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A. Salutation with long interposed parenthesis, suggested by "gospel of God." The parenthesis, expressing thoughts of which the writer's mind is full, intimates the purport of the coming treatise. It also intimates his claim, afterwards more fully asserted (Romans 15:15, seq.), to demand a hearing from the Roman Church. It is St. Paul's way, when full of an idea, thus to interrupt his sentences at the suggestion of a word. Somewhat similar interpositions are found in the opening salutations of Galatians and Titus, especially in the latter; but this is peculiar for its length and fulness.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle. In his salutations to the Philippians and to Titus also St. Paul calls himself δοῦλος (i.e. "bondservant") of Jesus Christ; but usually only ἀπόστολος, or, as here, κλητὸς ἀπόστολος, which is rightly translated in the Authorized Version, "called to be an apostle," Divine vocation to the office being the prominent idea. St. Paul often elsewhere insists on the reality of his vocation from Christ himself to be an apostle to the Gentiles; and this with regard to disparagement of his claim to be a true apostle at all on the part of some (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1; 2Co 11:5; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Galatians 1:1, Galatians 1:12; Galatians 2:8). It does not follow from his thus asserting his claim here and afterwards in this Epistle that he was aware of any disparagement of it at that time among the Roman Christians; still less that he wrote his Epistle with a polemical purpose against the Judaizers, as some have supposed. Still, he may have suspected that some might possibly have been busy there, as they were in other places; and, however that might be, writing as he was to a Church not founded by, and as yet unvisited by, himself, he might think distinct assertions of his claim to be heard desirable. Separated (or, set apart) unto the gospel of God; i.e. to the preaching of the gospel, not the reception of it only, as is evident from the context. The word ἀφωρίσμενος here, as well as the previous κλητὸς, is best taken, in pursuance of the line of thought, as referring to the Divine counsels, not to the agency of the Church. It is true that the word is elsewhere used with the latter reference, as in Acts 13:2, Ἀφορίσατε δὴ μοι τόν τε Βαρνάβαν καὶ τὸν, Σαῦλον εἰς τὸ ἔργον ὂ ππροσκέκλημαι αὐτούς, where the ἀφορισμὸς spoken of was subsequent to the Divine κλῆσις, and effected by human laying on of hands. But we have also St. Paul's own words (Galatians 1:15), Ὁ Θεὸς ὁ ἀφόρρισας με ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός μου καὶ καλίσας διὰ τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ, where the ἀφορισμὸς is that of God's eternal purpose, and previous to the κλῆσις (cf. Acts 9:15 and Acts 26:16, Acts 26:17).
Which he promised before through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures concerning his Son. Here the parenthetical passage begins, extending to the end of Romans 1:6. It is unnecessary to complicate it by connecting περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ with the previous εὐαγγέλιον Θεοῦ. It goes more naturally with προεπηγγείλατο, denoting the subject of the Old Testament promises. By προφητῶν are meant not only the sacred writers distinctively so called, but (as in Hebrews 1:1) all who spoke of old under Divine inspiration, as by γραφαῖς ἁγίαις is signified the Old Testament generally. This intimation of the gospel being the fulfilment of prophecy is fitly introduced here, as preparing the reader for the argument of the Epistle, in the course of which the doctrine propounded is shown to be in accordance with the Old Testament, and in fact anticipated therein. This is, indeed, a prominent point in the general teaching of apostles and evangelists. They announce the gospel as the fulfilment of prophecy, and the true completion of all the ancient dispensation; and it is to the Old Testament that, in addressing Israelites, they ever in the first place appeal. Thus St. Peter (Acts 2:14; Acts 3:18; Acts 4:11); thus Stephen (Acts 7:1-60.); thus St. Paul at Antioch in Pisidia, at Thessalonica, and before Agrippa (Acts 13:16; Acts 17:2; Acts 26:6, Acts 26:22); thus Philip to the Ethiopian proselyte (Acts 8:35); thus Apollos at Corinth (Acts 18:28). Our Lord himself had done the same, as in Matthew 5:17; Luke 4:21; Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44; John 5:39. All this is important as showing how the old and new dispensations are regarded together as parts of a whole, the old one being but the needful preparation for a fulfilment in the new, and so becoming intelligible; and thus how "through all the ages one eternal purpose runs." There was also a providential preparation in the Gentile world, though not so direct and obvious, and though, of course, not similarly noticed in addresses to disciples of the Law. But St. Paul intimates it; as in his speech on Areopagus, and also, as will be seen, in this Epistle. Even the gospel is set forth as but a further stage of progress towards a final consummation, as the dawn only of a coming daybreak. We have still but an earnest of our inheritance; the "earnest expectation of the creature" still awaits "the manifestation of the sons of God." Meanwhile, in the revelation already made through Christ, and the redemption accomplished by him, we are taught to cling to our faith in a Divine purpose throughout the world's perplexing history—that of resolving at last all discords into eternal harmony, and making manifest "one great love, embracing all." This grand view of a providential order leading to a final consummation (though how and when we know not) pervades St. Paul's writings, and should be kept in mind for a proper understanding of this Epistle. God's promises through his prophets in Holy Scripture are said to have been "concerning his Son;" and a question hence arises as to the exact sense in which "his Son" is to be here understood; a consideration of which question may help our interpretation of the expression in the following verse, which is not without difficulty, Τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ Θεοῦ ἐν δυνάμει. We may distinguish between three senses in which Christ is called "the Son of God."
(1) With reference to his Divine pre-existence, the term expressing his relation to the Father from eternity, like the Λόγος (and probably the μονογενὴς υἱὸς) of St. John.
(2) With reference to his incarnation, as being conceived by the Holy Ghost; as in Luke 1:35, Διὸ καὶ τὸ γεννώμενον ἃγιον κληθήσεται υἱὸς Θεοῦ.
(3) With reference to the position assigned to the Messiah in psalm and prophecy, as the Son exalted to the right hand of God, and crowned with glory. It is with the last of these three references that the title is used in the Epistle to the Hebrews; where the ideal of sonship, found in the Old Testament, and imperfectly typified by the theoretic position of the theocratic kings, is regarded as prophetic, and pointing to Christ, in whom alone it is shown to be fulfilled. Hence in that Epistle his exaltation to the rank and dignity of Son is regarded as subsequent to his human obedience, and even the consequence and reward of it. It was "because of the suffering of death (διὰ τὸ πάθημα θανάτου)" that he has been "crowned with glory and honour" (Hebrews 2:9); it was after he had made a purification of sins that he "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high," having "inherited" that "more excellent name"—the name of Son (Hebrews 1:4). It is by no means implied that the said Epistle does not recognize a true Sonship of Christ before his exaltation; he was all along "the Son" (cf. Hebrews 5:7, Καίπερ ὤν υἱὸς ἔμαθεν, etc.), though not enthroned as such over mankind and all creation till after his resurrection; and, further, the essential doctrine of his pre-existent and eternal Sonship. in the first of the senses noted above, is distinctly taught (as in Luke 1:3), though not there by the use of the term "Son." All we say is that this word is used in the Epistle to the Hebrews to denote Christ's position and office as the royal High Priest of humanity, exalted, after suffering, to the right hand of God, rather than his original Divine Personality; such being the significance of the title in the prophetic anticipations of the Messiah. Now, this being so, and it being the promises made "through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures concerning his Son" that are being spoken of in the passage before us, it may seem at first most probable that the idea here implied by the word "Son" is the same as in the Epistle to the Hebrews, and no more. We ought, however, to take further into account what St. Paul himself seems to signify by the term when he uses it elsewhere. It does not follow that his own conception of its significance was confined to what was apparent in "the prophets." Reading them in the light of the gospel revelation, he may have seen in their language more implied than it distinctly expressed, and himself intended to imply more. The passages in his Epistles, apart from this chapter, where Christ is called God's Son are these:
(1) Romans 5:10, "We were reconciled to God through the death of his Son;"
(2) Romans 8:3, "Sending his own Son (τὸν ἑαυτοῦ υἱὸν) in the likeness of flesh of sin;"
(3) Romans 8:29, "To be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the Firstborn among many brethren;"
(4) Romans 8:32, "Spared not his own Son (τοῦ ἰδίοῦ υἱοῦ);"
(5) 2 Corinthians 1:19, "The Son of God … was not Yea and Nay;"
(6) Galatians 4:4, Galatians 4:6, "God sent forth his Son,"—"sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father;"
(7) Colossians 1:13, "Translates us into the kingdom of the Son of his love."
In all these passages—except (3), in which the reference may be only to Christ in glory—the term "Son" denotes a relation (o the Father, peculiar to our Lord, previous to the death and exaltation, and in some of them, (2), (6), (7), previous to the Incarnation. Such previous relation is especially apparent in the sequence to (7), where "the Son of his love" is defined not only as "the Head of the body, the Church," and "the Firstborn from the dead," but also as "the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation; for in him all things were created, the things in heaven, and the things on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible; all things through him and unto him have been created." With this may be compared Philippians 2:6-12, where an existence ἐν μορφῇ Θεοῦ, anterior to incarnation, is undoubtedly declared, though the exaltation after human obedience, and the receiving then of "a name that is above every name" (cf. Hebrews 1:4), is spoken of as well. One other passage remains to be noticed, occurring, not in an Epistle, but in the sermon at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:33), where the view of Christ's Sonship which is found in the Epistle to the Hebrews (no more being expressed) appears as present to St. Paul's mind. For there God is said to have "fulfilled the promise which was made unto the fathers, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the psalm, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." Here the Sonship assigned to "the Christ" in the second psalm is regarded as exhibited in the Resurrection. From this review of St. Paul's usage it may be inferred that περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ in the text before us carries with it in his own mind the idea of pre-existent eternal Sonship, though what we may call Messianic Sonship may be all he means distinctly to intimate as declared by prophets. The bearing of this distinction on the interpretation of Philippians 2:4 will appear under it. It may be observed here that the absence of a fixed and definite usage in the application of the term "Son" to Christ, which (as has been seen) is found in the New Testament, is what might be expected there. Formal definitions of theological conceptions by means of language used uniformly in a recognized definite sense had not as yet been made. Among such conceptions that of the Holy Trinity though implied, is nowhere distinctly formulated as a dogma. It was reserved for the Church, under the guidance of the Spirit, to preclude misconception by precise dogmatic definitions.
Which was made; or, was born. But the word in itself, γενομένου, need only mean that he became a Man of the seed of David; implying, it would seem, a pre-existence of him who so became. This, however, is more evident from other passages, in which ὢν, or ὑπάρχων, is opposed to γενόμενος (cf. John 1:1, John 1:14; Philippians 2:6, Philippians 2:7; cf. also Galatians 4:4, Ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ Θεὸς τοῦ υἱὸν αὐτοῦ γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικὸς). Of the seed of David according to the flesh. Κατὰ σάρκα is here, as elsewhere, contrasted with κατὰ πνεῦμα. Here κατὰ σάρκα denotes the merely human descent of Jesus in distinction from his Divine Being (of. Acts 2:40; Romans 9:3, Romans 9:5; 2 Corinthians 5:16). His having come humanly "of the seed of David" is suitably noted here, where "the Son" is being set forth as fulfilling the Old Testament promises; for they uniformly represent the Messiah as thus descended, and it was essential to the Jewish conception of him that he should be so (cf. Matthew 22:42; John 7:42; and for the stress laid by the writers of the New Testament on the fact that Jesus was so—of which fact no doubt was entertained—cf. Hebrews 7:14, πρόδηλον γὰρ, etc. See, among many other passages, Matthew 1:1; Luke 2:4, Luke 2:5; Acts 2:30; Acts 13:23; 2 Timothy 2:8). Meyer, commenting on the verse before us, goes somewhat out of his way to set forth that only Joseph's, not Mary's, descent from David was in St. Paul's mind, saying that "the Davidic descent of the mother of Jesus can by no means be established from the New Testament," and also that "Paul nowhere indicates the view of a supernatural generation of the bodily nature of Jesus." As to the first of these assertions, it may be observed that, in the opening chapters of our Gospel of St. Luke (representing certainly the early belief of the Church) our Lord seems to be regarded as actually descended from David—not legally so accounted only—though, at the same time, his supernatural generation is distinctly asserted (comp. Luke 1:32 with Luke 1:35). Hence we are led to infer Mary's, as well as Joseph's, descent from David, whether or not either of the genealogies given in St. Matthew's and St. Luke's Gospels represents hers. Further, with respect to those two genealogies (evidently independent ones, and both probably got from genealogical records preserved at Jerusalem), a probable way of accounting for the two distinct lines of descent through which Joseph seems to be traced to David, is to suppose one of them to be really Mary's, the legal representative of whose family Joseph had become by marriage, so as to be entered in legal documents as the son of her father (see art. on "Genealogy of Jesus Christ," in 'Dictionary of the Bible,' W. Smith, LL.D.). As to Meyer's second assertion above alluded to, it is true that St. Paul nowhere refers to our Lord's supernatural conception spoken of in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. But it does not follow that it was not already included in the Church's creed, or that St. Paul himself was unaware of it or disbelieved it. This is not the place for enlarging on the evidence, at the present day increasing in force, of the early origin of our existing Gospels, and of their being a true embodiment of the Church's original belief. St. Paul's silence as to the manner how the Son of God became incarnate may be accounted for by his not having had occasion, in his extant Epistles, to speak of it. He is occupied, in accordance with his peculiar mission, in setting forth the meaning and purpose of the Incarnation rather than its mode, and in preaching rather than catechetical instruction; and on the essential idea involved he is sufficiently explicit, viz. the peculiar Divine paternity of Christ, notwithstanding the human birth.
Who was declared (so Authorized Version) the Son of God with (literally, in) power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of (not as in Authorized Version, from) the dead. Supposing the intention here to be to declare the Son's essential Deity, notwithstanding his human birth, we might have expected ὄντος after the γενομένου preceding. But the word used is ὁρισθέντος; and, further, the Resurrection is referred to, not a pre-existent state. The verb ὁρίζειν means properly to "appoint" or "determine;" and if this meaning be re-mined, the whole passage would seem to preclude the idea of Sonship previous to the Resurrection being in view. Hence commentators ancient and modern agree generally in assigning an unusual meaning to ὁρισθέντος-here, making it signify "declared," as in the Authorized Version. So Chrysostom, Τί οὗν ἔστιν ὁρισθέντος; τοῦ δειχθέντος, ἀποφανθέντος κριθέντος δυολογηθέντος παρὰ τῆς ἀπάντων γνώμης καὶ ψήφου. It is maintained that this use of the word, though unusual, is legitimate; since a person may be said to be appointed, or determined, to be what he already is, when his being such is declared and manifested. Thus, it may be said, a king may be spoken of as appointed king when he is crowned, though he was king before; or a saint determined a saint when he is canonized; and the classical phrase, ὁρίζειν τινὰ Θεόν, in the sense of deify, is adduced as parallel. Thus the expression is made to mean that "the same who κατὰ σάρκα was known only as the descendant of David, is now declared to be the Son of God" (Tholuck); Ὅριζεται δὲ εἰς υἰὸν καὶ κατὰ τὸ ἀνβρώπινον" (Cyril); and St. Paul's reason for thus putting it, in pursuance of his course of thought, is thus explained by Meyer; "Paul gives the two main epochs in the history of the Son of God as they had actually occurred, and had been prophetically announced;'' also by Bengel thus, "Etiam ante exinanitionem suam Filius Dei is quidem fuit: sed exinanitione filiatio occultata fuit, et plene demure retecta post resurrectionem." This interpretation would be more satisfactory than it is if the verb ὁρίζειν were found similarly used in any other part of the New Testament. It occurs in the following passages, and always in its proper and usual sense: Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; Acts 10:42; Acts 11:29; Acts 17:26, Acts 17:31; Hebrews 4:7. Of these especially significant are Acts 10:42 (Ὅτι αὐτός ἔστιν ὁ ὡρισμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ κριτὴς ζώντων καὶ νεκρῶν) and Acts 17:31 (Διότι ἔστησεν ἡμέραν ἐν ᾗ μέλλει κρίνειν τὴν οἰκουμένην ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ ἐν ἀνδρὶ ᾧ ὥρισε, πίστιν παρασχὼν πᾶσιν ἀναστήσας αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν). In both of these texts the word denotes God's appointment or determination of Christ to the office of Judge, not merely a declaration or manifestation of his already being so; and it is to be observed that in the second the language is given as that of St. Paul himself, and that it corresponds with the passage before us in that the Resurrection is spoken of as the display to the world of Christ being so appointed or determined. Surely, then, there ought to be cogent reason for giving ὁρισθέντος a different meaning here; and, in spite of the weight of authority on the other side, it is submitted that we are under no necessity to do so, if we bear in mind what appeared under Acts 17:3 as to the different senses in which Christ is designated Υἱὸς Θεοῦ. In the sense apparent is Messianic prophecy, and pervading the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the sense which seems intended by St. Paul himself in Acts 13:32, Acts 13:33, it was not till after the Resurrection that Christ attained his position of royal Sonship; it was then that the Divine ὁρισμὸς took effect in that regard. It is true that St. Paul (as was seen under Acts 13:3) himself conceived of Christ as essentially Son of God from eternity; but here, while speaking of the fulfilment of Messianic prophecy, and desiring to point out what was patent to all who believed that Christ had risen, he may fitly refer to his exaltation only, in virtue of which, further, he had himself received his apostolic commission, of which he proceeds to speak, and the assertion which he has had all along in view. The above interpretation of ὁρισθέντος appears, further, to have the weighty support of Pearson, who, speaking of Christ's fourfold right unto the title of "the Son of God"—by generation, as begotten of God; by commission, as sent by him; by resurrection, as the Firstborn; by actual possession, as Heir of all—refers thus to Romans 1:4 : 'Thus was he defined, or constituted, and 'appointed to be the Son of God with power by the Resurrection from the dead'", (Pearson on the Creed, art. 2.). Ἐν δυνάμει (to be connected with ὁρισθέντος) denotes the Divine power displayed in the Resurrection (cf. Ephesians 1:19, "the exceeding greatness of his power,… according to the working of the strength of his might, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead;" cf. also 1 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 15:43; 2 Corinthians 13:4). In the last two of these passages, power evidenced in resurrection is contrasted with human weakness evidenced in death: Σπείρεται ἐν ἀσθενειά ἐγείρεται ἐν δυνάμει Καὶ γὰρ εἴ ἐσταυρώθη ἐξ ἀσθενείας ἀλλὰ ζῆ ἐκ δυνάμεως. Το κατὰ σάρκα in Romans 1:3 is opposed, not simply κατὰ πνεῦμα, but κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσὑνης (the spirit of holiness), so as to denote the Divine element that was all along in the Incarnate Son, in virtue of which he rose triumphant over human ἀσθένεια. We too are composed of σάρξ and πνεῦμα; but the πνεῦμα in Christ was one of absolute holiness—the holiness of Deity; not ἁγιότης, holiness in the abstract, attributed to Deity (Hebrews 12:10), nor ἁγιασμὸς "sanctification," of which man is capable; but ἁγιωσύνη, an inherent quality of Divine holiness ("Quasi tres sint gradus, sanctificatio, sanctimonia, sanctitas," Bengel). Because of this "spirit of holiness" that was in Christ, "it was not possible that he should be holden of" death (Acts 2:24). Through this, which was in himself—not merely through a Divine power external to himself calling him from the grave, as he had called Lazarus—he overcame death (cf. Acts 2:27; Acts 13:35, "Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption"). It was through this too (διὰ πνεύματος αἰωνίου) that he "offered himself without spot to God" (Hebrews 9:14); and in the same sense may be understood ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι (1 Timothy 3:16). Neither in these passages nor in the one before us is the Holy Spirit meant, in the sense of a distinct Person of the Holy Trinity. Further, the preposition in ἐξ ἀναστάσεως does not denote (as explained by Theodoret, Luther, and Grotius) the time from which the ὁρισμὸς began in the sense of ἐξ οὗ ἀνέστη, but the source out of which it proceeded. "Ἑκ non mode tempus, sed nexum rerum denotat" (Bengel). Further, the phrase is not ''resurrection from the dead," as in the Authorized Version, but "of the dead," which may be purposely used so as to point, not only to the fact of Christ's own resurrection, but also to its significance for mankind. The same expression often occurs elsewhere with a comprehensive meaning (cf. Acts 23:6; Act 24:21; 1 Corinthians 15:12-21; Philippians 3:11; also 1 Corinthians 15:22; Philippians 3:10). The resurrection of Christ expressed "the power of an endless life," here and hereafter, for mankind, carrying with it the possibility of the resurrection of all from the dominion of death in the risen Son. One view of the meaning of the whole of the above passage—that of Chrysostom and Melancthon—may be mentioned because of the weight of these authorities, though it cannot be the true one. They take κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης ἐν δυνάμει, and ἐξ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν, as co-ordinate, regarding them as the three proofs of Christ's eternal Sonship. i.e. miracles, the communication of the Holy Ghost, and the resurrection. Jesus Christ our Lord; thus in conclusion distinctly identifying the Son of prophecy with the Jesus who had lately appeared, and was acknowledged by the Christians as the Messiah, and commonly by them called Κύριος. The force of the passage is weakened in the Authorized Version by the transposition of Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν to the beginning of Romans 1:3, as also by the inclusion of Romans 1:2 in a parenthesis, so as to separate it from περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ which follows. (See explanation given above.)
Through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his Name's sake. "We" here means, not Christians generally, but Paul himself (though probably, as also in all other cases where he similarly uses this plural, with the intention of including others, here his fellow-apostles); for the "grace" spoken of is evidently from what follows a special grace for the apostolic office to which he had been called. The word ἀποστολὴ occurs in a like sense in Acts 1:25. Εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως, etc., denotes the purpose of his apostleship, viz. to bring men everywhere, of whatever race, to believe and obey the gospel; not to a belief in it only, but to the obedience which comes of faith, or which faith renders. "Accepimus mandatum Evangelii ad omnes gentes pro-ferendi, cut illae per fidem obedient" (Calvin). Some take the phrase, ὑπακοὴν πίστεως, to mean "obedience to faith," faith being regarded, not as cause efficiens, but as a commanding principle exacting obedience to itself. So Meyer, who refers to passages where a genitive after ὑπακοὴ has this meaning: 2 Corinthians 10:5 (ὑπακοὴ τοῦ Χριστοῦ); 1 Peter 1:22 (ὑπακοὴ τῆς ἀληθείας); and also to Acts 6:7 (Υ̓πήκουον τῇ πίστει). The last of these quotations would have been peculiarly apposite in support of the interpretation contended for, were not πίστεως in the text now before us anarthrous, so as to suggest subjective faith, rather than "the faith delivered to the saints," as in Acts 6:7. The question is, after all, of no importance with regard to the essential idea intended to be conveyed. Ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ἔθνεσιν seems to point especially to St. Paul's own apostleship (cf. Acts 22:21; Galatians 1:16; Galatians 2:8, Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:1, Ephesians 3:8), though, of course, the apostleship of all, wherever exercised, had a similar worldwide purpose. In using the expression here, he anticipates what he is about to say as to his not shrinking from addressing even the Romans with authority; his mission being to all the nations. Υπὲρ τοῦ οηνόματος αὐτοῦ is best connected with "obedience of faith." The phrase is of frequent occurrence (cf. Acts 5:41; Acts 9:15; Acts 15:26; Acts 21:13; also 2 Thessalonians 1:12). It is most usually connected with the idea of suffering in behalf of Christ.
Among whom are ye also, called ones of Jesus Christ; and therefore included in my apostolic mission. Here the parenthetic passage ends, Romans 1:7 being the sequence of Romans 1:1.
