power.
III. Its means.
1. The gospel.
2. The gospel of Paul.
3. The gospel preached. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
According to the revelation of the mystery.--
The world’s mystery unfolded in Christ
I. The mystery. The word “mystery” in Scripture implies not necessarily that the fact or truth cannot be understood, but that it is not known except as revealed from God. It is a favourite word of Paul’s. Except in three passages of the Gospels (Matthew 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10), and four places in the Revelation (Revelation 1:20; Revelation 10:7; Revelation 17:5; Revelation 17:7), Paul is the only writer who employs the word, and he uses it twenty times. In several of these cases of Pauline usage, the term refers to that great fact of the universality of the gospel (Ephesians 3:6). And this mystery forms one of the great subjects of this Epistle. It may be interesting to refer to some of the passages and there learn what this great mystery is (Romans 1:5-6; Romans 1:13; Romans 1:15; Romans 3:29; Romans 4:11; Romans 9:25-26; Romans 9:30; Romans 10:11-13; Romans 11:11; Romans 11:30; Romans 15:8-21). The mystery, then, is the universality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. All men have sinned. But all men may be saved by the free and sovereign grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. This was the sublime truth which Paul desired firmly to establish in the imperial city of the world, in order that there might then go forth to all mankind a power greater than that of Rome, more splendid than her glory, more searching than her law, more victorious than her legions, and which should abide when Rome should have crumbled into ruins. This mystery has been revealed to you. If you have received it, are you living in its blessedness, and up to the measure of the fulness of its freedom and life?
II. Its concealment. “Which was kept silent in the aeonian periods.”
1. The past ages received concerning this great truth no voice from the Divine silence. Men knew nothing of this gracious scheme of salvation for the universe.
(1) The Jew did not know it. If he regarded his God as also the creator and ruler of other men, they at least bore to Him some inferior relation, and if they were to be blessed at all, it was to be by and through the law of Moses.
(2) The Gentile had altogether failed to gain a glimpse of it. Each people held itself to be autochthonous, sprung from the soil; all the rest were strangers, aliens, slaves. Humanity was unknown, and anything like a moral dealing with the individual that was to be of universal application, had never been hinted at in the whole range of Gentile philosophy and faith.
(3) And now those who have not themselves accepted this gracious mystery in practice wholly ignore the idea that the entire human race is dealt with in the atonement of Jesus, and that the purpose of God includes that whole race within His love and power. Even within the Church, how few fully understand or obey the law which declares that there is in Jesus Christ neither bond nor free, etc.
2. What wisdom may we not find, yea, what grace, in the concealment of this truth! The world had to be and is still being prepared for it. All those denominationalisms which are only the Judaisms of the modern world, and the patriotisms which at best are but pagan virtues, are nothing but the concealment of the truth of the human unity in Jesus Christ, which is part of the plan of God when He will perfect the society of man in the breaking down of nationalities and ecclesiasticisms in a world-wide union. Happy souls who catch some glimpses of this bright day! Happier they who help on its coming, and make this their gospel, the preaching of Jesus Christ according to the unveiling of the mystery which in the past ages of the Divine purpose had not been uttered unto men.
III. Its manifestation.
1. The mystery was manifested in the character of Christ. While our Lord was a Jew and was careful of all Mosaic ordinances, yet the “enthusiasm of humanity” glowed within Him. His parables, sermons, conversations, works of charity and power, and death, are stamped with the mark of human nature, and have in them not a trace of the Israelite. He predicts the fall of the sacred city, affirms the universal worship of the God of heaven, and points with sublime assurance to the fact that when He has been crucified, He will draw all men unto Him.
2. And the history of the Church reflects the quality of its Master’s work: At first baptized with a spirit which promised a universal scope, then narrowing down to the dimensions of a new Jewish sect, Divine providence compelled it to pass beyond the limits within which its leaders would have confined it, until it proved itself to be a world-wide Church, every road in life leading to its sacred courts.
3. And does not the history of the Church prove this in every succeeding age? What nation has been able to resist its advance? The seed of the kingdom grows in every soil.
1. In respect of the inexplicable and perplexed events and conditions of human life we have only to await the Divine time, and all shall be made clear.
2. Learn from this mystery the measure and the inspiration of our preaching. “According to the revelation of the mystery.” For every man is the mercy obtained; to every man its grace offered.
3. This mystery being for a world, awaits your acceptance. (Ll. D. Bevan, D.D.)
The mystery of the gospel
The gospel is--
I. A mystery--long kept secret.
II. A mystery revealed.
1. By the prophets.
III. A mystery revealed by the commandment of God.
IV. A mystery revealed by the commandment of God to all nations.
V. A mystery revealed by the commandment of God to all nations for the obedience of faith. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
And by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.--
The universal gospel
1. Revelation is perfected in promulgation. That which has been made manifest in Jesus Christ is to be made known by the Church unto all nations.
2. The means of this information is the Scriptures of the prophets. Which from Ephesians 3:3-6 we must not limit to either those of the ancient or the later dispensation. The later Scriptures supplement and expound the former, and thus come to the obedience of faith.
I. The gospel as a scheme of universal salvation is revealed in order that it may be published to all men.
1. God might have adopted some method of treatment of the race which was not a matter for revelation. There must be a great part of the Divine system of the universe which deeply affects man which, perhaps, he never will and never can know. Indeed, very much of the physical constitution of things, by which the circumstances of our daily life are determined, is wholly unknown to us. We find it out only by patient observation after long ignorance, repeated failure, constant mistake. The system of nature is left for man to find it out for himself. But this is not so with the gospel. It must be made known, to be effective. There are no esoteric or exoteric doctrines in Christianity. All need it, all may receive it; it must be made known to all, and this universal knowledge must be a knowledge of all the truth. When Jesus was revealed, nothing was to be kept back. “All the truth,” and “All the world” are the twin legends of His revelation.
2. Thus nothing which conceals from men the truth or seeks to produce spiritual effect other than by the influence of truth clearly apprehended, can be in harmony with the gospel. Two evils are contrary to this clear law of gospel promulgation, viz: the sacrifice of intelligent apprehension to mere feeling and sentiment; and the production of religious ends by mechanical services. The former is the error of the fanatic, the latter of the sacerdotalist.
II. The law of this promulgation is the commandment of the Eternal God.
1. We might seek for illustrations of this command in the words of Christ, “Go ye into all the world,” etc., or in His appointment of those who should be “witnesses unto Him,” etc. (Acts 1:8), or in the vision of Peter, or in the word to Ananias concerning Saul, or to any other of those direct appointments of the gospel ministry in its relation to the entire race. But we prefer to understand by the “command of the eternal God” that everlasting purpose which lay at the base of the methods of the Divine procedure. Any conception of the gospel which is less than this, must necessarily be incomplete. Creation lies in the bosom of redemption. Salvation by Christ is not a mere scene enacted as part of a vast drama upon the theatre of time and nature. The world, with all its physical characteristics, i.e., its human story are but episodes in vast movements and evolutions of salvation.
2. Science boasts that it has relegated the earth and all earthly things to their proper place as very minor items in the universe of being. But such science forgets that, after all, its universe must be a universe which thought transcends. I can, in imagination, pass beyond the utmost limits of your natural universe, and I can rise to a height of moral being, beyond the uttermost reach even of my thought. Thus, vast though the universe may be, I am greater even than all the worlds, and it is with this range of being that the eternal God is concerned in the redemption of Jesus Christ. Hence, the consummation of the spiritual ends of the Divine purpose is the only infinite. It is this that circumscribes the universe. It is this that antedates creation.
3. The gospel is thus no expedient put in to prop the falling race, the temporal cure of an accidental injury to man. The salvation of the entire race of man is part of that universal gathering of all things into one in Christ which has been the everlasting purpose of God’s almighty will. Upon this ocean of eternal will, time and being float, as the barques which the waves lift and the currents bear. And, as a part of this commandment of the eternal God, the mystery is revealed and made known unto all nations.