To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints (cf. κλητὸς ἀπόστολον, in Romans 1:1). Bengel's view, that by ἀγαπητοῖς Θεοῦ are specially meant the Jewish Christians, as being "beloved for the fathers' sakes" (Romans 11:28), and by κλητοῖς ἁγίοις the Gentile converts, is untenable. Both phrases are applicable to all. The word ἁγίοι, be it observed, is elsewhere used to denote all Christians, without implying eminence in personal holiness (cf. 1 Peter 2:9, ὑμεῖς δὲ … ἕθνος ἄγιον). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The union, here and elsewhere, of Jesus Christ with the Father as imparting heavenly blessing, implies his Deity no less than any dogmatic statement could do; for it is surely impossible to conceive the apostle thus associating with the Godhead one whom he regarded as a mere human being. The same form of benediction is found at the beginning of all St. Paul's Epistles, and there can be no doubt that its meaning is as given above. For, though here, in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, this collocation of words might allow the rendering, "Grace … from God, the Father of us and of the Lord Jesus Christ," yet in Galatians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, it is obviously inadmissible. And even without these instances the true meaning would have been probable from ἡμῶν coming before Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. If the apostle had intended to express a common Fatherhood of God, he would surely not have written, "Our Father and Christ's," but rather, "Christ's and ours" (cf. John 20:17).
B. Introduction, in which the writer expresses his strong interest in the Roman Church, his long-cherished desire to visit it, and the grounds of this desire.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of (rather, proclaimed) in the whole world. We observe here, as in other Epistles, St. Paul's way of beginning with complimentary language, and expression of thankfulness for the good he knew of in his readers. He thus intimates at the outset his own good feeling towards them, and predisposes them to take in good part any animadversions that may follow. "The whole world" is not, of course, to be taken literally, but as a phrase denoting general notoriety. Similarly in 1 Thessalonians 1:8, ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ. Any considerable number of converts in so important a place as Rome would be likely to become notorious in all Christian circles, and even outside them might have already begun to attract attention.
For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you in my prayers. A like solemn asseveration is made with a like intention (Philippians 1:8; cf. also 2 Corinthians 11:31). It expresses the writer's earnestness, and is in place for attestation of a fact known only to himself and God. The word λατρεύω, ("I serve"), when used in a religious sense, most usually denotes "worship," and specifically the priestly services of the temple (Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:2; Hebrews 13:10). St. Paul's λατρεία intended here is not ceremonial function, but a spiritual one (ἐν τῷ πνεύματί μου)—an inward devotion of himself to God's service in proclaiming and furthering "the gospel of his Son." A similar view of the essential λατρεία of Christians is found in Romans 12:1; Romans 15:16; Php 3:3; 2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 9:14.
Always (to be connected with δεόμενος following, not, as in the Authorized Version, with the preceding μνείαν ποιοῦμαι) in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length (in some way at length some day) I may be prospered to come unto you. The word εὐοδωθησόμαι, translated in the Authorized Version, "have a prosperous journey," though rightly so rendered with regard to its etymology and original meaning, does not necessarily imply being prospered in a journey. It was commonly used to denote being prospered generally (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:2; 3 John 1:2).
For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established. Bengel, taking χάρισμα as the special gift of the Holy Ghost consequent on apostolic laying on of hands (cf. Acts 8:17, Acts 8:18), argues from this verse that neither St. Peter nor any other apostle could have been at Rome so far. Though his conclusion is probably true, it does not follow from his premiss; for τὶ χάρισμα πνευματικὸν evidently means generally any gift of grace. All St. Paul implies is that he hopes to do them some spiritual good, so as to settle and strengthen them; and in the next verse, with characteristic delicacy, he even modifies what he has said, so as to guard against being supposed to imply that the benefit would be all on their side.
That is, that I with you may be comforted in you, each of us by each other's faith, yours and mine. The spirit of delicate courtesy here evinced, in addressing persons over whom one loss of a Christian gentleman than St. Paul was might have assumed a lordly tone, is apparent elsewhere in his Epistles (cf. Romans 15:15; Romans 16:19; 2Co 2:3; 2 Corinthians 3:1, seq.; 2 Corinthians 8:8; 2 Corinthians 9:2), and especially the whole Epistle to Philemon.
But I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you (and was hindered hitherto), that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. Some take the "but" at the beginning of this verse (οὐ θέλω δὲ) as the apodosis to πρῶτον μὲν in Romans 1:8, with the meaning, "I am aware, and am thankful, that your faith is already notorious; but still I wish you to know that I have long had a desire to visit you." But the μὲν and δὲ are too far separated to commend this view. It is more after St. Paul's style that there should be no apodosis to πρῶτον μὲν; his train of thought carries him on so that he forgets how he began his sentence; and Romans 1:13 comes naturally as the sequence of Romans 1:12, whether we render δὲ by "but," or (as in the Authorized Version) by "now," or (as in the Revised Version) by "and." The long-cherished intention here spoken of had been expressed by him when at Ephesus, before his departure to Macedonia (Acts 19:21). Feeling himself to be peculiarly the apostle to the Gentile world, and having already been the first agent in carrying the gospel into Europe (Acts 16:9, Acts 16:10), and having established it there in important centres of population, he ever kept in view an eventual visit to the imperial city itself, in the hope of its thence permeating the whole western world. What had so far hindered him appears from Romans 15:22 to have been principally missionary work which had first to be accomplished elsewhere. At last Providence carried him there in a way not of his own choosing. Thus man proposes, God disposes. In this verse the Roman Church seems certainly to be regarded as a Gentile one. What classes of converts probably at that time composed it has been considered in the Introduction. Whatever its nucleus, St. Paul plainly feels that, in sending this Epistle to it, he is carrying out his especial mission of extending the gospel to the Gentile world, though at the same time he writes mainly from a Jewish standpoint, appealing frequently to the Jewish Scriptures, with which he presupposes an acquaintance on the part of his readers. But the latter fact is not inconsistent with the supposition of their being, either then or prospectively, mainly of Gentile race. The gospel was everywhere preached as the fulfilment of Judaism (see note on Romans 15:2); and for understanding both its purport and its evidences, all would have to be to some extent indoctrinated in the ancient Scriptures. It is to be observed, too, that in the next verse the apostle implies a sense of now addressing a peculiarly civilized and cultivated community; he seems to have before him the prospect of his address reaching the educated and intelligent classes of society in the imperial city. And the Epistle, as it goes on, is in accordance with such an aim. For its arguments are addressed, not merely to believers in the Old Testament, but also generally to philosophical thinkers. The state of the world is reviewed, human consciousness is analyzed, deep problems which had long exercised the minds of philosophers are touched on, and the gospel is, in fact, commended to the world as God's answer to man's needs.
Romans 1:14, Romans 1:15
Both to Greeks and Barbarians, both to wise and unwise, I am debtor. So, as much as is in me, to you also that are at Rome, I am ready to preach the gospel. The two divisions of mankind into
(1) Ἔλληνες καὶ Βάρβαροι,
(2) σοφοὶ καὶ ἀνοήτοι, are intended to include all, independently of nationality and culture, regarded from a Greek or Roman point of view. The Greeks, as is well known, called all others than themselves Βάρβαροι, so that Ἕλληνες καὶ Βάρβαροι included the whole world. Here the Romans are intended to be included among Ἕλληνες, being partakers in Hellenic culture, and in fact at that time its prominent representatives (cf. "Non solum Graecia et Italia, sod etiam omnis barbaria," Cicero, 'De Fin.,' 2.15). Of course, σοφοὶ also includes them. The obvious intention of the writer is to place them in each of the higher categories, and so, while after his manner he pays his expected readers a delicate compliment, to insist that his mission is to the highest in position and culture as well as the lowest, cud that, bold in his convictions, he is not ashamed to preach the cross even to them. "Audax facinus ad crucem vocare terrarum Dominos" (Alex. More. quoted by Olshausen).
For I am not ashamed of the gospel (of Christ, in the Authorized Version, is very weakly supported by manuscripts; neither is it required), for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and to the Greek. In saying he was "not ashamed," St. Paul may have had in his mind our Lord's own words (Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26.) We are reminded in this verse of the passage, 1 Corinthians 1:17-31, where the idea here shortly intimated is enlarged on. He was fully aware that the pride of Greek philosophy would be likely to despise the message of the cross as "foolishness." It would be strange to them at first, and out of accord with their intellectual speculations. But he was convinced too that in it was contained the one view of things to meet human needs, and such as to commend itself in the end to thinkers, if their consciences could be roused. In preaching to the Corinthians he had indeed purposely refrained from presenting the gospel to them in "words of man's wisdom," lest the simple message, addressed alike to all, should lose any of its essential power, or be confounded with the human philosophies of the day. But to them also, in his First Epistle, he declares that this was not because it was not "wisdom," as well as "power," to such as could so receive it. Among the more advanced, and therefore more receptive (ἐν τοῖς τελείοις), he does, he says, "speak wisdom" (1 Corinthians 2:6), Christianity having, in fact, its own philosophy, appreciable by them. As is well said in the Exposition of 1 Corinthians in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' "No contrast is here at all between reason and revelation, as some think, but strictly between two philosophies—the philosophy of God and the philosophy of the world." Therefore to the Greek, as well as to the Jew, he is not ashamed to preach the cross; and in this Epistle, suitably to its purpose—more, it may be supposed, than his ordinary preaching—he does set forth the Divine philosophy of the gospel. But the message, he adds, is "to the Jew first," because it was to the people of the covenant (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:4, etc.) that the salvation in Christ was in the first place to be offered. Hence also, in all his missionary work, he first addressed himself to the synagogue, and only when he was rejected there, turned exclusively to the Gentiles. So at Rome too, when he afterwards went there (Acts 28:17-29).
II. THE DOCTRINAL PART OF THE EPISTLE.
C. The doctrine of the righteousness of God propounded, established, and explained.
This verse, though connected in sequence of thought with the preceding verse, may properly be taken in conjunction with the doctrinal argument which follows, serving, in fact, as its thesis. For the righteousness of God is therein revealed from (or, by) faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous by (or, from) faith shall live. It is to be observed that ἐκ is the preposition before πίστεως in both clauses of the sentence, though our Authorized Version makes a difference. Further, we render, with the Authorized Version, "the righteousness of God," rather than "a righteousness," as in the Revised Version, notwithstanding the absence of the article. For what is meant is the definite conception, pervading the Epistle, of God's righteousness. If there were room for doubt, it would surely be removed by ὀργὴ Θεοῦ, also without the article, immediately following, and with the same verb, ἀποκαλύπτεται. The Revisers, translating here "tins wrath," have given in the margin as tenable "a wrath," apparently for the sake of consistency with their rendering of δίκαιοσύνη. But "a wrath of God" has no intelligible meaning. The expressions seem simply to mean God's righteousness and God's wrath. This expression, "the righteousness of God," has been discussed in the Introduction, to which the reader is referred. Its intrinsic meaning is there taken to be God's own eternal righteousness, revealed in Christ for reconciling the world to himself, rather than (as commonly interpreted) the forensic righteousness (so called) imputed to man. Thus there is no need to understand the genitive Θεοῦ as gen. auctoris, or as equivalent to ἐνώπιον Θεοῦ. The phrase is understood in the sense that would be familiar to St. Paul and his readers from the Old Testament; and it is conceived that this intrinsic sense pervades the whole Epistle even when a righteousness imputed to man is spoken of; the idea still being that of the Divine righteousness embracing man. It is not clear in what exact sense ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν is to be understood. Most commentators, taking δικαιοσύνη to denote man's imputed righteousness, connect ἐκ πίστεως with it, as if ἡ ἐκ had been written (as e.g. in Romans 10:6). But the absence of ἡ, as well as the collocation of words, seems rather to connect it with ἀποκαλύπτεται. It may be meant to express the subjective condition for man's apprehension, and appropriation, of God's righteousness. The revelation of it to man's own soul is said to be ἐκ πίστεως while εἰς πίστιν expresses the result; viz. faith unto salvation. A like use of the preposition εἰς is found in Romans 6:19; 2Co 2:15, 2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:18. In the last of these passages ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν, has a close resemblance to the expression before us. The quotation from Habakkuk 2:4 seems mainly meant to illustrate what has been said concerning faith, though the word δίκαιος, which occurs in it in connection with faith, may have also suggested it as apposite, as is evidently the case in Galatians 3:11, where St. Paul quotes it in proof of the position that ἐν νόμῳ οὐδεὶς δικαιοῦται παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ. The prophet had in immediate view the trials of faith peculiar to his own time, and had cried, "LORD, how long?" But he had stood upon his watch to look out for what the LORD would say unto him; and an answer had come to him to the effect that, in spite of appearances, his prophetic vision would ere long be realized, God's promises to the faithful would certainly be fulfilled, and that faith meanwhile must be their sustaining principle—"The just shall live by his faith." So in the Hebrew. The LXX. has Ὁ δὲ δικαιός μου ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται (A.), or Ὁ δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίτεως μου ζήσεται (B). The variations do not affect the general sense of the passage. Now some, supposing St. Paul to connect ἐκ πίστεως with δίκαιος, as part of the subject of the sentence, would accuse him of giving the quotation a meaning not intended by the prophet, who evidently meant ἐκ πίστεως to go with ζήσεται, as part of the predicate. But there is no reason for attributing this intention to St. Paul, except on the supposition that he had previously connected ἐκ πίστεως with δικαιοσύνη, in the sense of ἡ ἐκ πίστεως. But we have seen reason for concluding that this was not so. The quotation, in the sense intended by the prophet, is sufficiently apposite. For it expresses that faith is the life-principle of God's righteous ones, while the whole passage at the end of which it occurs declares the salvation of prophetic vision to be entirely of God, to be waited for and apprehended by man through faith, not brought about by his own doings.
(1) All mankind liable to God's wrath.
(a) The heathen world in general.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold back the truth in unrighteousness. Here the argumentation of the Epistle begins, the first position to be established being that all mankind without exception is guilty of sin before God, and therefore unable of itself to put in a plea of righteousness. This being proved, the need of the revelation of God's righteousness, announced in Romans 1:17, appears. "The wrath of God" is an expression with which we are familiar in the Bible, being one of those in which human emotions are attributed to God in accommodation to the exigencies of human thought. It denotes his essential holiness, his antagonism to sin, to which punishment is due. It expresses an idea as essential to our conception of the Divine righteousness as do the words, "love" and "mercy." Wrath, or indignation, against evil is as necessary to our ideal of a perfect human being as is love of good; and therefore we attribute wrath to the perfect Divine Being, using of necessity human terms for expressing our conception of the Divine attributes. When the Name of the LORD Was proclaimed before Moses (Exodus 34:5, etc.), it was of One not only "merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth," but also "that will by no means clear the guilty." This last attribute is the same as what we mean by the Divine wrath. This "wrath of God" is said in the verse before us to be "revealed from heaven." How so? Is it in the gospel, as is God's righteousness (Romans 1:18)? Against this view is the change of expression—ἀπ οὐρανοῦ instead of ἐν αὐτῷ—as well as the fact that the gospel is not in itself a revelation of wrath, but the very opposite. Is it in the Old Testament? Possibly in part; but the marked repetition of ἀποκαλύπτεται in the present tense seems to point to some obvious revelation now; and, further, the first part of the proof, to the end of the second chapter, does not rest on the Old Testament. Is it what the apostle proceeds so forcibly to draw attention to—the existing, and at that time notorious, moral degradation of heathen society, which he regards as evidence of Divine judgment? This may have been before his view; and, as he goes on at once to speak of it, it probably was so prominently. But the revelation of Divine wrath against sin seems to imply more than this as the argument goes on, viz. the evident guilt before God of all mankind alike, and not only of degraded heathenism. It is difficult to decide, among the various explanations that have been offered, on any specific mode of revelation which the writer had in view. Perhaps no particular one exclusively. Commentators may be often unduly anxious to affix an exact sense to pregnant words used by St. Paul, who so often indicates comprehensive ideas by short phrases. He may have had before his mind various concurrent signs of human guilt, and the Divine wrath against it, at that especial time of the world's history; all which, to his mind at least, brought conviction as by a light from heaven. And the gospel itself (though in its essence a revelation of mercy, so that he purposely avoids saying that wrath was in it revealed) still had been the most powerful means of all for bringing home a conviction of the Divine wrath to the consciences of believers. For its first office is to convince of sin and of judgment. Cf. the words of the forerunner, "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" On all such grounds we may conceive that the apostle spoke of the wrath of God against human sin being especially at that time plainly revealed from heaven; and he desires to bring his readers to perceive it as he did. For now was the time of the Divine purpose to bring it home to all (cf. Acts 17:30, "The times of this ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent"). "All ungodliness and unrighteousness' (ἀσέβειαν καὶ ἀδικίαν) comprehends all evil-doing, in whatever aspect viewed, whether as impiety or as wrong. The phrase, τῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν κατεχόντων, is wrongly translated in the Authorized Version, "who hold the truth." If the verb κατέχειν allowed this rendering here, it would indeed be intelligible in reference to the knowledge of God, even by nature, which all men have or ought to have, though they do not act upon it, and the very potential possession of which renders them guilty. This is the thought of what immediately follows. Thus the sense would be, "They hold, i.e. possess, the truth; but they do unrighteousness." But whenever κατέχειν means "to hold," it denotes a firm hold, not a loose hold, such as would be thus implied. It occurs in this sense in 1 Corinthians 11:2 ("I praise you that ye keep the ordinances"). and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 ("Hold fast that which is good"). We must, therefore, have recourse to a second sense in which the verb is also used—that of "keeping back," or "restraining." Thus Luke 4:42 ("The people stayed him, that he should not depart from them") and 2 Thessalonians 2:6 ("Ye know what withholdeth"). The reference is still to the innate knowledge of God which all men are supposed to have had originally; but the idea expressed is not their having it, but their suppressing it. "Veritas in mente nititur et urget: sed homo eam impedit" (Bengel).
Because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it to them; rather than hath manifested, as in the Authorized Version. He manifested it, as appears from the following verse, in creation. In it to them from the first he manifested it; but in them (ἐν αὐτοῖς) also, through the capacity of the human soul to see Divine power in creation.
For the invisible things of him from (i.e. since, ἀπὸ) the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Divinity (θειότης, not θεότης); so that they are without excuse. The concluding clause is rendered in the Revised Version, "that they may be without excuse;" and it is true that εἰς τὸ αἷναι αὐτοὺς does not express the fact that they now are so, but the subjective result of the manifestation, if disregarded. "Paulus directe excusationem adimit, non solum de eventu aliquo loquitur" (Bengel). It is, however, a question of importance, which has been much discussed, whether (as the rendering of the Revised Version might be taken to imply) the idea of Divine purpose, and [not result only, is involved in εἰς τὸ εἷναι. The difference between the two conceptions is apparent from the Vulgate, ira at sint inexcusabiles, compared with Calvin's in hoc ut. The bearing of the distinction on the doctrine of predestination is obvious, and it was consequently a subject of contention between the Lutherans and Calvinists. Meyer among moderns contends strongly that "the view which takes it of the purpose is required by the prevailing use of εἰς with the infinitive," referring in this Epistle to Romans 1:11; Romans 3:26; Romans 4:11, Romans 4:16, Romans 4:18; Romans 6:12; Romans 7:4, Romans 7:5; Romans 8:29; Romans 11:11; Romans 12:2, Romans 12:3; Romans 15:8, Romans 15:13, Romans 15:16. A comparison, however, of these passages does not seem to bear out his contention, it being apparently dependent on the context in each case, rather than the phrase εἰς τὸ, whether the idea of purpose comes in. Chrysostom among the ancients expressly opposed this view, saying, Καίτοιγε οὐ διὰ τοῦτο ταῦτα ἐποίησεν,ὁ Θεὸς, εἰ καὶ τοῦτο ἐξέβη. Οὐ γὰρ ἵνα αὐτοὺς ἀπολογίας ἀποστερήση διδασκαλίαν τοσαύτην εἰς μέσον προὔθηκεν ἀλλ ἵνα αὐτὸν ἐπιγνῶσιν. So that they should be may be suggested as an adequate rendering, so as to avoid the idea of God's manifestation of himself to men hating been from the first delusive, having condemnation, and not enlightenment, for its purpose.
These two verses, 19 and 20, carry out the thought of τὴμ ἀλήθειαν κατεχόντων in Romans 15:18, their purport being to show that the ἀσέβεια and ἀδικία of men have been in spite of knowledge, and therefore involve them all in sin. For sin implies knowledge of good and evil; it is not imputed to the brute beasts, who but follow their natural instincts, having no perception of God or a Divine law. Now, to man, even without any special revelation, God manifests himself in two ways—outwardly in nature, and inwardly in conscience. In these verses the outward manifestation is spoken of, the other being more especially noted in Romans 2:14, etc. But here, too, an inward manifestation is implied by the word νοούμενα, as before by ἐν αὐτοῖς. To the animals below us the phenomena of nature may be but a spectacle before their eyes, making no appeal to a mind within. But to man they have a language—they awake wonder, awe, admiration, a sense of infinite mysterious power, and, to the receptive of such impressions, of ideal beauty indefinable. To the psalmists of old they spoke irresistibly of God; of one infinite and eternal Being, above and beyond all; and their consciences, owning the supremacy of good in the moral sphere, concurred with their sense of the evidences of beneficence in nature, so as to convince them also of the righteousness of God. All men (the apostle would say) were originally endowed with a like capacity of knowing God; and their failure in this regard, shown in the various forms of idolatry prevalent throughout the world, he views as the first stage in the development of human sin. The next stage is general moral degradation, regarded as the judicial consequence of the dishonour done to God. It is, indeed, a necessary consequence; for low and unworthy conceptions of Deity bring with them moral deterioration; when man's Divine ideal becomes degraded, with it he becomes degraded too. Witness, for instance, the debauches and cruelties that so commonly accompanied idolatrous worship. Lastly, the final stage of this moral degradation is represented in an unveiled picture of the utter wickedness, and even unnatural vice, at that time prevalent and condoned in the heart of the boasted civilization of the heathen world. Such is the drift of the remainder of this first chapter. The argument suggests the following thoughts.
(1) There is no mention here of Adam s transgression as the origin of human sin. The reason is that the apostle is arguing from a philosophical rather than a theological point of view, having Gentile as well as Jewish thinkers in his view as readers. His appeal in this chapter is not to the Old Testament at all, but to facts by all acknowledged. He is offering the world a philosophy of human history to account for the present perplexing state of things—for the undoubted discord between conscience and performance, between ideal and practice,—his purpose being to show universal guilt on the part of man. But his position here is quite consistent with what he says elsewhere (as in Romans 5:1-21.) of Adam's original transgression. For his whole argument in this chapter involves the doctrine of the fall of man, who is conceived to have been originally endowed with Divine instincts, and to have forfeited his prerogative through sin; and this is the essential meaning of the picture given us in Genesis 3:1-24. of the original transgression.