4. If this be so, with what calm equanimity shall we not regard the phases through which the Divine designs move on to their accomplishment. We see the world in its apostacy, overwhelmed by a flood, and threatened with complete destruction. Over the raging of that catastrophe moves the calm purpose of the eternal God. We behold patriarchal ages when one family, and it but feebly, maintained the pure faith. How the flame flickers; but we know the eternal God is overhead, and His purposes depend not upon the choice and fleeting life and character of man. It is the time of the Mosaic economy, and one people is chosen, one family is priestly, one land alone has received the light of God’s revealed grace; and we are affronted by its idolatry and sin. Shall we fear for the outcome? Not at all. The purposes of God are ripening fast, and millenniums are only the moments of the Eternal. And so of our own age and time. Perchance we lift the old lament or mocking cry: “The fathers, where are they?” etc. Lift up your eyes and see the clear, calm stars of an eternal purpose. The tempest reaches but a few fathoms below the surface, and the waves that strew the ocean with wrecks are only ripples in the mighty currents that roll unceasing in the sovereign will of God. The gospel is His; its proclamation is His command. And when the eternal throne crumbles into ruin, then, and then only, shall the evangel of God’s grace and Christ’s redemption be an empty sound.
III. This divine purpose of the promulgation of the gospel has been made known by the utterances of a continued series of inspired persons. There has ever been a witness amongst men, the sum of whose testimony has been to make known to all nations the mystery of a universal salvation. A Divine purpose has ever been accompanied by a prophetic word.
IV. The ultimate end of this publishing of the mystery is the obedience of faith among all nations.
1. Paul here returns to the opening ideas and expressions of the Epistle, one of which is the “obedience of faith.” By this, some understand that obedience which springs from faith. But this does not seem altogether to suit the word as it is used in the first passage. Others give to faith the meaning of “the Christian truth”--a signification which belongs to the word in the later usage of the Church and not in the New Testament. Is it not rather that obedience which counts as faith itself, that yielding of the heart and the will to the revelations of God which is the ground of justification on its human side? (Romans 10:3). To accept the grace, to believe in God through Jesus Christ, is to render the obedience of faith. This, then, is the object which is sought by the divulging of the mystery.
2. The end, then, of an apostolic ministry is more than a mere testimony. Some have held that the gospel is only a test, whereby the elect and non-elect are discovered. Men say, on the one hand, We have preached the truth, the hearer must take the responsibility. On the other hand, men say, We have heard the truth; it does not compel our faith; it cannot be for us. Now, to both of these Paul says, “Made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” Shall we dare to rest content that we have spoken even the whole of the Divine grace, and not seek by every means in our power to induce men to obey? How is it with you who have believed? Are you content with a world still disobedient, with your city full of the faithless, with your homes, your very pews, occupied by those who resist the gospel? And what shall I say to you who hear and refuse? You heap judgment on yourselves. There is no hope but in the gospel. If you do not obey, with faith in God’s way of salvation, there is nothing for you in this world but disappointment, and in the world to come eternal death.
3. The promulgation of the gospel is not merely that men may know; the object of its being known is the obedience of faith. Will you believe? Then you take Jesus Christ not only as your atonement, but as your Lord, your pattern, your rule, your guide. (Ll. D. Bevan, D.D.)
To God only wise be glory through Jesus Christ for ever.
The universal doxology
If you consult the Revised Version, you will there find the accurate reproduction of the Greek words, “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever.” The words, “through Jesus Christ,” and the place of the words “be the glory” at the end of the passage, furnish at once the representation of the original. It is clear that after the lengthened construction of the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth verses, the apostle intends by the words, “to the only wise God,” to complete and explain the pronoun--“to Him,” with which the whole passage commences. So far it is clear. Then comes the expression, “through Jesus Christ,” understood by some to be the instrument through whom the glory is given, and by others the person by whom God is the only wise. Neither of these interpretations perfectly contents me. Have we not the true parallel to this passage in the words of St. Paul to the elders at Ephesus: “And now brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace who is able to hold you up.” The idea is not altogether foreign from that of establishing which we have in the passage. Would not such a prayer more naturally find its place at the end of the Epistle than even a doxology, the latter being generally more incorporated into the very substance of the letter itself? Might not this be one of the prayers to which Paul refers in the opening words of the Epistle (verse 19)--prayers, the end of which was this very establishing of his correspondents? Then the phrase “through Jesus Christ” is natural and appropriate, the entire construction of the clause easy and unbroken, the concluding relative fittingly introduced, referring to Jesus Christ just mentioned, the ascription of glory to Him being quite in harmony with other such ascriptions, found in other portions of the apostle’s writings. We shall therefore base our discourse upon the passage viewed as a combined prayer and doxology, as if the words ran, “To the only wise God do I look for aid and blessing upon you, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory of the eternal ages. Amen.”
I. The consideration of the gospel as a scheme of universal salvation, naturally directs the attention of the devout and earnest heart towards the only wise God. Christianity, though rich in its ideas, is also always a practical and an efficient system. It is not the parent of dreams, it is not a mere poet. It presents the dream only as the token of what it will produce. It chants its sublime rhapsodies only as preludes of what shall be the song of triumph when its redeeming, its new creating work, is done. Thus, is it an ideal man that it would paint? It manifests Him and makes us touch Him, and hear Him, and walk with Him, and live in the light of His beauty and perfectness, in the person of Jesus Christ. Or is it a Divine power which, it declares, man needs? This power it gives to man. The Holy Ghost is shed abroad. The Comforter has come, and has abided for all the past years, and throughout all the world He is now dwelling as a real and actual strength and grace and life among the saints. So with this conception of the perfected and glorified Church of the redeemed: the race restored and made one not only with itself but with its God and Governor, its Lord and Ruler. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ which supplies the conception. Nowhere else has the grand vision been displayed.
II. Such turning of the heart Godwards demands the mediation of Jesus Christ, not only as the means of finding God, but also as the instrument through whom God will bestow all grace. Two attributes that necessarily are involved in this mystery of a world’s salvation are clearly displayed. The one is power and the other love. All natural reasoning upon the state of man and his relation to God would lead us to conclude that the only possible end of human life must be everlasting destruction and eternal loss. All that we can see is the law and the sin. Man needs no revelation to make this plain. But the gospel declares that man can be rescued, and rescued without any loss of the dignity of law, without any lessening of the sanction and obligations of moral duty. This is done by a sacrifice on the part of God, not of the law, but of Himself, at a vast cost of suffering and shame, and weakness and death, all borne in the person of Jesus Christ. What is this, then, but the wisdom which we have seen God alone possesses in the fashion and guise of love? Nay, it is love itself. And all so necessarily and inherently Divine, that the love becomes a showing of that very being of God which is Love. But this thought of a world’s salvation that leads us to our God is not only a thought of love, but also a thought of power. To bring it about will need a strength far beyond any wielded by a human arm.
III. The conclusion of this Godward aspect will be the ascription of eternal glory to the Author of this salvation. This glory is ascribed to the God of salvation by the conscious and uttered praises of the redeemed. How wonderful is that song of praise which ever ascends to the eternal throne! And what will be the ascription of glory when earth is exchanged for heaven, and the curtains of the eternal world are withdrawn, and the redeemed race has entered into its promised inheritance of bliss! But the glory that will be rendered to the Author of our salvation will not be the mere ascription of praise from the assembled myriads of the redeemed; it is to be found also in the very nature and character of the salvation itself. You all remember how the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral has no tomb or sculptured monument, to bear his name and tell the story of his skill in carven effigy, or cut upon the lasting brass. A brief inscription over the entrance of the cathedral gives his name, and then bids you “if you seek his monument to look around.” And such as this is the true ascription of glory to the Lord. It is not the mere voices of the angels; it is their hosts themselves, kept in their places, holden in their high, unfallen blessedness. It is not the cry of jubilant triumph from the creation of life; it is that very creation itself, in its being, in its growth, in its perfectness, made by His word, sustained by His power, completed for the great purposes of His changeless will.