(2) The entire drift of the chapter is against the view of the condemnation of mankind being due simply to the sin of the progenitor being imputed to the race. For all men are represented as guilty, in that all have sinned against light which they might have followed. This view does not, indeed, preclude that of an inherited infection of nature predisposing all to sin; nay, it rather necessitates it; for why should the sin have been so universal but for such predisposing cause? Still, the distinction between the two views is important in regard to our conception of the Divine justice. 3. It may, however, be said that the distinction is without a real difference in this regard; for that, if the inherited infection is such that sin becomes inevitable (as seems to be implied by its alleged universality), it may appear as inconsistent with the Divine justice to condemn men for it, as it would be to impute to them their progenitor's transgression. In reply to this difficulty, it may be said that Scripture nowhere says that men are finally condemned for it. On the contrary, the gospel reveals to us the atonement, preordained from the first, for the avoidance of such final condemnation; and this retrospective as well as prospective in its effects (Romans 3:25, Romans 3:26), and as far-reaching as was the original transgression (Romans 4:12, etc.). And our apostle (Romans 2:7, Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15, Romans 2:16) expressly asserts the salvation of all who, according to their light, have done what they could. The fact is, that in the argument before us (as in other passages of similar purport) it is only the principle, or the ground, of man's possible justification before God that is under review. The intention is to show that this cannot be man's own "works or deservings," as of debt, but is another which the gospel reveals. Be it observed, lastly, that a clear view of this position is important, not only for our apprehension of the truth of things and of the meaning of the gospel, but also for our right moral tone of mind and attitude before God. For not to be convinced of sin is to belie the true ideal of our conscience, and implies acquiescence in a moral standard below that of the Divine righteousness to which we are able to aspire.
Because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful (rather, gave thanks); but became vain in their imaginations (διαλογισμοῖς, elsewhere more correctly rendered "thoughts" or "reasonings;" cf. 1 Corinthians 3:20, "The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain"—μάταιοι, as here, ἐματαιώθησαν), and their foolish heart was darkened.
Romans 1:22, Romans 1:23
Professing themselves to be wise, they Became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the similitude (literally, in similitude; cf. Psalms 106:20, whence idea and words are taken) of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. The expression, γνόντες τὸν Θεὸν, refers to what has been said of τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ, having been "manifest in them." It implies actual knowledge, not mere capacity of knowledge. Mankind is regarded as having lost a truer perception of God once possessed, idolatry being a sign of culpable degradation of the human race—not, as some would have us now believe, a stage in man's emergence from brutality. Scripture ever represents the human race as having fallen and become degraded; not as having risen gradually to any intelligent conceptions of God at all. And it may well be asked whether modern anthropological science has really discovered anything to discredit the scriptural view of the original condition and capacity of man. The view here presented is that obfuscation of the understanding (σύνεσις) ensued from refusal to glorify and give thanks to known Deity. "Gratias assere debemns ob beneficia; glorificare ob ipsas virtutes divinas" (Bengel). Hence came ματαιότης, a word, with its correlatives, constantly used with reference to idolatry; cf. Acts 14:15; 1 Corinthians 3:20; Ephesians 4:17; 1 Peter 1:18; also in the Old Testament, 1 Kings 16:26 (ἐν τοῖς ματαίοις ἐπορεύαὐτῶν, LXX.), 2 Kings 17:15 (θησαν ὀπίσω τῶν μαρταίων, LXX.); Jeremiah 2:5; Jonah 2:8 (φυλασσάμενοι μάταια καὶ ψευδῆ). Two forms of idolatry—both involving unworthy conceptions of the Divine Being—are alluded to, suggested, we may suppose, by the anthropomorphism of the Greeks and the creature-worship of Egypt, which were the two notable and representative developments of heathen religion. The expression, φάσκοντες εἷναι σοφοὶ, with the previous ἐν τοῖς διαλογισμαοῖς, have led some to suppose in this whole passage a special reference to the schools of philosophy. But this is not so. The degradation spoken of was long anterior to them, nor is this charge, as formulated, applicable to them. The idea is, generally, that boasted human intellect has not preserved men from folly; not even "the wisdom of the Egyptians," or the intellectual culture of the Greeks (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:19, etc.; 1 Corinthians 3:19, etc.).
Wherefore God (καὶ, here in the Textus Receptus, is ill supported) gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies between (rather, among) themselves. So τοῦ ἀτιμάζεσθαι, etc., is rendered in the Authorized Version. The verb, however, is probably passive, a middle use of it not being elsewhere found. In either ease the general meaning is the same. The genitive, τοῦ ἀτιμάζεσθαι, seems most naturally taken as denoting what the ἀκαθαρσία consisted in, rather than either the purpose or the results of their being given over to it (cf. Romans 1:26, where παρέδωκεν εἰς πάθη ἀτιμίας is followed by a description of what these were). Here is noticed a further stage of judicial degradation; the ματιαότης of idolatry, itself judicial, had its further judicial consequence in the ἀκαθαρσία of abominable sensuality. Similarly, in Ephesians 4:1-32., the ἐργασία ἀκαθαρσίας πάσης ἐν πλεονεξιᾳ, prevalent among the nations, is traced to their ματαιότης, in that they had become "alienated from the life of God." It is notorious that idolatrous worship was not uncommonly accompanied by debauchery; notably that of the Phoenician Astarte, and of Aphrodite and Dionysus; cf. Numbers 25:1-18., etc., "The people joined themselves unto Baal-peor," and the allusion to it, 1 Corinthians 10:8. On that occasion no more is intimated than promiscuous intercourse between the two sexes, sinking men in that regard to the level of the brutes; but still worse "uncleanness'' is in the apostle's view, such as sinks them even below that level; and how common such unnatural vices had become, and how lightly thought of, no one conversant with classical literature needs to be reminded.
Who (rather, being such as, the word is οἵτινες, equivalent to quippequi) changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. This verse repeats the source and cause of the moral degradation spoken of, which is described without reserve in what follows. "In peccatis arguendis saepe scapha debet scapha dict. Gravitas et ardor stilt judicialis proprietate verborum non violat verceundiam" (Bengel).
For this cause God gave them up (παρέδωκε, as before) to vile affections (πάθη ἀτιμίας, i.e. "passions of infamy;" cf. above, τοῦ ἀτιμάζεσθαι). For the use, on the other hand, of the words τιμὴ and τίμιος to denote seemly and honourable indulgence of the sexual affections, cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:4 (Τὸ ἐαυτοῦ σκεῦος κτᾶσθαι ἐν ἁγιασμῶ καὶ τιμῆ) and Hebrews 13:4 (Τίμιος ὁ γάμος ἐν πᾶσι καὶ ἡ κοίτη ἀμίαντος). For their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature.
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. By the "recompense" (ἀντιμισθίαν) is meant here, not any further result, such as disease or physical prostration, but the very fact of their being given up to a state in which they can crave and delight in such odious gratifications of unnatural lust. It is the ἀντιμισθία τῆς πλάνης αὐτῶν, the final judgment on them for going astray from God. And surely to the pure-minded there is no more evident token of Divine judgment than the spectacle of the unnatural cravings and indulgence of the sated sensualist.
And even as they did not like to have God in their knowledge, God gave them over (παρέδυκεν, as before) to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient (i.e. unfitting or unseemly things). It is difficult to render in English οὐκ ἐδοκίμασαν and ἀδόκιμον so as to retain the apparently intended correspondence between the verb and the adjective. The verb δοκιμάζειν is capable of the senses
(1) "to prove" (as in assaying metals), and, generally, "to discern," or "judge;"
(2) "to approve," after supposed proving. Jowett, in his commentary on this Epistle, endeavours to retain in English the correspondence between ἐδοκιμασαν and ἀδόκιμον by translating, "As they did not discern to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to an undiscerning mind," thus taking the verb in sense (1), and the adjective in the same sense actively. But it is at least doubtful whether ἀδόκιμος can be taken in an active sense, which is not its classical one. In the New Testament it occurs 1Co 9:27; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Corinthians 13:6; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:16; Hebrews 6:8. In the first of the above passages the word obviously means "rejected" (in the Authorized Version a castaway), with reference to the comparison of a competitor in athletic contests being proved unworthy of the prize—a sense cognate to the common one of the same adjective as applied to spurious metals, rejected or worthless after being tested. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Corinthians 13:6, either sense seems admissible—ἑαυτοὺς δοκιμάζετε … εἰ μήτι ἀδόκιμοί ἐστε. But not so in Hebrews 6:8, where the word is applied to barren land. The passages from 2 Timothy and Titus may in themselves admit the sense of undiscerning, but the passive one is more probable in view of the common usage of the word. On the other hand, ch. 12:2 may be adduced in favour of the active sense; for there the consequence of the renewal of the mind in Christians is said to be that they may prove, or discern (εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς), what is Gods will; and hence it may seem probable that the want of such discernment is denoted here. The same passage also favours the verb δοκιμάζειν being taken here in sense (1) given above, and Jowett's rendering of the whole passage. It is, after all, uncertain; nor does it follow that the Greek paronomasia can be reproduced in English.
Being filled with all unrighteousness, [fornication], wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, hated of God, despiteful (rather, insolent), proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection [implacable], unmerciful. Here not personal uncleanness only, but general and utter disregard of moral restraints and obligations (too prevalent, doubtless, at that time in civilized heathendom), is pointed out as the final judicial issue. The words used do not seem to be arranged on any exact system, but to have been written down as they occurred to the writer, being intended to be as comprehensive as possible. Among them those put above within brackets rest on weak authority. Πλεονεξία, translated here, as usually elsewhere, "covetousness," means generally "inordinate desire," not necessarily of riches; and St. Paul seems generally to use it with reference to inordinate lust (cf. Ephesians 4:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:3; also 1 Thessalonians 4:6 and 2 Peter 2:14; and, for πλεονέκτης, Ephesians 5:5, The word θεοστυγεῖς, both from its formation (compare θεοφιλὴς and φιλόθεος, with other instances), and its ordinary use in classical Greek (it occurs here only in the New Testament) must certainly be taken to mean "God-hated," not "God-haters." It seems suggested here by the previous καταλάλους, being used commonly of the delatores who are known to have been a special pest of society at that period of Roman history. Alford quotes Tacitus, 'Ann.,' Ephesians 6:7, where they are called "Principi quidem grati, et Deo exosi;" also Philo, 'Ap Damascen.,' Διάβολοι καὶ θείας ἀποπέμπτοι χάριτος οἱ τὴν αὐτὴν ἐκέινω διαβολικὴν νοσοῦντες κακοτεχνίαν θεοστυγεῖς τε καὶ θεομισεῖς πάντη. In verse 31 the collocation of ἀσυνέτους and ἀσυνθέτους seems to have been suggested by similarity of sound, there being no apparent link of ideas. The latter word is rightly translated in the Authorized Version, as is also ἀσόνδους; ἀσυνθέτους being one who breaks treaties, "faithless;" ἀσπονδους, one who refuses to enter into a truce or treaty, "implacable."
Who (οἵτινες, with its usual significance, as before) knowing the judgment of God, that they which practise such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also have pleasure in them that practise them. In this concluding verse the main point of the whole argument, with which also it began (Romans 1:19), is repeated, viz. that all this sin was in spite of better knowledge—the original knowledge of God revealed, as above set forth, to the human race, and (as is implied further) an inward witness of conscience still remaining, however stifled, even in the most corrupt society. By ἄξιος θανάτου is not meant "deserving of capital punishment;" Divine judgment is evidently implied. There is no need to inquire what conception of future retribution the heathen themselves may be supposed to have had, or to have been capable of entertaining. St. Paul constantly denotes by θάνατος, in a general and comprehensive sense, the penal consequence of unatoned sin due to the Divine δικαιοσύνη (cf. Romans 6:21-23; Romans 8:6, etc.). It is to be observed that in the latter part of this verse the distinction between πράσσειν, meaning habitual practice, and ποιεῖν, is not shown in the Authorized Version. The evidence of the "reprobate mind" is not simply that such things are done occasionally under temptation, but that they are the habits of people's lives. And still more: such habits are not only participated in by those who have knowledge enough to perceive their guilt (αὐτὰ πποιοῦσιν), but even condoned and approved (συνευδοκοῦσι τοῖς πράσσουσι); there was no general protest or indignation in society against the prevalent abominations; and those familiar with the writers of the Augustan age must be well aware that this was so. Here we have the final proof of the prevalence of the ἀδόκιμος νοῦς, the climax of the picture of general moral degradation. "Ideo autem sic interpreter, quod video apostolum voluisse hic gravius aliquid et sceleratius ipsa vitioram perpetratione per-stringere. Id quale sit non intelligo, nisi referamus ad istam nequitiae summam, ubi miseri homines contra Dei justitiam, abjecta verecundia, vitiorum patrocinium suscipiunt" (Calvin).
Greetings are often merely formal, or merely friendly. Not so this salutation, with which the apostle of the Gentiles opens his Epistle to the Christians of renowned, imperial Rome. It is sincere and hearty, and it is also dignified and authoritative. St. Paul writes as one who feels the responsibility of his position and vocation, as one who is justified in claiming from his readers respectful attention and submissive obedience. At the same time, the consciousness of his apostleship does not interfere with, but rather deepens, his prayerful and brotherly interest in the welfare of those who are the representatives of Christ in the world's metropolis.
I. THE APOSTLE'S NEW NAME IS IN ITSELF A CREDENTIAL. At the commencement of his apostolic career, Saul's name was changed to Paul; and to all who thought upon the matter even for one moment, this fact must have been very significant. The old name had been left behind with the old nature. The Jewish persecutor had become the Christian preacher. Whether or not the apostle assumed the name of his convert, the Proconsul of Cyprus, in any case the new name was associated with the new calling, the new covenant, the new life, the new hope. The change reminds us of the promise of the victorious Redeemer to his faithful soldier, "I will write upon him my new Name."
II. THE APOSTLE'S SPIRITUAL SERVICE IS A CLAIM UPON CHRISTIAN RESPECT AND CONFIDENCE. The open assertion by St. Paul, that he is "bond-servant of Jesus Christ," proves that a fresh idea has been introduced into the world. Here is a Jewish rabbi, a Roman citizen, glorying in his subjection, his serfdom; owning as his Master, not the emperor, but the Crucified! In inditing official letters, the great are wont to name their titles of honour. Observe, on the contrary, the lowliness of the apostle's attitude, as evinced in the "style and title" he here assumes. To him it is an honour to be Christ's slave,—"whose I am, and whom I serve." It is the glorification of spiritual humanity, when a noble nature like St. Paul's boasts of vassalage to Jesus. Redeemed by Christ's pity and sacrifice from the thraldom to sin, the first use which the emancipated bondman makes of new freedom is to bind himself to the service of his Liberator and Lord. Though the apostles put forward their special claim to be Christ's bond-servants, this is a relation which every Christian claims to hold toward Christ, a designation which every Christian delights to appropriate.
III. THE APOSTLE CLAIMS FOR HIS MINISTRY A DIVINE AUTHORITY. Whatever men thought then, and whatever they think now, about the validity of the apostles' claim, it is not to be denied that they advanced it, and it cannot reasonably be questioned that they were sincere in their professions when they asserted themselves to be commissioned by Divine authority and qualified by Divine inspiration for a special service on behalf of mankind. Paul declared himself to be a "called apostle," i.e. called by the Lord Jesus himself, none the less really than were those who were summoned and commissioned during the Lord's ministry upon earth. As an apostle, Paul was "sent," i.e. selected, authorized, and made an ambassador, by the King himself. There is here a singular and instructive combination. Very lowly, very far from self-assertion, is Paul's designation of himself as "servant of Christ;" at the same time, very bold, confident, and unhesitating is his demand (for such it is) to be received as the minister, the herald, the ambassador, of the Lord. Doubtless, by using such language at the outset of this treatise, Paul required his readers to bear in mind what manner of document they were about to peruse; the form of it, indeed, given by the intellect, the heart, of a man, yet the substance of it proceeding from the mind of God himself.
IV. THE APOSTLE INCLUDES AMONG HIS CREDENTIALS THE GLORIOUS AND BENEVOLENT OCCUPATION OF HIS LIFE. "Separated," marked off from other men, and even from his former self, St. Paul is conscious that he is entrusted with a congenial work of evangelization. In a sense, he has been "separated" from his very birth; but this consecration, itself a Divine purpose, has been now actually effected. When Saul was arrested on his way to Damascus, he was not only enlightened from above, and so brought to see in the Jesus whom he had persecuted a Saviour and a Lord, but he was assured of his own selection by Christ as an ambassador to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. That was the first step; the second followed after an interval of years. When Saul and Barnabas, in connection with the Church at Antioch, were designated for an evangelistic mission, this was at the express instance of the Holy Spirit, who directed the prophets and teachers to separate these two for the work whereunto he had called them. By "separation unto the gospel of God" must be understood complete and lifelong devotion to the work of proclaiming the good news which was from God, and which regarded God. Now, this devotion to the publication of that gospel which—in its doctrines and in its bearings upon practical and social life—was the theme of this Epistle, was more than an introduction to the Roman Christians; it was a commendation to their confidence, and a demand upon their faith and obedience. Coming from such a man, so specially and supernaturally qualified, this Epistle claims the attention, not of the Romans only, but of the world.
A promised gospel.
It sometimes happens that a blessing long promised, loudly heralded, and warmly extolled, loses thereby something of its charm, and suffers in the warmness of its welcome when it appears. That must be a vast and priceless boon which will bear to be promised and expected generation after generation. Expectation is aroused, the flame of hope is fanned, desire stands on tip-toe and strains her eyes. And when the gift comes, it must be of surpassing value, if no disappointment follow. The gospel of Jesus Christ was foretold for centuries. It had become "the desire of all nations." But when it came, it was more glorious and welcome than all hope, all imagination, could have dreamed.
I. IT WAS TAUGHT BY CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES THAT THE GOSPEL WAS A BLESSING PROMISED FROM ANCIENT TIME. Here are three direct proofs of this.
1. Our Lord, in his conversation with the disciples on the way to Emmaus, reproached them as "slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken;" and, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."
2. Upon the Day of Pentecost Peter instanced the resurrection of Christ as a fulfilment of Hebrew prophecy; David, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn to raise up his descendant to sit on his throne, "seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ."
3. When before Agrippa and Festus, Paul affirmed that, in his witnessing, he said "none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles." Add to these the many instances in which the writers of the New Testament declare the gospel to be the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, and it becomes apparent that the Founder and first preachers of Christianity all claim that the Hebrew Scriptures testified beforehand to their glorious theme.
II. THE MEN BY WHOM THE GOSPEL WAS FORETOLD WERE GOD'S PROPHETS. They were so called because they uttered forth, as his representatives, the mind and will of God. And they fulfilled this office, not only with a view to the time then present, its circumstances and duties, hut with a view to a time to come. Thus prophecy and prediction were closely linked together. With God is neither past, present, nor future. The promise was first made to our first parents, and through Adam to his posterity. The seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. Abraham, in whom the human race took a new departure, was assured that in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed. This declaration, made to the father of the faithful, was believed by him, and his faith was accounted as righteousness. Through him it became the property of his descendants; for it was evidently so understood by Jacob. To Moses the promise was given, and by him it was recorded, that God should raise up a prophet like unto himself. But Moses prophesied of Christ rather in the ordinances he instituted than in the words he uttered. The sacrifices especially of the Jewish dispensation were an earnest of him who in due time should die for the ungodly. In the Psalms of David are several passages in which the Holy Spirit assured to the Israelitish monarch a successor to more than his own dignity and dominion. Isaiah spoke of a suffering and victorious Messiah. And others of the goodly fellowship, especially Jeremiah, Zechariah, Malachi, and Daniel, announced beforehand the advent or Israel's and the world's Deliverer.
III. THE SCRIPTURES WERE THE RECORD IN WHICH THE PROMISE OF THE GOSPEL WAS PRESERVED. Admire the wisdom of God manifested in this provision. Men have sneered at a "book-revelation;" but it should be remembered that the only alternative to this, so far as we can see, was tradition—shifting, untrustworthy tradition. The Hebrews valued their sacred writings, and they had good reason for doing so. The Lord Jesus bade his opponents "search the Scriptures," knowing that these testified of him. The apostles always appealed, when reasoning with the Jews, to the books they justly deemed inspired. These books contained a treasure which those who knew only their letter, not their spirit, often failed to discern and value. "Holy," because inspired by the Holy Ghost; because written by the pens of holy men; because containing holy doctrine; because tending to foster a holy character and life, to leaven society with holy doctrines and principles. Above all, holy because witnessing to him who was the "Holy One and the Just," God's "holy Child Jesus." The Scriptures are the casket, and Christ the Divine Jewel within.
IV. CONSIDER THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH THE GOSPEL WAS THUS FORETOLD AND PUBLISHED, with growing clearness in the centuries before the coming of the Christ. There was Divine reason in this arrangement; and Paul saw this to be so, or he would not have put this forward in the forefront of this document. Observe these three evident intentions.
1. Thus the hopes of God's people were sustained. How needful must express promises have been to the godly who lived in the twilight of Judaism, surrounded by the dark night of heathenism! Often must their hearts have sunk within them, only to be revived by the gracious declarations of the universal Lord and King.
2. Thus were displayed the wisdom and the benevolence of God. He would be known, not only as the moral Ruler, but as the gracious Saviour, of mankind. The glowing language of inspired prophets depicted the attributes of the great Redeemer in such colours as to inspire the nation with a lively and a blessed hope.
3. Thus was provision made for establishing the credibility and authority of the gospel, when revealed. Much that was written aforetime could not at that period be fully understood. These things were written, not for those who then lived, but for us. Looking upon the prophecy, and then upon the fulfilment, recognizing the wonderful correspondence, we see the presence of the same God in the old covenant, and in that new covenant which is in truth more ancient than the old.
APPLICATION. The great practical lesson conveyed in this passage is obvious enough. If the gospel was the matter of a Divine promise, repeated by prophet after prophet through a long course of ages, and if the fulfilment of that promise was the greatest event in the history of mankind,—how immensely important must this gospel be to us! A stranger to the Christian religion might naturally think it an unaccountable, even an unreasonable, thing, that an assembly of English people in the nineteenth century should spend an hour in solemnly meditating upon words spoken by religious teachers who, thousands of years ago, lived in a remote strip of land in Asia, between the desert and the sea. He might naturally ask—What possible bearing can such words have upon the principles which govern your life, the aims and hopes that inspire your heart? Our answer is plain. God, in the ancient days, gave to mankind a promise which their circumstances rendered unspeakably timely, welcome, and precious. A sinful race, in rebellion against the Divine authority, deserving and daring punishment, needed nothing so sorely as an assurance of the King's compassion, as the revelation of a way of salvation, of reconciliation, of loyal obedience, of eternal life. Under the prophetic dispensation, this want was met; this declaration, this promise, was given. In the coming of Christ, in his life of benevolent ministry, his death of sacrifice and redemption, his victorious rising, his spiritual reign, the ancient words of prediction and promise found an echo corresponding with, but stronger than, themselves. And now the gospel is preached—that the counsel of God has been fulfilled, the grace of God has been displayed, the power of God has been put forth. We have not to tell of what God will do, but of what he has done. We have not now to raise men's hope, but to require their faith. To receive this revelation is to come under a new principle, a new power, to become a new creation, to live a new life. Remember that the promise refers, not only to the facts which, in one sense, constitute the gospel, but to the blessings which the gospel secures to those who accept it. If the gospel of Christ has, as we believe and teach, Divine authority, then there is, by the Lord Jesus, forgiveness for sins, renewal for the heart, grace for all need, and immortal life and joys; there is all that man can ask and God can give. In Christ provision is made for every want of sinful, ignorant, and helpless man. All the blessings of the gospel are offered of God's free mercy to the repenting and confiding applicant. What spiritual need is there which experience does not show may be satisfied by the gospel of Christ, by Christ himself? None! All blessings are assured to his faithful people.
Romans 1:3, Romans 1:4
The theme of the gospel.
Observe how the apostle's mind is burdened with the one great subject of his ministry. He has proceeded only a very few words with his Epistle, and behold! already he is introducing, by the force of an overmastering impulse, a full statement of the main facts and doctrines regarding the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. We have here a complete and concise DESIGNATION OF THE BEING who was the theme of the gospel which Paul preached. The human name, "Jesus," "the Salvation of the Eternal," is followed by the official name of the Mediator, "Christ," "the Anointed of God," and this by the title denoting his just relationship to his Church, "our Lord."