IV. The prayer and doxology of the earnest Christian workman will receive the accordant acclaim of the universe. The word Amen is used as the expression of agreement, of consent, of assurance, of certainty. The doxology uttered by St. Paul is such as all will unite in. The prayer, the commending to God, the giving of glory, are the consentaneous expressions of all who may catch the ideas and hear the words.
1. It is the consent of wonder. All will marvel at the great achievement of God and His Christ. In awe and reverence profound the universe shall cry, “Amen.”
2. It is the consent of delight. Throughout the universe of spiritual being, then freely traversed by the purified minds, all parts being in harmony, a communication opened up between all spheres, the delight shall spread when the glory of God shall be seen in the heavens.
3. It is the consent of approval. God’s right to judge will be recognised, and His higher right to save will be equally assured. Splendid will be the state of heaven; high will be the joys of that serene condition. But chief of all, men and angels will perceive the justice and the righteousness of that salvation which the human race shall gain.
4. Then finally, this consent shall be the consent of all. Not a single spirit in the entire universe shall hold back its acclaim. All men who shall be saved must surely join in the “Amen.” It will be impossible that any of the redeemed will be silent. (Ll. D. Bevan, D.D.)
God only wise
In the beginning of the doxology he praises God’s power, and at its close His wisdom. God also is the only wise in the sense that in the scheme of salvation He acted without counsel from any, and in a method which none other could have devised. He wrought the best ends by the best means. He solved problems which never otherwise could have been solved. He removed barriers which He alone could remove. He reconciled contradictions which were incapable of reconciliation, except by Divine knowledge. He effected a scheme of redemption which is simple in itself, adapted to man everywhere, and which is of such a nature as to attract all who have minds to think and hearts to feel. He caused “mercy and truth to meet together.” He broke down all partition walls which existed between Himself and the sinner, and between Jew and Gentile. He united the claims of justice and purity with the pleadings of love and grace. In redemption, even more than in creation, we adore “the manifold wisdom of God,” and behold Him as One who has no second, but stands alone in His glory, infinitely removed from all His creatures in heaven and earth. (C. Neil, M.A.)
I. What wisdom is. It consists in--
1. Acting for a right end.
2. Observing all circumstances for action.
3. Willing and acting according to the right reason and judgment of things. Wisdom and knowledge are two distinct perfections. Knowledge hath its seat in the speculative understanding, wisdom in the practical.
II. Some propositions in general concerning the wisdom of God.
1. There is an essential and a personal wisdom of God. The essential wisdom is the essence of God, the personal wisdom is the Son of God (Luke 7:35; 1 Corinthians 1:24).
2. It is not a habit added to God’s essence, as it is in man, but it is His essence. It is like the splendour of the sun, the same with the sun itself.
3. It is the property of God alone. He is only wise.
(1) Necessarily. He cannot but contrive counsels, and exert operations becoming the greatness of His nature.
(2) Originally. Men acquire wisdom; God goes not out of Himself to search it (Romans 11:34; Isaiah 40:14).
(3) Perfectly. There is no cloud upon His understanding.
(4) Universally. Wisdom in one man is of one sort, in another of another sort. But God hath an universal wisdom. His executions are as wise as His contrivances.
(5) Perpetually. The wisdom of man is got by instruction and lost by dotage. But “the Ancient of days” is an unchangeable possessor of it (Job 12:13; Psalms 33:11).
(6) Incomprehensibly (Psalms 92:5; Romans 11:33).
(7) Infallibly. The wisest men often design and fail; God never fails of anything He aims at (Isaiah 55:11; Proverbs 21:30).
III. The proofs of God’s wisdom.
1. God could not be infinitely perfect without wisdom. All the other perfections of God without this would be as a body without an eye, a soul without understanding. God, being the first Being, possesses whatsoever is most noble in any being.