II. The HUMAN NATURE of Christ is clearly asserted. If, according to the flesh, he was born of the seed of David, he was
(1) of human descent. His humanity began to be at his birth. He was "very man," passing through human experiences, and undergoing human weaknesses and griefs, though sinless. But we are here reminded
(2) that he was of royal lineage. This was in accordance with the predictions of Old Testament Scripture. And, as he himself assured the people, he was not only David's Son, but David's Lord.
III. The DIVINE DIGNITY of the Saviour is simply but gloriously affirmed. In the very same sentence in which he is called the Son of an earthly king, he is designated "Son of God." This he was manifested, declared, as being. We cannot fathom this mystery; but. it may be reasonably received, and cannot be reasonably rejected. This combination of the two elements in our Redeemer's nature renders him an all-sufficient Mediator between God and man.
IV. Here is SUPERNATURAL ATTESTATION to Christ's nature and mission boldly asserted. Resurrection from the dead was not only a miracle wrought by him as an accompaniment of his mission; it was exemplified in his own Person, for he was the Firstfruits of them that sleep. Spiritual resurrection is the pledge of that which is bodily; and the resurrection was always mentioned by the first preachers of Christianity, in connection with the authority and Lordship of Christ. The lesson is pointed by the added clauses, "with power," and "by the Spirit of holiness."
1. Let us take a just and complete, not a partial, inadequate view of our Saviour's wondrous nature.
2. What a justification and encouragement may be found in this representation for the sinner to commit his eternal interests to One so qualified, so sufficient, to care for and to save the believing soul!
The apostolic aim.
There was great dignity in the character, demeanour, and language of the Apostle Paul. This was not inconsistent with the modesty and humility which were the ornament of his Christian character. But whilst he felt his personal unworthiness, feebleness, and utter insufficiency for the vast and arduous work entrusted to him, his sense of the grandeur of the work raised his conception of his own high vocation. It were well that all Christian ministers should cherish lowly views of self, and, at the same time, lofty views of the ministry they have received from God.
I. OBSERVE THE QUALIFICATIONS BESTOWED UPON PAUL. He describes these in order both to justify himself in the tone of his Epistle, and to secure the respectful attention of his readers.
1. Whence were they derived? They were not the ordinary gifts which Providence bestows upon men to fit them for the work of life. They were traced to Christ ("by whom"), the Giver of all blessings to his Church. It was the prerogative of the glorified Redeemer to confer gifts upon men. "He gave some, apostles," etc. Having redeemed his Church at a cost so great, he could not leave it without providing for the supply of all its needs.
2. In what did they consist? Paul uses two terms. One of these denotes the more general gift, "grace." By this may be understood, not only the enlightening and quickening influences of the Holy Spirit, which bring the soul into the enjoyment of the new and higher spiritual life, but all that distinguishes Christian character, and fits for an effective and beneficent witness to the Saviour. The other term is "apostleship." The apostles occupied a place so prominent and so honourable among the servants of Christ, that we cannot be surprised that a special word is here employed. Paul was "called to be an apostle;" and he often refers to the memorable occasion when he was arrested upon his errand of persecution, converted to Christ's faith and service, and commissioned for the great and holy work of his life. He claims to be not behind the chiefest of the apostles, and glories in the grace of God which was manifested unto and in him.
II. OBSERVE THE END SOUGHT BY PAUL. "Spirits are not finely touched but to fine issues;" and such endowments as were conferred upon Paul must have been in preparation for no ordinary service.
1. The character of this end was moral, spiritual. It was to overcome the disobedience and rebellion of sinful men; to vanquish these by the grace of the cross of Christ, and by the power of the Spirit of God. The obedience which our King and Father requires, he has resolved to secure by means devised by infinite wisdom and provided by infinite love. The gospel of Christ, received by faith, is to be the means of reconciling man to God.
2. Faith, then, occupied a place of immense importance in the teaching of the apostle. This Epistle to the Romans is, in itself, sufficient proof of this. Justification with God, and subjection and consecration to God, are secured by faith in the Mediator, Christ. Christian obedience is prompted, not by constraint or fear, but by this intelligent and lofty motive.
3. The sphere of this apostolic mission was unlimited, save by the boundaries of humanity. "All nations" were comprehended within the commission he received. A great modern preacher, John Wesley, is said to have claimed "the world as his parish." It was a sublime view of his ministry which Paul took; and it was taken, not under the influence of enthusiasm or self-importance, but upon the highest of all authority—that of the Saviour and the Lord of all.
4. The ultimate issue of the apostleship of Paul seems to be implied in the expression," for his Name." It was the glory of the Son of God which his servant faithfully and consistently sought; there was nothing personal or selfish, nothing petty or unworthy, in his aims. The Name of Christ is in itself above every name, and at that Name every knee shall bow. This assurance was enough to animate and sustain the apostle in all his labour and in all his suffering. In all, "Christ should be magnified."
1. All hearers of the gospel are summoned to the obedience of faith.
2. All who have received the gospel have received also some trust and some grace, which render them responsible for making known the revealed means of salvation to their fellow-men.
Romans 1:6, Romans 1:7
The Roman Christians.
In the great capital of the empire and of the world there was thus early constituted a congregation of Christian worshippers and disciples. Amidst the grandeur, the opulence, the vice, that prevailed in this, as in every metropolis; amidst proud patricians, turbulent plebeians, and wretched slaves,—there existed already an obscure but, to us, notable society, composed of Jews, Romans, and foreigners resident in the city, to whom Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, wrote this letter. The members of this society were not characterized by any outward marks of distinction which would render them interesting to the inhabitants of Rome generally. Yet, whilst the great and learned and wealthy, who either never heard of the Christian Church in their midst, or who, if they heard of it, despised it,—whilst they, for the most part, are forgotten, that Church is still remembered with deepest interest. Notice the marks by which it was distinguished to the view of the inspired apostle. He wrote "to all that be in Rome," who were differenced from those around them in certain respects.
I. THEY WERE CALLED OF CHRIST. They had, for the most part, never seen the Lord Jesus; but their souls had heard his holy, gracious call.
1. They had been addressed by the audible voice of his uttered Word. The call of the gospel had reached their understanding.
2. They had experienced the inner call of his Spirit. To each one of them might the apostle say, "The Word is nigh thee, even in thy heart."
3. They had responded to the call by their faith and obedience; they had not received the grace of God in vain.
II. THEY WERE BELOVED OF GOD.
1. In common with all mankind, they were the objects of Divine pity. "God so loved the world," etc.
2. But there was a special sense in which they were partakers of the love of God. He had revealed his love to them, and they loved God, because he first loved them. He loved his own image reflected in their character and life.
3. This love was especially manifested in their adoption. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God!"
III. THEY WERE SEPARATED UNTO HOLINESS. The word "saint" is now appropriated to personages of peculiar and distinguished piety. But it serves to remind us that Christians were intended to be pure amidst a sinful world and a sinful generation—a condition of the Divine favour, as well as a result of the privileges enjoyed by the people of God. The term may be thus unfolded. Saints are
(1) distinguished from sinful society by which they are surrounded;
(2) distinguished from their former selves;
(3) filled with the Spirit of holiness;
(4) and in character, as well as by profession, witnesses unto a holy God and Saviour.
Such "notes" of true, experimental Christianity were, indeed, not peculiar to the Roman Christians; but their conspicuous presence in the society addressed by the apostle was an earnest of the fruits of true religion which should abound wherever the gospel was proclaimed and received.
Romans 1:13, Romans 1:14
A yearning heart.
The ministry of the gospel of Christ may be fulfilled in either of two ways—by personal visitation and oral teaching and preaching; or by written communications, in the form of letter or of treatise. Paul, like many since his time, adopted both methods, and it would be hard to say in which he was the more effective. When he could not himself visit a city he could write to those who dwelt there. This difference between the two methods is observable—that by writing he could only reach those already favourably disposed towards Christian doctrine, whilst by word of mouth he often gained access to the hearts of unbelievers.
I. BENEVOLENT PURPOSES MAY BE PROVIDENTIALLY HINDERED. God often in mercy frustrates the wicked counsels of malicious men. But not only so; he sometimes hinders his servants from carrying out designs good in their motives. It happened now and again to Paul that, wishing to visit some country or city on an errand of mercy, his way was in that particular direction hedged up, and his steps were turned else-whither. The apostle's wish to visit Rome was natural, disinterested, and praiseworthy, and, in God's time, was fulfilled. But, up to the date of writing this Epistle, he had been hindered from carrying that wish into effect. We are taught that all our plans, even those of special evangelistic services, should be formed with submission to the wisdom and the will of God.
II. SPIRITUAL EFFORT IS WITH A VIEW TO SPIRITUAL FRUIT. The apostle looked forward to some result of toil. He had reaped a harvest, more or less abundant, in other fields of labour, and his purpose in visiting Rome was to gather fruit unto God. What was this "fruit"? The conversion of men to the faith and obedience of the gospel, and the growth of Christian character in those who professed to be followers of Christ. In these spiritual results the evangelist, the pastor, reaps the harvest of his toil. To this end the Lord of the harvest thrusts forth labourers. "Herein is the Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." Barrenness and unfruitfuiness in the spiritual domain are a source of grief and distress and disappointment.
III. THE CHRISTIAN LABOURER IS A DEBTOR UNTO ALL MEN. Paul felt that, in preaching the gospel to his fellow-men, he was paying them what was their due—that necessity was laid upon him. What was, and is, the ground of this obligation? In the case of Paul, the signal conversion from the career of the persecutor to the life of the Christian, and the Divine commission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, formed peculiar reasons and motives urging such devotion. Yet every Christian, having received spiritual blessings through the agency of his fellow-men, is thereby bound to transmit to others what he himself has received. And Christ's own authority sanctions our regarding spiritual service rendered to men as some fulfilment of the great debt we all owe to him. The extent of this obligation is universal. It includes all nations and races, Greek and barbarian; all classes and characters, wise and unwise. Paul was ready to minister to Hebrews and heathen, Romans and Greeks, bond and free. He knew that the reception of his message would bring the true wisdom and the true liberty to men of every tribe and of every type, and therefore he sought to discharge his debt to all mankind.
APPLICATION. The Christian labourer should seek that his labour may be directed by the distinctively Christian spirit; that it should contemplate the special Christian aim and result; and that it should display true Christian comprehensiveness and charity.
Romans 1:15, Romans 1:16
Glorying in the gospel.
It was not through any shrinking from either publicity or persecution, criticism or cruelty, that Paul had not, up to the date of writing this letter, visited Rome. Circumstances, in which he recognized the action of Divine providence, had hitherto hindered him from carrying his wish into effect. And now it was the holy ambition of his daring and benevolent heart to publish the gospel of Christ in the metropolis of the empire, of the world.
I. THERE WERE REASONS WHICH WOULD HAVE RENDERED SOME MEN ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. Now, indeed, in our day, when Christianity can point to the triumphs of eighteen centuries, when Christianity has received the homage of the noblest intellects and the purest hearts, when Christianity commands the reverence of civilized humanity, it is not easy to understand how, at the first, there should have been any temptation to be ashamed of the religion of Jesus. But let us put ourselves in the position of those who lived in the first century of our era, and we shall feel that, for them, confidence and courage in no ordinary degree were needed in order to profess and promulgate the faith.
1. There were such reasons connected with the religion of Christ, in itself considered, its origin in Palestine; the birth of its Founder as a Jew, and as the Offspring of lowly parents; his ignominious death upon the cross; the mean condition of many of his first adherents and missionaries;—these were circumstances damaging to the religion in the eyes of carnal men. The religion itself, demanding contrition and repentance from all men as sinners, demanding faith in a crucified Saviour as the Mediator of Divine mercy, demanding a new heart, a child-like spirit, a life of self-denial, must have been repugnant to human pride. To this must be added the reproach that Christianity did not come among men recommended by the fascinations of philosophy, or the persuasiveness of eloquence and poetry; and the further reproach that it provided no gorgeous temples, no splendid ritual, no imposing priesthood.
2. There were reasons personal to the Apostle Paul, which, some might have supposed, would have made him ashamed of the gospel. He was a Hebrew and a rabbi, one held in high esteem and repute among the learned and the powerful of his countrymen: was he likely to devote himself to a doctrine which regarded Judaism as a preparatory dispensation, whose purpose was now answered, and which was to pass away; a doctrine which depressed the letter and the form which Judaism so dearly and so blindly prized? He was a scholar, versed to some extent in Greek learning, and with an intellect capable of expounding and adorning Greek philosophy: was he likely to accept crude and unlettered instructors and colleagues, and to abandon as worthless the wisdom of this world? He was a Roman citizen, entitled to the privileges and immunities attaching to that proud position: was he likely to ally himself with a religion the profession of which would be regarded with contempt by the civic authorities, unless, indeed, it might prove politically convenient to visit its propagation with penalties?
II. PAUL HAD, HOWEVER, MORE POWERFUL REASONS FOR GLORYING IN THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. Though he simply said that he was "not ashamed" of it, the language and spirit of the passage imply that it was his joy, his glory, his boast. And in this he was not cherishing fanatical and unreasonable feelings; he had reason for his glorying.
1. The nature of the gospel was, to the apostle, sufficient ground for holding it dear, and for extolling its claims upon the respect of men. The Divine means for reconciling rebellious, guilty men to God, the righteous Judge and Ruler; the tidings of the Redeemer's advent, ministry, sacrifice, and glorification, was not only tidings to be received with devout thankfulness: it was a gospel of good news, to be diffused with the earnestness of cordial benevolence. A heart touched with the spectacle of human sin, misery, and helplessness, and capable of appreciating the marvellous provision of infinite wisdom and love, in the redemption by Jesus Christ, could not but be filled with joy, when entrusted with the privilege of offering to the dying sons of men a remedy so Divine.
2. Paul gloried in the gospel as the highest exhibition of God's power. Men are not wont to be ashamed of association with power; they rather pride themselves in and boast of their strength or the greatness of their resources, the might of their party or of their country. Now, the power of the gospel wore the guise of weakness; yet the weakness of God was stronger than men. A thinker, a philanthropist, may have more power than a king or warrior. Certainly, Christianity has shown how the weak things of the world confound the mighty. Spiritual alike in its origin, its instrument, and its sphere, the reality of its power is shown in its overcoming obstacles, in its achieving moral transformations, in its renewing the usages and principles of society.
3. Paul gloried in the special results which proved the power of the gospel. He saw in it the power of God "unto salvation." The prowess of the warrior is admired, as the means of human destruction. Too often, men most revere what they most dread. It is the glory of God that he is "mighty to save;" of Christ that he is "able to save to the uttermost;" of the gospel that it brings "so great salvation." Bringing salvation from sin, from condemnation, from all that sin involves, of moral mischief and misery, the gospel is emphatically Divine power. The apostle had felt this power in his own heart and life; he had witnessed unnumbered instances of this power, which were only less surprising and startling than that which his own life exhibited.
4. Another ground of confidence and boasting in the gospel was, to the mind of the apostle, its varied and widespread efficacy. In the expression "to every one that believeth," we have a statement of the condition upon which the delivering and healing power of the gospel is exercised—faith; and we have also an assertion of its universal adaptation. Although writing to the Romans, the apostle of the Gentiles puts prominently forward the fact that the offer of the gospel was first made to the Jew. This was not only the obvious course pointed out by God's providence; it was the express direction of the Author and Founder of Christianity. Yet there was in the gospel nothing limited or local; it was, and is, adapted to the spiritual necessities of the whole family of man.
1. Every hearer of the gospel should inquire of himself whether he has experienced its power over his heart and life.
2. Christians should so consider the glory of Christianity as to keep themselves from all danger of being, in any circumstances or in any society, ashamed of their religion.
3. No opportunity should be lost of commending the gospel, with its claims and privileges, to the acceptance of men, without respect to their race, their class, or their character. Unbelief alone is impervious to the power of the religion of Christ. All who sincerely believe will experience its renewing, delivering, and quickening power.
The new righteousness.
The apostle was justified in his boasting in the gospel, because of the high end it was the means of securing—nothing less than the salvation of men. This salvation it is his aim, in this Epistle, to set in its true light. It is a moral, a spiritual deliverance; an enfranchisement of the soul; an opening of the prison doors; a healing radical, thorough, and lasting. A righteous God can only be reconciled with sinful, disobedient men by communicating to them his own righteousness. The inner nature, the spiritual being, the moral character, is the sphere of the great salvation which Christ brings, which the gospel announces. There are in this verse three ideas.
I. FAITH. Like his Divine Easter, Paul insisted strenuously upon the importance, the necessity, of faith. This is a sign of the spirituality of our religion, which begins with the heart, and works from within outwardly. But Scripture gives no countenance to the mystical doctrine that faith is a mere sentiment, having no definite object. On the contrary, it reveals God and his promises, and especially his Son and the truth relating to him, as the objects of faith. Paul's aim, like that of every Christian teacher, was to awaken faith; and to this end he made known the glad tidings, that those who heard them might have an appropriate object upon which to place their confidence. If we are to believe, we must have something worthy of belief; if we are to trust, it must be in One who has a just claim upon our trust. Christianity responds to this requirement, and satisfies the desire of the soul for a sufficient ground and a suitable object for faith, in offering salvation through the Divine mercy extended through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS. This Epistle may be said to be chiefly concerned with two themes—sin and righteousness; the sin being man's, and the righteousness God's. It shows us how the Divine righteousness becomes man's. It is faith which is the link that attaches the human soul to the just and holy Lord; the wing by which man soars from the foul atmosphere of sin into the clear and upper air of fellowship with God. The gospel, says the text, reveals the righteousness of God. It does this, first, by making known the perfect obedience of Christ, who "fulfilled all righteousness," and was "obedient unto death." It does this, further, by declaring the reason of Christ's unmerited sufferings and death. These, which, superficially regarded, seem rather opposed to the belief in the justice of God's government, are, to the Christian's mind, the highest illustration of that justice. Though innocent and holy, our Lord, becoming the Representative and Redeemer of the race whose nature he assumed, submitted for our sake to the pains and the death he did not deserve. He thus displayed, not merely the heinousness of human sin, which brought him to the shameful cross; not only the magnitude of the world's sin, the penalty of which he thus accepted and endured; but the righteousness of God, which, in the very act of providing for the pardon of the sinner, most signally and effectively condemned the sin itself. Nowhere does sin appear so sinful as in the cross of Christ, where righteousness stands in striking and sublime contrast with iniquity, revealing in all its enormity the evil which it vanquishes and slays. Christ not only revealed, he also imparted, the righteousness of God. And this in two ways—by righteously forgiving, acquitting, and accepting the penitent believer in his Son; and by infusing into him a new principle of righteousness. Thus Christianity at once provides that man may be right and just with God, and that he may possess the righteousness of impulse, habit, and principle, which will produce righteousness of action in his relations with his fellow-men.
III. LIFE. "The just by faith"—such is the teaching alike of the prophet and of the apostle—"shall live." This life is opposed to spiritual death; it is the special gift of God in Christ; it is the effective principle of renewed and hallowed activity. It includes within itself the fulness of all spiritual blessings. It is the beginning and the earnest of immortality; it is "the eternal life."
1. The highest good must be sought from God, and from him only; in him alone are righteousness and life.
2. To the revelation of God in and by Christ must correspond the approach of the soul to him by faith. This is the way of God's own appointment, marked by God's wisdom, and proved by actual experience to be divinely efficacious.
A more frightful exhibition of sin and its consequences than that given by the apostle in the latter part of this chapter could not have been presented; yet to have said less than this would have been to fall short of the facts of the case, which needed to be stated in order to prepare the way for the publication of a gospel of pardon and of purity.
I. THE ROOT OF EVIL PASSION, OR LUST, IS IN THE WORSHIP OF THE CREATURE. The beginning of all evil is in departure from God. His works, and especially the most honourable and beautiful of all his material constructions—the human body—are intended to lead the thoughts and aspirations of men to the great Creator himself, whose attributes they in some measure display. The symmetry and grace and beauty of the human form and features are the crown of the physical creation. And to the Christian the body of man has this higher interest—it was tenanted by the human mind, it was possessed by the Divine nature, of the Son of God himself. The attractiveness of the body is not only a fact indicative of the Divine delight in form; within lawful bounds it is intended to subserve the high purposes of social and especially of conjugal life. But when the interest centres upon what is corporeal, and does not pass beyond and above it, then the Divine intention is frustrated. Evidently the nobility, the enchanting loveliness characteristic of the human body in its grandest and fairest types, are designed to suggest the infinite and eternal spiritual excellence.
"Thus beauty here points up to that above,
And loveliness leads on to perfect love."
But when this great and precious lesson is missed, what follows? Inevitable degradation. The creature is worshipped, and the Creator is forgotten or despised. The mind and heart seek to rest in what can never satisfy them. The emblem is mistaken for the reality, the shadow for the substance.
II. THE FRUIT OF EVIL PASSION, OR LUST, IS UNNATURAL AND DEBASING VICE. Readers of the ancient literature of Greece and Rome, students of anthropology, travellers and residents in heathen lands in our own time, are well aware of the lengths to which sinful passion can lead those whom it masters. There is no need to go into detail, and it is better for Christian people to remain ignorant of corruptions with which, happily, they are never brought into contact. But it remains true that, with idolatry, the filthiest rites and orgies have often been, and still are, associated. Those abandoned to "fleshly lusts" appear to exhaust their ingenuity in inventing forms of unlawful indulgence.
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF EVIL PASSION, OR LUST, IS ASSURED BY THE RETRIBUTIVE ACTION OF GOD'S RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT. There is a natural belief in retribution. Nemesis is no mere invention of the human imagination; it springs from convictions and fears from which humanity can never free itself. Revelation confirms the natural utterances of human reason, assuring us that after death is the judgment, and that every man shall give account of himself to God, when evil deeds shall not go unpunished. The laws of nature to a large extent ensure some measure of retribution even here and now. Tribes and nations which have practised debasing and unnatural vices have paid the penalty in national deterioration, and individual sinners have reaped the bitter fruit proper to evil seed. And there is every reason to believe that the righteous judgment of God is not confined to this present earthly state.
IV. THE REMEDY OF EVIL PASSION, OR LUST, IS PROVIDED IN THE GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. It is the purpose of the apostle, in this Epistle to the Romans, to show that the mercy of God our Father has abounded to sinful men, in the provision of
(1) pardon for even heinous sin, upon the sinner's repentance and faith; and
(2) purity of heart and life such as the Spirit of Christ alone can create.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
Paul's description of himself; or, the story of a noble life.
An autobiography, the story of our own life, is a dangerous thing for a man to write. We are partisan judges of our own character. We conceal our own faults and exaggerate our own virtues. An autobiography, too, is often very dull and very dry. But the autobiography of St. Paul is at once interesting and truthful. As Paley, in his 'Horae Paulinae,' has so clearly shown, Paul's account of his own personal history, as given in his writings, is borne out in the fullest manner by the account given of him in the Acts of the Apostles, written by a different person and at a different time. The irresistible truthfulness of the story of Paul's conversion and apostleship is so strong, that the study of it led the celebrated Lord Lyttleton, who had been for many years a sceptic, to embrace the religion of Jesus Christ and become one of its ablest advocates. In these opening verses of the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul gives us, in brief but weighty words, the story of his life.
I. AN APOSTLE'S TITLE. "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ" (verse 1). St. Paul's titles are not numerous or high-sounding. He gloried in the title of "servant"—a servant of Jesus Christ. Consider what it meant for Paul that he became and lived a servant of Jesus Christ. It meant to him loss of worldly prospects. "For whom I have suffered the loss of all things." It meant to him bodily suffering. "I bear about with me in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." It meant to him—a man of high mental endowments, a man of unblemished character—a life spent largely in the prison-cell, with the chains hound upon his wrists. It meant to him—and he knew it well—a life ended on the scaffold, or, like his Master's, on the cross. "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." But he had counted the cost. Three things sustained him as he trod that lonely path of service and suffering. He looked back to the cross of Jesus. He had the love of Jesus and the spirit of Jesus in his heart. And he looked forward to the crown of glory that awaited him. Therefore he was able to say, "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus." It means much the same to be a servant of Jesus Christ in our own day. You may not meet with bodily suffering as a consequence of your faithfulness to Jesus. But there arc other sufferings, perhaps just as bitter and as hard to bear, which must be endured by the faithful servant of Jesus Christ. Make up your mind to this—that you are not the servant of the world, and then what the world may say of you will affect you very little. A servant of Jesus Christ. St. Paul was what he professed to be. The world has confirmed the description. Could the same be said of us? Could we look up to God, or look into the faces of our fellow-men, and say, "Yes, I am a servant of Jesus Christ"?
II. AN APOSTLE'S WORK, AND HOW HE DID IT. "Called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God" (verse 1). The word "apostle" means a messenger, or one who is sent. This was Paul's work, to be an apostle or messenger of Jesus Christ. This was the form of service he rendered to his Master. His work, the great ambition of his life, was to win men to Christ. General Lew Wallace, in that beautiful story of his, 'Ben Hur; a Tale of the Christ,' speaks of Jesus Christ as "the one Man whom the world could not do without." That, too, was St. Paul's firm conviction. This was one of the things that carried him on in his work. He realized the power of the gospel. He felt that it was something more than human. Heart and conscience and intellect told him it was Divine. He, who was so well instructed in the Jewish Scriptures, knew that the prophets spoke of Christ. "Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy Scriptures" (verse 2). He knew that Jesus had come. He knew that he had died upon the cross. Yes, and he knew that he had risen again. Look at the fourth verse: "Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." Had he not seen him? Had he not heard his voice—that voice that spoke to him on the way to Damascus, and changed for ever the whole current of his life? Yes; Paul knew whom he had believed. He had no doubt about it. He knew what Christ had done for him. And he knew what Christ could (to for the world. He knew how much the world needed Christ. And so he went forth on those great missionary journeys of his, burning with the one overwhelming, overmastering desire, to preach Christ crucified, and to persuade men in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God. This is one of the great secrets of successful work for Christ still. We must have a personal knowledge of Jesus as our own Saviour. "An educated ministry is desirable," said the late Dr. Cooke, of Belfast, "but a converted ministry is indispensable." And we must then go forth in the conviction that men need Christ, and that he will save them if they come to him.
"I love to tell the story,
Because I know it's true;
It satisfies my longings
As nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story,
It did so much for me;
And that is just the reason
I tell it now to thee."
Another great secret of Paul's success was this. He realized a Divine plan and purpose in his life. He felt that he was "separated unto the gospel of God" (verse 1). Unknown to himself, the Divine hand had been moulding his character, drawing out and developing his gifts, from his childhood up. How the various circumstances of his life fitted him for his great life-work! Born and brought up in Tarsus, he there became a Roman citizen, thus receiving civil rights and privileges which were of great service to him afterwards in his mission. There also he came in contact with Greek civilization and culture—an acquaintance useful to him afterwards at Athens and at Corinth. Then, coming to Jerusalem, and brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, he there received a training and a position which were of immense advantage to him in dealing with the Jewish people, his kinsmen according to the flesh. All this process of training and development culminated when one day that Divine hand suddenly arrested his career on the way to Damascus. The light from heaven shone about him then, and shone into his heart. After those days of outward blindness, but inward questioning and growing spiritual vision, the scales fell from his eyes indeed. He saw it all then. Henceforth there was a new meaning and a new purpose in his life. He saw then that he was "called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God." He saw the unseen hand. He saw how it had led him. He saw that it was a hand of power—how foolish to resist it! He saw that it was a hand of love, moulding him for high and holy and eternal purposes. From that moment Paul was Christ's. Not as a slave, but as a devoted servant. Not in any sense as a mere machine, but Christ's with all the persuasion and conviction of his mind, with all the love of his heart—separated by his own voluntary act, as he had already been separated by God's purpose, unto the gospel of God. In the seventh verse we see what the message was which Paul took with him wherever he carried the gospel. It is the message which the gospel brings still wherever it finds an entrance. "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ." Grace—the favour or mercy of God. "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). And where the gospel comes with its message of mercy and of love, the result is peace—peace in the conscience, peace in the home, peace in the nation. Such was the character, such were the life and work of St. Paul. He was a servant of Jesus Christ. He went forth as a messenger for Christ, believing that he had been separated unto the gospel of God. And the message which he brought was the message of grace and peace. So may it be with every one of us, if we will only consecrate our lives to God.—C.H.I.
The gospel a message for every one.
Narrow views of the gospel are very common. Amongst the very wealthy, what an erroneous idea often exists about the gospel and its claims! They think that religion may do very well for the poor, but they have no need of it. Amongst the very poor, on the other hand, you will often find the idea that religion may do very well for respectable people, but that it has nothing to do with them. Then, again, you will meet with a certain class of intellectual men—not always the most cultured or most thoughtful—who imagine that the gospel may do very well for commonplace, ordinary people, but that they have got far beyond such a childish belief. Even among Christian people what narrow views of the gospel and its scope! How slow the Christian Church has been in realizing its mission to the heathen world! There are many who still think that the heathen are well enough off; that there is no need to send the gospel to them. There are many who will tell us that there is "no use" in sending the gospel to the Mohammedan or the Jew. But the Apostle Paul took a very different view. In his view the gospel is a message for every one; and it is the work and duty of the Christian Church to bring it within the reach of every one.
I. A FACT STATED. "The gospel of Christ," says St. Paul, "is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). This was the cause of his readiness to go and preach the gospel at Rome also (Romans 1:15), just as he had already preached it to bigoted and fanatical Jews, and to the cultured and sceptical Greeks. He knew no difference of nation or of language, of creed or class, so far as the need of the gospel and the power of it were concerned. His message was that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and he knew that he would find sinners everywhere.
1. The gospel is a message for the rich. It tells them of a treasure that is incorruptible, that fadeth not away. It shows them how to become rich toward God—first, by having Christ, and having him, we have all things; and then, by making a good use of the earthly possessions which God has given them.
2. The gospel is a message for the poor. It teaches them to be industrious and contented. It shows them in the earthly life of Jesus Christ himself, and in the lives of hundreds of his followers, how a peaceful and happy mind may exist, and how a useful life may be spent, even amid circumstances of outward poverty.
3. The gospel is a message for the men of intellect and learning. What sublime ideas it puts before us! with what pure and lofty motives it inspires us! and with what a glorious hope it cheers us on! Contrast the future to which the atheist or the agnostic looks forward, with the future which is the Christian's hope, an eternity of conscious enjoyment of what is noblest and best. The gospel has a claim upon the ignorant and poor because of its simplicity and its comforts. But it has just as strong a claim upon men of giant intellect and vigorous understanding. And observe how some of the foremost men in science, in literature, and in statesmanship have recognized that claim, and responded to it. What names in literature and science stand higher than those of Newton and Faraday, Thomas Chalmers and Hugh Miller, Sir John Herschel and Sir David Brewster, all humble believers in the Lord Jesus Christ? Or to take one case only from our British statesmen, that of the late Lord Cairns, Lord Chancellor of England. During the term of office of the last Conservative administration a Russian war was felt to be imminent, and much excitement prevailed both within and without the cabinet. One day the wife of a junior member of the cabinet inquired of Lady Cairns, "What is the secret of the lord chancellor's constant and unruffled calmness, which my husband tells me pervades the whole place so soon as Lord Cairns appears? "It is this," was the reply; "he never attends a cabinet meeting without spending half an hour immediately beforehand alone with his God." Upon young men of education and learning, upon young men of thoughtful minds, we would press home the claims of the gospel; yes, the personal claims of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The gospel is a message for every one. It is a message for the sorrowing. It is a message to the sinner. It has melted the hardest heart; it has made the impure man pure, the intemperate man temperate, the dishonest man honest; and changed the proud and haughty man into a man of humble and gentle spirit. Over and over again it has proved itself to be "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth."
II. A REASON GIVEN AND AN OBLIGATION FELT,
1. St. Paul gives a reason why the gospel is a message for every one. "For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith" (verse 17). A gospel that tees of a perfect righteousness is the universal need of the human heart. In the opening chapters of this Epistle the apostle enlarges on that idea more fully. He shows how the heathen needed a righteousness. Then he shows how the Jews needed a righteousness, condemned as they were by that holy Law whose requirements they failed to fulfil. And then, having shown the universal need—"for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23)—he speaks of the universal righteousness which is unto and upon all them that believe. There is no difference in the need. There is no difference in the gospel message.
2. We have here also an obligation felt. "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise" (verse 14). There are few statements so sublime as that from any human pen. The old Latin poet represents one of his characters as saying, "Homo sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" ("I am a man, and everything human has an interest for me"). This is a fine sentiment; but here, in the case of St. Paul, we have a man expressing his personal obligation to seek the spiritual good of every man whom he could reach. He, a Jew, counted himself under obligation to do something for the barbarians; he, a learned and intellectual man, counted himself under obligation to do something for the unwise and ignorant as well as for the wise and the cultured. We, too, need to think more of our own personal indebtedness to Christ. Then we too, like St. Paul, shall he anxious to carry the gospel to rich and poor, learned and unlearned, Jew and Gentile.—C.H.I.
"Not ashamed of the gospel."
When these words were written by St. Paul, Christianity did not occupy in the world the position that it does now. In the mind of the ordinary Roman, the Jew was regarded almost always with contempt. And when the Christian was at all distinguished from the Jew, it was only to be the subject of more reproachful terms. Some of the most eminent and well-informed of the Roman writers speak of the Christian religion as a pernicious and detestable superstition. The humble origin, too, of the early founders of Christianity was not calculated to impress favourably the worldly mind. If the gospel which told of Christ crucified was a stumbling-block to the Jew, it was indeed foolishness to the Greek and to the Roman too. Yet Paul had not been ashamed of this gospel at Athens; he was not going to be ashamed of it at Rome. He had proclaimed the message of the Nazarene in the city of Plato and Socrates; he would preach it also in the city of Cicero and Seneca. Paul is not afraid to teach where they have taught. He was right. The name of Jesus is a greater name than Plato's. The religion which Jesus taught has moulded and purified the world. The apostle assigns two reasons why he is not ashamed of the gospel. These are—
I. ITS PURPOSE. This is indicated by the words "unto salvation" The Greek preposition which is translated "unto' expresses purpose, or tendency, or aim. The purpose of the gospel is the salvation of all who will receive its message. To effect this purpose, the Son of God left the glory of the eternal, and descended into the misery and weariness of a life on earth. For this, he suffered the assaults of the tempter; for this, he passed through the agony of Gethsemane; for this, he bore with patience the lingering torments of the cross. "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." The purpose of the gospel is salvation. Let us understand fully the meaning of that great word. Salvation is indeed deliverance from guilt, deliverance from condemnation. But the purpose of the gospel is something more than this. It is to save us also from the power of sin in our hearts and lives. Many professing Christians forget this. They think that faith in Christ is simply to deliver them from punishment in the day of judgment, while they do not allow it to have present, practical influence upon their lives. Let us not deceive ourselves. There is no true salvation where there is not an evidence of present departure from sin and present following after holiness. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Faith, if it is real, will show itself. Salvation is a present thing. "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us from all sin." The purpose of the gospel is to save us now There are many who long for some power that might save them from themselves, from some evil propensity or passion, from the influence of bad companionships. This salvation it is the purpose of the gospel to effect. "Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
II. ITS POWER. The gospel, says the apostle, is "the power of God." Here is an encouragement for our faith. This is the second reason why St. Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. Its purpose, no doubt, seemed a very difficult one, but the apostle had no fear for its success. Its earliest messengers were humble men. But the success of their message was in higher and mightier hands than theirs. That sin should be overcome, and men delivered from its power, was the purpose of the Almighty God, and his purpose never fails. In the history of nations we see the gospel proving itself to be the power of God. The moral miracles of Christianity, as Prebendary Row has shown, are the strongest evidence of its Divine origin and power. It has changed barbarism to civilization. It has emancipated the slaves. It has put an end to the cruel sacrifices performed in honour of the heathen gods. It has accomplished moral and social revolutions that to the human eye seemed utterly impossible. So also in the history of individuals. Men who have sunk so low beneath the power of degrading vice that their friends despaired of rescuing them, by the power of the gospel have been brought from death unto life. Jesus, and Jesus only, can cure men of sin's power. If we but touch his garment, we shall be made whole. No one has any reason to be ashamed of the gospel. Its purpose is a high and noble one, the highest and noblest mission ever undertaken. Its power is not the power of a feeble or a puny arm. It is the power of the living God. These are thoughts to inspire, and not to make ashamed.—C.H.I.
The inexcusableness of the heathen.
In the twentieth verse the apostle speaks of the heathen as "without excuse." These words describe the condition of those who have wilfully rejected light. They do not, indeed, describe their condition from their own standpoint or from the standpoint of men generally. From their own standpoint men are seldom "without excuse." No matter how gross or glaring the offence is, the offender has usually some excuse to offer. Adam and Eve had their excuses ready when the Lord God said, "What is this that thou hast done?" Saul had his excuse ready when he returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites without having fully carried out the commandment of the Lord, when Samuel asked him, "What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and this lowing of the oxen which I hear?" It might be taken as on the whole a fair description of the human race to say, "They all with one consent began to make excuse." However slow we are to excuse others, we are always remarkably ready to excuse ourselves. But these words describe the condition of these who reject light from the standpoint of him who is the great Searcher of hearts. He makes no mistakes. He makes no uncharitable judgments. In his sight those to whom he has given light, and who have chosen to reject it, are "without excuse." They are inexcusable. They have no valid reason for their ignorance about the way of salvation and the path of duty if God has given them light about both. This is the condition described by Christ in that parable where he represents the king as coming to one of the guests at the marriage-feast, and saying to him, "Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having on a wedding-garment?" And the Saviour tells us, "And he was speechless." He knew that he was without excuse. He knew the laws of the feast; he knew that the wedding-garment was provided, and he neglected to put it on. So shall it be in the great day, of judgment with all those who had the opportunity to know God's will, but who neglected to do it. May we be enabled, in considering the inexcusableness of the heathen, to think of this solemn subject with reverence and with fairness.
I. LIGHT GRANTED. If God expects men to know him, we may be sure that he has given them the means of knowing him. God will judge every man according to the opportunities he has had. Paul's statement is definite and clear. They are without excuse, he says, "because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful" (Romans 1:21). They knew God, says the apostle. How, then, did they know him? And what did they know about him? They knew him by means of his works, and they knew at least two things about his character—that he was a Being of power, and that his power was more than human. It is inferred also that they knew themselves to be dependent upon his bountiful providence and care, else they could not have been accused of being ungrateful. "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:19, Romans 1:20). Here, then, it is clearly taught that it is possible to obtain a knowledge of God from his works, and that such knowledge the ancient heathen had. St. Paul knew very well what he was talking about when he said that the ancient heathen had a knowledge of God. He was well acquainted with the literature of ancient Greece. On Mars' Hill we find him quoting to the philosophers of Athens a statement from Aratus, one of their own poets. "As certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring." The light of nature—this is the light which was granted to the ancient heathen. Two things that light of nature taught them about God—his power and his Godhead. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork." Behind the stars and the sea, there must be some power that made and controls them all. The order of the seasons, the succession of day and night, the ebb and flow of the tides—all these things require a controlling force, and that force must not only have almighty power, but must have intelligence and reason and will. Such a being must be a Person. Such a Person is more than human—is Divine. The same light of nature is granted to us all. But how much more light has been granted to us! We have the light of God's written Word. What mysteries that Word opens up to us, concerning which the voice of nature is silent! What a light it gives us about the mercy of God, and the Saviour's redeeming love! What a light it gives us about immortality and heaven, after which the best of the ancient heathen were groping and searching in darkness! How thankful we should be, amid the darkness which sorrow brings, and as we look forward to the darkness of the grave, for the light which God in his Word has mercifully granted to us! But that great privilege, that unspeakable blessing, brings with it a solemn responsibility. We who have the Bible in our hands are without excuse if we live in godlessness or unbelief, if we reject the offer of salvation.
II. LIGHT REJECTED. "They are without excuse, because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful" (Romans 1:20, Romans 1:21). And then, further on, the apostle says, "They did not like to retain God in their knowledge" (Romans 1:28). How often have nations acted thus—rejecting the light which was their best possession, their safety and their shield! The Jewish nation rejected the heavenly light, notwithstanding God's repeated warnings as to the consequences of doing so. France rejected the light when it expelled the Huguenots, the God-fearing portion of its population. Spain did the same when, by its Inquisition and its autos-da-fe, it exterminated all who dared to prefer the pure light of the Divine Word to the darkness and superstitions of Rome. Such nations were plainly without excuse, for they had the light, and deliberately rejected and quenched it when they could. So also we find rulers rejecting the light. That was the case with King Saul. He rejected the commandment of the Lord, and God rejected him from being king over Israel. Belshazzar, King of Babylon, had plenty of light given him in the career of Nebuchadnezzar his father about the power and justice of God. But, as Daniel reminded him, he had disregarded the solemn lesson; though he knew all this, he had not humbled himself, but had lifted himself up against the Lord of heaven (Daniel 5:21, Daniel 5:22). And so on that night of revelry the fingers of a man's hand came forth and wrote upon the wall, "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting," He was without excuse. He had rejected the light which God had given him. Do we not see a similar infatuation in the case of the unhappy Mary Queen of Scots? Though she had faithful men of God in her capital and often heard the truth from the lips of John Knox, she chose rather to be guided by her own caprices and by the influence of her frivolous courtiers. She, too, rejected the light which God had placed within her reach. We are not to think that it makes no difference whether we accept the Divine light or not. There is a danger that we may become too liberal as to the attitude men take up regarding God's Holy Word. It is well to be broad—broad as the mercy and the love of God. But, on the other hand, we may be broader and more indulgent towards error than God's Word permits of. God deals with men as intelligent and rational and moral beings, with a free will, capable of free choice. He puts before them life and death. He tells them that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." He tells them that there is no other way of salvation except through Jesus Christ alone. Upon them rests the responsibility and the guilt if they reject his salvation. It is worse than a matter of indifference; it is a sin in the sight of God, it is a sin against their own soul's destiny, for men to reject or neglect the message which the great Creator has mercifully sent them. It may be done in the name of science. It may be done in the name of advanced thought. But it is moral guilt nevertheless. "They are without excuse."
III. WRATH REVEALED. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (verse 18). And how could it be otherwise? If light has been granted to beings of intelligence and reason and conscience, and they have deliberately chosen to reject it, is it not fair and just that they should take the consequences? It is in the very nature of things that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." A man cannot violate a natural law with impunity. The most liberal-minded scientific man will see no unfairness in a man suffering if he disregards or violates the well-known laws of nature. Fire will burn, water will drown, pitch will defile, bad air will poison. If a man acts in defiance of these natural and elementary laws, he suffers the consequence. No one sees any unfairness in it. Why should there be any more unfairness in suffering as the result of disregarding and defying moral laws? On the contrary, is it not of more importance that a moral law should be vindicated, that men should learn to obey a moral law, than that even a natural law should be vindicated? But here, at any rate, is the fact, written clearly in God's Word, written over and over again on the page of history—light rejected means wrath revealed. Was it not so with ancient Israel? Has it not been so with France and Spain? Was it not so with Saul and Belshazzar? It is a terrible thing ,when men so harden themselves against God's Word. so shut their eyes against the light of his commandments, yes, even against the light of the cross, that God says, "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." Let him alone! Light granted. Light rejected. Wrath revealed. "Without excuse." Such is St. Paul's description of the ancient heathen world. To a world in such a state Jesus came. He came to reveal the righteousness of God in contrast to the abominable deities of heathenism. He came also to reveal the mercy of God. The trumpet-note of judgment is loud and terrible. But the trumpet-note of mercy is equally loud. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY T.F. LOCKYER
Romans 1:1, Romans 1:5-7
Paul's first contact with the metropolis of the world.
But its empire and splendour and wealth are forgotten in the absorbing interest of his mission. For he is the messenger of a Diviner empire, and his message is one which makes the splendour and wealth of the world seem worthless things. They may be few and poor, and he but a travelling tent-maker; but they are Christ's people, and he is Christ's servant; there will, therefore, be words spoken to which angels might hearken. But first he introduces himself, addresses them, and gives them his greeting. We have, therefore, in these opening words, the man, the Church, the message.
I. THE MAN.
1. We have called him the man, for as such he steps frankly into the foreground: "Paul." The necessity for sympathetic helpfulness in the work of man's salvation. Not a voice from afar, but a fellow-helper by our side. So the Captain of our salvation: "taken from among men." And so the true minister—a man first, one of the sinful, struggling mass of men, and saved with the common salvation.
2. But this brings us naturally to the second characteristic: "A servant of Jesus Christ." The word is literally, "bond-servant." And though the expression is to be applied very cautiously, lest the harsher suggestions should mislead us, yet there are elements of meaning which are full of force. Absolute proprietorship on the one hand, and obligatoriness of service on the other; but the relationship transfused with blessedness, for the claims are claims of love, and the service is a service of love. All true Christians, like Paul, bear about with them the marks of the Lord Jesus (Galatians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 4:10), and the brand-mark is this, "He died for me" (see 1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:22, 1 Corinthians 7:23).
3. Christ's service is manifold, and to all departments the true introduction is by "call." What dignity this throws over the humblest work! For the meanest toil that is sanctified by Christian motives is a service of Christ, and to that service the toiler is "called" by Christ. The labourer in the field, and the hardworked wife in household cares, as well as the man of letters, the statesman, or the prince, is "called of God." But while such are called to a service which is the exemplification of Christian principle in the conduct of common life, others, nay, all, are called to service, more or less, which bears directly on the extension of the kingdom of God. And to some the call is an exclusive one; their life is to be spent in the fulfilment of this mission from heaven. Such a one was Paul. Called to Christian service, in common with all his brethren; called to exclusive service, in common with many of his brethren; called furthermore to apostolic service, in common with a few selected ones, who led the van of the new faith, and testified authoritatively of the crucified and risen Christ. "By call an apostle." The distinctive call was made in connection with one special crisis of his life—the Damascus journey, and the voice from heaven. But was this, with its ratification of Acts 13:2, the only "separation unto the gospel" of which Paul goes on to speak? Nay, we are rather led to think of the phrase in Galatians 1:15, "separated … from my mother's womb." For there is a certain Divine fatalism which is in perfect harmony with moral freedom; every one born into this world is predestined from the first for some special work for God. The work may be marred, or altogether left undone, by man's perverseness; but the work is the Divine destiny of the man. And the after-life is an equipment for the fulfilling of this destiny. The circumstances of our lot, and the events that befall us; our joys and our sorrows; and all our natural and moral education, combine with our original constitution and temperament at once to indicate God's purpose and to fit us for its fulfilment. And was not Paul "a chosen vessel"?—marked out from the first for the conspicuous part which he afterwards played in the world's history; "separated unto the gospel of God." Such was the man.
II. THE CHURCH. And his apostleship was to "the nations;" the Gentile "world was his parish." Therefore the little Christian band at Rome though not gathered, directly at least, by his labours, might well receive his message. They formed a Gentile Church, and as such he writes to them. They are threefoldly designated.