2. Without infinite wisdom He could not govern the world. He could not be an universal governer without a universal wisdom; nor the sole governor without an inimitable wisdom; not an independent governor without an original and independent wisdom; nor a perpetual governor without an incorruptible wisdom.
3. The creatures working for an end, without their own knowledge, demonstrates the wisdom of God that guides them. 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.
4. 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 (Job 32:8; Daniel 2:21).
IV. Wherein it appears.
1. In creation. As in a musical instrument there is first the skill of the workman in the frame, then the skill of the musician in stringing it proper for such musical notes as he will express upon it, and after that the tempering of the strings, by various stops, to a delightful harmony, so is the wisdom of God seen in framing the world, then in tuning it, and afterwards in the motion of the several creatures (Psalms 104:24; Proverbs 3:19; Jeremiah 10:12). This wisdom of the creation appears in--
(1) Its variety (Psalms 104:24).
(2) Its beauty and order, and in the situation of the several creatures (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
(3) The fitness of everything for its end, and the usefulness of it. Divine wisdom is more illustrious in this than in the composure of the distinct parts, as the artificer’s skill is more eminent in fitting the wheels, and setting them in order for their due motion, than in the external fabric of the materials which compose the clock.
(4) The linking all these useful parts together, so that one is subordinate to the other for a common end.
2. In His government of man--
(1) As a rational creature.
(a) In the law He gives to man, which is suited to his nature, happiness and conscience.
(b) In the various inclinations and conditions of men. Some are inspired with a particular genius for one art, some for another. The rich have as much need of the poor as the poor have of the rich.
(2) As fallen and sinful. God’s wisdom is seen in--
(a) The bounding of sin (Psalms 76:10).
(b) The bringing glory to Himself out of sin.
(c) Bringing good to the creature out of sin.
The redemption of man in so excellent a way was drawn from the occasion of sin. The devil inspired man to content his own fury in the death of Christ, and God ordered it to accomplish His own design of redemption. The sins and corruptions remaining in the heart of a man, God orders for good, and there are good effects by the direction of His wisdom and grace.
(3) As converted (Ephesians 1:11-12). Divine wisdom appears--
(a) In the subjects of conversion. Who will question the skill that alters jet into crystal, a glow-worm into a star, a lion into a lamb, and a swine into a dove?
(b) In the seasons of conversion. The prudence of man consists in the timing the execution of his counsels; and no less doth the wisdom of God consist in this.
(c) In the manner of conversion. So great a change God makes, not by a destruction, but with a preservation of, and suitableness to, nature.
(d) In His discipline.
3. In redemption. The wisdom of God is seen here--
(1) In that the greatest different interests are reconciled, justice in punishing and mercy in pardoning (Romans 3:24-25).
(2) In selecting the fittest person for this work. He by whom God created the world was most conveniently employed in restoring it (Hebrews 1:2). He was the light of men in creation (John 1:4), and therefore it was most reasonable He should be the light of men in redemption. Who fitter to reform the Divine image than He that first formed it? Who fitter to speak for us to God than He who was the Word? (John 1:1).
(3) In the two natures of Christ, whereby this redemption was accomplished. This union was the foundation of the union of God and the fallen creature. He had a nature whereby to suffer for us, and a nature whereby to be meritorious in those sufferings.
(4) In manifesting two contrary affections at the same time, and in one act: the greatest hatred of sin, and the greatest love to the sinner.
(5) In overturning the devil’s empire by the nature He had vanquished, and by ways quite contrary to what that malicious spirit could imagine.
(6) In giving us this way the surest ground of comfort, and the strongest incentive to obedience. The rebel is reconciled, and the rebellion shamed; God is propitiated and the sinner sanctified by the same blood.
(7) In the condition He hath settled for the enjoying the fruits of redemption; and this is faith, a wise and reasonable condition, and the concomitants of it.
(8) In the manner of the publishing and propagating this doctrine of redemption.
(a) In the gradual discoveries of it.
(b) In using all proper means to render the belief of it easy.
(c) In the instruments He employed in the publishing it. (S. Charnock, B.D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Romans 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26