1. "Beloved of God." "God's love is the source of all his benefits, and the sure ground of our hope. Our consciousness of his love is the basis of the Christian life. Of this love all men are objects, but only believers are conscious objects. To them it is real and living. It moulds their thoughts and life" (Beet, in loc.). Yes; "we have known and believed the love that God hath to us" (1 John 4:16): that is the inspiration of the new life.
2. "Called to be Jesus Christ's … called to be saints." Or, "Jesus Christ's … saints, by call." For the summons had been responded to; the love of God in Christ had changed their hearts. And now they were his people (see Titus 2:14), and for his Name's sake they were living consecrated lives. For this is our only sainthood: "Whether we live," etc. (Romans 14:8).
3. And this by "obedience of faith." The spring of the new life, on the human side, even as God's love is the spring of life on the Divine side. We yield to Christ's claim, and live to God as saints, only in so far as we receive Christ into our hearts by faith, and believe the love God hath to us. And in all the manifold departments of the Christian life, we "live by faith." We receive, or more actively we grasp, the goodness of God and the life which is through Christ. And this "obedience of faith" is the end of all apostleship and ministry (John 6:29; 1 John 3:23).
III. THE MESSAGE.
1. "Grace." God's favour, and all the saving help which he gives because he loves us. A continuous and increasing realization.
2. "Peace." The abiding calmness of a conscience which has yielded to be justified by faith (Romans 5:1), accepting the grace of God's favour, rejoicing in the light; calmness of heart also, in view even of fierce conflict and trial, by reason of the voice which says, "My grace is sufficient for thee." "Grace and peace." So the old Gentile and Jewish salutings were transfigured by the gospel of Christ.
In conclusion, the keynote is the "call." God calls you, calls you through Christ, calls you to be Christ's, calls you in your own minor apostleship to be servants of Christ. And the true response to this call is by obedience of faith; for, from first to last of the Christian life, "by grace are ye saved, through faith" (Ephesians 2:8). Oh, be it ours to respond, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth"!—T.F.L.
The characterization of "the gospel of God," to which Paul was separated.
The awfulness of a commission of doom. Jonah. But to herald forth God's good tidings to a sorrowing world! This is the crown of all Christian ministry. The angels might well sing and be glad when ushering this gospel into the world (Luke 2:9-14); and Paul is rejoiced that he can strike this note of gladness. There might well be preludes to this burst of joy: so the words, "which he promised afore," etc. For all the indications of God's purposes of love, from Genesis 3:1-24. to Malachi, did but prepare the way for the completed announcement in "the fulness of the time." And so virtually they all were Divine promises of a fuller gospel. The two main thoughts—God's gospel; its contents.
I. GOD'S GOSPEL.
1. A gospel carries the implication of a want, and, it may be, of a sorrow and a loss. So do the good tidings of God to man assume that man has lost his God, and with God all things good.
(1) Man knew not, surely, the reality of his sin; was deceived by the tempter; but awoke from his dream to find that God was gone! And this is the great loss of the world. Tim voices cry, "Where is thy God?" And he? The Good One—the light, the joy, the song of his creation. So man has blotted out his own heavens, and the earth thereby has lost its lustre and its grace.
(2) But the estranged God is a condemning God. He may not abdicate his essential relationship to the world as God, and if the love be lost it is replaced by wrath! So man's conscience testifies: stricken, sore, and bleeding.
2. A gospel carries the implication of a desire to have the want supplied, the sorrow and the loss removed. So man's sin has not hopelessly ruined him, else there could be no salvation. Room for God to work, and God does work.
(1) The historical preparation: God teaching the world to desire salvation. The Jews by direct dealings, a positive discipline; the Gentiles by indirect, a negative discipline. So, "the desire of all nations."
(2) The individual preparation: God's Spirit in the heart. Only the grace of God can bring us to God. And now God's gospel means, in general, that the condemning God will pardon, and the estranged God be a Father and a Friend again; that the yearnings towards himself which he has called forth shall thus find their full satisfaction, which is nothing other than the peace of forgiveness and the joy of adopting love.
II. ITS CONTENTS. But this general message has special terms. God's love is manifested, proved, accomplished, in his Son.
1. "His Son." For it is God's own love, his other self, which stoops to save us. Let us hold fast to this, for herein is the supreme pledge of our salvation.
2. His Son becomes "Jesus Christ our Lord."
(1) By the assumption of human nature. "Born of the seed of David according to the flesh." That it may be one of ourselves who saves us. (a) A Man, making atonement to God for men; (b) a human High Priest and Captain of salvation, himself "perfect through sufferings," and therefore "touched with the feeling of our infirmities"—the oneness with human-kind necessary for both the Godward and the manward aspects of the redeeming work. A Son of David, according to mere historical lineage and local appearance: "for salvation is of the Jews." But, grander and more royal than this, a Son of man—the Son of man, in his true human fashioning and for his world-wide work (Hebrews 2:14).
(2) By the glorification of human nature. "Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead." A Redeemer of men must assert their redemption in his own Person first. "We see not yet all things put under him [i.e. man]. But we see Jesus … crowned with glory and honour" (Hebrews 2:8, Hebrews 2:9), the archetypal Man. His resurrection, which the apostle here links on to its world-wide correlative and consequence, "the resurrection of the dead," demonstrates the redemptive power of Jesus, who is therefore the Christ, our Lord, and therefore Son of God; for only he who has life in himself can give life to dying men—life from the death of sin, life from all death which sin has more indirectly wrought.
Oh, let us hearken to such a gospel! God's good news to a dying world, spoken forth with all the power of One who was God's very Son, and with all the tender sympathy of One who is our very Brother. And for a proper hearkening to this good news may God, in his love, prepare our hearts!—T.F.L.
The apostolic commission has been presented; in this section it is interfused with the sympathy and service of a brother. He is still pre-eminently the preacher of the gospel (Romans 1:15), but he speaks as to those whose faith is one with his own, and who are therefore brethren in a most sacred brotherhood. We may consider, as in some sort distinct though mutually involved—his prayers, and his purpose.
I. HIS PRAYERS. Does Paul for one moment here strike a happy comparison between his work and that of the priestly intercessor in the elder covenant? For the "service" of which he speaks now is the service as of a temple, and it is as though he said, "In the gospel, as under the Law, there is a holy of holies, and worshipful intercession there. The holy of holies is the shrine of the innermost spirit, where converse is held with God, and the priestly worship is the pleading for brethren in Christ, and concerning the things that touch the kingdom of God." Yes, he "serves" God "in his spirit in the gospel of his Son."
1. A thanksgiving. "That your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world." It was fitting that he should use such language as this, hyperbolical though it was, to those who lived in the world's metropolis. Wherever he went he heard of their good name, and he thanked God for it. He thanked God for it? Yes; for was he not spiritually identified with all who were identified with Christ his Lord?
(1) Doubtless the faith itself which was so eminent was the chief cause of gratitude. That there should be such a light shining in a dark place filled his heart with joy. They were alive unto God!
(2) That the faith of the gospel should have taken such hold on the world's central and imperial city was no small cause for joy. What visions of the future might not open up before his mind!
(3) The wide proclamation of their faith was gratifying, for if others were stimulated it would be for the furtherance of the gospel.
2. A longing. "To see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift," etc. The grace of God that was in him was to be operative towards others; he lived not unto himself. And was it not even so with them? A mutual duty, and a mutual blessing.
(1) The interaction of their common faith: intensity by contact.
(2) The special aspects of the common faith: "yours and mine;" "some spiritual gift." Thus their establishment. The fulfilment of what promised so well, and the supply of any lack.
3. A request. "If by any means now at length," etc. As Paul taught the Philippians afterwards (Philippians 4:6), so he practised now. And doubtless, with all the wrestlings of that impetuous spirit, there was peace. For God's will was gouvernant. "By any means." He learned in the issue (Acts 28:1-31.) that his ways are not as our ways. But it would still be "prosperity" (see verse 10), if it were God's doing; so Romans 8:28.
II. HIS PURPOSE.
1. The great constraint of the gospel. "I am debtor." Nothing in the universe so free as the spirit of Christianity; nothing, on the other hand, which lays so commanding a grasp on love and life. A blessed yoke.
(1) All our possessions and powers are held in trust for the world; we all are "debtors," according to our several capacities and circumstances.
(2) In an eminent degree are we stewards as being entrusted with the gospel of God's grace. And the law—here, as in the former case—is, that being unused it ceases to be possessed.
2. The personal aim. "That I might have some fruit." Were the words of our Lord in mind, John 15:8? Or was he rather regarding the world as a great field, and himself as a sower? (see John 4:35-38; 1 Corinthians 3:7-9).
(1) The commission was to the Gentile world (Acts 9:15; Acts 22:21; so Acts 22:13, Acts 22:14).
(2) Must not the central purpose, then, be the evangelization of the great metropolis of the Gentile world? Doubtless this filled his mind, and hence his intense interest in these Roman Christians. What visions! Realized in history. How? and how may it yet be?
Let us realize our stewardship (1 Peter 4:10); and that the fulfilment of our stewardship may become a freedom and gladness, let us realize our oneness with Christ, and with Christ's people. T.F.L.
Romans 1:16, Romans 1:17
Why should he be ashamed? The great metropolis of a world-empire, with its wide-reaching power and permeating law; and he and his gospel! What a contrast it might seem! and how the supercilious Romans might overwhelm him with contempt! For they were not, as the Athenians, ever desirous to hear some new thing. And his gospel? it would be their laughing-stock. Nay, he shall not be ashamed. He will take his stand in the very centre of Rome's power, and at her fountain-head of righteousness, and there present his gospel. For it was a power, and in it was revealed a righteousness—the power of God, the righteousness of God. Let us regard these two aspects now.
I. GOD'S POWER. Man plumes himself with pride on the possession of might, but how impotent he is in the grasp of the great God! So, too, the "great powers" of the world's history: Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's vision (Daniel 2:31 Daniel 2:45). And "the powers that be are ordained of God." God's power is manifold. The governance of nature, the control of the affairs of men, the influence on the heart. And of this manifold power of God the gospel of Christ is a pre-eminent display.
1. Its aim. "Unto salvation." Life narrow restriction of this term; coextensive with the loss: the man, the life, the world. See Daniel 8:1-27. for this wide meaning of the word. Man's very self: ignorant, enslaved, corrupt, and withal estranged from God, and under condemnation. The gospel of Christ works light and liberty and love; it brings pardon and God. Man's life-history: the gospel of the resurrection. Man's world: the gospel of the new creation. What splendid visions were these! and how, in comparison, the splendour of Rome's power paled!
2. Its condition. To him "that believeth."
(1) A reception of the power. Man's power of resisting God's grace, through sin; the humble acceptance of God's grace, through faith.
(2) A realization of the power. God's grace not merely accepted by the obedient will, but transfused through the whole consciousness.
3. Its range. "To every one;" "To the Jew first, and also to the Greek." God's large love, whether there had been privilege (the Jews) or non-privilege (the Gentiles), polity or non-polity (Daniel 8:14), culture or non-culture (Daniel 8:14). And all had been prepared of God. Oh, if he might but help towards making the potential into the actual! Rome's cosmopolitanism was as nothing to this. Was it not a "power of God" that he might be proud to preach?
II. GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. The imperial law of Rome. It could not command all the complexities of social intercourse, nor the governance of the man's self; much less could it lay its grasp on the heart. Nor can man himself make himself righteous; he lacks the heart and the power. But what an empire's laws can never do, what a man's own strength can never do, is done by the gospel of Christ: "For therein is revealed," etc.
1. The Divineness of the righteousness. "Of God."
(1) Divine in its origin. All true good from the Creator to the creature. Especially for recovery from a fall.
(2) Divine in its inspiration. Only as having God with us can we be right with God,
(3) Divine in its aim. God the supreme end of all thoughts, desires, purposes, and works.
2. The distinctions of the righteousness. To be brought out more fully in the sequel of the Epistle.
(1) A status: by the atonement of Christ's redemption. Objectively.
(2) A state: by the constraining love of the redemption. Subjectively. Man seeks to work out his righteousness in the reverse order; from a state to a status. Whole Epistle combats this false principle.
3. The reception of the righteousness. "By faith unto faith."
(1) Of the prerogative of righteousness through Christ: acceptance pure and simple.
(2) Of the power of righteousness through Christ: assiduous, increasing, strong. So all is of faith: the beginning, the progress, the perfecting. "As it is written, The righteous shall live by faith, by believing with all his heart in the saving love of God. Was it not a "righteousness of God that he might be proud to preach?
What is God's gospel to us? A name? so many words? so many truths? Or a living power, already healing, and working towards the perfect life? "Not in word only, but in power" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Again, is it a veil, covering our deformity, and a cloak for our sins? Or a purifying power, making us right that it may make us righteous? "In power, and in the Holy Ghost" (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Yes; a gospel of holy power, so shall it be a gospel of "much assurance;" and, as Paul was not ashamed to preach it, we also shall learn what those words mean, "Whosoever believeth shall not be ashamed" (Romans 9:33).—T.F.L.
The revelation of wrath.
"For." Note the transition. The introduction into a status of righteousness presupposes a status of unrighteousness, involving wrath. So, then, we have here—man's guilt, God's wrath.
I. MAN'S GUILT. Man's guilt, which is his obnoxious relation to the judgment of God, is established by reference to the well-known state of the Gentile world, branded by its own doings as "ungodly" and "unrighteous."
1. Ungodliness. The deepest root of man's corruption.
(1) A suppression of the truth of God (Romans 1:18, Romans 1:21, Romans 1:28). God may be known by man; this is man's high prerogative. Not comprehended, but apprehended; we comprehend nothing. This knowledge of God is conditioned on two facts—man's God-related nature (conscience), and God's self-revealing will. And God does universally reveal himself through his works; let us not minimize this fact. Again, the law of the knowledge of God is—"To him that hath shall be given." So γνῶσις may become ἐπίγνωσις. But the converse is equally true, and is illustrated in the history of the world. "Hold down the truth in unrighteousness."
(2) A conversion of the truth into a lie (Romans 1:23, Romans 1:25). Man's God-related nature must work, even if inversely. The essence of idolatry—a self-submersion in the creature. The lie of idolatry—a deification of the lawless, the riotous, the sensual.
2. Unrighteousness. Cause and effect of ungodliness. Catalogued here so terribly that merely to read it is enough.
(1) The utter dishonour of their own nature (Romans 1:24, Romans 1:26, Romans 1:27).
(2) The extremest perversion of all social relations (Romans 1:29-31).
(3) The reprobate rejoicing in evil deeds (Romans 1:32). Such the sin which wrought guilt; guilt, because there was knowledge. And so, "without excuse."
II. GOD'S WRATH. This truth is burnt into the Bible, from first to last, that God is angry with sin, and with the sinner who identifies himself with sin. But it is burnt into the very history of sin itself, and that is the insistence of the apostle here.
1. Sin working folly. (Romans 1:21, Romans 1:22.) Man will not bow to what is above him; he therefore bows to what is beneath him. An effigy (Greece)! an eel (Egypt)! And this with all their wisdom: Greece, Rome, Egypt (Romans 1:22).
2. Sin working shame. (Romans 1:24, Romans 1:26, Romans 1:27.) Man realizes his dignity when he realizes his God; loosing himself from God, he sinks into a degradation degraded beyond all words.
3. Sin working sin. (Romans 1:28-32.) An utter reprobacy, so that the man becomes a devil! This the ultimate result of confirmed apostasy from God. Short of this, there is hope. What laws are these! Yes; God's laws. The revelation of his wrath. The heavens are speaking daily while we sin, and this is their voice: "Deeper, deeper, deeper! Folly, shame, sin!" And the thrice-told truth of it all (Romans 1:24, Romans 1:26, Romans 1:28) is, God gave them up." And all because they gave up God. So the ultimate punishment of the ultimate sin is, They reprobated God; God reprobated them" (Romans 1:28, literally). Let us learn, from these sad words, our danger: the suppression of the truth which is in us, its conversion into a lie—for all this is possible still; and the consequent wrath of God. And our safety: for as it is the loosing of ourselves from God which works folly, shame, and death; so it is the laying hold of God by faith in Christ that works wisdom, dignity, and life.—T.F.L.
HOMILIES BY S.F. ALDRIDGE
The gospel a fulfilled prophecy.
The apostle loved to dilate on the characteristics of the gospel, especially those which he "received by revelation," and his aspect of truth became so essentially a part of his being and preaching, that he speaks of it as "my" gospel. Sometimes he terms it the "gospel of Christ," whilst here the title is significantly the "gospel of God," since he is about to prove it a design purposed of God from the beginning of revelation.
I. THE GOSPEL AS PROMISED.
1. He alleges as proof of the promise the Scripture prophecies. Note the phrase, "the holy writings," emphasizing the quantity and quality of the literature of the Old Testament.
2. Such a promise rebuts the charge of novelty. The Jews were conservative, and the only way to remove their prejudice against Christianity was by persuading them out of the Scriptures that it was no new-fangled doctrine which the apostles preached. The difficulty in controversies is to find a common court of appeal. The position of the Jews as custodians of the genuineness of the Old Testament has weight in argument today.
3. Shows the gospel to have been no after-thought in the mind of God. The Lamb was "slain from the foundation of the world." The plan of Providence is gradually unfolded as the centuries pass. Looking back, we can see how the beautiful petals of the mature flower were foretold by the markings of the bud.
4. The predictions which animated the breasts of men of old have their confirmatory value for modern faith. The patriarchs "died in faith." The prophets "searched diligently what time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify." And the fact that they were "heralds" proclaiming the advent of the King, prepares us to receive him with less fear of delusion. It is seemly that so grand a Monarch and kingdom should not be established without the pomp of previous notice. The battle of criticism rages most furiously at present around the Old Testament prefigurations of the new covenant, for men discern the impregnableness of Christianity unless the outworks of Jewish history and expectancy can first be stormed and demolished.
II. THE PROMISE REDEEMED.
1. In the Man Christ Jesus. In answer to the inquiry of Herod, the scribes were able to give the place where the Messiah should be born, and the royal house of which he should be a direct descendant. The genealogies of Matthew and of Luke alike accredit the claims of Jesus to be of the stock of David. At the birth of Jesus was there great "joy that a man was born into the world." Incarnation is more than temporary residence amongst men; it is "taking part of the children's flesh and blood." The Epistle to the Hebrews reasoned from the statement respecting the "seed of David" that the priesthood was intended to be transferred from the tribe of Levi to that of Judah, and therefore changed in character.
2. In the risen Son of God. Here is the true gospel, the Divine humanity of Christ, the conjunction of heaven and earth. Either apart would have no adaptation to our needs.
"'Tis the weakness in strength that I cry for! my flesh, that I seek
In the Godhead! I seek and I find it."
Attention is directed to the Resurrection as a proof of the Deity of Christ. The word "dead" is in the plural, since Christ's rising involves the rising of his people. He is the "Firstfruits" presaging the harvest; where the "Head" is, there must the members be. Two attributes in particular manifested in the Resurrection.
(1) Power; viz. the mighty operation of God, who outshines the glory of his first creation in the wonders of the new. See the enthusiasm and boldness of the disciples after they realized the meaning of that event, and the force and possibilities opened up before them by the triumphing over death, and the authority granted to their once-despised, now exalted Master. The bands of the grave were like "the green withes" of Samson when Christ awoke from his slumber. He "made a show of adverse principalities and powers," the eclipse of immortality by death but preluding a far more effulgent splendour.
(2) Holiness. The penalty of atonement was exhausted, or the Sin-bearer had never appeared again with lustre out of the wilderness of death. Christ tabernacled in "flesh," but his "spirit" was not fleshly. The Holy One could not see corruption, any more than gold perishes in the fire. The resurrection of Christ was a great object-lesson, teaching the immutableness of all who, like the "Ever-living One" (Revelation 1:18), are consumed by the zeal of God's house. Whatever in us is consecrated, God himself will preserve from the fatal touch of time. The future resurrection shall be the sealing testimony to the dignity of Christ. When his voice shall wake the dead, and the last enemy shall have been utterly abolished, then, in the fulfilment of his own declaration and the consequent array of trophies to his marvellous grace, shall he be universally adored as the "strong Son of God, immortal Love." May each rejoice in the consciousness of a personal relationship to this glorious gospel!—S.R.A.
An honourable class.
Describe Rome, and compare it with our modern cities. The metropolis of the world, with two millions of people in about sixteen square miles; every trade, nationality, and religion represented there. The apostle knew the strategic importance of a Christian stronghold in Rome. What a mighty influence might radiate thence to every quarter of the globe! To energize the heart of the empire was to quicken with Christian life the whole world.
I. A SPECIAL CLASS SINGLED OUT. The "all" in Rome are restricted by the subsequent designations. It is useless to ignore the New Testament line of distinction. Men are distinguished by their relationship to the gospel, not by their social standing or intellectual ability, but by their moral qualifications, as possessors of good hearts which have received the seed of the kingdom. To speak of Christians is to mark them off from all besides, as a straight stick differentiates crooked ones. Would Christ send his messengers to our houses as to those "who are worthy"? This distinction creates a bond of union. The superficial diversities amongst the followers of Christ are merged in the one great feature of similarity. All are "one" in Christ Jesus, whether they live in the East or the West End, in the great rooms of a palace or the attic of a lodging-house. And in the primitive Church, as to-day, the uniting power of the gospel was a striking proof of its Divine origin—that he who made the key to fit so many hearts was the same who first constructed those human wards. If Christ appeared to-day, it would be as when a magnet is introduced into a box of iron filings; the affinity of his people would be discovered by their instant attraction to him, and the closer they pressed to him the nearer they would draw to one another. Christianity is healthful socialism.
II. THEIR HAPPY CONDITION. "Beloved of God." The Almighty is good to all his creatures; he "is great, and despiseth not any;" his sunshine and rain benefit all indiscriminately. Jesus weeping over Jerusalem exemplified God's infinite pity towards rebellious subjects, sorrowing over their distresses and grieved at their sins. But the love of the text is that of complacency, where God can rest in his love with satisfaction, rejoicing in the renewed nature and the evidences of restored sonship. Love must bet strongest and most delightful when reciprocated by its object, as the mirror increases light by reflection. It is an animating designation; for men need love as plants need sunshine and warmth. The loneliest heart may be cheered by the assurance of the Divine paternal affection. It is an ennobling love. Many a man has risen through love to the height of his capacity; his powers have been stimulated and developed. How strong for noble deeds must those be who think of the mighty heart of God pulsating to the rhythm of their feeble souls! Stunted lives may blossom and grow fruitful under the "light of his countenance," seeking to live worthy of his wondrous love. It implies the well-being of those loved. Not necessarily exemption from hardship and trial, not miraculous interposition every day; but unfailing guidance and succour, and the certainty of a blessed issue to all events. Our God never intended us to dwell all our lives in suspense concerning our relationship to him, but to come out into the unclouded day by accepting his declarations, and we honour him when we arm our breasts with these magnificent truths as with triple steel against all vexation, and flood our dwelling with the benignant splendour of his promises.
III. THEIR DIGNIFIED VOCATION. "Called to be saints." The word "called" has become so theological that to enter into its meaning with any freshness we must strip it of its technical clothing. A man's calling is his occupation in life—that by which he earns his livelihood. The main business of the Christian is to cultivate holiness. He is set apart, like the priest, with anointing oil for the service of God. This aim is in no wise incompatible with the fulfilment of his ordinary worldly avocation. Every situation is adapted to the pursuit of holiness, disciplining the soul, calling for endurance or activity. The saint is separate from sinners, not by reason of bodily absence, but through his consecrated thought and endeavour and behaviour. The same action may be performed from higher motives and with a regard to vaster issues. The saints are furnished with all requisite aids to holiness. The written Word, the Spirit, the house of prayer,—these are all helps to a godly life. We are not set to make bricks without straw. The manner of our call enforces the obligation to sainthood. We have been called by Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, our Pattern and Power, who called the disciples by the sea-shore, and Matthew at the toll-bar; and his summons reaches us from his cross of anguish, and from his throne of victory on high. The title of "saints" is expressly assigned to the followers of Christ, and it behoves us to walk worthy of our high calling and of the name by which we are called. Mistrust disowns such high, grand titles; faith claims and justifies them. Will not some respond to Christ's call to-day? "Harden not your hearts, if ye should hear his voice."—S.R.A.
An appeal and a parenthesis.
To the full and ardent mind the statement of one fact or thought calls up many associated ideas, and a parenthesis is the result. In the widespread recognition of the faith of the Roman Christians (Romans 1:8) Paul discerned an answer to his prayers. How constant those intercessions were only God could know, and to him the apostle appealed, justifying the appeal by a parenthetical reference to his life of faithful service. The text, therefore, suggests reflection on three topics.
I. THE PROPRIETY OF INVOKING THE TESTIMONY OF GOD. Too frequently have public utterances and conversation been interlarded with the mention of the Divine Name, violating the third commandment and the Saviour's instructions. The tendency of modern legislation to restrict the occasions on which the taking of an oath is obligatory should be welcomed. It is allowable to call God to witness in solemn matters, befitting the dignity of the Most High. Especially in matters that lie within God's cognizance only, as here respecting the frequency of the apostle's petitions at the mercy-seat. The invocation of the Divine witness is seemliest from the lips of his servants. With what show of reason can others demand his presence to confirm their statements? Profane swearers convict themselves of inconsistency. Even a regard for others' feelings will sometimes lead men to abstain from trifling with the sacred Name of our Father and Friend.
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERCESSORY PRAYER. Largeness of heart contributes much to the enjoyment and prevalence of our prayers. When we seem dull in respect of our own needs, the remembrance of another's wants may "unlock the scaled fountain." We may gauge our interest in our fellows by the regularity of our petitions on their behalf. If we pray not often for them, how can we be said to care for their welfare? Speak of them where it shall be of most avail.
"For what are men better than sheep or goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?"
The apostle evidently thinks of praying as a real part of Christian service. Like the incense which it was the honourable duty of the priests to offer, so did Paul daily "lift up holy hands" as his continual sacrifice and ministration. It is a law of God's paternal government that his children's requests should, though so simple and feeble in themselves, link them with Omnipotence, and achieve mightiest effects. What ails us that we are so slow to visit this "wishing-gate"? God measures the constancy and fervency of our prayers. They are not a small performance soon forgotten. They constitute a revelation of our condition, a spiritual thermometer whose readings are registered.
III. THE QUALITIES THAT RENDER SERVICE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. It must be spiritual, that is, not formal or ceremonial, but an expression of the inner life; not rendered as a burdensome task, but according to "the spirit that giveth life rather than the letter which killeth." The apostle was constrained by love, for Christ had laid hold of his heart's affections and made him conscious of a new inward impulse, which transfigured obedience and made it liberty, and altered wearisome duty into gladsome service. It was the difference between the mechanical elevation and motion of a kite by the wind, and the soaring flight of the bird joying in its vital powers. Spiritual service is not blind, unreasoning devotion, but a ministration approved of by the noblest faculties of the soul. It is evangelical, arising from and moving in the sphere of the glorious revelation of the Son of God. Through Christ had the apostle "received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his Name's sake" (Romans 1:5). The knowledge and reception of the gospel imply privilege and responsibility. The true Christian life is filled with gospel motives and aims, nor is any condition inapt for gospel service, its priesthood and sacrifices.—S.R.A.
Romans 1:11, Romans 1:12
Longing to meet.
The vehement desire of the apostle cherished through many years was at length gratified; but the manner of entering Rome how different from the anticipated voluntary visit! He was to arrive, after a tempestuous, perilous voyage, as a prisoner to plead for his life before the emperor. It is well that a veil hides the future, or our wishes for some event might die away in silence.
I. LOVE IS NOT SATISFIED WITHOUT A MEETING. Augustine would have liked to see Christ in the flesh, Paul in the pulpit, and Rome in its glory. The apostle thought little of the outward magnificence of the metropolis; his heart turned to the company of Christians there. Some were his kinsmen, others had been his fellow-workers and prisoners, yet all who were knit in Christian fellowship were dear to him, and he longed to see them face to face. The ties of attachment in the early Church may have been cemented by the cold wind of opposition and persecution, which drove the members closer together for warmth and sympathy. Still Christianity proves itself able to banish worldly distinctions to-day, breaking down barriers of race and caste and language. The friends of the Saviour can feel no jealousy, since his love is large enough to embrace all, and a regard for his honour impels his friends to increase the number of his adherents. Love to Christ is the antithesis of narrowness of spirit. We may form an opinion of our discipleship from observing the degree of our longing to "assemble ourselves together." "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." There is a natural desire to look upon the face and form of famous men, that names may become persons to us, and that our weak imaginations may henceforth be assisted in picturing their voice and gesture and appearance. And this yearning leaps up into a sacred hope of the consummation of our bliss, when we shall be permitted to behold the Saviour and "see him as he is." Christ is "with us" now, but at death we depart to be "with Christ" for ever. Proximity and affection are correlative ideas.
II. THE MEETING OF CHRISTIANS HAS EDIFICATION AS ITS OBJECT, Paul was supremely anxious to be the medium of spiritual benefit to the Christians at Rome. He believed that a spiritual gift was the most valuable present he could bestow or they could receive. It ranked higher than scientific communications or almsgiving. Hours of pleasant chat and recreation are not despicable, but if our societies set these in the foreground they miss their proper mark. The cross of Christ flashes solemn light upon a pleasure-loving age. To this touchstone we must bring our Church engagements and our individual plans of living. Let congregations rightly value the ministration of spiritual things. We may not suppose the apostle to care most about miraculous endowments, gifts of healing, and of tongues, but rather a growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ, and in love, the pre-eminent attainment. Do parents always convey to their children the impression that they set greater store by their progress in the Divine life than by their success at the bar or in the senate, in the exchange or the fashionable world? Note the apostle's desire to confirm the faith of these Christians. To establish them, not to unsettle their opinions and practices, was his intent. It is no light matter wantonly to disturb men's convictions and tear them away from their old beliefs. "Men" are not to be "carried about by every wind of doctrine," but to feel their feet firm upon the unchanging rock. The Greek word in the text reminds us that "stereotyping" is good when we are dealing with the first principles of Christianity. The frequently shifted plant grows with difficulty. There is a hint here that oral would be more effective than written communications. In spite of recent assertions, pulpit and platform speech holds its own as the engine that moves the masses. Even "the weighty and powerful letters" of the apostle could not equal the effect of his personal presence. Only enemies would term the latter "weak and contemptible." The Scriptures depict the coming advent of Christ as giving a mighty impetus to the perfection and triumph of his Church. He "shall appear in his glory," and "build up Zion."
III. A MEETING ENABLES ALL TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMMON GOOD. The apostle looked forward to a mutual benefit. He was not so self-opinionated or proud as to imagine none could enlighten him or comfort him. Ministers need the consolation of their flock. Recall the inspiriting exhortation of the Israelites to Joshua, "Only be thou strong and of a good courage: the Lord be with thee," etc. (Joshua 1:17, Joshua 1:18). Nor was the apostle so selfish as to wish to get all and to give nothing. Christian Churches are designed to be Mutual Improvement Societies. Some only inquire—What good will such a gathering do us? forgetting that their remarks or their attendance even may stimulate their brethren and aid in the success of the meeting. It cheers the weak and supports the wavering to witness the steadfast confidence of the strong. The faith spoken of implies visibility in order to its full effect. Secret disciples unconnected with any organization miss much comfort and work through their isolation. Come, join our Church ranks! Christians are like the stones of an arch, strengthened in position by their joint presence and pressure. Bunyan beautifully portrays this mutual comforting in Christian and Hopeful as they ford the river of death. What a testimony to the work of any man that his presence helps, not mars, the piety of his friends! Let not "brethren cause the heart of the people to melt"! (Joshua 14:8). We are responsible for the influence we exert.—S.R.A.
Glorying in the gospel
For many reasons the apostle might be supposed ashamed to preach the gospel at Rome. He had been long delayed from fulfilling his purpose to visit that city. The "good news" centred in the mission of a Jew, belonging to a race despised by their masterful conquerors. The story of the cross could not fail to excite ridicule when the Romans heard that this Messiah had been rejected by his own countrymen, and handed over to an ignominious death, and that his disciples Seriously believed that he had risen again from the dead. A kingdom founded on humility and love would seem a fanatical dream. Nor could the preachers point to many of the upper classes who had imbibed this new "superstition." Yet the apostle wavered not; he felt that the gospel could bear strictest scrutiny and comparison, and that it contained a moral force worthy of recognition even by the most slavish worshippers of power. He gloried in the gospel—
I. AS OVERCOMING MEN WITH MORE THAN HUMAN MIGHT. The desire of power is innate in the breast, and an exhibition of it is eagerly witnessed. The apostle had the intense conviction of the power of the cross, which arose from its mastery over himself and the changes he had seen it effect in his converts everywhere. As the magicians said of old, "This is the finger of God," and as the Samaritans said of the sorcerer, "This man is the great power of God," so the apostle still more logically discerned in the peace of mind, the spiritual liberty and gladness, the lofty aspirations and renewed nature which came to Christians, the demonstration of a supernatural energy, a miraculous power whose source could only be Divine. Believing that Jesus Christ was God's lever for raising men from death to life, how could the apostle be ashamed of calling attention to this mighty instrument of human elevation? To speak and teach and live with this consciousness of wielding a Divine power is to lose faint-heartedness, and to let the ring of conviction in our tones beget acceptance in the listeners. The cure for many doubts is to note historically what Christianity has achieved. Then the very peculiarity of its introduction to the world, of its principle of operation and of its tenets, will the more strongly evidence its origin from above. It is at every point unlike the workmanship of man.
II. AS SECURING AN EMINENTLY DESIRABLE RESULT—the salvation of men. We may be terrified and disgusted at a force which threatens cruelty and oppression. But the might of the gospel of love is only beneficent in its design and effects. It aims at saving men from the wrath to come, at present deliverance from evil passions, at the development of all that is fairest and most lovely. Its triumph means the healing of the sin-sick soul, the entrance of light into the understanding, and holy joy into the heart. The Romans hated slavery, and proudly exulted in their freedom. They cultivated dignity of manner, and gloried in their world-wide empire and the privileges of their citizenship. Surely they too might perceive that the gospel promised and procured membership in a heavenly indissoluble kingdom, whose subjects were not only guarded from instability of happiness and the domination of mean desires in this life, but should also receive (what their favourite stoical philosophy never proposed) a blissful immortality radiant with honourable service under the King of kings.
III. AS OPERATING BY A METHOD UNIVERSALLY AVAILABLE, viz. by faith. It is essential to a panacea intended to bring help and strength to our race, that it should touch the plague-spot of universal disease and recognize the deepest need of man, however his customs, clothing, and language might differ. It is equally necessary that the remedy should assume such a form as to permit of its being received and applied by all, whether learned or uneducated, wealthy or poor, old or young, civilized or barbarous. To hear of the Saviour's life and death and resurrection as the revelation of Divine holiness seeking the reconciliation of man, to respond to the appeal by simple trust in the Redeemer,—this requires no more than the use of the common faculties with which all have been endowed. The news might be long in travelling from Jerusalem to Rome; pride, or gaiety, or intellectualism might stumble at the tidings; but, the Spirit showing the things of Christ to men, the responsibility rested with themselves if by unbelief they barred the heart against the truth. "To every one that believeth" does the gospel prove the spiritual "dynamite," not of destruction, but of salvation. Embrace it, own it, preach it!—S.R.A.
The revelation of God in nature.
To come into contact with the fearless writing of the Apostle Paul is like inhaling a breath of mountain air. He was not alarmed at the presence of any inquirer, though ancient as a Jew, learned as a Greek, or imperious as a Roman. He held up the gospel as a lamp whose rays, shining in all directions, search every system, refusing to allow error to pass for truth, vice for righteousness, or imperfection for completeness. He implied that what the Law did for the Jews, convincing them of sin, was effected for the Gentiles by the glories of creation, taking away all excuse for ungodly immorality, and thus shutting all up equally to the sense of the need of such a righteousness, through faith unto salvation as the gospel of Christ proclaims.
I. A PARADOX—INVISIBLE THINGS CLEARLY SEEN. The possibility of such a seeming contradiction is allowed, when we distinguish between the outer vision of the body and the inner perception of the mind. Properly speaking, it is only the mind that ever sees. The mind arranges and digests what is carried to it by the optic nerve. Like a chemist, the brain has its laboratory, into which the senses convey the colours, sounds, impressions, facts, and figures of the world around us; and there in private it analyzes, synthetizes, manipulates, the products till they seem invested with new attributes. Think of our abstract conceptions, such as those of beauty, of time, of character; these have no sensible existence—they are qualities superadded by the mind which gazes. They may arise necessarily upon certain objects being presented to our view; they affect us powerfully, and, though unseen by the bodily eyes, become clear to the eyes of the soul.
II. THE PARADOX APPLIED TO THEOLOGY.
1. The works of nature manifest a mighty Power. This world, so wonderfully framed, exhibiting such unity in diversity, furnishes to the attentive mind abundant traces of a Force which has been at work other than ourselves. The declarations of past investigators, such as Buddha, Plato, Cicero, are amply confirmed by scientists to-day, who confess themselves in the presence of a glorious, awful Force, whose laws are to be ascertained and obeyed. The attempt is made to resolve demonstrably all phenomena into manifestations of the one indivisible force. Such thinkers we may claim as buttressing the declaration of the text that the invisible power of God is clearly seen, being understood through his works. Those regularities they call "laws" are his habits; those numerous analogies indicate the one mind influencing similarly all realms. Note especially that epic of natural theology, the Book of Job.
2. This Power discerned to be everlasting. There is the proper word in the text to denote "endless duration"—that which is always existent. The Power which originated the universe is needed to sustain it. Evolution is perpetual creation, whereby "things that are seen were not made of things that do appear." Man has from of old contrasted his brief life with the everlasting mountains, the perpetual hills. Astronomy is making us familiar with the countless millenniums of God's lifetime, and geology reveals the measureless ages through which his power has been working. The doctrine of the conservation of force, which Tyndall calls "the gift of science to the nineteenth century," echoes the same truth, that though the animals die, and even the hills crumble and decay, yet the Power which made them continues; they assume other shapes and do other work. Herbert Spencer writes of the "infinite and eternal energy whence all things proceed and by which they are sustained."
3. Such power reveals Divinity. The "Divinity" of the Revised Version is preferable, since here the apostle is speaking, not of the incommunicable essence of God, as in Colossians 2:9, but of his nature as distinguished from our mortal humanity. The works of God show that he can originate life; man can only propagate it. And reflection proves that this power of God acts in favour of righteousness and in punishment of wickedness. He stands forth as the Holy One. We do not forget the dark problems of life nor the abysses of creation, but we must beware lest we underrate the clearness with which he has written his autograph on the laws of nature, and on his chief product—man. Froude says, "This is the one lesson of history—the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity .. Justice and truth alone endure and live. Injustice and falsehood may be long-lived, but doomsday comes at last to them."
III. THE INEVITABLE CONCLUSION, THAT, MEN'S IRRELIGIOUS, SINFUL PRACTICES BEING INEXCUSABLE, THEY NEED JUST SUCH A GOSPEL AS CHRISTIANITY PROCLAIMS. Such a revelation ought to have prevented all ungodliness. A chief sin is to ignore God, as the greatest civil crime is treason against the ruler of the state. Not to worship and thank him is fiat rebellion at court. How clearly the apostle implies that darkened views of the Creator, degrading his attributes, lead men first to base ingratitude, and then to indulge, unchecked and unashamed, the worst fleshly desires! And these flames of ungodly passion, no longer subdued by the rains of heavenly pity, leap up into a fierce conflagration, by which the doomed are destroyed. Yet he who formed the world and placed man upon it, has remembered man's frailty—has provided an Advocate for the defenceless criminal, a city of refuge for the despairing murderer. It cannot be an escape through our own merits, or justification by works; but by a transcendent exhibition of Divine power in its noblest garb of love, stooping to bear our sins, and to make his righteousness ours, through our contrite, humble, joyful acceptance of his mercy and help.—S.R.A.
No charge more acutely stings a man than that of being considered senseless; he would rather be deemed a knave than a fool. The apostle shows that man, whom God created upright that he might behold God and heavenly things, has continually gazed at the earth, and become prone like the beasts. Thus bending, he has wrapped his soul in shadow, and his religion, instead of a blessing, has proved a curse.
I. THE WORSHIP OF IMAGES ORIGINATES IN A NATURAL CRAVING FOR A SENSIBLE EMBODIMENT OF DEITY. Abstract ideas have little charm or power for men, and the worship of force or humanity can never attract the multitudes. The yearning for a visible God was answered in the Shechinah, and in the many appearances of the angel of Jehovah, and has received fullest recognition in the manifestation of God in Christ. The spirituality of Divine worship was to be preserved in Israel by the commandment not to rear graven images, and the ascension of Christ to heaven, withdrawing the Saviour from mortal eyes, is likewise intended to protect Christianity from the dangers liable to a system whose votaries should "walk by sight" rather than by faith. The Scriptures and universal history demonstrate the rapidity with which, as in the Roman Catholic Church to-day, men's homage and devotion are transferred from the Being represented, to the statue or figure which at first stood innocently enough as his symbol. There is a danger of modern literature seeking too much "to know Christ after the flesh," instead of relying upon the assistance furnished by the teaching of the Spirit, the invisible Christ dwelling in the heart.
II. THE TENDENCY OF IMAGE-WORSHIP IS TO DEGRADE RELIGION. The argument of Xenophanes, ridiculing the Homeric theology that if sheep and oxen were to picture a god, they would imagine him like one of themselves, only showed that natural religion, in framing a notion of Deity, rightly attributes to him the highest attributes of personality and intelligence conceivable. And the Apostle Paul accused the Athenians of unreasonableness in fancying that the great Father could be supposed to be less powerful and intelligent than his children. But without supernatural aid man sinks lower and lower in his conceptions; the direction of evolution in religion is downward, not upward, except where there is a manifest interposition of the Supreme Being. Note how strenuously the prophets had to combat the desire of Israel to ally themselves in worship with the abominable idolatries of the nations around. Man, selected as God's representative, becomes man in his lowest moods and merely animal existence; the transition is easy to the wise-looking owl and soaring eagle, then to the cow and the dog, and finally to the serpent and the fish. The unity of God is lost in the multiplicity of idols, and his power and righteousness swamped in bestial stupidity and depravity. Religious rites became scenes of licentiousness. "The light that was in men has turned to darkness, and how great is that darkness!"
III. THE WORSHIPPER GRADUALLY ASSIMILATES HIMSELF TO THE OBJECT WORSHIPPED. Man does not rise higher in thought and life than the Deity before whom he bows and to whom he submits himself; but he may, and too generally does, adopt the worst features of the character and conduct of his gods. What we constantly meditate upon transforms us into its own lineaments. Where the lower animals are deified, there the passions of the brutes are rampant, and a merely animal existence is lived. The lie substituted for the truth shunts man's behaviour on to another line, and a descending plane lands him in moral ruin. "They that make the gods are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them." The revelation God gives of himself in his Word operates reversely on a similar principle, so that "we beholding as in a glass the true glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image;" and, the image of God in man being restored, the likeness to God to which we are made to attain grows unto perfection, till "we shall be like him, when we shall see him as he is."—S.R.A.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Before appreciating any important work, we like to learn all we can of its author. Hence the study of the Acts of the Apostles is the best possible preparation for the study of this great Epistle to the Romans. The history given by Luke is like the portrait of the apostle prefixed to his Epistles; it is better indeed a thousand times than any picture producible by art. Let us, as a suggestive subject, begin with a sketch of the apostle's career, fitted as it is to help us in subsequent homilies. And:
I. PAUL'S HISTORY BEFORE HIS CONVERSION. In these earlier days he did not go by the name of Paul, but by that of Saul. The change adopted betokens the cosmopolitan character which he contracted as apostle. It was the nearest Greek word to his original Hebrew name. While a fanatical Jew, he would have scorned any such accommodation to prevailing custom; but once he became "the apostle of the Gentiles," he was ready to sink the Jewish title and adopt what was nearest to it in the language which was more largely used. It was a beautiful concession to the spirit of the time. £ But now we must notice:
1. His birthplace. This was Tarsus, "no mean city," as he told the chief captain (Acts 21:39). It seems to have been a place of culture—what we should now call a "university"—which could almost enter the lists with Athens or Alexandria. He enjoyed, too, Roman citizenship through some accident of his birth in this proconsular city. low his parents had secured the privilege we know not, but the son made ample use of it afterwards. £
2. His pure Jewish descent. As he said to the Philippians, he was "an Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Philippians 3:5). Everything, therefore, which pure "breeding" implies would be his. The tribe of Benjamin had supplied the first king to Israel, and now it is supplying a more famous "king of men" in the person of this second Saul. His parents doubtless made him a "child of the Law" at the age of twelve, and later on provided for his education in the Jewish capital.
3. His training at the feet of Gamaliel. This meant the broadest culture of the capital, orthodoxy of the most prudential cast, as his master's conduct in the Sanhedrin seems to show (Acts 5:38). That Paul was an apt scholar his own testimony proves, not to speak of the testimony of his great career; for he speaks of "profiting in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation" (Galatians 1:14).
4. His enthusiasm as a man of action. It would appear that, setting aside the prudence of Gamaliel, he entered with all the ardour of youth into a crusade against the Christians. The Jewish authorities had perceived the vast capabilities of their instrument; and, from the subsidiary post of holding the clothes of those who stoned Stephen, he rose per saltum into the position of arch-persecutor, and the leader of the enterprise even unto strange cities. Not only was he, then, an orthodox, self-satisfied Pharisee, but also he became the chief man of action in connection with his party, the man of most abundant promise.
II. PAUL'S CONVERSION. Damascus was the goal to which he and his accomplices hastened, when lo! he is confronted, not far from the city, with an overpowering light, and hears a voice demanding, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" On asking the name of this brilliant and overpowering Person, he learns that it is Jesus, the risen and glorified Head of the people Saul is persecuting, who has thus appeared to confound and to convert him. Now, regarding this conversion let us notice:
1. The Lord's personal dealing with the sinner. The sinner feels himself in the hands of One whom he has wronged in his own Person and in the person of his people. Conviction of sin is just a sense of injury done to an innocent and loving Saviour. Paul imagined that Jesus had passed out of the category of living factors in this world, and now he is confronted by him with the charge of persecution.
2. Paul dies immediately out of all self-confidence. As Adolphe Monod has beautifully said, "Saul is converted from the day, from the hour, from the moment that, recognizing that he is in himself wicked, unworthy, lost, and for ever deprived of all righteousness before God, he substitutes the Name of Jesus Christ for his own in all his hopes of eternal life, and throws himself without reserve at the foot of the cross, as a poor sinner who has no other resource in the world but the blood of the Lamb of God." £ This is what we mean by his death out of self-confidence. He recognizes at once the hollowness of all his previous hopes, and puts Christ into the place once occupied by self.
3. Paul places himself under the command of Jesus. He cries out, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Henceforth he is Christ's slave (δοῦλος), owned and ordered according to Christ's pleasure. This perfect surrender of self to the will of the Saviour is the practical outcome of conversion. It is a parallel to the surrender of Abraham, when he began to be a pilgrim with God. Paul has renounced the service of the chief priests and accepted service under the Nazarene they despised. And:
4. Paul receives from Jesus a new office. When he goes blind into Damascus and waits, he is at length told what he is to do. He is to be admitted by baptism into the Christian Church, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, and be apostle unto the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-18). His office is changed from that of Saul the persecutor to that of Paul the apostle. £ And what is it to be an apostle? It is to found the Church of God upon no other basis than that of the risen Jesus. It is to be a witness of Christ's resurrection, and of all which this cardinal fact and doctrine is to men. A mighty office, surely! And notice how singular and distinct Paul stands. The Jews receive twelve apostles, but the Gentiles only one; yet Paul is worth all the others put together so far as the world's conversion is concerned. Like David, he was worth ten thousand common soldiers.
III. PAUL'S SUBSEQUENT CAREER. He began preaching Christ at once, just to try his hand; but it was not intended he should pass at once from the publicity of persecution to the publicity of the apostolic office. He passes into the quiet of Arabia, and is for about seven years in an unobtrusive sphere of probation. It is not meant that he spent seven years in silence; doubtless, wherever he was, he made his neighbours feel his presence and know his doctrine. But he was preparing, by earnest meditation and communion with his Master, for his tremendous mission. To all in haste to enter the ministerial office, Paul's patient preparation is surely a significant lesson! But next we find him spending fourteen years m missionary labours. Into the details of his journeys we cannot here enter; but they were wise seizing of great centres, that from these the light of the gospel might go abroad. And lastly, Paul spent from five to seven years—we cannot be quite certain—in captivity at Cesarea and Rome, enjoying, perhaps, a short respite between the two Roman captivities, but ending his career by martyrdom. It is believed he was born about the year 7 of our era; was converted when thirty years of age; and died when about sixty. £ Now, it was as "apostle of the Gentiles" that he wrote this Epistle to the Romans. He wrote it, as is apparent from its contents, before he had visited the Church. He wrote it from Corinth, to lay before the Church occupying the metropolis of the world "the gospel of God." He was not ashamed of that gospel, notwithstanding the philosophy and culture of Greece or Rome. He knew the world's philosophy, and he felt that he had found in the gospel something finer far. But we must not anticipate. Meanwhile let Paul's conversion and apostleship speak to us of personal dealing with the Lord Jesus, and of personal labour for him. It has been said that the apostolic race is like a lost species. Yet have we not had, even in our own time, men of zeal who might even be named along with the apostles? David Livingstone, William Chalmers Burns, George Augustus Selwyn, John Patteson, and many others have exhibited the long-lost apostolic spirit. We want it to come again; and why should it not, in ourselves? Not that we would counsel one another to ambition, but, as Monod so well puts it, to fidelty. £ Let us humble ourselves, as Paul did on the way to Damascus, through a sense of sin and shortcoming; let us accept of pardon through the Lamb's precious blood; and let our cry be, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" and the Saviour will give each of us a mission, as he gave Paul, and own us as true servants in the accomplishment of his gracious designs.—R.M.E.
The Church at Rome.
We have already got some conception of the author of this Epistle, of his origin, training, conversion, and subsequent career. And now we advance to the second natural inquiry—Who were the people composing the Church at Rome? Let us fancy, then a great city with we shall suppose, about half the population of London—two millions of people crowded, of course, into much smaller space than in the modern city. Of these, the half were slaves, the other half citizens. But the really influential or ruling class were a small minority. The slaves catered for their masters, so that the opportunities of making a livelihood were nothing like so numerous as in our modern civilization. A large proportion of the citizens must have been "hangers-on" to the great, and recipients of public charity. A large city, therefore, with vice and pauperism and a thousand evils, while the ameliorations of Christianity were not as yet generally or widely known—such was Rome. But, being the seat of government and the metropolis of the world, it naturally attracted many from the conquered provinces, and among these there would be a goodly number of Jews. With these would associate "proselytes" men and women of Gentile extraction, who were anxious to join the Jewish faith and profit by the Jewish forms. And now let us look at our first fact.
I. JEWS AND PROSELYTES FROM ROME WERE PRESENT AT THE PENTECOSTAL AFFUSION OF THE SPIRIT. This is expressly stated in Acts 2:10. Some of these, we may assume, received the truth as preached by Peter and the other apostles, and were converted to the new faith (Acts 2:41). If we further suppose that the proselytes, rather than the born Jews, became interested in Christianity, then we can understand how, in the composition of the Church at Rome, the Gentile element seems to have been stronger than the Jewish. The new converts, in returning to Rome, would have affinities with Gentiles more than with Jews, and so the faith would be propagated in the one direction more than in the other. We proceed to a second important fact.
II. GREEK NAMES PREDOMINATE IN THE SALUTATIONS OF THE LAST CHAPTER OF THIS EPISTLE. This throws clear light upon the composition of the Church when Paul wrote his Epistle. The Jewish element was in a minority, while the Gentile element abounded, Now, we can easily understand how populations gravitated from the provinces to Rome, and so converts would be going up from time to time from the Gentile Churches to the metropolis, and so swelling the Gentile element in the metropolitan Church. This seems indicated by salutations in Acts 16:1-40. addressed to some fellow-workers with Paul, who do not seem to have come from Rome, like Aquila and Priscilla, but to have emigrated to it. A third fact must be noted.
III. THE JEWS WERE EXPELLED FROM ROME BY THE EMPEROR CLAUDIUS. Now, while this may not have affected in any great degree the numerical proportion in the little Christian Church, we know that it led to some Jewish Christians, e.g. Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2), leaving the metropolis for other places. Upon this providence Paul's knowledge of the Church at Rome very largely depended. As he wrought with Aquila and Priscilla at tent-making, they would have many a long talk about the Church they had been connected with in Rome, and to which they subsequently returned.
IV. THE JEWS, WHEN PAUL AT LENGTH CAME TO ROME, SEEM TO HAVE HAD LITTLE KNOWLEDGE OF THE CHRISTIANS. This is evident from Acts 28:22. If we remember the population of ancient Rome, also that the Christian congregation had not, as far as we know, any church edifice giving notoriety to them, but were meeting apparently in the house of Aquila (Romans 16:5), then we can understand the ignorance of Christianity the Jews possessed or pretended at Paul's advent. The little Christian conventicle would be easily hid in the great city. The Church at Rome, then, from the foregoing facts, seems to have been a congregation of believing Christians, occupying no very commanding position in the eye of the public, isolated in a large measure from other Churches, yet very influential through its existence in the metropolis. Its major portion was Gentile; and on this account it received the special attention of Paul as "the apostle of the Gentiles." Some, who went up from provincial Churches to the capital, seem to have carried Paul's teaching with them, so that he bad a kind of spiritual fatherhood towards at least some of them, and a brotherhood towards all. How in the Epistle he fortifies them against the errors by which they should be beset, will appear as we proceed. It was a lady, Phoebe, who carried up the precious document. She seems to have gone up on some business matters, and for her in these circumstances Paul seeks assistance and sympathy (Romans 16:1, Romans 16:2).
V. LET US NOW NOTE THE SUBSTANCE OF HIS OPENING ADDRESS TO THIS CONGREGATION AT ROME. (Acts 28:2-7.) And here we notice:
1. His gospel is that of the risen Saviour. This is God's "glad tidings" that his Son, who had been made of David's seed according to the flesh, and delivered in human nature unto death for us, had been declared to be his Son by the powerful, resistless demonstration of his resurrection from the dead. Paul and these Roman Christians were, therefore, in the hands of a living, holy Being, no less a Person than the Son of God, whom death and resurrection had denationalized and made Lord of all nations, who could and would dispose of them, Gentiles as well as Jews, as he pleased.
2. Paul declares that he had received from this risen Jesus grace and apostleship. We saw in our previous homily how he was first converted, and then was called to the apostolic office. Now, this apostleship contemplated the subjection of all nations to the faith of Christ. It was a mighty trust which was thus committed to Paul. This Epistle shows how anxiously he tried to discharge Acts 2:3. These Roman Christians are also the called of Jesus Christ. For though there may not be such eclat connected with individual conversion, as in Paul's case on the way to Damascus, there is yet as real an interview between the risen Saviour and the sinner he would save. The words may not be audible as those addressed to Paul, but they are heard within and responded to. Like Abraham and like Saul of Tarsus, we must listen to the call to come out and follow Jesus, if we are to be Christians indeed.
4. Their privilege is the enjoyment of God's love, their duty the practice of holiness. "To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints." This is what we mean by Church-membership; it is, when real, an experience of Divine love, and a practice of holiness. And, indeed, we have here the whole plan of salvation. God's love comes forth first to us, and then we walk in holiness as his grateful people. It has been said somewhere by M. La Harpe that the doctrines of Christianity may be summed up in the words, "God has loved us," and its morals in the words, "Let us love God." £ Of course, God loves all men with the love of pity, and in consequence he sent his Son into the world to save us (John 3:16); but when we respond to his love, he proceeds to lavish on us a particular love—a love of complacency and of delight (John 14:21). These Christians at Rome were, therefore, the objects of this special love; and they manifested the benefit in holy lives.
5. Paul pronounces upon them a benediction. Now, when we analyze it, we find that "grace" is the favour of God, undeserved, and coming down in the shape of pardon. "Peace" is the precious effect produced in the heart which receives the grace. The Source from whom this benediction comes down is "God our Father," and the Medium of communication is "Jesus Christ" In pronouncing this benediction, the apostle desires that they should have the supply of the grace as they daily need it. The idea entertained by some, that we receive in conversion all the pardon we shall ever need, is refuted by this benediction pronounced over the Roman "saints." The following practical lessons surely suggest themselves:
(1) A risen and living Saviour has entered upon the government of the world. Paul's conversion and apostleship, the conversion of these Roman Christians, the conversion of men and women still, all go to prove this. We have not in Christianity a dead man's legacy, like Buddhism or Confucianism, or Islamism, but a living Saviour's wondrous work.
(2) its magnificent ambition is to bring all nations to the obedience of faith. It aims at world-wide empire; nothing less will content it.
(3) Our sympathy should enlarge itself accordingly. Paul did not restrict himself to Churches in the Orient, but in sympathy he embraced the Occident as well. Rome had claims upon him just as well as Corinth and Antioch. Let us be large-hearted too.
(4) Daily grace can alone sustain us in this sympathy. The closer we keep to the "throne of grace," the wider will our sympathies extend. There is wondrous power in waiting upon God. The work for him will best advance when we have waited on him for his grace and peace.—R.M.E.
The policy to be pursued in case Paul came to Rome.
We tried to appreciate in our last homily the character of the Church to which Paul directed this Epistle. We now pass to the policy he meant to pursue should he ever reach Rome; and which he embodies also in this Epistle. One or two preliminary matters, however, will prepare us for the climax in the paragraph before us. And—
I. PAUL LIFTS THE VEIL AND SHOWS HIMSELF AT HIS PRAYERS. It is a case of intercession. How noble and broad the views contracted at the throne of grace! The apostle becomes a statesman as he lies before the Lord.
1. He gives thanks for the world-wide reputation of the Roman Church. "First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of ['proclaimed,' Revised Version] throughout the whole world." Rome, as the metropolis, had many ways of communication with its provinces, and the Church at Rome had all the advantages of provincial publicity. In this Paul rejoiced before God. It led to much discussion of the new faith on the part of many who would not otherwise have heard of it. Believers are consequently to be witnesses; the world will sooner or later hear of their existence.
2. He presents ceaseless intercession for the Roman Church, that he may himself be sent on a mission to it. "For God is my Witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son," etc. (Romans 1:9-12). Now, this intercession is not only ceaseless, but self-denying. Oftentimes intercession simply commits others to the care of the great Father, without involving us in any personal mission. It is different when it contemplates such a personal inconvenience and sacrifice as a journey to Rome implied to the apostle. How genuine and sincere intercession proves when it involves us in arduous missions! And then this mission is with a distinctly spiritual purpose—that Paul may, as apostle, communicate some "spiritual gift" with a view to their establishment in the faith. How often are missions undertaken for minor and temporal objects, a look after Church organization and such-like, instead of having the revival and establishment of saints steadily in view!
3. Paul expects to get good as well as do good in visiting Rome. He says, "that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me ['that I with you may be comforted in you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine,' Revised Version]." Even an apostle with special gifts to convey expects reaction to follow his holy action; he gets benefit while giving it; it is the law of the kingdom. "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
II. PAUL REVEALS HIS MISSIONARY ZEAL TOWARDS ROME AS A PURPOSE LONG CHERISHED, BUT HITHERTO HINDERED. "Now I would not have you ignorant, Brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you (but was let hitherto), that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles." It was a settled purpose pressing through long years for accomplishment, and the writing of this Epistle was an expedient adopted amid the continued hindrances. It surely shows how determinedly sacred work should be set about; not as the outcome of hasty impulse, but as the result of deliberate, prayerful conviction.
III. PAUL PRESENTS US WITH A WONDROUS SENSE OF HIS INDEBTEDNESS. "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise." Writing in Greek to these Christians at Rome, he doubtless, according to custom, included his correspondents in the term "Greeks," and not in the term "barbarians." £ This sense of universal indebtedness arose out of his commission as apostle to the Gentiles; but it is also a distinctively Christian conviction. The genius of Christianity makes us do good unto all men as we have opportunity, and especially to such as are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). No other system so lays the burden of the world's welfare on us. £ Besides, Paul did not choose a certain class to whom to minister. He took men as they came, "the unintelligent" (ἀνοήτοις) just as readily as "the philosophers" (σοφοῖς). It is noble to throw off selfishness so thoroughly as to feel through Christ a debtor unto all men.
IV. THE POLICY TO BE PURSUED WAS TO PREACH THE GOSPEL. "So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also," etc. (Romans 1:15-17). And here we have to notice:
1. The method pursued always was preaching the gospel. It has been said, "Preaching is an institute peculiar to the gospel. It is an agency, previously unknown, which Christianity has created for itself to be its chosen mode of utterance. Jesus and his messengers are, therefore, the only preachers." £ This method of personal agency, this plan by the pulpit, not by the press, is most instructive. It secures a contact of mind with mind, and heart with heart, which no mechanical substitute can furnish. Even if the pulpit had lost its power, as is insinuated but not proved, the one remedy for this would be the revivifying of the instrumentality. £
2. The subject-matter of the preaching is the gospel of Christ. It is an announcement of good news, of which Christ is at once Embodiment and Author. Not a newspaper, with startling intelligence of a personal nature, but a message with a personal application, constitutes the subject of preaching. The good news is this, that God, though justly offended with us because of our sins, is yet prepared for Christ's sake to receive us into his favour and fellowship, as if the estrangement had never been. Surely this is what each sinner needs. It suits the Roman and the Grecian and the barbarian. £ It is a message for the whole human race.
3. This gospel is "the Tower of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." God has many powers abroad. What destructive forces may we see around us! But here, in contrast, have we his energy manifested for saving purposes. Every one who believes the good news discovers that salvation is in it. The Jew got the offer first, and then was it given to the Greek; but Jew and Greek alike experienced salvation through simply believing it.
4. This gospel is in addition a revelation of God's righteousness from faith to faith. For the gospel is not a promise merely, but also an act of judgment. It is God declaring from his throne that he is prepared to pronounce the sinner righteous, and to accept him as if he had faithfully kept his Law, because of what Jesus has done and suffered in the sinner's room. It is the pronunciation of a reprieve and the utterance of an invitation to fellowship all in one. It is God's public way of burying our imperfect past and receiving us into immediate favour. It is only faith, of course, which can take such a revelation in. The condition of the soul in sin leads sight to suppose that God's righteousness must be always against the sinner; but the proclamation of the gospel leads faith to infer that God's righteousness is now for him; that God somehow can maintain his character for justice and at the same time be gracious to the sinner. The proclamation is, of course, based upon the satisfaction made by our blessed Saviour on our behalf. "God can be just" as we shall subsequently see, "and yet the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus."
5. The sinner so justified lives by his faith. Here we have the grand consummation. The faith, which simply receives God's offer of justification, becomes the organ of life. We assure ourselves that we shall never perish out of the Father's hand, but continue through his mercy unto life eternal. Just as, under the old covenant, life was attached to obedience, so, under the new, life is attached to justification, which in its turn comes through faith. As Paul subsequently asserts, "Being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Romans 5:9, Romans 5:10). £
The practical bearing of this subject is clear. Have we received the gracious message by simple faith, "the hand of the heart, or have we put it once more from us? May our reply be satisfactory!—R.M.E.
God's wrath as revealed among the Gentiles.
In last homily we saw that the gospel Paul meant to preach at Rome, if he ever got there, was a "revelation of justice" on the part of God. By his covenant arrangements "God can be just, and yet the Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus." He can proclaim the sinner just on the ground of Christ's atonement. But now we are introduced to another "revelation" made in the constitution of the world—a revelation which is also grounded on justice, hut its manifestation is "wrath." The present section deals with this wrath as manifested among the Gentiles, while the subsequent chapter deals with it as manifested among the Jews. As we have seen that the heathen element constituted the major part of the Church at Rome, and that the Epistle was likely to touch at its very centre the heathenism of the world, we can understand Paul's purpose in placing the discussion of the condition of the heathen in the foreground.
I. THE STATE OF HEATHEN RELIGION AS LAID BEFORE US HERE BY PAUL. (Romans 1:21-23.) In these verses the apostle sketches in a very masterly manner the religious situation of heathendom. And here we remark:
1. The heathen deities are degradations. In some cases they are "corruptible men," as the polytheism of Greece and of Rome was the worship of man, and the apotheosis of his evil propensities. The inhabitants of Olympus and of the Pantheon were a "free-and-easy lot." In other cases, as in Egypt and the East, they worshipped animals of all sorts,—"birds, four-footed beasts, and creeping things."
2. Every heathen religion has its rationale. The devotees imagined that they had the best of reasons for their worship. They professed to be wise in the arrangement, and would have repudiated all charge of folly. The lowest forms of fetichism can give some account of itself, and thinks that it rests on reason.
II. THE STATE OF MORALS IS DEGRADED IN PROPORTION TO THE DEGRADATION OF RELIGION. (Romans 1:24-31.) It is a natural transition from the deification of human or animal passions to the practice of the most frightful immoralities. Hence in connection with these degraded religions we find:
1. Licentiousness made religious. Courtesans thronged the temples of Venus as her priestesses, just as the "nautch-girls" in India have their recognized connection with the Hindoo temples. The moment man begins to worship the man of genius and of passion, or begins to worship the lower creation, as if endowed with independent attributes, by a natural law he becomes lowered in the scale of being. "They that make them [i.e. 'idols'] are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them" (Psalms 115:8). They dishonour themselves through licentiousness after having dishonoured God by their ideas about divinities.
2. Sin tends still further to become unnatural. (Romans 1:26, Romans 1:27.) In one respect, indeed, all sin is unnatural; £ its ultimate issue is against nature. It becomes a mystery how minds get infatuated with it (Jeremiah 2:12, Jeremiah 2:13). But what Paul brings out here is the outrageous lengths to which unrestrained licentiousness will go. When the sinner takes rope enough, he goes, as the apostle here shows, to the most debasing and disgusting lengths, being worse in this matter of lust than the beasts that perish.
3. Sinners tend still further to be reprobate and reckless. (Romans 1:28-31.) The point of the Greek is very beautiful in Romans 1:28. It might be rendered thus: "And even as they reprobated (οὐκ ἐδοκίμασαν) the idea of having God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate (ἀδόκιμον) mind," etc. The judicial element in the reprobate condition is strictly retributive. Since they will have nothing to do with God even in idea, he must return their indignity and permit them to pass into the reprobate condition, i.e. the condition which he cannot approve of, but must loathe with his whole soul. The terrible catalogue need not be taken up in detail. It is headed by the generic term "unrighteousness" (ἀδικία), indicating that the spirit of injustice pervades the whole. Society is going morally to pieces. And there can be no doubt about the truth of the dark picture in Greece, in Rome, and in other heathen lands. But then the sinners become reckless as well as reprobate. Even with the fate of others staring them in the face, they continue their desperate game, and despise the consequences. £
III. IN THIS DEGRADATION WE MAY RECOGNIZE A REVELATION OF DIVINE WRATH. This is the point of the passage. God is angry with the heathen who so degrade him in their thoughts, and all their inconvenient sin is his judgment against them. Paul does not assert the sufficiency or finality of present judgment, but simply asks us to recognize it as clearly from God. It comes about according to natural law, but it is not on that account any the less the sentence of the Lord who ordereth all. Sinners go from bad to worse. They are punished through their sins; these sins are not self-reformatory, £ but manifestly judicial. It is a vast subject, that of the Divine wrath; we do not understand it in its vast proportions doubtless; we may well exclaim with Moses, "Who knoweth the power of thine anger?" yet of its reality no impartial observer of man's sins and their consequences can be in doubt. £
IV. THE HEATHEN DESERVE TO SUFFER THROUGH THEIR SINS BECAUSE OF THEIR MISUSE OF THE LIGHT OF NATURE. (Romans 1:18-20.) Now, what does Paul mean by saying they are inexcusable? Not certainly that "the light of nature" is sufficient for salvation, if properly used. But simply that with "the light of nature" they have no excuse for such a degradation of God, and deserve to suffer for it. What, then, does nature teach us regarding God? Now, if you observe the accuracy of the apostle's position, you will find him dividing this revelation about God into two parts—the revelation in our own human nature (Romans 1:19), and the revelation in the natural world without (Romans 1:20). And he maintains that God has been speaking to us by both. Now, when I look within and analyze myself, I am conscious of the light of intelligence and of conscience. Human nature is certain of possessing these, if there is such a thing as certainty at all. When, then, human nature begins the study of nature, it expects to find in nature the expression of thoughts like its own. As it has been very accurately said, "God utters his mind in his works, and that mind is like our own. In fact, science would be impossible if it were not so. Science is the observation and interpretation of nature by man. Clearly the world's Maker and the world's observer must have something in common, if the observer is to understand the Maker's meaning. A world put together by a Being utterly unlike me, whose notions of truth, of utility, of purpose, of beauty, bore no manner of relation to mine at all, would be a world I could never understand, and could take no pleasure whatever in examining. It would be a chaos where I should fail to trace either method or meaning. But the real world we know, search it at what point you please, answers the intellectual demands of its human student; it satisfies the reason and it gratifies the taste of its human observer. In it a man detects with joy another mind at work similar in its great features to his own; and this is at bottom, I expect, the secret of its fascination." £ Let us, then, take up nature in this way, and we shall find it conveying to us clear evidence of God's "eternal power and Divinity." The world without and within witnesses to his power; it is an effect, and he is the first and eternal Cause. We also attribute to him those qualities by virtue of which he has become Creator of such a world; we grasp the idea of his Divinity (cf. Godet, in loc.). In degenerating into their polytheisms, therefore, the heathen were misusing ': the light of nature." Their degradation was quite inexcusable. They deserved the wrath to which God subjected them.
V. WE OUGHT TO CONSIDER OUR GREATER RESPONSIBILITY UNDER THE LIGHT OF OUR GREATER REVELATION. God has added to the light of nature. He has given us the Bible. Our conceptions of God should be correspondingly elevated. But oh! if, notwithstanding all this light, we degrade God in our thoughts and descend to real idolatry, the idolatry of money, of ambition, of success, our judgment must be intensified in comparison with that of the pagans. In particular, let us remember how God has assumed human form in the Person of Jesus Christ, and so enabled us to know him through the mild radiance of a perfect life. Let such a revelation have its full effect upon us, leading us to love God and worship him and serve him with our whole hearts. Jesus becomes the great Iconoclast, and before him every Dagon falls.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Romans 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25